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The House of Ashes

Stuart Neville. Soho Crime, $27.95 (304p) ISBN 978-1-61695-741-4

This gut-wrenching novel of psychological suspense with ghostly undertones from Edgar finalist Neville (Ratlines) opens early one morning with social worker Sara Keane scrubbing off the blood stains she often sees on the kitchen floor of the Ashes, the 120-year-old house her father-in-law bought for her and her angry architect husband, Damien, in Belfast, where the couple moved after “things went bad” in England. Damien, who’s not yet up, believes Sara is imagining the blood stains. Then Sara hears someone hammering on the front door. Outside is Mary Jackson, a disheveled old woman, who says the Ashes is her house and rants about missing children. Damien appears, recognizes Mary, and ushers her out of the house to take her back to the “care home.” Sara and Mary later develop a friendship tempered by shared emotional anguish. Alternating story lines show how Sara’s present-day woes intersect with Mary’s traumatic past and shed light on howmomen called Mummies and men called Daddies mistreated children in the house. This unforgettable tale of servitude and subservience, domestic abuse, and toxic masculinity builds to a resolution offering redemption and heartfelt solace. Neville has outdone himself. Agent: Nat Sobel, Sobel Weber Assoc. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/02/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Grave Reservations

Cherie Priest. Atria, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-1-9821-6889-6

This frothy blend of paranormal cozy and off-the-books police procedural from Priest (The Toll) stars travel agent Leda Foley, the owner of Foley’s Far-Fetched Flights of Fancy in Seattle, Wash., who also moonlights at a local bar, where she divines meaningful songs for the customers by means of psychometry. Her life changes when she acts on an overwhelming urge to change the flight plan of a client, Det. Grady Merritt of the Seattle PD. Her decision saves his life and leads Grady to hire her out of his own pocket to help him with a cold case. As Leda follows Grady to the scene of the crime and to interviews with persons of interest, she begins to sense that the case is connected to an even colder one: her fiancé’s unsolved murder from 18 months earlier. Soon witnesses and suspects are dying in unusual circumstances. Will Leda be next? Snappy patter and the irrepressible, goofy charm of Leda and her colorful friends more than compensate for the lack of thrills, chills, and breathtaking surprises. Readers will hope this is the start of a series. Agent: Stacia Decker, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/02/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Blood Kin

Matt Hilton. Severn, $28.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-7278-9096-2

Early in Hilton’s so-so eighth thriller featuring Portland, Maine, PI Tess Grey and her significant other, ex-con Po Villere (after 2020’s Collision Course), Po spots Elspeth Fuchs, someone he hasn’t seen in over a decade, and the only woman he considered settling down with besides Tess. Elspeth is accompanied by a 10-year-old boy, Jacob, whom Po believes looks like him, leading him to wonder whether the child is his. That possibility leads Tess to question Po’s commitment to her, but the couple soon become involved in trying to protect Elspeth, who’s hiding from her abusive ex-husband, Caleb Moorcock, a member of a strict commune run by his villainous father. (Elspeth also doesn’t confirm Po’s suspicions about Jacob.) Inevitably, Caleb tracks Elspeth down, setting up an overlong rescue sequence in which a water bottle plays an unlikely role. Ungainly prose (“There was probably little rationality for Elspeth in choosing her direction of travel”) takes readers out of the moment, and contrivances, such as an armory that’s conveniently accessible to one of the good guys, detract from the suspense. Those already invested in Tess and Po will best appreciate this one. Agent: Luigi Bonomi, LBA Assoc. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/25/2021 | Details & Permalink

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In My Dreams I Hold a Knife

Ashley Winstead. Sourcebooks Landmark, $26.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-7282-2988-1

Successful if depressed New York City consultant Jessica Miller, the narrator of Winstead’s captivating debut, decides to attend her 10th reunion at North Carolina’s Duquette University, despite the risk of reopening old wounds surrounding the stabbing murder of Heather Shelby, who belonged to a clique known as the East House Seven, which also included Jessica and Jack Carroll, Heather’s ex-boyfriend. Of the seven, only Jack declines to go, as every other member of the clique, except for Jessica, believes he killed Heather (the murder weapon was found in his room), though he wasn’t convicted of the crime. At the reunion, Heather’s brother, Eric Shelby, who works in the alumni office, takes the opportunity to interrogate Jessica and the others, certain one of them is the murderer. Flashbacks to their undergraduate days reveal deceit and disloyalty as well as Jessica’s romantic and financial struggles. The tension rises as Eric refuses to let the group leave until the truth is uncovered. Winstead does an expert job keeping the reader guessing whodunit. Suspense fans will eagerly await her next. Agent: Melissa Edwards, Stonesong. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/25/2021 | Details & Permalink

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What the Cat Dragged In: A Cat in the Stacks Mystery

Miranda James. Berkley Prime Crime, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-0-593-19946-6

In James’s excellent 14th Cat in the Stacks mystery (after 2020’s Cat Me If You Can), librarian Charlie Harris is surprised to find himself the owner of his grandfather Robert Harris’s farmhouse in Athena, Miss. Robert died in a nursing home over 40 years earlier, and Charlie believed the property was sold shortly before his death. Charlie’s son, Sean, who’s also his lawyer, reveals Robert only leased the home to Martin Hale for the duration of Hale’s own life. With Hale having just died, ownership reverts to Charlie, a shock as well to Hale’s grandson, also named Martin, who expected to inherit it. After Charlie visits the farmhouse, his cat, Diesel, finds a human skull and bones in the attic. Meanwhile, the body of grandson Martin turns up on the property, and the timing of the murder leads Charlie to suspect a connection to the remains in the attic. The solution’s both fair and satisfying, and Charlie is a plausible investigator and the supporting cast realistic. This entry reinforces James’s place in the top rank of cozy authors. Agent: Nancy Yost, Nancy Yost Literary. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/25/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Two Spies in Caracas

Moisés Naím, trans. from Spanish by Daniel Hahn. Amazon Crossing, $14.95 trade paper (348p) ISBN 978-1-5420-1669-8

Journalist Naím (The End of Power) makes his fiction debut with a gripping political thriller that immerses the reader in the volatile Bolivarian revolution led by Venezuelan army colonel Hugo Chávez. Chávez’s failed 1992 coup caught the world by surprise, drawing the interest of Fidel Castro, who envisioned a valuable economic partner, as well as the attention of the United States, which was preoccupied with regional instability. Chávez’s unlikely rise from political prisoner to the presidential palace is seen through the eyes of Cuban intelligence officer Iván Rincón, CIA spy Cristina Graza, and a diverse cast of real-life-inspired composite and fictional characters. Naím wields his experiences as an international affairs writer and former Venezuelan economic cabinet member to provide authoritative insights into the severe economic downturns and rises in violence stemming from the power plays of external actors seeking to exploit a vulnerable nation in turmoil. This is a must for anyone who wants to explore this tumultuous and often strange period in modern Latin American history. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/25/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Scarred

Nick Oldham. Severn, $28.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7278-5014-0

British author Oldham’s slow-moving 28th Henry Christie thriller (after 2020’s Bad Timing) opens in 1985, when Christie, then a Blackpool constable, is eager to prove himself to his superiors. One day, as Christie hopes to add to his tally of shoplifter arrests, he spots a boy nick expensive perfume. But when Christie pursues him, he’s blindsided by another boy and beaten unconscious. After recovering, he identifies the teen he chased as Tommy Benemy and apprehends him. Tommy refuses to implicate any accomplice and disappears after he’s released on bail. Tommy’s mother, Trish, fears her son hasn’t vanished voluntarily. Flash forward to 2020, when Christie has retired after a long police career to become a PI. The cold case revives after Trish’s corpse is found, a plastic bag over her head, near a note addressed to Christie, stating that grief at her loss motivated her suicide and asking him to keep looking for her son. After the postmortem concludes Trish was murdered, Christie investigates that crime and its possible link to Tommy’s fate. Since the characterizations are thin, the reveal of the culprit’s identity has little emotional impact. This one’s for devoted series followers only. Agent: Olav Wyper, SMS Talent (U.K.). (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/25/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Jim Hanvey, Detective

Octavus Roy Cohen. Poisoned Pen, $14.99 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-4642-1503-2

First published in 1923, this fine story collection from Cohen (1891–1957) stars New York investigator Jim Hanvey, whose “huge, fat, shapeless” head and other unattractive features make him perhaps the least impressive–looking sleuth in crime fiction. The seven short stories are all inverted mysteries, with the fascination derived from the ways in which Hanvey trips up a criminal whose culpability has already been revealed to the reader. In “Fish Eyes,” bank teller Clifford Wallace, after stealing a large sum from his employer, attempts to allay suspicion by reporting the missing cash to his boss, having already passed the money to his fiancée, who uses a safety-deposit box maintained in her dead sister’s name to store the loot. Hanvey’s called in to investigate, and his hovering, annoying Columbo-like presence leads Wallace to make a costly misstep. Hanvey’s acumen is also on display in cases involving stolen gems (“Caveat Emptor”) and an effort to rig a proxy fight (“Common Stock”). The affable but lonely Hanvey is a unique and sympathetic creation. This Library of Congress Crime Classic provides a pleasant change of pace. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/25/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Night We Burned

S.F. Kosa. Sourcebooks Landmark, $16.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-1-7282-1559-4

Fact-checker and copyeditor Dora Rodriguez, the protagonist of this strong thriller from Kosa (The Quiet Girl), works in Seattle, Wash., for an online news magazine. An expert at uncovering the truth, Dora hides the facts of her own identity and believes that lying about her past is the only way to protect herself against criminal prosecution for her role in the massive fire that destroyed a cult 20 years ago. But when that past finally catches up with her in the form of a news story she’s asked to edit about a murder that she knows must be linked to the cult, Dora must make sure that no one else can uncover the truth—no matter how deeply they dig. Dora’s desperate attempts to hold together a disintegrating web of deception alternate with flashbacks that detail the sexual jealousy and manipulation in the cult she fled as a young woman. The flashbacks somewhat slow down the present-day narrative, but the story’s explosive conclusion provides a neat twist that compensates. Suspense fans will look forward to Kosa’s next. Agent: Victoria Marini, Irene Goodman Literary. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/25/2021 | Details & Permalink

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No Witness: A Cal Claxton Mystery

Warren C. Easley. Poisoned Pen, $15.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-4642-1443-1

In Easley’s satisfying eighth mystery featuring Oregon attorney Cal Claxton (after 2019’s No Way to Die), Timoteo Fuentes, a bright and energetic young man Cal has taken a liking to, wants to become a lawyer for the right reason—to change society for the better. When Timoteo’s sister, Olivia, is shot dead from ambush, the Fuentes family begs Cal to help with the investigation because they’re uneasy about dealing with the police; Timoteo and Olivia were both relatively safe as Dreamers protected by DACA, but other members of the hardworking family are undocumented and thus in danger of deportation by ICE if they call attention to themselves as witnesses to a crime. Cal must use all his ingenuity to get information from the Latino community, as he learns that a stone-cold cartel hit man is prowling the neighborhood. Meanwhile, the ominous attention of a white supremacist ICE officer and a predatory financier further complicates the case. Easley celebrates a loving family’s resilience and the power of good people working together. He should win new fans with this one. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/25/2021 | Details & Permalink

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