Dolphin Junction

Four of the 11 crystalline and often hilarious little nightmares in English thriller writer Mick Herron's Dolphin Junction revolve around Oxford Investigations, a private detective agency run by a husband-and-wife team who face off like a well-oiled motion picture couple. Whenever he's stumped, Joe Silvermann, the dewier half of the pair, asks himself this default question: "What would Marlowe do?" Readers can count on the cast of Herron's glorious first short story collection to do the opposite.

In the title story, a man insists that his wife has been abducted; the police believe she left of her own free will. In "Mirror Images," a mystery writer is convinced that he's haunted by a character he killed off in a book 16 years earlier. In the absurdist but internally logical "The Usual Santas," there's one extra mall Santa at the annual Christmas Eve party, at which everyone must stay in his identity-concealing costume. Herron (Slough House; Dead Lions; This Is What Happened; Joe Country) is an uncommonly good craftsman, tossing off perfect similes ("A lone tree waved on the skyline, like an illustration on a book jacket") with the same effortlessness with which he throws darts that pierce the black hearts of consumerism and capitalism ("On a small enough scale, this is termed theft. When done on an industrial level it is business"). Never mind what Philip Marlowe would do: What would Raymond Chandler do if he were to meet Mick Herron? Probably buy him a pint and suggest that they compare notes. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

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