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Running from the Dead

Mike Knowles. ECW, $15.95 trade paper (250p) ISBN 978-1-77041-519-5

As PI Sam Jones, the hero of this brilliantly woven crime novel from Canadian author Knowles (Tin Men), is paying the cashier in a Toronto coffee house, he notices blood on his cuff and goes to the bathroom to try and remove the stain. On the back of the bathroom door he notices a message “written with a calligrapher’s skill” in eyeliner that reads: “He is going to kill me, and I think I want him to.” Having worked on an abduction case for six years and failed to stop his client’s son’s murder, Jones determines to locate—and hopefully save—the person who wrote the message. Meanwhile, another client wants Jones’s help finding her father, who has disappeared from his assisted living facility. As Jones pursues the writer of the message and the missing father, he realizes it won’t be long before the police start looking for him for a crime that slowly and enticingly comes into focus. The blood on his cuff is one tantalizing clue. The realistic, multidimensional characters evolve, as do their relationships with one another. With any luck, Jones will be back for an encore. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Booked for Death: A Booklover’s B&B Mystery

Victoria Gilbert. Crooked Lane, $26.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-64385-307-9

The action of this charming series launch from Gilbert (the Blue Ridge Library mysteries) takes place mainly at Chapters Bed-and-Breakfast, an inn in Beaufort, N.C., that hosts literary events. The owner, former schoolteacher Charlotte Reed, recently inherited the place from its founder, her great-aunt Isabella Harrington. In the library, during a celebration of mystery author Josephine Tey, Charlotte runs into rare book dealer Lincoln Delamont, who tells Charlotte that he’s unearthed a family secret—Isabella, a former maid, purchased rare volumes for the B&B with ill-gotten gains. He implies that he’ll reveal the secret, which is news to Charlotte, and cause a scandal unless she sells him valuable books for next to nothing. When Delamont’s body is later discovered in the carriage house, the book dealer’s 16-year-old daughter is certain Charlotte killed her father to silence him. Charlotte sets out to clear her name, ably abetted by a neighbor with her own intriguing past. The stakes rise as more suspects and another big secret come to light. Cozy fans and book lovers will be satisfied. Agent: Frances Black, Arts Counsel. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Tell Me My Name

Erin Ruddy. Dundurn, $15.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-4597-4615-2

In Canadian author Ruddy’s well-paced debut, 40-year-old Ellie Patterson and her husband, Neil, have come to their second home on Euclid Lake in the wilds of Ontario. With their children away at camp, the couple hope to rekindle the spark in their marriage and rediscover their “old adventuresome selves.” Barely two days later, Ellie is abducted from her kitchen by a handsome man in his 50s who looks like an actor. Soon afterward, Neil becomes a prisoner of the same psychopath, who claims Ellie is his soulmate. “I have a little game in mind for the three of us,” their captor tells them. Ellie must tell him his name, or he will mutilate Neil, one digit at a time. Ellie proceeds to reexamine her past, searching for clues to his identity among the jumble of memories—some disturbing, some cherished—from her early childhood to her recent past. Readers will cheer as Ellie faces her fears and takes decisive action to save herself and her family. Ruddy plays effectively with issues of identity, regret, and forgiveness in this suspenseful thriller. Agent: Bill Hanna, Acacia House (Canada). (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Hour of the Fox

Cassandra Clark. Severn, $27 (256p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8958-4

Friar Rodric Chandler, the hero of this fresh series launch set in 1399 England from Clark (the Hildegard of Meaux mysteries), inspires fear in those who know of him throughout London, because he’s an effective spy for a ruthless political faction. No stranger to violence and lust, he’s conflicted about his spying, his religious calling, and his place among the powerful in the kingdom. When Chandler investigates the murder of a young novice found with her throat slit in the Thames, he suspects a cover-up, one that could reach into some scary places. Meanwhile, Richard II has gone to Ireland, and rumors bedevil London that Henry of Bolingbroke, the king’s cousin, is poised to invade from his place of foreign exile and try to take the English throne. The murder plot loses some of its urgency amid the clash-of-dynasties backdrop, and shifting points of view combined with some short chapters can make for choppy reading. But whenever the focus is on Chandler, the story grips. Readers will want to see more of this highly original protagonist. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Last One to Lie

J.M. Winchester. Thomas & Mercer, $15.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-5420-0583-8

At the outset of this far-fetched, coincidence-laden psychological thriller from Winchester (All the Lovely Pieces), anxious mom Kelsey Jennings leaves yoga class one morning to pick up her two-year-old daughter, Mikayla, at the child’s day-care center in Ellicott City, Md. On arrival, she’s told that Mikayla isn’t enrolled there. When repeated calls to her high school teacher husband, Malcolm, all go to voicemail, Kelsey has a hysterical meltdown. Is she mentally ill, is she the victim of a terrible plot orchestrated by Malcolm, or is something even more sinister at work? Police detective Paul Ryan looks into her case. Kelsey, who suffered a traumatic childhood, and Paul, whose life grows increasingly dysfunctional, share narrative duties with a mysterious third character, Holly, but all three first-person voices are virtually interchangeable. Logical, grammatical prose compensates only in part for inconsistencies, such as the circumstances of Mikayla’s disappearance, and confusing, overblown backstories. Other authors have done a better job of making similar material convincing. Agent: Jill Marsal, Marsal Lyon Literary. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Lies, Lies, Lies

Adele Parks. Mira, $17.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-7783-6088-9

In this engrossing novel from British author Parks (I Invited Her In), a multitude of lies swirls around the supposedly happy marriage of Daisy, a London primary school teacher, and Simon Barnes, an interior designer. Six years earlier, their family seemed to be complete with the birth of a daughter after a decade of trying to conceive and endless rounds of IVF failures. But Simon, who drinks to excess and “holds no truck with contentment,” demands they try for a second child, no matter the financial or emotional cost, especially for Daisy. Simon’s alcoholism spirals out of control, exacerbated when he learns it may be impossible for them to conceive. Soon, Simon is missing family events, staying out all night, and taking his anger out on Daisy. Then, Simon’s behavior at their best friends’ party results in a near fatal car accident. Much worse follows as a former friend of Daisy with a propensity for violence comes back into her life and drives Simon to murder. Simon’s rage and Daisy’s inability to control her life add to the story’s believability. Despite neither spouse being easy to sympathize with, readers will find this sobering tale of how alcoholism affects family and friends hard to put down. Agent: Jonny Geller, Curtis Brown. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Anarchists’ Club

Alex Reeve. Felony & Mayhem, $26 (336p) ISBN 978-1-63194-236-5

Set in Victorian London, Reeve’s well-crafted sequel to 2019’s Half Moon Street finds Leo Stanhope, formerly Lottie Pritchard, involved in another thought-provoking murder case. A few days after Dora Hannigan, accompanied by her two children, Aidan and Ciara, makes a small purchase at the pharmacy owned by Leo’s landlord, the police bring Leo to a club for political radicals, where Dora’s corpse has been found. Since Leo’s name and address are on Dora’s body, they doubt his claim that she’s a stranger. As Leo is leaving, he’s accosted by a childhood acquaintance, a wealthy industrialist’s radical son, who threatens to reveal his secret—that Leo was born and raised as female—if Leo won’t provide him with an alibi. Afraid of being prosecuted or committed to an asylum, Leo agrees to do so, fueling police suspicion further. Meanwhile, Aidan and Ciara, now homeless, return to the pharmacy, the last place they visited before Dora’s death. Leo grows increasingly attached to the children as he pursues the killer, who Ciara insists is a lion. In this nicely plotted puzzle, Reeve movingly explores Leo’s inner life. Readers will hope he’ll return soon. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Broken Genius: A Will Parker Thriller

Drew Murray. Oceanview, $26.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-60809-388-5

Murray’s competent debut, a series launch, introduces Will Parker, who left his job as the CEO of a fabulously successful tech company to become a special agent in the FBI’s Cyber division out of guilt for an error Will made in a coding program that led indirectly to the murder of a kidnapped co-ed. A case takes Will to Indiana, where Roger Caplan, a vendor at a local comic convention, has been murdered; traces of radioactivity that match “the 2011 Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear accident” were found in Caplan’s hotel room. The trail leads Will to a Dark Net auction of the Fukushima Unicorn, a portable quantum computer that has the potential to change the world for good or ill. Will and his cohorts as well as his adversaries, who include “the most skilled and prolific hacker in Asia,” are soon racing through crowds of cosplayers and Star Trek fans to gain control of the quantum computer. Fortunately for Will, no one else is nearly as smart, fit, or as quick-witted as he is. Computer geeks will look forward to Will’s further adventures. Agent: Melissa Edwards, Stonesong. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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They Did Bad Things

Lauren A. Forry. Arcade CrimeWise, $25.99 (290p) ISBN 978-1-950691-44-9

The ominous note at the start of this superior riff on And Then There Were None from Forry (Abigale Hall) indicates that the narrative that follows is a diary recovered as evidence and that some of the pages are missing. Police Constable Hollis Drummond, newly promoted to CID detective, is expecting a relaxing weekend at Wolf-heather House, on Scotland’s Isle of Doon, but he realizes something is going on as soon as he arrives and sees the four other guests. The five shared a house more than 20 years earlier, while undergrads at London’s Cahill University, with Callum McAllister, who died mysteriously. Someone has lured the five to the isolated location, arranged for the sofa McAllister died on to be transported there, and left taunting notes on the stationery their dead classmate used when they lived together. Soon people start dying, leaving the survivors to wonder whether one of them is responsible for the bloodshed. Forry expertly maintains the nail-biting suspense while fully developing her characters. Agatha Christie fans won’t want to miss this one. Agent: Sandra Sawicka, Marjacq Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Sleeping Beauties: An Inspector Tom Reynolds Mystery

Jo Spain. Crooked Lane, $26.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-64385-305-5

The discovery of the bodies of five young women, all strangled, buried in a valley south of Dublin kick-starts Spain’s capable third mystery featuring Det. Insp. Tom Reynolds of the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation (after 2019’s Beneath the Surface). Uncommon blue flowers planted around the graves, which a botanist determines come from Ireland’s southwest, lead the police to deduce that the killer may be a sales representative for a gardening company. Meanwhile, 19-year-old Fiona Holland goes missing while walking home from a bar in a village outside Dublin. With the autopsy reports showing that the five murder victims were each held captive for a short time, Tom and his team are under the gun to locate Fiona as soon as possible, in the hope the killer has her and she’s still alive. A touching subplot concerning Tom’s friend Sean McGuinness, a former NBCI chief superintendent whose wife has Alzheimer’s, adds emotional depth. Spain keeps the reader guessing to the end. Fans of contemporary Irish police procedurals will be rewarded. Agent: Nicola Barr, Bent Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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