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Even if It Kills Her: A Bailey Weggins Mystery

Kate White. Harper, $15.99 trade paper (432p) ISBN 978-0-06-244887-3

In White’s tepid seventh Bailey Weggins mystery (after 2012’s So Pretty It Hurts), Bailey, now a true-crime journalist who does a little amateur sleuthing on the side, is surprised to run into a college friend, Jillian Lowe, at an event at Manhattan’s 92nd Street Y, where Bailey is promoting her latest true-crime book. Bailey hasn’t seen Jillian in 16 years, not since Jillian’s parents and two younger siblings were murdered in their home in the Berkshires town of Dory, Mass. New DNA evidence has exonerated the man originally convicted of the crime, and Jillian wants Bailey’s help in reinvestigating her family’s murder. Two days later, Bailey and Jillian drive to Dory, where they hope to uncover the truth. After one potential witness is murdered and Bailey is attacked, Bailey realizes that the original killer is still loose and that, because they’re stirring up the past, she and Jillian are squarely in harm’s way. A predictable plot and a contrived ending will disappoint newcomers, but series fans will enjoy catching up with Bailey. Agent: Sandra Dijkstra, Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/18/2017 | Details & Permalink

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How I Lost You

Jenny Blackhurst. Atria/Bestler, $16 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-1-5011-6882-6

Susan Webster, the narrator of British author Blackhurst’s captivating if flawed first novel, believes that she’s guilty of smothering her three-month-old son, Dylan, to death in a fit of postpartum depression, even though she has no memory of doing so. After spending nearly three years at the Oakdale Psychiatric Facility, she’s paroled and given a new name. Shortly after she settles in Ludlow, Shropshire, someone mails her a photo of a smiling young boy with the name Dylan written on the back. Scared and confused, Susan enlists the aid of Cassie Reynolds, her best friend from Oakdale, and reporter Nick Whitely to reexamine the crime. As Susan looks into her past, she realizes how little she knew about Mark, her ex-husband and the child’s father. The danger to Susan escalates as the truth slowly reveals itself, but the plot goes off the rails under the weight of the implausible actions of several key characters, some of whom aren’t who they seem to be. Agent: Laetitia Rutherford, Watson, Little (U.K.). (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/18/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Little Secrets

Anna Snoekstra. Mira, $15.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-7783-3109-4

Aspiring journalist Rose Blakey, the protagonist of Snoekstra’s uneven second thriller (after 2016’s Only Daughter), is desperate to escape her small town of Colmstock, Australia, and her unhappy family. Spending evenings serving beer to the local cops, one of whom spends most of his time leering at her, is not how she pictured her life. When the courthouse burns down, killing a child, the town residents are devastated, and when someone begins leaving porcelain dolls on doorsteps, people are further alarmed. Rose sees opportunity and submits a lurid story about the dolls to a newspaper. After it’s accepted, the ecstatic Rose plows unthinkingly over anyone who disagrees with her, while the inept police only help fuel the town’s growing hysteria. Rather than plumb the dark depths of a town in economic ruin, Snoekstra instead presents a chorus line of people behaving very badly. The many twists (one of which offers a bit of clever irony) and the big reveal will mainly strain reader credulity. Agent: Mackenzie Fraser-Bub, Fraser-Bub Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/18/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Mind Game

Iris Johansen. St. Martin’s, $27.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-250-07585-7

Bestseller Johansen convincingly mixes mystical elements with a rapid-fire plot in her 21st Eve Duncan novel (after 2016’s Night and Day). Artist Jane MacGuire, Eve’s adopted daughter who has the ability to see actual events in her dreams, is in Gaelkar, Scotland, helping Lord MacDuff search for a treasure associated with Cira, a woman who lived in ancient times. Jane dreams of Cira—but also of a woman in the present who’s being held captive. She eventually identifies the woman as Lisa, the 19-year-old sister of a man from her past, the mocking and arrogant Seth Caleb. Jane has mixed feelings when Seth calls to inform her that he’s coming to Scotland to aid Lord MacDuff, but Jane and Seth end up joining forces to rescue Lisa from her captors, who have devious reasons for holding her against her will—and who will stop at nothing to get her back. The sexual attraction between Jane and Seth simmers in the background as the action builds to a stunning climax in Dubai. Agent: Andrea Cirillo, Jane Rotrosen Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/18/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Hide and Seek: A Detective Helen Grace Thriller

M.J. Arlidge. Berkley, $15 trade paper (416p) ISBN 978-0-399-58684-2

Arlidge’s harrowing sixth Helen Grace thriller (after 2016’s Little Boy Blue) finds the former detective inspector languishing in London’s Holloway Prison awaiting trial for three murders. Already convicted of the crimes by the media and her fellow inmates—some of whom Grace put in Holloway herself—Grace must fight daily for her life and her sanity. On the outside, only one of her former officers, Charlie Brooks, believes in Grace’s innocence. Both Grace and Brooks know that Grace’s nephew Robert Stonehill painstakingly and brilliantly framed Grace, but locating him and proving his guilt is difficult, especially since Brooks is under pressure from above to let the case go. Meanwhile, a serial killer is gruesomely killing inmates in their locked cells in Holloway, and Grace is compelled to investigate these murders or risk becoming one of the victims. Parallel cat-and-mouse manhunts create relentless tension in this dark and twisted nail-biter filled with strong, well-defined characters—hero and villain alike. Agent: Hellie Ogden, Janklow & Nesbit. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/18/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Missing

C.L. Taylor. Morrow, $15.99 trade paper (480p) ISBN 978-0-06-267353-4

The disappearance of 15-year-old Billy Wilkinson from his home in Bristol, England, drives this emotionally raw family drama from British author Taylor (The Lie). Six months after Billy went missing, his mother, Claire, is certain that he is alive, while her husband, Mark, is doubtful. Billy’s 19-year-old brother, Jake, and Jake’s girlfriend, Kira Simmons, who lives with the Wilkinsons, have basically shut down. The alienation that each family member feels from the others heightens when they appear on TV to appeal for Billy’s return. Jake shows up drunk, making a scene that’s covered by the press. Claire’s grief over Billy, whom she adored, plunges her into despair and gives the plot its heart. Claire has blackouts and wakes up not knowing where she is; she chases teenage boys she’s sure are Billy; she walks into strangers’ homes or dangerous situations in pursuit of her son. Each incident reinforces the impression that this dysfunctional family thrives on lies. Taylor keeps Billy’s fate in question right up to the shocking denouement. Agent: Madeleine Milburn, Madeleine Milburn Literary. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/18/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Unaccompanied

Javier Zamora. Copper Canyon, $16 trade paper (88p) ISBN 978-1-55659-511-0

Zamora details his experience emigrating from El Salvador to the U.S. at age nine in his timely and excellent debut, a heartbreaking account of leaving behind the grandmother who raised him to join parents he barely remembered. He offers harrowing descriptions of crossing the border without documentation—“not the promised land but barbwire and barbwire”—and inhabits the perspectives of family members, imagining, for example, how his father must have felt to leave behind his son and wife to cross the border alone. He also reflects vividly on his grandfather, a former gangster known for chasing his loved ones with a machete, and recalls the Salvadoran Civil War of the 1980s in affecting detail: in “Rooftop,” he remembers an aunt comforting him while bombs rained down nearby, and in “Aftermath” he writes, “See,/ little has changed. Burned thatch-roof, you can still stop rain.” He diagnoses his homeland’s ailments astutely (“Every day cops and gangsters pick at you/ with their metallic beaks, and presidents, guilty”), but the ache of homesickness remains: “lie to me. Say I can go back.” Zamora’s wistful ambivalence about his homeland and the difficulty of assimilating where one feels unwanted are both powerful and distressing. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/18/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Sky Country

Christine Kitano. BOA, $16 trade paper (80p) ISBN 978-1-942683-43-8

Kitano (Birds of Paradise) traces the relationships between family, memory, and language in the immigrant experience. The speakers of Kitano’s poems are often daughters and granddaughters struggling to connect with and make sense of the histories of violence that precede them. In the book’s title poem, the speaker says of a grandmother, “She knows how history can wipe away a person’s language.” That same grandmother appears again, in “Grandmother Tells Me a Story: Passing the Lake, Korea 1952.” “Her metaphors// and my poor Korean commingle into myth,” Kitano writes. Ambivalence, longing, and a sense of alienation from the past permeate many of the poems. Kitano speaks to the breach that exists between old-world ancestors and a younger new-world generation: she observes, “How far and fast it travels, this light/ that is already dead. How far and fast/ it must journey, the prayer whispered in the dark.” Kitano’s alluring, well-crafted poems are attuned to tragedy and loss, yet an element of wonder shines through. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/18/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Silencer

Marcus Wicker. Mariner, $15.99 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-1-328-71554-8

Wicker, a National Poetry Series winner for Maybe the Saddest Thing, examines middle-class black American respectability politics in his second collection, taking aim at those who “gave up on the moon/ for a tweed suit &/ elbow patches” and engaging in an uncompromising self-interrogation. Disquieting humor abounds as the tensions of cultural and class assimilation are skillfully outlined in “Watch Us Elocute” or “Close Encounters,” which depict what “happens in gated spaces when you look like// a lock pick.” Stylistically, it’s Kendrick Lamar meets Marianne Moore; Wicker employs deft musicality and visceral metaphors to contrast American suburbia’s ideals with news of “the Rorschach splotches/ of cop-shot bodies you must stomach.” Wicker’s boldest gesture may be his unapologetic theological stance as he seeks to follow a “path to righteousness gone cold.” Deeply felt spiritual conflict in pastoral explorations such as “Deer Ode, Tangled & Horned” (“paradise/ or purgatory, depending/ on how I decipher my scripture”) contrast with the swagger of such pieces as “Ars Poetica Battle Rhyme for Sucker Emcees”: “I be the Anti-wack/ ODB. Big Baby Jesus,/ Osiris. Bet your wife/ might like it.” These fiercely lyrical narratives stand in the crosshairs of the political moment. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/18/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Semiautomatic

Evie Shockley. Wesleyan Univ., $25.95 (128p) ISBN 978-0-8195-7743-6

Drawing both inspiration and ire from contemporary racial inequity, police violence, and pop culture phenomena, Shockley (the new black) reveals an overwhelming, disordered fervor in this uneven new collection. Most of the poems owe their inspiration to external sources, noted in the text or in the end notes; The Odyssey, Claudia Rankine, the Occupy Movement, and Prince are a few. In this flooding manner, Shockley’s writing mimics the incessant onslaught of rage-inducing incidents from which she draws force. The most potent poems channel this energy into direct contemplations or condemnations, resulting in resolute, rousing chants. Reflecting on 2015’s Millions March Rally, she writes, “our speech/ of freedom spoke louder than/ blues than badges our speech of/ freedom spoke over their loudspeakers/ our freedom spoke over their barricades.” Other poems pull the reader in too many directions, blurring—rather than elucidating—the larger structural connections between such issues as cyclical poverty, sexual abuse, and politically motivated torture. Similarly, the transitions between pieces often feel haphazard, making it feel more like a collection of individual poems than the largely unified suite it is presented as. But when Shockley harnesses and concentrates her revolutionary allegiances, great anthems emerge: “and the story goes on: the privileged are aggrieved,/ or their eyes are ‘deceived,’/ and another family’s bereaved ~ o ~ the black family be grieved.” (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/18/2017 | Details & Permalink

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