Six Stories
Craig Sisterson

Rashomon meets Serial in this fascinating tale from a fresh, exciting new voice in British crime writing. Matt Wesolowski takes legendary Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa’s device of retelling the tale of a crime from multiple, often contradictory witness perspectives, and gives it a thoroughly modern spin.

Scott King is an enigmatic investigative journalist and a cult internet figure thanks to the huge popularity of his podcast series delving into mysterious events. Now he turns his talents to the death of teenager Tom Jeffries, whose body was found in Scarclaw Fell, England, in 1997. Jeffries had disappeared from among a group of teenagers on a wilderness retreat. The coroner’s verdict was misadventure, but questions linger. King interviews those involved about the events of 20 years before. Was it really a tragic accident, or something more sinister? How does creepy local folklore play into the truth?

This would be an impressive tale from an established bestseller, let alone a debutant. Told as if it were a series of podcasts—each a blend of witness interview and context and commentary provided by King—Six Stories could easily have stumbled on its literary device. But Wesolowski shows an adroit hand, drawing readers in and never letting go. Tension builds as information is revealed, contradicted, and layered throughout the various podcasts. An elegantly written novel from a fresh voice worth trying.

Teri Duerr
2017-07-06 17:02:17
The Substitute
Benjamin Boulden

The Substitute, the sixth novel from Canadian writer Nicole Lundrigan, is a captivating psychological thriller that balances secrets and lies with identity and family. Warren Botts is a weary research scientist who finds solitude and a paycheck working as a substitute middle-school science teacher. When one of his students, Amanda Fuller, is found hanging from a tree in the backyard of Warren’s rented home, many of the townspeople blame Warren for her apparent suicide.

Amanda and Warren have a short and mildly inappropriate history. Amanda, who struggled in her science class and with nearly everything else since her father abandoned her and her mother, used to approach Warren outside the classroom, including at his home. Warren’s brilliant mind is shackled by guilt, cowardice, and self-doubt. Frightened of the implications of any perceived abnormal teacher-student interactions, Warren lies to the investigating detective about his relationship with Amanda, which only increases suspicion about Warren’s role in Amanda’s death.

The story is split between Warren, written in the third person, and a young, unknown observer recounting events in the first person. It soon becomes obvious that the anonymous second narrator is a cold and calculating psychopath. The narratives are wholly separate, but are woven together to form a complex picture of Amanda’s death and Warren’s life, each narration acting as a foil to the other as the “truth” unfolds—the knowing, planned actions of the psychopath and Warren’s suffocating angst, haphazard and often bizarre behavior. The psychopath’s identity is nicely hidden until the book’s final pages, and the final twist, revealing all, is as satisfying as everything else about The Substitute.

Teri Duerr
2017-07-06 17:10:12
Love Like Blood
Matthew Fowler

In Mark Billingham’s latest entry in the Tom Thorne series, the novel finds Detective Inspector Nicola Tanner seeking out the assistance of Thorne in hopes of 
getting him to help her privately 
investigate the death of her partner and its link to a possible
 string of honor killings Tanner 
has been investigating.

Thorne is a likable protagonist who, alongside his intrepid partner, Tanner, manages to ground the story emotionally even as more and more story developments unfold and a new case involving a missing couple begins to take shape. The two detectives’ easy demeanor and familiarity is a welcome counterbalance to the bleak subject matter: the meaning of honor for members of religious communities and what happens when those beliefs lead family members to turn on one another with fatal consequences.

Love Like Blood moves
 quickly and skillfully with reliably readable prose that oftentimes feels effortless even as it gears up for the next plot contortion. In each chapter, Billingham adeptly unspools a new thread, a new twist, which pushes the reader onward into the story, as he deftly manages an expansive plot without slowing down the momentum of the characters or the story.

Teri Duerr
2017-07-06 17:14:08
The Last Place You Look
Kevin Burton Smith

In the tradition of about a zillion other contemporary private eyes currently floating around, Ohio gumshoe Roxane Weary is screwed up. Fortunately, she’s a touch more interesting than most.

The difference? Mostly the writing. Kristen Lepionka manages to spruce up the same old songs (mommy issues, daddy issues, sibling issues, substance abuse issues, etc.) by adding a decidedly modern one on top: sexual preference issues. It may be a coldly calculated move on the author’s part, but it adds a much-needed spritz of freshness to some tropes that are definitely nearing their expiry date.

Lepionka does this by making Roxane, despite her numerous flaws, somehow likable and maybe even—gasp—identifiable. We want her to clean up her life. We want her to crack the case.

As the story kicks in, torn-between-two-lovers Roxane’s been off her feed for a while, still reeling from the recent shooting death of her beloved but flawed dad, a hard-drinking homicide cop. She’s been ignoring her business and making bad lifestyle choices left and right when Danielle, a young black woman, approaches her, begging her to look into her brother Brad’s case. Turns out Brad is on death row, with his execution imminent, convicted of the murder of the parents of his white girlfriend Sarah 15 years ago (and suspected of her murder as well, although her body has never been found). Only problem is that Danielle swears she saw Sarah just a few weeks ago at a local gas station.

Despite her initial reluctance, Roxane gets drawn into the case, and all roads seem to lead back to Belmont, a smug, tightly wrapped suburb where she’s increasingly not welcomed, not just by the local constabulary but by the
 wealthy and powerful Brayfield family, whose 
party-hearty son Kenny, a former friend of Brad’s, seems somehow to be involved—at least tangentially—with several young blonde girls who disappeared back then.

The author may not be breaking much new ground here, but she paves the road with some sharp writing and good intentions, picking at the scabs of familial discord, small-town secrets, and old prejudices of class and race, and brings them all home with a solid emotional thump.

Teri Duerr
2017-07-06 17:19:17
Jay Roberts

In her first standalone thriller in more than a decade, Laurie R. King has crafted the world of Guadalupe Middle School and populated it with a number of characters from her various short story works. 
From the school principal, her husband, a cop who is speaking at the career day, and a school custodian to the students who play major roles in the story, characters are fully explored in their makeup and motivations. A brief appearance of Detective Kate Martinelli and Brother Erasmus from the King's Martinelli series offers a welcome moment and a reminder of how much that early series is missed.

The main plot of the story is told mostly over the course of one day and the events leading up to and including a stunning act of terror during the school's Career Day. A time stamp marks the start of each chapter as events unfold and King doles out information in bits and pieces. Wisely, to keep the character-heavy story from getting bogged down, she uses flashbacks to flesh out stories for many characters, and tells one boy's story through case notes written by the school psychologist. 

Perhaps the most intriguing use of a character in the story comes in the form of a missing and presumed dead girl. Her disappearance hangs like a shadow over the school and the people who populate it. She seems to have affected everyone and it pays off in unexpected ways later in the story. In fact, as you learn more about the girl, you might find yourself longing for a story that fully explores what happened to her because it would be a fascinating all by itself.

While the story takes most of the novel to get to where it is ultimately going, you don't feel as if you are spinning your wheels waiting for something to happen. The individual stories inevitably dovetail toward a shattering conclusion, and King pumps up the adrenaline level to deliver a dramatic confrontation that leaves all parties changed foreverfor better or for worse. Whether the story is framed to critique the causes behind school shootings, our seeming apathy beyond the initial outrage over such events, or a call for better gun control laws, King's decision to humanize her characters prior to the attack is an immensely important to our investment in the outcome of the story and the desire for their survival. 

Lockdown, despite the heavy nature of the plot, exudes a sense of warmth in the writing and never feels like it is exploiting what has become an all-too-familiar real world tragedy. While King's main writing focus is the Mary Russell series, this digression once more into her standalone work continues her winning streak of peerless storytelling.

Teri Duerr
2017-07-06 18:19:51

king lockdownThis digression about a school shooting from her popular Mary Russell series continues King's winning streak of peerless storytelling.

The Long Drop
Craig Sisterson

Denise Mina, an empress of Tartan Noir who’s written three outstanding series starring strong, complex women (Garnethill, Paddy Meehan, and Alex Morrow), steers into new frontiers in her latest novel. The Long Drop is a chilling, brilliant tale that is very male-centric, and based on a real-life crime.

On a wet December night in Glasgow, 60 years ago, two very different men meet for a drink, and end up going on an 11-hour bender across the city. William Watt is a large, balding, buffoonish businessman who stands accused of murdering his wife, daughter, and sister-in-law. Peter Manuel is small, sharply dressed, with well-oiled dark hair and movie-star looks. He is also a convicted rapist who’d written to Watt from prison, saying he had information on the murders. You might recognize Manuel’s name—he is one of the most notorious serial killers in British history, “the Beast of Birkenshaw,” and one of the last men to be hanged before the United Kingdom abolished capital punishment.

The Long Drop is a reimagining of that bizarre night the two men spent drinking together, playing cat and mouse, each looking for validation and desperate for more in his life. Mina draws readers in with her elegant prose and vivid evocation of 1950s Glasgow, before taking us on a fascinating journey that delves deeply into the human stories behind the headlines. Magnificent.

Teri Duerr
2017-07-11 15:37:00
Hell’s Detective
Kevin Burton Smith

What the hell?

Dysfunctional private dicks with troubled pasts—male or female—are a dime a dozen, and those circling the drain aren’t exactly rare birds, either. But LA gumshoe Kat Murphy isn’t circling. She’s already fallen right through. She’s in Hell, literally, in this curious but intriguing, action-packed new fantasy-crime hybrid by Scottish author Michael Logan, best known until now for such bovine bestsellers as Apocalypse Cow (2013) and World War Moo (2015).

No zombie cows here, but there is a lot of tongue-in-cheek world-building going on—or should that be underworld-building? With Kat cracking wise in the narrator’s spot, Logan concocts an entirely credible, if somewhat peculiar, afterlife, an urban cesspool called Lost Angeles, with its own peculiar rules and routines, where wraith-like Torments descend upon its inhabitants night after night, ripping their souls to psychic shreds, forcing them to relive in agonizing detail the most shameful, painful moments of their past lives over and over. This LA limbo’s got a curiously retro vibe, seemingly concocted from old B flicks and film noirs, the cars and the phones and everything else harking back to the Eisenhower era—a sprawling metropolis that resets itself every night, where buildings destroyed one day are magically rebuilt by the next.

And so down these mean streets of Hell struts our gal Kat, a kick-ass private eye back in the day—only 42 when she put a bullet in her own brain in 1978. Since then (with every day more or less the same, Kat’s long since lost count), she’s been existing on Ward Eight cocktails at Benny’s (a local dive), a few odd detective jobs, and her own all-consuming guilt and pain—never aging, never dying, and certainly never feeling better. Eternity is a long time.

Then in walks Laureen, a nattily dressed chief administrator (yes, of course Hell has bureaucrats!) who makes Kat an offer she can’t refuse: find a “very significant item” that’s been stolen and she’ll call off Kat’s nightly Torments.

But Kat knows that even in Hell clients lie. Even those with “cheekbones so sharp that a man could kiss her and shave at the same time.” As the damned detective scours the fetid underbelly of Lost Angeles, she discovers that there are far more layers of Hell than she could have imagined.

Teri Duerr
2017-07-11 15:44:11
Bad Housekeeping
Robin Agnew

I prefer cozies with a side of humor and Maia Chance is an incisive and funny writer with a new cozy series structured as a kind of she said/she said between a schlubby, twentysomething niece and her elderly, chic Aunt.

The niece, Agnes Blythe, is a future grad student who moves back to her hometown with her academic boyfriend only to be promptly dumped. She’s walked out on by said boyfriend so fast he leaves her without a wallet, phone charger, contacts, or extra clothes. Agnes is reduced to wearing her bent glasses, high school wardrobe (band camp and debate team T-shirts figure prominently), and a pair of ill-fitting jeans secured with a rubber band.

Her great aunt, Effie, is appalled at Agnes’ appearance, but fond of Agnes. When Effie turns up in town like a bad penny in a “borrowed” Cadillac (much to the chagrin of Agnes’ dad, the mayor), Effie offers her niece a job helping her salvage the decrepit Stagecoach Inn, which she hopes to turn into a bed and breakfast.

The murder that kicks off the story involves the most disliked yet socially prominent woman in town winding up dead in Effie’s future B&B. Agnes and Effie are almost immediately the chief suspects, and they begin an ill-advised investigation of their own, while being told by the cops not to leave town.

Chance surrounds the two women with an array of town characters, including the judgmental housekeeper of Agnes’ father, a cousin working to rewire the decrepit inn, an old high school love interest of Agnes’, and an assortment of others who round out the suspect pool.

The detective work the two women pull off is really pretty impressive and they end up (of course) unmasking the real killer, but not without some needless chances taken by Agnes. (I especially hate it when characters in a mystery novel don’t tell anyone where they are going when they know they are headed for trouble. It’s just dumb.)

That caveat aside, Bad Housekeeping was an incredibly enjoyable read that had me snickering and writing down quotations all the way through. The first in the Agnes and Effie mystery series is a wonderful setup with entertaining characters who should really age well.

Teri Duerr
2017-07-11 15:50:23
The Ragtime Traveler
Joe Scarpato, Jr.

When 80-year-old Seattle ragtime expert Alan Chandler receives a package with a sheet of very old music from a good friend in Sedalia, Missouri, it sets him off on a search for what his friend, Mickey, describes as a treasure trove of unpublished Scott Joplin music. Together with his teenage grandson, Tom, he begins a quest that leads to music, mayhem, and murder.

Once in Sedalia, they find that Mickey has a whole duffel bag filled with old music scores, some of which are undoubtedly unpublished Joplin songs that could be worth a fortune once provenance is established. Unfortunately, before long, Mickey is found beaten and killed, his rooms ransacked, and the bag with the music sheets missing. With the aid of two African-American teens, a boy, Jackson, who was a close friend of Mickey’s, and Jackson’s young friend, Saramae, Alan and Tom set out to discover who killed Mickey and stole the music.

Thanks to the back files at Saramae’s father’s newspaper office, along with Jackson’s lock-picking expertise, this motley investigative team begins to make headway into the complex history of the music and the several families who have been fighting over it for years. Which of them killed Mickey, and who now has the music?

What takes this beyond the usual mystery story is Alan’s unusual ability to concentrate on the music and transport himself to 1899 Sedalia, becoming friends with Scott Joplin and his associates. Whether the time-traveling trips are real or just daydreams, they give the reader the opportunity to experience what it was like to exist and mingle with Joplin and others in that history-making era of American music.

Teri Duerr
2017-07-11 15:55:24
She Rides Shotgun
Benjamin Boulden

She Rides Shotgun is Jordan Harper’s powerful, disturbing, and violent first novel. Polly McClusky is an 11-year-old, fearful, and friendless girl (except for a teddy bear who accompanies her everywhere) and with, as her mother tells her after a few drinks, her father’s gunfighter eyes. Awaiting her mother after school, she is approached by a man she knows, but hasn’t seen since she was six. Her tattooed father Nate with muscled arms and hard eyes is supposed to be in prison, but instead he is at Polly’s school. Polly wants to shout, to run, but she meekly follows him to his decrepit car, gets in, and with horror in her heart lets him take her away.

Nate made powerful enemies in prison. A death warrant from the Aryan Steel, a prison gang with muscle both in and out of the cell blocks, follows him to the streets. A death warrant is issued for not only him, but also for Polly’s mother—and Polly. Trying to protect Polly, Nate takes her from school and does the only thing he knows. He pursues his hunters, the Aryan Steel, to cause as much damage as he can first.

She Rides Shotgun is a dark, at times ugly novel that is as much about redemption, both Polly’s and Nate’s, as it is about violence and fear. Its style is a kind of hardboiled poetry with a varnish of noir-like attitude. Noir-like because its hopeful theme of redemption—Nate’s hope for Polly and the ultimate redemption of both—lifts it from the nihilistic darkness of pure noir. She Rides Shotgun is a novel that is both repellent and alluring. And a novel that is wonderfully absorbing and disturbingly human.

Teri Duerr
2017-07-11 16:00:44
Uncorking a Lie
Sharon Magee

Nadine Nettmann has a good thing going with her wine-themed A Sommelier Mystery series. The first in the series, Decanting a Murder (2016) earned both an Agatha and a Lefty nomination. The second, Uncorking a Lie, continues the misadventures of sommelier Katie Stillwell, who has a penchant for getting mixed up in murder all the while studying for the sommelier advanced exam and working at a local restaurant. She’s thrilled when Paul Rafferty, one of her regular restaurant patrons, invites her, along with six wine connoisseur friends, to his Sonoma mansion for the uncorking of an expensive 1975 Chateau Clair Bleu. Katie quickly intuits that the wine is counterfeit. Rather than embarrass her host in front of his guests, she tells his aide, Cooper, only to find him dead at the bottom of the wine cellar stairs moments later.

When Paul asks her to investigate the counterfeit wine, Katie is all over it, involving herself not only in the fake wine, but Cooper’s death as well. As she snoops into the lives of those who were in attendance at Paul’s the night of the murder, she discovers just how deadly serious the cutthroat and lucrative world of wine can be.

Author Nettmann, herself a certified sommelier, has given readers a fun romp. Readers should not be put off if they’re not into the drinking of the grape. While wine aficionados will find wine references aplenty (each chapter begins with a wine pairing), the solid story is not overwhelmed by them. A good sophomore outing for a strong new series.

Teri Duerr
2017-07-11 16:06:43
Magpie Murders
Kevin Burton Smith

For those pining for the Golden Age of Mystery (British edition), with all it’s oh-so-proper country estates and sleepy English villages, plucky amateur sleuths, gentlemanly detectives, and fiendishly twisty puzzles, it’s always a treat to discover a new author who “writes them the way they used to.” And that’s what Alan Conway, the puzzle-loving fictional author at the center of this briskly paced book-within-a-book head-spinner does.

His long-running series featuring Poirot-like sleuth Atticus Pünd is such a success that no matter how formulaic the series occasionally becomes—or how much she personally dislikes him—his long-suffering editor Susan Ryeland keeps her mouth shut. The truth is, the series is what’s keeping tiny Cloverleaf Books, owned by Susan’s boss Charles Clover, afloat. And it’s made Conway a rich man. But Susan’s not the only one bored—so is the author. He’s been threatening to bump off Pünd for years, and with the delivery of his latest manuscript, it seems he’s finally pulling the plug.

Or is he? Much to Susan’s dismay, the final chapters are missing. It seems like a typical publishing snafu—until the author is found dead after jumping off the tower of his stately country estate. Or was he pushed?

As Susan searches for the missing chapters, she finds herself reluctantly taking on the role of amateur sleuth, caught smack dab in the very sort of mystery the insufferable prig himself might have crafted, complete with a rogue’s gallery of suspects (including a gay lover, an ex-wife, an unpleasant neighbor, a wronged student, an abandoned son, and an ambitious TV producer hoping to adapt the Pünd books), and a manuscript full of word games, anagrams, hidden codes, secret messages, and cockeyed shout-outs that suggest that Conway may have been having a bit of fun with all of them.

Anthony Horowitz (of Midsomer Murders and Foyle’s War fame), who’s no stranger to the BritCrime scene, peppers this tour-de-force with more than a little insider name dropping and cheeky cameos himself, and adds a dollop of self-deprecating humor, before delivering a clever, twistedly perverse conclusion that even non-cozy fans should enjoy.

Teri Duerr
2017-07-11 16:17:42
Hong Kong Black
Hank Wagner

After an undercover CIA operative disappears and dozens of corpses bearing the marks of surgery and torture wash up on a Hong Kong beach, ex-Navy Seal Nick Foley and his love interest, CDC microbiologist Dr. Dazhong “Dash” Chen, find themselves uncovering a scheme so complex, dark, and bold that it will take the combined resources of US and Chinese intelligence to even give them a small chance of surviving. At stake is new biotechnology that, used for good, could radically revolutionize the science of organ transplants. Used improperly, however, it could ensure the long lives and fortunes of some very, very bad actors.

Alex Ryan (a pseudonym for authors Brian Andrews and Jeffrey Wilson) follows up “his” first novel (2016’s fast-paced bio-thriller Beijing Red) with yet another compelling Foley adventure; taking advantage of his audience’s familiarity with his winning cast and colorful setting, he unleashes a slam-bang adventure plot worthy of Ian Fleming, as Foley and crew face off against what can only be characterized as super villains hell-bent on world domination. Foley is in control throughout, delivering numerous exciting, well-choreographed action set pieces, and numerous, engaging character beats. Readers will be left craving more, a good thing, since sequels are obviously contemplated.

Teri Duerr
2017-07-11 16:22:24
The Child
Ariell Cacciola

Kate Waters is a deep-dive type of journalist, who is unimpressed by the clickbait online journalism that has taken over her newsroom. When she hears about the skeletal remains of an infant found underneath a dig site, her interest is piqued and Kate is on the case. As she continues to peel back layers, it becomes clear that the child has been buried for years, even decades, and the possibility of finding the mother or the person who could have done this unthinkable act are close to nil. With each new clue uncovered, Kate becomes familiar with possible suspects and leads that are compelling and completely unexpected. She is joined by Angela, a woman whose life has been scarred by the kidnapping of her newborn from a hospital in the 1970s, as well as Emma, a ghostwriter who always appears to be on the edge of a nervous breakdown, and Emma’s prickly mother, Jude, who has been estranged from her daughter up until recently.

The Child is told between the alternating points of view of these women, whose roles at first appear unrelated, but then masterfully entwine as this buried child case becomes more elaborate than Kate originally thought. The final solution is not at all expected. With each point of view, author Fiona Barton exhibits a deft touch at pulling out the secrets the women keep to survive. This structure feels wholly natural, as new chapters build on the previous, the author revealing and refraining at just the right pitch.

The Child is riveting, finding its strength in both suspense and the curious investigation into the lives of the characters. Readers will be enthralled by the twisty and riveting story, along with the revelations about each mysterious character.

Teri Duerr
2017-07-11 16:29:45
The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes
Benjamin Boulden

The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes is an entertaining and satisfying Holmesian tale set in 1910 London. Sherlock Holmes is dead and Dr. Watson, still residing at 221b Baker Street and holding tight to the memories of his late friend, is approached by Mary Harrelston. Mary’s brother Charles, heavily in debt to the gambler Christopher Moran, fell to his death from the window of a high building. Charles’ death is ruled a suicide by Scotland Yard, specifically Inspector Lestrade—son of the original Inspector Lestrade—but Mary has her doubts.

Dr. Watson shows a keen interest in the case when he learns two of the witnesses to Charles’ plunge are the widow Joanna Blalock and her 10-year-old son Johnnie. The Blalocks’ account of the incident is much different than the other witnesses and casts doubt on Lestrade’s assurances it was suicide. Joanna shows an alarming talent for drawing accurate conclusions from the seemingly mundane, and Johnnie is an image of Sherlock Holmes. With the help of Dr. Watson’s son, John Jr., and Joanna, Dr. Watson sets out to prove Charles’ death was murder.

The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes is a nicely rendered tale that will appeal to Sherlockian readers of all shades. The language and settings are faithful to Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories. John Jr. acts as narrator, rather than Dr. Watson, and Joanna is an alluring replacement for the great detective. The mystery is not who killed Charles, but rather the how and why of his murder. It includes a favorite classic Holmesian device, a cipher, that acts as both significant clue and hurdle for the detectives. The rigorous, well-placed clues, an unexpected and satisfying climactic twist, and the likable Joanna make this a welcome addition to the Sherlock Holmes world.

Teri Duerr
2017-07-11 16:34:58
Here and Gone
Ariell Cacciola

When Audra Kinney finally packs up and leaves her abusive husband in New York City, she can’t help but look over her shoulder at every worrying moment. When Audra and her two young children make a pit stop in a small desert town in Arizona, her anxiety is fully realized when she is pulled over by the local sheriff under a bogus pretense. He illegally searches her car, and finds a bag of planted drugs. Audra is whisked away to the police station leaving a dastardly sheriff’s deputy to take custody of the children. While the sheriff gives her the runaround, Audra continues to ask about her children. The sheriff’s eventual response, “What children?”

As Audra’s heart frantically pounds, so does the plot as it races by with each page turning faster than the last. The villainous sheriff’s plan soon is complicated when Danny Lee, a troubled man in San Francisco hears the news of the missing children. He treks down to Arizona intent on helping Audra and himself, because something eerily and tragically similar happened to him in the past.

Audra’s distress rises exponentially when additional law enforcement is brought in, each officer bringing their own level of disdain for Audra, who they believe murdered her children. The answer to the children’s disappearance is given early on and the book is more concerned with the thrill of the chase. The atmosphere of panic crescendos as Audra becomes more and more isolated, with only Danny Lee believing her version of events.

Haylen Beck, a pseudonym for prizewinning crime author Stuart Neville, is adept at thrills and doesn’t disappoint. The book has a cinematic quality, using the bleakness of the desert landscape to horrify not only Audra, but the reader following on her journey. Bursting with energy, Here and Gone is a whiplash of deception and intrigue.

Teri Duerr
2017-07-11 17:09:56
The Last Hack
Vanessa Orr

Being as technologically challenged as I am, at first I wasn’t sure that I would like a book about computer hacking. But it only took a couple of chapters before I was completely intrigued with Buzzkill, the cyberhacker at the center of the story in the latest in Christopher Brookmyre’s Jack Parlabane series.

A shy, uncomfortable teen in real life, Buzzkill is a master of gaining access to inaccessible data. With her mother in jail, she is struggling to stay in school, while raising a sister who has Down syndrome. it’s not hard to understand why she’d rather live in an alternate reality.

Blackmailed for a hacking job by a computer entity known only as Zodiac, she recruits the help of a disgraced journalist, Jack Parlabane, known for his own “morally questionable” ways of getting stories. After the Zodiac sets them up for stealing a computer prototype and killing a man in the process, the two work together to clear their names.

What makes this story great are its two main characters, both flawed, yet trying to do the right thing. The author does an excellent job of making both “criminals” relatable; I found myself rooting for them to commit the perfect crime.

While I didn’t think that an IT-based story would have a lot of action, I was mesmerized as the two set up a break-in and worked together to unravel Zodiac’s identity. It is interesting to watch their strengths play off of each other and Brookmyre is a master of creating tension both on- and offline. I have to give the author kudos for doing a great job of explaining computer references in layman’s terms so that even the non-tech savvy can follow the action.

I was up all night reading this book, and while I was satisfied with the conclusion, I would be even more pleased to see Buzzkill in action again in her own series, or at least appearing in another Jack Parlabane thriller.

Teri Duerr
2017-07-11 17:24:54
Dead Spider
Robin Agnew

I love Victoria Houston’s brisk, no-nonsense stories that perfectly suit her straightforward, Midwestern characters and her Northwoods setting of Loon Lake, Wisconsin. Book 17 in this lengthy series opens at a fishing tournament, where we meet Chuck, who is such a nasty old man it seems assured he will be toast. And sure enough, by the end of chapter one, he is. “Doc” Osbourne, retired dentist and fill-in deputy coroner is called in to consult on the death of the wealthy Chuck, a sponsor of the tournament and one of the state’s more prominent citizens. Joining Doc in the investigation is the police chief, Lewellyn Ferris. The two have a romantic relationship that, while not a driving force behind the Loon Lake stories, is a nice part of them.

As the investigation into Chuck’s death continues, a story involving Doc’s granddaughter Beth, who is arrested in a drug bust largely for being at the wrong place at the wrong time, heats up when a local drug dealer pressures her to sell weed for him at the local high school. She keeps saying no, but she’s afraid to tell her parents, worried it will just get her into more trouble with her family after her recent arrest. Then she’s abducted.

The world Houston has created is so complete and so real you can almost imagine yourself a citizen of Loon Lake. And while I’m not interested in fishing or fish, Houston makes this aspect of her series fascinating, just the way Dick Francis was able to do with horse racing. And she’s very capable at creating suspense—the story line with Beth is both suspenseful and heartbreaking. As good police work begins to unravel who the killer might be, the story lines Houston casts begin to tie together neatly. A very satisfying read.

Teri Duerr
2017-07-11 17:31:24
Odd Numbers
Vanessa Orr

When a bomb goes off in the Islamic Cooperation Council’s offices in Oslo, Norway, it is thought that an extremist organization is responsible. A former policeman, Billy T., thinks that his son, Linus, might have had a hand in it and goes to his old friend Hanne Wilhelmsen for help.

Though she no longer has official ties to the Security Service, Wilhelmsen hasn’t lost her uncanny ability to solve crimes. A special advisor on cold cases, the wheelchair-bound sleuth rarely leaves her apartment, and resents having the crime come to her.

This story is an especially timely reflection of what’s happening in today’s world. Many Norwegians are concerned with the number of Muslim refugees coming into their country, and groups opposed to immigrants are becoming more active, setting up volatile confrontations almost guaranteed to end in violence.

While the story delves into a number of larger political and sociological issues, Holt does a good job of showing how world events also affect people on a personal basis, including Billy T. and Wilhelmsen. Though prickly, the former officer definitely grew on me; her interaction with her partner, Nefis, and their daughter, Ida, softened her hard edges, as did her mentoring of a young policeman, Henrik Holme. Their growing friendship, accepted begrudgingly by Wilhelmsen, helps them to unravel the terrorism plot while also solving an 18-year-old cold case with ties to the present-day crimes.

While the story does answer some questions, its ending leaves even more unanswered. This seems appropriate, considering that many of the issues addressed in this book have anything but simple solutions.

Teri Duerr
2017-07-12 20:26:18
The Marsh King’s Daughter
Craig Sisterson

This fairy-tale-inspired thriller has been touted as a breakthrough for Karen Dionne, who already has two TV tie-in books and three other novels under her authorial belt. While I don’t think it quite rises to all the “suspense thriller of the year” pre-release fanfare, it is a propulsive, engaging tale.

Helena Pelletier sells handcrafted jams in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, living a quiet country life with her husband, Stephen, and young daughters Iris and Mari. But even her family doesn’t know her true identity: the daughter of infamous child kidnapper and rapist “The Marsh King.” Helena’s mother was kidnapped at age 14 and held in a remote cabin, where Helena was eventually born and raised until the two women escaped when Helena was an adolescent. Many years later, it’s now Helena’s father who has escaped, from prison. As law enforcement chases its tail pursuing the renowned tracker and survivalist, Helena realizes she may be the only one who can find her father, using the very skills he taught her.

Interspersed with snatches of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale of the same name, The Marsh King’s Daughter is largely told in flashback, detailing Helena’s memories of her life growing up isolated from civilization. As Helena hunts her father in the present and reminisces of her past, Dionne superbly captures the mixed emotions, the love and hate. She keeps the pages whirring through a creeping sense of unease bubbling beneath day-to-day life. The scenes of hunting and life in the wild are particularly evocative. Overall, this is an exquisitely crafted tale that builds to a thrilling denouement.

Teri Duerr
2017-07-13 15:24:41
Edited Out
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

This is one of the most unusual murder mysteries I’ve ever read. Why? Because the “real” detective in the case may be the fictional author’s fictional detective. Let me elaborate: Edited Out is told in the first person by fictional mystery writer Rachel Goldman. Rachel’s fictional detective, Duffy Madison, arrives at her home one day to ask her to help him with a missing persons case that may prove once and for all that he is not just a fictional character without a past before she started writing about him five years earlier.

If you’re with me so far, then you’ll find the rest of the book flows smoothly.

Since this isn’t her first case with the imaginary (or “real”) Duffy, and since it may finally get him out of her life—except in her stories, where he belongs—Rachel agrees to help him investigate the mysterious disappearance of a man named Damien Mosely (a guy of about the same age and with the same initials as Duffy, who grew up in the same town and supposedly attended the same college), who somehow vanished at about the same time that Duffy’s existence began. With the help of her uncommonly bright assistant, Paula, and Duffy’s boss, Ben, who heads up the Morris County Prosecutor’s Department, this unlikely detective crew begins interviewing people who were acquainted with Damien before he went missing.

Before long, they find themselves involved in multiple murder cases in the Poughkeepsie, New York, area that not only frustrate their initial plans, but put Rachel and Duffy in a very dangerous situation.

Once I accepted the very unusual premise, I was able to sit back and enjoy the flow of events, routinely spiced by Rachel’s clever and mordant wit.

Teri Duerr
2017-07-13 15:40:57
Hank Wagner

There’s a thrilling urgency to this strange tale, in which readers are plunged directly into the grim action in its initial, tersely constructed paragraphs, as the first-person narrator is abruptly abducted from her uneventful routine, seemingly with no warning. What follows is a clipped but harrowing description of her subsequent captivity, as she (her name is not revealed until deep into the narrative) is subjected to a variety of trials and tribulations, which might be tests, or might be teachings, depending on one’s perspective. Ultimately, that question is left for readers to decide, because, while this book is crammed with disturbing incident, it is almost entirely lacking in explanations.

Due to the lack of a tidy resolution, I suspect readers will either find this Kafkaesque short novel enthralling or utterly frustrating. Once started however, I don’t think many will put it down, due to its immediacy, and to author Dumont’s ability to create sympathy for and empathy with her narrator. Once finished, though, many may be left shaking their heads, wondering what just happened.

Teri Duerr
2017-07-13 15:45:54
The Switch
Jay Roberts

The owner of a gourmet coffee bean company, Michael Tanner accidentally picks up the wrong laptop computer while returning from a business trip. He’s dealing with business trouble and marriage trouble, but little does he know that his life is about to change in dramatic ways. This is largely due to his failure to abide by the adage “curiosity killed the cat.”

While trying to find out to whom the computer belongs, Tanner discovers that the computer belongs to a US senator—and it contains top secret, classified documents. You’d think that someone learning this kind of information would be extremely eager to return the computer to its owner and get it out of their lives forever, but once the senator’s chief of staff tries to lie his way into regaining the computer, Tanner makes a completely out-of-character decision to spin his own set of lies and deny that he has it.

As more people come to discover that Tanner has what they are looking for, he is beset on all sides by the National Security Agency, Russian spies, and hit men. Worse yet for Tanner is that no one believes him when he tries to tell the newspapers what’s going on. An out-of-the-blue death of a friend only serves to harden his newfound resolve instead of scaring him off.

Joseph Finder does a nice job keeping the pace of the storytelling brisk and of establishing the feeling of paranoia in the book. The Switch left me considering deleting my social media accounts and becoming a committed technophobe. However, the unfortunate thing about this story is that I really just couldn’t buy Michael Tanner’s sudden transformation to a man of action. This is a man who has spent his life avoiding confrontation at all costs. To see him acquire these new character traits overnight just rang hollow. Essentially, I thought the story served up one of the least believable heroes I’ve read in quite awhile, which dampened the fun and action. And in the end, The Switch leaves the reader to wonder if the entire situation could’ve been avoided if Tanner had simply given the computer back in the first place.

Teri Duerr
2017-07-13 15:50:17
Based on a True Story
Katrina Niidas Holm

This dark, twisty, psychological thriller from Delphine de Vigan (Nothing Holds Back the Night) centers on an author named Delphine who publishes a bestselling roman à clef that addresses her mother’s suicide and exposes a number of family secrets. An introvert at heart, the resulting literary stardom is starting to take a psychological toll on Delphine when she meets L.

L. is a glamorous ghostwriter who proves endlessly supportive of Delphine—until Delphine announces that her next book will be a novel. “You’re above plot now,” L. insists, calling fiction an act of cowardice and accusing Delphine of betraying her readers. Delphine tries to defend her decision, but self-doubt creeps in. Before long, she’s suffering from a case of writer’s block so crippling that she can’t even turn on her computer. L. steps in to manage Delphine’s authorial obligations, and at first, Delphine is thankful. When L. asserts control over other aspects of Delphine’s life, though, Delphine starts to wonder at L.’s true motives.

Comparisons to Stephen King’s Misery and the 1992 film Single White Female are inevitable, but at the same time, one can’t help but notice that nobody other than Delphine seems to interact with L. Does L. actually exist, or is she merely the product of a broken mind attempting to cope?

Readers may also note that not only does de Vigan share a name with her protagonist, but both also live in Paris and are authors of lightly fictionalized memoirs. Is Based on a True Story a metaphorical retelling of what the real Delphine went through after the publication of Nothing Holds Back the Night?

Regardless of the answers to those questions, de Vigan’s latest is a thoughtful exploration of the relationship between truth and literature, the responsibility of a writer to his or her readers, and the way in which people use fiction to make sense of reality. The book highlights the vulnerability that accompanies any endeavor of artistic creation and illustrates how lonely the profession of writing can be. Finally, it examines the damage that writer’s block can do to an author’s self-worth, and the unique and intense pressure that comes with success.

Teri Duerr
2017-07-13 15:55:50
A Perfect Manhattan Murder
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

In another amusing take-off on the Thin Man series, A Perfect Manhattan Murder features Nic and her husband, Nigel Martini, as witty, drink-loving amateur sleuths in a Broadway murder mystery sure to leave you shaken (with laughter), if not stirred.

While attending an A-list party to celebrate the successful opening of a new play written by one of Nic’s old schoolgirl friends, Harper, they meet Harper’s less-than-sociable husband, Dan, as well as members of the cast and other Broadway luminaries. When Dan is found murdered the following morning, ex-cop Nic and Nigel decide they’d better take an active interest as the police begin to look at Harper as a possible suspect. Fortunately, Nic’s ex-partner, Marcy Garcia, is one of the detectives assigned to the case and welcomes Nic’s participation.

Together with their huge bull mastiff, Skippy, and fortified by martinis, the Martinis conduct a parallel investigation using their friendship with Harper as an entrée to her friends and cast. Little by little, they begin to unravel the complex relationships among the group and turn up discrepancies in the various alibis of some of the potential murderers of a man universally disliked by everyone. A last-minute change to one of the play’s scenes helps to finally unmask the real killer.

This is a fast-moving novel, the third in a series, and enjoyable as much for the witty dialogue and the bumptious activities of an enormous dog as for the successful investigation of a puzzling murder.

Teri Duerr
2017-07-13 16:10:31