Arya Winters and the Tiramisu of Death
Katrina Niidas Holm

Arya Winters—the heroine of Amita Murray’s series launch, Arya Winters and the Tiramisu of Death—is an acerbic, antisocial 27-year-old with Tourette syndrome who creates macabre desserts for a living. She resides in the English village of Trucklewood, where she inherited a cottage after her Auntie Meera’s murder—a crime that remains unsolved.

When police inform Arya that neighbor Tobias Yards has also been killed, she’s aghast; not only was surly Tobias one of the few locals she liked, but he was poisoned by a tiramisu she left on his doorstep.

DS Shona Klues is convinced that Tobias’s nephew—Arya’s ex-boyfriend, Craig—did the deed to hasten his own inheritance, but Arya is pretty sure he’s innocent. Not only is Craig too unimaginative to have hatched such a plan, but Arya was spying on him from under a bush during the hours for which he can’t account. What’s more, Arya has a sneaking suspicion that Meera’s death and Tobias’s are related, even if the authorities disagree.

Uncovering the truth will mean questioning her fellow villagers, which makes Arya deeply uncomfortable, but if it also means getting to know Trucklewood’s newest inhabitant, muscly middle-grade author Branwell Beam…well, sex always calms Arya’s anxiety.

Exceptional character work, slyly absurdist humor, and an endearingly abrasive narrative distinguish this affecting whodunit. Via Arya’s brutally honest inner monologue, Murray entertains while illustrating the importance of interpersonal connection and the lasting damage wrought by intolerance and insecurity. A clever central puzzle is just icing on the cake.

Teri Duerr
2021-11-30 20:03:23
How to Murder a Marriage
Katrina Niidas Holm

First in a series, Gabrielle St. George’s How to Murder a Marriage introduces Gina Malone—a 49-year-old Toronto author and advice columnist dubbed the Ex-Whisperer. Gina is also a divorced mother of four who will be an empty nester after she delivers her youngest to college in London.

While awaiting their flight, Gina answers a message from a reader, Lillian, urging the woman to exit her abusive marriage. Lillian soon responds, stating her husband found their correspondence; threatened to hurt Lillian’s dog, Snowflake, if she persists in contacting Gina; and vowed to make Lillian disappear “for real” if she tries to leave.

The next day, Lillian’s husband emails Gina directly, demanding to know where Lillian is, and promising a visit. Gina endeavors not to worry; it sounds as though Lillian escaped, and even if her husband learns Gina’s current address, she’s about to move back to her hometown of Sunset Beach, where she’ll be surrounded by friends and family.

The remainder of Gina’s trip passes without incident, and though an attempted break-in mars her last night in Toronto, she assumes it’s just her own obsessive ex up to his old tricks. After arriving in Sunset Beach, however, Snowflake appears in her yard, and Gina receives a string of creepy texts. Things only decline from there.

St. George deftly balances laugh-out-loud comedy with bone-chilling fright. Gina’s interactions with her zany great-aunts, irrepressible cousin, and sexy building contractor inject ample warmth to offset the story’s weightier aspects, which spotlight the myriad ways in which the system fails survivors of domestic violence.

Teri Duerr
2021-11-30 20:07:02
Mickey’s Mayhem
Katrina Niidas Holm

Running a bar isn’t a strategy most well-intentioned alcoholics would adopt in their quest to stay sober, but it works for the fortysomething protagonist of Richard Cass’s Elder Darrow mysteries.

Cass’s sixth-in-series, Mickey’s Mayhem, sees Elder vacationing with his girlfriend, Susan Voisine, when the phone rings. To Elder’s surprise, the caller isn’t Isaac Belon, whom Elder left in charge of his jazz club, the Esposito, but gangster Mickey Barksdale. Per Mickey, their “mutual friend” homicide detective Dan Burton is in trouble. “He doesn’t know I’m sticking my nose in here,” Mickey warns, “and I don’t want him to. Understood?”

Elder immediately returns to Boston, where he finds Burton distraught over the death of his ex-fiancée, former Esposito cook Marina Antonelli. Though Marina overdosed on heroin, Burton suspects the drug wasn’t self-administered. Mickey confirms as much to Elder, but advises that he keep Burton from investigating: “other people are taking care of it,” Mickey swears, and Burton will just muddy the waters. The waters, of course, become downright turbid, despite Elder’s best efforts.

Cass writes Boston with an affection born of familiarity, adding texture and atmosphere to the gritty plot. The cast is stocked with intriguing characters embroiled in increasingly thorny relationships, many with roots in earlier books. Readers previously unacquainted with Elder will find this sequel to 2020’s Sweetie Bogan’s Sorrow an easy series on-ramp, but those in the know will be richly rewarded by the advancement of several long-gestating arcs.

Teri Duerr
2021-11-30 20:11:01
Just Thieves
Katrina Niidas Holm

Gregory Galloway’s Just Thieves follows Rick and Frank—two career burglars who met in rehab five years ago and have been partners ever since. Frank does recon and circumvents bothersome technology, while Rick handles the breaking and entering. They never steal anything big, nor do they steal for themselves; rather, an intermediary named Froehmer identifies a coveted object, and they retrieve it for him in exchange for a modest fee.

Their current job is unusual in that it requires a trip to the city, but Rick still manages to enter the target house and extract the seemingly worthless item—a cheap silver trophy—sans mishap. As they’re fleeing the scene, someone T-bones their rental car.

Both men are fine, so Frank sends Rick back to their hotel with the loot while he deals with the cops. When he’s finished, Frank suggests they hop a bus and head home, but Rick protests, as they’ve already paid for the room. Rick wins, but when he wakes the next morning, Frank and his stuff are gone—as is the trophy.

At once a breathtakingly nuanced character study and an intricately crafted crime novel, Galloway’s latest rivets while meditating on matters of fate and free will. The tale unfolds somewhat circuitously via Rick’s rueful first-person narration, his frequent pauses to reflect upon what brought them here both heightening tension and infusing profundity. This is pitch-black noir with a shining heart of battered gold, and it’s certain to win Galloway legions of new fans.

Teri Duerr
2021-11-30 20:16:41
Stitched in Crime
Robin Agnew

The second in Emmie Caldwell’s Craft Fair Knitter series, Stitched in Crime, finds series heroine Lia Geiger at her weekly craft fair. She’s selling goods next to a new crafter superstar, Cori Littlefield. Cori has just been featured in the local paper and her crocheted works are drawing lots of attention. Lia enjoys the shy young woman and respects her work. When Cori is discovered dead a few days later, apparently by her own hand, Lia’s Spidey senses go into overdrive. She’s sure it’s not a suicide and feels compelled to investigate.

Lia is a retired, sixtyish nurse and shares a tiny house with her daughter, who has just moved back home. Her daughter is busy planning a huge fundraiser at the alpaca farm where she works. The two intersect both as mother and daughter and as knitter and alpaca wool provider. For those who love knitting, this book is nicely stocked with fun knitting details.

While this is a gentle, pleasant read, the opening scene is thriller-worthy, as the reader discovers what caused Cori to become the anxious person withdrawn from the world that she now is. It establishes Cori’s character and sparks the reader’s curiosity as to just what it was that Cori witnessed as a child.

Lia’s questioning gets the police chief and a rookie cop (who happens to be her daughter’s boyfriend) to urge her to lay off and accept that Cori’s death was just as it appeared. But Lia, like any good mystery heroine, won’t stop digging for clues, sharing details, and gaining insight from her knitting group. The denouement is almost as dark as the kickoff scene, but it’s a satisfying wrap-up to a well-told story. It’s also character based, which is a strength of cozy mysteries in general.

Teri Duerr
2021-11-30 20:23:12
As Marriage Can Be Mischief
Robin Agnew

The busy Amanda Flower (author of 10 series, six active) gifts us a visit with Amish matchmaker Millie Fisher, who makes a living as a quilter. As Marriage Can Be Mischief kicks off, Millie is wondering just how long her childhood friend Uriah Schrock will stay in town. He’s absent at the opening concert scene and it’s only later that Millie discovers where he’s been. Millie is widowed and lives on her own with a couple of goats (that she takes for walks) and a cat (that she doesn’t).

Forty years ago, Uriah’s sister disappeared after her husband was discovered murdered. It’s widely thought the sister escaped an abusive marriage and ran away to be “English” (i.e., non Amish). However, two filmmakers using a drone discover a human skull which does, in fact, turn out to belong to Uriah’s long-missing sister. While Uriah now knows that she’s dead, he still doesn’t know what happened, and Millie, known as the “Amish Marple,” and her English sidekick, Lois, are determined to find out. The police are content to call it an accident, but Millie is positive that’s not the case.

Her relentless sleuthing gives readers a trip to a busy Amish restaurant, a buggy shop, and a quilting bee, all of which illuminate the Amish culture and advance the plot. There’s a matchmaking plot thread on the side as Millie settles differences between a prospective young couple with doubts on the part of the future groom. The detective work is intelligent and the clues are fairly laid. Though the suspect pool is small, I was unable to guess the killer. I loved the character of Millie, who in her sixties is happy to live on her own with her goats and her quilts.

Flower has that special sparkle that some writers possess—that magical quality that makes the plot, characters, and setting fly through your reading fingers as fast as you can turn the pages. She makes her situations and characters truly come to life with a depth of emotion behind her characters that make them memorable. This is a wonderful read.

Teri Duerr
2021-11-30 20:26:05
2021 Mystery Scene Gift Guide Stocking Stuffers Edition
Kevin Burton Smith

Looking for a few gifts so good they're practically criminal? Well, look no further. We've compiled a few Mystery Scene favorites perfect for stuffing those stockings.

An Elderly Lady Must Not Be CrossedJust perfect for slipping easily into someone’s stocking, and an ideal time killer for that interminable wait between the gift orgy and the arrival of the blessed bird, is Scandinavian Grand Master Helene Tursten’s An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed ($14.99, Soho Crime), the follow-up to her equally adorable An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good from a few years ago. Once again, it follows the charming homicidal problem-solving of cranky elderly Maud, a retired Swedish schoolteacher with absolutely no qualms about bumping off people who get in her way, this time journeying to Africa on a long-anticipated holiday. A pretty little hardcover decorated with seasonal and floral graphic embellishments that reek of innocence, it’s in reality a nifty how-to guide to homicide, with a tantalizing list of ways to set the world right (i.e., the way you want it), concluded with a couple of recipes for ginger snaps (in both “naughty” and “nice” versions). See? Perfect for the holidays!

Sherlcok Holmes SocksThe game is afoot when your Holmie toes the line with these always fashionable Sherlock Socks ($12; Discreetly stylish, tastefully rendered as a series of tiny brown silhouettes of the Great Detective himself on a field of tan with reinforced toes and heels, they’re a sturdy blend of cotton, polyester, and spandex available in small or large sizes. As an added bonus, a portion of all proceeds go to funding literacy programs and book donations to communities in need.

Murder on the Orange Express Lip BalmKillers come and go and bad puns can mortally wound, but chapped lips are pure murder, especially for those in wintry climes. So pucker up and try some Murder on the Orange Express Lip Balm ($9; Billed as a seductive mélange of “alluring florals and sweet citrus,” this handmade, gently moisturizing balm made with organic shea butter, botanical extract, and pure essential oils hints at sophisticated intrigue with its ooh-la-la combination of sweet orange, mandarin, clary sage, rose geranium, and ylang ylang. And if it doesn’t conjure up sweet memories of the mysterious Orient Express that has influenced so many thriller writers, most famously Agatha Christie and Ian Fleming, then you’re just not trying hard enough. It comes in a classy recyclable tin containing a generous 10 ml of balm—about twice as much as those tiny ocean-clogging plastic tubes.

Another day, another murder. But with gun sales soaring and everybody mad at each other, it’s sometimes hard to keep track, which is why the 2022 edition of A Year of True Crime Page-a-Day Desk Calendar ($15.99; Workman Publishing) is thumbs-up for the murderino in your midst. Why worry about tomorrow’s headlines when you can kick off your shoes, double check the alarm system, and relax at home, poring over the bloody past? This handy-dandy desk calendar offers a full year of lovingly detailed homicidal highlights perfect for the Dateline-addicted, featuring darkly humorous takes on everything from murders dark and gory to bizarro headlines (“Headless Body Found in Topless Bar”!). Loaded with trivia, suggested crime documentaries, words of wisdom from serial killers and mystery authors, and career advice for would-be criminals, this is the ideal gift for those who think a Lester Holt tattoo is perfectly normal.

Jinkies! There’s always this cute but-to-the-point I Heart Mysteries Button ($2.99; RainbowPunchPress), featuring the brains of Mystery Incorporated herself, the one and only Velma Dinkley, originator of geek chic, a book and a message that says it all.



Gamache Coffee MugDespite my usual grinchiness and the sad admission that the world we all live in definitely needs some work done, I continue to believe, and finish off with something from the infinitely better world of my homie Louise Penny’s beloved Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. The tiny Livres Lac-Brome/Brome Lake Bookstore ( in Knowlton, Quebec (the real-life Trois Pins/Three Pines), offers the usual beaucoup of author merchandise, including “What the Duck” Greeting Cards ($15), Three Pines T-shirts ($30), a “Mélange Gamache” Coffee Blend ($7), and more. But to me, the most perfect gift is a simple white ceramic 12-ounce “Goodness Exists” Coffee Mug ($20), perfect for café-au-lait, tea, or Scotch, adorned on one side with the Three Pines logo and on the other with the author’s (and Armand’s) personal credo, cribbed from a poem by W.H. Auden: “Goodness exists.”


Excerpted from the "Mystery Scene 2021 Gift Guide" in the Winter 2021 Issue #170 print edition.

Teri Duerr
2021-12-07 15:52:52
The Disapearance of Agatha Christie
Oline H Cogdill

Agatha Christie never goes out of style.

I have said that several times and may have even used that same sentence.

“The Queen of Mysteries,” as she was often called, continues to entertain readers with her stories about Miss Jane Marple, Hercule Poirot and her other characters. These are still in print, fodder for numerous TV series, films and short story collections; every few years a new biography comes along.

And she’s also given authors ideas for other novels based on Christie, who died in 1976 at age 85.

For example, Lori Rader-Day gave readers a new view of Dame Christie with her intriguing novel Death at Greenway, an original plot that centered on a little-known fact of the author’s life. During WWII, Christie’s Devon estate Greenway housed 10 children whose parents sent them to the countryside to, hopefully, be safe as London was being bombed by the Germans.

The latest in the Christie reboot is The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont (St. Martin’s Press), which comes out in February 2022.

The Christie Affair recounts the 11-day disappearance of Agatha Christie through the perspective of her husband's mistress, Nan O’Dea, a fictionalized version of his real-life lover Nancy Neele.

Set in London during 1925, The Christie Affair revolves around the betrayal that hit the author hard, prompting her disappearance.

The Christie Affair also will be the inspiration for a TV series, as announced by Miramax TV. British writer Juliette Towhidi (Calendar Girls, Death Comes to Pemberley) is set to write the adaptation.

The television series doesn't have a premiere date yet.

In a story about the TV series, posted “Agatha and Nan transform from competitors to unlikely allies while the world around them remains cloaked in the dark, unable to grasp the complexities of each woman’s relationship to her past and her female identity. Set mostly in the beautiful and historic British spa town of Harrogate, The Christie Affair is part sweeping love story– but not the one you expect — part exploration of the bonds of womanhood and part murder mystery to rival one of Christie’s own, now very famous stories.”

Whenever it airs, the TV series has to be better than the abysmal 1979 movie Agatha directed by Michael Apted. The movie starred Vanessa Redgrave as Christie with Timothy Dalton as her husband Archie.

I still remember how this film made Dame Christie seem boring.

The film Christie began with Agatha Christie giving an engraved silver cup for her husband Archie, who was unappreciative. According to several reviews that recap the plot, the couple walk to a publicity event for her new novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. On the scene is an American reporter Wally Stanton (Dustin Hoffman). The next morning, Archie demands a divorce, saying he loves his secretary.

That night, Christie gets into an automobile accident.

The police discover her wrecked car, prompting press coverage. It’s learned that Christie left a letter for her secretary, prompting speculation of suicide.

Stanton follows a lead that takes him to a hotel in Harrogate where the author is checking in.

From there, the film just goes down hill.

But I have high hopes for the TV series based on The Christie Affair, as well as the novel that sounds terrific.

Oline Cogdill
2021-12-10 16:55:19
Laurie R. King 2022 Grand Master
Oline H Cogdill

The Grand Master, Raven and Ellery Queen are the highest honors offered by Mystery Writers of America (MWA), aside from the Edgar Allan Poe awards for authors.
What makes these three awards so special—and highly respected—is they honor contributions to the genre—authors, behind the scenes people, publishers whose devotion to mysteries continue to elevate mystery fiction.

And without fail, the MWA board chooses the most deserving people.

So, time to stop burying the lead!

Author Laurie R. King has been named the 2022 Grand Master.

Librarian, blogger, and book reviewer Lesa Holstine will receive the Raven Award.

Juliet Grames, senior vice president and Associate Publisher at Soho Press, will take home the Ellery Queen Award.
Most deserving honorees, every one.

The awards will be presented during the 76th Annual Edgar Awards Ceremony, which will be held April 28, 2022, at the Marriott Marquis Times Square in New York City.

MWA’s Grand Master Award represents “the pinnacle of achievement in mystery writing and was established to acknowledge important contributions to this genre, as well as for a body of work that is both significant and of consistent high quality,” a press release stated.

Laurie R. King is the bestselling author of 30 novels and other works, including the Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes stories, beginning with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, which was named “One of the 20th Century’s Best Crime Novels” by the IMBA.

King has received the Agatha, Anthony, Edgar, Lambda, Wolfe, Macavity, Creasey dagger, and Romantic Times Career Achievement awards, among other honors. She holds an honorary doctorate in theology, and is a Baker Street Irregular.  Her recent books include Castle Shade and How to Write a Mystery (co-edited with Lee Child.) She has been a member of Mystery Writers of America since 1993 and served on the NorCal and National boards.
King shows her droll wit when she was notified of the honor: “I am sure I’m not the only person who greeted the announcement that they had been given this extreme honor of the mystery world first with silence, then with, ‘Really?  Me??’  I mean, any list that begins with Agatha Christie and touches on such gods as Ross MacDonald and Daphne du Maurier, Ngaio Marsh and John Le Carré, Tony Hillerman and—well, you get the idea. ‘I am honored’ is an inadequate response (You are sure you counted the votes, right?) when what I mean is, ‘I am stunned, dumbfounded, gobsmacked.’ And honored too, of course—intensely, humbly, and gratefully,” according to MWA’s press release.
Previous Grand Masters include Charlaine Harris, Jeffery Deaver, Barbara Neely, Martin Cruz Smith, William Link, Peter Lovesey, Walter Mosley, Lois Duncan, James Ellroy, Robert Crais, Ken Follett, Martha Grimes, Sara Paretsky, James Lee Burke, Sue Grafton, Stephen King, Mary Higgins Clark, Lawrence Block, P.D. James, Ellery Queen, Daphne du Maurier, Alfred Hitchcock, Graham Greene, and Agatha Christie, to name a few.

I have a special affinity for the Raven Award—I received it in 2012 and that remains a career high. So. I am especially thrilled to share the legacy of the Raven with librarian, blogger, and book reviewer Lesa Holstine.

The Raven Award recognizes outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing.

Holstine has worked in public libraries since she was 16. For almost 50 years, she’s shared her love of books, especially mysteries, with library patrons, and is presently the Collections Manager at the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library in Evansville, Indiana. She is in the 18th year of writing her award-winning blog, Lesa’s Book Critiques, has been the blogger for Poisoned Pen Bookstore for over four years, and reviews mysteries for Mystery Readers’ Journal and Library Journal, where she was named Reviewer of the Year in 2018. She has received the 2011 Arizona Library Association Outstanding Library Service Award and the David S. Thompson Special Service Memorial Award. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and serves on the Left Coast Crime Standing Committee.

Holstine also is an incredibly nice person and have loved speaking with her at mystery writers conferences through the years.

According to MWA press release, she also was equally stunned. “You’re kidding!” Holstine is quoted as saying, “I’m grateful to the MWA Board, and to mystery writers everywhere who have provided so much enjoyment over the years.”
Previous Raven Award recipients include Malice Domestic, Left Coast Crime, Marilyn Stasio, The Raven Bookstore, Sisters in Crime, and Oline Cogdill.
The Ellery Queen Award was established in 1983 to honor “outstanding writing teams and outstanding people in the mystery-publishing industry.”

This year’s honoree is Juliet Grames. As senior vice president and associate publisher at Soho Press, she has curated the award-winning Soho Crime imprint since 2011. Her debut novel, The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna, was published by Ecco/HarperCollins and has been translated into 10 languages.
On learning she would receive the Ellery Queen Award, Grames said in the press release, "I am astonished and moved by this great honor. There is no community I could be prouder to work in: the creators in our genre are not only artists but activists and thoroughly good people. It is a great privilege to nurture and amplify their voices, and I humbly thank every author who has ever trusted me with that privilege. It is also a great privilege to work for a publisher, Bronwen Hruska, whose values—both literary and philosophical—align so perfectly with mine. This recognition belongs to them, although I am honored to be their representative."  
Previous Ellery Queen Award winners include Reagan Arthur, Kelley Ragland, Linda Landrigan, Neil Nyren, Charles Ardai, and Janet Hutchings.

Mystery Scene congratulations each honoree.

Photos: Laurie R. King, top, photo by Josh Edelson; Lesa Holstine, middle, photo courtesy Holstine; Juliet Grames, bottom,  photo by Ninsa Subin


Oline Cogdill
2022-01-12 19:01:40
2022 Edgar Nominations
Oline Cogdill

Mystery readers know that January 19 is a celebration for two reasons—it is birthday of Edgar Allan Poe (happy 213th birthday, Edgar!) and it also is the day that Mystery Writers of America announces the nominations for the annual Edgar Awards.

The 2022 Edgar Allan Poe Awards honor the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction and television published or produced in 2021. The 76th Annual Edgar® Awards will be celebrated on April 28, 2022 at the New York Marriott Marquis Times Square.

As what often happens, the nomination list gets a lot of attention. The nominees are, as they should be, thrilled, as are their publishers, the bookstore owners, and readers.

People seem to love to snipe at the nominees, complaining that the books were not what they would have picked.

So I ask readers, critics, bloggers, etc., to just stop that. Stop the complaining and enjoy the list.

Are these the books I would have picked? Not going to say.

Are any of these books ones I think should not be on the list? Not going to say.

The complaining is disrespectful to the judges, who devote the full year to making these decisions; the authors themselves; and the readers.

I do my own top 20 each year. Left Coast Crime just came out with the nominees for its Lefties. In a few weeks, Malice Domestic will announce its Agatha nominees. The nominees for the Los Angeles Book Prize mystery/thriller category will be posted in a few weeks. Later this year, Bouchercon will announced nominees for the Anthonys.

And while there will be some overlap on all these lists, some books will only make one list.

The Edgars, and the other award lists, are a reason to celebrate books. To enjoy the vast genre that we all love. To recognize that we all have different tastes but that we all come together under the umbrella of the mystery genre.

And celebrate—and hope—that the Edgars will be in-person this year. At this point, the awards are being planned for an in-person event. And that alone is cause for celebration. We know that anything could happen, but still, the planning is a celebration in itself.

So, look at the lists. Buy books you want to read. Skip the others. But, most importantly, happy reading.

But do say, as Mystery Scene magazine does, congratulations to all the nominees.

Nominations for the 2022 Edgar Allan Poe Awards

The Venice Sketchbook by Rhys Bowen (Amazon Publishing – Lake Union)
Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby (Macmillan Publishers – Flatiron Books)
Five Decembers by James Kestrel (Hard Case Crime)
How Lucky by Will Leitch (HarperCollins - Harper)
No One Will Miss Her by Kat Rosenfield (HarperCollins – William Morrow)

Deer Season by Erin Flanagan (University of Nebraska Press)
Never Saw Me Coming by Vera Kurian (Harlequin Trade Publishing – Park Row)
Suburban Dicks by Fabian Nicieza (Penguin Random House – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
What Comes After by JoAnne Tompkins (Penguin Random House – Riverhead Books)
The Damage by Caitlin Wahrer (Penguin Random House – Viking Books/Pamela Dorman Books)

Kill All Your Darlings by David Bell (Penguin Random House - Berkley)
The Lighthouse Witches by C.J. Cooke (Penguin Random House - Berkley)
The Album of Dr. Moreau by Daryl Gregory (Tom Doherty Associates - Tordotcom)
Starr Sign by C.S. O’Cinneide (Dundurn Press)
Bobby March Will Live Forever by Alan Parks (Europa Editions – World Noir)
The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell (Penguin Random House – Penguin Books)

The Confidence Men: How Two Prisoners of War Engineered the Most Remarkable Escape in History by Margalit Fox (Random House Publishing Group – Random House)
Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York by Elon Green (Celadon Books)
Sleeper Agent: The Atomic Spy in America Who Got Away by Ann Hagedorn (Simon & Schuster)
Two Truths and a Lie: A Murder, a Private Investigator, and Her Search for Justice by Ellen McGarrahan (Penguin Random House – Random House)
The Dope: The Real History of the Mexican Drug Trade by Benjamin T. Smith (W.W. Norton & Company)
When Evil Lived in Laurel:  The "White Knights" and the Murder of Vernon Dahmer by Curtis Wilkie (W.W. Norton & Company
Agatha Christie's Poirot: The Greatest Detective in the World by Mark Aldridge (HarperCollins Publishers – Harper360)
The Unquiet Englishman: A Life of Graham Greene by Richard Greene (W.W. Norton & Company)
Tony Hillerman: A Life by James McGrath Morris (University of Oklahoma Press)
The Reason for the Darkness of the Night: Edgar Allan Poe and the Forging of American Science by John Tresch (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
The Twelve Lives of Alfred Hitchcock: An Anatomy of the Master of Suspense by Edward White (W.W. Norton & Company)
"Blindsided," Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine by Michael Bracken & James A. Hearn (Dell Magazines)
"The Vermeer Conspiracy," Midnight Hour by V.M. Burns (Crooked Lane Books)
"Lucky Thirteen," Midnight Hour by Tracy Clark (Crooked Lane Books)
“The Road to Hana,” Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine by R.T. Lawton (Dell Magazines)
“The Locked Room Library,” Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine by Gigi Pandian (Dell Magazines)
“The Dark Oblivion,” Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine by Cornell Woolrich (Dell Magazines)
Cold-Blooded Myrtle by Elizabeth C. Bunce (Workman Publishing - Algonquin Young Readers)
Concealed by Christina Diaz Gonzalez (Scholastic – Scholastic Press)
Aggie Morton Mystery Queen: The Dead Man in the Garden by Marthe Jocelyn (Penguin Random House Canada - Tundra Books)
Kidnap on the California Comet: Adventures on Trains #2 by M.G. Leonard & Sam Sedgman (Macmillan Children's Publishing - Feiwel & Friends)
Rescue by Jennifer A. Nielsen (Scholastic - Scholastic Press)
Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé (Macmillan Children’s Publishing – Feiwel & Friends)
Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley (Macmillan Children’s Publishing – Henry Holt and Company BFYR)
When You Look Like Us by Pamela N. Harris (HarperCollins – Quill Tree Books)
The Forest of Stolen Girls by June Hur (Macmillan Children’s Books – Feiwel & Friends)
The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe (Penguin Young Readers – G.P. Putnam’s Sons BFYR)

“Dog Day Morning” - The Brokenwood Mysteries, Written by Tim Balme (Acorn TV)
“Episode 1” – The Beast Must Die, Written by Gaby Chiappe (AMC+)
“We Men Are Wretched Things” – The North Water Written by Andrew Haigh (AMC+)
“Happy Families” – Midsomer Murders, Written by Nicholas Hicks-Beach (Acorn TV)
“Boots on the Ground” – Narcos: Mexico, Written by Iturri Sosa (Netflix)
"Analogue,” Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine by Rob Osler (Dell Magazines)

(previously announced; see our story here)
Laurie R. King

Lesa Holstine – Lesa’s Book Critiques; Library Journal Reviewer

Juliet Grames – Soho Crime

The Secret Life of Miss Mary Bennet by Katherine Cowley (Tule Publishing - Tule Mystery)
Ruby Red Herring by Tracy Gardner (Crooked Lane Books)
Clark and Division by Naomi Hirahara (Soho Press – Soho Crime)
The Sign of Death by Callie Hutton (Crooked Lane Books)
Chapter and Curse by Elizabeth Penney (St. Martin’s Paperbacks)
Double Take by Elizabeth Breck (Crooked Lane Books)
Runner by Tracy Clark (Kensington Books)
Shadow Hill by Thomas Kies (Sourcebooks – Poisoned Pen Press)
Sleep Well, My Lady by Kwei Quartey (Soho Press – Soho Crime)
Family Business by S.J. Rozan (Pegasus Books – Pegasus Crime)

Oline Cogdill
2022-01-19 17:54:34
As the Wicked Watch
Pat H. Broeske

TV crime reporter Jordan Manning insinuates herself into a case involving a missing Black girl in As the Wicked Watch, the first in a new series from Emmy Award-winning TV host Tamron Hall.

Shaken by the discovery of teenager Masey James’ body in an abandoned lot and battling the authorities’ contention that Masey was just another tragic runaway, Jordan, a Black journalist who knows all too well the way race plays out in the media and with the police, is determined to find out who killed Masey. In doing so, As the Wicked Watch tackles the differences between the reporting of Black and white crimes, including those involving missing or murdered women of color.

Hall has obviously mined her own professional background for her depiction of her protagonist, who hails from her native Texas. But writing and producing news and magazine shows for television is a very different profession from constructing and writing a novel. “Show, don’t tell” is one of the mantras of solid storytelling. Someone needs to tell that to Hall, who keeps telling and telling…with little action. This book makes the reader privy to an inordinate number of phone calls (from Jordan’s family, the family of Masey James, police and forensic sources, and more) as a way to advance the case—but, there’s nothing exciting or immediate about a phone call. Similarly, Jordan offers up detailed resumes on all kinds of characters–including her gal pals, her best friend in Texas, and more–who don’t figure in the plot. We know they love and support Jordan, but what we really want is for the mystery to progress.

Where the book does succeed is in its depictions of Chicago, including Bronzeville–where the body is discovered—and the exciting details of the newsroom, which ring true. Serious mystery fans will be turned off by the book’s sometimes hectoring tone, though, and the reliance on elementary narrative techniques. Which is why, for now, fans of Tamron Hall might do well to stick to her TV show while she continues to hone her storytelling craft.

Teri Duerr
2022-01-25 15:41:26
Criminal Mischief
Jay Roberts

In the new Stone Barrington thriller by Stuart Woods, the main character is simply looking to live his life, but the universe has other plans.

Life as a highly paid senior partner in a law firm has its perks and Barrington is certainly taking advantage of them. But a chance meeting with a woman in a bar ends up being more than Stone bargained for when an expensive item is stolen from his home. The item is quickly returned, as it was just a ploy to get Stone’s attention. It seems she’s been the victim of Viktor Zanian, a Bernie Madoff-type finance guy who has fleeced any number of people out of millions, if not billions, of dollars, and she needs Stone’s help. Soon after Barrington meets another woman with the same story, Zanian ends up disappearing, leaving any number of victims in the lurch.

With a huge reward posted for locating and bringing Zanian to justice, Barrington teams with his police commissioner friend Dino Bacchetti, the federal government, and one of Zanian’s victims to track the crook down. On the hunt for the reward, Barrington chases Zanian halfway around the world, avoiding assassins and some of the United States’ biggest enemies on the tail of a desperate man with nothing to lose.

For longtime readers of the Stone Barrington series, everything—the action, the fine dining, the bedding of attractive women—are surely all hallmarks of the books. But as a new reader, I found myself enjoying the short chapters and rapid fire dialogue. Those aspects reminded me of Robert B. Parker Spenser books where everything is geared toward propelling the plot forward and not dwelling too long on any one scene. The seemingly breathless and breakneck pacing keeps readers guessing as to what might happen next.

Criminal Mischief, the 60th book in the long-running Stone Barrington series, continues to pack a lot of fun at each twist and turn in the plot in this breathlessly paced story.

Teri Duerr
2022-01-25 16:16:33
Jay Roberts

Silverview, John le Carré’s seemingly elegiac final novel—finished after the author’s passing by his son, writer Nick Harkaway— opens on a rainy London morning with the delivery of a letter to London spy chief Stewart Proctor. The letter warns Proctor of a dangerous intelligence leak, prompting him to open an investigation, which ultimately leads to a small coastal town.

In that small town is a struggling bookstore owned by Julian Lawndsley, who gave up his fast-paced life in London to buy and run it—though he’s been lately questioning his decision to do so. But as luck would have it, Julian meets the charismatic Edward Avon, an old school mate of Julian’s late father, and the two men strike up a kind of friendship while trading stories of Julian’s dad and hitting upon an idea to expand Julian’s business. But it’s not long before Julian begins to question Edward’s interest in their partnership. A strange London meeting with a mysterious woman while on an errand for Edward to deliver a message, and a visit to Edward’s home, Silverview, does little to allay Julian’s growing suspicions.

Meanwhile, Proctor has to convince his superiors that the allegations of a traitor are true and then prove just who has been divulging Britain’s secrets to those who would do the country harm.

Silverview skillfully builds each of the separate plot lines until they converge into one central narrative. As is the case in many a spy novel, Stewart Proctor, Julian Lawndsley, and Edward Avon are each a cipher. Readers don’t know what they are all about until each successive layer of the storytelling onion is peeled away to reveal more about each character.

Le Carré’s limber use of the breadth and depth of the English language (I had stop to look up a couple of words) in the early parts of Silverview had me wondering at times if the story was ever going to get around to the point le Carré was trying to make about the world of espionage and the people who actively or unwittingly become involved in protecting the secrets of a nation; but the tension level ratchets up once the revelation of the spy’s identity is revealed. As the hunt to bring them down brings the book to a stunning conclusion, readers will find themselves breathlessly turning pages to find out just what happens next.

It’s been nearly two years since John le Carré died, but with Silverview he’s given readers another adept exploration of what it means to be part of “the secret world” and amply demonstrates one final time that he is the incontrovertible master of literary spy fiction.

Teri Duerr
2022-01-25 16:25:30
A Line to Kill
Jean Gazis

When author Anthony Horowitz and Daniel Hawthorne, the enigmatic detective he profiles in a true-crime series, are invited to a small literary festival on Alderney, a tiny Channel Island, it seems like an easy venue for Hawthorne’s first foray into book publicity. The half-dozen other writers are strikingly different from one another: a French poet with a punk look; a TV celebrity chef promoting his new cookbook; a gentle, bestselling children’s author; an eccentric, blind psychic; and a local historian. The Alderney islanders, formerly a tight-knit group, are deeply divided by a bitter dispute over whether to allow a proposed high-voltage power line to be routed through the middle of its picturesque scenery to connect Britain with France.

Horowitz quickly picks up hints that not everything (or everyone) is as it seems, and finds Hawthorne simultaneously irritating and intriguing. Then a murder shocks the community, which is normally so quiet that Alderney doesn’t even have its own police force. The police officials ferried in from the nearest larger island immediately lock down all transportation and ask the more experienced Hawthorne and Horowitz to help out with their investigation. No one can leave the island—including the killer.

The narrative opens with a lovely little tribute to the publishing industry, and proceeds to affectionately skewer that industry with just the right amount of snark. The writing is terrific, studded with spot-on observations and evocative descriptions. Making himself a character in his own story, as the bumbling sidekick to an inscrutable but brilliant detective, allows Horowitz to both make use of and have fun with well-known genre tropes.

The characters are well-drawn, often in just a few lines of dialog, and their interactions feel authentic. Horowitz perfectly captures human nature, writing about his own character self-deprecatingly and about others with empathy and humor. The intricate plot moves along briskly, providing one intriguing puzzle after another as it builds to its unexpected finale.

Teri Duerr
2022-01-25 16:33:58
Craig Sisterson

Back in the “Golden Age of Detective Fiction” there were four leading authors dubbed the Queens of Crime: Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham, and Dorothy L. Sayers. Their output thrilled readers and critics alike, then and since, and has been enjoyed by generations. Chatting to some fellow critics and awards judges a while back, we wondered who’d be the modern, living equivalents?

For me, you write the names Val McDermid and Sara Paretsky with permanent marker, then debate the other two spots (with many marvelous contenders). Pioneers both, who’ve continued to elevate the genre 30-plus years on. Scottish author McDermid continues to push herself to new heights a decade after she received the prestigious Cartier Diamond Dagger, which honored her outstanding career in crime fiction and impact on the genre. Recently, she has taken the protagonists of both her active, long-running series (cold case detective Karen Pirie in one series, psychologist Tony Hill and chief detective Carol Jordan in the other) through some fascinating arcs. Audacious ones, even, in the latter case.

Now, McDermid launches her first new series in almost 20 years, and it’s a belter from the beginning. In 1979, young Glasgow reporter Allie Burns is keen to make a mark in her misogynistic newsroom, so when her colleague Danny Sullivan asks for help on a story linking powerful businessmen to criminal activity, she leaps at the chance. Meanwhile, Allie may have uncovered a homegrown terrorist threat relating to cries in some quarters for Scottish nationalism and independence. Will Allie and Danny’s investigations become career-making stories, career-ending ones, or worse?

McDermid masterfully immerses readers in late 1970s Glasgow, a time of rising political tensions and a changing society, to deliver a compulsive novel that’s further enriched by the echoes of McDermid’s own past as a pioneering journalist battling against prejudice on multiple fronts. Excellent.

Teri Duerr
2022-01-25 18:55:23
Her Name Is Knight
Eileen Brady

Nena Knight is a killer known by the code name of Echo. But before she began assassinating targets for the African Tribal Council, she was Aninyeh, a young girl in rural Ghana—an African, a Ghanaian, a member of the N’nkakuwean tribe. She was happy and secure of her place in the world. Michael, her father, is a chieftain, which makes Aninyeh a princess.

Debut author Yasmin Angoe paints an evocative picture of village life, from the shared food to the close emotional connections between family and friends. All this changes when Paul, a neighboring rival, murders her family in front of her and burns down their village. But the damage doesn’t end there. The girls of the village are rounded up and carted off, since they are worth money in the underground slave market. The men who bid are foreigners from European countries like France, Spain, Germany, and as far away as America. The young girls are simply another commodity to be bought, the 15-year-old Aninyeh being a top prize.

I highly recommend you give this thriller a chance. Her Name is Knight is both entertaining and riveting. Angoe highlights human trafficking while telling a personal tale of redemption and vengeance. The writing is terrific. Chapters are presented as Before and After, so past and present give layers to each character. By the end of the book readers will know and root for Nena, who climbs out of hell to take control of her destiny.

Teri Duerr
2022-01-25 18:58:34
One Night, New York
Jean Gazis

On the bitterly cold and windy night of the winter solstice in 1932, two young women wait atop a newly built New York City skyscraper for the man they plan to murder. The mystery is why. This accomplished debut novel tells the story of that single night, interspersed with flashbacks to the events that led up to it from the point of view of Frances, a headstrong but naive teenage farm girl from Hays, Kansas.

Fleeing the Dust Bowl and traumatic memories, she joins Stan, the older brother she idolizes, in New York City. Feeling stifled by her brother’s overprotective restrictions, Frances sneaks out to a party at the Greenwich Village home of Jacks and Dicky, a glamorous and bohemian journalist and photographer she met on the train.

There she meets Dicky’s sardonic assistant Agnes, a young photographer with her own ambitions. Frances soon begins to suspect that Stan is involved in dangerous, illicit activities through his work at a Harlem nightclub that has a wealthy and powerful clientele. She becomes increasingly worried, but both Stan and his friend Ben, a Black musician who plays at the club, refuse to share his secrets. When Stan is killed violently, Frances fears she is also in danger and turns to Agnes, Dicky, and Jacks for help.

From the Automat to the Empire State Building, the story’s setting brings Depression-era New York to life—its frenetic pace, changing skyline, colorful glamor, and dark underbelly of poverty, crime, and corruption. The characters, including Stan’s immigrant tenement neighbors, Jacks and Dicky’s arty set, the nightclub scene, and the city’s most powerful men, are lively and believable. As Frances searches for the truth about her brother, she is transformed from a country bumpkin with dirty feet into an independent, savvy, and determined young woman, and even finds a surprising romance. Readers will be rooting for her every step of the way.

Teri Duerr
2022-01-25 19:02:50
Where They Wait
Hank Wagner

Scott Carson’s second offering (following 2020’s The Chill) features down-on-his-luck war correspondent Nick Bishop, who is extended a job offer from an old friend, namely, penning a puff piece on a new app, Clarity, devised to calm anxiety via augmented meditation designed to focus one’s dreams. Despite decidedly mixed emotions, Bishop accepts the assignment, returning to his old stomping grounds of Hammel, Maine, to interview the brains behind Clarity, Bryce Lermond, who unexpectedly offers him a chance to try the only lightly tested app out for himself, even though the reporter claims to never have had a dream.

Bishop’s acceptance of the offer sets in motion a literal nightmare scenario, where the tester becomes the tested. Bishop begins to experience strange episodes during sleep, causing him to explore seemingly parallel realities and aspects of his own clouded past. He doesn’t appear to have much time to investigate, however, as he discovers that everyone who used the app before him eventually committed suicide.

It’s an open secret that Scott Carson is a pseudonym for a very talented, very accomplished thriller writer; I’ll let you do the research to discover his true identity if you wish to seek out more of his work. Here, “Carson” opens with an intriguing first line (“I was never a dreamer.”), and proceeds, sentence by carefully wrought sentence, to weave an irresistible tale of mounting dread and terror.

Nick Bishop is that rare animal, a reliable narrator, who immediately gains a reader’s trust and sympathy, and is able to convey even the most outré elements of his story soberly and convincingly. Perfectly paced, exciting, and suspenseful, Where They Wait might very well come to haunt your own dreams.

Teri Duerr
2022-01-25 19:06:35
In the Crypt With a Candlestick
Debbie Haupt

English novelist Daisy Waugh delivers a true Brit-lit whodunit in her latest, a madcap cozy set in the mud of a crumbling, Yorkshire estate complete with murder, mayhem, slapstick comedy, quirky characters, and even a ghost who resides Aladdin-style in a silver sugar pot.

When Sir Egbert Tode, 11th Baronet of Tode Hall, finally drops dead at 93, his longsuffering wife of 54 years, Lady Emma Tode, hopes to dump the running of one of England’s largest open-to-the-public estates in the hands of one of her three children and finally fly the coop to live out the rest of her years in her beloved Capri. When that fails, she takes herself to London to offer the job to her nephew Egbert Tode and his wife India who gladly accept. The younger Todes have no idea what’s in store for them, and Lady Emma has no idea her days are numbered.

This fast-paced, beautifully penned novel is a little naughty, a little noirish, and will have readers laughing out loud at the antics of its truly unique, stiff-upper-lipped English characters. Mystery lovers will have an enjoyable experience reading between the lines and following Waugh’s clever clues to find out whodunit. Waugh’s refreshingly original In the Crypt With a Candlestick will have English cozy lovers eating out of her hand and waiting (as a little bird mentioned) for a sequel due out next year.

Teri Duerr
2022-01-25 19:09:32
City of Vengeance
Craig Sisterson

While Scotland-based creative writing tutor D.V. Bishop may be a first-time crime writer, he has a storytelling career that stretches back decades: through journalism, comic book editing and writing, radio plays, BBC dramas, and official novels for iconic characters like Doctor Who. That storytelling mastery shines in City of Vengeance, a sumptuous historical thriller set in Renaissance Florence.

A well-paced tale full of richly drawn characters, the novel centers on Cesare Aldo, a remarkable main character. We’re introduced to Aldo in an action-packed opening where he protects Jewish moneylender Samuele Levi from bandits as the pair are traveling back to Florence. But while Aldo gets Levi safely back to the city, soon after their return, Levi is murdered in his own home and Aldo finds himself caught up in a troubling investigation.

With royal pressure to uncover the culprit before the Feast of Epiphany, Aldo discovers signs of a conspiracy against the ruler of Florence, Duke Alessandro de’ Medici (the first Black head of state in the modern Western world). Meanwhile, the brutal death of a young courtesan in an alleyway threatens to reveal dangerous secrets and upend many lives, including Aldo’s own. A former soldier turned officer of the Otto di Guardia e Balia, Florence’s feared criminal court, Aldo is a man of the law whose own nature puts him outside of the law of the times. A man giving all of himself to a regime and superiors who’d see him imprisoned or worse if his secret came to light.

Bishop does an excellent job bringing the fascinating setting of Renaissance Florence to vivid life in a sensory way. Readers are immersed into the grandeur and grime of the city-state, with its blood-soaked walkways, court intrigue, treachery, and power plays. Everything weaves together wonderfully– characters, settings, and story lines. It’s a triumph of a first crime novel that left me keen to read more from Cesare Aldo and D.V. Bishop.

Teri Duerr
2022-01-25 19:14:57
Do I Know You?
Sarah Prindle

Jane Ellison is a “super recognizer,” meaning she has the ability to remember the faces of almost everyone she meets and can identify people from the tiniest details, which helps a lot in her job keeping an eye out for terrorists and criminals at a Boston airport for DHS. But this gift hasn’t helped find her older sister, Kit, who went missing 11 years ago and was never seen again.

Then, during her shift at the airport, Jane spots the woman she saw on the beach with Kit the night she disappeared. Jane has always suspected the unknown woman knew something, but when she attempts to detain the woman, she creates a scene and is fired from her job. Jane learns that the mysterious woman is Bella Valencia, a well-loved heiress engaged to Will Pease, the son of one of the wealthiest families in the nation, so accusing her of being involved with Kit’s disappearance—without proof—is futile.

Determined to find a way to confront Bella and learn the truth of what happened to Kit, Jane unofficially reopens the cold case. But the truth is a twisted web involving powerful people and guarded secrets, and Jane discovers that what really happened that night is much more complicated than she’d ever imagined.

Jane is a sympathetic protagonist with a wry sense of humor, whose life has been heavily impacted by her sister’s disappearance more than a decade ago. Now that she has the chance to find the answers she needs, Jane acts with daring and stubborn determination, even as she suspects someone wants to stop her by any means necessary.

The cast of characters Jane must sift through is wildly varied, many concealing their own secrets and possible involvement in Kit’s disappearance. Do I Know You? is a suspenseful story that sees quite a bit of action— from a near-drowning at the beach to the final confrontation with a criminal mastermind. The author delves deep into Jane’s experiences, but also that of other characters, particularly the extravagant Pease family, who give readers a glimpse of life among celebrities and millionaires—a world more imperfect and cutthroat than it seems.

Do I Know You? will do more than entertain; the truth of Kit’s vanishing will genuinely surprise readers. It’s an engaging puzzle and is swiftly carried along by varied characters and ulterior motives. The author has already published 18 other novels and her experience is clearly visible in this book. Readers should enjoy the fascinating mystery and complex character dynamics.

Teri Duerr
2022-01-25 19:18:36
Grave Reservations
Robert Allen Papinchak

Two cold cases and an unlikely duo of a psychic travel agent and a homicide detective add up to a delightfully entertaining investigation in Cherie Priest’s cleverly titled Grave Reservations.

The partnership starts when 32-year-old Leda Foley, owner of Foley’s Far Fetched Flights of Fancy in Seattle, Washington, has “a very strong feeling” prompting her to reschedule the flight of client officer Grady Merritt on his return from Orlando to the Puget Sound. After his originally scheduled plane blows up on the tarmac, killing several passengers, he wonders if Leda’s hunches might help him solve the double murder of a father and son, Christopher and Kevin Gilman, that happened over a year and a half ago. At first reluctant to become a consultant in a crime investigation, Leda realizes there may be a quid pro quo for her. Over three years ago, her 30-year-old fianc  Tod Sandoval was found dead in the back seat of his car. There were no suspects.

During a ridealong with Grady to the seedy motel where the Gilmans were found, Leda experiences an ocular migraine, shafts of blinding flashes of light, during which she receives information about their double shootings. When she shakes Grady’s hand, she is certain that the murders and his investigation are somehow connected to Tod’s death.

Cherie Priest knows Seattle well and uses that knowledge effectively for her atmospheric setting. Residents and tourists alike will relish the regional details of Capitol Hill, the legendary Elliott Bay Bookstore, the distinctive footprint of the Rem Koolhaas’ Central Library downtown, the University of Washington bookstore, and other surrounding environs.

The author also plays well with secondary characters. Leda’s best friend and coworker, acerbic wit Niki Nelson, becomes a third member of the team, masquerading as a “forensic accountant.” Then there’s Benjamin Kane, a gay Asian man in his fifties who owns Castaways, the hole-in-the-wall bar where Leda moonlights as the “Psychic Psongstress,” displaying her psychometric clairsentience by holding an object that is meaningful to someone and then suggesting a song that might indicate their emotional or psychological state. There’s also bar manager Matt, a number of retired detectives, and an evergrowing slew of suspects—including an ex-wife and previous Gilman business partners— who all sweeten the plot until a few more fresh bodies appear, motives are exposed, and justice is served.

This is a rollicking good read that should launch a popular series.

Teri Duerr
2022-01-25 19:22:53
The Mirror Dance
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

It is a cool, windy, August day in Scotland, 1937, when private detective Dandy Gilver arrives at a seaside park in Dundee, on what is supposed to be a simple job of convincing a visiting Punch and Judy show to cease using popular characters from a local magazine in its act. Not long after the show begins, the puppets cease moving and, while the audience becomes restless, Dandy goes behind the stage to discover the aging puppeteer brutally stabbed to death.

When her client is brought in by the police for questioning, Dandy and her colleague, Alec Osbourne, take on the case. Not long after, they meet the deceased’s brother, a university academic, who explains that his brother left the family years ago to pursue his career as a roving Punch and Judy showman. Their investigation leads them to their client’s publishing house where they question everyone from the clerical and creative staffs to the pressmen who churn out the publication.

Further clues lead them to a local university and a stage show at a rundown theatre nearby while all the time, in the background, is the mystifying fact that some 50 years earlier, a Punch and Judy puppeteer was killed in a similar way and the crime never solved.

While the case itself is quite serious, the author includes enough humor to ease the tension and give readers more insight into the lead characters. Dandy is happily married to a wealthy gentleman and has a house full of servants with whom she has a friendly, rather than mistress-servant, relationship. Her partner, Alec, is a good sounding board for her humor and their discussions about solving the case. I particularly enjoyed the “Arabian Nights” stage performance they attend toward the end of the novel, including some magical scenes and a real live, but aging, camel.

Teri Duerr
2022-01-25 19:25:42
Shoot the Moonlight Out
Pat H. Broeske

The evocatively titled Shoot the Moonlight Out is rich in textured setting; readers feel right there in the streets of South Brooklyn in the summer of 1996.

Two boys, ages 14 and 13, are killing time by throwing rocks at cars at one of the Belt Parkway exits. It’s intended as a joke—until one of the rocks goes through an open window, smashing into the side of the female driver’s head, causing the car to crash. Meantime, sitting inside the house he grew up in, the recently widowed Jack Cornacchia, who works for Con-Ed and is a sometimes-neighborhood vigilante, is awaiting the arrival of his teenage daughter, Amelia–the ill-fated driver.

The pain wrought by Amelia’s death and the guilt suffered by the prankster who caused it converge five years later in June 2001, the result of a seemingly disparate group of characters discovering they have ties that bind. It begins when Jack takes a writing class, taught by a recent college graduate who’s returned to the neighborhood where she grew up.

Shoot the Moonlight Out is an ambitious attempt by award-winning author William Boyle to depict the circuitous journey of actions and their consequences—including criminal acts. Amelia’s death, and her father’s subsequent aimless existence, are connecting threads—but as the plot moves on, those threads unravel. In part because Boyle asks us to believe in coincidence at least one too many times.

And though the setting never rings false, including a quick trip to Atlantic City, the multiracial characters never fully come to life, in part because Boyd seems to tap dance around societal, racial, and cultural prisms. In this cerebral take, everyone seems to be thinking and speaking in ultra-politically correct terminology so as not to offend. C’mon! We’ve all seen the films of Marty Scorsese. We can take a few rough and tumble epithets.

A literary foray into crime, Shoot the Moonlight Out is a rumination on dealing with ghosts and guilt—and the redemption wrought by unlikely friendships.

Teri Duerr
2022-01-25 19:28:37
Under Pressure
Debbie Haupt

This nonstop, adrenalin-infused novel gives readers an interesting Cliffs Notes version of the forced labor and violent conflicts associated with African blood diamonds, as well as a short but robust lesson in Mafia 101.

DC-based FBI search-and-rescue handler Meg Jennings, her K-9 Hawk, along with her human partner Brian Foster and his K-9 Casey are sent to Philadelphia to partner with the FBI’s Organized Crime Program. The task force hopes the dogs’ noses can help bring down a mob-financed operation importing blood diamonds from Africa then laundering them into the mainstream jewelry trade. They have a plant inside the Philadelphia crime family who will help them with a scent trail and hopefully put an end to this illegal enterprise. Meg is used to dealing with the underbelly of society, but even she has trouble understanding the inhuman lengths these criminals go to keep their evil business venture afloat.

Driscoll, the pen name of Jen J. Danna and Ann Vanderlaan (authors of the Abbott and Lowell Forensic Mysteries), has a wonderful way of presenting personal and professional aspects of the series’ engaging characters. Though the blood diamond case is specific to Under Pressure, there are many inferences and events referred to in this book that are established in past novels, so it is a series best read in order. The writing team does a great job of highlighting relationships (whether romantic, familial, or friendship) between both people and animals—but it’s definitely Meg and Hawk who are the stars— and Under Pressure has both bark and bite as their K-9 team goes up against the mob.

Teri Duerr
2022-01-25 19:31:43