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Murder Your Darlings

Mark McCrum. Severn, $28.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8993-5

McCrum’s amusing third Francis Meadows mystery (after 2018’s Cruising to Murder) takes British crime writer Francis to Italy, where he has agreed to teach a memoir writing course at an elegant villa in the Umbrian countryside. Among his eight budding memoirists are an Irishman (“such a caricature of the type that Francis would have ruled him out as a ‘realistic character’ ”) and three refined ladies in their 70s. It comes as no surprise that haughty Poppy, one of the septuagenarians who had managed to irritate everyone with her endless reminiscences about her past glories, is eventually found dead. The police arrive, including Commissario Marta Moretti, the officer in charge, who asks Francis to assist in the investigation because of his “experience as a detective.” Francis spends a lot of time running through the possible suspects with the attractive Marta. Readers will have fun, but the flimsy mystery element won’t challenge genre fans. Agent: Jamie Maclean, Coombs Moylett Maclean (U.K.). (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/03/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Are Snakes Necessary?

Brian De Palma and Susan Lehman. Hard Case Crime, $22.99 (224p) ISBN 978-1-78909-120-5

The 2016 reelection campaign of Sen. Lee Rogers of Pennsylvania, a philandering scoundrel, drives this disappointing political thriller from filmmaker De Palma and former New York Times editor Lehman. At a chance encounter with a former flame, Jenny Cours, Rogers meets her 18-year-old daughter, Fanny, who’s a political junkie eager to help his campaign. Known as the Hunk of the Hill on Capitol Hill, Rogers agrees to hire Fanny, who’s “in the full flush of carnality,” as a videographer. He soon lures her into his bed. Their relationship proves dangerous for Rogers after Fanny vanishes, and Jenny’s persistent search for her daughter places the politician in law enforcement’s crosshairs. A subplot involving a remake of the Hitchcock film Vertigo set at the Eiffel Tower sets the stage for a risible climax. The predictable and tired plot twists aren’t helped by the authors’ portrayal of present-day politics as if the 2016 presidential campaign never happened. This would have worked better as an intentional parody of the genre. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/03/2020 | Details & Permalink

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A Silent Stabbing

Alyssa Maxwell. Kensington, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4967-1742-9

Early in Maxwell’s appealing fifth a Lady and a Lady’s Maid mystery set in post-WWI England (after 2019’s A Murderous Marriage), maid Eva Huntford and her employer, Lady Phoebe Renshaw, are disturbed to hear that a brash American, Horace Walker, wants to buy the struggling orchard of Cotswolds resident Keenan Ripley and level it to build a resort on the site. Keenan’s ne’er-do-well brother, Stephen, is abetting Horace in this scheme. The locals value the product of Keenan’s pear crop—perry, a type of hard cider—and view Horace as an interloper. When Lady Phoebe finds Stephen murdered with a pair of hedge clippers, Keenan is arrested. Eva worries that her married sister, Alice, a former sweetheart of Keenan, may be involved, and Lady Phoebe worries about the disappearance of a servant and the toll of the crime on her infirm grandfather, the Earl of Wroxly. Eva and Lady Phoebe provide smart sleuthing and insight into the upstairs and downstairs worlds. Fans of traditional English mysteries will be rewarded. Agent: Evan Marshall, Evan Marshall Agency. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/03/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Night Train to Murder

Simon R. Green. Severn, $28.99 (192p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8917-1

In Green’s decent eighth paranormal mystery featuring disguised alien Ishmael Jones (after 2019’s Till Sudden Death Do Us Part), Jones—whose spaceship crashed in England in 1963 and was transformed by the ship’s machines into the simulacrum of a human—and his partner in the secret group called the Organization, Penny Belcourt, are tasked with guarding the new head of Britain’s Psychic Weapons Division, Sir Dennis Gregson, on a late-night train from London to Bath. Steps have been taken to keep Gregson alive, but Jones and Belcourt’s track record of “catching killers, if not always protecting their victims,” is unfortunately extended. After Gregson goes to the bathroom, he’s found on the toilet, with his neck broken, behind a locked door. Jones focuses on the surviving three passengers and Gregson’s bodyguard, but neither Jones nor Belcourt saw any of the four approach the bathroom between the time Gregson entered it and the discovery of his body. Never mind that a human detective could have done as well in solving the crime. This entertaining romp is one of the series’ better entries. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/03/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Mimi Lee Gets a Clue

Jennifer J. Chow. Berkley Prime Crime, $16 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-9848-0499-0

Mimi Lee, the 25-year-old heroine of this sparkling series launch from Chow (the Winston Wong mysteries), has just opened Hollywoof, a pet grooming salon in a beach town near L.A. As an opening-day present, her sister gives her a Persian cat, whom Mimi names Marshmallow. No ordinary cat, Marshmallow can hear, understand, and communicate thoughts to humans, dogs, and other cats. Meanwhile, when friends bring their Chihuahuas to Hollywoof, Mimi notices the dogs all have health issues, and further investigation reveals they all came from the same breeder, Russ Nolan. Incensed, Mimi goes to Nolan’s house in the San Fernando Valley and threatens to turn him in for operating a puppy mill. When Nolan is discovered dead the next day, Mimi becomes the prime suspect in his murder. Marshmallow’s unique talents come in handy as he one-by-one chats up the Chihuahuas to reveal secrets and gossip that help point to the culprit. Chow smoothly mixes intrigue, romance, and humor. Cozy fans will have fun. Agent: Jessica Faust, BookEnds Literary. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/03/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Lady of the Lake

Peter Guttridge. Severn, $28.99 (208p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8967-6

In Guttridge’s sprightly seventh Brighton mystery (after 2019’s Swimming with the Dead), Det. Insp. Sarah Gilchrist and Det. Sgt. Bellamy Heap are dispatched to a lake belonging to Hollywood film star Nimue Grace, where Maj. Richard Rabbitt, a neighbor of Grace, has been found with his throat slit. The possible murderers include locals Donald Kermode, who discovered the body while swimming nude in the lake and has a creepy obsession with Grace, and Said Farzi, who’s suspected of human trafficking. The stakes rise with the appearance of more bodies. Guttridge adds humor at appropriate spots, including in the byplay between the leads, as well as in the person of an eccentric ostrich farmer, who schemes to resurrect dinosaurs using DNA from his flightless birds. Catherine Aird fans who’ve not yet discovered this series will be delighted. Agent: Paul Moreton, Bell Lomax Moreton Agency (U.K.). (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/03/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Please See Us

Caitlin Mullen. Gallery, $26.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-9821-2748-0

At the start of Mullen’s exceptional debut, the Atlantic City, N.J., boardwalk psychic known as Clara Voyant receives an unexpected client, a man who’s trying to find his missing teenage niece. The man’s visit causes Clara to have visions filled with warnings and bad omens long afterward. In addition, she suddenly feels and hears things that aren’t there. Meanwhile, Clara forges an unlikely friendship with Lily Louten, a former SoHo art gallery worker now employed at a casino spa, who’s dealing with demons of her own, in particular painful memories of her father’s death. After a tough reading for a prostitute nicknamed Peaches, Clara’s visions intensify. Fearing the worst after Peaches disappears, Clara enlists Lily’s help to find her, and they plunge into the dark heart of a tourist town in the middle of economic turmoil. Readers won’t be able to stop turning the pages of this heartbreaking story as it touches on prostitution, drug abuse, and the fates of women who go unseen. Mullen is definitely an author to watch. Agent: Sarah Bedingfield, Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/03/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Keeper

Jessica Moor. Penguin, $16 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-14-313452-7

Set in rural England, Moor’s clever debut presents a movingly sympathetic portrait of the victims of domestic violence. The investigation of Katie Straw’s apparent suicide takes two policemen, old-school Det. Sgt. Daniel Whitworth and his trainee, Detective Constable Brookes, into the women’s shelter where she worked and where the director is protective of the women under her care. Meanwhile, in an alternating narrative, Katie relates the deterioration of her relationship with boyfriend Jamie, who’s initially indulgent, if overprotective, then becomes isolating, controlling, and worse. Though the characters hit a lot of the expected tropes, such as the addict with mental health issues, the skittish wife and mother, and the tough feminist, they come through more as archetype than stereotype. Katie’s simultaneous identities as protagonist and corpse effectively build a sense of resigned dread, while also helping the reader understand how an intelligent, resourceful woman could become trapped in an abusive relationship. Moor is off to a fine start. Agent: Alexandra Cliff, Peters, Fraser & Dunlop (U.K.). (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/03/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Santa Fe Noir

Edited by Ariel Gore. Akashic, $15.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-61775-722-8

As noted in the introduction to this solid Akashic noir anthology, Santa Fe, N.Mex., and environs is less the Land of Enchantment, per the tourism slogan, than the “Land of Entrapment,” where characters are inexorably tied to or haunted by the area’s long history and uneasy mix of cultures. One highlight is Hida Viloria’s “SOS Sex,” a traditional crime story in which a property appraiser stumbles onto a sex trafficking racket that ties to a long-ago family tragedy of his own. In a more off-beat vein, Cornelia Reed’s scathing “The Cask of Los Alamos” retells Poe’s revenge tale “The Cask of Amontillado,” but this time set at the 1945 test of the first atomic bomb. For many of the selections, however, crime is secondary or even nonexistent, as in Jimmy Santiago Baca’s unsettling “Close Quarters,” in which a Chicano writer is visited by the ghosts of his ancestors. The quality of the 17 entries varies widely, but the book’s diverse group of writers will provide readers with unexpected perspectives on this centuries-old city and its people. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/03/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Sea of Lost Girls

Carol Goodman. Morrow, $16.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-285202-1

Tess, the unreliable narrator of this exciting, if flawed, psychological thriller from Mary Higgins Clark Award–winner Goodman (The Night Visitors), teaches English at Haywood, a prestigious boarding school on the Maine coast, where her 17-year-old son, Rudy, is a student. Early one morning, Rudy texts Tess asking her to pick him up near the beach. Tess finds Rudy in a bloodstained sweatshirt, and he reveals that he had a fight with his bright, go-getter fellow classmate and girlfriend, Lila. A few hours later, Tess receives a phone call from Haywood’s headmistress informing her that Lila’s body has been found on the beach. With a history of aggression, Rudy is a person of interest in Lila’s murder, and his overbearing mother is desperate to protect him, even if it involves lying to the police and exposing dark secrets about her past concerning Rudy’s father. Unfortunately, most of the characters, including the irritating Tess, grate, and the culprit’s identity comes as no surprise. Still, readers will have a hard time putting this one down thanks to Goodman’s storytelling powers. Agent: Robin Rue, Writers House. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/03/2020 | Details & Permalink

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