A Texas private investigator and his assistant are hired by a man who is looking for his brother, but what unfolds is something completely different in Lisa Sandlin's "The Bird Boys."

It’s 1973 in Beaumont, Texas, and Tom Phelan is trying to make a go of Phelan Investigations with the help of his assistant, Delpha Wade, who is recovering from injuries inflicted by a serial killer in a previous case ("The Do-Right," 2015). And that’s only one of Delpha’s problems. She went to prison at 18 for killing a man who raped her. Now 32, she’s on parole and learning to navigate a world with freedom, choices and even new social exchanges. “Congratulations to you,” she says to someone about a new baby — a phrase she’s never uttered before in her life. When an elderly man named Xavier Bell asks them to find his brother, Tom and Delpha’s meticulous research uncovers more than anyone expects. What sounds like an ordinary PI caper, though, becomes something elevated, poignant, and complex in this beautifully written novel. The author’s use of dialogue is perfectly regional, and her descriptions evoke a cross between Raymond Chandler and James Lee Burke. A briefcase “might have been rubbed with twenties to give it the mellow sheen,” and “the desk man was a middle-aged cop whose starched shirt could have worked the shift without him.” The author also conveys the realities of doing research in 1973, from using phone books and libraries to tracking down old paper records.

Proving that anything old can be new in the right, talented hands, Sandlin has crafted an outstanding series that readers will want to follow and savor.

(Sandlin will speak and sign copies of her book at 2 p.m. Sunday at BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar Blvd. Information: bookpeople.com.)

A warm romance

A widow and a former baseball player try to start over after life throws them some surprises in "Pop Culture Happy Hour" podcaster Linda Holmes’ debut, "Evvie Drake Starts Over."

As far as everyone in her small town knows, Evvie Drake is a grieving widow. Her husband died in a car accident, and she’s been living all alone in their big house, rarely venturing out except to get breakfast with her best friend, Andy. But what no one — not even Andy or Evvie’s father — knows is that her husband was emotionally abusive, and she was planning to leave him on the night of his death. When Andy suggests that his old friend, former baseball player Dean Tenney, move into the apartment attached to Evvie’s house, she agrees. Much like Evvie, Dean’s life hasn’t turned out the way he wanted it to. After pitching for years, he’s struggling with “the yips” — he’s unable to pitch for reasons that neither he nor any professionals can figure out. Evvie and Dean are both mourning their old lives, for very different reasons, and the two of them quickly become friends — and then, slowly, something more than friends. Holmes writes with an easy warmth about kind people who are trying their best but messing things up anyway. Characters speak to each other with natural but hilarious dialogue, making their conversations a joy to read. Refreshingly, Evvie and Dean’s relationship hurdles come about because they’re adults with complex lives and baggage, not because of easily fixed miscommunications. Although their romance is often front and center, there are many other emotionally affecting storylines, chief among them the changing friendship between Andy and Evvie and Evvie’s need to stand up to her family.

A warm and lovely romance, perfect for readers of Rainbow Rowell and Louise Miller.