2013 Reviews
January 1, 2013

Hell or High WaterJoy Castro
Hell or High Water (Thomas Dunne 2012) is the story of Nola Soledad Céspedes, an ambitious young Cuban-American reporter at the New Orleans Times-Picayune, anxious to move from the entertainment desk to hard news reporting in order to realize her dream of becoming a reporter for the New York Times. When offered the job of researching what happened to the hundreds of registered sex offenders who went off the grid during the Hurricane Katrina evacuation, Nola is at first dubious, but the disappearance from the French Quarter of young tourist Amber Waybridge sparks her interest. Nola believes she has left her past behind for a middle-class life, but victim interviews take her back to the notorious Desire Projects, where she was raised in poverty by an alcoholic single mother, and resurrect memories she would prefer stay forever buried. Disturbing interviews with sexual predators make it difficult for Nola to maintain the precarious balance she has established between weekly get-togethers with her privileged girlfriends, caring for her aging mother, a growing concern for young girls like her poverty stricken Little Sister, and her own self-destructive struggles with alcohol and one-night stands. Nola becomes convinced that Amber’s disappearance is linked to one of the rapists or child molesters she is researching, and becomes obsessed with identifying the culprit before he strikes again. This debut mystery featuring a damaged protagonist is haunting.

A Woman of ConsequenceAnna Dean
A Woman of Consequence (Minotaur 2012, UK 2010) finds Dido Kent, a 36-year old spinster, reduced to living in a cramped attic room at Badleigh Vicarage, a guest of her brother. Dido’s one outlet is writing witty episodic letters to her sister Eliza, presenting the local society with sharp humor worthy of Jane Austen whenever she can escape the sewing and kitchen chores assigned by her parsimonious sister-in-law. On a visit to Madderstone Abbey with Lucy and Harriet Crockford and their friend Penelope Lambe to hopefully capture a glimpse of the Grey Nun said to haunt the ruins, Penelope gasps and slips down the stairs, hitting her head and sustaining a concussion. The Crockford sisters and Penelope are visiting the Harman-Footes of Madderstone, and Mrs. Harman-Foote asks Dido to try and figure out what really happened, hoping to lay to rest the ghost stories that are frightening her children and servants. While revisiting the Abbey, Dido surprises Captain Laurence, the dashing naval officer who has entranced both Lucy and Penelope, apparently searching the gallery of the ruins. Something about Captain Laurence puzzles Dido, but she is distracted by a commotion by the nearby pond being drained during a renovation project. The skeleton discovered in the pond is soon identified as Miss Elinor Fenn, Mrs. Harman-Foote’s beloved governess who vanished 15 years earlier. When the coroner returns a verdict of self-murder, Miss Fenn’s remains are buried in unconsecrated ground. Mrs. Harman-Foote refuses to believe that her devout governess took her own life, and again entreats Dido to undertake an investigation, this time to prove that Miss Fenn was murdered. Dido is surprised to find that Miss Fenn’s room remains untouched after 15 years, and amazed that she was awarded such a fine bedchamber, more suited to a woman of consequence than a mere governess. Dido’s observations convince her that Miss Fenn did not commit suicide, but proof of murder is much harder to come by. The plight of women in 1806, dependent upon their husbands or male relatives for support, is beautifully integrated into this charming historical mystery, third in the series.

Broken HarborTana French
Broken Harbor (Viking 2012) brings back Dublin Murder Squad detective Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy, the hard-driven by-the-book cop with an impressive solve record despite his stumble in the Faithful Place case. Mick and his rookie partner Richie Curran are assigned the high profile attack on a family living in Brianstown, a half-built, half-abandoned “luxury” development in the area that used to be called Broken Harbor. Upon arrival, the detectives find two dead children upstairs in their beds and the parents lying in a bloodbath downstairs. Amazingly, Jenny Spain is still breathing, but her husband Pat is dead from multiple stab wounds. The murder weapon is missing, but the detectives find several baby monitors, their cameras pointed at holes smashed into the walls of the otherwise immaculate and beautifully decorated house. Jenny had told her sister Fiona a few months earlier that an intruder entered the house several times without disturbing the locks or the alarm system, taking a pen and a few slices of ham from the refrigerator and leaving the curtains slightly disarranged. Fiona didn’t take her sister’s story seriously until the day that Jenny didn’t answer the phone for their normal morning chat. Suspicion falls upon Pat, who recently lost his job in the recession, when it is discovered that the Spains had reached the end of their savings, but the missing knife and files erased from the computer suggest an outside attacker. Mick’s ability to give his usual total concentration to the investigation is threatened by the reaction of his sister Dina, who has been mentally unstable since their mother walked into the sea during their annual two-week seaside family vacation at Broken Harbor many years earlier. Before Mick can whisk Dina off to safe seclusion at their sister’s house, she hears his voice on the news reporting the deaths at Broken Harbor, and spirals out of control. Fourth in the Dublin Murder Squad series, a unique blend of police procedural with psychological thriller, this compelling story of a complex detective is highly recommended.

The Bedlanm DetectiveStephen Gallagher
The Bedlam Detective (Crown 2012) is the story of Sebastian Becker, a former Pinkerton detective who has returned to 1912 London with his American wife and their brilliant but strange son Robert, who is probably autistic. Sebastian is the special investigator for the Lord Chancellor’s Visitor in Lunacy, charged with determining if the estates of eccentric and possibly mad Sir Owain Lancaster should be taken under control of the Crown. Sir Owain’s sanity has been in question since a disastrous scientific expedition to the Amazon, where the rest of his party, including his wife and young son, vanished or died. According to the book published after his return, the members of the expedition were killed by fantastic monsters, depicted by artistic recreations. Sebastian and the Lord Chancellor are troubled by attacks on young girls on Sir Owain’s rural country estate, especially since the attacks coincide with Sir Owain’s residence. When Sebastian arrives in Arnmouth, there is a frantic search in progress for two missing young girls, whose bodies are discovered later that night. Sir Owain appears to offer his sympathy, declaring that the girls must have been attacked by the monstrous beasts who followed him home from the Amazon. Sebastian tracks down two young women who suffered a similar attack many years earlier, but one won’t talk to him and the other has no memory of the attack. With the help of Robert’s powers of concentration and attention to detail, Sebastian searches through Sir Owain’s book, hoping for clues to determine if he is a harmless lunatic or a murderer. This compelling and intricately plotted gothic historical thriller is highly recommended.

CrashedTimothy Hallinan
Crashed (Soho 2012, ebook 2010) introduces Junior Bender, a high-end burglar in Los Angeles, who has never been caught since his first heist 22 years earlier at the age of 14. Despite his lack of formal education, Junior has educated himself by reading three books in succession — The Recognitions, Moby Dick, and The Dream of the Red Chamber — and then spending several years investigating every detail and idea touched upon in each book. But Junior’s luck runs out while stealing a Paul Klee painting for a client. After removing the painting from the wall, Junior notices a hairline crack in the drywall, and finds himself doing a bit of safecracking before he spots the security cameras. Too late, he hides his face and removes the diamonds from the safe, breaking a beam of light that opens a door to the backyard, admitting three vicious Rottweilers. Thanks to some quick thinking and a bit of acrobatics with a banister and the Swarovski crystal chandelier, Junior manages to escape unharmed, still clutching the painting and the diamonds. Delivering the painting to Mr. Wattles, Junior discovers that he has been caught on film stealing from mobster Rabbits Stennet, a blackmail ploy to convince him to agree to work for crime boss Trey Annunziato. Trey has decided to go legit, and is hoping to make a bundle on one last venture: a porn movie starring Thistle Downing, the country’s beloved child star who has grown into a destitute drug addict. Junior quickly develops a sense of responsibility for the unstable Thistle, but can’t quite see how to save both her and himself. Junior is an endearing protagonist, still in love with his ex-wife and devoted to his precocious 12-year old daughter, who simply won’t accept that her father can’t find a way to rescue Thistle from the soul-destroying film. This fast-paced first in a series is great fun.

The Thing About ThugsTabish Khair
The Thing About Thugs (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2012, UK 2010) is a complex gothic novel set in Victorian London among the poverty-stricken immigrants, underground “Mole” people, beggars, and opium addicts that live virtually unnoticed alongside the privileged classes. Captain William T. Meadows is a phrenologist, believing that the shape and size of the cranium is an indication of character and mental abilities. When he encounters Amir Ali, a young member of the infamous Thugee cult, in a small Bihari village, Meadows convinces Ali to travel to London where his story can be recorded and his skull examined and measured. In London, John May supplements his income by robbing graves, stealing the heads and then selling the rendered skulls to a wealthy lord with a massive collection of skulls while his partner Shields sells the bodies to surgeons and scientists. Unfortunately M’lord is only interested in unique skulls, and John May has already provided all the usual types. A chance encounter with an old woman in an opium den sets John May on a new path — murdering London street people with unusual head shapes. Meadows gives Ali passage money home when he finishes his research, but by then Ali has fallen in love with Jenny, a young charwoman who cleans Meadows’s house. He decides to stay in London, taking up lodging with Qui Hy, a Punjabi married to an Irishman. When headless bodies begin appearing around London, the now-famous Thug Ali is the prime suspect. Major Grayper, the official investigator, is a rigid military man unable to see beyond the prejudices of his class, so Qui Hy and a gang of lascars befriended by Ali band together to discover the real killer. Narrated from multiple viewpoints, letters, and a voice from the future, this intricate tale is well worth the effort needed to decipher the secrets shrouded by thick London fog.

Dead AnywayChris Knopf
Dead Anyway (Permanent Press 2012) is told from the perspective of Arthur Cathcart, a mild-mannered number-crunching researcher happily married to Florencia, owner of an insurance company. Arthur works from their Stamford, Connecticut home, enjoying both his time alone doing online research and out in the world doing occasional field work. Returning home late one afternoon, Arthur is surprised but pleased to see Florencia’s car in the driveway unusually early. Inside he finds a man holding a gun to his wife’s head, demanding that she write the answers to five questions. Though Florencia complies, the man shoots both Arthur and Florencia in the head. Florencia is killed, but Arthur lies in a coma for months before awakening with an unknown extent of brain damage and an unquenchable desire for revenge. Arthur convinces his sister, the doctor who has taken on his care in her home, to declare him dead and cremated. Though he can no longer even add 5+6, Arthur hopes that enough of his former skills will re-emerge to figure out who wanted five pieces of information from Florencia enough to kill two people. Previous work tracking missing persons provides Arthur with the ability to create a new persona for himself, and the physical changes caused by the shooting and recovery allow him to vanish into plain sight. An unlikely alliance with Ekrem "little Boy" Boyanov and his loyal cadre of very tough survivors of the Bosnian war, gives Arthur the backup he needs to track down the hit man in order to find the real culprit who ordered the hit. This compelling thriller includes some trademark Knopf humor as leavening, and the open-ended conclusion provides hope that the engaging protagonist will appear in a sequel.

And When She Was GoodLaura Lippman
And When She Was Good (William Morrow 2012) is the story of Heloise Lewis, the forgettable mother of a middle-school aged son who leads a secret life running an exclusive call-girl service in an affluent Maryland suburb. Heloise’s son Scott and the parents of his friends all believe she is a widow running the Women’s Full Employment Network, a small lobbying nonprofit with a mission of income parity for all women. When another suburban madam is found dead in her car, Heloise’s vice cop friend warns her to be careful, but she isn’t sure what the danger might be: exposure or death? Heloise’s carefully constructed double life begins to crumble when she learns that Val Deluca, her violent and unstable former pimp, may be released from prison since the ballistics expert who testified in his trial for murder had been operating under faked credentials. Heloise has faithfully visited Val every two weeks in prison for ten years, accepting his help in setting up her prostitution business, but carefully concealing both the fact that she helped put him behind bars and that she was pregnant with his son at the time. This absorbing thriller moves back and forth in time from Heloise’s high school years — when her controlling step-father decreed that she must work to earn her keep, destroying any hope of a college education — to her prosperous yet precarious present, building a complex protagonist who will do just about anything to protect her son from learning the truth about his mother.

AfterwardsRosamund Lupton
Afterwards (Crown 2012, UK 2011) is narrated by Grace Covey, a 39-year-old mother attending sports day at her son Adam’s London private school on his 8th birthday. Her 17-year-old daughter Jenny is working part-time for the school, serving as the on-site nurse for the day. Grace is absently watching for Adam to re-emerge from the school with his birthday cake, when she sees smoke pouring from the building. Relieved to find Adam outside when she reaches the doorway, Grace searches unsuccessfully for Jenny, and then dashes into the flames to rescue her. Jenny and Grace are rushed to the hospital, Jenny with severe burns and internal damage, Grace in a coma with significant brain damage. Narrated by Grace, who escapes from her unresponsive body to find Jenny also wandering the hospital halls, the two learn that the fire was arson, possibly connected to the hate-mail campaign against Jenny several months earlier. Grace’s husband Mike is devastated by both his wife and daughter hovering near death and Adam is in shock and cannot speak. Grace notices a shadowy figure near Jenny’s bed right before a tube becomes disconnected, and both Mike and his sister Sarah, a police officer, suspect that Jenny is still a target. Jenny has no memory of the time right before the fire, so Grace drifts along with Mike and Sarah as they try to piece together the events of the day. The improbable narration by an out-of-body woman works amazingly well; the conversations between Grace and Jenny are naturally realistic. Grace develops a new appreciation for her sister-in-law Sarah, who always made her feel inadequate, as she watches Sarah put her job on the line to find the truth and protect her family. This moving novel of psychological suspense is highly recommended.

The Girl Next DoorBrad Parks
The Girl Next Door (Minotaur 2012) finds Carter Ross, a veteran investigative reporter for the Newark Eagle-Examiner, perusing the paper’s obituary column. Struck by the death of Nancy Marino, who died in a hit-and-run accident while delivering the paper, Carter decides to write a tribute to an everyday “girl next door” who worked two jobs and died too young. At Nancy’s wake, Carter learns that she was loved by all who knew her, including Jim McNabb the executive director of IFIW-Local 117 where Nancy was shop steward, and Gary Jackman, the despised publisher of the Eagle-Examiner. The only off note is Nancy’s sister Jeanne, who tells Carter that Nancy was having trouble at work and had reason to fear for her life. After filing the piece about Nancy, Carter is assigned the story of a bear wandering the streets of Newark, with the help of intern Kevin “Lunky” Lungford. Lunky, a former defensive end, has the reputation of being a bit dim, but Carter discovers him reading Emerson and realizes he simply has no idea how to be a reporter. Deciding to further investigate Nancy’s death, Carter starts with Gus Papadopolous, the owner of the restaurant where she worked, who promptly ejects him from the premises. Discovering that Gary Jackman is in the middle of a difficult negotiation with the union paper deliverers, who negotiated an ongoing yearly raise before the current financial crisis in the newspaper industry, Carter puts his job in jeopardy by trying to connect the publisher to Nancy’s death. This quirky combination of humor and suspense is the third in the series featuring an endearing protagonist with a bent for banter and an unquenchable drive to pursue a story to the bitter end.

January Word Cloud

February 1, 2013

Map of Lost MemoriesKim Fay
The Map of Lost Memories (Ballantine 2012) is the story of Irene Blum, who hoped to be appointed curator of the Brooke Museum of Oriental Art in Seattle, where she worked as assistant for the retiring curator. But it’s 1925, and 29-year old Irene is passed over in favor of a man with a PhD despite the fact that she has built the museum Khmer collection from nothing to world class. Determined to prove the museum has made a mistake, Irene sets off to Cambodia in search of a set of copper scrolls recording the lost history of the ancient Khmer civilization, bankrolled by Henry Simms, a wealthy collector of stolen art. Armed with an 1825 diary describing the scrolls along with a map hinting at their location, Irene heads first to Shanghai to seek the assistance of Simone Merlin, a young but experienced treasure hunter. Unfortunately, Simone’s relationship with her abusive husband has left her addicted to drugs and uncertain of her priorities. Gathering two others with mixed motives for seeking the scrolls, Irene continues on to Saigon and then to Cambodia. As Irene’s quest brings her closer to her goal, she discovers that much of what she believed to be the truth about her own past is perhaps a tissue of lies. This beautifully written adventure thriller, a finalist for the 2013 Edgar Award for Best First Novel, is an intricate mix of secrets, truths, deception, loyalty, and betrayal.

A Safe Place for DyingJack Fredrickson
A Safe Place for Dying (Minotaur 2006) introduces Vlodek “Dek” Elstrom, a private investigator in Chicago, whose marriage and career have fallen on hard times. Dek is living in the limestone turret of a castle that his bootlegger grandfather started in 1929 and never finished, putting buckets under the leaky roof and showering at the local health club when Anton “the Bohemian” Chernek offers him $3,000 for a quick document investigation. Crystal Waters, an exclusive ultra-secure gated community where Dek’s ex-wife still lives, received an extortion letter for $50,000 two weeks before one of the Crystal Waters multi-million dollar homes exploded. Chernek and the homeowners’ board viewed the demand for such a small amount as a crank letter, but now want Dek to check it out as a liability prevention measure. Dek believes that the letter is a real threat, but the homeowners’ board refuses to call in the police, fearing a disastrous drop in property values. When a second demand and explosion occur, Dek again insists on calling in the police. Another refusal fuels his suspicion that the extortion may be an inside job. When the feds are finally summoned, Dek finds himself the prime suspect as he pursues his own investigation back to the construction of Crystal Waters 20 years earlier. Dek’s wicked sense of the absurd is highlighted by his ongoing battle with a building commissioner named Elvis, an old schoolmate who is determined to block his attempts to fix up the turret enough to sell it, culminating with the hoisting of super-sized tie-dyed women’s underwear flying from a laundry line during exclusive events at City Hall next door. An engaging protagonist, snappy dialog, and compelling pace earned this first in a series a nomination for the 2007 Shamus Award for Best First Novel.

Some Kind of PeaceCamilla Grebe & Åsa Träff
Some Kind of Peace (Free Press 2012, Sweden 2010) introduces Siri Bergman, a 34-year-old psychologist living alone in an isolated cottage and working in nearby Stockholm, Sweden. Siri hasn’t yet coped with the death of her husband several years earlier, and is so afraid of the dark that she leaves all the lights in her cottage burning through the night, numbing herself with wine in order to sleep. Sara Matteus, a young patient with borderline personality disorder who cuts her arms and legs whenever the memories of her past sexual abuse overwhelm her, tells Siri she has a new boyfriend during a weekly therapy session. Sara describes her new boyfriend as an older man who truly cares for her, but confesses that she is troubled because he refuses to have sex with her. Siri worries that the man may be taking advantage of Sara, but can’t figure out what he might want if not sex with a beautiful young woman. Siri receives a photograph of herself, marked “I’m watching you” and has the unsettling conviction that someone is indeed lurking in the dark outside her cottage, observing her every movement. When Sara’s body is found in the water alongside the pier of Siri’s cottage, the police suspect that the murder was directed at Siri by a stalker dedicated to destroying her reputation and peace of mind. Siri can’t think of anyone who might wish to harm her, but as time goes on she begins to suspect everyone she has ever known. This debut novel of psychological suspense is the first published in English of a series that now numbers three in Swedish.

The Ninth StepGrant Jerkins
The Ninth Step (Berkley Prime Crime 2012) is the story of Helen Patrice, a veterinarian with a drinking problem in Mantissa Cove on the New England coast. A hit-and-run collision with another car that results in the death of the wife of ninth-grade geometry teacher Edgar Woolrich frightens Helen out of her downward spiral. She gets her car repaired and repainted, but can’t deal with her guilt, first attempting suicide and then joining Alcoholics Anonymous. Six months sober, Helen reaches the ninth step of the twelve-step program — making amends to people she has harmed. Meanwhile, Edgar is still consumed with finding the driver of the car that killed his wife, using charts, graphs, and mathematical probabilities to narrow the field of suspects, while annoying the police with his constant demands for updates on their investigation. Helen appears at Edgar’s door, prepared to tell him the truth. Distracted by the maps and charts covering Edgar’s walls, Helen blurts out that she passed the accident that night and has felt guilty ever since for not stopping. Edgar adds her data to his graph, and shoos her out the door. But Helen can’t stay away, and appears day after day with meals that Edgar at first leaves to rot on his porch and eventually takes inside. The two are just beginning to enjoy the first flush of attraction when Helen receives an anonymous note asking if Edgar knows she killed his wife. Secrets, lies, suspicion, and treachery twist through this suspense novel enlivened by flashes of dark humor.

As the Crow FliesCraig Johnson
As the Crow Flies (Viking 2012) finds Walt Longmire, veteran sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming, on the Cheyenne Reservation with best friend Henry Standing Bear, searching for the perfect spot for Walt’s daughter’s upcoming wedding. While photographing the Painted Warrior cliffs, they are horrified to see someone plunging from the heights. The young woman dies within minutes. Though outside his jurisdiction, Walt offers his help to the newly appointed and inexperienced tribal police chief Lolo Long, who is struggling to constrain the emotional demons she brought home from her service in Iraq. Walt isn’t sure if Lolo’s barely controlled anger is worse than his daughter Cady’s fury will be when she learns he is spending time on a case instead of making her wedding arrangements, but can’t deny his need to discover if Audrey Plain Feather’s death was an accident, suicide, or homicide. Suspicion falls upon Audrey’s abusive husband Clarence Last Bull, but Walt isn’t sure he is guilty of murder, though he is certainly guilty of other unsavory acts. The FBI seems to be more interested in the sale of illegal drugs on the reservation than in murder, and the agent in charge uncharacteristically turns the investigation of Audrey’s death over to Lolo and Walt. This eighth in the series features Walt’s trademark wry narration and gentle banter as he struggles to balance his devotion to his daughter with the need to achieve justice, along with a fully developed cast of unique supporting characters.

A Killing in the HillsJulia Keller
A Killing in the Hills (Minotaur 2012) introduces Bell Elkins, the prosecuting attorney for Raythune County, West Virginia. Bell returned home five years earlier with her daughter Carla, hoping to make a difference in the impoverished community. Carla, now 17, is waiting for her mother in the Salty Dawg, a local chain restaurant, when three elderly men at a table near her are shot and killed so suddenly that no one can identify the shooter. Carla got a quick glimpse of the man, but doesn’t remember until later that she had seen his piggy face before, distributing pills at a party she shouldn’t have attended. Unwilling to admit to her mother that she was at a party with free access to drugs, Carla decides to try and find out the man’s name, hoping that bit of information will compensate for her unacceptable behavior. Bell has been crusading with Sheriff Nick Fogelsong against the burgeoning illegal traffic in prescription drugs, and fears that the men may have been killed in retaliation against a drug connection in their families. Bell’s connection with the Sheriff began with his kindness to her as a ten-year-old survivor of a trailer fire that consumed her abusive father and sent her 16-year-old sister Shirley to prison for murder. Shirley has refused any communication with Bell for 29 years, but her anticipated release from prison forces Bell to decide if she will go speak at Shirley’s parole hearing, possibly endangering her reputation as a prosecutor once the community realizes her sister is a convicted murderer. This debut mystery features a complex protagonist set against a vivid background of desperate poverty in a beautiful natural setting.

Live by NightDennis Lehane
Live by Night (2012) is the story of Joe Coughlin, the son of a Boston police captain, who prefers to live outside the law. In 1926, Joe and the Bartolo brothers rob a speakeasy they have been told by bootlegger Tim Hickey is owned by some harmless Greeks. Unfortunately the speakeasy is really the headquarters for mobster Albert White, and the trio has been suckered into making the first strike in a territory war. Even worse, Joe is smitten by waitress Emma Gould, who just happens to be Albert White’s girl. Joe decides that he and Emma will leave town after one final bank job, but the police are waiting at the meeting spot after the robbery. Joe is arrested and Emma is killed in the getaway car crash. In prison, Joe is protected by gangster Masa Pescatore, who offers him a job in Ybor City, Florida, when he is released. There Joe falls in with a local Cuban gang and makes a name for himself as the smartest bootlegger in town, working with the local police and against the local Klansmen. Throughout his career, Joe struggles to balance his desire to be a good man with becoming a successful gangster, and finds that balance harder to achieve as time goes on. Though viewed by other mobsters as being a bit soft, Joe knows that he has chosen to live by night, unable to give up the adrenaline-fueled action that takes place under the cover of darkness. This evocative historical, just nominated for an Edgar Award for Best Mystery, brings Prohibition-era Boston, Florida, and Cuba to vivid life.

Unsuitable Day for a MurderCatriona McPherson
Dandy Gilver and an Unsuitable Day for a Murder (Minotaur 2012, UK 2010) finds aristocratic sleuth Dandy Gilver in Dunfermline, Scotland, tasked with locating Mirren Aitken, the young heiress of Aitkens’ Emporium who has gone missing. Mirren’s family fears she may have eloped with Dugald Hepburn, the young heir to rival department store House of Hepburn. At the golden jubilee celebrating the 50th anniversary of the founding of Aitkens’ Emporium, Dandy finds Mirren’s warm body in the attic, while Mirren’s grandmother Mrs. Ninian Lennox Aitken clutches a gun and confesses to the murder. The Aitken family informs Dandy that her services are no longer needed, but Dandy is immediately hired by Fiona Haddo to find her grandson Dugald who is missing as well. Dandy and her partner Alec Osborne can’t comprehend why both families opposed what seems to be an entirely suitable marriage between the young lovers. The Aitkens and Hepburn families have been feuding for generations, but the only reasons offered for the unsuitability of the marriage are vague comments about weak blood. The scenes in the two department stores are hilarious, the clerk at Aitkens’ reacts in horror at the suggestion of mauve opera gloves, perfectly capturing the sensibilities of 1927 Scotland. The more questions Dandy asks, the more disturbing secrets are revealed, until the case is a bewildering mass of intrigue between the families for generations. The handy family trees at the front of the book give the reader a fighting chance at keeping family members straight, but the similar names (Mr. Hepburn, Young Mr. Hepburn, Master Hepburn) add an additional layer of misdirection to this witty traditional mystery, sixth in the series featuring the eternally curious and entertaining Dandy.

Blessed Are the DeadMalla Nunn
Blessed Are the Dead (2012) finds Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper back with the police force in 1953 South Africa. A phone call in the middle of the night sends Cooper and Detective Constable Samuel Shabalala to an isolated farming hamlet to investigate the murder of a young woman. Cooper and Shabalala find the unmarked body of a beautiful black girl, her head resting on a folded tartan blanket, flowers scattered over the body. The daughter of a Zulu chief, Amahle worked at the Reed family’s nearby Little Flint Farm. When Amahle didn’t return home from work, her mother reported her disappearance to Constable Bagley, the commander of the local police station, who didn’t investigate or even record the missing person report in the station record book. Dr. Daniel Zweigman discovers a porcupine quill embedded in the girl’s back, possibly used to deliver a poison that killed her. Amahle was the favored servant at the Reed farm, trusted to arrange flowers, do fine needlework, and care for Gabriel, the strange younger son. Supposedly being educated at boarding school, Gabriel, who is possibly autistic, frequently escapes from the school to return to living wild near home. Sure that Gabriel either killed Amahle or knows something about her murder, Cooper and Shabalala pursue the missing boy, causing the powerful Reed family to order Cooper’s dismissal from the case. The segregation laws, prejudice against Jews, and conflicts between the world views of the English, the Afrikaans-speaking Dutch, and the Zulu, provide a complicated environment for Cooper, a complex protagonist still grappling with his own mixed heritage. This compelling third in the series is a finalist for the 2013 Edgar Award for Best Paperback.

The Dark MonkOliver Pötzsch
The Dark Monk (Mariner Books 2012, Germany 2009) takes place in the winter of 1660 in Bavaria. When Andreas Koppmeyer, priest of St. Lawrence Church in Altenstadt, realizes he has been poisoned by a honey-drenched doughnut, he drags himself out to his church to scratch a faint squiggle on a tombstone. Simon Fronwieser, the son of the town doctor, suspects it is not a natural death, and calls upon Jakob Kuisl, the hangman of Shongau, to give his opinion of the death. Jakob recognizes the smell of hemlock, and pronounces the priest murdered. Koppmeyer’s housekeeper tells them the priest had been spending time alone in the church late at night, and they discover a hidden chamber under the massive stone tombstone, which the priest must have discovered during the reconstruction of the church. Koppmeyer’s sister Benedikta arrives with a letter from her brother, describing a strange discovery and requesting her advice. With the help of Jakob’s daughter Magdelena, an apprentice midwife, they discover clues that hint of a treasure hidden many years earlier by the Knights Templar. While Jakob is distracted by a commission from the town aldermen to apprehend a band of thieves preying upon local merchants, a mysterious violet-scented monk stalks Magdelena, and the trail of clues leads Simon and Benedikta from one ancient monastery to the next. This suspenseful historical mystery with flashes of humor is second in this series written by a descendent of one of Bavaria’s leading dynasties of executioners.

February Word Cloud

March 1, 2013

Whiplash RiverLou Berney
Whiplash River (William Morrow 2012) finds Charles “Shake” Bouchon, a professional wheelman who served his time, now living his dream of running his own restaurant in Belize but finding it more difficult than expected. Shake’s biggest problem is his debt to Baby Jesus, an enormous local drug lord with a sweet face. Though the restaurant had been slowly growing in popularity, the recent decision of the big hotel to include meals with their room charge has emptied his restaurant, making Shake late with his monthly payment to Baby Jesus. One evening in the nearly deserted restaurant, Shake is trying to keep Harrigan Quinn, a loquacious elderly man, from annoying a honeymoon couple when a masked gunman bursts into the room, aiming for Quinn. Also in the restaurant is Special Agent Evelyn Holly, who has been searching for Shake to try and convince him to rat out the Armenian mob. Shake saves Quinn’s life, but the gunman’s murderous girlfriend, torches his restaurant in revenge, leaving Shake no choice but to reluctantly accept Quinn’s help in escaping from Baby Jesus and his equally enormous thugs. The fast-talking and untrustworthy Quinn convinces Shake to join him in a two million dollar heist in Egypt, and Shake agrees if Gina Clement, Shake’s dangerous ex-girlfriend he has been aching for, joins the crew. Pursued by Holly and assorted hit men, the trio heads for Cairo, where they discover that Quinn’s Egyptian contact is not the head of a security agency, but merely an assistant bartender with dreams of grandeur that rival Quinn’s own. This high intensity and very entertaining caper novel is a finalist for the 2013 Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original.

Lowcountry BoilSusan M. Boyer
Lowcountry Boil (Henery Press 2012) introduces Liz Talbot, a private investigator who returns to her island home of Stella Maris, South Carolina, for her grandmother’s funeral. To the horror of her cousin Marci the Schemer, the oldest grandchild with big expectations, Liz inherits their grandmother’s house along with 300 acres of undeveloped land. When her brother Blake, the chief of police, tells Liz that their grandmother was murdered, she puts her city condo on the market, packs her Sig Sauer 9 in her bright orange Kate Spade tote bag, loads her golden retriever into her kiwi-green hybrid Escape, and moves back home to find the killer. Liz has never trusted her cousin Marci since an incident involving the sudden death of a pet turtle when they were small children, and Marci’s successful plot to seduce and marry Michael, the love of Liz’s life, was the final blow to any pretense of maintaining a friendship. The apparition of Colleen, Liz’s best friend who drowned 14 years earlier, persuades Liz that she is the only one who can protect the island, despite Blake’s insistence that Liz stay clear of his investigation. Liz suspects that her grandmother’s murder is tied up somehow with a scheme to sneak a re-zoning permit through the town council, but is baffled by the two clues she discovers: a list of paired names and a locket containing a picture of an unknown man. This enjoyable debut cozy is a finalist for the 2012 Agatha Award for Best First Novel.

A City of Broken GlassRebecca Cantrell
A City of Broken Glass (Forge 2012) finds journalist Hannah Vogel in Poland with her son Anton, covering the 1938 St. Martin festival as part of her job for a Swiss newspaper. Learning that 12,000 Polish Jews have been deported from Nazi Germany, Hannah jumps at the chance to return to real news and interviews a woman with a baby, part of a group crowded into a barn under guard. As she is leaving the barn, Hannah discovers Miriam Keller, the Jewish wife of her old friend Paul from Berlin. Miriam is in labor, and begs Hannah to help her, whispering that she hid her two-year-old daughter in a cupboard in their Berlin apartment before being transported. Knowing she cannot return to Berlin without risking arrest, Hannah promises to contact friends in Berlin to rescue Ruth. She calls old friends in Berlin to get help for Ruth, but can’t reach anyone. Lars Lang, the former SS agent who helped her during the Berlin Olympics suddenly appears, and Hannah can’t believe her eyes — she thought Lars was killed when he disappeared two years earlier. Hannah is kidnapped and transported to Germany by the SS. Lars and Anton rescue her, but the three are trapped in Germany without papers and all of Hannah’s old contacts seem to have been killed or taken away to the camps. Searching desperately for Ruth while trying to devise an exit plan, Hannah is horrified by the reign of terror in Berlin, just days before Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass. This intense historical thriller, third in the series, is a finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award and Left Coast Crime Bruce Alexander Memorial Historical Mystery Award.

Grandad, There’s a Head on the BeachColin Cotterill
Grandad, There’s a Head on the Beach (Minotaur 2012) finds Jimm Juree, a former crime reporter for the Chiang Mai Daily Mail, reluctantly accepting her new life in rural southern Thailand running the ramshackle family business — the Gulf Bay Lovely Resort and Restaurant. Jimm hasn’t quite given up on the career ambitions she left behind in the big city, so her first reaction when she finds a severed head on the beach early one morning is horror mixed with the hope that just there might be a story here to reignite her career. After dragooning her grandfather for head-guarding duty, Jimm reports her discovery to the village headman, who promises to hurry down to the beach to verify it is really a head right after his four-hour morning meeting, obviously hoping it will be someone else’s problem by then. While waiting for official action, two very scary men in an SUV confiscate the head and inform Jimm and her family that they did not find anything on the beach and shouldn’t mention a word about what they didn’t find. Meanwhile, a Burmese mother and daughter, clearly terrified and on the run, move into a room at the resort. While trying to help the women and solve the mystery of the murdered man, Jimm and her unique family (retired traffic cop grandfather, body-building brother, and former brother-now-sister computer hacker) become involved in a web of piracy, slavery, and violence. Mangled song lyrics, the result of phonetic karaoke interpretations of songs in English, introduce each chapter — “Because a fisher softly creeping, left disease while I was sleeping…” (from the Sounds of Silence). This second in the series, a wonderful melding of absurdity and grim reality, is a finalist for the Gold Dagger Award and the Dilys Award.

Edge of Dark WaterJoe R. Lansdale
Edge of Dark Water (Mulholland Books 2012) is the story of four teenagers in poverty-stricken 1930s rural East Texas. May Lynn Baxter is a pretty girl who dreams of moving to Hollywood, though she has no money and only one dress to her name. Terry Thomas is known to be a sissy, and Jinx Smith shouldn’t even be playing with the other kids since she is colored. Sue Ellen’s laudanum-addicted mother rarely gets out of bed, and her Daddy has wandering hands when he isn’t beating on her mother. When May Lynn’s body is pulled from the Sabine River, a Singer sewing machine wired to her feet, neither her father nor the law have any interest in figuring out who murdered her. Terry comes up with the brilliant idea of digging up her body and taking her ashes to scatter in Hollywood, but Sue Ellen and Jinx aren’t too sure about leaving home, though neither has much to hold them there. When they discover May Lynn’s diary, holding her hopeless dreams along with a description of where her brother hid the money he stole before he died, things change. The money gives the trio, along with Sue Ellen’s mother, the impetus to set out on a raft down the river, toting the money in one lard can and May Lynn’s ashes in another. They are pursued by May Lynn’s brutish father, the unscrupulous constable, Sue Ellen’s drunken father, and the terrifying killer-for-hire Skunk. The racism and homophobia of the time is filtered through Sue Ellen’s matter-of-fact narration, as much a part of her daily life as poverty, abuse, and acceptance of the fate one was born into. Only May Lynn had the courage to dream of a life outside their closed community, and ironically it is her death that propels the other dispirited characters to escape. The menace of Skunk skulking along the banks adds a pervasive thread of horror to this atmospheric thriller.

Mr. Churchill’s SecretarySusan Elia MacNeal
Mr. Churchill’s Secretary (Bantam 2012) is the story of Maggie Hope, recently returned to London from America to sell her late grandmother’s deteriorating Victorian house. Maggie was born in England, but raised in Boston by an aunt after the death of her parents. When war is declared Maggie decides to stay in London and put off selling the house, applying for a private secretary job with Winston Churchill at No. 10 Downing Street. Maggie’s degree in mathematics has prepared her to perform intelligence work, particularly code and cipher breaking, but that job is awarded to a less-qualified man. Maggie reluctantly accepts the position of a lowly typist that opens up when the former typist is murdered on her way home from work. While taking dictation from Churchill, Maggie absorbs snippets of information that help her identify a code hidden in plain sight. But breaking the code proves to be much more difficult than she had expected, especially with the distraction of indications that the father she believed to have died when she was a child is perhaps not dead after all. This debut historical mystery is a finalist for the Edgar Award for Best First Novel and the Dilys Award.

A Fatal WinterG.M. Malliet
A Fatal Winter (Minotaur 2012) finds Max Tudor, the vicar at St. Edwold’s in the village of Nether Monkslip, hoping his bishop won’t realize he is caught up in the investigation of another murder. The brutal stabbing of 75-year-old Lord Footrustle at nearby Chedrow Castle prompts DCI Cotton of the Monkslip-super-Mare police force to utilize Max’s former MI-5 training when he arrives to consult with the family about the funeral arrangements. Lord Footrustle’s twin sister Lady Baynard died shortly after her brother, presumably of shock, but DCI Cotton suspects there may be more to her death than meets the eye. The entire extended Footrustle family are gathered at Chedrow Castle for the Christmas holidays — from America, Australia, and London — hoping to ingratiate themselves with the wealthy Lord who was rethinking his will. The construction of the castle and grounds makes it unlikely that anyone outside the castle could have committed the crime, but the multitude of motives makes it difficult to narrow down the suspect list. On the personal front, Max is struggling against his attraction to Awena Owen, the neopagan proprietress of a shop called Goddesspell, certainly not the type of wife his bishop would approve. Droll descriptions of the locale, the characters, and Max’s attempts to live the quiet life of a country vicar enliven this second in the series, a finalist for the 2012 Agatha Award for Best Novel.

Before the PoisonPeter Robinson
Before the Poison (William Morrow 2012, UK 2011) is the story of Chris Lowndes, returning to the Yorkshire dales of his youth after a 25-year career composing scores for Hollywood movies. Still mourning the death of his wife, Chris hopes living in the solitude of Kilngate House, an isolated country mansion, will bring him solace and the time to finally complete the piano sonata that has been occupying his thoughts. Kilngate House has been a rental for years, and the owner, who lives abroad, included the furniture and a grand piano in the price of the house. In the room Chris chooses for his bedroom and in the music room, Chris experiences a curious sensation that the house has been waiting for him. Learning that the house had been the scene of a murder 50 years earlier prompts Chris to research the former owner, Dr. Ernest Fox. When Dr. Fox died suddenly, his death was at first taken to be from natural causes until the love affair of his much younger wife Grace with a young artist came to light. Grace was arrested for poisoning her husband, convicted of murder, and hanged. As Chris sifts through accounts of the murder, his initial curiosity transforms into obsession, and he becomes convinced that Grace may have been innocent. Interspersed with Chris’s narration are passages from Famous Trials, a (fictional) true crime book that describes the 1953 case against Grace Fox. As Chris uncovers facts about Grace’s life, especially her experiences as a nurse during WWII, he slowly comes to terms with his own past. This evocative novel won the 2012 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel and is a finalist for the 2012 Dilys Award.

Elegy for EddieJacqueline Winspear
Elegy for Eddie (Harper 2012) begins when psychologist and investigator Maisie Dobbs is approached by a group of Covent Garden costermongers, fruit and vegetable sellers, in the spring of 1933. Old friends of Maisie’s father, the costermongers are concerned about the death of Eddie Pettit, a gentle giant with a near-magical gift with horses. Of limited intelligence, Eddie earned his keep by helping with horses and running errands at the paper factory, where he died when an enormous roll of paper slipped off the belt and crushed him. Maisie remembers Eddie fondly from their shared hometown of Lambeth, and accepts the job of finding out the truth about his death, hoping to bring peace to his grieving mother. The investigation uncovers far more than Maisie ever expected, placing both herself and her loyal assistant Billy in the middle of a dangerous political intrigue. Maisie’s personal life is also in turmoil. Though she is now financially secure after an inheritance, Maisie is ambivalent about the wisdom of a relationship between the daughter of a costermonger and the son of the manor house. Still dealing with the physical and emotional effects of the last war, Maisie and her friends find the specter of another war almost more than they can face in this compelling historical mystery, a finalist for the Agatha Award for Best Historical Novel and Left Coast Crime Bruce Alexander Memorial Historical Mystery Award.

The Seventh GateRichard Zimler
The Seventh Gate (Overlook 2012, UK 2007) is the story of Sophie Riedesel, an artistic teenager who becomes involved in 1932 with the Ring. Led by Isaac Zarco, an elderly descendent of 16th century kabbalist Berekiah Zarco, this underground group of Berlin Jewish activists, ex-circus dwarves, and other misfits works secretly against oppression. Isaac befriends Sophie when she is 14, coming of age during Hitler’s rise to power while struggling to cope with her parents’ disintegrating relationship and caring for her beloved younger brother Hansi, who suffers from an undiagnosed inability to connect with the world. Sophie is both attracted and repelled by Isaac’s bizarre friends, especially Vera, a huge and intimidatingly ugly seamstress afflicted with gigantism. Members of the Ring are threatened, killed, or sent to Dachau, leading Sophie to the conclusion that there is a traitor within the Ring. When Sophie’s father is nearly arrested because of his Communist connections, he reverses his opinion of Hitler, agreeing to serve the National Socialist Party as a Senior Technician in the Health Ministry’s Research and Development Department. Sophie’s boyfriend Tonio begins to make anti-Jewish comments and Sophie herself is required to join the Young German Maidens to learn to become a proper German homemaker. As she displays the required Young German Maiden appearance in public, Sophie clings to her secret Jewish friends, falling in love with Isaac and becoming part of his life. Isaac spends more and more time poring over Zarco’s manuscripts, hoping to find the secret for passing through the Seven Gates to prevent the apocalypse. Sophie finishes school and becomes an art teacher, all the while seeking to expose the traitor within the Ring. The specter of forced sterilization of those deemed unworthy of the new Germany, which includes Sophie’s brother and dearest friends, haunts the members of the Ring, reluctant to leave their beloved home in Berlin yet increasingly frightened by the change in German values and beliefs. The mystery takes a back seat to the powerful portrayal of Hitler’s eugenic policies on the disabled and the different in this excellent historical novel.

March Word Cloud

April 1, 2013

ComplicationIsaac Adamson
Complication (Soft Skull Press 2012) is the tale of Lee Holloway, who searches for a picture of himself with his father to keep as a memento while cleaning out his recently deceased father’s home, but finds only pictures of his father with his estranged younger brother Paul. In an otherwise empty drawer of his father’s desk, Lee discovers a mysterious letter from Vera, inviting Lee’s father to meet her at the Black Rabbit cafe in Prague any evening during the next three months so that she can share an important part of Paul’s life before his death in a flood five years earlier. Consulting the calendar, Lee realizes that the three months will expire in three days, and heads off to Prague on the afternoon flight. In the cafe, Vera recognizes Lee immediately because of his close resemblance to his brother, and relates a tangled tale of a scheme to steal The Rudolf Complication, a priceless watch commissioned by the eccentric Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II. Vera tells Lee that there was a third person, known only to Paul, who planned the theft, and that she suspects that person murdered Paul during the storm. Interwoven through Lee’s narration are transcriptions of police interrogations of a suspect in a series of murders linked by the detachment of the victim’s right hand, the story of the creation of the watch (rumored to hold the power of eternal life) in the 16th century, the tale of a Jewish jeweler tasked with repairing the watch during the Nazi invasion of Prague, and appearances of an odd street child dressed in red who presents Lee with a deteriorating guidebook called Prague Unbound. This enigmatic thriller, which blurs the lines between reality and mythology while exploring the tipping point between sanity and madness, is a finalist for the 2013 Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original.

ReckoningJane Casey
The Reckoning (Minotaur 2012, UK 2011) begins with Detective Constable Maeve Kerrigan’s assignment to the investigation of two murders that appear to be linked. Both victims were convicted sex offenders, and both had been brutally tortured before being killed, though the murder weapon was not the same. The public isn’t completely convinced that murdering sex offenders is such a bad thing, but Maeve is determined to catch the killer and prove that she is capable of holding her own in the male-dominated world of London police. Maeve’s partner is Detective Inspector Josh Derwent, who takes every opportunity to belittle her talents unless he needs to exploit the fact that she is a woman. Further complicating Maeve’s working life is her secret romance with another police officer and the still healing wounds from her last case. The discovery that a missing teenaged girl is the only daughter of John Skinner, a brutish mobster with a gift for vengeance, prompts the theory that Skinner may be stalking sex offenders in search of his daughter. This complex thriller is a finalist for the 2013 Mary Higgins Clark Award.

BloodlandAlan Glynn
Bloodland (Picador 2012, UK 2011) centers on Jimmy Gilroy, a young out-of-work journalist in Dublin who accepts the assignment of writing a book about Susie Monaghan, a tabloid celebrity who died in a helicopter crash off the coast of Ireland three years earlier. The crash was ruled an accident, but Susie’s sister tells Jimmy about a strange text she received from Susie before the crash, and shares her concern that no mechanical default was found in the remains of the helicopter. Jimmy is unexpectedly offered a much better paying assignment, ghostwriting the political memoirs of former Irish Prime Minister Larry Bolger, with the stipulation that he devote all his time to the new project and give up the Susie Monaghan book. Jimmy can’t turn down the plum assignment, but quietly continues investigating the helicopter crash, unaware that his interest has attracted the unwelcome attention of some very powerful and equally dangerous men. This complex thriller is a finalist for the 2013 Barry and Edgar Awards for Best Paperback.

Generation LossElizabeth Hand
Generation Loss (Small Beer Press 2007) chronicles the life of Cass Neary, who achieved minor fame as a photographer back in the 70s. Seduced by the burgeoning punk movement in New York City, Cass dropped out of college to indulge her passion for photographing musicians and friends as they slept the sleep of the dead. To complete her book Dead Girls, she took a series of self-portraits posed as famous dead women throughout history. Thirty years later Cass survives on her meager salary as a book stocker, drinks too much, and is convinced she has lost any talent she ever had. When a friend offers the opportunity to interview Aphrodite Kamestos, a reclusive photographer living on an isolated Maine island, Cass hopes for one last chance to change her life. But Aphrodite drinks even more than Cass and refuses to give an interview, though she does show Cass the originals of her famous photographs taken in the 1950s. Cass isn’t comfortable on the island, papered with missing person flyers, especially after the young girl working the desk at her motel goes missing. Surviving mainly on Jack Daniels and a pilfered cache of speed, Cass stumbles upon a decades-old crime that repels her nearly as much as it fascinates her. The passion of the artist for art above all else plays out differently in the three photographers portrayed, as each attempts to stay in control of the creativity that pulls them toward obsession. This dark thriller is an intense depiction of the ultimate outsider drawn by her own demons to pursue an investigation that can only lead her further into danger.

The Anatomist’s ApprenticeTessa Harris
The Anatomist’s Apprentice (Kensington 2012, UK 2011) introduces Dr. Thomas Silkstone, a young surgeon anatomist from Philadelphia working with renowned surgeon Dr. William Carruthers in 1780 London. Now blind, Dr. Carruthers has turned the surgical demonstrations over to Thomas though still participating in anatomical research. The two have made discoveries about the flow of fluids in arteries and veins, and Thomas is researching the use of insect activity to determine the age of a corpse. When Lady Lydia Farrell’s brother, Lord Edward Crick, dies suddenly in convulsions, suspicion falls upon her husband, Captain Michael Farrell. Farrell convinces the doctors that the body is too far gone for a postmortem, but Lydia sends her cousin Francis to request the help of Dr. Silkstone, hoping that his examination of the body will set the rumors of murder to rest. Silkstone’s attempts to identify a possible poison are fascinating, as scientific experiments and serendipitous accidents lead him along one investigative path to another. But identification of the elusive poison, if there was one, remains just out of his grasp, though Silkstone is convinced that Crick did not die of natural causes. This engrossing debut novel featuring a character inspired by real pioneers of forensic medicine is the first in a series.

Good PeopleEwart Hutton
Good People (Minotaur 2013, UK 2012) introduces Glyn Capaldi, a detective sergeant from Cardiff exiled to mountainous mid-Wales after a near career-ending disaster. Glyn is viewed as an outsider by the closed mountain community, since he is from the big city and because of the Italian heritage on his father’s side. His superiors hope that placing Glyn in a rural area where nothing much happens will keep him out of trouble, but when six men returning from the England-Wales rugby match at Twickenham take off with the hired minibus and a young woman they picked up at a diesel stop, Glyn inserts himself into the investigation. Five of the men, young local farmers with good reputations, reappear, but not the sixth man or the girl. The men express regret for abandoning the minibus driver and insist that the sixth man, Boon Paterson, returned to his Army unit and that the hired prostitute is now safely back at home in Cardiff. But Glyn notices that the security camera at the service station clearly shows the girl toting a rucksack, indicating a hitchhiker rather than a prostitute. The men are released, and Glyn reluctantly suppresses his suspicious until the news arrives that Boon never reported in for his flight back to Cyprus. Glyn learns that two other young girls had unexpectedly disappeared from the community over the last five years, and begins to dig beneath the surface of the reputations of the five young solid citizens. This absorbing debut mystery was a finalist for the 2012 New Blood Dagger Award.

The ProfessionalsOwen Laukkanen
The Professionals (Putnam 2012) is the account of four recent college graduates whose degrees haven’t paved the way to the satisfying careers they expected. One night Arthur Pender floats the idea of doing a few kidnappings by his friends Marie, Mouse, and Sawyer. After the initial laughter and skepticism die down, the four realize that if they choose their targets carefully (extremely wealthy men with young families) and keep their demands so reasonable the victims would accept the loss without involving the police, they could accumulate enough money in few years to set themselves up for life. Everything goes smoothly for a couple of years until a released kidnap victim is convinced by his wife to contact the police in Minneapolis. State Investigator Kirk Stevens suspects that the four “kids” described by the victim might be professionals, despite the low ransom, and begins searching for similar cases. The next kidnap victim departs suddenly for a family vacation, causing the four to snatch their next victim without their normal careful research, unaware that he is the husband of the daughter of a Detroit mob boss. That kidnapping attracts the attention of FBI agent Carla Windermere, and the four friends find themselves being pursued by both the law and the mob. This high intensity thriller is a finalist for the 2013 Barry Award for Best First Novel.

The One I Left BehindJennifer McMahon
The One I Left Behind (William Morrow 2013) is the story of Reggie Dufrane, a successful 39-year old architect whose well-ordered life is disrupted by a disturbing call from her aunt Lorraine. Reggie’s mother Vera, long thought to have been the victim of a serial killer when Reggie was 13, has suddenly resurfaced in a homeless shelter, in the end stages of cancer. It was the summer of 1985 when the serial killer called Neptune began kidnapping women in Brighton Falls, Connecticut. After leaving each woman’s severed hand on the steps of the police station, Neptune revealed their bodies five days later. That pattern was broken with Vera Dufrane, whose hand was left at the police station, but five days later no body appeared, and Neptune never struck again. Reggie takes her mother, whose memory is in tatters, back to Monique’s Wish, the strange castle-like house Reggie’s grandfather built for her grandmother. When Vera became pregnant with Reggie, she moved back to Monique’s Wish to live with her father and sister Lorraine, who cared for their father suffering from ALS as well as Vera’s new baby. Though Vera drank too much and had a reputation for running around with men, Reggie adored her and never fully recovered from her supposed death at the hands of Neptune. Moving back and forth from Reggie’s memories of her mother’s disappearance 25 years earlier when she was a troubled teen, and her attempts to pry the truth of that long ago time from her confused mother, Reggie becomes convinced that Neptune is still out there, just waiting for the right time to either snatch her mother again or kidnap another unsuspecting woman. This well-plotted novel of psychological suspense is haunting.

The Solitary HouseLynn Shepherd
The Solitary House (Delacorte 2012, APA Tom-All-Alone’s) is narrated mainly from the perspective of Charles Maddox, a former Metropolitan police officer now working privately as a thief taker (detective) in 1850 London. While searching for a young woman thrown out into the streets by her father when she became pregnant many years earlier, Charles is hired by well-connected attorney-at-law Edward Tulkinhorn to do a job for one of his clients. Sir Julius Cremorne, a powerful merchant banker, has been receiving threatening letters, and Tulkinhorn asks Charles to track down the anonymous sender before any whiff of scandal touches Sir Julius’s wife and daughter. Charles uses his remarkable spacial awareness and near photographic memory to collect a vast array of facts and impressions, often consulting with his great-uncle Maddox, whose brilliant detecting insights are routinely overwhelmed by the mental collapse of old age. Charles begins to suspect that Cremorne has a nasty secret protected by Tulkinhorn, perhaps even a penchant for murder, but can’t find a shred of proof. Interwoven with Charles’s investigations is the narration by Hester, a young woman living with several others under the protection of her mysterious Guardian. Dickens aficionados will delight in spending time with characters from Bleak House once more — the hard-hearted Mr. Tulkinhorn, Charles’s former boss Inspector Bucket “of the Detective,” Lady Dedlock, and the off-kilter Hester (Esther) — in this masterful literary murder mystery that unveils the true darkness beneath the suffocating fog of Victorian London.

The Last PolicemanBen H. Winters
The Last Policeman (Quirk Books 2012) introduces Hank Palace, a police detective in Concord, New Hampshire. Palace hasn’t been a detective long, but the discovery that asteroid 2011GV1 will collide with Earth in just over six months has made rapid promotion from the patrol unit possible. People all over the world are leaving their jobs, crops have been left to rot in the fields, and communication systems are failing. The police department no longer investigates suicides, but when Palace is called out to look at a body in the bathroom of a fast food restaurant he isn’t convinced that Peter Zell hung himself. Zell worked at an insurance agency where his talent for using actuarial math to draw up precise conclusions about risk was much valued when the company still sold insurance. Since everyone knows exactly when they will die, the company no longer issues new policies, so Zell has been investigating false claims with the few other employees who still go to work. Palace searches Zell’s townhouse, where even the cereal is alphabetized, and discovers a box tightly sealed with duct tape and labeled 12.375. Opening the box, Palace finds it is stuffed full of heavily annotated scientific articles about the asteroid. Though no one else in the department seems to care if Zell was murdered, Palace is compelled to find the truth if he can. This intriguing view of pre-apocalyptic society living under the threat of an impending asteroid collision is a finalist for the 2013 Edgar Award for Best Paperback.

April Word Cloud

May 1, 2013

The Perfect GhostLinda Barnes
The Perfect Ghost (Minotaur 2013) is narrated by Em Moore, the agoraphobic writing half of a ghostwriting team specializing in celebrity autobiographies. Teddy Blake, Em’s charismatic partner who conducted the in-person interviews, has just died in a car accident, leaving Em with a half-finished book and a pile of bills. Teddy was Em’s connection to the outside world, and though tempted to sink into isolation and self-pity, she decides to honor his memory by finishing their book. Em forces herself to travel to Cape Cod, where actor-director Garrett Malcolm is working on a new project at his isolated beach house. Malcolm at first brushes the mousy Em aside, but a grudging admiration of her persistence and intellect persuades him to allow her to continue the interviews and finish the book. Em, often unnoticed in the background, picks up on problems between Malcolm and Brooklyn Pierce, one of his former stars, and senses something strange in Malcolm’s relationship with his only child, away building her acting experience in Australia. Suspecting foul play, the police examine Teddy’s car, and Em begins to wonder if Teddy stumbled over a secret someone is willing to kill to keep hidden. This stand-alone thriller by the author of the Carlotta Carlyle series is a compelling exploration of loyalty, betrayal, rivalry, and revenge.

A Foreign CountryCharles Cumming
A Foreign Country (St. Martin’s Press 2012) begins with a series of seemingly unconnected events. A young British au pair leaves the family she works for in Tunisia without a word of good-bye, a young accountant is kidnapped from the streets of Paris, an elderly couple is murdered while on vacation in Egypt, and Amelia Levene, the first female head of MI-6 goes missing in Nice just after her appointment is announced. Thomas Kell, a former MI-6 agent forced out after a compromising mission, is called back in to find Amelia before the rest of the world realizes she is missing. Internal politics at MI-6 necessitate utilizing an outsider, and Kell accepts the assignment both because of his affection for Amelia and his growing conviction that his skills as an undercover agent are the only ones he possesses. Kell tracks Amelia to Tunisia, where she seems to be secretly vacationing with a much younger man. Convinced that this is more than a fling, Kell uncovers an elaborate trail of deception covering several countries and decades. This elegant spy fiction thriller won the 2012 Steel Dagger Award and is a finalist for the 2013 Barry Award for Best Thriller.

Safe HouseChris Ewan
Safe House (Minotaur 2012) begins when Rob Hale wakes up in the hospital after a motorbike crash. His first thought is of Lena, the beautiful blond who was riding with him. But the doctors insist that there was no one else found at the scene of the accident, even though Rob clearly remembers the ambulance taking Lena away. Working as a plumber on his native Isle of Man, Rob lives for the annual Tourist Trophy motorbike races. When called to fix an ancient boiler at an isolated cottage, Rob took pity on the bored Lena, who complained that the small island was tedious, and offered her an exciting ride on his motorbike. But there is no record of a second ambulance or Lena’s admission to any hospital, and the cottage is deserted. The doctors and police believe that Rob’s memory of Lena is a result of his head injury, especially since his description of Lena bears an uncanny resemblance to his sister Laura, who committed suicide by driving off a cliff a few weeks earlier. The only person who takes Rob seriously is Rebecca Lewis, a private investigator from London who suddenly appears with questions about Laura’s death. As Rob and Rebecca work together to investigate Lena’s disappearance and Laura’s suicide, they uncover some dangerous links between the two women. This fast-moving thriller is the first stand-alone novel by the author of the Good Thief’s Guide series.

Haunted GroundErin Hart
Haunted Ground (Scribner 2003) begins with an Irish farmer’s discovery of the preserved head of a red-headed woman while cutting turf for the winter in his peat bog. Cormac Maguire, an Irish archaeologist, and Nora Gavin, an American pathologist specializing in bog bodies, are called in from Dublin to help determine how long the woman’s head has been buried. Cormac is fascinated by the puzzle while Nora is gripped by the dead woman’s resemblance to her own sister, whose murder has never been solved. As the two search the bog for other clues, they learn of the disappearance of Mina Osborne and her young son two years earlier. Local landowner Hugh Osborne is the prime suspect, but the police haven’t turned up enough evidence to convict him. Cormac is drawn into learning more about Mina’s disappearance while Nora searches the past for clues about the red-headed girl. This fascinating series opener was a finalist for the Agatha and Anthony Awards for Best First Novel.

SunsetAl Lamanda
Sunset (Five Star 2012) tells the story of John Bekker, a police detective once happily married with a five-year-old daughter. Assigned to a task force investigating organized crime, Bekker and his team were compiling evidence against mob boss Eddie Crist when Bekker’s wife was brutally killed in front of his daughter. Ten years later, Bekker is an alcoholic living on the beach who rarely sees his institutionalized daughter Regan, who hasn’t spoken a word in the last decade. Everything changes when Bekker is kidnapped by Crist, who is dying of cancer. Crist tells Bekker he had nothing to do with the attack on Bekker’s wife, but fears that his son Michael, now dead, may have arranged a scare tactic that got out of hand. Crist insists that he can’t die in peace without knowing if his son was responsible, and holds Bekker captive until he suffers through detox. Motivated by the suggestion that whoever destroyed his family is still at large, Bekker accepts his new sobriety and musters his rusty investigative skills to figure out what really happened that day. This intense thriller is a finalist for the 2013 Edgar Award for Best Mystery.

Cover of SnowJenny Milchman
Cover of Snow (Ballantine 2013) begins early one morning as Nora Hamilton wakes up without her husband Brendan beside her in their old farmhouse in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. When she finds Brendan’s body hanging in the staircase, Nora’s happy life is shattered. Unable to accept that her husband committed suicide, Nora asks Brendan’s partner and best friend Club Mitchell about enemies Brendan might have made in his work as a police officer. Nora’s sister Teggie suspects that Brendan may have drugged Nora so that she would sleep through his suicide and discovers a prescription for sleeping pills prescribed a week before he died. Determined to uncover whatever precipitated suicide from a man who loved his job, his wife, and the town his family lived in for generations, Nora drags herself from her pit of grief and begins to question Brendan’s family, friends, and fellow police officers. Stonewalled by everyone except a car mechanic who speaks only in nervous rhyming bursts, Nora braves the bitter winter weather day after day, pursuing a faint trail toward the truth. This stunning debut novel of psychological suspense explores the devastation of suicide and the exclusion of the outsider within an insular small town.

Sacrifice FlyTim O’Mara
Sacrifice Fly (Minotaur 2012) introduces Raymond Donne, a former NYPD detective, now a teacher in his old precinct, in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. Ray teaches students who are behind grade level academically, and has worked all year to help Frankie Rivas earn a scholarship to a private high school attracted by Frankie’s baseball skills. Frankie stops attending school and Ray makes a home visit, knowing that if he waits for the school to investigate the truancy, Frankie will have missed too many days to graduate. Ray finds Frankie’s father beaten to death, and no sign at all of Frankie or his younger sister. The police suspect that Frankie may have killed his father, but Ray is convinced that the boy is innocent. Discouraged by the lack of progress in the police investigation, and worried about the two children out on their own, Ray begins his own search with the help of irritating yet endearing Emo O’Brien, a tech-obsessed security guard usually found holding down a bar stool in Ray’s favorite hangout. This engaging debut is a finalist for the 2013 Barry Award for Best First Novel.

Beneath the Abbey WallA.D. Scott
Beneath the Abbey Wall (Atria 2012) is set in the highlands of 1957 Scotland. After a year of hard work, editor John McAllister has managed to drag the Highland Gazette, unchanged for over a century, into at least a semblance of a modern weekly newspaper. But then Mrs. Smart, the super-organized office manager McAllister inherited with the job, is found murdered. To Sergeant Major Smart’s horror, his wife’s will leaves all her jewelry to Jenny McPhee, a traveller (gypsy), half her money to the local orphanage, and a small family estate to Donal Dewer McLeod, the assistant editor of the Highland Gazette. The staff of the paper is still in shock over Mrs. Smart’s death, when Don McLeod is arrested for her murder. Missing two vital members of their small team the staff is hard-pressed to keep the paper going, and eagerly accepts the help of Neil Stewart, a Canadian journalist visiting to research a book. Young reporter Rob McLean and Joanne Ross, a former typist learning the reporting ropes, take on the task of helping McAllister search for anyone with a possible motive to kill Mrs. Smart. Distracted by her interest in the handsome Canadian, Joanne can’t seem to keep her mind on either work or the investigation, and each issue of the Highland Gazette slips a bit further from the hard-fought standards of excellence. This third in the series, a finalist for the 2013 Barry Award for Best Paperback, captures 1950s rural Scotland at a time when modern life is just beginning to encroach on a male dominated society, divorce is unheard of, and the class lines are clearly drawn.

Black FridaysMichael Sears
Black Fridays (2012) introduces Jason Stafford, a Wall Street trader just released from two years in prison for running a victimless scam, the result of an innocent accounting error that bloomed into a felony. While in prison, Jason’s beautiful wife Angie divorced him and took their five-year-old autistic son Jason Junior back to Louisiana to live with her mother. This was according to the plan, since Jason settled as much money on Angie as possible when prison loomed, but Angie has decided the divorce is real and wants nothing further to do with Jason. Known as the Kid, Jason Junior is kept locked in a room by his loving but overwhelmed grandmother so that he doesn’t injure himself. Overcome by emotions he didn’t know existed, Jason takes the Kid back to New York City, enrolls him in an expensive school, and takes the first job he is offered to help pay the bills. Though Jason is permanently barred from currency trading, William Stockman, Chief financial Officer of Weld Securities, hopes that Jason can figure out why the SEC is interested in the trading reports of Brian Sanders, a junior trader who recently died in a boating accident. Stockman hopes that Jason can discover what, if anything, Sanders was doing to attract attention for the SEC, so that the company can spin the situation in the best possible light. Jason spends his days wading through trading reports, and the rest of his time learning how to make life as easy as possible for his son — only blue clothing on Mondays, only yellow or white food — and trying to help him communicate without quoting commercials or material that has been read to him. This engaging debut financial thriller is a finalist for the 2013 Barry, Edgar, and Thriller Awards for Best First Novel.

The Strange Fate of Kitty EastonElizabeth Speller
The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2012, UK 2011) finds Laurence Bartram, a World War I veteran, young widower, and architectural scholar, visiting Easton Deadall to help his friend William Bolitho with some architectural work. Bolitho is installing a memorial window in the Easton Hall church for Lydia Easton in honor of her husband Digby Eastron, and constructing a maze in honor of the village men who also died in the war. Laurence is disconcerted when Lydia speaks of her daughter Kitty in the present tense, despite the fact that five-year old Kitty vanished from her bed 13 years earlier. Since Lydia refuses to have Kitty declared dead, the entailed estate is in limbo, though Digby’s younger brother Julian, next in line after Kitty, has taken over the day-to-day management. Still recovering from the trauma of war and the death of his wife and son in childbirth while he was fighting overseas, Laurence takes comfort in the beauty of his surroundings and the work of restoring the chapel, delighting in the discovery of a beautiful tiled black and white flooring under a deteriorating bitumen covering. As the pattern emerges, Laurence wonders if it might be the fabled Easton Deadall maze, often mentioned but never discovered. Further explorations reveal Easton family secrets hidden for many years, secrets so deadly that someone is willing to commit murder to keep them concealed. This complex historical mystery is the sequel to The Return of Captain John Emmett.

May Word Cloud

June 1, 2013

Trust Your EyesLinwood Barclay
Trust Your Eyes (NAL 2012) begins when Ray Kilbride, a political cartoonist, returns home to Promise Falls, New York, after his father’s accidental death to figure out what to do about his younger brother Thomas, a map-obsessed schizophrenic. Thomas demonstrated an early affinity for maps, which intensified during adolescence to the point where the 35-year-old spends all day in his room using Whirl360 on his computer to memorize the streets in all the cities of the world. Convinced that a terrorist virus will soon destroy all technology, Thomas is certain that the CIA will need his help when all digital maps disappear, and sends a daily email update to former President Bill Clinton to report his progress. Ray doesn’t realize how serious Thomas’s compulsion is until the FBI appears on their doorstep to investigate the source of the emails. While memorizing New York City, Thomas happens to look up to the third floor and spots what appears to be a murder in progress. Ray isn’t so sure, but reluctantly agrees to visit the address while meeting his publisher in New York, activating a series of events that places both brothers in danger. This compelling thriller is a finalist for the 2013 Barry and Arthur Ellis Awards for Best Novel.

Murder at Rosamund’s GateSusanna Calkins
A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate (Minotaur 2013) introduces Lucy Campion, an orphaned young chambermaid serving in the household of Magistrate Hargrave in 1665 London. Despite the hard work and long hours, Lucy and fellow servant Bessie are grateful to the magistrate for his kindness and generosity. Intrigued by Lucy’s intelligence, the magistrate often questions her during the nightly reading from the Bible and other texts, until the return of his son Adam from Cambridge makes her too shy to speak out. When a servant girl’s body is found murdered in a field, Lucy is fascinated by the way the crime is depicted in the penny broadsides and ballads, and by the printing process that produces them. When a second servant girl is murdered, Lucy’s brother Will is arrested for the crime. The magistrate and Adam help prepare Will for his trial, and Lucy is drawn into the search to find the real killer. The vulnerability of women, persecution of Quakers, powerlessness of servants, and plight of those charged with crimes is vividly depicted as Lucy ventures into the noxious streets of London and the horrors of Newgate prison in the days immediately before the plague decimates the city. This entertaining debut historical mystery is the first in a series.

Gone GirlGillian Flynn
Gone Girl (Crown 2012) is the story of a golden couple, Nick and Amy Dunne, who appear from the outside to have the perfect marriage and a blissful life in New York City. Nick’s job as a magazine journalist vanishes in the print media cutbacks and when Amy loses her job as a quiz writer for women’s magazines, they relocate to North Carthage, Missouri, to help Nick’s twin sister deal with their mother’s incurable cancer. A year later, on the afternoon of the Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary, Nick gets a call from a neighbor that his front door is wide open. Returning home, Nick finds the iron turned on by a dress waiting to be pressed, the glass coffee table shattered in the living room, and no sign of Amy. The discovery of a wrapped box containing the first clue in Amy’s annual treasure hunt for his anniversary present leads Nick first to his office as a part-time college professor, where a pair of women’s underwear dangles from a filing cabinet. Uneasy that the clues are far simpler than the usual esoteric notes Amy usually has to solve for him, Nick secretly follows their trail. As the days pass with no sign of Amy, Nick realizes that the police have centered their investigation on him, convinced that he has killed his wife and hidden her body. Interspersed with Nick’s narration are extracts from Amy’s diary beginning with the day they met seven years earlier, exposing the hidden cracks in a deeply flawed marriage. This intricate thriller is a finalist for the 2013 Anthony, Barry, and Edgar Awards for Best Mystery.

The YardAlex Grecian
The Yard (Putnam 2012) is set in 1889 London. Saucy Jack (the Ripper) has eluded capture, causing Londoners to hold a low opinion of their police force. Sir Edward Bradford creates a team of twelve detectives, the Murder Squad, and sets them the task of solving all of the murders plus the thousands of other crimes committed in the city each month. Detective Inspector Walter Day, formerly a country constable, is new to the squad. His first case is the murder of fellow Murder Squad officer Christian Little, whose dismembered corpse is discovered in a trunk at Euston Square Station. Desperate to find a starting point, Day follows the advice of coroner Dr. Bernard Kingsley, who is attempting to apply scientific methods to the investigations of crime scenes and corpses. Constable Nevil Hammersmith, selected by Kingsley for his observational skills, helps with the investigation, though he is sidetracked by the discovery of the dead body of a five-year old boy stuck in a chimney. In his search for the chimney sweep who used the child as a climber, Hammersmith stumbles over clues that will eventually help Day make sense of the murder of Little. This excellent historical mystery is a finalist for the 2013 Barry Award for Best First Novel.

The Right HandDerek Haas
The Right Hand (Mulholland Books 2012) features Austin Clay, a black op for the CIA, known as the Right Hand since the left hand doesn’t know anything about his missions. Clay is sent to Russia to search for Blake Nelson, a CIA undercover agent working out of Moscow who suddenly disappeared. Fearing that the Russians have captured Nelson, Clay’s mission is to rescue him before he reveals secrets under torture. While tracking Nelson’s last movements, Clay discovers that Marika Csontos, a young Hungarian nanny, is the real target, since her high-level Russian employer believed she understood no Russian and spoke freely in front of her. When the Russian spoke of a mole in the CIA, Marika fled in terror, exposing herself as a potential threat to Russian intelligence. Unsure whom to trust, Clay operates under the deepest cover possible, desperately searching for Marika before Nelson reveals the little he knows of her. Pursued by Russian hit-men, Clay uses every trick in his book to stay one step ahead in a race across the vast country. This fast-paced spy thriller is a finalist for the 2013 Barry Award for Best Thriller.

Rage Against the DyingBecky Masterman
Rage Against the Dying (Minotaur 2013) is the story of Brigid Quinn, a 59-year-old retired FBI agent recently married and living in Tucson, Arizona. Brigid’s husband, a former priest turned college professor, believes she investigated copyright infringement, while Brigid actually spent years undercover pursuing sexual predators. The one serial killer who still haunts her is the Route 66 killer, who kidnapped and murdered one young woman each summer along Route 66, tormenting the families of his victims with Route 66 postcards supposedly written by their missing loved ones. Brigid reluctantly closed the case when seven years passed with no new victims and no clue as to the killer’s identity. Now Floyd Lynch, a long-haul trucker, confesses to the crimes and offers to reveal the location of the body of his final victim, Brigid’s young protégée Jessica Robertson, in exchange for a sentence reduction. As a courtesy, Brigid is invited along when Lynch takes them to Jessica’s mummified body. Laura Coleman, an ambitious FBI agent, can’t shake her gut reaction that Lynch’s confession isn’t real, and Brigid is reluctantly persuaded to help Coleman investigate the possibility that the FBI has arrested the wrong man. This haunting debut thriller features a memorable heroine: strong, intelligent, and struggling to overcome a lifetime habit of restraining her own emotions.

The BlackhousePeter May
The Blackhouse (SilverOak 2012, UK 2011) begins when Fionnlagh (Fin) Macleod, a detective inspector in Edinburgh, is sent to his birthplace, the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, to investigate a murder possibly linked to a a similar murder in Edinburgh. Fin isn’t sure he remembers enough Gaelic to be of much use, but he finds the language of his youth flooding back along with memories he thought were long buried. Fin reluctantly reconnects with Artair Macinnes, his childhood neighbor and best friend, now married to Marsaili Morrison, who adopted Fin on their first day of school, offering to translate for Fin who spoke no English. Fin discovers that the dead body is that of Angel Macritchie, the older brother of Murdo Ruadh, the school bully who targeted Fin and Artair on their first day of school. Fin is still grieving for his son, recently killed in a hit-and-run accident, and can’t quite muster the emotional strength to investigate the murder while fighting against the waves of memories he encounters everywhere on the island. Everything comes together in the annual “culling of the gula,” when a hand-picked group of men and adolescent boys spend two weeks on the barren rock island of Sula Sgeir, killing, cleaning, and preserving two thousand gannet chicks to share with the rest of the inhabitants of the Isle of Lewis. The past often overwhelms the present, as vivid first person flashbacks from Fin’s childhood and youth are interspersed with third-person narration of the murder investigation. This compelling thriller, a finalist for the 2013 Barry Award for Best Novel, is the first in a trilogy.

Foal PlayKathryn O’Sullivan
Foal Play (Minotaur 2013) introduces Colleen McCabe, the fire chief in the beach town of Corolla, North Carolina, and Sparky, her faithful Border Collie with a nose for fire and a need to herd anything that moves. Colleen’s biggest concern is the record breaking heat predicted for the Fourth of July, since tourists with illegal fireworks and dry dune grass make a dangerous combination. Another headache is the wandering herds of wild Spanish mustangs, freed from their sanctuary by a fence destroying tropical storm. Led by Colleen’s former third grade teacher Myrtle Crepe, officers of the Lighthouse Wild Horse Preservation Society feel justified in stopping traffic and offending curious tourists. And then there is Antonio "Pinky" Salvatore, a developer from Long Island with Mafia connections, who insists on burning construction debris no matter how often he is cited and fined. Pinky always has a glass of champagne ready for Colleen when she follows the smoke to the source, and an invitation to dinner. The discovery of a partially burned dead body on the beach gives Colleen something new to worry about. Colleen’s best friend Sheriff Bill Dorman, tells Colleen to stay clear of his murder investigation, but when Myrtle’s house explodes, Colleen suspects arson, and Bill can’t prevent her from investigating that. This light-hearted debut cozy mystery won the 2012 Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition.

The Beautiful MysteryLouise Penny
The Beautiful Mystery (Minotaur 2012) takes place in the monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, where two dozen cloistered monks have lived secretly for hundreds of years in the wilderness of Québec, living a quiet life devoted to prayer and singing Gregorian chants. When the monastery began to crumble around them, Frère Mathieu, the choirmaster, recorded a selection of chants, hoping to raise a bit of money selling them to other monasteries. The CD went viral on the Internet, earning much-needed money to pay for a new roof, but also bringing unwanted attention from the outside world. Abbot Dom Philippe manages to preserve the monastery’s privacy until the murder of Frère Mathieu, when Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and Jean-Guy Beauvoir of the Sûreté du Québec become the first outsiders to invade the monastery. Dom Philippe releases the monks from their vow of silence, asking them to answer any questions put to them so that the detectives can find the murderer living among them. While enjoying the wild blueberry chocolates created in the kitchen and gathering vegetables in the garden, the detectives discover that the outwardly unified monks are divided into two camps — one determined to preserve their cloistered way of life and the other wanting to record another CD and even leave the monastery on a concert tour. Both Gamache and Beauvoir are forced to confront the demons of their own pasts when Sylvain Francoeur, Chief Superintendent of the Sûreté, arrives to meddle in the investigation. This beautifully written eighth in the series won the 2012 Agatha Award and is a finalist for the 2013 Anthony Award for Best Mystery.

The BooksellerMark Pryor
The Bookseller (Seventh Street Books 2012) introduces Hugo Marston, a former FBI profiler from Texas, now the head of security at the US embassy in Paris. Hugo visits the bookstall of his friend Max to buy a present for a friend. Max selects a first edition of an Agatha Christie Hercule Poirot mystery and a book of poetry by Rimbaud before discovering he doesn’t have quite enough money to pay for his purchases. Max insists he take the books on credit, but Hugo quickly visits a nearby ATM and returns with the rest of the money, only to find Max being abducted at gunpoint. Hugo summons the police, but the witnesses swear that Max left with a friend voluntarily, and the police decline to investigate. With the help of a retired CIA friend and an ambitious crime reporter, Hugo discovers that Max, a Holocaust survivor, became a Nazi hunter and is now working to reveal French Nazi collaborators. Hugo suspects that Gravois, the head of the bookstall union, is bribing and threatening the booksellers to give up their stalls, but can’t put his finger on a motive that would justify kidnapping and possible murder. This debut mystery featuring an affable protagonist, refreshingly free from angst, is the first in a series.

June Word Cloud

July 1, 2013

Death Warmed OverKevin J. Anderson
Death Warmed Over (Kensington 2012) introduces Dan Chambeaux, a private investigator at Chambeaux & Deyer Investigations. When the Big Uneasy unleashed vampires, werewolves, and zombies into the general population, things have been a bit unsettled. When Dan himself arose as a zombie after being shot in the head, taking cases in the Unnatural Quarter became a bigger part of the caseload of his small agency: Dan himself (now known as Dan Shamble because of his awkward zombie gait), lawyer and partner Robin Deyer, and poltergeist secretary Sheyenne. Weekly treatments of embalming fluid at Bruno & Heinrich’s Embalming Parlor keep Dan looking feeling sharp, though he avoids the Zom-Be-Fresh products favored by other undead. While not working on active cases, Dan spends his time trying to figure out who shot him and poisoned Sheyenne. But the cases just keep coming in: a resurrected mummy wants to sue the museum for enslaving him, two witch sisters are asking for restitution from a publisher for not spell-checking a spell that transformed one into a pig, and a needy vegetarian vampire is concerned that all the other vampires in the neighborhood have been spirited away since none attend his fondue parties. This funny sci-fi PI novel, the first in a series, has just been nominated for the Shamus Award for Best Paperback PI Novel.

The Alehouse MurdersMaureen Ash
The Alehouse Murders (Berkley 2007) introduces Bascot de Marins, a Templar Knight recovering from eight years of imprisonment and torture by the Saracens in the holy lands. It’s the summer of 1200, and Bascot and Gianni, the Italian boy he rescued from starvation, are guests of Lady Nicolaa de la Haye and her husband, Sheriff Gerard Camville, at Lincoln Castle. When four people are found murdered at an alehouse in the village of Danesgate as the midsummer fair is about to begin, two are quickly identified as the husband of the alewife and a Jew named Samuel, but the young couple are strangers. As sheriff, Camville is responsible for the safety of travelers, so Lady Nicolaa asks Bascot to seek out the murderer and forestall any complaints to the king. Bascot determines that the deaths were not the result of a drunken brawl, but instead the four were killed elsewhere, and not stabbed until the bodies were relocated to the alehouse. Struggling to cope with his mental and physical wounds, Bascot finds the stimulation of the investigation a welcome distraction. He discovers that the unidentified young man may have been the illegitimate son of a local nobleman, providing a strong motive to the nobleman’s relatives. Details of medieval life and culture are seamlessly woven into this intriguing debut mystery, first in the Templar Knight series.

Deadly VirtuesJo Bannister
Deadly Virtues (Minotaur 2013) is set in the town of Norbold, England, renowned for its low crime rate thanks to the 10-year leadership of Chief Superintendent John Fountain. Gabriel Ash, a grief-stricken recovering mental patient known as “Rambles with Dogs” because of his habit of conversing with his dog Patience, is severely beaten by a group of boys in the park. Constable Hazel Best takes Ash to the station to recuperate since he refuses go to the hospital for treatment of his concussion, letting him rest in an unoccupied cell. When Jerome Cardy is brought to the cell after fleeing the scene of an accident, he wakes Ash up, insisting that he knows he will die while incarcerated, and that Ash is the only possible witness that his death isn’t an accident. Cardy is taken to another cell, where he dies later that night. Unsure which of his memories are real, and which are a result of concussed dreams, Ash reluctantly forces himself to deal with the reality around him, and informs Hazel there is a possibility that Cardy’s death wasn’t an accident. Hazel is at first reluctant to believe Ash’s account of the events in the jail, but gradually comes to believe that he isn’t as crazy as everyone thinks, though he does seem convinced that Patience can understand every word he says. Ash’s past is slowly revealed as he works with Hazel to sift through Cardy’s life, searching for clues for who might possibly have wanted to kill him. This clever thriller leaves a tantalizing hint of a possible sequel.

Talking to the DeadHarry Bingham
Talking to the Dead (Delacorte Press 2012) introduces Fiona Griffiths, a bright young detective constable in Cardiff, Wales. After four years on the force, Fiona’s intelligence is respected, but her fellow cops view her as odd because of her social ineptitude. Her current assignment is tracking money stolen by a retired London cop from a local Catholic boys’ school. Fiona insists she enjoys the routine work, but six years’ worth of paperwork is a bit much even for her. When a young drug addict/occasional prostitute and her six-year old daughter are found dead in a derelict building, several factors don’t add up. The most obvious is a platinum credit card belonging to an extremely wealthy steel tycoon who died in a plane crash nine months earlier. Fiona is assigned the task of tracing the credit card but she can’t shake the mental picture of the dead child with her head crushed by a old sink, and insinuates herself into the murder investigation. While doing a routine interview with the dead millionaire’s widow, Fiona senses a whiff of fear from the elegant widow when she inquires about their sex life. Fiona suspects there may have been a personal link with the dead prostitute, perhaps an obsession with violent sex. Fiona struggles to find justice for the dead child while pursuing her own quest to become a citizen of “Planet Normal,” with feelings and a boyfriend just like other young women. Unfortunately, Fiona finds it easier to relate to the dead than the living. This compelling thriller is the author’s US debut.

Murder for ChoirJoelle Charbonneau
Murder for Choir (Berkley 2012) introduces Paige Marshall, a struggling opera singer who reluctantly accepts the job of coaching the Prospect Glen High School show choir in Lake Forest, Illinois. To save money, Paige is staying with her beloved Aunt Millie, a successful Mary Kay cosmetics distributor with a bright pink convertible Cadillac to prove it. Unfortunately Aunt Millie just might be the worst cook in the world, and her prize-winning white standard poodle (Monsieur de Toure de Dame, Killer for short) has taken a menacing dislike to Paige. On the third day of show choir camp, Greg Lucas, the director of a rival show choir, publicly humiliates Paige, stating that her lack of experience with performance choirs means certain victory in the coming year for his choir. When Greg is found strangled with a microphone cord later that day, Paige is afraid that Detective Michael Kaiser suspects her of murder. Instead, Eric Metz, a member of Paige’s choir, is brought in for questioning when the police discover a threatening text on Greg’s phone. Sure that the boy is innocent, Paige offers to help Detective Kaiser track down the real killer. This slyly humorous series opener is a finalist for the 2013 Anthony Award for Best Paperback.

The Hollow ManOliver Harris
The Hollow Man (Harper 2012, UK 2011) opens when Nick Belsey, a detective constable in London, wakes up very early one morning, bruised and bloody, in a squad car with a smashed windscreen. Belsey vaguely remembers being evicted from his rooming house for not paying the rent, followed by a night of spending his last pound buying rounds at various pubs. Threatened by an Internal Affairs investigation, Belsey responds to a missing person report and searches the home of Alexei Devereux, a wealthy Russian who has left behind a suicide note, but no fingerprints. Belsey takes over the deserted mansion, and begins to delve into the secretive man’s life, working on a scheme to sell the abandoned electronics and car for enough cash to escape from his gambling debts. Discovering that Devereux might have millions of pounds squirreled away in offshore accounts, Belsey pursues the possibility of a larger payoff and begins tracing Devereux’s recent financial transactions. Nick Belsey is an engaging protagonist whose flagrant rule-breaking is balanced by an intuitive grasp of the truth hidden behind lies and an ability to connect on a personal level to misfits on both sides of the law. Dark humor permeates this debut thriller, the first in a projected series.

The 500Matthew Quirk
The 500 (Reagan Arthur Books 2012) is the story of Mike Ford, a Harvard Law School graduate recruited to work at the Davies Group, the most powerful consulting firm to political lobbyists in Washington DC, by Henry Davies himself. In his final year of law school Mike was close to dropping out. Crushed by a payment schedule he couldn’t meet for the massive bill from his mother’s death from cancer, Mike was close to slipping back across the legal line by cleaning out the safe in the office of the bar where he worked to make the rent. A father in prison and an arrest record in his own past made Mike an unlikely candidate for a job in a top law firm, but Davies was impressed by Mike’s understanding of the real world and offered help with managing the debt along with a job. Mike discovers that the lessons he learned from his con-father are exactly what he needs to find the sweet spot to convince Washington decision-makers to sign on with the Davies Group. A year later, Mike is socializing with “The 500,” the elite group running Washington, enjoying his new-found prosperity, and falling in love with Annie Clark, a senior associate at the firm. Unfortunately Mike suspects that the Davies Group is operating a sinister political conspiracy that could prove fatal to anyone who opposes it. This intense debut thriller, featuring an engaging and multi-layered protagonist, is a finalist for the 2013 Anthony, Edgar, and Thriller Awards for Best First Novel.

Crossbones YardKate Rhodes
Crossbones Yard (Minotaur 2013, UK 2012) introduces Alice Quentin, a claustrophobic psychologist in London who never quite recovered from her mother’s habit of locking her in a cupboard during her abusive father’s rages. Alice’s brother is a paranoid drug addict who lives in his van, refusing to seek treatment for his bipolar disorder. Alice copes with her stress through exercise, running through the city and climbing up and down 278 stairs to her office each day since she can’t force herself into the elevator. One of the obligations of Alice’s job is to carry out evaluations for the Met. Her latest assignment is to talk to Morris Cley, about to be released on parole after serving time for killing a prostitute. Detective Chief Inspector Don Burns fears Cley is still a danger, but Alice doesn’t think Cley is a threat to anyone and he is released. While running a few evenings later, Alice stumbles over the body of a woman dumped in Crossbones Yard, a historic graveyard for prostitutes. The woman’s body has been mutilated in a similar style to the victims of Ray and Marie Benson, who imprisoned, tortured, and killed 13 women before they were caught. Ray is dead, and Marie is still in prison, but because Cley’s mother was once a friend of the Bensons, Burns thinks he may have learned details of their killings that were never released to the public. This complex and frightening debut thriller is the first in a series.

Red Means RunBrad Smith
Red Means Run (Busted Flush 2011) introduces Virgil Cain, a farmer in upstate New York. When defense attorney Mickey Dupree, renowned for never losing a case, is killed with his own golf club, Virgil becomes the prime suspect. Mickey successfully defended legendary music producer Alan Comstock, who also happens to be a crazed gun-nut charged with murdering Virgil’s wife, Kristie. Virgil had threatened Mickey a few weeks earlier in a bar, and when detective Joe Brady discovers that Virgil has a criminal record in Canada, he immediately arrests him. Virgil quickly realizes that Brady isn’t interested in pursuing the investigation now that he has a suspect in custody, and manages to escape, determined to find the killer himself and clear his name. Detective Claire Marchand isn’t convinced that Virgil is guilty, especially after she meets veterinarian Mary Nelson who has inveigled Virgil into caring for abused horses. So Claire allows the clueless Brady to follow a false lead to Canada while she examines others who may have wanted to kill Mickey and keeps a watch on Virgil’s farm. This poignant and funny series opener is a winner.

The Haunting of Maddy ClareSimone St. James
The Haunting of Maddy Clare (2012) is set in 1922, the time in England when most of the surviving young men are wounded physically and emotionally. Sarah Piper is eking out a precarious existence in London doing occasional clerical jobs through a temporary agency. There haven’t been many assignments lately, so when offered the temporary position of assistant to Alistair Gellis, a writer of ghost sighting books, Sarah accepts despite her reservations about ghost hunting. Alistair’s regular assistant is away for a week on a family matter, and Alistair has been asked to investigate the spirit of nineteen-year-old maid Maddy Clare, who has been haunting the barn where she hung herself. Maddy had been taken in by the Clare family when she was 12, arriving at their door caked with mud, covered in bruises, and shocked into muteness. Though the Clares searched for any missing young servants, no trace of Maddy was ever found. She eventually began to speak again, but had no memory of her past. Maddy hid whenever strange men appeared at the door, and her ghost seems to possess a similar phobia, becoming violent whenever men approach the barn. Chosen by Alistair for her empathy as well as her gender, Sarah ventures into the barn, where she is confronted by waves of anger and despair. Convinced that Maddy can’t rest until her trauma is resolved, the ghost hunters begin to search for the truth of whatever happened to Maddy seven years earlier. This debut gothic ghost story won the 2013 Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel.

July Word Cloud

August 1, 2013

PinesBlake Crouch
Pines (Thomas & Mercer 2012) introduces Ethan Burke, a Secret Service agent agent searching for two federal agents who went missing near the small town of Wayward Pines, Idaho. Ethan’s car is crushed by a truck on the way into town, and he regains consciousness wandering the streets, injured and dazed. Taken to the hospital, Ethan discovers that he had been admitted after the accident and his amnesia must have caused him to leave the hospital. Ethan demands his iPhone and wallet, but the nurse tells him the sheriff has his things and promises to bring a phone to his room. After waiting for hours, Ethan sneaks out of the strangely silent hospital and tracks down the sheriff, who insists the EMTs have his belongings. Discovering the rotting body of one of the agents in an abandoned building, Ethan informs the sheriff, who searches the building and tells Ethan it was empty. Fearing that he may be losing his sanity, Ethan tries to leave town, but discovers that all the roads circle back to the idyllic Norman Rockwell-like town. This disturbing dystopian thriller was a finalist for the 2013 Thriller Award for Best Paperback Original.

I Will Have VengeanceMaurizio de Giovanni
I Will Have Vengeance: The Winter of Commissario Ricciardi (Europa 2012, Italy 2007) introduces Luigi Alfredo Ricciardi, a 31-year-old Commissario of Police in 1931 Naples. Arnaldo Vezzi, dubbed “the world’s greatest tenor” by Il Duce himself, is found murdered in his dressing room at the San Carlo Theatre just before his entrance as Canio in Pagliacci. Though revered for his voice and his ability to bring a role to life on stage, Vezzi was an unpleasant man who offended everyone he met. As he examines the corpse, Ricciardi hears a voice singing “Io sangue voglio…” (I will have vengeance.) Ever since Ricciardi discovered the dead body of a farm laborer in his family’s vineyard when he was a child, Ricciardi has been afflicted by visions of the dead sharing their final thoughts. Realizing that sharing his experience caused those around him to suspect he suffered from the same madness that claimed his mother, Ricciardi learned to keep his visions to himself, growing into a reserved man with few friends and an uncanny ability to uncover the motive behind violent death. His few constrained relationships are with his co-worker Brigadier Raffaele Maione, his old nanny Rosa, and the left-handed woman he secretly observes as she embroiders each evening in the window of the building across from his bedroom. This intriguing debut novel was a finalist for the 2012 Historical and International Dagger Awards.

Pago Pago TangoJohn Enright
Pago Pago Tango (Thomas & Mercer 2012) introduces Apelu Soifua, a detective sergeant in Pago Pago, American Samoa. Pelu’s family moved to San Francisco when he was a teenager, and Pelu spent seven years with the SFPD before moving his family back home to Pago Pago. The job is different in Samoa — Pelu doesn’t carry a weapon, wears a dress lavalava on special occasions, and has to negotiate the intricate family and social relationships of a society where everybody knows everyone else. Samoan traditional society hasn’t quite accepted the existence of a police force, viewing it as an unnecessary intrusion into the historic system of justice dispensed by the chiefs. A burglary in a white family’s house calls upon skills developed during Pelu’s experience off island. Gordon Trurich is an executive at SeaKing Tuna, the biggest tuna cannery in the world and by far the largest employer on the island. Trurich doesn’t seem too concerned about the burglary, but his wife Karen is upset by the home invasion. Pelu finds it odd that Karen reports a missing collection of video tapes while Trurich neglects to mention them on the police report. Daughter Debra Trurich is a bit wild, often out late clubbing with friends. When she tells Pelu that her step-mother Karen had something to do with the burglary, he suspects that what looked like a random burglary is part of a larger crime. This debut mystery featuring a unique detective in an exotic setting is a finalist for the 2013 Barry Award for Best Paperback Original.

And She WasAlison Gaylin
And She Was (Harper 2012) introduces Brenna Spector, a missing persons investigator with Hyperthymestic Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that enables her to remember every moment of every day of her life. Usually triggered by a major life change, Brenna’s syndrome began when she was eleven, the day her older sister Clea got into a blue car and disappeared forever. When Brenna is hired by Nelson Wentz to find his missing wife Carol, the discovery of Carol’s wallet in the house where Iris Neff lived causes a flood of memories. Iris disappeared when she was six years old, and no sign has been found of her in the past 11 years. The case struck Brenna at the time because of the mention of a blue car in Iris’s neighborhood. Brenna is sure that Carol’s disappearance is connected somehow to Iris, especially when she discovers that Carol has been participating in a missing persons online support group, masquerading as Iris’s mother. Brenna is a unique protagonist, struggling to keep her own past from taking over her present, while using her ability to remember everything she has ever seen or heard to locate the missing. This haunting thriller, a finalist for the 2013 Anthony, Shamus, and Thriller Awards for Best Paperback, is the first in a series.

Accidents HappenLouise Millar
Accidents Happen (Emily Bestler Books 2013) is the story of Kate Parker, a young mother who suffers from a nearly paralyzing fear of accidents. When Kate’s parents died in an car crash on the night of her wedding, she became anxious, but her husband Hugo was able to help her manage until he was killed in a random break-in of their London apartment. Unable to cope by herself, Kate moved to Oxford with her son Jack so that Hugo’s parents could help with child care. But Kate’s anxiety is growing worse; she continually calculates the odds of disasters that might strike her or Jack during daily life. She rides her bike off-road, has a yearly full-body scan for cancer, and recently installed a locking gate at the top of her stairs to protect herself and her son from intruders. When Jack also begins to show signs of agitation, worrying about the noises he hears in his wardrobe, Kate’s in-laws suggest it is time that Jack moves in full time with them. Kate tries to consult a therapist, but finds it too difficult to talk about her fears. A chance meeting in a juice bar with Jago Martin, a charismatic Scots author of a book called Beat the Odds and Change Your Life finally gives Kate hope that she may be able to control her debilitating fearfulness. Jago convinces Kate that taking chances through an increasingly more dangerous set of dares, beginning with riding her bike on-road without a helmet, will help her believe that her daily routine is not fraught with danger. This frightening psychological thriller is all too believable.

Snow White Must DieNele Neuhaus
Snow White Must Die (Minotaur 2013, German 2010) is set in the Tanus mountain region of Germany. Tobias Sartorius, now 30, has returned to the village of Altenhain after serving a 10-year sentence for the murder of two 17-year old girls who disappeared the night of the annual village fair. The bodies were never found, and Tobias, who had been drinking heavily, has no memory of the night except for a fight with his girlfriend Stefanie Schneeberger, known as Snow White because of her resemblance to the part she is playing in the high school play. Tobias is shocked to discover that during his absence his parents divorced and the family farm fell into disrepair. Oliver von Bodenstein, chief superintendent and his colleague, detective Pia Kirchhoff, of the Division of Violent Crimes, are called to the scene of an accident in Bad Soden. Rita Cramer has been pushed off a pedestrian bridge into the traffic below and may not survive. Discovering that Rita began using her maiden name after separating from her husband, the detectives inform her ex-husband Hartmut Sartorius and show a fuzzy security camera picture of the assailant to the villagers of Altenhain. Sure that everyone recognizes the man though they deny it, Pia begins to look into the evidence of the trial that convicted Tobias of murder, and wonders if he was framed for the crime. There is no shortage of suspects: Thies, the autistic and occasionally violent twin brother of Tobias’s best friend; the grieving parents of the missing girls; and a government minister and former village teacher who directed the school play. This complex police procedural, featuring fully developed detectives with problems of their own, is the fourth in the series, the first published in English.

The Broken TokenChris Nickson
The Broken Token (Creme de la Crime 2010) introduces Richard Nottingham, the Constable of Leeds in 1731 England, whose current task is trying to capture a talented pickpocket preying on the community. Early one morning, Nottingham’s deputy, John Sedgwick, reports a double murder, the slashed bodies of a man and a woman have been found posed in a parody of sexual intercourse. Examining the body of the woman, Nottingham is shocked to discover that it is his former housemaid Pamela, a beloved member of his family who married a farm laborer and moved away several years earlier. Around her neck are the remnants of the blue ribbon that always held a love token, a coin cut in half that had belonged to Nottingham’s mother. Discovering that Pamela had become a prostitute, Nottingham and Sedgwick interview pimps and madams and women of the street to try and trace Pamela’s last day. When a second pair of slashed bodies is found, Nottingham realizes that a madman is haunting the streets of Leeds. The daily struggle to earn enough to put food on the table is vividly illustrated by John Sedgwick, who can only stretch his meager wages to feed his wife and baby son if he cadges most of his own meals while interviewing suspects. His wife is consumed with worry that Sedgwick will be killed or injured on the job, leaving her the bitter choice between starvation or prostitution in order to survive. Nottingham has it a bit easier, but his teenaged daughter, who longs for the fulfillment of becoming a writer rather than a wife and mother, is a constant source of anxiety. This compelling historical mystery is the first in a series.

The Art ForgerB.A. Shapiro
The Art Forger (Algonquin Books 2012) is the story of Claire Roth, a struggling young artist in Boston. When Claire was finishing graduate school she helped her lover Isaac Cullion, an established artist whose bipolar condition blocked his ability to paint, by creating a painting in his style so he could meet a deadline. The painting was a huge hit, but Isaac refused to give Claire any credit, and her attempt to force the issue caused a scandal. Three years later Claire is working for, painting copies of famous works while slowly working on her own meticulous paintings of light reflecting through windows. Aiden Markel, the owner of a world-renowned gallery, visits Claire and offers her a deal.: if she will paint him a perfect copy of a famous painting, he will give her a solo show in the gallery plus a hefty fee. Claire wants to refuse, but the money will pay her rent, and the show might finally get her career back on track. When Markel unveils the painting he wants copied, Claire is horrified and thrilled to recognize “After the Bath,” a painting by Degas that was stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum 25 years earlier. Claire can’t resist the chance to become intimately acquainted with a painting she has admired since she was a child, and Markel assures her she isn’t committing a crime by painting him a copy of what he will swear is only a copy of the famous work. As Claire works on her reproduction, she suspects the painting that hung on the walls of the Gardner for 100 years was not painted by Degas, and begins to research the history of “After the Bath,” Isabella Stewart Gardner, and famous forgers of the previous century. This engaging mystery is a finalist for the 2013 Macavity Award for Best Mystery Novel.

Big MariaJohnny Shaw
Big Maria (Thomas & Mercer 2012) is the name of a former gold mine in Arizona’s Chocolate Mountains. Harry Schmittberger, a drunken prison guard living on disability payments after injuring his leg on the job, is sick of the demeaning nicknames inspired by his name and totally unmotivated about returning to work. Harry’s neighbor in the trailer park is Ricky McBride, a young body-builder barely supporting his wife and young daughter with the money he earns driving senior citizens across the border into Mexico to buy cheap prescription drugs. Frank Pacheco is one of Ricky’s regular passengers, an old man with no surviving friends, who makes the weekly trip to buy his cancer medication, usually under the influence of his grandsons’ home-grown marijuana. When an accident totals Ricky’s bus and his income source, the three end up in neighboring hospital beds, where Frank passes the time by telling the tale of the Big Maria gold mine where his grandfather worked in the early 1900s. Frank explains that his grandfather hid gold in the abandoned mine and then buried a map. Unfortunately, the map is now under the water of the Imperial Dam, and the old mine is now in the middle of an artillery range. Having nothing left to lose, the three set off on a quest to locate the Big Maria. This caper novel spiced with black humor is a finalist for the 2013 Anthony Award for Best Paperback.

Racing the DevilJaden Terrell
Racing the Devil (The Permanent Press 2012) introduces Jared Mckean, a private investigator with a fondness for horses in Nashville, Tennessee. An ex-cop, Jared has a young son with Down’s Syndrome, lives with his best friend who has AIDS, and is still in love with his ex-wife. When Jared wakes up in a cheap motel after a one-night stand with a woman looking for protection from the man who beat her, he’s not too surprised that she isn’t still there, but can’t understand how he lost a day and a half. The TV news clues him into the fact that his troubles are far worse than a hang-over. His fingerprints have been found at the scene of the murder of Amy Hartwell, a woman he has never met. But Amy was shot with a bullet from his gun, his DNA was found with the body, and his voice is on her answering machine. Out on bail, Jared begins to investigate Amy’s past, searching desperately for the real killer before the trial that is sure to convict him of a murder he has been expertly framed for. Though a soft touch for those in need, Jared is a skillful investigator and discovers motives and connections the police missed. This engaging debut is a finalist for the 2013 Shamus Award for Best First PI Novel.

August Word Cloud

September 1, 2013

The Guilty OneLisa Ballantyne
The Guilty One (William Morrow 2013, UK 2012) is the story of Daniel Hunter, a London solicitor hired to defend 11-year-old Sebastian Croll, charged with the murder of his 8-year old neighbor Ben Stokes. Ben was beaten to death at the playground with a brick, and a witness saw the two boys fighting earlier that day. Daniel can’t believe a child as young as Sebastian can be guilty of such a violent crime, but unsettling details about Sebastian and his family make him nervous. Sebastian’s mother Charlotte swears that Sebastian came home for tea long before the murder, but when the police arrive to question Sebastian the next day she doesn’t respond to the doorbell, sleeping too deeply under the influence of narcotics. Charlotte is fragile and vulnerable, reminding Daniel of his own mother, a drug addict abused by various boyfriends, who gave Daniel up to foster care when he was very young. Sebastian has a morbid fascination with blood and violence, and Daniel can’t decide if that’s a normal quirk of small boys or a sign of hidden aggression. As the investigation and trial progress, Daniel is haunted by memories of his own past as a troubled child, continually running away from foster homes to search for his mother in order to watch over her. He struggles to come to terms with his relationship with his final foster mother, who betrayed his trust in an attempt to save him from the life behind bars that threatens his young client. This poignant debut psychological thriller explores powerful themes of violence, love, forgiveness, and the frightening lack of rehabilitation offered to British juvenile offenders.

LostS.J. Bolton
Lost (Minotaur 2013) finds Lacey Flint, a young detective constable in London, still out on sick leave after the terrors of her last case. As Lacey tries to wear out her body enough to sleep through constant exercise, her boss Dana Tulloch and Detective Mark Joesbury are on the hunt for the Twilight Killer. Lacey’s 10-year-old neighbor Barney Roberts is also trying to track down the killer, consumed by fear since the killer is targeting boys his age from the neighborhood, slitting their throats and leaving the bodes drained of blood along the Thames. Since the victims show no sign of sexual molestation and the bodies are arranged carefully as if asleep, Dana suspects that the killer might be a woman. Barney, who spends the little money he earns trying to trace the mother who disappeared when he was four, fears that his father might be the serial killer since he is never home on Tuesday or Thursday evenings, the times all the boys vanished. When Lacey receives an anonymous call with the location of a body, Dana wonders if her lone wolf officer, who is always out running alone on the streets in the evenings, might be the killer. This intense psychological thriller is the third in the series featuring a complex young woman with a deeply troubled past.

Requiem MassElizabeth Corley
Requiem Mass (Minotaur 2013, UK 1998) introduces Andrew Fenwick, a Detective Chief Inspector in Sussex, England. Fenwick is out on compassionate leave helping his young children cope with the death of their mother when Deborah Fearnside goes missing. Her husband is sure she has been abducted, but the police don’t take him seriously. The brutal murder of a teacher a month later causes Fenwick to notice a familiar face in an old school picture in the halls, a very young Deborah. Fenwick discovers that the two women were part of an exclusive clique during their school days at Downside Comprehensive School, a local school acclaimed for its strong music curriculum. Fenwick suspects that the rest of the group are also at risk, but the surviving women refuse to speak about the past. Octavia Anderson, a world-renowned soprano was one of the exclusive group. Fenwick and his team suspect that the killer is planning another attack to coincide with her appearance at Downside’s 75th anniversary performance of Verdi’s Requiem Mass. Fenwick is a fully developed and complex character, nicely balanced by the experienced DS Cooper and talented young rookie WDC Nightingale. This compelling debut police procedural, the first published in the US, is the start of a series that now numbers five.

Hunting Sweetie RoseJack Fredrickson
Hunting Sweetie Rose (Minotaur 2012) begins when Dek Elstrom, an unlicensed Chicago private investigator, is hired by Tim Duggan, a secretive man in a limousine, to investigate the death of a clown who fell (or jumped?) from the rooftop of a rundown building. An invitation to a soirée thrown by Sweetie Fairbain, the philanthropic queen of Chicago Society, causes Dek to suspect a connection to the clown’s death, which he is fairly sure was murder rather than suicide. Dek visits Sweetie to try and put the pieces together, and discovers Duggan’s body in the living room and Sweetie covered with blood. By the time the police arrive, Sweetie has vanished and the police aren’t sure if Dek or Sweetie is the best suspect. The next day, charities all over town discover huge donations from Sweetie in their mail, but neither the police nor Dek can find a trace of the missing heiress. Dek’s on-going battle with the city for permits to repair and sell the crumbling limestone turret of a castle that his bootlegger grandfather started in 1929 and never finished provides a humorous undercurrent to this engaging third in the series, a finalist for the 2013 Shamus Award for Best Novel.

Escape TheoryMargaux Froley
Escape Theory (Soho Teen 2013) is the story of Devon Mackintosh, a 16-year old scholarship student at a ritzy California boarding school. In an effort to enhance her application to Stanford, Devon volunteers to become the school’s first peer counselor, assuming there won’t be much demand for her services. But everything changes with the unexpected suicide of Jason “Hutch” Hutchins, a popular student. Devon herself is grieving, since Hutch was the only one to show her kindness when she first arrived, feeling like a fish out of water among her privileged classmates. Devon is unprepared for the string of Hutch’s friends she is assigned to counsel, not sure what to do except try to get them to talk, and uncomfortable with how much to share with her faculty advisor. Devon discovers that she has a flair for therapy, encouraging confidences that allow her to uncover hidden depths in her classmates. As she learns about Hutch from his friends, Devon becomes convinced that he would never have killed himself, and begins an investigation into Hutch’s last days in a secretive attempt to discover the truth about his life and death. This well-written and engaging debut young adult thriller is one of the first releases under Soho’s new Teen imprint.

Norwegian by NightDerek B. Miller
Norwegian by Night (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2013, UK 2012) is the story of Sheldon Horowitz, an 82-year old haunted by the death of his son Saul in Vietnam many years earlier and the recent death of his wife. His granddaughter Rhea worries that he is beginning to suffer from dementia, and convinces him to move to Norway and live in the basement of the apartment she shares with her husband Lars. Sheldon isn’t happy in Norway, disconcerted by the Norwegian apparent lack of emotion, secluding himself in the apartment with his grief and guilt that he caused Saul’s death through the example of his own service as a Marine sniper in Korea. When the Eastern European upstairs neighbor suddenly appears at the door with her young son, the terror reflected in her face brings back memories of all the Jews fleeing the Nazis during the Holocaust, and Sheldon hides them in the apartment. Forced to choose between saving the woman or the child, Sheldon flees with the boy. Memories of the past cloud Sheldon’s mind, and he can’t bring himself to take the child to the police, choosing instead to escape together through a foreign landscape. When reporting his disappearance, Rhea described her grandfather as Jewish, but the police in a country with only 1000 Jews can’t understand that his Jewishness is a defining characteristic. Pursued by Balkan war criminals, Sheldon tries to resurrect the skills he learned in the Marines 50 years earlier to protect the traumatized child who doesn’t speak and rarely makes eye contact. Though the boy doesn’t understand a word he says, Sheldon talks non-stop, revealing his inner turmoil through self-deprecating humor. This powerful exploration of age, memory, and the long-lasting effects of war, is a finalist for the 2013 New Blood Dagger Award.

Corrupt PracticesRobert Rotstein
Corrupt Practices (Seventh Street Books 2013) introduces Parker Stern, a star Los Angeles trial attorney suffering from debilitating courtroom stage fright ever since his mentor, Harmon Cherry, committed suicide 18 months earlier. Former colleague Rich Baxter, who destroyed the firm of Macklin & Cherry by taking the business of the firm’s biggest account, the Church of the Sanctified Assembly, to form his own one-person operation with a single client after Harmon’s death, asks Parker to defend him against a charge of embezzling millions from the Assembly. Parker doesn’t want anything to do with the Assembly, but Rich tells him that someone on the inside has been stealing from the Assembly and also orchestrated Harmon’s murder to appear a suicide. Despite his misgivings, Parker takes Rich on as a client, utilizing the three members of his trial advocacy class at St. Thomas School of Law as unpaid assistants to help with research and legwork. Parker’s long-buried past association with the Assembly emerges as he tries to penetrate the cult’s wall of silence against outsiders who are not bound by the Assembly’s manifesto “The Celestial Fountain of All That Is.” This debut legal thriller featuring a complex and engaging protagonist is the first in a projected series.

A Question of HonorCharles Todd
A Question of Honor (William Morrow 2013) find WWI nurse Bess Crawford tending the wounded in France when she is asked to give comfort to a badly injured Indian sergeant. Hearing Bess speak to him in Hindi, the dying man asks Bess to tell his family he has seen Lieutenant Thomas Wade at the front. Ten years earlier, Bess was a teenager living in India where her father, a colonel in the British Army, was stationed on the Northwest Frontier. Wade deserted the army after being accused of murdering five people: three in England while on leave and then his own parents in India. Fleeing across the Khyber Pass to Afghanistan, Wade disappeared, though a report of the discovery of his body surfaced months later. Wade was a personable and well-respected young officer, and the murder accusation surprised everyone. Colonel Crawford never forgot the stain on the regiment’s honor, and took personal responsibility since he had trained the killer. Home on leave and determined to find the truth, Bess visits the English village where the first three victims lived, discovering that the family supplemented their income by taking in children whose parents were stationed in India, considered an unhealthy climate for small children. Bess learns that the villagers were not convinced that the murders were at the hand of a visiting soldier, and receives a strangely hostile reception from the relative in the process of selling the house where the murders occurred. Back in France, Bess herself catches a glimpse of a soldier who might be Wade, and continues her search for the truth, hoping to finally set her father’s mind at ease. Riveting details about British Indian life and the strain it placed upon families separated for the good of the children enliven this fifth in an excellent historical series.

Capital PunishmentRobert Wilson
Capital Punishment (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2013) introduces Charles Boxer, a former cop turned private security professional specializing in kidnap recovery. Self-made Indian tycoon Frank D’Cruz hires Boxer to find his daughter Alyshia, who disappeared after getting into a cab after a night of clubbing in London. Alyshia’s mother Isabel gets the call from the kidnappers, who produce proof-of-life but don’t mention any ransom demands. Boxer suspects that Alyshia has been taken by a group that is more interested in revenge than money, but can’t get Frank to tell the truth about the enemies he has accumulated in his rise to wealth and power. Though the family has been warned not to bring in the police, Frank uses his status as a major investor in the UK car business to convince the police and MI6 to help secretly. When the kidnappers continue to insist that the kidnapping is not about money, suspicion that the crime may be linked to terrorism increases. Like Alyshia’s parents, Boxer is divorced with a rebellious young daughter, increasing the sense of connection he feels with Isabel. Though powerless to change the dynamic in his personal life, Boxer is a skilled analyst and makes sense of seemingly insignificant pieces of data. This complex thriller, a finalist for the 2013 Steel Dagger Award, is the first in a series.

The Twenty-Year DeathAriel S. Winter
The Twenty-Year Death (Hard Case Crime 2012) is composed of three loosely connected short novels, each written in the style of an iconic crime author. Malniveau Prison, an homage to Georges Simenon, begins in 1931 France with the discovery of a stabbing victim in a flood. The body is identified as Marcel Meranger, sentenced to a 40-year prison term in Malniveau Prison. Chief Inspector Pelleter questions Meranger’s daughter Clothilde-ma-Fleur Meprise and her devoted husband Shem Rosenkrantz, an American writer, but finds no connection to the murder. Pelleter then concentrates his investigation upon the prison staff and an incarcerated psychopath who preyed upon small children. The Falling Star catches up ten years later with Rosenkrantz, now a Hollywood screenwriter, and Clothilde, working as an actress under the screen name Chloë Rose. Dennis Foster, a Raymond Chandler-esque PI, is hired by the studio to watch over Chloë, who is convinced someone is following her. Rosenkrantz is having an affair with the supporting actress, Chloë is unstable, and Foster fears he may have been selected as the fall guy for something about to happen. Police at the Funeral is set in 1951. Chloë has been institutionalized, and Rosenkrantz is an alcoholic on a swift slide downward. Rosenkrantz travels to Maryland for the reading of his first wife’s will, and tries to reconnect with the son who has never forgiven him for deserting them for Chloë 20 years earlier. In this tribute to Jim Thompson, it’s clear that things can only get worse for Rosenkrantz, and they do. This impressive debut novel is nominated for the 2013 Macavity and Shamus Awards.

September Word Cloud

October 1, 2013

The Red Queen DiesFrankie Y. Bailey
The Red Queen Dies (Minotaur 2013) introduces Hannah McCabe, a police detective in 2019 Albany, New York. Two young women have been killed by an injection to the heart, and a local threader (blogger) has decided there is a serial killer in town and dubs him the Albany Ripper. The police have found no connection between the two victims, and the new murder of Vivian Jessup, a visiting actress who played both Alice and later the Red Queen in Broadway productions of Alice in Wonderland, adds to the confusion. Jessup is much older than the other victims, not local, and the trademark silk flower has not been placed on her body, causing the police to worry they have a copy-cat killer. But the autopsy results are a match with the earlier victims, and McCabe digs deeper for connections between the three victims, with the help of her father, a retired reporter whose Albany insider information extends back for decades. Set in the not too distant future, many things remain the same with slight twists. The city-wide surveillance program suffers from under-funding, and crucial events are not recorded. Lullaby, a drug used to treat soldiers for post-traumatic stress disorder, has hit the streets and is being used by both victims and witnesses of violent crimes, making convictions more difficult than ever. This series opener by the author of the Professor Lizzie Stuart series is a winner.

Onion StreetReed Farrel Coleman
Onion Street (Tyrus 2013) opens with Moe Prager, recovering from cancer treatment, and his daughter Sarah at the funeral of Bobby Friedman, Moe’s oldest friend. After the funeral, Sarah asks Moe how he became a cop, and he tells the story of his life in 1967. Moe is half-heartedly attending Brooklyn College, living at home in Coney Island, and hanging out with Bobby, whose current scheme is to offer free rides to the airport in exchange for being named beneficiary of flight insurance. Everything changes when Moe’s girlfriend Mindy is brutally beaten and left to die on a snowy sidewalk the same evening that Bobby was nearly killed by a car in a purposeful-looking hit-and-run. The previous day Mindy had not been her normal self, instead drinking too much, mourning the death of Samantha Hope, a campus radical she never even liked, and warning Moe to stay away from Samantha’s boyfriend Bobby. Samantha died in a car explosion a few months earlier, the result of the premature explosion of a bomb the police believe was intended for the draft board offices. Moe enlists the help of Lids, a brilliant MIT dropout now dealing drugs, to track down the young man seen near Mindy on the sidewalk. Following that trail leads Moe to the fix-it shop of a bitter Holocaust camp survivor and attracts the notice of both the underground radical group Samantha was involved with as well as the local Mafia. Coleman has fun reliving the 1960s in this prequel: Moe wonders why he didn’t just make a call at one of the nine phone booths he just passed and later laughs at a scheme to produce a personal computer smaller than a television set.

Yesterday’s EchoMatt Coyle
Yesterday’s Echo (Oceanview 2013) introduces Rick Cahill, a former Santa Barbara cop falsely accused of killing his wife, now a restaurateur in La Jolla, California. Though never convicted of his wife’s murder, Rick was never exonerated either, and still blames himself for her death. Melody Malana, a beautiful TV reporter, appears in the restaurant the same night the very drunken Angela Albright, wife of the San Diego mayor and hopeful candidate for governor, staggers in. Rick convinces Angela to take a cab home, and Melody tries to pump him for information about why Angela was so upset. Rick resists Melody’s charms, but when a man in an expensive suit tries to strong-arm her later that evening he leaps to her defense, allowing her to escape. Melody reappears when Rick is locking up the restaurant, begging him to hide her for the rest of the night. When he wakes up the next morning, Melody is gone. Two thugs appear at the restaurant, demanding to know where Melody is, prompting Rick to visit her motel as soon as they leave. Melody’s ex-husband’s body has just been discovered in her room, dead of a drug overdose. When Melody is arrested, Rick’s cop instincts re-emerge, sending him on a dangerous investigation to find the killer before he is arrested as well. This intense debut thriller presents an engaging protagonist battling the demons of the past along with the dangers of the present.

Summertime, All the Cats are BoredPhilippe Georget
Summertime, All The Cats Are Bored (Europa 2013, France 2009) introduces Gilles Sebag, a talented police officer in Perpignan, in the Catalan area of France, who gave up career advancement to work part time while his children were young. Now teenagers, his children are drawing away, and Sebag fears that his wife Claire is having an affair. It’s summertime, the weather is hot, and the beach town is overrun with tourists. Sebag and his partner Molino stretch their lunch hours as long as possible, and make a habit of arriving late and leaving early. Then a young Dutch tourist and a taxi driver disappear on the same day. The missing persons investigations proceed slowly until the media makes a connection with another young Dutch tourist who was found murdered on a beach at Argelès earlier that summer. With a possible serial killer on their hands, the small police department is augmented by an ambitious young officer from Paris, who forms an instant rivalry with Sebag, renowned locally for his case-breaking insights. Breaking free from the ennui that permeates the sleepy town, Sebag engages fully with the investigation, challenged when the killer begins to send missives to the police station addressed to him personally. This debut mystery presents a unique protagonist, a coffee connoisseur and a family man who finds the Kleenex he buys with his own money far more more useful than the department issued gun locked away in his desk drawer.

Dead LionsMick Herron
Dead Lions (Soho 2013) features a motley collection of MI-5 agents banished for spectacular failures to Slough House in London, under the supervision of Jackson Lamb. When an old cold-war era spy is found dead on a bus far from home, Lamb is convinced that he was murdered. Lamb’s disgraced spies are more than willing to escape the dreary tasks that normally fill their days, and begin to investigate the victim’s past and present. They uncover a dubious trail leading to the illusive Alexander Popov, who was either an invention of the Soviets to distract their enemies, or a very dangerous and extremely intelligent villain. Meanwhile, two Slough House operatives are given the task of protecting Arkady Pashkin, a Russian billionaire in London for a mysterious meeting of high importance. Since just about everyone is hiding something from everybody else, the web of confusion grows denser, but Lamb tenaciously pulls at thread after thread to reveal the secrets, some hidden for many years. This well written and slyly humorous spy thriller is the sequel to Slow Horses.

The GhostmanRoger Hobbs
Ghostman (Knopf 2013) is the tale of a man currently known as Jack Delton, a professional criminal with a talent for changing his appearance and identity at the drop of a hat. A casino robbery that fell apart in Atlantic City, resulting in the death of one of the robbers and the disappearance of the other with $1.2 million in cash, causes Marcus, the mastermind behind the job, to call in a favor from Jack, who owes Marcus after botching a job in Kuala Lumpur five years earlier. The stolen cash is wired to explode in 48 hours, placing Jack on a short timeline to figure out what happened to the missing gunman and the cash. To make the job even trickier, the FBI is waiting for Jack at the airport in Atlantic City, and Marcus owes the money to The Wolf, a violent and vindictive drug lord with a history of macabre reprisals. Unsure exactly who is betraying whom, Jack tries to evade The Wolf’s henchmen while getting into the skin of the missing gunman in order to find the cash before it explodes. This high-octane debut thriller featuring a unique protagonist, a finalist for the 2013 New Blood and Steel Dagger Awards, was written during the summer between the author’s junior and senior years at Reed College in Oregon.

The Other ChildCharlotte Link
The Other Child (Pegasus 2013, Germany 2009) begins with the brutal murder of Amy Mills, a college student returning from a babysitting job in the seaside town of Scarborough, England. When Fiona Barnes is murdered in a similar fashion six months later, detective Valerie Almond searches for a connection between the two victims, but can find no links between the young girl and the aged grandmother. Tension in the family of Fiona Barnes causes Valerie to concentrate on the second murder. Fiona was killed returning from a dinner celebrating the engagement of Gwen, the daughter of her old friend Chad Becket, to Dave Tanner. Though barely employed, Dave is a handsome charmer who could have dated a more appealing girl than Gwen, whose social awkwardness causes her to appear even more unattractive than she is. Fiona accuses Dave of courting Gwen for the land she will inherit, causing him to abruptly leave the dinner during dessert. While investigating everyone at the dinner party, Valerie discovers that Fiona met Chad when she was evacuated at the age of 12 from London during the Blitz to the Becket farm in Scarborough. Interspersed letters from Fiona to Chad reveal their shared history during the war, along with the story a traumatized 5-year-old neighbor child who attached himself to Fiona during the evacuation. This haunting psychological thriller is Link’s American debut.

The Wicked GirlsAlex Marwood
The Wicked Girls (Penguin Books 2013, UK 2012) is the story of two 11-year old English girls who meet for the first time one hot summer day in 1986. Jade is underprivileged, Bel is affluent, but both are lonely and mistreated in different ways by their families. By the end of that day, a 4-year-old neighbor girl is dead and Bel and Jade are charged with murder. Separated by the correctional system, the two spend the rest of their youth behind bars, released as adults with new identities on the condition that they have no future contact with each other. In 2011, Kirsty Lindsay is a journalist with an out-of-work husband and two children. Amber Gordon is a janitor at Funnland, a rundown seaside amusement park in the town of Whitmouth, with a live-in boyfriend and two dogs. A series of murders of teenaged girls in Whitmouth brings Kirsty to town in search of material for an article. Amber discovers the third body while cleaning Innfinnity, Funnland’s eerie hall of mirrors. Despite not seeing each other for 20 years, Amber recognizes Kirsty and begs for a chance to talk about their shared past, eager to finally have someone she can be truthful with about her disreputable history. Interspersed with the current day murder investigation is an hour-by-hour replay of the fateful day when the two girls were forever linked in the media as “The Wicked Girls.” This spellbinding psychological thriller, a finalist for the 2013 Thriller Award for Best Paperback, is the first written by Serena Mackesy under the Alex Marwood pseudonym.

The ImpersonatorMary Miley
The Impersonator (Minotaur 2013) is the story of Leah Randall, a young vaudeville actress with an eerie resemblance to a missing heiress. Jessie Carr disappeared when she was 14, seven years before her uncle Oliver Beckett spots Leah in a vaudeville show. Oliver convinces Leah to impersonate Jessie long enough to claim the fortune Jessie will inherit on her 21st birthday, claiming to know enough about the missing orphan’s life to con the family into believing that Jessie ran away and joined a vaudeville troop. Leah has been acting under various names since she was a toddler, and providing the trustees with the last few years of her vaudeville schedule won’t link back to the mother who died when she was very young. All goes well except for a couple of nearly fatal accidents that cause Leah to fear that someone is trying to kill her. Leah becomes attached to Jessie’s grandmother and twin girl cousins, but doesn’t trust the two male cousins who would inherit if Jessie were declared dead. In fact, she wonders if one knows for sure she isn’t Jessie since he killed the real Jessie seven years earlier. This intriguing debut historical thriller, the first in the Roaring Twenties series, won the 2012 Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Competition.

A Dangerous FictionBarbara Rogan
A Dangerous Fiction (Viking 2013) is the story of Jo Donovan, who moved from rural Kentucky to New York City and found work at a literary agency before marrying renowned author Hugo Donovan. After ten years of idyllic marriage, the much-older Hugo died of a heart attack, leaving Jo at loose ends, so she returned to the literary agency as a partner and then owner. After the monthly meeting to plow through the slush pile, Jo is accosted on the rainy street by a man in a trench coat with a fedora hiding his face who insists that Jo must read his manuscript, declaring that she is fated to be his muse as she was Hugo’s. When her clients receive emails promising false film contracts and other nonexistent perks under Jo’s name, a former FBI agent and current client persuades Jo to go to the police. Assigned to her case is Tommy Cullen, the boyfriend she left for Hugo years earlier. When the attacks on Jo’s business escalate, the hunt for the stalker intensifies. Meanwhile, a biography being written about Hugo forces Jo to examine the marriage she always considered perfect, confronting her tendency to only see the parts of reality that fit the ideal story she creates of her life. This appealing mystery is the first in a projected series.

October Word Cloud

November 1, 2013

A Commonplace KillingSiân Busby
A Commonplace Killing (Atria 2013) begins with the discovery of a woman’s body at a bomb site in 1946 London. The police at first assume the murder is a commonplace killing of a loose woman, but the autopsy shows signs of consensual sex but not rape, and the woman appears too well-kempt to be a prostitute. The woman is identified as Lillian Frobisher, a wife and mother who lived in a nearby war-damaged terrace. Divisional Detective Inspector Jim Cooper investigates Lil’s life, wondering why her husband didn’t worry when she didn’t come home that night. Told from the interwoven perspectives of the investigator, the victim, and the perpetrator, this atmospheric novel is based on a real murder. The deprivations of post-war London permeate the story: rationing, barely habitable homes, jobless veterans scarred by their experiences, women readjusting to living a proper and restrictive life after the sexual freedom of the war years. The author died before finishing the book, but the sketchy ending fits the mood of the story.

The Girl in the GlassJeffrey Ford
The Girl in the Glass (William Morrow 2005) is set in 1932 Long Island, New York. Diego, a 17-year-old orphaned Mexican immigrant, has been taken in and raised by master magician and con artist Thomas Schell. When the Great Depression changed the positive American view of Mexican immigration as a source of cheap labor to a negative view of taking jobs from out-of-work Americans, Schell transformed Diego into Ondoo, a Hindu mystic, to avoid forceable deportation back to Mexico. Along with retired sideshow strongman Antony Cleopatra, Schell and Diego make a good living conducting phony séances for rich and grieving Long Islanders. Evocative descriptions of the clever séance tricks, often including butterflies from Schell’s Bugatorium, chronicle the surreal reality Diego has grown up in. Then Schell is startled by the reflection of a young girl in a window during a séance. Discovering that Charlotte Barnes, the daughter of a wealthy shipping magnate, has gone missing, Schell offers his services to Harold Barnes free of charge. Barnes has already hired psychic Morgan Shaw to locate his missing daughter, but agrees to let Schell join the search. When Charlotte’s murdered body is discovered, Schell brings in old friends from the sideshow — Hal the Dog Man, Marge the Fat Lady, Vonda the Rubber Lady, and the legless Spider Boy — to help trap the killer. This compelling debut literary mystery won the 2006 Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original.

ColdwaterDiana Gould
Coldwater (Gibraltar Road 2013) is the story of Brett Tanager, a successful writer/producer of a hit TV detective show about a crime reporter turned private eye. Brett has lived happily for five years in Los Angeles with Jonathan Weissman and his daughter Julia, now 12. While Jonathan is in New York selling the next season, Brett runs out of cocaine while trying to crank out an episode due the next day. Leaving Julia fast asleep, she makes a quick run to her dealer. Driving home along the narrow winding road through Coldwater Canyon in Beverly Hills, Brett hits a woman changing her tire beside the road, who later dies. Consumed by guilt for the accident she never reported, Brett falls into a morass of drugs and alcohol, losing her job and her self-made family. Four years later Julia, now 16, appears at her door, begging Brett to help locate her friend Caleigh, the daughter of a Hollywood mogul. Caleigh has been “partying” with powerful Hollywood men, earning a thousand dollars a night and introducing her high-school friends to the scene. Brett tries to convince Julia that she does not have the skills of the TV PI she wrote scripts for, but Julia insists that Caleigh’s parents won’t go to the police for help. Sparked by the unfamiliar feeling of being needed by someone she loves, Brett tries to give up drugs and alcohol long enough to reassure Julia that Caleigh is OK. Narrated by a dysfunctional protagonist trying to get her life back on track, this compelling debut thriller examines the seamy underside of Hollywood glitterati and the sinister attractions of a life of power and money.

The HangingLotte & Søren Hammer
The Hanging (Minotaur 2013, Denmark 2010) introduces Konrad Simonsen, a detective inspector in Copenhagen. When the bodies of five men are found hanging in a school gymnasium in the suburb of Bagsværd, Simonsen and his murder squad are assigned the investigation. Each body has been mutilated in some way, and arranged with exacting precision. It seems that the school janitor, a talented mathematician, may know more than he is saying, but he disappears before the police can extract any useful information. As the hanged men are identified, the community learns that each man was a pedophile, and public opinion shifts. Instead of demanding a quick capture of the killer, an organized effort to block the police investigation begins. Denmark’s lax laws about child pornography (pedophiliac associations and websites were permitted) and minimal legal consequences for the sexual abuse of children are at the core of this intelligent thriller. Simonsen and his team struggle to balance their personal revulsion for the victims and their conviction that vigilante executions are also a crime against society. This excellent debut thriller is the first to be translated into English of a series exploring social and political themes in modern Denmark.

Spider Woman’s DaughterAnne Hillerman
Spider Woman’s Daughter (Harper 2013) focuses on Navajo Nation Police Officer Bernadette Manuelito. Bernie witnesses the shooting of retired Inspector Jim Leaphorn, and promises him she will track down the shooter. Unfortunately, department regulations prohibit eyewitness involvement in an investigation, and Bernie is ordered to take some time off and stay away from the case. Bernie’s husband Sergeant Jim Chee is put in charge of finding the shooter, and accepts Bernie’s help figuring out if Leaphorn’s current job of evaluating a collection of Native American art for a Santa Fe museum has anything to do with the shooting. Louisa Bourebonette, Leaphorn’s live-in girlfriend, goes missing, and her evasive statements about her whereabouts cause some to believe she may be involved in the killing. The getaway car is identified as belonging to a Navajo woman whose son lends it to whoever will fill the tank, leaving the police with far too many prints to sort through. Chee begins sorting through Leaphorn’s old cases, hoping to find a motive, while Bernie concentrates on the museum collection, hoping that she can weave together the threads of the crime like Spider Woman’s daughter. This effective debut mystery by Tony Hillerman’s daughter is true to the original characters while bringing Bernadette Manualito to center stage, expanding her background, and showcasing her unique skills.

Escape ArtistEd Ifkovic
Escape Artist (Poisoned Pen Press 2011) finds Edna Ferber working as the girl reporter for the Appleton, Wisconsin newspaper. It’s 1905, and most of the town, including Edna’s own family, consider her job a scandalous occupation for a 19-year-old unmarried girl. Harry Houdini, who grew up in Appleton as Ehrich Weiss, visits the town to put on a show, and Edna turns a chance meeting into an interview. Houdini takes a fancy to the imaginative and determined Edna, offering her advice and encouraging her to follow her dream of independence. When Frana Lempke, a beautiful German high school girl who is locked into her room at night by her overly protective father, disappears, everyone assumes she has run away to the big city. When her murdered body is discovered, the fact that she somehow escaped from a locked room at the high school becomes more than just a puzzling occurrence, and Edna enlists Houdini’s help in solving the puzzle. Edna’s struggle to get the city editor of the newspaper to assign her to stories, and squabbles with her sister, who doesn’t understand why Edna wants to work outside the house, highlight the dilemma of women who desired more than a husband and family at the turn of the 19th century. Especially poignant is Edna’s relationship with her father, nearly blind and afflicted with debilitating pain, who encourages Edna to escape small town life despite the fact that her company is his only solace. Second in the series, this prequel is set fifty years before Lone Star, the series opener.

Murder She RodeHolly Menino
Murder, She Rode (Minotaur 2013) is the story of Tink Elledge, a nationally-ranked equestrian sidelined by injuries. Now 50, Tink is on her fourth husband and nearing the end of her previous divorce settlement. Tink has a horse running in an upcoming Three-Day Event (dressage, steeplechase, show jumping) and is struggling to accept that her stepson’s girlfriend Alejandra Delgado will be riding what might be the last championship horse she may be able to afford to breed and train. A few days before the event, Tink comes across a burning horse van belonging to Win Guthrie, the owner of a rival stable. The driver is killed, the horse is too badly injured to survive, and Patty McLaren, a friend of Alejandra’s, vanishes the following day. Patty’s disappearance causes Tink to wonder if the accident was planned, but she can’t figure out who would want to kill Win’s horse or his employees. During the Brandywine Three-Day Event Tink keeps her eyes open, searching for something to distract her from the pain of not riding herself, and begins to suspect that drugs may be involved. This fascinating debut mystery featuring a unique protagonist who reveals the behind-the-scenes life of elite horse competitions is the first in a projected series exploring current trends in science and technology.

Crooked NumbersTim O’Mara
Crooked Numbers (Minotaur 2013) finds former former NYPD detective, Raymond Donne, working as a middle-school dean in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. One of Ray’s former special education students, Douglas Lee, has been attending a private school in Manhattan. When Douglas is found stabbed on the tennis courts under the Williamsburg Bridge, the police discover gang beads around his neck and baggies of marijuana in his socks, and assume it’s a drug deal gone wrong. But Dougie’s mother is convinced her son was not in a gang, refuses to believe he was dealing drugs, and calls upon Ray to help motivate the police to see beyond one more black victim of the drug scene and bring his killer to justice. Ray convinces a newspaper reporter friend to write a human-interest piece about Dougie’s death, and begins looking into what could have enticed him out so late at night. Through connections with former students, Ray meets up with the leader of the Royal Family gang, who wear black and gold odd-numbered Saints jerseys, and confirms that Dougie was not affiliated with the gang. A rival girl gang wearing even-numbered Saints jerseys from the other side of the bridge warns Ray to stay off their turf, and Ray’s uncle, the Chief of Detectives, reminds Ray he promised to remember he’s not a cop any more, but Ray can’t let Dougie’s death go. Ray’s police experience and the trust he has built in the community through his work as a middle school special education teacher and dean give him the perfect skill set to navigate the intricate circumstances surrounding Dougie’s death.

Bear Is BrokenLachlan Smith
Bear Is Broken (Mysterious Press 2013) introduces Leo Maxwell, who has just passed the bar exam in 1999 San Francisco. Leo has grown up in the shadow of his charismatic older brother Teddy, a successful criminal defense attorney who has raised Leo since the day their father was arrested for killing their mother when Leo was 10 and Teddy just starting law school. Leo and Teddy are eating lunch in a restaurant before the closing argument of Teddy’s current trial, when Teddy is shot in the head by an unknown gunman. Leo isn’t able to identify the killer, who stood behind him, and the police focus their attention upon Ricky Santorez, an ex-con who killed two policemen. Teddy managed to win an acquittal for Santorez, though he was sent back to prison for violating his parole by possessing an assault rifle. Convinced Santorez did not arrange the shooting, Leo begins his own investigation into Teddy’s life, soon realizing that he barely knew his own brother. Delving into Teddy’s files, Leo discovers that Teddy was working on a petition for their father’s release. Leo had always assumed his father was guilty of killing his mother, but evidence in the file suggests otherwise, leading Leo to suspect that the attempted murder of Teddy might be connected to the murder 16 years earlier. This powerful debut legal thriller is the first of a series.

The Last StripteaseMichael Wiley
The Last Striptease (Minotaur 2007) introduces Joe Kozmarski, a private investigator in Chicago, who is asked to find evidence that his childhood friend Bob Piedras is not guilty of murdering his girlfriend Le Thi Hahn, known as Hannah, a young Vietnamese-American with a taste for drugs and exotic sex. Joe hasn’t seen Bob for years, but his real objection to taking the case is that retired judge Peter Rifkin, Bob’s boss, is paying his fee, and Joe hasn’t forgiven the judge for implicating Joe’s father in a scandal that destroyed his police career and reputation. Joe reluctantly takes the case for Bob’s sake, and quickly finds himself at odds with Hannah’s brothers Chinh and Lanh, who are searching for Bob in order to exact revenge for their sister’s death. While dodging the Le brothers, Joe discovers that Hannah and Bob might have been involved in the production of porn videos. Joe’s personal life is complicated by his tentative efforts to get back together with his ex-wife Corrinne, his attraction to police detective Lucinda Juarez, and his responsibility for Jason, the lonely 11-year old nephew his family has decided should live with Joe for awhile. The plot is absorbing and action-packed, but the true star of this debut novel is Joe himself, a tough yet vulnerable protagonist with a quick wit and determination to do the right thing despite setbacks and failures. Winner of the PWA/SMP Best First Private Eye Novel Contest, this engaging series opener was also a finalist for the 2008 Shamus Award for Best First Novel.

December 1, 2013

The Square of RevengePieter Aspe
The Square of Revenge (Pegasus 2013, Dutch 1995) introduces Pieter Van In, a police inspector in Bruges, Belgium, where the jewelry store owned by the wealthy and powerful Ludovic Degroof is broken into one night. All of the valuable pieces of jewelry have been dissolved in jars of aqua regia, an acid used to melt out pure gold. Inside the empty safe is a mysterious group of words arranged into a square. As a joke, the sergeant who discovered the break-in at midnight tells the clueless officer on phone duty to inform the deputy public prosecutor on call. Hannelore Martens, the newest public prosecutor, doesn’t realize it’s a practical joke, and shows up at the crime scene. Van In is dumbstruck in the presence of a beautiful woman, and can’t manage to dislodge her. Degroof insists to Van In’s boss that the crime be kept under wraps, but Hannelore pressures Van In into making a public call for witnesses early the next morning. A couple window shopping late that night give a description of two men — an older man who looked ill, and an extremely tall young man who seemed to have trouble with his eyes. Van In is sure that Degroof recognizes the descriptions, but it’s not until members of his family are threatened that Degroof is willing to accept help from the police. Hannelore’s enthusiasm for the excitement of police investigation and her ability to drive like a demon is well-balanced by Van In’s more straightforward style, punctuated by flashes of insight. This delightful debut mystery full of interesting characters is the first of the popular Belgian series published in English.

Hour of the RatLisa Brackmann
Hour of the Rat (Soho 2013) finds Ellie Cooper, an American Iraq War veteran living in Beijing, fairly content with her job representing the work of dissident Chinese artist Zhang Jianli. She’s even sort of dealing with her born-again mother’s visit, though her apparent inclination to stay indefinitely is making Ellie a bit stressed. Luckily mom arrived with a fresh supply of the Percocet Ellie needs to deal with the pain of her war injured leg, and is keeping Ellie well fed, even tracking down the ingredients to make tacos. Two cops from the Domestic Security Department appear and invite Ellie “for tea,” demanding her help tracking down Zhang, who went underground about a year earlier. Ellie and business manager Harrison decide it’s best not to sell any of Zhang’s art for the near future, to the dismay of billionaire Sidney Cao who is insisting on a private viewing. When Ellie’s old army buddy Dog Turner asks for her help tracking down his brother Jason who went missing in Yangshuo, Ellie decides a trip away from Beijing and the DSD might be a good idea. With her mother and her mother’s new Chinese boyfriend in tow, Ellie sets off for the scenic mountains of Yangshuo, discovering that Jason is an activist on the run from Chinese and American businesses trying to circumvent the regulations on the testing of genetically altered seeds. The incredible natural beauty of China is juxtaposed against perilous pollution in this powerful sequel to Rock Paper Tiger.

The Ides of AprilLindsey Davis
The Ides of April (Minotaur 2013) features Flavia Albia, the adopted daughter of Marcus Didius Falco and Helena Justina, a young widow following in her father’s footsteps by working as a private investigator during the reign of Emperor Domitian in ancient Rome. Flavia is hired by the unpleasant Salvidia, owner of building company whose cart killed a three-year-old boy playing outside his home. Though she would rather be defending the bereft family of the dead child, Flavia pursues her case with determination until her client dies unexpectedly. Concerned that she won’t be paid for the hours she has already worked, Flavia asks for details about the death, learning that the middle-aged Salvidia was in perfect health until the afternoon she came home from the market, lay down to rest, and stopped breathing. Flavia discovers that other Romans have also dropped dead just as suddenly, and suspects that someone is causing the inexplicable deaths. Concerned that news of a killer roaming the streets may cause a panic, Flavia is warned by those in power to stop asking questions. But the quick-witted and sharp-tongued Flavia is a true chip off the adoptive block and is unable to contain her curiosity. This first in a new series is a winner.

GameAnders de la Motte
Game (Emily Bestler Books 2013, Sweden 2010) introduces Henrik “HP” Petterson, a Stockholm slacker who finds a strange cell phone on a commuter train. Turning on the phone, HP finds a message, “Wanna play a game?” Clicking the NO icon, HP tries to get the device to restart as a usable phone, but is presented with the message again, this time with his name added to the question. Assuming an elaborate prank by a friend, HP agrees to play the game, and is given a series of tasks to perform. The first are harmless pranks, like stealing a red umbrella, which are rewarded with small prizes, but the assignments become increasingly criminal as the rewards grow, translating into real money. Players are recorded attempting to complete assignments, and the videos are uploaded onto a server, where viewers rate the success of each Player. HP is the perfect Player — alienated from society and desperate to prove himself worthy of admiration, he begins performing for the cameras and eagerly checking his rating after each task is completed. It’s not until one of the assignments threatens his estranged sister, a bodyguard with the Swedish Security Police, that HP realizes his actions have consequences outside of the Game. He tries to figure out who is controlling the Players, breaking the Game’s First Rule: Never talk to anyone outside the Game community about the Game. This intense debut thriller is the first of a trilogy.

Bitter RiverJulia Keller
Bitter River (Minotaur 2013) finds Bell Elkins, prosecuting attorney for Raythune County, West Virginia, on the road back to Acker’s Gap from visiting her teenaged daughter Carla who has moved to Washington DC to live with her father. When her phone rings at 4:00 AM, she knows it can’t be good news. Sheriff Nick Fogelsong has just pulled a body from a submerged car in Bitter River, 16-year-old Lucinda Trimble. The autopsy reveals that Lucinda was three months pregnant, and dead before her car hit the water. Missing her own daughter, Bell is haunted by the teenager’s death. A popular scholar and athlete, Lucinda was on track to become valedictorian of her class, recruited by both Duke and Stanford for full scholarships. An old friend of Bell and her ex-husband appears in Acker’s Gap, looking for a quiet place to rest up after the stress of working with the CIA in Iraq and Afghanistan, giving Bell a much-needed distraction from the investigation. Then a sniper shot through the window of the country courthouse that nearly kills Bell’s assistant and an exploding building later that week drives everything else from Bell’s mind. This suspenseful sequel to A Killing in the Hills brings the beauty and heart-breaking poverty of rural West Virginia to vivid life.

Cries of the LostChris Knopf
Cries of the Lost (Permanent Press 2013) finds Arthur Cathcart, a former market researcher who nearly died in the shooting that killed his wife Florencia, on the run with Natsumi Fitzgerald. After faking his own death and tracking down Florencia’s killers, Arthur is consumed with the need to know why Florencia constructed the elaborate fraud and embezzlement scheme that resulted in millions of dollars socked away in off-shore accounts. Though Arthur has managed to siphon off most of the funds to his own secret numbered accounts, there is a safe deposit box in a bank on Grand Cayman Island that requires an in-person appearance by the account holder. Feeling fairly confident that they can take the contents of the box without detection, Natsumi and Arthur use fake IDs and disguises to remove a flash drive taped to a postcard promoting a hotel on Sant-Jean-Cap-Ferrat in the South of France. When someone tries to run their car off the road as they leave the bank, they assume new identities and set off for France. The page of code from the flashdrive doesn’t help much since the code-solving part of Arthur’s brain was destroyed by the bullet that nearly killed him, but it appears the deadly pursuit has something to do with Florencia’s Basque heritage. Arthur has retained his uncanny ability to figure stuff out, and with Natsumi’s help sets off on a trek around the world to discover what motived the wife he adored but didn’t know much about. This high-intensity and engaging thriller is the sequel to Dead Anyway.

White GingerThatcher Robinson
White Ginger (Seventh Street Books 2013), a debut thriller, introduces Bai Jiang, a souxun (people finder) in San Francisco’s Chinatown. The granddaughter of one of the most notorious triad overlords, Bai was raised within the triad, and Jason, the father of her daughter, serves as her grandfather’s valued assassin. But there is no place for Bai in the male-dominated triad world, so she struggles to find a balance between the elusive Buddhist non-violent philosophy she would like to emulate and the exceptional knife skills often required by her search for the lost. Hired to find a missing 15-year-old girl, Bai learns the girl has been sold by her brother in an attempt to join a triad. The trail leads Bai to the sex-trafficking trade in Vancouver, where she encounters people who think killing Bai is the simplest way to get her to stop searching for the missing girl. Chinese aphorisms — “When testing the depths of a stream, don’t use both feet.” — introduce each chapter and reappear at an apt moment in the narration. Bei’s relationship with Jason is complicated. She is still attracted to him while remaining angry that he chose life within the triad over their relationship. Jason also had to forgo his friendship with Bai’s partner and best friend Lee, who is gay and thus ostracized by the triad. Though at times more an action figure than a real person, Bai has the potential to develop into a character complex enough to carry a series.

A Killing at Cotton HillTerry Shames
A Killing at Cotton Hill (Seventh Street Books 2013) introduces Samuel Craddock, the former chief of police who raises cows in the small central Texas town of Jarrett Creek. Late one night Samuel receives a call from his old friend Dora Lee Parjeter, who is nervous because she thinks someone is spying on her. Knowing Dora Lee’s grandson Greg is there, Samuel promises to talk to her about it in the morning. When Dora Lee is found stabbed to death the next morning, Samuel heads out to her farm in Cotton Hill, concerned that Rodell Skinner, the current chief of police, won’t be thorough since he spends far more time drinking than investigating. By the time Samuel arrives, Rodell has already decided that Greg must have killed his grandmother, planning to use her money to go to art school. Samuel is impressed by Greg’s powerful abstract paintings, and doesn’t believe the young man is a killer. Convinced that it is up to him to clear Greg’s name, Samuel begins to go through Dora Lee’s papers, quickly discovering that the farm is mortgaged to the hilt and Dora Lee was nearly penniless. Samuel notifies Dora Lee’s relatives of her death, and tracks down her estranged daughter, who all ask if there was a will and show few signs of grief. A missing painting and a low-ball offer for the farm add to the muddle. Samuel is an appealing protagonist: a talented investigator with too much time on his hands, and a knowledgeable modern art investor who treasures his herd of cows. This entertaining debut mystery is the first of a series.

The Execution of Noa P. SingletonElizabeth L. Silver
The Execution of Noa P. Singleton (Crown 2013) is the story of a convicted murderer waiting on death row. Noa never spoke a word during her trial, and has spent the last ten years in a maximum-security penitentiary while a string of anti-death-penalty lawyers exhausted her appeals. Six months before her execution date, Noa is visited by Marlene Dixon, a powerful Philadelphia attorney and the mother of Sarah Dixon, the young woman and former college classmate Noa was convicted of killing. Marlene, who demanded the death penalty for Sarah’s murder, now tells Noa she has reversed her position and is willing to try and convince the governor to commute Noa’s sentence to life imprisonment, in exchange for Noa’s account of the events that lead to Sarah’s death. Marlene has formed a non-profit called MAD, Mothers Against Death, but Noa suspects Marlene may be constructing one final form of revenge. Marlene’s young associate begins chipping away at Noa’s refusal to talk about Sarah, causing Noa to relive the past she has refused to think about for years, as she reveals heavily edited snippets of recollection. Marlene’s letters to her dead daughter are interspersed with Noa’s memories of the past and the month-by-month narration of the time she has left before her execution. This debut psychological thriller is stunning.

The Child ThiefDan Smith
The Child Thief (Pegasus 2013, UK 2012) begins in the winter of 1930 when Luka Mikhailovich Sidorov, a WWI war veteran and reluctant farmer, is out hunting with his twin 17-year old sons outside their small village in Western Ukraine. An exhausted man appears pulling a sled across the frozen steppe. Though strangers aren’t welcomed in Vyriv, Luka takes the nearly-dead man home and convinces his wife to warm him next to the fire. On the sled he discovers the bodies of two children, one with flesh stripped from her thigh in a way that suggests cannibalism. The next day Dariya, Luka’s eight-year old niece, vanishes, and Luka fears that she has been taken by the same child thief who killed the two children on the sled. Using the skills he developed while fighting in three different armies during the war, Luka sets out through the snow with his sons to track Dariya and the man who took her. A sharpshooter in the army, Luka is armed with a scoped rifle, and his sons are accomplished hunters, but their quarry uses Dariya as bait to lure them into the open, revealing shooting skills that exceed Luka’s. The child thief is horrifying, but the dangers of traveling in the frigid and treacherous landscape and the menacing threat of the advancing Soviet army stumbling across the remote village are even more terrifying. This gripping thriller is the author’s US debut.


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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