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Death on a Starry Night: A Nora Barnes and Toby Sandler Mystery

Betsy Draine and Michael Hinden. Univ. of Wisconsin/Terrace, $24.95 (232p) ISBN 978-0-299-30730-1

Draine and Hinden’s middling third outing for Nora Barnes and Toby Sandler (after 2014’s The Body in Bodega Bay) takes art historian Nora and her antiques-dealer husband, Toby, from Bodega Bay, Calif., to Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France. At an international Van Gogh conference, elderly Isabelle La Font, whose grandfather knew Van Gogh, will be making the case that the great artist was murdered. But before the espresso cups can be cleared at the opening dinner, Isabelle’s body is found partially submerged in the village fountain. The local gendarmes press Nora to snoop on fellow academics. Unfortunately, most of the suspects are ill-tempered, backstabbing, and yet remarkably uninteresting. Along for the ride is Nora’s younger sister, Angie, a postulant with weaknesses for smooth-talking men and taking phonetic whacks at the French language. Well before the climactic showdown at an Alpine monastery, readers may want to bid the book, as Angie might put it, “ady-yew.” (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Soft Summer Blood: A Detective Inspector McLusky Novel

Peter Helton. Severn, $28.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8577-7

It’s never business as usual for Liam McLusky, as shown by Helton’s complex fourth outing for the Bristol, England, detective inspector (after 2014’s A Good Way to Go). McLusky investigates the murder of an elderly man who was content to ignore much of the 21st century, particularly its technology. The case appears straightforward until a second murder changes the picture. Meanwhile, Det. Sgt. Jack Sorbie and other officers get reluctantly involved in the thankless task of searching for an Italian official’s daughter who has disappeared from her known haunts. Through it all, McLusky barrels his way through, ignoring some of the rules and skating thinly over others. In addition, he worries about passing his upcoming mandated physical fitness exam. He’s not the sort of copper to take well to an environment in which the talking heads from the social sciences overrule the search for criminals. Alas, a key character first appears late in the story. Readers trying to solve the case before McLusky may feel cheated. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Orchids and Stone

Lisa Preston. Amazon/Thomas & Mercer, $15.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-503-95232-4

Early in Preston’s mediocre first novel, roofer Daphne Mayfield, who has earned the respect of her colleagues, is sitting on a bench in a Seattle park when elderly Minerva Watts asks for her help. Minerva keeps insisting that the well-dressed woman who’s trying to maneuver her into a car isn’t her daughter and that she’s being kidnapped. Is Minerva suffering from Alzheimer’s, or is Daphne witnessing a crime? With scant information to tell the police, Daphne starts her own investigation. But her devoted boyfriend, her friends, and even the police don’t understand Daphne’s obsession with finding Minerva, nor will the reader. The suggestion that Daphne’s fixation stems from the emotions brought on by the 20th anniversary of the murder of her sister, Suzanne, and the 10th anniversary of her father’s suicide feels false. In addition, some may wonder why Daphne acts irrationally at each turn of her quest. Few surprises and the uninspired characters further mar the listless plot. Agent: Mark Gottlieb, Trident Media Group. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Curtains for Miss Plym: A Mary McGill Dog Mystery

Kathleen Delaney. Severn, $28.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8574-6

At the start of Delaney’s delightful sequel to 2015’s Purebred Dead, retired schoolteacher Mary McGill and her faithful cocker spaniel, Millie, arrive early one morning at St. Mark’s community hall in Santa Louisa, Calif., to prepare for the town’s annual spring rummage sale. Inside the hall, Millie growls and heads for a makeshift dressing area, in which they find wealthy Emilie Plym, slumped in a chair, dressed in her bed clothes, and quite obviously dead. The local police chief later tells Mary that the elderly woman was strangled. But who would want to murder harmless Emilie? At the historic Victorian house that’s been home to the Plyms for generations, Mary encounters several shady and hostile characters, from Emilie’s caretakers to family members, who might have had motive to do her in. Missing Plym money is soon the talk of the gossipy small town. Animal lovers will enjoy this dog-focused cozy with its appealing characters, both two- and four-legged. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Nights in Berlin: A Francis Bacon Mystery

Janice Law. Open Road/MysteriousPress.com, $14.99 trade paper (228p) ISBN 978-1-5040-2616-1

Set in 1927, Law’s diverting fourth Francis Bacon mystery (after 2014’s Moon over Tangier) takes the future painter and the black sheep of his family because of his sexual preferences from London, where his father believes the 16-year-old is well on the road to ruin, to Berlin. His uncle Lastings, who’s to accompany him to the German capital, promises to shape Francis up so that he can return home as “a model boy in the soldierly mode.” But on arrival, Francis finds that his uncle is fully at home in a city that Lastings calls “the welcome circus of depravity.” Francis wonders how his relative can afford to stay at the swank Adlon Hotel, and his unease deepens when Lastings claims that he’s the Berlin agent for an anti-Bolshevik organization, the Society for a Christian Europe. Lastings soon gets Francis implicated in a murder, making his nephew a fugitive. Some light humor leavens the suspenseful plot. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Onslaught: A Steve Flynn Thriller

Nick Oldham. Severn, $28.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8581-4

Former Royal Marine Steve Flynn, the hero of this rousing series launch from Oldham (Unforgiving and 22 other Henry Christie novels), is enjoying life in the Canary Islands, where he skippers Faye, the sport-fishing boat he co-owns with his friend Adam Castle, the brother of his girlfriend, Karen Glass, with whom he’s on the verge of breaking up. Trouble arrives in the form of gangster Aleksander Bashkim and his two heavily muscled grown sons. Flynn is dismayed to learn that Castle is selling his share of Faye to these thugs. A violent encounter with the Bashkim brothers leads Flynn to seek female consolation. Unfortunately, the woman he picks up turns out to be a deranged serial killer, who handcuffs him to his bed and threatens to eviscerate him. After Flynn escapes her clutches, he gets blamed for the murders of two people close to him, and he goes on the run. Karen’s kidnapping raises the stakes. Those who don’t mind heavy-handed plot twists and shallow characterizations will welcome Flynn’s further adventures. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Mortal Dilemma: A Matt Royal Mystery

H. Terrell Griffin. Oceanview (Midpoint, dist.), $27.95 (400p) ISBN 978-1-60809-174-4

In Griffin’s busy 10th Matt Royal mystery (after 2015’s Chasing Justice), two people close to Matt are in jeopardy—his lover, J.D. Duncan, a detective with the Longboat Key, Fla., PD, and his best friend, Jock Algren, a top agent for a secret U.S. government agency. J.D. travels to the Florida panhandle to get new information about a three-year-old cold case murder. Back in Longboat Key, a professional assassin hired by a shady PI in Tallahassee waits for her return. Meanwhile in Key West, an unknown shooter wounds Jock, who has been feeling severely depressed after his last spy mission went awry. Matt and J.D. fly to Key West to visit Jock. At the hospital where he’s recovering, Jock tells Matt he thinks his shooting was just a ploy to lure Matt and J.D. to Key West. J.D. and Matt make a formidable pair of reluctant killers as they take on terrorists seeking revenge on Jock. The unwieldy plot careens to a bloody climax. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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It Takes One

Kate Kessler. Hachette/Red Hook, $14.99 trade paper (432p) ISBN 978-0-316-30250-0

Criminal psychologist Audrey Harte, the feisty heroine of Kessler’s tense, fast-paced debut, sometimes appears as an expert on When Kids Kill, a TV show based in Los Angeles. Years ago in her hometown of Edgeport, Maine, Audrey helped her best friend, 12-year-old Maggie Jones McGann, murder Maggie’s father, who had been molesting Maggie. After spending time in a juvenile correction facility, Audrey went on to earn a Ph.D. When Audrey returns to Edgeport, where she hasn’t been in seven years, for her mother’s birthday, she faces an angry sister, a mother who blames her for being involved in a murder, and a town where everyone views her as a danger. Her first night, she inadvertently meets Maggie, and they have a fight in public. When Maggie is found dead on the beach the next morning, Audrey is the obvious suspect. In her effort to prove her innocence, Audrey reconnects with Jake Tripp, her teenage love, who brings back all the confusing and ambivalent feelings from their past. The action builds to compelling and unexpected conclusion. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Dust Up

Jon McGoran. Forge, $27.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-7653-8030-2

When Ronald Hartwell, a biotech company employee, is shot to death at the door of Det. Doyle Carrick of the Philadelphia PD in McGoran’s ambitious third eco-thriller (after 2014’s Deadout), deadbeat Det. Mike Warren thinks Hartwell’s wife, Miriam, killed her husband in a domestic dispute, but Carrick has his doubts. When Carrick interviews Spencer Vinson, Ronald’s boss at Energene Corporation, about the murder, Vinson suggests that Ronald was engaging in industrial espionage. Meanwhile, Miriam, who also works for Energene, tells Carrick that she suspects Soyagene, a new GMO (genetically modified organism) that the company is field testing in Haiti, has caused extreme allergic reactions. Carrick ends up in Haiti, where he contends with powerful corporations with major investments in the island nation, a possible coup, a potential Ebola outbreak, and corrupt police. Some readers may feel that too much is going on, too slowly, in this violent tale of greed run amok. Agent: Stacia Decker, Donald Maass Literary Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Aunty Lee’s Chilled Revenge: A Singaporean Mystery

Ovidia Yu. Morrow, $14.95 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-241649-0

Yu’s savory third Singaporean mystery (after 2014’s Aunty Lee’s Deadly Specials) finds Rosie “Aunty” Lee in a grumpy mood since she twisted an ankle and can’t actively run her cafe, Aunty Lee’s Delights, which is now being supervised by Cherril, Aunty’s new business partner. Meanwhile, Allison Fitzgerald, an expat English woman who left Singapore years before after a dispute over a dog she and her then-husband adopted, has returned to the island nation intending to sue Aunty, Cherril, and a friend of Cherril’s for breaking up her marriage. When Allison turns up dead in her hotel room, Aunty once again shifts into sleuthing mode. Yu feeds her elaborate plot with abundant red herrings, but fans of culinary mysteries may wish she had made more of the restaurant setting and provided recipes for the lovingly described cuisine. Similarly, the paucity of local color may disappoint armchair travelers. Still, fans of Miss Marple and Jessica Fletcher will find much to enjoy. Agent: Priya Doraswamy, Lotus Lane Literary. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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