SYKM


What We Are Reading
March 1, 2017

The Murder BookJane 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.

Under the HarrowFlynn 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.

The ExAlafair 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.

The Strings of MurderOscar 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.

The Second Life of Nick MasonSteve 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.

The DryJane 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.

Before the FallNoah 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.

The LoneyAndrew 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.

IqJoe 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.

Dancing with the TigerLili 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.

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February 1, 2017

Property of StateBill 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.

GoliathShawn 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.

What Remains of MeAlison 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.

Murder in G MajorAlexia 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.

The Last Confession of Thomas HawkinsAntonia 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.

Girls in the GardenLisa 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.

Rise the DarkMichael 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.

The AssetShane 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.

Rain DogsAdrian 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.

The Shattered TreeCharles 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.

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January 1, 2017

City of the LostKelley 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.

The Widower’s WifeCate 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.

Tundra KillStan 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.

Death Descends on Saturn VillaM.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.

The Watcher in the WallOwen 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.

Quiet NeighborsCatriona 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.

All the Missing GirlsMegan 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.

The Mirror ThiefMartin 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.

The FatherAnton 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.

Beloved PoisonE.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.

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2016 Reviews


Disclosure: Some of these books were received free from publishers.