Means, motive, and opportunity: a familiar mantra for many a mystery author and veteran mystery reader. Boring? Hardly! Authors continue to surprise readers with their variations on time-honored genre formulas.
Speaking of motive, see how Mitchell Scott Lewis channels the fury of those who’ve lost big financially in the recording industry in his astrological detective entry, Death in the 12th House. Or check out Susy Gage’s edgy take on academe in A Slow Cold Death. Plenty of cutting-edge means are at a certain killer’s disposal in David Carnoy’s Silicon Valley-based thriller, The Big Exit. And for opportunity, nothing quite compares to a cruise ship for ensuring that a victim stays captive in Mike Befeler’s Cruising in Your Eighties Is Murder.
Some authors are setting their mysteries within times of political or civil unrest, making for dramatic and often dark landscapes in both historical and contemporary titles. Alana White’s vivid depiction of Renaissance Italy in The Sign of the Weeping Virgin is unsettling, while Adrian McKinty’s bleak commentary on the Irish “troubles” in our lifetime makes for stay-up-all-night reading in The Cold Cold Ground. And James Church gives us glimpses of the tenuous and suspicious relations among the two Koreas, China, and Mongolia in his new series opener, A Drop of Chinese Blood.
This month we have two rookie detectives solving their first murder cases. Be sure to meet Art Oveson, Andrew Hunt’s Mormon protagonist in City of Saints, and Maria Kallio, the Finnish police officer who’s completing law school in Leena Lehtolainen’s My First Murder.
And back again to the familiar: enjoy perusing this month’s Series Lineup. You’ll notice that the late Margaret Truman’s “Capital Crimes” series has been handed off to the talented Donald Bain. And that Colleen McCullough (she’s not just The Thorn Birds, you know) is finding sci-tech thrills in Connecticut these days, in The Prodigal Son.
McKinty, Adrian. The Cold Cold Ground: A Detective Sean Duffy Novel. Seventh Street Bks: Prometheus. (Troubles Trilogy, Bk. 1). Nov. 2012. c.328p. ISBN 9781616147167. pap. $15.95. M
What better cover for a serial killer than the political hunger strikes, car bombs, and street riots of Northern Ireland’s “troubles”? Det. Sean Duffy, a rarity as a Catholic cop, doesn’t step back from digging deep into a case in which gay men are being killed and mutilated with symbolic messages (such as cut-off hands) and more obscure, artistic clues. But as Duffy learns more about the victims, he wonders if their deaths aren’t politically motivated after all. Then, when a local missing woman turns up dead and is presumed to have killed herself, initially only Duffy senses that she was murdered and that her death connects with those of the gay men. By now, he has managed to alienate some powerful folks in the activist movement, and he might have to be silenced, too. VERDICT For fans of Stewart Neville’s crime novels, a new and harrowing Irish trilogy is underway. At turns violent and labyrinthine, McKinty’s (Dead I Well May Be) fine police procedural is also the ultimate page-turner. I cannot wait for Book Two!
Carnoy, David. The Big Exit. Overlook, dist. by Penguin. 2012. c.320p. ISBN 9781590205150. $25.95. M
Driver Richie Forman served time for a tragic car accident in which he accidentally killed someone. Or he might have been framed for the crime—he really doesn’t remember. But Richie’s fiancée, Beth, moved on and married Silicon Valley wunderkind Mark, the other man in Richie’s car. One fateful afternoon following Richie’s release from prison, Mark is found bludgeoned to death and, not surprisingly, Richie moves to the head of the suspect list. Thanks to their Silicon Valley location, the local cops must match their old-time methods against a fast-paced social media scene that muddies the investigation. Suffice to say that reality shifts at 4G speed in Richie’s search for a killer. VERDICT Twisty and dark, this addictive thriller (after the originally self-published Knife Music) showcases Carnoy’s ability to surprise the reader. Match with Barry Eisler (Fault Line) or Kirk Russell (“Ben Raveneau” series).
Connolly, John. The Wrath of Angels: A Charlie Parker Thriller. Emily Bestler: Atria: S. & S. Jan. 2013. c.474p. ISBN 9781476703022. $26. M
The Poe-esque opening line launches another somber, disturbing narrative from Connolly, who writes seamlessly about an array of forces both criminal and supernatural, killings, and torture alongside the plethora of more prosaic human failings that he delineates so compassionately. The novel’s focus is a small airplane that crashed in Maine’s Great North Woods near the atmospherically named town of Falls End. Here is a zone where magnetic forces are askew, where the lost soul of a child wanders, where an altar to idolatry is constructed. Private eye Charlie Parker in his 12th outing (after The Burning Soul) is trying to locate the plane and retrieve from it a list of names, thereby preventing that list from falling into the wrong hands. VERDICT Though scarred by murder, grief, despair, separation, physical and psychic wounds, loss, and revenge, Parker—whose resilience itself verges on the supernatural—shines in his fundamental decency. Strongly recommended for plot, characterization, authenticity, angels, gay assassination team, horror, humor, and humanity. [See Prepub Alert, 7/15/12.]—Seamus Scanlon, Ctr. for Worker Education, CUNY
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The following titles are reviewed in the November 1 print issue. Visit Book Verdict for the full reviews.
Gage, Susy. A Slow Cold Death. Bitingduck. Nov. 2012. c.244p. ISBN 9781938463372. pap. $14.99. M
Lehtolainen, Leena. My First Murder: A Maria Kallio Thriller. AmazonCrossing. Dec. 2012. c.264p. tr. from Finnish by Owen F. Witesman. ISBN 9781612184371. pap. $14.95. M
CHECK THESE OUT
Church, James. A Drop of Chinese Blood. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Nov. 2012. c.304p. ISBN 9780312550639. $24.99. M
Lewis, Mitchell Scott. Death in the 12th House: Where Neptune Rules; A Starlight Detective Agency Mystery. Poisoned Pen. Nov. 2012. c.236p. ISBN 9781464200588. $24.95; pap. ISBN 9781464200601.
McCarthy, Keith. The Taste of Wormwood: A John Eisenmenger Forensic Mystery. Severn House. 2012. c.224p. ISBN 9780727881908. $27.95. M
Morey, Shaun. El Dorado Blues: An Atticus Fish Novel. Thomas & Mercer: Amazon. Nov. 2012. c.268p. ISBN 9781612184982. pap. $14.95. M
White, Alana. The Sign of the Weeping Virgin. Five Star: Gale Cengage. Jan. 2013. c.384p. ISBN 9781432826239. $25.95. M
Befeler, Mike. Cruising in Your Eighties Is Murder: A Paul Jacobson Geezer-Lit Mystery. Five Star: Gale Cengage. Jan. 2013. c.276p. ISBN 9781432825812. $25.95. M
Hollis, Lee. Death of a Country Fried Redneck: A Hayley Powell Food & Cocktails Mystery. Kensington. Nov. 2012. c.304p. ISBN 9780758267382. pap. $7.99. M
Kirwin, Mary Lou. Killer Librarian. Pocket Bks: S. & S. Nov. 2012. c.352p. ISBN 9781451684643. pap. $7.99. M
Smith, Lachlan. Bear Is Broken: A Leo Maxwell Mystery. Mysterious Pr: Grove/Atlantic. Feb. 2013. 272p. ISBN 9780802120793. $24. M