Picture a graceful gondola on starlit water, pulling up under a particular window. Gentle guitar music begins, and a man stands and sings “One for my Baby.” The occasion for this serenade? The singer, a famous, if faded, American vocalist, is divorcing his wife. The couple are still in love, but he needs a younger woman to jump-start his career. His wife understands. Kazuo Ishiguro’s first collection of short fiction, Nocturnes (Knopf, $25), explores the line between the dreams and fantasy of melody and the ruthlessness of the music business. His characters are performing artists, and they appreciate both the magic and the hard knocks of their profession. Love for what they do—or aspire to do—makes them resilient. The divorced wife, returning in a hilarious story of her own, has just had plastic surgery, and though she still goes teary-eyed listening to her ex’s CDs, she’s hatching a wild plot to disrupt a music-awards ceremony.
Stieg Larsson, the Swedish crime novelist whose The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo hit the bestseller lists last year, follows up that edgy and terrifying whodunit with The Girl Who Played With Fire (Knopf, $25.95), a new saw-tooth-edged story involving sex trafficking. The two investigators from the initial book, Lisbeth Salander and Mikail Blomkvist, return, and they’re even more complex than before. Lisbeth, especially, is a bundle of contradictions; a punk rocker with a phenomenal photographic memory and advanced world-class hacker skills; a bikini-clad Popular Science reader who has benefited from breast enhancement surgery; a former welfare child obsessed with avenging the horror of “when all the evil happened.” She smokes, she drinks, and she travels, but she can’t sleep, an affliction that will be shared by the reader of this mesmerizing tale.
In The Monster In The Box (Scribner, $26), the 22nd installment of Ruth Rendell’s Inspector Wexford series, an aging Inspector unravels a tangled web, and along the way, readers are introduced to a young, single Police Constable Wexford, investigating his first murder case—and meeting a suspect who, with no hard evidence against him, reappears on the edge of various cases throughout Wexford’s career. As the book moves back and forth between past and present, we see Wexford’s suspicions grow but go unsatisfied, as the sleuth is continually frustrated in his effort to substantiate his instinct. A great fan of Ms. Rendell’s work, I consider this page-turner one of her best.