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Originally published Sunday, May 11, 2014 at 6:23 AM

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May crime fiction: Oates, Robinson and NW authors

New crime fiction in May includes books by Joyce Carol Oates, British writer Peter Robinson, and Washington state authors William Dietrich, Mark Russinovich and Jack Hart.


Special to The Seattle Times

Author appearance

William Dietrich

William Dietrich will read from “The Three Emperors” at 6 p.m. Monday, May 12, at the University Book Store, Bellevue location, 990 102nd Ave N.E. in Bellevue; free (425-462-4500 or ubookstore.com).

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Scary short stories, a British police procedural, and a 19th-century ruffian figure in this month’s crime fiction.

The terrifyingly prolific Joyce Carol Oates writes so quickly (and apparently effortlessly) that she almost warrants a monthly all-Oates column. Her latest, “High Crime Area” (Mysterious Press, 256 pp., $23), collects eight stories under a disturbingly accurate subtitle: “Tales of Darkness and Dread.”

Oates has a gift for creating situations that seem harmless — until they scare the poop out of you. There’s little overt violence; it’s all in the mind, as she slowly tightens the noose. Drenched in clammy atmosphere, Oates’ work explores the heads of both ordinary people and those who are at least a little damaged.

In the title piece, for instance, a college teacher is walking in the dodgy neighborhood surrounding her school. Following is someone who may (or may not) be a threat and/or former student. Their confrontation shocks both them and the reader.

British writer Peter Robinson’s passion for music is clear in “Children of the Revolution” (Morrow, 352 pp., $25.99). For one thing, his series character, Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks, uses his eclectic CD collection as balm to ease the ugly aspects of his work.

(Attention music geeks: Robinson’s website provides a handy playlist for the book’s tuneful background, from the Grateful Dead and Miles Davis to Shostakovich and Mozart.)

Robinson’s themes are steeped in music, too — in this case, the legacy of ’60s-era radicalism. Banks is investigating the death of a former political radical, who became a poverty-stricken recluse after losing his teaching job over allegations of sexual misconduct.

Banks is a fully rounded character — smart, dogged and not above defying his superiors. The supporting cast is equally strong, including the wonderfully named Detective Sergeant Winsome Jackman and Lady Veronica Chalmers, an aristocrat whose radical activities during her university years link her to the dead man.

Former Times reporter William Dietrich’s always-delightful hero Ethan Gage has yet to find a buckle he couldn’t swash. He’s an adventurer, a scalawag, and the Zelig of the Napoleonic Era (he tends to pop up just in time for major historical events).

In “The Three Emperors” (HarperCollins, 400 pp., $25.99), Gage travels widely to rescue his wife and their young son, who are looking for a fabulous fortunetelling automaton called the Brazen Head. Along the way they encounter trouble (as one so often does) from a dastardly mystic and a dwarf alchemist.

Elsewhere on the local front, two absorbing books from writers with intimate knowledge of their settings:

Seattle-area tech guy Mark Russinovich weighs in with “Rogue Code” (St. Martin’s, 336 p., $29.99). Jeff Aiken, a cyber security expert, finds a weakness in the New York Stock Exchange system (shades of Heartbleed headaches). How did millions of dollars disappear without action by the Exchange’s bigwigs?

And in writing coach and former newspaperman Jack Hart’s fiction debut, “Skookum Summer” (University of Washington Press, 309 pp., $34.95), a disgraced reporter is reduced to working at the paper in his remote Pacific Northwest hometown. He’s bored to tears until the murder of a prominent logger catches his interest. Hart compellingly contrasts the region’s bold history and once-rugged landscape against the logging industry’s current slow decline and the predations of modern development.

Adam Woog’s column on crime and mystery fiction appears on the second Sunday of the month in The Seattle Times.



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