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Hard Latitudes

Baron R. Birtcher. Permanent, $29.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-57962-390-6

Set in 2004, Birtcher’s well-executed fourth Mike Travis crime thriller (after 2008’s Angels Fall) takes the former LAPD homicide cop from his home in Hawaii, where he has recently started chartering his 72-foot sailing yacht, back to Los Angeles, where his feckless businessman brother, Valden, needs his help. Valden, who has come to L.A. from New York for a political fund-raiser, has been caught on videotape cheating on his wife. Blackmailers are threatening to expose him unless he pays up soon. On hearing his brother’s appeal, Travis flies the next day to L.A., where he joins forces with an old cop friend, Hans Yamaguchi. Travis and Hans track down the blackmailers, but dealing with them only makes matters worse. Travis’s tale eventually merges with the tragic story of a young Chinese woman, May Ling, who was forced into sexual slavery in Macao in 1994. Readers will hope they don’t have to wait another seven years for the world-weary Travis’s next adventure. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Sidney Chambers and the Forgiveness of Sins: The Grantchester Mysteries

James Runcie. Bloomsbury, $18 trade paper (416p) ISBN 978-1-63286-103-0

Set in the 1960s, British author Runcie’s outstanding fourth collection of clerical mysteries (after 2014’s Sidney Chambers and the Problem of Evil) smoothly mixes clever puzzles with meditations on spiritual issues. The title story presents a truly baffling problem: Josef Madara, the principal violinist in a quartet, comes to Canon Sidney Chambers’s Cambridge church seeking sanctuary; Madara claims that he woke up that morning in his hotel room to find his wife covered in blood. When Sidney’s friend on the force, Geordie Keating, accompanies Sidney to the hotel, the room is empty and spotless. In later entries, Sidney attempts to help a woman escape an abusive husband and to show that a death caused by a falling piano was no accident. Sidney and the entire supporting cast, including a new curate with a fondness for cake, are all vividly portrayed, and comparisons to G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown books are amply justified. Agent: David Godwin, David Godwin Associates (U.K.). (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Flame Out

M.P. Cooley. Morrow, $24.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-230073-7

Cooley’s solid second police procedural featuring former FBI special agent June Lyons (after 2014’s Ice Shear) finds June, now a cop in her hometown of Hopewell Falls, N.Y., not quite over the death of her husband, Kevin, three years earlier—and facing a welter of crimes involving the volatile Ukrainian-American family of her police partner, Dave Batko. Soon after June saves a woman from a burning abandoned clothing factory, a mummified body is found in a sealed barrel walled up in the factory’s basement. The two cases intertwine in a complex and not always convincing plot that twists its lengthy way through sibling rivalries and other tensions, such as June’s vacillation over rejoining the Bureau, and her problematic relationship with her aging hippie mother. Though a little heavy-handed with June’s emotional flare-ups, Cooley does well by Ukrainian culture and cuisine, while assuring readers that today’s women cops and perps can both be tougher than their male counterparts. Agent: Lisa Gallagher, Sanford J. Greenburger Associates. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Death Ex Machina

Gary Corby. Soho Crime, $26.95 (368p) ISBN 978-1-61695-519-9

In Australian author Corby’s superior fifth whodunit set in ancient Greece (after 2014’s The Marathon Conspiracy), the city of Athens is preparing to host the Great Dionysia, “the largest and most important arts festival in the world.” But the success of the event is in doubt after a series of accidents on the set of Sophocles’s play Sisyphus. The cast members believe this is the work of a ghost. Pericles, the city’s most powerful man, asks Nicolaos, his inquiry agent, to get rid of the ghost. Unfortunately, not long after Nico arranges for an exorcism ritual, one of the actors is murdered, suspended from the machine designed to hold the character of Thanatos, the god of death, in midair during the performance. Under pressure to find the killer quickly as the festival start date looms, Nico resorts to a clever and amusing ploy to buy more time. Corby again manages to effortlessly integrate laugh-out-loud humor into a fairly clued puzzle. Agent: Janet Reid, FinePrint Literary. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Bone to Be Wild: A Sarah Booth Delaney Mystery

Carolyn Haines. Minotaur, $25.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-250-04614-7

At the start of Haines’s engaging 15th cozy set in Zinnia, Miss. (after 2014’s Booty Bones), Sarah Booth Delaney badly needs a diversion after her fiancé, Graf Milieu, suddenly breaks off their engagement and returns home to L.A. Fortunately, an old flame, guitarist Scott Hampton, asks her to help track down the person who has threatened him and his band members. Someone doesn’t want Scott to open his new blues club. Is the threat serious? The sheriff isn’t sure until the club’s bartender is gunned down. This is only the beginning of Scott’s troubles, and Sarah is determined to find the killer before he or she strikes again. Why would anyone be so angry about a blues club? Is it a personal attack aimed at Scott? Meanwhile, Sarah Booth’s ghostly friend, Jitty, provides romantic advice, but it will take a lot of work from the living to solve this perplexing mystery. Agent: Marian Young, Young Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Enemy Inside: A Paul Madriani Novel

Steve Martini. Morrow, $27.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-232893-9

In bestseller Martini’s busy 13th Paul Madriani novel (after 2011’s Trader of Secrets), the California lawyer takes on the seemingly hopeless case of reporter Alex Ives, who’s accused of DUI and causing the car crash that killed high-powered Washington, D.C., attorney Olinda Serna. Madriani and his team—partner Harry Hinds and investigator Herman Diggs—follow clues that suggest the accident was staged and Ives was the victim of a honey trap. Then the people who may have answers start dying, and Ives, Madriani, and his colleagues become targets. A plethora of complications include Serna’s powerful boss, Cletus Proffit, trying to contain fallout from her death; a mysterious man with an eagle-head cane pulling congressional strings; and the machinations of Lang-Jian Cheng, the head of China’s foreign intelligence unit. Martini expertly pulls all the threads together as Madriani navigates an assortment of physical and professional challenges. Agent: Esther Newberg, ICM. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Dry Bones

Craig Johnson. Viking, $27.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-525-42693-6

At the start of bestseller Johnson’s intricately plotted 11th Walt Longmire novel (after 2014’s Any Other Name), the Wyoming sheriff helps pull the corpse of Danny Lone Elk, a Cheyenne rancher, from a turtle pond on his ranch. Did Danny die of natural or unnatural causes? Walt soon suspects murder, given the uproar that arises over the recent discovery by local paleontologists of a nearly complete T. rex skeleton—nicknamed Jen after the scientist who unearthed her—on Danny’s property. A fight brews among the U.S. government, Absaroka County’s own High Plains Dinosaur Museum, and the Lone Elk family, who claim that Jen belongs to the Cheyenne tribe. Meanwhile, Walt (who is white) is hit with an unexpected personal loss (“It just seems like I made this deal with the universe to serve and protect, and in return, little by little, I get everything I care about taken away from me”). This steadfast character never disappoints the reader: he’s a hero through thick and thin. Agent: Gail Hochman, Brandt & Hochman Literary Agents. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Independence Day

Ben Coes. St. Martin’s, $26.99 (512p) ISBN 978-1-250-04316-0

Compelling characters, a wealth of technical detail, and ticking-clock suspense make bestseller Coes’s fifth Dewey Andreas novel (after 2013’s Eye for an Eye) one of the year’s best thrillers. CIA director Hector Calibrisi draws the ex-Delta operative turned CIA agent back into action from Dewey’s hometown of Castine, Maine, where he retreated after the death of his fiancée six months earlier. Dewey winds up searching for a genius Russian computer hacker, Pyotr Vargarin (aka Cloud), who’s acquired a nuclear weapon and is bent on wreaking revenge for earlier ill treatment at American hands. Cloud has hacked his way into the CIA computer system and is always one step ahead as bodies pile up and Dewey goes off the grid to save the U.S. The attack is scheduled for the Fourth of July, which gives Dewey and his comrades only a few days to stop Cloud. Last-minute twists ratchet up the tension as the book races to the final confrontation. 100,000-copy first printing. Agent: Nicole James, Chalberg & Sussman. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Eeny Meeny

M.J. Arlidge. NAL, $15 trade paper (432p) ISBN 978-0-451-47549-7

British author Arlidge’s engrossing first novel, a crime thriller, introduces Det. Insp. Helen Grace of the Hampshire police. When a fiend abducts a young woman and her boyfriend and torments them in an ingeniously cruel way that leads to the death of one of them, Helen investigates, but before she can make any headway there is a second similar case, then a third. Helen believes there’s a connection among the victims, but the only link she can see is that they were all acquaintances of hers. Helen is herself a severely damaged woman. Professional stress and a guilty family secret make her withdrawn and defensive in her personal life; her main relief comes from employing a professional dominator to whip her. Plot complications include Helen’s detection of a mole within the department and her complex relationship with an otherwise talented subordinate who’s sinking into debilitating alcoholism. Readers will look forward to seeing more of this strong, intelligent, and courageous lead. Agent: Hellie Ogden, Janklow Nesbit. (June)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Giving Up

Mike Steeves. BookThug (Small Press Distribution, U.S. dist.; LitDistCo, Canadian dist.), $20 trade paper (214p) ISBN 978-1-77166-091-4

Steeves’s debut novel chronicles the anxieties of a married couple. Readers are given direct access to the couple’s thoughts about each other, their marriage, and their belief that nothing has worked out the way they expected, in stream-of-consciousness narration that is sometimes uncomfortably honest. James is preoccupied with his lack of success and his lack of motivation to complete his frequently referenced but never defined “life’s work,” while Mary is predominantly concerned about how unconcerned James is with their difficulties conceiving. These worries are amplified when both have to confront an out-of-the-ordinary event one night. The monotony and discomfort of innermost thoughts, through normal and abnormal circumstances, are brought to life in this novel, pulling the reader into the exhausting cycle of anxiety in which the narrators have lived for years. Coupled with a dense writing style that has no line or paragraph breaks, the effect is one of ceaseless chatter that may tax readers’ patience and focus. Those interested in the psychology of the characters and the dynamics of their marriage will find the novel engaging; others may find the lack of resolution disappointing. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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