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The Bridge Troll Murders: Hook Runyon Mystery Series; Book 5

Sheldon Russell. Road Runner, $24 (280p) ISBN 978-1-937054-27-4

Set just after WWII, Russell’s excellent fifth Hook Runyon mystery (after 2013’s The Hanging of Samuel Ash) teams the Oklahoma railroad detective with Ria Wolfe, a Boston University graduate student in the budding area of forensic science. Ria, who wants to do field research for her dissertation on crime, meets Hook at the Waynoka rail yards, where she persuades him to allow her to observe him on the job. On their first outing, they come upon the murdered and mutilated body of a 16-year-old boy in a makeshift campsite under a railroad bridge. Other similarly mutilated corpses turn up along the railway line in Kansas and Texas. Ria and Hook, each in their separate ways, set out to catch the killer. Russell has created a fully realized protagonist: a man who loves to read fiction (he’s fond of H.G. Wells’s The Invisible Man), has experienced hard times as a former hobo, and knows the value of kindness. The often witty dialogue and seamless narrative prose carry the reader along to the satisfying resolution. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/22/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Buenos Aires Noir

Edited by Ernesto Mallo, trans. from the Spanish by John Washington and M. Cristina Lambert. Akashic, $15.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-61775-522-4

Crimes of passion, politics, and perversity pervade the 14 selections in Akashic’s noir volume devoted to Buenos Aires, where the grim past of the dirty war and present tumult provide a rich backdrop. From the mannered, gothic homage to Edgar Allan Poe in Inés Fernández Moreno’s “Crochet” to the hyperkinetic prose of a coked-up bomb maker in Gabriela Cabezón Cámara’s “The Golden Eleventh,” the styles are as varied as the Argentine capital’s neighborhoods. Alejandro Soifer’s gritty “Chameleon and the Lions” stands out as a model of hardboiled detective work, with a couple of grim twists. Alejandro Parisi’s taut, unsettling “Fury of the Worm” describes the grim doings of the city’s sordid, vicious criminal gangs. Leandro Ávalos Blancha’s “The Excluded,” which ends in the famed Recoleta cemetery, touches on the complex, uneasy mingling of social classes, races, and professional castes. Literary visitors may want to seek out longer looks after these brief exposures to the city’s many layers. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/22/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Vineyard Victims: A Wine Country Mystery

Ellen Crosby. Minotaur, $25.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-250-07662-5

In Crosby’s full-bodied eighth Wine Country mystery (after 2016’s The Champagne Conspiracy), Virginia vintner Lucie Montgomery has to swerve on a rain-slick road to avoid a head-on collision with a speeding car driven by her neighbor Jamie Vaughn, an unsuccessful U.S. presidential candidate. When Jamie slams into a stone pillar at the entrance to her property, Lucie leaps from her vehicle and races to the wreckage. She’s in time only to hear his dying words: “Tell Rick I need him to forgive me.” Most people who knew Jamie figure it was an accident, but Lucie is sure that the crash was deliberate. When Jamie’s nearest and dearest begin acting suspiciously, Lucie becomes determined to find Rick and deliver Jamie’s message. The intrigue grows, as does the danger to herself, after Lucie learns that Rick was an old friend of Jamie’s who’s now on death row for the murder some 30 years earlier of a brilliant doctoral student at the University of Virginia. Crosby keeps the reader guessing until the exciting climax. Agent: Dominick Abel, Dominick Abel Literary Agency. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/22/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Knit to Kill

Anne Canadeo. Kensington, $25 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4967-0861-8

Canadeo’s fun ninth Black Sheep and Company mystery (after 2015’s A Murder in Mohair) takes the ladies of the Plum Harbor, Mass., knitting group to a resort community on Osprey Island, Maine, for a weekend of relaxation before member Lucy Binger’s wedding. Amy Cutler, an old friend of Black Sheep knitter Suzanne Cavanaugh, has let the group stay at her family’s cottage. Their first night, the ladies have a knitting session at a local mansion, where they encounter Julian Morton, a disagreeable island resident. The next morning, Morton is found dead at the bottom of a cliff. When the police determine that Morton’s fatal fall was no accident, Amy’s husband becomes a leading suspect. Since, as it turns out, more than one person made threats against the dead man, the knitters, who have solved crimes before, think that a bit of sleuthing is in order. Fortunately if not surprisingly, the ladies are able to identify the killer in time to get home for Lucy’s wedding. Agent: Nancy Yost, Nancy Yost Literary. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/22/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Typhoon Fury: A Novel of the Oregon Files

Clive Cussler and Boyd Morrison. Putnam, $29 (448p) ISBN 978-0-399-57557-0

Bestseller Cussler’s fast-paced 12th Oregon Files novel (after 2016’s The Emperor’s Revenge, also coauthored with Morrison) opens in the midst of the second battle of Corregidor in 1945. During a U.S. attack on one of the mountainous island’s many caves, Capt. John Hayward, who’s searching for a secret Japanese laboratory, observes that the enemy soldiers who pour out of the cave’s tunnels are furious fighters who don’t drop even when grievously wounded by gunfire. After finding the secret lab, Hayward succeeds in grabbing a file marked Project Typhoon just before the place blows up. In the present, Juan Cabrillo, the captain of the intelligence ship Oregon, is involved in a mission whose object is to find a memory stick containing the names of all Chinese secret agents operating in the U.S. No surprise, Juan’s present-day operation connects to the secret project on Corregidor, and soon he and his crew are fighting to recover thousands of doses of a potent compound that turns men into supersoldiers. Expertly drawn characters and a well-constructed plot make this one of Cussler’s better efforts. Agent: Peter Lampack, Peter Lampack Agency. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/22/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Quantum Spy

David Ignatius. Norton, $25.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-393-25415-0

Will the U.S. or China build the world’s first quantum computer? That’s the question at the heart of this fine espionage thriller from Ignatius (The Director). The Americans appear to have the edge through a company in Seattle—actually a front for the CIA—that’s developing the superfast technology. But the Chinese are just a step behind thanks to corporate theft and good old-fashioned tradecraft; they have managed to turn a disgruntled CIA officer into a spy for the Ministry of State Security. Meanwhile, Harris Chang, an American interrogation specialist new to Langley, uses his Chinese heritage to infiltrate Beijing’s intelligence operations in the U.S. and secretly keep tabs on the Chinese efforts to achieve dominance. In past books, Ignatius has been better at characterization; Chang, for example, at times behaves in ways that seem too naive for a well-trained professional. Still, Ignatius’s realistic peek into the inner workings of the CIA and its Chinese counterpart shows why he’s at the top of the thriller pack. Agent: Raphael Sagalyn, Sagalyn/ICM. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/22/2017 | Details & Permalink

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A Christmas Return

Anne Perry. Ballantine, $20 (192p) ISBN 978-0-425285-07-7

One day in December 1896, octogenarian Mariah Ellison, the sensitive, fully fleshed-out star of bestseller Perry’s exceptional 15th Christmas-themed mystery (after 2016’s A Christmas Message), receives an unusually heavy Christmas pudding at her house in London. Inside there’s a small cannonball. This odd gift reawakens painful memories of 20 years earlier, when Cullen Wesley, whom Mariah secretly loved, died under mysterious circumstances. Cullen was the lawyer defending Owen Durward, who was charged with the murder of 14-year-old Christina Abbott in Haslemere, Surrey. Before Owen’s trial, Cullen quit the case; hours later, he died when struck by an ornamental cannonball in a bizarre accident in his study. Owen was eventually acquitted of killing Christina. But now, according to the note from Cullen’s grandson Peter that arrives the same day as the pudding, Owen has returned to Haslemere, bent on regaining his reputation, and may be a threat to Cullen’s widow, Rowena. Peter believes Mariah is the only person who can save his grandfather’s good name, and Mariah decides to journey to Surrey to help. Perry unobtrusively incorporates insights about the true meaning of the season into the engrossing plot. Agent: Donald Maass, Donald Maass Literary. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/22/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Dead Man’s Blues

Ray Celestin. Pegasus Crime, $25.95 (496p) ISBN 978-1-68177-560-9

Set largely in 1928 Chicago in the months leading up to the landmark championship heavyweight boxing match between Gene Tunney and Jack Dempsey (moved forward from 1927 for dramatic purposes), British author Celestin’s gripping sequel to 2015’s The Axeman chronicles the evolution of jazz and organized crime in early-20th-century America. The narrative can be unwieldy at times with its intricately intertwined story lines (two Pinkerton detectives seek a missing heiress, a crime scene photographer investigates a gruesome murder, and Al Capone brings a heroin-addicted fixer back to Chicago to find the rat in his organization), but the rich description and meticulous attention to historical detail more than compensate. Louis Armstrong’s journey to Chicago and his role in revolutionizing jazz is a highlight. Celestin’s portrayal of the Prohibition-era city—from the widespread political corruption to the rampant racism—gives the story a sobering foundation. Readers will look forward to the third installment (of a projected four), which, Celestin promises in an afterword, will be set in 1940s New York. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 09/22/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Ruined House

Ruby Namdar, trans. from the Hebrew by Hillel Halkin. Harper, $29.99 (528p) ISBN 978-0-06-246749-2

In Namdar’s disappointing debut, Andrew Cohen, an NYU professor and formerly prolific writer, has a long, slow, incredibly banal mid-life crisis. Stretched out over the year leading up to Sept. 11, 2001, Cohen wallows in self-pity, ambling toward a breakdown that reads more like a man grasping at his waning privilege than a human being fearful in the face of mortality. Although Cohen left his ex-wife and daughters decades ago, when the girls were little, only now does he realize how absent they are from his life. Vulnerable for perhaps the first time, he’s haunted by his abandonment of them and yet can’t seem to bring himself to take responsibility. Otherwise, Cohen goes on to suffer from dwindling sexual mojo, writer’s block, and nightmares. He feels suffocated by his beautiful, decades-younger girlfriend (a former student) and doesn’t understand why he isn’t awarded a promotion he’d been expecting. Perhaps because of the unrelenting internal narration, the book remains plotless. Cohen falls asleep, has anxiety attacks, stays awake, rushes into taxis, eats or forgets to eat, and finds himself bewildered by his own dysfunction. In prose as tedious as Cohen’s misery, Namdar tries to underscore the significance of his narrator’s collapse by cataloguing every hour of every day. But Cohen remains the jerk he’s always been, and the reader is left wishing he would see what they do—that his self-absorption only intensifies, rather than dissipates, against the forthcoming tragedy of actual human suffering looming on the horizon. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/22/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Senator’s Children

Nicholas Montemarano. Tin House (Norton, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (376p) ISBN 978-1-941040-79-9

In the extravagant latest from Montemarano (The Book of Why), charismatic Pennsylvania senator David Christie has a brief affair while campaigning for president, and the exposed liaison forces him to quit the political scene. Stakes are further raised when his mistress becomes pregnant. David’s family was already shaken seven years prior to his infidelity when his wife, Danielle, an alcoholic, got in a drunken car accident, killing their 16-year-old son. David and Danielle’s 10-year-old daughter, Betsy, then became the glue that holds the family together. Even more drama happens as Danielle gets cancer and David develops Parkinson’s, eventually moving to a nursing care facility. Betsy and her half-sister Avery, David’s child with his mistress, have been aware of each other all their lives but have never met. Betsy has been damaged by a life in the headlines; Avery, who only knew her father from afar and had a mother both excited and bitter about her situation, is visiting David in the home but keeps her identity secret. Montemarano contrives yet another crisis to bring the two sisters together. The predictable result of their meeting is followed by the inclusion of a final scene from an idyllic day in 1977, seven years before the fateful car accident started the Christie family’s decline. This final scene is unnecessary, and a confusing conclusion to the story. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/22/2017 | Details & Permalink

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