SUICIDE HAS BEEN in the news a lot lately, particularly in the military. This must have filtered into our authors’ imaginations because a higher-than-usual suicide plot element is showing up. This form of death almost always turns into homicide in mystery, but still it is worth noting that themes about depression and overmedication are also making the rounds. See Elizabeth Gunn’s Red Man Down, Antonio Hill’s The Good Suicides, Lynne Raimondo’s Dante’s Poison, and Catriona McPherson’s The Day She Died.
“Save the children!” is the rallying cry from three authors this month. McPherson’s aforementioned stand-alone has a chilling contemporary gothic vibe. David Putnam’s action-packed The Disposables takes a more vigilante stance. And newcomer Scott Graham has an abduction to contend with in his stunning debut, Canyon Sacrifice, set in the Grand Canyon.
Readers who get a kick out of celebrity crimes have numerous choices, both light and gritty. Jeanne Quigley’s debut All Things Murder brings a soap opera actress to the Adirondacks, while a British antiques reality TV star contends with her mother in Hannah Dennison’s Murder at Honeychurch Hall. Distinctly darker toned are Michael Craven’s movie-oriented The Detective & the Pipe Girl and Steve Ulfelder’s dealings with an over-the-hill TV actor in Wolverine Bros. Freight & Storage.
Hamilton, Ian. The Water Rat of Wanchai: An Ava Lee Novel. Picador. May 2014. 400p. ISBN 9781250032270. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781250032287. M
Chinese Canadian Ava Lee, forensic accountant, chafes at being office bound. She and her business partner, “Uncle,” instead find Mission Impossible–style assignments. They rescue business owners who, through careless or naïve transactions, have been scammed. (Incidentally, getting large sums of money back to their rightful owners might require somewhat illegal maneuvers by Lee.) In this outing, Ava must recover several million dollars that went missing through an international seafood operation. Moving globally, she homes in on her target when she discovers the ringleader is holed up in Guyana, a country not conducive to a smooth operation. But Ava’s quick thinking helps her emerge victorious. VERDICT Although other titles in this Canadian run (The Disciple of Las Vegas: The Wild Beasts of Wuhan; The Red Pole of Macau) have been released here, fans won’t want to miss this series launch. Ava Lee is a must add. Spoiler alert: it’s a crime novel, not a murder mystery, geared for readers who savor elaborate traps meant to ensnare bad guys with abundant action involved. While not as comedic as Colin Cotterill’s Jimm Juree series, it carries similar appeal with a strong Asian female lead and large ensemble cast. [The Wild Beasts of Wuhan is a finalist in the Lesbian Mystery category of the 2014 Lambda Literary Awards.—Ed.]
DEBUT OF THE MONTH
Quigley, Jeanne. All Things Murder: A Veronica Walsh Mystery. Five Star: Gale Cengage. May 2014. 276p. ISBN 9781432828127. $25.95. M
Veronica Walsh, a popular soap opera star whose show has just ended, auditions for a new role as amateur sleuth in her picturesque hometown in the Adirondacks. Just one day after Veronica returns home, her snarky neighbor—a ruthless small business owner with numerous enemies—is murdered. The victim’s enemy list is a mile long: disgruntled tenants, angry employees, and even an ex-boyfriend. Meanwhile, potential changes for the town have been swirling around. Most dramatically for the small business owners, there’s the threat of a new mall nearby. Veronica, at loose ends and afraid a friend of hers might be the killer, starts snooping around, enlisting the help of her best friend, a former TV costar, and a professor from the local college. The tale takes on a slightly soap opera tone (with superb dialog and posturing) until a dramatic climax catches most of the sleuths off guard. VERDICT Quigley’s debut is a traditional village cozy infused with deftly applied soap opera flavoring. Her comfortable, first-person narrative introduces a talented fiftysomething heroine. Think Murder She Wrote or Shelley Costa’s You Cannoli Die Once.
Ulfelder, Steve. Wolverine Bros. Freight & Storage: A Conway Sax Mystery. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. May 2014. 320p. ISBN 9781250028105. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250028112. M
If Eudora Spoon, Conway Sax’s AA sponsor, needs help, he will respond in a heartbeat. No questions asked—and therein lies the problem. Once Conway (expert mechanic, reformed alcoholic, and ardent rescuer) brings Kenny, who is Eudora’s drug-addled son, back home from Los Angeles, troubles follow them. A major gang had kidnapped Kenny and the leader is furious about Conway’s audacious actions. Suddenly, Eudora’s small Massachusetts town is under siege by hit men of various persuasions. Most terribly, Eudora is murdered before Conway can learn the truth. He belatedly realizes Kenny isn’t the one being targeted; instead it’s his half-brother Harmon, the local police chief, who is generating all the heat. Factor in gambling, land ownership, and long-held vendettas, and mischief will follow. VERDICT Ulfelder’s gritty series is up to number four (after Shotgun Lullaby). Action stoked, this complicated thriller—both for the character study and the murder plot—satisfies on many levels. The intense culture of AA and recovery is particularly well done. Pair with Robert Crais or Archer Mayor.
To log in to your account, click here. To view the new subscription options, Get Started With Book Verdict Pro Today.
Don't know if you have an account with us? It's easy to check and verify your email, or create a new account.
Visit Book Verdict for the full reviews.
Hill, Antonio. The Good Suicides: A Thriller. Crown. Jun. 2014. 344p. tr. from Spanish by Laura McGloughlin. ISBN 9780770435905. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780770435912. M
Check These Out
Craven, Michael. The Detective & The Pipe Girl: A Mystery. Bourbon St: Harper. Jun. 2014. 328p. ISBN 9780062305596. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062305602. M
Graham, Scott. Canyon Sacrifice: A National Park Mystery. Torrey House. May 2014. 240p. ISBN 9781937226305. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781937226312. M
Gunn, Elizabeth. Red Man Down: A Sarah Burke Police Procedural. Severn House. May 2014. 188p. ISBN 9780727883674. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9781780105048. M
McPherson, Catriona. The Day She Died. Midnight Ink. May 2014. 316p. ISBN 9780738740454. pap. $14.99. M
Putnam, David. The Disposables. Oceanview. May 2014. 272p. ISBN 9781608091188. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781608091195. M
Thompson, Victoria. Murder in Murray Hill: A Gaslight Mystery. Berkley Prime Crime. May 2014. 304p. ISBN 9780425260425. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698143029. M
Cannell, Dorothy. Murder at Mullings: A Florence Norris Mystery. Severn House. May 2014. 248p. ISBN 9780727883384. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9781780105017. M
Dennison, Hannah. Murder at Honeychurch Hall: A Mystery. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. May 2014. 304p. ISBN 9781250007797. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250036865. M
Walsh, Jill Paton. The Late Scholar: The New Lord Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane Mystery. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Jun. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9781250032799. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250032782. M
Wright, Erica. The Red Chameleon. Pegasus Crime. Jun. 2014. 256p. ISBN 9781605985688. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781605985985. M
QUOTABLE “They were eyes whose age was indeterminable: lively, curious, probing. Ava had learned rapidly that Uncle’s world was defined through those eyes, not through his words. They could embrace you, mistrust you, detest you, adore you, question you, or not give a damn whether you lived or died. And she knew how to read them in all their subtlety.”
Allan, Barbara. Antiques Con: A Trash ‘n’ Treasures Mystery. Kensington. May 2014. 240p. ISBN 9780758263643. $24; ebk. ISBN 9781617732843. M
Brandy, her mom, and Sushi (the sleuthing shih tzu) take on New York, attending a comic-con, no less. The seventh series entry (after Antiques Chop) is a hilarious collaborative effort by Barbara and Max Allan Collins. Antiquing tips included.
Befeler, Mike. Nursing Homes Are Murder: A Paul Jacobson Geezer-Lit Mystery. Five Star: Gale Cengage. May 2014. 264p. ISBN 9781432828165. $25.95. M
Sexual assaults in a Honolulu nursing home are no joke, and Paul and Marion go undercover to find the perp. Welcome back the king of geezer lit with his sixth cozy (after Care Homes Are Murder) featuring Paul Jacobson, the sleuth with short-term memory loss.
Blake, Heather. The Goodbye Witch: A Wishcraft Mystery. Obsidian: NAL. May 2014. 300p. ISBN 9780451465870. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781101636008. M
Modern-day witchcraft comes to the rescue when Darcy’s friend Starla’s abusive ex-husband is stalking her. His ability to disappear complicates the case. The fourth entry in this paranormal cozy series (after The Good, the Bad, and the Witchy) strikes a poignant note.
Corby, Gary. The Marathon Conspiracy. Soho Crime. May 2014. 352p. ISBN 9781616953874. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616953881. M
Nico’s upcoming nuptials are waylaid when his boss, Pericles, assigns him a case at a nearby girls’ school. Displaying historical humor at its best, this is Corby’s fourth (after Sacred Games) in his classical Greek series.
Greenwood, Kerry. Murder and Mendelssohn: A Phryne Fisher Mystery. Poisoned Pen. May 2014. 336p. ISBN 9781464202469. $24.95; pap. ISBN 9781464202483. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781464202490. M
The 20th entry in Greenwood’s outstanding historical series featuring the talented and opinionated Phryne (after Unnatural Habits) finds her investigating the death of a musical conductor. Music, MI6, and forbidden love mix to make an engaging case.
Nunn, Malla. Present Darkness: A Novel. Emily Bestler: Atria. Jun. 2014. 344p. ISBN 9781451616965. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781451616996. M
Build up your international mystery collection with Nunn’s searing 1950s South Africa–set series. The fourth case for DS Emmanuel Cooper (after the much-heralded Blessed Are the Dead) has him investigating dark secrets at Christmastime. [See Prepub Alert, 1/6/14.]
Oleksiw, Susan. For the Love of Parvati: An Anita Ray Mystery. Five Star: Gale Cengage. May 2014. 268p. ISBN 9781432828561. $25.95. M
In Oleksiw’s third witty and traditional series entry (after The Wrath of Shiva), Indian American Anita Ray, living in South India, believes foul play is at work in a man’s death.
Runcie, James. Sidney Chambers and the Problem of Evil: The Grantchester Mysteries. Bloomsbury USA. Jun. 2014. 292p. ISBN 9781608199525. pap. $17; ebk. ISBN 9781620406465. M
Runcie’s episodic (this one is in four parts) mysteries aptly capture British academia of the early 1960s. His clerical sleuth confronts deadly sin head-on in the third entry (after Sidney Chambers and the Perils of Night) in this highly regarded series.
Viets, Elaine. Catnapped! A Dead-End Job Mystery. Obsidian: NAL. May 2014. 276p. ISBN 9780451466303. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698136076. M
Cat lovers can unite behind Helen and Phil as they track down a missing feline in the high-stakes world of pedigreed cat shows. This title makes it a baker’s dozen (after Board Stiff) for the clever duo.
Crimefest (crimefest.com) will be in Bristol, UK, May 15–18. A wickedly extensive list of award categories is posted on the website: audiobook, ebook, humorous, and nonfiction, etc. Go visit virtually at the very least.
terry’s reader resolutions
James R. Benn (known for his World War II–set Billy Boyle series) gave me such a thoughtful response when queried for reading resolutions (see LJ 1/14, p. 76, for the full report) that I wanted to share most of his text here. Benn, who planned to tackle the Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu, wrote in an email, “Although a matter of debate, many define this work, written in the early 11th century, as the first modern novel. The distinction may lie in the fact that it is prose, fairly long, and features psychological depictions of strongly drawn characters. I am fascinated by the notion of reading the very first novel. It seems akin to viewing the cave paintings of Lascaux. We are a race of storytellers.”
For 2014, Benn recommends readers take a look at Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots; Why We Tell Stories. “This is a masterwork of more than 30 years’ research into why people tell stories,” he says. “Booker breaks down the seven archetypal themes that occur in all stories. Not everyone will agree with Booker, but everyone can learn from him, about reading, writing and understanding.” The author continues, “If Booker’s work is too daunting at 736 pages, I suggest Reading Like a Writer; A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want To Write Them by Francine Prose. In this slim volume Prose devotes a chapter each to eight critical elements of writing: words, sentences, paragraphs, narration, character, dialog, details, and gesture. She suggests “close reading” is the key to understanding and learning about literature.
On a lighter note, author Alan Orloff (his Channing Hayes series features a stand-up comedian) confessed to never having read The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. In his email, he said, “Supposedly, every self-respecting mystery writer has read this book (except me).”
Orloff recommends that readers follow his “two suggestions of new(ish) authors/series to try: Steve Ulfelder, who writes the excellent Conway Sax mystery series, and Allison Leotta, who writes a mystery/legal thriller series featuring Assistant U.S. Attorney Anna Curtis.” I definitely concur on the Ulfelder suggestion; his newest title, Wolverine Bros. Freight & Storage, is reviewed most favorably in this month’s column.