Boxed and starred reviews indicate books of outstanding quality.
Boxed, unstarred reviews indicate books of special interest.

The Mangler of Malibu Canyon
Jennifer Colt. Broadway, $11.95 paper (352p) ISBN 0-7679-2012-0

After kicking some hijackers' butts on a plane arriving at LAX, PI twin sisters Kerry and Terry McAfee get on their pink Harley, zip onto the Pacific Coast Highway and cruise into Malibu for their second crime-solving romp (after 2005's The Butcher of Beverly Hills). Their wealthy great-aunt, Reba, and her middle-aged Ding Dong—addicted son, Robert, who's missing from a posh rehab facility, are in big trouble. After a headless corpse turns up rolled in a rug stashed in Reba's new Malibu digs and Robert surfaces with the matching head, both relatives are arrested and hustled off to jail. In their search for the real killer, the sleuthing sisters dodge a deadly over-the-hill TV actress, mobsters, New Age chicanery, far-out cosmic connections and a cheesy film producer. If the slaphappy plot defies believability, Kerry (the boy-crazy twin addicted to law enforcement types with big guns) and Terry (the twin who goes for leggy ladies) provide plenty of laughs. (June)

The Bookwoman's Last Fling: A Cliff Janeway NovelJohn Dunning. Scribner, $25 (352p) ISBN 0-7432-8945-5

Bestseller Dunning scores another triumph with his fifth mystery (after 2005's The Sign of the Book) to feature Cliff Janeway, a former homicide detective who has found a second career as an antiquarian book dealer but who hasn't quite lost his taste for police work. Janeway receives an invitation from wealthy horse trainer H.R. Geiger to come to Idaho to appraise his book collection, but by the time Janeway arrives, his host is dead. He winds up tracking down some rare volumes that have vanished and probing the decades-old death of Geiger's wife, a wealthy heiress who collected valuable juvenile fiction. When a fresh body turns up and Janeway himself almost falls victim to a killer, the bibliophile detective finds that his decision to pursue the truth puts him at odds with his longstanding significant other. Dunning's exceptional gifts at plotting and characterization should help win him many new readers, while the horse-racing angle is sure to lure Dick Francis fans. (May)

The Big BoomDominic Stansberry. St. Martin's Minotaur, $23.95 (240p) ISBN 0-312-32470-7

Dante Mancuso, the beak-nosed PI introduced in Edgar-winner Stansberry's Chasing the Dragon (2004), returns to prowl the bars and alleys of San Francisco's North Beach in this solid sequel, a dark, moody excursion into neo-noir. The dot-com boom sweeping the city cuts deep into the old Italian heart of the Beach, with longtime residents ready to sell high and move out, and newcomers desperate for enough money to grab a toehold. When a corpse found floating in the bay is identified as Angie Antonelli, a former lover of the detective, Dante confronts the victim's boss at a startup company and tracks down other employees who have moved on in the volatile job market. Soon the PI meets the crew of killers with a perverse fondness for drowning; he grosses one out with "that thing in the middle of his face…. a crime against nature." Stansberry offers his usual flawless evocation of place in another fine Chandleresque meditation on a world haunted by crime. (May)

The Dark End of TownJulia Pomeroy. Carroll & Graf, $23.95 (288p) ISBN 0-7867-1720-3

Overused plot points and underdeveloped characters mar Pomeroy's uneven debut, a contemporary mystery set in Bantam, N.Y., a small town with an alarmingly high body count. Amateur sleuths, unless they want irritated readers to yell at them, need a legitimate reason for poking into things, and they need to proceed sensibly. Abby Silvernale, a widowed 30-something waitress who works at a friend's restaurant, fails both tests. Readers don't learn enough about her to find convincing her willingness to hide in the shrubbery all night or to follow a suspected murderer on impulse. Abby's reluctance to involve the police endangers herself and others. Trapped in the restaurant kitchen with a psychopathic killer, she relies on the familiar device of keeping him talking in the hope help will soon arrive. Overall, the story feels fragmented and unfocused, and Abby isn't a strong enough protagonist to hold the scattered pieces together. (May)

Corpse Suzette: A Savannah Reid MysteryG.A. McKevett. Kensington, $22 (288p) ISBN 0-7582-0462-0

In McKevett's entertaining if predictable 11th Savannah Reid mystery (after 2005's Murder à la Mode), the California PI teams up with her police buddy, Dirk Coulter, to locate the titular Suzette Du Bois, a prominent plastic surgeon who went missing right before the grand opening of her new salon and surgery, Emerge. Suzette's business partner and ex-husband is desperate to locate her, because she has absconded with his money—lots of it. Savannah and Dirk must crack an anonymous offshore account and make a quick trip to a swanky resort island in their hunt for answers. Folded into the intrigue is a bit of social commentary, as full-figured Savannah gently critiques a beauty industry that values thinness and angles over girth and curves. (May)

Bishop's Reach: A Bay Tanner MysteryKathryn R. Wall. St. Martin's Minotaur, $24.95 (304p) ISBN 0-312-33795-7

Wall's winning sixth Bay Tanner mystery (after 2005's Resurrection Road) finds the Hilton Head, S.C., "inquiry agent" up to her lovely green eyeballs in clients with hidden agendas. When a two-year search by Bay's partner in her PI agency, Erik Whiteside, finally locates the black sheep brother of Miss Addie, an elderly lifelong friend of Bay's family, the brother's return to Hilton Head is the first clue in a tangle of criminal activities and murder. An attractive escort service employee enlists Bay's help to hunt down a rapist, and a Georgia socialite wants to locate her missing Prince Charming. When a badly beaten corpse shows up on the beachfront, the dead man may fit one or both of these bills. Digging deeper whisks Bay into a puzzle that stretches from the mainland to the Virgin Islands and involves both lowlifes and the monied aristocrats. Oozing Southern charm, this whodunit flows like hot molasses to a deliciously clever conclusion. (May)

The Prodigal SonKate Sedley. Severn, $28.95 (256p) ISBN 0-7278-6337-1

At the start of Sedley's solid medieval historical, the latest in her series to feature Roger the Chapman, the genial peddler discovers that he has a half-brother who has just been accused of a murder committed six years before. Roger's sense of justice and the nascent sibling bond drive him to leave his young family for Croxcombe Manor, the scene of the crime. There, he questions the widowed Dame Audrea Bellknapp, his brother's accuser. The sudden return of Audrea's long-banished son, Anthony, sets the already contentious household at odds. Anthony's shady dealings, womanizing and rudeness give nearly everyone at the manor cause to want him dead. The initially slow plot comes vividly into focus when someone finally does Anthony in. Sticklers may notice anachronisms in the book's treatment of 15th-century Britain, but the affection and color with which Sedley (The Burgundian's Tale) depicts Merrie Olde England, plus Roger's entertaining narration, will be enough to satisfy most readers. (May)

The Mote in Andrea's EyeDavid Niall Wilson. Five Star, $25.95 (285p) ISBN 1-59414-453-2

As a child, Andrea Jamieson watches her father die in a hurricane. As a grimly determined young woman running a government storm-fighting project, she falls hard for flyboy Phil Wicks, a retired navy pilot who figures dropping silver iodide on hurricanes beats working for the airlines. The two make a great team at work and at home until Phil flies out into a monster storm that vanishes in the Bermuda Triangle, taking him with it. Those who think of Wilson (The Temptation of Blood) as a horror writer may be surprised by the tender tone of this unabashed descendant of 1940s pulp tales. Tugging heartstrings with the expertise of a master puppeteer, Wilson, a former naval technician, adds plenty of authentic touches but never overwhelms the reader with details. The clean prose, romance and fantasy elements, heart-pounding scenes of man against nature, and topical currency (thankfully not overplayed) will appeal to a wide variety of readers, which makes the overblown YA-style cover all the more unfortunate. (June)

The Four Forges: The Elven Ways: Book OneJenna Rhodes. DAW, $23.95 (560p) ISBN 0-7564-0274-3

Sevryn Dardanon is not your typical elf. In fact, the world of Kerith is not your typical elf world. In this spectacular series debut, the pseudonymous Rhodes (a prolific YA author) plays fresh variations on the standard epic fantasy tropes. Her elves, the Vaelinars, are outsiders, propelled by a magical cataclysm into an unfamiliar and somewhat hostile new environment. For Sevryn, a half-breed Vaelinar, life is especially difficult as he's neither of one world or the other. Meanwhile, human Dwellers take in the orphaned Rivergrace, an escaped slave of Vaelinar heritage, and raise her as their adopted daughter. Both Rivergrace and Sevryn struggle to survive as quietly as possible, until, by chance, their paths cross and they must help each other battle an unknown evil that's infecting Kerith. Sevryn and Rivergrace possess not only undeveloped magical powers but mysteries in their respective pasts that promise to keep the excitement level high in the next installment. (May)

WiddershinsCharles de Lint. Tor, $27.95 (560p) ISBN 0-765-31285-9

This pleasing addition to the popular Newford saga (The Onion Girl, etc.) brings series characters Jilly Coppercorn and Geordie Riddell together in a romantic relationship that's anything but simple. In de Lint's magic-realist universe, a version of contemporary North America, the supernatural is taken for granted and the occasional skeptic who doesn't understand that everyone else has routine encounters with fairies and Native American earth spirits is left very much in the dark. Many of the characters are folk musicians, one of whom begins the story under magical compulsion to perform for the fairy revels in a shopping mall after closing time. These fairies aren't necessarily of the cuddly sort—early on, a female musician barely escapes possible rape or murder from nasty little men. In the background, a great war is brewing between Native American spirits and those that came over with the white men, a situation that inevitably recalls Neil Gaiman's American Gods, to which this more intimate and folksy book compares favorably. Author tour. (May)

Thunderbird FallsC.E. Murphy. Luna, $14.95 paper (416p) ISBN 0-373-80235-8

Joanne Walker, a likable young Seattle beat cop, continues to learn the ropes of her even more dangerous job as a shaman in Murphy's spirited second urban fantasy (after 2005's Urban Shaman). After a fencing lesson at the university, Joanne stumbles on the body of Cassandra Tucker, a 20-year-old junior, in the showers. The autopsy report states that Cassandra's death was due to a heart condition, but Joanne suspects otherwise. In her role as shaman, Joanne investigates "the Dead Zone," a place between life and death, while her earthside sleuthing leads to a coven that in recognition of her special abilities invites her to take Cassandra's place in opening a passage between worlds for Virissong, an ancient Native American spirit who's expected to end a local heat wave and global warming. Unfortunately, if not surprisingly, Joanne discovers after several nightmarish and somewhat bloated magical misadventures that Virissong is one nasty lying serpent. (May)

Shuteye for the TimebrokerPaul Di Filippo. Thunder's Mouth, $14.95 paper (320p) ISBN 1-56025-817-9

The 15 stories in Di Filippo's latest collection (after 2005's The Emperor of Gondwanaland) show his command of a colorful palette of ideas and approaches. The title tale is an amusing satire of a sleepless 24/7 near-future in which time is traded like a commodity by professional (if sometimes incompetent) brokers. In the screwball fantasy "The Secret Sutras of Sally Strumpet," a male writer hires an actress to play the pseudonymous female "author" of his bestselling chick lit novel—then finds himself getting absorbed like one of his feckless male characters into her far too authentic performance. The book also features respectful homages to the fiction of Edgar Allan Poe, Lord Dunsany and Jules Verne. Most of the stories percolate with the author's trademark gushes of wit and humor, but several of the best are deadly earnest, including "Underground," a spooker set in the New York City subway system, and "Shadowboxer," a tale of a psychic assassin fighting "the war on terror" that brilliantly captures the moral ambiguity of attitudes in post-9/11 America. (May)

Can't Catch Me and Other Twice-Told TalesMichael Cadnum. Tachyon (, $14.95 paper (181p) ISBN 1-892391-33-3

Concise writing cuts to the heart of the matter in this droll collection from National Book Award—finalist Cadnum (The Book of the Lion), whether it be a certain gingerbread boy's overbearing parents in the title story or a ghostly Ophelia bent on her own secret revenge in "Or Be to Not." Even the most urbane bears can be brought low when entrapped by a crusading pro-human Goldilocks in "Bear It Away," while a certain giant's wife manages to create a happy ending after a young thief escapes by beanstalk in "Mrs. Big." "Medusa," "Daphne" and "Give Him the Eye" offer stark insight into the behavior of Greek gods and goddesses as well as the brutal side of love. Meanwhile, elves, no matter how gifted, find little welcome when faced with human suspicions in "Naked Little Men" and "Elf Trap," while "Together Again" gives the truth behind that old nursery rhyme about a lord named Humpty Dumpty. Both adult and YA readers will enjoy this quirky assemblage of 18 traditional tales with a modern edge. (May)

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