Marilyn Stasio Finds Herself Rooting for the Bad Guy

Poor Riley Wolfe, the devilishly charming antihero of Jeff Lindsay’s witty caper mystery JUST WATCH ME (Dutton, $26), the first volume in a new series — now that Dexter, the twisted serial killer at the center of Lindsay’s previous books, has gone to his reward. Riley, a master thief, has just pulled off the extraordinary feat of stealing a 12½-ton, $50 million steel statue and ridding the world of the loathsome head of a pharmaceutical empire who donated this monstrosity to the city of Chicago. So, why so glum, chum? “It had all been too easy,” he explains, “and I hate that.”

Riley snaps out of the doldrums when he sets his kleptomaniacal sights on the dazzling Daryayeh-E-Noor, a $15 billion pink diamond, once the centerpiece of the Persian crown jewels, that’s soon to go on display at the Eberhardt Museum in Manhattan. The security at this small private institution will be formidable, with members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard on hand to back up veterans of America’s Special Forces. But Riley’s motto, indeed his one article of faith, is: “There’s always a way.” So the plot hinges on his strategy to breach this daunting security wall and make off with the gem, an elaborate scheme that involves many clever disguises (a colorful trademark of this inspired and endlessly inventive thief).

Does murder figure in the story? bloodthirsty readers want to know. Of course. But Riley snuffs out only “rich, spoiled, useless” people with more money than morals. Justifying one of his coldblooded kills, he notes that his victim had “done nothing his whole life except take with both hands, like he had a right to anything and everything. He was everything I hated.”

That telltale clue is what leads Frank Delgado, a maverick special agent with the F.B.I. and a really nice guy, to initiate his own personal mission to capture this self-described “greatest thief who ever lived.” Because his work ethic is sincere and his heart is pure, Delgado gives Riley an honest run for the money and even challenges our perverse impulse to root for the bad guy.

Nalini Singh’s gorgeous descriptions of the wild west coast of New Zealand in A MADNESS OF SUNSHINE (Berkley, $27) add a palpable air of danger to the “harsh and unforgiving landscape” of this beautiful land “at the bottom of the world.” Or so it seems to Anahera Spencer-Ashby when she returns to her childhood home of Golden Cove after the death of her husband. Still as “primal and untamed” as it was when she left to pursue a career as a concert pianist in London, the place now feels haunted — as indeed it is, by the memory of all the young women who have gone missing since she went away.

Golden Cove has acquired a detective, Anahera discovers, a “problem” police officer named Will Gallagher who’s been put out to pasture for undisclosed reasons and so is a perfect fit for this problem town. Will hasn’t been assigned to the region because of the many incidents of domestic violence that Singh describes with a kind of fierce lyricism; instead, he’s there to find a missing woman before she becomes another statistic. In Golden Cove, “people are good at hiding the bruises,” if not so hot at mourning the dead.

Why would a bank robber wearing a gas mask deliberately leave a comic book at the scene of the crime? That’s what Gemma Monroe, a smart Colorado police detective, asks herself in Emily Littlejohn’s neat little procedural mystery SHATTER THE NIGHT (Minotaur, $27.99). And why did he pick a struggling local branch like First Pillar Bank and Trust to knock off when there were bigger, richer banks in the same town? Gemma also wonders, as does the reader, if the bold daylight robbery has anything to do with another audacious crime, the car bombing on Halloween that killed a retired judge named Caleb Montgomery.

There’s not a whole lot of heart-thumping drama in the story, but Littlejohn presents us with a lovingly detailed study of Cedar Valley, a pretty mountain community with the usual public gathering spots, along with a movie house and the charmingly named Shotgun Playhouse. Aside from the occasional murder and bank robbery, it seems like a nice place to visit.

Oh, joy, a new Peculiar Crimes Unit case by Christopher Fowler. BRYANT & MAY: The Lonely Hour (Bantam, $28) finds Arthur Bryant (the eccentric one) and John May (the technocrat) working well past their bedtime — at the “lonely hour” of 4 a.m., to be precise. That’s the hunting time for a London killer whose initial piece of nasty work is hanging a corpse upside down from a willow tree on Hampstead Heath. His second victim is pulled out of the Thames.

Occult symbols left at some of the crime scenes delight Bryant, who is enchanted by all things weird and has all manner of strange friends and associates he consults on such matters. “Lack of professionality is part of my skill set,” he brags to the coroner. The murders are certainly macabre, but the best fun is running all over the city with these amiable partners, meeting the denizens of the night and poking into this vast repository of ghoulish secrets.

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