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Silence

Anthony Quinn. MysteriousPress.com, $15.99 trade paper (344p) ISBN 978-1-4976-6587-3

Quinn's masterly third mystery featuring Insp. Celcius Daly (after 2013's Border Angels) successfully integrates the bloody history of Northern Ireland with a suspenseful plot. In 2013, long after the ceasefire that ostensibly ended the Troubles, the police are reinventing themselves to bring "peace and order to a society splintered by forty years of violence." Against that background, Daly's probing of a fatal accident is unwelcomed by his superiors. He's curious why Fr. Aloysius Walsh, an elderly priest, ignored a police cordon and drove straight off a precipice to his death. Daly learns that Walsh was collaborating with a journalist on an investigation into the past that reached the shattering conclusion that "a secret committee of police officers, judges and politicians during the Troubles" organized a series of killings. To make matters worse, when the inspector accesses Walsh's records, he learns that the dead man believed that Daly's own mother was targeted for death and wasn't the accidental victim of a shooting he long believed. Understated but effective prose enhances a crackerjack story line. Agent: Paul Feldstein, Feldstein Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Muladona

Eric Stener Carlson. Tartarus, $65 (296p) ISBN 978-1-905784-84-4

Set in Incarnation, Tex., at the height of the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, Carlson's serviceable tale of horror is driven by its young protagonist's sense of helplessness in a world increasingly out of his control. Vergil Strömberg has been left on his own on the eve of his 14th birthday—not coincidentally Halloween—locked in his house for protection against the disease-ravaged world outside the door of his family home. This makes him a captive audience for the Muladona, a shapeshiftng mule of Mexican folklore who ravens for his soul. Seven nights in a row the Muladona visits him to tell "bed-time" stories laced with clues to the identity of the person of whom the monstrous creature is an avatar. Struggling to guess whom the Muladona really is, Vergil discovers that with each story told, "its tales and my life are mixing together," and that secrets concerning his stern pastor father, his deceased mother, and the town's history are about to reveal themselves. Although the stories within this story make for an unwieldy mix—most differ in their telling from the frame narrative's style, and some are riddled with anachronisms—Carlson (The Saint Perpetuus Club of Buenos Aires) makes Vergil's increasing sense of helplessness as each is told seem palpable and believable. This book will appeal to readers who believe that childhood fears are often the most potent. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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It Is an Honest Ghost

John Goldbach. Coach House (Consortium, U.S. dist.; PGC, Canadian dist.) $18.95 trade paper (150p) ISBN 978-1-55245-333-9

Goldbach's (Selected Blackouts) second short fiction collection deftly explores a multitude of personalities and anxieties. In "An Old Story: In Five Parts," vignettes reveal a man slave to his isolationist routines. The title story tracks a group of young men whose conversation regarding the strange happenings at a 200-year-old flourmill devolves into an acid-fuelled discussion of metaphysics and the transmigration of souls. Two stories—"A Girl with a Dragon Tattoo" and "Jenny"—are almost entirely dialogue driven: the former involves two high school friends reconnecting at a strip club after many years apart; the latter is a one-sided transcription of a truly awful first date. "Standing in Front of the Kazon Cathedral: St. Petersburg, Russia, 2005" is the strongest piece—a work of flash fiction, it's a near-perfect distillation of the branching, rapid-fire thoughts of an anxiety-ridden mind as a man, while staring up at the sky, imagines being captured and killed as part of a terrorist action. Two stories, however, don't fit with the rest. "Sigismund Mohr: The Man Who Brought Electricity to Quebec" and the novella "Hic et Ubique" feel more emotionally detached and less introspective than the others. Additionally, the novella's weight throws off the collection's balance—its tone and heft don't belong, and so the book limps to its end after a decidedly strong start. (May)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The House at the Edge of Night

Catherine Banner. Random House, $27 (432p) ISBN 978-0-8129-9879-5

Banner, the author of three YA novels, makes her adult debut with a fantastic chronicle of several generations of a family living on a somewhat otherworldly Italian island. Raised by a kindly doctor who takes him from a Florence orphanage, a grown Amedeo Esposito moves to gossipy Castellamare to become the town physician in the early 20th century. He marries the smart, capable Pina Vella, but not before conducting an ill-fated affair with the mayor’s wife, which results in two of Amedeo’s children being born to two different women on the same night. After Amedeo loses his livelihood, he and Pina transform their storied, titular home into a successful bar, which is eventually looked after by their youngest child, Maria-Grazia, during WWII. In her role, she becomes privy to all the townspeople’s secrets, conducts a courtship with wounded British soldier Robert Carr, and, much to her parents’ consternation, finds herself drawn to her half-brother, Andrea. Meanwhile, her sibling Flavio, a former Fascist and her only brother to survive the war, is shunned by the community after rumors destroy his reputation. Banner extends the scope to Maria-Grazia’s two disparate, warring sons, Sergio and Giuseppino, who are willed the bar by Amedeo, and Sergio’s daughter, Lena, who gives up her plans of becoming a doctor to run the business. All the while, Banner constructs a town life with an engaging cast of characters. Her story has a touch of magical realism that filters down from the island’s many legends, collected in a book within the book by Amedeo. Banner deftly touches on weightier themes while weaving an enchanting narrative, the events of which extend to the present. Agent: Suzanne Gluck, WME Entertainment. (July)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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I Shot the Buddha

Colin Cotterill. Soho Crime, $26.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-61695-722-3

In an introductory note, Cotterill warns readers that his highly entertaining 11th novel featuring Laotian coroner Dr. Siri Paiboun (after 2015’s Six and a Half Deadly Sins) is not for those who prefer their “mysteries dull and earthly.” A gripping opening follows, in which three women are murdered in three separate locations over one night in 1979. A flashback to two weeks earlier makes good on Cotterill’s disclaimer. The acerbic Siri and his redoubtable wife, Madam Daeng, who have plenty of experience with the supernatural, attend—and disrupt—a Communist Party seminar condemning spirit worship as part of the regime’s efforts to resolve conflicts between Communism and such faiths as Buddhism and animism. Meanwhile, Noo, a Thai monk whom the doctor has given refuge from the Thai military, vanishes, leaving a note asking Siri to smuggle a fellow monk back to Thailand, a mission that turns out to be connected to the murders of the three women. Cotterill’s subtle humor, coupled with the charm of his leads, will likely trump any discomfort with scenes with supernatural elements, even for readers who disapprove of such in their whodunits. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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I Am No One

Patrick Flanery. Crown/Duggan, $26 (352p) ISBN 978-1-101-90585-2

Flanery’s (Absolution) third novel is a brilliant commentary on pervasive government intrusion into the private lives of citizens. Middle-aged American college professor Jeremy O’Keefe has returned to the U.S. after teaching at Oxford for 10 years and gaining dual U.S.-British citizenship. His life, however, is unsettled. Once back in New York City, teaching at NYU, he feels like a stranger in his own country, with an uncomfortable sense of cultural dislocation and loneliness. Then mysterious boxes arrive at his apartment, and his tenuous grip is truly shaken. The boxes contain his whole digital life for the past 10 years—Internet data, phone records, and photos. Clearly, he has been under surveillance for years, but he has no idea why. Jeremy’s paranoia spikes when he also realizes he is being shadowed by Michael Ramsey, who claims to be a former student. Jeremy thinks back to his years at Oxford, trying to figure out what might have triggered such detailed surveillance, and why someone would want him to know he was being watched. Potential reasons include his strained relationship with another Oxford professor, as well as his illicit romance with Fadia, an Egyptian graduate student with dangerous political connections. This is an excellent portrayal of a good man manipulated by others, without ever understanding why. (July)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Up in Flames

Abbi Glines. Atria, $15 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-5011-1539-4

In the 14th and final installment of the Rosemary Beach series (following 2015’s The Best Goodbye), a spoiled and impetuous rich woman becomes a pawn in a clash of wills between two dangerous, obsessed men. Nan Dillon tires of the mercurial, promiscuous behavior of her boyfriend, Major Colt, and heads to Vegas for some fun. There she meets the mysterious Gannon Roth, whose take-charge, aggressive attitude appeals to her more than Major’s vanilla ways ever did. She has no idea that Gannon is also Cope, Major’s crime-lord boss, and that they just want to discover what she knows about one of her former lovers. Nan returns home and fends off Major’s clumsy flirtations while pining for her Vegas fling. The love triangle comes to an explosive resolution when Nan makes a rash, life-changing decision. Told through alternating perspectives in swift, breezy chapters, this erotic romance isn’t very romantic or erotic; the characters range from unlikable to detestable, the sex is blunt and unsatisfying, and the love angle is vastly underdeveloped. It’s hard to root for any combination of these characters, especially with Major’s predilection for anonymous, passionless encounters, and Nan’s jaded boast that she has “little to no respect for the male species.” Violence in the bedroom, the recurring theme of stalking (Cope keeps Nan under constant surveillance and uses the information to seduce her), and the two men’s collusion likewise make this an unappetizing, unpleasant tale, which eventually reaches an entirely implausible and deeply distressing ending. Agent: Jane Dystel, Dystel and Goderich Literary. (July)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Then He Kissed Me

Laura Trentham. St. Martin’s, $5.99 mass market (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-07764-6

Cottonbloom (introduced in Kiss Me That Way) is a town divided by the Mississippi River: poor “swamp rats” live on the Louisiana side, and wealthy ’Sips on the Mississippi bank. After a brief childhood idyll, Nash Hawthorne and Tallulah Fournette are separated by the river’s unspoken rules for 18 years. Then Nash returns from Ph.D. studies abroad to take up a professorship at a local college. He’s as nerdy as Tally remembers him, but now he’s also handsome, socially adept, and trained in self-defense. She’s as magnetic as he remembers her, but enigmatic in her prickly manner and tied to dead-end habits—like her connection with Heath Parsons, school bully turned MMA fighter, who’s determined to take Tally for himself. Trentham’s handling of the big battles—class struggle, stalking, physical violence—is deft and personal, making for an easy read but disappointing conclusions. Readers who believe that economic and social discrimination can be solved by identifying personal insecurity and being rescued by a privileged man will find this pleasant beach read ticks all the right boxes. Agent: Kevan Lyon, Marsal Lyon Literary. (July)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Billionaire Bachelor

Jessica Lemmon. Grand Central/Forever, $5.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-1-4555-6654-9

Bestselling romance writer Lemmon (the Second Chance series) kicks off her Billionaire Bad Boys contemporary series with sexual sparks between wealthy rival hoteliers in a world of luxury. Merina Van Heusen is livid when she learns her parents have sold the Van Heusen Hotel, a Chicago institution, to the sleek, modern Crane Hotel chain to avoid bankruptcy. After giving her new boss, Reese Crane, a piece of her mind, the last thing she expects is a proposal. Reese, desperate to prove to Crane investors that he’s more than the bed-hopping playboy featured in tabloids and blogs, thinks a stable marriage will show he’s dependable. After six months, when he’s won over the Crane Hotel board, he offers to divorce quietly and give Merina control of her beloved hotel. Merina agrees to the temporary marriage, but their mutual attraction grows, and they both must figure out how to overcome past hurts before they can trust themselves to love again. The Van Heusen Hotel’s troubling money problems never do get addressed, but Lemmon hits the right emotional buttons with this lavish, indulgence-fueled romance. Agent: Nicole Resciniti, Seymour Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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In Loving Memory

Winona Kent. Diversion, $14.99 trade paper (276p) ISBN 978-1-68230-078-7

Kent combines time travel, mystery, and romance in a delightful sequel to Persistence of Memory that’s easily accessible for new readers. Shaun Deeley of the 19th century and Charlie Collins (or Mrs. Collins, as Shaun insists on calling her) of the 21st century, a pair of unpracticed, accidental time travelers, have returned to Charlie’s present-day English-countryside home to begin their lives together. However, as they are putting together an exhibit at the Stoneford Village Museum, they unexpectedly transport back to 1940 London during the Blitz, where they meet Charlie’s grandmother, then a young woman. They quickly understand that this meeting is not a chance occurrence: Charlie and Shaun’s family history and the future they’ve already lived all depend on protecting Charlie’s grandmother from a killer who is crisscrossing through the centuries. Kent’s wonderfully complex and charming mystery asks interesting questions about how individual actions might change outcomes, but these heavy thoughts do not detract from Charlie and Shaun’s romance as their delightful banter reveals their solid devotion to each other. (July)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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