For Mystery fans, the new year brings a little something to please a variety of literary tastes. Readers who enjoy disappearing into the past will be transported to Regency and Victorian England in new series installments from C.S. Harris (Where the Dead Lie) and Deanna Raybourn (A Perilous Undertaking), as well as a promising series launch from Laura Joh Rowland that features an amateur photographer–turned–sleuth on the hunt for Jack the Ripper (The Ripper’s Shadow). On the cops-and-robbers beat, Trudy Nan Boyce returns with a second installment in her Atlanta-based “Detective Sarah Alt” series (Old Bones), and Terry Shames serves up a Texas prequel in her award-winning “Samuel Craddock” series (An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock). Across the Atlantic, David Mark (Cruel Mercy) and Sara Blaedel (The Lost Woman) make up the international cop contingent with new entries to their respective gritty police series.
Debut of the Month
Kay, Edward. At Rope’s End: A Dr. James Verraday Mystery. Crooked Lane. Jan. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9781683310006. $25.99; pap. ISBN 9781683310013. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781683310044. m
Venturing into the dark world of serial killers and Seattle’s rainy milieu, this debut mystery introduces forensic psychologist Dr. James Verraday, paired up with a cop to track a murderer with a penchant for models. Trusting his new partner is a stretch, as Verraday has a complicated past with the police—his own rough-and-tumble run-in with officers (he was peacefully protesting, they were rough) and his family’s violent confrontation with law enforcement (a police car running a red light killed his mother and left his sister disabled). But Det. Constance Maclean doesn’t toe the party line, and when a body turns up in a bog with injuries that seem to fit the serial killer’s pattern, Maclean seeks out Verraday for assistance. An uneasy partnership develops, driven by their mutual desire for truth and justice, as well as Verraday’s undeniable skills as a profiler. VERDICT This is a promising start from a fresh voice in forensic fiction, a subgenre that’s always in need of new blood as the technology changes. With intricate backstories and believable issues, Verraday and Maclean are a duo to watch.
Harris, C.S. Where the Dead Lie: A Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery. Berkley. Apr. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9780451471192. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780698167902. M
Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, isn’t one to turn away from the more sordid offerings of 1813 London, but even he’s appalled when the body of 15-year-old Benji Thatcher turns up in the ruins of an abandoned factory. Among the city’s too-numerous-to-count homeless youth, Benji had been tortured, but it seems few are unduly concerned about his abduction and murder. Except Sebastian, who, in this 12th installment of Harris’s popular series (after Where Falcons Fall), is determined to identify the boy’s killer. His investigation takes him through the highest echelons of Regency-era power, where he must contend with Marquis de Sade–level sadomasochism operating behind a veil of protection that offers it legitimacy. VERDICT Not for the faint of heart, this latest installment in Harris’s well-researched historical series features a charismatic lead who’s unafraid of exposing the inner workings of a controlling authority when it turns against its own people. [See Prepub Alert, 10/17/16.]
Muller, Marcia & Bill Pronzini. The Dangerous Ladies Affair: A Carpenter and Quincannon Mystery. Forge. Jan. 2017. 256p. ISBN 9780765381057. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466876798. M
Despite being set in 19th-century San Francisco, this fifth book in the series (after The Plague of Thieves Affair) featuring ex-Pinkerton operative and ardent suffragette Sabina Carpenter and poetry-reading but quick on the draw ex-Secret Service man John Quincannon feels incredibly timely in today’s political climate. This time around, the sleuthing duo have two cases brewing. Carpenter helps fellow suffragette and “New Woman” Amity Wellman identify her blackmailer; Wellman had received a series of threatening letters after asserting a woman’s right to conduct her own sexual affairs without the fear of retribution. Meanwhile, Quincannon is probing a locked-room murder and another blackmailer who has returned for a second helping of funds from an anxious banker. VERDICT While the two cases don’t always mesh cleanly, coauthors Muller and Pronzini deftly tackle historical problems through the lens of their progressive detecting pair, allowing readers to extrapolate issues such as antifeminism and the value of protesting into a modern context.
Raybourn, Deanna. A Perilous Undertaking: A Veronica Speedwell Mystery. Berkley. Jan. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9780451476159. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780698198456. M
Butterflies and not-so-closeted Victorian sexcapades abound in Raybourn’s deliciously quirky sequel to A Curious Beginning, which introduced amateur lepidopterist, sleuth, and all-around independent woman Veronica Speedwell. Veronica’s fondness for solving crimes gets her an exclusive invitation from a mysterious woman who calls herself Lady Sundridge to join the women-only Curiosity Club. Lady Sundridge’s dear friend Artemisia, an artist, has been murdered, and her widower, Miles Ramsforth, will soon be hanged for the crime if Veronica can’t unmask the real killer. Veronica joins forces with her friend Stoker, and the pair traipse through Artemisia’s artistic world, with stops at an opium den and an underground grotto on the Ramsforth estate set up to satisfy all manner of sexual peccadilloes. Hidden sex caves on wealthy art patrons’ estates are naturally going to attract those in the highest levels of society, who may not take too kindly to someone—let alone a woman—poking into their private business. This leads to much of the tension Raybourn weaves in among the witty banter. VERDICT An unbuttoned—in every sense of the word—look at a side of Victorian life that’s often missing from historical novels, this is a welcome continuation of an enjoyable series with a solid, spirited heroine at its center. [See Prepub Alert, 7/25/16.]
Rowland, Laura Joh. The Ripper’s Shadow: A Victorian Mystery. Crooked Lane. Jan. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9781683310051. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781683310082. M
Taking a break from her long-running “Sano Ichiro” series set in 1600s Japan, Rowland fast-forwards to Victorian England at the start of Jack the Ripper’s reign of terror. Self-sufficient Sarah Bain keeps herself gainfully employed as a photographer, supplementing her socially acceptable income with a little something extra: racy bedroom shots of women who work the streets of London’s Whitechapel district. As several of her clients fall prey to the Ripper, Sarah becomes convinced that there’s a madman on the loose. To help in her investigation, she enlists one of her protégés, an immigrant couple, and a street urchin, a character so ubiquitous in Victorian-set crime fiction that Rowland’s would garner an automatic eye roll if Mick weren’t so charming. Sarah’s actions attract the attention of both the police and shadowy Jack himself, who is hellbent on silencing the woman who could uncover his identity. VERDICT The whopper of all serial killers, Jack the Ripper, like fire, is to be handled with care, and luckily Rowland knows just how to do it, putting a new twist on old tropes with her witty sleuth, while never sacrificing historical integrity.
The thin blue line
Blaedel, Sara. The Lost Woman: A Louise Rick Novel. Grand Central. Feb. 2017. 304p. tr. from Danish by Mark Kline. ISBN 9781455541072. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781455541058. M
The Danish “Queen of Crime” returns with an intensely personal, character-driven sixth installment to her “DI Louise Rick” series (after The Killing Forest). Rick heads Copenhagen’s Special Search Agency—the Danish equivalent of a missing persons unit—yet most of the action here takes place in England. A housewife shot to death through her kitchen window is identified as Sofie Parker, a Danish citizen who’s been missing for almost 20 years. And the man who reported her gone two decades ago? It turns out to be Eik Nordstrøm, Rick’s police colleague and now lover (most days, at least), who’s as impetuous as Rick is methodical and measured. Off to England to investigate Sofie’s death, Eik becomes the prime suspect and is soon jailed on suspicion of murder. Rick is determined to get to the bottom of what is turning into an increasingly bizarre case. Sofie’s reasons for disappearing not only lend emotional resonance to an already deeply fraught book but also weave the controversial subject of assisted suicide into a complex plot. VERDICT As one of the preeminent voices in contemporary Scandinavian crime fiction, Blaedel solidifies once more why her novels are as much finely drawn character studies as tightly plotted procedurals, always landing with a punch to the gut and the heart. [See Prepub Alert, 8/26/16.]
Boyce, Trudy Nan. Old Bones: A Detective Sarah Alt Novel. Putnam. Feb. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9780399167270. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780698140714. M
In this timely series entry (after Out of the Blues), Boyce sets her resilient protagonist in the middle of a protest gone sideways. At the predominantly black Spelman College in Atlanta, where students have gathered to call for police reform, a shooting disrupts what was otherwise a peaceful march, sending civilians and law enforcement running for cover—and answers. Alt is tasked with another investigation when the decomposed body of a young woman is found, and it’s discovered that she’s someone whom Alt arrested a few years earlier. Feeling responsible for finding out what happened to the girl, Alt throws everything she has into what has “cold case” written all over it, until she’s called up to assist with the riots that have suddenly broken out following the shooting at Spelman. Boyce, who was an Atlanta cop for 30 years before turning to writing, captures the roiling tension of a city in turmoil. Alt, for all her power as a detective with an admirable moral compass, can only do so much toward fixing such systemic injuries. VERDICT In addition to being a fast-paced crime story with an empathetic, feisty lead, Boyce’s latest also offers a meditation on violence and institutional racism.
Mark, David. Cruel Mercy: A Detective Sergeant McAvoy Novel. Blue Rider: Penguin. Feb. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9780399185113. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780399185137. M
Sometimes a crime is so big that even a hulking Scotsman such as DS Aector McAvoy must stretch his detecting chops and leg it to America to solve a case. So it goes in Mark’s riveting sixth installment (after Dead Pretty) of his (usually) UK–based crime series. This time around, McAvoy is in New York, on the hunt for wife Roisin’s missing brother, Valentine Teague. Complicating matters is that Teague is an Irish traveler, a member of a group often pejoratively referred to as tinkers and gypsies. Add to this mess the corpse and almost-corpse (he’s in a medically induced coma) of two other Irishmen—boxing coach Brishen Ayres and his star fighter Shay Helden—who were traveling with Teague in New York, and there’s more than enough reason for McAvoy to cross the Atlantic to investigate. Teague and Helden have a history, both in and out of the ring, and now that they’re in America, it’s getting swept up into a larger story of the Italian mob, illegal fights, and even a hit man from Chechnya. (Mark is never one to shy away from expansive, even epic-sized, plots—but he always pulls it off.) Joining forces with NYPD Det. Ronald Alto, McAvoy has his work cut out for him. VERDICT Even with a change of setting, Mark proves once again that he can handle the darkest of plots, always with a jolt of black humor, putting him on the level of Scottish and English contemporaries such as Denise Mina, Val McDermid, and Peter Robinson. [See Prepub Alert, 8/15/16.]
Shames, Terry. An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock: A Samuel Craddock Mystery Prequel. Seventh St: Prometheus. Jan. 2017. 270p. ISBN 9781633882096. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781633882102. M
Despite being a prequel, this latest episode in the series, after The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake, winds back the clock to look at how now-retired Texas lawman Samuel Craddock became the moral man he is today. A fire that’s soon determined to be arson in an area of Jarrett Creek known as “Darktown”—where all the black residents live—claims the lives of five young people and, owing to jurisdictional issues, the Texas Highway Patrol takes control of the case, much to Craddock’s dismay. Craddock takes an instant dislike to the man in charge, patrolman John Sutherland, and the feeling is mutual. Sutherland is quick to blame the fire on Truly Bennett, a young black man who Craddock is positive isn’t involved. But for Sutherland, skin color trumps facts and the case is as good as closed. Now Craddock is faced with a choice: Does he go along with Sutherland’s conclusion or take a stand and fight for the rights of someone he believes is innocent? Readers familiar with the series may guess Craddock’s ultimate choice (or will they?), but Shames skillfully makes the decision less about one man wrestling with his conscience and more about the racism that runs rampant in towns like Jarrett Creek. VERDICT Made even more pressing in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement and the current political climate, Shames presents an important exploration of the clash between personal conviction and cultural expectations, even when those assumptions are repugnant.
The two clink glasses and hunch forward on their stools, elbows on the bar. “Copper to copper,” says McAvoy, indicating the bar top. “You’re fucking weird,” says Alto, and grins, suddenly enjoying himself. “Seems a shame to spoil the mood.” McAvoy’s smile fades. He gives a little nod, as if preparing himself. “You’ve been told why I’m here,” he says. Alto takes a sip of his Brooklyn and pulls the papers out of his coat pocket. “You want to know whether we’ve caught the people who shot the Miracle Man,” says Alto, in a way that suggests the news is not going to be good. McAvoy puts his head to one side. Sucks his cheek as if weighing up whether to lay down playing cards that he has no faith in. “No,” he says at last. “I want to help you find the other victims.” “There’s more?” asks Alto. “Just what we need.” “There’s one more, at least,” says McAvoy. “And what makes you think that?” asks Alto conversationally. McAvoy looks at the ice clinking in his glass and breathes out, as if from his toes. “Because he’s family. And he either pulled the trigger, or you just haven’t found his body yet.”
Check These Out
de Hahn, Tracee. Swiss Vendetta. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Feb. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9781250109996. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250110008. M
In this Switzerland-set debut, a Swiss American police detective, stuck in a picturesque château on the shore of Lake Geneva, grapples with her first homicide and the worst blizzard in recent memory. Det. Agnes Lüthi transferred from Lausanne’s Financial Crimes Unit to Violent Crimes in an effort to take her mind off the recent death of her husband. Now she’s called out to her first murder scene, the stabbing death of a young London art appraiser who’s been evaluating the impressive collection at the equally impressive Château Vallotton. As a terrible snowstorm approaches, Lüthi attempts to squeeze answers from the house’s tight-lipped occupants, including the loyal servants, as well as several other potential witnesses—or suspects. VERDICT This clever take on the locked-room mystery—a locked château, if you will—introduces readers to an appealing heroine in an unusual setting in what will hopefully be a long series.
Florio, Gwen. Reservations: A Lola Wicks Mystery. Midnight Ink. Mar. 2017. 312p. ISBN 9780738750422. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780738750583. M
Formerly a war correspondent, now a journalist living in Montana, Lola Wicks often prefers reporting to people. In this fourth adventure (after Disgraced), Lola and her family—husband Charlie, who’s a member of the Blackfeet tribe, and their daughter, Maggie—take a trip to the Arizona Navajo reservation to visit Charlie’s brother and wife. It’s the last place Lola expects to get caught up in a news scoop. But then a bomb goes off, killing one of the tribal elders, and signs point to ecoterrorists who are protesting a new coal mine on the reservation that is destroying the mesa, poisoning the local water supply, and driving people from their homes. And yet the mine is a key source of employment in the region, and as Lola digs—how can she ignore a story so divisive?—she discovers community tensions that run deeper than the mine. VERDICT Compelling, realistically flawed characters and a timely story line, especially in the wake of the protests at the Dakota Access Pipeline, make this one of Florio’s hardest-hitting mysteries yet.
Solomon, Burt. The Murder of Willie Lincoln. Forge. Feb. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9780765385833. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780765385840. M
President Abraham Lincoln’s son, Willie, died of typhoid fever in 1862 at age 11. But what if it was murder? That’s how political journalist Solomon imagines it in his fiction debut, putting the president’s right-hand man, John Hay, front and center as an investigator, plunging in when a message arrives suggesting that the boy’s death was not natural. Lincoln, depicted most often as calm and composed, displays a different side as Hay’s investigation takes him from the loftiest heights of the Washington elite to the city’s grimiest slums. Hay must determine not only the cause of Willie’s demise but also whether his death could have dire political ramifications for the president. VERDICT For fans of historical mysteries with a “what if?” bent, this enjoyable look back in time to another presidency suggests a political landscape just as plagued with controversy as our current one.
Brekke, Jørgen. The Fifth Element. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Feb. 2017. 320p. tr. from Norwegian by Steven T. Murray. ISBN 9781250073914. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466885417. M
What happened to Felicia Stone, and did her husband, Norwegian cop Odd Singsaker, have something to do with it? That’s the question at the heart of Brekke’s third book featuring Singsaker (after Dreamless), which opens with the Trondheim detective waking up on an island off the coast of Norway with no memory of how he got there, why he has a shotgun, and why there’s a corpse next to him.
Harrod-Eagles, Cynthia. Old Bones: A Detective Slider Mystery. Severn House. Feb. 2017. 256p. ISBN 9780727886651. $29.99; ebk. ISBN 9781780108353. M
It takes a lot to keep a series not just going but crackling after 18 books, but Harrod-Eagles does just that with this 19th installment of her London-set procedural series starring Det. Bill Slider. This time around, Slider, who’s still smarting from the ramifications of One Under, investigates a cold case when the bones of a teenager are found by a young couple in their new garden.