SYKM


2020 Reviews
August 1, 2020

Death Below StairsJennifer Ashley
Death Below Stairs (Berkley 2018) introduces Kat Holloway, a young cook beginning a new position at Lord Rankin’s mansion in London in the spring of 1881. A wealthy financier, Lord Rankin is brusque and demanding, a sharp contrast to his listless and ethereal wife. Lady Rankin’s older sister Lady Cynthia is an eccentric, dressing in gentleman’s clothing and dashing around the city in search of amusement. After she cooks her first dinner for the family, Lord Rankin sends for the kitchen maid Sinead to bring up his evening coffee. Confused by the look of dread on the girl’s face, Kat learns that the master has a habit of taking advantage of young servants and defies orders by delivering the coffee herself. She is surprised to find that Lord Rankin is not alone, but in the company of her friend Daniel McAdam, disguised as a fine gentleman. Confused, Kat leaves them alone and retreats to her room, leaving Sinead to sort the linens alone. Early the next morning Kat discovers Sinead’s murdered body in the larder. The housekeeper is convinced the Fenians are responsible for Sinead’s death, but the police believe she interrupted a burglar. Daniel reappears in his usual disheveled clothing of a workman, telling Kat that Lord Rankin is under investigation for swindling his clients and suspected of treason. Kat isn’t sure if Daniel works for the police or the government or for himself, and can’t figure out if he is really a toff with a talent for posing as a working man or vice versa, but knows he has a better chance of bringing Sinead’s murderer to justice than anyone else. Daniel would prefer that the perceptive and quick-witted cook stay out of the investigation, but Kat can’t shake the feeling that she could have protected the young kitchen maid and inserts herself whenever possible, along with Lady Cynthia, who is eager for distraction from her boredom. This engaging historical mystery is the first in a series.

GreenwoodMichael Christie
Greenwood (Hogarth 2020, Canada 2019) begins in 2038 on a small island off the coast of British Columbia, where Jacinda (Jake) Greenwood works as a Forest Guide in the Greenwood Arboreal Cathedral, one of the few remaining forests in the world. Ten years earlier the Great Withering, a combination of fungal blights and insect infestations, destroyed most of the world’s forests. Jake is a dendrologist, a botanist specialising in trees, but was unable to get a proper position after earning her degree, and tries to be content with the menial job that lets her spend time in the forest. During one of her daily tours, she is horrified to see cinnamon-tinged needles on two ancient firs. Closer examination reveals a few sections of bark have gone soggy near the ground, indicating the trees may be diseased. Jake knows the trees should be felled and burnt before infecting others. The next morning her ex-boyfriend Silas, an environmentalist who became a lawyer, appears with a an old handwritten journal, telling Jake she may have a claim to Greenwood Island and the old growth forest. Sections backtracking though time trace Jake’s family lineage: her father Liam, a carpenter working with reclaimed wood in 2008; Liam’s mother Willow, an environment activist sabotaging timber equipment in 1974, Willow’s uncle Everett, an itinerant maple sap tapper, and uncle Harris, a timber tycoon, in 1934; and Everett and Harris who as young boys were the only survivors of a 1908 train wreck, later supporting themselves by harvesting and selling firewood. In each time period, Jake’s relatives endured ordeals and deprivations — shell shock after WWI, farm failures during the Dust Bowl, pollution that led to the environmental movement — as well as personal challenges due to not fitting in with the societal norms of the time. In 1934, Harris Greenwood bought Greenwood Island from John D. Rockefeller, Jr. After his death, Willow refused to accept the indheirited timber fortune spoils and donated the island to a non-profit that was later bought out by Holtcorp, a large corporation that capitalized on the island’s value as a tourist destination after the Great Withering. If Jake can prove her claim to Greenwood Island, she may be able to save the old growth forest by felling the diseased trees Holtcorp refuses to admit exist, fearing the bad news might discourage tourism. This powerful and beautifully written novel won the 2020 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Crime Novel.

You Can Go Home NowMichael Elias
You Can Go Home Now (Harper 2020) features Iranian-American Nina Karim, who joined the police department in Long Island City, New York, so that she could use police resources to locate the anti-abortionist Army of God sniper who killed her doctor father when she was a teenager in 1999. She has two active cases: Lawrence McDermott, who came to the police station to confess to committing murder but has no memory of the crime, and Ronald Seevers, a former cop working at Home Depot whose parents reported him missing after he didn’t show up at the weekly Sunday-night family dinner. Ronald’s parents suspect his wife Susan, who has also disappeared with most of her clothes, is capable of murdering their son. When Ronald’s body is found duct-taped to a handcart in a deserted warehouse, there is no physical evidence of the murderer, who even dug the bullet out of the back of his skull with a scalpel. When Nina informs Ronald’s parents of his death, they tell her their son was afraid of his wife, who was violent and once poured boiling water on him as he slept. Nina tracks down Susan, whose face bears the fading bruises of a beating. Susan says she has an alibi for the night of the murder, but refuses to reveal any details. Despite her dubious motives for joining the department, Nina is a talented detective and notices that several cold case murder victims had restraining orders after abusing women. Intrigued by the puzzle, she establishes a connection to Artemis, an unlisted shelter for battered women. After contriving a violent beating, Nina arrives at the door of Artemis begging for shelter, explaining that the husband who beat her is a cop and she can’t go to the police. There she hears the stories of women terrified that the men in their lives will eventually kill them and their children despite the restraining orders they’ve obtained and the hospital records documenting their injuries. After some time at Artemis, Nina hears Phyllis, the Artemis director, telling a woman “You can go home now.” and realizes she is conflicted about the possibility the abuser has been killed, finally freeing his wife and children from constant fear. This intense thriller explores the tipping point between the law and survival from the perspective of vulnerable women and children.

The Cabinets of Barnaby MayneElsa Hart
The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne (Minotaur Books 2020) introduces Lady Cecily Kay, an unhappy wife with a passion for plants that brings her in 1703 to Barnaby Mayne’s house in London. Leaving her husband behind as Consul in Smyrna, Cecily hopes to identify her collection with the help of Sir Barnaby’s books and specimens. Cecily is stunned by the enormous house filled with cabinets displaying rare artifacts and objects from the natural world, meticulously sorted and labeled and covering every inch of space available. Cecily’s bedroom has an ocean theme — shells cover the desk and the seat of the chair, and fish jaws are mounted on the walls. Also staying with Sir Barnaby are Otto Helm, visting from Sweden to study serpents, and Meacan Barlow, a girlhood friend of Cecily’s employed by Sir Barnaby as an illustrator for his latest catalogue of wonders. The devoted housekeeper Martha supervises the daily cleaning of the vast collection with the help of the maid Thomasin, who isn’t fond of dusting skeletons. Martha’s husband John serves as cook and gardener, and Walter Dinley is the curator of the massive collection. A tour is scheduled the afternoon Cecily arrives, and guests soon arrive: Miss Alice Fordyce, Martin Carlyle, plus fellow collectors Humphrey Warbulton and Dr. Giles Inwood. The tour proceeds through the Stone Room, the Serpent Room, the Artifact Room, the Bird Room, and the Beast Room, where Alice cuts her hand. Dinley whisks her away to the kitchen to be bandaged, returning with a letter for Sir Barnaby, who dashes back downstairs to answer it. The guests are directed to continue the tour on their own, and Cecily retreats to the Plant Room to begin her research. Entering the dining room for the meal following the tour, everyone is surprised that Sir Barnaby hasn’t emerged from his study. Opening the door, they discover Sir Barnaby dead on the floor, and Dinley clutching a bloody knife while confessing to the murder. Cecily doesn’t believe Dinley is guilty — she has a talent for close observation and what she notices doesn’t match his confession. With Meacan’s help, she begins investigating the tour guests and staff. This gripping series opener set in the fascinating cutthroat world of obsessive collectors features a talented woman searching for a purpose in life other than marriage.

The Western WindSamantha Harvey
The Western Wind (Grove Press 2018) is set in 1491 in the small village of Oakham. Thomas Newman, the town’s wealthiest resident who funded the new bridge destroyed by the worst winter in living memory, is swept away by the raging river in the early hours of Shrove Saturday. It could have been an accident, though why he was on the river banks in the middle of the night is a mystery, and no one wants to belieharveyve it was murder. If it was suicide, all Newman’s assets will go to the Crown, and the monks from the nearby abbey will take over the village fields. Told in reverse order from the perspective of parish priest John Reve, the narration begins on Shrove Tuesday, four days after Newman’s death, when Herry Carter wakes Reve up swearing he just saw Newman’s body caught on a fallen tree. There is no sign of a body, but Newman’s distinctive green shirt is in the bullrushes. The rural dean has arrived to investigate the death, promising a pardon for confession within four days. He pressures Reve to pass on information from the parish’s pre-Lent confessions, but the confusing tide of small sins doesn’t clarify the situation. Reve’s sister Annie has just married and left him alone, and he misses Newman’s nightly visits to pray for his deceased wife and son. Annie’s friend Sarah has returned from a pilgrimage with a wasting disease, and confesses to the murder though she can barely move from her bed. Lord Townsend has sold chunks of his land to Newman to finance a cheesemaking enterprise he is sure will save the town, and his wife mourns Newman’s death with a lover’s passion. Herry Carter, who viewed Newman as a father, wants to do penance for not preventing his death. Each section, moving back a day in time, fills in more details of the events surrounding Newman’s death and the secrets each person hides. This beautifully crafted novel is spellbinding.

SpitfireM.L. Huie
Spitfire (Crooked Lane Books 2020) begins on V-E Day in 1946 London, as former spy Olivia "Livy" Nash is finishing her third drink before noon. Livy tried to attend the ceremony at Buckingham Palace in honor of Lieutenant Commander Peter Scobee, her superior, comrade, and lover in France during the war, but was turned away to protect Peter’s wife. Livy hasn’t recovered from the shock of seeing Peter shot before her eyes after they were betrayed to the Germans in 1944 by Luc, a French national. At the bar Livy is approached by Ian Fleming, Foreign Manager for the Kemsley News Group, who offers her a chance to help break up a network of German agents run by Mephisto, a traveling magician whose real name is Edward Valentine, known to Livy as Luc. Fleming tells Livy that a woman contacted their Paris division, offering to sell the list of Mephisto agents to the girl called Spitfire, the nickname Livy earned during the war because of her daring exploits. Livy has just been fired from her job at the London Evening Press and Journal, editing “The Ladies’ Front” column with helpful hints for making the best of rationing — the chance to get revenge on the man responsible for Peter’s death is irresistible. Heading back to Paris undercover as a journalist as part of Fleming’s espionage unit to fight “the next war,” Livy soon realizes that the city is even more complicated, with danger on every corner from the shifting alliances between the spies from England, Russia, Germany, and America. This rousing debut spy thriller is the first in a series.

Shadows of the DeadSpencer Kope
Shadows of the Dead (Minotaur Books 2020) begins when Magnus “Steps” Craig, the lead investigator for the FBI’s Special Tracking Unit, and his partner FBI Special Agent Jimmy Donovan are called to the Olympic Peninsula. An unconscious woman has been found bound and gagged in the trunk of a crashed car, and the driver has disappeared into the woods. Steps is renowned as a talented tracker, but only a few people know he can see the “shine” people leave behind. When the man in his mid-twenties is apprehended, he asks for the location of Eight, and then says that his name is Faceman, he is a fixer, and the Onion King will be very mad. When the woman wakes up in the ICU she identifies herself as Charice Qian, and reports that Faceman, the man driving the car, was not the man who kidnapped her. The kidnapper kept her for two weeks before leaving her tied to a tree in the woods; she thought Faceman was a hiker rescuing her. Even though her kidnapper kept her drugged, she learned there were seven women kept captive before her. Faceman is identified aa Murphy Cotton, who has spent time in mental institutions being treated for grandiose delusional disorder. Inside Murphy’s trailer they find a cage containing seven desiccated rats, each one posed in a different human pose — reclining in a chair, holding a water bottle — and wearing a mask made from a mold of its own face. Charice believes that the Onion King gets rid of one victim just before kidnapping the next, meaning there is another woman in danger. Backtracking from Charice’s kidnapping in Tumwater, Steps and Jimmy begin searching for the Onion King, looking for his distinctive “shine”near the homes of other young women who have been reported missing and never found, hoping to find some connection between them that will lead to the kidnapper before it’s too late. The Special Tracking Unit includes a powerful combination of skills: Jimmy’s expertise with traditional FBI investigative techniques, Diane Parker’s brilliant intelligence analysis, and the vision Steps hides from the rest of the world. The gruesome nature of the serial killers they track is balanced by the upbeat narration by Steps in this excellent third in the series.

Catfishing on CatNetNaomi Kritzer
Catfishing on CatNet (Tor Teen 2019) is the story of Steph, a 16-year-old who has never lived longer than six months in one place, fleeing her abusive father. When her mother, a free-lance computer security programmer, wakes her up at 4:00 AM, Steph knows the drill, packing in moments and dashing to the car. They always move at least 250 miles away, to a small town off the freeway. Hoping it will explain her outdated driver’s license, her mother carries a laminated 15-year-old newspaper article about Michael Taylor, a San Jose man accused of arson after his wife and child barely escaped their burning home. This time they end up in the tiny town of New Coburg, Wisconsin. Steph isn’t looking forward to school — she never stays long enough to make real friends and often ends up taking the same courses multiple times because of state differences. Her only friends are on CatNet, an online chat room whose currency is pictures of cats and other creatures. Groups are assigned to Clowders (the group name for cats), and Steph’s Clowder includes 12 regular users who know her basic story but not where she lives or what she looks like. Her best friend is Firestar, who also has a strange life with weird parents and shares a passion for creatures others think are creepy. Firestar loves spiders and Steph adores bats; her screen name is Little Brown Bat. No matter when Steph logs on, CheshireCat is always there, day or night, unsurprising since CheshireCat is a secret sentient Artificial Intelligence. At New Coburg High School Steph is horrified to learn she will be reading The Scarlet Letter for the third time, but amazed to make a real life friend: a talented artist named Rachel who comes up with the idea of hacking the Robono Adept 6500 Sex Ed robot to escape the boredom of “I’m afraid you will need to ask your parents if you have questions about …” to any question the class is actually interested in. The successful robot hack and resulting publicity put Steph and Rachel in danger, and mobilize her CatNet Clowder to protect them. Themes of online privacy, the wonders and perils of social networks, and the possibility of sentient AIs are explored in this engaging and thought-provoking young adult thriller set in the near future, awarded the 2020 Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Novel and nominated for the Thriller and Anthony Awards.

The Poison GardenAlex Marwood
The Poison Garden (Penguin Books 2020, UK 2019) begins when police arrive at The Ark, an isolated apocalypse cult in Plas Golau, North Wales, to find nearly all of the 100 members dead from poison. The only adult surviver Romy (20) escaped death because she was in the Infirmary with a broken leg. Romy has a breakdown when she finds herself among The Dead, the community’s name for those outside The Ark who will die in the coming apocalypse. Taken to Plas Golau as a baby by her mother Alison Maxwell, Romy doesn’t remember any other life, and spends a month in a mental health facility before being moved to a Halfway House where she learns to shop and not walk in front of cars, terrified whenever she is outside her room, and concealing the pregnancy that is just beginning to show. Romy finds that few of her skills are valued by The Dead: building shelters from sticks, butchering animals, harvesting beneficial plants and destroying those poisonous to people and livestock. Sarah Byrne hasn’t seen her sister Alison since she was 10. A rebellious girl, Alison fell pregnant at the age of 17 and was thrown out of the house by her conservative parents, leaders in the Finborough Congregation evangelical church. Since the death of her parents three years earlier, Sarah lives alone in the depressing family house and works in the administration office at Wellesley Academy, the Finborough Church of England school. She is notified as next-of-kin of two rescued minor children of her sister — Eden (15) and Ilo (13) — who have spent three months in a care home and will enter the foster care system if she doesn’t take them in. Sarah is startled when she meets the two tall thin blond children, their hair just growing in from the monthly shaving of all community members past puberty. They look like her sister, but alien, unworldly. Their last name is Blake, after the Father of the community, and Eden is proud that he is her actual father as well, making her part of a privileged group of children, possibly The One who will become leader now that the Father is gone. Sarah struggles to communicate with Eden and Ilo, whose strange questions and assumptions baffle her, and eagerly accepts Romy’s offer to help care for them. The three survivers of The Ark in turn find it bewildering that Sarah has made no preparations for the imminent apocalypse and seems to be content to live as one of The Dead. This intense psychological thriller exploring the effects of living in a messianic survivalist compound is terrifying.

FramedS.L. McInnis
Framed (Grand Central Publishing 2020) is the story of Beth Montgomery who lives with her husband Jay in a beautiful bungalow in the Los Angeles hills. Beth studied classical piano at school, but her stage fright and lack of drive made a performance career impossible. So she gives lessions at the Steinberg Academy and shops frugally while Jay lives beyond their means, to him a necessity to establish himself as a Hollywood producer. Throughout their three-year marriage Jay has been a flirt, but it never bothered Beth much until the recent miscarriage that destroyed her hopes of starting a family. The news of a drug deal that went bad, resulting in a quadruple homicide including an undercover LAPD officer, doesn’t attract the notice of Beth and Jay who are busy arguing. An unexpected call from Beth’s freshman roommate Cassie Ogilvy startles her into agreeing to meet for a drink. The two mismatched roommates at the New England Institute of Music in Boston became friends despite their differences — wild flamboyant Cassie and serious shy Beth — occasionally appearing together at clubs when jazz singer Cassie’s regular accompanist flaked out. They haven’t seen each other for 12 years, but Cassie has been searching for Beth occasionally online, finally tracking her down through the Steinberg Academy website. When they meet for drinks Cassie fakes a phone call to a friend who was going to give her a ride to the Monterey Jazz Festival, conning Beth into inviting her, and her heavy suitcase full of drug money, to stay for a few days. Jay has never met any of Beth’s friends, or family since her parents died in a car accident before they met, and is both distrustful of and attracted to sexy Cassie who drinks in the mornings and offers him marijuana. Interspersed chapters over a five-day span from the perspectives of Beth, Cassie, Detective Goode, and barely surviving drug dealer Rick Squires reveal a tangle of lies and deceptions in this twisty and tense debut suspense thriller.

Please See UsCaitlin Mullen
Please See Us (Gallery Books 2020) takes place in a hot Atlantic City summer. The tourists are few and far between, and 16-year-old Clara Voyant is barely scraping by as a tarot-reading psychic. Clara lives with her irresponsible aunt Desmina, who works as a stripper and thinks Clara is old enough to be set up with “dates” in order to help pay the rent. Lily Louten, fleeing her cheating artist boyfriend, has left her dream job in a Soho art gallery to return home and work at a nearly-empty casino spa. The two meet when Clara and Des try to pick up customers at the spa, Clara still reeling from disturbing visions after a reading for a man searching for his runaway high school niece Julie. Clara senses that Lily might listen to her fears and steals her bracelet, hoping that Lily will track her down to get it back. Luis, the deaf and nearly mute custodian at the spa, sees Clara’s theft, but doesn’t tell anyone. Luis has been bullied all his life, and since the death of his protective grandmother he endures regular beatings from locals who enjoy tomenting him while the police do nothing. On the marsh behind the Sunset Motel outside town two Jane Does are carefully arranged. Lily and Clara become tentative allies after Clara describes her visions, which intensify as more women disappear — prostitutes and homeless women who aren’t missed. Chapters from the perspectives of Lily, Clara, and Luis describe the events of the summer in the deteriorating city as they become more concerned about the disappearances which no one else seems to notice. Chapters from the perspectives of women with names before they go missing, and then from the point of view of the Janes, begging for someone to “please see us,” reveal the plight of the “invisible” women valued only for their use to others. This intense and haunting debut thriller focuses on the victims of a serial killer rather than the killer himself.

36 Righteous MenSteven Pressfield
36 Righteous Men (W.W. Norton & Company 2020) begins when New York City detectives James Manning and Covina “Dewey” Duwai are called to the scene of a murder in the blazing 114°F heat of April 2034. Manning is startled when a woman in the crowd outside the victim’s townhouse shouts a question: "Is this victim imprinted with the “LV” sign like the other victims?" The woman vanishes before Dewey can get more than a blurry video on her phone, leaving the two detectives wondering how she knew the autopsy would reveal a dime-sized subcutaneous contusion between the victim’s eyes looking exactly like the letters LV, just like the earlier New York victim and the two in Russia. As usual, the killer has strangled the victim with one hand, leaving no physical evidence behind and nothing on the security cameras. Their Russian counterparts speculate that the LC is the Roman numeral 55, the Russian Federal Security Service code for political murder, but they can’t find a connection between the victims. Then Manning gets a text from a throwaway phone: “LV is Hebrew, the letters lamed and vav.” Dewey traces the phone to a sweatshop in South Brooklyn, where women are rebuilding throwaway phones under the supervision of a man in a yarmulke. The phone doesn’t have any useful information except the address where it was sold, but the man explains that the Hebrew letters are associated with the number 36, the Jewish legend of the Thirty-Six Righteous Men who protect the world from destruction. Manning and Dewey’s boss refuses to accept there is a serial killer killing righteous Jews, but they begin a world-wide search discovering other murders, all Jews working to reverse the course of global climate change, which will destroy human life within 30-50 years if unchecked. As they work to identify and protect the remaining Thirty-Six Righteous Men around the world, Manning and Dewey realize the killer has more than human powers, but are determined to stop the killing spree. Narrated mainly from Dewey’s unique and engaging perspective, with the support of her notes for Manning and transcripts from the always-running police body cams, this intense apocalyptic thriller presents a world in crisis just as terrifying as the perhaps unstoppable killer.

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July 1, 2020

In the Presence of EvilTania Bayard
In the Presence of Evil (Severn House 2018) introduces Christine de Pizan, a young widow working as a scribe to support her children and mother in 1390s Paris. Christine is copying a book for Queen Isabeau at the palace when she stumbles over the murdered body of a barefoot man in a ragged cloak behind a tapestry. Alix de Clairy, the young wife of Hugues de Précy, a favorite of the mad King Charles VI, seems to recognize the knife in the man’s chest, but vanishes before Christine can question her. The murdered man was delivering a contraband book of magic to the Duke of Orléans, the king’s brother, which cannot be found. The following day Alix smuggles a mandrake root into the palace for the queen, who hopes the spirit of the mandrake can drive away the demons that possess the king. Christine doesn’t believe in magic, but is uneasy around the strange root, knowing it can produce a deadly poison. When Hugues de Précy is poisoned in the street, his wife is found unconscious next to him with the poison bottle in her hand. She is arrested and thrown into prison. Desperate to find the missing book which may have the cure to his madness, the king grants Christine a few days to question Alix before she is burned at the stake, but Alix was struck from behind and has no memory of that time period. With the help of Marion, a prostitute she has known from childhood, and Brother Michel, a friend of her deceased husband, Christine searches for a motive for the murder while trying to track down the missing book, putting herself and her family in grave danger. Vivid details of the superstitions and views about women in medieval France enliven this debut historical mystery based on the real-life medieval scribe.

A Beautiful CrimeChristopher Bollen
A Beautiful Crime (Harper 2020) begins when Nick Brink leaves New York City to join his new boyfriend Clay Guillory in Venice. The two young men met when Clay brought some old silver he inherited from Freddy van der Haar to Wickston Antiques to be appraised. Clay became friends with Freddy several years earlier while he was working as a college intern for the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. In the early 1960s Freddy’s parents divided and sold off most of the vast family Palazzo Contarini, keeping a narrow section for themselves, the part containing a ceiling fresco painted by Sebastiano Ricci. In Freddy’s old age, he converted most of his share to student apartments for Guggenheim interns, dubbed Il Dormitorio, and feuded with wealthy American Richard Forsyth West, the owner of the larger portion. Freddy took Clay in when Clay didn’t get an expected job at the end of his internship, and the two became family, with Clay supporting Freddy throughout his final illness and death. Freddy left everything to Clay, and rumors circulated that Clay murdered the old bohemian for his fortune. Unfortunately the family fortune had been diminished over the years and the remainder was consumed by Freddy’s medical bills. The only pieces left in the legendary van der Haar silver collection are fakes. Ari Halfon, the middle-aged owner of Wickston Antiques whom Nick lives with, demonstrates the flaws in the pieces, telling Nick that Freddy could have orchestrated the forgeries himself or inherited them from a gullible ancestor. Ari asks Nick to relay the bad news to Clay, and the two young men fall in love. Clay has inherited all of Freddy’s debts, and decides pay off most of them by selling the New York house and moving to Venice to live in the deteriorating Il Dormitorio. For years West has coveted the van der Haar silver collection, even purchasing the van der Haar antique cabinet that originally housed the collection, but Freddy refused to sell him a single piece. Nick comes up with the brilliant scheme of selling the fakes to the man Freddy despised, and Clay reluctantly goes along with the plan in order to give the couple a fresh start. The foolproof plan doesn’t go exactly as planned in this engaging caper novel.

The FindersJeffrey B. Burton
The Finders (Minotaur 2020) starts when two Chicago police officers, rookie Kippy Gimm and her partner Dave Wabiszewski, are called to the scene of a suicide. A car is running in the attached garage and a man is dead in the kitchen. Kippy believes the golden retreiver puppy collapsed in the garage also succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning, but by the time the ambulance arrives the puppy is upright on her wobbly legs. Dog trainer Mason “Mace” Reid adopts the traumatized puppy, adding her to the team of three other cadaver dogs he calls The Finders. Ten months later Vira is on her first hunt for human remains, searching a fenced construction site where a blue summer dress has been tied to the gate. Just over three weeks earlier Kari Jo Brockman disappeared wearing a blue summer dress, and 16-year-old Becky Grohl didn’t come home from the mall a few days ago. Both Kari Jo and Becky match the victim profile of the Velvet Choker Killer, who keeps his young victims for months before killing one and capturing another. As expected, the body Vira discovers is wearing a velvet choker. While they are waiting at the scene with the police, Vira breaks loose and attacks a man in the crowd of gawkers. Vira is immediately placed on a kill list, but Mace begs the vet for 24 hours to figure out why she attacked Nicky Champine. Mace suspects that Vira, the most talented cadaver dog he has ever trained, is somehow able to pick up scent DNA from the murderer on the body, which led her straight across the parking lot to Champine. Detective Hanson, the lead detective in the Velvet Choker case, says Champine doesn’t have a record and hasn’t appeared in any other crime scene videos, warning Mace that he should be worried about being sued for Champine’s injuries, not accusing him of being a serial killer. Luckily Kippy, who feels a strong connection with the dog she saved, is willing to listen to Mace’s wild speculations about Vira’s talents. This character-driven thriller is the first in the Mace Reid K-9 mysteries.

Our HouseLouise Candlish
Our House (Berkley 2018) begins when Fiona Lawson returns after a weekend trip to find strangers moving into her house in London. Fiona and her husband Bram have been separated for six months, ever since she found him with another woman in the children’s playhouse. They have been coparenting their sons by “bird nesting,” alternating between staying in the family home with the children and alone in a small rented apartment. During the months they have spent apart, Fiona has unexpectedly found a new love interest, a divorced father of two, while Bram struggles to hide a driving ban from Fiona and his employer at a sales firm. Everything spirals out of control when Bram flees the scene of an accident, opening himself up to blackmail in order to avoid a prison sentence for driving while banned. Interwoven entries from “Fi’s Story,” a crime podcast aired six weeks after her house was sold, and a lengthy Word document/suicide note on Bram’s computer fill in the backstory of the couple’s separation and months spent mostly apart, leading up to the day Bram apparently sold their beloved townhouse and fled with two million pounds. Bram and Fiona’s touching efforts to shield their two young sons from the disintegration of their marriage by maintaining the stability of the family house make a sharp contrast to the choices Bram makes under the pressure of blackmail. This tense domestic thriller was the US debut of a popular British author.

The Escape RoomMegan Goldin
The Escape Room (St. Martin’s Press 2019, Australia 2018) begins when Vincent de Vries, Senior Vice President at Stanhope and Sons, meets three members of his Wall Street financial team at a nearly-completed office building in the South Bronx just after Christmas. No one is happy to be there, but the Stanhope and Sons email stressed it was compulsory, and the team is worried since layoffs are looming after the firm recently lost a large account. Vincent shares his email explaining the team-building escape room challenge and the four board the elevator for the 80th floor, expecting the typical hour-long locked room filled with clues. But the lights turn off as soon as the door closes. When the elevator stops at the 70th floor the doors won’t open, leaving the team stranded in the claustrophobic darkness. The screen lights up with a message, “Dead but not forgotten” along with an anagram they solve to read SARA HALL. Interspersed flashbacks from Sara’s perspective begin with her interview at Stanhope and Sons. Sara is desperate for a job after several months of no offers and needs the money desperately: her unemployed father has cancer, her mother’s health is fragile, and the combination of school loans and supporting her parents has left her deeply in debt. Sara makes it through the interview process and Vincent selects her for his team which includes Sam (supporting an expensive and demanding wife), Sylvie (a competitive former model), Jules (a secret drinker), and Lucy (a mathematical genius who avoids all social contact). Over the next few months Sara works incredibly long hours but loves the challenge of her job as a financial analyst despite the ruthless competition in the firm for the year-end bonuses that make up a large part of their salaries. Back in the elevator, sure that their future at the company hinges on solving the escape room challenge, Vincent, Jules, Sylvie, and Sam search the pitch-dark space for more clues, their bitter rivalries surfacing as the clock ticks on. This intense thriller exploring the world of investment banking is riveting.

A Gentlewoman’s Guide to MurderVictoria Hamilton
A Gentlewoman’s Guide to Murder (Midnight Ink 2019) introduces Emmeline St. Germaine, a spinster who disguises herself as the Masked Avengeress to rescue sexually abused servants in 1810 London. Her seventh rescue is Molly, a pretty, blond 13-year-old scullery maid about to be raped by her master Sir Henry Claybourne. Cloaked and masked, Emmeline threatens Sir Henry with a dagger, promising retribution from a legion of women willing to murder him in his sleep if he attacks another young girl. The news the next morning that Sir Henry was murdered late at night in the alley outside his house shocks Emmeline and her secret society of like-minded women dedicated to righting the wrongs inflicted on girls and women of all stations. Emmeline heads off immediately to speak clandestinely with Simeon Kauffman, publisher of the Prattler, for more details about the murder. Emmeline writes a gossip column for the Prattler under the byline The Rogue, burying attacks on male predators among the usual scurrilous rumors Londoners love to whisper about. Unfortunately witnesses saw the Masked Avengeress at the Claybourne residence and the shocking notion of a masked murderess is all anyone wants to talk about. Emmeline realizes she must somehow unmask the real murderer before her secret identity is exposed, dooming her to forced seclusion in the country. Fiercely independent and reluctant to marry, Emmeline’s brother’s reluctant support of her residence in the family’s London house is dependent upon her maintaining the facade of a demure and respectable spinster. This engaging series opener ends with a promise of further adventures of Emmeline, the protector of females dependent upon their male relatives or masters for their livelihood.

American HeroinMelissa Scrivner Love
American Heroin (Crown 2019) finds Lola Vasquez, head of a gang in South Central Los Angeles, feeling financially secure for the first time in her life, though there are drawbacks to her success. Lola still lives in her small apartment in Huntington Park, secretly paying for rent and groceries for her neediest apartment complex neighbors. Abused women know she is a soft touch, especially if there are children involved. Her Crenshaw Six tiny gang of trusted soldiers has grown into a small empire, but her beloved younger brother Hector is serving time in prison, framed for a murder Lola herself committed while saving his life. Lucy, her eight-year-old adopted daughter, is flourishing at a prestigious private school but is being bullied by her new best friend. Lola’s mother is off drugs, though Lola has trouble trusting her to watch over Lucy after her own years of neglect and abuse. A pregnant woman begs Lola to keep her husband in prison, explaining that he will harm her and the baby if released. Lola involves Hector, which precipitates a war with a dangerous new cartel. Los Angeles prosecutor Andrea Dennison Whitely, Lola’s secret business partner, helps Lola get Hector out of prison for a fake funeral, but that only makes the situation worse. This compelling second in the series featuring the compassionate and ruthless drug lord struggling to make a life for herself and her family is complex and satisfying.

Two Girls DownLouisa Luna
Two Girls Down (Doubleday 2018) begins when Jamie Brandt’s two young daughters disappear from the parking lot in a strip mall in Denville, Pennsylvania. When the police don’t have any leads after 36 hours, Jamie contacts Alice Vega, a missing person investigator from California who has located 100% of the people she was hired to find. Vega and the hacker she employs find a video on Facebook showing Kylie (10) and Bailey (8) in the background of an ice cream store. Though only caught in the corner of the video, Kylie is clearly smiling as she crosses the street with her sister towards a car. Vega tries to work with the local police, but Captain “Junior” Hollows orders her to leave town and let the police do their jobs. Certain the understaffed department won’t find the girls, Vega visits Max “Cap” Caplan, a local private investigator who left the force under a cloud two years earlier. Cap isn’t sure he wants to antagonize the department, but his teenage daughter Nell convinces him to work with Vega to find the missing girls. They begin to question anyone of driving age that Kylie might be glad to see: neighbors, Jamie’s current and past boyfriends, the father who left when Bailey was a baby. Vega, a loner trying to cope with personal tragedies, and Cap, a devoted father who sacrificed his career and marriage to protect his partner, make an unlikely team, but their differences complement rather than clash and they become reluctant friends. The pair uncover connections and witnesses the police skimmed over, but the days crawl by with no sign of the missing girls. This well-plotted psychological thriller is the first in a series featuring the enigmatic California bounty hunter and empathetic Pennsylvania PI.

The Clockmaker’s DaughterKate Morton
The Clockmaker’s Daughter (Atria 2018) is the story of Birchwood Manor, a house inhabited by a specter on the banks of the Upper Thames. In the summer of 2017, Elodie Winslow, a London archivist, begins cataloging a box belonging to James Stratton. Inside she finds a sketchbook and a photograph of a striking woman in Victorian dress. Opening the sketchbook, she finds an accomplished drawing of a house by the river that looks extremely familiar. Later, Elodie realizes the house is the setting of her favorite childhood story about the Fairy Queen told by her mother. Birdie Bell is the clockmaker’s daughter, sold by her debt-ridden father at the age of seven to a woman who trains her as a pickpocket. Ten years later, Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Radcliffe spots her liberating valuables at the opera, and rents her services as a model. The two fall in love though he is engaged to be married. In the summer of 1862 Radcliffe takes Birdie and several painter friends plus their models to spend a month at Birchwood Manor, along with the priceless Radcliff Blue diamond he plans to include in his next painting of Birdie. By the end of that month Radcliffe’s fiancée is shot dead, and both Birdie and the diamond have disappeared. During the 150-year period between Birdie and Elodie, Birchwood Manor influences the lives of Radcliffe’s younger sister Lucy, who opens a school for girls; Leonard Gilbert, who writes a biography of Radcliffe while recuperating from WWI shell shock; and young widow Juliet who escapes the London Blitz with her three small children. Elodie, who is engaged to be married to the man she cares for but does not love, avoids the wedding preparations by trying to identify the owner of the sketchbook and the mysterious woman in the photograph, eventually ending up at Birchwood Manor, currently occupied by ex-policeman Jack Rolands, who is searching for the diamond. This mesmerizing novel explores the power of love, the debilitating effect of abandonment, and the power of art as a lens to interpret reality.

The Hotel NeversinkAdam O’Fallon Price
The Hotel Neversink (Tin House Books 2019) opens with the 1931 sale of George B. Foley’s sprawling 93-bedroom mansion in the Catskills to Asher Levem Sikorsky. Built over 30 years for a planned large family that never materialized, Foley House contains three ballrooms, an auditorium, and both indoor and outdoor swimming pools. Sikorsky renamed the property Hotel Neversink after the hill it was built on above the river, and opened as a mainly summer resort. In the summer of 1950, 8-year-old hotel guest Jonah Schoenberg vanishes while playing hide-and-seek with young Leonard Sikorsky in the countless nooks and crannies of the hotel’s four floors and a fifth subterranean level. Leonard’s mother Jeanie, who has inherited the hotel, organizes a search that lasts for days, but Jonah is never found. Over the years two other children go missing in the nearby town, Jeanie’s husband Henry thinks he sees a boy watching him from the woods, and Leonard dreams that someone comes into his room at night. In 1973, when Leonard’s 9-year-old cousin Alice vanishes for an evening and is discovered in the basement with bruises on her neck, and Hotel Neversink. believed to be unsafe, begins a steady downward spiral. Chapters from the perspective of family members and hotel employees continue to 2001, when Leonard is finally forced to close the dilapidated hotel, concluding with Alice’s decision in 2007 to write a book about Hotel Neversink and her ruinous childhood experience. This family saga with sinister overtones was awarded the 2020 Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original.

A Madness of SunshineNalini Singh
A Madness of Sunshine (Berkley 2019) begins when classical pianist Anahera Rawiri returns to her hometown of Golden Cove, New Zealand. The sudden death of her London playwright husband and the shocking appearance of his pregnant mistress at his funeral have shaken her to the core, driving her home to the place she swore she would never return to. Anahera’s first stop is the Golden Cove Café, owned by her childhood best friend Josie, the one person she has kept in close contact with since she left eight years earlier. Working at the café is Miriama Hinewai Tutaiai, a vibrantly beautiful young woman Anahera remembers as a girl of all elbows and knees. Will Gallagher, the new police officer banished from Christchurch to the sparsely populated area, escorts Anahera to the remote cottage where her mother died, leaving her alone with the new ache of her husband’s betrayal and the old one of her mother’s lonely death while Anahera was away at school. The six friends who grew up together are now all back in Golden Cove: Josie, Anahera and Nikau Martin who lived in poverty, Kiera who married Nikau and then divorced him to marry wealthy Daniel May, and Vincent Baker, who is following his family expectations of eventually becoming Prime Minister. The next day Miriama goes missing during her evening run. Will organizes the search with Nikau’s local expertise, but after two days no sign of Miriama is found. Dr. Dominic de Souza, who was about to propose marriage, has an alibi, and Will begins investigating the other men in town, paying special attention to anyone who was there 15 years earlier when three young female hikers went missing over a single summer, presumably accidents due to the unforgiving wild landscape. Since Anahera’s time away makes her both an insider and an outsider, Will tasks her with asking questions the locals might not answer for him. Both Anahera and Will are fighting demons from their past, and the shared obsession with finding Miriama or bringing her abductor to justice accelerate their friendship in this atmospheric thriller.

FirewatchingRuss Thomas
Firewatching (G.P. Putnam’s Sons 2020) introduces Detective Sergeant Adam Tyler, a lone wolf exiled as the sole representative of the South Yorkshire Cold Case Review Unit in Sheffield after hitting a superior officer. One of Tyler’s cases is Gerald Cartwright, a financier who went missing six years earlier after one of his wild parties, assumedly on the run from his creditors. Shortly after Cartwright disappeared, his mansion in the village of Castledene burned, leaving a crumbling hulk. Now 21 and home from university, Cartwright’s son Oscar is having some work done in anticipation of finally being able to sell the dilapidated mansion known as the Old Vicarage. Behind a bricked-in section of the basement a body is discovered with blunt trauma to the head and badly damaged fingernails, presumably from trying to claw himself out of captivity. Tyler uses his familiarity with the cold case to convince DCI Diane Jordan to add him to the murder investigation team led by Detective Inspector Jim Doggett, bringing along Constable Amina Rabbani, a ambitious young Muslim. Unfortunately the prime suspect is Oscar, who picked up Tyler in a bar the previous evening while he was doing some strongly encouraged socializing with the South Yorkshire Police Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transsexual Support Network led by his one semi-friend in the department, Sally-Ann from IT. Two elderly spinsters live in the cottage next to the Old Vicarage: Edna Burnside, who is dying of cancer, and Lily Bainbridge, who suffers from dementia. The two met while serving as volunteer firewatchers during the Blitz, and have lived together for most of their lives. They befriended Oscar’s mother Cynthia, who was abused by her husband, and helped her care for the baby she didn’t seem to want. After Cynthia deserted her husband and 10-year-old son, Lily and Edna raised Oscar until he was sent off to boarding school. Tyler suspects that Lily and Edna know something about Gerald’s disappearance, but is unable to break through Edna’s headmistress resolve and Lily’s tenuous grasp on reality. Interspersed blog posts from The Firewatcher describe famous historical fires and bits of information about a string of local fires that fire officer Paul Enfield believes are the work of a serial arsonist. This excellent debut police procedural starring the prickly young detective is highly recommended.

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June 1, 2020

Girls Like UsCristina Alger
Girls Like Us (G.P. Putnam’s Sons 2019) begins when FBI Agent Nell Flynn, on medical leave following a gunshot wound sustained when she killed a member of the Russian mafia, returns to her home town of Hampton Bays on Long Island following the sudden death of her father. Martin Flynn, a homicide detective for Suffolk County, died when his motorcycle skidded off the road at 2:00 AM, perhaps the result of bad weather or closing down the bar. Nell’s mother was murdered when she was seven, and Nell never had a close relationship with her emotionally distant father, leaving home ten years earlier when she turned 18 and never returning. Chief of Detectives Glenn Dorsey, and fellow homicide detectives Vince DaSliva and Ron Anastas, men Nell has known since birth, offer support at the funeral. Lee Davis, a rookie homicide detective and her father’s current partner, drops by the day after the funeral asking Nell to visit the site of a body discovery, hoping her experience with the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit will provide insights the locals might miss. This is the second teenage girl found dismembered and wrapped in burlap in a year, and Martin and Lee made no progress at all identifying the murderer of Ria Ruiz, the first young woman. Nell went to high school with Lee, and lets him talk her into an unofficial consultation, eager to put off going through her father’s possessions. She spots a cairn, a careful stack of rocks, that the team didn’t notice, and later detects a similar cairn in the crime scene photographs of Ria Ruiz. The new body is identified as Adriana Marques, who also worked as an escort, but Dorsey refuses to call in the FBI officially, determined to suppress rumors of a serial killer in Suffolk County. Learning that a red truck similar to her father’s was seen near Adriana’s home, Nell begins to worry that her father might be involved in the killings and that his friends on the Suffolk County police force are covering up evidence. This compelling thriller featuring the insightful and driven Nell, who can’t let go of the investigation despite her injury and PTSD symtoms, is hopefully the first in a series.

City of MarginsWilliam Boyle
City of Margins (Pegasus Crime 2020) is set in Brooklyn in the early 1990s, where a group of disillusioned people are connected by love, lust, resentment, and pain. Donnie Parascandolo, an enforcer for Big Time Tommy Ficalora, used to be a cop before being fired for punching his captain in the face. Donnie hasn’t ever been able to control his temper, and he flies out of control even more often after his son Gabe committed suicide three years earlier. His ex-wife Donna Rotante is consumed with grief, consoling herself by listening to her record collection. Rosemarie Baloini works as an aide at Sea Crest, worn down by her menial job and the pressure of paying off the gambling debt to Big Time Tommy she inherited after her husband Guiseppe fell to his death from the Brooklyn Bridge two years earlier, the same night Donnie used his trusty baseball bat to discourage college student Mikey Bifulco from making out with 15-year old Antonina Divino. Now almost 21, Mikey has dropped out of college and is back home living with his mother, who worries that Big Time Tommy will put him to work in his organization to pay off the debt. In a box of Gabe’s old books Donna left outside the library, Mikey discovers Gabe’s suicide note. When he returns it to Donna the two feel an immediate attraction despite the differences in their ages. Ava Bifulco, a widow whose husband died of pancreatic cancer, is an administrator at Sea Crest, a nursing home on Coney Island. While driving home on the Belt Parkway, her Nova dies, and Donnie Parascandolo drives her home. Nick Bifulco, almost 30, teaches at Our Lady of the Narrows high school. He is content living with his mother, and dreams of writing a screen play and becoming famous. The chance meeting with Donnie gives him a focus: he will write about the disgraced cop now working for the mob. Nick bumbles around asking inept questions of everyone in Donnie’s life, pulling the strings tighter between the cast of lonely characters desperate for a change in their lives. This intense story of longing and revenge is highly recommended.

Clear My NamePaula Daly
Clear My Name (Atlantic Monthly Press 2019) is the story of Tess Gilroy, a former probation officer working as the only paid investigator for Innocence UK, a British non-profit working to free the wrongly convicted. A volunteer solicitor sifts through the enquires and presents those with merit to the board, who select the case of Carrie Kamara, convicted of killing her husband’s lover Ella Muir. Carrie’s DNA was found on the inside handle of the victim’s front door, but the rest of the evidence was circumstantial. Carrie’s husband Pete refused to have anything to do with her once she was arrested, leaving her at the mercy of an inexperienced legal aid lawyer. The team chooses Carrie’s case, partially because Innocence UK has yet to investigate the wrongful conviction of a woman. Tess is shaken to discover that Carrie is from Morecambe, her own northwestern coastal hometown full of painful memories. To increase the number of cases they can take on, Innocence UK has just hired Avril Hughes, a a naïve young investigator-in-training who will shadow Tess. The two begin re-interviewing witnesses, examining the prosecution evidence, and visit Carrie, who has just finished the third year of her 15-year sentence. Carrie swears she didn’t stab Ella, and is obviously distressed about being away from her emotionally fragile pregnant daughter. Avril immediately decides Carrie is innocent, but Tess knows just about everyone is hiding something, including herself, and is less certain she will recommend taking Carrie’s case to the next step. Interspersed sections from four years earlier fill in the details of Carrie’s marriage to a self-indulgent womanizer, held together only to support their daughter. Visits to Morecambe force Tess to face her own guilt about past actions while searching for new or neglected evicence to prove Carrie’s innocence in this complex legal thriller.

Lethal WhiteRobert Galbraith
Lethal White (Mulholland Books 2018) finds London private detective Cormoran Strike and his assistant Robin Ellacott struggling to find common ground after her marriage to a man who hates her job. Professionally the agency is doing well, but their personal relationship hasn’t quite recovered from the fall out when Cormoran fired her after disobeying his directives during the Shacklewell Ripper case. Neither Cormoran nor her husband know that Robin is still fighting off the panic attacks that plague her a year after the Ripper nearly killed her. A mentally ill young man named Billy crashes into the office one day, babbling about a strangled child buried in the dell in a pink blanket. Billy flees before Cormoran can extract more details, but he can’t put the strange story out of his mind. Searching for Billy, Cormoran stumbles into a meeting of the Community Olympic Resistance protesting the neighborhood changes proposed by the 2012 Olympics. Jimmy Knight, the man running the meeting, is Billy’s older brother. Meanwhile, Culture Minister Jasper Chiswell hires Cormoran to protect him against an extortionist, admitting that the evidence is solid but insistent that the act (which he refuses to disclose) was legal at the time. Disguised as one of Chiswell’s goddaughters, Robin is sent undercover into the ministry, looking for evidence to trade against the suspected blackmailer Geraint Winn, the husband of Minister for Sport Della Winn. Robin doesn’t see much of Chiswell while working with his daughter Izzy, but learns all about the family including his despised horse-mad third wife and disreputable youngest son, though making sense of the family nicknames — Fizzy, Pringle, Flopsy, Pong— is confusing. Learning that Jimmy Knight may be part of the blackmail scheme, Cormoran investigates his background, learning that he and Billy grew up on the Chiswell estate, the sons of an abusive carpenter and odd-job man. Complex and interesting characters populate this intricate and very satisfying fourth in the series.

Cemetary RoadGreg Iles
Cemetery Road (William Morrow 2019) is the story of Marshall McEwan, who left his hometown of Bienville, Mississippi, at the age of 18, determined never to return. His father Duncan was a legendary newspaper editor and publisher, running the Watchman newspaper that has been in the family for 150 years. Duncan lost his first wife and baby daughter in a car crash, remarrying Marshall’s mother. When Marshall’s older brother died at the age of 18, the once dynamic Duncan became a broken alcoholic. Buck Ferris, an archeologist and scoutmaster took young Marshall in hand, providing the father figure he desperately needed. Over the next 26 years Marshall became a successful Washington DC journalist, won a Pulitzer Prize, and is a familiar face on television. Now 84, Duncan is dying of heart and liver failure, and suffers from Parkinson’s Disease, so Marshall returns home to support his mother, taking over the management of the paper. When Buck Ferris is found dead in the Mississippi River, Marshall doesn’t believe his death is an accident, instead feeling responsible since Buck convinced him to publish a piece in the paper objecting to the construction of a new paper mill on the site where Indian artifacts had recently been discovered. The billion dollar Chinese paper mill project is supported by the Bienville Poker Club, a group of powerful men whose families have run the town for generations. Jet Talal, the girl Marshall fell in love with as a youth, is now married to Paul Matheson, the son of a Poker Club patriarch. They have an 11-year-old son, but the marriage is unhappy and Jet and Marshall rekindle their old romance. Marshall pushes her to consider divorce, but Jet worries that will push her alcoholic husband over the edge. A second murder reaffirms Marshall’s suspicion that the killings are tied to the paper mill, and Jet begins to quietly investigate the Poker Club, putting both of them in danger. This emotionally charged tale of dysfunctional families, corruption, and the entitlement of wealth is highly recommended.

Dark SitePatrick Lee
Dark Site (Minotaur 2019) finds Sam Dryden, a former Special Forces operative, checking out a 1920s villa on the coast near Malibu, California, trying to decide if it is worth buying and restoring, when a man attempts to abduct him. Dryden barely escapes with his life and kills the man, who has no ID, just a cell phone. When the phone rings he takes a chance and texts that he is near Dryden and can’t talk. A text in response gives the address of a woman in Thousand Oaks to abduct next. Meanwhile, Danica Ellis barely escapes from a young couple who try to abduct her in a supermarket parking lot. Escaping to her stepfather’s house in Thousand Oaks, Danica tells the former FBI agent about the event. In exchange he reveals that her mother left an envelope of papers describing a strange event that happened in her childhood. Before he can say more intruders arrive. In the gun battle her stepfather is killed and Dryden arrives just in time to save Danica. Dryden recognizes the papers as scrub files, a witness nullification drug process that permanently erased the memories of innocent witnesses to events the military needed to keep hidden. The files describe two 12-year-old children, one male and one female. Though they have no memory of each other, both Sam and Danica spent time in a coma following car accidents the summer after sixth grade, losing memories of the time between early April and late July 1989. Presuming they are the children whose memories were scrubbed, they hunt down the one man Danica thinks can help, an Army friend of her father’s who left the service in 1989 and eventually settled in an old trailer in Shiprock National Forest. Moss tells them he was the one who administered the memory-erasing drugs in Ashland, Iowa, but has no idea what they saw as children that necessitated the treatment. Interspersed chapters set in 1989 fill in the details of their meeting as children, and realization that Ashland was not a real town, but camouflage for a top-secret government project. Both past and present timelines build to an intense conclusion as the two try to find the truth and stay alive.

The Art of DyingAmbrose Parry
The Art of Dying (Canongate Books 2020, UK 2019) begins in 1849 when Wilberforce "Will" Raven returns from studying medicine in Berlin to take the position as assistant doctor to Dr. James Simpson, Professor of Midwifery at Edinburgh University. Will is surprised to discover that former housemaid Sarah Fisher is now assisting Dr. Simpson with patients at his home clinic, specializing in administering chloroform and longing to become a doctor herself. Dr. Simpson discovered the anesthetic properties of chloroform in 1847 while Will served as his apprentice, and it is now often used in place of ether. Unfortunately several of Dr. Simpson’s medical colleagues are jealous of his fame, and have spread rumors that he misused the drug and caused the death of Mrs. Johnstone. Will and Sarah were greatly attracted to each other before he left for Berlin, but Will was convinced marrying a housemaid would ruin his career as a doctor, and ended their relationship. He is shocked to learn that she is now married to a wealthy doctor who supports his wife’s unorthodox desire to work for Dr. Simpson. After avoiding each other for a time, Sarah convinces Will to help her clear Dr. Simpson’s name by investigating Mrs. Johnstone’s death. They learn that Mrs. Johnstone was recovering well after the surgery under the care of Nurse Mary Demster when she suddenly took a turn for the worse and died. Her symptoms are eerily reminiscent of those of a patient Will helped Dr. Fowler examine a few days earlier, also under the care of Mary Demster. Dr. Fowler couldn’t determine the cause of the man’s illness and wonders if he might be dying of grief after his mother’s death the previous week. During the consultation, Dr. Fowler’s leeches fall off the patient and die, causing Sarah to suspect that the nurse is poisoning her patients. Locating the mysterious nurse before she can kill again proves to be a difficult and dangerous process, especially since Will falls afoul of formidable gangster Callum Flint and the the menacing henchmen Will nicknames Gargantua and the Weasel. This excellent second in the series, written jointly by spouses Christopher Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman, examines the perils and exciting new discoveries in early medicine.

The ClincherLisa Preston
The Clincher (Skyhorse 2018) introduces Rainy Dale, a horseshoer recently settled in Cowdry, Oregon. Estranged from her family, Rainy dropped out of high school and had a hard few years before being trained as a farrier (horseshoer). She tracked down her childhood horse in Oregon, and ended up in Cowdry when Guy Kittridge, a diner cook who longs to be a chef, offered his pasture to graze her horse and his garage apartment to rent. Rainy works hard to make her new business a success, specializing in clinching the horseshoe nails in a pleasing pattern valued by halter class competitors. She has a difficult time with Spartacus, a rambunctious stallion belonging to Patsy-Lynn Harper, the new wife of a much older rancher who indulges her passion for horses and redecorating everything. Patsy-Lynn seems uncharacteristically friendly, but Rainy dodges her invitation to stay for coffee and heads out to her next job, shoeing the Arabian mare belonging to pre-teen Abby Langston. Rainy notices the mare is pregnant, but Abby refuses to talk about it, muttering “He’ll kill me.” When Rainy arrives home Guy reports that the police have called: Patsy-Lynn Harper is dead, presumably a suicide. The sheriff is very interested in the scrape on Rainy’s arm that happened while shoeing Spartacus, asks for a blood sample, and shows her a bloody rasp found next to Patsy-Lynn’s body. The rasp is the brand Rainy uses, and she often gives old ones to clients to use between shoeing visits. Realizing she is a suspect, Rainy decides to ferret out the truth herself, but casual conversation isn’t a strength for the unsociable loner. Guy is much better with people, but a cookie jar full of cash and some secret meetings cause Rainy to wonder how well she really knows him. This engaging series opener features an unusual protagonist determined to make her own way in the world.

Before She SleepsBina Shaw
Before She Sleeps (Delphinium 2018) is set in in dystopian future Green City, the capital of South West Asia. Formerly known as Mazun before the nuclear winter, Green City was transformed from a dry desert to a lush oasis with thousands of trees nourished by imported water. A generation ago the Virus, a cervical cancer epidemic, killed most of the women. The government quickly transformed into an even more authoritarian regime, creating the Perpetuation Bureau to mandate multiple marriages and enforced fertility drugs for all women of child-bearing age. Ilona Sarfati and her friend Fairuza, a biochemist, discovered an old bunker, which they transformed into an underground paradise called Panah, shielded from discovery by radioactive-proof metals. Using Ilona’s government connections, they approached selected high-powered officials and offered a unique service: non-sexual intimacy with a woman. Coated in a shining powder made of gold dust that prevents their DNA from being detected by government scanners, Panah offers the companionship and full attention of a beautiful non-pregnant woman and the illusion of exclusivity for an evening. Sabine’s parents doctored her mother’s fertility records, and she grew up in a unique two-parent household until the deception was discovered when Sabine was 12. Her mother committed suicide before she could be assigned additional husbands, and Sabine was fast-tracked into Perpetuation, doomed to leave school early and become a Wife. From another girl, Sabine hears rumors about one possible escape from a life of seclusion and endless pregnancies: Panah, now run by Ilona’s niece Lin, who is protected by Reuben Faro, a highly ranked government official. This intense thriller explores the extremes of control over women and their bodies.

The Mountains WildSarah Stewart Taylor
The Mountains Wild (Minotaur Books 2020) begins in May 2016, when Maggie D’arcy’s uncle Danny gets a call from Detective Roland Byrne of the Garda National Bureau of Criminal Investigations in Dublin. A bloodstained scarf printed with butterflies has been found in the woods near Glenmalure, where Maggie’s cousin Erin went missing 23 years earlier, in 1993. Erin and Maggie looked like twins, and had been like sisters when they were children growing up on Long Island. They grew apart in high school when Erin became rebellious and self-destructive. But Maggie didn’t hesitate when Erin disappeared, and spent several weeks in Ireland trying to trace Erin’s last days: living in the flat Erin shared with two other girls, talking to everyone who mistook her at first for Erin, and discovering Erin’s silver claddagh necklace near a trail in the Glenmalure woods. But no other sign of Erin was ever found. Now a homicide detective with Suffolk County New York, Maggie asks her ex-husband Brian to take care of their daughter Lilly, and flies to Dublin to meet with Roly Byrne and offer her help. Erin’s scarf was discovered while the police were searching for Niamh Horrigan, a young teacher who went missing while hiking the Glenmalure trails. Two other women have also gone missing over the years, kept for about two weeks before being murdered, their bodies left in running water. Roly tells Maggie what he can, but she is frustrated by being shut out of the investigation, and passes the time searching for Erin’s friend Conor Kearney, a history student Maggie was attracted to and has never forgotten. As the days pass with no sign of Niamh, her parents ask that the police accept Maggie’s assistance examining the evidence after an article about Maggie’s identification of a serial killer on Long Island a few years earlier appears in the local paper. Working with Roly’s partner Katya Greszkiewicz, Maggie dives into the files of Erin’s disappearance, desperately searching for connections to Niamh. This evocative mystery featuring the complex and driven Maggie D’arcy is the first in a planned series.

Sorry for the DeadNicola Upson
Sorry for the Dead (Crooked Lane Books 2019) begins in 1938 during a rehearsal for the revival of Joesphine Tey’s play The Laughing Woman, a drama based loosely on the sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. Josephine’s lover Marta breaks the news of an article in the Daily Mirror: actress Betty Norwood has implicated Josephine in the death of her 16-year-old twin sister Dorothy in 1915 when they attended a horticultural school in Sussex. Barely older than the girls she helped chaperone, Josephine was the physical fitness instructor, keeping the girls fit as they helped with the war effort at the farm run by Georgina Hartford-Wroe and Harriet Barker. Printed alongside the 1915 school photograph of the girls is Josephine’s current publicity photo and that of her fellow chaperone Jeanette Sellwood. The article quotes Betty as seeking justice for her sister, whose death she believes was not an accident, but the timing to coincide with Betty’s first big role as Martha Dobi in Lillian Helman’s The Children’s Hour feels like a publicity stunt to Josephine and Marta. In the play the young girl claims that two of her schoolmistresses are guilty of sharing an unnatural attachment, and Dorothy’s death from a fall in the greenhouse happened shortly after she accused Georgina and Harriet of being more than friends, thereby corrupting the innocent schoolgirls. Fearful that her secret relationship with Marta will be revealed, scandalizing her family and endangering her own career, Josephine returns to Charleston Farmhouse, now home to Bloomsbury group artists who have invited her to visit. Josephine isn’t eager to revisit her memories of that long ago summer, though it began well with work she enjoyed and her own first love. That all collapsed with Dorothy’s accusation which turned the farmers and the village against Georgina and Harriet, destroying their lives and making Josephine fear exposure herself. Interspersed chapters present the characters from both Josephine’s eager young 1915 perspective and her mature 1938 understanding with the wisdom of hindsight, allowing her to finally come to terms with the truth of that long ago summer in this excellent eighth in the series.

Death in a Desert LandAndrew Wilson
Death in a Desert Land (Atria 2019) begins in 1928 when Agatha Christie, now working with the British Secret Intelligence Service after her divorce, is tasked by John Davison with investigating the 1926 death of Gertrude Bell, the renowned writer and archaeologist who helped found the modern state of Iraq. Her death was believed to be an accidental overdose of a sleeping aid until the recent discovery of two unmailed letters to her father explaining that if she was found dead her murderer could be found in Ur. During the war, Gertrude worked in Egypt for British Intelligence along with Leonard Woolsey, now supervising the excavation of Ur. Arriving at the rustic camp, Agatha meets Leonard’s brilliant and temperamental wife Katherine, who sketches the artifacts, mousey secretary Cynthia Jones, handsome American photographer Harry Miller, and cuneiform tablet expert Father Eric R. Burrows. Other guest include architect Lawrence McRae and his troubled nephew Cecil, plus potential American investor Hubert Archer accompanied by his wife Ruth and beautiful daughter Sarah. The tension in the camp is immediately apparent: Archer will fund the excavation only if a connection is found with Abraham, Harry flirts with both Katherine and Sarah, and Cecil is crushed because Sarah told him he is too ugly to talk to her. Agatha’s seemingly casual questions about Gertrude, who was part of earlier Ur excavations, make everyone nervous and reveal a deep antipathy from Katherine, whose increasingly mercurial moods poison her relationships with just about everyone. When Katherine is found with blood on her hands next to a dead body at the foot of the ziggurat it is assumed by nearly everyone that her madness has driven her to murder. This clever third in the series wittily integrates real-life characters (Gertrude Bell, Leonard and Katherine Woolsey, Father Burrows) with Christie’s own life and writings in a classic Golden Age “country house” mystery.

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May 1, 2020

The Better SisterAlafair Burke
The Better Sister (Harper 2019) is the story of two sisters. Younger sister Chloe was an ambitious honor roll student while Nicky was more of a party girl. Chloe earned a scholarship and moved to New York City, and is now the editor-in-chief for “Eve,” one of the few remaining successful feminist magazines. Nicky stayed in Cleveland, married attorney Adam Macintosh, and they had a son Ethan. The two sisters become estranged, and Nicky continues to have alcohol and drug problems. When Adam finds Nicky passed out in their pool barely holding onto their two-year old son he divorces her and moves to New York with Ethan. Two years later Chloe and Adam marry, and Ethan grows up thinking of Chloe as his real mother. Fourteen years later, sixteen-year-old Ethan is spending the night with a friend when Chloe returns home late from a gala to discover Adam’s blood-soaked body in their living room. The police take Chloe in for questioning and insist on calling Ethan’s mother, Nicky, though she has had no contact with her son for years. Chloe is horrified to realize that as Ethan’s step-mother she has no legal rights. At first the police seem to believe Adam was killed in a burglary gone wrong, but Chloe worries she is a suspect. There are cracks in Chloe and Adam’s marriage: it’s been three years since his last big trial victory and Chloe’s salary funds their luxurious lifestyle. Nicky comes to New York and Chloe fears the court will grant guardianship of Ethan to her sister, who has never forgiven her for supporting Adam in the custody battle over Ethan. Then the police begin focusing on Ethan, who has had some problems at school lately and is caught in several lies, and the two sisters form a reluctant partnership to find evidence to clear Ethan. This character-driven domestic thriller is a powerful story of sibling rivalry and love.

A cold TrailRobert Dugoni
A Cold Trail (Thomas & Mercer 2020) finds Seattle homicide detective Tracy Crosswhite living temporarily in Cedar Grove with her attorney husband Dan O’Leary and their baby daughter Daniella. Tracy hasn’t been back to their hometown since she solved the cold case of her sister Sarah’s murder, but is determined to make the best of living in Dan’s family home for the next few months while their own home is being remodeled. Dan is representing Larry Kaufman who refused to sell the store founded by his grandfather 75 years earlier to the city as part of their plan to rebuild the downtown area. Roy Calloway, the retired Chief of Police called back into service, asks Tracy for help with a case involving his replacement, Finlay Armstrong, whose journalist wife Kimberly has just died in a fire that consumed her home office. Kimberly was knocked out before dying in the fire, and Finlay is the prime suspect. Calloway suspects that Kimberly’s murder might be connected to the book she was writing about the 1993 death of Heather Johansen, who also died of a blunt force trauma to the back of the head. High school students Heather and Finlay had broken off their relationship just before her death, and Finlay was a suspect before Heather’s death was connected to the man who murdered Tracy’s sister Sarah. Tracy is struggling with the decision about returning to police work after her maternity leave ends, and helping Calloway investigate Kimberly’s murder feels like a good way to figure out if she can balance motherhood and detecting. And she can’t stop herself from obsessing about the connection with her own sister’s death. This seventh in the series featuring the talented and driven Tracy Crosswhite explores themes of guilt, grief, greed, and the tantalizing possibility of new beginnings.

Death of a New AmericanMariah Fredericks
Death of a New American (Minotaur Books 2019) begins when ladies’ maid Jane Prescott is traveling to Long Island in the spring of 1912 with Louise Benchley and her mother. Louise, a shy and rather plain girl, is finally engaged to William Tyler and the wedding is to be held at the Pleasant Meadows estate of his uncle Charles and aunt Alva. The nervous Louise would like to postpone the wedding after the recent Titanic disaster, but she is overruled by both her own mother and William’s — their wedding is to be the society event of the season. Also on the horizon is the upcoming March for Suffrage, and Jane is reading the newspapers more regularly in preparation for the anticipated vote for women. Deputy Commissioner Charles Tyler is often in the headlines, especially after he orchestrated the rescue of six-year-old Emilio Forti, kidnapped by the Black Hand, New York’s notorious Italian mafia. One of the captured kidnappers was Dante Moretti, the son of the powerful Sirrino Moretti, who has sworn vengeance on Tyler and his family if Dante is not released. Jane is looking forward to getting to know Alva, who explored the world with her husband — shooting in Africa, sailing the Ganges, riding in a dirigible — before settling down with their children Mabel and Frederick. Jane notices that security guards patrol the estate, and Alva is obsessive about keeping the children indoors as much as possible, insisting that windows be kept closed at all times though the heat is oppressive. Despite the Black Mask threat, William employs two Italians to prove his lack of prejudice: Aldo the chauffeur and Sofia, the nanny who chafes at Alma’s restrictions, taking the children out for fresh air as often as possible. When Sofia is murdered late one night in the nursery, the fourth floor window wide open, everyone is concerned about the presumed failed kidnapping of baby Frederick. Only Mabel mourns the loss of her nanny, and Jane is determined to discover the murderer of the young woman everyone else views as unimportant. Journalist Michael Behan, a friend of Jane’s, is invited to write a puff piece about William, and asks Jane for help with behind-the-scenes information to determine if there was a more personal reason for the crime. The sensible and observant Jane is the perfect amateur sleuth in this multi-faceted second in the series.

The Night VisitorsCarol Goodman
The Night Visitors (William Morrow 2019) begins when Alice and 10-year-old Oren call the Sanctuary for help after fleeing hs abusive father Davis. The voice on the phone offers space at the shelter, but Alice insists on a place no one knows about. They are instructed to take the bus to Delphi, New York, where a woman named Mattie will meet them. It’s snowing so Mattie stops at the convenience store by the bus station to pick up hot drinks and bear claws, figuring the woman and her child will be cold and hungry. Atefeh Sherazi is behind the counter, a young mother of two who arrived at Sanctuary two years earlier, fleeing an abusive arranged marriage. Two hunters driving a plow truck appear, and Jason harasses Atefeh until Mattie “accidentally” spills hot coffee on his crotch before his brother-in-law drags him out of the shop. The plan is for Mattie to take Alice and Oren to the gated convent of St. Alban’s, but Oren begs to stay at Mattie’s house overnight instead, and she can’t resist the child who reminds her of her beloved younger brother Caleb who died at the same age 30 years earlier. Both boys were fanatic Star Wars fans, and Mattie immediately falls in with Oren’s imaginative play. While putting his Star Wars sweatshirt into the washing machine she discovers a bloody bowie hunting knife. She doesn’t hesitate for long before dropping the knife into the washer. A bus ticket from Ridgewood, New Jersey, falls out of Alice’s peacoat pocket, and Mattie realizes she lied about coming from Newburgh, New York, not unexpected from a frightened woman. The next morning Mattie spots an article in the newspaper — a Ridgewood man has been found stabbed to death in his home. The snowstorm closes the roads and the three are trapped in Mattie’s crumbling Victorian mansion in the woods when they spot the dark shadow of a man lurking around the barn. Just awarded the 2020 Mary Higgins Clark Award, this riveting gothic thriller exposes dark secrets in the pasts of both women as they struggle to protect themselves and Oren.

The Satapur MoonstoneSujata Massey
The Satapur Moonstone (Soho Crime 2019) begins when Perveen Mistry, the daughter of a respected Zoroastrian family who has joined her father’s law firm as Bombay’s only female lawyer, travels in the rainy season of 1922 to Satapur, a small princely state in the remote Sahydri mountains. The maharaja Mahendra Rao of Satapur has recently died of a sudden illness, and his teenaged son was killed shortly after in a hunting accident, leaving 10-year-old Jiva Rao as the crown prince. The Kolhapur Agency, which maintains relationships between British India and 25 Western India princely states, is running Satapur until Jiva Rao comes of age. Colin Wythe Sandringham, the local British political agent, is officially responsible for the well-being of the maharaja’s widow and her children, with the assistance of the Prime Minister Prince Swaroop, Mahendra Rao’s brother. The Kolhapur Agency needs a woman to help resolve a conflict between Jiva Rao’s mother Mirabi and grandmother Putlabai about his education since the maharanis live in purdah and do not speak to men outside their family. The maharani Mirabi wants to send her son away to school in England, and the dowager maharani Putlabai insists that Jiva Rao be educated by the family tutor at home like his father and grandfather, both citing fears for Jiva Rao’s safety. At the circuit house, Perveen learns of the difficulty traveling to the palace; because of the rain the trail though the forest is dangerous and impassible by horse so she will need to be carried in a palanquin. At the palace, she is surprised to learn that the dowager maharani is still ruling the zanana, the women’s quarters, while Mirabi prefers the freedom of riding and hunting outside the palace walls. The tension between the two women is apparent, and Perveen comes to accept their concern for Jiva Rao, wondering if Prince Swaroop is plotting to remove the final obstacle to assuming the throne himself. This fascinating second in the series starring the intrepid Perveen won the 2020 Lefty Award for Best Historical Mystery.

The Alchemist’s IllusionGigi Pandian
The Alchemist’s Illusion (Midnight Ink 2019) features Zoe Faust, an alchemist and herbalist born in 1676 Salem, Massachusetts, and Dorian Robert-Houdin, a gargoyle brought to life in 1800s Paris, now sharing a house in current day Portland, Oregon. The only visible sign of Zoe’s great age is her snow-white hair, but that’s perceived as a trendy style choice. She is happy in her Craftsman house, though her online antique business doesn’t bring in enough to cover needed repairs, and her herb and vegetable garden is growing well. Dorian, a trained chef who doesn’t sleep, supplements the household income by baking treats for a local coffee shop, and cooks amazing meals for Zoe while continually complaining about her vegan restrictions. Zoe’s relationship with police detective Max Lui is deepening, and she is considering revealing at least a portion of the truth about her past, though she worries that his practical nature will prevent him from believing her. At a local art show for Logan Magnus, who recently committed suicide, Zoe is startled to discover a portrait of Nicolas Flamel, the mentor who abandoned her centuries earlier. Non-aging alchemists never allow portraits (or now photographs) since the fact they don’t age would become apparent, but the portrait looks like a Philippe Hayden, a Renaissance artist who included alchemical symbols. Hoping the portrait will help her decipher the faded note from Nicolas she discovered in Paris, Zoe returns to examine the portrait again, only to discover it has vanished. Fearing that Nicolas may be trapped inside the painting, Zoe and Dorian delve into art history and the art of forging paintings. Interspersed chapters from Philippe’s perspective in 1587 Prague fill in historical details. This enjoyable fourth in the series was a finalist for the 2020 Sue Grafton Award.

February’s SonAlan Parks
February’s Son (Europa Editions, World Noir 2019) is set in 1973 Glasgow, when Detective Harry McCoy has just finished mandated psychological therapy following the death of a suspect who fell from a rooftop. His first day back on the job Harry isn’t thrilled about climbing 14 flights of stairs to a new rooftop crime scene: the gruesome body of celebrity footballer Charlie Jackson whose eye has been removed and the words “BYE BYE” carved into his chest. Charlie was engaged to Elaine Scobie, the indulged daughter of local gangster Jack Scobie. McCoy suspects that Scobie ordered a hit on Jackson for cheating on his daughter, and sets out to locate Kevin Connolly, Scobie’s main hitman. McCoy asks his oldest friend Stevie Cooper for help, but soon realizes that Cooper is involved in a dangerous turf war for control of the changing drug scene among Glasgow’s rival gangs. Cooper helped McCoy survive a horrific experience at Lochgelly Reform School when they were boys, and the current investigation brings back all the painful memories McCoy has been repressing, unleashing an overwhelming desire for violent revenge against powerful men. McCoy struggles to put his past behind and hold onto his job in this intense second in the series, a finalist for the 2020 Edgar Award for Best Paperback.

Beyond All Reasonable DoubtMalin Persson Giolito
Beyond All Reasonable Doubt (Other Press 2019; Sweden 2012) begins when Stockholm attorney Sophia Weber is asked by her old professor Hans Segerstad to consider taking on the appeal of Stig Ahlin, who has served 13 years of a life sentence for raping and murdering 15-year-old Katrin Björk. Stig Ahlin, a recently divorced endocrinology researcher admitted to having sex with Katrin, but insists he did not kill her. Sophia has no interest in working on a Supreme Court appeal for the man the press called Doctor Death, but Segerstad’s insistance that the investigation was substandard and Ahlin should never have been convicted catches her interest. She finds Ahlin himself cold and impersonal, but is soon deep into the file boxes for the case, discovering an interview with one of Katrin’s friends hinting at a darker side to the innocent child others described. She consults Detective Inspector Adam Sahla, a special investigator for cases involving children, who admits that self-destructive behaviors by teenage girls were not commonly understood at the time, and the sexual encounters with Ahlin may have been consensual. The charge of sexual abuse to their four-year-old daughter filed by Ahlin’s wife before the murder caused the police to view Ahlin as a confirmed pedophile, though the charges were never substantiated. Interspersed chapters from 1998 follow Chief Inspector Bertil Lundberg’s investigation into Katrin’s murder, animating the old records Sophia analyzes. Other than Segerstad and her caustic grandfather, Sophia is surrounded by friends and colleagues who are disgusted by her efforts to overturn the conviction of a man they are sure is guilty of something vile enough to keep him behind bars, even if it’s not murder. Sophia herself is not completely convinced that granting Ahlin his freedom is the right thing to do, but she is unable to resist the thrill of unraveling the truth.

The Wild OneNick Petrie
The Wild One (G.P. Putnam’s Sons 2020) finds war veteran Peter Ash dealing with persistent nightmares on top of his post-traumatic claustrophobia. He is just heading out to spend some time in Death Valley to clear his head when fellow ex-Marine Tom Wetzel asks him to help Catherine Price search for her grandson Óskar, whose backpack has washed up in Reykjavík Harbor. A year earlier Catherine’s daughter Sarah, a cybersecurity expert, was murdered in her own living room. Her husband Erik, the prime suspect in his wife’s murder, and seven-year-old Óskar boarded a flight to Iceland the same day, and haven’t been seen since. The Icelandic police mounted a country-wide search and found no sign of them, but also no evidence either has left Iceland. Catherine hired a Norwegian private security firm, and their investigator spend several weeks searching before being hospitalized after a near-fatal car crash. Willing to do just about anything to escape the demons inside his own head, Peter survives the claustrophobic flights through a combination of Valium and vodka, only to be stopped at customs by an man from the American embassy insisting Peter be refused entry to Iceland and held in police custody until the next available flight two days later. Officer Hjálmar, the National Police Commissioner, refuses to submit to the unofficial order, and releases Peter for two days of sightseeing until the flight, warning him to be careful of the coming storm. Interspersed chapters from a year earlier reveal Sarah’s discovery of secret video files documenting blackmail, rape, and murder while fighting off a hacking attempt at a client she calls The Prince of Darkness. Horrified by the files, Sarah copies them off to a cloud server until she can decide how to release them without violating her non-disclosure agreement. Peter tracks down Bjarni Bergsson, one of Erik’s cousins, at a local bar, where he is drugged and beaten, barely escaping back to his rental car. Things only get worse as Peter finds himself battling the brutally cold weather and Erik’s suspicious and dangerous relatives while trying to evade the single-minded Hjálmar, who soon realizes Peter isn’t just a harmless tourist. This excellent thriller is the fifth in the series featuring the dangerous and resourceful Peter Ash, who is willing to risk his own life to protect the innocent.

The DrowningJ.P. Smith
The Drowning (Poisoned Pen Press 2019) begins when eight-year-old Joey Procter is sent to Camp Waukeelo for the summer. Joey hates camp. The other boys in his cabin all know each other from previous years, he is nervous in the woods away from the comforts of his New York City apartment, and he is terrified of deep water. Around the campfire the counselors tell a frightening story about John Otis, who sneaks into the camp every seven years to steal away one of the younger boys who is never seen again. Alex Mason is an arrogant teenage counselor in charge of swimming lessons, determined to meet the camp goal of turning all the campers into swimmers. The last week of camp he drags Joey to the raft in the lake and leaves him alone to swim back to shore. The next morning Joey is missing, and the campers fear Otis has taken him. Alex swears that Joey swam back to shore and must have gotten lost in the woods later that night. Joey is never seen again, and searchers in the woods and divers in the lake fail to discover his body. Twenty-one years later Alex is a wealthy New York real estate developer with a beautiful wife and two daughters. One morning they awaken to a swimming pool dyed red with blood, the words “Remember Me” chiseled into the deep end. The police encourage him to make a list of everyone who might bear a grudge, and Alex comes up with several business rivals. The following day while inspecting as abandoned property as a prospect for a boutique hotel, he discovers the word “Joey” painted in huge red letters. Continued attacks inflame Alex’s guilt over abandoning Joey in the lake and convince him the boy is still alive and intent on vengeance. This menacing thriller hits all the right notes.

Hid From Our EyesJulia Spencer-Fleming
Hid from Our Eyes (Minotaur 2020) begins when Russ Van Alstyne, Chief of Police in Millers Kill, New York, is speaking to the League of Concerned Voters, fighting a campaign to dissolve the police department and rely instead on the state police. Russ is secretly relieved to get a 911 call until he arrives at the crime scene where the body of a barefoot young woman wearing a party dress has been discovered on a remote road. There is no sign of violence and no obvious wounds. The crime scene is eerily reminiscent of the body Russ himself discovered in 1972, when he had just returned from Vietnam. Russ was Police Chief Jack Liddle’s prime suspect for a time, but Jack himself had witnessed a similar death as a young trouper in 1952. All three young women were found barefoot, wearing party dresses, with no obvious cause of death, and no arrests made. Knowing that he may be removed from the case if the connections become public, Russ begins investigating the two cold cases, searching for connections with the new murder. Meanwhile, Russ’s wife Clare Fergusson is trying to juggle caring for their infant son Ethan while performing her duties as an Episcopal priest at St. Alban’s Church. Clare worries that Ethan’s fussiness and difficulty sleeping are symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome, since she was binge-drinking for the first three months of pregnancy before learning she was carrying a child. Her veterans support group is helping with the underlying issues that caused her alcoholism and an addiction to amphetamines and hydroconone, but there are times when she longs for relief from the exhaustion of new motherhood. Interspersed sections from Police Chief Harry McNeil in 1952, Jack Liddle in 1972, and the current investigation that is quickly growing as cold as the earlier ones gradually coalesce in this excellent ninth in the series.

The End of OctoberLawrence Wright
The End of October (Knopf 2020) begins when epidemiologist Henry Parsons is sent by the World Health Organization to investigate an unusual cluster of adolescent fatalities in an HIV refugee camp in Indonesia. Unlike most diseases that kill the very young and very old, the average age of death is 29, with a fatality rate of 70%. The Minister of Health in Sumatra declares that the young men didn’t die of disease, instead executed as undesirables and revolutionaries, but Henry insists on visiting the refugee camp in Kongoli. Taxi driver Bambang Idris helps Henry bribe his way past the armed guard, and they are welcomed with relief by the malnourished prisioners when Henry explains he is a doctor. He finds three Médecins Sans Frontières doctors dead in their tent, their skin completely blue. A laptop contains patent records and an unsent email documenting the rapid progress of the disease and begging for more personel and equipment. Henry connects the laptop to his satellite phone and begins an autopsy viewed by WHO doctors in Geneva, finding hemorrhaged lungs. Henry is convinced the disease is not bacterial, but something new. Maybe a coronavirus like SARS or MERS, or a paramyxovirus like Nipah, though the strange mortality curve is characteristic of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. When Henry arrives back at the gate Bambang is gone. After a period of quarantine, Henry discovers that the camp grave digger is dead, and Bambang Idris has departed for a cleansing pilgrimage for Mecca, potentially exposing millions to the fatal disease. Meanwhile, the US National Security Council fears that Russia is preparing a cyberattack that would incapacitate America’s ability to fight the disease. Desperately searching for an antidote, Henry fears that one if his old colleagues may have released one of the viruses they created in the lab while studying ways to fight infectious diseases. Almost too timely, this intense thriller chronicles the relentless fight to save humanity.

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April 1, 2020

The Double MotherMichel Bussi
The Double Mother (World Noir 2020, France 2015) begins in Mangélise, France, when three-year-old Malone Moulin tells school psychologist Vasily Dragonman that his mother is not his real mother. Dragonman checks with the child’s teacher and doctor, who believe Malone just has an over-active imagination, but Dragonman is convinced Malone believes he is telling the truth. Dragonman calls Captain Marianne Augresse, telling her that Malone is clinging to fragments of memory that will soon fade, making it soon impossible to locate the woman he believes is his real mother if his story is true. Marianne is overwhelmed with the hunt for two armed robbers, who left two of their team dead in nearby Deauville before escaping with two million euros worth of luxury goods. Almost 40, Marianne dreams of having a child of her own, and Dragonman’s story intrigues her, especially when he tells her that Malone says his stuffed toy Gouti tells him a story about his previous life every evening in bed. The problem is that Malone’s description of the home he lived in with his real mother include a pirate ship, a castle, and a forest full of ogres, not the best clues to identify a real location. Timo Solor, the robber shot while escaping, is spotted when he tries to consult a doctor, but escapes with the help of his girlfriend, who may be the woman caught on camera carrying away the robbery haul. The police believe the fourth robber, who never removed his mask, is Alexis Zerda, suspected of several previous homicides during armed robberies. Marianne has a young police officer check into the background of the Moulins while the rest of her team focus on finding a connection between the three identified robbers and Zerda. A surprising connection between the two investigations reveals that Malone may be in danger. This complex and engaging mystery is highly recommended.

The GodmotherHannelore Cayre
The Godmother (ECW Press 2019, France 2017) is the story of Patience Portefeux, the daughter of refugee parents — her father from Tunisia and her Jewish mother from Vienna. In France, her parents ran a trucking company that smuggled goods in and out of countries like Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and Azerbaijan. An only child and an odd one, Patience was diagnosed with bimodal synesthesia at a young age, the triggering of one sense by another so that she tastes and feels colors. Her husband skated just inside the law designing national lottery systems, suddenly of a aneurism after seven years of marriage, leaving Patience to bring up her two young daughters alone with few skills other than a doctorate in Arabic. She worked for many years as a court interpreter before landing the easier job of translating phone-taps for drug and organized crime squads. Now 53, Patience can barely cover her daughters’ university fees while supporting her mother in an expensive care facility. Her current assignment is monitoring the phones of the Moroccan Benabdelaziz family, suspected of smuggling drugs in large quantities. As the family chats amongst themselves, Patience is charmed by their closeness and grows fond of them. While visiting her mother in the end-of-life nursing home, Patience witnesses the escape and capture of another elderly patient, and is startled to later hear the Benabdelaziz mother describe the incident to her son. Realizing she must work at the nursing facility, Patience seeks her out and finds Khadija Benabdelaziz even more charming in person. Patience begins to become even more vague in her translations of their conversations, and eventually warns Khadija that a shipment is about to be intercepted. Ending up with the drugs, Patience decides to ensure financial stability for herself and her daughters by selling them herself, becoming known in the drug world as The Godmother. This spirited caper novel, the first by the French screenwriter translated into English, is a finalist for the 2020 Barry Award for Best Paperback Original Mystery/Crime Novel.

Magic for LiarsSarah Gailey
Magic for Liars (Tor Books 2019) begins when California Bay Area private investigator Ivy Gamble is hired by Marion Torres, headmaster of Osthorne Academy for Young Mages. Sylvia Capley, the health and wellness instructor, died five months earlier in the Theoretical Magic section of the library, her body cut in half and spread flat like a gruesome book with a broken spine. The National Mage Investigative Service determined it was a magic experiment gone wrong — a miscast version of a theoretical spell intended to facilitate instantaneous physical translation — but Torres is sure it was murder. Ivy is reluctant to take the case. She has never investigated a murder, and grew to hate all magical things when her twin sister Tabitha demonstrated talent at a young age. Without a smidge of magic herself, Ivy has never forgiven her sister for deserting the family for a private boarding school and then not using her magic to save their mother from a painful death from cancer. But Ivy is unable to resist the lure of her first murder case, and is soon housed in Sylvia’s empty apartment, pretending she knows what the teachers and students are referring to when they mention magic. As the investigation proceeds, Ivy becomes more confused about Sylvia’s death, but begins to feel a faint spark of hope that she and Tabitha may become friends again. Dylan DeCambray, a senior convinced that he is the embodiment of a family prophecy of the most powerful mage in history, discovered Sylvia’s body, and says he believes it is Dark Forces at work, but Ivy is sure he is lying. His half-sister Alexandria, leader of the popular girl group, says she doesn’t know anything, but insinuates that Tabitha does. This quirky debut magical mystery is great fun.

The Better LiarTanen Jones
The Better Liar (Ballantine Books 2020) begins when Leslie Voigt Flores discovers her sister Robin dead from a heroin overdose in a low-rent rooming house in Henderson, Nevada. The ID in the wallet bears the name Rachel Vreeland, but Leslie recognizes the face of the sister she hasn’t seen for ten years when she ran away from home at the age of 16. Searching for an ID in Robin’s real name, Leslie discovers the distinctive pearl earrings she thought had been buried with her mother when they were children. Realizing nothing will link the body to Robin, Leslie flees the room and stops at a nearby restaurant, where she meets a young woman in the parking lot who works at the casino next door. Over drinks, Mary tells Leslie that she would love to get away from Las Vegas and her abusive boyfriend, and Leslie explains that she came in search for her sister in order to claim an inheritance from their father, instead finding her sister’s body. According to the will, both sisters must appear together at the lawyer’s office, a final attempt by their father to reunite the sisters. Realizing that Mary looks enough like her sister to impersonate her to those who haven’t seen her for a decade, Leslie persuades her to come home with her to New Mexico, and use Robin’s old passport as ID, explaining that she needs the money immediately since she just lost her job. Fearing that she and her husband Dave will lose their house, Leslie offers Robin’s half of the inheritance: $50,000. Mary agrees, dyes her brown hair blond, and they head off to Albuquerque, coaching Mary on Robin’s family history during the drive. Mary is surprised to discover that Leslie has a one-year-old son as well as a husband and sets out to charm them both. She is startled to discover that Leslie has not lost her job, and wonders why she is so desperate to get the inheritance. Leslie becomes more suspicious of Mary, uneasy about her habit of sneaking out of the house every day. Narrated from the perspectives of Robin, Leslie, and Mary, this debut psychological thriller explores the complex and often toxic relationship between sisters.

Play the Red QueenJuris Jurjevics
Play the Red Queen (Soho Crime 2020) is set in 1963 Vietnam. Henry Cabot Lodge, the newly arrived American ambassador to South Viet Nam, is charged with convincing President Ngo Dihn Diem to remove his younger brother Ngo Dinh Nhu from his command of the brutal Special Forces. About 16,000 American servicemen are stationed in Viet Nam, “advising” the government. US Army Criminal Investigation Division sergeants Ellsworth Miser and Clovis Robeson are given the task of tracking down a female Viet Cong assassin who has just killed a third American Army officer in Saigon in broad daylight. Known as the Red Queen for her habit of leaving a card featuring a woman wearing a black cone hat with a red skull for a face, the sharpshooter takes out her target with a single shot from the back of a moving Vespa. The assassin wears a hat and red silk scarf, and all the startled bystanders remember is that she is young, probably not yet 20. At the scene of the latest kill, Miser finds the corner of an astrological chart and bleached bone fragments from the skeleton of a tiny bat under the sidewalk cafe table. Robeson talks to a sergeant at a nearby table who remembers that the major was having his fortune read when the shot entered his heart right over the fortune teller’s head. Speculating that the Red Queen is using the fortune teller to distract her target, Miser and Robeson begin searching for a clue to the sharpshooter’s identity before she kills another American officer. Captain Deckle reveals that the Red Queen’s targets may not be random, a Viet Cong deserter has reported that her goal is the liquidation of an important man, described as the Old Fox. But it’s not clear if he meant the American’s Old Fox — Diem, or an American Old Fox — General Harkins or Ambassader Lodge. This superb thriller skillfully combines social commentary with the difficulty of upholding laws amidst the lawlessness of war.

The Whisper ManAlex North
The Whisper Man (Celadon Books 2019) is the story of Tom Kennedy, an author who moves with his seven-year-old son Jake to the small town of Featherbank, England, after the death of his wife, hoping the new location will help them both put grief behind and make a new start. Jake is an unusual child; his best friend is an invisible girl wearing a blue-and-white checked dress, and his habit of talking to her aloud causes other children to shun him. But Featherbank has a dark past. Twenty years earlier a serial killer kidnapped and murdered five children. Known as The Whisper Man for his ability to lure his victims outside by whispering through their windows, Frank Carter was arrested by Detective Pete Willis, convicted, and imprisoned. The remains of four of the missing boys were found in Frank Carter’s house, but the body of Tony Smith was never recovered. The forensic evidence was overwhelming, but a doubt remained whether Carter had acted alone, and Willis is haunted by his inability to bring closure to Tony’s parents. Shortly after the Kennedys settle into their new house, six-year-old Neil Spencer goes missing. After an unsuccessful search, his mother reports that her son had woken her a few weeks earlier, frightened that a monster outside his dark window was whispering to him. Detective Inspector Amanda Beck leads the investigation, but Detective Inspector Willis is the only person Carter will talk to, and he reluctantly arranges a visit with the manipulative serial killer. Kennedy is concerned that the move didn’t help with Jake’s invisible friend, but is more worried about the strange man skulking around their yard. Waking up in the middle of the night he discovers Jake resting his head against the front door, listening to a voice whispering through the mail slot. This terrifying thriller is the first written by Steve Mosby under the Alex North pseudonym.

Murder Once RemovedS.C. Perkins
Murder Once Removed (Minotaur 2019) introduces Lucy Lancaster, a genealogist in Austin, Texas. While working on the genealogy of billionaire Gus Halloran, Lucy tracks down a daguerreotype proving that his great-great-grandfather Seth was not trampled to death in 1849 by a loose draft horse in the streets of San Antonio, but was murdered. Jeb Inscore, a portrait photographer rushed out of his shop when he heard the noise, and spotted two men standing over Seth’s body, one holding a bloody knife. Jeb’s daguerreotype clearly shows that Seth’s white linen shirt is torn and stained with blood. Jeb’s great-granddaughter Betty-Anne Inscore-Cooper also has Jeb’s journal explaining that he returned to the scene with his camera, took the photograph, and was leaving to find the sheriff when the killers returned with a draft horse, walking it across the body and destroying the evidence of the knife wound. The killers grabbed Jeb and took him to their boss, identified only by the initials C.A., who frightened Jeb into lying at the inquest. Jeb identified C.A. as a veteran of the 1836 Texas revolution, a member of the Texas legislature, and possessing a very large nose inherited by his daughter. Lucy uses the skills developed while earning her degree in information science, and identifies two possibilities: Cantwell Ayers, a wealthy sheep rancher, and Caleb Applewhite, the ancestor of US Senator Daniel Applewhite, currently running for reelection against Halloran’s son Pearce. Gus is thrilled with the sensational history of his family and talks it up at a press conference, explaining that Lucy solved the murder of his great-great-grandfather. Late the next night Betty-Anne’s home is burgled, though not much is taken other than the box of Jeb’s journals Lucy had packed up for digital scanning. Fearing that someone is worried about the truth being revealed, Lucy dives back into her research, determined to discover whose ancestor bore the initials C.A. This cozy debut starring Lucy and her quirky friends is a finalist for the 2019 Agatha Award for Best First Novel.

The K Team’David Rosenfelt
The K Team (Minotaur 2020) introduces recently retired New Jersey police lieutenant Corey Douglas and his retired K-9 German Shepherd partner Simon Garfunkel. Corey has joined forces with his former Patterson PD partner Laurie Carpenter along with her investigating partner Marcus Clark to form a private investigation firm called the K Team, in honor of Simon. Pete Stanton, the captain in charge of the Paterson Homicide Division, asks for a meeting with the K Team and Laurie’s husband Andy, a criminal defense attorney. Pete explains that Judge Henry "Hatchet" Henderson needs their help with a confidential matter he does not want to share with the police. Corey, Laurie, and Andy meet with the Judge, who immediately hires Andy to ensure attorney-client confidentiality. He shows them an anonymous letter stating that he will soon be required to do a service for which he has already been paid, and a pile of bank statements in his name from the Cayman Islands for monthly deposits totally $390,000. The Judge insists that bringing in the police would permanently damage his reputation, and explains he did not open the account and has no idea where the money came from. Though Andy and Hatchett often sparred in the courtroom, he is convinced the Judge would never do anything unethical. The K Team accepts their first job, and Andy begins examining the Judge’s docket of upcoming cases as well as past cases over the last 18 months, when the payments began. Laurie suggests that Sam Willis, Andy’s bookkeeper and white-hat hacker who can get into any computer anywhere, is their only hope of tracing the deposits to the Cayman account. Corey is not comfortable working outside the law, but Laurie convinces him that the pressure of time justifies letting Sam try to acquire the information which can always be obtained legally later. Simon and Marcus provide much-needed support and protection as Corey and Laurie investigate a trail of clues that becomes more dangerous every day in this engaging series launch.

The RetreatSherri Smith
The Retreat (Forge 2019) is the story of Katie Manning, a beloved child star — Shelby Spade, Kid Detective — until the facial scar left by her manager ended her career. Living off her invested income, Katie dropped out after a year of college to become a party girl. At the age of 27, Katie was offered a part by an award-winning director that might have rekindled her acting career, but an offensive tweet lost her the part. Her brother Nate’s financée Ellie-Rose invites her to a girls-only weekend getaway to a wellness retreat in the Catskills, and Katie accepts, hoping to get her life back on track. Ellie-Rose’s only sister Violet died when they were children, and Nate hopes Katie will become the sister she lost. But Katie is convinced Ellie-Rose is too good to be true and hopes to discover something to prevent the wedding. Ellie-Rose is upset that Katie has invited two of her old friends along to their bonding outing, at Katie’s expense, of course. Ariel has just lost her job and Carmen is overwhelmed by crippling debt and family obligations. Ariel’s stress habit of pulling out her own hair has returned, and she has a bald spot the size of a quarter behind one ear. Carmen is working up to asking Katie for a loan, depressed by the prospect of yet one more egg donation to make enough money to pay the rent. The retreat is run by Dr. Dave and his wife Naomi, who confiscate all technology and explain the benefits of three days of yoga, journal writing, circle drumming, and solitude. The final night will feature the ayahuasca tea Dr. Dave brought back from Peru, with the promise of utter transcendence. Katie is horrified to discover that one of the other participants is a fanatic Shelby Spade fan, able to quote entire sections of episodes from memory. When a guest vanishes and Katie wakes up to find a bloody knife in her bed, the secrets all four women are hiding threaten everyone’s safety in this clever and witty revenge thriller.

Drowned UnderWendall Thomas
Drowned Under (Poisoned Pen Press 2019) begins in late December when Cyd Redondo, a third-generation Brooklyn travel agent specializing in senior citizens, runs into her ex-husband Barry Manzoni at a bar. Barry is concerned that his parents, who bought a cruise to Australia from Cyd’s arch-rival Peggy Newsome, have gone missing. Peggy is away for the holidays and not answering her phone, so Barry begs Cyd to see if she can locate them. Cyd investigates and discovers that the Manzonis went ashore when the ship docked in Hobart, Tasmania, and haven’t been seen since. Cyd’s friend Harriet Archer, Travel Agent Liaison for Darling Cruises, offers to share her cabin on the Tasmanian Dream, traveling the same route with the same crew if Cyd can get to the Melbourne dock the next day. To comply with the strict carry-on weight limit of Qantas Airways, Cyd packs her shortest mini shirts and lightest chiffon tops, tucks her passport and important paperwork into a trusty vintage Tupperware container inside her Balenciaga bag, and rushes to the airport. A flight delay brings her to Melbourne four hours late. The cruise ship has already departed, but Harriet has arranged for a friend with a helicopter to chase the ship, which unfortunately doesn’t have a landing pad. The descent from a ladder is far more exciting than Cyd anticipated, and the other passengers see far more of Cyd than she would like as her skirt swirls around her waist. Finding it hard to be inconspicuous after her dramatic arrival, Cyd tries to ask discrete questions about Hobart private tours. Nothing on the cruise goes well, but things get seriously strange when Cyd discovers a small bacon-obsessed animal — a cross between a Dachshund and a baby giraffe that just might be a non-extinct Tasmanian Tiger cub. The tiny escape artist has sad exasperated eyes just like Ryan O’Neal’s in What’s Up, Doc? so Cyd names the sharp toothed animal Howard and stashes him in her capacious Balenciaga. This hilarious second in the series featuring the clever coupon-clipping fashionista was a finalist for the 2020 Lefty Award for Best Humorous Mystery.

Flowers Over the InfernoIlaria Tuti
Flowers Over the Inferno (Soho Crime 2019) introduces Superintendent Teresa Battaglia, a veteran Italian police officer in her mid-60s with expertise in criminal profiling. Arriving at the crime scene outside the small village of Travenì in the Italian Alps, Teresa finds the naked body of a man posed in the snow. The only sign of violence is the man’s eyes have been gouged out, apparently with a bare hand. A scarecrow is discovered nearby in the forest dressed in the man’s clothes. The head is formed from his undershirt stuffed with leaves, but the man’s eyes are nowhere to be found. New transfer Massimo Marini gets off on the wrong foot with Teresa when he ignores the stocky old woman, assuming she is a local witness, and introduces himself to the male officer she is talking with. Teresa invites Massimo to join her at the autopsy, and he challenges her tentative profile of the killer, insisting it’s too early to know anything about the killer. She replies that the profile is based not only on her four decades of experience but also statistics distilling hundreds of profiles of people who have committed similar murders. Assuming he is a blowhard, she challenges him to do his homework before submitting his report on everything he has observed so far, and is surprised when he writes a thorough report and begins doing research on serial killers. The victim is identified as Roberto Valent, a civil engineer born and raised in the valley who returned after university with his wife and children to oversee the construction of a new ski slope. Teresa interviews his widow and meets his son Diego, who attends the local school. Diego along with his friends Mathias, Lucia, and Oliver spend hours playing in the woods, and recently feel they are being watched by a ghost who hides in the trees. This compelling debut police procedural thriller presents a unique protagonist. Teresa has been living with diabetes most of her life, but recent debilitating physical symptoms cause her to wonder how much longer she will be able to do the job she loves. Even more worrisome are the memory lapses that may prevent her from making the intuitive connections needed to track down the killer.

The Wife and the WidowChristian White
The Wife and the Widow (Minotaur 2020, Australia 2019) begins when wealthy stay-at-home-mother Kate Keddie (The Widow) drives from Caulfield to Melbourne International Airport to pick up her husband John, returning from a 10-day palliative care colloquium in London. When John doesn’t get off the plane, Kate calls The Trinity Health Centre to find out if he reported a delayed flight, and is stunned to learn that her husband took a leave of absense three months earlier. While reporting him missing, Kate explains that John made a Skype call every other day to talk to her and their 10-year-old daughter Mia, and that she has no idea where he has been the last ten days, or where he went every day the prior three months when he left dressed for work each morning. The next night she receives a call from their security agency, reporting an alarm at their holiday house on Belport Island. Kate is surprised since John wasn’t fond of the holiday cottage, a wedding gift from his parents who vacationed there when John was a boy. On Belport Island, Abby Gilpin (The Wife), a supermarket clerk, true crime aficionado, and amateur taxidermist, discovers a bag in the trash containing clothing belonging to her husband Ray: work boots, cargo trousers, and an Island Care work shirt from his winter holiday home care-taking business. Surprised that the still useful clothes had been thrown away, Abby puts them into a box of other old clothes in their garage. Ray has been a bit stressed lately, but the family is always short of money when the tourists return, and their two squabbling teenage children don’t make life easy. Skillfully written from the perpsectives of both women, this excellent domestic suspense thriller is highly recommended.

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March 1, 2020

The Empty BirdcageKareem Abdul-Jabbar & Anna Waterhouse
Mycroft and Sherlock: The Empty Birdcase (Titan Books 2019) is set in 1873 England. Mycroft Holmes is summoned to Windsor Castle — a distant relative of Queen Victoria has been murdered by a killer who leaves no mark on the victim, just a card reading “The Fire Four Eleven!” in beautiful copperplate handwriting. Mycroft agrees to help the Queen, though he is already assisting Ai Lin, a woman he has fallen in love with. Her fiancé Bingwen Shi, a land investor, disappeared in London on route to meet a client, and the only person who may know his location is Turkish immigrant Vizily Zaharoff, a dangerous arms dealer known to behead anyone who interferes with his business. Working with Mycroft is his best friend Cyrus Douglas, a very tall Trinidadian skilled in the Afro-Brazilian martial art of capoeira. Bored with his studies at Cambridge, Sherlock has been reading about the Fire Four Eleven murders, eight people whose deaths would have been attributed to natural causes except for the Fire Four Eleven cards left by their bodies. Engineering a dismissal for the rest of the term, Sherlock convinces his brother to allow him to investigate the baffling murders, sure that his unique powers of observation qualify him for a career as a detective. Worried about Sherlock’s safety, Mycroft insists that he be accompanied at all times by Huan, Mycroft’s driver and bodyguard, and the two set off across England to investigate the murders. This clever third in the series featuring the continually squabbling brilliant young Holmes brothers is great fun.

The Long CallAnn Cleeves
The Long Call (Minotaur Books 2019) introduces Matthew Venn, a detective inspector in Devon, England. Matthew grew up in a strict evangelical church, losing contact with his parents as a teenager when he left the church and was banished from the community. When Matthew’s husband Jonathan was hired to run the local community center called the Woodyard, they moved back to Devon, settling in a house near the beach and the sound of the long call of the herring gull. The body of a man is discovered stabbed to death not far from their house. The man carries no identification and is dressed in shabby clothing. A large tattoo of an albatross covers the back of his neck. A shopping list on the back of a piece of junk mail takes Matthew to a house owned by Caroline Preece, a social worker who rents rooms to Gaby Henry, the artist in residence at the Woodyard, and Simon Waldon, one of Caroline’s clients and a volunteer at the Woodyard cafe. Gaby tells the police that Simon had the tattoo of a bird on his neck and didn’t return the previous night. Lucy Braddick, who attends the day centre for Down’s Syndrome adults at the Woodyard, recognizes the picture of Simon on the news. For the past week or so Simon has been riding the bus home with her, sharing sweets and being friendly. Maurice Braddick calls the police, concerned that a stranger befriended his 30-year-old daughter, but Lucy can’t tell them much other than the man was her friend and seemed familiar. Caroline’s father is on the board of the Woodyard, and Matthew worries that all the connections with the place his husband manages will force him to give up the investigation, the first murder since he transferred to Devon. This series opener featuring the driven young detective is a finalist for the 2019 Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel.

The Night FireMichael Connelly
The Night Fire (Little, Brown and Company 2019) begins when retired Hollywood homicide detective Harry Bosch is given a murder book by the widow of his mentor John Jack Thompson after the funeral. John Jack must have taken the murder book of the unsolved murder of 24-year-old John Hilton, an addict who was killed in an alley in 1990, when he retired 20 years earlier, but Harry can’t figure out why since it doesn’t appear that John Jack was looking into the cold case. Meanwhile, Renée Ballard, a young detective demoted to night shift after filing a sexual harassment complaint against a supervisor, is called to the scene of a fire death in the middle of the night, a homeless man whose kerosene lantern appears to have fallen over and ignited his tent. Ballard turns the case over to the LAFD arson team and puts it out of her mind until she learns that tests show the lantern had a safety feature that automatically shuts off the flame if it toppled over — the accident is now a murder. Mickey Haller, Bosch’s flamboyant defense attorney younger half-brother, convinces Bosch to help with the defense of a mentally ill man charged with the murder of a superior court judge, which alienates Bosch’s police contacts, who feel he is now working for the enemy. Bosch shares the murder book with Ballard to look over during the slow hours of her night shifts, and the two agree that the 30-year-old case is worth looking into; there are aspects of the original investigation that don’t hold up. The arson investigation stalls because the investigators can’t find the witnesses Ballard talked to the night of the fire, and she manages to get permission to join the team since they are only around when she is working the night shift. This excellent second collaboration between the two driven detectives is highly recommended.

The Heart KeeperAlex Dahl
The Heart Keeper (Berkley 2019) begins three months after Alison’s five-year-old daughter Amalie died in a drowning accident at the beach. Alison, her wealthy husband Sindre, and Sindre’s 13-year-old son Oliver are struggling to cope with their grief. Oliver mentions that he read about cell memory, organ recipients who exhibit traits of their donors, and Alison becomes obsessed with finding whoever received Amalie’s heart. Kaia, the seven-year-old daughter of single struggling mother Iselin, was born with a heart defect. For her entire life, Iselin and Kaia have been confined to a small basement apartment except for visits to the hospital, protecting the fragile child from infection. The heart transplant is successful, and though still at risk of organ rejection and infection, Kaia recovers quickly from the surgery and gradually regains strength. Iselin feels that she needs to get to know this child all over again — more boisterous, a different style of hugging, and a new fascination with drawing bears. Iselin’s own passion for art re-emerges, and she posts pictures of her own new drawings featuring anatomical hearts visible through the bodies of small girls. Alison tracks Iselin down online and makes an appointment to see the drawings. She feels an instant connection to Kaia, who seems to reciprocate. Though still dependent on pills and alcohol to get her through the days, Alison feels a resurgence of hope — maybe she hasn’t completely lost Amalie after all. Convinced that she is able to offer Kaia a much better life than her young impoverished mother, Alison begins to insert herself into their lives. This haunting psychological thriller explores the horror of the death of a child and the lengths people will go to assuage their grief.

My Lovely WifeSamantha Downing
My Lovely Wife (Berkley 2019) is the story of an unnamed narrator and his wife Millicent, a seemingly normal couple with two teenage children. Millicent is a successful real estate agent, and he works as a tennis coach, living an uneventful life except for their "date night" extracurricular activities involving kidnapping and murder. Millicent’s younger sister Holly tormented Millicent until she was committed to a psychiatric hospital when the sisters were in high school, and her release jump-starts the couple’s secret life. After accidentally killing Holly, the couple discovers that planning and carrying out crimes together adds addictive spice to their sex lives. When one of the bodies is discovered, they decide to plant clues implicating Owen Oliver Riley, the Woodview Killer who killed nine women two decades earlier, but was released after the DNA evidence was discredited and the charges dropped. Each year his story reappears on the news on the anniversary of his release, when he vanished without a trace, making him the perfect scapegoat. This well-plotted dark debut thriller featuring two unsavory individuals, one secretly more devious than the other, is a finalist for the 2020 Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

TemperLayne Fargo
Temper (Gallery/Scout Press 2019) begins when Kira Rascher arrives at the Chicago Indifferent Honest Theater Company to audition for a part. Indifferent Honest is run by cofounders Joanna Cuyler, executive director, and Malcolm Mercer, an intense actor/director feared and revered for inspiring incredible performances by pushing his actors up to (and often past) their limits. On her way into the theater Kira passes another actress leaving in tears, and summons all her inner resources to give the best audition of her life. The play “Temper” is about Mara and Trent, a married couple consumed by hate and lust. Interspersed scenes reveal Mara’s violent urges, disclosing her supressed hunger to harm her husband. Kira shares an apartment with Spencer, an old friend who has left acting to become a fight director. They enjoy occasional sex but are friends first and foremost. As the rehearsals progress, Spence becomes concerned that Kira and Malcolm are moving into dangerous territory, ignoring his directions for safe slaps and holds during Mara’s fantasy scenes. But Kira knows that Malcolm’s insistance on making her experience real frustration and anger moves her past acting into truly inhabiting her character. Joanna and Malcolm, both bisexual, have shared an apartment for years. Joanna is frustrated that Malcolm pursues everyone except her, and becomes more jealous of Kira every day. Narrated from the perspectives of both Joanna and Kira, this chilling debut psychological thriller explores the thrill and menace of obsession.

Before She Was FoundHeather Gudenkauf
Before She Was Found (Park Row 2019) is the story of three 12-year-old girls in Pitch, Iowa, a dying railroad town. Violet Crow is new in town, arriving just as school began with her mother and older brother Max. Her mother Beth was moving them from New Mexico to a new life with her boyfriend in Green Bay, but a breakup call coinciding with a car breakdown stranded them in Pitch. Cora Landry, a shy girl with a dominating older sister, would love to be best friends with Violet. In October they are paired for a class history project researching an urban legend. Cora is thrilled to have Violet all to herself, until popular bully Jordyn Petit, who lives with her grandfather Thomas, is added to their group. Jordyn changes their topic to Joseph Wither, supposedly responsible for the disappearance of several young girls in the 1940s. While working on the project, Cora discovers the DarkestDoor chatroom, meeting JW44, who befriends her and then claims to be Joseph Winter himself. During spring break in early April the three girls are having s sleepover at Cora’s house. Sirens in the middle of the night bring Beth to the train yard, where Cora is being transported on a stretcher to an ambulance while Violet walks out of the wheat field covered in blood. Interspersed sections from the perspectives of Beth Crow and Thomas Petit, notes by psychiatrist Dr. Madeline Gideon, Cora’s journal, police interviews, and DarkestDoor chat transcripts reveal the complicated relationship between the three girls and their families. This chilling thriller explores themes of friendship, betrayal, the overwhelming need to fit into a group, and the extreme lengths families will go to protect a child.

The RriverPeter Heller
The River (Knopf 2019) features college students and best friends Wynn, a water rat from Vermont, and Jack, raised on a ranch in Colorado, who have taken a leave of absence from Dartmouth to canoe the Maskwa River in northern Canada. It’s late August when they smell smoke, and realize a forest fire is sweeping toward them. At their current pace they are two weeks from Hudson Bay and have no way to call for help in the wilderness. They stop to caution a pair of drunken Texans, the first people they have seen for days, who laugh off their warning about the danger. The next day they hear a man and woman arguing from the shore, but find it too difficult to maneuver the canoe in the wind. Worrying the couple may not know about the forest fire, they turn back after the storm calms, finding signs of a camp but no people. A day later a man appears, distraught because his wife Maia disappeared in the storm. Pierre doesn’t have a satellite phone either so Wynn and Jack offer to portage back a few miles to the lake to search for her. Wynn doesn’t want to press the frantic man for details, but Jack is suspicious, worried that his story doesn’t hold together. When they finally make it back with the badly injured barely conscious woman, they discover that Pierre has vanished with most of their supplies, leaving them days from help with very little food, swiftly dropping temperatures, a rapidly moving forest fire, and a potentially desperate man who might prefer to have no witnesses to challenge his story. This intense thriller is a finalist for the 2020 Edgar Award for Best Mystery.

Heaven, My HomeAttica Locke
Heaven, My Home (Mulholland Books 2019) finds Texas Ranger Darren Mathews back in Houston, analyzing digital surveillance data for the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas Task Force and trying to rebuild his marriage to his wife Lisa. Darren misses his family homestead in the countryside in Camilla, but visits frequently while keeping an eye on his manipulative mother who is blackmailing him with the gun Darren removed from a crime scene to protect an old family friend suspected of killing a member of the Aryan Brotherhood. His lieutenant asks him to assist the feds at Caddo Lake searching for a missing 9-year-old boy, Levi King, a member of a powerful Brotherhood family who disappeared after boating alone on the lake. The feds have requested a member of the Task Force, and Darren is eager to get back into the field though he knows Lisa won’t be happy. The Task Force is hoping to gather evidence to indict Brotherhood members before the Trump administration takes over, fearing funds for pursuing white supremacist groups will be cut. In Caddo Lake Darren is partnered with a white deputy from the local sheriff’s department since many of the local residents aren’t willing to talk to a black man, even one wearing a Texas Ranger star. Levi’s father is in prison serving a 20-year sentence, and his mother is living with a drug dealer in a trailer near Hopetown, a small community in the woods founded by blacks who bought up the land after the Civil War, sharing the land with a small group of Hasinai Caddo Indians. Levi’s wealthy grandmother Rosemary admits that Darren is the first black person to ever set foot in her house, not counting her servants of course, and suggests that Leroy Page, Hopetown’s oldest resident who was the last person to see Levi during his evening safety patrol, is the obvious suspect. Disturbed by the flagrant racism encouraged by the recent presidential election, Darren worries that the boy he is trying to find will grow into yet another young man eager to kill a black person as initiation to the Aryan Brotherhood. This powerful sequel to Bluebird, Bluebird was a finalist for the 2020 Lefty Award for Best Mystery.

Blood RelationsJonathan Moore
Blood Relations (Mariner Book 2019) begins when San Francisco private investigator Leland Crowe is living undercover in a skid row hotel in the Tenderloin. Crowe is gathering information about a cartel witness for Jim Gardner, a partner at the law firm Crowe worked for before his disbarment. Early one morning he is checking for surveillance vans when he sees a badly damaged Rolls Royce Wraith outside the Refugio Apartments. The roof of the car has been crushed by the body of a beautiful young blonde woman wearing a black cocktail dress. Crowe snaps a few pictures with the camera he always carries, and sells the best one to a magazine. The dead woman is identified as Claire Gravesend, the 20-year-old daughter of Olivia Gravesend, known as the Iron Bitch, who owns a piece of half the elected officials in the state of California. The police are treating the death as a suicide, but Olivia is sure Claire wouldn’t have killed herself, and certainly not by jumping from the roof of a skid row apartment building. Gardner recommends Crowe, and Olivia hires him to find the truth. Olivia hasn’t seen her daughter since she came home from Harvard for Christmas break, though she has received a postcard a week from various places in a 200-mile radius of San Francisco. Examining the medical examiner’s photographs, Crowe is startled by the rows of nearly circular old scars running from the back of Claire’s neck and down her spine, in pairs on either side of each vertebra. Olivia won’t tell Crowe anything about the scars, but swears there was no abuse from any family members. When Crowe is attacked he is at first convinced that is is fallout from the cartel investigation, but as he learns more about Claire he fears that he has crossed someone even more dangerous. This disturbing thriller is a finalist for the 2020 Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original.

Hide AwayJason Pinter
Hide Away (Thomas & Mercer 2020) introduces Rachel Marin, a single mother who changed her name and fled from small town to small town to protect her two young children Eric and Megan. Seven years later, they are living in Ashby, Illinois, in a house guarded by alarms and cameras, and Eric, now 13, is hoping they can stay through high school. Rachel has become skilled in self-defense and her powers of observation have been sharpened by constant vigilance. Watching a news report of a suicide of a woman who leapt to her death from a bridge to the frozen river below, Rachel recognizes a ring on the dead woman’s finger — former mayor Constance Wright who welcomed Rachel and her family when they arrived in Ashby. Visiting the bridge the next day, Rachel realizes there is no way the woman could have killed herself and places an anonymous call to the police. Detective Serrano has the caller’s calculations confirmed, and realizes that Constance Wright was murdered. Rachel’s car is identified by a security camera at the mall near the pay phone and Serrano interviews her. He is impressed by her logic, but suspicious of her interest in the crime, especially after she appears at the press conference the next day and follows a man who was caught by the TV crew at the scene of the crime. Serrano realizes there something off about the Marin family, but begins to rely on Rachel’s knack for picking up on details no one else notices. This intense thriller starring the multi-talented Rachel, determined to do everything she can to protect her children and other vulnerable people, is the first in a planned series.

The Case of the Wandering ScholarKate Saunders
The Case of the Wandering Scholar (Bloomsbury Publishing 2019) rejoins Laetitia Rodd, a clergyman’s widow making private inquiries to supplement her income in 1851 Hampstead, England. Her brother Frederick Tyson, a London criminal barrister, asks Laetitia to assist Jacob Welland, a wealthy man who lost touch with his younger brother Joshua ten years earlier. The two brothers became estranged when Jacob married the woman Joshua loved. A brilliant impoverished Oxford scholar, Joshua walked away one day into the countryside and disappeared. Jacob was in South America at the time making his fortune, and the two brothers haven’t spoken since. There are rumors that Joshua is still living rough in the countryside, and rumors of occasional sightings in a gypsy camp and a charcoal burner encampment. Dying of consumption, Jacob is desperate to make amends with his brother, and Laetitia agrees to deliver a letter pleading for a visit. Laetitia has an acquaintance in the area, her late husband’s curate Arthur Somers. Laetitia was fond of the young man despite her husband’s concern that he spent more time praying than helping their parishioners, and encouraged his marriage to Rachel, a lonely young woman with an inheritance. Married just over ten years now, the couple seems contented though Rachel longs for children and Arthur spends so much time at Swinford, a monastic retreat a few miles away, that he barely knows his congregation. A sudden death brings Inspector Thomas Blackbeard to town to take charge of the investigation and the two are soon working in tandem to solve the murder. This clever second in the series featuring the astute widow with a gift for observation and encouraging confidences is quite satisfying.

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February 1, 2020

Elevator PitchLinwood Barclay
Elevator Pitch (William Morrow 2019) begins when an elevator in a 40-story Manhattan office tower races to the top and then plunges back to the bottom of the shaft, killing four people. Barbara Matheson, a columnist at Manhattan Today, is peppering Mayor Richard Headley with questions about croneyism at a press conference when he leaves suddenly in response to a call. She arrives at the office tower just in time to see a gurney carrying her friend Paula to the ambulance. Meanwhile Detectives Jerry Bourque and Lois Delgado are called to the murder scene of a man whose fingertips have been removed and face battered beyond recognition. Their only clue to the man’s identity is a pair of shark socks and a cobra tattoo. The next day an elevator in a different Manhattan skyscraper malfunctions, killing a Russian scientist about to defect. A third elevator accident the following day removes all hope that the malfunctions are coincidental, and Mayor Headley is faced with the choice of causing a city-wide panic by announcing that the elevators are being hacked or shutting down all the elevators with a vague story of checking for safety. A bomb in a taxi outside one of the buildings leads the police to suspect Eugene Clement, head of the domestic extremist group Flyovers, whose mission is to educate those living in coastal cities about the real Americans living in the states they fly over and look down on. Bourque and Delgado discover that their dead man is a Russian-born elevator repair man, extremely talented with anything mechanical. Driven to find whoever is responsible for the elevator deaths, Barbara visits the relatives of the victims and discovers they have all been warned not to talk by a mysterious man who didn’t identify himself. This gripping thriller explores the frightening possibility of shutting down a modern city by targeting the elevators most inhabitants use at home and at work.

Fake Like MeBarbara Bourland
Fake Like Me (Grand Central Publishing 2019) begins in 1996, when an art school college sophomore travels to New York City to attend a sculpture exhibit by avant guard artist Carey Logan, part of the innovative Pine City collective along with Jack Wells, Jes Winsome, Tyler Savage, and Marlin Mayfield. Called THE BURIAL PROJECT, Carey is making plaster casts of body parts of attendees, with plans to age and bury them. The unnamed student painter feels an immediate connection with Carey, who encourages her to ignore the Academy rules and make the large scale paintings she dreams about. In 2008 the painter is sharing a New York live/work space, creating enormous paintings and beginning to make a name for herself when Carey, who had given up sculpture for performance art, commits suicide at the Pine City retreat in upstate New York. The shock of her idol’s death inspires the painter to finish her latest group of paintings, nearly half a foot deep in oil paint, which sell out in a week. Finally financially solvent, the painter begins a new project called Rich Ugly Old Maids, seven four-panel paintings for a gallery in Paris: Humility, Obedience, Chastity, Modesty, Temperance, Purity, and Prudence. Two years later, the series is nearly complete when the painter’s loft burns to the ground, destroying everything except two panels of Prudence. The Milot Gallery believes the six completed paintings are in storage, and stress they cannot postpone the opening or accept hasty remakes. The painter lies and says only Prudence, which has not yet been photographed for the ads, was destroyed, and the gallery reluctantly gives the painter three months to recreate the final painting. The painter desperately searches for studio space, but everything is booked for the summer. She barters a 20% discount on Obedience to an avid modern art speculator for an introduction to Marlin, and is given Carey’s old studio at Pine City for the next three months. The four remaining members of Pine City drop in to use their own studios, but the painter spends most of her time alone, working long frantic days to recreate the seven huge paintings. During their visits Marlin and Jack are friendly, Jes is hostile, and Tyler is sexually attracted to her. Strangely, none will talk about Carey, though the painter longs to learn more about the woman who inspired her. While trying to hide her own deception, the painter discovers strange items in the loft of Carey’s studio and begins to wonder what really did happen on the day Carey died. This beautifully written literary suspense thriller is full of fascinating details about the physical labor of creating art and the emotional toll on the artist along with brilliant parodies of artistic excesses.

NOthing More DangerousAllen Eskens
Nothing More Dangerous (Mulholland Books 2019) is set in 1976 Jessup, Missouri. Boady Sanden (15) is a lonely freshman at St. Ignatius, counting the days until summer vacation. In his current events class, Boady reads the news that Lida Poe, an employee of Ryke Manufacturing, by far the largest employer in Jessup, has been missing for a week along with a pile of embezzled money. Boady tries to escape notice at school, but when senior Jarvis Halcomb and his two friends plot to dump chocolate pudding over the head of the only black girl in the school, he trips them and runs. Boady helps his widowed mother Emma pay the rent by cleaning warehouses after school and working construction jobs in the summers. Boady’s father died when he was five, and his mother never recovered from her grief, retreating into herself and rarely interacting with others. Their neighbor Hoke Gardner, a scarred man who never talks about the past, keeps his eye on Emma and her son, teaching Boady to fish and take care of himself in the woods. The only other house in their remote area has been empty for years, and Boady is fascinated to see signs of life. Mr. Elgin, has just been sent to Jessup from Minneapolis to take over management of Ryke Manufacturing, replacing Cecil Halcomb, demoted when the embezzlement was discovered. The Halcombs and their allies are angry about the new manager, especially when they learn he is black. Jarvis offers to end his crusade to beat up Boady if he will spy on his new neighbors for their secret group CORPS — Crusaders Of Racial Purity and Strength. When the Elgin family arrives Boady gets to know their son Thomas, exactly his age and very unhappy about being uprooted from his friends in Minneapolis. Their growing friendship forces Boady to confront his own prejudice as they try to solve the mystery of the missing Lida Poe and evade the increasingly violent actions of Jarvis Halcomb and his friends. This powerful story of guilt and forgiveness, prejudice and hate, love and friendship, and the debilitating effects of grief is highly recommended.

The Paragon HotelLyndsay Faye
The Paragon Hotel (G.P. Putnam’s Sons 2019) begins in 1921 when 25-year-old Alice "Nobody" James flees from the New York Mafia on a train to Oregon. Born in Harlem on the day the Raines Law was passed, intended to curb alcohol consumption by limiting Sunday sales to hotels, Alice grew up in a Raines hotel, a bar where her mother Catrin worked as a resident prostitute in the "hotel" rooms upstairs. Alice’s Italian father died before she was born, and she learned to fade into the background at a young age, earning the nickname “Nobody.” At the age of 15, threatened by impending work in the upstairs rooms at the Raines hotel, Alice was “adopted” by mobster Mr. Salvatici, who valued Alice’s ability to eavesdrop on secret conversations. Maximilian Burton, a black Pullman porter, realizes Alice isn’t well, but she refuses his offer of a doctor for her secret bullet wound. By the time they arrive in Portland she can barely stand and Max smuggles her into the Paragon Hotel. Serving African American railway employees and travelers, the Paragon Hotel is owned by Dr. Pendleton, a talented doctor who cannot legally touch white people. As she recovers, Alice gets to know Blossom Fontaine, a strikingly beautiful cabaret singer, and six-year-old mixed-race Davy Lee, a foundling raised by the hotel staff. The only other white visitors to the Paragon Hotel are the pair of cops who confiscate a percentage of the alcohol sold in the illegal basement gambling den and Evelina Vaughan, the wife of the local police chief, who runs Weekly Betterment classes for African American children. Alice, who can slip seamlessly in and out of different personas, pretends to be a spinster Suffragette writing an article about the Paragon Hotel in order to slip under the radar of the racist Oregon constitution, home of the biggest Ku Klux Klan organization west of the Mississippi River. When Davy vanishes at Elms Amusement Park and the local police aren’t inclined to search for him, Alice realizes that her experience surviving the Mafia is the perfect preparation for battling the KKK. This intense historical thriller set in the Prohibition era emphasizes the merciless Jim Crow environment in Oregon, the ruthless Mafia gangs in New York City, and the rapidly increasing empowerment of women in the 1920s.

The Second SleepRobert Harris
The Second Sleep (Knopf 2019) begins when Christopher Fairfax, a young English priest, travels on horseback from Exeter to the tiny village of Addicott St. George to conduct the burial service of the local parson, Father Thomas Lacy, who served 32 years before falling to his death from a cliff. Nervous about performing first eulogy, Fairfax can’t sleep and explores Father Lacy’s study by candlelight. He is shocked to discover an extensive library of antique texts, including a 12-volume collection of the minutes of the Society of Antiquaries, an organization declared heretical when Fairfax was a boy. He clearly remembers the huge bonfire the priests of the seminary of Exeter lit in midwinter, burning all the confiscated publications. As he is puzzling over the strangeness of discovering a pristine set of the Society’s works in tiny Addicott St. George he spots a cabinet with shelves of ancient glass filled with illegal artifacts, including a black rectangle made of plastic and glass featuring the ultimate symbol of the blasphemy of the ancients — an apple with a bite taken out of it. At the funeral, an anonymous voice from the crowd shouts that Father Lacy’s death was not an accident. After the service the locals explain that the man might have meant that Father Lacy was taken by devils since he fell from a spot known as the Devil’s Chair, where he often searched for treasures from ancient times. Lady Durston, a widow who owns a crumbling mansion, reveals that her husband also collected strange and delicate flasks and beakers of glass, presumably left behind by Peter Morgenstern, a Nobel scientist who owned the estate before the Durstans took over a thousand years ago. Fairfax and Lady Durstan become obsessed with searching for the treasure believed to have been hidden by Morgenstern when he fled London after civilization collapsed in the Apocalypse of 2025, caused by some sort of scientific failure. The cities were the hardest hit by starvation and disease, and it wasn’t until 129 years later that the calendar was restarted and parish records began once more with charcoal and homemade ink. The more he learns about the past, the shakier Fairfax’s faith in the Church becomes, and the more he fears being arrested for heresy himself. This dystopian thriller is clever and frightening.

The Family UpstairsLisa Jewell
The Family Upstairs (Atria 2019) begins when Libby Jones receives a letter just after her 25th birthday, the letter she has been waiting for as long as she can remember that reveals the names of her birth parents. The Henry and Martina Lamb Trust has granted her a mansion in Chelsea and the soliciter gives her a news article describing the discovery of a 10-month-old baby on the second floor of the mansion, the bodies of Henry and Martina Lamb and an unidentified man in the kitchen. All three died of poison, presumably a suicide pact. The 14-and 16-year-old son and daughter were missing, vanished without a trace. As the 25th birthdays of the two older children passed without a claim on the estate, the property passed on to Libby. The soliciter accompanies Libby to the mansion, dusty and falling into disrepair after 25 years. Libby returns to the house after talking to the police officer who found her, learning that someone had cared for her in the days following the deaths. She has the uncomfortable feeling that someone else is in the house with her and hears faint sounds. Meanwhile, Lucy is making a precarious living as a busking violinist in the Côte d’Azur with her two small children, debating what to do about the notification that appears on her phone, “The baby is 25.” Interspersed chapters written by Henry relate the gradual disintegration of the Lamb family after his mother Martina invited a young violin player to stay for a few days, followed by the charismatic and controlling David Thomsen. The days stretched into years as the temporary guests increased and the Lamb children became near prisoners in their own home. This disturbing psychological thriller is quite terrifying.

Just Watch MeJeff Lindsay
Just Watch Me (Dutton 2019) introduces Riley Wolfe, a master thief targeting the wealthiest 1%. After pulling off his latest impossible heist — stealing a 12.5 ton statue in the middle of the Chicago mayor’s dedication speech — Riley realizes he is bored and losing his edge. No theft is too hard; he isn’t challenged any more. So he sets out to find a truly impossible target, and settles on the centerpiece of the Crown Jewels of the Persian Empire — the Daryayeh-E-Noor (the Ocean of Light). Valued at $15 billion, the largest pink diamond in the world will be displayed in the United States for the first time in history, along with a selection of the other Crown Jewels, in the Eberhart Museum in Manhattan. A small private museum, the Eberhart has a huge endowment and state-of-the-art electronic security, perhaps the best in the world. The Crown Jewels will be guarded around the clock by Black Hat Security, all former members of America’s elite Special Forces, and a full platoon of the even more dangerous Revolutionary Guard of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Riley is a master of disguise — able to become a completely different person with a new appearance, walk, and voice — and an expert in the art of parkour, the ability to move through a complex environment without equipment, scaling walls and leaping between rooftops. With the assistance of Monique, a talented art forger who helps with his disguises, Riley sets a multi-layered plan in motion to steal the Daryayeh-E-Noor. Meanwhile, FBI Special Agent Frank Delgado, convinced that Riley Wolfe will try to steal the Crown Jewels, begins back-tracking from his one arrest record at the age of 16, determined to figure out why there is no record of his existence before then and discover the motivation that makes him seek out seeming-impossible challenges. This intense thriller caper is the first in a planned series featuring the multi-talented Riley Wolfe, willing to do just about anything to steal the Daryayeh-E-Noor.

The ScholarDervla McTiernan
The Scholar (Penguin 2019) begins when Detective Inspector Cormac Reilly gets a frantic call from his girlfriend Dr. Emma Sweeney, who has found the body of a young woman run over by a car outside her lab at Galway University late one night. The body is unrecognizable but Emma is sure that the 3000 euro Stella McCartney cardigan belongs to Carline Darcy, the granddaughter of John Darcy, owner of Darcy Therapeutics, Ireland’s biggest pharmaceutical company and funder for the lab. The pathologist finds a lab security swipe card in a pocket with Carline’s name and photo, and Cormac heads to her apartment to search for confirming DNA. At the penthouse apartment, Cormac is startled to discover Carline herself, who insists she has no idea who the dead woman is, why she had Carline’s ID, or what happened to her Stella McCartney cardigan. Cormac’s boss gives him strict instruction that Carline Darcy is untouchable and he should look elsewhere for the identity of the body. Emma tells him she has seen Carline at the lab doing research with another blond student, but Professor James Murtagh, director of the lab, refuses to share any information with the police for security reasons. Murtagh tells Cormac that Carline is an exceptional student, about to complete a four-year degree in two years, already working on her doctoral thesis, and just like her grandfather, the kind of talent that comes along only once in a generation. Now that Emma is a witness as well as the discoverer of the body, Cormac is removed from the case, but can’t let it go, convinced that Carline Darcy is somehow involved in the deliberate hit-and-run murder. This excellent second in the series featuring the complex Cormac Reilly is highly recommended.

The Last Good GuyT. Jefferson Parker
The Last Good Guy (G.P. Putnam’s Sons 2019) begins when Roland Ford, a private investigator in Fallbrook, California, near San Diego, is hired by Penelope Rideout to find her missing 14-year-old sister Daley. Their parents died ten years earlier when Penelope was 18, and she took custody of four-year-old Daley. Penelope married a career Marine pilot, the three moved every year or so, and have been in San Diego for about a year. Penelope doesn’t allow Daley to use social media and monitors her phone, but Daley pushes the boundaries as much as she can. She hangs out with Nick Moreno, a 20-year-old dog walker, and Penelope is worried they may have run away together. Visiting Nick’s condo, Roland discovers Nick shot through the forehead, and the neighbor says he saw Daley getting into a SUV with two men. Daley’s friends at her private school tell Roland they make frequent visits to a teen club, often driven by two of the security guards in their SUV with an emblem that sounds like the one Nick’s neighbor described. Roland researches Penelope and Daley’s background, finding frequent moves but not much else. He discovers that there is no record of Penelope’s marriage to Richard Hauser, and Roland’s Marine friend stationed at the base has never heard of him. Visiting the teen club, Roland follows two guards in a SNR Security SUV to the the Cathedral by the Sea, run by charismatic arch-conservative evangelist Reggie Atlas, and then to the Paradise Date Farm compound in the desert, protected by an electric gate, a ten-foot fence, and security cameras. Roland has no idea how the teen club, Cathedral, and Date Farm are connected, but he suspects that Penelope is lying to him about just about everything. This excellent third in the series featuring the clever and talented PI, perhaps the last good guy, is highly recommended.

The Secrets We KeptLara Prescott
The Secrets We Kept (Knopf 2019) is the story of three Cold War women. Olga Ivinskaya, a young Moscow mother with two children, is the mistress of Boris Pasternak. Arrested and interrogated about the content of Pasternak’s work in progress, Doctor Zhivago, Olga is sent to the Gulag in 1949, sentenced to serve five years of hard labor in the fields. Her term was cut short by Stalin’s death in 1953, when 1.5 million prisoners were released, but Olga and Pasternak remained under surveillance. In 1956 Irina Drozdova, the daughter of a Russian-born seamstress, is hired to join the typing pool at the CIA, joining the well-educated young women who hoped the secretarial job was the start of a career, and the older women who had served in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the wartime intelligence agency during World War II that preceded the CIA. Sally Forrester, a former OSS agent who managed to stay out of the typing pool, helps train Irina after hours in spy-craft and the art of invisibly carrying classified documents. After Russian publishers refuse to publish Doctor Zhivago, Sergio D’Angelo smuggles the manuscript out of Russia, and it is published in Italian by Giangiacomo Feltrinelli. Believing that books could be weapons, that literature and the arts could change the course of history, the CIA smuggled cultural materials into Russia, emphasizing that the Soviet system suppressed free thought, censoring and persecuting Soviet artists. Doctor Zhivago, revealing the effect of the Soviet system on a sensitive and intelligent citizen, was chosen as the perfect book to smuggle back behind the Iron Curtain. Based on the true story of a CIA plot, this fascinating debut historical thriller is narrated from the perspective of the three different women, each struggling to remain true to herself while finding her place in a world dominated by men.

This Poison Will RemainFred Vargas
This Poison Will Remain (Penguin Books 2019, France 2017) begins when Commissioner Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg reluctantly cuts his Icelandic vacation short to return to Paris for an important murder investigation. Adamsberg quickly spots a connection that identifies the murderer and then becomes fascinated with the death of an elderly man bitten by a brown recluse spider. The timid spider rarely emerges from its hole so bites are rare and usually harmless, but three elderly men have died from brown recluse bites within the last three weeks. The deaths appear to be accidental, but Adamsberg becomes convinced the men were murdered, though it seems impossible that anyone could gather enough of the spider venom to kill anyone — the equivalent of 200 spider bites. Commandant Danglard feels strongly that the brown recluse deaths are a waste of time, and the squad is soon divided with only Voisenet, whose grandfather lost his leg after being bitten by a recluse, Mercadet, who suffers from narcolepsy, Froissy, who hides food supplies in her office cupboard, and Veyrenc, Adamsberg’s childhood friend from the Béarn region in the Pyrenees, willing to work on the speculative investigation. Adamsberg’s intuitive thought process eventually connects the current deaths to decades-old incidents at La Miséricorde orphanage. This excellent mystery is the ninth in the series featuring the brilliantly odd Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg and his quirky team.

The Turn of the KeyRuth Ware
The Turn of the Key (Gallery/Scout Press 2019) begins when Rowen Caine finds an ad for a live-in nanny position in the Highlands of Scotland. Sandra and Bill Elincourt have an architecture firm, working partially from home but also traveling frequently. They need an experienced nanny capable of managing the care of their four children, ranging in age from 18 months to 14. Rowen is barely making ends meet with her job at a London daycare, sharing a flat with a woman she can’t stand, and quickly gets her CV off by email. Sandra responds with a generous salary offer, mainly a huge bonus at the end of a year’s service, admitting that rumors about the house being haunted combined with the remoteness of the location have caused four nannies to resign in the last 14 months. Arriving at Heatherbrae House, Rowen is surprised that Bill Elincourt is not at home for her interview, but likes Sandra and falls in love instantly with the luxurious bedroom and state-of-the art en suite bathroom. Sandra explains that she and her husband completely remodeled the old house, transforming it into a “smart” house controlled by phone apps with built in surveillance cameras in all rooms to make it easy to monitor the children. The oldest daughter Rhainnon is away at boarding school, so Rowen’s main responsibility will be Maddie (8), Ellie (5), and baby Petra. The two younger girls seem sweet, but Maddie refuses to make eye contact or talk to Rowen. As she is leaving to catch the train back to London, Maddie gives Rowen an unexpected hug, whispering, “Don’t come back. It’s not safe.” Rowen is offered the job if she can start within three weeks, and she quickly gives her notice to the day care, negotiating only two weeks more of work. Arriving at Heatherbrae House with all her worldly possessions, Rowen is startled to learn that Sandra and Bill are departing the next morning for a trade show. Rowen is left alone with three small children in an isolated house where she doesn’t even know how to turn the lights on and off, especially frustrating when she begins hearing strange noises coming from behind a locked door in her room in the middle of the night. This creepy psychological thriller masterfully integrates the perils of a remote gothic setting — including a walled poison garden — with the modern helpless feeling of being unable to master smart house controls.

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January 1, 2020

The Gomorrah GambitTom Chatfield
The Gomorrah Gambit (Mulholland Books 2019) is the story of Azi Bello, an affable and social inept young London hacker known as AZ, who has spent most of his life alone with his technology in a small backyard shed. For the last 18 months, Azi’s obsession has been the creation of Jim Denison, a photogenic white man who has built trust in the online neo-Nazi community. Azi has built his own reputation in the hacker community, beginning with his 2012 takedown of a casino through a security hole in the filtration system of their trademark gigantic fish tank. He has been online friends with Sigma for about a year when she sends him a zip file of documents, including a selection leaked in 2013 from inside the Islamic Republic. Additional files provide proof that 50 Islamic martyrs have returned from the grave and are preparing a massive terrorist attack. A short note from Sigma explains that she has found Gomorrah, a secret marketplace on the dark web, and is fleeing for her life. She asks to meet in real life, but Azi refuses, offering online help but nothing in person. About five minutes later a woman calling herself Anna knocks on the door to his shed, revealing that they know everything about his hacking past and demanding that he immediately send Sigma a message saying he has changed his mind and wants to meet in exchange for not arresting him for hacking. Azi has no idea who Anna works for, but is horrified to learn that his secret identity is blown and knows he has no choice but to agree. All his own technology is confiscated, along with most of his online currency, and he finds himself tethered to a new phone that runs only one app: New Action Directives Issued Remotely (NADIR). Following the NADIR commands, Azi meets Sigma, Munira Khan in real life, who tells him she stumbled over the documents when a recruiter from the far right Islamic Republic inserted a thumb drive into a laptop she had loaned her cousin, who is now in Syria filming glorious deaths and gory executions for the Islamic Republic propaganda machine. Azi is frightened of Anna and the even scarier Odi, but follows their directions and flees London for Berlin with Munira. Azi uses his Jim Denison persona to infiltrate Gomorrah and discovers that the reality of the dark web is far more terrifying than anything he imagined. This alarming high-tech debut thriller combines non-stop action with dark humor.

The Never GameJeffery Deaver
The Never Game (G.P. Putnam’s Sons 2019) introduces Colter Shaw, who travels around the US in his Winnebago, earning reward money by finding missing persons. Shaw has just arrived in Silicon Valley to talk to Frank Mulliner, who has offered a $10,000 reward for the return of his 19-year-old daughter Sophie, who vanished two days earlier. Frank admits that he and Sophie had a fight before she stormed out of the house on her mountain bike. Even working two jobs, he couldn’t make enough money to keep the family house in Mountain View, and had just listed it for sale. At the Quick Byte Café, where Sophie was last seen, Shaw talks the owner into showing him the security video, and he spots a hooded figure crouching down by Sophie’s bike before she peddles furiously off to the north. Guessing that she has a favorite place to burn off anger in San Miguel Park, Shaw finds the fragment of a bike reflector, a blood-stained rock, and Sophie’s phone. He heads to Santa Clara to talk to Detective Wiley, who took Frank’s missing person report, handing over the phone and his notes, hand written with a fountain pen and including a list ranked by percentage of the most likely scenarios. Wiley is suspicious of Shaw’s involvement and dismissive of his request for a search in San Miguel Park. The owner of the Quick Byte Café calls Shaw to report that the Missing poster featuring Sophie’s picture has been replaced by an odd black and white stencil of a stylized face, leading Shaw to a creepy video game called The Whispering Man. Shaw, raised with his two siblings in the wilderness by his paranoid survivalist father, has excelling tracking skills and self-defence skills, but little experience with computers or the gaming industry. Maddie, a professional gamer, offers to serve as his guide, taking him to the C3 Conference, an international video gaming extravaganza at the San Jose Convention Center. The cutthroat billion-dollar gaming industry moves to the top of Shaw’s motive list, the only question is who and why. This suspenseful thriller starring the uniquely talented Colter Shaw is the first in a planned series.

The Ninja DaughterTori Eldridge
The Ninja Daughter (Agora Books 2019) introduces Lily (Dumpling) Wong, the 24-year-old daughter of a Hong Kong Chinese mother and a North Dakota Norwegian father. Lily’s younger sister Rose was raped and murdered seven years earlier, and Lily has never forgiven herself for ignoring a text from Rose the night she was killed. Lily had studied Wushu, a blend of performance and martial art, for years, but switched to Ninjutsu, the strategy and tactics of ninja warfare, after Lily’s death. Now a modern-day kunoichi, a female ninja, Lily works for Aleisha Reiner, who runs a refuge for abused women and their children, helping women escape from bad situations and persuading their abusers to leave them alone. Lily lives above her father’s Chinese restaurant in Culver City in a small apartment containing her martial arts studio, helping in the restaurant and concealing her true work from her parents. A large Los Angeles Country Metropolitan Transit Authority map covers one wall, an aid for moving seamlessly through the traffic congested streets with a combination of her Merida road bicycle, mass transit, and ride-sharing as a final resort. Lily has just finished helping Kateryna and her four-year-old son Ilya escape from the abusive Dmitry Romanko, a lawyer for the Ukrainian mob, when she learns Kateryna, fearing retribution to her parents in the Ukraine, has returned home. Her other project is supporting Mia Mikkelsen, whose rape charge against J Tran has just been dropped for insufficient evidence. Mia fears that Tran will return to kill her, and after witnessing Tran kill two armed Korean gang members with his knife, Lily knows her fears are justified. This captivating debut thriller is the first in a planned series starring the compassionate, clever, dangerous, and constantly hungry Lily Wong.

The CurrentTim Johnston
The Current (Algonquin Books 2019) begins when college sophomore Audrey Sutter asks her friend Caroline Price for a loan for bus fare to visit her dying father, the former sheriff of a small town in Minnesota. Caroline has just broken up with her boyfriend, and offers to drive her instead, eager for any distraction. At a nearly deserted Iowa gas station late at night the girls are attacked and flee. When their car is found in the icy Black Root River the nearly frozen Audrey is taken to ICU; Caroline’s body is carried by the current and washes up later. This new death sparks the town’s memory of another young woman found dead in the same river — Gordon Burke’s daughter Holly. Rachel Young’s son Danny was arrested for the murder but released for lack of evidence. Danny swore he was innocent, but only his mother and disabled brother Marky seemed to believe him, so Danny left town. When Audrey wakes up she finds her father and her father’s former deputy Ed Moran, now the sheriff of Pawnee County, Iowa, at her bedside. Audrey can’t remember much about the two young men who attacked her, the gas station was not well lit and they fled after Caroline fought back with her mace canister. Sheriff Moran doesn’t seem to believe that their attackers followed them and pushed Caroline’s car into the river, watching from the bank as it broke through the ice and sank. Soon after Audrey is released from the hospital, her fractured arm in a cast, her father dies. Driven to find their attackers for Caroline’s sake, Audrey begins searching, and is warned off by Sheriff Moran. Gordon, who has never recovered from the grief of his own daughter’s death, offers support, and the two discover connections to Holly’s murder. This beautifully written thriller — narrated from the perspectives of Audrey, Gordon, and Rachel — explores the debilitating effects of grief and the near impossibility of escaping the suspicion of guilt.

Little VoicesVanessa Lillie
Little Voices (Thomas & Mercer 2019) begins when Devon Burges is rushed to the hospital, seven months pregnant and in terrible pain. An obsessive researcher, Devon tells the ER doctor that she is sure she has the symptoms of a detached placenta. As the anesthesia for her emergency cesarian takes hold, Devon hears the news reporting the murder of 27-year-old Berlina Cabrala, the friend she spent the afternoon with. Eight week later Devon is released, still recovering from the surgery that nearly killed her, pumping milk for premature baby Ester who cries and fusses constantly, and listening to the critical little voices in her head insisting she is a bad wife and worse mother. Devon’s husband Jack is the chief of staff for the mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, his hometown they returned to after meeting at Georgetown University and continuing on together to law school at Georgetown Law. Jack’s controlling Uncle Cal is very involved in local politics, and hopes his nephew will become governor one day. After nearly being disbarred for stalking an accused pedophile released for lack of evidence, Devon specialized in identifying and prosecuting fraud until the she became pregnant and started investigating motherhood instead. Berlina worked as a nanny for their old college friend Alec, who is the prime suspect for her murder. Devon remembers that she found Belina’s day planner left on the bench that last afternoon, and finds it still stuck in the handbag Jack brought home from the hospital. Desperate to regain her old self-confidence, Devon analyzes the code she finds in the day planner, preparing a memo to present to Detective Ramos, who seems unwilling to investigate anyone other than Alec. Jack is concerned that Devon is becoming too involved with Belina’s murder, fearing that the blackouts and delusions that incapacitated her while working as a prosecutor of sex crimes and domestic violence will return. But Devon is determined to find justice for Belina, no matter what the cost, and doesn’t tell him the voices have come back. This debut psychological thriller exploring postpartum depression and the long reaches of past trauma is haunting.

The Truth Behind the LieSara Lövestam
The Truth Behind the Lie (Minotaur 2019, Sweden 2015) begins when Stockholm single mother Pernilla answers Kouplan’s ad offering his services as a private detective for cases where the police can’t help. Pernilla’s six-year old daughter Julia has been missing for three days, but she insists the police can’t be involved. Kouplan, a young Iranian immigrant, has been living outside the law since his asylum appeal was rejected three years earlier. Kouplan and his brother fled Iran after their involvement with a radical newspaper was discovered and deportation would be a death sentence. Kouplan’s brother hasn’t been seen for several years, Kouplan lives in fear, desperately missing his family. His journalism skills have taught him how to follow a trail of clues, and working as a private investigator is his only chance to earn enough money to live, though he cringes at the glance of every police officer. Living and working off the grid is excellent preparation for finding missing persons, but the disappearance of a child is something new. When Kouplan notices the scars on Pernilla’s arms, she explains that she suffered from depression before her pregnancy, and worried that social services would take her child. She pretended to have a miscarriage and has hidden her daughter for six years. Kouplan tracks their recent walks and visits to the library, searching unsuccessfully for a hint of anyone who might have taken Julia. A rumor on the street of a dangerous man called M.B. involved with human smuggling who is said to have added a young girl to his supply of young women terrifies him. Interspersed sections from the viewpoint of a kidnapped child ramp up the tension in this haunting debut thriller, the first in a planned four book series featuring the anguished young private investigator.

The Perfect SonLauren North
The Perfect Son (Berkley 2019) begins when Tess Clarke wakes the day after her son Jamie’s eighth birthday party sure of only four things: she is in the hospital, she’s been stabbed, she’s still alive, and her son is missing. Tess is sure that her brother-in-law Ian and her grief counselor Shelley Lange are somehow involved, but can’t quite make sense of everything through the morphine haze. Tess imagines that her husband Mark is at her bedside, but remembers he died in a plane crash two months earlier. Mark’s death sent Tess into a deep pit of dispair, barely able to take care of herself and their son. Tess didn’t respond to phone calls from her family, and her mother, who is too unwell to travel, arranged for a grief counselor to visit. At first Tess is comforted by Shelley’s visits, but she begins to worry that Shelley, whose own child died of leukemia at the age of two, is jealous of Tess’s own son, exactly the age Shelley’s son would be if he had survived. Ian visits and pressures Tess to begin the process of dealing with Mark’s estate, explaining that he lent Mark 100,000 pounds and needs the money to buy out his partner who wants to retire. Tess doesn’t remember anything about a loan, but never paid much attention to their finances. She notices a man following her during the rare occasions she leaves the house, receives a series of frightening anonymous calls, and catches Shelley and Ian talking furtively, though they insist they never met before. The only thing that helps Tess survive the grief of Mark’s death is the loving relationship she has with Jamie. Tess’s memories of the weeks leading up to the stabbing are interspersed with statements by Ian and Shelley, providing different viewpoints of the same events. This emotionally intense debut suspense thriller explores the debilitating effects of grief and loss.

The Fragility of BodiesSergio Olguín
The Fragility of Bodies (Bitter Lemon Press 2019, Argentina 2012) introduces Verónica Rosenthal, a magazine journalist in Buenos Aires. When a train engineer kills himself, leaving behind a letter asking for forgiveness for the crimes he committed, Verónica begins looking into the trauma caused by people throwing themselves in front of trains. Carranza’s suicide letter mentioned four deaths over a period of three years, three men and an unidentified child. She is introduced to Lucio Valrossa, another driver for the Sarmiento Railway Company, who explains how the engineers begin to hate the suicide victims who force them to become murderers since it is impossible to stop the train in time. Though they are told the deaths aren’t their fault, Lucio explains that it is impossible to stop thinking about the sound of the impact, the screaming, and the sensation of bones cracking under the train. But what really haunts the drivers are not the suicides, but the young boys playing chicken on the rails on the night runs. Lucio takes Verónica on a night run and two boys suddenly materialize on the tracks. Lucio applies the emergency brake, but Verónica is sure the boys will be crushed before first one and then the other throw themselves to the sides. The fear and adrenalin throw Verónica and Lucio together, and they begin a violent sexual affair. Meanwhile, 10-year-old El Peque is recruited by Rivero for his Spring Breezes soccer club. Rivero isn’t scouting for the best soccer players, instead searching for tough young fighters unafraid of injury. Rivero haunts the slums, looking for fatherless young boys desperate to earn a bit of money. Peque is thrilled to be noticed, and excited to learn there is an opportunity to earn 100 pesos (about $2) by competing against an other boy at night. Lucio, tortured by the six who died under his train, and Verónica, a self-destructive thrill seeker, begin trying to track down the boys and the men who gamble on their fate, facing danger along with their own demons in this intense noir series opener.

The Chestnut ManSøren Sveistrup
The Chestnut Man (Harper 2019, Denmark 2018) introduces Naia Thulin, a Danish police office unhappy with the boredom of her nine months’ work at the Copenhagen Major Crimes Division. Thulin is considering requesting a transfer to NC3, the national cyber crime department, when Mark Hess is suddenly sent back home in disgrace from his assignment at Europol’s headquarters in the Hague. The two are partnered on the murder of Laura Kjær, found tortured with her right hand amputated. Next to the body is a chestnut man, a simple doll made from two chestnuts with matchstick arms and legs. The forensic examnation of the chestnut man reveals a partial fingerprint matched to Kristine Hartung, the 12-year-old daughter of a government minister who was kidnapped and murdered a year earlier. Linus Bekker, a paranoid schizophrenic confessed to dismembering Kristine’s body and burying the body parts in different forest locations, but was unable to show the police any of the burial locations. Minister of Social Affairs Rosa Hartung and her husband Steen are close to signing the papers to declare Kristine dead, but the news of the fingerprint awakens faint hope that she may still be alive, though their daughter did sell chestnut dolls with her friend each autumn. Hess planned to just mark time while his Europol reprimand is being investigated, but the fingerprint on the chestnut man nags at him, and he digs out the Bekker files. He discovers that police didn’t follow up any other leads once the bloody machete was discovered in Bekker’s garage. No bone dust was found on the machete, and Hess is sure that Bekker was framed and coerced into confessing. The idea that Kristine’s killer may still be at large is not popular with Hess’s colleagues and superiors, but Thulin gradually comes around to his theory that Kristine’s case is connected to the Copenhagen killer who removes body parts and leaves chestnut men. This dark debut thriller featuring the complex Thulin and Hess leaves open the possibility of a sequel.

Theme MusicT. Marie Vandelly
Theme Music (Dutton 2019) is the story of Dixie Wheeler, whose father killed her mother and three brothers with an axe before slashing his own throat. Only 18-month old Dixie was spared, found eating Froot Loops in her high chair amidst the gore, the song “Baby Blue” playing at full volume, when 15-year-old neighbor Rory arrived to meet her oldest brother. Dubbed Baby Blue, Dixie was raised by her Aunt Celia and Uncle Ford, unaware of her infamous family history until she was eight and assigned homework of creating a family tree. Now in her mid-20s, Dixie is househunting with her boyfriend Garrett when an address pops up in her Zillow feed: 6211 Catharpian Road, Franconia, VA. As a child Dixie had asked Aunt Celia to take her by her family’s house, and interpreted her answer that there was nothing to see to mean the house was gone. Dixie arranges a tour of the house, recently upgraded and painted, and is consumed with a need to live in the house. They put in an offer, and it’s not until Aunt Celia forces her that Dixie tells Garrett the truth about the history of the house. He refuses to move in, but the sellers are so desperate to sell that they agree to let Dixie rent. Her Uncle Davis, who insisted his brother was innocent until his recent death, had stored the entire contents of the house, and her Aunt Charlene is eager to give Dixie all the boxes and furniture. Using the photo albums, Dixie begins to arrange the furniture, lamps, and knick-knacks into an faithful reconstruction of the home she doesn’t remember, hoping to spark memories of the family she has forgotten. In one of the boxes Dixie discovers a file about the mass murder, including crime scene photographs, and learns that Uncle Davis had continually pressured Detective Cullins to reopen the case. Noticing that many of the numbered crime scene photos are missing, she visits Detective Cullins, now retired, and learns that all the pictures featuring the axe propped in the corned near the refrigerator are missing. Dixie is determined to make sense of her past, but the longer she stays in the house the more dubious she is about her own sanity: she hears sounds in the night, objects are not where she left them, and the nightmares featuring her bloody family grow more intense. This intense debut thriller with dark supernatural elements is very disturbing.

Three-FifthsJohn Vercher
Three-Fifths (Agora Books 2019) is the story of Bobby Saraceno, a 22-year-old waiter in 1995 Pittsburgh. Bobby’s mother Isabel, a barely functional alcoholic, told him his father left her and then died, concealing the fact his father was black. They lived with his bigoted grandparents, and Bobby believed he was white until his mother told the truth during a fight with her father when Bobby was eleven. From that point on it was only the two of them struggling to make ends meet. Bobby continued to pass as white, hiding his true identity from everyone, including his best friend Aaron, bonded by their shared love of comic books since middle school. Aaron has just been released from a three-year prison term, hardened and covered with neo-Nazi tattoos, choosing to become a white supremacist to protect himself in prison. When Bobby picks him up outside the prison Aaron is clutching a brick and Bobby realizes that despite his new bulk, Aaron is terrified. They stop at the Original Hot Dog Shop to feed Aaron’s craving for non-prison food, and Aaron gets into an argument with two young black men, leaving Marcus Anderson bleeding in the parking lot with his head caved in from the brick. Bobby is frightened that his truck may have been caught on the security camera, and knows he can never tell Aaron the truth about his mixed-race heritage. Robert Winston, a black emergency room doctor, treats Anderson, and stops off at a bar to decompress before heading home to his unhappy wife. At the next barstool is Isabel, who recognizes him and decides it is time to introduce Bobby to the father who never knew he existed. This intense debut thriller, set during the non-stop news coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial and reports of rioting in Los Angeles, explores themes of race, identity, and the overpowering need to fit in.

To the LionsHolly Watt
To the Lions (Dutton 2019) introduces Casey Benedict, an investigative reporter at the London Post. Casey traveled the world for years, following the heartbreaking stories of disaster and war before returning home to work with Miranda Darcey as the Post’s investigative duo, digging into the in-depth stories that take weeks or months to come to fruition. Their current project is an investigation of fraud at Cormium, one of the biggest commodity traders in the world. Tipped off by one of her bartender sources, Casey slips into her party-girl disguise and charms her way into a booth of drunken Cormium executives, including the chief executive Oliver Selby. When the men leave the table for a drinking game on the dance floor, Casey overhears scraps of conversation from the next booth, a Frenchman and an American taking about shooting from a hilltop into a camp into the middle of nowhere. The bartender gives Casey a copy of the credit card used to guarantee the drink order — Sebastian Azarola, one of the founders of Cyan Capital, a hedge fund company. Unfortunately his picture online doesn’t look like either of the two men Casey overheard. Miranda and Casey begin researching Cyan, hoping to identify the man with the American accent who sounded horrified, and begin speculating what the men might have meant by a camp. Perhaps a shantytown slum surrounding cities like Cape Town or Rio, or maybe a refugee camp in Lebanon or another war-torn area of the world? Using her ability to change personas as easily as her shoes, Casey follows a web of connections, becoming more convinced every day that something very dark is enticing the ultra-rich into deadly games. This intense debut thriller by a real-life investigative journalist was awarded the 2019 Steel Dagger Award.

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Disclosure: Some of these books were received free from publishers, some were discovered in Left Coast Crime and Bouchercon Book Bags, and many were checked out from our local public library. Our thanks to all who support our passion for reading!


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