A somber, moody, and absorbing mystery/thriller.

CENTRAL CITY

A debut novel offers a noirish procedural set in the early 1990s that follows police detectives investigating a string of murders in a sordid, crime-laden American city.

Central City Detective Vinnie Bayonne’s latest case is an apparent overdose. At least, that’s the direction his informant Kane Kulpa wants the investigation to take. The victim, Mikey Connolly, was a bartender at Alfie’s, an establishment owned by Kane’s boss, Bruno Pantagglia, who specializes in such illicit deeds as drugs and prostitution. As Mikey was a known junkie, an overdose is indeed a likelihood. But Bayonne has questions concerning the crime scene, starting with the body’s fetal position and hands seemingly clasped in prayer, as if someone had posed it that way. He investigates the possible murder with his partner, freshly minted detective Adam McKenna. Their interrogations quickly lead them to another victim as well as the startling revelation that Mikey wasn’t the first murder, but the third, each body left in an identical pose. Meanwhile, Tran Van Kahn, a man police have long suspected of various crimes, is muscling in on some local territory for drug trafficking and prostitution. As it’s evident he simply kills uncooperative individuals, he seems to want Bruno to sit by idly while Tran takes over. Kane does what he can to avoid a potential war among the criminals but can’t disregard his own murky past that’s slowly resurfacing. The murder case and the trouble brewing between Tran and others are bound to clash, and further deaths are sadly unavoidable.

Perro’s novel is a persistently grim thriller. The detective story initially adopts the formula of buddy cop films with newly partnered polar opposites: Bayonne, “the grizzled, nicotine-stained veteran,” and McKenna, “the youthful, out-of-shape nerd.” But the author wisely fleshes out the characters, who gradually earn each other’s respect but also have personal backstories that affect them individually. For example, the positioning of the bodies disturbs McKenna, which he can’t explain but, readers eventually learn, has ties to his past. The story is bleak, an unflinching portrayal of Central City’s—and surrounding areas’—underbelly. Particulars are often unnerving, from assorted stains on walls and clothes to liquids that a cadaver discharges and even Bayonne’s perpetual chewing tobacco and resulting spit. Still, it’s atmospheric: “The precinct had seen better days, the brick was stained by the elements, and the roof had lost a few tiles over the years. When it rained hard, the detectives had to turn their trash cans into buckets to staunch the flood.” It’s perhaps not surprising that instances of humor are dark, like Bruno’s giggles resembling “a drowning Muppet.” For much of the novel, the murder investigation and Kane’s story act as two concurrent subplots. But the narrative ultimately concentrates a bit more on Kane. This proves beneficial, as the feud over territories turns increasingly more intense and violent. At the same time, the detectives don’t make much headway, though the reason for this becomes clearer as the story progresses and leads to a satisfying resolution.

A somber, moody, and absorbing mystery/thriller.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 209

Publisher: Manuscript

Review Posted Online: April 1, 2020

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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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Crave chills and thrills but don’t have time for a King epic? This will do the job before bedtime. Not that you’ll sleep.

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LATER

Horrormeister King follows a boy’s journey from childhood to adolescence among the dead—and their even creepier living counterparts.

Jamie Conklin sees dead people. Not for very long—they fade away after a week or so—but during that time he can talk to them, ask them questions, and compel them to answer truthfully. His uncanny gift at first seems utterly unrelated to his mother Tia’s work as a literary agent, but the links become disturbingly clear when her star client, Regis Thomas, dies shortly after starting work on the newest entry in his bestselling Roanoke Saga, and Tia and her lover, NYPD Detective Liz Dutton, drive Jamie out to Cobblestone Cottage to encourage the late author to dictate an outline of his latest page-turner so that Tia, who’s fallen on hard times, can write it in his name instead of returning his advance and her cut. Now that she’s seen what Jamie can do, Liz takes it on herself to arrange an interview in which Jamie will ask Kenneth Therriault, a serial bomber who’s just killed himself, where he’s stowed his latest explosive device before it can explode posthumously. His post-mortem encounter with Therriault exacts a high price on Jamie, who now finds himself more haunted than ever, though he never gives up on the everyday experiences in which King roots all his nightmares.

Crave chills and thrills but don’t have time for a King epic? This will do the job before bedtime. Not that you’ll sleep.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-7890-9649-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Hard Case Crime

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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