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After On

Rob Reid. Del Rey, $28 (560p) ISBN 978-1-5247-9805-5

Reid’s (Year Zero) slick, hyperactive, and flawed technothriller postulates an artificial intelligence emerging from the heart of contemporary Silicon Valley. Phluttr is a hot new social networking tool that uses advances in tech security to do things other apps can’t, so everybody uses it. Mitchell, Kuba, and Danna run a start-up; when it’s purchased and absorbed by Phluttr, their software happens to bring in the ideas that make that huge web of social connections become self-aware. It’s then up to them to help the new AI survive, thrive, and not wipe out or take control of the human race. Reid’s pop-culture references are spot-on, and his pacing is fast and funny, but the narrative is saturated with racism and sexism (presumably meant to be edgy and ironic but never actually funny or incisive), and political correctness is a punchline. There are so many layers of metatextuality and patter that the overall effect is of a howling void of self-referential back-patting. The satire occasionally rises to the level of clunky, but never further. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 03/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The TimeKeepers

Jenn Bregman. Triborough, $12.99 ISBN 978-0-9981441-0-8

Bregman’s legal thriller featuring a plucky solo practitioner fighting for the little guy should appeal to John Grisham fans. Sarah Brockman spent two years as a litigation associate at a large California firm before her lack of job satisfaction led her to set up her own practice focusing on representing plaintiffs in personal injury cases. Her compassion trumps her business sense when she gets involved in another time-intensive, not particularly lucrative lawsuit after she witnesses a truck strike a pedestrian in a hit-and-run. Six months later, the victim’s son turns to her for help; the truck driver, Paul Rodriguez, was sentenced to just a $200 fine, and the victim, who suffered grievous facial injuries, wants to sue. Sarah’s investigator soon finds evidence undercutting the ostensible basis for the lenient sentence Rodriguez received, his indigence. That proves to be just the first bread crumb that puts Sarah and her allies on the trail of a complex conspiracy. Romance fans will enjoy a subplot involving a male attorney whose message that he’d call Sarah “lingered in the air like an overstuffed mosquito.” (BookLife)

Reviewed on 03/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Pretty Ugly

Sean Hillen. CreateSpace, $16.95 trade paper (332p) ISBN 978-1-5233-6115-1

A one-vehicle accident on a Missouri highway sets the stage for Hillen’s observant, expansive medical mystery. The vision of the driver, fashion model Patricia Roberts, was inexplicably compromised; Patricia’s passenger, a fellow model, now lies in a coma, and Patricia is recovering physically and psychologically at a Boston hospital. When Patricia’s skin care specialist, Doctor Gray, contacts Belfast-born Colm Heaney, a lovelorn medical reporter, about her case, Colm investigates whether Patricia’s temporary blindness and additional tissue damage were caused by “rogue chemicals” contained in a skin concealer utilizing experimental nanotechnology. His quest for information leads him to the folklore-steeped Irish countryside, where Patricia later undergoes skin treatments at the hands of an eccentric biologist tapping the restorative powers of Irish bog peat. The backroom discussions among secondary characters representing the legal, medical, cosmetic, and media industries can be dizzying, but Hillen’s cautionary tale about the perils of unregulated technology will resonate with many readers. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 03/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Uncorking a Lie: A Sommelier Mystery

Nadine Nettmann. Midnight Ink, $14.99 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-0-7387-5062-0

At the start of Nettman’s sprightly sequel to 2016’s Decanting a Murder, Katie Stillwell, who works as a sommelier at a San Francisco restaurant and is studying for an advanced wine-tasting qualification, attends a dinner party at the Sonoma mansion of wine collector Paul Rafferty, who’s eager for his eight guests to sample a 1975 bottle of Chateau Clair Bleu. After the wine is decanted with great ceremony and poured, Kate takes one long and thoughtful sniff and realizes that it could not be a ’75: its color and fruit-forward nose tell her it’s a much younger wine. What’s she to do? As a guest, she doesn’t want to spoil her host’s moment of glory, and no one else at the table seems to realize something’s wrong. She conveys her concerns to Rafferty’s assistant, Cooper Maxwell. Some minutes later, Maxwell is found dead in the wine cellar. Fake wines, charity auctions, collector obsession, and a splash of romance enliven the blend. Nettmann, a certified sommelier, certainly knows her stuff. Agent: Danielle Burby, Hannigan Salky Getzler Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 03/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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All Through the Night

M.P. Wright. Black & White (IPG, dist.), $14.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-84502-963-0

Set in 1966, Wright’s overlong, overwrought second novel featuring former Barbados cop J.T. Ellington (after Heartman) finds Ellington, who’s now an “enquiry agent” in Bristol, England, taking on what appears to be a straightforward assignment. Ida Stephens, an administrator at the Walter Wilkins orphanage, hires him to retrieve death certificates stolen from the home and to ask Dr. Theodore Fowler, like Ellington a black man, where they can find “the truth.” Fowler is killed, but not before telling Ellington where he can locate what he’s after: “Truth” turns out to be a frightened eight- or nine-year-old white girl, hidden away for her protection from those who wish her ill. Ellington soon goes on the run with the girl in tow, pursued by good cops, bad cops, and a couple of deadly Yanks. He and Truth bond as the violence escalates in this melodramatic crime novel, whose mostly one-dimensional characters are either really evil or really good. Agent: Phil Patterson, Marjacq Scripts (U.K.). (May)

Reviewed on 03/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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A Negro and an Ofay: The Tales of Elliot Caprice

Danny Gardner. Down & Out, $17.95 trade paper (262p) ISBN 978-1-943402-67-0

It’s 1952, and after a night of heavy drinking in a blues bar, Elliot Caprice wakes up in the Meat Locker, “the massive desegregated holding cell underneath the St. Louis County Courthouse,” thus beginning an energetic if episodic saga that involves multiple murders and an epic gun battle with the mob. Of mixed race, Caprice put in his time in a tank with Patton’s Third Army during WWII and served as a beat cop in Chicago. He’s been on the run for a year after killing a couple of crooked cops, but now he’s gone to ground. First-time novelist (and screenwriter) Gardner populates the action with a vast cast. You can see Danny Glover as the uncle about to lose the family farm back in Southville, Ill.—or, if the movie had been shot 40 years ago, acting the role of Caprice. Long on action and short on detection, this is a solid enough entry in the ranks of African-American crime fiction. Agent: Elizabeth Kracht, Kimberly Cameron and Associates. (May)

Reviewed on 03/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Though This Be Madness

Penny Richards. Kensington, $15 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-4967-0604-1

Romantic tension pervades Richards’s uneven second historical featuring Pinkerton operative Lilly Long (after 2016’s An Untimely Frost). An undercover assignment requires Lilly to pose as a servant and infiltrate the New Orleans household of LaRee Fontenot, the Chicago-based Pinkerton firm’s newest client. Mrs. Fontenot suspects that her grandson’s widow, Patricia Ducharme, has been wrongfully committed to an insane asylum by Patricia’s second husband, Dr. Henri Ducharme. Lilly’s mission to learn the truth becomes harder when she is partnered with Cade McShane, an attractive male Pinkerton agent who will pose as her husband. Despite her disdain for Cade, Lilly is unable to keep her heart from racing when he gives her a “wicked grin,” and the arc of their relationship proceeds predictably even as they adopt their new roles. Some melodramatic developments concerning Lilly’s past don’t enhance the plot’s plausibility. Agent: Jim Hart, Hartline Literary. (May)

Reviewed on 03/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Trinidad Noir: The Classics

Edited by Earl Lovelace and Robert Antoni. Akashic, $15.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-61775-435-7

To travel through the 19 works of poetry and prose in this remarkable anthology is to experience Trinidad and Tobago through a kaleidoscopic lens. The writings are grouped into four historically significant periods (“Leaving Colonialism,” “Facing Independence,” “Looking In,” and “Losing Control”). It’s an effective construct; the reader experiences island culture and history as a part of its time, formed by a pastiche of nationality, culture, and social class. Standouts abound. The central character in V.S. Naipul’s “Man-man” is a reputedly mad man in a community whose reactions to him move between bemused and violent. Harold Sonny Ladoo tells, in “The Quiet Peasant,” of an impoverished farmer who unwittingly digs his own grave. An island lilt and sharp humor spice Robert Antoni’s “Hindsight,” about a doctor confronting a singular medical condition. This is not a noir collection in the traditional crime-based sense. Instead, as noted in the introduction, the selections “direct attention to the violence of a society that has not quite settled accounts with the casualties of enslavement and indentureship.” (May)

Reviewed on 03/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Death in the Abstract: A Katherine Sullivan Mystery

Emily Barnes. Crooked Lane, $25.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-68331-122-5

In Barnes’s uneven sequel to 2016’s The Fine Art of Murder, retired police chief and passionate painter Katherine Sullivan—who left Edina, Minn., for an artists’ colony in Taos, N.Mex.—again rushes back to Edina to help someone she cares about. Ex-cop and widower Nathan Walker, a Denzel Washington look-alike who owns a security firm, has gone missing. (Katie’s late husband, a slain cop, took on Nathan as a partner when other white cops gave him the cold shoulder.) Not trusting her successor, dour Chief Bostwick, to find Nathan, Katie eagerly un-retires and rises to the challenge. Meanwhile, a local woman’s murder may be tied to Nathan’s disappearance. Old enough to delight in the rare day when nothing hurts or aches, alive enough to yearn for more than Nathan’s friendship, devoted to her daughter and grandkids yet wanting her own life, Katie is a welcome addition to the cozy genre. On the other hand, too many quirky characters and subplots dilute the suspense. And Taos, enticingly described, is a tease. (May)

Reviewed on 03/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Murder Between the Lines

Radha Vatsal. Sourcebooks Landmark, $15.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-4926-3892-6

Vatsal’s lively second Kitty Weeks mystery (after 2016’s A Front Page Affair) finds 19-year-old Kitty still working on the New York Sentinel Ladies’ Page, the paper’s only section open to female reporters. While writing about elite girls’ school Westfield Hall in December 1915, Kitty meets star chemistry student Elspeth Bright. Late on Christmas Eve, Elspeth freezes to death in Central Park. Her lifelong somnambulism is blamed, but Kitty suspects foul play. When a schoolmate claims that Elspeth was secretly working on battery design, a crucial challenge of submarine warfare, Kitty questions Elspeth’s father, scientist Edgar Bright, with whom Elspeth argued shortly before her death. Dr. Bright’s secretive behavior and the presence of his handsome former assistant, Phillip Emerson—to whom gossip suggests Elspeth might have been attracted—at a submarine-test explosion further fuels Kitty’s suspicions. Despite several overlong detours into historical side issues, Vatsal’s combination of a feisty protagonist with a tumultuous, fast-changing era remains a winning formula. Agent: Christina Hogrebe, Jane Rotrosen Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 03/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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