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Sanctuary

Luca D’Andrea, trans. from the Italian by Howard Curtis and Katherine Gregor. Harper, $16.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-289700-8

At the start of this twisted thriller set in 1974 Italy from D’Andrea (Beneath the Mountain), Marlene, the wife of a criminal named Wegener, steals a pouch filled with sapphires from her husband and flees. Her plan is to exchange the sapphires for identity documents and start a new life. Driving in the Dolomites, she takes a wrong turn, loses control of her car, and crashes. Marlene is rescued by Simon Keller, a Bau’r (a peasant who’s also a priest), who brings her to his farmstead to recover from her injuries. Initially, Marlene thinks Simon is a friend, but the longer she stays with him, the more she realizes he may be as dangerous as Wegener. Trapped in the snow-covered mountains miles from civilization, Marlene must make tough choices in order to survive. The tension rises as she realizes that sinister events appear to be connected to tales of the Brothers Grimm. Disjointed flashbacks won’t stop readers from turning the pages to the suspenseful conclusion. Fans of contemporary dark fairy tales will want to check this one out. Agent: Piergiorgio Nicolazzini, Piergiorgio Nicolazzini Literary. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/01/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The God Game

Danny Tobey. St. Martin’s, $26.99 (464p) ISBN 978-1-250-30614-2

This grim sophomore novel from Tobey (The Faculty Club) mixes the teen horror and cyber thriller genres for a glimpse of the cruelty that anonymity and the internet make possible. Charlie Lake is one of the founders of the Vindicators, a group of senior geeks at an Austin, Tex., high school who gather in the tech lab and play the occasional harmless prank. Charlie’s nihilistic friend, Peter Quine, introduces them to the G.O.D. game, which supposedly amounts to “the sum total of human conceptions about the divine come alive, able to express itself and answer questions and spout new proverbs and instructions.” Charlie, Peter, and the three other members of the group each have pressures and secrets in their lives that leave them open to the game’s demands. These begin fairly innocuously, but rapidly move to mysterious missions, violent pranks, and betrayals of each other, culminating with the “bargain” of a death for freedom from the game. The heartlessness on display may put off some readers, but fans of AI run amok should relish this one. Agent: Jodi Reamer, Writers House. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/01/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Decent Inn of Death

Rennie Airth. Penguin, $16 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-14-313429-9

Set in post-WWII England, Airth’s outstanding sixth John Madden mystery (after 2017’s The Death of Kings) takes retired Scotland Yard chief inspector Angus Sinclair, a series regular, to Hampshire to visit friends. From his host, Sinclair learns that Greta Hartmann, the local church’s German organist, drowned in a stream after slipping and hitting her head on a rock. The official verdict of accident is challenged by Greta’s housemate, Vera Cruickshank, who refuses to believe that her close friend, who always forded the stream with great care, just slipped. Vera’s argument impresses Sinclair, and his suspicions of foul play are strengthened when he learns that Greta was unsettled after a chance encounter with a man whose car had broken down. Given Greta’s nationality, Sinclair considers the possibility that she recognized a Nazi war criminal, who subsequently killed her to keep her quiet. The suspense heightens once Madden, a shell-shocked WWI veteran, gets involved in the search for the murderer. Charles Todd fans will be pleased. Agent: Agent: Joy Harris, Joy Harris Literary. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/01/2019 | Details & Permalink

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No Bad Deed

Heather Chavez. Morrow, $26.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-293617-2

While driving alone one rainy night, veterinarian Cassie Larkin, the narrator of Chavez’s propulsive debut set in California wine country, spots a large man menacing a young woman in the road. Cassie stops and calls 911, but against the dispatcher’s advice, she gets out of her van and confronts the man, who threatens Cassie before escaping with her car. The next night, which is Halloween, Cassie’s husband, Sam, abandons their six-year-old daughter, Audrey, while trick-or-treating and disappears. Det. Ray Rico, who investigates, suspects that either Cassie or her 15-year-old son, Leo, is involved in Sam’s disappearance. Chavez peoples her tale with credible, flawed individuals, presenting even the multiple antagonists with harrowing backstories and convincing psychological motives. While readers must suspend disbelief at times (as when Cassie fails to check in with Rico and goes rogue), Chavez is in full command of plot and pacing as the connection between Cassie’s roadside confrontation and Sam’s disappearance becomes clear. Domestic thriller fans will be well satisfied. Agent: Peter Steinberg, Foundry Literary + Media. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/01/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Old Success: A Richard Jury Mystery

Martha Grimes. Atlantic Monthly, $26 (256p) ISBN 978-0-8021-4740-0

The discovery of the body of a French tourist, washed up on one of the Isles of Scilly off the Cornish coast, kicks off MWA Grand Master Grimes’s entertaining, if sometimes befuddling, 25th mystery featuring Scotland Yard Supt. Richard Jury (after 2018’s The Knowledge). Soon afterward, a man is killed on an East Midlands estate—possibly by his wife, who admits only to shooting him in the leg—and a woman is gunned down inside Exeter Cathedral. Jury and his eccentric pal, Melrose Plant, plus handfuls of detectives from the far-flung crime scenes, attempt to discern what, if anything, connects these murders. Jury and company travel around England by boat, plane, helicopter, and car in search of answers, with occasional breaks for a drink in places such as the Old Success Pub in Land’s End. Never mind the difficulty of keeping track of the large cast and the complicated plot, witty dialogue keeps the action moving to the satisfying conclusion. Series fans and newcomers alike will have fun. Agent: Steve Sheppard, Cowan, Debaets, Abrahams & Sheppard. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/25/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Case of the Wandering Scholar

Kate Saunders. Bloomsbury, $17 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-1-63286-839-8

Set in 1851, Saunders’s excellent sequel to 2016’s The Secrets of Wishtide opens with 53-year-old Laetitia Rodd, a clergyman’s widow who does inquiries to supplement her meager income, hearing a plea from Jacob Welland, a fellow Hampstead resident who’s dying of consumption. Jacob wants her to find his younger brother, Joshua, from whom he became estranged after Jacob wooed and married Joshua’s love some 15 years before, so he can make amends. Joshua has been living “like a wild creature, in hedges and ditches” around Oxford in the years since a breakdown ended his studies at Oxford University. To facilitate her search, Mrs. Rodd stays with clergyman Arthur Somers and his wife, Rachel, outside Oxford. Though Somers’s obsessive High Church practices disturb her, she gleans useful information from parish curate Henry Barton, a friendly Oxford don. When Arthur is poisoned, Henry and Rachel, who Mrs. Rodd has guessed love each other, are arrested for the crime, and she strives to prove their innocence. Saunders’s exquisite prose and patient storytelling build a convincing Victorian voice, while Mrs. Rodd’s shrewd, energetic narration adds further appeal to the rich depiction of 19th-century landscapes and attitudes. Mainstream readers who appreciate Victorian fiction will be rewarded. Agent: Caradoc King, A.P. Watt. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/25/2019 | Details & Permalink

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City of Pearl

Alys Clare. Severn, $28.99 (208p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8898-3

In Clare’s eerie ninth Aelf Fen medieval mystery (after 2018’s The Rufus Spy), English healer Lassair, drained and depressed by recent personal losses, agrees to accompany her mentor, Gurdyman, on a sudden journey from Cambridge to faraway Spain, even though the elderly healer and magician won’t tell her why they’re going. Soon it becomes clear that the wise and formidable Gurdyman is deeply afraid, which is no surprise since the impetus of the journey was his finding a dead man in his doorway with a pearl in his hands. The tension builds as a malevolent presence haunts the pair’s arduous journey to the City of Pearl. Alarmed by Lassair’s departure, the Cambridge lawman Jack Chevestrier tries to pick up her trail, which also increases the stakes and deepens the emotional narrative, since Lassair and the burly Jack have unfinished business. The lack of a murder case to solve may disappoint some, but those who enjoy mystical thrillers set in medieval Europe will be well rewarded. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/25/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Death Brings a Shadow

Rosemary Simpson. Kensington, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4967-2209-6

Simpson’s strong fourth Gilded Age mystery (after 2018’s Let the Dead Keep Their Secrets) brings New Yorker Prudence MacKenzie and former Pinkerton detective Geoffrey Hunter to Georgia’s Bradford Island for the wedding of a close friend of Prudence, heiress Eleanor Dickson. Soon after their arrival, Eleanor is found drowned. When Geoffrey notices bruising on the body that suggests foul play, the two determine to solve the crime. Prudence discovers that juju is still practiced on Bradford and that a former slave and conjure woman called Aunt Jessa knows more than she is telling. When Aunt Jessa is murdered, the sleuths feel sure that the island’s secrets hold the key to Eleanor’s death. The tension rises as Prudence’s Yankee perspective clashes with Geoffrey’s greater sympathy for the South, jeopardizing their investigative partnership and their personal rapport. Though the elaborate backstory can be confusing, Simpson neatly exploits the gothic possibilities of her isolated setting and delivers a nuanced look at an America struggling to adjust to transformative change. This entry should win the series new fans. Agent: Jessica Faust, BookEnds Literary. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/25/2019 | Details & Permalink

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In the Dark

Loreth Anne White. Montlake Romance, $9.99 trade paper (452p) ISBN 978-1-5420-0383-4

White (The Dark Bones) employs kaleidoscopic perspectives in this tense modern adaptation of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Nine people are invited to a free getaway at a remote lodge in the wilderness of British Columbia. They quickly discover they’re all connected by a dark moment from their pasts, and whoever invited them wants to punish them for their lies. Several days later, hunters find the wreck of the group’s crash-landed floatplane in the forest and a corpse inside with a knife in his neck. Royal Canadian Mounted Police sergeant Mason Deniaud must piece together what happened as he and local search and rescue manager Callie Sutton look for survivors. White’s structural sleight of hand as she shifts between narrators and timelines keeps the suspense high but occasionally veers into the contrived, and the fast-paced mystery loses momentum in the final third. Despite these frustrations, Christie fans will find this taut, clever thriller to be a worthy homage to the original. Agent: Amy Tannenbaum, Jane Rotrosen Agency. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/25/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Below the Radar

Dana Ridenour. Wise Ink Creative Publishing, $14.99 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-63489-224-7

At the start of Ridenour’s uneven third thriller featuring FBI agent Alexis “Lexie” Montgomery (after Beyond the Cabin), Lexie’s therapist tells Lexie, who’s feeling guilty about a colleague’s death during her last mission, that she doesn’t have to accept a new assignment—investigating the disappearance of a Dutch constable who went undercover seeking illegal activity among an extremist group, the Animal Liberation Front, and was in touch with an American “known to be involved in dangerous terrorist activities.” But Lexie, eager for a chance to redeem herself, knows she’s the best qualified agent for the job. She joins a small team that sets off for the Netherlands to infiltrate the ALF. The determined, resilient Lexie emerges as a fully rounded lead as she overcomes a range of obstacles before gaining a new outlook on life by book’s end. Ridenour, a retired FBI agent, brings authenticity to the action, but readers should be prepared for stock supporting characters, including an FBI agent who takes a romantic interest in Lexie, and a standard issue plot. Veteran thriller fans will be underwhelmed. (Self-published.)

Reviewed on 10/25/2019 | Details & Permalink

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