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Dancing with Death: A Nell Drury Mystery

Amy Myers. Severn, $28.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8685-9

Set in 1925, Myers’s winning series launch introduces 29-year-old Nell Drury, the Escoffier-trained chef for the aristocratic Ansleys at Wychbourne Court, their country house in Kent. At a party one evening, Nell and her well-trained staff provide a splendid dinner, which is followed by dancing and—at midnight—a tour of the stately home’s not-so-stately ghosts. While conducting one of the two groups of ghost-hunting guests, Nell stumbles on the body of an old Ansley family friend, Charles Parkyn-Wright. But who would want to stab the inoffensive Charles multiple times? Practical, quick-witted Nell is a problem solver, as shown by her ability to put together a lunch for 30 at a moment’s notice or sort out clues in a murder investigation. Scotland Yard’s Det. Insp. Alexander Melbray, her sometime rival and sometime ally, makes an appealing foil. Myers (Classic at Bay and seven other Jack Colby car detective mysteries) offers a jolly entertainment while touching on such serious matters as class conflict. Agent: Sara Keane, Keane Kataria Literary (U.K.). (May)

Reviewed on 03/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Based on a True Story

Delphine de Vigan, trans. from the French
by George Miller. Bloomsbury, $26 (384p) ISBN 978-1-63286-815-2

Delphine, the narrator of this unsettling metafictional tale of obsession and interchangeable identities from de Vigan (Nothing Holds Back the Night), reverts back to her shy, schoolgirl persona after the success of her latest autobiographical novel leaves her feeling overwhelmed. Then she meets the chic, confident L., with whom she immediately strikes up an easy rapport. The friendship develops smoothly, with the two women getting drinks around Paris and learning more about each other. Except L. seems more eager to know everything there is to know about Delphine—all about her two grown children, her relationship with her boyfriend—than share much about herself. Writing is at the center of the relationship: Delphine’s inability to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, and L.’s insistence that there’s a book Delphine must write. Almost without realizing it, Delphine cedes control to L., with dire consequences. While readers might pick up on L.’s unsavory nature faster than Delphine, the insidious nature of a complex mind game masquerading as friendship is chilling to watch unfold. (May)

Reviewed on 03/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: Dark Zone

Jeff Rovin and George Galdorisi. St. Martin’s Griffin, $16.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-02689-7

In Rovin and Galdorisi’s absorbing military thriller, the fourth entry in the reboot of the Op-Center series created by Tom Clancy and Steve Pieczenik (after 2016’s Scorched Earth), Galina Ptrenko, a Ukrainian spy, contacts Douglas Flannery, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, in New York City. Ptrenko is seeking information concerning a possible attack by Russia so the Ukrainian military can organize a preemptive strike. Soon after Flannery declines to help, Ptrenko is assassinated. Meanwhile, the operatives at the Op-Center turn up a virtual reality game based on simulated attacks on three Russian bases near the Ukraine border. Unknown forces in the Ukraine military have been using the VR game to train for an actual attack. It’s up to the Op-Center to find out who’s planning the attack and how to defuse it before a war becomes reality. While there isn’t a lot of actual fighting, the procedures involved in puzzling out what is real and what is not, who is involved and when the attack will happen, generate plenty of suspense. Agent: Mel Berger, WME. (May)

Reviewed on 03/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Play of Death: A Hangman’s Daughter Tale

Oliver Pötzsch, trans. from the German by Lee Chadeayne. Mariner, $18 trade paper (512p) ISBN 978-1-328-66208-8

Pötzsch brilliantly juggles multiple story lines in his highly suspenseful sixth historical centered on the family of Magdalena Fronwieser, the daughter of Bavarian hangman Jakob Kuisl (after 2015’s The Werewolf of Bamberg). In 1670, Magdalena’s husband, Simon, a bathhouse keeper with some medical training, travels to the town of Oberammergau so that their precocious seven-year-old son, Peter, can attend a boarding school headed by an old friend of Simon’s. The pair arrive as the community is in an uproar over a gruesome tragedy. Dominik Faistenmantel, who was cast as Jesus in a Passion play that was still being rehearsed, was crucified on the set, and Simon winds up investigating. Meanwhile, Jakob arrives in Oberammergau to obtain a confession from a suspect by torture, even as his other daughter, Barbara, is accused of witchcraft for possessing some forbidden books. The town’s creepy, oppressive atmosphere enhances the intricate plot. (May)

Reviewed on 03/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Blood for Wine: A Cal Claxton Oregon Mystery

Warren C. Easley. Poisoned Pen, $26.95 (302p) ISBN 978-1-4642-0840-9

In Easley’s fine fifth mystery featuring Portland, Ore., lawyer Cal Claxton (after 2016’s Not Dead Enough), Cal is shocked to learn that vintner Jim Kavanaugh, a friend and neighbor, is the prime (and only) suspect in the brutal murder of Jim’s estranged wife, Lori. Cal agrees to represent Jim until the two know whether the case is solid enough for trial. With scant evidence and even less cooperation from the local constabulary, Cal decides to look into the murder. When another body turns up, with a time of death very close to Lori’s, he’s convinced it’s related. As Cal delves into Jim and Lori’s troubled marriage, he stumbles onto other community secrets—including a blackmail scheme—all tied to the area’s booming wine business. Meanwhile, senseless acts of violence that hit too close to home upend Cal’s personal life—but only serve to strengthen his resolve. Oenophiles and aspiring vintners will enjoy the wine lore in this well-wrought tale of love and betrayal. (May)

Reviewed on 03/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Sticks and Bones: A Sarah Booth Delaney Mystery

Carolyn Haines. Minotaur, $25.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-250-08526-9

Hollywood comes to Zinnia, Miss., in Haines’s enjoyable 17th cozy featuring PI Sarah Booth Delaney (after 2016’s Rock-a-Bye Bones). Filmmakers are scouting locations for a screen adaptation of the memoir Dead and Gone by snooty, self-absorbed Frangelica “Sister” McFee, a former Zinnia resident who has achieved fame and fortune as a bestselling author in New York. They also have some doubts about the book’s truthfulness and want to get the real story behind the deaths of Sister’s mother and brother. Sarah Booth and her partner in the Delaney Detective Agency, Tinkie Richmond, take on the job of investigating the sordid history of the less-than-loving McFee clan. Clearly, Sarah Booth and Tinkie are getting too close for comfort when the bullets start to fly and the bodies drop. Jitty, the headstrong ghost who shares Sarah Booth’s family home, is just one of the many well-drawn characters who help bring this Southern tale to colorful life. Agent: Marian Young, Young Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 03/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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What the Dead Leave Behind

Rosemary Simpson. Kensington, $25 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4967-0908-0

The Great Blizzard of March 1888 provides the backdrop for Simpson’s richly plotted series launch set in Gilded Age Manhattan. Wealthy 19-year-old Prudence MacKenzie is stunned by the death of her father, judge Thomas MacKenzie, who trained her in logic and deduction after her mother’s early demise. Three months after her father’s funeral, she anxiously scans Fifth Avenue for signs of her fiancé, Charles Linwood, amid the massive snowstorm paralyzing the city. Instead, he’s counted among those who perished in the blizzard, despite an unlikely wound and the playing card clutched in his hand. Under her father’s will, Charles’s death puts Prudence and her inheritance under the control of her malicious young stepmother, Victoria. With Charles’s friend, former Pinkerton agent Geoffrey Hunter, Prudence investigates Victoria’s checkered past, seeking information she hopes will free her from her stepmother. Simpson (Dreams and Shadows) anchors an appealing detective duo in a colorful and well-researched depiction of period settings and personalities. Agent: Jessica Faust, BookEnds Literary Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 03/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Berlin Project

Gregory Benford. Saga, $26.99 (480p) ISBN 978-1-4814-8764-1

SF author Benford (the Galactic Center series) makes the relevant science accessible to the lay reader in this intriguing alternate history thriller that speculates on the road not taken in the U.S.’s frantic path toward developing an atomic bomb during WWII. Chemist Karl Cohen’s suggestion that centrifuges be used to create the weapon accelerates the production process, so that it’s available for use in 1944, against a different Axis enemy than the Japanese. En route to that deployment, Benford brings to life all the heavy hitters involved in the Manhattan Project, such as Enrico Fermi, Leo Szilard, and Robert Oppenheimer. Diagrams help illustrate the scientific concepts involved, and the story line is laced with stranger-than-fiction facts, such as the national security apparatus’s concerns that stories in the magazine Astounding Science Fiction were based on leaks of classified information. Cohen’s conversion into a field operative later in the book is a stretch. (May)

Reviewed on 03/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Aunt Dimity and the Widow’s Curse

Nancy Atherton. Viking, $26 (240p) ISBN 978-1-101-98132-0

In Atherton’s mildly amusing 22nd paranormal cozy featuring Lori Shepherd (after 2016’s Aunt Dimity and the Buried Treasure), Lori, who’s privy to the ghostly Dimity Westwood’s written communications from beyond, hears something disturbing from elderly quilter Annabelle Craven, a fellow resident of the English village of Finch. Annabelle casually confesses to murdering Zach Trotter, her first husband, in the nearby town of Old Cowerton many years earlier. At Aunt Dimity’s suggestion, Lori travels to Old Cowerton, accompanied by her quirky friend, Bree Pym. In Old Cowerton, the women find opinion sharply divided: former neighbor and gossip Minnie Jessop and her cadre of friends accuse Annabelle of killing five men, including Zach; Penelope Moorecroft, “the current lady of the manor,” and the members of her circle say Annabelle is entirely innocent. Lori returns home to confront Annabelle, whose heartbreaking explanation prepares the way for the heartwarming resolution. Agent: Annelise Robey, Jane Rotrosen Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 03/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Dying Detective

Leif G.W. Persson, trans. from the Swedish by Neil Smith. Pantheon, $27.95 (432p) ISBN 978-0-307-90763-9

At the start of Persson’s cleverly plotted police procedural, Lars Martin Johansson, a celebrated Stockholm investigator who’s now retired and living in the country, suffers a stroke and is taken to the local hospital, where his doctor, Ulrika Stenholm, tells him about an unsolved 25-year-old murder. Ulrika’s father, a retired vicar, told her shortly before his recent death that he once took confession from someone who knew who had kidnapped and killed nine-year-old Yasmine Ermegan, the daughter of two Iranian immigrants. After recovering, Johansson—unofficially—investigates, with the help of his former partner, Jarnebring. The initial case was botched back in 1985; thanks to a law abolishing the statute of limitations, it can’t be prosecuted now. Johansson demonstrates real brilliance in identifying the killer, but equally impressive is what he does with the knowledge. Persson (Free Falling, as if in a Dream) provides plenty of domestic details and lengthy asides, which lend interest but slow the narrative. Agent: Niclas Salomonsson, Salomonsson Agency (Sweden). (May)

Reviewed on 03/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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