THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

We’re not in Kansas anymore

By Hallie Ephron
Globe Correspondent / April 25, 2010

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No one writes crime fiction quite like Declan Hughes, and his introduction of film director Jack Donovan in “City of Lost Girls” is typical of the tour de force he’s capable of pulling off: “Jack Donovan, carouser extraordinaire, professional Irishman, the life and soul of the all-night party, Jack Donovan, howling at the moon, raging once more against the dying of the light, surrounded by the fans and the fakes and the flakes, the casts and the crews and the camp followers.” Of course, the setting is a Dublin bar, and Hughes is channeling Dylan Thomas.

The protagonist of this fifth series novel is Ed Loy, a once-successful Los Angeles PI. Returned home to Dublin, he’ll be happy if he never sees another of L.A.’s mean streets as long as he lives. Loy has found sobriety and redemption in the arms of a woman, and he wants his life to stay boring. Fat chance with his old friend, the charismatic Donovan, in town with the “Gang of Four”— his producer, agent, assistant director, and photographer — who’ve been with him since he made his first “no-budget movie” 20 years earlier.

The book opens with a thoroughly creepy monologue. “He hadn’t even wanted to kill the third girl,” muses an anonymous narrator, and on he goes holding the reader a captive witness to the murder of a young woman at aptly named “Point Dume” in Malibu. Then we’re introduced to Ed, who narrates much of the book in a laconic (and at least as I imagine it) baritone voice. He’s about to get roped into tracking down the source of a series of disturbing letters that Donovan suspects are connected to the recent disappearance of two raven-haired Galway girls, extras on his movie.

The storytelling is lean but always with poetic force and attention paid to word choice and to the rhythm of the prose. It’s a good story, though it felt like a mistake to keep bringing back that villain in italicized segments, telegraphing information the reader doesn’t need to know, and more of a mistake to include miscellany like an entry from a film encyclopedia and a long article from The Irish Times. These were perfect examples of what Elmore Leonard advises authors to leave out: the parts people skip.

The story of Loy, his strong and appealing new woman, Anne Fogarty, the irresistible pull of the past, and Ed’s search for the missing young women are compelling enough to stand on their own.

Raffi Yessayan’s second novel featuring Boston detective Angel Alves and DA Connie Darget, “2 In the Hat,” explores how differently investigators and the media treat gang-related homicides compared with a headline-stealing “Prom Night Killer,’’ whose victims are young white couples left posed seductively, wired to trees, as if having a last picnic dinner in the park. As corpses stack up in the Fens, Olmsted Park, Franklin Park, the Arboretum, Connie realizes “the killer’s taking us on a tour of the Emerald Necklace.”

Yessayan is a former chief prosecutor in the Suffolk County DA’s gang unit, and his firsthand experiences are put to good use. The gang members, their advocates, the politicians, cops, and attorneys in this novel feel utterly authentic. Readers familiar with Boston and its surroundings, particularly Dorchester and the South Shore, will revel in finding locales so vividly rendered.

Short punchy scenes narrated by different characters including the unknown serial killer, a very scary individual who feels a lot like Norman Bates and who calls himself Sleep, are intercut with cliffhanger endings. Speaking of punches, the ending pulls a big one as the story gathers momentum and nears its explosive and surprising finish.

Nancy Pickard’s “The Scent of Rain and Lightning” is a worthy successor to her Edgar-nominated “The Virgin of Small Plains.” We’re back in Kansas with a storm raging, and an unresolved mystery in the past stands between appealing female protagonist Jody Linder and happiness.

When Jody was 3 years old, her father was shot to death, and her mother disappeared and has since been presumed dead. Local troublemaker Billy Crosby was convicted of the murder. Twenty-three years later, Jody moves back to Rose, Kan., to the house where her father was killed. She has a new job teaching at the local high school and a beau, but she’s wary. Experience has reinforced her belief in “bad following good as inevitably as the moon chased the sun.”

Sure enough, news soon comes that Crosby’s conviction has been reversed. His imminent return to Rose reopens old wounds. Jody’s rage is tempered with growing doubt, complicated by her feelings for Crosby’s son, Collin, now an attorney. The pair are like Romeo and Juliet, would-be lovers whose families are at war.

Pickard writes richly textured fiction about families and relationships, about hatred and lust and love, about loyalty and betrayal, and most of all about the corrosive power of secrets. Of course there’s a mystery here, but it’s not the main course.

Hallie Ephron’s “Never Tell a Lie” has been named a finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award. Contact her through www.hallieephron.com.

CITY OF LOST GIRLS By Declan Hughes

William Morrow,

304 pp., $24.99

2 IN THE HAT By Raffi Yessayan

Ballantine,

320 pp., $25

THE SCENT OF RAIN AND LIGHTNING By Nancy Pickard

Ballantine,

336 pp., $25