How did I miss Stephan Talty’s nonfiction? It clearly prepared him to unleash a powerful arsenal of prose and plot into his first novel. Black Irish (Ballantine, Feb. ) drills into decaying South Buffalo and especially its tight Irish community, with its wealth of hidden, very dark demons. Absalom “Abbie” Kearney grew up in the city, daughter of an admired cop. Harvard-educated, she’s left a brilliant homicide career in Florida (you’ll find out why) to return to “the County” (think Ireland here—say, Cork) and the care of her degenerating dad. Whipped by a brutal winter, Abbie and the County are totally chilled by the discovery of Jimmy Ryan’s mangled corpse in a local church basement, displaying several signs of torture. I admit right here that I never saw the twist this book takes as it powers inexorably to its grim conclusion. And that I didn’t care how the plot developed, so powerful is the voice of Abbie. May she soon return.