Kelley Armstrong City of the Lost (Minotaur Books 2016) is the story of homicide detective Casey Duncan. When she was in police college in Montreal, Casey’s boyfriend Blaine Saratori deserted her in a back alley, saving himself while she was beaten half to death and raped. After six weeks in the hospital, Casey confronts Blaine, who refuses to apologize for running away, instead accusing her of inciting violence by fighting back. When he lunges for her, Casey’s gun goes off. Casey’s friend Diana helps her dispose of her bloody clothing and the two relocate to another city, far from the Saratori crime family and Graham, Diana’s sadistic ex-husband. Years later, Casey is contented with her job as a successful detective, though she periodically seeks out therapists and confesses to the murder, compelled to retell the story but never achieving release from guilt. Diana is still making unwise boyfriend choices and jumping from job to job. Then Graham suddenly appears at Diana’s office insisting he has changed, follows Diana home, and beats her. Terrified, Diana tells Casey they need to disappear, revealing news of hidden town off the grid that rescues those in need. Then a stranger ambushes Casey, seriously wounding her friend Kurt and leaving greetings from Leo Saratori, and locating Diana’s mythical town becomes imperative. Casey calls the phone number Diana is given, and after faxing identification and proof that their lives are in danger, they are separately transported to Rockton, a self-sustaining community of just over 200 people in rural southern Ontario. Eric Dalton, Rockton’s sheriff, tells Casey they have been searching for someone with police training to help with the higher than usual rate of assault. Located deep in the forest, with no technology or connection to the outside world, Rockton was conceived as a place of refuge and new beginnings for the innocent, but Sheriff Dalton suspects that the Council has accepted some with darker secrets to hide and plenty of money to buy their way in. On her first day in Rockton, the body of a man who has been missing for a week is discovered. At first Casey thinks that animals have savaged the corpse, but a closer examination reveals that the man has been butchered. Casey isn’t sure whom she can trust other than Diana, who has responded to the freedom to make a new start by going seriously off the rails. In contrast, Casey finds herself surprisingly at peace in the rustic Wild West town, and begins sorting through the town records, searching for older deaths that might be linked to the new one. This gripping thriller is the first in a series featuring the talented and haunted Casey Duncan.
Cate Holahan The Widower’s Wife (Crooked Lane Books 2016) begins in November, when insurance investigator Ryan Monahan visits Tom Bacon, whose wife Ana fell from a cruse ship in the Bahamas 80 days earlier. Ana’s body wasn’t recovered, but ship security cameras clearly show her fall to the sea far below. The double indemnity payout on the insurance policy purchased shortly before the couple’s vacation is ten million, as long as Ana’s death was an accident and not suicide. Three-year-old Sophia is clearly missing her mother, while Tom is busy packing away Ana’s things. The Bacon’s enormous house is impressive, but Tom has been out of work for over a year after mismanaging an investment, causing Ryan to wonder what might have driven Ana to jump over the ship railing too high to fall over by accident. Tom insists the newly pregnant Ana would never have committed suicide, but Ryan senses Tom is lying about something. Invalided out of the NYPD after a gunshot wound, Ryan’s instincts are to investigate the claim as at least a scam and possibly a murder. Flashbacks from Ana’s perspective, beginning with Tom’s suggestion in August that they buy life insurance, fill in the backstory of a young couple living far beyond their means. When Tom lost his job as managing director at the bank, Ana went to work as an administrative assistant, but her salary barely keeps them afloat, especially with the cost of daycare. Tom has no interest in caring for Sophia, and instead spends the days drinking and moping. Ana is also supporting her parents in Brazil, deported years ago and leaving Ana behind to grow up as an American. Alternate chapters follow Ryan’s investigation as he gradually picks away at Tom’s alibi and the web of deception screening the couple’s financial crisis. This twisty thriller is riveting.
Stan Jones Tundra Kill (Bowhead Press 2016) finds Inupiak Alaska State Trooper Nathan Active trying to figure out his new job as chief of public safety for the Chukchi Regional Borough, in charge of a huge area of tundra north of the Arctic Circle surrounding the village of his birth. Helen Mercer, the sexy charismatic governor of Alaska, is visiting to root for her half-Inupiak husband Brad as he competes in the Isignaq 400 dog team race. Mercer, who grew up in the area, plans to film herself watching the race from a tiny Bush plane to launch her next political campaign. Mercer offers to cut the ribbon at the opening of the Women’s Center Nathan’s girlfriend Grace Palmer founded and suggests that he might be the best choice for the next Director of State Troopers. Nathan has no interest in moving back to Anchorage, where he was raised from an infant by a white couple after his teenaged mother gave him up for adoption, but reluctantly agrees to serve as bodyguard during Mercer’s visit. Nathan, who is slowly reconnecting with his birth mother and Inupiat traditions, realizes the governor can easily remove the funding for both the public safety division and the new Women’s Center and figures he can endure a short assignment on the campaign trail with Mercer. During the next few days Mercer tries unsuccessfully to seduce him, and reopens the old murder case against Grace Palmer, who was arrested for killing her abusive father until her dying mother confessed to the crime. Nathan can’t figure out what Mercer’s goal is, but suspects it has something to do with a dead man who was killed in a hit-and-run snowmobile homicide. When an inspector from Social Services arrives to check that Grace is a suitable guardian for her adopted daughter Nita, Nathan realizes he needs to use all his training and connections to fight against the governor’s power and ambition. Authentic details of life in the Arctic Bush provide a fascinating background to this excellent fifth in the series.
M.R.C. Kasasian Death Descends on Saturn Villa (Pegasus Books 2016, UK 2015) begins when Sidney Grice, the self-identified “foremost personal detective in London,” is called away to investigate the suspicious death of the despised Abbot of Claister Abbey in Yorkshire in the winter of 1883. Grice’s god-daughter March Middleton is refused entry by the monks, and revels in the freedom to indulge her forbidden vices: smoking, drinking gin, and consuming the flesh of animals. A letter from Ptolemy Travers Smyth arrives, claiming to be a cousin of her dead father and inviting March for dinner and an overnight stay at Saturn Villa. Hoping to hear more about her mother, who died giving birth, and the mysterious connection with her god-father, March accepts and visits the tiny elderly man who insists she call him Uncle Tolly. He shows March a hand-drawn family tree tracing their family connection, and declares his intention of making her the sole heir to his fortune. March objects on the ground they have just met, but Uncle Tolly insists he will leave his fortune to the most undesirable cause he can imagine, the Society of the Reintroduction of Slavery, if she refuses. After Uncle Tolly’s maid and valet witness the will, they dine on a series of dishes including home-made cactus pickles and have far too much to drink. March awakens in the middle of the night, unsure how she arrived in bed, and goes in search of water, discovering the murdered corpse of Uncle Tolly. Found by the servants with a bloody axe in her hand, March is soon charged with murder and imprisoned, her memory of the night so hazy and convoluted that she is unsure of her own innocence. Sidney Grice’s style of detection and his maid Molly’s systematic mangling of the English language provide hilarious counterpoints to the gruesome murders March is framed for in this rousing third in the series.
Owen Laukkanen The Watcher in the Wall (G.P. Putnam’s Sons 2016) begins when high school student Adrian Miller is humiliated by the high school jocks yet again. With the help of his Internet friend Ambriel, he hangs himself in the closet of his room. Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agent Kirk Stevens’s daughter Andrea is shocked by the suicide and furious with herself and her classmates for allowing the bullying to go unchecked. She convinces a classmate to talk to her father about Adrian. Consumed with guilt, he reveals that Adrian told him about an Internet suicide pact, and a webcam video of Adrian’s death is found on his computer. FBI Special Agent Carla Windermere, who also stood by while the popular girls unmercifully bullied a high school classmate, convinces their boss that the Internet coach will cause more teen suicides if they don’t track her down. Unfortunately FBI policy is that no federal laws are being broken, and the suicide chat room owners maintain that free-speech laws protect their clients. Carla insists that the laws were written before the Internet, and receives permission to investigate. Interspersed chapters fill in the story of Randall Gruber, who was 15 when his mother moves in with Earl Sanderson and his teen-aged daughter Sarah. Earl beats on Randall when he’s been drinking, and Randall’s only solace is watching Sarah smile to herself through the hole in the wall connecting their bedrooms. At first he dreams that they will become best friends, but Sarah ignores him at school, and his hopes turn to resentment that Earl treats her kindly. Sarah’s secret boyfriend gives Randall the means to equalize their situations, and he discovers that making Sarah feel helpless gives him a proportionate sense of power and worth. This intense thriller, fifth in the Stevens and Windermere series, empathetically explores the plight of alienated teens and exposes their vulnerability to Internet predators.
Catriona McPherson Quiet Neighbors (Midnight Ink 2016) is the story of Jude, who flees London for parts unknown. The memory of a quaint little bookshop, the one bright spot in a miserable vacation in Glasgow, brings her to Lowland Glen Books in the small town of Wigton. The shabby bookseller who sold her a much-desired volume by O. Douglas, remembers her delight and has even save back a second volume in case she ever returned. This unexpected kindness reduces Jude to tears, and she is soon living in Lowell Glen’s attic room and putting her cataloguing skills to good use organizing the rabbit warren of the bookshop. Jude has a free hand in the reorganization except for the locked case where Lowell keeps his photographs. Then Eddy appears, a 19-year-old pregnant Irish girl claiming to be Lowell’s daughter. Eddy soon ousts Jude from her attic nest, but Lowell offers her the gravedigger’s cottage, formerly occupied by Todd Jolly. Jude discovers that the notes Jolly recorded on the endpapers of his books, many donated over the years to Lowland Glen Books, include biting capsule reviews as well references to suspicious Wigton deaths many years earlier. Marion Hewston, a retired nurse who worked for Lowell’s father’s medical office, remembers a different version of Edie’s mother’s visits to Lowell, and Jude notices that Eddy is awfully limber for a woman in her eighth month of pregnancy. This engaging stand-alone mystery is totally satisfying.
Megan Miranda All the Missing Girls (Simon & Schuster 2016) begins when Nicolette Farrell receives a call from her brother Daniel asking her to return home to the small town of Cooley Ridge, North Carolina. Their father, who is now in a nursing home, is not doing well and Daniel needs help convincing him to sign the papers agreeing to sell the house to pay for his care. Later that day Nic receives a letter from her father written in a shaky hand: “I need to talk to you. I saw that girl.” That girl can only be Corinne Prescot, her best friend from high school who disappeared ten years earlier after a wild night at the county fair. Nic left home soon after, making a new life for herself in Philadelphia. Leaving her high-powered lawyer fiancé Everett behind, Nic makes the long drive home, prepared to stay in the house her father moved out of a year earlier, getting it ready to put on the market. Another girl goes missing soon after, reawakening suspicion of all the suspects in Corinne’s disappearance: Nic herself, her brother Daniel, her old boyfriend Tyler, and Corinne’s old boyfriend Jackson. Nic’s father’s ramblings about "that girl" prompt the nursing home to call the police, who want to take him in for questioning. From Nic’s arrival in Cooley Ridge, the novel takes place in reverse, beginning with Day 15 and working backwards one day at a time, revealing secrets long buried under layer upon layer of deceit. This intense novel of psychological suspense is the adult debut of this YA author.
Martin Seay The Mirror Thief (Melville House 2016) consists of three interlinked stories set in three different Venices in three eras. In 2003, Curtis Stone, an ex-Marine MP wounded in Bosnia, is sent to the Venice casino in Las Vegas to locate Stanley Glass, a legendary gambler Curtis has known since he was a boy, by Damon Blackburn, a comrade from the Marines who offers a security position at the SPECTACULAR! in Atlantic City as payment. Stanley’s girlfriend Veronica, who claims to have no idea where Stanley is, gives Curtis The Mirror Thief, a small book of Beat poetry that rarely left Stanley’s pocket. In 1958 Venice Beach, California, a 16-year-old drifter and con-artist, who has recently acquired the name Stanley from the side of a Rollorama coach, is searching for Adrian Welles, the author of the book that has obsessed him since he found it in Manhattan. Stanley is surprised when Welles tells him that the places in the poems are real and that the characters are based on historical fact. Caught between the duel threats of plague and the Inquisition in 1592 Venice, Italy, Vettor Crivano, who was held prisoner for many years by the Ottoman Turks, is enmeshed in a conspiracy to steal the closely-held secret of the manufacture of flat glass mirrors from the craftsmen of Murano. Fearing he will expose the plot, Crivano kills Verzelin, a mirror-maker crazed from exposure to mercury who believes he can move in and out of his mirrors. Stanley seeks the secret of alchemy and magic from the enigmatic Welles and his cryptic book, while Curtis hopes the book will reveal Stanley’s true essence so that he can locate him before the dangerous men who stalk him through Las Vegas do. The three characters move through the unique dangers of each Venice, searching for the truth and their own place in a world fraught with brutality and intrigue. This impressive genre-defying debut novel is a seductive mix of modern thriller, historical mystery, and supernatural suspense.
Anton Svensson The Father (Quercus 2016. Sweden 2014) is the story of three brothers — Leo, Felix, and Vincent — the sons of Ivan Dûvnjac, an emigré from the former Yugoslavia, who raised them to stick together at all costs, the Duvnjac clan against the world. Their Swedish mother Britt-Marie tried unsuccessfully to mitigate her husband’s violent tendencies, and he beat her close to death. Now grown, Leo’s construction company serves as cover for the theft of 274 automatic weapons from a military storage shed, patrolled from the outside but only checked inside every six months. With the weapons, the help of retired soldier Jasper, Leo’s friend since childhood, and Leo’s girlfriend Annika, who sews their quick-change outfits, the brothers (aged 17 through 24) begin a series of intricately planned robberies. They do just enough construction work to validate their cover, while meticulously practicing their minute-to-minute plan for the next job. After each robbery their clothing is burnt and the guns disassembled, covered in concrete, and buried. Detective John Broncks, who specializes in violent crime, is called to the scene of the first robbery of a security van making pickups at exchange offices. Struck by the terror in the eyes of the driver, Broncks recognizes the effect of a systematic use of excessive force, the same fear he felt under the reign of his own abusive father. The next target is a bank, and Broncks spots a strange moment of intimacy and trust between the leader and the smallest of the team, something that looks like an older brother encouraging his younger sibling. Though the foursome changes their look each time, they can’t change their way of moving, and Broncks is sure that the robberies will continue to grow more violent and audacious. Duvnjac, who hasn’t seen his sons since he was jailed for nearly killing their mother, follows the news reports of the gang known as the Military League, and becomes convinced that his sons have formed a new clan without him. This intense thriller exploring themes of domestic violence and the need to belong is the first by Anton Svensson, a joint pseudonym of Stefan Thunberg, a screenwriter whose father and brothers were Sweden’s most notorious bank robbers, and Anders Roslund, an investigative journalist who writes the Ewert Grens series with Börge Hellström.
E.S. Thomson Beloved Poison (Pegasus Books 2016) is set in St. Saviour’s Infirmary in Victorian London. The crumbling Infirmary is slated for demolition, and Will Quartermain, junior architect, is sent to evacuate the graveyard and relocate the bones. Jem Flockhart, a young apothecary whose failing father secretly raised her as his son in order to continue the family line of apothecaries, hides behind the port wine stain covering her face like a mask, observing in silence. Dr. Bain, Jem’s favorite of the feuding doctors, tries to introduce new ideas, like performing amputations in clean white garments instead of unwashed operating coats stiff with decades of blood, but the other doctors are firmly snared in traditions of the past. While Jem is showing Will around the Infirmary, he notices a small panel next to the altar in the unused chapel. Hidden within the hidden cavity they discover six small rectangular objects that look like tiny coffins. Inside each coffin, enclosed in blood-stained bandages, is a crudely carved doll wrapped tightly with yarn like a tiny swaddled baby. Sprinkled on the dolls are dried flowers of rue, wormwood, hops, and black rose, signifying injustice, regret, bitter sorrow, and death in the language of flowers. The coffins are constructed of material that looks exactly like the covers of notebooks used both in the apothecary shop and throughout the Infirmary, and lined with scraps of paper that appear to be torn from old case notes, one with the name of Jen’s mother, who died in childbirth 24 years earlier. When one of the doctors dies suddenly, Jem, who tends the Infirmary physic garden and is an expert in the medicinal use of herbs, is sure he has been poisoned. Together, Jen and Will begin a search for the truth. This excellent debut historical mystery is seeped in the macabre atmosphere of the dank Infirmary and the perilous back alleys of the poorest parts of London, inhabited by starving children and desperate men.
Bill Cameron Property of the State (The Poisoned Pencil 2016) introduces Joey Getchie, who was placed into the foster care system at the age of six. Now 16, Joey is living with foster parents Wayne and Anita Bobbitt and attending high school at Katz Learning Annex, a magnet school in Portland, Oregon. When he is called to the office Joey assumes that it’s because he witnessed Duncan punching Philip Huntzel in the nose, but instead his school computer is confiscated after the discovery of porn sites in the browser history. Joey knows it’s no use explaining that Wayne uses his computer every evening to “review” Joey’s homework while Anita is too zoned out on Oxycodone to know what’s going on. Joey is far ahead of his classmates due to enforced summer school, so The Plan is to graduate high school a year early and file for emancipation. Mrs. Petty, Joey’s social worker, drives him to the Babbitts, and does a spot check of his room, searching for the inevitable hidey-hole Joey builds to hide food and tools. She finds a thumb drive hidden in a wall cache, and Wayne is furious at the damage to his house. As soon as Mrs. Petty leaves, Wayne throws Joey violently against the wall, injuring his head. Sure that no one will believe his side of the story, Joey flees to the Huntzel home, where he has been working cleaning and doing odd jobs since defending Philip, the reining Katz chess champion, from his closest competitor Duncan the proceeding spring. No one is home and he falls asleep in the basement, and then sneaks into the deserted room of Philip’s older sister Kristina, who has left home and is never discussed. When he returns to the Babbitts the next day to retrieve the tools cached in the hidey-hole Mrs. Petty didn’t find, he discovers that Wayne has changed the locks. Joey’s one friend at Katz is Tricia, a fellow foster-child who seems to have won the foster child lottery and drawn parents who actually care about her, but he can’t break free of the secretiveness honed by ten years in foster care to share his predicament with her. When Kristina returns to her room late one night Joey is startled into sharing a rare moment of truth, and she responds with a house key and permission to share her space. Joey is content to hunker down and keep hiding until he learns that he is being offered up as the prime suspect in the hit-and-run accident that put Duncan in the hospital, despite the fact that he can’t drive and doesn’t have a car. To escape jail, Joey is compelled to figure out who was driving the car, where the duffle bag stuffed full of used bills in the basement came from, why Philip has a secret folder full of tabloid clippings about used-to-be-teen star Bianca Santavenere, and what Tricia’s poem really means. This Young Adult series opener narrated by the engaging and profane Joey is Book 1 in the Legend of Joey.
Shawn Corridan & Gary Waid Goliath (Oceanview Publishing 2016) begins when the Bennkah, the largest oil tanker ever built, takes her maiden voyage from Vladivostock, Russia, through the Bering Sea. The Bennkah’s decks are as long as five football fields and nearly as wide as the Rose Bowl. Her diesel turbines and generators create enough energy to power a small city. Among the crew of 57 men, only Captain Nicholas Borodin is aware that the Bennkah (Goliath in English) is on a secret mission. The Bennkah is near the Aleutians when an alert indicates a temperature problem with the main generator in the engine room. As an engineer attempts to correct the problem, flames break out and the ship catches fire. The entire crew dies in the fire or in the frigid water as the huge ship founders. Two hundred miles away in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, Sonny Wade, captain of the aged salvage tugboat Skeleton, picks up the Mayday call. Sonny has just received news that his biggest competitor, Dal Sharpe, the owner of the largest salvage business in northern Alaska, is prepared to foreclose on the Skeleton if Sonny can’t come up with a big payment. The Mayday call is Sonny’s last chance, and he sets out with his ragtag crew to race Sharpe to the Bennkah to claim salvage rights on the five million barrels of crude oil before it leaks away into the ocean, contaminating the entire Pacific Rim. Sonny needs all his accumulated knowledge of secret shortcuts through treacherous rocks and currents if they are to beat the cutting-edge Sharpe-Shooter to the prize. Success isn’t guaranteed to the winner, since the still-burning ship is about to crash onto the rocks, a huge storm is looming, and Lloyd’s of London will only give the winner five days to float the tanker before declaring a free-for-all. This debut adventure thriller brings the high-risk world of open sea salvage operations to vivid life.
Alison Gaylin What Remains of Me (William Morrow 2016) is the story of Kelly Michelle Lund, who shot and killed Oscar-nominated director John McFadden at a party in his Hollywood mansion on a hot night in 1980 when she was just 17. During her trial and conviction, Kelly’s dead-eyed expression was dubbed the “Mona Lisa Death Smile” and became a media sensation. Kelly confessed to the murder, but refused to say anything else to her estranged mother or her lawyer. While serving her 30-year sentence, Kelly married Shane Marshall, the younger brother of her best friend Bellamy, who launched an art career with a life-sized version of the Mona Lisa picture of Kelly and a recording of her one phone call to Kelly during her prison sentence, Kelly’s plaintive voice looping over and over: “I miss you. Why won’t you visit.” Shane’s mother testifies at Kelly’s parole hearings, and she is finally released, unsure what remains of the girl who walked through the prison doors three decades earlier. Five years after her release, Kelly and Shane are living in Joshua Tree Highlands when his father, renowned movie star Sterling Marshall, is found dead in his Hollywood Hills home, killed with a shot through the forehead just like his friend John McFadden 35 years earlier. Interspersed flashbacks reveal Kelly’s backstory, a lonely teen still mourning the suicide of her twin sister Catherine, when she was swept into the privileged circle of wild-child Bellamy Marshall and child-movie-star Vee McFadden. This intense psychological thriller is a finalist for the 2017 Edgar Award for Best Mystery.
Alexia Gordon Murder in G Major (Henery Press 2016) introduces Gethsemane Brown, an African-American classical musician from Virginia who ends up in Dunmullach, an Irish seaside village, after a promised assistant conductor position with the Cork Philharmonic falls through. Billy McCarthy offers her a house-sitting position at Carraigfaire Cottage, which has been sitting empty for 25 years since his uncle Eamon McCarthy, a famous composer admired by Gethsemane, killed his wife Orla and then poisoned himself. Billy hopes to turn Carraigfaire Cottage into a museum, now that a recent biography has sparked new interest in the composer. Gethsemane smells a woodsy cologne (leather, cedar, pepper, hay) in the cottage before leaving for an interview as conductor for the honors orchestra at St. Brennan’s School for Boys. The headmaster hopes that Gethsemane can get the orchestra to peak performance level in six weeks, in time for the Annual All-County School Orchestra Competition that St. Brennan’s hasn’t won for 75 years. Gethsemane is willing to do just about anything to avoid returning home in disgrace, and accepts the position. Back at the cottage Gethsemane smells the woodsy cologne again, and is startled by the appearance of the ghost of Eamon McCarthy. He insists that since Gethsemane is the first person able to see him in 25 years, she is also the one who can clear him of Orla’s murder and discover who killed them both. Gethsemane tries to refuse, but is won over by the irascible ghost, and begins checking alibis for the night of Orla’s murder when she isn’t struggling to transform a group of rambunctious schoolboys into a competition-ready orchestra. This engaging paranormal cozy is a finalist for the Agatha and Lefty Awards for Best Debut Mystery.
Antonia Hodgson The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2016, UK 2015) finds Tom Hawkins, a disgraced gentleman convicted of murder, traveling on the cart from Newgate Prison to his hanging. Though he still hopes a royal pardon will arrive at the last moment, Tom looks back at the events that began in January 1728 as he stumbled home at dawn after a night of gambling. A scream "Thief!" from Master Carpenter Joseph Burden’s house sent Tom to their door, wondering why a thief would have chosen a modest home famous for locked and bolted doors by early evening. Burden’s apprentice asks Tom to guard the door but no thief is discovered, only a frightened maid, a dazed daughter, a son just home from school, and an angry Burden. Tom lives in the connected house with Kitty Sparks, who inherited the house and print shop below from her guardian Samuel Fleet, Tom’s former roommate at Marshalsea Gaol, the debtor’s prison. Fearing that Tom will gamble away her fortune, Kitty refuses to marry him, and the two live relatively happily in sin. The next morning Burdon appears with the magistrate insisting that Sam Fleet, the 14-year-old nephew of Samuel who lives with Tom and Kitty, was seen in his house by the maid Alice. Burdon’s son Stephen refuses to identify Sam, insisting there was no thief. Enraged, Burdon begins spreading rumors that Tom killed a man while imprisoned in Marshalsea, and offers payment to anyone willing to swear to his guilt. James Fleet, Sam’s father and captain of a powerful gang of thieves in St. Giles, sends for Tom. James Fleet is in need of a gentleman to meet with a gentlewoman at court, and promises Tom part of the fee if he acts as go-between. Tom is bored, and in need of money, and soon finds himself at Buckingham House meeting with Henrietta Howard, the king’s mistress, and Queen Caroline of Ansbach, the power behind the throne. Henrietta’s brutish husband Charles Howard, brother to the Earl of Suffolk, is blackmailing King George II, demanding payment for his silence about the affair. Queen Caroline decides that Tom is the perfect negotiator to bargain Howard down to an amount the king is willing to pay, and promises to countermand the arrest warrant if he succeeds. Tom realizes his search for adventure has landed him in a dangerous alliance with a crafty Queen in need of a spy and a nefarious crime lord seeking to expand his reach into the nobility. This excellent second in the series featuring quick-witted rogue Tom Hawkins is based on historical events.
Lisa Jewell The Girls in the Garden (Atria 2016) begins when Clare and her two daughters move into an urban London cottage on a three-acre communal garden called Virginia Park. Clare’s husband Chris, a documentary filmmaker, burned down their home during a severe paranoid schizophrenic episode, convinced he was saving his family from an attack of alien rats. Terrified that their daughters could have easily died in the fire, Clare refuses to let Chris’s doctors tell him where the family has moved. Younger daughter Pip (11), misses her father terribly and writes chatty letters about their new home, without revealing the address. Older daughter Grace (12) still suffers from nightmares, and Clare decides not to tell her daughters when their father is released from the mental hospital. Clare’s mother warns her not to let her children run free in the garden, citing the death of a 15-year-old girl years earlier in a communal garden. But the other children living around the garden have known each other all their lives, living in the same houses their parents lived in as children, and run wild in the safety of the communal space. The two new girls are accepted a bit reluctantly by the gang of children, and Grace is soon spending all her free time with the other young teenagers. Neighbors Adele and Leo Howe are totally comfortable with the other children making themselves at home in the house Leo grew up in. Adele home-schools their three daughters and Leo serves as a father-figure for several single-parent children. Grace bonds with Leo, but Pip is not comfortable with his hugs and pats, feeling there is something off about him. Pip is even less comfortable with Leo’s father who comes to stay, especially after warnings by an elderly neighbor to keep her distance from the elderly man. Grace turns 13 on the day of the annual Virginia Park Summer Party and Pip discovers her unconscious half-dressed body in the rose garden after she doesn’t return home when expected. The narration moves to the past after Pip finds Grace, filling in dark secrets hidden for years in the bucolic garden. This creepy novel of psychological suspense explores themes of safety, teen cliques, and the longing for a “normal” family.
Michael Koryta Rise the Dark (Little, Brown and Company 2016) begins with a power outage in Red Lodge, Montana. Jay Baldwin retired from high voltage line repair after his wife’s brother was killed, but he still works for the Beartooth Power Alliance, and heads out to repair whatever brought down the grid. He calls his wife Sabrina to explain it will be a long night since someone has felled trees across the power lines. Sabrina is abducted by Garland Webb, who takes her to Eli Pate, to use as a hostage while forcing Jay to engineer a massive power outage of most of the country. Private investigator Markus Novak is on a fishing trip in Key West when he hears the news that Garland Webb, the man he believes killed his wife Lauren, is released from serving a prison sentence for sexual assault after a series of legal errors are revealed. The last words in Lauren’s notebook before her murder in Cassadaga, Florida, were “Rise the Dark,” but no one could figure out what they meant. Markus heads to Cassadaga to talk to Dixie Witte, the psychic Lauren was in Cassadaga to interview. Instead he encounters a strange boy who claims to talk to ghosts, a woman pretending to be the psychic who tries to kill him, and the words Rise the Dark written over and over on the walls of a bedroom upstairs. Markus gets the name Janell Cole from the registration of the truck that roars away, and discovers that private investigator Lynn Deschaineis also hunting for Janell. Lynn won’t reveal why her client is searching for Janell, an electrical engineer formerly employed by a Georgia power company, and agrees to join forces to track her down. Lynn shows Markus pictures of Janell with Eli Pate, a crazed cult leader, and Markus recognizes the man Janell was traveling with, a demolition specialist. The two head out for Lovell, Wyoming, Eli Pate’s last known address, and the town Markus swore never to return to after leaving his train wreck of a family 20 years earlier. Eli Pate coerces Jay into helping him solve the problem of how to crash the towers supporting the power transmission lines, in his quest to Rise the Dark, to create the inverse of what Nicola Tesla imagined — a world without electricity. This high intensity thriller is the second featuring the anguished Markus Novak, now forced to confront his family issues while still mourning his murdered wife.
Shane Kuhn The Asset (Simon & Schuster 2016) features Kennedy, who planned to be an architect until his younger sister Belle died in a hijacked 9/11 plane crash. Kennedy considered joining the military, and then the CIA, but ended up at the newly formed Transportation Security Administration, which he felt placed him on the front lines of the war on terror. He completed an elite training course in Israel, giving him an expertise in aviation security far beyond the training provided by TSA. Now in his early 30s, Kennedy is a private airport security contractor working with TSA, the Department of Homeland Security, and airports around the world. Though his training courses for TSA have an impact, Kennedy no longer believes that he can transform the overworked and underpaid workforce into a team capable of keeping passengers safe. When he is kidnapped and recruited by a CIA ghost team charged with preventing a suspected terrorist attack orchestrated by a mysterious global terrorist known as Lentz, Kennedy jumps at the chance to use his accumulated knowledge about US airports to join the fight. Dubbed “the Asset,” Kennedy is put in charge of a team composed of counterterrorism analysts and special ops soldiers. His sister’s best friend, an indie musician now calling herself Love, joins the team by accident, using her music connections and stage skills to charm her way past obstacles. Before long Kennedy suspects that someone on the team is betraying their plans to Lentz, but can’t decide who he can truly trust, and the casual violence accepted by the rest of the team is perhaps more than he can stomach. This fast-paced thriller explores the fear of terrorism and motives of those who fight against it.
Adrian McKinty Rain Dogs (Seventh Street Books 2016) finds Detective Inspector Sean Duffy of the Carrickfergus CID helping with crowd control in front of the Belfast City Hall for Mohammad Ali’s visit before being called to investigate a theft from the hotel room of one of the VIP delegates with the Finnish trade mission to Northern Ireland. He meets Lily Bigelow, the Financial Times reporter covering the delegation, convinces her there isn’t a story, and invites her to meet for a drink later. The following day Sean is called to Carrickfergus Castle, where the caretaker found the body of a woman who seems to have jumped to her death from the roof of the castle keep. Sean notices that one of the woman’s shoes has fallen off, and the other is on the wrong foot, leading him to suspect foul play. Discovering that the woman is Lily Bigelow, who demonstrated no signs of depression during their banter the pervious evening sharpens his suspicions. But the castle is closed with a heavy medieval door at 6:00 pm each night, and the 60-foot high walls are illuminated with spotlights throughout the night, presenting Sean with the second locked-room crime scene of his career, a coincidence too strange to be believed. Sure that Lily was on a story more important that covering a trade delegation, Sean begins to dig into her recent past, discovering that she was investigating Jimmy Savile, OEB, Board of Governors of the Kincaid Young Offenders Institute in Belfast. Somehow Sean manages to retain his sense of humor throughout an intense investigation in the midst of the Troubles of 1987 along with the departure of his young girlfriend Beth, who sees no future in a relationship with a man 15 years older, in this excellent fifth in the series, a finalist for the 2016 Steel Dagger Award, the 2016 Ned Kelly Award for Best Crime Novel, and the 2017 Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original.
Charles Todd The Shattered Tree (William Morrow 2016) finds WWI battlefield nurse Bess Crawford working at an aid station in 1918 war-torn France when a wounded Frenchman is found under a shattered tree, weak from loss of blood with his feet in shreds from trying to flee bare-footed. Shortly after settling the man in a bed, he is attacked by a delirious officer from one of the Highlands regiments. It’s only after the Scot is subdued that Bess realizes the Frenchman had been shouting in fluent German. Matron suggests that perhaps he is from Alsace-Lorraine, bilingual in both French and German. A few weeks later Bess is shot by a sniper while trying to bring a wounded man back from the trenches. The wound in her side isn’t deep, but doesn’t heal well, and she is sent to the base hospital in Rouen to be examined by one of the new X-ray machines. The Frenchman, Philippe Moreau, has also been sent to Rouen, but by the time Bess arrives, he has been released. Bess finagles a copy of a photograph taken by a fellow nurse, before she is sent to Paris to recuperate in a private mansion converted to a clinic for recuperating officers. With the help of Captain Barkley, an American who went overseas with the Canadians long before the United States joined the war, Bess searches for Philippe Moreau, discovering a decades old murder of an entire family when Philippe was only ten. Fearing that Moreau may be a spy for the Germans but unwilling to accuse a possibly innocent man, Bess delves into the old crime, jeopardizing her own recovery as she pushes herself beyond her current physical capability. This absorbing eighth in the excellent historical series is a finalist for the 2017 Mary Higgins Clark Award.
Jane A. Adams The Murder Book (Severn House 2016) introduces Chief Inspector Henry Johnstone of Scotland Yard, and his sergeant, Mickey Hitchens, who are called to Lincolnshire in the summer of 1928 to investigate three bodies buried in the front yard of a rental cottage: Mary Fields, her 7-year-old daughter Ruby, and a young man. George Fields had worked as a canal man until the floods of 1924 closed the canals and isolated the town of Louth. During the last four years George worked on the fishing boats, but the work is sporadic and Mary frequently resorted to prostitution to make ends meet while her husband was away. The body of the young man is identified as Walter Fields, George’s young cousin, and the police suspect he and Mary were photographing and blackmailing her wealthy clients. Johnstone, a specialist murder detective, uses new forensic science methods, but the only evidence found in Mary’s cottage is a button torn from a shirt. The local constabulary isn’t too helpful, especially when Johnstone begins interviewing Mary’s “respectable” clients, and progress is slow. Ethan Samuels has returned home from a fishing job with George Fields to work with his father Dar, the valued stockman of wealthy landowner Ted Hansen. Ethan has inherited his father’s skill with horses, and Dar hopes he will eventually take over his position. At the wake of kinswoman Mother Jo Cook, Ethan dances with Helen Lee, who has been promised to Frank Church since they were both children. The immediate attraction between them makes Ethan forget the night he has just spent with Mary Fields. Robert Hansen is disgusted that his father donates a pig to the wake, and contemptuous of the Gypsies who work their land. The tension between Ethan and Frank is nearly pacified by their mutual dislike of Robert, but simmers under the surface as the courtship between Helen and Ethan continues. Johnstone’s recordings in his Murder Book document the failing investigation until a new murder yields an unexpected connection to the triple murder. This well-crafted series launch is filled with interesting characters struggling to balance their connection to the past with the challenges of the present.
Flynn Berry Under the Harrow (Penguin Books 2016) begins when Nora takes the train from London for a regular monthly visit to her sister Rachel in the countryside. She is surprised that Rachel isn’t waiting for her at the station, but isn’t too concerned until she arrives at the house and finds Rachel’s dog dead. Bloody handprints lead to Rachel’s murdered body. Consumed by grief and unable to leave Marlow, Nora takes a room at The Hunters. Fifteen years ago, when she was 17, Rachel was assaulted and badly beaten. The police never found the assailant, and the two sisters spent years poring over news of other assaults, hoping that Rachel might recognize the man who attacked her. Nora is sure the police won’t be able to catch Rachel’s murderer either, and begins researching again, searching for men of the right age who have been arrested for assault and were not incarcerated on the dates of Rachel’s assault and murder. Posing as a reporter, she interviews her suspects. Hidden truths about Rachel emerge during her search, leading Nora to believe that Rachel suspected she was being stalked and was preparing to vanish. This intense psychological thriller is a finalist for the 2017 Barry Award for Best Paperback Original and the Edgar Award for Best First Novel.
Alafair Burke The Ex (Harper 2016) begins when Olivia Randall, a New York City criminal defense lawyer, gets a call from Buckley Harris, whose father Jack has just been arrested and charged with a triple homicide. Olivia, who still feels guilty about dumping Jack 20 years earlier, takes the case. Jack’s explanation of why he was at the scene of the murder is so bizarre that the police are dubious. While on an early morning run, Jack had a brief conversation with a women wearing an evening gown sitting on the grass with a picnic basket , drinking from a bottle of champagne and reading his favorite novel. Since his wife Molly was killed three years earlier in a Penn Station shooting, Jack has resisted dating, but this woman caught his interest and his friend Charlotte posted a notice on her popular website asking the woman to get in touch. The woman responds to Charlotte’s post, mentions the t-shirt Jack was wearing, and asks him to bring a picnic basket and meet her at the scene of Chapter 12 in their shared favorite book. Jack shows up, doesn’t find the woman, and leaves the picnic basket with a note shortly before someone shoots and kills three people, including multimillionaire Malcolm Neeley, the father of the troubled teen who killed Molly and 12 other people. Neeley ignored his alienated and angry son’s psychological problems, instead buying his 15-year-old guns and taking him to the shooting range for father-son bonding time. Olivia searches for the mystery woman, but her email address is a dead end and no one else saw her. At first sure Jack is innocent, Olivia’s faith is shaken when gunpowder residue is found on the shirt he was wearing, and she begins to wonder if her memories of the young man she loved 20 years earlier are representative of the real person. This intense thriller is a finalist for the 2017 Edgar Award for Best Mystery.
Oscar de Muriel The Strings of Murder (Pegasus Books 2016) introduces Ian Frey, an elegant Scotland Yard Inspector, who fears his career is over when his mentor, Commissioner Sir Charles Warren, is removed from office in 1888 by Prime Minister Lord Salisbury during the reign of Jack the Ripper. The gruesome murder of Guilleum Fontaine, a virtuoso violinist in Scotland, causes apprehension that a Ripper imitator may have appeared. Lord Salisbury sends Frey, disgraced and reduced in rank, undercover to Edinburgh to assist the eccentric Inspector Adolphus “Nine-Nails” McGray, head of a new division investigating apparitions. Clad head to toe in tartan, McGray has little patience with his new underling, calling him “lassie” and speaking in a nearly incomprehensible brogue. Fontaine was killed in a locked room while playing a haunting melody on his Amati Maledetto violin. McGray identifies an eerie five-eyed Satanic symbol next to the body, while Frey tries to figure out how the murderer left the locked room with the missing internal organs. Frey and McGray trade insults while developing a grudging respect for each other’s skills, pursuing the shadowy killer who seems to be targeting only talented violinists. This debut gothic thriller is the first in the series featuring the engaging mis-matched pair of investigators.
Steve Hamilton The Second Life of Nick Mason (G.P. Putnam’s Sons 2016) begins when Nick Mason is released after serving only five years of a 25-to-life prison sentence due to the machinations of fellow maximum security inmate Darius Cole, a Chicago crime boss running his empire from behind bars. Mason is picked up at the prison gates by Quintero, who hands him a phone and the keys to a Lincoln Park townhouse. Quintero reminds Mason that his deal with Cole doesn’t give him freedom, merely mobility, and he is to carry the phone at all times, prepared to do Cole’s bidding. The town house is luxurious, a vintage car waits in the garage, and Mason will receive $10,000 a month for committing whatever crimes Quintero relays from Cole. Mason would give just about anything to go straight and rebuild his relationship with his nine-year-old daughter and ex-wife, but threats to his family force him to complete increasingly more dangerous and violent assignments for Cole. Meanwhile, Detective Frank Sandoval is keeping a close eye on Mason, trying to figure out who convinced his former partner to claim he planted false evidence during the investigation that resulted in Mason’s conviction. This high-intensity series launch is a finalist for the Hammett Prize and the Barry Award for Best Novel.
Jane Harper The Dry (Flatiron Books 2017) is the story of Federal Agent Aaron Falk , returning to his small drought-stricken hometown of Kiewarra, Australia, for the first time in two decades. Falk and his father fled Kiewarra when Aaron was 16, after the suspicious death by drowning of his girlfriend Ellie, found in the river with her pockets full of stones. A note with the word Falk and the date of her disappearance was found in her room, casting suspicion on both Aaron and his father. Aaron’s best friend Luke Hadler lied and gave Aaron, who was fishing alone on the river, an alibi, but the town closed ranks against the Falks. Luke refused to tell Aaron what he was doing that fateful afternoon, steadfastly sticking to the lie that the two had spent the afternoon together shooting rabbits. Twenty years later Luke’s wife Karen and their six-year old son Billy are found shot to death in their farmhouse, baby Charlotte left crying alone in her crib. Luke is found dead, presumably a suicide after killing his wife and son in a fit of desperation over losing his farm. Luke’s father summons Aaron back to Kiewarra, revealing that he know all along that Luke’s alibi years ago was a lie, haunted by the possibility that keeping quiet about the deception may have protected Luke as much as Aaron. Sergeant Greg Raco is bothered that though Luke’s shotgun was used for the killings, the ammunition is not Luke’s. Interspersed flashbacks to the weeks before Ellie’s death reveal the dark secrets the teenagers hid from each other decades earlier. This atmospheric debut mystery is chilling.
Noah Hawley Before the Fall (Grand Central Publishing 2016) begins when a private jet carrying three crew members and nine passengers set off from Martha’s Vineyard for New York. David Bateman chartered the OSPREY to take his family home after a month on the island: wife Maggie, daughter Rachel (9), and son JJ (4). Ever since Rachel was kidnapped as an infant, the Batemans avoided commercial transportation and travel with a bodyguard, Gil Baruch. At the farmer’s market that morning, Maggie invited Ben and Sarah Kipling, wealthy friends of David’s, and Scott Burroughs, an impoverished painter, to join them on the plane. Eighteen minutes after take-off, the plane falls from the sky into the ocean. Scott Burroughs, who learned to swim after watching Jack LaLanne swim handcuffed from Alcatraz to San Francisco, finds JJ clinging to a seat cushion, and tows him for eight hours through the cold Atlantic water to Montauk State Beach on the mainland. Scott hit his head right before the crash and his memory is fuzzy, JJ goes mute, and no other survivors are found, so the investigators mount a search for the remains of the plane while investigating all the passengers. If the crash wasn’t caused by a mechanical problem, the obvious targets are either media mogul David Bateman, or Ben Kipling, a money manager under investigation for doing business with countries that fund terrorism. Chapters filling in the backstory "before the fall" of each of the 11 on the plane are interspersed with the investigation of the crash. As the sole survivor, Scott comes under suspicion. Lauded as a hero for saving JJ, Scott finds the escalating media frenzy as unnerving as the federal scrutiny, and finds solace in JJ’s trust. This intense thriller is a finalist for the 2017 Edgar Award for Best Mystery.
Andrew Michael Hurley The Loney (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2016, UK 2014) begins when a landslide caused by a winter storm tumbles an old house to the foot of the cliffs at Coldbarrow, a desolate spit of land on a part of the Lancashire coastline known as the Loney. The remains of a baby are found in the ruins of the house. Forty years earlier our narrator, his mentally disabled older brother Hanny, his parents, another couple, and their parish priest visited the area every Easter for a week of penitence and prayer and a vist to Saint Anne’s shrine, hoping for a miracle cure for Hanny’s muteness. While the adults fasted and prayed, the two boys played wild games on the beach, content in a world of their own imaginations. Father Wilfred died when our narrator was 12 and Hanny 16, and the Easter visit was put aside for several years until the new parish priest agrees to make the journey. Hanny has been away at a special school, but hasn’t made much progress, still able to communicate only with his brother through a series of hand signals and the objects he carries in his pockets. The local people, formerly indifferent to outsiders, are now overtly hostile towards strangers, and the caretakers of the house they stay in caution the visitors to stay indoors as much as possible to not to attract notice. Though now older, the two boys head out for the beach to play their customary war games in the pillbox built to repel the a potential Third Reich invasion up the Irish Sea. Hidden from view, they watch an elegant couple in a fancy car transporting a heavily pregnant teenaged girl across the spit to Coldbarrow, transformed by the tides into an island half of the time. The man picks up and pockets a watch Hanny lost earlier, causing him great distress. The following day the boys cross to Coldbarrow, and Hanny is enraptured with the girl, who smiles at him, gives him a kiss, and places his hand on her belly to feel the baby kicking. But the adults are not welcoming, warning the boys never to visit again. This eerie debut gothic thriller is mesmerizing.
Joe Ide IQ (Mulholland Books 2016) introduces Isaiah Quintabe, a young black man living in a dangerous neighborhood on the east side of Long Beach, California. Raised by his older brother Marcus, Isaiah does well in school and is on track for college when Marcus is killed in a hit-and-run accident. Isaiah can’t stand the thought of foster care, pretends his grandmother has moved in and takes over one of his brother’s jobs after school and on weekends, but can’t make ends meet. His grief over his brother’s death makes school seem irrelevant, and Isaiah drops out, spending his free time trying to track down the driver of the car that killed Marcus. A chance meeting with Juanell Dodson, whose aunt has kicked him out after catching him dealing drugs, solves the immediate money problem. Dodson rents Isaiah’s couch, and soon talks him into using his brains to plan robberies. Eight years later Isaiah still lives in the same apartment, helping his neighbors locate lost relatives and other problems, along with a chicken that was payment from one of his clients. He is running low on money when Dodson reappears, offering him a job working for Calvin Wright, the rapper Black the Knife. One night when Cal’s two security guards were out, someone sent a huge pitbull-cross dog through the fence to kill him. Watching the security tape, Isaiah is sure the dog was trained to react to whistles by the skinny guy wearing a ski mask and Crocs. Isaiah finds evidence that the man had been watching Cal’s house for weeks, waiting for his chance. The Crocs eliminate the man as a neighborhood killer, and Isaiah infiltrates the dog training world, searching for whoever raised and trained the monster dog to kill. This gripping debut mystery starring the engaging Isaiah, called IQ for his ability to solve crimes using his intellect and Sherlock Homes-like observations, is a finalist for the 2017 Barry and Edgar Awards for Best First Novel.
Lili Wright Dancing with the Tiger (Marian Wood Books/Putnam 2016) begins when Christoper Maddox, an American college dropout and meth addict working as a looter for the drug lord Reyes, finds the death mask of Montezuma in a cave near Mexico City. Reyes gives the looter only a paltry sum for the incredible turquoise mosaic mask, and he decides to steal it back. In America, Anna Ramsey has just learned that her father’s life work, the collection of Mexican masks he was in the process of donating to the Metropolitan Museum, has been discredited. Anna quit her job as an editor to help her father write Dancing with the Tiger, the first definitive guide to Mexican masks, which the museum has just denounced as inaccurate. Anna, who has been making ends meet as a fact-checker since finishing the book, knows her own career has just crumbled along with her father’s reputation. Her father shows her a picture of the Montezuma mask, sent by his Mexican broker Lorenzi Gonzáles, and declares his intention of flying to Oaxaca to buy the mask, hoping that adding the rare pre-Columbian funerary mask to his collection will persuade the Metropolitan Museum to reconsider their decision to decline his donation. Determined to save her father the pain of returning to the city where her mother died, Anna sets off to Mexico herself, and is soon drawn into a dangerous competition between the twitchy looter, the fearsome drug lord, a love-sick gardener, and a secretive collector to possess the mask. This intense debut thriller starring a deeply flawed protagonist is a finalist for the 2017 Edgar Award for Best First Novel.
Rennie Airth River of Darkness (Viking 1999) introduces Inspector John Madden of Scotland Yard in post World War I England. Madden’s young wife and baby daughter died of influenza in the 1919 epidemic, causing him to leave the police force and return to the life of a farmer. Two years in the trenches nearly destroyed his will to live until his old friend Chief Inspector Sinclair convinced him to return to his old job with the Metropolitan Police, grim-faced and scarred inside and out. Young Constable Billy Styles isn’t sure if he is more honored or terrified to be sent with Madden to the scene of a gruesome murder in the small village of Highsmith. The bodies of Colonel Fletcher, the maid Sally Pepper, and the nanny Alice Crookes are found stabbed on the ground floor, while Mrs. Fletcher is sprawled across her bed upstairs with her throat cut. Five-year-old Sophy Fletcher was found hiding under her bed, shocked into muteness. A clock, some jewelry, and some silver are missing, but Madden is sure this isn’t the scene of a robbery gone wrong. The nature of the stabbing wounds are typical of those caused by a British Army sword bayonet, and Madden suspects the killer is a veteran like himself. Dr. Helen Blackwell, whose husband and brothers all perished in the war, refuses to allow the police to take Sophy to the hospital, insisting the child will recover from the shock only if she feels safe surrounded by those she knows and trusts. Madden is surprised to find himself persuaded by her argument, and unexpectedly interested in another person for the first time in years. Dr. Blackwell introduces Madden to the latest developments in forensic psychology, and he fears the killer may repeat his ritualistic crime if not caught. This atmospheric series opener, set in a bucolic English countryside ill-equipped to cope with the horrors of war, was a finalist for the 2000 Anthony, Barry, Dagger, Dilys, Edgar, and Macavity Awards.
James P. Carse PhDeath: The Puzzler Murders (Opus Books 2016) begins when Dean of Arts and Sciences Oliver Ridley falls to his death from his office on the top floor of a university in upstate New York. At first presumed an accident or suicide, everything changes when a puzzle with ten clues is sent by email to everyone at the university. Professors Carmody and O’Malley solve the puzzle to reveal the message “The first to go is the most recent of ten.” University President Lister immediately appoints Carmody to head a committee of ten professors to run an investigation parallel with the police, hopefully identifying the killer before he strikes again. Monthly puzzles throughout the academic year reveal each victim, but never in time to prevent the murder. Every puzzle challenges the committee with a new theme, including literary, scientific, mathematical, and linguistic clues, while revealing dark secrets about the victims. Neither the police nor the university committee make much progress identifying the killer, causing President Lister to fear that the foundation grants that fund the university will not be renewed. The university recently cut the Night School program for students who couldn’t afford to attend school full time, and renamed itself International University, catering to wealthy foreign students who begin returning home. This fiction debut by a NYU emeritus professor combines intricate puzzles with a blistering critique of the American college system and its ties to big business.
M.J. Carter The Infidel Stain (G.P. Putnam’s Sons 2016, UK 2015) rejoins William Avery and Jeremiah Blake, home from their adventures in India, and struggling to adapt to life in 1841 Victorian England. Blake has made connections with the Indian and other ethnic communities in London, but is finding the climate physically difficult. Avery sold his commission after his wife miscarried their first child in India, and has settled in Devon, where country living feels impossibly boring after the excitement of India and the Afghan campaign. When summoned by Blake to London, Avery leaps at the chance to reconnect with the man he found so fascinating. Viscount Allington, a wealthy philanthropist who was impressed by their association with Xavier Mountstuart in India, hires Blake and Avery to investigate the brutal murders of two printers, left butchered and spread-eagled across their printing presses. Due to lack of evidence the police investigations into both murders have stalled. The Chartist working-class movement for political reform is demanding the vote and other rights for the working-class, organizing petition drives and mass meetings to pressure the House of Commons. Allington suspects that Sir Richard Mayne, the police commissioner, is too preoccupied with the Chartist threat to allocate man-power to crime in the poorest parts of the city, but believes that solving the murders will demonstrate to the working class that the establishment does protect their interests without any need for Chartist reforms. Moving through the poverty-stricken neighborhoods of London during the investigation forces Avery to confront the true plight of the starving impoverished citizens that Blake has already experienced. This excellent second in the series brings Dickensian London, including a fleeting glimpse of the famous author himself, to vivid life.
Ragnar Jónasson Snowblind (Minotaur 2017, Iceland 2010) introduces Ari Thór Arason, a rookie policeman who leaves his girlfriend behind in Reykjavik to take his first job in Siglufjördur, a quiet fishing village in on the north coast of Iceland. When Ari Thór arrives in November he finds the gloom oppressive, and realizes that the cloistered town is slow to accept newcomers. His boss Tómas tells him that his job as a community policeman will be light duty in the town of 1200, where no one locks their doors and nothing ever happens. By January, Ari Thór has still not adapted to the frigid town with only minutes of daylight, but has started a friendship with Ugla, a piano teacher who is also a relative newcomer. Ugla is involved with the Amateur Dramatic Society, led by Hrólfur Kristjánsson, an elderly author famous for his brilliant first novel. When the Dramatic Society returns from a dinner break during rehearsal of their latest play, Hrólfur’s body is found at the foot of the stairs. He had been drinking during rehearsal, and the death seems to be an accident. But Ari Thór has his doubts, especially when he learns of the violent argument between Hrólfur and Úlfer Steinsson, the director of the play who felt Hrólfur was needlessly interfering and challenging his authority. When another member of the Dramatic Society is found stabbed and falls into a coma, Tómas reluctantly admits that Hrólfur’s death might not have been an accident. Snow has closed the road through the tunnel to Siglufjördur, effectively trapping all the suspects in the dark and claustrophobic town whose residents no longer feel safe. This second in the series, a finalist for the 2016 Barry Award for Best Paperback, is the first translated into English.
James Lasdun The Fall Guy (W.W. Norton & Company) begins when Charlie, a wealthy banker, and his unemployed cousin Matthew head to Charlie’s summer house in the Catskills. Matthew’s secret dream is to move permanently into the guest cottage, acting as caretaker. The two cousins had been close as children, but grew apart when Matthew’s father lost everything when Lloyd’s collapsed in the 1980s. After a 10-year gap, they reconnected, but their disparate economic circumstances prevent the former closeness. Matthew accepted the invitation to spend the summer at Aurelia with delight, subletting his apartment to accumulate some much-needed funds. Charlie’s surprise that he has rented out his apartment gives Matthew pause, wondering if he somehow misunderstood the invitation. Matthew acts as the couple’s unofficial private chef, doing the shopping and preparing meals, and hopes that by the end of the summer he can convince Charlie to advance him the money to invest in a gourmet food truck. The weather is uncharacteristically hot, and the easy relationship between the three begins to disintegrate, especially after Matthew catches Chloe in a lie about her yoga class, and suspects she is having an affair. Not sure if he is more upset about Chloe’s betrayal of Charlie or the end of his own unspoken attraction to her, Matthew begins stalking her throughout the town. This suspenseful thriller explores themes of class, love, jealousy, and revenge.
John Lawton Then We Take Berlin (Atlantic Monthly Press 2013) is the story of John Wilfrid Holderness, brought up by his Cockney grandfather in the cat burglar trade. Drafted in 1946, he chooses the Royal Air Force for the color of the uniform and soon finds himself facing military prison for insubordination. Lt. Colonel Burne-Jones, impressed by his IQ test scores, tags him for MI-6 and sends him to Cambridge to learn German and Russian. A talented “word boy” he soon out-paces his classmates and receives private tutoring from Countess Rada Lyubova, who takes his political education in hand as well and calls him “Joe Wilderness.” Posted to occupied Berlin in 1947, he is given the job of deciding which former Nazis deserve exoneration, does a bit of cat-burglaring for MI-6, and begins to dabble in the black market. Falling in with US Army Captain Frank Spoleto, British artilleryman Eddie Clark, and NKVD Major Yuri, Wilderness masterminds a blackmarket scam capable of making them all rich, and falls in love with Christina Helene von Raeder Burkhardt, known as Nell. Sent away from Berlin in 1944 to live with her great-uncle Claus in Lower Saxony, Nell escaped the worst of the Berlin occupation, instead witnessing the horrors of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp when liberated by the British in 1945. Fifteen years later, Nell is working as an aide for West Berlin Mayor Willi Brant and planning for President Kennedy’s visit, when Wilderness, now married to Burne-Jones’s daughter, is sent back to Berlin to smuggle a woman out of East Berlin. This excellent historical thriller is the first in a series.
Megan Miranda The Safest Lies (Crown Books 2016) is the story of 17-year-old Kelsey Thomas who lives with her mother Mandy behind locked gates and alarmed doors. Mandy was kidnapped when she was 17 and held for months before she finally escaped, pregnant with Kelsey. Mandy has no memory of the abduction, but has chemical scars on her back, suffers nightmares about spiders, and hasn’t left the house for 17 years. The only person who knows the truth about Mandy’s past is Jan, a social worker assigned to the family when Kelsey was nine and red flags were raised that the homeschooled child had never visited a doctor. Now attending public high school as a junior, though she is far ahead of her classmates academically, Kelsey checks the back seat before driving to school, calls her mother to check in when she arrives and leaves, and has no friends, unless a nodding acquaintance with Ryan from her senior math class counts. One evening after a late tutoring session, Kelsey is driving home in the dark when headlights on her side of the road startle her into driving off the road. Ryan, a volunteer fireman, helps to rescue her. The two form an awkward friendship while waiting in the hospital. Kelsey’s name and picture appear in the paper a few days later, frightening her mother who insists that they stay out of the public eye. When Ryan drives Kelsey home a few days later, the open gate sends her rushing into the house, only to discover that her mother is nowhere to be found. Ryan isn’t convinced that finding a mother out of the house is a sign of danger, but when their phones stop working he realizes that Kelsey may be right about the danger they are in. This Young Adult psychological thriller is not to be missed.
Alexandra Oliva The Last One (Ballantine Books 2016) begins when 12 contestants are sent into the woods to face challenges that will test the limits of their survival skills for a reality TV show. Competing for a million dollar prize, the contestants are given a key phase to use if they decide to withdraw from the challenge; the last one remaining will be the winner. Each contestant is given a code name by the producers, and a bandanna of a specific color that will serve to mark individual clues. Tracker, a nearly silent man totally comfortable in the woods, has more wilderness skills than the other contestants, but Zoo, a cheerful woman who works with animals and wants one last adventure before having kids, is a close second. The least skilled is Waitress, who didn’t go through the application process but was chosen by the production team for her good looks and red hair. The contestants turn in all electronics, and are given a compass, a backpack, a bottle of water, and the chance to earn more supplies by winning small group and individual challenges. Some of the challenges are designed to teach survival skills, like filtering water and starting a fire, while others feature realistic props like a stuffed bear and wounded hikers in need of rescue. After the first few weeks in the woods, two of the contestants have withdrawn, and one of the cameramen falls ill and is conveyed down the mountain. One by one, the other support crew fall ill, victim of a life-threatening illness that kills nearly everyone who catches it, but the contestants, off on a solo challenge, have no idea what is happening. Zoo falls sick for several days, but recovers, painfully thin, weak, and delusional. She believes her illness was caused by drinking unboiled water, and convinces herself the dead bodies she finds are more props placed to test her emotional strength. Interspersed chapters follow Zoo as she uses her hard-won survival skills to make her way out of the woods and flashbacks of the reality show challenges. This debut thriller blurs the line between the fiction of reality TV shows and reality itself.
Sherry Thomas A Study In Scarlet Women (Berkley 2016) introduces Charlotte Holmes, the youngest of four daughters in 1886 England. Sir Henry and Lady Holmes have given up on their daughter Bernadine, who retreated into silence at the age of nine, and fear that Charlotte may also be unfit for polite society. At the age of four, Charlotte speaks her first full sentence when deciphered a rebus drawing posted on the church noticeboard, earning her mother’s scorn and her father’s grudging admission that his youngest daughter might be worth his occasional attention. When her oldest sister becomes engaged to a man with money, but no other redeeming features, Charlotte declares she will never marry. A bargain with her father to pay for training as a teacher if she first explores the traditional options for girls, sends her into a five-year experiment with fashion and learning to mimic polite conversation. But Sir Henry breaks his pledge, leaving the independent-minded Charlotte no choice but to leave the safety of her family’s country home and try and make her own way in London. Unfortunately, she discovers that she is unprepared to deal with a world in which she is required to purchase her own soap, and finds herself unemployable without references. Her only skill, the ability to closely observe and draw conclusions, has been secretly utilized by her childhood friend Lord Ingram to help Inspector Treadles with his most puzzling cases, using the pseudonym Sherlock Holmes since no one would trust the opinion of a woman. Using the fiction of a bedridden brother, Charlotte begins taking on private cases, discovering to her delight that people are willing to pay her for doing what comes naturally. This light-hearted mystery is the first in the Lady Sherlock series.
Chan Ho-Kei The Borrowed (Grove Press 2017, Chinese 2014) covers five decades of the professional life of Hong Kong detective Kwan Chun-dok, often assisted by his protégé Sonny Lok. Known for his brilliant deductive reasoning, Kwan is nicknamed “the Eye of Heaven” by his police colleagues. Six linked novellas cover Kwan’s most important investigations in reverse order, beginning with his final case while confined to a hospital bed in 2013. Each case takes place during a pivotal time in Hong Kong history: the 1997 Handover, the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, the 1977 conflict between the Hong Kong police and the Independent Commission Against Corruption, the Leftist Riot of 1967. Back-tracking through time, we observe Kwan building his reputation as an incorruptible master detective through wave after wave of political upheaval and unrest. This finely crafted book melds two distinct detective fiction genres into an impressive whole. Each novella can be read independently as a classic detective story emphasizing clues and logical deduction while the six novellas together become an excellent social narrative reflecting the changing state of Hong Kong society.
Caite Dolan-Leach Dead Letters (Random House 2017) begins when Ava Antipova receives word in Paris that her twin sister Zelda has died in a fire in the barn at the family home in upstate New York. Ava hasn’t spoken to Zelda in two years, ever since Ava returned home from an unexplained month-long absence to find Zelda in bed with her boyfriend Wyatt. Ava immediately abandoned her B.A. in Viticulture and moved to Paris to pursue a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature, leaving Zelda to deal with the failing family vineyard and their alcoholic mother Nadine, further debilitated by early-onset dementia. Their father Marlon, who deserted the family when the twins were in their early teens, returns from California for the funeral. Nadine often confuses Ava with Zelda, especially since Ava didn’t pack many of her own bland clothes and wears Zelda’s brightly colored outfits, and the three drink far too much wine. The barn doors were chained shut from the outside, and human remains are discovered in the ashes, leading the police to the obvious conclusion that Zelda has been murdered. While exploring the trailer Zelda has used for years to get away from Nadine, Ava discovers an iPhone in one of Zelda’s secret hiding places. Unlocking the phone, Ava finds an email from Zelda written the day after her supposed death. Convinced that Zelda is playing another of her mind games, Ava deciphers clues in emails, social media, and notes around the house, inferring that Zelda has faked her own death to escape the massive debts accumulated while trying to save the vineyard. This twisty debut thriller is spell-binding.
A.J. Hartley Steeplejack (Tor Teen 2016) is the story of Anglet Sutona, who works as a steeplejack repairing the chimneys, towers, and spires of the city of Bar-Selehm, in an alternative South Africa. At 17, Ang is old for a steeplejack — most die young from falls. Ang is Lani, part of the brown-skinned poverty-stricken community who immigrated to Bar-Selehm generations ago. The white-skinned Feldish run the city and control the wealth. The dark-skinned native Mahweni are divided, some live and work in the city while others maintain the traditional nomadic lifestyle herding goat-like nbezu and bearing spears. One day Ang’s new apprentice Berrit doesn’t show up for his first day of training, and while climbing to one of the highest chimneys Ang notices that the Beacon, a light-emitting piece of extremely valuable luxorite, is missing from the top of the Trade Exchange, a monument to the mineral that funded the city. On her way down, Ang finds Berrit’s body, killed not by a fall but stabbed in the spine. Ang takes a day off work to be there for the birth of her sister’s baby, and Morlack, the brutal gang boss she works for takes that as an excuse to force himself on her. Ang retaliates, wounds him, and flees for her life. Josiah Willinghouse, a wealthy opposition politician, hires Ang to investigate the death of Berrit, convinced that his murder has something to do with the missing Beacon. Willinghouse hopes that Ang’s connections in the gangland world will give her access to information he cannot reach. Desperate to earn enough money to save her sister’s baby girl from the orphanage, the fate of all Lani fourth daughters, Ang accepts Willinghouse’s assignment. Themes of class conflict, gender issues, and racial tensions are explored in this intense thriller, a finalist for the 2017 Thriller Award for Best Young Adult Novel.
Melissa Scrivner Love Lola (Crown 2017) is hosting a barbecue with her boyfriend Garcia, the head of the Crenshaw Six, an up-and-coming gang in South Central Los Angeles, when El Coleccionista, the collector for the powerful Mexican cartel Los Liones, shows up. Lola moved in with the gang leader at the age of 15 to keep her eight-year-old brother Hector from sharing their mother’s heroin addiction. Eleven years later Hector is now part of the gang, but both are still drug free and relatively content as part of the Crenshaw Six. Los Liones demand that the Crenshaw Six intercept the four million exchange between one of their big dealers who is betraying them by dealing with a new supplier, offering 10% of the product and cash if successful, and Lola’s life as forfeit if not. Garcia agrees, but the exchange doesn’t go as planned, leaving the Crenshaw Six with a bag of paper instead of cash, the drugs with a dirty cop, and Lola desperate to find the missing cash or heroin before the 72-hour deadline. Lola’s one advantage is that no one outside the Crenshaw Six knows that Lola is the true leader of the gang, leaving her free to move undetected, underestimated by those who consider her Garcia’s submissive girlfriend. Toughened by a childhood pimped out by her drug-addicted mother, Lola is both ruthless and brilliant, and maybe even capable of saving her own life. This intense debut thriller examines LA gang life through an unusual perspective.
Melina Marchetta Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil (Mulholland Books 2016) begins when suspended cop Bish Ortley gets a call telling him that the tour bus carrying his daughter Bee and other British teenagers through Normandy has been bombed in their campground outside Calais. Bish arrives to find that Bee is shaken but unhurt, two are dead, and three seriously injured. Capitaine Olivier Attal, whose daughter Marianne’s sports team bus was parked next to the British bus, allows Bish to help question the British students and reassure their parents. One name on the list of students gives him pause: Violette LeBrac Zidane, the youngest member of a notorious London family. Thirteen years ago her grandfather set off a suicide bomb in a Brackenham supermarket, killing 23. Her mother Noor confessed to building the bomb, and Bish was the officer who took four-year-old Violette from her arms. Noor is serving a life sentence in prison and Violette was sent to live with her grandparents in Australia, who believe she is attending an Australian summer camp. The authorities suspect Violette was the target of the bomb, but when Violette and another student disappear, the press decides she has followed in her family’s deadly footsteps, and teenagers who appear Arabic are attacked by vigilantes. Bish, whose grandfather was Egyptian, uses his connections to search for Violette. He visits Noor in prison, hoping for clues about where her daughter might be hiding, and perceives that the confession that put Noor behind bars may have been coerced. This heartfelt thriller examines the long reaching after effects of grief and guilt, the damage of racial profiling, the ability of the media to control public opinion, and the power of love.
Rob McCarthy The Hollow Men (Pegasus Books 2016) introduces Harry Kent, a London A&E (emergency care) doctor and police surgeon. A former army medic in Afghanistan, Harry needs to keep constantly busy to control his debilitating nightmares. Harry believes he has his PTSD under control, but continues to rely on pills and alcohol to sleep. Peter Tammas, his former Commanding Officer in the Royal Army Medical Corps, now a paraplegic, likens the medic vets to the “Hollow Men” of T.S. Elliot fame, lost souls to violent causes. Harry’s work for the police usually entails minor injuries and mental health assessments, so he is surprised to be called in late one night to a fast food restaurant where a teenager is holding eight people hostage. DI Frankie Noble has negotiated a doctor in exchange for releasing three of the hostages from Solomon Idris, a 17-year old former gang member who is coughing badly and is having trouble breathing. Harry convinces Solomon to allow him to treat him and Solomon tells him he wants a lawyer and access to the BBC to tell the truth about Keisha. A noise in the alley outside causes the police to believe Solomon has fired his gun, and he is critically wounded. Harry and the team at A&E manage to save his life, but Solomon is in critical condition and nearly dies again when the allergy to penicillin is removed from his hospital records. Noble suspects that a doctor may be trying to kill Solomon, and suspicion falls on James Lahiri, Harry’s former friend and colleague in the army. Harry can’t believe Lahiri, who saved his life and that of Tammas, is capable of murder, and begins taking a close look at the other doctors at the Saviour Project, who treat gang violence as a disease and work to reduce the risk factors and offer alternatives. This powerful debut thriller is the first in a series starring the haunted Doctor Harry Kent.
William L. Myers, Jr. A Criminal Defense (Thomas & Mercer 2017) is narrated by Mick McFarland, a former Philadelphia prosecutor turned defense attorney. Reporter Jennifer Yamura, whose recent story exposed a a grand jury investigation into a ring of cops conspiring with drug deals to sell heroin and cocaine, calls to hire Mick to represent her when she meets with the judge demanding she reveal her source for the story that derailed the secret investigation. Jennifer dies from a fall down her basement steps before their scheduled meeting, and his estranged law school colleague David Hanson is arrested on suspicion of murder after being caught fleeing from her house late at night instead of calling for help. Mick’s law partnership desperately needs the money since a recent potentially huge case was settled out of court, and his wife Piper spends more money than he makes, and Mick takes the case. Prosecutor Devin Walker is determined to get a conviction in retribution for their rivalry when Mick was a DA, and Mick realizes he will need to us all his legal and not-so-legal connections. Mick’s brother Tommy, an ex-convict working as an investigator, searches for the anonymous man whose phone call alerted the police to David’s presence in the house hours after Jennifer’s death. A blackmail attempt involving a film of Jennifer’s back door caught on a neighborhood security camera causes Mick to realize that the security of his own family is threatened unless he can find a way to bring the case to a quick conclusion. This intense debut legal thriller builds to a startling conclusion.
Renee Patrick Design for Dying (Forge Books 2016) introduces Lillian Frost, an aspiring actress in 1937 Los Angeles who reluctantly takes a job as a salesgirl at Tremayne’s Department Store to make ends meet. When former roommate Ruby Carroll is found shot in the alley behind Mrs. Lindros’s Boardinghouse, Lillian becomes a suspect since Ruby was wearing a brooch she stole from Lillian. Along with the stolen brooch, Ruby was wearing an evening gown Lillian recognizes. Designed by Edith Head, the distinctive gown was worn by Gertrude Michael in “The Return of Sophie Lang.” Impressed by Lillian’s movie knowledge, the detective takes her along to Paramont, where Edith Head is fitting Gracie Allen. Edith confirms that Ruby must have stolen the gown from the Paramount Pictures wardrobe department during a brief employment. Though officially headed by alcoholic Travis Banton, Edith runs the department. Discovering that additional clothes in Ruby’s size are missing, Edith and Lillian join forces to replace them before Edith loses her job. Counterfeit emeralds, a Hungarian princess, and a shady private detective add to the fun in this stylish debut mystery, a finalist for the Agatha and Lefty Awards for Best First Mystery.
David Swinson The Second Girl (Mulholland Books 2016) introduces Frank Marr, a decorated former police detective now working as a private investigator for Leslie Costello, a defense attorney in Washington, DC. Frank chose to resign from the force when he failed a drug test, and his former colleagues are unaware of his cocaine addiction. Frank is doing surveillance on a drug house, waiting for everyone to leave so he can break in and replenish his dwindling supply. The forced entry is easy, and Frank is checking to make sure the house is clear when he hears a sound from a bathroom. Upon discovering a teenaged girl chained to an eyebolt in the floor, he’s tempted to keep searching for the drugs, but takes the girl to Leslie, who calls the police. Frank dashes back to the drug house and steals the cocaine before returning to talk to the cops. Suddenly a hero again, the parents of another missing teenaged girl ask Frank for help finding their daughter. Frank would prefer to stay out of the limelight, which might reveal his drug habit, but reluctantly agrees to help search for the second girl. Frank is a talented investigator, but the bad choices he makes to conceal and support his drug habit get him into deep trouble. This intense noir series opener is a finalist for the 2017 Barry Award for Best Novel.
Heather Young The Lost Girls (William Morrow 2016) begins when Lucy Evans decides to record the story of the fateful summer 60 years ago when her six-year-old sister Emily went missing while the family was summering at their vacation house on a remote Minnesota lake. In the summer of 1935, Lucy was 11 and eldest sister Lilith was 13. The two older sisters had always been close, but that summer Lilith became interested in boys and clothes, to the horror of their strict father, leaving Lucy on her own. After Emily’s disappearance, their mother refused to leave the summer house and return to the city, keeping Lucy and Lilith with her. Lucy writes the story for Justine, Lilith’s granddaughter, who spent one summer at the lake house with her flighty mother. Now a mother of two young daughters, Justine is startled to learn that her great-aunt Lucy has left her the summer house, and abruptly decides to leave her controlling new boyfriend in San Diego and make a fresh start. The house, which Justine remembers fondly, is now falling apart, and the three Californians aren’t prepared for the bitter cold of a Minnesota winter. Lucy’s childhood friend Matthew Miller and his simple older brother Abe are still running the seasonal fishing lodge next door, and help Justine shovel snow, but she is nervous about the way they look at her daughters. Troubled older daughter Melanie discovers Lucy’s notebook, and becomes obsessed with Emily’s disappearance. Interspersed chapters unfold the story of that long-ago summer in contrast to Justine’s struggle to adapt to life in the dilapidated house in an isolated town. This haunting novel of psychological suspense was a finalist for the 2017 Edgar Award for Best First Novel.
Patricia Abbott Shot in Detroit (Polis Books 2016) is the story of Detroit photographer Violet Hart, who sees her chance of making a name for herself slipping away as she nears 40 still supporting herself documenting weddings and bar mitzvahs. The day the gallery returns her unsold photographs of crumbling buildings, Violet gets a strange request from her boyfriend Bill, a mortician who dresses the dead in fancy second hand clothes, giving his poor black clients a dignity few had in life. The parents of Bill’s current client, a young rugby player who died of an aneurysm during a game, are infirm and unable to travel to his funeral from Manchester, England, and have requested a picture of their son. Violet is dubious, and unhappy with the harsh lighting and old camera Bill provides, but loves the resulting eerie images. She convinces Bill to let her photograph his next client if the family approves. They are both a bit surprised by how quickly the family agrees, but realize that few relatives of Bill’s clients have printed pictures of their loved ones. Violet soon has several photographs of young black men, which she believes are her best work to date, and finds herself in the uncomfortable position of hoping for a call from Bill about a suitable subject while fretting over the ghoulish aspect of her new project. An added complication is her relationship with Derek Olsen, a strange young man who is building a massive sculpture of found objects on the shore of Belle Isle. They met while Violet was prowling the park at dawn searching for inspiration, and Violet asked Derek to give her a call if he found anything edgy that might be a good photo subject. Derek’s discovery of a pair of severed hands and feet make them both prime suspects in a murder investigation, and maybe targets as well. This macabre suspense thriller is a finalist for the 2017 Anthony and Edgar Awards for Best Paperback Original.
Samuel Bjørk I’m Traveling Alone (Viking 2016, Norway 2013) introduces Holger Munch, a veteran homicide detective in Oslo, Norway. His former partner Mia Krüger has retreated to an isolated island and is planning suicide after the death of her twin sister from a heroin overdose. The discovery of the body of a six-year-old girl sends Munch in search of Mia. With her uncanny ability to read crime scene photos, Mia notices a scratch on a fingernail, and suspects it is the numeral 1, indicating this murder is the first in a series. There is no sign of sexual abuse or other violence, and the child has been carefully washed and groomed, dressed in specially made doll’s clothes, and provided with a school backpack, though she wasn’t due to enter school until the fall. Around her neck is a Norwegian Airlines sign reading "I’m traveling alone." The details are so meticulous that Mia is bothered by the name written in the schoolbooks, which is not that of the dead girl. Unraveling the name anagram reveals “It’s not him,” plus the initials of a Swedish nurse believed to have kidnapped an infant girl from the hospital six years earlier. The nurse committed suicide and left a note, but no sign of the baby was ever found. Munch and Mia worked on the case, and retrieve the records, setting their team the task of finding a connection to current murders of six-year-old girls. Locating the elderly seamstress who made the dresses is a dead end, but learning that she made ten dresses pushes the team to longer hours with little progress, though they find a faint connection with the nursing home Munch’s mother resides in and the church she had decided to leave all her money to. This powerful debut thriller featuring a fascinating investigative team is a finalist for the 2017 Barry Award for Best First Novel.
Allen Eskens The Heavens May Fall (Seventh Street Books 2016) begins with the discovery of the murdered body of a woman in an alley in Minneapolis. Through the jeweler’s mark on a diamond earring, Detective Max Rupert and his partner Niki Vang identify the body as Jennavieve Pruitt, the wife of Ben Pruitt, an attorney who used a forged letter of reprimand to discredit Max during a trial. Max is sure that Pruitt killed his wife, especially after discovering that the couple’s bedroom was the murder scene, but Pruitt was at the Criminal Defense Lawyers Convention in Chicago the night of the murder. Still grieving the death of his own wife in a hit-and-run four years earlier, Max is determined to break Pruitt’s alibi to get justice for Jennavieve. Max and Niki figure out that Pruitt had time to drive back to Minneapolis, kill Jennavieve, and return to Chicago in time to participate in the morning session. Pruitt convinces his retired partner Boady Sanden to take on his defense. Boady reluctantly agrees for the sake of Pruitt’s young daughter, though he is concerned about jeopardizing his friendship with Max and fearful of the depression that overtook him after losing his final case before retiring. The receipt of an anonymous letter declaring that Max’s wife’s death was not an accident sends him on late-night treks around the city in search of the storage locker matching the enclosed key, causing his boss to worry that he is jeopardizing the current investigation. This intense thriller, the third in the excellent series, is a finalist for the 2017 Barry Award for Best Paperback Original.
Emma Flint Little Deaths (Hachette Books 2017) is the story of Ruth Malone, a single mother whose two young children (Frankie and Cindy) disappear from their bedroom one night in 1965 Queens, New York. Cindy’s strangled body is found in an empty lot the next day. Frankie’s body isn’t discovered for 10 days, and is too decomposed to determine the cause of death. Ruth is separated from her husband Frank, who is threatening to sue for custody of the children. Detective Devlin, a strict Catholic, doesn’t approve of Ruth. She wears too much makeup, her heels are too high, her skirts are too short, and women shouldn’t be working outside the home, especially as cocktail waitresses. Her apartment is full of empty bourbon bottles and the neighbors describe frequent late night visits from a series of different men. Devlin decides that Ruth has killed her children since they interfered with her freedom; the problem is proving it. Pete Wonicke, a rookie tabloid reporter, catches the story because the senior reporter is out of town. Searching for an entry point, he finagles an interview with Devlin, and is fed negative information about Ruth. By the time the case reaches the court, Pete has become obsessed with Ruth, and is uncertain if his doubts about her guilt are based on truth or his desire to keep her out of prison. This intense debut thriller examining the often stifling life endured by working-class women is based on a true story.
April Henry The Girl I Used To Be (Henry Holt 2016) is the story of Ariel Benson, who was with her parents in the woods searching for a Christmas tree when she was three. Her mother was killed, stabbed 19 times, her father vanished, and she was left in a Walmart parking lot with no memory of the day. She was renamed Olivia Reinhart by one of a series of foster parents, and grew up believing her father had murdered her mother. Olivia is a 17-year-old emancipated minor when she is informed that her father’s body has just been discovered only a mile from where her mother was found. The police now believe that he did not kill her mother, but instead both parents were murdered by the same person, who then took the toddler to Walmart. Olivia returns to Medford for her father’s funeral, meeting the elderly woman who lives next door to the house they lived in. Olivia offers to drive her to the funeral of the man everyone believed for 14 years was the killer, and discovers that no one recognizes her as Ariel. She impulsively decides to remain in Medford, renting her old house while she tries to figure out the truth of her parents’ murders. Duncan, a childhood friend, recognizes a scar on her hand, and after hearing his story of the tree-climbing accident, Olivia remembers it too. Hoping that submerged memories of that long-ago day may return, Olivia visits a hypnotist who validates her own fear — the murderer who spared her life as a toddler may not be so generous today. This fast-paced thriller is a finalist for the 2017 Anthony and Edgar Awards for Best Young Adult Mystery.
Kathleen Kent The Dime (Mulholland Books 2017) introduces Betty Rhyzyk, a 5’11" Polish police detective from Brooklyn, New York, who moves to Dallas with her lesbian lover to be closer to Jackie’s ailing mother. Two years later, Betty is on a stakeout for the narcotics investigation she is leading when a neighborhood woman decides to rescue the dog the dealer left in his hot car. Ruiz, the head of the Mexican cartel delivering the drugs opens fire, and vanishes, blowing weeks of surveillance. A followup interview with Lana Yu, Ruiz’s sometimes girlfriend who sports a dyed red streak as fiery as Betty’s own hair, doesn’t produce much, but the team is hopeful that she is shaken and will eventually crack. Instead, her mutilated body is discovered in the dealer’s house, missing both ears as well as the red streak in her hair. The case stalls, and Betty’s boss is about to reassign her to another case when Lana’s car is discovered in the town of Weatherford 60 miles away, with the body of an elderly Confederate reenactor in the trunk. Betty and her partner arrive and follow a young reenactor deep into the woods, where the reenactors, who stumbled upon the cartel’s cache or money and drugs, are trying to hold off the cartel’s automatic weapons with their muzzle-loaders. Then Ruiz’s head is delivered to Betty’s door and the case gets personal. This debut crime novel by a best-selling historical novelist pits the fearless Betty against not only the perils of the Mexican drug cartels, but also the ingrained prejudice against female police officers in general and lesbian ones in particular.
Charlie Lovett The Lost Book of the Grail (Viking 2017) features Arthur Prescott, a reluctant English professor at the University of Barchester. Arthur finds the University far too modern for his taste, and is often horrified by his students who suggest project ideas like rewriting 18th century novels as a series of Tweets. Arthur prefers to spend his time in the company of the ancient books and manuscripts of the Barchester Cathedral Library, where he does research for a guidebook about the medieval cathedral and indulges his secret obsession with Arthurian legends and the Holy Grail. Then Bethany Davis, a bright young American, arrives to digitize the library’s manuscripts, intruding on his tranquil retreat. The two find an unexpected connection in their love for old books, and are soon working together to find the Book of Ewolda, a lost manuscript explaining the forgotten story of the founder of the cathedral. Interspersed chapters beginning in 560 reveal the history of the cathedral through contemporary eyes while snippets from Arthur’s unfinished cathedral guide examine the current building. When selling off the cathedral library appears to be the only way to raise the money for desperately needed structural repairs to the cathedral, Arthur and Bethany must use all their research skills as well as everything learned from reading classic mysteries to find something of enough historical value to convince the Heritage Lottery Fund to repair the cathedral. This deft combination of history, mystery, humor, and romance is great fun.
Alex Marwood The Darkest Secret (Penguin Books 2016) revolves around Mila Jackson, who was 15 when her three-year-old half-sister Coco disappeared from the ground floor bedroom she was sharing with her twin sister Ruby at their father Sean’s 50th birthday weekend house party. No sign of Coco was ever found, despite the Find Coco campaign mounted by Maria Gavila, godparent and tabloid journalist, that spread the news of the missing toddler around the world. Also at the holiday mansion in Bournemouth were Health Minister Charles Clutterbuck, with his wife and daughter, and Harley Street Doctor James Orizio with his wife and children. Coco’s mother Claire had left Coco and her twin sister Ruby in their father’s care after firing the nanny and catching her husband with yet another woman, assuming that the teenagers and other mothers would help out. But Mila and her sister India weren’t happy being unpaid babysitters, and left before Coco disappeared. After Sean is found dead 12 years later at a London hotel, most of the house party gathers at his funeral. Though never close to her father, who was always more interested in his new wife or mistress than his children, Mila feels she needs to support Ruby, who is now the same age Mila was during that fateful house party. Being together again sparks conversations that reveal inconsistencies, and Mila begins to wonder what really happened that weekend. Interspersed sections from multiple perspectives from 2004 and 2016 gradually reveal the truth. This well-plotted psychological thriller is a finalist for the 2017 Barry Award for Best Paperback Original.
J.S. Monroe Find Me (MIRA 2017) begins when Jarlath “Jar” Costello spots his girlfriend Rosa on the up escalator as he heads down into the London Underground. Her head is shaved and she is wearing odd clothes, but Jar is sure it is Rosa, who committed suicide five years earlier when they were both students at Cambridge. This isn’t Jar’s first sighting of Rosa, which his psychologist calls “post-bereavement hallucinations,” but it is the most vivid and Jar begins to seriously doubt that Rosa is really dead. Then Rosa’s aunt discovers an encrypted file on her laptop that she believes might be a diary Rosa put there the day she committed suicide. Jar takes the hard drive to a techie friend who begins to decode the entries, sending them to Jar in random order. The interspersed diary entries range over five years, from the time Rosa arrived at Cambridge after her father’s sudden death in India, to the night she threw herself into the sea. Rosa describes a strange retreat in Hereford during her second term, a secret recruitment requiring her to sign the Official Secrets Act and break off contact with everyone she knows. Personal details about Rosa’s grief counselor are eerily similar to Jar’s own psychologist, who seems overly interested in hearing about Rosa’s diary. This gripping psychological thriller is the first by Jon Stock under the J.S. Monroe pseudonym.
Nicholas Petrie The Drifter (G.P. Putnam’s Sons 2016) introduces Peter Ash, an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran whose PTSD-caused claustrophobia makes it difficult for him to remain indoors for any length of time. For the past year Peter has lived rough across the country, sleeping under the stars and avoiding buildings. News of the suicide of Jimmy Johnson, a Marine comrade, sends him to the crumbling Milwaukee home of Jimmy’s widow Dinah and their two children, with the pretense of a Marine fund to help the families of service widows. Dinah asks him to fix the rotting front stoop, which requires work under the house. The first obstacle is a huge pit bull who has moved in under the house, terrorizing the neighborhood children. Peter manages to jam a stick into the beast’s jaws and drag it out, discovering a battered Samsonite suitcase hidden behind the dog’s nest in the far corner. Inside the suitcase Peter finds $400,000 and four rectangular slabs that look like modeling clay and smell like chemicals. Dinah doesn’t know where the money came from, and refuses to keep it. Peter hides the suitcase in the chassis of his old truck, and spends the night outside the house, discovering that a man with a gun is lurking in the woods. Dinah introduces Peter to Lewis, an old friend and bad influence on Jimmy who may know something about the money. Lewis and his dangerous associates don’t know anything about where the money came from, but Peter hopes to convince him to protect Dinah and her sons while he tracks down the man with the gun. This intense debut thriller is a finalist for the Anthony, Barry, Edgar, Hammett, and Thriller Awards for Best First Novel.
Sally Andrew The Satanic Mechanic (Ecco 2017, UK 2016) finds Tannie Maria, author of the Love Advice and Recipe Column for the tiny Klein Karoo Gazette in rural South Africa, wishing that the memories of her deceased husband weren’t interferring with her new relationship with police detective Henk Kannemeyer. The first counselor she sees suggests Maria is stress eating and gives her a diet booklet and pills. Maria is soon supplementing the healthy steamed vegetables and raw salads with additions of cheese and jam plus a tasty dessert. The young reporter at the paper interviews Slimkat Kabbo, a Bushman (San) leader who has just won a land case against the diamond miners. Slimkat has been receiving death threats, and is under guard, but dies from poisoned sauce at the kudu sosatie booth at the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees, the national Afrikaans arts festival. After the last case put Maria’s life in danger, Henk is reluctant to involve Maria in the new investigation, but Maria has already sampled all the sosaties and sauces, and her sensitive sense of smell identifies ingredients in Slimkat’s sauce that were not in hers. The doctor Maria visits about her nightmares believes she is suffering from PTSD, and suggests she join a support group. Maria selects a group led by the Satanic Mechanic, a car repairman who keeps snakes. The group shares comfort food and their stories — fleeing from the death of an entire family in Somalia, war atrocities in Angola, betraying comrades while being tortured by apartheid policemen. Maria feels the group is helping her, but is worried about visions of a kudu with Slimkat’s intense brown eyes. Food permeates Maria’s life as she dispenses traditional Afrikaans recipes along with her relationship advice and plans meals to soothe Henk’s worry that she is putting herself in danger again and her own guilt over her abusive husband’s death. This warm-hearted second in the series set in Tannie Maria’s polyglot post-Apartheid culture of the Klein Karoo is captivating.
Belinda Bauer The Beautiful Dead (Atlantic Monthly Press 2017, UK 2016) features Eve Singer, a TV crime reporter for iWitness News, who fears she is about to lose her job to a younger and more photogenic woman. Eve has moved in with her father, who suffers from early Alzheimer’s, and has little time for socializing; her job is everything. Eve is walking home from the station on a cold December night after covering a murder when she hears footsteps following her. Determined to face her fears, she turns and asks the man, whose face is covered with a scarf, to walk her home. The killer is startled into escorting her safely to her gate and then watches Eve’s coverage of his murder over and over, becoming convinced that they are now working in partnership. He believes he must kill to stay alive, and Eve’s job as crime correspondent depends on murders to entice viewers and increase ratings. The killer calls Eve after the next murder and compliments her on her coverage of the murder, claiming he gave her the art and she put on the exhibition. Eve struggles with her conscience. Should she share information with the police and sever her connection to the murderer? Or act as a PR agent for a media-hungry murderer by feeding exclusive details to her ravenous publisher? This intense thriller illuminates the fine line between reporting to inform and sensationalizing crime.
Bryn Chancellor Sycamore (Harper 2017) begins when Jess Winters and her mother Maud move to the small town of Sycamore, Arizona, in January 1991, after her parents divorce. Jess is furious with her father, who has replaced her with a new baby daughter, upset about starting a new high school in the middle of her junior year, and not pleased with the new hips and height that have made her too tall and awkward to continue with ballet. Consumed by a need to be outside, Jess sneaks out at night to walk through the deserted streets while her depressed mother, who retreats into bed right after dinner, is sound asleep. Over the next year Jess is befriended by a teacher and manages to make a couple of friends: Dani Newell, who has two doting parents, and Dani’s boyfriend Paul Overton, whose mother owns a pecan orchard where Jess gets a part-time job. On Christmas Eve, nearly a year after her arrival in Sycamore, Jess goes out for a solitary ramble and disappears. In August 2009, a woman out hiking along the dry stream bed discovers a curving bone she fears may be a human rib. The town residents gather to support Maud, who inspected every piece of mail over the last 18 years hoping for news of her daughter, as she waits for the bones to be identified. Interspersed chapters from multiple perspectives reveal Jess’s struggle to make a place for herself in Sycamore, the effect her disappearance had on the town’s residents, and finally the series of events on that fateful rainy Christmas Eve. This beautifully written debut coming-of-age novel of psychological suspense is haunting.
Reed Farrel Coleman What You Break (G.P. Putnam’s Sons 2017) begins with retired cop Gus Murphy delivering a silent passenger to the Paragon Hotel in Suffolk County, New York, where he works as part-time security and shuttle driver in exchange for free lodging. Something about the man makes Gus prickly, and when Slava Podalak, the night bellman, grows visibly pale as the man enters the lobby, Gus is sure the man is trouble. Slava doesn’t talk about his past, and Gus doesn’t ask since he would prefer not to talk about his own overwhelming grief after the recent death of his son. Bill Kilkenny, a former priest who helped Gus through his darkest days, asks for a favor for Micah Spears, a wealthy businessman whose adopted Vietnamese granddaughter was brutally murdered. The murderer has been caught, tried, and jailed, but refused to say why he killed Lihn Trang, and Spears can’t rest until he knows why she was murdered. Haunted by the "why" of his son’s death, Gus agrees to investigate as a favor to Bill, though he takes an instant dislike to Spears, who radiates evil. As he is driving home Gus sees Slava with the hotel guest and follows them, witnessing an execution. Trying to protect Slava, Gus endangers himself and his girlfriend Magdalena. This intense second in the series is highly recommended.
Kevin Egan A Shattered Circle (Forge Books 2017) is the story of Judge William Lonergan, who displays symptoms of dementia after a head injury caused by falling off a ladder. The doctors don’t know if the impairment is permanent, and his wife Barbara, who is also his confidential secretary, creates a small protective circle to preserve his job and reputation. She dismisses his law clerk, whose ethics might propell her to report the Judge’s mental failings, and hires Larry Seagle, whose checkered past ensures his gratitude and loyalty. Barbara convinces the administrative judge to excuse her husband from court duty for an indefinite period while he recovers from the physical effects of the fall, and with Larry’s help manges to coax rulings on motions from Bill’s wavering memory. Barbara is encouraged by Bill’s good days and allows herself to hope he is improving, until an angry litigant files a grievance against the Judge with the Judicial Conduct Commission. Barbara knows there is no chance Bill will make it through that oral interview. Things get even worse when Court Officer Foxx begins investigating a courthouse murder 25 years earlier at the request of a childhood friend who is dying in prison, shattering her protective circle. Barbara was a court stenographer at the time, and Foxx believes she may have information that will clear his friend. Barbara postpones the judicial hearing, hoping that a month at their summer home in the Berkshires will give Bill time to heal, but the secluded environment puts both of them at greater risk as targets of a killer stalking those connected to a legal case. This intense legal thriller explores the long-reaching effects of court decisions.
Lauren A. Forry Abigale Hall (Skyhorse Publishing 2017) is the tale of 17-year-old Eliza Haverford, whose parents died in the London Blitz. Eliza and her 12-year-old sister Rebecca, who obsessively counts and taps to 21, live with their aunt Bess until she suddenly sends them to the country to work at Abigale Hall in Wales. Mrs. Pollard, the merciless housekeeper for the mysterious Mr. Brownwell, restricts the sisters to certain parts of the dilapidated mansion and forbids them going into town unless under her supervision. Desperate to find something to read, Eliza explores the house, finding blood-stained and defaced books and numerous portraits of a young woman who looks very much like Eliza herself. After learning that the woman died in the house right before her wedding night, Eliza begins seeing her ghost wandering at night. During secret visits to town she hears gossip about previous Abigale Hall maids who vanished or died of strange illnesses. Rebecca is at first anxious to return to London, but forms an alliance with Mrs. Pollard, who encourages her violent tendencies. The longer the sisters live at Abigale Hall, the stranger Rebecca’s behavior grows, and Eliza herself begins to obsess about the germs and mites inhabiting the deteriorating walls. Determined to save Rebecca from Mrs. Pollard’s cruel influence, Eliza formulates an escape plan, but is thwarted at every turn. This disturbing debut gothic thriller is quite frightening.
Owen Matthews The Fixes (HarperTeen 2016) begins the first day of summer vacation. Eric Connelly has just graduated from the Capilano High School, but his father has decided he should spend the summer working as an intern to earn a recommendation that may help him get into Yale Law School after finishing college. Eric stops by the school one last time to pick up his Student of the Year award and runs into Jordan Grant, the only child of an immensely rich TV executive director, who has failed calculus. Eric impulsively offers to tutor Jordan, though he’s not sure how he will find the time while interning and working though his father’s list of recommended reading to get a head start on college. Eric’s father has strict standards of what it takes to be a “Connelly Man” and Eric is sure that falling for Jordan is not on the list. But Jordan, along with two of the most popular girls, convince Eric to come to a party and indulge in drink and drugs. Eric is soon part of the foursome, sneaking out at night and calling in sick during the day to swim and sun and participate in "Fixes," increasingly illegal dares and stunts designed to expose the excesses of ultra-rich Capilano. Eric is dubious at first, but is seduced by Jordan in more ways that one, and quickly finds himself in over his head. This wickedly funny story of rich kids pushing the boundaries segues from mostly harmless joyrides to bomb-building before Eric quite know what’s happening. Short chapters and an innovative conversational style add punch to this finalist for the 2017 Anthony Award for Best Young Adult Novel, written by adult mystery author Owen Laukkanen.
Sara Flannery Murphy The Possessions (Harper 2017) is the story of Eurydice, who works for the Elysian Society. By wearing belongings of the dead and swallowing drugs called lotuses, Edie and her fellow “bodies” are able to numb their own minds and allow the spirits of the dead to communicate with grieving relatives. Most bodies don’t last long at the job, but Edie has just reached her five-year anniversary, still welcoming the daily opportunity to escape the reality of her own past while connecting briefly with clients without the strain of an ongoing emotional commitment. Things begin to change with a new client, Patrick Braddock, who brings a dark plum lipstick for Edie to wear while summoning his wife Sylvia, who drowned nearly two years earlier. Edie is drawn to the pictures of the glamorous couple, and unexpectedly attracted to Patrick himself. A fellow worker warns Edie that there were suspicions about Sylvia’s death, but she begins to meet Patrick outside the Elysian Society to evade the strict rules about physical contact and satisfy her own reawakened need for an emotional bond. The murder of an unknown young woman with a connection to the Elysian Society causes Edie to re-examine the effects of the lotus drugs. Is it possible that the spirits of the dead might take over a body permanently? This suspenseful debut thriller is mesmerizing.
James Naughtie Paris Spring (Overlook Press 2017, UK 2015) finds Will Flemyng, a Scottish-American spy, working in the British Embassy in Paris in the spring of 1968, where the cafes are buzzing with talk of youthful revolution. An encounter with a stranger in the subway sends Flemyng into a near panic. A man called Kristof, presumably an East German, suggests that Flemyng’s brother Abel, who spies for the Americans, has become a double agent. Flemyng tells his boss Freddy Craven that he has been approached, but not that Abel is the bait. Instead, Flemyng contacts his oldest brother Mungo in Scotland, with uncharacteristic questions about Abel’s whereabouts. Mungo dials the secret number he has been given to use in an emergency, and the dying Freddy Craven travels to Scotland to learn more about the family. Mungo, a historian, searches back through his collection of letters from his brothers, looking for clues that might reveal the truth. Meanwhile, Flemyng is introduced to the stunning American journalist Grace Quincy at a party, and feels an immediate attraction. They meet a few days later for a meal. When Grace’s body is found the next day in the Père Lachaise cemetery, Flemyng tries to investigate her death without becoming a suspect. Kristof reveals the location of a letter drop in the cemetery, and Flemyng retrieves a list of names. Unsure if the list of names are double agents or red herrings, Flemyng dithers about whether to tell Freddy the truth, or continue to play a solo game in the Cold War uncertainties set against the rioting in the Paris streets. This intense prequel to The Madness of July is an excellent classic spy thriller.
Marcus Sedgwick Mister Memory (Pegasus Books 2017) begins in 1899 Paris, when Marcel Després is arrested for shooting his wife Ondine after discovering her having sex with an American friend. Marcel is quickly declared insane by the Préfecture and transferred to the asylum of Salpêtrière under the care of Dr. Lucien Morel. Inspector Laurent Petit, a policeman haunted by the death of his fiancée, visits the asylum to question Després, but is informed by Dr. Morel that Després will not respond to questions while in a catatonic state. Finally Morel asks “What did you do?” and Després begins to talk, describing his cabaret act as “Mister Memory,” able to remember strings of numbers and identify missing objects after viewing a room. Morel assumes the act was a trick, but is eventually convinced that Després has perfect recall of his entire life. Unable to understand why Després was so quickly declared insane, Petit begins to investigate Ondine, learning that she once worked for a photographic pornographer, who is murdered soon after Petit questions him. While searching the photographer’s destroyed studio, Petit discovers a photograph of a strange sexual ritual featuring a girl who might be Ondine, and a man who is certainly a highly placed official. As Morel struggles to find a way to free Després of the memories he cannot forget, Petit searches for a way to find the truth about Ondine’s death before anyone realizes he is still investigating the crime. This fascinating historical thriller explores the effect of remembering and forgetting on those consumed by grief and guilt.
JoAnn Chaney What You Don’t Know (Flatiron Books 2017) begins in December 2008 when Detective Paul Hoskins and his partner Ralph Loren arrive with a search warrant at the home of Jacky Seever, a beloved community businessman. In the basement they find eleven decomposing bodies, one matching the description of a girl missing since 1988. Seever’s wife Gloria claims to know nothing about the bodies, instead attributing the smell to a rodent problem and poisoned mice dying in the walls. Sammie Peterson, a reporter for the Denver Post who is having an affair with Hoskins, longs to move from fluff pieces to real news. Her connection with Hoskins gets her past the police tape to the inside track of the biggest story for years. Carrie Simms, Seever’s final victim who barely escaped with her life, testifies at the trial, and Seever is convicted and sentenced to death by lethal injection. Seven years later when the bodies of two women are recovered from the Chatfield Reservoir, Carrie still hasn’t recovered from her imprisonment and abuse by Seever, Hoskins has been demoted to cold cases, and Sammie is working at the foodcourt after layoffs at the paper. The victims are identified as the two high school girls who had part-time jobs for Seever just before his arrest, possibly being groomed as the next victims. Seever is in prison on Death Row, but the new bodies have all the trademarks of a Seever murder, including missing fingers, a detail that was never released publicly. Sammie begins working on piece she hopes will earn her a job back on the paper, and visits Seever in prison, while Hoskins tries to insert himself into the investigation of the new murders. This dark debut novel is deeply disturbing.
Daniel Cole Ragdoll (Ecco 2017) introduces disgraced London police detective William Oliver Layton-Fawkes, known as The Wolf, back from enforced leave after attacking Naguib Khalid, a serial killer accused of murdering 27 teenage prostitutes, when Khalid was acquitted. After his trial, Khalid was caught in the act killing the next girl, proving his guilt but not quite redeeming Wolf from planting evidence and assaulting Khalid in the courtroom. Later, Wolf is called to a gruesome murder scene: the corpse composed of body parts from six different people. Wolf is stunned to recognize the head as that of Naguib Khalid, supposedly in prison serving a life sentence. Another disturbing fact is that one of the corpse’s arms has been posed with silk threads to point directly at Wolf’s apartment window across the courtyard. Detective Emily Baxter, Wolf’s former partner, is also on the team trying to identify the other parts of the sewn together corpse, dubbed Ragdoll. Television reporter Andrea Hall, Wolf’s ex-wife, receives an anonymous packet of pictures of the corpse, along with a list of names and dates, presumably the next victims of the Ragdoll killer. The mayor is the first name on the list, and Wolf’s name is the last. The police ask Andrea not to release the list, but when her boss gives the Ragdoll story to a newly-hired young woman, Andrea uses the list as a trading chip to get herself back in front of the camera. Wolf is tasked with identifying the other five victims while Baxter and her new partner search for links among them. As the parts ore identified, Wolf fears that the catalyst for the killings is one of the first cases he and Baxter investigated together. This intense debut thriller laced with black humor, the first in a trilogy focused on the Ragdoll police team, is a finalist for the 2017 New Blood Dagger Award.
Matt Coyle Dark Fissures (Oceanview 2016) finds private investigator Rick Cahill on the bink of losing his house to a bank foreclosure. A former Santa Barbara cop, Cahill was falsely accused of killing his wife, and is now suspected by Tony Moretti, the La Jolla Chief of Police, of the murder of a missing person. Brianne Colton, a beautiful and talented country singer, hires Cahill to investigate the death of her estranged husband Jim four months earlier. The police ruled Jim’s death a suicide, but Brianne is sure he would never have hanged himself where their son would discover his body. Jim was a La Jolla cop with a collection of guns, another reason Brianne has doubts about a suicide by hanging. Cahill knows that Moretti’s vendetta against him will make it nearly impossible to talk to Jim’s police colleagues, but he desperately needs the money and accepts the case. At first suicide looks reasonable, but as Cahill digs into the case new pieces of evidence point toward murder. Discovering that Jim didn’t trust Moretti makes the case even more difficult, since Moretti’s persecution of Cahill call his own motives into question. His growing attraction to Brianne, violting his rule against becoming involved with clients, plus an uneasy alliance with sleazy criminal lawyer Alan Rankin add to the pressure. This dark third in the series featuring the vulnerable investigator is a finalist for the 2017 Lefty and Macavity Awards for Best Mystery.
Michael Craven The Detective and the Chinese High-Fin (Harper 2016) begins when Los Angeles private detective John Darvelle gets a call from Mike Ott, an LAPD homicide investigator, asking if he is interested in working on a cold case homicide instead of wasting his time playing ping pong and drinking light beer. About a year and a half earlier, Keaton Fuller was shot dead at long range in his Hollywood driveway. Though the police found that most people disliked the wealthy entrepreneur, all possible suspects had airtight alibis. Keaton’s parents admit that their son behaved poorly toward his family, girlfriends, friends, and business associates, but don’t believe any of those could have pulled off a professional hit. Darvelle discovers motives galore: Keaton wrecked his brother’s car and refused to compensate him, cheated on his live-in girlfriend, and withdrew his oral commitment to his partner who lost his bar, displaying all the symptoms of a sociopath. The one lead that Darvelle suspects the police didn’t spend much time on is Keaton’s interest in investing in the high-end tropical fish business. He visits the offices of Prestige Fish, brokers for rare fish, discovering that fish like the Platinum Arowana and Chinese High-Fin sell for up to half a million dollars apiece. Lee Graves tells Darvelle that they returned Keaton’s investment since he demanded an immediate profit, but Darvelle is sure something about Prestige Fish isn’t right. Darvelle’s witty narration enlivens this second in the series, a finalist for the 2017 Shamus Award for Best Paperback Original.
Nuala Ellwood My Sister’s Bones (William Morrow 2017) is the story of Kate Rafter, a decorated war reporter who has spent the last fifteen years writing about the human story within the chaos of war, focusing on ordinary people whose lives have been destroyed by conflict. After her beloved mother dies, Kate returns from Syria to her home town of Herne Bay, England, where her estranged alcoholic younger sister still lives with her husband Paul. Kate isn’t surprised that it’s Paul who picks her up at the train station, he has been her mother’s support since she moved to the nursing facility with Alzheimers. Kate moves into her mother’s house to wrap up her affairs, but finds that her usual sleeping pills plus a healthy dose of wine aren’t enough to keep her nightmares at bay. Returning to her unhappy childhood home brings back all the hurtful memories of the death by drowning of her baby brother followed by years of violence against her mother by her alcoholic father. Her dreams are also haunted by memories of a young Syrian boy, the result of her unacknowledged PTSD from living in the horrors of war zones for long stretches year after year. When Kate hears the cries of a young boy in the neighboring yard, she at first believes they are part of her nightmares, but then becomes convinced a child is being abused. Knocking on the door late one night, she meets a young Iraqi woman with a battered face, who insists there is no child in the house. When Kate investigates the woman’s yard and calls the police a few nights later, the woman files trespassing charges and Kate is taken in for psychiatric evaluation. This intense debut psychological thriller exploring the harrowing effects of war and domestic abuse on innocent victims is highly recommended.
Chris Holm Red Right Hand (Mulholland Books 2016) begins when a family of five convinces a passing stranger to take a video of them at Fort Point with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. Unaccustomed to modern gadgets, the man accidentally films himself before reversing the phone. A terrorist attack on the bridge throws the family to the ground, and the stranger drops the phone and vanishes. When the video goes viral, FBI Special Agent Charlie Thompson recognizes the stranger as Frank Segreti, known as the Devil’s Red Right Hand, a Federal witness she met seven years earlier, presumed dead when his safe house was attacked by the mob and burned to the ground. Charlie tries to convince her FBI superiors that the mob Segreti betrayed will be hunting for him, but the FBI is totally focussed on catching the terrorists who attacked the bridge. Charlie turns to Michael Hendricks, a former covert operative for the US military who makes a living killing hitmen. Hendricks is hunting down the mob leaders called the Council, who were responsible for the death of his partner Lester, who ran the technical side of the business. Hendricks reluctantly accepts the job and the help of Cameron, the tech-savvy daughter of a woman Hendricks saved several years earlier, though the thought of putting her life in danger terrifies him. This compelling second in the series is a finalist for the 2017 Anthony Award for Best Novel.
Derek B. Miller The Girl in Green (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2017, UK 2016) begins in 1991 at Checkpoint Zulu in Iraq, 100 miles from the Kuwaiti border. Desert Storm is over, peace has been declared, and Private Arwood Hobbes, a young American M60 machine gun operator, is more bored than he has ever been in his life. Thomas Benton, an experienced English war reporter for the London Times, floats the possibility of ice cream, and convinces Arwood to let him pass the checkpoint to walk into Samawah and do some interviewing. Samawah is attacked by the Iraqi army who slaughter the Shiite civilians, and Benton flees accompanied by a teenage girl in a green dress. Arwood goes AWOL to search for Benton and the trio are captured. Arwood and Benton both end up in a UN refugee camp run by Märta Ström, where Arwood walks through a mine field to rescue a child, convincing everyone he has totally gone round the bend. Twenty-two years later Arwood calls Benton and demands that he watch the news, where a video of refugees in Kurdistan captures a teenage girl in a green dress being hit by a mortar attack. Arwood insists it is the same girl and convinces Benton, whose marriage has just collapsed, to meet him in Dohuk, where the war never stopped, to rescue her. Märta is still running the refugee camp trying to help the Kurdish people caught between the Syrian and Iraqi armies, and agrees to provide them with a local driver. They are captured by ISIL terrorists, with little hope of survival. This intense thriller, a finalist for the 2017 Gold Dagger Award, explores the long-reaching effects of war, portrays the desperate situation of war refugees, and delineates the often-futile attempts of outsiders to provide aid and bring peace.
Hannah Tinti The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley (The Dial Press 2017) is the story of Loo Hawley and her father Samuel. By the time she is twelve, Loo has attended seven school in seven years around the country, moving from motel to motel, carrying only what will fit in a small suitcase and Hawley’s collection of guns. Each time Hawley decorates their bathroom with pictures of Loo’s mother Lily, who drowned when Loo was a baby, along with her lipstick, brush, and shampoo. The summer before Loo begins eighth grade they travel to Olympus, Massachusetts, where her mother grew up and her grandmother still lives. Her grandmother slams the door shut in Hawley’s face, but he is determined to give Loo a more normal life, buys a rundown house, and makes a meager living digging clams. Loo’s transitory existence hasn’t prepared her for fitting in and making friends, and she is soon a target at school. The principal went to school with Lily, and Loo searches for information about her mother, discovering that her grandmother believes her father murdered her mother. A school greased-pole competition exposes Hawley’s collection of scars, and flashbacks fill in the stories of the twelve bullet and stab wounds that kept the career criminal on the run from state to state for years. An acquaintance from his violent past reappears, bringing the danger Hawley has tried so long to evade back into their lives. This suspenseful thriller is highly recommended.
Wendy Walker Emma in the Night (St. Martin’s Press 2017) is the story of the disappearance of two sisters late one night: 17-year-old Emma Tanner and 15-year-old Cass. Emma’s shoes were found on a Long Island Sound beach near their home, leading to a suspicion of suicide or perhaps accidental death after a late-night date, but no sign was found of Cass, and the girl’s mother Judy and step-father Jonathan Martin insist Emma would never have taken her pesky little sister along. Three years later Cass knocks on the door of her house, pleading for help finding Emma. Cass explains that Emma ran away because she was pregnant, and that they were kept on a remote island off the coast of Maine after the birth of the baby because the couple who sheltered them refused to let them leave with the child. Forensic psychiatrist Abby Winter, who has been haunted by her inability to help the police locate the missing girls, works with Cass to recover the story of the three years she was gone. Abby’s own mother was narcissistic, and Abby was convinced at the time the girls vanished that the their mother Judy’s undiagnosed narcissistic personality disorder was the underlying cause. When Cass’s parents divorced, Cass asked the judge if the sisters could live with their father, expressing a concern about the way her mother’s new husband and his son look at Emma. The judge ruled in her mother’s favor, and from then on Judy insisted that Cass call her Mrs. Martin instead of Mom. Abby is concerned because Cass won’t talk to anyone without Mrs. Martin by her side, fearing that there are secrets still to be uncovered in the family she is convinced is dysfunctional. This gripping psychological thriller exposes the long-lasting damage a narcissistic mother can do to her children.
Yrsa Sigurdardottir The Undesired (Minotaur 2017, UK 2015) centers around the Krókur care home, a residential home for delinquent boys that operated in the 1970s in rural Iceland. After the sudden death of a colleague, Ódinn Hafsteinsson of the State Supervisory Agency is assigned to continue her investigation of Krókur, determining if any boys had suffered lasting harm from mistreatment or abuse. Searching through her files, Ódinn discovers a list of names, two marked with crosses: Thorbjörn (Tobbi) Jóhasson and Einar Allen. Ódinn has to balance work with child care since his ex-wife Lára recently fell to her death while smoking on the windowsill of the attic flat she shared with their 11-year-old daughter Rún, who hasn’t recovered from the shock of her mother’s death. Interspersed chapters from 1974 are from the point of view of Aldís, a young woman hired to serve as a maid at Krókur. Aldís hates her job at the isolated care home, but hasn’t any other options after running away when her mother didn’t believe that her stepfather was abusing her. She feels sorry for the early teen boys who are being punished for minor offenses like breaking a window, but actively dislikes Lilja and Veiger who run the home. After Aldís has been at Krókur for six months, a new boy named Einar arrives. Everything about Einar is different. Aldís is sure he is older than 16, the maximum age for juvenile detention, and is fascinated by the rumors that his crime was a serious one. Aldís is as lonely as the boys, and soon forms a tentative relationship with Einar. This well-crafted thriller brings the past and present together for a chilling finale.
Federico Axat Kill the Next One (Mulholland Books 2016) is the story of Ted McKay, who had an outwardly perfect life with a beautiful wife and two young daughters until he was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor. Determined to commit suicide, Ted had a gun to his temple, when a man begins pounding and shouting at his front door. Ted lowers the gun and notices a note in his own handwriting: “Open the door. It’s your only way out.” Ted doesn’t remember writing the note, but is confused enough to open the door to Justin Lynch, a stranger who greets him by name. Lynch offers Ted a deal: if Ted kills two men (one who escaped justice for his crimes and one with terminal cancer) someone will kill him in exchange, sparing his family the additional pain of suicide. Ted agrees, but emerging details about both his victims don’t fit the stories Lynch told, and he fears that he as been tricked into killing innocent men. As he tries to learn more about his victims, Ted is haunted by dreams of a vicious possum and worries that the tumor is effecting his sanity. Once Ted is committed to a psychiatric hospital and drugged, his grasp on reality becomes even more tenuous and the lines between truth and deception blur. This intense psychological suspense thriller is the US debut of the Argentina-born author.
Deb Caletti What’s Become of Her (Bantam 2017) is the story of Isabelle Austen, who has returned to her hometown on Parrish Island after the death of her mother to take over Island Air, the small family charter business. Isabelle has been living in her mother’s house on an isolated island in the Pacific Northwest for six months when Henry North arrives. A Boston University professor specializing in Edgar Allen Poe, Henry tells Isabelle he is going to spend a year’s sabbatical on the island, intentionally isolating himself so he can concentrate on writing his own book of poetry. Isabelle, who left her job as editor for a small press to return to the island, feels an immediate connection to Henry and his literary aspirations and accepts an invitation for dinner. Meanwhile, at the New Caledona Corvus Research Facility and Sanctuary, Professor M. Weary studies the native crows and monitors Henry’s life by following his credit card bills and the photographs he posts on ShutR. The flight to Parrish Island isn’t worrisome until charges for expensive food and wine appear, signaling that Henry is courting a new woman. Weary scrolls though Henry’s ShutR feed, past endless “artistic” shots until he finally spots a delicate hand with nail polish in one of the photos and the name of a boat in another. The boat rental agent gives Weary Isabelle’s name and he makes an anonymous phone call to the Parish Island’s sole police officer. Isabelle’s friends caution her about moving too quickly into a relationship with Henry but she is charmed, and ignores his narcissistic tendencies as he begins to isolate her from everyone else, convincing her to sell her mother’s house and move in with him. When Isabelle learns that Henry’s two previous girlfriends have died in accidents — Virginia fell to her death off a cliff and Sarah fell overboard and was lost at sea — she is terrified, but too dependent on Henry to completely pull loose. This psychological suspense thriller explores the capability to ignore uncomfortable facts that don’t fit with one’s desired reality.
Jim Eldridge Shadows of the Dead (Severn House 2017) begins with the November 1921 murders of Lord Fairfax, formerly of the War Office, and Carl Adams, a visting American. An anonymous letter accuses Lady Amelia, Lord Fairfax’s ex-wife, of the crime. Amelia has an unbreakable alibi since she was spending the night with Sotland Yard Detective Chief Inspector Paul Stark, but revealing that fact would tarnish Amelia’s reputation and cost Stark his job for breaking the morals clause for police officers. Nothing is known about Adams except that he arrived in London with Edgar Cavendish, an American film promoter. Fairfax had plenty of enemies, and Winston Churchill is sure the murder is a retaliation for Fairfax’s involvement with the disaster at Gallipoli. As DCI Stark and Sergeant Danvers investigate both victims, they wonder if the murders may have something to do with the British Union of Patriots, an organization opposed to Jews, Chinese, and any other non-British ethnic groups. Cavendish, a member of the Ku Klux Klan, is invited to speak at the British Union of Patriots about the infiltration of the American film industry by Jews. Stark and Danvers discover that the members of the British Union of Patriots include highly placed men in both society and the police force. After they are both personally threatened and advised to look elsewhere for the murderer, they have doubts about whom they can trust. This excellent second in the series incorporates themes of the constriction of social class, the financial disparity between the rich and the poor, and the long-reaching effects of the Great War.
Heather Gudenkauf Not a Sound (Park Row Books 2017) begins when sexual assault nurse examiner Amelia Wynn escorts a woman who has been raped and beaten to her car after emergency treatment. A hit-and-run accident leaves the woman dead, and Amelia completely deaf. Dispair over losing her job along with her hearing sends Amelia into a downward spiral of depression and alcohol, causing her husband David to ask her to leave their home before doing any more damage to her young stepdaughter. Two years later, thanks to Detective Jake Schroeder, the only friend who was able to break through her defenses and transport her to AA and sign language classes, Amelia is sober and re-entering the world with the help of her service dog Stitch. Amelia’s first line of defense against the lure of alcohol is Five Miles River, right outside her door, where she exhausts herself every day. While out paddle boarding early one morning, the waves caused by a passing boat push her toward the bank, where she discovers the body of Gwen Locke, a fellow nurse she lost contact with after the accident. Amelia interviews for a job with Dr. Joseph Huntley, the director of the Five Mines Regional Cancer Center. Though she would love to return to nursing, Amelia is happy with the part-time job scanning patient records into the new computer system, where she finds enough anomalies to keep her interested. After discovering the body, Amelia feels anxious shut up in her isolated cabin, and heads back to the river, chancing upon a strange man leaving lilies where she found Gwen’s body. Though warned by Jake to stay away from the investigation, Amelia can’t help trying to make sense of the murder. Amelia’s profound deafness adds an extra element of terror to this effective psychological thriller.
Jordan Harper She Rides Shotgun (Ecco 2017) begins when 11-year-old Polly McClusky is unexpectedly picked up after school by her father Nate, just released from prison and driving a stolen car. Polly hasn’t seen her father since she was six, but recognizes him instantly by his pale blue “gunfighter” eyes that are exactly like her own. Polly is shy, bullied at school, and carries a one-eyed teddy bear with her everywhere. She animates the bear like a puppet, using him to communicate and for comfort. Polly has no idea why her father has suddenly reappeared, and Nate doesn’t tell her much at first. He was serving his last week in prison for an armed robbery conviction when a member of the Aryan Steel gang informed him that he was going to serve the gang when released. Unwilling to give up his freedom, Nate refused, and killed the gang member with his own shiv. Crazy Craig Hollington, a Pelican Bay State Prison lifer and president of Aryan Steel, issued a death warrant for Nate, his woman, and his child. After finding Polly’s mother and her new husband murdered, Nate realized his only chance to save Polly was to hide her while he vanishes. But the Aryan Steel gang are waiting with the one old friend Nate trusted, and he is forced to take Polly with him on a dangerous flight to escape both the gang and the police, who assume it is Nate who killed his ex-wife. At first Polly only trusts her bear, who may not be alive but is her one true friend, but gradually establishes a bond with Nate, who is surprised by his own feelings of unconditional love and the overpowering need to protect his daughter at all costs. This high intensity debut thriller packs a powerful emotional punch.
Vaseem Khan The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown (Redhook 2016) begins when Inspector Ahswin Chopra (retired) and his wife Poppy go to view the British Crown Jewels on display in Mumbai. The centerpiece of the exhibit is the famous Koh-i-Noor diamond,“presented” by India to the British in 1849, now set into the Queen Mother’s Crown. Many in India feel the diamond was stolen by the British, and security for the exhibition is draconian. When Chopra’s group of twenty are admitted to the gallery, an explosion and choking white smoke cause them to lose consciousness. When they awake, the Queen Mother’s Crown is missing and no sign is found of the thieves. Chopra, now running a private investigation agency after retiring from 30+ years in the police force, is hired by Inspector Garewal, head of security for the Crown Jewels, who has been arrested for the theft. Garewal admits he is guilty of bribing his way to the post of security head as a vehicle to fame, but Chopra knows Garewal isn’t capable of planning the flawless crime. With the help of his baby elephant Ganesha, a master of surveillance with a nose for the truth, Chopra takes the case. The investigation takes them undercover at a small circus, where Ganesha displays a talent for tricks and enjoys wearing the fancy costume, but Chopra proves to have no talent at all as a clown and looks ridiculous. This funny and endearing second in the Baby Ganesh Agency series is a finalist for the 2017 Shamus Award for Best Private Eye Paperback Original.
Jess Kidd Himself (Atria 2017) is the story of Mahony, who was abandoned on the steps of a Dublin orphanage as an infant in 1950. Twenty-six years later, a priest tracks Mahony down in a bar to deliver a sealed envelope that had been left in the basket with the baby. Opening the envelope, Mahony finds a picture of a young girl holding a baby and a letter explaining that his mother was Orla Sweeney from Mulderrig, Country Mayo, that the town despised Orla, and that she loved him. Having always believed his mother abandoned him without a care, Mahony heads to Mulderrig to figure out what happened to his mother, suspecting she was a victim of foul play. In Mulderrig Mahony is greeted with mistrust because of his long hair, mixed with fascination because of his charming nature and good looks. He is taken up by Mrs. Cauley, a wheel-chair bound retired actress, who decides to cast Mahony as the lead in the annual play she directs, providing an opportunity to interrogate the villagers about Orla’s last days in Mulderrig. Mahony’s most vehement opponents are the village priest, who replaced the beloved priest who died right after Orla disappeared, and a pious widow who hated his mother. Mahony has a secret advantage in his search for the truth — he is able to see and talk with the dead, though they rarely make much sense. This outstanding debut mystery is laced with dark humor.
Justine Larbalestier My Sister Rosa (Soho Teen 2016) is narrated by Che Taylor, a 17-year-old Australian who worries that his 10-year-old sister Rosa is a psychopath. Che has adored Rosa since the moment of her birth, but his close observations of her manipulative behavior and lack of empathy escalate when he notices her methodically killing ants and pulling wings off moths at the age of four. David and Sally, Che’s parents who insist their children call them by their first names, view Rosa’s behavior as “acting out” and ignore Che’s concerns, which increase as the family moves from Australia to Bangkok to New York City. Che is the only one Rosa trusts, and she confesses her love of power over others to him, only reluctantly agreeing to stop killing as he protects her from her own nature and helps her pretend to be normal. Che’s outlet from the stress of controlling his sister is physical activity, especially boxing, though his mother views sparring as a troubling sign of addiction to violence. Rosa tells Che that their parents are in financial trouble, in debt to Gene and Lisimaya McBrunight who are financing their current business venture. The McBrunight’s have three daughters: fashion obsessed Leilana, who is Che’s age, and twin daughters Maya and Seimone, who are close to Rosa’s age. Though the twins have always been inseparable, Rosa targets Seimone who soon demands her own bedroom and stops speaking to her twin. When Seimone nearly dies after being exposed to peanuts on a sleepover with Rosa, Che hopes that his parents will finally take his concerns seriously, but Rosa manages to charm and manipulate herself out of any responsibility. This disturbing young adult thriller is a finalist for the 2017 Anthony Award for Best YA Novel.
Steven Price By Gaslight (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2016) begins in 1885, when William Pinkerton, eldest son of the notorious founder of Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency, arrives in London in search of the mysterious thief Edward Shade. William’s father hunted for Shade up to the day of his death, and William is determined to track down the legendary con man. William hopes that Charlotte Reckitt can provide a clue, but she jumps into the Thames to avoid speaking with him. Days later a severed head shorn of hair and a legless torso are pulled from the river. William identifies the remains as Charlotte, but has no idea who carved up her body, or why. Meanwhile, Adam Foole, a young man without a past, is traveling to London with Molly, a child pickpocket rescued from the streets, and Japheth Foole, a gigantic American, in response to a letter from Charlotte Reckitt. Foole and Charlotte worked on a robbery in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, ten years earlier, along with Charlotte’s uncle Martin. While waiting for the storm necessary for their plan to work, Foole and Charlotte enjoyed a month-long love affair that has haunted Foole ever since. The diamond heist was successful, but Foole caught a fever and couldn’t meet up with Charlotte. Instead Martin stole the loot from Foole. Martin was arrested and Charlotte vanished. Pinkerton and Foole form an uneasy alliance to search for Charlotte’s killer, following clues through opium dens, séance halls, and the terrifying sewers under the city. Meandering flashbacks fill in Edward Shade’s recruitment by Allan Pinkerton to the Union Intelligence Service during the Civil War when Shade was just a boy. This beautifully written suspense novel, a finalist for the 2017 Historical Dagger Award, features unique characters firmly set in their specific time and place.
Anna Snoekstra Only Daughter (MIRA 2016) begins in 2014 when a 22-year-old homeless woman is about to be charged with shoplifting in Australia. Desperate to avoid jail, she blurts out that her name is Rebecca Winter, a 16-year-old who vanished on her way home 11 years earlier in Canberra. The imposter does look a lot like Bec, whose picture she saw on a recent newscast, and manages to avoid the blood test that would prove her a liar. She spins a tale of abduction and a faulty memory, and Bec’s parents accept her as their missing daughter. Detective Vince Andopolis, the lead investigator of Bec’s disappearance, is harder to mislead, constantly pushing for more details about the day she vanished and the missing 11 years. But he presumes she is protecting her abductor and doesn’t seem to suspect she’s an imposter. Bec’s younger twin brothers at first seem dubious, but come around when she mentions missing a previous pet. The person who may be impossible to fool is Lizzie, Bec’s best friend who knew far more about her than anyone else. Interspersed chapters from Bec’s perspective in 2003 fill in the details of her last summer: working at McDonalds, taking care of her bored little brothers, shoplifting with Lizzie, and suffering though her first crush on an older boy. Once the imposter is more secure in her surroundings, she begins to wonder what really did happen to Bec, and if her unexpected reappearance has triggered something that puts her own life in danger. This intense debut thriller is a finalist for the 2017 Ned Kelly Award for Best First Crime Novel.
John Darnielle Universal Harvester (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2017) begins in the late 1990s when a local schoolteacher in Nevada, Iowa, returns a copy of an old Boris Karloff movie to Jeremy at Video Hut and says there is “something on it.” Jeremy means to watch the movie but forgets until a few days later when another customer returns a new video and says “There’s another movie on it.” Jeremy takes the videos home to watch himself and discovers that a few minutes of a badly filmed home movie has been inserted in the middle of each commercial video. The inserted clips are too dark to see clearly, but are very disquieting with hints of violence. There are no recognizable faces, but landmarks point to a farm just outside town. Jeremy gives the altered videos to Sarah Jane, the store manager, who in turn forgets to watch them until a third customer complains. Sarah Jane locates the farmhouse, and shows the current occupant, Lisa Sample, a printout from the inserted video showing one of the farm’s outbuildings. Lisa says she doesn’t know anything about the video and invites Sarah Jane in for coffee. Sarah Jane tells Jeremy about her visit, and shows him a clip of a half-clothed woman fleeing down a driveway inserted after the credits of a store video. Sarah Jane is sure the woman in the video is Lisa Sample. The next week Sarah Jane doesn’t show up for work, and Jeremy discovers she has moved into the farmhouse with Lisa. This unnerving thriller is quite unsettling.
Nir Hezroni Three Envelopes (Thomas Dunne Books 2017, Hebrew 2014) begins in 1989 Israel, when the small boy who would become Agent 10483 gets up at 1:30 AM to protect himself and his parents by checking and rechecking that the front door is locked, measuring the water in the bottles in the refrigerator to make sure no one has added poison while they slept, and performing mental calculations to calm himself. Back in his room, the boy records his actions in a notebook before hiding it in a drawer. In 2016 Avner Moyal, a top agent in The Organization, receives a late-night delivery of a notebook from a law firm, and learns that Agent 10483 instructed the firm hold it for 10 years before delivering. As Avner reads the notebook full of recorded dreams and actions, he learns that 10483 was a psychopath who managed to circumvent the personality tests and polygraph questioning to join the Organization. The only question is if 10483 outwitted his superiors and handlers or if he was recruited knowing who and what he was in order to kill the three nuclear scientists identified in the three envelopes he was given in 2006. The notebook records a sound-proofed booby-trapped basement containing a cage where 10483 created “art exhibits” of those who invaded his privacy. Interspersed chapters follow Carmit, who uses light-sensitive proteins to adapt specific areas of a person’s brain, changing behaviors and planting timed triggers. Avner fears that 10483 did not die in the fire that destroyed his apartment in 2006, but instead has returned to take vengeance on The Organization, which betrayed him. This terrifying debut thriller explores the danger of training a psychopath to evade capture and kill without a trace, and the questionable decisions intelligence organizations make as they balance killing innocents with protecting society.
Catherine Ryan Howard Distress Signals (Blackstone Publishing 2017) is the story of Adam Dunne, whose girlfriend Sarah O’Connell leaves him behind in Cork, Ireland, for a short business trip to Barcelona. The couple has been living together for ten years, mainly supported by Sarah as Adam works a series of dead-end jobs and tries to become a writer. He has finally sold a option on a screenplay, and plans to spend the four days Sarah is gone on rewrites. After dropping Sarah off at the airport on Sunday, Adam receives a text telling him she has arrived safely, but nothing after that. He assumes she is busy at the conference until he gets a call from her parents, who haven’t heard from her either. Adam calls the hotel in Barcelona and learns that Sarah only stayed one night. When she doesn’t get off the return flight on Thursday, Adam learns from Sarah’s best friend Rose that Sarah didn’t attend a conference, she was meeting a man. The only thing Rose knows about him is that he is an American. Then Adam receives Sarah’s passport in the mail, postmarked Nice, with a post-it saying “I’m sorry—S.” Adam and the O’Connells report Sarah missing, but the Garda officer considers Sarah an adult who left under her own volition, citing the returned passport and note as a sign of communication. Desperate to find her, Adam tracks Sarah to Celebrate, an enormous Blue Wave cruise ship specializing in short voyages in the Mediterranean. Blue Wave refuses to release camera footage, but shows Adam a printout of Sarah’s Swipeout card proving that she left the ship in Nice and did not return. Interspersed chapters follow the troubled Romain beginning in 1989, when he was a seven-year-old child in Deavieux, Picardy. Romi’s mother adores his two younger brothers, but is suspicious of her oldest son, constantly questioning his behavior and motivations. Present-day insertions feature Corinne, an aging housekeeper on the Celebrate who is searching for a man who may be searching for her. All three characters come together on the self-contained world of the cruise ship for the climax of this intense debut thriller, a finalist for the 2017 New Blood Dagger Award.
J.C. Lane Tag, You’re Dead (Poisoned Pen Press 2016) features a lethal Game of Tag organized by the Referee through the landmarks and streets of Chicago. Three privileged teenaged players buy the right to become “It” and destroy their hand-picked “Runner” if tagged before Home Base is reached. Brandy Inkrott, a spoiled ultra-rich girl whose surgical enhancements haven’t resulted in a place on the Homecoming Court, chooses Laura Wingfield as her Runner, a small town, naturally beautiful girl she has never met, who reminds her of the popular girls at her own school. Robert Haverford Matthews, the jealous second string center of his high school team selects Tyrese Broadstreet, the poor, black, extremely talented star. Charles Akida, a bored brainiac, chooses Amanda Paniagua, who rules the online virtual community as PeruviaGoddess13, hoping she will provide him with an appropriate challenge. Charles doesn’t purchase the fatal Elite Package until he realizes Amanda isn’t taking the Game seriously. The three Runners are kidnapped, given $500 in cash, equipped with a locked-on smartwatch that transmits their location every 30 minutes, and warned that their friends and family will be killed if they don’t follow the rules. Each Runner has a different skill set to help them evade capture once they accept that they can’t ignore the Rules of the Game. The three Its have identical smartwatches plus the transportation advantages of the rich. The added incentive for the Its is the promise of a free Game of Tag if they are the first to tag their Runner, and the threat of arrest for conspiracy to commit murder to the loser. This high-intensity debut young adult thriller by adult mystery author Judy Clemens is a finalist for the Agatha and Anthony Awards for Best YA Novel.
Edith Maxwell Delivering the Truth (Midnight Ink 2016) introduces Rose Carroll, a Quaker midwife in 1888 Amesbury, Massachusetts. After the death of her sister, Rose moved in with her schoolteacher brother-in-law and his five children, helping her oldest niece Faith with the housework and caring for the children. At the age of 26, Rose is not yet married herself, but is content with her career as a midwife and happy in her budding courtship with Doctor David Dodge. Faith delivers a healthy son to Minnie O’Toole, an unmarried woman who seems to have no worries about supporting her child. Her next patient is Lillian Parry, the pampered young wife of William Parry, the wealthy owner of a successful carriage factory. Lilian tells Rose that her sister saw William visiting Minnie O’Toole, and Rose fears he may be the father of Minnie’s child. An arsonist sets fire to Parry’s carriage factory, killing a dozen men trapped inside, and then spreading to the other carriage factories. Rose worries that a disgruntled worker, fired the day of the arson, may be responsible. Detective Kevin Donovan, impressed with Rose’s observational skills and realizing her profession provides an intimate connection with women from all social classes, asks her to keep him posted on secrets and rumors. Rose struggles to balance the tenets of her Quaker faith with her desire to expose the arsonist, and worries that David’s wealthy non-Quaker parents won’t view her as an acceptable wife for their son. Two murders add to the suspense in this series opener, a finalist for the Agatha and Macavity Awards for Best Historical Mystery.
Abir Mukherjee A Rising Man (Pegasus Books 2017) is set in 1919 Calcutta, India. Captain Sam Wyndham, a former Scotland Yard detective, has been recruited by Lord Taggart, Commissioner of the Imperial Police Force in Bangal. While recovering from his wounds in the Great War, Sam learned that his young wife died in the influenza epidemic, and he returned to England with few ties and a morphine addiction. A fresh start in India appeals to him. Calcutta is overwhelming at first: the heat, the smells, the language, the crowds of people. Called to the discovery of a body in an alley, Sam examines what is left of a well-dressed sahib. Inspector Digby, who resents Sam as an outsider brought in to be his superior officer, identifies the dead man as Alexander MacAuley, a top aide to the lieutenant governor. Digby translates the note left in the dead man’s mouth, a warning in Bengali for the English to quit India. Sergeant Surrender-not Banerjee, a new recruit as part of the policy to increase the number of natives, hesitantly mentions a face in the window of a nearby brothel, hopefully a witness to the murder. Though an experienced investigator, Sam feels like a fish-out-of-water in Calcutta, hampered by his unfamiliarity with the city and its culture, and worried about the growing political unrest as the Indian independence movement challenges the complacent British Raj. When Lord Taggart sends Sam off to investigate a train robbery, he doesn’t understand why he’s been pulled off the murder case, but gradually begins to pull all the threads together. The growing trust and respect between Sam and Surrender-not (nicknamed by Digby who couldn’t bother to learn the name Surendranath) provides a natural vehicle for examining the complicated relationship between the British and the Indians. This excellent debut novel is a finalist for the 2017 Gold and Historical Dagger Awards.
Nadine Nettmann Decanting a Murder (Midnight Ink 2016) introduces Katie Stillwell, a sommelier at an upscale San Francisco restaurant. Known by her blind-tasting group as “The Palate,” Katie has just failed her Certified Sommelier Exam after a bad case of nerves when she heads north to meet her old friend Tessa Blakely at Frontier Winery in Napa Valley for their 100th Anniversary Private Party. Tessa, who runs Frontier’s Wine Club, introduces Katie to the owners, Mark and Vanessa Plueger. Learning that Katie is a fan of Merlots, Mark offers Katie a bottle of their 1994, one of his favorite vintages. While enjoying the wine Tessa introduces Katie to the assistant winemaker, the Pleuger’s assistant, and the owner of a neighboring winery. When Tessa is called away by a text from Mark, Jeff Kingman, the vineyard manager keeps her company until a scream takes them into the stone winery, where Mark’s body is floating in a wooden fermentation tank. Katie calls Tessa, but doesn’t get an answer. After Detective Dean finds Tessa’s monogramed wine opener stabbed into Mark’s back, Katie tracks Tessa down to a nearby lodge, delivering cases of wine. Dean, who followed Katie’s car, takes Tessa in for questioning though Tessa insists Mark asked her to deliver the wine, a secret arrangement Vanessa knew nothing about. The daughter of a police detective, Katie finagles her way into accompanying Dean back to the winery, using her knowledge of wine-making to help Dean understand the intricacies of the environment. Katie suspects that someone she met at the party is framing Tessa for the murder, but can’t figure out the motive. Her deductive reasoning skills honed by the blind-tasting process of identifying wines prove just as effective in sorting out truth from lies. Wine pairing chapter headings add to the appeal of this captivating first in the Sommelier mysteries, a finalist for the Agatha, Anthony, and Lefty Awards for Best Debut Mystery.
David Rosenfelt Collared (Minotaur 2017) begins when a woman abandons a border collie at Tara Foundation, the dog rescue organization run by independently wealthy New Jersey defense attorney Andy Carpenter and his friend Willie Miller. When Willie scans the dog he discovers an embedded chip identifying the dog as Cody, who disappeared with Jill Hickman’s adopted baby Dylan nearly three years earlier. Dylan’s nanny Teresa Mullins identified Jill’s former boyfriend Keith Wachtel as the kidnapper, and dog hairs found at his home were matched to Cody by DNA testing. No sign was found of Dylan, and Keith was convicted of kidnapping. Andy’s wife Laurie, a former police officer who met Jill during the investigation, convinces Andy, who is always reluctant to take on a case, to meet with Keith long enough to get his permission to examine the trail transcript and discovery documents, hoping to find something that might lead to Dylan. A limp that Cody didn’t have when he disappeared provides a tentative connection to Maine, the home state of Teresa Mullins. Andy’s accountant Sam, who moonlights as a hacker and dreams of becoming a gun-toting PI, discovers that Teresa moved away shortly after the trial and vanished without a trace. With her eyewitness testimony in question, Keith’s insistance that he was framed becomes suddenly very believable. Andy’s office assistant Edna is as usual very reluctant to take time away from her crossword puzzle tournaments to do any real work, and Hike, the world’s most pessimistic lawyer, is horrified when the investigation stretches to South Carolina, which is far too close to the setting for the movie Deliverance for his peace of mind. A link to an unsavory local drug dealer brings Marcus Clark, the huge nearly mute investigator that scares the pants off Andy, onto the team as bodyguard. Clever plot twists enliven this funny 16th in the series featuring the irreverent and talented Andy Carpenter.
Fred Vargas A Climate of Fear (Penguin Books 2017, France 2015) begins with the presumed suicide of Alice Gauthier, found in her bathtub, fully dressed with her wrists slashed. A strange symbol shaped somewhat like an H at the crime scene prompts the local police to consult Commissaire Danglard in the hopes his eidetic memory will identify the design. Danglard recognize the symbol, but it reminds Commissaire Adamsberg of a guillotine. A letter sent to Amédée Masfauré shortly before her death sends Adamsberg and Danglard to Sombrrevert, where they learn that Amédée’s father Henri shot himself in his study a few days earlier. They discover the same symbol in the study. Amédée shows them a letter from Gauthier asking him to visit her to learn more about the trip to Iceland where his mother Marie-Adélaïde died of exposure. Amédée repeats the story he was told by Gauthier: their group of 12 was stranded because of heavy fog on a tiny island in Iceland supposedly haunted by a local demon protecting a magical stone, barely surviving because one man managed to trap two seals. Only 10 returned from the island, two murdered by the man she referred to as “the monster.” He frightened the rest of the group into supporting the “dead by exposure” story, threatening to hunt them down and kill them if they ever revealed the truth. The group left Iceland without giving their full names. After a third body is found, Adamsberg receives a letter from François Château, president of the Association for the Study of the Writings of Maximilien Robespierre, explaining that all three were members of the Association, reinforcing Adamsberg’s theory that the symbol is a guillotine. Most members of the Association prefer to be anonymous, but Château recognizes the pictures as occasional attendees who formed the audience as others reenacted the Revolution. Most members of Adamsberg’s Serious Crime Squad feel that the Robespierre group is the connecting factor for the murders, but Adamsberg can’t shake the feeling that it all started in Iceland ten years earlier. This beguiling eighth in the excellent series featuring the intuitive Adamsberg, who tends to drift off into his own world, and his peculiar team is a finalist for the 2017 International Dagger Award.
James W. Ziskin Heart of Stone (Seventh Street Books 2016) finds 25-year-old New Holland, New York, reporter Ellie Stone vacationing with her Aunt Lena and Lena’s cousin Max at her cabin on Prospector Lake in the Adirondack Mountains in the summer of 1961. Ellie is recovering from the shock of her aunt’s insistance on swimming au naturel when local police chief Ralph Terwilliger suddenly appears on their dock. Having noticed Ellie’s camera, the shambling officer demands that she accompany him to photograph the bodies of a man and a teenaged boy who plunged to their deaths on the rocks next to a dangerous diving pool. Ellie manages to insert herself into his investigation, hoping for a scoop. The teenager is quickly identified as Jerry Kaufmann, who was attending a local music camp, but no identification is found for the man. No connection can be found between the two, nor an explanation for a shared dangerous dive, but their deaths are ruled accidental. Ellie is sure there is foul play involved and begins to ask her own questions, discovering a connection with the families staying at Arcadia Lodge, a communal vacation spot founded in the 1930s by Jewish intellectuals and artists. Ellie knows most of the residents from the summers her family spent at the lake when she was a child, and finds herself very attracted to Isaac Eisenstadt. News of an escaped prisoner, a convicted murderer, from a maximum security facility make her nightly treks through the woods from her aunt’s cabin to Arcadia Lodge frightening, and Ellie worries that someone is following her every movement. This well-plotted fourth in the series featuring the outspoken yet vulnerable journalist is a finalist for the 2017 Anthony, Edgar Lefty, and Macavity Awards.
Åsa Avdic The Dying Game (Penguin Books 2017, Sweden 2016) is set in The Protectorate of Sweden in 2037, an alternate future where most of Europe has been consolidated under the totalitarian Union of Friendship. Anna Francis, a workaholic bureaucrat who became a household name after her work in war-torn Kyzyl Kum, is called to the Secretariat Building to meet with the Chairman, who asks her to help with a recruiting exercise for the top-secret RAN project. In order to test how well the candidates respond to stress, the Chairman has arranged a field exercise on an isolated island. Anna will pose as one of the seven candidates, but will be “murdered” the first evening and spend the remaining time secretly observing the reactions of the other candidates when they realize one of their group is a killer. Anna is dubious, but she is offered enough money to take a year off to recuperate from her war experiences and rebuild a relationship with her young daughter Siri. While Anna was away, her mother Nour, a disgraced dissident, took over Siri’s care, and the two have become a family without her. Anna and Katerina Ivanovich, the doctor responsible for taking care of any emergencies during the field test, arrive on the island first and familiarize themselves with the secret passages and peepholes under the house. When the six candidates arrive, Anna is startled to recognize Henry, a former colleague who almost became a friend. Anna’s murder, orchestrated by Katerina Ivanovich, goes flawlessly and she retreats to the basement. But then a storm rolls in, the power goes out, and the other candidates begin disappearing one by one. This chilling debut psychological thriller is a deft Orwellian twist on the locked-room mystery tradition.
Jennifer Finney Boylan Long Black Veil (Crown 2017) begins in the summer of 1980 when six recent college graduates, along with a younger brother and elderly former professor, decide to explore the ruins of Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. Benny, Masie’s 10-year-old brother, chases a herd of cats and disappears. The group splits up to search for Benny. When he finally reappears, clutching a cat he calls Creeper and telling a wild tale of a caveman who is the leader of the cats, Wailer is missing. When the police arrive, Detective Dudley focuses on Casey, Wailer’s new husband, but Casey and Quentin were together searching for Benny, and no sign of Wailer can be found. In 1987 Quentin drives his car off a cliff and is presumed dead. In 2015 the remains of Wailer’s body are discovered in the prison ruins and Detective Dudley arrests Casey, now a celebrity chef living on the small fortune he inherited from Wailer. Judith Carrigan, who was Quentin until 1988, knows she is the only one who can testify to Casey’s innocence, but she is afraid telling her husband the truth will destroy her marriage and alienate her adopted son. Interspersed chapters from various perspectives and time periods gradually fill in the details of that long ago penitentiary misadventure and its effect on their lives. This evocative thriller explores themes of loyalty, love, and identity.
Ray Celestin The Axeman (Sourcebooks 2015; The Axeman’s Jazz UK 2014) is set in 1919 New Orleans. Detective Lieutenant Michael Talbot is called to a small Italian grocery store, where a Sicilian couple has been butchered. Like the previous four households, hand-painted Tarot cards have been placed on the bodies. The Mafia often left similar cards at execution scenes, but Michael knows the Mafia doesn’t target women and children. Instead, this killer seems to be choosing his victims at random. Ida Davis, a 19-year-old secretary for the local Pinkerton Agency who longs to be a true agent, thinks she may have spotted a link between the victims. Ida’s best friend Lil’ Lewis Armstrong, a young horn player, accompanies her as she interviews possible informants, gently teasing Ida about her propensity to quote Sherlock Holmes. Ida is able to pass as white in the right clothing, but Lewis is very dark-skinned, which puts them in danger in some parts of town. Michael discovers records of previous murders eight years earlier of grocers killed with an ax. Not sure if it is incompetence or corruption, Michael takes the records to his boss, who asks for a quiet investigation of the old murders, fearing the public reaction if the news gets out. Luca D’Andrea, a Mafia enforcer, has just been released from Angola. Could he be the Axeman? On May 6th, alcoholic reporter John Riley receives a letter signed "The Axeman," promising to spare anyone listening to a jazz band the following Tuesday. When the letter is printed, bars and restaurants vie to hire musicians. Chapters from the perspectives of various characters portray a vibrant and corrupt city, dangerous and beautiful, filled with the sound of jazz. This intense thriller, inspired by Axeman of New Orleans who killed at least six people between 1918 and 1919, was a finalist for the 2014 New Blood Dagger Award and the 2015 Thriller Award.
Matt Goldman Gone to Dust (Forge Books 2017) introduces Nils “Shap” Shapiro, a private detective in Minneapolis. One cold winter night Nils gets a call from his old friend Detective Anders Ellegaard from the neighboring Edina police department, offering a consulting job to assist their tiny force with a rare murder. Entering the massive mansion, Nils discovers that everything is covered with a thick layer of fluffy dust, including the body of the homeowner Maggie Somerville. Divorced for 18 months, Maggie’s two pre-teen children were spending the night with their father. There is no sign of forced entry, and the body’s peaceful appearance on top of a neatly made bed, indicates that Maggie knew her killer, who perhaps even drove home with her in the car parked in the garage. And then filled the house and car with the contents of hundreds of vacuum cleaner bags, effectively hiding his DNA among that of thousands of other people. Nils is tasked with interviewing Maggie’s ex-husband Robert, her new boyfriend Andrew Fine, and any of Maggie’s single friends he can track down. The autopsy reveals that Maggie was drugged, but not raped, and smothered. The killer could easily be a woman. Maggie’s neighbor describes another man Maggie dated, known as Slim, and Nils realizes he knows Andrew, the older brother f of a boy he grew up with. Maggie’s phone records feature numerous calls to an Ansley Bell. When Nils tracks her down he discovers Ansley is being followed by another private investigator. Despite the over-abundance of suspects and shortage of evidence, the FBI demands that Nils drop the case, but he can’t let go of his need to understand the whole story. This humorous debut mystery featuring the insightful and quick-witted detective is the first in a planned series.
Karo Hämäläinen Cruel is the Night (Soho 2017) is the story of a dinner party of four Finnish friends. Mikko and his former best friend Robert haven’t seen each other for ten years since ideological differences drove them apart. Robert made millions as a banker by manipulating interest rates unethically though not illegally. Mikko, an investigative journalist, has dedicated his career bringing down corrupt politicians and financiers like Robert. Mikko only agrees to visit Robert and his young trophy wife Elise because he can no longer live with his regret that he could not bring his childhood friend to justice. During the long flight with his wife Veera from Finland to Robert’s elegant London apartment, Mikko tries to concentrate on reading Murder on the Orient Express while fingering the zipper storage bag in the pocket of his jeans. Arriving at the apartment Mikko presents Elise with a freshly baked loaf of rye bread, explaining that it is a traditional Finnish gift to be eaten only by Robert, no one else. Veera, who once enjoyed a secret affair with Robert, has her own reasons for attending the reunion, as does Robert for organizing it. No one is quite sure how Elise’s mind works since it is so thoroughly percolated with champagne bubbles. By the end of the night only one person is still alive. This darkly elegant locked-room thriller is the English language debut of the prize-winning Finnish novelist.
Mick Herron Spook Street (Soho 2017) finds River Cartwright, a disgraced MI-5 agent assigned to Slough House, a repository for failed agents, worried about his grandfather David Cartwright, who may be slipping into dementia. Known affectionately as the Old Bastard, David Cartwright was a legendary MI-5 agent and hero of the Cold War. He now often forgets to change out of his pajamas when leaving his house, suspects that he is being followed by what he trained River to call “stoats,” dangerous watchers in the bushes, and has trouble remembering his grandson’s name. River isn’t sure if his grandfather is imagining things, but worries that the Service may have plans to eliminate the old man to permanently silence the secrets he is keeping. Meanwhile, a flashmob assembles in a busy shopping center and begins to dance until the young man carrying the music player detonates a bomb killing himself and 40 innocent civilians. The catastrophe shocks London and puts great pressure on MI-5. The dead young man was using a passport under a name created by MI-5 under David Cartwright’s command. If this news goes public, the Service is finished. Then the police are called to David Cartwright’s home to find a dead body, and no sign of Cartwright. The motley collection of Slough House agents begin searching for the Old Bastard, discovering secrets the Service is desperate to keep hidden. Laced with black humor, this intense fourth in the series won the 2017 Steel Dagger Award and was a finalist for the Gold Dagger.
Clare Mackintosh I See You (Berkley 2017, UK 2016) begins during Zoe Walker’s usual London train commute home when she spots a startling ad in the London Gazette, featuring her own photograph for a sex chatline site called FindTheOne.com. At home, Zoe shows the ad to her live-in boyfriend Simon and two teenaged children, Justin and Katie, who admit that the picture might look a bit like her without glasses. Zoe scolds herself for being foolish, and tries to forget about the advertisement though she can’t help noticing that a different woman is featured every day. Finding a stack of back issues of the Gazette, she looks though the old ads, and realizes that she recognizes one of the women from an article about pickpockets on the Underground. Wondering if the pictured women might be targets, Zoe shares her fears with Detective Constable Kelly Swift of the British Transport Police, who investigated the crime. Kelly, whose PTSD following her sister’s rape caused a demotion back to uniform, is the only one who takes Zoe’s concerns seriously until one of the pictured women is murdered. It appears that FindTheOne.com is selling the commute schedules of the pictured women to their subscribers, who have vastly different reasons for meeting unsuspecting women. As time passes, Zoe becomes more paranoid, suspicious of men who look at her across the train, certain that she is being followed, and terrified that 19-year-old Katie may be a target as well. This unsettling psychological thriller is based on a very plausible premise: our predictable and comfortable routines make it very easy to track our daily movements.
Lucy Ribchester The Amber Shadows (Pegasus Books 2017) is the story of Honey Deschamps who works at Bletchley Park in 1942, transcribing decrypted signals from the German Army on a type-x machine in Hut 6. As she is walking home in the blackout one night, a man walking a dog hands her a package that was mis-delivered to another hut. Suspecting the man may be a code-breaker from Hut 3, Honey observes the rules and doesn’t talk about work, but is introduced by Felix Plaidstow to the greyhound Nijinsky. The package has Russian stamps and contains what looks like a square of glass, broken and mosaicked back together. After receiving two more packages, Honey accidentally drops them into the bath which melts a wax coating, revealing a cypher. Honey suspects her father, who left her mother and returned to Russia before she was born, is trying to send her a message. Honey’s mother, a famous opera singer, refused to talk about her father, but her older brother Dickie, a ballet dancer, told her various conflicting tales. Sometimes a spy, sometimes a conscientious objector, their father was Ivan Korochniev, a conductor and pianist, who fled back to Russia, eventually becoming the curator of the Detskoye Selo, the former Catherine Palace Amber Room that was looted by the Nazis in 1941 and relocated to Königsberg Castle. Or the packages could be a trap by the Bletchley authorities testing her loyalty. Unsure whom to trust, Honey sends a secret message to Dickie with a childhood code hidden inside the shell of an egg. This suspenseful historical mystery with Hitchcockian echoes makes effective use of the suspicions and fears swirling around women living in the blackout conditions of wartime England.
Erica Spindler The Other Girl (St. Martin’s Press 2017) features Miranda Rader, a police detective in rural Harmony, Louisiana. Miranda and her partner Jake Billings are called to the murder of Richard Stark, a popular college professor. It’s a brutal murder, but the piece of evidence that shocks Miranda to her core is a newspaper clipping about the arrest of a teenaged girl 15 years earlier. On that hot summer night, Randi Rader was picked up by man and a girl offering to share their drinks. Already drunk, Randi passed out after one more drink, waking up in the middle of the woods with her hands taped together next to the other girl, who is sobbing after being raped. Randi managed to free her own hands, but couldn’t undo the knot in the other girl’s bonds before they heard the man returning. Randi fled to get help, but because of her bad reputation along with the marijuana in her pockets, the officer who picked her up didn’t believe a word of her story. By the time she convinces Chief Cadwell to go back to the woods, there is no sign of the other girl. Randi was sent to juvenile detention, waking every night with nightmares about waking up in the woods and the screams of the girl she abandoned. Inspired by Chief Cadwell, who finally listened to her, Randi determined to change her life and become a police officer herself. When Miranda’s fingerprints are found in Stark’s house, she has no idea how they could have gotten there, and suspects someone is framing her for his murder. As she investigates Stark’s private life, rumors about his sexual habits remind her of the man who abducted her 15-years earlier. But Chief Cadwell is unwilling to hear any negatives about the victim, and Miranda finds herself again in the position where no one is willing to hear her version of the truth. This well-plotted romantic thriller is riveting.
Adam Sternbergh The Blinds (Ecco 2017) is set in Caesura, a small community with a population of 48 in the-middle-of-nowhere Texas. Other than the sheriff, who wears a tin star and carries the only gun (unloaded), and his two officers, Caesura is inhabited by the “Guilty,” who committed heinous crimes, and the “Innocent,” who suffered horrible trauma. An alternative to the witness protection program, Caesura offers a second chance to the most repugnant criminal witnesses who cannot be trusted in the general population and the most traumatized victims who cannot live with their pain. Memories have been selectively wiped so no one remembers either their crimes or their suffering. No one knows if they are guilty or innocent, and the files have been permanently sealed, leaving the residents blinded to their past, and leading to the town nickname: The Blinds, the brain child of Dr. Judy Holliday, who lives part time at a ranch close to the isolated community. Only Dr, Holliday knows the true names and past of the residents of The Blinds, arguing that “If you want to keep a secret you must also hide it from yourself.” When entering the community, residents choose new names, one from a list of movie stars, one from a list of vice presidents. Sheriff Calvin Cooper has been in Caesura since the first residents arrived eight years earlier, promised retirement with full benefits and half-pay if he stays on the job for 10 years. Fran Adams was one of the first arrivals, secretly pregnant with Caesura’s only child. Fran has a number tattooed on her arm, but no memory of her past or the meaning of the tattoo. Cal is sure that Fran is an innocent, unlike William Wayne who arrived at the same time, radiating danger. The murder of Hubert Humphrey Gable, a longtime resistent who kept to himself and seemed to be a sweet guy, brings Agent Rigo from Amarillo to investigate, since Cal and his team can know nothing about Gable’s past that might provide a motive for murder. Cal loads his gun, and Deputy Sidney Dawes, only six weeks on the job and eager to make a name for herself, begins a methodical investigation that reveals a connection between Gable and another recent death, presumed a suicide. Cal doesn’t trust Agent Riga and can’t convince Dr. Holliday to share any information, but is determined to protect Isaac, Fran’s young son who is indisputably an Innocent. This noir thriller explores the possibility of escaping one’s own past.
Emily Carpenter The Weight of Lies (Lake Union 2017) is the story of 24-year-old Meg Ashley, who is trying to break free from her neglectful mother Frances. At the age of 19, Frances wrote Kitten, a horror novel based on the murder of Kim Baker, a Native American child on Bonny Island, Georgia, where Frances was staying for the summer. Kitten became a cult classic, inspired two movies, and brought notoriety to Dorothy Kitchens, the real Kitten, and Ambletern, the family hotel where the book was set. A hand-delivered invitation to Frances’s birthday party, with a note on the back saying “Edgar isn’t well,” brings a reluctant Meg to her mother’s apartment in New York City. Instead of a party, she finds a deserted apartment except for Asa Bloch, her mother’s new assistant, who explains that Frances has just gotten married for the fourth time and is away on her honeymoon. Meg visits Edgar, her mother’s long-time agent and the closest to a parent Meg ever had, in the hospital where he is dying. Meg is furious that her mother has deserted both her and Edgar. The 40th Anniversary edition of Kitten is due out soon, and Asa convinces Meg to write a tell-all memoir about her mother and the novel that destroyed Dorothy Kitchens and her family. Asa has contacted Dorothy, who is willing to talk to Meg. Desperate to make a life independent of her manipulative mother, Meg agrees and travels to Bonny Island to stay with Dorothy in the now-closed hotel. She takes a tattered paperback copy of Kitten from her mother’s bookshelves with her, realizing she must finally read the novel she has always avoided. Kim’s troubled mother was believed to have killed her own daughter, but Frances’s book blames eight-year-old Kitten, painting her as a psychotic killer. Strange notes in the margins of the book cause Meg to closely examine the connection between fiction and the facts of the 40-year-old murder, soon realizing that it’s not only her mother who has been lying all these years. This chilling suspense thriller is quite unsettling.
Steven Cooper Desert Remains (Seventh Street Books 2017) is set in Phoenix, Arizona, where a killer has left the body of a young woman in a cave in the desert, along with a crude carving depicting her murder. While watching the press conference on the evening news, Gus Parker recognizes Detective Alex Mills, and gets a worrisome vibe about an attractive woman standing next to him. Gus is sure that the killer is also watching the woman on the news, and targeting her. Though his day job is working at Valley Imaging doing mammograms and sonograms, Gus has a reputation for helping to solve crimes. Alex calls him Detective Psycho, and trusts the reluctant psychic’s intuitions. When Alex takes him to the scene of the crime Gus sees a vision of a burning house and hears a screaming child. Later visions lead to the scenes of additional murders and carvings, but not to the killer. When Alex’s son is arrested for selling marijuana, his rival Timothy Chase, a former FBI forensic psychologist, inserts himself into the investigation and has little patience with Gus’s insights. When he’s not working or assisting the police, Gus helps his friend Beatice Vossenheimer expose fake psychics with the help of Beatrice’s 82-year-old secretary, and tries to evade Bridget Mulroney, the police PR liaison who has decided to interpret his disinterest in her as a challenge. This well-plotted series opener features interesting characters, witty banter, and a vivid setting.
Elizabeth Heathcote Undertow (Park Row Books 2017, UK 2016) is the story of Carmen, a free-lance London journalist happily married to Tom Cawton, a divorced father with three children. Carmen wasn’t the cause of Tom’s divorce, and has a cordial relationship with his ex-wife Laura. In between was Tom’s torrid affair with Zena, a beautiful woman who convinced him to leave his family. Three years earlier, Zena disappeared after going out for a swim at their beach bungalow in a Norfolk village. Days later Zena’s body washed ashore, miles from the cottage, a presumed victim of the undertow that made that section of the beach hazardous. A chance encounter with a local while Carmen is buying supplies for the bungalow causes her to reconsider her belief that Zena’s death was an accident. Carmen learns that Tom was held and questioned, though not charged, since the damage to Zena’s body might have been caused tumbling in the surf. Driven to learn the truth, Carmen goes through the boxes Tom has stored in her flat, discovering an old computer with a browser search history focused on death by drowning that may have been conducted before Tom was informed by the police that Zena was dead. As she researches Zena’s death, Carmen discovers documents and photographs that don’t tally with the minimal information Tom has shared with her, and is uneasy when realizing it was raining the day Zena swam in the sea. When Carmen discovers Tom has money secreted in an offshore account, she wonders what else he has hidden from her, and begins to fear that she has married a murderer. This intense debut psychological thriller delineates Carmen’s mounting paranoia, intensified by an isolated setting that echoes that of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca.
Anthony Horowitz Magpie Murders (Harper 2017) begins when editor Susan Ryeland takes the manuscript of Magpie Murders, Alan Conway’s latest novel, home to work on over the weekend. Conway’s series, an homage to golden age British mysteries, stars Atticus Pünd, a half Greek, half-German private detective in the 1950s. The book features a murder in Pye House, a manor in the English countryside, and Susan is sure it will be a best-seller like the previous books in the series, though the plot element of a fatal illness for Pünd is troubling. Unfortunately the last chapter is missing, and Susan spends Sunday afternoon compiling a list of suspects, motives, and alibis, hoping to solve the mystery herself before Monday, when she can ask Charles Clover, the owner of Cloverleaf Books, for the missing pages. Then she hears on the evening news that Alan Conway is dead. On Monday morning Charles shows Susan a handwritten letter that arrived in the morning post from Alan Conway, describing his own fatal illness and saying goodbye. Alan fell to his death from the tower of his home, and the letter prompts the police to rule his death a suicide. But when Susan can’t find any trace of the missing final chapter in Alan’s study or on his computer, she begins to wonder if he has been killed. She compiles a new list of suspects, motives, and alibis, hoping to identify the killer and locate the final chapter for the book their publishing house desperately needs to stay afloat. This wickedly plotted novel, which pays homage to, while gently mocking, the golden age mystery genre, is great fun.
Greer Macallister Girl in Disguise (Sourcebooks Landmark 2017) is the story of Kate Warne, a desperate widow in Chicago who convinces Allan Pinkerton to hire her in 1856 as the first female detective working for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. Though dubious, Pinkerton finds Kate’s pitch of being able to go places men aren’t welcome and earn the trust of women interesting enough to give her a trial case. The other Pinkerton agents aren’t thrilled to have a woman in their ranks, but Kate’s ability to disguise herself and become whatever the case requires — seductress, gypsy, wealthy gentlewoman — wins their grudging respect. Assigned to catch an embezzler stealing from the Illinois Central Railroad, Kate meets a tall, thin lawyer named Lincoln, who is impressed by her skills. During the Civil War Allan Pinkerton was appointed head of the Union Intelligence Service, and when president-elect Lincoln’s life is threatened in 1861, he asks that Kate be part of the Pinkerton team hired to foil the assassination attempt in Baltimore. Kate’s most traumatic investigations were serving as a spy in the South during the war, inserting herself into Southern society and gathering intelligence from the women who loved to gossip behind closed doors. Kate learns to shoot a gun, but her most effective weapon is the quick intelligence that enables her to adapt to any situation. This suspenseful and exciting historical novel explores the dangers of living a life in disguise, as Kate begins to wonder who she really is.
Liz Nugent Unraveling Oliver (Gallery Books 2017, UK 2014) is the story of Oliver Ryan, the successful author of a popular series of books for children, who savagely assaults his wife Alice, leaving her in a coma. A self-made man, Oliver never knew his mother, and was left at the age of six at boarding school in Ireland by his wealthy father, immediately before his marriage. Close enough to observe his father’s house through binoculars, Oliver watches his half-brother grow up as an adored child, unable to understand why his father wants nothing to do with his older son. Flashbacks from the points of view of various characters after the attack on Alice fill in Oliver’s past, from his college days when he met Michael and his sister Laura. The three traveled to France during one summer break to work in the vineyards, where Madame Véronique helped Michael accept his homosexuality while her elderly father took advantage of Oliver’s French to help with paperwork. Laura was left to toil alone in the vineyards, jealous of Michael’s easy job helping Madame Véronique in the kitchen while Oliver plays games with her her young son Jean-Luc. Barney, Alice’s first love, fills in her story: the sheltered daughter of a wealthy family with a mentally handicapped son Eugene. Barney is amused rather than repelled by Eugene, and their courtship seems destined for marriage until she meets Oliver, who begins to campaign for moving Eugene to a home as soon as they are married. This chilling debut novel of psychological suspense lays all-too-convincing groundwork for the emergence of a manipulative narcissistic adult from a neglected and unloved child.
Daniel Suarez Change Agent (Dutton 2017) features Kenneth Durand who leads Interpol’s genetic crime team in 2045, tracking down black market labs that perform vanity edits on human embryos for parents desperate to ensure their children’s success in a world with rampant unemployment. The illegal procedures for looks, strength, intelligence, and talent are guaranteed to be inherited, with the potential to rapidly change the course of human evolution. The black market labs prey o“ human trafficking victims as raw material for experimentation for high-priced "edits,” surpassing the technology of legal labs correcting birth defects. Durand and his team have identified the controlling force behind the illegal trade: Marcus Demang Wyckes and his Huli jing cartel, named after the mythical nine-tailed fox spirit. When Durand’s comcar fails on his way home, he heads to the nearest subway station, where he is injected by a stranger on the platform. Waking up from a coma five weeks later, Durand tells the nurse his name, but the DNA test identifies him as Marcus Wyckes. Looking in the mirror, Durand is horrified to realize that he now has Wyckes’s physical appearance, and his Interpol team members interrogate him about the disappearance of Kenneth Durand. Desperate to restore himself and return to his wife and daughter, Durand escapes, discovering that he also has Wyckes’s deadly physical skills, commanding presence, and strange chameleon tattoos that appear when he is stressed. Convinced that Wyckes has developed a “change agent” that can alter the living, Durand sets out to hunt Wyckes down, destroy his empire, and acquire the change agent necessary to restore himself to himself. Durand’s quest through this dystopian world is terrifying, intensified by his fear that he is becoming more Wyckes and less Durand every hour.
S.D. Sykes City of Masks (Pegasus 2017) finds Oswald de Lacy, Lord Somerhill, stranded for months in Venice while traveling from England to the Holy Land with his mother in 1357. The city is besieged by the King of Hungary, and the de Lacys are staying with John Bearpark, an elderly English merchant, while waiting for the pilgrim ships to set sail again. Bearpark’s young grandson is Oswald’s age, and drags him along to late night revels at seedy taverns, where Oswald learns to gamble and falls deeply into debt. Oswald has just been given a week to pay his creditors when Enrico is murdered. Oswald’s mother brags about his success investigating murders to Bearpark, who asks him to find his grandson’s killer. Knowing he has little change of success in a foreign land whose customs he does not understand, Oswald tries to refuse, but is persuaded by the offer of a large fee, enough to pay off his debt of 40 ducats. The shock of his grandson’s death causes Bearpark to take to his bed, and his heavily pregnant young wife Filomena has little control over the household, which is run by Bearpark’s clerk Giovanni. Many of the servants leave for more secure positions, and Giovanni becomes Oswald’s guide, navigating the maze of alleys and canals and amplifying his limited knowledge of the Venetian language. The investigation takes Oswald to the convent-brothel of Santa Lucia, the leper’s island, and the dungeons of the Doge’s Palace, trying to stay one step ahead of the terrifying Signori di Notte (secret police), his increasingly threatening creditor, and someone who is intent on to kill him. This cleverly plotted atmospheric mystery is the third in the excellent series featuring the observant young Lord Sommerhill.
David Young Stasi Child (Minotaur 2017, UK 2015) begins in February 1975 when East German Oberleutnant Karin Müller is called to a cemetery near the Berlin Wall where the body of a teenage girl has been found. Müller doesn’t understand why the People’s Police (Kripo) have been called since the Ministry for State Security (Stasi) is already at the scene. The girl was supposedly shot by Western guards while escaping into the East, but though that fiction is released to the public, it doesn’t stand up to forensic examination of the scene. When the tire tracks in the snow are identified as Swedish tires probably from a government Volvo, Müller’s partner is eager to pass the case to the Stasi. But Müller is driven to identify the dead girl and bring her killer to justice. The Stasi are eager to have the girl identified, but discourage the Kripo team from asking any other questions about the case. Müller believes that at least one member of her team is spying for the Stasi, and when her estranged husband is arrested for a crime Müller is sure he did not commit, she is convinced the Stasi are pulling the strings to control the investigation. Interwoven chapters beginning nine months earlier are narrated by Irma, a 15-year-old sent to live and work in a Jugendwerkhof (youth reformatory) after her mother was jailed for prostitution. Irma is often punished for trying to protect her friend Beate, and dreams of escaping to Sweden in one of the boxes they carefully pack like a puzzle with all the pieces for a dining set or a double bed. This intense debut thriller, winner of the 2016 Historical Dagger Award, captures the difficulty of conducting an investigation in a police state permeated by fear and paranoia.
Steve Zousmer Falling into the Mob (Permanent Press 2017) begins when Phillip Vail, a divorced 59-year-old freelance speechwriter, meets a younger woman on the New York computer train. They enjoy getting to know each other until three violent drunks board the car. They threaten Phil and Sylvia and try to push Phil off at the next stop. Though terrified, he refuses to leave Sylvia alone with the drunks. The daughter of the Sforza crime family stays calm, and quickly arranges a rescue from her three mobster brothers. Phil is appalled but stimulated by the most exciting thing to have happened to him in years. Though successful and valued by his main client, a newly retired CEO with political ambitions, Phil has started to wonder what he will do with the rest of his life. Sylvia’s father Jack is dying of cancer, her oldest brother Catcher is in jail, and her three younger brothers are tough but not leadership material. After Phil successfully negotiates with the detective who suspect the Sforza brothers are responsible for three badly injured drunks, Jack offers Phil the job of Sforza boss until Catcher is released in three months. Phil is tempted, especially by Sylvia, but isn’t sure his speech-writing talents have prepared him for the role. Or maybe they have. Jack’s death brings the prospects of a bloody war and traditional mob tactics won’t get the Sforza family out alive. This clever and humorous caper is great fun.
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!