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Dead Land: A V.I. Warshawski Novel

Sara Paretsky. Morrow, $28.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-243592-7

In MWA Grand Master Paretsky’s solid 21st V.I. Warshawski novel (after 2018’s Shell Game), Warshawski’s goddaughter, Bernadine “Bernie” Fouchard, persuades her to attend a meeting of the South Lakefront Improvement Council (SLICK), a Chicago community group. On the group’s agenda is the Chicago Parks District’s plan to fill in part of the lake to create a beach. The meeting erupts in protest, led by the mysterious Coop. Later, Warshawski and Bernie seek to help Lydia Zamir, a former famous singer-songwriter now living on the streets and suffering from the aftershock of the murder of her lover, Hector Palurdo, in a mass shooting. Warshawski looks into who killed Hector while also investigating the actions of SLICK after two of its speakers are murdered. Could Coop be involved? Warshawski knows well the shady politics that drive Chicago and the city’s “pay for play” policies, but she wasn’t expecting to uncover a conspiracy that reaches into South America. Never mind that the plot occasionally becomes mired in repetitious action. Warshawski’s spirit and strength still shine. Agent: Dominick Abel, Dominick Abel Literary. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/07/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Three Hours in Paris

Cara Black. Soho Crime, $27.95 (360p) ISBN 978-1-64129-041-8

In October 1939, American Kate Rees, the heroine of this riveting standalone from bestseller Black (the Aimée Leduc series), is living with her naval engineer husband and baby daughter at Scapa Flow, the Royal Navy base in Scotland’s Orkney Islands. After her husband and daughter die during the German U-boat attack on the battleship Royal Oak, Kate becomes obsessed with defeating Hitler. Her rifle skills, learned as a girl hunting in Oregon, earn her a place in a British intelligence operation to assassinate Hitler. In June 1940, with little training, she parachutes into Paris, where Hitler is making a brief visit. Kate gets Hitler in her crosshairs, but her shot misses and she goes on the run. Hitler orders the regular German police and the Gestapo to catch the sniper within 36 hours. Despite numerous obstacles and the realization that no plan was made for her safe return, Kate is determined to make her way to London. Black keeps the suspense high throughout. Fans of The Day of the Jackal won’t want to miss this heart-stopping thriller. Agent: Katherine Fausset, Curtis Brown. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/07/2020 | Details & Permalink

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He Started It

Samantha Downing. Berkley, $26 (400p) ISBN 978-0-451-49175-6

Beth Morgan’s wryly humorous narration belies the high-stakes skullduggery that awaits her and her two estranged adult siblings on the cross-country road trip they’re forced into taking with their grandfather’s ashes in order to claim slices of his fortune, in this deliciously devious psycho thriller from Downing (My Lovely Wife). According to the terms of the will, Beth, overbearing big brother Eddie, and frosty baby sister Portia must retrace the oddball odyssey westward from Atlanta they took 20 years earlier with gramps, a traumatic trip that was intended to give their parents some alone time to save their marriage but would tear their family apart. The reboot starts inauspiciously with a truck running the travelers off the road in rural Alabama and subsequently tailing them. As backstabbing, bizarre occurrences (including the disappearance of the ashes) and betrayals pile up, Downing discloses the clan’s deeply buried secrets. The journey ends in a shocking, if head-spinning, showdown in the Nevada desert. Those with a taste for suspense with a wicked kick will be rewarded. Author tour. Agent: Barbara Poelle, Irene Goodman Literary. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/07/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Strike Me Down

Mindy Mejia. Atria/Bestler, $27 (352p) ISBN 978-1-9821-3323-8

The sometimes brutal, bloody world of kickboxing makes an effective and unusual backdrop for this superb thriller from Mejia (Leave No Trace). Strike, a large business dealing in athletic wear, gyms, and protein bars, is owned by marketing genius Gregg Abbott and his wife, Logan Russo, a legendary kickboxer. The couple are hosting an upcoming kickboxing tournament, Strike Down, with the winner set to earn $20 million and become the new face of Strike. With the tournament only a week away, the prize money disappears, and Gregg wants forensic accountant Nora Trier to find out where the money is stashed before the start of Strike Down. Gregg also has a suspect in mind—Logan, whom he suspects of trying to sabotage the tournament because she hates him and wants to get out of the business. Nora faces an ethical dilemma, since she has a personal connection to both Logan and Gregg. Mejia smoothly couples an intense look at three distinctive characters with a twisty, unpredictable plot. Along the way, she succeeds in making even accounting exciting. Agent: Stephanie Cabot, Gernert Co. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/07/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Death on Tuckernuck

Francine Mathews. Soho Crime, $27.95 (264p) ISBN 978-1-61695-993-7

Much of the action of Mathews’s gripping sixth Merry Folger mystery (after 2017’s Death on Nantucket) occurs on Tuckernuck, “the small island trailing like an afterthought off the western end of Nantucket.” At the end of September, most of Tuckernuck’s inhabitants have departed, leaving the island’s caretakers, Dionis Mather and her father, Jack, to evacuate the remaining residents as a hurricane approaches, though Jack has to abandon the task after suffering a heart attack. Meanwhile, Nantucket police detective Meredith “Merry” Folger is getting married soon, but the discovery of two gunshot victims aboard a yacht that runs aground on Tuckernuck during the storm ensures she’ll be on the job right up to her wedding day. A Coast Guard team is able to rescue the victims, but one dies on the helicopter flight to Nantucket, and the other remains in a coma in the hospital. At the peak of the hurricane, Dionis is trapped alone on Tuckernuck, until she meets a stranger with a gunshot wound in his hand. Readers will keep turning the pages to see what happens next. Mathews once again displays her storytelling powers. Agent: Raphael Sagalyn, Sagalyn Literary. (May)

Reviewed on 02/07/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Holding Smoke

Steph Post. Polis, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-1-947993-88-4

The terrific conclusion to Post’s Florida crime trilogy (after 2017’s Walk in the Fire) finds Judah Cannon released from jail five months after a dramatic gunfight that left an ATF agent and a competing drug runner among the dead. As Cannon emerges ready to assume the lead of his family’s underworld enterprises, his longtime love, Ramey Barrow, must decide whether she’s ready to follow him down an increasingly violent, criminal path. Meanwhile, Judah’s brother, Levi, has made a rash move that has put the Cannon clan in debt to crime boss Sukey Lewis. Desperate to repay the debt and avoid an unnecessary war, Judah agrees to participate in an ill-advised scheme to steal and ransom a thoroughbred horse. In the background is Sister Tulah Atwell, the psychotic Pentecostal preacher responsible for Judah’s father’s death. Atwell has a new lucrative online scam selling worthless Florida swampland and has plans to crush the Cannon clan for good. At the heart of this memorable cast is Brother Felton, Sister Tulah’s snake-obsessed nephew, who returns after disappearing into the swamps a changed man with a new vision. A born storyteller, Post expertly weaves these disparate plot strands into a wholly satisfying if inevitable ending. Agent: Josh Getzler, HSG Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 01/31/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Last Odyssey

James Rollins. Morrow, $28.99 (464p) ISBN 978-0-06-289289-8

Bestseller Rollins’s excellent 15th Sigma Force novel (after 2018’s Crucible) marries nail-biting action with a highly imaginative premise. Elena Cargill, an archaeologist and paleoanthropologist, rushes to Greenland at the behest of a friend, Maria Crandall, who’s a member of Sigma, a U.S. government organization that retrains gifted soldiers in various scientific disciplines. Crandall has learned of an amazing find beneath a giant iceberg—an Arab oceanic merchant vessel, apparently shipwrecked in the ninth century. Cargill and two colleagues visit the ship, in which they discover such wonders as a three-dimensional gold map embedded with an astrolabe, before coming under attack from a group of Middle Easterners, who take Cargill hostage. Crandall and other Sigma Force members later embark on a mission to save Cargill and understand the significance of the vessel, which may be connected with the historical basis for Homer’s Odyssey and a lost nation that destroyed three major civilizations between 1100 BCE and 900 BCE. Rollins sprinkles in enough facts and details to make what could have been an over-the-top premise plausible. This is a thoughtful, nonstop thrill ride that’s an exemplar of an escapist page-turner. Author tour. Agents: Russ Galen, Scovil Galen Ghosh Literary Agency; and Danny Baror, Baror International. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/31/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Payback: A Brooks/Lotello Thriller

Ronald S. Barak. Gander, $16.99 ISBN 978-1-7327204-7-3

In Barak’s intriguing third mystery featuring retired federal judge Cyrus Brooks and homicide investigator Frank Lotello (after 2018’s The Puppet Master), Cyrus’s wife, Eloise, hopes to dampen her husband’s passion for engaging in hazardous investigations with Frank by encouraging his interest in novel writing instead. Eloise gets him to agree to attend Thriller Jubilee, a weeklong writers’ conference being held on an island off the coast of Spain, hosted by the International Thrillers Organization. Eloise, Frank, and Frank’s wife accompany Cyrus to the event. Chapters told from the perspective of an unidentified person, whose first shared thoughts are homicidal, raise the tension. Those intentions appear to have implications after several people slated to speak at TITO disappear. Adding depth are the debates among TITO’s leaders about the ethical obligation to warn the conference attendees about a potential killer in their midst. Fans of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None may appreciate this suspenseful homage. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 01/31/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Problem Child: A Jane Doe Thriller

Victoria Helen Stone. Lake Union, $14.95 trade paper (266p) ISBN 978-1-5420-1439-7

Stone’s outstanding sequel to 2018’s Jane Doe finds Minneapolis attorney Jane, a sociopathic antihero, taking pleasure in destroying the career of a legal colleague who stole credit for her work; she’s also settled in a steady relationship with her sweet boyfriend, Luke. When Luke suggests they move in together, Jane is so upset she decides to leave town. The news that her 16-year-old niece, Kayla Stringer, “a spooky, cold-blooded bitch” like Jane herself, has disappeared provides her with the pretext to go to Oklahoma, where she first visits her brother, Kayla’s father, who’s indifferent to his daughter’s fate. In her search for the missing teen, she behaves in various socially unacceptable ways. Stone flips the murderous, dead-inside sociopath stereotype on its head with a successful narrator, who, though she doesn’t care for others, is practical and self-aware, showing decadent, almost inappropriate delight, for example, in delicious food. Readers will find vicarious joy in Jane’s petty vengeances and unabashed meanness to anyone who tries to take advantage of her. Stone turns some very dark material into an upbeat tale. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/31/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Girl Can’t Help It: A Krista Larson Mystery

Max Allan Collins. Thomas & Mercer, $15.95 trade paper (282p) ISBN 978-1-5420-4253-6

When Hot Rod and the Pistons, an ’80s rock cover band, learn they will be inducted into the Iowa Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame in MWA Grand Master Collins’s unimpressive sequel to 2019’s Girl Most Likely, a reunion concert is scheduled in Galena, Ill. The Pistons reunion provides an old follower a chance to exact revenge for something terrible the band did to her back in 1984—something a Piston captured on film. Angel Baby, as she was nicknamed back in the day, parties with one of the band members after the show and poisons him with an untraceable drug. She then steals his copy of the tape and makes the death look like a suicide. But as Angel Baby continues to poison the band members one by one, Galena police chief Krista Larson becomes suspicious and decides to enlist the aid of her retired police detective father, who used to be the band’s roadie. Though the killings are staged skillfully enough, the dull characters (including Krista), endless references to rock history, and bland prose combine to flatline the story. By the time the action picks up late in the book, readers will have already tuned out. Collins’s fans can take a pass on this one. Agent: Dominick Abel, Dominick Abel Literary. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/31/2020 | Details & Permalink

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