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Vixen: A Nameless Detective Novel

Bill Pronzini. Forge, $24.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7653-3568-5

In the heavy-handed prologue of MWA Grand Master Pronzini’s 40th Nameless Detective novel (after 2014’s Strangers), the San Francisco PI links Cory Beckett, “a femme fatale in the classic mode,” with a “brand of evil like nothing I could ever have imagined.” What follows doesn’t live up to that hype. Bail bondsman Abe Melikian approaches Nameless on Cory’s behalf to track down her brother, Kenneth, who’s been arrested for stealing a diamond necklace belonging to a powerful union leader’s wife. Kenneth has violated the terms of his bail by leaving the city without permission, and Nameless asks his partner, Jake Runyon, to trace him. When Jake finds Kenneth, the defendant claims that he was framed by his sister. The case soon escalates to murder. Nameless and his colleagues make an odd ethical choice that will have some readers scratching their heads, and the vicissitudes of the leads’ personal lives seem tacked on. Agent: Dominick Abel, Dominick Abel Literary Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Death of a Century: A Novel of the Lost Generation

Daniel Robinson. Skyhorse/Arcade, $24.99 (256p) ISBN 978-1-62872-539-1

Set in 1922, Robinson’s atmospheric tale of betrayal and revenge paints a passionate picture of the Lost Generation, those who came of age during WWI. When New York reporter Joe Henry pays a call one night on old army buddy and newspaper colleague Wynton Gresham at his Greenwich, Conn., house, Joe finds Gresham lying dead on his sofa with two bullet holes in his chest. The sheriff who arrives soon after regards Joe as a suspect, but allows him to go home. Later, in Gresham’s office desk, Joe discovers a first-class ticket on a Cunard liner leaving for Cherbourg the following day. Posing as Gresham, Joe uses the ticket to sail to France, where he hopes to find his friend’s killer and clear his own name. Joe’s reflections on his time in the war and the atrocities he witnessed slow the narrative, but Robinson (After the Fire) does a fine job of bringing Hemingway’s Paris to life. Agent: Sarah Warner, Warner Literary Group. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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A Hugo Marston Novel

Mark Pryor. Prometheus Books/Seventh Street, $15.95 trade paper (290p) ISBN 978-1-63388-002-3

Near the start of Pryor’s intricately-plotted fifth Hugh Marston novel (after 2014’s The Button Man), Hugh, the security chief at the American embassy in Paris, is supposed to meet Amy Dreiss, the 19-year-old stepdaughter of an old friend, Bart Denum, at a restaurant for breakfast, but she fails to show. Amy came to Paris hoping for a modeling career, but Hugh later discovers that the missing teen was working at a strip club instead. Hugh and sidekick Tom Green follow Amy’s trail to Barcelona, where she traveled with a young man, Rubén Casteñada, who offered her a job there. When Hugh and Tom check out Casteñada’s Barcelona address, they find his body on the apartment floor—and a blood-drenched Bart, who protests his innocence. Extraneous characters and digressions on their habits and history lend a certain aura of coziness to this gory tale. Agent: Ann Collette, Rees Literary Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Exit Stage Left: A Brock and Poole Mystery

Graham Ison. Severn, $27.95 (208p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8484-8

In Ison’s captivating 14th mystery featuring Det. Chief Insp. Harry Brock and Det. Sgt. Dave Poole of London’s Homicide and Major Crimes Command (after 2014’s Reckless Endangerment), someone sneaks up on stage actor Lancelot Foley while he’s walking one snowy evening to his lover’s Chelsea flat, breaks his neck, and dumps his body in a street excavation. Since Foley, a wealthy womanizer, had a penchant for cheating everyone, the list of those with a murder motive is long—especially actress Debra Foley, the victim’s estranged wife, who never had plans to let him creep away easily or leave her penniless. While many women expect the charming Foley’s fortune to fall to them, it turns out that only one particular lady had his heart. Brock’s investigation, though, leads far beyond a few scorned women to much darker and sinister suspects in Foley’s circle. Witty dialogue, sharply defined characters, and a satisfyingly layered story distinguish this contemporary police procedural. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Death in Salem

Eleanor Kuhns. Minotaur, $26.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-250-06702-9

Kuhns’s solid fourth mystery set in the late 18th century (after 2014’s Cradle to Grave) takes weaver and private detective Will Rees from his home in Maine to Salem, Mass., to buy cloth for his wife, Lydia, but he’s soon detained by an old friend, Stephen “Twig” Eaton, who saved his life during the War for Independence. Twig’s beloved servant, Xenobia, has been arrested for the stabbing murder of Jacob Boothe, a prosperous Salem merchant, and he wants Rees to exonerate her. Not everyone welcomes Rees’s probing into Boothe’s personal and business affairs as he looks for motives for the crime. The killer doesn’t stop with just one victim, increasing the pressure on Rees to close the case. Lydia joins him in Salem and assists with his inquiries, even as she fears that he’s risking his life unnecessarily. Evocative descriptions of Salem, especially of the whaling industry, make up for a whodunit plot less crafty than the author’s usual. Agent: Mitchell S. Waters, Curtis Brown. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Cash Landing

James Grippando. Harper, $25.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-229545-3

FBI special agent Andie Henning, a regular in bestseller Grippando’s Jack Swytek series (Black Horizon, etc.), plays a leading role in this tragicomic crime novel. In the heist of a bank transfer at a Miami International Airport warehouse, Ruban Betancourt, the head of an amateur gang that includes his coke-addicted brother-in-law, manages to bag more than $9 million in cash. The robbery goes off without a hitch, but that’s the last time things go right. The size of the haul attracts rival crooks, and Ruban must cope with the fallout from his henchmen’s greed and stupidity while keeping his role hidden from his wife, Savannah. Recently transferred from Seattle to Miami, Andie digs away at whatever small clues she finds, at one point going undercover in a seedy sex club. Beleaguered Ruban’s every move seems to backfire with money hemorrhaging and dreams evaporating. Those expecting the wit of the late Donald E. Westlake’s John Dortmunder caper series will be disappointed. Agent: Richard Pine, Inkwell Management. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Ice Cold

Andrea Maria Schenkel, trans. from the German by Anthea Bell. Quercus, $22.99 (192p) ISBN 978-1-84916-007-0

Set in the closing days of the Weimar Republic, German author Schenkel’s second novel (after The Murder Farm) provides shattering glimpses into the mind of a sexual predator, Josef Kalteis (German for ice cold), and into the abyss lurking beneath the veneer of civilization. Pretty young Kathie wishes to leave her dreary village for Munich, where she will find a job, a lover, and a life of luxury—the devil in the mirror, her mother calls these desires, which are sure to lead Kathie, like Faust’s Gretchen and so many other girls, to ruin. In the very ordinariness of Kathie’s sorry fate after only a week in Munich, and in the plausibility of Kalteis’s self-justifications, Schenkel illustrates one of the bleakest tragedies of modern times: that so many saw what was happening, yet no one really reacted—a metaphor for the Holocaust to come. Agent: Tanja Howarth, Tanja Howarth Literary Agency (U.K.). (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Mask: A Vanessa Michael Munroe Novel

Taylor Stevens. Crown, $24 (352p) ISBN 978-0-385-34896-6

Stevens’s underwhelming fifth Vanessa Michael Munroe thriller (after 2013’s The Doll) takes the information broker to Osaka, Japan, where her coworker and best friend, Miles Bradford, has taken a job to uncover a corporate spy at a company called ALTEQ-Bio. Munroe can enjoy time by herself while he works, Bradford maintains, though she resents that he doesn’t include her in his effort to ferret out the spy. Munroe has an uneasy feeling when Bradford brings her to the ALTEQ-Bio office one day, shortly before he’s arrested for murder. Munroe kicks into high action, determined to find out who framed Bradford. Her propensity for rage remains a believable part of this series as she mixes her intelligence with her extreme martial arts skills. The fight scenes, though well choreographed, seem at times like an afterthought, thrown in when the plot frequently stalls. The Japanese setting is under utilized in a slow-grinding story that could be set anywhere. Agent: Anne Hawkins, John Hawkins & Associates. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The President’s Shadow

Brad Meltzer. Grand Central, $28 (416p) ISBN 978-0-446-55393-3

Bestseller Meltzer’s third near-future Culper Ring thriller (after 2013’s The Fifth Assassin) opens with a great dramatic image: First Lady Shona Wallace finding a severed arm in the White House Rose Garden. This grim discovery leads President Orson Wallace to consult Beecher White, a member of the Ring, which was founded by George Washington to “protect the presidency” and at present consists of only six members. The two men have a complicated relationship: Beecher once saved Wallace’s life, but also believes that the chief executive committed a violent crime as a college student. Beecher agrees to help Wallace when he learns that the dead man’s hand was clutching a flattened penny that could have a link to the mysterious death, many years before, of Beecher’s father, who was a mechanic in the Army. Fans of historical conspiracy fiction will find a lot to like, but readers should be prepared for thin characters and a wildly over-the-top plot. 10-city author tour. Agent: Jill Kneerim, Kneerim, Williams & Bloom Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Map of Chaos

Félix J. Palma, trans. from the Spanish by Nick Caistor. Atria, $27 (608p) ISBN 978-1-4516-8818-4

The action of the wondrous final volume in Spanish author Palma’s speculative thriller trilogy (which began with The Map of Time) unfolds in several Victorian eras in parallel universes, beginning with esteemed biologist Herbert George Wells’s attempt to create a virus that will allow the residents of his doomed steampunk world to escape to another realm free of threat. The scene shifts to the triumphant conclusion of the investigation of a werewolf by Insp. Cornelius Clayton, rising star in Scotland Yard’s mysterious Special Branch. But it soon flits away again to follow a second H.G. Wells, who is embroiled with his loving wife, Jane, in a romantic comedy involving another couple, Montgomery Gilmore and Emma Harlow. Arthur Conan Doyle joins this quartet on a series of adventures that turn ever darker. Palma displays a deft hand with this diverse group of characters and genres, blending them effortlessly into a fantastic yarn. Agent: Tom Colchie, Colchie Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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