An unflinching little gem of a story: violent, dark, and unrelentingly entertaining.

A DIFFERENT LIE

Two dangerous assassins tangle with deadly results in the latest book by screenwriter, novelist, and producer Haas.

Columbus is happy. He’s working with his wife, the sexy Italian Risina, and they’re the parents of an adorable little boy, Pooley. But Columbus and his family aren’t the people next door: he’s a world-class assassin and Risina is his fence, the person who does the preliminary research on the mark. Neither Columbus nor Risina suffers any second thoughts about the brutal and bloody business in which they’re engaged. To them, it’s simply a job. But the shadowy Columbus, who, after years as a contract killer, now works for a secretive government agency, has been given an assignment that could prove more dangerous than any previous target. Columbus has been told to hit a man named Castillo, a young Spanish killer whose star has long been on the rise. He starts by seeking out Castillo’s fence, Aiza, but things soon start going awry. A man used to finding few obstacles in his way, Columbus takes up with another hit man, Christopher Ochoa, and before he realizes it, he’s being hunted by the man who's supposed to be his prey. With his screenwriting background, Haas builds characters who are complicated, memorable, and sharply drawn. His spare, lean prose wastes no words. Unlike writers who feel they have to fill in all the blanks, Haas trusts his readers to be smart enough to flesh out the characters and picture them in their minds’ eyes. In the process, Haas develops a powerful and compelling voice and spends his scant 200 pages building suspense, creating atmosphere, and telling a compelling yarn. Columbus isn’t in the most savory profession, but readers will root for the hit man all the same.

An unflinching little gem of a story: violent, dark, and unrelentingly entertaining.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-60598-899-3

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Pegasus Crime

Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2015

Brookes' second novel is a multipronged spy thriller that fires on all cylinders. A smarter or more exciting mystery likely...

SPY GAMES

Having survived a disastrous turn of events in China in Brookes' sensational debut, Night Heron (2014), British journalist-cum-spy Philip Mangan is dragged back into perilous waters by a mysterious Chinese official who wants to trade state secrets.

His cover blown, Mangan has been keeping a low profile in Ethiopia. But following a terrorist bombing in Addis Ababa, he is enticed into meeting with "Rocky," as the official calls himself. Part of a rogue military group bent on overthrowing political and corporate leaders in China, he not only has information on the terrorist attack, but also defense secrets to share with the British. Returning as Mangan's determined handler, tall and striking Trish Patterson gives him the go-ahead to meet with Rocky, who may also know something about the murder of a key contact of hers in Hong Kong. Meanwhile, a boy from a storied but shady Communist family who's attending Oxford is worried for his safety. As the plotlines converge, Mangan gets in further and further over his head. As much as he may have learned about deception, betrayal, and even killing, he is no supersleuth. In the tradition of the great spy novelists, Brookes refuses to indulge in heroics: when Mangan is seized by the bad guys and has his life threatened—knowing he's regarded by MI6 as a "cutout," or on his own—he is properly petrified. "Get used to it, Philip," Trish tells him at one point. "Our stories don't end. They just sort of hang there, unresolved." As powerfully as this story is, in fact, resolved, readers will be left hanging on, keenly anticipating the next installment in the series.

Brookes' second novel is a multipronged spy thriller that fires on all cylinders. A smarter or more exciting mystery likely won't be released this year.

Pub Date: July 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-39990-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Redhook/Orbit

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

Coben can always be relied on to generate thrills from the simplest premises, but his finest tales maintain a core of logic...

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THE STRANGER

Another one of Coben’s got-it-all New Jersey dads finds out that his wonderful wife has been hiding a whopper of a secret from him—a secret whose trail leads to even more monstrous revelations.

“We’re living the dream,” Tripp Evans assures Adam Price at their sons’ sixth-grade lacrosse all-star team draft—lacrosse, for crying out loud. But the dream is already slipping from Adam’s grasp as Tripp speaks. Minutes earlier, a young stranger who declined to give his name had sidled up to Adam and informed him that his wife had faked her first pregnancy, which had supposedly ended in a miscarriage. When an agonized Adam confronts Corinne with the story, she doesn’t deny it. Instead, she pleads for more time and promises that she’ll tell all over a restaurant dinner the following day. Adam, who’s clearly never read anything by Coben (Missing You, 2014, etc.), agrees, and Corinne checks out of her high school teaching job and vanishes, pausing just long enough to text Adam: “YOU TAKE CARE OF THE KIDS. DON’T TRY TO CONTACT ME. IT WILL BE OKAY.” Days pass, and it’s not OK. Adam’s two boys (are they really even his? should he run DNA tests?) keep asking where their mom is. There’s no word from Corinne, who won’t answer Adam’s texts. Her cellphone places her somewhere near Pittsburgh. Rumors about her start to percolate through the lacrosse league. And, although it’ll take Adam quite a while to find this out, a murder in far-off Ohio has implications for Corinne’s disappearance even more disturbing than anything Adam’s imagined.

Coben can always be relied on to generate thrills from the simplest premises, but his finest tales maintain a core of logic throughout the twists. This 100-proof nightmare ranks among his most potent.

Pub Date: March 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-525-95350-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2015

Connolly infuses his thrillers with enough of the supernatural to please fans of both genres, but it’s his sense of humor,...

A SONG OF SHADOWS

Nazis, neighbors, and a nasty hit man coalesce around Connolly’s iconic character, Charlie Parker, who’s recovering from a near-fatal hit.

Parker, the haunted former police detective and private investigator, holes up in a rented beach house in Boreas, on the rocky Maine coast, but it’s never smooth sailing when he’s in the mix. Louis and Angel, longtime associates of Parker who are deadly in their own rights, have helped their friend settle into what should be a tranquil place to recover from the attack that almost killed him. But this is Parker, and in Connolly’s capable hands, nothing is ever simple. When a dead body washes ashore nearby, Parker crosses swords with Boreas Police Chief Cory Bloom and meets his neighbors Ruth Winter and her ailing daughter, Amanda. The body is identified as that of Bruno Perlman, a stranger with a Yiddish paper in his car. Meanwhile, two aging Nazis have been picked up in the U.S., and one of them is naming names, causing a twisted, vicious, and contemptible little man to go on a brutal multistate killing spree. Parker fans know their favorite detective isn’t indestructible: he’s tortured by the loss of his wife and daughter many years ago; estranged from the mother of his 6-year-old daughter, Sam; and, it seems, destined to never again know happiness. But he has knowledge and insight where the spirit world is concerned, and his radar starts screaming when bodies begin turning toes-up all around him. Combining fascinating and not widely known information about Croatian World War II concentration camps with Parker’s struggle to regain some sort of normalcy in his life, Connolly mixes a seamless storyline with a narrative voice that is quite unlike any other.

Connolly infuses his thrillers with enough of the supernatural to please fans of both genres, but it’s his sense of humor, timeless characters, and impeccable writing that make his work worth reading.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5011-1828-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Emily Bestler/Atria

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015

Grafton’s endless resourcefulness in varying her pitches in this landmark series (W Is for Wasted, 2013, etc.), graced by...

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X

From the Alphabet series , Vol. 24

What does X stand for? Xanakis, XLNT, maybe even Father Xavier, all features of Kinsey Millhone’s dense, meaty 24th case.

The drought of 1989 is causing anxiety all over Santa Teresa, but money seems to have rained down on Kinsey’s latest client, Hallie Bettancourt, who’s seeking the current whereabouts of just-released robber Christian Satterfield, the son she had when she was only 15. Kinsey makes a few calls, rings a few bells, tracks down the address, and sends it on to the client, only to discover that everything Hallie told her, from her name to her relationship with Satterfield, was false. To add insult to injury, one of the $100 bills Hallie, or whoever she was, insisted on paying Kinsey is one of the same bills wealthy Ari Xanakis used two years ago to ransom a Turner painting back for $25,000 from his ex-wife, Teddy, who’d taken it upon herself to add it to the divorce settlement. Meanwhile, Kinsey’s gotten involved in another equally messy case, driven by her unwelcome suspicion that her late colleague Pete Wolinsky—hired years ago by salesman Ned Lowe’s attorney, Arnold Ruffner, to dig up dirt that would impeach the testimony of Taryn Sizemore, who’d accused him of harassment and stalking—had cast his net further and decided to blackmail either Lowe or someone else connected with the case. Showing as much initiative as Hallie or Pete and a lot more rectitude, Kinsey resolves to close the book on Pete’s shadowy game and to return a pair of sentimental religious keepsakes she’d found hidden in Pete’s files to their rightful owner. A droll drought-driven subplot revolving around Henry Pitts, Kinsey’s ancient landlord, is the icing on the cake.

Grafton’s endless resourcefulness in varying her pitches in this landmark series (W Is for Wasted, 2013, etc.), graced by her trademark self-deprecating humor, is one of the seven wonders of the genre.

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-399-16384-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Marian Wood/Putnam

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

A delightful debut, tender and funny. The mystery takes on the worldwide problem of abused women while revealing both the...

RECIPES FOR LOVE AND MURDER

A South African woman cooks out of love while hoping for the real thing.

Tannie Maria’s mother was Afrikaans, her father English, and her late husband an abuser whose passing she does not mourn. She lives with her five chickens on a small property in the Klein Karoo and writes a recipe column for the Klein Karoo Gazette until her friend and editor, Hattie Christie, tells her that the head office wants an advice column and there’s no room for both the new feature and her recipes. The good news is that Tannie Maria can write the new column. Since the only thing she knows about love concerns cooking, she combines the two in “Tannie Maria’s Love Advice and Recipe Column” and achieves a smashing success. One of the first letters she receives is from Martine van Schalkwyk, whose equally abusive husband has recently shot the ducks she received as a gift from a female friend. The columnist sends advice and a recipe, but neither prevents Martine’s death. Tannie Maria and Jessie Mostert, the ambitious young investigative journalist for the Gazette, decide to investigate, to the consternation of Detective Lt. Henk Kannemeyer, a widower who takes a shine to Tannie Maria but wishes she would stick to cooking. Although Tannie Maria, Jessie, and Anna Pretorius, Martine’s grieving friend, all think Dirk van Schalkwyk killed his wife, the police arrest Anna, whose fingerprints are on the murder weapon. Anna and Dirk, each convinced the other is the murderer, nearly kill each other, but Tannie Maria and Jessie think otherwise.

A delightful debut, tender and funny. The mystery takes on the worldwide problem of abused women while revealing both the beauties and problems of South Africa. And the recipes will make you want to drop everything and start cooking.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-239766-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

Even the most astute readers will be in for a shock as Hawkins slowly unspools the facts, exposing the harsh realities of...

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THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN

Desperate to find lives more fulfilling than her own, a lonely London commuter imagines the story of a couple she’s only glimpsed through the train window in Hawkins’ chilling, assured debut, in which the line between truth and lie constantly shifts like the rocking of a train.

Rachel Watson—a divorced, miserable alcoholic who’s still desperately in love with her ex-husband, Tom—rides the same train every day into London for her dead-end job, one she unsurprisingly loses after one too many drunken outbursts. Continuing her daily commute to keep up appearances with her roommate, Rachel always pays special attention to a couple, whom she dubs “Jess and Jason,” who live a seemingly idyllic life in a house near her own former home. When she sees a momentary act of infidelity, followed soon after by news that Jess—whose real name is Megan Hipwell—has disappeared, Rachel is compelled to share her secret knowledge, becoming enmeshed in the police investigation, which centers on Megan’s husband, Scott. Further complicating matters is the fact that the night Megan vanished, Rachel has a hazy memory of drunkenly stumbling past the Hipwell home and seeing something she can’t quite recall. Hawkins seamlessly moves among Rachel’s present-day story as the investigation into Megan’s disappearance widens, Megan’s own life leading up to her disappearance, and snippets about Anna, the woman for whom Tom left Rachel.

Even the most astute readers will be in for a shock as Hawkins slowly unspools the facts, exposing the harsh realities of love and obsession’s inescapable links to violence.

Pub Date: Jan. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-59463-366-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Nov. 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

A beautifully crafted mystery in which Keller (Summer of the Dead, 2014, etc.) explores love, hate, and poverty in a place...

LAST RAGGED BREATH

A West Virginia prosecutor has an uneasy feeling about her latest case.

Belfa "Bell" Elkins feels betrayed by one of her closest friends: former sheriff Nick Fogelsong has recently resigned from his job and is now head of security for the Highway Haven chain of truck stops. Meanwhile, Raythune County is beset by poverty and drug use. Coal is dying, and the only new jobs on the horizon are low-paying positions at the Mountain Magic resort, whose construction has been held up by Royce Dillard’s refusal to sell the parcel the resort needs for easy access to the interstate. Royce is a recluse who lives in a tiny cabin with the dogs he’s adopted. A survivor of the infamous Buffalo Creek disaster, he deals with dogs better than people but is known throughout the community as a kind and gentle soul. A tiny pension from the mining company whose lax policies created the flood that killed his parents is all Royce has to live on, but despite constant hectoring and offers of big money from Mountain Magic employee Edward Hackel, he refuses to sell. When Hackel’s badly battered body is found in the creek near Royce’s home, Sheriff Pam Harrison arrests Royce for the murder. Then a bloody shovel is found in his shed, and Bell has no choice but to prosecute, even though she has doubts and sorely misses the chance to discuss the case with Fogelsong. Bell, not a dog person, even takes in one of Royce’s pooches as she struggles with the case, angling for a plea bargain from a defendant who steadfastly maintains his innocence. The large sums of money involved guarantee other suspects; Bell just has to find one with a better motive for murdering Hackel.

A beautifully crafted mystery in which Keller (Summer of the Dead, 2014, etc.) explores love, hate, and poverty in a place of stunning natural beauty with pockets of overwhelming ugliness. The ending may leave you in tears.

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-250-04474-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Minotaur

Review Posted Online: June 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

Tess' constant worry about whether she's a good mother dovetails ironically with Dawes' fight to win her daughters back....

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HUSH HUSH

Lippman's latest installment in the Tess Monaghan series weaves an exploration of the joys and frustrations of motherhood with a clever and engaging mystery.

In the last Monaghan mystery, The Girl in the Green Raincoat (2011), Tess solved a Rear Window–style crime when her doctor confined her to bed rest at the end of her pregnancy. Fast-forwarding three years, Lippman has brought Tess back, now the mother of toddler Carla Scout as well as a full-time PI. She has taken on a new partner, ex–homicide cop Sandy Sanchez (the protagonist of Lippman's excellent 2014 stand-alone, After I'm Gone), but even with Sandy's help Tess struggles to juggle her tantrum-prone daughter, her relationship with longtime boyfriend Crow and her work. The job in question is complex and juicy: Tess has been hired by the rich and haughty Melisandre Harris Dawes, who killed her infant daughter by leaving her in a sweltering car. Dawes was found not guilty by reason of insanity (specifically, postpartum psychosis), but after her trial, she gave away custody of her older daughters, divorced her husband and fled the country. Now she's returned to Baltimore and wants Tess to look into her security. She's also commissioned a documentary on the insanity defense, giving Lippman plenty of room to share her observations on our passion for reality TV and obsession with the most horrifying crimes. Before long, both Dawes and Tess are receiving notes with creepy stalker overtones, and the case takes a nasty, violent turn.

Tess' constant worry about whether she's a good mother dovetails ironically with Dawes' fight to win her daughters back. Lippman dives deep not only into the ways women tend to question their choices and abilities, but also into whether all mothers, and kids, are a little crazy.

Pub Date: Feb. 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-208342-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

First of a series. Though you’ll wonder early and often how Harry can possibly survive for any sequels, you’ll hope again...

CRUCIFIXION CREEK

The creator of DS Kathy Kolla and DCI David Brock, those ornaments of the Met (The Raven’s Eye, 2013, etc.), goes Down Under to feature an even more hard-used cop.

What is it with suburban Bankstown, Australia? In rapid succession, Stefan Ganis, a former member of the Crows biker gang high on meth, shoots a hostage he’s taken and gets shot himself; a neighbor finds retired businessman Charlie Waterford and his wife, Grace, dead in a local restaurant; and builder Greg March gets stabbed to death. Greg’s brother-in-law, DS Harry Belltree of Sydney Homicide, at first avoids pesky Bankstown Chronicle reporter Kelly Pool but is much more attentive when she suggests that all these deaths are connected. After all, Harry’s been nursing his own conspiracy theories for three years, ever since a suspicious car accident killed his parents and blinded his wife, Jenny. So he’s the perfect audience for a theory that links this murderous new outbreak to the Crows, shady financier Alexander Kristich, Counsellor Joost Potgeiter, and Lord knows who else. But Harry’s not one to sit around theorizing. Wasting no time, he breaks into Kristich’s office. What he finds there profoundly changes his relation to the case—and the reader’s relation to Harry, who thereafter leads Jenny, Kelly, his Homicide partner, Deb Velasco, and Greg’s business associates on a wild ride seasoned with murder, corruption, and other outrages. Unlike the 12 cases Maitland set Kolla and Brock, this one expresses its moral complications through nonstop action.

First of a series. Though you’ll wonder early and often how Harry can possibly survive for any sequels, you’ll hope again and again to be proved wrong.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-250-07214-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Minotaur

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

Mark’s fourth (Sorrow Bound, 2014, etc.) is a dark, bloody, twisting tale of love, hate, and greed you can’t put down.

TAKING PITY

The Serious and Organized Crime Unit battles a vast criminal organization.

Everyone in Detective Superintendent Trish Pharaoh’s meeting in London is abuzz over the Headhunters, which aims to take control of all criminal activities now being led by smaller regional groups. So far they’ve succeeded in making offers no crime boss could refuse—and any who did refuse died horrible deaths. But the Headhunters haven’t been able to convince 81-year-old Francis Nock and his enforcer, Raymond Mahon, who’ve run a criminal enterprise in the Hull area since before most of the upstarts were born. Pharaoh is most concerned about the welfare of her friend DS Aector McAvoy, who’s living in a small room with his son. His wife, Roisin, and their baby daughter have been hidden away ever since their house was blown up and Aector was attacked and left for dead by someone with a major grudge, perhaps an angry drug dealer. At the conference, Pharaoh is approached by a woman from the Home Office who insists she get McAvoy, still on sick leave and lost without Roisin, to take a job investigating a multiple murder case from 50 years earlier. Originally declared insane, the presumed killer is now considered fit for trial, and McAvoy is supposed to look into the case and see if there’s enough evidence to go ahead. Hardworking and honest, McAvoy is still widely hated by some of his fellow police officers for bringing down a crooked but popular copper. He soon learns that not only has much of the decades-old evidence vanished, but there’s a chance someone else committed the crime. As the Headhunters fight for dominance with help from crooked cops, Pharaoh and McAvoy discover almost too late that their cases are intertwined and more than one villain is eager to see them both dead.

Mark’s fourth (Sorrow Bound, 2014, etc.) is a dark, bloody, twisting tale of love, hate, and greed you can’t put down.

Pub Date: July 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-399-16821-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Blue Rider Press

Review Posted Online: April 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2015

Genuinely suspenseful and disturbing; McCreight delivers a provocative, timely novel that reminds us that sometimes the...

WHERE THEY FOUND HER

The discovery of an infant's body rocks a seemingly idyllic New Jersey town in McCreight's intense sophomore effort. 

Accustomed to writing lifestyle articles, reporter Molly Sanderson—a recent transplant to upscale Ridgedale with her English-professor husband and young daughter—never expected her first hard-news story to involve a dead baby. She's still reeling from her own miscarriage, and when an unidentified newborn girl is found in the woods near the college campus, it hits close to home. Expanding on the alternating-perspectives technique she used in her first novel, Reconstructing Amelia (2013), McCreight slowly lays out the pieces of the grim puzzle, which include Molly's ever widening investigation; the fears of the town as expertly conveyed through comments left on Molly's online news stories; and a complex relationship between two teenage girls from different sides of the tracks. At 16, Sandy Mendelson is more mature than her hard-partying mother, Jenna, who thinks nothing of parading a series of men (and drugs) in front of her daughter. After dropping out of school to help earn money for rent, Sandy is trying to get her GED diploma with the help of tutor Hannah Carlson, a high school senior whose life couldn't be more different. The daughter of Ridgedale's police chief—who's a reluctant source for Molly—and a demanding mother, Hannah is a tightly coiled spring. As rumors abound and Molly investigates the town's—and the college's—squeaky clean image, the baby's identity and her parentage threaten to tear Ridgedale apart. 

Genuinely suspenseful and disturbing; McCreight delivers a provocative, timely novel that reminds us that sometimes the things that shine the brightest have the dirtiest underbellies.

Pub Date: April 14, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-222546-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2015

Penny is an expert at pulling away the surface of her characters to expose their deeper—and often ugly—layers, always doing...

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THE NATURE OF THE BEAST

From the Chief Inspector Gamache series , Vol. 11

In Inspector Gamache’s 11th outing, the sheltering forest around his small village of Three Pines is revealed to be a hiding place for unexpected evil.

Armand Gamache, former head of homicide at the Sûreté du Québec, is learning to let go and be happy with his new life in Three Pines, far from the evil that ate away at him for years. His former colleagues and friends poke fun at him, saying the great inspector will never truly hang up his hat, but these jokes turn deadly serious when an imaginative 9-year-old boy named Laurent is murdered shortly after telling what seemed to be a tall tale about a massive gun wielded by a monster in the woods. When it’s discovered that the boy was not exaggerating even in the slightest, Gamache’s mind quickly switches back to questioning his surroundings and the people who inhabit this space—many of them his close friends. Chief Inspector Isabelle Lacoste and her right hand, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, take up residence in Three Pines, and with Gamache’s sideline help, they begin to find out what sort of darkness lurks just outside of town. Penny uses her well-known, idyllic setting as the center point of a mystery with global scope and consequences, spanning decades and implicating many, including series veterans. What makes this story most magical, though, is how the many aspects of this spiraling tale can be connected by a Bible verse and related lines from a Yeats poem: “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, / Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” It’s with this eye for detail that Penny sketches the “nature of the beast”—evil that has the potential to grow even in the most unexpected places. An especially terrifying character returning from Gamache’s past is the perfect reminder of the dark side of human nature, but that side does not always win out.

Penny is an expert at pulling away the surface of her characters to expose their deeper—and often ugly—layers, always doing so with a direct but compassionate hand.

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-250-02208-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Minotaur

Review Posted Online: July 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015

Despite plot pieces that fit together a little too snugly, Sandlin blends pathos, humor, and poetic prose in a strong debut.

THE DO-RIGHT

A former oilman and a determined parolee form a detective team in Texas’ bayou country.

Delpha Wade is conscientiously following her parole officer’s rules for finding a place to live and a job: act as polite as possible and ask for what she needs. This double-A advice lands her a room in the New Rosemont Hotel in exchange for looking after the owner’s ancient aunt and a day job as secretary for Tom Phelan’s brand-new detective agency. She does more than ask for the job: she greets the first customer, who's been drawn in by an ad in the Beaumont Enterprise, and starts acting like Tom’s secretary before he’s even agreed to hire her. Tom, who recently lost part of a finger on an oil rig, wants to keep the remaining nine digits and has put all his workers’ comp into this new business. But Delpha’s 14 years for voluntary manslaughter at the Gatesville Women’s Prison, known locally as the Do-Right, taught her more than bookkeeping and typing. She learned more about what got her there in the first place for killing one of two men who were raping her—the will to survive. Now she’s just what Tom needs to nudge him into taking the case of a missing boy and help with the stakeout of a cheating husband, the recovery of a missing artificial leg, and the mystery of a possibly poisoned dog. In her off hours, Delpha helps her landlady seek a mysterious Tiffany item and starts a love affair with a Princeton dropout. While the Watergate hearings blare in the background and Beaumont’s colorful citizenry discusses them and every other topic large and small, Tom’s admiration for Delpha grows, along with his unease about the adulterous husband and the only temporarily missing boy. But in his blossoming detective zeal to dig more deeply into the cases, he doesn’t realize how much he’s endangering his able sidekick.

Despite plot pieces that fit together a little too snugly, Sandlin blends pathos, humor, and poetic prose in a strong debut.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-941026-19-9

Page Count: 306

Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

A nail-biter that is equal parts suspense, science fiction, and a funny, dark sendup of the stranglehold of gender.

THE BLONDES

A Canadian grad student, newly pregnant with her married professor’s baby, must navigate a world altered by a pandemic in which blonde women attack the people around them in this smart new literary thriller from Schultz (Heaven Is Small, 2009, etc.).

On her first day in New York City, Hazel Hayes discovers her unexpected pregnancy, dyes her hair orange and sees a businesswoman drag a young girl to her death on the subway tracks. At first, it seems like a random act of violence, but soon, the streets are filled with women and girls acting rabid, killing people and perishing themselves. The only thing connecting the infected? Their (natural, dyed, highlighted) blonde hair. Hazel is recounting these events—and her herculean struggle to get home to Toronto as the disease tears across the world—months later to her unborn child while holed up in a cabin with her professor’s wife. The premise seems ludicrous—almost as if it's not meant to be taken very seriously—but that's intentional, and Schultz plays with this expectation. Before a violent attack at JFK, Hazel witnesses a group of flight attendants preparing to strike. She attempts to describe the scene and then stops. “You see, I’m not telling this right,” she says. “It sounds comical, even to me. Part of the difficulty has to do with the fact that they were very beautiful women.” This is the best kind of satire: The disease doesn’t stand in cleanly for any single idea but rather an amalgamation of double standards, dismissals, expectations, abuses, and injustices large and small that any woman will recognize. What could be sexist clichés—the student/professor affair, the mistress and wife at each other’s throats—are utterly recast, and nestled in the wry political commentary are moments of pure horror.

A nail-biter that is equal parts suspense, science fiction, and a funny, dark sendup of the stranglehold of gender.

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-250-04335-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 2, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2015

Scott (The Low Road, 2014, etc.) skillfully uses the beauty of the Highlands as a backdrop for an entrancing mystery whose...

A KIND OF GRIEF

A woman’s feelings of guilt over the death of someone she admired enmesh her in a dangerous search for the truth.

Joanne Ross still suffers from low self-esteem caused by a bullying father, an abusive former husband, and a near-death experience at the hands of a colleague. Now married to John McAllister, editor of the Highland Gazette, she’s given up her job, but not her curiosity, to stay home with her two girls and work on a novel. In 1959, life in the Scottish Highlands remains old-fashioned in many ways, so Joanne’s not entirely surprised to read about a woman tried and acquitted for witchcraft. Determined to write an article about the woman, Alice Ramsay, she sets off for Sutherland. Alice is an artist in her late 40s, and though she tells Joanne that she doesn't want an article written about her, she kindly invites her into her house for tea. Joanne is enchanted by the ambiance of her cottage and the quality of Alice's artwork. Unfortunately, a colleague—the local art critic—cajoles Joanne into speaking unwisely. When he publishes a story about the witch trial, with details about Alice's house that only Joanne could have known, Alice is furious and refuses to speak to her again. Then Alice is found dead, an apparent suicide, though Joanne is convinced there’s more to the story. She and McAllister buy some of Alice’s paintings, sketches, and books at the auction of her property, a purchase that brings them afoul of one of Britain’s secret agencies, desperate to regain its reputation after the Burgess/Maclean case has made them a laughingstock. Although they’re threatened with the Official Secrets Act, McAllister, anxious to see Joanne become whole again, does not demur when she stubbornly insists on investigating Alice’s background and tries to find what the nameless secret agency is so desperate to hide.

Scott (The Low Road, 2014, etc.) skillfully uses the beauty of the Highlands as a backdrop for an entrancing mystery whose characters repeatedly and pleasurably upstage its action.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4767-5618-9

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

Slaughter (Cop Town, 2014, etc.) is so uncompromising in following her blood trails to the darkest places imaginable that...

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PRETTY GIRLS

Twenty-four years after a traumatic disappearance tore a Georgia family apart, Slaughter’s scorching stand-alone picks them up and shreds them all over again.

The Carrolls have never been the same since 19-year-old Julia vanished. After years of fruitlessly pestering the police, her veterinarian father, Sam, killed himself; her librarian mother, Helen, still keeps the girl's bedroom untouched, just in case. Julia’s sisters have been equally scarred. Lydia Delgado has sold herself for drugs countless times, though she’s been clean for years now; Claire Scott has just been paroled after knee-capping her tennis partner for a thoughtless remark. The evening that Claire’s ankle bracelet comes off, her architect husband, Paul, is callously murdered before her eyes and, without a moment's letup, she stumbles on a mountainous cache of snuff porn. Paul’s business partner, Adam Quinn, demands information from Claire and threatens her with dire consequences if she doesn’t deliver. The Dunwoody police prove as ineffectual as ever. FBI agent Fred Nolan is more suavely menacing than helpful. So Lydia and Claire, who’ve grown so far apart that they’re virtual strangers, are unwillingly thrown back on each other for help. Once she’s plunged you into this maelstrom, Slaughter shreds your own nerves along with those of the sisters, not simply by a parade of gruesome revelations—though she supplies them in abundance—but by peeling back layer after layer from beloved family members Claire and Lydia thought they knew. The results are harrowing.

Slaughter (Cop Town, 2014, etc.) is so uncompromising in following her blood trails to the darkest places imaginable that she makes most of her high-wire competition look pallid, formulaic, or just plain fake.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-242905-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015

This one could make it to the big screen, but don’t wait for the movie. Buy the book. It may be the first of a long series.

CRUSH

A fast, crazy crime thriller filled with humor and smatterings of blood.

Caleb Rush, nicknamed Crush, is a big-ass hulk of a bartender, bouncer, and “immovable object” who works in an LA bar called the Nocturne.  “Rush had hurt a lot of martial-arts teachers,” so if you care to mess with this guy, you’d better either have a gun or a passel of gangbanger chums all jumping him at once. Young Amelia Trask watches Crush in action and learns he is Bulgarian, or maybe Mexican or Italian “or something.” Soon a dude in a Lamborghini tries to snatch her in front of the bar, and suddenly Crush is entangled in Amelia’s life. Gail, a “taekwondo master ‘slash’ bartender,” and Crush’s sort-of brother, Zerbe, are colorful characters adding spice to the plot. Rush had once protected Amelia’s father, Stanley, a “filthy rich, arrogant” thief “who a whole lot of people probably wanted dead” and who “probably stole loose change from his left pocket when his right pocket wasn’t looking.” Now Amelia wants Crush to protect her from the Russian Mafia, and despite his toughness, he may get himself killed in the process. Some great action scenes result, such as the one involving a GTO bursting out of a warehouse elevator. This brief novel crackles with sharp dialogue—“if you can’t lie to your wife, who can you lie to?”—and a witty narrative voice that put the reader in mind of Elmore Leonard. It’s not better than Leonard, but it’s surely in the master’s league. The author has won two Emmys and several other prestigious awards and already has a Crush sequel ready to roll titled Heart Attack & Vine.

This one could make it to the big screen, but don’t wait for the movie. Buy the book. It may be the first of a long series.

Pub Date: July 14, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-938849-36-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Prospect Park Books

Review Posted Online: April 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2015

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