Week ending August 9, 2013
Bertsch, David Riley. Death Canyon: A Jake Trent Novel. Scribner. Aug. 2013. 384p. ISBN 9781451698008. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781451698022. F
This debut mystery and series launch introduces attorney–turned–fishing guide Jake Trent, park ranger Noelle Klimpton, a series of murders, criminals of all varieties, energy companies, land development versus preservation issues, and the breathtaking landscapes of Wyoming’s Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks. Trent’s past life as an investigator helps him piece together clues from a presumed bear mauling, a skier’s death, and a drowning but also puts him in the crosshairs of the local police. Why does someone want Trent out of the picture? The author, a former lawyer, eases into the plot with its labyrinth of interconnected characters and events, He then propels the book into nonstop action to the finish as Trent discovers why he is being framed for murder and why the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem is being rocked by a series of earthquakes.
Verdict Fans of C.J. Box and Nevada Barr will relish this new sleuth of the great outdoors. Adding to the appeal of this fresh series is Bertsch’s skillful depiction of the allure of the wide open spaces of the West and its regenerative powers for his characters. Adventure, current environmental issues, and love are all a part of the package.—Patricia Ann Owens, formerly with Illinois Eastern Community Colls., Mt. Carmel
Billingham, Mark. The Dying Hours. Atlantic Monthly. Aug. 2013. 400p. ISBN 9780802121486. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780802193285. F
Demoted from detective a few months earlier after a case gone awry (recounted in The Demands), London police officer Tom Thorne has lost none of his instinct or edge.At the bedside of an elderly couple discovered dead in a presumed suicide, Thorne senses something wrong, in part because the woman’s dentures were removed, leaving her not the way Thorne thinks she would have wanted to be found. Rebuffed by superiors when he suggests investigating the case as murder, he goes rogue, calling on a few colleagues to piece together a string of deaths framed as suicides in which the victims seemed unlikely to have taken their own lives and making a connection that went back decades.Thorne risks his shaky career and more by ferreting out not only the “who” and “why” but the “how” of the crimes.
Verdict In his 11th Tom Thorne novel, Billingham displays his mastery of the nuanced adrenaline-fueled police procedural several notches above the standard thriller. The final ambiguity about Thorne will leave even readers new to the series anxious for more about this principled maverick protagonist. [See Prepub Alert, 2/11/13.]—Michele Leber, Arlington, VA
Cleverly, Barbara. A Spider in the Cup: A Joe Sandilands Investigation. Soho Crime. Aug. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9781616952884. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616952891. MYS
The Great Depression and London’s 1933 World Economic Conference serve as backdrop to Cleverly’s 11th whodunit featuring Scotland Yard investigator Joe Sandilands (Not My Blood). Tapped to protect U.S. senator and FDR confidant Cornelius Kingstone during the crucial summit, the detective crosses paths with a shady FBI agent who served under Sandilands in World War I and may still hold a grudge against his former commander. Further complicating matters are the unknown whereabouts of Kingstone’s prima ballerina paramour, the whisperings of a secret society bent on derailing the conference, and the not-so-coincidental discovery on the banks of the Thames of a young woman’s corpse.
Verdict The Sandilands series has lost some steam since Cleverly transplanted her sleuth from India to England, and this latest installment doesn’t do much to right the ship. Heavy with tedious, politically charged dialog and light on suspense, this title likely will turn off newcomers and mostly appeal to longtime fans determined to stick with Joe through thick and thin.—Annabelle Mortensen, Skokie P.L., IL
Hoffmeister, Peter Brown. Graphic the Valley. Tyrus. 2013. 272p. ISBN 9781440562037. $24.95; pap. ISBN 9781440568930. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9781440562044. F
Born in a car and named after a Yosemiti tribal chief, Tenaya lives with his parents in the backcountry of the Yosemite National Park, surviving by fishing and scavenging for leftovers thrown away by tourists. Educated by reading books left behind by campers, Tenaya is also taught by his father to appreciate the oral history, traditions, and legends of their Yosemiti ancestor. While working with a park crew, Tenaya meets Lucy, a descendant of the rival Miwok tribe. Ultimately, he must choose between his love for Lucy and the traditions he values.
Verdict The author of the acclaimed memoir The End of Boys and award-winning fiction collection Loss has written an excellent coming-of-age debut novel. He skillfully interweaves the story of modern-day life in Yosemite with the the area’s turbulent and tragic history in the 1850s when Native Americans lost control of the land, but the author’s attempt to link Tenaya and Lucy to the biblical story of Samson and Delilah is a bit heavy-handed and unnecessary. Still, the book’s sense of place is strong, capturing Yosemite’s wild beauty. Both adult and mature young adult readers and lovers of literary ecofiction will enjoy this fast-paced love story.—Russell Michalak, Goldey-Beacom Coll. Lib., Wilmington, DE
Richell, Hannah. The House of Tides. Grand Central. 2013. 400p. ISBN 9781455521074. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781455521081. F
Opening with the scene of a an unnamed young women piercing her skin with an heirloom brooch, then throwing herself into the Thames River, this debut novel snags the reader’s attention and holds it tight. We are then introduced to Dora Tide, a successful advertising agent, newly pregnant, struggling to come to terms with her family’s misfortune and the broken relationships left in its wake. Dora, trying to mend those broken bonds, especially with her distant and cold mother, uncovers shattering truths about her family, who years ago seemed to have had it all until a horrific accident that left each member a dysfunctional mess. As Richell peels back the layers from this family, we explore their past and present—asking ourselves what level of crime can truly be forgiven.
Verdict Richell has written a worthy family saga that revolves around a ramshackle English mansion by the sea. The characters are fully fleshed out, and their interactions with one another ring true. This will be a big hit with Rosamunde Pilcher and Maeve Binchy fans.—Marianne Fitzgerald, Severna Park H.S, MD
Rusch, Kristine Kathryn. Snipers. WMG. 2013. 348p. ISBN 9780615762050. pap. $18.99. SF
In 1913 Vienna, the Carnival Sniper went on a killing spree. In 2005, historian and best-selling author Sophie Branstadter begins her investigation into the nearly 100-year-old crime with the exhumation of one of the Sniper’s victims. The unusual evidence retrieved from the corpse yields more questions than answers. Yet after gaining access to the original detective’s files, Sophie begins to piece together a theory she would have otherwise thought impossible.
Verdict Rusch’s (“Retrieval Artist” series; “Diving Universe” series) latest sf thriller involves a time-traveling premise with an interesting twist, but this is never fully explored as readers are given little insight into the assassin’s motivations or the implications of an alternate history that results from his actions. Serious sf readers may take issue with time-traveling paradoxes and find subsequent plotlines problematic. This story will appeal to readers looking for a light mystery peppered with a bit of romance, but hard-core alternate-history fans will want to pass.—Vicki Briner, City Coll. Lib., Fort Lauderdale, FL