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Easy Death

Daniel Boyd. Hard Case Crime, $9.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-0-85768-579-7

Set in December 1951, Boyd’s winning first crime novel will appeal to classic noir aficionados and retro hipsters alike. Bud Sweeney (called “Brother Sweetie” behind his back), local car dealer and Midwestern crime boss, sends several of his henchmen out into a blizzard, one posing as a police officer, to intercept and rob an armored car. WWII vets Eddie and Walter, one white and the other black, make off with the loot, but get into a real mess trying to keep it when they step into an odd subplot involving a formidable female park ranger and her drunken, psychotic boss. The wild narrative jumps back and forth over a 24-hour period before and after the heist. Besides writing convincingly about cops and criminals, Boyd (Nada), the pseudonym of a former police chief in central Ohio, captures the feel of postwar smalltown America, and even manages to get in some telling commentary on the period’s racial prejudice. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Night Hunter

Caro Ramsay. Severn, $28.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8422-0

Elvie McCulloch, the caustic narrator of Ramsay’s harrowing fifth thriller featuring Det. Chief Insp. Colin Anderson and Det. Sgt. Winifred “Freddie” Costello (after 2012’s The Blood of Crows), must contend with the tensions within her dysfunctional family while trying to find her beloved sister, Sophie, who’s been missing for two months. PI Billy Hopkirk, a grungy ex-cop, assists in a search that ranges from modern Glasgow to Loch Lomond. Meanwhile, Costello and other police officers pursue the serial disappearances of young women, one of whom, naked and emaciated, dies by falling onto the top of a car. Elvie, who’s driving back to her nanny job in the middle of west Scotland’s nowhere, stops to assist the distressed motorist. Blood red herrings abound in this grim reprise of Christina Rossetti’s spooky “Goblin Market,” a poetic tribute to the special bond between sisters. Ramsay’s insights into tortured psyches makes for compelling, if often painful, reading. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Ho-Ho-Homicide

Kaitlyn Dunnett. Kensington, $24 (304p) ISBN 978-0-7582-9283-4

At the outset of Dunnett’s enjoyable eighth Liss MacCrimmon Scottish mystery (after 2013’s Vampires, Bones, and Treacle Stones), old high school friend Gina Snowe asks Liss to check out the Christmas tree farm that Gina recently inherited. As the owner of the Moosetookalook, Maine, Scottish Emporium, Liss feels qualified to judge whether the farm has a viable future. With husband Dan, she turns the trip into a pre-Christmas break, but the two soon realize that a pall hangs over the farm. Seven years before, a body was found in a shipment to New York, and the farm’s owner disappeared. The engaging, level-headed Liss starts asking questions and raising police hackles. Could she and Dan be involved in solving a seven-year-old murder case? While the dynamic between Liss and Dan lacks spark, Dunnett (the pseudonym of Kathy Lynn Emerson) skillfully uses misdirection to keep the reader guessing to the end. Agent: Christina Hogrebe, Jane Rotrosen Agency. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Die I Will Not: A John Chase Mystery

S.K. Rizzolo. Poisoned Pen, $24.95 (290p) ISBN 978-1-4642-0324-4

Set in 1813, Rizzolo’s intricate third Regency mystery (after 2003’s Blood for Blood) centers on the era’s heated politics. Twenty years earlier, Eustace Sandford fled England to avoid arrest for seditious writings under the name Collatinus and the alleged murder of his lover, courtesan Nell Durant. Though Eustace is not the source, new radical writings begin appearing in the press under the Collatinus pseudonym, alluding to the murder of “N.D.” Penelope Wolfe, Eustace’s daughter, attempts to see newspaperman Dryden Leach, who has vowed to expose the new Collatinus, in hopes he can identify the writer. After an unknown woman fatally stabs Leach, Penelope calls on barrister Edward Buckler and Bow Street Runner John Chase for help in clearing herself and her family’s reputation. Despite the overly complex backstory, Rizzolo vividly depicts Regency London through her trio of contrasting but equally likable protagonists—Penelope, Buckler, and Chase. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Thoreau on Wolf Hill

B.B. Oak. Kensington, $15 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-7582-9025-0

During the winter of 1847, consumption rages through the small community of Plumford, Mass., in Beth and Ben Oak’s enjoyable second Henry David Thoreau mystery (after 2013’s Thoreau at Devil’s Perch). Thoreau’s friend Dr. Adam Walker, who has returned to Plumford from Boston to take over his late physician grandfather’s practice, must contend with the superstitious Solomon Whitty, who insists that vampirism is responsible for the deaths attributed to the illness. Whitty goes so far as to dig up the corpse of his dead niece, Hetty, to prevent her from rising from the grave and sucking the life out of her sister, Joanna. The subsequent murder of a former student of Thoreau’s, with wounds suggesting that his throat was torn out by some mysterious creature, raises the ante. Walker is an able Watsonian sidekick to the Holmes-like Thoreau, and the solution is even cleverer than in the previous book. Agent: John Talbot, Talbot Fortune Agency. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Chain of Events

Fredrik T. Olsson, trans. from the Swedish by Dominic Hinde. Little, Brown, $26 (432p) ISBN 978-0-316-33500-3

Olsson’s debut, a world-in-peril thriller, gets high marks for developing an original concept and building suspense, but he needs to have a keener instinct for when readers have had enough of a good thing. A group of elite scientists and mathematicians have been holed up in a remote European castle for more than 50 years. Led by a British military strategist known only as Connors, they have been trying to crack a complex code discovered in human DNA that appears to prophesy disaster for Earth—unrelenting plague, followed by worldwide conflagration. The time is getting close, and the scientists, stymied for decades in their attempt to redirect the code, have resorted to kidnapping other experts, including Swedish cryptologist William Sandberg, in a last-ditch try to save humanity. The second half of the story rambles along without direction, with countless foot chases through the castle, too many sectional cliffhangers, and confusing scientific detail. Agent: Jonas Axelsson, Partners in Stories (Sweden). (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Betrayed: A Rosato & Associates Novel

Lisa Scottoline. St. Martin’s, $27.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-250-02770-2

When Iris Juarez, an undocumented immigrant, turns up dead in her car in bestseller Scottoline’s rewarding 13th Rosato & Associates novel (after 2013’s Accused), lawyer Judy Carrier winds up investigating, since Iris was the best friend of Judy’s cancer-stricken aunt, Barb. Meanwhile, both Judy’s personal and professional life explode: her boss orders her to take on a series of dubiously ethical asbestos cases, and her boyfriend, Frank Lucia, proposes just as Judy prepares to break up with him. Judy is a sympathetic protagonist—passionate about her job, loyal to her family, and dogged in her pursuit of justice—which makes her struggle to reconcile her ideals of justice with the realities of working at a big Philadelphia law firm particularly compelling. While Scottoline does a good job of balancing the various elements of Judy’s life, the novel feels like a small part of a much larger story, leaving the mystery with an unfinished quality. Author tour. Agent: Molly Friedrich, Friedrich Literary Agency. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Murder of Harriet Krohn

Karin Fossum, trans. from the Norwegian by James Anderson. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24 (256p) ISBN 978-0-544-27339-9

Fossum’s superior seventh Insp. Konrad Sejer novel, the 10th book in the series to be released in the U.S. (after 2013’s Eva’s Eye), puts a modern spin on Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Widower Charlo Olav Torp’s robbery and murder of elderly Harriet Krohn allows him to pay off his debts and reconnect with his estranged 16-year-old daughter, Julie. He even buys Julie the horse she has always wanted. But this fresh start comes with a price. His every moment is clouded by guilt over his actions and the fear that he’ll be caught, but he’s also proud that he’s committed the perfect murder. Months go by until Sejer, who has never had an unsolved case, targets Charlo by building on the one small piece of forgotten evidence at the crime scene. Series fans and newcomers alike will savor this insightful character study of a man on the edge with little regard to how his actions affect others. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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City of Brick and Shadow

Tim Wirkus. Tyrus (F + W Media, dist.), $24.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4405-8276-9

Unanswered questions hang wickedly in the air of Wirkus’s first novel. Elder Toronto and Elder Schwartz, two Mormon missionaries, roam the streets of Vila Barbosa, a Portuguese-speaking slum somewhere in what must be Brazil, in search of Marco Aurélio, a recent convert of theirs who has disappeared. Meanwhile, a powerful man referred to as the Argentine wields an omniscient, violent, yet strangely undefined grip over Vila Barbosa’s inhabitants. Aurélio’s fascinating backstory propels the plot just as its momentum begins to wilt. The banter between the two young Mormons serves to lighten the mood, as do descriptions of the tropical locale. A dangerous game of some kind seems to be in the works, though figuring out what that game is may leave some readers scratching their heads with the not unwelcome sense that they, too, have been played. Agent: Yishai Seidman, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner Literary Agency. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Ripper’s Wife

Brandy Purdy. Kensington, $15 trade paper (358p) ISBN 978-0-7582-8889-9

Purdy’s (The Boleyn Wife) latest is a dark recreation of London’s autumn of 1888, when Jack the Ripper terrorized Whitechapel. The novel begins as an affected and slightly overdone love story between the young, beautiful, and well-traveled American Florie Chandler and the English cotton merchant James Maybrick. However, their happy Liverpool home is not what it appears: Florie is friendless, regarded as opportunistic and fraudulent; the servants are in collusion, maliciously controlling the home and the children; and James is an adulterous arsenic addict and secret psychopath with a vicious, hair-trigger temper. When James discovers that Florie has a lover, he becomes the legendary Ripper, trolling for victims and murdering by “proxy” in order not to kill Florie, his children’s mother. Raging with jealously and delusions, James descends deeper into madness. The violent beatings James give Florie are disturbing, calling forth a time when physical abuse was winked at and used to make women “behave.” Ill and remorseful, James confesses to Florie through his diary. Events move quickly toward the end, with a sensational trial, imprisonment, poverty, and seclusion. Purdy’s story has suspense, complex characters, and the requisite gore of a recycled Ripper. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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