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L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future, Vol. 33

Edited by David Farland. Galaxy, $15.95 trade paper (496p) ISBN 978-1-61986-529-7

Given that the 14 new writers represented in this anthology are all winners of the contest L. Ron Hubbard founded in 1983, it’s not surprising that their contributions are of a consistently high quality. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but familiar themes are well handled. For example, both Dustin Steinacker’s “Envoy in the Ice” and C.L. Kagmi’s “The Drake Equation” imagine first contact with alien intelligences in a thoughtful way that’s reminiscent of Carl Sagan’s lengthier treatment in Contact. Stephen Lawson’s “Moonlight One” is the standout, setting up a seemingly impossible crime while economically conjuring up a plausible near-future: Gwen and Ehrly Kennedy are the first, and only, humans to live on the moon, but their experiment turns tragic when Gwen awakens to find that someone (hopefully someone other than her) has stabbed her husband to death. Fans of classic science fiction will find much to appreciate here. Agent: Claude Sandoz, Author Services. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Red Prince: The Long War, Book 3

A.J. Smith. Head of Zeus, $14.95 trade (544p) ISBN 978-1-78408-088-4

Alliances are made and broken as the Long War among the gods, played out through their human counterparts, continues in this grueling third book (after The Dark Blood) of Smith’s increasingly epic series. Cities have fallen. The Seven Sisters, enchantresses in service to the Dead God, are working to cement their deity’s hold in this world, preaching a gospel of debauchery to lure the masses. Opposing them are a wide variety of people, including the assassin known as Rham Jas Rami; the Red Prince, Alexander Tiris; and Halla, an axe maiden. Their equally diverse motivations include noble duty, a mission to rescue a child, and personal religious devotion. The multi­perspective structure of the novel allows for an almost omnipresent view of a cosmic chessboard in a tale that incorporates high fantasy, military exploits, and touches of an almost Lovecraftian mythos. Keeping up with the expansive cast of characters and places tends to pull the reader out of the narrative, and the flow from one battle directly into another leaves one wishing for a bit more substance than a steady diet of loss, death, and religious posturing. Agent: Diane Banks, Diane Banks Associates. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Feral

James DeMonaco and B.K. Evenson. Anchor, $15 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-101-97270-0

DeMonaco, writer and director of the Purge franchise, teams up with Evenson (The Warren) for a bloody tale of apocalypse. When a fire at Arcon, a research facility, releases a dangerous virus, men turn into ravening, violent psychopaths, killing women with mindless ferocity. Sixteen-year-old Allie Hilts’s father kills her mother, and she’s left to protect herself and her nine-year-old sister, Kim. Three years later, Allie has transformed herself into a fighting machine, keeping her sister and the people of their settlement safe, while Dr. Zeman, an Arcon scientist, tries to find a cure. Allie smears herself with the blood of the infected and brings back subjects for Dr. Zeman’s trials while distancing herself from the group, emotionally and physically, but everything changes when she meets a stranger who could be the key to humankind’s future. Told from multiple perspectives, this nail-biter, packed with plenty of gore to satisfy horror fans, offers a neat woman-power twist on the zombie-apocalypse story and a surprisingly poignant, satisfying finale. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Entropy in Bloom

Jeremy Robert Johnson. Night Shade, $25.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-59780-895-8

There’s nary a dud in Johnson’s chilling collection of 15 reprints and one original novella. “The Gravity of Benham Falls” turns the classic ghost story on its head, with satisfying results. “Snowfall,” about a little boy waking to a new world, is short but packs a heartrending punch. “When Susurrus Stirs,” about a man who lets a parasite take over his body, isn’t for the faint of heart. “Luminary” is an appropriately luminous story about a young man with a beautiful and terrifying power. In “Cathedral Mother,” an ecoterrorist plots to derail a plan to clear redwoods from an Oregon forest, but the forest has other plans for her. The crown jewel is the utterly terrifying new novella “The Sleep of Judges,” in which a suburban dad, plots revenge against the people who burglarized his home but soon finds out they’re not quite people anymore. Johnson is a master of mood, seamlessly combining the literary with the grotesque. Horror fans will find much to chew on, and these stories will certainly reach a wider audience. Johnson (Skullcrack City) deserves to be a household name, as this superb collection makes clear. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Dispatcher

John Scalzi. Subterranean, $28 (128p) ISBN 978-1-59606-786-8

This noir novella will be a surprise for Scalzi’s fans, who are used to his relatively sunny Heinleinesque yarns. Here he deftly extrapolates how people in a near-future society would adjust to one enormous change in the basic facts of human life: unaccountably but inescapably, death is no longer permanent. Specifically, humans who die naturally or commit suicide stay dead, but those who are murdered revive. Therefore, to save lives, government “dispatchers” are appointed to kill people who are about to die. Dispatcher Tony Valdez is comfortable with that role until the disappearance of a fellow dispatcher forces him to reconsider how his own grey-area activities have exploited the new rules of life and death. Prodded by Chicago police detective Nona Langdon, Valdez explores the many ingenious ways in which crime and social mores have adapted, and observes that human passions are unchanged. Readers will enjoy how Scalzi plays with this challenging “what-if” notion, and the novella length is perfect for a concept that would fall apart under increased scrutiny. Agent: Ethan Ellenberg, Ethan Ellenberg Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Last Room at the Cliff’s Edge: A Detective Linda Mystery

Mark McNease. MadeMark, $10.95 trade paper (184p) ISBN 978-0-9916279-9-8

This suspenseful series launch from McNease (the Kyle Callahan Mysteries) introduces retired homicide detective Linda Sikorsky. Linda has opened a “vintage everything” store in New Hope, Pa., where she lives with her wife, aspiring writer Kirsten McClellan, whose first novel features a lead based on Linda. But Linda’s past turns out not to be past. When they get caught in a torrential rainstorm while driving to a writer’s retreat in Maine that Kirsten is eager to attend, Kirsten wants to keep going. Linda persuades her that they need to stop for the night, which they do at the seedy Cliff’s Edge motel. Linda is suspicious of the creepy desk clerk, Lenny Winfrow, and that feeling is only intensified after she hears some odd noises from an adjoining room that Lenny insisted was vacant, but which the reader knows is occupied by an ambitious small-town journalist, Cayley Drees, who’s following up an anonymous tip. Plausible sleuthing and smart characterizations combine for a winner. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Called to Justice: A Quaker Midwife Mystery

Edith Maxwell. Midnight Ink, $14.99 trade paper (312p) ISBN 978-0-7387-5032-3

Early in Maxwell’s engaging second Quaker Midwife mystery (after 2016’s Delivering the Truth), midwife Rose Carroll and her beau, David Dodge, enjoy the 1888 Independence Day fireworks at a farm outside Amesbury, Mass. Only later do they discover that the explosions masked the gunshots that took the life of 17-year-old mill worker Hannah Breed, who earlier in the day confessed to Rose that she was pregnant. Mill supervisor Lester Colby is all too eager to pin the blame on African-born Akwasi Ayensu, a Society of Friends member who owns a local furniture-making and carpentry shop, but Rose sets out to prove her friend Akwasi’s innocence and does so in between checking on her pregnant patients and delivering their babies. And just when she’s on the verge of identifying the killer, she finds herself at the wrong end of a gun barrel. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Jimi After Dark

Stephen Mertz. Perfect Crime, $15 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-935797-75-3

At the start of this action-driven crime novel from Mertz (The Korean Intercept), Soldier, who’s on leave from duty in Vietnam, arrives at London’s Heathrow Airport in September 1970. Rock star Jimi Hendrix, an old friend of his to whom he owes a favor, has invited Soldier to London. Jimi’s last letter indicated that he needs Soldier’s help with “a situation.” Before he leaves Heathrow, Soldier takes care of three punks who attack him. Shortly after Soldier meets Jimi on a London street, they’re confronted by Scotland Yard’s Inspector Hudberry, who accuses Jimi of being mixed up with the gang left behind by the notorious Kray brothers, both serving 30 years in prison. Soldier soon makes short work of Hudberry. He’ll later contend with German thugs, drug dealers, and an ex-CIA agent who claims that the U.S. government wants Jimi dead. Hendrix fans may enjoy Mertz’s portrait of the iconic musician, even though this what-if scenario offers little new about his life and early death. Be prepared for a lot of macho posturing and a contrived twist ending. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Water Signs: A Jeri Howard Mystery

Janet Dawson. Perseverance (SCB, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (232p) ISBN 978-1-56474-586-6

The gentrification of Oakland, Calif., forms the backdrop of Dawson’s solid 12th Jeri Howard mystery (after 2015’s Cold Trail), in which the PI faces off against real estate developers while looking into the death of security guard Cal Brady, a former colleague of hers whose body is found floating in the Oakland Estuary. Cal’s college student daughter, Madison, doesn’t believe those who claim that her dad was drinking on the job and fell into the water. Madison asks Jeri, who recently saw Cal drinking sparkling water at a memorial service, to investigate. Maybe he was onto something shifty and paid a fatal price for his snooping. Private investigative work requires a lot of pavement pounding and coffee shop meetings, and as Jeri slogs through the slender chain of clues that Cal left behind, she’s more and more convinced he was murdered. Dawson downplays danger to life and limb amid lengthy narrative passages devoted to the sad state of change in this beautiful city and its environs. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Sacrifice

Hanna Winter, trans. from the German by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp. Manilla (IPG, dist.), $12.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-78658-008-5

Artifex, the serial killer who drives this bleak series launch from Winter (The Children’s Trail), has already mutilated 12 women in Berlin when lead detective Volker Drescher calls in newly minted criminal profiler Lena Peters. Soon sidelined from the investigation due to resentment from other team members, Lena finds common interest in pursuing the case with former cop Wulf Belling; they are later aided in their efforts by computer ace Lukas Richter. While the sadistic Artifex continues to harvest body parts from his victims, Lena and Wulf each have serious family complications. Lena’s identical twin, Tamara, with whom she’s been out of touch for years, unexpectedly shows up at her door with a baby boy, and Belling has problems with rebellious teenage daughter Marietta. The stakes rise after Artifex phones Lena and appears to have inside information about her parents’ death in a car accident years before. Winter’s dark tale may be too pat in places, but it offers some interesting, peculiar twists. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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