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Marion Lane and the Deadly Rose

T.A. Willberg. Park Row, $27.99 (296p) ISBN 978-0-7783-1194-2

MI6 meets Hogwarts School of Witchcraft in Willberg’s fanciful sequel to 2020’s Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder. In 1959, 24-year-old Marion Lane is a second-year apprentice detective at Miss Brickett’s Inquiries and Investigations, a clandestine private investigations agency located in a secret maze of tunnels under the streets of London. Shortly before Marion is assigned to assist in the baffling case of the Florist, a mysterious killer who brands his victims with the symbol of a rose, she begins receiving anonymous notes warning that one of the agency’s new recruits is not to be trusted. To complicate matters, the Employee Rights and Protection Society, a new group within the agency, issues a handbook revealing damning classified information about Miss Brickett’s. Called on to infiltrate the ERPS, Marion discovers that the Florist and his minions are part of a wide-reaching international conspiracy. Willberg’s secret agency full of loners and outsiders who use quirky gadgets like the Liar’s Eye and Spy Snakes is imaginative and fun. Lovers of mysteries with a dollop of magic will enjoy. Agent: Hayley Steed, Madeleine Milburn Literary, TV & Film Agency (U.K.). (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/17/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Killer View

Roy Johansen. Grand Central, $28 (384p) ISBN 978-1-5387-6281-3

In bestseller Johansen’s propulsive ninth Kendra Michaels novel (after 2021’s Blink of an Eye), PI Jessie Mercado, Kendra’s friend and occasional colleague, takes center stage. Michaels, “a San Diego music therapist whose powers of observation made her a go-to consultant in several high-profile law enforcement investigations,” introduces Jessie to a new client, Owen Blake, the co-owner of an incarceration consultancy, which handles financial and personal needs for people who are serving prison sentences. Blake’s partner, Carl Ferris, has disappeared, and he wants Jessie to find him. Though she suspects that Blake may be hiding something, she nonetheless agrees to take his case. She’s assisted by her new boyfriend, “the hottest actor on the planet,” who decides to put the skills he has honed working on Marvel Superhero flicks to good use. Kendra also lends a hand. When the first person Jessie questions about Ferris is murdered and she too is attacked, she realizes there’s much more at stake than a missing person. Relentless action and dastardly villains keep the pages turning. Johansen, who usually collaborates with mother Iris Johansen, delivers the goods. Agents: Andrea Cirillo and Rebecca Scherer, Jane Rotrosen Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/17/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Violin Conspiracy

Brendan Slocumb. Anchor, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-0-593-31541-5

Black violinist Ray McMillian, the hero of Slocumb’s gripping debut, receives a $5 million ransom demand for his Stradivarius violin after the instrument is stolen from his New York City hotel room a few weeks before he’s due to perform in the prestigious Tchaikovsky Competition. When the police, the FBI, and the insurance company’s investigator hit dead ends, the case comes to a standstill. Flashback to Ray’s high school years in Charlotte, N.C., where he must deal with pervasive racism—and his mother nagging him to drop out and get a job. Meanwhile, his grandmother, who supports his musical aspirations, gives him her grandfather’s violin. At college, where he receives a full scholarship, Ray endures prejudice from fellow students, and a luthier repairing the heirloom discovers it’s a Stradivarius. This revelation leads members of the Marks clan, whose ancestors enslaved Ray’s ancestors, to claim the violin belongs to them. Legal battles over the violin’s ownership ensue. The tension builds as the competition looms, and Ray struggles to shake off doubts, not get caught in false leads, and focus on finding the missing violin. Slocumb sensitively portrays Ray’s resilience in the face of extreme racism. The author is off to a promising start. Agent: Jeff Kleinman, Folio Literary Management. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/17/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Jane and the Year Without a Summer: Being a Jane Austen Mystery

Stephanie Barron. Soho Crime, $27.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-64129-247-4

At the start of Barron’s outstanding 14th Jane Austen mystery (after 2016’s Jane and the Waterloo Map), Jane uses some of the profits from her novel Emma to treat herself and her sister, Cassandra, to two weeks at Cheltenham Spa in Gloucestershire in May 1816. Jane hopes that taking the waters there will alleviate her lassitude, back pain, and “want of spirits.” The new acquaintances the sisters meet include a beautiful invalid in her 20s, a heroic naval captain, and an evangelical clergyman (“Repent, Miss Austen—Prepare. The end of all things is upon us”), who’s accompanied by his impertinent sister (“You do not appear to suffer. You cannot claim ill health,” she tells Jane). When one of these sharply defined characters dies of poisoning, Jane once again turns sleuth. The Austen family’s financial constraints and Jane’s own failing health add verisimilitude to this taut, sometimes perplexing tale of lost opportunity and unfulfilled aspirations. Barron fans will hope Jane, who died in 1817, will be back for one more mystery. Agent: Rafe Sagalyn, ICM Partners/Sagalyn. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/17/2021 | Details & Permalink

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An Eternal Lei: A Leilani Santiago Hawai‘i Mystery

Naomi Hirahara. Prospect Park, $17.99 trade paper (206p) ISBN 978-1-684427-96-3

The Covid pandemic provides the backdrop for Edgar winner Hirahara’s entertaining sequel to 2019’s Iced in Paradise. By October 2020, travel restrictions have eliminated the tourism industry on Kaua‘i, and Leilani Santiago’s hopes of marketing her original shave-ice flavors beyond Hawaii have been dashed. She’s diverted from worries about her own future when an unconscious woman washes ashore on Waimea Bay. Before administering CPR, Leilani removes a lei from the woman’s body that reveals blistering on her chest and back. Leilani preserves the lei, which turns out to have a link to her best friend, Courtney Kahuakai, and Courtney’s family’s flower business. The woman is taken to a hospital, where she’s put into a medically induced coma. The police identify her as Yumi Hara, a Japanese travel agent who recently broke quarantine. At her peril, the ever curious Leilani looks into how Yumi ended up on the beach. A murder raises the ante. Hirahara seamlessly integrates real-life Covid impacts into a plot that’s peopled with fully realized characters. Fans of intrepid amateur sleuths will want to see more of Leilani. Agent: Susan Cohen, PearlCo Literary. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/17/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Honey Roasted

Cleo Coyle. Berkley Prime Crime, $27 (368p) ISBN 978-0-5931-9756-1

Coyle’s enjoyable 19th Coffeehouse mystery (after 2019’s Brewed Awakening) finds Clare Cosi, manager of the Village Blend café, newly married to Lt. Mike Quinn of the NYPD and planning their honeymoon. Clare’s wedded bliss is spoiled when she discovers that beekeeper Bea Hastings, Clare’s gourmet honey supplier, has been seriously injured after apparently falling from her rooftop greenhouse to the balcony of her duplex penthouse. Was she pushed? When Bea’s greenhouse vanishes, it’s clear that someone has it in for Bea. Clare and her business partner and ex-husband, Matt Allegro, soon uncover information regarding questionable investment practices in the woman’s past, and the suspect list grows. Meanwhile, Clare fears Mike is working too hard on a multiple homicide case. Could the crimes be connected? Red herrings pop up at every turn and relationships aren’t what they seem. Witty banter and a twisty plot help make up for a surfeit of detail about the beekeeping industry and a cumbersome number of secondary characters. Coyle (the husband-wife team of Marc Cerasini and Alice Alfonsi) knows how to please cozy fans. Agent: John Talbot, Talbot Fortune. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/10/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Verifiers

Jane Pek. Vintage, $17 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-593-31379-4

Set in New York “circa early twenty-first century,” Pek’s thoughtful, well-constructed debut introduces irrepressible Claudia Lin, who has recently been hired by Veracity, a low-profile, referrals-only company that checks information for mistrustful clients who want to know whether the people they meet on online dating sites are telling the truth. As Claudia notes, “Matching only fully succeeds if the dating platforms have access to accurate, complete information about the people on them. Problem is, people lie. All the time, especially on the Internet, and extra especially where anything with the potential for romance is concerned.” One client, Iris Lettriste, is different. She “sits down and tells us about the guy she wants us to verify like she’s ordering her first coffee of an arduous morning and it’s vital the that the barista gets it right.” Ten days later, Iris is found dead, apparently having killed herself. Claudia, who’s an avid mystery reader, decides to investigate and is pulled into a conspiracy, all the while dealing with her complicated, dysfunctional family. Claudia’s entertaining references to Inspector Yuan, the hero of her “comfort-read murder mystery series,” cleverly elucidate her views on literary structure as well as provide investigative tips. This nuanced novel will leave readers eagerly awaiting Pek’s next book. Agent: Julie Barer, Book Group. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/10/2021 | Details & Permalink

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A Mountain of Evidence

Kristin Mehus-Roe. Arrow Road, $14.95 trade paper (260p) ISBN 978-1-7372977-0-3

Mehus-Roe’s promising first Colorado Skies mystery couples an unusual concept with solid prose and a clever plot. Soon after Michael Leeds, a junior accountant at a Chicago accounting firm, stumbles on a fraud during a review of the company’s inventory, he’s shot to death outside a bar. The woman who will later call herself Kim Jackson, Leeds’s supervisor, knows her boss, Stephen Bender, committed the fraud and ordered Leeds’s killing, but Bender frames Jackson by forging her signature on an incriminating invoice and ensuring her fingerprints appear on the murder weapon. To avoid getting arrested, Jackson adopts a new identity and flees Chicago. She stops in Montrose, Colo., where she settles in and takes a job as a grocery store clerk. Despite her own jeopardy and lingering fears that either Bender or law enforcement will find her, Jackson decides to investigate the murder of her predecessor at the store, 18-year-old Emily Riley, whose naked, strangled corpse was found days after Emily’s disappearance. Mehus-Roe maintains plausibility and fast pacing throughout. C.J. Box fans will want to check this out. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 12/10/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Easter Bonnet Murder: A Lucy Stone Mystery

Leslie Meier. Kensington, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4967-3373-3

In bestseller Meier’s subpar 28th Lucy Stone mystery (after 2021’s Irish Parade Murder), Lucy, a reporter for the Tinker Cove, Maine, Courier, is relieved when Julia Tilley, “the town’s oldest and most revered resident,” pulls through pneumonia and moves temporarily to Heritage House, an eldercare facility. After visiting Miss Tilley at Heritage House, Lucy gets a call from the daughter of another resident asking for Lucy’s help in locating her mom, Agnes Neal, who failed to return from a birdwatching walk. All roads lead to Heritage House as Lucy later covers the home’s annual Easter bonnet contest. Ten days after Agnes went missing, her putrefied body turns up in a stairwell during a fire drill. Lucy eventually figures out who killed Agnes, but instead of going to the police, she decides to confront the man, who’s a dangerous war criminal, on her own. Lucy winds up in a situation that threatens the lives of Heritage House residents. Even cozy readers will have trouble with the initially plodding plot and characters who behave in unconvincing ways. This is for die-hard series fans only. Agent: Meg Ruley, Jane Rotrosen Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/10/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Day He Left: A Violent Crime Investigations Team Mystery

Frederick Weisel. Poisoned Pen, $16.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-1-4642-1421-9

At the start of Weisel’s excellent sequel to 2021’s The Silenced Women, Annie Behrens, an alcoholic nurse, is awakened by a call one morning from the Santa Rosa, Calif., middle school where her husband, Paul, teaches English to say he hasn’t shown up. When Annie tries to phone Paul, she notices Paul left his cell phone at home, along with his lesson plans. That afternoon, Annie reports Paul missing to the police. Lt. Eddie Mahler, a member of the Santa Rosa PD Violent Crimes Investigation team, interviews Annie, who has no idea why her husband has disappeared. Mahler notices Annie has been drinking and wonders whether Paul was fleeing a dysfunctional marriage, and evidence surfaces suggesting Paul may have had inappropriate relationships with female students. The search for the truth leads to some surprising answers. The VCI team members aren’t cynical, wise-cracking super cops; on the contrary, they’re troubled individuals who accept that “people are complex” and capable of all kinds of foolish, noble, and destructive actions. Weisel does a terrific job blending police procedural with character study. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/10/2021 | Details & Permalink

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