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A Hard Day for a Hangover

Darynda Jones. St. Martin’s, $28.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-250-23314-1

In bestseller Jones’s enjoyable third and final mystery featuring Sunshine Vicram, the sheriff of Del Sol, N.Mex. (after 2021’s A Good Day for Chardonnay), Sunshine has her hands full dealing with murders, assaults, robberies, a sniper attack, an escaped prisoner, and a pregnant raccoon, not to mention the tourist town’s resident flasher, who ends up in the emergency room with a knitting needle embedded in his neck, claiming to have been attacked by a gang. Distinctive supporting characters who aid in Sunshine’s investigations include her chief deputy, Quincy Cooper; her 15-year-old daughter, Auri; and Levi Ravinder, the man she has “been in love with since childhood.” Meanwhile, Sunshine has to sort out her complicated love life as well as Auri’s. As Del Sol is “like Peyton Place on crystal meth,” there’s indeed a whole lot of sorting out to do. Fans will be delighted to see Sunshine and her kinfolk heading for a rosy future. Newcomers are advised to start with book one. Agent: Alexandra Machinist, ICM Partners. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/14/2022 | Details & Permalink

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The Butcher of Berner Street

Alex Reeve. Felony & Mayhem, $26 (300p) ISBN 978-1-631942-82-2

Reeve’s outstanding third Victorian mystery featuring journalist Leo Stanhope, who was born in a woman’s body but identifies as male (after 2019’s The Anarchists’ Club), opens at a “penny gaff” (a sporting establishment) in Whitechapel, where, according to an unsigned note sent to Leo’s newspaper, there’s going to be a “cold-hearted murder” that night. Following a wrestling match, the lights go out, revealing the body of club owner Oswald Drake hanging from a rope, apparently dead. But Drake reveals that he’s faking, and that he sent the message to Stanhope just to publicize his business. The episode proves more significant when, two days later, Drake is murdered by someone who injected something into his neck and hanged him. Leo investigates after being advised of the death by an anonymous telegram, but their initial conclusions may put the wrong person in the dock. They delve into Drake’s background and learn that several people had reasons to kill him. Reeve never makes the amateur sleuthing less than plausible and enables readers to sympathize with his lead’s efforts to keep their gender identity a secret. This series just keeps getting better. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/14/2022 | Details & Permalink

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The Ingenue

Rachel Kapelke-Dale. St. Martin’s, $27.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-83456-0

Saskia Kreis, the 37-year-old heroine of this exceptional psychological thriller from Kapelke-Dale (The Ballerinas), was once a child piano prodigy, but her career petered out in her late teens. She now makes a mediocre living in New York City as a computer coder. Upon the death of her mother, author and illustrator Evelyn Harper Kreis, Saskia returns to Milwaukee, Wis., for the funeral, staying at Elf House, the mansion that had been in her mother’s family for generations and that she hopes to inherit. She’s shocked when she learns that her mother has willed the house to Patrick Kintner, director of development at the University of Wisconsin. The narrative switches between Saskia’s present-day fight to retain what she believes is rightfully hers and sections revealing dark incidents from her adolescence. The plot builds to a conclusion that’s inevitable but still surprising, exhilarating but also disturbing. Chapters often start with excerpts from Evelyn’s 1990s book series, Fairy Tales for Little Feminists. These add substance to Saskia’s own plight and her decision on how to continue her life’s journey, and will resonate with readers in the post-#MeToo era. This suspense-filled tale of revenge and redemption is hard to put down. Agent: Sarah Phair, Sanford J. Greenburger Assoc. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/14/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Murder Book

Thomas Perry. Mysterious, $26.95 (420p) ISBN 978-1-61316-383-2

Chicago PI Harry Duncan, the protagonist of this strong crime novel from Edgar winner Perry (The Old Man), accepts a contract from his ex-wife, Ellen Leicester, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, to investigate a sudden spike in criminal activity in small towns along Indiana’s Ash River (“Assaults and robberies by teams rather than individuals, extortion, and that sort of thing”). Ellen believes that organized crime elements in Chicago are making a move to expand operations into Indiana, and Duncan’s task is to scout out the territory and report back to her on whether an FBI investigation is warranted. Duncan makes his first stop at a bar by the river for a bite to eat and winds up contending with two thugs in the bar’s parking lot who try to steal his car. Tough, self-reliant, and fearless, Duncan soon plunges into a full-scale battle with hired crooks intent on seizing control of the entire region, and lives are suddenly at stake—including his own. The pages melt away as the story maintains a breathless pace throughout. This is further proof that Perry is a dominating force in the world of contemporary suspense thrillers. Hopefully, Duncan will be back for an encore. Agent: Mel Berger, WME. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/14/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Room to Swing

Ed Lacy. Poisoned Pen, $14.99 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-7282-6310-6

This 1958 Edgar Award winner for best novel from Lacy (1911–1968) masterfully combines a classic genre trope with a powerful depiction of the impact of racism in 1950s America. Black PI Touissant Moore arrives in Bingston, Ohio, where his skin color automatically evokes hostility from white people. He secures a room in the Black enclave, but the daughter of his hosts sees through his story that he’s a traveling jazz musician. Moore admits that he’s looking for information about a former resident, Robert Thomas, who was wanted by the Ohio police for the rape and assault of a teen six years earlier and was recently murdered in New York City, where Thomas was living under an alias. Moore, who’s been hired by a TV show that rewards viewers for nabbing criminals profiled on the program, thinks the killer may have come from Bingston. Moore wants to make sure that Thomas stayed in the area long enough to be seen by a viewer, but he ends up framed for Thomas’s murder. The pacing, sharp-edged prose, and characterizations are all top-notch. With any luck, this assured and memorable crime novel will lead to further reissues of Lacy’s work. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/14/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Little Red House

Liv Andersson. Crooked Lane, $29.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-63910-203-7

In this uneven serial killer thriller from Andersson (the Greenhouse mysteries as Wendy Tyson), the drowning death of Eve Foster during her routine morning swim in Lake Champlain reunites the twins she adopted, Lisa and Connie, at Eve’s Vermont home for the reading of her unusual will. Lisa is to get $30 million and the Vermont property, while Connie, who’s been homeless and struggling to survive in New York City, will receive $5,000 a year and a home in New Mexico. The will is bulletproof; should Lisa attempt to help her sibling more, both would lose everything. At Connie’s new home, she finds an odd caretaker in residence, whom she can’t fire, and a mystery. Six women were “raped, tortured, mutilated, and dumped” over a five-year period during the 1990s, and the person or persons responsible may have just resumed their killing spree. Flashbacks parcel out details of Eve’s life back then, as Connie tries to solve the whodunit in the book’s present. The tantalizing opening sections compensate only in part for closing surprises that don’t feel earned, and Connie’s character fails to achieve the complexity readers are led to expect. Hopefully, Andersson will do better next time. Agent: Fran Black, Literary Counsel. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/14/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Feel the Bern: A Bernie Sanders Mystery (with Recipes)

Andrew Shaffer. Ten Speed, $16.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-984861-14-6

Iconoclastic Vermont senator Bernie Sanders turns amateur sleuth in this amusing series launch from bestseller Shaffer (the Obama Biden mysteries). Crash Robertson, a 23-year-old Vermont native interning for Sanders, scores a plum assignment to escort her boss to her hometown, Eagle Creek, where he’s been tapped as grand marshal of the Champ Days harvest festival parade. Crash welcomes the chance to see her mother, proprietor of the town’s only store and bed-and-breakfast, but takes to heart the admonition from the D.C. office not to let Bernie out of sight, lest he wander off for impromptu, schedule-disrupting discussions with constituents. As the politicos arrive, the body of widely disliked banker Ferman Fletcher is found floating in Lake Champlain, and whodunit speculations start flying. Is it financially strapped hippie maple syrup maker Doc McGilliam, or swaggering tech billionaire Jagger Wardlow, who’s buying up maple farms in the area, flouting Vermont’s mellow, modest mores? The police investigate, and after Bernie gets the detective bug, Crash must keep him out of trouble. Shaffer cheerfully ties sprawling plot threads together with clever nods to Vermont and its Socialist senator. Readers will be eager for more. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/14/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Murder by Definition

Con Lehane. Severn, $29.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-7278-5089-8

Lehane’s intriguing fourth 42nd Street Library mystery (after 2019’s Murder Off the Page) finds librarian Ray Ambler curating a collection of papers by influential mystery author Will Ford for the New York Public Library’s Crime Fiction Collection. Among Ford’s papers, Ray discovers an unpublished short story about a triple murder over a drug deal. Curious, Ray does some research and finds that Ford’s story is the same in every particular to an actual 1990s-era murder—except for one important detail. In real life, the murderer confessed and went to prison. In Ford’s story, the real killer got away scot-free. Which was true, the story or the newspaper account? Ford’s not talking, so Ray asks his friend, NYPD homicide detective Mike Cosgrove, to look into it. But as soon as Mike starts asking questions, people start dying. When Mike himself becomes a target, the task of finding the real killer becomes personal for Ray. Memorable prose (“Ray stayed in the background pretending he was doing something on his computer—like the guy in the old mystery movies who had his ear pressed against the door and fell into the room when the inspector yanked it open”) helps make up for the dense and increasingly complicated plot. Those with a taste for noir lite will want to check this out. Agent: Alice Martell, Martell Agency. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/14/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Keep It in the Family

John Marrs. Thomas & Mercer, $15.95 trade paper (438p) ISBN 978-1-5420-1727-5

This heart-pounding psychological thriller from British author Marrs (The Minders) takes a deep dive into the mind of a serial killer. Young marrieds Mia and Finn Hunter, who have been living with Finn’s parents, Dave and Debbie, jump at the opportunity to buy an old house in Stewkbury, Bedfordshire, and renovate it into their dream home. When a pregnant Mia discovers a cryptic message, “I will save them from the attic,” scratched into the skirting board of the room that will be the nursery, she sends Finn up to the attic to investigate. There he discovers evidence of terrible crimes. Mia, who’s watching Finn from atop a ladder, takes a serious fall that leads to the premature birth of her baby, Sonny. As a result of her injuries and the shock of what she saw in the attic, Mia withdraws emotionally, and Debbie becomes Sonny’s principal caregiver. The tension rises as an anonymous narrator, who remains unidentified through much of the book, describes a tortured childhood and an eventual career as a serial killer. One dramatic revelation after another will keep readers turning the pages. Marrs has outdone himself. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/14/2022 | Details & Permalink

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No Questions Asked/The Defense Does Not Rest

Edna Sherry. Stark House, $17.95 trade paper (284p) ISBN 978-1-951473-87-7

This reprint volume collects two workmanlike crime novels by mid-20th-century domestic suspense novelist Sherry (1885–1967), best known for Sudden Fear (1948), adapted in 1952 as the Joan Crawford film noir classic. No Questions Asked (1949) centers on New York City homicide captain Steve Lake, who’s investigating communist spies in the germ warfare division of a chemical research laboratory. Meanwhile, the prim Lake, who’s 38, worries about his new wife, who’s only 22. “What could a guy offer a girl sixteen years younger?” Doubts about his wife’s fidelity lead to Lake spying on her as the two story lines dramatically intertwine. The Defense Does Not Rest (1959) opens with wounded Lt. Maxwell Gray carried off the battlefield in Korea. While recuperating back in the States, Gray meets and marries the devious, jewel-hungry Carol Tyson, and his troubles really start. It takes many chapters to get to the murder of the embittered gold-digger, but the ending amps up as the twists keep coming. Some snappy dialogue makes up for what will strike today’s readers as old-fashioned plots. Mickey Spillane this isn’t. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/14/2022 | Details & Permalink

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