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The Exiled

Kati Hiekkapelto, trans. from the Finnish by David Hackston. Orenda (IPG, dist.), $14.95 trade paper (300p) ISBN 978-1-910633-51-9

Hiekkapelto’s intriguing third Anna Fekete novel (after 2016’s The Defenceless) takes the Finnish Violent Crimes Unit detective to the Balkan village of Kanizsa, her birthplace, for a vacation. During a wine festival in Kanizsa, someone snatches her purse. Retired policeman Gábor Kovács, her father’s former colleague, later returns her purse and explains that the thief’s body was found by the river where he drowned, along with her purse. But lots of things remain unexplained, including the disappearance of the little girl who accompanied the thief. When Anna’s request to see the body and the riverbank meets official resistance, she enlists the help of policeman Péter Vajda, as well as family friends. Anna begins a tortuous search for witnesses—a fisherman, a priest, a politician—that eventually leads her to long-buried corruption. Repeated clashes between Anna’s Finnish upbringing and her Hungarian heritage add spice. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Prayer for the Dead: An Inspector McLean Novel

James Oswald. Crooked Lane, $25.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-68331-023-5

An eerie murder kicks off Oswald’s exciting fifth novel to feature Edinburgh Det. Insp. Tony McLean (after 2016’s Dead Men’s Bones). When newspaper reporter Ben Stevenson is found in a ritualistic pose with his throat cut, it’s not just the brutality of the crime that shocks McLean but the location: Gilmerton Cove, a series of caves and underground passages just below street level. It soon becomes evident that Stevenson was researching the history of secret societies, and McLean reluctantly enlists the help of Stevenson’s journalist colleague, Jo Dagliesh, with whom the detective has been in conflict in the past. As the body count rises, McLean must juggle the increasingly odd case with pleas for help from medium Madam Rose, a friend who’s been receiving violent threats. McLean, an extremely likable cop who’s bemused at how much he frustrates his superiors, is more than up to the task of chasing a particularly strange killer. This series just keeps getting better, and loyal fans and new readers alike will be pleased. Agent: Juliet Mushens, Agency Group (U.K.). (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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A Good Death: A D.I. Tom Mariner Mystery

Chris Collett. Severn, $28.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8687-3

Fully-fledged female characters distinguish Collett’s eighth police procedural featuring Det. Insp. Tom Mariner, a Birmingham, England, police officer (after 2015’s Dead of Night). In particular, the women of the Shah family stand out as they face discrimination and deal with family needs that their male counterparts can just ignore (or leave to stay-at-home wives or mothers). The focus, though, is on Mariner, a thoughtful, observant man who struggles to do the right thing for his friends, colleagues, and lovers. The reader follows him with interest as he and his team investigate two very different crimes—a death by arson and the case of a man who has gone missing just two weeks before his wedding. The motives are initially unclear: is the arson the result of a hate crime against the Shah family, or is there something even more sinister behind it? Has the future bridegroom met with foul play, or has he simply run away from the prospect of a stifling marriage? Mariner uncovers some surprising truths. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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A Darkness Absolute

Kelley Armstrong. Minotaur, $25.99 (416p) ISBN 978-1-250-09217-5

In Armstrong’s gripping follow-up to 2016’s City of the Lost, Det. Casey Duncan and Deputy Will Anders find themselves stranded during a snow storm while trying to track down a cabin-fever stricken member of Rockton, an isolated, off-the-grid town deep in the Canadian Yukon. Forced to shelter overnight in a cave, Duncan and Anders make a horrific discovery—a woman thought killed has instead been held captive in a pit for more than a year. Further exploration of the cave system leads them to discover the bodies of two women, with signs pointing to the same perpetrator. Duncan and Sheriff Dalton have reason to believe that this time the threat comes from outside the borders of Rockton, which serves its residents as a haven. But the investigators can’t escape the fact that members of their own tiny community have dark—and potentially dangerous—secrets hidden in their pasts. The unusual setup and isolated location increase tension in a fast-paced entry that will keep readers guessing. Agent: Helen Heller, Helen Heller Agency (Canada). (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Dalliance of Leopards

Stephen Alter. Arcade, $25.99 (342p) ISBN 978-1-62872-651-0

In Alter’s busy sequel to 2016’s The Rataban Betrayal, Col. Imtiaz Afridi, an Indian intelligence officer, is patient and thorough in his pursuit of a Pakistani warlord known only as Guldaar through the United States, India, and Pakistan. Guldaar (which means leopard in Urdu) has created a criminal network throughout the Middle East and South Asia supported by rogue elements of the CIA and Pakistan’s ISI. The labyrinthine plot involves shadowy U.S. intelligence forces, a large defense and aeronautics firm, and a Pakistani charitable organization, the Sikander-e-Azam Trust. Though some consider the trust to be a sterling example of fine philanthropic work, others suspect the organization is a cover for more sinister activities. The Taliban’s kidnapping of an American journalist in Pakistan raises the stakes. Alter’s vibrant depictions of Pakistan and India serve well to draw the reader into the intrigue. However, a surfeit of irrelevant detail about the countries’ culture and history at times slows the thriller plot. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Proud Sinner: A Medieval Mystery

Priscilla Royal. Poisoned Pen, $26.95 (238p) ISBN 978-1-4642-0725-9

At the start of Royal’s taut 13th mystery set in 13th-century England (after 2016’s Land of Shadows), a party of seven abbots arrives at Tyndal Priory. One of them, Abbot Ilbert, is seriously ill. Despite the ministrations of Sister Anne, a trained healer, Ilbert perishes, as do more than one of his colleagues soon after. Suspicion that food served at the priory might be responsible for the deaths places pressure on Prioress Eleanor to identify the culprit and exonerate her community. Ilbert had a reputation as a sadistic martinet, who once beat a clerk nearly to death for having spilled ink on a piece of parchment, but Eleanor also considers that Ilbert’s prospects for advancement within the church may have motivated his killer. Atypically, Royal gives scant attention to developing the historical background, but her clever integration of an Agatha Christie–like plot into her chosen period will still please whodunit fans. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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A Death in the Dales: A Kate Shackleton Mystery

Frances Brody. Minotaur, $25.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-250-09882-5

Set in 1926, Brody’s leisurely paced seventh Kate Shackleton mystery (after 2016’s Death of an Avid Reader) takes the private investigator and her teenage niece, Harriet, to the Yorkshire village of Langcliffe, where they stay at a cottage belonging to Dr. Lucian Simonson, who’s sweet on Kate. No less than three problems require Kate’s attention. First, Lucian’s aunt, Freda, witnessed the murder of the local alehouse keeper in 1916 and maintained until her recent death that the wrong man was executed for the crime. Kate feels compelled to investigate this old case, despite the disapproval of some townspeople. Meanwhile, Harriet befriends a girl whose brother has gone missing. Finally, the wife of Langcliffe’s biggest landowner wants help retrieving some indiscreet letters. No wonder Lucian feels Kate has no time for him. The characters are pleasant enough, but there’s not much mystery, except for an out-of-left-field ending that takes everyone by surprise. Agent: Judith Murdoch, Judith Murdoch Literary (U.K.). (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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A Measure of Murder: A Sally Solari Mystery

Leslie Karst. Crooked Lane, $25.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-68331-018-1

Engaging characters, terrific writing, and a savory blend of musical and culinary erudition build on the promise of Karst’s series opener, 2016’s Dying for a Taste. As if Santa Cruz, Calif., former lawyer Sally Solari didn’t have enough on her plate—helping manage her father’s red-sauce Italian restaurant while overseeing the nouveau California Gaugin inherited from Aunt Letta—her DA ex-beau, Eric Byrne, talks her into auditioning for his chorus’s summer performance of Mozart’s Requiem. Halfway through the first rehearsal, the talented but snarky tenor Kyle Copman takes a fatal plunge through a window. The cops say accident. Sally eyeballs the angle of the body and says murder. Whether extolling 00 flour, considering Mozart’s unsung collaborators, describing the thrill of biking with a possible murderer, or explaining the fine points of will-writing, polymath Karst sauces her plot without masking its flavor. And she’s a dab hand with the red herrings. Agent: Erin Niumata, Folio Literary Management. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Housekeeper

Suellen Dainty. Washington Square, $16 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-4767-7140-3

Anne Morgan, the heroine of this mesmerizing suspense novel from British author Dainty (After Everything), used to work as a sous-chef at a restaurant in London’s tony Mayfair district, until chef Anton, her boss and boyfriend, dumped her for another woman. Resolved to find a new job, Anne is delighted to get hired as the housekeeper for former psychologist Emma Helmsley, now a TV celebrity regarded as “England’s answer to Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey.” Emma lives in suburban Petersham with her psychologist husband, Rob, who’s famous in his own right, and their two teenage children. Rob’s research for a book about an infamous psychologist and cult leader sparks vivid recollections and dreams of a past that Anne has buried away. An orphan raised by her grandmother, Anne has always longed for a loving family, but she slowly realizes that her employer’s is not as perfect as it seems. Readers will relate to the very human Anne as she struggles to gain her emotional balance. Agent: Kerry Glencorse, Susanna Lea and Associates (U.K.). (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Swiss Vendetta

Tracee de Hahn. Minotaur, $25.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-250-10999-6

Police detective Agnes Lüthi tackles her first homicide case in de Hahn’s absorbing debut. Felicity Cowell, a British art assessor with a sordid past, has been killed at an elegant lakeside estate near Lausanne, Switzerland. When a blizzard descends, Agnes and other investigators become trapped at Château Vallotton with the aristocratic Vallotton family, their guests and servants, as well as an elderly neighbor, the charming Vladimir Arsov, who fought with the French Resistance during WWII. De Hahn sets up a locked-room mystery with potential for rich interpersonal tensions. The rarefied, restrictive world of Swiss aristocracy provides a tantalizing backdrop, and Agnes—born to American parents, raised in Switzerland, and a widowed mother of three sons after her husband’s recent suicide—is a strong series lead. Coincidences abound, but those who like a fireside read on a winter night will be pleased. Agent: Paula Munier, Talcott Notch Literary Services. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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