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The Night in Question

Nic Joseph. Sourcebooks Landmark, $15.95 trade paper (322p) ISBN 978-1-4926-6800-8

In the prologue of this morally complex thriller from Joseph (The Last Day of Emily Lindsey), Paula Wilson goes to the Chicago police and explains to Det. Claire Puhl how she came to blackmail pop star Ryan Hooks. Flash back seven days. Paula, a rideshare driver, picks up Hooks, whom she doesn’t recognize, and drives him to a meeting with a woman not his wife at her apartment building. Hooks leaves his cell phone in her car, and when Paula later realizes who he is and what’s on the phone, she begins to view Hooks as the answer to her financial problem—raising $180,000 to pay for an operation for her husband, who was severely injured in an auto accident. Hooks may be connected to Beverly Brighton, a neighbor in the building, who was murdered a few days after his visit; this gives Paula some leverage. Basically a decent woman, Paula slides down a slippery slope of murder, blackmail, and adultery while Puhl tries to sort out the muddled relationships that led to Brighton’s murder. Paula’s decision-making matters more than the crime-solving in this twisty tale. Agent: Barbara Poelle, Irene Goodman Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/12/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Remember Tokyo: A Foreign Affairs Mystery

Nick Wilkshire. Dundurn, $15.99 trade paper (344p) ISBN 978-1-4597-3717-4

Wilkshire’s appealing third Foreign Affairs mystery (after 2017’s The Moscow Code) takes Canadian consular officer Charles Hillier to Tokyo, where his first assignment is to look into the case of a Canadian citizen, banker Robert Lepage, who’s in a coma in the hospital after an auto accident. Charlie welcomes the opportunity to work with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police on the investigation, which becomes complicated after Mike Seger, a friend of Lepage’s who wanted the banker released into his care, is found dead with drugs and alcohol in his blood in the city’s notorious Roppongi area. Meanwhile, Lepage receives daily visits from the striking and mysterious Aiko Kimura, purported to be his girlfriend, but Charlie doubts that they are really together. Charlie and the efficient and beautiful Insp. Chikako Kobayashi, to whom he’s attracted, must determine whether Seger has been murdered and whether Lepage is involved in criminal activities with the yakuza. Wilkshire takes full advantage of the Tokyo setting to contrast Charlie’s Western attitudes with Eastern customs in this winning mix of diplomacy and sleuthing. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/12/2018 | Details & Permalink

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When You Find Me

P.J. Vernon. Crooked Lane, $26.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-68331-749-4

Southern gothic meets psychological suspense in Vernon’s eerie debut. Gray King, an alcoholic whose life is unraveling, reluctantly agrees to go with her husband, Paul, to her family home in Elizabeth, S.C., for the Christmas holidays. Her first glimpse of the house establishes the sinister mood: it “sat like a rotting log concealing secrets beneath its moist belly.” On Christmas Eve, to get away from the suffocating house and down a few double gin and tonics, she heads for Ruby’s Tavern, towing her husband and younger sister along. In a drunken exhibition, she kisses a former lover, causing Paul to drag her away. On Christmas morning, she awakes with no memory of the night before and finds Paul gone. Det. Nina Palmer, who went to school with Gray, investigates Paul’s disappearance. Gray’s paranoia is heightened when she begins receiving cryptic cellphone messages from a woman called Annie. The novel shifts perspective among Gray, Nina, and Annie, each of whom raises questions about the reliability of the others. The full complement of macabre motives lurks in the shadows. Fans of dark tales of familial and marital discord will be satisfied. Agent: Chris Bucci, CookeMcDermid. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/12/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Lake on Fire

Rosellen Brown. Sarabande, $17.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-946448-23-1

In Brown’s stellar, evocative novel, Jewish siblings Chaya and Asher Shaderowsky move with their family to America from Ukraine to work on a Wisconsin collective farm. As a young woman in 1891, in order to escape an arranged marriage, Chaya flees with eight-year-old Asher to Chicago, where she finds work in a cigar factory and he becomes a thief, modeling himself after Robin Hood. Chaya is courted by Gregory Stillman, a young writer from a wealthy background; she can scarcely believe that this gentile wants to marry her. Of course, their relationship causes problems with Gregory’s family. Asher, meanwhile, has an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and is drawn to the new University of Chicago and the Columbian Exposition, where he finds employment. Radicalized, he attempts to help those thrown out of work by the Exposition’s completion. Uneasy with her new wealth and marriage, Chaya’s allegiance is split between the haves and the have-nots, even as she becomes pregnant and an act of terrorism threatens to undo her new life. In Chaya and Asher, Brown (Before and After) creates two memorable strivers. She transports the reader to Gilded Age Chicago and recreates the Jewish immigrant experience as incisively as Henry Roth in Call It Sleep. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/12/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Monument: Poems New and Selected

Natasha Trethewey. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26 (208p) ISBN 978-1-328-50784-6

Two-term U.S. Poet Laureate Trethewey (Thrall) culls some of the finest work from her illustrious two-decade career and presents formally diverse new poems exploring her customary themes. She dredges family history both dark and luminous, reliving the trauma of her mother’s murder by her stepfather, reiterating the details as if the outcome might be different. The brilliant, evocative “Genus Narcissus” turns sinister as the poet recalls giving her mother daffodils as a child only to watch them wither and die on the windowsill: “Be taken with yourself,/ they said to me; Die early, to my mother.” Trethewey also evocatively imagines her grandmother in 1940s Mississippi, writing “She can fill a room// with a loud clear alto, broom-dance/ right out the back door, her heavy footsteps// a parade beneath the stars.” The ekphrastic series “Bellocq’s Ophelia” voices a mixed-race prostitute from a famous 1912 photograph by E.J Bellocq as she sits for her portrait: “I try to recall what I was thinking—/ how not to be exposed, though naked, how/ to wear skin like a garment, seamless.” Trethewey’s arresting images, urgent tone, and surgically precise language meld with exacting use of rhyme and anaphora create an intensity that propels the poems forward. This collection is ideal for new readers seeking a representative sample of Trethewey’s best work. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/12/2018 | Details & Permalink

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A Queen from the North

Erin McRae and Racheline Maltese. Avian30, $4.99 ISBN 978-1-946192-07-3

The splendid first in the Royal Roses series introduces an alternate present-day U.K. in which the Wars of the Roses never ended and a political marriage between Prince Arthur, the widowed Lancaster Prince of Wales, and Lady Amelia Brockett, the radical daughter of a Yorkish earl, is the only thing that might finally unite the kingdom. Amelia, a grad student studying environmental science, never planned on becoming a princess, but when Arthur proposes their union as a mutually beneficial political arrangement soon after their first meeting, she can’t deny her people the chance to finally have a York on the throne. Against her better judgement, she grows closer with the charismatic prince. Faced with relentless press coverage, a divided, skeptical populace, and an ever-changing political climate, Amelia struggles to keep track of what in their relationship is real and what is just for show. Rich, diverse worldbuilding sets this story of contemporary royalty apart. McRae and Maltese (the Love in Los Angeles series) have created a perfect cocktail of political intrigue and slow-burn romance. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 10/12/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Not of This Fold

Mettie Ivie Harrison. Soho Crime, $26.95 (360p) ISBN 978-1-61695-942-5

The plight of immigrants comes home to the Mormon community of Draper, Utah, in Harrison’s exceptional fourth Linda Wallheim mystery (after 2017’s For Time and All Eternities). Gwen Ferris, who has been active in the church’s Spanish ward, has befriended Gabriela Suarez, a young mother of three, whose husband has been deported to Mexico. One day, Gabriela leaves a phone message for Gwen that suggests she’s in some sort of trouble, and that night, her strangled body turns up at a gas station. Gwen prevails on her good friend Linda to help bring Gabriela’s killer to justice. Tension rises between Linda and her Mormon bishop husband, Kurt, who worries about her interfering in police matters. Meanwhile, Linda fears that their youngest son, Samuel, who’s on a mission in Boston, may be encountering prejudice from fellow Mormons because he’s openly gay. The culprit will surprise few, but Harrison maintains the suspense as the action builds to an altogether fitting resolution, in which an unexpected character plays a major role. Readers of all faiths will relate to kindhearted, thoughtful Linda, a devout Mormon who isn’t afraid to question the policies and leadership of the LDS church. Agent: Jennifer Udden, Barry Goldblatt Literary. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/12/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Looker

Laura Sims. Scribner, $25 (192p) ISBN 978-1-5011-9911-0

Jealousy rears its ugly head in Sims’s chilling and riveting debut. The unnamed narrator is a middle-aged evening school professor who recently separated from her husband, Nathan, after their prolonged inability to become pregnant. She lives in an unnamed city—but probably Brooklyn—down the block from a famous actress (referred to as “the actress” throughout), her screenwriter husband, and their three young children. The narrator can’t help comparing her drab life to the actress’s glamorous one and is constantly fantasizing about her fairy tale lifestyle. The narrator leads a lonely existence, but there are a few others who populate it, including Mrs. H, her nosy neighbor; Bernardo, her poetry student whom she thinks is coming on to her; and Cat, Nathan’s pet that he left behind. She does odd things such as stealing castoff objects (Birkenstocks, a child’s bike) left outside the actress’s townhouse and using them to build a shrine to her in her apartment. Then, at a block party, the narrator tries to make meaningful contact with the actress, but events conspire disastrously against her, and it’s all downhill from there, bottoming out in a tragedy. In this tightly plotted novel, Sims takes the reader fully into the mind of a woman becoming increasingly unhinged, and turns her emotionally fraught journey into a provocative tale about the dangers of coveting what belongs to another. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/12/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Elsey Come Home

Susan Conley. Knopf, $25.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-525-52098-6

Probing questions about how to balance motherhood, a career, marriage, and a drinking problem resonate throughout Conley’s excellent novel narrated by an American painter looking back on her past few years in China, which were mostly spent teetering on the verge of a breakdown. When Elsey’s Dutch husband, Lukas, suggests she attend a weeklong spiritual retreat, Elsey begrudgingly capitulates to save their crumbling marriage. But the experience isn’t as woo-woo as she expects. Instead, while learning to weather the dreaded “Talking Circle” and enduring the day of silence, she alternates between closing herself off from her emotions and ruminating on her demons, including the death of her younger sister when they were children, and her inability to “understand how to be obsessed with [her] children and obsessed with [her] painting at the same time.” Elsey also befriends Mei, an esteemed painter married to another esteemed painter, whose frankness about feeling trapped in a restrictive country and marriage gives Elsey perspective. Though Elsey continues to falter and obsess over past decisions after returning home, her growing ability to tackle previously insurmountable challenges (her daughter’s appendicitis, a visit to her childhood home, AA meetings, a return to painting) proves she is slowly learning how to “be a different kind of mother. A different kind of wife.” Conley (Paris Was the Place) hits the mark on a story line that feels both high-stakes and fine-tuned. But it’s the raw desperation of Elsey’s inner dialogue that elevates the novel, making for an honest and astute depiction of the human psyche. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/12/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Cost of Hope

G.S. Carr. Gabrielle O. Brown, $3.99 e-book (194p) ISBN 978-1-71955-223-3

Carr (Divorce Wars) delivers a poignant message about the meaning of freedom in the first Cost of Love historical. Carr wastes no time in vividly setting up Soleil’s dramatic and hard-hitting plight as a former slave in 1860s Alabama. After defending herself against a vicious attack by her enslaver, 22-year-old Soleil flees with her five-year-old-daughter, Hope. They are rescued by 25-year-old Alex Cummings, a powerful white plantation owner who recognizes the confused woman as Soleil Dufor, his former love interest, who mysteriously disappeared six years earlier. Soleil is a formidable and sympathetic protagonist whose role as a mother makes her both resilient and vulnerable to those threatening their freedom. Even as Soleil’s connections to wealth and her history with Alex are gradually revealed, the tension remains high as Soleil battles prejudice against former slaves and loopholes in emancipation. The message about freedom not always being simple is significant and well conveyed without being preachy or overstated. French-speaking readers may be distracted by inaccuracies in Soleil’s use of the French language, but the writing is otherwise smooth. This well-told historical romance is intense and powerful. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 10/12/2018 | Details & Permalink

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