July Mysteries

July Mysteries

Thomas Wolfe notwithstanding, you can go home again. But you might regret the return.

For one example, read Aoife Clifford’s “Second Sight” (Pegasus, $25.95, 272 pages).

After a lengthy absence, 35-year-old attorney Eliza Carmody returns to Kinsale, an Australian coastal town, from the big city. She’s defending a giant electric utility from a class-action suit filed by residents of Kinsale, who hold it responsible for the wildfire that seared the town with death and destruction two years ago.

Stuck in traffic, she witnesses a minor accident, a case of road rage and a deadly assault. As she revives relationships with townspeople — including some with whom she shared teenage years — curiosity that has lain dormant for decades awakens; Eliza determines to investigate the disappearance of her friend Grace Hedland during the New Year’s Eve parties of 1996.

What she learns endangers her as lies, secrets and truths about her friends and family are revealed.

Multiple twists lead to an explosive and redemptive climax as Clifford handles a complex plot, a vivid setting and dozens of characters with command.

A deft melding of thriller and whodunit, “Second Sight” engages intellect and emotion simultaneously.

***

For decades as America grew, the struggle between development and conservation almost invariably ended in victory for the builders. But as open acreage dwindled and nature suffered, the odds shifted — slightly, but measurably.

That’s the focus of “Fatal Judgment” (Swallow Press, $26.95, 264 pages), Andrew Welsh-Huggins’ sixth novel featuring Andy Hayes, a disgraced Ohio State quarterback turned private investigator.

Laura Porter, a county judge in Columbus and Andy’s former lover, is campaigning for a seat on the Ohio Supreme Court and seeks his help. But a frantic phone call sends her running before she can tell him why, and Andy is determined to unearth her reason.

Andy learns that she’s presiding over a battle between developers and environmentalists concerning wetlands near Columbus that serve as a paradise for birds and birders. And 70 miles to the northeast, a young outdoors enthusiast, Todd Orick, has vanished at a similar site.

With the help of his diverse crew of friends and acquaintances, Andy discovers a massive plot to influence Laura’s verdict.

A Columbus-based reporter for The Associated Press, Welsh-Huggins specializes in public-service journalism, and his experience lends authenticity to his fiction. So does his choice of topics, which in previous novels include human trafficking, homegrown terrorism, political corruption, fracking and drugs — all of which provide his plots with credibility and relevance.

But superior crime fiction also must include verve of narrative, depth of characterization, accessibility of prose and briskness of pace. Welsh-Huggins supplies all in abundance.

Noir for now, “Fatal Judgment” — like its predecessors — offers multiple rewards and further evidence of its author’s prowess.

***

In “Requiem for a Nun,” William Faulkner, who later served as the University of Virginia’s first writer-in-residence, famously wrote that “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Especially in Virginia. And definitively in “Whiskers in the Dark” (Bantam, $28, 288 pages), the 28th novel in Rita Mae Brown’s series featuring Mary Minor “Harry” Haristeen of Crozet in Albemarle County.

Beginning with 2015’s “Tail Gait,” Brown has bounced her storylines between the 21st and 18th centuries; she continues the concept in her latest, with murder in both eras.

As “Whiskers in the Dark” opens, Harry and others are working to prepare the grounds of Institute Farm in Loudoun County for a charity event organized by the National Beagle Club of America. As evening falls, Harry and several other volunteers discover the body of retired foreign service officer Jason Holzknect, his throat slit. Two weeks later, a related death occurs, and Harry suspects foul play.

Meanwhile in Crozet, Harry and her friends continue to ponder the discovery at a local church — related in 2017’s “A Hiss Before Dying” — of the skeletal remains of an 18th-century African American woman whose neck was broken and who was wearing pearls of great price.

Alternately narrating the events of 2018 and those of 1787, Brown, who lives near Greenfield in Nelson County, displays her flair for spinning both contemporary and historical yarns.

And her talent for portraiture glows anew with credible characters of now and then, of two legs and four — all rendered with detail and nuance.

Nearing its 30th birthday, this engaging series remains fresh, as Brown retires some characters, enlists new ones and expands its scope.

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Jay Strafford, a retired Richmond Times-Dispatch writer and editor, now lives in Florida.

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