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Dangerous Days

Leo Kanaris. Dedalus, $15.99 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-910213-71-1

In Kanaris’s appealing third novel featuring Greek PI George Zafiris (after 2017’s Blood & Gold), George agrees to help Olli Papaspirou, to whom he’s related by marriage, recover a valuable diamond necklace, a gift from Olli’s boyfriend, stolen from her parents’ home. George is quickly able to identify the burglars responsible: the Flying Zamirs, Albanians who were once circus acrobats, and begins negotiating for the necklace’s return directly with Flamur Zamir. The deal hits a snag, but the relationship with the thieves that the gumshoe establishes proves valuable in connection with a more serious case. Lawyer Pavlos Lazaridis, a friend of George’s contact on the force, Colonel Sotiriou, who’s head of the Athens Police Violent Crimes Unit, has been gunned down in his office. The colonel suspects a cover-up is in the works after the justice minister sealed off the crime scene on a bogus pretext, preventing a genuine investigation, and wants the Zamirs to break in and look for compromising documents. George is a winning lead, well-served by an intelligent plot. Kanaris nicely mixes humor and mystery. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 09/27/2019 | Details & Permalink

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A Dance of Cranes

Steve Burrows. Point Blank, $14.95 trade paper (376p) ISBN 978-1-78607-577-2

Canadian author Burrows’s sixth Birder Murder mystery (after 2018’s A Tiding of Magpies) smoothly integrates bird conservation concerns with a complex mystery plot. Det. Chief Insp. Dominic Jejeune has returned home to Ontario after a stint working in Saltmarsh, England, where his girlfriend, Lindy Hey, was the target of a psycho. Dominic, who has ended his relationship with Lindy, is confident the psycho is no longer a threat to her. He gets worried about another loved one when he learns that his brother, Damian, has gone missing in a remote area of Wood Buffalo National Park. Damian was studying whooping crane migration with a colleague, Annie Prior, when both of their communications equipment went silent simultaneously. Though the park officials are unconcerned, Dominic rushes to the scene, unaware that Annie is already dead. Burrows keeps readers guessing about what’s going on even as he introduces another plotline—Dominic’s former colleagues in the Saltmarsh PD are investigating the murder of music writer Wattis Wright, a crime with a particularly clever solution. Readers who like their whodunits with an ecological tinge will be happy. Agent: Bruce Westwood, Westwood Creative Artists. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 09/27/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Man in the White Linen Suit: A Stewart Hoag Mystery

David Handler. Morrow, $15.99 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-0-06-286330-0

Set in 1993, Edgar-winner Handler’s intricately plotted 11th Stewart Hoag mystery (after 2018’s The Man Who Couldn’t Miss) opens with a meeting between Hoagy, whose first—and only—novel was a huge success (though he is now reduced to ghosting celebrity memoirs), and Sylvia James, the editor-in-chief of a Manhattan publishing house, at the Algonquin Hotel. Sylvia, who’s “the single most reviled woman in all of publishing,” offers a big advance for Hoagy’s second novel in exchange for him finding Tommy O’Brien, the longtime research assistant of her father, Addison James, “the wealthiest author in America.” Tommy, the uncredited author of Addison’s last two bestsellers, has disappeared with the manuscript of Addison’s latest historical saga. Hoagy, who’s Tommy’s friend, agrees to look for Tommy and try to persuade him to return the manuscript. When things take a deadly turn, Hoagy joins forces with New York homicide detective Romaine Very to unravel a series of baffling murders. References to celebrities of the day—Hoagy spots Gloria Steinem at the Algonquin—help bring the period to life. Hoagy’s fresh narrative voice is a pleasure to read. Agent: Dominick Abel, Dominick Abel Literary Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 09/27/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Last Séance: Tales of the Supernatural

Agatha Christie. Morrow, $16.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-295914-0

The 20 selections in this unremarkable collection of Christie tales with a supernatural angle offer minimal scares. Notwithstanding the subtitle, several are simply baffling mysteries with a rational explanation, as the presence of Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple signals. Those stories, such as the Marple impossible murder puzzle, “The Idol House of Astarte,” in which a man is stabbed to death by an unseen assailant in the presence of a woman garbed as a priestess, are clever but won’t surprise genre veterans. In the Poirot case, “The Dream,” the detective is consulted by an eccentric millionaire who reports recurring dreams of shooting himself at exactly 3:28 a.m., but even Christie fans are unlikely to consider it a classic. Other tales feature uninspired variations on overworked tropes such as haunted houses, werewolves, and a demonic doll. Though Christie’s novels enable her to build suspense by developing multiple explanations for the mysteries they pose, the surprise reveals of these short works are often telegraphed early on. This volume shows why Christie’s reputation is based on her detective fiction, not ghost stories. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/27/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Skeleton Stuffs a Stocking

Leigh Perry. Diversion, $16 trade paper (280p) ISBN 978-1-63576-647-9

Mirth and murder blend beautifully in Perry’s sixth whodunit featuring Sid, a skeleton who can move around, talk, and search the internet for clues (after 2018’s The Skeleton Makes a Friend). Georgia Thackery, who has known Sid since she was a child, is spending a year as an adjunct English professor at New England’s Bostock College. She enlists Sid’s help after a femur is uncovered by her dog, which leads to the discovery of the skeleton of an unidentified woman who was probably strangled about a decade earlier. Despite a paucity of clues, Georgia catches a break when a homeless colleague , Charles Peyton, reveals that he believes the victim to be a person named Rose, with whom he became involved before she disappeared. Charles is sure that the remains found near the site of the abandoned house where he and Rose used to squat are hers. In their investigation, Georgia and Sid seek Rose’s true identity and possible motives for her killing. Perry tosses in helicopter parents and academic politics en route to a satisfying denouement. Cozy fans who enjoy their mysteries leavened with humor will find their funny bones tickled. Agent: Lisa Rodgers, JABberwocky Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/27/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Guardians

John Grisham. Doubleday, $29.95 (384p) ISBN 978-0-385-54418-4

A lack of nuance mars this novel from bestseller Grisham (The Reckoning), which centers on idealistic attorneys fighting wrongful convictions. Cullen Post, who became a Lutheran minister after burning out as a public defender, is working as a lawyer again in Savannah, Ga., where he runs Guardian Ministries, which helps convicts whose claims of innocence he and his three colleagues, including a man he helped free from incarceration, deem worth investigating. In the first chapter, Duke Russell is minutes away from execution when Post’s request for a stay is granted, giving him time to pursue his belief that Duke wasn’t in fact guilty of raping and murdering a woman 11 years earlier. Guardian Ministries is also seeking to prove that Quincy Miller is innocent of the shotgun murder of his former attorney, Keith Russo, in Seabrook, Fla., and deserves his freedom. Post and his allies diligently attack the flimsy forensic and eyewitness evidence used to convict Miller. A conspiracy subplot related to one of Post’s cases, involving especially sadistic bad guys and an international angle, feels out of place. Readers who like their legal thrillers dosed with ethical ambiguities should look elsewhere. Agent: David Gernert, Gernert Company. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/27/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Impossible Children

Robert Yune. Sarabande, $16.95 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-946448-40-8

The 18 stories in Yune’s debut provide a sharp, fresh perspective on the Korean-American experience. In “Princeton,” a Korean father new to America temporarily leaves his two young children, Jason and Tommy, in the care of a well-to-do New Jersey doctor and his wife, whose prize possession, an Anasazi bowl, becomes inexplicably coveted by one of the boys. In “Clear Blue Michigan Sky,” a college dropout working in an automobile scrap yard befriends a female coworker who has a radical approach to career guidance. Jason and Tommy return in “Stop Hitting Yourself” as estranged adults who hit the road together and accidentally become involved with a group of New England Revolutionary War reenactors. Three of the stories revolve around Jennifer Moon, a young woman who has rebelled against her family, especially her father, Edward Moon, a tech tycoon whose imposing presence is felt elsewhere in the collection. And “The Impossible Daughter” is an extravagant faux fable about a princess whose emperor father auditions her suitors—with an exacting toll for those who don’t make the cut. The author has a playful imagination, which he exhibits to fabulist effect in these stories that showcase his original takes on Korean immigrant assimilation. This is a sly, entertaining debut. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 09/27/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Doll Factory

Elizabeth MacNeal. Atria, $27 (368p) ISBN 978-1-982106-76-8

MacNeal’s lively debut finds a fresh way to dramatize the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood of revolutionary, mid-19th-century British painters. In addition to William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, MacNeal creates a fictitious PRB member, Louis Frost, who meets Iris Whittle, the heroine, a painter of miniature faces at Mrs. Salter’s Doll Emporium. Dismissed for being a woman, Iris longs to be seen as a real painter, and when she meets Frost, he proposes a deal: if she poses for him, he will give her art lessons. At the same time, Iris also comes to the attention of Silas Reed, a taxidermist who sells stuffed animals to artists as props for their paintings. Unbeknownst to Iris, he stalks her with the intention of possessing her like an object . Louis turns out to be a generous mentor and Iris ends up falling for him. Only Albie, a light-fingered street urchin befriended by Iris, is aware of how much danger she is in from the obsessed Silas. Told against the backdrop of the Great Exposition at the Crystal Palace and its industrial wonders, MacNeal’s consistently enjoyable novel reads like an art history lecture co-delivered by Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens and read from a revisionist feminist script. This debut is a blast; it enticingly vacillates between a realistic depiction of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’s London and lurid Victorian drama. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 09/27/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Today We Go Home

Kelli Estes. Sourcebooks Landmark, $15.99 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-4926-6418-5

Estes (The Girl Who Wrote in Silk) delivers a decent dual-narrative novel about the women who’ve served in America’s armed forces, both those who did so in disguise historically and those who serve today. Captain Larkin Bennet has returned to her grandmother’s house in Woodinville, Wash., after receiving a medical discharge following tours in the military police in Afghanistan , which ended with an explosion that killed her best friend, Capt. Sarah Faber. Sarah has left her effects to Larkin, including a diary of her ancestor, Emily Wilson, who disguised herself in order to serve alongside her brother, Ben, in the Civil War. Larkin suffers from PTSD, resents the way women in the armed services are treated by male members of the military and civilians, and has feelings of guilt over Sarah’s death. In alternating chapters, Emily tells her own story, one that helps Larkin move forward in the present. Estes is sometimes heavy-handed in pointing out the parallels between Larkin’s and Emily’s stories and is a little clumsy in inserting informational passages. Still, the book does convey some of the extreme challenges facing women in the military. The result is a purposeful and competent tribute to American women in uniform. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/27/2019 | Details & Permalink

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What Happens in Paradise

Elin Hilderbrand. Little, Brown, $28 (352p) ISBN 978-0-316-43557-4

Hilderbrand’s captivating follow-up to 2018’s Winter in Paradise, continues the chronicle of Russell Steele’s family as they start over in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, after his suspicious death and the discovery of his hidden second life. After learning that Russ fathered a child with Rosie, a St. John waitress who died with him, in the first book, Russ’s widow Irene leaves her life in Iowa and accepts an offer to work on a fishing charter with Rosie’s stepdad, Huck. Huck and Irene instantly click, despite the odd circumstances. At the same time, Irene’s younger son Cash rethinks his aimless existence after hearing from Rosie’s best friend Ayers about an opening on a boat. Cash and his brother Baker, both in their 30s, are smitten with Ayers, who has gone back to her cheating boyfriend Mick. Baker also considers St. John. The group—Irene, Cash, Baker, Huck, and Ayers—rally around 12-year-old Maia, Rosie’s daughter, as she navigates tweenhood and her loss. Ayers discovers and hides Rosie’s diaries, which detail plenty of evidence regarding Russ’s illegal dealings and a motive for his murder. The book ends on a cliffhanger, setting readers up eagerly for the next book. Those who want a sweet page-turner that’s more than just beach fare will want to take a look. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/27/2019 | Details & Permalink

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