Xpress Reviews: Fiction | First Look at New Books, May 17, 2013

Week ending May 17, 2013

Brackmann, Lisa. Hour of the Rat. Soho Crime. Jun. 2013. 384p. ISBN 9781616952341. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781616952358. F
Imagine you are only 27 and have already survived the Iraq War, a jerk of an ex-husband, a busted-up leg, and, to top it all off, the Chinese Secret Service is keeping tabs on you. Meet Ellie McEnroe. She lives in China, which allows her to groom her career as an art dealer for Chinese political artists. The problem is the DSD, or the Chinese FBI, is out to interrogate her about some of her clients. It’s time to move along, and Ellie heads to the famous tourist destination of Yangshuo to help a war buddy track down his brother. Hence begins a wild trip through China as Ellie tries to find said brother and stay out of trouble herself.
Verdict Brackmann, author of the well-received Rock Paper Tiger and The Getaway, has crafted another fresh crime novel for hard-core fans who like reads that are slightly off-kilter and don’t quite follow genre conventions.—Robin Nesbitt, Columbus Metropolitan Lib., OH

starred review starBrown, Dan. Inferno. Doubleday. May 2013. 463p. ISBN 9780385537858. $29.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385537865. F
Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Angels and Demons; The Da Vinci Code; The Lost Symbol) returns in another thriller that invokes history, architecture, science, and conspiracy. Langdon wakes up in a hospital bed with no memory of the last two days. He’s surprised to find himself in Florence, Italy, and even more shocked to discover that someone is out to kill him for something he knows. The doctor treating him helps him to escape from an assassin, and the chase is on. Can Langdon follow clues that tie in to Dante’s epic masterpiece, The Divine Comedy, and stop a plot destined to change the world forever?
Verdict Brown delivers an amazing and intense read that arguably is the best Langdon thriller to date. Everything a reader expects from Brown is here, plus a well-written thriller with jaw-dropping twists as well. A high demand for the works of Dante plus a surge in Italian tourism is sure to follow. The king of the historical thriller is back, and this book will easily dominate the best sellers lists for quite some time. [See Prepub Alert, 1/15/13.]—Jeff Ayers, Seattle P.L.

Elliott, Scott. Temple Grove. Univ. of Washington. May 2013. 240p. ISBN 9780295992808. $28.95. F
Paying homage to Washington State ecology, history, and Native American culture, Elliott (creative writing and English, Whitman Coll.; Coiled in the Heart) joins the ranks of Jim Lynch, Jonathan Evison, Tim Egan, and Annie Dillard. Like these accomplished authors, Elliott shows a reverence for the state’s rugged physical beauty, using poetic language to convey its appeal and connection to each of the novel’s principal characters. Trace is a Makah woman living off-reservation who feels the pull of her homeland. Her teenage son Paul has always felt most comfortable in the woods. His mentor, Dan Kelsoe, is an old-school ecoterrorist in disguise as a forest ranger. Together, they conceive a plan to protect the Temple Grove, a stand of old-growth Douglas firs. At odds with them is Bill Newton, a gyppo logger (nonunion lumberjack) desperately trying to make a buck. Elliott crafts a compelling chase as the FBI get involved, marred only by the occasional use of ostentatious vocabulary such as “the sun would enfilade the fog with god light” and “an icy, katabatic wind.” Those who are unfamiliar with the Pacific Northwest will not mind a few long-winded explanatory paragraphs, and Washingtonians may delight in recognizing so many local names and places.
Verdict Elliott provides a worthwhile exploration of the conflicting interests of tradition, commerce, and the environment. A good choice for readers interested in ecofiction and regional literature.—Christine Perkins, Whatcom Cty. Lib. Syst., Bellingham, WA

Mark, David. Original Skin. Blue Rider: Penguin Group (USA). May 2013. 448p. ISBN 9780399158650. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101621110. F
Crime statistics in the northern English port of Hull are exploding as members of a rival gang take over the local Vietnamese gang’s cannabis industry and leave tortured victims in their wake. Stopping the violence and decreasing the crime statistics is a priority for DS Aector McAvoy’s Serious and Organized Crime Unit. However, when he downloads the memory card of a cell phone found by the river onto his computer, McAvoy becomes drawn into the strange death of a young tattooed man. The young man was involved in the area’s underground erotic scene, and McAvoy’s intuition tells him that something is not right with his apparent suicide. When his superior officer is attacked by two Rottweilers and sidelined while questioning a suspect in the gang case, McAvoy takes the opportunity to do a little investigating of the tattooed man’s death, discovering that he might not have been the killer’s only victim.
Verdict Equally good read as a stand-alone or as the second in a series (after the acclaimed The Dark Winter), Mark’s fast-paced police procedural featuring a likable and compelling main character is sure to keep fans of dark UK crime fiction entertained.—Lisa O’Hara, Univ. of Manitoba Libs., Winnipeg

O’Shea, Dan. Penance. Exhibit A: Angry Robot. 2013. 368p. ISBN 9781909223134. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781909223141. MYS
An innocent older woman is shot dead outside her Chicago church, where she has just taken confession. Her high-powered son, however, is as crooked as a river road—and thus begins an intense police thriller guaranteed to keep readers hooked until the final exhausting page. Dial back to 1971 to a huge political cover-up that left innocent men dead and a bunch of politicians beholden to seriously bad guys. Well, now a descendant of this crime history wants to atone. At the epicenter is Det. John Lynch, whose Chicago cop father died on the job back in 1971. This is no coincidence.
Verdict This potent thriller bubbles with bad blood and bad guys from page one. Every stock character from crooked politician to covert-op guy makes an appearance, yet the pace never lags, and readers won’t sleep until the last villain is cuffed. Those who love brisk action and political intrigue will lap this up. Think John Sandford for intensity and Michael Harvey for setting and history. [Exhibit A is the new crime fiction imprint of Angry Robot Books.—Ed.]—Terry Jacobsen, Fairfield, CA

Tuomainen, Antti. The Healer. Holt. May 2013. 224p. tr. from Finnish by Lola Rogers. ISBN 9780805095548. $25. F
In a near-future Helsinki, under assault from rising water levels owing to climate change, Johanna, the reporter wife of poet Tapani Lehtinen, disappears. As he searches for her, Tapani finds out that Johanna was investigating a series of murders of corporate executives and their families by a killer known as the Healer. He finds sympathy from the police inspector assigned the case, but with the city’s infrastructure crumbling and refugees from the south overwhelming Helsinki, there is little the police can do to help. While Tapani digs into his wife’s past and the anticorporate motives of the killer, he uncovers secrets, both personal and political.
Verdict Although set in the future, the author’s third novel (which won the Clue Award for Best Finnish Crime Novel 2011) is more similar in tone to Ben Winters’s Edgar Award–winning The Last Policeman and should appeal to readers who enjoyed that combination of imminent apocalypse and its effects on society with one man’s quest to solve a mystery on a smaller, human scale. [Previewed in Kristi Chadwick’s Genre Spotlight mystery feature, “Following the Digital Clues,” LJ 4/15/13.—Ed.]—Dan Forrest, Western Kentucky Univ. Libs., Bowling Green

starred review starUlfelder, Steve. Shotgun Lullaby. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. (Conway Sax, Bk. 3). May 2013. 304p. ISBN 9781250028082. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250028099. MYS
Auto mechanic Conway Sax belongs to a hard-core Alcoholics Anonymous chapter called the Barnburners, whose members go to extreme lengths to look out for one another and for other addicts who need their help to stay clean. Young, wise-cracking Gus Biletnikov is one of those who need the additional support of the Barnburners, even before the grisly triple murder at his halfway house. That Gus reminds Conway of his estranged son makes him feel even more protective, especially when it looks like Gus may have been the intended victim. A number of viable suspects and another murder complicate matters. Ulfelder’s (The Whole Lie; Purgatory Chasm) hardscrabble central Massachusetts is a fully realized, unusual setting, and Conway Sax is one of the most interesting, complicated protagonists in the contemporary mystery arena. Exceptional characterization and a quickly zigzagging plot make this a must-read for anyone who loves modern noir.
Verdict This series is a natural choice for Dennis Lehane fans or for readers who like their antiheroes with a heart of gold.—Stephanie Klose, Library Journal

Bette-Lee Fox About Bette-Lee Fox

Bette-Lee Fox (blfox@mediasourceinc.com) is Managing Editor, Library Journal.

Now in her 46th year with Library Journal, Bette-Lee also edits LJ's Video Reviews column, six times a year Romance column, and e-original Romance reviews, which post weekly as LJ Xpress Reviews. She received the Romance Writers of America (RWA) Vivian Stephens Industry Award in 2013 for having "contributed to the genre or to RWA in a significant and/or continuing manner"


  1. Dana Shepard says:

    I love a good mystery/detective novel. Usually I devour them, racing from cover to cover. But, after reading Shotgun Lullaby I have to reevaluate what makes a truly good detective novel. This book made my previous detective reads comparable to prime time episodes of some tv network show and Ulfelder’s work overshadowed them greatly. His characters were each immediately solid in voice, personality, and believability.