2023 Reviews
October 1, 2023

The Blue BarDamyanti Biswas
The Blue Bar (Thomas & Mercer 2023) begins in 2002 in Mumbai’s Borivali Station, when 17-year-old Blue Bar dancer Tara Mondal poses at the end of the platform in an elaborate saree covered with dark-blue sequins. When her phone vibrates, she has exactly three minutes to make it up the crowded stairs and out of the station to earn her fee. Thirteen years later Inspector Arnav Singh Rajput is called to a Taneja Estate Holdings construction site on Madh Island, where an excavator uncovers the remains of a body. The head, hands, and feet are missing, but Dr. Meshram suspects the body is that of a woman rather than a boy, buried sometime in the past 20 years. Rahul Taneja appears at the discovery site, insisting he be allowed to continue construction immediately. Arnav explains they will also need to search the surrounding area in case, and Taneja stalks off to put pressure on his police connections. Arnav is reminded of the pain he felt when his girlfriend Tara left him 13 years earlier without a word of goodbye, empathizing with the relatives of this dead women who have no idea what happened to her. Two more bodies are found near scatterings of dark-blue sequins, all young women missing their heads, hands, and feet. Arnav initiates a records search from other areas and finds two more similar murders from 2002 and 2008. Arnav’s boss Senior Inspector Ravi Mhatre orders him to concentrate on the new murder cases piling up on his desk and forget the cold cases, but Arnav is haunted by the murdered women and the families needing resolution. Then a body is found dumped in a suitcase in the mangrove swamp, a woman missing her head, hands, and feet, and the fact that there is a serial killer in Mumbai cannot be ignored, despite the huge bribes paid to the police and other officials. This evocative crime thriller is the first in the Blue Mumbai series.

The FiresSigríður Hagalín Björnsdóttir
The Fires (Amazon Crossing 2023; Iceland 2020) centers on Icelandic volcanologist Anna Arnardóttir, the daughter of a scientist specialising in the flow of lava, who became fascinated by volcanoes at a young age. Anna is happily married to Kristinn, a tax accountant, with two children. Anna and her fellow volcanologists at the Institute of Earth Sciences at the University of Iceland and the Earthquake Hazard Monitoring Department are monitoring the Reykjanes Ridge, which has been shaking more than usual the past three weeks. They are currently in the “Uncertainty Phase” of the warning levels, and being pressured by politicians and the tourist board to lift the warning level so that tourists will feel more comfortable booking flights. Then an eruption creates an ash plume that drifts over the city of Reykjavík. All the groups meet at the Scientific Council, deciding to evacuate certain areas and contain the passengers at the airport until things become clearer. The international airport is just getting back to normal service after the pandemic, and the officials are horrified it might be closed, though the risks were clearly outlined by the scientists, explaining that Iceland is an active volcanic island that erupts on average every four years. The Icelandic Coast Guard takes the scientists up in a plane to track the plume from the submarine volcano, and to Anna’s dismay the PM, several ministers, and the press are given seats on the plane, all hoping to profit in some way by the disaster. Anna meets Tómas Adler, a nature photographer, who captures the terror on her face as she gazes out the window at the smoke plume. The ash subsides, and the politicians pressure the scientists for permission to build a viewing platform for tourists, hoping to boost visits to Iceland. Tómas accompanies Anna on several excursion, capturing the beauty of the danger as she takes measurements. Anna suspects something new and potentially fatal is happening under the water, but her colleagues are dubious and she is distracted by a betrayal of her own body: she is hopelessly attracted to Tómas. They begin a covert affair, allowing Anna escape from the pressures of her job of predicting a disaster soon enough to save lives. Interspersed sections provide information about Iceland’s geology and history of volcanic eruptions, casting a cloud of doom over the hope that the Reykjanes Ridge isn’t “due” for another eruption. This atmospheric thriller is aptly subtitled Love & Other Disasters in the original Icelandic.

HideTracy Clark
Hide (Thomas & Mercer 2023) introduces Harriet (Harri) Foster, a detective in the Chicago police department. Harriet is returning from leave to a new department, unable to return to the parking lot at her old department where her former partner Detective Glynnis Thomas committed suicide. Harriet is also grieving the death of her young son, shot by an older boy who wanted his new bike, dropping a marble into a tall glass vase to mark each of the 1825 days he has been gone. Foster isn’t crazy about her new partner Jim Lonergan, a veteran old-school cop, who prefers intimidation to persuasion. They are called to the Riverwalk where the naked body of a woman has been found, a young blue-eyed redhead eviscerated by a large knife, rings of red lipstick around her wrists and ankles. Near her body is an unconscious young Black man, unmarked except for a drop of blood on his jacket. The woman has no identification, but ID in the man’s pocket identify him as 19-year-old Keith Ainsley, a student at Northwestern University. Lonergan immediately declares that Ainsley is the murderer, though he had no way of transporting the body, has no defensive wounds, and the drop of blood on his jacket does not belong to the victim. Ainsley remembers little of the previous night, and has no idea how he ended up passed out on the Riverwalk. Meanwhile 32-year-old Bodie Davies is released from a voluntary 30-day stay at Westhaven Psychiatric Hospital in lieu of jail time after being arrested twice for stalking attractive red-headed women. There he was treated by Dr. Mariana Silva, feeding her lies about a happy childhood with loving parents. Convinced he has a much darker past, Dr. Silva offers to continue his sessions, but Bodie can’t wait to see the last of her. Just outside the gate his twin sister Amelia is waiting for him, relieved he is out but worried that now she will have to keep an eye on him herself. Amelia understands Bodie’s compulsion, but the reason is a family secret they will do just about anything to protect. A second victim is found with the same lipstick markings, and Foster fears they are chasing a serial killer targeting young redheads. This compelling police procedural is the first in a new series featuring the talented and driven Harriet Foster.

You Know HerMeagan Jennett
You Know Her (MCD 2023) begins on New Year’s Eve in the Blue Bell bar in the small town of Bellair, Virginia. Bartender Sophie Braam is usually able to ignore the constant advice to “Smile Sweetheart!” from drunk men who think it’s OK to pat and stroke but on this night her nerves are frayed. The final straw is when entitled Mark Dixon, best friend of the owner, sneaks behind the bar to drink the expensive glass of wine she has been saving as a final treat for herself after closing up. The owner and the rest of the staff have headed off to an after party and Mark begs for a ride home. Sophie very reluctantly agrees since she know there is no chance of getting a taxi in their remote location at that time of the night. But Mark won’t stop talking and then begins putting his hands down her pants and up her shirt so she pulls over and tries to kick him out of the car. Taking the stop as agreement for sex, Mark increases his advances, so she strangles him with the seatbelt. Instead of feeling guilt and remorse, Sophie feels powerful. Nora Martin is new to the Bellair Police Department and hoping to move up soon to detective, but most of her male colleagues won’t have anything to do with her since she is a woman with dark skin. Only Detective Murphy is supportive, promising to move her into his detective spot when he retires in a year. Mark’s body is found at the County Waste Center when a load of garbage is dumped. Nora is horrified by the mutilation of the week-old body — castrated and tongueless — and Murph recognizes Mark as a regular at the Blue Bell. Sophie tells them she saw him last on New Year’s Eve, heading out to the Tap House with the serving staff as she closed up. The owner and staff said they expected Mark to join them and don’t know where he went instead. At the funeral Nora and Sophie talk, finding an unexpected connection because of their jobs as women working in a man’s world and Nora wonders if perhaps she has finally found a friend in her new town. As the months pass another body is found with the same mutilation, but then nothing more, and no one is willing to listen to Nora’s concerns about a possible serial killer. This powerful debut thriller features interspersed chapters from the perspectives of both women reveal their struggles containing the frustration (Nora) and rage (Sophie) fermenting just under their surface mask of control.

The Stolen CoastDwyer Murphy
The Stolen Coast (Viking 2023) is the story of Jack Betancourt, a Harvard educated lawyer returned to live in the small coastal town of Onset, Massachusetts, where he grew up. The town knows that Jack is a lawyer in name only, his real occupation is the family business partnership with his father, a retired spy. Jack’s father has turned the town into a haven for those who need to disappear and start new lives, using the holiday homes unoccupied during the off season. Their clients are other former spies, mobsters, and criminals of all sorts. Jack played basketball in college, and the highlight of his week is the regular pickup game until his old girlfriend Elena arrives back to town seven years after she left. Elena always has a scheme in the works, but Jack resists her sales pitch until the drop-off of a young gambler escaping his debts goes horribly wrong, causing him to rethink his life choices. Elena’s plan is to steal a cache of raw diamonds worth somewhere between three and 180 million dollars from her boss, the senior partner of a New York law firm who is holding them for an underworld client at his summer residence. Elena needs Jack’s help to break into the safe, and he is disillusioned enough with his current existence to agree. At first the challenges of planning the heist are intriguing enough to pull Jack out of his lethargy, but as things begin to go off course he wonders if the excitement of the caper is enough to balance potentially giving up everything. This character-driven thriller is stylish and witty.

Regrets OnlyKieran Scott
Regrets Only (Gallery Books 2023) begins when Paige Lancaster, a writer for a popular TV detective show, returns from Los Angeles to her hometown of Piermont, Connecticut, with her eight-year-old daughter Izzy, moving in with her widowed mother. Paige is fleeing some bad decisions and rash actions, hoping to keep a low-profile in the town she left 24 years earlier. While picking Izzy up from school Paige is ambushed by the four women running the Parent Booster Association (PBA) — Ainsley Anderson, Lanie Chen-Katapodis, Dayna Goodman, and Bee Dolan — pressuring her to join to fulfill their 100% membership target. Paige mumbles that she really isn’t the joining type and escapes. Membership Chair Lanie decides to throw a party and invite Page and Izzy, who is thrilled at the chance to spend time with potential new friends, and Paige reluctantly joins the PBA. Ainsley is married to Paige’s high school boyfriend John, living in one of the mansions on the cliffs overlooking the ocean, the site of the Parents and Pinot fundraiser for the PBA. John gives Paige a tour of the house, and his comments about how proud her father was of her bring her to tears. Ainsley comes into the room while he is comforting her, and a glass of red wine ends up splashed over Paige’s dress. Fleeing to the bathroom, Paige brings her fist down on a towel rack, tearing it from the wall and leaving a huge hole. Sneaking downstairs, Paige overhears an argument between Ainsley and Lanie. The next morning the news spreads that Ainsley died falling down the stairs in the waning hours of the party. It may have been an accident caused by too much wine, but the police have to rule out foul play, and take a close look at John. Paige has only written scripts about detectives, but she is sure she can clear John’s name, and maybe her own when the police discover their decades old romance. Sure that something is off with the remaining three board members of the PBA, who all wear matching necklaces with four diamond stars, Paige begins asking uncomfortable questions that just may make her the next target. This engaging thriller set in the dangerous environment of competitive women competing to control their world exposes the dichotomy between their public perfect appearance and contented families and private chaos and anguish.

The Eden TestAdam Sternbergh
The Eden Test (Flatiron Books 2023) begins when Daisy decides to do something about her failing marriage, signing up for a seven-day getaway called The Eden Test: Seven Days, Seven Questions, Forever Changed. Though only married for two years, Daisy knows her husband Craig is frustrated with her decision to stick to local theatre productions, refusing to audition for TV or movie roles. Craig hates his job, Daisy makes little money, and they fight all the time. In fact, Craig already has his bags packed in the trunk of his car, ready to leave for a vacation in Cabo San Lucas with his new lover Lilith in two days. Daisy leaves a note for Craig about her surprise anniversary getaway gift along with directions to the cabin in upstate New York. Daisy meets The Eden Test representative at the remote cabin, receiving a map to the nearest grocery store, special sacks for stashing their phones, and an envelope labeled Q1 in florid gold script. Craig is angry when he arrives after fighting the traffic from their apartment New York and frustrated that Daisy hasn’t answered any of his calls. She hands him a glass of wine, explains that there isn’t any cell service, and serves him a dinner of roast chicken. Craig relaxes and enjoys the food and drink as Daisy explains the retreat is for a week. Craig knows he needs to tell Daisy the truth and text Lilith about the delay, planning to leave after dinner. But he drinks too much and is enjoying the time with Daisy and listens to the first question: Would you change for me? They have a long talk, connecting for the first time in months, and enjoy their night together. The next day is even more enjoyable with a long swim in the lake and the second question: Would you sacrifice for me? As the days pass Craig sneaks his phone out of the bag and finds a hillside with phone reception to try and placate Lilith, while Daisy sends secret texts on a burner phone she keeps hidden. They enjoy their time together, though some of the locals are outright hostile, referring to them as “citiots” (city idiots). The questions become increasingly difficult to answer while maintaining their web of lies and deceptions, and each begins to share pieces of the truth, which will either bring them closer together or drive them further apart. This chilling psychological thriller maintains a high level of suspense to the very end.

The Sunset Years of Agnes SharpLeonie Swann
The Sunset Years of Agnes Sharp (Soho Crime 2023, German 2020) begins when a salesperson for the Lime Tree Court retirement community rings the doorbell of Sunset Hall, Agnes Sharp’s family home in England. It’s not a good morning for Agnes: her hip is aching, the stairlift isn’t working, she can’t find her false teeth, and her hearing is going in and out. But Agnes knows no one can go into the back yard where Lillith has been lying dead in the woodshed the last few days with a bullet in her head, and answers the door, accepting the brochure and offering Edwina’s inedible biscuits to discourage a longer visit. Then all the housemates gather for a crisis meeting to decide what to do about Lillith’s body: new resident Charlie and her gigantic dog Brexit, Winston in his wheelchair, blind Bernadette, vague Edwina, Marshall whose memory comes and goes, and Hettie the tortoise. They are just organizing a search for Marshall’s gun, which has gone missing, when the doorbell rings again: a young policeman. The housemates are first panicked and then shocked to hear he has come to warn them about the murder of their neighbor Mildred Puck, shot dead in her deck chair on her own terrace. Agnes was friends with Mildred long ago when they were children, but they grew apart as adults and haven’t visited for years. When the policeman leaves Agnes has a brilliant idea — they can now “discover” Lillith’s body and pin her murder on the burglar who killed Mildred. The only problem is that Marshall can’t remember large sections of the previous day and there is no sign of his gun. Deciding it would be best if they figure out exactly who killed Mildred, they leave the comfort of Sunset Hall to ask questions in the nearby village of Duck End, tortoise in tow. This humorous mystery featuring the elderly ensemble cast is the first in a series.

The PartisanPatrick Worrall
The Partisan (Union Square & Co. 2023; UK 2022) is set in the summer of 1961, when young chess prodigies Yulia Sergeiovna Forsheva and Michael Fitzgerald, the son of the Director of Naval Intelligence, meet at a chess tournament in London. Michael, a Cambridge University student reading Russian literature, is stunned by Yulia’s beauty and overwhelmed by her chess talent. Yulia’s scientist father taught her to play chess, her mother Anna Vladimirovna Forsheva is an important Politburo official. Wanting to see more of Michael, Yulia deliberately makes a fatal error so that they can meet again in the next round of the tournament in Berlin. Yulia’s father has recently disappeared, so she is under close watch out of the USSR. Yulia’s minder in London is Vassily, a powerful spymaster who has become disillusioned by the brutality of his comrades, especially sadistic Maxim Karpov, the chief administrator of the Soviet nuclear weapons program, and his faithful thug Oleg. Karpov has always had an unsavory taste for young girls. Stationed in Lithuania in 1941, Karpov killed most of the people in a small village, and then demanded a young girl bring him flowers that night. Instead Greta, herself little more than a child, appeared dressed in a school uniform to avenge her mother and her village, nearly killing Karpov before fleeing into the forest. That was the last time Karpov left Russia. Greta escapes into the forest with her two best friends, Lithuanian Jews Vita and Riva. The three girls lived in the wild, occasionally joining other partisan groups, where Greta was trained as a sharpshooter. Twenty years later Greta is the only survivor, traveling the world to assassinate Nazi fugitives, questioning them about the English double agent who betrayed the Lithuania resistance fighters, and hoping for another chance to kill Karpov. Sections from different viewpoint move backward and forward in time, filling in the history that molded each character. This character-driven debut spy thriller is masterful.

September 1, 2023

The Bitter PastBruce Borgos
The Bitter Past (Minotaur Books 2023) introduces Porter Beck, a former military intelligence officer, now sheriff in Lincoln County, Nevada, a sparsely-populated high desert area north of Las Vegas. Beck retired from the Army five years earlier for medical reasons, returning to Lincoln County to help care for his father, the former sheriff, now in the early stages of dementia. There isn’t a lot of murder in Lincoln County, so Beck’s small team is unprepared for the horrendous violence of the murder of retired FBI agent Ralph Atterbury, tortured for hours before his death. Atterbury’s small house has been torn apart, the killer searching for something but leaving the guns and money behind. Beck is sure the murder isn’t random, that Atterbury was targeted specifically, especially when he notices the old box of Thallium salts on the kitchen counter, the poison of choice for the Russians. His theory is confirmed when FBI Special Agent Sana Locke arrives from Washington DC the next day. Sana tells Beck in confidence that the Russians sent an undercover agent to Nevada in the 1950s, infiltrating the atomic testing program located in Lincoln County. Beck is only too familiar with that history, his mother, like many “downwinders,” died of cancer. In the 1960s the Russian KGB agent began sharing information with the Americans, and Atterbury was the double agent’s final FBI handler. Interspersed sections beginning in 1955, reveal the story of the young Russian agent, AKA Freddie Meyer, who got a job at a Los Vegas casino in order to meet Kitty, the daughter of Proving Grounds scientist Roger Ellison. Impressed with his daughter’s new boyfriend, Ellison recommends Freddie for a position as a security guard at the government facility, assigned to Area 51. Realizing the Russians have learned their former agent is still alive, Beck sets his team searching for men in their 80s and 90s, racing to find the double agent before the Russian killer does. This intelligent character-driven thriller is the author’s first crime novel.

The Lindbergh NannyMariah Fredericks
The Lindbergh Nanny (Minotaur Books 2022) begins in February 1931 when Betty Gow, a 26-year-old immigrant from Scotland, arrives in Englewood, New Jersey, to interview for the position of nanny for Colonel and Mrs. Lindbergh. Betty is overwhelmed by the grand house, which belongs to Mrs. Lindbergh’s parents, and intimidated by the butler. The Lindbergs ask questions about her views on caring for babies, and Betty quickly realizes the colonel has strong views himself about encouraging self-sufficiency and minimal cuddling. Mrs. Lindbergh explains they will be taking a trip to the Orient in the summer, leaving Betty in charge of the child for a few months, and Betty assures the couple she would be happy to take on that responsibility. The next day she learns the rules of the household, including not responding if the baby cries when put to bed by himself. Banks the butler and Ellerson the chauffeur warn her about the sightseers and gawkers who drive by the house and peer through the fence, hoping for a glimpse of America’s most famous baby. Betty immediately falls in love with baby Charlie but finds Colonel Lindbergh distinctly odd and Mrs. Lindbergh constantly nervous, yet kind to Betty and loving to Charlie. A month later the family moves to a temporary house in Princeton, New Jersey, while their own new home is being constructed nearby. The Lindbergh’s hire Elsie and Olly to run the temporary house and three staff and three Lindberghs find the temporary house cramped and privacy in short supply. One day Betty answers the doorbell since the Whatleys are busy, and a desperate woman pushes her out of the way demanding to see the baby. After the police remove the disturbed woman, Colonel Lindbergh explains this is why they are so security conscious, to protect Charlie from deranged people as well as they greedy press who would do just about anything to get a picture of their famous yet mysterious child. Betty is recovering from a failed love affair that brought her to America, and is flattered when Henrik Johnson, a Norwegian sailor known as Red, begins to court her. Feeling admired for the first time in many months, Betty calls him Henry, and the two spend as much time as they can together. Then comes the night when Charlie is kidnapped, taken from the window of his second floor bedroom. A ransom demand arrives and is paid, but Charlie is not returned. The police interrogate everyone, including Betty who has trouble explaining why she didn’t check on the child during the night. This fictional retelling of the famous kidnapping from the perspective of Betty Gow is a finalist for the Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity Awards for Best Historical Mystery.

The Late Mrs WilloughbyClaudia Gray
The Late Mrs. Willoughby (Vintage 2023) begins with Mr. Jonathan Darcy, eldest son of Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy, reluctantly accepts an invitation to visit his former schoolmate John Willoughby, who has just inherited a great house named Allenham from an aunt. Jonathan’s parents assume Willoughby is a close school friend of their son, and Jonathan doesn’t have the heart to tell them that Willoughby and the other two invited guests, Ralph Bamber and Laurence Follett, mocked and teased him unmercifully throughout his entire time at school, calling him Thumps because of his habit of nervously rocking his chair. Willoughby is newly married, but clearly not happily. Willoughby married the former Sophia Grey for her fortune, and she has discovered that two of his former loves live locally: Beth Williams who bore him an illegitimate son, and Marianne, who he jilted to marry Sophia. Marianne is now happily married to Colonel Brandon, and has just invited her friend Miss Juliet Tilney of Northanger Abbey to visit. Jonathan and Juliet are thrilled to find themselves together again, having formed a close friendship earlier in the year while at a house party hosted by Emma and George Knightley. Together they helped solve a murder, easily the most exciting thing Juliet had ever experienced. Jonathan is fond of Juliet, the first person other than his parents able to look past his strange mannerisms to appreciate the person underneath. When Mrs. Willoughby dies suddenly after drinking a toast at a gathering to welcome her to town, they both suspect poison and begin finding excuses to spend time together, share their observations and suspicious about all the potential suspects. This second in the series starring the two young sleuths from the world of Jane Austen is clever and engaging.

The Secret HoursMick Herron
The Secret Hours (Soho 2023) begins when Max Janáĉek, a 63-year-old retired academic living in a North Devon cottage, wakes up to find an intruder entering though his kitchen window. He knocks the woman out with a poker, and barely escapes her companions by fleeing through the countryside, desperately trying to revive the spy-craft he hasn’t used for the past 20 years. The next day he retrieves the flight bag with a stack of cash and a false passport, heading to London to look up his last handler. Two years earlier, the Prime Minister with a grudge against the British Secret Service, set Monochrome, a group charged with investigating historical over-reaching by MI5. Monochrome was intended to give civil servants Griselda Fleet and Malcolm Kyle access to all confidential files in the Service archives, but MI5’s leader "First Desk," found a loophole preventing them from submitting any requests. Monochrome meets regularly with the appointed civilian notables, but no information of any substance has been examined. Then a file anonymously appears: a classified off-the-books operation in 1994 Berlin. A woman codenamed Alison North is called to testify before Monochrome, relating the story of her assignment to Berlin by David Cartwright, ostensively for the regular examination of the station’s books, but actually to secure evidence that Brinsley Miles is engaged in something underhanded. Miles had been behind the Wall, an agent in the field, and Cartwright wants to confirm his loyalty. Alison has only been with MI5 for 10 months, and is surprised and unprepared for the foreign assignment, but Cartwright explains there is a nasty flu going around in the service and few agents are available. Arriving in Berlin, Alison searches for the Station House, advised by women loitering on the street to look for the house with the fancy door, which has a white cartoon ghost painted on it. Miles is a large unpleasant man, deliberately rude, who smokes constantly and drinks cheap whiskey. As Alison testifies before Monochrome, flashbacks fill in the details of her life in Berlin as she begins spending evenings drinking and talking with Miles and his Berliner friend Otis. Meanwhile Max tries to evade whoever is after him while figuring out who they are and why he has become a danger to them. This standalone set in the Slough House universe is both thrilling and slyly funny.

EvergreenNaomi Hirahara
Evergreen (Soho Crime 2023) finds the Ito family back in Los Angeles in 1946. Luckily they can reclaim some of their possessions stored by friends when the family was sent to the Manzanar Internment Camp and then relocated to Chicago when released from the camp in 1944. But the flower market where Mr. Ito worked is under new management, and finding jobs and a place to live is a challenge. Mrs. Ito gets work cleaning houses, and Aki, now married to Art Nakasone who is still stationed overseas with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, gets a position as a nurse’s aide in the Japanese Hospital. Haruki Watanabe is admitted with a head wound and Aki discovers fading buises all over his body. In the waiting room Aki discovers she knows his son — her husband’s best man known as Babe for his baseball skills. Babe explains that his father is clumsy, always falling down, but Aki has never trusted Babe and fears he is abusing his father. Aki is overjoyed when Art is finally discharged and joins them in Los Angeles, but his time in the army has changed him, giving him terrible nightmares. Art finds work at the Rafu Shimpo newspaper, and begins spending most of his free time with the other staff, leaving Aki home alone with her parents. Haruki Watanabe arrives back at the hospital with a gunshot wound in the stomach, and dies on the operating table. Aki volunteers to visit the low-income San Mark Hotel where he was staying, hoping to find Babe, but the hotel staff explain that Babe moved out over a week ago. In Haruki’s room Aki finds a bamboo basket with freshly laundered and pressed shirts and a picture of a young woman, but no clue to where Babe might be. The police arrive at their home looking for Babe, and Aki tells them her husband hasn’t seen him since he returned home. Art won’t tell Aki anything, and she begins searching for Babe in the refugee camps full of Japanese American families living in unhealthy conditions, fearing he may have been responsible for his father’s murder. This evocative second in the series documents the hardships Japanese Americans continued to endure after the war.

ReykjavikRagnar Jónasson & Katrín Jakobsdóttir
Reykjavík: A Crime Story (Minotaur Books 2023) begins in 1956 Iceland. Fifteen-year-old Lára Marteinsdóttir has accepted a summer job working as a maid for Ólöf Blöndal and Óttar Óskarsson, the only residents on the small island of Videy just off the coast of Reykjavík. Lára’s parents are surprised when she tells them during her usual weekend phone call that she is quitting her job early since their daughter is very responsible and has plans for the money she was earning. When she doesn’t phone the next weekend they call in the police. Young officer Kristján Kristjánsson visits the island to interview the couple, but Ólöf and Óttar explain that she packed her suitcase and left the island with no explanation except that she was giving up her position early. Kristján is warned by his superiors not to ask them any more questions, Óttar is an important barrister with many powerful friends and should not be inconvenienced. Kristján organizes a search of Videy, but no sign of Lára is found, no one admits to taking her back to the mainland, and there is no trace of her in Reykjavík or elsewhere in Iceland. Newspaper articles appear on the 10th and 20th anniversary of her disappearance, depressing Kristján whose career never recovered from his early failure to solve the case. Thirty years later in 1976 Reykjavík is celebrating its 200th with weeks of festivities including plans for a historic summit meeting with Reagan and Gorbachev. Journalist Valur Robertsson takes inspiration of the 30th anniversary of Lára’s disappearance to re-examine the case, writing a series of features about Lára. Unfortunately he can’t find any new evidence, and is working his way through re-interviewing everyone mentioned in the 1956 newspaper archives. Then he gets a call from a woman calling herself Júlia who says she knows where the body is. “Thirty years is too long. She needs to be at peace.” Valur scribbles a note to himself and continues with his interviews. When his is pushed under a bus two days later, his younger sister Sunna takes over the investigation, trying to make sense of her brother’s cryptic notes. This compelling mystery inspired by a real cold case is a collaboration between author Ragnar Jónasson and Icelandic prime minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir.

Michelle Min Sterling
Camp Zero (Atria Books 2023) is set in a near future world ravaged by climate change. In December 2049, a young woman codenamed Rose has accepted a job at Camp Zero, the brainchild of Meyer, a trailblazing American architect in a remote area of Northern Canada. Along with the other five young women known collectively as the Blooms, Rose is given a room in a derelict shopping mall by Judith the madam. The accommodations are spartan at best, but the money is good for the three-month assignment. Meyer insists that the Blooms be pure and uncorrupted by technology, so Judith removes Rose’s Flick, the chip that was implanted when she was five, just before it became common to implant at birth rather than the start of kindergarten. Rose is startled to be without her constant feed of information, but then begins remembering things that happened when she was very young. The daughter of a climate-displaced Korean immigrant mother, Rose worked as a hostess, providing sexual intimacy and companionship to the ultra rich, in the Floating City, a secure city in Boston Harbor. Desperate to support her aging mother living in an unsafe area of Boston, Rose agrees to take the job in Camp Zero when her patron Damien promises them an apartment in the Floating City with a view of the ocean. In the far north of Canada, a group of eight scientists are dropped off by helicopter at White Alice, an old cold war radar station now repurposed as a climate research station. This group is the first all-women team, replacing the previous group of men. The team consists of a biologist, botanist, cartographer, engineer, geographer, meteorologist, computer programmer, and security specialist. The White Alice team is charged with continuing the station’s research while protecting American control over the rich mineral deposits below the ice and the future Arctic shipping route made possible by massive glacial melt. The third perspective is that of Grant, hired to teach introductory English to the Camp Zero workers known as Diggers, rebelling against his privileged status as the son of an ultra rich family who started in opium and rum, moving to textiles, then oil, then green energy and off-grid cities like the Floating City, and now investigating rare earth mineral mining. This intricate debut thriller explores motivations of love and greed in the dangerous landscape of the far north.

Heart of the NileWill Thomas
Heart of the Nile (Minotaur Books 2023) begins on Boxing Day 1893, when Phillip Addison is working his usual night shift at the British Museum in London, a young volunteer cataloging the collection of Egyptian mummies and testing his conjecture that it is possible to calculate the original weight of a mummy. He is surprised that the unidentified female mummy is almost half a stone heavier that the previous one, and discovers an object hidden in her chest cavity. When Addison doesn’t return home, his wife Elizabeth consults Cyrus Barker, a Scottish private enquiry agent, and his partner, Welshman Thomas Llewelyn. Barker and Llewelyn visit Dr. Clive Hennings, the head of the Egyptology Department, who admits Addison arrived at his door around 1:00 AM, claiming to have made a great discovery, and Hennings promised to investigate the next day. Hennings takes them down to the basement to view the 2000-year-old mummy with a fist-sized hole in the chest cavity, which should have contained the woman’s heart, left after the other organs were removed during the embalming process. Hennings found nothing on his desk or in Phillip’s locker, and has no idea what happened to whatever Phillip found. He suspects that Phillip, who is an impoverished grammar school teacher, has vanished with whatever valuable object he discovered. Hennings points out a faint cartouche reading Cleopatra, but explains there where several Cleopatras in the Ptolemaic line, and there is no proof this is the mummy of the famous Cleopatra VII, who seduced Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. Llewelyn takes Barker to visit his eccentric friend Liam Grant, a regular at the museum’s Reading Room, who tells them Addison visited him just after midnight, confessing he’d made an amazing discovery but now feared he would be accused of theft for removing it from the museum, leaving it with Grant for safekeeping. Barker unwraps the object and they view the red lump, which Barker identifies as an uncut ruby of unusual size in the vague shape of an anatomical heart. This excellent and often humorous 14th in the series featuring the insightful Barker and his talented sidekick can be enjoyed as a stand alone.

August 1, 2023

Even the Darkest NightJavier Cercas
Even the Darkest Night (Knopf 2022) introduces Melchor Marín. The son of a prostitute, Melchor fell in with the wrong crowd when he was a teenager, and was arrested. His mother persuaded lawyer Domingo Vivales to defend him, and Vivales managed to get him a reduced term of only four years in a prison close to Barcelona. In prison Melchor is given a book by another prisoner — Les Misérables — which moves him to the extent he is convinced he has become a different person. Melchor’s mother is murdered while he is in prison and Vivales brings him the forensic report, admitting a few days later that the case has been mothballed since the police have no leads. Shocked, Melchor decides to become a policeman as determined as Inspector Javert, and begins to study the next day. When he is released, his conviction sealed because he was a minor, Melchor is hired as a police officer in Barcelona. An arrest that attracts the attention of a drug cartel precipitates his reassignment to Terra Alta to get him out of the public eye. Four years later Melchor is happily married to Olga with a young daughter Cosette. Not much crime happens in the remote region in rural Catalonia until Francisco Adell and his wife Rosa, the area’s richest residents, are found murdered. The severity of the torture inflicted on the elderly couple causes some of the team to suspect ritual murder, but Melchor is positive it is a professional hit. The only piece of forensic evidence is a set of tire tracks, which he suspects was planted. There is no sign of a break-in, indicating either the Adells opened the door to their killer, or someone with the security code is responsible: daughter Rosa, son-in-law Albert Ferrer, or perhaps one of the close friends there for dinner earlier that evening switched the security system off. The police don’t find any useful clues after an extensive investigation, and decide to close the case, ruling it a burglary gone wrong. But Melchor isn’t convinced — why would burglars spend so much time on prolonged torture? That feels like deep-seated hate, but who hated them that much? The Adells were well liked in the community and their factory workers were fairly treated. Always religious, they became more so as they aged, joining Opus Dei about 10 years earlier. This excellent series opener featuring the unique Melchor Marín won the 2023 Crime Fiction in Translation Dagger Award.

How I’ll Kill YouRen DeStefano
How I’ll Kill You (Berkley 2023) begins when 25-year-old Sissy, the youngest by a few minutes of a set of triplets, is examining the men in a roadside diner in Rainwood, Arizona, choosing a target. The mantra of the triplets is “Make him want you. Make him love you. Make him dead.” Sisters Iris and Moody have killed several times, but Sissy has not, instead specializing in crime scene cleanup, leaving not a shred of evidence behind when the sisters move on to a new area. The triplets were abandoned as infants, squashed together into one stroller. They were quiet well-behaved babies, kept together until social services decided they were best separated for fostering when they were five. Sissy ended up with a loving family but both Iris and Moody had awful placements with families who collected children for the state checks, and moved from placement to placement. During their short monthly visits together, Sissy pretended her family was just as bad while her sisters shared ideas for tormenting her foster parents. Exited from the foster care system at age 18, the three sisters have been inseparable ever since. The first kill wasn’t planned, but ever since the sisters have taken turns choosing a man to fall in love with, living out every romantic and sexual fantasy, before finally killing him and disposing of the body. Sissy chooses Edison, a 29-year-old widower she officially meets a few days later at his church. She has been allotted six months for her romance with Edison, with the kill planned for New Year’s Eve. During the first weeks as they get to know each other, Sissy’s fantasies are all about how she will kill Edison, but she soon finds herself falling deeply in love for the first time in her life, her deadly plans morphing into dreams of a future together. Iris and Moody hide out in their small rental, leaving Sissy to her task, but eventually suspect Sissy may be hiding her true feelings, and take turns posing as her twin come to town to help her in the cover story of settling a great-aunt’s estate. Sissy’s deepening relationship with Edison threatens her loyalty to her sisters and the sibling relationship that has been the only constant connection in their lives. The possibility of a life outside the twisted logic the sisters live by propels this macabre serial killer thriller narrated by the unexpectedly sympathetic Sissy.

The Paris ApartmentLucy Foley
The Paris Apartment (William Morrow 2022) begins when Jess Hadley spends most of her limited funds traveling from London to Paris, fleeing a threatening boss and an ill-conceived revenge. Her older half-brother, aspiring journalist Ben Daniels, has reluctantly agreed to let her live with him for awhile in his Paris apartment. The half-siblings aren’t close, but Jess has always tried to keep in touch with Ben, and she is surprised when she arrives at the swanky apartment building and he isn’t there to let her in as promised. An unpleasant resident tells Jess Ben isn’t there, but Jess watches him enter the code to the gate keypad and slips in as soon as he vanishes into the dark courtyard. On the third floor Jess uses her hoop earrings to pick Ben’s lock, entering an apartment much larger and grander than she imagined. She recognizes an old khaki jacket of Ben’s on the coatstand, and finds his keys and wallet in the pocket. Inside the wallet is the business card for Theo Mendleson, Paris editor, Guardian. Scribbled on the back of the card is a note in Ben’s handwriting: “Pitch story to him!” Over the next few days Jess talks to Ben’s neighbors but they all deflect her questions, claiming to know nothing about where Ben might be. Interspersed sections from the perspectives of the residents reveal the secrets they keep hidden from Jess. Sophie Meunier (Penthouse) is the victim of blackmail. Timid young Mimi (Fourth Floor) is infatuated with the charming Ben. Ben’s old friend Nick (Second Floor) connected Ben with the empty apartment and now regrets that kindness. Antoine (First Floor) is an aggressive alcoholic who suspects Ben was having an affair with his wife. The Concierge (The Loge) rarely leaves her small cabin except to clean and deliver the post, warning Jess it is dangerous for her to stay. The last voicemail Jess received from Ben giving her the address and number of his apartment is interrupted by the sound of the door hinge, a groan, and then silence. Jess plays the message for Theo, who agrees it is very strange, but has no idea where Ben might be or what the big story he was researching is about. Together Theo and Jess try to track Ben’s movements while Jess becomes increasingly convinced she can’t trust any of the building residents and may even be in danger herself.

Midnight at Malabar HouseVaseem Khan
Midnight at Malabar House (Hodder & Stoughton 2020) introduces Persis Wadia, India’s first female police detective. It’s New Year’s Eve 1949 in Bombay, and Persis is working the night shift in Malabar House, where the city’s unwanted police officers are transferred. Persis is sidelined because she is female, but the other officers have committed greater sins. A call reporting the murder of English diplomat Sir James Herriot sends Persis to Laburnum House, where Herriot’s chief aide Madan Lal takes her to the Englishman’s study, where Herriot is seated behind his desk, throat slashed, naked from the waist down. Lal introduces Archimedes Blackfinch, a criminalist with the Metropolitan Police Service in London currently serving as an advisor to Bombay’s crime branch. Blackfinch was attending Herriot’s annual New Year’s Eve costume ball, and offers to examine the crime scene. Lal declares the murderer must be an opportunist intent on theft who took advantage of the confusion of the party to sneak past the guards. But Blackfinch points out that there are no defensive wounds on the body, and Herriot didn’t use the revolver in his desk drawer to defend himself, leading to the certain conclusion he knew and was comfortable being close to his attacker. Blackfinch notices scratch marks on the wall near a painting and discovers an unlocked and empty safe hidden behind. The 48 wealthy and influential party guests are still in attendance, and to Lal’s horror, Persis insists on speaking with them. Both the murder weapon and Herriot’s trousers are not in the study, and she is determined to make sure neither leave with a guest. Nothing of interest is found in Herriot’s study, but Persis discovers a ticket stub and a scrap of printed notepaper with a strange series of letters and numbers. Persis is thrilled to be involved with her first real investigation, though she knows it will soon be passed on to another team in a more respected police station. But her superiors decided to leave the investigation with Malabar House, reasoning that the bad press about the murder will center there. Persis doesn’t get much support from her colleagues at Malabar House, who are either resentful about working with a woman, or too dispirited about their banishment to care to work. At police training college Persis learned about the fingerprint classification system developed by two Indian men, exported to Scotland Yard and named the Henry Classification system after their English supervisor. She is eager to learn more from Blackfinch, who collects fingerprint samples from the study by dusting with Lightning powder, but his single-minded concentration and unwillingness to share makes him a difficult partner. This excellent first in the Malabar House series, set on the eve of India’s independence, won the 2021 Historical Dagger Award.

A Death in DenmarkAmulya Malladi
A Death in Denmark (William Morrow 2023) introduces Gabriel Præst, a former Copenhagen cop in the Financial Fraud Division, who was dismissed from the force after leaking evidence of corruption by Chief of National Police Karina Jensen. Now working as a private investigator, Gabriel plays Blues guitar, dresses in vintage suits, and works on renovating the townhouse he inherited from his grandmother, a ten-year project with no end in sight. He is playing in a club one night when his former girlfriend Leila Abadi Knudsen appears. They haven’t spoken for years since they broke up after Leila’s infidelity, but Gabriel has trouble saying no when she asks him to investigate the case of Yousef Ahmed, convicted five years earlier of the murder of Attorney General Sanne Melgaard, who refused to grant asylum to Yousef’s son Raheem, sending him back to Bagdad, where he was executed by ISIS for being a translator for the Danish military. A letter to the editor condemned Sanne, associating her actions with the Danish government that expelled immigrant Jews from Copenhagen back to the German border, where they were sent straight to Auschwitz, asking if Denmark was determined to stand on the wrong side of history once again. When ISIS released a video of the torture and murder, Sanne took no responsibility, instead blaming Raheem and his family for how they lived their lives in Iraq, ignoring the fact that his only crime was assisting the very country who refused him asylum. Yousef’s family has hired Leila as his new lawyer, insisting he was framed. Gabriel agrees to look into the case, and learns the original detective wasn’t convinced of Yousef’s guilt. Gabriel visits Sanne’s family, neighbors, friends, and work colleagues, asking questions that attract the dangerous attention of powerful politicians and Russian gangsters. Unsure if the threats to himself and his loved ones are a result of Denmark’s Nazi-collaborator past or anti-Muslim present, Gabriel is assisted by an eclectic group of friends: Tommy Frisk, a chief police inspector and Gabriel’s former boss; investigative journalist Nicole Bonnet; Eymen, a Turkish Muslim friend from university, and Bør, a reformed member of a biker gang. This excellent thriller narrated by the self-deprecating Gabriel is the first in a planned series.

Lying Beside YouMichael Robotham
Lying Beside You (Scribner 2023) begins when Cyrus Haven, a British criminal psychologist, attends a meeting at the Rampton Secure Hospital about the possible release of his brother Elias, who murdered their parents and sisters twenty years earlier. Cyrus, 13 at the time, escaped because he stopped to buy chips on the way home from football while 19-year-old Elias followed the directions of the voice in his head. Evie Cormac, a former patient with no past discovered hiding in an abandoned house after escaping years of captivity, is now living in the roomy Haven house Cyrus inherited. Evie is distrustful of Elias when he comes for a monitored visit, especially when he invades her privacy. Now 21, Evie lands her first job working in a bar and has reluctantly accepted advice from Cyrus to go to school. Detective Sergeant Lenny Parval calls Cyrus to the scene of a crime: the murder of Rohan Kirk, disabled after a car accident years earlier. His daughter and caregiver Maya is missing. Maya’s twin sister Melody tells Cyrus that Maya was going on a date that night with a man she met on a dating app. Lenny suspects that 25-year-old Paulie Brennan, who was reported for peeping into Maya’s window a few weeks earlier, is the murderer, but Cyrus isn’t convinced. The police track down Maya’s online date Anders Foley, who maintains several dating profiles to appeal to different types of women. Foley admits meeting Maya for drinks at a pub, but said they didn’t click and Maya walked to a nearby taxi rank after too many drinks. Elias is released into Cyrus’s care, and Cyrus realizes his older brother will need more help that he expected navigating the world that has changed so much while he was at Rampton Secure Hospital. Evie has an uncanny ability to figure out when people are lying, which is often helpful to reinforce Cyrus’s own opinions, but she has trouble reading Elias, who takes Clozapine to control his mental illness. The traumatized Evie often makes poor decisions, and she unintentionally interferes in the police investigation, making it very difficult for Cyrus to follow his hunch that Maya has been kidnapped and is in danger. This excellent third in the series illuminates more details of the past traumas both Evie and Cyrus are struggling to cope with.

Secrets Typed in BloodStephen Spotswood
Secrets Typed in Blood (Doubleday 2022) is set in 1947 New York City, where Willowjean “Will” Parker works as an investigator for private investigator Lillian Pentecost. Their current case is a strange one brought to them by writer Holly Quick. Will isn’t sure she trusts the twitchy and demanding author, whose tics make it difficult for Will to use the face reading skills she learned in the circus. Writing under several male pseudonyms, Holly has managed to make a living writing crime stories for pulp detective magazines. Her most successful pseudonym is Horace Bellow, who writes for Strange Crime. Holly is concerned because three recent murders seem to be based closely on her stories. The latest murder of Flavio Checchetto was described in the press as a wild animal attack because of the horrible wounds on his body, which Holly believes is based on her story of a murderer who used a glove with panther claws attached. Holly believes the murder of Michael Perkins in August 1946 was based on her 1942 story of a hung man also shot in the forehead. The murder of Connor Haggard in November 1946 resembles her 1944 story of a man stabbed in the gut with a broken piece of deer antler. Holly had worried about those murders, but latest murder in January 1947 convinced Holly her suspicion is real: someone is using her fiction to commit real murders. Holly insists that the police not be involved; she has worked too hard to protect her privacy to give it up during a police investigation. The only people who know the author’s real identity are Strange Crime publishers Brent and Marlo Chase, and their ad salesman Mort Cohen who works on Saturdays when Holly drops off her stories and picks up her check. Will is working undercover as a temporary secretary on another case, resentful that she has to dress in a boring pencil skirt instead of her usual sartorial splendor while another investigator is out searching (unsuccessfully) for links between the three murder victims and Holly. The latest victim had visited the Black Museum Club run by Jessup Quincannon, a wealthy philanthropist who collectes murder memorabilia and hosts a monthly murder salon for other rich and powerful men fascinated by murder and those who commit it. Will visits the salon, and the repellent Quincannon offers to trade something he knows about the murder for a visit from the reclusive Ms. Pentecost. This excellent third in the Pentecost and Parker series was a finalist for the 2023 Sue Grafton Award.

Hidden in SnowViveca Sten
Hidden in Snow (Amazon Crossing 2022, Sweden 2020) introduces Hanna Ahlander, a police officer specializing in domestic abuse in Stockholm. When the body of Josefin is found at home with severe head injuries, City Police don’t arrest her abusive police officer husband, instead releasing an official verdict of accidental death. Hanna is the only one to question the mishandling of the investigation, fighting to have the case reopened. Instead her boss tells her she needs to look for another job. Returning home Hanna finds that her partner Christian has decided their relationship is over; Hanna has the weekend to pack and move out of his condo. Homeless and jobless, Hanna is grateful when her older sister Lydia offers her the use of her vacation lodge in the ski resort town of Åre. It’s the middle of December and Åre is very cold and snowy, but beautiful with the sparkling decorations for the feast of Saint Lucia celebration on Friday. Amanda Halvorssen, an 18-year-old Åre schoolgirl, puts the uncomfortable meeting with her creepy advisor Lasse Sandahl out of her mind, dressing up for the Lucia party at her friend Ebba’s home, whose parents are away for the weekend. Amanda can’t wait to see her boyfriend Viktor Landahl, a secret from her parents because of his bad reputation. At the party Amanda and Viktor fight and she storms out of the house. Amanda’s parents Lena and Harald don’t realize Amanda is missing until late Friday, assuming she stayed over at Ebba’s. Detective Inspector Daniel Lindskog activates a search, knowing Amanda won’t last long in the cold if she has gotten disoriented. Hanna spends her first few days in Åre drinking too much and mourning the loss of the man and the job she loved. The news of the missing girl propels Hanna out of the house, and she joins a search team. Another woman on the team tells her that Amanda’s boyfriend Viktor moved to Åre after beating up his former girlfriend, which most people don’t know. On Sunday Amanda’s frozen body, clad only in underwear, is discovered on the ski lift. Hanna learns the woman she met isn’t willing to share the gossip about Viktor with the police, so Hanna calls herself. Daniel and his colleague Anton invite Hanna to the station to learn more, and are impressed by her insights and expertise. The tiny Åre police station is understaffed and they convince their boss to offer Hanna a temporary reassignment. Thrilled to be back at work, Hanna throws herself into the investigation, hoping she can keep her independent streak under control as she struggles to fit in with the small team. This excellent series launch starring the two very different detectives is set in an idyllic yet dangerous winter paradise.

The Moose ParadoxAntti Tuomainen
The Moose Paradox (Orenda Books 2023, Finland 2021) finds Henri Koskinen, a former insurance mathematician now running the YouMeFun adventure park near Helsinki, Finland, feeling he has finally dealt with the financial mess his brother Jujani left him. Henri has a reasonable plan in place for the park’s long term prosperity and only needs one more unique piece of equipment: the Moose Chute. YouMeFun has a three-year contract with Toy of Finland Ltd, and Henri makes a special trip to order the Moose Chute. He is surprised to discover that the amiable former owner and CEO has retired, leaving three unfriendly men in charge of the company. The men pressure Henri to order the Crocodile Canyon instead, but Henri declines based on his research proving it’s an old piece of bad quality equipment and far too rough for children. The men threaten to tell Detective Inspector Pentti Osmala of the Helsinki organized-crime and fraud unit what they know about Henri’s less-than-legal solution to the massive gambling debt his brother left him if he doesn’t accept shipment of the Crocodile Canyon. Henri doesn’t think things can get any worse until he returns to the park to find that Jujani isn’t dead after all, instead he has been hiding out after faking his own death. Henri is relieved that Jujani is alive, but balks when his brother insists he should turn the park back over. Jujani explains that he has big plans for improvement and has already promised all the employees more money for their departments, declaring that with his creative thinking one plus one doesn’t always equal two. Realizing he can’t get rid of Jujani, Henri offers him the job of park manager, hoping to keep his wild ideas in check. But things go from bad to worse when first a Crocodile Canyon is delivered and then a Duck Tunnel, an even older and more dangerous piece of equipment that fires toy ducks at children who always emerge from the tunnel in tears and often injured. Henri approaches all problems with logical deduction supported by mathematics, including his budding romance with artist Laura Helanto, which is both exasperating and endearing. In contrast Jujani is charming, optimistic, and continually in search of a quick and often illegal solution. This very funny second in the series has been optioned for film.

Ashley Weaver
Playing It Safe (Minotaur Books 2023) begins In 1940 when Electra (Ellie) McDonnell, a former thief, is dispatched from London to the port city of Sunderland by intelligence officer Major Ramsey with documents under the name Elizabeth Donaldson and a book: The Birds of Northern England. Ellie hasn’t received any details about her assignment yet, just that she is to stay in a boarding house, pretending to be setting the affairs of a recently deceased aunt. On the street outside the boarding house she is bumped from behind into the path of an oncoming lorry, barely saved by a tall man who leaves after checking she isn’t injured. After unpacking, Ellie is exploring the small garden when she meets young neighbor woman Samira Maddox. Sami is just telling her about a nearby dance club popular with RAF men when they hear the screech of automobile tires and a scream. Rushing to the street they discover a dead man, foam bubbling at his lips. Ellie is horrified to recognize the man who saved her life just two hours earlier. Sami goes to comfort Nessa Simpson, a young woman who explains the dead man is her friend Hal Jenkins. Nessa saw him staggering into the street before collapsing. Ellie removes a scrap of paper from the man’s hand reading WE KNOW YOU HAVE IT and tucks it into her pocket without thinking. Ellie’s landlady tells her that Hal worked at the shipyard and lived in another rooming house at the end of the street. That night Ellie takes advantage of a large oak tree near Hal’s attic window to break into his room, discovering a similar bird book but nothing else. Ellie visits the dance club with Sami, her sister Leila, and Nessa, who works at the shipyard as a welder. An RAF pilot invites Ellie to dance, and she is surprised to recognize Major Ramsey, under the pseudonym Captain John Grey, who invites her to drive out to the countryside with him the next day. Posing as birdwatchers, they stroll near a Pavonine Press, a small publishing company specializing in books of ornithology. The owner has been forced to close down due to paper shortages, but British intelligence suspects the press is being secretly used for printing counterfeit National Registration Identity Cards, false documents for German spies. Ramsey and Ellie use their vastly different skills to try and identify the German spies and track down whoever is running the counterfeit press in this engaging third in the series.

July 1, 2023

The Lie MakerLinwood Barclay
The Lie Maker (William Morrow 2023) begins when nine-year-old Jack watches his father Michael Donohue taken away by federal agents into the witness protection program. Jack doesn’t understand why his father needs to leave, or why Jack’s mother has refused to join him. The only explanation is from his father, “Your dad’s not a good person. Your dad killed people, son.” Many years later Jack is a talented but struggling author living in Boston. Jack has a new last name since his mother remarried, but still writes under a pseudonym, having never completely recovered from the shame of his father’s arrest and trial. His agent has tried unsuccessfully to sell his third novel, and the job he applied for has just fallen through. U.S. Marshal Gwen Kaminsky approaches him with a tantalizing offer: $1000 a day to write a false history for a man entering the witness protection program. Gwen explains that a few witness have been unable to maintain their new identities, and this is a test to see if an author used to writing fiction can create a more believable back story. Needing the money, Jack accepts the job, which comes with a burner phone and a laptop he is not allowed to connect to the internet. When his first assignment goes well, Jack works up the courage to tell Gwen about his connection with the witness protection program, hoping she can put him in touch with his father. Gwen is horrified her team didn’t discover his connection to the program, but agrees to do what she can, asking him to write out all his memories of his father. Meanwhile, Jack’s girlfriend Lana Wilshire, a reporter for the Boston Star, is working on a story about the disappearance of Willard Bentley, a retired judge. His daughter tells Lana that her father was enjoying his retirement, working his way through the complete works of Charles Dickens and devoted to his little dog. The judge’s drowned body is found a few days later, presumed a suicide until bruises on his wrist are discovered. Then Dr. Marie Sloan vanishes from the hospital parking lot, another presumed suicide drowned with bruises on her wrists. Lana is stuck by the coincidence, and discovers both had a connection with Galen Frohm, the mobster Michael Donohue’s testimony put behind bars. Secrets and lies abound in this riveting thriller.

Scorched GraceMargot Douaihy
Scorched Grace (Gillian Flynn Books 2023) introduces Holiday Walsh, a queer former punk-rocker escaping her past as a novice nun at Saint Sebastian’s School in New Orleans. The Sisters of the Sublime Blood is a small order, just three nuns and 33-year-old Holiday, younger by four decades than the older nuns. Sister Augustine and Sister Therese support Holiday, but Sister Honor is suspicious of her motives. Holiday is so heavily tattooed that she is required to wear a scarf at all times and gloves except when teaching guitar classes, though she is allowed to keep her bleached blond hair. Holiday is smoking a confiscated cigarette in the alley one hot afternoon when the flaming body of Jack Corolla, the school janitor, drops from the second floor of the east wing, which is ablaze. Hearing a cry from inside, Holiday rushes up the stairs to find two injured students. She binds the wound in one student’s leg with her scarf and drags him outside just as the fire department arrives. They rescue the second student while Fire Investigator Magnolia Riveaux tries to question Sister Holiday, but she collapses from smoke inhalation. Riveaux tells the nuns the fire was deliberately set, and asks about known firebugs. Sister Honor tells her about Prince Dempsey, who started two fires on campus the previous year, before Sister Holiday’s arrival. When Sister Holiday discovers one of her own black blouses in the rubble of the fire, she fears she is being framed, and begins her own investigation, trading information with Riveaux, who has a strange conversational habit of speaking punctuation: “Students hang out here on weekends, question mark.” Though incapable of controlling her bad language and self-destructive nature, Sister Holiday is sincere in her desire to make a new start with the Sisters of the Sublime Blood, especially when she realizes the male-controlled diocese is intent on closing the school so badly needed by troubled children like Prince Dempsey. This compelling noir debut novel is the first in a planned series.

The Last ResortMichael Kaufman
The Last Resort (Crooked Lane Books 2023) begins in 2034 Washington, DC, when police detective Jen Lu, and Chandler, her experimental biocomputer implant, are called to the Viridian Green Golf Resort where a woman has just been struck on the temple by a golf ball. Hedge fund president Peter Trebock and his partner Dr. Jane Kershaw were following Patty Garcia, a lawyer leading a civil suit against the oil, gas, and coal companies, on the course. At the fifth hole, Trebock shouted “Fore” before hitting his ball over the steep hill, not worried about Garcia since she teed off 15 minutes before them and as a single player moved quickly through the course. Trebock is a Timeless, receiving the Longevity Treatment available to the very rich, and appears 24 rather than his actal age of 76. The accident has shaken him out of his usual Timeless entitlement and he admits it is his ball next to Garcia before realizing he doesn’t need to say anything more without his lawyer. Garcia has a weak pulse when loaded into the air ambulance, but dies in the hospital. The autopsy suggests a freak accident, but Jen suspects murder. Chandler is doubtful until they learn more about Garcia. The courts have given her five weeks to come up with proof of the date the industries knew for certain about the impact of burning fossil fuels, proof that would could change a fine of a few billion to trillions of dollars in reparations. Garcia’s assistant tells them Garcia was going to make a big announcement the weekend she died, but claims not to know anything more. Garcia’s marriage to James Culpepper III ended three years earlier when she called the police after he tried to push her down the stairs. The bad press after his conviction led to his dismissal from BP/Chevron, but he reinvented himself as a champion of “unjustly accused” men whose lives have been ruined by women. At the time his ex-wife was hit by the golf ball, Culpepper was on camera for his weekly 50-minute broadcast from his home not far from the fifth hole at the Viridian Green Golf Resort. Jen and Chandler focus on the industry leaders who would be ruined if Garcia had found proof they knew of the impact of burning fossil fuels, but find it difficult to get anyone to even talk to them. And since Garcia’s death is still officially an accident, they have no leverage. Jen’s department has been tasked to "take creative initiatives to investigate crime,” so Chandler begins analyzing every pixel of the recording of Culpepper’s broadcast while Jen tries to create a weapon that would look like a speeding golf ball. This excellent thriller is the second in the series featuring Jen and her unusual partner Chandler.

The Nightingale AffairTim Mason
The Nightingale Affair (Algonquin Books 2023) begins in 1867 London. Former Metropolitan Police Detective Charles Field is working as a private investigator, watching a hotel where Mrs. Hythe-Cooper, the much younger wife of a Tory Member of Parliament, has been meeting the Honorable Jeremy Sims, a young Whig MP. Today Mrs. Hythe-Cooper arrives first as usual, followed five minutes later by Sims. But instead of staying the usual hour, Sims rushes back out immediately. Entering the hotel, Field discovers Mrs. Hythe-Cooper strangled body. Examining her for signs of life Field spots the corner of a bit of cloth in her mouth — a small square embroidered with a red rose. Shaken, he leaves with the cloth square. Later he tells Detective Inspector Sam Llewellyn, his former protege, that the embroidered rose is connected to a series of murders twelve years earlier in the Crimea. In 1855 Inspector Field was dispatched to Scutari, Turkey, after the murder of one of Miss Florence Nightingale’s women. A laundress wearing the cloak that is part of the uniform of a Nightingale nurse was strangled with the uniform red sash, a small cloth embroidered with a red rose sewn over her mouth. When he arrives, Field learns that one of Miss Nightingale’s housekeepers has also been strangled with a uniform red sash, a similar rose-embroidered cloth sewn over her mouth. Dr. John Hall dismisses the importance of the murders, stressing they were likely women of ill-repute. His strong opinion is that Miss Nightingale’s help to the wounded is not wanted or needed, and she and her nurses should return to England. Field learns that the wounded festered in their own filth before Miss Nightingale arrived, that she is buying laundry kettles, soap, and bandages herself. More murders follow, but Field believes he finally identified the killer, who leapt to his death from an upper story. It is his experience in the Crimea along with his love for the nurse who became his wife that transformed Field from the bumbling Inspector Bucket of Bleak House, modeled after himself by Charles Dickens, and they have lived together happily for the past twelve years. The current murder, and those that follow, are so similar that Field fears his dead suspect was not Beast of the Crimea after all. Somehow the murderer has resurfaced in London, again targeting women who challenge the superiority of men, first Miss Nightingale and her nurses in a war zone, and now women suggesting that they should have the right to vote. This excellent second in the series includes cameo appearances by Dickens and Wilkie Collins.

The Golden SpoonJessa Maxwell
The Golden Spoon (Atria Books 2023) is set at Grafton, Betsy Martin’s Vermont estate where an annual Bake Week competition takes place. Betsy, a celebrated baker with a line of cookbooks is known as “America’s Grandmother” for her on-screen warmth. Betsy has hosted the friendly competition herself for 10 years, awarding the coveted Golden Spoon award to the winner. But this year Betsy’s sponsors have forced a co-host upon her — Archie Morris, known for his macho cut-throat show The Cutting Board. The six competitors are the usual varied group: Stella Velasquez, a former journalist who has only been baking for a year; Hannah Severson, the second-youngest contestant in the show’s history famous for her pies sold at a diner; Gerald Baptiste, a math teacher who hand-grinds his own flours for scientific bakes; Pradyumna Das, a wealthy tech designer who loves improvising; Lottie Byrne, a retired nurse who loves to bake and has applied unsuccessfully for the show every year until now; Peter Geller, an architect who loves to bake for his husband and their young daughter. Each day the contestants are set a challenge, and the lowest scoring entry is sent home. The first day is Bread, one savory and one sweet. Lottie is very nervous and her breads aren’t too impressive. She expects to be sent home until Peter’s bread is tasted and Betsy spits the mouthful out. He has used salt in place of sugar. Peter is horrified, sure that he tasted the large container and it held sugar. The next day is Pie, again one sweet and one savory. Gerald has brought his own hand-ground pastry flour and home-made orange syrup and is sure he will excel until he pours in the syrup and smells gasoline. Shaken and angry, he leaves the room and the contest. It doesn’t seem that things can get any worse until a body is discovered. Interspersed sections from the viewpoints of Betsy and the six contestants reveal secrets and hidden motives in this clever and entertaining debut mystery.

The Last To VanishMegan Miranda
The Last To Vanish (Marysue Rucci Books/Scribner 2022) is set in the small town of Cutter’s Pass near the Appalachian trail in North Carolina. Abby has lived there for ten years, managing the The Passage Inn, a small upscale resort, for widow Celeste, still mourning the death of her husband. Cutter’s Pass is called most dangerous town in the state because six people vanished during the last 25 years, beginning with a group of four young male hikers “The Fraternity Four” in 1997. Fifteen years later Alice Kelly disappeared, about three months before Abby arrived in the winter of 2012, the town still reeling from the disappearance of another hiker. Alice made a phone call from The Last Stop Tavern in Cutter’s Pass and then vanished into the night. Farrah Jordan was last seen at the Shadow Falls Trailhead near The Passage Inn in January 2019. Landon West left his cabin at the Passage Inn in April 2022 and was never seen again. Four months after Landon’s disappearance Abby checks in a hiker who at first says he lost his wallet on the trail but can pay with the emergency cash in his pocket, but then admits his name is Trey West and wants to stay in Cabin Four, the one occupied by his brother Landon. Abby tells him she has only a vague memory of Landon, who kept to himself during his four-day stay. The next night Abby hears strange noises from Cabin Four and discovers Trey is moving the furniture, screwing off the vent covers, and searching every corner of the small cabin. As they are pushing the four-poster bed back into place, the oval top of one post pops off. That cavity is empty, but in the third post Trey finds a flash drive. Trey’s laptop doesn’t have a port, so they move to the lobby computer, discovering a Word file with notes about Farrah Jordan, and realize Landon was investigating “The Vanishing Trail.” The flash drive also contains a folder of pictures, all taken outside in the snow. Farrah had been a nature photographer and Abby can’t believe the unfocused pictures were taken by a professional, but the date stamps are the afternoon of January 16, the day Farrah set off into the woods with her camera slung over her shoulder, the camera that was never found. Trey’s questions make the town residents nervous and jittery and Abby notices inconsistencies in the alibis she always took for granted. The late summer storms cause power outages and the spotty wifi connection gets worse. Abby realizes that each disappearance moved closer to The Passage Inn itself, and for the first time she feels isolated in the Passage, which had always felt like a safe refuge. A pervasive feeling of dread and danger permeate this excellent thriller.

Blind SpotsThomas Mullen
Blind Spots (Minotaur Books 2023) is set in the near future, seven years after the world went blind over a period of several months. After a period of chaos, an experimental device for the blind was adapted for mass use by Kai Ballantine of EyeTech, giving people the illusion of sight by downloading visual data directly to the brain. Homicide detective Mark Owens has made it through the dangerous period after The Blinding, adapting to investigating murders in the new normal with sight provided by his vidder. Unfortunately the vidders aren’t as reliable as they should be, especially for the physical challenges many cops face. Beat cops have begun wearing special protective guards designed for contact sports, but undercover police like Owens don’t have that option. Owens’s sister Sarah has chosen not to have a vidder implanted, joining Reverend Miriam’s Inner Sight Commune. Only the guards at the commune gate wear vidders. Owens can’t understand why Sarah has made the choice to remain blind, especially since a large percentage of the world’s population would love a vidder but can’t afford the device. Dr. Ray Jensen, who is researching vidder enhancements, and Dr. Madeline Laila both work for Bio-Lux Technologies, the largest manufacturer of vidders. As they are walking through the park on the way to catch the train after work when they notice a dark form coming toward them. As it gets closer they realize the person is completely blacked out from their vision. The shape shoots Jensen in the head twice and then turns the gun toward Dr. Laila, but the gun jams and she runs. Catching up with her, the figure whispers “You can’t see me at all, can you? Then there’s no need to waste the bullet.” Dr. Laila reports the black blur to Owens and his partner Peterson, but neither believe her, instead suspecting she may have killed Jensen herself. The next day Owens is watching Dr. Laila’s apartment when he hears a shot. Rushing up to her apartment he spots Dr. Laila’s body and then a person-shaped darkness escaping through the window and leaping off the fire escape — exactly the black blur Dr. Laila described. Owen reports the phenomena to his Captain and his partner, but they suspect PTSD, refusing to accept his theory that someone is interfering with vidders in order to move invisibly through the city. Owens begins to investigate both the tech billionaires and the Inner Sight cult, worried that his vidder, continually connected to the network, may be sending data to the very people he is tracking. A greater fear in this excellent speculative mystery is that he can no longer trust what he sees through the vidder, leaving himself open to hidden danger and no longer capable of doing his job.

Murder Under a Red MoonHarini Nagendra
Murder Under a Red Moon (Pegasus Crime 2023) begins in 1921 Bangalore when Kaveri Murthy, a young doctor’s wife with a passion for mathematics and a talent for detection, is surprised when her domineering mother-in-law Bhargavi asks her to accompany her to a dog show. Bhargavi introduces her to Swami Vaninada, the cause of a recent argument between Bhargavi and Kaveri’s husband Ramu, who distrusts the religious man living in luxury. But Kaveri realizes the event is only a pretext to meet Bhargavi’s cousin Shanthi Sharma, who hopes Kaveri will investigate a theft at the Sampangi Mills owned by her much older husband. Bhargavi was very disapproving of Kaveri’s success solving a murder earlier that year, but hopes she will be able to find the thief without involving the police, which would bring shame to her cousin’s family. Money has disappeared from a locked safe, and the only four people with access to the keys are Mr Sharma, Shanthi, her step-daughter Chitra, and Chitra’s fiancé Kumar. Shanthi convinces Kaveri to meet her that night at the factory, which will be deserted since everyone will be home to avoid the bad luck associated with the Red Moon eclipse. That evening Kaveri receives a note asking her to come an hour earlier than planned, but suspects the typed note is not really from Shanthi. Bhargavi insists she follow the directions in the note, and Kaveri stops on the way to ask the assistance of Ismail, the Muslim policeman she became friends with during her previous investigation. Ismail insits on accompanying her to the factory, waiting outside when she enters the gate. The sound of a shot sends them both into the building, where they discover the murdered body of Mr Sharma holding Kaveri’s distinctive pendant she hadn’t realized was missing. Ismail removes the necklace, realizing someone is trying to frame Kaveri for murder. With the help of the Bangalore Detectives Club, a group of women she is teaching to read and street urchins she has befriended, Kaveri searches for the truth in this engaging second in the series.

On Java RoadLawrence Osborne
On Java Road (Hogarth 2022) is set in Hong Kong in the final months before the handover from the United Kingdom to the People’s Republic of China. Adrian Gyle, an expat English journalist, has lived in his apartment on Java Road for two decades, watching the city once full of private members’ clubs and luxurious dinners give way to pro-democracy demonstrations growing increasingly violent. Adrian’s old friend from Cambridge Jimmy Tang, the heir to one of Hong Kong’s wealthiest families, invites him to a party at his home. Jimmy’s wife Melissa pulls him aside, worried because Jimmy is reluctant to make a public statement in support of the Communist Party and his belief in the future of Hong Kong. Melissa’s father fears Jimmy may have become pro-democracy and Melissa herself is concerned about Jimmy’s mood swings and his reckless behavior, associating with people outside their social class. Adrian reassured her that Jimmy isn’t having an affair, and then Jimmy invites Adrian to a dinner to meet his new girlfriend Rebecca To, a student Adrian has noticed at the protests. Rebecca is also from a wealthy family, attending school in Switzerland. Her father, a banker and art philanthropist, is friend of the Tang family. Adrian likes Rebecca and they talk about the current political climate, Jimmy warning Adrian he needs to start thinking about returning to England, that the curfew and other measures coming soon will make Hong Kong uncomfortable for outsiders. Rebecca’s enthusiasm for change makes Adrian ashamed of his lethargy, and he begins attending the protests carrying a helmet and anti-gas mask, sure his press tags will protect him, but he feels increasingly unsafe. Adrian doesn’t see much of Jimmy for awhile, and Rebecca disappears completely. A fellow journalist tells Adrian about visiting the morgue after a body of a young woman is discovered floating in the sea. The journalist recognized Jimmy Tang getting out of a limousine, and shares his fear the Tang family will cover up the death to avoid scandal. Determined to discover if the dead woman is Rebecca, Adrian revives his investigative journalist skills to uncover the truth.

A Disappearance in FijiNilima Rao
A Disappearance in Fiji (Soho Crime 2023) begins in 1941 Fiji, where 25-year-old Sergeant Akal Singh, a Sikh banished after a humiliating mistake in Hong Kong, where he began his career is now assigned to the Fijian Constabulary Suva Division. Akal is unhappy in what he considers a "godforsaken island," bored in the tropical paradise, and longs to return to the exciting life in Hong Kong or his native India. Inspector-General Jonathan Thurstrom, head of the colony’s police force, gives him only the most menial assignments until the disappearance of an indentured Indian woman from the Parkins sugar plantation is described as a kidnapping by Chop Chop, an anonymous political columnist in the Fiji Times. The Inspector-General hopes assigning an Indian officer to the case might appease the Delegation for India’s Relations with Fiji, visiting to review the Indian indentured servitude program. The British have agreed not to interfere with the Fijian way of life, instead importing workers from India. The illiterate workers signed a contract with an X or fingerprint, promised they would be paid a daily rate and could easily work off the contract. In reality it was nearly impossible to complete the amount of work required to earn credit for a day, and the indentured workers are essentially slaves. Akal visits Father David Hughes, who shows him a picture of the missing woman Kunti, explaining he is taking photographs of the workers as he documents their terrible living conditions in the coolie line, a long rectangular building partitioned into small rooms with no privacy. Akal visits Mrs. Susan Parkins at their house in Suva, who is clearly displeased to be asked questions by an Indian. She suggests that perhaps their overseer Brown took the coolie woman when he left recently for the war in Europe, and then refuses to answer any other questions from a coolie officer. Dr. Robert Holmes, who knows Akal from the police cricket team, agrees to accompany him to the plantation to run a clinic. Henry Parkins refuses to interrupt the day’s work so Akal can talk to Kunti’s husband. While Holmes sets up his clinic Akal talks to a group of small boys, who tell him the sahibs are bad men who beat their parents all the time. The boys knew Kunti, and explain she would never have left her daughter Divya, who now cries all the time. Akal is horrified by the living conditions and the punishing physical labor required of the workers, becoming unexpectedly invested in figuring out the truth of Kunti’s disappearance for Divya’s sake. This character-driven debut historical mystery is the first in a planned series.

June 1, 2023

Swamp StoryDave Berry
Swamp Story (Simon & Schuster 2023) is set in the Florida Everglades, where Jesse Braddock is living in a tiny cabin with her boyfriend Slater and infant daughter Willa. Slater is extremely handsome and swept Jesse off her feet before she realized too late that all his charm is on the outside. Slater’s buddy Kark is also living in the cabin, the two intent on filming a reality show called Glades Man, mainly featuring Slater shirtless and flexing his muscles. Jesse walks with Willa in a backpack every day to get away from the two men who spend most of their time smoking dope. Stumbling over a root Jesse lands on a hard object, a small bar of solid gold. Discovering others under the dirt she quickly reburies the cache except for one she stows in the backpack. Two creepy men wearing camo frighten her by suddenly appearing on the trail. Jesse manages to get away by hiding in the swamp but Duck and his brother Billy are sure she is hiding something and begin following her. Meanwhile Ken Bortle, who runs Bortle Brothers Bait and Beer with his brother Brad, comes up with a scheme to attract tourists to their dying store by “discovering” a mythical Everglades Melon Monster. He convinces Phil, an alcoholic former newspaper reporter, to pose as the monster wearing a repainted Dora the Explorer costume head. Ken is Slater’s regular dope dealer, and asks Kark to film him at dusk encountering the Melon Monster. The sixteen second video is picked up by a TikTok influencer and hordes of tourists descend on Bortle Brothers Bait and Beer, taking selfies under the sign and snapping up all the EVERGLADES MELLON MONSTER tee-shirts Ken ordered in advance. Jesse takes the gold bar to her lawyer ex-boyfriend, hoping for help converting the gold to cash, but he trades it to a mobster who owns his gambling debt and now wants the rest of the gold. The final complication is a presidential hopeful in town to launch his campaign during the Annual Python Challenge, a hunt to rid the swamps of the invasive Burmese pythons. This light-hearted caper novel is very funny.

The Murder of Mr WickhamClaudia Gray
The Murder of Mr. Wickham (Knopf 2022) begins when Emma and George Knightley host a house party at their country estate Donwell Abbey. Guests include Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy and their eldest son Jonathan; Reverend Edmund Bertram and his wife Fanny; newlyweds Christopher and Marianne Brandon; Captain Frederick Wentworth and his wife Anne; and 17-year old Juliet Tilney of Northanger Abbey. Elizabeth is worried about her son Jonathan, who has memorized the rules of society but doesn’t understand emotions. On the first evening Jonathan escorts Juliet to dinner, but inadvertently snubs her. Then Mr. Wickham arrives unexpectedly during dinner, offending most everyone. His latest financial scheme has impoverished the Wentworths and Knightley’s brother John, and Elizabeth has never forgiven Wickham for taking advantage of her flighty sister Kitty. A storm prevents Mr. Wickham from departing the next morning, and he soon targets Fanny Bertram, who is keeping a dangerous secret for her brother William. Late the next night Juliet is searching for the privy after breaking her chamberpot, and discovers Wickham dead in the gallery. Local magistrate Mr. Frank Churchill assumes the killer must be one of the servants or a passing intruder, but the only boot prints outside in the mud are Juliet’s. Realizing the killer must be one of the house party where they are now trapped, Mr. Jonathan Darcy and Miss Tilney put their initial dislike aside and form an alliance to solve the crime before an innocent servant is blamed. Hampered by their inability to be unchaperoned, they begin to meet at night to share what they’ve learned each day by eavesdropping and subtle questioning. This clever traditional mystery featuring Jane Austin characters is the first in the Mr. Darcy & Miss Tilney series.

More Than You’ll Ever KnowKatie Gutierrez
More Than You’ll Ever Know (William Morrow 2022) begins in 2017 when Cassie Bowman, a part-time blogger for a true-crime television network, stumbles upon a story about a crime that’s different than the usual headline of a murdered woman. Thirty years earlier Lore Rivera, an international banker from Laredo, Texas who already had a husband and twin sons, married Andres Russo in Mexico City. Cassie is fascinated by the story of a woman leading a double life in two countries, which ended when one husband shot and killed the other. Cassie has always wanted to write a true-crime book, and is sure this is the topic for her. Why would a seemingly happily married woman with two children jeopardize everything to marry a divorced man with two children of his own? The article that caught her attention is not at all sympathetic to Lore, and Cassie pitches the idea of the book as an opportunity for Lore to tell her side of the story. When Lore agrees to meet with her, Cassie travels from Austin to Laredo. The two women form a tentative bond and Lore agrees to talk about everything except the murder itself. Cassie can’t afford to do much traveling, so the two begin talking on the phone every evening. Lore gradually reveals the strains of her marriage with Fabian Rivera, whose metal work business collapsed during the depression in Laredo, in turn asking Cassie to share secrets of her own troubled childhood. Cassie is fascinated by Lore’s life, moving seamlessly between two countries and loving two men. The more Cassie learns about Lore and her two relationships, the more she begins to wonder if the real murderer is actually behind bars. Could Lore have killed her own husband? This compelling debut was a finalist for the 2023 Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

ExilesJane Harper
Exiles (Flatiron Books 2023) finds Australian Federal Police agent Aaron Falk traveling from Melbourne to the wine country in South Australia for the christening of his godchild Henry, son of his old friend Greg Raco. The christening was scheduled for the previous spring, but Kim Gillespie disappeared during the opening day of Marralee Valley Annual Food and Wine Festival, leaving her baby Zoe asleep in her stroller. Kim’s husband Rohan dropped his wife and daughter off at the festival so Kim could meet up with her 17-year old daughter Zara, who lives with her father Charlie Raco at the Raco vineyard, but the two never connected. Two days later Kim’s white sneaker was found jammed into the filters of the dam, but her body was never recovered from the deep reservoir. Kim was suffering from post-natal depression, and though the case was never officially closed, most people agreed she had probably jumped from the bridge over The Drop just behind the festival grounds. Because of Kim’s long connection with the Raco family, they postponed Henry’s christening celebration for a year. An appeal for witnesses is planned for the opening of this year’s Festival, hoping someone who attended the previous year will remember seeing Kim. Zara, guilty about ghosting her mother to hang out with friends the previous year, feels strongly that Kim would have never left Zoe unattended. Zara convinces Falk to help revisit Kim’s disappearance, and he discovers a possible connection to the hit-and-run death of accountant Dean Tozer six years earlier, also during the Festival. This third in the excellent character-driven series is highly recommended.

Black WolfKathleen Kent
Black Wolf (Mulholland Books 2023) begins in 1990 when Melvina (Mel) Donleavey, a young CIA agent, arrives in Minsk, Soviet Belarus, with three other undercover agents. Dan Hatton and Ben Franklin are supposedly on a State Department fact-finding mission considering American financial support to the newly sovereign republic of Byelorussia, Julie Reznik is posing as their translator, and Mel as Dan’s secretary. The other three agents don’t know that 26-year-old Mel has the highest security clearance. Mel, a super recognizer who never forgets a face, is tasked with investigating rumors that Iran is negotiating a clandestine pact with Byelorussia to secure nuclear weapons. The country is a dangerous place — the Soviet control increasingly challenged by the Byelorussian mafia. Mel befriends a receptionist at the Ministry of Finance, and learns that women are being killed by a serial killer known as the Svisloch Strangler, though the government refuses to admit a serial killer is possible in a Soviet state. Mel’s became fascinated by serial killers after learning her father had been involved in tracking down and arresting the Butcher of Plainfield when he was a young policeman. By then Mel was aware of her strange talent for remembering faces and hoped that ability would help her identify killers. She joined the FBI and was then recruited by the CIA when she was identified as a super recognizer. It’s not long before the team, and Mel in particular, attract the notice of Martin Kavalchuk (known as the Black Wolf), the head of the country’s KGB, and Mel finds herself hunting a serial killer. This intelligent thriller featuring a unique spy is the first in a planned series.

The MagistrateBrian Klingborg
The Magistrate (Minotaur Books 2023) finds Deputy Inspector Lu Fei banished from Harbin City, the capital China’s northernmost province, to serve as deputy chief of the rural Raven Valley Public Security Bureau. A midnight phone call brings him to the scene of the burned body of a man missing all his fingers and teeth. The only identifying mark is a small tattoo of a koi with a knife in its mouth and Korean characters reading Guryong Village, a famous slum area in Seoul. The dead man is presumably a Korean gangster, but the medical examiner suspects it’s not a gang-related hit, which are usually sloppy and excessive. This man has been expertly stabbed with single wound through the ribs directly into the heart, probably by someone who is ex-military special forces. Lu Fei discovers that someone is targeting the local sex-trafficking organizations that prey on young women from North Korea, killing the leaders and liberating the victims. Meanwhile in Nangang, the second smallest but most significant of Harbin’s nine city districts, men working for someone they call the Magistrate are capturing and punishing the members of the Nangang Benevolent Society, eleven corrupt powerful men who control Nangang politics and business. First Chen is beaten with bamboo sticks, and then Liu has the character for THIEF tattooed on his cheek, causing the rest of the group to fear what might happen next. Lu Fei finds himself in the uncomfortable position of hunting down two avengers targeting men who have so far evaded the law and definitely deserve to be punished. This intense third in the series reveals the difficulties Lu Fei faces as he struggles to bring criminals to justice and keep his job in modern China.

ObserverRobert Lanza & Nancy Kress
Observer (The Story Plant 2023) begins when neurosurgeon Caro Soames-Watkins reports one of her senior colleagues, Becker, to the disciplinary committee for sexual harassment. There is no proof either way, and the committee declines her complaint, leaving Caro mortified and fearful that she will not be offered a permanent position when her fellowship year ends. Her situation gets much worse when a former patient of Becker, who believes he saved her life, posts a Tweet in his defense tagged #Caroline_docdestroyer that is retweeted by tens of thousands calling for a protest to demand she be fired. Caro fears this will end her career, and that she will no longer be able to help her sister Ellen, the sole support of a child with severe cystic fibrosis and brain injury. Then Caro gets a letter from Dr. Samuel Watkins, a Nobel laureate great-uncle she has never met, offering a dream job combining neurosurgery and clinical research in a private hospital in the Cayman Islands at a very generous salary. Caro is suspicious of the offer, but knowing she has no other options, accepts the invitation to visit the facility. On Cayman Brac, Caro first meets physicist Dr. George Weigert and programmer Julian Dey, co-founders of the clinical research project on brain functions with quantum effects with Dr. Walkins. Her great-uncle is in bed, and Caro realizes he is dying of pancreatic cancer, stage four, and understands why he is so anxious to replace the previous neurosurgeon who died in a scuba diving accident the previous month. What she doesn’t understand is exactly what the project is and why it requires a neurosurgeon, physicist, and computer programmer. The team believes in the theory of biocentrism — “that the universe springs from life, not the other way around.” They hope that implanting computer chips into the brain will enable the patient to control an alternate reality, perhaps even cheating death. This intense thriller by scientist Lanza and science fiction author Kress features murder, betrayal, and difficult moral decisions.

Raven ThiefGigi Pandian
The Raven Thief (Minotaur Books 2023) finds retired stage magician Tempest Raj working at her family business Secret Staircase Construction. Their latest project is a classic mystery-themed remodel featuring sliding bookcases and hidden reading nooks for Lavinia Kingsley. To celebrate the remodel and launch her new life without her cheating soon-to-be ex-husband Corbin Colt, Lavinia is hosting a housewarming party featuring a mock séance to remove any trace of Corbin from the property. Tempest’s friend Sanjay "the Hindi Houdini" has reluctantly agreed to conduct the séance. Tempest and her grandfather Ashok “Ash” have been invited. Four members of Lavinia’s book club complete the guest list. The day before the party Lavinia calls Tempest in a rage, someone has broken into her house and taken her favorite possession, her mother’s old typewriter. Lavinia is certain Corbin is responsible, but the motion-activated security system hasn’t recorded anyone leaving with the typewriter, only a raven. Corbin’s debut novel The Raven was a huge success, and Lavinia has always associated Corbin with ravens. During the séance the next evening Corbin’s body, a knife protruding from his chest, drops from the ceiling onto the table, while all eight people are holding hands in the dark. Grandpa Ash, a retired doctor, examines Corbin, who is definitely dead though the knife is a fake prop. No one can figure out how Corbin’s body got into the locked room, and the eight people in the room are the only suspects. Grandpa Ash, the only person with blood on his hands, is arrested. Tempest, Sanjay, and their friend Ivy, a passionate fan of locked-room mysteries, set out to solve the impossible crime and clear Grandpa Ash in this clever homage to classic golden age authors.

Fifty-Four PigsPhilipp Schott
Fifty-Four Pigs (ECW Press 2022) introduces Peter Bannerman, a veterinarian in rural Manitoba, Canada. Peter has always been an odd duck, obsessed with logic and measurable data, introverted and addicted to tea brewed to precise specifications. Luckily he found the practice of veterinary medicine a good fit for his personality, and ended up with a practice in the small town of New Selfoss, populated mainly by residents of Icelandic descent. Laura Gudmundurson seems at first glance to be Peter’s total opposite, but the two have been happily married for years, though childless. Their dog Pippin, a lab-husky-collie mix, is Peter’s constant companion on his rounds. Pippin is a talented scent dog, and the two enjoy scent training exercises. Laura’s brother Kevin, a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer, often requests Pippin’s help with missing persons and other tracking cases. One day Peter’s friend Tom Pearson’s swine barn explodes, killing all 54 of his pigs. The investigators find the remains of 55 bodies: 54 pigs and one human. Tom becomes the prime suspect, rumors circulating that he set the fire himself either to collect the insurance or to hide evidence of a murder. When Tom disappears Peter doesn’t know what to believe, but begins taking Pippin out on scent training exercises near Tom’s property, searching for evidence. Then there is a break-in at Peter’s house and their TV, some jewelry, and all the meat in their chest freezer is stolen, including some pork Peter was storing for Tom. The TV and jewelry is found discarded, but there is no sign of the missing meat. Kevin discourages Peter from investigating, but he can’t help trying to solve the puzzle. This debut mystery featuring the quirky Peter who can figure everything out except social cues is the first in the Dr. Bannerman Vet series.

Wolf TrapConnor Sullivan
Wolf Trap (Atria/Emily Bestler Books 2023) is set in the very near-future. President Angela Buchannan’s Green Initiative passed the House and Senate a year after her election. She then called upon the nations of the world to sign the Global Green Accord, an agreement to end dependence on fossil fuels and become carbon neutral within fifteen years. The first to pledge to sign the accord was Raza bin Zamen, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, and a plan was developed for nations to sign the pledge a year later in Davos, Switzerland. Buchannan, the crown prince, and the next five nations who pledged to sign the accord agreed to each build a clean-energy thorium molten salt reactor to power one of their cities, to be simultaneous turned on nine days before the signing ceremony in Davos. All seven reactors experienced different levels of meltdown shortly after being activated. Brian Rhome, a former member of the Ground Branch, a group of highly trained paramilitary agents under the direction of the Special Activities Center, now working as a ski run groomer in Big Sky, Montana, unwilling to continue the work after most of his group died in an al-Qaeda ambush in Pakistan. His bills are piling up and it appears he will soon lose his family cabin to foreclosure. A lawyer from Geneva tracks him down, offering a huge sum of money to serve as an advisor for a mission to track down and kill Qasim al-Raymi, the very man responsible for ambushing his team in Pakistan six months earlier. Then Rhome’s godfather Jack Brenner, Director of the CIA’s Special Activities Center, appears at the cabin, confessing he was the one who suggested Rhome for the job after learning al-Raymi was still alive. Brenner suspects that the Saudi crown prince may be working with traitors in the American government to derail the Global Green Accord and hopes that a successful assassination of al-Raymi will put Rhome in the Saudi inner circle. This high-intensity thriller leaves open the possibility of more Ground Branch adventures.

May 1, 2023

Her Perfect TwinSarah Bonner
Her Perfect Twin (Grand Central Publishing 2022) is the story of identical twins Megan and Leah, so much alike they have been able to pass as each other all their lives. Leah wrote a tell-all book about their childhood, revealing secrets Megan didn’t want public, and the two have been estranged for years. The book made Leah rich, her wealth compounded by her current status as an Instagram influencer. Megan is unhappily married to Chris, whose true controlling and manipulative nature didn’t emerge until it was too late. Both Megan and Chris travel frequently for work, often spending five nights apart each week. When Chris returns from a work trip Megan finds a picture of what looks like her on his phone, except she has never worn a set of electric blue underwear. Megan worries that she is developing the same memory loss that has necessitated putting her mother in a facility, and decides to finally visit Leah and discuss her fears. But Leah taunts her with the affair with Chris, and Megan swings a heavy wine bottle at her head, killing Leah instantly. She manages to get the body into the chest freezer and desperately tries to come up with a plan for disposing of the body, deciding to impersonate Leah for a week or so, working from Leah’s luxurious London home while conducting her own life remotely. Then COVID lockdown hits, trapping Megan in her own home in the country with a husband she has come to despise, frantically trying to figure a way out of her dilemma. This clever debut psychological thriller is full of plot twists and surprising revelations.

Red QueenJuan Gómez-Jurado
Red Queen (Minotaur Books 2023, Spain 2019) begins when Jon Gutiérrez, a gay Basque police detective suspended for planting drugs on a vicious pimp, climbs seemingly endless flights of stairs to the top floor Madrid apartment of Antonia Scott, a gifted but troubled forensic analyst and perhaps the smartest person on Earth. The daughter of a British diplomat and a Spanish mother, Antonia was discovered and trained by Mentor, the head of a special unit designed to track down violent criminals (serial killers, terrorists, pedophiles) who move from country to country to escape notice. Each European Union unit has a Mentor with a team of experts who operate outside normal channels and a Red Queen forensic expert. Antonia proved to be extremely talented at her work until the day her husband was attacked during a case, leaving him in a coma and her devastated and unable to cope. Mentor offers Jon a solution to his suspension if he convinces Antonia to come look at a crime scene. In the car Antonia tries unsuccessfully to calm herself by listing the Visigoth kings in reverse order and then the shortest route to the scene avoiding all streets beginning with a vowel. Inside she examines the dead body of an exsanguinated teenage boy holding a wineglass filled to the brim with blood, his head anointed with oil. Antonia is sure the perpetrator isn’t just a serial killer; there is something about the crime scene that indicates a different sort of killer, one she has never seen before. Antonia breaks down at the scene, and Jon is given a box of pills to help her cope. The body is identified as Álvara Trueba, the son of bank president Laura Trueba, who vanished from his private school five days earlier. After hearing from the kidnappers the parents discreetly called for help but then ordered Mentor and his team to do nothing. After the body was discovered, they decided to release a story that Álvara died of meningitis to protect their family name. As they discuss the crime scene, Carla Ortiz, the daughter of billionaire Ramón Ortiz, is kidnapped. When Antonia and Jon interview Laura Trueba and Ramón Ortiz they are certain both parents are hiding something, but are unable to break through their privileged veneer. This intense thriller is the first in a trilogy, under production as Reina Roja in Spain by Prime Video.

The Twyford CodeJanice Hallett
The Twyford Code (Atria Books 2022) begins when Inspector Waliso sends Professor Mansfield a series of audio files found on an old iPhone belonging to a missing person. Waliso explains that the nearly 200 files have been transcribed by software to speed up the process, apologizing for the spotty nature of the resulting text. Recorded by Steven “Smithy” Smith, the files tell the story of his discovery as a child of a book by author Edith Twyford. Smithy brings the book to school where his remedial reading teacher Miss Alice Siles explains the book is banned; the author has fallen out of favor because of her old-fashioned views. As a joke Miss Siles reads the first chapter aloud, and is amazed that the five non-readers in her class, (Smithy, Shell, Donna, Paul, and Nathan) are entranced by the story of a group of siblings who go on adventures. After finishing the book, Miss Siles takes her class on a field trip to Edith Twyford’s home and disappears. Forty years later Smithy has just been released from a long stretch in prison, where he finally learned to read. He decides to solve the mystery that has always haunted him — what happened on that field trip and why Miss Siles was never seen again. Writing is still a great challenge, so Smithy uses the recording feature on the old iPhone given to him by his estranged son, telling stories from the past and recording conversations from the present. With the assistance of a helpful librarian, Smithy tracks down his fellow students and learns that there is a code hidden in Twyford’s books, a code leading to a great treasure. Smithy struggles to stay sober enough to concentrate on the acrostic clues and investigate Operation Fish, which he believes was a secret mission to move British gold bullion to Canada during WWII. Mixed in are memories of Smithy’s troubled childhood and involvement with a gang where he finally felt part of a family. This clever mystery is packed full of misunderstandings and red herrings.

Murder Your EmployerRupert Holmes
Murder Your Employer: The McMasters Guide to Homicide (Avid Reader Press 2023) begins when Cliff Iverson tries to kill Merrill Fiedler, his supervisor at aircraft manufacturer Woldan Industries, by pushing him under a New York subway train. Fiedler is a distasteful human being, preying on his female subordinates and humiliating his male underlings. Fiedler tormented the woman Cliff was attracted to and framed Cliff for breaching the Industrial Secrets clause after Cliff pointed out that the cost-saving changes Fielder made to his designs for the W-10 would cause fatal accidents. The police arrive at Cliff’s apartment, revealing that the cameras in the store changing room recorded Cliff removing his disguise. They arrest him for attempted murder, and Cliff is horrified that Fielder survived. The two men reveal they are no longer with the force after a child molester in their custody didn’t survive and bundle him into a car. After a long journey under sedation, Cliff arrives at The McMasters Conservatory for the Applied Arts, dedicated to the homicidal arts for those with an ethical reason for removing someone. McMasters is very expensive, and Cliff is surprised to learn that a sponsor is paying his fees. The term has already started, and Cliff struggles to catch up with his fellow students, including Gemma Lindley, who struggles with her aversion to violence, and Dulcie Mown, an incognito Hollywood actress whose star is fading. Interspersed sections from Cliff’s journal written to his sponsor and flashbacks from Gemma’s and Dulcie’s perspectives follow the three students progress in learning the homicidal arts. Each must choose a focus, "Murder Your Employer" for Cliff, and write a thesis describing their perfect crime while escaping the attentions of some of the more competitive and more criminally-minded students. This self-study guide set in the mid-1950s is clever and very funny.

HomecomingKate Morton
Homecoming (Mariner Books 2023) begins on Christmas Eve 1959 in Adelaide Hills, South Australia. Percy Summers, owner of the local general store in the small town of Tambilla, was returning home from a week helping to slash brush when he decided to stop at the creek on the Turner estate to let his horse cool off in the water hole. Spotting the family resting in the shade he walks over to say hello, and is horrified to realize they are not dozing under the tree. Though they seem to be sleeping peacefully, Mrs. Isabel Turner and her three older children are dead. It’s not until the police arrive that anyone realizes the baby is not in her basket, and is nowhere to be found. In 2018 London journalist Jess Turner-Bridges gets a call that her grandmother Nora has fallen and is in the hospital. Though nearly 90, Nora is independent and active, and Jess assumes she will be discharged soon. The nurse who checks on Nora every day explains she fell coming down from the attic, which confuses Jess since she never remembered anyone going up there in all the years she lived with Nora after her mother Polly moved away to Queensland. Jess arrives at the hospital to discover Nora is weak and barely conscious, the doctor unwilling to specify when she can go home. At Nora’s house Jess discovers a book written about the Turner family tragedy, and learns the cause of death was believed to be poison, though what kind was never determined. It was eventually ruled a murder-suicide administered by Mrs. Turner though no concrete proof was found. Jess learns that Isabel was Nora’s sister-in-law, and that Nora herself was staying with her sister-in-law that holiday season, giving birth Polly shortly after the bodies were found. Jess can’t believe her grandmother never spoke of that long ago Christmas Eve, and becomes fascinated by the notorious event, determined to learn the truth about her family’s past. This lush historical mystery explores the power of secrets and the intense longing to belong.

The ResemblanceLauren Nossett
The Resemblance (Flatiron Books 2022) begins when Jay Kemp, a fraternity brother at Kappa Phi Omicron at the University of Georgia, is killed in a hit and run accident. The witnesses all agree the driver looked identical to the victim and was smiling as he accelerated. Detective Marlitt Kaplan is the first on the scene, eager to take the lead on her first homicide case. The daughter of a university professor, Marlitt knows the inner workings of the university, and has a deep-seated distrust of fraternities, whose members put the brotherhood first. Marlitt suspects the hit-and-run was not accidental, but her colleagues aren’t convinced. The powerful families of the fraternity students pressure Marlitt’s superiors when she questions their sons. She is directed to ease up on the fraternity, but the more questions she asks, the more she is convinced something dark and dangerous is going on. Personal threats to Marlitt and her partner escalate, putting both themselves and their families in danger. This compelling debut is a finalist for the 2023 Thriller Award for Best First Novel.

Murder BookThomas Perry
Murder Book (Mysterious Press 2023) begins when unorthodox ex-cop Harry Duncan, now a private investigator in Chicago, gets a call from his ex-wife Ellen Leicester, the US Attorney for the midwestern region. Ellen suspects that the crime waves in several small midwestern towns are orchestrated by an outside racketeering group recruiting local talent, but doesn’t have enough evidence to bring in the FBI or to prosecute. She asks Harry to visit some of the towns along the Ash River in Indiana, where the latest bunch of assaults by teams rather than individuals are happening. He stops in a bar in Parkman’s Elbow for lunch, and the bartender warns him she saw two men checking out his car. The men try to scam Harry into paying a fine not to get his car towed, but he subdues them both, discovering from their driver’s licenses that they are from Chicago. He delivers them to the State Police in Indianapolis, and returns to The Elbow Room bar to thank the bartender, who turns out to be the owner Renee Parkman. Harry explains he is a private investigator, and the state police told him there was a crime spree in the area. Renee confirms that there have been several break-ins that turned into murders in nearby towns over the past few months. Returning to the bar that evening, Harry observes three men explaining an extortion scheme to Renee, complete with threats to her person. Ducking outside he superglues the weapons in their cars to their dashboard and steering wheel. Back inside he tells the men the police are on their way, and they flee, soon picked up by the local cops. The three men turn out to be locals who can’t or won’t explain who hired them to start the protection racket. Harry can’t figure out what the outside group is after, and meticulously records everything in a Murder Book as he did on the police force, hoping a motive will emerge. Things escalate quickly in this fast-paced thriller as Harry tries to defend the town from increasing threats and violence.

Cold PeopleTom Rob Smith
Cold People (Scribner 2023) begins in 2023 when Liza, a medical student at Harvard, is on vacation in Portugal. She meets Atto, a local boatman who takes her on a tour, and the two feel an instant connection before noticing alien ships in the sky. The people of Earth are given 30 days to evacuate to Antarctica; those who don’t make it will be eliminated. Twenty years later the small population in Antarctica has establishing three small communities, surviving on algae and sea life, and worrying about the dwindling emergency supplies airdropped by various nations. The scientific community at McMurdo City quickly began working on genetic alterations — the Cold People Project. Abandoning all the previous regulations about altering human genetic make-up, they begin experimenting with DNA from Antarctic lifeforms. Liza, who fell into a deep depression after three babies died before their first birthday, volunteered for the project. After a five-month pregnancy carrying a fetus so heavy she couldn’t walk, a cesarean was performed and ice-adapted Echo entered the world. Instead of skin, Echo has lizard-like scales and eyes like a dragonfly. Now nearly 16, Echo is six-foot-six and most comfortable barefoot and unclothed in bitter cold. She and the other ice-adapted children living in the communities struggle to find their place in the world, loving their adoptive families yet always feeling like outsiders. At McMurdo, the scientists have moved to more extreme adaptions, and the human women who volunteer to bear the children no longer return. Each year the ice-adapted look less like humans. Eitan is born with four-jointed legs, two on each side of the thorax, and a human torso. After three years Eitan is fully-grown, incredibly strong, very intelligent, and refuses to eat any food he does not kill himself. Restrained in an underground enclosure near cages containing other experiments, most of the scientists and workers are afraid of him. This intense post-apocalyptic thriller grapples what it means to be human and how far we should go in order to save humanity from extinction.

The Rabbit FactorAntti Tuomainen
The Rabbit Factor (Orenda Books 2022, Finland 2021) begins when Henri Koskinen loses his job as an actuarial mathematician for a Finnish insurance company, unable to accept the company’s transition into an open-plan office and endless meetings about sharing feelings and breaking down emotional boundaries. Henri looks for a new job, but other insurance companies are just as bad, if not worse. Then Henri gets a call from his brother Juhani’s lawyer. Unlike Henri, Juhani was a spontaneous and impulsive person, and his final financial endeavor was purchasing an adventure park called YouMeFun, which he left to Henri after dying of heart failure. With nothing else to do, Henri visits YouMeFun, and is given a tour by Laura, the park manager. Henri is horrified by the noise and chaos of the park, but even more horrified by Juhani’s financial records. The park is popular and should be close to breaking even, but money is vanishing far more quickly that coming in. There aren’t many employees: Kristian who insists Juhani promised him a promotion, Johanna who runs the Curly Cake Café, Samppa who works directly with the children, Esa who hides in a small room managing security, Minttu who drinks while managing publicity, and Venla who has called in sick every day for weeks. Then two men arrive and inform Henri owes them a huge gambling debt of two hundred thousand euros at ten percent interest. Henri explains that her has no responsibility for his brother’s debt, but the two men make it clear with a physical demonstration that he does. That evening Henri defends himself with the ear from a giant mechanical rabbit he is repairing, ending up with a large body he hides in a chest freezer under bags of doughnut dough. Now tied to the park by his crime, Henri finds himself unexpectedly attracted to Laura, who finds his dry analysis humorous. Encouraging her to paint the murals she’s always dreamed of, Henri sets out to outwit the dangerous mobsters. This funny crime novel full of quirky characters was a finalist for the 2022 Crime Fiction in Translation Dagger Award.

The FieldsErin Young
The Fields (Flatiron Books 2022) introduces Riley Fisher, a sergeant in the Black Hawk County Sheriff’s Office, in rural Iowa. Newly promoted to head of investigations, Riley is horrified to discover that she recognizes Chloe, the woman whose dead body has just been discovered in the middle of a cornfield. Riley, Chloe, and Mia had been best friends as children until an incident Riley doesn’t want to remember happened when she was 14, splitting the friends apart. Riley tells Sheriff Reed that she and Chloe were only school friends, fearing removal from the first murder her team will investigate under her leadership. The cornfield is part of a cooperative called Zephyr Farms, composed of four farming families. Zephyr specializes in dent corn, which is commonly used for livestock feed and ethanol production. But Zephyr has created a new variety of dent corn which has an excellent flavor when dry milled into cornmeal. Zephyr hopes their new corn will win the Iowa Food Prize at the upcoming state fair, giving them the boost needed to stay independent from Agri-Co which is buying out local farms. Zephyr hopes the news of the body found in one of their fields can be suppressed, fearing it will endanger their chance of winning. Riley’s team investigates the members of the four farm families that make up Zephyr, and also Chloe’s husband James Miller. Several of the men seem to be hiding something, though it’s not clear if any of the secrets are involved with Chloe’s murder. Suspecting the wounds on Chloe’s body are bite marks, the police ask about large farm dogs. Then the body of another young woman is found with similar wounds, and the medical examiner discovers the fragment of a human tooth buried deep in the thigh tissue. Horrified, Riley’s team fears they may be hunting a serial killer with a taste for human flesh. This disturbing thriller, a finalist for 2023 Thriller Award for Best First Novel, is the first crime novel by the author of three earlier historical fiction series written as Robyn Young.

April 1, 2023

Michael Bennett
Better the Blood (Atlantic Monthly Press 2023) introduces Hana Westerman, a Māori detective with the Auckland CIB. Hana is sent a video that leads her to a hidden room containing the body of a hanged man and a curved design drawn in blood. The next body is found with two of the designs, leading Hana and her partner to suspect New Zealand’s first serial killer. They track the design to a daguerreotype taken in 1863 of a group of six colonial soldiers posed in front of the hanged body of a Māori Chief. The two current murders are the descendants of two of the soldiers, indicating four more murders to come. Hana realizes the murders are utu, the Māori tradition of rebalancing a crime. Two decades earlier, when Hana had just joined the police force, she and other young Māori officers were sent to forcibly remove a group of Māori in a land rights occupation on the same mountain where the Chief was killed. At the time Hana didn’t feel she could refuse the order, and her actions caused her people to view her as a collaborator with the enemy. She hasn’t returned home since. Hana’s daughter Addison is an outspoken teen activist for Māori rights, and the killer’s release of the old footage threatens their relationship and causes Hana to question her future with the police department. Hana watches the recordings of the forcible removals of Māori elders, suspecting the killer may have been part of the protest and wondering why it’s taken so long for the killer to respond to the past. This debut thriller featuring the intuitive Māori detective explores the far-reaching psychological effects of colonization.

Louise Candlish
The Heights (Atria Books 2022, UK 2021) begins when lighting consultant Ellen Saint is working in the Shad Thames district in London. Glancing across at the slender modern building called The Heights with an amazing view of Tower Bridge, Ellen spots a man come out on the roof terrace of the top flat, horrified to recognize Kieran Watts, the young man who ruined her life. Ellen was convinced she caused his death two years earlier. Ellen first met Kieran when he joined the exclusive Foxwell Academy as a scholarship student at the age of 16, qualifying on the basis of his talent for technology. Ellen and her husband Justin lived with her son Lucas and their daughter Freya, close to Lucas’s father Vic’s flat. Ellen and Justin received a notification that Lucas had been selected as Kieran’s buddy, assigned to help him learn the ropes at Foxwell. Lucas was a hard-working student on track to college at Oxford before Kieran became part of his life, tempting him away from his studies into alcohol and drugs and late nights out. Justin is willing to give Kieran extra leeway because of his disadvantages and 12-year-old Freya is fascinated by him, but Ellen becomes convinced he is truly evil. Vic is also leery of Kieran’s influence over Lucas, and they ban Kieran from visiting their houses though they can’t control the school environment. Kieran’s foster mother Prisca is far more hands-off as a parent than Ellen would like, helping him get a driver’s license and lending him her car, giving the boys an easy escape to anywhere they want to go, and Lucas’s school achievement falls so low it is unlikely he will get into any college. At that point, Ellen decides to save her son and deal with Kieran once and for all. Discovering that Kieran is not only still alive but has made a success of his life sends Ellen into a tailspin of depression. She is determined to confront him in his flat, but must fight against her fear of heights since she has high place phenomenon, a condition causing an irrational impulse to jump when in a high place. Interspersed sections from a Sunday Times article about Ellen and excerpts from Ellen’s memoir Saint or Sinner fill in the details of Kieran’s destructive association with her family and Ellen’s compulsion for vengeance. This compelling psychological thriller explores themes of love, obsession, duplicity, and treachery.

Eli Cranor
Don’t Know Tough (Soho Crime 2022) is the story of Billy Lowe, the star running back of the Denton, Arkansas, high school football team. Billy lives with his alcoholic mother and her abusive boyfriend Travis Rodney, who torments Billy, his Momma, and toddler Little Brother. Unable to protect his family at home, Billy expresses his anger on the football field, often losing control. Coming to practice with cigarette burns on his neck, Billy hits a teammate from a rich family too hard in practice. High school football is king in Denton, and when Billy is suspended the town fears the Denton Pirates won’t make the playoffs. His coach Trent Powers has just relocated to Arkansas from Anaheim, California, with his wife Marley, and teenage daughter Lorna who attends school with Billy. Trent worked with Marley’s father in California, and Marley hopes their banishment to Arkansas after Trent’s failure to coach his team to a winning season will be short-lived. Trent, a former foster child who endured a series of deplorable placements before being taken in by Marley’s father, feels compelled to give Billy the same level of mentorship. When Billy leaves home after a fight with his step-father, he invites Billy into their home despite Marley’s protests. A born-again Christian, Trent believes he can save Billy in the same way Marley’s father saved him, but Marley fears having two teenagers in the same house will lead to the same attraction that caused their own early marriage. When Travis Rodney’s body is discovered in the Lowe trailer house, Billy is the prime suspect, though his Momma and Trent both have trouble explaining exactly what they were each doing that fateful night. This evocative debut thriller exploring the debilitating effect of abuse, poverty, and the helpless feeling of being trapped in a life without a future is a finalist for the 2023 Lefty, Edgar, and Barry Awards for Best Debut Mystery.

Maria Dong
Liar, Dreamer, Thief (Grand Central Publishing 2023) is the story of Katrina Kim, a troubled young woman estranged from her Korean family, who has been haunted her whole life by a book she read as a child: Mi-Hee and the Mirror Man. Like Mi-Hee, Katrina is able to see hidden world, or at least thinks she can, and has developed a series of coping mechanisms to allow her to control her compulsions. To safely exit her apartment, she counts eleven steps and draws a sigil of an endekagram, a star polygon with eleven vertices, in the air. Katrina sees mushroom forests on the floor of her kitchen, and believes the local Cayatoga Bridge in Grand Station, Illinois, is a place of supernatural power. Katrina shares an apartment with Leoni, who is often out of town for months working as a traveling occupational therapist, returning home to discover that Katrina has let the apartment fall into disarray in her absence. Katrina works at a boring office job for a hospital billing firm, and has become obsessed with her co-worker Kurt, believing they have a special connection though they have only exchanged a few words. Over the past three years she has collected a series of clues about Kurt by spying on him at work, though she still doesn’t know much about his life outside the office. She discovers a postcard in his desk with a threatening message she believes is aimed at her. That night she is unable to resist the call of the Cayatoga Bridge, where she performs self-soothing rituals at midnight when her stress levels are out of control. She is startled to find Kurt at the bridge, and horrified when he shouts that everything is her fault before throwing himself off the bridge. This unsettling debut thriller is a powerful exploration of mental illness.

Megan Goldin
Stay Awake (St. Martin’s Press 2022) begins when Liv Reese wakes up in the back seat of a taxi at 3:00 AM with no idea how she got there. When she arrives at her apartment building in Brooklyn, she realizes she doesn’t have either her keys or her phone, and reluctantly pushes the intercom button to wake her roommate Amy, hoping she is home and not working a night shift at the hospital. But the woman who answers the door is not Amy and their eclectic furniture has been replaced with what looks like an IKEA ad. Startled, Liv wonders if she pushed the wrong buzzer until she sees the familiar view out the window. The woman threatens to call the police and Liv stumbles back outside, flagging down another cab, giving the driver her boyfriend Marco’s address. The city lights illuminate the back seat, and Liv discovers writing on her hands and arms: STAY AWAKE, DON’T SLEEP, and the address of a place called Nocturnal. The bar doesn’t look familiar, but the bartender calls her by name, and explains that Liv forgets everything when she goes to sleep, waking up to believe it is two years in the past. Then Liv remembers she had a bloody knife earlier, which she wrapped in a shirt and threw away. Meanwhile, Detectives Darcy Halliday and Jack Lavelle are called to the scene of a murder. An unidentified man has been stabbed to death in an Airbnb, the words STAY AWAKE written on the window in blood. The only clue is a neighbor’s report of a woman with very long black hair leaving the building in the middle of the night. Flashbacks fill in Liv’s life from two years earlier when she was sharing an apartment with her best friend Dr. Amy Decker, dating Marco, and writing about food for the trendy Manhattan magazine Cultura. Liv’s only problem was that she feared Marco didn’t love her as much as she loved him until she began fearing she was being stalked. She returned home to find her room rearranged, milk appeared in her empty refrigerator, flowers on her bedside table when she woke up. Liv reported the incidents to the police, but her fears weren’t taken seriously until the night she left her office and almost died. Every time Liz wakes up from her dissociative fugue, she believes she is just leaving her office on that fateful evening two years earlier. This intricate thriller is frightening.

Craig Henderson
Welcome to the Game (Atlantic Monthly Press 2022) features Spencer Burnham, a former British rally driver now running a foreign car dealership in Detroit. Spencer’s beloved American wife Marielle has died, leaving him and his seven-year-old daughter Abby grieving. Spencer uses drugs and alcohol to numb the pain, disconnecting from his daughter and often forgetting to pick her up from school. Struggling financially as well, Spencer and Abby are living with their friend Chris Wilcox, who has taken over much of Abby’s care, but not soon enough to prevent Child Protective Services from getting involved. Charismatic gangster Dominic McGrath comes into the car dealership, and asks Spencer to take him on a test drive in a Lotus. McGrath’s former driver has just been executed after possibly betraying McGrath’s organization to the police, and he is looking for a street-smart driver who is fast but also able to move unnoticed. When the creditors seize the car dealership, Spencer goes to work for McGrath, knowing the business is illegal, but willing to moving drug money around the city from street corner to money laundering in order to provide for his daughter. Spencer is unprepared for the violence dealt out by McGrath’s lieutenants Johnny Boy and the Yo-Yo, and tries to extricate himself from his new job, only to discover McGrath is not willing to let him go. McGrath has one final big job to do, one that will let him retire from the business, and Spencer’s intuitive high speed driving is a vital part of his plan. McGrath threatens Abby and Chris, causing Spencer to finally try to get sober and straight in order to try and outwit the vicious gangster. The deeply flawed Spencer grows more sympathetic as he tries to outwit both McGrath and the police in this high intensity debut thriller.

Rosie Walsh
The Love of My Life (Pamela Dorman Books 2022) is the story of Emma and Leo, happily married with a four-year-old daughter Ruby. Leo is an obituary writer and Emma is a marine biologist — a research fellow at the Marine Biological Association in Plymouth two days a week, returning to teach at University College London the rest of the week. Then Emma is diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. When the cancer turns aggressive, Emma begs Leo not to pre-write her obituary, as his department does to be prepared when there is a sudden death of a celebrity, and Leo agrees. Emma completes a course of chemotherapy, and the news is good; the cancer is in remission. But Leo has secretly already started writing Emma’s obituary, convinced no one else could do her justice, and discovers she didn’t graduate from the University of St. Andrews. In fact, little he thought he knew about his wife is true, even her name isn’t real. Then actress Janet Rothschild disappears, walking out of rehearsal and vanishing. The pre-write of the obituary is assigned to Leo, since his colleague Sheila is close friends with her husband Jeremy. Sheila, who worked for MI5 before joining the newspaper, mentions she noticed Emma the day before at Waterloo Station. Emma was working at at the Marine Biological Association that day, but the trains to Plymouth don’t travel from Waterloo. Leo begins to wonder what Emma is really doing the days she is supposed to be in Plymouth as Emma tries to gather the courage to tell her husband about the real love of her life.

March 1, 2023

I’ll Be YouJanelle Brown
I’ll Be You (Random House 2022) is the story of identical twins Samantha (Sam) and Elli. When the twins were nine, they were discovered on a Santa Barbara beach by talent scout Harriett Sunday — two freckled tow-headed girls who looked so much alike their parents couldn’t always tell them apart. A favorite game was "I’ll be you" when they switched identities at school or home. Harriett lands them a role in a Cheerios commercial, then some bit parts, and finally a supporting role in a detective series. Identical twins are a hot commodity in Hollywood. Strict labor laws prohibit child actors from working more than a few hours a day, but with identical twins standing in for each other the permissible shoot hours double. As the twins grew up, their roles dwindled, and Elli finally admitted she hated acting anyway. Sam tried to continue alone, becoming addicted to pills and alcohol. As adults, they rarely see each other. Elli became the perfect homemaker while Sam works in a coffee shop and struggles to maintain her sobriety. Sam is surprised when her father calls asking for help. Elli has just adopted a two-year old girl named Charlotte, and left her at their parents house before checking into the GenFem retreat in Ojai, led by Dr. Cindy Medina. Sam agrees to come and help take care of Charlotte for a few days until Elli returns, but Elli doesn’t answer her phone and seems to have vanished. Sam pokes through GenFem’s website, finding four centers but nothing in Ojai, though there is mention of a private healing retreat in the Topatopa Mountains, restricted to Senior-Level Members. The woman who answers the call box at the gated retreat won’t confirm that Elli is there and refuses to let Sam come in. Two women with hair cropped to the scalp wearing white linen sack dresses come out of the gate but also refuse to tell her anything. Suspecting that GenFem is some sort of cult and Elli is being held against her will, Sam wonders if perhaps she can sneak into the center by disguising herself as her sister. This character-driven thriller examines the bonds that pull sisters together and the closeness that can also push them apart.

Magic in the WeaveAlys Clare
Magic in the Weave (Severn House 2022) is set in October 1604. Theaters in London have closed because of the Plague, so a traveling troupe called the Company is touring the countryside and has arrived in Devon. Former ship’s surgeon Dr. Gabriel Taverner takes his widowed younger sister Celia and midwife Judyth Penwarden to see a new play called Othello at the Saracen’s Head in Plymouth. The audience is enthralled by the sexually-charged story with dangerous themes of magic and witchcraft. In the taproom after the play, Celia is complaining about the handkerchief Othello gave to Desdemona, which is made of course linen instead of the magical silk described by the players. Fallon Adderbury, a handsome young man who introduces himself as the Company manger and playwright, explains the original prop had been left in London and they have no silk at hand. Celia, whose late husband was a silk merchant, impulsively offers to make a new handkerchief of the finest white silk embroidered with strawberries. Gabriel isn’t pleased with the attention Fallon is paying to Celia, but is happy to see her laughing and excited by the play. Gabriel’s friend Theophilus Davey, the coroner, overhears a hushed conversation suggesting at least one member of the Company fled London to escape a dangerous secret, and both Theo and Gabriel are relieved the Company will only be in town for a week. The next play is called The Demon’s Glass, a disturbing supernatural piece full of violence and blood. Gabriel learns this new play was indeed written by Fallon Adderbury, but not the others which were penned by Will Shakespeare. After the play, bit-part actor Francis Heron collapses, complaining of headache and nausea. The young man who plays the female parts offers the new silk handkerchief Celia created for Desdemona, explaining Desdemona offered to bind Othello’s head when he complained of headache. Gabriel accepts the handkerchief, and examines Francis, searching his body for plague buboes. Not finding any, he worries that Francis may have been poisoned, and sits with him through the night, discovering a small leather book filled with coded text in his bag. They both suffer nightmares and Francis moans about a group called the Scholars of the Numinous. Gabriel isn’t sure which is more dangerous, the plague or a group of scholars hunted by the king’s spies for their interest in the supernatural. This intense fourth in the excellent Gabriel Taverner series also works well as a standalone.

The Christie AffairNina de Gramont
The Christie Affair (St. Martin’s Press 2022) begins in December 1926, when Archie Christie is preparing to leave his wife Agatha for his mistress, young Nan O’Dea. Agatha’s mother died not too long before, and Nan pretends his wife is too fragile to be left alone, manipulating Archie, who likes to control all the decisions, to quickly overrule her. Agatha isn’t too surprised when Archie admits to the affair, but she is devastated when he tells her he is leaving her and will seek a divorce. After Archie departs for a weekend houseparty with Nan, Agatha kisses their daughter Rosalind goodnight, and then sets out alone from their home in Berkshire in her beloved Morris Cowley. The car is found found abandoned on a steep slope at Newlands Corner near Guildford, but there is no trace of Agatha. Flashbacks relate Nan’s girlhood in Ireland and a star-crossed love story of two young lovers torn apart by the Great War. The eleven days Agatha was missing before being discovered in a hotel in Harrogate claiming amnesia are cleverly explained, though the real Agatha never admitted to any knowledge of that time. Nan is based on the real-life Nancy Neele who Archie eventually married, but her fictionalized backstory is all new. Narrated mainly by Nan, this excellent historical thriller provides a motive for her calculated destruction of the Christie marriage, transforming Nan into an unexpectedly sympathetic character and shining a new light on those fateful eleven days when more than a thousand police searched for the missing author.

The Other Side of NightAdam Hamdy
The Other Side of Night (Atria Books 2022), set in the Peak District of England, opens with David Asha describing the greatest reget of his life, the separation from his son Elliot. Next is an except from a court report dealing with the adoption of 10-year-old Elliot Asha by close family friend Ben Elmys. The foster care official shares her concern that Mr. Elmys was acting strangely during the supervised visit, and Elliot at first refused to go with him. Harriet “Harri” Kealty, a police officer dismissed after an incident capturing a suspect, is browsing a bookstore when she discovers a library discard book on the floor, “I want to live. Help. He’s trying to kill me.” scrawled on one of the pages. Harri is also dealing with the sudden end of a relationship with a man she met online. They had two wonderful dates and seemed to be falling in love when he suddenly ended the relationship, saying a close friend was ill. Desperate for distraction, Harri visits the library to learn who was the last person to check out the book: Elizabeth "Beth" Asha. Harri learns that Beth died of a rare form of cancer. A verdict of death by misadventure was given to her husband David a few months later after he disappeared from a cliffside, leaving their son Elliot an orphan. David’s body was never found. Harri begins to look into the details surrounding David’s death, wondering how he could leave a young child alone no matter how great his grief. When Harri learns that Elliot was adopted by Ben Elmys, the very person who ghosted her a year earlier, she wonders if he had something to do with their deaths. Harri shows her former police partner Sabih Khan the message she found in the book. They learn that Beth’s body went missing her hospital room right after she died, and was never found, finally convincing Sabih there might be something to Harri’s suspicions. Reviewing the hospital footage they see something in Ben’s hand as he leaves Beth’s room with Adam, perhaps a jammer that put the security cameras out of commission for the next few hours. Discovering that Adam, Beth, and Ben all worked at a the same research laboratory, Harri wonders if Beth might have been exposed to a toxin that caused her rare cancer. Concerned about Elliot’s safety, Harri begins investigating the man she once loved. This intricate thriller explores what sacrifices we are willing to make to protect those we love.

The HunterJennifer Herrera
The Hunter (G.P. Putnam’s Sons 2023) begins when Leigh O’Donnell returns to her hometown of Copper Falls, Ohio, with her four-year-old daughter Simone. Leigh was dismissed from her job as detective for the NYPD after aiming her gun at a fellow-police officer, and her marriage fell apart immediately afterward. Both of Leigh’s parents died when she was in high school, but her brother and the three uncles who raised them still live in town. Leigh left Copper Falls a decade earlier, determined never to return, but a call from her younger brother Ronan persuades her to take a temporary assignment with the Copper Falls police department where Ronan works. Three unemployed 25-year-old men have drowned in the waterfall, presumed suicides, but Ronan fears there is more to their deaths. Seven years earlier three high school seniors committed suicide in the same spot the night before their graduation, and Leigh is struck by the fact that if those students had lived they would be the same age as the new suicides. Leigh isn’t comfortable in Copper Falls — her mixed-race daughter is the only non-white face in town, and the residents of the poor part of town known as The Sticks clearly don’t trust the police. But the gun and badge make her feel like a whole person with a purpose after months of drifting, and she decides to stay for a few weeks and investigate. Leigh’s independent streak doesn’t go over well with her new boss Chief Becker, but she is too consumed by the investigation to care about his opinion. The autopsy photos are unusual. All three of the bodies are pristine: freshly cut hair, trimmed nails, no bruises or marks. This might be a sign of preparation for suicide, but Leigh suspects a ritualized cleaning in preparation for sacrifice. This character-driven debut is complex and compelling.

The Unkept WomanAllison Montclair
The Unkept Woman (Minotaur Books 2022) begins in 1946 London when Miss Iris Sparks is followed by a woman on her way work at The Right Sort Marriage Bureau. Their first customer is Mrs. Helena Jablonska, a Polish refugee. Mrs. Jablonska tells Sparks and her partner Mrs. Gwendolyn Bainbridge that she has been widowed for a year and is ready to think about remarrying. Gwen rejects her application, telling her kindly that since she is pregnant they can’t take her on as a client, and suggesting some agencies that can provide support. Gwen is struggling with her own situation, trying to regain parental rights for her young son following a mental breakdown and a four-month stay in a sanatorium after the death of her husband in the war. Sparks supposedly worked as a secretary for the War Office, but Gwen suspects she was some sort of spy. Returning home that evening, Sparks notices a woman following her again, and then walks in on Andrew, the married fellow spy who leased the flat for her when they were lovers months earlier. After they broke up, Andrew offered her the rest of the year’s lease and they haven’t seen each other since. Sparks is horrified to find him there, but he refuses to leave and she takes refuge at Gwen’s home. When a woman’s body is discovered in Sparks’s flat the next day, she is the prime suspect. Gwen has been warned by her psychiatrist that she needs to live a blameless life, which does not include investigating a murder in order to clear her friend’s name, but loyalty wins out and the two try to figure out who the woman was and why someone would want to kill her. This fourth in the series starring the two intrepid women is great fun.

The House Across the LakeRiley Sager
The House Across the Lake (Dutton 2022) is the story of Casey Fletcher, an actress who had a breakdown after her husband Len Bradley drowned at her family’s lake house in Vermont. There are only five houses on Lake Greene, mainly used as summer houses, so Casey being there in October is unusual, but she has just been fired for showing up drunk for a performance. Her mother, beloved Broadway star Lolly Fletcher, hopes that the isolation will help get her drinking under control, but it’s not working. Casey doesn’t believe she is an alcoholic, that she can quit drinking at any time but just doesn’t want to. Casey is on her third or fourth bourbon of the morning when she spots a boat drifting in the deep water of the lake. Thinking of Len’s death, Casey motors out in her own boat, discovering a motionless body bobbing on the surface. The woman appears to be dead, but Casey dives in and tows her back to the boat. Blue with cold, the woman revives and coughs up lake water. Casey wraps her in a blanket, recognizing her as Katherine Royce, former supermodel and current philanthropist, who has just bought the five million dollar house across the lake with her husband Tom. Katherine explains that she suddenly blacked out while swimming and doesn’t remember anything after that. The two women bond over the stresses of their former careers while Casey takes her home. That afternoon Casey goes back onto her deck with another bourbon, picking up Len’s birdwatching binoculars to examine the Royce’s house, which features a glass wall facing the lake. Amazed at the power of the binoculars, Casey notices that Katherine, now wearing both a wedding band and engagement ring with a huge diamond, making a phone call while Tom frowns at the screen of a laptop upstairs before making his way down to the living room. Startled, Katherine hides her phone behind her back. The next morning Casey invites Katherine over for coffee and learns that the Royces are living on Katherine’s money since all of Tom’s is tied up in his tech start-up company. Katherine confesses their marriage is struggling, joking that Tom would never agree to a divorce but would kill her before letting her leave. That night Casey hears a scream, and Katherine is gone the next day, back to New York Tom says, but she doesn’t answer texts or calls and Casey is sure Tom is responsible for her disappearance. She reports the missing woman to the local police, who don’t trust the opinion of a woman who is obviously drinking too much. This creepy suspense thriller skillfully takes advantage of all the mystery tropes.

What Happened To the BennettsLisa Scottoline
What Happened to the Bennetts (G.P. Putnam’s Sons 2022) begins when Pennsylvania court reporter Jason Bennett is driving home after a school field hockey game with his wife Lucinda and their two children Allison and Ethan. A pickup truck tailgates them on a dark and deserted stretch of the road, and then pulls in front and blocks the road. Two men order them out of the car at gunpoint. The small family dog launches himself at the men and the driver shoots, missing the dog but killing Allison. The driver fires again, killing his accomplice. Two FBI Special Agents tell Jason and Lucinda that the driver was identified as John Milo, the dead man as George “Junior” Veria. Both were members of the George Veria Organization, a criminal network selling opiates throughout the state. The FBI believes the two men killed two other drug dealers earlier that night and were trying to exchange their pickup for an anonymous car. The only reason therest of the family survived was that both guns were out of bullets. The FBI fears that John Milo told Junior’s father “Big George” Veria that the Bennetts killed his son, causing the organization to target the family in retaliation. Jason and Lucinda are at first unwilling to even consider entering the witness protection program (WITSEC), leaving her mother in an assisted-living facility and all their friends, but having already lost their daughter they cannot stay if it might put Ethan in danger. The FBI gives them 15 minutes to pack and they are on the road before dawn. The Bennets are placed in a three-bedroom house on the beach in Delaware, two FBI agents in the detached au-pair suite providing 24-hour protection. The transition is hard for the Bennetts and the FBI agents struggle to support them. Most people who enter WITSEC are criminal informants with motivation to disappear, but the law-abiding Bennetts long for their old life and begin to fall apart emotionally. Then Jason decides to take matters into his own hands, a decision that will either save his family or doom it.

The Violin ConspiracyBrendan Slocumb
The Violin Conspiracy (Anchor 2022) begins with the theft of Rayquan "Ray" McMillian’s violin from a New York hotel room, a few weeks before his entry in the prestigious world-wide Tchaikovsky Competition. Ray doesn’t discover the theft until he is back home in Charlotte, opening the case to find only a Converse Chuck Taylor shoe and a ransom note for $5 million in Bitcoin. Flashbacks fill in the story of the last six years. Ray McMillian was a poor Black high school student in rural North Carolina whose mother pressured him to drop out of school and get a job at Popeyes so he can pay rent. But music class is part of school, and Ray loves playing the battered school violin, planning to audition for a regional competition. When they visit his grandmother at Thanksgiving, she encourages him to play for her, and tells him her grandfather played the fiddle, given to him along with his freedom by the slave owner who was probably also his father. Grandma Nora tells Ray the old fiddle is still in the attic somewhere since her PopPop couldn’t convince any of his children or grand-children to play. When the family returns for Christmas, Grandma Nora presents Ray with a hand-made alligator skin case, gray with mildew. Inside is PopPop’s fiddle, coated with built-up rosin, the tailpiece cracked and the bridge warped. But the body is sound, and Ray is thrilled to have his own instrument. He pays far too much to get the violin repaired by a music shop in the mall by a man who accuses him of stealing the instrument, and then auditions for the North Carolina Regional Orchestra. Ray is one of three Black musicians out of 392, and the only Black violinist. Dr. Janice Stevens, the one Black judge, is impressed by Ray, especially after learning he only began playing in high school and never had private lessons. She offers him a scholarship to Markham University where she is the professor of violin, giving Ray hope of making music his life’s work. Everything changes again when Dr. Stevens takes him to Jacob Fischer’s violin showroom to look into getting a better violin. Ray asks if maybe his PopPop’s violin can be fixed instead, and Fischer discovers it is a Stradivarius worth 10 million dollars. Immediately most of Ray’s family begins pressuring him to sell the violin and split the money, and the Marks family, descendants of the slave owners, file suit insisting the violin is theirs. This intense debut explores the difficulties and racism faced by poor Black musicians in the classical music world, and the power of music to break down barriers.

Everyone in My FamilyBenjamin Stevenson
Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone (Mariner Books 2023) is narrated by Ernest “Ern” Cunningham, a fan of crime fiction who reluctantly accepts his Aunt Katherine’s command to attend the Cunningham/Garcia Family Reunion at the remote Sky Lodge Ski Resort in Australia. In his narration, Ern promises to adhere to Ronald Knox’s 1926 “10 Commandments of Detective Fiction,” the fair play structure of Golden Age mysteries. Since Ern is serving as both the Watson and the Detective, he promises to faithfully reveal all the clues as well as his thoughts. Ern begins by describing a murder committed by his brother Michael, which ended with Michael serving time in prison after giving Ern a duffle bag containing $260,000 in cash to hold for him. Michael has just been released and is due to arrive the following day. Already in attendance are Aunt Katherine and her husband Andy, Ern’s mother Audrey and step-father Marcelo, his step-sister Sofia, and Michael’s wife Lucy. Ern wakes up to discover the resort guests gathered around the body of a man with frost-bite blackened cheeks lying on the snow. The local policeman looks like he has no idea what to do, and asks if anyone is a doctor. Sofia admits she is, and pronounces the man dead. She tries to preserve the tracks in the snow Officer Crawford doesn’t even photograph, leading Ern to guess the man didn’t die of natural causes. Once the body has been moved to a shed Sofia points out the blackened face and lips, which is ash, not frostbite — the mark of the Black Tongue, a serial killer who kills by smothering his victims with ash. Michael arrives in a huge truck along with Erin, Ern’s ex-wife, who picked him up at the prison. When the other guests realize it was murder, they depart, leaving only the Cunningham/Garcia families. Officer Crawford is unable to identify the dead man and requests a detective from the nearest town, but a storm shuts down the road and they are trapped. Ern realizes it is up to him to identify the killer, who is likely one of his relatives. Interspersed sections (e.g. My Mother, My Wife, etc.) reveal how each family member has killed someone, leaving Ern with far too many suspects capable of committing murder. This clever murder mystery pokes fun at classic mystery tropes.

February 1, 2023

JackalErin E. Adams
Jackal (Bantam 2022) begins in June 2017 when Liz Rocher reluctantly travels from New York City to her hometown of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, for her best friend Mel Parker’s wedding. The daughter of a prominent white family, Mel has been living for many years with her Black boyfriend Garrett Washington. Their mixed-race nine-year-old daughter Caroline is one of Liz’s favorite people in the world. Liz knows what it’s like to grow up as one of the few Blacks in town, and happily agreed to be Caroline’s godmother when she was born, seeing her frequently in New York. At the wedding party Caroline is playing a game with some friends, tossing little battery candles into the woods. She doesn’t return after going into the woods to collect them. When Liz realizes Caroline is gone, the celebration stops and the wedding party begins searching the nearby woods. Liz’s mother, a Haitian-American doctor, still lives and works in Johnstown, but the two have a fractured relationship that grew worse after a high school party in the woods. Flashbacks to June 2002 tell the story of that party where Keisha Woodson, the only other Black girl in their high school, is talking with Liz when the cops appear and everyone scatters. The two girls flee deeper into the woods, and a large dark shadow catches hold of Keisha, while Liz escapes with a deep wound in her forearm that still pains her 15 years later. Keisha’s body was found a week later, her body mutilated, and the police rule an accidental death with animal disturbance of the body. After Caroline’s disappearance Liz is questioned by brusque police officer Sydney Oswald and fingerprinted by Doug Nowak, a tech who is much more approachable. As the days pass with no sign of Caroline, Liz begins pressuring the police to call in the FBI. She convinces Doug to get her a copy of Keisha’s autopsy report, learning that Keisha’s chest cavity was cleanly cut and her heart removed, definitely not the work of an animal. The report was signed by Sydney Oswald. Keisha’s mother Denise haunts the town handing out “Justice for Keisha Woodson” flyers, and Liz learns Keisha is just one in a series of young Black girls and women who disappeared at the time of the Summer Solstice with very little police investigation, often labeled runaways. But as Liz talks to some of the relatives she learns that missing girls were like Keisha and Caroline: talented in academics or dance or art, all with bright futures ahead. Not sure who to trust, Liz delves back into the past while continuing to search for Caroline in the terrifying woods she has always been warned to avoid. This emotionally intense thriller is a nominee for the 2023 Best Debut Lefty and Edgar Awards.

The Mad Mad Murders of Marigold WayRaymond Benson
The Mad, Mad Murders of Marigold Way (Beaufort Books 2022) is set in May 2020, on a small U-shaped street in Lincoln Grove, a suburb near Chicago. Scott Hatcher is a struggling novelist whose marriage to real estate agent Marie is failing; the stay-at-home orders are making their already fractured relationship worse. One morning Scott wakes up to discover that Marie is not there. Assuming Marie has gone for some exercise without him, a frequent occurrence these days, Scott reads a story from the Chicago Tribune about a break-in at a medical supply company’s warehouse in a nearby town where his neighbor John Bergman works. The thieves stole drugs and a truckload of PPE: N95 masks, antiseptic wipes, and protective clothing. He walks around the neighborhood, talking to his neighbor Lois, who offers him another disgusting sounding casserole and complains about another trash can explosion that has been plaguing the neighborhood. Two high school boys, home while virtual learning is under construction, are riding their bikes: Don Trainer, a troubled teen who refuses to wear a mask, and Seth Schoenberg who is friendly and good about masking since his mother is a nurse at the nearby hospital running short of beds. Rachel Bergman has set up a card table near her sidewalk, selling handmade masks. Her 14-year-old son Thomas comes out to say hello, dressed as usual in a button-down shirt and slacks. Scott asks about the robbery, but Rachel says she doesn’t know any more than he does because her husband John hasn’t come home yet. Later that day Scott calls Marie’s friends, but no one knows where she is. When she doesn’t return by evening, Scott contacts the police. The next morning Lt. Pat Dante visits Scott, concerned that John Bergman is also officially missing. A dangerous looking man named Fyodor Volkov appears at Scott’s door, asking to see Marie about the house for sale next door and then demanding the code for the lockbox when told Marie isn’t home. That night Seth and Don, who is responsible for tossing Molotov cocktails into trash cans, break into the empty house and set it on fire. The firemen discover two bodies upstairs: a man and a woman. Both had been shot in the head, and the man was holding a handgun. The bottom floor was filled with the stolen merchandise, all destroyed by the fire. Stunned by the news their spouses had been having an affair, Scott and Rachel begin spending time together commiserating and eventually in bed together, which doesn’t look good to the police. The narrator, whose identity is not revealed until the end, introduces each chapter, taking control of the narrative as is a storyteller’s right. The menace of Covid-19 hovers over the story, influencing both the police and the characters struggling to maintain a sense of normality when nothing is certain.

The Family ChaoLan Samantha Chang
The Family Chao (W.W. Norton & Company 2022) begins when college freshman James Chao is heading home to Haven, Wisconsin, for Christmas. In Union Station he helps an elderly Chinese man find the right platform, but the man soon collapses. James gives CPR until the paramedics arrive, showing them the address the man was carrying. It’s only after the man is carried away that James discovers the man’s bag has been left behind and takes it with him, planning to get in touch later. Middle brother Ming picks James up and drops him off at Fine Chao Restaurant, where his father Big Leo is just coming up from the basement freezer room with the defective lock. Oldest brother Dagou is a talented cook, but his parents are disappointed he wasted his college opportunity to return to work at the family restaurant. Ming is successful but unhappy, and James longs for a simple ordinary life. The old man’s relatives arrive looking for his bag, claiming it was full of his life savings, but James can’t find it anywhere. Their mother Winnie has recently left their father to live in a Buddhist Spiritual House, her head shorn and wearing the robe of a novice. Dagou has worked at the restaurant for a year, and asks his father to follow through on the partnership he was promised, but Big Leo refuses. Dagou arranges for Abbess Gu Ling Zhu Chi to rule on the disagreement, but she says his soul is more important than the restaurant and predicts a bad death for Big Leo. Furious with his father, Dagou throws himself into preparations for the Chao Christmas party for the whole neighborhood, somehow finding the money for expensive food supplies. When Leo is discovered dead after the party, Dagou is arrested for his murder. This darkly humorous homage to Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov wraps the murder mystery inside a complex immigrant family drama.

Judas 62Charles Cumming
Judas 62 (Mysterious Press 2022, UK 2021) begins when Lachlan Kite, the operational commander of the secret Anglo-American spy unit known as BOX 88, learns that the name of British spy Peter Galvin has been placed on the Russian JUDAS list of traitors marked for execution. The latest JUDAS execution was that of Evgeny Palatnik, a former Russian general extracted and relocated to Connecticut, the deadly poison A-234 Novichok substituted for his prescription glaucoma medication. Never before has a foreign spy been placed on the list of traitors to the Motherland, and Kite is sure Mikhail Gromik, KGB agent now head of FSB, is seeking vengeance for being outwitted by the novice spy nearly 30 years earlier. In 1993, Kite’s first assignment for BOX 88 was to travel to Voronezh under the alias Peter Galvin, posing as an English language teacher to make contact with Yuri Aranov, a defecting chemical weapons scientist. The man scheduled for the job had been injured, and Kite accepts though he worries about his qualifications, desperate to get away from Martha, the college girlfriend he just caught in a compromising situation. Kite doesn’t believe that Gromik has made the connection between the Peter Galvin pseudonym and Lachlan Kite, and decides to use Yuri Aranov as bait to trap Gromik. Telling Yuri that his cover in England has been exposed, BOX 88 moves him to Dubai, releasing just enough information for the Russians to connect the dots and follow him. Interspersed sections from 1993 reveal Kite’s growing pains as a spy, both mistakes and the innate ability that allowed him to outwit Gromik and smuggle Yuri over the border to freedom. In 2020 Dubai, Kite and his BOX 88 team instigate a deadly plot to frame Gromik and his team for chemical warfare while dealing with COVID mask and social distancing protocols. This excellent second in the series examines the difficulty of modern spy craft in a world of CCTV and facial recognition software while exploring the emotional toll of hiding one’s real existence from loved ones.

The Kingdoms of SavannahGeorge Dawes Green
The Kingdoms of Savannah (Celadon Books 2022) begins on a warm spring night in Savannah, Georgia, when Luke Kitchens, a well-liked young bipolar white man, and Matilda "Stony" Stone, a middle-aged Black contract archaeologist, arrive at Bo Peep’s for a drink. Jaq Walker, a young Black aspiring film documentarian, is working the bar and offers the usual free drinks to her homeless friends, but Stony has just sold a Bolen Bevel arrowhead and stuffs a $20 in the tip jar. At the end of the night Stony is enticed into a car by a stranger who claims to know something about the King’s soldiers, slaves who fought for the English side in the Revolutionary War and then established the Kingdom on a hidden island after the Battle of Savannah. Luke tries to rescue Stony, but is killed, and the men toss him into the back of the pickup. The next day Luke’s body is found in a burned building owned by Archibald Guzman. Luke did odd jobs for Guzman and the police suspect Guzman burned the building down for the insurance, not realizing Luke was camping out there. Jaq’s adoptive grandmother Morgana Musgrove, doyenne of Savannah white society, is approached by Guzman’s lawyer, offering Musgrove Investigations $500,000 to prove his innocence. Morgana could use the money to support her charities, and pressures her son Ransom, a former lawyer living in a homeless encampment, to help with the investigation. Ransom can’t stand Guzman but wants justice for Luke. When they visit Guzman in prison he secretly reveals a note with the words “Stone Kings, Treasure, Keep Safe and Give My Love.” Mystified, mother and son accept the job. Before long Morgana has also drawn her other son and her two daughters into the arson/murder investigation, while Jaq begins searching for Stony. Detective Nick Galatas watches the Musgrove family, especially Jaq and her uncle Ransom, suspicious of their involvement with the homeless community, and perhaps with an agenda of his own. This emotionally intense literary thriller centering on a dysfunctional old Savannah family depicts a city with a dark history, modern problems, and yet a hope for a better future.

The Marsh QueenVirginia Hartman
The Marsh Queen (Gallery Books 2022) begins when Loni Murrow gets a call from her brother Philip telling her their mother had a fall and needs help while her wrist heals. Loni agrees to take a few days off from her job as a Smithsonian bird artist, but Philip explains their mother’s memory has been failing as well and Loni should plan on an extended stay. Loni doesn’t want to return to the Florida pan handle small town she fled years earlier, but applies for eight-weeks of family leave, fully intending to return after a week. Loni’s father Boyd, a Fish & Game officer, died when Loni was twelve and Philip only a baby. Boyd went fishing and never returned home, drowned with his pockets full of rocks. After the funeral, their mother Ruth never spoke his name again, and Loni could do nothing to bring her loving mother back. Arriving in Florida, Loni visits Ruth at the St. Agnes nursing home where she is receiving physical and occupational therapy, and is shocked by her mother’s decline. At the house she finds that Phil’s wife Tammy has already started packing up the contents,setting aside the good furniture and anything else of value to go to their own house. Though she can’t stand the manipulative Tammy, Loni is a big fan of her niece Heather and nephew Bobby, offering to babysit anytime their parents need a city date night. Phil tells her he has listed the house for lease; their mother can no longer live alone and the money is needed to pay the fees at St. Agnes. The garden surrounding the house is their mother’s pride and joy, especially the herb garden, and Loni finds her mother’s garden journal, describing her plants and what was going on in her life. She also discovers a note signed “Henrietta” saying “There are some things I have to tell you about Boyd’s death.” Phil tells Loni that the State of Florida owes them money. Since their father was on duty when he died their mother should have received a $300,000 lump sum and an additional 25% on the Workman’s Comp payments. But Loni clearly remembers that their father was just going fishing, in fact inviting his daughter — The Marsh Queen — to go with him and sketch birds as he fished. Loni begins searching for the mysterious Henrietta as her mother begins gradually slipping away. Since she is not being paid while on leave, Loni gets a commission to complete some bird portraits for the Tallahassee science museum, renting a canoe to go in search for the elusive purple gallinule, and forming a tentative friendship with Adlai Binkert, the bearded canoe rental proprietor. Worried he will scorn her as an outsider if she admits living in Washington DC, Loni pretends her car is a rental and is soon buried under a pile of lies. The questions she asks about her father’s death stir up trouble: threatening notes, vandalism, and then a hole in the back fence just big enough for an alligator that nearly attacks Bobby. This excellent debut is a deft mix of ornithology, mystery, and the quest to find one’s place in the world.

The Twist of a KnifeAnthony Horowitz
The Twist of a Knife (Harper 2022) begins when novelist Anthony Horowitz tells Daniel Hawthorne, the disgraced yet brilliant retired detective inspector, that their collaboration to turn Hawthorne’s cases into books is over. Anthony is horrified that Hawthorne has met with Anthony’s literary agent, who is sure she can get them a new three-book deal. Anthony is concentrating on the upcoming opening of his play Mindgame, a comedic thriller set at Fairfields, a lunatic asylum where a notorious serial killer is committed. When journalist Mark Styer arrives at Fairfields to meet with Dr. Farquhar, he realizes that the patients have taken over the asylum and he is trapped. At the first-night party following what felt like a successful performance, Sunday Times critic Harriet Throsby appears, radiating malevolence and dropping barbed comments into the sudden silences that follow her path around the room. The cast heads back to the Vaudeville Theatre in London’s West End for a final round of drinks along with producer Ahmet Yurdakul and his assistant Maureen Bates. Director Ewan Lloyd presents Anthony and cast members Jordan Williams, Tirian Kirke, and Sky Palmer with identical ornamental daggers left over from a previous production of Macbeth. Jordan uses the sharp blade of his dagger to slice the cake and the party goes well until Sky suddenly gasps after looking at her phone: a vicious review of Mindgame by Harriet Throsby. The party ends on a dismal note, and everyone heads home. The next morning Harriet Throsby is stabbed to death with a Macbeth dagger in her own home, and Detective Inspector Cara Grunshaw appears at Anthony’s door that afternoon. In a previous investigation with Hawthorne, Anthony inadvertently gave her false information causing her to arrest the wrong man, and she was decidedly not amused when Hawthorne solved the case. Cara asks to see Anthony’s dagger but he explains he left it at the theatre the previous night. He has no alibi for the morning, all the other daggers are accounted for, and Anthony is arrested for murder. Anthony calls Hawthorne, and is released the next day when there is a delay processing the DNA evidence and a judge rules he is not a flight risk. Hawthorne’s downstairs neighbor Kevin, a brilliant young computer programmer with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, has hacked into the Metropolitan Police Forensic Science Laboratory, taking down their servers with a denial of service attack. Kevin figures that will give Hawthorne 24-48 hours to find the real killer. Since Anthony left his dagger at the theatre, the pool of suspects is small, and Hawthorne and Anthony head out to talk with each one. This excellent fourth in the series starring the brilliant detective and his bumbling sidekick and chronicler is a hilarious fair-play mystery that pokes fun at the world of theatre.

The Oxford BrotherhoodGuillermo Martínez
The Oxford Brotherhood (Pegasus Crime 2022; Spanish 2019) begins in 1994 Oxford, when “G,” an Argentine student of mathematical logic at Oxford University is invited by his friend Professor Arthur Seldom to a meeting of the Lewis Carroll Brotherhood. G remembers reading a Spanish translation of Alice in Wonderland as a child, but the book didn’t make much of an impression. The Carroll Brotherhood is working on an annotated edition of Carroll’s diaries, and explain that a few pages are missing in the 1863 notebook, one page torn out at a delicate moment in Carroll’s relationship with Alice Liddell and her parents when Alice was eleven. The Society suspects that Carroll’s grand-niece removed the page to protect his and the family’s reputation. G’s current project is to use mathematics to examine manuscripts and determine the rhythm of the writing. Knowing that Cervantes wrote Don Quixote quickly and impulsively, will the original manuscript reveal that haphazard rhythm as different from a talented forger replicating the handwriting slowly and carefully? The Brotherhood hopes that G will be able to examine a document just discovered by young researcher Kirsten Hill. Fearing the discovery will be appropriated by her professor as his own, Kirsten shares a only copy of the beginning of a fragment written on the back of the diary page, “L.C. learns from Mrs Liddell that …” G determines that the fragment is indeed the handwriting of Menella Dodgson, the author’s grand-niece who guarded Carroll’s papers after his death. Kirsten agrees to present the diary page at the next meeting of the Carroll Brotherhood, persuaded that the public forum will prevent anyone from taking credit for her discovery. But Kirsten is hit by a car and nearly killed, ending up in a coma in the hospital. Lewis Carroll took over 3000 photographs over the course of his live, about half featuring children. Thirty of those are nudes or semi-nude of young girls posed in classical drapery as fairies and wood sprites. Copies of these pictures are sent to members of the Brotherhood, and G is certain someone is stalking him. This excellent novel of literary suspense is a followup to The Oxford Murders, but works well as a standalone.

In Place of FearCatriona McPherson
In Place of Fear (Mobius 2022) is set in 1948 Edinburgh. Helen Crowther’s husband Sandy has returned from a POW camp a changed man, unable to be inside for long periods of time and avoiding marital relations. The couple is sleeping in a box bed in her parents’ front room under constant scrutiny from her family. It’s the beginning of the National Health Service of Scotland, and Helen uses her brand new Social Work certificate to land a job as a Medical Welfare Almoner. Helen’s mother isn’t happy with her daughter being the lone woman working in the office of Doctors Strasser and Deuchar, encouraging Helen to take a job in the Fountainbridge brewery instead. Mrs Sinclair, Helen’s benefactor during the war who took Helen along on her charity rounds, also seems displeased with Helen’s new job though much of what Helen knows is from observations during those visits. Helen’s first day is busy signing patients up for benefits, explaining there is truly no charge, and arranging some home visits. Dr Strausser offers Helen the use of the upper flat of a small house in Rosebank. Some of the floor boards have been replaced with a sheet of pressed chip that creaks, but there is a garden, two rooms, and an actual indoor bathroom. Helen and Sandy are thrilled, and Dr Strausser also offers some furniture and kitchen supplies that have been stored in the attic of the surgery. There is an Anderson air raid shelter in the garden, and Helen is surprised to find it unlocked. Inside she finds the dead body of a young woman dressed in a pristine white hospital gown, her delicate bare feet clean and unmarked, no sign of a wound or blood. Lighting a match to examine the face, Helen is horrified to recognize one of Mrs Sinclair’s daughters. Dr Deuchar determines death by self-administered poison and accompanies Helen to Mrs Sinclair’s house to break the news. But Mrs Sinclair’s confirms both her daughters are alive and well, leaving the mysterious dead woman unidentified. Certain the young woman couldn’t have gotten herself to the Anderson shelter on those immaculate bare feet, Helen suspects someone had a hand in her death, and begins picking apart the various stories she is told, resolved to find justice for someone no one else seems to care about. This engaging mystery featuring the clever and determined Helen is a finalist for the Lefty and Agatha Awards for Best Historical Mystery.

Vicious CreaturesAshton Noone
Vicious Creatures (Scarlet 2022) begins when Ava Montgomery returns to her small hometown of Reachwood, Oregon, with her 14-year-old daughter Marjorie, fleeing her abusive husband. Ava left Reachwood 15 years earlier after the discovery of fellow senior Adam Albright’s body in a grove in the middle of Reachwood Forest. Adam was part of an exclusive group that included Ava, her best friend Victoria Gallager, and Cyril Hart. The Albright, Gallager, and Hart families are Reachwood royalty: rich, successful, and co-owners of the forest and its gold mine. The forest is rumored to be both extremely dangerous and to have the power to grant wishes if the right offering is made to the clearing, fascinating the young and terrifying their parents. Marjorie insists in attending the Reachwood Festival, the one night of the year when entering the forest is encouraged as long as everyone stays on the paths and carries lanterns, but Ava is nervous after seeing a flyer about a girl just gone missing. Ava hopes that her old friends won’t realize she is back in town, but Victoria invites her to a party. Victoria, Ava’s secret love in high school, is now a goldsmith unhappily married to Cyril, who runs the Reachwood Mining Company, with twins Catherine and Virgil close to Marjorie’s age. Ava learns that Adam’s younger brother Ambrose wants to build a memorial to Adam in the forest, but the Harts and Gallagers are opposed to anything built in the forest, especially since Adam’s grave is continually vandalized. Ava learns that the autopsy revealed that Adam’s heart was missing, a fact that was kept secret at the time. Cyril is upset that Ava and Victoria rekindle their friendship, his long-ago jealousy resurfacing. Ava is recuperating from a beating that left her with a painful fractured wrist, and begins to panic when she realizes she is almost out of pain medication, making some bad decisions to get more pills. Items from the past left on her doorstep cause deeply buried memories of the past to resurface, forcing her to face the truth of the fatal night when Adam died 15 years earlier. This debut novel of gothic suspense explores the volatile emotions of teenagers struggling to find their place in the world.

Killers of a Certain AgeDeanna Raybourn
Killers of a Certain Age (Berkley 2022) begins when Billie, Mary Alice, Helen, and Natalie celebrate their retirement after 40 years working for the Museum, an elite network of assassins, with an all-expense-paid retirement cruise. Their first job was in 1979, posing as stewardesses on a private flight and assassinating a group of Bulgarians. The group of four women was named Project Sphinx, the first all-female Museum squad hand-picked by Constance Halliday, the former leader of a female tactical team that parachuted behind German lines in 1945. The original mission of the Museum was to track down former members of the Third Reich who escaped justice, and then dictators, arms dealers, drug smugglers, and sex traffickers. When they board the ship in December 2018, the four women admit they miss the excitement of work, though they weren’t entirely comfortable with the increased use of modern technology at the Museum instead of old-school methods. Everything is going as well as can be expected on the cruise until Billie spots an overly-muscled crew member she recognized as Brad Fogerty, a junior field officer from the Museum. There is no good reason he would be working undercover as a crew member and not make contact with the four recently-retired Museum operatives. Billie and Helen decide to search his cabin, discovering a bomb set to go off in five hours and thirty-two minutes. Project Sphinx manages to evacuate the ship into the lifeboats and escape in a rubberized raft before the bomb explodes. Ashore they realize someone within the Museum is trying to eliminate them for some reason, and pool their resources to find a safe place to regroup. Flashbacks to some of their high-profile cases over the last four decades reveal their individual strengths, weaknesses, and potential enemies. On the run, they use their expert training to create a strategy for teaching their unknown enemy what it means to betray killers of a certain age, especially when they are women who know how to hold a grudge.

Amy Among the Serial KillersJincy Willett
Amy Among the Serial Killers (St. Martin’s Press 2022) finds aspiring author Carla Karolak running the Birdhouse, a surprisingly successful writing retreat in the house she inherited from her overbearing mother, where authors are secluded in windowless cells with no Internet access until they hit their daily word count. Carla trades a free writing cell for therapy sessions from Hatoon “Toonie” Garabedian, which is working better for Toonie than Carla, who would much rather talk about her writer’s block than the fact she still has her mother’s ashes to scatter, which Toonie thinks is far more relevant. When Carla finds Toonie’s strangled body in her writing cell, she calls the police, and then a number she hasn’t used in years: her former writing teacher Amy Gallup, who immediately drives to the Birdhouse with her little dog Lottie. Lieutenant Kowalcimi, who investigated the murders of Amy’s writing students years earlier, is already there with his team. Three other women have been murdered in the last few months in the San Diego area, and Kowalcimi suspects there may be a serial killer at work. The police can’t find any connection between the victims and haven’t released their suspicions to the public, hoping to prevent a panic. Carla’s assistant Tiffany and her friend Chuck call the Birdhouse writers, and soon Amy’s house is full of people, all Amy’s former students except “Writing Guru” John X. Cousins, who has written a study of serial killers. Amy takes an immediate dislike to the pretentious John X. Cousins, but the rest of the group seem fascinated by the man, who plans to offer a Guru Class at the Birdhouse with Tiffany’s eager support. Amy suspects John X. Cousins has plans to take over the Birdhouse from the gullible Carla, and reluctantly comes out of retirement to support her, breaking Amy out of her own writer’s block. Carla’s lawyer Henry, another of Amy’s former writing students, wonders if there is a connection to the earlier murders by Amy’s former student Edna Wentworth, and convinces Amy to visit her at the California Institution for Women at Chino. But Amy is sure the new murder is connected to someone at the Birdhouse and joins forces with Carla to catch the killer. Interspersed sections include Amy’s short story attempts and Carla’s hilarious responses to scammers on Amy’s landline. This darkly humorous third in the series works well as a standalone.

January 1, 2023

Pay Dirt RoadSamantha Jayne Allen
Pay Dirt Road (Minotaur Books 2022) is set in the hardscrabble town of Garnett, Texas. Annie McIntyre has just graduated from college and is back home working as a waitress, unsure what to do with her life, her LSAT books languishing under her bed. Annie’s granddad Leroy, the former county sheriff, and Mary-Pat Zimmerman, his former partner, run McIntyre Investigations, and offer Annie a part-time job typing and filing. Annie’s cousin Nikki stops by the café, pressuring Annie to attend a bonfire party that night. At the bonfire Annie connects with some people she knew in high school, avoiding Justin Schneider, who invited her to one college party and then ghosted her. Annie is surprised to see fellow waitress Victoria Merritt at the bonfire, extremely drunk. She is flirting with a group of older men, probably oil workers. When a fight breaks out, Annie looks for Victoria to offer her a ride home, but can’t find her. Victoria doesn’t show up for her next work shift or pick up her baby daughter from her estranged husband and his new girlfriend, and there is no sign of her at the trailer she inherited from her grandmother, where a noxious smell from the oil storage tanks permeates the air. Three days later Victoria’s body is found, strangled and buried in a shallow grave. Annie learns that Artemis Oil was pressuring Victoria to lease her land for their proposed oil pipeline, threatening eminent domain if she refused. Fernando Garza, the cook at the café Annie has known since childhood is arrested for Victoria’s murder, and his grandmother asks McIntyre Investigations to clear his name. Annie decides that her job has now expanded to a private investigator’s apprentice and begins questioning Victoria’s sketchy husband, customers at the honky-tonks Victoria loved, and the neighbors who are also dubious about the oil pipeline. This atmospheric debut thriller won the Tony Hillerman Prize for best debut unpublished crime fiction set in the Southwest.

Desert StarMichael Connelly
Desert Star (Little, Brown and Company 2022) begins when LAPD detective Renée Ballard persuades retired detective Harry Bosch to work with her at the Open-Unsolved Unit she is tasked with rebuilding. Renée has convinced the Chief of Police to approve Harry as a volunteer investigator of the unit, and bribed Harry with the opportunity to investigate a cold case that haunts him: the 2013 murder of an entire family by a man he could never convict. The first priority of the Open-Unsolved Unit is the 1994 rape and murder of 16-year-old Sarah Pearlman, the sister of Councilman Pearlman, whose support was vital in reforming the Open-Unsolved Unit. Also with the unit are four others retired from the police or FBI plus one civilian expert in making family connections from Investigative Genetic Genealogy uploads. Renée tells Harry she is happy with everyone she picked for her team, but not sure about Lou Rawls who was selected by Pearlman despite his unimpressive police career. Harry dives into the Sarah Pearlman murder books, discovering that the original investigation was thorough but unfortunately the perpetrator left no physical evidence. Then he discovers there was a partial palm print taken at the scene and suggests to Renée that if the print card is still around DNA evidence might be gathered. Thrilled with this progress, Renée gives Harry the go ahead to focus on the Gallagher Family case. Stephen Gallagher was an industrial contractor who disappeared with his wife, 13-year-old son, and 9-year-old daughter. A year later their bodies, executed with a nail gun from one of Gallagher’s warehouses, were found in the desert in a grave dug with an excavator. During that year Gallagher’s warehouses and equipment sheds had been emptied out, a "bust-out" con. Gallagher’s associate Finbar McShane vanished when the bodies were discovered. The only evidence was the first machine McShane sold, an excavator that had a rock lodged in the tire tread that matched the creosote at the gravesite but the D.A. didn’t feel that was enough evidence for an arrest warrant, and Harry left the LAPD soon afterward. The DNA from the palmprint at the Pearlman crime scene comes back with a case-to-case match, a 2005 rape and murder. The connection proving that a killer was active for years brings political pressure to solve the rape/murder cases, but Harry can’t keep himself from working on Gallagher Family case, causing conflict between himself and Renée. This fifth collaboration between Renée Ballard and Harry Bosch is highly recommended.

Find HimJake Hinkson
Find Him (Polis Books 2022) begins in the small town of Conway, Arkansas, when pregnant 18-year-old Lily Stevens goes to the police to report the disappearance of her fiancé Peter Cutchin, who went missing just before their planned wedding a week before. The police chief asks why Peter’s disappearance wasn’t reported earlier, and Lily admits his mother Cynthia and most other members of their Pentecostal church believe Peter ran away because he didn’t want to get married and accept the responsibilities of being a father. Though Peter is 19, his mother is even stricter than Lily’s father David, the preacher of their Oneness Pentecostal church, and blames Lily for seducing her son, tempting him into sin. Women in the Oneness church never cut their hair, don’t wear pants or makeup, dressing modestly in long dresses. The chief summons Sister Cynthia from her job at the nearby flower shop, and she confirms that Peter did leave unexpectedly, but took his car and a suitcase. Lily’s parents are horrified that she brought attention to her unwed pregnancy, embarrassing the family and possibly endangering David’s job as preacher. But Lily is certain something bad has happened to Peter to prevent him from coming home or getting in touch. Because of the rules of their church, neither Lily nor Peter have cell phones. Lily’s younger brother Adam tells her that Chance Barrymore, who was expelled from their high school for blinding another student in one eye, showed up at the school looking for Peter along with an older man. While Sister Cynthia is at work the next day Lily uses the key Peter gave her to sneak in and search his room. She has just found the letters she wrote him when two men enter the house: Chance and a scary older man called Eli, who hits Lily, demanding to know where Peter is. Left with a headache and bruised face, Lily ponders the situation. How did Peter get mixed up with Eli and Chance? Drugs seems the obvious answer and the Corinthian Inn where Peter worked seems the most likely place for contact between them. Lily tracks down Allan Woodson, her mother Peggy’s illegitimate brother who also works at the Corinthian. Allan is horrified that Lily would even consider talking to Eli, a very dangerous man. But the headstrong Lily is determined to find Peter and give her child a father, and learns that Peter may have had a relationship with another woman in Little Rock. Long ostracized for being gay, Allan is accustomed to keeping his head down and trying not to be noticed, but reluctantly agrees to drive Lily to Little Rock and search for Peter, putting both of them in danger. This character-driven thriller explores religious intolerance, discrimination, and the courage it takes to break free.

The Lost KingsTyrell Johnson
The Lost Kings (Anchor 2022) is the story of Jeanie King, who lived in an isolated cabin in Washington with her alcoholic father and twin brother Jamie after the death of their mother. The twins were inseparable, spending most of their time alone together on the beach until meeting Maddox, another child with an unstable home life and their duo became a threesome. Their father’s PTSD ebbed and flowed, often causing bouts of paranoia. A year later when the twins turned 13, their father began bringing Stacy home to stay overnight, but she despised the children. Jamie pleaded with Jeanie to run away, but she didn’t want to leave Maddox. Jeanie began hiding Stacy’s cigarettes to annoy her, leading to a violent fight. Their father took Stacy home, returning with blood on his hands. The next morning both Jamie and their father were gone without a trace, and Jeanie was sent to live with an aunt in California. Stacy’s body was discovered and her father suspected of her murder, but neither he nor Jamie were ever found. Jeanie began drinking and doing drugs, eventually pulling herself together to get passable grades and apply to Oxford, her mother’s alma mater, to study psychology. It’s Jamie’s essay about her family that got her accepted, attracting the notice of the professor who becomes her tutor. Still drinking far too much and having an affair with a married man, Jeanie begins revisiting her traumatic past with a therapist she doesn’t respect. Twenty years after the disappearance, Maddox tracks Jeanie down in Oxford. Now an investigative journalist, Maddox thinks he knows where Jeanie’s father may be hiding. Hoping that her father may solve the mystery what happened to Jamie, Jeanie agrees to go with Maddox back to Washington. This intense psychological thriller explores trauma and the possible unreliability of childhood memories.

The Berlin ExchangeJoseph Kanon
The Berlin Exchange (Scribner 2022) begins when the East Germans initiate an exchange for Martin Keller in 1963. Martin was a physicist at Los Alamos, and later passed secrets to the Russians, fearing an atomic monopoly was a terrible power that posed a danger to the entire world. Martin continued his spying at Harwell, England’s version of Los Alamos, until he was exposed in 1953. When Martin was arrested, tried for treason, and imprisoned, his wife Sabine divorced him by mutual consent, taking their one-year-old son Peter back to Germany. Martin is perplexed by the exchange: his skills are years out of date and it’s the East Germans not the Russians making the request. Sabine married East German lawyer Kurt Thiele, and the family lives in East Berlin. Now eleven, Peter plays the son on Die Familie Schmidt, an audience favorite on the popular television show portraying good socialist values. Sabine has a terrible cough and Martin learns she is dying of lung cancer. Kurt never adopted Peter, so he is Martin’s legal son. Sabine orchestrated the exchange, suggesting that Martin’s friendship with Stefan Schell and Klaus Fuchs could be useful, secretly hoping that Martin can use his American passport, expired but not revoked, to get their son out of East Germany. Martin meets with Stefan, who advises him not to go to work in the East German and Russian nuclear weapons research program in Rossendorf, confessing he has serious reservations about the work that he plans to reveal at an upcoming conference in Geneva. Andrie, Martin’s former Russian contact, appears and tells Martin his job is to spy on Stefan. Martin tries to refuse, but soon realizes he has no choice. Kurt involves Martin in his work exchanging prisoners for Western goods, a corrupt program propping up the East German government. As he learns more about the process for exchanging prisoners for goods known as Häftlingsfreikauf, prisoners’ ransom, Martin realizes it might be his best change for getting Sabine, Peter, and Stefan through the wall to freedom. This excellent spy thriller is a clever mix of fact and fiction.

Vera Kelly Lost and FoundRosalie Knecht
Vera Kelly: Lost and Found (Tin House Books 2022) begins in the spring of 1971, when New York City private investigator Vera Kelly’s girlfriend Max Comstock learns that her estranged parents are divorcing. Max was thrown out of the house when her parents learned she was a lesbian, and has spent the last seven years learning to take care of herself after being protected and pampered by her ultra-rich family. Max’s younger sister Inez reports that their mother has moved into the Park Royal Hotel in La Jolla and their father Aloysius is living with his girlfriend Callisto, who is even younger than Inez. Max decides to return to Los Angeles, and takes Vera with her for support. Vera is shocked by the extravagant Comstock estate in Bel Air, having never realized the extent of Max’s family’s wealth. Max and Vera are given the guesthouse furthest from the main house, Max’s valise placed in the luxurious downstairs bedroom, Vera’s in a small bedroom upstairs. Callisto looks far younger than Vera expected, while Aloysius is very tan, fit, and hostile. Also in residence is St. James, a 50-ish occultist friend of Callisto’s who has charmed his way into the role of Aloysius’s best friend, convincing him to invest money in a world center for ecology and agricultural research. Max and Aloysius argue at dinner, Max protesting the use of marital funds for projects her mother would not approve, and her father verbally abusive to Max and her “disgusting” lifestyle. The next morning Vera wakes up to find Max missing. Her suitcase and handbag containing her keys and the Pan Am tickets back to New York are still in the guesthouse, only her money clip with cash and her driver’s license are gone. Inez, in tears, is departing with her family and won’t tell Very why. No one else will admit to any knowledge of where Max might be, so Vera packs their suitcases into Max’s Avanti, which is still parked in the second row of luxury cars in the enormous garage, and heads off in search of her girlfriend, hoping she might be at the family ranch in San Luis Obispo. Worried that Aloysius might report Max’s car stolen, she tries to avoid notice, wishing the sleek silver-blue sports car was less conspicuous. This excellent third in the series featuring the quirky CIA operative turned private investigator explores the joys and challenges of gay life in the early 1970s.

Portrait of a ThiefGrace D. Li
Portrait of a Thief (Tiny Reparations Books 2022) begins when Harvard senior Will Chen is working in the Sackler museum, researching an essay for his art history class. Three thieves wearing ski masks and black clothing shatter the glass cases, steal 23 pieces of Chinese art, and vanish, leaving a business card in Will’s coat pocket. The glossy black card has CHINA POLY and an international phone number on the front, and “nice lift” scribbled in Chinese on the back, referring to the jade tiger Will pocketed during the confusion. The police look carefully at Will because of a recent article he wrote for the Harvard Crimson discussing art looted from China displayed in numerous American museums, including the Sackler. Will calls the number and listens to the dial tone, receiving a text a few moments later with five first-class tickets to Beijing. Will recruits his friend Alex Huang, who left MIT after her junior year to accept a position at Google in order to support her parents; his sister Irene, a public policy major at Duke who can charm anyone; Irene’s roommate Lily Wu an engineering major and street racer; and Daniel Liang, a premed student whose father is an FBI agent investigating thefts of Chinese art around the world. Wang Yuling, China’s youngest billionaire and the CEO of China Poly, tells them about the Old Summer Palace, which featured a fountain made of bronze sculptures of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac. British and French forces burned the lush gardens to the ground in 1860, looted the imperial art collection, and destroyed the palace. Seven of the zodiac sculptures are still in China, but five are in museums in Europe and America. China has requested their return numerous times, only to be told they no longer belong to China. Yuling offers Will and his crew fifty million dollars to retrieve the five missing sculptures and return them to their rightful place. Having no idea how to pull off a museum theft, the five watch heist movies and read everything they can about art theft. Each member of the crew brings their own strengths as well as individual struggles with the expectations of their parents and their own identities as Chinese Americans. Will chooses Drottningholm Palace in Sweden for the first theft, where the Old Summer Palace bronze snake head sculpture is the prize exhibit in their Chinese Pavilion. This character-driven debut thriller examines the continuing effects of colonialism and the precarious balance between family obligations and the need to make one’s own way in the world.

All That’s Left UnsaidTracey Lien
All That’s Left Unsaid (William Morrow 2022) begins at the funeral of 17-year-old Denny Tran, who was beaten to death in Lucky 8, a restaurant in Cabramatta, a suburb of Sydney. His older sister Ky returns home from Melbourne for the funeral, consumed with guilt that she told her parents to allow her star student brother to celebrate his high school graduation with friends. Ky’s parents fled Vietnam for a refugee camp in Malaysian with baby Ky before eventually settling in Cambratta, where they all struggled to learn English and adapt to the new culture. Denny was born in Australia, and Ky was always a bit resentful of how easy everything was for him. Ky’s parents still struggle with English, so she visits the police station to ask for the police report and is told homicide reports are not released to the family. When she begs for information about the death of her straight-A student brother who never got in trouble, Constable Edwards says her parents don’t want to know the truth about their son, that they refused permission for an autopsy. It’s 1996, and Cabramatta is in the middle of the worst heroin crisis in Australian history, so the police assume the death has something to do with drugs. The dozen or so customers dining in Lucky 8 claim not to have seen or heard anything, and the staff says they were all in the kitchen and equally ignorant of what happened. Ky offers to use her skills as a reporter to interview the potential witnesses, hoping they will talk to her as a fellow member of the Vietnamese community. Constable Edwards reluctantly shares his list of witnesses and Ky begins to try and pry information out of the witnesses. Alternating sections from the perspectives of the witnesses reveal their personal struggles as they share bits of the fatal evening with Ky, who relives her childhood and close friendship with Minnie, her best friend since Kindergarten until an argument tore them apart in high school. This emotionally intense debut explores the bonds of friends and family in a refugee community struggling to balance racism with their own suspicions of outsiders.

Anywhere You RunWanda M. Morris
Anywhere You Run (William Morrow 2022) begins with the 1964 murder of three civil rights activists in Neshoba County, Mississippi. Though the local Ku Klux Klan was used to delivering “justice,” two of the dead men were white and from the north and their disappearance brought the FBI to investigate. Meanwhile Violet Richards (21) is raped by a white man, tough the police dismiss her report for lack of evidence. When Huxley Broadus stalks her again, she shoots him. Knowing there is no way she will get justice with the color of her skin, she flees Jackson with Dewey Leonard, a young white man who wants to marry her as soon as they get to his college up north. When they stop for gas in Birmingham, Violet steals Dewey’s wallet and boards a bus for Washington DC, getting off in Chillicothe, Georgia, after a scare with the police inspecting the passengers. Violet leaves a note for her older sister Marigold, who dreams of becoming a lawyer while working at the Mississippi Summer Project, a volunteer group sponsored by the NAACP and other civil rights groups working to get Blacks registered to vote. Always the good girl, Marigold has fallen for New York lawyer James Scott and hopes to return to Harlem with him at the end of the summer. But when she tells him she’s pregnant, James returns to New York without even saying good-bye. In Chillicothe Violet renames herself Vera Henderson and struggles to find work, calling Marigold to give her a phone number. Huxley’s body is found, and the police pound on the door looking for Violet. Roger Bonny tells Marigold she’s not safe, that the police know Huxley raped Violet and Marigold will be arrested if they can’t find her sister. Marigold has been turning Roger down for years, but impulsively accepts his invitation to get married and go to Ohio to stay with his brother. Dewey hires Mercer Buggs to track down Violet, explaining she has stolen something important from him. Mercer sees the moving truck packing up Marigold’s furniture, and follows her to Cleveland, hoping Violet will also be there. Sections from both Violet’s and Marigold’s perspectives reveal the obstacles and dangers young Black women in the 1960s fought against in this excellent thriller. Fans of All Her Little Secrets will enjoy learning the backstory of Ellice Littlejohn’s neighbor Miss Vee.

The Bullet That MissedRichard Osman
The Bullet That Missed (Pamela Dorman Books 2022) begins when retired spy Elizabeth Best, widow Joyce Meadowcroft, psychiatrist Ibrahim Arif, and workers’ rights activist Ron Ritchie choose the 10-year-old cold case of young reporter Bethany Waites as their next Thursday Murder Club investigation. Bethany worked with local TV news reporter Mike Wagnorn on South East Tonight, and he is eager to help with the investigation. Bethany was investigating a massive VAT fraud when her car went over Shakespeare cliff in the middle of the night, just after sending Mike a text about a new lead she was chasing. Personal items and traces of Bethany’s blood were found in the car, but no body, not an unusual occurrence on that part of the coast. Suicide was considered, but someone had been seen in the car with her beforehand and her investigation may have made her a target. But no suspects were identified and the case has gone cold. Heather Garbutt was convicted and is serving time at Darwell Prison for the fraud, but there was no evidence to charge her boss Jack Marson. Connie Johnson, also at Darwell Prison waiting for her trial based on Thursday Murder Club evidence, has managed to bribe her way into a relatively comfortable living environment with the tools needed to continue to run her multimillion pound drugs gang. Ibrahim visits Connie at Darwell, hoping to persuade her to talk to Heather about a possible connection to Bethany’s death. Connie tells Ibrahim she’s going to kill Ron for setting her up as soon as she is released, but agrees to talk to Heather if Ibrahim will become her psychiatrist, helping her improve her ability to exploit weaknesses, manipulate juries, and spot undercover police officers. Elizabeth and her early-stage dementia husband Stephen are kidnapped by a tall man she dubs the Viking, who threatens to kill Joyce unless Elizabeth kills Viktor Illyich, the former head of Leningrad KGB, the Viking’s rival in the money laundering business and Elizabeth’s past opponent and sort of friend. Series regulars PC Donna De Freitas, DCI Chris Hudson, and the mysterious and multi-talented Bogdan add to the fun in this clever third in the series.

Dirt CreekHayley Scrivenor
Dirt Creek (Flatiron Books 2022) is set in the small town of Durton in rural Australia, It’s late November 2001, the hottest spring in decades, when 12-year-old Esther Bianchi disappears on her way home from school. Esther’s best friend Ronnie is working on her homework when her mother Evelyn gets a call from Esther’s mother Constance asking about their walk home. Ronnie explains they walked together to the church after the early 2:30 PM Friday dismissal, and then split up as usual heading for their own homes. Officer "Mack" Macintyre questions Ronnie and then sets up a search, which is unsuccessful. Detective Sergeant Sarah Michaels and Detective Constable Wayne “Smithy” Smith arrive from Sydney to take charge of the investigation, beginning with Esther’s parents Constance and Stephen. Constance explains that Esther was not home when she got home after work at 3:00, earlier than expected. Stephen was working crew all afternoon on a nearby road. Neither has a firm alibi for the time between 2:30 and 3:00, and no idea where their daughter might have gone. Constance’s friend Shelly Thompson comes over as soon as she hears the news, leaving her husband Peter in charge of their children so she can be with Constance. Sarah organizes a search of Durton Creek, called Dirt Creek by the locals, figuring the water might have sounded attractive to Esther on a hot afternoon. The search dogs follow her scent toward the creek, and then lose it. Ronnie is devastated, and determined to find Esther at all costs. The two girls had only one other friend, more Esther’s friend than Ronnie’s: Lewis Kennard, a bullied child just beginning to accept that he is attracted to boys. Lewis and Campbell Rutherford stopped by the creek after school the day Esther disappeared, sharing a tentative kiss and witnessing Esther helping a strange man search for his dog. Thrilled and terrified by the kiss, Lewis can’t bring himself to tell the police but eventually tells Ronnie, who immediately decides the van Lewis saw must belong to Roland Mathers, owned of the Horse and Cane Motel who is cruel to his dog and therefore capable of anything. Sarah has just broken up with her girlfriend Amira after a fight that escalated, and suspects Lewis is hiding a similar secret, but his abusive father Clint terminates the interview. Esther’s shoe is found in her father’s car, and Stephen is arrested. But he doesn’t feel right for the crime, and when the divers searching the dam find a cache of drugs Sarah and Smithy wonder if perhaps Esther saw something that made her a threat. This powerful debut is a deft blend of police procedural and psychological thriller.

Black CakeCharmaine Wilkerson
Black Cake (Ballantine Books 2022) begins in 2018 Los Angeles, when siblings Byron and Benedetta (Benny) arrive at their mother’s lawyer’s office to listen to a recording Eleanor Bennett has left for them. Benny hasn’t been home for eight years, ever since the Thanksgiving when she stormed out of her parents house after her father objected to her news that she had a girlfriend, instead of a boyfriend. Byron hasn’t forgiven her for not coming home for their father’s funeral six years earlier, and now she has missed saying goodbye to their mother. Eleanor has also left them a black cake in the freezer, made from a recipe she learned during her childhood in the West Indies, and a final request to share the cake "when the time is right." The recording begins with the news that Byron and Benny have an older sister, and then goes back in time to the story of Coventina (known as Covey), whose mother Mathilda left her gambling father Johnny “Lin” Lyncook, when Covey was very young. Lin’s father immigrated to the West Indies from Guangzhou to work as a cook, his name changed to Lyncook during the process. Mathilda’s best friend Pearl helped care for the child, continuing their cake making business with Covey’s help. Covey and her best friend Etta "Bunny" Pringle met at swim club, and became passionate open water swimmers, dreaming of competing internationally one day. As Lin’s gambling debts increase, he loses control of his stores to Clarence "Little Man" Henry. Meanwhile Bunny falls in love with Covey who falls in love with Gibbs Grant, a slightly older fellow swimmer, who has a scholarship to a London university the following year and hopes Covey will come join him when she graduates. But Lin’s debts increase and in 1965 he pressures Covey into marrying Little Man. Pearl bakes the traditional black cake for the wedding, and Little Man collapses and dies just after finishing his cake and champagne. Covey flees the room, abandoning her wedding dress on the beach and is never seen again. Byron and Benny listen to the recording over the next few days, struggling to rebuild their own relationship as they learn that little they thought they know about their mother was true. Reuniting with the sister they never knew existed was important to their mother, but Byron and Benny worry that visiting their mother’s homeland somewhere in the Caribbean might engender dangerous interest in the unsolved murder of Little Man, whose gang still controls the island. This beautifully written saga of a woman determined to take control of her own life includes a soupçon of murder mystery.

December 1, 2022

The Wheel of DollJonathan Ames
The Wheel of Doll (Mulholland Books 2022) finds Happy Doll, a former Los Angeles police officer who gained some impressive scars but lost his private investigator license and a kidney in his last adventure, trying to become an armchair Buddhist while enjoying a quiet life with his beloved dog George. Happy smokes marijuana to help with relaxation, but tries to avoid alcohol and drugs. In January 2020 a young woman named Mary DeAngelo comes to his “security specialist” office, asking him to locate her mother, whom she hasn’t seen for thirteen years. Mary explains that her mother, a homeless heroin addict now living in Olympia, Washington, contacted her on Facebook a few months ago but then dropped out of sight again. Mary has since closed her Facebook account and her mother stopped calling. Happy advises Mary to contact a private investigator in Olympia, but she explains that her mother Ines Candle told her to contact a man named Happy Doll if she ever needed help. Ines and Happy had a relationship just before she left Los Angeles following a suicide attempt, and he can’t resist the chance to help the woman he once loved. A former street urchin herself, Mary is now married to Hoyt Marrow, a wealthy man willing to indulge her quest to find her mother. Before meeting Marrow to collect his fee, Happy does some research, discovering the Mary has little online presence: no social media accounts, rental records, property ownership, arrests. The only thing he can find is her father and step-mother’s dual obituary from the car accident she described, survived by their daughter Mary. There is nothing about Hoyt Marrow, which must be a phony name. Happy finds a death notice for Mary’s mother, who died in a Seattle nursing home on Christmas Day, but no sign of Ines in any hospital or shelter. Happy meets Marrow and Mary at a restaurant, taking an immediate dislike to the man at least twice Mary’s age with a cosmetically altered face and scalp full of hair plugs. Marrow gives Happy a large check, ordering Happy to stop investigating his clients and start looking for Mary’s mother, while Mary appears drugged or drunk. In Olympia Happy finally locates Ines in a homeless encampment under the Fourth Avenue Bridge run by a gang of three dangerous men who supply drugs in exchange for disability payments and panhandling proceeds. Multiple murders follow our compassionate and violent protagonist throughout this gritty noir thriller, second in the series.

ShutterRamona Emerson
Shutter (Soho Crime 2022) is the story of Rita Todacheene, a forensic photographer working for the Albuquerque, New Mexico, police force. Ever since she can remember, Rita has been plagued by the ability to see and talk to ghosts, which alienates her from her relatives and friends in the Navajo community. Rita became intrigued by photography at the age of five, when her grandmother built a pinhole camera from a box while they were out gathering piñon nuts. As Grandma took her picture, Rita noticed a shadowy man who stood beside her. When they later look at the picture together, there is a haze of light next to Rita. Grandma shows her a picture of her grandpa, and Rita recognizes the man who caused the light in the picture, horrifying her Grandma. The latest crime scene Rita photographs is the horrible death of Erma Singleton, whose body is spread in pieces over the highway after a fall from the bridge above, scattered by a semi truck and other vehicles. Detective Martin Garcia is quick to rule the death a suicide, but Rita sees a vision of men pulling Erma out of a car and tossing her over the edge. Over the years Rita has become more skilled at not engaging with ghosts, but Erma is desperate for help proving she did not kill herself so her baby will know the truth. Rita has been working too many hours in a row without sleep, and can’t fight Erma off, causing her boss to suspect she has lost touch with reality. Interspersed sections reveal Rita’s past traumas: the mother who left her with her grandmother at the age of three, her beloved cousin who was unable to resist the call of alcohol and drugs, the ghosts who haunted her life. Each chapter is framed with the name of the camera Rita used at that point in her life, helping her interpret the world. This impressive debut thriller featuring a unique protagonist is the first in a planned trilogy.

Winter WorkDan Fesperman
Winter Work (Knopf 2022) begins the winter the Berlin Wall was dismantled. Emil Grimm, Colonel in the HVA (Stasi) foreign intelligence service of the East Berlin Ministry of State Security, has retreated to his dacha outside the city with his bedridden wife Bettina. There is talk in the West German capital of Bonn of prosecuting the East German spies for treason, despite the fact East Germany was a separate nation. Out walking early in the morning Emil ponders his best course of action to avoid prison: Hire a lawyer? Flee to another country? He notices a cordon of yellow plastic tape surrounding a body he recognizes by the bright orange watch cap: his neighbor and fellow Stasi colleague Lothar Fisher. Major Dieter Krauss and his three men have made a mess the scene with their footprints and are in the process of searching the body when Lieutenant Marius Dorn, a detective inspector from the district headquarters in Bernau, arrives and orders them to leave, pointing out that Krauss no longer has authority to investigate anything. Two high-ranking members of the Stasi have taken their own lives in the past month, but Emil, who trusts Dorn, points out that Lothar’s death is unlikely to be a suicide: the gun is in his right hand and Lothar was left-handed. On his way home Emil notices smoke coming from the third dacha in the area: his former boss Markus Wolf, the Stasi’s most renowned spymaster now retired, has returned. CIA Deputy Director of Information Lindsay Ward was sent to Berlin in mid-January after protesters broke into Stasi headquarters, tossing records into the street and setting them on fire. Ward immediately made it known that the CIA would negotiate for any records that survived, competing with the Russians. She requests a transfer of CIA field agent Claire Saylor from Paris to serve as the liaison for a Stasi officer offering information in exchange for relocation. Aware that there is possibly a mole in the CIA, and knowing little of Berlin, Claire contacts her old colleague Clark Baucom, a retired agent now living in West Berlin. Baucom confirms that verifying the information will be difficult: Markus Wolf created a three-part system of files making it impossible to identify their foreign agents without all three pieces of the puzzle. Unaware that the anonymous Stasi agent offering information has been murdered, Claire follows the contact instructions and meets Emil instead, who is willing to exchange Stasi records for passports. This intricate spy thriller is highly recommended.

Alias EmmaAva Glass
Alias Emma (Bantam 2022) begins when two men enter a luxury building in London, tilting their faces away from the CCTV camera on the corner, tossing Uri Semenov, a Russian nuclear specialist who immigrated 15 years earlier, from the window of his sixth-floor penthouse. Secret Service Agent Emma Makepeace is working undercover at a T-shirt shop watching manager Raven, who organizes a left-wing protest group that may be receiving financial support from Russia. After many weeks posing as an activist from Manchester, Emma is convinced Raven isn’t ever going to be a real danger and is thrilled to be called in for her first major assignment. Secret Service head Charles Ripley describes the murder — a professional job like three other murders within the last two weeks of Russian scientists under the protection of the government, all killed in ways that could plausibly look like suicide, leaving no DNA evidence and no face capture on CCTV. Ripley explains that the four victims had two connections: they worked for the UK government and they were close associates of Elena and Dimitri Primalov, highly placed nuclear physicists in the Russian weapons program, assets for MI6 until someone betrayed them. Emma invented parts of the centrifuge the Russians used to develop weapons-grade plutonium. The Primalovs were extracted from Russia with their young son, granted full British citizenship and protection, and have been living in anonymity in rural Hampshire for two decades. Now an assassination team from the GRU (the Russian foreign military intelligence agency) is tracking down and killing former Russian scientists around the world over the past year, all with some connection to Elena Primalov. The mystery is why the Russians are taking huge risks to kill people who passed on all their secrets many years earlier. Elena and Dimitri have been taken into protective custody, but their son Michael, a pediatric oncologist, is refusing to leave his patients. Emma’s assignment is to persuade him before he is captured by the Russians to use as a bargaining chip with Elena. Emma’s first attempt fails since Michael doesn’t believe he is in danger, but an attack they barely escape changes his mind. Emma calls Ripley for help, but he is strangely unavailable, and she learns that the Russians have hacked into the CCTV system, making their flight across London to the safety of MI6 nearly impossible since subways, trains, busses, and taxis are out of the question as are credit cards and phones. It’s midnight, and Emma must use all her disguise skills as well as her intimate knowledge of London to get Michael to safety without triggering face recognition on the city’s security system before the sun comes up at 7:00 AM. This intelligent spy thriller, a series opener, is the first under the Ava Glass pseudonym by author Christi Daugherty.

The Family RemainsLisa Jewell
The Family Remains (Atria Books 2022) begins in June 2019 when Detective Inspector Samuel Owusu arrives at the shores of the Thames to investigate a bundle of skeletal remains found by a mudlarker. Meanwhile, Rachel Gold Rimmer receives a phone call from a detective in Nice breaking the news that her husband Michael has been found murdered in his house in Antibes and asking questions that might make her a suspect. Henry Lamb (42) is still adjusting to the fact that his younger sister Lucy, whom he had not seen since they were teenagers, has moved in to his immaculate apartment with her two young children, formerly homeless on the streets of France. Henry and Lucy had a horrendous childhood: a sadistic con man and his son Phineaus moved into their family home in Chelsea when they were young children, resulting in Lucy giving birth at 14. Shortly thereafter their parents and the unidentified man were found dead after taking poison, the baby Libby safe upstairs, and Henry and Lucy nowhere to be found. Thirty years later Libby has inherited the decrepit mansion and reconnected with her mother and uncle, who are living under assumed names. The bones found by the mudlarker are identified as Birdie Dunlop-Evers, a young musician who went missing in the late 1980s. The police connect a film of Birdie’s last pop hit to the mansion now owned by Libby, and begin to ask questions that may put her relatives at risk. Henry has been searching for Phin for decades, and finally locates him in Chicago. He sets off on his own to settle old scores, followed by Lucy, who worries that Henry’s obsession with Phin will lead to more violence. Flashbacks to 2016 fill in the back story of Rachel’s marriage to Michael, and his connection to the Lamb family. This excellent followup to The Family Upstairs can be read as a standalone, though the previous book provides additional insight into the characters, particularly the very disturbing Henry.

Billie Starr’s Book of SorriesDeborah E. Kennedy
Billie Starr’s Book of Sorries (Flatiron Books 2022) is the story of young single-mother Jenny Newberg and her 2nd grade daughter Billie Starr, who live in the small town of Benson, Indiana. Jenny has just been fired from her job after slugging her boss Bob Butz while he groped her. Her chain-smoking mother Carla, who plans to marry Butz, can’t understand why she “quit,” and Jenny is too embarrassed to tell her. Jenny knows the bank will foreclose on her house soon, and is always apologizing to Billie Starr for feeding her cheap meals like peanut butter and jelly for dinner and "forgetting" to send a check for the class field trip. Billie Starr and her friend Judd Pickens are writing a book together — The Book of Sorries — because both Jenny’s and Judd’s mothers are always apologizing for things but nothing ever gets better. Billie Starr’s father Randall doesn’t pay child support, but does appear drunk late at night demanding to see her. Just before Christmas Jenny is approached by two strangers in black suits who offer her a large sum if she will seduce the Candidate, wearing a wire to record behavior that might be enough to derail his campaign. The seduction isn’t as bad as Jenny feared, the Candidate is kind and gentle, but Tall Back Suit and Fat Black Suit aren’t at the café with her money. Realizing she has been duped, Jenny heads home to her desperate life. That evening as they are shivering in their cold house, Jenny apologizing that she hasn’t had time to call a repairman for their furnace, Billie Starr answers the door to discover the Candidate canvassing their neighborhood. Introducing himself as George Shepherd, he charms Billie Starr, fixes the furnace, and offers Jenny a job as office manager for his campaign. Without any other options, Jenny takes the job, and is surprised to find that she enjoys the challenge, though she is terrified that the recording of their liaison at the Riverview Inn will be released at any moment, destroying any chance she has of getting back on a firm financial footing. Then Billie Starr goes missing, and Jenny realizes she will do absolutely anything to get her back. This beautifully written novel is a powerful exploration of desperation and hope.

The Bucket ListPeter Mohlin & Peter Nyström
The Bucket List (Harry N. Abrams 2021) begins in 2019 when FBI agent John Adderley wakes up in a hospital bed in Baltimore with extensive gunshot wounds. John had been working undercover in Baltimore’s Nigerian drug cartel, barely escaping with his life, his cover blown. John is offered witness protection anywhere in the world with no connection to his life, but he chooses Sweden, where his mother and half-brother live. John’s father was Nigerian, moved to New York City, and met John’s Swedish art-student mother in a bar. When his mother became pregnant with John, they moved to Karlsad, Sweden, separating when John was 12 when his father took hm back to America, leaving John’s half-brother Billy behind. Now John’s mother has sent him a flashdrive of information about the 2009 disappearance of Emilie Bjurwall from her wealthy neighborhood just outside Karlsad, dubbed the Hämptons. Emilie’s mother Sissela manages the family clothing empire AckWe, and her father Heimer is a serious wine collector and amateur runner. Emilie had just returned from a stay at an exclusive drug treatment center, and her parents hoped she was now drug free. Then Emilie attends a Midsummer party, and doesn’t return home. The other young people at the party were drunk, remembering Emilie left around midnight but not much more. A picture posted on her Facebook page at 1:48 AM shows a “bucket list” tattoo on her forearm: three squares in a row, two with tattooed v-shaped ticks, the final square with a bloody tick carved into the skin with a sharp object. The last ping from Emilie’s phone is traced to the deserted tip of a promontory called Tynäs, where the police discover blood and semen, but no trace of Emilie or any of her belongings. The semen is matched to 19-year-old Billy Nerman, John’s younger half-brother, who denies being at Tynäs or having anything to do with Emilie. No body is found, and Billy isn’t prosecuted, though everyone believes he is guilty. Ten years later a new unsolved cases team is created, their first mission to re-examine the disappearance of Emilie Bjurwall. John hasn’t seen Billy since they were separated as children, but can’t resist the plea from his dying mother, and insists on being relocated to Sweden, despite the FBI’s concern that the Nigerians may be able to trace him there. Struggling with debilitating headaches, panic attacks from his near execution, and paranoia about the Nigerian cartel, John assumes the new identity of Fredrik Adamsson: an adopted Swedish child whose family moved to Massachusetts when he was young. After their death in a car accident Fredrik, now a police officer, returns to Sweden, and has just been transferred to the Karlsad station, using his American training to assist the cold case team. This intense debut noir thriller featuring the talented and troubled John Adderley is the first in a series.

Our Missing HeartsCeleste Ng
Our Missing Hearts (Penguin Press 2022) is set in a near-future America still recovering from the Crisis, the worst recession ever experienced. Twelve-year-old Bird was born in the early days of the Crisis to Harvard linguist professor Ethan Gardner and Chinese-American poet Margaret Miu. The Chinese were blamed for the Crisis, leading to the passage of Preserving American Culture and Traditions (PACT) when Bird was two. The president reassured the country that people of Asian origin (PAO) had nothing to fear as long as they were loyal Americans, but prejudice and acts of violence against PAO increased every year. Then the government began removing children from families with anti-PACT sentiments, placed into foster homes away from the environment of harmful views. When Bird was nine, a young protester used a line from Margaret’s single book of poetry — “All our missing hearts” — as a rallying cry against the removal of children from their families. Margaret was identified as the author of the book, and fearing Bird would be placed into foster care, she vanished. Bird didn’t understand why she left, or why his father placed all her belongings on the sidewalk, claiming to have banned her from their life. But he knows to keep his head down and not call attention to himself after years of bullying for being part Asian. Soon red hearts and slogans like “Where are our missing hearts?” appear in public places, causing crowds to gather and gawk at the colorful displays. Bird doesn’t connect the protests to his mother until his friend Sadie, a foster-child removed from her family, shows him an old article about his mother and her poem. Then he receives an unsigned card covered with drawings of cats, and remembers a bedtime story his mother used to tell him when he was very small about a boy who loved to draw cats. There are no books left in his school library, so Bird visits the public library, which has a few books left on the shelves. He notices the librarian removing a slip of paper from a book and hiding it in her pocket before working up his courage to ask about the story. With the help of the underground network of librarians working to reconnect PACT-seized children and their families, Bird tracks his mother to New York City, where she is working on another anti-PACT demonstration. This chilling dystopian thriller documents the insidious normalization of violence against anyone who looks Asian and the power of art to awaken an emotional response to to injustice.

Under a Veiled MoonKaren Odden
Under a Veiled Moon (Crooked Lane Books 2022) begins in September 1878 when the pleasure steamer Princess Alice collides with the Bywell Castle, a massive iron-hulled collier, instantly sinking the Princess Alice. All 600 passengers are thrown into the river. The crews of both ships frantically pull as many men, women, and children as possible out of the water, but few can swim and only 130 survive. Scotland Yard Inspector Michael Corravan, acting superintendent of the Wapping River Police, is in charge of the investigation. Rumors soon circulate that the Irish pilot of the Princess Alice was drunk, and then even more worrisome rumors that the disaster is part of a series of attacks by the Irish Republican Brotherhood, who believe violence is the only path to restoring Irish Home Rule and recently dynamited a rail line. Corravan, who was born in Ireland and adopted by the Irish Doyle family when his own parents died, must deal with suspicions that he cannot be a fair investigator. Corravan doesn’t believe the pilot deliberately caused the crash, and is accused by the Home Office of ignoring the obvious culprit for the crime. The Commissioner of Wrecks begins the process or raising the sunken Princess Alice, and Corravan hopes physical evidence will help move the investigation forward. Corravan is also in the midst of a plan to remove young Colin Doyle from the clutches of James McCabe’s Irish gang, raising concern with his supervisors that he is associating with criminals. Corravan’s author friend Belinda Gale discovers a disturbing sameness in the incendiary reports in different papers, leading to the conclusion that someone is orchestrating the negative press about the Irish in order to derail the discussions about granting Ireland home rule. This compelling historical thriller, second in the series, brings the anti-Irish sentiment and persecution of the Irish in London to vivid life.

Lavender HouseLev AC Rosen
Lavender House (Forge Books 2022) begins in 1952, when Evander “Andy” Mills is fired from the San Francisco police department after being caught in a raid of a gay club. Andy is contemplating suicide when Pearl Velez approaches him at a bar, asking him to investigate the recent death of Irene Lamontaine, the head of the famous Lamontaine Soap empire, explaining Irene was her wife. Andy is stunned Pearl would say that out loud in a public place, and having nothing left to lose, follows Pearl to Lavender House, a large estate behind a locked gate with extensive flower beds. Pearl tells Andy about the "family" living at Lavender House where everyone is free to be their true selves including Pearl and Irene’s son Harry, his boyfriend Cliff, and Henry’s wife Margo. Henry is married to Margo for business reasons — Lamontaine Soap is a family company and confirmed bachelors make housewives nervous. Margo has a girlfriend Elsie, who visits but lives in a flat above her club in the city. Margo’s mother Alice is also in residence, reluctantly putting up with lifestyles she doesn’t approve of because she would be homeless otherwise. The staff consists of butler Pat Kelly, who knew of Andy from gay clubs, and the cook Dot, who shares a room with the gardener Judy. Irene died three weeks earlier after falling from the balcony of her workshop to the library below. Her death was ruled an accident, but Pearl worries she may have been pushed. Unwilling to encourage the police to enter the sanctuary of Lavender House, exposing the residents to criminal charges and endangering the family business, Pearl kept her worries to herself until Kelly told her about Andy being fired. Andy notices a shattered bottle labeled “Lavender” and the low railing which does make an accidental fall conceivable. But the bloodstain on the floor is much smaller than it should be, and part of a tooth embedded in the floor is not consistent with either a fall or a push. The coroner’s report says Irene died of acute pulmonary edema, but Andy realizes she was dead before she hit the ground, perhaps from poison. Pearl hopes the murderer is from outside the Lavender House family, possibly from Lamontaine Soap’s competitor Gleam, but Andy doesn’t see how anyone from the outside could be the culprit. This engaging “manor house” mystery exploring the dangers of queer life in the 1950s leaves open the possibility of a sequel.

Secret IdentityAlex Segura
Secret Identity (Flatiron Books 2022) is set in 1975 New York City where Carmen Valdez is working as an assistant at Triumph Comics for sexist owner and editor-in-chief Jeffrey Carlyle. Carmen dreams of becoming a writer herself, but Carlyle is dismissive of the story ideas she shows him, though often asking her to edit the scripts written by others. Junior editor Harvey Stern appreciates Carmen’s talents, and secretly begs her to help him create a new character when Carlyle asks for the company’s first female hero. Carmen is dubious about a joint effort, but doesn’t see any other way to get the character she’s been dreaming for years into a comic book. Harvey has a few ideas of his own, and together they come up with The Lethal Lynx, the secret identity of Claudia Calla, a secretary at a newspaper. Carmen meets Marion Price, one of the few other women working in the comics industry, who warns her not to trust Harvey, but Carmen is too thrilled that her character will finally come alive to take the warning seriously. Carmen reworks her story ideas and gives them to Harvey who submits all six of Carmen’s scripts to Carlyle under his name only. Carlyle loves the character he renames The Legendary Lynx and hires Carmen’s favorite illustrator Doug Detmer as the artist. As Carmen is working on a plan to get credit, Harvey is killed, leaving her no proof that the Lynx is primarily her work. Detective Mary Hudson comes to Triumph to interview Harvey’s colleagues. Carmen explains that she and Harvey were just work friends, but Hudson knows he visited Carmen at her apartment and suspects Carmen is the one who discovered Harvey’s body. Meanwhile, Carmen’s ex-girlfriend Katherine appears in New York, telling Carmen she has left her husband. Carmen is both thrilled at the hope of resuming their relationship and terrified by the possibility that Katherine is as volatile as ever. Carmen’s life-long love of comic books came from her father, who shared his passion for the superhero stories, but their relationship didn’t survive her coming out. Interspersed excerpts from The Legendary Lynx issues featuring the Lynx in her spotted bell-bottomed costume pay homage to the era when comic books were only available at news stands, the industry fading. This powerful noir thriller deftly mixes elements of the murder mystery and coming-of-age genres.

Cold FearBrandon Webb & John David Mann
Cold Fear (Bantam 2022) begins when a young woman runs barefoot down a Reykjavík street on Christmas Eve, strips out of her clothes, and scrawls a word on her stomach in lipstick before plunging through the patch of water kept open for the ducks in the thick ice. Detective Krista Kristjánsdóttir and her partner Einar are called to the scene when the body is discovered, already dubbed “the little mermaid” by the press. The divers are unable to extract the body, frozen solid under the ice, and the detectives leave the crew busy cutting a section of the ice to transport to the pathology lab. In the crowd at the scene is Finn, an ex-Navy SEAL sniper in Iceland looking for the members of his team who massacred a town in Yemen, killed Finn’s best friend, and then framed Finn for the crimes. Finn is suffering from an extreme case of PTSD, and has only hazy memories of that fatal day. Finn has no idea why the SEALS have been deployed in Iceland or that Boone, a former SEAL turned contract killer hired to kill Finn has just arrived in Iceland. Einar believes the girl was too high to realize the water was freezing, but Krista sees terror in her eyes in the CCTV footage. Krista compares the footage near the pond with footage from airport customs and spots Finn, traveling under the name Marlin Pike and posing as a researcher for an American writer working on a novel set in Iceland. She is suspicious of his story, sure that Pike is hiding something. The body goes missing before the forensic analysis can be completed, probably sent to the crematorium by mistake. The only clues were reported by the divers cutting the body from the ice: a recent lower abdominal scar and a word in an foreign language perhaps with the letters OM. Oksana Shevchenko travels from Kiev when she sees the picture of the dead girl in the newspaper. She tells Krista that her younger sister Kateryna came to Iceland to work as an au pair, against Oksana’s advice. Kateryna was employed by Tryggvi Pétursson, the richest man in Iceland revered for making huge donations to preserve native culture and tradition. Kateryna was in residence at his lakehouse on Thingvallavatn, completing an eight-week training period before being placed with a family overseas. The staff was with their own families for Christmas, and no one realized she was missing. Boone leaves a string of bodies in his wake, pulling the attention of the police away from Kateryna. Finn can’t get the image of Kateryna running barefoot through the snow out of his head and returns to the duck pond where he meets Oksana, who looks very much like her sister. She tells Finn she believes Tryggvi is hiding something and the two begin following him. This second in the series featuring the talented and troubled Finn pits him against the driven Krista and the terrifying Boone.


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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