Capsule reviews

LEAVING TIME. By Jodi Picoult. Random House. 405 pages $28.

“Leaving Time” opens with 13-year-old Jenna thinking of her mother, Alice, who had disappeared mysteriously several years before. Alice is a research scientist studying elephant behavior. She first worked in Africa and then at an elephant sanctuary in the U.S. The passages on these extraordinary animals are not easily forgotten and the most poignant in the book.

Jenna’s father is in a psychiatric hospital, and she is living with her grandmother, but she cannot let the disappearance of Alice go. Believing that her mother “would never have left me behind, not willingly,” Jenna is determined to solve the mystery and find her mother.

In her quest she enlists the help of Serenity, a one-time celebrity psychic, and Virgil, a cop turned private investigator. From then on, the tale takes twists and turns, and sometimes the quick shift of the different narrators can be a jolt, but the story moves quickly and offers lots of surprises.

At times, it is difficult to suspend disbelief. Could a 13-year-old really be that smart and savvy? And can we really believe the outcome? However, as always, Jodi Picoult gives her readers a good story.

Reviewer Frances Monaco is a writer in Charleston.

BLOOD ON SNOW. By Jo Nesbo. Knopf. 224 pages. $23.95.

From its stunning opening line — “The snow was dancing like cotton wool in the light of the street lamps” — to its surprising and poetic ending, Jo Nesbo’s latest novel is a dream.

To call “Blood on Snow” a crime novel would be an immense understatement. It does tell the story of Olav, an understandable and strangely sympathetic, dyslexic contract killer who readily acknowledges that he’s not good at much else.

But it’s also a beautiful, complicated and skillfully rendered love story: “I held her incredibly carefully, like one of the dried flowers I sometimes found in the pages of books at the library,” Nesbo writes.

It is a short, compact and lean book, a novella, really — no extraneous twists or descriptions or even words. But it packs an emotional punch with its gorgeous prose and a taut plot.

Reviewer Kim Curtis writes for the Associated Press.