SYKM


2019 Reviews
February 1, 2019

November RoadLou Berney
November Road (William Morrow 2018) is set in November 1963. Frank Guidry, a valued lieutenant to powerful New Orleans mob boss Carlos Marcello, is sent to Houston to dispose of a get-away car with a rifle in the trunk. After reporting that the Eldorado is safely at the bottom of the sea, an out-of-character question about the name of his hotel by Marcello’s assistant Seraphine alerts Guidry to the fact that he may know too much about the assassination of President Kennedy to stay alive. Guidry buys a used car and hits the road, heading for Las Vegas. Meanwhile in the small town of Woodrow, Oklahoma, Charlotte hand-tints photographic portraits and dreams of becoming a real photographer. The news of Kennedy’s assassination shakes her out of her acceptance her boring life, and she leaves her amiable alcoholic husband, heading for Los Angeles with her two young daughters and their epileptic dog. When Charlotte’s car breaks down in New Mexico, she meets Guidry, who offers them a ride west, hoping that traveling as a family man will throw Marcello off his trail. Guidry takes his attraction to the beautiful Charlotte in stride, but is unbalanced by his growing affection for her daughters, beginning to imagine what it might be like to start a new life with a family. Meanwhile Barone, a hitman for Marcello, is tracking Guidry’s progress across the country, eliminating witnesses along the way. This suspenseful thriller featuring two emotionally complex characters is a finalist for the Barry and Lefty Awards for Best Novel.

Four funerals and Maybe a WeddingRhys Bowen
Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding (Berkley 2018) begins in the summer of 1935 as Lady Georgiana Rannoch plans her long-anticipated wedding to the Honorable Darcy O’Mara. An act of parliament has approved Georgiana’s renouncement of her place in the line of succession for the English throne, allowing her to marry a Catholic. She and Darcy hope for a quiet wedding, but the Queen declares her intention of attending with the King, and suggests that princesses Elizabeth and Margaret would be delighted to serve as bridesmaids. With the wedding quickly growing out of their control, Darcy and Georgiana begin house-hunting in London, discovering that his meager salary and her lack of fortune qualify them only for dark and uncomfortable flats. A letter from her godfather Sir Hubert Anstruther offering his house in Sussex saves the day. Sir Hubert made Georgiana his heir after his marriage to her mother fell apart, and spends most of his time climbing mountains around the world. Giving her and Darcy one wing of Eynsleigh instead of leaving it empty for months at a time will make his travels less stressful. Darcy disappears on one of his mysterious assignments, so Georgiana heads to Eynsleigh alone, looking forward to seeing the butler and housekeeper she remembers fondly. But Plunkett, the new butler, is not at all happy to see her. He explains the old butler has died and the housekeeper and head gardener have both retired. The new Irish footman and shy kitchen maid are friendly, but the maid is surly, the Spanish cook can’t prepare English food, and the two gardeners don’t seem to be doing any work. Plunkett tries to convince Georgiana to go back to London, but she is determined to get the house ready to be their home. Plunkett refuses to unlock the door into the other wing of the house, and Georgiana is frightened by strange noises in the night. Luckily her mother arrives to stay after Max von Strohheim, a German industrialist, postpones their own marriage. Georgiana is relieved her mother won’t be going to live with the Nazis, and welcomes a confidant in the unwelcoming house. This amusing 12th in the series is a finalist for the 2019 Lefty Award for Best Historical Mystery.

The Momeny Before DyingJames Brydon
The Moment Before Drowning (Akashic Books 2018) is set in 1959 Sainte-Élisabeth in Brittany. Capitaine Jacques le Garrec has just returned home from Algeria in disgrace, accused of committing a brutal crime while interrogating Algerian insurgents for the French army intelligence services. Le Garrec is a former hero of the French Resistance who served as a police detective in Paris. His old friend Erwann Olbydlivier asks le Garrec to look into the death of Anne-Lise Aurigny, one of his high school students whose mutilated body was found displayed on the heathland the previous winter. Anne-Lise was the daughter of a Nazi collaborator brutalized by the town after the Germans left, and Captaine Lafourgue of the local police spent only a few days investigating her murder. Le Garrec agrees to look into the cold case, and begins to trace Anne-Lise’s last months. The mutilation and the way the body was arranged in the open convince le Garrec that she was killed by someone with a personal connection, and his questions reawaken uncomfortable memories of the war. Le Garrec is haunted by the horrors he witnessed in the interrogation chambers at al-Mazra’a, especially the torture of 19-year-old Amira Khadra. Lafourgue’s conviction that police work depends on exercising power and spreading terror echoes the perspective of his commander in Algeria, sending le Garrec deeper into depression as the merciless killings of the two young women intermingle in his mind. This intense debut thriller explores the long-reaching debilitating effects of the atrocities of war.

Broken PlacesTracy Clark
Broken Places (Kensington 2018) introduces Cass Raines, a young African-American Chicago police detective who left the force after the incompetent actions of fellow officer James Farraday forced her to shoot and kill the armed teenager she had nearly taking into lowering his weapon. Two years later Cass is working as a private detective, taking just enough work to pay the bills and enjoying her weekly chess game with Father Ray “Pop” Heaton, who helped her grandparents raise her after her father left the family following her mother’s death. Pop asks Cass to investigate some recent vandalism of the church, telling her he thinks someone is following him. Cass compiles a list of those who are angry with him, but knows it’s not complete since Pop continually challenges neighborhood slumlords, drug dealers, shopkeepers selling alcohol to minors, the custodian at the parish school, and his own parishioners upset about welcoming the homeless. Entering the church the next morning, Cass discovers Pop’s body along with that of Cesar Luna, a young gang member. Cass’s former partner Ben Mickerson is one of the first to arrive, but Farraday is the lead detective, only too willing to quickly close the case with a ruling of accidental shooting of the intruder by Pop followed by suicide. Cass knows Pop would never kill himself or anyone else, and begins the slow process of tracking down the names on her list, investigating alibis and searching for motives for murder. Even more difficult is getting Cesar’s family and fellow gang members to talk to her about why he might have visited the church late at night. This engrossing debut thriller, a finalist for the 2019 Lefty Award for Best Debut Mystery, is the first in a series featuring the dedicated and empathetic Cass fighting for justice in her impoverished Chicago neighborhood.

The Woman in the WindowA.J. Finn
The Woman in the Window (William Morrow 2018) is narrated by Anna Fox, a child psychologist suffering from agoraphobia so extreme she cannot set food outside her house without suffering a debilitating panic attack. Anna lives alone in a multi-story Harlem house, renting the basement flat to a handyman who helps with occasional repairs in the old building. She speaks to her estranged husband and young daughter briefly on the phone each day, and her psychiatrist visits once a week, adjusting her various medications (beta-blockers, anti-depressants, sleeping aids, etc.) while trying to coax her a few steps into the back garden under the protection of an umbrella. None of her medications are to be taken with alcohol, but Anna begins each morning with a glass of Merlot and drinks steadily throughout the day, trying to numb her constant anxiety. She plays online chess, participates in a chat room for agoraphobics, and watches her neighbors through the many windows of her home, zooming in for close up details with her Nikon. A new family moves in next door and Jane researches them online: Alistair and Jane Russell paid $3.4 million and came from Boston. A few days later the teenage son Ethan visits with a gift from his mother and Anna lends him some DVDs of the black and white movies she loves. On Halloween night Anna’s house is egged, propelling her onto her front porch where she collapses. Jane helps her back inside and joins her for a glass of wine. A few days later Anna hears a scream from next door and fears that Ethan is being brutalized by his father, but he insists he is fine. When she sees Jane being stabbed through the window, Anna calls the police, but since she is clearly under the influence of alcohol, the police don’t believe her story. Alistair appears with a woman she has never seen before, insisting she is his wife Jane, and Anna begins to doubt her own sanity. She retreats even further into isolation, hears strange sounds inside the house at night, and begins to consider suicide. This intense debut psychological thriller, a finalist for the 2019 Lefty Award for Best Debut Mystery, has been optioned as a motion picture.

Evil ThingsKatja Ivar
Evil Things (Bitter Lemon Press 2019) is set in 1952 Finland. Hella Mauzer, the first female inspector in the Helsinki Homicide Unit has been reassigned to Lapland after been deemed “too emotional” during an investigation of the brutal murder of a woman and three of her four young children. Before the war women were only allowed to be polissyster, comforting and questioning women and children, and Chief Inspector Eklund of the Ivar police department believes Hella should have stayed in that role while looking for a husband instead of qualifying to be a full police officer. Irja Waltari, the wife of the priest in the remote village of Käärmela near the border with Soviet Russia, writes to the Ivar police department to report the disappearance of Erno Jokinen, who left his young grandson Kalle alone in their isolated cabin. Eklund believes the old man became lost in the forest, but Hella is sure that Jokinen, who was born in the forest, is the victim of a crime. Eklund reluctantly gives Hella permission to use a few days off to investigate. The traumatized Kalle refuses to speak about the day his grandfather left, and is clearly terrified. He eventually admits that his grandfather went into the woods to fight the evil “white things,” instructing Kalle not to follow him. Hella questions Jokinen’s nearest neighbor Jeremias Karppinen, who tried to take possession of Jokinen’s house, but he insists Jokinen had no recent visitors. When the search party discovers an arm, it is assumed to be Jokinen until Hella washes away the mud to discover polished nails on the delicate hand, and insists on anther search, eventually discovering a rib cage and part of the head of a middle aged woman. Hella has already discovered that technical support in Lapland is nearly non-existent,on but carefully preserves the remnants of a glass vial crushed between the woman’s teeth. Eklund orders Hella to give up the investigation and return to Ivar, but Hella is determined to find the truth. This intense debut historical thriller is the first in a planned trilogy.

Island of the MadLaurie R. King
Island of the Mad (Bantam 2018) begins in 1922 when Mary Russell gets a call from Ronnie Fitzwarren, a friend from Oxford whose aunt Vivian Beaconsfield has disappeared. Lady Vivian was granted a week’s leave from Bethlem Royal Hospital, known as Bedlam, in charge of Nurse Trevisan to celebrate her half-brother Edward, Lord Selwick’s 50th birthday. Edward was not Lady Vivian’s favorite person; in fact the handful of violent acts that put her into the mental asylum were directed at him. When Mary visits to inquire about Lady Vivian’s demeanor during the birthday celebration she understands why. Lord Selwick is controlling, has no respect for women, and is an ardent fan of Benito Mussolini. In Lady Vivian’s room Mary discovers a shelf of sketchbooks filled with loving portraits of Ronnie and her father Tommy, who died in the war, along with elegant sketches of her travels in Paris, Florence, and Venice. Lady Vivian’s mother’s jewels are also missing, and their loss seems to concern Lord Selwick far more than what might have happened to Lady Vivian and the nurse. Mary decides to begin her search in Venice, which occupied more sketchbook pages than any other location, and Mycroft asks Sherlock Holmes to tag along and report back on the Fascists. In Venice Mary makes connections with the chic set on the Lido, suspecting Lady Vivian may be of the Sapphic persuasion. Holmes poses as in itinerant violinist and scrapes up an acquaintance with Cole Porter, whose wild parties cater to Venetian aristocrats and Fascist officers. Catching a glimpse of someone who looks a lot like Lord Selwick, Mary fears that he may also be searching for Lady Vivian, though not with kind thoughts in mind. This fascinating 16th in the series is a finalist for the 2019 Lefty Award for Best Historical Mystery.

You’re DeadChris Knopf
You’re Dead (Permanent Press 2018) begins when Dr. Waters returns home to find the severed head of Paresh Rajput in his guest bedroom. The CEO of ExiteAble Technologies, a Connecticut hi-tech aerospace company, Paresh became a close friend after hiring Waters as the company psychologist, responsible for increasing productivity and removing personalities at odds with the company need for teamwork. Diagnosed as autistic as a child, Waters was trained by his older brother to observe and analyze facial and other physical cues in order to respond appropriately and avoid being placed into an institution by their stepfather. He capitalized on his knowledge of human nature by becoming an unbeatable poker player and a psychologist. The police ask Waters for names of possible enemies or anyone with a grudge, but the list is short since the talented Paresh was well-liked and the company relied on his creativity. Arriving at his office the next day, Waters meets with Paresh’s widow Megan to work out a plan of action, vowing to help her keep the company going. When he answers the office phone Waters hears a robotic voice declaring “You’re Dead.” When the police discover a statement from the mortgage company showing that his mortgage was paid in full the day Paresh died, Waters becomes the prime suspect. Determined to protect the company Paresh worked so hard to build, Waters begins closely observing the other employees and investigating a potential buyer pressuring Megan to sell. Learning that someone planted evidence of fraud in one of the company’s government contracts sends Waters deeper into the company history while trying to stay one step ahead of whoever is targeting him as the next victim. This intense psychological thriller is riveting.

Under a Dark SkyLori Rader-Day
Under a Dark Sky (William Morrow 2018) begins a year after Eden Wallace’s husband Bix died in a car accident. Ever since his death, Eden has suffered extreme night terrors, unable to venture outside in the dark and sleeping with the lights blazing all night. While sorting through Bix’s paperwork, Eden finds a reservation for a weekend in a guest house at the Straits Point International Dark Sky Park in Michigan, and impulsively decides to take advantage of his last surprise gift to her for their tenth wedding anniversary. On arrival she discovers that Bix booked the guest house suite in a house. The other three bedrooms are being shared by a group friends who met in college five years earlier: Paris, Dev, Sam, Martha, and Malloy, plus Malloy’s new girlfriend Hillary. Neither Eden nor the group of friends are happy with the shared living situation, but Eden decides to stay the night since she can’t drive home in the dark. Sam has arrived with a case of wine, but no one can locate the wine opener so a large screwdriver is brought into play. Knowing she won’t visit the sky gazing area that night, Eden takes a walk, and is surprised that the friends follow her rather than spending time together catching up. Retreating to her suite, Eden replaces all the lightbulbs in her room with the high wattage ones she brought, and hangs blankets over the windows to prevent light leak. A scream in the middle of the night startles her from the uneasy sleep which is all she can manage. Mallory has been stabbed to death in the kitchen with the screwdriver. When the police arrive Eden is forced to go out into the dark and has a panic attack, ending up in the emergency room. The police suspect everyone in the guest house, including Eden. The friends unite against Eden at first, but their solidarity doesn’t last long and they begin to turn against each other as well. A finalist for the 2019 Edgar and Lefty Awards, this well-plotted thriller featuring the sleep-deprived yet observant Eden is a clever twist on the traditional country house murder.

The Nowhere ChildChristian White
The Nowhere Child (Minotaur Books 2019; Australia 2018) is the story of Kimberly Leamy, a 30-year-old photography teacher in Melbourne, Australia. One day an American stranger appears and shows her a picture of Sammy Went, a toddler who went missing 28 years earlier from her home in Manson, Kentucky, three days after her second birthday. The stranger tells Kim he believes she is Sammy Went. Kim can’t believe that her loving mother Carol, a social worker who died of cancer four years earlier, had kidnapped her, but the lack of baby pictures in the family album plus a picture of herself as a toddler with an eerie resemblance to the picture of Sammy gives her pause. The stranger reveals that he is Stuart Went, Sammy’s older brother, and that he has been searching for her ever since he was old enough to do research on the Internet. Kim impulsively books a flight to Kentucky, wondering if seeing the town will awaken any memories. Interspersed chapters set in 1990 Manson relate the day of the kidnapping and the investigation that followed. Jack Went had been raised in the Church of the Light Within, a Pentecostal group of poisonous-snake handlers, but it was his wife Molly, who married into the church, who became a devout worshipper. When Sammy went missing, suspicion fell on Travis Eckles, the younger son of a criminal family, whose untrustworthy explanation of his whereabouts that day concealed a furtive affair with Jack, who is unwilling to reveal his homosexuality. After arriving in Mason, Kim is distressed to realize she does not warm to Molly Went, who only seems to care for the Church of the Light Within, but does have glimmerings of memories long forgotten. This intense debut psychological thriller explores the disturbing effects of being raised in a cult-like religion and what it means to be part of a family.

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January 1, 2019

The Night VisitorLucy Atkins
The Night Visitor (Quercus 2018, UK 2017) is the story of Olivia Sweetman, a history professor in London who has entered the world of television to augment the family income. Married with three children, Olivia isn’t comfortable with the onscreen work that is eroding her academic credibility, and is in search of a book topic that would appeal to a wider readership. Olivia owns a farmhouse in Sussex, a gift from her father on the day of her birth. A renowned scientist who studied beetles, Olivia’s father named a fossilized dung beetle he discovered after his daughter. While visiting the farmhouse with her children, a leaflet on her doorstep entices her to the local museum to view a Victorian diary on loan by Lady Catherine Burley of Ileford Manor. Vivian Tester shows her the diary, which contains only eight entries written in 1898 by Lady Annabel Burley, the young second wife of alcoholic Lord Charles Burley. Vivian, who looks after Ileford Manor for Lady Burley, now in a care home with a terminal illness, explains that one of the entries is a murder confession. Olivia is fascinated by the diary and offers to have the diary authenticated at the British Museum. Learning that Annabel went on to become a surgeon after her husband’s death, Olivia is determined to write a biography. Vivian refuses to let Olivia disturb Lady Burley’s last days, and Olivia reluctantly asks the prickly Vivian to serve as her research assistant, sensing that’s the only way she will be given access to the diary. Vivian proves to be an excellent researcher, though often demanding and always difficult. Chapters from Olivia’s present perspective are interwoven with Vivian’s journal entries filling in the past, revealing a complicated relationship that festers and grows toxic in this creepy psychological thriller.

Seances Are for SuckersTamara Berry
Séances Are for Suckers (Kensington 2018) introduces Eleanor Wilde, a pseudo psychic who uses her talent for reading people to rid her clients of resident ghosts and other phantasmagoric plagues. A skeptic herself, Ellie has learned to impress her clients with sudden gusts of wind and sounds, and her ability to tell time by the sun, direction by the stars, and make painkillers out of tree bark. Nicholas Hartford III offers far more than the usual rate she charges for Eleanor’s Cleansing Service to travel to England and purge the ancestral Hartford estate of a ghost named Xavier. Nick is sure someone is taking advantage of his elderly mother Vivian, but can’t identify the culprit himself. Arriving at the eerie and very cold gothic castle, Ellie finds herself lodged in the yellow bedroom, the spot where Xavier manifests most frequently. Also in residence are Nick’s glamorous sister Fern, her crass American boyfriend Cal Whitkin, and Fern’s teenage daughter Rachel. Ellie expects a sumptuous dinner of several courses, but instead the family dines on a watery soup. Thomas, the only servant, explains that Vivian does all the cooking, cultivating eccentricity to compensate for a diminished family fortune and an estate that has been deteriorating for years. Ellie searches every crack and crevice in her yellow bedchamber, but can’t find any evidence of ghost-fakery, not even a secret passage into another room. In the middle of the night she is awakened by thumping and then a bright flash of light, but can’t find any trace of trickery. The next day Ellie installs mini camcorders and other spy gear throughout the castle and then heads to town to research Xavier in the local museum. Xavier himself appears in Ellie’s bedroom that night, but unfortunately all her spy gear has disappeared, leaving her with no clue who is responsible for the ghost. The appearance and disappearance of a dead body raise the stakes in this funny debut mystery and series opener.

Fogland PointDoug Burgess
Fogland Point (Poisoned Pen Press 2018) is set in Little Compton, a tiny isolated spit as far east as you can go in Rhode Island. David Hazzard, just fired from his job as an adjunct history professor at Xavier College after a health screening outs him as transgender, gets a frantic voicemail from his grandmother Maggie about a dead body with blood everywhere. Maggie is in the early stages of dementia, but this is outside the normal range of calls about lost glasses and confusion about what year it is. David tries to reach his grandmother’s best friends: Aunts Emma, Constance, and Irene, but no one picks up so he sets out for Little Compton. His grandmother is fine, though confused about who he is, but Emma is dead on her kitchen floor next door, felled by a cast iron frying pan among the detritus of a collapsed shelf. David isn’t happy with moving back to the town he last visited six years earlier for a disastrous Thanksgiving coming out to his father, but it’s clear his grandmother is no longer capable of living by herself. Over the past year phone scammers have talked her out of over $500,000 of funds belonging to the New England Wrecking and Salvage Company she owns with fellow widows Constance and Irene. Chief of Police Billy Dyer, an old friend of David’s from high school, is convinced Emma’s death was murder, but the state cops decide on a verdict of accidental death. Billy watches the attendees at the funeral carefully, especially Marcus and Alicia Reingold, the extremely wealthy young couple who have just bought the old Armstrong mansion on Fogland Point. At the reading of the will everyone is surprised that Emma leaves her fortune no one knew she had to a daughter no one knew about, along with money for a private detective to track her down. Billy hasn’t forgiven David for not trusting him with the truth about his sexuality when they dated in high school, but enlists his help trying to uncover the truth about Emma’s death. To distract David from his worry about losing his job, the aunts give him a tape recorder to preserve their stories, and Maggie’s erratic memory is stimulated by the telling, producing strange tales mixing past and present and David can’t separate truth from the confusion of dementia. This outstanding debut novel surrounds a compelling mystery with unique and memorable characters.

The FoxFrederick Forsyth
The Fox (G.P. Putnam’s Sons 2018) begins when Sir Adrian Weston, the retired chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service gets a call from the Prime Minister: the Pentagon, NSA, and CIA have been hacked by “The Fox,” whose location has been traced to a small English town. Special Forces invade the home in the middle of the night, finding only a family of four: parents Harold and Sue and their two teenage sons. The attic contains a low-end computer that has been extensively modified, the lair of The Fox, a hacker who invades, does no damage, and retreats without a trace. Luke (18) is severely autistic, and goes into shock, speaking only with his mother’s support. Luke’s parents are horrified to hear of their son’s hacking crimes, and Sue insists that subjecting Luke to a trial will be his death sentence. He is only truly comfortable in his attic lair where nothing ever changes. Luke only speaks to ask for his computer back, and then blurts out that the American systems were flawed and he was trying to help by identifying their weaknesses. When the situation is explained, the Americans reluctantly agree not to press charges in exchange for the British proposal: Luke will sign the Official Secrets Act and be kept in a sealed environment, and the Americans will share any intel he gathers under strict supervision. Luke’s attic is recreated down to the smallest detail in a secret location, and Dr. Jeremy Hendricks of the British National Cyber Security Centre becomes part of the family, working with Luke on “projects” created by Sir Adrian: online attacks on the Russians, Iranians, and North Koreans. The targets soon realize that the British are sheltering a human secret weapon, and do everything in their power to take him out. This upbeat spy thriller seamlessly weaves real world events into a believable fiction.

Sweet Little LiesCaz Frear
Sweet Little Lies (Harper 2018) introduces Cat Kinsella, a 26-year-old detective constable with the Metropolitan Police Force in London. Cat has a fragmented relationship with her sister, and almost no contact with her charismatic but unreliable father, who runs a pub and skates the edges of legality. A few weeks earlier Cat rescued a toddler who had been trapped with her murdered mother for days, dissolving into tears at the scene at the sight of the little girl brushing her mother’s hair and singing. Released by the police psychologist to return to work, Cat and her partner are called to Leamington Square gardens the week before Christmas, where the body of housewife Alice Lapaine has been discovered. Cat is uneasy at the scene since it is close to her father’s pub in the neighborhood where she grew up. Cat hasn’t trusted her father since a visit to her grandmother in Mulderrin, Ireland, 18 years earlier, when teenage Maryanne Doyle went missing, and Cat’s father lied about knowing her. Alice’s husband explains that his wife left home two weeks earlier, a not-uncommon getaway to be on her own for a bit when a round of In Vitro Fertilization was unsuccessful. Cat doesn’t believe the husband’s story of a happy marriage and begins the drudgery of trying to trace Alice’s movements until a phone call from Ireland changes everything: the missing person photograph has been identified as Maryanne Doyle. Cat knows she should remove herself from the investigation, but can’t make herself tell the truth about her family’s involvement. Her suspicion that her father may have killed Maryanne years earlier has been proven false, but what if he had something to do with her murder now? Another witness says Alice/Maryanne visited a small coffee shop several times, and was seen ringing the bell at the gated road to Keeper’s Close, an exclusive group of nine extravagant mansions. No one recognizes the picture, and Cat assumes it was a misidentification until they track Alice to an apartment she was sharing with another woman owned by one of the Keeper’s Close families. This intense debut police procedural is the first in a series featuring the psychologically damaged and empathetic young detective.

Poppy Harmon InvestigatesLee Hollis
Poppy Harmon Investigates (Kensington 2018) begins when 62-year-old Poppy receives the news that her recently deceased husband Chester has left her only debts and a heavily mortgaged house. The sudden fall from comfortable retirement to penniless widow stuns Poppy, and she is at her wits end trying to figure out how she will support herself. Poppy dabbled in acting years earlier — her biggest role the part of secretary to a private eye in a series that lasted three seasons. When her best friends Violet and Iris suggest she market that experience, Poppy misinterprets their advice that she get a secretarial job and decides to become a licensed private investigator. She circumvents the requirement for paid practical experience by convincing Sam Emerson, the private eye who produced the TV show based on his real cases, to sign off on her time helping him plot the show as paid investigative work. With Violet and Iris’s help, Poppy opens the Desert Flowers Detective Agency and eagerly awaits her first case. Unfortunately the prospective client is not impressed with three elderly women and refuses to hire them. Watching her daughter Heather’s boyfriend Matt play the role of a detective gives Poppy a brilliant idea: Matt can play the part of Detective Flowers while Poppy investigates the cases. The next client interview is a success, and Poppy is soon making inquiries about the theft of valuable jewelry from Shirley Fox, an aging actress living at the Palm Leaf Retirement Village. A murder ramps up the suspense in this funny series launch.

Death of a RainmakerLaurie Loewenstein
Death of a Rainmaker (Kaylie Jones Books 2018) is set in 1935 Vermillion, Oklahoma, after a 240-day drought has ruined the crops and driven the town to desperate measures, including hiring itinerant rainmaker Roland Coombs to fire TNT into the sky. The next morning the town is disappointed by another dry day. Sheriff Temple Jennings sets off for the distasteful job of keeping the peace at a foreclosure of a farm while Chester Benton opens the Jewel Movie House, hoping to sell enough movie tickets to pay the rent. Unfortunately a dust storm hits right after the newsreel at the midday matinee, taking out the power and trapping everyone inside for a few hours. Digging out the mounds of dust behind the fire door, Chester finds a body, identified as the rainmaker. Sheriff Temple Jennings and his new deputy Ed McCance, fresh out of the Civilian Conservation Core (CCC), try to track Roland’s final hours, but the dust storm has removed all traces in the alley and the streets are deserted. Temple’s wife Etha, still mourning the death of their young son years earlier, takes a home-cooked meal to the hobo camp outside town, full of pity for the starving men and boys. She is especially taken by Carmine DiNapoli, a teenage CCC worker on his way back to Camp Brisco, who reminds her of her son. Jennings identifies the murder weapon as the handle of an army entrenching tool used by the CCC. The town is only too happy to pin the murder on Carmine, and Vince Doll, owner of the county’s grain elevator, running against Jennings for sheriff, spreads rumors of incompetence and pushes for a quick arrest and conviction. But Etha is convinced Carmine is innocent, and sets out to prove it. The compassion Etha and Jennings feel for their neighbors and for the young vagrants pushed out by families unable to feed them permeates this excellent series opener.

The RuinDervla McTiernan
The Ruin (Penguin 2018) begins in 1993 Kilmore, Ireland, when rookie Garda Cormac Reilly is called to a decaying manor house in response to a domestic disturbance. Maude (15) leads him upstairs to the dead body of her mother Hilaria Blake, stinking of alcohol with a smear of blood in the crook of her elbow. The power is off, Maude and her five-year-old brother Jack look half-starved, and Maude pleads with Cormac to take her brother to the hospital in Castlebar. When Jack is undressed, Cormac is horrified by the bruising on his tiny body. Maude excuses herself to find a bathroom, and vanishes. Twenty years later Cormac has recently transferred to Galway from Dublin, assigned to cold cases while his elite Drug Task Force is assembled, and dealing with the resentment of his local colleagues to an outsider. Jack Blake’s body is found in the river Corrib, ruled a suicide based on a phone call by an anonymous witness. Jack’s girlfriend Aisling Conroy, an ER surgical resident, is too grief stricken to think straight, but Jack’s sister Maude, arriving out of the blue from Australia, pressures the Gardaí to investigate. Jack died on St. Patrick’s Day, and Maude can’t believe no one saw him jump from the bridge crowded with revelers. While Maude and Aisling try to figure out what really happened on Jack’s final day, Cormac is assigned the re-investigation of Hilaria Blake’s death. Since she never left the house, how did she get the heroin that caused the fatal overdose? Cormac becomes consumed by another unanswered question: why were the two neglected and abused children left in the care of an obviously unsuitable mother? This powerful debut thriller is the first in a series.

The Man Who DiedAntti Tuomainen
The Man Who Died (US 2018, Finland 2016) begins when Jaakko Kaunismaa, a 37-year-old entrepreneur in Finland, discovers that he is dying of a fatal poison administered over a period of time. Three years earlier Jaakko, a sales officer, and his wife Taina, an institutional caterer, were made redundant. Looking around for new careers, they settled on moving from Helsinki to the small village of Hamina, starting a business exporting matsutake, pine mushrooms gathered in the forest, to the Japanese willing to pay premium prices. Stunned by the news of his imminent death, Jaakko returns home to find Taina having sex with Petri, a young employee. Reeling from his second shock of the day, Jaakko drives back into town, overwhelmed by the suspicion that his wife and her lover have poisoned him. He impulsively drives to the Hamina Mushroom Company, recently started by three dangerous local lawbreakers determined to negotiate a better rate with the Japanese buyers. No one is there, but Jaakko wanders through the open door to find brand new equipment and machinery, more modern that his own. In the staff room he finds a display of Samurai swords, and carefully pulls one from its mount, admiring the keen edge before replacing it. As he is leaving, the three owners drive in, glaring at him suspiciouturtsly. When the sword and one of the owners go missing, Jaakko is the prime suspect, but he is far more interested in proving to himself that Taina and Petri have killed him. This intense and darkly funny book featuring a man investigating his own murder is highly recommended.

The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn HardcastleStuart Turton
The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (Sourcebooks Landmark 2018) begins when Aiden Bishop wakes up in the woods desperate to save a woman named Anna. Aiden has amnesia, and doesn’t recognize his own hands. Reaching the crumbling mansion of Blackheath, Aiden is greeted as Dr. Sebastian Bell, but the face that looks back at him from the mirror is unfamiliar. Lord Peter and Lady Helena Hardcastle have recreated a party held 19 years earlier, when their youngest son Thomas was murdered. With the pretext of celebrating their daughter Evelyn’s birthday, they have invited the same guest list for a masquerade ball. A mysterious man disguised as a medieval plague doctor in a beaked porcelain mask tells Aiden that Evelyn Hardcastle will be murdered at 11:00 PM. Aiden has eight days to identify her murderer, waking up each day in the body of a different guest. Two others are also in search of the killer; the first to solve the crime will be released from Blackheath and the others are willing to commit murder themselves in order to escape the eight day repeating cycle. If no one solves the crime, everyone’s memories will be wiped and the cycle will begin again. Each of Aiden’s hosts has his own talents and challenges: age, intelligence, physical fitness, mobility. As the days pass, Aiden begins to understand events that puzzled him the first few times he lived the day, and plants notes and clues to help his daily host figure out the motives of the different characters before each night brings Evelyn’s death and Aiden’s new day in a new body the next morning. This intense debut literary thriller is a deft mix of time travel within a Golden Age manor house mystery setting.

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Disclosure: Some of these books were received free from publishers, some were discovered in Left Coast Crime and Bouchercon Book Bags, and many were checked out from our local public library. Our thanks to all who support our passion for reading!


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