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The Lotus Cross

Ray Anderson. Dark Planet, $16.99 ISBN 978-1-937632-86-1

Characters and plot are both a bit underdone in Anderson’s religious thriller. When a Ugandan rebel guns down the eight-month pregnant wife of Michael Drake, a British doctor working in Africa, Michael managed to deliver his daughter, Kyla, from his wife’s lifeless body. Four years later, Kyla’s uncle reveals to Michael that he possesses an ancient scroll that contains a description of the “apostle Thomas preserving the blood of the resurrected Christ” in a vessel known as the Lotus Cross. Michael’s quest for the relic takes on more than academic significance when Kyla is diagnosed with an advanced and fatal brain cancer. His hopes for his child’s survival hinge on finding the Lotus Cross, extracting the DNA “of the risen Christ,” and using that genetic material to develop a cure. He and his archeologist love-interest, Professor Julia Carter, must contend with a mole in British intelligence and a murderous Russian, who dispatches her victims with an ice pick. Readers will find few surprises. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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A Killer Past

Maris Soule. Hale (IPG, dist.), $29.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7198-1490-7

A predictable plot and one-dimensional supporting characters mar this crime novel from Soule (Haunted). No one in quiet Rivershore, Mich., knows of 74-year-old Mary Harrington’s past. The widow with a grown son and one granddaughter moved there some 44 years before to open a bookstore and marry the town dentist. But her training as an assassin for a shadowy government agency comes back when local thugs try to rob her. The still-fit Mary fights back, leaving her assailants battered. At first, Sgt. Jack Rossini doubts that an old woman could beat up these punks, but his curiosity intensifies when he can’t find any trace of Mary before she came to Rivershore. Meanwhile, gang members continue to harass the feisty Mary. Rossini proves not to be an insightful cop, but an incompetent busybody who seems to lack any other cases. The arrival of a former flame from Mary’s past adds more clichés to this weak story. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Killing III: Based on the BAFTA Award–Winning TV Series Written by Søren Sveistrup

David Hewson. Pan (IPG, dist.), $13.95 trade paper (432p) ISBN 978-1-4472-4625-1

Hewson’s third novelization of the Danish TV series (after The Killing II) will appeal mainly to viewers of that series. Soon after Emilie, the nine-year-old daughter of Robert Zeuthen, the managing owner of a shipping conglomerate, disappears into the forest surrounding the family estate, a masked figure appears on Emilie’s phone, which the police find in the girl’s rucksack, and speaks vaguely of debts owed. Meanwhile, Det. Sarah Lund suspects that the murder of two men aboard a ship may be related to an assassination threat to Prime Minister Troels Hartmann, which brings in Mathias Borch of PET, the national security intelligence agency, who thinks Zeuthen may be the real target. Hewson tracks the political maneuvering between Hartmann and his opponents in great detail. He does the same with the clash between the aims of PET and Lund’s investigation aimed at saving Emilie. Readers unfamiliar with the large cast of characters may feel lost. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Second to Nun: A Giulia Driscoll Mystery

Alice Loweecey. Henery (henerypress.com), $15.95 trade paper (282p) ISBN 978-1-941962-93-0

In Loweecey’s diverting follow-up to Nun Too Soon (2015), B&B owner MacAllister “Mac” Stone approaches former nun–turned–private eye Giulia Driscoll when strange events occur at her B&B and nearby lighthouse at Conneaut Lake in Pennsylvania. Mac worries that the legendary family ghost wants her to leave, but Giulia and her cop husband, Frank, believe that earthly motives are more likely involved, such as searches for a reputed hidden treasure or attempts to grab Mac’s desirable property. She and Frank stay at the B&B to assess guests and townspeople as possible suspects. Soon episodes of theft, vandalism, fire, and mysterious sobbing complicate Giulia’s investigation, and a séance conducted by a dubious medium causes the PI to wonder if the so-called supernatural incidents are actually ploys by Mac to drum up business. Readers will enjoy the lively interplay among Giulia, her husband, her detective agency staff, and her fellow B&B denizens. Agent: Kent Wolf, Lippincott Massie McQuilkin. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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When the Devil’s Idle: A Greek Islands Mystery

Leta Serafim. Coffeetown (coffeetown-
press.com), $13.95 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-60381-998-5

This classic fair-play whodunit, the excellent sequel to 2014’s The Devil Takes Half (Serafim’s first Greek Islands mystery), takes Yiannis Patronas, the endearing chief police officer on the island of Chios, to Patmos, where someone has bashed in the skull of Walter Bechtel, a 90-year-old German, in the garden of his foster son Gunther’s holiday residence—and carved a swastika on the victim’s forehead. When Patronas asks Gunther about his foster father’s past, Gunther becomes defensive and claims that his papa was “just an ordinary man” and did not commit any atrocities during WWII. Serafim does an especially good job of integrating Greece’s current financial struggles into the story line, and Patronas’s colleagues, especially an eccentric priest with a taste for seafood, lighten what otherwise could have been a very grim tale without minimizing the underlying horror of the background to the crime. Agent: Jeannie Loiacono, Loiacono Literary Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Twenty-Nine and a Half Reasons: A Rose Gardner Mystery

Denise Grover Swank. Crooked Lane (crookedlanebooks.com), $24.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-62953-220-2

Swank’s delightful second Rose Gardner mystery (after Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes) finds the daffy, accident-prone Rose up to some risky hijinks after she has one of her “visions” in the Fenton County, Ark., courthouse. In a quandary over whether to move to Little Rock to be nearer to police detective Joe Simmons, her boyfriend, the 24-year-old Rose gets a brief reprieve: jury duty. Running late because of parking problems, a broken heel, a security scan delay, plus the ladies’ room being cleaned, Rose takes care of urgent business in the men’s. While there, she has a psychic vision and realizes that the man on trial is not guilty. Swank makes affable Rose and company—Joe, sister Violet, dog Muffy, and nosy neighbor Mildred—so charming and diverting that we’re willing to overlook minor improbabilities and just enjoy this romantic suspense ride-along. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Big Bout

Michael Lister. Pulpwood (pulpwoodpress.com), $26.99 (232p) ISBN 978-1-888146-51-6

A bit too much is going on in Lister’s loosely plotted fourth crime novel featuring Panama City, Fla., PI Jimmy Riley (after 2014’s The Big Hello). In late 1943, Miki Matsumoto, a “beautiful Japanese teen” who has been in hiding since escaping from an internment camp, is working as Riley’s secretary in gratitude for his rescuing her from a local beach where she was repeatedly raped. Miki’s sinister uncle threatens to kill the gumshoe and his girlfriend, Lauren Lewis, unless they disclose Miki’s location. Meanwhile, a boxing manager hires Riley to protect Fighting Freddy Freeman, whose life has been threatened on the eve of a bout that could land him a chance to take on heavyweight champ Joe Louis. When Freddy’s opponent, Gentleman Jeff Bennett, disappears, another client hires Riley to find Bennett. The nonwhite characters rise above stereotype, though Lister sometimes overdoes the dialect (“He ah very wealthy. Make ah good ah husband for dishonored girl. She ah be treated rike ah royarty”). Agent: Amy Moore-Benson, AMB Literary Management. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra: A Baby Ganesh Agency Investigation

Vaseem Khan. Hachette/Redhook, $16 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-316-38682-1

A faulty heart has forced the early retirement of Mumbai’s Insp. Ashwin Chopra, the hero of Khan’s winning debut, but the discovery of a young man drowned in a puddle of water upsets the policeman’s last day on the job. Neither Chopra’s superior nor successor has any interest in investigating, though an autopsy later reveals that the victim had alcohol and barbiturates in his blood. Retired or not, Chopra decides he has to get to the bottom of the man’s suspicious death. Meanwhile, Chopra has inherited a baby elephant, soon named Ganesh, from his favorite uncle. Initially listless, Ganesh perks up once he begins to accompany Chopra around the city in what becomes a murder inquiry. Khan’s affection for Mumbai and its residents adds to the novel’s charm, though one hopes he’ll be more careful with the details in the sequel (e.g., women would never wear lotus blossoms in their hair; they’re too heavy). (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Vienna

William S. Kirby. Forge, $26.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-7653-7583-4

The pairing of unusual amateur detectives is the best part of Kirby’s first novel, an offbeat mystery. In Brussels, Belgium, Justine Am, an American med student turned supermodel, has a one-night stand, on a bet, with a woman she knows only as Vienna, who turns out to be a socially awkward savant. Justine has no intention of prolonging the acquaintance, but circumstances dictate otherwise after Justine’s latest boyfriend, Grant Eriksson, is found shot to death in her hotel suite, and the police call in Vienna for questioning. When news of Vienna’s fling with the celebrity supermodel reaches the press, Vienna loses her job, and Justine takes her in out of guilt. Impressed by Vienna’s deductive abilities, Justine teams with her to solve Grant’s murder. En route to a solution, the duo must learn why some statues that Justine posed in front of moved overnight, and they must also crack an obscure code. Some readers may find the eccentricity of the leads insufficient to carry the plot. Agent: Linn Prentis, Linn Prentis Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Darling Dahlias and the Eleven O’Clock Lady

Susan Wittig Albert. Berkley Prime Crime, $25.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-425-26062-3

The discovery of the body of telephone switchboard operator Rona Jean Hancock, sprawled across a car’s front seat with a silk stocking wound tightly around her neck, propels bestseller Albert’s thoroughly enjoyable sixth Darling Dahlias mystery (after 2014’s The Darling Dahlias and the Silver Bush). Rona Jean (aka the Eleven O’Clock lady because her shift ended at that hour) may have been friendlier than she should have been with menfolk, and she had a nasty habit of listening in on phone conversations, but she didn’t deserve to be murdered. The new sheriff of Darling, Ala., Buddy Norris, who’s conducting his first major investigation, has plenty of suspects, including two local boys as well as men from the nearby Civilian Conservation Corps camp. The members of the Darling Dahlias garden club help to unearth the truth. Albert does a beautiful job of blending a whodunit with a vivid portrait of an idyllic Depression-era Southern town. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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