2024 Reviews
June 1, 2024

The Dead YearsJeffrey B. Burton
The Dead Years (Severn House 2024) introduces 23-year-old Cory Pratt, owner of a small dog training academy in Chicago. Cory lives with his older sister Crystal, a newly minted detective in the Violent Crimes division, who encouraged him to train two search-and-rescue dogs specialized for human remains detection. Crystal is working a missing persons case: voice-over actor Tim Gorski has been missing for five days, since he left work on Friday. Cory takes bloodhound Molly and springer spaniel Rex, his two cadaver dogs to search the woods behind Gorski’s home, and the dogs discover his body. Gorski has been stabbed and then dragged a hundred yards off the trail. No motive is apparent: he wasn’t robbed, Gorski’s colleagues have only nice things to say about him, and his relationship with his ex-wife was amicable. The next missing person is Casey Oselka, a documentary filmmaker reported missing when his wife returns home from a trip. The dogs find his murdered body in the utility room, stabbed to death, wrapped in layers of plastic, and stowed in a long box labeled “Christmas tree.” Oselka and Gorski had worked together several times, most recently on a documentary called “On the Trail of the Dead Night Killer,” about an Illinois serial killer who tortured his victims for hours before stabbing them. The Dead Night Killer left no physical evidence behind, and either stopped killing or left the state seven years ago. Fearing the two new murders are connected to the Dead Night Killer, a task force is assembled and other members of the documentary crew placed under guard. Cory helps with the surveillance, posing as a neighbor walking his dog, and is attacked. Rex chases the man and catches his scent, becoming a target himself. This intense series opener is the first in the Chicago K-9 thrillers.

Birnam WoodEleanor Catton
Birnam Wood (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2023) begins when horticulturist Mira Bunting reads about the landslide that has closed the Korowai Pass on New Zealand’s South Island, isolating the small town of Thorndike. As the leader of the Birnam Wood guerrilla gardening collective, Mira is interested in a farm near Thorndike that was taken off the market after the landslide. Farm owner Owen Darvish was recently named in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, and Mira is sure he and his wife Jill will be happily celebrating in Wellington for the next few months until the road reopens. Birnam Wood has been planting crops in areas no one will notice for years, but struggles to break even. Mira hopes that a season of gardening at the Darvish farm will finally make Birnam Wood solvent and get the monthly produce subscription service proposed by her roommate Shelly Noakes off the ground. Mira sets off alone to scout out the farm in her usual disguise of bicycling birdwatcher toting a camera and backpack. Meanwhile, American billionaire Robert Lemoine has made private arrangements with Darvish to buy the farm with the cover story of building a survival bunker. Lemoine’s illegal mining operation in the nearby Korowai National Park caused the landslide, and he plans to use the empty construction delivery trucks to remove trillions of dollars of rare earth materials. Lemoine surprises Mira at the farm, placing tracking software on her phone while sharing his contact information with the offer to get permission from Darvish to allow Birnam Wood to use the farm. Tony Gallo, one of the original Birnam Woods members, has just returned from several years teaching English in Mexico City. He attends a Birnam Wood cooperative meeting and is suspicious of Mira’s story of her encounter with Lemoine. Hoping to finally get his journalism career off the ground, Tony sets off to spy on Lemoine and the Darvish farm, discovering fenced off areas in the Korowai National Park monitored by armed guards. This witty and suspenseful ecological thriller examines the motivations that drive individuals to make bad decisions.

Missing White WomanKellye Garrett
Missing White Woman (Mulholland Books 2024) opens as Breanna (Bree) Wright, is struggling to unlock the door at the luxury Airbnb four-story row house in Jersey City her boyfriend Tylor (Ty) Franklin rented for a weekend get-away from Baltimore. Ty is working late at the local financial advisor office and Bree is nervous about being Black and alone in the wealthy neighborhood, looking very much like she is trying to break into the house. Bree’s mother thinks she is rushing her relationship with her new boyfriend, but Bree is really looking forward to their planned two days in New York City. While waiting for Ty to finally arrive, Bree wastes time on TikTok, noticing a picture of a young blond woman Labeled “Where is Janelle Beckett?” Heading out for a run the next morning, Ty and Bree run into a group of neighbors carrying flyers. Janelle Beckett walked many of their dogs, and they are worried that she has been missing for several days. Ty has promised Bree that he won’t be doing any work during her visit, but is unable to resist his vibrating phone, disappearing into the office when they return. Bree finds a TikTok influencer named Billie Regan, who has suspended her usual makeup tips to talk about the disappearance of one of her followers: Janelle Beckett. Two hours later Bree and most of the Internet are convinced something awful has happened to Janelle. Trying to pry Ty out of the office, Bree accidentally knocks a drink over near Ty’s computer, and he panics, quickly rescuing a jump drive. Guilty about spoiling their romantic weekend, Ty convinces Bree to stay an extra day so he can finish his project. The next morning Bree finds a dead body downstairs and no sign of Ty. The #JusticeForJanelle Internet mob explodes, only too willing to assume Ty is guilty and posting pictures of young Black men who just might be Ty. Bree contacts Billie Regan, hoping to defuse the situation, but Bille seems willing to do just about anything to boost her TikTok ratings. Bree was arrested for something she didn’t do as a college student, and knows first-hand how unwilling the police are to listen to those they believe are guilty, and sets out to find the truth in this propulsive thriller.

Everyone Who Can Forgive MeJenny Hollander
Everyone Who Can Forgive Me Is Dead (Minotaur Books 2024) begins when Charlotte “Charlie” Colbert, a successful editor-in-chief for a New York magazine, learns that a former classmate is planning to make a film about “Scarlett Christmas,” the bloody incident at her elite British graduate school nine years earlier that resulted in multiple deaths and sent her into a spiral of depression. What no one else knows is that Charlie’s memory of that awful Christmas Eve at Carroll University School of Journalism is fragmented. The story she told the police is what she hoped was the truth, but she doesn’t know for sure. In fact, she fears she herself may have had a part in the violence. When another classmate wrote a book two years after the incident, Charlie had already moved away, starting her new life in America. At that time it was easier to ignore the requests for her comments. The film intended to debut on the 10-year-anniversary will be harder since Charlie has been informed that everyone else involved has agreed to be interviewed. Dr. Noor Nazari, Charlie’s therapist, has been urging her for years to work through her suppressed memories, but Charlie begins to panic whenever she tries to remember the details. She has learned to avoid things that trigger the panic attacks, like elevators, but fears she won’t be able to keep the press from targeting her family again. As the pressure builds, Charlie decides her only way through is to finally face her fears of what might have happened and try to remember everything. For the first time in nearly a decade Charlie intentionally looks back at her graduate school years, remembering the close friendships, the romance, the envy, and the animosity. This debut psychological thriller slowly unravels the past as Charlie struggles to remember the truth that will either destroy her completely or finally set her free.

The Silver BoneAndrey Kurkov
The Silver Bone (HarperVia 2024, Russian 2020) begins in 1919 Kyiv when the father of teenage electrical engineering student Samson Theophilovich Kolechko is killed in the street by a White Russian Cossack fighting for control of the city with the new Soviet Red Army. His father’s falling body pushes Samson to safety, though he loses his right ear to the next saber. Samson convinces a nearby doctor to bind his head, keeping the ear in the hope it can be reattached. Using the Kerensky rubles in his father’s wallet, Sampson buries his father in the family grave next to his mother and sister, and returns to the empty flat, placing his severed ear in the drawer of his father’s desk. The ninth day after his father’s death Samson considers returning to the cemetery to mourn his father as the Orthodox tradition decrees, but decides it is too dangerous. The yardsweeper’s widow takes pity on orphaned Sampson, helping him buy food and offering to find him a wife to take care of him: Nadezhda, a sturdy young statistician helping with the city’s census. Two Red Army soldiers appear requisitioning sewing machines, and notice the young man alone in the large flat. Soon they have moved in, taking over Samson’s father’s study. The room is crowded with the huge desk, so they report it as excess furniture and cart it away. Discovering that the directive permits one desk per family, Samson visits the police station and fills out a complaint form, covering two pages with his neat handwriting. Reporting back to the station the next day, Comrade Nayden agrees that the desk should not have been requisitioned, but unfortunately they will be keeping it since most of the furniture in the station was destroyed in the riots. Instead, Nayden compliments Sampson on his detailed report and offers him a job helping to combat the current banditry and disorder, working at his father’s desk in his own office. Sampson is reluctant to work for the Red Army, but the vouchers for free food at the Soviet cafeteria change his mind. Though he has no experience investigating crime, Samson writes reports on the blank sides of old tsarist police cases and works on the murder of a tailor. At home he listens to the conversations between the two Red Army soldiers, learning that they are stealing silver objects, but never gold or precious stones. This Kafkaesque historical mystery inspired by the archives of Kyiv’s secret police is the first in the Kyiv Mysteries by this Ukranian author.

Small MerciesDennis Lehane
Small Mercies (Harper 2023) is set in the “Southie” neighborhood of Boston in the summer of 1974. Desegregation of Boston public schools is in the works, and Irish mob boss Marty Butler is organizing neighborhood protests and rallies. Mary Pat Fennessy, a Southie single mother barely making ends meet with her job as a hospital aide at a nursing home, is worried because her barely 17-year-old daughter Jules didn’t come home the previous night. Both her daughter’s boyfriend “Rum” Collins and best friend Brenda Morello tell Mary Pat they were all hanging out together at Columbia Park before walking down to Carson Beach at 11:45 PM, and then Jules left to walk home alone at 12:45 AM. The strangeness of the specific times from teenagers who never know the exact time convinces Mary Pat they are both lying. That same night a young Black man is found dead at the neighborhood subway station, struck by a train. As the days pass and Jules doesn’t return, Mary Pat is propelled by a desperate need to find her daughter, drawing attention to herself by attacking Rum in a bar and antagonizing the drug dealer she blames for her son’s death by overdose a few years earlier. Her rage attracts the attention of the police detectives investigating the subway death, and Butler and his crew warn her behave herself, worried about police presence in the neighborhood. But Mary Pat has nothing to live for if something has happened to Jules, and continues spiraling out of control. This intense crime thriller exploring ingrained racism and the desperation of poverty is a finalist for the 2024 Barry Award for Best Novel.

Moscow XDavid McCloskey
Moscow X (W.W. Norton & Company 2023) begins when Artemis Aphrodite Procter, a talented CIA Chief of Station, is sent back to Langley from her current assignment in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, for yet another embarrassing incident. Resigned to two years in the Penalty Box, a headquarters stint under close supervision, Proctor convinces the CIA Deputy Director to put her in charge of Moscow X, a backroom shop running shady Russian ops. Andrei Agapov has been in a power struggle for three decades with Vassily Platonovich Gusev, former director of the FSB and now one of Putin’s closest advisors. Gusev has just stolen a fortune of gold bullion from Agapov, who instructs his daughter Anna Andreevna Agapova, a Russian undercover intelligence officer working at Bank Rossiya, to find where Gusev has hidden his money. Anna tracks the money to Hynes Dawson, a London law firm that specializes in concealing fortunes for the rich, and focuses on Sia Fox, the Hynes Dawson lawyer managing Gusev’s account. Hoping to find blackmail material, Anna calls Sia asking for a meeting in London to discuss some clients at Bank Rossiya’s Private Wealth Division. Anna lives apart from her detested husband Vadim Kovalchuk, Putin’s private banker at Bank Rossiya, who has become passionate about horse racing. When Proctor learns about the gold theft, she decides Vadim might be a vehicle for intensifying the conflict between Agapov and Gusev, and hopefully further destabilize Putin’s government. Procter calls on Max Castillo, owner of a Mexican high-end horse farm that has been a CIA front since the 1960s for help. Posing as Max’s girlfriend, Sia convinces Anna and her husband to meet her in Mexico instead of London, with the lure of visiting Max’s San Cristobal horse farm and bidding on a valuable breeding stallion Vadim’s RusFarm badly needs to improve his stock. Anna convinces her husband to make the trip and buy the stallion, in turn inviting Max and Sia to visit RusFarm near Saint Petersburg, sure she can pry information about the stolen gold from Sia once she has her on Russian soil. This character-driven espionage thriller is highly recommended.

West Heart KillDann McDorman
West Heart Kill (Knopf 2023) begins when private detective Adam McAnnis joins an old college friend for Fourth of July weekend in the mid-1970s at the remote West Heart Club in upstate New York. McAnnis is surprised by the extensive acreage of the exclusive private hunting club, consisting of a huge lodge and private cabins owned by the members clustered around a lake. Though other members and their families are in residence, the action centers on six families who have been part of the club for generations plus a prospective new member. McAnnis quickly picks up undercurrents of resentment between the families, mixed feelings about accepting the Club’s first Jewish member, secret adulterous affairs, and strong differences of opinion about the possibility of selling the club. McAnnis is investigating something for someone, but exactly who or what is unclear. The narrator muses about the mystery fiction genre: the accepted rules of fair play clues for the reader, narration techniques, the locked room trope, the final reveal by the detective. There is a near-fatal hunting accident and a body is discovered in the lake. As tensions rise, a storm closes the only access road, trapping everyone at West Heart Club. This ambitious debut mystery is a finalist for the New Blood Dagger.

Zero DaysRuth Ware
Zero Days (Gallery/Scout Press 2023) begins late one night when Jacintha “Jack” Cross is breaking into the Arden Allience insurance group, her husband Gabriel “Gabe” Medway whispering into her earpiece from his computer den back at their house. Jack and Gabe are security penetration specialists, hired by companies to test the strengths and weaknesses of their systems. All is going well until a ceiling tile falls while Jack is crawling above, alerting the guards. Jack shows the police the letter from Arden Allience authorizing them to conduct a physical and digital penetration of their offices, but no one answers the office phone at midnight on the weekend. Two hours later Jack finally gets permission to call Gabe, the only number she has memorized since her phone is out of power, but he doesn’t answer either. Jack gives up and resigns herself to being arrested when Jeff Leadbetter appears, the detective who abused her and then stalked her after she ended their relationship. Jeff vouches for her but that doesn’t make Jack feel any better and she leaves the station soaked in panic sweat. Arriving home at 4:00 AM Jack finds the door unlocked and Gabe dead in front of his computer monitor, throat slashed and drenched in blood. Jack plugs in her phone and collapses from shock. When she comes to she dials 999 and is soon back at another police station, retelling the story of her night endless times. Finally released at 8:00 AM, Jack is delivered to her sister Helen’s house since hers is still a crime scene. Waking up later that day and going over it all again with her sister and brother-in-law, Helen realizes Jack herself is a suspect because of the missing hours between finding Gabe’s body and calling the police. Jack can’t believe they would suspect her, and heads back to the station for yet another interview, where she receives a confirmation of a mysterious huge life insurance policy for Gabe, and then overhears the detectives planning to arrest her. Fleeing the station, Jack retrieves the go-bag Gabe insisted they prepare, and runs. Determined to figure out who really killed Gabe and framed her for his murder, Jack leaves her own technology behind and goes dark. Could it be Jeff Leadbetter still intent on revenge? Or is there another motive behind Gabe’s murder? This intense thriller is a finalist for the Barry Award for Best Thriller.

The ExcitementsCJ Wray
The Excitements (William Morrow 2024) starts when London art gallery owner Archie Williamson meets his great-aunts Josephine and Penny in Sloane Square. Archie is in charge of planning weekly “Excitements” for his great-aunts, and today’s lunch is to discuss their upcoming part in the VE Day celebration at the Royal Albert Hall. Both in their late 90s, the great-aunts served in World War Two: Josephine was a Wren (Women’s Royal Naval Services) and Penny a FANY (First Aid Nursing Yeomantry). Archie first met his great-aunts as a child, and the small boy immediately bonded with the two women in their 60s, who treated him as a small adult and were interested in his opinions and preferences. The sisters taught Archie to live life by their philosophy, borrowed from a fictional alley cat named Mehitable — one must be toujours gai. Soon after the Albert Hall celebration Archie gets a call from the French ambassador to London. The sisters have been nominated for the Légion d’honneur for their services to France in the war. Archie is thrilled about a trip to Paris, and his great-aunts don’t have the heart to tell him that secretly each has her own reason for not wanting to go. Excepts from Penny’s diary from July 1939, when she and Josephine were spending the summer with relatives in Paris, reveal events that changed both their lives. Just 17, Josephine fell in love with August Samuel, who showed them the safe hidden in the floorboards of their apartment bathroom, filled with jewels smuggled out of Austria when the family fled to Paris. Meanwhile Penny (14) discovered she had a talent for languages, and was soon fluent in French. Their idyllic summer was ended by a telegram from their father, “War imminent. Send girls home.” Back home Josephine suffered through a mysterious illness and then joined the Wrens, and Penny became a FANY as soon as she was old enough. Archie has always suspected that the great-aunts had a more exciting past than they revealed, especially after Aunt Penny quickly dealt with a would-be mugger using just her umbrella on their way home from a late show. In Paris Archie is horrified to realize that Davina Mackenzie, Josephine’s Wren nemesis who now claims the honor of being the oldest surviving Wren, is also being awarded the Légion d’honneur. Meanwhile Penny, who also has a talent for shoplifting, is planning a heist to settle old scores, hoping to finally put an end to events that have haunted her for decades. This enjoyable caper novel is the first under the CJ Wray pseudonym by romance author Christine Manby.

May 1, 2024

Death in Fine ConditionAndrew Cartmel
Death in Fine Condition (Titan Books 2023) introduces Cordelia Stanmer, a former drug addict turned vintage paperback collector. To support her collecting mania, Cordelia sells duplicate copies, often forging author signatures with her treasured fountain pen. She barely makes enough profit to pay her rent, and bribes church booksale volunteers to set aside unique volumes. She is a regular visitor to London charity shops and jumble sales, hunting for collector’s items. Cordelia would love to own a complete set of the vintage Sleuth Hound volumes, beautifully illustrated and very rare. On a regular visit to buy the weed that helps her resist stronger drugs, Cordelia is shuffled into a side room while her elderly dealer speaks with an unexpected caller. Bored, she explores the room and notices a small framed photograph of two people in front of a bookshelf: a tiny old woman and a large man she dubs the Ginger Thug. Peering closer, Cordelia realizes the bookshelf is stuffed full of Sleuth Hound paperbacks that appear to be in fine condition. She takes a picture of the photograph and asks a hopefully casual question about the people, but Mrs Chichester hustles her out without answering. On the street she notices a man climbing into a vintage sports car, unmistakable the same Ginger Thug. From the top of a double-decker bus, Cordelia follows the progress of the car, hastily exiting the bus when their directions diverge and continuing her pursuit on foot to a little house in a cul-de-sac. Through a window she recognizes the same wall paper as in the photograph and takes photos of the lock on the front door. Cordelia has never picked a lock before, or committed a burglary, but she can’t resist the lure of those Sleuth Hound volumes. It’s only after she makes off with a back pack stuffed with books that she learns the Ginger Thug is a notorious criminal, a dangerous gangster who is determined to retrieve his property and take vengeance on the thief. This darkly funny cozy crime caper is the first in the Paperback Sleuth series.

Kill for Me Kill for YouSteve Cavanagh
Kill for Me, Kill for You (Atria Book 2024) begins when Amanda White uses her old baby bottle sterilizer to remove her DNA from a .22 caliber revolver. She then follows her target onto the New York subway, determined to kill the man who kidnapped and murdered her six-year-old daughter Jess. Amanda’s husband Luis took Jess to the park while Amanda worked on a painting. Jess ran on ahead to the ice cream stand, and the last Luis saw of her was with a dark-haired man who took her hand and hustled her away. Three days later her body was found discarded in a dumpster in Queens and Luis committed suicide the next week while Amanda was under hospital sedation. Detective Andrew Farrow found security footage of a man walking away with a little girl. Neither could be identified, but he suspects it was Walter Crone, a wealthy stockbroker questioned a few years before about the abduction and murder of another child. Crone’s wealthy father gave him an alibi for the time of Jess’s abduction, and charges against Crone were dismissed for lack of evidence. Crone obtained a restraining order against Amanda when she began stalking him and recognizes her behind him on the subway. Amanda manages to dispose of the gun before the police arrive and Farrow negotiates a mandatory Parental Trauma and Bereavement counseling program instead of jail time. Amanda is asked to choose an alias to maintain anonymity and endures the first session in silence, horrified by Betty who talks about the release of forgiveness and drawn to Wendy who declares that some people don’t ever deserve forgiveness. Amanda sees Wendy enter a bar after the session, and follows her inside. The two bond over their inability to get past their crushing grief and anger, ending up at Wendy’s nearby apartment after drinking too much. There Amanda discovers a room that looks very familiar, covered with photos and newspaper articles and a three-year-old death notice for a fifteen-year-old girl. A few days later they come up with a brilliant plan, they can swap murders like Strangers on a Train. Interspersed is the story of Ruth Gelman, a Manhattan real estate agent who barely survives multiple stabbings during a home invasion because sirens responding to a 911 call next door frighten her attacker away. Ruth suffers debilitating panic attacks, unable to resume her life for fear the blue-eyed man will return to finish the job, and grief-stricken because her injuries make it impossible for her to bear a child. Detective Farrow, nicknamed St. Jude for his habit of pursuing hopeless cases, is sure Ruth’s attacker is the same man who has killed other women, a serial killer who leaves not a trace behind. He agrees Ruth is in danger since she is perhaps able to identify him from the brief glimpse of his face reflected her window and the raspy voice that called her sweetheart. This thriller featuring grieving women out for revenge is both frightening and surprising.

The Mountain KingAnders de la Motte
The Mountain King (Atria 2024, Sweden 2022) introduces Leonore “Leo” Asker, a criminal inspector in Malmö, Sweden. Leo’s parents divorced when she was young, and she chose to stay with her father Per, unaware he was slipping into the madness of paranoia and preparing for the doomsday he believed soon to come. Her only friend was Martin Hill, a fellow student bullied for weakness caused by a bad heart. The two enjoyed exploring caves and abandoned buildings, dreaming of the day they could escape to high school in a larger town. But Martin moved away and Leo’s father’s connection with reality grew weaker. Years later Leo has discovered the challenges of police work suit her personality and is steadily moving up the ranks. Then 19-year-old Smilla Holst and her 22-year-old boyfriend Malik Mansur don’t return from a hike together. Malik is a second year architecture student at Lund University, and Smilla, just graduated from high school, is the daughter of the richest family in Malmö. Smilla’s parents hire Leo’s mother, a successful lawyer, to represent them, and the commissioner decides to replace Leo as head of the Major Crime Division during the duration of the investigation to avoid any hint of conflict of interest. Leo is banished to the odd cases department in the basement known as the Department of Lost Souls as the temporary replacement for Bengt Sandgren, unconscious in the hospital after a bad fall at home. The three other “HR Nightmare” department workers are all strange and seem to do little work, so Leo begins sifting through the dusty piles of paper in Sandgren’s office and discovers a peculiar report of someone secretly adding buildings and intricately painted tiny figures to an extensive model train layout. One of the figures seems to represent Bengt’s goddaughter who disappeared four years earlier: a young blond woman wearing a red backback running in terror through the woods. The newest figures of a young couple taking a selfie look eerily like Malik and Smilla. Learning that Malik was a student in Martin’s urban architecture class, Leo works up the courage to reconnect with the one person who understands her fraught childhood. Interspersed chapters from Smilla imprisoned under the mountain in a dark cell, and from the perspective of the secretive “Mountain King,” add a looming sense of doom to this series opener.

Five Bad DeedsCaz Frear
Five Bad Deeds (Harper 2023) is the story of Ellen Walsh, happily married with twin three-year-old boys and a 16-year-old daughter. Ellen has been doing part-time tutoring while the twins were small, but is now actively searching for a full-time teaching position while overseeing the renovations of Meadowhouse, their perfect home in Thames Lawley outside London. Then Ellen gets an anonymous letter: “Sooner or later everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.” Ellen knows she has made some mistakes, but believes she is not a bad person, and has never intentionally hurt anyone. But someone is clearly out to destroy her reputation by exposing five bad deeds, beginning with leaking some old Facebook photos when she has clearly had too much to drink, resulting in a visit from Social Services as a possibly unfit mother. Each threatening message and bad deed reveal is worse than the one before, shining the worst possible light on events from Ellen’s life in a nefariously orchestrated character assassination that threatens to destroy everything and everyone she loves. Desperate to conceal the one bad thing she truly feels guilty about, Ellen frantically tries to figure out who can possibly hate her enough to want to destroy her life. Interspersed sections from the perspectives of her husband, teenage daughter, sister, and neighbors reveal views of Ellen’s past and present that aren’t as positive as her own in this intense novel of suspense.

The Mystery WriterSulari Gentill
The Mystery Writer (Poisoned Pen Press 2024) begins when Theodosia (Theo) Benton appears on the doorstep of her older brother Gus in Lawrence, Kansas, carrying two suitcases. Theo confesses that she has dropped out of law school, giving up her dream of following in Gus’s footsteps after taking a creative writing course that ignited a passion for writing a novel. A complicated trust set up by their grandfather after his only daughter eloped with a penniless Australian musician required both his grandchildren to attend law school or forfeit their inheritance. Gus offers to inform the trustees that Theo is taking the semester off to assist him with a case, giving her until the end of the year to write her novel and make a final decision about her future. Gus suggests that Theo find a place outside the house to write, perhaps a bar that is nearly empty during the day, and Theo discovers Benders. In a week, Theo has a routine. She arrives at Benders at 9:00 AM, settles into her usual corner table with coffee, her laptop, her notes, and her good luck charm — a battered copy of a Jack Chase thriller Gus had inscribed for her years earlier. Theo never met Jack Chase, whose career ended after allegations of sexual misconduct. Theo gets to know the wait staff at Benders and establishes a nodding relationship with another regular who sits at a table by the window. One day Theo drops her Jack Chase book and the man picks it up for her, asking what she is working on. When she admits she is working on a novel he introduces himself as Dan Murdoch, a well known novelist. A few days later he appears with his own laptop, telling Theo he has ben inspired to get back to work after suffering writer’s block. He offers suggestions about her work but is cagey about sharing his own, though he does show Theo websites he is trawling for ideas, conspiracy theorists he follows as research. Theo is startled by the crazy ideas about lizard people and zombies, and Dan explains he is searching for the ideas that almost make sense, the internally consistent worlds that have enough connections to reality to be plausible. One is Minotaur and the Labyrinth, led by Primus. Interspersed sections introduce Caleb, who is following his hero Primus online, convinced that Primus is a real American patriot, the only person who truly understands the insurrection and chaos that is imminent. When Theo finishes her novel, Dan offers to read it, and Theo is both thrilled and terrified that he will hate it. Gus encourages her to invite Dan to dinner so he can meet her mysterious friend, and Theo stops by his house, discovering Dan in a pool of blood. She checks to see if he is alive, and by the time Gus and the police arrive she is covered with blood, and the prime suspect in his murder. Suspicion soon switches to Gus, and Theo digs deeper into Dan’s past, discovering dangerous secrets in the world of publishing. This clever thriller is full of surprising twists.

Going ZeroAnthony McCarten
Going Zero (Harper 2023) is a competition between four American contestants to evade FUSION, a new surveillance system invented by tech prodigy Cy Baxter, for 30 days. If all ten are caught by FUSION’s Zero Capture Teams, the company wins a $90 million government contract with full access to the CIA’s data. The contestants who stay off the grid and escape capture for 30 days win 3 million each. The contestants receive a text message to GO ZERO, to stay off the grid, and then have two hours to disappear before the 30-day countdown clock activates and their names are given to FUSION. One of the contestants is Boston librarian Kaitlyn Elizabeth Day, who leaves her apartment wearing a COVID mask, trying to walk in a style that is not her own. As each Zero Team moves in on their target, Cy logs on with his VR headset to enjoy the capture. He expects that Zero 10, the librarian, will be the first caught since she is living in the delusion that everything she does is still private. When the ATM records her withdrawal, Zero Team 10 tracks her to a tiny bodega with no CCTV cameras and then loses her when she exits through the back door into the subway crowd. Meanwhile, Kaitlyn collects her backpack from Left Luggage at the nearby bus station, pays cash for a budget line bus that has no onboard cameras, and disappears. Cy finds himself unexpectedly rooting for the librarian he though would be first caught, but as the days pass and there is no sign of Kaitlyn Cy activates the powers of FUSION the government doesn’t know about. With eight days to go, Kaitlyn is the only contestant still at large, and offers Cy a trade: she will surrender herself if he uses FUSION to locate her missing husband. This debut thriller documenting the frightening advances in facial recognition, gait identification, and location tracking is a finalist for the Barry Award for Best Thriller.

DrowningT.J. Newman
Drowning: The Rescue of Flight 1421 (Avid Reader Press 2023) begins when an engine explodes four minutes into Flight 1421 out of Honolulu with 99 people onboard. Will Kent, an engineer who designs offshore oil rigs, and his seven-year-old daughter Shannon wonder why the plane isn’t turning around, but that’s not possible since he explosion took out the hydraulic system for all the engines, leaving the plane dead in the air. Flight attendant Molly Hernandez picks up the phone to talk to the cockpit, especially worried about Maia, the unaccompanied minor at the back of the plane. Will watches her face freeze in fear just before a voice comes over the intercom: “This is the captain. Prepare to ditch.” As the crew scrambles through the ditch proceedings, the passengers begin to call and text their loved ones, fearing the worst. Six minutes and 37 seconds after takeoff, Flight 1421 crashes into the Pacific Ocean, bouncing once before coming to rest. Urging the passengers to out on their life vests, the four flight attendants begin evacuating the plane through the only two of the eight exits exits that aren’t blocked or under water. Nurse Bernadette Kowalski helps Molly with an injured woman while Jasmine Harris, who can’t swim, puts on multiple life vests. Another engine blows, spraying jet fuel and the surface of the ocean burst into flames and thick smoke. First Officer Kit Callahan makes a split-second decision to shut the door to save the people still inside the plane, giving them the choice to stay inside or take their chances in the fire. When the door is shut, 12 people remain inside the damaged plane, which begins to sink. Inside the plane Will uses his engineering background to keep the group safe as the plane goes dark and their air bubble shrinks. Back on Oahu Chris Kent, Shannon’s mother and Will’s soon to be ex-wife, hears the news of the plane crash. A professional diver, Chris rounds up her crew and offers their expertise to the government group charged with attempting to rescue the 12 people stranded inside the sealed plane teetering on the edge of an undersea cliff. This intense thriller is a finalist for the Barry Award for Best Thriller.

Steve Urszenyi
Perfect Shot (2023) introduces former Army sniper Alexandra (Alex) Martel, now an FBI special agent on secondment to Interpol. While working to prevent the transfer of weapons-grade plutonium and enriched uranium, Alex meets CIA agent Caleb Copeland, who wants to recruit her for his new squad: the Advance Counterterrorism and Counterproliferation Team. Then Alex gets a call that Krysten, an old friend she met during the International Security Symposium attached to the Paris Peace Summit. The only two women in a sea of men, Alex and Krysten bonded, each keeping a copy of a selfie in front of the Eiffel Tower. Krysten’s neighbor Cara found Alex’s phone number on the back of the picture and hopes Alex might have a way of contacting Krysten’s family. Alex learns that Cara doesn’t know Krysten was a MI5 agent, and decides to fly to London and look into Krysten’s death. Heading from the airport to meet Cara, Alex realizes her cab is being followed. She takes an evasive route through the streets, but is trapped by three men shooting guns favored by GRU, Russian military intelligence. She kills two but the third is closing in when he is shot by Caleb, who appears out of nowhere. Detective Inspector Kane of Scotland Yard, who is not pleased both Alex and Caleb were carrying unauthorized weapons, reluctantly agrees that the Russians may have a connection to Krysten’s death, and even more reluctantly admits he is also MI5 and was her partner. Using Cara’s spare key to Krysten’s apartment, Alex discovers a hidden encrypted message that leads her to a Russian plot to detonate a stolen American thermonuclear gravity bomb. This propulsive debut thriller, a finalist for the Thriller and Crime Writers of Canada Awards for Best First Novel, is the first in a series.

The Tumbling GirlBridget Walsh
The Tumbling Girl (Gallic Books 2023) introduces Minnie Ward, a scriptwriter for the Variety Palace Music Hall in 1876 London. A former performer herself, Minnie is happy working behind the scenes for Edward “Tansie” Tansford, owner of the Variety Palace. Just as Minnie is about to leave for the day Tansie asks if she has seen “Angel of the Air” Rose Watkins, a tightrope walker and acrobat who is late for her entrance for the evening show. Minnie checks with Rose’s boyfriend Billy Walker, who works as the doorman/bouncer, who says he hasn’t seen her since midday. Minnie asks what Rose was wearing, and Billy says she was wearing new cream silk shoes embroidered with tiny rosebuds, confirming his suspicion she was walking out with a toff able to buy her the finer things. Later that night Rose’s body is found hanging under the Adelphi Arches, a network of tunnels near the Thames serving as a dangerous assignation place for the desperate. Minne and Rose’s mother Mrs. Ida Watkins visit the office of Albert Easterbrook, Private Detective, recently featured in the Illustrated London News. Ida is surprised that Albert looks nothing like the pencil drawing in the paper of a man with a top hat and monocle, and is instead a tall man with the heavy hands and flattened nose of a boxer. But he does have an impressive upper class accent, and Ida hires him to discover the truth about Rose’s death, sure her daughter hasn’t committed suicide. When they identified Rose’s body, Minnie noticed marks on her wrists and ankles, as if she’d been tied up with rope, as well as bruises. The police assumed the marks were from her acrobatic act, but Ida and Minnie both insist she didn’t get any broken skin or bruises onstage. In Rose’s belongings Ida found a small gold ball, something Rose could never have afforded. Albert realizes the ball is a Stanhope, a clever way to carry around a photograph visible though a minuscule lens. Engraved on the outside of the Stanhope are the entwined letters G and C, the emblem of The Godwin Club; inside is the photograph of Lionel Winter, a businessman running for Parliament. Minnie decides to help Albert with the investigation, insisting quite rightly that the music hall world won’t talk to him but will talk to her. Albert’s friend and sparring partner Sergeant John Price is intrigued by the Stanhope and agrees to keep his ears open at work. A few days later John is called to the home of Lionel Winter, found dead from an overdose of arsenic, which he took regularly for medicinal purposes. On the night stand John spots another Stanhope, this one with a photograph of Rose Watkins in an alluring pose. This clever series-opener featuring the unlikely pair of sleuths is great fun.

Thirteen Ways To Kill Lulabelle RockMaud Woolf
Thirteen Ways To Kill Lulabelle Rock (Angry Robot 2024) begins when our narrator is talking to film star Lulabelle Rock on the balcony at her mansion overlooking her immaculate topiary hedges and azure swimming pool. Lulabelle is complaining about her latest movie, soon to be released, which she is sure will be a flop generating bad press. To change the narrative, Lulabelle has come up with a plan: our narrator, the thirteenth exact clone of Lulabelle created in her basement vat, will murder the other 12 Portraits. Lulabelle believes that killing (decommissioning) 12 Portraits in the week before her movie releases will generate an exciting story of a serial killer with only one target, transforming the movie from a flop into a cult hit. Since Portraits aren’t human and can be legally decommissioned by their owner, there will be no consequences for Lulabelle. Our narrator, who is only 20 minutes old, struggles to merge her new memories with those imported from Lulabelle as she is hustled off to a dressing room, viewing an exact copy of Lulabelle in the mirror, except for her completely smooth palms, the lack of lines an easy way to identify a Portrait. Our narrator is unhappy to be dressed in a polo shirt, khakis, and trainers rather than designer wear, but accepts the need for a disguise along with a hat and wraparound sunglasses. The fully automated car is already programmed for the first destination in Bubble City. Inside the glove compartment is a binder with information about the 12 portraits she is to kill, the targets identified by registration code, any deviations from the standard Lulabelle, and location. Along the way our narrator picks up a hitchhiker, a young goth kid who offers to read her palm in exchange for a ride. Realizing she is a Portrait he offers a Tarot Card reading instead, and our narrator becomes fascinated by the cards, and decides to call herself Death. After dropping off the hitchhiker, Death locates the first target at a bus stop. Lulabelle created this Portrait as a stand in for a brunch and then forgot to send a car to pick her up. The Portrait has been at the bus stop for days, now looking very dusty and signing scrap of paper and articles of clothing for an endless queue of fans. One shot through the window and she is dead. Reading the notes on the other Portraits on her list, Death finds them wandering the streets of the fashion district fulfilling Lulabelle’s advertising commitments, partying every night, a married homemaker — each embodying a different aspect of Lulabelle’s personality. The first killing was easy, but each subsequent murder is harder than the last. When her clothing becomes soiled, she visits a shop and the shop assistant declares she needs an suit fit for an assassin, and Death begins to feel her own embryonic identity emerging from the Lulabelle overlay. This ingenious debut near-future noir thriller is not to be missed.

April 1, 2024

Play the FoolLina Chern
Play the Fool (Bantam 2023) introduces Katie True, a 29-year-old college dropout who retreated to the Lake Forrest suburb of Chicago where she grew up. Eight years later she is working at yet another dead-end job, this time at Firebird Imports, a Russian knickknack store in an aging shopping center, a disappointment to her wealthy parents and over-achieving sister. Katie’s younger brother Owen, a tech prodigy with no social skills, is her best friend. The brightest spots in her week are the three days her new friend Marley works at a neighboring store. One day a young guy who looks like a weight-lifter stumbles into Firebird Imports, breathing hard and bleeding from a gash in his forehead. Katie is dealing out her tarot cards in the empty store, her normal time-wasting relaxation, and Nico agrees to a quick $20 reading. Katie learned to read tarot cards when she was six from her Aunt Rosie, a carnival drifter who “babysat” Katie by taking her to casinos. Their favorite game was “What’s their story?” where Rosie pointed out all the signs you could pick up from people. The cards, Rosie explained, were just a vehicle for asking the right questions. The first card Katie turns over for Nico is The Fool, and then Nico visits the bathroom to deal with his bleeding head, leaving his phone unlocked. Hoping for some clues about what is bothering him, Katie opens his texts and finds a picture of Marley propped against the dumpster in the alley, a bullet wound in her temple. By the time Katie gets to the alley the body is gone, but the necklace with black beads and distinctive Ace of Spades charm Marley always wore is underneath the dumpster. Seeing Nico drive away, Katie impulsively follows him to the old part of town, where Nico breaks into a house. She sneaks in behind him and finds a photo booth strip of pictures of Nico and Marley, realizing Nico must be the deadbeat boyfriend Marley was about to break up with. A neighbor calls the police and Nico flees, but Katie is caught inside the house. Katie insists it is the home of a friend, but she doesn’t even know Marley’s last name. Luckily police officer Jamie believes her, though without a body there isn’t a crime for him to investigate. He does track down Nico, who is Dominick Battaglia of a local trucking and probable crime family, and murder suddenly sounds a lot more possible. Big-hearted Katie may not be good at adulting, but she does have an amazing ability to focus on a task and a talent for reading people, a combination that could make her a good detective if she were better at planning ahead. This enjoyable and funny series opener is a finalist for the Lefty Award for Best Debut Mystery and the Mary Higgins Clark Award.

Act Like a LadyCeleste Connally
Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Lord (Minotaur Books 2023) is set in 1815 London. Lady Petra Forsyth, the 24-year-old daughter of the Earl of Holbrook, has just shocked proper society be declaring she will never marry. Petra’s beloved fiancé died in an accident three years earlier, and her inheritance from her mother provides her with independent means to go along with her independent way of thinking. Petra has been away at their country estate helping her father, who is recovering from a broken foot. Her Uncle Tobias arrives unexpectedly and catches Petra riding astride, rather than with a proper lady’s sidesaddle, while exercising her father’s string of horses. Tobias insists that his brother-in-law control his wayward daughter and suggests a suitor for Petra, causing her to impulsively decide it is time to return to London to escape her uncle’s presence. While attending the Duchess of Hillmorton’s ball Petra learns that her friend Gwen, Lady Milford, died suddenly two weeks earlier. Petra dislikes Lord Milford and feels guilty that she had not visited Gwen recently, especially since Gwen grew increasingly despondent about her inability to bear a child. She is surprised to see one of Gwen’s trusted footmen carrying a tray at the ball, and learns he and other of Gwen’s loyal servants were dismissed by Lord Milford a month earlier. When Petra tells him of Gwen’s death, he exclaims that it cannot be true since he saw her only two days earlier in London, looking pale and unwell. Positive that the unsavory Lord Milford has either killed Gwen or hidden her away, Petra and her best friend Lady Caroline focus on the gossip circulating amongst the ladies and their maids. They hear rumors of a physician with an estate in the country where inconvenient wives, mistresses, and daughters are sent to regain their health. Petra recalls a rumor months earlier of a Lord and an opera singer who was with child, who was sent away and never returned. Petra’s old friend Duncan, the illegitimate son of the Marquess of Langford and a country lass, spent most of his childhood at the Holbrook estate since his father’s wife couldn’t bear the sight of him. Petra and Duncan were best friends until he went abroad shortly after Petra’s fiancé’s death, never answering her letters. Now back in London, the two reestablish an awkward adult friendship when Duncan learns of the danger Petra is putting herself in as a result of her questions about Gwen. This first in the Lady Petra Inquires series is a finalist for the Agatha Award for Best Historical Novel.

Her Deadly GameRobert Dugoni
Her Deadly Game (Thomas & Mercer 2023) introduces Keera Duggan, a lawyer in Seattle, Washington. Keera was making a name for herself as a prosecutor until a rocky love affair with senior colleague Miller Ambrose caused him to demote her. Out of necessity, Keera joins her father’s criminal defense law firm. Keera and her father were close when she was younger, bonding over their love for chess, but his inability to control his alcoholism and the enabling behavior of Keera’s mother and two sisters drove them apart. Keera is shocked to learn that the family firm is failing financially, losing clients as her father’s former brilliance is slipping. Seattle Violent Crimes Detective Frank Rossi and his partner Billy Ford are called to the home of investment advisor Vince LaRussa, who returned home from a charity event to find his wheel-chair bound wife Anne shot dead in the back of the head. Something about the scene bothers Rossi, but he can’t quite identify what it is. Despite his alibi, LaRussa realizes he might become a suspect, and calls Patrick Duggan & Associates from the police station. Keera takes the call and heads to the station, discovering that Miller Ambrose is the prosecutor handling the case. Keera’s father agrees that a female lead attorney would play well with the jury, and LaRussa agrees. There isn’t much hard evidence against LaRussa, but the fact that Anne was going to divorce him, activating their prenuptial agreement, gives him a motive. Keera and the firm’s investigator also examine the murder scene in the kitchen, discovering it would have been impossible for Anne to have shot herself, but also noting some strange details. Rossi is concerned that Ambrose, who has political ambitions and needs a quick win, is rushing the case to court before they are ready, but Ambrose is determined to defeat Keera in court and refuses to listen. Hoping that the rush will cause Ambrose to make mistakes, Keera and her father agree with LaRussa’s decision move to trial as quickly as possible. While the prosecution presents their case, the team from Patrick Duggan & Associates investigate every clue, finally putting together a theory that just might account for all the disparate elements in the crime scene. This series opener is a finalist for the 2024 Thriller Award for Best Novel.

Andrew Klavan
The House of Love and Death (Mysterious Press 2023) begins when Cameron Winter, a former hit man for a covert government entity and now an English professor at a Midwestern university, reads an article about four bodies pulled from a burning mansion in Tulipwood, a wealthy gated community near Chicago. Norman Wasserman, a psychologist, his wife Marion, their 16-year old daughter Lila, and their live-in nanny Agnes Wilde were each killed by a single rifle shot before the fire was set. The only survivor was Robert, the seven-year old youngest child found unharmed outside the house, after being lowered from his third floor bedroom by Agnes. Something about the article catches Winter’s interest, activating his strange habit of mind which analyzes crime scenes and searches for motives. It’s Agnes that he can’t understand. Why would she help Robert escape and then return downstairs to be shot rather than fleeing herself? Suspicion falls on Lila’s boyfriend, Mateo Hernandez, scholarship student at Lila’s private school. Winter visits Tulipwood and is escorted by security guard Steph Breach to what is left of the Wasserman mansion, under the pretense of writing an essay on murder for his college class. He is surprised to learn that Breach has brought him in without police permission, and learns she doesn’t trust Inspector Strange, the lead detective from the nearby town of Maidenville. Strange tracks Winter down at his hotel and drives him to the Hollow, where the Mexican immigrants live, and then drops him by the side of the road, ordering him to leave town and not return. But Winter isn’t convinced that Mateo, who has disappeared along with two of his father’s guns, is guilty, and returns to asks more questions, uncovering unsavory secrets beneath the facade of the seemingly idyllic community. Interspersed transcripts from Winter’s psychotherapy sessions reveal more of his own violent past in this third in the gripping series.

Blood SistersVanessa Lillie
Blood Sisters (Berkley 2023) introduces Syd Walker, a Cherokee archaeologist working for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Syd works for the Rhode Island branch, working from within to help the BIA establish trust with Indigenous communities despite its original mission to “exterminate Native people, culture, and ways of life.” Syd’s wife Mal is newly pregnant, and Syd isn’t sure how she feels about the new responsibilities of starting a family. Her relationship with her own family is problematic. Fifteen years earlier, two men disguised with devil masks killed Syd’s best friend Luna Myers and Luna’s family. Syd and her sister Emma Lou barely escaped from the burning house after Syd shot at one of the men. Racked with guilt for not being able to save Luna, and haunted by her ghost, Syd hasn’t returned to Oklahoma since. Emma Lou has a drug problem, and Syd gave up on her as well after she OD’d at Syd and Mal’s wedding reception. Syd’s boss tells her they’ve had a request for Syd’s help back in Oklahoma. A skull has been found wedged into tree, Syd’s old BIA badge from her college internship dangling from the teeth, and Oklahoma BIA Superintendent Sue Dove doesn’t have an archeologist on staff. Syd doesn’t trust Sue, whose extended family just may include the two men who killed Luna and her family, but Ghost Luna agrees with Syd’s boss that she should return to Oklahoma. Back in Picher, Syd visits the site and realizes the skull is displayed in the split oak tree halfway between the Myers and Walker land, where Luna, Syd, and Emma Lou would meet and leave notes for each other. Inside the skull Syd finds a note: FIND ME. The next thing she sees is a Missing poster with the same words: FIND ME and a picture of Emma Lou, missing for seven days. Syd learns that Emma Lou and her young daughter Gracie had been staying with their parents, who believe Emma Lou finally turned her life around for Gracie’s sake. But Emma Lou was still seeing Gracie’s father Cody, a violent drug addict, recently released from prison, and Syd fears he pulled Emma Lou back into drugs. Syd begins to rebuild her relationship with her parents as she helps search for Emma Lou, fearing that Sue Dove’s relatives, a dangerous gang of drug dealers, may be involved. She discovers cases of missing indigenous women going back decades, most not fully investigated, and a morass of corruption in the town she used to call home.

The Last Riussian DollKristen Loesch
The Last Russian Doll (Berkley 2023) begins in 1991 London, when Rosie White, a postgraduate student at Oxford, applies for a summer research assistant position with elderly scholar Alexey Ivanov. Rosie was born in Russia, fleeing with her mother 14 years earlier after her father and older sister were murdered, leaving her birth name Raisa and nearly everything else behind except her mother’s collection of porcelain dolls. Waking her terminally ill mother up the next morning Rosie finds one of the dolls on her mother’s bedside table, the top of its head removed and a tiny brass key inside the hollow head. When asked about the key, her mother mumbles something about a chest and Ludmila in Moscow and then dies. Rosie decides to take her mother’s ashes with her to Moscow and scatter them somewhere near the Bolshoi Theatre, where her mother was a principal ballerina: Yekaterina Simonova, Katerina Ballerina. Interspersed sections narrated by Valentin Mikhailovich, a Bolshevik, beginning in 1916 Petrograd (St. Petersburg) relate his love affair with Antonina "Tonya" Nikolayevna, the unhappy noble young wife of wealthy factory owner Dmitry Lulikov. Dmitry gifts Tonya a porcelain doll dressed in an elaborate copy of one of her own gowns. The doll has her own long yellow hair and dark eyes, and Tonya feels she is looking at her own shrunken corpse. The Russian Revolution changes everything: Valentin is a prisoner of war and Tonya flees to the countryside, where she gives birth to a daughter. In Russia with Alexey, Rosie finds a map in the chest in their old Moscow home and begins a search for information about her own past, discovering more porcelain dolls with removable skullcaps. Rosie’s attempts to discover the motive behind her family’s murders puts her in danger, paralleling her grandmother Tonya’s efforts to survive the Bolshevik Revolution and protect her daughter. This engaging debut thriller is a finalist for the Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

The Detectve Up LateAdrian McKinty
The Detective Up Late (2023) begins as Detective Inspector Sean Duffy, head of Carrickfergus CID, is celebrating New Year’s Eve with his wife Beth, glad to put the 1980s and the 1200 Troubles-related murders behind him. Sean hopes the 1990s will be better, though he is sad to be leaving Belfast for a safer life in Scotland with Beth and their young daughter. Ten years as a Catholic cop in the mostly Protestant department has kept Sean on his toes, and he can’t imagine driving away without doing the usual car bomb check. Sean’s plan is to finish one last case, and then take early retirement, returning to Belfast to work just seven days a month for the next three years to finish his twenty and qualify for full retirement. His final case is the disappearance of Kat McAtamney, a 15-year-old Traveler. Kat has left home a few times before for a few days, but her mother is worried since this time since she left everything but the clothes on her back in the caravan. Working with Detective Sergeant John “Crabbie" McCrabban,” also taking early retirement, and young Detective Sergeant Alexander Lawson, who will taking over Sean’s job, Sean learns that Kat has been working as an escort. When Kat’s car is found in the River Bann, boot prints on the bank indicating someone pushed the car into the river, their missing person’s case turns into a murder investigation. Kat’s body isn’t in the car, but the doors came open and the flood could have easily carried a body all the way to the Atlantic, They interview the photographer who created her model portfolio as well as her three steady clients, who all claim to be unaware she was underage. Charles McCrawley is married to an heiress, Terry Jones is a civil servant, and Johnny Dunbar has a string of previous arrests for arson and attempted murder with an Ulster loyalist paramilitary group. Sean’s compassion, sense of humor, and wry narration permeate this excellent seventh in the series, a finalist for the 2024 Barry Award for Best Novel.

S.J. Rozan
The Mayors of New York (Pegasus Crime 2023) begins when New York private investigator Bill Smith gets a call from Aubrey Hamilton, chief aide to the mayor and Bill’s former girlfriend. Aubrey explains that Mayor Carole McCann’s 15-year-old son Mark is missing. She believes he has run away, as he has done before, but doesn’t want to involve the police because of a tense negotiation with the NYPD Detectives’ Endowment Association. The press is also a concern: Mark’s disappearance may paint her as a bad mother, political suicide for the first female mayor. Bill isn’t a fan of politicians, but as a frequent child runaway himself feels a connection to Mark, who was clearly unhappy. Both Mark and his twin sister Madison have bodyguards, but they aren’t watched inside the house. The security system was briefly disabled and then reset, giving Mark time to exit through a window near the rear alarm panel. The twins attend different private schools and aren’t close: Mark’s school specializes in the arts and Madison’s in keeping reluctant students on track. Bill and his partner Lydia Chin begin by talking with Mark’s friends and are surprised that the shy boy is a natural mimic and comes alive on stage. Outside school Mark spends time with the costumed street performers in Times Square, learning to mime. They negotiate a promise to ask Mayor McCann to restrain the police from harassing the performers for the address of the man who is teaching Mark circus tricks, but Mark is gone by the time they arrive. Other neighborhood leaders, the real “mayors” of New York help Bill and Lydia continue their search for Mark in exchange for promises to ask Mayor McCann for things like street repair and playground lighting. Their sense that Mark is in danger intensifies when they are followed and attacked, as well as a possible connection with the apparent suicide of a teenage girl Lydia is working on. Bill’s quip-filled narration enlivens this 15th in the excellent series.

My MurderKatie Williams
My Murder (Riverhead Books 2023) is the story of Lou, happily married to Silas with a baby daughter Nova, in suburban Michigan. Lou is also the fifth and final victim of local serial killer Edward Early. After Lou’s murder, public outcry resulted in the cloning of the five victims, who now attend a weekly survivors counseling sessions with a specially trained professional from the replication commission. Like the other women, Lou struggles with being Lou and not-Lou: her cloned body is missing childhood scars, her baby doesn’t recognize her smell, and she has no memory of the murder itself or the time afterwards before she was cloned. What Lou does remember is the bag hidden in her closet, packed a few weeks after Nova’s birth with clothes and passport, proof she was planning to leave her family and the fear that post-partum depression might endanger Nova. Cloned Lou has been back at work for a month, donning her helm and holding hands or hugging her virtual clients, giving them the comfort of touch as they wept. She loves her job, but finds that she is breaking the strict boundaries: not letting go immediately when the client withdraws, and unable to control her need to talk rather than comfort in silence. Fern (victim #2) tells Lou outside of group that she has written to the law firm that defended Edward Early, asking for permission to visit but had been denied. Lou decides that visiting their killer might be the very thing they need to move on with their lives, and begins a campaign to convince Edward Early to approve a visit. With the help of his mother, they succeed, and that visit changes everything Lou thought she knew about her previous life. This clever and creepy thriller is not to be missed.

Murder in PostscriptMary Winters
Murder in Postscript (Berkley 2023) introduces Amelia Amesbury, a young widowed countess in 1860 London. Amelia’s husband Edgar Amesbury courted the country girl in disguise, concealing his wealth and title. Suffering from a degenerating illness, Edgar was searching for a wife to care for his niece Winnifred after his death, choosing Amelia for her honesty, kindness, and loving nature, Just two months after their marriage Edgar died, leaving Amelia and Winnifred already attached to each other in his London mansion along with Lady Tabitha, Edgar’s elderly spinster aunt. After his death, Amelia’s childhood friend Grady Armstrong, editor at a popular London penny weekly, offered Amelia the secret job of Lady Agony, answering requests for advice on love, labor, and life. Amelia’s unconventional answers and mysterious identity proved popular, and a year later the daily post containing Lady Agony letters is usually the highlight of Amelia’s day. One day a strange letter stands out: Charlotte asks Lady Agony for a meeting at St. James Park at night, stating she believes her mistress was murdered. Tabitha has invited a guest for dinner, Edgar’s old friend Simon, the Marquise of Bainbridge, recently returned from an extended American trip. Tabitha has ordered a new dress for Amelia, and she is hoping for a bit of color after her year of mourning, but the dark gray modest gown isn’t much of an improvement. Amelia finds Simon interesting, but pleads a headache immediately after dinner, retreating to her room to change into a jacket and riding breeches. Bundling her hair under a hat to further cloak her identity, Amelia sneaks out of the house and discovers the body of a woman wearing a black dress under a bridge. This can only be Charlotte, a lady’s maid mourning the recent death of her mistress. Lord Bainbridge, suddenly appears and offers to call the constable. Amelia confesses her secret identity as Lady Agony and the two quickly examine the body, discovering a calling card in her pocket with the name Flora Edwards. Simon remembers reading of her death; Flora was the daughter of an Admiral betrothed to Harry Cosgrove who fell to her death while sleepwalking. Amelia refuses to believe the two connected woman could have both fallen to their deaths without help and convinces Simon to help her investigate. This engaging first in the Lady of Letters mysteries is a finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award.

March 1, 2024

Glory BeDanielle Arceneaux
Glory Be (Pegasus Crime 2023) begins when Glory Broussard settles into her usual after church routine of running a small-time bookie office from her usual table the local coffee shop in Lafayette, Louisiana. Glory is stunned to learn that her best friend Sister Amity Gay, an activist nun beloved by the whole community, has been found dead, a presumed suicide. Glory’s daughter Delphine, a New York lawyer, returns for the funeral, meeting her mother at the service. When they return home Delphine finds a notice attached to the door: her mother’s house has been condemned by the city. Glory insists the notice is the work of her sister Shirley, who hasn’t forgiven Glory for inheriting the family house from their recently deceased mother, but Delphine is shocked by the state of the house — piles of boxes and bags cluttering all flat surfaces and the hallways. She is also concerned about her mother’s recent weight gain and lethargy, and her collection of prescription drugs for depression. Delphine has problems of her own, a recent affair with a married colleague that resulted in a temporary suspension, and decides to stay in Lafayette for awhile to help Glory clean house. Glory is certain Amity wouldn’t have killed herself, and agrees to spend the mornings sorting through her garage sale treasures if Delphine will help her investigate Amity’s death. Lieutenant Beau Landry, whom Glory used to babysit, listens to Glory’s concerns but tries to convince her to leave the police work to the police. Glory grew up in segregated Louisiana, used to being sidelined and ignored, but is motivated by her need to bring Amity to justice, and pushing the edge of her comfort zone to talk with rich white oil tycoons and their entitled wives. This engaging debut traditional mystery, the first in a planned series, is a finalist for the Lilian Jackson Braun and Agatha Awards.

The WhispersAshley Audrain
The Whispers (Pamela Dorman Book 2023) begins at a late summer neighborhood party at the home of Whitney and Jacob Loverly. Whitney is the picture perfect hostess until her 10-year-old son Xavier raids the gift bags she has prepared for the other children. She loses her temper and screams, her voice clearly heard from his open third floor bedroom window. Blair Parks, a stay-at-home mom, became best friends with Whitney three years earlier when Whitney struggled to cope with the birth of twins while caring for her difficult older son. Whitney envied Blair’s easy relationship with her daughter Chloe and her instinctive knowledge of how to calm the babies, but couldn’t help counting the days until she could return to work, turning the children over to the nanny. At the party Blair, who always feels grubby next to Whitney, notices her husband Aiden watching the elegant Whitney, and suspects he may be straying. Rebecca, an ER doctor, and her husband Ben Parry are childless. From the outside they seem to be enjoying their freedom, but Rebecca watches Chloe enviously, desperate for a baby after multiple miscarriages. The next door neighbors Mara and her husband Albert were invited, but don’t attend the party. Mara says it’s because of the noise, but she knows the rest of the party crowd isn’t interested in a Portuguese immigrant couple in their 80s, the final remnants of the old neighborhood in the last un-remodeled house. When whispers about Whitney’s temper begin to drift through their friend group, Blair ignores them both for Whitney’s sake and for Xavier, whose only friend is her daughter Chloe. Nine months after the party Xavier falls from his bedroom window, still screenless and unlocked even after all Blair’s cautions. Rebecca recognizes him when he arrives alone at the emergency room, Whitney home desperately trying to find someone to watch the twins and to contact Jacob, away on a work trip. Xavier has a severe head injury and the prognosis is not good, and the whispers begin to circulate again. Did Xavier fall accidentally? Did he jump deliberately? Or was he pushed? The truth gradually emerges through the narrations from the perspectives of Blair, Whitney, Rebecca, and Mara in this gripping novel of literary suspense.

Girls and Their HorsesEliza Jane Brazier
Girls and Their Horses (Berkley 2023) starts at the beginning of summer vacation when the Parker family moves from Texas to Rancho Santa Fe, an exclusive Southern California community. Heather is thrilled to find that Rancho Santa Fe Equestrian is within walking distance of their new $28 million house. Heather rode horses as a child and is passionate about giving her two daughters an even better experience than she had, forced to sell her own horse when her father left the family. Heather is passionate about riding; so involved that her constant hovering and shouted advice caused her older daughter Piper, a talented rider with an instinctive feel for show jumping, to quit riding. Heather hopes her younger daughter Maple (13) will also shine, but Maple is afraid of the horses and always looks uncomfortable. Maple was badly bullied at their old school and Heather tells her she will find new friends because riders become family to each other. Vida and her mother Pamela are regulars; Pamela was a former star rider at Rancho Santa Fe Equestrian and now spends her time supporting Vida. But Vida’s horse is aging and Pamela worries she will never win a major competition since Pamela can’t afford to buy a new horse. Instead, she convinces owner and head trainer Kieran Flynn to accept Maple as a pupil despite her lack of talent, hoping Heather will buy her daughter a show horse and allow Vita to compete on the horse while Maple is learning the basics. Wealthy workaholic Jeff Parker isn’t interested in horses and suspects Maple isn’t either, but Heather convinces him that a horse of her own is exactly what Maple needs to regain her confidence. Hoping Heather will provide a star horse and a much-needed infusion of money, Kieran asks Pamela to befriend Heather, and Pamela instructs Vida to befriend Maple. Vida is 17 and thinks Maple is a baby, but reluctantly includes her in barn chores while secretly mocking her with her real friend, and Heather is delighted to be included in the group of “Barn Moms.” Piper, who finds the time dragging while waiting to start college in the fall, gradually succumbs to the lure of the horses and handsome top rider Duncan Dunn. Interspersed interviews by Detective Perez about a death in the barn late one night provide an outsider’s perspective on the controlling mothers and driven girls in this entertaining thriller set in the cut-throat world of show jumping.

The Benevolent SocietyAlison Goodman
The Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies (Berkley 2023) begins in June 1812 London, when Lady Augusta “Gus” Colebrook and her twin sister Julia attempt to pay a blackmailer for the return of compromising letters written by their friend Lady Davenport. When the blackmailer pulls a gun and tries to take the diamond necklace and keep the letters, Gus knocks him out with the rock concealed in her silk reticule, rescuing the letters. At the age of 42, Gus is bored and restless by the constrictions of society life. Julia is still mourning the death of her betrothed years earlier, and Gus is always looking for distractions to pull her out of gloom. Their brother Duffy, the Earl of Duffield, is about to be married, and his fiancee is only too eager to evict her future sisters-in-law from their family home. Duffy has grown increasingly impatient with Gus, who is too tall at 5 feet 9 inches, too willing to speak her mind, and far too independent. The twins are not identical, and the dainty and feminine Julia is much more his ideal of what a woman should be. Both sisters found the blackmailer incident surprisingly stimulating, so when their friend Millicent Defray asks them to rescue her goddaughter Caroline they agree. Millicent tells them that Caroline is being held prisoner by her husband, which the twins reluctantly conclude is a husband’s right by law, since upon marriage the woman’s fortune, children, and her own body are his to do with as he wishes. But Caroline has written Millicent that her husband is trying to poison her since they have been married for five years and Caroline has not provided him with an heir. Divorce is a lengthy and expensive business that requires an Act of Parliament, and Caroline believes her husband has decided killing her is much simpler. Agreeing that murder is beyond the pale, the sisters head off to Sir Reginald’s estate, hoping to come up with a plan along the way. They are attacked by highway men, and Gus wounds one of them with a pistol. They recognize the wounded bandit as Lord Evan, transported 20 years earlier to the New South Wales penal colony after being convicted of killing his opponent in a duel. Gus immediately comes up with the perfect plan: they will pretend Lord Evan is their brother Duffy and demand Sir Reginald give them shelter and call a doctor. Lord Evan is a gentleman through and through and tries not to involve Gus in his disgrace, but is drawn into further adventures as the twins risk their reputations while trying to rescue women from bleak fates in brothels and madhouses. This engaging historical mystery mixing adventure and romance is the first in the Ill-Mannered Ladies series.

Who To BelieveEdwin Hill
Who To Believe (Kensington 2024) is set in the small coastal town of Monreith, Massachusetts. Six friends gather to celebrate Alice Stone’s 40th birthday, and the talk drifts to the recent murder of local restaurant owner Laurel Thibodeau, who was found dead in her own bed. Suspicion has fallen on her husband Simon, who had gambling debts that could be paid with Lauren’s life insurance policy, but Simon was catering an event in Rhode Island and no hard evidence against him has been discovered. Alice, a financial planner, and her husband Damian are recent arrivals to Monreith, living in a friend’s farmhouse while Damian works on his latest true crime documentary. Their son Noah is friends with Chloe, the eighth-grade daughter of Unitarian minister Georgia Fitzhugh and her soon to be ex-husband Richard. A classic car mechanic, Richard is now living with handsome psychotherapist Farley Drake, who set up his practice about a year earlier. The final party attendee is Chief of Police Max Barbosa, who grew up with Georgia and Richard. Max insists he can’t share any information about Laurel’s murder, but Damian, who believes her death is the latest in a string of murders by a serial killer he is tracking, keeps reviving the topic. As the local minister, Georgia knows secrets about just about everyone and so does Max as the local law enforcement. Alice is a current patient of Farley’s, Georgia a prior one, so he knows private information as well. Chloe and Noah, like most children, are used to soaking up gossip while the adults ignore them. By the end of the night one of the party is found dead on the beach, killed by a blow to the head. Each of the characters, as well as Alice’s dog Harper, narrates their own version of the fateful night and events leading up to it, revealing acts of greed, adultery, jealousy, and revenge through each unique perspective in this excellent and very twisty thriller.

The River We RememberWilliam Kent Krueger
The River We Remember (Atria Books 2023) is set in the small town of Jewell, Minnesota. It’s Memorial Day 1958 when the body of wealthy landowner Jimmy Quinn is found floating in the Alabaster River. Sheriff Brody Dern quickly realizes Quinn’s death is the result of a shotgun blast to the body, and wipes the gun free of fingerprints before the forensic team arrives. Quinn was an unpleasant man with a vicious temper, and Brody hopes the death will be viewed as an accident. But rumors circulate that the killer must be Noah Bluestone, a Native American war veteran recently returned home with his Japanese wife Kyoko. Bluestone worked for Quinn, but was fired for stealing, and many in the town believe Indians can’t be trusted, especially those who marry the enemy. A small sapphire ring is found in Quinn’s pocket, sized for a very small finger. Brody fears that Quinn took advantage of Kyoko, who worked as a maid for his wife Marta, frail and mostly bedridden with a debilitating disease. When a bloodstained tarp is found in his barn, Bluestone is arrested, but refuses to say anything in his own defense. Lawyer Charlotte “Charlie” Bauer takes on Bluestone’s defense, determined to protect the man who won’t speak for himself. Brody isn’t convinced that Bluestone is guilty, and begins to investigate Quinn’s past while trying to soothe the frightened and angry townspeople. Jewell is full of people with secrets to hide and pasts to escape, and their complex backstories form the heart of this novel, a finalist for the 2024 Edgar Award for Best Novel.

I Have Some Questions for YouRebecca Makkai
I Have Some Questions for You (Viking 2023) begins in 2018 when Bodie Kane, a film professor and successful podcaster, is invited to teach a two-week podcast course at Granby School, the boarding school in New Hamshire where she spent four mostly miserable high school years. Britt, one of Bodie’s podcast students, has chosen the Thalia Keith murder as her subject, thrusting Bodie back into a past she is both fascinated and repelled by. The daughter of a single mother, Bodie was a scholarship pupil who didn’t fit in with the rest of the privileged students at Granby, finally finding a friend in Fran Hoffnung, the daughter of Granby teachers. Sophomore year Music and Theater teacher Mr. Bloch encouraged Bodie to work backstage crew, praising her organizational ability, though Fran thought he was a bit of a creep. Bodie’s Junior year roommate Thalia Keith mainly ignored her but wasn’t unkind. Senior year Bodie finally had a single room, and Thalia began dating popular Robbie Serenho, though there were rumors she was also involved with an older man. In 1995 Thalia was found dead at the pool after the spring musical. Robbie was at a party in the woods with a group of friends, and the 25-year-old Black athletic trainer Omar Evan was charged and convicted of her murder. In 2016 a video of the spring musical was posted on line, Thalia clearly visible in the curtain call, engendering an online discussion of the timeline of the investigation, and suggesting Omar had been wrongly convicted. Britt’s research forces Bodie to face how inept the investigation actually was. The pool area not examined for days since Thalia’s death was assumed to be an accident. Then Omar was quickly accused as the culprit rather than Thalia’s white ski champion boyfriend, whose alibi was never thoroughly examined. Looking back at behaviors she accepted as normal at the time, Bodie is forced to face the possibility that her beloved teacher’s behavior with his female students was probably predatory. This beautifully written thriller captures the vulnerability of high school students eager to move into adulthood while still often reasoning like children.

The Last Devil To DieRichard Osman
The Last Devil To Die (Pamela Dorman Books 2023) begins the day after Christmas, when drug trafficker Mitch Maxwell delivers a shipment of heroin to his second-in-command Dom Holt. The heroin is worth 100 thousand pounds, but the real value is the test of a new plan to get drugs through customs sealed inside small terra-cotta boxes for the garden decoration trade. Dom selects antique dealer Kuldesh Sharma as for overnight storage, selling Kuldesh the pseudo-antique box for 50 pounds that he will resell to Dom’s local seller the next morning. That night Kuldesh is shot dead in his car on a deserted country lane. DCI Chris Hudson and PC Donna De Freitas hope they will be able to investigate the murder without the help of the Thursday Murder Club: retired spy Elizabeth Best, widow Joyce Meadowcroft, psychiatrist Ibrahim Arif, and workers’ rights activist Ron Ritchie, friends living at an upscale retirement home in Kent. But the victim is a friend of Elizabeth’s, and the four friends are already on the case. Chris and Donna are soon removed from the murder investigation by Senior Investigating Officer Jill Regan of the National Crime Agency, who takes over Chris’s office, banishes them to an unheated Portakabin in the car park, and instructs them to concentrate their efforts instead on a report of a stolen horse. Determined to figure out why National Crime is so interested in the murder of an antique dealer, Donna and Chris join forces with their elderly friends, who have a talent for talking to people who are wary of the police as well as a knack for investigative techniques that aren’t strictly legal. This fourth in the excellent series is Osman’s usual deft mix of sly humor, clever detection, and ever-evolving character development.

Everyone on This Train Is as SuspectBenjamin Stevenson
Everyone on This Train Is a Suspect (Mariner Books 2024) begins when Ernest Cunningham, an Australian crime author, and his girlfriend Juliette Henderson arrive at the station for the 50th Anniversary Australian Mystery Writers’ Festival, taking place aboard the Ghan, the luxury train between Darwin and Adelaide across the vast Australian desert. The other authors participating in the Festival are much more well known: Lisa Fulton, famous for her debut novel 21 years earlier; S.F. Majors, a thriller writer whose books have been adapted for film and Broadway; Alan Royce, a former forensic pathologist turned crime writer; Wolfgang, a multi-award winner; and Guest of Honor Henry McTavish, globally bestselling author of the beloved Detective Morbund series. Ernest is still coasting on the crest of his first book, a true crime memoir of his involvement with a notorious serial killer, while struggling to begin his second book. Ernest is surprised when he sees his agent Simone Morrison at the train terminal, but soon learns she is not there to support him, but instead in pursuit of more clients. Desperate for inspiration, Ernest tries to put words to the page, but can’t make any progress until one of the authors is murdered. Adhering to his fair-play guiding principles of Golden Age murder mysteries and Ronald Knox’s “The Ten Commandments of Detective Fiction,” Ernest promises the readers not to use supernatural elements or surprise identical twins and to introduce the killer early in the book, sharing that he will use the killer’s name exactly 106 times. Ernest isn’t the only one investigating the murder, the other crime writers can’t resist the challenge of identifying the killer within a group of suspects who make a living planning murders. Stevenson cleverly pokes fun at the publishing industry as well as standard mystery tropes in this excellent second in the series.

City Under One RoofIris Yamashita
City Under One Roof (Berkley 2023) is set in the former military base of Point Mettier, Alaska, accessible only through a single tunnel, where all 205 year-round residents live in the Davidson Condos, a single high-rise building known as Dave-Co. For eight months of the year Point Mettier is cut off from the mainland, isolated in the bitter cold that drops to −35 °F. Just after the end of summer season, 17-year-old Amy Lin is at Hidden Cove smoking pot with her friends, when she finds a severed hand half-buried in the sand. Anchorage Police Officer Neworth arrives in response to the report, and explains that several body parts have drifted to shore in Alaska as well as Washington and Canada over the past few years. None of the bodies have been identified and the theory is they are suicide jumpers or people who accidentally fell off cruise ships. Amy is relieved that no one has been murdered, and returns to her boring routine of working at her mother’s Chinese restaurant, drifting through her high school classes, and dreaming of escaping from her restricted existence into the outside world. A few days later Cara Kennedy, another detective from Anchorage, arrives to follow up, and is trapped when a blizzard closes the tunnel. Cara soon learns that just about everyone in Point Mettier is escaping from someone or something in their past, unwilling to trust anyone from the outside. Cara is welcomed by Chief Sipley, a long-time resident, and Officer John Barkowski, known as J.B., recruited from Montana a year earlier. Noticing her wedding ring, J.B. asks Cara if her husband is also in law enforcement, and Cara explains he was a biotech engineer who died in a hiking accident with their young son the previous year. They pass Lonnie Mercer, a young woman walking her pet moose Denny, on their way Hidden Cove, where they spot a shadowy figure spying on them from the tree line. Chief Shipley learns that Cara is on disability, unable to stop obsessing over the body parts found months after the disappearance of her husband and son, scattered over the ravine and only identifiable by DNA. More body parts appear at Point Mettier, and since Cara is trapped anyway, she continues investigating with J.B. until the sudden appearance of a snowmobile gang that has taken residence with a nearby native village throws the whole town into a panic. The gang is searching for something they don’t find, and Amy’s best friend disappears along with his mother and brother. Narrated by Amy, Cara, and Lonnie, this intense debut captures both the claustrophobic nature of the unique community and their willingness to accept others who have chosen to reinvent themselves.

February 1, 2024

Warrier Girl UnearthedAngeline Boulley
Warrior Girl Unearthed (Henry Holt and Co., 2023) is set on Sugar Island in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Anishinaabe and Black high schooler Perry Firekeeper-Birch is driving the 16th birthday present Jeep she shares with her twin sister Pauline, swerving suddenly to miss a bear cub and crashing the car. Perry was hoping to spend the summer slacking off and fishing, but her family insists she get a job to pay for the repairs. There is one spot open at the Sugar Island Ojibwe Tribe’s summer internship program, where Pauline, a dedicated student, is already working for the tribal council, and Perry finds herself reluctantly working for oddball Cooper Turtle at the tribal museum. The interns meet together every Friday for seminars on Anishinaabe history and culture. Pauline sits with the other interns working with the Tribal Council while Perry is grouped with the solo-interns: Erik Miller, whose tribal mother and white father just bought the Freighter Motel, interning at Superior Shores Shipping and Receiving; Lucas Chippeway, the twins’ best friend since they were small, interning at Tribal Fisheries and Wildlife Management; Shense Jackson, who attends the alternative high school with Perry though missing most of the last year because of pregnancy, interning at the Superior Shores Casino and Resort. Some of the interns, like Perry, Pauline, Lucas and Shense, speak the Ojibwe language fluently, while others like Erik know only a few words. Perry is passionate about her culture, but not interested in polishing the exhibit case glass for the summer. She is searching for another job when Cooper takes her along to a meeting at Mackinaw State College, where she is horrified to learn the college museum has Anishinaabe human remains along with sacred objects and other artifacts. The Native American Collection Act of 1990 requires institutions with a Native American Collection to prepare an inventory, notify tribes, and process requests for return of human remains. But in the past 24 years, the college museum has not returned anything, instead requesting extension after extension to complete their inventory. Perry is uneasy about being in the same room with the remains, but agrees to view just one. Dr. Hugo LeRoy shows Perry the drawer containing the bones of Warrior Girl: a teenager buried with an eight-inch flint knife with marks on her rib cage showing she died of a knife wound. Dr. Raquel Fenton invites Cooper and Perry to her office and Perry is stunned by the mess: piles of papers, books, coffee mugs, and boxes stacked floor to ceiling. Dr. Fenton explains that she will need yet another extension to work on her inventory. Perry decides it’s up to her to devise a plan to return the remains of deceased Anishinaabe peoples to their rightful homes. Meanwhile, yet another missing Indigenous young woman increases the sense of dread that hovers around the female interns. Perry’s snide first-person narration enlivens this heist thriller, second in the Firekeeper’s Daughter Young-Adult series.

The Golden GateAmy Chua
The Golden Gate (Minotaur Books 2023) is set in 1944 Berkeley, California. Homicide detective Al Sullivan is having a drink at the bar of the elegant Claremont Hotel when the night manager reports that shots have been fired upstairs. Wealthy industrialist and presidential candidate Walter Wilkinson is unhurt, but explains that a man was waiting inside his room with a gun. Wilkinson didn’t get a good look at the man in the dark room, but says he was young, had an accent that might have been Russian, and is certainly a Communist. The man shot, missed, and fled. Three hours later Sullivan is called back to the same hotel room: Wilkinson, his trousers around his ankles and his mouth stuffed with objects from his room, has been shot dead in the forehead. Sullivan finds an old doll with a porcelain face inside the hotel room closet, an empty Shreve & Co. jewelry box on the dresser, and a single yellow silk thread caught in the doorjamb. Sullivan asks for a room to get some sleep and to use to question the staff in the morning, and is given Room 422, unoccupied for years because of ghost sightings. Flashbacks to 1930 reveal the origin of the ghost story: eight-year old Iris Stafford who fell to her death down the laundry chute while playing hide and seek with her six-year old sister Issy. Sullivan interviews a maid who saw a young blond woman wearing a yellow silk skirt going into Wilkinson’s room. The maid is sure she was one of Mrs. Genevieve Bainbridge granddaughters but isn’t sure which one: Issy, Nicole, or Cassie. Another witness saw a young Chinese woman with long dark hair near Wilkinson’s room, presumably a prostitute. A jade seal is removed from deep in Wilkinson’s throat, embossed with the seal of Chiang Kai-Shek. Madame Chiang has purchased a house close to the Bainbridge mansion under the guise of receiving medical treatments. A reporter is chasing a story that Madame Chiang is really in town to seduce Wilkinson, their best chance for American support against Mao. Sullivan’s mixed race eleven-year-old niece Miriam stays with him when her alcoholic mother Rosemary, Sullivan’s half-sister, is having a bad time, but Sullivan is worried his lifestyle isn’t a good influence on Miriam either. Sullivan’s father was Mexican, but he took his mother’s last name before joining the police and is able to pass. Miriam’s father was Black, and she has a hard time with racial prejudice at school. The Bay Area is changing far too quickly for many, the shipyards like Kaiser’s in Richmond bringing in close to half a million people eager for jobs, many of them Black. As a police officer Sullivan was required to round up Japanese families for relocation. Historical figures like Margaret Chung, the first Chinese woman to become a physician in the United States, have important cameo roles in this intriguing historical mystery, the fiction debut of a Yale law professor.

The MAdwomen of ParisJennifer Cody Epstein
The Madwomen of Paris (Ballantine Books 2023) is set in 1880s Paris, in the Salpêtrière asylum housing over 3000 female patients. Laure Bissonet, the daughter of a doctor who died in debt, had a breakdown and was committed to the Hysteria ward. Now 19, Laure has been pronounced cured, but with no money or skills is forced to remain at the asylum as a resident ward attendant. A young woman is dragged from an ambulance covered in blood, screaming “Don’t TOUCH me!” The woman is suffering from amnesia, and agrees to be called Josephine. Laure is relieved when Josephine is diagnosed by Salpêtrière director Doctor Jean-Martin Charcot as hysteric, sending her to Laure’s ward rather than the dreaded lunacy division few women emerge from. Charcot treats his hysteric patients with hypnotism, and Josephine proves to be the perfect subject, falling quickly into an hypnotic state and then progressing through his sequence of four hysterical stages: “epileptoid, clonic, passionate poses, delirium.” Josephine is quite attractive, and quickly becomes the star of Charcot’s public lectures to eager men from the press, authors, and wealthy patrons who enjoy seeing scantily clad women responding to Charcot’s hypnotic directions. Josephine has no memory of the hypnotic sessions, and asks Laure to tell her everything that happens. In the passionate poses section Josephine acts out the sexual and physical abuses she endured from the age of 14 by the master of the house she worked in. Others interested in neurology, like George Gilles de la Tourette and Sigmund Freud, visit to study under Charcot, learning to use his hypnotic technique. As time goes on and the hypnotic suggestions become more suggestive and sexual, Laure begins to worry that the hypnosis is not helping Josephine, but instead making her fears worse, keeping the memory of rape constantly at the forefront of her mind. In fact, Laure suspects the only reason she herself recovered was because she was not susceptible to hypnosis and thus left alone to recover on her own. The two young women grow closer, and Laure plots an escape from the asylum. This frightening historical thriller inspired by actual events in the Salpêtrière asylum is a finalist 2024 Edgar Award for Best Mystery.

Saving EmmaAllen Eskens
Saving Emma (Mulholland Books 2023) begins when St. Paul, Minnesota, law professor Broady Sanden is visited by Ruth Matthews, requesting his help for her brother Elijah, sentenced four years earlier to a psychiatric hospital. Broady is the former director of the Innocence Project, and continues to volunteer part time. When he looks up the case, he is horrified to see that Ben Pruitt, Broady’s former law partner was Elijah’s lawyer, the last case before his death. Four years earlier Ben was killed by the police in Broady’s home while resisting arrest for the murder of his wife, leaving Broady and his wife Dee guardians of Ben’s daughter Emma. Fearing that Ben’s mental state may have negatively impacted his defense of Elijah, Broady agrees to search through the files and see if there is evidence for reopening the case. The jury determined that there was proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Elijah murdered megachurch Pastor Jalen Bale by crushing his skull with a rock. Elijah, who believes he is a prophet, was declared not guilty by reason of insanity, and committed to the Security Hospital in St. Peter. Ruth declares that her brother is truly a prophet and speaks for God, but is not guilty of murder. She explains that Elijah’s DNA was on the rock because he brought it as a gift for Pastor Bale. As proof of her brother’s innocence she produces an email he sent at the same time as the murder from a computer at the downtown library along with a newspaper picture of a children’s event at that time with Elijah in the background. Broady agrees to look into the alibi, hoping he can quickly prove or disprove it. Things at home aren’t going well with Emma, just about to celebrate her 14th birthday, and for the past few weeks she has been avoiding Broady. Dee suspects that Emma’s Aunt Anna, who would like to control Emma’s inheritance, is responsible, and they learn that Anna has told Emma Broady is covering up the truth about the deaths of her parents. During the next visitation, Anna refuses to return Emma and files for custody, putting Emma at risk when Broady’s investigation turns dangerous. This character-driven legal mystery is compelling.

Of Manners and MurderAnastasia Hastings
Of Manners and Murder (Minotaur Books 2023) begins in 1885 London when Violet Manville’s Aunt Adelia departs for the Continent, leaving Violet in charge of their house, Violet’s younger half-sister Sephora, and the “Dear Miss Hermione” Agony Aunt column Aunt Adelia has been secretly writing for many years. Swearing Violet to secrecy, Aunt Adelia gives Violet the keys to her private library and file cabinets, explaining that the housekeeper Bunty can explain how everything works. Violet explores the contents of the labeled drawers of the file cabinets (Unfaithful Husbands, Disrespectful Children, Mothers-in-Law, etc.), and Bunty brings in the first set of letters to answer. Most are straightforward requests for advice, but one disturbs her: a new wife who fears someone is trying to murder her. Bunty remembers a previous letter describing various accidents, signed only with a sketch of a plant which resembles ivy. Enclosed with the new letter are newspaper clippings from the village of Willingdale with four faces circled in various pictures: Simon Plumley, the vicar of St. Christopher’s Church; Richard Islington, the village physician; Edith Cowles; Lady Betina Thorn. Worried that the accidents might actually have been intended to harm the woman she suspects might be named Ivy, Violet takes the 40-mile train journey to Willingdale. She asks a driver at the station if he might know her old school friend Ivy, whose married name she has forgotten, and he takes her to the churchyard where Reverend Plumley is conducting the funeral service for Ivy Clague Armstrong. Among the mourners she recognizes Dr. Islington, Edith Cowles, and Lady Betina. Edith asks if Violet knew Ivy, and Violet explains they were old friends from school, Miss Simpson’s Academy for Young Ladies which Ivy had mentioned in her first letter to Miss Hermione. Edith invites her to the funeral luncheon, saying that Ivy’s husband Gerald of only six months would enjoy hearing some reminiscences about Ivy’s school days. On the walk to Gerald’s home, Edith shows her where Ivy died, falling to her death from the stone bridge over the river. Violet leans against the waist-high bridge, considering how difficult it would be to accidentally fall over it. Violet learns of Ivy’s two previous near-fatal accidents: a runaway hay wagon she barely dodged and a slate falling from the church roof that nearly struck her head. This entertaining mystery featuring the clever and determined Violet is the first in Dear Miss Hermione series by Connie Laux under the Anastasia Hastings pseudonym.

Happiness FallsAngie Kim
Happiness Falls (Hogarth 2023) is set in suburban Virginia, where 20-year old bi-racial twins Mia and John are spending the Covid-19 lockdown with their parents and 14-year old bother Eugene, who is autistic and has the rare genetic Angleman syndrome. Because of that combination Eugene can’t communicate and has difficulty managing his body. One morning Adam Parson sets out for his usual morning hike to River Falls Park with Eugene, while Mia obsesses over the end of a breakup with her boyfriend. When she sees Eugene running home down the street she is happy to see his improved coordination and doesn’t notice their father isn’t with him. It’s not until later that afternoon when John, who interns at Eugene’s therapy center, and their mother Hannah, a linguistics professor, return from work that anyone notices Adam is missing and hasn’t answered any texts. John and their mother head for the park to search while Mia begins calling hospitals and Eugene rests under his comforting weighted blanket listening to a Korean cartoon video on headphones. Coaxing him out from under the blanket, Mia notices what looks like blood under his fingernails. Hustling him into the shower, Mia tosses his clothing from the morning hike into the washing machine. She is just about to call the police and report her father missing when the doorbell rings. Two police officers are there to talk about an accident that morning in their neighborhood when a car swerved to miss Eugene running down the middle of the road. There were no injuries, but the police are following up to question why a child with Eugene’s disabilities was out unsupervised. Hannah quickly redirects the conversation to their concern that Adam is missing and the police organize a search. John attempts unsuccessfully to question Eugene using Yes/No picture cards while Mia tries to hack into Adam’s external hard drive and cloud email and phone records, discovering a mysterious folder with HQ-Hypotheses and HQ-Experiments. Mia suspects her father was using a formula she created to measure musical dissonance to conduct experiments on happiness. The next day Adam’s backpack is discovered on the shore of the Potomac River, with a notebook revealing Adam was investigating alternative therapies to help Eugene communicate. Mia notices that Eugene reacts to a text she is showing her mother and John, and they begin to wonder if he can actually read. Narrated by the hyper-analytical Mia, with numerous footnotes to explore the tangents and sidetracks her mind creates, this empathetic mystery explores the power of language and human connection.

Bright Young WomenJessica Knoll
Bright Young Women (Marysue Rucci Books 2023) begins in 1978 Tallahassee, when Florida State sorority president Pamela Schumacher wakes up at 3:00 AM to the sound of breaking glass. For some reason the crystal chandelier on the ground floor is lit, and Pamela sees a man leaving through the front doors. At first she thinks it is Roger Yul, her best friend Denise’s on-again off-again boyfriend, but quickly realizes it is a stranger, smaller than Roger with a distinctive beaky nose. Upstairs she discovers four of her sorority sisters have been violently attacked. Denise and Roberta die on the way to the hospital and the other two are very badly disfigured. Pamela tells Sheriff Cruso exactly what she saw, but he focuses on her brief moment of uncertainty and the convenient proximity of Roger Yul, hoping a quick arrest will bolster his re-election campaign. Then Tina Cannon arrives explaining that her friend Ruth Wachowsky disappeared four years earlier in Issaquah, Washington. Tina shows Pamela a picture of the man she believes kidnapped and killed Ruth, and Pamela recognizes the picture instantly as the same man she saw leaving the sorority house. Tina suspects the man targets bright young women who would never give him a second glance. Interspersed sections from Pamela’s and Ruth’s perspectives tell the stories of two young women trying to find their place in the world. For decades Tina and Pamela search for evidence to link the crimes and find justice for their friends, culminating in the final trial for the man the press has named the “All-American Sex Killer.” This compelling thriller, focusing on the women whose lives were ended and their friends enduring the trauma of survivor’s guilt rather than the killer himself, is a finalist for the 2024 Edgar Award for Best Mystery.

The CentreAyesha Manazir Siddiqi
The Centre (Gillian Flynn Books 2023) is the story of Anisa Ellahi, who longs to translate great works of literature but instead writes subtitles for Bollywood movies in her London apartment, living on the generosity of her wealthy parents. Her boyfriend Adam has an uncanny affinity for languages and speaks several with native-speaker fluency, so she is puzzled when he is unable to remember even the simplest phrases in Urdu she tries to teach him. They begin living together and Adam agrees to travel to Pakistan and meet her parents, scheduling the trip after his upcoming work assignment in Berlin. On the plane to Pakistan two weeks later, Adam startles her by speaking to the flight attendant in flawless Urdu, explaining he learned the language the previous week. Anisa doesn’t believe him, and Adam finally confesses he spent the last ten days at the Centre, an elite top-secret language school. For $20,000, the Centre guarantees complete fluency in a language. Graduates of the Centre sign binding agreements to keep the Centre secret, only permitted to tell one person in their lifetime. Anisa is at first doubtful, but doesn’t see any other way Adam could have mastered Urdu, and decides to attend the Centre for a course in German. At the Centre she signs all the nondisclosure paperwork, and agreeing to give up all technology and follow the rules about meditation and silence. Her day begins each morning at 5:00 AM and consists mainly of listening to a male voice drone on in incomprehensible German. But the meals are delicious and she is allowed to talk to one supervisor, a woman named Shiba, who explains if she listens carefully to her storyteller Peter that the language will just seep in gradually. And it works. On the seventh day she begins to understand Peter’s recordings and by the tenth day she is completely fluent in German. Back in her flat Anisa is overjoyed to see their cat, but doesn’t feel the same way about Adam. Other things have also changed: she now prefers her coffee black and Peter’s words seem to have seeped into her dreams. Returning for a second session at the Centre to learn Russian, Anisa notices worrisome details she missed the first time, and begins to suspect the Centre has a dark side. This intense debut explores themes of classism, colonialism, and cultural appropriation.

Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for MurderersJesse Q. Sutanto
Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers (Berkley 2023) begins when 60-year-old Vera Wong comes downstairs to her tiny San Francisco Chinatown tea shop to discover a broken window and the body of a dead man. After calling the police Vera carefully draws an outline around the body with a Sharpie like she has seen on CSI, at first worried that she doesn’t have tape but then convinced the Sharpie outline is much clearer and more accurate. She is very scrupulous not to touch the body, though she does carefully examine the contents of his pockets and cautiously removes a flash drive from his clenched fist. Vera is very disappointed that only two police officers arrive: an older dismissive man and Officer Gray, a young kind-looking Black woman. Vera has brewed a calming pot of Gaoshan oolong tea, but the officers refuse. Even more worrisome to Vera is that they don’t call a CSI team or even take fingerprints. Realizing it may be up to her to solve the case, Vera starts taking notes about the dead man: Marshall Chen (29), bruise on left cheek, scratches on right cheek, swollen fingers, baggie of drugs, mysterious flashdrive. Knowing that murderers always return to the scene of the crime, Vera sends an obituary to the local paper and posts on the TikTok and the Twitter. The following day brings visitors to Vera Wang’s World-Famous Teahouse, a deliberate misspelling because even white people know the name Vera Wang. First is Riki Herwanto, who pretends to be a reporter from Buzzfeed when Vera demands to know why he is there. Vera serves him Jin Xuan tea in a tiny teacup and declares she is sure Marshall was murdered. Next is Sana Singh who pretends to have a podcast while drinking a soothing Qimen Hongcha tea from what looks to her like a doll’s teacup. Just as Sana is leaving a woman carrying a small child peers in the dusty window and then flees down the street. The next visitor to the teashop startles Vera because it looks like the dead man has come to life: Marshall’s twin brother Oliver. The following day both Riki and Sana return to the teashop and Vera introduces them as two of her suspects, establishes their zodiac signs, and declares they would be a perfect match. They both lie about not knowing Marshall and Vera whispers she is sure Marshall was killed for something he had that other people wanted. She brings them upstairs to help pack up the food she has spent all morning cooking for her final suspect, Marshall’s wife Julia. Oliver drives them to Julia’s house, who is at first overwhelmed by the group of strangers and then charmed by her daughter Emma’s enjoyment of Vera and her food. This feel-good mystery starring the irrepressible Vera Wong is hopefully the first in a series.

Kill ShowDaniel Sweren-Becker
Kill Show (Harper 2023) s the story of the disappearance of Frederick, Maryland, 16-year-old Sara Parcell, who told her friends she was dashing back to the bus to retrieve her forgotten backpack and then vanished. Sara was a very talented violinist, hoping to attend a summer program at Julliard, and her music teacher was surprised when she didn’t show up at the morning rehearsal for the spring concert. Sara’s father Dave received the unexplained absence notification from the school and then called his wife Jeanette. Since Sara wasn’t answering her cell, they began calling all her friends as soon as school let out, but no one had any idea where Sara might be. The police suggested they wait a few hours, but issued an APB at dusk and Detective Felix Calderon talked to the family. Calderon had big-city experience in Houston and suspected this was not an abduction, but when Sara didn’t appear by the next morning he began interviews at the high school. The bus driver was arrested but released, and the local news picked up the story. On camera, Dave Parcell held up a copy of their bank statement, offering the entire amount of $1,762 as a reward for finding Sara. National news picked up the story and caught the attention of Casey Hawthorne, a Hollywood producer of meaningless reality shows. Captivated by the sympathetic family, Casey flew to Maryland and appeared on the Parcell’s doorstep, pitching a reality show following the family’s search for their daughter. Casey explained that the show would be the best chance of finding Sara, and that the Parcells would be well paid for each episode. The Parcells had been struggling to make ends for the past few years since Dave lost his job. Dave is now working for Jeanette’s father at Geary Home & Garden, but not happy with either the work or the salary, so the money is the sweetener that closes the deal. Detective Calderon is uneasy about the Hollywood crew underfoot, but hopes some good will come out of the publicity. This searing indictment of America’s fascination with true crime is told in the form of interviews with the police, film crew, and Sara’s family, friends, and neighbors.

KalaColin Walsh
Kala (Doubleday 2023) is set in the small seaside tourist town of Kinlough on the west coast of Ireland, where three friends gather for the first time in 15 years. As teenagers Joe Brennan, Kala Lanann, Helen Laughlin, Aidan Lyons, Mush Lyons, and Aoife Reynolds were inseparable. The last time they were together was the summer of 2003, the summer when Kala disappeared. Helen, now an investigative reporter struggling to pay her bills in Québec, is back for her father’s wedding; Kala’s boyfriend Joe, now a famous rock star is visiting from Los Angeles to open a new club; and Mush never left and is still working at his mum’s cafe. Aoife married and left town and Aiden committed suicide years ago, leaving Helen, Joe, and Mush to try and re-establish a connection. Then human remains are discovered and identified as Kala, horrifying the three old friends. Memories of their 15-year-old selves begin to re-surface, forcing them to confront bad decisions, impulsive actions, and hidden secrets that may have contributed to Kala’s murder. Uncertain about trusting the Guards, who didn’t do a thorough investigation at the time, Helen and Mush relive Kala’s last few days searching for clues and asking questions. The plans for Helen’s father’s wedding to Aiden’s mother fall apart when her teenage twin daughters go missing, a horrifying echo of Kala’s sudden disappearance at the same age. Interwoven narrations by Helen, Mush, and Joe from both the past and the present reveal conflicting memories of the events that led to Kala’s disappearance in this haunting debut thriller.

January 1, 2024

The Dance of the DollsLucy Ashe
The Dance of the Dolls (Union Square & Co. 2023) features identical twin sisters Olivia and Clara Marionetta, rehearsing for the ballet Coppélia at the recently opened Sadler’s Wells Theatre in 1933 London. Coppélia is the story of a young man who falls in love with a life-sized doll that comes to life and dances for him. Both sisters are talented ballerinas. Olivia is hard-working and follows all the rules, dreaming of becoming a star ballerina, saving her paltry salary for a rehearsal tutu that might make her stand out from the corps de ballet. Clara is independent and rebellious, visiting clubs to dance and drink with pianist Nathan Howell while Olivia returns home to rest. Nathan was a child prodigy whose parents idolized him and catered to his every wish. But as Nathan grew into adulthood, the public adoration for his surprising talent faded and the concert invitations dried up, leaving him just another competent pianist. His mother left the family and his father lost interest in him. Samuel Steward works for the shoe shop of Frederick and Dora Freed, building the made-to-measure pointe shoes for the ballerinas. The huge but bashful Samuel has fallen under Olivia’s spell, stamping a rose onto the sole of her shoes and watching the rehearsals when he delivers the shoe orders. Samuel is impressed by the physical effort it takes for the ballerinas to float gracefully across the stage. He dreams of designing his own shoes and clothing, sketching beautiful designs in his lonely room. During the rehearsals leading up to the opening of Coppélia, both sisters have the uncomfortable feeling they are being watched by a menacing presence. In the basement of Sadler’s Wells is an actual well, the source of water for the theatre. For the dancers the well is a good luck charm, visited before every rehearsal and performance. Strange items appear in the dark water, beginning with one of Olivia’s pointe shoes and a single white rose. This suspenseful debut historical thriller by a former ballerina explores the magic and obsession surrounding the world of ballet.

The Peacock and the SparrowI.S. Berry
The Peacock and the Sparrow (Atria Books 2023) is set in 2012 Bahrain during the “Arab Spring,” anti-government protests to end the monarchy. Shane Collins (52) is ending his career as a CIA operative. He is assigned to Manama as the resident Iran expert, tasked with uncovering evidence of Tehran’s suspected move for regional dominance through support of the Shiite uprising against the Sunni monarchy. The value of his 25 years experience as a case officer and fluency in Arabic has been eroded by his drinking and diagnosis of early-stage liver deterioration. His new Station Chief is 28-year-old Whitney Alden Mitchell, a first tour officer who wears actual coins in his penny loafers. Collins has built a relationship with Rashid, a young Oxford educated engineer eager to help America learn more about the opposition. Rashid is a low-level officer in Fourteen February, an anti-government group who have been negotiating for the release of dissident poet Junaid for nearly two years. At a gala for the National Theatre and Opera House Collins admires a stunning large mosaic titled “Tree of Life.” A beautiful woman dressed in the traditional abaya and hijab, though bright paisley rather than black, introduces herself as the artist. Collins is struck by her translucent green eyes and wonders about the scar from eye to chin. Collins calls her Almaisa, after a Modigliani painting. Almaisa studied art at the University of Florence, turning to mosaic work, the art of her people, when she returned home. She takes him to visit the actual Tree of Life, a 400-year-old tree growing in the dry sand dunes, which is much less impressive in person. Determined to get to know the enigmatic artist, Collins initiates a friendship that gradually turns to love. Almaisa is involved with a local orphanage and Collins begins to see Bahrain through her eyes, which causes him to question some of the work he is doing. Pressures from Whitney to exact more information from Rashid put the informer in danger, and the tensions between the government and the dissidents grow worse every day. The author’s own experience as a CIA operations officer in Bahrain during the Arab Spring adds verisimilitude to this intense debut spy thriller.

Everybody KnowsJordan Harper
Everybody Knows (Mulholland Books 2023) is the story of Mae Pruett, a Los Angeles “black-bag” publicist specializing in suppressing career-ending news about the clients of crisis PR firm Mitnick & Associates. Responding to an emergency call, Mae meets actress Hannah Heard at the Chateau Marmot, a chic no-tell hotel. Hannah’s cottage next to the grotto is trashed and Hannah looks even worse, a black eye the color of a split plum and a makeup call at 4:00 AM the next morning. Hannah was “yachting,” serving as a party-girl on a boat with rich and powerful men. The party was organized by Eric Algar, the creator of teen show As If!, who discovered Hannah and most of the other teen stars in Hollywood. Hannah objected to being filmed, throwing the man’s phone out a porthole, resulting in the black eye and an apology bag of loose diamonds. Algar is one of the worst men in Hollywood, a predator of young actresses, something everybody whispers but nobody talks about. Mae creates a new narrative: Hannah’s lapdog Mochi head-butted her in the eye while objecting to taking medication. The Instagram video ends with Hannah removing her sunglasses at just the right moment and receiving a face lick from Mochi. The video instantly goes viral, the studio agrees to fix Hannah’s eye in post-production, and Mae’s work is done. Chris Tamburro is an ex-cop enforcer for BlackGuard. The regular polygraph tests he endures don’t help with his equally regular panic attacks that seize his chest like a heart attack. Mae and Chris meet when Mae’s client Brad Cherry is found dead in a bed not his own. When Mae finds the body she calls her bosses who call Chris’s bosses who call Chris, the person you call while the body cools. Though both of their lives are based on lies, Chris and Mae discover they can’t lie to each other and find an incredible connection based on finally telling the truth. When Mae’s boss Dan Hennigan is shot in front of the Beverly Hills Hotel, she decides to investigate and discovers he was involved with a group of ultra-rich predators. Together she and Chris face their own involvement in enabling predation of the vulnerable by the powerful in this searing crime noir.

The HousekeepersAlex Hay
The Housekeepers (Graydon House 2023) is set in 1905 London, where Mrs. King works as the housekeeper for a grand Mayfair mansion owned by the de Vries. After Wilhelm de Vries dies, Miss de Vries summons Mrs. King to discuss plans for a grand costume ball, shockingly scheduled a mere six months after her father’s funeral. Mrs. King proves amazingly efficient at the task: ordering new linens, waiters, tents, entertainment; hiring additional staff including a sewing maid; closing off half the rooms and packing unneeded items into cases. Mr. Lockwood, lawyer for the de Vries, advises against the ball, explaining the de Vries empire is overextended, but Miss de Vries is determined to take her place in society and catch a husband. Three weeks before the ball butler Mr. Shepherd tells Miss de Vries that Mrs. King has been caught visiting the gentlemen’s quarters and must be let go. Miss de Vries agrees and oversees sending the invitations herself. The sudden dismissal doesn’t worry Mrs. King much, her plan to strip the de Vries mansion of everything of worth during the ball can proceed as planned. Partnered with Mrs. Bone, a black-market trader, Mrs. King has recruited five other women: former de Vries housekeeper Winnie Smith, who mentored her when she started as a young maid; Alice Parker, Mrs. King’s much younger sister and the de Vries new sewing maid, Hephzibah Grandcourt, a former de Vries maid barely scraping by as an actress, and two former circus performers both named Jane hired on as extra staff at the mansion. Miss de Vries doesn’t receive many acceptances to the ball and Hephzibah, posing as the Duchess of Montagu, visits to express her excitement about the ball and willingness to encourage her titled friends to attend. Invitations to those friends are intercepted, and Hephzibah trains her fellow actors and stagehands to become wealthy masked guests for the ball. Mrs. Bones’s crew acts as security, and the Janes recruit circus performers to provide entertainment. By the time the ball begins, Mrs. King has people on every floor of the mansion ready to evacuate the treasures out the windows of the upper floors. But like all best-laid plans, things don’t go exactly as planned. This clever debut caper novel highlighting the disparity between the serving class and their wealthy employers makes it easy to root for the seven women taking control over their own destinies.

Prom MomLaura Lippman
Prom Mom (William Morrow 2023) is the story of Amber Glass, who gave birth during the 1997 high school prom after her reluctant date Joe Simpson deserted her for another girl. A naive junior, Amber hadn’t even realized she was pregnant, the result of tutoring sessions with popular senior Joe. The baby died, and Amber was charged with manslaughter, earning her GED in a juvenile facility. After college she ended up in New Orleans working part-time at a gallery, and began to collect art by the incarcerated. In 2019 Amber returns to Baltimore to close out the house inherited from her stepfather, and explores the city she left 22 years earlier. She impulsively signs a lease for an empty toy store, determined to finally operate her own art gallery and hoping her tabloid infamy as Prom Mom has dissipated. Joe also left Baltimore for college, hoping never to return. But his wife Meredith went to medical school at Johns Hopkins and is now a plastic surgeon with a thriving practice. Joe has made a success of commercial real estate and they live in a huge house in the wealthy part of town. In mid-November Joe notices the Amber Glass Gallery sign while visiting a nearby restaurant and finds Amber putting the finishing touches on the exhibit of flower paintings for her grand opening. Pretending not to recognize her, Joe puts a cash deposit down on a painting as a gift for his wife, promising to return in a month and pick it up. Married life isn’t as perfect as Meredith believes: Joe’s business is in a slump, debts are piling up, and his casual fling with Jordan, a young real estate agent, is getting out of hand. Jordan obviously expects an impressive Christmas present, so Joe decides to pick up the painting as her gift. In the new year Covid-19 arrives, and Meredith, who is immunocompromised, shelters at home, exercising in their home gym. Joe feels trapped and begins going for drives, meeting Amber for coffee and trying to disentangle himself from Jordan. His financial problems worsen when plans for the local shopping center he bought stall, and he asks Amber for help, coming up with a desperate scheme to prevent financial ruin. Narrated from the perspectives of Amber, Joe, and Meredith, this slow burning thriller explores trust, dependence, obsession, and betrayal.

The Second MurdererDenise Mina
The Second Murderer (Mulholland Books 2023) begins when Philip Marlowe is summoned to the Montgomery estate, a huge property in Beverly Hills. At the guard house he finds James Donoghue, known as Jimmy the One, a tall handsome man Marlowe once rescued after a raid on a private party where he was serving drinks dressed in a feather boa. Jimmy tells him that Anneliese Lyle, personal secretary to Chadwick Montgomery, will meet him at the house. Montgomery is very old, connected to a drip line, obviously close to death, and the way young and beautiful Annelise is leaning on his chair makes it clear their relationship is more than business. Marlowe notices bruises on her wrists and neck. Montgomery explains that his only daughter Chrissie, 22 and heir to his fortune, is missing, vanished after a house party to announce her engagement two weeks earlier. Widowed after only eight months with a young son, Chrissie had seemed reigned to the match to a suitable man from the proper social class. But the morning after the party she walked down the drive with a small case and hasn’t been seen since. Marlowe realizes he is being hired instead of a large detective agency because Montgomery doesn’t believe he can find Chrissie. Montgomery just needs to be able to said he tried to locate the daughter he doesn’t seem to care about. Marlowe interviews Chrissie’s fiancé and finds him likable, deciding that Chrissie wasn’t running away from something, but instead toward something. He discovers Chrissie living at a boarding house and working at an art gallery: poised, confident, and knowledgeable about the art. Chrissie seems happy and Marlowe is tempted to leave her be. But Anne Riordan, a former protegee of Marlowe’s and now head of her own all female detective agency, is also on the case, and Marlowe isn’t sure she can be trusted to let Chrissie make up her own mind about returning home. A murder changes everything and returning Chrissie to the prison of her father’s mansion might be the best solution. Mina successfully captures Raymond Chandler’s dialogue and ambience of 1940 Los Angeles in this enjoyable homage to the world of Philip Marlowe.

Murder by DegreesRitu Mukerji
Murder by Degrees (Simon & Schuster 2023) is set in 1875 Philadelphia, where Dr. Lydia Weston is a professor and anatomist at the Woman’s Medical College. Anna Ward, a young maid in the household of wealthy industrialist Edward Curtis, misses a regular appointment with Lydia, and she is concerned since Anna seemed nervous and worried at her previous appointment. She asks her colleague Dr. Harlan Stanley for advice, and he volunteers to check with his police inspector friend. When Anna’s sister Sarah visits Lydia explaining that Anna didn’t visit on Sunday as usual, Anna volunteers to visit the Curtis residence and ask about Anna. Inspector Thomas Volcker and Sergeant Charles Davies are called to the Schuylkill River, where the body of a young woman has been retrieved from the water. Her face is bloated and unrecognizable after days in the water. The drowned girl is presumed a suicide, but Volker is troubled by the fact that her hands are unmarked though her face has multiple abrasions. Wouldn’t her hands also have been marred by the branches and rocks of the river? The next day her clothing is found on the riverbank as well as a small bag containing a diary with the name Anna Ward. Volker and Davies visit Lydia to ask if this might be her missing patient. Feeling guilty that she hadn’t yet found the time to visit the Curtis residence, Anna volunteers to be with Sarah while she identifies the body and also to help with the autopsy. Learning that Lydia often loaned books to Anna, Volker gives her Anna’s diary, filled with cryptic passages of poetry he hopes Lydia can make sense of. The Woman’s Medical College of Philadelphia is one of the first in the country devoted to the education of women physicians, and Lydia and her students face daily prejudice about their ability to think clearly and to master the rigor of medical knowledge. Sergeant Davies initially harbors similar suspicious that Lydia is not capable of providing useful assistance in the investigation, but comes to respect her talent for getting the truth out of the Curtis staff members, a skill very similar to the questioning techniques she uses while diagnosing patents. This fascinating debut historical thriller is hopefully the first in a series.

Jonathan Payne
Citizen Orlov (CamCat Books 2023) is set in an unnamed country somewhere in the mountains of central Europe at the end of the Great War. Citizen Orlov is a fishmonger, working at his friend Citizen Vanev’s booth in the market place. Vanev has been trying to convince Orlov for years to join the People’s Front to rebel against government oppression, but Orlov insists politics is not for him, that he is content with a simple job and a simple life. One day he takes a shortcut through the alley behind the Ministries of Security and Intelligence and hears a phone ringing through an open window. It’s a very cold day and Orlov is concerned both that no one is answering the phone and that the open window is possibly a security breach. After looking in all directions for someone else to answer the phone, he reaches in to answer it himself. The voice asks for Agent Kosek, and Orlov squirms through the window to search, but the hallway is dark and empty. The voice demands he memorize a “life or death” message for Kosek and deliver it in person. Wandering through the building in search of Kosek, Orlov finds a room full of people and is welcomed as a new recruit, soon entranced by a presentation by the very attractive Agent Zelle who speaks about midnight rendezvous, safe houses, and secret packages. The next day he receives a first-class train ticket to Kufzig with instructions to check into Pension Residenze where Kosek will meet him. Since the king is visiting the next day all the rooms at Pension Residenze are taken and he is advised to try Penzion Rezidence across the street. That night he finds Agent Zelle undercover as a dancer in the bar, and realizes she is not there to protect the king after all. Things only get more confusing for Orlov from there as he saves the king from assassination and then is blackmailed by the kidnapping of his elderly mother to do Agent Zelle’s bidding. The good-hearted Orlov has no skills as a spy, but does his bumbling best to do the right thing in this absurdly comic debut spy thriller.

The InterpreterBrooke Robinson
The Interpreter (Harper 2023) is the story of Revelle Lee, a London translator for trials and criminal investigations. Raised by a neglectful mother, Revelle is fluent in ten languages learned during her nomadic childhood when she was often left to her own devices. Revelle has always wanted a child of her own, and is now close to adopting six-year-old Elliot who has been in and out of foster care most of his life. Determined to be the loving and reliable mother she never had herself, Revelle rents a two bedroom flat she can’t really afford in order to satisfy all the requirements for adoption. Elliot’s mother is a drug addict, and the social worker assures Revelle the adoption will go through without issues. Elliot has occasional meltdowns, but seems happy and has begun to call her Mum. Revelle’s work schedule is erratic, but she tries to only take assignments when Elliot is at school. One morning the school calls saying Elliot is sick, and she rushes to pick him up and then back to the courthouse. Luckily one of the guards agrees to watch him for a bit while she interprets for a foreign tourist who saw a wealthy woman back her Mercedes SUV into a pregnant caterer in the opera parking lot. The heiress drove off and the pregnant woman she hit lost her baby. A verdict of not guilty is returned. Sandra Ramos, who works as a live-in maid for the heiress, has helped keep Elliot amused and tells Revelle she is available for child-minding. Sandra and Elliot have a great day together the next weekend Revelle has to work. But Sandra doesn’t show up the next time, and Revelle learns she died falling down the stairs in the wealthy woman’s home. There are shards of glass next to her body, and the back gate was open, leading the police to believe it was a robbery gone wrong. Adam Birch, a young homeless man, is arrested. Revelle’s next interpreting job is for Mariusz Dodobek, a homeless Polish immigrant who insists Adam was with him in their shelter under the bridge all night. Worried that Adam will escape justice, Revelle deliberately misinterprets a few of Dodobek’s statements and Adam is charged with murder. Elliot’s brith mother opposes the adoption, and then strange presents begin arriving at Elliot’s school and their home, followed by blackmail threats to reveal Revelle’s interpreting errors to the authorities if she doesn’t follow precise instructions about specific mistranslations. This debut thriller explores the moral quandary of an interpreter who knows changing a single word may help prevent a miscarriage of justice.

A Most Agreeable MurderJulia Seales
A Most Agreeable Murder (Random House 2023) introduces Beatrice Steele, a 25-year-old resident of Swampshire, a small English township near a frog-filled swamp. It’s the early 19th century, and Beatrice lives in Marsh House with her parents and two younger sisters Louisa, the family beauty, and Mary, who fades into the background. Her father Stephen is a confirmed practical joker and her mother Susan is determined to marry off one of her daughters. Louisa seems to be the best possibility. Marsh House, the Steele family’s only asset, is entailed, the deed dictating it can only be granted to a man. If Mr. Steele dies before one of his daughters marries, the estate will pass to his closest male relative, their disgusting cousin Martin Grubb. Beatrice has never quite fit the definition of a true lady according to the strict rules of decorum outlined in The Lady’s Guide to Swampshire, Volumes I and II: she is not musical, her needlework is atrocious, and her artwork so bad it frightens people. Beatrice’s secret passion is crime — she secretly reads the crime news in the London papers and sends her analysis to Sir Huxley, a private detective who describes his current cases in a daily crime column. A neighboring family, the Ashbrooks, are holding a ball at their estate Stabmort Park, in honor of Mr. Edmund Croaksworth, whose parents recently perished leaving him a vast sum of money. The Steeles understand the Ashbrooks hope Mr. Croaksworth will be attracted to their daughter Arabella, but hope Louisa has a chance. Just before leaving for the ball a parcel arrives from Mr. Grubb, he is petitioning for immediate transfer of Marsh House on the grounds that Mr. Steele is mentally unfit. If his petition is successful the family will be ruined and may even be forced to move to France. At the ball Beatrice realizes that Mr. Croaksworth’s companion is none other than Vivek Drake, Sir Huxley’s former assistant who left in disgrace. When Mr. Croaksworth drops dead in the middle of a minuet, poison is suspected. A storm traps the guests, and Beatrice and Vivek become uneasy partners investigating the death. No one trusts Vivek, the outsider who can’t be a gentleman since he works for a living, and Beatrice must hide her talent for crime investigation or risk banishment from respectable society for her morbid interests. A clever homage to the worlds of both Jane Austen and Lemony Snicket, this excellent debut comedy of manners and murder is hopefully the first in a series.

Mother-Daughter Murder NightNina Simon
Mother-Daughter Murder Night (William Morrow 2023) begins when Lana Rubicon, a driven real estate developer, collapses on her Los Angeles kitchen floor. Tumors are discovered in her brain, and follow-up tests reveal additional Stage 4 tumors in her lungs so Lana reluctantly calls her daughter Beth for help. Mother and daughter became estranged when Beth refused to get an abortion, moving to a ramshackle bungalow on the Elkhorn Slough in Monterey County to raise her daughter Jack, now fifteen. Beth is a nurse at a local nursing home and Jack loves spending time on the water and leading kayak tours. Lana has surgery to remove the brain tumors and then moves into Jack’s bedroom while undergoing chemotherapy to shrink the lung tumors. Four months later Lana is going stir crazy with nothing to do but suffer through chemotherapy. Tourists on one of Jack’s kayak tours discover a dead body, identified as Ricardo Cruz, a naturalist working for the Santa Cruz land trust. Ricardo had been booked for a kayak tour the evening before, but never showed up. Detective Nicoletti suspects Jack had something to do with his death, and appears at the bungalow with his partner Detective Ramirez while Beth is at work. He accuses Jack of covering up a mistake which rouses Lana from her post-chemo lethargy in defense of her granddaughter. Relieved to finally have something to occupy her mind, Lana unpacks her couturier work clothes, buys a wig, and sets out to find the murderer. When a connection between Ricardo and Hal Rhoads, a recently deceased elderly resident of the nursing home, comes to light, Lana convinces Beth to do a little snooping herself, recalling their mother-daughter murder nights watching Columbo together when Beth was young. Those were the last times Beth remembers being close to her mother, right after her father left the family and before her mother discovered she loved the power of running her own business. Detective Teresa Ramirez doesn’t share her partner’s conviction that Jack should be the main suspect, and is even willing to listen to Lana’s thoughts about possible motives for the son and daughter of Hal Rhoads, who are uninterested in pursuing their father’s letter of intent to donate the ranch to the land trust. This character-driven debut thriller explores the dynamics between three generations of women trying to balance connection and independence.

Martin Cruz Smith
Independence Square (Simon & Schuster 2023) is set in June 2021, just after Putin sent ten thousand troops and an armada down to the Crimea. Arkady Renko, a chief homicide inspector for the Moscow prosecutor’s office, has been relegated to desk work by unscrupulous Prosecutor Zurin, hoping to bore Renko into quitting. Arkady’s former lover, investigative reporter Tatiana Petrovna, has left Moscow for St. Petersburg, and he is lonely and concerned about his own worsening dexterity and balance. Diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, Arkady begins treatment and then decides to ignore his disease as long as possible. Fyodor Abakov, a huge gangster known as Bronson because of his resemblance to the American actor, asks Arkady to search for his missing daughter Karina, first violinist in a sting quartet. Bronson confesses he hasn’t seen much of Karina since her mother died, but knows she has been busking in the subways and is involved in politics, supporting the anti-government Forum for Democracy. Arkady refuses to accept money from Bronson, and is fearful about Karina’s political involvement, but agrees to try and find Karina both for the distraught father who clearly loves her and to escape his desk to do actual investigative work. Arkady’s adopted son Zhenya, who supports himself playing chess in Gorky Park, introduces Arkady to Karina’s roommate and fellow violinist Elena, a Crimean Tatar from Ukraine, who invites Arkady to join her at the upcoming Forum for Democracy demonstration, where Arkady spots Zhenya and his hacker friend Alex in the crowd. Also in attendance are the Werewolves, a motorcycle gang that fought alongside Russian forces during the 2014 invasion of Crimea, and now act as outriders for the Kremlin, supporting “old-fashioned patriotic values.” Arkady falls for Elena, and the two travel to Kyiv in search of Karina, where Tatiana is covering the conflict. This compelling 10th in the series featuring the ethical Arkady doing the best he can in a corrupt regime weaves in the reality of the author’s own struggles with Parkinson’s disease.


Note: Some of these books were received from publishers and publicists, some were discovered in Left Coast Crime 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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