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Not One of Us

Debbie Herbert. Thomas & Mercer, $15.95 trade paper (326p) ISBN 978-1-5420-2492-1

Soon after Mobile, Ala., event coordinator Jori Trahan, the resourceful narrator of this unsettling psychological thriller from Herbert (Cold Waters), returns home to Bayou Enigma in Alabama swamp country to care for her cognitively impaired grandmother and autistic brother, Zach, she runs into Ray Strickland, recently released from prison after serving some 20 years for murder, in a bar. Ray’s drunken mumblings (“folks have a way of disappearing ’round here, gator feed”) start Jori on a relentless crusade to solve the unsolved disappearance of her high school sweetheart, Deacon Cormier, and his family 13 years earlier in 2006. Jori has a form of synesthesia that allows her to “hear” colors, and it becomes her secret weapon in discovering what happened the night the Cormiers went missing. Jori’s snooping reveals family secrets best left unspoken, and also draws the attention of a killer. The stakes rise after Zach is kidnapped. Herbert keeps the reader guessing as to the killer’s identity. Those with a taste for Southern gothic will be satisfied. Agent: Ann Leslie Tuttle, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Last Seen Wearing

Hillary Waugh. Poisoned Pen, $15.99 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-4642-1305-2

Originally published in 1952, this entry in the Library of Congress Crime Classics series from MWA Grand Master Waugh (1920–2008) stands as one of the first and best police procedurals. On Mar. 3, 1950, 18-year-old Lowell Mitchell, a freshman at Parker College in Bristol, Mass., vanishes. The police investigation unfolds over five weeks, from Lowell’s disappearance to the case’s resolution. Though there’s not much action, Waugh builds suspense by raising doubts about motive and character. Did Lowell run away? Is she dead? The search for answers to these and other questions will keep readers turning the pages, though some will be put off by the cruelly casual sexism: “girls” only go to college to find a husband, and the “only reasonable explanation” for a teenage girl’s disappearance is her sneaking off to have an illegal abortion. Series editor Leslie Klinger’s annotations offer fascinating insights into the postwar milieu. Those looking for a period mystery where ordinary cops are the good guys will be rewarded. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Murder by Numbers: A Langham and Dupré Mystery

Eric Brown. Severn, $28.99 (208p) ISBN 978-0-7278-9077-1

Brown’s solid seventh mystery featuring private detective and thriller writer Donald Langham and his wife, literary agent Marie Dupré (after 2019’s Murder Served Cold), opens on December 3, 1956, when Maria receives an invitation, marked with the number 6, to “attend a death” that evening. The sender is artist Maxwell Fenton, whom Maria struck and scarred with a fireplace poker after he made aggressive sexual advances decades before. At the artist’s Essex home, a gaunt and barely recognizable Fenton details his grievances against each of the six guests and then shoots himself. Witnessing his suicide seems to be Fenton’s revenge, until three of the guests he assembled are murdered in the order indicated by the numbers on their invitations to Fenton’s death. Maria is clearly in danger, but who’s committing crimes motivated by a dead man’s grudges? Langham investigates an actor friend of Fenton’s who disappeared around the time of the shooting. Though copious backstory slows the early chapters, clever plot twists soon spin the dramatic premise into a gripping tale. Agatha Christie fans will have fun. Agent: John Jarrold, John Jarrold Literary (U.K.). (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Murder at Mabel’s Motel: A Granny Reid Mystery

G.A. McKevett. Kensington, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4967-2906-4

Set in McGill, Ga., sometime in the 1980s, McKevett’s bittersweet third Granny Reid mystery (after 2019’s Murder in the Corn Maze) finds Stella Reid preparing for her first date with Sheriff Manny Gilford, much to the amusement of the seven grandchildren she’s raising alone. The rare night out for the overworked grandmother is interrupted when Manny is called to investigate an assault on 19-year-old Yolanda Ortez by local lowlife Billy Ray Sonner and his racist gang. The attack was interrupted before the worst could happen, but Manny is anxious to find Billy Ray before he does more damage, or Yolanda’s outraged father gets to him. When Billy Ray’s ravaged body is discovered at an abandoned motel outside of town, no cause of death is apparent, but the door is duct-taped from the outside. Stella knows only too well that even good people are capable of diabolical acts. McKevett poignantly evokes how difficult and all-consuming raising seven children can be, but in Stella she has created a woman strong and loving enough to do it. Readers will hope this series has a long run. Agent: Richard Curtis, Richard Curtis Assoc. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Burning Girls

C.J. Tudor. Ballantine, $27 (304p) ISBN 978-1-9848-2502-5

Rarely have the secrets of an English village been used to greater effect than in this tautly suspenseful mystery from Thriller Award–winner Tudor (The Other People). When the Rev. Jack Brooks, a widow with a 14-year-old daughter, Flo, is ordered to fill a sudden vacancy in Chapel Croft, Jack learns that the Sussex village is famous for the burning of its martyrs in the reign of Mary I, two of the victims having been young girls. But it’s not so clear what happened to two teenage girls who disappeared from Chapel Croft 30 years earlier, in 1990, never to be heard from again. Once Jack discovers that her predecessor killed himself, the menace stalking the village becomes a palpable threat. Shifting points of view bring into play a secret from Jack’s past—and when that threat is added to the escalating dangers in Chapel Croft, the tension become nearly unbearable. Tudor expertly doles out the plot twists, some of them small, some sizable, and one so shocking that it turns the entire story inside out. Jack, Flo, and the other fully realized characters and their eventual fates won’t be easily forgotten by any reader. Agent: Madeleine Milburn, Madeleine Milburn Literary (U.K.). (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/04/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Murder at Tregowyn Manor: A Golden Age Mystery

G.G. Vandagriff. Orson Whitney, $10.95 trade paper (274p) ASIN B08GV9NCTY

Vandagriff’s entertaining third whodunit featuring Catherine Tregowyn (after Murder in the Jazz Band) centers on the theft of a valuable artifact. In 1935, Sonny Nichols, an Oxford University undergrad, joins an archaeological team excavating Anglo-Saxon artifacts in Cornwall, coincidentally on land belonging to the Tregowyn family. The group finds a valuable carved Roman brick, which is later stored in a locked basement vault in Balliol College under Sonny’s care. Despite those precautions, the brick disappears, and Sonny is the prime suspect. Catherine, a gifted amateur sleuth in her first year as a tutor at Oxford, agrees to assist in the investigation, and returns home to Cornwall, where the case takes a dark turn after a man goes missing and is presumed murdered. Vandagriff makes familiar tropes feel fresh, and in Catherine has created an appealing lead capable of sustaining a lengthy series. Fans of golden age mysteries will look forward to more. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 12/04/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Dazzlepaint

Erica Obey. Walrus, $17.95 trade paper (330p) ISBN 978-1-940442-36-5

In 1919, Gavin Fellowes, a representative of the Society of Psychical Research and the cynical hero of this sprightly paranormal mystery from Obey (The Curse of the Braddock Brides), comes to Woodstock, N.Y., summoned by Mrs. Jean Storrs Adams. A wealthy do-gooder and the founder of a local artists’ colony, Mrs. Adams wants Gavin to investigate whether some magical creature haunts the colony’s bathing pool and “is snatching young girls away to their doom.” Judith , a teenage girl who recently went missing, has been found dead, though others who vanished before Judith have all returned unharmed. Gavin joins Kate Ames, a highly successful book illustrator specializing in the rendering of fairies, in a quest for answers that involve Communists, Kaiser Wilhelm, Lord Kitchener, Masons, anti-Semites, artists, trade unionists, and all manner of “bogies, bogles, boggarts, abbey lubbers and buttery spirits.” The elevated diction helps set the fairy tale mood. Obey confidently mixes folklore, history, and conspiracy theories. Even skeptics will have fun. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/04/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Crimson Lake Road

Victor Methos. Thomas & Mercer, $15.95 trade paper (380p) ISBN 978-1-5420-2094-7

In Edgar-finalist Methos’s nail-biting sequel to 2020’s A Killer’s Wife, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Yardley, in Clark County, Nev., agrees to review a case file for the FBI. The case involves two women who were abducted, beaten, and posed to resemble two of the four subjects in The Night Things, a series of paintings by Sarpong, a 1960s Kenyan painter. Both victims were found in vacant cabins on Crimson Lake Road, an isolated area outside Las Vegas. One victim, Kathy Pharr, died after being administered a lethal dose of a toxin. The other, Angela River, survived because her dose was too weak. Knowing that two more victims may exist, Jessica immerses herself in finding the killer. Then Kathy’s 14-year-old daughter disappears, leaving behind her phone and traces of blood. The odd friendship that develops between Angela and Jessica lends personal interest, as does Jessica’s relationships with her own genius daughter and her former husband, a serial killer on death row. Readers will be curious to see where Methos takes Jessica next. Agent: Ann Leslie Tuttle, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/04/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Scot on the Rocks

Catriona McPherson. Severn, $28.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-7278-9031-3

McPherson’s witty third Last Ditch mystery (after 2019’s Scot and Soda) has a line on every page to provoke a smile. Scottish ex-pat Lexie Campbell, a relationship counselor in Cuento, Calif., tries “not to give advice like ‘dump him,’ because it’s bad for repeat business,” and shares a tiny office with her friends Todd, who offers makeovers, and Kathi, a germaphobe who detoxes houses. In an effort to expand their services, the three decide to help the police look into the theft of Mama Cuento, a large bronze statue, from a public park. Meanwhile, Branston Lancer, Lexie’s ex-husband, comes to her with a problem. Branston’s wife, Brandee, has disappeared, and he has received a ransom note that’s eerily similar to the one left at the Mama Cuento scene. McPherson keeps the twists coming as other statues—all of women of color—in neighboring states start to disappear and the search for Brandee becomes ever more bizarrely sinister. Anyone who appreciates a good mystery told with nimble, sure-footed humor will have a ball. Agent: Lisa Moylett, CMM Literary (U.K.). (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/04/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Plague Court Murders

John Dickson Carr. Penzler, $25.95 (416p) ISBN 978-1-61316-196-8

Impossible crime master Carr (1906–1977) has rarely been better than in this mind-boggling mystery, first published in 1934. After James Halliday commits suicide, his elderly aunt becomes convinced that he was driven to it by the spirit of Louis Playge, a 17th-century hangman who died in the London house Halliday inhabited in Plague Court, and agrees to let psychic researcher Roger Darworth try to exorcise Playge’s spirit. Darworth arranges to be sealed inside a small building in the rear yard, with the sole door locked from the outside and double-barred from the inside. Despite those precautions and the absence of evidence that anyone approached the building, which was surrounded by pristine mud, he’s stabbed to death by a knife used by Playge that was recently stolen from a museum. Sir Henry Merrivale, making his series debut, helps the police investigate. The macabre setup is bolstered by the author’s superior gift at creating atmosphere. This entry in the American Mystery Classic series begs rereading to note how artfully Carr misdirects readers even while planting all the vital clues in plain sight. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/04/2020 | Details & Permalink

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