A new year, a new month of crime fiction. January may bring the cold and snow, but it also launches a number of first novels and new series to please many a mystery reader. Cozy series debuts come from Gigi Pandian (The Accidental Alchemist), Eva Gates (By Book or by Crook), and Lea Wait (Twisted Threads), while first-timers S.D. Sykes (Plague Land) and Phyllis Gobbell (Pursuit in Provence) explore the English and French countrysides respectively.
Series favorites also return in new outings. Smart British detectives take the lead in Lynda La Plante’s Wrongful Death and Jim Kelly’s At Death’s Window. Those enjoying historical war-influenced settings in Britain will welcome the latest entries by Frances Brody (A Woman Unknown) and Charles Todd (A Fine Summer’s Day).
Debut of the Month
Sykes, S.D. Plague Land. Pegasus Crime. Feb. 2015. 352p. ISBN 9781605986739. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781605987385. M
After ten years at the monastery 17-year-old Oswald de Lacy is back home and in no way prepared to be Lord of Somershill. The plague responsible for decimating the countryside has also killed Oswald’s father and two older brothers, leaving him with a neglected estate, an overbearing mother, an unmarried sister, and fearful peasants. Then further tragedy strikes in the form of the shocking death of Alison Starvecrow, which the village priest blames on a demonic dog-headed man. Oswald attempts to take charge and discover the truth behind Alison’s death, but all around him lie secrets. Then another body is found. VERDICT With political intrigue and the social barriers of the Middle Ages in play, Sykes adds an intricate and intriguing debut to the ever-widening pool of medieval-era mysteries. Thrilling plot twists and layered characters abound in this rich tale of murder and mystery in 14th-century Kent.
Gates, Eva. By Book or by Crook: A Lighthouse Library Mystery. Obsidian: NAL. Feb. 2015. 352p. ISBN 9780451470935. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780698165885. M
Reference librarian Lucy Richardson has decided to leave Boston behind, along with her Harvard University job, almost fiancé, and unending social circles, to stay with her aunt on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Then she lands a delightful position at the Bodie Island Lighthouse Library, although Lucy is one of the few who are pleased. When the chair of the library board is killed at a reception honoring the installation of a collection of first edition Jane Austen novels, and then one of the Austen novels is stolen, Lucy suddenly realizes that reading mysteries has definitely not prepared her for a real-life one. Verdict This charming, entertaining, and smart series launch by Gates, who also writes under the Vicki Delany pen name, features an unusual (and real) setting and colorful cast of characters that set it apart from other bookish cozies.
Thomas, Sam. The Witch Hunter’s Tale: A Midwife Mystery. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Jan. 2015. 320p. ISBN 9781250045751. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466845374. M
In the city of York, winter is settling in, but the cold is not the only threat. As women and children die, the accusations of witchcraft begin. Midwife Bridget Hodgson, along with her deputy Martha Hawkins and nephew Will Hodgson, attempt to discern the truths behind the massive witch hunt. Facing off against Joseph, her brother-in-law, and her nemesis Rebecca Hooke, Bridget must decide what she will do to protect her family and how much she is willing to give up. VERDICT Thomas’s follow-up to The Harlot’s Tale does not disappoint. With authentic historical details and fascinating characters, this book will draw readers deep into the elaborate world of 17th-century England, midwives, and witch hunts.
QUOTABLE “Newcome smiled at me, ‘I do apologize, my lady, but when business calls I must answer.’ ‘I understand,’ I said. ‘Were I summoned by a mother, I would abandon you in a moment.’ Newcome laughed at the comparison. ‘It’s been like this for days,’ he said, shaking his head in wonder. ‘I’ve got stacks of murder books I can’t give away, but if it’s about witches, it sells in an instant. The printer has hired another boy, but even so, I can’t imagine what it will be like when the hangings start.’ I could not help noticing he did not say if the hangings start.” e
Neuhaus, Nele. The Ice Queen. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Jan. 2015. 352p. tr. from German by Steven T. Murray. ISBN 9780312604264. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466836914. M
Neuhaus’s newest entry in the German police procedural series (Snow White Must Die; Bad Wolf) featuring Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver Bodenstein is loaded with deception and tangled familial webs that span decades. The story begins with the murder of a 92-year-old Holocaust survivor who was shot in the head and with the number “11645” written in the victim’s blood. As Kirchhoff and Bodenstein investigate, their work comes abruptly to a halt when the victim’s family takes the case out of their hands. Two more murders of World War II survivors that involve the same killing method and number occur shortly thereafter. Digging deeper, the duo find shocking clues that suggest that each of these victims is not actually a survivor but a perpetrator of Nazi war crimes. The only other connection is their lifelong friendship with the head of a rich and well-respected local family. VERDICT Lies and revenge are the driving forces of this intelligent mystery. Neuhaus manages a large cast of characters while skillfully executing plot twists. Newcomers to this series will have no problem jumping in with this book and will likely be interested in reading more. [See Prepub Alert, 7/28/14.]
Sigurdardóttir, Yrsa. Someone To Watch Over Me. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Feb. 2015. 336p. tr. from Icelandic by Philip Roughton. ISBN 9781250051479. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466852334. F
When Icelandic lawyer Thóra Gudmundsdóttir is hired to prove the innocence of an inmate at a secure psychiatric facility, those originally involved with the case assure her that the police did their due diligence. She quickly begins to question whether her new client, a young man with Down syndrome, had the ability to plan and execute the fire at his assisted-living facility that killed five people. As Thóra investigates further into the case, she uncovers the many secrets that were conveniently covered up by the fire. Less clear is what connection it might have to a family haunted by the ghost of a young girl killed in a hit-and-run accident. By the end of the book, Thóra has unraveled the mysteries and brought more than one person to justice. VERDICT While her plot follows a fairly predictable line, Sigurdardóttir excels in the intricacies of the storytelling and in writing engaging and realistic characters. A solid bet for fans of Scandinavian mysteries or those who enjoy their suspense with a hint of the supernatural. [See Prepub Alert, 8/11/14; named Crime Novel of the Year by the London Sunday Times.]
Gregson, JM. A Necessary End. Severn House. Feb. 2015. 216p. ISBN 9780727884411. $29.95. M
A key member of a newly formed local book club is Alfred Norbury, a well-read man who enjoys sharing his knowledge. But someone doesn’t appreciate his learning because Norbury is murdered. Detective Chief Inspector Peach and Detective Sergeant Northcott soon identify a number of suspects with serious grievances against the victim. The duo must uncover the truth in their 19th outing (following Brothers’ Tears).
Handler, David. Phantom Angel. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Feb. 2015. 256p. ISBN 9781250059734. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466865075. M
PI Benji Golden takes the case of a missing investor, or “angel,” for Morrie Frankel’s over-the-top musical production of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. Yet this angel seems to be made of smoke and mirrors. When Golden quits the investigation, his former client is shot on 42nd Street. Now Benji’s case is real, and he is stuck square in the middle of the investigation. Golden’s second case (after Runaway Man) takes readers on a tour of the best—and worst—of Broadway.
Janeway, Judith. The Magician’s Daughter: A Valentine Hill Mystery. Poisoned Pen. Feb. 2015. 352p. ISBN 9781464203381. $24.95; pap. ISBN 978146420340. $14.95. M
Magician Valentine Hill knows many tricks, but the real illusion is her own self: thanks to her con artist mother, Valentine doesn’t know her actual age, birthplace, or father. She doesn’t legally exist. Following a tip to California, Valentine reunites with her mom but is sure she is up to her old tricks, no matter what the FBI says. In this series debut, the magician must sort illusion from reality after an agent’s death. Janeway is also the author of Odds of Dying: An Allison Weaver Mystery.
Jones, Merry. In the Woods: A Harper Jennings Mystery. Severn House. Feb. 2015. 216p. ISBN 9780727884442. $28.95. M
It’s hard being away from daughter Chloe, but Harper Jennings and her husband, Hank, will do their best to enjoy some alone time while camping in the state forest—until Harper stumbles upon a dead man. In this fifth installment (after Outside Eden), a local militia and the husband of a missing camper cause even more trouble.
Kelly, Jim. At Death’s Window: A Shaw & Valentine Mystery. Crème de la Crime: Severn House. Feb. 2015. 248p. ISBN 9781780290683. $28.95. M
The discovery of a body floating in the waters off the North Norfolk coast indicates a turf war for samphire, a prized sea asparagus that fetches a lot of money. But then a second corpse turns up. As DI Peter Shaw and DS George Valentine dig into the deaths in their fifth case (after Death’s Door), they discover far more sinister doings in the coastal community.
Oswald, James. The Hangman’s Song: A Detective Inspector McLean Novel. Mariner: Houghton Harcourt. Jan. 2015. 496p. ISBN 9780544319509. pap. $13.95; ebk. ISBN 9780544317895. M
When a man’s corpse is found hanging in an empty house, the Edinburgh police deem it a suicide. However, there is something about the death that strikes DI Tony McLean as odd—especially when another suicide by hanging is reported. Then a third. In this follow-up to The Book of Souls, McLean struggles to handle the aftereffects of this investigation and his previous case on both a professional and personal level.
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