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Panther Prowling

Yasmine Galenorn. Jove, $7.99 mass market (336p) ISBN 978-0-515-15476-4

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Stormy skies over Seattle bring multiple conflicts for Galenorn’s half-Fae D’Artigo sisters and their allies in the 17th Otherworld urban fantasy novel (after Priestess Dreaming). Delilah D’Artigo, a werecat, Death Maiden, and private eye, is attending a birthday party for witch sister Camille at vampire sister Menolly’s Wayfarer Bar & Grill when the festivities are dramatically interrupted by their human cousin, Daniel, who’s recovering from being attacked by a ghost. Daniel reveals that he is in possession of, and possibly possessed by, an antique Viking sword that he liberated from its rightful owner. Naturally, he seeks his cousins’ assistance, since they lead the Otherworld Intelligence Agency. Galenorn deftly manages her vast cast of supporting characters while weaving continuing story arcs through immediate crises and romantic and family interludes, creating a satisfying installment as she approaches the conclusion of the series. Agent: Meredith Bernstein, Meredith Bernstein Literary Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/05/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Dark Intelligence

Neal Asher. Skyhorse/Night Shade, $26.99 (416p) ISBN 978-1-59780-824-8

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Asher (the Owner trilogy) delivers an exciting beginning to a new trilogy set in his Polity universe. During a war between humans and the crablike alien Prador, Thorvald Spear was killed by Penny Royal, a warped AI. More than a hundred years later, he’s revived to discover that the war is long over but Penny Royal is still around. Isobel Satomi made a deal with Penny Royal so she could become powerful in an interplanetary crime syndicate, but it granted her wish by starting her slow transformation into a carnivorous centipede. Both Spear and Satomi desire vengeance, which is complicated by several questions: not just where Penny Royal is and how to destroy it, but how much they are playing pre-ordained parts in its incomprehensible plan. This beautifully paced book does just as well at slam-bang action scenes as at painting frightening pictures of Isobel’s changes, and provides an interesting climax while leaving plenty of space for the next two books. This is space opera at a high peak of craftsmanship. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/05/2014 | Details & Permalink

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To Free a Spy

Nick Ganaway. Greyhart, $13 trade paper (348p) ISBN 978-1-4848-8573-4

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Fans of high-octane Tom Clancy–esque thrillers will most enjoy Ganaway’s fast-paced first novel. Cam Warfield left the army to establish his own counterintelligence center, but he’s called back into service by President Garrison Cross, who served as CIA director before his election to the Oval Office. Warfield agrees to handle debriefing Harvey Joplan, a mole detected in the agency, in an effort to track down nuclear material stolen from a Russian facility. Immediately after the ticking-bomb setup, Ganaway introduces a whole separate cast of characters, including Karly Amarson, a high-priced escort whose clients include members of the Washington elite, and whose efforts to blackmail one of them ends in violence. Later, the focus shifts to Fumio Yoshida, a Japanese transportation minister, in what appears to be another subplot unrelated to the main one. The action sequences compensate for characters drawn with little depth. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 12/05/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Whatever Happened to Molly Bloom?

Jessica Stirling. Severn, $29.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8440-4

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What if James Joyce’s Leopold Bloom was accused of the murder of his wife, Molly? Stirling (Lantern for the Dark) explores the possibilities in a mystery whose execution doesn’t do justice to this imaginative premise. Insp. Jim Kinsella of the Dublin Metropolitan Police investigates after someone uses a teapot to fatally bludgeon Molly in her bed one day in the spring of 1905. Her husband is the obvious suspect, though he says she was dead when he entered the bedroom. Bloom had motive as well. Molly, a popular singer, was having an affair with Hugh “Blazes” Boylan, as in Ulysses. Those familiar with Joyce’s novel will appreciate how Stirling works in details from it. For example, Bloom’s taste for organ meat plays a part in his ostensible alibi, since he claims to have been at the butcher’s when Molly was killed. But readers who haven’t read Joyce will likely find this to be a dull and pedestrian whodunit. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/05/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Shady Cross

James Hankins. Amazon/Thomas & Mercer, $14.95 trade paper (334p) ISBN 978-1-4778-2098-8

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This outstanding crime thriller from Hankins (Brothers and Bones) grabs the reader by the scruff of the neck and never lets go. When second-rate crook Stokes ransacks a wrecked car that’s run off a country road near Shady Cross, Ind., he discovers that the dead driver had a knapsack stuffed with $350,000; the bad news is that Stokes also finds a ringing cell phone that announces the money was ransom for the dead man’s little daughter. His first impulse is to ditch the phone and run with the cash. Instead, Stokes plays along with the kidnappers over the phone, trying to figure out their plan and save the child. He has no experience as a hero, and the new role forces him into situations that are deadly dangerous and grotesquely hilarious—while the kidnappers keep calling every hour to threaten the girl. Hankins skillfully keeps the story from going warm and fuzzy as Stokes gropes toward redemption. Agent: Michael Bourret, Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/05/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Pardon the Ravens

Alan Hruska. Prospect Park (Consortium, dist.), $26.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-938849-40-4

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Set in New York City in the early 1960s, this formulaic thriller from Hruska (Wrong Man Running) pits a cocky young lawyer against a sadistic mob boss. Alec Brno is only in his second year at top corporate law firm Kendall, Blake, Steel & Braddock, but he has impressed the partners enough to earn a spot on the team defending U.S. Safety Vault from charges of more than a billion dollars’ worth of fraud. Their defense is that the company itself was swindled, and suspicion falls on mob boss Phil Anwar as the money behind the con. Meanwhile, Phil’s addict wife, Carrie Madigan, flees from his abuse and is rescued by Alec, who immediately falls for this damsel in distress, even though she is a potential key witness in the case. Wise but gruff senior partners and scary but none-too-bright mob henchmen round out the cast. Readers will find few surprises along the way to the sweet ending. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/05/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Magician’s Daughter: A Valentine Hill Novel

Judith Janeway. Poisoned Pen, $24.95 (236p) ISBN 978-1-4642-0340-4

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In the opening chapter of this solid first in a new mystery series from Janeway (An Accidental Marriage), 24-year-old magician Valentine Hill is just finishing up a show outside San Francisco’s Golden Pirate Casino when a man in the crowd steals her donation hat. Meanwhile, another audience member approaches Valentine with information about her con-artist mother, Elizabeth Hill (aka Beth Hull), whom she hasn’t seen in nine years. After calling it a night and returning to her apartment, Valentine finds that it’s been ransacked and her life savings stolen, apparently by a spurned suitor. The second chapter is equally crammed with unlikely events: Valentine locates her mother’s apartment, gets beat up, evades a scam by someone posing as an FBI agent, and more. Some readers may grow weary of the countless plot twists, but others will keep turning the pages to find out what happens next to this determined heroine. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/05/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Lost Treasures of R&B: A D Hunter Mystery

Nelson George. Akashic, $24.95 (224p) ISBN 978-1-61775-316-9

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George’s lively third D Hunter mystery (after 2011’s The Plot Against Hip-Hop) takes bodyguard and musical-history authority D back to Brooklyn, where he grew up, after his Manhattan security company fails. On D’s last day in his Soho office, Edgecombe Lenox, a former record executive, tells D a story about a phantom record, “Country Boy & Country Girl,” made in 1966 in a spontaneous jam by Otis Redding and Diana Ross. An unnamed British millionaire is prepared to pay D $15,000 to find it for him. Meanwhile, the elusive singer Night, “the great sphinx of R&B” who created the landmark album Black Sex, is planning a comeback and wants D along for the ride, which includes a London tour. George covers a lot of ground with style: the rhythm-and-blues music scene past and present, the sometimes startling evolution of Brooklyn and its environs, and the multitude of hangers-on, wannabes, and grifters who want a piece of the action. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/05/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Never-Open Desert Diner

James Anderson. Pleasure Boat Studio/Caravel, $25 (288p) ISBN 978-0-912887-10-4

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Anderson distills the heat and shimmering haze of the Utah desert into his fine first novel. Ben Jones, the owner and sole employee of Ben’s Desert Moon Delivery Service, travels up and down Utah Highway 117, making deliveries to the few locals and occasionally getting paid. Ben has come to know many of the area’s stranger residents, including Walt Butterfield, the owner of the Well-Known Desert Diner, and itinerant preacher John, who spends much of his time walking up and down 117 lugging a 10-ft. wooden cross. None of these intrigue Ben as much as the naked woman he finds miming playing a cello without a bow or strings, in a house hidden from the highway. Crimes weave in and out of this modern western, but they take a backseat to the tentative relationship that grows between Ben and Claire, the naked air cellist. Just as important as the mysteries of human entanglement are the desert’s brilliant light, torrential downpours, and vast night sky. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/05/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Can’t Find My Way Home

Carlene Thompson. Severn, $29.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8457-2

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Those looking for romantic-thriller nirvana will find it in this standalone from Thompson (To the Grave). When Brynn Wilder and Mark, her brother, were in their teens, their father was murdered and posthumously declared Maryland’s infamous Genessa Point Killer. Brynn managed to move on and become a novelist, but Mark remained mired in the shame and blame . Eighteen years later, Mark has decided to return to Genessa Point, his deceptively pastoral Chesapeake Bay hometown, determined to clear his father’s name. Brynn, now living in Miami, is sufficiently worried about Mark to follow him to Genessa Point, where she learns that he’s suddenly disappeared. Reluctantly, she turns to Sheriff Garrett Dane, son of the sheriff who convinced the locals of her father’s guilt. Sinister voice-distorted phone calls and threats ensue, driving Brynn and Garrett into each other’s arms. A kid, a dog, and Steve Winwood’s plaintive eponymous song round out an excellent read. Agent: Pamela Ahearn, Ahearn Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/05/2014 | Details & Permalink

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