Tales of mur­der and es­pi­onage that should res­onate in days of #MeToo

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Pastimes - BY SALEM MACKNEE smack­[email protected]

“Safe Houses” by Dan Fes­per­man. Knopf, 416 pages

A new Dan Fes­per­man has a guar­an­teed spot in the bed­side to-be-read pile. He al­ways de­liv­ers a high level of sto­ry­telling and word­smithing.

“Safe Houses” be­gins in a Berlin CIA safe house in 1979, when men ruled the es­pi­onage roost and women could only rise as far as a sup­port­ing staff role. A young woman over­hears two en­coun­ters that turn her un­der­used tal­ents to­ward un­cov­er­ing crimes within the agency.

This al­ter­nates with a story of a young woman look­ing for an­swers in the deaths of her par­ents in 2014. Her brother has shot their par­ents to death, an act to­tally out of char­ac­ter. She finds she is not the only one in­ter­ested, and that her brother had made a new friend in the days pre­ced­ing the mur­der.

Fes­per­man’s story of women at a work­place dis­ad­van­tage is on point for the age of #MeToo, and a good re­minder of the ground we have gained – not all that long ago, re­ally – and now must try to hold.

“It All Falls Down” by Sheena Ka­mal. William Mor­row, 336 pages.

Have I men­tioned how much I love a pro­tag­o­nist who’s not just flawed but down­right bro­ken? (Just kid­ding. I know I con­stantly men­tion it.) Nora Watts is there­fore ir­re­sistible to me. Sheena Ka­mal has put this poor woman through all sorts of fam­ily hell for my en­ter­tain­ment.

Nora’s mother walked out when she was young, and her fa­ther later com­mit­ted sui­cide. A cryptic en­counter with a stranger who claims to have known her fa­ther dur­ing his time in the mil­i­tary sends her to Detroit to see if there is more to the story that sent her and her sis­ter into foster care and down a dark path.

“Baby’s First Felony” by John Stra­ley. Soho Crime, 336 pages.

“Baby’s First Felony” is the primer that pub­lic de­fend­ers David Ryder and Ce­cil Younger have cob­bled to­gether to help their pos­si­bly im­paired, sleep-de­prived and men­tally chal­lenged clients re­mem­ber a few im­por­tant do’s and don’ts. For ex­am­ple, “dur­ing field so­bri­ety tests for your third drunk driv­ing of­fense, do not tell the cops, ‘I can’t even do this when I’m sober.’ ” or “Do not wear the shoes you stole to court.”

These tips are men­tioned as Ce­cil tells a le­gal panel the long story of how he came to be jailed right along­side some of those clients, af­ter pulling an epic crime with some of them and get­ting him­self nearly killed sev­eral times in the process. It’s a bloody, vi­o­lent tale, but a hi­lar­i­ous one, with a fond view of the lo­cal crim­i­nal set that keeps things light.

“Stay Hid­den” by Paul Doiron. Mino­taur, 352 pages.

Maine game war­den Mike Bowditch is in­ves­ti­gat­ing a fa­tal shoot­ing on an iso­lated is­land, with a dense fog keep­ing all other law en­force­ment away for the time be­ing.

When the vic­tim of the shoot­ing walks off the next morn­ing ferry. Mike’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion changes fo­cus, from hunt­ing ac­ci­dent to pos­si­ble mur­der.

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