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The Lost Woman

Sara Blaedel, trans. from the Danish by Mark Kline. Grand Central, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4555-4107-2

At the start of Danish author Blaedel’s disappointing sixth Louise Ricks novel to be published in the U.S. (after 2016’s The Killing Forest), a gunman outside a house in England takes aim through a window at a woman as she’s preparing dinner and shoots her dead. Back in Denmark, Eik Nordstrøm, Rick’s police partner (who’s also her lover), goes out with his dog to a store to buy cigarettes and vanishes—no phone call or text—leaving his dog tied outside the store. The murdered woman turns out to be a Dane, Sofie Parker, who went missing 18 years earlier. That Eik was involved in Sofie’s case may explain his disappearance. Flashbacks to 1996 chart Sofie’s efforts to persuade her mother, who suffers from an incurable illness, not to commit suicide. Blaedel explores the ethical implications of assisted suicide, making it clear where she stands on the issue, but she fails to inject enough urgency and drama into a tale whose plot contrivances demand a large suspension of disbelief from the reader. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Book of Mirrors

E.O. Chirovici. Atria/Bestler, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-1-5011-4154-6

Early in Chirovici’s intricately plotted first novel, New York literary agent Peter Katz is intrigued by a manuscript titled The Book of Mirrors submitted by Richard Flynn, a copywriter for a Manhattan ad agency. It chronicles Flynn’s time at Princeton when as a senior he fell under the spell of a beautiful graduate student, Laura Baines, and of Joseph Wieder, a famous professor, who was murdered just before Christmas, 1987. Flynn’s memoir hints at a solution to the 27-year-old crime, as well as an affair between Baines and Wieder, but ends abruptly before revealing the killer. Was this Flynn’s veiled confession? When Katz learns Flynn has died, he hires investigative journalist John Keller to find the missing conclusion. Keller’s research leads to retired police detective Roy Freeman, who handled the original case. Recently diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, Freeman launches his own investigation, believing it’s his last chance to do good. Faulty memories, outright lies, and secrets make it hard to know whom to believe. The action builds to a crafty and believable resolution. Agent: Marilia Savvides, Peters, Fraser and Dunlop. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Winterlong

Mason Cross. Pegasus Crime (Norton, dist.), $25.95 (416p) ISBN 978-1-68177-314-8

British author Cross’s subpar third thriller starring shadowy Carter Blake (after 2016’s The Samaritan) adds nothing new to a familiar espionage fiction scenario—a covert operative on the run from his former employers. Blake worked for seven years for a secret group known as Winterlong, which originated in the Pentagon but now has its headquarters in midtown Manhattan. It was designed to be an “agile, kinetic response to emerging threats, focusing on bringing together the top tier of military and intelligence operators in a small, compartmentalized unit.” Now the agents of Winterlong are after Blake because he possesses “something that could, perhaps, take down the whole organization.” Blake learns he’s in the crosshairs while in California tracing the thief of valuable software that would enable its legitimate owner to “make Facebook look like a paper journal.” His cross-country race to stay alive features predictable collateral damage and narrow escapes. Series fans will hope for a return to form next time. Agent: Luigi Bonomi, LBA (U.K.). (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Six Four

Hideo Yokoyama, trans. from the Japanese by Jonathan Lloyd-Davies. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 (576p) ISBN 978-0-374-26551-9

Japanese author Yokoyama makes his U.S. debut with a massive and complex police procedural set in 2003 in one of Japan’s prefectures. Supt. Yoshinobu Mikami, who has been transferred from criminal investigations to media relations at Prefecture D Police Headquarters, must contend with unhappy members of the press who feel that the police are too selective in what they choose to share. The multilayered plot involves the unsolved kidnapping and murder of a seven-year-old girl 14 years before, physical confrontations between reporters and police, and the discordant relationships among various elements of the police force. Meanwhile, Mikami agonizes over his teenage daughter, Ayumi, who has been missing for weeks. American readers may have trouble following the bewildering conflicts and alliances, but they should gain a better understanding of a very different culture. This is a novel that requires and rewards close attention. The ending is oddly satisfying, though none of the underlying issues are truly resolved. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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I See You

Clare Mackintosh. Berkley, $26 (384p) ISBN 978-1-101-98829-9

Divorced middle-aged mum Zoe Walker, the narrator of this outstanding psychological thriller from Mackintosh (I Let You Go), is stunned when, during her daily commute to work as bookkeeper/office manager at a London real estate firm, she spots a photo of herself in a newspaper ad for sex chat lines. But the real fear kicks in when she combs through earlier ads and recognizes one face as that of a recent crime victim. After another woman she recognizes from the ads is murdered, Zoe connects with police constable Kelly Swift, who’s chafing under a disciplinary demotion. As Kelly and the task force she worms her way onto race to crack the baffling case, an increasingly terrified Zoe starts to turn a suspicious eye on just about everyone in her life, including her solicitous live-in boyfriend and her overbearing boss. Although some shocking final twists don’t quite convince, Mackintosh scripts a hair-raising ride all the scarier because its premise—that our predictable routines make us easy targets—is sadly so plausible. Author tour. Agent: Sheila Crowley, Curtis Brown (U.K.). (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Secrets That You Keep

Kate White. Harper, $15.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-244885-9

In this solid psychological thriller from bestseller White (The Wrong Man), Bryn Harper, a successful New York City–based self-help author, has barely been able to function since a fiery car accident killed a colleague and left her badly injured. Haunted by nightmares filled with fire, Bryn struggles to remember what caused the accident. Bryn and her husband, Guy Carrington, the head of development for the Saratoga, N.Y., opera, had a commuter marriage before the accident. Now they’re together in Saratoga, where Bryn hopes a dinner party that Guy has arranged will help her snap out of her lethargy. But Bryn soon runs into trouble with Eve Blazer, a flirtatious caterer, over missing money and a box of burnt matches—a nasty reminder of the car crash. When Eve is murdered, Bryn becomes a suspect. As Bryn struggles to clear her name, she realizes that Guy is not the man she thought he was. White keeps the suspense high to the end, though some readers may find the murder motive a stretch. Agent: Sandra Dijkstra, Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Poet of the Wrong Generation

Lonnie Ostrow. Harmony Rivers Press, $15.99 trade paper (465p) ISBN 978-0-9974042-0-3

Johnny Elias is a poet and finds affinity with classic rockers and songwriters in 1990s New York City. His love of music is only eclipsed by his love for Megan Price. The two are social stratospheres apart, and their love is pure but not approved of by Megan’s overbearing and deceptive mother, PR guru Katherine. When Megan deals Johnny a heartbreaking blow, his grief pours out into verse and melody. With the help of his mentor, Howard, Johnny finds himself leading charts with a hit single, landing a record deal, and heading up a concert tour. His abrupt rise to fame is countered by the demise of his career and an unlikely path back to the top. Ostrow’s characters are static, especially Johnny, who hardly seems changed from the starry-eyed college student at the novel’s outset; the sole exception is Katherine, whose treachery and deceit reaches Disney-villain-esque proportions. Music-industry information fills the pages, and the author clearly did his research; the backstage world is just as fascinating as front-page stardom. However, the situations and supporting characters are clichés at best, some bordering on empty tropes and generic plotting. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Valley of the Kings: The 18th Dynasty

Terrance Coffey. Helm House, $15.95 trade paper (404p) ISBN 978-0-692-75658-4

In his engaging first book, Coffey breathes life into the pharaohs, kings, queens, and citizens of ancient Egypt and other nations. Set in the 14th century B.C.E., the book is filled with passionate love, violent wars, and political intrigue. It begins with Amenhotep III and his addiction to a fatal drug, and the story continues with his oldest son, Amenhotep IV, who renames himself Akenaten. The new pharaoh’s regrettable decision to separate from Thebes and the kingdom’s pantheon heightens the ongoing battle between royalty and religion, which comes to a head when Akenaten’s chief wife, Nefertiti, declares herself a pharaoh after her husband’s death. She is soon succeeded by her son and the heir to the throne, the young King Tut, who cannot escape his own fate. Gods, priests, and military commanders are entwined with the ruling family as three generations battle through subterfuge, magic, and plague while trying to retain their power. History buffs will recognize the tragic results of treachery, war, and famine and can appreciate insightful details about ancient times, such as when a statue of the disabled Akenaten is created with “perfect deformities that mirrored the shape of a god: his elongated head, neck, and fingers, his newly formed potbelly and wide feminine hips.” Excellent research, amplified by occasional footnotes and supplemented by images, adds believability to this fictionalized history. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir

Jennifer Ryan. Crown, $26 (384p) ISBN 978-1-101-90675-0

In 1940, at a time when women’s roles were still firmly rooted in home and hearth, the ladies of Chilbury, England, find themselves at the bleeding edge of progress as the ramifications of World War II begin to infiltrate their little town. The men of Chilbury head to battlefields, and the village choir becomes the first casualty of the war. When a female professor of music insists the choir can be reassembled as a ladies’ choir, the small community is at first scandalized by such an idea. But this is soon lost to other more salacious events. There is the brigadier who hires an unscrupulous midwife to swap his baby girl for a boy, and his teenage daughter seduces a handsome artist who’s come to town under mysterious circumstances. An upstanding single woman (a widow whose only son has gone to fight) is tapped to take a colonel into her home, and a 10-year-old Czech evacuee finds out what happened to her family. As the war advances on Chilbury, even more lives are changed when a German bomb kills a young mother as well as the choir mistress, young men are sent off to war, and spies and black market profiteers lurk in the quiet lanes. Told in the form of diaries and letters in the voices of the female characters, Ryan’s novel, reminiscent of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, captures the experience of the war from a woman’s perspective. Readers may have come across this kind of story before, but the letter/diary format works well and the plot elements satisfyingly come together. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Be My Wolff

Emma Richler. Knopf, $27.95 (432p) ISBN 978-1-101-94652-7

Richler’s (Feed My Dear Dogs) ambitious third novel concerns artist Rachel Wolff and her lover, Zachariah—who was raised as Rachel’s adopted younger brother—as they move into their new London home. Zach is estranged from their father Lev, who always doted on Rachel and was hard on Zach, particularly when he abandoned the family’s scholarly and artistic pursuits to become a boxer. After a match that left him with a life-threatening condition, Zach was forced to give up fighting. He still works at a local gym, where he spars on occasion, much to Rachel’s chagrin. Rachel is resurrecting a book she and Zach worked on as children that chronicles the history of a Zach stand-in named Sam. The text of this project makes up a good portion of the narrative, interweaving themes and recurring images. Richler’s writing style is exuberant; the text is rife with so many exclamation points that it takes on the cheerful zest of a friendly work email. There’s a lot going on in this book, but the best parts of the narrative lie in the quiet moments when Rachel and Zach confront their questionable brand of love and the tumultuous effect it has on their lives and loved ones. The novel ends on a sinister note deftly hinted at by the book’s preoccupation with patterns. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/02/2016 | Details & Permalink

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