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The Case of the Reincarnated Client: From the Files of Vish Puri, India’s Most Private Investigator

Tarquin Hall. Severn, $28.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8878-5

In Hall’s lively, amusing fifth mystery featuring Delhi PI Vish Puri (after 2013’s The Case of the Love Commandos), Puri’s mother (aka Mummy) insists that he investigate the case of Riya Kaur, who disappeared during the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. Mummy says she has a witness to what happened: the reincarnated Riya Kaur herself. Puri reluctantly agrees, though he’s preoccupied with a money-laundering scheme and the threat of a ruinous lawsuit from Ram Bhatt, a dissatisfied client who holds Puri responsible for not uncovering Bhatt’s new son-in-law’s thunderous snoring during the pre-wedding investigation. It’s little wonder that the cases enter Puri’s dreams, leaving him oblique yet ultimately helpful messages. As he says, “not every solution in crime fighting involved proof and reason and logic. Sometimes... the unexplained—the miraculous—did indeed play a part.” Hall creates delightful characters and provides illuminating glimpses of contemporary Indian life. Readers will hope they won’t have to wait another seven years for Puri’s next outing. Agent: Emma Parry, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Measure of Malice: Scientific Detection Stories

Edited by Martin Edwards. Poisoned Pen, $14.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-4926-9962-0

Edwards combines the well-known (Conan Doyle, Dorothy Sayers) with the obscure (former actor Ernest Dudley) in this impressive anthology of 14 short stories featuring scientific and technical know-how. While “The Boscombe Valley Mystery” is familiar to Sherlockians and more casual fans alike, Edwards’s inclusion of it works to effectively contrast the description of Holmes’s use of footprints to solve a murder with the more detailed science employed in such entries as R. Austin Freeman’s “The Contents of a Mare’s Nest.” The latter cleverly challenges prototypical forensic scientist John Thorndyke to determine, after a corpse is cremated, whether a man was poisoned. In Dudley’s “The Case of the Chemist in the Cupboard,” Doctor Morelle, who’s based on the director Erich von Stroheim, probes the death of a chemist whose body was concealed in a cupboard, and then vanished. Perhaps first among equals is “The Cyprian Bees” by Anthony Wynne, yet another talent Edwards rescues from obscurity; the plot centers on a woman found dead in London, apparently from a reaction to an ordinary bee sting. Fans of TV’s CSI will enjoy seeing the evolution of criminal forensics. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Nairobi Noir

Edited by Peter Kimani. Akashic, $15.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-61775-754-9

Racial, religious, and class divides are acutely observed in the 14 new stories from Kenyan writers in this decent Akashic noir anthology. In the introduction, Kimani (Dance of the Jakaranda) describes the multicultural, “segregated city” of Nairobi as a “concrete jungle” occupied by “the hunters and the herders and the hunted.” Throughout the volume, where emphasis is placed on inequality and injustice, government corruption and police brutality are ever-present. Winfred Kiunga explores these themes to good effect in the memorably grim “She Dug Two Graves,” in which a grieving woman of Somali heritage seeks vengeance on the deputy police commissioner for her brother’s murder. Rasna Warah’s moving psychological drama, “Have Another Roti,” about bribery and exploitation of the immigration lottery, also focuses on Somali refugees. Other noteworthy stories include Caroline Mose’s gripping “Plot Ten,” in which a police officer is implicitly responsible for a girl’s death, and Ngumi Kibera’s satirical “The Night Beat,” centering on crooked policemen. Though quality varies and not all selections are indeed noir, crime fiction fans will find much to savor. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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An Old Man’s Game: An Amos Parisman Mystery

Andy Weinberger. Prospect Park, $16 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-945551-64-2

Weinberger’s agreeable if flawed first novel and series launch introduces Amos Parisman, an aging Jewish PI in Los Angeles. Amos is retained by the board of an Orthodox synagogue to look into the sudden death of its rabbi, Ezra Diamant, who keeled over during a meal at Canter’s Deli. There’s no evidence of anything other than natural causes, and the cleric was buried without an autopsy. Amos’s suspicions that there may have been foul play are enhanced after someone connected with Diamant is clearly murdered. Amos’s search for a motive for Diamant’s killing leads him to some controversial Friday night sermons Diamant gave that questioned whether the Exodus from Egypt described in the Hebrew Bible ever happened. Some readers may object that the real Canter’s Deli in L.A. is nonkosher and hence not a place an Orthodox rabbi would patronize; more seriously, they may say questioning the Exodus story wouldn’t anger anyone enough to commit murder. Others won’t care. Those seeking more L.A. mysteries with a Jewish theme should check out Joseph Telushkin’s Rabbi Winter series. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Wages of Sin

Judith Cutler. Severn, $28.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8938-6

Set in Victorian England, this captivating series launch from Cutler (the Lina Townend mysteries) introduces Matthew Rowsley, the capable new manager of the vast holdings of Lord Croft, and Mrs. Harriet Faulkner, housekeeper of the Croft family mansion in Shropshire. The author at first offers fleeting glimpses of flighty Lord Croft and his tetchy mother before slipping into the mysterious doings on the estate. Maggie Billings, a pretty young housemaid, goes missing around the same time that Lord Croft and Luke Hargreaves, his manservant, leave for a holiday. Shortly thereafter, his lordship’s carriage is found smashed to pieces and partially hidden in some woodland. Has his lordship been murdered? Has Luke? And where is the housemaid? Rowsley, Mrs. Faulkner, and other members of the staff pool their information in an effort to discover the truth. Interspersed among Rowsley’s first-person narration are extracts from Mrs. Faulkner’s diary that add resonance to the main story, as well as providing a deeper understanding of the relationship between the two protagonists. Readers will look forward to seeing more of this enterprising duo. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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In Cold Chamomile: A Tea and a Read Mystery

Joy Avon. Crooked Lane, $26.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-64385-288-1

Avon’s smoothly written third a Tea and a Read mystery (after 2019’s Sweet Tea and Secrets) finds former tour guide Callie Aspen and her great-aunt Iphy, who owns the vintage tea room where Callie helps out, hosting a Valentine’s Day celebration in Hearts Harbor, Mass. Everything is going according to plan, until Iphy is startled to see that the singer for the event is her long-lost love, Sean Strong. Iphy has more to worry about after TV celebrity Mr. King, a book appraiser who tries to cheat the locals, is found stabbed to death and Sean becomes the prime suspect. Ignoring the police request to back off, Iphy is determined to clear Sean’s name, even at risk to her own life. The tension rises as Callie and her police deputy boyfriend, Ace Falk, each pursues the murder from a different direction, putting their relationship in peril. Subplots that don’t necessarily move the main plot forward are enjoyable enough in their own right. The unexpected ending will leave the reader eagerly waiting to see what happens next to Callie. Agent: Jill Marsal, Marsal Lyon Literary. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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What Is Time to a Pig?

John Straley. Soho Crime, $27.95 (264p) ISBN 978-1-64129-084-5

Set in 2027, Straley’s delightfully absurd third Cold Storage novel (after 2014’s Cold Storage, Alaska) takes place five years after the end of a brief war in which a poorly aimed missile fired by the North Koreans dropped unexploded warheads around southeastern Alaska. None of this means much to Gloomy Knob, who’s been incarcerated for seven years in a prison near the town of Cold Storage for his sister’s murder, until some well-meaning folks snatch him from an off-site work detail in the mistaken belief that he can locate an unaccounted for nuclear warhead. Though Gloomy is willing to help save Cold Storage and its inhabitants, including his wife, there’s one minor problem: he has no idea where the bomb is. Unhinged by his newfound freedom, Gloomy is nearly as unstable as the warhead he has been sprung to find. Desperate to return to prison to continue his sentence, Gloomy begins remembering too much for his own good—and the good of others. Straley upturns the Alaskan landscape like Carl Hiassen flipped Florida with wildly imaginative stories and droll characters. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Killing Tide: A Brittany Mystery

Jean-Luc Bannelec, trans. from the German by Peter Millar. Minotaur, $25.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-250-17338-6

A particularly tough day begins for Commisaire Georges Dupin in Bannalec’s superb fifth Brittany mystery (after 2017’s The Missing Corpse) when a fisherwoman from the Île de Sein is found in a container full of rotting fish with her throat slit. The discovery of two more people with their throats cut—one a dolphin researcher, the other a retired professor—launches a fast-paced investigation that puts perennially seasick Dupin, a former Paris police detective who’s a fish out of water in western Brittany, in headlong pursuit of a killer across the islands off the port of Douarnenez—and that exposes the seamy underside of commercial fishing. The dramatic conclusion leaves Dupin to reflect on the shadowy notions of justice, ambiguous endings, and the many mysteries of Brittany, where Celtic legends and Breton folklore are accepted as matter of fact parts of modern life. Bannelec (the pen name of Jörg Bong) has concocted the perfect blend of police procedural and travelogue. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Big Lie

James Grippando. Harper, $27.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-291504-7

An all-too-timely scenario drives bestseller Grippando’s solid 16th Jack Swyteck novel (after 2019’s The Girl in the Glass Box). President Malcolm MacLeod, whom Democrats had been threatening to impeach since they retook the House in the midterms, has lost the popular vote in his bid for a second term, but he’s ahead in the Electoral College. MacLeod’s opponent, Florida senator Evan Stahl, refuses to concede and hopes “to convince five [Floridian] Republican electors to break ranks” and vote for him. Stahl wants Swyteck to act as attorney for electors considering the possibility, focusing primarily on Charlotte Holmes, a former member of a pro-gun lobbying firm. Charlotte should be pro-MacLeod, but wants to vote her conscience. She’s jeered by MacLeod and his rabid fans, and she’s also stalked, threatened, and kidnapped. Grippando stuffs the story with commentary on such hot-button topics as the polarization of today’s media, Florida’s “stand your ground” law, and the deep state. Readers uneasy in the current political climate won’t feel any easier. Those who prefer escapism in their thrillers should look elsewhere. Agent: Richard Pine, Inkwell Management. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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All the Best Lies

Joanna Schaffhausen. Minotaur, $27.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-250-29738-9

Schaffhausen’s chilling third novel to feature Woodbury, Mass., cop Ellery Hathaway and FBI agent Reed Markham (after 2019’s No Mercy) reveals that Reed was only a baby, and in the same room, when his Puerto Rican birth mother, Camilla Flores, was stabbed and beaten to death in Las Vegas, Nev., in 1975. The case was never solved, and a recent DNA test showed that Reed’s adoptive father, now Virginia state senator Angus Markham, is actually his biological father. For Reed, this opens up the possibility that Angus may have killed Camilla, and he recruits Ellery, who’s still suspended after a shooting, to help him dig into the cold case. Their investigation leads to a web of police corruption and a killer who may still be at large. Schaffhausen sensitively explores how Ellery’s deeply traumatic past affects her growing attraction to Reed, and those hoping for progress in their tentative romance will be pleased. Tight plotting and a few genuinely shocking twists propel this emotionally charged thriller all the way to the explosive finale. Old and new readers alike will be enthralled. Agent: Jill Marsal, Marsal Lyon Literary. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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