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The Peripheral

William Gibson. Putnam, $27.95 (496p) ISBN 978-0-399-15844-5

Seminal cyberpunk author Gibson, who has spent the last several years writing the more-or-less present-day Zero History series of novels, returns to the future with this slow-burning thriller, ambitiously structured on either side of an economic and ecological collapse known afterward as “the jackpot.” In the hardscrabble “pre-jackpot America“ of our near future, gamer Flynne Fisher is covering a beta-testing shift for her ex-Marine brother when she witnesses what she thinks is a gruesome murder—“some kind of nanotech chainsaw fantasy.“ In a depopulated London decades post-jackpot, Wilf Netherton, a disgraced publicist, is caught unawares when his latest client‘s sister disappears. The resulting investigation kicks Gibson’s discursive narrative into high gear as Flynne, allowed across time lines by use of a “peripheral“ (“an anthropomorphic drone... a telepresence avatar“), proves to be exactly the savvy, principled ally that enigmatic Det. Insp. Ainsley Lowbeer has been looking for. If the mechanics of time-travel are sometimes murky, the stakes are crystal clear when Flynne reaches out from Wilf’s past to alter her own future. All of Gibson’s characters are intensely real, and Flynne is a clever, compelling, stereotype-defying, unhesitating protagonist who makes this novel a standout. Agent: Martha Millard, Martha Millard Literary Agency. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Dial M for Matrimony

Carroll McKnight. Pulpwood (www.pulpwoodpress.com), $26.99 (246p) ISBN 978-1-888146-43-1

McKnight brings his knowledge of, and enthusiasm for, the films of Alfred Hitchcock to his flawed first novel. Kelly “Hitch” Reville, a North Florida State College film student who works as a crime-scene videographer for the Lake County Sheriff’s Department, is shocked to learn of the murder of fellow student David Hogan, which was captured on the victim’s own camera. Hitch notes that David’s death scene is similar to one in Rope. Soon after, Hitch thwarts an attempt on the life of student Grant Devlin that echoes another Hitchcock movie. Later, Hitch and other film students gather on a small, isolated island to celebrate Grant’s wedding, but an uninvited guest, self-styled the Director, sets the stage for more Hitchcockian attacks, which modeled on scenes from Rear Window, Psycho, etc. The solution may disappoint veteran mystery readers, but Hitchcock fans should have fun. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Louise’s Blunder

Sarah R. Shaber. Severn, $28.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8392-6

Period flavor trumps plot in Shaber’s leisurely paced fourth novel of suspense set during WWII (after 2013’s Louise’s Dilemma). Since Louise Pearlie has top secret clearance at her job in the OSS, her superiors assign her to look into the file activity of missing analyst Paul Hughes, an economist who’s an expert on German labor statistics. When Hughes turns up dead in Washington’s Tidal Basin, possibly the victim of drowning, Louise’s curiosity is peaked. Soon, she’s thrust into an investigation by the D.C. police’s Det. Sgt. Harvey Royal, who believes Hughes’s death was no accident. Louise finds that she may be in over her head, and could be the killer’s next victim. Her new friendships and the issues of race and gender inequality lend credence the period atmosphere, but they do little to push along the narrative. Savvy readers will have the mystery figured out in no time. Agent: Vicky Bijur, Vicky Bijur Literary Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Ghost Wanted

Carolyn Hart. Berkley Prime Crime, $25.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-425-26615-1

In MWA Grand Master Hart’s delightful fifth Bailey Ruth ghost novel (after 2013’s Ghost Gone Wild), the ghost of lady has been haunting the college library in Adelaide, Okla., for years. Her phantasmagorical mission is to spark romances between library patrons, which is a task she accomplishes by leaving roses for select individuals. But now, someone is copying her, placing roses throughout the library—and also vandalizing gargoyles and stealing books. Departed spirit Bailey Ruth Raeburn, of heaven’s Department of Good Intentions, is convinced that a live human being is behind the crimes. As she investigates, she has a few amusing and alarming run-ins with mortals who don’t know about heaven and the ghost world. She also tries to repair a decades-old heartbreak by brokering a romantic reconciliation between the library ghost and a ghost in heaven. The suspense of that amorous subplot is every bit as gripping as the 21st-century intrigue. Agent: Deborah Schneider, Gelfman Schneider Literary Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Murder Man

Tony Parsons. Minotaur, $24.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-250-05232-2

Parsons (Man and Boy) targets the snobbery of the British upper classes in his entertaining first foray into crime fiction. Maverick Det. Constable Max Wolfe becomes a hero after he disobeys orders and takes out a suicide bomber headed for a London railway station. Reassigned to homicide as a reward, Wolfe investigates the murders of investment banker Hugo Buck and homeless junkie Adam Jones, who turn out to have attended the same posh school, Potter’s Field, lorded over then as now by its headmaster, the haughty Peregrine Waugh. Parsons depicts the boarding school friends of the murder victims as upper-class clichés, but humorously so, sending up their lofty credentials. In this rarefied world, social class is often inversely proportional to morality. As the corpse count grows, Wolfe lets off steam by flirting with Buck’s seductive widow, drinking triple espressos, walking his dog, and doting on his five-year-old daughter, whom he’s raising as a single father. Readers will hope to see more of him. Agent: Sloan Harris, ICM. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Best American Mystery Stories 2014

Edited by Laura Lippman. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $14.95 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-0-544-03464-8

The 20 entries in series editor Otto Penzler’s 18th annual collection of crime stories impress with their quality, diversity, and almost complete absence of private detectives or policemen as main character. The many gems include “Almost Like Christmas,” a recently discovered, heart-wrenching story by the late Joseph Heller, as well as selections from such well-known mystery writers as James Lee Burke (“Getting Across Jordan”) and Megan Abbott (“My Heart Is Either Broken”). There are also strong offerings from mainstream authors, such as Russell Banks’s “Former Marine,” which is about an elderly bank robber and his sons, and Annie Proulx’s “Rough Deeds,” which reaches back to colonial times. Charlaine Harris displays her sly wit in “Small Kingdoms,” in which a high school principal defends her turf, and Matthew Neill Null’s “Gauley Season” takes readers wild river rafting in West Virginia, where not all dangers come from the water. Guest editor Lippman has chosen wisely. Agent: Nat Sobel, Sobel Weber. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Black Karma: A White Ginger Novel

Thatcher Robinson. Prometheus Books/Seventh Street, $15.95 trade paper (275p) ISBN 978-1-61614-003-8

At the start of Robinson’s entertaining sequel to 2013’s White Ginger, Bai Jiang, a souxun (finder of lost people), agrees to help the SFPD’s Inspector Kelly locate Daniel Chen, a possibly illegal Chinese immigrant who was involved in a recent shoot-out in a trendy San Francisco neighborhood that left three persons dead. In her quest for Chen, Bai must contend with a drunken cop straight out of central casting; a vicious Latino gang; a marriage offer from the rich but insufferable Howard (via his dominating mother); and her inability to resist Jason, a gang boss and father of her 13-year-old daughter. The dialogue is a little too flip, the devil-may-care attitude toward wealth too much the stuff of fantasy, and the conclusion anticlimactic, but there’s something wonderfully appealing about Bai—a combination of a knife-throwing ninja warrior, a fairy godmother, and Wonder Woman. Agent: Kimberley Cameron, Kimberley Cameron & Associates. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Helsinki Noir

Edited by James Thompson. Akashic, $15.95 trade paper (280p) ISBN 978-1-61775-241-4

The 14 stories in this Akashic noir anthology provide a bizarre and gruesome window into this outwardly tranquil and snow-covered city of Helsinki. True fans of the macabre will enjoy some of the more disturbing tales, such as Jukka Petäjä’s “Snowy Sarcophagus,” in which the bodies of two women are discovered preserved in life-size snowmen, and Antti Tuomainen’s “The Script,” which told from the point of view of a Finnish film and television producer who also happens to be a serial rapist. The vignette-like entries range in quality, from the stereotypical murder-for-the-inheritance scheme in Joe L. Murr’s “The Silent Woman” to the original and eccentric take on Christmas in which a female security guard disguises herself as Santa Claus to expose the thieves among the staff in Leena Lehtolainen’s “Kiss of Santa.” Readers should be prepared to keep the lights on at night after finishing this unnerving collection. Sadly, editor and contributor Thompson, an American who lived in Finland, died Aug. 2, 2014. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Down on Cyprus Avenue

Paul Charles. Dufour, $29 (288p) ISBN 978-0-8023-1358-4

Irish author Charles (A Pleasure to Do Death with You) launches his new Brendy McCusker series with this twist-filled tale of betrayal and revenge. McCusker, a retired detective inspector and contract employee of the Belfast police, assists Det. Insp. Lily O’Carroll with the kidnapping case of two Internet entrepreneurs, brothers Ryan and Lawrence O’Neill. In addition, McCusker leads the investigation into the murder of 33-year-old Adam Whitlock, an American lawyer whose attacker nearly decapitated him. Suspects are initially difficult to find, but with the help of diligent Det. Sgt. Willie John Barr, McCusker uncovers secrets in Adam’s past—and his millionaire father’s—that could provide motive. The two crimes are tied together for an unexpected resolution. The banter between McCusker and O’Carroll, whose desperation to find a man leads to bad dates and philosophical musings, effectively acquaints readers with their backstories and struggles. Engaging secondary characters, such as Barr, and a hint of romance at the novel’s end are a plus. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Wink of an Eye

Lynn Chandler Willis. Minotaur, $24.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-05319-0

The real-life town of Wink, Tex., provides the setting for Willis’s promising debut, winner of the Minotaur/PWA Best First Private Eye Novel Competition. PI Gypsy Moran, on the run from some trouble in Las Vegas, returns home to Wink, where 12-year-old Tatum McCallen asks him to look into the supposed suicide of his father, Ryce, a deputy with the Winkler County Sheriff’s Department. Gypsy is reluctant to pursue the matter, until he learns more about Ryce’s death—and of the earlier nonfatal shooting of Tatum’s grandfather, retired deputy Burke McCallen, as well as the uninvestigated disappearance of eight girls, all children of illegal immigrants. Gypsy’s old flame Claire Kinley lends a hand, as does stunning and ambitious reporter Sophia Ortez. Gypsy suspects a couple of deputies are involved in the crimes, but can’t tell whether Sheriff Gaylord Denny is involved or just incompetent. Readers will want to see more of Gypsy, a nice combination of brains, brawn, and bravery. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/29/2014 | Details & Permalink

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