Fiction from Beagle, Powers, Quinn, Wynn, and Debuter Mikulencak | Xpress Reviews

Week ending November 3, 2017

Beagle, Peter S. The Overneath. Tachyon. Nov. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9781616962692. pap. $15.95. FANTASY
In this latest collection from Beagle, readers will enjoy 13 stories, mostly reprints, including two pieces featuring Schmendrick, the magician from his most famous novel, The Last Unicorn. There are also stories about unicorns, such as the marvelous entry “The Story of Kao Yu,” which tells of an honorable Chinese judge who is aided in his decisions by the magical beast until he meets a beautiful thief. While most of these tales are fantasies in the dark fairy-tale vein, a few tip into horror, such as “The Very Nasty Aquarium,” about a cursed carving of a pirate that a woman buys to decorate her fish tank. The standout, “Trinity County, CA: You’ll Want To Come Again and We’ll Be Glad To See You!” tells of a county where drug growers and producers keep dragons as watchdogs.
Verdict
For fantasy fans, Beagle should be a staple, and while the anthology Mirror Kingdoms: The Best of Peter S. Beagle gathers many of the stories of his early career, this volume proves he is still creating plenty of great short fiction.—Megan M. McArdle, Lib. of Congress, National Lib. Svc. for the Blind & Physically Handicapped, Washington, DC

starred review starMikulencak, Mandy. The Last Suppers. John Scognamiglio: Kensington. Dec. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9781496710031. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781496710055. F
[DEBUT] Ginny Polk is the daughter of a murdered prison warden. One would think she would stay as far away from the incarcerated as possible, yet she works as the head cook at Louisiana’s Greenmount State Penitentiary. There, she shows compassion and a love for humanity as she meets with the families of death-row inmates to make sure she gets their last meals just right. No one who works at the prison thinks she should take the time to care about the condemned men, least of all Roscoe Simms, the current warden, her father’s best friend—and her lover. Set in the 1950s, the novel is full of the relevant themes of the day, including the treatment of prisoners, the death penalty, and the impartiality of trials.
Verdict Mikulencak’s debut is a haunting study of race relations, compassion, and mystery. A must read. [This title marks the launch of Kensington’s hardcover fiction imprint, John Scognamiglio Books.—Ed.]—Nanci Milone Hill, M.G. Parker Memorial Lib., Dracut, MA

Powers, Tim. Down and Out in Purgatory: The Collected Stories of Tim Powers. Baen. Nov. 2017. 496p. ISBN 9781481482790. $25. FANTASY
Among the few elements Powers repeatedly returns to in his works is time travel. A nice sample of his clever handling of the logistical difficulties of this trope are on display in this collection of stories, particularly in the marvelous “Salvage and Demolition.” Fans of Powers’s groundbreaking steampunk novel The Anubis Gates will enjoy “Nobody’s Home,” set in that world. Another element Powers uses are ghosts and people with secret knowledge of an unseen world, as shown with the World Fantasy Award (WFA) nominee “Night Moves.” Each story is helpfully framed by an introduction by the author, providing a sense of how he drew on events from his own life in Southern California and magically transformed them. The collection also includes several collaborations with James P. Blaylock, a fellow pioneer of the steampunk subgenre who, like Powers, was mentored by Philip K. Dick.
Verdict While Powers has won the WFA twice (for Last Call and Declare), many sf/fantasy fans might not be familiar with his books. For those readers, this collection should serve as a solid introduction to his style.—Megan M. McArdle, Lib. of Congress, National Lib. Svc. for the Blind & Physically Handicapped, Washington, DC

starred review starQuinn, Anthony J. Trespass: An Inspector Celcius Daly Mystery. Pegasus Crime. Nov. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9781681775500. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781681776026. MYS
Irish detective Celcius Daly is investigating the abduction of a young boy, the son of a colleague. The lad was snatched from his mother’s car by a group of travelers under investigation for various crimes on both sides of the Irish border. Daly suspects it has something to do with the boy’s father’s dodgy writing assignment undercover in the travelers’ community. His fellow officers are strangely standoffish and unwilling to help. Forced to confront the leader of the clan alone, Daly uncovers the secret to a long unsolved murder and learns more than he ever wanted to know about the lawlessness along the edgy borders of an Ireland still smarting from the Troubles. The end is shocking but thoroughly satisfying!
Verdict Irish crime novelist Quinn (Disappeared) is a writer to watch. His prose is careful, rich, dense, and full of Celtic edge, and Quinn’s insights into the world of the vagabond travelers adds much depth and atmosphere. Fans of Adrian McKinty and Stuart Neville will love it. Highly recommended.—Susan Clifford Braun, Bainbridge Island, WA

Wynn, Patricia. Whisper of Death. Pemberley. (Blue Satan Mystery, Bk. 6). Nov. 2017. 354p. ISBN 9781935421085. $29.95. MYS
The sixth entry (after Acts of Faith) in Wynn’s popular “Blue Satan” series takes up with Mrs. Kean chaperoning her cousin Mary around London and the country estate of Lord Hawkhurst. It is a volatile period, with King George I spending time in his duchy of Hanover, trying to negate the Russian threat that his countrymen dismiss as unlikely. Mrs. Kean, while trying to keep her young charge entertained, and prevent Mary’s mother from pushing her into an undesirable marriage with the already wedded Lord Wragby, worries about her own relationship with Viscount St. Mars, alias the highwayman Blue Satan. This meticulously researched story draws the reader along at a good pace, while continuing the character development that has been a strong part of this historical series. The central mystery—Who killed the loathsome Lord Wragby?—may become evident partway through the novel to those who have read the previous volume. Despite this, the well-developed plotlines keep the story interesting even for those readers who think they have identified the killer.
Verdict
This volume will be most welcomed by fans of the series. It does not stand very well on its own, as both the characters and parts of the story rely on the previous entries.—Pamela O’Sullivan, Coll. at Brockport Lib., SUNY

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