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The Butterfly House

Katrine Engberg, trans. from the Danish by Tara Chase. Scout, $28 (352p) ISBN 978-1-9821-2760-2

In Engberg’s well-crafted sequel to 2020’s The Tenant, Copenhagen homicide detective Jeppe Kørner investigates the murders of three people connected to a now-closed teen psychiatric facility, the Butterfly House. Each victim was drained of blood and left floating, two in Copenhagen fountains and the third in a lake. Since Jeppe’s partner, Det. Anette Werner, is on maternity leave, the low-energy Detective Falck, one of many well-drawn supporting characters, assists him in tracking down surviving staff members and patients. One patient’s suicide and a staff member’s mysterious death years earlier provide motives, and the behavior of many of the potential suspects/victims suggests they could all be guilty of something. The stakes rise as Anette, restless at home, starts investigating on her own. Readers will be pleased to see Falck playing a heroic role at the climax. By addressing the issue of society’s treatment of the mentally ill, Engberg brings the complexities of life into this superior Danish police procedural. Fans of Scandinavian noir will hope this series has a long run. Agent: Federico Ambrosini, Salomonsson Agency (Sweden). (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/16/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Surrender the Dead

John Burley. Morrow, $16.99 trade paper (416p) ISBN 978-0-06-243187-5

When veterinarian Erin Reece finds out her estranged father is critically ill, in this uneven psychological thriller from Burley (The Quiet Child), she reluctantly leaves her practice in Colorado and drives to her hometown in northeastern Montana to visit him. The return unearths dark memories of a childhood during which 16 people vanished over a three-year span, including her own mother. When Erin learns that skeletal remains have been uncovered on her father’s farm, she’s faced with the possibility that her father is a serial killer—and that some troublesome secrets from her past may not be as buried as deeply as she thought. Distinctive characters and assured prose (“The aqueduct stretched below her, its long concrete spine like the remains of a dead animal lying in the dust”) help compensate for the nonlinear plot’s clarity and flow issues and a predictable conclusion. Burley has enough talent that readers will want to see more of his work. Agent: Paul Lucas, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/16/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Push

Ashley Audrain. Viking/Dorman, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-1-9848-8166-3

Growing up as the latest link in a long chain of toxic mother-daughter dyads, aspiring writer Blythe, the narrator of Audrain’s emotionally devastating debut, has no desire for parenthood herself, until she falls for gentle, supportive Fox Connor, who can’t imagine not having kids and convinces her otherwise. Daughter Violet’s birth three years later starts the clock ticking toward the implosion of the couple’s marriage. In the eyes of Fox, who is away most of the day at work, Violet’s an angel; to exhausted and overwhelmed Blythe, there’s something fundamentally wrong with the baby. Or is there? As Blythe worries over the years that Violet lacks normal feelings of empathy and affection, concerns that Fox keeps dismissing as only in her head, things continue to deteriorate until, desperate not to lose Fox, Blythe becomes pregnant again. Son Sam’s arrival blindsides her: to her astonishment, she loves Sam ecstatically. A tragedy precipitated by seven-year-old Violet is by no means the end of the twisty, harrowing ride to the dark side of motherhood Audrain pilots so skillfully. This is a sterling addition to the burgeoning canon of bad seed suspense, from an arrestingly original new voice. Agent: Madeleine Milburn, Madeleine Milburn Literary, TV & Film Agency.

Reviewed on 10/16/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Mercenary

Paul Vidich. Pegasus Crime, $25.95 (274p) ISBN 978-1-64313-620-2

Set in the mid-1980s, Vidich’s intriguing if flawed fourth CIA novel opens in Moscow, where CIA agent George Mueller, last seen in 2017’s The Good Assassin, is attempting to make a brush pass in Red Square with a senior KGB officer, code named Gambit, who wants to defect. Mueller spots Gambit, but before they can exchange identical cloth bags (Mueller’s contains “another man’s dinner,” Gambit’s “camera, film, radio, and rubles”), a Russian militiaman stops Mueller, and he ends up arrested by the KGB. In the aftermath of this failure, Gambit requests a different handler: Alexander Garin, a former CIA officer and the mercenary of the title. Born in the Soviet Union, Garin is an enigma; no one knows where his true loyalties lie. Vidich writes knowledgeably about the politics of the period, notably the impending changes to the U.S.S.R. with the rise of Gorbachev, and the spycraft rings true, but an enormous cast and labyrinthine plotting bog down the book. Still, fans of Cold War–era spy fiction will be rewarded. Agent: Will Roberts, Gernert Co. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 10/16/2020 | Details & Permalink

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How Fire Runs

Charles Dodd White. Swallow, $22.95 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-0-8040-1228-7

At the start of this spellbinding tale of violence and political conflict from White (In the House of Wilderness), Gavin Noon, the leader of a white supremacist group, flies a Nazi flag in front of an abandoned asylum the group is renovating in rural Elizabethton, Tenn. One morning, Gerald Pickins, a Vietnam War vet and county commissioner, sees the swastika and proceeds to fire his gun at a car backing out of the asylum’s driveway. This is the opening skirmish in a battle between the county’s progressives and the neo-Nazis. When a potential scandal leads Kyle, another country commissioner, to resign his seat, a battle for the vacant position ensues. The contest pits Black former football player Frank Farmer, a candidate supported by Gerald, Kyle, and their liberal friends, against Gavin, who’s running to gain influence in the community. To steer the election in his favor, Gavin leaks a disparaging story concerning Frank’s past. Tensions mount as the campaign intensifies, and events come to a bloody climax on election night. Well-drawn characters are matched by evocative prose. Socially conscious readers will want to check this out. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/16/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Murder Is in the Air: A Kate Shackleton Mystery

Frances Brody. Crooked Lane, $26.99 (334p) ISBN 978-1-64385-466-3

Set in 1930, Brody’s plodding 12th Kate Shackleton mystery (after 2019’s The Body on the Train) takes private investigator Kate and her assistant, Jim Sykes, to the Yorkshire market town of Masham, where William Lofthouse, the owner of Barleycorn Brewery, needs her help. “You’ve a right good reputation for discretion, for tackling all sorts of tricky business,” he tells her, and explains that there’s “a bit of a muddle in the accounts.” The capable Miss Crawford, William’s secretary, gives Sykes the relevant documents to examine. When Miss Crawford is knocked off her bike by an automobile and killed instantly, Sykes is sure it was murder. Not much happens until a second death. Meanwhile, Ruth Parnaby, the company’s wage clerk, is preparing to compete for the title of Brewery Queen of all Yorkshire. Ruth’s travails and triumphs tend to overshadow the investigative work. Smooth prose and nice local color offset in part a less than scintillating plot. Series fans will best appreciate this installment. Agent: Rebecca Winfield, David Luxton Assoc. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/16/2020 | Details & Permalink

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A Deadly Fortune: An Amelia Matthews Mystery

Stacie Murphy. Pegasus Crime, $25.95 (368p) ISBN 978-1-64313-630-1

Amelia Matthews, the heroine of Murphy’s sterling debut, makes a good living as a fortune-teller for a gentlemen’s club in Gilded Age New York City. A concussion greatly enhances her somewhat iffy psychic gift, but after she’s possessed by an angry spirit and loses consciousness, she wakes days later in the notorious Blackwell’s Island City Asylum. There’s no way to contact her foster brother to rescue her, and no one believes anything she says—until she meets Dr. Andrew Cavanaugh, who specializes in mental diseases, and convinces him of her gift by channeling his late sister. Andrew asks Amelia to use her abilities to help him locate a missing woman who was committed to the asylum by her loathsome husband, and in return, Andrew promises to help Amelia escape. Instead, they discover someone in the asylum is in the business of murdering unwanted wives for money. Besides Amelia’s fascinating psychic adventures, Murphy chillingly evokes some social ills of 19th-century America, including the complete control of women by their husbands. Readers will hope Amelia returns soon. Agent: Jill Marr, Sandra Dijkstra Literary. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/09/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Night Police: Beyond the Line of Duty

Chris Berg and Paul James Smith. Bookbaby, $16.59 trade paper (286p) ISBN 978-1-54399-686-9

Retired cops Berg and Smith offer an unapologetically politically incorrect look at the lives of Midwestern cops in this collection of fictionalized stories based on their experiences. The authors’ heroes are the Night Police and Street Monsters, veteran policemen of Bristol City who dominate the streets and are able to anticipate and head off trouble. Starting in the 1960s, the cops use language and do things that they warn in their introduction may be off-putting to some. Much of this, however, while sometimes graphic, will strike crime fiction readers as being fairly standard fare, such as a young cop’s discovery of a woman with her throat slit sitting on a toilet in a Chinese restaurant’s bathroom and another cop’s shakedown of a drug dealer in a strip club bathroom. The gallows humor used as a coping mechanism is endemic, as when BCPD officers sharing war stories remember a rookie who was tricked into picking up a murder victim’s brain. This isn’t for the squeamish, though it does accomplish the authors’ goal of depicting policing in America in a very different era, and how career law enforcers reacted differently to horrendous crime then than now. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 10/09/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Outcast Girls

Alys Clare. Severn, $28.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-7278-9045-0

Early in Clare’s chilling sequel to 2019’s The Woman Who Spoke to Spirits, Georgiana Long, a teacher at Shardlowes, a girls’ boarding school in the English fens, arrives one winter day in 1881 at the London office of Lily Raynor, the proprietor of World’s End Bureau, a private enquiry agency. Three students have run away on separate occasions in recent months, and Georgiana, who doesn’t trust the police, wants Lily to investigate. Intrigued, Lily agrees to fill a temporarily vacant staff position at Shardlowes in order to do so. Lily has her lone employee, Felix Wilbraham, look into the school’s secretive benefactors, the Band of Angels, and he pursues a trail that leads to Scotland. Shifts between Lily’s inquiries and Felix’s help jack up the suspense. The two capable and self-assured leads stand in contrast to such stock secondary characters as the ambitious headmistress and the caretaker too fond of his whiskey. Descriptions of the bleak winter landscape of the fens (“the naked trees like skeletal limbs clawing up at the grey sky”) lend atmosphere. Anne Perry fans will want to check this out. Agent: Sophie Gorell Barnes, MBA Literary (U.K.). (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/09/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Madness of the Q: A Sam Teagarden Thriller

Gray Basnight. Down & Out, $18.95 trade paper (422p) ISBN 978-1-643960-88-3

Set in 2025, Basnight’s unconvincing sequel to 2018’s Flight of the Fox thrusts Columbia University math professor Sam Teagarden into the middle of murder and conspiracy in yet another thriller centered on an ancient text that could upend Christianity. In the first chapter, the archaeologist who discovered the Quelle Document, “the long missing source for much of Matthew and Luke,” on a recent dig in Israel is murdered by an assassin who came to his office posing as a papal emissary. The find also triggers a rash of mass suicides around the globe and leads the FBI to seek help from Sam, who once worked for the CIA as a cryptologist. Killers crash the initial meeting between Sam and the FBI, starting a desperate race for survival that takes Sam to Israel. Unlikely action hero Sam makes numerous improbable escapes from peril, and the plot involves multiple contrivances, including Sam leaving a laptop with highly-confidential intelligence open on his seat while he goes to a plane’s lavatory. Even Dan Brown fans will find this a slog. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/09/2020 | Details & Permalink

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