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Woman with a Gun

Phillip Margolin. Harper, $26.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-226652-1

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Bestseller Margolin (Worthy Brown’s Daughter) stumbles with this overly complicated whodunit. At an exhibit of Kathy Moran’s photographs at Manhattan’s Museum of Modern Art, budding novelist Stacey Kim is transfixed by a picture of a woman standing on a beach in a white dress, holding a gun. Stacey decides to ditch her East Coast life and travel to Palisades Heights, Ore., where Kathy took the photo and now lives. Flash back to 2005, when Kathy snapped the picture after coming upon newlywed Megan Cahill, whose millionaire husband, Raymond, was shot to death hours after their wedding. An outside prosecutor who shares a history with Kathy helps investigate Raymond’s murder. Back in the present, another body turns up soon after Stacey arrives in Palisades Heights, and she must unravel Raymond’s unsolved murder if she hopes to crack the new case and get the real story behind Kathy’s photograph. With too many characters clogging the story, an intriguing premise devolves into a disappointing mess. Agents: Jean Naggar and Jennifer Weltz, Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Thief: A Robin Monarch Novel

Mark Sullivan. Minotaur, $25.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-250-05231-5

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Early in Sullivan’s exciting third Robin Monarch novel (after 2013’s Outlaw), the latter-day Robin Hood burgles the Greenwich, Conn., mansion of billionaire Beau Arsenault during a Christmas party. Once Arsenault identifies the escaped thief, the mogul takes his revenge by arranging the kidnapping of Sister Rachel Diego del Mar from her medical clinic in a Buenos Aires slum. Monarch pulls out all the stops to save Sister Rachel, who once rescued him from a dead-end life in the Brotherhood of Thieves. In action spanning the globe, three of Monarch’s associates stalk Swiss banker Tristan Hormel in Europe; Claudio Fortunato, his oldest friend, hunts for clues in Buenos Aires; and Monarch joins scientist Estella Santos and her crew on a journey up the Amazon in search of a tribe that may hold the secret to human longevity. Two old enemies seek to beat Monarch to this prize. Sullivan puts a fresh spin on a familiar premise. Agent: Meg Ruley, Jane Rotrosen Agency. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Picture from the Past

Paul Halter, trans. from the French by John Pugmire. Locked Room International
(www.lockedroominternational.com), $19.99 trade paper (180p) ISBN 978-1-502301-81-9

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Halter (The Tiger’s Head) neatly intertwines three distinct plot lines in this absorbing entry in his long-running crime series featuring Dr. Alan Twist. In 1959 Essex, England, Twist and Chief Insp. Archibald Hurst of Scotland Yard find the gruesome remains of the third victim of a killer who dissolves his victims’ corpses in acid. Meanwhile, Londoner John Braid, a man who lies to his wife about his employment, is obsessed with a photo used for a banal romance novel’s cover. The image depicts a “perfectly ordinary street. A row of modest brick houses, a small shop with its owner at the door.” Under hypnosis, John mutters something about a “few notes of music,” a “mauve flower,” and death, leaving the reader to puzzle out the connection with a narrative set some years before the main action involving three men in black and a locked-room murder. The fair-play resolution will delight fans of impossible crimes. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Devil You Know

Elisabeth de Mariaffi. S&S/Touchstone, $24.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4767-7908-9

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Set in and around Toronto in 1993, Canadian author de Mariaffi’s artful first novel chronicles the efforts of journalist Evie Jones to track down the man who murdered a friend of hers, 11-year-old Lianne Gagnon, in 1982. Robert Nelson Cameron was identified as a suspect but never caught. Jones researches the killer through old newspaper articles using the nascent Internet, aided by her cautiously flirtatious friend, David Patton. Since Lianne’s death, Evie has suffered from some form of post-traumatic stress; the man she often sees at her apartment window could be real or the product of an overheated imagination. When Evie points out to her mother, Annie, that women read more true crime than men, Annie replies the reason is not entertainment but survival: “It’s so we learn how to get away.” Hooked readers will silently implore Evie to refrain from entering a basement or a cabin in the woods in pursuit of a story—and a killer. Agent: Samantha Haywood, Transatlantic Literary Agency (Canada). (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Viking Bay: A Kay Hamilton Novel

M.A. Lawson. Penguin/Blue Rider, $26.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-399-16574-0

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The risky exploits that got Kay Hamilton fired from the DEA catch the eye of the mysterious Callahan Group, led by rumpled Thomas Callahan, in Lawson’s well-paced follow-up to 2013’s Rosarito Beach. Lured by a generous salary, Kay helps the Callahan Group broker a deal for U.S. access to lithium deposits, negotiating with an Afghan governor and his beautiful, liberal-minded daughter. But when the deal goes explosively wrong, Kay begins trawling the murky underbelly of the Callahan Group to find out who betrayed them, putting herself and her teenage daughter at risk. Lawson’s knowledge from a career as a senior executive for the U.S. Navy gives muscle to a plot bound by the obscure intentions and covert operations of intelligence work, though the finale reveals the traitor’s rather weak motivations. Kay’s tendency to act before she thinks keeps the plot whizzing along. Some readers may see her as pure male fantasy: a curvy blonde who’s gutsy, irresistible, and sexually free. Agent: David Gernert, Gernert Company. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Ghost Shift

John Gapper. Ballantine, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-0-345-52792-9

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In Gapper’s uneven thriller set in contemporary Guangdong, China, 23-year-old police detective Song Mei investigates the suspicious death of a young woman who worked at Long Tan Technology, which makes smartphones and tablets for an Apple-like company. Mei is shocked to discover that the victim is her twin sister, whose existence she was unaware of. The complex, confusing backstory reveals that both girls were abandoned at birth and that Mei was adopted by American parents. Gapper (The Fatal Debt) takes his time building to the main action, which involves Mei infiltrating Long Tan to find out what happened to her twin and what’s going on in the factory, particularly the super-secretive “ghost shift” of the title. At this point, the narrative becomes palpably and cinematically suspenseful, and the reader gets a compelling portrait of industrialized China. But the thrills of this well-written, often intelligent book are just too slow in coming. Agent: David Kuhn, Kuhn Projects. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Murder

Sarah Pinborough. Quercus/Jo Fletcher, $26.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-62365-866-3

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British author Pinborough manages to make this deeply disturbing sequel to 2013’s Mayhem even bleaker and more unsettling than its predecessor, which ended with the apparent resolution of the Thames Torso murders, a series of crimes overshadowed by Jack the Ripper’s simultaneous reign of terror in the late 1880s. In 1896, police surgeon Thomas Bond, who was present at the climax of the torso murders investigation, still feels “an awful sense of dread when walking the streets of London.” Bond’s worries increase after Edward Kane, a friend of the late killer James Harrington, shares some incriminating letters that Harrington sent to him years before. When more violence follows, the authorities have reason to hope that the Ripper himself may finally be identified and brought to book. The author’s ingenuity in weaving her macabre plot becomes fully evident by the powerful, jaw-dropping end, and she skillfully instills fear in the reader even with innocuous phrases. Agent: Veronique Baxter, David Higham Associates (U.K.). (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Sweet Nothing

Richard Lange. Little, Brown/Mulholland, $26 (272p) ISBN 978-0-316-32754-1

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Gamblers, grifters, ex-cons, and those just conning themselves populate this gritty if uneven L.A.-centric second story collection from the author of the Hammett Prize–winning novel Angel Baby (2013). Marginalized types barely manage to scrape by, like the streetwise security guard of the satisfyingly twisty “Apocrypha”; they know their weaknesses as intimately as their drugs of choice. And yet in the best of these tales—among them “Instinctive Drowning Response,” a smartly structured account of a low-level dealer’s arc after his girlfriend ODs—they still manage to cut themselves a little slack, despite their damning insights. As expressed by the sympathetic protagonist of the title story, whose addictions have sent him from family man earning six figures to Subway sandwich-maker sharing an apartment with a stranger he met on Craigslist, “There’s something to be said for the truth, sure, but the truth is, it’s lies that keep us going.” Agent: Henry Dunow, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner Literary Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Priests and Warriors

Walter Joseph Schenck Jr. iUniverse, $42.95 (828p) ISBN 978-1-4917-1309-9

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Schenck’s lengthy, ambitious novel portrays Yehuway (God), Mikha’el the Archangel (destined to be incarnated as Jesus Christ), and the Israelites, after their Egyptian exodus and 40 years of wilderness wandering, battling their way toward settlement in the holy land. After Moshe’s death, Yeshua leads the warrior Israelites to be a “singular, unified nation of purpose... to rid Eretz Yisra’el of the insidious, deceitful, manipulative, immoral people of evil.” Ferocious battles are waged, and Yehuway and Mikha’el appear often to impart strategic, spiritual, and legal commands covering hygiene, adultery, clothing, trade, marriage, punishment, slave owning, prostitution, leprosy, and much more. There are morality lessons on greed, idolatry, and sexual impropriety (Achan’s sins bring a devastating punishment), as well as lessons in faith and devotion to Yehuway: the prostitute Rahab, believed to be an ancestor of Jesus, becomes a valued Israelite after accepting Yehuway and helping to annihilate Jericho, which is likened to Sodom in its sexual proclivities. Schenck proves he is an intelligent, passionate writer capable of vivid characterization, yet harsh depictions of slaughter and sophomoric, often vulgar, sexual scenes threaten to diminish the substantive quality of this account of ancient events influencing the founding of the state of Israel. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Wall

H.G. Adler, trans. from the German by Peter Filkins. Random, $30 (672p) ISBN 978-0-8129-9306-6

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This is Adler’s third (posthumous) and final work in the Shoah trilogy (after The Journey and Panorama), one of the very few works of Holocaust fiction written by a survivor. The author, once a prisoner at Theresienstadt and three other concentration camps, crafted this modernist homage to his despair over the course of many years; it was first published in 1989. His protagonist, Arthur—most certainly Adler himself—is an exile in the “Metropolis,” a thinly disguised London. He lives a bemused existence with his second wife, Joanna, and their two children, going through the motions of being a father, and indeed of being human. He has suffered something so dreadful that it is almost impossible to articulate, but it seems that his first wife perished in the war, as did his parents. In his dreams, which reflect in an absurdist way the real horror he faced, he returns to his father’s haberdashery in Prague; sometimes his parents are still alive and sometimes they die before his very eyes. Neighbors recognize and pity Arthur, knowing more than he about the fate of his family. He reminisces or dreams about being taken in by friends he does not recollect, of interacting with scholarly colleagues in London, and of meeting his beloved Joanna, on whom he relies utterly as his only link to the world in which he now finds himself adrift. He also imagines witnessing his own death. The symbolic wall of the title is purported to be the past, but it is much more: an existential barrier made of pain that separates him from the rest of humanity. The past and the present are indistinguishable in the stream of Adler’s consciousness, but this distracts very little from the story. The writing is sonorous and so entirely devastating that the reader is compelled to pore over every word. One cannot begin to share this author’s anguish, but can participate in not allowing it to be forgotten. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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