An entertaining, many-layered mystery with an engaging hero.

THE CONCRETE VINEYARD

A millionaire nonagenarian turns up dead just after his Canadian estate hits the market.

In this debut mystery, wealthy, aging historian Edward Mitchell lists his Niagara-on-the-Lake estate in Ontario with a local realtor. That night, Mitchell pours a glass of wine, but something goes wrong “between his palate and the pinot.” The “unwavering aroma of death” hits the back of his throat. Just before dying, Mitchell thinks, “those who live long enough get their just reward.” Chief Homicide Detective Bryan Dee begins the murder investigation just as his best friend, Kris Gage, flies into town to help his aged parents move from their large country home. Gage is an urban planner, and he suggests to Dee that Mitchell’s death is connected to land acquisition: “I think he was killed for his property.” The Belucci Group, a major property development firm, is not above suspicion, as the top executives have “their fingers in a lot of well-paying pies.” Of concern is the whereabouts of widower Mitchell’s latest will, presumably written after his only offspring, John, died in an accident five years ago. Mitchell now has no heirs—or does he? Although aged, he had remained an imposing presence who “got looks from women half his age” and whose medicine cabinet was chock full of Viagra. Gage believes Mitchell “was trying, right to the bitter end, to get someone pregnant” so he would have an heir. Looking around Mitchell’s mansion for clues, Dee is shocked to find the entry “Time to take care of K. Gage” in the deceased’s diary. No match for author Louise Penny’s famed Quebecer, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, Dee is nonetheless appealing as a middle-aged, golf-loving cop who rose through the ranks due to circumstances rather than talent. Gage, whose first-person account smoothly alternates with third-person narration, is, like Lang, an environmentally conscious urban planner. Considerable Canadian history is woven through the enjoyable book, as are rich descriptions of the country. The pacing is superb and surprises are frequent, but some readers may object to the abundance of four-letter words (Chapter 18 is called “No Fucking Trees!”).

An entertaining, many-layered mystery with an engaging hero.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-228-83225-6

Page Count: 468

Publisher: Tellwell Talent

Review Posted Online: March 22, 2021

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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Sprawling and only intermittently suspenseful till that last act: below average for this distinguished series.

OCEAN PREY

No oceans in Minnesota, you say? That won’t stop Lucas Davenport and Virgil Flowers, who are clearly determined to burn through their bucket list on the federal government’s dime.

The murders of three Coast Guard officers chasing a suspicious boat in Florida waters by crooks who set fire to the boat moments after abandoning it send shock waves through the DEA, the FBI, and eventually the U.S. Marshals Service. In short order Lucas and his colleague and pal Bob Matees find themselves on a task force Florida Sen. Christopher Colles convenes to find the drugs the fugitives managed to dump into the Atlantic before they shot their pursuers and arrest everyone in sight. The duo’s modus operandi seems to be to talk to everyone who’s seen anything, and then talk to everyone they’ve mentioned, and so on, taking regular breaks to drink, reminisce, and swap wisecracks. Everything is so relaxed and routine that fans of this long-running series will just know that Sandford has something more up his sleeve, and he does. Eventually the task force’s net widens to make room for Virgil, who, working with Marshal Rae Givens, hires himself out to the criminals as a diver who can retrieve those drugs while Lucas and his allies work their way higher and higher up the food chain of baddies. The cast is enormous and mostly forgettable, but Sandford manages to work up a full head of steam when Lucas realizes that his scorched-earth tactics have put Virgil and Rae in serious danger.

Sprawling and only intermittently suspenseful till that last act: below average for this distinguished series.

Pub Date: April 13, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-08702-2

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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