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Shadow Maker

James R. Hannibal. Berkley, $16 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-425-26689-2

Early in Hannibal’s entertaining if overstuffed third thriller featuring special ops warrior Nick Baron (after 2013’s Shadow Catcher), a suicide bomber blows himself up near the Health and Human Services building in Washington, D.C. Nick, his wife, toddler son, and father escape serious injury in their car near the explosion, which was masterminded by the Qaim, aka “the Emissary of the Mahdi,” who has made it a high priority to commit acts of terrorism and to wreak vengeance on Nick, his family, and friends. Nick and his long-term teammate, Drake Merigold, race around the globe trying to head off both a biological attack and a nuclear bomb, always one step behind the brilliant Emissary. The addition of legendary Hashashin assassins and some secret codes nudges the plot into Da Vinci Code territory, but the book ends strongly with a down-to-the-wire, page-turning chase. Hopefully, Hannibal will try for a tighter focus next time. Agent: Harvey Klinger, Harvey Klinger Inc. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Midnight in Europe

Alan Furst. Random, $27 (272p) ISBN 978-1-4000-6949-1

After a slow start, this spy thriller set in 1938 from Edgar finalist Furst (Mission to Paris) settles into a lazy pace, as it charts the attempts of two part-time arms dealers, Chistián Ferrar and Max de Lyon, to serve the Spanish Republic and its beleaguered army while most of the continent has its eye on Berlin. Every clandestine mission they undertake—a prolonged quest for cannons in Poland, a nifty operation to trick Russia out of field guns and antiaircraft weaponry in Odessa—is fraught with struggle, and the pro-Franco Nazi spy apparatus always seems one step ahead. A revolving cast of secondary characters leads several plotlines that peter out, heavy on atmosphere, light on action. As usual, Furst manages to capture the fragile, itinerant nature of European life during the interwar period, dropping in hints of the horror to come, but this is one of his less memorable efforts. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Murder Farm

Andrea Maria Schenkel, trans. from the German by Anthea Bell. Quercus, $22.99 (176p) ISBN 978-1-62365-167-1

Stark as bare branches against a wintry sky, German author Schenkel’s first novel stitches testimony from witnesses and other townsfolk into a suspenseful, immensely sad account of an entire family’s slaughter at Tannöd, their remote farm. Based on an unsolved case in 1922 Bavaria but transported to the mid-’50s, the Danners’ horrific tale unfolds through the voices of neighbors, a classmate of doomed eight-year-old Marianne, and even an itinerant worker planning to rob Tannöd. It quickly becomes clear that this odd, damaged clan—including the ironfisted, lecherous, skinflint of a patriarch and his beaten-down wife, who turns a blind eye to his abuse of their daughter and other girls—is a time bomb waiting to detonate. Compelling as a mystery, the story assumes a larger social dimension with the damning picture it paints of the survivors, smugly convinced of their own rectitude but unwilling to lift a finger even to save a child. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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I Love You More

Jennifer Murphy. Doubleday, $24.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-385-53855-8

Murphy’s debut, an absorbing coming-of-age story, revolves around the murder of Oliver Lane, shot dead at his beach house on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. The victim had three wives, starting with his first and legal wife, Diana, a true Southern lady and the mother of his word-obsessed 12-year-old daughter, Picasso. Next, there’s Jewels, with twin boys and a suspicious attitude. Last, there’s Roberta “Bert” Miles, a homely, budget-conscious woman with a brand-new baby daughter. Det. Kyle Kennedy, recently transferred from the Detroit PD, investigates, viewing all the wives as suspects. Picasso, the principal narrator, knows the truth about the relationships among the wives, knows there are lies running rampant, and yet becomes one of the liars. While Kyle battles his inappropriate attraction to Diana, readers slowly piece together the truth through the eyes of Picasso, the detective, and the wives. Solid, well-defined characters make up for a standard plot that builds to a denouement most mystery fans will anticipate. Agent: Mitchell Waters, Curtis Brown. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Those Who Wish Me Dead

Michael Koryta. Little, Brown, $26 (400p) ISBN 978-0-316-12255-9

A lack of morally complex characters facing tough ethical choices makes this fast-paced thriller a lesser effort for Edgar finalist Koryta (The Prophet). At an abandoned quarry in Indiana, 13-year-old Jace Wilson, who’s just jumped into the quarry’s pool, sees two men in police uniform cut a man’s throat and toss him into the water. The killers chase Jace after finding his clothes, but he manages to escape. Jamie Bennett, a former U.S. Marshal, places Jace in the care of a friend of hers, survival trainer Ethan Serbin, who takes him along on a wilderness training program that he runs for troubled youths in Montana, though Ethan doesn’t know which of the seven boys he’ll be instructing needs witness protection. Inevitably, the two creepy killers get on Ethan’s trail. For someone as smart as Ethan is supposed to be, he fails to anticipate an obvious move on the part of the killers, leading to the first of several developments that many readers will view as contrived. Agent: David Hale Smith, Inkwell Management. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Shock Wave: An Aftershock Novel

Andrew Vachss. Pantheon, $26.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-307-90885-8

In Vachss’s engrossing sequel to 2013’s Aftershock, a battered corpse with a shattered skull washes up on the beach of the Oregon town where Adelbert “Dell” Jackson and his wife, Dolly, have settled, determined to live peacefully under aliases. The only clues to the dead man’s identity are in the Nazi tattoos covering his body. The police arrest Homer, a schizophrenic homeless man, for murder after he produces the victim’s watch. Mack, a social worker colleague of Dolly’s who believes Homer is innocent and won’t survive confinement, asks Dolly for help. Dolly turns to Dell, who’s forced to return to the violent life he forsook when he joined the French Foreign Legion. Along with Mack, Dell explores a dark world inhabited by the homeless, hate groups, and tattoo artists. Intelligently drawn characters and assured prose help make this crime novel a winner. Agent: Lou Bank, Ten Angry Pitbulls. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Vertigo 42: A Richard Jury Mystery

Martha Grimes. Scribner, $26 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4767-2402-7

MWA Grandmaster Grimes pays tribute to Hitchcock in her middling 23rd mystery featuring London policeman Richard Jury (after 2010’s The Black Cat). Seventeen years after the discovery of heiress Tess Williamson’s body at the bottom of the terrace stairs at her Devon home, Tom Williamson still doesn’t believe that his wife’s death was accidental—and neither does Supt. Richard Jury, who suspects a link between Tess’s death and that of Hilda Palmer. Five years earlier, nine-year-old Hilda suffered a fatal fall into a drained swimming pool during a birthday party that Tess was hosting for a half dozen young friends. Meanwhile, Jury visits eccentric pal Melrose Plant in Northamptonshire, where he becomes sidetracked by a lost Staffordshire terrier and soon after by a fresh corpse. The plot lines eventually connect to a complex conundrum involving friendship, love, and betrayal. Readers who persevere past Jury’s confusing initial stay at the madcap Plant manse will be rewarded with an involving puzzle—right up to the frustratingly farfetched finale. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Land of Shadows

Rachel Howzell Hall. Forge, $24.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-7653-3635-4

A racially explosive Los Angeles provides the backdrop for this exceptional crime novel from Hall (A Quiet Storm). Elouise “Lou” Norton, an LAPD homicide detective known on the street as “Lockjaw,” has solved 90% of the cases she’s led. She’s a smart, sassy black woman, “sweet as apple pie... laced with arsenic and rusty razor blades,” bedeviled by the 25-year-old disappearance of her sister, Tori, and torn asunder emotionally by her straying husband, Greg. Lou is also saddled with a brash newbie partner, Colin Taggert, in a case involving a murdered Jane Doe that Lou suspects is tied to her sister’s fate. Dead-on dialogue and atmospheric details help propel a tale full of tormenting moral issues. If the bad grow so close to the good, how do the cops weed them out? And how do we right all these wrongs? Lou, a brave lady in a brave book, does the best she can. Agent: Jill Marsal, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Murder on the Mediterranean

Alexander Campion. Kensington, $24 (320p) ISBN 978-0-7582-6883-9

This zesty stew of a mystery, the fifth in Campion’s culinary series (after 2013’s Death of a Chef), takes police detective Capucine Le Tellier and her restaurant critic husband, Alexandre, on a Mediterranean pleasure cruise aboard a luxury sailboat. Except that it’s not really a pleasure, since their shipmates include Inès Maistre, a judge obsessed with bringing down a corrupt banking family at any cost; the shrill Angélique Bethier and her lecherous husband, Dominique; and Capucine’s lascivious cousin, Jacques. When the brooding and wanton Nathalie Martin, the “boat slave” hired to help with the cooking, cleaning, and sailing, is lost at sea, Capucine becomes the chief suspect in what turns out to be a murder case. After going ashore, she and Alexandre decide to hang out at a friend’s rural estate rather than return home to Paris. While Capucine investigates from afar, Alexandre continues to discover, or make, drool-worthy meals. A resolution that suggests justice has not been served, however, may leave a bad taste. Agent: Sharon Bowers, Miller Agency. (July)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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O, Africa!

Andrew Lewis Conn. Random/Hogarth, $25 (384p) ISBN 978-0-8041-3828-4

With this ingeniously contrived, cleverly told, if ultimately overstuffed tale of the early days of filmmaking, Conn (author of P.) focuses on early-20th-century American pop culture. The novel opens in 1928 Coney Island as Brooklyn-born brothers Izzy and Micah Grand (né Grombotz) film a comedy starring Henry Till (a fictionalized version of Harold Lloyd) and featuring Babe Ruth. In debt to Harlem gangsters, and facing competition from the newly introduced talkies, Micah, the randy, risk-taking director, and Izzy, a sensitive cameraman, travel to Africa to make the first movie entirely shot on that continent. Assisted by dwarf camera operator Oscar Spiro and native translator Mtabi, the brothers befriend an African king and move into his village. Disaster ensues: the village’s natural harmony is destroyed; beloved friends die; a hippopotamus eats the last reels of film. Conn falls short of his novel’s high ambitions, tackling without illuminating themes of racism and cultural difference. But his novel’s finest moments, including a description of the first Academy Awards and a glimpse of the inspiration for King Kong, demonstrate that Conn can capture the creative chaos of movies with a knowledgeable and resonant voice. Agent: Bonnie Nadell, Hill Nadell Literary Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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