Police procedurals dominate this month’s lineup, including one that takes a look at early attempts at forensic science in an era still dominated by Greek physician Galen’s ancient medical theory of bad humors and spirits. Robin Blake’s Skin and Bone highlights the tension between the scientific spirit of the Enlightenment and the clinging to old traditions. Moving into the 21st century, Ken McCoy’s Dead or Alive, Don Bruns’s Casting Bones, and Patricia Smiley’s Pacific Homicide deal with all aspects of police work, including its toll on officers’ personal lives.
October is also the witching month, and many authors, such as Donna Andrews, Joanne Fluke, and Leslie Meier, have made careers of writing mysteries that revolve around Halloween. A quick search of Goodreads.com will bring up some handy lists to share with patrons: go to ow.ly/Uyvp3041hKN and ow.ly/emSS3041i6A. What will you recommend for your readers during the spooky holiday season?
Debut of the Month
Littlejohn, Emily. Inherit the Bones. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Nov. 2016. 336p. ISBN 9781250089397. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250089403. M
Three years ago, Nicky Bellington vanished over Bridal Veil Falls, so why is his body, with the throat torn out, lying in the Cedar Valley morgue? As lead detective on the case, soon-to-be-mom Gemma Monroe, quickly discovers that Nicky had been living as Reed Oliver and working as a clown in a traveling circus. She also learns that his disappearance has ties to a 1985 case of missing cousins Tommy and Andrew McKenzie, whose skeletons were found in 2011 by Gemma and her boyfriend. What kind of secrets are buried in Cedar Valley, and who is intent on exposing them—or keeping them concealed? VERDICT Debut novelist Littlejohn writes with assurance and skill. The story’s plotting is sure-footed, and the characters are well developed and believable. Gemma has been hurt but desires a full life, nonetheless. Highly recommended for fans of Susan Dunlap and Tricia Fields.
Check These Out
Blake, Robin. Skin and Bone. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Oct. 2016. 352p. ISBN 9781250100962. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250100986. M
When a dead newborn is discovered in a tanning pit near the town of Preston in 1743 Lancashire, the local merchants see a chance to get rid of the despised tanners and build a dock to improve the community’s economy. Lawyer/coroner Titus Craig’s inquiry into the baby’s death throws a wrench into their plans until Craig is charged with lewdness. Then Abraham Scroop, a prominent merchant, dies in what looks like a riding accident, but physician Luke Fidelis determines that the man was murdered in the same manner as the infant: a bodkin shoved into the ear. British art historian Blake’s thoroughly researched historical mystery is enhanced by a strong narrative voice and a sense of authenticity. VERDICT Devotees of the late Bruce Alexander’s “Sir John Fielding” mysteries will delight in this fourth series outing (after The Hidden Man).
Bruns, Don. Casting Bones: A Quentin Archer Mystery. Severn House. Oct. 2016. 256p. ISBN 9780727886361. $29.99; ebk. ISBN 9781780107967. M
Quentin Archer fled Detroit after his wife was killed by a hit-and-run driver. Archer had uncovered a criminal conspiracy involving drugs, his two brothers, and a fellow cop. Now a New Orleans homicide detective, Archer is approached by Solange Cordray, a voodoo priestess, who claims to have knowledge of a plot to kill a judge in the juvenile court system. When Judge David Lerner’s body is found floating in the Mississippi and two more jurists are also murdered, Archer and Cordray team up to reveal corruption in the courts as well as the world of for-profit prisons. VERDICT As hot and steamy as a Louisiana night, this series debut hits all the right notes with the evocative Big Easy setting, colorful and memorable characters, and a smartly twisty plot. Bruns (Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff; South Beach Shakedown) uses all of his considerable talents to cast a spell over readers.
McCoy, Ken. Dead or Alive: A Sep Black Thriller. Severn House. Oct. 2016. 256p. ISBN 9780727886330. $29.99; ebk. ISBN 9781780108025. M
The northern English city of Leeds is not London, but crime happens everywhere. DI Septimus Ruddigore Black knows the new detective on the force is bent; Lenny Cope fled London when an investigation was launched into his connections to local crime lord Vincent Formosa. When two children are kidnapped, the gangster’s fingerprints are all over the action. Dead bodies begin to pile up as Formosa, who always seems to be a step ahead of the police, cleans house. Black is forced to resign after a suspect dies in custody. How will he be able to clear his name, restore his reputation, bring down Formosa, and regain his badge? VERDICT McCoy (Perseverance Street; “Sam Carew” mysteries) launches a new crime series featuring a prototypical British police officer who holds his cards close to the vest and doesn’t allow anyone to get too close. The well-constructed narrative unfolds in an entertaining manner. A solid choice for Peter Robinson and Reginald Hill fans.
Moore, Laurie & Russell Davis. Murder, Ink: A Dakota Jones, P.I. Mystery. Gordian Knot. Oct. 2016. 292p. ISBN 9781941408742. $24.99; pap. ISBN 9781941408759.$14.99. M
Years ago, Dakota Jones worked as an escort but then won the lottery and reinvented herself. She now helms Runaway Investigations, which specializes in tracking down missing teenagers and patients with Alzheimer’s. She shares a lovely home with girlfriend Kris Carson, a homicide investigator for the Phoenix PD. When Dakota’s former boss at the escort service is murdered in a highly ritualized manner, Kris and Dakota’s relationship takes a hit because Kris hates being reminded of Dakota’s previous work. While Kris and colleague Hamilton Stark investigate what appears to be a killer targeting escorts, Dakota looks for a missing teen. The two cases collide in an explosion of gunfire and arson. In a refreshingly different take on the police procedural, the narrative alternates between Kris and Dakota’s efforts to live a normal life and the parallel investigations. The plot is handled deftly, and Dakota is a compelling protagonist who has worked hard to overcome her troubled past. VERDICT Add this to the growing pantheon of titles starring lesbian detectives, including Katherine V. Forrest’s Kate Delafield and Claire McNab’s Carol Ashton, Kylie Kendall, and Denise Cleever.
Schofield, Douglas. Storm Rising. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Nov. 2016. 336p. ISBN 9781250072764. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466884625. M
Hurricane Sandy is bearing down on Bayonne, NJ, where Lucy Hendricks and her son, Kevin, have returned after living in Florida. Lucy’s policeman husband, Jack, was murdered five years ago, before Kevin was born, and Lucy left New Jersey amid swirling rumors about Jack’s connections to the Mafia. But the reality stretches back generations to Sicily and Lucy’s family ties. Kevin also is connected to Jack, manifesting his father’s memories on occasion, which scares Lucy a lot. VERDICT Schofield follows up his acclaimed debut, Time of Departure, a slightly crazed time-travel odyssey, with a spooky thriller in which strange memories affect the protagonists’ present-day lives. For anyone who enjoys mysteries with a twist, but beware, this is no ghostly cozy. Think Kay Hooper’s “Bishop/Special Crimes Unit” series. [See Prepub Alert, 5/16/16.]
Smiley, Patricia. Pacific Homicide. Midnight Ink. Nov. 2016. 336p. ISBN 9780738750217. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780738751306. M
LAPD Det. Davina Richards is lead investigative officer at Pacific Homicide on a brutal murder case involving the partial dismemberment of a beautiful blonde. Found in a sewage treatment plant, the body is quickly identified as Anya Nosova, a recently arrived Russian immigrant. Meanwhile Davie is under investigation by the new police inspector general, Malcolm Harrington. Davie and Harrington crossed paths years before when Harrington railroaded her father off the force. Now, Harrington wants to hang her out to dry for killing a suspect. He succeeds in getting her suspended, but Davie is determined to find justice for a young woman who deserved more in life than being murdered. Better known for a cozy series starring financial adviser Tucker Sinclair (Cool Cache), Smiley kicks off a hard-boiled series with a bang in this fast-paced novel that sweeps readers along quickly. Davie is an engaging sleuth; her tough exterior hides a fragile heart. VERDICT This classic police procedural, with the obligatory cop humor included, recalls titles by Robin Burcell or Alafair Burke.
Zahradnik, Rich. A Black Sail: A Coleridge Taylor Mystery. Camel. Oct. 2016. 245p. ISBN 9781603812115. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781603812122. M
In July 1976, newspaper reporter Coleridge Taylor is covering Operation Sail, the parade of tall ships in New York Harbor celebrating the bicentennial of the American Revolution. When the police launch on which Taylor is a passenger pulls a body from the river, his inside source, Marty Phillips, suspects it’s the opening salvo in a drug war between the Italian Mafia and the Chinese tongs. Heroin is a way of life in the Big Apple. The FBI and the NYPD vie to solve the murder, but there is more bubbling below the surface than the usual interagency rivalry. And Taylor will come close to dying to find out how rotten things can get. This latest series outing (after Drop Dead Punk) offers a blast from the time machine back to New York City’s bad old days in the 1970s. Taylor, while out to get the story and get back to the crime beat, is complex and has a good heart. VERDICT Fans of the late Barbara D’Amato and Bruce DeSilva will relish this gritty and powerful crime novel. Zahradnik won the 2015 Independent Publishers Award Bronze Medal for his debut, Last Words.
Mack, Janey. Shoot ’em Up: A Maisie McGrane Mystery. Kensington. Oct. 2016. 352p. ISBN 9781617736940. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781617736957. M
Picking up minutes after the action in Choked Up ends, Mack’s third Maisie McGrane adventure has the former meter maid (now deep undercover cop) getting stabbed in the thigh by boyfriend Hank Bannon, who was trying to save her from Serbian crime lord Stannislav Renko. The repercussions of this incident take Maisie deep into a criminal underworld when an assassination attempt on the Chicago mayor has the Drug Enforcement Agency and other federal organizations relying on her connections to infiltrate a cartel running drugs into the city. As always, Maisie’s overly involved Irish family of cops and lawyers try to protect her from a Chicago filled with heroes, villains, charlatans, and thieves. VERDICT This lively series outing, with its wacky capers and fast-paced plotting, brings to mind works by Lee Goldberg and Janet Evanovich.
Staub, Wendy Corsi. Something Buried, Something Blue: A Lily Dale Mystery. Crooked Lane. Oct. 2016. 304p. ISBN 9781629537726. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781629538020. M
Isabella Jordan and her son, Max, have agreed to stay in Lily Dale, NY, and care for the Valley View Guesthouse at the behest of the owner. It’s the end of tourist season, and Lily Dale, home of the spiritualist movement, is dead in the fall and winter. Then Bella’s next-door neighbor Odelia Lauder persuades Bella to host a destination wedding for a friend. Johneen Maynard is a bridezilla of the first degree and as the wedding looms, the spirits begin to tell Odelia that fate is about to intervene. As a blizzard ramps up and a murder attempt is made on Johneen, Bella is caught in the house with a killer. VERDICT In this charming sequel to Nine Lives, Bella is doing her best to recover from her husband’s death and make a new life for her son. Some days she feels stronger than others. Anyone who enjoys Nancy Atherton’s “Aunt Dimity” mysteries will be drawn to this cozy.
QUOTABLE “Taylor went for lunch at the Gaiety Delicatessen on West 47th. Hot pastrami on rye with mustard, a Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray, and a side of rude from the waiter. He took his first big bite. Pepper, grease, and mustard spice. And guilt. He kept his deli habit a secret from his grandfather, who owned a coffee shop at 75th and Madison. The diner-owing Greeks in his family viewed delis as their direct and only true competitors in New York. Taylor was an ecumenical eater.”
DuBois, Brendan. Storm Cell: A Lewis Cole Mystery. Pegasus Crime. Nov. 2016. 336p. ISBN 9781681772332. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781681772790. M
Lewis Cole’s best friend, former mob enforcer Felix Tinios, has been convicted of first-degree murder and may end up on death row, but Lewis is convinced this is all a frame-up. The victim, on the surface, was a fine, upstanding citizen of Tyler, NH, but in reality, he was a double-dealing, lowlife cheating husband. Can Lewis clear Felix’s name before Felix is killed in prison? DuBois’s tenth series outing (after Blood Foam) is another riveting read, filled with wit and intrigue.
MacNeal, Susan Elia. The Queen’s Accomplice: A Maggie Hope Mystery. Bantam. Oct. 2016. 368p. ISBN 9780804178723. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780804178730. M
Returning to London from Washington, DC, Maggie Hope is working at Special Operations Division, 64 Baker Street. The Nazis have stopped their nightly bombing, but the city is still burning. When an elderly air raid warden stumbles over a mutilated body in Regent’s Park, it marks the beginning of a terrible re-creation of Jack the Ripper’s killing spree. This sixth entry in the World War II series follows Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante.
Thomas, Will. Hell Bay: A Barker & Llewelyn Novel. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Oct. 2016. 304p. ISBN 9781250077950. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466890282. M
Cyrus Barker and Thomas Llewelyn travel to the Scilly Islands, off the tip of Cornwall, at the behest of the Royal United Service Institution, a think tank for Her Majesty’s government. Representatives from France and England are meeting under the guise of a house party and protection is needed. But the bodies start falling, and Barker and Llewellyn are hard-pressed to keep everyone safe. This eighth in the series follows Anatomy of Evil. Great period writing.
Wortham, Reavis Z. Unraveled: A Red River Mystery. Poisoned Pen. Oct. 2016. 336p. ISBN 9781464207099. $26.95; pap. ISBN 9781464207112. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781464207129. M
In Center Springs, TX, Constable Ned Parker investigates a fatal car accident involving mayor Fred Clay and his African American assistant, Maggie Mayfield. It is 1968, and the incident will rekindle a long-running feud between two families. This superbly drawn sixth entry in the series (after Dark Places) features captivating characters and an authentic Texas twang.
Alexander, Tasha. A Terrible Beauty: A Lady Emily Mystery. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Oct. 2016. 304p. ISBN 9781250058270. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250106407. M
The 11th book in Alexander’s Victorian series (after The Adventuress) sees our heroine on holiday in her beloved Greece, along with husband Colin and longtime friends Jeremy and Margaret. Emily receives the surprise of her life when her first husband shows up at their villa, as he was presumed dead years ago in Africa. Philip offers various proofs of his identity, but why has it taken him so long to make himself known? One reason could be that he’s having a hard time accepting that Emily has remarried, especially since Colin was his best friend. If the situation wasn’t complicated enough, add in a dead body or two and a priceless fragment of Achilles’s helmet that everyone wants to get their hands on. Poor Emily! VERDICT Descriptions of the gorgeous Santorini scenery will make readers long for their own vacation in the Greek Isles. Alexander remains a consistently good writer, allowing her characters to grow as she puts them in complicated emotional situations. A treat for longtime fans, but the title could also serve as a stand-alone for new readers. [See Prepub Alert, 4/10/16.]
French, Nicci. Friday on My Mind: A Frieda Klein Mystery. Penguin. Oct. 2016. 318p. ISBN 9780143127222. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780698184756. M
Married author team Nicci Gerrard and Sean French begin the fifth “Frieda Klein” book (after Thursday’s Children) with DCI Sarah Hussien connecting a waterlogged body found on the shore of the Thames River to psychotherapist Dr. Klein. As the police begin to question Frieda’s motives and state of mind, she is forced to go on the run and into hiding while she investigates the victim’s past. Several twists and misplaced suspicions almost derail Frieda’s parallel investigation. The police are nipping at her heels as the tension builds, and readers will be enthralled until the final page. VERDICT This intricate psychological drama presents various viewpoints as to the identity of the murderer. Series fans will savor this latest addition, but newbies who admire Patricia Cornwell’s medical examiner Kay Scarpetta will find Frieda’s self-reliance, logic, and intelligence comparable. [See Prepub Alert, 4/10/16.]
Harris, Charlaine. All the Little Liars: An Aurora Teagarden Mystery. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Oct. 2016. 240p. ISBN 9781250090034. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250090058. M
Aurora Teagarden is on top of the world. Newly married to crime writer Robin Crusoe, she is pregnant with their first baby, happily working in her hometown library and excited to spend the holidays with her family, including her 15-year-old half brother Phillip, who hitchhiked across the country to live with her. The week before Christmas, however, Phillip and his friends go missing while on an innocent car ride. The situation turns dire when one of the teens is found dead and their car abandoned. Never one for sitting on the sidelines, Roe chases as many avenues as she can think of (while fighting morning sickness) to find her brother. VERDICT Harris’s last Aurora Teagarden novel, Poppy Done to Death, was released over a decade ago; this ninth book jumps right back in to the story with ease. Fans can only hope that with the popularity of the Hallmark movies featuring Teagarden (currently there are two, corresponding to Books 1 and 2), Harris will continue to add to the series. [See Prepub Alert, 4/10/16; an October LibraryReads Pick.]
Lin, Ed. Incensed: A Taipei Night Market Novel. Soho Crime. Oct. 2016. 336p. ISBN 9781616957339. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616957346. M
Jing-nan is a vendor at the night market in Taiwan’s capital, Taipei. When he gets a call from his uncle, he knows it’s not good news. His gangster relative is about the only family he has left since his parents died. Meanwhile, Jing-nan’s 16-year-old cousin Mei Ling wants to be a singing star, and her father has decided she should visit Jing-nan in the big city to get thoughts of such a career and of her unsuitable boyfriend out of her mind. Babysitting a sullen teen is certainly an imposition, but the Mid-Autumn Festival is a time for reconnecting with family. Of course the boyfriend turns up, as do some dubious associates of Jing-nan’s uncle, but that doesn’t worry Jing-man until Mei Ling disappears. VERDICT The second entry in Lin’s “Taipei Night Market” series (after Ghost Month) is an exciting mystery with an intriguing hero and cast of characters who will appeal to readers who like international settings in their crime fiction. Mystery fans enchanted by the Asian night markets visited on numerous Travel Channel shows will enjoy a peek behind the curtain, as Taiwan’s history and culture are lightly explored in this story that moves fluidly along to its conclusion. [See Prepub Alert, 4/10/16.]
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