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The Soul of Discretion: A Chief Superintendent Simon Serrailler Mystery

Susan Hill. Overlook, $26.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4683-0145-8

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In Hill’s subpar eighth crime novel based in Lafferton, England (after 2012’s A Question of Identity), the authorities hit a dead end investigating a child-porn ring and send Chief Supt. Simon Serrailler undercover to Stitchford Therapeutic Community Prison. At Stitchford, doctors use intense psychotherapy to try to rehabilitate sex offenders, one of whom is Will Fernley—a criminal who could lead the police to his cohorts in the porn ring, if he would only talk. Simon’s job is to gain Fernley’s confidence. Once inside, Simon can only communicate with the outside world via a phone disguised as a watch. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Simon, his father, Richard, rapes an acquaintance of Richard’s. The victim wrestles with whether she should press charges, but this aspect of the story remains underdeveloped. Toward the end, a couple of plot contrivances, one of which involves the watch phone, undermine the realism of the rest of the novel. Agent: Deborah Schneider, Gelfman-Schneider Literary. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The City of Blood: A Paris Homicide Mystery

Frédérique Molay, trans. from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman. Le French Book (www.lefrenchbook.com), $16.95 trade paper (212p) ISBN 978-1-939474-18-6

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In Molay’s accomplished third Paris Homicide mystery (after 2014’s Crossing the Line), Nico Sirsky, the “head of France’s legendary criminal investigation division,” investigates an unusual murder. In the 1980s, “new realist” artist Samuel Cassian organized a banquet attended by 120 people, including artists, art critics, filmmakers, museum directors, and politicians. When the site of the buried banquet is unearthed 30 years later as an art event in Paris’s Parc de la Villette, the excavators find skeletal remains. The victim is identified as Cassian’s 22-year-old son, who had been a promising artist himself and who disappeared a week after the banquet. Unravelling the past proves to be difficult but takes on urgency when it appears the body’s discovery has inspired a new killing. At the end, Cassian likens Nico to Georges Simenon’s great detective: “Inspector Maigret can sleep soundly. He has a worthy successor.” Many readers will agree. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Lost and Found in Prague

Kelly Jones. Berkley, $16 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-425-27670-9

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In this intriguing thriller from Jones (The Woman Who Heard Color), Boston reporter Dana Pierson travels to Prague, which she visited 20 years earlier at the height of the Velvet Revolution, to visit her cousin Caroline, who has taken the veil. On the leg of her flight that leaves Rome, Diana’s seatmate, Fr. Giovanni Borelli, turns out to be familiar with her work probing scandals in the Catholic Church—having served the Vatican as a devil’s advocate arguing against the canonization of saints. Their arrival in Prague coincides with a police investigation into the execution murder of Sen. Jarsolav Zajic, shot early one morning outside the old town hall. Zajic led a commission to identify those who had spied for the secret police under the Communists. Meanwhile, an elderly nun in Caroline’s convent has died under mysterious circumstances. The ending doesn’t match the fascinating opening sections, but Jones has a real gift for creating well-limned characters and describing the streets and buildings of Prague. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Puzzled Indemnity: A Puzzle Lady Mystery

Parnell Hall. Minotaur, $24.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-250-02717-7

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In Hall’s whimsical 16th Puzzle Lady mystery (after 2014’s NYPD Puzzle), amateur sleuth Cora agrees to help a local attorney in Bakerhaven, Conn., by tailing an insurance salesman and finding out if he’s cheating on his wife. Happily for married Cora, the assignment takes her to New York City, home of the NYPD’s Sergeant Crowley, her occasional lover. The investigation leads to the apartment of a mysterious woman. As events spiral out of control, questions arise about the shelf life of such a quirky character as Cora. Known for worrying about her weight, dodging people’s questions about puzzles (her niece Kelly is the real puzzle expert), and complaining about everything in her life, Cora starts using blackmail. What’s more, her careless conversation later costs a man his life. Some readers may lose patience with her before reaching the convoluted conclusion. Others will enjoy the parallels to James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Serbian Dane

Leif Davidsen, trans. from the Danish by Barbara J. Haveland. Arcadia (Dufour, dist.), $16.95 trade paper (267p) ISBN 978-1-905147-67-0

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First published in 1996, Davidsen’s taut, disciplined thriller pits professional assassin Vuk, a Serbian raised in Denmark, against Det. Insp. Per Toftlund. Toftlund is charged with protecting Iranian dissident author Sara Santanda while she’s visiting Copenhagen. Sara has a $4 million price on her head after a fatwa is issued against her in her home country. Meanwhile, tough cop Toftlund falls hard for Lise Carlsen, the married arts reporter for a liberal newspaper. As the chair of Danish PEN, Carlsen seeks maximum publicity for Santanda while watching her marriage disintegrate. Davidsen skewers Denmark’s double-dealing politicians in his dissection of the Balkan ethnic cleansing that created the nightmare-obsessed (but eerily appealing) Vuk, who hopes killing Santanda will be his last assignment in the schizoid post–Cold War world. The author suggests that this appears to be about as likely as Denmark’s chances of repairing the cracks in its vaunted welfare state that some feel have come with immigration. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Carrier

Sophie Hannah. Putnam, $27.95 (480p) ISBN 978-0-670-78586-5

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A labyrinthine plot and thoroughly unlikable characters hamper Hannah’s eighth Sgt. Charlie Zailer and Det. Constable Simon Waterhouse mystery (after 2013’s Kind of Cruel). Since Charlie is no longer a member of CID, due to a disastrous previous case, only Simon can officially investigate the murder of Francine Breary, by all accounts a horrible person, whose husband confessed to the killing but doesn’t know why. Simon and Charlie bicker constantly about the “Don’t-Know-Why Killer,” exchanges that are grating rather than endearing. Readers familiar with Hannah’s narrative style may latch on more easily than a new audience—Charlie and Simon’s police work is told in the third person but intermixed with a first-person account from the viewpoint of a mysterious woman. Either way, it’s difficult to become invested in a case populated nearly exclusively by unpleasant people. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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A Fine Summer's Day: An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery

Charles Todd. Morrow, $26.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-223712-5

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Series fans will appreciate Todd’s 17th Ian Rutledge mystery (after 2014’s Hunting Shadows), a prequel set in the summer of 1914. Rutledge, a Scotland Yard inspector, has just gotten engaged, and as the guns of August loom, he lands a tricky murder case in Dorset. Furniture maker Ben Clayton—who had no obvious enemies—was hanged from his staircase by an intruder. More deaths follow, but a scene that Todd (the mother-son writing team of Caroline and Charles Todd) presents early on makes this a thriller rather than a whodunit. The writing is as sharp as ever, but without the series regular Hamish MacLeod, whom Rutledge was forced to execute during WWI for disobeying orders and who subsequently haunts the shell-shocked Rutledge as a sort of ghostly Watson, newcomers won’t appreciate how extraordinary this series is. Five-city author tour. Agent: Jane Chelius, Jane Chelius Literary Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Ice Queen

Nele Neuhaus, trans. from the German by Steven T. Murray. Minotaur, $25.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-312-60426-4

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In German author Neuhaus’s intriguing third series thriller to be published in the U.S. (after 2014’s Bad Wolf), Det. Insp. Pia Kirchhoff and Supt. Oliver von Bodenstein of the Hofheim Regional Criminal Police in Hesse investigate the shooting murder of David Goldberg, a former White House adviser and revered member of the Frankfurt Jewish community. When an autopsy uncovers an SS tattoo on Goldberg’s left shoulder, it becomes clear that the old man is not the Holocaust survivor he claimed to be. Enter Goldberg’s friend, the wealthy matriarch Vera von Kaltenese, and her dysfunctional family members, who resist helping the detectives. Kirchhoff and Bodenstein discover a hidden trove of Nazi memorabilia and question a host of dubious characters, including down-on-his-luck pornographer and biographer Thomas Ritter. More corpses turn up amid hefty doses of sexual intrigue. Readers need to pay close attention to this solidly plotted and densely populated drama full of red herrings, lest they miss key clues. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Cane and Abe

James Grippando. Harper, $26.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-229539-2

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Abe Beckham, the narrator of much of this gripping but flawed stand-alone from bestseller Grippando (Need You Now), still mourns the death of his first wife, Samantha Vine. That’s why Abe, senior trial counsel at the state attorney’s office in Miami-Dade County, keeps close contact with Samantha’s family. This closeness doesn’t sit well with his second wife, Angelina, who wants him to cut all ties with the Vines. Abe complicates his professional life by monitoring the murder investigation of an old flame, Miami attorney Tyla Tomkins, whose mangled body was found in the Everglades. Is Tyla a victim of the machete-wielding serial killer known as Cutter? When Angelina disappears, FBI agent Victoria Santos wonders whether Abe was still romantically involved with Tyla. Grippando keeps the tension high with plausible twists, until the plot comes apart in a rushed ending. Agent: Richard Pine, Inkwell Management. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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River of No Return: A Jake Kent Novel

David Riley Bertsch. Scribner, $26 (400p) ISBN 978-1-4516-9803-9

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Bertsch rewards his readers’ patience in his second thriller featuring former prosecutor Jake Trent (after 2013’s Death Canyon). Trent has found a new, quieter, life as a fishing guide in Wyoming, but his life becomes much less sedate after an old flame, Divya Navaysam, asks him to meet her in Washington, D.C. Divya wants Trent to help her with a group opposed to a plan by an ambitious senator who advocates funding to develop technology that could track illegal immigrants. Divya’s allies fear that the creation of SafeTrak will start the country down a slippery slope toward Orwellian surveillance of the entire population. Meanwhile, Jackson, Wyo., police chief Roger Terrell and his wife travel to China to represent their community on an odd tour that lands them in a bizarre village made up to look just like their hometown. The unrelated plot lines end up fitting together logically and smoothly, and Trent is convincing both as a man of action and as one of thought. Agent: Margaret Riley, William Morris Endeavor. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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