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Middle of the Night

Riley Sager. Dutton, $30 (384p) ISBN 978-0-593472-37-8

Bestseller Sager (The Only One Left) expertly doles out chills and pathos in his mesmerizing latest. In 1994, when Ethan Marsh was 10 years old, his best friend, Billy Barringer, was kidnapped from the tent where both boys were sleeping in Ethan’s New Jersey backyard and never seen again. Thirty years later, Ethan’s marriage has ended, his parents have decamped to Florida, and he’s returned to live on the well-to-do cul-de-sac where he grew up. Still plagued by nightmares about Billy’s disappearance, Ethan comes to believe that someone may be lurking in the shadows of Hemlock Circle: neighbors’ motion-sensor lights flick on for no apparent reason; he senses a presence “linger[ing] in the way certain smells do” when he’s out for night walks. His paranoia increases when someone tosses a baseball into his yard, the private signal Billy used to give him when he wanted to play. Could Billy have returned? Or is his kidnapper back for seconds? Sager takes his time ratcheting up the tension, peppering in crucial flashbacks that flesh out Ethan and Billy’s friendship and painting a three-dimensional portrait of Ethan’s fractured mind in the present. This standout work of psychological suspense confirms that Sager has few equals when it comes to merging creepiness and compassion. Agent: Michelle Brower, Trellis Literary. (June)

Reviewed on 03/08/2024 | Details & Permalink

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Bye, Baby

Carola Lovering. St. Martin’s, $29 (352p) ISBN 978-1-250-28936-0

The mercurial dynamics of female friendship take center stage in this disappointing standalone from Lovering (Can’t Look Away). Thirty-five-year-old travel consultant Billie West is devastated by her fraying bond with her childhood best friend, Cassie Adler. Though Billie makes regular attempts to mend their relationship, Cassie often ignores her, and blames her new roles as a social media influencer and mother to three-month-old Ella for the distance. When Cassie’s husband, Grant, throws her a birthday party at their New York City penthouse, they have no idea an uninvited Billie is pet-sitting for her boss in the apartment downstairs. After hearing a baby scream upstairs, Billie climbs the fire escape to find Ella alone on the Adlers’ terrace, and brings the baby into her boss’s apartment. Soon enough, she hears sounds of panic from the floor above—and is pleasantly surprised to be the first person Cassie calls for help, leading her to consider whether Ella might be the bargaining chip she’s needed all along. Toggling between Billie and Cassie’s perspectives, Lovering doles out details that reveal the disturbing truth behind the women’s estrangement. Though Lovering’s stylish prose keeps things moving, she never generates convincing stakes for Cassie and Billie’s fallout or reconciliation. Given the author’s past successes, this is surprisingly limp. Agent: Allison Hunter, Trellis Literary. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 03/08/2024 | Details & Permalink

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Bring the Night: A Nate Ross Novel

J.R. Sanders. Historia, $16.95 e-book (172p) ISBN 978-1-685122-44-7

Sanders’s sizzling third case for Nate Ross (after Dead-Bang Fall) sees the L.A. gumshoe investigating an apparent suicide on behalf of the victim’s two children. In the summer of 1939, travel agent Cecil J. Whitcanack is found dead behind the wheel of a Buick in a garage with the engine running. At first glance, his death appears to be in keeping with a documented uptick in suicides across L.A., but Cecil’s children, Alan and Alanna, insist their father would never have harmed himself. That Cecil’s lucrative life insurance policy would be voided if his death were ruled a suicide is mere coincidence, the siblings insist. Alan and Alanna hire Ross to look into the case, and he quickly finds—to his surprise—that they may be onto something: the steering wheel of the Buick had no fingerprints on it, suggesting someone may have tampered with the scene. But if the evidence is inconclusive, why do the cops seem so eager to close the case? Sanders keeps his foot on the gas as Ross unravels a citywide conspiracy related to Cecil’s death, with plenty of double-crossing and noirish turns of phrase along the way (when he first meets them, the Whitcanack siblings give Ross “a sensation like ants were doing a conga line up my backbone”). Ace Atkins fans should give this series a look. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 03/08/2024 | Details & Permalink

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Every Time I Go on Vacation, Someone Dies

Catherine Mack. Minotaur, $28 (352p) ISBN 978-1-250-32585-3

The pseudonymous Mack’s amusing debut and series launch centers on 35-year-old Eleanor Dash, author of a successful cozy mystery series about a woman who solves crimes in exotic vacation spots with the help of handsome con man Connor Smith. The problem for Eleanor is that, for the past 10 years, the real-life Connor Smith has been threatening to sue her for defamation unless she pays him a healthy chunk of her royalties. Fed up with compensating Connor for her own successes, Eleanor has plans to kill off the fictional character in her next book and finally bring the series to an end. She decides to plot the series’ swan song while on a book tour in Italy with Connor, a handful of other authors, and a group of fans who’ve been tapped to post about the tour on Instagram. Partway through Eleanor’s Italian jaunt, however, a desperate Connor informs her that someone is trying to kill him. But is he telling the truth? And if so, should Eleanor be watching her own back? Mack stacks the whodunit plot with perhaps one too many dead-end twists, but Eleanor’s first-person narration is a delight, chock-full of amusing asides (often in footnotes) that wryly examine the craft of mystery writing and business of publishing. A sequel would be welcome. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 03/08/2024 | Details & Permalink

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A Nest of Vipers: A Bangalore Detectives Club Mystery

Harini Nagendra. Pegasus Crime, $26.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-63936-614-9

Nagendra masterfully melds character, plot, and period detail in her transporting third historical mystery featuring amateur detective Kaveri Murthy (after Murder Under a Red Moon). It’s 1922, and the city of Bangalore is preparing for a visit from the Prince of Wales. Given that royal visits to Bombay and Calcutta during the previous year were “marked with riots and arson,” British authorities have already begun cracking down on activists advocating for Indian independence. Amid that tension, Kaveri attends a street magic show with her friend, Anandi. When a man in the crowd locks eyes with Anandi and mimes slitting his throat, she refuses to acknowledge that she knows the man. After the performance is over, Kaveri and Anandi find him dead from a broken neck, and Anandi admits he’s her estranged husband, Pawan. With Anandi arrested as the most obvious suspect, Kaveri and her husband, Ramu, set out to clear their friend’s name. As they dig deeper into the dysfunctional couple’s past, they stumble on a plot that could pose greater danger to the visiting prince than any political protest. Nagendra is in peak form here, expertly mining the era’s political frisson for top-shelf suspense. Fans of Abir Mukherjee’s Wyndham and Banerjee series will devour this. Agent: Priya Doraswamy, Lotus Lane Literary. (May)

Reviewed on 03/08/2024 | Details & Permalink

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A Murder Most French: An American in Paris Mystery

Colleen Cambridge. Kensington, $27 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4967-3962-9

Julia Child returns in Cambridge’s sprightly second cozy featuring the legendary chef (after Mastering the Art of French Murder), who once again asks her American expat neighbor, Tabitha Knight, to help solve a mystery—this time, a series of wine-based slayings in 1950s Paris. During a cooking demonstration at L’École du Cordon Bleu, where Julia studies French cuisine, a famous chef dies after taking a sip of Volnay Clos de la Rouge from the rare 1893 vintage. Toxicology reports indicate that cyanide is the culprit—but who would add poison to such a precious wine? When a string of other figures in the Parisian culinary scene also die from poisoned vino, Julia taps Tabitha to flex her formidable powers of deduction, decipher clues, and risk her life and limb to ferret out the culprit. While fair-play fans will have plenty of fun following along with the friends’ investigations, it’s Julia’s sensuous recipes, lusciously described visits to the market, and fascinating tour of a subterranean mushroom farm that give this book its tantalizing flavor. The results will satisfy foodies, armchair travelers, and old-fashioned mystery lovers alike. Agent: Maura Kye-Casella, Don Congdon Assoc. (May)

Reviewed on 03/08/2024 | Details & Permalink

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Keep Your Friends Close

Leah Konen. Putnam, $18 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-593-54472-3

A woman’s contentious divorce takes on murderous new stakes in Konen’s surprise-packed latest (after You Should Have Told Me). After Mary Haywood files for divorce from her wealthy, controlling husband, she moves with her two-year-old son from Brooklyn to Woodstock, N.Y., to be closer to her family. On her first day Upstate, she’s shocked to run into Willa, a friend from Brooklyn she hasn’t heard from in months—especially when Willa insists her name is Annie, and that she and Mary have never met. Meanwhile, Mary’s husband, George, arrives in Woodstock with his sights set on winning her back. Soon thereafter, Mary finds George murdered in his brother’s house, with “Die Rich Pig” painted on the wall above him. After notifying the police, Mary becomes the primary suspect in his murder. Soon thereafter, Willa drops the “Annie” facade and explains to Mary that she, too, has come to Woodstock to start over—in her case, after an affair gone wrong. The women reconcile, but the more Mary looks into the stories Willa tells her, the less trustworthy she seems. From there, Konen provides a tantalizing IV drip of revelations about the women’s pasts until they come face-to-face with George’s killer. Even seasoned genre veterans won’t be able to predict where this supercharged spine-tingler ends up. Agent: Elisabeth Weed, Book Group. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 03/08/2024 | Details & Permalink

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Hunted

Abir Mukherjee. Mulholland, $30 (400p) ISBN 978-0-316-26021-3

Mukherjee strays from his Wyndham & Banerjee historical series to deliver a cunning standalone rooted in contemporary America’s fractured political landscape. After a bloody bombing in a Los Angeles mall, FBI agent Shreya Mistry identifies a young Muslim woman as the culprit. A group calling themselves the Sons of the Caliphate claim responsibility, threatening future attacks. With mere days left in a neck-and-neck presidential race between a right-wing ideologue and the country’s Democratic vice president, a resurgence of Islamist terrorism could tip the balance. After Shreya uncovers the L.A. bomber’s connection to a small town outside of Portland, Ore., she teams up with fellow FBI agent Susan Kramer, and the pair discover another potential bomber on the loose: Aliyah Khan, a young British woman radicalized by her sister’s death during a political protest. Meanwhile, Aliyah’s father, Sajid, heads to Oregon from London to stop her from carrying out the will of Miriam, a charismatic “soldier masquerading as messiah,” whose deadly—though opaque—mission seems poised to topple the upper echelons of U.S. government and law enforcement. The diverse, well-drawn cast, clever investigative work, and breakneck pacing easily carry readers through the novel’s many-tentacled plot. With this pulse-pounding thriller, Mukherjee proves he’s just as good at mining the present for suspense as the past. Agent: Sam Copeland, RCW Literary. (May)

Reviewed on 03/08/2024 | Details & Permalink

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The Last Hope: A Maggie Hope Mystery

Susan Elia MacNeal. Bantam, $29 (304p) ISBN 978-0-593-15698-8

In the gripping swan song for the bestselling Maggie Hope series (following The Hollywood Spy), MacNeal weaves fascinating bits of real-life espionage into her intrepid British spy’s final mission. In January 1944, Maggie receives an assignment from Kim Philby, the head of the Iberian Section of MI6. Her mission is to go to Spain, where German physicist Werner Heisenberg, winner of the 1932 Nobel Prize, will be lecturing at the University of Madrid. Based on the contents of that lecture, Maggie is to determine how close the Nazis are to developing an atomic bomb, and to assassinate Heisenberg if necessary. That’s not her only mission: at the same time, Coco Chanel, who saved Maggie’s life during a 1941 mission in Paris, wants the British spy to serve as a go-between for herself and Winston Churchill. First, however, Maggie must suss out where exactly the fashion designer’s loyalties lie. MacNeal avoids playing too fast and loose with the historical record, proving that truth—including Chanel’s ties to both the Nazis and the British royal family—really is stranger than fiction. It all makes for a marvelously high-stakes adventure that sends off the series in style. Readers who’ve been with Maggie for the long haul won’t be disappointed. Agent: Victoria Skurnick, Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary. (May)

Reviewed on 03/08/2024 | Details & Permalink

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Lone Wolf: An Orphan X Novel

Gregg Hurwitz. Minotaur, $29 (400p) ISBN 978-1-250-87173-2

Hurwitz’s creaky latest mission for former black ops assassin Evan Smoak (after The Last Orphan) finds the mercenary getting more than he bargained for when he agrees to track down a missing dog. In the years since Smoak left the shadowy U.S. Orphan Program, he’s spent his days dodging government assassins while making a living as a private gun-for-hire. His latest assignment is more low-stakes than usual: Sofia, his half brother’s 11-year-old daughter, hires him to track down her pinscher/Chihuahua mix. The search for the AWOL pooch takes on bigger stakes when, while casing the neighborhood where the dog was last seen, Smoak encounters the bloody handiwork of Karissa Lopatina, an assassin known as the Wolf. With the help of his allies—including teen protégé Joey and expert forger Melinda Truong—Smoak learns the Wolf is involved in a war between deranged billionaires over a dangerous technology, and enters into a bone-crunching cage match to bring her down. Hurwitz brings more humor to the table than usual this time, and fleshes out Smoak’s family ties in an attempt to add dimension to the character. Still, it’s not enough to enliven the dusty plot. This series appears to be running out of steam. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 03/08/2024 | Details & Permalink

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