Behind the Walls: A Harper Jennings Mystery

Merry Jones. Severn, $28.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8118-2

Jones’s atmospheric second thriller featuring second Iraq War vet Harper Jennings (after 2011’s Summer Session) starts stronger than it finishes. In 1989, Cornell grad student Carla Prentiss is inventorying pre-Columbian artifacts in a professor’s mansion, rumored to be haunted by a 1920s starlet’s ghost, when someone or something fatally attacks her. In 2011, history repeats itself. A killer rips out the heart of Zina Salim, Harper’s fellow Ph.D. candidate and rival within Cornell’s archeology department, who was cataloguing the same professor’s collection. Harper’s husband, Hank, feels guilty, since shortly before, Salim came to the Jenningses for help, fearing that a shape-shifting being known as a Nahual was after her. The author keeps readers off-balance throughout, leaving the question of whether the killings are natural or supernatural unresolved until the end. At the climax, Harper proves less self-reliant than some might wish. Agent: Rebecca Straus, McIntosh and Otis. (Apr.)