Fall brings a mixed bag of crime fiction—traditional, historical, and some action-packed thrill rides. If your patrons have been watching WGN’s series Manhattan about World War II’s Manhattan Project, then they will enjoy Diane Fanning’s new series launch, Scandal in the Secret City, which focuses on the race to build part of the atomic bomb in Oak Ridge, TN. Fans of Tony Hillerman’s “Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee” novels and Craig Johnson’s “Walt Longmire” mysteries will rejoice in the revival of atmospheric mysteries set in the Southwest, as evidenced by CB McKenzie’s Bad Country and Lynn Chandler Willis’s Wink of an Eye, award-winning debuts.
Pick of the Month
Fanning, Diane. Scandal in the Secret City: A Libby Clark Mystery. Severn House. Nov. 2014. 252p. ISBN 9780727884046. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9781780105680. M
Elizabeth Clark, better known as Libby, wants to be a scientist; she majored in chemistry and physics at Bryn Mawr College and earned a master’s degree in analytical chemistry. It’s April 1943, but even women with advanced degrees still have trouble finding work. Libby is finally hired by Eastman Kodak and travels to Oak Ridge, TN, where hundreds of other young women have been employed to run the Calutron, a huge machine used to separate the various components of “Tube Alloy,” the code name for uranium. Libby suspects they might be building an atomic bomb. When her analysis gets her noticed by Gen. Leslie Groves, she moves out of the dorm and into a tiny house. But Libby misses her old dorm mate, Ruthie Nance, a Calutron Girl who occasionally comes for sleepovers. One cold winter morning, the two find the corpse of Ruthie’s sister, Irene, with a scarf wrapped tightly around her neck. But when they report the crime, the body mysteriously disappears and the military police act as though nothing really happened. VERDICT True crime and mystery writer Fanning (“Lucinda Pierce” series) launches a fascinating new historical series that also offers an almost sociological study of women’s issues during World War II. Her refreshingly original amateur sleuth is smart, strong-willed, and independent in an era when marriage was usually the only career option for women. Libby is bound by her word to help uncover the truth, even when it puts her in danger. Readers will be engrossed by a gripping puzzler of a mystery and authentic details regarding America’s “Secret City” and its role in the development of the atomic bomb.
Robinson, Thatcher. Black Karma: A White Ginger Novel. Seventh Street: Prometheus. Nov. 2014. 275p. ISBN 9781616140038. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616140069. M
Bai Jiang, a souxun or people finder, works out of a renovated building in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Her latest case, sparked by SFPD Inspector Kelly, involves Daniel Chen, who apparently was present at a drug bust gone bad. What was a Berkeley professor doing at a drug bust? And why does his life on the Internet only go back three years? What is Chen hiding? Bai persists in investigating despite being warned off the case by Mexican drug thugs and objections from her prospective husband, as well as her former lover, the father of her 13-year-old daughter. When Bai’s partner is shot and left for dead, she is caught between her Buddhist beliefs and her desire to destroy the culprit. VERDICT Fast-moving and enticing, this is a wonderful sophomore effort from Robinson (after the acclaimed White Ginger). Bai is a strong, memorable protagonist with an intriguing backstory and lots of potential to grow. Highly recommended for fans of S.J. Rozan’s “Lydia Chin” series or Sara Paretsky’s “V.I. Warshawski” mysteries.
Willis, Lynn Chandler. Wink of an Eye. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Nov. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9781250053190. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466855519. M
The tiny town of Wink, TX, is a far cry from Las Vegas, but private investigator Michael Moran (known as Gypsy) has to hightail it out of Vegas when a case he was working on goes south. Gypsy shows up at his sister Rhonda’s house and is immediately drawn into the suspicious suicide of Ryce McCallen, a former Wink police deputy. Tatum, Ryce’s 12-year-old son, is convinced his dad would not have killed himself. As Gypsy investigates, he learns that years earlier Tatum’s policeman grandfather, Beck, was shot and disabled while on patrol. Meanwhile several teenage girls, all of them undocumented immigrants, have gone missing from Wink. Uncovering the connections between the three crimes, Gypsy learns that life in a small Texas town is just as corrupt as that in any big city. The police chief has his own problems and the department is being run by two inveterate bullies. And to top it off, Gypsy is sucked back into a relationship with a high school sweetheart, whom he has learned can’t be trusted. VERDICT Winner of Minotaur’s PWA Best First Private Eye novel competition, this engrossing debut is told with a great eye for the gritty details of life in west Texas. The setting is extremely well done, and the twisty, compelling plot will keep readers hooked. Gypsy is a likable hero, but his sexual exploits will be his downfall. [Previewed in Kristi Chadwick’s “Pushing Boundaries” mystery feature, LJ 4/15/14.]
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Check These Out
De Castrique, Mark. A Risky Undertaking: A Buryin’ Barry Mystery. Poisoned Pen. Nov. 2014. 258p. ISBN 9781464203060. $24.95; pap. ISBN 9781464203084. $14.95. M
Ernst, Kathleen. Tradition of Deceit: A Chloe Ellefson Mystery. Midnight Ink. Nov. 2014. 360p. ISBN 9780738740782. pap. $14.99. M
McKnight, Carroll. Dial M for Matrimony. Pulpwood. Oct. 2014. 246p. ISBN 9781888146448. $26.99. M
Wishart, David. Finished Business. Crème de la Crime: Severn House. (Marcus Corvinus, Bk. 16). Nov. 2014. 224p. ISBN 9781780290638. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9781780105758. M
Hart, Carolyn. Ghost Wanted: A Bailey Ruth Ghost Novel. Berkley Prime Crime. Oct. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9780425266151. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101615454. M
McPherson, Catriona. A Deadly Measure of Brimstone: A Dandy Gilver Mystery. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Nov. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9781250053978. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466856790. M
Malliet, G.M. A Demon Summer: A Max Tudor Mystery. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Oct. 2014. 400p. ISBN 9781250021410. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250021427. M
crime, western style
McKenzie, CB. Bad Country. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Nov. 2014. 288p. ISBN 9781250053541. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466856004. M
Mass-Market paperbacks of note
Carlisle, Kate. A High-End Finish: A Fixer-Upper Mystery. Obsidian: NAL. Nov. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9780451469199. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780698153899. M
Kelly, Sofie. A Midwinter’s Tail: A Magical Cats Mystery. Obsidian: NAL. Oct. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9780451414717. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780698158658. M
Lavene, Joyce & Jim. Spell Booked: A Retired Witches Mystery. Obsidian: NAL. Dec. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9780425268254. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781101625262. M
MacRae, Molly. Plagued by Quilt: A Haunted Yarn Shop Mystery. Obsidian: NAL. Nov. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9780451471307. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780698168213. M
Vallere, Diane. Suede To Rest: A Material Witness Mystery. Berkley Prime Crime. Nov. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9780425270578. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780698136083. M
Mulford, Carolyn. Show Me the Gold. Five Star: Gale Cengage. (Show Me Mystery, Bk. 3). Dec. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9781432829902. $25.95. M
Sefton, Maggie. Bloody Politics. Midnight Ink. (Molly Malone, Bk. 3). Nov. 2014. 264p. ISBN 9780738731308. pap. $14.99. M
Whittle, Tina. Deeper Than the Grave: A Tai Randolph Mystery. Poisoned Pen. Nov. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9781464202629. $24.95; pap. ISBN 9781464202643. $14.95. M
The Best American Mystery Stories of the 19th Century. Houghton Harcourt. Oct. 2014. 624p. ed. by Otto Penzler. ISBN 9780544302228. $30; ebk. ISBN 9780544302310. M