Pop-Up Brothels, Severed Tongues and Creepy Nursery Rhymes

Whatever will they come up with next? In MANY RIVERS TO CROSS (Morrow, 377 pp., $28.99), Peter Robinson’s new mystery featuring his simpatico police detective, Alan Banks, it’s “pop-up brothels.” These floating escort agencies materialize out of nowhere to service patrons who trawl the dark web to find them — only to quietly fold their tents and disappear once the police get wind of them.

“They can be quite sophisticated,” observes Banks, ever the master of British reserve and understatement. But these enterprises are part of a pervasive flesh-peddling racket that victimizes young women who are lured to England with promises of respectable jobs, only to be tricked out as prostitutes. That old story is given a new twist when Zelda, one of these involuntary recruits, turns out to be a “super-recognizer,” an individual gifted (or cursed) with extraordinary abilities to place a face. As always, Robinson approaches his characters with immense compassion. But it’s Zelda’s uncanny skills, not her vulnerable humanity, that are of intense interest to the police — and even more so to the criminals who hold her life in their hands.

We all need other people, but some of us sadly find ourselves in need of suspiciously helpful strangers — call them Samaritans — like the ones we meet in C. J. Tudor’s eerie thriller, THE OTHER PEOPLE (Ballantine, 324 pp., $27).

Gabe finds himself accepting the dubious assistance of such a shadowy syndicate following the disappearance of his 5-year-old daughter, Izzy. Driving home from work one evening, Gabe is stunned to see a child who looks exactly like Izzy in the back seat of a car that passes him on the highway. It must be an illusion, he tells himself — surely his daughter is at home with his wife — until the little girl looks directly at him and mouths the word: “Daddy!” Unnervingly, upon his arrival home, he finds the police on his doorstep.

Perhaps worse than the finality of death, “missing is limbo,” he reflects, stung by the pain of studying old photographs of absent loved ones, “their hairstyles becoming more dated, their smiles more frozen with each missed birthday and Christmas.”

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