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Red Traitor

Owen Matthews. Doubleday, $27.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-385-54342-2

Told primarily from the Russian perspective, this gripping thriller from Matthews (Black Sun) focuses on the often overlooked role of Soviet submarines, all equipped with nuclear missiles, that were heading to Cuba in the days leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Like the other submarine commanders, Capt. Vasily Arkhipov received the go-ahead by the military to launch a nuke at the U.S. without Moscow’s approval if attacked. The order makes Arkhipov uneasy because he knows some other captains may have an itchy trigger finger. Meanwhile, back in Moscow, KGB Lt. Col. Alexander Vasin is so troubled by the leeway given to submarine captains that he’s trying to find a way to pass along word to American officials about the danger. Vasin attempts to persuade a colleague who’s a known American agent to tell his American contact about the Russian threat. Back in the Caribbean, the Russian submarines run low on power and are forced to surface and face a formidable American naval armada. An afterword reveals that Matthews, a journalist who has written widely on Russian affairs, drew closely on the historical record. Cold War buffs will particularly enjoy the ride, though any reader who appreciates the finer points of espionage and foreign intrigue will also be well satisfied. Agent: Toby Mundy, Toby Mundy Assoc. (July)

Reviewed on 05/28/2021 | Details & Permalink

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An Ambush of Widows

Jeff Abbott. Grand Central, $28 (352p) ISBN 978-1-5387-1914-5

At the start of this taut thriller from bestseller Abbott (Never Ask Me), Kirsten North, a New Orleans freelance researcher, believes her husband, Henry, a software consultant specializing in computer security, is in New York City on a business trip. Then she gets a call from Henry’s phone that’s not from him. The indistinct voice, whose gender is unclear, informs Kirsten that Henry has been fatally shot in Austin, Tex., then hangs up. An online search yields a press report that two men were found shot to death in an Austin warehouse two days earlier. Only one victim has been identified: entrepreneur Adam Zhang. Fearing that Henry’s killer may have been the anonymous caller, the distraught Kirsten hops the first flight to Austin, unaware that her seatmate is shadowing her. After identifying her husband’s corpse in the county morgue, Kirsten begins digging on her own into the baffling tragedy. She later joins forces with Adam’s widow, Flora, even though she suspects Flora of being behind the murders. Abbott adroitly shifts perspectives to raise the suspense. Lisa Unger fans will be pleased. Agent: Peter Ginsberg, Curtis Brown. (July)

Reviewed on 05/28/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Bucket List: An Agent John Adderley Novel

Peter Mohlin and Peter Nyström, trans. from the Swedish by Ian Giles. Overlook, $27 (400p) ISBN 978-1-4197-5218-6

Swedish authors Mohlin and Nyström’s engrossing debut and series launch opens in 2019 in a Baltimore hospital, where FBI agent John Adderley, the son of an American father and a Swedish mother, is recovering from gunshot wounds he sustained while working undercover for a drug cartel. When John receives a letter from his mother imploring him to come home to Sweden and clear his brother Billy’s name in the decade-old murder case of Emelie Bjurwall, who was the heir apparent to a clothing company, he negotiates with his superiors to go undercover in Sweden as a Swedish cop to investigate the case. Flashbacks to 2009 illuminate the strained family life of Sissela and Heimer Bjurwall, Emelie’s parents, and a mysterious “bucket list” tattoo on Emelie’s wrist proves central to Heimer’s comprehension of his daughter’s final days, as well as John’s inquiry, which explains the presence of Billy’s semen on the rock where Emily’s blood was found. Evocative questions about family and professional expectations help ground this knotty, plausible story, articulating the mistakes people make with the ones they love. Scandi noir fans will look forward to this complex lead’s further adventures. Agent: Judith Toth, Nordin Agency (Sweden). (July)

Reviewed on 05/28/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Falling

T.J. Newman. Avid Reader, $28 (304p) ISBN 978-1-9821-7788-1

Soon after Coastal Airways captain Bill Hoffman, the hero of former flight attendant Newman’s superlative debut, is airborne on a flight from Los Angeles to JFK Airport, he gets a blank email from his wife, Carrie. The attached photo shows her and their 10-year-old son, Scott, standing in their living room, their faces covered with hoods and bombs strapped to their bodies. Then he gets a FaceTime call from Saman Khani, who presents the pilot with a choice: Bill must crash the plane, or the terrorist will kill Carrie, Scott, and Elise, the Hoffmans’ baby. Telling anyone of the situation or sending anyone to the house will ensure their deaths. Determined to avoid choosing between the lives of his loved ones and those of his crewmates and the 144 passengers on the flight, Bill must use all his experience and smarts to achieve that impossible goal by trying to get help to his family via a crew member who has a trusted relative in the FBI and by taking the flight attendants into his confidence. Newman makes buy-in to the setup easy by ensuring every character, including Khani, is multidimensional. This tense, convincing thriller marks the arrival of an assured new talent. Agent: Shane Salerno, Story Factory. (July)

Reviewed on 05/28/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Ice and Stone

Marcia Muller. Grand Central, $28 (272p) ISBN 978-1-5387-3316-5

In MWA Grand Master Muller’s well-paced 34th Sharon McCone mystery (after 2018’s The Breakers), the Crimes Against Indigenous Sisters organization hires the San Francisco PI to look into the murders of two Native women over the past three months in California’s Meruk county, as well as many previous disappearances of Native women. Due to conflicting jurisdictions among the reservation police, the county sheriff’s office, and the FBI, any official investigation has faltered. McCone is CAIS’s last hope of finding out what has happened in their community. Posing as a journalist, McCone travels in the dead of winter to Meruk, where she soon discovers that the two deaths are just the tip of the iceberg. McCone, who learned only in middle age she had Shoshone roots, becomes a target for bigotry and abuse as motives for the killings shift into ever-darkening realms. Tough, tenacious, self-reliant, and empathetic, McCone is fiercely loyal to her friends and family. As always, it’s a pleasure to watch her in action. Muller does a fine job dramatizing a serious social issue. Agent: Molly Friedrich, Friedrich Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/28/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Murder at the Lakeside Library: A Lakeside Library Mystery

Holly Danvers. Crooked Lane, $26.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-64385-632-2

Shortly before Memorial Day, Rain Wilmot, the protagonist of this run-of-the-mill series launch from Danvers (the Handcrafted Mysteries as Holly Quinn), arrives at her family’s lakefront cabin in Lofty Pines, Wis., where she runs into Julia, a childhood friend she hasn’t seen in several years. The original portion of the cabin, built by Rain’s great-grandfather, now serves as the community’s summer library, which Rain’s mother, Willow, has always run, but since Willow may not visit until Labor Day, Julia pressures Rain to open it for the season. Later that same day, the library treasurer discovers the body of Thornton Hughes lying behind the cabin’s outhouse. Rain doesn’t know the victim, but Julia’s police officer brother tells Rain that Willow and Thornton, a wealthy developer seeking to buy the town campground, were rumored to be having an affair. To save her mother’s good name, Rain decides to help investigate the murder. Rain is too easily pushed around by Julia, and the sleuthing largely consists of flimsy clues and a few “aha” moments. Cozy fans will hope Rain shows more spine next time. Agent: Sandy Harding, Spencer Hill Assoc. (July)

Reviewed on 05/21/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Follower

Nicholas Bowling. Titan, $15.95 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-1-789094-22-0

Londoner Vivian Owens, the protagonist of this mildly chilling thriller from Bowling (Song of the Far Isles), travels to Mount Hookey, Calif., to search for her twin, Jesse, who’s been missing for a month and a half. Three years earlier, when the troubled Jesse turned 22, he signed up for online seminars offered by the House of Telos, “a school of spiritual education that promised to purge the Western capitalist mind of its ills and bring it within touching distance of the One Cosmic Spirit.” Jesse’s significant payments to that institution yielded an invitation to study in-person at its center in Mount Hookey, which he accepted. In Mount Hookey, Vivian encounters creepy and eccentric characters who only provide cryptic comments that Jesse’s energy means that “the mountain” won’t let him go. Vivian persists, even as she’s unsure whether Telos is a massive scam or a genuine source of meaning for its adherents. The characterizations and prose are nothing special, and the familiar plot builds to a predictable ending. Others have handled this overused story line better. (July)

Reviewed on 05/21/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Shadow Hill: A Geneva Chase Crime Reporter Mystery

Thomas Kies. Poisoned Pen, $15.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-4642-1440-0

In Kies’s memorable fourth mystery featuring PI and occasional freelance journalist Geneva Chase (after 2019’s Graveyard Bay), Eric Cutter hires Geneva to open a fresh investigation into the shooting deaths of his parents, Julia and Morris Cutter, a retired CEO of CP&G, an oil company. The couple were found dead in their upscale Sheffield, Conn., home in what the police ruled a murder-suicide. Morris was about to present a report subsidized by CP&G to Congress with the purpose of stalling legislation on climate change to allow the company time to roll out an international publicity campaign to sway the public to their view and increase their corporate earnings. Morris’s death delayed the report, but the pressure mounts for Geneva to quickly wrap up the investigation. The stakes rise as the report’s lead researcher disappears, as does Morris’s estranged climatologist daughter, and Geneva unearths secrets both spouses kept from each other and rumors of embezzlement. Complex characters and brisk plotting make this a winner. Readers will look forward to Geneva’s further adventures. Agent: Kimberley Cameron, Kimberley Cameron Assoc. (July)

Reviewed on 05/21/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Heretic’s Mark

S.W. Perry. Atlantic (IPG, dist.), $24.95 (432p) ISBN 978-1-78649-903-5

Set in 1594, British author Perry’s superlative fourth Jackdaw mystery (after The Saracen’s Mark) finds London physician Nicholas Shelby accused of being part of a plot to poison Queen Elizabeth. The vengeful Sir Fulke Vaesy, who blames Shelby for his fall from being England’s most respected anatomist, has spread the word that Shelby was allied with the plot’s supposed mastermind, physician Roderigo Lopez, who’s already been executed. Only the intervention of Sir Robert Cecil, Shelby’s sometimes spymaster, gets him released from custody. On Cecil’s advice, Shelby and his apothecary wife leave the country surreptitiously for Holland, where they happen to be present in a church at the same time someone slaughters a priest and an officer in the household of the Archduke of Austria. The officer was in the church to arrange the removal of Hieronymus Bosch’s controversial triptych The Last Judgement. Vivid characters and spot-on period details complement the intricate whodunit plot, and Perry convincingly evokes the religious tensions of the day. S.J. Parris fans will be pleased. Agent: Jane Judd, Jane Judd Literary (U.K.). (July)

Reviewed on 05/21/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Antiques Carry On

Barbara Allan. Severn, $28.99 (208p) ISBN 978-0-7278-9081-8

Allan’s fast, funny 15th Trash ‘ n’ Treasures mystery (after 2020’s Antiques Fire Sale) takes brassy Vivian Borne and her long-suffering daughter, Brandy, the owners of the Trash ‘n’ Treasures antiques shop in Serenity, Iowa, to London, where, at the request of fellow Serenity antiques dealer Skylar James, they drop by the Old Curiosity Shop, whose proprietor, Humphrey Westcott, has a reprint of Murder on the Orient Express for Skylar to give his Christie-loving wife. When Humphrey is found stabbed to death with a letter-opener bearing Brandy’s fingerprints, the women are interrogated by a representative of MI5. Fortunately, CCTV footage proves the Bornes’ innocence, and they are unceremoniously sent back to Iowa, where more suspicious deaths await them. The pair investigate in their own inimitable fashion, eventually discovering a link between the murders and the copy of Murder on the Orient Express. Vivian and Brandy share narrative duties, and their amusing commentary provides much of the book’s appeal (Vivian admits she has “just a teensy-weensy, hardly-worth-mentioning, hint of bi-polar disorder”). Allan (the pen name of Barbara and Max Allan Collins) consistently entertains. Agent: Dominick Abel, Dominick Abel Literary. (July)

Reviewed on 05/21/2021 | Details & Permalink

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