SYKM


2022 Reviews
July 1, 2022

The Lighthouse WitchesC.J. Cooke
The Lighthouse Witches (Berkley 2021) begins in 1998 when single mother Liv Stay arrives at Lòn Haven, an isolated coastal town on The Black Isle, Scotland, with her three daughters Sapphire (15), Luna (9), and Clover (7). Fleeing the reality of a cancer diagnosis that may leave her three daughters orphans, Liv has accepted a job to paint a mural in a 100-year-old lighthouse called The Longing owned by Mr. Roberts. Sapphire (Saffy) is confused by the sudden move and angry about leaving her friends behind while Luna and Clover are uncertain at first, but soon settle in. Mr. Roberts is away at sea, and Liv is perplexed by the sketch he left for the mural, an abstract diagram of lines and arrows and circles. The Longing lighthouse is a grim granite cone with a rickety staircase spiraling to the lantern room at the top. Isla Kissick, Mr. Robert’s housekeeper, tells Liv the lighthouse is safe if she keeps rowen wood wrapped around the handle on the heavy metal door. Saffy finds an old book on the bookshelf — The GRIMOIRE of Patrick Roberts — narrating his experience with the witch hunt of Lòn Haven. Ilsa tells Liv that the cave under the lighthouse was once a prison for women accused of witchcraft and then burned alive. One of the women cursed the town with wildings: supernatural beings who kidnap and then mimic human children. Liv is nervous in the lighthouse, finding bones carefully arranged and hearing noises. Twenty-two years later Luna receives a call with the news that her sister Clover has been found. Clover, Saffy, and Liv all disappeared back in 1998, and Luna is overjoyed that Clover is alive. At the hospital she discovers a young girl instead of the 29-year old woman she expects. The filthy and dehydrated child immediately recognizes the stuffed giraffe Luna shows her, calling the toy by its name Gianne and cuddling it to her cheek just as Clover used to do. Stunned, Luna accepts responsibility for the child, giving in to her demands to return to Lon Haven to be reunited with her mother. On The Black Isle they discover the lighthouse destroyed and suspicion from the town that Clover is a wilding. Sections from Saffy and Liv’s perspectives in 1998 fill in the details leading up to the disappearance. This intense thriller based on Scotland’s witch hunts was a finalist for the 2022 Edgar and Thriller Awards for Best Paperback Original.


One Step Too FarLisa Gardner
One Step Too Far (Dutton 2022) begins when Frankie Elkin, a recovering alcoholic who travels the country searching for missing people, reads an article about Martin O’Day’s final search for his son Timothy, who went missing in the Popo Agie Wilderness in Wyoming five years earlier. The wilderness trip was Tim’s bachelor party with his four college best friends Josh, Miguel, Neil, and Scott. After a night of heavy drinking by everyone, Scott went missing from his tent and Tim went out to find him. The next morning the other three stumble into town raving about blood and bears and mountain lions. The search party finds a disoriented Scott, but no sign of Tim was every found, despite numerous searches over the years. Tim’s mother Patrice is dying of cancer, and her final wish is to recover the remains of her son so she can be buried next to him. Nemeth, a former ranger and local guide, is leading the final search party composed of Martin, Miguel, Neil, Scott, Bigfoot Bob from the North American Bigfoot Society, and Luciana with her cadaver dog Daisy. Josh was supposed to be part of the team, but is incapacitated by a bout of the DTs, and Bigfoot Bob vouches for Frankie, familiar with her record of locating missing persons from online forums. Luciana lends Frankie lightweight hiking gear to replace her normal outfit of jeans and t-shirts, and she raids Josh’s pack for camping food and supplies for the six-day trek. The areas close to where Tim disappeared have already been searched; this final search is to Devil’s Canyon, a remote area further away. Frankie doesn’t own a car and walks everywhere, but hiking with a pack is different and the first day nearly wipes her out. Knowing her wilderness skills are far behind everyone else, she concentrates on getting to know the other members of the search party. She concentrates on Tim’s father and friends, sure that someone is hiding something about that fatal bachelor party trip. When most of their food disappears from the bear proof bags strung in the trees, Frankie knows there are only two possibilities: one of their party is sabotaging the search or they are not alone in the woods. This second in the series places the haunted, observant, and compassionate Frankie in an environment that she fears is far outside her skill set.


Rock of AgesTimothy Hallinan
Rock of Ages (Soho Crime 2022) begins when Los Angeles high-end burglar Junior Bender is summoned by Irwin Dressler, Hollywood’s most dangerous mobster. Though now in his 80s and weakened by pancreatic cancer, Dressler is still a force to be reckoned with, and not a man one can say no to. Arriving at Dressler’s mansion, Junior is met by Tuffy, one of Dressler’s live-in body guards, a frilly blue apron looking out of place over his massive biceps. Junior learns that Dressler is refusing to go back for more radiation treatment, has lost his appetite, and birthday cake is about the only thing he will eat. Dressler tells Junior he invested in Rock of Ages, a national tour organized by four of his gangster colleagues who own a piece of several bands popular in the 1960s and 1970s. Some of the bands have been feuding with each other for more than 40 years so the tour hasn’t gone smoothly: destroyed hotel rooms, fights, overindulgence in drugs and alcohol, and two near-fatal accidents. But what concerns Dressler is that someone is using the tour to steal Dressler’s money. He needs Junior to figure out who the thief is and stop them. Rock of Ages is finishing the tour in Los Angeles this weekend, so Junior doesn’t have much time. Unfortunately his ex-wife is away with a new boyfriend, leaving Junior in charge of their teenage daughter Rina, who is very interested in learning more about what her father really does for a living. He takes her to the first of the three concerts, suffering through the Drum Solo That Would Not End by Boomboom of Rat Bite. They go backstage just in time to see a set piece fall from the flies onto the drummer. Junior leaves Rina in the dubious care of Lavender, a groupie since the 60s, and discovers the rope supporting the set piece was first frayed and then cut. The money from the tour is in cash, triple-locked into custom-made suitcases guarded by the four gangsters — Yoshi Perlman, Jack Gold, Oscar Fiddles, Eddie Prince — but somehow nearly $300,000 is missing. Junior suffers through music at a deafening volume from obscure bands like Wet Spot and Teeth of the Nameless and tries to shield his daughter from bodyguards and aged rock stars while figuring out which of the gangsters are willing to kill. This excellent eighth in the series is great fun.


1979Val McDermid
1979 (Atlantic Monthly Press 2021) introduces Allie Burns, a young reporter at the Daily Clarion in Glasgow, Scotland. In January 1979, on the train back from Hogmanay with her family, Allie runs into fellow Clarion journalist Danny Sullivan, the least objectionable of the men she works with. They huddle together for warmth when the train is stuck waiting for a snow plough, and Danny tells her about a story he’s been chasing: international tax fraud by a group of Scottish nationalists. Danny is a talented investigator, but he doesn’t have Allie’s gift for writing, and the two join forces. Glasgow is suffering through strikes, power cuts, political unrest, and blizzards, but Allie is energized by the possibility of escaping the “women’s stories” her editors assign her to the exciting world of real investigative journalism. Rona Dunsyre, editor of the women’s pages, encourages Allie to make some contacts with the women involved with the devolution referendum to break away from the United Kingdom, and Allie begins attending political gatherings. Eavesdropping on a group of young men after a meeting she discovers a secret IRA cell in Belfast looking for weapons. Knowing they won’t accept a woman into their group, she enlists Danny’s help to go undercover and infiltrate the cell. Both stories bring the attention the two young reporters crave, but also put them both in danger. This excellent series opener explores a pivotal time in Scotland’s history


The GoldenacrePhilip Miller
The Goldenacre (Soho Crime 2022) begins when Shona Sandison, senior reporter at the Edinburgh Post, begins looking into the death of painter Robert Love, murdered in his home studio. Detective Reculver, a powerful man with a penchant for wearing makeup, informs Shona he can’t tell her anything, but suggests she get in touch with Love’s daughter. Meanwhile, art provenance inspector Thomas Tallis, is sent from London to authenticate The Goldenacre, the final painting by Scottish architect and painter Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The watercolor was purchased in 1927 by Lord Melrose as a gift for his wife, and hung in their Denholm Estate ever since. The painting sustained some smoke damage in 1961, and the original frame was destroyed when it fell from the wall. Olivia and Felix Farquharson, twin grandchildren of the original purchaser, have decided to take advantage of the Acceptance Instead of Tax provision, donating the painting to Public Gallery of Edinburgh and generating a tax deduction of more than £12 million. Both Sir Dennis Carver, director of the Public Gallery, and Tallis’s boss back in London push for a quick authentication of provenance, but Tallis is concerned that Carver doesn’t feel he needs to inspect the painting itself, just the paperwork. Then Edinburgh City Councillor John Cullen is killed in a pub toilet, his head crushed by a metal spike in a similar manner to Love’s murder, suggesting the two men had a common enemy. Shona lives with her father, a retired newspaper man who spends his days puttering around on his allotment, and fears the days of real newspaper reporting are about over. Shona becomes interested in Tallis, who left his previous job under a cloud, and may know something about Love’s death. Tallis is grieving the end of his marriage, missing his young son, and leaves increasingly desperate voicemails for his father, the former deputy directory of MI6, at a mobile phone number he has been instructed to call only in the case of extreme emergency. This excellent well-plotted noir thriller pits unique characters against the hard-edges of modern life.


Ocean StateStewart O’Nan
Ocean State (Grove Press 2022) begins in the small working class shore town of Ashaway, Rhode Island, when 8th grader Marie Oliviera reveals that her high school senior sister Angel helped kill another girl. It’s 2009 and Marie and Angel live with their mother Carol in a ramshackle house across the road from the abandoned Line & Twine mill where their grandparents met. Carol works as a nurse’s aide at the nursing home, drinks too much, and brings home a succession of dubious men. Their father sees his daughters every other weekend if he isn’t in jail for drinking and fighting. Marie is plain and feels invisible, while Angel is beautiful and popular with a handsome boyfriend — Myles Parrish from a wealthy family. Myles and Angel have been together for three years and spend every minute they can together, the perfect devoted couple. Birdy Alves is small and pretty, a bright senior soccer star taking AP classes and dating Hector but hopelessly in love with Myles. Birdy skips soccer practice and shifts at the grocery store to meet Myles secretly, who claims to be passionately in love with her as well. Their stolen time together is magical until the day someone snaps a picture of them holding hands and posts it on social media. Just after Halloween Birdy disappears. Narrated mainly from Marie’s viewpoint, interspersed sections fill in the events of that fatal autumn from the perspectives of Birdy, Angel, and Carol — three women searching desperately for love and meaning in their lives. This haunting novel explores the intense power of teenage love and longing, pushing both Birdy and Angel to actions they know are not in their own best interests.


The VerifiersJane Pek
The Verifiers (Vintage Books 2022) is the story of Claudia Lin, who works for Veracity, a discreet agency that verifies the truth of online dating profiles. Claudia hasn’t told her dysfunctional family about her new job at Veracity, which she considers the love child of Jane Austin and Sherlock Holmes. Her controlling mother, overachieving Harvard-grad older brother Charles, and beautiful older sister Coraline believe she is still working as a copy editor for Aurum Financial. Her mother hopes Claudia will soon marry a nice Chinese boy, unaware that her daughter prefers girls. Claudia is a passionate fan of classic murder mysteries who wrote her senior thesis on Jane Austin, and achieved a high score in a new online game — Murder Most Foul — a diagnostic test designed by Veracity owner Komla Atsina to identify individuals with traits well suited to verifying. Most customers want Veracity to verify that the people they meet online are truthful, but they don’t usually come in until they have met their online match in person. Iris Lettriste has been flirting with Charretter on Soulmate Messenger for 16 days but grew concerned when he evaded her overtures to meet in real life, disappearing when she said there was no point continuing their online relationship if there was no plan to meet in person. She suspects he may even have a dangerous agenda. Komla and his assistant Becks Rittle are reluctant to take the case, but Iris insists. They discover that Charretter always searches with the same parameters: woman between the ages of 24 and 36 who live in Manhattan. When Claudia analyzes the chat stream, she notices Charretter deflected personal questions back to questions about Iris, rarely sharing anything about himself. They are surprised when Iris requests a second verification of Jude Kalman, a man she met online and then dated briefly before he stopped responding. Claudia is delighted when she is assigned the task of following Kalman, imagining herself a character in one of the Inspector Yuan novels she’s loved since childhood, featuring impossible crimes and ingenious solutions. Ten days later the woman they knew as Iris is dead, presumably a suicide from an overdose of her migraine medicine. Claudia is sure she was really murdered, and takes on the task of solving the impossible crime. This clever debut mystery explores the influence of technology on the search for the perfect mate in the digital age.


When You Are MineMichael Robotham
When You Are Mine (Scribner 2022, UK 2021) is the story of Philomena McCarthy, an ambitious young police officer with the Metropolitan Police in London. Phil and her partner Nish respond to a domestic violence call, a neighbor reporting a woman screaming. Tempe, a frightened woman in her late twenties answers the door, her face bruised and bleeding. A man pushes her out of the way and insists it’s all a misunderstanding, but Phil is worried Tempe may have a fractured cheekbone and leads her into the hall. The man pushes by Nish, declaring he’s Detective Sergeant Darren Goodall from Scotland Yard and grabbing at Tempe’s hair. Phil uses her martial arts skills to handcuff him and place him under arrest. Tempe refuses to make a statement but does accept Phil’s offer to take her to a shelter. Back at the station Phil discovers that Goodall has accused her of assault, stating Tempe is a prostitute and police informant who came to him for protection after a beating by her pimp. Chief Superintendent Drysdale takes Phil’s bodycam and sends her home, ordering her to forget the incident. Phil has been avoiding calls from her step-mother, with an insistent invitation to come to her father’s 60th birthday party. Phil hasn’t seen her father for nine years, determined to break all ties with the notorious gangster and his three brothers. But now that marriage to her boyfriend Henry is on the horizon, Phil attends the party to the great joy of her father and uncles. Restricted to desk duty, Phil searches for prior incidents involving Goodall, discovering an emergency call from a sobbing boy named Nathan, reporting that his father is holding his baby sister upside down over the stairs. Phil asks her father for a favor, and he arranges an off-the-books apartment where Tempe can hide from Goodall. Tempe and Phil become friends, bonding when Tempe reveals she is an event planner and can easily organize the wedding Phil and Henry haven’t had the time or energy to plan themselves. Henry doesn’t take to Tempe, concerned that she is inserting herself into their lives and suspicious of the constantly changing story she tells about herself. Suspecting that Goodall is also abusing his wife, Phil orchestrates a meeting, incurring Goodall’s rage and another threatening warning from Chief Superintendent Drysdale. This character-driven psychological thriller is highly recommended.


Real EasyMarie Rutkoski
Real Easy (Henry Holt and Co. 2022) is set in 1999, featuring the dancers in the Lovely Lady Strip Club in a suburb near Chicago, desperate women who find it difficult to make enough in tips to cover the house fees, struggling to support themselves and their children. Samantha (club name Ruby) is the star dancer, beautiful and graceful. She lives with her boyfriend Nick and his young daughter Rosie, the child she always wanted but could never have. Kim (Lady Jade) is the new girl, inexperienced and awkward. Samantha gives Kim advice and offers to drive her home the night she takes Ecstasy, either on purpose or because someone slipped it into her drink. Neither make it home that night. Kim’s body is discovered near the spot their car was run off the road, but there is no sign of Samantha. When searching the car, Detective Victor Amador spots two rolls of cash in the foot wells. Both are missing after his supervisor Sergeant Rabideaux conducts a follow-up search, and Victor finds the smaller roll pushed under the brake pedal of his car. His partner Detective Holly Meylin had the day off, the anniversary of the hot day her young son died after her husband forgot he was sleeping in the back of his car. Holly and Victor fear the crown carved into sole of Kim’s foot indicates a serial killer, and interview everyone at the club: the dancers, bouncers, and owner Dale Gately. The dancers don’t know much about each other, often not even their real names, and can’t or won’t tell the police much. Holly notices that Georgia (Gigi), a mixed-race dancer, notices details and convinces her to become a confidential informer, calling Holly whenever she notices something a bit off at the club. Shifting perspective between the police, dancers and their children, club patrons, and the killer adds a dream-like veneer this character-driven thriller, the adult debut of a YA author.


The Marlow Murder ClubRobert Thorogood
The Marlow Murder Club (Poisoned Pen Press 2022, UK 2021) begins when 77-year-old widow Judith Potts takes her nightly summer swim in the River Thames. Swimming upstream from the Arts and Crafts mansion she inherited from an aunt, Judith hears a man’s voice call out, “Hey, no!” and then a gunshot at her neighbor Stefan Dunwoody’s house. Unable to crawl through the thick rushes, Judith swims back home and calls the police. Half an hour later she sees a police car arrive and an officer looking through the window and wandering through the garden before driving away. The next morning she receives a phone call from Detective Sergeant Tanika Malik from the Maidenhead Police Station, following up on Judith’s report. DS Malik tells Judith not to worry, her neighbor is probably away for the holiday weekend. Judith tries to concentrate on her job of creating crossword puzzles, but ends up searching online for any news of Stefan, finding only an article from six weeks earlier reporting a tipsy dispute between Stefan and Elliot Howard, owner of the Marlow Auction House. She punts upstream to Stefan’s house, and searches for any sign of foul play, eventually discovering Stefan’s body in a weir next to the river, a bullet hole in the center of his forehead. Judith reports the body to DS Malik, who tells her Stefan reported an attempted burglary five weeks earlier: his house was broken into but nothing was taken, not even his computer or any of his valuable collection of paintings. The police believe Stefan shot himself, though no gun is found at the scene. Judith is sure it is murder and begins her own investigation. At Stefan’s art gallery his assistant tells Judith a man came into the gallery the previous week and had a loud argument. Judith pulls up a picture of Elliot Howard on the gallery computer, and the assistant immediately identifies him as the man Stefan argued with. Fearing the police aren’t taking her suspicions about Elliot Howard seriously, Judith enlists the help of Becks Starling, the bored young wife of the vicar, and Suzie Harris, a lonely dog walker who knows everyone, to help solve the crime. This clever traditional murder mystery full of sly humor is the first in a series starring the three intrepid women.


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June 1, 2022

Hairpin BridgeTaylor Adams
Hairpin Bridge (William Morrow 2021) begins when Lena Nguyen meets Corporal Raymond Raycevic at Hairpin Bridge, a remote location 70 miles outside Missoula, Montana, where her 24-year-old twin sister Cambry jumped to her death three months earlier. Raycevic is sympathetic and professional, a decorated 17-year veteran of the Montana Highway Patrol who has rescued several people. Leah hasn’t seen much of Cambry for the last few years, but she is convinced Cambry would never have committed suicide, especially by jumping from a bridge. The area around Hairpin Bridge has no cell phone reception, so Cambry’s final text to Lena wasn’t sent until the phone in her pocket was transported to the morgue. “Please forgive me. I couldn’t live with it. Hopefully you can, Officer Raycevic.” Lena doesn’t believe the text was written by her sister, and suspects it was crafted to divert suspicion from Raycevic, who pulled Cambry over for speeding only an hour before her death. There were sixteen attempted 911 calls on Cambry’s phone, unsent because of the dead zone, and Leah is convinced her sister was terrified before being trapped on the bridge, which has been closed for decades. What was her sister doing on the backroads so far from Missoula? And why was Raycevic there to catch her speeding? Determined to find the truth, Lena brings a cassette recorder and convinces Raycevic to tell her about Cambry’s final hours, hoping to lure him into saying more than he intends. Raycevic is a large powerful man, and presumes that Lena, a tiny minimum-wage electronics store worker, poses no threat with her old-school recording device in an area with no phone reception. Interspersed sections from Lena’s blog fill in details of the sisters’ past, and passages from Cambry’s perspective from the book Lena is writing shift and change as Lena learns more about what really happened on Hairpin Bridge in this twisty and frightening thriller.


The Lost GirlsJessica Chiarella
The Lost Girls (G.P. Putnam’s Sons 2021) begins when Marti Reese’s podcast JANE DOE wins an award for Best Debut Series. Marti’s 16-year-old sister Maggie disappeared in 1998, when Marti was eight. The two girls had been walking in the twilight near their suburban Chicago home when a car stopped. Maggie told Marti to run, and got into the car, never to be seen again. In April 2018 Marti gets a call from the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office: Jane Doe #4568 has been found on the street, blonde and about the right age to be Maggie. Marti’s friend Andrea, a podcast producer, films Marti when she gets the call, the first in eight years to identify a body that might be her sister, but DNA results prove it is not. Over the next week Andrea and Marti record the six episodes that will become the JANE DOE podcast, documenting Maggie’s disappearance, the investigation, and the toll on the family when no clues to her fate are ever discovered. Marti hopes the podcast will finally let her put her sister’s disappearance to rest. Then she gets a call from Ava Vreeland, an ER doctor who wants her to look into the murder of 18-year-old Sarah Ketchum, strangled and buried in LaBagh woods seven years earlier. The picture Marti finds of Sarah online is the spitting image of Maggie, and Ava reports that Sarah spent alternate weekends and half the summer with at her father’s home, mere blocks from Marti’s family home in Sutcliffe Heights. Marti is stunned that this case wasn’t on her radar until she realizes Sarah’s killer was caught and convicted: Ava’s younger brother Colin McCarty, who was 17 at the time. Ava convinces Marti to look into the case, pointing out all the inconsistencies in the circumstantial evidence against her brother, insisting that whoever killed Sarah might also have been responsible for Maggie’s disappearance. Neither Marti nor Andrea are comfortable focusing on a convicted killer, but the discovery that the police buried evidence pointing away from Colin convince them to focus the next podcast series on Sarah in the hope of verifying her killer has indeed been caught and convicted. This psychological thriller highlights the debilitating effect of trauma and the obsessive need to find the truth, however awful it might be.


The Grandmother PlotCaroline B. Cooney
The Grandmother Plot (Poisoned Pen Press 2021) is the story of young Freddy Bell and Middletown Memory Care (MMC), where Freddy visits his beloved grandmother, now a mere shadow of her former self, hoping for a day she recognizes him. Freddy’s three older sisters are scattered from Alaska to Australia. His mother was killed in an accident the previous year, after making Freddy promise to care for his grandmother if anything happened to her. Freddy made the 14-hour drive every month to help Grandma with chores around the house until her memory began deteriorating, forcing him to move into her house before MMC became the only solution. Freddy is a glass artist, producing beautiful beads in the studio he’s constructed in the garage as well as fantastic marijuana pipes. Freddy’s income is sketchy as best, and he fell into laundering money at art shows for Doc and the Leper, dangerous men who aren’t interested in letting him out of their clutches. At MMC, Freddy and widow Laura Maples become friends. Laura visits her Aunt Polly, who sometimes just babbles but other days is overjoyed to see her favorite niece. Laura is a musician, and has just purchased a pipe organ and an old piano to keep her two grand pianos, Victorian pump organ, and harpsichord company in her great room that also houses her collection of smashed brass instruments. Inside the old piano Laura discovers a hand drawn musical score she believes is a lost manuscript by Charles Ives, which could be worth a fortune if it can be authenticated. Freddy and Laura help each other through the bad memory days and celebrate the good ones. Another frequent MMC visitor is Kenneth Yardley, visiting his wife Maude. After Maude dies, Freddy feels sorry for Kenneth, but Grandma calls him a "meany beany," a bully. The autopsy reveals Maude was smothered. Concerned about the safety of Grandma and Aunt Polly, Freddy and Laura begin to snoop around a bit. They trust the staff, but wonder if Kenneth might have had a hand in his wife’s death, or perhaps an outsider. All visitors are required to sign in and out, but Freddy rarely does, using the code on the secure back door instead. Freddy begins receiving threatening calls from Doc and the Leper, and fears have figured out where he lives. Becoming a person of interest to the police is the last thing he needs right now. Though often stoned and unable to manage his own life, Freddy is kind and gentle to the confused residents at MMC, standing up for their need for love and security even at the risk of sacrificing the anonymity that protects his own illegal activities.


Rock Paper ScissorsAlice Feeney
Rock Paper Scissors (Flatiron Books 2021) begins when Adam and Amelia Wright win a Scotland weekend getaway. Amelia hopes the weekend away will save their marriage, but Adam isn’t convinced the marriage counselor knows what she’s talking about. The journey from London takes longer than expected because of the weather, and it’s pitch dark by the time they arrive at the converted old chapel along with their elderly labrador Bob. Shivering in the cold, they enter the chilly building, finding a welcome note from the housekeeper, but no cell phone service. Amelia is upset that Adam has brought his laptop bag; she’d hoped he would pay attention to her rather than his latest screenwriting project for a change. The freezer is full of prepared meals, and a wooden trapdoor leads to an underground crypt full of dusty bottles of wine. A hot meal next to the fire improves the mood until Amelia spots a ghostly face peering through the stained glass windows, causing an asthma attack. The bedroom is another shock, painted the same shade (Mole’s Breath) with exactly the same pillows, blankets, and throws on the bed as their bedroom back in London. Adam has a nightmare that night, reliving the evening when his mother was killed by a hit-and-run driver while walking their dog, his usual job he refused to do in a fit of teenage rebellion. Adam witnessed the accident but was unable to identify the driver since he has prosopagnosia, known as face blindness, making it impossible for him to see distinguishing features on faces. The face in the window belongs to Robin, a lonely hermit from the nearby small thatched cottage, fascinated by every detail about the couple, especially the woman in her stylish clothes and makeup. Alternating chapters from Adam’s and Amelia’s perspectives reveal the cracks in their marriage, each hiding secrets from the other. Interspersed chapters written to Adam by his wife on each of their wedding anniversaries describe the gifts they exchange (Paper, Cotton, Leather, etc.) and Adam’s dream of convincing his favorite author Henry Winter to let him adapt a novel for the screen. Each yearly letter reveals a bit more about their marriage, including the reasons for keeping the letters a secret. A finalist for the 2022 Thriller Award for Best Novel, this intense novel of psychological suspense reveals layer upon layer of deceit.


AnthemNoah Hawley
Anthem (Grand Central Publishing 2022) begins when teenagers across America begin killing themselves in record numbers. Simon Oliver’s sister Claire was one of the first, before the suicides reached epidemic numbers. Their millionaire father, CEO of Rise Pharmaceutical, required the company advertising and marketing divisions to encourage doctors to prescribe pain pills at higher doses, despite the proven risk of addiction. Claire killed herself with hundreds of free sample packets of oxycodone from her father’s office, first gluing the foil packets to the walls of her parents’ marble bathroom. But it’s 14-year old Simon who discovers her body. Simon finds a book about the Earth, full of depressing facts about global warming, pollution, the buildup of plastics in the ocean, the accumulation of human-made trash. Racked with anxiety, Simon is sent to the Float Anxiety Abatement Center in Chicago, where he meets Louise Conklin, an angry Black 15-year old, and the Prophet, a 14-year-old who suggests that their anxiety is caused by the fact they are coming of age in a world with problems the adults have ignored to the point they are probably unsolvable. The Prophet tells Simon God has given him a message: the adults are lost and the children must start over and build a new utopia by fighting the Wizard. When Simon tells Louise about the Prophet’s message, she faints — she was lured from the streets by the Troll to the Wizard’s mansion to slake his unquenchable lust for underage girls. Meanwhile, Judge Margot Burr-Nadir is called to Washington DC to accept the President’s nomination to the Supreme Court just as her daughter Story vanishes. Story is traveling with Sampson, the son of Avon DeWitt, who was converted in prison to the idea of personal sovereignty, bringing up his two children completely off the grid with no birth certificates or social security numbers. Sampson’s mission is to rescue his sister Bathsheba who is being held by the Wizard in southern California. The suicides continue, often with A11 written at the scene of their death, and panic spreads across the nation. The Prophet, Simon, and Louise escape from the Anxiety Center and fall in with a group of young people carrying guns to protect themselves, traumatized by years of active shooter drills and watching endless news reports of yet another school shooting. This near-future dystopian thriller is frightening and all too plausible.


My Sweet GirlAmanda Jayatissa
My Sweet Girl (Berkley 2021) begins in a Sri Lanka orphanage when Paloma and her best friend Lihini are 12. Everyone is excited because an American couple are coming to visit, hopefully donating money for new books and maybe even a music teacher. The excited girls are telling ghost stories after lights out, deliciously scared by tales of Mohini with her red eyes and long sharp nails. As usual Shanika creeps out later that night, taking her dirty plastic doll to the playground, her scarred face glowing in the faint light. When Mr. and Mrs. Evans arrive the next day, Paloma and Lihini are posed near the window reading, slightly breathless after rushing to see who can grab Wuthering Heights first. The two girls introduce themselves, and Mrs. Evans is enthusiastic about Paloma’s choice, declaring it is her own favorite book and calling her a sweet girl. Everyone is surprised when the director reports that the Evans want to adopt Paloma; usually much younger girls are chosen. Paloma is thrilled to be going to America and escaping being transferred to the convent on her 15th birthday, but terrified to be leaving the only home she’s every known and her beloved friend Lihini. Interspersed chapters set in San Francisco 18 years later find Paloma estranged from her adoptive parents, reduced to renting part of her expensive apartment to Arun, recently arrived from India. Returning home after drinking far too much, she discovers Arun dead in the kitchen, covered in blood. Panicked, she sees Mohini lurking in the corner, runs from the apartment, and passes out in the hallway. Awakening hours later she calls the police, but neither a body nor any sign of blood is found in her kitchen. The two timelines gradually converge, revealing Paloma’s current mental instabilities and the truth of what happened in the orphanage during the month Paloma was waiting for Mr. and Mrs. Evans to return with the adoption paperwork. This dark debut psychological thriller exploring the intricacies of identity and belonging is a finalist for the 2022 Thriller Award for Best Debut.


True Crime StoryJoseph Knox
True Crime Story (Sourcebooks Landmark 2021) is the story of the cold case of the disappearance of Zoe Nolan, a 19-year-old University of Manchester student who walked out of a party at her dorm on December 17, 2011, and was never seen again. Evelyn Mitchell, a writer who lost interest in fiction after a nearly fatal bout of breast cancer, attends a reading for Joseph Knox’s debut novel Sirens, asking penetrating questions about the tendency in crime fiction to focus on serial killers rather than their victims. The two become casual friends, and two years later the first few chapters of True Crime Story appears in Joseph’s inbox. Fascinating by what happens to girls who go missing, Evelyn has chosen the case of Zoe Nolan as the subject of a true crime book. Joseph does some research into Zoe’s disappearance, learning about her struggles in school, the boyfriend with a criminal record, her destructive relationship with her twin sister Kimberly, and the Shadow Man who had tracked her every move. But in the eight years since Zoe’s disappearance there has been no new evidence, and Joseph doesn’t answer the email, fearing the lack of a resolution will prevent publication and drive Evelyn even further into depression. Then Kim finally agrees to be interviewed by the press, revealing that she herself was kidnapped about a month before Zoe’s disappearance. The twins had been together at a club and Kim borrowed Zoe’s bright red jacket before being hustled into a van, released only when they discover her reconstructed knee. Evelyn interviews everyone from Zoe’s life, concentrating on witnesses and potential suspects twin sister Kim, parents Robert and Sally, classmate and friend Fintan Murphy, flatmate and friend Liu Wai, boyfriend Andrew Flowers and his flatmate Jai Majmood. Transcripts of the recordings reveal cracks in Zoe’s perfect facade and disturbing relationships between the people in her life. Joseph becomes fascinated by Evelyn’s research, and increasingly worried about her safety as she uncovers new information about Zoe’s disappearance, including a tangential connection to Joseph himself. This intricate crime thriller is mesmerizing.


How To Find Your Way in the DarkDerek B. Miller
How to Find Your Way in the Dark (Mariner Books 2021) begins in 1938, when 12-year-old Sheldon Horowitz and his father Joseph are returning from the unveiling of the headstone marking the graves of his mother Lila and her sister-in law who died in a fire at the Palace Theater in Harford a year earlier. Joseph is a reclusive man still shaken by his war experiences in France, and encouraged his wife’s frequent trips to visit his brother Nate and enjoy big city life with her sister-in-law. Joseph borrowed a truck from the Krupinski brothers for the long drive from rural Massachusetts, which Sheldon isn’t happy about. The Krupinskis are an unsavory family who sell the pelts Joseph and Sheldon trap and prepare, and Sheldon is sure they are cheating them. Sheldon and his best friend Lenny Bernstein, who dreams of being a comedian and is the only other Jewish kid within 1000 miles as far as they know, imagine the Krupinskis are part of a vast criminal network. They are about 20 miles from home when the thuggish driver of a white truck makes eye contact with Sheldon as he pulls up beside them, running them off the road and killing Joseph. In shock, Sheldon walks home and is found by Lenny three days later — groggy, disoriented, and weak from lack of food. Lenny assumes he is just sad because of the memorial, heats water for a bath, and takes him to school. Returning home, Sheldon finds the Krupinski brothers waiting inside, demanding to know what happened to their truck. When Sheldon explains there was an accident, they loot the house, taking a monogrammed suitcase with his mother’s jewelry and his father’s clock. Shaking with rage, Sheldon packs a rucksack and then burns down the house. When the sheriff arrives, Sheldon tells him about the accident, and blames the fire on the Krupinskis. Sheldon’s Uncle Nate arrives to take him to Hartford, away from the tiny town Nate escaped from years before. Nate is shaken by the death of his brother, and uncertain about adding another child to his motherless family: Abe (18) and Mirabelle (16). Sheldon tells Abe his father was murdered by a guy with a mustache and fancy suit, probably mistaking his father for a Krupinski. Abe believes him and points out a car that has been watching their house for months. Sheldon doesn’t recognize the man and Abe explains he thinks it might have something to do with Nate’s job at the Colt Armory. Guns started to go missing in the factory, and Nate was promoted from his job as an accountant to solve the thefts. No Jews get promoted at Colt, and Abe suspects his father is being set up. Sheldon’s quest to bring his father’s killer to justice proceeds against a background of rumors of German persecution of Jews, teenage rebellion against tradition and orthodoxy, and the cut-throat world of becoming a comedian in the Catskills. This character rich thriller provides insight into the past that molded Sheldon into the 82-year old hero of Norwegian by Night.


We Are Watching Eliza BrightA.E. Osworth
We Are Watching Eliza Bright (Grand Central Publishing 2021) begins when young self-taught coder Eliza Bright is promoted at Fancy Dog Games to become the first woman on a three-person team to work on their enormously popular multiplayer online superhero role-playing game Guilds of the Protectorate. It’s a tradition at Fancy Dog that a new addition to a team picks a new feature or update, and Eliza chooses the sex patch, code that allows players to interact sexually. After working all weekend, Eliza arrives to find “//80085 Fix” scattered through all the code she wrote. She checks her local copy and finds it’s flawless, and assumes something got mangled in the upload. She emails team members Lewis Fleishman and Jean-Pascale Desfrappes reassuring them that she’s uploaded a fresh copy and everything works perfectly, and asking what the mysterious code 80085 means. Chats between Lewis and Jean-Pascale reveal their distain for having a woman added to their team, assuming she slept with someone to get promoted. When Eliza tells her friend Devonte that she feels excluded, he tells her to give them time. When she asks about the code, he doesn’t answer in person, but in chat later advises her to write it down, and she realizes it stands for BOOBS. He advises they are just being idiots and are not used to working with women, but Eliza is uncomfortable. Her friend Suzanne also suggests Eliza just let it go, saying even if she does file a report the two will only get assigned to sensitivity training or something. But Eliza can’t let it go and asks Preston Waters, co-founder and CEO of Fancy Dog Games, for a Conversation — his idea for establishing a positive corporate culture. Preston takes her out to dinner, which only confirms Lewis and Jean-Pascale’s suspicion that she slept her way to promotion. Preston calls them into his office with HR and assigns them to sensitivity training but does nothing else. Eventually Eliza shares her story with a reporter interested in digital harassment and things spiral completely out of control. Eliza is fired for violating her NDA, and the headline the following day is Gamer Girl Fired for Speaking Out. The negative press threatens a new release from Fancy Dog Games, activating anti-Eliza actions from fanatic fans. The HR rep leaves Eliza’s personnel file out, Jean-Pascale picks it up by accident, and Lewis shares her phone number, personal email, and physical address resulting in identity theft. Eliza soon realizes someone is monitoring her personal chat and sharing information on Internet forums, she is targeted on social media with rape and death threats, unordered deliveries are sent to her home, and photos taken in real time appear online. Interspersed sections from a vicious male super-fan known as The Inspectre document the escalation of those willing to go to any extreme to protect Fancy Dog Games and the game they cannot live without. This intense debut thriller exposes the misogyny that lurks online and the terrifying power of anonymous attacks.


All These AshesJames Queally
All These Ashes (Polis Books 2021) begins when Bill Henniman, a Newark police lieutenant, asks Russell Avery, a former crime reporter for the Newark Signal-Intelligencer now working as a private detective, for help. Avery is stunned to see Henniman on his doorstep since they didn’t part on good terms after Avery exposed corruption within the Newark Police Department. Most of Avery’s clients were police officers and Henniman took down a corrupt officer, so both their careers are compromised. Banished to the records room, Henniman has been looking back through old cases, realizing that the wrong man may have been convicted for the murder of the Twilight Four, four poor Black teenagers who went missing in 1996 and were never seen again: Shayna and Adriana Bell and their cousins Kurtis and Lavell Dawkins. Fifteen years later Isaih Roust offered to give up the Twilight Four killer in exchange for a lighter sentence, saying that his cellmate Abel Musa, the boyfriend of older sister Cynthia Bell, had confessed to killing all four teenagers and burning their bodies in an abandoned building. There was no evidence against Musa, but he didn’t hava an alibi for night the Twilight Four went missing, and was convicted. Three months ago Henniman learned that Isaih Roust informed on another inmate, which proved false, putting Musa’s conviction in doubt. That combined with the fact Musa is dying of pancreatic cancer has resulted in his release to a hospital. At the hospital Avery runs into social justice activist Keyonna Jackson, now working for Councilwoman Mariana Pereira, who is running for mayor against Mayor Cleanthony Watkins, who preys upon his female staffers and is entwined with police corruption. Key has known Cynthia Bell for years, every since she organized marches in the streets, calling out the NPD for first not taking the disappearance seriously, and then not solving the case. Mayor Watkins also appears at the hospital, declaring that he is determined to put the Twilight Four killer back behind bars. As Avery begins to investigate possible motives for the Twilight Four killings, he realizes this could be the big story that might make a return to journalism possible: a cold case that haunted the city for decades, a veteran cop looking for redemption, a wrongful conviction, and two mayoral candidates eager for headlines. The night the Twilight Four went missing there had been a four-alarm fire in a high rise apartment building occupying most of the fire-fighters, leaving a trio of abandoned row houses to burn to the ground. The land was later redeveloped with no investigation. Avery suspects Isaih Roust himself might be involved with the killing — how else could he know the details of the fire that consumed the bodies? Or perhaps Kurtis and Lavell’s foster parents Anthony and Lorena D’Agostino had a motive, protecting their $700 per child monthly boarding stipend: Lavell had reported being beaten, but the other foster children wouldn’t corroborate the claim and no evidence was found. This excellent second in the series explores ideas of power, justice, and the importance of family.


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May 1, 2022

The Final CaseDavid Guterson
The Final Case (Knopf 2022) begins when our narrator’s 83-year-old father Royal has a car accident, resulting in the loss of his driving privileges. The narrator has recently stopped writing fiction, so is free to drive his father to his Seattle law office the next morning, where Royal putters around reading the newspaper and looking through old files. The phone rings with a call from the Public Defender’s Office in Skagit County — a woman needs an attorney. She and her husband were arrested on homicide charges, and her husband had been assigned the last public defender, and Royal’s name is on a list of lawyers willing to take cases free of charge if no public defenders are available. Betsy and Delvin Harvey’s adopted Ethiopian daughter Abeba Addisu, renamed Abigail Harvey by her new Christian fundamentalist parents, died of hypothermia in their front yard, while Delvin was at work and Betsy and their seven natural children were inside the house. Royal’s son drives his father to Skagit County to interview his client. Royal is horrified by Abeba’s death, but is compelled by his belief in the right to legal representation to defend Betsy, who is charged with homicide-by-abuse along with her husband Delvin. Royal asks his son to visit the Boeing plant where Delvin works, and interview the millwrights. He records anecdotes describing Delvin as a hard-worker who played the ocarina, talked about religion a lot, and became increasingly more paranoid about the rich and powerful wanting to control everything. Out on bail, Betsy goes to stay with her parents. Royal and his son visit to see if either of her parents might be a good character witness. Mr. Huber doesn’t say much while Mrs. Huber swears she never Saw Betsy discipline their children with a plumbing line or anything else before launching into a diatribe about how her daughter and husband are victims of prejudice because they are Christian and white. During the trial witnesses describe the group Betsy became part of who believed in conditioning children from birth with physical punishment and deprivation, all backed up by Scripture. The loving and supportive relationship between our narrator and his family stands in stark contrast to the horrific parenting of Betsy and Delvin Harvey. Based on a real-life event, this literary legal thriller is heart-rending.


The Paradox HotelRob Hart
The Paradox Hotel (Ballantine Books 2022) is next to the Einstein Intercentury Timeport that transports the ultra-wealthy to the time period of their choice for an exorbitant fee. January Cole runs security at the hotel, which is never easy but especially hard right now with multiple delayed time flights just as the three trillionaire bidders for the US government-owned timeport begin to arrive: Vince Teller, a racist real estate magnate; Prince Mohammad al Khalid bin Saud, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia; Osgood Davis, a tech and data investor who wants to fix climate change. Since those with delayed flights aren’t checking out, those arriving can’t check in, and everyone is demanding the best suites. The blizzard rolling in compounds the problem and ground travel to another hotel or airport is impossible. January also has personal problems. She is still deep in grief over the accidental death of Mena, the love of her life. Working close to the timeport is dangerous, the effects of time slippage increase over time, and January has become Unstuck, moving uncontrollably backwards and forward in time. She pretends to be still in Stage One, but knows she’s moved to Stage Two — mandatory relocation away from the timeport before the fatal Stage Three takes hold. But January met Mena at the Paradox, often sees her ghost, and can’t bear the thought of losing her again by leaving. Then January finds a murdered man in Room 526. Since no one else notices the bloody corpse, she knows the murder is in the future, and sets out to identify the man and prevent it. While patrolling the hotel three small dinosaurs the size of chickens dash through the lobby, and she has another future problem to solve: preventing the smuggler from bringing them back from the Late Cretaceous. January’s flying computer assistant/health monitor Ruby begins checking the Late Cretaceous passenger lists and reviewing the camera feeds outside Room 526, and notices that some of the video feeds have been erased, leaving giant holes in the security monitoring. January manages to neutralize life-threatening attacks on the trillionaire bidders but isn’t sure if they are trying to eliminate each other or if someone is trying to sabotage the privatization of the timeport. January fights to maintain her own mental stability as she works with Ruby to protect the Paragon’s guests while solving a murder that hasn’t happened yet in this intense science fiction thriller.


My Heart Is a ChainsawStephen Graham Jones
My Heart Is a Chainsaw (Gallery/Saga Press 2021) is the story of high school senior Jade Daniels, a half-Blackfoot high school senior living with her abusive alcoholic father. Jade rarely sees her mother, who works in the Dollar Store in their tiny town of Proofrock, Idaho. The lonely angry teenager draws solace from her extensive knowledge of the world of slasher films, especially those featuring a masked killer seeking revenge for wrongs inflicted. Proofrock is on the shores of Indian Lake, home to Camp Blood, the site of a massacre 50 years earlier. On the other side of the lake a new development is being constructed in the national forest, luxury second homes for the ultra rich. When Jade returns to school after eight weeks under observation after a suicide attempt, she is startled to meet a new girl in the restroom, their graduating class has grown to 32. Letha Mondragon’s father is putting the finishing touches on their huge home in Terra Nova, and Jade expects to be ignored or worse, but Letha is kind. Using the slasher film rules, Jade knows Letha is the "final girl," the innocent who will survive the killing. The only teacher Jade has even a slight connection with is Mr. Holmes, the history teacher with an Extra Credit box on his desk. Jade makes frequent deposits into the box, explaining the slasher genre and making connections to Proofrock history. When blood is spilled into Indian Lake, Jade is sure the murders targeting the Terra Nova community can be traced back to a slasher out for revenge. She warns Sheriff Hardy, but neither he nor anyone else takes her seriously. Letha is her only hope, but she believes Jade is projecting the horror of her own reality onto the town, and cannot believe any of Jade’s slasher suggestions can be true. This heartbreaking and often funny novel narrated by the troubled, broken, and courageous Jade is both an homage to classic horror films and searing social commentary.


Red WidowAlma Katsu
Red Widow (G.P. Putnam’s Sons 2021) begins when CIA intelligence agent Lyndsey Duncan is recalled from administrative leave by the Security Operations Center. Lyndsey fears she is being terminated, the result of an affair with a British intelligence officer in Lebanon, but instead she is tasked with an internal CIA investigation. Lyndsay was a respected agent in the Moscow Field Station, known as the “human lie detector” for her ability to separate truth from fiction. The sudden death of Yaromir Popov on a flight to Washington DC, presumably poisoned, alerted the CIA to the devastating news that three Russian assets have been exposed. Lyndsay recruited Popov herself — her first triumph as a case officer — and they had a long and close relationship. SOC is convinced there is a mole in the CIA, and Lyndsey is told her indiscretion will be ignored if she identifies whoever is feeding information to the Russians. Theresa Warner is in the cubicle next to the one Lyndsey is assigned while waiting for a private office. They met five years ago when Lyndsey first came to Russia Division, Theresa already a distinguished junior officer and Lyndsey destined for the field. Theresa’s husband Richard, a branch chief, disappeared two years earlier during an Agency operation, transforming Theresa into the Red Widow, renowned by her connection to her husband’s star on the agency Wall of Honor. The two women strike up a cautious friendship, and Theresa’s inside knowledge of Russia Division is invaluable to Lyndsey, who finds her experience as field agent hasn’t prepared her for the insular culture inside Langley. This intelligent spy thriller exposes the deadly office politics at Langley that have wide-reaching repercussions in the field.


The AnomalyHervé Le Tellier
The Anomaly (Other Press 2021, French 2020) is the story of the passengers on an Air France flight from Paris to New York. In March 2021 the plane traveled though “the storm of the century,” but managed to land safely. Three months later JFK air traffic control receives a distress call from the same plane piloted by the same pilot, Commander David Markle, and carrying the same passengers. ATC verifies the pilot’s information along with the fact that Markle is currently on life support at Mount Sinai Hospital. General Patrick Silveria takes over communication with the plane, informing Markle he is activating Protocol 42 and redirecting the plane to McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey. Meanwhile, Professor Adrian Miller, a probability expert and professor at Princeton gets a call on the bulletproof charcoal-gray smartphone he has been carrying at all times since 2001, when he and fellow mathematician Tina Wang inventoried and developed protocols to handle all possible air traffic catastrophes following the events of 9/11. The two young researchers identified 37 basic protocols along with contingent pathways for response. After submitting their 1500+ page top-secret report, the Department of Defense returned it with one question: "What if we’re confronted with a case that fits none of the situations covered?” Sure that that would never happen, the two created Protocol 42, named after the question asked in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and recommended in that instance scientists should be entrusted with the solution, writing their own names and recommending the bulletproof cellphones. Adrian and Tina are transported to the Pentagon, and tasked with figuring out what to do with the duplicated 13 crew member and 230 passengers aboard the Boeing 787. Interspersed chapters introduce characters from the plane, including a contract killer, a Nigerian pop star hiding his sexual orientation, a Black American lawyer pressured into working for Big Pharma, an author who wrote a book called The Anomaly. Changes have occurred in the 106 days between flights: the breakup of a relationship, a cancer diagnosis, a pregnancy, a suicide. When the characters are eventually introduced to their duplicates, they struggle with questions of identity and the alluring yet frightening possibility of making different choices than their doppelgänger. This mind-bending mix of thriller and speculative fiction is fascinating.


Devil’s Chew ToyRob Osler
Devil’s Chew Toy (Crooked Lane Books 2022) begins when 25-year-old Hayden McCall is accidentally kicked in the face by Camilo Rodriguez, a handsome go-go dancer at a Seattle gay bar. Camilo apologizes and invites Hayden home, where he meets Camilo’s dog Commander and enjoys a night of snuggling. Waking up early the next morning, Hayden discovers that Camilo has vanished as two police officers knock insistently at the front door. Camilo’s pickup truck was found abandoned in an empty parking lot, the door open and engine running. Hayden admits he only met Camilo the night before and has no idea where he could be. The police are suspicious of his story, especially since his black eye has become very colorful overnight. Hayden leaves a note for Camilo and locks the dog inside the house. When he doesn’t hear from Camilo by noon, Hayden returns to the rental house, discovering that the entire house is in disarray, Camilo’s laptop missing, and Commander cowering under the bed. Unwilling to leave Commander alone in the house or abandon him at a shelter, Hayden smuggles the dog into his small studio apartment though his lease prohibits pets. Returning to the bar, Hayden tries to learn more about Camilo, meeting Hollister, a tall curvy Black woman with a six-inch mohawk, and then Burley, a gigantic force of nature. Hayden learns that Camilo is a "Dreamer" whose Venezuelan parents were deported along with his sister. Fearing the police aren’t taking Camilo’s disappearance seriously, the two begin tracking Camilo’s recent activities, discovering he recently tried to buy a gun. Hayden is five foot four if he rounds up, just under 125 pounds, and has bright red-orange hair and freckles, so Hollister and Hayden form quite a distinctive team, but neither is willing to take on the sidekick role. Though they have absolutely no experience investigating — Hollister is a furniture-maker and Hayden an eighth grade social studies teacher and part-time blogger — they are both curious, tenacious, and determined to find their missing friend. They follow the trail to Barkingham Palace, a pet store where Camilo took a part time job. Owner Della Rupert claims she doesn’t know a Camilo, but her luxurious mansion suggests something illegal is going on at the pet shop. This debut traditional mystery with a diverse cast of characters is hopefully the first in a series.


Under Lock & Skeleton KeyGigi Pandian
Under Lock & Skeleton Key (Minotaur Books 2022) introduces Tempest Raj, a magician who was almost killed onstage when one of her illusions didn’t work as expected during the launch of her new Las Vegas show. Tempest’s stage double Cassidy Sparrow sued Tempest for endangering herself and others with an unsafe stunt. Fleeing the negative press, Tempest retreats to her childhood home in California where her father, Darius Mendez, and maternal grandparents, Ashok Raj and Morag Ferguson-Raj, still live. Tempest’s mother Emma vanished onstage five years earlier, just after giving Tempest a silver charm bracelet for her 21st birthday. Ashok Raj was born into a family of magicians in the Indian state of Kerala, a talented family with a curse dooming the first-born child of each generation. Tempest’s parents founded Secret Staircase Construction, creating hidden rooms, sliding bookcases, and backyard treehouses for their clients. The company has struggled after Emma’s death, missing her talent for finding the perfect childhood fantasy for each project. Darius and his crew are currently working on building a magical playroom for Calvin Knight’s six-year-old son Justin. Tempest’s oldest friend and Locked Room mystery fanatic Ivy Youngblood, who does part-time welding for Darius, tells Tempest the 110 year old mansion is creepy, and that Darius spotted some discrepancies in the blueprints. Tempest has always avoided any talk of joining the family business, but knows her experience building sets with similar blueprints might be helpful. She immediately realizes the measurements from the 1925 drawings don’t match the earlier ones. When they open the wall, a bag containing a body tumbles out. The wall has been sealed since the lath and plaster was replaced with sheetrock in the mid-1900s, so the police don’t rush to the scene. When they eventually arrive, Tempest is horrified to discover that instead of skeletal remains, the body inside is that of Cassidy Sparrow. Determined to clear her name from suspicion, Tempest works with Ivy and fellow-magician Sanjay Rai, the Hindi Houdini, to figure out how Cassidy’s body ended up inside the sealed wall, and identify her killer. This delightful traditional mystery series opener features a diverse cast of characters and delicious-sounding recipes created by Ashok Raj that blend Indian cuisine with his wife’s Scottish heritage.


GRave ReservationsCherie Priest
Grave Reservations (Atria Books 2021) begins when Leda Foley, owner of Foley’s Far-Fetched Flights of Fancy travel agency, rebooks Seattle detective Grady Merritt’s connecting flight from Atlanta because she has a strong feeling he should not get on the plane. Grady is furious until his original plane explodes on the runway. Back in Seattle, Grady tracks down Leda and she explains the sporadic psychic abilities she is trying to improve by performing Klairvoyant Karaoke at a local bar, singing whatever song comes to her mind while holding an object that has meaning to the person. Grady isn’t convinced she is psychic, but the unsolved murder of Christopher Gilman, CEO of an internet start-up, and his son Kevin 18-months earlier had gone cold with not a clue in sight. Leda knows her psychic abilities are unreliable at best, but she hopes Grady might be persuaded to reopen the unsolved murder of her fiancé Tod, his body found three years ago in the back seat of his own car. Grady takes Leda to the motel where Gilman was shot and allows her to handle sealed evidence bags containing Gilman’s effects. Leda is startled when she sees a flash of light and hears snatches of conversation. It’s not much, but more than Grady had, perhaps enough to reopen the investigation. When they shake hands good-bye, Leda experiences another flash and passes out, stunned by the certainty that Grady’s case is connected to Tod’s murder. Leda’s best friend Niki encourages her to step out of her comfort zone to help Grady, and her betta fish named Brutus seems to agree. This funny series opener is very enjoyable.


The MaidNita Prose
The Maid (Ballantine Books 2022) is the story of Molly Gray, a 25-year-old maid at the Regency Grand Hotel. Molly loves her job: the strict routine of cleaning while observing proper hotel staff etiquette provides the structure she needs to feel safe. But she misses her Gran, who died a few months ago. Gran raised Molly and helped her navigate the baffling world of social skills. Each evening Molly would describe events that puzzled her, and Gran would interpret the social cues Molly missed or misinterpreted. Gran saved up a nice nest egg over the years, calling it the Fabergé and planning for Molly to go to community college and learn about hotel management. Unfortunately Molly was duped by a man she met at college orientation who took her out for walks before stealing Gran’s PIN code and emptying their account. Molly was too embarrassed to tell Gran before she fell sick, and then it was too late. Molly takes on extra hours to pay the rent, and some of the longtime repeat guests tip well, especially Giselle Black, who is kind to Molly and helps her interpret her wealthy husband’s sarcasm. When Molly enters the Black’s penthouse suite on Monday, she discovers Mr. Black asleep on the bed, an open bottle of Giselle’s pills spilling from the bedside table. Realizing he is dead, Molly calls the Front Desk and then faints. Detective Stark is puzzled by Molly, who curtsies when she arrives and displays no emotion about Mrs. Black’s death, instead obsessing about being unable to complete her shift and “return the suite to a state of perfection.” Molly has few friends at the hotel, but is fond of doorman Mr. Preston who greets her each day, busboy Juan Manuel who always has a glass of ice water ready for her breaks, and especially handsome bartender Rodney Stiles. Molly is unaware of the undercurrents at the hotel, and the unusual code of behavior she has memorized makes her the prime suspect when it is discovered that Mr. Black was murdered. This heart-warming debut traditional mystery narrated by the unique Molly is very satisfying.


No One Will Miss HerKat Rosenfield
No One Will Miss Her (William Morrow 2021) begins when the putrid smoke from Earl Ouellette’s burning junkyard in the small town of Copper Falls, Maine, begins moving toward the summer homes near the lake. Since tourist season ended a month earlier, the homes are probably all empty, but Sheriff Dennis Ryan sends Deputy Myles Johnson to check. Myles is surprised that the front door to the lakefront house that Earl’s daughter Lizzie rents out is unlatched, and enters cautiously. Following the trail of blood he fishes something pulpy from the garbage disposal — the remains of a nose. State Police investigator Ian Bird arrives as the techs are finishing examining the body of a young woman in a red bikini, whose head has been destroyed by a shotgun blast. The dead woman is identified as Lizzie Ouellette by a huge mole on the inner curve of one breast. Lizzie’s husband Dwayne Cleaves is missing, along with his pickup and the shotgun registered to his house in town. Bird is surprised at the resentment against Lizzie and her father. Earl came from elsewhere but Lizzie was born in Copper Falls and lived there her whole life. No one except her father seems to care that Lizzie is dead, though they are all concerned about the missing Dwayne, who they feel Lizzie unfairly trapped into marriage. Bird can only locate one woman who will admit any kind of friendship with the dead woman, and that only grudgingly. Everyone else closed ranks against Lizzie and her father, and the resentment increased when Lizzie fixed up the lake house and began renting it to wealthy strangers from the city instead of the usual friends and relations. Adrienne Richards and her husband Ethan are her most frequent guests, renting the house for weeks at a time each summer. Ethan Richards was involved in a financial scam that caused thousands their life savings, but never convicted. Instead he and Adrienne were shunned by their Boston society friends, leaving her nothing to do once the social invitations dried up. Desperate for companionship, Adrienne and Lizzie strike up a sort of friendship, spending hours together each day on the deck while Ethan floats on the lake. Bird eventually visits Adrienne in Boston, alone in her luxurious home with only a cat for company, her husband away on one of his mysterious business trips. This twisty character-driven novel of psychological suspense was a finalist for the 2022 Edgar Award for Best Mystery.


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April 1, 2022

We Were Never HereAndrea Bartz
We Were Never Here (Ballantine Books 2021) begins in Quiteria, Chile, where Emily Donovan and her best friend Kristen Czarnecki are enjoying their annual trip to a part of the world they’ve never explored. Emily has really missed Kristen since she moved to Australia for work 18 months earlier, but is not prepared when Kristen suggests they both take six months off and travel the world together. Emily finally has a job she loves for an organic cat food startup, and is nearly confident enough about her new boyfriend Aaron to tell Kiristen about him. Kristen has always been critical of Emily’s relationships, finding a fatal character flaw for each one, so Emily has kept Aaron a secret until Kristen’s proposal prompts her to blurt it out as the reason she can’t take a six-months vacation. Kristen says she understands and the two set off to the bar, as usual introducing themselves with fake names and personas to the men who buy them drinks. Paolo is obviously attracted to Kristen, who flirts with him despite Emily’s attempts to communicate with their established secret signals that she is sure he is dangerous. Kristen suggests Emily stay for another drink or two and heads back to their rented room with Paolo. When Emily arrives after the pre-arranged 45 minutes, she finds Kristen covered in blood next to a dead body. Emily is still fighting the debilitating panic attacks that she has suffered since they killed a backpacker trying to rape her years earlier in Cambodia, and can barely focus when Kristen insists they must get rid of the body immediately, before anyone realizes he came home with her. Back in Wisconsin, Emily tries to pretend it never happened, trying to bury the new trauma on top of the old one, when Kristen suddenly moves back from Australia. She inserts herself into every aspect of Emily’s life, making it impossible for Emily to ignore their shared violent past and the growing suspicion that Kristen is dangerous as well as controlling.


BlackoutMarco Carocari
Blackout (Level Best Books 2021) begins in 2016 when 43-year-old photographer/bartender Franco DiMaso brings a man home to his dark Manhattan rooftop one hot July night. Whatever the man he met through the MeatUp app gives him to smoke makes him dizzy and sick. The scene he sees through the 4th story window of the brownstone across the street looks like a movie at first, but Franco is sure he is witnessing a murder. He tries to call the police, but passes out instead. Waking up alone on the street more than an hour later, he summons the police, but they don’t find anything in the empty apartment. Noticing his dilated eyes, they assume he imagined the whole thing. Franco tries to contact the MeatUp man, but he doesn’t answer his messages, and then deletes his account. Franco tries to forget he may have witnessed a murder until the apartment of his upstairs neighbors/landlords is broken into, and one of men is attacked. The light in their apartment was on a timer, and Franco worries the murderer may have broken into the wrong apartment. Flashbacks to 1977, when Franco was four years old, reveal the murder of his father Frank, shot by a masked gunman while Franco was in the back seat of the car. The killer searched Frank’s pockets and pulled the cross from his neck, vanishing just as the 12-hour blackout descended on Manhattan. When a cache of drugs and money are discovered in Frank’s locker, it’s assumed he was a dirty cop killed by his underworld contacts. The nightmares Franco suffered after his father’s death forty years earlier return, mixed with his hazy and frightening recollection of the night of the new murder. A few days later the police link a body to the apartment, and Franco is stunned to realize he knows the man, a buisness owner who hired him to take photos of his staff. Franco’s fingerprints are found in the apartment, moving him from witness to prime suspect. This debut thriller is a finalist for the 2022 Lefty Award for Best Debut Mystery.


Razorblade TearsS.A. Cosby
Razorblade Tears (Flatiron Books 2021) starts when the cops appear at Ike Randolph’s door in Richmond, Virginia. Though Ike’s been out of prison for 15 years and turned his life around, running a successful lawn and gardening business, as a Black ex-con he feels a sudden jolt of fear. The police tell him that his son Isiah and Isiah’s husband Derek have been been murdered, shot multiple times. Ike never accepted Isiah’s sexuality, but is devastated by his death, realizing he will never be able to make amends for his prejudice and anger. Derek’s father Buddy Lee Jenkins, a white ex-con alcoholic with a debilitating cough, is also crushed by the news. Buddy Lee was also unable to accept that his son was gay, and Derek was ashamed of his father’s criminal record. Buddy Lee’s ex-wife Christine threw their teenage son out of their house when her new husband Judge Gerald Culpepper ran for city council with a platform of abhorrence for the sacrilegious homosexual life. Ike and his wife Mya take in Isiah and Derek’s three-year-old daughter and try to come to terms with their grief. The police try to investigate, but Isiah and Derek’s friends won’t say much, though no one has a bad word to say about either of the two young men. The only lead is a death threat from the Blue Anarchists sent to Isiah at his job as a reporter for The Rainbow Review after he wrote an article exposing the organization’s transphobia. When Isiah and Derek’s headstones are desecrated, Ike gives in to Buddy Lee’s insistence that they need to take the investigation into their own hands in order to find justice for their sons. Ike and Buddy Lee discover that Derek, who worked at a bakery, met a girl at an event they catered at a music studio. She had been betrayed by a married man, and Derek wanted Isiah to publish her story. Meanwhile, Grayson, leader of the Rare Breed motorcycle gang, has been hired to find and eliminate a girl named Tangerine, who said too much to a reporter. Ike and Buddy Lee have little in common except their guilt over not accepting their sons, but that’s enough to take on the world. Buddy Lee talks about revenge, but Ike knows that revenge is “just hate in a nicer suit,” and gives in to the lure of resuming his dangerous prison persona. This violent thriller with a big heart is a finalist for the 2022 Lefty, Edgar, Barry, and Thriller Award for Best Novel.


Like a SisterKellye Garrett
Like a Sister (Mulholland Books 2022) begins when Lena Scott, a young Black graduate student at Columbia University, learns from an article in the New York Daily News that her half-sister Desiree Pierce has been found dead in a Bronx playground wearing only lingerie. It’s the morning after Desiree’s 25th birthday party, and the police decide all the signs point to an accidental overdose by the former reality star and well known party girl with a huge Instagram following. Lena and Desiree have never been close and haven’t spoken in two years, separated by Desiree’s privileged life with their father Mel, a wealthy hip-hop star, while Lena was raised by her single mother. Mel’s assistant sent Lena expensive gifts each birthday, but she never forgave him for leaving her mother and starting a new family, legally changing her name to her mother’s maiden name when he didn’t show up for her high school graduation. Desiree loved the spotlight, and basked in reality star fame until a drunk driving accident ended her short career. Lena isn’t surprised that Desiree was found with an ample supply of cocaine — her sister had frequent bouts of over indulging in drugs — but the needle marks on Desiree’s thighs raise a red flag: Desiree hated and feared needles so much she couldn’t even get her ears pierced. Where the body was found is also surprising: Desiree would never venture above 125th street without a very good reason, and Lena fears her sister’s death was caused by coming to visit her. But why? Lena backtracks through Desiree’s Instagram feed, searching for the truth of her sister’s last days and examining the final posts documenting her birthday celebration. Lena is forced to confront her guilt over the choices she’s made about her family, especially when she realizes that Desiree’s friends acted more like a sister than she did. This cleverly plotted domestic suspense thriller explores sexism, racism, and the complex nature of familial relationships.


A Slow Fire BurningPaula Hawkins
A Slow Fire Burning (Riverhead Books 2021) starts when London houseboat resident Miriam Lewis notices the cabin doors of the neighboring narrowboat on Regent’s Canal are open. Inside she discovers the murdered body of Daniel. Distraught at the sight of the bloody corpse, she impulsively picks up a house key from the floor, guessing it belongs to Laura Kilbride, the troubled young woman she saw leaving late the night before. Daniel is the son of Carla Myerson’s sister Angela, who died recently after a fall down the stairs. Carla asks the police to call her ex-husband Theo. Their marriage fell apart after their toddler son Ben fell to his death from Angela’s balcony 15 years earlier. Theo and Carla were never able to forgive Angela, or each other for leaving their son in her care for the weekend. Theo is a professor and writer, but was unable to write a word for years after Ben’s death, finally producing a thriller — The One Who Got Away — about two teenage girls who were abducted. According to Miriam the book is based on the memoir of her own experience she gave to Theo to read, but he insists the manuscript was lost and he never read it. Laura suffered a traumatic brain injury as a child and has never fully recovered, often arrested for minor incidents. She admits she was on the boat with Daniel and they had a fight, but swears he was alive when she left. Miriam also saw Carla visiting Daniel on the boat within the last few days, and describes her to the police, hoping to cause Theo pain by shifting suspicion from Laura to Carla. Flashbacks to Ben’s death and Laura’s accident along with sections from The One Who Got Away fill in the backstories of the damaged characters who all have a part in Daniel’s murder.


Lightning StrikeWilliam Kent Krueger
Lightning Strike (Atria Books 2021) takes place in 1963 Minnesota, when Cork O’Connor is 12 years old. The small town of Aurora is in an ancient forest next to the shores of Iron Lake, and Cork and his friends are free to roam at will. Cork and his friend Jorge are hiking to Lightning Strike in the Quitico-Superior Wilderness in the July heat, trying to complete one of the 10-mile hikes required for their hiking merit badge. A terrible smell leads them to the body of Big John Manydeeds, hanging in a tree. Sheriff Liam O’Connor, Cork’s father, believes the death is a suicide, that the two empty whiskey bottles indicate he has fallen off the wagon and back into depression. Cork’s friend Billy Downwind insists his uncle didn’t drink, and Cork’s Ojibwe grandmother Dilsey agrees. Tensions between the Ojibwe and the white community increase when Liam and his officers don’t discover any indications of foul play. Cork’s family is caught in the middle, with Cork and his mother trying to explain that Liam is doing everything he can while the Ojibwe become more convinced that they are being ignored and betrayed once again. Cork, Billy, and Jorge decide to do some investigating themselves, searching for anyone with a motive to kill Big John. Oscar Manydeeds, Big John’s half-brother, finds a lighter at Lightning Strike with the initials DM and an inscription in Gaelic. Liam connects the lighter to Duncan MacDermid, owner of the North Star iron mine. Meanwhile, Cork discovers a note "goodbye" at the site of the hanging, scented with a perfume he identifies as Shalimar, the perfume worn by Mrs. Mary Margaret MacDermid. Cork and his friends don’t care for MacDermid, who is outspoken in his prejudice against Indians and Mexicans and are convinced he was responsible for Big John’s death. Liam takes his evidence to the judge, but is ordered to leave MacDermid alone. As racial tensions increase, Cork sees his small town in a new light, one where not everyone has the same rights. This excellent prequel to the Cork O’Connor series is a finalist for the 2022 Lefty Award for Best Mystery.


The Man Who Died TwiceRichard Osman
The Man Who Died Twice (2021) begins when Elizabeth Best gets a letter pushed under her door at Coopers Chase, a retirement residence in Kent, England — an invitation for a drink from a dead man who never existed. Elizabeth isn’t too surprised to find her ex-husband and fellow former spy Douglas Middlemiss at the meeting place, but the presence of Poppy, the incompetent new waitress at the pub is unexpected. Poppy is “babysitting” Douglas, who recently broke into the home of international money launderer Martin Lomax along with Poppy and another Secret Services operative named Lance, to check the spy equipment and take a few pictures. Martin knows this sort of thing is to be expected in his line of work, but having a bag of diamonds stolen is not. The twenty million pounds of diamonds were a down payment from a New York mob to a Colombian cartel and Martin’s life is on the line if he doesn’t get them back. Poppy was outside on lookout duty, and Lance and Douglas swear they never saw the diamonds. Unfortunately Douglas removed his itchy face covering, and Martin has him on CCTV. If Douglas doesn’t return the diamonds in two weeks, Martin will reveal his identity to the New York mafia and the Columbian cartel. Douglas begs Elizabeth to find the diamonds and save his life. Elizabeth suspects Douglas may have stolen the diamonds, but life is a bit boring after the conclusion of the previous Thursday Murder Club Case, and agrees as long as she can enlist her fellow septuagenarian sleuths Joyce Meadowcroft, Ron Ritchie, and Ibrahim Arif. Poppy declares that won’t be possible, but Elizabeth ignores her and everyone is thrilled to have a new case, including local police officers PC Donna De Freitas and DCI Chris Hudson. Meanwhile, Ibrahim is attacked by two street thugs who steal his phone and beat him ruthlessly, sending him to the hospital. Returning home, he is still quite shaken, and his friends worry he may never leave his rooms. Elizabeth organizes two investigations of the diamond theft and Ibrahim’s attack, playing to the strengths of each member of the Thursday Murder Club. This very enjoyable second in the series is full of red herrings and laced with dry humor.


Death at GreenwayLori Rader-Day
Death at Greenway (William Morrow 2021) is the story of Bridget Kelly, a disgraced nurse-trainee from St. Prisca’s Hospital in London, given the chance to redeem herself by caring for a group of evacuated children under the age of five. In April 1941, Bridget boards the train to Greenway House, Agatha Christie’s holiday home in the country, and is startled to see that two of the children are infants. Somehow she expected them all to be nearly five. Mrs. Joan Arbuthnot greets Bridget as Nurse Kelly, and she is too embarrassed to admit she is only a trainee, and a dismissed one at that. Mrs. Arbuthnot and her husband Malcolm are no help with the children so Bridget is relieved when the second nurse arrives at the last moment, introducing herself as another Bridget Kelly. Mrs. Arbuthnot declares they can’t possibly have two Nurse Kellys and Bridget blurts out that she was Bridey at home. She isn’t happy when Mrs. Arbuthnot immediately calls her by the childhood nickname from then on, especially when the second Bridget declares that everyone calls her Gigi. Mrs. and Mr. Arbuthnot disappear to their seats, leaving Bridey and Gigi in charge of the 10 small children. The glamorous Gigi doesn’t seem to know how what to do, vanishes to the toilet, and doesn’t come back for over an hour, flirting with some men in the next carriage. The entire group is stunned by the grandeur of Greenway, full of rooms that can’t be entered, curios that can’t be touched, a piano that shouldn’t be played, and a library full of books. The bombings aren’t nearly as bad in the countryside, but Greenway is too close to the English Channel for Bridey’s comfort. Her entire family was killed by a bombing raid in London, and Bridey is consumed with grief, though she finds taking care of the children a comfort. Gigi does as little work as possible, but the two gradually develop a friendship. When a body washes up near the estate, Bridey examines the body, finding clear evidence of murder. She forces Gigi to look as well, since Bridey recognizes the man from the train, one of the group Gigi was flirting with. Gigi refuses to admit she knows the man, and Bridey doesn’t force her, though Gigi’s faintness at the sight of blood causes her to doubt Gigi is even a nurse. This compelling mystery, a finalist for the Lefty and Agatha Awards for Best Historical Mystery, explores the long term effects of the trauma of war on both adults and children.


What Comes AfterJoAnne Tompkins
What Comes After (Riverhead Books 2021) is set in a small town on the coast of Washington. Two teenage boys are dead, Daniel Balch murdered by his close friend Jonah, who later commits suicide, leaving a one-sentence confession to the murder. Daniel’s father Isaac lives alone with his dog Rufus next door to Jonah’s widowed mother Lorrie, who lives with her young daughter. Isaac and Lorrie haven’t spoken since Jonah’s suicide. Isaac has retreated into his Quaker faith, unable to forgive Jonah and by extension his mother, while Lorrie is wracked with guilt over her son’s violent action and grief over his death. Then Evangeline McKensey appears. Barely sixteen, Evangeline has been scrabbling to survive after her drug-addicted mother deserted her, leaving $200 in an envelope in their rented trailer three months earlier. About to be evicted, Evangeline discovers she is pregnant, and wanders along the street where Daniel and Jonah lived, taking shelter in Isaac’s back yard. When Isaac lets Rufus out late that night, he discovers the cold and hungry teenage girl, and takes her in for the night. Evangeline eats like a starving person and then takes her first shower in weeks, luxuriating in the soft bed with clean sheets. The presence of a guest motivates Isaac to clean the house he has neglected since Daniel’s death, and actually eat something himself. Isaac doesn’t believe Evangeline’s story about how she came to be in his back yard, but soon realizes she is pregnant and suspects she knew both Daniel and Jonah. Realizing he can’t deal with her alone, he asks Lorrie for help. When the doctor says she’s about six weeks pregnant, they all realize that was just before Daniel disappeared, though Evangeline doesn’t admit she knew both boys. As the weeks pass, Daniel struggles to get past his anger against Lorrie and his growing suspicion that Evangeline may have had a part in his son’s death. Evangeline works hard to catch up with her class in high school while cautiously beginning to trust the two new adults in her life. Jonah’s story is revealed thought interspersed sections narrated on the day of his death. This complex exploration of guilt and grief and anger is a finalist for the 2022 Edgar Award for Best First Novel.


Harlem ShuffleColson Whitehead
Harlem Shuffle (Doubleday 2021) is the story of Ray Carney, owner of a new and gently used furniture store on 125th Street in New York City. Few people know that Ray comes from a long line of uptown crooks. Carney fences the odd item with no provenance that his cousin Freddie or others bring in, but mostly stays on the right side of the law. His wife Elizabeth is expecting their second child and they are mainly content in their cramped apartment near the subway tracks, despite the disapproval of her parents who life on Striver’s Row. In 1959, Freddie joins a crew who plans to rob the Hotel Theresa, Harlem’s ritzy hotel, and volunteers Carney as the fence. Carney is dubious, but the money would certainly come in handy, and he doesn’t know how to say no to Miami Joe and his gang when they all arrive at Carney’s Furniture after hours. The heist is successful, but one of the deposit boxes contained jewelry belonging to the mistress of mobster Chink Montague, putting everyone on Miami Joe’s crew in danger. Carney hoped to fly under the radar, but the cops on Chink’s payroll visit his store, demanding a weekly envelope now that he has been identified as a fence. Though he tries to stay as honest as possible, Carney is tempted by his new underworld acquaintances and the lure of money to provide for his wife and children. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights movement, this powerful novel brings 1960s Harlem to vivid life.


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March 1, 2022

Girl AAbigail Dean
Girl A (Viking 2021) is the story of Alexandra “Lex” Gracie, who escaped from chains at the age of 15, stumbling to the road to get help for her older brother and four younger siblings from imprisonment by their parents. Known as Boys A to D and Girls A to C, the emaciated children were nursed back to health in hospital and then separated for adoption or foster care, believing they wouldn’t recover mentally and emotionally if kept together. Identified as Girl A, Lex was lucky in the psychologist assigned to her: Dr. K, who helped her work through her terrors and guilt for not escaping earlier when the punishments weren’t so severe. Their father Charles took poison as the police arrived, and their mother Deborah spent the rest of her life behind bars. The younger children are adopted first, and the policeman who carried the little ones from house adopts Lex, who misses her sister Evie the most, her constant companion chained to the other bed in the small room with covered windows. While dying of cancer, Deborah appoints Lex executor of her will, a small portfolio of assets and the house. Lex at first refuses to accept the job, but Evie suggests using the money to transform the House of Horrors into a community center to provide services for abused children. Lex must convince each of her siblings, some she hasn’t seen since the rescue, to agree to the plan. As she reconnects with each one, Lex is forced to confront deeply buried questions: Why didn’t Ethan, who was not chained to a bedframe like the other children, stay in the house? What happened to the baby who disappeared? Do all of the children contain seeds of their father’s madness? This devastating debut thriller is a finalist for the 2022 Barry and Thriller Awards for Best First Mystery/Crime Novel.


Kill All Your DarlingsDavid Bell
Kill All Your Darlings (Berkley 2021) is the story of Connor Nye, a college English professor at Commonwealth University in Kentucky. Connor’s wife and 15-year-old son died in a boating accident in Maine, and he has been unable to pull himself out of debilitating grief for years. But his students love him, especially those in his senior fiction writing seminar, despite his tendency to drift away in the middle of office hours. His most talented student is Madeline O’Brien, who writes compelling stories about neglected girls struggling with poverty. After one spring seminar Connor invites his students to the pub for a drink. When everyone else leaves, Madeline gives Connor her thesis, a novel about the friendship between two women that ends when one is killed. Connor is surprised that all but the last few pages are handwritten, and Madeline explains her computer died and she can’t afford a new one. Since he is quite drunk she walks him home. She doesn’t return to her own apartment. The police suspect foul play since she took nothing with her, but can find no trace. Two years later Connor returns home from a signing party for My Best Friend’s Murder, just released by a major New York publisher, to find Madeline waiting inside his house. Connor is simultaneously relieved Madeline is alive and horrified that the truth about who really wrote the novel will come out. Connor explains that he was terrified of losing his job since he was unable to write himself and found the work of editing her thesis novel exhilarating. Madeline won’t explain why she vanished, but demands the money he was paid for her work in exchange for not telling the truth to the college. Connor admits he has already spent most of the book money, which wasn’t much, but will check into getting a loan from the bank. The next morning Alicia Bowman from the Gatewood Police Department appears on his doorstep with a copy of My Best Friend’s Murder. Bowman questioned Connor two years earlier after Madeline disappeared, but this time she is there to talk about Sophia Greenwood, a young woman who was murdered two and a half years earlier. The descriptions in Connor’s book about the murder of Sarah Redmond, strangled with her grandmother’s vintage scarf, contain specific details about the crime that were never released publicly. Though tempted to confess that the incriminating details came from Madeline, Connor keeps the secret until he can talk to Madeline again and figure out who frightened her into leaving. Interspersed sections from two years earlier fill in the story of Madeline’s growing friendship with Sophia as they support each other through sexual harassment. This suspenseful thriller set in the world of academia is a finalist for the 2022 Edgar Award for Best Paperback.


Girl in IceErica Ferencik
Girl in Ice (Gallery/Scout Press 2022) begins when talented linguist Valerie “Val” Chesterfield is asked to travel to Greenland to establish communication with a girl found frozen in the glacier. Val’s twin brother Andy, a climate scientist, was stationed on the remote island along with his mentor Wyatt Speeks and Jeanne, the mechanic and cook. Andy committed suicide six months earlier by going out unprotected in the -50° weather, but neither Val nor her father believe he would kill himself. Val suffers from debilitating fear of just about everything outside her home, but arms herself with medications and sets out for the tiny island 800 miles north of the Arctic Circle. On the military plane she meets marine scientists Nora and Rajeev Chandra-Revard, also bound for the island. Wyatt and Jeanne swear they cut the frozen body of the girl from the glacier, but Raj refuses to believe that is possible. Val, who speaks West Greenlandic and Inuktun, doesn’t understand a word the young girl says, and is at first horrified by the terrified girl, who won’t eat any food except raw fish and meat. After cutting her skin and fur clothing off, the girl refused everything except a far-too-large Rudolph Christmas sweater. Val tries all the languages she knows, but the girl clearly recognizes none of the words. When Val touches the sweater and says Rudolph, the girl answers “kannisuak” and Val realizes why she loves the sweater — the reindeer looks like a caribou. Counting the rest of the reindeer, Val learns her words for one through eight. Many days of trust-building later, the girl shares her name — Sigrid. As they begin to share words, Val realizes Sigrid’s mysterious drawings predict the future: sickness and death if Val can’t figure out what the strange shapes mean. Val’s pills disappear, and she is forced to fight against her own fears of the unknown to protect Sigrid from whatever threatens her. Each day the darkness closes in a bit more in this moving and claustrophobic thriller.

Shadow HillThomas Kies
Shadow Hill (Poisoned Pen Press 2021) begins when freelance journalist Geneva Chase and her new boss Nathaniel Rubin arrive at the Long Island mansion where Morris Cutter and his wife Julia died. Genie’s personal life is complicated. She is the legal guardian of 15-year-old Caroline, the daughter of her fiancé who died two years earlier, and determined to make a new start by cutting down on the alcohol consumption that ended her job as the Sheffield Post. The police believe Morris shot his wife and then himself, but their son Eric believes they were murdered, and has hired Lodestar Analytics, a New York commercial and intelligence firm owned by Rubin, to prove they were murdered. Recently retired as CEO of Continental Petroleum & Gas, Morris was looking forward to time to travel and work on a history of the business founded just before World War II by the Cutter family. Eric and his wife Oliva have a new baby daughter, and both Morris and Julia were thrilled to be grandparents. If the Cutters were murdered, it was by someone with a key and the alarm code, but Eric can’t think of anyone except himself and his sister Lisa who know the code. A meteorologist for NASA, Lisa and her father have been at odds for years, believing his company was contributing to global warming and ruining the earth. Walking Genie through the house, Eric notices that his father’s laptop is missing as well as his old-fashioned leather appointment book. A few days before his death Morris was scheduled to present a pseudoscientific report to Congress seeking to delay action on climate change legislation, and Genie wonders if his nephew Stephen, a member of the radical environmentalist group Gaea, might be the culprit. Leonard Ryan, an account director for Fisher, Evans, and Sinclair, consultants for Continental Petroleum & Gas offers Genie $250,000 to verify the police verdict of murder-suicide and close the investigation by Thursday, the day before the report will be presented to Congress. Genie finds Julia’s appointment book and finds a notation for three days after their death: Morris — Shadow Hill, his nickname for Capitol Hill. Fisher, Evans, and Sinclair double the bribe offer but Genie refuses and keeps investigating, certain she is now being followed and at risk. This fourth in the series featuring the determined crime reporter/investigator is a finalist for the 2022 Sue Grafton Award.


How LuckyWill Leitch
How Lucky (Harper 2021) is narrated by Daniel, a 26-year-old social media support person for regional Spectrum Air. When he’s not trying to calm down irate passengers, Daniel enjoys sitting on his front porch in Athens, Georgia, especially very early in the morning when it is still cool. Most everyone is still asleep, but Daniel usually sees a young college student walking to school from the nearby student housing. This young woman is not staring at her phone or listening to music, just enjoying the fresh morning air. For the first time in the three weeks she’s walked past his house, the woman notices Daniel at the back of his porch and gives a little wave hello before walking up the street. A vintage tan Camero pulls up next to her and opens the passenger door. Daniel can’t see much of the driver, just a blue Atlanta Thrashers hat and the shiny tip of his left boot. The woman seems uncertain but gets into the car and they drive away. A few days later Daniel sees an article in the Atlanta Banner-Herald with a picture he recognizes: nineteen-year-old Chinese exchange student Ai-Chin Liao is missing, last seen leaving her housing the morning Daniel saw her get into the tan Camero. Daniel texts his best friend Travis, asking him to call the tip line and report Daniel’s information. Daniel has spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a degenerative disease leaving him little control over his body. He can move his powered wheel chair with his still functioning left hand and can speak with a voice generator, but communicating with anyone except Travis and his home health aide Marjani is challenging. Despite his physical limitations, Daniel considers himself a pretty lucky guy with friends, a home of his own, a steady job, and college football to enjoy each fall. Travis, who is usually stoned, finally gets through to the tip line and leaves a message with his own name and Daniel’s address. The police officer who arrives the next day is flummoxed when Daniel answers the door, hands him a card to give to Travis, and leaves before Daniel can respond. Frustrated, he posts a message on Reddit about seeing Ai-Chin get into a tan Camero, which he later deletes. The next day he gets an email quoting his post and decides to answer, offering his help to resolve the situation. Marjani sees the email and forwards it to the police, who explain it’s from a known crank who tries to confess to every crime. But Daniel is sure that Jonathan knows something about Ai-Chin’s disappearance, and continues the email correspondence, which becomes increasingly threatening. Muddy footprints on Daniel’s porch cause concern: does the kidnapper know who he is and where he lives? Daniel’s narrative voice make this finalist for the 2022 Edgar Award for Best Mystery something special.


Suburban DicksFabian Nicieza
Suburban Dicks (G.P. Putnam’s Sons 2021) begins when West Windsor, New Jersey, police officers Michelle Wu and Niket Patel respond to an early morning anonymous call: gas station attendant Sakunananthan Sasmal has been shot. The first murder in West Windsor in 30 years, both young police officers are unprepared. They are struggling with the yellow police tape when a blue minivan roars into the station, containing a very pregnant woman and four noisy children. Andrea Stern rushes toward the bathroom with a small child, who pees all over the pavement when they encounter the tape. Andie scans the crime scene, noticing the bullet strikes on the building, the closed cash drawer inside, the blood spatters on the gas pump, the wet stain on Sakun’s pants, and the tire marks her daughter is peeing on. Advising the officers to take notes and pictures, Andie roars back out of the station. Trained as an FBI profiler, Andie solved one big case while still an intern at the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit before becoming pregnant with her first child, now 10 years old. Though she loves her children, Andie has always regretted giving up the career she was perfectly suited for. The police report the murder was a result of a robbery, and Andie decides to volunteer to help. Kenneth Lee, a disgraced young New York Daily News investigative reporter now working for the local weekly paper, gets a tip that the police suspects Sakun was selling drugs and heads to Tharani Sasmal’s home, arriving just as Police Chief Bennett Dobeck arrives to break the news of their nephew’s murder. After filming a flustered Dobeck responding to his question about drugs, Kenny heads off to his assignment to cover a Girl Scout tree-planting project. While still a student at Columbia University, Kenny won the Pulitzer Prize, but has been on a downward spiral since falsifying information while chasing another big story. Missing her diverse group of friends from the city, Andie joins a group of Indian women at the pool that afternoon, asking if they know the Sasmals. The women report that Sakun was a good boy and agree his death was probably the result of a robbery. Their homes are broken into frequently because they wear gold jewelry, but the police don’t investigate. West Windsor was originally a farming community, exclusively white except for day laborers. The influx of Indian, Chinese, Pakistani, and Korean families has caused tension. Andie learns the Indian families are frequent targets of racism, ranging from jokes when ordering pizza to being turned down for mortgages and having pool permits denied. In fact, the Sasmals just filed a protest after their pool permit was denied and their white neighbor’s approved. Andie and Kenny form a partnership when both are rebuffed by the police, investigating Andie’s hunch that the murder is a coverup for something that happened decades earlier. Andie creates a workspace in the basement, and carts her children to the library for research or trades child care with her friends, feeling more alive than she has in ten years. This funny series launch starring the pair Kenny dubs Suburban Dicks is a finalist for the 2022 Edgar Award for Best First Novel.


The Last Mona LisaJonathan Santlofer
The Last Mona Lisa (Sourcebooks Landmark 2021) begins when New York artist and art history professor Luke Perrone receives an email from Luigi Quattrocchi, who discovered a journal written by Luke’s great-grandfather Vincenzo Peruggia in the papers of his recently deceased lover, Professor Antonio Guggliermo. Quattrocchi tells Luke he buried the journal in one of the boxes donated to the Laurentian Library in Florence, but did not include it in the inventory, suggesting Luke also keep the journal a secret. Luke has been fascinated with his notorious ancestor ever since he was 14, cleaning out the dusty attic as a punishment for skipping algebra. In an old steamer trunk Luke discovered a prison photo of Vincenzo, taken in 1914 in Murate Prison, while serving time for stealing the Mona Lisa from the Louvre Museum, where he was employed building protective wood and glass boxes to protect the most valuable paintings. When Luke grew out of his teenage rebellion and went to art school, he began searching for information about his great-grandfather, but most of his letters and emails went unanswered. Thrilled at the possibility of reading Vincenzo’s own words, Luke takes a leave and heads to Florence, grateful that his parents raised him bilingual in Italian. John Washington Smith of INTERPOL’s Art Theft Division has been watching Luke for years. The theft of the Mona Lisa and the possibility that the painting recovered after the 1911 theft is not the original has become an obsession. Fearing budget cuts will soon eliminate his job, Smith takes sick leave and follows Luke to Florence, hoping that solving the mystery will convince INTERPOL he is valuable. Meanwhile, an American art collector who owns what he believes is the original painting, learns of the journal and contacts his source for stolen art to track it down, determined to prove once and for all that his painting is indeed Leonardo’s Mona Lisa. In Florence, Luke meets American art student Alexandra Greene at the Laurentian Library while deciphering Vincenzo’s journal from 1914 describing the theft, his time in prison, and the world of art forgery. Luke doesn’t tell Alexandra about his secret project, though she is very interested in him and his research. While tracing the journal’s path to Guggliermo, Luke discovers that the book dealer who sold it to him also died recently, and begins to worry that he and Alexandra may be in danger, sure that his room has been searched and that he is being followed. This fascinating thriller is based on the real theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre by Peruggia, who later tried to ransom the painting back to the Italian government before being arrested and sent to Murate Prison.


Deep Into the DarkP.J. Tracy
Deep into the Dark (Minotaur Books 2021) is the story of Sam Easton, an Afghanistan vet working at the Pearl Club cocktail lounge in his hometown of Los Angeles. An IED explosion killed Sam’s four fellow soldiers, leaving him with half a face seared into waxen rubble over reconstructed bone. His PTSD nightmares have come back with a vengeance after he was weaned off the addictive tranquilizers, causing his wife Yukiko to move out. The antipsychotic prescribed by his doctor seems to be helping, though his memory is still fragmented. Meanwhile, LAPD detective Maggie Nolan and her partner Al Crawford are called to the scene of a murder: the third woman in three months has been killed and disemboweled in the Miracle Mile area. Melody Traeger is the bartender at the Pearl Club. Music producer Markus Ellenbeck tells her he has finally figured out why she looks so familiar: Roxy Codene, the guitar player for Poke, an all-girl punk band that didn’t last long. Melody denies it; she’s put her wild past and drug addition behind her. Melody’s boyfriend Ryan Gallagher, a music promoter, watches from the end of the bar, jealous of Ellenbeck’s obvious attraction to Melody. Later in his luxurious apartment he orders Melody to quit her job, but she refuses, grateful to the Club that helped her put her life back together and pays enough for both her rent and tuition. Ryan punches her in the face, and she flees to Sam’s house for the night, fearful of returning to her own apartment. When she returns home the next morning she discovers a vase of long-stemmed red roses on the dresser in her bedroom. Assuming it was Ryan who pried open her kitchen window and left them, she sends an angry text, threatening to kill him if he breaks in again. His return text is “What roses?” Later that day Ryan’s cleaning woman discovers his murdered body. The combination of the text and Melody’s black eye put both her and Sam on the suspect list. Crawford likes Sam for the murder, but Nolan, whose brother was recently killed in Afghanistan, has a soft spot for the PTSD plagued vet. Rolf, the young son of noir murder director Hans Hesse, approaches Sam in a coffee shop, insisting he would be perfect for the lead in his first film, a thriller called Deep in the Dark. Another murder connected to Sam sharpens police suspicion and the stress increases Sam’s mental instability. Frantically trying to maintain focus and evade the insistent young film director, Sam tries to protect Melody from whoever is stalking her and clear both their names. This excellent series launch featuring the complex police detective and the vet determined to rebuild his life takes the co-author of the Monkeewrench series in a new direction.


Our Woman in MoscowBeatriz Williams
Our Woman in Moscow (William Morrow 2021) is the story of twin sisters Ruth and Iris Macallister. Tall and blond, Ruth was always the most admired of the twins, though Iris grew into an attractive curvy woman. In 1939 Ruth and Iris move from New York City to Rome to stay with their older brother Harry, who works for the American ambassador. Ruth does some modeling work and artistic Iris sketches and haunts the museums. Cornelius Alexander Digby, known as Sasha, and Iris begin an affair, though Iris is a bit startled by Sasha’s defense of communism. Harry defends his friend and fellow embassy official, declaring that they were all Communists in college, and eventually everyone grows out of it. On a weekend getaway Iris discovers an envelope in Sasha’s suitcase by accident, and realizes he is passing information to the Russians. When the Americans are ordered to evacuate Rome in June 1940, Iris refuses to leave Sasha. In 1948 Sasha is working at the American embassy in London, when he, Iris, and their two children vanish. No sign of them is found, and competing rumors circulate: the entire family was eliminated by the Soviets, Sasha defected to Moscow with his family and vital American secrets. Four years later, in June 1952, Ruth, now a respected force in a Manhattan modeling agency, receives a postcard from the sister she hasn’t heard from in 12 years. Shoving it unread in a drawer, Ruth doesn’t think of it again until Sumner Fox from the FBI appears at her office, asking questions and ordering her to get in touch immediately if she hears from Iris. Ruth finally reads the card: Iris is expecting another baby in July. Then a letter arrives asking if Ruth will come to Moscow and support her through the birth, mentioning how difficult her pregnancies have been. Days later Ruth is heading off to Moscow with counterintelligence agent Fox posing as her husband, determined to rescue her sister and her children. In Russia, Lyudmila Ivanova of the KBG, watches the defectors from America and England, sure that one is a double agent, perhaps Sasha Digby. This intense spy thriller explores the role of women in the Cold War.


The Secret TalkerGeling Yan
The Secret Talker (HarperVia 2021, Chinese 2004) is the story of Qiao Hongmei, a Chinese immigrant married to Glen, a San Francisco Bay Area professor. The two met in Beijing: Glen a 49-year-old visiting professor of English, Hongmei a young married military interpretor taking English classes on the side. Their affair destroyed her marriage and caused Hongmei to lose her job after being investigated and imprisoned for suspicion of selling secrets to the Americans. Rescued by Glen two years later, Hongmei’s current life seems perfect, but they have grown apart. Glen teaches, Hongmei works on her PhD thesis, and the couple communicates primarily through notes left on the fridge. Then Hongmei receives an email from a stranger, chronicling a recent visit to a restaurant with a tall American and describing every detail of her appearance, clothing, and gestures. The stranger observes that Hongmei appeared to be completely closed off from her husband, merely floating through her daily existence without engaging. As far as her husband is concerned, Hongmei is a secret talker, never revealing her true self. Hongmei answers the stranger, beginning an email correspondence in which she reveals the deepest secrets about her past, born in a small village she has always been ashamed of, and time as a military intelligence officer-in-training. She tries to break off the email relationship several times, but keeps returning to the stranger she calls the Secret Talker, the only person she can talk to about her true feelings. Some comments begin to make her a bit nervous, the Secret Talker knows her every movement and things that can’t be observed by seeing her in public, like a birthmark. With the help of a friend, Hongmei begins stalking her stalker, determined to expose the Secret Talker’s own secrets. This short noir psychological thriller explores the nature of individual need and the importance of identity.


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February 1, 2022

The TurnoutMegan Abbott
The Turnout (G.P. Putnam’s Sons 2021) is the story of ballet dancers Dara and Marie Durant. The sisters were homeschooled by their exotic mother, who founded the Durant School of Dance they inherited when their parents died in an accident a decade earlier. Dara’s husband Charlie was once their mother’s prize pupil and surrogate son. Now tormented by pain after years of injuries he keeps the books while Dara trains the older students and Marie teaches the little ones. Unhappy with her secondary role in the family and the school, Marie moves out of the old family house to the attic of the dance studio. It’s The Nutcracker season, and tensions are high at the school, with students desperate to discover who will be cast in the coveted roles of Clara and her Nutcracker Prince. Marie’s space heater causes a fire, and one of their three studios is destroyed by the fire and the water sprayed to extinguish it. The mother of a student recommends a contractor: a large man in his early 50s named Derek who convinces them to use the insurance money to double the size of the ruined studio. Charlie and Marie are all for expansion, but Dara is mistrustful of Derek and his big ideas. The repairs and remodeling don’t go as scheduled, but the bigger problem for Dara is the change in Marie, who begins wearing lipstick and revealing clothing, obviously smitten with Derek. Nutcracker rehearsals are too time-consuming to give Dara much time to worry, though Derek’s constant looming presence makes her uncomfortable. The other young ballerinas turn on the girl cast as Clara, undercutting her confidence and embedding razor blades in her toe shoes, and the boy cast as the Prince needs frequent reassurance and private coaching. This intense noir thriller exposes the dark side of the world of ballet: the beauty of line and movement masking jealousy and constant physical pain.


We Know You RememberTove Alsterdal
We Know You Remember (Harper 2021) is set in the small town of Kramfors, in the Ådalen region of Northern Sweden. Twenty years earlier, when he was 14, Olof Hagström confessed to the rape and murder of 16-year-old Lina Stavred, whose body was never found. Too young to be sentenced, Olof was sent to a youth home and exiled from his family. Returning to the house where his father Sven still lives, Olof uses the key hidden under the stone in the front yard, discovering a dog locked into the kitchen and his father dead in the shower, the water still running. Freeing the dog, Olof stumbles outside and gets into his truck, only to find the dog blocking the road. Patrik Nydalen, visiting Sven’s closest neighbors Tryggve and Mejan, calls the police. Police detective Eira Sjödin, who was nine when Lina was killed, arrives at the house with August Engelhardt, a newly qualified rookie working in the rural district for the required six months to gain experience before moving closer to the regional capital. August knows nothing about the old case, which shaded Eira’s childhood with fear though Eira’s mother Kerstin, now in the early stages of dementia, shielded her from the details of the crime and investigation. Her older brother Magnus was Lina’s age, and the shock of the crime sent him down a path of drugs and alcohol he never completely recovered falsrom. Sven had been dead for several days, killed by a single horizontal gash across his belly, probably a large hunting knife. Georg Georgsson, a murder detective from violent crimes, arrives to take over the investigation, asking Eira to assist with her local knowledge and connections. The water washed any evidence off the body, leaving the police with no physical evidence. Olof is questioned and held over night but then released. Public opinion is strong that Olof is responsible, but he didn’t arrive at his childhood home until four days after his father died. Eira begins to examine the 20-year-old evidence boxes, and realizes that 14-year-old Olof was interrogated without his parents for long periods of time, pleading to see his mother, and finally “confessing” by not opposing the words that were fed to him by the police. To her horror Eira discovers that her brother Magnus had a relationship with Lina, and begins digging into the past to find the truth. This excellent crime novel was awarded the Best Swedish Crime Novel of the Year in 2020.


The Darkness KnowsArnaldur Indridason
The Darkness Knows (2021, Iceland 2017) features Konrád, a retired police detective in Reykjavik. The frozen body of a man is discovered in the Langjökull glacier, identified as Sigurvin, a businessman who disappeared thirty years earlier. There are wounds on the back of the skull, and the body is dressed in clothing inappropriate for a glacier trip. The case has haunted Konrád for decades ago, unable to find any evidence to link the disappearance to Hjaltalín, the man he was believed killed Sigurvin. The day after Sigurvin’s body is identified, Hjaltalín tried to flee for Thailand. Arrested, he refuses to talk to anyone except Konrád, who reluctantly comes out of retirement to work as a temporary consultant. Back in 1985, Iceland was very different: beer was still illegal and there was only one state-run TV channel. Sigurvin’s sister reported him missing when he didn’t answer his phone or show up for work. Then the police received an anonymous phone call from a woman who said she overheard Sigurvin’s former business partner Hjaltalín threatening to kill him in the company parking lot. The two had owned a small fishing business and Hjaltalín accused Sigurvin of swindling him out of millions of króner. Hjaltalín claimed to have been with a married woman when Sigurvin disappeared, but refused to name her. Hjaltalín hopes that Konrád can finally clear his name, finally freeing him from the common perception that he got away with murder. Then Konrád gets a call from Herdís, a woman who wants to share something her brother saw thirty years earlier by the hot-water tanks on Oskjuhlíd, where Sigurvin’s red jeep was found. Villi was only nine at the time, and didn’t make a connection to the Sigurvin’s disappearance until he saw a true-crime program twenty years later, triggering the memory. He reported it to the police, but the policeman he spoke to thought it was too vague to take seriously. In 1985 Villi had been playing on the top of the tanks when a scary man with long hair and a small ring in one ear appeared, threatening to track Villi down kill him if he told anyone he saw him. As Villi ran away, he saw the lights of another car arriving. Thinking back, Villi realized that was the night Sigurvin went missing. Villi was killed in a hit-and-run accident soon after his report. This excellent thriller is the first in the series starring Konrád, who had a minor role in The Shadow District.


Silent ParadeKeigo Higashino
Silent Parade (Minotaur Books 2021, Japanese 2018) begins when skeletal remains are found in a burned out house in Shizuoka, Japan. One body is identified as Yoshie Hasunuma, an elderly woman who died six years earlier of natural causes. The other is identified as Saori Namiki, a 19-year-old woman who disappeared three years earlier. Nineteen years earlier Hasunuma was arrested and tried for the murder of 12-year-old Yuna Motohashi. There was only circumstantial evidence linking Hasunuma to the crime. He had burnt something in an incinerator, but refused to answer any questions from the police and did not speak during his trial. The verdict was not guilty and Hasunuma successfully sued the government for compensation for the time he spent in detention. Detective Chief Inspector Kusanagi visits Saori’s parents Yutaro and Machiko, who run a restaurant in the Kikuna shopping district of Tokyo with the help of their younger daughter Natsumi, showing them a picture of Yoshie’s stepson Kanichi Hasunuma. They all recognize the picture of Hasunuma; he was a frequent customer before Saori disappeared, banned from the restaurant for inappropriate attentions to Saori. The police arrest Kanichi Hasunuma, but he refuses to answer any questions. Without any physical evidence, the court cannot indict, and he is released, visiting the restaurant to threaten to sue the family for compensation for false arrest. Soon after, during the annual Kikuno Story Parade, Hasunuma is found dead inside a small storeroom he was renting. There is no sign of disturbance so Kusanagi suspects poison, but there is no cup or mug with the body. Kusanagi calls on his old college friend Manabu Yukawa, a physics professor and occasional police consultant known as Detective Galileo. Kusanagi and his assistant Detective Kaoru Utsumi begin checking the alibis of everyone who might have a motive to avenge Saori — her parents and younger sister, her music teachers who thought she could become a star, the boyfriend she kept secret from her parents — but everyone has an alibi for at least part of the time. Meanwhile Yukawa tries to figure out if there is a way a poisonous gas could have been introduced into the small locked storeroom from the outside. This clever “impossible” mystery is the fourth featuring the brilliant puzzle-solving professor.


A Line To KillAnthony Horowitz
A Line To Kill (Harper 2021) begins when Anthony Horowitz, the celebrated novelist, receives an invitation from his publishers to attend a literary festival on Alderney, an small island off the south coast of England famous for its natural beauty. Anthony is delighted, but their request to include Daniel Hawthorne, the retired detective inspector whose cases are the subject of Anthony’s new series of books, is worrisome. Hawthorne, a brilliant detective who left the force under a cloud of suspicion, is prickly and has few social skills. Anthony is surprised when Hawthorne agrees without protest, and the two set off to join a small group of authors: Chef Marc Bellamy and his assistant Kathryn, blind spiritualist Elizabeth Lovell and her husband, juvenile author Anne Cleary, French poet Maïssa Lamar, and island historian George Elkin. The festival is organized by Judith Matheson and sponsored by Charles le Mesurier, owner of the online casino SPIN-THE-WHEEL.COM. On the drive to the hotel, Anthony notices large hand-painted signs reading BAN NAB. Judith explains the NAB stands for Normandy-Alderney-Britain, the electric power line a French company is planning to connect France and the UK through Alderney. Charles le Mesurier has agreed to sell a huge tract of land for the power converter station, and Judith’s husband Colin is the head of the local NAB committee, which recommended going ahead with the project despite protests from a vocal minority concerned about the negative impact on wildlife and island quality of life. Anthony observes an awkward meeting between Marc Bellamy and the entitled and very unpleasant Charles le Mesurier, who attended school together. Colin tells Anthony that le Mesurier’s financial advisor Derek Abbott, is even worse, and Anthony finally understands why Hawthorne was eager to come to Alderney. Abbott is the child pornographer who "fell" down a flight of stairs while Hawthorne was escorting him to an interview room. When le Mesurier is murdered at a party at his mansion, just about everyone is a suspect. Two officers are sent to Alderney from Guernsey, but neither has any homicide experience. Hawthorne, with Anthony in attendance, is asked to help with the investigation. This cleverly plotted and witty third in the series featuring the delightfully mismatched pair pokes fun at the detective fiction genre and the world of publishing.


Dream GirlLaura Lippman
Dream Girl (William Morrow 2021) is the title of Gerry Andersen’s blockbuster novel, the character of Aubrey so realistic his readers refuse to believe she is not based on a real person. Now 61, Gerry has recently moved from New York City to a penthouse in Baltimore, relocating to his hometown to care for his dying mother. A fall down the floating staircase connecting the two floors leaves Gerry flat on his back in bed, his right leg immobilized and elevated in a trapeze for the 8-12 weeks it will take for the bilateral quad tear to heal. In constant pain, Gerry vacillates between worrying about becoming addicted to his pain medication and counting the minutes until his next dose. His new assistant Victoria spends the days with him from nine to five, dealing with his mail, his minimal social media, and preparing his meals. Aileen is hired to work the night shift from seven to seven, watching movies on her tablet and knitting. The day of his accident a letter in the packet forwarded from New York — hand addressed from Fait Avenue, Baltimore — stuck in his memory because Aubrey from Dream Girl lived on Fait Avenue. Victoria can’t find the letter but Gerry is sure he was heading downstairs to look for it when he fell. Late one night Gerry’s phone rings: a woman claiming to be Aubrey. Gerry shouts for Aileen, who didn’t hear the phone and suspects Gerry had a drug induced dream. Gerry sifts through all the women who may wish to torment him — his three ex-wives, the young women he betrayed his wives with, the girlfriend he left behind in New York. Then Victoria reports that DreamGirl@Aubrey is tweeting about his penis, but the tweets disappear quickly. Imprisoned in his penthouse and worried he is no longer able to distinguish between memories, dreams, and reality, Gerry fears he may have inherited his mother’s dementia. This clever modern noir builds suspense to the final scene.


The Bloodless BoyRobert J. Lloyd
The Bloodless Boy (Melville House 2021, self-published 2013) begins on New Year’s Day 1678, when the body of a young boy drained of blood is discovered on the snowy bank of the Fleet River in London. Robert Hooke, the Curator of Experiments at the new Royal Society for Improving Natural Knowledge, and his assistant Harry Hunt are asked to investigate the death by Sir Edmund Bury Godfrey, Justice of the Peace for Westminster. With the body is a letter in code. Sir Edmund fears the bloodless boy is part of a plot against King Charles II. Only 12 years have passed since the Great Fire, 18 years since the fall of Oliver Cromwell and the restoration of a king, and the city is beset by fear and rumors of Catholic plots and foreign assassins. That same morning Henry Oldenburg, the Secretary of the Royal Society, kills himself and Anthony Ashley Cooper, the Earl of Shaftesbury, is released from a year of imprisonment in the Tower of London, determined on revenge against the king. Hooke and Hunt examine the body, discovering that the boy had been bled over the course of a year, dates marking each hole. They preserve the body in the Society’s Pneumatical Engine, a glass chamber pumped free of air, locked behind a heavy door in the cellar. Hooke and Hunt review all they know of blood in religion, magic, and philosophy: witches use blood in spells, Scythian soldiers drink the blood of the first man conquered in battle, statues of Mary have been seen to weep tears of blood. Scientific study has revealed that blood flows through the body, it coagulates, and losing too much blood reduces the body temperature and causes death. Research into blood infusions have not been very successful. Pope Innocent VIII was given blood from young boys in a rejuvenation attempt but died soon after. The Society tried infusions of lamb and calf blood but further experiments were prohibited after several deaths. Hooke and Hunt are committed to using scientific evidence to determine how the boy was killed, but discovering why and what the blood was used for sends them deep into the dangerous world of politics. This dense historical thriller explores the darkness of Restoration London.


Damascus StationDavid McCloskey
Damascus Station (W. W. Norton & Company 2021) is the story of CIA case officer Sam Joseph, who is sent to France to recruit Mariam Haddad, a Syrian Palace official temporarily in Paris to persuade exile Fatimah Wael to renounce her frequently televised opposition to President Assad. Mariam’s cousin Razan was recently arrested for protesting against the government in Damascus, and the CIA hopes Mariam also has sympathy for the opposition. Colonel Daoud Haddad, Mariam’s uncle and Razan’s father, works at the Scientific Studies and Research Center, Branch 450: chemical weapons security and transport. Sam orchestrates a meeting with Mariam at a Paris party, rescuing her from an over-attentive Bulgarian diplomat. In gratitude, she agrees to meet him for a drink the next day, and a spark of attraction grows between them. Mariam describes the wonderful sense of freedom she feels in Paris, and Sam shares his talent for poker, which attracted the attention of the State Department and an embassy job. Mariam tells Sam that there are two Palace factions in Ali Hassan’s Security Office, the central hub for Syria’s security services. One team is led by her boss, Presidential Advisor Bouthaina Najjar. The other faction is led by Jamil Atiyah, a powerful pedophile who detests Bouthaina. When Bouthaina presented Assad with proof of Atiyah’s corruption, he sent men to attack one of her aides, nearly killing him. Three Syrians attack Mariam when Sam escorts her back to her hotel room, and together they kill all three men, presumably sent by Atiyah as another warning to Bouthaina. Sam admits he is CIA, and Mariam tells him she has tracked secret purchases of isopropyl alcohol, used in the production or sarin, a deadly chemical warfare agent. Deeply disturbed by what is happening in her country, Mariam agrees to help gather evidence about the manufacture of sarin gas. The two travel separately to Damascus, using spycraft to communicate. This excellent debut spy thriller by a former CIA analyst highlights the human aspect of working against one’s own country.


Murder at Wedgefield ManorErica Ruth Neubauer
Murder at Wedgefield Manor (Kensington 2021) rejoins young American widow Jane Wunderly in 1926, staying at Wedgefield Manor in the Essex countryside with her Aunt Millie before they return to America. Their host is Lord Hughes, the adoptive (and natural) father of Millie’s long-lost daughter Lillian, a talented golf fanatic determined to compete on the amateur circuit. Lord Hughes has hired war veterans to work on the estate, including a West Indian gardener missing a hand. Handsome young Air Force veteran Simon Marshall works as a mechanic and flirts with Lillian, to the dismay of her very devoted friend Marie. Jane amuses herself reading mystery novels and taking flying lessons from Group Captain Hammond in his lightweight de Havilland Moth biplane. Aunt Millie vacillates between horror at the possible danger and hope for a potential second marriage for her niece. Jane isn’t interested in Hammond, but is delighted to come down to breakfast to discover a new houseguest: Mr. Redvers who helped Jane solve a murder earlier that year in Cairo. Redvers reports there has been a fatal accident involving one of the estate cars: Flight Lieutenant Simon Marshall is dead. An examination of the car reveals the brake lines were cut, presumably to target Simon since he was the only one who drove the Lambda. Lord Hughes’s nephew Alistair and niece Poppy are frequent visitors. Poppy is pretty and guileless, but Jane doesn’t care for Alistair, who is rude to the veterans his uncle treats as part of the family and overly attentive to Lillian. Luckily Redvers, who Jane suspects does secret work for the government, accepts her help willingly in this new investigation. Even Aunt Millie admits Jane’s observational skills are sometimes useful, and asks her to keep a close eye on Lillian. This engaging second in the series is great fun.


The DamageCaitlin Wahrer
The Damage (Pamela Dorman Books 2021) is the story of a the Hall family living in the small town of Salisbury, Maine. When Julia married Tony she was worried about his need to take care of her and fix everything, but soon realized that personality trait came from growing up in a dysfunctional family. When Tony was 17 his abusive father and new wife had a baby. Tony took responsibility for his half-brother Nick, making sure he was fed and clothed and cherished. Now 18 and a college student, Nick is the victim of a violent rape by a handsome older man he met in a bar. Instead of his parents, Nick asks the police to call Tony to meet him at the hospital. Detective John Rice is assigned to the case, and is pleased to learn that one of Nick’s friends took a picture of the man, who paid a transient woman to rent the motel room with cash. Rice is concerned that Nick has no memory of the rape or beating, he blacked out after being hit over the head soon after entering the room. Julia, a lawyer experienced in sexual assault cases, trusts that Rice is a good detective capable of handling the investigation. The man Nick knew as Josh is soon identified as Raymond Walker, a respected businessman with no history of violence. Walker admits the sexual encounter, but insists it was consensual and that Nick was eager for rough sex. Walker’s mother leaps to her son’s defense, flooding Facebook with accusations against Nick. As the legal system slowly cranks through the process, Nick’s self-worth and mental stability begins to crumble, and Julia realizes Tony is prepared to do something stupid to fix the situation, saving his brother from further anguish. This stunning debut thriller is a finalist for the 2022 Edgar Award for Best Debut Novel.


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January 1, 2022

The PushAshley Audrain
The Push (Pamela Dorman Books 2021) is the story of Blythe Connor, whose mother Cecilia and grandmother Etta were both terrible mothers, neglectful and cruel. Blythe and Fox fell in love in college, totally smitten with each other. Blythe also falls in love with Fox’s family: close, supportive, and loving — so different from her own. Fox is eager for a family of their own. Blythe is consumed with fear that she won’t be a good mother, but finally gives in. The birth is difficult and Violet is not an easy baby, crying constantly when Blythe holds her though smiling and content with Fox. Other mothers are in love with their babies, but Blythe finds it impossible to connect, withdrawing from the new mothers group and isolating in their apartment. Fox can’t understand why Violet doesn’t respond to Blythe, though she does all the right things: nursing, cuddling, rocking, feeding, bathing. Desperate to rediscover herself, Blythe returns to writing, using headphones to block out Violet’s crying. Violet becomes more defiant as she grows: kicking, scratching, refusing to eat. Blythe is sure something is wrong with their daughter, but Fox believes she is exaggerating behavior he never sees while he is at work. The preschool teacher reports incidents when Violet is four: she is cruel to other children. This confirms Blythe’s worry, but Fox concludes his bright daughter is just acting out because she is bored, and the couple grows further apart. When a classmate falls to his death from a playground structure Blythe is positive Violet was right next to him before he fell. Was she responsible? Desperate to hold their marriage together, Blythe becomes pregnant again. Everything is different when Sam is born: Blythe bonds instantly to her son and caring for him is pure bliss. Even seven-year-old Violet seems to love her little brother, but Blythe can’t shake the feeling that something untrustworthy is lurking behind her daughter’s angelic smile. This intense debut psychological thriller brilliantly exposes the dark side of motherhood.


The Dark HoursMichael Connelly
The Dark Hours (Little, Brown and Company 2021) is the fourth in the series featuring Renée Ballard, a young detective in Hollywood, demoted to night shift after filing a sexual harassment complaint against a supervisor. It’s New Year’s Eve and Ballard is waiting out the inevitable shower of bullets at the stroke of midnight under an overpass with her reluctant partner Lisa Moore, a day shift detective from the Sexual Assault Unit who is unhappy about working at night. Ballard is hoping to catch the Midnight Men, two rapists who assault women in their own beds on holiday nights. Ballard knows that Moore is just marking time until her retirement in four years, and isn’t surprised when she gets little help when they are called to the death of Javier Raffa, an auto shop owner killed by a midnight bullet during the annual party he hosts for the neighborhood. Raffa was a former Las Palmas gang member who bought his way out of the gang. All the witnesses were looking at the sky at midnight as fireworks and bullets shot through the air, but no one saw the shot that killed Raffa. Ballard notices singed hair around the wound, and realizes that the kill shot did not fall from the sky. Ballistics connects the killing to the unsolved murder of Albert Lee, worked by retired homicide detective Harry Bosch ten years earlier. When Ballard tries to check out the Lee murder book, she learns it is missing, last checked out by Harry Bosch. Bosch remembers the case, but swears he didn’t remove the murder book. Then a woman reports she was raped by two men on New Year’s Eve, and Ballard verifies two unreported facts from the previous rapes, proof they are all connected. Determined to continue working both cases, Ballard is hampered by the low morale in the police department caused by the pandemic and increasing social unrest. Harry Bosch is the only person she can count on to match her dedication, but she is putting her career in jeopardy by working with an outsider. This excellent third collaboration between Ballard and Bosch leaves open the possibility of a future partnership.


The Stranger Behind YouCarol Goodman
The Stranger Behind You (William Morrow 2021) is the story of struggling magazine journalist Joan Lurie, whose article exposing newspaper tycoon Caspar Osgood as a sexual predator goes live the evening of his wife Melissa’s Solstice Gala Fundraiser at the New York City Garden Conservancy. Melissa watches in horror as everyone’s phones light up and they converge on her, demanding a statement. Joan’s editor Simon Wallace rents a restaurant to celebrate the blockbuster story, where Joan is offered a seven-figure advance for a follow-up book. Ecstatic that she might finally be able to pay off her student loans and buy some decent clothes, Joan has too much to drink, fumbling with her keys at the dark entry to her apartment door. Chloroformed and brutally attacked, Joan wakes up the next day with a bloody lump on her head, but thankfully not raped. Checking her laptop to verify all her files are still there, Joan realizes she can’t focus on the words, her blurred vision making it impossible to read. Using the book advance, Joan rents a high-security Manhattan apartment in the luxury building called the Refuge, a former Magdalen Laundry where poor “wayward” girls did hard labor while waiting to give birth. Joan’s 96-year-old neighbor Lillian Day has lived in the building since 1941, when she witnessed a murder and was sent there for her own safety. As the days pass Joan’s vision doesn’t improve, but she is too frightened to leave the building, instead ordering a voice-activated digital assistant she calls Bot, who reads and writes for her. Melissa considers asking her husband to move out, but is convinced to make a statement of support, only to discover her husband’s body in the pool the next morning. Angry and revengeful, Melissa sets out to discredit Joan and her sources while Joan searches for women Osgood took sexual advantage of who are willing to endure the notoriety of sharing their abuse. Convinced that someone is entering her apartment, Joan changes the locks but the uncomfortable feeling of being watched persists. Lillian is a welcome distraction as she gradually shares her past over cookies and cups of tea. This gothic thriller is mesmerizing.


The Apollo MurdersChris Hadfield
The Apollo Murders (Mulholland Books) is set in 1973 as NASA is preparing to launch Apollo 18, the final scheduled lunar landing mission. Though promoted as a scientific mission, Kazimieras ”Kaz” Zemeckis is sent to Houston as flight controller, sharing the top-secret information that the Russians are preparing a secret launch of Almaz, a space station to spy on America. Almaz’s cameras will be powerful enough to identify objects down to the size of small cars, a security disaster for the secret testing at remote airfields like Edwards in California and Area 51 in Nevada. Apollo 18’s mission changes to fly close enough to Almaz to take pictures, and then to land near the Russian’s lunar rover Lunokhod, which has clearly discovered something of great interest to the Russians, perhaps uranium. Five years earlier Kaz’s own chances of becoming an astronaut were destroyed when he lost an eye when his F-4 Phantom jet fighter collided with a bird. After earning his doctorate at MIT, he was recruited by the National Security Agency, which headed NASA’s lunar landing program through the 1960s. Meanwhile in Moscow, Vitaly Sergeievich Kalugin is elated to find the name of his sleeper agent in the NASA press release about Apollo 18. A few days later mission commander Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Hoffman is killed in a helicopter crash, and Major Chad Miller is appointed to take his place along with Lieutenant Michael Esdale and Captain Lucas Hemming. When Apollo 18 lands on the Moon, prepared to disable Lunokhod, they are startled to discover that two armed Cosmonauts are already there. A communication glitch leaves Apollo 18 unable to talk back to Houston, their only option to transmit zeros or ones for yes or no. This exciting debut thriller by a former astronaut and commander of the International Space Station maintains a high level of suspense to the very end.


One Got AwayS.A. Lelchuk
One Got Away (Flatiron Books 2021) begins when Berkeley, California, private investigator Nikki Griffin is hired by Martin Johannessen to protect his incredibly wealthy mother from Dr. Geoffrey Tyler Coombs, who has duped her into transferring 1.5 million dollars to his offshore account and giving him several thousand dollars of gifts plus a fully loaded 911 Porsche. Martin understands there isn’t a legal recourse since everything was freely given, but a recent overheard conversation between his mother and Coombs leads him to believe she is being blackmailed. Martin reluctantly shares contact information for his siblings William, Ron, and Susan, but says his mother is away in Scottsdale. Nikki tracks Coombs down at his hotel, and is impressed by his charisma, everyone loves him. Next she visits oldest brother William, who is under 24-hour care after a traumatic brain injury in a hit-and-run accident three weeks earlier. Sister Susan tells Nikki that she keeps her distance from her family, but has no issues with her mother spending her money any way she likes. Brother Ron won’t talk to her. Returning to the hotel Nikki discovers Coombs has checked out and headed for the airport, presumably heading home to London. After following several false trails she tracks him down at The Cypress Grove Inn, a luxury resort in Monterey where the cheapest room is $1,400 a night. Coombs helps her discourage a drunken tech entrepreneur and they have dinner together. She is surprised to feel a connection: Coombs is another lone wolf who lives for danger and excitement. In his room he pulls a gun and zip ties her, demanding to know why she is following him. He swears he isn’t blackmailing Mrs. Johannessen and she fights back just as four men enter the bungalow. They assume Nikki is a call girl, and bundle Coombs into an oversized suitcase and wheel him away. Freeing herself with the razor in the bathroom, Nikki heads out on her motorcycle, discovering the dead body of the gate security guard but no sign of the car. Fired by Martin, Nikki is re-hired by Mrs. Johannessen who offers triple what Martin was paying if she can free Coombs. With the help of her friend Buster, a giant with anger management issues, and Mason, a nerdy kid with excellent observational skills, Nikki sets out to rescue Coombs in this hair-raising second in the series.


HostageClare Mackintosh
Hostage (Sourcebooks Landmark 2021) is the story of Mina Holbrook, who dreamed of being a pilot before leaving flight school after a panic attack during her first training flight. Now a flight attendant with a five-year-old daughter Sophia, Mina worries that her marriage to Adam, a police officer, might not survive the stress of raising an adopted child with attachment disorder. Sophia was taken from neglectful mother at the age of four months, and then spend another six months in foster care while her case ground slowly through the court system. Mistrustful of adults, Sophia struggles to maintain an emotional connection to her parents, especially her father. Sophia has also been diagnosed with hyperlexia, advanced and unexpected reading skills and abilities far beyond her chronological age. Mina returned to work when Sophia’s case worker recommended it would help with Sophia’s attachment issues, that she would learn to trust her mother would always return to her. Parenting Sophia is incredibly stressful, and Mina began to look forward to her overnight trips. They hired Ukrainian Katya as an au pair, which worked well until Katya left unexpectedly in six months earlier, telling Mina to ask Adam about her reason for leaving. Now separated, Adam stays in the house with Sophia when Mina is working, struggling with the constant reminders that it is Mummy their daughter wants. Desperate for a break, Mina trades assignments with another flight attendant so she can work the inaugural non-stop 20-hour flight between London and Sydney: five days away from home. Sophia has memorized all the details about the Boeing 777 including the four pilots and sixteen crew members who take turns working and resting. Mina is the senior flight attendant, working in First Class, which is salted with journalists, celebrities, and Instagram influencers. There isn’t a single empty seat on the plane. Shortly after take-off it is announced that the wi-fi isn’t working, causing great distress to the journalists. Mina finds an EpiPen on the counter in the galley with a scuffed label: Sophia Holbrook. Too busy to worry about how it got onto the plane, Mina drops it into her pocket. Later she finds a picture of Sophie from that very morning at school drop-off, which panics her. Nine hours from Sydney she finds an envelope addressed to her as they are cleaning up the meal service. Inside is a letter giving her a choice: save her daughter’s life or allow a passenger to enter the flight deck. Unsure which of the 353 passengers are terrorists, Mina struggles to balance her compulsion to save her daughter with the reality of a plane held hostage in this terrifying thriller.


All Her Little SecretsWanda M. Morris
All Her Little Secrets (William Morrow 2021) is the story of Ellice Littlejohn, a successful corporate attorney for Houghton Transportation Company in Atlanta, the only Black employee outside the security department. Eillice escaped her neglectful controlling mother with the help of a neighbor who facilitated her acceptance as a scholarship student to elite boarding school at the age of 14. Eillice has always felt guilty for abandoning her younger brother Sam, who has had several brushes with the law. Ellice has been sleeping with her boss Michael Sayles for years now, trying to convince herself she is satisfied with the role of mistress and the frequent early morning assignations in his office on the 20th floor. One fateful morning she enters the building before security goes on duty, and discovers Michael’s body, shot through the temple with a gun in his hand. Horrified, Ellice flees down to her tiny office on the 18th floor, protecting their secret affair. Late that day she is called to CEO Nate Ashe’s executive suite. Head of HR Willow Somerville joins them and Ellice is sure they know of the affair and that she is being fired now that Michael is no longer there to protect her. Instead, she is offered Michael’s job as Houghton’s executive vice president and general counsel. Though a promotion is to the executive team is what Ellice dreamed of, she is startled by the offer until she realizes it’s all about PR. Protesters have been picketing outside the building for three months, accusing Houghton of discriminatory hiring practices, and promoting the lone Black attorney is good optics. After the funeral Elise is flown by private jet to Nat’s country club in Savannah, which has only one token Black member. She is shunned by most of the guests, and overhears conversations objecting to her promotion. Michael’s wife gives her an envelope containing Michael’s resignation letter from Houghton, and email printouts indicating financial discrepancies. Ellice considers resigning herself, but Nate’s second in command threatens to reveal events from her past that could ruin her. And the police detective investigating Michael’s murder shows her a security tape of a man in a hoodie that looks a lot like her brother Sam. This debut legal thriller by a former corporate lawyer is a deft mix of corporate politics and the importance of family.


Gone For GoodJoanna Schaffhausen
Gone for Good (Minotaur Books 2021) introduces Chicago police detective Annalisa Vega. Twenty years earlier, when Annalisa was in high school, the Lovelorn Killer murdered seven dark-haired women, binding them with rope, slowly strangling them, and then sending a love letter addressed to the victim to the press. His final victim was Katie Duffy, the mother of Annalisa’s boyfriend Colin. Annalisa is called to the scene of a new murder: grocery store assistant manager Grace Harper has been killed in the same way. Analisa is partnered with her ex-husband Nick Carelli, who calls her to Grace’s office upstairs, one wall covered with photographs of dead women strangled with ropes — the Lovelorn Killer’s seven victims. They learn that Grace was part of a group called Grave Diggers, amateur sleuths investigating cold cases. Grace was interviewed by a TV news team, stating she had a new theory about the Lovelorn Killer, something never explored by the police. Grace hadn’t shared her theory with the Grave Digger group yet, and her notes and laptop computer are missing. One of the Grave Diggers remembers that Grace thought there might be a connection between the weather and the murders: a big storm before each one. Annalisa’s father was a detective at the time of Katie Duffy’s killing, sidelined because their families were close friends, now retired and suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Determined to catch the killer, Annalisa minimizes her own connection to Katie and tries to recreate Grace’s research. After being caught on film by reporters outside Grace’s house, Annalisa receives a phone call from someone with a disguised voice and realizes she is talking to the Lovelorn Killer. Interspersed sections from Grace’s journal document her investigation into the killings and her realization that the killer must be someone totally ordinary, invisible in the neighborhoods where he stalked his victims. This tense and well-plotted series launch is excellent.


False WitnessKarin Slaughter
False Witness (William Morrow 2021) begins when Atlanta defense attorney Leigh Collier gets a call from one of the firm’s partners assigning her a case. Leigh is surprised since she’s sure Cole Bradley doesn’t even know who she is, but learns that the defendant Andrew Tenant fired his previous attorney and requested her specifically. Leigh isn’t thrilled to be defending the wealthy man accused of a violent rape, especially since the trial begins in only a week, but it’s clear she needs to accept if she wants to keep her job. Andrew has invoked his right to a speedy trial, and refused a reduced charge in exchange for a year of monitored probation. The firm’s private investigator discovered that a guilty admission would expose him to additional charges — rapes with a similar pattern of violence. At the client meeting Andrew is accompanied by his tattooed fiancée Sidney Winslow and his mother Linda, whose voice sounds familiar. But it’s not until Andrew asks about Leigh’s younger sister Callie that she realizes who he is: the child Callie was babysitting the night his father Buddy Waleski disappeared twenty years earlier. Callie was only 14 at the time. Buddy had been raping her for two years when she accidentally discovered his video equipment, stabbing him with a kitchen knife when he attacked her. Somehow Andrew, only 10 at the time, has learned the truth of that fateful night, and is determined to blackmail Leigh into using illegally acquired evidence to destroy the rape victim on the stand. With the help of her fragile sister, for years a heroin addict, Leigh searches desperately for a way to prevent the man she is convinced is a violent rapist from harming anyone else, especially her own 16-year-old daughter. This disturbing thriller pits the two determined sisters against a pathological rapist growing more violent with each attack.


Last Girl GhostedLisa Unger
Last Girl Ghosted (Park Row 2021) is the story of New Yorker Wren Greenwood, persuaded by her best friend Jax to create a profile on the dating app Torch. Her first two dates didn’t go anywhere, and tonight’s date is with Adam Harper, a cybersecurity expert who quotes Rilke. They don’t connect at the noisy bar, but when Adam walks her home Wren relaxes and agrees to a followup dinner, which is so successful they begin seeing each other every day. Adam hates crowds and avoids the subway, but Wren also loves to walk and they enjoy finding new places to eat every evening, spending most nights together in Wren’s brownstone. Three months later they still haven’t met each other’s friends, but Wren feels safe enough to share the dark secrets of her childhood past, though she doesn’t reveal that she is Dear Birdie, the Chronicle advice columnist and podcaster. The next morning Adam says he wants to ask her something important that evening and then disappears. Determined not to let Adam ghost her, Wren texts and leaves voicemails, which go unanswered until the number is disconnected. His profile on Torch has been removed, there are no new posts on his rarely-used social media accounts dealing with security related matters, and his Chelsea apartment she visited only twice turns out to be a vacation rental. Private investigator Bailey Kirk appears at her door, displaying a picture of the man she knew as Adam, who was dating his client’s daughter when she disappeared nine months ago. Mia Thorpe knew him as Raife Mannes and also met him on Torch. Bailey believes Adam is also responsible for the disappearance of two other troubled young women, who vanished along with their money. Horrified, yet hoping it isn’t true, Wren begins searching for Adam. Interspersed chapters from “Then” reveal Wren’s childhood in a remote compound off the grid, where her family relocated after her father returned from a tour overseas filled with rage and paranoia. Wren’s journey to find the truth about the man she still believes might be her true love while facing the demons of her past is riveting.


Hummingbird SalamanderJeff VanderMeer
Hummingbird Salamander (MDC 2021) begins when security consultant “Jane Smith” receives an anonymous envelope containing the address to a storage facility and a key from the barista at her local coffee shop in the Pacific Northwest. In the nearly empty storage unit she finds only a medium-sized cardboard box sitting on a wooden chair. Inside the box is a taxidermy hummingbird and a note with only three words: Hummingbird… Salamander… Silvina. Jane knows salamanders well from her childhood growing up in the woods near their farm, but the hummingbird and the name Silvina are a mystery. Used to keeping secrets, Jane hides the box containing the hummingbird in the trunk of her car, and doesn’t say anything to her husband or teenage daughter. The next day at work she searches the hummingbird, discovering four microscopic numbers etched into the eye sockets. Cautious by nature and profession, Jane uses her colleague Larry’s computer to search for the hummingbird, discovering that Selastrephes griffin is considered extinct. She asks her assistant Allie to research “Better Days Storage Palace + Silvina” and learns Silvina was the rogue daughter of the powerful Argentine Vilcapampa family, the ecoterrorist daughter of a big game hunter who died in a car accident seven days earlier. Six feet tall and 230 pounds, Jane is a former wrestler and weight lifter who stays in shape with frequent visits to a seedy gym. She stores the hummingbird in her gym locker, along with her go-bag containing stacks of cash and burner phones. Jane isn’t sure what prompted her to buy the pre-made go-bag and obtain a secret credit card, but realizes she may need it when her husband discovers someone has been watching their home. After Larry is brutally attacked and left in a coma, Jane tells her husband to take their daughter and hide somewhere while she tries to evade pursuit and find the salamander Silvina must have hidden somewhere. This complex thriller set in a world threatened by climate change and pandemics follows the clever and driven Jane on a year-long quest to find the truth and hopefully save the world.


Steel FearBrandon Webb & John David Mann
Steel Fear (Bantam 2021) begins when Chief Finn, a Navy SEAL sniper, boards the USS Abraham Lincoln for transport home from Bahrain in the Persian Gulf. Finn is being sent home in disgrace: an entire settlement of Yemeni locals were slaughtered in Mukalla, and he has no memory of the event. Finn tries to locate the official reports, but is told he no longer has access. Finn spends most of his time wandering the multiple decks of the huge aircraft carrier, making a mental map of entries, exits, choke points, hatches, etc. Like all snipers, Finn has extraordinary powers of observation, automatically scanning for anything unusual or out of place. He notices morale is low and leadership is weak: Captain Eagleberg doesn’t give the usual morning announcement and rarely interacts with anyone. Monica Halsey is a helicopter pilot, close to earning her helicopter aircraft commander qualification. Unfortunately her commanding officer Nikos Papadakis is in charge of that, and he doesn’t like Monica one bit. Monica spends most of her free time reviewing a recent helicopter crash that killed four of her friends, searching for the cause. As the days pass, morale grows worse when first Sam Schofield and then Kristine Shiflin, a jet pilot and Monica’s best friend, disappear overboard leaving typed suicide notes behind. Finn finds the cap to a hypodermic needle on the deck, leading him to believe that neither Shiflin nor Schofield committed suicide — there is a serial killer on board. Command Master Chief Robbie Jackson fears Finn may be right, but the Captain refuses to authorize an investigation. The next death is impossible to ignore, and the Captain decides Finn himself must be the culprit. There were no problems before he boarded the ship, and the Captain and others are suspicious of the mystery surrounding Finn’s past. This complex thriller featuring the enigmatic Finn is the fiction debut of the non-fiction co-authors: former Navy SEAL Brandon Webb and award-winning author John David Mann.


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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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