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The Dark Blood

A.J. Smith. Head of Zeus, $14.95 trade paper (512p) ISBN 978-1-78185-228-6

Smith’s second epic fantasy novel (after The Black Guard) continues to chronicle the devastation of a meticulously described fantasy world as gods battle one another and drag their faithful followers along. Using multiple viewpoint characters, Smith weaves together the stories of a variety of people fighting the sorcerous Seven Sisters in their own ways, each with their own agendas. The Dokkalfar, nonhuman forest-dwellers, have confirmed that the Sisters are planning to raise the dreaded Forest Giant. The red knights have rained down destruction, supplemented by the hounds controlled by the Sisters. And the specter of the entities called the Dark Young continues to haunt both sides; they are used as weapons by some, and feared by all. Tinged with unexpected humor, the bloody and gleefully homicidal story unfolds at a surprisingly lugubrious pace given the amount of action. The large cast puts Smith in a bind: reminding the reader who the characters are bogs down the imaginative narrative in many places, but omitting that introduction leaves the reader backtracking in search of memory-joggers. However, the characters themselves are vividly depicted and practically leap off the page to chat with the reader. Agent: Diane Banks, Diane Banks Associates. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Outreach Committee

C.L. Woodhams. Woodhams, $14.95 trade paper (480p) ISBN 978-0-9908924-0-3

Woodhams (Sweet Justice) capably crafts a tale of vengeance with a clever central concept. Since Mora Rey’s abusive husband died years ago in a skiing accident, she’s gone from being a belittled and controlled wife to doing empowering work at Los Angeles’s Battered Women’s Escape Foundation, which assists women fleeing from their dangerous husbands and rebuilding their lives. Yet Mora knows from experience that sometimes a more final solution is in order. She launches the Outreach Committee, helping victims like her colleague and friend Carol Ewald to escape their husbands by staging “accidents” like the one that took her own. As Mora and Carol gain confidence in their services, logistical and psychological complications arise. Unfortunately, Woodhams’s heavy-handed focus on the ubiquity of marital violence begins to overshadow the more subtle features of the story, such as the tender interactions between domestic abuse survivors. Male characters come across as cartoonish villains, lessening the impact of the violence. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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House of Blazes

Dietrich Kalteis. ECW (Perseus/Legato, U.S. dist.; Jaguar, Canadian dist.), $16.95 trade paper (280p) ISBN 978-1-77041-286-6

Kalteis sets his fourth crime novel (after Triggerfish) in 1906 in San Francisco’s Barbary Coast district, “a back alley of vice and corruption,” viewed by many as “a moral cancer on this Paris of the Pacific.” The story pits Levi Hayes, who has returned from doing five years in San Quentin Prison for stealing $30,000 in gold from the San Francisco mint, against the powerful Healey brothers, who he believes saw to it that he was found guilty. Levi wants to return to the House of Blazes, his barroom seized by the Healeys, to recover the gold coins hidden in the cellar walls and to seek revenge on the brothers. Laden with local color—gambling dens, houses of prostitution, lawlessness—much of the action takes place against the backdrop of the great earthquake and fire of 1906, and Kalteis vividly depicts the terror and random death both caused. Populated by a diverse cast of well-drawn characters, including Levi, his nephew Mack Lewis, the newly widowed Mabel Porter, black widow Florence Healey, madam Pearly Wilkes, crooked copper Quinn Healey, pimp Byron Blake, and Red Tom, this book is for readers who like their history gritty and action-packed. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Michelangelo’s Ghost: A Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery

Gigi Pandian. Henery, $15.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-63511-069-2

Pandian’s rollicking fourth Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mystery (after 2015’s Quicksand) takes the quick-witted historian from her home in San Francisco, along with her brother, Mahilan, and his brand-new girlfriend, Ava, to a romantic villa near the Italian village of Bomarzo in the hills of Viterbo. The town, famous for its sculpture garden known as the Park of Monsters, is where Jaya believes a 16th-century artist had a secret studio. Life for Jaya has to be more exciting than just poring through ancient libraries and dining on artichokes and Rosato wine. During her investigations, she is also juggling the two men in her life—magician Sanjay and the dashing and mysterious Lane. This book has everything a mystery lover could ask for: ghostly presences, Italian aristocrats, jewel thieves, failed actors, sitar players, and magic tricks, not to mention dabs of authentic history and academic skullduggery. Agent: Jill Marsal, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Casting Bones

Don Bruns. Severn, $29.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8636-1

This clunky series opener from Bruns (Reel Stuff and six other Stuff mysteries) introduces New Orleans homicide detective Quinton Archer. When David Lerner, a controversial juvenile court judge, is kidnapped and killed, his murder is priority one for Archer and his partner, Adam Strand. Strand is desperate to pin it on a young petty thief, and he’ll do almost anything to get his conviction. Archer is not so sure. Soon other judges begin to die, and Solange Cordray, a beautiful voodoo practitioner, insists that she can help Archer with the case, but she’s got secrets of her own. All signs point to an exclusive club, Krewe Charbonerrie. When more judges are killed, Archer rushes to catch a killer who seems unstoppable and has links to the highest echelons of power. Post-Katrina New Orleans provides a fascinating locale, but hints about former Detroit cop Archer’s painful past (including his wife’s murder), plus a bit of the supernatural, can’t save this by-the-numbers affair. Agent: Jill Marr, Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Bad Samaritan

Michael J. Malone. Contraband (IPG, dist.), $14.95 trade paper (306p) ISBN 978-1-910192-31-3

Readers will sympathize with Det. Insp. Ray McBain in Malone’s hard-hitting third outing for the Glaswegian copper (after A Taste for Malice). Ray suffers from traumatic stress disorder manifested in panic attacks and sleep-depriving nightmares. His emotional distress is interfering with his efforts to find the murderer of 21-year-old Aileen Banks, whose body was found in a narrow lane propped up between two dumpsters with semen on her clothing and human tissue under her fingernails. Trying to support Ray are his lover, Maggie; a colleague, Det. Constable Alessandra Rossi; and a close friend, Kenny O’Neill. Despite their efforts, Ray is drawn into a quagmire that threatens to destroy his career, ruin all his relationships, and perhaps even cost him his life. Meanwhile, a ghost from his childhood, a serial killer dubbed the Stigmata, is hunting Ray, piling up corpses en route to a showdown with him. The fast-moving plot builds to a horrifying ending. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Death in Cold Water: A Dave Cubiak Door County Mystery

Patricia Skalka. Univ. of Wisconsin, $24.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-299-30920-6

Sheriff Dave Cubiak investigates the disappearance of wealthy 82-year-old Gerald Sneider, an avid Green Bay Packer fan known as Mr. Packer, in Skalka’s tangled third mystery set in Wisconsin’s Door County (after 2015’s Death Stalks Door County). A search of Sneider’s home finds a cryptic note: “Pay or he dies”; a similar message turns up at the Packers’ office in Green Bay, prompting a call to Cubiak from FBI special agent Quigley Moore. Although Cubiak is nominally in charge of what the authorities are treating as a kidnapping case, Moore and his assistant agent, Gwen Harrison, virtually take over. Meanwhile, Cubiak becomes interested in an old human bone fragment that his dog discovers on the beach. Further messages from the kidnapper increase the pressure on law-enforcement to break the case. Cubiak talks to a lot of people to find the key to unlock past and present crimes in this competently written tale. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Ambush: A Steve Flynn Thriller

Nick Oldham. Severn, $28.99 hardcover (224p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8634-7

British author Oldham’s violent, action-packed sequel to Onslaught finds Steve Flynn leading an idyllic life on the Mediterranean resort island of Ibiza. When he’s not running pleasure cruises for the rich, he’s spending time with his lover, Maria Santiago. The brutality and horror of his previous job as a Lancashire detective fighting the region’s biggest drug traffickers is quickly becoming a distant memory. But when some of his former colleagues begin dying—all shot in gangland fashion—Flynn quickly realizes that all the victims are tied to an old case involving the arrest and conviction of a psychopathic crime boss who apparently died in prison months earlier. With only Flynn and one other cop left from the police team that participated in an antidrug operation, he must stay alive long enough to figure out who’s doing the killing—and why. Oldham’s fluid, deeply atmospheric prose helps compensate for the two-dimensional characters and an abrupt ending that will not satisfy some readers. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Idol of Mombasa

Annamaria Alfieri. Felony & Mayhem, $14.95 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-1-63194-100-9

Set in 1912, Alfieri’s captivating, complex second mystery set in East Africa (after 2014’s Strange Gods) highlights cultural and social issues. Because the Brits must placate the Arabs if they’re to maintain control within their empire in Africa, Mombasa’s justice system is biased not only in favor of whites but also the city’s large Arab population. Justin Tolliver, an assistant district superintendent with the British East African Police, is forbidden from enforcing Britain’s antislavery laws (with which the Arabs disagree), and is ordered to keep the peace and protect a visiting Egyptian dignitary rather than investigate the murder of an escaped black slave. Justin’s wife, Vera, the outspoken, African-born daughter of a Scottish missionary, refuses to let such discrimination stand and launches her own investigation. The pace is deliberate, but patient readers are rewarded with nuanced subplots and straitlaced Justin’s dawning realization that serving justice isn’t necessarily synonymous with serving “King and Country.” Agent: Adrienne Rosado, Nancy Yost Literary Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Hillary

D.W. Buffa. Polis (PGW, dist.), $26.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-943818-42-6

At the start of Edgar-finalist Buffa’s third thriller featuring Sen. Bobby Hart (after 2010’s The Grand Master), U.S. president Robert Constable dies in a Manhattan hotel in the company of a woman not his wife. Constable’s minders at the scene scramble to remove all evidence of the tryst. Though officials say Constable died of a heart attack (alone), his widow, Hillary, suspects her husband was murdered, possibly at the behest of a secretive French banking institution, the Four Sisters. When Bobby pays his respects to Hillary, she asks him to investigate a possible conspiracy. Bobby travels to France, where he meets the head of the Four Sisters, Jean de la Valette, who’s more philosopher than financier. Those who can verify the conspiracy are discredited and killed, and Bobby finds himself framed for their deaths. Occasionally, the book threatens to veer into Dan Brown territory; the final revelations feel rushed and unearned, and Hillary isn’t much of a presence. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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