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What the Cat Dragged In: A Cat in the Stacks Mystery

Miranda James. Berkley Prime Crime, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-0-593-19946-6

In James’s excellent 14th Cat in the Stacks mystery (after 2020’s Cat Me If You Can), librarian Charlie Harris is surprised to find himself the owner of his grandfather Robert Harris’s farmhouse in Athena, Miss. Robert died in a nursing home over 40 years earlier, and Charlie believed the property was sold shortly before his death. Charlie’s son, Sean, who’s also his lawyer, reveals Robert only leased the home to Martin Hale for the duration of Hale’s own life. With Hale having just died, ownership reverts to Charlie, a shock as well to Hale’s grandson, also named Martin, who expected to inherit it. After Charlie visits the farmhouse, his cat, Diesel, finds a human skull and bones in the attic. Meanwhile, the body of grandson Martin turns up on the property, and the timing of the murder leads Charlie to suspect a connection to the remains in the attic. The solution’s both fair and satisfying, and Charlie is a plausible investigator and the supporting cast realistic. This entry reinforces James’s place in the top rank of cozy authors. Agent: Nancy Yost, Nancy Yost Literary. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/25/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Two Spies in Caracas

Moisés Naím, trans. from Spanish by Daniel Hahn. Amazon Crossing, $14.95 trade paper (348p) ISBN 978-1-5420-1669-8

Journalist Naím (The End of Power) makes his fiction debut with a gripping political thriller that immerses the reader in the volatile Bolivarian revolution led by Venezuelan army colonel Hugo Chávez. Chávez’s failed 1992 coup caught the world by surprise, drawing the interest of Fidel Castro, who envisioned a valuable economic partner, as well as the attention of the United States, which was preoccupied with regional instability. Chávez’s unlikely rise from political prisoner to the presidential palace is seen through the eyes of Cuban intelligence officer Iván Rincón, CIA spy Cristina Graza, and a diverse cast of real-life-inspired composite and fictional characters. Naím wields his experiences as an international affairs writer and former Venezuelan economic cabinet member to provide authoritative insights into the severe economic downturns and rises in violence stemming from the power plays of external actors seeking to exploit a vulnerable nation in turmoil. This is a must for anyone who wants to explore this tumultuous and often strange period in modern Latin American history. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/25/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Scarred

Nick Oldham. Severn, $28.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7278-5014-0

British author Oldham’s slow-moving 28th Henry Christie thriller (after 2020’s Bad Timing) opens in 1985, when Christie, then a Blackpool constable, is eager to prove himself to his superiors. One day, as Christie hopes to add to his tally of shoplifter arrests, he spots a boy nick expensive perfume. But when Christie pursues him, he’s blindsided by another boy and beaten unconscious. After recovering, he identifies the teen he chased as Tommy Benemy and apprehends him. Tommy refuses to implicate any accomplice and disappears after he’s released on bail. Tommy’s mother, Trish, fears her son hasn’t vanished voluntarily. Flash forward to 2020, when Christie has retired after a long police career to become a PI. The cold case revives after Trish’s corpse is found, a plastic bag over her head, near a note addressed to Christie, stating that grief at her loss motivated her suicide and asking him to keep looking for her son. After the postmortem concludes Trish was murdered, Christie investigates that crime and its possible link to Tommy’s fate. Since the characterizations are thin, the reveal of the culprit’s identity has little emotional impact. This one’s for devoted series followers only. Agent: Olav Wyper, SMS Talent (U.K.). (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/25/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Jim Hanvey, Detective

Octavus Roy Cohen. Poisoned Pen, $14.99 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-4642-1503-2

First published in 1923, this fine story collection from Cohen (1891–1957) stars New York investigator Jim Hanvey, whose “huge, fat, shapeless” head and other unattractive features make him perhaps the least impressive–looking sleuth in crime fiction. The seven short stories are all inverted mysteries, with the fascination derived from the ways in which Hanvey trips up a criminal whose culpability has already been revealed to the reader. In “Fish Eyes,” bank teller Clifford Wallace, after stealing a large sum from his employer, attempts to allay suspicion by reporting the missing cash to his boss, having already passed the money to his fiancée, who uses a safety-deposit box maintained in her dead sister’s name to store the loot. Hanvey’s called in to investigate, and his hovering, annoying Columbo-like presence leads Wallace to make a costly misstep. Hanvey’s acumen is also on display in cases involving stolen gems (“Caveat Emptor”) and an effort to rig a proxy fight (“Common Stock”). The affable but lonely Hanvey is a unique and sympathetic creation. This Library of Congress Crime Classic provides a pleasant change of pace. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/25/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Night We Burned

S.F. Kosa. Sourcebooks Landmark, $16.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-1-7282-1559-4

Fact-checker and copyeditor Dora Rodriguez, the protagonist of this strong thriller from Kosa (The Quiet Girl), works in Seattle, Wash., for an online news magazine. An expert at uncovering the truth, Dora hides the facts of her own identity and believes that lying about her past is the only way to protect herself against criminal prosecution for her role in the massive fire that destroyed a cult 20 years ago. But when that past finally catches up with her in the form of a news story she’s asked to edit about a murder that she knows must be linked to the cult, Dora must make sure that no one else can uncover the truth—no matter how deeply they dig. Dora’s desperate attempts to hold together a disintegrating web of deception alternate with flashbacks that detail the sexual jealousy and manipulation in the cult she fled as a young woman. The flashbacks somewhat slow down the present-day narrative, but the story’s explosive conclusion provides a neat twist that compensates. Suspense fans will look forward to Kosa’s next. Agent: Victoria Marini, Irene Goodman Literary. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/25/2021 | Details & Permalink

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No Witness: A Cal Claxton Mystery

Warren C. Easley. Poisoned Pen, $15.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-4642-1443-1

In Easley’s satisfying eighth mystery featuring Oregon attorney Cal Claxton (after 2019’s No Way to Die), Timoteo Fuentes, a bright and energetic young man Cal has taken a liking to, wants to become a lawyer for the right reason—to change society for the better. When Timoteo’s sister, Olivia, is shot dead from ambush, the Fuentes family begs Cal to help with the investigation because they’re uneasy about dealing with the police; Timoteo and Olivia were both relatively safe as Dreamers protected by DACA, but other members of the hardworking family are undocumented and thus in danger of deportation by ICE if they call attention to themselves as witnesses to a crime. Cal must use all his ingenuity to get information from the Latino community, as he learns that a stone-cold cartel hit man is prowling the neighborhood. Meanwhile, the ominous attention of a white supremacist ICE officer and a predatory financier further complicates the case. Easley celebrates a loving family’s resilience and the power of good people working together. He should win new fans with this one. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/25/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Unholy Murder

Lynda La Plante. Zaffre (IPG, dist.), $16 trade paper (416p) ISBN 978-1-83877-451-6

Set sometime in the 1970s, La Plante’s middling seventh procedural featuring Jane Tennison as a young cop (after 2020’s Blunt Force) finds the detective sergeant posted to the CID office in the London borough of Bromley, where she moved after becoming a pariah for bringing down a colleague in her previous assignment. There, workers at a construction site where a convent once stood discover a metal coffin containing the body of a nun, and scratch marks on the inner lid indicate she was sealed in the coffin while still alive. As the crime is likely decades-old and the victim unidentifiable, Tennison faces some opposition to investigating vigorously. The plot unfolds glacially, and Tennison becomes involved with a man connected to the case, an error in judgment that predictably threatens her professional reputation. Indifferent prose (after a date, Tennison asks herself, “Could he finally be Mr. Right?”) and a second potential love-interest, also linked to the investigation, don’t help. The solution is a yawner and doesn’t showcase the investigative skills Tennison displays later in her career. Those fond of TV’s Prime Suspect featuring the mature Tennison can safely pass. Agent: Nigel Stoneman, La Plante Global. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/25/2021 | Details & Permalink

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When All Light Fails: A Ryan DeMarco Mystery

Randall Silvis. Poisoned Pen, $16.99 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-7282-2358-2

At the start of Silvis’s elegiac if slightly overstuffed fifth and final outing for Pennsylvania PI Ryan DeMarco (after 2020’s No Woods as Dark as These), DeMarco survives being shot in the chest during an ambush outside an abandoned mill where he’s been lured by an old adversary, Daksh Khatri. Meanwhile, state police officer Daniella Flores, who has rushed to DeMarco’s rescue, suffers a serious leg injury when the fleeing Khatri rams her car with his. While in the hospital, the former state police sergeant waxes philosophical as he reviews various cases he has worked over the years. Daniella, who’s in the same hospital, and his devoted girlfriend, Jayme Matson, are much on his mind. After DeMarco recovers, a judge seeks his help determining the paternity of a child the judge thinks may be his. Jayme joins DeMarco on the long path to the bloody and tragic resolution. As usual, Silvis delivers crisp action sequences, but most memorable are DeMarco’s long, ruminative digressions that sum up the career of a complicated, honorable man. Readers will be sorry to see the last of him. Agent: Sandy Lu, Book Wyrm Literary. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/25/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Blind Tiger

Sandra Brown. Grand Central, $28 (512p) ISBN 978-1-5387-5196-1

Set in 1920, this superior thriller from bestseller Brown (Thick as Thieves) firmly anchors all the action in the plot. Laurel Plummer, the mother of an infant, is stuck in a remote shack with her father-in-law near the little town of Foley, Tex., after the sudden death of her WWI vet husband. Thatcher Hutton, a discharged soldier who’s just leapt off a boxcar, turns up at the Plummer place, asking for water and directions to the nearest town. His first night in a Foley boarding house, Thatcher is awakened “by a gun barrel jammed against his cheekbone” and an accusation that he kidnapped and possibly murdered Mila Driscoll, the local doctor’s missing wife. After Thatcher is released from jail for lack of evidence, the sheriff makes him a part-time deputy and he sets out to find the truth behind Mila’s disappearance. Meanwhile, Laurel, who’s in dire financial straits, helps her father-in-law expand his moonshining business. Conflict ensues as the two wind up on opposite sides of the law. Laurel and Thatcher are strong and inventive characters, and their surprising decisions and evolving relationship will keep readers engaged. Brown shows why she remains in the top rank of her field. Agent: Maria Carvainis, Maria Carvainis Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/25/2021 | Details & Permalink

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A Few Drops of Bitters

G.A. McKevett. Kensington, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4967-2016-0

McKevett’s entertaining 26th Savannah Reid mystery (after 2020’s And the Killer Is…) finds PI Savannah Reid, the owner of the Moonlight Magnolia detective agency in San Carmelita, Calif., focused on her animal-loving foster son, six-year-old Brody Greyson, who seems to be doing well despite his traumatic upbringing by his troubled biological mother. Savannah and her husband, Det. Sgt. Dirk Coulter, are happy to go with Brody to the home of his veterinarian friend, Carolyn Erling, who’s hosting a birthday party for her husband, brain surgeon Stephen Erling. Carolyn is warm and friendly, the couple discover, but Stephen, who insults Brody, is rude and unpleasant. When Stephen collapses during the party, Savannah gives him CPR, but to no avail. His death is later ruled a homicide, and Dirk views Carolyn as the number one suspect. Savannah investigates and soon learns, no surprise, plenty of people had motive to kill Stephen. Red herrings abound, and McKevett smoothly blends the sleuthing with serious social issues. Series fans and newcomers alike will enjoy spending time with Savannah and friends. Agent: Richard Curtis, Curtis Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/25/2021 | Details & Permalink

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