The term collateral damage is often used in crime fiction to describe the victims who happen to get in the way of the main event. These characters might be the ones who don’t blend in, those whose struggle with being “different” increases their vulnerabilities. Our heroes, typically, must avenge these crimes. Consider Casimiro Robetti, the dwarf in Marco Vichi’s moody Death and the Olive Grove as a character worth defending. More dramatically, enjoy seeing what happens when the one who sticks out—Jersey Leo, albino––is the hero, as in John Florio’s gritty Prohibition-era Sugar Pop Moon.
If readers are looking for walking guides to New York, suggest they consider Christopher Finch’s Good Girl, Bad Girl; Charles O’Brien’s Death of a Robber Baron, or Sarah Steding’s A Diet To Die For. Or if the dog days of summer mean your readers want to try a series that’s new to them, check and see if they’ve met Oliver Pötzsch’s medieval Kuisl family. The latest installment (number four) is The Poisoned Pilgrim. If your patrons love the Golden Age of British traditional mysteries, by all means, make sure they’ve met Jack Haldean, in Dolores Gordon-Smith’s 1920s-era series. Her newest is Blood from a Stone.
Pötzsch, Oliver. The Poisoned Pilgrim: A Hangman’s Daughter Tale. Mariner: Houghton Harcourt. Jul. 2013. 512p. tr. from German by Lee Chadeayne. ISBN 9780544114609. pap. $18. M
Magdalena Kuisl and her husband, Simon, have embarked on a religious pilgrimage to the Bavarian Holy Mountain, leaving their young boys in her parents’ care. This trip goes awry when the duo encounters violence, including a bell tower attack on Magdalena, and three apparent murders. When a monk is wrongfully jailed for the murders, he confides in Magdalena that he’s a former hangman and begs her to get her father, Jakob, to come help. Within days, religious pilgrims will be mobbing the site for the annual Festival of the Three Hosts, unaware that some monks are stripping the monastery of its priceless treasures. Meanwhile, time is running out for the Kuisls in their hunt for the real murderer. VERDICT Word-of-mouth popularity is richly deserved for Pötzsch’s historical series (after The Beggar King) about a Bavarian hangman and his family, based loosely on the author’s forebears. He creates an intoxicating mix of frenetic pacing, strong doses of adventure and wit, and 17th-century historical detail. The hefty length doesn’t detract from vivid storytelling along the lines of Katherine Neville and William Dietrich. [See also the author’s stand-alone The Ludwig Conspiracy, reviewed on p. 74.—Ed.]
Florio, John. Sugar Pop Moon: A Jersey Leo Novel. Seventh St. Bks.: Prometheus. Jul. 2013. 214p. ISBN 9781616147952. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616147969. M
Albino Jersey Leo, much to his retired-boxer father Ernie’s distaste, earns a living tending bar at a speakeasy owned by mobster Jimmy McCullough in New York City in 1930. When Jersey mistakenly buys a large shipment of bad booze (using Jimmy’s cash) from a Philadelphia-based distributor, he has to rectify the situation if he doesn’t want Jimmy to kill him. But it seems that a religious sect in Philadelphia has a hit out on Jersey. Apparently, the bones of albinos are considered rare commodities. Jersey, already paranoid about being a biracial albino (street name “Snowball”) and desperate to dig his way out of this bizarre mess, enlists the help of his dad. Meanwhile, an alternating story set in 1906 clues readers in to the whole Leo family backstory. VERDICT Don’t miss this absolutely riveting, gritty debut coming-of-age tale. Absorbing and briskly paced, the story toggles deftly between 1906 and 1930. Despite abundant gunfire and bloodshed, the novel manages to successfully incorporate an idealistic tone. For readers who follow Kelli Stanley’s “Miranda Corbie” series or Reed Farrel Coleman’s “Moe Prager” books.
Owen, Howard. The Philadelphia Quarry. Permanent. Jul. 2013. 224p. ISBN 9781579623357. $28. M
When DNA proves that an innocent man has spent over 25 years wrongfully imprisoned for rape, crime reporter Willie Black shows up to witness Richard Slade’s release from prison. Richard is more than a story; he and Willie are cousins. Now, less than a week after Richard is released, Alicia Simpson, who had identified Richard as her rapist, is shot dead. Richard is picked up right away, and the police aren’t interested in looking any further. Luckily for Richard, Alicia’s friend tells Willie about a journal that will reveal all. Willie carries plenty of his own baggage—he’s a drunk and a father atoning for lost time. But when the powers of old-money Richmond tell him to drop the story, Willie pushes back for truth. VERDICT Owen is particularly good at character development and takes a familiar race and class struggle plot to a new level. His second entry featuring crime reporter Willie Black (after the Hammett Prize finalist Oregon Hill) is a stellar mystery deserving of a wide readership.
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The following titles are reviewed in the July print issue. Visit Book Verdict for the full reviews.
Kwik Krimes. Thomas & Mercer: Amazon. Aug. 2013. 376p. ed. by Otto Penzler. ISBN 9781612183008. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781612183831. M
Vichi, Marco. Death and the Olive Grove: An Inspector Bordelli Mystery. Pegasus Crime. Jul. 2013. 256p. tr. from Italian by Stephen Sartarelli. ISBN 9781605984483. $25. M
CHECK THESE OUT
Billheimer, John. Player To Be Maimed Later: A Lloyd Keaton Mystery. Five Star: Gale. Aug. 2013. 312p. ISBN 9781432827199. $25. M
Finch, Christopher. Good Girl, Bad Girl. Thomas & Mercer: Amazon. Aug. 2013. 208p. ISBN 9781611099713. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781611091991. M
Gordon-Smith, Dolores. Blood from a Stone: A Jack Haldean Mystery. Severn House.Jul. 2013. 232p. ISBN 9780727882639. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9781780104157. M
Ritter, Todd. Devil’s Night. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Aug. 2013. 368p. ISBN 9781250028532. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250028549. M
Allen, Robin. Out of the Frying Pan: Poppy Markham, Culinary Cop. Midnight Ink. Jul. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9780738727967. pap. $14.99. M
O’Brien, Charles. Death of a Robber Baron: A Gilded Age Mystery. Kensington. Aug. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9780758286369. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780758286376. M
Steding, Sarah. A Diet To Die For: A Skinny Mystery. Pocket: S. & S. Jul. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9781451684681. pap. $7.99. M
Ashford, Lindsay. The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen. Sourcebooks Landmark. Aug. 2013. 432p. ISBN 9781402282126. pap. $14.99. M
Dean, Anna. A Place of Confinement: The Investigations of Miss Dido Kent. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Aug. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9781250029676. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250029683. M
Penny, Louise. How the Light Gets In: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Aug. 2013. 416p. ISBN 9780312655471. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466834705. M
Rosen, Leonard. The Tenth Witness. Permanent. Sept. 2013. 288p.ISBN 9781579623197. $29. M