Fiction: Burke, Dev, Haig, Hammett, Harper, Hunt, Johnson, Olafsson, Plante, Reich, Sutton, Vaughan | Xpress Reviews

Week ending December 8, 2017

Burke, James Lee. Robicheaux. S. & S. Jan. 2018. 464p. ISBN 9781501176845. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781501176852. F
New Orleans cop Dave Robicheaux is a recovering alcoholic who struggles with his Vietnam War experiences and the death of his wife a year earlier. After a recent relapse at a local bar, Robicheaux confronts Dartez, the man who killed his wife in a car accident. Shortly thereafter, Dartez is murdered, and Robicheaux, who was one of the last people to see the man, soon becomes a suspect in the crime he was assigned to investigate. Meanwhile, a local woman is raped, and a hired assassin roams around the area, killing everyone he confronts. Robicheaux must work to clear his name as he collaborates with others to solve the crimes.
Verdict Two-time Edgar Award winner, recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts in fiction, and New York Times best seller Burke (Cadillac Jukebox; Light of the World) delivers another excellent thriller in the Robicheaux series that stands on its own. Readers of Robert B. Parker’s and Michael Connelly’s novels will enjoy the harrowed protagonist and the back-and-forth dialog.—Russell Michalak, Goldey-Beacom Coll. Lib., Wilmington, DE

starred review starDev, Sonali. A Distant Heart. Kensington. Dec. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9781496705761. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781496705778. F
Dev’s companion to A Change of Heart is set in the bustling city of Mumbai, India, where two longtime friends deal with heartache, both literal and figurative. Kimi was born into privilege, but all of her father’s wealth and her mother’s extreme religious devotion couldn’t protect her from ill health. Suffering from a weakened immune system, she lived in a plastic bubble, sheltered from the outside world, until a working-class boy named Rahul entered the household. Rahul had suffered great losses in life and closed his heart off from everyone. When Kimi receives a heart transplant, she is finally ready to pursue life—and Rahul, now a policeman. But then she is accosted by the man Rahul has been investigating for black market organ trafficking and murder. He asks where her heart came from and sets Kimi off on a quest for the truth. The narrative by both Kimi and Rahul shifts back and forth in time from their childhood to their present circumstances.
Verdict Dev crafts another thrilling story filled with intense drama, deep emotion, and well-developed characters; a can’t-put-down book.—Catherine Coyne, Mansfield P.L., MA

Emory, Teri. Second Acts. Amberjack. Sept. 2017. 342p. ISBN 9781944995317. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781944995348. F
[DEBUT] Sarah is getting by in life. Divorced, with a grown daughter, her position at a health-care marketing company in New York City provides her a living but not much extra for the overseas travel she would love to do. Miriam, breaker of hearts in her college days, fell in love but had her heart shattered and now lives a solitary existence with classic movies and teaching middle school as her passions. Beth thought she found the love of her life in Rome but came back to marry a banker. Despite Beth’s profession as a psychologist and her husband’s high-powered position on Wall Street, a family tragedy threatens to pull them apart. From their 20s to their 50s, these three women have relied on their close friendship to celebrate triumphs and recover from disasters. As Sarah, Miriam, and Beth face more change, their strong bond continues to support them through their struggles.
Verdict Emory’s solid women’s fiction debut features relatable and believable characters experiencing realistic story lines.—Joy Gunn, Paseo Verde Lib., Henderson, NV

Haig, Francesca. The Forever Ship. Gallery: S. & S. (Fire Sermon, Bk. 3). Dec. 2017. 400p. ISBN 9781476767208. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781476767253. SF
In the postapocalyptic future, babies are born only as twins: a perfect Alpha and a deformed Omega. Twins have the capacity to feel each other’s pain, even to the point of death.Treated as damaged or lesser beings, the Omegas are rounded up into refugee camps, or, worse, tanked in a dreamless state of suspended animation to protect their Alpha twins. Cass, an Omega seer, has fought her brother and the Alpha Council for years, destroying tanks and gathering intelligence for the resistance. In this final volume in Haig’s “Fire Sermon” trilogy (The Fire Sermon; The Map of Bones), Cass finds that the mythical Elsewhere exists and that the people there have solved the twinning issue. The Council will bomb Elsewhere in order to preserve the status quo and quash the rebellion. Cass’s powers as seer and the rebellion fighters are all that stand between a cure for her people or the destruction of another.
Verdict Haig’s prose is as eloquent and beautiful as ever as she brings her acclaimed series to a close. Her pacing is slow and steady, emphasizing relationships more than places or events. [See Prepub Alert, 6/25/17.]—Jennifer Funk, McKendree Univ. Lib., Lebanon, IL

Hamilton, Ed. Lords of the Schoolyard. Sagging Meniscus. Sept. 2017. 278p. ISBN 9781944697341. pap. $19.95. F
[DEBUT] This disturbing, powerful debut novel ushers readers into the nasty, brutish world of adolescent bullies—lords of the schoolyard. Set in 1970s suburbia, the novel explores the troubled friendship between two antisocial teenagers, Tommy and Johnny, who devote themselves entirely to tormenting their teachers and fellow high school students. Told in the first person, from the perspective of Tommy, the narrative generates great emotional and psychological intimacy. Readers are able to experience Tommy’s cruel, bored, narrowly circumscribed world firsthand, and Hamilton (The Chintz Age; Legends of the Chelsea Hotel) makes this a harrowing experience indeed. Although Tommy hails from a solid middle-class family, he does not appear to have any core beliefs or values. He doesn’t like school, he doesn’t respect his parents, he has no religious faith, he has no ambition or hobbies, and he does not have any work responsibilities around the house. The question Hamilton asks is an urgent one: Where do young men like this come from? Here he seeks to provide some provisional answers to this important question.
Verdict A compelling and timely novel; recommended for fans of literary fiction.—Patrick Sullivan, Manchester Community Coll., CT

Hammett, Dashiell. The Big Book of the Continental Op. Vintage. Nov. 2017. 752p. ed. by Richard Layman & Julie M. Rivett. ISBN 9780525432951. pap. $25. MYS
Hammett’s unnamed Continental Detective Agency Operative is a staple of the golden age of pulp mysteries. All but two of 28 individual stories as well as two serialized novels (Red Harvest and The Dain Curse) collected here were first published in Black Mask magazine between 1920 and 1930. Described as a “busy, middle aged detective” in the story “Arson Plus,” the Continental Op was an everyman, lacking the sophistication, ruthlessness, and sex appeal of other fictional detectives of the time. The stories range from the simple, nonviolent variety to longer, more complex plots featuring guns blazing and fists pounding. However, it is Hammett’s turn of phrase that sets these tales apart, such as “sharp-eyed, sharp-faced, with lips thin as knife-edges” in “The Big Knock-Over.” The selections here are organized by the Black Mask editors for whom Hammett wrote, with separate sections for each novel. Each section includes an introduction, and some feature letters written by the author in response to reader or editor comments.
Verdict This is the first anthology to feature all Continental Op writings, including several stories not readily available, and, as such, it is invaluable to pulp mystery aficionados and Hammett fans.—Edward Goldberg, Syosset P.L., NY

Harper, Molly. Sweet Tea and Sympathy. Gallery: S. & S. (Southern Eclectic, Bk. 1). Nov. 2017. 307p. ISBN 9781501151224. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 97815011511323. F
A shrimp allergy, an arrogant chef, and a flock of rabid flamingos didn’t help events planner Margot Cary’s greenhouse opening. Now the future is pretty bleak, as are her prospects for a new job, especially in her Chicago hometown. Could the phone call from her supposed Aunt Tootie be a prank or a genuine rescue from the family of her long-estranged father in Lake Sackett, GA? In truth, she hasn’t seen her father since she was three years old and her mother left their home for the Windy City. Her mother died a few years ago, and Margot is at a loss. Maybe regrouping with her dad’s quirky relatives at McCready’s Family Funeral Home and Bait Shop will give her time to reassess. The whole flamingo thing has to blow over eventually, right? And what kind of name is Tootie?
Verdict This sweet tale of the city girl finding a home in the country launches Harper’s (Accidental Sire) latest series and will go down as easy as honey on a deep-fried Twinkie.—Bette-Lee Fox, Library Journal

Hunt, Margot. Best Friends Forever. Mira: Harlequin. Jan. 2018. 336p. ISBN 9780778331131. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781488027970. F
Best friends Kat Grant and Alice Campbell first met during a particularly trying wait for a flight home. Several years have passed, and the two have very little in common, but they remain steadfast friends who share long lunches and weekends away. When Kat’s husband, Howard, falls to his death from the second-floor balcony of their mansion, police turn to the women for answers. But who is telling the truth? Hunt, the pseudonym of a best-selling author, jumps back in forth in time between important moments in the relationship of the two women and the present day, and it’s a testament to her writing that this never becomes confusing or slows the pace. Less successful is the dialog, which often feels rather clunky. Still, readers who love a good twisty ending will be thrilled by this one: it’s a doozy.
Verdict While not entirely successful here, Hunt gets enough right in her debut psychological thriller that readers will look forward to her next effort.—Liz Kirchhoff, Barrington Area Lib., IL

starred review starJohnson, Denis. The Largesse of the Sea Maiden. Random. Jan. 2018. 224p. ISBN 9780812988635. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780812988642. F
“This morning I was assailed by such sadness at the velocity of life,” the ad man protagonist of the title story states, and that sentence could serve as the epigraph of this powerful, haunting collection. Through the voices of characters as divergent as convicts, drug addicts, and college professors, Johnson explores themes of age, loss, and death. The title story is a suite of encounters with death and mystery. In “The Starlight of Idaho,” a paroled felon in rehab writes letters to significant people in his life, ranging from family members to the Pope and Satan—all as part of his therapy. In “Triumph over the Grave,” a creative writing professor juxtaposes his relationship with an elderly writer and that of another elderly man for whom he becomes caretaker. “Doppelgänger, Poltergeist” focuses on the relationship between a creative writing teacher and a brilliant young poet and the poet’s obsession with Elvis’s death.
Verdict The late Johnson writes here with rare understanding, compassion, and generosity of spirit. Elegiac, yet oddly hopeful, these stories represent a summation of hard lessons that in the end can only be called wisdom. A stunning valedictory from a writer who at age 67 left us too soon. [See Prepub Alert, 7/3/17.]—Lawrence Rungren, Andover, MA

Lyle, H.B. The Irregular. Quercus. Nov. 2017. 294p. ISBN 9781681440279. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781681440255. F
[DEBUT] Just when it seems that Sherlock Holmes–inspired books are old hat, along comes this thrill ride of espionage, conspiracy, murder, and, yes, even romance, set in 1909 London. Vernon Kell, head of War Office counterintelligence, needs to prove Britain is threatened by Germany to justify establishing a new secret service, but his agents are being killed off. His old chum Sherlock Holmes recommends Wiggins, former leader of the Baker Street Irregular street urchins. Wiggins, with his Holmesian deductive skills and street smarts, would be perfect to infiltrate a munitions factory to get evidence of German skullduggery, but he declines the job until his friend, policeman Bill Tyler, is killed in a robbery connected to Russian anarchists. Wiggins uses his undercover work to investigate the Russians unofficially, falling for beautiful, mysterious Bela in the process. As he races against time to find the anarchist leader, he dodges bullets, crosses, and double crosses.
Verdict Both fans of Sherlock Holmes and spy novels will enjoy this debut by a former screenwriter peppered with historical figures like Winston Churchill, especially when the ending hints of more adventures for the first British double 0 agent ever.—Barbara Clark-Greene, Westerly, RI

More Human than Human: Stories of Androids, Robots, and Manufactured Humanity. Night Shade: Skyhorse. Nov. 2017. 672p. ed. by Neil Clarke. ISBN 9781597809146. pap. $17.99; ebk. ISBN 9781597806183. SF
The central theme of this anthology is artificial intelligence (AI), which, it turns out, is a very broad term when interpreted by the prominent sf authors selected here. The strength of this book lies in the original and creative ways that writers like Jeff Vandermeer, Cory Doctorow, Catherynne M. Valente, and Elizabeth Bear tackle important issues surrounding AI. You won’t find slow, clunky robots clambering after petrified humans; instead, the collection features emotionally compelling and intellectually engaging stories that challenge traditional notions of AI and how we might interact with it in the future. Even as someone who reads in this genre often, this reviewer was pleasantly surprised at the unexpected ways the theme of artificial intelligence was integrated into these pieces.
Verdict Appropriate for young adult readers and up, with minimal violence and sexual content. Sf aficionados will want to add this volume to their reading list as it features many recognizable authors and a slew of captivating stories.—Matt Schirano, Univ. of Bridgeport Lib., CT

Olafsson, Olaf. One Station Away. Ecco: HarperCollins. Dec. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9780062677488. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062677501. F
Magnus, the narrator of this new novel, the fifth by the Icelandic author of Restoration, is a distinguished New York neurosurgeon. His area of research involves ways to communicate with comatose patients. Raised in England by his cold and difficult mother, Margaret, and his clueless father, Magnus still has trouble relating to people. He had finally found love with Malena, a beautiful Argentine dancer, but she is now lost to him. Now there is more parental drama. After a lifetime of failing to find success as a classical pianist, Margaret is on the verge of being rediscovered and receiving the acclaim she feels she deserves. And Magnus hopes that he is on the edge of a breakthrough with a new patient, an unidentified young woman who was left for dead after a terrible accident in New Mexico.
Verdict With cool Nordic reserve, Olafsson explores such timeless themes as love, its loss and its lack; the failure to communicate; and finding strength in adversity. Will either Magnus or his self-absorbed mother attain the success they seek? There is enough drama and suspense in this thoughtful and intelligent novel to keep the reader intrigued to the end.—Leslie Patterson, Rehoboth, MA

Plante, David. American Stranger. Delphinium. Jan. 2018. 256p. ISBN 9781883285739. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781504050128. F
Nancy Green, the daughter of German Jews who escaped Hitler, is trying to find meaning in her life. A graduate student in Boston, she meets Aaron Cohen, who is escaping his Hasidic heritage by becoming a monk. Her next love, Yvon Gendreau, is a young man of Franco-American background whose family history goes back to a time before the British came to America. When Yvon disappears, Nancy marries Tim Arbib, a Jewish refugee from Alexandria, Egypt, who lives in London. After her marriage fails, Nancy returns to New York still trying to make sense of her life and the lives of the men who have moved her.
Verdict Plante, whose novel Family was nominated for the National Book Award, is himself of Franco-American descent. He manages to capture the sense of disconnectedness that Nancy and her male friends experience as each struggles to define his or her identity in this riveting novel of wandering souls.—Andrea Kempf, formerly with Johnson Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, KS

Reich, Christopher. The Take. Mulholland: Little, Brown. Jan. 2018. 400p. ISBN 9780316342353. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780316342339. F
Best-selling author Reich (Invasion of Privacy) launches a new espionage thriller series featuring Simon Riske, whose former criminal skills now serve him well as a freelance industrial spy. By day he runs a business in London restoring luxury cars, while on the side he retrieves stolen property worth millions for insurance companies and unearths information for the British Secret Service. Riske prefers under-the-radar jobs, but then a CIA agent asks him to find a sensitive letter stolen by Tino Coluzzi during a daring robbery of a visiting Saudi prince in Paris. Coluzzi is a part of Riske’s past that he’d like to forget, but hunting down the man who set him up to go to prison is a job he can’t pass up. The chase leads him across France, with American, French, and Russian secret service agents on his tail and a growing realization that he can’t trust anyone—except maybe Parisian police detective Nikki Perez.
Verdict Reich’s stylish and action-packed thriller introduces an appealing new protagonist, a troubled youth with a criminal record who becomes a brilliant businessman and spy. Recommend to fans of Daniel Silva.—Melissa DeWild, Spring Lake Dist. Lib., MI

Sutton, Phoef. Colorado Boulevard: A Crush Novel. Prospect Park. Dec. 2017. 300p. ISBN 9781945551147. $24.95; pap. ISBN 9781945551154. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781945551161. MYS
K.C. Zerbe is under house arrest, with less than four months to go in his sentence, when he is kidnapped from the apartment he shares with his former stepbrother, Crush. The third in the series of Crush mysteries from Sutton (Heart Attack & Vine) is a quick, humorous read, with heavy doses of mistaken identity, family history, voice changers made to sound like Miley Cyrus, and Rose Parade floats. The mystery itself is a bit convoluted, with the kidnapping making way for a missing person case, and the backstory over the development of a high-speed railway seeming a bit tacked on. But as with many entertaining mysteries, the plot is beside the point; rather, the pleasure lies in hanging out with the quick-thinking Crush and his friends as well as taking in the Southern California scenery—from Lancaster’s Musical Road to the Pie ’n’ Burger restaurant.
Verdict With playful dialog and a streak of dark humor throughout, this title is perfect for fans of Elmore Leonard and Lee Child.—Julie Elliott, Indiana Univ. Lib., South Bend

starred review starVaughan, Sarah. Anatomy of a Scandal. Emily Bestler: Atria. Dec. 2017. 400p. ISBN 9781501172168. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781501172182. F
Sophie Whitehouse has the ideal life—a nice home, two children, and a loving marriage to James. James is a junior minister in the British Home Office and has been best friends with the prime minister since their Oxford days. Sophie’s life crumbles when James confesses to an affair with an aide, Olivia. Her world is further wrenched apart when James is arrested for rape. Olivia contends that their last encounter was not consensual. Prosecuting the case is Kate Woodcroft, a tough barrister who specializes in sex-based crimes. She is eager to convict James, but owing to his good looks and position in the government, she worries that he will be acquitted. Shifting between the present and the university days of James, Sophie, and a mysterious Holly, the novel gradually reveals how all the pieces fit together.
Verdict Less a thriller or a “ripped from the headlines” Law and Order episode, this book instead constructs a gripping courtroom drama that is also a compelling character study and a treatise on how our past shapes us. The author (The Art of Baking Blind) skillfully weaves issues of power, justice, consent, and privilege into this page-turner. Highly recommended.—Lynnanne Pearson, Skokie P.L., IL

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