"The Home Place"
by Carrie La Seur
Carrie La Seur's finely crafted debut chronicles a woman's complicated relationship with her hometown of Billings, Montana, her relatives who stayed behind and her ancestral history. La Seur's graceful prose in "The Home Place" complements her incisive character studies of a family that has managed to keep most of its problems behind closed doors.
Alma Terrebonne left Billings and the family's "home place" more than 15 years ago to attend college on a full scholarship, shortly after her parents were killed in a car accident that maimed her younger sister, Vicky. Now an attorney in Seattle, Alma only returns to Billings to attend family events.
Alma returns home when Vicky is found frozen to death. The single mother of 11-year-old Brittany, Vicky led a troubled life of drugs, bad boyfriends and debt. Alma plans to arrange Vicky's funeral, visit with her older brother, Pete, and her grandmother, and settle Brittany with her aunt and uncle who had raised Vicky after their parents' death.
But Alma finds her family in disarray. A slimy land agent has been threatening local families, including the Terrebonnes, over mining rights to their properties. Alma can't deny that she still has feelings for her high school boyfriend, Chance Murphy, who lives on the adjoining farm. And Alma's plans are put on hold when it appears that Vicky's death wasn't an accident.
La Seur poignantly shows how characters are influenced by a sense of place, affecting their choices in life. The Montana land that makes up "the home place" has been owned by the Terrebonnes for generations, representing all that the family was, what it will be and what it struggles with now. No one lives on the property, yet no one wants to sell the homestead. This home place, about an hour from Billings, is a refuge as well as a place of contention, paralleling the Terrebonnes' lives.
"The Home Place" is one of the year's strongest debuts.
-- Oline H. Cogdill
by Ace Atkins
Sheriff Quinn Colson has been working to clean up corruption and injustice in Ace Atkins' compelling crime fiction series, but he can't change the past of Jericho, Mississippi, when he's faced with a decades-old crime that leads to scrutiny of his own past in "The Forsaken."
In the fourth novel of this solid series, Quinn is approached by Diane Tull, who, back in 1977, was raped on a country road when she was 17 years old. Her 14-year-old friend was murdered in the same assault. Three days later, a group of local men found a black man they blamed for the attacks and brutally murdered him.
Now, 37 year later, Diane wants Quinn to reopen that old case because she is sure the wrong man was killed. Quinn's investigation leads to some uncomfortable facts about his father, who left his family more than 20 years ago and hasn't made contact in years with either Quinn or his younger sister, Caddy.
Meanwhile, Quinn and his deputy, Lillie Virgil, are under investigation for killing two men who had tried to murder them. One of those men was a cop who had been in the pocket of Johnny Stagg, a prominent Jericho businessman and politician who also runs a lucrative criminal enterprise.
Atkins excels in solid pacing, effective dialogue and compelling characters in "The Forsaken." Quinn's background as a former U.S. Ranger and his relationship with his family, which includes his mother, sister and her young son, add texture to the series. A good soldier, Quinn has now found his calling as the sheriff. Atkins shapes Quinn not as a superman, but as a flawed man who wants to do the right thing for his hometown.
Earlier this year, Atkins published "Robert B. Parker's Cheap Shot," his third novel about Boston private eye Spencer, which the Parker estate tapped him to continue. Atkins' fresh approach to Spencer keeps faithful to the iconic detective's past. But the excellent Quinn Colson novels, as illustrated in "The Forsaken," are the true showcase for Atkins' storytelling skills.
-- Oline H. Cogdill
by David Rosenfelt
David Rosenfelt deftly works in wry humor, a love of dogs and New Jersey gangsters in "Hounded," his highly entertaining 12th legal thriller featuring attorney Andy Carpenter.
Andy, who lives comfortably but not outlandishly on an inheritance, likes to joke that he doesn't take on new clients, preferring to spend time with his girlfriend and business partner Laurie Collins, and their golden retriever, Tara. But this case becomes personal.
Police Capt. Pete Stanton asks Andy to care for Ricky Diaz, whose father, ex-convict Danny, has been murdered, and also to house Ricky's basset hound, Sebastian. Andy would never turn away a dog in need, but he's never been asked to take in a child. Pete maintains he doesn't want the child "to be thrown into the system." Laurie enthusiastically welcomes Ricky, while Andy agrees a bit more reluctantly.
Two days later, Pete is arrested for killing Danny, who had reported that this highly respected cop was dealing drugs. Andy believes his good friend is being set up, and he works as Pete's defense attorney, enlisting his wide circle of employees to prove his case in court. Pete's arrest seems linked to his investigation into the deaths of several prominent residents.
Rosenfelt creates believable characters and balances a hard-hitting legal thriller with well-placed wisecracks in "Hounded." He continues to explore Andy's personality, allowing him to change and grow in each novel.
-- Oline H. Cogdill