SYKM


2015 Reviews
January 1, 2015

Dry Bones in the ValleyTom Bouman
Dry Bones in the Valley (W.W. Norton 2014) introduces Henry Farrell, the head policeman in rural Wild Thyme Township, Pennsylvania. Farrell returned to his hometown to try and escape the grief of his wife’s death, planning to spend most of his time hunting, fishing, and playing old time fiddle tunes. Farrell and his one deputy are able to keep things under control, though the high prices paid by the gas companies for drilling rights have set neighbors who choose to cash in against neighbors wanting to preserve the land from frack ponds. Some of Farrell’s childhood friends are now cooking meth in the woods, and dealers are bringing in heroin. When the local doctor calls Farrell in late March to report that Danny Stiobhard came in with a gunshot wound, Farrell assumes Danny has been up to his usual practice of helping himself to game or wood on someone else’s land. Aub Dunigan, the reclusive old man whose land Danny was trespassing on, admits firing his shotgun at Danny, but surprises Farrell by declaring he had nothing to do with the body in the woods. The thawing corpse of a skinny young man he leads Farrell to has clearly been exposed for some time, and decay plus animal damage make identification difficult. The coroner suggests that the dead man might be Latino, leading Farrell to the oil company who has been drilling and fracking in the township. The Sheriff suspects Aub Dunigan of the murder and arrests him. When Farrell’s deputy is found shot, the town is sure Danny Stiobhard is responsible since the two were fighting over a woman. But Farrell is convinced there is a link between the two murders, and sets out to find the truth. The investigation rouses Farrell from the depths of his grief as he is forced to grapple with the changes in the community he knows all too well. This dark and suspenseful debut thriller presents an absorbing protagonist who will hopefully reappear in future books.

Night HeronAdam Brookes
Night Heron (Redhook 2014) revolves around Li Huasheng, known as Peanut, a Beijing graduate engineering student who hoped to defect and traded secrets to the British. In 1989 Peanut attacked a soldier during the Tiananmen Square protests and was sent to a labor camp. Twenty years later, he escapes from the remote camp and makes his way to Beijing, desperate to deliver enough information to the British to earn his way out of China. Peanut gives Philip Mangan, a free-lance British journalist, a top-secret document blackmailed from a former colleague, convincing the reluctant journalist to deliver it to the embassy. The code phrase “Night Heron” makes its way to Trish Patterson of the UK Secret Intelligence Service who identifies it as an emergency signal associated with a network targeting China’s aerospace network that ceased contact in 1989. Trish’s boss asks her to track down the group’s case officer, now retired, and see if it’s possible an agent has resurfaced after two decades of silence. Peanut finds a place to hide in a brothel, trading his services as a janitor and bouncer for food and a mattress in the storeroom, waiting for his message to make its way through channels. But Peanut’s information about China’s nuclear missile technology is incendiary, putting himself and Mangan in danger from American intelligence, the Chinese government, and a dangerous corporate team on the hunt for new technology. This complex and convincing spy thriller is the fiction debut of the BBC’s former China Correspondent.

The WolfLorenzo Carcaterra
The Wolf (Ballantine Books 2014) is the story of Vincent Marelli, known as the Wolf, head of the Marelli Crime Syndicate in America, and leader of the International Crime Council with representatives from the Camorra in Naples, the Mafia in Sicily, the Yakuza in Japan, the Triads in China, the Israeli Assassin Squad, and crime syndicates in France, Albania, and Greece. The International Crime Council is concerned that the Russian Mafiya, Mexican drug and ammunition gangs, and international terrorists threaten the financial structure of organized crime, but an uneasy truce is maintained until Marelli’s wife and two young daughters are killed in a terrorist attack aboard an American commercial airline flight. Marelli convinces the International Crime Council to declare war, and selects Raza, a terrorist funded by Vladimir “The Impaler” Kostolov of the Russian Mafiya, as the first target. Angela “The Strega” Jannetti, of the Camorra, joins Marelli in the hands-on battle against Raza and his terrorists, who live outside the organized crime code of honor. The Yakuza, who control organized crime’s money laundering operation, begins to freeze out the Russians who fund Raza, while Big Mike Paleokrassas of Greece and John Loo of the Yakuza, spearhead the cyber attack. Marelli’s first-person narration is interwoven with chapters presenting the chilling Russian and terrorist perspectives. This intense thriller contrasts the lethal members of the International Crime Council, intent on power and financial gain, with suicidal terrorists whose aim is mass destruction at any cost.

My Sister’s GraveRobert Dugoni
My Sister’s Grave (Thomas & Mercer 2014) is the story of Tracy Crosswhite, whose younger sister Sarah disappeared twenty years earlier on her way home one rainy night in their hometown of Cedar Grove, Washington. Tracy and Sarah had been participating in a sharpshooting competition, and Sarah drove Tracy’s truck home alone so that Tracy could go out to dinner with her boyfriend. Edmund House, a paroled rapist, was charged with Sarah’s murder, but her body was never discovered. Convinced that some of the evidence used in House’s trial was fabricated, Tracy tried to persuade Sheriff Roy Calloway to search for other suspects, but was unsuccessful. After Tracy’s father committed suicide, Tracy quit her job as a high school chemistry teacher and entered the police academy, determined to learn how to track down killers. The discovery of the remains of a young woman in the Cascade mountains near Cedar Grove pulls Tracy from her job as a homicide detective in Seattle. The grave site has been underwater for nearly two decades, preserving the body from predators. With the help of her childhood friend Dan O’Leary, now a criminal defense attorney, Tracy sets out to prove that House was wrongfully imprisoned by a conspiracy that may have included her own father. This character-driven thriller features a complex heroine consumed by the need to obtain justice for her beloved sister.

The SilkwormRobert Galbraith
The Silkworm (Mulholland Books 2014) finds Cormoran Strike with enough clients following the successful conclusion of his last case to finally afford a tiny apartment above his private detective office. He even feels secure enough to offend some of his wealthy clients in order to search for Leonora Quine’s missing husband Owen. Leonora explains that she can’t go to the police because Owen has a habit of disappearing to create interest in his latest novel, but she is finding it difficult to care for their daughter Orlando alone. Someone has also been stuffing dog droppings through their mail slot and a strange woman appeared with a message that Angela had died. Strike discovers that Owen has vanished with the just-completed manuscript of Bombyx Mori (Silkworm), an incendiary novel lampooning pretty much everyone he knows. Liz Tassel, Owen’s agent, skim-read what she thought was a gothic fairly tale full of perverse sex, and sent the manuscript around without realizing it was possibly libelous. Strike manages to get his hands on a copy of the manuscript, and begins to match the bizarre and cruel literary portraits with real people who may be hurt or compromised enough to harm the missing author. Robin Ellacott, Strike’s assistant, would like to be more of a detective and less of a secretary, but she is hampered by Strike’s courtly desire to shield her from danger and her fiancé’s insistence that she stop wasting time and get a real job in human resources. This second in the engaging and intelligent series featuring the intuitive Strike and the enterprising Robin is cleverly plotted and adroitly written.

The Devil in the MarshalseaAntonia Hodgson
The Devil in the Marshalsea (Mariner Books 2014) introduces Tom Hawkins, a country parson’s son determined to make a more exciting life for himself in 1727 London. Threatened with debtors’ prison by his landlord, Tom borrows money from a friend and manages to win enough money gambling to pay off his debt. But on the way home he is attacked by a gang of ruffians who steal his purse. The next morning Tom is carted off in chains to Marshalsea Gaol, to be imprisoned until he can pay his debt. Tom quickly discovers that he must have money to pay rent for a room and buy food, or he will be moved to the Common Side, where tightly packed debtors soon starve or die of disease. Tom’s resemblance to Captain Roberts attracts the attention of his wife, who has remained in the Marshalsea after her husband’s death hoping to prove that he did not commit suicide, but instead was murdered. Samuel Fleet, who shared a room with Roberts, is presumed to be the murderer. Known as the Devil of the Marshalsea, Fleet is one of the few not imprisoned for debt, but rather for printing a pamphlet that was deemed dangerous to Parliament, the Church, and the King. Comfortably well-off, Fleet rescues Tom from rooming with a man dying of smallpox and offers the empty bed in his room. Though Tom doesn’t trust Fleet, he doesn’t believe he murdered Roberts, and instead fixes his suspicion upon William Acton, warden of Marshalsea, who runs the prison strictly for profit and seems to lack even a drop of human kindness. The horrors of debtors’ prison are brilliantly evoked in this debut historical thriller, winner of the 2014 Historical Dagger Award and finalist for the New Blood Dagger Award.

The Good GirlMary Kubica
The Good Girl (Harlequin MIRA 2014) begins when Mia Dennett, a 24-year-old art teacher at an alternative high school in Chicago, goes missing in late October. One of Mia’s colleagues notifies her estranged parents that she didn’t show up for work that morning and isn’t answering her phone. Judge Dennett isn’t happy that his wife Eve makes a police report, and informs Detective Gabe Hoffman that Mia was unreliable during her high school years and is probably off partying. Gabe learns that Mia is serious about her teaching job, and discovers that she left a bar with an unknown man after being stood up by her boyfriend. Colin, the kidnapper, can’t bring himself to turn Mia over to the brutal man who hired him to snatch her for ransom, and flees with her to an isolated primitive cabin in the Minnesota woods. Alternating chapters are narrated by Eve, who is shattered by grief and feelings of inadequacy as a parent, Gabe, who is determined to save Mia for Eve’s sake, and Colin, who worries about his invalid mother while trying to keep himself and Mia alive in the bitter cold. Viewpoints before and after Mia’s return, with no memory of the time she was away, gradually reveal the precarious Dennett family dynamics and Colin’s downward spiral to a life of crime. Now calling herself Chloe, Mia reappears disoriented and lethargic, convinced that everything is somehow her fault. This debut psychological thriller is stunning.

The Killer next DoorAlex Marwood
The Killer Next Door (Penguin 2014, UK 2013) centers on the residents of 23 Beulah Grove, an old Victorian converted to a seedy boarding house in London. Roy Preece, the massive repellent landlord, would love to sell the building, but pensioner Vesta Collins has a life tenancy on the basement flat and refuses to sell out. So Preece neglects the crumbling building — the drains constantly back up and the door locks don’t quite work. Collette Dunne is the newest resident, moving into the room previously occupied by Nikki, who left without notice two weeks earlier. Collette has been on the run for three years, ever since the night she saw her mobster boss and his two thugs kick a man to death in the office upstairs from the bar where she worked. Terrified, Collette fled, still clutching the bag of money destined for the safe and eventual money-laundering. Returning to London to be closer to her invalid mother, Collette is sure no one will find her in this decrepit boarding house, where the landlord is eager to accept the rent in cash. Cher Farrell, a 15-year-old runaway from social services who supports herself by stealing, also pays her rent under the table. Gerard Bright, a recently divorced music teacher who rarely emerges from the room where he plays Wagner at high volume, leaves an envelope of cash for the landlord on the hall table each month. Thomas Dunbar whose hours at Citizen’s Advice have been cut back, pays by check and pretends to still be fully employed. Hossein Zanjani, a grief-stricken asylum seeker from Iran, has his rent paid directly by the refugee organization. Collette cleans the rotting food from her new room, but can’t seem to get rid of the stench, which she assumes is coming from the drains. Instead, the vile smell is coming from the room of one of the boarders, who collects “girlfriends” by attempting to turn their bodies into mummies. Gruesome details of the mummification process of Nikki’s body are contrasted with the tender care “the Lover” lavishes on his earlier victims. When Vesta’s flat is burgled, most of the housemates rally around, and begin to form tenuous alliances, unaware that one is a serial killer. This unsettling thriller manages to be both terrifying and life-affirming.

Whiskey Tango FoxtrotDavid Shafer
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (Mulholland Books 2014) is the story of three 30-somethings who become entangled in the machinations of the Committee, an international band of industrialists and media moguls intent on collecting and controlling all information. Leila Majnoun is in Myanmar working for Helping Hand, a non-profit trying to improve the plight of women in third-world countries, when she stumbles by accident into armed bodyguards protecting tech-support at a checkpoint in the middle of nowhere. Leo Crane, a paranoid alcoholic living on his trust fund in Portland, Oregon, writes a blog — I Have Shared a Document with You — raving about the shadow government keeping tabs on wayward members of the intellectual elite. Mark Deveraux, a college friend of Leo’s, has achieved semi-fame by writing a self-improvement book under the influence of drugs and alcohol. After the viral success of his book, James Straw, billionaire owner of SineCo, became Mark’s patron, demanding frequent life-coaching sessions in exchange for financial support and Mark’s public touting of the Node, SineCo’s newest gizmo designed to secretly collect personal information. Leila’s email home asking for information about the secret site in Myanmar results in the arrest of her father, a middle school principal in California, for child pornography. Leila is contacted by Dear Diary, an underground group fighting the Committee, who present her with a secure phone, caution her to block her computer webcam with electrical tape, and send her off to Portland to recruit Leo as a conduit to the Committee via Mark. This complex debut global cyber-thriller is suspenseful and darkly humorous.

RolloverSusan Slater
Rollover (Poisoned Pen Press 2014) finds Dan Mahoney, an insurance investigator from Chicago, on his way to Wagon Mound, New Mexico, to look into the theft of a diamond and sapphire necklace insured for over half a million dollars. The necklace, made by Tiffany himself, was designed by 85-year-old Gertrude Kennedy’s father for his wife, and survived the sinking of the Titanic. Stored in a safe deposit box at First Community Bank, the necklace was part of the haul by robbers who tunneled into the bank and then opened the safe deposit boxes while the back was closed on Labor Day weekend for the Bean Day Festival. On his way to Wagon Mound, Dan’s rental car overheated and died on a back road from Albuquerque. An old man driving an ancient truck offered a lift into town, but passed out at the wheel, rolling the truck several times and leaving Dan badly injured. Something about the accident worries Dan, and he discovers that the receptionist at the insurance office told someone who claimed to be the bank secretary the route he planned to drive from the airport, and that the old man who died in the accident was a retired stunt man whose speciality was rolling cars. With the help of his girlfriend Elaine Lindon and his Rottweiler Simon, Dan sets out to determine why the visit of an insurance investigation threatens someone enough to trigger a murder attempt. The sheriff isn’t inclined to suspect people he has known for years, but Dan is sure that the bank manager isn’t trustworthy and suspects that Gertie’s daughter, who works for a rancher using government grants to create habitat for the prairie chicken, isn’t telling all she knows. Based on the 1998 unsolved robbery of the Norwest Bank in Wagon Mound, this engaging mystery provides an intriguing explanation for why the thieves tunneled into the safe deposit room rather than the bank vault containing all the bank’s cash.

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February 1, 2015

What Strange CreaturesEmily Arsenault
What Strange Creatures (William Morrow 2014) is the story of Theresa Battle, who has been working on her dissertation for seven years. Theresa’s subject is Margery Kempe, a medieval woman who dictated the first autobiography written in English. After giving birth to 14 children, Margery convinced her husband that Jesus wanted her to be celibate and take pilgrimages. During those seven years, Theresa married, divorced, and had a couple of bad breakups, adopting a pet as a consolation prize each time. Now living with a dog and three cats, Theresa works as a copy writer for a scented candle company and hangs out with her older brother. Jeff’s life isn’t much more successful than his sister’s. Though extremely intelligent, Jeff drinks too much, has trouble keeping a job, and seems to subsist by grazing through the leftover take-out containers in Theresa’s fridge. Jeff’s new girlfriend Kim, a young waitress, seems to be good for Jeff, and Theresa agrees to dog-sit for Kim’s pug-beagle while she is out of town for the weekend. But Kim never returns, and Jeff is arrested for her murder when her body is discovered three weeks later. To clear him, Theresa begins to research Kim’s past, and learns that Kim was obsessed with Donald Wallace, the state attorney general running for Senate. Wallace was the county prosecutor for many years, and Kim suspected he used his influence to fix trials, perhaps even the case of Kim’s childhood friend who vanished at the age of eight. Using her research skills and connections at the college, Theresa begins to trace Kim’s final days, searching for her notes and videos. Zach Wagner, the young professor who taught the English class where Kim and Jeff met, shares some of Kim’s weekly responses to writing prompts, and offers advice about the juvenile justice system gleaned during his brief teenaged incarceration and interviews with juvenile offenders featured in his well-received book. Theresa’s self-deprecating humor and the stories she tells about the eccentric “Marge” lighten this intriguing literary mystery.

The Dead in Their Vaulted ArchesAlan Bradley
The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches (Delacorte Press 2014) begins with 11-year-old Flavia and her family waiting at the railway station for the arrival of the coffin holding the remains of her mother, Harriet, who disappeared in the Himalayas when Flavia was a baby. For reasons Flavia doesn’t understand, former prime minister Winston Churchill is in attendance at the station, and makes a strange remark to Flavia about pheasant sandwiches. A tall young man asks her to pass on an even more cryptic remark to her father about "the Gamekeeper" and is then crushed under the departing train. Though those two mysterious events would normally excite Flavia’s investigative curiosity, she is too wrapped up in her plan to bring Harriet back to life with an injection of carboxylase hydrochloride and adenosine triphosphate if she can manage to round up the chemicals. The recent discovery of an undeveloped roll of ciné film in an old camera in the attic has given Flavia her first glimpse of her living and breathing mother picnicking with her father and at the cockpit of her beloved de Haviland Gypsy Moth, the Blithe Spirit, intensifying her sorrow at having no memories of her mother. Buckshaw, the crumbling de Luce mansion, is full of guests: Tristram Tallis, who bought the Blythe Spirit from Harriet just before the war, cousin Lena de Luce and her strange daughter Undine, and the mysterious Adam Sowerby, a flora-archaeologist and private detective who refuses to tell Flavia whom he is working for. Flavia is scheming for private time with her mother’s body when Sir Peregrine Darwin, the Home Office pathologist, arrives to conduct an autopsy, causing Flavia to realize her mother may have been murdered. This excellent traditional mystery featuring the irrepressible young chemist is the sixth in the series set in 1950s England.

Where Monsters DwellJørgen Brekke
Where Monsters Dwell (Minotaur 2014, Norway 2011) introduces Odd Singsaker, a police inspector in Trondheim, Norway, recently back on the job after treatment for a brain tumor. The flayed body of the archivist at the Gunnerus Library in Trondheim is found inside a locked vault used to store rare and delicate books, including the Johannes Book, a sixteenth century palimpsest book. Bound in human skin, the Johannes Book appears to be the 1529 journal of a Norwegian serial murderer. Jon Vatten, a broken man whose wife and young son vanished five years earlier, now works as a security guard at the university library where he was once a doctoral student. Vatten was under suspicion at the time of his family’s disappearance, but no bodies were ever discovered. Singsaker’s superiors suspect that Vatten has something to do with the macabre murder, but Singsaker isn’t convinced. At the Edgar Allen Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia, the corpse of the museum curator is found flayed in his office by the cleaning staff. Felicia Stone, a newly promoted Richmond homicide detective, discovers that the curator has been researching the Johannes Book, and traces the original to Trondheim. The two detectives connect, and Felicia travels to Norway hoping to discover patterns shared by the two murders that will lead to the killer. Disturbing flashbacks to the creation of the Johannes Book add a touch of horror to this debut thriller, the first in a series.

The Girl on the TrainPaula Hawkins
The Girl on the Train (Riverhead 2015) centers on Rachel Watson, who travels by train and back from Ashbury to London every day. the train always slows as Rachel passes by the backyards of the Witney street she used to live on, she looks forward to seeing a happy couple she calls Jason and Jess, who are often on their makeshift terrace either enjoying morning coffee or evening wine. Rachel knows the layout of the Victorian semi well, since her ex-husband Tom still lives in an identical house two doors down with his new wife Anna and their baby girl. Rachel is consumed with envy for Anna who lives in the house Rachel chose with the man Rachel still loves and has the baby Rachel always wanted. The depression following Rachel’s inability to conceive led to alcoholism, and Tom’s affair with Anna was the final blow to their marriage. One evening Rachel’s comforting vision of the perfect relationship between Jess and Jason is shattered when she sees a dark-skinned man kissing Jess. Rachel drinks canned gin and tonic on the 5:56 train home, and the combination of alcohol and her disappointment in Jess prompt Rachel to get off the train in Witney with the fuzzy idea of warning Jason. The next morning Rachel has no clear memory of the preceding night, though she has a bloody lump on her head and vague recollections of voices raised in argument. The newspaper report of a young woman who has gone missing accompanied by a picture of the woman Rachel called Jess, gives Rachel the names of her ideal couple: Megan and Scott Hipwell. The police suspect Scott, and Rachel visits the police to report the man she saw kissing Megan. But Rachel’s alcoholism make her an unreliable witness, and complaints by Anna about Rachel’s frequent late night calls to Tom further undermine her veracity. Alternating narrations from Rachel, Megan, and Anna build the backstory of the events that led to Megan’s disappearance. This debut novel of psychological suspense is riveting.

I Am PilgrimTerry Hayes
I Am Pilgrim (Atria/Emily Bestler Books 2014, UK 2013) is the story of an undercover intelligence operative who attended school under the name Scott Murdoch. Recruited by the Division, a top-secret black ops group, Scott left his former identity behind, assuming a series of other identities throughout his successful career. After retiring, he wrote an obscure but highly respected textbook of criminal investigation under the name of Jude Garrett, a recently deceased FBI agent. Ben Bradley, a New York homicide detective, manages to locate the author living under yet another name in Paris, and the two become friends. When Ben catches the case of a dead woman found in a bathtub of acid whose teeth have been removed, the two realize that the killer is using information from the Garrett book to commit an untraceable murder. The only clue is a scrap of paper with a series of numbers that might be a phone number in Turkey. News of a threat against the US by a terrorist known only as the Saracen pulls our legendary agent back into service under the code name of Pilgrim. The death of a wealthy American who fell from a cliff provides cover for Pilgrim to travel to Turkey, where a coded message to the Saracen has been intercepted. Intricate interweaving of the past and present from the perspectives of both Pilgrim and the Saracen fill in details of the events that brought both men to their current struggle to prevent and to create a disaster with the potential to kill untold thousands. This 600+ page debut police procedural/spy thriller, finalist for the 2014 Steel Dagger Award, is a gripping and powerful fiction debut by a successful screenwriter and producer.

Caught DeadAndrew Lanh
Caught Dead (Poisoned Pen Press 2014) introduces Rick Van Lam, an insurance investigator in Hartford, Connecticut. Rick’s father was an unknown American soldier stationed in Vietnam, making Rick one of the boi doi, a child of the dust, ostracized by Vietnamese culture. A war orphan adopted by a white New Jersey family at the age of 13, Rick grew up in mainstream American culture, but held on to fragments from his Buddhist Vietnamese childhood. When Mary Le Vu, one of the beautiful Le twin sisters, is killed in a drive-by in the wrong part of town, Rick’s young friend Hank Nguyen, asks for his help finding justice for his cousin Mary’s family. Hank is certain the police aren’t taking the killing seriously, and no one in the family can understand why Mary, a dutiful wife and mother, strayed outside of her usual Little Saigon orbit between home and the family grocery store. Rick, who left the New York City police department after killing a fleeing suspect, wants nothing to do with murder, but can’t refuse the request from Hank’s family, who have adopted Rick into their midst. Many in the Vietnamese community treat Rick with the same disdain he endured in Vietnam, but he knows how to talk to the police and Hank provides Rick with an entry into the closed world of Little Saigon. Together they delve into the world of the Le sisters, one married to a poor Vietnamese shopkeeper and one to a wealthy American. This engaging novel set in a unique locale is the first in a new series written under the Andrew Lanh pseudonym by Ed Ifkovic.

Bad CountryCB McKenzie
Bad Country (Minotaur 2014) introduces Rodeo Grace Garnet, a former bronc rider working as a private detective while living with his old dog in a remote corner of Arizona known to locals as El Hoyo, The Hole. Returning home from a week’s vacation, Rodeo finds the body of a dead man by his gate. Dressed in clean new clothes, the small dark-skinned man doesn’t appear to be an undocumented immigrant who tried to cross the border through the desert, but carries no identification. Rodeo learns that the bodies of three other unidentified Indian men have been left in places they were sure to be found in the last couple of weeks. Rodeo gets a request from Katherine Rocha, an elderly woman from his own Pascua Yaqui tribe who wants to hire him to discover who murdered her grandson Samuel. But Mrs. Rocha doesn’t really seem that interested in what happened to Samuel, instead mourning his six-year-old sister Farrah who was killed by a hit-and-run driver. While trying to track Samuel’s last days, Rodeo runs afoul of Caps Monjano, a Tohono O’odham tribal cop who was probably Farrah’s biological father, and Ronald Rocha, a former Special Forces sniper determined to carry out his own vigilante justice upon Samuel’s killer. The harsh and deadly Arizona desert landscape permeates this debut noir thriller, winner of the 2013 Tony Hillerman Prize and a finalist for the 2015 Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

The Day She DiedCatriona McPherson
The Day She Died (Midnight Ink 2014) is the story of Jessie Constable, a 30ish single woman who manages the Free Clothing Project in Dumfries, Scotland. Jessie’s only friends are work acquaintances, and her feather phobia, severe enough to cause debilitating panic attacks, marks her as a bit of an odd duck. While stopping for groceries at Marks & Spencer after work one evening, Jessie runs across a man she was immediately attracted to when meeting him in passing a few months earlier. After pleading with someone on his phone, the man collapses to the floor to the dismay of the four-year old girl in the shopping trolley. The man whispers that his wife Becky has just left him, and Jessie offers to drive them home. During the long drive to the isolated cottage on the beach at Sandsea, Jessie learns that the man’s name is Gus King and that his wife suffered from post-natal depression and the news of her best friend Ros returning to Poland had sent her into a downward spiral. At the cottage, Jessie is startled to find a toddler alone in his crib, and persuades Gus to call the police. Gus begs her to stay and help with the children and Jessie reluctantly agrees, worried that her panic attacks make her an unreliable child-minder. When the police appear with the news that the accident was Becky driving off the bridge into the river, Jessie puts her fears aside and stays to help with the children, and to support the shattered Gus. A Polish man who looks homeless and speaks only a few words of English appears at the door desperate to talk to Becky or perhaps Ros, but Jessie can’t make herself understood. As the days pass, Jessie becomes attached to the children and their father, but can’t escape nagging doubts about what really happened to Becky and Ros. Jessie’s engaging first-person narration enlivens this unsettling novel of psychological suspense, a finalist for the 2015 Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original.

ConfessionsKanae Minato
Confessions (Mulholland Books 2014, Japan 2008) begins when middle school science teacher Yuko Moriguchi confesses to her homeroom class why she will not be returning next term. Yuko and her finance did not marry after he was diagnosed with AIDS, but she had their child anyway, a daughter named Manami. Now four years old, the “Snuggly Bunny” obsessed Manami occasionally comes to the middle school when her daycare closes before the weekly faculty meeting is finished, looked after by the school nurse or some of Yuko’s students. After one meeting, Manami’s body is found floating in the pool behind the school building. Shattered by her grief and her conviction that two of her students are responsible for Manami’s death, Yuko explains to her class why she is sure Student A and Student B are the culprits, and reveals her fiendish plan for revenge. Subsequent chapters of confessions by three students plus the mother of one of the culprits expose the hidden motives and desperate cover-ups surrounding Manami’s death. Details of the workings of Japanese schools provide a fascinating background for the confessions. Students are expected to take responsibility for cleaning their classrooms, homeroom teachers are called instead of parents when students are in trouble after school, and young adults, called hikikomori, are shutting themselves inside their homes. This chilling debut psychological thriller is the basis for an Oscar nominated film.

Cop TownKarin Slaughter
Cop Town (Delacorte Press 2014) is set in 1974 Atlanta, where the white-male-dominated police force is unhappily dealing with integration following the election of a black mayor. “Colored” cops are now being promoted, and allowed inside the police station, but racial tension is high. The only thing uniting male cops is their distaste for female officers of any race. Kate Murphy, daughter of a wealthy Jewish family, whose husband was killed in Vietnam, arrives for her first morning the day after a white cop was killed by a black man. Two other pairs of white cops were killed, assassin-style with two bullets to the head, by a killer dubbed “Shooter.” Jimmy Lawson, the dead cop’s partner, escaped when the killer’s gun jammed, and the entire police force is out searching for clues to the killing. Maggie Lawson, Jimmy’s sister, is a patrol officer willing to endure the constant demeaning harassment rather than accept the usual female officer assignment in the typing pool. Kate can’t decide if the physical torment of wearing the heavy equipment is worse than the hazing from both female and male officers, but is determined to stick it out. Maggie realizes that Kate is more than a pretty face, and the two conspire with a female undercover officer to search for connections between the victims that might lead to the killer. This gritty thriller exploring the misogyny, racism, and homophobia of 1970s Atlanta cop culture is a finalist for the 2015 Edgar Award for Best Mystery.

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March 1, 2015

The Good, the Bad, and the EmusDonna Andrews
The Good, the Bad, and the Emus (Minotaur 2014) finds Meg Langslow drawn into the search for her long-lost grandmother Cordelia, who gave her father up for adoption as an infant. Stanley Denton, a private investigator hired by Meg’s grandfather Dr. Montgomery Blake, has tracked Cordelia to the nearby small town of Riverton, but Cordelia’s reclusive cousin Annabel refuses to talk to him. Hoping that Meg’s resemblance to her grandmother will open the door, Stanley persuades Meg to accompany him to Riverton. Annabel tells them that Cordelia died nearly a year ago when their generator in the back yard exploded. Convinced that Cordelia’s death was not an accident, Annabel asks Meg and Stanley to help find evidence to convict the man she is sure is the killer — her neighbor Theo Weaver. News of a feral flock of emus, released when the owner of a ranch could no longer afford to feed them, provides Meg and her grandfather an excuse for taking up residence along with his film crew and troupe of dedicated volunteers determined to rescue the emus and transport them to a refuge. Another murder causes Meg to suspect that the killer may be concealed among the crowd of emu-rescuing volunteers. The hilarious attempts to round up the emus, who prove surprisingly difficult to corral, and the back-stabbing politics among the volunteers angling for some face time on Dr. Blake’s popular TV show add to the fun in this 17th of an always delightful series, a finalist for the Lefty Award for most humorous mystery and the Agatha Award for Best Novel.

Queen of HeartsRhys Bowen
Queen of Hearts (Berkley 2014) finds Lady Georgiana Rannoch, 35th in line for the British throne, off to Nevada in the summer of 1934 with her self-absorbed actress mother, Claire Daniels, who has decided to divorce her Texas oilman husband in order to marry her wealthy German suitor. Since Max is paying all expenses, Georgie is more than willing to sail the Atlantic on the luxurious SS Berengaria and keep her mother company in Reno. Alone on deck one evening, Georgie thinks she sees a woman falling overboard, but no one is reported missing. Darcy O’Mara, the impoverished gentleman spy Georgie woud love to marry, is onboard tracking a jewel thief who is probably among Georgie’s circle of acquaintances. On board, movie mogul Cy Goldman decides that Claire is perfect for his next film about Philip of Spain and Mary Tudor. Cy convinces Claire to hire a double to live under her name in Nevada for the six weeks divorce residency requirement and come to Hollywood instead. Once in Hollywood, Cy’s young mistress Stella Brightwell isn’t pleased when Claire’s acting talents eclipse her own, and furious when Cy decides Darcy would be a far better Prince Phillip than the Spanish actor Stella fancies. At a house party that includes Charlie Chaplin, the inevitable murder occurs, and everyone is a suspect since Cy Goldman’s luxurious Hollywood Hills mansion is gated and guarded. Darcy and Georgie assist the local police, following a few red herrings before identifying both the thief and the killer. This enjoyable eighth in the humorous Royal Spyness series is a finalist for the Left Coast Crime Bruce Alexander Historical Award and the Agatha Award for Best Historical Novel.

This Dark Road to MercyWiley Cash
This Dark Road to Mercy (William Morrow 2014) centers on 12-year-old Easter Quillby and her six-year old sister Ruby. Their father Wade Chesterfield, a restless minor league pitcher, deserted the family several years before their mother died of a drug overdose. Now living in a group foster home run by a kind woman in Gastonia, North Carolina, Easter and Ruby are just settling comfortably in to their new life when Wade unexpectedly reappears. Since he signed away his parental rights years earlier, Wade cannot convince the foster care home to give his daughters back to him. Robert Pruitt, a menacing figure with a grudge against Wade, lurks around the playground, frightening Easter. When Wade appears at their window, Easter and Ruby are convinced that they will be safer fleeing with the father they barely know. Brady Weller, a former cop and the girls’ court-appointed guardian, suspects Wade has taken the missing girls, and uncovers a link between Wade and the missing money from a $14.5 million armored car robbery months earlier. This evocative thriller, winner of the 2014 Gold Dagger Award and a finalist for the 2015 Edgar Award for Best Mystery, is narrated in alternating sections by Easter, Brady, and Pruitt, three unique characters damaged by their past, perhaps beyond chance of redemption.

Stay With MeAlison Gaylin
Stay With Me (2014) finds Brenna Spector, a missing persons investigator in New York, and her teenaged daughter Maya struggling to cope with the psychological after-effects of Brenna’s last case, which could have killed them both. Brenna, whose Hyperthymestic Syndrome causes her to vividly relive her own past, tries unsuccessfully to avoid any triggers that will bring overwhelming memories back to the surface. When Maya goes missing, Brenna realizes that her obsession with figuring out what really happened to her older sister Clea, who got into a car nearly three decades earlier and was never seen again, has impaired her relationship with her own daughter. Because of the power of the memories that overtake Brenna, Maya believes that the past is more important to her mother than the present, and that her vanished Aunt Clea occupies more of her mother’s heart than she does. As Brenna begins to trace Maya’s recent past, she discovers a possible link between Maya’s disappearance and Clea’s, though no one else is convinced that a 28-year-old cold case can possibly help locate a girl that just went missing. This intense psychological suspense thriller, a finalist for the 2015 Edgar Award for Best Paperback, brings the Clea trilogy to an unexpected yet satisfying conclusion.

Shady CrossJames Hankins
Shady Cross (Thomas & Mercer 2015) is the story of Stokes, a small-time crook the police suspect is responsible for a recent string of burglaries that put an old man in the hospital. After lifting the wallet from a drunken traveler in a bar, Stokes heads home on his motorcycle, and barely avoids a head-on collision with a car that crashes off the side of the road in the woods. After verifying that the driver is dead, Stokes takes a backpack full of money from the back seat and begins to walk home. Realizing that the bag contains more than enough money to pay off his $100,000 debt to the local loan shark Frank Nickerson, Stokes is wavering between paying his debt and gambling that Nickerson’s thuggish twin sons will never catch him if he runs. Then a phone in the backpack rings and the voice of a little girl begs him to bring the money and take her home before they hurt her again. A man’s voice takes over the phone, calling him Paul and demanding to know if he has both the money and the evidence to ransom his daughter. The call causes Stokes to remember his own daughter, abandoned years earlier, but he tosses the phone in the trash and heads off to the bus station, determined to make a run for it with the cash. The Nickerson twins pull him off the bus, and Stokes is forced to pay his debt. Unable to get the little girl’s pleas out of his head, Stokes retrieves the phone and discovers that the kidnappers have sent a video of the child’s little finger being cut off, punishment for missing Paul’s hourly phone check-in call. The girl’s anguished screams push Stokes off the fence, and he throws himself into rescue mode, intent on making up up the missing $100,000 ransom and locating the unidentified evidence in order to rescue the child. Though he has never fired a gun in his life, Stokes finds himself battling police and mobsters while being outwitted at nearly every turn. Dark humor infuses this thriller featuring a second-rate criminal whose past has left him unequipped to play the hero’s role.

Wouldn’t It Be DeadlyD.E. Ireland
Wouldn’t It Be Deadly (Minotaur 2014) joins Eliza Doolittle a few months after her successful appearance as a Duchess at the Embassy Ball. The former Cockney flower girl is now working for Emil Nepommuck, the arch rival to Henry Higgins, as a teacher of elocution. While Higgins is traveling abroad, Eliza is living with his mother and enjoying the attentions of Freddy Eynsford Hill. At a garden party she is embarrassed not to recognize a quote from Shakespeare, and the gift of a copy of Hamlet catches her fancy to the extent of memorizing most of the lines. When Higgins returns and realizes that Nepommuck is taking full credit for transforming Eliza into a lady, he submits proof of Nepommuck’s numerous fraudulent claims to the newspaper. When Nepommuck’s body is found with a dagger in his back, Professor Higgins is the prime suspect though evidence that Nepommuck was blackmailing most of his students widens the field. Eliza realizes that the only way to clear the Professor’s name is to find the real killer, and begins to ferret out the secrets Nepommuck had collected. The denouement takes place at a performance of Hamlet at Drury Lane, where Eliza disrupts the action by fleeing from the murder across the stage, spouting lines all the way. References to the George Bernard Shaw play and the musical add to the fun in this light-hearted debut mystery, a finalist for the Agatha Award for Best Historical Mystery.

Well Read, Them DeadTerrie Farley Moran
Well Read, Then Dead (Berkley 2014) introduces Mary “Sassy” Cabot and Bridget “Bridgy” Mayfield, owners of Read ’Em and Eat, a bookstore café in Fort Myers Beach, in the barrier islands off the Florida Gulf Coast. Two of the regulars at the book club meetings are cousins and best friends in their 80s: Augusta Maddox, whose booming voice speaking out against commercialization and treasure-hunting often startles the tourists, and Delia Batson, a sweet environmentalists whose soft words can barely be heard. At the regular monthly Books Before Breakfast Club, Jocelyn Kendall, the wife of the pastor, and Rowena Gustavsen, owner of a curio shop, are in full battle about whether Anya Seton or Daphne du Maurier is the true queen of romantic suspense, when Miguel, the chef, falls with a crash and breaks his leg. Unable to handle both the cooking and serving themselves, Sassy and Bridgy have no choice but to call on Bridgy’s Aunt Ophelia, an excellent cook with the unfortunate habit of leaving the kitchen a disaster area. When Delia is murdered, Augusta informs Sassy and Bridgy that she expects them to track down Delia’s killer. Rumors that Delia may have retained the family title to a valuable barrier island cause Sassy to suspect that Delia’s two absentee nephews may have something to do with her death. A menacing treasure-hunter who warns Sassy to stop snooping is another suspect, along with Skully, an nearly homeless elderly man who supports himself by doing woodworking jobs and creating delicate jewelry from shells and woven fishing line. This amusing debut cozy mystery is a finalist for the 2014 Agatha Award for Best First Novel.

The ForgersBradford Morrow
The Forgers (Mysterious Press 2014) is the story of Will, a convicted literary forger whose speciality is the handwriting of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Will’s most cherished possession is one of Doyle’s own fountain pens. Now supporting himself by selling off his rare book collection, Will gets a frantic phone call from his girlfriend Meghan Diehl, who has just discovered her reclusive brother Adam on the floor of his isolated home in Montauk, New York, with hands severed and surrounded by vandalized books and manuscripts from his valuable collection. Adam doesn’t survive long enough to tell the police anything about his attacker, and Will helps Meghan sort though the remnants of her brother’s collection. The investigation stalls when the police don’t uncover any clues, and Will and Meghan travel to Ireland, where Meghan has always longed to spend time. They find a small cottage in Kenmare, and decide to build a new life together in Ireland, far from the insular world of rare book collecting, where the passion of collectors is balanced against the compulsion of forgers to reinvent reality by transforming historical artifacts. But Will begins receiving anonymous letters, beautifully forged in the handwriting of Henry James and Arthur Conan Doyle, threatening to reveal Will’s unexposed forgeries and hinting of secret knowledge about the attack on Adam. Will tries unsuccessfully to resist the lure of creating an even more perfect forgery in response, digging himself deeper into the blackmail that threatens both his relationship with Meghan and his freedom.

Shovel ReadyAdam Sternbergh
Shovel Ready (Crown 2014) takes place in a near-future New York City decimated by a dirty bomb that exploded in Times Square. Many have fled the city, leaving only the impoverished and the affluent behind. The gap between the very poor, who struggle to survive in the ravaged city, and the very rich, who spend most of their time in full-immersion virtual reality beds, is extreme. Spademan used to be a garbage man, but after his wife died in the explosion he found a new career as a equal opportunity hitman, killing men and women alike, but not children. When hired to kill Grace Chastity, the runaway daughter of wealthy and powerful evangelist T.K. Harrow, Spademan’s only question is if the girl is over 18. Assured that she is, Spademan picks her up at a bar and moves in for the kill, but can’t go through with it after discovering she is pregnant. Now calling herself Persephone, the girl accepts Spademan’s offer of a shower and a meal, and is soon sleeping in his apartment. Though Spademan doesn’t believe much of what Persephone tells him, she is clearly frightened of her father, who is preparing for an imminent revival service in Radio City Music Hall to recruit converts for his virtual reality called Heaven. Staccato prose propels this dystopian debut thriller, a finalist for the 2015 Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

The Kind Worth KIllingPeter Swanson
The Kind Worth Killing (William Morrow 2015) begins when Ted Severson, a wealthy businessman, shares too many martinis with a beautiful stranger in the Heathrow Airport business class lounge while waiting for a delayed flight to Boston. Ted tells Lily Kintner he has just discovered that his wife Miranda is cheating on him with the contractor building their new beach house mansion on Cape Cod, and jokes that he has fantasized about killing her. Lily responds that she would like to help, confessing that she has always felt that some people don’t deserve to live. After sobering up a bit on the flight, Ted and Lily agree to meet in a neutral place in a week if they each decide to move forward with a plan. Neither really expect the other to show up, but the lure of murder without punishment plus a budding sexual attraction brings them both to the meeting place. Alternate chapters narrated by the co-conspirators reveal Ted’s hollow marriage and expose the dark secrets of Lily’s disturbing past. Later chapters narrated by Miranda and Henry Kimball, the Boston homicide detective investigating the inevitable death, trace spiderwebs of deceit and treachery that go back for years. This chilling noir thriller explores the lure of revenge and the long reach of betrayal.

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April 1, 2015

The Secret History of Las VegasChris Abani
The Secret History of Las Vegas (Penguin 2014) is the story of Dr. Sunil Singh, a Sikh Zulu from South Africa currently doing research on psychopaths at an institute outside Las Vegas. Two years earlier Detective Salazar called on Sunil for advice while tracking a serial killer who left untidy piles of dead homeless men at the town dump. The killer was never apprehended, and Salazar is still haunted by the eyes of a teenaged girl discovered in the last cache. No further bodies were found until recently, and Salazar calls Sunil to meet him at Lake Mead, where a strange man was found in the water, a five gallon jug of blood in his truck. Salazar discovers that the man, who calls himself Water, has a small conjoined twin named Fire growing out of the side of his torso. Fire is feisty and very intelligent, but Water speaks only in disjointed facts and could be autistic. Hoping Sunil can give the police a reason to hold the twins while determining competency, Salazar sends them to the institute. Sunil, tormented by the treachery and violence of South Africa apartheid, knows more about the deaths than he is willing to admit. Salazar discovers that the twins are “downwinders,” people adversely affected by the nuclear tests in Nevada, their downwind farms and ranches and towns infected with radiation poisoning. A South African killer is tracking Sunil in revenge for a betrayal in the past, endangering the prostitute Sunil cannot admit he loves. The evocative portrayal of outcasts and the cruelties we are capable of in the service of fame or politics takes center stage in this finalist for the 2015 Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original.

Coldsleep LullabyAndrew Brown
Coldsleep Lullaby (Minotaur 2014; South Africa 2005) introduces South African police detective Eberard Februarie. Haunted by his experiences while working in Cape Town, Eberard become addicted to drugs while on narcotics duty, suffered an emotional collapse, and was reassigned to the small university town of Stellenbosch in the heart of South Africa’s wine region. The police doctor hopes the quieter pace will allow Eberard to recuperate, but he is thrust into the investigation of the brutal murder of Melanie Du Preez, a young white woman about to enter the university. Melanie’s father, a lecturer at the university’s Faculty of Law, is a conservative activist in defense of Afrikaans culture. Routine police work leads to the arrest of a black man from Burundi known as Bullet, who had an argument with Melanie shortly before her death, but Eberard can’t shake his gut feeling that the wrong man is incarcerated. The discovery of a scrapbook of lullabies that Melanie collected over the years feels like an important clue, but Eberard can’t make a connection to her murder. Alternate chapters detail the history of the Dutch East India Company’s 17th-century colonization of South Africa, and the inhumane practices that occurred during the development of vineyards in the wine region. Lullabies from Melanie’s scrapbook introduce each chapter, adding a poignant note to this intense debut novel featuring an emotionally scarred protagonist seeking justice in a country full of racial tensions and mistrust of immigrants from other African nations.

LementationJoe Clifford
Lamentation (Oceanview 2014) is the story of Jay Porter, who is barely making ends meet working as an estate clearer in rural Ashton, New Hampshire. Jay’s former girlfriend Jenny has moved out, making it hard for Jay to see as much of his two-year old son as he would like. Jay still loves Jenny, but she couldn’t live with his erratic work schedule and the burden of his drug-addicted older brother Chris. Jay doesn’t see much of Chris, but he can’t bear to desert him completely. When Chris is picked up by the sheriff, Jay assumes it’s another petty theft charge, but the police are concerned about Chris’s missing business partner Pete Naginis. Jay is surprised that Chris has a business partner until he sees the ramshackle computer "recycling" center they have opened in an old Chinese restaurant. Chris swears he doesn’t know where his partner is, and mumbles a confused tale about finding something big on a hard drive they were cleaning off. Jay suspects they were searching for blackmail evidence and doesn’t take Chris’s story of an evil conspiracy too seriously until the police find Pete’s body. By then Chris has vanished back into the shadows of a bitter New Hampshire winter. When Jay’s apartment is torn apart, the police suspect Chris, but Jay is convinced that someone is desperate to find the hard drive and whatever incriminating evidence it holds. This gritty noir thriller explores the powerful ties between brothers and the lengths people will go to protect their families.

Ice ShearM.P. Cooley
Ice Shear (William Morrow 2014) introduces June Lyons, a former FBI agent, who returned to her small home town of Hopewell Falls, New York, when her husband was dying of cancer. June’s father, the retired police chief, takes care of her six-year-old daughter Lily while June works as a low-level police officer. June occasionally misses the excitement of FBI work, but is grateful for the more regular hours of a small town police job. June’s slow-paced job changes when the body of Danielle Brouillette, the daughter of powerful Congressman Amanda Brouillette, is found impaled on the ice shear spikes in the frozen Mohawk River. Estranged from her family after a rebellious youth and several failed attempts at college, Danielle is recently married to Marty Jelickson, the oldest son of the head enforcer for the Abominations motorcycle gang. Marty met Danielle in AA and swears he has left his old life behind, but Danielle and Marty’s younger brother Ray appear to have a connection with drugs. The local police force is still learning to trust June, the outsider, and things get more stressful when the FBI arrives, led by her former colleague Hale Bascom, who re-deputizes June and makes her the liaison between the police and the FBI. Conflicts between the Brouillette and Jelickson families erupt during the wake for Danielle, complicating the investigation as each family accuses the other of just about everything. June and her police colleagues know that the FBI is holding back information, probably something to do with the growing local meth industry and the nearly out-of-control biker gang. This fast-paced debut mystery, a finalist for the 2015 Barry and Left Coast Crime Awards for Best First Novel, presents a strong and appealing protagonist in an intriguing rural setting.

Past CrimesGlen Erik Hamilton
Past Crimes (William Morrow 2015) introduces Van Shaw, an Army Ranger who was raised as a thief by his Irish immigrant grandfather Donovan “Dono” Shaw. Van became an expert at boosting cars, bypassing security systems, cracking safes, and burglarizing businesses without being caught. At the age of 18, after a huge fight with his grandfather, Van broke with his past by joining the military. Van hasn’t seen or heard from Dono in 10 years until he receives a brief note in Gaelic asking him to come home. Arriving at his grandfather’s house in Seattle, Washington, Van finds the old man bleeding out from a gunshot to the head. Only the testimony of a neighbor who heard the shot just before Van drove up saves him from arrest. The police aren’t too interested in investigating the death of a career criminal, and Van feels compelled to re-enter the violent world he left behind in order to discover what Dono was involved with, what precipitated the letter, and to track down his killer. Van resurrects his criminal skills to augment his new ranger training, and calls upon two of Dono’s cronies — Hollis Brant, a smuggler, and Jimmy Corcoran, a tech expert — to bring Dono’s killer to some kind of justice. Flashbacks fill in the back story of Van’s tumultuous childhood with his grandfather and the events leading to the bitter fight that caused their estrangement. This powerful debut novel introduces a quick-witted and resilient protagonist able to hold his own on both sides of the law.

RunnerPatrick Lee
Runner (Minotaur 2014) introduces Sam Dryden, a former Special Forces operative retired to a small town on the coast of southern California. Sam was a Delta Ranger, and then a Ferret charged with abducting people for the US government before leaving the service to marry. The death of his wife and young daughter in a car accident has left him at loose ends, and recently insomnia has propelled him out the door to run by the sea in the small hours of the night. Just after 3:00 AM one morning he collides with a terrified girl fleeing barefoot through the darkness, chased by a group of heavily armed men. Sam helps her evade her pursuers, overhearing snippets of conversation making it clear they have been ordered to kill the 12-year-old child. Rachel only remembers her first name and the last two months, when she was held captive and sedated as part of a secret government research project. She begs Sam not to go to the police, and reveals that she can read his thoughts. Rachel has picked up enough from her guards to realize that she was being held by a government agency who used drugs to interrogate her while she slept. Sam knows enough about narcotics used in sleep interrogation to reassure Rachel that her memory will come back in about a week, though their chances of staying out of the clutches of the paramilitary forces tracking them by satellite are slim. The two flee across the country, staying just out of reach of the powerful men who consider Rachel a rogue deadly weapon. Sam’s growing affection for Rachel adds depth to this relentless thriller.

The Weight of BloodLaura McHugh
The Weight of Blood (Spiegel & Grau 2014) is set in the small town of Henbane, deep in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri. Lucy Dane is 17 and helping out at her Uncle Crete’s combination gas station and restaurant, along with Daniel, a college freshman home working for the summer. Lucy is attracted to Daniel, and volunteers to help him clean out an old trailer on Crete’s property. The trailer is full of old clothes, empty beer bottles, and smelly trash. While emptying out the bedroom Lucy discovers a necklace with a chipped butterfly charm, a trinket she knows all too well. When they were children, Lucy gave the necklace to Cheri, a slow-witted neighbor girl with a neglectful mother. Cheri wore the necklace every day, and was certainly wearing it the day she disappeared. In March, a year after her disappearance, Cheri’s dismembered body appeared on the banks of the North Fork River. Lucy had been haunted by Cheri’s disappearance, feeling guilty that she wasn’t a better friend to Cheri, and disturbed by the parallels to her own mother’s disappearance when Lucy was just a baby. Lily, an exotic beauty with dark hair and pale green eyes, arrived in Henbane to work at Crete’s farm. Suspicious of strangers, the town turned against Lily, calling her a witch, and only grudgingly accepting her when she married Crete’s brother Carl and gave birth to Lucy. Just after Lucy’s first birthday Lily disappeared into the caves carrying Carl’s derringer, and was never seen again. Alternate chapters narrated by Lucy, Lily, and other Henbane residents gradually fill in the dark secrets hidden masked by the small town’s xenophobic isolation. This chilling debut thriller exploring the powerful entanglements of family connections is a finalist for the 2015 Barry Award for Best First Novel.

Without YouSaskia Sarginson
Without You (Piatkus 2014) begins when 17-year-old Eva Gale is swept overboard while sailing with her father Max off the coast of Suffolk in the spring of 1984. Eva’s life jacket is found during the search, but no sign of her body. In the months that follow, her father is consumed with guilt, assuming it is his fault that she was not wearing the life jacket found floating in the sea, and her mother Clara sinks into grief and depression, unable to forgive Max. Only Faith, Eva’s 10-year-old sister is convinced that Eva is still alive. Faith believes that Eva was taken by the Wild Man, a legendary mer-man, and is somewhere on the nearby deserted island, off-limits because of possible unexploded bombs from the 1950s when the island served as a bombing and rocket range. Eva and Faith secretly visited the island, avoiding the pagodas built to shield the atomic weapon blasts, and savoring their moments of complete privacy. The island was searched after the accident, and no sign of Eva was found, though she had been revived by Billy, a disturbed ex-soldier, and hidden in a pagoda. Billy hears a voice that led him to the beach where Eva lay nearly dead from drowning, and tossed her life jacket into the sea after resuscitating her. Faith, a dreamy and unconventional outcast, has never learned to swim, but is determined to find a way to the island where she is convinced Eva is hidden. Themes of isolation, loneliness, and the debilitating effects of grief are explored in this evocative psychological thriller.

The Stranger on the TrainAbbie Taylor
The Stranger on the Train (Atria 2014; APA: Emma’s Baby UK, 2009) is the story of Emma Turner, a young single mother struggling to cope with caring for her 13-month old son Ritchie. Emma’s father deserted the family when she was small, her mother died recently, her best friend has moved to Australia, and Ritchie’s father is traveling abroad with his girlfriend; leaving Emma lonely, sleep-deprived, and fighting depression. There are times she wishes that Ritchie would just disappear. Returning from a shopping trip and grappling with the bags, the buggy, and Ritchie in his harness, Emma is horrified to find the London subway doors closing with Ritchie inside while she is still on the platform. A woman inside the train mouths "next stop" as Emma desperately tries to hold onto the harness strap that is ripped from her hand. A man stops her from falling from the platform and she begs him not to call the police, worried that they will stop the trains and she won’t be able to catch up with her son. At the next stop Emma is relieved to find a well-dressed older woman holding Ritchie. The woman convinces Emma to go into the bathroom to clean herself up, and when Emma emerges the woman and Ritchie have vanished. The police don’t seem too interested in searching for Ritchie, and Emma realizes that her confessions to her doctor about her feelings of inadequacy as a mother have given the impression that she may have harmed her own son. The man who collected her purse and bags from the station platform is Rafe Townsend, an ex-policeman who believes her story and is willing to help Emma track down the woman who took her son. This fast-paced debut novel of psychological suspense presents an all-too-possible and terrifying scenario.

An Unwilling AccompliceCharles Todd
An Unwilling Accomplice (William Morrow 2014) finds experienced battlefield nurse Bess Crawford home on leave in 1918, assisting a badly wounded soldier to Buckingham Palace to be decorated by King George V. After escorting Sergeant Jason Wilkins back to their hotel, Bess agrees to let him spend some time with friends in his room. When she checks later, he seems to be sound asleep. The next morning Wilkins is gone, and both the Army and the nursing service hold Bess negligent. Though Bess is sure she never met Wilkins before, he requested her by name, causing suspicion that she may have helped him escape. A search is mounted for the deserter, and Bess struggles to understand how a man confined to a wheel chair managed to walk out of the hotel. Worse news arrives from Shropshire: a man matching the description of Wilkins has killed a man and then disappeared again. Determined to regain her spotless reputation, Bess sets out to retrace the missing man’s journey, sure there must be a clue somewhere to explain his bizarre behavior. The psychological effects of war on both the soldiers and those they left behind is deftly portrayed in this sixth in the series, a finalist for the Agatha Award for Best Historical Novel.

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May 1, 2015

A June of Ordinary MurdersConor Brady
A June of Ordinary Murders (Minotaur 2015, UK 2012) introduces Detective Sergeant Joe Swallow, a “G-Man” of the plain clothes G-Division in 1887 Dublin. The city is sweltering under the worst heat wave in history and preparing for a royal visitor in honor of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, when the mutilated bodies of a young man and a child are found in Phoenix Park. Swallow hasn’t yet regained public confidence after a pervious case that went wrong, and it doesn’t help that Dr. Lefeyre discovers the dead adult is really a woman in disguise after the press conference already splattered headlines across the city. The eyes of both victims have been gouged out, making identification nearly impossible. The Land War is at its height, and the murders appear to be “ordinary” rather than “special” political crimes, so are given a low priority. Meanwhile, “Pisspot” Ces Downes, criminal head of the city, dies of heart disease, leaving her two lieutenants poised to battle for the spoils. Joe is concerned that his younger sister, about to finish her exams to become a teacher, has become involved with the Irish National Land League working to redistribute the land to tenants from absentee landlords. Using new methods introduced by Professor Lazlo Hiss from the University of Vienna, Lefeyre constructs a facial model of the female victim, providing Swallow with the means of tracking her final days in the city. This excellent historical debut thriller captures the complexities of life in 1880s Dublin seen through the eyes of an engaging and equally complex protagonist.

The Hollow GirlReed Farrel Coleman
The Hollow Girl (Tyrus 2014) joins Moe Prager, who has sunk into alcoholic depression after the accidental death of his girlfriend Pam. His daughter has banned him from visiting his grandson, and Moe feels old and useless despite having recovered from a near-death struggle with stomach cancer. Then Nancy Lustig, an unforgettably honest woman from his very first case as a private investigator, contacts Moe for help finding her missing daughter. In the years since their first meeting, Nancy has reconstructed herself from an ugly girl into a beautiful woman. Her daughter Sloane inherited Nancy’s original features, and created an Internet sensation years earlier as the Hollow Girl. Her online video diary made public the fears of most young women about not being the right shape or size or ideal of beauty. The final episode of the Hollow Girl featured an online suicide attempt after Sloane described witnessing a sexual encounter between her boyfriend and best friend. 911 calls revealed that the suicide was a hoax, and the entire Hollow Girl online diary a piece of performance art. In the years following, Sloane, a gifted actress, discovered that talent alone wasn’t enough to bring her a leading role, intensifying her resentment of her now-beautiful mother. Despite their adversarial relationship, Sloane never let two weeks go by without contact, and her month’s absence is worrying Nancy. While checking out her apartment, Moe discovers the body of one of Sloane’s friends, but no sign of Sloane herself. Then the Hollow Girl reappears online, warning fans that her apparent distress is only performance art. But Moe and Nancy aren’t quite sure. Can Sloane be a victim instead of the author of a realistic torture scene? This evocative ninth in the series, a finalist for the 2015 Barry Award for Best Novel, brings Moe’s story to a satisfying conclusion.

The Burning RoomMichael Connelly
The Burning Room (Little, Brown and Company 2014) finds veteran detective Harry Bosch, now in the final year of his contract before retirement, paired with Lucia Soto, a novice in LAPD’s Open-Unsolved Unit. Bosch and Soto are working on the cold case of a shooting that has just turned into a murder. Ten years earlier, Orlando Merced was shot while playing in a mariachi band in the plaza, presumably a stray bullet from a gang dispute. The bullet lodged in his spine and could not be removed. Paralyzed after the shooting, Merced appeared at rallies and speeches, a symbol for city councilman Armando Zeyas’s campaign to address gang violence if elected mayor. Blood poisoning as a result of the embedded bullet finally killed Merced, transforming his cold case shooting into a murder investigation. The bullet extracted from the corpse provides new evidence. Since it is a rifle bullet, Bosch suspects Merced was targeted from above, rather than a victim of an errant street-level bullet. Meanwhile, Soto is investigating the 20-year old fire that killed her teacher and several of the other children at the unlicensed day care she attended as a child. Bosch lends a hand while waiting for new leads in the Merced case, and is struck by the coincidence of a robbery at the EZBank only three blocks away from the day care. The three cases draw together as Bosch and Soto fight to continue their investigations despite deterrents from powerful politicians and LAPD top administrators. This powerful 19th in the series hints at a permanent retirement by the talented and relentless Harry Bosch.

AsylumJeannette de Beauvoir
Asylum (Minotaur 2015) centers on Martine LeDuc, the publicity director for the Montreal mayor. Over the summer three women were brutally murdered, their naked bodies posed on park benches throughout the city. When the fourth body is discovered, the mayor’s concerns about negative effects on the tourist business cause him to appoint Martine as a liaison between his office and the police department, demanding daily updates about progress identifying the killer. Only the staging of the bodies hints at a connection, the four women are of different ages, backgrounds, and physical types. Julian Fletcher, a young detective, offers to show Martine where each woman lived, and while discussing the differences between the victims, they begin to wonder if perhaps this is not a sexual predator, but a deliberate staging to mask a motive for killing these particular women. The unlikely pair discover that one woman was searching for details about her deceased mother who was an orphan, and another was adopted from an orphanage-turned-asylum as a child. Known as Duplessis Orphans, many (usually illegitimate children forcibly separated from their unwed mothers) were transferred to asylums in the 1940s since the funding for insane patients was much higher than for orphans. In the asylums the children with no relatives were subjected to medical experimentation, including lobotomies, electroshock therapy, and psychotropic medication. Martine, with fond memories of the loving nuns who ran the school she attended, struggles to balance her personal experience with the horrific reports of the torture and abuse the Duplessis Orphans suffered at the asylum at Saint-Jean-de-Hospital. What Julian and Martine can’t figure out is what motivated someone to murder four women connected to a scandal over 50 years earlier. The rich complexity of life in modern day Montreal provides a stark contrast to the bleak journal entries from a Duplessis Orphan in this engrossing mystery exploring a disturbing aspect of Montreal history.

An Officer and a SpyRobert Harris
An Officer and a Spy (Knopf 2014) is the story of Alfred Dreyfus, a French army officer convicted of treason, publicly humiliated, bound in chains, and banished to solitary confinement on Devil’s Island in 1895. Colonel Georges Picquart, recently promoted to lead the French counterespionage agency that proved Dreyfus passed secrets to the Germans, learns that one of his tasks is to censor the letters between Dreyfus and his wife. At first convinced that Dreyfus was guilty, the lack of real evidence, combined with the fact that the previous agency head was not completely rational while suffering through final stages of syphilis, causes Picquart to suspect that Dreyfus, a wealthy Jew, was a convenient scapegoat. Picquart discovers hints that another officer, Walsin Esterhazy, may be leaking information to a German attaché, but is strongly discouraged by his superiors from re-opening a case that will reflect badly upon the French Army. Picquart finds a Sûreté detective willing to help gather evidence and uncovers a conspiracy among the army’s top-ranking officers. Eventually Picquart realizes he must choose between his own career and justice for Dreyfus. The pervasive anti-Semitism of 1895 Paris provides a chilling background for Picquart’s struggle with his own ideology about the Army, France, and himself. This powerful historical novel was awarded the 2014 Gold Dagger Award and is a finalist for the 2015 Barry Award for Best Thriller.

Rock with WingsAnne Hillerman
Rock with Wings (Harper 2015) finds Navajo Tribal police officer Bernadette Manuelito completing one last traffic stop before the end of her shift. The driver of the car with Arizona plates doesn’t look like he is on drugs or smell like alcohol, but he is nervous and sweating more than normal, even for a warm night. He admits to a gun in the glove box, but becomes even more nervous when Bernie asks him to open his trunk. Inside is a rifle and two boxes filled with dirt. After an attempted bribe, Bernie arrests him. The following day Bernie and her husband Jim Chee head off for a vacation to visit Chee’s cousin in Monument Valley. Bernie is called back home near Shiprock, the Rock with Wings in Navajo, take care of her elderly mother when her sister is arrested, and Chee stays in Monument Valley picking up some extra hours helping to babysit a film crew making a zombie movie. The company bookkeeper goes missing, and Chee tracks her down taking moonlit photos of the rock formations, discovering a recent gravesite in the process. When the grave is reported, a local motel owner reports a strange occurrence some months earlier: blood and an old Navajo necklace left behind. Chee uses the poker chip he found near the gravesite as a size-indicator when photographing the necklace, and sends the photo to his old boss retired Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, still recovering from the bullet in the brain that has left him unable to speak. The forensic crew doesn’t find anything in Bernie’s boxes of dirt, so she rescues a couple of tiny cacti, presenting it to Joe Leaphorn, who discovers that he can now type well enough to use a laptop to investigate Chee’s necklace and identify Bernie’s cactus. The starkly beautiful southwestern landscape provides a powerful background to the social issues and choices faced by the traditional and modern Navajo who live there. This second in the series by Tony Hillerman’s daughter is thoroughly enjoyable.

The White Magic Five and DimeSteve Hockensmith & Lisa Falco
The White Magic Five and Dime (Midnight Ink 2014) introduces Alanis McLachlan, who gets a call explaining that Athena, her recently deceased mother, has left Alanis a new-age shop in the tiny town of Berdache, Arizona, called The White Magic Five & Dime. Alanis is surprised since she hasn’t spoken to her mother in 20 years, but makes the journey to claim her property. Alanis learns that her con-artist mother had taken up a new trade — tarot card reading — and was strangled by one of her customers in the shop. Clarise, her mother’s teen-aged apprentice who shared the apartment above the shop, is horrified to discover that Athena left Alanis everything, but shares what she knows about the regular customers who are the prime suspects. Alanis studies Infinite Reads to Knowing, a tarot card guide she finds in the shop, to familiarize herself with the basics of tarot card reading, determined to identify the killer of her despised mother. Detective Josh Logan, the sole investigator of the Berdache Police Department, recognizes the con-artist background Alanis can’t completely conceal, but accepts that she has gone straight, though becoming the best salesperson at a call center isn’t far off the path. Alanis offers free tarot card readings to her mother’s customers, hoping to find the one with a motive for murder, but unexpectedly finds the cards revealing hidden truths about each suspect. This very funny mystery is the first in a series.

Dear DaughterElizabeth Little
Dear Daughter (Viking 2014) is the story of Jane Jenkins, who was convicted of murdering her mother, Marion Elsinger, at the age of 16. A dedicated party girl aiming to be the next Paris Hilton, Jane was cruising on drugs the night of her mother’s death, and isn’t sure if she murdered her mother or not. Jane remembers having a loud argument, and later overhearing snatches of conversation between her mother and an unknown man while burrowing through her mother’s closet for the perfect pair of boots to borrow. In prison, Jane researches the overheard name “Adeline” and eventually discovers the sister cities Adeline and Ardelle, South Dakota. The population moved back and forth between the two tiny towns as mineral wealth was discovered in one spot or the other, finally settling in Ardelle since the railroad couldn’t cross the mountain pass to Adeline. After serving ten years, a judge overturns Jane’s first-degree murder conviction due to mismanagement of evidence by the Los Angeles Country Crime Lab. Determined to finally figure out the truth about her mother’s death, Jane disguises herself with a bad haircut and ill-fitting cheap clothing and heads to South Dakota, while the relentless media searches for any trace of the bad girl everyone believes is guilty. In Ardelle, Jane tries to keep a low profile while searching for any connection with her high-society socialite mother. Cowering in her dowdy outfits, Jane struggles to relate to the Ardelle residents, unprepared by her early training to look down upon the common rabble plus ten years of isolation in prison to forge honest human connections. Press clippings detailing the rabid interest in Jane’s crime are interspersed with her sly observations and sharply funny narration in this debut thriller, a finalist for the 2015 Barry Award for Best First Novel.

Present DarknessMalla Nunn
Present Darkness (Emily Bestler Books 2014) finds Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper temporarily stationed at the Johannesburg major crimes squad, grateful to be able to spend time with his girlfriend Davida and their mixed-race baby. It’s the week before Christmas in 1953, and everyone is looking forward to some time off when a white couple is attacked and brutally beaten in their home. The teenaged daughter Cassie identifies Aaron Shabalala, the youngest son of Zulu Detective Constable Samuel Shabalala, as one of the attackers. Aaron doesn’t have an alibi, stating that he was out walking alone. Cooper is sure that both Cassie and Aaron are hiding something, but Lieutenant Walter Mason is determined to close the case quickly, perhaps planting evidence against Aaron to speed the process. As Cooper begins to search for proof of Aaron’s innocence with Shabalala and Dr. Daniel Zweigman, Mason scrutinizes Cooper’s personal life, edging closer to the truth about his illegal relationship with a “coloured” woman. Mason removes Cooper from the case, but with the help of his childhood friends from Sophiatown, now running a powerful criminal enterprise, Cooper secretly continues the investigation. Cooper manages to move through the rigid race structure of apartheid South Africa relatively unscathed, but is always aware of the dangers to himself and those he loves. This powerful fourth in the series is a finalist for the 2015 Barry Award for Best Paperback.

No Going BackLyndon Stacey
No Going Back (Severn House 2010) introduces Daniel Whelan, a 28-year-old ex-police dog handler, and his retired police dog, Taz, in Devon, England. Daniel left the force under a cloud, losing his wife in the process, and is now working as a lorry driver for a farm supply company, keeping his past secret. His boss receives a call asking if Daniel and Taz can help locate a pair of missing sisters lost on the moor. The girls’ father explains that they are new to the area and that the local search-and-rescue team is busy with another case. Taz leads them to Emma, the 12-year-old, but loses the track of Katya, the 15-year-old, in the creek. When Daniel calls the next day, the father tells him Katya returned on her own, but something about the search nags at Daniel. Emma seemed more frightened than relieved when rescued, and Daniel discovers that there were no other searches that night. While delivering to a local stable, Daniel thinks he recognizes a resemblance in one of the riders to Emma, but she flees before he can return and question her. Tracking her to another local stable, Daniel earns Katya’s trust and learns that the man was not their father, but instead lured the girls to England from Romania with promises of well-paying jobs. Separation from his own eight-year-old son makes Daniel vulnerable to the plight of the girls, and he can’t help getting involved in Katya’s quest to rescue her sister with the support of the ever vigilant Taz. This compelling mystery featuring a well-matched investigative team is the first in a series.

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June 1, 2015

The Forgetting PlaceJohn Burley
The Forgetting Place (William Morrow 2015) is the story of Dr. Lise Shields, a psychiatrist at a Maryland correctional psychiatric facility. When she interviewed at Menaker State Hospital five years earlier, Charles Wagner, the director, advised Lise to think carefully before accepting the position, warning her that working with patients who would probably never leave the facility is an emotionally taxing job. But Lise, whose beloved Uncle Jim suffered from schizophrenia, is determined to make what little difference she can to her patients. Lise soon falls into a comfortable routine, getting coffee and discarding the complimentary sweets from the friendly barista each morning on her walk to work, and eating dinner at Marj’s Kitchen each evening with a group of regulars. Then a new patient arrives, a beautiful young man named Jason Edwards. Lise is concerned that Jason is admitted without paperwork, worried that she won’t be able to treat him effectively without access to his case history. But Wagner assures her the case file will arrive eventually, and Lise begins daily therapy sessions, learning that Jason is distraught over the disappearance of the older sister who protected him when he was bullied as a child. Lise discovers that Jason was taken into custody after the fatal stabbing of his domestic partner Amir Massoud, but can’t accept that her gentle patient was responsible for a violent death. Then Lise notices that she is being followed, and begins to worry that her mysterious patient may be in danger. This chilling psychological thriller is not to be missed.

From the Charred RemainsSusanna Calkins
From the Charred Remains (Minotaur 2014) finds lady’s maid Lucy Campion helping to clean up the streets with kitchen maid Annie, immediately after the Great London Fire of 1666. Two boys find the corpse of a man hidden in a malt barrel, and amazingly the man was not killed by the fire or the plague, but by a knife buried in his chest. Sid, a pickpocket acquaintance of Lucy’s, walks Lucy and Annie home, and Lucy discovers that he has stolen a leather purse from the barrel that contained the corpse. Inside the pouch are a few coins, some playing cards, a carved green elephant, a signet ring, a delicate brooch carved from a strange white material that might be ivory, and an oilskin packet containing a letter in verse. Lucy is at loose ends since the daughter of the house has turned Quaker and moved away, and visits Master Aubrey’s print shop, hoping to be taken on as an apprentice. Aubrey shows Lucy an acrostic poem he is using as filler, and she shares a copy of the verse letter that miraculously survived the fire, suggesting he print it under the title “From the charred remains…” Aubrey is more interested in the story of the murdered man, and Lucy offers to write it up in exchange for waiving her apprentice fee. After Lucy publicly reads her account the next day, a woman follows her into a tavern to buy a copy, explaining that the poem was written for her, a secret communication from her Persian sweetheart. Constable Duncan discovers that the barrel must have come from the Cheshire Cheese tavern, and a bar maid describes a high-stakes card game that took place the night of the fire. Lucy and Duncan follow their separate leads, uncovering two secrets that came together with fatal results during the card game. Rumors that the French were behind the Great Fire add to the complexity of investigating the murder in this appealing second in the series, a finalist for 2015 Left Coast Crime Historical Award.

Someone Is WatchingJoy Fielding
Someone Is Watching (Ballantine 2015) is the story of Bailey Carpenter, an investigator for a Miami law firm. Bailey has been suffering through near daily panic attacks since her mother died three years earlier, but finds her work as a private investigator soothing. She is good at surveillance and enjoys being in control of the hunt for evidence. Everything changes when Bailey is attacked, raped, and nearly killed while keeping her binoculars trained on an upstairs window from the shelter of a hedge of bushes. The attacker covered her head with a pillowcase, spoke only in a hoarse whisper, and left not a trace of DNA. Plagued by nightmares, Bailey cowers in her high-rise apartment, rubbing her skin raw with multiple daily showers, obsessively checking her closets and under the bed, and constantly carrying a pair of scissors just in case. Claire, Bailey’s estranged half-sister and Claire’s teenaged daughter Jade swoop in and begin to nudge Bailey toward resuming her life. Claire spots a hunky man in the next high-rise, and the three start watching his narcissistic posing through Bailey’s binoculars. But only Bailey sees his nightly sexual encounters with women who look too much like Bailey herself. When Bailey observes what looks like a rape, she calls the police, who are told by the man and his girlfriend that nothing is amiss. Uncertain if she is imagining that the man is now observing her in return, Bailey begins to suspect that he is her rapist, taunting her with his power to escape punishment. Claire’s suggestion that Bailey visit a therapist finally prods her out of the apartment, and Bailey slowly regains some independence, revisiting the scene of her rape and searching for witnesses. Bailey’s fight to hold on to her sanity and take control of her fears is the core of this engrossing psychological thriller.

The Sweetness of LifePaulus Hochgatterer
The Sweetness of Life (MacLehose Press 2014; Austria 2006) begins on Christmas Day in the small village of in Furth am See in the Austrian Alps when a game of Ludo between six-year-old Katharine and her grandfather is disturbed by the doorbell. The grandfather leaves the house, and doesn’t return. After the child discovers his body in the snow she doesn’t speak another word, and refuses to release the Ludo pawns clutched in her hands. Detective Superintendent Ludwig Kovacs is baffled by the victim’s completely crushed skull, hampered by a team diminished by vacation leave, and frustrated by the muteness of the only possible witness to the crime. Raffael Horn, a psychiatrist, begins to work with Katharine, who exhibits only minuscule signs of progress. The picture-perfect and seemingly peaceful Alpine village seethes with madness under the surface. Horn’s patients are very troubling: a veteran of WWII who struggles against the urge to hang himself, a young mother who believes her new baby is the Devil, a priest who drowns out the voices in his head with loud music as he runs, and a violent man who uses his mental problems to evade punishment for brutalizing his wife and daughter. Interspersed with narrations from the viewpoint of Kovacs and Horn are the first-person reports from a disturbed youth being toughened up to endure the harshness of life through torturing and killing animals. This slow-paced thriller moves masterfully to the surprising yet totally inevitable conclusion.

Doctor DeathLene Kaaberbøl
Doctor Death (Atria 2015; Denmark 2010) introduces Madeleine Karno, daughter of pathologist Dr. Albert Karno in 1894 Varbourg, France. Cutting up corpses is shocking for a man, earning her father the nickname Dr. Death, and inconceivable for a woman, so Madeleine assists her father secretly. Cecile Montaine, the 17-year-old daughter of a wealthy family, is found dead on her doorstep, presumably from natural causes since there are no visible wounds. But the body is scantily clad and barefoot on a snowy night. The family won’t permit an autopsy, but Madeleine and her father perform a visual examination, discovering bite marks on the body, and a small mite in her nostrils. Madeleine sketches the mite that her father preserves in a vial. When the priest who sat vigil over Cecile’s body dies a week later with identical mites in his nostrils, Dr. Karno suspects the parisite is responsible and begins to trace Cecile’s recent past. A student at the Bernardine Convent School, Cecile disappeared several weeks before her body was discovered, at the same time as Emile Oblonski, a young man who had been caged and displayed as the Wild Boy in a traveling menagerie as a child. Rescued by the abbess, Emile bonded with the pack of wolves kept by the Bernardine sisters since 1594, protected by the belief that as long as the wolves remained at the convent no foreign tyrant could reign in Varonne, a tiny border province between Germany and France. An accident leaving her father confined to bed allows Madeleine to take on far more responsibility than normal, performing surgery under her father’s direction, and traveling to Heidelberg to consult with Professor Dreyfuss, a young professor of parasitology at the Forchhammer Institute. Dreyfuss is impressed with Madeleine’s sketch of the mite as well as her keen observations, and encourages her to pursue her interest in becoming a physician. This engaging series debut presents a complex protagonist pushing against the restrictions of her time.

Before He Finds HerMichael Kardos
Before He Finds Her (Mysterious Press 2015) is the story of a recent high school graduate living under the name of Melanie Denison in Fredonia, West Virginia. For the last 15 years Melanie has been strictly protected by her Uncle Wayne and Aunt Kendra. She has never been allowed to travel, go to a school dance, or use the Internet. But Melanie has found the secret cache of letters from the U.S. Marshall’s office stating that a man named Ramsey Miller continues to elude the authorities and they continue to fear for Melanie’s safety. Secretly using the Internet at the library, Melanie discovers that just before she turned three her father, Ramsey Miller, killed his wife Allison in Silver Bay, New Jersey, and then vanished. Witnesses saw him carrying a small bundle onto his motorboat. Since his daughter Meg was never seen again, the prevalent theory is that he threw her body overboard and left the country. Though home-schooled most of her life, Melanie attended high school her senior year, and is now taking a few classes at Mountain Community College, since West Virginia University was considered far too dangerous for a girl in the Witness Protection Program. A relationship with a local teacher results in an unexpected pregnancy, and Melanie decides that her child will not be brought up in the stifling secrecy she can no longer abide. Arthur Goodale, the reporter who covered the Ramsey case, posts a final blog entry about the case that continues to haunt him, explaining that he is hospitalized and not expected to recover. Determined to learn whatever she can about her parents before he dies, Melanie sets off for Silver Bay to try and put her past to rest. Interwoven with present day narration is the story of the three days that led up to Allison’s murder, tracing Ramsey’s growing delusion that the world would end on that September evening in 1991. This complex thriller explores the lengths people will go to shield those they love from uncomfortable truths.

Too Bad To DieFrancine Mathews
Too Bad To Die (Riverhead Books 2015) begins in 1917, when young Ian Fleming meets Hudson, a new American student at Durnfield, right before learning that Ian’s father has been killed in the war. That night Ian and Hudson bond over their secret passions: Ian writes adventure stories and Hudson plays the violin. They decide that Ian’s father was too good to live, and form the Too Bad To Die Club, for imperfect guys like them that are forced to live. Twenty-six years later, Fleming and Hudson are reunited in Egypt, preparing for the Tehran Conference where the Big Three — Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin — will meet to finalize plans for the D-Day invasion. Fleming, now a Naval Intelligence officer, is responsible for planning the conference, and Hudson is a spy for the American Office of Strategic Services. With Churchill is his daughter Sarah, who is having an affair with the American Ambassador, and his daughter-in-law Pamela, who seems determined to seduce every man in sight. With FDR is his son Elliot, who is fascinated by May-Ling Chiang, in Egypt with her husband Chiang Kai-shek. To relieve his frustration at being tied to his desk, Fleming scribbles adventures of a spy, known as 007, in the thick of the action. Through Alan Turing, busy breaking the Enigma code at Bletchley Park, Fleming learns that the Fencer, a mysterious secret agent for Hitler, is heading for Tehran with a plot to assassinate the Big Three with an operative code-named Kitten. And if that isn’t bad news enough, details in German messages about Churchill’s cold and the bad joke FDR just told Madame Chiang make it clear that the Fencer is an undercover agent traveling with the American or British contingent. This captivating historical thriller is a deft mix of fact and fiction.

Don’t Dare a DameM. Ruth Myers
Don’t Dare a Dame (Tuesday House 2013) begins when Dayton, Ohio, private investigator Maggie Sullivan is hired by two spinsters to find out what happened to their father. It’s 1939, and Corrine and Isobel Vanhorn’s father vanished in the Great Dayton Flood of 1913, before Maggie was born. The sisters explain that the death of their mother freed them to finally answer the question that has been troubling them for a quarter of a century — did their stepfather Alf Maguire have anything to do with their father’s disappearance? Just after the sisters tell Maggie that as children they overheard one of Alf’s friends declare that Alf had made a widow of the woman he wanted, the three are startled by the sound of breaking glass in the kitchen. They discover that Corrine’s guide dog has been viciously killed, presumably by the intruder that was eavesdropping on their conversation. Maggie agrees to do her best to find the truth about their father’s disappearance, and soon discovers that Alf had a long-time relationship to a powerful local politician. With the help of a young Irish cop who fancies her, a shrewd newsboy who lives on the street, and the scary bodyguard of a woman construction boss, Maggie begins retracing the path of a man who set out in search of medicine for his ailing son during a flood and never returned. Maggie carries a .38, but her strongest weapon is her ability to ferret out the truth from people from all walks of life, using both her femininity and her strength of character to cultivate confidences. Third in the series, this engrossing historical mystery won the 2014 Shamus Award for Best Indie PI Novel.

World of TroubleBen H. Winters
World of Trouble (Quirk 2014) rejoins policeman Hank Palace about two weeks before the asteroid known as Maia is due to destroy the Earth. Society has fallen apart, people are scrounging for the remaining food supplies, and the cities are nearly empty ruins. Hank has left the relative safety of the Concord police compound to search for his sister Nico, part of an underground group who believes there is a possibility of diverting the asteroid. Along with Cortez, a thief stockpiling supplies, Hank follows Nico’s trail to Rotary, Ohio, where they discover a sink full of blood in the kitchenette of the police station, and a secret trap door in the floor of the garage. The trail of blood leads to a young woman whose throat has been slashed. At first they believe they have found a corpse, but a faint sign of life prompts Hank to administer first aid in the form of a saline IV. The concrete trap door is beyond their ability to open. Leaving the comatose girl locked safely in the jail, Hank backtracks along their trail to the town where Cortez remembers seeing a jackhammer in a hardware store. Along the way, Hank stumbles into a small Amish settlement, sealed off from the news of impending doom by the patriarch who has told the small community a plague is raging in the nearby town. Though bemused by time spent among contented people who still believe in a future, Hank is driven by his need to reconnect with Nico before the end, and continues on his quest to find the tools to break into the hidden bunker. This powerful and strangely heartening dystopian thriller, a finalist for the 2015 Anthony and Edgar Award for Best Paperback, brings the trilogy to a satisfying conclusion.

BlackbirdTom Wright
Blackbird (Europa 2015; UK 2014) brings back Jim Bonham, a detective in Traverton, Texas, a small town on the Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas border. The day after a devastating storm hits the area, the mutilated body of a woman is found nailed to a cross. Jim identifies the body as Dr. Deborah Gold, a local psychologist who did some work with the police department. The size of the huge cross and the placement of the body indicate that at least three were involved with the crime. Disturbed by the brutality of the murder, Jim contacts his cousin Lee Ann, a therapist, for help trying to understand the motivation behind the killing. Lee Ann is happy to visit and lend a hand, especially since she is worried about the depression Jim has been fighting since his partner committed suicide after the kidnapping and murder of his wife and daughter. Jim is also still haunted by the disappearance of his first love Kat Dreyfus, a VISTA volunteer who vanished when he was a high school senior. Jim discovers that Dr. Gold was involved with a sadomasochism group that may have been targeting underage girls. No one who knew Dr. Gold seems to have liked her very much, but Jim can’t identify anyone who hated her enough to commit the brutal murder. Jim has what his Gran called “a touch of the Sight,” vivid dreams and daylight visions that amplify the gut instinct shared by all talented detectives. This followup to What Dies in Summer, a coming-of-age thriller featuring Jim and Lee Ann as teenagers, is highly recommended.

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July 1, 2015

The Detective & the Pipe GirlMichael Craven
The Detective & the Pipe Girl (Bourbon Street Books 2014) begins when Los Angeles private detective John Darvelle is hired by Arthur Vonz, a famous Hollywood director, to locate Suzanne Neal, an old girlfriend Vonz can’t forget. The picture of Suzanne shows a beautiful blonde, pretty typical for Hollywood as far as Darvelle can tell, but Vonz insists that Suzanne is something special. Darvelle is sure Vonz isn’t telling him the whole story, and begins tracing Suzanne through her agent, barely missing her at a casting call, and finally tracking her to a new condo building. A famous actor exits the condo shortly before a blonde Darvelle recognizes from the photo. Darvelle follows her to the beach overlook and contrives a meet, posing as a tourist desiring a picture of himself in front of the ocean. When Suzanne smiles at him, Darvelle finally understands her attraction, the power of a pretty woman to make a man feel the center of her world at that moment. Darvelle’s quirky first-person narration makes this mystery come alive, as he shares his passion for ice cold Bud Light and competitive ping pong while cleverly negotiating the intricacies of Hollywood. Hopefully the first in a series, this engaging neo-noir is a finalist for the 2015 Nero Award and the Shamus Award for Best First PI Novel.

Invisible CityJulia Dahl
Invisible City (Minotaur 2014) introduces Rebekah Roberts, a recent college graduate working as a stringer for the Tribune, a New York City tabloid. Rebekah’s Hasidic mother Aviva rebelled against the constrictions of the Hasidic community long enough to have a baby with Rebekah’s Christian father, but returned to that same community when Rebekah was only six months old. Neither Rebekah nor her father have heard from Aviva in 22 years. Rebekah isn’t even sure her mother is still alive. On a cold winter night Rebekah is sent to Brooklyn, where the naked body of a woman has just been pulled from a scrap pile. The scrap yard is owned by Aron Mendelssohn, a leader in the Hassidic community, and the body is whisked away by the Shomrim, the civilian patrol that polices the Hasidic community. Rebekah guesses that the dead woman must be Mendelssohn’s wife Rivka. Saul Katz, who helps the police with Yiddish translation, tells Rebekah she looks just like her mother Aviva, and offers to take Rebekah to the victim’s home, where Rebekah learns that Rivka left the family home several days earlier. Saul is concerned that the Hasidic community will close ranks and refuse to help the police solve the crime. Many in the community are descendents of Holocaust survivors, and the fear of betraying a Jew to the outside world runs deep. Saul brings Rebekah to the Chesed Shel Emes, a Jewish mortuary that prepares the dead for burial, and Rebekah is allowed to view Rivka’s body, which shows signs of multiple head wounds. The sight of Rivka’s body adds a personal element to Rebekah’s desire to break a big story. Though Jewish by birth, Rebekah has been raised without much contact with other Jews, making her both an insider and outsider in the Hassidic community. Her ignorance of Hassidic customs provides a natural forum for explaining the complexities of Hasidic life as Rebekah traces Rivka’s final days. This compelling debut thriller is a finalist for the Anthony, Barry, Edgar, Macavity, Shamus, and Thriller Awards for Best First Novel.

The Truth About the Harry Quebert AffairJoël Dicker
The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair (Penguin 2014; France 2012) finds young author Marcus Goldman paralyzed by a severe case of writer’s block after the runaway success of his debut novel. Harry Quebert, Marcus’s former professor and mentor, invites him to come stay at his beach house in the small town of Somerset, New Hampshire. Harry’s blockbuster novel, The Origin of Evil, was written there 33 years earlier, and Marcus hopes the environment will work its magic again. But a month later, Marcus has yet to write a single sentence and begins to rummage around Harry’s study, looking for inspiration. Instead, he finds a love letter hidden in a box. Harry confesses that he had a love affair with Nola Kellergan long ago, when she was only 15. Marcus agrees to keep Harry’s secret and heads back to New York to suffer through the final 30 days before his non-existent book is due. A phone call from Harry sends him back to Somerset — a skeleton that may be the remains of Nola Kellergan has been discovered on Harry’s property, and Harry has been arrested for murder. Harry admits having a relationship with Nola, and reveals that his famous novel was based on their love affair that fateful summer before Nola disappeared. Determined to prove Harry’s innocence, Marcus begins to write a book about his investigation: The Harry Quebert Affair. The narration moves back and forth in time as Marcus slowly begins putting the pieces together. Excerpts from the novels blur the border between fact and fiction, imagination and reality. This complex exploration of secrets, friendship, and the compulsions that drive writers is a finalist for the 2015 Barry Award for Best Paperback.

The Convictions of John DelahuntAndrew Hughes
The Convictions of John Delahunt (Pegasus 2015) is the story of John Delahunt, who becomes involved with the authorities at Dublin Castle while a student at Trinity College in 1844. Delahunt is out drinking with two college friends who get into a skirmish outside the pub that results in the maiming of a policeman. Police official Thomas Sibthorne convinces Delahunt to inform upon one of his fellow students in exchange for his own freedom, and tells Delahunt that the Castle will pay well for future information about crimes. Delahunt’s father is dying, and he is short of funds, so when his housekeeper tells him about a friend who works for a man dying of wounds received during a housebreaking, Delahunt uses the information to track down the culprits, earning enough money to support himself for several months. A member of the housebreaking gang who evaded the police tracks down Delahunt, demanding the blood money, and threatening to return every week for another payment. In desperation Delahunt kills him. Unable to dispose of the body himself, Delahunt seeks the help of a fellow Castle informant, sealing his permanent association with the spies for the Castle. Delahunt falls in love with Helen O’Neill, and her father is inclined to approve the marriage until a chance encounter with a Castle informant convinces him that Delahunt is not an appropriate son-in-law. Delahunt and Helen elope, and she encourages him to continue as a Castle informant to earn enough money to complete his final year at Trinity College. But well-paying crimes are few and far between, and Delahunt finds himself tempted to transform a mugging to a murder in order to earn a higher fee. Written in the form of a confession by Delahunt while in prison awaiting his execution, this powerful portrayal of a man gradually succumbing to temptation is based on true events in Victorian Ireland.

The BulletMary Louise Kelly
The Bullet (Gallery Books 2015) is the story of 37-year-old Caroline Cashion, an unmarried professor of 19th-century French literature at Georgetown University, whose right wrist becomes painful. Her doctor diagnoses carpel tunnel syndrome, but after several months the tingling turns into sharp pain and and a MRI is scheduled. The technician asks Caroline how she got that bullet in her neck, which is a complete surprise to Caroline. Her parents react strangely to the news, admitting to Caroline that she is adopted, and that her birth parents were shot and killed the day she was wounded and almost died at the age of three. Since the bullet was nestled at the top of her spine, the doctors at the time decided it was too dangerous to remove it. Caroline has no memory of the shooting or her early life, and her adoptive parents were advised to shield her by never mentioning the murders. The compulsion to learn more about her birth parents jolts Caroline out of her comfortable routine of work and family. She travels to Atlanta, and learns that the shooting that killed her parents happened in the midst of the Atlanta child killings in 1979 and may not have been thoroughly investigated. The reporter who covered the murders 34 years earlier convinces Caroline to let him run a story about her in the hopes of contacting friends of her parents. Caroline realizes that the chance of bringing the killer to justice after all this time is slim, but is consumed by curiosity about her early life, especially after she discovers she looks exactly like her mother. This engaging thriller features an unlikely sleuth who can’t let go of her quest.

The Perfect GameLeslie Dana Kirby
The Perfect Game (Poisoned Pen Press 2015) is the story of Lauren Rose, who has recently moved to Phoenix for a residency in emergency medicine. Lauren’s glamorous older sister Liz, who is married to Diamondback star pitcher Jake Wakefield, lives nearby in Scottsdale. Orphaned at a young age, the two sisters are very close, but their busy lives make it difficult to spend much time together. After a long night of overtime in the ER, two policemen appear to tell Lauren that Liz has been murdered in her own home, presumably by a burglar since her jewelry is missing. Liz’s death leaves Lauren feeling very alone, and she begins to spend time with Jake, sharing their grief and their mutual love for baseball. Watching Jake pitch is a welcome break for Lauren from the pressures of her residency and the pain of losing her sister, and the two enjoy deconstructing the game afterwards. The thrill of watching Jake pitch a perfect game brings them even closer, and Lauren finds herself attracted to her brother-in-law. The police uncover credible motives for both Lauren and Jake to have murdered Liz. Lauren was the beneficiary of Liz’s million dollar life insurance policy and Liz was about the start divorce proceedings against Jake. An arrest and the drama of a courtroom trial with unexpected evidence and surprise witnesses enliven this debut mystery.

The Life I Left BehindColette McBeth
The Life I Left Behind (Minotaur 2015) is narrated by three women connected by the near-killing of Melody Pieterson, who was strangled and left for dead in the Ham Common Woods in London six years earlier. Awaking from a coma, Melody had only fragmented memories of the time before she was found, and no recollection of the attack itself. Her neighbor and close friend David Alden was convicted of the crime, and Melody, no longer trusting her own instincts, became a shadow of her former vivacious self. Now nearly a hermit, she leaves the house only with her fiancé or the personal trainer who accompanies her on her runs. Shortly after David is released from prison, a woman who bears a striking resemblance to Melody is strangled to death, her body dumped in the same stretch of woods. The murdered woman is Eve Elliot, and the similarities between the two crimes make David the prime suspect. But Eve was a reporter who was investigating the facts surrounding Melody’s attack, and Detective Inspector Victoria Rutter can’t see a motive for killing the woman working to overturn his conviction. Eve’s massive collection of data is given to Melody and DI Rutter, who had a tangential part in the investigation of the earlier attack on Melody. Both Eve and DI Rutter come to the same conclusion Eve did — David may have been falsely imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. The new investigation forces Melody to emerge from her cocooned life in Surrey and grapple with the life she left behind six years earlier. Eve’s narration from beyond the grave feels surprisingly authentic, and DI Ritter adds an additional dose of rationality to balance Melody’s tenuous grasp on reality. This nuanced novel of psychological suspense is riveting.

Can’t Find My Way HomeCarlene Thompson
Can’t Find My Way Home (Severn House 2015, UK 2014) is the story of successful author Brynn Wilder, who returns to her home town of Genessa Point, Maryland, to search for her brother Mark. Eighteen years earlier, their father was killed by 15-year-old Tessa Cavanaugh. Jonah Wilder had been fishing near the woods where Tessa was attacked and stabbed. Tessa fought back and hit her unseen assailant with her camera. After discovering a knife while crawling away, Tessa mortally wounded Jonah Wilder with the knife. Tessa never saw her attacker, and at first no one can believe the respected principal of the local middle school could be at fault. Many were convinced there must have been a third person in the woods. But the knife had Jonah’s initials carved in the handle, and he was posthumously declared the Genessa Point Killer, responsible for the attack on Tessa as well as the murders of eight victims under the age of 15. Though 12-year-old Brynn was the one who discovered her dead father and the injured Tessa in the woods, it was Brynn’s 16-year-old brother Mark who was permanently damaged by the trauma. Obsessed with clearing his father’s name, Mark never recovered emotionally, unable to keep a steady job and struggling with alcohol dependence. Something sent Mark back to Genessa Point, and when he doesn’t respond to phone calls Brynn heads back her home town for the first time in 18 years. There she discovers that Garrett Dane, the older boy she idolized as a 12-year old, is now the sheriff. Garrett tells Brynn that no one has seen Mark for several days, but his car was found abandoned in the woods. Together the two begin searching for Mark, growing more concerned every day that goes by with no word except the threatening voice-distorted phone calls Brynn receives. As Brynn begins to retrace Mark’s steps, she finds herself becoming persuaded that her father may have been framed for the serial murders, and that the killer may still be haunting Genessa Point.

The Mysteries of Soldiers GrovePaul Zimmer
The Mysteries of Soldiers Grove (Permanent Press 2015) is the story of Cyril Solverson, a resident at the nursing home in the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin. A loner who never made a real friend or had a romantic relationship, Cyril became fascinated at a young age by the biographies in the Encyclopaedia Britannica purchased out of guilt for their neglected son by his alcoholic parents. Now elderly, Cyril’s only means of initiating a conversation is by sharing a “life” he has memorized. One evening Cyril sneaks out of the nursing home to enjoy a few Leinenkugels at Burkhum’s Bar, where he bores Burkhum and the other patrons with his recitations. Walking back through the snowstorm, he encounters a man wearing a balaclava pumping gas. Unaware that he has just met an armed sociopath, Cyril launches into the life of C.P. Snow. “Balaclava” abducts Cyril, steals his wallet, and dumps him by the side of the road several miles away from town, assuming he will freeze to death in the blizzard. Cyril is rescued by the sheriff, who was pursuing the man who left the gas station without paying, and survives though losing a few toes and most of his nose to frostbite. Louise, a widowed farm wife brought from France by her husband after the war, moves into the care home shortly after Cyril returns from the hospital. She responds to the first “life” Cyril shares with her, and the two form an unlikely alliance, two elderly lonely people determined not to let go of the final remnants of their independence. Cyril entices Louise out of the safety of the nursing home to Burkhum’s Bar, and they gradually expand their circle of freedom, reveling in the adventure and their growing affection for each other. Meanwhile, Balaclava reads of the “hero” award that Cyril received for surviving his ordeal, and heads back to Soldiers Grove, sure it will be another easy robbery from a helpless old man. This incandescent love story nudges the edges of the thriller genre.

No Stone UnturnedJames W. Ziskin
No Stone Unturned (Seventh Street Books 2014) finds 24-year-old Ellie Stone wondering if she really has a future as a small town reporter for The New Holland Republic in upstate New York. The publisher doesn’t like the idea of a female reporter, vastly preferring to give plum stories to his son-in-law. Just after Thanksgiving, Ellie picks up the news of a body found in the woods on the police scanner. The sheriff asks Ellie to take pictures of the dead girl, college student Jordan Shaw, dead of a broken neck with a strange two inch gash of missing skin on her pelvis. Close to where the body was dumped in the woods, Ellie discovers fresh oil spots in a triangular pattern, and an empty Dr. Pepper bottle. The autopsy reveals an IUD, a brand-new form of birth control, shocking for an unmarried 21-year-old in 1960. Jordan’s father is the powerful Judge Harrison Shaw, and the pathologist declares his intention of denying the discovery if asked. Ellie traces Jordan to the Mohawk Motel at the edge of town, and the owner tells Ellie that though Jordan arrived alone the night she was killed, three different men visited her room. A worn path behind the motel leads Ellie to suspect that the handyman, who is now missing, was spying on the activity in the rooms. Sure that this story will finally be her big break, Ellie throws herself into the investigation, determined to uncover the truth about Jordan’s murder despite threats from those committed to protecting the reputation of the town’s golden girl and her family. This gripping second in the series is a finalist for the 2015 Anthony Award for Best Paperback.

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August 1, 2015

Dark RoomsLili Anolik
Dark Rooms (William Morrow 2015) is the story of Grace Baker and her younger sister Nica, who was shot and killed at the age of 16. The suicide of a classmate shortly thereafter closes the case, though Grace isn’t convinced that his suicide note is really a confession of murder. Both Grace and Nica attended Chandler Academy, the progressive private high school in Hartford, Connecticut, where both their parents taught. Though very different — beautiful, charismatic, wild Nica and quiet, invisible Grace — the two sisters were quite close. Consumed by grief after Nica’s death, the family falls apart. Grace’s father begins drinking heavily, her mother deserts the family for an art commune, and Grace becomes addicted to tranquilizers. For Grace, this culminates in her appearance at a graduation house party dressed as Nica, where she is sure she sees Nica’s ghost before collapsing in one of the bedrooms. Departing for college at the end of the summer, Grace attempts to pull herself together and tries out for the tennis team. A routine physical reveals she is pregnant, a surprise since Grace believes herself a virgin. Dropping out of college, Grace returns home to work at Chandler, making a bargain with herself to either solve the mystery of Nica’s death and have an abortion before the end of her first trimester, or give up on her future and keep the baby. Grace has plenty of suspects: Jamie Amory, the boyfriend Nica broke up with shortly before her death, the sleazy art teacher who pays far too much attention to beautiful students, the part-time dealer who sells Grace her drugs, and the unidentified new lover who inspired Nica’s fresh tattoo. This debut novel of psychological suspense is haunting.

Death in BrittanyJean-Luc Bannalec
Death in Brittany (Minotaur 2015; German 2012) introduces Georges Dupin, a former Paris detective, now serving as Commissaire in Brittany, France. Dupin has mostly adjusted to his exile, especially now that he has located all the places to get good coffee, and has vowed to control the out-spoken tendencies that caused his reassignment to the remote Breton coast. Pont-Aven, the idyllic seaside village where Gauguin and other artists lived in the 19th century, is just moving into the hectic summer tourist season when the body of Pierre-Louis Pennec, the 91-year-old owner of the legendary Central Hotel, is found stabbed to death in the bar of his hotel. Dupin is pressured to bring the case to a quick conclusion before the tourists are frightened away, but Dupin moves at his own pace, with frequent breaks to linger over coffee, wine, and good food. The more questions Dupin asks, the more hidden aspects he uncovers about Pennec’s history. The suspect list grows: Pennec’s estranged half-brother who has political ambitions, Pennec’s son and wife who will take over the hotel, the hotel manager who may have been having an affair with Pennec, the art historian who was encouraging Pennec to donate to the local museum, and Pennec’s best friend since boyhood. As secret after secret is revealed, Dupin realizes that little was actually unknown in the insular village. Dupin is an old-fashioned detective, relying on observation and analysis of the facts to narrow his pool of suspects and identify the killer. This debut mystery is the first translated into English in the series written by Jörg Bong, a German publisher, critic, editor, and writer.

Smaller and Smaller CirclesF.H. Batacan
Smaller and Smaller Circles (Soho 2015) is set in 1997 Manila. The eviscerated body of a pre-teen boy has been found in Payatas, a 50-acre dump scavenged by the poorest citizens of the Philippines. The Director of the National Bureau of Investigations asks Father Gus Saenz, a Jesuit priest who is also a forensic anthropologist, to examine the body. With the help of his protégé, psychologist Father Jerome Lucero, Saenz discovers that this murder is one in a string than now numbers six, all killed and placed in the dump on the first Saturday of each month. Since the dead boys were the poorest of the poor, little effort went into investigating the crimes, and the similarities between the deaths were missed. When the news of the connected murders hits the press, the pressure to find the culprit quickly causes high-ranking police officers to fabricate a confession, and Saenz is told his services are no longer required. Saenz’s other current passion is working to remove Father Ramirez from any contact with children. Though complaints have been made about sexual abuse, Cardinal Meneses has simply transferred the charismatic Father Ramirez from one church to another, ending with his current assignment as director of a charity for children. One of Ramirez’s biggest supporters is on the board that controls the money sponsoring Saenz’s forensic lab, and is actively working to reduce the lab sponsorship. While fighting corruption in both the government and the church, Saenz and Lucero work to bring the killer to justice before he strikes again. This evocative thriller, first published as a novella in 2002, was awarded the Philippine National Book Award.

The Strangler VineM.J. Carter
The Strangler Vine (G.P. Putnam’s Sons 2015, UK 2014) introduces William Avery, a young soldier employed by the East India Company in 1837 British India. Avery is accumulating debt in Calcutta while waiting for a cavalry posting in north Bengal. While not gambling or dreaming of returning to the green hills of Devon, Avery revels in Xavier Mountstuart’s thrilling tales of India, grateful that his hearty constitution has so far kept the tropical fevers at bay. One afternoon he is sent to the ramshackle home of Jeremiah Blake, former secret political agent for the Company. Avery is shocked to discover that the sickly bearded man he takes for a native is Blake himself. The Company convinces Blake to go in search of Xavier Mountstuart, who left Calcutta several months earlier to research the Thuggee tribe, rumored to be the secret murderers of India. Mountstuart was last seen in Jubbulpore, visiting Major Sleeman’s Thuggee Department, and then disappeared. Due to a cholera epidemic, Avery is one of the few soldiers healthy enough to accompany Blake, though neither is happy with the assignment. Blake is determined to make a journey of two months in three weeks, and the two set off with only three native servants and little baggage. Blake — fluent in Hindustani, Persian, and several other native languages — is comfortable in native garb, while Avery — who understands only a few words of Hindustani — sweats and chafes in his woolen uniform and hasn’t a clue what the conversations between Blake and the natives are about. As the journey proceeds away from the urban squalor of Calcutta, Avery slowly develops an appreciation for the customs and people of India, but mistrusts Blake’s secrecy and his apparent obsessions with the Thugs. This exciting and complex historical debut mystery was a finalist for the 2014 New Blood Dagger Award.

Among ThievesJohn Clarkson
Among Thieves (Minotaur 2015) is the story of James Beck, the leader of a gang of thugs in Brooklyn. Beck and his three partners, Manny Guzman, Demarco Jones, and Ciro Baldassare, own a bar in Red Hook, a comfortable waterfront hangout with no sign and a tightly controlled clientele. Manny, the former lord of a Dominican street gang, approaches Beck with a problem. Olivia Sanchez, his young distant cousin and the only relative who ever visited him in prison, has asked for help. Alan Crane, a co-worker at the brokerage house, retaliated when Olivia threatened to disclose his shady dealings, breaking two of her fingers and suing her for slander. Olivia lost her job along with her health benefits, and has been blackballed within the industry. Beck agrees to talk with Olivia, and is intrigued by Olivia’s idea of exacting revenge by stealing the money Crane is in the process of stealing from her former employer. Before long, Beck uncovers a plot to launder tens of millions of dollars from illegal arms sales, offending Leonid Markov, an unbalanced Russian arms dealer using Crane for his own ends. Markov’s enforcers are a scary bunch of Bosnian war criminals led by Gregor, whose sadistic nature became uncontrollable after exposure to the atrocities possible during the turmoil of war. Compared to Markov and Gregor, Beck and his gang of criminals are an appealing bunch — dangerous and short-fused, but bound by a strict code of conduct and loyalty to each other. Beck’s canny nature gives him a slight advantage, as he schemes to inveigle the NYPD into unwittingly joining his side of the struggle. This high octane thriller has plenty of action as the CEO of the brokerage firm, a gang of Russian mobsters, the secretive arms dealer, and the Bosnian thugs all fight to the finish for control of the money and the streets.

Night Night Sleep TightHallie Ephron
Night Night, Sleep Tight (William Morrow 2015) begins with Deirdre Unger heading to Beverly Hills to help her father, screenwriter Arthur Unger, prepare his dilapidated home for sale in the spring of 1985. Deirdre and her father have an uneasy relationship, embittered by the guilt and resentment caused by the car accident in 1963 that left Deirdre unable to walk without the aid of a cane. The night of the accident, 15-year-old Deirdre was sleeping over with her best friend Joelen, daughter of movie star Bunny Nichol. Deirdre was whisked home in the middle of the night, and Joelen confessed the next morning to fatally stabbing her mother’s boyfriend Tito Acevedo. Deirdre and Joelen had managed to sneak enough drinks during the party to become intoxicated, and Deirdre has only a hazy recollection of that fateful night long ago. When Deirdre arrives at her father’s home, she finds his drowned body in the pool. At first Deirdre believes her father’s death was an accident, but the police are very interested in her lack of alibi. Deirdre reconnects with Joelen and Bunny, who are both reluctant to talk about the past. As Deirdre sorts through her father’s papers, she discovers an unfinished autobiographical screenplay detailing the secrets of her father’s life, including another viewpoint of that fatal night in 1963. This suspenseful thriller, set within the glamour and duplicity of Hollywood, was inspired by the 1958 murder by Cheryl Crane of Johnny Stompanato, the gangster boyfriend of her mother Lana Turner.

The CoronerM.R. Hall
The Coroner (Macmillan 2009) introduces Jenny Cooper, the newly appointed coroner in Gloucestershire, England. After a traumatic divorce, Jenny began to suffer debilitating panic attacks that made it impossible for her to cope with the stress of continuing as a lawyer specializing in childcare law. The sudden death of Harry Marshall, the Severn Vale District Coroner, opened a position Jenny hopes will be less demanding. Tara Wilson, a reporter for the Bristol Evening Post, contacts Jenny about the case of Danny Willis, a 14-year-old prisoner who died in Portshead Farm, a privately owned juvenile prison. Marshall’s inquest returned a verdict of suicide, but Danny’s mother is protesting that her son did not receive any psychiatric care inside the prison. Inside a locked drawer in Marshall’s desk, Jenny discovers a thin file on Katy Taylor, a 15-year-old girl found dead of a heroin overdose a few days before Marshall’s death. Concerned about the missing post-mortem report, Jenny pressures the pathologist to provide a written copy of the report he says was delivered verbally. When the report finally arrives, Jenny discovers that only minimal tests were performed and convenes an inquest despite protests from the local head of legal services. When a connection between Danny and Katy, who were both at Portshead Farm, comes to light, Jenny is convinced the two deaths were related, and that both may have been murders. Jenny’s dependence on Temazepam increases as the pressures of the investigation build, but she is determined to find justice for the two dead teenagers. This gripping series debut, a finalist for the 2009 Gold Dagger Award, introduces an engaging flawed protagonist with plenty of depth.

DisclaimerRenée Knight
Disclaimer (Harper 2015) features Catherine Ravenscroft, a documentary filmmaker with a grown son. After Catherine and her husband Robert move into a smaller home in the spring of 2013, Catherine finds a novel titled The Perfect Stranger on her bedside table. Everything is in confusion after the move, and Catherine can’t remember buying the book or unpacking it. She begins reading the novel, and is horrified to find that she herself is a thinly disguised character in a book that exposes a painful secret from a vacation in Spain during the summer of 1993. During that fateful summer, Robert was called home for business, leaving Catherine and their five-year-old son Nicholas to enjoy the beach. Though terrified that her past is exposed, Catherine can’t stop herself from reading the mysterious manuscript that seems to have appeared from nowhere. Alternate chapters are narrated by Stephen Brigstocke, a retired teacher who finally gathered the courage to sort through the possessions of his wife Nancy seven years after her death. Stephen found a handwritten manuscript hidden in his wife’s desk, and an envelope of pictures secreted in a handbag. Stephen copies out the manuscript in his own hand, growing more angry with every sentence, and purchases a computer with the help of the local printer who produced the service cards for Nancy’s funeral. The printer helps Stephen print copies of the finished book, which Stephen hand-delivers to Catherine, her son, and her husband. Nicholas is unfazed by the novel, which he skims to find the sex scenes, but Robert is crushed by the revelation of an affair 20 years earlier. The fallout from the book forces Catherine to finally confront her past and talk about the dark secret she has hidden for so long. This debut novel of psychological suspense is stunning.

SignalPatrick Lee
Signal (Minotaur 2015) begins when FBI agent Marnie Calvert arrives at a trailer in the California desert in response to a 911 call, discovering four young girls burned to death. Four hours earlier, retired Special Forces operative Sam Dryden received a call from Claire Dunham asking him to meet her ASAP at a gas station outside of Barstow. Claire, an electronics technician Dryden used to work with, tells Sam to leave his phone behind. Claire takes Sam to a trailer in the desert, where they rescue four girls locked inside a steel cage, killing their captor in the process. By the time FBI agent Marnie Calvert and the state police arrive, the stunned girls explain that an unknown couple burst into the trailer just after they made a 911 call with the cell phone they managed to get away from their captor. Marnie can’t figure out how the mysterious pair managed to arrive in the middle of nowhere immediately after a call no one could have anticipated, but the sickening photos in the trailer make her glad they did. After leaving the scene, Claire explains that she has been working security for a Palo Alto start-up firm that has built a machine capable of picking up radio broadcasts from ten hours and 24 minutes in the future. After hearing the news report of the dead girls, she couldn’t restrain herself from trying to rescue them, even though she is now on the run from a group who hit the firm before the stunned inventors could figure out how to get the device to the right people in government. Claire managed to escape with one of the machines, but has no idea if the two inventors are still alive. Just after Claire finishes demonstrating the device broadcasting a future Padres game, the group determined to control the future captures both Claire and Dryden, taking Claire away to be questioned in one car, and driving Dryden away in his own car to dispose of in the desert. Dryden escapes, and then is faced with the task of finding Claire and getting the second machine back from a group that can predict his every move by watching the future and changing it, in the same way Claire and Dryden rescued the four girls. This high-action tech thriller is the second featuring the multi-talented Sam Dryden.

Palace of TreasonJason Matthews
Palace of Treason (Scribner 2015) finds Captain Dominika Egorova feeling fairly secure in her position back in Moscow with the Russian Intelligence Service, having survived the debriefing following the spy swap in Estonia months earlier. Dominika’s synesthesia allows her to see the colored auras around people, reading their internal passion, fear, treachery, and deception, and allowing her to adjust her words and actions to conceal the fact that she is now spying for the United States. CIA agent Nate Nash, Dominika’s handler and lover, fears for Dominika’s safety, but the intelligence she provides is incredibly valuable. President Putin is impressed with Dominika’s talents, causing her immediate superior Colonel Alexei Zyuganov, an ambitious psychopath, to scrutinize her every move. Nate is also handling Lieutenant General Mikhail Nikolaevich, who is disillusioned that his more than 30 years of service to Russia are not valued by Putin. Meanwhile, Seb Angevine, a CIA agent recently passed over for a promotion, decides to pad his pockets on the way out and offers his services to the Russians for large amounts of cash. Zyuganov is charged with identifying the double agent passing secrets to the Americans, and Dominika learns of the successful acquisition of a mole inside American intelligence. While trying to protect their agents and identify the mole inside the CIA, Nate and his team are also working on a scheme to sabotage a secret uranium enrichment program in Iran. This complex second in the series is riveting.

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September 1, 2015

BadlandsC.J. Box
Badlands (Minotaur 2015) is set in Grimstad, formerly a small dead-end town and now the oil capital of North Dakota, which has just surpassed Alaska to become the second-biggest oil-producing state in the country. Along with the population boom came well-paying jobs, higher rental rates than New York City, soaring crime rates, and an influx of drugs. Kyle Westergaard, a 12-year-old with special needs and a speech problems due to fetal alcohol syndrome, witnesses a car accident while delivering newspapers early one snowy morning. The first cop arrives without lights or sirens, and seems to be searching for something before the second police car arrives. Kyle spots a heavy bundle that sailed from the car, and stuffs it into his bike pannier. T-Lock, Kyle’s mother’s layabout lover, unwraps the bundle, revealing tagged money and hundreds of packets of white powder. T-Lock convinces Kyle’s mother to start laundering the money at McDonalds, where payments for a burger and fries with hundred dollar bills are not unusual, and puts out feelers for selling the drugs, precipitating a war between two drug gangs. Cassie Dewell, the new deputy sheriff just arrived in Grimstad, is tasked with looking into the possible contract hits, and also flushing out a suspected bad cop. It isn’t easy taking on an investigation by herself, but Cassie starts by examining the scene of the car accident and spots what she thinks might be a bike track in the snow. Introduced in The Highway (2013), Cassie is also still tracking the Lizard King, a serial killer preying on prostitutes working big rig lots, known as lot lizards. Cassie struggles to adapt to the new environment, not easy when the ratio of men to women is 20 to 1, the weather hits 30 below, and a severed head appears in her refrigerator, but she is a tenacious investigator, determined to succeed in her new home. Sections from Kyle’s perspective present a dreamy but determined child, hoping to use his good luck to create a stable home for his unreliable mother. Kyle’s naïve optimism balances the bleak cynicism of the cops and drug lords in this fast-paced thriller.

Once Upon a CrimeP.J. Brackston
Once Upon a Crime (Pegasus 2015) introduces Gretel (yes, that Gretel), living with her brother Hans and working as a private investigator in 1775 Gesternstadt, Bavaria. Now 35, Gretel and her brother Hans struggle with weight issues caused by their early experience devouring the witch’s house made of sweets. A bit simple and over fond of beer, Hans cooks for the pair while Gretel works to keep them well fed and to support her desire to be the best dressed woman in Gesternstadt. Gretel has been hired by Frau Hapsburg to locate three missing cats, each wearing a velvet collar and small brass bell. Though Gretel considers the case far beneath her ability, she is convinced by the fat purse. Then the sleepy little town is disturbed by the discovery of a body in the ashes of the shop of a local cart maker. Gretel notices the corpse is missing a finger, but Kingsman Kapitan Strudel refuses to listen to her. Gretel secretly pockets the small brass bell she found in the dead hand, fearing that she has just figured out what happened to at least one of Frau Hapsburg’s missing cats. Not willing to give up an even fatter purse for finding the cats, Gretel consults the local witch who sends her off to investigate a connection with a troll. Along the way Gretel is arrested for kidnapping an obnoxious princess, arrested for murder, and thrown into the dungeons, wreaking havoc upon her wardrobe and even causing her to miss a few meals here and there. This funny tongue-in-cheek mystery, published second and billed as a prequel, launches the satirical Brothers Grimm mystery series.

Ruined AbbeyAnne Emery
Ruined Abbey (ECW Press 2015) begins in the spring of 1989 when New York City Catholic priest Brennan Burke gets a call from his sister Molly, who is being held in Holloway Prison in London. A University of London history professor, Molly gave an inflammatory presentation denouncing Cromwell, the Lord Protector, for his atrocities against the Irish. Since then, Molly has been under observation by the Special Branch for suspected ties to the IRA. Brennan and their brother Terry, an American airline pilot, fly to London. The brothers are relieved when Molly is released the following day, but soon realize that their cousin Conn and Molly’s teenage son Finnbar may be more deeply involved in the movement than Molly is. Though the Burke family immigrated to America when Brennan was 10, the Burkes have a long history of resistance in Ireland, and some relatives are prohibited from crossing the border. During a police response to a suspected bombing attempt on Westminister Abbey, a Special Branch detective is killed, and Conn is arrested for the murder. In Colchester, the body of a unidentified man is discovered, badly beaten and perhaps tortured. Since all of England and Wales averages fewer than two murders a day, the Burkes suspect that there may be a connection between the two murders, and Brennan sets out to prove Conn’s innocence by tracking the killer of the unknown man. Details of the long and violent history between England and Ireland leading up to The Troubles are interwoven into a compelling family history and murder investigation in this prequel to the Collins-Burke mystery series.

YouCaroline Kepnes
You (Emily Bestler Books 2014) introduces Joe Goldberg, who works in an East Village bookstore in New York City. Joe hasn’t made it through college, but he’s read just about everything and can more than hold his own with the customers. One day Guinevere Beck, known to all her friends as Beck, enters the store and flirts with Joe. Instantly infatuated, Joe researches Beck online, discovering though her Facebook page and Twitter feed that she is a Brown graduate working on her MFA in Creative Writing at the New School with three close female friends and her boyfriend Benji. Easily following Beck’s movements through her Tweets, Joe orchestrates an “accidental” fall and rescues the very intoxicated Beck in the subway late one night. On the cab ride home, Beck recognizes Joe from the bookstore, and re-introduces herself before falling into Benji’s arms when they arrive at her doorstep. Joe takes possession of the phone Beck leaves in the cab, and uses it to monitor her email since she is too embarrassed to tell her mother she has lost her phone again. Joe is certain he and Beck are perfect for each other, and stalks her relentlessly, determined to separate Beck from both her drug-addicted boyfriend and her possessive best friend. The narcissist Beck over-shares everything, and Joe has no problem presenting himself as the lover of her dreams, gradually worming himself into her life. Joe’s first person narration is compelling, as he elucidates plausible justifications for each action that draws him closer to his dream relationship with Beck. This unsettling psychological thriller is a finalist for the 2015 New Blood Dagger Award.

Everything I Never Told YouCeleste Ng
Everything I Never Told You (Penguin Press 2014) is the story of Lydia Lee, a high school sophomore in 1970s Middlewood, Ohio, who goes missing in the middle of the night. Lydia is the adored middle child in a mixed-race Chinese-American family. Her father James, who always felt out of place as the only Asian in the small boarding school he attended, hopes that his daughter is popular with many friends and admirers. Her mother Marilyn, who is delighted that Lydia inherited her blue eyes, coaches Lydia from the age of five in math and science so that she can fulfill her own unrequited dream of becoming a doctor. Lydia’s older brother Nath and younger sister Hannah receive only leftover scraps from the affection and attention that their parents lavish on Lydia. Two days after her disappearance, Lydia’s drowned body is found in the lake. Marilyn is sure Lydia was kidnapped, and Nath suspects Jake, a senior Lydia had been seeing secretly. While interviewing the girls James and Marilyn identify as Lydia’s best friends, the police discover that the supposed friends haven’t spoken to Lydia for years. In fact, except for Nath and Jake, Lydia lived a solitary existence, dashing home every day after school to study with her mother. As the family grapples with the fact that there was much about Lydia they did not know, each falls apart in their own way, consumed with guilt and longing to know who was responsible for Lydia’s death. This moving debut suspense novel is a finalist for the 2015 New Blood Dagger Award.

Hollow ManMark Pryor
Hollow Man (Seventh Street Books 2015) presents Dominic, a prosecutor in Austin, Texas. Originally from the English village of Weston, Dominic was sent away at the age of 16 to a military boarding school in Texas after the death of a neighbor in a hunting accident. Dominic didn’t miss his parents; by then he knew he was hollow inside, incapable of normal emotions like compassion and love, though he is capable of self-centered emotions like anger and lust. The closest Dominic feels to emotions outside himself is when he plays the guitar, and he longs to become a full-time musician in Austin’s club scene. A well-adjusted sociopath, Dominic has learned to pretend to be empathetic, hiding his anti-social tendencies behind adroit lies and manipulations. Dominic isn’t pleased when he is reassigned to the Juvenile Justice Center, though the one-year assignment is part of the normal court rotation. On his first day he meets a stunning young woman in a lime-green dress, there to pick up her twelve-year-old brother being released on probation. The closest Dominic has to a friend is Gus Cronstedt, an immigration lawyer and fellow musician. At their next gig the girl in the green dress appears, and listens to Gus’s description of a client who makes a monthly round to collect rent in cash from his trailer renters. Stunned by the fact that the man ends up with close to $100,000 in cash, the girl shares that the van he drives is one of the easiest to steal, according to her brother. Soon the three are joking about stealing the cash in order to teach Gus’s client a lesson, or maybe to keep for themselves. The foolproof plan quickly disintegrates, forcing Dominic to scramble to keep himself out of jail. Narrated by the charming though psychopathic Dominic, this quick-paced thriller is clever and darkly funny.

The Andalucian FriendAlexander Söderberg
The Andalucian Friend (Crown 2013, Sweden 2012) is the story of Sophie Brinkmann, the widowed mother of a 15-year-old son Albert in Stockholm. Sophie works as a nurse, and often has a preference among the patients she cares for. Hector Guzman, an appealing hit-and-run victim, is her current favorite. Hector is Spanish, but fluent in Swedish, charming, and almost handsome. Hector explains that he is a publisher, but hides the fact that he leads a powerful international crime syndicate that moves drugs and weapons between Europe and South America, currently struggling for control against a ruthless German group. Gunilla Strandberg, a police detective, spots Sophie’s smile as she leaves Hector’s hospital room, and hopes to convince Sophie to become a police informant. She assigns Lars Vinge, a troubled policeman with a history of drug abuse, to watch Sophie. When Hector is discharged, he invites Sophie out to lunch, reminding her that she has not finished telling the story of her life, which helped to pass the long hours in recovery. The two establish a tentative friendship teetering on the edge of romance as Hector takes her to poetry readings, invites her to his birthday party, and introduces her to his family and friends. Gunilla pressures Sophie to tell her everything she knows about Hector, but Sophie instinctively hides her growing attraction and minimizes their relationship. As Lars photographs Sophie and tracks her every move, he becomes obsessed with her, mounting the pictures in his apartment. Displeased with the minimal amount of information Sophie shares, Gunilla has Albert arrested on a trumped-up charge of rape, forcing Sophie to reconsider where her loyalties lie. The drug and arms war escalates, and Sophie unintentionally becomes personally involved in Hector’s real business. This compelling action-packed debut thriller is the first in a trilogy that delves into the complexity of the international drug and weapons trade.

See Also MurderLarry D. Sweazy
See Also Murder (Seventh Street Books 2015) introduces Marjorie Trumaine, the wife of a farmer and a a professional book indexer in 1964 Dickinson, North Dakota. Searching for a way to pay the taxes during a severe drought, Marjorie took a mail-order course on becoming a book indexer, and found the job a perfect fit for her organized list-making personality. When Marjorie’s husband Hank was blinded and permanently paralyzed after a hunting accident, the extra money became even more important, allowing Marjorie and Hank to stay on the farm with the help of Peter and Jaeger Knudsen, sons on the neighboring farm. Sheriff Hilo Jenkins appears at Marjorie’s door one July day with bad news: Erik and Lida Knudsen were murdered in the night, their throats cut while they were sleeping. An amulet was found clutched in Peter’s dead hand, and Hilo hopes that Marjorie’s research skills will enable her to identify the symbols and ancient writing. Marjorie suspects that it is something from Norse mythology, and promises to do some research on her next trip to the library. Something about the strange copper amulet makes her uneasy, and she isn’t sure she can spare the time from her current indexing job, but compassion for her orphaned neighbors wins out. Another brutal murder causes Marjorie to realize that the hope of a passing thief is unrealistic, and that the murderer must be someone within their small community. Due to her training, Marjorie’s notes are soon organized in the form of an index (Amulet: See also murder) as she begins to trace the history of the amulet and learn more about the Knudsen family. Though an unlikely sleuth at first glance, Marjorie’s tenacious and determined personality make her a fine investigator. The isolation of the North Dakota prairie adds a note of natural menace to this first in a projected series.

Plague LandS.D. Sykes
Plague Land (Pegasus 2015, UK 2014) introduces Oswald de Lacy, the third (spare) son called back from the monastery in August 1349 after the Black Plague kills his father, Lord of Somerhill Manor in Kent, and his two older brothers. Only 17, Oswald has no experience running the estate, and is shocked by the changes during the years he spent away preparing to take holy orders. The fields are neglected, the surviving peasants aren’t as servile, his mother is even more controlling, and his older sister Clemence (perhaps doomed by her advanced age of 26 to remain a spinster) is angrier than ever. Shortly after his return home, Oswald is called to view the body of a young woman, Alison Starvecrow, whose ravaged remains have been found in the forest. The village priest claims that Alison was killed by the Cynocephalus, a band of bloodthirsty dog-headed men, but Oswald is sure her throat has been cut with a knife. After breaking the news of her sister’s death to Matilda, Oswald is struck by the similarity between the sisters’ facial features and his own, leading him to suspect they may be his half-sisters. Both the ambitious priest and Walter de Caburn, the powerful neighboring landowner who covets the flat Somerhill pastures, oppose Oswald’s quest to find the murderer, preferring to place the blame on the mythical Cynocephalus and a local woman believed to be a witch. But Oswald is compelled to seek justice for the dead girl, and continues to search for the truth despite the increasing threats to himself and his lands. This debut medieval thriller captures the plight of rational thought struggling against the weight of superstition amplified by the devastation of the bubonic plague that killed half the population of England in just two years.

The Ice TwinsS.K. Tremayne
The Ice Twins (Grand Central Publishing 2015) are the identical twin daughters of Angus and Sarah Moorcroft, nicknamed as babies because of their ice blue eyes and snow white blond hair. Inseparable from birth, Lydia and Kirstie squabble a bit but are best friends and speak in their own invented twin language. When the twins are six, disaster strikes, and Lydia falls to her death from a balcony at her grandmother’s house, shattering the family. Still grieving a year later, Angus and Sarah decide to sell their London house and move to Eilean Torran, a tiny Scots island inherited from Angus’s grandmother. Angus hopes that restoring the lighthouse-keepers cottage will pull him out of the alcoholic haze that destroyed his career as an architect, and Sarah is willing to do anything to escape the grief and memories tied to their old life. Sarah is also haunted by the change in Kirstie over the last few months, as the outgoing twin becomes more and more like her dreamy dead sister. Sarah conceals her concern from Angus, horrified that they may have misidentified their dead daughter, and hoping that the change of scene will bring Kirstie back to normal. The condition of the cottage is a shock — filthy, inhabited by rats, and without a reliable water supply or a working refrigerator — and the hoped for revitalization of the family doesn’t occur. When enrolling Kirstie in the mainland school, the child declares that she is really Lydia, that Kirstie is dead. The family falls apart all over again as Sarah begins to grieve for another daughter, Angus worries that Kirstie has gone mad, and the surviving twin talks to the ghost of her dead sister. This haunting psychological thriller is narrated from the perspectives of both Angus and Sarah, gradually exposing their dark secrets.

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October 1, 2015

Tipping the ValetK.K. Beck
Tipping the Valet: A Workplace Mystery (Perseverance Press 2015) introduces Tyler Benson, a college student working for Elite Valet in Seattle. Tyler has been parking cars at Donna’s Casino and Roadhouse and is happy to be transferring to the more elegant Ristorante Alba, where he hopes not to encounter as many drunks. At Alba, Tyler is interviewed by Flavia Torcelli, the incredibly beautiful hostess, who takes little interest in him since she is worried about the loan her family accepted from the Russians to open the restaurant. On his first evening at Alba, Chip, the valet manager, shows Tyler the secluded parking lot behind the restaurant and brags that Scott Duckworth, the technology billionaire, will be dining at Alba that evening. Volodya Zelenko, a partner in the auto repair/chop shop who suspects that Chip and his fellow valet Vic aren’t turning over all the cars they steal, asks Vic to store a heavy suitcase inside a car trunk for half an hour. Vic lets Volodya use the trunk of a car just dropped off, knowing the couple will be dining for more than an hour. He leaves the trunk unlatched for easy removal, and parks the car. Tyler notices the trunk is not closed, sees the suitcase, and helpfully closes the trunk to prevent theft. A call from the babysitter sends the couple scurrying home before Volodya returns, unaware there is a body stashed in the suitcase in their trunk. Shortly thereafter Scott Duckworth arrives, and someone in a dark car shoots at him, wounding Vic by accident. The next morning the couple discovers the body in their trunk, and Tyler’s fingerprints on the trunk make him the prime suspect. while trying to clear his name, Tyler must stay out of the grasp of both the police and the bungling yet dangerous Russians. This very funny novel is the first in a planned series.

The WhitesHarry Brandt
The Whites (Henry Holt 2015) is the story of Billy Graves, who bonded with three other young police officers in the Wild Geese, an anti-crime unit in the South Bronx. While trying to subdue a drug-crazed criminal, the shot from Billy’s gun traveled through his target and killed a ten-year-old boy standing behind him. An ambitious young reporter convinced her editors she had proof Billy was also high during the shooting, but she didn’t vet her sources. The witness testimony didn’t hold up. but the story destroyed the reporter’s career and left a black cloud over Billy. Twenty years later Billy, now married with two young sons, is the sergeant in charge of Manhattan Night Watch, a small team of detectives who respond to all post-midnight felonies from Wall Street to Harlem. At 4:00 AM the Night Watch is called to the fatal stabbing of a man in Penn Station. Billy recognizes the victim as Jeffrey Bannion, who murdered a 12-year-old boy eight years earlier. John Pavicek, a former Wild Goose, had investigated the murder, but was never able to bring Bannion to justice. Pavicek has been haunted by the case ever since. Tagged “Whites” by Billy in tribute to Moby Dick, the one that got away, each of the four former Wild Geese has their own personal White, a known murderer guilty of a terrible crime who evaded justice for one reason or another. Unable to forgive themselves for failing to bring their White to justice, each pores over the old case files, hoping for a piece of evidence that was missed. Jimmy Whelan pursues the leader of a white street gang who chased a Pakistani boy under a bus; Redman Brown keeps tabs on Sweetpea Harris, who murdered a college bound basketball player for besting him in a pickup game; Yasmeen Assaf-Doyle follows Eric Cortez, who stabbed a 9th grader after he talked to his girlfriend; and Billy is haunted by Curtis Taft, who shot his ex-girlfriend, her four-year-old daughter, and her 14-year old niece. This gripping story of the long-lasting effects of guilt, obsession, and retribution is the first written by Richard Price under the Harry Brant pseudonym.

Dead Soon EnoughSteph Cha
Dead Soon Enough (Minotaur 2015) finds Juniper Song, a Korean American Philip Marlowe fan and private detective in Los Angeles, just hired by Rubina Gasparian to follow her cousin Lusig. Rubina, now 37, and her husband Van, both successful doctors, are unable to conceive a child. As Armenians, the Gasparians feel obligated to continue their bloodline, compelled by the Armenian genocide nearly 100 years earlier in which millions of Armenians were killed by Turks. Rubina and her 26-year-old cousin Lusig are as close as sisters, and Lusig agreed to carry Rubina’s child. Now eight months pregnant, Lusig has been acting strange for the last month, ever since her best friend Nora Mkrtchian disappeared, and Rubina is worried that the stress is endangering her unborn child. Song follows Lusig to a lunch date with Nora’s boyfriend, and Rubina fears that Lusig has decided to search for Nora herself. To keep Lusig safely at home, Rubina hires Song to investigate Nora’s disappearance. While exploring Nora’s blog devoted to discussion of the 1915 Armenian genocide, Song learns that the word genocide was coined to describe the Turkish extermination of Armenians, and that Nora was being viciously attacked online with rape and death threats. A new corporation called EARTH is suing the city of Glendale to get an injunction against a proposed memorial to commemorate the Armenian genocide, and Nora had been fighting the injunction both online and in person. Certain that the three young Turkish men that are the face of EARTH don’t have the money to sue a city, Song begins searching for the real power-brokers. This third in the series featuring the persistant Song is complex and entertaining.

Come Hell or HighballMaia Chance
Come Hell or Highball (Minotaur 2015) introduces Lola Woodby, a 30-ish New York socialite who is relieved when her despised husband Alfred dies suddenly of heart failure in the spring of 1923. At the funeral, Olive Arbuckle invites Lola to a house party that will include movie heartthrob Bruno Luciano and rising starlet Sadie Street. Lola takes refuge in her supposed mourning to decline the invitation. Alfred was a bit too fond of chorus girls, so Lola tries to evade the overly made-up Ruby Simkin, but is surprised when Ruby offers to pay her to retrieve an article from the Arbuckles’ country house. Lola laughs off the offer, but has second thoughts when she learns that Alfred left her only debts instead of the millions she assumed were awaiting her pleasure. She doesn’t even own her home, and Alfred’s brother takes over the Woodby estate, forcing Lola to flee to Alfred’s secret love nest with her beloved Pomeranian Cedric, and her Swedish cook Berta Lundgren, who is intent on claiming her back wages. At the indecorously decorated apartment, Lola surprises Ralph Oliver, a private detective, searching through the drawers. Learning that the rent on the apartment is due in a week, Lola and Berta decide that together they can track down the reel of film Ruby is willing to pay $3,000 for. Lola has always had a fondness for cheap detective novels, along with strong cocktails and anything made of chocolate, and Berta decides that the two could make a business of retrieving sensitive items. Dodging bill collectors and evading the handsome private detective, Lola and Berta set out to locate the reel of film in this delightful series opener.

Nobody WalksMick Herron
Nobody Walks (Soho 2015) begins when Tom Bettany, now working at a meat processing plant in France, gets a call from an unknown woman explaining that his 26-year-old son Liam has fallen to his death from his London balcony. Bettany lost touch with Liam years ago, part of the fallout from his deep undercover job for MI5 in London and Northern Ireland, which resulted in 52 arrests of terrorists and arms traders. Once his cover was blown, Bettany moved the family to Dorset to avoid a chance encounter with any of the McGarry gang members who escaped arrest, hoping to walk away from his past. After his wife died of cancer, Bettany drifted around Europe, working a succession of manual labor jobs. Returning to London for the first time in years, Bettany learns that Liam had been smoking a potent variety of marijuana called Muskrat, and begins searching for his supplier. Ingrid Tearney, head of the Intelligence Service, asks JK Cole, from the Psychological Evaluation Department, to contact Bettany and try to keep him from running off the rails. Though mourning his son, and the reconciliation that now can never happen, Bettany finds himself enjoying the thrill of the chase as he tries to avoid the McGarry mob and evade his MI5 shadows. This complex character-driven thriller is a finalist for the 2015 Steel Dagger Award.

No Other DarknessSarah Hilary
No Other Darkness (Penguin 2015) begins when the bodies of two young children, dead at least four years, are discovered in a underground survival bunker beneath the garden of a new housing development on the edge of London. With the dead children are picture books, canned food, and soft toys. Detective Inspector Marnie Rome and her partner Detective Sergeant Noah Jake lead the investigation. The garden is behind the home of Beth and Terry Doyle, who have two young children of their own and a 14-year old foster son named Clancy. Marnie knows that the Doyles can’t have anything to do with the bodies since they bought the home only a year earlier, but something about the family feels off. The neighbor is suspicious of Clancy, whom she feels is sneaky, and Clancy reminds Marnie all too much of her own foster brother Stephen, who murdered her parents five years earlier when he was Clancy’s age. Before the housing development was built, Travelers occupied the field, leaving only under protest, and tracing them proves difficult. Ian Merrick, the owner of the construction company that built the housing development, swears that he was told all the old bunkers had been filled in, but Noah is certain he is hiding something. All of the police officers involved in the investigation are shaken by the dead children left to starve in a survival bunker, but can find no trace of children who went missing four or five years ago. This intense police procedural is the second in the series featuring the haunted Marnie Rome.

Those We Left BehindStuart Neville
Those We Left Behind (Soho 2015) begins with the release of Ciaran Devine after serving seven years for the brutal murder of his foster father, David Rolston, who he claimed had been sexually abusing his older brother Thomas. Thomas was found at the crime scene drenched with blood, but 12-year-old Ciaran insisted he alone was guilty of the crime, and Thomas served a lighter sentence as an accessory. Now 20, Ciaran is assigned a probation officer, Paula Cunningham, to help him adapt to the world he never knew as an adult. Cunningham contacts Belfast Detective Chief inspector Serena Flanagan, who was the only police officer Ciaran would talk to after his arrest. Flanagan was sure that Ciaran took sole responsibility for the crime to protect Thomas, who would have received a more stringent sentence because of his age. The two established a rapport, but Flanagan could not budge Ciaran from his confession, though his word-perfect repetitions convinced her that Thomas had coached his testimony. Cunningham believes that Thomas still holds his younger brother in thrall, and attempts to bolster Ciaran’s independence, with limited success. Daniel Rolston has always felt that the wrong brother was convicted for killing his father, and begins stalking the reunited Devine brothers, determined to finally get revenge for both the death of his father and the allegation of sexual assault that drove his mother to suicide. This haunting psychological thriller explores themes of dependence, abandonment, and vengeance.

The Dead LandsBenjamin Percy
The Dead Lands (Grand Central Publishing 2015) is set in a post-apocalyptic United States. After a super flu decimated the population, nuclear fallout from unattended reactors further damaged the land and caused mutations in people and animals. In St. Louis, the survivors built a wall, creating the Sanctuary. The worst punishment in Sanctuary is to be expelled from the safe zone to become prey for the ravenous monsters living in the wasteland outside the wall. Generations after the creation of Sanctuary, Wilhemina Clark, known as Clark, is a Sanctuary ranger, patrolling the wall and helping keep peace inside the city, where the increasing shortage of water has the populace on edge. Lewis Meriweather, son of the previous mayor, is an odd duck who runs the museum. Lewis has always been different, and everyone avoids him, leaving him to dabble with his inventions and experiments. One day a strange girl named Gawea rides up to the Sanctuary wall, bringing news of a land west of the Cascade mountains where rain falls and crops grow. Mayor Thomas Lancer, who hordes the city water for personal bathing, fears Gawea’s news will cause a revolt and sentences her to death. Lewis finds the discarded letter she brought from Aran Burr. Addressed to Lewis, the letter promises Lewis that there there is a place for him amongst the other gifted people in Oregon. Gawea is rescued by Clark’s brother York, and the small band sets out for the west, hoping to find a better life. This thought-provoking thriller presents a reimagined version of the Lewis and Clark expedition through the dangerous wilderness known as the Dead Lands.

Every Fifteen MinutesLisa Scottoline
Every Fifteen Minutes (St. Martin’s Press 2015) is the story of Dr. Eric Parrish, the Chief of the Psychiatric Unit at Havemeyer General Hospital outside of Philadelphia. Recently separated from his wife, Caitlin, Eric is trying hard to maintain his relationship with his seven-year-old daughter Hannah. Trying to be accommodating, Eric sold his share in the family home to Caitlin for a minimal sum so that Hannah could stay in familiar surroundings. The For Sale sign in the front yard, forces him to accept that his former wife has no intention of honoring their informal agreements, and he begins to consider suing for primary custody of Hannah. At work, things are going better. His psychiatric unit has just been named number two in the country, and his staff is loyal and devoted to their patients, who seem to be responding well to treatment with the exception of one violent man. Then Eric takes on a new private patient, 17-year-old Max whose beloved grandmother is dying of cancer. Max’s mother is an alcoholic and rarely around, leaving him to care for the grandmother he can’t imagine living without. Eric learns that Max has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and is compelled to perform a ritual every 15 minutes so he doesn’t lose control. Patients with OCD aren’t usually dangerous, but Max’s obsession with Reneé, a girl he is tutoring in math, concerns Eric. Max’s violent fantasies of strangling Reneé, combined with the fact that he seems to be stalking her, cause Eric to wonder if Max is a danger to himself or Reneé. When Max’s grandmother dies, Max disappears. Eric fears Max is suicidal and asks the police to keep a lookout for him while setting out to search himself. Eric tracks Reneé down at the shop Max mentioned she works at, but sees no sign of Max. Knowing that Max often keeps watch on Reneé, Eric follows her home, and is warned off by a neighbor suspicious of strange cars in their cul-de-sac. First person narrations by a ruthless sociopath in Eric’s life add an increasing sense of menace to the series of coincidences that cause the police to view Eric as a “person of interest” as his career and personal life begin to crumble around him, putting his custody battle for Hannah in jeopardy. The question is — which of the potential candidates for a sociopathic diagnosis in Eric’s life is the true danger?

She’s Leaving HomeWilliam Shaw
She’s Leaving Home (Mulholland Books 2014) introduces Cathal Breen, a detective sergeant, and WPC Helen Tozer, of the Metropolitan Police, in 1968 London. The body of a young woman is found strangled on a residential street near Abbey Road Studios, and Helen Tozer suggests she may be one of the many young women who camp out near the recording studios, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Beatles. Breen, shaken by the recent death of his father, is dealing with accusations of cowardice after inexplicably fleeing the scene of a robbery, and hopes this case will reestablish his reputation. Breen, along with most of the police force, is a bit off balance by the changes in the modern world and has difficulty connecting with younger people, but Tozer is completely at home with the young Beatles fans. Their investigation uncovers suspects among the parents uncomfortable with changing sexual conventions, English citizens suspicious of immigrants, and supporters of Biafran independence. Contact with Tozer causes Breen to realize he isn’t required to become a carbon copy of his parents, and he cautiously dabbles with new music and sexual freedoms. This engaging debut police procedural, first published in the UK as A Song from Dead Lips in 2013, is a finalist for the 2015 Barry Award for Best First Novel.

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November 1, 2015

QuicksandCarolyn Baugh
Quicksand (Forge 2015) introduces Nora Khalil, and Egyptian-American Philadelphia police officer assigned to the FBI’s Safe Streets Violent Gang Task Force. Nora lives with her father and younger brother in a traditional Muslim household above the Cairo Café. Nora has never been on a date or eaten a Philly cheesesteak, and was not allowed to consider joining the FBI since that would mean living away from home while being trained at Quantico. The task force is investigating the murder of 14-year-old Kylie Baker, which looks like a revenge killing by Dewayne Fulton, the leader of the Junior Black Mafia, in response to a drive-by shooting by the A&As, led by Kylie’s brother Kevin. Nora tries to keep her personal life separate from work, but the discovery of the mutilated body of a young Muslim woman makes that impossible. Nora’s fluency in Arabic, her familiarity with Islamic traditions, and her gender enable her to question the Muslim women who will not speak to the male police officers, discovering that the gang warfare over drugs and territory cloaks an even darker crime. This quick-paced novel featuring an intriguing protagonist is the first in a projected series.

Shadow BrokerTrace Conger
The Shadow Broker (2014) introduces Finn Harding, a private investigator stripped of his license in Cincinnati, Ohio. The divorced father of a young daughter attending an expensive private school, Finn is forced to accept any work that will pay. Known to his clients as Mr. Finn, he specializes in finding people who don’t want to be found. His current case is locating whoever is blackmailing Bishop, a shady character who runs an underground website called Dark Brokerage, a black market for stolen information. At Dark Brokerage, buyers can purchase stolen credit card numbers and social security numbers. A hacker known only as Silvio1053 managed to obtain the Dark Brokerage customer list and is demanding $50,000 a month not to turn the list over to the police. Finn takes on the task of tracking down Silvio1053, but soon discovers that the line between working for criminals and becoming one himself is very thin indeed. When his father is ejected from his retirement home, Finn has one more complication to juggle while trying to keep his head above water. Sustained by frequent doses of strong black coffee, he is soon caught between a sadistic killer, an FBI cybercrime unit, and a lethal Detroit mob boss. This fast-paced debut thriller, liberally spiced with black humor and violence, was awarded the 2015 Shamus Award for Best Indie PI Novel.

Corrupted MemoryRay Daniel
Corrupted Memory (Midnight Ink 2015) begins when software debugger expert Aloysius Tucker receives a text from his FBI buddy Bobby Miller at a Cubs game at Fenway. Tucker tries to tell Bobby he is busy, but Bobby sends him a photo of a body on the sidewalk in front of Tucker’s house. The dead man looks just like Tucker’s father, who died 15 years earlier. The family resemblance is unmistakable, and Tucker realizes that he was not an only child, and that his father, who worked on secret government weapons projects at Global Defense Systems, had a secret life hidden from Tucker and his mother. Tucker has trouble communicating with his mother, whose earlier instability has manifested into full-blown hoarding, but forces himself to get in touch with her side of the family to see if any of his relatives knew about his father’s second family in Pittsfield. His cousin Sal Rizzo, who just may be a mobster, insists there was no hidden half-brother, but Bobby suspects that Tucker’s half-brother may have been trying to steal secret information from Global Defense Systems. It’s possible that Tucker’s mother may have a clue hidden away in the mounds of paper in her house, but she won’t let Tucker disturb the piles that have expanded to leave only narrow pathways from room to room. Tucker’s talent for identifying bugs in lines of code gives him a unique perspective on solving a crime, his mind constantly reshuffling facts into different arrangements until the solution becomes clear. This fast-paced thriller is the second in the series featuring the engaging Tucker, who finds it all too easy to use his computer skills to access hidden information.

Dark ReservationsJohn Fortunato
Dark Reservations (Minotaur 2015) introduces Joe Evers, a Bureau of Indian Affairs Special Agent on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona and New Mexico. Consumed with grief after his wife’s death, Joe began drinking too much, missed a court date, and allowed a murderer to go free. With only three months until his forced retirement, Joe still mourns his wife and struggles with alcoholism. Then the Lincoln belonging to Congressman Arlen Edgerton, who disappeared along with his secretary and driver 20 years earlier during a corruption probe, is discovered on the Navajo reservation. Joe doesn’t want the cold case, but heads out to meet young Navajo tribal officer Randall Bluehorse. There isn’t much left of the car, but a bullet hole through the driver’s side window frame gives Joe hope that the bullet may be lodged somewhere in the deteriorating car. According to the polls, Congresswoman Grace Edgerton, Edgerton’s wife, is about to be elected governor of New Mexico in less than a month, and the revitalization of the old corruption scandal is exactly what she doesn’t need. Suspects abound in this character-driven debut, winner of the 2014 Hillerman Prize.

Playing with FireTess Gerritsen
Playing with Fire (Ballantine Books 2015) begins when violinist Julia Ansdell spots an old book of music titled "Gipsy” in the window of an antique shop in Rome. Always on the hunt for forgotten music, Julia is intrigued by the unfamiliar tune on the first page. As she leafs through the old pages, a single sheet falls out: Incendio, composed by L. Todesco. The minor key waltz is both mournful and strange, with complex arpeggios that make her eager to play it. Back home in Boston, Julia plays the waltz for the first time, consumed by the music while her three-year-old daughter Lily plays with the family cat. Startled by her daughter’s damp hand on her leg, Julia discovers Lily is covered with blood and the cat has been stabbed to death with a garden trowel. A second violent incident that occurs while Julia is playing Incendio convinces her that Lily has been transformed into a monster by the powerful music, and she sets out to trace the history of the disturbing waltz. Interwoven with present day events is the story of Lorenzo Todesco, a talented young Jewish violinist and composer living in 1938 Venice. Professor Augosto Balboni and Lorenzo’s grandfather, a famous luthier, convince Lorenzo and Balboni’s daughter Laura, a proficient cellist, to enter a duet competition. The two discover that together their music blends into something special and gradually fall in love. As Catholics, the Balbonis are not threatened by the increasingly harsh Fascist anti-Semitic laws, and they urge the Todesco family to leave Venice while they can, but the older Todescos cannot believe they really need to flee the city that has been their home for generations. Julia’s quest to uncover the history of the piece of music she believes has corrupted her innocent daughter causes waves of repercussions from those determined to keep the past a secret. This compelling thriller is haunting.

Jake Dragon MountainElsa Hart
Jade Dragon Mountain (Minotaur 2015) is set in 1708 Dayan, a frontier Chinese town on the Tibetan border. Li Du is an exiled imperial librarian who has been traveling at a relaxed pace for the last three years. He is surprised to find Dayan bustling with travelers, soldiers, and merchants. While presenting his travel documents to Magistrate Tulishen, a distant cousin, Li Du learns that the Emperor is expected in a week to awe the local populace by commanding a complete solar eclipse. Li Du plans to leave early the next day, avoiding any chance of meeting the man who sent him to exile. Sir Nicolas Gray, a representative of the East India Company, has also just arrived, taking advantage of the limited permission for foreigners to enter the border town, and bearing fabulous presents for the Emperor in hopes of convincing him to permit the Company to enter Beijing. Only the Jesuits are permitted entry to the Forbidden City, having earned that privilege by demonstrating their prowess with astronomical predictions and enabling the Emperor to appear to command the heavens. An elderly Jesuit priest trained in astronomy, Pieter van Dalen, is already in residence, having traveled from India in the company of Hamza, a storyteller from Arabia. Learning that Li Du speaks Latin, Tulishen coerces him into staying for a few days to act as translator. Lady Chen, Tulishen’s local consort, orchestrates a fabulous banquet, and Li Du watches from the sidelines, observing the comings and goings. Immediately after the banquet Brother Pieter is found dead in his guest chamber, presumably of natural causes, but Li Du discovers a pouch of tea leaves coated with poison. Though Magistrate Tulishen would prefer to blame the death on Tibetan bandits, Li Du is convinced that the murderer is part of the Magistrate’s household. The humble and observant librarian is an effective sleuth, capable of eliciting confidences from a wide variety of witnesses and suspects. This engrossing debut historical mystery ends with the possibility of a sequel featuring the likable Li Du and imaginative Hamza.

The Flicker MenTed Kosmatka
The Flicker Men (Henry Holt 2015) is the story of Eric Argus, a quantum physicist whose early success brought him fame and unbalanced his mind. Though warned by his disturbed mother to avoid alcohol at all costs, Eric teeters on the edge of drunkenness and suicide each day. An old friend gets him a job at Hansen Research, with four month probationary period to come up with a research topic with enough scientific merit to earn permanent employment. Eric refuses to return to the research that drove him mad, and spends his days helping other researchers, unpacking spare equipment that arrives at Hansen for storage, and struggling not to kill himself with his father’s .357 Ruger. Then one day a box arrives containing a thermionic gun and detector inspiring him to replicate Feynman’s double-slit experiment that illustrated the essential mystery of quantum mechanics, the apparent ability of a system to exhibit mutually contradictory properties. Working to replicate Feynman’s experiment brings Eric the first peace he has had in years, though he knows it won’t satisfy the criteria for permanent employment. The slit experiment works, proving that unless a conscious observer make an assessment of the detector results the results are indeterminate. The number of days Eric manages not to drink increases, and others in the lab are caught up in his investigation, discovering that the amphibians one is studying do not have the same effect as a human observer. Tests with birds, mice, and dogs give the same non-effect. Suddenly the paradoxical double-slit experiment is big news with far-reaching implications that endanger Eric, his scientist friends, and the entire world. Quantum physics comes brilliantly to life in this gripping speculative thriller.

Pretty BabyMary Kubica
Pretty Baby (MIRA 2015) begins when Heidi Wood spots a teenage girl on the Chicago train platform in the pouring rain, a vintage leather suitcase at her feet and an infant shielded by a too-large and too-thin coat. Heidi continues on to her job as a social worker, but can’t get the image of the drenched girl and the baby out of her mind. Heidi’s husband Chris, a workaholic investment banker, is often on the road, and their 12-year-old daughter Zoe has entered a reclusive and moody phase. Heidi had always planned on a large family, but an emergency hysterectomy when Zoe was a baby left them a one-child family. A few days later Heidi approaches the apparently homeless girl, and offers to buy her dinner. The baby is crying non-stop, and Heidi gives the girl money for formula and a card with her address after the girl refuses to be taken to a shelter. Heidi’s husband and daughter are used to her need to take care of others, putting up with adopted stray cats and endless stories about her social work cases. But when Heidi invites Willow and baby Ruby to stay overnight, Chris is concerned that the girl may be a runaway who should be turned over to the police or may even be a danger to his family. While bathing the baby, Heidi discovers that little Ruby is covered with diaper rash and running a fever. Even more disturbing are the blood stains on Willow’s undershirt, which Heidi drops down the trash chute with the dirty diaper. Determined to nurse Ruby back to health, Heidi warns Zoe to keep their visitor a secret as Chris departs for yet another business trip. Alternate chapters from the perspectives of the three main characters document Chris’s growing conviction that there is something off with Willow, Heidi’s growing obsession with the baby, and Willow’s appalling childhood growing up in foster care.

Inspector of the DeadDavid Morrell
Inspector of the Dead (Mulholland Books 2015) finds Thomas De Quincey, author of Confessions of an Opium Eater, and his irrepressible daughter Emily, attending church with Scotland Yard Inspector Sean Ryan and Detective Sergeant Joseph Becker when the congregation is startled by the screams of Reverend Samuel Hardesty. Lady Cosgrove, an elderly woman who arrived wearing full mourning dress just before the service started, accepted a black-bordered envelope from the man who escorted her to her pew. Though alone in the curtained pew, the blood pouring out from under the door to her pew alerted the vicar that Lady Cosgrove’s throat has been slit, a seemingly impossible crime. The black envelope contains the words “Young England,” a group responsible for an attempt on Queen Victoria’s life 15 years earlier. Rushing to the Crosgrove mansion, a note with the words “Edward Oxford,” the man arrested for the shooting attempt, is found with Lord Crosgrove’s mutilated body. Lord Palmerston, who had hoped De Quincy and Emily would return to Scotland, is horrified to discover that De Quincy is determined to remain in England and involve himself in the murder investigation. It’s 1855, and the British government has just collapsed because of the mismanagement of the Crimean War, leaving Queen Victoria with cabinet members with no authority to carry out their duties. Invited to the palace for dinner, Emily causes a stir with her Bloomer costume, and De Quincey impresses the monarch with his observations about the crime despite the obvious symptoms of his laudanum addiction. This excellent historical thriller, deftly merging fact and fiction, is the second in the De Quincey series.

Girl Waits with GunAmy Stewart
Girl Waits with Gun (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2015) is the story of Constance Kopp, a thirty-five year old spinster living on a farm outside Paterson, New Jersey, with her two younger sisters in 1914. Constance has no interest in marriage or domestic graces, and began training for both a nurse and a lawyer before her over-protective mother discouraged her. When their mother died, Constance and her sister Norma took over the running of the farm that has been their home for the last 15 years, and the care of their 14-year old sister Fleurette, who has been home-schooled her entire life. One summer day the three sisters are driving in their buggy to Paterson to do some shopping when a speeding automobile broadsides the buggy, nearly destroying it and trapping Fleurette underneath. The exceedingly well-dressed driver of the motor car and his unkempt companions attempt to flee the scene, but Constance, who is close to six feet tall, corners the dapper little driver and demands restitution for the damage. Trapped, he gives his name as Henry Kaufman of Kaufman Silk Dyeing Company. Norma, who is content raising carrier pigeons and training them to carry important messages, practicing with headlines cut from the newspaper like “Man’s Trousers Cause Death,” advises Constance that it isn’t a good idea to antagonize Mr. Kaufman and his gang of ruffians. But when her two letters requesting $50 to repair the buggy go unanswered, Constance corners Henry in is office and declares her intention of taking the matter to the police. Soon bricks with threats against the sisters in general and pretty little Fleurette in particular shatter the windows of their isolated farm house, and the sheriff teaches Constance and Norma to fire pistols. This absorbing historical is based on the real Constance Kopp, the first female deputy sheriff in New Jersey.

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December 1, 2015

The Dinosaur FeatherSissel-Jo (S.J.) Gazan
The Dinosaur Feather (Quercus 2011, Denmark 2009) centers on Anna Bella Nor, a mere two weeks away from defending her thesis on the saurian origin of birds at the University in Copenhagen. The single mother of a three-year-old daughter, Anna Bella reluctantly relies on her emotionally distant mother for child care as she works around the clock to prepare for her examination. When Dr. Lars Helland, her academic supervisor, is found dead with a copy of her thesis drenched in blood, Anna Bella can barely summon a smidgen of grief. Though respected for his research, Helland had little interest in Anna Bella or her work, and the fear that the police investigation may keep her from earning her PhD far outweighs her concern for his family. Police Superintendent Søren Marhauge is startled by Anna’s anger and resentment, but needs her help to navigate the intrigue among the scientists at the university. Dr. Tybjerg, a vertebrate morphologist who specializes in the evolution of birds, manages the Vertebrate Collection at the Natural History Museum. Dr. Clive Freeman, professor of Paleo-ornithology at the University of British Columbia, is the main opponent to the prevailing theory that modern birds are living dinosaurs. Helland and Tybjerg authored papers together countering Freeman’s position, which became even more entrenched when the first feathered dinosaur fossils were discovered in China. Tybjerg is Anna Bella’s external supervisor, and though considered strange and anti-social by most people, he provides Anna with the support and encouragement she needs. When Helland’s death is ruled suspicious, Tybjerg vanishes into the depths of the museum, refusing to speak to the police, and Anna fears he may not emerge even for her examination. The news that Freeman is in Copenhagen for the 27th Annual Bird Symposium adds another suspect to Marhauge’s list. This intricate debut biological science thriller features complex characters struggling to make sense of their lives while dealing with the traumas of the past.

Vanishing GamesRoger Hobbs
Vanishing Games (Knopf 2015) begins when three experienced pirates attack a small smuggling yacht in the South China Sea. Their prize is a bag of uncut sapphires worth millions of dollars, but the discovery of an unexpected and extremely valuable additional cargo by Sabo, one of the pirates, changes everything. Sabo reports to his boss Angela, the mastermind who set up the heist, that he is the only one who survived the hit, and hides the secret treasure. Angela doesn’t realize how badly things have gone wrong until Sabo doesn’t appear at the scheduled meeting, and instead she receives a threat demanding the return of a treasure she doesn’t know anything about. For the first time in six years she contacts her former protégé Jack, also known as the Ghostman for his talent of escaping notice by fading into the background. Like Angela, Jack has no fingerprints and leaves no evidence of his presence behind. Jack has been missing Angela since she disappeared in the chaos following a botched job, and he heads off immediately to meet her in Macau. Together they try to figure out what the mysterious treasure is and track it down before a hit man and a crime boss locate Angela to extract vengeance. This fast-paced and often violent second in the series to feature the talented pair of professional thieves is riveting.

The SwedeRobert Karjel
The Swede (Harper 2015, Sweden 2010) introduces Ernst Grip, an agent of the Swedish security police assigned to the Swedish royal family. Unexpectedly summoned to the United States, he is escorted by FBI agent Shauna Friedman to Diego Garcia, an American military base in the Indian Ocean. There he is introduced to a prisoner known only as “N,” a suspect in an Islamist terrorist attack in Topeka who may be Swedish. N, who has been tortured by the CIA, has refused to talk since his capture. Grip insists that the air conditioning be turned back on in the prisoner’s sweltering cell, and arranges for an assortment of foreign language newspapers to be left in his cell each morning. When N is observed reading a Swedish daily, Grip knows he is finally ready to talk. Interspersed chapters fill in the backstory of N, who woke up after the 2004 Thailand tsunami in a hospital bed with only a confused memory of his past. N was given an unfamiliar backback containing a Swedish passport with a photograph bearing a faint resemblance to his own face. Leaving the hospital, N ended up at Weejay’s Family Hotel and Bar where he met a Czech hit man, an American arms dealer, an eccentric nurse from Kansas, and a naïve Pakistani. The group bonded through their mutual hatred for Charles-Ray Turnbull, an American religious fanatic interpreting the destruction of the tsunami as God’s divine punishment for the sexual deviates and non-Christians of Thailand. All five are officially missing, and the group realizes that this is a unique opportunity to disappear and leave their previous lives behind. Grip’s own double life, which began in 2004 in New York City, casts a dangerous shadow over his mysterious special assignment to the United States. This complex debut thriller is the first in a planned series.

The Secret Life of Anna BlancJennifer Kincheloe
The Secret Life of Anna Blanc (Seventh Street Books 2015) is set in 1907 Los Angeles. Two whole years after her coming out, Anna Blanc is not yet engaged or married since no suitors can possibly meet her domineering father’s expectations. Bored with endless days of shopping and polite social conversation, Anna longs to become a detective like those described in the crime novels she hides behind the covers of proper reading for young ladies. Desperate for freedom, Anna attempts to elope with an unsuitable young man, but is discovered and brought back home before they can exchange more than a chaste kiss. Her father immediately arranges for a full-time chaperone and lines up an acceptable though distant bridegroom. A chance encounter during a suffragette march prompts Anna to bribe her chaperone so that she can take a job as an assistant police matron with the Los Angeles Police Department, pretending to be a married woman whose husband is overseas. On her first day on the job, Anna is sent to transport the child of a brothel girl to the orphanage. Though not exactly sure what happens in a brothel, Anna knows that ladies are not supposed to visit and has no idea what one looks like, but armed with her new knowledge that brothels keep their drapes drawn even in the day, Anna finds Canary Cottage. There she learns that brothel girls are being murdered, and the frightened women are convinced the police aren’t investigating, instead identifying the murders as suicides. With the help of her new friend Joe Singer, the police chief’s son, Anna sets out to track down the brothel killer. Joe’s accidental touch, through a mere seven layers of clothing, arouses a tingling in Anna’s nether regions that causes her to doubt that the arranged marriage is really what she wants from life. This funny debut mystery is the first in a series.

Killing TrailMargaret Mizushima
Killing Trail (Crooked Lane Books 2015) introduces Officer Mattie Cobb and her new partner, a German Shepherd named Robo. A lifelong resident of the Colorado small town, Mattie’s childhood in foster care has left her hesitant to make friendships, but earning the job of Timber Creek’s first K-9 handler has been good for her. Robo’s unconditional adoration for his handler and passion for the work they do together helps Mattie develop more confidence in her own abilities. Responding to a call from a US Forest Service agent who heard shots after seeing a pickup truck and dog trailer belonging to Mike Chadron earlier that day, Mattie and Robo search the area, and Robo discovers a wounded Bernese mountain dog guarding the dead body of a teen-aged girl. While the crime scene technicians work on the site, Mattie takes the dog to Cole Walker, the local veterinarian, who recognizes it as Belle, the constant companion of Grace Hartman, a friend of Cole’s daughter. Cole decides to keep Belle under observation overnight before operating to remove the bullet in her leg, and she falls sick with diarrhea, expelling small plastic balloons containing a white powder. Chadron was the breeder who sold Belle to the Hartmans, and Mattie suspects that the girl may have stumbled into a scheme to use Chadron’s dogs as drug mules. As the investigation continues, Mattie learns to respect Robo’s instincts, suppressing her own inclination to take total control as they are working together. An attraction to the newly-divorced Cole surprises Mattie, and she struggles to overcome her instinctive mistrust of offers of friendship. This debut mystery presents a realistic view of the working of a K-9 team and dangles plenty of loose ends about Mattie’s past to explore in future books in the series.

Mr Campions FoxMike Ripley
Mr. Campion’s Fox (Severn House 2015) begins when the Danish ambassador asks Albert Campion to check out Frank Tate, the man his 18-year-old daughter Vibeke has been dating during the family’s residence in London. Lady Amanda insists that Campion is far too old to be tailing young men in Soho, so Campion gives the task of watching Tate to their son Rupert, who discovers that Tate visits a lot of pubs during the week. On the weekend, Tate travels to Gapton on his motorbike to visit Vibeke, who is working as an au pair for the Sandyman family of Sandyman’s Seaside Brewery fame. During one weekend visit, Tate’s murdered body is discovered after an afternoon out with Vibeke, who has vanished completely. The ambassador wants to keep Vibeke’s name out of the paper, so Rupert, who went to school with Torquil Sandyman, is sent with his actress wife Perdida to stay with the Sandymans and help the local police. Perdita is immediately dragooned by Torquil’s wife Victoria into taking over the care of the children, twin pre-school boys and a baby girl. Meanwhile, Rupert questions Hyacinth and Marigold Mister, the formidable elderly sisters who discovered the body, drive the brewery dray horses, and perform the daily beer tastings to monitor the brews. When days pass with no sign of Vibeke, Campion and Lady Amanda join the investigation in Gapton while Lugg, looking like an enormous bear in his fur cape of office, serves as the Beadle of Brewers’ Hall in London. Set in the 1960s, this continuation of the Margery Allingham series is pitch perfect.

The Fifth HeartDan Simmons
The Fifth Heart (Little, Brown and Company 2015) begins in 1893 on the promontory near the Pont Neuf Bridge in Paris. Henry James, stroking the ivory snuffbox containing a few pinches of his beloved sister’s ashes, is about to throw himself into the dark water of the Seine when interrupted by another man there on the same grim task. Sherlock Holmes, believed dead after his plunge from Reichenbach Falls, is convinced he is either a fictional character, with no future to look forward to, or a man suffering from delusions who doesn’t deserve to live. Holmes confesses that there are huge gaps in his memory, perhaps because of his habit of injecting cocaine, but more likely because he is only a figment of an author’s imagination. The pair postpone their suicides, and Holmes convinces James to return with him to Washington DC to solve the mystery of the 1885 death of Clover Adams, the wife of Henry Adams. Clover died from drinking a caustic chemical used in her photography studio, but her brother was convinced she would not have killed herself. John Hay and his wife Clara, along with Clarence King, joined Henry and Clover Adams every day for tea, calling themselves the Five of Hearts. Since Clover’s death, a card embossed with five hearts has been sent to Cover’s friends each year on the anniversary of her death. While investigating Clover’s death, Holmes is introduced to notables including Samuel Clemens, Teddy Roosevelt, Rudyard Kipling, and Henry Cabot Lodge. Determined to cure himself of his cocaine dependence, Holmes has switched to morphine, believed to be less-harmful, and then to the new wonder drug developed by Bayer, named heroin after its heroic qualities of being side-effect-free and non habit-forming. James wonders if it is the new drug that causes Homes to believe that Clover’s death was planned by his nemesis Irene Adler with the help of her sniper son, who may be planning to kill President Cleveland when he flicks the switch to illuminate the White City at the Columbian Exhibition in Chicago. Both James and Holmes reveal new facets of their complex personalities in this imaginative literary thriller.

dragonfishVu Tran
Dragonfish (W.W. Norton 2015) is the story of Robert Ruen, an Oakland cop who can’t forget his ex-wife Suzy, a troubled Vietnamese woman whose real name is Hong Thi Pham. Suzy, who often wandered around the night streets in her bare feet and nightgown, probably suffered from acute depression but rarely took her medications. After leaving Robert two years earlier, Suzy moved to Las Vegas and married Sonny Van Nguyen, a Vietnamese smuggler and gambler. When Suzy’s best friend Happy tells Robert that Sonny threw Suzy down a flight of stairs and broke her arm, he heads to Las Vegas with a vague idea of teaching Sonny a lesson, instead falling afoul of Junior, Sonny’s sadistic son who breaks his fingers and sends him back to Las Vegas. After Suzy goes missing a few months later, Junior’s goons bring Robert back to Las Vegas, blackmailing him into tracking down Suzy and returning her to her husband. Interspersed with Robert’s search for Suzy are diary entries detailing her flight by boat from war-torn Vietnam to a Malaysian refugee camp, the same camp that Sonny and his young son Junior inhabited. As Robert sorts through the tangled lies that Suzy has woven around her past, he discovers a packet of secret letters to the daughter she abandoned, revealing far more about Suzy than Robert ever learned during their years of marriage. This haunting debut thriller examines the long-reaching effect of past decisions and actions.

In Bitter ChillSarah Ward
In Bitter Chill (Minotaur 2015) is set in a small town of Bampton in the Derbyshire Peak District in England. In January 1978, two eight-year-old schoolgirls were kidnapped while walking to school. Rachel Jones was discovered wandering alone near the road later that afternoon, but Sophie Jenkins was never found. Rachel, who had been drugged with chloroform, remembered a woman asking them to drop a letter in the postbox and then offering the girls a ride to school. When the woman turned the wrong direction, Sophie began screaming, and Rachel has no memory of what happened next. The apparent suicide of Sophie’s mother Yvonne Jenkins 36 years later, causes Detective Inspector Frances Sadler and Detective Constable Connie Childs to look back at the cold case, hoping that modern techniques will uncover a lead the original investigation missed. Rachel Jones still lives in Bampton, now working as a family genealogist. Sadler and Connie are struck by the fact that both Sophie and Rachel were being raised by single mothers, an unusual occurrence in 1978. Hoping to discover which of the two girls was the target, they begin researching both families, searching for a male relative that might have been working with the woman driving the car. When a teacher at the school the two girls attended is found strangled, the police believe that the two deaths are connected to the long ago kidnapping. Rachel also starts examining her own past more closely, hoping that something may reawaken a buried memory from the day Sophie disappeared and lead the police to the kidnappers. This atmospheric debut mystery is the first in a planned series.

The Gates of EvangelineHester Young
The Gates of Evangeline (Putnam 2015) is the story of Charlie (Charlotte) Cates, a New York journalist whose young son has just died. Consumed with grief, Charlie finds it hard to concentrate on her job as managing editor for Sophisticate, a magazine aimed at successful urban women. Her neighbor coaxes her out of the house to attend the dance recital of her son’s best friend Zoey, and Charlie is startled by a vision of Zoey covered in dark fabric and screaming in pain. An accident with the stage curtain that results in a broken ankle for Zoey makes Charlie more receptive to her next vision, a frightened young boy in a boat. Charlie’s old boss at Cold Crimes offers her a book contract for his new project highlighting a high-profile unsolved crime for each decade. Charlie is offered the Deveau kidnapping, the disappearance of three-year old Gabriel Deveau from his locked bedroom in Evangeline, the family mansion in Louisiana. The Deveau family hoped to find someone to write a history of their family, and agreed to talk about the kidnapping as well. Charlie is given an old slave cabin on the estate and access to the family records as long as she agrees to pretend to Hettie, Gabriel’s mother who is dying of cancer, that she is writing a book about old plantation estates. The three older Deveau children, who were in their late teens when Gabriel was kidnapped, don’t have much new information to add. Noah Palmer, a landscape architect hired by Hettie to restore the estate gardens, was raised by Gabriel’s nanny and has only vague memories of his early childhood on the estate. The little evidence there is points to an inside connection, and Charlie looks carefully at everyone’s alibis from decades earlier. This haunting Southern Gothic debut mystery is the first in a trilogy.

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