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A Deadly Endowment

Alyssa Maxwell. Kensington, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4967-3490-7

Agatha Christie meets Downton Abbey in Maxwell’s pleasantly diverting seventh Lady and Lady’s Maid Mystery (after 2021’s A Sinister Service). After the depredations of WWI, Lady Phoebe Renshaw’s grandfather, the Earl of Wroxly, is badly in need of cash to maintain Foxwood Hall, the family estate, so to generate income, Lady Phoebe suggests her grandparents open the house to guided tours. Phoebe conducts her first tour for a gaggle of schoolchildren and members of the local historical society, but things go awry when one of the adults, Arvina Bell, wanders off and ends up dead in the library, strangled with a curtain tie. Only one thing is missing—an old family photograph. Does the photo hold a clue to why Mrs. Bell was killed? Phoebe and her lady’s maid, the intrepid Eva Huntford, uncover plots and motives galore among the historical society members. Maxwell brings it all to the table: colorful characters, a charming Cotswold setting, lots of suspects, a dismissive chief inspector and his kind subordinate, plucky ladies who are smarter than the police, a hidden treasure, and a hint of romance. This is an exemplary cozy. Agent: Evan Marshall, Evan Marshall Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Mr. Campion’s Wings

Mike Ripley. Severn, $28.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-7278-5040-9

British gentleman sleuth Albert Campion has a deeply personal mystery to solve in Ripley’s impressive ninth continuation of Margery Allingham’s relished series (after 2021’s Mr. Campion’s Coven). In 1965, Campion is anticipating a triumphant day for his wife, Amanda, who’s slated to receive an honorary doctorate of science from Cambridge University for her work in aeronautical engineering. The occasion is marred when Amanda’s nabbed at the postceremony reception by the Special Branch and taken into custody on suspicion that she violated the Official Secrets Act. The charges stem from her role in a secret program to design a new military aircraft, the Goshawk Project, and Campion sets about probing who actually leaked sensitive information about it, possibly to Soviet military intelligence, at a time when the Kim Philby defection to Moscow is still an open sore. The puzzle deepens after one of the other people working on Goshawk dies in a suspicious accident at the project’s base. Ripley again marries a crafty plotline with a persuasive evocation of Allingham’s style and characterizations. Fans of the originals will be delighted. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Undermoney

Jay Newman. Scribner, $30 (496p) ISBN 978-1-9821-5602-2

Newman’s overstuffed debut, a financial political thriller, opens on a promising note when ex-military types from the U.S., assisted by Russian contractors, intercept a $2 billion cash drop in the remote Jordanian desert for use as seed money for an eventual presidential campaign. Ben Corn, Nebraska’s junior senator and a decorated combat vet, is to be that candidate. Three years after the heist, the cabal selects billionaire Elias Vicker’s Industrial Strategies hedge fund as the vehicle to launder their cash with members of the group managing a shadow takeover. Industrial Strategies, as it turns out, is in business with individuals with direct connections to Vladimir Putin and are manipulating markets through sabotaging key infrastructure. Much of the book is taken up with intricate backstories of various characters’ financial shenanigans, with little action to move things along. Loose ends suggest that this may be intended as a series opener. Readers will hope Newman, a veteran of the world of global finance, provides a stronger hero and a more exciting plot next time. Agent: Sloan Harris, ICM Partners. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Greenwich Park

Katherine Faulkner. Gallery, $27 (384p) ISBN 978-1-9821-5031-0

Helen, the principal narrator of British journalist Faulkner’s well-paced debut, feels insecure among a circle of Cambridge University graduates that includes her architect husband, Daniel; Helen’s brother, Rory, who’s also Daniel’s business partner; Rory’s elegant wife, Serena; and Katie, an intrepid reporter. Helen’s belief that she’s not as glamorous or talented as the rest of her family and friends has been exacerbated by her being forced to take medical leave from her unrewarding office job to manage a high-risk pregnancy. When Daniel is too busy at work to join her at their prenatal class, Helen forges an unlikely friendship with another expectant mother, Rachel, who seems determined to break every prenatal rule in the book—and encourages Helen to do the same. Several supposed coincidental meetings allow Rachel to insinuate herself into Helen’s life, culminating in Rachel’s moving in with Helen and Daniel. When a court case Katie is covering suggests that Rachel isn’t who she seems to be, violence and tragedy ensue. Faulkner ratchets up the tension throughout with clever narrative shifts. Domestic thriller fans should take a look. Agent: Madeleine Milburn, Madeleine Milburn Ltd. (U.K.). (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Appeal

Janice Hallett. Atria, $27 (448p) ISBN 978-1-9821-8745-3

At the start of British journalist, playwright, and screenwriter Hallett’s ingeniously plotted debut, two young lawyers face a Herculean challenge: blitzing through almost two years of emails, texts, and messages so they can assist with an appeal brief due within days. Initially, the communications among members of a London area amateur theater group seem unremarkable, even banal. But things get real when troupe leader Martin Hayward shares that his two-year-old granddaughter, Poppy, has been diagnosed with a rare brain tumor—for which the only hope is an astronomically expensive experimental drug. Though plans for the show proceed, an urgent appeal to raise funds for Poppy’s treatment takes center stage. As contributions climb and someone ends up dead, Hallett skillfully lays an intricate and twisty trail of bread crumbs that leads to half a dozen suspects, which should delight those eager for the opportunity to sift through the evidence. For others, however, reading this murder mystery may feel more like attempting to solve a large jigsaw puzzle without a picture for guidance. Either way, Hallett remains a writer to watch. Agent: Markus Hoffmann, Regal Hoffmann & Assoc. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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A Thousand Steps

T. Jefferson Parker. Forge, $27.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-250-79353-9

The backdrop to this solid standalone from Edgar winner Parker, set in 1968 Laguna Beach, Calif., is the burgeoning counterculture—hippies, drugs, be-ins, and protests—but 16-year-old Matt Anthony is mostly worried about his fractured family. His dad has fled. His mom’s addicted to hash and opium. His brother’s fighting in Vietnam. And his sister, 18-year-old Jasmine, has gone missing, last seen at a stairway to the beach. The police, who don’t take Jasmine’s disappearance seriously and are busy trying to bust drug dealers, think she’s just another rebellious runaway. So Matt works tirelessly to find his sister, but his plan—to canvass every house in Laguna Beach—feels more desperate than useful. He’s also reluctantly roped in to help the cops investigate local drug trafficking. Parker offers a telling perspective on the people who used youth culture to traffic drugs (and much worse), but this works best as a thoughtful coming-of-age novel and a portrait of a Southern California town in the throes of substantial societal change. Crime fiction fans may just find enough to like. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Last Seen Alive

Joanna Schaffhausen. Minotaur, $27.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-24967-8

For two decades, many people have viewed Ellery Hathaway only as the sole survivor of serial murderer/kidnapper Francis Coben, as revealed in Schaffhausen’s excellent fifth installment of this superior series (after 2021’s Every Waking Hour). Ellery’s rescue at age 14 by FBI agent Reed Markham has affected all aspects of her life, from home security measures to her career as a Boston police detective. To try to free herself from her past, she recently ended her relationship with Reed that began the year before. Now, Coben, responsible for the mutilation deaths of at least 17 young women, has a deal—he’ll confess where he buried eight other women if Ellery visits him in prison. Ellery agrees, but the meeting has some surprising consequences. The author highlights Ellery’s emotional state and the grief of the families desperate to know what happened to their loved ones as the suspenseful plot builds to a stunning finale. The chilling Coben, who shows that pure evil can lurk behind a handsome face, makes a memorable villain. Readers will be eager to see what happens next. Agent: Jill Marsal, Marsal Lyon Literary. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Robert B. Parker’s Bye Bye Baby

Ace Atkins. Putnam, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-0-593-32851-4

In Atkins’s routine 10th continuation of Parker’s Spenser series (after 2021’s Someone to Watch over Me), the Boston PI takes on a client with certain similarities to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Massachusetts congresswoman Carolina Garcia-Ramirez, generally referred to by just her initials, supports a progressive agenda: “Free college and health care for all, a living and respectable minimum wage, a green Boston with zero carbon emissions, a massive restructuring of law enforcement.” After the politician is splattered with urine by a Southerner off his meds, members of CGR’s staff consult Spenser. They fear that the attack indicates that the threats against her are rising to a more dangerous level, a concern seemingly validated after her offices in Boston are broken into and vandalized. Spenser suspects that someone on the inside is sharing details of CGR’s schedule and placing her in the crosshairs of a group of white supremacists calling themselves the Minutemen. Spenser banters with his significant other, makes wisecracks, and displays unexpected erudition, but there aren’t any genuine plot surprises, and the end result feels stale. Atkins seems just to be going through the motions. Agent: Esther Newberg, ICM Partners. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Latinist

Mark Prins. Norton, $26.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-393-54127-4

Prins puts a contemporary spin on the Apollo and Daphne myth in his laudable debut, which revolves around the relationship of a classical philology student and her unscrupulous mentor. Tessa Templeton is just weeks away from receiving her doctorate from Oxford when she discovers that her trusted adviser, Christopher Eccles, professor of classics at Westfaling College, has effectively sabotaged her budding career with a misleading recommendation letter that he sent to the universities she’d applied to for teaching positions—leaving her only option to accept a faculty job at Westfaling, where she would be subject to Eccles’s continued scheming and enamored attention. As Tessa attempts to free herself from his obsessive manipulation, she uncovers groundbreaking revelations regarding a second-century female Roman poet with a penchant for limping iambs that could propel her career into the stratosphere. Prins’s riveting tale of love, power, and possession matches deep characterization with an intriguing plot involving ancient texts, necropolises, and archaeological sites. Fans of academic thrillers will dig this. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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More Julius Katz and Archie

Dave Zeltserman. Zeltserman, $15 trade paper (218p) ASIN B093RWX7YW

The eight stories in Zeltserman’s superior second collection inspired by Rex Stout (after 2011’s Julius Katz and Archie) are engagingly narrated by Boston PI Julius Katz’s equivalent of Nero Wolfe’s Archie Goodwin—a “highly advanced AI software housed in a device that looks like a tie clip.” The crime fiction in the database of Katz’s Archie shapes his thinking on the cases Katz handles. For example, in “Julius Katz and the Giftwrapped Murder,” Archie is inclined to believe a client who states that he has no memory of his actions around the time his business partner was shot, “because of the Cornel Woolrich novels used in building my knowledge base.” A high point is “Julius Katz and the Case of Exploding Wine,” in which the status quo is shaken by an attempt on Katz’s life and the solution to a murder is a neat riff on a classic mystery trope. The puzzles are clever, and Zeltserman plays fair with readers. Stout devotees will be delighted with this loving homage. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 10/22/2021 | Details & Permalink

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