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Sorrow Road

Julia Keller. Minotaur, $25.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-250-08958-8

At the start of Keller’s lukewarm fifth Bell Elkins novel (after 2015’s Last Ragged Breath), the West Virginia prosecutor gets a glimpse of the road not taken when she meets law school classmate Darlene Strayer for a drink in a rundown bar. Though the women grew up in similar circumstances, Bell, “who had seemed destined for a glittering career in a big city,” has ended up in an obscure small town, and misfit Darlene went on to become a celebrated federal prosecutor. But now Darlene needs Bell’s help. Darlene’s father, Harmon, died the week before, but despite his advanced years, she feels guilt about his passing. In recent months, Harmon was bothered about something he wouldn’t disclose, and his daughter believes it was connected with his death. Darlene’s fears seem more credible to Bell when Darlene ends up the victim of a car crash. Keller writes well, but a soap opera of a subplot involving Bell’s daughter, who has returned home with a secret, distracts from the main narrative. Author tour. Agent: Lisa Gallagher, Sanford J. Greenburger Associates. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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When the Music’s Over: An Inspector Banks Novel

Peter Robinson. Morrow, $25.99 (432p) ISBN 978-0-06-239478-1

In Edgar-finalist Robinson’s timely, sobering 23rd Inspector Banks novel (after 2015’s In the Dark Places), Det. Insp. Annie Cabbot investigates the rape and murder of 15-year-old Mimosa “Mimsy” Moffat, a white girl found naked on a country road, who lived in the nearby estates in Wytherton, York, and ran with a crowd that included several older guys of Pakistani descent. While Cabbot must tread carefully in the racially charged atmosphere during her investigation, Banks, recently promoted to detective superintendent, looks into claims made against a beloved British variety star, Danny Caxton, a 1960s-era crooner known for the catchphrase “Do your own thing,” which seemed to include raping 14-year-old Linda Palmer in 1967. Banks must decide whether Palmer, a poet who now wants to pursue a case against Caxton, is credible, and whether she’s his only victim. Robinson takes hot-button topics—xenophobia, sexual assault, and celebrities—and turns them into uniquely compelling cases for Banks, who remains a stalwart of justice in crime fiction. Agent: Dominick Abel, Dominick Abel Literary Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Surrender, New York

Caleb Carr. Random House, $30 (624p) ISBN 978-0-679-45569-1

Bestseller Carr’s ambitious, modern-day crime novel, a potential series kickoff, starts off strong but loses its way. Psychologist Trajan Jones and Mike Li, an “expert in trace and DNA evidence,” now teach online forensic courses out of a classroom in upstate New York, after their work discrediting official crime labs led to their exile from New York City. Their focus is on rebutting the notion that hard science has made criminal psychology and profiling obsolete. But certain odd details, such as Jones owning a pet cheetah, distract from that genuinely interesting debate and tend to make the central plot line less plausible, which involves the deaths of “throwaway children” that the authorities want to pass off, in an overly contrived scenario, as the work of a serial killer. Fans of Carr’s two superior historical mysteries, The Alienist and The Angle of Darkness, should be prepared for heavy foreshadowing and ponderous prose (“But this conception of our foray was to prove wholly inadequate, in manifold ways”). Agent: Suzanne Gluck, WME. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Damaged: A Rosato & DiNunzio Novel

Lisa Scottoline. St. Martin’s, $27.99 (416p) ISBN 978-1-250-09962-4

In bestseller Scottoline’s outstanding 15th Rosato & DiNunzio novel (after 2015’s Corrupted), Mary DiNunzio, a partner in the Philadelphia law firm of Rosato & DiNunzio, takes on a heartbreaking case involving a dyslexic fifth grader, Patrick O’Brien, who’s bullied at school and is getting no support for his language disability. Patrick, who’s being raised by his paternal grandfather, allegedly attacked a school aid with scissors, and now the aid is suing both Patrick and the school board for damages. On the brink of her wedding to college professor Anthony Rotunno, Mary becomes emotionally attached to Patrick, more so than any previous client, and finds herself pitted against a diabolical attorney, Nick Machiavelli (aka the Dark Prince), who’s determined to win a settlement, despite the emotional cost to the 10-year-old boy. In her struggle to save Patrick, Mary finds herself fighting her associates, her fiancé, and social services. Tensions mount until the story concludes with a satisfying, unexpected twist. 400,000-copy announced first printing, author tour. Agent: Molly Friedrich, Friedrich Literary Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Blood Wedding

Pierre Lemaitre, trans. from the French by Frank Wynne. MacLehose, $26.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-68144-531-1

Like an ingenious long con, this devious psychological thriller from Prix Goncourt–winner Lemaitre (The Great Swindle) promises a satisfying eventual payoff—but only to readers willing to persevere through a depressing first half centered on a protagonist who’s pretty hard to root for, despite the many tragedies in her young life. Down-on-her-luck Parisian Sophie Duguet becomes the subject of a nationwide manhunt, accused of cold-blooded murders—including the strangulation of the six-year-old she was caring for—which she has no recollection of committing. From there things swiftly worsen for the fugitive, who seems to be struggling more with paralyzing nightmares and other manifestations of what she interprets as mental illness than with evading capture—until a second main character, the mysterious Frantz, bursts onto the scene. His arrival turns everything you think you know about Sophie and the story so far on its head, setting up an intensely suspenseful, if wildly unbelievable, cat and mouse game. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin

Stephanie Knipper. Algonquin, $25.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-61620-418-1

Knipper’s first novel chronicles how two sisters, Rose and Lily Martin, attempt to mend their longtime rift once Rose realizes that she’s dying and that she wants Lily to come home to care for Rose’s 10-year-old daughter, Antoinette. Antoinette has never spoken and exhibits other autistic-like behaviors as well as supernatural abilities, including the ability to heal things with her touch. She’s currently cared for on a flower farm in Redbud, Ky., by her mom and Rose’s childhood friend Seth Hastings, who lives next door. Seth still carries a torch for Lily, despite having left her years ago to go to seminary school. Lily has similar feelings for Seth, though she hides behind her friendship with dashingly handsome Will Grayson, who’s also in love with her. Lily, meanwhile, has OCD, which manifests in her need to count things; she’s stayed away all these years for fear that exposure to her niece will worsen her tics. But luckily for everyone, Lily and Antoinette warm to each other, though Lily is spooked that Antoinette has the ability to restore the dead and wounded. Though some of the pieces don’t quite fit together, the originality of the plot in Knipper’s debut will keep readers turning the pages. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Marriage on the Street Corners of Tehran

Nadia Shahram. Unhooked Books (Consortium, dist.), $17.95 trade paper (319p) ISBN 978-1-936268-17-7

Shahram’s gripping debut novel, about the Shia Muslim practice of temporary marriage (in which the duration and dowry are arranged in advance), is more powerful for being based on real-life experiences, working as an engrossing fictional story and an exposé of gender discrimination in Iran. At 12 years old, Ateesh is forced into an arranged marriage with an abusive man. When a brutal beating lands her in the hospital, her mother is determined to get her daughter a divorce, in spite of Ateesh’s father’s opposition because the family will lose face. Ateesh’s marriage at that tender age shapes the decisions she makes for the rest of her life; she is determined never again to be under the control of a man. For complicated reasons, she eventually turns to temporary marriage—effectively a legalized form of prostitution—as a way to earn a living and pay for college, while avoiding the possibility of real love. Although Ateesh’s early experiences are disturbing, that brutality is countered by the warm, loving relationships she shares with her mother and two grandmothers. Shahram presents a positive view of Islam but criticizes the ways that men have twisted its interpretation to rationalize the abuse of women. The authentic, intimate story narrated by Ateesh pulls the reader in and encompasses not only her life but also that of other women, exposing a wide range of inequities between the genders in Iranian culture. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Harmony

Carolyn Parkhurst. Viking/Dorman, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-0-399-56260-0

Parkhurst’s (The Dogs of Babel) latest explores family bonds, modern-day parenting, and the foundations of cult-like groups, all with nuance and a liberal dose of dark humor. Alexandra and Josh Hammond are at the end of their rope with the diagnosis-defying behavioral issues of their 13-year-old daughter, Tilly, until Alexandra discovers the work of Scott Bean, an unorthodox child-development guru with a devoted grassroots following. Now Scott’s invited the Hammonds—Alexandra, Josh, Tilly, and neurotypical younger daughter Iris—to move to a summer camp in rural New Hampshire for families facing similar struggles. At first, the idyllic setting, simpler routines, and Scott’s charismatic leadership prove helpful for the Hammonds and the other families at the newly dubbed Camp Harmony. But as the veneer of Scott’s public persona wears off, and a more controlling, volatile side begins to show, all of Camp Harmony’s residents are forced to confront some harrowing truths about their situation. Told from the viewpoints of Alexandra, Tilly, and Iris, Parkhurst’s memorable tale features a complex cast of characters and a series of conundrums with no easy answers. Book-discussion groups will be particularly interested in the tale’s numerous deftly explored gray areas. Agent: Douglas Stewart, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Angel of Oblivion

Maja Hanerlap, trans. from the German by Tess Lewis. Archipelago (PRH, dist.), $18 trade paper (250p) ISBN 978-0-914671-46-6

In her debut novel, Haderlap plunges readers into a morass of European history. The book is an attempt to rescue the memories of her elders among the Slovenes living in southern Austria during the aftermath of the Second World War from the “angel of oblivion.” The author recounts her childhood in a landscape that bears silent witness to her people’s betrayal and butchery by Austrian Nazis. The author’s family is reticent and damaged, yet as she grows up, she gathers their recollections. Her grandfather and brother were partisans, fighting against the Nazis, and for this the grandmother was taken to Ravensbrück. Her son, the author’s father, was tortured as a child for information, suspended by a policeman from a tree. “He thought I was foliage,” the author’s father says on his deathbed. As the narrator matures, she is able to discern the reasons her father is violent and drinks himself into oblivion, why her mother argues with her grandmother about the girl’s exposure to the past, and why her grandmother grows cold as she is dying. Parts of these people have been stolen— “the force of their memories disconcerts them”—so they must preserve the rest. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Dinosaurs on Other Planets

Danielle McLaughlin. Random House, $27 (256p) ISBN 978-0-8129-9842-9

Irish short story writer McLaughlin’s immersive first collection casts a stern eye on individuals, couples, and families caught in nets of their own making, where even the mildest passion can lead to death, and journeys home with new lovers can reveal grim secret lives. Dead insects and decomposing birds abound, and when flowers appear, they’re apt to give off “an odd rancid smell... hot and sweaty and carnal, like meat on the point of turning.” McLaughlin sometimes leans on predictable symbolism and epiphanies: if a thoughtfully arranged table of crystal birds and other animals shows up early in a story, the crystals, by the end, are likely to be shattered. But the author’s precise observations and her compassion toward characters, such as a husband desperately trying to deal with his wife’s mental illness or a girl willing to sell her body to temporarily save the family business, make these stories memorable. And stories such as “The Art of Foot-Binding,” where passages from a fictional Chinese manual on the subject are interposed with a plot about a depressed present-day schoolgirl and her confused mother, or the title story, which opens up into an ambiguous ending rather than tying its strands up neatly, show the ample bag of tricks McLaughlin has at her disposal. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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