Every week for the past two months some buddies and I have gathered to watch the latest episode of the second season of "True Detective." Unlike the gripping first season, we're mostly watching this one to gape at what confusing plot twist and overwrought monologue the actors will have to cough up next. Case in point: when Vince Vaughn's gangster character hoarsely emotes that his disappointment at losing a business deal was "like blue balls in your heart."
Most unforgivable is that this season of "True Detective" also lost sight of the point of a detective story, which is to have a suspenseful mystery at its core. The muddled plotline turns backward on itself so much that I'll be surprised if it's resolved by the season finale on Aug. 9.
If you're looking for an intriguing detective story to keep you engaged this summer, I'd recommend shutting off the TV and reading a book. As luck would have it, there's a ton of excellent new crime fiction out there that's as dark and edgy as "True Detective" Season 2 has tried to be. Here are a few recent favorites.
Girl on A Train by Paula Hawkins
Three troubled women's lives intersect in author Paula Hawkins' acclaimed novel. Until nearly the very end of the story, the reader can't be sure just who was really responsible for the disappearance of a young British woman who'd been cheating on her husband. A movie version is in preproduction, and there's gossip that Emily Blunt will star as Rachel, the alcoholic, down-on-her-luck protagonist.
Only We Know by Karen Perry
On a hot summer day in 1982, three children on holiday play a game that ends with deadly consequences. Thirty years later, three adults are inextricably linked by what happened that day. The international tale takes place in locales such as Nairobi, Dublin and Kenya. This is the second novel from Karen Perry, which is actually the nom de plume of Irish couple Paul Perry and Karen Gillece.
Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths
History and romance intertwine with a thrilling gothic mystery that begins when a WWII-era American plane containing the remains of a pilot is found in contemporary Norfolk, England. Forensic archeologist Ruth Galloway is called in to figure out who the long-dead pilot was while also escaping various close calls and tangling with her love interest, a foxy professor named Frank.
The Whites by Richard Price writing as Harry Brandt
This list would be remiss without a hard-boiled police drama. The Whites begins with NYPD detective Billy working on St. Patrick's Day, the "worst of the year" for the night watch. "St. Patrick's was the ugliest, the violence the most spontaneous and low-tech," he muses. The story unfolds from there in brief, efficient prose, with a murder in Penn Station connecting Billy back to an unsolved crime from his past and eventually leading to events that threaten his family.
The Martini Shot by George Pelecanos
George Pelecanos, who's known for his crime fiction as well as his work as a screenwriter on "The Wire," presents a new collection of shorts and a novella. Like all his work, it draws on realistic detail—seven the title refers to Hollywood slang for the day's final shot before the cast and crew start drinking. Seamy underbellies are the order of the day here, with gangsters, police informants, working families struggling to survive and, in the title novella, the backstage of a TV cop show where not all is as it seems. If only Pelecanos could've lent "True Detective" his expertise.