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Ramona Emerson. Soho Crime, $25.95 (312p) ISBN 978-1-64129-333-4

Rita Todacheene, the narrator of Emerson’s strong debut, has excelled at her job with the Albuquerque (N.Mex.) PD’s Crime Scene Specialist Unit for the past five years, exposing valuable clues through her meticulous photography. Flair and technical expertise aside, much of her success is due to a unique ability to communicate with the ghosts of crime victims. It’s a gift she discovered during childhood, but these unusual powers come at a price—her peculiar behavior and obsession with “imaginary friends” alienated her from her classmates and drove her out of her Navajo community. Ever since, damaged spirits, desperate for her help, plague her, pushing her to the edge of sanity and making her friends and colleagues question her psychological competence. After photographing a grisly highway suicide, she’s coerced into investigating members of the police force with connections to the victim and major players in a Mexican drug cartel, ultimately drawing her into a perilous quest for truth and justice. Rich, expressive prose matches the suspenseful storytelling. Only the predictable finale disappoints. Crime fiction fans will relish this keenly balanced paranormal page-turner and piquant coming-of-age yarn. (Aug.)