Change is in the wind for this month’s column, as the new co-columnists Lesa Holstine and Ann Chambers Theis are combing their expertise and passion for the genre. They hope to build on the accomplishments of previous columnists and will continue to emphasize information useful to collection management and readers’ advisory librarians and readers who love a good mystery. The focus will be on works from small press and independent publishers, debut authors, key titles, under-the-radar releases, and books with buzz.
Lesa Holstine has worked in public libraries for over 40 years. She reviews books, specializing in crime fiction, on her blog Lesa’s Book Critiques, and won the Spinetingler Award for Best Reviewer in 2009 and 2010. Lesa is the author of “Mystery Fiction” in Genreflecting: A Guide to Popular Reading Interests, 7th ed. (Libraries Unlimited, 2013). She’s moderated mystery panels at the Tucson Festival of Books, reviewed women’s fiction for LJ, and mysteries for Mystery Readers’ Journal. She is the recipient of the 2011 Arizona Library Association Outstanding Service Award, and has chaired the Authors Programming for the Lee County Reading Festival (FL) for five years. She enjoys police procedurals, traditional mysteries, and discovering up-and-coming authors.
Ann Chambers Theis has spent most of her life working in bookstores or libraries and has managed public library collections in the Richmond Metro area for over 20 years. She is active in ALA and has served on numerous RUSA CODES and YALSA committees, most recently as chair of RUSA CODES 2017 Reading List Council. In addition to contributing the chapter “Adult Mysteries for Teens,” to Crossover Readers’ Advisory (Libraries Unlimited, 2016), Ann started the website overbooked.com in 1994, recently launching Overbooked: The Next Chapter. The winner of ALA’s Louis Shores Award, Ann is also the service person for Nyx, the eyeless library cat at Henrico County P.L., VA. Mystery has always been a favorite genre and her taste runs the gamut of subgenres with a special fondness for women sleuths and international crime fiction.
Debut of the Month
Kies, Thomas. Random Road: A Geneva Chase Mystery Poisoned Pen. May 2017. 318p. ISBN 9781464208003. $26.95; pap. ISBN 9781464208027. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781464208034. M
Reporter Geneva Chase has written hundreds of stories, but what brings her back to Sheffield, CT, and her hometown newspaper, isn’t a news piece, it’s her alcoholism. Yet this may be her chance at professional redemption, as she investigates one of the most grisly murder scenes of her career. Probing the brutal slaughter of six people at an exclusive gated community, the intrepid journalist also uncovers all kinds of secrets, from a young man whose father bribes a judge to let him off on a hit-and-run charge to a swingers’ club. At the same time, Geneva also tries to hide her drinking problem from the newsroom. A chance encounter at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting will change her life, but not before it’s jeopardized by her connecting the dots and tracking down a vicious killer. VERDICT Kies’s debut mystery introduces a reporter with a compelling voice, a damaged woman who recounts her own bittersweet story as she hunts down clues. This suspenseful story will appeal to readers who enjoy hard-nosed investigative reporters such as Brad Parks’s Carter Ross.
Check These Out
Ashworth, A.R. Souls of Men: An Elaine Hope Novel. Crooked Lane. Apr. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9781683311171. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781683311195. M
When the beaten and slashed body of a teenage girl is found, it isn’t long before London Metropolitan Police DCI Marcus Benford targets a suspect. Dr. Peter Willend was on the same bus as the victim, and followed her down the street. Although Elaine Hope doesn’t challenge her boss, she refuses to believe Willend is the killer. When Marcus collapses, Elaine is promoted to DCI and handed a bungled case that her superiors want solved quickly. Despite limited resources, she puts together a dedicated team when the body of a possible witness to the crime is found. The detectives carefully follow clues so as not to compromise a case that may have connections with extensive reach. But it’s Elaine and her associates who are soon in peril. VERDICT Ashworth’s solid British procedural debut will appeal to those who appreciate the step-by-step development of a case. Although the author could have fleshed out his characters more, that should come with time and more experience. A strong choice for fans of Deborah Crombie.
Chapman, Julia. Date with Death. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. (Dales Detective, Bk. 1). Apr. 2017. 384p. ISBN 9781250109361. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250109378. M
As the son of the local drunk, Samson O’Brien always felt like an outcast in his Yorkshire, England, village. No one knew why he left abruptly, but they haven’t forgiven him for not returning for the funeral of his best friend, Ryan Metcalfe, who was killed in Afghanistan. Now Samson’s home, setting up a private detective agency, and he’s unprepared for the punch in the jaw from Delilah Metcalfe, Ryan’s sister, when she learns that Samson is her new tenant. But as the owner of a struggling dating business, she is desperate for money and lets him stay. After the mother of an apparent suicide hires Samson to investigate her son’s death, Samson discovers a link to Delilah’s service, and the two team up to save the business and lives. What better way to do it than to use Samson as bait? The cozy-sounding title notwithstanding, this series launch by Chapman (a pen name for British author Julia Stagg) is an atmospheric traditional mystery with a vivid sense of place (there are light traces of Yorkshire dialect in the dialog) and spirited characters who drive the engaging plot. VERDICT Recommended for Julia Spencer-Fleming fans or those who appreciate complex mysteries set in English villages.
Cleeves, Ann. Cold Earth. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. (Shetland Island, Bk. 7). Apr. 2017. 400p. ISBN 9781250107381. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250107398. M
During the graveside service of his friend Magnus, Insp. Jimmy Perez (last seen in Thin Air) watches as a heavy storm initiates a mudslide that damages part of the cemetery, the main road, and an empty rental cottage. Jimmy checks out the cottage and discovers the body of a woman wearing a red silk dress. He’s determined to uncover her identity and solve her murder. The potential for the professional relationship between Jimmy and fellow detective Willow Reeves to become more personal will intrigue series regulars. VERDICT Plenty of suspects on a remote Scottish island mixed with the high quality of Cleeves’s prose make this a solidly plotted whodunit for procedural and traditional mystery readers. The Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) recently announced that Cleeves, a longtime advocate of libraries, is to receive the CWA Diamond Dagger, the highest honor in British crime writing. [See Prepub Alert, 10/17/16.]
Hockensmith, Steve with Lisa Falco. Give the Devil His Due: A Tarot Mystery. Midnight Ink. Apr. 2017. 360p. ISBN 9780738742243. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780738747507. M
Hockensmith (known also for his “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” novels and the award-winning Holmes on the Range), and tarot expert Falco, continue their quirky series featuring reformed con artist and tarot reader Alanis McLachlan. Alanis is still attempting to right the wrongs of her late con artist mother, who left Alanis the White Magic Five & Dime, in Berdache, AZ. As usual, danger is in the cards for Alanis when a customer dies shortly after an ominous reading, and the supposedly dead Biddle, a key figure from her past, turns up in Berdache with some unpleasant types on his trail. There is also the possibility of romance, but it isn’t clear if teacher Victor Castellanos or a dangerously attractive bad boy will have the better hand to play. As usual, Alanis is assisted in her crime fighting by her half sister Clarice and CeeCee, Clarice’s girlfriend. VERDICT The authors’ third outing (after Fool Me Once) is a diverting series title filled with eccentric protagonists and engaging banter, insights into the art of the grift, and tantalizing love interests. Apt to appeal to Jim Swain fans and lovers of Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg’s “Fox and Hare” series
Kasasian, M.R.C. The Secrets of Gaslight Lane: The Gower Street Detective. Pegasus Crime. Apr. 2017. 400p. ISBN 9781681773582. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781681773940. M
The unabashedly arrogant personal detective Sidney Grice, and his beleaguered ward, Miss March Middleton, are hired by a beautiful woman to solve the bloody locked-room death of her father in a house that was the scene of a notorious mass murder a decade ago. The relationship between the irascible and overly literal Sidney and independent and tetchy March continues to evolve, and Sidney’s delightfully strong-minded maid Molly, prone to malapropisms, plays a major part in this fourth adventure (after Death Descends on Saturn Villa) set in 1880s London. Verdict This distinctive historical series is highlighted by its atmospheric writing, quirky characters, droll wit, and macabre touches. A treat for series fans as well as crime fiction devotees who relish convoluted plotting, a bit of gore, and idiosyncratic humor.
Koutsakis, Pol. Athenian Blues. Bitter Lemon. Apr. 2017. 278p. tr. from Greek by Pol Koutsakis. ISBN 9781908524768. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781908524775. M
Stratos Gazis has been officially dead for years, but the 35-year-old hit man hides in plain sight in Greece as “a caretaker.” He only takes jobs in which the intended victim deserves to die. With his latest case, though, Stratos can’t decide who is lying—the model who wants her wealthy husband killed, or the lawyer husband who claims he’s trying to protect her. Stratos enlists his friends, including a police detective and a transgender sex worker, to help him discover the truth. If Stratos is going to take care of business, he’d better hit the right target. Like Jeffrey Siger with his “Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis” series (Santorini Caesars), Koutsakis, a Greek novelist now living in Australia, draws on the troubled Greek economy and current political situation as background for this violent and gritty mystery. VERDICT With a narrator on the wrong side of the law who admires film noir, this dark novel will attract fans of international crime fiction with an edge. Admirers of Lawrence Block’s “Hit Man” series may also want to try this book about a killer with a conscience.
McKinty, Adrian. Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly: A Detective Sean Duffy Novel. Seventh St: Prometheus. Mar. 2017. 320p. ISBN 9781633882591. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781633882607. M
Sean Duffy, a flawed but dogged and streetwise sleuth, is digging his own grave at gunpoint as the latest book in McKinty’s (Rain Dogs) series opens. He and his small team of police officers have been stymied since the moment they picked up the case of a Carrickfergus drug dealer killed by a crossbow. The man had paid off paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland. Why would someone kill him? Why did his wife disappear? Who wants to shut down Sean’s investigation? VERDICT This gritty mystery that explores violent conflict in Northern Ireland during the 1980s is the sixth book in McKinty’s series about the Irish “Troubles”; however, new readers can pick it up as a stand-alone. Perfect for Stuart Neville aficionados and police procedural buffs.
Simpson, Rosemary. What the Dead Leave Behind: A Guilded Age Mystery. Kensington. Apr. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9781496709080. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781496709103. M
The blizzard that hit New York City in March 1888 killed 200 people. Lawyer Charles Linwood is found frozen to death with a playing card, the ace of spades, clutched in his hand, and his head crushed by a branch. He and heiress Prudence MacKenzie were to marry in less than a month. With Charles dead, Prudence’s stepmother, Victoria, becomes the trustee of Prudence’s inheritance. After discovering Victoria trying to slip her laudanum, the intrepid Prudence pairs up with ex-Pinkerton agent Geoffrey Hunter, Charles’s old school friend, to investigate the woman’s past and find a way to escape her clutches. In their search for answers, they join forces with unusual allies: a hansom driver, a legal secretary, a former police officer with ties to the underworld and the old Confederacy, and a blind code breaker. VERDICT Launching an atmospheric new series set in Gilded Age New York, Simpson (The Seven Hills of Paradise) incorporates historical events and figures to add verisimilitude to this tension-filled story. Suggest for mystery readers who appreciate period detail, including fans of Anne Perry’s “Thomas and Charlotte Pitt” mysteries.
LoTempio,T.C. Purr M for Murder: A Cat Rescue Mystery. Crooked Lane. Mar. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9781683310921. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781683310938. M
Leaving behind her New York City advertising job and unfaithful fiancé, Sydney McCall returns to North Carolina to help her sister Kat run the Friendly Paws animal shelter. Sydney is adopted by one of the Friendly Paws cats, the charismatic, orange Toby the Wanderer. When wealthy landlord and curmudgeon Trowbridge Littleton threatens to shut down the Cat Café fundraiser and even the shelter itself, Kat and Sydney become suspects in Littleton’s death, stumbling upon his body in his art gallery. Sydney, a Nancy Drew fan, is ably assisted by the intuitive and adventurous Toby as they start sleuthing to identify the real culprit. Sydney’s high school friend Will, now a handsome homicide detective on the case, is conflicted by her involvement in the case. VERDICT The author of the “Nick and Nora Mysteries” launches an engaging series with a proactive, appealing sleuth. The (nontalking) Toby is sure to be a hit with cat lovers and cozy readers.
Orr, Jill. The Good Byline: A Riley Ellison Mystery. Prospect Park. Apr. 2017. 280p. ISBN 9781938849916. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781938849923. M
After her boyfriend dumped her, 24-year-old library assistant Riley “Bless-Her-Heart” Ellison developed a reputation for quirky behavior in her Virginia hometown, including obsessively reading the obituary pages. But deciding to turn over a new leaf, she joins a dating service and tries to reconnect with her childhood best friend, only to learn that Jordan has just committed suicide. When Riley is asked to write Jordan’s obituary, it stirs old memories of her late grandfather, the former obituary writer for the local newspaper; Riley had created a scene when she insisted that he had not killed himself. Now, she’s joining forces with an odd reporter who is convinced Jordan was murdered. Riley bumbles her way through the investigation as she plays amateur sleuth. VERDICT Orr’s debut mystery is a fun romp populated with peculiar characters. Recommend to new adult fans or admirers of Janet Evanovich’s “Stephanie Plum” capers.
Malliet, G.M. Devil’s Breath: A Max Tudor Mystery. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Apr. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9781250092786. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250092793. M
Max Tudor, the MI5 spy–turned–English vicar, is called back into service to investigate a death on a yacht. In his sixth outing (after The Haunted Season), Max must determine who killed an aging film star. Series readers may be disappointed at the lack of contact with Max’s wife and the gossipy villagers, but Agatha Christie fans will enjoy the locked-room mystery featuring a limited cast of characters. [See Prepub Alert, 10/17/16.]
Perry, Anne. Murder on the Serpentine: A Charlotte and Thomas Pitt Novel. Ballantine. Mar. 2017. 288p. ISBN 9780425284988. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780425284995. M
The 32nd book in the “Charlotte and Thomas Pitt” series (after Treachery at Lancaster Gate) brings the story of Perry’s Victorian sleuths to a close. Thomas, now Head of Special Branch, takes on a murder case for Queen Victoria. There’s a great deal of back history and foreshadowing in this finale. A new series will jump forward to 1910 and the next generation of Pitts. [See Prepub Alert, 9/19/16.]
Shelton, Paige. Of Books and Bagpipes: A Scottish Bookshop Mystery. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Apr. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9781250057495. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466861220. M
In her second Scottish outing (after The Cracked Spine), American Delaney Nichols is running an errand for her bookshop boss Edwin MacAlister to pick up a rare comic book, when she stumbles upon the body of the seller. Once again, she is on the trail of a crime in Edinburgh, with links to Edwin’s mysterious past. Shelton’s breezy cozy series may interest readers who enjoy Sheila Connolly’s “County Cork” mysteries.
Chang, Henry. Lucky. Soho Crime. Mar. 2017. 224p. ISBN 9781616957841. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616957858. M
Det. Jack Yu struggles between his loyalties formed growing up in New York’s Chinatown and his role as a police officer in the very same neighborhood. When he discovers that his ex-Chinatown blood brother “Lucky” Louie has woken up from his 88-day coma, he is determined to save his childhood friend. Jack views this miraculous recovery as a last chance for Lucky to enter witness protection and pleads with him to abandon his life of crime. Instead, Lucky is intent on executing a glorious payback to those who tried to kill him. The two old friends vie for dominance as redemption clashes with revenge and the body count grows higher. This fifth installment in the “Jack Yu” series (after Death Money) is set against an intriguing and fascinating backdrop in a section of New York rife with history. While it is possible to read this as a stand-alone, there are many references to past cases that seasoned followers will more easily understand. VERDICT The sparse writing infused with Chinatown culture will appeal to those who are drawn to noir mysteries with a rich cultural component.
QUOTABLE “Once they are in their graves, the dead can no longer speak to us. I don’t believe in ghostly communication, but I do think that what has been left behind can bear eloquent witness. If we know how to listen.”—