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The Savior

Tony Daniel and David Drake. Baen, $25 (416p) ISBN 978-1-4767-3670-9

The 10th installment in Daniel and Drake’s military SF series (after The Heretic) returns to the world of Duisberg, where technological innovation is prevented by an ancient computer worshiped as a god. Only Maj. Abel Dashian, who shares his brain with both a brilliant general from another world and a supercomputer with its own agenda, can release his people from the Stasis. While the cost in blood is high and the descriptions of early gunpowder age tactics are solid, the authors make things far too easy for Abel’s side, militarily and otherwise. Even those without Abel’s unique benefits, like his smart and capable lover, Mahaut, have conflicts break constantly in their favor. The common troops also easily accept the use of forbidden technology, undermining the concept of the world being hamstrung by anti-tech propaganda. The result is conceptually intriguing but unrealistic. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Maplecroft: The Borden Dispatches, Book 1

Cherie Priest. Roc, $15 trade paper (448p) ISBN 978-0-451-46697-6

Lizbeth “Lizzie” Andrew Borden wields her axe against Lovecraftian entities in this terrifying and powerful series launch by fan favorite Priest (the Clockwork Century series). Two years after Lizzie infamously slew her mother and stepfather, she and her consumptive, scholarly older sister, Emma, remain in their hometown of Fall River, Mass., in an isolated and modified home called Maplecroft. Lizzie spends countless hours in her basement laboratory, trying to understand what transformed the Bordens into horrifying creatures, while protecting and caring for Emma and conducting a love affair with actress Nance O’Neil. Then Emma, who poses as “Dr. E.A. Jackson” to contribute to the men-only world of science, sends a biological sample to colleague Phillip Zollicoffer at Miskatonic University, with terrible consequences. Readers will be intrigued by the weird monsters and 19th-century science, but the story is really carried by the characters’ emotional dynamics, especially those between the Borden sisters. Agent: Jennifer Jackson, Donald Maass Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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House Immortal

Devon Monk. Roc, $7.99 mass market (368p) ISBN 978-0-451-46736-2

Eleven color-coded Houses control the technology and resources of Earth. The 12th House, House Brown, is democratic but has little real power. Many people find freedom only by living hidden from the Houses’ movers and shakers. Matilda Case has spent her life on an isolated farm, carefully avoiding notice, but all that is for naught when a bleeding Abraham Seventh appears at her door. Abraham is one of the galvanized—a group of 12 immortals created centuries ago—and Matilda appears to also be galvanized, even though she’s not one of the 12. The secret of Matilda’s origins makes her a treasure beyond compare, and it also makes her the key to megalomaniac Slater Orange’s plan to rule the world forever. Monk’s corporatist feudal future is painted in broad strokes, and while the technology that drives the plot is uninhibited by any sort of plausibility, the melodramatic story moves with such energy that readers will be inclined to forgive its slip-ups. Like Monk’s Allie Beckstrom, Matilda has the misfortune to be sought after by powerful, immoral men; she has been dealt a no-win hand, and the entertainment is in watching how she plays it out. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Fall of Night

Jonathan Maberry. St. Martin’s Griffin, $15.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-1-250-03494-6

Maberry continues his zombie apocalypse series with this harrowing, gory adventure, which picks up immediately after the events of 2011’s Dead of Night. Caught at the epicenter of a viral outbreak that turns humans into shambling monsters, police officer Dez Fox and reporter Billy Trout must try to keep hundreds of survivors alive. Mishandling by the military and the government allows undead serial killer Homer Gibbon, originator of the plague, to slip through this quarantine and doom humanity. While the depiction of the collapse of society is textbook and the condemnation of the government unsubtle, Maberry excels at humanizing the plague’s victims, both living and dead. Naturally, readers shouldn’t get too attached to any specific character. Overlapping characters explicitly connect the story to Maberry’s Joe Ledger books and anticipate his Rot & Ruin YA series, proving that while the immediate outcome is bleak, there’s still hope for the future. Messy, tense, and highly atmospheric, this is a perfect example of zombie action. Agent: Sara Crowe, Harvey Klinger. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Of Merlot and Murder: A Tangled Vines Mystery

Joni Folger. Midnight Ink (www.midnightink.com), $14.99 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-0-7387-4076-8

There’s more foul play in the South Texas wine region in Folger’s lively and entertaining follow-up to her 2013 debut, Grapes of Death. It’s the Lost Pines Food and Wine Festival, and horticulturist Elise Beckett is not about to sit still when Miss Abby, her beloved grandmother, becomes a suspect in the death of Divia Larson, the vindictive wife of Miss Abby’s ex-boyfriend Garrett Larson. The death of chef Grace Vanderhouse, who had hidden ties to Divia, follows. Despite warnings from her boyfriend, hunky Deputy Jackson “Jax” Landry, Elise dives headfirst into the case, corralling her sister, brother, and best friend into snooping with her. The Beckett family is close despite their frequent bickering, and their dialogue rings true. The wine background is also handled well—enough for verisimilitude without overwhelming Folger’s well wrought whodunit. Agent: Christine Wittholm, Book Cents Literary Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Bright Hopes: A St. Rose Quilting Bee Mystery

Annette Mahon. Five Star Publishing, $25.95 (310p) ISBN 978-1-4328-2950-6

As Mahon’s agreeable fifth cozy featuring the St. Rose Seniors Guild (after 2012’s St. Rose Goes Hawaiian) begins, a series of nightly explosions disturbs the peace of Scottsdale, Ariz., and its residents. After quilter Maggie Browne’s police officer son, Michael, is injured in the latest explosion, her fellow quilters in the guild rally to find the parties responsible, be they teenage troublemakers or, even worse, terrorists. As the blasts become even more serious, a veritable alphabet soup of law enforcement agencies intervene, but the quilters remain in the thick of the action. Maggie and her friends realize that they may be in over their heads, however, after the bombings cause a power outage, casting the neighborhood around St. Rose Catholic Church into darkness. Mahon ably balances the violence of these crimes with her likable cast of seniors, whose flair for gossip, knack for gentle questioning, and cumulative experience stand them in good stead as investigators. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Futures

John Barker. PM (IPG, dist.), $17.95 ISBN 978-1-60486-961-3

British author Barker (Bending the Bars, a memoir of his time in prison) ventures into fiction with this acerbic look at Thatcher’s Britain. In 1987 London, posh stock traders mix comfortably with polished criminals, and cocaine fuels already out-of-control self-confidence. The profit potential of a grand drug deal is irresistible, particularly with the advent of the cocaine futures market. Single mother Carol Curbishley, a minor drug dealer attracted to the riches of a life of crime, is pulled into the middle of one such deal, despite her fear of the consequences it may have on her and her nine-year-old daughter, Sheila, if she’s caught. Carol faces some difficult choices when the stock market crashes and a hurricane hits London. Some unconventional punctuation diminishes readability, but Barker’s characters ring true and his story is an enthralling portrait of an era whose legacy still haunts us. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Those Who Feel Nothing: The Fifth Brighton Mystery

Peter Guttridge. Severn, $28.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8360-5

Guttridge’s fifth Brighton mystery (after 2013’s The Devil’s Moon) combines a straightforward police procedural, told in third-person omniscient voice, with a nebulous second-person narrative, about a vengeance-obsessed man tracking down the mercenaries who killed his wife in Cambodia decades ago. When a prominent member of the Brighton community—the director of the Royal Pavilion—gets caught in a scandal involving the unearthing of long-dead female corpses, the police, headed by the formerly disgraced but newly elected Police and Crime Commissioner Bob Watts, discover a cache of invaluable relics looted from Cambodia’s Angkor Wat hidden in the tunnels beneath the Pavilion. As Watts and crew investigate further, the connection between the two seemingly unrelated story lines becomes evident. The taut, richly detailed plot will carry readers along until the rushed and disconnected conclusion. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Front Seat Passenger

Pascal Garnier, trans. from the French by Jane Aitken. Gallic (www.gallicbooks.com), $13.95 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-908313-63-8

Fabien Delorme, the protagonist of this exquisite noir from Garnier (Moon in a Dead Eye), returns home to Paris after a painful visit with his elderly father in Normandy to find the house empty. Fabien doesn’t mind the unexpected absence of his wife, Sylvie, from whom he’s grown apart. Then a phone message changes everything. He’s shocked to learn that Sylvie had a lover, Martial Arnoult, and that the pair was killed in an auto accident in Dijon over the weekend. When Fabien goes to the Dijon hospital to identify the body, he sees a woman leaving the hospital morgue whom he later identifies as Arnoult’s widow, Martine. Adrift without Sylvie, Fabien begins to stalk Martine, and gradually insinuates himself into her life and that of her older constant companion, Madeleine, with surprising, disastrous results. Witty prose (e.g., “Shit... I’m a widower now, a different person. What do I wear?”) will help win Garnier (1949–2010) new fans in the U.S. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Butterfly Skin

Sergey Kuznetsov, trans. from the Russian by Andrew Bromfield. Titan (www.titanbooks.com), $14.95 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-1-783290-24-6

In the arresting opening chapter of this serial killer novel from journalist Kuznetsov, a murderer describes fantasies he used to have as a child, including one involving a “place in the subway where hell seeped through into the tunnel in a thin layer of horror—and the trains passed through it so quickly that only really sensitive people noticed.” Despite this hint of the supernatural, the horrors that follow are all of the excruciatingly physical variety, in particular the graphic images of violence against women that run through the murderer’s mind. Meanwhile, 23-year-old Ksenia Ionova, the news editor at a small online Moscow journal, is into sadomasochism. Those expecting the paths of the killer and Ksenia to cross won’t be disappointed. The fainthearted had best stay away. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/25/2014 | Details & Permalink

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