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The Body in the Dumb River

George Bellairs. Poisoned Pen, $14.99 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-4926-9956-9

First published in 1961, this workmanlike volume in the British Library Crime Classics series finds Bellairs’s Scotland Yarder, Tom Littlejohn, now a superintendent, in the county of Fenshire, where he’s helping the local police wrap up a forgery case. Since a torrential storm that has caused flooding has left the police shorthanded, Fenshire’s chief constable asks Littlejohn to assist with a murder inquiry. James Lane, who ran a ring-toss stand at the Tylecote fair, was found in the Dumb River with a stab wound in his back. Littlejohn learns that Lane’s real name was James Teasdale, an artist who only stayed with his wife, Elvira, at their Yorkshire home on weekends. His name was not Teasdale’s only untruth, as he accounted for his absence during the week to Elvira by claiming that he worked for a firm that had him traveling around several counties. The superintendent looks for motives and suspects in both parts of the dead man’s life. Traditional whodunit fans looking for a well-written puzzle will be satisfied, even if this isn’t Bellairs’s finest work. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/25/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Death in a Bookstore: An Inspector De Vincenzi Mystery

Augusto De Angelis. Kazabo, $12.99 trade paper (286p) ISBN 978-1-948104-16-6

Originally published in 1936 and now available for the first time in English, this exceptional entry in De Angelis’s Inspector De Vincenzi series takes the witty inspector into a Milanese bookshop, where the store clerk earlier discovered the body of senator and surgeon Ugo Magni with two bullets in his skull. De Vincenzi vows to the police superintendent of Milan that he will find and arrest Ugo’s murderer in eight days. His investigation leads him to interviewing nearly a dozen colorful suspects, from Ugo’s dishonest widow to the skittish housemaid. Unlike his colleagues, De Vincenzi mostly relies on studying human nature and uses psychological methods to sniff out the killer. As a result, he uncovers secrets that aren’t always related to the crime, but are nonetheless fun to read. The foreword hails De Angelis (1888–1944) as “the most important Italian mystery writer in the first half of the twentieth century.” Based on the book’s memorable characters, clever red herrings, and vibrant backdrop of pre-WWII Milan, it’s easy to see why he ranks this high. This is a treat for classic mystery fans. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/25/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Genesis

Robin Cook. Putnam, $27 (400p) ISBN 978-0-525-54215-5

The sleuthing overshadows the mystery in bestseller Cook’s routine 11th medical thriller featuring Laurie Montgomery (after 2018’s Pandemic). Montgomery, New York City’s chief medical examiner, has her usual full plate at work and at home: her office is under fire for a screwup involving cadavers with identical names; and her nine-year-old son is having trouble at school. In addition, a brilliant but difficult pathology resident, Aria Nichols, has been blowing off her residency. A sensitive case gives Montgomery the opportunity to work with Nichols. Social worker Kera Jacobsen has apparently died of an opioid overdose, and Jacobsen’s boss at the city’s Department of Pathology is hoping the autopsy can be handled discreetly. The discovery that Jacobsen was pregnant leads Nichols to pursue the father’s identity, using unconventional genetic testing to do so. By opening with a depiction of a married man drugging Jacobsen, Cook eliminates any doubt of foul play, and fans will regret Montgomery’s taking a back seat to Nichols for much of the book. Innovative forensic science isn’t enough to sustain interest. Agent: Erica Silverman, Trident Media Group. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/25/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Crossroad

W.H. Cameron. Crooked Lane, $26.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-64385-280-5

Soon after Melisende Dulac, the narrator of this engrossing mystery from Cameron (the Skin Kadash series, as Bill Cameron), moves from Massachusetts to a small Oregon town to become an apprentice mortician, she’s first on the scene of a fatal car accident. She immediately spots the bodies of two men and a teenage boy, and later, at a long distance from the wreck, the body of a newborn. Things gets stranger after the bodies, stored in the mortuary, disappear, and scattered ashes are found in the crematorium, along with a skull from an unknown corpse. Since Melisende was the last person to see the bodies, the police suspect she stole them. When the person who represents the teenage boy’s family discovers a bullet casing at the scene and concludes the crash was no accident, Melisende begins to investigate. The stakes rise as she delves into an uncertain situation not knowing whom to turn to for help. Cameron keeps the surprises coming. This pulse-pounding tale begs to be read in one sitting. Agent: Janet Reid, New Leaf Literary. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/25/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Relentless

Shawn Wilson. Oceanview, $26.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-60809-370-0

Set during cherry blossom time in Washington, D.C., Wilson’s solid debut introduces Det. Brian “Brick” Kavanagh and his partner, Ron Hayes. The two are called out in the early hours of the morning to the Tidal Basin, where they find a young woman’s naked body floating in the water. Brick knows that this murder, at the height of the D.C. tourist season, has the potential to make the powers-that-be nervous and add stress to his job. At the end of his shift, Brick stops at his favorite Irish bar, where the bartender asks him to check up on Jose Delgado, a trusted busboy who has missed several days of work. At Jose’s apartment, Brick finds the busboy murdered, as well as a possible link between Jose and the Tidal Basin victim. Mystery veterans won’t find much they haven’t seen before, though the villain’s unusual background is a plus. Wilson (the pen name for a playwright) has created a protagonist with the full complement of angst-inducing problems and an appealing white knight sense of decency. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/25/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Impolitic Corpses

Paul Johnston. Severn, $28.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8908-9

It’s 2038 in Johnston’s exceptional eighth Quint Dalrymple mystery (after 2016’s Skeleton Blues), and Scotland is in its third year as a new republic following decades under a corrupt dictatorial regime. Former police detective Dalrymple, who had to testify before a truth and reconciliation commission about his complicity with the regime, has started a new chapter in his life, juggling PI work, writing, and a family. Dalrymple’s former police partner, who’s now working for the national public order organization, brings him in to assist with a bizarre near-fatal strangulation. A young man was attacked by someone wearing a costume that was part-tree, part-fish, which Dalrymple believes was modelled after an image in a Hieronymus Bosch painting. Soon afterward, he learns that a high-level official, Angus Macdonald, has vanished from his locked bedroom, unseen by his valet sitting outside the door, with a severed finger left behind. The inquiries overlap after Dalrymple finds that Macdonald was supporting an art exhibit inspired by another Bosch painting. The plot twists frequently, building up to a jaw-dropping climax. Series followers and newbies alike will be hooked. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/25/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Nine Elms: A Kate Marshall Thriller

Robert Bryndza. Thomas & Mercer, $24.95 (438p) ISBN 978-1-5420-0568-5

In 1995, Kate Marshall, the heroine of this heart-pounding series launch from Bryndza (the Erika Foster series), was a detective constable when she unmasked the Nine Elms Cannibal serial killer, who left the bodies of teenage girls—posed naked with bite marks on their bodies, their heads wrapped in plastic bags—around London. Though the killer was sent to a psychiatric facility, the scandal surrounding the cannibal case led to Kate’s being unjustly discredited and removed from the force. In 2010, after years of uncontrolled drinking, Kate is a criminology lecturer living on England’s south coast when a couple who believe their missing 16-year-old daughter was a victim of the original killer in 1990 beg her to find their daughter’s body. A forensic pathologist later consults her about the recent murder of a young woman, whom Kate concludes was the victim of a copycat of the Nine Elms killer. The tension rises as Kate begins a deadly cat-and-mouse game with the new killer, aided by her able assistant, and painful, long-buried memories resurface. Readers will look forward to seeing more of the complex Kate. Agent: Amy Tannenbaum, Jane Rotrosen Agency. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/25/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Lady of Perdition

Barbara Hambly. Severn, $28.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8909-6

Set in 1840, Hambly’s deeply researched 17th Benjamin January mystery (after 2018’s Cold Bayou) takes free black man January and his consumptive musician friend, Hannibal Sefton, from New Orleans to the Republic of Texas, where animosity is seething between nationalists who want Texas to remain independent and those who favor joining the United States. January’s dedication to helping black people obtain justice leads him to try to rescue Selina Bellinger, a young mulatto woman from New Orleans. Selina’s lover duped her into eloping with him to Texas, where she was raped and trafficked. The stakes rise after the scheming Valentina Taggart, who helps January and Sefton in the Selina matter, is accused of murdering her wealthy rancher husband. When January and Sefton investigate, they’re plunged into the Taggart family’s “poisoned mess of drunken violence.” Risking himself in a country where killing a slave is not considered murder, January can’t resist saving helpless women from casual male brutality. Hambly’s well-wrought denunciation of slavery and her skillful defense of women’s rights resound from January’s times to our own. Agent: Frances Collin, Frances Collin Literary. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/25/2019 | Details & Permalink

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In the Shadow of Vesuvius

Tasha Alexander. Minotaur, $27.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-16473-5

In 1902, Lady Emily Hargreaves and her husband, Colin, rent a villa near Pompeii in bestseller Alexander’s uneven 14th series mystery (after 2018’s Uneasy Lies the Crown). Exploring the ancient ruins, Colin and Emily discover a recently strangled corpse amid those felled by the Vesuvius’s 79 CE eruption. Archaeologist Callie Carter appears to have known the victim, American journalist Clarence Walker, better than she admits; Callie’s brother, Benjamin, is inexplicably antagonistic; and Walker’s past in Montana may offer clues as well. Meanwhile, Emily is shaken when a daughter Colin didn’t know he had, Kat von Lange, shows up and moves in with the couple. Kat’s over-the-top manipulations and Colin’s immediate surrender to them feel implausible, and the murder investigation is too diffuse to be suspenseful, but the author does a fine job evoking the setting’s rich history, particularly in the chapters written as the journal entries of Pompeian poet Quinta Flavia Kassandra. Though this is far from Alexander’s strongest historical, lovers of classical culture should be pleased. Agent: Anne Hawkins, John Hawkins & Assoc. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/25/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Grace Is Gone

Emily Elgar. Harper, $16.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-294563-1

Set in the tiny Cornish town of Ashford, this enthralling thriller from British author Elgar (If You Knew Her) opens with Cara Dorman finding her neighbor, Meg Nichols, bludgeoned to death and Meg’s critically ill 17-year-old daughter, Grace, missing. Might Meg’s abusive ex-husband and Grace’s father, Simon, be the culprit? Cara feels guilty that she let her relationship with Grace cool in the last year, and she joins forces with journalist Jon Katrin to try to locate the missing teen. Jon has his own agenda. His writing an article about Meg’s relationship with Grace, in which he questioned Meg’s choice to keep Simon away from Grace, led to his becoming a pariah, and he wants to reestablish his good name. The novel is as much about perceived truth, media, and the workings of small communities as it is about solving crime. Twists and turns keep the reader guessing up to the satisfying ending. Along the way, Elgar wrestles with some engrossing ethical questions that will keep readers thinking long after they reach the end of the book. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/25/2019 | Details & Permalink

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