I would put the current line-up of genre stars, from Michael Connelly to Lee Child and Ruth Rendell to Carolyn Hart, up against any of the old masters.
The past few weeks alone have brought us strong new novels by Joseph Finder and Linda Fairstein.
On Tuesday, the latest books by two of my favorite rising stars, Alafair Burke and Megan Abbott, were published. I will leave Abbott’s “The Fever” for a later blog, but I am happy to report that Burke’s new “All Day and a Night” (Harper) might be her finest novel yet.
The writer has been alternating between stand-alone thrillers and a series of novels about New York Police Department homicide detective Ellie Hatcher.
“All Day and a Night” is the fifth Hatcher book, but Burke widens her narrative scope to include a secondary character, defense attorney Carrie Blank, who is given almost equal attention.
The author has also come up with one of her most complex plots, involving a string of apparently long-solved serial killings in Utica, New York, and a contemporary crime — the murder of a Brooklyn psychotherapist — that might be linked to the earlier case and that might exonerate the man who has been serving time for the upstate murders.
Carrie is the sister of one of the Utica victims. She quits her job with a prestigious Manhattan law firm to work with the publicity-hound lawyer who is determined to free “the wrong man” in Utica. Carrie believes her new boss’ assertion and wants to find the real perp.
Ellie and her partner, J.J. Rogan, are assigned to a re-examination of the Utica murders to see if they can be linked to the fresh victim in Brooklyn.
Burke examines the cases from so many different points of view that “All Day and a Night” becomes a notably objective novels about police work — we can see how the innocent are railroaded by blindered cops and prosecutors, but we also share the detectives’ frustration with the technicalities that can make tracking down and nailing a killer much more difficult than it was a few decades ago (despite the addition of so many new technologies and the rise of DNA evidence).
Hatcher’s involvement in the case is complicated by the fact that her boyfriend — who works for the district attorney’s office — selected her and Rogan to reopen the files on the Utica crimes. Burke dramatizes the difficulty of living with someone you are also working with closely, but this is only one small thread in the narrative.
In some detective series, the author is so tightly bonded with the lead character that he or she begins to seem infallible — with views similar to that of the writer — but Burke allows us a much more even-handed view of Ellie and the work she does. There are times when we are allowed to believe that the detective is flat-out wrong, or being difficult for no good reason, but this approach only serves to make the woman a much more three-dimensional character. The flaws add to the believability of Ellie, and ultimately, our sense of identification with her.
Because “All Day and a Night” is so multi-faceted this is a series novel that should work remarkably well as a stand-alone experience. New readers will have no problem coming in at book five and then working their way back.