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Magpie Lane

Lucy Atkins. Mobius, $26.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-78648-557-1

By chance, Scottish nanny Dee, the unreliable narrator of this brilliantly orchestrated thriller from British author Atkins (The Night Visitor), meets Nick Law, the newly appointed master of an Oxford University college, who’s in desperate need of her services. Nick, a former BBC director who was hired, some say, because of his useful celebrity contacts, is facing opposition from the academic old guard. His beautiful, young, ebullient Scandinavian wife, Mariah, a restorer of historic wallpaper, isn’t helping matters. Meanwhile, Nick’s eight-year-old daughter from his first marriage, Felicity, has been selectively mute since the death of her mother four years earlier. When meeting Dee for the first time, Mariah burbles, “Honestly, Nick’s right, it feels like kind of a miracle he met you. You’re like Mary Poppins, dropping onto our roof!” But is Dee a benign presence or a sinister one? The answer to that question continually shifts with each new and illuminating revelation about the Law household and Dee’s history. When Felicity vanishes one night, all that speculation comes under the jaundiced eye of the police. Fluid prose, peppered with original metaphors, carries the reader along. This is an intelligent, witty, spooky, un-put-downable novel. Agent: Judith Murray, Greene & Heaton (U.K.). (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Blood on Their Hands

Bob Brink. TouchPoint, $17.99 trade paper (306p) ISBN 978-1-946920-96-6

At the start of this provocative legal thriller from Brink (Murder in Palm Beach: The Homicide That Never Died), racist Florida defense attorney Hiram Garbuncle happens to witness an act of police brutality. Two white cops pull over a Black man, Alec Monceau, supposedly because of a broken taillight. Though Monceau is fully cooperative, one of the cops smashes him in the head with his billy club, and the other joins in assaulting him before placing him under arrest for resisting. Garbuncle later meets Monceau when he goes shopping at the computer store where Monceau works. After Monceau goes out of his way to help Garbuncle by paying a house call to set up his new purchase, Garbuncle, despite his racism, agrees to represent Monceau at trial. Garbuncle convinces the judge that he should be allowed to serve both as defense counsel and eyewitness, setting up a dramatic courtroom scene. Brink makes the depictions of biased policing ring true. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 12/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Water Memory

Daniel Pyne. Thomas & Mercer, $24.95 (366p) ISBN 978-1-5420-2502-7

Aubrey Sentro, the heroine of this initially slow-moving thriller from Pyne (Fifty Mice), once did covert ops in the military, but she now does similar work for a private security firm in Bethesda, Md. Suffering from short-term memory loss from too many blows to the head, Sentro is in need of a vacation, and books a place on a cargo ship headed to South America along with a few other passengers. The pace picks up when pirates storm the ship, and Sentro uses her military training to fight back. Left for dead, she wakes to find the ship listing in a harbor and the crew and other passengers gone. On land, an unlikely trio offers help in her effort to rescue the missing passengers and crew: a 10-year-old boy with a vendetta against the pirate leader, a heroin-addicted American doctor, and the doctor’s pregnant teenage girlfriend. Fortunately, Sentro’s memory issues amount to senior moments and have little impact on her ability to battle bad guys. The complexity of her character makes up in part for the stock action. Fans of the action flicks will enjoy this. Agent: Victoria Sanders, Victoria Sanders & Assoc. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Ancient Dead: An Amanda Doucette Mystery

Barbara Fradkin. Dundurn, $16.99 trade paper (344p) ISBN 978-1-4597-4381-6

The starkly beautiful badlands of the province of Alberta, Canada, home to one of the world’s richest collections of dinosaur bones, provide the backdrop for Arthur Ellis Award winner Fradkin’s atmospheric fourth Amanda Doucette mystery (after 2018’s Prisoners of Hope). While photographer Todd Ellison is scouting for images for his local history book, Ghosts of the Ancient Dead, he stumbles on what he at first believes to be a dinosaur bone, only to make the disturbing discovery that it’s of human origin. Amanda, the dynamic and resourceful founder of a cross-Canada charity “that offers a glimpse of hope and inspiration to families and youth in need,” begins to suspect that Todd’s find may be connected to her uncle, Jonathan Lewis, who disappeared in the area some 30 years earlier. As Amanda probes Jonathan’s life, she becomes immersed in a mire of deceit. Fradkin keeps readers guessing about the deceased’s identity as each new possibility opens up a new set of motives and suspects, and the eloquently described landscape is a visceral part of the plot. Fans of regional mysteries will find much to like. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Checkmate to Murder

E.C.R. Lorac. Poisoned Pen, $14.99 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-4642-1509-4

Set in WWII London, this excellent fair-play mystery from Lorac (1894–1958) opens on a dramatic note. One evening, artist Bruce Manaton is in his studio painting the portrait of an actor while two other men, a civil servant and a government chemist, are playing chess. Shortly after Manaton’s sister pops outside briefly to make sure that blackout precautions have been observed, Special Constable Lewis Verraby, who has arrested Canadian soldier Neil Folliner for murder, intrudes on the quartet. After noticing the front door of the building next to the studio open, Verraby went inside and found Folliner near the corpse of the soldier’s great-uncle, Albert, who’d been shot in the head. Folliner insists that Albert was already dead when he arrived. Scotland Yard’s Chief Insp. Robert Macdonald, Lorac’s series sleuth, looks beyond the obvious—that Folliner is guilty—at the possible motives of the others on the scene, including Verraby. The astute Macdonald’s interrogations and deductions lead to a satisfying resolution. The characters are all well-delineated, and the clues artfully hidden. First published in 1944, this British Library Crime Classic more than deserves that status. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Lady Jail

John Farrow. Severn, $28.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-7278-9073-3

Farrow’s enjoyable ninth Émile Cinq-Mars novel (after 2020’s Roar Back) takes the Montreal detective-sergeant to Quebec’s Joliette Institution for Women (aka Lady Jail), where the inmates live in communal groups, to investigate the garroting murder of Florence, the troublemaker in a group of eight women. Newly arrived prisoner Abigail Lauzon, convicted in an investigation led by Cinq-Mars of embezzling a large sum of money in a fraud case, is the leading suspect. The government wants the unrecovered money in the fraud case back, and pressures Cinq-Mars to threaten Abigail with a life sentence for Florence’s murder unless she reveals where she hid the money. As Cinq-Mars questions the seven surviving women, he finds not all is as it appears, especially regarding each inmate’s crimes and the reason each was chosen for Lady Jail placement. His verbal sparring with Abigail is one of the book’s highlights. Bureaucratic intrigues and complications in Cinq-Mars’s love life enrich the plot. Fans of intelligent police procedurals will be rewarded. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Hide in Place

Emilya Naymark. Crooked Lane, $26.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-64385-637-7

Single mother Laney Bird, the heroine of Naymark’s promising debut and series launch, gave up her career as an NYPD undercover narcotics detective and moved to Sylvan, N.Y., an idyllic town upstate where she believed her troubled son, Alfie, would be safe. Three years after the two settle in Sylvan, 13-year-old Alfie disappears on his way to school band practice one night, and Laney is forced to realize the Hudson Valley is no safer than the inner city. The school administration assumes this is just one more of the behaviors that already have Alfie on the verge of expulsion. By-the-books cop Ed Boswell is more sympathetic, but he, too, has had to deal with Alfie’s acting out in the past. When Laney discovers that Alfie’s disappearance is tied to her own past, she must confront a vengeful ex-con as well as what it truly means to be a parent. With each twist and turn, Naymark ratchets up the tension. This is an original, satisfying roller-coaster ride for domestic suspense fans. Agent: Paula Munier, Talcott Notch Literary Services. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Serpentine: An Alex Delaware Novel

Jonathan Kellerman. Ballantine, $28.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-525-61855-3

In Edgar winner Kellerman’s top-notch 36th Alex Delaware novel (after 2020’s The Museum of Desire), a cold case preoccupies the L.A. consulting psychologist and his friend and colleague, Lt. Milo Sturgis of the LAPD: the death of Dorothy Swoboda, whose burned body was found in a car below Mulholland Drive 36 years earlier. Dorothy’s 39-year-old daughter, Ellie Barker, who recently sold her lucrative exercise wear business for millions, remains haunted by the loss of her mother, who abandoned her when she was three. Now Ellie wants an explanation for what one report at the time called a murder and another a one-vehicle accident. Armed with the thinnest of case files, Milo and Alex uncover a disturbing number of murders that seem related to Dorothy, and they realize that the killing spree might not yet be over. Kellerman maintains pace and suspense through the interactions of the characters—witnesses, detectives, relatives of the victims—all of whom are rendered in striking and precise detail. This entry is pure pleasure, intelligently delivered. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Crimson Phoenix

John Gilstrap. Kensington, $26 (512p) ISBN 978-1-4967-2855-5

The U.S. approves an Israeli first-strike to destroy Iranian nuclear weapons, in this pallid near-future series launch from bestseller Gilstrap (the Jonathan Grave series). Given the threat of nuclear war, all members of Congress are transported to an underground bunker in West Virginia, but Victoria Emerson, a U.S. representative from that state, balks at entering when she’s told her two teenage sons accompanying her aren’t welcome inside. She resigns her post to go in search of her third son, a student at a West Virginia military academy. When word of the government’s precautions leaks to the press, Iran acts first, killing millions of Israelis with multiple nukes and triggering a Russian attack that takes out 13 U.S. cities, the president, and the vice president. The House Speaker is left to try to run the country after most of America’s power grid is knocked out, while contending with opposition to his leadership inside the facility. Implausible details—both the president and v-p are in Washington, D.C., just hours before the planned Israeli operation, leaving them vulnerable—don’t help a familiar story line. Still, fans of apocalyptic thrillers may want to check this out. Agent: Molly Friedrich, Friedrich Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Robert Ludlum’s The Treadstone Exile

Joshua Hood. Putnam, $28 (384p) ISBN 978-0-525-54262-9

Hood’s fast-paced sequel to 2019’s Robert Ludlum’s The Treadstone Resurrection finds Adam Hayes, a former operative for Treadstone, a CIA unit that “turned him into a government-sanctioned assassin,” in Ceuta, Spain, where he’s feeling proud of himself for not having killed anyone in 152 days. He’s left his wife and child behind in America and gone on the run after the U.S. government declared him persona non grata. In Ceuta, he becomes involved in a smuggling ring, and the no-kill record is soon broken. Meanwhile, Andre Cabot, the founder and CEO of a cybersecurity firm, is in financial difficulty, and decides to steal his way back into solvency. Hayes lands right in the middle of Cabot’s plans and must be dealt with. Never mind clichéd prose (“get the hell out of Dodge”), a surfeit of backstory, and voices in the heads of Hayes and other characters that yammer at them in italics. Few thriller fans will be able to resist as the author hauls them by their necks down many rough roads while Hayes mows down the opposition. Hood is a master of action. Agent: Sloan Harris, ICM Partners. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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