Sons as heroes Maybe it is the Harry Potter effect, but a startling number of young men play leading roles in this month’s list. For openers, there’s the estranged teenage son in Eleanor Kuhns’s striking historical debut, A Simple Murder. There’s also the victim’s brave stepson in Linda Rodriguez’s Every Last Secret. Two novels feature their respective heroes’ sons: Lyndon Stacey’s No Holds Barred and Jon Talton’s Powers of Arrest. Conor Fitzgerald introduces young lions being groomed for Mafia-style leadership roles in the chilling The Namesake. To avoid spoilers, I won’t hint at which sons turn out to be villains, but know they are represented too.
So the rule of thumb is: you can go home again, but it’ll cost you. Several of our protagonists dig out long-held secrets while solving crimes. Dip into Daniel Friedman’s dynamic Don’t Ever Get Old, Bryan Gruley’s haunting The Skeleton Box, and Victoria Hamilton’s warm A Deadly Grind if you enjoy historical context mixed in with your sleuthing.
If you seek a little academic flavoring, several authors can show you a less savory side of the ivory tower. M.J. Trow returns to Elizabethan-era Cambridge with his Christopher Marlowe series entry Silent Court. On the contemporary campus scene, Terri Thayer wades into drug busts and protest marches in her topical Monkey Wrench,Jon Talton confronts a serial killer stalking a college campus in Powers of Arrest; and Linda Rodriguez grapples with a campus rife with scandal in the aforementioned Every Last Secret.
On a final note, four-footed assistants abound this time. I’m talking horses here. Try Cher Fischer’s Falling into Green for a horse whisperer, Lyndon Stacey’s No Holds Barred for reliable transport, and back to Kuhns (again!) for motive in A Simple Murder. If you’d prefer some helpful dogs, see Stacey’s title as well as Bailey Cates’s cozy paranormal, Brownies and Broomsticks.
OUT AND ABOUT
Take a little staycation and zip over to Crimefest’s conference website, www.crimefest.com. The international crime fiction conference, to be held in Bristol, England from May 24‚ 27, has only been around for five years, which makes it fresh and a bit unpredictable. The site is chock-full of attendees, award nominees, and award winners from the past. Particularly notable is the list of audiobook nominees and winners, a great checklist for downloadable titles and books on CD.
The channel surfers among us can settle in with the new season of PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery! Sherlock, the show’s contemporary version of Sherlock Holmes, will be airing all May. Brace yourself for renewed interest in Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse series; the prequel, entitled Endeavour, airs in July. Think how smug you’ll feel when readers query you about Constable Morse.
DEBUT OF THE MONTH
Kuhns, Eleanor. A Simple Murder. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. May 2012. c.336p. ISBN 9781250005533. $24.99. M
Will Rees, a Revolutionary War veteran, fled his sorrow over his wife’s death by becoming a traveling weaver. Leaving his son David in the care of his sister’s family while they ran his farm seemed like a reasonable arrangement, but he learns that David has run away and joined a Shaker community in Maine. Will heads there in hopes of reconnecting with his adolescent son. The Shakers let him stay, mostly because a shocking murder has just shaken the community and they need his help investigating it. Lydia, a former member, agrees to chaperone him and soon becomes his investigative partner. Will, Lydia, and David finally discern a pattern in the puzzling disappearances of people and horses. When the musket balls start flying, Will knows his instincts are correct. VERDICT Librarian Kuhns’s closed-room mystery is refreshingly original, both for its setting and time period. In keeping with her protagonist’s profession, Kuhns weaves together disparate threads into a beautiful finished piece. She’s this year’s winner of the Mystery Writers of America/Minotaur Books First Crime Novel competition. [See Prepub Alert, 3/21/12; see also Q&A with Kuhns on p.70‚ Ed.]
Fitzgerald, Conor. The Namesake: A Commissario Alec Blume Novel. Bloomsbury, dist. by Macmillan. Jun. 2012. c.368p. ISBN 9781608198450. $25. M
Milanese actuary Matteo Arconti was kidnapped and killed simply because his name was the same as that of a Rome-based magistrate. He was executed as a warning to government officials to butt out of organized crime activities. But the magistrate can’t resist pushing back, and he wants Commissario Blume in Calabria, where the movers and shakers of Italian organized crime will convene the next week. So Blume takes on an undercover role, leaving Caterina, his deputy and girlfriend, in a bind with a tangentially related case. Blume’s situation looks dire when the ‘Ndrangheta crime organization kidnaps him. VERDICT Shifting points of view and locales help clarify a complex storyline and alert readers to an interconnectedness that the police can’t hope to see. Fitzgerald’s feat of blending Italy’s storied past with a contemporary thriller is done extraordinarily well. The third in this exciting series (after The Fatal Touch) juggles multiple storylines and deepens readers’ understanding of Alec and Caterina. If your readers loved Michael Dibdin’s Aurelio Zen series, get them started on this one. [See Prepub Alert, 3/21/12.]
Friedman, Daniel. Don’t Ever Get Old. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. May 2012. c.304p. ISBN 9780312606930. $24.99. M
Back in the day, Baruch Buck Schatz was a renowned Memphis homicide detective. Now long retired, he is asked to visit Jim, an old army colleague (they were in a German POW camp back in World War II), who’s on his deathbed and wants Buck’s forgiveness. Apparently, Jim took a bribe of gold from SS Officer Heinrich Ziegler, which allowed Ziegler to escape prosecution. Jewish Buck, who nearly died under Ziegler’s torture, is incensed to learn that the old Nazi has been living in the United States for decades. After a convoluted search that attracts the attention of several individuals who believe Buck will lead them to the fortune in gold Ziegler still harbors, Buck ascertains his target is living in St. Louis. Suddenly, the 87-year-old Buck has roped his grandson Billy, a law school student, into a memorable road trip filled with pathos, bank robbery, and murder. The murders follow Buck and Billy home again in a particularly gruesome and troubling pattern. VERDICT Short chapters, crackling dialog, and memorable characters make this a standout debut. With his curmudgeonly lead, Friedman ensures his intergenerational detective story maintains a pitch-perfect tone. The underlying theme of revenge balances a wacky plot that evokes Elmore Leonard. This has a direct topical connection with P.J. Tracy’s Live Bait, too.
Camilleri, Andrea. The Age of Doubt: An Inspector Montalbano Mystery. Penguin Group (USA). Jun. 2012. c.288p. tr. from Italian by Stephen Sartarelli. ISBN 9780143120926 . pap. $15. M
In this 14th installment (after The Potter’s Field ) of the internationally popular series set in Vigata, Sicily, Inspector Montalbano once again wrangles with local politics, mysterious strangers, and the ever-present dilemma of what to have for dinner. This time, two yachts, docked in Vigata’s port, bring a flirty heiress, undercover operatives, and a whole cast of shady characters to town. An unidentified body found floating in a dinghy complicates the plot. Montalbano is further distracted by the charms of Lieutenant Bella donna of the Harbor Office, whose attentions cause trouble between Montalbano and Livia, his out-of-town girlfriend. VERDICT As with Camilleri’s other Montalbano novels , familiar personalities and settings don’t fail to delight. The inspector and his colorful crew remain quirky and unpredictable, and the mysteries continue to entertain. This esteemed series is a great example of local color and characters who will appeal to fans of mysteries set in international locales.‚ Cathy Lantz, Morton Coll. Lib., Cicero, IL
For all the latest reviews in this subject area and more, see LJ‘s new Reviews Center (Beta)!The Reviews Center (Beta) is available free through March 1, 2012 to all users with a Library Journal or School Library Journal online account (this includes current recipients of our email newsletters). Don’t know if you have an account with us? It’s easy to check and verify your email, or create a new account.Log in to the Reviews Center (Beta) now.
The following titles are reviewed in the May 1 print issue. Visit our Reviews Center (Beta) for the full reviews.
Fischer, Cher. Falling into Green: An Eco-Mystery. Ashland Creek. May 2012. c.336p. ISBN 9781618220073. pap. $17.95. M
Stacey, Lyndon. No Holds Barred: A Daniel Whelan Mystery. Severn House. 2012. c.214p. ISBN 9780727880642. $28.95. M
CHECK THESE OUT
Gruley, Bryan. The Skeleton Box: A Starvation Lake Mystery. Touchstone: S. & S. Jun. 2012. c.336p. ISBN 9781416563662. $25. M
King, Lisa. Death in a Wine Dark Sea. Permanent. Jun. 2012. c.352p. ISBN 9781579622824. $29.95. M
Rodriguez, Linda. Every Last Secret. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. May 2012. c.304p. ISBN 9781250005458. $24.99. M
T alton, Jon. Powers of Arrest: A Cincinnati Casebook. Poisoned Pen. May 2012. c.264p. ISBN 9781590589991. $24.95; pap. ISBN 9781590585566. $14.95. M
Trow, M.J. Silent Court. Crème de la Crime: Severn House. 2012. c.220p. ISBN 9781780290195. $28.95. M
Cates, Bailey. Brownies and Broomsticks: A Magical Bakery Mystery. Obsidian Mysteries: NAL. May 2012. c.336p. ISBN 9780451236630. pap. $7.99. M
Chandler, Jessie. Hide and Snake Murder: A Shay O’Hanlon Caper. Midnight Ink. Jun. 2012. c.288p. ISBN 9780738725970. pap. $14.95. M
Hamilton, Victoria. A Deadly Grind: A Vintage Kitchen Mystery. Berkley Prime Crime. May 2012. c.304p. ISBN 9780425248010. pap. $7.99. M
Thayer, Terri. Monkey Wrench: A Quilting Mystery. Midnight Ink. May 2012. c.288p. ISBN 9780738731261. pap. $14.95. M
Siger, Jeffrey. Target: Tinos; An Inspector Kaldis Mystery. Poisoned Pen. Jun. 2012. c.270p. ISBN 9781590589762. $24.95; pap. ISBN 9781590589786. $14.95. M
SOME REGIONAL NOTES
Librarians are well acquainted with Sisters in Crime; its regional chapters are worth checking out for programming ideas. This month, see the Heart of Texas’s (www.hotxsinc.org) site
for info about its 14th Annual Texas Mystery Month.
Congratulations to author Bill Cameron for winning the 2012 Spotted Owl Award for his novel County Line (LJ 5/1/11). The Spotted Owl is given by the Friends of Mystery (www.friendsofmystery.org), a nonprofit literary/educational organization headquartered in Portland, OR. Its purpose is to promote educational study in all realms related to mystery. Members are interested in fiction, true crime, how mysteries are solved, and many other topics that can be included in the term mystery.