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The Silent Conversation

Caro Ramsay. Severn, $28.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-7278-9076-4

Set in Glasgow, Scotland, Ramsay’s engrossing 13th procedural featuring Det. Chief Insp. Colin Anderson and Det. Insp. Freddie Costello (after On an Outgoing Tide) effectively juggles multiple plotlines without straining credulity. Four years after four-year-old Johnny Clearwater’s 2017 disappearance, the child’s fate remains unknown, leading his mother to make another public appeal for information. Though Anderson suspects the boy is long dead, he’s forced to reconsider after traces of Johnny’s DNA are found on the face of murder victim Rachel Sinclair. Sinclair, a former flight attendant, was attacked by an unknown man while she was dressed in a police uniform. An off-duty cop, who saw a man fleeing the scene, tried to revive the unconscious Sinclair rather than give chase. The assault was witnessed by Carol Holman, who passed out while calling the police and kept quiet about what she saw. Holman is revealed to have survived being victimized by the so-called Night Hunter, a serial killer who was caught by Anderson and Costello. Ramsay shifts perspectives among investigators, witnesses, and victims to keep readers guessing. This is an intelligent nail-biter. Agent: Jane Gregory, David Higham Assoc. (U.K.). (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/08/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Hunting Season

Tom Benjamin. Constable, $15.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-47213161-4

Benjamin’s outstanding sequel to 2019’s A Quiet Death in Italy delivers authentic Italian ambiance alongside a cleverly plotted mystery. When Ryan Lee, who has made a name for himself as a supertaster (“a sort of food detective, specializing in truffles”), goes missing, his American parents ask Daniel Leicester, the best (and only) English detective in Bologna, to investigate. The one clue to Ryan’s whereabouts is a photo posted on his social media of a shop window full of cheese, salami, and truffles. Daniel’s search for the young man takes him to local restaurants, to the annual truffle market, into the woods with a celebrated truffle hound, and onto the set of an Italian TV crime show. The plot twists and turns in unexpected directions after the owner of a chain of top-class restaurants is found dead. Benjamin smoothly slips fascinating snippets of history, as well as contemporary Italian culture and food lore, into the narrative without slowing the pace. This is an essential guide for armchair travelers to Italy. Agent: Bill Goodall, Bill Goodall Literary (U.K.). (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/08/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Murder’s a Swine

Nap Lombard. Poisoned Pen, $14.99 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-4642-1549-0

Gordon Neil Stewart (1912–1999) and Pamela Hansford Johnson (1912–1981) make good use of their experiences as WWII air raid wardens in this light whodunit written under the Lombard pseudonym, first published in 1943. To escape the rain, Clem Poplett, an unprepossessing London junior warden with “the face of an adored pet rabbit,” pops into a shelter, where he and Agnes Kinghof, a resident of the building above the shelter, notice a stench emanating from a sandbag. It proves to contain a body “with a long dead face, phosphorescent, greenish-brown in the torch light, hideously blotched.” The corpse is eventually identified as Reg Coppenstall, the brother of another building resident, Adelaide Sibley, who’d not seen Reg in 30 years. Agnes and her husband, a Royal Artillery captain, investigate. The puzzle deepens after Adelaide is frightened by a blue pig’s head that appears outside her window, and she receives an ominous note: “Greasy fellow aren’t I? The Pig-Sticker.” The Kinghofs’ banter and humor will remind many of Nick and Nora Charles. This exemplifies the raison d’être of the British Library Crime Classics series. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/08/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Pay or Play

Howard Michael Gould. Severn, $28.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7278-5085-0

In Gould’s lively third mystery featuring former L.A. police detective Charlie Waldo (after 2019’s Below the Line), Lorena, Waldo’s clever and capable girlfriend, coaxes him into joining her detective agency. His first case involves Judge Ida Mudge, who displays her “magisterial badassery” on her mega popular courtroom reality show. Now in negotiations with a first-run syndicator offering her $1 million a day for her show, Mudge is being blackmailed over an incident that occurred 35 years earlier: the presumed fraternity hazing death of a fellow student. Proclaiming her innocence, Mudge orders Waldo to find out the truth. Meanwhile, Don Q, a novel-reading gangster whose crimes “ranged from cold-blooded murder to influencing private-school admissions,” demands that Waldo discover the identity of a homeless man found dead at a Sherman Oaks mini-mall and then locate the dead man’s dog. With two difficult clients and relations with Lorena teetering toward collapse, Waldo remains focused—as ever—on doing the right thing. Gould pithily slips in loads of relevant details about homelessness, consumerism, and waste on the way to the satisfying ending. Readers will want to see a lot more of the obsessively virtuous Waldo. Agent: Jay Mandel, WME. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/08/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Observations by Gaslight: Stories from the World of Sherlock Holmes

Lyndsay Faye. Mysterious, $25.95 (296p) ISBN 978-1-61316-261-3

In this impressive collection of six stories depicting Sherlock Holmes from perspectives other than Watson’s from Edgar finalist Faye (The Whole Art of Detection: Lost Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes), Faye draws on not only obvious canonical supporting characters like Mrs. Hudson but also lesser-known ones, including Baker Street Irregular Henry Wiggins, Scotland Yarder Stanley Hopkins, and A. Davenport Lomax, a librarian given just the briefest mention by Conan Doyle. As with her traditional pastiches, Faye pushes the envelope judiciously, providing depth to the iconic sleuth without transforming him beyond recognition. For example, “The Adventure of the Stopped Clocks,” narrated by Irene Adler, the one woman who bested Holmes, fleshes out his admiration for her intellect, and explores the impact on the sleuth of Watson’s marriage and move out of Baker Street, all within the context of an ingenious take on an untold case centered on why all the clocks in a man’s home have stopped. And “Our Common Correspondent” gives Inspector Lestrade a moving backstory that also touches on the evolving Holmes-Watson dynamic. Nuance, wit, and clever plotting make this a superior version of George Mann’s Associates of Sherlock Holmes anthologies. Sherlockians will clamor for a sequel. Agent: Erin Malone, WME. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/08/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Survivor

John Zodrow. Black Rose Writing, $18.99 trade paper (206p) ISBN 978-1-68433-654-8

The verdict that Fr. Bobby Powell, who was found with a bullet wound in his head hanging from a bridge in New Delhi, India, died by suicide doesn’t sit well with Bobby’s twin, Burt, the hero of this exciting religious conspiracy thriller from Zodrow (Sins of War). Burt, a Kansas police officer, examines his brother’s body after the remains are transported to Rome, and his suspicions that his twin was murdered are validated by Fr. Martin Urrutia, a friend of Bobby’s. Martin adds that Bobby, after finding an ancient document in the Vatican archives that supposedly proved that Jesus Christ didn’t die on the cross and the Catholic Church was a fraud, made many enemies, including a radical right-wing group, the Hand of Christ. Burt hopes for more details from Father Sebastiano, Bobby’s superior, but an assassin dressed as a nun blows Sebastiano’s head off and almost kills Burt. To his peril, Burt seeks to ascertain the truth about the origins of Christianity. High-octane action and a killer ending elevate this above similar books. Dan Brown fans will be captivated. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 10/08/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Prose and Cons

Wendy Corsi Staub. Severn, $28.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7278-5016-4

In Staub’s good-natured fourth Lily Dale mystery (after 2017’s Dead of Winter), widow Bella Jordan, the manager of Valley View Manor, a guesthouse in Lily Dale, N.Y., “the world’s largest center for the religion of Spiritualism,” has to deal with some unusual guests. One morning, Bella’s neighbor, haughty Pandora Feeney, charges into the Victorian manor demanding free accommodations for her Auntie Eudora and Eudora’s traveling companion, Nigel, who will be arriving by ship from England the next day. As the former mistress of Valley View, Pandora maintains a proprietary interest in the place, though she lost it years ago in a messy divorce. Soon the ever-obliging Bella is pretending to be Pandora’s servant in order to allow the woman to save face in front of demanding Eudora and smarmy Nigel. Meanwhile, there’s been a murder at sea. The investigation takes a back seat to musings about Pandora’s bad marriage, the love stories of other Lily Dale inhabitants, and Bella’s quiet interest in the local vet. Cozy fans will enjoy the company of Bella and crew. Agent: Laura Blake Peterson, Curtis Brown. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/08/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Dark Transit

Michael DiMercurio. Gordian Knot, $24.99 (656p) ISBN 978-1-63789-918-2

Lt. (j.g.) Anthony Pacino, the son of DiMercurio’s series hero Adm. Michael A. Pacino, last seen in 2002’s Terminal Run, stars in this meticulously detailed and yet relentlessly propulsive naval thriller. Anthony reports to the new Virginia-class submarine USS Vermont, a “project boat” whose missions are so secret only the crew, the National Security Council, and the U.S. president know about them. The Russians have invented a lead-bismuth liquid metal cooled nuclear reactor and installed it in Panther, an old Kilo class submarine. Because the reactor is so dangerous, the Russians have given Panther to the Iranians to test. The Vermont’s primary mission is to sneak into the Gulf of Oman, hijack Panther, and sail it back to a U.S. base where it can be tested and disassembled. Anthony proves to be a brave, innovative sailor, and is eventually placed in a leadership position for the mission. The real-life experiences of DiMercurio, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate who served on submarines, are evident on every page. Readers will find themselves swept along on a nonstop tide of authenticity and suspense. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/08/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Past Life

David Mark. Severn, $28.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-7278-9092-4

British author Mark’s fine ninth police procedural featuring Hull Det. Sgt. Aector McAvoy (after 2019’s Cold Bones) opens with psychic Dymphna Lowell providing a reading for a taciturn stranger who shows up unexpectedly at her isolated house. She can tell just by looking at him he doesn’t have a promising future. After calling her a charlatan, the man bashes Lowell’s head with one of her crystals, strangles her with her necklace, cuts out her tongue, and sticks a crystal shard into her rib cage. The m.o. reminds McAvoy of a case he handled 12 years earlier as a new copper that he thought was closed. Palm reader Eva-Jayne Puck was strangled in her flat by someone who drove something sharp into her torso. The Puck inquiry has a personal dimension for McAvoy, as her niece, who was seen fleeing the scene of the killing, is now his wife. Mark’s experiences as a Hull crime reporter pay off in his realistic portrayals of both cops and civilians, and he presents his lead’s inner life in a nuanced way that doesn’t interfere with the pace and suspense of the dramatic plotline. Ian Rankin fans will be pleased. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/08/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Under an Outlaw Moon

Dietrich Kalteis. ECW, $15.95 trade paper (244p) ISBN 978-1-77041-547-8

Based on a true story, this riveting Depression-era crime novel from Canadian author Kalteis (Cradle of the Deep) pits brazen husband and wife outlaws, much like Bonnie and Clyde, against hundreds of FBI agents. One day in 1937, at a roller-skating rink in Topeka, Kans., 26-year-old Bennie Dickson, recently released from a Missouri penitentiary where he was serving time for bank robbery, meets Stella Mae Redenbaugh, a beautiful, sassy 15-year-old. Within a month, they’re secretly engaged, but Bennie’s quick temper scuppers their hopes for a steady life. After assaulting a clerk at the Topeka motor vehicle office while applying for a chauffeur’s license, Bennie flees, initially to Illinois, to escape felony charges. Bouncing from place to place and robbing stores along the way, he persuades Stella Mae to become his wife. During their honeymoon, the newlyweds commit two daring bank heists in South Dakota and go on the run, drawing the wrath of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who brands them public enemies number one and number two, and sparking a colossal eight-month coast-to-coast manhunt. Kalteis breathes life into these fearless, larger-than-life fugitives. This is a delightful treat for historical crime fiction enthusiasts. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/08/2021 | Details & Permalink

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