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Confessions of an Innocent Man

David R. Dow. Dutton, $27 (304p) ISBN 978-1-524743-88-8

Defense attorney Dow, the founder of the Texas Innocence Project, makes an impressive fiction debut. Wealthy Tieresse Kerryman courts Rafael Zhettah, a chef from a humble background, after she has a meal at his Houston restaurant, and the pair soon marry. Their fairy tale romance comes to an end two years later when Tieresse is bludgeoned to death with a candlestick in their home and Zhettah is arrested for her murder. Zhettah was sleeping with one of the waitresses at his restaurant at the time, but his alibi isn’t enough to persuade a jury of his innocence. On death row, Zhettah struggles to maintain his sanity, even as a team of dedicated appellate lawyers battle to avert his execution. Eventually, Dow reveals the truth about the circumstances behind the teasing opening prologue, in which Zhettah offers cake to two fellow prisoners, whom he addresses as “Your Honors,” on the one-year anniversary of their captivity. The plot is a page-turner, and the addition of Dow’s knowledge of the legal machinery of death and his nuanced characterization of his lead elevate this above similarly themed legal thrillers. Agent: Simon Lipskar, Writers House. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/01/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Cold Wrath

Peter Turnbull. Severn, $28.99 (192p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8857-0

A simple, straightforward plot propels Turnbull’s curiously antiquated 25th mystery featuring Det. Chief Insp. George Hennessey and Det. Sgt. Somerled Yellich of the Micklegate Bar Police Station in York, England (after 2016’s A Dreadful Past). The two are called to the isolated country home of Anthony Garrett, near the little town of Millington-in-the-Vale. Garrett was found in the drawing room, shot neatly between the eyes. The only unusual occurrence in the deceased’s life was the arrival at his door, a few days before his death, of three almost identical blonde women. The time period is confusing. Were it not for references to CCTV cameras and DNA, the reader could be forgiven for placing it several decades ago. With no other investigations to occupy the detectives, the narrative is padded with digressions, from the origin of the word gob to musing on the names of prisons (“Leavenworth Prison in the USA... I always think [it] sounds like it ought to be an English country house”). This one’s strictly for series fans. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/01/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Missing Years

Lexie Elliott. Berkley, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-0-399-58695-8

London TV news producer Ailsa Calder, the 30-something narrator of this intriguing if somewhat unsatisfying novel from Elliott (The French Girl), inherits half-ownership of a house known as the Manse in the Scottish Highlands after her mother dies. The other half belongs to her father, who vanished 27 years earlier. In the hope of discovering his fate, Ailsa returns to the Manse, where she’s joined by her younger half-sister, Carrie, whom she barely knows. Ailsa wants to sell it, but must first prove that her father, the joint owner, is dead. The sisters meet some locals at a nearby pub, including Jamie McCue and his peculiar sister, Fiona, who believe that the Manse is haunted. Strange things start to happen—animal carcasses are left at the front door, bones are found hidden in a room, a skull appears atop a bed—but Ailsa is not deterred from trying to discover the truth about her missing father. Elliott’s mix of ghost story, mystery, and psychological thriller will strike some readers as less than sure-handed, with one genre blending awkwardly into another in confusing ways. Agent: Marcy Posner, Folio Literary Management. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/01/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Tale Teller: A Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito Novel

Anne Hillerman. Harper, $26.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-239195-7

At the start of bestseller Hillerman’s laconic fifth Leaphorn, Chee, and Manuelito novel (after 2018’s Cave of Bones), PI Joe Leaphorn, a former Navajo police lieutenant, and Daisy Pinto of the Navajo Nation meet at the tribal library to discuss some recent museum donations, in which the most valuable item listed on the paperwork was either not included or has gone missing. They’re interrupted by the news that a young woman is lying unconscious on the ground outside the library. When the woman later dies, Leaphorn investigates, despite anonymous warnings of witchcraft. He also agrees to help Daisy with the museum case. Meanwhile, Officer Bernie Manuelito and Sgt. Jim Chee look into a series of unsolved burglaries, further complicated by a body Bernie finds while running on a popular trail. The FBI and tribal cops butt heads as the various cases intertwine. Series fans not looking for dramatic momentum or a gripping plot will enjoy catching up with familiar characters, but predictability and lackluster prose mar this installment. Agent: Elizabeth Trupin-Pulli, JET Literary Assoc. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/01/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Oscar Wilde and the Return of Jack the Ripper

Gyles Brandreth. Pegasus Crime, $25.95 (368p) ISBN 978-1-64313-021-7

In 1894, the powers-that-be fear that a newspaper is about to revive the rumor that Jack the Ripper was a royal, in Brandreth’s subpar seventh whodunit pairing Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle (after 2013’s Oscar Wilde and the Murders at Reading Gaol). That concern leads Chief Constable Melville Macnaghten to seek Wilde’s help in finally identifying the Ripper, as the aesthete knows most of the suspects on Macnaghten’s short list. But before the policeman can discuss the situation with Wilde, an unidentified woman is killed, mutilated, and left in an alley near where both men live. Wilde and Conan Doyle agree to help and work their way through the short list, which includes legendary actor Richard Mansfield, even as a second murder indicates that the Ripper has resumed his bloody work. Though Brandreth offers an innovative solution to the classic mystery of the Ripper’s identity, the slow pacing and Conan Doyle acting out of character detract from the reveal. Series fans will hope for a return to form next time. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/01/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Invited

Jennifer McMahon. Doubleday, $25.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-385-54138-1

In this powerful supernatural thriller from bestseller McMahon (Burntown), history teacher Helen Wetherell and her husband, Nate, buy 44 acres in rural Vermont on which to build their dream house, land the locals believe to be cursed by the spirit of Hattie Breckenridge, who was hanged there a century earlier as a witch. Days after the young do-it-yourselfers move into a trailer on the property, they find an ominous bundle containing an animal’s tooth on the doorstep—and that’s just the first of a series of events intended to scare them into leaving. Subsequently, Nate, a science teacher who scoffs at the supernatural, catches their 14-year-old neighbor, Olive Kissner, made up like a ghost, trespassing. But it quickly becomes clear the feisty teen isn’t responsible for everything. As Helen draws closer to Olive, she gleans more about the legends surrounding Hattie, which include the treasure the doomed woman supposedly buried on the property. Whether one believes in ghosts, McMahon’s consummately crafted chiller is guaranteed to haunt. Agent: Daniel Lazar, Writers House. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/01/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Last

Hanna Jameson. Atria, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-1-5011-9882-3

Historian Jon Keller, the narrator of this engrossing postapocalyptic psychological thriller from British author Jameson (Something You Are), and a small group of others have decided to stay in place at L’Hotel Sixième, a Swiss hotel in “the middle of nowhere,” in response to reports of nuclear attacks devastating major cities in the U.S. and Europe. They have been surviving for nearly two months on the supplies left in the hotel when a young girl’s body turns up in a drinking water tank. Jon feels compelled to ferret out the killer while also documenting life in the hotel, processing the likely death of his family, and maintaining the alliances that will keep him sane and alive. The dialogue-heavy writing focuses as much on social interactions as on Jon’s mental state. Jameson asks powerful questions about fear, community, and self-interest while exploring human interactions that range wildly from the tender to the brutal to the purely mercenary. She succeeds in evoking a palpable, immanent sense of tension in a story that’s equal parts drama and locked-room murder mystery. Agent: Alexandra Cliff, Peters, Fraser & Dunlop (U.K.). (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/01/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Killer in Me

Olivia Kiernan. Dutton, $16 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-524-74266-9

In Irish author Kiernan’s well-paced sequel to 2018’s Too Close to Breathe, Dublin Det. Chief Supt. Frankie Sheehan is asked by attorney Tanya West, who happens to be her sister-in-law, to look into the case of Seán Hennessy. He’s newly released from prison after 17 years for killing his parents when he was 15 years old, and for the attempted murder of his then 10-year-old sister. Tanya works with Justice Meets Justice, which investigates possible wrongful convictions, and the organization believes the personable Seán could be innocent. A documentary film company is also involved. Despite her misgivings, Frankie agrees to examine the case. Meanwhile, she and her team are called to the scene of the murder of Geraldine and Alan Shine, whose bodies are found in a Dublin suburb. More murders, seemingly unrelated, occur, and Kiernan skillfully handles the intersection of the cases. Frankie’s insights at crime scenes, her close relationships with squad members, and the vivid picture of Dublin lift this police procedural. Agent: Susan Armstrong, C&W Agency (U.K.). (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/01/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Stone Mothers

Erin Kelly. Minotaur, $26.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-250-11371-9

History of architecture lecturer Marianne Thackeray has been looking over her shoulder for three decades, but the past she hoped she’d outrun finally threatens to catch up with her—with potentially life-shattering consequences—in this uneven psychological thriller from Kelly (He Said/She Said). Back as an ambitious teen itching to escape remote Nusstead, England, a town dying after the closure of its major employer, Nazareth Mental Hospital, by Helen Greenlaw, the despised chair of the East Anglian Regional Health Authority, Marianne let then-boyfriend Jesse Brame bully her into blackmailing the bureaucrat using abandoned hospital records she’d discovered. But while she and Helen, now an MP, have prospered over the years, Jesse teeters on the brink of financial ruin—and threatens to out Marianne to her husband and mentally unstable 20-year-old daughter unless she helps him. Unfortunately, Kelly’s main characters never transcend serviceable. The most moving aspect of the novel is the glimpses it offers, largely through flashbacks from Helen, of the horrors inflicted on heartbreakingly vulnerable patients in the name of mental health. Still, fans of plot-propelled thrillers will be satisfied. Agent: Zoe Pagnamenta, Zoe Pagnamenta Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/01/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Someone Knows

Lisa Scottoline. Putnam, $27 (400p) ISBN 978-0-525-53964-3

During the summer of 1999, in an idyllic suburban housing development near the Pennsylvania Turnpike, Allie Garvey and three teenage friends play a prank—a game of Russian Roulette with an empty gun—that turns deadly in this page-turner from bestseller Scottoline (After Anna). The four of them tell no one what happened that day, and what transpired only becomes clear later on. Allie thinks getting caught would be the worst thing that could happen, but living with the secret is far worse. Twenty years later, she has chronic health issues and a failing marriage because of the guilt. When one of Allie’s co-conspirators commits suicide on the anniversary of that awful day, she goes home for the funeral and decides she can’t keep the secret any longer. But Allie soon discovers the truth is far different than she remembers. Only an awkward closing twist undercuts a heartfelt tale that touches on family, marriage, justice, and how emotional wounds drive the choices people make. Scottoline’s fans will be well satisfied. Agent: Robert Gottlieb, Trident Media Group. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/01/2019 | Details & Permalink

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