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Lady Takes the Case

Eliza Casey. Berkley Prime Crime, $16 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-9848-0388-7

Set in 1912, the pseudonymous Casey’s solid first novel and series launch focuses on the plight of Lord and Lady Avebury, who are near financial ruin: the only way to save their beloved Yorkshire estate, Danby Hall, is for their shy, botanist son, Patrick, to marry Annabel Clarke, an American heiress. The Countess of Avebury invites Annabel and a host of distinguished guests to a grand weeklong event, which includes a garden party, archery, and croquet, and a masquerade ball to help seal the engagement. During a formal dinner, the fatal poisoning of a celebrated explorer upsets everyone at Danby Hall and threatens Patrick’s marriage prospects. Annabel’s American maid, Jane Hughes, befriends Lady Cecelia Bates, Patrick’s feisty 19-year-old sister, and together, with the help of Jane’s cat, Jack, they set out to solve the murder. Jack plays a key role in the mystery’s resolution. Casey portrays an appealing aristocratic world, though some readers will struggle to keep track of the large cast of lords and ladies. Downton Abbey fans will look forward to the sequel. Agent: Gail Fortune, Talbot Fortune Agency. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Dead Blow: A Horseshoer Mystery

Lisa Preston. Arcade CrimeWise, $25.99 (264p) ISBN 978-1-5107-4911-5

In Preston’s enjoyable sequel to 2018’s The Clincher, Rainy Dale, the intrepid horseshoer of Cowdry, Ore., takes on a new client, rancher Donna Chevigny, whose husband, Cameron, died the previous year in a tractor accident. Rainy welcomes the job as a chance to help someone hard-pressed to manage a cattle ranch all on her own. Everything changes, though, when Donna’s dog finds a glove with a human hand in it. The hand belongs to Arielle Blake, a young woman who went missing about the same time Cameron died. Are the two deaths related? Was Donna involved with either death? What about Arielle’s fiancé? Rainy becomes mired in clues, suspects, and questions, with no answers in sight. Rainy, a strong, down-home, likable sleuth, has just the right amount of attitude to give her some gumption. The horseshoeing jargon and details of the tools of the trade may be more than some readers care to know, but Preston delivers a steady ride right up to the satisfying ending. Hopefully, Rainy will be back soon. Agent: Mark Gottlieb, Trident Media Group. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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A Christmas Gathering

Anne Perry. Ballantine, $20 (208p) ISBN 978-0-525621-01-0

Set in Victorian England, bestseller Perry’s 17th Christmas mystery (after 2018’s A Christmas Revelation) is less rewarding than others in the series. Victor Narraway, from the author’s Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series, who has stepped down as the head of Special Branch, travels with his wife from London to the country estate of the Cavendishes, where they are to spend Christmas. Narraway is on a secret mission to take custody of “submarine blueprints, discreetly doctored,” so as to be unusable in actually developing such a vessel. Narraway is to pass the fakes on through British spy networks to Germany, in order to out a suspected traitor in the intelligence services. Twenty years earlier, Narraway had a similar assignment in Normandy that ended with the death of a young female Special Branch agent. History seems to repeat itself when someone attacks Iris Watson-Watt, a fellow guest at Cavendish Manor, after she passes the blueprints to him, leading Narraway to play sleuth to identify her assailant. An obvious villain disappoints. This is an unmemorable effort by a prolific author who is usually better. Agent: Donald Maass, Donald Maass Literary. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Galway Girl: A Jack Taylor Novel

Ken Bruen. Mysterious, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-0-8021-4793-6

In Bruen’s superior 15th Jack Taylor novel (after 2018’s In the Galway Silence), killers stalk PI Taylor, once a member of the Garda, through Galway. Jericho, a femme fatale for whom “everyone was the enemy,” cracks the whip on her fellow psychos as they roam the city gunning down members of the Garda to grab Jack’s attention. Soon enough it gets personal with the fatal stabbing of a nun known to Taylor. Abrupt violence and plot twists keep the action popping, as Bruen plays his story like a series of brilliant improvisational jazz solos. Cultural references punctuate the narrative—for example, the first paragraph from Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon is dropped in as a free-form poem. For the finale, Bruen brings in a new character, the capable and deadly Keefer, once a roadie for the Rolling Stones, thereby balancing the odds so that Jack might live to drink Jameson another day. Bruen reinforces his place as the master of Irish noir. Agent: Lukas Ortiz, Philip G. Spitzer Literary Agency. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/06/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Second Sleep

Robert Harris. Knopf, $26.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-525-65669-2

Thriller Award–winner Harris (Munich) does a masterly job playing with readers’ expectations in this mystery set in 15th-century England. Fr. Christopher Fairfax has been dispatched by his bishop to Wessex to officiate at the funeral of Fr. Thomas Lacy, a parish priest who died in a fall. The assignment seems routine enough, but on reaching the town of Addicott St. George, he finds unexpected questions to answer. When he visits Lacy’s library, he learns that the man he’s about to inter in consecrated ground possessed numerous heretical volumes relating to an antiquarian society proscribed by the church. Eager to keep things uncomplicated, Fairfax proceeds with the funeral service as if he’d never seen the books, only to have the rites disrupted by an attendee who yells that Lacy’s death was not the result of “evil chance.” When foul weather delays Fairfax’s departure, he finds even more oddities, including the disappearance of the church register and an unsettling letter by a Cambridge professor found in a mass grave, which supports his suspicion that Lacy’s interest in the past was more than innocent scholarly curiosity. Few readers will pick up on the fairly planted clues. This is a clever complement to Harris’s debut mystery, Fatherland. 75,000-copy announced first printing. Agent: Michael Carlisle, Inkwell Management. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 08/30/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Furious Way

Aaron Philip Clark. Shotgun Honey, $12.95 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-64396-062-3

Clark (The Science of Paul) provides red meat for noir fans with this razor-edged tale of revenge that pulls no punches. Twenty-year-old Lucy Ramos leads a reclusive existence, obsessed with punishing the man she holds responsible for her mother’s murder. Her quarry is L.A. assistant district attorney Victor Soto, and after many years of dreaming of his death, Lucy hits upon a radical plan. She seeks out Tito Garza, the mob contract killer known as the Dog of San Pedro for his use of canines to attack his victims. Against the odds, Lucy persuades Garza to train her to be a killer, after she demonstrates her fearlessness by trying to retrieve his kidnapped Chihuahua from some young thugs. She moves in with him, and gets her first taste of blood when Garza enlists her to get payback for the death of his pet. As in the best hard-boiled fiction, Lucy’s continued efforts to get to Soto only take her further on a path from which there is no return. Those seeking happy endings should look elsewhere. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 08/30/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Murder of Harriet Monckton

Elizabeth Haynes. Myriad, $16.95 trade paper (448p) ISBN 978-1-9124080-4-7

Actual documents from Britain’s National Archives concerning inquests into the November 1843 demise of Harriet Monckton, an unmarried, secretly pregnant 23-year-old teacher, serve as the springboard for this rich psychological crime novel from Haynes (Never Alone). The author weaves together snippets of testimony from the official investigation in Bromley, Kent, with fictionalized accounts from several of the key figures in Harriet’s life—and suspects in her death—among them the charismatic but deeply flawed Rev. George Verrall; fellow schoolmarm and discreetly infatuated best friend Frances Williams; former lover Richard Field; and handsome Thomas Churcher, the kindhearted cobbler too shy to declare his love. Readers also hear from Harriet herself, via a (fictional) 120-page diary. Though this suspenseful account of a case that remained unsolved in real life—unlike the novel—feels overlong, Haynes vividly brings to life an intellectually curious, vibrant young woman ill-suited to the strictures of Victorian village life. Historical mystery fans will be rewarded. Agent: Annette Green, Annette Green Authors’ Agency (U.K.). (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/30/2019 | Details & Permalink

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One Night Gone

Tara Laskowski. Graydon, $16.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-1-52583219-2

Laskowski’s first novel (after Bystanders, a short story collection), an evocative and beautifully crafted tale of suspense, features a girl and a woman, separated by 30 years, who each narrate their entwining stories. In 1985 in Opal Beach, N.J., teenager Maureen Haddaway: “Vanished into the summer. And no one cared.” In 2015, 40-year-old Allison Simpson has been fired as a TV meteorologist in Philadelphia following the posting of her public rant about her philandering ex-husband on YouTube. Depressed and humiliated, she needs to get away and agrees to house-sit in Opal Beach, where she forms a friendship with the manager of a local coffee shop, who still mourns the loss of Maureen. The two begin a quest to discover what really happened to the bright, troubled teen. The voices of the two narrators are vibrant, as are the descriptions of Opal Beach. At the heart of this intriguing thriller lies a disturbing awareness of society’s inclination to view women as disposable. Laskowski is off to a fine start. Agent: Michelle Richter, Foreword Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/30/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Kennedy Moment

Peter Adamson. Myriad, $16.95 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-9955900-5-2

At the start of this slow-moving, if high-minded, political thriller from Adamson (The Tuscan Master), Oxford don Stephen Walsh invites a few college chums back to their alma mater for an informal 20th reunion in October 1980. Stephen calculates that the four members of the old gang who accept will just happen to be there to witness his anticipated promotion to Regius Professor. Just like Stephen’s appointment, however, little goes according to plan when his old friends join him for what begins as a bittersweet stroll down memory lane but morphs into a potentially life-shattering conspiracy. The impetus for the audacious plot comes from two of the group—Hélène Hevré, a Canadian physician, and American Mike Lowell, a World Health Organization epidemiologist—who have devoted their lives to public health but become bitter watching five million children a year die from diseases that could have been prevented with vaccines costing pennies. Like his characters, former UNICEF executive Adamson clearly has his heart in the right place, but too often his elegant pages have all the urgency of a boozy late-night bull session. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/30/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Agent Running in the Field

John le Carré. Viking, $29 (272p) ISBN 978-1-9848-7887-8

Bestseller le Carré’s first spy thriller to focus on the Trump era disappoints. Nat, a 25-year veteran of MI6, is afraid that he’s about to be put out to pasture. Instead, he’s offered the opportunity to take over the management of a derelict London intelligence substation, the Haven, “a dumping ground for resettled defectors of nil value and fifth-rate informants on the skids.” Nat accepts, and advocates for a new subordinate’s covert op aimed at a Ukranian oligarch code-named Orson, who has close links to “pro-Putin elements in the Ukranian Government.” The straightforward operation against Orson ends up becoming complicated and includes an obligatory mole hunt. Meanwhile, Nat befriends Ed Shannon, an agent for another branch of British intelligence, who reveals himself to be a strident opponent of Britain’s leaving the E.U. and a believer that Trump is leading the U.S. toward fascism. Le Carré (A Legacy of Spies) telegraphs the book’s twist early on, and Nat is colorless compared with Magnus Pym and the author’s other nuanced leads. This is a missed opportunity. Agent: Jonny Geller, Curtis Brown. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/30/2019 | Details & Permalink

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