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Darkness Falls

Robert Bryndza. Thomas & Mercer, $29.95 (304p) ISBN 978-1-5420-2962-9

In 2002, as revealed in the prologue of Bryndza’s gripping third Kate Marshall thriller (after 2020’s Shadow Sands), journalist Joanna Duncan was strangled in a car park in Exeter, England. Her killer ensured her body was never found. Now, in 2015, Joanna’s still-grieving mother hires Kate to bring closure to the cold case. Ex-cop Kate, who survived a long-ago affair with a serial killer, has recently started a PI agency with her friend Tristan Harper. Even with access to files of the official police investigation into Joanna’s disappearance, Kate and Tristan face difficulties as they interview people who knew Joanna and reexamine details of the presumed crime. Meanwhile, in a parallel narrative, a man who calls himself Tom kidnaps, tortures, and kills an acquaintance. The tension rises as it becomes obvious Joanna’s murderer was a serial killer who is still active. Kate’s traumatic past makes her anxious, but doesn’t stop her from doing all she can. Even the murderer turns out to be as much tormented as monstrous. Readers will look forward to seeing more of the empathetic Kate. Agent: Ariella Feiner, United Agents (U.K.). (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/01/2021 | Details & Permalink

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True Crime Story

Joseph Knox. Sourcebooks Landmark, $16.99 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-7282-4586-7

In 2011, 19-year-old University of Manchester student Zoe Nolan, the victim at the center of this stellar standalone from British author Knox (the Aiden Waits series), inexplicably goes missing during a chaotic fire alarm evacuation in her high-rise dorm. In the aftermath, her disappearance irrevocably alters—and in some cases destroys—the lives of her twin sister, her boyfriend, and numerous friends, some of whom are witnesses and potential suspects. In a metafictional twist, crime writer Joseph Knox takes an interest in the case after another writer, Evelyn Mitchell, starts investigating what happened to Zoe and sends him chapters of the true crime story she’s working on—a story that involves drug use, infidelity, and mental illness. Then there’s “the so-called Shadow Man, who stalked Zoe through the city, tracking her every move.” Interview excerpts and emails sometimes corroborate events and other times refute them. The impressively twisty plot drops one bombshell revelation after another. Twin Peaks fans won’t want to miss this one. Agent: Daniel Lazar, Writers House. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/01/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Dark Night

Paige Shelton. Minotaur, $26.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-250-79627-1

In bestseller Shelton’s pedestrian third mystery featuring thriller writer Beth Rivers (after 2020’s Cold Wind), Beth has found refuge working and living at a halfway house for low-level female felons in isolated Benedict, Alaska, where only the sheriff, Gril Samuels, knows her identity as author Elizabeth Fairchild. Seven months earlier, Beth fled St. Louis after escaping from Travis Walker, who kidnapped her and then tortured her for three days. The residents of Benedict resent personal questions, especially those from Doug Vitner, the newly arrived “census man.” Doug goes missing shortly after a local, known for being a domestic abuser, is found murdered. While helping Gril with the case, Beth learns that her mother, Mill Rivers, will soon arrive. Beth worries that if Mill, who has been in hiding for months because she’s wanted by the police, has discovered her location, Travis may be able to find her. Uninspired coincidences fuel the saggy plot, though the vivid Alaskan landscape and Gus, a smart sled dog, add some appeal. The third time is not the charm. Agent: Jessica Faust, BookEnds. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/01/2021 | Details & Permalink

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City of Shadows

Victoria Thompson. Berkley Prime Crime, $26 (336p) ISBN 978-0-593-19753-0

Set in post-WWI New York City, Thompson’s subpar fifth Counterfeit Lady mystery featuring grifter turned suffragist Elizabeth Miles (after City of Schemes) pits newly married Elizabeth, now Mrs. Gideon Bates, against a savvy crook. The crook, posing as Madame Ophelia, a psychic medium, is bankrupting emotionally vulnerable targets, some of whose loved ones died in the war or during the flu epidemic, including the mother of Elizabeth’s best friend, Anna Vanderslice. Mrs. Vanderslice is eager to contact her son, David, who died of the flu. Elizabeth comes up with a risky plan to save Mrs. Vanderslice from Madame Ophelia and her crew of scam artists. Enlisting her brother, Jake, and her aunt Cybil to help, Elizabeth attempts an audacious con. The intriguing and inspiring Elizabeth makes up only in part for the lack of mystery and a predictable plot that builds to an anticlimactic conclusion. Furthermore, there’s little focus on the development of major characters, which lessens this installment’s interest and impact. Hopefully, Thompson will return to form next time. Agent: Nancy Yost, Nancy Yost Literary. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/01/2021 | Details & Permalink

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So Far and Good

John Straley. Soho Crime, $27.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-64129-253-5

Shamus Award winner Straley’s gripping eighth Cecil Younger investigation finds the Sitka, Alaska, PI doing prison time for the desperate measures he took to save the life of his teenage daughter, Blossom, in 2018’s Baby’s First Felony. Blossom, meanwhile, seeks his advice on how to help her friend Georgianna “George” Paul. A DNA test George has taken indicates that her parents, Ida and Richard Paul, aren’t her biological parents, and she’s in fact the victim of a notorious kidnapping years earlier of a native infant. After Ida and Richard are arrested, efforts are made to reunite George with her birth parents, but something isn’t quite right with her new family. Ida’s subsequent prison suicide may have been something more sinister, and there’s a growing sense that the original kidnapping might not have been all that it seemed. Events take a deadly turn when Blossom disappears while trying to help George, forcing Cecil to make use of his new prison connections and, once again, take desperate measures on his own. Memorable characters match the vividly realized Alaskan settings. Readers will eagerly await the next installment. Agent: Kerry D’Agostino, Curtis Brown. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/01/2021 | Details & Permalink

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My Darling Husband

Kimberly Belle. Park Row, $16.99 trade paper (352) ISBN 978-0-7783-1156-0

This captivating thriller from Belle (Dear Wife) opens with celebrity chef Cam Lasky—Atlanta’s much touted “steak king”—trying to explain to a TV reporter why he doesn’t deserve to be called “the most hated man in America” because of certain accusations against him that arose following the home invasion several months earlier that involved his wife, Jade, and their two young children being taken hostage. Flash back to the fateful day. At work, Cam is dealing with suspicious insurance adjusters after a fire destroyed his popular signature restaurant. Jade’s distraught call forces Cam to refocus his priorities—she and the children have been ambushed by a masked man hiding in their garage. The kidnapper knows details about their lives, including Cam’s work schedule, and wants exactly $734,296. Raising the cash is a problem, because, unknown to Jade, Cam is deeply in debt. Cam wonders whether the fire was set by his loan shark or by a vengeful former employee. Several well-placed twists deliciously shake up the brisk plot, which smoothly moves among the viewpoints of Jade, Cam, and the kidnapper. Belle knows how to keep the pages turning. Agent: Nikki Terpilowski, Holloway Literary. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/01/2021 | Details & Permalink

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One Night, New York

Lara Thompson. Pegasus Crime, $25.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-64313-839-8

In 1932, Frances Addams, the protagonist of Thompson’s winning debut, flees a Kansas dust bowl farm for New York City, where she joins her older brother, Stan, whom she hasn’t heard from in months. Frances suspects Stan, who looks worn down, and his friend from back home, Ben, a WWI vet who makes a living as a sax player, may be involved in dangerous illegal activity—though neither one will tell her anything. When Stan ends up murdered, Frances embarks, with the help of Ben and her friend and love interest, Agnes, on a perilous quest to enact vengeance on her brother’s killer that leads her into the sordid underbelly of Prohibition-era organized crime—and to the top of the Empire State Building. Simultaneously an amateur sleuth mystery, a romance, and a coming-of-age tale, this depiction of Depression-era New York is both richly described and poignantly insightful (“His cologne was so strong she felt faint, flooded with the smell of money and good times and danger”). Deep character development, relentless pacing, and understated noir atmospherics bode well for Thompson’s next. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/01/2021 | Details & Permalink

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London Bridge Is Falling Down: A Peculiar Crimes Unit Mystery

Christopher Fowler. Bantam, $28.99 (464p) ISBN 978-0-593-35621-0

Fowler’s excellent 20th Peculiar Crimes Unit mystery (after 2020’s Oranges and Lemons) finds the London police unit yet again at risk of being shut down. To avoid that fate, the PCU’s lead detective, über-eccentric Det. Chief Insp. Arthur Bryant, takes advantage of a loophole. Since the Home Office can’t reassign unresolved homicide cases to other police departments, Bryant searches for a recent fatality that can somehow be made into an open PCU murder inquiry. He finds one in the case of 91-year-old Amelia Hoffman, a shut-in who apparently died from natural causes, though someone hastened her demise by canceling food deliveries and check-ins by her caregiver. Along with his longtime partner, Det. Chief Insp. John May, Bryant delves into what he believes is a key clue, a souvenir of London Bridge that was thrown out of one of Hoffman’s windows. The trail leads to some surprising revelations about the PCU’s past and several indisputable murders. As always, Fowler does a masterly job of balancing humor with an ingeniously crafted plot. Devoted fans will be more than satisfied. Agent: Howard Morhaim, Howard Morhaim Literary. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/01/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Perfect Escape

Leah Konen. Putnam, $17 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-593-08544-8

In this twisty thriller from Konen (All the Broken People), three friends who have had lousy luck with men—Sam Lochman, Margaret Cahill, and Diana Holbein—desperately need a girls’ weekend away from New York City. But less than halfway to their Adirondack destination, plans start to veer off course when the key to their rental car disappears during a rest stop in Catskill, N.Y., the same quaint Hudson River hamlet where Harry Brant, who abruptly left Sam two months after they exchanged vows, has moved to be with his ex. That night at a local watering hole, after the well-lubricated Sam posts on Instagram in hopes of luring Harry, sparks fly between tipsy Margaret and an attractive younger guy—and Diana vanishes. Unreliable principal narrators Sam and Margaret initially reveal little, but readers begin to discover the trio’s dangerous deceptions to each other—as well as the outlines of a chilling if far-fetched plot. Even the characters one wants to root for prove morally compromised. This page-turner will appeal most to those who won’t mind being snookered in the name of suspense. Agent: Elisabeth Weed, Book Group. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/01/2021 | Details & Permalink

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1979

Val McDermid. Atlantic Monthly, $27 (432p) ISBN 978-0-8021-5902-1

Set in 1979, this sterling series launch from McDermid (Still Life) introduces Allison “Allie” Burns, a new reporter for the Clarion newspaper in Glasgow. Fresh from Cambridge University, Allie impresses her colleague Danny Sullivan with her writing talent, and they become friends. The two share a desire to cover a big story rather than the lightweight pieces they’re assigned. Feminism has yet to make its mark on women in the workplace, and Allie is thwarted by men in the newsroom who don’t take her seriously. But Allie’s star rises after Danny discovers a national money laundering scheme and he enlists her help with the investigation. She then discovers a secret IRA cell in Belfast looking for weapons, and she and Danny are caught in a dangerous situation resulting in another lead story. The mutual attraction between Allie and Clarion editor Rona Dunsyre provides some romantic heat. McDermid does an excellent job capturing a time in Scotland’s history fraught with political unrest, IRA terrorism, and labor strikes that nearly paralyze the country. Fans will look forward to seeing more of the highly capable Allie. Agent: Jane Gregory, David Higham Assoc. (U.K.) (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/01/2021 | Details & Permalink

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