Crime In Brief: Red Leaves <br></br> Lights Out<br></br>

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The Independent Culture

Quercus is a brand new imprint with a lot of fine crime titles to be published this year, and if this, the first I've seen, is anything to go by, it will be a big success. Something ugly rears its head in small-town America as a little girl goes missing while being baby-sat by a teenage boy. Slowly but surely the boy's father, Eric Moore, who narrates the story, begins to suspect everything his son does and says, and realises that his whole life is based on falsehood. As his wife who is cuckolding him says: "Everybody lies", which mirrors the comment by his alcoholic brother: "Everybody's a fake."

Red Leaves is a brilliant description of how a seemingly perfect life can fall apart all because of one phone call. Outstanding, and so very melancholic.

Lights Out by Jason Starr (ORION £18.99 £17.99 (P&P FREE) 08700 798 897)

Ryan Rossetti is a blue-collar kind of guy, painting walls in Brooklyn. But once he had a dream of being a big-time baseball player. Instead, his buddy Jake got the brass ring and several million dollars as a star of the game. Jake's a creep, only interested in number one, not even in his childhood sweetheart and fiancée, Christina. Now, in his absence, Ryan and Christina are an item, but Jake is on his way home to set a wedding date owing to a little local difficulty with an under-age girl which he thinks can be solved by becoming a family man.

This is the worst kind of eternal triangle which must end in tears. And it does, as Ryan is accosted by two cracked-out kill-crazy gang-bangers, and a chain of coincidental events leads to murder. But not the expected one.

Like George Pelecanos at his best, Jason Starr manages to get inside the heads of his characters, both black and white, and with Lights Out punches more than his weight.