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Liberators: A Novel of the Coming Global Collapse

James Wesley, Rawles. Dutton, $26.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-525-95391-3

Bestseller Rawles’s rousing fifth after-the-apocalypse thriller (after 2013’s Expatriates) finds America headed into “the Crunch,” where inflation is above 100% and rioters are wreaking havoc in all the major cities. A group of allies, including Phil Adams, a Defense Intelligence Agency counterintelligence case officer, and Ray McGregor, an Afghanistan war vet, determine to leave the east coast for destinations where they hope to ride out the coming breakdown of society. After a long trek, they reach British Columbia and settle in to battle invaders—first the French, then the Chinese. Supporters of the “prepper” movement and readers fond of endless weapon descriptions will lap up every detail, from how to ready their “bug-out” bags to building deadly improvised devices. Those who don’t have an antipathy to the government, the school system, gays, and the U.N. may want to stay away. Rawles is the founder and editor of SurvivalBlog.com, the nation’s most popular survivalist blog. Agent: Robert Gottlieb, Trident Media Group. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/22/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Blue Warrior

Mike Maden. Putnam, $26.95 (416p) ISBN 978-0-399-16739-3

Techno thriller fans will welcome Maden’s episodic second Troy Pearce novel (after 2013’s Drone), which combines grunt-level action, advanced cyber warfare, and plenty of high-tech weaponry. Troy, the CEO of Pearce Systems, a company specializing in drone operations, is more comfortable in the field than behind a desk. His work takes him to a number of hot spots around the globe, in particular to Mali, where the Chinese plan to gain control of important rare earth elements. His trip to Mali at the behest of former U.S. president Margaret Myers, a friend of Troy’s, to rescue a wounded American on a secret mission there, lands him in the middle of a nasty fight between rebel forces led by Mossa Ag Alla, the Tuareg known as the Blue Warrior, and highly trained Chinese soldiers led by the ruthless Guo Jun. Maden handles cutting edge technology and the ancient Tuareg culture with equal dexterity. Author tour. Agent: David Hale Smith, Inkwell Management. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/22/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Handsome Man’s De Luxe Cafe

Alexander McCall Smith. Pantheon, $24.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-307-91154-4

As usual, the problems that Precious Ramotswe tackles in Smith enjoyable 15th No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency novel (after 2013’s The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon) are more the province of a therapist/counselor than of a cop. Mma Ramotswe’s longtime assistant, Grace Makutsi, now a partner in their detective agency, hopes her good fortune will transfer to a new business venture, a restaurant whose name is the book’s title. In the main plot line, the owner of a Botswana office supplies company retains the detective agency to help ascertain the identity of an amnesiac woman, whose uncertain status puts her at risk for deportation. Meanwhile, Mma Ramotswe’s husband, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, must make a difficult business decision, but that only provides his wife with yet another chance to display her sympathy for almost every living creature. Series fans will be moved by a supporting character’s growth, and newcomers will be charmed by the gentle humor. Nine-city author tour. Agent: Robin Straus, Robin Straus Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/22/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Wolf in Winter: A Charlie Parker Thriller

John Connolly. Emily Bestler/Atria, $26 (416p) ISBN 978-1-4767-0318-3

Connolly’s absorbing 12th Charlie Parker novel (after 2013’s The Wrath of Angels) finds the PI, based in Portland, Maine, still on the hunt for the serial killer known as the Collector, with his sidekicks—and comic relief—Angel and Louis in tow. Meanwhile, the seeming suicide of one of the city’s better known homeless men, Jude, diverts his attention. Before Jude’s death, Parker was intent on tracking down his estranged, wayward daughter, Annie, to try to reestablish a connection. The investigative trail leads to the wealthy, isolated town of Prosperous, Maine. Sparks—and bullets—fly when Parker starts poking his nose into the deeper secrets of Prosperous, where he finds out fast that some secrets are worth killing for. A compellingly flawed hero and a detail-rich plot make for another satisfying read, though the strong supernatural vein won’t appeal to every crime fiction fan. Agent: Darley Anderson, Darley Anderson Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/22/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Delta

Tony Park. St. Martin’s, $27.99 (480p) ISBN 978-1-250-05558-3

Australian author Park (Safari) makes his U.S. debut with this ambitious African thriller about plans to bomb an enormous dam in Botswana. Mercenary Sonja Kurtz, an ex-British soldier with a troubled personal past, agrees to carry out the job on behalf of a shadowy assortment of Western tourism operators who make a healthy living from the region’s swamps and waterways. Soon, Kurtz finds herself trapped amid competing personal and professional interests, including those of her boss, the duplicitous Martin Steele; former lover and resort owner Sterling Smith; and the ruggedly handsome Sam Chapman, host of an American TV wildlife show that’s filming in the area. Kurtz’s conflicted feelings about the job complicate matters further, as does her respect for Africa’s traditions and pristine beauty. Park excels at capturing the wilds of the continent, as well as its political and commercial pressures. The arrogant, self-righteous Kurtz is often hard to root for, yet she’s strangely sympathetic. Agent: Isobel Dixon, Blake Friedmann Literary Agency (U.K.). (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/22/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Empire of Night: A Christopher Marlowe Cobb Thriller

Robert Olen Butler. Grove/Atlantic/Mysterious, $26 (416p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2323-7

Set on the cusp of America’s involvement in WWI, Butler’s exciting third Christopher Marlowe Cobb novel (after 2013’s The Star of Istanbul) finds the American journalist-turned-spy not only deep in enemy territory in Berlin but paired with an unlikely ally: his mother, famed stage actress Isabel Cobb. Both mother and son target Sir Albert Stockman, a member of the British parliament whose German ancestry makes him a potential spy. As Isabel woos Stockman with her gender-bending performance of Hamlet in London and Berlin, Cobb must work his way in posing as an American journalist with German sympathies. Where Stockman’s loyalties lie is clear, but Butler does a commendable job teasing out the details of the man’s overarching, and terrifying, plan. The period details are spot on, and though readers even vaguely familiar with the history will put the pieces together, this tale of shifting allegiances and worldwide consequences enthralls. Agent: Warren Frazier, John Hawkins & Associates. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/22/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Dick Francis’s Damage

Felix Francis. Putnam, $26.95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-399-16822-2

Francis’s fourth solo outing (after 2013’s Dick Francis’s Refusal) ranks with the best of his late father’s thrillers set in the British horse racing world. At the Cheltenham Racetrack in Gloucestershire, Jeff Hinkley, an investigator for the British Horseracing Authority, spots ex-trainer Matthew Unwin, who’s been barred from the track for horse doping. Unwin approaches a bookie and, without warning, slashes the man’s throat. The murder is open-and-shut, though Unwin’s motive is unclear. Meanwhile, an extortionist, who calls himself Leonardo, reveals that he was responsible for drugging almost all the horses who raced in the Gold Cup, and demands £5 million in exchange for not destroying the integrity of the sport. Jeff takes on the job of stopping Leonardo, but he must also deal with a family illness and a narcotics charge against his sister’s stepson. The compelling main storyline deserves high marks for originality—no mean feat given the almost 50 novels the author’s father wrote. Agent: Philippa Brophy, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/22/2014 | Details & Permalink

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A Billion Ways to Die

Chris Knopf. Permanent, $29 (272p) ISBN 978-1-57962-363-0

At the start of Knopf’s highly inventive third mystery featuring market researcher Arthur Cathcart (after 2013’s Cries of the Lost), armed men seize Cathcart and girlfriend Natsumi Fitzgerald from their sailboat and threaten them with torture unless they reveal the location of a missing billion dollars, of which they know nothing. A temporary reprieve allows the couple, who have been living in the Caribbean under aliases, to assess their situation and conclude that they will never be safe until they get out from under the (false) charges against them back in the States, including fraud, embezzlement, and murder. Some actions they take are as basic as shaking someone tailing them or adopting a disguise. At other times, they must deal with “the ineluctable modality of the calculable.” Lending a hand are former FBI agent Shelly Gross, cyber geek Strider, and Cathcart’s doctor sister, Evelyn. Throughout, Cathcart proves as nimble on his feet as he is quick witted. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/22/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Lovers Set Down Their Spoons

Heather A. Slomski. Univ. of Iowa, $16 trade paper (146p) ISBN 978-1-60938-282-7

The characters in this debut story collection from Slomski, winner of the 2014 Iowa Short Fiction Award, may have wandered out of an Edward Hopper painting for all their quiet, lonely dignity. The titular lovers are merely a distraction, sitting one table over from the narrator, who is calmly trying to hold it together through an uncomfortable dinner with her husband and another couple. A woman breaks up with her boyfriend after attending an art gallery opening in “Correction.” In “Octaves,” an old man is reminded of domestic squabbles at his corner store. Though civility pervades in the 15 stories, some of which are only a page or two in length, all this composure has a dampening effect on the characters. In “Neighbors,” we peek behind the curtains to find smart people disagreeing reasonably—Finn, a set designer, is comforted that “he had planned every detail,” and only upset because eventually “he’d have to take the set apart, dismantling his flawless, unmarred world.” The same could be said for Slomski: she finds a way to get strong and interesting characters in a room together, but it feels like a bit more oxygen should be let in. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/22/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Real Santa

William Hazelgrove. Koehler Books, $26.95 (244p) ISBN 978-1-940192-96-3

This sometimes humorous and often maudlin yuletide novel from Hazelgrove (The Pitcher) concerns an exuberant father going all out to prove to his young daughter that Santa Claus is a real entity. Fifty-year-old George Kronenfeldt, a dogged bridge engineer living in Chicago, has been laid off 12 days before Christmas. More trouble follows when George learns his nine-year-old daughter, Megan, has serious doubts about Santa Claus. Rather than do the grown-up thing and admit Saint Nick is a myth, George decides to organize an elaborate hoax on Christmas Eve. George is also driven by the guilt he suffers from neglecting his children, although his spoiled son, Jeremy, and other daughter, Jamie, are almost adults. His patient wife, Mary, goes along with George’s big idea as he recruits his father, Kronenfeldt Sr., and Dean Sanders, a journeyman Australian movie director who likes to shout the exclamation “stupendous,” into the masquerade. Finally, George rents nine flatulent reindeers from Big Bill McGruff, and Mary’s patience finally runs out when her husband runs up a debt to the tune of a hundred grand to finance the spectacle. Meantime, George’s nemesis, Mrs. Barbara Worthington, who is Megan’s 70-year-old schoolteacher, delights in crushing her students’s joyful anticipation of Father Christmas. Hazelgrove’s lively, improbable narrative will appeal to the readers in the mood for holiday fiction. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/22/2014 | Details & Permalink

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