Old habits die hard, and sometimes cause collateral damage, in this character-driven crime story.
Retired D.C. cop Frank Marr works as a private investigator. He's a pro at the job but uses it as a means to fuel his drug addiction. While looting a house of its stash—he had it under surveillance for just this reason—he finds a kidnapped girl, and doing the right thing threatens to unravel the life he's built. Author Swinson, himself a former D.C. police detective, brings the neighborhood and its criminal underworld to gritty life and gives the drug trade's handoffs and turf disputes an insider's intimate view. Marr is a compelling mess, saving the day not once but twice while constantly checking his nostrils for powder residue or the odd trickle of blood. When it suits his purpose (or covers his hobby) he'll take a life, but the lines he will or will not cross seem to be in constant motion, and that unpredictability keeps the tension high. Threats from some who know Marr's "early retirement" was a de facto firing don't cow him so much as push him to rebel. If the bad guys kill first and worry about the details later, doesn't justice require someone equally unconstrained to take them on? Marr may be a disaster on legs, but he gets inside a reader’s head with ease; when he leaves someone to die then doubles back with second thoughts, it's shocking to note how infectious his perspective is. The ethical questions about his lifestyle aren't settled here, so it’s good news that this is merely an introduction to a character who plans to return.
An auspicious, and gleefully amoral, series debut.
Set in 16th-century Spain, this colorful detective story combines sex, violence, the Inquisition, and ambition-fueled intrigue that stretches from bailiffs to noblemen in high places.
When an exceptionally vile priest is slain in his village church in 1584, the circumstances arouse fears that the area’s converted Moors, or Moriscos, are being incited to revolt against Christianity by a man calling himself the Redeemer. Leading the murder investigation is a criminal judge named Bernardo de Mendoza, a 34-year-old veteran of the anti-Moor battle of Lepanto and the Granada War. Along with his teenage scribe, Gabriel, whom he rescued in Granada, and a lusty, hard-fighting cousin named Luis de Ventura, Mendoza travels to the Pyrenees village of Belamar de la Sierra in the Cardona region of Aragon to dig into a case that grows more complicated by the day. A key figure is the beautiful widowed Countess of Cardona, who controls politically important territory but lacks a male heir. Yet she still fends off marriage proposals from the nasty son of the nastier Baron Vallcarca—especially unwelcome for a juicy reason that shan’t be revealed here. Unlike the Monty Python gag, everyone in Aragon expects the Spanish Inquisition, which frequently comes onstage to torture confessions out of invariably innocent perps. As more murders and motives emerge, the priest’s demise proves to be only a small piece in a religious, political, and sexual jigsaw. Carr (Fortress Europe, 2012, etc.), a journalist and historian, lets out the stays for his meandering fiction debut, getting a tad melodramatic here and there but without ripping any bodices. He has a strong character in Mendoza as well as good sidekicks in gawky Gabriel and the usefully reckless Ventura.
The author has written nonfiction books about terrorism and repression, and contemporary parallels may be found in this novel, but it stands well on its own as an entertaining historical mystery.
Posh Manhattanite Catherine West has everything but the family she’s always wanted. But when she falls for the man of her supposed dreams, she unravels a web of deception that upends life as she knows it.
“I was rich,” begins Huntley’s mesmerizing debut. “I owned a small business, I had a wardrobe I replaced all the time. I was toned enough and pretty enough. I moisturized, I worked out.” And yet, despite the West Village apartment, the trust fund, the weekly massages, and the occasional soup kitchen shift (“I was also a really good person,” she promises), Catherine feels existentially incomplete. So when she encounters William Stockton —at an art gala, obviously—she believes she’s found her missing piece: handsome, well-bred, adoring, if oddly reserved, he is the man she’s been waiting for. Plus, she wants children, and at 43, “the hourglass was running out of sand.” But immediately, there is something amiss about stately William Stockton; just the mention of his name causes her ailing mother to slam shut. Then again, Catherine reasons, “even pre-Alzheimer’s” her mother “had a tendency to hate people for no apparent reason.” And so, within months, the pair is engaged. And still, Catherine cannot ignore the increasingly unsettling signs. Why won’t her mother speak of him? Why is William so alarmed when Catherine sifts through his stash of innocuous childhood photos? And what is the meaning of the note from her former nanny, neatly taped in her mother’s old diary—“we cannot trust anyone to care for us fully”? As elegantly plotted as it is—and it is—Huntley’s debut stands out not for its thrills but rather for her hawkish eye for social detail and razor-sharp wit. It is more than a classic psychological thriller: it is also a haunting—and weirdly moving—portrait of love and family among Manhattan’s flailing upper crust.
A quirky hero who chases the worst of serial killers with a bit of supernatural help makes Kope’s debut novel a winner.
Magnus “Steps” Craig can see people when they’re not there. Well, not really. What Steps sees is what he and his FBI partner, Jimmy Donovan, refer to as “shine.” It’s like a colorful, textured left-behind residue that envelops everyone Steps meets; and each person’s shine is totally his or her own. Steps and Jimmy are the heart of the Special Tracking Unit of the FBI, which looks for lost and abducted people and the criminals who take them. For years, Steps has searched unsuccessfully for a terrible killer he knows as Leonardo, who leaves his victims posed like DaVinci’s Vitruvian Man. But, so far, that killer’s remained at large. Now Steps and Jimmy, working out of their Washington state headquarters, are chasing a serial murderer they’ve dubbed The Sad Face Killer—a particularly vicious man who abducts young women, keeps them captive for a while, then brutally kills them. Steps knows the murderer’s shine and those of his victims, and he and Jimmy follow him from state to state and county to county, trying to catch him before he slays his latest captive. Kope, a professional crime analyst, brings a refreshing authenticity to his work, then raises the stakes several notches by giving Steps, from whose point of view the story unravels, a unique, funny, and intriguing voice. Crammed with characters who will capture readers' attention and writing that leaves much of the field in the dust, Kope’s novel features a character who is different, talented, sympathetic, and gifted with great heart. He’s surrounded by both ultracompetent investigative staffers and the worst criminals humanity has to throw at him. The combination is a winning one.
Kope’s fascinating debut will place Steps Craig alongside Walt Longmire, Jack Reacher, and Charlie Parker as an enduring literary hero.
From veteran Sallis (Others of My Kind, 2013, etc.) comes this short, charming novel that's part noir mystery and part small-town slice of life.
The story starts fast and portentously (its first four words are "We found the bodies…"), and the book has the form of a suspense novel: there's a bewildering mass grave that must be excavated; a suddenly returned native, Bobby Lowndes, a boyhood-coma survivor who seems to be a military sniper gone AWOL, who keeps managing, wraithlike, to hide in plain sight; a dogged FBI agent named Theodora Ogden in town to track Lowndes; and more. It also has a talky, noirish tone, with lots of snappy patter and sharp, laconic, philosophical observation. But at its core, and satisfyingly, this turns out to be a character-driven novel about a thoroughly thoughtful, decent, compassionate doctor, Lamar Hale, and his community of colleagues, patients, friends, and acquaintances. Lamar and his wisecracking romantic partner, Richard, a teacher, provide a still domestic center around which the chaos revolves. Part of it is the usual stuff of noir, expertly deployed, and part the material of the eccentric-small-town novel. Sallis builds suspense over the many months the story spans by alternating between plot point and shaggy dog anecdote, making the reader wonder when and how the novel's two kinds of plot and rhythm will entwine: when will the violence and darkness finally encroach on this cozy domestic sphere and threaten or destroy it? Sallis' latest has a lot to recommend it: an ingenious and unusual use of the MacGuffin; pungent dialogue; a world that's either dark shot through with abundant light or light shot through with abundant dark; likable, complex characters.
A World War II thriller with plenty of action and suspense in a most unusual setting.
In 1944, Capt. R.J. "Mac" MacCready, a tropical zoologist with a Cornell Ph.D., is sent deep into Brazil’s Amazon region to find out what a huge Japanese submarine is doing there. The I-400 is believed to have a hangar big enough to hold three floatplane bombers, and it has run aground in the mud. So Mac’s boss tells him to “find out what those Axis bastards are up to.” They’re up to a lot, as it happens. Mac guesses the sub was headed to Portão do Inferno, or Hell’s Gate (a real place). “What could possibly go wrong?” he asks himself sarcastically. Again, a lot. Think launch rails for missiles that might turn the tide on Germany’s Russian front and destroy entire American cities. Think evil Nazis and sentient vampire bats that take over parts of humans’ brains. Think giant man-eating turtles, vampire caves that have guano galore and are crawling with—well, never mind. Just think Indiana Jones. For that matter, this yarn evokes more than a few reminders of Stephen King, Joseph Conrad, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Readers will roll their eyes at the implausibility of certain details, but in a “Reality Check” after the epilogue, the authors convincingly explain themselves. For example, it won’t spoil the story to know that they revived a few species from extinction just for the telling of the tale, and they say there is historical basis for the Nazi project depicted. If this book is ever made into a movie, and it should be, it will have plenty of spectacular visuals and gross-out scenes. 3-D would be nice.
Fast-moving fun for thriller readers who enjoy a bit of horror and seeing bad guys get what’s coming to them.
A teenage boy’s mysterious disappearance from a local park leads his family and friends to contemplate supernatural influences.
Elizabeth Sanderson thinks nothing of letting her 13-year-old son, Tommy, sleep over at his friend Josh’s house, a common summer occurrence in the sleepy Boston suburb of Ames. But when Josh calls in the middle of the night, wondering if Tommy is back home, everything changes. Turns out Tommy, Josh, and their friend Luis snuck out, beers stuffed in backpacks, and headed for Borderland, the sprawling state park nearby, where Tommy ran off. Tremblay (A Head Full of Ghosts, 2015) makes it clear from the start that the half-truths Josh and Luis are peddling to their parents and the cops are barely that, but he’s not entirely successful at maintaining tension over Tommy’s ultimate fate. Elizabeth tries, somewhat unsuccessfully, to hold it together for her younger child, 11-year-old Kate, who becomes a virtual recluse in the wake of her brother’s disappearance. Though Elizabeth appears levelheaded, after she sees what she comes to believe is the ghost of her son crouching in her bedroom late one night, she becomes convinced that Tommy is dead. As the lives of the three boys prior to the fateful night take shape through flashbacks and somewhat clumsily inserted entries from Tommy's diary, which Elizabeth finds, the potential paranormal aspects—particularly the local mythology surrounding the boys’ hangout spot of Devil’s Rock—become almost as believable as the police investigation that’s grounded in reality.
Tremblay excels at atmospheric unease even if the story he’s spinning isn’t always as rich as its milieu.
John Darvelle is physically and mentally tough. He’s also willing to make moral judgments, as when he covers up for a woman who stole a ring from her nasty employer just to teach her a lesson. His next case is more difficult. Homicide detective Mike Ott has recommended him to a wealthy family whose son’s murder remains unsolved. Keaton Fuller walked out of his Hollywood home and was shot dead in his driveway. Keaton was a despicable person—even his parents loathed him—but the people who had the most obvious motives to kill him all have airtight alibis. Keaton was good-looking and could be charming, but he ruined his relationships with everyone in his life, from the mother he punched to the brother whose pet he shot. Keaton was also involved in several business deals that went sour, and his relationships with women included date rape and a long string of castoff girlfriends. Doggedly interviewing all the people who hated Keaton, Darvelle (The Detective and the Pipe Girl, 2014) unearths a single clue: Keaton’s brief involvement in a high-end tropical fish business that remains a mystery. Posing as an interested buyer, Darvelle visits Prestige Fish and gets a very bad vibe from owner Lee Graves. He continues to look into the fish, aware that if he’s not very clever, he may end up sleeping with them.
An exciting, well-written detective noir whose final twist raises it far above the ordinary.
A new and complex police heroine tries to solve a high-profile missing persons case while seeking domestic fulfillment in Cambridge.
Thirty-nine and single, DS Manon Bradshaw is feeling the burn of loneliness. As she pursues dead-end date after dead-end date, her personal life seems a complete disaster, but her professional interest and energy are piqued when the beautiful graduate-student daughter of a famous physician goes missing, apparently the victim of foul play. As the investigation into free-spirited Edith Hind’s disappearance uncovers no strong leads, Manon finds herself drawn to two unconventional males: one, a possible romantic partner, plays a tangential role in the investigation when he finds a body; the other, a young boy with a tragic home life, mourns the death of his brother, who also might have ties to Edith or her family. As Manon draws nearer to the truth about Edith, aided by her idealistic partner, Davy, and their team of homicide detectives, she also has to face the fact that she might not be destined to follow the traditional domestic model. Though it follows all the typical twists and turns of a modern police procedural, this novel stands out from the pack in two significant ways: first of all, in the solution, which reflects a sophisticated commentary on today’s news stories about how prejudices about race and privilege play out in our justice system; and second, in the wounded, compassionate, human character of Manon. Her struggles to define love and family at a time when both are open to interpretation make for a highly charismatic and engaging story.
Hopefully, this is just the first adventure of many Steiner (Homecoming, 2013) will write for DS Bradshaw and her team.
A tightly plotted debut mystery that mixes foul play, wordplay, and humor.
The jokes start right away. Jonathan Tucker wakes up with “her” in his bed, but “she” is his faithful dog, Nip. Together, they are Nip and Tuck. He's a widower who in his grief walked away from his former Manhattan law firm, Winston Barr & Trombley. Now senior partner Evan Trombley wants him back because Ben Baum is dead of an apparent heart attack. Baum had headed Ozone Industries, the law firm’s biggest client, and he left behind a strange precatory letter containing Tolkien-style runes and a prediction of his “murder most foul” committed by an unspecified person close to him. Baum’s letter leaves behind a set of puzzles, all relating to his favorite books. He loved classics such as The Hobbit, The Wizard of Oz, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and that contributes to the novel’s light tone. Tuck’s consulting assignment is to “discreetly ferret out” information to help the firm decide how to proceed with Baum’s will. Tuck’s pay is $200,000 per month for up to three months, an amount that doesn’t appear to surprise him in the least. He attends Baum’s funeral in London at the request of Baum’s daughter, Dorothy. The decedent turns out to have been “a bit of an aging hippie” who had argued with what a colleague called his “gypsy whore” on the day of his death. The author’s fun shows through with Tuck’s constant indulgence inventing new collective nouns: “a joint of osteopaths, a rash of dermatologists, a stream of urologists, a balance of accountants.” Many of the characters’ names come from children’s literature: Dorothy, Charlotte, and Baum, to name a few.
Often funny, always light, this one will appeal to mystery buffs who don’t require sex and gore—and to those harboring fond memories of reading J.R.R. Tolkien, L. Frank Baum, and Lewis Carroll.
Pleasing mayhem from horror/thrillermeister Hill (NOS4A2, 2013, etc.), the chip-off-the-old-block son of Stephen King.
When J.K. Rowling gets it, you know things are bad. And not nicely, either: she’s gunned down by a firing squad, and “her execution had been televised on what remained of the web.” George Clooney has already burst into flames. Why? Well, Clooney was doing his humanitarian thing, and Rowling was just trying to help young people unfortunate enough to come down with a scorching case of Dragonscale, a manifestation of a very unpleasant malady caused, as the epidemiological portion of Hill’s yarn details, by a runaway spore. The worst effects of the illness make themselves known to school nurse Harper Grayson when a street person bursts into flames: “His head tipped further and further back,” Hill writes with graphic glee, “and he opened his mouth to scream and black smoke gushed out instead.” About the only positive thing that comes of this pyromaniacal display is that Glenn Beck torches, too. But then, so do thousands of innocents, causing the usual end-of-the-world scenario, as good Christians form fundamentalist posses to round up and, well, isolate anyone who shows signs of the illness. Against them are arrayed the victims, not all of whom spontaneously combust. Harper’s encounters with this horrible disease, which brings her into the orbit of a mysterious Brit called The Fireman—hero and villain all rolled up into one—are overall less trying than dealing with her nasty husband, a master of passive-aggressive put-downs. Hill shares his father’s ability to write well and sympathetically of and for women, especially the hero of the piece, Harper, who has resources and intelligence far above and beyond what the menfolk suspect. But he also shares dad’s fondness for long, long stories; heft may be a genre convention, but Hill’s narrative too often grinds to a near halt under its own weight.
A satisfying tale overall, just right for the beach. Be sure to wear sunscreen.