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The Sisters of Blue Mountain

Karen Katchur. St. Martin’s/Dunne, $25.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-06682-4

In Katchur’s uneven sophomore effort (after 2015’s The Secrets of Lake Road), the mass death of snow geese threatens the livelihood of Linnet, who operates a bed and breakfast, the Snow Goose, in scenic Mountain Springs, Pa. Linnet’s father, a retired ornithologist, wants to investigate, but because of his worsening dementia, a young university professor is tasked with the job instead. When the professor is found dead near the B and B, Linnet’s father is arrested for his murder. The arrivals of Linnet’s estranged sister, Myna, and reporter Jake Mann—who has his own connection to Mountain Springs and a dark secret that the sisters share—complicate the situation. Clichés sometimes replace genuine emotional depth, especially in scenes between Linnet and Myna, and their characters aren’t developed enough to carry the story. Readers who appreciate tales of family tensions with hopeful resolutions will be most rewarded. Agent: Carly Watters, P.S. Literary Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Abigale Hall

Lauren A. Forry. Skyhorse, $24.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-5107-1726-8

From the first paragraph of British author Forry’s debut, readers know they have entered a splendid gothic novel, with dark shadows and a disturbing creep of horror. It then comes as an intriguing surprise that the book is set in the years following the end of WWII. London is a city still suffering the aftereffects of the war: food shortages, ration books, unemployment, and the collective memories of bombings and blackouts. Seventeen-year-old Eliza Haverford and her 12-year-old sister, Rebecca, have lost their parents and are now in the care of their sullen Aunt Bess, who’s more than willing to ship the girls off to Wales to work as servants. They therefore find themselves escorted by dour Mr. Drewry to Thornecroft, an isolated and dilapidated manor house, whose grimy, shabby interior and labyrinthine layout provide the ideal setting for exaggerating fears and hiding appalling truths. Forry shows herself a master at seductive prose that keeps the reader turning pages, eager to discover the next shocking turn of events. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Miss Julia Weathers the Storm

Ann B. Ross. Viking, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-0-735-22047-8

Bestseller Ross’s appealing 18th mystery set in the North Carolina town of Abbotsville (after 2016’s Miss Julia Inherits a Mess) takes Miss Julia Murdoch and her husband, Sam, on a beach vacation, along with assorted family members and friends. The Murdochs rent a big house on an island off Charleston, S.C., where little Latisha, a great-grandchild of their housekeeper, Lillian, is soon hunting for shells. Ominously, three beachcombers chasing down a load of currency that’s washed ashore seem to be inordinately interested in Latisha’s shells. The vacationers, driven back to Abbotsville by an approaching hurricane, are alarmed to find that it’s not just the storm that has followed them home. PI J.D. Pickens and Sgt. Coleman Bates of the Abbot County Sheriff’s Department lend a hand in dealing with the unwelcome visitors. As usual for this cozy series, the main pleasure lies not in the mystery, a comfortable puzzler, but in the time spent among engaging small-town characters as they cope with the joys and demands of day-to-day life. Agent: Deborah Schneider, Gelfman Schneider Literary Agents. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Watcher

Ross Armstrong. Mira, $26.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-7783-3072-1

Bird and people watcher Lily Gullick, the narrator of Armstrong’s uneven debut, uses binoculars to observe her neighbors in nearby flats in London. She names them, invents stories about them, and talks to her husband, Aiden, about them. Lily lives in a new apartment building, while older buildings across the street are slated to be demolished and their residents “rehoused” elsewhere. Lily tries to befriend Jean, a resident resisting demolition, and when Jean is murdered, she becomes obsessed with finding the killer. Only gradually does the reader get a clear picture of Lily as she reveals more about herself and her troubles with other people, including the police. Alfred Hitchcock fans will appreciate the many nods to the famed director, from the obvious Rear Window scenario to Aiden’s planned book on Hitchcock, but this novel, with no memorable characters other than Lily, fails to generate much suspense. Agent: Juliet Mushens, Caskie Mushens Agency (U.K.). (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Boy in the Earth

Fuminori Nakamura, trans. from the Japanese by Allison Markin Powell. Soho Crime, $23.95 (160p) ISBN 978-1-61695-594-6

The cynical and disengaged unnamed narrator of this enigmatic novel from Nakamura (The Gun) has quit his sales job at a company that produces educational materials and now works as a taxi driver in Tokyo. For no obvious reason, he picks a fight with a group of motorcyclists and, predictably, ends up badly beaten. He gives Sayuko, a former work colleague and the one person he regularly interacts with, no chance to express sympathy; they go to bed, but she shows no emotion during intercourse. Later, the narrator gets a jolt from news of the parents who abandoned him 20 years earlier: his mother has died, but his father is still alive. He can’t help wondering whether he could have led a different life if he had been given reason to believe that his parents actually hoped he would grow up to be a good person. Bit by bit, Nakamura fills in some of the details of his lead’s backstory, making a character who will initially seem alien to most readers less so. The action builds to a devastating conclusion that explains the title. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Fast & Loose

Stuart Woods. Putnam, $28 (368p) ISBN 978-0-399-57419-1

Stone Barrington survives a number of close calls, starting with a collision between his yacht and another, larger boat in Maine’s foggy Penobscot Bay, in Edgar-winner Woods’s enjoyable 41st novel starring the successful New York City attorney (after Below the Belt). Fortunately, this accident results in Stone’s becoming friends with the other boat’s owners, a family of doctors named Carlsson, of the Carlsson Clinic, “a famous hospital, with locations in several cities, like the Mayo Clinic.” Stone ends up helping the Carlssons thwart a takeover of their clinic, thereby antagonizing the schemer behind the takeover attempt, Erik Macher. The ruthless, hot-headed Macher and his henchmen try to blow up Stone with plastic explosives they’ve managed to hide in the lawyer’s Manhattan townhouse, but the timely intervention of a bomb-sniffing dog saves the day. A series of tit-for-tat exchanges leads to an exciting showdown between Macher and Stone at a Virginia farmhouse. Series fans will be pleased to learn that a major career change looms for Stone in his next outing. Agent: Anne Sibbald, Janklow & Nesbit. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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All by Myself, Alone

Mary Higgins Clark. Simon & Schuster, $26.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-5011-3111-0

In this lesser effort from MWA Grand Master Clark, lottery winners Alvirah and Willy Meehan, last seen in 2016’s As Time Goes By, celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary by taking a luxury cruise aboard the Queen Charlotte, which is making her maiden voyage from New York to Southampton, England. Limited to only 100 guests and boasting world-class accommodations and entertainment, the ship welcomes A-list luminaries such as 86-year-old Lady Emily Haywood, who possesses a fabulous emerald necklace once owned by Cleopatra. Lady Emily is accompanied by her assistant, Brenda Martin; her investment manager, Roger Pearson; and Roger’s avaricious wife, Yvonne. Other passengers include gemologist Celia Kilbride, attorney Ted Cavanaugh, and thief Devon Michaelson. Each has reason to covet the necklace. When a murderer strikes, Alvirah slips into sleuthing mode. The sweet relationship between Alvirah and Willy is some consolation in this formulaic thriller that’s short on suspense. Agent: Robert Barnett, Williams & Connolly. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Secret Room

Sandra Block. Grand Central, $14.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-1-4555-7020-1

Block’s convoluted third Zoe Goldman novel (after 2015’s The Girl Without a Name) finds forensic psychiatrist Zoe working at the Buffalo Correctional Facility in Buffalo, N.Y. Zoe’s boss, Dr. “Nowhere” Novaire, has instituted an ill-thought-out new program that puts Zoe in direct contact with her psychopathic sister, Sofia. A new case of a delusional teenager imprisoned for attacking his father has Zoe investigating the family to find the truth behind the boy’s hallucinations. And Zoe can’t seem to shake a persistent flu. To make matters worse, a number of patients under Zoe’s care commit suicide. Could Sofia be behind the deaths? As the body count rises, a persistent reporter keeps showing up to interview Zoe for a series of articles about the prison’s psychiatric program. Meanwhile, her live-in boyfriend, Mike, is receiving flirtatious texts from Serena, a pretty coworker. Fans can only hope for a return to form next time. Agent: Rachel Eckstrom, Irene Goodman Literary Agency (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Unreliable

Lee Irby. Doubleday, $26.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-385-54205-0

Writing instructor and failed novelist Edwin Stith, the narrator of this irksome suspense novel from Irby (The Up and Up), teaches at Notting College, “a leafy liberal arts school” in Ithaca, N.Y. Stith—who may or may not have killed his ex-wife and others—is a paranoid mess and envisions murdering women while waiting to be charged with a crime. His love-hate relationship with his ex-wife was complicated by another bond, this one with a former student who enjoys sleeping with well-endowed men and sending the impotent Stith the photographic evidence. His life becomes exponentially more convoluted when he meets his future family members at his mother’s wedding in Richmond, Va., and becomes entangled in a shady arms deal that may be connected to a domestic terrorism attack. The unreliable narrator shtick gets old fast, especially since Stith can be insufferable. The startling revelation at the end makes up only in part for the passages about Stith’s delusions and his obsession with the part of his anatomy he refers to as his phantom limb. Agent: Sharon Bowers, Miller Bowers Griffin Literary Management. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Golden Prey

John Sandford. Putnam, $29 (416p) ISBN 978-0-399-18457-4

Near the start of Thriller Award–winner Sandford’s solid 27th Lucas Davenport novel (after 2016’s Extreme Prey), holdup man Garvin Poole and his gang hit a dope counting-house in Biloxi, Miss. During the robbery, Poole fatally shoots four drug dealers and one of their granddaughters, a six-year-old girl. Davenport, a former Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension official who’s now a U.S. marshal with the freedom to take on any case he wants anywhere in the country, decides to go after Poole. Davenport assembles all available information on Poole, his family, his associates, and his girlfriend. Meanwhile, Luis Soto, “a bad man [who] liked being a bad man,” and torture specialist Charlene Kort are working on behalf of the robbed drug boss; Davenport gets a sample of Soto and Kort’s handiwork when he finds Poole’s parents brutally slain at their home in La Vergne, Tenn. Sandford’s trademark blend of rough humor and deadly action keeps the pages turning until the smile-inducing wrap-up, which reveals the fates of a number of his quirky, memorable characters. Agent: Esther Newberg, ICM. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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