Cat lovers—perhaps more than mystery enthusiasts—will jump at prolific (she's written almost 40 books) Marian Babson's latest cozy, The Cat Next Door, in which Margot, a freelance photographer, must determine whether or not her cousin Chloe is guilty of killing her twin sister, Claudia. Apparently as troubling as Chloe's potential fratricide is the fact that Tikki, that haughty, gorgeous Abyssinian, won't come home until the case gets solved—and it'll take another murder for that to happen. (St. Martin's Minotaur, $21.95 192p ISBN 0-312-20925-8)
Have all the years that Susanna, Lady Appleton spent experimenting with poison herbs unleashed an evil that could account for all the dead bodies she encounters? No, Kathy Lynn Emerson's latest, Face Down Across the Sea, doesn't contain any element of the supernatural: instead it features a wealth of minuscule period details (which will be familiar to fans of the series); a group of 16th-century scholars attempting to discern England's rights to the New World; and the strong-minded heroine's investigations into a crucial missing transcript and murderer's motives. (St. Martin's Minotaur, $22.95 240p ISBN 0-312-28823-9)
Five Star (295 Kennedy Dr., Waterville, Maine 04901) introduces six new titles this month, half of them novels from reliable, midlevel mystery professionals. In M.R. Henderson's Victim, a woman trying to rebuild her life after her husband's murder is terrified to learn that his killer has recently been released and a key witness against him has just been stabbed—and when her daughter disappears, matters only get worse ($24.95 250p ISBN 0-7862-3930-1); quirky characters abound in Audrey Peterson's British village mystery, An Unmourned Death, a story of murder, family strife and courtroom drama as seen through the eyes of plucky late-19th-century sleuth and protofeminist Jasmine Malloy ($25.95 200p -3934-4); Shirley Kennett has Hawaii-based freelance journalist Casey Washington grappling with a mysterious troupe called The Six—whose members have names like Wrongful Death and who seem to be behind a spate of CEO murders—and her own lonely heart in Burning Rose($24.95 228p -3661-2).
Edgar-winner and Shamus-nominee Michael Collins offers stories written over the last four decades in Spies and Thieves, Cops and Killers, Etc., in which folks from the titular professions try to outwit one another in 17 brief, tautly written tales ($25.95 250p -3932-8); the novel A Night-Blooming Cereus—previously published under the pseudonym Joan Hadley—and four mildly witty, down-home mini-mysteries make up Death of a Romance Writer and Other Stories, by Agatha and Macavity awards—winner Joan Hess ($25.95 258p -3933-6); last but not least comes Stanley Cohen's energetic first collection, A Night in The Manchester Store and Other Stories, which includes a tale of "murder and floor coverings," an update on Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado" and winning thumbnail intros by the author himself. ($24.95 294p -3935-2)
Life imitates art, and Shakespeare's new play looks like a snuff film in Peter Tonkin's The Point of Death, the first installment of an Elizabethan crime series starring the heroic Master of Defence, Tom Musgrave. The author of the popular Mariner series (Thunder Bay) places Tom in the center of a murder investigation—Mercutio was fatally stabbed during the opening night of Romeo and Juliet—and the war between the two factions of the country's first secret service, in a riveting tale full of fast action and period diction (bring a glossary for terms like culverin, riever and dag). (Severn, $25.99 256p ISBN 0-7278-5723-1)
John Brady deftly weaves a tale of espionage, political intrigue and detective work set against the background of Ireland's pre—Peace Accord troubles in Unholy Ground, a reissue of the second Matt Minogue mystery, in which the Dublin inspector investigates the murder of a retired British customs agent. When the canny hero determines that the dead man was actually a spy, a world of intrigue opens up—the Brits are just as eager to conceal his activities as Minogue is to find his killer—in this complex and gracefully written street-level procedural. (Steerforth, $14.95 216p ISBN 1-58642-037-2)
A cheeky, spirited former actress with a talent for attracting trouble "the way billionaires attract supermodels" returns to her Connecticut hometown and hams her way into a job as the assistant to a handsome PI in Leslie O'Grady's The Grateful Undead. A teenage girl has disappeared, and it's up to Wanda Miranda LaFortuna to navigate a world of murder, disaffected adolescents, would-be vampires and her own Hollywood-sized ego. (Larcom [P.O. Box 161, Prides Crossing, Mass. 01965], $22 paper 200p ISBN 0-9678199-8-9)