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Murder at Beaulieu Abbey

Cassandra Clark. Severn, $28.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-7278-9089-4

Set in late-14th-century England, Clark’s engrossing 11th Abbess of Meaux mystery (after 2019’s Murder at Whitby Abbey) takes Sister Hildegard from the priory of Swyne to Beaulieu Abbey, ostensibly to bring 12-year-old Elowen, an heiress, back to Swyne, where the girl will remain until she marries a son of Sir William de Hutton. But Hildegard’s prioress has also tasked her with surreptitiously learning which side the monks of Beaulieu are on in the politically consequential dispute raging over which of two popes should rule the church. When Elowen is kidnapped from Beaulieu and a ransom note is received, Hildegard and the two monks who have been sent to protect the girl join the forces of the abbey and Sir William’s men to find her. Meanwhile, Hildegard encounters the sanctuarymen, felons who live on the abbey’s grounds, one of whom, Black Harry, may be leading the group in some evil scheme. Hildegard must resist temptation as she feels attracted to the charismatic Harry. The richly detailed narrative builds to a surprising revelation about the nature of the kidnap plot. Fans of medieval mysteries will be pleased. (June)

Reviewed on 04/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Black Ice

Carin Gerhardsen, trans. from the Swedish by Ian Giles. Scarlet, $25.95 (400p) ISBN 978-1-61316-222-4

A fatal hit-and-run two-car collision on the backroads of the Swedish island of Gotland in January 2014 serves as the catalyst for a spiral of treachery over the next four years in this skillfully plotted psychological thriller from Gerhardsen (Cinderella Girl). With no one reporting the wrecked vehicle, which landed in a ravine and was subsequently covered by snow for days, it’s written off as a single-car accident. But that’s something at least one person, in addition to the drunk driver, knows to be false, and that witness’s blackmail attempt sets in motion a chain reaction of intimidation, kidnapping, and murder. Gerhardsen skillfully makes the most of her premise by allowing only limited flashes of information to emerge from the quartet of narrators, whose identities and roles begin to become clear only about halfway through the novel, precipitating a fresh set of increasingly perilous twists. The author’s mastery of tone imbues a largely tragic tale with touches of humor. By turns touching and terrifying, this nail-biter deserves a wide audience. (June)

Reviewed on 04/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Darkest Flower

Kristin Wright. Thomas & Mercer, $15.95 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-5420-2634-5

Kira Grant, a suburban Virginia mom and narcissistic PTA president, shares narrative duties with straitlaced single mom Allison Barton, the lawyer Kira hires to defend her after she’s charged with attempting to poison another PTA mom at a fifth-grade graduation party, in this enjoyable psychological thriller from Wright (Lying Beneath the Oaks). Allison’s only goal is to win the case and use its publicity to land a better job, but she begins to doubt Kira’s integrity once her client indicates a willingness to do anything or harm anyone to ensure a favorable outcome. Bound by silence as Kira’s lawyer, Allison increasingly struggles to represent Kira the more she uncovers her client’s lies. Allison’s attraction to the prosecutor in the case adds some delicious complications. The author, herself a lawyer in suburban Virginia, writes convincing courtroom scenes and presents the two very different women as fully realized characters. The whodunit remains tantalizingly unclear right up to the surprise ending. Those who like their legal dramas with a light touch will be satisfied. Agent: Sharon Pelletier, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. (June)

Reviewed on 04/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Cages

David Mark. Severn, $28.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-7278-9091-7

In this intermittently suspenseful psychological thriller from Mark (the Aector McAvoy series), Annabeth Harris, who was troubled as a teenager, years later shares a home with her teenage son in Yorkshire and has a good job as a prison guard at HMP Holderness. However, she’s hiding a terrible secret that’s not so subtly suggested in the prologue. Annabeth invites alcoholic author Rufus Orton, of whom she’s an avid fan, to teach a creative writing course at Holderness, and since Rufus is desperate for money, he accepts. Prisoner Griffin Cox, who’s serving time for abducting a teenage girl and the prime suspect in the disappearance of several missing people, is intent on enrolling in Orton’s class. Cox plans to use Orton to escape and get back to his life’s work: murder. But someone else also has a scheme underway and intends to win in what develops into a deranged life-or-death contest. Well-defined characters make up only in part for heavy-handed plotting. Mark has done better. (June)

Reviewed on 04/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Deliver Me

Karen Cole. Mobius, $12.99 trade paper (360p) ISBN 978-1-5294-0072-4

Abby Brooke, the 24-year-old heroine of British author Cole’s intriguing debut, has just started teaching art at a school in Gloucestershire, where she lives with her sister and brother-in-law, when her longtime doctor tells her she’s two months pregnant. Initially confused because she broke up with her boyfriend more than a year earlier, she eventually concludes she must have been raped at a drunken New Year’s Eve party she barely remembers. One by one, Abby tracks down all the male guests from the party to confront them in the hope of reconstructing what happened that evening. Meanwhile, someone is stalking her, leaving both affectionate and threatening notes and texts, which reveal her stalker knows about her pregnancy and other intimate details of her life. The suspense rises after Abby decides not to keep the baby, against the advice of her sister, who then mysteriously disappears. The evenly paced narrative contains no superfluous subplots to distract the reader as it builds to a truly surprising ending. Cole is off to a promising start. (June)

Reviewed on 04/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Constant Man

Peter Steiner. Severn, $28.99 (192p) ISBN 978-0-7278-9074-0

Set in Nazi Germany, Steiner’s taut sequel to 2019’s The Good Cop finds Willi Geismeier no longer a member of the Munich police force. Because he implicated a high-ranking Nazi official, one of Hitler’s favorites, in a string of killings and rapes, he’s on the run from his former colleagues, the SS, and the Gestapo. Willi takes refuge with an old school friend in the Bavarian Forest, but he comes out of hiding after his bar manager friend, Lola Zeff, is attacked and injured by a stranger on a Munich street. Despite his own fugitive status, Willi investigates, only to suspect that the assault is the work of a serial killer being hunted by his former partner on the force. Scenes from the murderer’s perspective ratchet up the tension. The plot is more of a cat-and-mouse game than a whodunit, but Steiner maintains suspense even after the identity of Lola’s assailant is revealed. Though the challenges of searching for the truth amid the brutality of the Nazi regime aren’t conveyed at the same level as Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther novels, this still satisfies. Agent: John Silbersack, Bent Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 04/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Hostage

Clare Mackintosh. Sourcebooks Landmark, $26.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-7282-4552-2

A 20-hour, nonstop plane flight from London to Sydney provides the claustrophobic backdrop for this terrifying thriller from bestseller Mackintosh (Let Me Lie). Flight attendant Mina Holbrook trades shifts to join the crew of World Airways Flight 79, preferring to contend with sometimes demanding business class passengers than to face her rapidly deteriorating marriage to police detective Adam Holbrook. Mina is sure Adam has been sleeping with their Ukrainian au pair, who recently quit her job caring for their five-year-old daughter, Sophia. A few hours into the flight, Mina receives a note demanding she help an unknown terrorist group divert the plane. If Mina refuses, Sophia will die. What starts as a domestic drama focused on the Holbrooks’ marital problems becomes the airborne equivalent of a classic country house mystery. The suspense builds as Mina, whose co-workers think she’s shirking her duties, tries to determine who among the 353 passengers are part of the terrorist plot. Surprising twists propel the story to an unexpected finale. Mackintosh has raised her game with this one. Agent: Sheila Crowley, Curtis Brown (U.K.). (June)

Reviewed on 04/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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A Distant Grave

Sarah Stewart Taylor. Minotaur, $27.99 (432p) ISBN 978-1-250-25644-7

In the teasing prologue of Taylor’s strong sequel to 2020’s The Mountains Wild, an unnamed man waits near Long island’s Great South Bay for an unidentified woman. He has an important story to tell her. She never appears, and the man’s shot to death. The curiosity of homicide detective Maggie D’arcy of the Suffolk County PD is aroused by scars on the dead man’s back that suggest he was tortured in the past. Eventually, he’s identified as Gabriel Treacy, a Dublin resident who worked for an international aid organization. Treacy got the back injuries during his time with another NGO in Afghanistan in 2011, six years earlier, after he was kidnapped and held for ransom. D’arcy gets permission to travel to Ireland to learn more about Treacy, believing that his death wasn’t just the result of a robbery gone wrong, despite his wallet and phone being stolen. A second murder of someone linked to Treacy deepens the puzzle. Taylor’s adept at balancing plot and plausible characterizations. Tana French fans will be eager for the next series entry. Agent: Esmond Harmsworth, Aevitas Creative Management. (June)

Reviewed on 04/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Bullet

Iris Johansen. Grand Central, $28 (400p) ISBN 978-1-5387-1319-8

In bestseller Johansen’s overstuffed 28th outing for forensic sculptor Eve Duncan (after 2020’s The Persuasion), scientist Diane Connors, the beautiful ex-wife of Eve’s husband, Det. Joe Quinn of the Atlanta PD, turns up on Eve’s doorstep and asks her “to perform a reconstruction on the skull of a man who is supposed to be buried somewhere in the Rocky Mountains of Nevada and help me identify him.” The reconstruction of the skull gets lost in the main plot, in which Diane, who has found a way to synthesize a plant that can cure cancer and practically everything else, Eve, and Joe do battle with billionaire Joshua Nalam, who has the “power and money and ability to bend governments and companies to his will” and covets Diane’s discovery. Paranormal elements include the ability of Eve’s psychic 10-year-old son, Michael, to achieve a sort of emotional contact with various players in the drama. Readers should be prepared for long stretches of expository dialogue in which characters lay out their CVs to one another. This one’s strictly for series fans. Agent: Andrea Cirillo, Jane Rotrosen Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 04/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Red Deception

Gary Grossman and Ed Fuller. Beaufort, $26.95 (532p) ISBN 978-0-8253-0946-5

Grossman and Fuller’s exciting sequel to 2019’s Red Hotel finds Dan Reilly, the president of the International Kensington Royal Hotel Corporation, in a taxi during morning rush hour in Washington, D.C., when two stalled trucks loaded with explosives blow a huge hole in a bridge over the Potomac, killing nearly 100. Simultaneous bombings occur in New York City and St. Louis. Meanwhile, Russia is massing troops on the borders of Ukraine and Latvia, preparing to invade. A former army intelligence officer who later worked in the State Department, Reilly is soon up to his neck investigating these incidents, because at the State Department he prepared a report detailing possible terrorist attacks on America’s infrastructure that closely match the three attacks. Meanwhile, he becomes involved with a woman but remains strangely unaware that she clearly has hidden agenda. The authors keep the multiple plot lines moving swiftly ahead with rapid scene shifts, and the behind-the-scenes look at the high-end international hotel world lends authenticity. Reilly is a believable, able hero, though many thriller readers will shake their heads at his romantic naiveté. Hopefully, he’ll be back soon for more adventures. Agent: Carol Mann, Carol Mann Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 04/23/2021 | Details & Permalink

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