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Holding Smoke

Steph Post. Polis, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-1-947993-88-4

The terrific conclusion to Post’s Florida crime trilogy (after 2017’s Walk in the Fire) finds Judah Cannon released from jail five months after a dramatic gunfight that left an ATF agent and a competing drug runner among the dead. As Cannon emerges ready to assume the lead of his family’s underworld enterprises, his longtime love, Ramey Barrow, must decide whether she’s ready to follow him down an increasingly violent, criminal path. Meanwhile, Judah’s brother, Levi, has made a rash move that has put the Cannon clan in debt to crime boss Sukey Lewis. Desperate to repay the debt and avoid an unnecessary war, Judah agrees to participate in an ill-advised scheme to steal and ransom a thoroughbred horse. In the background is Sister Tulah Atwell, the psychotic Pentecostal preacher responsible for Judah’s father’s death. Atwell has a new lucrative online scam selling worthless Florida swampland and has plans to crush the Cannon clan for good. At the heart of this memorable cast is Brother Felton, Sister Tulah’s snake-obsessed nephew, who returns after disappearing into the swamps a changed man with a new vision. A born storyteller, Post expertly weaves these disparate plot strands into a wholly satisfying if inevitable ending. Agent: Josh Getzler, HSG Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 01/31/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Last Odyssey

James Rollins. Morrow, $28.99 (464p) ISBN 978-0-06-289289-8

Bestseller Rollins’s excellent 15th Sigma Force novel (after 2018’s Crucible) marries nail-biting action with a highly imaginative premise. Elena Cargill, an archaeologist and paleoanthropologist, rushes to Greenland at the behest of a friend, Maria Crandall, who’s a member of Sigma, a U.S. government organization that retrains gifted soldiers in various scientific disciplines. Crandall has learned of an amazing find beneath a giant iceberg—an Arab oceanic merchant vessel, apparently shipwrecked in the ninth century. Cargill and two colleagues visit the ship, in which they discover such wonders as a three-dimensional gold map embedded with an astrolabe, before coming under attack from a group of Middle Easterners, who take Cargill hostage. Crandall and other Sigma Force members later embark on a mission to save Cargill and understand the significance of the vessel, which may be connected with the historical basis for Homer’s Odyssey and a lost nation that destroyed three major civilizations between 1100 BCE and 900 BCE. Rollins sprinkles in enough facts and details to make what could have been an over-the-top premise plausible. This is a thoughtful, nonstop thrill ride that’s an exemplar of an escapist page-turner. Author tour. Agents: Russ Galen, Scovil Galen Ghosh Literary Agency; and Danny Baror, Baror International. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/31/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Payback: A Brooks/Lotello Thriller

Ronald S. Barak. Gander, $16.99 ISBN 978-1-7327204-7-3

In Barak’s intriguing third mystery featuring retired federal judge Cyrus Brooks and homicide investigator Frank Lotello (after 2018’s The Puppet Master), Cyrus’s wife, Eloise, hopes to dampen her husband’s passion for engaging in hazardous investigations with Frank by encouraging his interest in novel writing instead. Eloise gets him to agree to attend Thriller Jubilee, a weeklong writers’ conference being held on an island off the coast of Spain, hosted by the International Thrillers Organization. Eloise, Frank, and Frank’s wife accompany Cyrus to the event. Chapters told from the perspective of an unidentified person, whose first shared thoughts are homicidal, raise the tension. Those intentions appear to have implications after several people slated to speak at TITO disappear. Adding depth are the debates among TITO’s leaders about the ethical obligation to warn the conference attendees about a potential killer in their midst. Fans of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None may appreciate this suspenseful homage. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 01/31/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Problem Child: A Jane Doe Thriller

Victoria Helen Stone. Lake Union, $14.95 trade paper (266p) ISBN 978-1-5420-1439-7

Stone’s outstanding sequel to 2018’s Jane Doe finds Minneapolis attorney Jane, a sociopathic antihero, taking pleasure in destroying the career of a legal colleague who stole credit for her work; she’s also settled in a steady relationship with her sweet boyfriend, Luke. When Luke suggests they move in together, Jane is so upset she decides to leave town. The news that her 16-year-old niece, Kayla Stringer, “a spooky, cold-blooded bitch” like Jane herself, has disappeared provides her with the pretext to go to Oklahoma, where she first visits her brother, Kayla’s father, who’s indifferent to his daughter’s fate. In her search for the missing teen, she behaves in various socially unacceptable ways. Stone flips the murderous, dead-inside sociopath stereotype on its head with a successful narrator, who, though she doesn’t care for others, is practical and self-aware, showing decadent, almost inappropriate delight, for example, in delicious food. Readers will find vicarious joy in Jane’s petty vengeances and unabashed meanness to anyone who tries to take advantage of her. Stone turns some very dark material into an upbeat tale. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/31/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Girl Can’t Help It: A Krista Larson Mystery

Max Allan Collins. Thomas & Mercer, $15.95 trade paper (282p) ISBN 978-1-5420-4253-6

When Hot Rod and the Pistons, an ’80s rock cover band, learn they will be inducted into the Iowa Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame in MWA Grand Master Collins’s unimpressive sequel to 2019’s Girl Most Likely, a reunion concert is scheduled in Galena, Ill. The Pistons reunion provides an old follower a chance to exact revenge for something terrible the band did to her back in 1984—something a Piston captured on film. Angel Baby, as she was nicknamed back in the day, parties with one of the band members after the show and poisons him with an untraceable drug. She then steals his copy of the tape and makes the death look like a suicide. But as Angel Baby continues to poison the band members one by one, Galena police chief Krista Larson becomes suspicious and decides to enlist the aid of her retired police detective father, who used to be the band’s roadie. Though the killings are staged skillfully enough, the dull characters (including Krista), endless references to rock history, and bland prose combine to flatline the story. By the time the action picks up late in the book, readers will have already tuned out. Collins’s fans can take a pass on this one. Agent: Dominick Abel, Dominick Abel Literary. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/31/2020 | Details & Permalink

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A Reasonable Doubt

Phillip Margolin. Minotaur, $27.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-11754-0

In the teasing prologue of bestseller Margolin’s convoluted third novel featuring attorney Robin Lockwood (after 2019’s The Perfect Alibi), Lockwood attends the debut of her magician client Robert Chesterfield’s “greatest illusion,” the Chamber of Death, which involves a locked coffin, at a Portland, Ore., theater. Three years earlier, Lockwood attended a dress rehearsal of the act, which “ended in a truly bizarre manner,” at Chesterfield’s seaside manor. This time, things also don’t go as planned, as screams emerging from the coffin are followed by the discovery of a male corpse, leaving Robin to wonder how murder was committed before 3,000 witnesses. Flash back to 2017, when Chesterfield seeks to hire her to patent the Chamber of Death, which she eventually agrees to do, despite having no experience with intellectual property. Another flashback, to 1997, shows that Lockwood was once suspected of a fatal poisoning. By the time the action returns to the present, the impact of the opening has been greatly diluted. Readers interested in whodunits set in the world of magic would be better served by Clayton Rawson’s classic Merlini novels. 100,000-copy announced first printing. Agent: Jennifer Weltz, Jean V. Naggar Literary. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/31/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Blame the Dead

Ed Ruggero. Forge, $27.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-250-31274-7

At the start of this exceptional WWII mystery and series launch from Ruggero (The Academy), Lt. Eddie Harkins, an MP who was once a Philadelphia beat cop, comes across a murder scene near Palermo, Sicily. In the confusion of a German air raid at dawn that August 1943 morning, someone shot Capt. Meyers Stephenson, a surgeon, in the back of the head at close range. Harkins, who gets assigned to oversee the murder investigation, soon learns that Stephenson had plenty of enemies in the army hospital where he’d been working, including members of the nursing staff whom he routinely sexually harassed. Stephenson was also suspected of killing a nurse who supposedly choked to death on her own vomit after getting drunk with him. Harkins’s determination to find justice for the dead man and expose the horrific treatment of the nurses places him at odds with the hospital’s commander. Ruggero plays fair with his readers and makes the carrying out of a homicide inquiry in wartime both exciting and plausible. Fans of James Benn and Owen Parry will be pleased. Agent: Matt Bialer, Sanford J. Greenburger Assoc. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/31/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Crash

David Hagberg and Lawrence Light. Forge, $27.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-24989-0

This financial thriller from bestseller Hagberg (the Kirk McGarvey series) and financial journalist Light, a sometimes uneasy mix of Wall Street business and hard core action, presents a frightening doomsday scenario. Cassy Levin works in cybersecurity at the Manhattan headquarters of Burnham Pike, the nation’s premier investment bank, and has discovered a computer worm that she believes will destroy BP’s system and then spread to trading floors worldwide. Meanwhile, top executives at BP, who introduced the worm, and Spencer Nast, the American president’s White House chief adviser on economic affairs, are plotting to crash the world economy, starting with the New York Stock Exchange, in order to enrich themselves. Cassy, who can’t get anyone at BP to listen to her, confides in her fiancé, former Navy SEAL Ben Whalen, shortly before the bad guys kidnap her. Ben’s efforts to rescue Cassy ratchet up the suspense. Readers should be prepared for some mini-economics lessons, including an afterword on the “debt bomb” by Light. The novel’s awkward structure undercuts its sobering message. Agent: Susan Gleason, Susan Gleason Literary. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/31/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Stone Cross

Marc Cameron. Kensington, $26 (448p) ISBN 978-1-4967-2732-9

Bestseller Cameron’s intricate, multilayered sequel to 2019’s Open Carry finds Supervisory Deputy U.S. Marshal Arliss Cutter and Lola Teariki, his partner on the Alaska Fugitive Task Force, reluctantly escorting a federal judge, who has received a death threat, to the rural village of Stone Cross for the judge’s protection. What should have been a routine, if not easy, assignment takes a chilling turn when they learn at Stone Cross that a local couple have gone missing and their handyman murdered. Cut off from any immediate help due to inclement weather, Cutter and Lola must either brave freezing snow and ice to go after a killer and probable kidnapper or stay warm in the small town and ensure the judge’s safety. Cameron populates his suspenseful tale, which builds to a satisfying, if violent, conclusion, with fully realized characters, each with their own believable backstory. His understanding of the ins and outs of small Alaskan communities makes for a rich sense of time and place. Readers can only hope they won’t have long to wait for Cutter’s third outing. Agent: Robin Rue, Writers House. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/31/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Split

Sharon Bolton. Minotaur, $27.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-30005-8

British glaciologist Felicity Lloyd, the protagonist of this tightly plotted spellbinder from Mary Higgins Clark Award–winner Bolton (The Craftsman), has come to South Georgia, a remote island off Antarctica, to escape her husband, Freddie, who has been pursuing her since leaving prison, where he’d been serving time for murder. Flash back nine months to Cambridge, England, where Felicity is seeing therapist Joe Grant, who’s reeling from a divorce and a recent violent attack by a homeless woman. Joe strives to piece together the exact nature of Felicity’s relationship with the imprisoned Freddie. Frightening notes left in her desk, break-ins at her home, and fugue states with disastrous consequences for Felicity lead Joe to question his patient’s sanity. Eventually, Joe sets out for South Georgia to help Felicity, motivated in large part by the strong feelings he’s developed for her. Employing multiple narratives and complex character histories, Bolton keeps the reader guessing to the end. Psychological thriller fans will be satisfied. Agent: Anne-Marie Doulton, Ampersand Agency (U.K.). (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/31/2020 | Details & Permalink

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