cover image A Stranger Lies There

A Stranger Lies There

Stephen Santogrossi, . . St. Martin's Minotaur, $24.95 (290pp) ISBN 978-0-312-36441-0

In Santogrossi's engrossing, dark debut (winner of the St. Martin's Press/Malice Domestic contest for Best First Traditional Mystery Novel), the curiously endearing protagonist, Tim Ryder, wakes up one morning to find a dead body on his Palm Springs, Calif., lawn. Ryder, a carpenter, wonders if the murder is connected to testimony he gave against a co-conspirator in a criminal case 30 years earlier, when he did time for a bungled robbery, a misguided attempt to raise money for anti–Vietnam War protests. With the next current-day casualty, the matter becomes more urgent, and even more personal, and Tim is determined to find the killer. On occasion, Santogrossi veers off into preachy description, breaking the cardinal show-don't-tell rule, but his well-drawn characters, unexpected resolution and sharp casual insights make for an energizing read. (May)