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Never Turn Back

Christopher Swann. Crooked Lane, $26.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-64385-537-0

Private school English teacher Ethan Faulkner, the narrator of this unsettling thriller set in Atlanta from Swann (Shadow of the Lions), returns home one morning after spending the night with a colleague, Marisa Devereaux, to find his troubled sister, Susannah, awaiting him. Susannah often disappears from Ethan’s life for months at a time, and they share the trauma of having witnessed their parents’ shooting murder when he was 13 and she was 10. Ethan made a promise to his dying father to look after Susannah, but his ambivalent feelings about her have meant he hasn’t done as good a job as he might. His more immediate concern is Marisa, who becomes obsessed with him and infiltrates his life, befriending Susannah. Susannah’s subsequent kidnapping raises the stakes, as does a murder, in which Ethan becomes a suspect. Haunted by the unknown gunmen who killed his parents, Ethan discovers a link between them and the new murder. Faulkner has a gift for language (“The twin memories of my parents are like a pair of blades scissoring my heart”), and smoothly quotes the likes of Robert Frost and Shakespeare. Fans of literary crime fiction will want to take a look at this thoughtful outing. Agent: Peter Steinberg, Foundry Literary + Media. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Every Last Secret

A.R. Torre. Thomas & Mercer, $15.95 trade paper (324p) ISBN 978-1-5420-2019-0

At the start of this chilling tale of deceit and betrayal from Torre (The Girl in 6E), the police arrest life coach Neena Ryder, because she’s “under suspicion of attempted murder.” Flash back four months. Cat Winthorpe enjoys an idyllic life with William, her “devastatingly handsome” husband, the head of Winthorpe Technologies, in upscale Atherton, Calif. Then William hires Neena to be a motivational coach at his company, and Neena and her husband, Matt, buy the home next door to the Winthorpes. Neena gradually insinuates herself into Cat and William’s lives, and sets out to seduce William. Cat becomes suspicious of Neena’s behavior and hires a private investigator to look into Neena’s past. Meanwhile, an intruder breaks into Neena and Matt’s house. Torre keeps the suspense high up to the shocking reveal behind Neena’s arrest. Credible characters complement the fast-paced plot. Readers will be riveted from page one. Agent: Maura Kye-Casella: Don Congdon Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Wall: The Refugees’ Path to a New Republic

Ted Takashima, trans. from the Japanese by Giuseppe di Martino. Museyon (IPG, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-940842-46-2

Army Capt. Jadon Green, the hero of this clunky, earnest mash-up of politics and espionage set in the near future from Takeshima (Fallout), is dubbed the Border Butcher after a standoff between U.S. troops and a throng of Central American immigrants at the U.S./Mexico border wall results in the massacre of more than 100 refugees. The public outcry leads to Green’s court-martial and dishonorable discharge. Ten months later, Green’s former commander gives him another chance—to command an elite military unit in support of Operation Caravan, a top secret plan to help a group of revolutionaries overthrow the Central American republic of Cordova’s corrupt dictator and build a new, democratic nation. The 20-day mission aims to effectively kill two birds with one stone by solving the immigrant crisis in the States and giving the Cordovans back their homeland. Meanwhile, an enterprising FBI agent, after uncovering the truth behind the tragedy at the border wall, sets out to clear Green’s name. Slow, repetitive plotting and one-dimensional characters undermine the well-meaning scenario. Don Winslow this is not. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2020 | Details & Permalink

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On Borrowed Crime: A Jane Doe Book Club Mystery

Kate Young. Crooked Lane, $26.99 (292p) ISBN 978-1-64385-462-5

Lyla Moody, the 31-year-old narrator of this amusing series launch from Young (the Marygene Brown mysteries), works for her uncle Calvin as a receptionist at Cousins Investigative Services in the “Mayberry-esque” town of Sweet Mountain, Ga. Her mother would rather see her working behind the makeup counter at a department store. Indeed, as Lyla observes, “Here in Sweet Mountain... old southern families resided. Our tea was sweet, our accents were sweeter, and our ladies were expected to be the same. Murder didn’t quite fit in.” One afternoon at work, she gets a call from Judge David Timms, who tells her his wife, Carol, a friend of Lyla’s and a fellow member of the Jane Doe book club, has been missing for four days. Back home, Lyla finds a large suitcase on her doorstep, and inside is Carol’s body. Carol, as it turns out, had been investigating a local cold case murder. Agatha Christie–like clues and a witty narrator who knows how to handle herself enhance the subsequent sleuthing. This skillful blend of detective work and chick lit will appeal to cozy readers. Agent: Dawn Dowdle, Blue Ridge Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Snake Island

Ben Hobson. Arcade CrimeWise, $25.99 (312p) ISBN 978-1-950691-71-5

Australian author Hobson makes his U.S. debut with this bleak but powerful crime novel set in an unnamed town in rural Victoria. Vernon and Penelope Moore, a retired couple, haven’t seen or talked to their only child, Caleb, since he went to prison two years earlier for attacking and nearly killing his wife. But upon hearing that Caleb has been assaulted by Brendan Cahill, a friend of Caleb’s wife with anger issues and enough connections to bribe his way into the prison, Vernon reaches out to his son, and decides to see whether he can resolve things with a sit-down with Brendan’s father, Ernie. Things do not go well, because of the obstinacy of both Vernon and Ernie, and due to external events, including a car accident involving a kangaroo. Meanwhile, a compromised police officer becomes involved in the dispute, as does Brendan’s brother, who would rather focus on fatherhood than his family’s criminal activities. Little goes right for any of them, and the violence only escalates. Hobson does a terrific job of portraying multiple broken people unable to find ways out of their unhappiness. Noir fans won’t want to miss this one. Agent: Pamela Malpas, Jennifer Lyons Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Loss Lake

Amber Cowie. Lake Union, $14.95 trade paper (318p) ISBN 978-1-5420-4201-7

Recent widow Mallory Dent, the protagonist of this slow, convoluted psychological thriller from Cowie (Rapid Falls), buys a house sight unseen in the small Canadian town of McNamara on Loss Lake, where she hopes to recover from her grief. The lake is reputed to be haunted by a monster that drowns only bad people. Soon after Mallory’s arrival, Sgt. Joel Benson, a hunky police officer, comes to tell her a body was found washed up on her property that morning, an apparent drowning victim. Once settled in McNamara, Mallory learns that Joel’s brother, Sean, who used to live in the house, was shot to death 10 years earlier in an apparent hunting accident. Mallory has a feeling it was no accident and impulsively resolves to find Sean’s killer. In her search for answers, Mallory encounters stereotypical townspeople, including an alcoholic waitress and a hippie store owner, all with lengthy backstories. The romance that develops between Mallory and Joel follows predictable lines, and the action builds to an abrupt and unfulfilling ending. Cowie has done better. Agent: Gordon Warnock, Fuse Literary. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2020 | Details & Permalink

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McGarvey

David Hagberg. Forge, $27.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-7653-9420-0

In Edgar finalist Hagberg’s uneven 25th Kirk McGarvey thriller (after 2019’s First Kill), CIA black ops officer McGarvey looks into the death of his parents in a car crash 28 years earlier. Flashbacks show his parents working at New Mexico’s Los Alamos National Laboratory, where they have just made a breakthrough on research into countermeasures to Russian laser pulse antisatellite weapons. There are no witnesses when a KGB agent, Yevgenni Zimin, later kills the couple by running their car off the road. In the present day, Zimin is called out of retirement to stop Mac’s investigation. The action proceeds in a straightforward manner as McGarvey and his team, which includes his new wife, Pete Boylan, come under almost constant attack from Russian operatives. Pete, a CIA colleague, must use her many skills to help keep them alive. Toward the end, certain mysteries are suddenly solved and loose ends are neatly tied up. Whiplashed readers will be left scratching their heads in confusion at the warp speed resolution. Series fans will be glad there’s another McGarvey outing in the pipeline from Hagberg, who died in 2019. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Turning Tide

Catriona McPherson. Mobius, $26.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-473-68238-2

Agatha winner MacPherson’s vivid 14th Dandy Gilver mystery (after 2018’s A Step So Grave) opens in the summer of 1936, when Dandy Gilver and her inquiry agent colleague, Alec Osborne, receive a series of letters from a Scottish minister begging for their help. Vesper Kemp, the ferry operator for the town of Cramond, on the Firth of Forth, has abandoned her post and seems to be losing her mind. A young man accidentally fell into the river and drowned, but Vesper insists she murdered him. Dandy and Alec dismiss the case as more appropriate for a doctor than for detectives, until they discover the victim was Peter Haslett, whom Dandy has known since he was a child. Once in Cramond, Dandy and Alec find Vesper in a sad state, and their investigation takes several odd turns involving an old Roman fort, two unhelpful spinsters, four threatening millers, and a couple of students with a hidden agenda growing a particular strain of potato. MacPherson does a masterly job capturing the feel of rural Scotland and the mores of pre-WWII Britain. Readers will hope Dandy has a long career. Agent: Lisa Moylett, CMM Literary (U.K.). (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Last Dance

Jeffrey Fleishman. Blackstone, $25.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-9825-1732-8

Fleishman’s impressive sequel to 2019’s My Detective puts Det. Sam Carver of the LAPD on the case of Katrina Ivanovna, a famous Russian ballerina who was poised to reclaim her former glory on stage before being found dead of an apparent overdose in her apartment. Carver suspects foul play, but when the ballerina’s body is stolen from the morgue, the cause of death may never be determined. Was it an accidental overdose, or suicide, or did someone kill her? Carver gets on the trail of mysterious Russians who were threatening her and wanted her now missing diaries, in which she might have revealed family connections to KGB agents and Russian interference in the 2016 election. Fleishman nicely evokes Los Angeles, “a metropolis of spirits and distant lights, a cool, dark place of lies that spin along the coast and blow across the desert.” A hard-boiled, world-weary hero in the classic tradition of Philip Marlowe and Lew Archer, Carver will also appeal to fans of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch. Fleishman is on his way to becoming a master of contemporary L.A. noir. Agent: Jill Marr, Sandra Dijkstra Literary. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Man in the Microwave Oven

Susan Cox. Minotaur, $27.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-11620-8

In Cox’s madcap second mystery featuring British expat Theophania Bogart (after 2015’s The Man on the Washing Machine), cutthroat attorney Katrina Dermody hints that she’s aware Theo is living in San Francisco under an assumed name. Theo fears Katrina will divulge her secrets in retaliation for opposing Katrina’s client’s construction of a high-rise condo in their Fabian Gardens neighborhood. Before Theo can determine what Katrina knows about her scandalous past, however, someone murders the attorney. To further complicate matters, aging priest Sergei Wolf visits Theo’s store, Aromas, with an urgent message for her grandfather, Clement Pryce-Fitton. Theo relays the information to Clement, who reveals that he’s former British intelligence and advises Theo to be on alert, as Sergei’s communiqué was a coded distress signal. Cox cleverly entwines the two seemingly unrelated story lines, upping the tale’s stakes and body count. Endearingly eccentric characters and a vividly sketched setting help distract from the contrived setup and dubious denouement. Fans of Donna Andrews will appreciate Cox’s zany style. Agent: Susanna Einstein, Einstein Literary Management. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2020 | Details & Permalink

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