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Grand Slam Murders

R.J. Lee. Kensington, $15.95 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-4967-1914-0

Lee (the Cherry Cola Book Club series, as Ashton Lee) deals a winning hand with his welcome mystery debut, a series launch. After an alcohol-fueled lunch at the Rosalie, Miss., home of Liddie Rose, Miz Liddie and three other socially prominent widows, collectively known as the Gin Girls, prepare to play a grand slam contract as practice for an upcoming duplicate bridge tournament. But first they must drink their usual toast with cups of coffee, which Miz Liddie’s servant, Merleece, provides. Soon after, all four drop dead of cyanide poisoning at the bridge table. Society reporter Wendy Winchester, whose father is the Rosalie police chief, joins the subsequent murder investigation, fearing that Merleece has been framed. That Wendy’s been dating police detective Ross Rierson complicates matters. An attractive protagonist, plenty of Southern charm, a long suit of colorful characters, and a plot that comes up trumps at the surprising end all bode well for future installments. Agent: Christina Hogrebe, Jane Rotrosen Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Felicity Carrol and the Perilous Pursuit

Patricia Marcantonio. Crooked Lane, $26.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-68331-896-5

Felicity Carrol, the 20-year-old heroine of this appealing series launch set in 1887 England from children’s author Marcantonio (Red Ridin’ in the Hood), has a photographic memory, university degrees in medicine and history, and no interest in being a proper English lady. When her beloved former history teacher, Lord William Kent, is murdered in the British Museum, she decides to investigate. Insp. Jackson Davies of Scotland Yard believes that Kent—an expert in literature and lore about King Arthur—was killed by a thief, who also stole his priceless copy of Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur. Felicity, deducing from crime scene evidence that the missing murder weapon is an antique crossbow, suspects the killing is deliberate. She’s proved correct when another peer is murdered, this time by a medieval flail, and his 14th-century tapestry depicting Arthur is stolen. Impressed with Felicity’s detective skills, Davies grudgingly allows her into the case, which comes to head during Queen Victoria’s Jubilee. Fans of Victorian mysteries have cause to rejoice. Agent: Elizabeth Kracht, Kimberley Cameron. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Big Crush

David J. Schow. Subterranean, $40 (360p) ISBN 978-1-59606-902-2

Schow (Upgunned) keeps the banter light and the gunplay heavy in this furiously paced spree of a thriller. The trouble begins when L.A. DVD inspector Dave Vollmand, whose job is “to technically vet the DVDs you rent, buy or download,” impulsively looks up his old high school crush, Daisy Villareal, through an online locator site and arranges to meet her. Bad news: it turns out that Daisy is an assassin for hire with numerous kills to her credit. Worse news: Daisy is being targeted by Rolf Dettrick, an important player in a professional hit organization, who owes Daisy serious payback for betraying him. Dave and Daisy are soon on the run from Rolf and a goon squad that has dibs on both for past indiscretions that gradually come to light. Schow presents alternating chapters from the viewpoint of characters with a variety of different aliases, then torques the plot with so many outrageous twists that they cease to be unbelievable. His mordant reflections on the hazards of social media and on how sharply reality deviates from the action portrayed in movies based on stories like this one give this novel’s wild events surprising gravity. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Wedding Guest: An Alex Delaware Novel

Jonathan Kellerman. Ballantine, $28.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-525-61849-2

At the start of Edgar winner Kellerman’s workmanlike 34th whodunit featuring L.A. psychologist Alex Delaware (after 2018’s Night Moves), a guest at a wedding held at a former strip joint is looking for a bathroom when she stumbles across a female corpse. During the subsequent police investigation, none of the wedding attendees admits to knowing the victim, who was drugged with an injection of fentanyl in her neck before being garroted. Alex and his LAPD friend, Lt. Milo Sturgis, follow predictable lines of inquiry, including tracing the strip joint’s former owner and determining whether anyone hated the bride or groom enough to ruin the celebration. They eventually identify the victim as 31-year-old Suzanne DaCosta, but she had no known links to the newlyweds. Some possibly related deaths include one that Alex and Milo learn of by pure chance when a Polish expat working in the coroner’s office informs them of a murder in her native country, whose m.o. matches that of DaCosta. Kellerman has done better both with plotting and with bringing the reader inside the heads of his characters. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Night Olivia Fell

Christina McDonald. Gallery, $16 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-5011-8400-0

Abigail Knight, the protagonist of McDonald’s complex, emotionally intense first novel, is determined to get answers after her 17-year-old daughter, Olivia, who recently seemed unusually distracted and moody, is found, brain-dead and pregnant, at the bottom of an embankment below a bridge in her hometown of Portage Point, Wash. Meanwhile, Abi manages the grief of seeing Olivia being maintained on life support just long enough to allow her granddaughter to live. The chapters told from Olivia’s viewpoint in the months leading up to the accident, during which she struggles with friendships and romantic relationships while piecing together the truth about her absent father, convey the cadence and the awkward urgency of teenage thought and behavior without exaggerating it. Every carefully fleshed-out character behaves authentically, yielding a satisfying sense of tragedy rather than one of villainy. McDonald dives into the mother-daughter conflict without compromising the reader’s compassion for either of them. Fans of twisty domestic suspense novels will be rewarded. Agent: Carly Watters, P.S. Literary (Canada). (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Last Night

Karen Ellis. Mulholland, $27 (352p) ISBN 978-0-316-50569-7

The day before his graduation in Manhattan, Stuyvesant High School valedictorian Titus “Crisp” Crespo, who is of mixed race, encounters a racist cop in Brooklyn while bicycling home in Ellis’s contrived second crime novel featuring FBI agent Elsa Myers (after 2018’s A Map of the Dark). The cop orders Crisp to ride toward him, and then charges Crisp with riding a bike on the sidewalk. When Crisp objects, the officer cuffs him for resisting arrest. As a result, Crisp is behind bars when the commencement ceremony occurs. Upon his release, Crisp connects with a stereotypical bored affluent white teenager, Glynnie Dreyfus, and agrees to accompany her to Red Hook, where Crisp’s father, whom he never met, grew up, so that she can replenish her pot supply. Before long, both Crisp and Glynnie are reported missing and someone has been shot to death. Myers plays a limited role in the case, and the interwoven story line of Lex Cole, the NYPD detective assigned to find Crisp, fails to engage. Readers will hope that Ellis uses fewer coincidences to drive her plot next time. Agent: Dan Conaway, Writers House. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Careless Love: A DCI Banks Novel

Peter Robinson. Morrow, $26.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-284752-2

Det. Supt. Alan Banks has two unusual deaths to investigate early in bestseller Robinson’s engrossing 25th outing for the Yorkshire policeman (after 2017’s Sleeping in the Ground). A young woman with no marks of violence on her, later identified as college student Adrienne Munro, is found in an abandoned car on a country road. Adrienne is dressed up as if for a party, but she has no cell phone or purse. Meanwhile, a male in his mid-60s, later identified as wealthy banker Laurence Hadfield, appears to have died of injuries due to a fall into a gully in the middle of a moor. Oddly, he’s wearing a business suit, and, like Adrienne, has no cell phone. As Banks and his capable team go to work interviewing people who knew the deceased, they wonder what could possibly link the two. A third peculiar death provides some answers. Readers expecting a host of suspects and wild plot twists will be disappointed. Those who enjoy methodical police procedurals that build to a logical, satisfying conclusion will be amply rewarded. Agent: Dominick Abel, Dominick Abel Literary. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Trigger

David Swinson. Mulholland, $27 (352p) ISBN 978-0-316-26425-9

George Pelecanos fans will welcome Swinson’s gritty third novel featuring PI Frank Marr (after 2017’s Crime Song). Marr, who’s finally off the cocaine that led to his early forced retirement from the Washington, D.C., police department, receives a call that Al Luna, his best friend on the force, has shot and killed an apparently unarmed African-American teen. A dedicated cop with a perfect record, Luna swears that the kid came at him with a gun, but investigators find no weapon at the scene. As the community demands justice for the slain youth, several D.C. cops are targeted in fatal retaliatory strikes. Marr devotes himself to clearing his friend’s name and hits the street, ably assisted by Calvin Tolson, a sharp ex–street slinger doing his best to play it straight. The two men slip into a shadowy world of drug runners, confidential informants, and criminal alliances—a place both know intimately, and one full of triggers to their own personal demons. Swinson, a former police officer, writes with authority and honesty, giving readers a timely, informed look at the mean streets from an insider’s perspective. Agent: Jane Gelfman, Gelfman Schneider/ICM. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Temp

Michelle Frances. Kensington, $26 (432p) ISBN 978-1-4967-1249-3

British author Frances follows her well-received debut, 2018’s The Girlfriend, with an outstanding psychological thriller that focuses on the everyday details of the life of a successful career woman. TV producer Carrie and her script writer husband, Adrian Hill, long ago decided on a childless life. Then, at 42, Carrie discovers she’s pregnant, much to Adrian’s annoyance. Months later, with the birth of baby Rory approaching, Carrie realizes she needs a temporary assistant during her maternity leave. She hires 24-year-old Emma, a bright, attractive, ambitious script editor who soon comes to worship Carrie. Or is it Carrie’s job she worships? Emma works so well with Adrian, her ideas become indispensable to him. And because Rory is too distracting, the two frequently work together at the family beach house. Carrie’s suspicious, and she finds Emma snooping in their London house. And Adrian later discovers Emma searching the beach house. Frances, who keeps the suspense high as the action accelerates toward the shattering finale, reinforces her position as a writer to watch. Agent: Markus Hoffmann, Regal Hoffmann & Assoc. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Run Away

Harlan Coben. Grand Central, $29 (384p) ISBN 978-1-5387-4846-6

In this bombshell-laden thriller from bestseller Coben (Don’t Let Go), Wall Street financial adviser Simon Greene and his pediatrician wife have a perfect life by all outward appearances—except that they haven’t seen their drug-addicted daughter, Paige, in six months. When by chance Simon spots Paige panhandling in Central Park, he approaches her, but Aaron Corval, her junkie boyfriend, who he believes is holding her against her will, confronts him, and the two get into a fight. Paige flees the scene. When Aaron later turns up dead in an abandoned house in the Bronx, Simon and his daughter become suspects in his murder. Vowing to find Paige at any cost, Simon soon finds his search intertwined with a Chicago PI’s case to locate a missing person. Though the sheer amount of jaw-dropping plot twists is impressive, some do come across as a bit contrived. Still, the breakneck pacing and audaciously intricate story line will have readers on the edge of their seats. Seven-city author tour. Agent: Lisa Erbach Vance, Aaron Priest Literary. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2018 | Details & Permalink

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