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Making It Write

Betty Hechtman. Severn, $29.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7278-5093-5

In Hechtman’s winning sequel to 2021’s Murder Ink, freelance writer Veronica Blackstone welcomes the steady work of helping wealthy Maeve Winslow, the wife of art sensation Michael Angel, write her tell-all autobiography. Maeve has a big secret to reveal, but just days after starting the job, Veronica is horrified to find Maeve’s lifeless body at the bottom of a steep stairway at her home in an exclusive Chicago suburb. Determined to finish writing Maeve’s story despite threats from Maeve’s charming yet ruthless husband, Maeve’s greedy stepdaughter, and a YouTube influencer who’s been profiting handsomely since discovering Michael and promoting his eye-catching paintings of an adorable Scottish terrier. Veronica could really use the help of her boyfriend, police officer Ben Monroe, in investigating what becomes a murder case, but he’s out of the picture now that his not-quite-ex-wife is back. If Veronica can’t discover who killed Maeve, the murderer might just have the last word. An appealing lead matches the intriguing plot. Mystery fans would do well to add Hechtman’s sleuthing wordsmith to their reading lists. Agent: Jessica Faust, Bookends Literary. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/10/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Line of Darkness: A Colleen Hayes Mystery

Max Tomlinson. Oceanview, $27.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-60809-452-3

Set in 1979 San Francisco, Tomlinson’s impressive fourth mystery featuring unlicensed PI and ex-con Colleen Hayes (after 2021’s Bad Scene) hands his plausibly imperfect lead a well-heeled client. Ingrid Richter, a v-p at a Swiss bank who’s in town for a conference, hires Hayes to find her 42-year-old nephew, Erich Hahn. Hahn, who is “what they call ‘manic-depressive,’ ” called his aunt from the airport when he arrived in the city, but never showed for a planned dinner. Hayes manages to track Hahn to a seedy hotel, where she breaks into his room, only to discover a gun and an envelope containing “a Nazi ID card that appeared to be vintage.” The gun and ID card make her suspicious of her client and question Richter’s real motives for wanting her purported nephew found. Hayes later learns that Hahn flew to San Francisco from Buenos Aires, where a German ex-pat was murdered at the time he was there. More surprises follow en route to the satisfying climax. Fans of feisty, flawed leads will want to see more of Hayes. Agent: Evan Marshall, Evan Marshall Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/10/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Deepest Black

Randall Silvis. Poisoned Pen, $16.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-7282-2361-2

Silvis (the Ryan DeMarco series) serves as his own protagonist in this frustrating standalone. Silvis, who lives in Pennsylvania’s rural Mercer County, is in search of a subject for his next book when he’s approached by Thomas Kennaday, who provides him with details about a local mystery involving an abandoned baby and the shooting deaths of two adults and a child. When pressed, Kennaday refuses to explain how he seems to know even more about these things than the police do and departs. As Silvis begins to investigate, the mystery becomes less about Baby Doe and the murders than about Kennaday himself. Who is he? How does he know as much as he does, including details of future events? How is he able to predict what Silvis will do before Silvis does it? What starts out as a conventional mystery swerves into paranormal territory with references to conspiracy theories, inexplicable events, fringe science, New Age spirituality, and lengthy speculations about other realities. Such topics do little to enhance the plot. This weird novel is unlikely to win Silvis new fans. Agent: Sandy Lu, Book Wyrm Literary. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/10/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Wayward Son: An Ed Runyon Mystery

Steve Goble. Oceanview, $27.95 (304p) ISBN 978-1-60809-445-5

In Goble’s fine sequel to 2021’s City Problems, Ed Runyon remains haunted by his professional failures from his time in law enforcement. His inability while an NYPD detective to find a missing girl before she was murdered caused him to struggle with alcohol. His subsequent tenure as a deputy in Ohio’s Miffling County proved frustrating as well, and now Runyon has launched his own investigative agency in rural Ohio. He hopes for redemption when he’s hired to locate missing 15-year-old Jimmy Zachman by the boy’s fundamentalist Christian parents. The clues are few, but after Runyon gets a promising lead from one of the kids Jimmy played chess with, the gumshoe begins to suspect that Jimmy was the victim of an extortion scheme carried out by someone who got access to a compromising photo of the teen. When evidence surfaces that the person responsible for Jimmy’s disappearance may be close to home, the inquiry turns deadly. Strong prose and convincing characters more than make up for a plot that breaks no new ground. Goble demonstrates that a skilled writer can make familiar terrain feel fresh. Agent: Evan Marshall, Evan Marshall Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/10/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Murder Through the English Post

Jessica Ellicott. Kensington, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4967-2486-1

In Ellicott’s leisurely sixth mystery set in the English village of Walmsley Parva in the early 1920s (after 2021’s Murder in an English Glade), someone is making a great deal of mischief in the village by sending out the most distressing anonymous letters. When the new doctor’s wife attempts suicide after receiving one of these nasty missives, private enquiry agents Beryl Helliwell, “a confirmed adventuress,” and her slightly less exuberant friend, village magistrate Edwina Davenport, investigate. They soon discover that practically everyone in Walmsley Parva has received such a letter, including a pillar of the local garden club, whose subsequent death makes it imperative that they find the culprit. Meanwhile, Edwina works on her novel featuring cowboy-gunslinger Bart Dalton, and both women embark upon their new role as spokeswomen for a line of convenience foods for Colonel Kimberly’s Condiment Company, as their profession makes them “the very model of modern womanhood.” Never mind the slow pace and an easily solvable mystery. This charming outing succeeds as pure escapism. Agent: John Talbot, Talbot Fortune Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/10/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Death at the Manor: A Lily Adler Mystery

Katharine Schellman. Crooked Lane, $26.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-63910-078-1

Schellman’s excellent third Regency mystery featuring widow Lily Adler (after 2021’s Silence in the Library) takes Lily from London to Hampshire for an extended stay with an aunt, Eliza Pierce. Eliza’s village is buzzing about the gray-garbed female ghost said to haunt Belleford, the derelict manor owned by the Wright family. Thomas Wright, a restless bachelor who lives with his sister, Selina, under their widowed mother’s thumb, relishes the attention the veiled specter commands. While Thomas gives Lily a tour of the ghost’s usual haunts, Selina discovers their mother dead in her bedroom. Mrs. Wright’s bruised chest and agonized expression indicate foul play, but her room was locked from the inside with the only existing key. Unlike the Wrights and the villagers, rational Lily doesn’t hold the “gray lady” responsible for the death. Attractive widower Matthew Spencer helps her probe the family and the few servants who haven’t fled Belleford in fear. Schellman ably interweaves appealing developments in Lily’s personal life, a classic locked-room puzzle, and a nuanced look at period society. Regency lovers will be enthralled. Agent: Whitney Ross, Irene Goodman Literary. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/10/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Such a Good Mother

Helen Monks Takhar. Random House, $17 trade paper (368p) ISBN SBN 978-1-9848-5599-2

In this fiendishly entertaining psychological thriller from British author Monks Takhar (Precious You), bank cashier Rose O’Connell is determined to do whatever it takes to ensure her little boy, Charlie, has all the advantages lost to her growing up as the daughter and occasional accomplice of a career con man, and in her now gentrified beyond recognition old stomping grounds that can mean only one thing: Charlie’s admission to the Woolf Academy. And if entrée to the officially free but famously exclusive school weren’t enough of a stretch for the wife of a plumber, Rose aims to shoot the moon: penetrating its charmed inner circle. She gets the opportunity to do so after the suspicious death of one member of that circle creates a vacancy. When against all odds Rose manages to catch the eye of queen bee Amala Kaur, despite uniformly cold shoulders from Amala’s acolytes, readers will puzzle over the nature of the dazzling Amala’s game. The surprising answers, deeply rooted in Rose’s and Amala’s histories, help make for a suspenseful and unsettling cautionary tale. Monks Takhar remains a writer to watch. Agent: Allison Hunter, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/10/2022 | Details & Permalink

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The Devil Takes You Home: A Barrio Noir

Gabino Iglesias. Mulholland, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-0-316-42691-6

After Mario, the narrator of this bewitching paranormal thriller from Iglesias (Coyote Songs), racks up huge debts to pay for his four-year-old daughter’s leukemia treatments, he becomes a hit man for Brian, his meth-addicted friend in Austin, Tex. Mario agrees to help Brian rob a Mexican cartel, a job that will yield them $200,000 each. The pair rendezvous with Juanca, who takes them to Mexico through a secret tunnel after a horrifying pit stop for a gruesomely obtained safety talisman. The stakes rise as supernatural beings threaten Mario and shake his confidence. Meanwhile, Juanca convinces Mario that Brian means to kill him for his share. Bizarre happenings increase as the two men prepare for a showdown with members of the cartel. Iglesias effectively portrays Mario’s fragile mental state and builds a subtle but complex mythology out of chilling details. Readers should be prepared for some intense violence, as well as passages of untranslated Spanish (“Melisa y yo morimos en vida, and that’s the worst kind of death”). Fans of creepy but emotionally deep action novels will be satisfied. Agent: Melissa Danaczko, Stuart Krichevsky Literary. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/10/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Babysitter

Joyce Carol Oates. Knopf, $30 (448p) ISBN 978-0-593-53517-2

In this polished yet soulless story from Oates (Extenuating Circumstances: Stories of Crime and Suspense), three people with varying agendas converge during the late 1970s as Detroit is racked by unsolved child murders. Bored, lonely suburban housewife Hannah Jarrett, emotionally closed off from her wealthy businessman husband and their two young children, is drawn into an abusive, humiliating affair with a man calling himself Y.K., a smarmy stranger she meets at a society fundraiser who no one can remember inviting. Y.K. also has a manipulative hold on Mikey Kushel, a victim of childhood abuse, and Mikey’s menial errands for Y.K. become increasingly strange and violent. Meanwhile, a serial killer of children called Babysitter at first stalks only Detroit’s inner city, until he widens his reach to the suburbs, shattering Hannah’s family’s sense of safety. Exquisite prose compensates only in part for characters with grating personalities who come across as mere shadows as they each careen along a collision course to disaster. This one’s only for Oates diehards. Agent: Warren Frazier, John Hawkins & Assoc. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/10/2022 | Details & Permalink

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All Good People Here

Ashley Flowers with Alex Kiester. Bantam, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-0-593-49647-3

Flowers, the host of the true crime podcast Crime Junkie, debuts with a twisty psychological thriller coauthored with Kiester (The Truth About Ben and June). Twenty-five years after the unsolved murder of Margot Davies’s childhood best friend, January Jacobs (forever frozen in public memory—shades of JonBenét Ramsey—as that tiny dancer looking disturbingly older than six in her skimpy competition costume), Margot remains haunted by the case, as well as the way pious finger-pointing in her hometown of Wakarusa, Ind., helped shatter her surviving family. So when duty drags Margot, now a crime reporter for an Indianapolis newspaper, back to Wakarusa to care for the ailing uncle who raised her, she hopes this might be her chance to crack the case—especially once, less than a day after her arrival, a five-year-old vanishes in a neighboring town. The reporter swiftly discovers that the townsfolk she once thought she knew may have been concealing far more complex and problematic passions than apparent back then to a child such as herself. This intricate, intriguing puzzler should surprise even those readers certain they know where the plot’s heading. Flowers is off to a promising start. Agent: Meredith Miller, UTA. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/10/2022 | Details & Permalink

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