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When No One Is Watching

Alyssa Cole. Morrow, $16.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-06298-265-0

At the start of this outstanding thriller from Cole (A Prince on Paper), Sydney Green decides, as a distraction from her elderly mother’s illness and other personal woes, to take a walking tour of Gifford Place, her historically Black Brooklyn neighborhood, which is becoming increasingly gentrified and considered as the home for a pharmaceutical firm’s massive new headquarters. Angered by the white tour guide’s detailing “the lives of the rich white people who’d lived there a hundred years ago,” but saying nothing about the area’s current African American residents, Sydney plans to set up her own neighborhood tour. As Sydney researches Gifford Place’s complicated history and racial background, she notices that longtime neighbors and friends are starting to disappear. Theo, a new white neighbor she met on the tour, lends some unwanted assistance in trying to figure out what’s going on. Sydney’s paranoia and fear, coupled with her guilt at placing her mother in a nursing home, fuel the tense plot, which builds to a credible finale. This stellar and unflinching look at racism and greed will have readers hooked til the end. Agent: Lucienne Diver, Knight Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Cover Your Tracks

Daco Smalley Auffenorde. Turner, $16.99 trade paper (270p) ISBN 978-1-68442-550-1

This nail-biter from Auffenorde (The Libra Affair as Daco) opens aboard a passenger train bound from Chicago to Spokane, Wash., where eight-and-a-half-months pregnant Margo Fletcher plans to attend her niece’s wedding. In the Rocky Mountains, a blizzard strikes, and the train suddenly slows down. Former Army Ranger Nick Eliot, who’s in the same car as Margo, tells his fellow passengers that the train is headed into an avalanche. Only Margo heeds Nick’s warning to move to the last car, and she goes with him to the back of the train. Nick uncouples the car, and they watch the rest of the train continue toward its doom. A tale of survival follows, punctuated by flashbacks to the protagonists’ tragic childhoods. With each new glimpse into Nick’s and Margo’s pasts, readers must reassess the motives of the pair. Is Nick Margo’s savior, or is he intent on some sinister plan? And why would a heavily pregnant woman risk making such a trip in the first place? Well-crafted action sequences keep up the energy and tension. Thriller fans will want to see more from Auffenorde. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/17/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Killings at Kingfisher Hill: The New Hercule Poirot Mystery

Sophie Hannah. Morrow, $27.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-279237-2

Bestseller Hannah displays her superior ability to devise mind-blowing setups in her fourth authorized continuation of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot series (after 2018’s The Mystery of Three Quarters). In 1931, Poirot agrees to come to Kingfisher Hill, the country estate of the Devonport family in Surrey, at the request of Richard Devonport. The previous year, Richard’s older brother, Frank, died from a fall at Kingfisher Hill, and Frank’s fiancée, Helen Acton, who confessed to intentionally pushing him, has a date with a hangman. Richard, who’s Helen’s current fiancé, believes she’s innocent, and has arranged for Poirot and Scotland Yard’s Insp. Edward Catchpool to visit the estate and investigate under the pretense of being interested in a board game Richard’s father has invented. On the luxury motor coach from London to Kingfisher Hill, the pair encounter a distraught woman, who, when forced to sit in the one available seat, declares that a man told her that to sit there would mean her death. Then another passenger confesses to a murder. Hannah provides logical and reasonable answers to every oddity. Fans of classic fair-play puzzle mysteries will clamor for more. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/10/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Redlined

Richard W. Wise. Adelaide, $23.25 (338p) ISBN 978-1-9512-1468-5

Wise (The French Blue) highlights a predatory housing practice—redlining—in this taut thriller set in 1974 Boston. Sandy Morgan, a neighborhood organizer working for the Jamaica Plain Social Action Committee, was helping to investigate a series of suspicious fires in abandoned properties in the area, until she was killed in an explosion caused by an arsonist in yet another vacant building. Morgan’s death leads her boss, Jedediah Flynt, who’s wracked with guilt, to redouble his efforts to find the people behind the arsons. Flynt is convinced that powerful people, who consider the neighborhood “too risky to do business with,” have redlined it, choking off mortgages and insurance money. That policy “sets the stage for slumlords buying cheap for cash, racial steering and housing abandonment.” Influential forces in the city oppose Flynt’s idealistic crusade, and Morgan’s successor, attractive Harvard student Alex Jordan, also winds up in jeopardy. Wise combines an accessible explanation of the nature and impact of redlining with a page-turning narrative. Fans of suspense fiction with a social conscience will be pleased. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 07/10/2020 | Details & Permalink

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She Lies Close

Sharon Doering. Titan, $14.95 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-789094-19-0

Recently divorced Grace Wright, the neurotic narrator of Doering’s promising debut, has moved with her two small children to Saint’s Crossing, “a neighborhood of families, young and old” that seems safe to her. When she learns that her neighbor, Leland Ernest, is a suspect in the disappearance of five-year-old Ava Boone six months earlier, she starts watching a video of Ava singing and dancing that the girl’s older brother made and posted on YouTube (and was later played in news stories after she went missing), which fuel her growing obsession with Ava and Leland. One day, she thinks she sees Ava in Leland’s house, and, after breaking into the place, she finds children’s toys there. Certain that Leland is the culprit, Grace becomes even more worried about her children. One night, she awakes in her bathtub, fully dressed, and has vivid flashes of a killing. A subsequent murder heightens her fears. For all her anxieties, Grace can be funny about her shortcomings and is capable of laugh-out-loud moments of sarcasm. Imaginative prose is a plus (“My mind is a snow globe in the hands of a toddler who’s shitfaced on apple juice”). Readers will be curious to see what this talented author comes up with next. Agent: Barbara Poelle, Irene Goodman Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/10/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Shapeshifter’s Lair

Peter Tremayne. Severn, $29.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8964-5

Tremayne returns to top form in his atmospheric 31st whodunit set in seventh-century Ireland (after 2019’s Blood in Eden). Law court advocate Sister Fidelma, who’s the sister of King Colgú of Muman, is frustrated. After an unsuccessful effort to become Chief Brehon, or legal arbiter, for her brother’s regional kingdom, she’s been reduced to serving as the monarch’s legal adviser, relegated to studying new decisions from an appellate court. A fraught murder mystery relieves her boredom. A colleague, Brehon Brocc, who was travelling with Princess Gelgéis, Colgú’s fiancée, was found lying on a mountain track in an area rumored to be haunted by shape-shifting beings. Someone first shot Brocc with an arrow before slitting his throat, and the discovery of his corpse coincides with the disappearance of the princess, who was instrumental in foiling a plot to dethrone Colgú, and the princess’s steward. Fidelma investigates, only to find that a key witness, the peddler who came across Brocc’s body, has been killed. Tremayne expertly incorporates historical and legal details of the time into the suspenseful plot. This impressive volume bodes well for future series entries. Agent: Euan Thorneycroft, A.M. Heath (U.K.). (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/10/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Murder in the Bayou Boneyard: A Cajun Country Mystery

Ellen Byron. Crooked Lane, $26.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-64385-460-1

In Agatha winner Byron’s captivating sixth Cajun Country mystery (after 2019’s Fatal Cajun Festival), Magnolia “Maggie” Crozat, the proprietor of the Crozat Plantation Bed and Breakfast in Pelican, La., struggles to compete with the Rent My Digs app, which is siphoning off the B and B’s bookings. When Maggie hires her distant Canadian cousin, Susannah Crozat MacDowell, to help out over the hectic October tourist season, Susannah betrays their working agreement and claims part of Maggie’s land actually belongs to her side of the family. On top of all this, a rougarou, a “kind of werewolf-meets-vampire creature,” appears to be scaring off many of Maggie’s guests. When someone wearing a rougarou costume drops dead during a play performed in the local cemetery, it turns out to be a case of poisoning. With Maggie’s family’s livelihood at stake, she once again turns sleuth. Cajun history and delectable food descriptions supplement the crime solving. Cozy fans are in for a Halloween treat. Agent: Doug Grad, Doug Grad Literary (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/10/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Readers’ Room

Antoine Laurain, trans. from the French by Gallic Books (Jane Aitken/Emily Boyce/Polly Mackintosh). Gallic, $15.95 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-910477-97-7

A profound love of books and authors underpins this sprightly mystery from Laurain (The President’s Hat). Violaine Lepage, the director of the manuscript readers’ room for a Parisian publisher, is certain that Sugar Flowers, a debut crime novel, will be a big seller, and so it proves when, a year later, the book is shortlisted for the Prix Goncourt. Then the problems start. First, the author, Camille Désencres, has only communicated with her publishers by email, and refuses to participate in person for interviews. Then Det. Insp. Sophie Tanche of the Rouen regional crime squad informs Violaine that a double murder described in the novel closely resembles an actual case. When a third man is found dead, the detective observes, “I don’t know how, but everything stems from one bizarre place: a thirty-square-meter room in which people are paid to read books that don’t yet exist... the readers’ room.” The tendency of characters to wax philosophical (“All books are works of black magic”) adds to the charm of this witty and perceptive novel. U.S. readers will want to see more of Laurain. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/10/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Sweet Dreams

Peter Leonard. Rare Bird, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-1-644280-95-9

In this overly ambitious crime novel from Leonard (Unknown Remains), Kate McGraw, a deputy U.S. marshal known as “Quick Draw” for her prowess with firearms, pursues a bank robber who has hit six Detroit banks in two month. The police have dubbed the culprit “the Shooter” for his “propensity to fire his weapon to gain control of the situation once he’s inside the bank.” McGraw gets an improbable break when her father, Frank Galvin, who abandoned her at the age of six, reappears. Galvin reveals that he has just been released from prison after serving 18 years for armed robbery—and that he knows the Shooter’s identity. Galvin claims his daughter’s quarry is Ray Skinner, with whom he carried out robberies before his incarceration. While the search for Skinner and an accomplice continues, McGraw must safeguard a federal judge who’s the target of white supremacists, a plot that only dilutes the suspense of the main plot. Underdeveloped characters and uninspired prose are other negatives. Leonard has a ways to go before he’s out of the shadow cast by his father, the legendary crime writer Elmore Leonard. Agent: Jeffrey Posternak, Wylie Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/10/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Shadows in Death

J.D. Robb. St. Martin’s, $28.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-250-20723-4

At the start of bestseller Robb’s excellent 51st Eve Dallas novel set in mid-21st-century New York City (after Golden in Death), a call to a murder scene takes Eve, a New York Police and Security Department lieutenant, and her husband, Roarke, to Washington Square Park, where Galla Modesto, an heir to the Modesto Wine and Spirits company, has been stabbed to death. Amid the onlookers, Roarke spies Lorcan Cobbe, an assassin he recognizes from his time growing up in Dublin, and is convinced Cobbe is the killer. Cobbe, who flees the scene, hates Roarke, because Roarke’s father refused to acknowledge Cobbe as his son. Roarke acts as a consultant to Eve and her team, who soon determine that Galla’s jealous husband may have hired Cobbe to kill Galla because she was having an affair. The NYPSD officers work tirelessly to find Cobbe before he strikes again. The investigation takes a number of twists and turns before it reaches its explosive conclusion. Robb’s many fans will be enthralled. 750,000 announced first printing. Agent: Amy Berkower, Writers House. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/10/2020 | Details & Permalink

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