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The Madman’s Room

Paul Halter, trans. from the French by John Pugmire. Locked Room International, $19.99 trade paper (178p) ISBN 978-1-545568-12-5

Halter’s eighth novel featuring criminologist Alan Twist to be translated into English (after The Vampire Tree) brilliantly piles baffling puzzle upon baffling puzzle. In the 19th century, Harvey Thorne isolates himself in his room in the family manor near Cheltenham, England, to write stories that predict the future, one of which accurately foretells the death of his own father. One day relatives find Harvey dying of an unknown cause in his room, which has an unexplained wet spot on its carpet; Harvey correctly prophesies the deaths of these relatives by fire. Harvey’s room is kept sealed after these tragedies until the 1930s, when Harvey’s great-nephew Harris Thorne determines to transform it into a study over the fierce objections of his brother, Brian, who also seems to have clairvoyant abilities and forecasts doom. Twist investigates when, yet again, wet marks on the carpet accompany an inexplicable death. The solution to this richly atmospheric whodunit is elegantly simple. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/23/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Shattered

Allison Brennan. Minotaur, $25.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-250-12927-7

Bestseller Brennan’s intricately plotted fourth Maxine “Max” Revere thriller (after 2016’s Poisonous) finds the investigative journalist in Phoenix, Ariz., at the request of ex-boyfriend John Caldwell. The police suspect that John’s wife, Blair, murdered the couple’s eight-year-old son, but John believes that a serial killer is to blame and wants Max to solve a trio of similar cold cases in the hope that it will exonerate Blair. Intrigued, Max reaches out to the family of Justin Stanton, whom John believes was the first victim. Justin’s father, Andrew, agrees to cooperate with Max’s investigation, but only if Max partners with his sister-in-law, FBI agent Lucy Kincaid (another of Brennan’s series protagonists). Max hates cops, and Lucy hates reporters, but the two join forces in order to bring justice to the victims’ families and prevent the killer from striking again. Max and Lucy’s mutual distrust and disdain compound the tale’s tension at every turn. Psychologically complex characters and well-established stakes pave the way for a heart-pounding conclusion, which satisfies while setting the scene for Max’s next mystery. Agent: Dan Conaway, Writers House. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/23/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Bibliomysteries: Crime in the World of Books and Bookstores

Edited by Otto Penzler. Pegasus Crime, $26.95 (540p) ISBN 978-1-68177-458-9

How many different kinds of crime stories can be centered on books and bookstores? At least 15, based on the number of entries in this superior reprint anthology, each of which originated as a special Christmas publication issued by Penzler’s Mysterious Bookshop. In David Bell’s moving “Rides a Stranger,” a professor learns that his late father, an auto parts salesman with whom he had a strained relationship, may have written a book that’s now a valuable collector’s item. C.J. Box weighs in with the most intriguingly titled story, the twisty “Pronghorns of the Third Reich,” in which an attorney is taken hostage by a man who believes that his father was swindled by someone who used a plane to sell antelopes around the U.S.—and to Hitler. William Link demonstrates that the inverted detective format of his Columbo TV series can be successful in prose form, as the rumpled L.A. investigator looks into the death of a rare book dealer, found pinned under a bookcase, in “Death Leaves a Bookmark.” Fans of all mystery subgenres will find something to enjoy. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/23/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Tomorrow War: Serpent Road

J.L. Bourne. Gallery, $16 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-5011-1670-4

Fans of near-future dystopian fiction in which isolated warriors fight against a tyrannical U.S. government will welcome Bourne’s exciting sequel to 2016’s Tomorrow War: The Chronicles of Max. The tough, capable Max has accidentally contributed to a worldwide disaster involving a computer bug while on a CIA mission in Syria. Back in Newton County, Ark., he’s a wanted man, determined to fight the “lawless thugs that were running the country now.” Food is rationed, and guns have been confiscated. Officials can stop and frisk and search without warrants. Habeas corpus has been indefinitely suspended, and, worst of all, Chinese soldiers have been imported to hunt down the rebel fighters. Max goes on a series of rescue operations and is reunited with his old CIA mentor, Maggie. After linking up with a rebel group called the Northwest Arkansas Irregulars, Max and Maggie set out on one last mission, which may or may not bring down the government and restore freedom. For readers into this subgenre, this will go down as smoothly as a cold beer on a hot day. Agent: Marc Gerald, UTA. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/23/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Charlatans

Robin Cook. Putnam, $27 (448p) ISBN 978-0-7352-1248-0

Dr. Noah Rothauser, the lead of this suspenseful medical thriller from bestseller Cook (Host), is thrilled to become the chief resident at Boston Memorial, one of the country’s preeminent teaching hospitals. The one cloud on the horizon is the recent death, during surgery, of popular employee Bruce Vincent, who was in charge of the hospital’s parking division. Boston Memorial’s prima donna surgeon, William Mason, performed the surgery on Vincent at the same time as he was conducting other operations, a practice known as concurrent surgeries. To shield himself from attack, Mason insists that Noah focus the hospital’s review of what led to Vincent’s death on the anesthesiologist. Despite Mason’s threat that disregarding his wishes will affect Noah’s career, the younger doctor pursues the truth, even as two shadowy hit men build a body count in a subplot whose relevance emerges in tantalizing increments. While most readers will be a step ahead of the sometimes naive Noah, everyone will be rooting for this sympathetic character. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/23/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Other Girl

Erica Spindler. St. Martin’s, $26.99 (256p) ISBN 978-1-250-08365-4

Miranda Rader, the heroine of this superlative romantic thriller from Spindler (The First Wife), has never forgotten the hot July night in 2002 when she was almost raped by a friend of her older brother’s who gave her a ride in his truck. Now a police officer in rural Harmony, La., Miranda is called to a grim crime scene. English professor Richard Stark, the local university president’s son, has been found naked in bed, his hands and feet tied to the bed rails, with multiple stab wounds in his chest. When Miranda begins interviewing possible suspects, she discovers that there was a darker side to the handsome professor, who may have been a sexual predator. While searching for Richard’s killer, Miranda is also intent on proving that he abused women. The stakes rise when the cop who interviewed Miranda 14 years earlier about the attempted assault on her is murdered. Multidimensional characters with a plethora of hidden agendas help drive the riveting plot to its explosive conclusion. Agent: Scott Miller, Trident Media Group. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/23/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Séance Infernale

Jonathan Skariton. Knopf, $26.95 (304p) ISBN 978-1-101-94673-2

At the start of Skariton’s inventive, gruesome first novel set in 2002, enigmatic collector Andrew Valdano hires movie memorabilia dealer Alex Whitman to find a copy of Séance Infernale—the legendary first-ever film, created by mysterious Victorian inventor Augustin Sekuler. A scattering of clues steer Whitman from L.A. to Europe and finally to Edinburgh—the city where his beloved daughter Ellie vanished a decade earlier, a tragedy that shattered his marriage and haunts him to this day. Racing to find the lost film, the world-weary Whitman traces a 19th-century mystery’s entanglement with a present-day series of inhumane crimes committed by an extravagantly psychotic serial killer. Laced with cinematic allusions (especially fun for classic film buffs), the obstacle course of a plot barrels past spooky historical flashbacks and pages of quirky typographic design, culminating in a Da Vinci Code–esque scavenger hunt. Breathless readers will scramble to keep up. Agent: Harvey Klinger, Harvey Klinger Literary Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/23/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Fast Falls the Night

Julia Keller. Minotaur, $25.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-08961-8

Despite its 24-hour timeline, Keller’s sixth Bell Elkins novel (after 2016’s Sorrow Falls) feels less than urgent. In a plot inspired by a true story, a tainted batch of heroin makes its way through Acker’s Gap, W.Va., putting police and paramedics into overtime as dozens of addicts overdose. County prosecutor Bell and Deputy Jake Oakes quickly trace the source and warn a community to which they sometimes turn a blind eye. Procedural readers will be disappointed by the lack of case-changing reveals, but they may be assuaged by Keller’s skill in depicting the strained relationship between a realistic but unjaded law enforcement team and those whom they could but don’t generally prosecute, while treating all the players with human compassion. Keller keeps a core series theme—deep connections in a small multigenerational community—strong by bringing in old family secrets through a secondary plot focusing on child abuse and dramatic developments in Bell’s relationship with her ex-felon sister. Agent: Lisa Gallagher, Sanford J. Greenburger Associates. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/23/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Good Daughter

Karin Slaughter. Morrow, $27.99 (512p) ISBN 978-0-06-243024-3

In the prologue of this gripping standalone from Thriller Award–finalist Slaughter (Pretty Girls), Zach Culpepper and an accomplice break into the Pikeville, Ga., home of attorney Rusty Quinn, who has become an unpopular figure for his advocacy on behalf of “outlaw bikers, drug gangs, and child killers,” as well as abortion clinics and unions. Ironically, Zach is someone Rusty has defended in the past. The thugs gun down Rusty’s wife and brutalize his teen daughters, Charlotte and Samantha. Samantha is shot in the head and buried alive, her fate left uncertain. Flash forward 28 years: Charlotte, now a lawyer, gets caught in a school shooting that claims the lives of the principal and a student. Charlotte spots a teenager wearing goth makeup holding a gun, but she believes something about the crimes doesn’t add up and investigates herself. Meanwhile, the shooting incident revives memories of the trauma that she and her family suffered years before. Slaughter keeps the twists coming, but some plot developments come at the expense of psychological depth. Author tour. Agent: Victoria Sanders, Victoria Sanders & Associates. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/23/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Seeing Red

Sandra Brown. Grand Central, $27 (432p) ISBN 978-1-4555-7210-6

Combustible relations between a strong man with seemingly serious flaws and a beautiful, smart woman with unexpected strengths elevate this novel of romantic suspense from bestseller Brown (Sting). TV journalist Kerra Bailey wants to interview Maj. Franklin Trapper, who became a hero when he led survivors to safety during the unsolved 1992 Pegasus Hotel bombing in Dallas, which killed 197 people, and who has since dropped out of public view. Kerra hopes to get the major’s estranged son, John, a former ATF agent, to help arrange a meeting, but he’s rude and uncooperative. She eventually succeeds in setting up an interview at the major’s home, but shortly beforehand, Franklin is fatally shot and Kerra barely manages to escape the two killers. While Sheriff Glenn Addison and the Texas Rangers search for clues, Kerra and John alternate between attraction and distrust as they desperately try to discover the who and the why behind the shooting. Competent plotting, sizzling romance, and some nifty surprises should satisfy Brown’s eager fans. Agent: Maria Carvainis, Maria Carvainis Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/23/2017 | Details & Permalink

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