SYKM


What We Are Reading
April 1, 2018

Madness Treads LightlyPolina Dashkova
Madness Treads Lightly (AmazonCrossing 2017, Russian 1998) features Lena Polyanskaya, a Russian magazine editor married to high-ranking colonel in counterintelligence. In 1996, Lena works from home several days a week, caring for their two-year-old daughter Liza with the help of an elderly neighbor while her husband is on assignment in London. Lena’s friend Olga Sinitsyna calls in tears one evening. Her brother Mitya had just been found by his wife Katya, hanging from the gas pipe above their kitchen door. The police found drugs in his body, and ruled the death a suicide. But Katya, who is a drug addict, swears that Mitya would never have injected himself with drugs, especially since a famous producer had recently shown interest in his songs. Discovering that the drugs had been injected in Mitya’s right wrist, extremely difficult for a right-handed person, Lena and Olga suspect that Mitya was murdered. Fourteen years earlier, while Lena and Olga were in journalism school, they traveled with Mitya to Tobolsk, Siberia, as guests of the Culture Department of the Tobolsk Young Communists Committee. There they met Veniamin Borisovich, the Young Communist Culture Department chief, an awkward young man in the middle of a serial murder spree, before he was redirected by Regina Valentinovna Gradskaya, an exceptionally ugly psychoanalyst with a talent for hypnosis. Many plastic surgeries later, Regina is a beautiful woman who has transformed a serial killer into a successful producer. Only three people remain who may have knowledge of her husband’s prior life. When Katya dies of a fatal overdose, Lena fears that she and Liza may be next. This intense thriller is the first in English by Russia’s most successful author of crime novels.

Hollywood HomicideKellye Garrett
Hollywood Homicide (Midnight Ink 2017) introduces Dayna Anderson, who came to Hollywood to become an actress. After catapulting to semi-fame in a series of Chubby’s Chicken commercials, Dayna is now broke and sleeping in her best friend Sienna’s spare bedroom/shoe closet, trying to land a real job. Dayna is sort of OK with her fringy financial status until her father tells her the bank is about to foreclose on their house. Desperate to help her parents, Dayna is struck by a billboard offering a $15,000 reward for information about the hit-and-run driver who killed young Haley Joseph. Dayna realizes that she and three friends had seen a car speeding away from the scene of the accident, a car with custom tinted window embossed with a rose design. The four had been out drinking, but Dayna remembers Omari filming out the window with his phone as they drove. Unfortunately Dayna and Omari had a falling-out that night, and she hasn’t spoken to him for over a month. It seems easier to try and discover something about Hayley’s last days, so Dayna and Sienna visit Clothes Encounters, a designer resale shop where Hayley worked. Dayna is soon a regular caller to the Tip Line, trying to convince the gum-chewing Voice on the other end that she has information for the police. The Voice becomes increasingly more doubtful since Dayna’s prime suspect changes with each call. Aubrey S. Adams-Parker, a bicycle-riding private investigator clad in a neon orange jumpsuit, is also investigating the crime, and the two opposite personalities reluctantly join forces. Sienna has the pulse of Hollywood gossip and helps out when not filming herself for a potential reality show she plans to call Lady in Red. This funny debut mystery just won the 2018 Lefty Award for Best Debut Mystery, and is a finalist for the Agatha and Barry Awards.

Tornado WeatherDeborah E. Kennedy
Tornado Weather (Flatiron Books 2017) begins one spring afternoon in Colliersville, Indiana, when Fikus the bus driver drops off five-year-old Daisy Gonzalez at her driveway. The sky is tornado-watch green, and the children on the bus are noisy and upset. Usually Daisy’s father Hector, a high school teacher, is there to push her wheelchair, but today it’s Basketball Juan, a mentally disabled man Daisy says is teaching her to play ball. Fikus is uneasy about the unusual situation, but the screaming of an Asperger’s child propels him back inside the bus. When Daisy goes missing, the poverty-stricken town’s residents are worried, each suspecting the other. The dairy farmer has brought in a crew of immigrants from Mexico, and most would prefer to shift the blame to a newcomer. The immigrants understand more English than they speak and pick up secrets about the family: the fragile mother and the only son who has just changed his name to Willa. The hairdresser knows more about her customers than they imagine, though not the infidelity in her own relationship. Fikus convinces his friend Irv, a hermit who removes roadkill for the county, to help him search for clues about the day Daisy vanished and where she might possibly have been taken. And a witness to the hit-and-run accident that killed Daisy’s mother and left the child confined to a wheelchair three years earlier, has never told anyone about the car that sped away. Told from multiple perspectives, this complex examination of the intersecting lives of the town’s residents, who feel a collective guilt for not protecting Daisy, is a finalist for 2018 Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

Holmes EntangledGordon McAlpine
Holmes Entangled (Seventh Street Books 2018) begins in 1943 when L.L. Borges brings a handwritten manuscript he discovered in the ill-organized Miguel Cané Municipal Library in Buenos Aires to a private investigator he dreamed about a few weeks before. Borges reveals secrets about the PI’s current investigation, and convinces him to read the manuscript, written by Sherlock Holmes. After the death of his friend and chronicler Dr. John H. Watson, Holmes has given up detective work and amuses himself by posing as a visiting lecturer at Oxford and Cambridge Universities, currently Professor Heinrich von Schimmel. Arthur Conan Doyle, a little-known author, pays a surprising visit to the Professor’s office, declaring that the spirit of current prime minister Stanley Baldwin revealed Holmes’s secret identity during a séance. Only Conan Doyle heard Baldwin’s spirit manifestation, who also revealed that he was crippled in a hansom cab accident and never became prime minister. Conan Doyle believes his life is in danger. Holmes is more interested in how the author penetrated his disguise than saving his life, but takes the case. He joins forces with Dr. Watson’s widow to expose the tricks of spiritualists and delve into the baffling new science of quantum mechanics while trying to stay one step ahead of a tall blond man determined to kill him. This very strange book is a fascinating addition to the Holmes universe.

The BreakdownB.A. Paris
The Breakdown (St. Martin’s Press 2017) begins when Cass ignores her husband Matthew’s warning about the danger, and takes the Blackwater Lane shortcut through the woods in a torrential rainstorm late one night. She passes a woman pulled over and stops briefly, but the woman doesn’t get out of the car or flash her lights for help, so Cass continues on to her isolated house. The next day she hears on the news that a woman has been found dead in her car, and the police are investigating it as a suspicious death. Cass is consumed with guilt for not stopping yet relieved that she wasn’t murdered herself. Discovering that the woman was an acquaintance she hoped would become a friend only makes things worse, but Cass can’t bring herself to confess that she drove home without offering help. A text from her best friend Rachel asking about a present she doesn’t remember offering to pick up increases her stress. Cass’s mother was diagnosed with early-onset dementia at the age of 44, and though Cass is only 34 she worries that she may be in the early stages of the disease herself. Over the next few weeks she leaves the house without her purse, forgets where she parked her car, and is surprised by the arrival of packages she doesn’t remember ordering. The phone rings several times a day while Matthew is at work, and the silence on the line feels menacing rather than annoying. Convinced that the murderer tracked her down and is stalking her, Cass is frightened whenever she is alone in the house, too petrified to work on the lesson plans she should be writing during her summer break. Rachel is sympathetic, but Matthew is sure she is having a breakdown, and convinces a doctor to prescribe strong anti-depressants that fog her mind even more. This chilling psychological thriller illuminates the stark terror of losing one’s memory.

The Vanishing SeasonJoanna Schaffhausen
The Vanishing Season (Minotaur 2017) features Ellery Hathaway, a police officer in the small town of Woodbury, Massachusetts. There isn’t much crime in Woodbury, and the small police force doesn’t suspect murder when three people disappear over the course of three years. Bea Nesbit disappeared on her way back to college in Boston, Shannon Blessing was an alcoholic whose car also went missing, and Mark Roy was a mailman who suffered from depression. Only Ellery is convinced the three missing persons cases are actually murders, and she fears the next person will vanish when the first week of July arrives. No one in Woodbury knows that Ellery is really Abby, the final victim of serial killer Francis Michael Coben who was rescued by FBI agent Reed Markham. Determined never to be a victim again, Abby dyed her hair, changed her name, and trained for the police. By keeping her past a secret, Ellery hopes people will see her as the woman she is today, rather than the traumatized girl she was before. Since there are no bodies or any evidence of foul play, Ellery’s boss doesn’t think there is anything more they can do to investigate. Afraid another person will vanish soon, Ellory contacts Markham, telling him that each year for three years she has received an anonymous card on her birthday with a local postmark. Ever since she was abducted on her 14th birthday, Ellery hasn’t celebrated and doesn’t think anyone in Woodbury knows the date of her birthday. Markham is concerned enough to check that Coben is still securely locked up and heads to Woodbury to investigate. This chilling debut thriller won the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Competition.

Persons UnknownSusie Steiner
Persons Unknown (Random House 2017) finds Detective Manon Bradshaw working cold cases in Cambridgeshire, England. Unmarried and five months pregnant, Manon has moved her black adopted 12-year-old son Fly away from the dangers of London to live with her sister Ellie and her almost three-year old son Solomon. Fly hates being the only black child in the mostly white village, though he loves helping to take care of Solomon. Manon finds cold cases a bit boring, and when a man is found dead from stab wounds in Hinchingbrooke Park, she offers to help. The man is soon identified as Jon-Oliver Ross, a wealthy London banker and Ellie’s ex-husband. Jon-Oliver had been visiting Solomon once a month for the last six months while Manon and Ellie were at work, always ordering Fly to leave the house so he could spend time alone with his son. Jon-Oliver’s unpleasant texts to Fly, the fact that Fly was caught on CCTV walking though the park around the time Jon-Oliver was killed, and the racial profiling Manon hoped wasn’t as bad outside London, cause Fly to become the prime suspect. No one except Manon, who is intimately acquainted with Fly’s ability to lose himself in his adolescent musings, can believe he could have passed a murder without noticing anything. Therefore he must be the killer. Wracked with guilt for putting Fly in jeopardy by uprooting him from his familiar surroundings, Manon uses every contact she has to learn about the investigation in order to prove Fly’s innocence. This darkly humorous suspense thriller is the second in the series.

My Absolute DarlingGabriel Tallent
My Absolute Darling (Riverhead Books 2017) is the story of Turtle, a 14-year-old girl who lives in the wilds of Mendocino County, California, with her father, a charismatic, paranoid, and abusive survivalist. Since the death of her mother years earlier, Turtle has grown up wild, more comfortable outdoors with a knife or gun than talking to people or trapped in a schoolroom. After a breakfast of raw eggs and beer, Turtle rides the bus to school, where she day-dreams through her classes and doesn’t respond to the one teacher who tries to break through her shell. While roaming the woods during summer break, Turtle finds two high school boys carrying camping equipment but clearly lost. After secretly following them for several hours, Turtle reveals herself and shows them a safe place to camp, leading them back to civilization the next day. Jacob and Brett are fascinated by Turtle, and introduce her to Brett’s mother, who claims that Turtle’s mother was once her best friend. Trained by her father to be wary of strangers, especially women, Turtle refuses to answer her questions. Turtle knows she will be punished for being out all night, but is thrilled to discover that though her father searched for her, he was unable to track her. Turtle can’t stop thinking about Jacob and that quick glimpse of a completely different life within a loving family. Motivated by the possibility of her first real friendship, Turtle begins to imagine escaping her father’s control and experiencing freedom. This searing debut thriller is a finalist for the 2018 Barry Award for Best First Novel.

A Head in CambodiaNancy Tingley
A Head in Cambodia (Swallow Press 2017) begins when P.P. Bhattacharya, a trustee and patron of the new Searles Museum in Marin County, California, asks Jenna Murphy, the young Asian art curator, to authenticate a stone head he bought in an Atherton garage sale. Jenna is overwhelmed by the beauty of the carving and suspects it is the head of Radha, the consort to Krishna, stolen five years earlier from an 11th century statue in the museum in Siem Reap, Cambodia. When she declares it must be returned, P.P. is crushed. But the more Jenna studies the head, the less sure she is that it is genuine. It displays far too little wear for a carving that spent centuries in an outdoor temple, and the flawless head is somehow too modern. The two visit the family who sold the head, and learn that the deceased owner, Tom Sharpen, was also suspicious of the piece. They are horrified to learn that Sharpen was murdered, beheaded with a machete. The museum sends Jenna as the tour leader of a small group of art aficionados to Thailand and Cambodia, where she and P.P. hope to discover the provenance of the head of Radha and track down the dealer who sold it to Sharpen. The wealth and privilege of Jenna’s group contrasts with the poverty they encounter while visiting temples and street markets. A poisonous viper is found in Jenna’s hotel room, and she is sure she is being followed, but government corruption and echoes of the brutality of the Khmer Rouge make her leery of trusting anyone with her suspicions. This art history-packed debut is a finalist for the 2018 Lefty Award for Best Debut Mystery.

ProtocolKathleen Valenti
Protocol (Henery Press 2017) introduces Maggie O’Malley, a young pharmaceutical researcher just starting her first job at Rxcellance. Maggie’s mother died of liver cancer and she is hoping to be assigned to the team developing therapies to attack cancer cells, but is disappointed to find she will be working on an acne drug instead. Maggie’s best friend Constantine Papadopolous gives her a recycled phone as a first job present, and she is startled when a meeting reminder appears along with the face of a woman she doesn’t know. The same woman’s face appears on the evening news, the victim of a hit-and-run. When she goes home to visit her father on the weekend, Maggie asks Constantine to find out who the phone’s previous owner was, but the second-hand dealer refuses to share that information. She discovers that her father is close to losing his restaurant, and works out a secret deal with her aunt to take over some of the mortgage payments A second reminder followed by another death is even more frightening, especially when she notices possible connections between the victims and Rxcellance. Worried that losing her job will mean financial ruin for her father, Maggie begins searching for whoever is behind the mysterious meeting notifications. This intense debut thriller investigating Big Pharma and multi-million dollar drugs is a finalist for the Agatha and Lefty Awards for Best Debut Mystery.

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March 1, 2018

A short Time to DieSusan Alice Bickford
A Short Time To Die (Kensington 2017) begins on a cold October night in the Finger Lakes area of New York when teenaged Marly Shaw takes a shortcut through the woods after a school dance. Chased by her drunken step-father Del Harris and his even scarier father Zeke, Marly manages to escape, though Zeke fatally wounds Del with a wild shot and then dies of a heart attack. Pushing their truck into the ravine, Marly makes it home without her alcoholic mother aware of the long bullet crease down one thigh. Marly and Elaine, who was brutally assaulted by Louise and Troy Harris, work on a technology project together in the library, making enough money to escape to college. Thirteen years later, the two have completed graduate school at Stanford, and are successful tech engineers when decomposed bodies are discovered in the Santa Cruz mountains. There is no trace of clothing or jewelry with the bodies, identified by DNA testing as Louise and Troy Harris of Charon Springs, New York, by Santa Clara Country Sheriff Detectives Vanessa Alba and Jack Wong. The New York Chief of Police tells the California detectives that the infamous Harris clan has controlled Charon Springs for generations, though Carl Harris, the current head of the family, is more business-like and less vicious than his brother Zeke, whose body was discovered 12 years earlier, and Zeke’s vindictive wife Rosie, who died of cancer four years ago. The remains of Louise and Troy appear to be about four years old, so Vanessa and Jack travel to New York to interview Carl. The California detectives are stunned by the intensity of the January cold, and concerned by the local acceptance of the brutal Harris clan, who routinely abused their wives and children. Interspersed chapters tell Marly’s story as the detectives try to figure out why Louise and Troy were in California and how they died. This intense debut thriller is a finalist for the 2018 Lefty Award for Best Debut Mystery.

Blood TruthMatt Coyle
Blood Truth (Oceanview Publishing 2017) begins when private investigator Rick Cahill picks up a safe discovered when his childhood home was demolished. Rick isn’t sure he wants to open the safe, which was hidden in a false wall in his father’s study. Rick has been ashamed of his father ever since he left the La Jolla, California police force in disgrace 27 years earlier, and is sure the money he finds in the safe is dirty. The small caliber gun worries him even more. Since his father has been dead for 18 years, Rick seeks out his father’s old colleagues. No one wants to talk to him, but he does discover an unsolved homicide committed with a small caliber gun six months before his father resigned. When his ex-girlfriend Kim asks him to follow her husband Jeffrey, Rick tries to say no, but Kim needs to know if her husband is unfaithful before she tells him she’s pregnant. Rick enlists the help of Moira MacFarland, a fellow PI, to tail Jeffrey. Kim and Jeffrey are both realtors, and Rick isn’t sure at first if the blond woman Jeffery is meeting is a client until he follows them to a hotel room. What he sees through the window isn’t proof of infidelity, but it sure looks like it. After Jeffrey leaves, Parker Stone, a shady power broker, arrives and leaves a briefcase with the woman Moira identifies as Sophia Domingo. Jeffrey insists that Sophia is a merely a client, but Rick wonders if a real estate swindle is in the works. Moira tries to help Rick with his quest to figure out why his father hid the gun, but he isn’t ready to share his family secrets and rebuffs her offer of friendship, leaving his dog Midnight as the only one who looks forward to spending time with him. This dark fourth in the series starring our ill-fated investigator is a finalist for the 2018 Lefty Award for Best Mystery.

Murder in an English VillageJessica Ellicott
Murder in an English Village (Kensington 2017) begins in 1920 when American adventuress Beryl Helliwell spots a personal advertisement for a genteel lodger placed by Edwina Davenport, her English school chum from finishing school. Now a woman of a certain age with a fondness for gin, Beryl is not eager to return to Prohibition America and heads to the hamlet of Walmsley Parva in her bright red motorcar. Edwina, a very proper English lady, is delighted to have company and a bit of help paying the bills, while Beryl admits she can do with some peace and quiet after a recent hot air balloon crash that stranded her in the desert. Beryl’s idea of serenity is much more energetic than Edwina’s, but the two quickly fall into their old comfortable friendship. When Beryl discovers that Edwina is mortified by village gossip about her financial collapse, Beryl circulates a more interesting rumor that Edwina is a secret agent who sent for Beryl to help with a clandestine investigation. Edwina is horrified, but confesses that there is one unsolved village mystery that has bothered her for a couple of years — the disappearance of Agnes Rollins, a member of the Women’s Land Army assigned to the village during the war. The local constable had a low opinion of the morals of the young women in the Land Army, and didn’t take the disappearance seriously. When Edwina is attacked in in her back garden and nearly strangled with her own scarf, the two friends realize that Beryl’s rumor of a secret investigation for the government must have frightened someone with a guilty conscience. This droll series opener is a finalist for the 2017 Agatha Award for Best Historical Novel.

The Deep Dark DescendingAllen Eskens
The Deep Dark Descending (Seventh Street Books 2017) begins when Minneapolis homicide detective Max Rupert is given an illegal recording by defense lawyer Boady Sanden. Max’s wife Jenni was killed in a hit-and-run accident in the parking garage next to the hospital where she worked as an ER nurse nearly five years earlier. Though ruled an accident, Max has struggled with guilt that she may have been targeted because of his job, which he endangered by conducting his own surreptitious investigation. The recording of a phone conversation between two men stuns him — they are arranging the death of a cop’s wife in the parking garage near the Hennepin County Medical Center because "she stumbled onto something she shouldn’t have." Max never considered the possibility that Jenni’s work may have been the cause of her death, and hopes this new slant will help him track down her killers. Max and his partner Niki are working on their first case of the year — a woman burned to death in her car on New Year’s Eve. Dennis Orton, Deputy Chief of Staff to the Mayor, is found badly burned at the scene, along with a Bic lighter. The woman is identified as Pippi Stafford, Orton’s live-in girlfriend. Intubated in the Burn Unit with second and third degree burns, Orton is unable to talk. While in the hospital, Max tracks down a colleague of Jenni’s who can’t reveal much about Jenni’s last days at work because of HIPAA rules, but can share that Jenni had a meeting with Farrah McKinney, an interpreter, the day she died. Farrah remembers being asked to interpret for Zoya, a young Belarusian assault victim, possibly a prostitute, who had been thrown through a second story window. Interspersed chapters follow Max as he tracks a man Up North, struggling with his need to find justice for Jenni and the rage pushing him to administer that justice personally. This dark fourth in the excellent series is a finalist for the 2018 Barry Award for Best Paperback.

You’ll Never Know DearHallie Ephron
You’ll Never Know, Dear (William Morrow 2017) begins when a woman arrives at the home of famous doll-maker Sorrel Woodham, known to everyone as Miss Sorrel, with a dilapidated hand-made doll. Miss Sorrel’s daughter Lis is glad of the distraction since her mother is always depressed around Remembrance Day, the day Lis’s little sister Janey disappeared nearly 40 years earlier. Seven-year-old Lis had been in charge of watching over Janey in the front yard, but a stray puppy enticed her into the woods. When she returned both Janey and her doll were gone. No trace was every found of Janey, but each year Miss Sorrel posts an advertisement offering en ever-larger reward for the doll. Miss Sorrel is convinced the battered doll is Janey’s, the porcelain head sculpted into Janey’s own image, but her insistance on knowing where the doll came from frightens the woman away. That night Vanessa, Lis’s graduate student daughter, has a vivid dream about her Grandma Sorrel and a doll before being awakened by a call from Miss Sorrel’s next door neighbor explaining that her grandmother’s porcelain kiln exploded, sending both Miss Sorrel and Lis to the emergency room with carbon monoxide poisoning. Vanessa packs up her mother’s doll, the first portait doll Miss Sorrel created, and heads home to Bonsecours, South Carolina. Miss Sorrel has to stay in the hospital for a few days, but Vanessa takes her mother home, discovering that Miss Sorrel’s valuable doll collection has been stolen. The only two remaining are Lis’s portrait doll and the damaged doll that might be Janey’s. Lis doesn’t think the police are taking the kiln accident and doll thefts seriously, and sets out to locate the woman who delivered the doll. The woman lives in a rundown trailer with her mother Jenny, who has Janey’s pale blue eyes and is about the right age. Lis and Vanessa investigate Jenny’s background, uncovering more questions than answers. This character-driven thriller is a finalist for the 2018 Mary Higgins Clark Award.

The Widow’s HouseCarol Goodman
The Widow’s House (William Morrow 2017) begins when Jess and Clare Martin decide to sell their mortgaged Brooklyn loft and move back to Clare’s hometown of Concord, New York, where they met in college. Both were creative writing students with Professor Alden Mongague, known as Monty. Jess’s debut novel was a big success, but he hasn’t been able to complete a second book. Clare works as a freelance editor, having sacrificed her writing dreams long ago. The couple isn’t able to afford to buy a house in Concord, but agree to take on the job of caretakers for Riven House, which comes with a caretaker’s cottage, hoping that the change of scene will inspire Jess to complete his novel. Monty lives and writes in Riven House, staying in a basement flat to save on heat. During the tour of the octagonal house, Monty tells the story of the Riven House ghost. While his mother Minnie was pregnant with Monty, his father came down from Harvard to crown the Apple Blossom Queen, impulsively driving off with the girl in the cart full of apple blossoms. When the girl gave birth to a baby boy nine months later, she carried him to the porch of Riven House in the dead of night. The next morning the girl’s body was found frozen in the pond, and the baby dead of cold on the doorstep. Clare finds the story oddly familiar and discovers a story fragment she wrote in college about the apple blossom girl, sparking her long-dormant desire to write. She researches the incident at the local library, learning that Monty’s mother spent time in the Hudson River Mental Hospital after his birth, convinced that her real baby had been taken away and a fairy changeling left instead. Minnie believed that the apple blossom girl’s ghost haunted the house, and eventually killed herself. Having suffered a breakdown after miscarrying her own baby, Clare is haunted by the story, and begins to see a ghostly form on the grounds at night and scratching sounds in the nursery. This eerie gothic thriller is a finalist for the 2018 Mary Higgins Clark Award.

The IrregularH.B. Lyle
The Irregular (Quercus 2017) introduces Wiggins, an ex-soldier recruited by Vernan Kell in 1909 to do undercover work in London. Head of counterintelligence at the War Office, Kell wants to set up a Secret Service, but doesn’t have the required clear proof of a threat to national security. Kell’s upper class agents aren’t able to blend in on the streets of London, and are quickly targeted by the men they try to follow. Orphaned at a young age, Wiggins ran the Baker Street Irregulars, a gang of urchins who gathered information on the streets of London for Sherlock Holmes. Trained by the great detective himself, Wiggins has an impressive talent for observation and deduction. Wiggins, who doesn’t like following orders, declines Kell’s job offer until his best friend Bill is killed while trying to apprehend two robbers. Wiggins finds a red enamel star and suspects that Russian anarchists are involved, but the police aren’t interested in widening their investigation past the robbery. Realizing that working as a secret agent would give him the opportunity to track down Bill’s killer, Wiggins agrees to work for Kell if his identity is kept secret. Kell sends Wiggins undercover to serve as a watchman in a munitions factory that appears to be leaking information to the Germans. Wiggins rescues a Latvian laundry maid from street thugs, and Bela introduces him to her Russian friends. They are very interested in his job at the munitions factory, and Wiggins hopes he can find justice for Bill while tracking down the spy in the factory. His knack for Sherlockian observation gives Wiggins an advantage in his environment where few can be trusted. This compelling debut novel, a finalist for the 2018 Barry Award for Best First Novel, is the first in a series.

The Rules of Backyard CricketJock Serong
The Rules of Backyard Cricket (Text Publishing Company 2017, Australia 2016) begins with Darren Keefe in the trunk of a car: wounded, cable tied, and gagged. As he struggles to free himself, Darren looks back on his life, beginning with endless games of backyard cricket with his older brother Wally. Often left on their own while their single mother worked as a bartender, the brothers spent hour after hour perfecting their cricket skills, fiercely competitive and determined to become professional cricket players. Supported by their mother, the brothers became the youngest to join the junior team and rapidly advanced. Along the way Darren befriends Craig Wearne, a bear of a boy who saves them from a beating by players they humiliate. At 20 Darren is the first to be recruited for the state team, followed by Wally soon after. Wally’s serious nature goes over well with the officials and the public, but Darren is drawn into Craig’s circle of girls and drink and drugs. An arrest derails Darren’s career while Wally is picked up for the Australian national team and travels all over the world. Officially the bad-boy of Australian cricket, Darren struggles to stay in the game, gladly spending time with Wally’s daughter and teaching her to play cricket. As the car carrying Darren speeds towards its destination, he desperately tries to escape his bonds while trying to figure out who can possibly want to kill him and why. This intense thriller exploring the love/hate dichotomy of sibling rivalry and the obsession of sport is a finalist for the Ned Kelly Award for Best Crime Novel and the Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original.

Lost LuggageWendall Thomas
Lost Luggage (2017) introduces Cyd Redondo, a young, third-generation Brooklyn travel agent specializing in senior citizens. Though she has worked for her family’s travel agency since high school, Cyd has never been further away from home than New Jersey, and is determined to sell enough tickets for the Tanzania tour to win the prize of a free trip for herself. The first to arrive at the office, Cyd is horrified to find a huge blue parrot impaled by a serrated knife on her Uncle Ray’s desk, wrapped in a "Tanzania: The trip for the life you have left" brochure. Her uncle tells Cyd not to bother the police, and she heads next door to Mrs. Barsky’s Pet World to see if she had a break-in as well. The 83-year-old Mrs. Barsky is dead, presumably from yet another stroke, but Cyd submits Mrs. Barsky’s request for a private autopsy, specified in her will because of her conviction that she had been under government surveillance every since her arrest for protesting the Vietnam war. Cyd sneaks off to the Travel Agents’ Convention in Atlantic City to try to sell out the Tanzania tour. Wandering into the Herpetology Exhibit by mistake, she faints and is rescued by Roger Claymore, attending the adjacent Chiropractic convention. Back in Brooklyn, Cyd learns that Mrs. Barsky has been poisoned and that she has won the Tanzania Safari. Just as Uncle Ray is explaining that she should cash in the trip to upgrade the office computer system, Roger arrives bearing flowers. As her relatives begin to interrogate Roger, Cyd impulsively invites him to join her on safari. Dressed in her version of safari attire — leopard skin mini skirt and crocodile stiletto heels — and well supplied with Tupperware, Cyd and Roger head off to Africa and find themselves in the middle of an exotic animal smuggling ring. This very funny series opener is a finalist for the 2018 Lefty Award for Best Debut Mystery.

Cast the First StoneJames W. Ziskin
Cast the First Stone (Seventh Street Books 2017) begins when reporter Ellie Stone is sent from New Holland, New York, to Los Angeles in 1962 to write a piece about hometown boy Tony Eberle, who just landed his first role in a Hollywood movie. When Ellie arrives on set, director Archie Stemple is in the midst of an angry outburst because Tony didn’t show up. Dorothy Fetterman, advisor to the president of Paramount Studios, tells Ellie that Tony is a nobody and will be quickly replaced. Seeing her story go down in flames, Ellie convinces Dorothy to find Tony’s contact information, and Dorothy gives her his address along with the name of the producer who hand-selected Tony for the role — Bertram Wallis. Ellie visits Tony’s apartment building and meets the super Evelyn Maynard, who tells her that Tony rooms with Mickey Harper. The two are often late with the rent, but Mickey paid the late rent only yesterday. Ellie likes the interesting woman, but is discomfited to realize that Evelyn is flirting with her. Mickey won’t tell Ellie much about Tony except the first name of his girlfriend, and she suspects he is hiding something. Dorothy asks Ellie to meet her and Archie Semple for a drink, and they demand to know if she has found Tony. Bertran Wallis has been missing for two days, and they hope Tony may know something about his whereabouts since the two appear to have a connection. Hoping to save her story by getting Tony his job back, Ellie says she can reach Tony but needs a day or two. Bertran Wallis is found dead the next morning in the ravine below his Hollywood Hills mansion and Ellie realizes her chances of saving Tony’s career, and her story, are slim. But the intrepid reporter launches herself through the commonplace sexism, racism, and homophobia to track down New Holland’s almost-famous son. This excellent fifth in the series is a finalist for the 2018 Lefty Award for Best Mystery.

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February 1, 2018

The Dark LakeSarah Bailey
The Dark Lake (Grand Central Publishing 2017) introduces Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock, the lead homicide investigator in rural Smithson, Australia. When beautiful Rosalind Ryan, a former high school classmate, is found floating in the lake surrounded by red roses, Gemma downplays their past relationship to stay on the case. Gemma hasn’t seen Rose since they graduated, a few weeks after the suicide of Jacob, the boy they were both in love with. Now an adored high school English and Drama teacher, Rosalind recently quit her teaching job in Sydney to return home to Smithson. Though her father is one of the town’s richest men, Rosalind lived in a small apartment and had little to do with her father and three older brothers. Jacob’s younger brother Rodney was a student of Rose’s, and his resemblance to Jacob brings back painful memories Gemma has tried to suppress, especially when rumors arise that Rose was involved with a student. Gemma lives with her toddler son Ben and his father Scott, who would love for Gemma to marry him and take a less dangerous job. But Gemma is a talented investigator, stimulated by the mental adrenalin of a case, and embroiled in anardent affair with her partner Felix, a London immigrant with a wife and family. Haunted by her past and floundering in her present, Gemma feels that investigating the murder is the only aspect of her life she has real control over. This intense debut thriller is the first in a series.

The Last Mrs. ParrishLiv Constantine
The Last Mrs. Parrish (Harper 2017) is the story of Amber Patterson, a young woman with a plan to change her life. Amber engineers a “chance” meeting with Daphne, a wealthy socialite married to handsome real-estate mogul Jackson Parrish. From Amber’s perspective, the couple lives a fairy tale life with their two young daughters in a huge mansion located in the exclusive town of Bishops Harbor, Connecticut. Daphne runs Julie’s Smile, a Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Amber is prepared with a touching story of an adored sister who died of CF like Daphne’s sister Julie. Daphne invites Amber to come to the next committee meeting for the upcoming annual fundraising party for Julie’s Smile, and Amber quickly establishes herself as a hard-worker Daphne can rely upon. Meanwhile, Amber researches Jackson’s interests, becoming an expert on the art he collects and reading the classics Daphne confesses she can’t appreciate despite her husband’s encouragement. Amber is soon working as an assistant in Jackson’s office, impressing him with her meticulous research on his important clients, and gradually changing her fade-into-the-background attire to more seductive clothing. Despite her friends’ doubts about a friendship with an unknown young woman, Daphne begins to include Amber in family outings on Jackson’s boat and weekends at their summer cottage. Amber learns that Jackson is desperate to have a son, but Daphne has not gotten pregnant in the last seven years. Adding that fact to her arsenal, Amber sets out to seduce Jackson and give him the perfect reason to divorce his wife. The self-centered and scheming Amber is the quintessential villain in this devious thriller, the first under the Liv Constantine pseudonym by sisters Lynne and Valerie Constantine.

FlashmobChristopher Farnsworth
Flashmob (William Morrow 2017) finds John Smith at the wedding of the daughter of a television star he recently saved from kidnappers as part of his work as a troubleshooter for One Percent, a Los Angeles-based clandestine organization serving the very rich. A former CIA agent trained to hear people’s thoughts, Smith senses something dangerous. A group of gunmen dressed as witers opens fire on the bride. Smith takes down one of the shooters but is able to pry only one word from his mind: Downvote. Intrigued, Smith discovers that Downvote is an encrypted website on the Dark Net listing the names of celebrities who should be taken down. Originally the celebrities voted to the top of the list were the victims of pranks, but now Downvote is offering a reward for physically attacking or killing the top name. Whoever is running Downvote activates a violent flashmob through the website and sends targeted emails and social media posts to the phones of anyone near the target. The bride’s father hires Smith to track down whoever is responsible for the attack on his daughter, and Smith follows the digital clues to a reclusive tech billionaire who probably designed the algorithm used by Downvote. Smith relies on his ability to read thoughts to pass through crowds unnoticed, but barely escapes the sudden attack by angry flashmob all looking at a photo on their phones of Smith burning the American flag as he tries to move unseen through the Houston airport. This excellent second in the series highlights the terrifying ability of targeted news and social media to transform a group of regular people into a violent mob.

The Freedom BrokerK.J. Howe
The Freedom Broker (Quercus 2017) introduces Thea Paris, a kidnap and ransom specialist with Quantum Security International in London. When Thea was a child, her 12-year-old brother Nikos was kidnapped and held for ransom. Thea witnessed the kidnapping, but was too terrified to call out for help. Released after nine months, Theo was permanently changed by the experience. Determined never to feel helpless again, Thea worked hard to become the leader of the most respected black-ops kidnap team in the world, rescuing the wealthy and powerful after ransom negotiations fail. At Christmas Thea heads to Greece to celebrate her father’s 60th birthday. Now a powerful oil magnate, Christos Paris has never forgotten his humble beginnings as the son of a Santorini fisherman, returning to the island every year to throw a party. While Thea is off running, Christos is on the phone trying to close the biggest oil deal of his career aboard his yacht Aphrodite. When Thea returns, the yacht and her father are gone. Activating her team, Thea follows the yacht’s GPS chip to find the crew brutally murdered and no sign of her father except his abandoned phone, containing a cryptic text in Latin. Fully aware that kidnap victims don’t have a long survival window, Thea hunts for any clue to the identity of the kidnappers and their motive for taking her father. This high intensity debut thriller is a finalist for the 2018 Barry Award for Best Thriller.

RighteousJoe Ide
Righteous (Mulholland Books 2017) finds Isaiah Quintabe still haunted by the death of his brother Marcus in a hit-and-run accident years earlier when Isaiah was a teenager. Now working as a private investigator, mainly for his poor neighbors in East Long Beach, California, Isaiah spends most of his time alone with his rescued pit bull. While searching for a car part in a junk yard two years ago, Isaiah stumbled across the car that killed Marcus, realizing the accident was really a planned hit. Isaiah visits the storage shed where Marcus kept his construction tools and records, searching for anything that happened in the weeks before he died that might have led to his murder, suspecting that the neighborhood gang might be responsible. Sarita Van, Marcus’s girlfriend Isaiah adored from a distance, asks for his help with a family problem of her own. Sarita’s half-sister Janine, a DJ and gambling addict, and her boyfriend Bennie, also a gambler, are on the run in Las Vegas from a loan shark and his seven foot sidekick plus the Chinese gangsters they tried to blackmail to pay off their debt. Isaiah heads to Las Vegas with Dodson, his former robbery partner now gone straight with a pregnant girlfriend, to find Bennie and get Janine into a safe place. The story of Isaiah’s quest to find justice for his brother is interwoven with his current quest to earn Sarita’s love and respect by saving her sister. Laced with humor, this compelling second in the series is filled with fully fleshed characters who speak in distinctive voices.

The Wolves of WinterTyrell Johnson
The Wolves of Winter (Scribner 2018) is set in the Canadian Yukon after nuclear war and disease destroy most of society. Lynn McBride lives with her mother, brother, and uncle, eking out an existence by hunting and raising carrots and potatoes during the short growing season. Lynn’s father died in the flu pandemic that followed the nuclear war. It appears that the flu was created as a tool of war, but no one is sure which side actually released the virus. Cold climates are safer, so the McBrides have retreated into the winter Yukon. Out hunting one day Lynn is startled to see a dog followed by a young man who introduces himself as Jax. She invites him home for a meal, but Lynn’s mother holds a shotgun on Jax before reluctantly treating a wound on his leg. The McBrides are wary of the stranger, but Lynn is fascinated by Jax, the first stranger she has seen in years, and charmed by the husky he calls Wolf. Jax doesn’t seem to understand that Wolf is really a dog, and has never eaten a blackberry. But he is freakishly strong and quick, which comes in handy when a group of men calling themselves traders try to kidnap him. Jax confesses that he is hiding from Immunity, a group using any means possible to find a cure for the flu pandemic. One of the men escaped, and Jax and Lynn’s uncle set out in pursuit, trailed by Lynn who is tired of being left home with her mother. This fast-paced debut thriller is set in a post-apocalyptic world only a bit more threatening to human life than the frozen Yukon.

The SmackRichard Lange
The Smack (Mulholland Books 2017) is the story of Rowan Petty, a con-man down to his last five grand. When his car breaks down in Reno, Petty reluctantly takes a job as part of a phone scam while trying to make some money at the poker tables. He runs into Don, an old friend who relates the story of the first con he ever ran. Called the Smack, the con involved convincing a mark to jointly cheat a third man in a game. Don also tells Petty about a rumor of two million dollars of Army money smuggled out of Afganistan and stashed somewhere in Los Angeles until the smugglers finish their tours. Petty wants to get out of Reno anyway, and agrees to try and track down the man holding the money. Petty meets a hooker who calls herself Tinafey (like the actress but all one word). Tinafey is ready for a change of scene, and the two head to LA to see if they can turn their luck. When Rowan realizes some dangerous men are also after the money, he decides it’s not worth the risk until his estranged daughter ends up in the emergency room needing some very expensive surgery. Petty views himself as a man without emotional entanglements, and is surprised by his growing attachment to Tinafey and the resurgence of his long-dormant love for the daughter he left with his mother many years earlier. A wounded veteran, a washed-up alcoholic actor, and a French couple Tinafey meets at the motel pool all become part of Petty’s complicated plan to secure the money before the bad guys do. This caper novel hits all the right notes.

Bluebird, BluebirdAttica Locke
Bluebird, Bluebird (Mulholland Books 2017) introduces Darren Mathews, a black Texas Ranger who left the the rural Highway 59 area of East Texas for Houston as soon as he was old enough. Darren joined the task force investigating the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas (ABT), his family farmhouse in Camilla was vandalized a few weeks later, and Darren’s name began appearing on ABT websites. Anxious to remove Darren from the limelight, his boss sends him up Highway 59 to the tiny town of Lark, where two bodies were pulled from the Attoyac Bayou within a week: first Michael Wright, a black lawyer passing through from Chicago, and then Melissa Dale, a local white waitress. When Darren arrives in Lark, Sheriff Van Horn is supervising the crime scene behind Geneva Sweet’s Sweets, for years the only café along Highway 59 that served black travelers. The clientele is still mainly black, though Wally Jefferson, who lives across the road in his family’s huge plantation house and owns the white supremacist biker bar where Melissa worked, stops by daily for Geneva’s fried fruit pies. Finding the first black body didn’t generate much law enforcement interest, but the discovery of a dead white woman changes everything, stirring up the barely hidden racial tensions of distrust, resentment, and hate. The sheriff is too friendly with Jefferson for Darren’s comfort, and no one wants to listen to his suspicion that the ABT has something to do with the murders, afraid of an explosion of racial violence. The music, food, and history of East Texas permeate this powerful series opener, a finalist for the 2018 Edgar Award for Best mystery.

Say NothingBrad Parks
Say Nothing (Dutton 2017) begins when Virginia Judge Scott Sampson gets a text from his wife Alison that she will pick up their six-year-old twins Emma and Sam from school for a doctor’s appointment. Scott is disappointed to forgo the usual Wednesday afternoon Swim with Dad fun, but doesn’t worry about the change until Alison arrives home without the twins and tells him she didn’t send the text. They are just heading out the door for the school when the phone rings. The kidnapper instructs Scott to say nothing, that the twins will be returned safely if he follows instructions about a drug sentencing verdict the next day. The school insists that it was Alison who picked up the twins, and the blurry video shows a blond woman of Alison’s physical type driving what is clearly their own van. Alison finds a blond wig in the bedroom of their Turkish nanny, but Justina swears she has never seen the wig before and didn’t pick up the children since it was Scott’s usual day. After a bag containing clippings of the twins’ hair arrives on their doorstep, Scott and Alison chose to follow the kidnapper’s instructions to the letter, and Scott reluctantly rules in favor of a drug dealer whose tainted product has caused several deaths. But only Sam is released into the courthouse, and Scott realizes this first verdict was only a test; the real case is hiding somewhere in his upcoming docket. Alison can’t hide the fact that Emma is missing from her family, and her older sister Karen, tries to convince them to do something, but they are too worried about Emma’s safety to fight back. Scott soon identifies the case the kidnappers are interested in — Palgraff vs. ApotheGen, a patent suit worth billions. What he can’t figure out is which side is willing to kidnap small children to win. This tense domestic thriller makes every parent’s terrifying nightmare all too real.

Fierce KingdomGin Phillips
Fierce Kingdom (Viking 2017) begins as Joan and her four-year-old son Lincoln enjoy a final few moments of playtime in the sand of the Dinosaur Discovery Pit of the zoo, one of their regular afternoon hangouts. Gathering up Lincoln’s action figures, the two make their way through the nearly deserted zoo towards the exit in the dusk. Joan hears some popping sounds, but is intent on hurrying her son out before the zoo closes until she sees several bleeding bodies and the back of a tall man carrying a rifle. Carrying Lincoln, Joan races in the other direction, frantically scouring her memory of the zoo for a place to hide. They pass a teenage couple and Joan warns them to avoid the shooter at the exit, heading for the porcupine habitat, empty since the animal died. Hoping it is still deserted, Joan lowers Lincoln over the railing and the two hide behind the tall rocks of the enclosure. She texts her husband, who calls the police but can’t get any information. Unsure where the gunman is, Joan struggles to keep her active son still and quiet. Voices alert her to the fact that there are two gunmen stalking anything that moves in the zoo. Suspecting that they saw a flash from her phone screen, Joan throws it as far as she can, leaving her to rely only on her own instincts and her intimate knowledge of the zoo layout to keep her son safe. Fleeing through the zoo, Joan struggles to balance her need to protect Lincoln at all costs against helping others they meet along the way. This harrowing thriller packs a lifetime of emotion into three tense hours.

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January 1, 2018

The Shadow DistrictArnaldur Indridason
The Shadow District (Minotaur 2017, Iceland 2013) introduces Konrád, a retired police detective in Reykjavík, Iceland. Bored with retirement, Konrád convinces his former colleague to let him help out with the investigation of the death of Stefán Thórdarson, a 90-year-old man found smothered in his bed. Newspaper cuttings in his room describe the 1994 murder of a young woman found strangled behind the National Theater. Konrád remembers the case since his con-man father had assisted with a séance for the murdered girl’s parents. A parallel narration from 70 years earlier documents that murder investigation. In 1944, Iceland was on the brink of terminating the union with Denmark and becoming an independent republic. Affairs between Icelandic women and British and American servicemen were so common that a committee was set up to deal with the scandalous Situation. The Icelandic-American courting couple who discovered the body in the Shadow District are interviewed by Flóvent, an Icelandic policeman, and Thorson, the bilingual son of Icelandic immigrants to Canada working on behalf of the American military police. Flóvent and Thorson identify the murdered woman as Rósamunda, and think there might be a connection with the death of another woman in the countryside. Both young women said they had been attacked by huldufólk, mythological hidden creatures. As Konrád searches through crumbling records for more information about the old deaths, he begins to wonder if the wrong man was arrested for Rósamunda’s murder all those years ago, and struggles to connect the past to the recent murder of the old man. The plight of young women in wartime, striving to find their way in a world where they have little power over their own destiny, provides a striking background in this effective series opener.

Are You Sleeping?Kathleen Barber
Are You Sleeping (Gallery Books August 2017) begins in 2015 when Poppy Parnell, a podcast journalist, launches the first episode of “Reconsidered: The Chuck Buhrman Murder.” Back in 2002 Chuck Buhrman, a college professor married to Erin with 14-year-old twin daughters Lanie and Josie, was shot and killed late one night in their Elm Park, Illinois, home. Erin was staying with a friend recovering from oral surgery, and Lanie discovered her father’s body. At first both girls insisted they had been sleeping, but later Lanie said she saw Warren Cave, a troubled teen living next door, fleeing through the woods. Warren was arrested, convicted, and is serving a life sentence. Erin had a breakdown, left her daughters with their aunt, and joined a cult. Entering public school for the first time after being homeschooled by their mother, Lanie went off the rails, betrayed Josie, and the twins haven’t spoken for many years. Warren’s mother Melanie, who had been having an affair with Chuck, swears her son is innocent and convinced Poppy to look into the case. In 2015, Josie is working in a bookstore and living in New York City with Caleb, an Australian currently on an overseas assignment. Josie legally changed her last name right after high school, and doesn’t want to think about the past, but can’t help listening to the first podcast episode, and then the next, until she is totally consumed with fear that Warren may actually be innocent. But if Lanie lied, who did kill their father? The sudden death of Josie’s mother sends her back to Illinois, and when Caleb returns Josie has a new problem. How can she tell the partner she has been living with for years that she needs to go to the funeral of the mother she told him died long ago, and that she has a twin sister she never mentioned. This intense debut psychological thriller examines the long-lasting effect of violent death on the victim’s family.

Murder at the House of Rooster HappinessDavid Casarett
Murder at the House of Rooster Happiness (Redhook 2016) introduces Ladarat Patalang, the nurse ethicist at Sriphat Hospital in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Detective Wiriyai Mookja, an acquaintance of her cousin Siriwan, visits the hospital to ask for her help. Two days earlier a young woman brought her dead husband to the hospital emergency room, where he was quickly pronounced dead from heart failure and the body released back to the wife. The strange thing is that the police officer thought he recognized the woman, who once brought another dead husband to another hospital. Wiriyai asks Ladarat to quietly consult the hospital records, and she concludes that would be the ethical thing to do. The records don’t tell them much: no tests were done and the dead man’s name was Zhang Wei, a common Chinese name. Ladarat wonders how the body was released so quickly, and discovers the woman brought her marriage certificate with her to the hospital, surely a strange thing to grab on the way out the door with a dying husband. The arrival of an American couple attacked by an elephant claims Ladarat’s attention. After studying medical ethics for a year in Chicago, her English is excellent, and the director asks her to break the news to the American’s parents that his coma is probably permanent. When the medical records clerk discovers eight other incidents where a dead man named Zhang Wei was brought to different hospitals by his wife, Ladarat is glad for a distraction from the grieving and angry Americans and decides she can use her training to serve as an ethical detective. Frequent translations of the invariable Thai smile that can have many meanings, descriptions of the food the not-a-cook Ladarat picks up on her way home, and the contrasting Thai and American views of medical treatment add both local color and depth to this engaging debut mystery, the first in the Ethical Chiang Mai Detective Agency series.

HackedRay Daniel
Hacked (Midnight Ink 2017) finds white-hat hacker Aloysius Tucker helping his cousin Adriana and her wife Catherine care for Maria, their 10-year-old orphaned niece. Someone has hacked Maria’s Facebook account, sending lesbian porn to all her Facebook friends, whose parents are horrified. Adriana just wants help dealing with the Facebook account, but Tucker is determined to track down the Internet bully and get an apology for Maria. He quickly identifies the culprit as Peter, the older brother of one of Maria’s classmates, discovering along the way that Maria is dealing with her grief over the recent murders of her parents by doing a little bullying of her own. Tucker consults his FBI friends, but when he mentions Peter’s name, they warn him away. Tucker is struggling to control his own anger after the murder of Maria’s parents, and begins to stalk Peter online. When Peter is decapitated shortly after Tucker threatens to cut off his head in a chat room, Tucker becomes the prime suspect in the murder investigation. But that’s not Tucker’s biggest problem. The flame war he started online has exploded, a hacker army is out to destroy his digital reputation, and a bounty hunter is out to kill him in the real world. Even his Twitter followers are abandoning him. Tucker’s home address is made public, and protesters gather outside his house, one armed with handcuffs and determined to make a citizen’s arrest. Tucker’s usual good humor begins to fail under the strain of too much alcohol and his inability to control his rage, but he is determined to use every one of his hacker skills to bring down whoever is trying to ruin his life. This intense fourth in the series highlights the consequences of online bullying and the snowballing nature of online outrage.

The Marsh King’s DaughterKaren Dionne
The Marsh King’s Daughter (G.P. Putnam’s Sons 2017) is the story of Helena Pelletier, who lived with her parents in an isolated cabin surrounded by a marshy swamp in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Despite his occasional brutality, Helena idolized her father, who taught her to hunt and fish and told amazing Ojibwe stories. Their cabin had no electricity or indoor plumbing, and Helena’s self-effacing and withdrawn mother spent most of her time on household chores. Until she was 12, Helena didn’t know that her mother was kidnapped as a 14-year-old by her father, and that she was born two years after the abduction. The eventual escape of Helena and her mother caused an international news sensation. Fifteen years later, Helena is married with two young daughters, living on the land she inherited from her father’s parents. Her husband knows nothing of her past, which Helena left behind when she changed her name at the age of 18. The struggle to adapt to the modern world after 12 years living in the wilderness was difficult, and Helena still carries a knife and hunts when she can. The news that her father has killed two guards and escaped from prison sends Helena into a panic. The man known as the Marsh King is an expert survivalist, and Helena doubts that the police can capture him before he finds her family. Hopefully the training she received from her father will be good enough to beat the Marsh King at his own game. Flashbacks fill in the details of Helena’s surprisingly happy childhood as she searches for the man she is sure is hunting for her and her daughters. This intense thriller is mesmerizing.

The Western StarCraig Johnson
The Western Star (Viking 2017) finds Sherriff Walt Longmire reminiscing about an excursion on the Western Star steam train with the Wyoming Sheriff’s Association many years ago. A newly minted deputy just back from Vietnam, Walt was traveling with his new boss Lucian Connolly, 24 other veteran sheriffs, a copy of Murder on the Orient Express, and his trusty Colt .45. Sheriff Marv Leeland, the current president of the Association, befriends Walt, asking for his help with a secret investigation. Leeland suspects that a group of sheriffs on the train is running a vigilante group, killing dangerous suspects who escaped justice. When the train stops for water, Walt is hit over the head and left for dead beside the tracks. Waking up after the train leaves, Walt manages to rejoin the train only to find himself a suspect in the murder of Leeland. Interspersed sections set in present day find Lucian and Walt in Cheyenne to attend the parole hearing of the most dangerous man they ever arrested. For years Walt and Lucian’s testimony at the hearings have kept the serial killer in jail serving his life sentence, but his lawyers have filed for compassionate release after a cancer diagnosis. The two timelines converge in a cliff-hanger ending in this cleverly plotted 13th in the series.

BonfireKrysten Ritter
Bonfire (Crown 2017) features Abby Williams, an environmental lawyer based in Chicago, returning to her hometown of Barrens, Indiana, for the first time in ten years to investigate Optimal Plastics, whose chemicals may be damaging crops and causing rashes and other illnesses. Abby was bullied in high school by Kaycee Mitchell, her childhood best friend, and Kaycee’s gang of popular girls. When they were seniors, Kaycee had a mysterious illness that caused her to faint, quickly spreading through her girl gang. The other girls, including Misha, confessed that it was a prank, but Abby witnessed Kaycee coughing up blood and now wonders if that was the first case of Optimal Plastics pollution-caused illness. The rest of Abby’s team is focussed on soil and water tests, and gathering statements from individuals reluctant to speak against the company providing most of the town’s jobs. Optimal has bought up most of the town, may control the police force, and is currently financing the construction of a new community center. Abby tries to track down Kaycee, but Mischa, now the high school vice principal, says she hasn’t heard from Kaycee since she left town right after graduation. While talking to Mischa, Abby notices a row of pictures in the halls: 16 beautiful girls and 2 handsome boys who have been nominated for the Optimal Star Scholarship, another tentacle into the school system. When a high school girl tries to commit suicide, Abby suspects that The Game, targeting girls on the fringes of the in-crowd, is still feeding off the weaknesses of vulnerable girls. Abby fights against slipping back into the victim mentality that ruined her high school years, determined to find justice for Kaycee and others who endured social shaming as well as those suffering debilitating illnesses. This intense debut thriller explores the far-reaching damage of bullying and abuse.

White BodiesJane Robins
White Bodies (Touchstone 2017) is the story of twin sisters Tilda and Callie. Tilda has always been the twin everyone noticed — beautiful and outgoing — while unassuming Callie faded into the background. Tilda is now a successful actress recognized everywhere she goes and Callie works in a bookstore. Callie has always watched over her sister, and Tilda’s new relationship with wealthy Felix concerns her since it looks like he has taken over her life. Felix has moved into Tilda’s flat, convinced her to stop working because no parts are good enough for her, and continually straightens the kitchen, even wrapping the clean dishes in cling film. More concerning are the syringes Callie finds buried in the bathroom trash and the bruises on Tilda’s arms. Callie adds all these facts to the dossier she maintains about her sister, and searches online, discovering the webside ControllingMen.com. She joins the site and spends hours every night reading the posts, eventually making two online friends: Belle, a nurse who is concerned about her best friend married to a domineering and potentially violent man, and Scarlett, who is trapped in a relationship with an abusive control freak. As Callie’s concerns grow, she increases her surveillance of Tilda and Felix, sneaking into their flat to search for evidence and reading Tilda’s hidden diary, sharing everything with Belle and Scarlett. Though the site requires fictitious screen names and anonymity, Belle offers to meet in real life to share Scarlett’s brilliant idea about using the plot of Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train to safely remove the dangerous men from each other’s lives. This intense debut novel of psychological suspense probes the fine line between love and obsession.

The Devil’s Wedding RighVidar Sundstøl
The Devil’s Wedding Ring (University of Minnesota Press 2017, Norwegian 2015) begins when private investigator Max Fjellanger returns home from Florida for the funeral of Knut Abrahamsen, his former police colleague. Max and Knut haven’t been in contact for over three decades, but Max is sure Knut would never have committed suicide, and fears his death is connected in some way to the disappearance on Midsummer Eve 1985 of Peter Schram, a young folklore researcher working in the village of Eidsborg in the Telemark region. At the time, Max and Knut suspected the local sheriff Jørgen Homme was obstructing the investigation, but the two young officers were too worried about keeping their jobs to challenge him. Exactly 30 years later Cecilie Wiborg, a student researching the old, pagan rituals associated with the 13th-century Eidsborg stave church, also disappears on Midsummer Eve. Max is sure there is a connection between the two disappearances and Knut’s death, and begins to research the history of the wooden statue of Saint Nikuls from the 13th-century stave church with the help of Tirill Vesterli, a university librarian and single mother who loves crime novels and leaps at the chance to help with a real-life investigation. Max tries to discourage Tirill when they discover that a religious cult with a sinister Midsummer Eve ritual may still be operating in Eidsborg, perhaps with the support of Jon Homme, the current sheriff and son of Max’s old nemesis. As Midsummer Eve draws near, Tirill sends her young son away, but is as committed as Max to figuring out the truth. This intense thriller leaves open the possibility of a sequel.

YesterdayFelicia Yap
Yesterday (Mulholland Books 2017) is set in an alternate Cambridge, England, populated by Monos (who remember only the last 24 hours) and Duos (with a 48-hour memory). Full memory exists until the age of 23, after that everyone relies on their iDiary to move facts into long-term memory, learning important items by reading their diaries every morning. Claire Evans (Mono) and Mark (Duo) are one of the few mixed marriages, though the favorable tax benefits are in progress in hopes of increasing the Duo birthrate. Mark is a novelist hoping to be elected as the next MP for Cambridgeshire, campaigning on his understanding of the Mono perspective. Claire suffers from feelings of inferiority caused by daily reminders that her husband’s memory is twice as long as hers, and takes daily pills to combat her depression. DCI Hans Richardson has been assigned the investigation into the death of a woman found floating in the River Cam close to the Evans mansion. Hans is a Mono posing as a Duo, knowing that if his Mono class is known he will lose his job. Since cases are often solved by links between minor observations not important enough to record in his diary, Hans pushes himself to solve every case in 24 hours, earning the best record in his department. The dead woman is identified as Sophia Ayling, and the autopsy reveals a head trauma. Since she is the victim of a violent death Hans is granted access to her iDiary and learns that she was having a torrid affair with Mark, making him the prime suspect. In her diary Sophia claims to have regained full memory after an accident in college, resulting in a lengthy commitment to a mental institution. Told from all four perspectives, this inventive debut crime novel examines the seductive possibility of revising one’s own past.

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2017 Reviews


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