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Into the Black Nowhere: An Unsub Novel

Meg Gardiner. Dutton, $26 (384p) ISBN 978-1-101-98555-7

Inspired by the Ted Bundy case, Edgar-winner Gardiner’s excellent sequel to 2017’s Unsub finds newly minted FBI agent Caitlin Hendrix still feeling her way on the FBI’s elite Behavioral Analysis Unit and working on a long-distance relationship. Her skills as a profiler are soon put to the test by another unsub—unknown subject. Women, who appear to have nothing in common, are disappearing on Saturday nights near Austin, Tex. Two of the victims were found dead in a wooded area, both surrounded by Polaroid photos that show other dead women dressed in white negligees. Caitlin and the other team members deduce they’re looking for a confident perp who can charm his victims into coming with him. Caitlin’s intelligent perceptions lead her to a killer whose arrogance may be his undoing. Gardiner expertly integrates the FBI science of profiling with a suspenseful plot and believable characters. It’s no wonder a TV drama based on this series is in the works at CBS. Agent: Shane Salerno, Story Factory. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/08/2017 | Details & Permalink

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A Guide for Murdered Children

Sarah Sparrow. Blue Rider, $27 (400p) ISBN 978-0-399-57452-8

This highly unusual and, at times, uneven synthesis of whodunit and paranormal suspense from the pseudonymous Sparrow, billed as a “distinguished award-winning novelist,” centers on 57-year-old Willow Wylde, an alcoholic former NYPD cop. Fresh out of rehab in Arizona, Willow, whose wreckage of a personal life is one long cautionary tale, accepts a job as the head of a newly formed cold case task force in Macomb County, Mich. One case in particular—the decades-old disappearance of a brother and sister—draws his attention. Further investigation leads Willow to some mind-blowing revelations: the spirits of murdered children are returning and inhabiting adult bodies, seeking a “moment of balance” so they can track down and enact supernatural retribution on their killers. The dense narrative is slow-building, but those readers who have patience to get through the somewhat confusing beginning will be rewarded with a touching, albeit brutal, tale of redemption. Agent: Andrew Wylie, Wylie Agency. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/08/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Painter’s Apprentice

Laura Morelli. The Scriptorium, $19.99 trade paper (406p) ISBN 978-1-942778-92-9

Morelli’s second entry in the Venetian Artisans series (following The Gondola Maker) is a Renaissance story rich in art and love, yet tempered by sacrifice and hard times during the bubonic plague’s siege of Venice in 1510. Lovely, titian-haired Maria Bartolini, daughter of Venice’s preeminent gold leaf artisan and a skilled gilder herself, falls in love with Cristiano Bianco, a low-born Saracen gold-beater working in their studio. Maria’s father discovers the romance, and she is dispatched to illustrious painter Master Trevisan’s workshop to study pigment technique until she can marry within their guild. While helping Trevisan craft gilded, decorative wooden panels for a convent, Maria also keeps a secret and fends off a meddlesome maid and an extortionist boatman. When her old neighborhood is quarantined, Maria loses contact with her family and Cristiano. As the Black Death devastates the city and loved ones are separated, the characters struggle for strength; when the plague begins to lift, Maria at first struggles but eventually finds her calling. Substantive period detail—especially about gilding technique and the bubonic plague—is woven seamlessly throughout the narrative, resulting in a vivid, transportive novel. (Booklife)

Reviewed on 12/08/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Spring Girls

Anna Todd. Gallery, $16.99 trade paper (432p) ISBN 978-1-5011-3071-7

Todd’s contemporary update of Little Women is an entertaining take on Louisa May Alcott’s beloved original. Meredith Spring lives on the Fort Cyprus military base in New Orleans with her four daughters: 19-year-old Meg, who dreams of marrying an army officer and escaping her less-than-glitzy home life; homeschooled Beth, who does her best to help her mother run the household; the passionate 16-year-old Jo, who has no interest in marriage and longs to travel the world and write searing pieces on social justice; and sweet-natured 12-year-old Amy, who looks to her sisters to shape the woman she will become. Their father, Frank, an army officer, is overseas for a year in Mosul, and a distinct pall hangs over the home as they worry for his safety; the girls are also concerned their mother may be falling apart under the strain of his absence. Told in alternating chapters by Meg, Jo, Beth, and Meredith, this enjoyable novel explores the bonds of sisterhood, first love, and teenage angst, and while it echoes Alcott’s novel, it provides a refreshing 21st-century update. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/08/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Queen of Hearts

Kimmery Martin. Berkley, $26 (352p) ISBN 978-0-399-58505-0

Martin’s debut novel is a medical drama about two friends facing the secrets of their past after the reappearance of the man who broke one of their hearts. Zadie Anson, a pediatric cardiologist, and Emma Colley, a surgeon, live in Charlotte, N.C., and have been friends since college, maintaining their relationship through the ups and downs of parenting young children and working in demanding careers. Nick Xenokostas, who was Zadie and Emma’s chief resident when they were in medical school, moves to Charlotte and joins Emma’s surgical practice. Flashbacks from their alternate points of view reveal events of the year when Zadie and Nick had a brief, tumultuous affair, including the secrets from that year that Emma has kept from Zadie, which could destroy their friendship. With Nick’s reappearance, Emma fears that he might tell Zadie some disturbing truths. Meanwhile, she must weather professional angst when a difficult surgery ends badly, leaving her career in jeopardy. Emotional and difficult to put down, Martin’s excellent story of friendship is shrewdly plotted and contains a cast of flawed, rich, believable characters. The realistic and vivid medical angle (Martin is an ER doctor) adds to the novel’s appeal. Agent: Jane Dystel, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/08/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Sea Beast Takes a Lover

Michael Andreasen. Dutton, $25 (240p) ISBN 978-1-101-98661-5

Andreasen’s vivid stories favor incident over inner monologue and have notes of adventure fiction, fantasy, and fairy tales. In the title story, a ship called the Winsome Bride is slowly sinking, trapped in the clutches of an immense sea creature that mistakes it for its lover, driving the colorful crew to distraction and even insanity (this is not explicitly a period piece—one character is reading The World According to Garp). “Rockabye, Rocketboy” charts the impossible, unrequited obsession of a young model with the title character, a sort of superhero. “Andy, Lord of Ruin” follows, in a formal voice, the literal explosion of the title character, as witnessed and debated by society. Not only is the premise provocative, the story is also full of small quirks; one character is fed “a diet of Kleenex and rolled newspaper.” Andreasen has the soul of a poet and the heart of a yarn spinner; he breathes new life into familiar tropes via the ingenuity of his storytelling and his tendency to color outside the lines. The 11 refreshing stories in this debut collection are full of delicious detours, and ultimately they’re the point. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/08/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Some Hell

Patrick Nathan. Graywolf (FSG, dist.), $16 trade paper (296p) ISBN 978-1-55597-798-6

Nathan’s dark debut novel weaves violent sexual fantasies and aggressively self-destructive behavior into a harrowing character study. Thirteen-year old Minnesotan Colin blames himself after his father commits suicide. He gains no comfort from his distant older sister, his volatile autistic brother, or his deeply depressed, newly chain-smoking mother as he reads his father’s convoluted journals in search of an explanation for his father’s death. At this vulnerable time, his best friend, Andy, coerces him into sex and then immediately ostracizes him, confirming Colin’s worst fears about his budding desires. As he continues to wallow and berate himself for not being normal, his young, charming science teacher offers his support. Their relationship quickly moves beyond appropriate but doesn’t fulfill Colin’s self-destructive fantasy of being kidnapped and murdered. Nathan flits across the next two years and intersperses the recovery of Colin’s mother Diane, who finally attends bereavement counseling only to develop a strong, possibly reciprocated crush on her therapist. Mother and son, both willfully ignoring their continued psychological fragility, embark on a long-planned cross-country vacation to California, building to the book’s unsettling conclusion. Though difficult subject matter pervades the work, some readers will find moments of beauty in the rawness of grief’s confusions and yearning. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/08/2017 | Details & Permalink

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All the Castles Burned

Michael Nye. Turner, $17.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-68336-760-4

Nye’s dark, unsettling debut novel exposes the vast differences between the privileged blue-blood students and the scholarship kids at Cincinnati’s prestigious private day school, Rockcastle Preparatory Academy. Lonely, awkward, 14-year-old freshman Owen Webb is desperate for the friendship of Carson Bly, a rich, handsome, and charming junior. Both boys love basketball, and Carson improves Owen’s game while subtly grooming the freshman for something much more sinister. Owen fawns over Carson, but his middle-class background means he will always “remain the lonely boy by the window, a child with no purpose but to observe the happiness of others.” Carson’s carefree sense of entitlement is exhilarating for Owen, despite warnings from a classmate, his mother, and Carson’s sister that Carson is dangerous and violent. When Owen’s family collapses under the humiliating weight of his father’s arrest, conviction, and prison sentence for burglary, he falls further under Carson’s unhealthy spell, leading to a fateful climax involving an ominous road trip. This is a suspenseful and memorable novel. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/08/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Straying

Molly McCloskey. Scribner, $24 (224p) ISBN 978-1-5011-7246-5

This slow-burning novel by McCloskey (When Light Is Like Water) is a moving meditation on rootlessness and love. Alice, a young American traveling alone in 1980s Ireland, is tending bar in a small town when she meets Eddie. In short order, they fall in love, get married, and buy a house, and soon their relationship begins to falter. When Alice meets a writer who, in his recklessness and self-consciousness, seems like Eddie’s opposite, she begins an affair. When Eddie finds out and leaves her, and the writer dumps her, Alice no longer feels welcome among her neighbors and leaves Ireland. Years later, after working for international NGOs in Sri Lanka, Kosovo, Kenya, and Somalia, Alice learns that her mother has died and, instead of returning to the States and the home she left long ago, she returns to Dublin. The narrative is split between the two time periods, with both Alice’s memories and her present-day actions tinged by bittersweet nostalgia, as she tries to understand how some loves diminish and what makes a place home. McCloskey is a keen, sympathetic observer; her tight, controlled prose meticulously details Alice’s honest consideration of her flaws and desires. The melancholic complexity of Alice’s very human struggle carries this elegant novel with no easy answers. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/08/2017 | Details & Permalink

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An American Marriage

Tayari Jones. Algonquin, $26.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-61620-134-0

Jones (Silver Sparrow) lays bare the devastating effects of wrongful imprisonment in this piercing tale of an unspooling marriage. Roy, an ambitious corporate executive, and Celestial, a talented artist and the daughter of a self-made millionaire, struggle to maintain their fledgling union when Roy is sentenced to 12 years in prison on a rape charge he is adamant is false. Before Roy’s arrest, the narrative toggles between his and Celestial’s perspectives; it takes an epistolary form during his imprisonment that affectingly depicts their heartbreaking descent into anger, confusion, and loneliness. When Roy is proven innocent and released seven years early, another narrator is introduced: Andre, Celestial’s lifelong best friend who has become very close to her while Roy has been away. Jones maintains a brisk pace that injects real suspense into the principal characters’ choices around fidelity, which are all fraught with guilt and suspicion, admirably refraining from tipping her hand toward one character’s perspective. The dialogue—especially the letters between Roy and Celestial—are sometimes too heavily weighted by exposition, and the language slides toward melodrama. But the central conflict is masterfully executed: Jones uses her love triangle to explore simmering class tensions and reverberating racial injustice in the contemporary South, while also delivering a satisfying romantic drama. Agent: Jane Dystel, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/08/2017 | Details & Permalink

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