A winning origin story for one of modern fiction’s expertly drawn detectives.


This prequel to the Frank Nagler mystery series helps readers understand how the detective originally struggled, much like the city he serves.

This case is set about 20 years before The Swamps of Jersey (2014), the first of three volumes of Nagler present-day mysteries. Young Frank is a rookie detective on the police force in Ironton, New Jersey, his hometown. He is learning as he goes: “He felt he was running just to keep up, slogging through the everyday stuff of what he didn’t know, what he couldn’t imagine, one hand outstretched to feel the fog.” But a month after becoming a detective, he gets put on the Red Hand murder case, in which four women had been killed in various ways. Tying them together is a red hand-print emblazoned with the words “Hand of Death” at each crime scene. What is making these serial murders more difficult to solve is the lack of a discernible pattern. As Medical Examiner Walter Mulligan explains, “Someone is experimenting in death.” Complicating Frank’s life is that his wife, Martha, his childhood sweetheart, is dying from cancer. In addition, behind the scenes, the mayor and his cohorts are using the paranoia caused by the killings to scoop up real estate cheaply. Furthermore, the chief detective on the case is the mayor’s inside man. So Frank has to push past these personal and institutional obstacles while attempting to solve this baffling case. This dense, engrossing prequel illuminates why Frank embraces Ironton before economic decline and corruption totally savaged the town. Ironton is a character that Daigle (The Frank Nagler Mysteries: An Anthology, 2018, etc.) brings to atmospheric life in his work: “The sun had squeezed out of the mud the greasy mix of rotten plants, moldy, sweating trash, motor oil that had leaked from dismembered, rusted cars parts, and the musk of dead animals, and then compacted it.” It’s a wonder that Frank never fled Ironton, but, through his memories, this novel shows that it was home to him and Martha. That’s why, despite his hard-won cynicism, Frank still holds out hope, much like Ironton itself, seeking to rebound from ruin. This tale also presents younger versions of characters who continue to affect Frank today. These include Martha, newspaperman Jimmy Dawson, priggish superior Chris Foley, and down-on-his-luck Del Williams. This allows readers to gauge how relationships with Frank have developed through the decades. The author’s pacing is immaculate in this gruesome thriller, as he ratchets up the tension as each additional body is found. He also captures a portrait of a once-thriving community in chaos as fear sweeps through Ironton. While the fledgling detective often finds himself adrift while investigating the case, Frank’s moral compass never wavers, even when the town and its officials are ready to lynch an unlikely suspect. This makes him almost a lone voice in the wilderness but his gut proves right in the end. What results is a taut look back at the birth of a memorable character.

A winning origin story for one of modern fiction’s expertly drawn detectives.

Pub Date: July 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-944653-19-4

Page Count: 298

Publisher: Imzadi Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2019

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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