Tragedy befalls a small town in the 1950s Deep South when the Klu Klux Klan’s arrival coincides with an unraveling of long-held family secrets.
A suicide gunshot rattles the humid air in this bleak but often beautifully crafted tale of cultural strife in the Southern town of Melby. During one particularly sweltering summer, the Sayre family tries to cope with the stifling heat. Since the childhood death of his brother, farmer John Sayre has held a terrible secret, one that comes to bear on his marriage, his status in town and his relationship with his young son, Timothy. John’s inner demons lead him into an affair with college-educated Cicada Anderson, whose family joined the African-American exodus from a nearby town tormented by the Klan. At the same time, Tim, aka Buckshot, finds the body of a lynched man. While the lovers carry on late-night trysts, Frances Sayre fears her husband has taken up with the Klan, until she discovers what she takes to be a love letter. Her discovery, Buckshot’s secretiveness and the increasing boldness of the town’s bigots and its reprehensible minister all sit heavy in the uneasy, oppressive heat. The cicadas incessantly hum in ominous chorus. Everyone is being watched: suspicious townsmen spy John and Cicada, the gravedigger sees visitors to the lynched man’s grave, the mockingbirds eye the old family cat in the last hours of its life. The town’s animals, wild or domesticated, play as big a part as any of the well-drawn characters in the tragedy. Nature’s cruelty—and occasionally, its beauty—foreshadow and echo the townspeople’s wicked acts. Only beautiful Cicada remains a mystery. Like the female cicada, she causes the frenzied men to buzz and drone around her in hopes of attracting her bewitching affection.
Be sure to read this steamy Southern noir in the A/C.
Set in the modern-day Channel Islands and Dresden, Germany, Davy’s neonoir mystery follows a transgendered (female to male) man investigating the disappearance of a famous actress’ grandmother during World War II.
Arty Shaw, a genealogist working for a television show called Roots that uncovers the family histories of celebrities, is no stranger to delving through family trees and old records to piece together the truth in a person’s past. He gets more than he bargained for, however, when tasked with helping Helen Valentine, a luminary of the London stage, discover why her grandmother seemed to abandon her mother in the 1940s. For some reason, though, a few dangerous people don’t want him to reveal the truth to the world. Meanwhile, Helen becomes cagey when Arty repeatedly confronts her with questions about why it’s all of a sudden so important for her to learn whether her grandmother had run away or been sent to a concentration camp by Nazis. Davy, in his debut, spins an engrossing mystery that shines a light on a lesser-known aspect of World War II history. The straightforward story allows the reader to follow Arty’s process every step of the way—reminiscent of Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time (2011)—which grants the story authenticity and humanity. Arty’s examination of Helen’s family history comes to parallel his coping with his own past while dovetailing elegantly with the novel’s Holocaust themes of persecution. Davy’s personal experience with gender reassignment comes through in the dignity and grace with which he matter-of-factly depicts his protagonist’s own experiences of gender reassignment. It’s rare to find a novel that blends genres so well, with such a fully fleshed-out, distinctive protagonist at the center.
An extremely satisfying read, as thrilling as it is humane.
In his debut novel, Mears introduces Pinkerton detective Michael Temple, a man sent to Berlin in 1934 with one goal: bring back American film star Sara Potter.
Before he even leaves the airport, Temple is drawn into a web of murder, romance and revenge that leads to the highest echelons of Germany’s emerging Nazi power structure. Paramount hired Temple for a simple mission of retrieval: find the actress Sara Potter and convince her to return to America. Upon his arrival, another emerging starlet is sadistically murdered on the set of the German movie studio UFA, and Temple becomes a suspect. Soon, his every move is watched by the increasingly bold Gestapo; his burgeoning romance with Potter only complicates matters further. Temple’s smartass demeanor bears more than a passing resemblance to Philip Marlowe, although it remains Mears’ distinct creation since his PI is imbued with considerably more warmth than Chandler’s. One of Mears’ major achievements is his thoroughly researched, entirely believable depiction of pre–World War II Germany. His portrayal of the German capital’s streets and neighborhoods, the newspapers of the time, and even Berlin-taxi-driver slang lend the story a credibility that’s lacking in many other period mysteries. An impressive balance of both plot threads—the love story and the political intrigue—propels the story forward. In particular, the tense political climate comes through vividly: Berlin’s citizens are wary of being seen reading the “wrong” newspaper or even discussing politics with lifelong friends. Mears doesn’t shy from portraying well-known personalities, either: Herman Goering, Joseph Goebbels, Leni Riefenstahl, the Fuhrer himself, and, as the title suggests, famed screen star Marlene Dietrich all make memorable appearances. Temple is a sympathetic narrator, a vulnerable, even ultimately sentimental detective who wants not only to do his job, but endearingly, to do the right thing. The typos distract a little, and there are perhaps 50 or 60 pages too many, but Mears has created a classic gumshoe novel of the best kind—tough guys and tougher dames, plenty of cocktails, gruesome murder scenes, fast-paced action and whip-smart dialogue. In the tradition of such masters as Chandler and Hammett, it’s all here, covered in a thick patina of cigarette smoke, set to a soundtrack of swing bands and clinking beer steins.
A solid, page-turning throwback to the golden age of detective novels.
A fun-filled tale of new beginnings, sudden endings and the lighter side of the daily grind.
After a professional and personal meltdown in Orange County, Louisa “Lulu” Hallstrom packs her things and returns home to Seattle. With her $80,000-a-year job firmly in the rearview, Louisa takes the first job available—an entry-level admin position working for a lazy, mentally unbalanced boss. In desperate need of an apartment, Louisa hooks up with an old college friend who has morphed into a slovenly, militant environmentalist with a horrifying lack of domestic skills and hygiene. Louisa, her love life in similar shambles, finds herself at the mercy of online dating and its resulting grotesqueries. Her bad luck is compounded when she finds the body of a co-worker and becomes a suspect, a misfortune that’s surpassed by another concern: She might be the next victim. The engaging, unwitting Louisa helps first-time author Reinke successfully capture the fresh style of a light, well-paced mystery, impressively rendered with interesting, multidimensional characters. Reinke’s humorous, witty voice is accessorized by easygoing and accessible prose. Despite a few imperfections—slightly contrived dialogue, for example—Reinke wisely refrains from getting too fancy with inorganic plot twists; instead, she simply lets the story speak for itself. Louisa is a funny, endearing, self-deprecating and, above all, relatable heroine, whom just about every woman can relate to as she navigates a turbulent life, with a few laughs along the way. Hopefully we’ll be hearing more soon from Reinke and Louisa.
A refreshing, humorous read that strikes a winning balance between chick lit and light mystery.
A madcap mystery romp in a coastal California college town, where students fit in studying after hitting the beach.
Down-on-his-luck Hollywood star Lance Steele (aka Pavel Popoff) is temporarily residing with his Russian-professor mother, Galya. Taking Lance’s “stepbrother”—a poodle named Kroshka (Breadcrumb)—for an early morning walk on campus, Galya narrowly escapes being crushed by the body of Chancellor (“Nazi”) Nottbeck falling from the campanile. As in most cozy mysteries, the local police believe the deceased died by accident (free climbing, in this case), but Galya is convinced he was the victim of foul play. She enlists, or forces, her son to investigate, drawing Lance/Pavel into a series of implausible but hilarious situations—e.g., hiding under a widow’s bed while Galya attempts to seduce the officer sent to inform the widow of her husband’s death. George exhibits a skill comparable to Janet Evanovich in crafting the zany ethnic matriarch, with Galya showing more depth and intelligence than Grandma Mazur. As a hapless pawn in his mother’s machinations, Lance is a sympathetic, likable fellow who can’t be blamed for his conflicted feelings for the delectable but young reporter Tiffany/Tanya. (In George’s hands, the fact that nearly every character has at least two names isn’t the least bit annoying.) While the combination of an extremely ethnic Russian in a groovy, surfer-infested beach town might seem unlikely, George not only makes it work, but turns it into a rollicking adventure the reader will not want to end. Detective Michael Lewis stretches credulity a bit too far with his willingness to overlook his former professor’s repeated meddling in a crime scene, but he’s so addled with lust for Nottbeck’s widow, how can he be expected to focus?
A wacky but wonderful new cozy by a talented author.
Against a backdrop of dystopian urban sprawl and human suffering, a morally questionable scientific corporation hunts for the gene responsible for the soul in O’Donnell’s debut novel, the first in a planned sci-fi trilogy.
As the novel begins, the chronology bounces forward and backward from the late 1980s—when scientist Jonathan Campbell flees from the “Exodus” project he has been working on after he discovers the horrifying human experiments authorized by his employer, Mr. Morrison—to a grim 2015. In the not-too-distant future, Morrison has nearly reached his goals, which involve genetic experimentation and test-tube humans, and Campbell has spent the past 30 years hiding among a secret order devoted to cultivating the soul, part of which involves rescuing Morrison’s human collateral damage. Meanwhile, the novel also tracks a troubled, drug-addicted young man, Dylan Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald’s father was once a promising presidential candidate before committing suicide when Dylan was a boy—a thread that dovetails with the main arc in surprising, harrowing ways. O’Donnell captures the darkness in humanity and the world, particularly in such elegantly composed passages as this one: “Morrison imagined women and children packed into…overcrowded refugee camps…mistaking the deployment of a Predator missile for a shooting star, making a wish as a $40 million toy dealt death from impossible heights.” The overall effect is a taut, brilliantly conceived thriller with impeccable pacing bursting with ideas.
For fans of noir-laden science fiction in the vein of Philip K. Dick that is in equal measures suspenseful, gripping, darkly funny and philosophically challenging.
Benson’s tightly plotted crime thriller is sure to please fans of police procedurals.
Several wealthy middle-aged Manhattanites—the baby boomers of the title—have been gruesomely murdered, and Detective Carina Quintana senses a connection. But how can she prove it? The killer, if he exists, varies his methods and targets and leaves no tangible evidence. Age and wealth are all that the victims have in common. Recently transferred from Miami after her partner was convicted of drug trafficking, Quintana struggles to adjust to New York City and deal with the aftermath of testifying against her former co-workers. Now partnered with the sarcastic Pete Simpson, Quintana attempts to catch the killer without creating panic among the city’s elites. Complications from her personal life—a Cayman bank account, an old lover and a connection from Miami—add to her troubles. Benson’s characters are well-drawn, and Quintana is a noteworthy heroine. The author handles her past and sexuality with a light hand, not overplaying the character. Instead, he keeps her guarded and subtle, without verging into clichéd stereotypes about damaged cops. While her decision-making is sometimes clouded, she is believable as a police officer. Secondary characters—the caffeine-addicted Simpson, a particularly droll FBI crime profiler, and New York City itself—are realistically portrayed, adding interest. Chapters narrated from the point of view of the killer contrast interestingly with Quintana’s chapters; comparison reveals both characters are relatively isolated and self-protective. The novel’s pacing is energetic and engaging, and the story flows almost too quickly. Happily, Benson’s epilogue suggests that Quintana may return in a future novel set in Miami Beach. A compelling police procedural with a contemporary setting and an intriguing heroine worthy of a series.
Influence peddling—the telepathic kind—fuels the big city in this hard-boiled but soulful fantasy thriller.
After years spent conveying the thoughts of small-town coma patients to their relatives, 20-something psychic Calder heads for Manhattan, where he’s snapped up by a man named Sotto and his crew of psychics-for-hire. Like everything else in New York, ESP is a racket: By telepathically sussing out potential blackmail fodder or implanting irresistible commands in a target’s mind, Sotto’s contractors will, for a reasonable fee, convince a client’s troublesome tenant to move, a boss to confer a promotion or a business competitor to close up shop. Unfortunately, Calder’s first assignment—swaying a city councilman’s vote on a real estate development—bogs down when the pol proves to be a rare “stone”—someone impervious to psychic manipulation. Mentored by a psychic amateur boxer who doesn’t mind dishing out the occasional old-school beating-as-persuasion, Calder resorts to ever more frantic mental string-pulling as he fends off a rival crew trying to lobby the council in the opposite direction. Meanwhile, he drinks in an atmospheric demimonde—New York City is in many ways the novel’s beguiling antagonist—that includes a stripper with a heart of gold, a priest with a taste for demented violence and thuggish psychic twins who try to run him out of town with an excruciating headache. Connell (Counterfeit Kings, 2004) pulls the psychic scenario out of the usual mystical dungeon and gives it a bracing, noir-edged urban naturalism. For all their supernatural powers, his characters are prosaic working stiffs: hardened, on the make and embroiled in murderous criminal turf battles, yet reigned in—sometimes—by a modicum of professional ethics or Catholic guilt. Despite their direct links to other minds, they reveal themselves mainly in long, discursive conversations that meander through offbeat observations, half-remembered anecdotes and curlicued philosophical ruminations, all phrased in a fluid, punchy, endlessly entertaining vernacular. The engrossing result feels like an ESP-themed mashup of The Sopranos and The Wire as scripted by Quentin Tarantino.
A stylish reimagining of the psychic mystery genre.
In Segrave’s debut mystery, a grad student in Venice becomes invested in recovering a stolen mask only to discover that the item is a relic of her own past.
Violet’s studies in art history take her to Venice, where a museum robbery and the murder of an unidentified woman pique her interest. The intrigue deepens when she learns that a similar event took place more than 60 years ago during World War II. Her amateur investigation leads to greater conundrums when Violet thinks she’s being watched. Even more mysterious, fellow student Tom, who caught Violet’s fancy some time ago, seems to know more than he’s willing to tell. Neither revelation, however, stops Violet from traveling to London and Scotland to search for answers in this mystery novel that seamlessly unfolds. The first half of the book concentrates on Violet learning of the pilfered Carnival mask, as well as her budding romance with the beguiling, enigmatic Tom. Various clues connect at an auction and, later, at a masquerade. From her first-person perspective, Violet, a charming protagonist with a wry sense of humor, sardonically notes the comparison to Nancy Drew, as when she spots another female with Tom and alludes to her as “looking incredibly un-bored.” The author writes with an assertive voice in clean, polished prose. Violet’s relationship with Tom is flawlessly detailed, building on small moments—Violet pointing at elements from the periodic table printed on Tom’s shirt, thereby touching his chest—with refreshing subtlety. Although the story eventually takes a turn that some readers might have anticipated, many questions remain, and the mystery doesn’t let up; more secrets are gradually revealed even in the final pages.
Multiple genres come together to form a rewarding, incomparable novel.
A vagrant turned amateur sleuth investigates a murder in Coyote’s debut novel and series opener of the Homeless Detective Trilogy.
Murphy is a hapless drunk living on the streets of Venice, Calif. When his cherished Rottweiler, Betty, needs an expensive surgery, the former football player takes on the role of gumshoe to solve a local murder. He’ll need to solve the 6-month-old case within a week to claim a monetary reward for identifying the murderer and save his best friend. Coyote’s novel, its title reminiscent of books from authors such as Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane, is a play on film noir. While working against genre conventions has become the norm for some writers, Coyote ventures into new territory by unassumingly renovating the traditional qualities of film noir. Most detectives are slipped a mickey at some point, whereas Murphy is almost perpetually drunk, and concussions from his football days cause him to black out. It seems he’s slipping the mickey to himself, especially when he’s drinking Mickey’s Fine Malt Liquor. The seedy underworld is one with upscale restaurants and a gay bar called Pufferfish, and the femme fatale is a yoga instructor. The murder, however, is incidental, and the novel is in top form during scenes highlighting Murphy’s crew of homeless friends, most of whom are individually featured, and with the appropriately named Mama Bear, a maternal figure and thrift-shop owner who literally puts the clothes on Murphy’s back. Regular visits to Betty at the vet’s office are the heart of the story, so Murphy’s incentive remains noble. The book may not appeal to all readers, as sex and violence are graphically depicted, though never insensitively.
An unshakable noir with a protagonist learning along the way, but beyond the more overt genre traits is a rewarding story of a man’s unconditional love for his faithful companion.
Silva’s thriller introduces Meagan Maloney, a private investigator whose search for a missing person draws her into a deeper mystery than she ever imagined.
The first volume in a series of mysteries featuring the caffeine-addicted Bostonian Meagan, Silva’s debut unveils a character who is refreshingly different from the stereotypical private detective found in many crime novels. As she tracks down the missing person in her first major case, Meagan enlists the aid of her computer-whiz friend and neighbor, Doobie. While Doobie is clearly the man for the job when it comes to hacking into various systems in search of information, Meagan sometimes needs detailed explanations of things readers would expect to be second nature for someone her age, such as email. Regardless, it is precisely this ordinary girl–turned-detective persona that makes Meagan such a relatable, believable and interesting heroine. Without dwelling or giving too much away, the author drops hints about a dark moment in Meagan’s past that led to her chosen career path. It’s enough to explain Meagan’s apparent naïveté, although perhaps not enough to explain the impression that she doesn’t always seem to be the brightest bulb. Meagan stays true to character as she finds herself in increasingly difficult and dangerous situations. Rather than resorting to hidden talents like a surprise martial arts degree or MacGyver-esque skills, Meagan responds to danger as any normal person would, mistakes included. This consistency lends an air of credibility to an otherwise unlikely set of circumstances, and it fosters empathy for this grown-up, modern Nancy Drew. Silva sustains a solid mystery that manages to keep readers engaged throughout the many plot twists and turns.
A well-constructed story that lays a promising foundation for the rest of the series.