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A Good Killing

Allison Leotta. S&S/Touchstone, $25 (320p) ISBN 978-1-476760-99-5

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Readers who like their legal thrillers with a heavy dose of romance will appreciate Leotta’s fourth Anna Curtis mystery (after 2013’s Speak of the Devil). Anna, a veteran sex-crimes prosecutor in Washington, D.C., has called off her wedding after the shattering discovery of her fiancé’s infidelity. Conveniently, her return to her hometown of Holly Grove, Mich., to defend her sister, Jody, from a murder charge reintroduces her to an old high school friend, Cooper Bolden, who has transformed from a “skinny boy with knobby knees” to a former Army Ranger “with a chest like a Ford 350.” Jody is accused of killing Owen Fowler, a beloved high school coach, supposedly because he wanted to break off their reputed affair. Anna wrangles permission from the Justice Department to serve as her sibling’s defense attorney, and, aided by Cooper, vigorously looks for other suspects. A melodramatic denouement won’t be to every taste. Agent: Amy Berkower, Writers House. (May)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Storm Murders

John Farrow. Minotaur, $25.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-05768-6

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In Farrow’s smart, enthralling fourth Émile Cinq-Mars thriller (after 2011’s River City), the retired Montreal police detective consults on a case involving the murder of a married couple at an isolated Quebec farmhouse. Cinq-Mars works with an FBI agent who’s investigating several murders committed in like fashion in the U.S. Each of the American murders was committed after a natural disaster, and the Canadian one occurred during a severe snowstorm. In every case, the wife’s naked body was found upstairs with no sign of sexual assault, the husband found shot or knifed to death, and each victim’s left ring finger severed and taken from the crime scene. After Cinq-Mars’s much younger wife, Sandra, who’s considering leaving him, offers to assist him, he knows his marriage may well depend upon the success of their collaboration. The hair-raising action moves from New Orleans to Alabama and back to Quebec, building to a brilliantly executed conclusion. Agents: Carolyn Forde and Bruce Westwood, Westwood Creative Artists (Canada). (May)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Secrets of State

Matthew Palmer. Putnam, $27.95 (432p) ISBN 978-0-399-16571-9

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Recently retired State Department officer Sam Trainor, the hero of Palmer’s exciting second thriller (after 2014’s The American Mission), has bounced around the subcontinent of South Asia during his 25-year career until retiring and taking a job with Argus Systems, a contractor supplying intelligence and analysis of South Asia to the CIA. While reading top-secret intel on his computer, Sam stumbles on an NSA report of a phone call involving Vanalika Chandra, the political counselor at the Indian embassy in Washington, D.C., with whom he’s having an affair. The substance of the call concerns a clandestine project whose purpose is to drive India and Pakistan into a nuclear war. As Sam follows this lead, the bodies begin to fall. After a group of terrorists steal a Pakistani nuclear warhead, Sam finds himself in a race to find and defuse the bomb before it destroys an entire city. Readers will be pleased that the ending suggests Sam will be back. Agent: Meg Ruley, Jane Rotrosen Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Rock with Wings

Anne Hillerman. Harper, $26.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-227051-1

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In her worthy sequel to 2013’s Spider Woman’s Daughter, Hillerman continues the exploits of the beloved Navajo cops of MWA Grand Master Tony Hillerman (1925–2008). Officer Bernadette Manuelito, Sgt. Jim Chee’s wife, makes a routine traffic stop of a speeding car on a New Mexico road that morphs into a mystery when the nervous driver tries to bribe her—but the only suspicious cargo he has are two boxes of dirt. Meanwhile, Chee takes a security assignment in Monument Valley, where a movie is being filmed, and finds not only a missing person but a newly dug grave. Although Lt. Joe Leaphorn is still greatly handicapped by the injury he suffered in the previous book, his mind is sharp and his insights help both Chee and Manuelito solve some problems. Hillerman uses the southwestern setting as effectively as her late father did while skillfully combining Native American lore with present-day social issues. Agent: Elizabeth Trupin-Pulli, JET Literary Associates. (May)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Fall

John Lescroart. Atria, $26.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4767-0921-5

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San Francisco attorney Dismas Hardy’s grown daughter, Rebecca, plays a central role in bestseller Lescroart’s subpar 19th series legal thriller (after 2014’s The Keeper). When 17-year-old Anlya Paulson, an African-American, dies after falling from an overpass into the path of a motorist, the police quickly conclude that she was pushed to her death. Rebecca, who now works for her father’s law firm, happens to be with middle school teacher Greg Treadway, in the bar her father owns, when word of the tragedy reaches Greg. Greg, who had dinner with Anlya on the last night of her life, becomes the prime suspect. The police and DA’s office are under political pressure to move quickly because of accusations that the authorities aren’t pursuing killers of African-Americans hard enough, and Greg, who is white, is soon arrested and facing trial. Rebecca, also white, is convinced he’s innocent and decides to defend him. That defense, of course, involves some amateur sleuthing to identify the real killer, complete with coincidences that strain belief and an action-packed resolution outside of the courtroom. Agent: Barney Karpfinger, Karpfinger Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Well

Catherine Chanter. Atria, $26 (400p) ISBN 978-1-4767-7276-9

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British author Chanter’s extraordinary first novel envisions the U.K. so ravaged by drought that personal and civic life fracture. At midlife, Ruth and Mark Ardingly leave London for a small farm in the west of England called the Well, where they cherish nature and long visits with their five-year-old grandson, Lucien, the child of their troubled daughter Angie. As drought deepens into national disaster, the Well remains inexplicably verdant. Under the pressure from local attacks, government interventions, and media uproar, the couple’s marriage collapses. Then the Sisters of the Rose, a tiny extremist sect, arrives, claiming that Ruth is the chosen one who helps bring rain and demanding the Well be cleared of men. Thousands start following their worship online. Ruth is drawn so deeply into their beliefs that she begins to have religious visions. Might she have committed a murder in a mystical state? Combining gripping mystery, nuanced psychological drama, and striking prose, this debut is a mesmerizing read. Agent: Rachel Mills, Peters Fraser & Dunlop (U.K.). (May)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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White Crocodile

K.T. Medina. Little, Brown/Mulholland, $26 (384p) ISBN 978-0-316-37400-2

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In British author Medina’s absorbing but flawed debut thriller, mine-clearer Tess Hardy, newly arrived in Cambodia, quickly comes to understand why the villagers outside Battambang believe in the White Crocodile—a traditional Cambodian symbol of death. A veteran of five years with the British Army’s Royal Engineers in Afghanistan, Tess can’t ignore the almost palpable sense of menace as, under the cover of a new job with a humanitarian organization, she surreptitiously tries to investigate the death of her estranged husband, Luke, in a mine-clearing accident six months earlier. The author, like her powerful protagonist a former troop commander in the Royal Engineers, convincingly evokes a heartbreaking place that seems to bring out the worst in people ostensibly there to do good. She’s less successful integrating the secondary story line of a murder investigation in Manchester, England, or resolving the suspenseful but overly complicated plot. Still, this is a grim tale with grisly details you won’t soon forget—even though you might prefer to. Agent: Will Francis, Janklow & Nesbit (U.K.). (June)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Finnish Girl

Dennis Frahmann. Loon Town, $16 ISBN 978-0-692-23648-2

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Frahmann (Tales from the Loon Town Café) takes inspiration from events in his own family to create this somber tale that begins and ends with the suicide of Lempi Makinen Lahti. The book opens in 1983 Wisconsin, with ninth grader Danny Lahti, her son, returning home from school to find his mother dead. Shocked and lost, Danny looks through papers from the bottom of a hope chest that was passed on to his mother. Each photo, newspaper clipping, and letter offers a glimpse into the lives of Lempi and others from Danny’s family. These documents weave together events such as deaths in the family by trichinosis. Misfortune stalks Lempi’s family, from her adopted mother’s suicide to Lempi’s own culpability in her biological mother’s death. The prose is unfortunately flat, with some very abrupt narrative transitions. But the very specific place, time, and sense of community may appeal to readers, particularly fans of Jerry Apps and other Wisconsin authors. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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I Take You

Eliza Kennedy. Crown, $24 (320p) ISBN 978-0-553-41782-1

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Kennedy’s debut novel sparkles with candor and wit as one woman counts down the week before her wedding. Lily Wilder is working at a Manhattan law firm and planning her Key West wedding and a deposition there. Her fiance, Will, is an archaeologist, whom she truly loves. There’s just one problem—Lily believes that she is incapable of being faithful. She has repeatedly cheated on him during the time they have been together and continues to cheat while in the Keys in the days leading up to her wedding. She sees the relationships of her father with his ex-wives as foretelling her own issues with fidelity. Yet Lily doesn’t regret anything about her past behavior until her future mother-in-law threatens to reveal skeletons from Lily’s closet that could possibly destroy her relationship with Will and end her law career. Kennedy’s ribald story is both engaging and atypical, the perfect combination for a new voice in women’s fiction. (May)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Burning Down George Orwell’s House

Andrew Ervin. Soho, $25.95. (288) ISBN 978-1-61695-494-9

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Ray Welter has had enough—enough of his job in advertising (main by-products: more SUVs sold, more harm to the climate, more money, more damage to Ray’s soul), of Chicago and his failing marriage, of grieving for his father. What he hasn’t had enough of is scotch or George Orwell, whose testimony to the power of language, 1984, is partly why Ray ended up writing ads. The two intersect on the isolated Scottish Island of Jura, where Ray rents the house Orwell once stayed in. Jura’s no idyll: it rains constantly, dead animals keep turning up on Ray’s doorstep, and there’s talk of a werewolf. The few locals are strange, hostile, and possibly violent, but the scotch is astonishingly good. The best thing on the island (and in the book) is 17-year-old Molly, who wants off Jura and away from her angry, xenophobic father, but her stay with Ray ends up being a useful time out rather than a real life change—rather like Ray’s entire sojourn in Scotland. Ervin excels at atmosphere and fish-out-of-water interactions. (May)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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