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Thursday, May 26, 2022

The Latest Mystery and Crime Novels

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History, memory and the specter of war all figure prominently in THE LOVE PARADE (Deep Vellum, 280 pp., paper, $15.95), a 1984 novel by the Mexican literary luminary Sergio Pitol that’s translated here by George Henson.

If I had to boil this novel down to its essence, I’d describe it as a love letter to the power of documents and archival work. How else would the academic Miguel del Solar, back in Mexico City in the early 1970s after time spent away in England, become embroiled in unraveling the mystery of a murder, or perhaps more, in the Minerva Building some three decades earlier?

Del Solar embarks on parallel investigations, one in which he burrows into the archives, looking for clues, and another in which he coaxes memories from those who have knowledge of who might have killed the Austrian émigré Erich Maria Pistauer and why. Pitol plays with narrative and structure, and the effect, while at times discombobulating, keeps the reader riveted.

The Federal Correctional Institution in Otisville, N.Y., stands apart from most prisons. As this paper reported in 2019, the prison’s minimum-security camp has “long been the lockup of choice among Jewish white-collar offenders,” who are able to access kosher food and daily prayer services.

This enclosed world proved irresistibly appealing to Jonathan Stone, a veteran crime writer who sets his newest novel, THE PRISON MINYAN (Eye Books, 348 pp., paper, $15.95), inside Otisville at a pivotal point when a religiously observant lawyer with close ties to the president arrives to serve out his sentence on fraud charges.

There are crimes aplenty within the prison walls — the newest prisoner comes awfully close to being “Epsteined,” and more blood will be shed in an incident involving a vengeful, white nationalist-identified warden — but Stone is after something more diffuse and philosophical. Can middle-aged men who spent their entire lives flouting rules and laws, cheating and lying, and knowingly and unknowingly hurting others, find self-worth, meaning and even salvation by forming a community adhering to ancient traditions?

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