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Tender: Stories

Sofia Samatar. Small Beer, $24 (256p) ISBN 978-1-61-873126-5

Samatar (The Winged Histories) collects 19 eerie short tales, all previously published, and a new novella, “Fallow,” all set in times and climes a few disquieting steps around the corner from reality. Her title story employs tender’s meaning of caregiver to comment darkly on the emotional fallout from the containment of radioactive waste. “Cities of Emerald, Cities of Gold” probes the “family deserts” of a half-American, half-Somali person in the context of Dorothy’s final acceptance of “dusty Kansas.” “Those” is a shattering look at interracial marriage and its consequences. Often using a tormented first-person storyteller persona from history or her contemporary experience, Sunatar blends luscious images with painful self-realization; occasionally the contrast between these two trademarks of her style causes complexity to lapse into incomprehensibility. The theme of this provocative collection, including the far-future dystopian vision of “Fallow,” is most clearly evident in “A Girl Who Comes Out of a Chamber at Regular Intervals,” a scalding too-near-future indictment of a culture rushing headlong to embrace the mixed contents of the Pandora’s box of communication technology. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/20/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Keeping

Rochelle Ransom. Preadtend, $9.99 trade paper (294p) ISBN 978-0-9890174-4-2

At the start of Ransom’s clunky debut, teenager Sierra Hart wakes up in a small, locked room with absolutely no recollection of how she got there. What follows is an investigative journey through her family history and current romantic entanglements. Sierra’s life in Laketown, N.Y., is revealed through a detailed diary she keeps while imprisoned and the narratives of those closest to her: her parents, Patrick and Dr. Laura Hart; her ex-boyfriend, Dave Braun; and the new boy in her life, Gavin Ross. Unfortunately, not all of the narratives serve the purpose of moving the story forward, and the immense amount of backstory negates the suspense. Awkward prose doesn’t help (“The water pooled in a small, deep, divot as the fear exploded up her throat, across her tongue and out of her mouth in a desperate shrill wail that fell flat, in the trapped air”). (BookLife)

Reviewed on 01/20/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Echoes of Terror

Maris Soule. Five Star, $25.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4328-3281-0

Skagway, Alaska, cop Katherine Ward, the heroine of this middling thriller from Soule (A Killer Past), was kidnapped at 14 and held for months by psychopath Charles Bell, who killed her parents and brother. She thought Bell would be confined to a mental hospital forever. Seventeen years later, two girls—one a neighbor and the other 16-year-old Misty Morgan, a billionaire’s daughter who arrived in Skagway on a cruise ship—are missing, possibly kidnapped. Could Bell be back at work? Katherine, often blamed for colluding with Bell by those who know her story, has kept her past a secret from most people. Now she can’t do that anymore. Bell may be evil, but not in any interesting way. And the romance that develops between the closed-up, suspicious Katherine and Vince Nanini, the billionaire’s computer expert who acted as Misty’s bodyguard before she disappeared, falls to convince. Two surprise twists at the end are one too many. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/20/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Pressed to Death: A Perfectly Proper Paranormal Museum Mystery

Kirsten Weiss. Midnight Ink, $14.99 ISBN 978-0-7387-5031-6

In Weiss’s engaging sequel to 2016’s A Perfectly Proper Paranormal Museum, Maddie Kosloski, who runs a struggling paranormal museum in her tiny hometown of San Benedetto in California wine country, is convinced that her newly acquired haunted grape press is a perfect draw for the big harvest festival. When the press’s previous owner, Romeo Paganini, accuses Maddie of stealing it, the police seize it as evidence and Maddie ends up with no entry to the festival. Maddie’s subsequent discovery of her accuser dead in a barrel of grapes leaves her a prime suspect. Another murder raises the stakes. San Benedetto residents start taking bets on if and when Maddie will solve the crimes after she turns amateur sleuth in her own defense, to the ire of local detective Laurel Hammer, her nemesis. Well-drawn characters and tantalizing wine talk help balance the quirky aspects of this paranormal mystery. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/20/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Bitter Harvest: A Greenhouse Mystery

Wendy Tyson. Henery, $15.95 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-1-63511-173-6

Tyson’s first-rate second Greenhouse mystery (after 2016’s A Muddied Murder) stars big-city lawyer turned small-town organic farmer Megan Sawyer, a kind, intelligent, and spirited woman with great integrity. In short, she’s the sort of person cozy readers warm to and root for. Winsome, Pa., Megan’s hometown, is in the midst of frantic preparations for Oktoberfest, a week-long festival celebrating local produce and pure country living. All is going smoothly, until Megan’s at times cantankerous grandmother discovers a body at a solar farm. Bobby King, the young police chief, wants to avoid a murder investigation and does his best to dismiss Megan’s growing concerns about the death, but when another corpse is found, Bobby realizes he needs to take Megan seriously. Tyson populates the cast with a smug-but-attractive PR consultant, a temperamental-but-gifted chef, a shrewd and sexy Scottish vet, and assorted townspeople, whose motives are complex and believable. It’s a pleasure to spend time in their company. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/20/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Broker

Chuck Logan. Conquill, $16 trade paper (364p) ISBN 978-0-9908461-6-1

In Logan’s solid seventh series novel (after 2005’s Homefront), a prequel, Phil Broker attempts to get his life together in Minnesota in 1979 despite a hidden military past that has made it difficult for him to get a decent job. When police officer Joe Desmond goes berserk on a cop shooting range and starts firing at fellow officers, Broker, who happens to be practicing at the range, shoots Desmond dead. After this unsettling incident, Harold Cantrell, a detective with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Investigation, persuades the vulnerable Broker to go deep undercover as a bodyguard for Russell “Soap” Turrie, an operator on the fringes of the underworld, in a scheme to recover a big drug shipment from a bunch of bad guys. As assistants, Broker recruits a team of amateurs, including an old war buddy and the psychologist who does a psych evaluation of him. Logan spins some nifty moves and countermoves as Broker and company try to stay alive in this suspenseful thriller. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/20/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Imperial Valley: A Jimmy Veeder Fiasco

Johnny Shaw. Thomas & Mercer, $15.95 trade paper (348p) ISBN 978-1-5039-4129-8

Shaw’s lively third mystery featuring Jimmy Veeder (after 2014’s Plaster City) finds the former wild man into hardscrabble farming and family in southernmost California. Jimmy and his new wife, Angie, a nurse, along with their eight-year-old adopted son, Juan, embark on a honeymoon to Mazatlan, Mexico, that’s also a trip paid for by his long-time gangster friend, Tomás Morales, to find Juan’s grandfather. Along the way, they fall into a violent tangle of cartel drug smuggling. Among the slam-bang fisticuffs, frequent references to Shaw’s favorite “songs for fightin’,” and often funny reflections on male-female role reversals, Shaw lands a few good punches on the plight of decent ordinary folk at the hands of the powerful and corrupt on both sides of the border; he also suggests that the problem in defeating the cartels is that they feed the poor, while the government only takes anything it can from them. Shaw celebrates the spirit he finds in small towns, where friends are family, as he brings this amusing riff on The Magnificent Seven to a riotous shoot-’em-up climax. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/20/2017 | Details & Permalink

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As Dark as My Fur: A Blackie and Care Mystery

Clea Simon. Severn, $28.99 (208p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8682-8

Readers who enjoy the prickly pleasure of stepping into a strange alternate universe will welcome Simon’s hypnotic second Blackie and Care mystery (after 2015’s The Ninth Life), set in a blighted unnamed city. Bands of gangsters control the various neighborhoods, bartering is more common than the use of money, and the mostly illiterate masses have to scavenge to eke out a living. Pink-haired teen Carrie “Care” Wright, an apprentice private detective, navigates this treacherous world aided by Blackie, a cat she rescued from drowning. Blackie, the narrator, is no ordinary cat. His consciousness contains not only his feline instincts but also flashes of memories from his past life as a human. When a factory owner hires Care, who has been in charge of the detective agency since her mentor’s murder, to shadow one of his workers, Blackie fears something isn’t quite right. Since he can’t talk, he can do little to warn Care of his misgivings. The novel perilously walks the line between dream and nightmare. Agent: Colleen Mohyde, Doe Coover Agency. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/20/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Murder, Stage Left: A Nero Wolfe Mystery

Robert Goldsborough. MysteriousPress.com, $14.99 trade paper (236p) ISBN 978-1-5040-4111-9

Broadway provides the backdrop for Goldsborough’s superior 12th Nero Wolfe pastiche (after 2016’s Stop the Presses!). A fellow orchid connoisseur, Lewis Hewitt, tells the sedentary sleuth that a friend of his, Roy Breckenridge, needs Wolfe’s help. Lewis’s offer of some rare flowers is enough to get Wolfe to meet Breckenridge, who’s both producing and directing the hit show Death at Cresthaven, a murder mystery. The impresario is uneasy about something regarding the production that he can only articulate as a vague “tension.” Wolfe hits on the idea of sending his able leg man, Archie Goodwin, undercover. Posing as a Canadian theatrical journalist, Archie interviews the cast and crew for a purported article. He manages to get some information but not enough to prevent a fatal poisoning and his being suspected of culpability. Even die-hard Rex Stout fans will have a hard time distinguishing Goldsborough’s prose and plotting from the originals. Agent: Erik Simon, Martha Kaplan Agency. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/20/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Death Going Down

María Angélica Bosco, trans. from the Spanish by Lucy Greaves. Pushkin Vertigo, $13.95 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-78227-223-6

Known as the Argentinian Agatha Christie, Bosco (1917–2006) published her first crime novel in 1954. This competent if unexceptional puzzler is now available in English for the first time. Early one morning, an inebriated Pancho Soler returns home to his upscale apartment building in Buenos Aires. Inside the elevator is a pale young woman in a fur coat slumped against a back panel. Soler gets a rude shock when he touches the woman’s cold skin. She’s later identified as Frida Eidinger, who recently moved to Argentina from Germany with her new husband, Gustavo; she died of cyanide poisoning, an apparent suicide. While not a resident, Eidinger had a key to the building. Supt. Insp. Santiago Ericourt, a somewhat generic sleuth, investigates what becomes a murder case. Ericourt must sort out the victim’s complex relationships with Gustavo and the building’s residents, as well as the interrelationships among the latter. In the end, Ericourt gathers all the suspects for a reconstruction of the crime in a denouement that falls short of Christie’s standard. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/20/2017 | Details & Permalink

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