Fiction Reviews, October 15, 2011

Avery, Ellis. The Last Nude. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). Jan. 2012. c.320p. ISBN 9781594488139. $25.95. F
In 1927, bold and glamorous Polish artist Tamara de Lempicka encountered 17-year-old Rafaela while in Paris’s Bois de Boulogne and took her home, using her as a model for six significant paintings (including Beautiful Rafaela) and briefly becoming her lover. De Lempicka was working on a copy of Beautiful Rafaela when she died in 1980. Inspired by these bare facts, Avery (The Teahouse Fire) has crafted an evocative, heart-cutting work that imagines the relationship between artist and model. Traveling from New York to Italy for an arranged marriage, Rafaela escapes from her chaperone and, trad[ing] sex for a train ticket, heads for Paris. There she’s gloriously free but living on the edge; when de Lempicka finds her, she’s gone to borrow money from a street-walking friend. Avery does a lot for us here, creating two stunning characters‚ the earthy, heartfelt Rafaela and the conniving de Lempicka‚ then shows us both the heat of their relationship and the very act of creating art. In the bargain, we get Paris itself, particularly demimonde and artistic, boiling over with possibility. VERDICT Absorbing, affecting, and agitating‚ you’ll end up wanting to punch de Lempicka‚ this work is highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 7/5/11.]‚ Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

Buchanan, Edna. A Dark and Lonely Place. S. & S. Nov. 2011. c.416p. ISBN 9781439159170. $26. F
Buchanan, a former Miami Herald crime reporter well known for her hard-edged suspense novels (e.g., Legally Dead), deviates from her norm as she attempts to tell two stories of star-crossed lovers. In the early 1900s, John Ashley and Laura Upthegrove become folk heroes as they turn to a life of crime rivaling that of Bonnie and Clyde. In 2011, Miami detective John Ashley is enamored of beautiful model Laura, whom he swears he has met before, as he gets caught up in solving a complicated murder that reeks of police corruption. While Buchanan manages somewhat successfully to intertwine the stories, her attempts at local dialect are distracting (Ah see ’em, darlin’‚Äâ), and both love stories fall flat. The book’s saving grace? The intriguing historical details of the real John and Laura. VERDICT If you’re in the mood for a love story, look elsewhere. If you want a crime thriller, try one of Buchanan’s earlier titles. However, if you’re a fan of historical crime sagas reminiscent of Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City, give this one a shot. [See Prepub Alert, 5/23/11.]‚ Julie Pierce, Fort Myers-Lee Cty. P.L., FL

Cohen, William S. Blink of an Eye. Forge: Tor. Nov. 2011. c.368p. ISBN 9780765327642. $24.99. F
Set in the near future during an election year, Cohen’s second political thriller (after Dragon Fire) deals with the U.S. government’s response to a nuclear explosion that destroys a major Southern city. Weeks before the blast, during the final withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, terrorists, apparently Iranian, attacked an American amphibious transport. At the same time, a secret group of U.S. military and political figures conspired to bring about Armageddon by pressuring the President to wage war against Iran despite lack of proof of its involvement. Tasked with tracking down the culprits, national security adviser Sean Falcone must race against time to avoid catastrophe. VERDICT The effort to provide not only realistic but accurate detail about government bureaucracy, as might be expected by a former secretary of defense, bogs down and overwhelms Cohen’s plot. So many new characters are sketchily introduced that the reader needs a scorecard to keep them and the plot straight. The villains are a pale bunch, and the only real tension occurs near the conclusion. Still, this may appeal to those interested in how our government works. [See Prepub Alert, 6/13/11.]‚ Ron Terpening, Univ. of Arizona, Tucson

Ehrenreich, Ben. Ether. City Lights, dist. by Consortium. Oct. 2011. c.164p. ISBN 9780872865181. pap. $13.95. F
Imagine a world in which a cast of nameless characters wander a postapocalyptic landscape for reasons that are unclear at best, and you’ll end up with not only a metaphor for American politics but also a novel very much like this work by Ehrenreich (The Suitors). Set adrift in a burning world, this ragtag band of acolytes follow a man provisionally named The Stranger, a threadbare, vaguely Christlike figure who is endowed with no miraculous powers, only a drive to search for an object that is never explicitly named. Throughout, we are given intermittent glimpses into another character, an authorial presence who interacts with The Stranger until the close of the book, when his creation disappears into the pages of the novel. VERDICT This odd cross between Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian is full of captivating scenes, and the protagonist is interesting if puzzling. But the devices that Ehrenreich uses to create distance between the action and the reader leave the novel with an ungrounded feel. For adventuresome readers only.‚ Chris Pusateri, Jefferson Cty. P.L., Lakewood, CO

Emerson, Kate. Secrets of the Tudor Court: At the King’s Pleasure. Gallery: S. & S. Dec. 2011. c.384p. ISBN 9781439177822. pap. $16. F
In the fourth installment of her Tudor series (Pleasure Palace; Between Two Queens; By Royal Decree), Emerson focuses on Lady Anne Stafford, notorious for having an affair with both Henry VIII and his best friend, William Compton. Her novel follows Lady Anne as she tastes a bit of freedom as a widow until her independence is quickly squashed by her brother’s meddling. Condemned for adultery, Lady Anne is shoved into a convent and all but forgotten by her family and the royal court. Over time, she realizes that, despite the many friends who have sworn to protect her, she is the only one willing to fight for her freedom. VERDICT Emerson, who also pens a Scottish mystery series as Kaitlyn Dunnett, has written a wonderfully absorbing novel that is full of enough historical detail to satisfy even the most hard-core Tudor fan. Lady Anne is a well-chosen protagonist whose sensitivity, pure caring, and desire to do what she knows is right makes her easy for the reader to love. Emerson beautifully depicts the difficulty of living in a treacherous period in which one had to do what the king’s pleasure demanded, in spite of the risk of losing one’s head.‚ Audrey Johnson, Arlington, VA

Franklin-Willis, Amy. The Lost Saints of Tennessee. Atlantic Monthly. Feb. 2012. c.352p. ISBN 9780802120052. $25. F
In literature, the working-class Southerner is often overlooked in deference to the antebellum aristocrat or the outrageous redneck, but Franklin-Willis effectively ploughs this fertile field with the poignant story of Ezekiel Cooper, the smartest boy in his Tennessee high school class, who earns a full scholarship to the University of Virginia only to give it up to care for his mentally challenged twin brother. At 42, Zeke reviews the debilitating bonds of family loyalty and dysfunction that drive him‚ his anger with his mother for her ambitions and mistakes, resentment for having left school, guilt over his brother’s death and his failed marriage, crumbling relationships with his daughters, and his own depression and dim prospects for the future‚ and determines to do something about them. Taking his brother’s dog, Zeke finds refuge with his Virginia cousins and a chance at a redemptive future. VERDICT In her first novel, Franklin-Willis, winner of an Emerging Writers Grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation, plumbs the depths of family dynamics, compassionately depicting her characters as they struggle with situations over which they have no control. Fans of family fiction will easily identify with the characters and situations. [Eight-city tour; see Prepub Alert, 8/8/11.]‚ Thomas L. Kilpatrick, Southern Illinois Univ., Carbondale Lib.

Grafton, Sue. V is for Vengeance. Putnam. Nov. 2011. c.448p. ISBN 9780399157868. $27.95. F
Kinsey Millhone (U is for Undertow) doesn’t look the other way when she sees trouble, so when she spots a woman shoplifting, she immediately informs store authorities. This sets off a chain of events, as the woman is soon found dead of an apparent suicide. Her fiancé doesn’t believe she killed herself, and Kinsey’s quest to find the truth puts her on the trail of a major shoplifting ring. Grafton’s latest alphabetical mystery brings Kinsey into contact with a number of shady characters, from gangsters and gamblers to unhappy and unfaithful spouses. VERDICT Kinsey plays a smaller role in this story, which may not please some of her many fans, but Grafton’s pioneering sleuth is as clever and witty as ever. [See Prepub Alert, 5/2/11.]‚ Linda Oliver, Colorado Springs

Johnson, Allan G. Nothing Left to Lose. Plain View. Oct. 2011. c.290p. ISBN 9781935514954. $27.95; pap. ISBN 9781935514947. $18.95. F
Set in the late 1960s, Johnson’s (The First Thing and the Last) second novel is not so much a war novel as a story about the effects of war, both on soldiers and on those around them. William Carson is a history teacher and a World War II veteran still suffering nightmares from his combat experiences. His older son, Joshua, is a marine in Vietnam, and the younger, Andrew, is about to graduate from college and receive his army commission. When Joshua is reported missing in action, family wounds are opened, threatening William’s relationships with his wife and Andrew. Occasionally the characters seem like symbols rather than real people, but Johnson provides fascinating insights into issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder and grief. VERDICT This novel should appeal to those who like their families, as Tolstoy wrote in Anna Karenina, unhappy in their own way. Book clubs will find plenty to discuss with all the issues raised.‚ Dan Forrest, Western Kentucky Univ., Bowling Green

Mallon, Thomas. Watergate. Pantheon. Feb. 2012. c.448p. ISBN 9780307378729. $27.95. F
If ever a historical event was worthy of a comic novel, it’s Watergate, and Mallon, with several outstanding historical novels to his credit (most recently, Fellow Travelers), has the skills to write it. What a cast of characters we meet! Ex-spy G. Gordon Liddy is nearly certifiable; his colleague H. Howard Hunt’s hold on reality seems equally tenuous at times. Around them floats a cast of clowns and self-serving creeps who make the familiar story a veritable opera buffa. At the top, clinging desperately to his fading political success, is Nixon, a complicated man who can’t understand why people don’t trust him. Events unfold through the perspectives of six characters: Republican Party fixer Fred LaRue; ex-spook Hunt; 90-year-old society madam Alice Roosevelt Longworth; Nixon’s doggedly loyal secretary, Rose Woods; Nixon himself; and his wife, Pat, who comes across as far from the plastic Barbie Doll she’s usually portrayed to be. There are no surprise revelations here, but Mallon writes with such swagger that it all seems new again. VERDICT A sure winner, for its subject and Mallon’s proven track record as a historical novelist, and because it’s good. [See Prepub Alert, 8/15/11.] David Keymer, Modesto CA

Mikalatos, Matt. Night of the Living Dead Christian. SaltRiver: Tyndale House. Oct. 2011. c.288p. ISBN 9781414338804. pap. $14.99. F
In the allegorical sequel to Imaginary Jesus, Mikalatos, the author and main character, discovers the monsters lurking within his neighborhood as he meets his neighbors and questions what makes a monster and what makes a Christian. From a late-night encounter with a mad scientist and his robotic henchman to a zombie stampede to meeting a werewolf, Matt’s self-contained world explodes as he tries to reconcile his theology with new knowledge. When the werewolf, Luther Martin, asks for Matt’s help in becoming Christian and shedding the monster within, Matt embarks on a quest to help his new friend regain his humanity before a rabid werewolf hunter destroys Luther. Their quest takes them to a church where the zombie followers have experienced a partial resurrection, caught up in the trappings of religion, with no free will. Then they visit another neighbor, a former vampire, who gives them hope the monster can be defeated but also warns that people don’t always recognize the monsters within. VERDICT C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters meets the current obsession with para normal creatures in this thought-provoking quest for individual belief and truth within the framework of society as a whole. For collections where Imaginary Jesus proved popular.‚ Melanie C. Duncan, Shurling Lib., Macon, GA

Moore, Liz. Heft. Norton. Jan. 2012. c.384p. ISBN 9780393081503. $24.95. F
Morbidly obese, 58-year-old shut-in Arthur Opp’s only real contact with the outside world comes through his extended written correspondence with fellow misfit and former student Charlene Turner, 20 years his junior. When Arthur thinks Charlene might come back into his life, he finds the courage to let a cleaning service into his home and slowly befriends 19-year-old maid Yolanda. The novel alternates between the voices of Arthur and Charlene’s 18-year-old son, Kel, though the two have never met and are unaware of each other. A popular and athletic teen on the surface, Kel is saddled with responsibility, and his tenuous self-sufficiency begins to crumble under the weight of his mother’s descent into illness and alcoholism. At the beginning, all of the characters are alone and apart, burdened by secrets. But over the course of the novel they come to learn that we can build new families when our own don’t suffice. VERDICT Moore’s lovely novel (after The Words of Every Song) is about overcoming shame and loneliness and learning to connect. It is life-affirming but never sappy.‚ Lauren Gilbert, Sachem P.L., Holbrook, NY

Penney, Stef. The Invisible Ones. Putnam. Jan. 2012. c.400p. ISBN 9780399157714. $25.95. F
Penney’s Costa Award‚ winning debut, The Tenderness of Wolves, offers edge-of-civilization suspense in Canada’s Northern Territory in the 1860s. Set in 1980s England, her new novel might seem like a departure, but it’s not; here Penney probes the edge-of-civilization otherness of England’s Romany (or Gypsies) while presenting a mystery rooted in the stranglehold of family. As the novel opens, Det. Ray Lovell gets a visit from Leon Wood, a Gypsy whose daughter, Rose, went missing years ago after marrying into the Janko family. Since Lovell has Gypsy roots, he’s the only investigator Wood trusts. Trying to breach the silence surrounding Rose’s disappearance, Lovell goes up against the entire Janko clan, including patriarch Tener; Tener’s son Ivo, husband to Rose and father to Christo, who’s languishing from an inherited disease that has killed off much of the family; Sandra, Ivo’s cousin and the mother of JJ; and JJ himself, who’s 14, smart, and the family’s bridge to the outer world. Told alternately from Lovell’s and JJ’s perspectives, the story ends with a bone-rattling surprise that conveys how much the Jankos have endured. VERDICT Another stunner from Penney; highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 7/5/11.]‚ Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

Rash, Ron. The Cove. Ecco: HarperCollins. Apr. 2012. c.272p. ISBN 9780061804199. $25.99. F
In this haunting, powerfully moving novel, set in the rural backwoods of North Carolina near the end of World War I, Rash returns to the Appalachian byways that figure in much of his highly acclaimed fiction (e.g., Serena; One Foot in Eden). At the center of this novel is an isolated piece of farmland that everyone in town believes is cursed. The pain and violence evident here are caused not by a curse, however, but by human cruelty. Ostracized and lonely, Laurel Shelton lives on the farm with her brother, newly returned from war. Then a stranger appears, mute but carrying a silver flute, and Laurel seems finally to have found love. But their happiness is tragically short-lived. VERDICT Rash develops his story masterfully; the large cast of characters is superbly realized, as is the xenophobia that accompanies the war, and Rash brings the various narrative threads together at the conclusion of the novel with formidable strength and pathos. Essential for fans of literary fiction.‚ Patrick Sullivan, Manchester Community Coll., CT

Russell, Paul. The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov. Cleis Pr. Nov. 2011. c.376p. ISBN 9781573447195. pap. $16.95. F
In this meticulously researched novel, Russell (The Salt Point), named a Granta Best Young Novelist, reimagines the life of Sergey Nabokov, the gay narrator and younger brother of the great writer Vladimir. We catch our first glimpse of the brothers and their affluent family in prerevolutionary St. Petersburg, Russia. Vladimir comes across as an insufferable egotist who doesn’t scruple to make his younger brother’s life miserable. After the Russian Revolution, the author follows the Nabokov brothers as they escape from the Bolshevik regime to Cambridge, then, eventually, Sergey settles in Paris. In the French capital, the younger Nabokov lives close to the bone but comes to mix with many of the luminaries of the day: Diaghilev, Picasso, Stravinsky, and, most notably, Cocteau. The novel’s present, from which it flashes back to the narrator’s earlier life, is wartime Berlin 1943, where Sergey, having found work in the Reich’s Propaganda Ministry, lives in fear that every moment may be his last because of his sexual orientation. VERDICT A story that will make you laugh and smile then breaks your heart, this is a rich tapestry of the human condition. Highly recommended.‚ Edward Cone, New York

Shapiro, Alan. Broadway Baby. Algonquin. Jan. 2012. c.272p. ISBN 9781565129832. pap. $13.95. F
In his first novel, award-winning poet Shapiro (Tantalus in Love) offers an endearing, witty, and heart-warming take on family life‚ specifically on how dreams and reality do not always coincide. Miriam Bluestein grows up in a fractured Jewish family, living with her grandparents and having only limited contact with her exotic and mysterious mother. Her father, a peripheral figure, makes the occasional, shy visit as well. Miriam spends most of her time dreaming of one day finding fame on the stage but instead is saddled with a not always understanding husband and three frustrated children. She ends up trying to realize her dreams by becoming an overbearing stage mom to Ethan, her only child to show any real promise for the theater. VERDICT Equally sad and laugh-out-loud funny and boasting a cast of vibrant characters, this book is sure to hit a nerve with readers, no matter what their background. Readers will find themselves alternately rooting for Miriam and for her much-suffering family members. Sure to be a favorite.‚ Leann Restaino, Girard, OH

Smith, Mark Allen. The Inquisitor. Holt. Jan. 2012. c.336p. ISBN 9780805094268. $27. F
Geiger has an innate ability that is immeasurably useful in his business, euphemistically called information retrieval. Called The Inquisitor by his clients, Geiger is a torturer with an intimate understanding of pain. One of his few rules is that he won’t work with children, so when 12-year-old Ezra Matheson is delivered to him from a client who’s after Ezra’s father, Geiger stuns his partner, ex-journalist Harry Boddicker, by attacking the client and taking the boy for safekeeping. This launches an adrenaline- fueled cat-and-mouse game between Geiger and his limited resources and the client, whose power and reach he may have underestimated. VERDICT With some detailed accounts of torture by Geiger and his competitor, Dalton (whose work is less elegant), this is not for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach. But Geiger, who’s seeing a psychiatrist and suffers disabling migraines, is a fascinating protagonist with a revealing backstory. A compelling debut thriller that blurs the lines between the good and bad guys. [See Prepub Alert, 7/18/11.]‚ Michele Leber, Arlington, VA

Stein, Leigh. The Fallback Plan. Melville House. Jan. 2012. c.208p. ISBN 9781612190426. pap. $14.95. F
A new genre has emerged in current popular culture of slacker stories about twenty somethings‚ mostly young men‚ who lack any ambition beyond channel surfing, playing video games, and staying stoned. Stein’s debut joins this trend with the story of Esther Kohler, a recent college graduate with no job prospects and no fallback plan beyond moving into her parents’ guest room. After weeks of hanging out with friends who are even more lost than she is, Esther is pushed into accepting a babysitting job. Spending time with a four-year-old is within her skill range, but she’s out of her depth with the parents, who are grieving the loss of a baby. VERDICT Esther’s initial lethargy is so complete readers may wonder why they should bother to keep turning the pages. If they do, they will be rewarded with a graceful twist of redemption. The mix of self-absorption, depression, and grief does not always sit well together, but Stein makes the final chapters work.‚ Jan Blodgett, Davidson, NC

Steinbeck, Thomas. The Silver Lotus. Counterpoint. Nov. 2011. c.368p. ISBN 9781582437781. $25. F
Steinbeck (Down to a Soundless Sea; In the Shadow of the Cypress), son of the Nobel laureate, brings high-sea adventure to life in this historical novel set in the late 1800s. Captain Hammond is a dashing, wealthy American master of a profitable trading ship. After rescuing an influential Chinese merchant and his family, Hammond wins the love of the merchant’s daughter‚ the beautiful, intelligent Silver Lotus. Thus starts a tale of love and generosity unsurpassed. Where Romeo and Juliet had a selfish, inward love, the Silver Lotus and Hammond outwardly express their love through compassion toward others. Steinbeck intricately details their lives together and the Silver Lotus’s unique intellect and uncanny perception. VERDICT Embracing romance, coming-of-age, adventure, and historical fiction, this novel will easily delight fans of these genres. It will also appeal to American literature lovers and loyal readers of the venerable John Steinbeck.‚ Jennifer Funk, McKendree Univ., Lebanon, IL

Stevens, Taylor. The Innocent: A Vanessa Michael Munroe Novel. Crown. Dec. 2011. c.336p. ISBN 9780307717122. $24. F
Even the devil can cite scripture. Stevens’s follow-up to the best-selling The Informationist finds her tough protagonist in the midst of trying to chase away her personal demon when she is asked by a friend to find a missing child. Logan and Charity were raised in and escaped from the nomadic cult The Chosen. Eight years ago, Charity’s five-year-old daughter, Hannah, was kidnapped by this same cult. Now they have their first solid lead that Hannah may be in Buenos Aires. Munroe, recalling her own horrific childhood, agrees to infiltrate The Chosen and rescue Hannah. But will she be too late? VERDICT Part Lisbeth Salander, part Jason Bourne, Munroe comes out swinging hard again. Hannah’s story will touch readers as Stevens, herself a religious cult survivor, weaves some of her own painful childhood experiences into a gritty, suspenseful novel. Recommended for action thriller fans as well as for readers interested in kidnapping and cult stories.‚ Susan O. Moritz, Montgomery Cty. P.L., MD

Umrigar, Thrity. The World We Found. Harper: HarperCollins. Jan. 2012. c.320p. ISBN 9780061938344. $25.99. F
The bad news arrives over the long-distance line bridging the United States and India. Laleh’s dearest friend, not yet 50, is coping with a fatal diagnosis. Eschewing debilitating treatments, to the chagrin of her daughter Diane and former husband Richard, the clear-eyed Armaiti nurses one desire: to revisit those heady student days when she, Laleh, Kavita, and Nishta were inseparable activists, marching, protesting, and speaking out for a new India. But over the ensuing years life has gotten in the way of the revolution. Kavita, a renowned architect, has embraced her once hidden sexual orientation, while Nishta’s increasingly fundamentalist husband, Iqbal, has buried her personhood beneath a burka. The invitation to America acts as a catalyst, propelling the story forward as the three friends reconnect, reminisce, and contemplate the vagaries of life that will take them to Armaiti’s door. VERDICT From the first sentence of this insightful novel, Umrigar (The Space Between Us; The Weight of Heaven) will enthrall readers with her deft portrayal of the depth of women’s friendships, the many facets of love, and the oh-so-human conundrum‚ whether to live with one’s choices or walk away. Oprah would love this book, and so will your patrons. Buy multiples. [See Prepub Alert, 7/25/11.]‚ Sally Bissell, Lee Cty. Lib. Syst. Ft. Myers, FL

Short stories

Almond, Steve. God Bless America: Stories. Oct. 2011. 224p. ISBN 9780984592234. pap. $17.95. F
Almond (Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America) grabs the reader right away in this collection of 13 linked stories about the hapless, the hopeless, and the helpless in the land of opportunists. The result is a comic masterpiece about clueless Billy Clamm’s surprise adventures as a tour guide with Sammy Duck Land and Sea Tours in Boston. In Donkey Greedy, Donkey Gets Punched, professional poker player Gary Sharpe gets in a showdown with his psychiatrist, who has a secret gambling habit himself. In another story, a Jewish college student finds more than he bargained for when he joins his girlfriend for a very nontraditional family Christmas. Other stories take a much darker, sadder turn, so that by the end of the book one longs for a little more of the author’s zany humor. VERDICT Almond’s deft touch with both comedy and tragedy make this a memorable and well-crafted collection.‚ Leslie Patterson, Rehoboth, MA

Oates, Joyce Carol. The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares. Mysterious Pr: Grove/Atlantic. Nov. 2011. c.368p. ISBN 9780802126023. $24. F
Oates’s latest collection features six previously published stories and the debut of a new tale, Helping Hands. The title novella revolves around the kidnapping of 11-year-old Marissa by her classmates. In chilling detail, Oates examines the mindset of not only Marissa’s single mother, who was out late with a man, but also the kidnapping’s mastermind, who is obsessed with the Indian legend of the Corn Maiden in which a young girl is sacrificed to ensure a good crop, and the teacher who is implicated in Marissa’s disappearance. Two stories, The Death Cup and Fossil Figures, involve twin brothers and how their lives are inextricably linked. VERDICT Psychologically compelling and disturbing, this volume is a strong addition to Oates’s vast body of work. Short story readers and Oates fans will enjoy it. [See Prepub Alert, 5/9/11.]‚ Kristen Stewart, Brazoria Cty. Lib. Syst., Pearland, TX


Bradley, Alan. I Am Half-Sick of Shadows: A Flavia de Luce Novel. Delacorte. Nov. 2011. c.320p. ISBN 9780385344012. $23. M
England’s most famous 11-year-old sleuth returns in Bradley’s much anticipated fourth novel (after A Red Herring Without Mustard). It is Christmas, and Colonel de Luce, faced with impending bankruptcy, has agreed to rent the family estate out to a British film studio. The whole village is agog with the arrival of Phyllis Wyvern, famous beauty and film star. Flavia, however, is preoccupied with plans of her own. Ophelia and Daphne, her vile older sisters, have told her the shocking news that Father Christmas doesn’t exist. Intent on capturing the jolly old elf herself, she turns to her savage passion for chemistry for inspiration. But murder and mayhem have a way of following our impish heroine, and soon Flavia is presented with a crime to puzzle out. VERDICT This is a delightful read through and through. We find in Flavia an incorrigible and wholly lovable detective; from her chemical experiments in her sanctum sanctorum to her outrage at the idiocy of the adult world, she is unequaled. Charming as a stand-alone novel and a guaranteed smash with series followers. [See Prepub Alert, 5/2/11.]‚ Amy Nolan, St. Joseph P.L., MI

Hart, Ellen. The Lost Women of Lost Lake: A Jane Lawless Mystery. Minotaur: St. Martin’s.
Oct. 2011. c.320p. ISBN 9780312614775. $25.99. M
Lesbian restaurateur Jane Lawless’s ( The Cruel Ever After ) vacation plans are disrupted when friends Jill and Tessa need her sleuthing skills to figure out why a stranger is asking questions around the little resort town of Lost Lake. Turns out Tessa made bad choices during the turmoil of 1968 Chicago, and someone dearly wants revenge. Jane might be an amateur sleuth, but her tenacity gets her to the bottom of the case. A secondary plot featuring teens provides a haunting contrast to Tessa’s dilemma as well. VERDICT This engrossing, thought-provoking entry by a Lambda and Minnesota Book Award winner proves that long-running series don’t have to lose steam. Hart makes it easy for newcomers to jump in, and regular followers of this series will be glad to see what Jane decides to tell retired detective friend Nolan at the book’s conclusion. Topically, consider pairing with Libby Fischer Hellmann’s Set the Night on Fire . ‚ Terry Jacobsen, Fairfield, CA

Vargas, Fred. An Uncertain Place: A Commissaire Adamsberg Mystery. Penguin. Nov. 2011. c.408p. tr. from French by Si√¢n Reynolds. ISBN 9780143120049. pap. $15. M
In London for a police conference, Commissaire Adamsberg ( This Night’s Foul Work ) and his colleague Commandant Danglard join a Scotland Yard call to Highgate Cemetery; nine pairs of shoes with severed feet inside have been discovered at its entrance. Back in Paris a few days later, Adamsberg is called to a gruesome crime scene in which the victim has been dismembered and pulverized. Could this be related to the mysterious feet in London? A connection is soon found that leads the commissaire to Serbia and a centuries-old family feud involving vampires. Along the way, the introspective and intuitive Adamsberg helps deliver kittens, receives surprising news about his past, and learns to appreciate Serbian cuisine. As with her five previous mysteries, Vargas here explores humanity’s devilish side, mixing bizarre, surreal crimes and a creepy atmosphere with well-drawn, idiosyncratic characters and lots of humor. How can you resist a crime squad that keeps a stash of wine in the office? VERDICT A nice Gallic counterpart to Christopher Fowler’s very English Peculiar Crimes Unit series, which also hints at the supernatural and stars eccentric sleuths. Readers should suspend their dis belief at Vargas’s dizzying array of plot twists and coincidences and just enjoy the roller-coaster ride. Great fun! ‚ Wilda Williams, Library Journal