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Fatal Divisions

Claire Booth. Severn, $28.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8997-3

Booth’s fine fourth mystery featuring Branson, Mo., sheriff Hank Worth (after 2019’s A Deadly Turn) finds Hank badly in need of a break from routine. His aunt provides the spark he needs when she asks him to accompany her to Columbia, Mo., to look into the disappearance of her husband’s secretary. He agrees, and leaves Chief Deputy Sheila Turley in charge during his absence. While performing a wellness check at the home of elderly Clyde Timmons, Sheila finds Clyde battered to death. In the midst of the subsequent investigation, the majority of her deputies stage a sick out, protesting her reduction of overtime. Meanwhile in Columbia, Hank, who has no authority there as a police officer, tries to keep his inquiries under the radar, but he soon realizes that the missing secretary is just the tip of the iceberg, and he has to deal with a crime that could tear his family apart. Booth skillfully combines police procedural elements with a sharp focus on the families and professional lives of her protagonists. This superior regional series reliably entertains. Agent: Jim McCarthy, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The President’s Doctor

David Shobin. Gordian Knot, $17.99 trade paper (334p) ISBN 978-1-952979-69-9

Set in 2005, this melodramatic medical thriller from Shobin (The Cure) opens with the kidnapping and murder of a prominent Baltimore obstetrician-gynecologist who performs abortions. An anti-abortion organization, the Southern Cross, claims responsibility. Meanwhile, at a state dinner in Washington, D.C., President Robert Meredith chokes, and his personal physician, Jon Townsend, performs the Heimlich maneuver and saves his life. This is just the first of the president’s problems. Far more serious is Meredith’s deteriorating mental and physical condition caused by a mysterious disease that Jon can’t identify. The tension rises with several attempts on Jon’s life, an attack on the first lady, and further terrorist acts by the Southern Cross. The abundance of medical information can be overwhelming, but Shobin nimbly keeps the various plot lines spinning. Those who prefer clear distinctions between good guys and bad guys in their genre fiction will find much to like. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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One for the Road

Mary Ellis. Severn, $28.99 (208p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8998-0

At the start of this diverting series launch from Ellis (the Kate Weller series), Chicago travel writer Jill Curtis and Michael Erikson, “her videographer sidekick,” head to Roseville, Ky., “to discover why thousands of tourists flock to bourbon country every year.” They stay at a bed and breakfast owned by a cousin of Jill’s, whose husband, Roger Clark, owns the Black Creek distillery. After learning about the 200-year-old feud between the Clarks and the Shelbys, a family that owns a rival distillery, Jill and Michael make a beeline for Black Creek, where Jill finds Roger lying dead on the floor of his aging barn. She promptly becomes a suspect in Roger’s murder, and just as promptly is exonerated, which allows her plenty of time to be pursued by potential suitors, including handsome Jamie Shelby (“Mister-Tall-Dark-and-Rich”) and “relatively handsome” Lt. Nick Harris of the Kentucky State Police. Jill asks a lot of questions but does no actual detecting, and the simple, often silly plot is heavy on romantic backstories. This cozy is sure to delight Ellis’s fans. Agent: Nicole Resciniti, Seymour Literary. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Bone Canyon

Lee Goldberg. Thomas & Mercer, $24.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-5420-4271-0

The discovery of a homicide victim’s scattered bones in the aftermath of a wildfire plunges Eve Ronin, the “youngest homicide detective in the history of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department,” into a politically tense, risky murder investigation in bestseller Goldberg’s fast-paced sequel to 2020’s Lost Hills. The remains are soon identified as those of a young woman who, six years earlier, went missing after she and a friend reported being gang-raped on a local beach. When evidence points to a secret clique of rogue cops in Eve’s department, Eve faces resentment and obstruction from fellow deputies and higher-ups for violating the unspoken code of silence that protects fellow officers. An attempt on her life raises the stakes. Meanwhile, she has to fend off approaches from Hollywood agents who want to option her life story due to her celebrity from the Lost Hills case. Readers will cheer the determined Eve every step of the way as she strives for justice. Goldberg knows how to keep the pages turning. Agent: Amy Tannenbaum, Jane Rotrosen Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Last Exit: A Jen Lu Mystery

Michael Kaufman. Crooked Lane, $26.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-64385-567-7

This outstanding series launch from Kaufman (The Possibility of Dreaming on a Night Without Stars), a sci-fi mystery set in the near future, introduces Jen Lu, of the Washington, D.C., PD’s Elder Abuse Unit, and her wisecracking sidekick, Chandler, an AI neocortical implant. In the U.S., the spread of advanced AI has caused unemployment to skyrocket, and an epidemic of an encephalitis variant is causing havoc. Parents can now, before they turn 65, opt for euthanasia so that their children can receive a modified longevity treatment once reserved for the super-rich, which would protect their offspring from the epidemic. Jen, who’s tasked with probing parents who refuse to accept the deal, learns that a product called Eden may be circulating that’s rumored to give anyone access to a long life. Her investigation becomes more urgent after people start aging rapidly, possibly as a result of using Eden. Exceptional worldbuilding (a court decides that personal service robots can’t be compelled to testify against their owners) is complemented by sympathetic characters and suspenseful plot twists. Kaufman is a writer to watch. Agent: Ginger Curwen, Julia Lord Literary Management. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Shiver

Allie Reynolds. Putnam, $27 (400p) ISBN 978-0-5931-8783-8

Milla, the narrator of Reynolds’s exciting if uneven debut, and four other friends travel to an abandoned ski lodge in the French Alps, where they met 10 years earlier, for a reunion. Back then, the five participated in a grueling snowboarding training session, along with another snowboarder, Saskia. Milla had an exceptionally bitter rivalry with Saskia, who vanished without a trace. Soon after their arrival, their cell phones disappear, a snowstorm hits the lodge, and an icebreaker game reveals that one of them may be a murderer. Milla and company discover that their invitations came from a mysterious source, and they also begin to suspect they aren’t alone. The story alternates between the current predicament and the events a decade ago, revealing overlapping conflicts among the characters. Though the action is slow to start, and no one makes a serious effort to escape, Reynolds, a former competitive snowboarder, brings authenticity to her Alpine setting with her detailed descriptions of the sport. Fans of locked-room mysteries will have fun. Agent: Kate Burke, Blake Friedmann Literary (U.K.). (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Twenty: A Jack Swyteck Novel

James Grippando. Harper, $27.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-291508-5

Bestseller Grippando’s subpar 17th thriller featuring Florida defense attorney Jack Swyteck (after 2020’s The Big Lie) opens with a harrowing scene. Swyteck’s daughter, Righley, goes to kindergarten at Riverside Day School, and his FBI agent wife, Andie, is attending a parents’ event there when a gunman kills more than a dozen people. Righley and Andie, who rushed to Righley’s classroom, are traumatized but uninjured. Andie is later stunned when 18-year-old Xavier Khoury, the son of a close friend, confesses to the shooting. Swyteck reluctantly accepts Xavier as a client, in the hopes of getting him multiple life sentences instead of the death penalty, at the behest of a parent who lost a child but wants to avoid drawn-out court battles. Meanwhile, Andie is put on the hot seat when Riverside seeks to avoid liability for the incident. Despite Xavier’s confession, Swyteck pursues the possibility that it was false. The characters are paper-thin, and an over-the-top reveal undermines any suspension of disbelief. Grippando has done better. Agent: Richard Pine, InkWell Management. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Out of Hounds

Rita Mae Brown. Ballantine, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-0-593-13006-3

Jane “Sister” Arnold, the Master of Foxhounds of the Jefferson Hunt, and her friends are now in their 60s and early 70s, but they remain as spry as ever, as shown in bestseller Brown’s stately 13th mystery set in Virginia hunt country (after 2019’s Scarlet Fever). The nefarious doings begin with the theft of a painting by Sir Alfred Munnings, a real-life English artist known for his horse paintings, from the home of a prominent member of the hunt. Other thefts are soon followed by murders, and Sister and her sweetheart, Gray Lorillard, become the target of a killer. Meanwhile, members of the noisy anti-hunting crowd are out in force making trouble. The mystery plot occasionally peeps through digressions on such topics as the ideal way to organize horse stalls and the evolution of riding habit styles through the centuries. The narrative is fattened by scenes in which talking dogs, horses, cats, foxes, and even birds put in their two cents’ worth on the actions of the humans. Animal lovers and those curious about the elite world of fox hunting will be rewarded. Agency: Forland & Patterson. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Pickard County Atlas

Chris Harding Thornton. MCD, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-0-374-23125-5

In Thornton’s impressive debut, a hard-edged noir set in 1978 Nebraska, Pickard County deputy sheriff Harley Jensen has to deal with an unresolved case involving the missing body of a murdered child. In 1960, seven-year-old Dell Reddick startled farmhand Rollie Asher, a Korean War vet suffering from PTSD, who lashed out with a shovel, crushing the boy’s skull. Asher phoned the sheriff to report what he’d done, but neglected to say where he put the body before blowing out his brains. Despite Jensen’s dogged efforts at the time, the remains were never found, and the open wound shaped the subsequent lives of the boy’s family members. Whatever healing took place in the years since is threatened by Dell’s father’s decision in 1978 to finally erect a headstone for his son, even though he doesn’t know the body’s location. Jensen gets enmeshed in the lives of the Reddick family as he crosses paths repeatedly with Dell’s younger brother, Paul, who may be involved with drugs and arson, and becomes emotionally involved with the wife of Dell’s other brother, Rick. The gut punch of an ending is satisfyingly bleak and an appropriate match for the book’s downbeat tone. Thornton’s superior gift for evocative prose (“The glare blotted out all else. North-central Nebraska, the spot where sand met loam, rose and fell around him, cast black against the shadow of sky”) augurs well for her next work. Fans of Lou Berney will be pleased. Agent: Emily Forland, Brandt & Hochman. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Robert B. Parker’s Someone to Watch over Me

Ace Atkins. Putnam, $27 (320p) ISBN 978-0-525-53685-7

In bestseller Atkins’s tepid ninth contribution to Parker’s Spenser franchise (after 2019’s Angel Eyes), 22-year-old Mattie Sullivan, Spenser’s “occasional secretary, part-time assistant, and sleuthing apprentice,” needs his help. The younger sister of a friend of Mattie’s, 15-year-old Chloe Turner, agreed to give a massage to a man at a swanky Boston club, but when the man began to masturbate in front of her, Chloe fled, leaving her backpack and laptop behind. When Mattie tried to retrieve the backpack and laptop, she was turned away at the club door. After Spenser gets involved, he learns that the pervert’s name is Peter Steiner, a Jeffrey Epstein clone, complete with a female accomplice who procures underage girls for him and a private island in the Bahamas beyond the reach of law enforcement. Spenser devotes himself to taking Steiner down, confronting an old enemy en route to the pat ending. The ripped-from-the-headlines plot doesn’t generate much suspense, and pulled punches dilute what could have been a memorable climax. Atkins seems to be going through the motions in this one. Agent: Esther Newberg, ICM Partners. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/06/2020 | Details & Permalink

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