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Devil’s Breath: A Max Tudor Mystery

G.M. Malliet. Minotaur, $25.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-09278-6

Agatha Award–winner Malliet abandons subtlety in her middling sixth Max Tudor mystery (after 2015’s The Haunted Season). Max’s friend on the local police force, Detective Chief Inspector Cotton, views the cleric-cum-detective as “an extraordinary man of seemingly endless patience, knowledge, integrity, and bravery.” And in keeping with the now larger-than-life qualities of the lead, the recipes of Max’s cookbook-author wife are being used at Buckingham Palace. Max looks into the death of an aging movie star named Margot Browne (not the only heavy-handed All About Eve reference), who was a guest on the yacht of a big-time film director. The case offers a classic golden age setup, but unfortunately Max’s sleuthing skills aren’t at their best. At one point, after learning that Margot’s corpse, recovered from the waters off Monkslip-super-Mare, bore strangulation marks, he still, bafflingly, speculates that she may have been accidentally poisoned and her body dumped overboard to cover up the mishap. Agent: Vicky Bijur, Vicky Bijur Literary. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Alice and the Assassin: An Alice Roosevelt Mystery

R.J. Koreto. Crooked Lane, $25.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-68331-112-6

In this uneven series launch from Koreto (Death on the Sapphire), the assassination of William McKinley has elevated Theodore Roosevelt to the presidency and given his 17-year-old daughter, Alice, Secret Service protection provided by 30-year-old Joseph St. Clair, a former Rough Rider. In the winter of 1902, St. Clair allows the headstrong girl—still living in New York City under the nominal control of her aunt—to indulge her curiosity by visiting notorious anarchist Emma Goldman. Though the government’s investigation says otherwise, Goldman insists that Leon Czolgosz, recently executed as McKinley’s assassin, could not have acted without outside guidance. Afraid that the same shadowy adversaries might threaten the new president as well, Alice and St. Clair scour Manhattan from teeming Chinatown to the elite University Club in search of the truth. The plot can feel strained, and Koreto’s Alice is more often rude and entitled than enjoyably feisty. But the premise and the depictions of the turn-of-the-century Manhattan melting pot shine, heralding a promising series. Agent: Cynthia Zigmund, Second City Publishing Services. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Stockholm Delete

Jens Lapidus, trans. from the Swedish by Alice Menzies. Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, $16.95 trade paper (512p) ISBN 978-0-525-43171-8

This gloomy crime novel from Lapidus (Easy Money and two other books his Stockholm Noir trilogy) focuses on Serbian immigrants. Teddy is trying to go straight after his release from prison—where he served time for kidnapping Mats Emanuelsson, a one-time police informer now believed dead—by working as a fixer for a law firm. Teddy’s 19-year-old nephew, Nikola, who idolizes him, is just out of Spillersboda Young Offenders’ Institute and is also trying to stay clean. Meanwhile, Teddy’s coworker, newly minted lawyer Emelie Jansson, gets drawn into criminal defense work, against the rules of her upscale business law firm, by defending Mats’s son against the charge that he murdered Mats. The complicated narrative unfolds through the viewpoints of Teddy, Nikola, and Emelie. Transcripts of police interrogations with Mats fill in the background. Lapidus tackles such matters as big-business fraud, police corruption, and refugee-related tensions in a dismal “new Stockholm,” but interminable financial scheming bogs down what might have worked better as a fast-paced, action-oriented thriller. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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A Criminal Defense

William L. Myers Jr. Thomas & Mercer, $14.95 trade paper (422p) ISBN 978-1-5039-4342-1

Defense attorney and former DA Mick McFarland, the narrator of lawyer Myers’s impressive debut, takes on the case of a close law school friend, David Hanson, the general counsel of a family-owned Fortune 500 company. David has been arrested for pushing Jennifer Yamura, an up-and-coming Philadelphia reporter who just broke a major police corruption story, down the stairs to her basement, where she was found lying dead. An anonymous phone call alerted the police, who picked up David fleeing from the victim’s house. That it appears to be an open-and-shut case isn’t Mick’s only problem. Devin Walker, the prosecutor, is pursuing a conviction largely because he and Mick were archrivals and enemies back in Mick’s days as a DA. Glimpses of Mick’s puzzling and intense relationship with his ex-convict brother, as well as rifts in Mick’s marriage, provide counterpoint to the fascinating legal maneuvering in the courtroom. The gripping plot builds to an ending that’s a complete shocker. Agent: Cynthia Manson, Cynthia Manson Literary Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Murder in a Cornish Alehouse: A Mistress Jaffrey Mystery

Kathy Lynn Emerson. Severn, $28.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8676-7

Set in 1584, Emerson’s swashbuckling third Mistress Jaffrey mystery (after 2015’s Murder in the Merchant’s Hall) takes Rosamond Jaffrey, a gentlewoman who has worked as an intelligence gatherer, from London to Cornwall, where her stepfather, Sir Walter Pendennis, has suddenly died. Rosamond makes the trip reluctantly, since she’s estranged from her greedy, grasping mother, Eleanor, who disapproves of Rosamond’s devoted husband, Rob. Soon after she and Rob arrive at her mother’s house, Eleanor informs Rosamond that Sir Walter was murdered. Evidently, something he discovered in his work as an espionage agent led to his death. The astute and fearless Rosamond, who’s a dab hand with knives, investigates. The action shifts to Ireland, where she’s kidnapped and has her honor threatened. At the climax on the high seas, she must deal with a literal boatload of spies and counterspies. Those interested in the fashion and cultural history of the period, not to mention Cornish dialect, will find a lot to like. Agent: Christina Hogrebe, Jane Rotrosen Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Trumpet of Death: A Martha’s Vineyard Mystery

Cynthia Riggs. Minotaur, $25.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-12266-7

At the start of Riggs’s satisfying 13th Martha’s Vineyard mystery (after 2016’s Bloodroot), feisty 92-year-old Victoria Trumbull, a poet, takes her young and not-too-sharp upstairs tenant, Zack Zeller, on a nature walk. In the woods, she shows him some poisonous mushrooms known as black trumpets (aka trumpets of death). Zack, who has a summer job as a dishwasher, has been loaning money to his spoiled girlfriend, Samantha Eberhardt, a drug user and dealer, who promises to pay him back but never does. When Zack breaks up with Sam, she threatens him. To get back at Sam, Zack gives her some of the deadly mushrooms in the hope they will sicken her, but things don’t go as planned. When Sam’s body turns up on a bike path, Zack isn’t the only murder suspect, since she may have had a hand in ruining a number of lives on the island. Fans of darker cozies will enjoy Riggs’s blend of crime, island lore, and well-drawn characters. Agent: Paula Munier, Talcott Notch Literary Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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South California Purples

Baron R. Birtcher. Permanent, $28 (248p) ISBN 978-1-57962-500-9

Set in 1973, this fast-moving series launch from Birtcher (Hard Latitudes and three other Mike Travis novels) perfectly captures its era. Vietnam vets are coming home to a mixed reception, the American Indian Movement is standing off the government at Wounded Knee, and in Meriwether County, Ore., something unexplainable is killing rancher Tyler Dawson’s cattle. Neighboring rancher Teresa Pineu, incensed that the government is rounding up wild horses to be slaughtered, has put the word out, and a group of activists, hippies, and motorcycle gang members are camping out on her spread. Sheriff Lloyd Skadden deputizes Ty to keep things under control, but events rapidly get out of hand. One of Ty’s ranch hands is murdered, the bikers shoot up a bar, and Lloyd seems otherwise occupied. More mayhem ensues, including a deadly standoff between the bikers and Ty’s people. Birtcher takes readers on an exciting ride that more than makes up for the surfeit of detail and a somewhat forced denouement. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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A Clash of Spheres: A Sir Robert Carey Mystery

P.F. Chisholm. Poisoned Pen, $26.95 (292p) ISBN 978-1-4642-0830-0

Chisholm’s intricately plotted eighth Sir Robert Carey mystery (after 2014’s Chorus of Innocents) finds the English courtier on the Scottish border in late August 1592, charged with bringing order and ending the bloody feuds between the Scottish Catholic lords and their Protestant counterparts. Various parties, many of them historical personages, vie for influence over Elizabeth I’s heir, James VI of Scotland. The spheres of the title refer not only to spheres of influence—political, religious, and personal—but also to the celestial spheres. A climactic chapter features a debate between supporters of the Earth-centered Ptolemaic system and advocates of the rival Copernican system. Chisholm does a good job illuminating the quandary felt by many when new scientific discoveries challenged the old religion. Loyal to his queen and his conscience, Carey proves an able statesman in an installment full of adventure and intrigue, although light on conventional sleuthing. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Cold Earth: A Shetland Mystery

Ann Cleeves. Minotaur, $25.99 (400p) ISBN 978-1-250-10738-1

The ground shifts in more ways than one for Det. Insp. Jimmy Perez in CWA Diamond Dagger–winner Cleeves’s moody seventh Shetland mystery (after 2016’s Thin Air). At the funeral of old Magnus Tait, who was once accused of murder, the rain-soaked hillside above the mourners gives way and nearly buries them under a massive landslide. No one at the cemetery is hurt, but the body of a woman in a red dress is discovered in the ruins of a house on the hill, and no one seems to know who she is. Jimmy’s obsession with uncovering her identity only deepens when he learns that she was murdered before the landslide occurred. The Scottish oil boom brings many outlanders to the island, but Jimmy suspects the killer is someone close to home and sets about unraveling a tangled web of relationships among the locals. The stark Shetland landscape provides an atmospheric backdrop for Cleeves’s complex, relatable characters, especially Perez, a kind man dealing with his own tragic past. Agent: Sarah Menguc, Sarah Menguc Literary Agent (U.K.). (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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What’s Become of Her

Deb Caletti. Bantam, $16 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-1-101-88426-3

National Book Award finalist Caletti (He’s Gone) elevates reader discomfort to the maximum in this nuanced suspense novel. Compassionate, kindhearted Isabelle Austen is still processing several significant life changes—the death of her difficult mother; leaving her editorial job at a small press to assume ownership of her mother’s charter airline business on Parrish Island, Wash.; and the end of her marriage—when Henry North, a professor on sabbatical from Boston University, arrives on the island. Despite internal and external warning bells and potential omens of danger, Isabelle responds to the narcissistic Henry’s romantic overtures. Meanwhile, across the Pacific, the mysterious Professor M. Weary divides his time between studying the habits of New Caledonia crows and monitoring Henry. Warnings Isabelle receives from Dr. Weary cause her to wonder about Henry, whose first wife died in an accident and whose second wife has gone missing. The plot builds to a surprising and well-developed conclusion. Agent: Ben Camardi, Harold Matson Company. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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