Evidence of Murder by Lisa Black; Morrow, 352 pages ($24.99)
In her second novel about Cleveland forensic investigator Theresa MacLean, Black constructs an engrossing plot that seems to have no clues. No matter where Theresa looks or how she approaches her latest case, she cannot seem to find any evidence that would reveal how a young woman died in the woods during the winter. Nothing suspicious was found near Jillian Perry's body and forensics tests yield nothing. The police want to put the death down as suicide, but Theresa doesn't believe that.
A former escort with an adored 5-month-old baby, Jillian apparently had finally found happiness with Evan, her husband of three weeks. Evan and his business partner had just developed a video game that was likely to bring them wealth -- and a bit of fame.
Jillian's case marks the first time Theresa has been able to focus on work since her fiance died more than eight months before. The case requires all of Theresa's skill and intelligence, but also challenges how she deals with people. It takes an odd turn when Jillian's old boyfriend wants to claim her body and also file for custody of the child. A realistic approach to crime detection and a terrifying ending further elevate "Evidence of Murder."
Black keeps the action well balanced with the forensics aspects while also delivering a heart-wrenching look at grief.
-- McClatchy Newspapers
Sacred Scars: A Resurrection of Magic Book Two by Kathleen Duey, Atheneum, 554 pages ($17.99) 12 and up.
Vivid language and dramatic pacing make for a riveting page-turner in this terrifying, richly told fantasy that will satisfy even those who have not read "Sacred Hunger," the first book in Duey's trilogy. (That book was nominated for the National Book Award for Young People's Literature.)
Alternating chapters unfold the complex but linked stories of characters several generations apart. Part of the story is the tale of Sadima, Franklin and evil Somiss, who are living in dark caves in the cliffs overlooking the city of Limori. Somiss is obsessed with restoring magic and claims the street orphans he keeps locked in a cage will be his first students of magic. Meanwhile, several generations later, Hahp is struggling to survive the dangerous classes at the Limori Academy of Magic that pit students against each other in life-or-death situations, defying the rules to form a pact with his roommate. This suspenseful, vivid story lingers long after the last page is turned.
-- Jean Westmoore
A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge by Josh Neufeld; Pantheon, 198 pages ($24.95)
In 2007, Smith Magazine serialized a comics treatment of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. That work, "A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge," tracked the lives of seven New Orleans residents as they fled; or remained and struggled to survive; and as they recovered not just their things but their lives. Its creator, Josh Neufeld, is best known for his collaborations with Harvey Pekar, whose scripts, highly detailed and paneled, come to life in the renderings of illustrators casually assigned.
With simple lines -- deft and evocative -- Neufeld communicates complex human emotions. Two- and three-color palettes render the passing days with sober integrity.
As the pages progress, "A.D." highlights details that are surprising and vivid. As one character, Abbas, slips into denial about the disaster, his decision to remain behind at his convenience store -- with guns and supplies -- becomes indicative of the American dream. Abbas is not stupid; he is hardworking and fearless, and Neufeld casts him with charm and bravado. Denise, who curses the storm, and the blase Doctor Brobson, toasting Katrina with a party in the French Quarter, also help humanize a catastrophe that outsizes ordinary understanding. The account of Kwame, shipping off to Ohio for his senior year in high school, simultaneously relates the human ability to adapt and overcome, and the terrible loss of leaving everything behind.
-- McClatchy Newspapers