SYKM


2014 Reviews
January 1, 2014

LexiconMax Barry
Lexicon (Penguin Press 2013) is the story of Emily Ruff, a 16-year-old runaway living on the streets of San Francisco, making a tenuous living fleecing tourists with three-card Monte. Impressed by her natural ability to persuade her marks to keep playing, Emily is recruited to attend an exclusive school outside Arlington, Virginia, where students learn to use language to manipulate others. Graduates are called “poets” for their ability to exploit the power of words. Emily learns that people can be classified by personality types, and that there are specific powerful words that can be used to control each of the 228 psychographic categories. Emily does well in school, though she has trouble following the rule not to “practice” on other students, until she commits the cardinal sin of falling in love, thus making herself vulnerable to another. Expelled from school, Emily is exiled to Broken Hill, Australia, a dusty town in the middle of nowhere. Meanwhile, Wil Parke is kidnapped from an airport by two men who claim he is an “outlier” immune to mind control. Wil has no idea what the men are talking about, but realizes they are prepared to do just about anything to evade their enemies, the poets. This satirical thriller explores themes of identity, privacy, and the prevalence of data collection in the modern world.

If You Were HereAlafair Burke
If You Were Here (Harper 2013) features McKenna Jordan, a former assistant district attorney whose career ended when she falsely accused Officer Scott Macklin of planting a weapon at the scene of a fatal shooting. Ten years later, McKenna writes an article about the case for the news magazine she works for, triggering an unexpected request for a book proposal. When a mystery woman rescues a teen who fell onto the subway tracks, McKenna tracks down a woman who filmed it on her cell phone, hoping to stretch the story enough to give herself time to work on the book proposal. Examining the video, McKenna is shocked to recognize her old friend Susan Hauptmann, who disappeared without a trace a decade earlier. McKenna visits Detective Joe Scanlin, the cop who handled Susan’s case, who admits that personal problems prevented him from giving the case his full attention, and promises to look into the case file. McKenna’s husband Patrick, a West Point classmate of Susan, insists that the blurry face in the video doesn’t look anything like Susan. He tries to persuade McKenna not to begin another wild goose chase, afraid McKenna will fall back into the morass of depression and alcohol that consumed her when Susan vanished. Interspersed with McKenna’s efforts to trace the mystery woman are pages from her book proposal reexamining the evidence and suppositions that led her to believe Macklin shot an unarmed young black man. This character-driven thriller is well-plotted and suspenseful.

The LuminariesEleanor Catton
The Luminaries (Little, Brown 2013) begins with young lawyer Walter Moody’s arrival in New Zealand in 1866, hoping to make his fortune in the goldfields. Entering the saloon of his hotel, Moody finds an unconventional gathering of twelve men, ranging from prosperous merchants to impoverished ministers plus two Chinese and a tattooed Maori. After ascertaining Moody’s trustworthiness, the men share the strange story that has brought them together. The town hermit, Crosbie Wells, has been found dead in his hut by a visiting politician who then stumbles across Anna Wetherell, the town whore, unconscious in the road. The same night Emery Staines, a young miner who struck it rich, disappears. Each man takes up the tale to add pertinent details, and two villains emerge: Frances Carver, a vicious and unprincipled ship captain, and Lydia Greenway Wells Carver who has her greedy fingers in every pie. Meandering from voice to voice and from past to present and back again, this atmospheric exploration of avarice, love, and betrayal is spellbinding. Over the course of nearly 850 pages this winner of the 2013 Man Booker Prize brings the intricate investigation of the network of fates and fortunes to a very satisfying conclusion.

The Cuckoo’s CallingRobert Galbraith
The Cuckoo’s Calling (Mulholland Books 2013) introduces Cormoran Strike, a London private detective barely scraping by. Strike’s breakup with his girlfriend has left him no place to live, so he is camping out in his shabby office and avoiding calls from his creditors when Robin Ellacott, a secretary sent by Temporary Solutions, appears at his door. A few minutes later Robin announces a prospective client, John Bristow, stunning Strike who hasn’t had a new client for weeks. Bristow asks Strike to investigate the death of Lula Landry, his supermodel half-sister affectionally dubbed “Cuckoo” by the designer who made her famous. Lula plunged to her death from the balcony of her flat three months earlier, and the police concluded suicide. Bristow refuses to believe Lula killed herself, and offers Strike a possible culprit: the man Lula’s neighbor heard shouting at her before her death, presumably the same man caught on CCTV footage running away after her body hit the sidewalk. Strike is leery of taking on the case after the high-profile police investigation, but is swayed by Bristow’s offer to pay double his usual fee. Robin, who is only temping until a real job comes along, is thrilled by the challenges of detective work, demonstrating a flair for inquiry that surprises both herself and Strike. A veteran of Afghanistan, Strike has some mobility problems due to his artificial lower leg, but is a meticulous investigator gifted with masterly interrogatory skills. The mis-matched duo makes a proficient team, and gradually begin to respect each other’s talents. This engaging crime novel, first in a planned series, is J.K. Rowling’s mystery debut.

The Fame ThiefTimothy Hallinan
The Fame Thief (Soho 2013) finds thief Junior Bender reluctantly working for Hollywood mob boss and movie kingpin Irwin Dressler. Now 93, Dressler is intent on righting a wrong from 62 years earlier, when compromising photographs taken at a Las Vegas mafia party in 1950 destroyed the career of starlet Dolores La Marr. Dressler always suspected that Dolores was set up to take a fall, but could never discover by whom and for what reason. Though doubtful that he can dig up anything after such a long time, Junior is strong-armed into agreeing to give it a shot and hunts up friends and acquaintances of Dolores from long ago: writers, gossip columnists, newspaper editors, publicists, and fellow actors. Now senior citizens, each has an opinion or angle to share with Junior, but the fact that they begin dropping dead is worrisome. The sudden deaths shouldn’t be too surprising, since they are all in their 80s, but Junior is disconcerted by the connection with his visits. Hollywood’s Golden Age comes alive in the reminiscences of those Junior interviews, both the innocence and seedy underbelly. Junior is at the top of his game in this third in the comic crime series, dispensing facetious remarks while assembling all the disparate pieces into a masterful exposé of a long ago Hollywood frame-up.

The Dead Shall Not RestTessa Harris
The Dead Shall Not Rest (Kensington 2013) joins surgeon and anatomist Dr. Thomas Silkstone as he examines the Irish Giant, eight-foot-tall Charles Byrne, rescued from a sideshow by his fiancée Lady Lydia Farrell and Count Josef Boruwlaski, a dwarf. Lydia and Boruwlaski hope to help Byrne realize his dream of obtaining a posthumous pardon for his father, who was executed for a murder he didn’t commit. Silkstone determines that Byrne is in the last stages of tuberculosis, but pronounces him fit enough to pursue his goal under medical supervision. In 1782 the only legal supply of corpses for anatomical purposes were those condemned to death and dissection by the courts, and the fledgling science of anatomy made grave-robbing a lucrative line of work. Especially valuable were the bodies of pregnant women, children, and rare examples of deformity. Surgeon-General Dr. John Hunter, eager to increase his knowledge, lurks around Byrne like an anxious vulture, offering riches for the right to dissect his corpse. When famed castrato Carlo Cappelli is murdered, his larynx and vocal chords surgically removed, Silkstone suspects that Hunter may be responsible, seeking another unique curiosity to add to his fabled collection. This excellent sequel to The Anatomist’s Apprentice cleverly mixes fiction with historical figures like Byrne, Boruwlaski, and Hunter.

A Man Without BreathPhilip Kerr
A Man Without Breath (Putnam 2013) takes place in March of 1943, a month after the German defeat at Stalingrad. Hitler insists that Germany is winning the war, but morale is sinking fast. Bernie Gunther, a former Berlin police officer now working for the Wehrmacht War Crimes Bureau, is sent to Smolensk, where a possible mass grave has been discovered in the Katyn Forest. Joseph Goebbels, head of the German propaganda machine, hopes that the bodies will prove to be Polish officers massacred by the Red Army. If Bernie can confirm that the mass grave does contain the bodies of the missing Polish officers captured by the Russians, the Ministry of Propaganda schemes to use a German investigation to destroy the Alliance by cutting Russia off from western supply lines, as well as restoring the German reputation for fair play in the eyes of the rest of the world. However, if the mass grave turns out to be full of Jews murdered by the SS, Bernie is expected to quietly re-bury the evidence the wolves dug up. In Smolensk Bernie finds himself enjoying the comforts of Dnieper Castle with Army Group Central under the command of Field Marshal von Kluge, an aristocrat whose main interest is hunting wolves from his plane with his Russian guide. Bernie monitors the exhumation and searches for anyone who may have observed the atrocity, but potential witnesses are killed before they can testify. Adding to the confusion, the Wehrmacht old guard mounts several unsuccessful plots to assassinate Hitler, who is on his way to visit Smolensk. This excellent historical mystery is the ninth in the series featuring an appealing protagonist who struggles to maintain some sort of morality as his world crumbles around him.

Three Graves FullJamie Mason
Three Graves Full (Gallery Books 2013) is the story of Jason Getty, a mild-mannered widower who buried the body of a man he killed at the back corner of his newly purchased property a year earlier. The killing was an accident, but Jason can’t get rid of the feeling that he will be caught out somehow, jumping at shadows and avoiding the police. He can’t bring himself to take care of his yard, and finally realizes he needs to hire someone to spruce it up before his neighbors start to complain. The gardeners do a splendid job, and Jason is pleased with his new flowerbeds until they unearth the body of a woman right under his bedroom window. The police quickly uncover the body of a man close to the house, but to Jason’s relief do not search the back of the property. Detective Tim Bayard determines that the remains have been buried too long to have anything to do with Jason, and begins to trace the movements of the previous owners, Boyd and Katielynn Montgomery. But something about Jason Getty bothers Bayard, and he can’t shake the feeling that Jason’s excessive anxiety is more than the natural reaction of a homeowner who recognizes his new house came with two bodies. While searching for evidence, the police discover bloodstains in the bedroom, confirming their suspicion that Katielynn’s husband Boyd killed his wife and her lover and buried them in the yard. But additional, and newer, bloodstains in the kitchen don’t fit with any scenario Bayard can imagine. This clever debut thriller features interesting and fully-realized characters presented with witty black humor.

Kiss Me FirstLottie Moggach
Kiss Me First (Doubleday 2013) is the disturbing story of Leila, a sheltered young social outcast with exceptional computer skills. Leila was raised by her single mother until she died from complications of MS, leaving Leila barely enough money to buy a small flat and support herself testing computer programs from home. Playing World of Warcraft online was Leila’s only social outlet until she discovered Adrian’s Red Pill forum, which tolerated only rational thinking and discussion of ethical issues like the individual’s right to commit suicide. For the first time in her life, Leila feels a valued member of a community. After several months, Adrian requests a face-to-face meeting, where he offers Leila a challenging job: learn enough about Tess’s past and present in order to impersonate her online for several months after her death. Adrian’s premise is that if Leila orchestrates a slow withdrawal of Tess from her family and friends, Tess will be able to end her life without hurting anyone. The complete opposite of Leila, Tess is a sexy bipolar woman who lights up any room she enters. Tess tried drug therapy to control her depressions, but missed the manic highs, which have become fewer and farther between as she ages. Leila spends months absorbing everything she can about Tess through their nightly Skype chats, creating massive charts to record Tess’s complicated relationships. By the time Tess disappears, Leila has created a fictional retreat to a remote island off the coast of Vancouver with no cell phone coverage. Lelia emails and posts to Facebook as Tess, sure that she can carry off the masquerade, until one of Tess’s old lover’s resurfaces and wants to rekindle their romance. This persuasive debut psychological thriller explores the alternative lives we live through the distance of social media, challenging the conviction that we know what our “friends” are doing based on text messages and the photos they post on Facebook.

RatlinesStuart Neville
Ratlines (Soho 2013) is set in 1963 Ireland, just weeks before the visit of American President John F. Kennedy. The murder of a German national at a seaside guesthouse is assigned to Irish intelligence officer Albert Ryan, who has never quite lived down the shame of joining the British army to fight in WWII. Another German is killed soon after the first, and Ryan realizes both men were Nazis granted asylum in Ireland after WWII, an expression of opposition against the British by the Irish government. SS-Obersturmbannführer Otto Skorzeny, a dangerous former Nazi living in Ireland, is the likely next target. Skorzeny is using his vast fortune to protect himself and other Nazis from war crime trials, transporting postwar Nazis along secret routes called "ratlines" from one safe place to the next. Ryan is tasked with protecting Skorzeny, Hitler’s real-life favorite commando, who represents everything Ryan fought against in the war, as well as catching the killer before the secret amnesty granted to the Nazis becomes public knowledge and causes Kennedy to cancel his visit. This powerful novel explores the psyche of Ireland, where the populace was stunned by WWI, the War of Independence, and the Civil War in less than a decade, too weakened by constant war to help defend Europe from the Germans in WWII, and too bitter against the British to fight against a common enemy. This gripping mix of real-life history and compelling fictional characters was a finalist for the 2013 Steel Dagger Award.

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February 1, 2014

The Hen of the BaskervillesDonna Andrews
The Hen of the Baskervilles (Monotaur 2013) rejoins Meg Langslow as she is helping Mayor Randall Shiffley organize the Virginia Un-Fair, Caerphilly’s attempt to replace the bankrupt state fair. The night before the fair opens, a farmer reports a missing pair of bantam Russian Orloffs to Meg, who is serving as the Mayor’s Deputy Director. While patrolling the fairgrounds in search of the missing chickens, Meg meets up with Molly, a friend who makes artisan cheese. Molly is distraught because her husband has left her for Genette Sedgewick, a privileged hobby winemaker, and is demanding his share of the farm, which will force Molly to sell. Meg enlists her mother to find Molly a capable divorce lawyer, which Meg’s mother, the organizer of the wine pavilion, is more than willing to do since Genette is destroying the ambiance of the pavilion with her loud music and tasteless advertising. When a potentially prize winning giant pumpkin is smashed and a stolen quilt is found on a mud-stained Percheron, Meg realizes that the fair vandalism is more than a prank. A murdered body found in the gate between the fair and the Midway creates a jurisdictional dispute between the Caerphilly County Sheriff’s Department (location of the torso) and the Clay County Sheriff’s Department (location of the head), requiring all of Meg’s ingenuity to resolve. Meg’s interactions with rare heritage breeds like Florida Crackers (cows), Romeldale sheep, and American Mammoth Jackstock donkeys add an extra layer of hilarity. This 15th entry in a continually funny series is a finalist for the 2014 Lefty Award.

Double DipGretchen Archer
Double Dip (Henery Press 2014) finds Davis Way struggling to find time for both her undercover casino security job at the Bellissimo Resort and Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi, and her relationship with Bradley Cole, lead counsel for the Grand Palace Casino. Bradley is defending the casino from the lawsuit of a Mississippi Stud dealer suing the casino on the grounds that second hand smoke has made her pre-cancerous. Davis can’t complain about the long hours Bradley is working, but the fact that he is spending far more time with the new female member of his legal team than with Davis makes her very nervous. The constant reappearance of both Davis’s layabout ex-husband and her gambling-addicted Granny, who comes to visit every month from Pine Apple, Alabama, adds even more stress to their relationship. Then Bianca Sanders, the self-centered wife of the casino owner, shoots herself in the foot, forcing Davis, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Bianca, to serve as a body double for a seemingly endless string of public appearances. The Bellissimo winter Slot-Tournament season has just opened, and Davis and the rest of the security team are investigating an elderly woman who lists her home address as a church in Alabama. As the team delves through the slot tournament records, they discover that several elderly players have vanished, all with a connection to the So Help Me God Pentecostal Church. This second in the series is non-stop fun.

The Shining GirlsLauren Beukes
The Shining Girls (Mulholland Books 2013) features a serial killer with the ability to move back and forth through time. In 1931 Chicago, Harper Curtis is desperately poor when he kills an old blind woman for the too-large jacket she has draped over her shoulders. In the pocket of the coat he finds the key to a dilapidated house. Inside he discovers a recently murdered man, and an upstairs bedroom that opens into other times. The House compels Harper to search for “shining girls” who display a burning potential, returning later in their lives to brutally kill them, leaving a souvenir from another victim and taking a new one. Though some of the women from the 1920s through 1980s fight back, Harper manages to return to the safety of the House, vanishing without a trace into the past or future. In 1989 Kirby Mazrachi’s dog attacks Harper before he manages to complete her murder, and she becomes obsessed with tracking down her would-be killer. Kirby applies for an intern position at the Sun-Times in order to connect with Dan Velasquez, a sports writer who left the murder beat after reporting on the horror of Kirby’s near death. Kirby convinces Dan to search through the records for murders featuring an out-of-place object, like the silver-and-black art deco lighter left by Kirby’s attacker. This compelling and gruesome thriller was a finalist for the 2013 Gold Dagger Award.

Winter at Death’s HotelKenneth Cameron
Winter at Death’s Hotel (Sourcebooks 2013, UK 2012) begins with Arthur Conan Doyle’s arrival with his wife Louisa at the Britannic Hotel in New York City in January 1896. As they are checking in, Louisa notices a copper-haired young woman, radiant with love for her companion. The next morning while Arthur is still sleeping, Louisa ventures down to the lobby alone, where she is given tea and a pink newspaper featuring a report on the discovery of a red-haired woman’s mutilated body in an alley. After a stay of a few days, the Doyles plan to head off for a lecture tour across the country, but Louisa sprains her ankle and must remain behind. While the traveling Doyle grows increasingly perturbed by the American preference for hearing details about Sherlock Holmes rather than his planned “Future of the Novel” lecture, Louisa becomes obsessed with the murdered woman. With the help of an ambitious female journalist, Louisa identifies the dead woman as the one she noticed at the hotel, and is disturbed that no progress is reported in the papers. Louisa writes to Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt, but Roosevelt has decided to halt the investigation to avoid offending the dead woman’s powerful husband. The case is assigned to Detective-Sergeant “Never” Dunne, in the hopes that his sluggish pace will kill any advancement. Though hampered by the physical limitations of crutches, her inability to get men to take her concerns seriously, and Arthur’s parsimonious refusal to send her the money she needs to pay for her meals and the hotel bill, Louisa perservers in her investigation. A second murder brings Dunne and Louisa together as grudging allies in their search for justice for the horribly mutilated women.

Dream with Little AngelsMichael Hiebert
Dream with Little Angels (Kensington 2013) is set in 1987 in the fictional small town of Alvin, Alabama. Abe Teal is eleven years old, and spends much of his time with his best friend Dewey keeping an eye on his strange new neighbor Mr. Wyatt Edward Farrow, who claims to be a carpenter. Odd sounds come from Mr. Farrow’s garage at night, and Dewey notices that the streets are strangely free from road kill since Mr. Farrow came to town. Abe’s mother Leah is the town detective, promoted to give her extra money after her husband died, rather than on the basis of her detecting skills. Leah’s first case 12 years earlier was the disappearance of 13-year-old Ruby Mae Vickers. Despite an intensive search, no sign was found of Ruby Mae until her body appeared three months later, laid out under a willow next to the swamp. Abe’s older sister Carry has just become interested in boys, keeping the household in turmoil until 14-year-old Mary Ann Dailey disappears. Leah suspects that the new disappearance is connected to the case she failed to solve 12 years before, and struggles to control her guilt over Ruby Mae’s death while searching for Mary Ann. The third girl who goes missing is black. Abe notices that the town reacts differently to the disappearance of Tiffany Michelle Yates, and grapples with understanding racism. Narrated by the naive yet observant Abe, this compelling debut mystery is the first in a series.

JapantownBarry Lancet
Japantown (Simon & Schuster 2013) introduces Jim Brodie, owner of a Japanese art and antique gallery in San Francisco, California, and part-owner of Brodie Investigations, a detective agency founded by his father in Tokyo. Brodie grew up in Japan, and is bilingual. He married Mieko, a Japanese woman who died with her relatives in a fire four years earlier, and is raising their six-year old daughter Jenny alone. When a Japanese tourist family with two small children is gunned down in the middle of Japantown, Lieutenant Frank Renna calls upon Brodie to help decipher a kanji character left with the bodies. Brodie confirms Renna’s fear that the kanji is identical to the one left sprayed on the sidewalk outside the burnt remains of Mieko’s parents home. Despite years of research, Jim has been unable to discover the meaning of the kanji. The appearance of the mysterious kanji in Japantown confirms Jim’s suspicion that his wife’s death was not an accident. Katsuyuki Hara, a non-conformist Japanese multi-millionaire, visits Brodie’s antique gallery and reveals that the murdered family was his daughter and grandchildren. Though certain Hara is not telling the whole truth, Brodie empathizes with his grief and agrees to find the person responsible for his family’s murder. The search takes Brodie to Japan on the trail of the Soga, a shadowy centuries-old group of specially trained ruthless assassins. Fascinating information about Japanese history and culture is seamlessly woven into this high-intensity debut thriller.

The Royal Wulff MurdersKeith McCafferty
The Royal Wulff Murders (Viking 2012) introduces Sean Stranahan, a painter and fanatic fly fisherman recently relocated to Montana. When Sean applied for gallery space at the Bridger Mountain Cultural Center he dredged up his expired Massachusetts private investigator license to get around the fact that the gallery already had too many painters, hence the small text reading “Private Investigations” under his Blue Ribbon Watercolors sign. Velvet Lafayette, a sultry Southern lounge singer, hires Sean to discover the last place her father went fly fishing before his death so she can scatter his ashes. She tells Sean that her younger brother may have visited on a similar quest, and is now missing. Sheriff Martha Ettinger runs into Sean while investigating the drowning of a young tourist with a Royal Whiff trout fly stuck in his lower lip, which looks more like a murder than an accident. Sean and Martha begin to suspect the death may have something to do with Bridger’s main industry — fly fishing — and bring in Blackfeet tracker Harold Little Feather to help follow the trail. This excellent debut mystery is the start of a series.

Murder and MoonshineCarol Miller
Murder and Moonshine (Minotaur 2013) introduces Daisy McGovern, a young waitress in a small southwest Virginia town barely making enough to support her invalid mother. Four years earlier Daisy’s father died in a fire, not long before her husband walked out without a word of good-bye. Since then Daisy has been working at H & P’s Diner, baking fabulous desserts and trying to keep up with her mother’s medical bills. Fred Dickerson, a reclusive farmer, stumbles into the diner early one morning and falls down dead. Dickerson had been living on the farm Daisy’s mother lost after her father’s death, and Daisy is horrified to learn that local bad boy and successful moonshiner Rick Balsam now owns the family farm. Strange foam around Dickerson’s mouth causes the medical examiner to call for an autopsy, closing the diner and leaving Daisy concerned about paying her bills. ATF agent Ethan Kinney appears asking for help locating Dickerson’s residence, which Daisy reluctantly provides only after Kinney swears he is investigating only the unexplained death, not searching for moonshine stills. In Daisy’s neck of the woods ATF agents are social pariah, but Daisy trusts that Kinney may be able to get the diner reopened and acts as chauffeur. Rumors of big city folk demonstrating an inexplicable interest in the area signifies something more than moonshine, but no one is sure exactly what they are looking for. This entertaining debut packed with eccentric and charming Southern characters leaves several enigmatic threads available for exploration in future books.

How the Light Gets InLouise Penny
How the Light Gets In (Minotaur 2013) finds Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Quebec Sûreté struggling to manage his new team of homicide detectives, composed mainly of transfers from other departments. Only Inspector Isabelle Lacoste remains from his original team. Jean-Guy Beauvoir, Gamache’s former second in command, has succumbed to drug addiction and joined the team of Chief Inspector Sylvain Francoeur, who hopes to use Jean-Guy as a tool to destroy what is left of Gamache’s career. Gamache welcomes Myrna Landers’s plea to visit Three Pines as an excuse to escape the uncomfortable atmosphere at work. Myrna is worried because Constance Pineault, a former patient who has become a good friend, did not arrive for her scheduled Christmas visit. Myrna reveals that Constance is one of the famous Ouellet quintuplets, born naturally to a Quebec farmer’s wife who considered herself barren. Celebrated as miracle babies when they were born in 1937, the Ouellet Quints lived a charmed life basking in media adoration until they suddenly dropped from public view after the eldest sister died when the Quints were in their early 20s. Balanced against the Constance Pineault investigation is Gamache’s attempt to salvage his reputation while also rescuing Jean-Guy from his slide into depression and madness. The unique residents of Three Pines band together to assist Gamache, even the bitter and brilliant poet Ruth Zardo, who always enjoyed tormenting Jean-Guy. This complex and emotionally powerful mystery, ninth in a series that should be read in sequence to best appreciate the overarching storyline, is a finalist for the 2014 Edgar Award for Best First Novel and the Left Coast Crime Calamari Award.

The Wrong GirlHank Phillippi Ryan
The Wrong Girl (Forge 2013) begins when Tucker Cameron, a former colleague of newspaper report Jane Ryland, asks Jane to help her figure out if it is possible that Brannigan Family and Children Services, a private adoption agency, reunited her with the wrong mother. At first overjoyed to finally meet the mother who gave her up for adoption at birth, Tucker begins to worry that she is the “wrong girl” when she discovers the adoption paperwork lacks any mention of the note or bracelet her adoptive mother saved for her. Jane is investigating the mysterious death of an unidentified woman found dead in an apartment with two children. Luckily the 911 call alerted police in time to turn the two toddlers safely over to social services, but homicide detective Jake Brogan is worried about the empty crib that may have held a missing baby. Jane and Jake have tried to avoid each other after deciding their relationship equals career suicide for both, but when two Brannigan administrators are found dead under questionable circumstances, they find themselves investigating the same company from different perspectives. Through their interviews with the social worker and Tucker, both Jane and Jake uncover disturbing details about the effect of the foster care system on young children and the long-reaching repercussions of adoption to both children and mothers. The sexual tension between Jane and Jake provides a stimulating undercurrent to this fast-paced second in a series, a finalist for the Left Coast Crime Squid Award for the best mystery set in the United States.

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March 1, 2014

Almost CriminalE.R. Brown
Almost Criminal (Crime in Cascadia 2013) is the story of Tate MacLane, a gifted 15-year-old who graduated from high school at the age of 14. When his mother Beth was diagnosed with breast cancer, Tate dropped out of college and got a job in a coffee shop to support his younger sister and his mother, a successful painter now physically incapable of painting, and his younger sister. To save on rent, Beth moves the family to the small town of Wallace, British Columbia, to live in her family’s deteriorating mansion. Tate finds work at the one coffee shop in town, the only employee capable of coaxing the perfect macchiato from the temperamental espresso machine. For recreation Tate drinks far too much. When Randle Kennedy, an engaging man who drives a vintage Porsche, asks Tate to secretly pass an envelope to another customer, Tate accepts the large tip and pretends he doesn’t notice the envelope is stuffed with cash. Unable to resist the lure of earning triple his salary at the Human Bean, Tate is gradually sucked deeper and deeper into Randle’s boutique marijuana business. Convinced that legalization is right around the corner, Randle takes increasingly more dangerous chances while transporting marijuana across the border into the United States, trusting that Tate’s innocent face will provide the perfect cover. This debut novel, a combination coming-of-age story and criminal thriller, is a finalist for the 2014 Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original.

The Gods of GuiltMichael Connelly
The Gods of Guilt (Little, Brown and Company 2013) finds Los Angeles defense attorney Mickey Haller struggling to cope with his guilt over the death of a woman and her daughter killed by a drunk driver Mickey got off on a technicality. Mickey’s daughter, a friend of the dead girl, isn’t speaking to him, and a recent movie about a lawyer who conducts business from the back seat of his Lincoln has spawned a herd of imitators making it difficult for Mickey to find his own car outside the courthouse. A murder case is just what Mickey needs to rebuild his finances. Andre La Cosse, who specializes in websites and social media for prostitutes, is accused of murdering Giselle Dallinger. The strange thing is that it was Giselle herself who told Andre if he was ever in trouble, or if anything ever happened to her, Mickey was the person to call. The name means nothing to Mickey, but the pictures on her website reveal that she was a prostitute he knew as Gloria Dayton, a former client he had helped escape from the life. Mickey is convinced that Andre is being framed, which means there is someone out there with a motive for killing Gloria, and Mickey fears it may be the drug dealer Gloria helped put behind bars years earlier (in The Lincoln Lawyer). As Mickey and his team work to build a defense based on an alternative theory of the crime, Mickey realizes he is being followed. In the courtroom, Mickey’s rapport with the jury, the “Gods of Guilt,” is as important as his legal maneuvers to bring the evidence he needs out into the open. This powerful legal thriller is the fifth in the series starring the flawed but engaging lawyer.

There Was an Old WomanHallie Ephron
There Was an Old Woman (William Morrow 2013) begins when Sandra Ferrante is taken by ambulance to the the hospital. Her 91-year old neighbor, Mina Yetner, calls Sandra’s daughters, but doesn’t understand Sandra’s plea, “Don’t let him in until I’m gone.” When Evie arrives at the house she grew up in, she is shocked by the stench of decomposing food, the scurrying roaches, and piles of garbage. An alcoholic for many years, Sandra has managed to keep her home in semi-respectable order until now. Evie is the curator for the Five-Boroughs Historical Society, prepping for her first major exhibit, focusing on three horrendous fires: the Great Fire of 1776 that destroyed the Stock Exchange, the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that killed 146 young female workers, and the 1945 Empire State Building fire caused when a bomber crashed into the building hidden by fog. At first resenting her mother for yet one more in a long string of inconvenient crises caused by alcohol, Evie learns that this collapse is much more serious. While cleaning the house, Evie discovers a cache of expensive vodka and mysterious envelopes stuffed with $100 bills. Meanwhile, Mina records another widow departing from her home on their quiet Bronx street bordering the Soundview Watershed, and befriends Evie, who is fascinated by Mina’s 1930s miniature of the Empire State Building. Mina knows she is beginning to forget things, but setting her stove on fire and finding her purse in the refrigerator causes her to fear that the dementia her older sister suffered from may be afflicting her own mind. This character-driven suspense novel is a finalist for the 2014 Mary Higgins Clark Award.

Ordinary GraceWilliam Kent Krueger
Ordinary Grace (Atria 2013) is narrated by Frank Drum, a 13-year-old Methodist minister’s son in 1961 New Bremen, Minnesota. Frank and his younger brother Jake have been cautioned not to play on the tracks, especially after young Bobby Cole was crushed by a train earlier that summer. But the boys can’t stay away from the banks of the Minnesota River that flows next to the tracks, and Frank is curious about rumors that Bobby’s death might not have been an accident. One hot afternoon they discover the body of a ragged man. An old Indian is riffling through the dead man’s pockets, but Frank and Jake believe his story that the man was dead when he arrived. Back home, the usually silent Jake overcomes his debilitating stutter to declare they found only a dead man, and Frank also omits the presence of the Indian, trusting that he was an innocent bystander. The two deaths cast a pall over the boys’ enjoyment of summer, already shadowed by their idolized older sister Ariel’s imminent departure for Julliard. A talented musician, Ariel exchanges secretarial services for private music lessons with Emil Brandt, a renowned composer and pianist. Disfigured and blinded in WW II, Emil lives with his strange sister Lise, who is deaf and reacts violently when touched. Other than her brother, Lise’s one friend is Jake, and the two communicate with a combination of signs and facial gestures as they work side-by-side in Lise’s flourishing garden. Part mystery and part coming-of-age story, this haunting novel is a finalist for the 2014 Dilys, Edgar, and Left Coast Crime Awards.

A Final ReckoningSusan Moody
A Final Reckoning (Severn House 2013) begins one Christmas when Chantal Frazer’s beloved older sister Sabine decides to earn some extra money working as an au pair for a wealthy family at Weston Lodge in the Cotswolds during her college break. The Honourable Clio Palliser, her two sons, and their school friend, were alone in the house with Sabine, who watched over the boys so Clio could concentrate on her writing. When the boys’ father returned home from London for Christmas, he found his two sons and Sabine knifed to death, his wife covered with blood, and the third boy hiding in the woods. Clio, known to be mentally unstable, was convicted of murder. Twenty-three years later, Chantal has fulfilled Sabine’s dream of working as an art expert for a London auction house when she notices an advertisement for the opening of Weston Lodge, now converted into an upscale hotel. Chantal can’t resist visiting the scene of her sister’s murder, hoping to finally put the event that destroyed her childhood to rest. At the hotel Chantal meets the detective who investigated the murders, the third boy who barely escaped with his life, Clio’s best friend, and Sabine’s secret boyfriend. The detective confesses that he always had a niggle of doubt about Clio’s guilt, and for the first time Chantal confronts the possibility that Clio, who never spoke a word after the murders, may not have been the monster she always imagined. Armed with Sabine’s letters from Weston Lodge, Chantal discovers some inconstancies in the art her sister admired in the house, and searches for a possible motive for someone to kill two young boys and an innocent au pair in such a brutal manner. This psychological thriller is riveting.

The Good CopBrad Parks
The Good Cop (Minotaur 2013) joins Carter Ross, an investigative reporter for the Newark, New Jersey Eagle-Examiner, as he is called out early one morning to cover the story of the death of a local police officer. While interviewing Darius Kipp’s young wife, Carter is struck by a recent birthday picture of a joyous Kipp holding his young daughter and baby son. A fellow officer describes Kipp as the quintessential "good cop," the one who always treated everyone with respect. Carter is already writing the piece in his head when a text from his editor tells him to kill the story since Kipp committed suicide, shooting himself in the head in the showers at the station. But Carter can’t accept that the contented man planning to vacation with his family at Disney World would take his own life. Determined to pursue the story despite orders to the contrary, Carter dispatches his gullible intern, who spies for Carter’s editor, on a wild goose chase to identify faulty toilets of a Newark Housing Authority development with pregnancy test kits. Free from supervision, Carter visits two elderly Jewish brothers, who know everyone in the neighborhood thanks to their business cashing in on the lifetime guarantees of companies like Timberland, to discover if the rumor that Kipp was being investigated by Internal Affairs is true. The brothers assure Carter that Kipp was clean, and are such consummate salesmen that Carter counts himself lucky to escape with only a pair of steel-toed boots. A “Death Studies” major with an affinity for dead bodies sneaks Carter into the morgue, where they discover evidence that Kipp’s death may not have been suicide after all, putting Carter back on the story he was determined to write anyway. This fourth in the series featuring the self-deprecating Carter and his endearing circle of friends is a finalist for the 2014 Lefty Award for Most Humorous Mystery.

Visitation StreetIvy Pochoda
Visitation Street (Dennis Lehane Books 2013) is set in Red Hook, a transitional section of Brooklyn’s waterfront. One hot summer night 15-year olds Val Marino and June Giatto are bored and restless. Val convinces June to set off on an adventure, floating out on a pink rubber raft onto the Hudson river. Cree James, a black teenager who used to hang out with Val’s old sister, saw the girls carrying the raft to the water, but can’t shake the depression caused by his father’s random shooting to join in their fun. Cree’s cousin Monique, a talented singer who used to hang out with Val and June when they were younger and less likely to separate into racial groups, also declines their invitation. Neither girl returns home that night. Jonathan Sprouse, a Julliard dropout who teaches in the local high school discovers Val’s bruised and battered barely-alive body washed up on shore the next morning. Fadi, a Lebanese bodega owner, utilizes June’s disappearance to attempt to meld the Visitation Street neighborhood into a coherent force through the daily news he posts on his bulletin board, but his comment box collects only petty complaints. Ren, a ragged and hungry street artist begins helping Fadi clean up in exchange for food, which he shares with Cree who supports his grieving mother. Cree and Ren fear that a convenient black suspect will be arrested to atone for the missing white girl, and Val struggles to come to terms with the truth of what really happened that hot summer night. As the days drag with and no sign of June, guilt, sorrow, and fear permeate the traditional working-class neighborhood struggling to adapt to gentrification while contending with racism and the repercussions of drug violence.

BrillianceMarcus Sakey
Brilliance (Thomas & Mercer 2013) is set in an alternative world where about 1% of American children born since 1986 are exceptionally talented in different ways. Commonly known as “abnorms” or “twists,” the first of these “brilliants” are now adults. Erik Epstein was able to see the patterns in the stock exchange so clearly that he destabilized the world economy, causing the New York Stock Exchange to permanently close in 2011. Nick Cooper can read body language so easily that he knows what people are thinking, what they will do next, and when they are lying. Divorced with two young children, Cooper works for the Equitable Response Unit of the federal Department of Analysis and Response (DAR), tracking and killing abnorm terrorists led by John Smith, whose bombing attacks have killed hundreds of innocent bystanders. Cooper joined the DAR hoping that by controlling the deviant brilliants the DAR can maintain a society where brilliants and normals can co-exist in harmony. As he investigates Smith’s past, Cooper discovers that most abnorms identified by the mandatory testing at age eight are taken from their parents and raised in DAR Academies, where they are systematically conditioned to mistrust other abnorms. Born in 1987, Cooper escaped this fate, but having just realized that his four-year-old daughter shows signs of brilliance, Cooper is horrified by the future he sees ahead of her. Understanding that neutralizing Smith is the only hope of stemming the tide of resentment against the brilliants, Cooper pretends to defect from the DAR in order to infiltrate Smith’s organization. This gripping thriller, a terrifying examination of society’s fear of the different, is a finalist for the 2014 Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original.

Dying for a DaiquiriCindy Sample
Dying for a Daiquiri (Cindy Sample Books 2013) finds Laurel McKay in Hawaii for her best friend Liz’s wedding, enjoying the wedding reception at Daiquiri Dave’s, a cliff-side restaurant owned by Laurel’s brother Dave and his wife Regan. The closeness between Dave and Keiki, a Hawaiian dancer at his restaurant, prompts a suspicion that dependable Dave may be having an affair. When Keiki’s body is found on the rocks below Daiquiri Dave’s, both Dave and Regan become suspects. Determined to find the real killer, Laurel squeezes in interviews with Keiki’s family and friends between explorations of Hawaii’s scenic wonders, including a tour of Koffee Land, where Regan works. Ritz Naygrew, the owner, is eager to transform his Kona coffee farm into a tourist destination, complete with an exciting zip line ride through the trees. To attract media attention, Ritz has offered Koffee Land as the filming site of a new reality show: The Bride and the Bachelor. Always ready to leap before looking, Lauren braves rumbling volcanoes, lethal snorkel tours, seaweed spa wraps, and massive hip-expanding daiquiris in her quest to discover the truth about Keiki’s death. Third in the series starring an intrepid mortgage underwriter with a nose for murder, this engaging romantic mystery is a finalist for the 2014 Lefty Award for Most Humorous Mystery.

The DollTaylor Stevens
The Doll (Crown 2013) rejoins Vanessa Michael Munroe back in Dallas and about to take on a new case for Miles Bradford, tracking down a missing starlet named Neeva Eckridge. Pulling into the parking lot, Michael is subdued with a tranquilizer shot and swept away in an ambulance. When delivered to a human trafficker known as the Doll Maker, Michael learns that Logan, her oldest and dearest friend, is being held captive to compel her to deliver a “Doll” to a wealthy client whose demands for no drugs or bruises has made Michael’s special talents a requirement. While Bradford frantically hunts for Logan, Michael is presented with Neeva, costumed and made up to resemble a doll, to deliver from Croatia to Monaco within 24 hours. Controlled by Valon Lumani, the Doll Maker’s nephew, who micromanages each step of the journey so Michael can’t plan ahead, Michael is forced to choose between abandoning Logan to torture and death or delivering Neeva to a fate all to similar to the one Michael herself barely survived. Michael’s intellect and talent for instantly absorbing languages is augmented by her quick reflexes and fighting ability, giving her a slim chance of thwarting the Doll Maker. Third in the series, enough backstory is included to make this non-stop thriller stand alone.

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April 1, 2014

The Body in the Records RoomJoe Barone
The Body in the Record Room (Minotaur 2008) begins when a patient who calls himself Roy Rogers finds the body of a stranger in the record room of the Sunrise State Hospital, a 1000-acre lunatic asylum with more than 2000 patients and 800 employees in 1954 Missouri. Roy knows he shouldn’t be in the record room, but he is fascinated by the stories of the patients buried in the graveyard, identified only by number. Afraid that the discovery of the murdered man will increase security of the record room, Roy calls on his friend and fellow inmate Henry to help him bury the body in a horse stall. Curious about the dead man, Roy begins an investigation that leads him to the murder of a woman 20 years earlier, whose body was found on the hospital grounds. When the next murder occurs, both Roy and Henry find themselves suspects, and the town blames Sunrise for the crimes and demands it be shut down. Roy battles his own mental illness as he tries to uncover the truth and save the institution that offers shelter and safety to patients rescued from abuse and homelessness. Roy’s first person narration reveals his struggle to overcome the terrors of his past and his tendency toward violence as he comes to understand the true appeal of his hero, Roy Rogers. The author grew up on the grounds of a state mental hospital in the 1950s, and his inside knowledge of the organization and lives of the people living there provide a vivid setting for this unusual debut mystery.

The Ragged End of NowhereRoy Chaney
The Ragged End of Nowhere (Minotaur 2009) is the story of Bodo Hagen, who left Las Vegas for a CIA job in Berlin ten years earlier. Bobo thought he was done with Las Vegas until he got the call informing him that his brother Ronnie, just back home from the French Foreign Legion, was killed by a bullet through the head at Hoover Dam. Bobo and Ronnie grew up at the Sands Casino, where their father was a security chief, so Bobo has an intimate knowledge of the city and the powers that control it. As Bobo tries to figure out why Ronnie was executed, he reconnects with shady old acquaintances on both sides of the law, including “The Sniff,” an expert at spotting casino cheaters, and John McGrath, the cop investigating Ronnie’s murder. Bobo learns that Ronnie was trying to sell a relic he picked up on his travels in the Foreign Legion, a wooden artifact known as the "Dead Man’s Hand" which people seem willing to kill to possess. Though set in the present, the deft descriptions of the underbelly of glitzy Los Vegas with its crime lords and beautiful women evoke a 40s noir nostalgic mood. This fast-paced debut mystery won the 2008 Hillerman Prize, awarded for the best first mystery novel by an unpublished author set in the Southwest.

Fear of BeautySusan Froetschel
Fear of Beauty (Seventh Street Books 2013) is told from two perspectives: Sofie, a young mother of five in a remote village in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, and Joey Pearson, a US Army Special Ranger charged with protecting Mita Samuelson, an American agricultural advisor working with American civilians to teach new farming techniques to the Afghanis. The day before Sofie’s eldest son Ali is about to depart for school, the two take a few hours to enjoy their last afternoon together, climbing the mountain to check their secret planting of saffron bulbs. Peering over the crest of the hill, they spot the camp of the American soldiers. Sofie also finds a box hidden in the rubble, full of documents and foreign currency. Determined to learn to read, Sofie takes one of the documents to use for her secret practice copying words from the Koran. The next morning Ali’s broken body is discovered at the foot of the mountain, and Sofie fears he may have been killed by one of the soldiers they spied upon. Islamic extremists arrive in Sofie’s village, cautioning the villagers against the Americans and reprimanding the village men for allowing the village women to complete their daily chores without wearing the restrictive burqa. Blessed with a natural talent for horticulture, Sofie has nurtured a few pomegranate cuttings into a productive orchard that provides the village with valuable fruit to trade. When the Americans arrive to discuss new farming techniques, they are impressed by the quality of fruit the isolated village produces, but are hampered by their inability to talk directly to the women who labor in the orchard. As Sophie, Mita, and Joey each try to learn the truth about Ali’s death, they are brought closer together while each examining the negative side effects of both pushing a society to change too quickly and of preserving outmoded traditions of a culture that is ready to modernize. This fascinating look at the world through the eyes of an illiterate Afghan woman is a finalist for the 2014 Mary Higgins Clark Award.

The Faces of AngelsLucretia Grindle
The Faces of Angels (Felony & Mayhem 2011, UK 2006) is the story of Mary Warren, an art student who travels with her husband Ty to Florence while he works in a teaching exchange. While in Florence Mary begins an affair with Pierangelo, an Italian investigative journalist, and talks to her confessor about leaving her husband. Father Rinaldi, a member of Opus Dei, warns Mary that she will be dammed if she deserts her husband for another man. While walking through the Boboli Gardens one Sunday, Mary becomes separated from the rest of the group. She is attacked by a man wearing a hooded sweatshirt that hides his face, and then bound and tortured with a knife. When Ty appears, he is stabbed to death and Mary is left for dead. The killer is identified as Karel Indrizzio, a drifter who is captured still carrying Ty’s wallet. An object left by Mary’s bleeding body leads the police to believe Indrizzio was also responsible for the murders of two other women. Before Indrizzio can be tried, he is killed in a car accident while being transported between prisons. Two years later Pierangelo convinces Mary to return to Florence to continue her art studies, though she decides to room with another art student to retain her independence while they resume their relationship. When another woman is killed and a token left by the body, Mary is horrified to realize that either there is a copycat killer at work, or Indrizzio was innocent of the previous murders. This atmospheric psychological thriller was a finalist for the 2012 Edgar Award for Best Paperback.

The RessurectionistMatthew Guinn
The Resurrectionist (W.W. Norton & Company 2013) finds Jacob Thacker, a medical resident on probation for Xanax abuse, working in the public relations office at South Carolina Medical College in Columbia. When a renovation crew discovers bones from mutilated cadavers buried in the basement of the historic college, an African-American church group stages a protest, convinced that the bones are from stolen bodies used for dissection lessons in the early days of the medical school. Flashbacks to the mid-1800s present the story of Nemo, a slave purchased by Dr. Frederick Augustus Johnston, one of the school’s founders. Johnston was impressed by Nemo’s knife skills, recognizing a natural surgeon while observing Nemo as he skinned and dressed the carcass of a deer. At that time in South Carolina, human dissection was illegal except for executed convicts and deceased slaves. Nemo’s main duty at the college was to serve as the “resurrectionist,” stealing bodies from the local black cemetery for the anatomy lab. Pressured by the dean to bury the news of the bones in the basement, Jacob begins to dig through the college archives, and comes across a photograph of Nemo, as well as hints about long-concealed secrets from his own family history. When the fundraising-obsessed dean threatens to extend Jacob’s probation if he doesn’t make the PR problem go away, Jacob must chose between his longing to be a doctor and his growing sense of uneasiness about concealing the true history of the medical school. This fascinating debut mystery is a finalist for the 2014 Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

IntelligenceSusan Hasler
Intelligence (Thomas Dunne Books 2010) introduces Maddie (Madeline) James, a workaholic counter-terrorism analyst for the intelligence agency known as the Mines. Maddie, who lived alone with her pet rabbit until her widowed mother joined her, hates returning to the apartment her controlling mother has filled with rabbit kitsch. But she doesn’t have much time for a life outside of work anyway. Still reeling from their inability to prevent the 9/11 attack, Maddie and the other brilliant and overworked analysts plow through the mountains of slag (raw data), searching for bits of evidence that may help identify the next terrorist strike. When Maddie discovers indications that a cell believed dormant has re-activated, she finds it nearly impossible to convince her incompetent boss, pressured to support an election year Administration eager to proclaim their victories in the War on Terror, that a new attack is imminent. Maddie and the rest of the quirky crew at the Mines are experts at their jobs, yet unprepared to fight the system to get the resources they need to complete it. Darkly comic narrations from the perspectives of Maddie, her aging friend Doc, her possum-rescuing chum Vivian, and others reveal the daily struggle of the acronym-spouting inhabitants of the windowless cubicles of the Mines as they race to prevent a terrorist attack no one else believes in. Humorous and terrifying, this debut thriller written by a 21-year CIA veteran feels totally authentic.

The Amazing HarveyDon Passman
The Amazing Harvey (Minotaur 2014) is the story of Harvey Kendall, a struggling young magician positive that his latest illusion will be the break he’s been waiting for. To pay the bills, Harvey works as a substitute teacher, often startling the staff and students with his glittering outfits and the cockatiel on his shoulder. One morning two police officers show up at the school and take Harvey in for questioning. It seems his DNA was found at the scene of the murder of a woman he is sure he never met. Though short of funds, Harvey talks his old high school acquaintance Hannah Fisher into taking on his defense in exchange for filing the papers that threaten to overwhelm her office. Harvey’s sharp eye for detail and talent for misdirection come in handy as he tries to get to know the woman the police are sure he murdered. Hannah and the police aren’t thrilled with his need to involve himself in the investigation of his own case, but Harvey is convinced that only a magician can figure out the impossible trick that placed his DNA at the scene of the crime. The quick-witted and endearing Harvey is a good counterbalance for the serious and driven Hannah, an effective team who will hopefully reappear in a sequel.

The Other TypistSuzanne Rindell
The Other Typist (Putnam/Amy Einhorn 2013) is narrated by Rose Baker, a typist for a police precinct in 1923 New York City. Naive and prudish, Rose was raised by nuns in an orphanage, and lives with a roommate she dislikes in a run-down boarding house. Her only excitement is taking down statements and confessions and then typing them up to be used in court, earning the fatherly approval of the Sergeant. Due to the increased case load brought on by the Volstead Act, a new typist is hired. From the moment Odalie Lazare walks through the door, Rose is fascinated by her beauty and air of danger. Odalie sweeps Rose along to a speakeasy where everyone seems to know her, and soon beguiles Rose into leaving the boarding house and joining Odalie in her plush hotel suite. Rose believes Odalie’s story that her wealthy father pays the bills, and is flattered by Odalie’s generous offer to share her opulent wardrobe. By the time Rose begins to suspect that Odalie may not be completely truthful, she is too infatuated to pull herself away. Confronted by alternate versions of Odalie’s past, Rose isn’t sure what to believe, but finds the joy of the intimate friendship she always craved to be irresistible. This captivating debut captures the stimulating freedom opening up for women in the 1920s, set against the squalid and dangerous background of Prohibition-era New York City.

Death in AugustMarco Vichi
Death in August (Pegasus Books 2012, Italy 2002) introduces Inspector Bordelli of the Florence police. It’s the summer of 1963, and Bordelli is one of the few police left in a city that feels deserted as everyone who can flees the sweltering city for the beach. When a wealthy elderly woman is found dead in her hilltop villa, Bordelli throws himself into the investigation as an antidote to boredom. Signora Pedretti was discovered alone in her locked home, apparently dead of heart failure following a severe asthma attack. Assisted by his eager young assistant Piras, Bordelli discovers that though the bed is in disarray, the top to the asthma medication is very tightly attached. Traces of the medication are found on the woman’s tongue, but neither Bordelli nor Piras can figure out how or why a dying elderly woman could have screwed the cap back onto the bottle so firmly. Bordelli questions Signora Pedretti’s brother, an eccentric inventor with a troupe of tame mice, who reveals that his sister left her entire estate to the Sisters of Monte Frassineto, secretly cutting her two greedy nephews out of her will. Convinced that the nephews must have killed their aunt for the inheritance, Bordelli is disheartened to discover they and their wives seem to have an unbreakable alibi. Bordelli is an appealing protagonist, a talented detective with a social conscience who refuses to arrest anyone who steals to feed a hungry family. This debut mystery is the first in a series that now numbers six, four of which have been translated into English.

The Girl in BerlinElizabeth Wilson
The Girl in Berlin (Serpent’s Tail 2013) begins in 1951 just after the disappearance of British intelligence officer Guy Burgess and diplomat Donald Maclean, both suspected of spying for the Russians. Colin Harris, a British member of the Communist party, returns to London from East Berlin, asking his old friend Alan Wentworth, a BBC documentary producer, for help getting his fiancée Frieda out of Berlin. Alan’s wife Dinah, who works for former MI5 agent Sir Anthony Blunt at the Courtauld Institute of Art, is relieved that Colin has finally fallen in love with a girl and left his homosexual past behind. Jack McGovern, a Special Branch detective who grew up in a left-wing working class family in Scotland, is recruited by MI5 agent Miles Kingdom to help uncover a suspected mole. When Eberhardt, a physicist who left Germany in 1938, is killed after meeting Harris at a funeral, McGovern follows Harris back to Berlin, combining his murder investigation with Kingdom’s plan to prevent Harris from returning to London with Frieda Schröder. Deeply personal secrets and relationships vie with political agendas as McGovern searches for the truth in a world where misdirection and betrayal are the norm.

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May 1, 2014

The TestingJoelle Charbonneau
The Testing (Houghton Mifflin 2013) introduces Malencia “Cia” Vale, a 16-year-old from Five Lakes Colony, in a Young Adult thriller. The Seven Stages War left most of the planet an uninhabitable wasteland, and the scattered colonies struggle to survive. Cia’s father is a geneticist, and her older brothers help him create genetically altered plants that can survive in the blighted soil. Cia doesn’t share the family green thumb, but does have an affinity for machines and hopes she will be chosen for The Testing, as her father was, earning the chance to go to university. No one from Five Lakes Colony has been selected for many years, and the small community is surprised when Cia and three others from her graduating class of 14 are chosen. Cia’s father shares the half-remembered nightmares of his own Testing, and warns her to trust no one. In Tosu City, Cia learns that only 20 from the group of 108 candidates will make it through the four stages of The Testing process: written tests, hands-on examinations, a team competition, and finally a practical test of decision-making and leadership abilities. As she works through the tests, Cia struggles to balance her father’s advice with her natural inclination to think the best of people and her growing attraction to Tomas, a Five Lakes Colony boy she has known from childhood. As the tests proceed, Cia realizes that the Testing officials are observing the candidates at all times and appear to have no desire to protect anyone from the dangers of the tests or attacks by competitive candidates willing to do anything to increase their odds of winning. This dystopian first in a trilogy is a finalist for the Agatha Award for Best YA Novel.

Sandrine’s CaseThomas H. Cook
Sandrine’s Case (2013) is the story of Sam and Sandrine Madison, college professors at a small liberal arts college in Georgia. Parents of a grown daughter, Sam and Sandrine seem to have a comfortable life and a solid marriage until the day Sam discovers Sandrine’s dead body in their bed. The coroner rules Sandrine’s death a suicide, the result of an overdose of Demerol and vodka, but the investigators find Sam’s unemotional reaction disturbing and Sam is charged with murder. As the trial progresses, Sam relives his past with Sandrine — from their first meeting when he couldn’t believe the brilliant beauty could be interested in a stuffy doctoral student to Sandrine’s final days. Sam’s lawyer insists that the prosecution’s evidence isn’t strong enough to convict, but Sam senses that the town, the jury, and perhaps even his daughter are convinced of his guilt. As the prosecution examines witnesses, Sam re-examines their marriage from Sandrine’s perspective and finds himself falling in love with his dead wife all over again. This complex and gripping thriller is a finalist for the 2014 Barry and Edgar Awards for Best Mystery.

Seven for a SecretLyndsay Faye
Seven for a Secret (Amy Einhorn Books 2013) begins in the winter of 1846 when Lucy Adams, a free black woman, visits Timothy Wilde, an officer in the newly organized police force in New York City, to report that her sister Delia and son Jonas have been kidnapped while her husband is away on business. Though Delia and Jonas are also free New York citizens, unscrupulous men capture and sell free blacks born in the North to eager buyers in the South. With the help of his friend Julius Carpenter and other free blacks, Timothy manages to release Delia and Jonas from captivity, taking them for temporary shelter to his police-captain brother Valentine’s house. When Timothy returns to escort the family to their own home, he finds that they have fled, leaving only a dead body in Val’s bed. Sure that Val hasn’t committed murder, Timothy relocates the body moments before a fellow officer comes to investigate a report of a disturbance. Timothy is determined to figure out who is trying to frame Val for murder while also searching for the missing family before the slavers can recapture them. Police corruption, the plight of the starving Irish who have flooded New York after the Potato Famine, and the precarious existence of the free blacks desperate to hold on to their liberty make it difficult for Timothy to balance his commitment to law enforcement with his passion for justice. This excellent second in the series was a finalist for the 2014 Dilys Award.

The Black CountryAlex Grecian
The Black Country (Putnam 2013) is set 1890 in Blackhampton, a coal mining town in the Midlands, where Inspector Walter Day and Sergeant Nevil Hammersmith, of Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad, have been sent to investigate the disappearance of a couple and their infant son. A neighbor child has discovered an eyeball in the woods, but no other clue has been found. The members of the depressed community, whose buildings are gradually sinking into the maze of deserted mine shafts, are superstitious and reluctant to talk with outsiders. The town doctor is overwhelmed by a mysterious illness that has overtaken most of the town, and his timid wife appears to have a secret she would like to share with Inspector Day. Hammersmith, who endured the harsh working conditions of a coal mine himself as a small child, is openly hostile to the locals, increasing their disinclination to help with the search. The remaining three children of the family claim not to remember when they last saw their father and stepmother, and exhibit a strange trepidation about drinking water. The children’s rhyme — “Rawhead and Bloody Bones, steals naughty children from their homes. Takes them to his dirty den, and they are never seen again.” — terrifies children and adults alike in the gloomy town full of slag heaps and piles of gray snow. This atmospheric second in the series was a finalist for the 2014 Dilys Award.

The Bookman’s TaleCharlie Lovett
The Bookman’s Tale (Viking 2013) is the story of Peter Byerly, a young antiquarian bookseller mourning the death of his wife Amanda nine months earlier. Unable to bear living in their home in North Carolina, Peter has relocated to Hay-on-Wye, Wales, to the cottage they bought shortly before Amanda’s death. While browsing in a local bookstore, Peter discovers a watercolor portrait in an 18th century book about Shakespeare forgeries. The Victorian portrait looks so much like Amanda that Peter impulsively steals it, and then becomes obsessed with tracing the portait’s history. Peter’s only clue is the faint initials of the artist, which leads him into an investigation about the authorship of the works of Shakespeare. Flashbacks to the past, beginning with an unscrupulous bookseller plotting against the upstart William Shakespeare in 1592, trace the path of a literary artifact that is either an excellent forgery or definitive proof of the author of the plays attributed to William Shakespeare. This debut mystery, a nominee for the 2014 Barry Award for Best First Mystery, is part literary history, part love story, and part murder mystery.

Red SparrowJason Matthews
Red Sparrow (Scribner 2013) is the story of two spies. Dominika Egorova, a synesthete who perceives sounds as colors, was a talented ballerina before being permanently injured by a rival on the eve of her Bolshoi audition. Persuaded by her Uncle Vayna Egorov, a general in the Secret Service, to do him a favor that ends in bloodshed, Dominika demands to be admitted to intelligence training. Egorov agrees, and Dominika excels until Egorov transfers her to "Sparrow School" to be trained instead to set sexual traps. After surviving the Sparrow training, Dominika is sent to Finland to persuade Nate Nash, an American CIA agent, to give up the identity of a Russian mole. Fluent in Russian, Nate spent several years in Moscow handling MARBLE, a highly placed Russian official who volunteered to help the Americans after the Russians refused to let him take his dying wife outside the country for medical help. After Nate and MARBLE are nearly spotted by a random patrol, Nate is transferred to Finland. When Dominika manages to bump into Nate swimming at the gym, the two begin a slow courtship, each cultivating the other toward trust with the goal of eventual betrayal. The author’s 33-year career with the CIA provides a rich layering of tradecraft, the culture of the intelligence community, and the reality of living a life of deception and treachery. Each chapter ends with an odd little recipe of a food that was consumed during the action, providing a whimsically discordant note. This complex debut spy thriller is a finalist for the 2014 Barry, Edgar, and Thriller Awards.

Reconstructing AmeliaKimberly McCreight
Reconstructing Amelia (Harper 2013) begins when litigation attorney and single-mother Kate Baron gets a call in the middle of an important meeting from Grace Hall, the exclusive private school in Brooklyn her 15-year-old daughter Amelia attends. Kate is shocked to learn that her perfect-student child has been suspended, but the school won’t tell her anything over the phone. Arriving at the school, Kate has to push her way through emergency vehicles and discovers that Amelia has plunged to her death from the roof. Amelia was caught cheating, and everyone believes her death a suicide until Kate gets an anonymous text two months later: "Amelia didn’t jump." Never convinced that Amelia would have cheated on an English paper about her favorite author Virginia Woolfe, Kate contacts the police and learns that the detective who did the original investigation has left the force. The new detective takes Kate’s concerns seriously and the two begin to reconstruct Amelia’s last days, uncovering a text-based friendship with a boy no one ever met, a secret club, and hints of an inappropriate relationship with a teacher. First-person flashbacks from Amelia’s perspective, her texts and Facebook posts, and a gossipy school blog are interwoven with the investigation, making Amelia’s vulnerability and insecurity all too real. This gripping debut thriller is a finalist for the 2014 Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

Until She Comes HomeLori Roy
Until She Comes Home (Dutton 2013) is set in the Alder Avenue working-class neighborhood in 1958 Detroit. The ladies of Alder Avenue lunch and shop together and worry about the “colored” prostitutes who entice their husbands on payday outside the factory on Willingham Avenue. Grace Richardson is heavily pregnant with her first child, Julia Wagner is still in mourning over the death of her young daughter, and Malina Herze is convinced her husband is seeing another woman. The discovery of the body of a black woman outside the factory frightens the Alder Avenue women, and Julia, who was responsible for escorting the child-like Elizabeth Symanski home from lunch, sees her only to her gate instead. Elizabeth’s elderly father reports her missing later that night, and the neighborhood tries to convince the police to search for her as a missing child even though Elizabeth is physically a grown woman. While the neighborhood men mount a search for Elizabeth, the women prepare casseroles and desserts. Julia’s preteen twin nieces who are visiting for the summer are warned to stay indoors, but the bored girls sneak out of the house, witnessing both an attack upon Grace that she is too ashamed to report to her husband and strange behavior from Malina they do not understand. This atmospheric exploration of secrets, mistrust, and the inevitability of change is a finalist for the 2014 Edgar Award for Best Mystery.

Land of DreamsVidar Sundstøl
The Land of Dreams (University of Minnesota Press 2013; Norway 2008) introduces Lance Hansen, a Forest Service officer and the grandson of Norwegian immigrants, in Cook County, Minnesota. A divorced loner, Lance is obsessed with local genealogy and history, alienating many of his neighbors with his insistence upon historical truth over local stories. While in the woods checking on a report of an illegal tent on the shore of Lake Superior, Lance finds a naked man covered in blood, and the brutally murdered body of a second young Norwegian tourist near an old stone cross. Bob Lecuyer, an FBI agent, and Erik Nyland, a homicide detective from Oslo, arrive to take over the investigation. A casual remark that this is the first murder ever in the area sparks Lance’s curiosity, and he begins to search back through his archives, discovering the disappearance of an Ojibwe medicine man named Swamper Caribou from the same spot the body was found, more that a hundred years earlier. As Lance digs into contemporaneous accounts of the disappearance, he begins to suspect that Swamper was murdered. A newspaper account of Swamper’s disappearance mentions the full moon and he realizes that his ancestor Thormod Olson, then a 15-year old immigrant from Norway, must have been snowshoeing in the same area at the same time. Thormod was crossing the frozen lake when he fell through the ice, barely escaping with his life. The coincidence of the timing causes Lance to wonder if Thormod had something to do with Swamper’s disappearance. As Lance discusses the old and new crimes with his neighbors, he worries that a secret from his own family may be relevant to the current murder. This atmospheric first in a trilogy was a finalist for the 2014 Dilys Award.

Ghost Riders of OrdebecFred Vargas
The Ghost Riders of Ordebec (Penguin 2013, France 2011) begins when Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg, Commissaire of the Serious Crime Squad in Paris, receives a visit from Valentine Vendermot, an elderly widow from the Normandy town of Ordebec, who explains that her daughter Lina has seen a vision of the Ghost Riders. Lina recognized three of the men, and according to the legend, they will die an awful death. One of the men has disappeared, and the widow fears the local police will do nothing. Adamsberg visits Ordebec, and becomes entranced with the strange family. Lina glows with an unearthly beauty, her brother Martin eats insects, her brother Antonin believes most of his bones have been replaced with crumbling clay, and Hippolyte speaks words backwards. Léo, an old woman Adamsberg meets in the woods, tells Adamsberg he can find the missing man’s body by the chapel. Léo puts him up for the night in her tumbledown old farmhouse, surprising him with excellent Calvados and Cuban cigars. The next day Adamsberg discovers she is the Comtesse d’Ordebec, divorced for over 60 years from the Count, who lives in splendor nearby. After Léo is attacked and nearly killed, Adamsberg is convinced three more murders will follow as foretold by the Ghost Riders of Ordebec. An escaped young arsonist, an injured pigeon, Adamsberg’s recently discovered grown son, and several of his eccentric officers assist in this excellent 7th in the series, winner of the 2013 International Dagger Award.

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June 1, 2014

Once Upon a LieMaggie Barbieri
Once Upon a Lie (Minotaur 2013) is the story of Maeve Conlon, a single mother raising two teenage daughters and barely managing to support her family with the proceeds from her small bakery. Her ex-husband, who left her for one of Maeve’s younger friends, now has a baby son, but Maeve hasn’t found the time to begin a new relationship. Her best friend Jo drags her off to a speed-dating session, and Maeve finds herself unexpectedly attracted to a man she is sure is a cop. Maeve’s father Jack, a retired police detective with early Alzheimer’s, lives in Buena del Sol, an assisted living facility. He often wanders away from the facility to take solitary walks, which doesn’t concern Maeve until she realizes he was out alone the night her despised cousin Sean was shot in the head. Jack doesn’t remember where he was that night, and when the police take him in for questioning Maeve begins to worry that her vulnerable father may be in trouble. Sean, six years older than Maeve, was often her babysitter after her mother was killed by a hit-and-run driver when she was in Kindergarten. Maeve was considered a clumsy child, but her chipped front tooth and broken arm were caused by Sean. When Maeve notices the bruises on a mother who brings her young daughter in for one of Maggie’s cupcake-baking birthday parties, she begins to keep an eye on the little girl, positive that a man who hits his wife will eventually abuse his daughter as well. When the child’s arm is broken in an “accident,” Maeve begins to fantasize about threatening him with her father’s gun, which she has been carting around in her purse for weeks, afraid to leave it at home where her daughters might find it. This gripping tale of the after-effects of abuse and the long-reaching ties of family loyalty is laced with dark humor.

A Tap on the WindowLinwood Barclay
A Tap on the Window (NAL 2013) begins one rainy night when a drenched teenaged girl asks Cal Weaver, a private investigator in the small town of Griffon, New York, for a ride home. Claire introduces herself as a friend of Cal’s son Scott, who died two months earlier. Cal is obsessed with finding whoever sold Scott the drugs that killed him, and agrees to give Claire a ride, hoping to learn something new about the town drug scene. After stopping at a drive-in to let Claire use the bathroom, it takes a few blocks for Cal to realize that the girl who gets back into car is not Claire, though she is dressed in identical clothing. When he confronts her with the switch, the girl insists on being let out at the next intersection. When Claire, who just happens to be the mayor’s daughter, never arrives home, Cal is caught up in a situation he doesn’t understand but feels compelled to investigate. Rumors about excessive force on the part of the Griffon police have led to a petition in all the town businesses, and citizens who refuse to sign the petition in support of the police are said to be on a police black list. Cal refuses to sign the petition, but his wife Donna who works in the police human resources department, feels differently. The mayor has been a vocal critic of the police, so leaving the search for Claire in their hands doesn’t feel like a viable option to Cal. This intricately plotted thriller featuring a grieving father trying to find justice for his dead son and those who knew him is a finalist for the 2014 Barry Award for Best Novel.

SuspectRobert Crais
Suspect (Putnam 2013) is the story of a mismatched pair trying out for the Los Angeles K-9 program. Scott James is recovering from the physical and mental aftermath of the shoot-out that left his partner Stephanie dead, and finding the memory of leaving her to die alone on the street harder to cope with than the constant pain of his own injuries. Though not a dog person, Scott volunteers for the K-9 unit as a way to stay on the police force. Maggie is a German Shepherd veteran of three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Trained to sniff out explosives, Maggie was severely wounded when her partner/handler was killed during her final tour. Off-balance from the death of her partner, Maggie also suffers from the canine version of PTSD, and is close to being cut from the K-9 program because of her aversion to loud noises until Scott requests to be partnered with her. While gradually conditioning Maggie to sudden noises, Scott secretly investigates the events of the night that left his partner dead. The action-packed plot delves into a complex conspiracy, but it’s the story of the Scott and Maggie gradually coming back to life as they learn to care for each other that makes this thriller something special. Featuring pitch perfect narration from both Scott’s and Maggie’s points of view, this engrossing thriller is a finalist for the 2014 Anthony and Barry Awards.

North of BostonElisabeth Elo
North of Boston (Pamela Dorman Books 2014) is the story of Pirio Kasparov, who survives for four hours in the frigid North Atlantic ocean when the lobster boat belonging to her friend Ned is rammed by a huge freighter that disappears into the fog. Ned’s body isn’t recovered, and Pirio has little comfort to give to his imaginative young son Noah who hopes his father is safe in Atlantis. Thomasina, Noah’s mother and Pirio’s oldest friend, struggles unsuccessfully with alcoholism, and Pirio fears Ned’s death will push her permanently to the wrong side of the line. At Ned’s wake a couple of strangers appear, asking questions about Ned and trying to ingratiate themselves with Noah and Thomasina. The Coast Guard doesn’t seem to be pursuing the investigation of the accident very seriously, so Pirio makes an appearance on a morning news show to tell the story of her ordeal, hoping to encourage a witness to come forward. But it’s the Navy’s Experimental Diving Unit that gets in touch, determined to sign Pirio up for their study of survivors of extremely cold conditions. Noah continues to ask if the ship has been located, so Pirio reconnects to old acquaintances who are now fisherman, discovering that the Boston fishing docks are more dangerous than she imagined. Pirio’s struggles to make sense of her own past — her beautiful perfume-creator mother who died too young and her secretive Russian father — provides the background for her determination to provide Noah with the security every child needs. This complex debut thriller is hopefully the first in a series featuring the multi-faceted Pirio.

The Silent WifeA.S.A. Harrison
The Silent Wife (Penguin 2013) is the story of a middle aged couple who have lived together for 20 years: Jodi Brett, a part-time psychotherapist, and Todd Gilbert, a successful renovator. Jodi and Todd enjoy an affluent life in a waterfront Chicago condo and have the perfect relationship — he is a philander and she pretends not to notice. But then Todd falls in love with Natasha, the young daughter of his best friend, who soon informs him she is pregnant and demands that he leave Jodi and marry her. Todd can’t quite bring himself to tell Jodi about his new relationship, and the two drift on for several months until Natasha forces Todd to serve Jodi with an eviction notice to vacate the condo. Shocked to discover that since they never married she has no right to any of their shared property, Jodi goes into a severe depression, mourning the beautiful home she has made for the two of them. Then Jodi’s best friend convinces her that the only solution is to hire a contract killer to kill Todd before he changes his will. Narrated by both Jodi and Todd in alternating chapters, this mesmerizing thriller is a finalist for the 2014 Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel.

Criminal EnterpriseOwen Laukkanen
Criminal Enterprise (Putnam 2013) is the story of Carter Tomlin, a successful executive living with his family in a mansion in St. Paul, Minnesota. Then Tomlin is laid off, and the family is soon facing bankruptcy. Tomlin is determined to support his family in style, and heads to the bank to swallow his pride and beg for a loan to cover the mortgage payments. Instead, Tomlin impulsively writes a note on the back of a parking receipt and robs the bank. Surprised by how easy it was, and elated by the adrenaline rush of terrifying the bank clerks, Tomlin continues robbing banks to make ends meet. Tomlin’s bank-robbing skills increase dramatically, especially after he steals some guns from a drug dealer. FBI agent Carla Windermere is assigned to the bank robbery investigation while Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agent Kirk Stevens investigates the gun case. Propelled by the success of their last joint investigation, Carla is moving up the career ladder but Kirk has refused all promotions at the request of his wife, who would rather have him alive than successful. This well-plotted character-based second in the series is a finalist for the 2014 Thriller Award for Best Novel.

As She Left ItCatriona McPherson
As She Left It (Midnight Ink 2013) is the story of Opal Jones, returning to the house she grew up in on Mote Street in Leeds, England. Opal ran away from her alcoholic mother to live with her father at the age of 12, and her mother’s recent death has brought her back to take over the tenancy of the small council house. Next-door neighbors Dennis and Margaret Reid tell Opal about the disappearance of their 3-year-old grandson Craig 10 years earlier. Opal has fond memories of Craig, the first baby she was ever trusted to take care of, and resolves to figure out what happened to him. The authorities weren’t informed of Craig’s disappearance until the following morning, since the grandparents and mother each thought the other had Craig. The Reids were too embarrassed to admit they didn’t know Craig was missing all night, so the police checked alibis for the following morning and never found a trace of the toddler. Opal is delighted to find that Fishbo, the aged trumpet player of the Mote Street Boys group who gave her music lessons, is still living in one of the eight homes on the small street, as are the Joshis, an Indian family running a taxi service who have inexplicably paid the utility bills for Opal’s mother. A chance purchase of a bed with mismatched head and foot boards provides Opal with another puzzle when she discovers notes written in an old-fashioned hand hidden in the bed posts. This appealing mystery featuring a quirky and resourceful protagonist and her motley crew of neighbors is a finalist for the 2014 Anthony and Left Coast Crime Awards.

Summon Up the BloodR.N. Morris
Summon Up the Blood (Creme de la Crime 2012) introduces Silas Quinn, Detective Inspector in charge of the Special Crimes Unit of Scotland Yard. Quinn has an exceptional record of closing cases, and is nicknamed “Quick-fire” since most of his suspects are shot while being captured. It’s 1914, and Quinn and his team are investigating the murder of young male “renter” whose body was completely drained of blood. The exsanguinated corpse had been carefully washed and redressed; the only clue is an inscribed silver cigarette case in one of the suit pockets. To discover the victim’s identity, Quinn arms himself with a sketch of his face and visits a bookstore specializing in volumes about “the love that dare not speak its name,” hoping to find someone who recognizes the victim. Learning the young man’s first name is Jimmy leads him to the Panther Club, where all sorts of excesses are tolerated. Quinn is supported by a pair of Detective Sergeants: Inchball, a stolid old-fashioned cop, and Macadam, who subscribes to the new scientific methods of policing. The three work to discover everything they can about Jimmy’s circle of friends before the killer strikes again. This excellent historical mystery is the first of a series.

The Edge of NormalCarla Norton
The Edge of Normal (Minotaur 2013) is the story of Reeve LeClaire, who was kidnapped at the age of 12 and held captive for nearly four years. Six years after her release, Reeve makes weekly visits to Dr. Lerner, a psychiatrist who specializes in captivity syndromes, has her own apartment in San Francisco, and works as a waitress in a Japanese restaurant. Reeve feels that she is right on the edge of being normal, though sudden noises and certain smells send her right back into nightmares. When Dr. Lerner asks Reeve to talk with Tilly, a young girl just released from a similar though shorter captivity, Reeve is at first hesitant, but memories of the support she was given by another kidnap victim during her own recovery convince Reeve to stay with Tilly’s family as long as she is needed. Tilly’s abductor is arrested, but Tilly is still frozen with fear, and finally swears Reeve to secrecy and reveals there was a second abductor who threatened her family and may be a cop. Worried about two other missing girls, Reeve begins a clandestine hunt for the second abductor, who is possibly watching every move she makes. This chilling psychological thriller, this true crime author’s fiction debut, is a finalist for the 2014 Thriller Award for Best First Novel.

Some Danger InvolvedWill Thomas
Some Danger Involved (2004) introduces Thomas Llewelyn, an impoverished young Welshman in 1884 London who answers an advertisement seeking an assistant for a private enquiry agent. The ad warns that there may be some danger involved, but Thomas is down to his last penny and desperate. He endures the tests required by Cyrus Barker, a Scottish eccentric, including describing facial features and defending himself from hurled objects, and gets the job. Barker provides his assistant with new clothing and introduces him to the exotic cuisine of Italy and China. Their first case together is the investigation of the crucifixion of a young Jewish scholar from Poland. Sir Moses Montefiore, who fears that the murder may be the first symptom of a pogrom by anti-Semitic factions in England, hires Barker to solve the crime. Now 100 years old, Sir Moses is supported by his nephew, Lord Rothschild. Barker knows enough of Jewish customs to be tolerated within the closed community, and gradually builds a picture of the murdered man. Thomas isn’t sure of his place within the motley cast that surrounds Barker: a fierce Pekinese, a haughty Jewish butler, a somnambulant clerk, and an imperious French cook. But he is enthralled by the excitement of his new life, which ranges from interviews in disreputable hovels to a night at the theater to view the current bigoted portrayal of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. This engaging debut mystery, the first in a series that now numbers six, was a finalist for the 2005 Barry and Shamus Awards for Best First Novel.

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July 1, 2014

Conspiracy of FaithJussi Adler-Olsen
A Conspiracy of Faith (Dutton 2013, Denmark 2009) finds Carl Mørck, a cold case homicide specialist in Copenhagen, Denmark, struggling to keep Department Q’s basement independence out of the hands of the asbestos inspectors. His assistant Assad is more mysterious than ever, his Goth secretary Rose has reached new levels of venom, and his bed-ridden former colleague Hardy has moved into his living room. When a bottle containing a nearly obliterated message written in blood lands on his desk, everyone welcomes the distraction. The lab has determined that the note was written and tossed into the ocean at least a decade ago, and the traces of writing that remain lead Department Q to believe it was written by two kidnapped children begging for rescue. After blowing up the note to poster size and plastering it on the wall, Rose takes an unexpected leave of absence, sending her twin sister Yrsa in as a substitute. Though Yrsa’s brightly colored wardrobe is a refreshing change from Rose’s black palette, she is equally prickly. The team tracks down other missing children who suddenly reappear, and suspect the kidnapper targets families of fringe religions who are naturally suspicious of the police and bound by the restrictive and secretive rules of their communities. This excellent third in the quirky series is a finalist for the 2014 Barry Award for Best Novel.

An Emvarrassment of CorpsesAlan Beechey
An Embarrassment of Corpses (Poisoned Pen 2014 reissue) introduces Oliver Swithin, a reluctant children’s book author in England. Oliver created a forgettable series of stories featuring a family of Railway Mice to amuse his young godson and was persuaded by his family to submit the stories to a publisher. Frustrated with the task getting the waggish young Billy Field Mouse out of yet another amusing scrape, Oliver pounded out a few paragraphs featuring a foul-mouthed chain-smoking ferret called Finsbury. Erroneously assuming the ferret had been successfully deleted from the tale, Oliver fired it off to his publisher. Finsbury was a rousing success, chaining Oliver permanently to his keyboard and the despised ferret. His favorite escape from the grindstone is helping his uncle, Detective Superintendent Timothy Mallard, with the occasional murder case that requires Oliver’s strange blend of capricious memory for useless facts and sudden bursts of insight. The discovery of the body of Oliver’s old friend Sir Hargreaves Random in the fountain at Trafalgar Square during the night of the annual Snark Hunt sponsored by a club for authors operating under the name of Sanders, requires Oliver to work with his uncle’s new assistant, DS Effie Strongitharm. Oliver is charmed by Effie’s effusive hair and she is startled to find he is unaffected by The Look, which usually causes men to quake in terror. When the next victim is found murdered in an equally dramatic manner, Mallard suspects there may be a serial killer at work. Literary allusions abound in this witty British series opener, first published in 1997.

Under Your SkinSabine Durrant
Under Your Skin (Emily Bestler Books 2014) begins when Gaby Mortimer, star of a popular morning television show, discovers the dead body of a young woman while out for an early morning jog in the woods near her London home. Shocked by the vulnerability of the sprawled body, Gaby can’t help touching the dead woman’s hair and adjusting the loose strap of her bra. When questioned by the police, Gaby denies touching the body and hopes to put the incident behind her and focus on more important things like Millie, her adored young daughter, and Philip, the husband she worries is growing more distant every day. When the police discover Gaby’s DNA on the body, the scandal sheets jump on the story and she is besieged by negative publicity. The television station suggests that she take some time off, and then refuses to answer her calls. Philip departs for a business trip to Singapore, and the time difference makes communication difficult at best. The victim is identified as Ania Dudek, and the police discover an advertisement Gaby posted months earlier for a nanny on her refrigerator. Gaby swears that she never interviewed the woman, but her memory of that time is fuzzy since her mother was dying of cancer. Gaby’s alibi for the time of death can’t be verified, and she is taken in for questioning. Her only ally appears to be Jack Hayward, an eager free-lance journalist who offers to help her prove her innocence in exchange for an exclusive interview. This chilling debut psychological thriller is propelled by Gaby’s compelling first-person narration.

MontanaGwen Florio
Montana (Permanent Press 2013) introduces Lola Wicks, a foreign correspondent for a Baltimore newspaper who has been stationed in Kabul long enough to find the deadly daily reality of Afghanistan normal. Lola is called back home by her editor, and is horrified to learn that the paper is closing the foreign desk and reassigning her to pedestrian local stories. Though tempted to quit, Lola decides to take her editor’s offer of a summer vacation to regroup and visit a former colleague who saw the downsizing coming and moved to rural Montana. Mary Alice Carr had contacted the paper recently about an important story she was working on, which is enough of a lure for Lola to accept Mary Alice’s standing invitation to come stay a while. When Lola finally locates her friend’s isolated cabin in Magpie, she discovers that Mary Ellen has been shot through the head. Not satisfied with the investigation or the local motel, Lola reluctantly moves into Mary Ellen’s cabin, taking over the responsibility for both a needy border collie and a standoffish cow horse, neither of which she feels capable of caring for. Lola suspects the story Mary Alice was working on has something to do with someone connected to the Blackfeet reservation, perhaps Sheriff Charlie Laurendeau or Johnny Running Wolf, who is campaigning for governor. Realizing that her hard-earned skills of blending in with the locals in Kabul have not prepared her to interview rural Montanans, Lola grudgingly accepts help from a neighboring wealthy rancher and an eager young reporter for the local newspaper. This intense debut thriller is a finalist for the 2014 Shamus and Thriller Awards for Best First Novel.

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s LibraryChris Grabenstein
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library (Random House 2013), a young-adult mystery, features Kyle Keeley, a seventh grader who loves board games, word games, and video games. Kyle’s favorite game-maker is Luigi Lemoncello, whose creative games always include funny hidden features. Kyle’s town hasn’t had a library for 12 years, which isn’t a problem for Kyle since he is not fond of reading. Mr. Lemoncello has just finished a state-of-the-art new library for their shared hometown, and 12 lucky seventh graders have been chosen for a opening game. The 12 contestants will have 24 hours to compete for an incredible prize by locating the secret exit from the library. Kyle forms a team with some of his friends, and takes to heart Mr. Lemoncello’s advice to be kind to the books and each other. Charles Chillington, a self-absorbed bully, gathers some of the other children for his team, planning to betray them at the end and claim the prize for himself. The puzzles the children must solve, as well as the building itself, are full of references to classic and modern works of children’s literature. Other clues feature the Dewey Decimal System, and zany word puzzles pop up at surprising times. Homages to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and A Night in the Museum add to the fun of this imaginative mystery for middle graders (and anyone who loves libraries and books), winner of the Agatha Award and a finalist for the Anthony Award for Best Best Children’s/YA Novel.

Blood OrangeKaren Keskinen
Blood Orange (2013) introduces Jaymie Zarlin, a 37-year-old private investigator who specializes in finding missing persons in Santa Barbara, California. Jaymie’s mentally ill brother died in police custody, and most of her cases focus on finding missing mentally disabled adults, so Gabi Gutierrez believes Jaymie is the perfect investigator to prove that her “crazy” nephew Danny didn’t rape and murder his friend Lili. Danny worked as a janitor at the exclusive Apollo Guild, where Lili had been selected to perform as Daphne in the annual Solstice celebration. Gabi, a housecleaner, doesn’t have much money, but offers to organize Jaymie’s chaotic office and serve as her personal assistant in exchange. Jaymie is doubtful of her ability to investigate a homicide, but the police are convinced they’ve found the killer and a meeting with the nearly catatonic Danny in jail convinces her that Danny is incapable of committing the crime. Jaymie’s two love interests help her get started: Deputy Sheriff Mike Dawson provides Jaymie with inside information about the police investigation, and the shady Zavier Carbonel connects her with the powerful Santa Barbara elite. Jaymie approaches the extremely wealthy Celeste Delaney, whose only grandchild had developed schizophrenia and died under abusive circumstances, hoping that Mrs. Delaney will understand that Danny won’t survive incarceration and be willing to post his bail. The unassuming Jaymie, who still rides the bike she bought with her baby-sitting money in 5th grade, quickly finds herself in over her head when her investigation begins to center on the powerful hedonistic members of the Apollo Guild board. This spirited debut mystery is a finalist for the 2014 Shamus Award for Best First PI Novel.

The Cold Cold GroundAdrian McKinty
The Cold Cold Ground (Seventh Street Books 2012) introduces Sean Duffy, a brash young detective assigned to the almost entirely Protestant Royal Ulster Constabulary in 1981 Belfast. When a murdered man is found with his hand detached, Duffy assumes it is the normal signal that an informant has been punished for betrayal. When the autopsy reveals a concealed note with cryptic references to opera, signs of homosexual rape, and that the detached hand did not belong to the body, Duffy is convinced the murder is the work of serial killer targeting gay men. In a city torn by revolution, Duffy and his men have to don riot gear to enter most neighborhoods as they search for anyone willing to talk to the police. Homosexuality is a crime in Northern Ireland, and no one wants to admit they knew about the victim’s sexual preference. Inspired by the hunger strike death of IRA commander Bobby Sands, a second hunger striker has just died. The apparent suicide of his ex-wife seems unconnected to Duffy’s murder investigation, but tenuous connections to IRA and paramilitary factions make Duffy suspect that the murder may not be as apolitical as he first thought. Duffy uses his sardonic sense of humor to distance himself from the ever-present dangers of daily life, and manages to create working relationships with those on all sides. This intense thriller is the first in the Troubles series.

The Hard BounceTodd Robinson
The Hard Bounce (Tyrus 2013) features Boo Malone, who works as a bouncer with his best friend Junior in Boston nightclubs. Boo and Junior grew up together in Saint Gabriel’s Home for Boys, developing “coping” skills that landed both in anger management classes as adults. Boo’s idea to form their 4DC security business (Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap) gives both men the opportunity to work off their aggressions in a semi-legal fashion. Heavily tattooed with a combined weight of 470 pounds, Boo and Junior are content with their jobs and make-shift family at The Cellar until Boo is surprised by the offer of an envelope full of cash to find a missing teenager named Cassandra. A little probing reveals that Cassie’s father is a wealthy public figure who would prefer not to publicize that he has misplaced his daughter, who is walking on a wilder side than her father cares to admit. Boo isn’t convinced that he and Junior are the right men for the job, but the offer for help locating his own missing person in exchange tips the balance. Boo and Junior mobilize a rag-tag collection of alcoholics, drug addicts, and former inhabitants of The Home to search for Cassie and the creepy snake-tattooed man she was last seen with. The investigation puts both Boo and Junior in danger, but Boo is unable to stop himself from continuing the search for Cassie long past Junior’s comfort level. This funny, violent, and heart-felt debut novel is a finalist for 2014 Anthony Award for Best First Novel.

LoyaltyIngrid Thoft
Loyalty (Putnam 2013) introduces Fina Ludlow, a law school dropout working as a private investigator for her father’s ambulance-chasing law firm. The black sheep of a dysfunctional family, Fina is smart-mouthed and tough enough to hold her own on the mean streets of Boston. When Fina’s oldest brother’s wife Melanie goes missing, everyone assumes she has gone on yet another spa indulgence after a fight with her husband Rand. The most recent blow-up was after a parent conference at their 15-year old daughter’s private school. Haley is failing math, and Rand says the disagreement was because he wanted the teacher fired while Melanie was willing to settle for disciplinary action. Fina discovers that Haley is hanging out at a club with a dubious reputation, and her new best friend is probably a prostitute. But Haley doesn’t want to talk to anyone about anything, taking refuge in teenage surliness. Fina’s father insists that she locate Melanie without involving the police, but Fina is worried that none of Melanie’s friends know anything about her location. The only daughter with three brothers, Fina isn’t quite certain about her place in a family of lawyers ruled by a self-centered and controlling mother, but she is fiercely loyal to each and every one of them. This fast moving debut mystery is a finalist for the 2014 Shamus Award for Best First PI Novel.

Fear in the SunlightNicola Upson
Fear in the Sunlight (Harper 2013, UK 2012) begins with a prologue set in 1954, when Scotland Yard detective Archie Penrose, the model for Josephine Tey’s Inspector Grant, is informed by an American detective that a suspect arrested for another crime has confessed to committing three murders in Portmeirion, Wales, 18 years earlier. During the summer of 1936, Josephine Tey and her circle of friends, including Penrose, were staying in the Italianate resort town of Portmeirion while celebrating her 40th birthday. Alfred Hitchcock and his wife, Alma Reville were there to convince Josephine to sell her novel, A Shilling for Candles, as the basis of a movie (Young and Innocent). With Hitchcock were various actors and technicians “auditioning” for parts in the movie and serving as foils for the practical jokes he designed to test their ability to flourish in the stressful environment of film making. Josephine’s tangled love life is nearly as complicated as the relationships between the movie crowd, providing a rich field for tension and plenty of red herrings set against the magical landscape and architecture of Portmeirion, which was later used as the setting for the 1960s television series, The Prisoner. This character-based historical mystery, fourth in the series, is a finalist for the 2014 Barry Award for Best Paperback.

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August 1, 2014

A Good DeathChristopher R. Cox
A Good Death (Minotaur 2013) begins when Boston private investigator Sebastian Damon is asked by Linda Watt’s life insurance company to investigate her death. Linda was a Laotian refugee who came to America as a child with her uncle, a shaman who still sacrifices animals and never mastered English. Linda excelled at school and eventually became vice president of a Boston bank. Before leaving for a trip to Asia, Linda increased her life insurance, naming her uncle sole beneficiary. The insurance company is hoping that her death by drug overdose might be a suicide, or even a faked death. Sebastian finds himself a bit out of his depth in Thailand, but discovers that the body, now cremated, was badly disfigured by rats and identified only by the general body type and passport. Sebastian can’t understand how an over-achieving American banker transformed into a drug addict in less than a week. With the help of his father’s old army buddy, although stymied at every turn by the corrupt Thai police, Sebastian sets out to retrace Linda’s final days in Bangkok and then through the dangerous jungles of Laos, seeded with unexploded bombs from the Vietnam War, to the village of a remote Laotian hill tribe. This fast-paced and often violent debut thriller is a finalist for the 2014 Shamus Award for Best First PI Novel.

Third RailRory Flynn
Third Rail (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2014) introduces Eddy Harkness, a young detective with a knack for finding anything hidden: drugs, weapons, dog toys. Eddy is on the fast track in the Boston elite narcotics unit until the death of a Red Sox fan during the chaos of the World Series. The death was filmed by a witness, went viral, and led to Eddy’s identification as the man who brought bad luck to the Sox. Now exiled to Nagog, his small hometown outside Boston, Eddy spends his days emptying parking meters and drinking far too much. When his police-issue Glock disappears after a wild night with his new girlfriend, Eddy begins a clandestine search to track down his gun, and stumbles across an extremely addictive new smart drug called Third Rail. Convinced that someone is out to blackmail him, and armed only with a realistic-looking plastic gun, Rory takes on corrupt politicians and drug lords in an attempt to find the truth and maybe even win back his good name. This driven noir detective thriller is the first in a proposed series written under the Rory Flynn pseudonym by award-winning author Stona Fitch.

Everyone LiesA.D. Garrett
Everyone Lies (Minotaur 2014, UK 2013) introduces Detective Inspector Kate Simms, who still hasn’t recovered from the career-endangering mistake of releasing restricted information to forensics expert Nick Fennimore five years earlier. Nick’s wife and 10-year-old daughter Suzie, the best friend of Kate’s own daughter, disappeared without a trace, and Kate told Nick more than she should have. Nick’s wife was found murdered a few days later, but Suzie was never located. Now a forensics lecturer at Gordon University in Aberdeen, Nick obsessively tinkers with age progression software to create images of what his daughter might look like if still alive at her current age of 15. Banished from London to Manchester, Kate is investigating a series of deaths of young women who have died from what looks like a drug overdose. Toxicology reports reveal only low doses of heroin, and Kate suspects that the heroin is being cut with something. Kate’s Forensic Specialist Advisor doesn’t believe the toxicology reports indicate further analysis, so she contacts Nick for the first time in five years to ask for his help. At first unwilling to emerge from his self-imposed seclusion, Nick’s curiosity is aroused and he agrees to look at Kate’s samples. A new overdose victim is found beaten beyond all recognition, but Kate suspects she was a high-end call girl with connections to organized crime. Warned by her superiors to drop the investigation, Kate is unsure who she can trust other than Nick, a complete outsider. This compelling series opener, written under the A.D. Garrett pseudonym by crime writer Margaret Murphy and forensic scientist Dave Barclay, is an intriguing mix of science and detection featuring complex lead characters who share a complicated past.

Into the DarkAlison Gaylin
Into the Dark (Harper Collins 2013) begins when missing persons investigator Brenna Spector is hired to find Lula Belle, an Internet “performance artist” who performs physical gymnastics, including taking a Coke bottle deep into her throat, while sharing the intimate details of her life in a soft Southern accent. Filmed only in silhouette, there are no clues to her facial features, but the stories she shares online contain details that are only known to Brenna and her older sister Clea, who vanished when Brenna was eleven. The shock of Clea’s disappearance triggered Brenna’s Hyperthymestic Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that enables her to remember every moment of every day of her life since the day Clea got into a blue car and was never seen again. Convinced that the missing Lula Belle is either Clea or someone who knows her personally, Brenna sets out to track down the shadowy Internet performer and perhaps solve the mystery of her own life as well. This disquieting second in the series is a finalist for the 2014 Shamus Award for Best Paperback PI Novel.

Strange BirdAnna Jansson
Strange Bird (Stockholm Text 2013, Sweden 2006) is set in the town of Visby, on Gotland island, Sweden. Ruben Nilsson, a homing pigeon fanatic, is thrilled when a sturdy pigeon follows his flock home to the roost for the night. The strange pigeon is larger and stronger than his flock, and Ruben uses the library to track down the markings on its leg band, discovering that it came all the way from Biaroza in Belarus. The following day the pigeon is dead, and Ruben is so weak he asks his neighbor Berit Hoas to take care of his birds. Maria Wern, a police detective, drops her son Emil off at soccer camp for a week. The director is concerned that the cook, Berit Hoas, has not appeared for work that morning. Offering to check on her, Maria discovers Berit being transported by ambulance to the hospital while Ruben is taken to the morgue. Before long the children at the soccer camp are in quarantine as the island tries to cope with the bird flu pandemic. Rumors that the government has not invested vaccinations as promised, instead signing up for a place in line when they become available, the community begins desperately searching for a scapegoat if a cure is not to be had. The murder of a transient artist and a nurse at a health clinic seem unconnected until Maria, who is investigating the murders, becomes friendly with Dr. Jonathan Eriksson who is treating her son. This powerful scientific thriller, the first to be translated into English, is the seventh in the best-selling Swedish series.

Burial RitesHannah Kent
Burial Rites (Little, Brown and Company 2013) is the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, charged with the brutal murder of her master and another man in 1828 Iceland. Sigrídur, a fellow servant, and her lover Fridrik were also charged with the crime. After a conflict with Sigrídur at the prison, Agnes is sent to an isolated farm belonging to Jón Jónsson the District Officer, in northern Iceland to await her execution. Reverend Tóti, the priest she has chosen as her spiritual guardian lives in a neighboring village. Agnes arrives half-starved, filthy, and in shackles. Margrét, Jón’s wife who was frightened of housing a murderess, is horrified and insists she be freed. Agnes joins in the hard work of the farm, slowly earning the trust of Margrét and the older daughter Steina, who feels nearly the outcast Agnes is compared to her perfect younger sister. Agnes refuses to pray with Reverend Tóti, but does respond to his sympathetic ear, gradually revealing the story of a life of abuse and loneliness that led to the fatal killing. Only a curtain separates Agnes from the family during the cold winter nights as she relates her past to Reverend Tóti, disclosing the hidden truth behind the sensational murders. This haunting debut novel, a finalist for the 2014 Barry Award for Best First Novel, is based on the true story of the last woman executed in Iceland.

Ghost MonthEd Lin
Ghost Month (Soho 2014) introduces Jing-nan, the young owner of the family food stand in the Shilin Night Market in Taipei. Jing-nan and Zheng-lian were high school sweethearts, determined to escape from their families’ night market stalls for a better future in America. Both excelled at English, adopted the names Johnny and Julia, and headed off to America for college, promising to get back in touch when they were successful enough to marry. When his father was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Jing-nan returned to Taiwan without finishing college. Two years later, he is still running the family stall, clinging to the hope that one day he will reconnect to Julia. August is Ghost Month in Taiwan — a time to honor ancestors, burn incense, visit shrines, and avoid unlucky situations and bodies of water — not the time when Jing-nan is prepared to read in the paper that Julia, who he didn’t even know was back in Taipei, was just found shot through the head in the unlicensed betel-nut stand where she exchanged betel-nut chew and the occasional groping for a few bills. Julia’s parents can’t understand what their talented daughter was doing working such a demeaning job, and ask Jing-nan to try and figure out the truth. With the help of Nancy, a former classmate who shares his obsession with the music of Joy Division, Jing-nan delves into the past in order to understand the present. Hopefully this unique protagonist will reappear in a sequel further exploring the exuberant setting of the night market of Taipei.

The Shanghai FactorCharles McCarry
The Shanghai Factor (Mysterious Press 2013) is narrated by a 29-year-old American spy sent to Shanghai to improve his Mandarin. A chance bicycle accident with a beautiful young Chinese woman who calls herself Mei provides him with a language tutor and eager lover. Our narrator assumes Mei is an agent for the Chinese Ministry of State Security, but he enjoys their relationship too much to worry if it is endangering his status as a sleeper for the unnamed agency he refers to as Headquarters. Eventually the narrator’s boss, Burbank, summons him back to Washington DC where is is given the ultra-secret job of recruiting the privileged children of Chinese party leaders as spies. Burbank cautions our narrator to report only to him, stressing that no one else at Headquarters knows anything about his assignment. Chen Qi, a powerful industrialist, gives him a job in Shanghai doing very little and being paid a great deal, and providing him with a new Chinese lover to take the place of the vanished Mei. After Chen Qi suddenly fires him, our narrator ends up back in Washington, missing Shanghai and beginning to worry that perhaps he is being set up as the fall guy for a plot he doesn’t fully understand. Everyone seems to be spying on and betraying everyone else in this tangled and very enjoyable spy thriller, a finalist for the 2014 Barry Award for Best Thriller.

The Black HourLori Rader-Day
The Black Hour (Seventh Street Books 2014) is the story of Amelia Emmet, a sociology professor at Rothbert University, near Chicago. Amelia was more-or-less content with her job teaching and researching violence until the day Leonard Lehane, a student she had never seen before, shot her and then killed himself. Ten months later, Amelia is determined to get back to work, though she can only hobble slowly with the help of a cane and is dependent upon pain killers to get her through the days. Hardest to cope with is the black hour, the darkest hour just before dawn when she is alone with her pain and despair. Nathaniel Barber, a graduate student interested in Chicago’s violent history, appears at her office door wondering if she can offer him a teaching assistant position. Amelia reluctantly hires him, knowing that she needs help with physical tasks if she is to resume her working life. Nath is fascinated by the idea that a specialist in violence was herself a victim, and hopes to base his dissertation on the unexplained attack. Nath discovers a link between Lehane and Rothbert’s suicide hotline, while Rory McDaniel, a local reporter hoping for a break-out story, pesters Amelia for an interview in exchange for providing details about Lehane’s background. Alternate first person narration by Amelia and Nath provide disconcertingly different viewpoints of the same reality. This suspenseful debut thriller slowly unwraps the violence of the past and the deception of the present.

The Accidental ApprenticeVikas Swarup
The Accidental Apprentice (Minotaur 2014, UK 2013) begins when Sapna Sinha, a salesgirl at a Delhi electronics store, is approached at a temple by wealthy industrialist Vinay Mohan Acharya. Sapna finds the temple visits soothing, praying to Durga the Invincible One for help forgiving herself for her unwitting part in her youngest sister Alka’s death. Acharya tells Sapna that he has chosen her at random to pass a series of tests designed to reveal if she has the talent to take over as CEO of his vast company when he retires. Sapna insists she has no special talents, and refuses, though she is offered a large sum just for considering the offer. Despondent after Alka’s death, her father wandered into the busy road and was killed, giving Sapna no choice but to leave university and take a job to support her invalid mother and her flighty younger sister Neha. When her uncle unexpectedly withdraws his offer to provide a rent-free apartment for his dead brother’s family, Sapna reluctantly accepts the money from Acharya and agrees to perform the seven tests. Though sworn to secrecy, Sapna confides in her best friend and neighbor Karan Kant, a call center agent for Indrus Mobile. The two are sure the offer is some sort of hoax, but can’t figure out the hook. Acharya promises that the tests will occur naturally in the “textbook of life” and Sapna passes the first test by rescuing a bride being married against her will while helping install the electronics purchased by the bride’s father. Subsequent tests involve a narcissistic Bollywood actress, a Gandhian hunger strike, and the search for a kidney donor to save her mother, but Sapna can’t figure out if Acharya is orchestrating the tests or merely observing her reactions. Sly digs at Indian extravagance, like the final dance scene from Slumdog Millionaire, are balanced by the affectionate portrayal of modern Indian life in this throughly enjoyable mystery novel.

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September 1, 2014

Until You’re MineSamantha Hayes
Until You’re Mine (Crown 2014, UK 2013) is the story of Claudia Morgan-Brown, a social worker with young twin step-sons whose husband is often away on top-secret British naval maneuvers. Pregnant with her first child, Claudia is determined to work as close to her due date as possible, but finds caring for two active boys difficult as she enters her third trimester. The decision to hire Zoe Harper to serve as nanny seems a logical and sensible step, but once her husband departs and Zoe has moved into the house, Claudia is consumed by doubts. Zoe charms the twins and has excellent references, but Claudia has a nagging suspicion that something isn’t quite right. Then Claudia receives a visit from Birmingham detectives investigating brutal attacks on pregnant women. One of the women is on Claudia’s child-welfare unit’s caseload, and the detectives warn Claudia to be very careful, clearly worried that she may be the next victim. Detective Inspector Lorraine Fisher is convinced that the attacks are linked to Claudia or Zoe, and begins digging into both their lives. First person narration by Claudia and Zoe is interspersed with the police investigation, revealing contradictions and dark secrets that add to the suspense of this evocative thriller exploring the risks that some desperate women are willing to take to become a mother.

The Next Time You See MeHolly Goddard Jones
The Next Time You See Me (Touchstone 2013) begins when awkward 13-year-old Emily Houchens discovers a body in the woods behind her home in a small southern town. For reasons she doesn’t quite understand, Emily decides to keep the discovery a secret, visiting the body frequently to make observations as a sort of science project. Meanwhile, English teacher Susanna Mitchell is worried that she hasn’t heard from her older sister Ronnie for over a week. Ronnie has always been a bit wild and undependable, but dropping completely out of sight isn’t like her. At Ronnie’s house, Susanna finds Ronnie’s car in the driveway, but no sign of her sister inside. Ronnie’s birth control pills are in the bathroom and the remains of dinner for two are on the table. Susanna’s husband, who never cared for Ronnie, downplays her disappearance, but Susanna reports her sister missing to the police. The third storyline is Wyatt Powell, an overweight factory worker who was the target of younger work colleagues who got him blind drunk and then deserted him at the bar with the bill. Wyatt has only a fuzzy memory of exactly what transpired the rest of that night. The characters connect as time passes: Emily and her mentally handicapped brother care for Wyatt’s dog when he suffers a heart attack, Susanna tries to protect Emily from bullies at school, and Susanna finds herself attracted to the detective who finally takes Ronnie’s disappearance seriously. This debut psychological suspense novel explores the plight of those who don’t quite fit in with the norm.

Murder Take ThreeApril Kelly & Marsha Lyons
Murder: Take Three (Flight Risk Books 2013) finds former cops Maureen O’Brien and Blake Ervansky working on establishing a solid footing for their fledging private investigating agency. Maureen has moved out of her Hollywood screenwriter father’s mansion, and discovers that it much more difficult that she expected to live without the pampering servants have always provided. Who knew that the fridge doesn’t automatically restock itself with food and drink, and that clothing doesn’t quietly clean and iron itself overnight? Blake has spent most of the money from their first case on a very expensive engagement ring for his fiancée, and misses the certainty of a regular paycheck. When defense attorney-to-the-stars Gail Hatcher offers them a blank check for finding proof that movie action hero Micah Deifenschlictor is not guilty of murdering his agent Cody Mason, Blake jumps on the case. But when he and Maureen locate evidence eliminating Micah as a suspect a bit too easily, they wonder if perhaps they have been hoodwinked into confirming a fictitious alibi. Secretly reopening the investigation puts their lives, as well as the safety of those they love most, in danger. Each book in this three-book series has grown a bit darker, but this finalist for 2014 Shamus Award for Best Indie PI Novel still has plenty of series trademark humor and insider knowledge of the Hollywood film industry.

The ice PrincessCamilla Läckberg
The Ice Princess (Pegasus 2010, Sweden 2002) introduces Erica Falck, a writer returning to her remote hometown of Fjällbacka, Sweden, after the death of her parents. Cleaning out the house full of memories is going more slowly than expected, and Erica is worried she will miss the deadline for submitting the draft of her latest biography featuring a Swedish woman author. The former fishing village has changed as summer tourists build luxurious vacation houses, and the controlling husband of Erica’s younger sister is pressuring the sisters to sell the family home they inherited. Erica can’t bear the thought of giving up their past, but can’t afford to buy out her sister’s share. Out for an evening walk to clear her head, Erica discovers the body of her childhood friend Alexandra Wijkner, frozen in a bathtub with her wrists slit. Patrik Hedström, the police detective investigating the death, echoes Erica’s doubt that a beautiful woman with a successful life would kill herself. Alex and Erica were inseparable as children, but grew apart after Alex’s family suddenly moved away. Fascinated by the real-life mystery, Erica begins to write Alex’s story as fiction, imagining what could have pulled her life off-track. Her questions and Patrik’s investigation reveal disturbing secrets concealed to protect family honor despite the harm to individuals. This compelling thriller is the first in a series that now numbers eight.

DriftJon McGoran
Drift (Forge 2013) begins when Doyle Carrick, a Philadelphia narcotics detective, is too caught up in his latest investigation to respond to his step-father Frank’s messages. Doyle knows his mother is dying of cancer, but her sudden death following an infection takes him by surprise. As a result, he loses control during a drug bust and slugs a suspect. Soon after his mother’s funeral he receives the news that Frank has died from a massive heart attack. Doyle heads to rural Pennsylvania to spend his twenty-day suspension wrapping things up at the house he has inherited, and is startled to find a skinny kid named Moose living in the spare room. Moose explains that he did chores for Doyle’s parents in exchange for lodging while working on Nola Watkins’s organic farm next door. Doyle is immediately attracted to Nola, though doubtful when she explains she suffers from Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. Doyle learns that Nola is being pressured to sell her land to a development company who has already bought up the surrounding acreage. When the heirloom blue corn she is growing displays strangely colored kernels, Doyle helps her try and track down the contaminant. Doyle has grown strangely fond of the rural community he expected to find boring, but is worried when he recognizes drug dealers from the city driving the country roads, and concerned that Moose and his best friend Squirrel exhibit classic signs of drug addicts. This intelligent ecological thriller is the first in a series.

Aloha Lady BlueCharley Memminger
Aloha, Lady Blue (Minotaur 2013) introduces Stryker McBride, a former Honolulu crime reporter who lives on a 50-foot Vagabond houseboat, the Travis McGee, with two German shepherd guard “gods” called Kane and Lono. An unexpected call from a Amber Kalanianaole Kam, Chinese-Hawaiian beauty queen he lusted after in high school, rouses Stryker from his life of leisure. Wai Lo Fat, Amber’s wealthy grandfather, drowned in six-inches of water in his taro patch a week earlier, and Amber asks Stryker to check and see if the police really investigated his death, or just assumed the 89-year-old man died of natural causes. Stryker is impressed by the healthy taro field, an incongruous note in the middle of the mansions of the gated community of Kapolei. Though troubled by Amber’s strange lack of emotion about her grandfather’s death, Stryker agrees to check with his old contacts, visiting the coroner and researching Wai Lo Fat’s life and connection to the Kapolei development. Within a few days, Stryker realizes he is being followed by Danny Chang, a young gangster whose lethal martial arts skills easily trump Stryker’s prowess with the butterfly stroke. Even more worrying is an “invitation” by Tiny Maunakea, a 400 pound Hawaiian who converses in extremely correct Victorian English and works for Auntie Kealoha, a harmless-looking tiny Hawaiian great-grandmother who is Hawaii’s most powerful mobster. This engaging debut novel, an homage to John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series, presents an entertaining cast of diverse supporting characters that will hopefully reappear in a sequel.

The Frozen DeadBernard Minier
The Frozen Dead (Minotaur 2014, France 2011) introduces Martin Servaz, a police commandant from Toulouse, who is called to Saint-Martin-de-Comminges, a small town high in the French Pyrenees, when the flayed body of a race horse is found suspended from the edge of a frozen cliff at the cable car terminus of a water power plant. The valuable horse belonged to Èric Lombard, a wealthy and powerful industrialist who grew up in Saint Martin and owns the power plant. That same day, Diane Berg, a young psychiatrist from Switzerland, begins her job at the Wargnier Institute, a high-security asylum for the criminally insane, only a few miles away. Diane is confused by the chilly welcome offered by Dr. Francis Xavier, the new director, and concerned about his unorthodox treatments that are uncomfortably close to torture of the seven convicted murderers inhabiting Unit A. Servaz is teamed with Captain Irène Ziegler of the Saint Martin gendarmerie, an Amazonia superwoman who pilots helicopters and rides a motorcycle. The two assume the crime is revenge aimed at Lombard until DNA found at the scene is matched to Julian Hirtmann, a resident of Ward A who was convicted of the murder of his wife and her lover, and suspected of killing over 40 additional women. The Wargnier Institute is supposedly escape-proof, but Diane hears soft footsteps in the hall late at night, and eventually tracks them to a back staircase exit from the Institute. This menacing debut thriller is the first in the series featuring the complex Commandant Servaz and his nonconformist colleagues.

DesperateDaniel Palmer
Desperate (Kensington Books 2014) is the story of Gage and Anna, who meet at a support group for grieving parents. Gage’s wife and young son were killed in a car accident, and Anna lost her young son to cancer. The two marry, and Anna suffers a miscarriage. Unable to face losing another child, Anna convinces Gabe that they should adopt a child. After researching the options, they decide to pursue private adoption, and create a page for an Internet site featuring adoptive parents. After several months without a nibble of interest, Gage and Anna pass a beautiful young woman crying her heart out at a bus stop. Lily tells them that she has just discovered she is pregnant, but her boyfriend doesn’t want the baby. Anna gives Lily her card and tells her to call if she needs help or just wants to talk. Two weeks later Lily appears at their door explaining that her boyfriend has thrown her out, and offering them her baby for adoption. Gabe is cautious, but Anna welcomes Lily with open arms, installing her into their upstairs rental apartment which has just been vacated. Odd incidents make Gabe suspicious of their luck, but Anna is so overjoyed at the thought of a child that he puts his worries aside and tries to concentrate on the upcoming launch of a new lithium battery that is poised to propel his company into the big leagues. This powerful thriller explores the desperation of two bereaved parents struggling to rebuild their lives.

The AccidentChris Pavone
The Accident (Crown 2014) begins when New York literary agent Isabel Reed stays up all night reading an anonymous manuscript disclosing the sordid past of global media baron Charlie Wolfe. Isabel is terrified of the fallout that may follow publication, but can’t resist the power of representing the next blockbuster book, and gives a copy to editor Jeffrey Fielder. Isabel calls her assistant Alexis to warn her not to breath a word of the submission, but Alexis has already tweeted that she “can’t stop reading Accident by Anonymous.” When Alexis is found murdered in her apartment later that morning, Isabel panics and goes into hiding with the incendiary biography. Hayden Gray, a veteran CIA operative, is assigned to recover all copies of the manuscript before negative publicity about Wolfe World Media destroys carefully constructed world-wide power structures, but subsidiary-rights director Camilla Glyndon-Browning has made a clandestine duplicate of Fielder’s copy and is on a plane to California hoping to sell it to Hollywood. The anonymous author is living in seclusion in Zurich, determined to make amends for a lifetime of success based on lies and betrayals that began with the fatal accident twenty-five years earlier. Over the course of one very long day, the manuscript threatens the careers and lives of politicians, spies, and those working in the publishing and film industry, whose personal agendas and aspirations conflict with releasing the truth of the past. This compelling thriller shares some characters with The Expats (2012).

WeirdoCathi Unsworth
Weirdo (House of Anansi Press 2014, UK 2011) is the story of Corinne Woodrow, who was convicted of the gruesome 1984 murder of a classmate at the age of 15. That fateful summer the teenagers of the seaside town of Ernemouth made their parents, teachers, and neighbors nervous by dressing in Goth black, sporting bizarre hairdos, listening to strange music, and generally running wild. Twenty years later a new forensic technique reveals DNA from a second person on the body, indicating that Corinne may not have been the sole perpetrator. Private investigator Sean Ward, an ex-cop pensioned out of the Met after a shooting that left him with lingering injuries, is hired by QC Janice Mathers, who is looking into old indefinite sentencing cases, to find the other person involved with the crime. Sean asks Francesca Ryman, the editor of the local paper, for copies of contemporaneous reports of the crime and insights about any local contacts in exchange for printing rights to anything he discovers. Interspersed with Sean’s investigation are flashbacks, beginning in 1982 when trend-setting Debbie Carver befriended Corinne, an outcast whose drug-addicted mother forces her to bring money home any way she can. A year later, Samantha Lamb arrives, immediately creating waves as she sheds her good-girl looks to become a trendy Goth. The town assumes that the change in Samantha is due to Corinne’s influence, but Sean becomes convinced that Corinne was a scapegoat, an easy victim because of her deplorable home life. This atmospheric thriller perfectly captures the disturbing relationships that can dominate teenage life.

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October 1, 2014

Where the Bodies Are BuriedChristopher Brookmyre
Where the Bodies Are Buried (Atlantic Monthly Press 2011) introduces Jasmine Sharp, a young aspiring actress completing her first week of work for her uncle Jim, a Glasgow private investigator. Jasmine is pretty good at pretending to be someone else, but she can’t seem to master Uncle Jim’s radio terminology and her tailing skills are abysmal. Jasmine’s mother’s recent death from cancer has left her struggling to maintain her equilibrium, and she is grateful for the steady work and the companionship of the only family she has left. When Uncle Jim goes missing after a long weekend, Jasmine realizes that the police aren’t interested in investigating the disappearance of a competent adult, and begins digging through her uncle’s case files hoping for clues about his last days. A phone call alerts Jasmine to an active case, helping a woman whose parents and infant brother went missing 20 years earlier. A note in the file takes her to Tron Ingrams, who works as a handyman for a women’s shelter, but Tron explains that he hasn’t seen her uncle for over a year. When gunmen attack and Tron fights them off with a gun hidden under his car, Jasmine assumes they are after Tron while he suspects Jasmine is the target. Meanwhile, Detective Superintendent Catherine McLeod is investigating the murder of small-time heroin dealer Jai McDiarmid. Jai has plenty of enemies who might want him dead, but every thread Catherine pulls leads to yet one more drug baron with no interest in talking to the police. The two investigations converge as both women uncover hints of police corruption and rumors about hidden bodies. This noir series opener is laced with black humor.

The Water Rat of WanchaiIan Hamilton
The Water Rat of Wanchai (Picador 2014, Canada 2011) introduces Ava Lee, a petite young Chinese-Canadian forensic accountant based in Toronto. Ava is the younger daughter of the “old style” second wife of a wealthy Hong Kong business man who maintains three households — his first wife lives in Hong Kong and his third wife in Australia. Ava works for “Uncle” Chow, a Hong Kong based fixer who retrieves large sums of money for a hefty percentage of the recovered funds. Though not as threatening as Uncle’s enforcers, Ava has been trained in the secret martial art of bak mei — designed to maim and kill and intended to be used only when fighting for one’s life. Uncle asks Ava to help Andrew Tam track down close to five million dollars that vanished when his finance company backed a shrimp deal that went belly up. Using her computer skills and talent for impersonation, Ava traces the path of the money, following it from Toronto to Hong Kong, Bangkok, Guyana, and the British Virgin Islands. The money trail moves from five-star hotels to dives where the tap water runs brown, from the safety of busy city streets to the dangers of back alleys controlled by corrupt police. Ava is an intriguing heroine, relying on both her quick intelligence and her deadly physical skills to outwit the menacing men also following the money. This absorbing series debut (also published as The Deadly Touch of the Tigress) was awarded the 2012 Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel.

The Mangle Street MurdersM.R.C. Kasasian
The Mangle Street Murders (Pegasus 2014, UK 2013) introduces 21-year-old orphan March Middleton, who moves to London in 1882 to live with Sidney Grice, the godfather she never knew existed, while waiting to inherit a small income on her 25th birthday. Grice, London’s most famous personal detective, wears an ill-fitting glass eye that pops out at inopportune moments, refuses to eat meat (dead flesh) or drink milk (the mammary excretions of cattle), and requires constant infusions of hot tea to function. March is convinced people are carnivores, secretly smokes and drinks gin, and refuses to accept society’s view of proper behavior for women. When impoverished Grace Dillinger arrives to beg Grice to prove that her son-in-law William Ashby is innocent of her daughter’s murder, Grice refuses to take the case without a fee. March offers to make it worth his while if Grice allows her to accompany him on the investigation. The two squabble constantly, but are evenly matched in intelligence and stubborn determination, often drawing quite different conclusions from the same observations. Toting hot tea in the soon-to-be-patented Grice Heat Retentive Bottle, the mis-matched pair traipse through high society streets and poverty-stricken dark alleys, forming completely opposing views of Ashby’s guilt and/or innocence. This sprightly debut mystery full of mordant humor is the first in a series.

The Book of YouClaire Kendal
The Book of You (Harper 2014) is the tale of Clarissa Bourne, a quiet university secretary from Bath, England. After unsuccessfully trying to have a baby with an English professor, her ex-lover has departed for a new life Cambridge with another woman and Clarissa is living alone. After a launch party for a scholarly examination of fairy tales authored by Rafe Solmes, an academic at the college, Clarissa wakes up the next morning with Rafe in her bed and no memory of what happened after the drink they had together after his reading. Three months later Clarissa is still struggling to convince Rafe she wants nothing to do with him, but he stalks her wherever she goes, fills up her voice mail with alternating pleading and threatening messages, and leaves unwanted presents at the door of her flat. Frightened by her inability to disuade him, Clarissa finally phones the police who tell her they can’t do anything until she is in mortal danger. Advised by an anti-stalker organization to document the harassment, Clarissa begins keeping a daily journal. Clarissa is relieved when she is called for jury duty, looking forward to the long days in court away from Rafe’s constant lurking presence at the office. The trial is a rape case, and watching the defendant’s humiliation by the prosecution makes Clarissa realize how easily Rafe could discredit her stalking allegations. As Clarissa grows closer to one of the other male jurors, Rafe becomes increasingly threatening, sending her violent fairy tales where women are killed and disgusting pictures taken during their one night together. This debut suspense thriller presents a disturbing picture of the helplessness of those being stalked.

The RageGene Kerrigan
The Rage (Europa Editions 2013, UK 2011) finds Dublin career criminal Vincent Naylor just released from jail and planning to rob an armored car with his brother Noel and two others. Detective Sergeant Bob Tidey, an honest cop who has been caught lying to protect fellow officers, is currently struggling with the dilemma of achieving elusive justice or exacting illegal vengeance through the link he has discovered between an unsolved murder case and the execution of a corrupt banker. Maura Coady, a retired nun trying to forget her past involvement in the abuse of children by the Catholic church, notices two men wearing plastic gloves as they park a car on her quiet street. She successfully ignores her gut feeling that something is wrong for several days, but finally calls Tidey, whom she met while testifying in a case. Tidey immediately understands that the car is a secondary getaway vehicle, to be used when criminals abandon their primary getaway car. The police set up surveillance vans, and catch Noel and a second robber as they try to switch vehicles. Noel, who is unarmed, is killed in the crossfire, propelling Vincent into a killing spree of retribution, sure that someone has betrayed the robbery plan to the police. As the bodies begin to pile up, Tidey tries to protect Maura from becoming a casualty of Vincent’s rage. This complex noir crime novel, winner of the 2012 Gold Dagger Award and a finalist for the 2014 Barry Award, vividly presents an ordinary man trying to maintain his morality in a corrupt world.

Nine DaysMinerva Koenig
Nine Days (Minotaur 2014) introduces a short round woman using the alias Julia Kalas, a recent immigrant to the small town of Azula, Texas. For 17 years Julia restored historic buildings in California, earning a name for herself as a talented renovator while secretly laundering money from her husband’s family’s illegal arms business. Three years after her husband’s shooting, she still suffers overwhelming surges of anxiety and fear after the Aryan Brotherhood strike that left her a widow and placed her in the witness protection program. Though she is supposed to keep a low profile working as a bartender under the watchful eye of police chief Teresa Hallstedt, Julia covets the dirt-cheap vintage buildings on the town square just begging to be restored to their former glory. Teresa isn’t thrilled to have another criminal living in her town, which except for a recent spate of downtown vandalism is relatively crime free. While doing title searches Julia discovers that someone is buying up the buildings under the name Milestone; coincidentally all the vandalism has been perpetrated on buildings whose owners refuse to sell. When not dreaming about resurrecting her career in construction, Julia lusts after Hector Guerra, the owner of the bar, who suffers from panic attacks as a result of seeing his family slaughtered when he was a boy. When Hector becomes the prime suspect in a murder, Julia’s instincts, finely honed from her criminal past, tell her he is innocent though the county sheriff seems intent on railroading him for the crime. This complex debut thriller presents a distinctive protagonist who will hopefully reappear in future books.

MayhemSarah Pinborough
Mayhem (Quercus 2014, UK 2013) introduces Thomas Bond, a police surgeon in late 1880s London, where Jack the Ripper is haunting the streets, terrifying the populace, and frustrating the police who are unable to track him down. The discovery of the decapitated torso of a woman missing her limbs and internal organs near the Thames River prompts Scotland Yard to ask Dr. Bond examine the remains, hoping that his forensic expertise will determine if this is the work of the Ripper or a new killer. A second mutilated body convinces Dr. Bond and the police that London has a second serial killer roaming the streets, soon dubbed the Thames or Torso Killer. Plagued by insomnia and haunted by the horrors he has seen, Dr. Bond secretly visits the city’s opium dens, desperate for some release from his nightly torments. One evening he notices a strange man peering closely at each somnambulant poppy smoker, and later spots the same man in the crowd near the scene of a Torso Killer victim. Dr. Bond follows the mysterious man — a Jesuit priest hunting for a demon he believes is responsible for the killings. Smoking a stronger form of opium allows the priest to view a person’s surrounding aura, which he hopes will help him identify the demonic presence he believes to be Upir, an ancient water dwelling monster. As Dr. Bond alternates between opium smoking to help with the midnight hunt for Upir and laudanum to combat his craving for opium, he is persuaded that Upir is responsible for the horrific killings through control of a respectable young man. This chilling combination of murder mystery and supernatural thriller is based on the real-life Dr. Bond, who assisted the London police with the unsolved investigations of both the Ripper and Torso Killer murders.

By Evil MeansSandra West Prowell
By Evil Means (1992) introduces Phoebe Siegel, a private investigator in Billings, Montana. Mary Kuntz, the wife of a local farmer, asks Phoebe to investigate the personality change in her teenaged daughter Jennifer. A troubled drug addict, Jennifer was admitted to the Whispering Pines sanatorium run by Dr. Victor Stroud. Mary tells Phoebe that Jennifer returned home a totally different child after treatment at the sanatorium. Phoebe is reluctant to take the case until Mary reveals that Jennifer’s complaint about abuse by Phoebe’s policeman brother Ben may have been the catalyst for his suicide a few years earlier. Phoebe makes a visit to Whispering Pines, where a teenaged patient begs for her help to escape. Returning to the facility after hours, Phoebe discovers evidence that suggests intimidation of young patients and blackmail of their relatives. Cutter Gage, a powerful politician, summons Phoebe to tell her that Mary is his estranged daughter, but Phoebe can’t figure out if he is offering his help or warning her off the case. This intriguing series debut was a finalist for the 1994 Dilys Award, Hammett Prize, and Shamus Award for Best First Novel.

Black ChalkChristopher J. Yates
Black Chalk (Random House 2014) is the story of six students who meet as Oxford freshmen. Chad, the son of an American pig farmer, meets Jolyon, a poor British student, on their first day, and the two quickly become inseparable friends. Jolyon’s magnetism attracts others to their small group: Jack, the joker of the group, Mark, a brilliant physics student who sleeps as much as possible, Emilia, a beautiful psychology student, and Dee, a flamboyant dresser who swears she will kill herself after writing her 500th poem. Chad and Nick toss around the idea of an elimination game of consequences, based on flamboyant dares and forfeits, but the Game doesn’t become reality until the Fresher’s Fair, held to introduce new students to the multitude of societies available. At the "Game Soc" booth, they meet three serious young men who don’t seem interested in recruiting any new members until Chad blurts out their idea. As they explain the game of increasingly uncompromising consequences, the Game Soc sponsors show a flicker of interest, eventually offering ten thousand pounds as a prize if each of six entrants contribute a thousand pound entry fee, and if the dares and consequences become darker, though not life-endangering. Before the school year ends, one of the six is dead, and only two finalists continue to battle for the prize. The reclusive narrator who tells the story though journal entries has not been out of his apartment for three years, scatters mnemonic clues around to structure his days (three plates on the kitchen floor to remember to eat meals), and dreads the impending final challenge, 14 years after the end of their freshman year. This intense debut psychological thriller explores the nature of competition and how much individuals are willing to sacrifice in order to win a game.

Aunty Lees DelightsOvidia Yu
Aunty Lee’s Delights (William Morrow 2013) introduces Rosie “Aunty” Lee, owner of Aunty Lee’s Delights, a small Singapore café featuring traditional Peranakan food. When Aunty Lee’s husband died, she sank into depression until the idea of opening a restaurant brought her back to her normal self — passionate about cooking perfect meals and matching the perfect food to each customer’s emotional state. Aunty Lee’s current project is hosting weekly wine dinners for locals and tourists to promote her step-son Mark’s wine business. Mark’s social-climbing wife Selina (who Aunty Lee calls Silly-Nah) would prefer that Mark serve bland breadsticks instead of Aunty Lee’s spicy food, but Mark enjoys working with his step-mother. Selina prefers not to do any of the organizing, and arranges for Laura Kwee to handle all the details in exchange for a reduced fee for the wine-tasting dinners. Unused to drinking, Laura became tipsy and loud at the previous dinner, so no one is surprised when she doesn’t show up for the current dinner, instead sending a last-minute text that she isn’t feeling well and that her friend Marianne won’t attend either. Selina is horrified that Aunty Lee wants to leave the TV on during dinner instead of playing Mark’s carefully chosen classical music, but Aunty Lee is consumed with curiosity about the body that has just been discovered on the beach. Concerned that both Laura and Marianne seem to be missing, Aunty Lee informs the police, who determine that neither girl has been seen since the wine-tasting dinner the previous week. In fact, everyone who attended the dinner is a suspect. Aunty Lee’s connections throughout Singapore give her access to details about the investigation, and she drops helpful hints to Senior Staff Sergeant Salim, an engaging young officer who is equally attracted to Aunty Lee’s homestyle food and her Filipina maid. Aunty Lee’s Deadly Specials, the second in this captivating series featuring the irrepressible Aunty Lee, was just released.

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November 1, 2014

Cemetary LakePaul Cleave
Cemetery Lake (Atria 2013, New Zealand 2008) introduces Theodore Tate, a former police officer in Christchurch, New Zealand. When a drunk driver killed his daughter and left his wife in a coma-like trance two years earlier, Theo fell apart and was thrown off the force. The drunk driver disappeared, and Theo’s former cop friends began avoiding him, worried about hearing a drunken confession they might have to do something about. Now working as a private investigator, Theo is witnessing the exhumation of the coffin of a man whose daughter insisted he was murdered when he died two years earlier. Theo is feeling guilty, afraid that his grief about the accident pulled his attention away from the case. As the casket is raised, Theo notices bodies floating to the surface of the cemetery lake. Inside the exhumed casket, the body of a young woman is found instead of an elderly man, and Theo fears that three other young women will be found hidden in the coffins previously occupied by the bodies floating in the lake. Convinced that he could have prevented the murders if he had been able to focus on work, Theo throws himself into the investigation, alienating his few remaining friends in the force as well as the priest who tried to comfort him at the time of the accident that destroyed his life. But Theo knows that the police are dedicating all their time and energy to the hunt for a serial killer known as the Christchurch Carver, and is determined to bring closure to the families of the missing girls. Protagonists don’t get much more flawed than Theo, who steals clues from bodies, breaks into homes, and has no qualms about taking retribution into his own hands. Sustained only by his determination to bring the killer to justice and hopeless devotion to the wife who doesn’t recognize him, Theo stumbles closer to the truth, prodding the killer to commit more crimes. Theo’s dysfunctional behavior makes it easy for the real killer to frame him for murder, and only extraordinarily bad judgment provides Theo with a tenuous alibi. This intricately plotted thriller, the first in a series of four books to feature Theo Tate, is laced with sardonic humor.

The Life We BuryAllen Eskens
The Life We Bury (Seventh Street Books 2014) is the story of Joe Talbert, a financially-struggling college student at the University of Minnesota who works as a bouncer at a local bar to make ends meet. His English teacher assigns an interview and biography of a stranger, so Joe visits a local nursing home in search of a willing subject. Most of the elderly patients have memory issues, but Carl Iverson, a Vietnam vet and convicted murderer dying of pancreatic cancer, is willing to talk to him. Now on medical hospice parole, Carl served 30 years of his life sentence for the rape and murder of Crystal Hagan, his 14-year old neighbor. Virgil Gray, who served with Carl in Vietnam, tells Joe that Carl is innocent of the crime, but Joe finds that difficult to believe since Carl never spoke a word in his own defense. Joe has worked hard to earn enough money to escape from his alcoholic mother who lives in a small town several hours away, but he knows she isn’t trustworthy enough to take proper care of his autistic brother Jeremy. When his mother is arrested for DUI yet again, Joe brings his brother to stay in his tiny apartment, reluctantly accepting that he will have to give up school since Jeremy can’t be left alone for long. Lila Nash, the mysterious college student living down the hall, bonds with Jeremy and pitches in to help keep an eye on him until Joe’s mother is released from jail. At first horrified that Joe has chosen a rapist and murderer as the subject of his paper, Lily becomes drawn into the investigation of the 30-year old crime and the two recover Crystal’s diary which contains coded messages that were never deciphered. Joe, Carl, and Lily are all struggling to overcome deeply buried past traumas, binding them together with the uncomfortable awareness that each has been permanently changed by the past. This powerful debut thriller is highly recommended.

Land of ShadowsRachel Howzell Hall
Land of Shadows (Forge 2014) introduces Elouise “Lou” Norton, a Los Angeles homicide detective working in a racially explosive city. When the body of a young black woman is found hanging in the closet of a Los Angeles condominium complex under construction, Lou knows it’s not a suicide. Her new partner Colin Taggert, a brash young transfer from tranquil Colorado Springs, isn’t so sure that Monique didn’t kill herself. The development belongs to Napoleon Crase, the last person to see Lou’s 15-year-old sister Tori before she vanished 25 years earlier. Chase says he let Tori go after catching her shoplifting candy. The only clue was one of her shoes found in Chase’s parking lot, but Tori was a rebellious teenager, and the police weren’t too interested in searching for yet one more young black girl who probably ran away from home to avoid punishment. Lou, who always suspected Chase was responsible for Tori’s disappearance, clings to the hope that she may still be alive, but would settle for finding her body and bringing her mother some kind of peace. Now married to a successful video game designer, Lou lives in a luxurious condo that is a world apart from the projects she grew up in, but she hasn’t lost her ability to relate to the old neighborhood. Known on the streets as “Lockjaw,” Lou is determined to bring Monique’s killer to justice, and can’t shake the conviction that Chase murdered both Tori and Monique. Lou is a complex and engaging lead character, quick-witted and confident in public, while privately tormented by her husband’s infidelity and haunted by guilt over leaving Tori alone to face Napoleon Crase’s wrath. Two more books are in the works to follow this intense series debut.

Death at the Black BullFrank Hayes
Death at the Black Bull (Berkley 2014) introduces Virgil Dalton, sheriff of Haywood, a small Southwestern town where nothing much ever happens. In the 12 years he has served as sheriff, Virgil has seen little serious crime, so he isn’t too concerned when Buddy Hinton disappears after a night of drinking at the Black Bull. He assigns his young deputy, Jimmy Tillman, the task of checking with the drinking crowd at the Black Bull while he heads out to the Haywood Ranch, responding to a call from Audrey Haywood, the wealthy widow running the family pecan business. Virgil hasn’t visited the ranch since Rusty Haywood, Virgil’s new bride, died while he was away at college. Audrey’s opinion about Virgil hasn’t changed in the years since she tried to convince her daughter that Virgil wasn’t good enough for her; the summons is to inform him that he isn’t qualified to run for district attorney. Virgil takes advantage of his visit to ask about Buddy, who worked for Hayward Ranch and Trucking, but Buddy’s job driving a big rig didn’t bring him out to the ranch much. The discovery of Buddy’s body floating in Virgil’s stock tank changes a halfhearted search for a possibly missing man to an urgent murder inquiry, perhaps more than Virgil and his small team are equipped to handle. Virgil’s folksy charm masks a keen intellect and dogged determination to discover the truth behind Buddy’s death, which he suspects may have something to do with the Haywood trucks traveling to their processing plant in Juarez. A likable lead and an interesting cast of supporting characters enliven this debut mystery, hopefully the first in a series.

The FuriesNatalie Haynes
The Furies (St. Martin’s Press 2014) begins when Alex Morris, a London theater director, gives up her job and moves to Edinburgh to take a job with a former professor, hoping to leave her heartbreak behind. Robert is in need of a drama therapy teacher at Rankellior Street, a charity school serving children who have been expelled from other city schools. Alex has no experience teaching, but Robert persuades her that she can make a difference for the school’s needy students. After meeting her six fourth-years, Alex isn’t so sure. The small group of 14- and 15-year olds is even more challenging than she feared. Annika is resentful that her father has transferred his family from her beloved Stockholm and responds to every overture with biting sarcasm; Carly was badly bullied at her old school; Mel’s father refused to have his children vaccinated and the measles that killed her little brother left her deaf; Juno set his old school on fire; and Ricky lives with his grandparents since his other relatives are in prison. The girls are curious about Alex’s personal life, especially after learning that her fiancé was stabbed to death after trying to rescue a woman being beaten by her boyfriend, but find it difficult to focus on schoolwork. The group refuses to play drama games, insisting they are ready for “proper” school tasks, so Alex assigns them a nightly diary entry and brings in a selection of plays. Nothing appeals until she summarizes the story of Oedipus, and wrestling with the ideas of fate and tragedy finally gets them engaged. Interspersed with the narration are selections from Mel’s diary, providing a perspective quite distinct from that of the adults. This gripping debut psychological thriller explores themes of destiny, grief, and the nebulous possibility of making a fresh start.

A Burnable BookBruce Holsinger
A Burnable Book (William Morrow 2014) is set in 1385 London. John Gower, a poet and professional trader in secrets, is asked by his friend Geoffrey Chaucer, poet and controller of the wool custom, to locate a dangerous manuscript that threatens the safety of the young King Richard II. The ancient manuscript is said to have foretold the death of 12 English kings, ending with a detailed prediction of the assassination of King Richard II. Tantalizing snatches of verses from the incendiary tome begin to circulate through the court, perhaps implicating John of Gaunt, the king’s powerful uncle, and his scheming mistress Katherine Swynford, a close friend of Chaucer’s wife. Concealed in an embroidered silk cloth, the cryptic book is in the hands of Agnes Fonteyn, a young prostitute who witnessed the murder of a beautiful foreigner. Realizing she is in possession of a dangerous treasure, Agnes goes into hiding, causing her best friend and fellow prostitute Eleanor Rykener great distress. Eleanor/Edgar, a man in body and a man/woman in soul, is struggling to protect her younger brother Gerald, apprentice to a brutish butcher operating outside the law. Ambiguous verses from the book cause Eleanor to suspect that the seditious butchers may be part of the plot against the king. Interspersed journal entries written by a Castilian girl divulge the history of her family, the cloth, and the prophetic book. Conspiracies and betrayals from all walks of life swirl around Agnes, Eleanor, and Chaucer as Gower struggles to unravel the truth and save the life of his king. This intricately plotted debut historical thriller brings medieval England to vivid life, from ruthless courtiers to the desperate poor.

After I’m GoneLaura Lippman
After I’m Gone (William Morrow 2014) is the story of five women shaped by one man’s disappearance. Felix Brewer swept young Bernadette “Bambi” Gottschalk off her feet at a Valentine’s Dance in 1959, and followed through on most of his extravagant promises. Though not completely legal, Felix’s businesses bring in plenty of money to buy Bambi and their three young daughters a luxurious home and all the trimmings, as well as supporting his mistress Julie Saxony. But Felix can’t outwit the law forever, and with the help of Julie and her sister, stages a disappearance to evade a prison term in 1976. Julie is sure he will send for her soon, but Bambi and his daughters have no idea where Felix has gone. Bert Gelman, Felix’s lawyer and long-time friend, helps Bambi out financially, but she struggles to support herself and her daughters in the style they have become used to, and can’t understand why Felix put his café in Julie’s name yet made no provision for his family. When Julie disappears exactly 10 years after Felix, everyone assumes she has gone to join him — until her body is discovered in 2001, 15 years later. Roberto “Sandy” Sanchez, a retired Baltimore detective, works cold cases for the department to earn some extra money. In 2012 he opens the Julie Saxony file, and delves back into the past to Felix’s disappearance, tracing his life up to the present, sure that the murderer of Julie Saxony is lurking somewhere in the 800-page file. Flashbacks from the perspectives of Bambi, Julie, and the three daughters trace the impact of a wife learning to live without her husband, a mistress abandoned by her lover, and three daughters growing up without a father. This complex investigation of the ripple effect of ones man’s actions and the secrets and lies that ensue is totally engrossing.

Sorrow BoundDavid Mark
Sorrow Bound (Blue Rider Press 2014) finds Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy and his colleagues of the Serious and Organized Crime Unit of Hull, England, struggling to cope with a sadistic new crime lord who has taken over the local drug trade, using nail guns and blow torches to discourage competition. Aector is suffering through mandatory counseling because of the violence of his last case, his teething baby daughter is keeping him up most of the night, and the sweltering weather makes it hard for anyone to concentrate. A brutal murder distracts Aector and his boss Trish Pharoah from the drug violence while his “traveler” wife Roisin defends a friend from a robbery by a young drug gangster, Adam Downey, startling him with a nail file attack and helping herself to a pile of his cash. Unaware that the Downey is targeting Roisin, Aector and Pharaoh are called to a second macabre murder scene, and discover that both victims are connected to Sebastien Hoyer-Wood, a serial rapist who humiliated the families of the women he raped. A powerful friend of Hoyer-Wood convinced the judge he was unfit to stand trial, and arranged to have Hoyer-Wood housed at a private healthcare facility licensed to look after dangerous patients. Aector struggles to deal with the dichotomy between his desire to follow the rules and the realization that sadistic criminals like Hoyer-Wood and the drug lords are able to circumvent the justice system and escape punishment. Aector is a likable protagonist, a giant incorruptible family man striving to remain true to himself and his job in a world growing more dangerous every day.

Death of BeesLisa O’Donnell
The Death of Bees (Harper 2013) is the story of Marnie (15) and Nelly (12) who bury the bodies of their parents in the garden behind their derelict home in a Glasgow housing development. Their abusive father Gene, a drug addict attracted to young girls, was smothered, and each girl believes the other killed him. Their neglectful mother Izzy, an alcoholic, hung herself a few days after Gene’s death. Determined not to go back into foster care that will separate them again, the two girls dig a shallow grave, cover it with lavender plants, and tell everyone their parents have left them on their own while traveling to Turkey. Lennie, a neighbor whose gay partner has died recently, notices the absence of the distasteful parents and invites the girls over for dinner. He assumes it is just another drug and alcohol binge abandonment, but begins to question the girls as months pass and no sign is seen of the negligent parents. Different perspectives of reality appear in alternate chapters narrated by Marnie, who tries to make ends meet by selling drugs out of an ice cream truck, Nelly, a violin prodigy who speak only very proper Queen’s English, and Lennie, who revels in the opportunity to cook and care for someone other than his little dog Bobby. The girls try to cover up until Marnie’s 16th birthday, when she will become a legal adult and able to take responsibility for both of them. Izzy’s father Robert MacDonald, who abused his wife and daughter before abandoning them, reappears quoting Scripture and demanding to know where Izzy is so he can make amends. Marnie doesn’t trust him, but his claim as a grandfather trump’s Lennie’s as a helpful neighbor and MacDonald begins to woo Nelly with the dream of a stable family. Meanwhile, Bobby begins digging under the lavender plants, searching for the tasty bones he knows are buried there. This intense debut novel paints a vivid picture of desperate and lonely people struggling to create a sense of security and belonging.

Murder at the BrightwellAshley Weaver
Murder at the Brightwell (Minotaur 2014), set in 1932, introduces Amory Ames, a wealthy young socialite married to Milo, a charming rake who frequently vanishes for months on end. While Milo is away in Monte Carlo, Amory receives a visit from Gilmore Trent at her country estate in Kent. Amory was engaged to Gil before Milo swept her off her feet five years earlier, and the two have had no contact since her marriage. Gil’s cherished younger sister Emmaline has just become engaged to Rupert Howe, who reminds Gil all too much of the fickle Milo. Gil’s plan is for Amory to use her own unhappy marriage as a cautionary tale to persuade Emmaline to reconsider her decision to marry Rupert. Milo’s unexpected reappearance at breakfast on the morning of Gil’s visit causes Amory to face her own empty life, and she agrees to accompany Gil on a weeklong seaside holiday at the Brightwell Hotel with his sister and a small group of friends. At the Brightwell, Amory realizes that Emmaline is truly in love, but hopes that her carefully worded warning will nudge the girl to examine her fiancé with a more critical eye. When Rupert turns up dead, possibly murdered, Gil is the prime suspect and Amory is determined to prove his innocence. Her unanticipated partner in the investigation is Milo, who suddenly arrives at the Brightwell, inserting himself into the group and dazzling Amory with the full force of his charisma. Amory doesn’t fully trust Milo, but finds it difficult to resist the seductive charm that won her heart away from Gil. This lively debut traditional mystery features a a captivating pair of bantering amateur sleuths capable of carrying a series.

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December 1, 2014

One KickChelsea Cain
One Kick (Simon & Schuster 2014) introduces Kick Lannigan, kidnapped from her suburban Portland, Oregon, home at the age of six and finally discovered five years later during an FBI raid. During those years in captivity, Kick was trained by Mel to race to her hidden “box” in under two minutes, to fade into the background during her rare appearances in public, to pick locks, and to shoot a gun with fatal accuracy. By the time she was rescued, Kick considered Mel and his wife her parents and had suppressed nearly all her early memories of her real family. Therapy didn’t help much, but Kick discovered other ways to feel safe — mastering tae kwon do, knife throwing, and how to walk without making a sound. Kick’s father left the family soon after her return, and her mother found a new calling as “Kidnap Mom,” writing a tell-all book and selling pictures of Kick on each anniversary of her rescue. Kick filed for emancipation at the age of 17, and celebrated her 21st birthday by buying her very own Glock. Though outwardly tough, Kick carries around a notebook to record her fears, setting aside time each day before dinner to worry about them, and secretes knives and throwing stars around her apartment so she is never far from a weapon. News of kidnapped children sends her into a spiral of anxiety, but the police refuse her help until the day John Bishop, a dangerous man with shady connections to law enforcement, persuades her to use her memories to help locate two kidnapped children whose abductions have some connection to Mel and a ring of child pornographers. This gripping series opener presents a feisty and vulnerable heroine battling her own demons as she throws herself into the race to find the missing children before they disappear forever.

HoopermanJohn M. Daniel
Hooperman (Dark Oak 2013) is the story of Hooperman “Hoop” Johnson, a tall skinny bearded man with a terrible stutter. Hoop, a young Stanford dropout, works as a pizza chef in 1972 Palo Alto, California, across the street from Maxwell’s Books. Hoop took the pizza job because of the proximity to the independent bookstore, where he loves to browse the poetry section. Lucinda Baylor, a large African-American bookstore clerk, is kind to him, and patient with his broken speech. When Hoop spies a Help Wanted sign in the window, he jumps at the chance to work in the bookstore alongside the woman he has secretly come to love, even after owner Elmer Maxwell reveals that the job is to clandestinely watch for shoplifters for a mere $5.00 a day, plus half the value of any rescued books. After Hoop prevents a few books from walking out the door, Maxwell divulges that he suspects one of the bookstore employees is somehow sneaking out entire boxes of books. Hoop can’t believe that one of his new friends is a thief, but begins to watch them closely, discovering that it is common practice for employees to “borrow” books to take home and read. And the bookstore staff is an eccentric group: one woman refuses to talk to the customers, the shipping clerk suffers from Tourette’s-like swearing, and the shop is frequently vandalized because of Maxwell’s flagrant anti-war stand. While solving the mystery of the book thief, Hoop saves the bookstore itself, a sanctuary for book lovers like himself who gather to connect with others through the mutual love of the written word. This debut mystery is a nostalgic look at a time when independent bookstores were vital gathering places and refuges for unconventional book lovers to gather and connect with others through a mutual love of the written word.

Nickel PlatedAric Davis
Nickel Plated (2011) introduces 12-year-old Nickel, an escapee from abusive foster parents living on his own in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Nickel supports himself by growing marijuana to sell at the local high school and blackmailing pedophiles he fishes for online. He also "solves problems" for those trying to rescue children in danger. Arrow, a high-school girl whose 11-year-old sister Shelby has gone missing, contacts Nickel asking for help when the police investigation doesn’t produce results. When mother begins drinking heavily her father moves out, and the police focus their investigation on him. Arrow is sure her father is innocent, and Nickel bikes through their suburban neighborhood searching for clues, discovering a pink hairband that might be Shelby’s next to the footprint of a large work boot on the bank of the creek near the woods. Searching the online database of registered sex offenders doesn’t reveal any likely suspects, so Nickel researches work boot soles and hopes for inspiration. Nickel’s schemes for blending in and not attracting attention as a child on his own are ingenious. He plans shopping trips to mimic what a parent might send a child to pick up, paints his expensive mountain bike to look like a disposable beater, and taps into his neighbors’ phone lines. Though marketed as a young-adult thriller, this edgy pre-teen anti-hero will appeal to adults as well.

The Monogram MurdersSophie Hannah
The Monogram Murders (William Morrow 2014) finds legendary Belgian private detective Hercule Poirot staying at a London lodging house while resting his mind. To preserve the fiction that he is out of town, Poirot avoids his usual restaurants, enjoying the excellent coffee at Pleasant’s Coffee House while eavesdropping on the waitress gossiping about the customers. One evening a terrified young woman joins Poirot at his table, confiding that she is about to be murdered. She declares that the murder will be just punishment for what she has done, and begs Poirot to discourage the police from investigating her death before rushing out. Later that night, Scotland Inspector Edward Catchpool, Poirot’s new friend and fellow lodger, is called to the Bloxham Hotel, where three guests have been murdered in their separate rooms. The discover of a monogrammed gold cufflink in the mouth of each corpse causes Poirot to recall the final words of the young woman earlier that evening: “Oh, please let no one open their mouths!” Poirot and Catchpool discover that all three of the victims have a connection with the village of Great Holling, where the vicar and his wife committed suicide 16 years earlier. Most of the book is narrated by Catchpool, the perfect foil for Poirot’s extravagant admiration of his own deductive reasoning powers. This cleverly plotted homage is the first in a series authorized by Agatha Christie’s family.

Blunt DartsJeremiah Healy
Blunt Darts (1984) introduces John Francis Cuddy, an insurance investigator in Boston, Massachusetts, whose wife has recently died of cancer. When Cuddy is fired for refusing to sign a false investigation claim, he decides to become a private investigator. Valerie Jacobs, a middle school teacher who used to date an acquaintance, recommends Cuddy to Eleanor Kinnington, whose 14-year old grandson Stephen has disappeared. Mrs. Kinnington is concerned because Stephen’s father, Judge Kinnington, seems to be suppressing the police investigation. Cuddy discovers that Stephen spent nearly a year in a private sanatorium four years earlier after his dysfunctional mother drove her car off a bridge in an apparent suicide. Stephen, a brilliant student, seems to have made a full recovery, but Cuddy wonders if a recent event may have triggered another emotional collapse. Cuddy discovers that the private investigation firm that the Judge hired is being paid to do nothing, the local police warn Cuddy away from his investigation, and the Judge’s thuggish bodyguard threatens him when he begins to ask questions about the accident. Cuddy, who visits his wife’s grave to talk nearly every day, is uncomfortable with his unexpected attraction to Valerie, but he needs her help to gain access to Stephen’s one school friend. Cuddy balances his love of doughnuts with a determination to get back in shape after the alcohol-fueled depression following his wife’s death, and is resourceful despite stumbling a few times in his first serious outing as a private investigator. This enjoyable first in a 15 book series featuring the likable Cuddy was a finalist for the 1985 Shamus Award for Best First Novel.

Murder on Bamboo LaneNaomi Hirahara
Murder on Bamboo Lane (Berkley 2014) introduces Ellie Rush, a 23-year-old Japanese-American rookie bicycle cop in Los Angeles, who dreams of becoming a homicide detective. Ellie is patrolling the porta-potties at the Chinese New Year’s festival when the body of a young Asian woman is discovered on Bamboo Lane. Ellie identifies the dead woman as Jenny Nguyen a former classmate at Pan Pacific West College. Ellie’s aunt Cheryl Toma, LAPD Assistant Chief, encourages Ellie to work the streets, building a network of confidential sources that will give her an edge in the investigation and a potential promotion. Ellie contacts former classmates and friends of Jenny, including Ellie’s ex-boyfriend Benjamin Choi whom she hasn’t quite gotten over yet. Controversial artist Tuan Le, Jenny’s boyfriend and the prime suspect in her murder, asks Ellie to help clear his name. Assigned to officially work the case with the attractive Detective Cortez Williams, Ellie is determined to prove she is more than a community officer with a talent for bike riding. The two wonder if the murder has something to do with Jenny’s job as a census taker where she perhaps asked the wrong questions of the wrong people in the wrong part of town. A whiff of corrupt politics causes Ellie to doubt the purity of Aunt Cheryl’s secret encouragement. Does she want Ellie to solve the murder or provide inside information about the investigation? This captivating series opener set in the rich ethnic mix of Los Angeles is a winner.

The DropDennis Lehane
The Drop (William Morrow 2014) is the story of Bob Saginowski, a lonely Boston bartender who works at Cousin Marv’s Bar. Marv lost control of his bar several years earlier to the Chechen mob, who use the bar as one of their money drops. Throughout the day packets of cash are dropped into a slot in the counter to be held for Chovka Umarov and his violent thugs. On big gambling days, like the Super Bowl, a bar is chosen at random to be The Drop where all the money is collected and held overnight. On his way home a few days after Christmas, Bob hears a strange noise coming from a trash can, and discovers a puppy beaten nearly to death. Nadia Dunn, an intense woman with a scar around her neck, demands to know why Bob is searching through her trash, but relents and helps him rescue the dog. A former employee of the Humane Society, Nadia explains that the puppy is an American Staffordshire terrier, commonly known as a pit bull, and will almost certain be euthanized if they take it to the shelter. Bob reluctantly adopts the puppy, and finds himself unexpectedly happy for the first time in years. When Marv’s Bar is robbed a few days later, Detective Evando Torres recognizes Bob as a fellow attendee of the 7:00 AM mass at Saint Dominic’s. Though Bob is at church every morning, Torres is sure he is guilty of something since he never takes communion. Eric Deeds, a crazed ex-con with a mysterious past connection to Nadia, insists that Bob’s beloved puppy is his and threatens the fragile friendship between Nadia and Bob. A tie-in for the film of the same name, this heartfelt and gritty short novel is an expansion of the 2009 short story titled “Animal Rescue.”

Precious ThingColette McBeth
Precious Thing (Minotaur 2014) examines an intense friendship that began in high school when popular and beautiful Clara O’Connor befriended Rachel Walsh, the awkward and chubby new girl. The two formed what seemed to be an unbreakable exclusive bond at the time, but drifted apart after graduation. Ten years later Rachel is a successful television crime reporter with a devoted boyfriend while Clara has just returned from seven years living abroad, part of the time in a psychiatric ward, and hasn’t quite gotten control of her life. When Clara invites Rachel for an evening out with some of their old classmates, Rachel feels obligated to drive down from London. Clara doesn’t appear, but Rachel and the other two classmates assume it is just another facet of her flakiness. Three days later Rachel is sent to Brighton to report on a missing 28-year old artist and realizes just as she is going on camera that the missing woman is Clara. Too shocked to explain her connection to the missing woman, Rachel stumbles through the live report. After the TV spot airs, one of the classmates calls Rachel to tell her Clara did show up at the bar just after Rachel left, telling the others they’d had a fight about Clara’s boyfriend and were meeting up later to talk it through. Confused by Clara’s lies, Rachel is horrified to find that she has become the prime suspect in Clara’s disappearance and possible murder. Narrated by Rachel in the form of a letter to Clara, this debut psychological suspense thriller delves into the nature of truth and the lies we tell ourselves and others.

The Dealer and the DeadGerald Seymour
The Dealer and the Dead (Thomas Dunne 2014, UK 2010) examines the long-ranging consequences of an arms deal gone wrong during the Bosnian War. In 1992, a tiny Croatian village in eastern Slavonia on the Serbian border pooled the entire wealth of the village to buy antitank rockets to protect themselves from the advancing Serbian paramilitary force. But the village schoolmaster and three young men waited in vain for the arms delivery on Cornfield Road near Vukovar. By dawn the four men knew they had been betrayed and were brutally slaughtered by the Serbian who then marched up the road to take over the village, killing the wounded hiding in the church, raping the women, and destroying everything in sight. Eighteen years later the village is finally able to have the cornfield swept for mines, and the four bodies are discovered next to the road. Inside the pocket of the teacher is a scrap of paper with the name of the arms dealer: Harvey Gillott. The village again pools all their wealth, mainly in the form of loans against the war pensions of the men, to hire an assassin to track down Gillott, now living in England, and kill him. The Vukovar revenge contract is reported to British secret service and a team is dispatched to protect Gillott while Robbie Cairns, a young London hit man, heads off to complete the contract. Gillott has always regretted that one betrayal in a long and successful career, and refuses to accept protection. Benjie Arbuthnot, now retired from the Secret Intelligence Service, is notified since Gillott may have been on the payroll during the Bosnian War. This complex political thriller with a large cast of fully developed characters explores the lingering repercussions of war upon the survivors.

What Has Become of YouJan Elizabeth Watson
What Has Become of You (Dutton 2014) is the story of Vera Lundy, an aspiring true crime writer who takes a long-term substitute job teaching 10th grade English at a privileged private girls school in the small town of Dorset, Maine. The next book in the course on Autobiographical Writing: Personal Connections is Catcher in the Rye, and Vera asks her students to keep a weekly journal documenting their reactions to the novel while developing their writing voice. Vera’s embryonic manuscript focuses on the murder of a despised high school classmate 20 years earlier and she is taken aback when she discovers that her students are obsessed with the recent murder of the 11-year-old niece of the dean. Though nearly 40, Vera still hasn’t made a full transition to adulthood, and grapples with many of the same coming-of-age issues her students do. Her early morning class of twelve 15-year-olds consists of several model-perfect indulged teenagers, a Somali immigrant uncomfortable talking about violence, a peer leader in a church youth group who knows her parents will disapprove of the language, and Jensen Willard, a talented and self-destructive outcast. Vera is astounded by the sheer number of pages Jensen turns in, impressed by the authentic voice and dark humor of her frank journal entries, but concerned by her fixation with death. This gripping novel of psychological suspense examines the struggles of vulnerable and troubled women searching for meaning in their lives.

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Disclosure: Some of these books were received free from publishers.