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“Not So Much,” Said the Cat

Michael Swanwick. Tachyon, , $15.95 ISBN 978-1-61696-228-9

Multiple Hugo Award–winner Swanwick (Chasing the Phoenix) returns with this superb collection of stories published between 2008 and 2014. Ranging across the various subgenres of fantasy and science fiction, the volume includes the Hugo-winning “From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled...,” in which a space suit AI narrates how its owner escaped from a conquered alien metropolis with a burden of incalculable value. Other stories of note are “The Man in Grey,” whose title character is one of reality’s stage managers, in charge of making sure that the props and sets are in place for the 50,000 people who really exist in our universe, all others being mere illusion; “Tawny Petticoats,” in which swindlers Darger and Surplus are taken in by the dauntingly beautiful title character; and “The She-Wolf’s Hidden Grin,” in which two poor little rich girls living on a grim colonial world discover their true alien heritage. Each of these 17 stories is a gem, beautifully written, expertly plotted, with brilliantly developed characters. This is as good as short speculative fiction gets. Agent: Martha Millard, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Calamity

J.D. Jordan. Heliosphere, $16.99 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-937868-47-5

Before the world knew her as the Wild West rogue Calamity Jane, 15-year-old Martha Jane Canary was ripped from her family through cruel circumstances and employed by an alien, with Jane’s horse, Bess, her only friend. Then that alien and his other human employees are murdered. Another alien she calls the Green Man, a cold-hearted assassin, kills the killers and reluctantly agrees to let Jane tag along with him. The path they blaze through the West includes seeking revenge for the murders, fighting other aliens, and going to war alongside Crazy Horse’s band of Sioux. Jordan’s weird western snatches the best adventure and suspense elements from both genres and distills them to their essences, creating a violence-laced but enjoyable romp. Agent: Andrew Zack, Zack Company. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Hotel Westend

Ashley Lynch-Harris. Barrington House, $22.99 (206p) ISBN 978-0-9965210-0-0

In Lynch-Harris’s first novel, a charming homage to the classic mystery, a secretive host summons a number of people to the Hotel Westend in the town of Westend Bay in an unspecified U.S. state. An outlier among the guests is Elsie Maitland, whose meandering voyage in search of adventure results in her unexpected stay at the hotel. The other guests, a pompous millionaire and his newlywed bride, and a grim Mrs. Iradene Hartwell and her younger sister, Marian, are connected by a murder that occurred at the site of the hotel 20 years previous; all were considered suspects at the time. After a maid is poisoned and a reverend also called to the hotel is murdered, it seems the past is replaying itself and a sergeant sequesters the guests. Elsie excitedly consults with her famed mystery writer sister via letters and begins to conduct her own investigation. Lynch-Harris playfully indulges genre tropes, raising readers’ suspicions equally among multiple characters as Elsie plays sleuth and finds romance with a journalist who has his own connection to the crimes. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Murder at the Rummage Sale

Elizabeth Cunningham. Imagination Fury Arts, $24 (406p) ISBN 978-1-944190-00-2

The presidential race between Nixon and Kennedy in September 1960 is the backdrop for Cunningham’s complex whodunit set in an unnamed small town. Charlotte Crowley, the leader of the Episcopal Church of the Regeneration and organizer of the rummage sale, is found dead in the church basement under newly pressed coats. With the local authorities convinced that Charlotte’s death was accidental, it behooves four churchgoing sleuths to find her killer: alcoholic rector Gerald Bradley; Katherine, his Narnia-loving seven-year-old daughter; Anne, his dutiful wife; and spinster Lucy Way, a longtime nurse and cook with a mystical streak. Into the drama of the amateur investigation Cunningham (the Maeve Chronicles) deftly weaves in aspects of postwar life (many of the characters are still overcoming the trauma of WWII), theological stances including Anglo-Catholic mystic and Social Gospel breast-beater, and lush descriptions of food and nature. Fans of Anglican novelist Elizabeth Goudge will find a lot to like. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Buried

Graham Masterton. Head of Zeus (IPG, dist.), $29.95 (368p) ISBN 978-1-7840-8137-9

British author Masterton’s fast-moving if improbable sixth crime thriller featuring Irish Det. Supt. Katie Maguire (after 2015’s Blood Sisters) intertwines two story lines. The first is the mystery surrounding the mummified corpses of a family found beneath the floorboards of a cottage in Blarney, Cork. All the bodies—even a baby and two pet dogs—were shot execution-style in the back of head. As Maguire investigates the bizarre case dating back to the 1920s, she must also covertly deal with a vicious criminal who has abducted her former husband in retaliation for Maguire targeting his lucrative tobacco smuggling business. Steeped in bloody atmospherics and visceral imagery, the story suffers from more than a few highly unlikely plot points, such as Maguire too easily locating the house where her ex is being held and a too tidy conclusion. Still, those who have a high tolerance for gore and a healthy dose of Irish patois should be satisfied. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Death in Disguise: A Monika Paniatowski Mystery

Sally Spencer. Severn, $28.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8620-0

In British author Spencer’s well-crafted 11th mystery featuring Det. Chief Insp. Monika Paniatowski (after Thicker Than Water), the discovery of American Mary Edwards’s dead body on Mar. 13, 1978, in Whitebridge’s best hotel, the Royal Victoria, prompts Acting Chief Constable Keith Pickering to call on his best, Monika, to lead the investigation. Monika and her team, including Det. Sgt. Kate Meadows and Det. Insp. Colin Beresford, question hotel staff and guests and track Mary’s movements. They learn that Mary was in disguise, that Mary wasn’t her real name, that she had handled a pub bully with a swift kick, that she was doing research at the local library into something that happened in 1924, and had consulted a local solicitor. It’s clear from the start that there’s a connection with the 1924 murder of Mill owner Wilfred Hardcastle, but ferreting out Mary’s real identity and purpose and how that long ago murder led to hers makes for a successful puzzle. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Paris Librarian: A Hugo Marston Novel

Mark Pryor. Seventh Street, $15.95 ISBN 978-1-63388-177-8

Early in Pryor’s solid sixth Hugo Marston novel (after 2015’s The Reluctant Matador), Hugo, the security officer at the American embassy in Paris, visits the American Library in Paris, where his friend Paul Rogers is the director. When Hugo, a sympathetic lead with a strong moral compass, knocks on Paul’s office door, he gets no response. Since the door is locked, he must rely on a library employee with a key to open it. Inside, Paul is sitting in his chair, dead. Perhaps he died of natural causes, but of course it could be a case of foul play. Might there be a connection between Paul’s demise and the library having recently acquired the papers of American actress Isabelle Severin, now in her late 90s, who spied for the Allies in France during WWII? Pryor carefully plants clues amid the red herrings, though the obscure and somewhat tawdry solution may disappoint some readers. Agent: Ann Collette, Rees Literary Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Brussels Noir

Edited by Michel Dufranne, trans. from the French by Katie Shireen Assef. Akashic, $15.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-61775-398-5

Brussels, Belgium’s cosmopolitan, multilingual capital, has it criminal underside, as shown in the 13 dark—and sometimes darkly humorous—stories in this strong Akashic noir volume. In Barbara Abel’s “The Parakeet,” a 19-year-old student from England confounds the wife of the family he’s boarding with when he bonds with her husband, rather than their 18-year-old son, with disastrous results. Katia Lanero Zamora’s “Daedalus,” a nightmarish tale of a commuter caught in a dilemma involving protestors, her boss, and a power shutdown, is positively Kafkaesque. Kenan Görgün’s poignant, philosophical “Ritual: Diary of Flesh and Faith” describes the Feast of the Sacrifice, a religious festival, and one Muslim family’s unique practice. A young woman patiently plans apposite vengeance in Émile de Béco’s “In the Shadow of the Tower.” Other entries, just as varied, reflect the many facets of life among the Bruxellois. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Rebellion’s Message: A Jack Blackjack Mystery

Michael Jecks. Severn, $28.99 (224p) ISBN 978-1-78029-085-0

The year may be 1554, but a distinctly Dickensian atmosphere rules in this energetic series launch from Jecks (Templar’s Acre). London’s vast underworld teems with pickpockets, gamblers, prostitutes, and pimps. Real-life Tudor figures, such as Stephen Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, make occasional appearances. Jack Blackjack, Jecks’s winning if disreputable lead, is drawn to London because he doesn’t want to make leather jacks and buckets in Whitstable like his father or go into the army and end up “lying with my belly slashed open on a field of gore.” Jack takes to a life of crime, but he’s in over his head after a pickpocket scheme gone bad makes him the chief suspect in a tavern murder, and it’s revealed that the dead man was carrying a message critical to the conspirators in the Wyatt Rebellion, which opposed Queen Mary’s marriage to Philip of Spain. A master of caustic tone and well-observed detail, Jecks keeps the suspense at a steady boil as his well-rounded characters fight for a corner in tumultuous London with humor and even humanity. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Live and Let Growl

Laurien Berenson. Kensington, $25 (304p) ISBN SBN 978-1-4967-0338-5

Berenson’s middling 19th Melanie Travis mystery (after 2015’s The Bark Before Christmas) takes schoolteacher Melanie from her home in Connecticut to Louisville, Ky., where Peg Trumbull, her energetic older aunt, is serving as a judge at the Kentuckiana Dog Show Cluster. Soon after arrival, Peg gets together with an old friend, Ellie Gates Wanamaker, who like her has had a long career raising poodles. After years away from the dog-show scene, Ellie agrees to attend the dog show, where she encounters some unfriendly exhibitors. Soon afterward, Ellie is found dead on her family’s horse farm, now jointly owned by a pair of Ellie’s cousins, a bone of contention that Ellie was in the process of rectifying. Peg doesn’t believe Ellie’s death was accidental, so the aunt and niece do some snooping that lands them in partnership with a friend from Ellie’s past who concurs with their suspicions. Canine lovers will best appreciate this installment, which is long on doggie doings but short on sleuthing. Agent: Meg Ruley, Jane Rotrosen Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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