A frothy retro cocktail with a whodunit chaser.

SHANGHAI SECRETS

A carefree cadre of Australian artists probe a shocking murder in war-torn 1935 Shanghai.

Despite his status as the family’s renegade, suave Sydney artist Rowland Sinclair is tapped by his starchy elder brother, Wilfred, to go to Shanghai to handle international wool negotiations for Sinclair Holdings. Intrigued by the city’s vibrancy and turmoil, Rowland’s friends—poet Milton Isaacs, artist Clyde Watson Jones, and sculptress and model Edna Higgins—accompany him and take up residence in the posh Cathay Hotel. Gentill opens each chapter with a short news item from the time, adding welcome context to the story by describing the dangerous encroachment of Japan, the threat of Communism, and the influx of Russian refugee women and German Jews, weaving each development into the story. Making lively banter and diving into local culture are high on the visitors’ agenda. On a night out at The Jazz Club, Rowland dances twice with beautiful Russian Alexandra Romanova, and they make a date for tea the following afternoon. The next day, he’s horrified to discover Alexandra’s corpse in his suite. Grim Inspector Randolph regards him as the prime suspect. Rowland's peril, coupled with the deep grief of Alexandra’s brother, Sergei, prompts the party to investigate, leading to even more elaborate explorations of Shanghai. A subplot that should delight series fans brings Rowland and Edna within a whisker of progressing from the friendship zone to unabashed romance.

A frothy retro cocktail with a whodunit chaser.  

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-4642-1361-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Poisoned Pen

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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This one’s an attention grabber. Get a copy.

THE SCORPION'S TAIL

Past and present collide on a trail of death in the second in the authors’ Nora Kelly series, begun with Old Bones (2019).

When a local sheriff investigates the illegal activity of relic hunters in an abandoned, middle-of-nowhere New Mexico gold-mining town called High Lonesome, he discovers a mummified corpse and a fabulous cross of gold. The discovery is on federal land, so the FBI gets involved. Special Agent Corrie Swanson would have liked a juicier assignment than checking out some old bones in the high desert, but she has a degree in forensic anthropology, and she’s a rookie. She persuades a reluctant Dr. Nora Kelly, senior curator at the Santa Fe Archaeological Institute, to help puzzle out what happened to the man, as it’s unclear whether a crime has been committed. Forensics determine that the gold is slightly radioactive, and there’s a pack animal skull with a bullet hole. And by the looks of the decades-old corpse, the poor man suffered a horrible death. High Lonesome is on the Jornada del Muerto, or Dead Man’s Journey, the bleak and dismal trail that connected Mexico City and Santa Fe during Spanish colonial rule. The authors are expert plotters and storytellers with smart, engaging characters—Kelly is an experienced pro who thinks Swanson “looked very much the rookie.” Newbie Swanson had barely passed her firearms qualification, and being a lousy shot may bring tragic consequences and a guilty conscience. Luckily, Sheriff Watts has practiced his quick draw since he was a preschooler. Meanwhile, some of those relic hunters are dangerous men searching for an object—not the gold—unknown to Kelly and Swanson. To a descendant of the dead man, “most people would have thought his precious item fit only to line a henhouse with.” Expect nice twists, hairy danger, and good old-fashioned gunplay.

This one’s an attention grabber. Get a copy.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4727-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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An intriguing, unexpected gothic mashup with elements of Dorothy Sayers, Wilkie Collins, and Josephine Tey.

THE HOUSE ON VESPER SANDS

An orphan-turned-heiress, a university student, a down-on-his-heels clergyman, an inspector from Scotland Yard, a number of missing girls, and a host of high-society figures collide in this supernatural, gothic mystery.

London, 1893. Octavia Hillingdon might be an heiress, but that's only because she and her brother, Georgie, were adopted by a newspaper magnate and given opportunities that would have otherwise been out of reach. Now, Octavia is a bicycle-riding Victorian lady journalist trying to uncover big stories even as she's limited to reporting on society events and gossipy pieces about the Spiriters by a difficult editor. Elf—that is, the Most Honourable Marquess of Hartington—is her friend and party sidekick, winnowing out gossipy tidbits for her. Gideon Bliss is an exceedingly poor university student in Cambridge who drops everything to rush to London after receiving a cryptic letter from his clergyman uncle about impending danger, yet he secretly hopes to once again meet up with his beloved Angela. The volatile Inspector Cutter handles special cases dealing with the occult at Scotland Yard. The lives of all these characters and more collide over the course of a few days in February: Gideon stumbles upon Angela—wearing a thin white shift and barely lucid—before the altar in an empty church, but he is drugged, she is taken, and he seeks Inspector Cutter’s help. A seamstress jumps to her death from a window of Lord Strythe’s London home, the gentleman himself disappears, and Olivia tries to find out why. Author O’Donnell carefully unspools the gothic creepiness of his story, teasing the reader with tidbits of information that raise more questions than they answer: Just who are the Spiriters? What are they doing with the young girls who go missing? How is the seamstress’s suicide related to the death of the Inspector’s wife? In the end, all the pieces fit together.

An intriguing, unexpected gothic mashup with elements of Dorothy Sayers, Wilkie Collins, and Josephine Tey.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-951142-24-7

Page Count: 408

Publisher: Tin House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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