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Marked for Revenge

Emilie Schepp. Mira, $26.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-7783-1965-8

In Swedish author Schepp’s outstanding second novel, her beleaguered group of Swedish police and prosecutors, who closed a refugee-smuggling case with drug connections in 2016’s Marked for Life, face serious personal problems. Public prosecutor Jana Berzelius battles a sinister past she can’t quite remember; decent, conscientious Det. Chief Insp. Henrik Levin is anxious about the impending birth of his baby; forensics expert Anneli Lindgren and her domestic partner, Chief Investigator Gunnar Öhrn, worry about their troubled 20-year relationship; and Det. Insp. Mia Bolander’s flippancy may get her thrown off the team. Meanwhile, the National Crime Squad threatens them with a massive reorganization at the same time that a new case involving drug smuggling and murder, masterminded by the enigmatic Old Man, arouses old animosities. Schepp sure-handedly brings her characters to unhappy life in a police procedural that lays bare the most sordid aspects of immigrant-related crime. Agent: Lena Stjernström, Grand Agency (Sweden). (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Bid

Adrian Magson. Midnight Ink, $15.99 trade paper (360p) ISBN 978-0-7387-5043-9

In Magson’s pedestrian sequel to 2016’s The Locker, James Chadwick, a British business consultant with a passion for radio-controlled planes, has taken out a policy from Cruxys Solutions, a London-based private insurance and security company that provides special services to people in dangerous professions. When Chadwick goes missing on a trip to New York, Ruth Gonzales, an investigator for Cruxys Solutions, pays a call on his wife, Elizabeth, at the couple’s Chelsea townhouse. Elizabeth refuses to believe that anything serious has happened to him. “He’s a business consultant,” she says. “The worst he could suffer would be a paper cut or a missed call.” Little does she know. Ruth flies to Newark airport, where she’s met by her American counterpart, Andy Vaslik, formerly of Homeland Security. Soon Ruth and Andy are up to their necks in terrorist plots, conflicts with the FBI, and a conspiracy to kill the U.S. president. The first two-thirds of the book consists mostly of interviews with various people about Chadwick’s disappearance; the last section is filled with gunfights, car chases, and other stock thriller elements. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Melody of Murder

Stella Cameron. Crème de la Crime, $29.95 (224p) ISBN 978-1-78029-084-3

Cameron’s third cozy (after 2015’s Out Comes the Evil) featuring pub owner Alex Duggins and her love interest, veterinarian Tony Harrison, won’t do much for readers not previously invested in these underdeveloped leads. Alex returned home to the Cotswolds village of Folly-on-Weir, following her divorce and the death of her infant daughter. Five year’s later, she’s now considering placing a memorial bench for her daughter in a local churchyard. While visiting the churchyard, Alex enjoys hearing the singing and piano playing of a woman inside the church. After the music ends abruptly, Alex enters the church, where she’s horrified to find a dead woman, later identified as 22-year-old Laura Quillam, lying underneath the piano. The police soon classify the death as a possible homicide, and Alex, who is wracked with guilt at having been so near at the fatal instant, once again plays amateur sleuth. The Quillam family’s dysfunctions provide ample room for speculation as to motive, but none of the characters makes much of an impression, and the climax is fairly melodramatic. (June)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Murder That Never Was

Andrea Kane. Bonnie Meadow, $24.95 (384p) ISBN 978-1-68232-000-6

Bestseller Kane’s fifth Forensic Instincts novel (after 2015’s The Silence That Speaks) makes suspending disbelief a challenge, especially for readers unwilling to believe that Forensic Instincts, a Manhattan-based “private investigation firm with the reputation that brought clients in by the droves,” has a claircognizant (or psychic) on staff. That employee, Claire Hedgleigh, says that she has “a metaphysical sense in which I simply know something to be true, even though I can’t back any of it up with fact or provide an explanation as to how I know it.” Claire’s talent is put to use when FI gets involved in helping Lisa Barnes, a desperate job seeker. Despite a lack of credentials, Lisa is hired by personal trainer Julie Forman to work in a Chicago women’s gym and is even offered a place to stay. When Julie is gunned down right before Lisa’s eyes, Lisa, who closely resembles the dead woman, decides to assume her identity and flee the city. FI learns of her plight and gets to work identifying Julie’s killer. Thin characters don’t make the improbable plot any more palatable. (May)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Barefoot Summer

Carolyn Brown. Montlake Romance, $12.95 trade paper (297p) ISBN 978-1-5039-4128-1

Kate Steele, the likable heroine of this Texas-set contemporary, wears red to her husband’s funeral because black would have been a sign of respect, and that slam is before she learns he had two other wives. Conrad, murdered while buying flowers for yet another female friend, leaves behind Kate, Jamie Mendoza and her daughter Gracie, and pregnant Amanda Hilton. Even worse, sexy detective Waylon Kramer suspects that one (or all) of the three is the killer, and Kate, an affluent woman being groomed to succeed her mother as president of an oil company, is the most likely to have had the funds to hire a hit man. Each woman decides to take refuge at Conrad’s remote country cabin, where initial mutual horror soon ebbs and the three women grow as close as sisters. The only shadow is Det. Kramer’s ongoing investigation, and even he becomes smitten with one of the suspects. Prolific romance author Brown (Merry Christmas, Cowboy) shows she can also write women’s fiction in this charming story, which uses humor and vivid characters to show the value of building an unconventional chosen family. Agent: Erin Niumata, Folio Literary Management. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Ghoul Vendetta

Lisa Shearin. Ace, $7.99 mass market (304p) ISBN 978-1-101-98940-1

Shearin’s fun fourth SPI Files supernatural mystery (after The Brimstone Deception) moves the series forward but gets bogged down in the weight of what came before. Seer Makenna Fraser is an agent for the Supernatural Protection and Investigation Agency, based out of New York. She’s out for a date with her dark mage ghoul boyfriend, Rake, hobnobbing with the rich, elite, and supernatural, when a kraken attacks and their host is kidnapped by sea monsters. The attack proves to be just the opening foray in the lead-up to a cataclysmic plot perpetuated by the recurring nemesis of Ian, her SPI partner. While the stakes grow dire and the enigmatic enemy taunts the SPI, Makenna must rally her forces to prevent apocalypse. The book is bloated with references to events from earlier in the series, so new readers will find it easy to catch up, but it’s hard to become immersed. Makenna is charmingly quippy, though, and Shearin delivers a pulpy good time for undemanding readers. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Last Sacrifice

James A. Moore. Angry Robot, $14.99 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-0-85766-544-7

Prolific fantasy and horror author Moore launches the Tides of War epic fantasy series with this inconsistent novel. His setting, reminiscent of Scotland by way of Middle Earth, is full of angry gods and unrepentant mortals. When Brogan McTyre’s wife and children are held captive and later murdered by the Grakhul, a host of immortal servants to the gods, he vows to stop at nothing to seek his revenge. The plot is zippy and Moore adequately captures his characters’ attributes. However, his voice is inconsistent; grandiose language (“the foolish that trespassed did not live long to speak of their journeys”) often collides with coarse colloquialisms (“You only ever get that smile when you’ve just been laid”). Repetition of phrases and story elements distracts from the plot. Newcomers to epic fantasy might enjoy Moore’s newest book, but to seasoned readers it will feel like a retread of older concepts. Agent: Howard Morhaim, Howard Morhaim Literary. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Soul of the Unborn

Natalia Brothers. City Owl, $3.99 e-book (384p) ISBN 978-1-5337-7007-3

This tensionless, awkward, and too-long supernatural debut, nominally inspired by Russian folklore, starts with the format of a teenage scare flick—whiplash social conflicts, gaslighting, and rapid flip-flops among bravery, curiosity, and fear—and grates it against the first-person narration of a broody, anxious central character who is too hard to classify as villain or victim, in a paranormal rules-bound setting that requires more clarity. Virginian Debra Alley, her three college friends, and her older cousin go to the small Russian village of Visenky for Valya Svertlova’s creepy overnight storytelling tour, hoping to find out what made her friend Kenny come back shaken the previous year. She has no idea that Valya has lured the group there because Debra is of her bloodline; Valya hopes to prove that her supernatural sensitivities are hereditary and not due to the fact that she is a soulless monster reanimated as a baby by the local witch after being stillborn. Monsters, including a deadly underwater possum and ghosts of Valya’s dead friends, show up haphazardly; the plot is jumpy; and Brother’s language elicits no frisson of the scary or strange. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Forgotten Tale: The Accidental Turn Series, book II

J.M. Frey. Reuts, $19.99 trade paper (560p) ISBN 978-1-942111-44-3

Being a part of a family, however unconventional, is an integral theme of Frey’s clever, adventurous, and endearing second Turn novel (after The Untold Tale). After living in reality for two years, Forsyth Turn has grown accustomed to not being just a character in the pages of a book. When classic books—and everyone’s memories of them—start disappearing, Forsyth seems to be the only one who notices. Abruptly pulled back into his fictitious realm of Hain by an anger-driven Deal Maker spirit and an unhappy teenager, Forsyth discovers a connection between the missing books and the vanishing constellations in his home world. He begins an epic quest to find the stars, the books, and a way back home, joined by his brother, Kintyre; Kintyre’s partner, Bevel Dom; their newly discovered son, Wyndam; Forsyth’s his beloved wife, Pip; and their toddler daughter, Alis. As in the previous novel, the thought-provoking story discusses the stereotypical role of women in fantasy novels, but more focus is placed on the characters’ struggles with their familial roles and relationships, creating depth and commonality. Agent: Laurie McLean, Fuse Literary. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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A Divided Spy

Charles Cumming. St. Martin’s, $26.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-250-02104-5

In bestseller Cumming’s nuanced, suspenseful third Thomas Kell novel (after 2014’s A Colder War), the London-based former MI6 agent, who’s been a private citizen for 12 months since the assassination in Istanbul of his girlfriend and fellow spy, Rachel Wallinger, receives a call from Harold Mowbray, a private contractor with whom he has worked on several missions. Mowbray wants to have a face-to-face chat, and they agree to meet at a Middle Eastern restaurant that evening. Over dinner, Mowbray reveals that during a recent vacation with his wife to an Egyptian Red Sea resort he spotted Russian SVR officer Alexander Minasian, whom Kell holds personally responsible for Rachel’s death. Kell sets up a trap using Minasian’s lover, Bernhard Riedle, and persuades his old boss, SIS chief Amelia Levene, to help him capture Minasian. The hows and whys of the mission slowly unfold in a perfectly constructed plot that proves once again that Cumming is among today’s top spy thriller writers. After a complicated, riveting finale, a moving coda suggests that readers may have seen the last of Thomas Kell. Say it ain’t so, Charles. 75,000 announced first printing; author tour. Agent: Luke Janklow, Janklow & Nesbit. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/09/2016 | Details & Permalink

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