Xpress Reviews: Fiction | First Look at New Books, December 27, 2013

Week ending December 27, 2013

Berenson, Alex. The Counterfeit Agent: A John Wells Novel. Putnam. Feb. 2014. 384p. ISBN 9780399159732. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698150157. F
counterfeitagent122713In whose interest is it to provoke a nuclear war between the United States and Iran? John Wells, the legendary ex-CIA agent at the center of Berenson’s seven earlier incendiary sagas (The Night Ranger; The Faithful Spy), is lured from his lover’s side on a Caribbean cruise to find some credible answers. Scrambling from death’s door in exotic corners of distant cities and allied with one confederate in Langley, VA, Wells rips into clues to sift fact from teasing morsels. When a clear pattern begins to emerge, Wells and his ally confront total disbelief from the powers-that-be in Washington. Like an old-fashioned serial, this volcanic shocker does not end but simply sets the stage for the next adventure.
Verdict Working with plot elements that are terrifyingly realistic, research that rings as true as today’s headlines, and characters that brim with integrity and swagger, Berenson puts John Wells right up there with the best of espionage fiction’s greatest heroes. [See Prepub Alert, 8/19/13.]—Barbara Conaty, Falls Church, VA

Dolan, Harry. The Last Dead Girl. Amy Einhorn: Putnam. Jan. 2014. 416p. ISBN 9780399157967. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698150676. F
When 26-year-old David Malone stops to aid Jana Fletcher at an accident scene, his life changes dramatically. He spends ten days, and nights, with the mysterious young law student, and then she is brutally and ritualistically murdered. Naturally, he is a suspect but not yet charged. Jana had been passionately involved in the Innocence Project, seeking to free a local high school teacher convicted of killing his wife. David decides to pursue this case on her behalf. Through “interlude” chapters we learn about Jana’s earlier harrowing ordeal, the anonymous killer’s mind-set, and more murders.
Verdict This is a more sober prequel to Dolan’s humorous and witty Bad Things Happen, also featuring David Loogan né Malone. There is little connection between the two books except the author’s skill with shocking twists, complex plotting, bizarre situations, and striking characters that keep the reader intrigued—and wary of dark places. With just three books (including Very Bad Men), Dolan is already a seasoned pro, worthy of high acclaim—and so is his protagonist.—Roland Person, formerly with Southern Illinois Univ. Lib., Carbondale

Grant, Donna. Dark Heat: The Dark Kings Stories. St. Martin’s. Jan. 2014. 448p. ISBN 9781250043788. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466848566. PARANORMAL ROMANCE
The Dragon Kings are shape-shifting immortals who hide somewhat in plain sight at a distillery in Scotland, where they brood about the past and try to stay out of the way of the modern world. In “Dark Craving,” the green Dragon King Hal breaks the spell blocking the kings from falling in love when he meets Cassie, a young woman who comes to Scotland to stay with her brother, who had disappeared. The red Dragon King Guy falls in love in “Night’s Awakening” after rescuing London businesswoman Elena from a cave where her boss had trespassed and took her exploring. Then blue Dragon King Banan meets Jane, a secretary in the company the kings believe sent Elena’s boss to spy on them, as the kings seek to find out who knows their secrets in “Dawn’s Desire.” A bonus story, “Passion’s Claim,” revisits Banan and Guy as they decide whether to commit to their newfound loves, or set the women free to live a normal life.
Verdict The ongoing “Dark Kings” series is loosely tied to Grant’s “Dark Warriors” and “Dark Sword” series, and brief mention of those titles is made in the last two stories here. The tales are fast paced and loosely plotted and leave several plot threads hanging. What happened to Cassie’s brother? Who is conspiring against the Dragon Kings? What is happening with the Silver dragons and their king? One hopes these questions will be answered in the forthcoming Darkest Flame and Fire Rising (both 2014), but new readers may become frustrated at the repetitiveness of these pieces. Recommended only for libraries where Grant’s previous series are popular.—Melanie C. Duncan, Shurling Lib., Macon, GA

Krajewski, Marek. Phantoms of Breslau: An Inspector Mock Investigation. Melville House. Jan. 2014. 288p. tr. from Polish by Danusia Stok. ISBN 9781612192727. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781612192734. MYS
Eberhard Mock (Death in Breslau; The End of the World in Breslau), a World War I veteran and criminal assistant in the eastern German city of Breslau, returns in this mystery set in 1919. Still suffering nightmares from his military service and self-medicating with alcohol, vice detective Mock is summoned to the scene of a grisly multiple homicide. His presence is requested because a note found with the bodies mentions him by name and suggests that somehow he is responsible. As the investigation continues, the murder count rises, and it becomes clear the victims were killed for talking to Mock. Removed from the case, he is determined to find the killer. Many twists and turns must be negotiated before Mock can resolve this case and not without the stakes, both personal and professional, increasing to dangerous and deadly levels.
Verdict Rich in period detail, from nascent nationalist movements to the rising interest in the theories of Freud and Jung and spiritualism and the occult, this compelling mystery should appeal to fans of hard-boiled historical mysteries such as Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther novels.—Dan Forrest, Western Kentucky Univ. Libs., Bowling Green

McMahon, Jennifer. The Winter People. Doubleday. Feb. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9780385538497. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385538503. F
Would you do anything to bring a lost loved one back to life? McMahon’s (Promise Not To Tell) latest novel weaves the chilling tale of Sara Harrison Shea, whose life was full of tragedy and brutal deaths. In 1908, after her daughter mysteriously dies, Sara is found flayed to death, presumably by her husband, who commits suicide at the scene. For years the townspeople swear they see Sara at the sites of many local tragedies, and even skeptics leave gifts for her on their doorsteps in hopes of escaping her wrath. Generations later, a new family moves into Sara’s home. Nineteen-year-old Ruthie and her sister, Fawn, live in fear of the mysterious forest behind their house, where “sleepers” are rumored to live. These pale, bloodthirsty spirits of the undead are the result of grief-stricken family members using dark magic to bring their loved ones back to life. When Ruthie’s mother goes missing, the sisters embark on a downright creepy journey to find her, a journey that also reveals the truth about Sara.
Verdict Extremely well written with a story line that is sure to delight (and frighten) thriller lovers and supernatural fans, this novel has the makings of a blockbuster horror flick. [Prepub Alert, 9/15/13.]—Chelsie Harris, San Diego Cty. Lib.

White, Karen. Return to Tradd Street. NAL. (Tradd Street, Bk. 4). Jan. 2014. 321p. ISBN 9780451240590. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781101626481; premier fiction hc. Mar. 2014. ISBN 9781611739848. $34.95. PARANORMAL
Over the course of a few short years, psychic realtor Melanie Middleton has come to love the home she unexpectedly inherited from a descendant of the storied Vanderhorst family, who trace their lineage in Charleston, SC, well into the past and whose secrets go back almost as far. At first reluctant to accept the exorbitant gift, a now pregnant Melanie works vigorously to restore her home in anticipation of the birth of her child. In the process, she unearths the remains of a baby buried in the foundation, seemingly for well over a century. With the discovery, a hostile presence that means to do Melanie harm has also awakened. Melanie has stumbled across other dead bodies and unraveled ghostly mysteries in the past, with her boyfriend, mystery author Jack Trenholm. Although the pair are currently on shaky ground, Melanie will need Jack’s help to identity the dead child and the accompanying ghost and uncover long-hidden truths and right a wrong, even if it means putting her ownership claims on the line.
Verdict This fourth and final installment of the “Tradd Street” series (after The Strangers on Montagu Street) holds up well as a stand-alone novel. Still, readers will want to check out the previous titles to trace the development of the relationship between Melanie and Jack, to see how Melanie bonded with Jack’s teenage daughter, and also how she reconnected with her own mother, who abandoned her when she was a child and shares her psychic abilities.—Natasha Grant, New York