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Dead Astern: The Windjammer Mystery Series

Jenifer LeClair. Conquil, $16 trade paper (310p) ISBN 978-0-9908-4617-8

In LeClair’s middling fifth Windjammer mystery (after 2015’s Apparition Island), seven friends have chartered the Maine Wind for a late-season cruise off the coast of Maine. The second mate, homicide detective Brie Beaumont, is currently on leave from the Minneapolis PD. When one of the seven, Peter Bendoff, goes overboard one night, it appears to be a case of suicide based on the note that Brie finds in Peter’s cabin. But as Brie starts to interview the remaining six, tensions among the group, which were obvious from the moment they boarded, increase. Each man has something to hide, and each tries to cast suspicion on the others in what turns into a murder case. No surprise—it seems they all had reason to dislike or fear Peter. A subplot involving Brie’s relationship with John DuLac, the Maine Wind’s captain, provides some romantic interest. The nautical terminology will appeal to sailors, though landlubbers may feel lectured-to rather than transported. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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I Wish You Missed Me: A Kit Doyle Mystery

Bonnie Hearn Hill. Severn, $28.99 (192p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8679-8

Hill’s harrowing third Kit Doyle mystery (after 2016’s Goodbye Forever) finds Kit, a former crime blogger and radio talk show host based in Sacramento, Calif., who’s now a seeker of missing persons, suffering from the traumatic residue of her last case—dizziness, anxiety attacks, depression, and what may be paranoia. Is she really being followed? Is she overreacting? When Farley Black, her best friend and former radio co-host, goes missing, Kit manages to pull herself together, determined to locate him. Fortunately, she’s joined in this quest by her street-smart friend, Virgie, whose breaking-and-entering skills come in handy as the duo follow the signal from Farley’s phone toward a rural area on the Redwood Highway close to Mendocino. What Kit finds there makes her question her ideas about friendship, loyalty, and love in this intense installment. Agent: Laura Dail, Laura Dail Literary Agency. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Mask of Sanity

Jacob M. Appel. Permanent, $28 (256p) ISBN 978-1-57962-495-8

Dr. Jeremy Balint, “the youngest head of any medical division at Laurendale-Methodist Hospital,” discovers his inner psychopath in Appel’s deeply unsettling novel set in what might be upstate New York. When Balint discovers that his wife, Amanda, is having an affair with his fellow doctor Warren Sugarman, he feels an overwhelming desire to murder Sugarman, and fulfilling this need soon consumes his otherwise normal life. As the wronged husband, Balint realizes that he’d be the logical suspect no matter how Sugarman dies—unless Sugarman appears to be the random target of a serial killer. So Balint sets out methodically murdering random strangers and tying lengths of green ribbon around their necks. Now known as the Emerald Choker, he takes no pleasure in the killings, but neither do they bother him. Each, after all, brings him closer to his goal of eliminating the detested Sugarman. Through matter-of-fact, nonjudgmental prose, Appel (The Biology of Luck) shows us the world through Balint’s eyes and leaves the reader with a horrifying understanding of his actions. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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One by One: A Danny Ryan Mystery

Sarah Cain. Crooked Lane, $25.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-68331-087-7

In Cain’s compelling sequel to 2016’s The 8th Circle, Philadelphia freelance columnist Danny Ryan, who’s still coping with the deaths of his wife and preteen son in a car accident more than two years earlier, agrees to meet Greg Moss, a jock he knew in high school, at the Shamrock bar. Over a beer, Greg, now a realtor involved in a huge development project, tells Danny that he’s been receiving ominous messages with quotes from the Bible. Greg adds that several of his fellow ex-teammates may have received similar messages and now they’re all dead. The initially reluctant Danny agrees to help and enlists the aid of his police officer brother, Kevin, and a friend from his newspaper days, reporter Alex Burton. Their search for answers leads to increasingly violent events that bring Danny and Alex to the unwanted attention of a highly suspicious Det. Ted Eliot. Hints of a potential romance between Danny and Alex provide some welcome relief from the mounting tension. Agent: Renée C. Fountain, Gandolfo Helin Literary Management. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Signature Wounds

Kirk Russell. Thomas & Mercer, $15.95 trade paper (372p) ISBN 978-1-5039-4271-4

FBI special agent Paul Grale is the hero of this gripping series launch from Russell (One Through the Heart). As Grale is driving to the Las Vegas, Nev., bar where his sister, Melissa, and her husband, Capt. Jim Kern—a drone pilot at Creech Air Force Base—are hosting a Fourth of July party, a bomb explodes inside the bar. Among the dead are about a dozen drone pilots stationed at Creech, Jim, Melissa, and their teenage son, Nate. Their daughter Julia, one of the few survivors, is seriously wounded. Grale, first on the scene, is unable to prevent a subsequent explosion that kills seven law enforcement officers. Because of his bomb tech expertise, he is tasked with tracking the bomb maker. Grale’s friend Jeremy Beatty, a former drone pilot who suffers from PTSD, quickly becomes other investigators’ primary suspect, but Grale is convinced he’s clean. Russell smoothly melds tech info, sophisticated investigative techniques, and old-fashioned macho action as Grale races to prevent another, more devastating attack. Agent: Philip Spitzer, Philip G. Spitzer Literary Agency. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Astonishing Mistakes of Dahlia Moss: A Dahlia Moss Mystery

Max Wirestone. Redhook, $14.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-316-38601-2

Those who like their mysteries garnished with a large dollop of quirkiness will welcome the return of gaming maven and detective wannabe Dahlia Moss (after 2015’s The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss). In her second lighthearted adventure, the geeky girl attends a computer games convention in St. Louis as the result of a request from the mysterious Doctor XXX, who follows Dahlia on Twitch. She assumes he wants to hire her for her detecting skills, but fears he might be a stalker. At the convention hotel, she finds a dead body in one room and, in another, a nearly nude man handcuffed to a chair. From these she draws a number of conclusions—all wrong. News of the murder scares off some competitors, allowing Dahlia and her partner to advance in the games. She gets some assistance from her roommate’s boyfriend, who’s busy practicing his Australian accent. Readers should be prepared for lengthy, plot-slowing passages devoted to what can charitably be called Dahlia’s thought processes. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Burials: A Faye Longchamps Mystery

Mary Anna Evans. Poisoned Pen, $26.95 (300p) ISBN 978-1-4642-0752-5

Evans’s enjoyable 10th Faye Longchamps mystery (after 2015’s Isolation) takes the archeologist and her husband, Joe Mantooth, from Florida to Oklahoma. Faye is doing a consulting gig for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, whose members plan to build a park on tribal land. As soon as she arrives at the site, someone fires gunshots in Faye’s vicinity. Digging uncovers the skeletal remains of archeologist Sophia Townsend, who was the leader of a team exploring the same site three decades earlier. Skull fractures suggest that she was hit with a blunt instrument. Faye and Joe get caught up in tribal police chief Roy Cloud’s subsequent murder investigation. Why was Sophia never reported missing? And where did the grave goods found with her remains come from? When the site claims another victim, the tension mounts. Evans sensitively explores the issue of how to balance respecting cultural heritage and gaining knowledge of the past through scientific research. Agent: Anne Hawkins, John Hawkins & Associates (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Mrs. Pargeter’s Public Relations: A Mrs. Pargeter Mystery

Simon Brett. Crème de la Crime, $28.99 (176p) ISBN 978-1-78029-092-8

In Brett’s sprightly eighth outing for Mrs. Pargeter (after 2015’s Mrs. Pargeter’s Principle), the shrewd but always ladylike Melita Pargeter professes to know little of what the late Mr. Lionel Pargeter did to earn his money (“He was always a great believer in the principle of ‘need to know.’ So what you didn’t need to know you didn’t know. That way you could never be made to stand up in court and talk about it”). At an auction gala in London for PhiliPussies, a charity that finds homes for feral Greek cats in Britain, she meets Rochelle Brighouse, Lionel’s sister, whose existence he never mentioned, and Rochelle’s son, Haydon, a true-crime writer. Within a few days, Mr. Pargeter’s little black book of “business” contacts goes missing, and a member of the PhiliPussies society turns up in a shallow grave in Epping Forest. These events set Mrs. Pargeter’s investigative antennae tingling. With the aid of some of her husband’s former employees, she sets off to track down a thief. Mystery fans seeking pure escapist fun will be rewarded. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Oath of Honor

Matthew Betley. Atria/Bestler, $26 (406p) ISBN 978-1-4767-9925-4

Betley’s exciting sequel to 2016’s Overwatch takes series heroes Logan West and John Quick, investigators in a specialized FBI task force, to the Aleutians. They are hunting down members of a Russian black ops team. The Russians are seeking to steal technology code-named ONERING, a new U.S. weapons system that has the ability to hijack any space satellite. The theft is the plan of Namir Badawi, the head of Sudan’s internal security division, who’s determined to humiliate the United States and bring about glory to Sudan as part of a new world order. From Alaska, Logan and John pursue the bad guys around the globe, always one step behind Namir and Maj. Gang Lau, his Chinese spy henchman. Betley’s fight scenes are among the best in the genre, but overuse of internal dialogue and unfunny banter between the principals slow the pace and add a cartoonish character to the writing. Still, readers willing to suspend some disbelief and put up with all the wisecracks will find the action diverting enough to look forward to future installments. Agent: Will Roberts, Gernert Company. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Woman on the Stairs

Bernhard Schlink, trans. from the German by Joyce Hackett and Bradley Schmidt. Panthe-on, $25.95 (240p) ISBN 978-1-101-87071-6

At the start of this exquisite novel from Schlink (The Reader), the narrator, an unnamed German lawyer, stumbles on a painting he recognizes, Woman on Staircase, in a Sydney, Australia, art gallery. The narrator recounts how he fell in love with the painting’s nude subject, Irene Gundlach, when he met her in his office with the artist, Karl Schwind, years before. Karl wanted to sue the owner, Irene’s husband, Peter, to permit Karl to photograph the painting for his portfolio. After finally obtaining access to the painting, Karl discovered a small tear and sought the lawyer’s further help procuring Peter’s permission to repair the damage. The ensuing case found the lawyer entering into shady dealings with Karl, Peter, and Irene. In the present, the lawyer hires a detective to find Irene. The search for Irene and the unearthing of her true story brings the narrator to a new awareness of who he is and how he wants to live his remaining years. Schlink offers a profoundly moving meditation on how one’s life is affected by the choices one makes along the way. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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