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Children of the Fifth Sun

Gareth Worthington. Vesuvian, $21.99 (400p) ISBN 978-1-944109-40-0

Scientist Worthington’s understanding of the complexities and possibilities of marine biology and endocrinology are evident in this otherwise lackluster work of “science faction.” Underwater photographer Kelly Graham; his brother-in-law, Christopher D’Souza; and rival scientist Victoria McKenzie (who is, of course, Kelly’s former flame) are semi-involuntarily recruited by Freya Nilsson and her top-secret team for their free diving skills. Their assignment: retrieve a mysterious orb that may allow scientists to communicate with a cloned amphibious life form, Ambystoma sapiens—believed to be one of the “knowledge bringers” of world mythology, and to have evolved in parallel with Homo sapiens until a great flood gave the latter an advantage—that the U.S. government has been concealing in Area 51 for 65 years. A conflict with China, a public revelation of the existence of Ambystoma sapiens, and other dramatic events are unlikely to compel readers to overcome the challenges of inconsistent narration, too many points of view, and florid prose. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/19/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Sip

Brian Allen Carr. Soho, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-1-61695-827-5

Carr’s jumbled and unsatisfying first novel depicts a dystopian future in which much of the dwindling U.S. population is addicted to consuming the shadows cast by natural light. Mira, a young woman with poorly defined supernatural powers, spends much of her time caring for her shadow-addicted mother. Years before, those seeking to escape the addicts and the hardscrabble life outside gathered in artificially lit domes, but recently, for nebulous reasons, the “domers” have been establishing outposts. Bale, a soldier banished from one of these outposts, joins Mira and her addicted friend Murk as they cross the desolate landscape in hopes of hunting down a particular shadow thief before the impending return of Halley’s Comet, which will cast particularly potent shadows. The parameters of the addiction and its variations are frustratingly opaque, and the passages addressing the addiction’s history and the way it shaped the world just raise further questions. Numerous side characters and events add complexity without clarity. Interesting ideas form the core of the novel, but their development leaves much to be desired. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 05/19/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Last Four Digits

Julie Leo. CreateSpace, $11.99 trade paper (252p) ISBN 978-1-5309-0206-4

Former attorney Lola Vega, the narrator of Leo’s fresh, funny, romantic mystery, is an endearing and unconventional L.A. PI. Broke and living off burritos, she’s prone to awkward mishaps and has a weakness for margaritas and men (notably Michael Escobar, a gorgeous but aggravating LAPD homicide detective). When Lola looks into the alleged suicide of Hollywood A-lister Jack Stone and subsequently discovers the body of a second victim, she unwittingly becomes a suspect in what develops into a murder case. In an effort to clear her name, Lola teams with Molly O’Reilly, the late movie star’s former psychic, who supplies some enjoyably irreverent humor (and communications with the dead) but can feel at times like an accessory. The investigation takes Lola and Molly to a dog track in Mexico, a Russian circus, and small-town Pennsylvania—with occasional stops at Lola’s mother’s house in Glendale for a home-cooked meal. Readers may pick up on clues before Lola does, and the Russian characters can be cartoonish, but these are minor blemishes. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 05/19/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Murder at the Male Revue

Elizabeth Perona. Midnight Ink, $14.99 trade paper (312p) ISBN 978-0-7387-5064-4

Full of blue-haired humor, Perona’s overbusy third bucket-list mystery (after 2016’s Murder Under the Covered Bridge) takes Francine McNamara and the other senior ladies of the Summer Ridge Bridge Club to Brownsburg, Ind., for a performance of the Royal Buckingham Male Dance Revue. When the show is disrupted by the fatal stabbing of Camille Ledfelter, the president of Brownsburg’s town council and aunt of the revue’s owner, Francine and company are determined to uncover the killer and the motive. Ex-lovers and extramarital affairs all factor in, along with a healthy dose of blackmail. And when photos of an old family cemetery turn up among Camille’s office files, the ladies find themselves in imminent danger. The main characters are endearing to a fault, but the excessive amount of backstory makes it hard to follow who did what to whom. A subplot involving Francine’s discovery of a mysterious medicine labeled “no. 58” on property once belonging to her great-grandfather only adds to the muddle. (July)

Reviewed on 05/19/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Calamity at the Continental Club: A Washington Whodunit

Colleen J. Shogan. Camel, $15.95 ISBN 978-1-60381-335-8

At the start of Shogan’s diverting third Washington, D.C., mystery (after 2016’s Homicide in the House), congressional aide Kit Marshall and her fiancé, history professor Doug Hollingsworth, join Doug’s socially prominent parents, Buffy and Winston, at the annual meeting of the Mayflower Society held at the exclusive Continental Club, after which nearly all the attendees, including Kit and Doug, spend the night. Early the next morning, Kit discovers Grayson Bancroft, the Mayflower Society’s president, lying dead on the floor of the club library. Grayson has been poisoned, and the police quickly determine that the killer must be someone at the club. Doug normally disapproves of Kit’s amateur sleuthing, but when Winston becomes a suspect, he has no objection to Kit seeking to prove his father’s innocence by finding the real killer. Interesting and informative trips to such historical sites as Mount Vernon, the National Archives, and the Smithsonian add spice to this appealing whodunit. Agent: Dawn Dowdle, Blue Ridge Literary. (July)

Reviewed on 05/19/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Grievance

Christine Bell. Lake Union, $14.95 trade paper (314p) ISBN 978-1-4778-4848-7

Lily Declan, the heroine of this touching novel set in Nashville from Bell (Saint), is still deep in mourning more than a year after her singer husband, Desmond, died of cancer, though she does her best to maintain a positive face in front of her two young sons. Inside, though, she feels hollow and finds herself looking for messages from Desmond in the song lyrics she hears on the radio. Drifting into depression, she receives a letter of condolence from a woman—Jasmine Elwin—whom neither she nor any of Desmond’s relatives has ever heard of. The letter claims an intimate knowledge of Desmond’s life. Then, on her wedding anniversary, she receives a negligee, clearly not a present anyone would send a recent widow. More intrusive actions occur, and Lily calls the police, but she fears that they may believe she’s responsible for the incidents. She realizes that she must count on her own devices to protect herself, her children, and her husband’s memory. This absorbing tale of loss unfurls like a rippling bolt of silk, keeping the reader enthralled through to the devastating denouement. (July)

This review has been corrected. An earlier version incorrectly listed the title of the author's previous book.

Reviewed on 05/19/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Soul Cage

Tetsuya Honda, trans. from the Japanese by Giles Murray. Minotaur, $25.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-250-06158-4

The discovery of a severed hand inside a sealed plastic bag in an illegally parked minivan propels Honda’s excellent second mystery featuring Lt. Reiko Himekawa of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police’s homicide unit (after 2016’s The Silent Dead). The vehicle was reported missing, by 20-year-old Kosuke Mishima, from a garage rented by his employer, Kenichi Takaoka of Takaoka Construction. A large pool of blood was on the garage floor. Mishima notified the authorities only after he was unable to reach his boss by phone. When the DNA from the hand and the pool of blood match, the police proceed on the theory that Takaoka was murdered. Though Mishima’s new girlfriend, whom he met about a month earlier, provides him with an alibi, Reiko is intrigued to learn of an unusual coincidence: both Mishima’s and his girlfriend’s fathers died in construction accidents. Honda heightens suspense by leaving the reader to wonder how that revelation connects with the novel’s cryptic prologue; the ultimate answer to this clever blend of procedural and whodunit doesn’t disappoint. (July)

Reviewed on 05/19/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Fire and Ashes: Angela Richman, Death Investigator, Book 2

Elaine Viets. Thomas & Mercer, $15.99 trade paper (298p) ISBN 978-1-4778-4880-7

In Viets’s predictable sequel to 2016’s Brain Storm, the bigots in Chouteau Forest, Mo., rush to judgment in the case of Luther Delor, who perishes in a fire at his mansion in Olympia Forest Estates, a gated community. Wealthy, 70-year-old Luther, an obnoxious drunk, was divorcing his wife of 40 years and planning to marry Kendra Salvato, a beautiful 20-year-old manicurist. Det. Ray Greiman and fire investigator Capt. Douglas Hachette are sure that Kendra murdered Luther in an act of arson, but Angela Richman, the death investigator for Chouteau County, has her doubts. Kendra’s Mexican heritage and the unlikely engagement are enough to convict her in the eyes of the residents of Olympia Forest Estates, where rampant prejudice is the rule and where Angela finds suspects other than Kendra. The solution to Luther’s death may disappoint some readers. Agent: Jill Marr, Sandra Dijkstra Agency. (July)

Reviewed on 05/19/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Murder on Black Swan Lane

Andrea Penrose. Kensington, $25 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4967-1077-2

Set in Regency England, this competent series launch from the pseudonymous Penrose (Too Wicked to Wed, as Cara Elliott) opens dramatically in a deserted London church, where a man later identified as the Rev. Josiah Holworthy hands a man referred to as the Golden One a book. “You are holding delicate parchment and pen strokes that will soon change the world,” Holworthy declares. After he boasts that he knows the true identity of the man he’s meeting with, the Golden One blinds him with a corrosive chemical, then slits his throat. The Earl of Wrexford, who was on bad terms with the deceased, becomes a suspect, and eventually partners with Charlotte Sloane, a cartoonist who sketched the dead man before retrieving a scrap of paper from his body, to solve the crime. A female 19th-century cartoonist as an amateur sleuth is a welcome innovation, but the period details and characterizations fall short of the standard set by such other authors of Regency-era mysteries as C.S. Harris. Agent: Gail Fortune, Fortune Talbot Agency. (July)

Reviewed on 05/19/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Shoreline: A Nora Khalil Novel

Carolyn Baugh. Forge, $25.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-7653-7984-9

Baugh’s fast-paced, intricately plotted sequel to 2015’s Quicksand takes FBI special agent Nora Khalil, a Muslim of Egyptian heritage, from her native Philadelphia to a posting in Erie, Penn., where she gets to know her colleagues and neighbors and adjusts to a generally tedious routine—until the Roar on the Shore, Erie’s annual celebration of biker culture. A bank robbery and murder perpetrated by men on motorcycles kick off what is soon identified as the first wave of a much larger plan involving homegrown terrorists intent on spreading white supremacist ideology. Their rhetoric echoes contemporary headlines: make America great again, build a wall, deport all illegal immigrants. In response, an FBI agent comments, “The absurd is no longer absurd when you have weapons and followers.” Nora has a boyfriend, FBI agent Ray Calder, but those expecting much romance in this topical thriller with its resourceful, courageous, and athletic heroine may be disappointed. Agent: Loretta A. Barrett, Loretta Barrett Books. (July)

Reviewed on 05/19/2017 | Details & Permalink

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