The Girl Is Murder by Kathryn Miller Haines; Roaring Brook Press, 352 pages ($16.99). Ages 12 and up.

This promising debut novel is set against the colorful backdrop of New York City during World War II and the steep class divide between public and private high school and between Upper and Lower East Side and Harlem. As any young detective should be, 15-year-old Iris Anderson is pretty much left to her own devices. Her mother is dead; her father, a veteran who lost a leg at Pearl Harbor, is struggling to earn a living as a private eye. Iris decides to start her own investigation after a classmate disappears and the quest prompts her to befriend "The Rainbows," famous for going their own way and getting into trouble, and even to a dance floor in Harlem. While the details about Iris' mother's death aren't as deftly handled as they might be, the author offers an interesting portrait of an adolescent struggling to make her own way and a fascinating trip back in time, to what it was like to be a teen in 1942 down to the last detail, of the slang ("murder," for one), the music, the movies, the fashion.

-- Jean Westmoore


Sex and the River Styx: Essays by Edward Hoagland; Chelsea Green, 247 pages ($27.50)

"Quarry or reseed me," writes Edward Hoagland, whom the Washington Post lauded as "the Thoreau of our time," "but if life is, as Emerson suggested, a seethe of ecstasy, then time in its continuum has been the seat of joy and my citizenship lies more in the humus than the strata underfoot."

Hoagland tells how he worked for the circus when he was a college student at Harvard; he recounts his visit to Uganda to meet the family he sent money to for more than 20 years; he writes about the time his family first moved from the city to the country, in 1940, when he was 8; he writes about getting old in a tone that is humorous and confessional. In his fond introduction, Howard Frank Mosher writes that Hoagland conveys the feeling (unlike so many environmentalists and naturalists) that "we are a species eminently worth saving." Hoagland has spent more time observing with gratitude than opining: "Life is moments," he writes, "day by day, not a chronometer or a contractual commitment by God."

-- Los Angeles Times


A Bad Night's Sleep by Michael Wiley; Minotaur, 258 pages ($24.99)

In Michael Wiley's hands, the cliche of the recovering alcoholic former cop-turned-private detective seems like a fresh idea. That's because Wiley refuses to allow any predictable plot twists to mar "A Bad Night's Sleep" and makes sure his Chicago investigator Joe Kozmarski barely has time to take a deep breath. The reader will be on edge as Joe is pulled deeper into an elaborate conspiracy.

Joe is hired to do the late-night surveillance at a luxury condo development that has been overrun by thieves making off with tools, appliances and construction materials. But these thieves aren't what Joe expected. While he watches, the burglary crew arrives -- in a police cruiser. Two of the thieves are even in uniform. During a chaotic shootout, Joe kills a cop who is part of the burglary team.

Joe is branded a cop killer and Chicago's Finest are more than willing to blame him for the shootout. Joe reluctantly agrees to infiltrate the burglary ring when he's asked by his old friend, Lt. Bill Gubman.

Playing double agent is a dangerous game for Joe. The thieving cops don't quite trust him, and the honest cops think he's a murderer and a thief.

Wiley, an English professor at the University of North Florida, shows that honor among thieves is a just a saying. The crew's leaders bring Joe into their upscale bar/brothel that feeds more money into their operation. Joe is forced to reevaluate his moral compass as he becomes more deeply immersed in his charade. Joe is trying to do the right thing without self-destructing or returning to alcohol.

-- McClatchy Newspapers