Nobody stays cooler than an old-fashioned detective, even when he’s sweating through his suit. As we head into the hottest days of summer, I suggest you chill out with the next best thing after central air: a detective thriller, full of scarred-up heavies, world-weary private eyes, and dames with a secret. Here are some of the year’s best so far:
Mr. Mercedes, by Stephen King
A grizzled former detective, coming out of retirement for one last case. A crazed mass murderer, determined to kill again. In King’s first work of straight detective fiction, they’re a match made in summer-reading heaven (a place that also serves unlimited strawberry lemonade). The book takes its title from an unsolved crime in which a man behind the wheel of a Mercedes mowed down 15 hapless victims in a frozen midwestern parking lot. Bill Hodges was the presiding detective who never solved the case, and he’s just been pulled back in by a letter from the killer himself. Seatbelts on, and strawberry lemonade refilled. It’s not summer without a new title from King.
The Silkworm, by Robert Galbraith
The last time we saw veteran and private eye Cormoran Strike, he was dodging flashbulbs after debunking a model’s suspicious suicide in The Cuckoo’s Calling. Now he’s investigating a seedy seam of London publishing, after a writer’s latest manuscript, a vicious roman à clef, leads to his macabre murder. J.K. Rowling’s second turn under pseudonym Galbraith is just as satisfying as her first.
The Black-Eyed Blonde: A Philip Marlowe Novel, by Benjamin Black
Hot summer day, steamy Los Angeles streets, beautiful woman who’s only telling half of what she knows: this is a Philip Marlowe novel, all right. When Claire Cavendish shows up in Marlowe’s office, she claims she’s looking for a missing lover—but the more he digs, the more the pieces of her story refuse to add up. Working off a proposed title left behind among the papers of Marlowe creator Raymond Chandler, Benjamin Black (a pen name for John Banville) adds a new chapter to the series, and he gets the rhythms right, filling his pages with crackling dialogue, existential fatigue, and vividly depicted supporting characters who both help the detective and throw themselves in his way.
Don’t Look for Me, by Loren D. Estleman
The 23rd installment in the Amos Walker series takes its title from a note written by a missing woman to her husband, who has turned to Walker to track her down. Like any good disappearance (or is it murder?), the case gathers complications as it rolls along, soon encompassing mob links, a porn studio, drug lords, and more than one woman with claws. The tale is told with the kind of growling, one-liner panache you want from your down-but-not-out fictional gumshoes.
The Last Policeman, by Ben H. Winters
Bonus title! It’s a 2013 release, but Winters’ entry into the hardboiled canon shouldn’t be missed. There’s a mysterious death, a detective with a nose for trouble, and a web of suspects who won’t or can’t talk, but all that is overshadowed by the slow approach of asteroid 2011GV1, which will soon make cellular mincemeat of life on earth. Even Detective Hank Palace can’t explain why he continues to do his job in the twilight before the apocalypse, but he trudges on anyway, collecting clues and searching for meaning in the shadow of certain death.