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A Christmas Railway Mystery

Edward Marston. Allison & Busby, $16.95 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-7490-2148-1

Insp. Robert Colbeck (aka the Railway Detective) has a gruesomely fascinating murder to solve in Marston’s uneven 15th entry in his Victorian mystery series (after The Circus Train Conspiracy). Shortly before Christmas 1860, a headless corpse is found in the Swindon erecting shop, “where the multiple parts of a locomotive were fitted carefully together,” of the Great Western Railway. Tattoos identify the body as that of Frank Rodman, a foundry worker. There’s no obvious motive for the killing, and even less of one for the removal of the head, which eventually reappears in horrific circumstances. The local police ask Scotland Yard to send Colbeck, a former barrister whose cases are all connected in some manner with the railways of the period. Colbeck methodically interviews those who might have wanted Rodman dead, but the main story line is diluted by an extraneous and contrived subplot involving the abduction of Colbeck’s superior that serves only to showcase the lead’s acumen. The solution to the murder doesn’t do justice to the intriguing puzzle. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Trouble with Twelfth Grave

Darynda Jones. St. Martin’s, $26.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-250-14755-4

In Jones’s exuberant 12th paranormal romance starring Albuquerque, N.Mex., PI and grim reaper Charley Davidson (after Eleventh Grave in Moonlight), Charley has a problem with her husband, Reyes Alexander Farrow, a deity who happens also to be Rey’azikeen, a rather more sinister god. Charley must somehow separate Reyes from Rey’azikeen or otherwise deal with this new amalgamation quickly, since the archangel Michael gives her a deadline—one day—to tame Reyes/Rey’azikeen before he sends an army of angels to attack the menacing hybrid. Meanwhile, Charley has more mundane matters to handle, such as the case of some scorched murder victims that Uncle Bob, her police detective relative, is investigating. She’s helped by a host of friends with unusual abilities, such as researcher Garrett Swopes, who’s died more than once but bounces back. Some literally sizzling erotic scenes between Charley and Reyes (or his alter ego) add to the fun. That Charley comes up with names for her breasts—Danger and Will Robinson—may strike some readers as juvenile, but that’s exactly the sort of silly detail that’s won Jones a legion of fans. Agent: Alexandra Machinist, ICM. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 11/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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What We Reckon

Eryk Pruitt. Polis, $15.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-943818-64-8

Drug-addled grifters Jack Jordon and Summer Ashton, as they call themselves in Pruitt’s zany, frightening, gritty third Southern noir novel (after 2015’s Hashtag), shed their names and assume new identities every time one of their drug deals goes horribly wrong. They head for Lufkin, Tex., where they plan on scoring big time with the kilo of cocaine Jack has secreted in a hollowed-out Bible. With each change of territory, they “leave their burdens behind” with the certainty that from now on everything will be “roses and sunshine.” Jack and Summer share a commitment to each other based on two simple rules: “cops are the bad guys and we never tell them shit” and “no hospitals... to go to the emergency room is to go to jail.” In Lufkin, the pair encounter drugged-out college boys, a well-intentioned guru, and a platoon of lost teenagers looking for certainty where there is none. The plot rambles, and what happens to the cocaine doesn’t matter much. Assured prose carries the reader along to the shattering and enigmatic ending, which will leave many wondering what really happened earlier in the book—and what will happen in the next installment. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 11/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Malice of Crows

Lila Bowen. Orbit, $25 (352p) ISBN 978-0-316-50234-4

Bowen doesn’t waste any time getting back into the thick of things in her exciting third adventure (after 2016’s Conspiracy of Ravens) to feature the indomitable Ranger Rhett Walker. Rhett is anxious to find and kill the necromancer Bernard Trevisan, who is inhabiting the body of a little girl named Meimei. He’s hoping for help from his captain, but, after tragedy strikes, he and his posse must defeat Trevisan on their own. Rowdy monster mayhem makes for a fast pace, and the gang faces down a horde of poisonous spiders and a vicious catlike creature, among others. But not all monsters are bad; they meet a gorgon that may hold the key to Trevisan’s demise, and Rhett himself and many of his crew are more than human. Rhett has spent three books coming to terms with being transgender and still struggles with his identity, but with the help of his diverse friends, he realizes that there’s a whole lot to love about himself. Bowen’s imaginative mix of wild West hijinks and supernatural frights leads to a fittingly dramatic finale. New readers can easily jump right in, and returning fans will keep cheering for Rhett and his buddies. Agent: Kate McKean, Morhaim Literary. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 11/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Royally Wed

Teri Wilson. Pocket Star, $4.99 mass market (304p) ISBN 978-1-5011-6051-6

Wilson’s third Royals contemporary (after Royally Romanov) features an unusual romance between a princess and a professional cello player. When appendicitis befalls famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma, talented young Asher Reed is hired as Ma’s replacement to play a cello solo at the royal wedding of Great Britain’s Princess Amelia and Duke Holden Beckett. Asher’s desire to prove himself as a cellist is complicated by his fiancée having left him for his ex-mentor, Jeremy March, who also happens to be the conductor of the orchestra Asher will perform with at the wedding. The hotels are all booked for the momentous royal wedding, so Asher is given a room at Buckingham Palace—a room that just happens to be next to that of Princess Amelia. As Amelia and Asher become better acquainted through witty banter and friendly flirting, he sees beyond her royal exterior to the woman underneath. She can’t help but blossom in Asher’s presence because his allure and friendship are unlike any she has known, and she must decide whether it is more important to be a dutiful princess and dispel her “Princess Naughty” moniker or to follow her heart. Romantic angst and sizzling sensuality are at the heart of this page-turner. Agent: Elizabeth Winick Rubinstein, McIntosh & Otis. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Threshold of Eternity

John Brunner and Damien Broderick. Phoenix Pick, $14.99 trade paper (236p) ISBN 978-1-61242-369-2

Broderick (Time Considered as a Series of Thermite Burns in No Particular Order) attempts to update an early novel by the late, great Brunner (1934–1995, author of Stand on Zanzibar) in this uneven story of interstellar war and time travel. Brunner’s novel was originally serialized in New Worlds magazine in 1957, when the author was 23 year old. Even after a face-lift, the novel reveals its pre–new wave origins with thin characters, awkward dialogue, and unabashed pulp action. In the 41st century, human colonists are under attack by “the Enemy,” genocidal alien villains. “With a body full of seething youthful juices,” 25-year-old Artesha Wong leads the local planetary defenses, first as a human, later as a machine-based intelligence. Meanwhile, unpredictable time surges—possibly caused by a mysterious alien called the Being—are unleashing chaos throughout history. Korean War vet “Red” Hawkins and Chantal Vareze, a French doctor from 2037, join Artesha in the fight. Short chapters keep the action rocketing along. Broderick’s rewrite highlights Brunner’s early promise as a writer synonymous with big ideas and the culture shock of political, technological, and social change. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Always You

Denise Grover Swank. Forever, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-4555-3981-9

The last member of Swank’s Bachelor Brotherhood goes down without a fight in a parenting-oriented second chance love story that leans heavily toward the insipid. Matt Osborn is raising his five-year-old nephew, Ethan, and coaching the peewee soccer team while Ethan’s mother is in medical school. He’s surprised to discover that Ethan’s new best friend, Toby, is the son of Anna Robins, who refused Matt’s marriage proposal years earlier. Matt and Anna feel an instant reconnection, but they tread carefully, as Anna is only visiting from London for a few weeks to help her convalescing father. She’s prevented from making a more permanent move by her custody agreement with her absent ex-husband. Their story is full of warmth and humor, but it lacks sexual tension, and the series emphasis on bachelors falls down when no one in the cast expresses significant support for the idea of ongoing singlehood. Series fans may be disappointed. Agent: Jim McCarthy, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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His Secret Son

Brenda Jackson. Harlequin Desire, $5.25 mass market (224p) ISBN 978-0-373-83884-4

At the start of this tepid addition to Jackson’s Westmoreland series (after The Rancher Returns), American artist Bristol Lockett learns that the father of her unborn child, with whom she’d had a three-day affair while visiting Paris months earlier, has been killed while on a mission. Fortunately, Navy SEAL Laramie Cooper was only captured, not killed, and after 11 months he’s rescued and brought to New York, where he and Bristol reunite. When Bristol introduces him to his now two-year-old son, Laramie falls easily into fatherhood despite having no idea the child existed. He becomes determined to play an active part in his son’s life—which means he’ll also see a lot of Bristol. The young boy (who has great speech skills for his age) embraces his father, without Bristol having to do any real explaining. Readers will applaud the couple’s good parenting skills, but Laramie’s wishy-washy behavior is as uninspiring as the colorless dialogue. The premise of this story is on the mark, but the delivery falls short. Agent: Pattie Steele-Perkins, Steele-Perkins Literary. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Kill All Angels

Robert Brockway. Tor, $29.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-7653-7970-2

In the visceral conclusion to the Vicious Circle trilogy (following 2016’s The Empty Ones), punk rocker Carey and his companions battle so-called angels—extradimensional parasites capable of transforming humans into immortal monsters, who in turn conspire to create more angels—in a seemingly ceaseless struggle stretching across the decades. The story unfolds across two time periods simultaneously. In mid-1980s Los Angeles, Carey hits rock bottom after losing his best friend, only to make an unlikely ally who motivates him to fight ever harder against the angels. In 2013, Carey’s new friend, stuntwoman Kaitlyn, discovers the true nature of the angels and the universe itself, leading to a mind-blowing new level of complexity in the conflict. As the two stories interweave, it all comes to one final desperate attempt to save all of reality, but the cost may be Carey’s humanity. Appropriately for a science fiction tale with punk-rock overtones, this story is raw, reckless, and grimy. Carey’s alcohol-fueled desperation and Kaitlyn’s worldly optimism work well together, and the narrative barrels towards a conclusion that suits the book’s bizarre late-night movie feel. Agent: Sam Morgan, JABberwocky Literary. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Highland Guardian: Lords of the Highlands, Book 3

Amy Jarecki. Forever, $7.99 mass market (368p) ISBN 978-1-4555-9788-8

In Jarecki’s zingy third 18th-century Lords of the Highlands installment (after The Highland Commander), an English heiress falls hard for her new guardian, a Scottish earl. Capt. Reid MacKenzie, Earl of Seaforth, fulfills the last wishes of Nicholas Kennet, a passenger on his ship who died when the ship was wrecked by cannonball fire: with his dying breath, Kennet asked Reid to take care of his young daughter. But Reid is stunned when he learns that Kennet’s daughter, Audrey, is 19 years old, and she is less than thrilled that Reid is her new guardian. As Reid begins to search for suitors for Audrey, the mutual attraction between them builds, but Reid believes that it would be irresponsible of him to act on it. When Reid, his men, and Audrey must travel swiftly to Scotland to elude Wagner Tupps, an evil man claiming to be the heir to Kennet’s estate, and Reid’s longtime enemy Captain Fry, Audrey and Reid spend more time alone together, and passion sizzles. Audrey begins to feel she must convince Reid that there is a future for them. Magnetic, sexy romance is at the heart of this novel, made complete with a cast of richly depicted characters, authentic historical detail, and a fast-moving plot. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/17/2017 | Details & Permalink

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