While a devious and tricky plot can make a mystery shine, the real appeal for me is the characters: Are they believable? Do I want to spend a few hours in their company watching them complicate, or perhaps simplify, their lives? This month's authors all succeed in creating characters that bounce right off the page.
He doesn't have much in the way of friends or resources. But he has a magician's eye and the knowledge that things are not always what they seem. After all, his stock-in-trade is creating illusions. He finds a lawyer but also investigates on his own.
It always comes back to: How did his DNA get to the murder scene?
Harvey's a poor schnook, but determined. As a protagonist, he's entertaining and believable; readers will find it easy to root for him. The magicians' world is interesting, and the story moves briskly, delivering on its promise.
But the main action is back in the U.S., where B. Simpson, Ali's fiancé and a computer expert, is drawn into the investigation into the assault on a young incarcerated hacker in which the young man is severely burned. Happily, Simpson is assisted by one of the great characters from this series, Sister Anselm, the patient advocate I'd like nearby if I land in the hospital.
The story, on two continents, is complicated and interesting, but the best thing is the characters, rich and deep and believable.
There is a fair amount about Charles' home life, his close relationship with his wife and his continuing astonishment at the growth of his small daughter.
While the case itself is complex and challenging, the real pleasure of this book is Charles himself, a man of privilege and education still trying to figure out what he wants out of life.
Victoria Rienzi takes a break from writing a popular mystery series featuring a Hercule Poirot-ish hero and moves back to her New Jersey hometown and her family's restaurant, Casa Lido, run by her indomitable grandmother. The Jersey Shore town is abuzz over the news that a reality series may be filmed there.
Many -- including the Rienzis -- are opposed. So when the show's producer dies in the restaurant, possibly of food poisoning, the family is in danger of losing its livelihood. The prime suspect is Victoria's former boyfriend, the hunky Tim.
The Jersey tone is captured very well here, and the family and assorted friends sound like real people. Victoria keeps discovering that a real murder case doesn't flow as easily as the ones she writes. There's also a hint of romance, just enough to suggest it will come up in future books in the series.
Roberta Alexander is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org