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Mycroft and Sherlock: The Empty Birdcage

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse. Titan, $25.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-785659-30-0

Abdul-Jabbar and Waterhouse’s third pastiche (after 2018’s Mycroft and Sherlock), their best yet, provides intriguing challenges for both Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes while continuing to present plausible backstories for the brothers. In 1873, Mycroft and his longtime friend and partner, Cyrus Douglas, agree to help Chinese businessman Deshi Hai Lin locate Bingwen Shi, the fiancé of Lin’s daughter, Ai, who happens to be an old flame of Mycroft’s. Shi, a land investor, disappeared in London en route to a meeting with a client. Meanwhile, 19-year-old Sherlock, who’s not yet an encyclopedia of knowledge relevant to detecting crime, gets himself tossed out of college so he can tackle a sensational serial murder case. Someone has killed eight people across Great Britain, leaving near each corpse a note bearing the message “The Fire 411!” That the victims appear to have nothing in common adds to the puzzle. The authors do a stellar job of illuminating the siblings’ developing relationship while concocting a clever and twisty plot. Sherlockians will be enthralled. Agent: Deborah Morales, Iconomy. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/12/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Stealth

Stuart Woods. Putnam, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-0-593-08316-1

Bestseller Woods’s surprising 51st Stone Barrington novel (after Contraband) takes the New York lawyer to Station Two, an MI6 training facility in the Scottish Highlands, where he almost drowns after driving the Aston Martin he borrowed from his friend Dame Felicity Devonshire, the head of MI6, off a bridge into a river—and where he’s treated for minor injuries by Lt. Rose McGill, an attractive doctor with whom he soon becomes intimate. He also receives a dressing down from Station Two’s colonel, Roger Fife-Simpson, for wrecking the head of MI6’s sports car, but the colonel apologizes after investigators determine that a foreign operative who infiltrated the facility shot the car’s tires as it sped over the bridge. Stone later makes an enemy of the disgruntled Fife-Simpson, who feels higher-ups have thwarted his career ambitions. The rising tension doesn’t prevent Stone from spending a lot of time in bed with Rose (and Dame Felicity). Never mind a final confrontation straight out of a James Bond film. This venture into espionage territory makes a refreshing change from the criminal skullduggery Stone usually faces. Agent: Anne Sibbald, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/12/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Artifacts of the Dead: A DI Bob Valentine Mystery

Tony Black. Bold Venture, $14.95 trade paper (242p) ISBN 978-1-070676-27-2

Set in Ayr, Scotland, this brooding series launch from Black (the Rob Brennan series) introduces Det. Insp. Bob Valentine, who has just returned to work after surviving a life-threatening knife attack. Plagued by nightmares and numbing depression, Valentine has come to realize that “he remained a police officer for two reasons: because it kept his attention after all these years, and because he had passed the point where there was any other option on offer.” On his first day back, he’s called to the town dump, where the battered body of a man has been found impaled on a wooden spike. His investigation has hardly begun when another corpse is found skewered on a wooden stake. What’s the connection between the two men, and will there be more horrific deaths? While Valentine wrestles with the newfound awareness of his own mortality, his interactions with his fellow police officers distract him from his personal woes. Strong supporting characters enhance the well-paced plot. Fans of contemporary British police procedurals will be satisfied. Agent: Donna Eastman, Parkeast Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/05/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Nothing Ventured

Jeffrey Archer. St. Martin’s, $28.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-250-20076-1

An opening note to bestseller Archer’s enjoyable series launch informs the reader: “This is not a detective story, this is a story about a detective,” the detective being William Warwick from the author’s Clifton Chronicles (This Was a Man, etc.). In 1979, William, who has always wanted to be a police detective, tells his father he’s not going to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a barrister. Joining the London police force straight out of school, he quickly proves himself to his superiors and in short order moves from patrol officer to fledgling detective for Scotland Yard’s Arts and Antiquities unit, where he investigates forgeries, counterfeit antiquities, a missing Rembrandt, and a master art thief. A fully realized character, the intelligent Warrick is ambitious but naive with a lot to learn. He’s surrounded by a distinctive cast of family, colleagues, and villains, while a well-placed romantic situation fills out a near-perfect hand. The final section dealing with dueling courtroom dramas brings genuine suspense to a relatively bloodless, but thoroughly gripping, tale. Archer reinforces his position as a master storyteller. 300,000 announced first printing. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/05/2019 | Details & Permalink

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When Hell Struck Twelve: A Billy Boyle World War II Mystery

James R. Benn. Soho Crime, $27.95 (360p) ISBN 978-1-61695-963-0

In August 1944, Capt. Billy Boyle is working for General Eisenhower in the Office of Special Investigations of the Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force, in Benn’s stellar 14th WWII mystery (after 2018’s Solemn Graves). As the Allies close in on the enemy forces trying to escape the Falaise Gap, Billy’s job is to interrogate prisoners to learn about German plans to defend Paris. Boyle soon figures out that his assignment is a ruse to make it appear that the Allies are desperate for information about Paris, a clear signal that an attack on that city is in the works, when Eisenhower actually intends to bypass Paris. Meanwhile, one of the captured soldiers they question reveals that a French partisan group’s leader, code-named Atlantik, has been betraying members of the Resistance. A briefing is planned that’s intended to flush out Atlantik, complete with a phony mortar attack, but it goes wrong, and two men, including an American officer, are murdered amid the chaos. The author makes the most of the tense and dramatic backdrop to this high-stakes whodunit. Benn has surpassed himself with this installment. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/05/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Robert B. Parker’s The Bitterest Pill: A Jesse Stone Novel

Reed Farrel Coleman. Putnam, $27 (368p) ISBN 978-0-399-57497-9

Bestseller Coleman’s exceptional sixth Jesse Stone novel finds Jesse, the police chief of Paradise, Mass., still adjusting to the revelation in 2018’s Colorblind that he fathered a now adult son, Cole Slayton. Cole’s arrival in town comes “just as Paradise was shedding its own skin” and becoming more like Boston, complete with big-city crime, including narcotics. That plague hits home when 17-year-old Heather Mackey is found dead in her bedroom after overdosing on heroin and fentanyl. Concerned over the prospect of more deaths, Jesse devotes himself to finding Heather’s supplier and those higher up in the distribution chain. Coleman sustains suspense through chapters told from the perspective of the drug dealers, while withholding the identity of a key member of the drug chain, who has a link with Heather’s high school. Developments in Jesse’s personal life are effectively interwoven with the mystery plot. Coleman stays faithful to the spirit of Parker’s characters without sticking to the status quo. Author tour. Agent: Esther Newberg, ICM Partners. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/05/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols: Adapted from the Journals of John H. Watson, M.D.

Nicholas Meyer. Minotaur, $25.99 (256p) ISBN 978-1-250-22895-6

Set in 1905, Meyer’s memorable fourth Sherlock Holmes novel, his first since 1993’s The Canary Trainer, convincingly mimics Conan Doyle’s writing style and characterizations. After the murder of British operative Manya Lippman, Holmes’s brother, Mycroft, the dead woman’s employer, asks for help in tracing the origins of the papers found on her corpse. Lippman apparently paid with her life for somehow obtaining a French version of the anti-Semitic tract known as The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, which describe a Jewish plot for world domination. Mycroft is concerned about a possible connection between the documents, the annual meetings of Jews committed to the establishment of a Jewish homeland, and the untimely death of Zionist leader Theodor Herzl, who apparently suffered a heart attack right before he could be interviewed by one of Mycroft’s agents. Holmes and Watson’s pursuit of the truth takes them to France and Russia, where their ethics face a severe test. Meyer cleverly plays with his audience’s expectations, noting at the outset that the case was one of Holmes’s rare failures. Sherlockians will hope for a shorter wait for his next pastiche. Author tour. Agent: Charlotte Sheedy, Charlotte Sheedy Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/05/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Murder at Blackburn Hall

Sara Rosett. McGuffin Ink, $15.99 trade paper (280p) ISBN 978-0-9988-4317-9

Rosett’s lively sequel to Murder at Archly Manor continues the adventures of plucky Olive Belgrave, a young gentlewoman who has fallen on hard times in post-WWI England, but who has a talent for solving mysteries. Olive’s new client, London publisher Vernon Hightower, asks her to find missing author R.W. May, whose mystery novels are the financial mainstay of Hightower Books. Olive sets off for the village of Hadsworth in Kent, where the writer is believed to reside. To keep her inquiries discreet, Olive poses as the publisher’s assistant and stays with Lady Holt of Blackburn Hall, who believes that Olive is there to assess her book on etiquette. When a rainstorm unearths a body, the police consider the death to be an accident; Olive disagrees. A second death quickly follows. Olive’s dashing friend Jasper Rimington arrives and offers to be her Watson, saying, “I’d prefer Sherlock, of course, but that role seems to be taken.” Olive’s charming narrative voice effortlessly pulls the reader into a world full of surprising and fascinating period details. Fans of light historicals will be satisfied. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 07/05/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Fatal Cajun Festival: A Cajun Country Mystery

Ellen Byron. Crooked Lane, $26.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-64385-129-7

Byron’s witty fifth Cajun Country mystery (after 2018’s Mardi Gras Murder) finds Maggie Crozet, whose family owns the Crozet Plantation Bed and Breakfast in Pelican, La., gearing up for Cajun Country Live!—a music and culture festival. The town is abuzz when Tammy Barker, a rising country music star and winner of the popular TV talent show Sing It, signs on to headline the event. Tammy rolls into Pelican with her ragtag entourage of musicians, assistants, minders, and groupies. Can trouble be far behind? Although professing to have matured, Tammy is finding it hard to overcome the mean girl skills she honed in high school. Her primary target is Gaynell Bourgeois, a local musician and friend of Maggie’s. When Tammy’s “handsy” manager is murdered and Gaynell is arrested for the crime, Maggie steps up to investigate. Byron supplies a few nasty characters readers can love to hate, along with a joyous dollop of Cajun lore. Cozy fans will enjoy returning to Pelican and dropping in on the Crozet clan. Agent: Doug Grad, Doug Grad Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/05/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Stranger Inside

Lisa Unger. Park Row, $26.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-7783-0872-0

A vigilante is killing people who may have gotten away with murder, most recently a man who was tried but acquitted of killing his pregnant wife, in this cleverly plotted if credulity-challenging psychological thriller from Edgar finalist Unger (Under My Skin) set in a small New York State town. Another victim of the vigilante may have been Eugene Kreskey, who 22 years earlier had a fateful encounter with three 12-year-old friends in the woods: Tess Barker, Hank Reams, and Rain Winter. Tess was killed; Hank was kidnapped but eventually escaped; only Rain eluded Kreskey that day; Kreskey had been stalking her and later spent 10 years in a psychiatric facility. As adults, Hank and Rain have thrived: Happily married Rain is taking a break from her career as a crime reporter to stay home with baby Lily, while Hank has made a name for himself as a psychiatrist specializing in victims of trauma. Despite Rain ostensibly being a stay-at-home mom, the latest case gets her investigating again. Unger’s well-honed craft shows in her unmasking the avenger early on and using the reveal to ratchet up suspense. She also squirrels away several startling trump cards for later. Fans of serial killer novels won’t be disappointed. Agent: Amy Berkower, Writers House. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/05/2019 | Details & Permalink

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