Spy fiction is a genre that, if done poorly, can turn into a lack of humor. Mick Herron has avoided this pitfall for years with his dryly entertaining Slough House series – a short story will be released next year, o frabjous day – while taking turns writing shorter tracks that mix criminality and absurdity.
Most of this news is included in DOLPHIN JUNCTION (Soho Crime, 294 pp., $ 24.95), a collection that demonstrates the breadth of Herron’s talent. Four stories feature married private detectives Zoë Boehm and Joe Silvermann; over time it becomes very clear who is the unperturbed, capable and who is more prone to problems of his own making.
Slough House makes an appearance in one story, and the rest are unique, designed to showcase the author’s mastery of twists and turns. One that I won’t be getting out of my mind anytime soon is the collection’s title story, which overturns the traditional tale of the missing woman with particular pleasure.
The ways in which women torture their bodies in pursuit of creative dreams create a gripping fictional drama. This land proves irresistible for Rachel Kapelke-Dale in BALLERINAS (St. Martin’s, 352 pp., $ 28), a first novel that takes place in the greenhouse atmosphere of the Paris Opera ballet academy as three students grow up, compete, forge friendships and embark on a path of destruction.
Delphine Léger tells the story, and she is a willful, complex, sometimes exasperating creature, sometimes singularly devoted to her best friends, Margaux and Lindsay. The novel traces their respective journeys, from the body to stardom as a soloist, linear progressions shattered by an unholy mix of wounds, rivalries, passion and the capricious nature of the men who haunt them.
“You start out as perfect,” says Delphine, “and you grow into something else.”
For a very long time, although Delphine casually declared herself to be a killer from the first page, I struggled to classify this as a detective story. But Kapelke-Dale reflected on the big picture and considered how trauma and power asymmetries derail so many dancers. There is often a personal – and, in this case, criminal – price to be paid for success.