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HOTWALKER

A delightful whodunit with a remarkable hero and sublime Southern setting.

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In this mystery, a private eye braves Kentucky’s hectic Derby week to investigate a murder at Churchill Downs.

Sleuth Jim Guthrie anticipates his business will take a hit with the Derby festivities starting. But he finds a client in Guatemalan immigrant Carlos Rojas, a Churchill Downs “hotwalker” who cools down horses with quiet strolls following a workout or race. At last year’s Derby, someone fatally bludgeoned Carlos’ father, Felipe, who worked as a groom. Since then, the police investigation has turned up nothing, so Jim looks into the homicide on his own. Sadly, he quickly realizes that questioning employees at the Churchill Downs backside is a largely fruitless endeavor. As many are immigrants like Carlos, they stay tight-lipped, understandably wary of recent United States laws. But there is a bevy of suspects that Jim can whittle down. Robbery may have been a motive, as Felipe, who won at poker on the night of his murder, had no money on him. He also got in a fight with a man claiming Felipe cheated at that poker game. In the course of his investigation, Jim forms an unexpected alliance with Wyatt Whitlow, who publishes The Late Mail, a tip newsletter. Whitlow’s exposés may help draw out the killer; he’s already incensed people with accusations of cheating via buzzers (devices that electrically shock horses during races) or performance-enhancing drugs. When Jim learns some of those accusations have merit, he connects Felipe’s death with other Churchill Downs crimes, which soon include a second murder.

Neumayer delivers an often lighthearted mystery. For example, scenes unfold at the backside like a soap opera; there’s the perpetually drunk groom, the horse trainer who scuffles with Whitlow over cheating allegations, and infidelity among married folks. Even Jim has a part in all this, having provoked a wealthy thoroughbred owner whose foolish son the private investigator humiliated (with good reason). The story likewise treats the detective genre playfully. In one of his articles, Whitlow mocks Jim for not donning a fedora or trench coat, and the PI later initiates a pursuit on a bicycle at moderate speed. The protagonist is good-natured and sympathetic; he takes Carlos’ case pro bono, despite a pile of bills, and suffers the authorities’ ire as they despise Jim, a former cop–turned–private eye. At the same time, he’s caught up in an effectively understated romance with veterinarian Dr. Freya Hall. She’s one of the cast’s myriad characters, many of whom make viable murder suspects and bolster the ongoing mystery. The author aptly develops each one against a vibrant Churchill Downs backdrop. Along with that comes abundant racing lingo, like the titular job, that the author subtly defines for novices without boring readers already familiar with it. Descriptions of Derby races, though disappointingly brief, are animated and memorable: “Right out of the gate, it was a mad scramble with five mounts no more than two lengths apart….All other sounds were quickly muffled by crowd noise. Manes and tails streamed behind like battle flags as the horses charged into the backstretch.”

A delightful whodunit with a remarkable hero and sublime Southern setting.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-942856-87-0

Page Count: 274

Publisher: Literary Wanderlust

Review Posted Online: Aug. 26, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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IT ENDS WITH US

Packed with riveting drama and painful truths, this book powerfully illustrates the devastation of abuse—and the strength of...

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Hoover’s (November 9, 2015, etc.) latest tackles the difficult subject of domestic violence with romantic tenderness and emotional heft.

At first glance, the couple is edgy but cute: Lily Bloom runs a flower shop for people who hate flowers; Ryle Kincaid is a surgeon who says he never wants to get married or have kids. They meet on a rooftop in Boston on the night Ryle loses a patient and Lily attends her abusive father’s funeral. The provocative opening takes a dark turn when Lily receives a warning about Ryle’s intentions from his sister, who becomes Lily’s employee and close friend. Lily swears she’ll never end up in another abusive home, but when Ryle starts to show all the same warning signs that her mother ignored, Lily learns just how hard it is to say goodbye. When Ryle is not in the throes of a jealous rage, his redeeming qualities return, and Lily can justify his behavior: “I think we needed what happened on the stairwell to happen so that I would know his past and we’d be able to work on it together,” she tells herself. Lily marries Ryle hoping the good will outweigh the bad, and the mother-daughter dynamics evolve beautifully as Lily reflects on her childhood with fresh eyes. Diary entries fancifully addressed to TV host Ellen DeGeneres serve as flashbacks to Lily’s teenage years, when she met her first love, Atlas Corrigan, a homeless boy she found squatting in a neighbor’s house. When Atlas turns up in Boston, now a successful chef, he begs Lily to leave Ryle. Despite the better option right in front of her, an unexpected complication forces Lily to cut ties with Atlas, confront Ryle, and try to end the cycle of abuse before it’s too late. The relationships are portrayed with compassion and honesty, and the author’s note at the end that explains Hoover’s personal connection to the subject matter is a must-read.

Packed with riveting drama and painful truths, this book powerfully illustrates the devastation of abuse—and the strength of the survivors.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5011-1036-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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