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Hindsight

Mindy Tarquini. Sparkpress, , $16.95 ISBN 978-1-943006-01-4

Eugenia Panisporchi has hindsight—the supernatural ability to see backward in time and understand how present-day happenings and people echo those of the past. In her present life, she’s a 33-year-old Italian-American from South Philly who teaches Chaucer at Temple University; long in the past, she lived in a small town in the Bavarian Alps that was shattered by a series of terrible events. In this lively combination of modern women’s fiction and historical urban fantasy, debut author Tarquini deftly imagines Eugenia’s frustration with repeatedly reliving her unhappy past. Eugenia wants nothing to do with hindsight or any of the people she knew in Bavaria, but they keep popping up in her new lives without knowing who they are or what they’ve done. They have new faces but the same old issues. In the present day, Eugenia means to find a way out of the cycle—for good. Tarquini’s innovative concept is paired with realistic characters and sparkling wit, making this enjoyable novel a keeper. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Death Is the Cool Night and Lost to the World

Libby Sternberg. CreateSpace, $14.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-1-5304-0035-5

This volume collects two well-crafted novels by Sternberg (Sloane Hall). In Death Is the Cool Night, which is set in 1941, troubled concert pianist Gregory Silensky is one of several suspects following the murder of Ivan Roustakoff, a pompous and cruel opera conductor, at his home in Baltimore, Md. Gregory, his brain addled by heavy alcohol consumption, fears that he might have strangled his nemesis. Other suspects include Gregory’s love interest, Laura, a beautiful, aristocratic opera singer, who had her own reasons to hate Ivan. Lost to the World, set in 1954 and likewise in Baltimore, centers on the murder of a researcher pioneering a polio vaccine. Blending operatic drama, sumptuous description, and noir, Sternberg gracefully puzzles out her tormented characters’ actions and motivations in each book. The author is an Edgar Award nominee. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Song of the Dead

Douglas Lindsay. Freight (IPG, dist.), $14.95 (272p) ISBN 978-1-910449-74-5

Det. Insp. Ben Westphall, the glum narrator of this haunting series launch from Lindsay (Lost in Juarez), once traveled the world with Britain’s security services until he nearly died in a plane crash in central Africa. Now he’s holed up in the relative quiet of Scotland’s Dingwall, avoiding air travel. All that changes when he’s sent to Estonia (via ferry and car) to investigate claims that tourist John Baden, who allegedly died 12 years earlier on a trip to the Baltic country with his girlfriend, is actually alive. Baden—whose body was found in a lake on the Russian border—recently walked into a Tartu police station and told a fantastical story about being held captive for over a decade and used for organ harvesting and sex by his captors. When Baden’s story checks out, Westphall questions everything about the original investigation, particularly how DNA could match a corpse and a man who’s very much alive. With this richly atmospheric and unrelentingly dark outing, Lindsay solidifies his place as one of the rising stars of tartan noir. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Kiss the Devil Good Night

Jonathan Woods. 280 Steps, $16.95 trade paper (308p) ISBN 978-8-283-55028-3

Jittery Iraq War vet Bill Derringer, the narrator of this picaresque story of antic insanity from Woods (A Death in Mexico), and his wife, Edie, decide on a whim to drive from their home in Atlanta to Orlando, Fla., to attend the murder trial of a woman accused of killing her baby and maybe eating it. They stay in Orlando with Edie’s Aunt Ida, who persuades the couple to help her rob a gun show. After the heist, Edie and her aunt leave Bill behind and run off to share a lesbian relationship in Mexico. Five years after his conviction for armed robbery, Bill leaves prison for a Miami halfway house with nebulous plans for revenge. When he gets a chance to look for William Burroughs’s long-lost suitcase somewhere in Mexico for a collector, with the added possibility of finding Edie and Aunt Ida, he and Jane Ryder, his new companion from the halfway house, fly to Mexico City. There they have a series of barely related adventures involving gratuitous sex, death, and mayhem. Fans of offbeat noir will find a lot to like. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Satellite People

Hans Olav Lahlum, trans. from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson. Pan (IPG, dist. ), $14.95 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-1-4472-3277-3

Set in Oslo in 1969, Lahum’s outstanding second mystery featuring Insp. Kolbjørn “K2” Kristiansen and Patricia Borchmann (after The Human Flies) pays homage to Agatha Christie. Merciless multimillionaire Magdalon Schelderup dies during a dinner party at his Oslo home, surrounded by 10 of his “nearest and dearest,” each of whom could be his killer. K2 plunges into a sequence of interviews with the six women and four men, who range from Schelderup’s 60ish ex-wife, Ingrid, to Maria Irene, his 18-year-old daughter by his second wife. K2 becomes obsessed with Maria Irene, who happens to resemble Patricia, his enigmatic assistant. Over working suppers with Patricia, K2 shows that he’s not the urbane Archie Goodwin he might fancy himself—nor is stiletto-tongued Patricia the genial Nero Wolfe–like genius she claims to be. The intricate plot, which has its roots in the Nazi occupation of Norway, builds to a shocking conclusion. In an afterword, Lahum cites Conan Doyle and Georges Simenon as other influences. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Riot

Laura Wilson. Felony & Mayhem, $14.95 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-1-63194-102-3

Wilson’s somewhat convoluted fifth mystery featuring Det. Insp. Ted Stratton (after 2015’s A Willing Victim) takes Stratton in 1958 to Notting Hill, an area of London much more rough-and-tumble than his last assignment. When a rent collector is murdered, the higher-ups want to deny that the killing was racially motivated, but another murder soon makes it impossible to ignore that the racial tensions between working-class white people and Caribbean immigrants are finally boiling over. While Stratton investigates the murders and tries to determine whether there’s a connection, a race riot breaks out in the neighborhood, and yet another murder is uncovered. Stratton must sift through the complicated world of building societies (financial institutions owned by its members that offer banking and related financial services), as well as the motivations of a social-climbing landlord and a cast of pimps, prostitutes, and do-gooder socialites, to get to the truth. Wilson introduces too many characters and names too quickly, making the threads of the intersecting cases difficult to follow, but she illuminates the period beautifully with her details of the historically based events. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Cataclysmos: A Post-Apocalyptic Thriller; Book 1

Michael Lister. Pulpwood, $17.99 trade paper (274p) ISBN 978-1-888146-65-3

In Lister’s derivative, self-indulgent series launch, the author’s alter ego struggles to survive in an America that has suffered an unspecified disaster. A man named Michael, who, like Lister, has written mysteries featuring prison chaplain John Jordan, has recovered from the injuries he sustained in the riots of Atlanta and is now driving south to reunite with his family in Florida. On his predictable journey, he encounters friendly strangers he can’t trust, has hairsbreadth escapes from death, and gets glimpses of things that may once have been human—and are too formulaic to create tension or any genuine scares. Michael’s tendency to behave foolishly may grate on some readers. For example, he wears an earbud to listen to an audiobook instead of being alert to danger. Others may have trouble with the staccato prose (“Foraging. Gathering. More heavy lifting. Preparing. Securing. Thinking. Always thinking”). Fans of Lister’s superior John Jordan whodunits (Blood Cries, etc.) may be disappointed. Agent: Amy Moore-Benson, AMB Literary. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Courting Death

Paul J. Heald. Yucca, $15.99 trade paper (328p) ISBN 978-1-63158-101-4

Set in the late 1980s, the absorbing third volume of Heald’s Clarkeston Chronicles (after Cotton) follows three bright young lawyers, clerks for a legendary civil rights judge from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, as they tackle cases that pose moral and legal conundrums, besides revealing the limitations of their power. Arthur Hughes, who’s handling a habeas corpus case on the behalf of Karl Gottlieb, a convicted serial killer who’s seeking to avoid imminent execution, and fellow clerk Phil Garner consider the implications of recommending a stay for Gottlieb. The third clerk, Melanie Wilkerson, becomes intrigued by the secrecy surrounding the death five years earlier of clerk Carolyn Bastaigne, who broke her neck in a fall down a stairwell after working late at the office one night. Melanie investigates this tragedy in her spare time. For all three, their real education is just beginning, and Heald skillfully illuminates the vagaries of crime and punishment in this disquieting look inside the workings of the justice system. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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In Plain View

Julie Shigekuni. Unnamed (PGW, dist.), $16 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-939419-98-9

Mystery fans comfortable with deferring gratification will enjoy Shigekuni’s well-written if enigmatic tale. A short prologue, in which a four-year-old girl’s mother suddenly disappears in baffling circumstances, sets the cryptic tone. The book then shifts from the prologue’s undefined time and place to 2010 Los Angeles, where Daidai Suzuki has recently stepped down from her position as an art museum curator in the hope that a less stressful lifestyle will maximize her prospects of becoming pregnant. That choice creates tensions with her husband, Hiroshi, a professor of Asian-American studies, which are exacerbated by one of his students, Satsuki Suzuki (who isn’t related to them). Satsuki becomes a frequent visitor to the couple’s apartment, and Daidai fears that she has designs on Hiroshi. After the student’s mother dies in a convent, Daidai finds out that the death was a suicide and starts to play detective to learn the truth about Satsuki. Shigekuni (Unending Nora) does a superb job of portraying her lead’s insecurities. Agent: Laurie Liss, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Glow of Death

Jane K. Cleland. Minotaur, $25.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-10297-3

Well-defined characters compensate for the overly complicated plot of Cleland’s 11th mystery featuring Rocky Point, N.H., antique dealer Josie Prescott (after 2015’s Ornaments of Death). At the waterfront mansion of businessman Edwin Towson, Josie informs Edwin and his wife, Ava, that the Tiffany lamp he asked her to appraise is genuine and might fetch as much as $1.5 million at auction. Things get complex quickly when there’s a murder at the Towson mansion, though the woman lying dead on the kitchen floor is the not the person Josie met earlier. More shocks follow when it appears that someone also impersonated Edwin and details about the Towsons’ troubled marriage begin to emerge. Josie, angry about being conned, digs deep for clues with the aid of Rocky Point’s police chief Ellis Hunter and reporter Wes Smith. Suspects include the real Edwin Towson and Ava’s sister. Cozy fans won’t mind that Josie’s efforts lead to the unmasking of some unlikely scammers. Agent: Cristina Concepcion, Don Congdon Associates. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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