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The Measure of Time

Gianrico Carofiglio, trans. from the Italian by Howard Curtis. Bitter Lemon, $14.95 trade paper (248p) ISBN 978-1-913394-48-6

At the start of Carofiglio’s sluggish sixth Guido Guerrieri novel (after 2016’s A Fine Line), teacher and aspiring writer Lorenza Delle Foglie calls on the intrepid defense lawyer at his office in Bari, Italy, seeking legal help for her son, who has been convicted of murder. Guerrieri, who had a short-lived relationship with Lorenza 27 years earlier, agrees to take the son’s appeals case, which involved drugs, guns, and organized crime, but the investigative work unearths painful memories and emotions he hasn’t considered in years. Meanwhile, the aging lawyer examines the failures in his life and muses philosophically on an old punching bag he has in his living room (“He takes the punches very calmly. He never reacts. He takes and I give, but he always wins in the end”). The world-weary Guerrieri—contemplating his own mortality while dealing with a woman whose life is filled with unattained dreams and sadness—and long courtroom sequences that lack any intensity make for dull reading. Carofiglio has done better. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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A Wicked Conceit

Anna Lee Huber. Berkley Prime Crime, $17 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-5931-9844-5

As Huber’s artful ninth Lady Darby mystery (after 2020’s A Stroke of Malice) opens in early 1832, Kiera Gage, Lady Darby, has finally found happiness through her marriage to aristocratic inquiry agent Sebastian Gage. The couple are looking forward to the impending birth of their first child, but their brief period of domesticity is shattered by the release of an anonymous fictional account of scandalous exploits by Edinburgh’s real-life thief Bonnie Brock Kincaid and a married couple obviously based on Kiera and Sebastian. The Gages make their displeasure known to the book’s publisher, who refuses to name the author, but their ire can’t hold a candle to Kincaid’s. When the publisher is murdered and the police put both Kincaid and the Gages squarely in their sights, Kiera and Sebastian have no choice but to throw in with Kincaid to find the real killer. Huber provides plenty of depth and detail about social conditions and mores in 19th-century Edinburgh, but the human relationships are the heart of the story. Historical fans will be well satisfied. Agent: Kevan Lyon, Marsal Lyon Literary. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Dance with Death

Will Thomas. Minotaur, $27.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-62477-2

Set in 1893, Thomas’s enjoyable 12th mystery featuring private inquiry agents Cyrus Barker and Thomas Llewelyn (after 2019’s Lethal Pursuit) finds London awhirl with preparations for the wedding of Prince George and Princess Mary of Teck. Royal relations from Europe have come to celebrate the nuptials, including Nicholas, the son and heir of the Russian czar. Boxer Jim Hercules, a real-life Black man who served as a bodyguard to Nicholas, arrives at the offices of Barker and Llewelyn asking for their help in protecting the future czar. Their services are hampered by Nicholas’s caprices, the Russian secret police, a ballerina with her eye on the throne, and an assassin known only as La Sylphide. Among the many historical figures who enliven the plot are Eleanor Marx, daughter of Karl, and William Morris, textile designer and confirmed Socialist. Thomas expertly entwines historical details, exciting action sequences, and a tender love story. This ripping yarn is sure to please series fans and garner new enthusiasts. Agent: Maria Carvainis, Maria Carvainis Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Endings

Linda L. Richards. Oceanview, $26.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-60809-420-2

The nameless narrator of this stunning standalone from Richards (The Indigo Factor) was once a happy mother with a nine-year-son, until her son died in a house fire caused by an iron she accidentally left on. Five years later, she travels the country carrying out her duties as a hit woman. One day, while shopping in the unnamed town where she lives, she sees a TV news report about serial killer William Atwater, who has terrorized California’s San Pasado County. Believed to have kidnapped and murdered 15 children, Atwater, whose whereabouts are unknown, is the prime suspect in a six-year-old girl’s disappearance. The narrator’s reaction is immediate and visceral: she must find and kill him. She flies to the city of San Pasado, where she soon gets far more than she bargained for in her warped pursuit of justice. Richards combines a damaged protagonist readers will root for with a twisted, whiplash-fast plot filled with layers of moral ambiguity. This harrowing tale of love, loss, and the value of life is not to be missed. Agent: Kimberley Cameron, Kimberley Cameron & Assoc. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Mirrorland

Carole Johnstone. Scribner, $27 (320p) ISBN 978-1-9821-3635-2

Cat Morgan, the narrator of Johnstone’s intriguing if uneven debut, fled Scotland years ago and settled in Los Angeles. When she gets a call from Ross MacAuley, her brother-in-law, informing her that her estranged twin sister, Ellice MacAuley, has gone missing while sailing on the Firth of Forth, she returns home to Edinburgh. Cat stays at the house where she and El grew up and shared an imaginary world they called Mirrorland, a place where they could escape the grim realities of their childhood, which included physical and emotional abuse. Cat decides she must immerse herself once more in Mirrorland if she’s to solve the mystery of El’s disappearance. Cat’s quest is complicated by her belief that El is not dead, her receipt of anonymous notes warning her to leave, and the rekindling of her complex relationship with Ross. Johnstone skillfully juxtaposes Mirrorland against the real world, but El is seen only through Cat’s unreliable eyes, and their relationship is so confused that the reader may wonder how much of what Cat says about El is true. This ambitious blend of psychological suspense and horror casts a powerful light on the liberating power of imagination. Agent: Allison Hunter; Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Sacrifice of Lester Yates

Robin Yocum. Arcade CrimeWise, $25.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-951627-53-9

Yocum’s so-so sequel to 2011’s Favorite Sons finds Hutchinson Van Buren, Ohio’s attorney general, on the verge of a monumental career move. With Ohio governor Big Jim Wilinski about to announce his candidacy for president—and with his promise to make Van Buren the U.S. attorney general if he’s elected—the principled Van Buren is faced with a moral dilemma. With a convicted murderer, Lester Yates, presumed to be the infamous serial killer nicknamed the Egypt Valley Strangler, just weeks away from being executed, Van Buren has reason to believe that Yates is innocent and someone close to the governor may be involved with one or more of the Egypt Valley Strangler murders. Does he let an innocent man die, or jeopardize his career aspirations by potentially derailing Wilinski’s campaign? While the writing is strong—especially the stark Rust Belt atmospherics—Van Buren is flat and lacks emotional depth. Coupled with a story line that at points strains the boundaries of believability, this political thriller is as forgettable as the main character. Yocum has done better. Agent: Colleen Mohyde, Colleen Mohyde Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Granite Coast Murders: A Brittany Murder

Jean-Luc Bannalec, trans. from the French by Peter Millar. Minotaur, $26.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-75306-9

In Bannalec’s charming sixth Brittany mystery (after 2019’s The Killing Tide), Commissaire Georges Dupin is taking a forced two-week vacation, along with his longtime girlfriend, cardiologist Claire Lannoy, at a hotel on Brittany’s Côte de Granit Rose. Workaholic Dupin finds relaxing on the beach to be insufferable, and he soon discovers a conspirator in the hotel’s owner, Rosmin Bellet, who feeds him information on a pair of seemingly unrelated petty crimes—a missing statue from a chapel and a break-in at a nearby house. Bellet also connects Dupin to the local gossip network, including a newsstand proprietor and a hairdresser, who become invaluable resources when a hotel guest goes missing. Dupin is determined to investigate the disappearance, despite Claire’s insistence on leaving work at home. Meanwhile, Claire has secrets that Dupin ends up exploiting once a woman’s body turns up in one of the area’s famed quarries. Series fans will enjoy seeing Dupin’s relationship with Claire deepen. Armchair travelers and gourmands alike will appreciate visiting this region of Brittany. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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We Are Watching Eliza Bright

A.E. Osworth. Grand Central, $28 (416p) ISBN 978-1-5387-1763-9

Self-taught game designer Eliza Bright, the heroine of Osworth’s provocative debut, has just been promoted at New York’s Fancy Dog Games to develop code that allows sexual activity for the virtual reality upgrade to an online superhero role-playing game. When Eliza’s code is tagged “80085” (read: boobs), Eliza brings a complaint to the company president, and then, when she doesn’t get satisfaction, shares her treatment with the media, resulting in her dismissal. Her personnel file ends up online, leading to identity theft and having her game avatar gang raped. Eliza flees from real-world taunts and finds refuge with the Sixsterhood, an artistic co-op, and from there seeks out the identity of her principal attacker. Point-of-view shifts between the “weaponized nerd population” that blames Eliza for disrupting their favorite game and the Sixsterhood, whose members are firmly on Eliza’s side, build tension. The nerds imagine much of what happens offline, putting a spin on the unreliable narrator trope. Osworth offers a sharp take on the deeply disturbing misogyny that lurks online as well as a hopeful look at combatting it. Agent: Christopher Hermelin, Fischer-Harbage Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Gone Missing in Harlem

Karla FC Holloway. TriQuarterly, $18.95 trade paper (232p) ISBN 978-0-8101-4353-1

The 1932 Lindbergh baby kidnapping provides the backdrop for a less sensational kidnapping in Holloway’s superior sequel to 2019’s A Death in Harlem. Selma Mosby parks her infant daughter, Chloe, just outside a Harlem grocery store as she goes inside to pay for some fruit. To Selma’s horror, when she returns a few moments later, Chloe’s gone. An unidentified 30-year-old pockmarked white man wearing horn-rimmed glasses was seen watching the store’s exterior just before the disappearance. Flashbacks reveal that this person, identified only as Boss, is a numbers runner who employs Black boys in Harlem to collect cash for him, including Selma’s brother. Holloway gradually reveals why Boss was on the scene at the time Chloe vanished. The search of Weldon Thomas, the neighborhood’s first Black policeman, for the truth behind the abduction packs an emotional punch, as does the larger sociological picture of the disparate treatment and attention given to a missing child of color, in contrast to the national outcry about Charles Lindbergh Jr. This works both as a page-turner and a portrait of a vanished era. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The End of Men

Christina Sweeney-Baird. Putnam, $17 trade paper (416p) ISBN 978-0-593-32813-2

In Sweeney-Baird’s philosophically sweeping and emotionally intimate speculative debut, a viral plague that’s first detected in 2025 Scotland kills 90% of the world’s men within days of contact. A series of narratives follows major players over the next six years, including Glasgow physician Amanda Maclean, who, after being disbelieved about her treatment of Patient Zero, becomes determined to discover the source of the plague; London social historian Catherine Lawrence, who’s collecting stories of the plague while protecting her husband and son for as long as possible; and Elizabeth Cooper, a junior CDC pathologist who is in over her head in representing the U.S. research response in Europe. Smaller vignettes highlight other implications of the situation: a woman takes advantage of the situation to kill an abusive spouse, and an entrepreneur becomes rich through a women-only dating site for those who wouldn’t previously have considered dating women. The research side of the story line may feel unrealistic to those with a science background, but the personal politics and gender dynamics are spot-on, and readers will feel connected to the main characters’ struggles and resilience. Sweeney-Baird is a writer to watch. Agent: Felicity Blunt, Curtis Brown (U.K.). (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

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