Spy fiction is a genre that, done poorly, can lurch toward humorlessness. Mick Herron has for years avoided this pitfall with his dryly entertaining Slough House series — a new one will be published next year, o frabjous day — while taking occasional turns writing shorter pieces that mix criminal doings and the absurd.

The bulk of those short stories are included in DOLPHIN JUNCTION (Soho Crime, 294 pp., $24.95), a collection that demonstrates the breadth of Herron’s talent. Four stories feature the married private detectives Zoë Boehm and Joe Silvermann; over time, it becomes abundantly clear who is the unflappable, capable one and who’s more prone to trouble of his own making.

Slough House gets a cameo in one story, and the rest are one-offs, designed to showcase the author’s mastery of plot twists. One that I won’t get out of my head anytime soon is the collection’s title story, which overturns the traditional missing-wife narrative with particular relish.


The ways in which women torture their bodies in pursuit of creative dreams make for enthralling fictional drama. This terrain proves irresistible to Rachel Kapelke-Dale in THE BALLERINAS (St. Martin’s, 352 pp., $28), a debut novel set in the hothouse atmosphere of the Paris Opera Ballet academy as three students grow up, compete, forge friendships and embark on a trail of destruction.

Delphine Léger narrates, and she is a willful, complex creature, at times maddeningly petulant, at other times singularly devoted to her best friends, Margaux and Lindsay. The novel charts their respective courses from the corps to soloist stardom, linear progressions shattered by an unholy mix of injuries, rivalries, passion and the capricious natures of the men they obsess over.

“You start out as perfect,” Delphine says, “and you become something else.”

For the longest time, despite Delphine’s offhandedly declaring herself a killer on the very first page, I struggled to classify this as a crime novel. But Kapelke-Dale has thought through the larger picture, and examined how trauma and asymmetries of power derail so many dancers. There’s often a personal — and, in this case, criminal — price to pay for success.

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