By David Gordon

New York: Mysterious Press, 2021. $25.95


By Carin Gerhardsen, translated from the Swedish by Ian Giles

New York: Scarlet, 2021. $25.95


By Joyce Carol Oates

New York: Mysterious Press, 2021. $25.95

Recent releases from Mysterious Press and from Scarlet include the third in a series of books about the civilian adventures of a former Special Forces agent, a complex Scandinoir that jumps between times and perspectives, and an anthology of short stories. All of these works cover some of the darkest aspects of human nature though from quite different perspectives.

Against the Law is the third in David Gordon’s Joe the Bouncer series. Joe is a former military man eking out a living guarding a strip club and doing favors for underworld figures. One of his closest friends is a mob boss who has some deeply hidden secrets in his private life, which could derail his marriage to a woman with whom he’s desperate to reconcile. This latest case centers around Joe’s attempts to prevent the fallout from an influx of drugs. Against the Law is an effective action story, though at times it seems that Joe needs to adjust the trajectory of his life and alliances.

Swedish author Carin Gerhardsen’s translated work Black Ice (not to be confused with several other novels with the same title) is a book where nothing should be taken at face value. It starts with a snowy car accident and zips back and forth through time to tell a story of destructive adultery, an abandoned man left to die, favors that eventually bring about unintended consequences, and someone who is willing to commit murder in order to keep secrets buried in the snow. A quarter of the way through the book, the discerning reader ought to figure out that nothing should be accepted unless it’s expressly spelled out and that many scenes are crafted to create the impression that one thing happened or a particular person did something when, in fact, as revealed a few chapters later, something entirely different happened or someone else was involved. It’s a challenging novel, requiring the reader to double back and reread chapters to determine what just happened. Nevertheless, the sometimes bleak read is definitely worth it.

In Joyce Carol Oates’s anthology Night, Neon, most of the stories are connected to a crime, though the levels of mystery and suspense vary dramatically. Arguably, the best and most haunting is the first, “Detour,” a tale of a woman trapped in a scary situation, which takes on a deeper and more lasting resonance once the reader experiences the “aha!” moment and sees what’s really happening. Some of the stories have only a tangential connection to mystery, such as “Miss Golden Dreams 1949,” about an unusual auction item. It’s an odd tale, drawing on a previous Oates topic, which suffers a bit because it doesn’t seem to grasp what really drives men’s fantasies. “Parole Hearing, California Institution for Women, Chino Ca” is a fictional look at the thinking of a real-life convicted killer. I thought the story—or perhaps it’s a prose poem—was a skillful character profile, but the wordcraft couldn’t help me shake the feeling that the character was nothing like the real person.

All three of these books are worth a look for readers who are interested in works that bend and play with the standard conventions of the genre.

—Chris Chan