SYKM


2020 Reviews
April 1, 2020

The Double MotherMichel Bussi
The Double Mother (World Noir 2020, France 2015) begins in Mangélise, France, when three-year-old Malone Moulin tells school psychologist Vasily Dragonman that his mother is not his real mother. Dragonman checks with the child’s teacher and doctor, who believe Malone just has an over-active imagination, but Dragonman is convinced Malone believes he is telling the truth. Dragonman calls Captain Marianne Augresse, telling her that Malone is clinging to fragments of memory that will soon fade, making it soon impossible to locate the woman he believes is his real mother if his story is true. Marianne is overwhelmed with the hunt for two armed robbers, who left two of their team dead in nearby Deauville before escaping with two million euros worth of luxury goods. Almost 40, Marianne dreams of having a child of her own, and Dragonman’s story intrigues her, especially when he tells her that Malone says his stuffed toy Gouti tells him a story about his previous life every evening in bed. The problem is that Malone’s description of the home he lived in with his real mother include a pirate ship, a castle, and a forest full of ogres, not the best clues to identify a real location. Timo Solor, the robber shot while escaping, is spotted when he tries to consult a doctor, but escapes with the help of his girlfriend, who may be the woman caught on camera carrying away the robbery haul. The police believe the fourth robber, who never removed his mask, is Alexis Zerda, suspected of several previous homicides during armed robberies. Marianne has a young police officer check into the background of the Moulins while the rest of her team focus on finding a connection between the three identified robbers and Zerda. A surprising connection between the two investigations reveals that Malone may be in danger. This complex and engaging mystery is highly recommended.

The GodmotherHannelore Cayre
The Godmother (ECW Press 2019, France 2017) is the story of Patience Portefeux, the daughter of refugee parents — her father from Tunisia and her Jewish mother from Vienna. In France, her parents ran a trucking company that smuggled goods in and out of countries like Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and Azerbaijan. An only child and an odd one, Patience was diagnosed with bimodal synesthesia at a young age, the triggering of one sense by another so that she tastes and feels colors. Her husband skated just inside the law designing national lottery systems, suddenly of a aneurism after seven years of marriage, leaving Patience to bring up her two young daughters alone with few skills other than a doctorate in Arabic. She worked for many years as a court interpreter before landing the easier job of translating phone-taps for drug and organized crime squads. Now 53, Patience can barely cover her daughters’ university fees while supporting her mother in an expensive care facility. Her current assignment is monitoring the phones of the Moroccan Benabdelaziz family, suspected of smuggling drugs in large quantities. As the family chats amongst themselves, Patience is charmed by their closeness and grows fond of them. While visiting her mother in the end-of-life nursing home, Patience witnesses the escape and capture of another elderly patient, and is startled to later hear the Benabdelaziz mother describe the incident to her son. Realizing she must work at the nursing facility, Patience seeks her out and finds Khadija Benabdelaziz even more charming in person. Patience begins to become even more vague in her translations of their conversations, and eventually warns Khadija that a shipment is about to be intercepted. Ending up with the drugs, Patience decides to ensure financial stability for herself and her daughters by selling them herself, becoming known in the drug world as The Godmother. This spirited caper novel, the first by the French screenwriter translated into English, is a finalist for the 2020 Barry Award for Best Paperback Original Mystery/Crime Novel.

Magic for LiarsSarah Gailey
Magic for Liars (Tor Books 2019) begins when California Bay Area private investigator Ivy Gamble is hired by Marion Torres, headmaster of Osthorne Academy for Young Mages. Sylvia Capley, the health and wellness instructor, died five months earlier in the Theoretical Magic section of the library, her body cut in half and spread flat like a gruesome book with a broken spine. The National Mage Investigative Service determined it was a magic experiment gone wrong — a miscast version of a theoretical spell intended to facilitate instantaneous physical translation — but Torres is sure it was murder. Ivy is reluctant to take the case. She has never investigated a murder, and grew to hate all magical things when her twin sister Tabitha demonstrated talent at a young age. Without a smidge of magic herself, Ivy has never forgiven her sister for deserting the family for a private boarding school and then not using her magic to save their mother from a painful death from cancer. But Ivy is unable to resist the lure of her first murder case, and is soon housed in Sylvia’s empty apartment, pretending she knows what the teachers and students are referring to when they mention magic. As the investigation proceeds, Ivy becomes more confused about Sylvia’s death, but begins to feel a faint spark of hope that she and Tabitha may become friends again. Dylan DeCambray, a senior convinced that he is the embodiment of a family prophecy of the most powerful mage in history, discovered Sylvia’s body, and says he believes it is Dark Forces at work, but Ivy is sure he is lying. His half-sister Alexandria, leader of the popular girl group, says she doesn’t know anything, but insinuates that Tabitha does. This quirky debut magical mystery is great fun.

The Better LiarTanen Jones
The Better Liar (Ballantine Books 2020) begins when Leslie Voigt Flores discovers her sister Robin dead from a heroin overdose in a low-rent rooming house in Henderson, Nevada. The ID in the wallet bears the name Rachel Vreeland, but Leslie recognizes the face of the sister she hasn’t seen for ten years when she ran away from home at the age of 16. Searching for an ID in Robin’s real name, Leslie discovers the distinctive pearl earrings she thought had been buried with her mother when they were children. Realizing nothing will link the body to Robin, Leslie flees the room and stops at a nearby restaurant, where she meets a young woman in the parking lot who works at the casino next door. Over drinks, Mary tells Leslie that she would love to get away from Las Vegas and her abusive boyfriend, and Leslie explains that she came in search for her sister in order to claim an inheritance from their father, instead finding her sister’s body. According to the will, both sisters must appear together at the lawyer’s office, a final attempt by their father to reunite the sisters. Realizing that Mary looks enough like her sister to impersonate her to those who haven’t seen her for a decade, Leslie persuades her to come home with her to New Mexico, and use Robin’s old passport as ID, explaining that she needs the money immediately since she just lost her job. Fearing that she and her husband Dave will lose their house, Leslie offers Robin’s half of the inheritance: $50,000. Mary agrees, dyes her brown hair blond, and they head off to Albuquerque, coaching Mary on Robin’s family history during the drive. Mary is surprised to discover that Leslie has a one-year-old son as well as a husband and sets out to charm them both. She is startled to discover that Leslie has not lost her job, and wonders why she is so desperate to get the inheritance. Leslie becomes more suspicious of Mary, uneasy about her habit of sneaking out of the house every day. Narrated from the perspectives of Robin, Leslie, and Mary, this debut psychological thriller explores the complex and often toxic relationship between sisters.

Play the Red QueenJuris Jurjevics
Play the Red Queen (Soho Crime 2020) is set in 1963 Vietnam. Henry Cabot Lodge, the newly arrived American ambassador to South Viet Nam, is charged with convincing President Ngo Dihn Diem to remove his younger brother Ngo Dinh Nhu from his command of the brutal Special Forces. About 16,000 American servicemen are stationed in Viet Nam, “advising” the government. US Army Criminal Investigation Division sergeants Ellsworth Miser and Clovis Robeson are given the task of tracking down a female Viet Cong assassin who has just killed a third American Army officer in Saigon in broad daylight. Known as the Red Queen for her habit of leaving a card featuring a woman wearing a black cone hat with a red skull for a face, the sharpshooter takes out her target with a single shot from the back of a moving Vespa. The assassin wears a hat and red silk scarf, and all the startled bystanders remember is that she is young, probably not yet 20. At the scene of the latest kill, Miser finds the corner of an astrological chart and bleached bone fragments from the skeleton of a tiny bat under the sidewalk cafe table. Robeson talks to a sergeant at a nearby table who remembers that the major was having his fortune read when the shot entered his heart right over the fortune teller’s head. Speculating that the Red Queen is using the fortune teller to distract her target, Miser and Robeson begin searching for a clue to the sharpshooter’s identity before she kills another American officer. Captain Deckle reveals that the Red Queen’s targets may not be random, a Viet Cong deserter has reported that her goal is the liquidation of an important man, described as the Old Fox. But it’s not clear if he meant the American’s Old Fox — Diem, or an American Old Fox — General Harkins or Ambassader Lodge. This superb thriller skillfully combines social commentary with the difficulty of upholding laws amidst the lawlessness of war.

The Whisper ManAlex North
The Whisper Man (Celadon Books 2019) is the story of Tom Kennedy, an author who moves with his seven-year-old son Jake to the small town of Featherbank, England, after the death of his wife, hoping the new location will help them both put grief behind and make a new start. Jake is an unusual child; his best friend is an invisible girl wearing a blue-and-white checked dress, and his habit of talking to her aloud causes other children to shun him. But Featherbank has a dark past. Twenty years earlier a serial killer kidnapped and murdered five children. Known as The Whisper Man for his ability to lure his victims outside by whispering through their windows, Frank Carter was arrested by Detective Pete Willis, convicted, and imprisoned. The remains of four of the missing boys were found in Frank Carter’s house, but the body of Tony Smith was never recovered. The forensic evidence was overwhelming, but a doubt remained whether Carter had acted alone, and Willis is haunted by his inability to bring closure to Tony’s parents. Shortly after the Kennedys settle into their new house, six-year-old Neil Spencer goes missing. After an unsuccessful search, his mother reports that her son had woken her a few weeks earlier, frightened that a monster outside his dark window was whispering to him. Detective Inspector Amanda Beck leads the investigation, but Detective Inspector Willis is the only person Carter will talk to, and he reluctantly arranges a visit with the manipulative serial killer. Kennedy is concerned that the move didn’t help with Jake’s invisible friend, but is more worried about the strange man skulking around their yard. Waking up in the middle of the night he discovers Jake resting his head against the front door, listening to a voice whispering through the mail slot. This terrifying thriller is the first written by Steve Mosby under the Alex North pseudonym.

Murder Once RemovedS.C. Perkins
Murder Once Removed (Minotaur 2019) introduces Lucy Lancaster, a genealogist in Austin, Texas. While working on the genealogy of billionaire Gus Halloran, Lucy tracks down a daguerreotype proving that his great-great-grandfather Seth was not trampled to death in 1849 by a loose draft horse in the streets of San Antonio, but was murdered. Jeb Inscore, a portrait photographer rushed out of his shop when he heard the noise, and spotted two men standing over Seth’s body, one holding a bloody knife. Jeb’s daguerreotype clearly shows that Seth’s white linen shirt is torn and stained with blood. Jeb’s great-granddaughter Betty-Anne Inscore-Cooper also has Jeb’s journal explaining that he returned to the scene with his camera, took the photograph, and was leaving to find the sheriff when the killers returned with a draft horse, walking it across the body and destroying the evidence of the knife wound. The killers grabbed Jeb and took him to their boss, identified only by the initials C.A., who frightened Jeb into lying at the inquest. Jeb identified C.A. as a veteran of the 1836 Texas revolution, a member of the Texas legislature, and possessing a very large nose inherited by his daughter. Lucy uses the skills developed while earning her degree in information science, and identifies two possibilities: Cantwell Ayers, a wealthy sheep rancher, and Caleb Applewhite, the ancestor of US Senator Daniel Applewhite, currently running for reelection against Halloran’s son Pearce. Gus is thrilled with the sensational history of his family and talks it up at a press conference, explaining that Lucy solved the murder of his great-great-grandfather. Late the next night Betty-Anne’s home is burgled, though not much is taken other than the box of Jeb’s journals Lucy had packed up for digital scanning. Fearing that someone is worried about the truth being revealed, Lucy dives back into her research, determined to discover whose ancestor bore the initials C.A. This cozy debut starring Lucy and her quirky friends is a finalist for the 2019 Agatha Award for Best First Novel.

The K Team’David Rosenfelt
The K Team (Minotaur 2020) introduces recently retired New Jersey police lieutenant Corey Douglas and his retired K-9 German Shepherd partner Simon Garfunkel. Corey has joined forces with his former Patterson PD partner Laurie Carpenter along with her investigating partner Marcus Clark to form a private investigation firm called the K Team, in honor of Simon. Pete Stanton, the captain in charge of the Paterson Homicide Division, asks for a meeting with the K Team and Laurie’s husband Andy, a criminal defense attorney. Pete explains that Judge Henry "Hatchet" Henderson needs their help with a confidential matter he does not want to share with the police. Corey, Laurie, and Andy meet with the Judge, who immediately hires Andy to ensure attorney-client confidentiality. He shows them an anonymous letter stating that he will soon be required to do a service for which he has already been paid, and a pile of bank statements in his name from the Cayman Islands for monthly deposits totally $390,000. The Judge insists that bringing in the police would permanently damage his reputation, and explains he did not open the account and has no idea where the money came from. Though Andy and Hatchett often sparred in the courtroom, he is convinced the Judge would never do anything unethical. The K Team accepts their first job, and Andy begins examining the Judge’s docket of upcoming cases as well as past cases over the last 18 months, when the payments began. Laurie suggests that Sam Willis, Andy’s bookkeeper and white-hat hacker who can get into any computer anywhere, is their only hope of tracing the deposits to the Cayman account. Corey is not comfortable working outside the law, but Laurie convinces him that the pressure of time justifies letting Sam try to acquire the information which can always be obtained legally later. Simon and Marcus provide much-needed support and protection as Corey and Laurie investigate a trail of clues that becomes more dangerous every day in this engaging series launch.

The RetreatSherri Smith
The Retreat (Forge 2019) is the story of Katie Manning, a beloved child star — Shelby Spade, Kid Detective — until the facial scar left by her manager ended her career. Living off her invested income, Katie dropped out after a year of college to become a party girl. At the age of 27, Katie was offered a part by an award-winning director that might have rekindled her acting career, but an offensive tweet lost her the part. Her brother Nate’s financée Ellie-Rose invites her to a girls-only weekend getaway to a wellness retreat in the Catskills, and Katie accepts, hoping to get her life back on track. Ellie-Rose’s only sister Violet died when they were children, and Nate hopes Katie will become the sister she lost. But Katie is convinced Ellie-Rose is too good to be true and hopes to discover something to prevent the wedding. Ellie-Rose is upset that Katie has invited two of her old friends along to their bonding outing, at Katie’s expense, of course. Ariel has just lost her job and Carmen is overwhelmed by crippling debt and family obligations. Ariel’s stress habit of pulling out her own hair has returned, and she has a bald spot the size of a quarter behind one ear. Carmen is working up to asking Katie for a loan, depressed by the prospect of yet one more egg donation to make enough money to pay the rent. The retreat is run by Dr. Dave and his wife Naomi, who confiscate all technology and explain the benefits of three days of yoga, journal writing, circle drumming, and solitude. The final night will feature the ayahuasca tea Dr. Dave brought back from Peru, with the promise of utter transcendence. Katie is horrified to discover that one of the other participants is a fanatic Shelby Spade fan, able to quote entire sections of episodes from memory. When a guest vanishes and Katie wakes up to find a bloody knife in her bed, the secrets all four women are hiding threaten everyone’s safety in this clever and witty revenge thriller.

Drowned UnderWendall Thomas
Drowned Under (Poisoned Pen Press 2019) begins in late December when Cyd Redondo, a third-generation Brooklyn travel agent specializing in senior citizens, runs into her ex-husband Barry Manzoni at a bar. Barry is concerned that his parents, who bought a cruise to Australia from Cyd’s arch-rival Peggy Newsome, have gone missing. Peggy is away for the holidays and not answering her phone, so Barry begs Cyd to see if she can locate them. Cyd investigates and discovers that the Manzonis went ashore when the ship docked in Hobart, Tasmania, and haven’t been seen since. Cyd’s friend Harriet Archer, Travel Agent Liaison for Darling Cruises, offers to share her cabin on the Tasmanian Dream, traveling the same route with the same crew if Cyd can get to the Melbourne dock the next day. To comply with the strict carry-on weight limit of Quantas Airways, Cyd packs her shortest mini shirts and lightest chiffon tops, tucks her passport and important paperwork into a trusty vintage Tupperware container inside her Balenciaga bag, and rushes to the airport. A flight delay brings her to Melbourne four hours late. The cruise ship has already departed, but Harriet has arranged for a friend with a helicopter to chase the ship, which unfortunately doesn’t have a landing pad. The descent from a ladder is far more exciting than Cyd anticipated, and the other passengers see far more of Cyd than she would like as her skirt swirls around her waist. Finding it hard to be inconspicuous after her dramatic arrival, Cyd tries to ask discrete questions about Hobart private tours. Nothing on the cruise goes well, but things get seriously strange when Cyd discovers a small bacon-obsessed animal — a cross between a Dachshund and a baby giraffe that just might be a non-extinct Tasmanian Tiger cub. The tiny escape artist has sad exasperated eyes just like Ryan O’Neal’s in What’s Up, Doc? so Cyd names the sharp toothed animal Howard and stashes him in her capricious Balenciaga. This hilarious second in the series featuring the clever coupon-clipping fashionista was a finalist for the 2020 Lefty Award for Best Humorous Mystery.

Flowers Over the InfernoIlaria Tuti
Flowers Over the Inferno (Soho Crime 2019) introduces Superintendent Teresa Battaglia, a veteran Italian police officer in her mid-60s with expertise in criminal profiling. Arriving at the crime scene outside the small village of Travenì in the Italian Alps, Teresa finds the naked body of a man posed in the snow. The only sign of violence is the man’s eyes have been gouged out, apparently with a bare hand. A scarecrow is discovered nearby in the forest dressed in the man’s clothes. The head is formed from his undershirt stuffed with leaves, but the man’s eyes are nowhere to be found. New transfer Massimo Marini gets off on the wrong foot with Teresa when he ignores the stocky old woman, assuming she is a local witness, and introduces himself to the male officer she is talking with. Teresa invites Massimo to join her at the autopsy, and he challenges her tentative profile of the killer, insisting it’s too early to know anything about the killer. She replies that the profile is based not only on her four decades of experience but also statistics distilling hundreds of profiles of people who have committed similar murders. Assuming he is a blowhard, she challenges him to do his homework before submitting his report on everything he has observed so far, and is surprised when he writes a thorough report and begins doing research on serial killers. The victim is identified as Roberto Valent, a civil engineer born and raised in the valley who returned after university with his wife and children to oversee the construction of a new ski slope. Teresa interviews his widow and meets his son Diego, who attends the local school. Diego along with his friends Mathias, Lucia, and Oliver spend hours playing in the woods, and recently feel they are being watched by a ghost who hides in the trees. This compelling debut police procedural thriller presents a unique protagonist. Teresa has been living with diabetes most of her life, but recent debilitating physical symptoms cause her to wonder how much longer she will be able to do the job she loves. Even more worrisome are the memory lapses that may prevent her from making the intuitive connections needed to track down the killer.

The Wife and the WidowChristian White
The Wife and the Widow (Minotaur 2020, Australia 2019) begins when wealthy stay-at-home-mother Kate Keddie (The Widow) drives from Caulfield to Melbourne International Airport to pick up her husband John, returning from a 10-day palliative care colloquium in London. When John doesn’t get off the plane, Kate calls The Trinity Health Centre to find out if he reported a delayed flight, and is stunned to learn that her husband took a leave of absense three months earlier. While reporting him missing, Kate explains that John made a Skype call every other day to talk to her and their 10-year-old daughter Mia, and that she has no idea where he has been the last ten days, or where he went every day the prior three months when he left dressed for work each morning. The next night she receives a call from their security agency, reporting an alarm at their holiday house on Belport Island. Kate is surprised since John wasn’t fond of the holiday cottage, a wedding gift from his parents who vacationed there when John was a boy. On Belport Island, Abby Gilpin (The Wife), a supermarket clerk, true crime aficionado, and amateur taxidermist, discovers a bag in the trash containing clothing belonging to her husband Ray: work boots, cargo trousers, and an Island Care work shirt from his winter holiday home care-taking business. Surprised that the still useful clothes had been thrown away, Abby puts them into a box of other old clothes in their garage. Ray has been a bit stressed lately, but the family is always short of money when the tourists return, and their two squabbling teenage children don’t make life easy. Skillfully written from the perpsectives of both women, this excellent domestic suspense thriller is highly recommended.

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March 1, 2020

The Empty BirdcageKareem Abdul-Jabbar & Anna Waterhouse
Mycroft and Sherlock: The Empty Birdcase (Titan Books 2019) is set in 1873 England. Mycroft Holmes is summoned to Windsor Castle — a distant relative of Queen Victoria has been murdered by a killer who leaves no mark on the victim, just a card reading “The Fire Four Eleven!” in beautiful copperplate handwriting. Mycroft agrees to help the Queen, though he is already assisting Ai Lin, a woman he has fallen in love with. Her fiancé Bingwen Shi, a land investor, disappeared in London on route to meet a client, and the only person who may know his location is Turkish immigrant Vizily Zaharoff, a dangerous arms dealer known to behead anyone who interferes with his business. Working with Mycroft is his best friend Cyrus Douglas, a very tall Trinidadian skilled in the Afro-Brazilian martial art of capoeira. Bored with his studies at Cambridge, Sherlock has been reading about the Fire Four Eleven murders, eight people whose deaths would have been attributed to natural causes except for the Fire Four Eleven cards left by their bodies. Engineering a dismissal for the rest of the term, Sherlock convinces his brother to allow him to investigate the baffling murders, sure that his unique powers of observation qualify him for a career as a detective. Worried about Sherlock’s safety, Mycroft insists that he be accompanied at all times by Huan, Mycroft’s driver and bodyguard, and the two set off across England to investigate the murders. This clever third in the series featuring the continually squabbling brilliant young Holmes brothers is great fun.

The Long CallAnn Cleeves
The Long Call (Minotaur Books 2019) introduces Matthew Venn, a detective inspector in Devon, England. Matthew grew up in a strict evangelical church, losing contact with his parents as a teenager when he left the church and was banished from the community. When Matthew’s husband Jonathan was hired to run the local community center called the Woodyard, they moved back to Devon, settling in a house near the beach and the sound of the long call of the herring gull. The body of a man is discovered stabbed to death not far from their house. The man carries no identification and is dressed in shabby clothing. A large tattoo of an albatross covers the back of his neck. A shopping list on the back of a piece of junk mail takes Matthew to a house owned by Caroline Preece, a social worker who rents rooms to Gaby Henry, the artist in residence at the Woodyard, and Simon Waldon, one of Caroline’s clients and a volunteer at the Woodyard cafe. Gaby tells the police that Simon had the tattoo of a bird on his neck and didn’t return the previous night. Lucy Braddick, who attends the day centre for Down’s Syndrome adults at the Woodyard, recognizes the picture of Simon on the news. For the past week or so Simon has been riding the bus home with her, sharing sweets and being friendly. Maurice Braddick calls the police, concerned that a stranger befriended his 30-year-old daughter, but Lucy can’t tell them much other than the man was her friend and seemed familiar. Caroline’s father is on the board of the Woodyard, and Matthew worries that all the connections with the place his husband manages will force him to give up the investigation, the first murder since he transferred to Devon. This series opener featuring the driven young detective is a finalist for the 2019 Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel.

The Night FireMichael Connelly
The Night Fire (Little, Brown and Company 2019) begins when retired Hollywood homicide detective Harry Bosch is given a murder book by the widow of his mentor John Jack Thompson after the funeral. John Jack must have taken the murder book of the unsolved murder of 24-year-old John Hilton, an addict who was killed in an alley in 1990, when he retired 20 years earlier, but Harry can’t figure out why since it doesn’t appear that John Jack was looking into the cold case. Meanwhile, Renée Ballard, a young detective demoted to night shift after filing a sexual harassment complaint against a supervisor, is called to the scene of a fire death in the middle of the night, a homeless man whose kerosene lantern appears to have fallen over and ignited his tent. Ballard turns the case over to the LAFD arson team and puts it out of her mind until she learns that tests show the lantern had a safety feature that automatically shuts off the flame if it toppled over — the accident is now a murder. Mickey Haller, Bosch’s flamboyant defense attorney younger half-brother, convinces Bosch to help with the defense of a mentally ill man charged with the murder of a superior court judge, which alienates Bosch’s police contacts, who feel he is now working for the enemy. Bosch shares the murder book with Ballard to look over during the slow hours of her night shifts, and the two agree that the 30-year-old case is worth looking into; there are aspects of the original investigation that don’t hold up. The arson investigation stalls because the investigators can’t find the witnesses Ballard talked to the night of the fire, and she manages to get permission to join the team since they are only around when she is working the night shift. This excellent second collaboration between the two driven detectives is highly recommended.

The Heart KeeperAlex Dahl
The Heart Keeper (Berkley 2019) begins three months after Alison’s five-year-old daughter Amalie died in a drowning accident at the beach. Alison, her wealthy husband Sindre, and Sindre’s 13-year-old son Oliver are struggling to cope with their grief. Oliver mentions that he read about cell memory, organ recipients who exhibit traits of their donors, and Alison becomes obsessed with finding whoever received Amalie’s heart. Kaia, the seven-year-old daughter of single struggling mother Iselin, was born with a heart defect. For her entire life, Iselin and Kaia have been confined to a small basement apartment except for visits to the hospital, protecting the fragile child from infection. The heart transplant is successful, and though still at risk of organ rejection and infection, Kaia recovers quickly from the surgery and gradually regains strength. Iselin feels that she needs to get to know this child all over again — more boisterous, a different style of hugging, and a new fascination with drawing bears. Iselin’s own passion for art re-emerges, and she posts pictures of her own new drawings featuring anatomical hearts visible through the bodies of small girls. Alison tracks Iselin down online and makes an appointment to see the drawings. She feels an instant connection to Kaia, who seems to reciprocate. Though still dependent on pills and alcohol to get her through the days, Alison feels a resurgence of hope — maybe she hasn’t completely lost Amalie after all. Convinced that she is able to offer Kaia a much better life than her young impoverished mother, Alison begins to insert herself into their lives. This haunting psychological thriller explores the horror of the death of a child and the lengths people will go to assuage their grief.

My Lovely WifeSamantha Downing
My Lovely Wife (Berkley 2019) is the story of an unnamed narrator and his wife Millicent, a seemingly normal couple with two teenage children. Millicent is a successful real estate agent, and he works as a tennis coach, living an uneventful life except for their "date night" extracurricular activities involving kidnapping and murder. Millicent’s younger sister Holly tormented Millicent until she was committed to a psychiatric hospital when the sisters were in high school, and her release jump-starts the couple’s secret life. After accidentally killing Holly, the couple discovers that planning and carrying out crimes together adds addictive spice to their sex lives. When one of the bodies is discovered, they decide to plant clues implicating Owen Oliver Riley, the Woodview Killer who killed nine women two decades earlier, but was released after the DNA evidence was discredited and the charges dropped. Each year his story reappears on the news on the anniversary of his release, when he vanished without a trace, making him the perfect scapegoat. This well-plotted dark debut thriller featuring two unsavory individuals, one secretly more devious than the other, is a finalist for the 2020 Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

TemperLayne Fargo
Temper (Gallery/Scout Press 2019) begins when Kira Rascher arrives at the Chicago Indifferent Honest Theater Company to audition for a part. Indifferent Honest is run by cofounders Joanna Cuyler, executive director, and Malcolm Mercer, an intense actor/director feared and revered for inspiring incredible performances by pushing his actors up to (and often past) their limits. On her way into the theater Kira passes another actress leaving in tears, and summons all her inner resources to give the best audition of her life. The play “Temper” is about Mara and Trent, a married couple consumed by hate and lust. Interspersed scenes reveal Mara’s violent urges, disclosing her supressed hunger to harm her husband. Kira shares an apartment with Spencer, an old friend who has left acting to become a fight director. They enjoy occasional sex but are friends first and foremost. As the rehearsals progress, Spence becomes concerned that Kira and Malcolm are moving into dangerous territory, ignoring his directions for safe slaps and holds during Mara’s fantasy scenes. But Kira knows that Malcolm’s insistance on making her experience real frustration and anger moves her past acting into truly inhabiting her character. Joanna and Malcolm, both bisexual, have shared an apartment for years. Joanna is frustrated that Malcolm pursues everyone except her, and becomes more jealous of Kira every day. Narrated from the perspectives of both Joanna and Kira, this chilling debut psychological thriller explores the thrill and menace of obsession.

Before She Was FoundHeather Gudenkauf
Before She Was Found (Park Row 2019) is the story of three 12-year-old girls in Pitch, Iowa, a dying railroad town. Violet Crow is new in town, arriving just as school began with her mother and older brother Max. Her mother Beth was moving them from New Mexico to a new life with her boyfriend in Green Bay, but a breakup call coinciding with a car breakdown stranded them in Pitch. Cora Landry, a shy girl with a dominating older sister, would love to be best friends with Violet. In October they are paired for a class history project researching an urban legend. Cora is thrilled to have Violet all to herself, until popular bully Jordyn Petit, who lives with her grandfather Thomas, is added to their group. Jordyn changes their topic to Joseph Wither, supposedly responsible for the disappearance of several young girls in the 1940s. While working on the project, Cora discovers the DarkestDoor chatroom, meeting JW44, who befriends her and then claims to be Joseph Winter himself. During spring break in early April the three girls are having s sleepover at Cora’s house. Sirens in the middle of the night bring Beth to the train yard, where Cora is being transported on a stretcher to an ambulance while Violet walks out of the wheat field covered in blood. Interspersed sections from the perspectives of Beth Crow and Thomas Petit, notes by psychiatrist Dr. Madeline Gideon, Cora’s journal, police interviews, and DarkestDoor chat transcripts reveal the complicated relationship between the three girls and their families. This chilling thriller explores themes of friendship, betrayal, the overwhelming need to fit into a group, and the extreme lengths families will go to protect a child.

The RriverPeter Heller
The River (Knopf 2019) features college students and best friends Wynn, a water rat from Vermont, and Jack, raised on a ranch in Colorado, who have taken a leave of absence from Dartmouth to canoe the Maskwa River in northern Canada. It’s late August when they smell smoke, and realize a forest fire is sweeping toward them. At their current pace they are two weeks from Hudson Bay and have no way to call for help in the wilderness. They stop to caution a pair of drunken Texans, the first people they have seen for days, who laugh off their warning about the danger. The next day they hear a man and woman arguing from the shore, but find it too difficult to maneuver the canoe in the wind. Worrying the couple may not know about the forest fire, they turn back after the storm calms, finding signs of a camp but no people. A day later a man appears, distraught because his wife Maia disappeared in the storm. Pierre doesn’t have a satellite phone either so Wynn and Jack offer to portage back a few miles to the lake to search for her. Wynn doesn’t want to press the frantic man for details, but Jack is suspicious, worried that his story doesn’t hold together. When they finally make it back with the badly injured barely conscious woman, they discover that Pierre has vanished with most of their supplies, leaving them days from help with very little food, swiftly dropping temperatures, a rapidly moving forest fire, and a potentially desperate man who might prefer to have no witnesses to challenge his story. This intense thriller is a finalist for the 2020 Edgar Award for Best Mystery.

Heaven, My HomeAttica Locke
Heaven, My Home (Mulholland Books 2019) finds Texas Ranger Darren Mathews back in Houston, analyzing digital surveillance data for the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas Task Force and trying to rebuild his marriage to his wife Lisa. Darren misses his family homestead in the countryside in Camilla, but visits frequently while keeping an eye on his manipulative mother who is blackmailing him with the gun Darren removed from a crime scene to protect an old family friend suspected of killing a member of the Aryan Brotherhood. His lieutenant asks him to assist the feds at Caddo Lake searching for a missing 9-year-old boy, Levi King, a member of a powerful Brotherhood family who disappeared after boating alone on the lake. The feds have requested a member of the Task Force, and Darren is eager to get back into the field though he knows Lisa won’t be happy. The Task Force is hoping to gather evidence to indict Brotherhood members before the Trump administration takes over, fearing funds for pursuing white supremacist groups will be cut. In Caddo Lake Darren is partnered with a white deputy from the local sheriff’s department since many of the local residents aren’t willing to talk to a black man, even one wearing a Texas Ranger star. Levi’s father is in prison serving a 20-year sentence, and his mother is living with a drug dealer in a trailer near Hopetown, a small community in the woods founded by blacks who bought up the land after the Civil War, sharing the land with a small group of Hasinai Caddo Indians. Levi’s wealthy grandmother Rosemary admits that Darren is the first black person to ever set foot in her house, not counting her servants of course, and suggests that Leroy Page, Hopetown’s oldest resident who was the last person to see Levi during his evening safety patrol, is the obvious suspect. Disturbed by the flagrant racism encouraged by the recent presidential election, Darren worries that the boy he is trying to find will grow into yet another young man eager to kill a black person as initiation to the Aryan Brotherhood. This powerful sequel to Bluebird, Bluebird was a finalist for the 2020 Lefty Award for Best Mystery.

Blood RelationsJonathan Moore
Blood Relations (Mariner Book 2019) begins when San Francisco private investigator Leland Crowe is living undercover in a skid row hotel in the Tenderloin. Crowe is gathering information about a cartel witness for Jim Gardner, a partner at the law firm Crowe worked for before his disbarment. Early one morning he is checking for surveillance vans when he sees a badly damaged Rolls Royce Wraith outside the Refugio Apartments. The roof of the car has been crushed by the body of a beautiful young blonde woman wearing a black cocktail dress. Crowe snaps a few pictures with the camera he always carries, and sells the best one to a magazine. The dead woman is identified as Claire Gravesend, the 20-year-old daughter of Olivia Gravesend, known as the Iron Bitch, who owns a piece of half the elected officials in the state of California. The police are treating the death as a suicide, but Olivia is sure Claire wouldn’t have killed herself, and certainly not by jumping from the roof of a skid row apartment building. Gardner recommends Crowe, and Olivia hires him to find the truth. Olivia hasn’t seen her daughter since she came home from Harvard for Christmas break, though she has received a postcard a week from various places in a 200-mile radius of San Francisco. Examining the medical examiner’s photographs, Crowe is startled by the rows of nearly circular old scars running from the back of Claire’s neck and down her spine, in pairs on either side of each vertebra. Olivia won’t tell Crowe anything about the scars, but swears there was no abuse from any family members. When Crowe is attacked he is at first convinced that is is fallout from the cartel investigation, but as he learns more about Claire he fears that he has crossed someone even more dangerous. This disturbing thriller is a finalist for the 2020 Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original.

Hide AwayJason Pinter
Hide Away (Thomas & Mercer 2020) introduces Rachel Marin, a single mother who changed her name and fled from small town to small town to protect her two young children Eric and Megan. Seven years later, they are living in Ashby, Illinois, in a house guarded by alarms and cameras, and Eric, now 13, is hoping they can stay through high school. Rachel has become skilled in self-defense and her powers of observation have been sharpened by constant vigilance. Watching a news report of a suicide of a woman who leapt to her death from a bridge to the frozen river below, Rachel recognizes a ring on the dead woman’s finger — former mayor Constance Wright who welcomed Rachel and her family when they arrived in Ashby. Visiting the bridge the next day, Rachel realizes there is no way the woman could have killed herself and places an anonymous call to the police. Detective Serrano has the caller’s calculations confirmed, and realizes that Constance Wright was murdered. Rachel’s car is identified by a security camera at the mall near the pay phone and Serrano interviews her. He is impressed by her logic, but suspicious of her interest in the crime, especially after she appears at the press conference the next day and follows a man who was caught by the TV crew at the scene of the crime. Serrano realizes there something off about the Marin family, but begins to rely on Rachel’s knack for picking up on details no one else notices. This intense thriller starring the multi-talented Rachel, determined to do everything she can to protect her children and other vulnerable people, is the first in a planned series.

The Case of the Wandering ScholarKate Saunders
The Case of the Wandering Scholar (Bloomsbury Publishing 2019) rejoins Laetitia Rodd, a clergyman’s widow making private inquiries to supplement her income in 1851 Hampstead, England. Her brother Frederick Tyson, a London criminal barrister, asks Laetitia to assist Jacob Welland, a wealthy man who lost touch with his younger brother Joshua ten years earlier. The two brothers became estranged when Jacob married the woman Joshua loved. A brilliant impoverished Oxford scholar, Joshua walked away one day into the countryside and disappeared. Jacob was in South America at the time making his fortune, and the two brothers haven’t spoken since. There are rumors that Joshua is still living rough in the countryside, and rumors of occasional sightings in a gypsy camp and a charcoal burner encampment. Dying of consumption, Jacob is desperate to make amends with his brother, and Laetitia agrees to deliver a letter pleading for a visit. Laetitia has an acquaintance in the area, her late husband’s curate Arthur Somers. Laetitia was fond of the young man despite her husband’s concern that he spent more time praying than helping their parishioners, and encouraged his marriage to Rachel, a lonely young woman with an inheritance. Married just over ten years now, the couple seems contented though Rachel longs for children and Arthur spends so much time at Swinford, a monastic retreat a few miles away, that he barely knows his congregation. A sudden death brings Inspector Thomas Blackbeard to town to take charge of the investigation and the two are soon working in tandem to solve the murder. This clever second in the series featuring the astute widow with a gift for observation and encouraging confidences is quite satisfying.

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February 1, 2020

Elevator PitchLinwood Barclay
Elevator Pitch (William Morrow 2019) begins when an elevator in a 40-story Manhattan office tower races to the top and then plunges back to the bottom of the shaft, killing four people. Barbara Matheson, a columnist at Manhattan Today, is peppering Mayor Richard Headley with questions about croneyism at a press conference when he leaves suddenly in response to a call. She arrives at the office tower just in time to see a gurney carrying her friend Paula to the ambulance. Meanwhile Detectives Jerry Bourque and Lois Delgado are called to the murder scene of a man whose fingertips have been removed and face battered beyond recognition. Their only clue to the man’s identity is a pair of shark socks and a cobra tattoo. The next day an elevator in a different Manhattan skyscraper malfunctions, killing a Russian scientist about to defect. A third elevator accident the following day removes all hope that the malfunctions are coincidental, and Mayor Headley is faced with the choice of causing a city-wide panic by announcing that the elevators are being hacked or shutting down all the elevators with a vague story of checking for safety. A bomb in a taxi outside one of the buildings leads the police to suspect Eugene Clement, head of the domestic extremist group Flyovers, whose mission is to educate those living in coastal cities about the real Americans living in the states they fly over and look down on. Bourque and Delgado discover that their dead man is a Russian-born elevator repair man, extremely talented with anything mechanical. Driven to find whoever is responsible for the elevator deaths, Barbara visits the relatives of the victims and discovers they have all been warned not to talk by a mysterious man who didn’t identify himself. This gripping thriller explores the frightening possibility of shutting down a modern city by targeting the elevators most inhabitants use at home and at work.

Fake Like MeBarbara Bourland
Fake Like Me (Grand Central Publishing 2019) begins in 1996, when an art school college sophomore travels to New York City to attend a sculpture exhibit by avant guard artist Carey Logan, part of the innovative Pine City collective along with Jack Wells, Jes Winsome, Tyler Savage, and Marlin Mayfield. Called THE BURIAL PROJECT, Carey is making plaster casts of body parts of attendees, with plans to age and bury them. The unnamed student painter feels an immediate connection with Carey, who encourages her to ignore the Academy rules and make the large scale paintings she dreams about. In 2008 the painter is sharing a New York live/work space, creating enormous paintings and beginning to make a name for herself when Carey, who had given up sculpture for performance art, commits suicide at the Pine City retreat in upstate New York. The shock of her idol’s death inspires the painter to finish her latest group of paintings, nearly half a foot deep in oil paint, which sell out in a week. Finally financially solvent, the painter begins a new project called Rich Ugly Old Maids, seven four-panel paintings for a gallery in Paris: Humility, Obedience, Chastity, Modesty, Temperance, Purity, and Prudence. Two years later, the series is nearly complete when the painter’s loft burns to the ground, destroying everything except two panels of Prudence. The Milot Gallery believes the six completed paintings are in storage, and stress they cannot postpone the opening or accept hasty remakes. The painter lies and says only Prudence, which has not yet been photographed for the ads, was destroyed, and the gallery reluctantly gives the painter three months to recreate the final painting. The painter desperately searches for studio space, but everything is booked for the summer. She barters a 20% discount on Obedience to an avid modern art speculator for an introduction to Marlin, and is given Carey’s old studio at Pine City for the next three months. The four remaining members of Pine City drop in to use their own studios, but the painter spends most of her time alone, working long frantic days to recreate the seven huge paintings. During their visits Marlin and Jack are friendly, Jes is hostile, and Tyler is sexually attracted to her. Strangely, none will talk about Carey, though the painter longs to learn more about the woman who inspired her. While trying to hide her own deception, the painter discovers strange items in the loft of Carey’s studio and begins to wonder what really did happen on the day Carey died. This beautifully written literary suspense thriller is full of fascinating details about the physical labor of creating art and the emotional toll on the artist along with brilliant parodies of artistic excesses.

NOthing More DangerousAllen Eskens
Nothing More Dangerous (Mulholland Books 2019) is set in 1976 Jessup, Missouri. Boady Sanden (15) is a lonely freshman at St. Ignatius, counting the days until summer vacation. In his current events class, Boady reads the news that Lida Poe, an employee of Ryke Manufacturing, by far the largest employer in Jessup, has been missing for a week along with a pile of embezzled money. Boady tries to escape notice at school, but when senior Jarvis Halcomb and his two friends plot to dump chocolate pudding over the head of the only black girl in the school, he trips them and runs. Boady helps his widowed mother Emma pay the rent by cleaning warehouses after school and working construction jobs in the summers. Boady’s father died when he was five, and his mother never recovered from her grief, retreating into herself and rarely interacting with others. Their neighbor Hoke Gardner, a scarred man who never talks about the past, keeps his eye on Emma and her son, teaching Boady to fish and take care of himself in the woods. The only other house in their remote area has been empty for years, and Boady is fascinated to see signs of life. Mr. Elgin, has just been sent to Jessup from Minneapolis to take over management of Ryke Manufacturing, replacing Cecil Halcomb, demoted when the embezzlement was discovered. The Halcombs and their allies are angry about the new manager, especially when they learn he is black. Jarvis offers to end his crusade to beat up Boady if he will spy on his new neighbors for their secret group CORPS — Crusaders Of Racial Purity and Strength. When the Elgin family arrives Boady gets to know their son Thomas, exactly his age and very unhappy about being uprooted from his friends in Minneapolis. Their growing friendship forces Boady to confront his own prejudice as they try to solve the mystery of the missing Lida Poe and evade the increasingly violent actions of Jarvis Halcomb and his friends. This powerful story of guilt and forgiveness, prejudice and hate, love and friendship, and the debilitating effects of grief is highly recommended.

The Paragon HotelLyndsay Faye
The Paragon Hotel (G.P. Putnam’s Sons 2019) begins in 1921 when 25-year-old Alice "Nobody" James flees from the New York Mafia on a train to Oregon. Born in Harlem on the day the Raines Law was passed, intended to curb alcohol consumption by limiting Sunday sales to hotels, Alice grew up in a Raines hotel, a bar where her mother Catrin worked as a resident prostitute in the "hotel" rooms upstairs. Alice’s Italian father died before she was born, and she learned to fade into the background at a young age, earning the nickname “Nobody.” At the age of 15, threatened by impending work in the upstairs rooms at the Raines hotel, Alice was “adopted” by mobster Mr. Salvatici, who valued Alice’s ability to eavesdrop on secret conversations. Maximilian Burton, a black Pullman porter, realizes Alice isn’t well, but she refuses his offer of a doctor for her secret bullet wound. By the time they arrive in Portland she can barely stand and Max smuggles her into the Paragon Hotel. Serving African American railway employees and travelers, the Paragon Hotel is owned by Dr. Pendleton, a talented doctor who cannot legally touch white people. As she recovers, Alice gets to know Blossom Fontaine, a strikingly beautiful cabaret singer, and six-year-old mixed-race Davy Lee, a foundling raised by the hotel staff. The only other white visitors to the Paragon Hotel are the pair of cops who confiscate a percentage of the alcohol sold in the illegal basement gambling den and Evelina Vaughan, the wife of the local police chief, who runs Weekly Betterment classes for African American children. Alice, who can slip seamlessly in and out of different personas, pretends to be a spinster Suffragette writing an article about the Paragon Hotel in order to slip under the radar of the racist Oregon constitution, home of the biggest Ku Klux Klan organization west of the Mississippi River. When Davy vanishes at Elms Amusement Park and the local police aren’t inclined to search for him, Alice realizes that her experience surviving the Mafia is the perfect preparation for battling the KKK. This intense historical thriller set in the Prohibition era emphasizes the merciless Jim Crow environment in Oregon, the ruthless Mafia gangs in New York City, and the rapidly increasing empowerment of women in the 1920s.

The Second SleepRobert Harris
The Second Sleep (Knopf 2019) begins when Christopher Fairfax, a young English priest, travels on horseback from Exeter to the tiny village of Addicott St. George to conduct the burial service of the local parson, Father Thomas Lacy, who served 32 years before falling to his death from a cliff. Nervous about performing first eulogy, Fairfax can’t sleep and explores Father Lacy’s study by candlelight. He is shocked to discover an extensive library of antique texts, including a 12-volume collection of the minutes of the Society of Antiquaries, an organization declared heretical when Fairfax was a boy. He clearly remembers the huge bonfire the priests of the seminary of Exeter lit in midwinter, burning all the confiscated publications. As he is puzzling over the strangeness of discovering a pristine set of the Society’s works in tiny Addicott St. George he spots a cabinet with shelves of ancient glass filled with illegal artifacts, including a black rectangle made of plastic and glass featuring the ultimate symbol of the blasphemy of the ancients — an apple with a bite taken out of it. At the funeral, an anonymous voice from the crowd shouts that Father Lacy’s death was not an accident. After the service the locals explain that the man might have meant that Father Lacy was taken by devils since he fell from a spot known as the Devil’s Chair, where he often searched for treasures from ancient times. Lady Durston, a widow who owns a crumbling mansion, reveals that her husband also collected strange and delicate flasks and beakers of glass, presumably left behind by Peter Morgenstern, a Nobel scientist who owned the estate before the Durstans took over a thousand years ago. Fairfax and Lady Durstan become obsessed with searching for the treasure believed to have been hidden by Morgenstern when he fled London after civilization collapsed in the Apocalypse of 2025, caused by some sort of scientific failure. The cities were the hardest hit by starvation and disease, and it wasn’t until 129 years later that the calendar was restarted and parish records began once more with charcoal and homemade ink. The more he learns about the past, the shakier Fairfax’s faith in the Church becomes, and the more he fears being arrested for heresy himself. This dystopian thriller is clever and frightening.

The Family UpstairsLisa Jewell
The Family Upstairs (Atria 2019) begins when Libby Jones receives a letter just after her 25th birthday, the letter she has been waiting for as long as she can remember that reveals the names of her birth parents. The Henry and Martina Lamb Trust has granted her a mansion in Chelsea and the soliciter gives her a news article describing the discovery of a 10-month-old baby on the second floor of the mansion, the bodies of Henry and Martina Lamb and an unidentified man in the kitchen. All three died of poison, presumably a suicide pact. The 14-and 16-year-old son and daughter were missing, vanished without a trace. As the 25th birthdays of the two older children passed without a claim on the estate, the property passed on to Libby. The soliciter accompanies Libby to the mansion, dusty and falling into disrepair after 25 years. Libby returns to the house after talking to the police officer who found her, learning that someone had cared for her in the days following the deaths. She has the uncomfortable feeling that someone else is in the house with her and hears faint sounds. Meanwhile, Lucy is making a precarious living as a busking violinist in the Côte d’Azur with her two small children, debating what to do about the notification that appears on her phone, “The baby is 25.” Interspersed chapters written by Henry relate the gradual disintegration of the Lamb family after his mother Martina invited a young violin player to stay for a few days, followed by the charismatic and controlling David Thomsen. The days stretched into years as the temporary guests increased and the Lamb children became near prisoners in their own home. This disturbing psychological thriller is quite terrifying.

Just Watch MeJeff Lindsay
Just Watch Me (Dutton 2019) introduces Riley Wolfe, a master thief targeting the wealthiest 1%. After pulling off his latest impossible heist — stealing a 12.5 ton statue in the middle of the Chicago mayor’s dedication speech — Riley realizes he is bored and losing his edge. No theft is too hard; he isn’t challenged any more. So he sets out to find a truly impossible target, and settles on the centerpiece of the Crown Jewels of the Persian Empire — the Daryayeh-E-Noor (the Ocean of Light). Valued at $15 billion, the largest pink diamond in the world will be displayed in the United States for the first time in history, along with a selection of the other Crown Jewels, in the Eberhart Museum in Manhattan. A small private museum, the Eberhart has a huge endowment and state-of-the-art electronic security, perhaps the best in the world. The Crown Jewels will be guarded around the clock by Black Hat Security, all former members of America’s elite Special Forces, and a full platoon of the even more dangerous Revolutionary Guard of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Riley is a master of disguise — able to become a completely different person with a new appearance, walk, and voice — and an expert in the art of parkour, the ability to move through a complex environment without equipment, scaling walls and leaping between rooftops. With the assistance of Monique, a talented art forger who helps with his disguises, Riley sets a multi-layered plan in motion to steal the Daryayeh-E-Noor. Meanwhile, FBI Special Agent Frank Delgado, convinced that Riley Wolfe will try to steal the Crown Jewels, begins back-tracking from his one arrest record at the age of 16, determined to figure out why there is no record of his existence before then and discover the motivation that makes him seek out seeming-impossible challenges. This intense thriller caper is the first in a planned series featuring the multi-talented Riley Wolfe, willing to do just about anything to steal the Daryayeh-E-Noor.

The ScholarDervla McTiernan
The Scholar (Penguin 2019) begins when Detective Inspector Cormac Reilly gets a frantic call from his girlfriend Dr. Emma Sweeney, who has found the body of a young woman run over by a car outside her lab at Galway University late one night. The body is unrecognizable but Emma is sure that the 3000 euro Stella McCartney cardigan belongs to Carline Darcy, the granddaughter of John Darcy, owner of Darcy Therapeutics, Ireland’s biggest pharmaceutical company and funder for the lab. The pathologist finds a lab security swipe card in a pocket with Carline’s name and photo, and Cormac heads to her apartment to search for confirming DNA. At the penthouse apartment, Cormac is startled to discover Carline herself, who insists she has no idea who the dead woman is, why she had Carline’s ID, or what happened to her Stella McCartney cardigan. Cormac’s boss gives him strict instruction that Carline Darcy is untouchable and he should look elsewhere for the identity of the body. Emma tells him she has seen Carline at the lab doing research with another blond student, but Professor James Murtagh, director of the lab, refuses to share any information with the police for security reasons. Murtagh tells Cormac that Carline is an exceptional student, about to complete a four-year degree in two years, already working on her doctoral thesis, and just like her grandfather, the kind of talent that comes along only once in a generation. Now that Emma is a witness as well as the discoverer of the body, Cormac is removed from the case, but can’t let it go, convinced that Carline Darcy is somehow involved in the deliberate hit-and-run murder. This excellent second in the series featuring the complex Cormac Reilly is highly recommended.

The Last Good GuyT. Jefferson Parker
The Last Good Guy (G.P. Putnam’s Sons 2019) begins when Roland Ford, a private investigator in Fallbrook, California, near San Diego, is hired by Penelope Rideout to find her missing 14-year-old sister Daley. Their parents died ten years earlier when Penelope was 18, and she took custody of her 40year-old Daley. Penelope married a career Marine pilot, the three moved every year or so, and have been in San Diego for about a year. Penelope doesn’t allow Daley to use social media and monitors her phone, but Daley pushes the boundaries as much as she can. She hangs out with Nick Moreno, a 20-year-old dog walker, and Penelope is worried they may have run away together. Visiting Nick’s condo, Roland discovers Nick shot through the forehead, and the neighbor says he saw Daley getting into a SUV with two men. Daley’s friends at her private school tell Roland they make frequent visits to a teen club, often driven by two of the security guards in their SUV with an emblem that sounds like the one Nick’s neighbor described. Roland researches Penelope and Daley’s background, finding frequent moves but not much else. He discovers that there is no record of Penelope’s marriage to Richard Hauser, and Roland’s Marine friend stationed at the base has never heard of him. Visiting the teen club, Roland follows two guards in a SNR Security SUV to the the Cathedral by the Sea, run by charismatic arch-conservative evangelist Reggie Atlas, and then to the Paradise Date Farm compound in the desert, protected by an electric gate, a ten-foot fence, and security cameras. Roland has no idea how the teen club, Cathedral, and Date Farm are connected, but he suspects that Penelope is lying to him about just about everything. This excellent third in the series featuring the clever and talented PI, perhaps the last good guy, is highly recommended.

The Secrets We KeptLara Prescott
The Secrets We Kept (Knopf 2019) is the story of three Cold War women. Olga Ivinskaya, a young Moscow mother with two children, is the mistress of Boris Pasternak. Arrested and interrogated about the content of Pasternak’s work in progress, Doctor Zhivago, Olga is sent to the Gulag in 1949, sentenced to serve five years of hard labor in the fields. Her term was cut short by Stalin’s death in 1953, when 1.5 million prisoners were released, but Olga and Pasternak remained under surveillance. In 1956 Irina Drozdova, the daughter of a Russian-born seamstress, is hired to join the typing pool at the CIA, joining the well-educated young women who hoped the secretarial job was the start of a career, and the older women who had served in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the wartime intelligence agency during World War II that preceded the CIA. Sally Forrester, a former OSS agent who managed to stay out of the typing pool, helps train Irina after hours in spy-craft and the art of invisibly carrying classified documents. After Russian publishers refuse to publish Doctor Zhivago, Sergio D’Angelo smuggles the manuscript out of Russia, and it is published in Italian by Giangiacomo Feltrinelli. Believing that books could be weapons, that literature and the arts could change the course of history, the CIA smuggled cultural materials into Russia, emphasizing that the Soviet system suppressed free thought, censoring and persecuting Soviet artists. Doctor Zhivago, revealing the effect of the Soviet system on a sensitive and intelligent citizen, was chosen as the perfect book to smuggle back behind the Iron Curtain. Based on the true story of a CIA plot, this fascinating debut historical thriller is narrated from the perspective of the three different women, each struggling to remain true to herself while finding her place in a world dominated by men.

This Poison Will RemainFred Vargas
This Poison Will Remain (Penguin Books 2019, France 2017) begins when Commissioner Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg reluctantly cuts his Icelandic vacation short to return to Paris for an important murder investigation. Adamsberg quickly spots a connection that identifies the murderer and then becomes fascinated with the death of an elderly man bitten by a brown recluse spider. The timid spider rarely emerges from its hole so bites are rare and usually harmless, but three elderly men have died from brown recluse bites within the last three weeks. The deaths appear to be accidental, but Adamsberg becomes convinced the men were murdered, though it seems impossible that anyone could gather enough of the spider venom to kill anyone — the equivalent of 200 spider bites. Commandant Danglard feels strongly that the brown recluse deaths are a waste of time, and the squad is soon divided with only Voisenet, whose grandfather lost his leg after being bitten by a recluse, Mercadet, who suffers from narcolepsy, Froissy, who hides food supplies in her office cupboard, and Veyrenc, Adamsberg’s childhood friend from the Béarn region in the Pyrenees, willing to work on the speculative investigation. Adamsberg’s intuitive thought process eventually connects the current deaths to decades-old incidents at La Miséricorde orphanage. This excellent mystery is the ninth in the series featuring the brilliantly odd Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg and his quirky team.

The Turn of the KeyRuth Ware
The Turn of the Key (Gallery/Scout Press 2019) begins when Rowen Caine finds an ad for a live-in nanny position in the Highlands of Scotland. Sandra and Bill Elincourt have an architecture firm, working partially from home but also traveling frequently. They need an experienced nanny capable of managing the care of their four children, ranging in age from 18 months to 14. Rowen is barely making ends meet with her job at a London daycare, sharing a flat with a woman she can’t stand, and quickly gets her CV off by email. Sandra responds with a generous salary offer, mainly a huge bonus at the end of a year’s service, admitting that rumors about the house being haunted combined with the remoteness of the location have caused four nannies to resign in the last 14 months. Arriving at Heatherbrae House, Rowen is surprised that Bill Elincourt is not at home for her interview, but likes Sandra and falls in love instantly with the luxurious bedroom and state-of-the art en suite bathroom. Sandra explains that she and her husband completely remodeled the old house, transforming it into a “smart” house controlled by phone apps with built in surveillance cameras in all rooms to make it easy to monitor the children. The oldest daughter Rhainnon is away at boarding school, so Rowen’s main responsibility will be Maddie (8), Ellie (5), and baby Petra. The two younger girls seem sweet, but Maddie refuses to make eye contact or talk to Rowen. As she is leaving to catch the train back to London, Maddie gives Rowen an unexpected hug, whispering, “Don’t come back. It’s not safe.” Rowen is offered the job if she can start within three weeks, and she quickly gives her notice to the day care, negotiating only two weeks more of work. Arriving at Heatherbrae House with all her worldly possessions, Rowen is startled to learn that Sandra and Bill are departing the next morning for a trade show. Rowen is left alone with three small children in an isolated house where she doesn’t even know how to turn the lights on and off, especially frustrating when she begins hearing strange noises coming from behind a locked door in her room in the middle of the night. This creepy psychological thriller masterfully integrates the perils of a remote gothic setting — including a walled poison garden — with the modern helpless feeling of being unable to master smart house controls.

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January 1, 2020

The Gomorrah GambitTom Chatfield
The Gomorrah Gambit (Mulholland Books 2019) is the story of Azi Bello, an affable and social inept young London hacker known as AZ, who has spent most of his life alone with his technology in a small backyard shed. For the last 18 months, Azi’s obsession has been the creation of Jim Denison, a photogenic white man who has built trust in the online neo-Nazi community. Azi has built his own reputation in the hacker community, beginning with his 2012 takedown of a casino through a security hole in the filtration system of their trademark gigantic fish tank. He has been online friends with Sigma for about a year when she sends him a zip file of documents, including a selection leaked in 2013 from inside the Islamic Republic. Additional files provide proof that 50 Islamic martyrs have returned from the grave and are preparing a massive terrorist attack. A short note from Sigma explains that she has found Gomorrah, a secret marketplace on the dark web, and is fleeing for her life. She asks to meet in real life, but Azi refuses, offering online help but nothing in person. About five minutes later a woman calling herself Anna knocks on the door to his shed, revealing that they know everything about his hacking past and demanding that he immediately send Sigma a message saying he has changed his mind and wants to meet in exchange for not arresting him for hacking. Azi has no idea who Anna works for, but is horrified to learn that his secret identity is blown and knows he has no choice but to agree. All his own technology is confiscated, along with most of his online currency, and he finds himself tethered to a new phone that runs only one app: New Action Directives Issued Remotely (NADIR). Following the NADIR commands, Azi meets Sigma, Munira Khan in real life, who tells him she stumbled over the documents when a recruiter from the far right Islamic Republic inserted a thumb drive into a laptop she had loaned her cousin, who is now in Syria filming glorious deaths and gory executions for the Islamic Republic propaganda machine. Azi is frightened of Anna and the even scarier Odi, but follows their directions and flees London for Berlin with Munira. Azi uses his Jim Denison persona to infiltrate Gomorrah and discovers that the reality of the dark web is far more terrifying than anything he imagined. This alarming high-tech debut thriller combines non-stop action with dark humor.

The Never GameJeffery Deaver
The Never Game (G.P. Putnam’s Sons 2019) introduces Colter Shaw, who travels around the US in his Winnebago, earning reward money by finding missing persons. Shaw has just arrived in Silicon Valley to talk to Frank Mulliner, who has offered a $10,000 reward for the return of his 19-year-old daughter Sophie, who vanished two days earlier. Frank admits that he and Sophie had a fight before she stormed out of the house on her mountain bike. Even working two jobs, he couldn’t make enough money to keep the family house in Mountain View, and had just listed it for sale. At the Quick Byte Café, where Sophie was last seen, Shaw talks the owner into showing him the security video, and he spots a hooded figure crouching down by Sophie’s bike before she peddles furiously off to the north. Guessing that she has a favorite place to burn off anger in San Miguel Park, Shaw finds the fragment of a bike reflector, a blood-stained rock, and Sophie’s phone. He heads to Santa Clara to talk to Detective Wiley, who took Frank’s missing person report, handing over the phone and his notes, hand written with a fountain pen and including a list ranked by percentage of the most likely scenarios. Wiley is suspicious of Shaw’s involvement and dismissive of his request for a search in San Miguel Park. The owner of the Quick Byte Café calls Shaw to report that the Missing poster featuring Sophie’s picture has been replaced by an odd black and white stencil of a stylized face, leading Shaw to a creepy video game called The Whispering Man. Shaw, raised with his two siblings in the wilderness by his paranoid survivalist father, has excelling tracking skills and self-defence skills, but little experience with computers or the gaming industry. Maddie, a professional gamer, offers to serve as his guide, taking him to the C3 Conference, an international video gaming extravaganza at the San Jose Convention Center. The cutthroat billion-dollar gaming industry moves to the top of Shaw’s motive list, the only question is who and why. This suspenseful thriller starring the uniquely talented Colter Shaw is the first in a planned series.

The Ninja DaughterTori Eldridge
The Ninja Daughter (Agora Books 2019) introduces Lily (Dumpling) Wong, the 24-year-old daughter of a Hong Kong Chinese mother and a North Dakota Norwegian father. Lily’s younger sister Rose was raped and murdered seven years earlier, and Lily has never forgiven herself for ignoring a text from Rose the night she was killed. Lily had studied Wushu, a blend of performance and martial art, for years, but switched to Ninjutsu, the strategy and tactics of ninja warfare, after Lily’s death. Now a modern-day kunoichi, a female ninja, Lily works for Aleisha Reiner, who runs a refuge for abused women and their children, helping women escape from bad situations and persuading their abusers to leave them alone. Lily lives above her father’s Chinese restaurant in Culver City in a small apartment containing her martial arts studio, helping in the restaurant and concealing her true work from her parents. A large Los Angeles Country Metropolitan Transit Authority map covers one wall, an aid for moving seamlessly through the traffic congested streets with a combination of her Merida road bicycle, mass transit, and ride-sharing as a final resort. Lily has just finished helping Kateryna and her four-year-old son Ilya escape from the abusive Dmitry Romanko, a lawyer for the Ukrainian mob, when she learns Kateryna, fearing retribution to her parents in the Ukraine, has returned home. Her other project is supporting Mia Mikkelsen, whose rape charge against J Tran has just been dropped for insufficient evidence. Mia fears that Tran will return to kill her, and after witnessing Tran kill two armed Korean gang members with his knife, Lily knows her fears are justified. This captivating debut thriller is the first in a planned series starring the compassionate, clever, dangerous, and constantly hungry Lily Wong.

The CurrentTim Johnston
The Current (Algonquin Books 2019) begins when college sophomore Audrey Sutter asks her friend Caroline Price for a loan for bus fare to visit her dying father, the former sheriff of a small town in Minnesota. Caroline has just broken up with her boyfriend, and offers to drive her instead, eager for any distraction. At a nearly deserted Iowa gas station late at night the girls are attacked and flee. When their car is found in the icy Black Root River the nearly frozen Audrey is taken to ICU; Caroline’s body is carried by the current and washes up later. This new death sparks the town’s memory of another young woman found dead in the same river — Gordon Burke’s daughter Holly. Rachel Young’s son Danny was arrested for the murder but released for lack of evidence. Danny swore he was innocent, but only his mother and disabled brother Marky seemed to believe him, so Danny left town. When Audrey wakes up she finds her father and her father’s former deputy Ed Moran, now the sheriff of Pawnee County, Iowa, at her bedside. Audrey can’t remember much about the two young men who attacked her, the gas station was not well lit and they fled after Caroline fought back with her mace canister. Sheriff Moran doesn’t seem to believe that their attackers followed them and pushed Caroline’s car into the river, watching from the bank as it broke through the ice and sank. Soon after Audrey is released from the hospital, her fractured arm in a cast, her father dies. Driven to find their attackers for Caroline’s sake, Audrey begins searching, and is warned off by Sheriff Moran. Gordon, who has never recovered from the grief of his own daughter’s death, offers support, and the two discover connections to Holly’s murder. This beautifully written thriller — narrated from the perspectives of Audrey, Gordon, and Rachel — explores the debilitating effects of grief and the near impossibility of escaping the suspicion of guilt.

Little VoicesVanessa Lillie
Little Voices (Thomas & Mercer 2019) begins when Devon Burges is rushed to the hospital, seven months pregnant and in terrible pain. An obsessive researcher, Devon tells the ER doctor that she is sure she has the symptoms of a detached placenta. As the anesthesia for her emergency cesarian takes hold, Devon hears the news reporting the murder of 27-year-old Berlina Cabrala, the friend she spent the afternoon with. Eight week later Devon is released, still recovering from the surgery that nearly killed her, pumping milk for premature baby Ester who cries and fusses constantly, and listening to the critical little voices in her head insisting she is a bad wife and worse mother. Devon’s husband Jack is the chief of staff for the mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, his hometown they returned to after meeting at Georgetown University and continuing on together to law school at Georgetown Law. Jack’s controlling Uncle Cal is very involved in local politics, and hopes his nephew will become governor one day. After nearly being disbarred for stalking an accused pedophile released for lack of evidence, Devon specialized in identifying and prosecuting fraud until the she became pregnant and started investigating motherhood instead. Berlina worked as a nanny for their old college friend Alec, who is the prime suspect for her murder. Devon remembers that she found Belina’s day planner left on the bench that last afternoon, and finds it still stuck in the handbag Jack brought home from the hospital. Desperate to regain her old self-confidence, Devon analyzes the code she finds in the day planner, preparing a memo to present to Detective Ramos, who seems unwilling to investigate anyone other than Alec. Jack is concerned that Devon is becoming too involved with Belina’s murder, fearing that the blackouts and delusions that incapacitated her while working as a prosecutor of sex crimes and domestic violence will return. But Devon is determined to find justice for Belina, no matter what the cost, and doesn’t tell him the voices have come back. This debut psychological thriller exploring postpartum depression and the long reaches of past trauma is haunting.

The Truth Behind the LieSara Lövestam
The Truth Behind the Lie (Minotaur 2019, Sweden 2015) begins when Stockholm single mother Pernilla answers Kouplan’s ad offering his services as a private detective for cases where the police can’t help. Pernilla’s six-year old daughter Julia has been missing for three days, but she insists the police can’t be involved. Kouplan, a young Iranian immigrant, has been living outside the law since his asylum appeal was rejected three years earlier. Kouplan and his brother fled Iran after their involvement with a radical newspaper was discovered and deportation would be a death sentence. Kouplan’s brother hasn’t been seen for several years, Kouplan lives in fear, desperately missing his family. His journalism skills have taught him how to follow a trail of clues, and working as a private investigator is his only chance to earn enough money to live, though he cringes at the glance of every police officer. Living and working off the grid is excellent preparation for finding missing persons, but the disappearance of a child is something new. When Kouplan notices the scars on Pernilla’s arms, she explains that she suffered from depression before her pregnancy, and worried that social services would take her child. She pretended to have a miscarriage and has hidden her daughter for six years. Kouplan tracks their recent walks and visits to the library, searching unsuccessfully for a hint of anyone who might have taken Julia. A rumor on the street of a dangerous man called M.B. involved with human smuggling who is said to have added a young girl to his supply of young women terrifies him. Interspersed sections from the viewpoint of a kidnapped child ramp up the tension in this haunting debut thriller, the first in a planned four book series featuring the anguished young private investigator.

The Perfect SonLauren North
The Perfect Son (Berkley 2019) begins when Tess Clarke wakes the day after her son Jamie’s eighth birthday party sure of only four things: she is in the hospital, she’s been stabbed, she’s still alive, and her son is missing. Tess is sure that her brother-in-law Ian and her grief counselor Shelley Lange are somehow involved, but can’t quite make sense of everything through the morphine haze. Tess imagines that her husband Mark is at her bedside, but remembers he died in a plane crash two months earlier. Mark’s death sent Tess into a deep pit of dispair, barely able to take care of herself and their son. Tess didn’t respond to phone calls from her family, and her mother, who is too unwell to travel, arranged for a grief counselor to visit. At first Tess is comforted by Shelley’s visits, but she begins to worry that Shelley, whose own child died of leukemia at the age of two, is jealous of Tess’s own son, exactly the age Shelley’s son would be if he had survived. Ian visits and pressures Tess to begin the process of dealing with Mark’s estate, explaining that he lent Mark 100,000 pounds and needs the money to buy out his partner who wants to retire. Tess doesn’t remember anything about a loan, but never paid much attention to their finances. She notices a man following her during the rare occasions she leaves the house, receives a series of frightening anonymous calls, and catches Shelley and Ian talking furtively, though they insist they never met before. The only thing that helps Tess survive the grief of Mark’s death is the loving relationship she has with Jamie. Tess’s memories of the weeks leading up to the stabbing are interspersed with statements by Ian and Shelley, providing different viewpoints of the same events. This emotionally intense debut suspense thriller explores the debilitating effects of grief and loss.

The Fragility of BodiesSergio Olguín
The Fragility of Bodies (Bitter Lemon Press 2019, Argentina 2012) introduces Verónica Rosenthal, a magazine journalist in Buenos Aires. When a train engineer kills himself, leaving behind a letter asking for forgiveness for the crimes he committed, Verónica begins looking into the trauma caused by people throwing themselves in front of trains. Carranza’s suicide letter mentioned four deaths over a period of three years, three men and an unidentified child. She is introduced to Lucio Valrossa, another driver for the Sarmiento Railway Company, who explains how the engineers begin to hate the suicide victims who force them to become murderers since it is impossible to stop the train in time. Though they are told the deaths aren’t their fault, Lucio explains that it is impossible to stop thinking about the sound of the impact, the screaming, and the sensation of bones cracking under the train. But what really haunts the drivers are not the suicides, but the young boys playing chicken on the rails on the night runs. Lucio takes Verónica on a night run and two boys suddenly materialize on the tracks. Lucio applies the emergency brake, but Verónica is sure the boys will be crushed before first one and then the other throw themselves to the sides. The fear and adrenalin throw Verónica and Lucio together, and they begin a violent sexual affair. Meanwhile, 10-year-old El Peque is recruited by Rivero for his Spring Breezes soccer club. Rivero isn’t scouting for the best soccer players, instead searching for tough young fighters unafraid of injury. Rivero haunts the slums, looking for fatherless young boys desperate to earn a bit of money. Peque is thrilled to be noticed, and excited to learn there is an opportunity to earn 100 pesos (about $2) by competing against an other boy at night. Lucio, tortured by the six who died under his train, and Verónica, a self-destructive thrill seeker, begin trying to track down the boys and the men who gamble on their fate, facing danger along with their own demons in this intense noir series opener.

The Chestnut ManSøren Sveistrup
The Chestnut Man (Harper 2019, Denmark 2018) introduces Naia Thulin, a Danish police office unhappy with the boredom of her nine months’ work at the Copenhagen Major Crimes Division. Thulin is considering requesting a transfer to NC3, the national cyber crime department, when Mark Hess is suddenly sent back home in disgrace from his assignment at Europol’s headquarters in the Hague. The two are partnered on the murder of Laura Kjær, found tortured with her right hand amputated. Next to the body is a chestnut man, a simple doll made from two chestnuts with matchstick arms and legs. The forensic examnation of the chestnut man reveals a partial fingerprint matched to Kristine Hartung, the 12-year-old daughter of a government minister who was kidnapped and murdered a year earlier. Linus Bekker, a paranoid schizophrenic confessed to dismembering Kristine’s body and burying the body parts in different forest locations, but was unable to show the police any of the burial locations. Minister of Social Affairs Rosa Hartung and her husband Steen are close to signing the papers to declare Kristine dead, but the news of the fingerprint awakens faint hope that she may still be alive, though their daughter did sell chestnut dolls with her friend each autumn. Hess planned to just mark time while his Europol reprimand is being investigated, but the fingerprint on the chestnut man nags at him, and he digs out the Bekker files. He discovers that police didn’t follow up any other leads once the bloody machete was discovered in Bekker’s garage. No bone dust was found on the machete, and Hess is sure that Bekker was framed and coerced into confessing. The idea that Kristine’s killer may still be at large is not popular with Hess’s colleagues and superiors, but Thulin gradually comes around to his theory that Kristine’s case is connected to the Copenhagen killer who removes body parts and leaves chestnut men. This dark debut thriller featuring the complex Thulin and Hess leaves open the possibility of a sequel.

Theme MusicT. Marie Vandelly
Theme Music (Dutton 2019) is the story of Dixie Wheeler, whose father killed her mother and three brothers with an axe before slashing his own throat. Only 18-month old Dixie was spared, found eating Froot Loops in her high chair amidst the gore, the song “Baby Blue” playing at full volume, when 15-year-old neighbor Rory arrived to meet her oldest brother. Dubbed Baby Blue, Dixie was raised by her Aunt Celia and Uncle Ford, unaware of her infamous family history until she was eight and assigned homework of creating a family tree. Now in her mid-20s, Dixie is househunting with her boyfriend Garrett when an address pops up in her Zillow feed: 6211 Catharpian Road, Franconia, VA. As a child Dixie had asked Aunt Celia to take her by her family’s house, and interpreted her answer that there was nothing to see to mean the house was gone. Dixie arranges a tour of the house, recently upgraded and painted, and is consumed with a need to live in the house. They put in an offer, and it’s not until Aunt Celia forces her that Dixie tells Garrett the truth about the history of the house. He refuses to move in, but the sellers are so desperate to sell that they agree to let Dixie rent. Her Uncle Davis, who insisted his brother was innocent until his recent death, had stored the entire contents of the house, and her Aunt Charlene is eager to give Dixie all the boxes and furniture. Using the photo albums, Dixie begins to arrange the furniture, lamps, and knick-knacks into an faithful reconstruction of the home she doesn’t remember, hoping to spark memories of the family she has forgotten. In one of the boxes Dixie discovers a file about the mass murder, including crime scene photographs, and learns that Uncle Davis had continually pressured Detective Cullins to reopen the case. Noticing that many of the numbered crime scene photos are missing, she visits Detective Cullins, now retired, and learns that all the pictures featuring the axe propped in the corned near the refrigerator are missing. Dixie is determined to make sense of her past, but the longer she stays in the house the more dubious she is about her own sanity: she hears sounds in the night, objects are not where she left them, and the nightmares featuring her bloody family grow more intense. This intense debut thriller with dark supernatural elements is very disturbing.

Three-FifthsJohn Vercher
Three-Fifths (Agora Books 2019) is the story of Bobby Saraceno, a 22-year-old waiter in 1995 Pittsburgh. Bobby’s mother Isabel, a barely functional alcoholic, told him his father left her and then died, concealing the fact his father was black. They lived with his bigoted grandparents, and Bobby believed he was white until his mother told the truth during a fight with her father when Bobby was eleven. From that point on it was only the two of them struggling to make ends meet. Bobby continued to pass as white, hiding his true identity from everyone, including his best friend Aaron, bonded by their shared love of comic books since middle school. Aaron has just been released from a three-year prison term, hardened and covered with neo-Nazi tattoos, choosing to become a white supremacist to protect himself in prison. When Bobby picks him up outside the prison Aaron is clutching a brick and Bobby realizes that despite his new bulk, Aaron is terrified. They stop at the Original Hot Dog Shop to feed Aaron’s craving for non-prison food, and Aaron gets into an argument with two young black men, leaving Marcus Anderson bleeding in the parking lot with his head caved in from the brick. Bobby is frightened that his truck may have been caught on the security camera, and knows he can never tell Aaron the truth about his mixed-race heritage. Robert Winston, a black emergency room doctor, treats Anderson, and stops off at a bar to decompress before heading home to his unhappy wife. At the next barstool is Isabel, who recognizes him and decides it is time to introduce Bobby to the father who never knew he existed. This intense debut thriller, set during the non-stop news coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial and reports of rioting in Los Angeles, explores themes of race, identity, and the overpowering need to fit in.

To the LionsHolly Watt
To the Lions (Dutton 2019) introduces Casey Benedict, an investigative reporter at the London Post. Casey traveled the world for years, following the heartbreaking stories of disaster and war before returning home to work with Miranda Darcey as the Post’s investigative duo, digging into the in-depth stories that take weeks or months to come to fruition. Their current project is an investigation of fraud at Cormium, one of the biggest commodity traders in the world. Tipped off by one of her bartender sources, Casey slips into her party-girl disguise and charms her way into a booth of drunken Cormium executives, including the chief executive Oliver Selby. When the men leave the table for a drinking game on the dance floor, Casey overhears scraps of conversation from the next booth, a Frenchman and an American taking about shooting from a hilltop into a camp into the middle of nowhere. The bartender gives Casey a copy of the credit card used to guarantee the drink order — Sebastian Azarola, one of the founders of Cyan Capital, a hedge fund company. Unfortunately his picture online doesn’t look like either of the two men Casey overheard. Miranda and Casey begin researching Cyan, hoping to identify the man with the American accent who sounded horrified, and begin speculating what the men might have meant by a camp. Perhaps a shantytown slum surrounding cities like Cape Town or Rio, or maybe a refugee camp in Lebanon or another war-torn area of the world? Using her ability to change personas as easily as her shoes, Casey follows a web of connections, becoming more convinced every day that something very dark is enticing the ultra-rich into deadly games. This intense debut thriller by a real-life investigative journalist was awarded the 2019 Steel Dagger Award.

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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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