“The thousand yard stare” has become cultural shorthand for a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder, but it goes back further than our current epidemic of victims. Jim Kelly references it in The Funeral Owl for his character who fought in the Korean War. They called it “shell shock” in World War I, and Jonathan Hicks’s characters suffer mightily in Demons Walk Among Us. World War II and its fallout haunt multiple generations in Mary Malloy’s The Wonder Chamber and Paul Johnston’s The Black Life.
Small towns continue to harbor old hatreds, and just one event can trigger staggering levels of violence. Consider Terry Shames’s The Last Death of Jack Harbin for a Texas town heavily invested in football. Or Carol Miller’s spunky debut, Murder and Moonshine, where the local brew can kill. In Nantucket Sawbuck, Steven Axelrod suggests that old money and new might not mix well. Even on enchanted islands, there’s always love gone awry, according to Lillian Stewart Carl in The Avalon Chanter.
Hosting a murder mystery event at your library might still hold appeal (see Sandra Balzo’s Murder on the Orient Espresso), but there are plenty of other ways to dress up your author programming efforts in 2014. Vow to stay on top of author tours and speakers’ bureaus this coming year; regional chapters of Sisters in Crime or Mystery Writers of America always make excellent connections. Many authors love to Skype these days, and if you haven’t tried this with your mystery book group, why not? Not sure about it? Scroll through the list of author attendees for an upcoming conference. Chicago’s Love Is Murder (LoveIsMurder.net) is next, February 7–9. The organization’s website is particularly rich with multiple news feeds, author interviews, and a newsletter (Kiss! Kiss! Bang! Bang!). Social animals, these authors.
Malloy, Mary. The Wonder Chamber: A Lizzie Manning Mystery. Leapfrog Pr. Jan. 2014. 268p. ISBN 9781935248422. pap. $15.95. M
Boston-based academic historian Lizzie is assembling an exhibit for her employer, displaying historical artifacts belonging to the Italian American Gonzagas, a major donor’s family. The project requires her to live in Bologna, Italy, consulting with family members and deciding which items can travel safely to the United States. Unfortunately the elderly family member who controls the items has dementia and is prone to accusative outbursts, making Lizzie feel very vulnerable. Nonetheless, she continues working and is stunned to find a corpse inside the exhibition’s showcase item, an Egyptian sarcophagus. And the corpse is not mummified. Lizzie has been reading old letters that shed insight into the Gonzaga family’s role during World War II, giving readers (and Lizzie) a good foreboding of the corpse’s identity. Who killed her is murkier. VERDICT A professor herself (museum studies, Harvard Univ.), Malloy demonstrates a real flair for weaving an engrossing historical puzzle into her mystery plot. Carefully assembling her story, she gently reels us in. The author’s third series entry (after Paradise Walk) is perfect for readers craving an elaborate scheme.
Shames, Terry. The Last Death of Jack Harbin: A Samuel Craddock Mystery. Seventh St: Prometheus. Jan. 2014. 256p. ISBN 9781616148713. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616148720. M
Right at the height of football season, Jarrett Creek, TX, turns out to be a hotbed of crime. Retired police chief Samuel Craddock is asked to investigate the shocking death of disabled (blind and wheelchair-bound) veteran Jack Harbin, right on the heels of Harbin’s father’s (who was Jack’s primary caregiver) sudden death. People want to blame Jack’s estranged brother, but Samuel keeps unearthing details that point him elsewhere. Meanwhile, high school football coach Boone Eldridge has been acting strangely, and now he’s missing. Boone’s wife fears the worst. Then the parallel stories intersect, creating a whoosh of excitement that’s guaranteed to keep readers up all night. VERDICT Shames’s sophomore series entry (after A Killing at Cotton Hill) highlights her comfortable storytelling style. The lead’s folksy tone belies astute detecting, and the plotting will dazzle readers. Consider for fans of Margaret Maron, Steven Havill, and Bill Crider—all “regional” writers with universal appeal.
Hamilton, Ian. The Red Pole of Macau: An Ava Lee Novel. Picador. Jan. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9781250043559. $25; pap. ISBN 9781250032317. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781250032324. M
Canadian author Hamilton’s third Ava Lee novel (after The Wild Beasts of Wuhan) has Ava traveling to China to rescue her distant half brother and his partner from financial disaster that could in turn risk her extended family’s fortune. Ava is up against the “Red Pole of Macau,” the enforcer for a powerful gang in the former Portuguese colony. Relying on her mentor, “Uncle,” she also enlists the help of a former client, the cunning May Ling Wong. More cerebral and dependent on interrelationships than in the earlier books, Ava, a forensic accountant with martial arts skills, is sharp, clever, and cultured. Strong and independent, she also has a vulnerable side; she prays to St. Jude, the patron of lost causes, as she sets out to rescue her brother’s kidnapped partner. Ava plans her approach down to the smallest detail, envisioning every possible scenario. Her dedication pays off in an edge-of-your-seat rescue attempt, with less violence than her previous adventures. VERDICT Hamilton delivers a fantastic read once again. Recommended for mystery and crime thriller fans.
DEBUT OF THE MONTH
Miller, Carol. Murder and Moonshine: A Mystery. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Dec. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9781250019257. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250019264. M
Scrappy waitress Daisy McGovern’s life has been on hold since her father’s accidental death five years ago. But when Fred Dickerson, a local recluse, staggers into her diner and dies—from poisoning—Daisy is determined to find out who killed him. A chief suspect is the diner’s cook, but when he becomes the next victim, Daisy is flummoxed. Meanwhile, good-looking ATF agent Ethan Kinney comes down to this remote corner of Virginia to investigate and finds that Fred died from poisoned moonshine. VERDICT Miller’s debut amuses but also slices into the heart of a proud region that doesn’t appreciate outsiders taking advantage of the locals. Easy to read, shot with romance, and full of country aphorisms, the book succeeds both at puzzling and moving readers emotionally. Try with Margaret Maron and Deborah Sharp fans.
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Carl, Lillian Stewart. The Avalon Chanter: A Jean Fairbairn/Alasdair Cameron Mystery. Five Star: Gale. Jan. 2014. 332p. ISBN 9781432828042. $25.95. M
Check These Out
Axelrod, Steven. Nantucket Sawbuck: A Henry Kennis Mystery. Poisoned Pen. Jan. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9781464200878. $24.95; pap. ISBN 9781464200892. $14.95. M
Eccles, Marjorie. A Dangerous Deceit. Severn House. Dec. 2013. 220p. ISBN 9780727883223. $27.95. M
Hicks, Jonathan. Demons Walk Among Us. Y Lolfa, dist. by Dufour. Dec. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9780956012593. pap. $16.95. M
Johnston, Paul. The Black Life: The Sixth Alex Mavros Mystery. Crème de la Crime: Severn House. Dec. 2013. 248p. ISBN 9781780290485. $28.95. M
Kelly, Jim. The Funeral Owl: A Philip Dryden Mystery. Crème de la Crime: Severn House. Dec. 2013. 312p. ISBN 9781780290492. $28.95. M
Stroby, Wallace. Shoot the Woman First: A Crissa Stone Novel. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Dec. 2013. 276p. ISBN 9781250000385. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250022479. M
Thompson, Richard A. Lowertown: A Herman Jackson Mystery. 40 Pr. Dec. 2013. 224p. ISBN 9781938473098. pap. $16.95. M
“Carson shrugged. ‘I wish I knew. These aspiring writers take everything so seriously. They don’t understand that there are only a handful of basic plots with shoulders broad enough to carry the three-to-four hundred pages of a novel, and what we’re all doing is re-imagining—no, more spinning—them. And even if someone did steal a concept, no two writers would come up with the same book.’”—Murder on the Orient Espresso
Balzo, Sandra. Murder on the Orient Espresso: A Maggy Thorsen Mystery. Severn House. Dec. 2013. 200p. ISBN 9780727883117. $27.95. M
Cass, Laurie. Lending a Paw: A Bookmobile Cat Mystery. Obsidian: NAL. Dec. 2013. 344p. ISBN 9780451415462. pap. $7.99. M
Gage, Leighton. The Ways of Evil Men. Soho Crime. Jan. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9781616952723. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616952730. M
Jansson, Anna. Killer’s Island. Stockholm Text. Jan. 2014. 368p. tr. from Swedish by Enar Henning Koch. ISBN 9789187173998. pap. $14.95. M
CWA Dagger Winners
Earlier this spring, Barbara Conaty, my go-to reviewer for spy fiction, praised British author Mick Herron’s latest title, Dead Lions, for “bringing a fresh and puckish eye to espionage and crime, leaving behind the stodgy staples.” The judges of Britain’s CWA Dagger Awards obviously agreed with Conaty’s assessment. Awarding Herron the CWA 2013 Goldsboro Gold Dagger for the best crime novel of the year, they lauded this sequel to the acclaimed Slow Horses as “a well-written, wickedly clever send-up of the classic British spy novel.” Those who think they don’t like espionage fiction may change their minds after reading this lively tale of three disgraced MI5 agents seeking redemption as they untangle two twisty plots. Kudos to Soho Crime for picking a winner!
Other winners announced at the Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards 2013 on October 24 included 23-year-old Roger Hobbs, who was honored with the CWA 2013 Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for best thriller of the year for his debut novel, Ghostman (Vintage). Newcomer Derek B. Miller took the CWA 2013 John Creasey Dagger, for best new crime writer of the year. The judges cited Miller’s chase thriller about an octogenarian former sniper, Norwegian by Night (Houghton Harcourt), as a “beautifully written contribution to Nordic noir with a twist.”
Two new book prizes will be given in 2014; they are sponsored by the Women’s National Book Association of New Orleans.
The two prizes for crime fiction are in honor of the late Diana Pinckley (pinckleyprizes.org). Pinckley wrote the crime column “Get a Clue!” for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, for over two decades. One prize is for debut fiction, the other for an established writer. Prizes will be presented at the 2014 Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, held March 19–23.
RIP robert barnard This fall we lost longtime favorite author Robert Barnard. The Crime Writers Association (CWA) had honored him in the past with the CWA Dagger in the Library Award and the Diamond Dagger. Known for his wit, Barnard can be enjoyed for his stand-alones or series. Signature Works: A Murder in Mayfair or Bones in the Attic (“Charlie Peace” series).