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Brimstone

Cherie Priest. Ace, $16 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-101-99073-5

In this pitch-perfect penny dreadful, Priest (The Family Plot) evokes the strangeness and charm of early-19th-century Florida and the fortitude of two spectacular protagonists. Alice Dartle, making a daring bid for freedom from her family home in Norfolk, Va., dreams of a man surrounded by fire. She journeys to join a community of Spiritualists in Cassadaga, Fla. where she hopes to learn how to control her natural psychic abilities. Tomás Cordero is a war veteran who’s just returned home to Ybor City, Fla., where he’s plagued by uncanny fires that seem determined to destroy all he loves. The two are brought together by powers beyond their understanding, which they must face armed only with universal love and compassion. Priest wields a brilliant command of the delightful and the frightening in this enchanting tale. Though spooky and dangerous events abound, each less logical than the last, she holds tightly to the theme that these events are rooted in human will. The detailed extrapolation of Spiritualist beliefs into reality makes the story even more terrifying than if it had a supernatural villain driving the chaos. The conclusion is both uplifting and satisfying, a fitting reward for the protagonists, who have each sought only to give help and love to those in need. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Big Overnight: Book 3 in the Stella Reynolds Mystery Series

Libby Kirsch. Sunnyside, $12.99 trade paper (299p) ISBN 978-0-9969350-3-6

TV journalist Kirsch puts her knowledge of her industry to good use in her entertaining third whodunit featuring Stella Reynolds, a reporter for a Knoxville, Tenn., TV station (after 2016’s The Big Interview). A routine assignment takes Stella to the police department just as officers are bringing in a murder suspect. When Stella asks handcuffed Cas Rockman if he shot Oliver Bennet, Rockman admits to it on camera. Despite the confession, Stella is warned to disregard it by a stranger, who turns out to be Rockman’s father, Harrison Keys, a convicted murderer who served 20 years in prison. These odd encounters prove to be just the beginning of an extremely challenging case, in which Stella investigates Rockman’s possible innocence. Romance fans will enjoy passages detailing Stella’s love life (“She launched into him, ripping his shirt off in one rough movement, and the ping of buttons as they bounced off the bedside table and lamp was the only thing that broke the silence”). (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Shallow End

Brenda Chapman. Dundurn (IPS, U.S. dist.; UTP, Canadian dist.), $14.99 trade paper (380p) ISBN 978-1-4597-3510-1

The intriguing fourth book in Chapman’s Stonechild and Rouleau police procedural series (following Tumbled Graves) seems to present detectives Kala Stonechild and her partner Paul Gundersund with a straightforward case. When 17-year-old Devon Eton is found murdered, the prime suspect is Jane Thompson—a beautiful teacher who was charged and convicted of having sexual relations with Devon when he was a student in her junior high school classroom. Jane was recently released on parole after serving a three-year sentence, but, as the detectives and Staff Sergeant Jacques Rouleau investigate, they begin to think things may not be not what they seem. Chapman’s tightly constructed mystery introduces readers to a variety of interesting characters and other possible suspects, including Jane’s former husband, Adam, and his young girlfriend, Naomi; Devon’s family members; and his best friend Charlie. The interplay between Rouleau, Stonechild, and Gundersund, who are all well-developed characters dealing with their own personal problems, will draw readers into the story, too. As they dig deeper into the mystery, they uncover lies and terrible truths that take this story into darker territory and questions of the nature of evil. It’s a gripping read. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Meating Room: A DCI Gilchrist Investigation

T. Frank Muir. Academy Chicago, $14.99 paper (368p) ISBN 978-1-61373-789-7

Did wealthy businessman Brian McCulloch gas himself in his Jaguar near St. Andrews or did he have help? That’s the question facing Det. Chief Insp. Andy Gilchrist in Muir’s implausible and unnecessarily gory fifth Scottish police procedural (after 2015’s Life for a Life). More shocking is what Gilchrist and his team at the Fife Constabulary, including his tough-as-nails sidekick, Det. Sgt. Jessie Janes, discover at McCulloch’s residence: the bodies of McCulloch’s two teenage daughters, showing no signs of violence, and his wife, who’s been “gutted, decapitated, and skinned.” Gilchrist and Janes look to Thomas Magner, McCulloch’s business partner in Stratheden Enterprises, for answers. Magner—whom 11 women have accused of rape in the past—is the obvious suspect, but he has too easy an alibi. Toward the end, Muir skews away from real detecting and into the realm of good guys and bad guys scrabbling in dark catacombs with a shotgun. Those wanting solid police work would do best to look elsewhere. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Give the Devil His Due: A Tarot Mystery

Steve Hockensmith, with Lisa Falco. Midnight Ink, $14.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-7387-4224-3

At the start of Hockensmith and Falco’s sprightly third Tarot mystery (after 2015’s Fool Me Once), Alanis McLachlan gets a major-league shock when her con-man surrogate father, Biddle, shows up at the White Magic Five and Dime, the store Alanis inherited from her late con-artist mother, in Berdache, Ariz. Alanis believed he died 30 years earlier after angry gangsters took him for a walk into an Ohio cornfield from which he never returned. Biddle’s resurrection coincides with the odd disappearance of a customer, who vanished after asking to use the White Magic’s restroom. And Alanis, who narrowly escapes being run down by a car, becomes a person of interest to the local police after another customer, who identified himself to her as Mike Brown, CPA, is found dead with one of her business cards in his possession. The authors keep the surprises coming while maintaining a consistently humorous tone. Agent: Josh Getzler, Hannigan Salky Getzler Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Cut

Marc Raabe, trans. from the German by Sharmila Cohen. Manilla (IPG, dist.), $12.95 trade paper (480p) ISBN 978-1-78658-007-8

Security guard Gabriel Naumann, the hero of German author Raabe’s fast-paced debut, spent five years in a psychiatric clinic after witnessing and not being able to remember his parents’ murder. One night nearly 30 years later, he responds to an alarm at a long-vacant Berlin house. Once inside the house, he receives a frantic call from Liz Anders, his journalist girlfriend, begging for help. Then the line goes dead. He rushes to the location she described only to find the corpse of a man whose throat has been slit. Authorities on the scene think Gabriel is the man’s murderer. After escaping police custody, he reaches out to his brother, David, from whom he’s been estranged for 20 years. Liz’s kidnapper, after sending Gabriel an envelope containing her cell phone, calls Gabriel on the phone and threatens to harm Liz unless Gabriel can figure out how to locate them. In order to do so, Gabriel must remember what happened the night his parents were killed. Unfortunately, the action builds to an overlong and too graphic ending. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Measure of the Moon

Lisa Preston. Thomas & Mercer, $15.95 trade paper (380p) ISBN 978-1-5039-3757-4

Childhood traumas reverberate throughout Preston’s (Orchids and Stone) gripping thriller set in Washington State. One night in the woods, eight-year-old Greer Donner runs across a man beating a woman. When the man threatens to kill anyone Greer tells about the beating, the boy, who’s revealed his name and where he lives, is terrified. The members of Greer’s close, raucous family, which includes five adult brothers and sisters, are later worried when Greer’s behavior changes under the weight of this secret. Meanwhile, freelance photographer Gillian Trett, who suffered from growing up with alcoholic parents, plans to leave her unbelievably saintly husband. Yet a third plotline involves a WWII-era photo. As the stories converge, Preston milks each of them for every bit of drama and horror. Readers will sympathize more with the well-delineated members of the Donner family than with the less distinctive characters in the Gillian chapters. Agent: Mark Gottlieb, Trident Media Group. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Age of Olympus: A Duncan Forrester Mystery

Gavin Scott. Titan, $14.95 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-783297-82-5

Scott’s second Duncan Forrester mystery set in turbulent post-WWII Greece (after 2016’s The Age of Treachery) fails to realize its potential. In 1946, the British are concerned that Greece’s civil war could flare up at any moment and that Yugoslavia’s backing of the communists could help them assume power and extend the Iron Curtain. British archeologist and operative Forrester, who left Oxford to join the Special Operations Executive during the war, was hoping that he could focus on a planned expedition to “dig up” Crete. Those intentions are predictably derailed when a Dutch nemesis, who conceals horrific facial injuries behind a Phantom-of-the-Opera-style mask, resurfaces and a Greek poet is fatally poisoned. Despite multiple suspects with multiple motives, the murder mystery takes a back seat for too long, dissipating the impact of Duncan’s final reveal of the killer’s identity. Duncan’s insouciance in the face of extreme danger jars within an otherwise realistic story. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Hunt: An Andy Hayes Mystery

Andrew Welsh-Huggins. Swallow, $26.95 (264p) ISBN 978-0-8040-1188-4

Welsh-Huggins’s strong fourth Andy Hayes mystery (after 2016’s Capitol Punishment) finds the Columbus, Ohio, PI still struggling with personal relationships but a bit more confident as an investigator. When prostitute Jessica Byrnes disappears when five young women have already been murdered by a serial killer, Andy interviews a lot of people, including Det. Larry Schwartzbaum, who handled the missing-person call about Jessica; attorney Karen Feinberg, who once represented Jessica; and Jessica’s sleazy stepfather, Jimmy Wooding. Andy is surprised by a call from Congresswoman Darlene Bardwell, who’s concerned with human trafficking and wants to help. Just as a picture emerges of a troubled and frightened Jessica, Andy runs afoul of brutal pimp Bronte Patterson. Welsh-Huggins handles equally well the complex motivations of politicians, social workers, cops—those who are supposed to help victims—and of those who prey on them, such as pimps and johns. This series gets better with each book. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Keller’s Fedora

Lawrence Block. Subterranean, $25 (96p) ISBN 978-1-59606-811-7

A fresh contract to kill takes MWA Grand Master Block’s stamp-collecting hit man, Keller, last seen in 2013’s Hit Me, from his home in New Orleans via Amtrak to Chicago. Keller reluctantly tells his daughter that the trip is philatelic in nature. In Chicago, Keller needs to act like a private eye and ID the mark himself. The client wants his wife’s mystery lover found and eliminated, and the first order of business is the stakeout and the shadowing. Fortunately, Keller just bought his first fedora and is feeling like Humphrey Bogart. Block amuses as always with Keller’s light internal banter, making even the assassination somewhat droll. The hit is never the end, however. Keller has been seen in town and decides he needs to return to the scene of the crime and tie up loose ends before they unravel and jeopardize his shadowy career. This novella is sure to delight the author’s many fans. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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