The new year brings a variety of (fictional) crimes from across the various seas, as well as offering up a bounty of American mysteries. In her debut novel, The Wages of Sin, Scottish journalist Kaite Welsh introduces a feisty Victorian-era female sleuth who goes toe-to-toe with the men around her. Fresh series installments from Kelley Armstrong (A Darkness Absolute) and Deborah Crombie (Garden of Lamentations) find their respective detectives faced with harrowing cases that hit uncomfortably close to home, while Malcolm Mackay (Every Night I Dream of Hell) returns to the gritty Glasgow world of organized crime. For readers looking to discover where one of their favorites took flight, Ann Cleeves delivers The Crow Trap, the initial entry in her acclaimed “Vera Stanhope” series, published this month for the first time in the United States. On the lighter side, Auralee Wallace returns to the picturesque—but dangerous—Otter Lake, NH, in Snowed in with Murder, in which her sleuth must contend with not only a snowstorm but a reality TV show. And Mandy Morton debuts an original cozy series featuring British feline protagonists in The No. 2 Feline Detective Agency.
Debut of the Month
Welsh, Kaite. The Wages of Sin. Pegasus Crime. Mar. 2017. 400p. ISBN 9781681773322. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781681773865. M
Medical school is hard enough, but when you’re one of only a handful of women at an elite Edinburgh institute in Victorian-era Scotland, “hard” doesn’t begin to describe the experience. Such is life for the steadfast Sarah Gilchrist, who’s braving the (unnamed) male-dominated school that may have accepted her on paper but certainly doesn’t welcome her. A former London debutante who was raped by the son of a lord and then thrown in a sanatorium to be treated for her alleged “promiscuity,” Sarah discovers that her past makes her even more of a pariah at school, though she does eventually find a friend. When she recognizes one of the anatomy class corpses as a working girl she met while volunteering at a clinic, Sarah is determined to uncover whether the girl committed suicide or was murdered. Her investigation takes her from Edinburgh’s less-than-savory opium dens and seedy gathering places to its more high-society watering holes. Sarah is a spunky but historically accurate heroine, bucking the most restrictive traditions in order to comment on them. VERDICT The first book in what will, one hopes, be a long-running series, featuring a new kind of historical leading lady, Welsh’s debut is an inspiring feminist tale perfect for the modern age.
Check These Out
Armstrong, Kelley. A Darkness Absolute. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. (Casey Duncan, Bk. 2). Feb. 2017. 400p. ISBN 9781250092175. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250092205. M
Living off the grid in the isolated Canadian town of Rockton appealed to former homicide cop Casey Duncan; like so many of the other residents, she’s trying to shake unpleasant memories from the past (City of the Lost). She’s even struck up the beginnings of a relationship with prickly Sheriff Eric Dalton. While he is off on a supply run—Rockton isn’t the sort of place with a supermarket—Casey and Deputy Will Anderson pursue a Rockton local hell-bent on running deep into the woods and straight into a blizzard. Casey and Will take shelter from the storm in a cave, only to make a gruesome discovery: a woman presumed dead for nearly a year has been kept prisoner there by a mystery man, who could be out hunting more girls if Casey and Will can’t catch him before he goes to ground. VERDICT Armstrong gives her cop-with-baggage backstory a twist, making Casey a singularly skilled but humanely flawed protagonist, adrift in a quirky utopia that’s as dangerous as any big city. [See Prepub Alert, 8/15/16.]
Brody, Frances. A Death in the Dales: A Kate Shackleton Mystery. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Feb. 2017. 384p. ISBN 9781250098825. $23; ebk. ISBN 9781250098849. M
Problems come in sets of three, and it’s no different in 1926 Yorkshire, the setting for Brody’s seventh series installment featuring private investigator Kate Shackleton (after Death of an Avid Reader). This time she has her teenage niece, Harriet, in tow, and the pair stay in a cottage owned by Dr. Lucian Simonson. As befitting a small English village in a mystery novel, there’s plenty of tension bubbling just beneath the surface in Langcliffe. Lucian’s recently deceased aunt was positive the wrong man was executed for a crime—except that crime took place in 1916. Kate decides this is a perfect old case to investigate, but that’s not the only thing to occupy her time—and detective skills. Harriet becomes fast friends with a girl whose brother has gone missing, and one of the village’s biggest landowners wants Kate’s assistance in secreting away some letters, though he’s far from the only villager in this picturesque hotbed of intrigue with something to hide. VERDICT The mysteries themselves may not be complex, but given the fascinating cast of supporting characters, a pleasant Yorkshire setting, and an endearing heroine, this is a solid British traditional mystery that should please series regulars and newcomers alike.
Cain, Sarah. One by One: A Danny Ryan Thriller. Crooked Lane. Mar. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9781683310877. $25.99. M
Philadelphia newspaper reporter Danny Ryan, from Cain’s debut, The 8th Circle, is just getting his life back on track after losing his family in a car wreck several years earlier. Then Greg Moss, an old high school buddy, shows up and tells Danny that he’s been receiving threatening text messages. Sure, Greg is involved in some shady real estate shenanigans, but the threats are unnerving nonetheless. Then Greg turns up dead and Danny discovers other classmates have also been harassed. The last thing Danny, who’s even getting friendly with fellow reporter Alex Burton, wants is to look back at yet another painful part of his life, but he wonders if an incident that’s haunted him for years—one that involves Greg and several other fellow students—is at the root of the intimidations and murders. VERDICT Solidly plotted with satisfying twists and turns, this is an enjoyable continuation of a promising series.
Cleeves, Ann. The Crow Trap: A Vera Stanhope Mystery. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Feb. 2017. 544p. ISBN 9781250122735. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250122759. M
Published in the UK in 1998 and just now released in the United States, this first book in Cleeves’s “Vera Stanhope” series (which also inspired a popular television show) demonstrates exactly why the curmudgeonly Northumberland police detective gets results. Three local women—botanist Anne, zoologist Grace, and team leader Rachael—have banded together to study the environmental impacts of a proposed quarry on a national park. It isn’t even the suicide of Rachael’s friend that gets Vera on the case: it’s the more obvious murder of someone closely linked to the project that raises the detective’s investigative hackles. Like so many large-scale environmental programs that have the potential to disrupt small villages, the quarry project stirs up bad blood, causing Vera to question whether or not the deaths—she’s convinced the two are connected—are related to the new development or to darker secrets buried much deeper. VERDICT It would be foolish to discount Vera because she doesn’t dress smartly—she can outfox even the wiliest of criminals, while wearing whatever she pleases, and readers will delight in getting the chance to see how such a quirky character evolved.
Crombie, Deborah. Garden of Lamentations. Morrow. (Duncan Kincaid & Gemma James, Bk. 17). Feb. 2017. 432p. ISBN 9780062271631. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062271655. M
Two (married) cops, two murder investigations. Such are the personal and professional stakes in Crombie’s intricate latest installment featuring London’s DI Gemma James and DS Duncan Kincaid (after To Dwell in Darkness). Duncan, still stung over a recent demotion, is deeply disturbed by the grenade attack at the busy St. Pancras rail station, especially coupled with the odd ramblings of his former boss Denis Childs. When Childs is attacked and left comatose, Duncan makes the connection to the recent suicide of a police officer and starts an investigation that turns nasty quickly. Gemma has her own homicide to probe, the case of a nanny found murdered in a Notting Hill garden. Nannies are so often the glue that joins disparate families and this one is no different, linking one of Gemma’s friends with her son’s ballet classmate. While the nanny seems perfectly angelic, Gemma suspects that something in her past got her killed and she’s determined to unearth the secret. VERDICT An enthralling blend of suspense on the home front and possible scandal in the professional arena, with characters who are made as much for investigating as they are for each other, makes for a particularly strong series outing from an author who rarely disappoints. [See Prepub Alert, 8/15/16.]
Hinger, Charlotte. Fractured Families: A Lottie Albright Mystery. Poisoned Pen. Mar. 2017. 294p. ISBN 9781464205613. $26.95; pap. ISBN 9781464205637. $15.95. M
A gruesome discovery confronts historian-turned-undersheriff Lottie Albright in Hinger’s chilling fourth Kansas-set outing (after Hidden Heritage). Making the transition from scholar to crime fighter, as the Northwestern Kansas regional police center takes shape, was meant to be a gradual process. Instead, Lottie, along with her husband’s aunt Dorothy, a visiting Manhattan mystery writer, are immediately plunged into a murder inquiry. The pair find the body of a young man in a Civil War–era mausoleum, and that’s not even the most disturbing part: perched on a nearby statue is a baby’s corpse. Lottie calls in the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, although it’s clear that she’s going to be in charge of the case. As experts assemble, clinical psychologist Josie Albright, who has helped her twin sister in previous books, arrives, and it’s a good thing, since another baby’s lifeless body is found. As Lottie and Dorothy probe, they uncover an older case with parallels to the current investigation. VERDICT Featuring a crime spree and a murderer, both as cold as the Midwestern winter setting, this whodunit will burn like frostbite.
Hunsicker, Harry. The Devil’s Country. Thomas & Mercer: Amazon. Apr. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9781503941908. pap. $15.95. M
Tiny Piedra Springs is former Texas Ranger Arlo Baines’s destination for the sole reason that it seems like a place to lie low and heal. His family is dead, and the last thing Arlo wants is to solve crimes. But trouble finds him when a woman he only recently met is killed and her children vanish. Worse yet, the murder and abduction eerily mirror what happened to his own wife and children. Not only does Arlo become the prime suspect, but the local police question whether the missing offspring even exist. Small towns are known to hold secrets, and Arlo, despite his insistence that he’s retired from the lawman’s life, knows it’s up to him to investigate, to clear both the case and his conscience. VERDICT Despite a somewhat predictable setup, Hunsicker’s latest (The Grid) introduces a sympathetic hero who struggles with his own demons as much as he strives to solve the crime at hand.
Khan, Ausma Zehanat. Among the Ruins. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. (Rachel Getty & Esa Khattak, Bk. 3). Feb. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9781250096739. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250096753. M
In her provocative third mystery featuring Canadian policeman Esa Khattak (after The Language of Secrets), Khan sends her hero to Iran to investigate the murder of a female filmmaker. Esa, on leave from Toronto’s Community Policing Section after a fatal force incident, is in the Iranian city of Esfahan, first as a tourist and then as an official investigator, after he’s contacted by a group of dissidents who are upset over the death of Canadian Iranian documentary filmmaker Zahra Sobhani. Her film about the country’s 2009 election and its aftermath caused a media firestorm in Iran and led to Sobhani’s arrest, after which she was tortured and killed. As he becomes more immersed in investigating Sobhani’s murder, Esa’s partner in Toronto, Sgt. Rachel Getty, does her part to poke into the victim’s life in Canada. Esa, who originally traveled to Iran to soak up the ancient culture (he’s conveniently fluent in Farsi), is torn between stepping into the obvious hotbed of Iranian politics and enjoying the nation’s storied history. VERDICT Deeply political without becoming pedantic, Khan’s crime novel offers a fictionalized yet very real look at a region that is steeped in both beauty and misery. [See Prepub Alert, 8/15/16.]
Mackay, Malcolm. Every Night I Dream of Hell. Mulholland: Little, Brown. Apr. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9780316271776. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316271790. M
Though this Glasgow is as dark and dirty as the city he chronicled in his “Glasgow Trilogy” (The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter; The Sudden Arrival of Violence; How a Gunman Says Goodbye), Mackay takes a slightly different route with this latest stand-alone, though one that shares DNA with The Night the Rich Men Burned. For the first time, readers experience Glaswegian criminal life in the first person, namely Nate Colgan; him some Mackay fans may remember in the previous books as a “security consultant” for Peter Jamieson’s criminal organization. Except now Jamieson, and his right-hand man, John Young, are locked up, and Colgan, along with Jamieson’s trusted lieutenants, must keep the organization going and fend off unwanted advances from new guys looking to make a name for themselves. There’s trouble at home, too, when Zara Cope, the mother of Nate’s child, reappears and brings with her a whirlwind of drama. On the other side of the law—though the beauty of Mackay’s world is that nothing is ever so cut and dried—DI Michael Fisher is keen to bring down even more of the organization, although he’s got a bit of a thing for a certain Ms. Cope. VERDICT Mackay continues to ascend the ranks of hard-boiled British crime fiction authors. His latest novel, although unrelentingly dark, is streaked with black humor and a fast-paced plot that never sacrifices the truly fleshed-out characters,
Obregón, Nicolás. Blue Light Yokohama. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Mar. 2017. 416p. ISBN 9781250110480. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250110497. M
A detective with a troubled past plus a serial killer are often ingredients for a been-there-done-that thriller. Not so with Obregón’s tense, atmospheric Tokyo-set debut, which pulses with a dark energy all its own. Newly reinstated homicide cop Iwata is partnered with another inspector who makes it clear that she wants nothing to do with him (and neither does the Tokyo brass). Luckily, or not, the pair soon catch a gruesome case that requires their full attention: the murder of an entire family with ritualistic overtones, the particularly strange symbol of a black sun left at the crime scene. The victims had held a plethora of secrets, none of them good. A stalker had the teenage daughter in (presumably) his sights. The father was being harassed at work. And the killer isn’t done. Iwata suffers from his own private torment—from nightmares that plague the little sleep he gets—to the near-constant repetition of the titular song in his head. VERDICT This gritty story, in what will hopefully become a new series, has roots in American noir yet fully embraces its Japanese setting, establishing Obregón as a fresh, up-and-coming voice in crime fiction.
Ould, Chris. The Killing Bay: A Faroes Novel. Titan. Feb. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9781783297061. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781783297078. M
In Ould’s follow-up to 2016’s The Blood Strand, English detective Jan Reyná, born on the Danish-controlled Faroes Islands but raised in England, is back to solve crime in his native land. Working with Det. Hjalti Hentze, he investigates the murder of a newly arrived member of the Atlantic Wildlife Conservation Alliance. This group of outspoken activists was recently protesting the traditional Faroese whale hunt until the woman turned up dead. As in the first book, Reyná assists with the local investigation, especially since Hentze has family ties that place him unprofessionally close to the case. Reyná also continues to learn about the private ways of the Faroese people and the secrets they keep, many of which they do not share with outsiders. Although the activist victim’s actions were perhaps environmentally sound, they did not necessarily make her friends among the locals, leading to a plethora of suspects. VERDICT Ould’s strange, remote setting and the even stranger people make for an intriguing read, especially combined with a hero who is almost as prickly as his forefathers and yet manages to solve even the most complex crimes.
QUOTABLE “It was my turn to make that sad little life a little sadder. I threw him at the table. He hit it side-on and smacked into the magazines, sending them skidding off the table. He reached out and held on to the table because he thought that would help him. His legs had gotten drunk without him; he was wobbling. It was exactly what I wanted him to do, hold a position while I picked up a chair and smashed it against him. It was a dramatic move, smashing a chair against a guy, watching the legs fly off, but it didn’t do a whole lot of damage. An effective scare tactic. It also had the benefit of not having to throw a punch. No need to cut my own knuckles to make him hurt.”
Morton, Mandy. The No. 2 Feline Detective Agency: A Hettie Bagshot Mystery. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Mar. 2017. 272p. ISBN 9781250097835. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250097842. M
Enter a new breed of crime fighter: the four-legged variety, in this case, felines on the front lines of British crime fighting. Hettie Bagshot, founder and lead detective of the No. 2 Feline Detective Agency, ponders if chasing criminals is really for her, until she gets her first case. Furcross, a home for older cats, has been the victim of cat snatching, of the corpse variety. Hettie and her trusted right paw Tilly set out to Furcross to unveil the nefarious goings-on. Their first suspect is the taciturn Nurse Mogadon, who seems intent on involving the residents in a dangerous game. Hettie and Tilly make a point to investigate the hat department at Malkin & Sprinkle after a tipster informs them that deceased Furcross residents ended up there. As the kitty duo navigate the dastardly deeds at Furcross, Hettie considers just how many of her nine lives she’ll have to use on this case. VERDICT For fans of the British cozy, this series launch could be a welcome detour, as long as one suspends disbelief long enough to allow for feline crime solvers and the like.
Wallace, Auralee. Snowed in with Murder: An Otter Lake Mystery. St. Martin’s. Feb. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9781250077790. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466889958. M
In Wallace’s third Otter Lake installment (after Pumpkin Picking with Murder), family and romance come first—even in a snowstorm. Erica Bloom returns to New Hampshire to try things again with Sheriff Grady Forrester at her hippie mom’s island retreat. Despite an approaching blizzard, Erica discovers her mother has rented out the retreat to the odious Boatright brood, who are there to take part in what surely will not be one of America’s great television shows: Rich Bitches. An approaching Nor’easter and quality television are ingredients for murder, of course, and soon Mr. Boatright is no more, after perhaps prophetically announcing that one of his family members would kill him to get their hands on inheritance money sooner rather than later. Erica, with Sheriff Grady in tow, races to find the killer before he—or she—strikes again. VERDICT Despite its always pleasant lakeside setting, this work unfortunately fails to come together, with disparate story elements and side characters who seem to blow in and out of the narrative as quickly as the winter’s biting wind.
Arlen, Tessa. A Death by Any Other Name. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Mar. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9781250101426. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250101433. M
On the eve of World War I in England, roses are the name of the game, rather than the rising tension in Prussia, in Arlen’s third Lady Montfort outing (after Death Sits Down to Dinner). Along with her stalwart cook sidekick, Mrs. Jackson, Lady Montfort once again puts her detecting skills to use to solve the poisoning death of a member of the local amateur rose breeders society.
Chisholm, P.F. A Clash of Spheres: A Sir Robert Carey Mystery. Poisoned Pen. Apr. 2017. 300p. ISBN 9781464208287. $26.95; pap. ISBN 9781464208300. $15.95. M
In Chisholm’s eighth series entry (after A Chorus of Innocents), tensions run high in 1592 Britain. Still pining for his (married) love, Sir Robert Carey has finally secured his place as deputy warden at the Borders at Carlisle, though not without incurring some enemies. There are rumblings of Spanish plans for action in Scotland, and as the Elizabethan political machine grinds into high gear, with various royal members caught in the wheels, Sir Robert must stay out of the way.
Dobyns, Stephen. Saratoga Payback: A Charlie Bradshaw Mystery. Blue Rider. Mar. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9780399576577. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780399576584. M
Now that Charlie Bradshaw is a regular Saratoga civilian—the cops revoked his PI license—life is a little boring. But trouble won’t leave this senior citizen (not seen since 1998’s Saratoga Strongbox) alone, and in Dobyns’s 11th series installment, it literally turns up on Bradshaw’s front lawn in the form of a dead man, who is none other than Saratoga’s most annoying resident. Charlie’s crime-solving instincts run deep and even without the proper license, he starts poking around in the murder investigation.
Pattison, Eliot. Skeleton God: An Inspector Shan Tao Yun Mystery. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Mar. 2017. 320p. ISBN 9781250067623. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466876095. M
The past and the present collide in Pattison’s ninth Tibet-set Shan Tao Yun adventure (after Soul of the Fire). Now the constable of an isolated Tibetan town, Shan isn’t sure what surprises him most: the report of a nun being assaulted by ghosts or what he discovers at the scene. He soon realizes this politically charged case has tentacles reaching to the highest echelons of the Chinese government in Beijing and may be related to a Tibetan refugee program.
Tesh, Jane. Baby, Take a Bow. Poisoned Pen. (Grace St., Bk. 5). Apr. 2017. 294p. ISBN 9781464207969. $26.95; pap. ISBN 9781464207983. $15.95. M
North Carolina PI David Randall and his psychic sidekick Camden contend with a missing baby and surly ghosts in Tesh’s fifth book in the series (after Just You Wait). What seems like an open-and-shut case of a purloined newborn mushrooms into a run of investigations for Randall and Camden, whose talent for seeing the undead leads to a string of misadventures.
Haseldine, Jane. Duplicity: A Julia Gooden Mystery. Kensington. Apr. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9781496704078. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781496704085. M
Detroit crime reporter Julia Gooden returns in this sophomore novel from Haseldine (The Last Time She Saw Him). Still haunted by her brother’s long-ago disappearance and recovering from a series of agonizing ordeals that shook her family, Julia’s now covering the criminal trial of Nick Rossi. Her husband, David, an assistant district attorney, is at the helm of the case in which Rossi is charged with bribery and drug trafficking. At home, the couple struggle to save their marriage in the wake of an affair; their relationship is dicey at best. Meanwhile, Julia—independent, driven, and stubborn—doggedly pursues the Rossi case with the help of her ex, the affable Det. Raymond Navarro. When a bomb explodes at the courthouse, injuring her husband and literally killing the case against Rossi, Julia is thrown into another whirlwind of red herrings, political ambition, revenge, and danger. VERDICT Haseldine has a gift for atmosphere, setting, and suspense, and the many twists and turns will keep readers guessing. This will appeal to fans of the author’s first work, and those who appreciate crime-driven thrillers.
Hillerman, Anne. Song of the Lion: A Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito Novel. Harper. Apr. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9780062391902. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062391896. M
Last seen in Rock with Wings, Bernadette Manuelito, a Navajo police officer and Shiprock High School alum, is on the scene when a car bomb explodes in the school parking lot during a basketball game. A young man is killed, but was the intended victim really the car’s owner—a Navajo lawyer working as a mediator for a multimillion-dollar development planned at the Grand Canyon? As Officer Manuelito studies the evidence, her husband, Sgt. Jim Chee, has his hands full guarding mediator Palmer, who appears to be hiding information. Bernie discusses the case with retired lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, who is reminded of one of his cold cases that involved two small children on the reservation. As the facts present themselves, the case unwinds to reveal what appears to be a complicated paradigm of revenge against Palmer and his family. VERDICT Fans of Leaphorn, Chee, and Manuelito, characters created by the author’s father, Tony Hillerman, will savor this multilayered story of suspense, with its background of contemporary environmental vs. development issues. [See Prepub Alert, 10/17/16.]