LJ Best Books 2016

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Fiction from Bauer, Dial, Mendoza, and Stachniak, plus Two Debuts | Xpress Reviews

Week ending January 6, 2017

Bauer, Belinda. The Beautiful Dead. Atlantic Monthly. Jan. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9780802125330. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780802189981. F
Eve Singer cares for her father, who suffers from dementia. She also works as a television reporter, covering the “meat beat” in London. In her quest to cover story after story, she goes where others fear to go, photographing murder victims and talking to their families. One night, sensing that she is being followed, Eve turns around and invites the man to walk her home. Thus begins a taut, psychological thriller, as a serial killer looking for glory shares insider knowledge of his crimes with Eve. The murderer, who fancies himself an artist, considers Eve a partner of sorts, until she cooperates with the police and earns his wrath.
Verdict This intense, compelling novel from British author Bauer (The Shut Eye) is filled with dark humor and is sure to satisfy fans of Tami Hoag and Karin Slaughter. [See Prepub Alert, 7/18/16; library marketing.]—Nanci Milone Hill, Boxford Town Lib., MA

Corry, Jane. My Husband’s Wife. Pamela Dorman: Viking. Feb. 2017. 384p. ISBN 9780735220959. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780735220973. F
myhusband010617[DEBUT] Corry’s character-driven and methodically written debut thriller features a narrative that spans 16 years and is told from alternating perspectives. Lily is a newlywed and aspiring criminal lawyer, and her neighbor, nine-year-old Carla, is a bullied girl in need of a babysitter to help out her single mother. Lily and her husband, Ed, agree to watch Carla as a distraction from their problems. Ed uses Carla as a muse for his budding art career, while Lily tries to forget about her newest case involving freeing a man (wrongly?) convicted of murder. Secrets are a big theme throughout the novel, and Carla’s secrets soon require her to move away. Sixteen years later, she thrusts herself back into Lily’s and Ed’s lives. This time, she won’t be used; she’ll be the one doing the manipulating.
Verdict The author’s bold writing choices, including a huge jump in time, benefit readers with two almost separate stories told years apart; their patience is well rewarded when the disparate threads are resolved and details are revealed. Fans of Clare Mackintosh and Tana French should add Corry to their must-read lists.—Natalie Browning, J. Sargeant Reynolds Community Coll. Lib., Richmond

Dial, Connie. The Third Hell. Permanent. Feb. 2017. 280p. ISBN 9781579624941. $29. MYS
Most people hope their final moments with a loved one are truly memorable, but for retired Los Angeles police detective Nino Angelo, his last day with his sullen teenage son involves dropping him off earlier than planned because Matthew was getting on his nerves. When Matthew later goes missing, Nino slowly learns more about the boy’s interests and character and finds much to admire. Most of the detectives on the case are unhappy with Nino’s poking around, but he finds assistance from his ex-wife’s cop boyfriend and from Charley Harper, the female lieutenant assigned to the case with whom a relationship quickly develops. Dial (Set the Night on Fire) overloads the plot with shady cops, priests, and child pornographers, and the pace of the narrative moves in fits and starts (the romance between Nino and Charley develops at an unusually fast pace given the circumstances). Still, the description of the daily grind of investigations and the central issue of Nino’s regret over missed opportunities as a father land well enough.
Verdict For those who’ve read all of Joseph Wambaugh and T. Jefferson Parker and need a quick title.—Julie Elliott, Indiana Univ. Lib., South Bend

Mendoza, Élmer. The Acid Test. MacLehose: Quercus. Feb. 2017. 240p. ISBN 9781681442884. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781681442877. F
The grisly execution of a well-known exotic dancer in the drug-infested Mexican city of Culiacán kicks off this brutal but underwhelming piece of “narco-lit,” a sequel to Silver Bullets. For homicide detective Edgar “Lefty” Mendieta, the murder of Mayra Cabral de Melo (along with her roommate Yolanda) is personal: the two shared a mysterious but passionate connection, but his investigation soon sprawls out to cover the cartels, con men, and politicians, all beholden to one another. Lefty, in despair over his place in the world when we first meet him, tries to find salvation by avenging Mayra’s killing. But hers is just one of many in a city utterly besieged by violence, which is about to get worse as the Mexican president escalates the drug war. A six-page cast of characters gives some hint to the scope of Mendoza’s story, but his style of dialog without punctuation, attribution, or paragraph breaks complicates what should be a much more propulsive read.
Verdict A logical recommendation for admirers of the similarly themed novels of Don Winslow, though not as consistently brilliant.—Michael Pucci, South Orange P.L., NJ

Peelle, Lydia. The Midnight Cool. Harper. Jan. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9780062475466. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062475497. F
midnight010617[DEBUT] Billy, a middle-aged Irish immigrant, excels at making damaged items look new again. Charles, a teenage orphan, teams up with Billy to find their way in the world by horse trading. Catherine is the daughter of the man who owns Midnight Cool, a beautiful but untrainable horse. These three characters come together in 1916 Richfield, TN, when Charles buys the mare despite Catherine’s efforts to stop him. After Charles fails in several attempts to retrain the animal, Billy decides he will make an effort, but the mare sidelines him with serious injuries. While Billy recuperates, Charles learns the military needs mules for the war effort in Europe. He succeeds at both building a mule herd and pursuing Catherine in an intimate relationship. But faced with a serious business decision, Charles makes a devastating choice that irrevocably changes the future for them all.
Verdict Awarded a Whiting, an O. Henry, and two Pushcarts Prizes, Peelle (Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing) parlays her short story skills into an endearing debut novel that will be appreciated by aficionados of historical and literary fiction. [Highlighted in Barbara Hoffert’s “Fall/Winter Premieres,” LJ 10/1/16; ow.ly/bpj7307vQaL.]—Wendy W. Paige, Shelby Cty. P.L., Morristown, IN

Stachniak, Eva. The Chosen Maiden. Doubleday. Jan. 2017. 464p. ISBN 9780385678568. pap. $18; ebk. ISBN 9780385678551. F
Bronia outlived and outperformed Vaslav Nijinsky, her famous brother, but did not attract the world’s spotlight. The children of itinerant Polish dancers, both had important careers with Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes at the turn of the 20th century. Vaslav became the God of Dance with his choreography for The Rite of Spring but fell from grace and into madness. Bronia is the subject of Stachniak’s exquisite fictionalized memoir. She learned to tap dance at age three and became a respected classical ballerina before advancing wholeheartedly into ballet’s modern idioms. She was a noted choreographer, teacher, and dancer whose turbulent life mirrored the catastrophic first half of the 20th century.
Verdict Enjoying best-selling success with her novels about Catherine the Great (The Winter Palace; Empress of the Night), Stachniak could well see a similar success with this deep dive into ballet culture. Drawing on her thorough research into Bronia’s archives, the author has teased out revealing insights into the art of the dance, and she writes skillfully about the emotional truths that arose from Bronia’s ambitions, family relations, and deep anxieties. Dance fans will welcome this graceful and entrancing foray into the recent past.—Barbara Conaty, Falls Church, VA

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