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Checked Out: A Dead-End Job Mystery

Elaine Viets. NAL/Obsidian, $24.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-451-46632-7

In Viets’s snappy 14th Dead-End Job mystery (after 2014’s Catnapped!), Fort Lauderdale, Fla., PI Helen Hawthorne hunts for a John Singer Sargeant watercolor worth $1 million that’s possibly hidden in a book at the Flora Park Library. Helen goes undercover as a volunteer at the private library, the former home of Gilded Age society beauty Flora Portland, where she finds plenty of mischief afoot. Could Flora’s ghost be responsible? Meanwhile, Helen’s husband and fellow PI, Phil Sagemont, works another case, the theft of a golf cart and ruby necklace. Phil has to cope with the very rich and spoiled Bree and Chloe Coakley and their sketchy boyfriends, but they don’t hold a candle to the entitled demands of the library ladies. Helen and Phil are as entertaining as they’ve ever been, and it’s fun to revisit their neighbors at the Coronado Tropic Apartments. Agent: David Hendin, D.H. Literary. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Mañana

William Hjortsberg. Open Road, $13.99 trade paper (242p) ISBN 978-1-4976-8073-9

Tod—the narrator of this bleak tale set in 1968 by Edgar-finalist Hjortsberg (Falling Angel)—and his wife, Linda, have driven from San Francisco to Barra de Navidad in “the cowboy state of Jalisco” on Mexico’s west coast, where they rent a cheap duplex near the beach. After a night of drugs and booze, Tod wakes up one morning to find himself covered with blood next to the naked body of a dead prostitute named Frankie. He remembers nothing of what happened, and Linda and their three parole-violator neighbors—Skank, Doc, and Nick—have all disappeared, along with his money. Tod takes off in his VW microbus in search of his missing spouse and the unsavory trio, in the hope of learning whether Linda left voluntarily and who killed Frankie. Tod’s adventures include dealing with a Mexican fixer, drug deals, and cock fights. Hjortsberg nails the road-trip atmosphere, but the sketchy portrayals of the other characters weaken Tod’s sordid story. Agent: Ben Camardi, Harold Matson Company. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Alchemist’s Daughter

Mary Lawrence. Kensington, $15 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-61773-710-7

Set in London in 1543, Lawrence’s serviceable first novel inaugurates a new Tudor mystery series starring Bianca Goddard, an alchemist’s daughter. Jolyn Carmichael, an impoverished young woman who’s been suffering from stomach pains, seeks a remedy from her friend Bianca at Bianca’s “room of Medicinals and Physickes” in Southwark. When Jolyn dies after drinking the potion that Bianca prepares for her, the local constable suspects Bianca of murder. To avoid the gallows, Bianca must prove that someone poisoned Jolyn before coming to her for help. Some readers may find Bianca, who believes “most people were responsible in some way for their predicaments,” less than sympathetic at times. Those hoping for an independent lead will be disappointed that she has to be rescued from peril twice by her love interest. Awkward prose doesn’t help (“plying the waters beneath the galleon floats a humble wherry steered by one not of the stuff of man but of something else”). Agent: Fred Tribuzzo, Rudy Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Killing Frost: A Deets Shanahan Mystery

Ronald Tierney. Severn, $27.95 (192p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8477-0

In the 11th and perhaps final Deets Shanahan mystery (after 2011’s Bullet Beach), Shamus Award–finalist Tierney brings the career of his Indianapolis PI to an elegiac close. Retired and reeling from two recent brain cancer operations at age 72, Shanahan nevertheless accepts an enigmatic client, Alexandra Fournier—only to have her drop dead, shot by a professional sniper, on his doorstep. Rehired by the victim’s sister to discover the reasons Alexandra wanted to hire him in the first place, Shanahan slogs through pain, seizures, medication fog, and ominous encounters with various baddies, including a crooked cop, a slimy defense attorney, and Alexandra’s chiseling brother, but the book’s real appeal is Shanahan’s gruff, dogged devotion to his much younger girlfriend, Maureen. Maureen keeps this old, broken-down detective going with a mixture of tough love, canny professional assistance, and gritty determination. This entry is a tribute to human decency and one man’s refusal to give up in the face of age and inevitable physical deterioration. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Blue Gemini

Mike Jenne. Skyhorse/Yucca, $24.99 (512p) ISBN 978-1-63158-057-4

Lt. Scott Ourecky, the hero of Jenne’s debut, a tense Cold War thriller set in the late 1960s that launches a trilogy, wants to become a U.S. Air Force pilot, but fears he may be forever Earth-bound as an engineer. His fortunes begin to change when he’s selected to join Blue Gemini, a secret military operation set up to prevent the Soviets from putting satellites armed with nuclear weapons into orbit. He teams with Maj. Drew Carson, a feisty, aggressive pilot, who looks down on engineers and soon starts hitting on Bea Harper, the woman Ourecky is dating. After a mishap on a training mission in Alaska, Ourecky gains Carson’s respect, and the two slowly begin an unlikely friendship. Jenne, a pilot himself, definitely knows his subject, as shown by the lengthy, detailed technical descriptions of flight missions and simulations, which may tire all but the most hardened aviation enthusiasts. Still, the result is an epic tale of high-stakes action seasoned with the muddy complexities of human relationships. Agent: Peter Riva, International Transactions. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Lost and the Blind

Declan Burke. Severn, $29.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8464-0

Irish author Burke’s convoluted standalone opens promisingly when Tom Noone, a Dublin journalist and writer of detective stories, is approached by Irish-American millionaire Shay Govern to ghostwrite a biography of Sebastian Devereaux, who wrote thrillers in the 1960s and ’70s and is now a recluse on the island of Delphi, near Donegal. Govern is haunted by a WWII Nazi atrocity that he witnessed on Delphi as a teen. So too is elderly Gerhard Uxkull, a Dane who joined the German navy in 1938 and gives Tom his manuscript describing the same massacre, an event fictionalized in an old Devereaux book. As Tom investigates a growing group of unsavory islanders fixated on the massacre, he unearths a range of hidden motives, one of which is has to do with sunken riches. But it’s all talk and no action until suddenly bodies start dropping. Though Burke (Slaughter’s Hound) has a real knack for dialogue and phrasing, too much happens too fast in the final pages. Agent: Allan Guthrie, Jenny Brown Associates. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Murder on Amsterdam Avenue: A Gaslight Mystery

Victoria Thompson. Berkley Prime Crime, $25.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-425-26047-0

In Edgar-finalist Thompson’s solid 17th Gaslight mystery set in New York City in the late 1890s, Frank Malloy, who was fired from the NYPD in 2014’s Murder on Murray Hill after he inherited a fortune, transitions easily into work as a private eye. Frank’s bride-to-be, Sarah Brandt, lands him his first case after she pays a condolence call to the family of the late Charles Oakes, who was just appointed the superintendent of the Manhattan State Hospital, an insane asylum. Since Charles was in perfectly good health before his sudden death, his father suspects he was poisoned. Frank has a wide range of suspects to consider, both inside the family and out, and the pressure to solve the murder ratchets up when the killer strikes again. The plot is pretty formulaic, but Rhys Bowen and Anne Perry fans looking for another series featuring Victorian-era husband-wife sleuths will likely be satisfied. Agent: Nancy Yost, Nancy Yost Literary Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Blood Ties

Nicholas Guild. Forge, $25.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-7653-7845-3

This goose bump–inducing thriller from Guild (Angel) pits San Francisco PD detective Ellen Ridley, revolted by the horrors of her job yet constantly wearing an Ice Queen face, against a vicious and inventive serial killer, who lures susceptible women to ever more horrific deaths. Ellen feels her dedication to avenging these victims is swallowing her whole life, until she falls hard for an elegant and enigmatic computer genius, Stephen Tregear, who’s locked in a years-long mutual hunt with the killer—Stephen’s own renegade father, who’s determined to slay Stephen himself. The gentle romance between Ellen and Stephen parallels the investigation that her senior police partner, Sam, gradually shifts onto Ellen’s shoulders, allowing her to develop professionally while Sam approaches the climax of his own career. Guild’s drop-dead characterizations of police men and women, his perfect-pitch dialogue, and the serpentine coils of a plot that’s absorbing and shocking support this unusually convincing combination of romance and homicide. Agent: Al Zuckerman, Writers House. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Organ Broker

Stu Strumwasser. Skyhorse/Arcade, $24.99 (296p) ISBN 978-1-62872-523-0

Jack Traynor, the narrator of Strumwasser’s pointed, confessional first novel, which is centered on illegal organ transplants, explains the process that took him from peddling drugs through law school to the seminal incident that led him to arrange a kidney transplant for a former classmate. “New York Jack,” as he becomes known, establishes a worldwide network of sellers and buyers and, of course, hospitals where the transplants can take place safely. In South Africa, affable Dr. Mel Wolff runs a transplant center and the ruthless but efficient Pierre Kleinhans finds the often desperate donors. In Brazil, Dr. Juan Guillermo is his guy. Trayner’s perspective gradually changes as he realizes that there’s more to life than helping sick people and getting rich in the process. Readers will learn a lot about such matters as waiting lists, transplant success rates, and the whole sordid business of black-market transplants. While not terribly suspenseful, this is a real eye-opener. Agent: Jim Fitzgerald, James Fitzgerald Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Six and a Half Deadly Sins

Colin Cotterill. Soho Crime, $26.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-61695-558-8

“On December 25, 1978, the concrete public-address system pole in South That Luang’s Area Six unexpectedly blew itself up, a Lao skirt with a severed finger sewn into the hem passed through the national postal system unchallenged, and Vietnam invaded Cambodia.” This opening sets the tone perfectly for Cotterill’s 10th mystery featuring retired Laos national coroner Siri Paboun (after 2013’s The Woman Who Wouldn’t Die). Siri discovers the finger, and he’s determined to learn how it ended up in the garment. His canny wife, Madame Daeng, helps him identify the skirt’s likely place of origin, an area in the north run by drug-dealing warlords. To short-circuit the bureaucratic process of getting approval to travel there, Siri must exonerate the head of Public Prosecution from charges of sexual assault. His inquiry coincides with a sensitive murder investigation that may implicate Chinese nationals at a time when the country is on edge because of the Vietnamese invasion. Cotterill neatly combines humor, detection, and politics. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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