What better way to celebrate those February holidays—Valentine’s Day, Presidents’ Day—than with some new books? Even if none of this month’s picks is explicitly about love (or even all-American, for that matter), there’s no doubt that our forefathers would want everyone to squeeze in a bit more reading time during a month that celebrates their birthdays. While we’re at it, maybe we could all listen to the Hamilton soundtrack while reading to get that extra dose of American history. This month sees two promising debuts, as well as the return of several series characters, from a beloved crime-solving duo in Texas to a tough-as-nails Copenhagen cop. Break open that box of chocolates and start reading!
Sara Blaedel (Grand Central, February 2)
In Blaedel’s fifth installment featuring Det. Insp. Louise Rick (after The Forgotten Girls), the missing-persons detective is back from an extended leave and on the case of 15-year-old Sune Frandsen, who vanished in the woods. Just so happens that not only are the woods on the property of Louise’s best friend, journalist Camilla Lind, but they also hold painful personal memories for Louise. Years earlier, her first love, Klaus, supposedly committed suicide there, and the forest is still a place where a group of men meet to practice ancient Norse rituals, a group that includes Sune’s father. When the body of a prostitute shows up near the meeting spot, Louise is convinced that Sune is in grave danger and that perhaps Klaus’s death wasn’t a suicide after all. Blaedel intermixes ancient mythology and modern-day suspense for a thrilling whodunit with a distinctly Scandinavian flavor.
Honky Tonk Samurai
Joe R. Lansdale (Mulholland, February 2)
The unlikely Texas duo—Hap is a white liberal who’s always trying to find the reasonable solution and Leonard is a gay black Republican who’s a former Marine—returns in Lansdale’s ninth uproariously dark tale of a missing-persons case that turns into a battle against assassins. In need of employment, Hap and Leonard take on some freelance detective, and what starts out as a cut-and-dry missing-persons case—or as cut and dried as anything ever is in the world of Hap and Leonard—soon mushrooms into a full-on assault against a team of deadly killers. Familiar faces return, including a mercenary known only as Booger who fights for the good guys. Blood, and lots of it, is spilled, and most of it is for the right reasons. Readers will also be eager to know that the much anticipated television adaptation of the series is coming March 2 to the Sundance Channel, starring James Purefoy as Hap and Michael Kenneth Williams as Leonard.
The Good Liar
Nicholas Searle (Harper, February 2)
In Brit Searle’s debut, an aging con man—or sociopath, take your pick—decides to make one last score, but he may have met his match. Roy Courtnay is nearly 80 and has been scamming people most of his life. Now he’s set his sights on fleecing rich, elderly women he meets online. Except Betty McLeish isn’t what she seems. Searle includes flashbacks to Roy’s criminal past that’s rooted in World War II—he’s been at this Ripley-esque game for quite some time—and readers slowly unravel both his methods and his motives. Betty is a harder nut to crack. When her secrets are unpacked, with a deliberate slowness that won’t be to everyone’s taste, it’s clear that two can definitely play the con game.
The Girl in the Red Coat
Kate Hamer (Melville House, February 16)
Another debut, also from the UK, sees a common crime-fiction trope—child abduction—being explored with uncommon grace and sensitivity. Single mum Beth knows that her eight-year-old daughter, Carmel, has a tendency to wander and her worst fear comes true during a trip to a Norfolk storytelling festival. In an instant, Carmel is gone. Hamer takes the unique route of splitting the narrative into two, telling the story both from Beth’s point of view, as she first frantically searches for her daughter and then, later, as the reality of being alone begins to set in, and also from the perspective of Carmel, who’s been spirited away by a strange man who takes her far away from everything she’s ever known. Any more plot tidbits would count as spoilers, though the power of Hamer’s work comes as much from the elements of telling a compelling story as it does from her mastery of the language of grief, anguish, and longing.
What Remains of Me
Alison Gaylin (Morrow, February 23)
Gaylin turns to Hollywood and murder in her richly layered and wholly engrossing standalone (after her Brenna Spector series). In 1980, 17-year-old Kelly Lund made headlines in Hollywood for all the wrong reasons: high on coke and pot, she shot and killed Oscar-nominated director John McFadden at a party in his own home. Before the murder, Lund, who was from the wrong side of the tracks, had been hanging out with McFadden’s son, Vee, and another famous offspring, Bellamy Marshall, daughter of hotshot actor Sterling Marshall. Convicted and sentenced to 25 years, Lund lost her youth—but not her fame—in prison. Now she’s married to Bellamy’s younger brother, Shane, though their life has anything but a storybook ending: he’s hooked on pills and she’s sleeping with the neighbor. And then there’s another murder, one with disturbing similarities to the one that got Kelly locked up decades earlier. Gaylin expertly recreates the bloodthirsty tabloid culture as easily as she conjures up teenage Kelly’s desperate need to belong and be accepted by the cool kids, all thrumming to the perfect ’80s beat.