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Close to the Bone

Lisa Black. Severn, $28.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8402-2

At the start of Black’s intricately plotted seventh Theresa MacLean mystery (after 2013’s The Price of Innocence), Theresa arrives early one morning at Cleveland’s cash-strapped Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s office, where she literally steps into a pool of blood seeping from the fatal wounds of deskman Darryl Johnson. More homicides rapidly follow elsewhere, and Theresa, an intrepid 12-year veteran of the Trace Evidence Department, connects the killings to the decade-old strangling of coworker Diane Allman. Theresa descends Nancy Drew–like into creepy morgue vaults, eludes a lascivious morgue assistant, and ingeniously extricates herself from the trunk of the killer’s car, but she overlooks the close attention police sergeant Louis Shephard is paying to the case—and to her. Black, who is a forensic scientist, certainly knows her field; readers should be prepared for medical minutiae and graphic autopsy details that tend toward grisly overkill. Agent: Vicky Bijur, Vicky Bijur Literary Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Hunting Dogs

Jorn Lier Horst, trans. from the Norwegian by Anne Bruce. Sandstone (Dufour, dist.), $18 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-908737-63-2

Chief Insp. William Wisting started his career by solving the murder of Cecilia Linde, a girl who went missing and was found dead 12 days later. Seventeen years afterward, in Horst’s engaging third mystery featuring the Norwegian policeman to be published in English (after Closed for Winter), the media accuse Wisting of planting a cigarette butt with DNA evidence at the crime scene in the Cecilia case and failing to take the statement of a key witness. As the officer in charge, he is suspended pending review of the Bureau for Investigative Police Affairs. Wisting’s daughter, Line, an investigative journalist in Oslo and one of several well-drawn characters, helps her father try to uncover who tampered with the evidence—and to determine whether Cecilia’s convicted killer, Rudolf Haglund, who is now out on parole pending review of the tainted evidence, was, in fact, guilty. A recent unsolved murder and another young girl’s disappearance heighten the suspense. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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I See You

Patricia MacDonald. Severn, $28.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8405-3

Hannah Wickes, the heroine of this chilling psychological thriller from MacDonald (Sisters), works as a counselor at Restoration House, a treatment center for veterans in West Philadelphia. She and her husband, Adam, live as tenants in a nearby Victorian brownstone, along with their small daughter, Sydney, under assumed names. For the past year, Hannah and family have been hiding from frightening experiences in their past. When the brownstone’s elderly owner, Mamie Revere, has a stroke while babysitting Sydney, the girl’s cries catch the attention of a neighbor, who crawls through an open window, sees Mamie on the floor, and calls 911. This good deed leads to a reporter’s interview with Hannah in front of a TV news camera, much to her dismay. An extended flashback reveals the dreadful secret that drove Hannah and Adam to seek anonymity. MacDonald captures true evil that’s made even more repellent when set against the backdrop of “normal” middle class lives. Agent: Meg Ruley, Jane Rotrosen Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Deadly Tasting: A Winemaker Detective Mystery

Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen, trans. from the French by Sally Pane. Le French Book (www.lefrenchbook.com), $12.95 trade paper (140p) ISBN 978-1-93-947421-6

First published in France in 2005, this slight tale is the fourth Winemaker Detective mystery to appear Stateside (after Nightmare in Burgundy). Bordeaux resident and oenologist Benjamin Cooker is busy creating his latest wine guide when police inspector Barbaroux calls him to assist at a murder scene. Elderly Jules-Ernest Grémillion was savagely attacked, yet 11 empty wineglasses have been neatly arranged nearby and a 12th filled with what Cooker identifies as 1942 Chateau Pétrus. Soon a second elderly victim is discovered, this time near two glasses filled with the same rare vintage and 10 empty. The ritual promises more crimes to come, while the costly wine’s year and victims’ ages suggest that Bordeaux’s WWII history may be the key. Though its celebration of fine wine, food, and cigars charms, the book’s brevity, simplistic resolution, and lack of female characters won’t satisfy all palates. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Stages of Grey: A Dulcie Schwartz Feline Mystery

Clea Simon. Severn, $28.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8393-3

Simon’s diverting eighth Dulcie Schwartz mystery (after Grey Howl) finds Dulcie, now a fifth-year Harvard grad student, in need of a break from her academic toils. As a distraction, Dulcie attends a “disco interpretation” of Ovid’s Metamorphosis at a Cambridge theater, accompanied by her boyfriend, Chris Sorenson. During the performance, a blonde actress lures Chris to the stage by picking his pocket, and a cat walks a tightrope above the audience. After the show, Dulcie and company discover the blonde actress lying dead in an alley, her throat slashed. Was she the victim of a passing stranger, or possibly of domestic abuse? Or is the truth even more sordid? The feline complications of the plot should please those readers who crave shed fur in their whodunits. Dulcie herself is an endearingly fragile but determined protagonist. Agent: Colleen Mohyde, Doe Coover Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Counterfeit Heiress: A Lady Emily Mystery

Tasha Alexander. Minotaur, $25.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-02469-5

In Alexander’s puzzling ninth Victorian mystery (after 2013’s Behind the Shattered Glass), Lady Emily Hargreaves and her husband, Colin, investigate the stabbing murder of Mary Darby, a middle-aged woman who was posing as reclusive heiress Estella Lamar at a costume ball hosted by the Duke of Devonshire in London. The Hargreaves’ quest for answers takes them to Paris, where their search for Estella becomes much more crucial than finding Mary’s killer. The villain of the piece considers himself a basically decent man who had been overwhelmed by events, but he never feels like more than a shadowy presence. Alternating chapters relating Estella’s story suggest a kidnapping, and more than a hint of mental illness. It helps to be familiar with the works of Dickens, to which there are frequent references, but most of the action seems like much ado about very little. Agent: Anne Hawkins, John Hawkins & Associates. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Dead for a Spell

Raymond Buckland. Berkley Prime Crime, $15 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-0-425-26803-2

The execution fails to match the originality of the premise of Buckland’s second whodunit featuring Bram Stoker (after Cursed in the Act). In March 1881, the disappearance of Nell Burton, an extra in a production of Hamlet at London’s Lyceum Theatre, alarms Stoker, the Lyceum’s manager. After an unsettling tarot card reading, Stoker goes to Scotland Yard, accompanied by his stage manager, Harry Rivers, to ask the police for help in locating Nell. Later, she’s found floating in the Thames with her throat slit. The nature of the wound and markings at the site where she was killed, a warehouse overlooking the river, lead the future author of Dracula to believe that she may have been the victim of a ritual sacrifice and that other deaths will follow. Underdeveloped lead characters, clichéd plot elements, and inconsistency of tone mar this historical. Agent: Grace Morgan, Grace Morgan Literary Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Supping with the Devil: A DCI Monika Paniatowski Mystery

Sally Spencer. Severn, $28.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8408-4

Set in 1976, Spencer’s superior eighth mystery featuring Det. Chief Insp. Monika Paniatowski (after 2013’s Death’s Dark Shadow) finds the Whitebridge copper shunted aside by her vindictive boss to serve as adviser to Gervaise de Courtney, 13th Earl of Ridley, who’s sponsoring a Woodstock-like festival on his estate. Both the earl’s family and the police foresee trouble that they’ll be powerless to prevent. Meanwhile, the activities of a host of other characters—a rider in a motorcycle gang doing concert security, members of Paniatowski’s unhappy squad, an unemployed journalist who has just published a career-changing story, a teen singer expecting to make it big—ratchet up the tension long before violence erupts. When it does, Monika’s replacement has a suspect in mind—and demands evidence to prove it. Most of the violence is off-camera, but fierce all the same. Spencer has devised a thrill ride that’s not easily forgotten. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Gossamer Ghost

Laura Childs. Berkley Prime Crime, $25.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-425-26666-3

Childs’s enjoyable 12th Scrapbooking mystery (after 2013’s Gilt Trip) finds charming heroine Carmela Bertrand musing about what costumes to wear over Halloween and what classes to offer next at her New Orleans craft store. But she soon has a bigger puzzle to solve: the murder of Marcus Joubert, the creepy owner of the store next door. A rare French mask is missing from Joubert’s store, and soon the police, including Carmela’s hunky cop beau, Det. Edgar Babcock, are wondering not only who stole the mask from Marcus but also whether Marcus himself had come into its possession illegally. Real estate lust also complicates matters—more than one savvy small businessperson was longing for Marcus to vacate his primo location. Local color is Child’s strong suit, and on this romp with Carmela, the details of the Big Easy, from absinthe to étouffée, do not disappoint—and readers will get a few zany Halloween costume ideas to boot. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Murder at Marble House: A Gilded Newport Mystery

Alyssa Maxwell. Kensington, $15 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-0-7582-9084-7

Emma Cross, a shirttail relative of the Vanderbilts, finds herself at the center of a potential scandal in this solid follow-up to Maxwell’s Murder at the Breakers. When Emma’s beautiful 18-year-old cousin, Consuelo Vanderbilt, disappears immediately after a murder at Marble House, one of the summer “cottages” of the super-rich in Newport, R.I., Consuelo’s domineering mother, Alva, presses Emma to find her before the Duke of Marlborough arrives to ask for Consuelo’s hand in marriage. Did Consuelo run off willingly? Or was she kidnapped? Either way, Emma is pledged to secrecy and has little to go on as her search for answers leads her far from the comforts of upper-class Newport into increasingly dangerous places. The arrest of a Vanderbilt servant doesn’t stop the murders in a mystery whose secrets may be too big to hide. Maxwell again deftly weaves fictional and real-life characters into her story. Agent: Evan Marshall, Evan Marshall Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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