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The Question of the Dead Mistress

E.J. Copperman and Jeff Cohen. Midnight Ink, $15.99 trade paper (312p) ISBN 978-0-7387-5061-3

Copperman and Cohen’s uneven fifth Asperger’s mystery (after 2017’s The Question of the Absentee Father) finds Samuel Hoenig, owner of New Jersey’s Questions Answered agency, and his associate, Janet Washburn, on opposite sides of their latest client’s question. Virginia Fontaine claims that her husband, Brett, is in love with the ghost of his college girlfriend, Melanie Mason, who died three years earlier. Janet, who believes ghosts exist, is troubled by Samuel’s unwillingness to consider the possibility—and his entrenched position threatens their developing romance. Then, during Janet’s first day trailing Brett, he’s murdered. Meanwhile, Samuel’s father, Reuben, who has returned after a 27-year absence, wants to develop a relationship with his reluctant son. The first-person narration provides insights into the protagonist’s logical, literal thought processes and his perplexity at emotional nuances and social subtleties. Series fans will appreciate the further development of Samuel’s character, but readers should be prepared for unlikely coincidences, unresolved inconsistencies, and continuity errors. Agent: Josh Getzler, Hannigan Salky Getzler Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/17/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Puzzle of the Happy Hooligan

Stuart Palmer. Penzler, $15.95 trade paper (216p) ISBN 978-1-61316-104-3

Originally published in 1941, Palmer’s eighth whodunit featuring New York City schoolteacher and amateur sleuth Hildegarde Withers, an entry in Otto Penzler’s American Mystery Classics series, works best as a Hollywood satire. Hildegarde is on vacation in California when she’s approached by agent Harry Wagman, who browbeats her into accepting a job as technical consultant on Mammoth Studios’ movie based on the Lizzie Borden case. The gig introduces her to a slew of eccentrics, including producer Thorwald L. Nincom, who considers removing the murders of Lizzie’s parents from the story, and left-wing writer Willy Abend, who proposes that the notorious axe murders were motivated by Lizzie’s ire at her father’s mistreatment of the crews of the Borden family whaling ships. Of course, Hildegarde soon has another homicide to solve—that of Saul Stafford, a writer who expressed his fear of being killed shortly before someone broke his neck. The apparent impossibility of an aspect of the crime hasn’t aged well, and the ultimate reveal proves less interesting than the characters and atmosphere. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/17/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Mardi Gras Murder: A Cajun Country Mystery

Ellen Byron. Crooked Lane, $26.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-68331-705-0

In Byron’s superior fourth Cajun Country mystery (after 2017’s A Cajun Christmas Killing), Pelican, La., is flooded due to unseasonable rains a few days before the town’s annual Mardi Gras celebration. While clearing up debris, the body of an unidentified man surfaces under the bridge over a bayou at the far end of the property belonging to the Crozat family, also the site of the Crozat Plantation Bed and Breakfast. But Maggie Crozat, an artist by training and an innkeeper by inclination, has no time to worry about the body, as the pressure is on to help get the Mardi Gras festivities back on track. “Yes, we Peli-CAN” is the town’s rallying cry. When her beloved Grand-mère comes down with walking pneumonia, Maggie takes her place as a judge in the Miss Pelican Mardi Gras Gumbo Queen competition. The murder of a fellow judge puts her knee-deep in plausible suspects and a variety of murky motives. Well-rounded characters, a fair-play plot, entertaining repartee, as well as dashes of Cajun lore and Louisiana history make this cozy a winner. Agent: Doug Grad, Doug Grad Literary Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/17/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Cape Diamond

Ron Corbett. ECW (Baker & Taylor, U.S. dist.; Jaguar, Canadian dist.), $15 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-77041-395-5

Corbett follows up his series debut, Ragged Lake, with an equally gritty and tough tangle of cases set in Det. Frank Yakabuski’s home city near Ontario’s Northern Divide watershed. Yakabuski investigates the gruesome murder of the region’s most feared gang leader, who was found strung up on a fence with his eyes cut out and a huge raw diamond placed in his mouth. His gang, the Shiners, retaliate, warring against their secretive and elusive rivals, the Travellers. Yakabuski has a lot on his plate with a revenge killing of a prominent Traveller and a kidnapping, a town gripped in fear, and a paid Mexican assassin headed north to kill him and leaving a path of dead bodies in his wake. Setting Yakabuski on home ground reveals more layers of his character, depicted by his relationships with his ex-cop dad and his sister, whose husband has strong Shiner ties. Like the first book, the writing in this one is sparse and lean, echoing the harshness and isolation of the land, but with literally less ground to cover within the city’s borders, this entry is even tighter. The protagonist evolves, and Corbett lays a strong foundation for what promises to be a truly captivating series. Agent: Robert Lecker, Robert Lecker Agency (Canada). (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/17/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Ask Me No Questions: A Lady Dunbridge Mystery

Shirley Noble. Forge, $25.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-7653-9871-0

Set in 1907, this promising series launch from romance author Noble (Whisper Beach) introduces Philomena Amesbury, Lady Dunbridge, who’s coming to the end of the official mourning period for her much older husband, “a man who had no feelings, including the intimate kind, unless it involved whips and madams.” Her father gives her an ultimatum: find a suitable companion, return to her parental home, and remain a spinster, or live with her dreaded great-aunt Sephronia in Yorkshire. Refusing these fates, Lady Phil, in the company of her butler and her lady’s maid, sets sail for New York City to visit her friend Bev Reynolds, whose husband, Reggie, is shot dead in the back seat of his automobile, his head in the lap of his most recent mistress, shortly after her arrival. Lady Phil steps up to investigate. The book fairly flies along, whisking readers through Manhattan’s champagne-sipping high life, with jaunts to the racetrack along the way. Classy, clever, and fun, this is a propitious start for dashing Lady Phil. Agent: Kevin Lyon, Marsal Lyon Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/17/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Bloodmoon

Peter Tremayne. Severn, $28.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8818-1

The prologue of Tremayne’s tired 29th mystery set in seventh-century Ireland (after Night of the Lightbringer) depicts the abduction of Grella, the wife of the High King of the Five Kingdoms, shortly after she dispatches her female aide, Cairenn, to Finnbarr’s Abbey. The main narrative finds Sister Fidelma, who has left her religious order and now serves her brother, the King of Cashel, as a legal advocate, and her companion, Brother Eadulf, en route to that same abbey. Fidelma refuses to say more about why they are traveling there beyond explaining that she needs to discuss a matter of law with Abbot Nessán. When Fidelma and Eadulf arrive, Nessán’s steward tells them that they were not expected—and before Fidelma can have her conversation with the abbot, Nessán is found dead, strangled by a piece of rope, and the woman who was assisting the elderly cleric has disappeared. Tremayne does a good job immersing readers in an unfamiliar world, but the whodunit plot and the political intrigue fall short of his usual high standard. Agent: Euan Thorneycroft, A.M. Heath (U.K.). (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/17/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Blue Kingfisher

Erica Wright. Polis, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-1-947993-26-6

Fascinating and fully developed characters lift Wright’s intriguing third Kat Stone mystery (after 2015’s The Granite Moth). Kat, a former NYPD undercover officer turned PI, is out for a walk along the Hudson River one morning when she spots a body atop the Jeffrey’s Point Lighthouse below the George Washington Bridge. She recognizes the victim as her apartment building’s maintenance man, Tambo Campion. The police rule the death a suicide, but Stone doubts this assessment. She soon learns that Campion, one of the few Frenchmen in her predominantly Dominican neighborhood, was a kingfisher, someone who finds jobs for immigrants. But that’s not the only way he augmented his income, leaving Stone to muse: “This investigation had become a process of reconstructing a personality rather than a murder. I thought, if I could learn enough about this man I’d seen every week but never really knew, I could find the killer.” Complicating her task is a local drug lord with a grudge against her. Wright’s vividly told tale is studded with wry wit. Agent: Penn Whaling, Ann Rittenberg Literary Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/17/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Contract: A John Q Mystery

J.M. Gulvin. Faber & Faber, $22 (336p) ISBN 978-0-571-34657-8

Early in Gulvin’s gripping sequel to 2017’s The Long Count, indefatigable Texas Ranger John Quarrie confronts two men who just robbed a gun store in Deacon’s Mount, Tex., and fatally shoots one of them. Despite the FBI’s decision to investigate whether the killing was justified, Quarrie pursues the case, intuiting that more was involved than a simple robbery. Through skillful detective work, he links the robbery to a man found dead of a brain aneurism in a local hotel, where the two robbers also stayed. Next to the dead man was an empty bottle of Proloid, a drug filled by a New Orleans pharmacy. Once Quarrie determines that the man’s death was no accident, he decides to travel to New Orleans in search of answers. There, he uncovers a conspiracy to assassinate some unidentified person in just a few days. With little time to spare to prevent the murder, he must first figure out the intended victim’s identity. Colorful characters, including corrupt lawyers and lawmen, enliven this action-packed mystery. Readers will enjoy the wild ride. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/17/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Getting Old Can Hurt You

Rita Lakin. Severn, $28.99 (192p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8806-8

The motto of the septuagenarian sleuths in Lakin’s entertaining eighth Gladdy Gold Detective Agency mystery (after 2011’s Getting Old Can Kill You) is “Never Trust Anyone Under Seventy-Five.” They all live in a group of apartment blocks in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where they spend their time between investigations kvetching, kibitzing, and noshing—a plate of cookies or a nice pastrami sandwich is never far away. Their usual confab at the Continental Deli is interrupted by the dramatic arrival of 15-year-old Tori Steiner, who announces: “They’re coming after me to kill me, Grandma Ida. You have to help me.” Between dealing with an alligator in a swimming pool and tracking down the perpetrator of hold-ups at various Starbucks locations, the gang joins in the search for Tori’s father, whom she has never met, and pursues the thugs who are following her. Fortunately, when push comes to shove, Gladdy’s crew is aided by her husband, a retired policeman, and her 40-year-old stepson, who’s still on the force. You don’t have to be a senior to enjoy the fun. Agent: Nancy Yost, Nancy Yost Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/17/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Count of 9

Erle Stanley Gardner. Hard Case Crime, $9.95 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-78565-634-7

In 1958, Gardner, the prolific creator of the Perry Mason legal thrillers, published this smooth and easy entry in his Cool and Lam detective series, now reissued with a classic—but brand new—cover by legendary paperback artist Robert McGinnis. Globe-trotting adventurer Dean Crockett hires Bertha Cool (“a hundred and sixty-five pounds of potatoes in a sack”) to do security for a party in his penthouse. But then Crockett is found dead inside a locked room, the apparent victim of darts from a blowgun, and two small jade idols are missing. Bertha mostly sits this one out, bringing in her diminutive partner, Donald Lam, to do the heavy sleuthing. For Lam, think young skinny Frank Sinatra, who was perfectly cast for the role in a 1946 radio adaptation of 1940’s Turn on the Heat. As usual, the little gumshoe gets the snot pounded out of him by towering thugs (think Ernest Borgnine). Lam has his brain to rely on, however, and comes up with solutions to the locked-room and other puzzles. Undemanding crime readers will be content. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/17/2018 | Details & Permalink

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