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Rebellion’s Message: A Jack Blackjack Mystery

Michael Jecks. Severn, $28.99 (224p) ISBN 978-1-78029-085-0

The year may be 1554, but a distinctly Dickensian atmosphere rules in this energetic series launch from Jecks (Templar’s Acre). London’s vast underworld teems with pickpockets, gamblers, prostitutes, and pimps. Real-life Tudor figures, such as Stephen Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, make occasional appearances. Jack Blackjack, Jecks’s winning if disreputable lead, is drawn to London because he doesn’t want to make leather jacks and buckets in Whitstable like his father or go into the army and end up “lying with my belly slashed open on a field of gore.” Jack takes to a life of crime, but he’s in over his head after a pickpocket scheme gone bad makes him the chief suspect in a tavern murder, and it’s revealed that the dead man was carrying a message critical to the conspirators in the Wyatt Rebellion, which opposed Queen Mary’s marriage to Philip of Spain. A master of caustic tone and well-observed detail, Jecks keeps the suspense at a steady boil as his well-rounded characters fight for a corner in tumultuous London with humor and even humanity. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Live and Let Growl

Laurien Berenson. Kensington, $25 (304p) ISBN SBN 978-1-4967-0338-5

Berenson’s middling 19th Melanie Travis mystery (after 2015’s The Bark Before Christmas) takes schoolteacher Melanie from her home in Connecticut to Louisville, Ky., where Peg Trumbull, her energetic older aunt, is serving as a judge at the Kentuckiana Dog Show Cluster. Soon after arrival, Peg gets together with an old friend, Ellie Gates Wanamaker, who like her has had a long career raising poodles. After years away from the dog-show scene, Ellie agrees to attend the dog show, where she encounters some unfriendly exhibitors. Soon afterward, Ellie is found dead on her family’s horse farm, now jointly owned by a pair of Ellie’s cousins, a bone of contention that Ellie was in the process of rectifying. Peg doesn’t believe Ellie’s death was accidental, so the aunt and niece do some snooping that lands them in partnership with a friend from Ellie’s past who concurs with their suspicions. Canine lovers will best appreciate this installment, which is long on doggie doings but short on sleuthing. Agent: Meg Ruley, Jane Rotrosen Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Rob Thy Neighbor: A Charlie Henry Mystery

David Thurlo. Minotaur, $25.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-250-07889-6

Thurlo’s third Charlie Henry mystery, the first not to be written with his wife, Aimée Thurlo (1951–2014), falls short of the standard set by the first two books in the series, The Pawnbroker and Grave Consequences. Charlie and his friend Gordon Sweeny, who own a pawnshop in Albuquerque, N.Mex., are enjoying a barbecue in the backyard of police sergeant Nancy Medina and Nancy’s life partner, attorney Gina Sinclair, when they hear a gunshot. A moment later, Margaret Randal, a neighbor of Nancy and Gina’s, climbs over their wall. A bleeding Margaret says that three men are taking her husband, Sam. Gordon, Charlie, Nancy, and Gina proceed to foil the kidnappers, but they have plenty of questions in the aftermath. Why is Sam, a construction-firm owner, a target? Was burglary really the motive? Why are Charlie and Gordon now in danger? Satisfying action sequences make up only in part for some awkward dialogue and plotting. Agent: Peter Rubie, Fine Print Literary Management. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Pale Blue

Mike Jenne. Yucca, $24.99 (568p) ISBN 978-1-63158-084-0

Jenne’s strong final Blue Gemini thriller (after Blue Darker than Black) concludes the trilogy in dramatic fashion. By 1972, American astronauts Maj. Drew Carson and Maj. Scott Ourecky, as part of the covert Blue Gemini space program, have flown seven missions “to intercept and destroy suspect Soviet satellites.” But Carson and Ourecky face their greatest challenge yet after Lt. Gen. Rustam Abdirov pushes ahead with his plans for a Russian space station to be armed with nuclear weapons. Eager to end the stalemate between East and West, Abdirov tells his team that he hopes that deploying such a weapon will result in reducing all of America to radioactive rubble. Jenne, a former Special Forces officer, makes the threat of nuclear war feel real and draws on his own military training and aerospace expertise for plausible details. The narrative continues up to the present day, offering surprising developments that provide a satisfying resolution of the story of his two heroes. Agent: Peter Riva, International Transactions. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Damascus Threat: An ICE Thriller

Matt Rees. Crooked Lane, $26.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-62953-775-7

This fast-paced, action-packed first in a new thriller series from Rees—best known for The Fourth Assassin and three other crime novels featuring Palestinian sleuth Omar Yussef—introduces Dominic Verrazzano, a former Green Beret and current U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) special agent. When a doctor specializing in chemical weapons is murdered on the doorstep of the ICE Manhattan offices while trying to reach Verrazzano, the agent becomes entangled in a mystery surrounding a plot to unleash a chemical attack somewhere in New York City. The trail leads him to Syria, where he begins to understand the scale of the scheme—the attack is simply the opening move in a much larger conspiracy. But with time running out and assassins on his trail, can Verrazzano stay alive long enough to avert an unprecedented terrorist attack on U.S. soil? Rees writes well, but those who prefer fully dimensional characters and unpredictability in their thrillers will have to look elsewhere. Agent: Lisa Erbach Vance, Aaron M. Priest Literary Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Face Blind

Lance Hawvermale. Minotaur, $26.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-07833-9

Gabe Traylin, the hero of this well-paced mystery from Hawvermale (The Discretionist), works at a research outpost in the Chilean Atacama Desert and has managed to cover his inability to recognize human faces by relying on voices, clothing, and other signals. While walking one night, he sees a mysterious figure who seems to get murdered, but when he calls in the authorities, the body has vanished, and his further investigations only anger his employers and bring more questions from the authorities. He eventually crosses paths with Mira Westbrook, who has traveled to Chile with her severely dyslexic twin brother, Luke, to find a reclusive science fiction author, Ben Cable, with whom Luke, who can’t read, has become inexplicably obsessed. Hawvermale throws in plenty of action while allowing characters time to discuss and explore the series of mysteries they face. If the plot gets decidedly muddled—and it seems unnecessary for Gabe’s condition to be the focus of the title—the unusual setting and well-drawn characters still intrigue. Agent: Jonah Straus, Straus Literary. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Rough Trade: A Boo and Junior Gig

Todd Robinson. Polis, $25 (320p) ISBN 978-1-943818-15-0

Robinson’s rough-and-tumble sequel to 2013’s The Hard Bounce finds William “Boo” Malone and his crew of survivors from St. Gabriel’s Home for Boys—Junior, Ollie, and Twitch—hanging tight as adults and bearing the scars of their upbringing. Boo and Junior are bouncers at the Cellar, a Boston rock and roll club, where skirmishes with unruly patrons are common. A confrontation with employees of IronClad Security leads to a fight with IronClad’s physically formidable boss, Ian Summerfield. As Boo accurately notes, “our whole scene was one big fight club.” Meanwhile, Boo and Junior beat jazz musician Byron Walsh as a favor to coworker Ginny and as a warning for him to leave her alone, but when Byron turns up dead, Junior is fingered for the killing. With help from Twitch and Ollie, Boo works to clear Junior in a gritty tale leavened by some raucous humor. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Die like an Eagle: A Meg Langslow Mystery

Donna Andrews. Minotaur, $25.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-07855-1

In Agatha-winner Andrews’s charming 20th Meg Langslow mystery (after 2015’s Lord of the Wings), tenacious Meg must tangle with the dictatorial Summerball Youth Baseball League president and town contractor, Biff Brown. As special assistant to the mayor of Caerphilly, Va., Meg has had the job of hounding dodgy Biff about his unfulfilled government contracts. He’s clearly responsible for the dilapidated baseball field, where one day before a game the umpire, who happens to be Biff’s half-brother, is found dead of a gunshot wound inside the ball field’s lone portable toilet. Was Biff the culprit? Since plenty of people around the league (and the town, and the county), including family members, have a beef with Biff, Meg suspects that the bullet that hit his look-alike half-brother was really meant for him. As always, Meg turns sleuth and jumps to the rescue when needed. With its well-spun plots and distinctive characters, Andrews’s amusing avian-named series shows no signs of growing stale. Agent: Ellen Geiger, Frances Goldin Literary Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Sting

Sandra Brown. Grand Central, $26 (300p) ISBN 978-1-455-58120-7

This exceptional romantic thriller from bestseller Brown (Friction) pairs Shaw Kinnard, a handsome hired killer, and his beautiful target, Jordie Bennett, the owner of a New Orleans event-planning business, in a spirited contest of wills and wiles. Rather than kill Jordie, Shaw kidnaps her from a bar in the boondocks of Louisiana, hoping for a bigger slice of money. Jordie’s crooked brother, Josh Bennett, helped his boss, Billy Panella, defraud investors of some $30 million, and Jordie may be the key for Shaw to get a share of the loot. No one knows the whereabouts of Billy—or Josh since he escaped from federal protective custody. Brown doesn’t neglect other key figures, such as the two FBI agents searching for Billy and Josh, but the principal focus never strays far from the sexual tension between Shaw and Jordie: her aim to stay alive and his to squeeze from her the information he needs. Brown handles the romance with her usual panache and adds some nifty plot twists that will keep readers guessing. Agent: Maria Carvainis, Maria Carvainis Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The American Girl

Kate Horsley. Morrow, $15.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-0624-3851-5

In this gut-wrenching, sometimes gory psychological thriller from Horsley (The Monster’s Wife), Quinn Perkins, a 17-year-old American student who’s boarding with a family, the Blavettes, in tiny St. Roch, France, is hospitalized after emerging from the woods mute and bloody. The Blavettes—mother and father, daughter and son—have disappeared. Molly Swift, an American journalist working for a sensationalist website back home, poses as a relative and gets into Quinn’s hospital room—and her life. Molly sees a great story but then has scruples about Quinn. Can she protect the girl from whatever horrors have overtaken her? When the bodies of the Blavettes are discovered, the authorities think Quinn murdered them. Meanwhile, Molly develops feelings for Valentin, the local policeman. Where does he fit into the big picture? The narrative alternates between the viewpoints of Quinn and Molly, who has the stronger voice, creating something of a structural imbalance. Still, this fierce, convoluted tale offers one surprise after another. Agent: Oli Munson, A.M. Heath (U.K.). (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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