Mystery Reviews | January 2014

CElebrate the new year by welcoming a fresh generation of fictional detectives who are ready to capture your imagination and loyalty. This month you’ll meet up with a number of sleuths on their second, third, or fourth entries—just the right time to present your patrons with a bundle of good reads. Familiar formulas are slightly recast, e.g., we have two female detectives working together—under a female boss (Cath Staincliffe’s Dead to Me), a biracial female detective making her way (Chris Simms’s A Price To Pay), a Cuban inspector who sees ghosts (Peggy Blair’s The Poisoned Pawn), and a Midwestern detecting trio (Kate Watterson’s Buried).

Readers like their holiday mysteries, so don’t miss the two Valentine’s Day titles waiting in Series Lineup. If budget stretching is on your mind, note the sprinkling of mass-market paperbacks in the column. Also, several authors have gotten quite clever with what I’d call “value added” features. Recipes, glossaries, links, and bibliographies abound.

pawnredstarBlair, Peggy. The Poisoned Pawn: An Inspector Ramirez Novel. Pintail. Mar. 2014. 328p. ISBN 9780143189763. pap. $16. M

When Canadian tourist Hillary Ellis falls into a fatal coma on the flight home from her vacation trip to Cuba, a full-scale investigation opens. Hillary had left Cuba abruptly when her marriage to Ottawa police detective Mike Ellis disintegrated. Coincidentally, Havana’s Insp. Ricardo Ramirez is headed to Ottawa for a separate case involving a pedophile Catholic priest being extradited to Cuba. Imagine Ramirez’s surprise when he learns of Hillary’s death, especially since her husband Mike had been falsely implicated in a recent case while in Cuba. Once again, Mike is under suspicion of committing a heinous crime. Ramirez’s familiar companion, a ghost from an unsolved case, guides him through a tangled and sinister web connecting the two countries. Meanwhile, back in Havana, Hector Apiro, a surgeon/pathologist, works feverishly on a case that will eventually intersect with the others. VERDICT Don’t miss Blair’s sequel to her Ellis Award finalist The Beggar’s Opera. Just when you think Blair’s dropped a thread, she dazzles anew with her expert plotting. Think Donna Leon or Louise Penny. [See Prepub Alert, 8/19/13.]

buriedWatterson, Kate. Buried. Tor. Jan. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9780765369628. pap. $7.99. M

Temporarily partnered with Lt. Carl Grasso while Jason Santiago heals from their last case, Det. Ellie MacIntosh tackles yet another high-profile case. A spate of cop killings has terrorized the Milwaukee police department, and Chief Joe Metzger wants answers now. Theories abound as to motive: drug trafficking and mob connections come up first. On further investigation, though, the killings look to be more personally motivated, and loose-cannon Jason can’t help but get involved. If that’s not personal enough, Ellie’s grandfather, Robert MacIntosh, finds an old skeleton on his land, and she suspects he’s not telling her all he knows. Whether in Milwaukee or rural northern Wisconsin, Ellie, Carl, and Jason are in danger. Let the action begin. VERDICT Just try to put this one down! Watterson’s third entry in her thriller series (after Charred) successfully blends action with puzzle, keeping three detectives going full speed. Her alternate narrative, set in the late 1950s, makes for a strong secondary plot. A great pick for Allison Brennan fans.

archesredstarBradley, Alan. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches: A Flavia de Luce Novel. Delacorte. Jan. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9780385344050. $24; ebk. ISBN 9780345539694. M

Bradley’s award-winning Flavia de Luce series (I Am Half-Sick of Shadows; Speaking from Among the Bones) has enchanted readers with the outrageous sleuthing career of its precocious leading lady. In this sixth installment, Bradley focuses solely on the inner workings of the de Luce family and, more specifically, on the mysterious demise of Flavia’s mother, Harriet. The novel opens in 1951 with Harriet’s body being brought home for burial. This is no ordinary funeral, however, for all the important players in His Majesty’s government have mysteriously come out to Buckshaw to pay their respects. It isn’t long before murder and espionage take center stage, as does the chemical prowess of the 12-year-old protagonist. VERDICT This latest adventure contains all the winning elements of the previous books while skillfully establishing a new and intriguing story line to explore in future novels. The introduction of the outrageously obnoxious cousin Undine will be a treat for readers, who will also relish long-awaited answers to mysteries surrounding Flavia’s family. Fans will be more than pleased, and it makes an excellent suggestion for fans of M.C. Beaton and Elizabeth Peters. [See Prepub Alert, 7/15/13. Picked as the January 2014 ­Library Reads favorite title, p. 151.—Ed.]—Amy Nolan, St. Joseph, MI


cliffredstarWilliams, Charlotte. The House on the Cliff: A Novel. Bourbon Street: HarperCollins. Jan. 2014. 340p. ISBN 9780062284570. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062284587. M

Therapist professionalism goes out the window when Welsh psychologist Jessica Mayhew, still smarting from her husband’s confession of a brief affair, finds herself distracted by a desperately unhappy new patient, the son of a famous movie director. Jessica’s therapy appears to be helping Gwydion Morgan, but what he talks about now makes Jessica fear that an unsolved crime happened on the Morgans’ estate years ago. Concurrently, her physical attraction to the handsome young client cannot be ignored. Decidedly off her game, Jessica sifts through real memories, false memories, and simple deceit, but she’d better find the truth soon because a killer has grown impatient. VERDICT This solid domestic suspense debut, nicely seasoned with gothic elements, should please Gone Girl fans and those who crave a real page-turner. Williams’s 40-something psychotherapist makes a particularly vulnerable protagonist. While Jessica might be the worst therapist ever at keeping her personal agenda out of the session, readers will admire how Williams has created such believable characters and how she weaves effectively psychological theories throughout.

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The following titles are reviewed in this month's print issue.
Visit Book Verdict for the full reviews.

sign of the three balls

Ferris, Gordon. Pilgrim Soul: A Douglas Brodie Investigation. Corvus: Atlantic. Jan. 2014. 384p. ISBN 9780857897626. pap. $12.95. M

Thurlo, David & Aimée Thurlo. The Pawnbroker. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Jan. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9781250027986. $25.99. M


“No one had seen him slide down the ethical cliff except a ghost who might not be real. But Ramirez had crossed a moral line, and he knew it. The inspector and his apparition walked sadly into the light.”—Peggy Blair, The Poisoned Pawn

Check These Out

Beaufort, Simon. The Murder House.

Severn House. Jan. 2014. 252p. ISBN 9780727883278. $28.95. M

Nickson, Chris. Fair and Tender Ladies: A Richard Nottingham Novel. Crème de la Crime: Severn House. Jan. 2014. 216p. ISBN 9781780290553. $28.95. M

Rowland, M.L. Zero-Degree Murder: A Search and Rescue Mystery. Prime Crime: Berkley. Jan. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9780425263662. pap. $7.99. M

Rowson, Pauline. Death Surge: An Andy Horton Mystery. Severn House. Jan. 2014. 216p. ISBN 9780727883216. $28.95. M

redstarSimms, Chris. A Price To Pay: An Iona Khan Thriller. Crème de la Crime: Severn House. Jan. 2014. 200p. ISBN 9781780290508. $27.95. M

Staincliffe, Cath. Dead to Me: A Scott and Bailey Novel. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Jan. 2014. 400p. ISBN 9781250038548. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250038531. M

cozy corner

Lourey, Jess. January Thaw: A Murder-by-Month Mystery. Midnight Ink. Jan. 2014. 288p. ISBN 9780738738758. pap. $14.99. M

Miller, Emma. Plain Murder. Kensington. Jan. 2014. 272p. ISBN 9780758291721. pap. $15. M

Robinson, Bryan E. Limestone Gumption: A Brad Pope and Sisterfriends Mystery. Five Star: Gale Cengage. Jan. 2014. 316p. ISBN 9781432827786. $25.95. M

Additional Mysteries

Link, Charlotte. The Watcher. Pegasus Crime. May 2014. 480p. tr. from German by Stefan Tobler. ISBN 9781409123415. $25.95. F

Neuhaus, Nele. Bad Wolf.

Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Jan. 2014. 416p. tr. from German by Steven T. Murray. ISBN 9781250043993. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466842434. M

Smith, Helen. Beyond Belief: An Emily Castles Mystery. Thomas & Mercer: Amazon. Jan. 2014. 254p. ISBN 9781477849729. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781477899724. M


Knowing how hard it can be to tackle a classic work or even to read outside one’s comfort zone, I randomly queried a few mystery/suspense authors about their reading habits. Specifically, I posed these two resolution-style questions to them: 1) Name a book you’re determined to read in 2014 and 2) name a book (or author) you want readers to try in 2014.

Within minutes of hitting “send,” a wave of guilty (see #1) and enthusiastic (regarding #2) responses washed over my email account. So, librarians, consider this a gift of new titles, potential book group reads, and a couple of chuckles. The lineup is below, and I resolve to try at least one suggestion from each contributor.

Consider making a monthly game of this. Here in the column, I’ll update each month (from this list) and share some of the remarks that accompanied each author’s submissions (see Deborah Sharp’s entry for a full example). I realize there are only 12 months, but we’ll shoehorn all 14 in somehow! Thanks, authors!

Wayne Arthurson

1. Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley

2. Janice MacDonald’s “Randy Craig” mystery series

Mike Befeler

1. Michael Connelly’s The Concrete Blonde

2. Donnell Ann Bell (romantic suspense)

James R. Benn

1. Murasaki Shikibu’s Tale of Genji

2. Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots or Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer

C.J. Box

1. James Lee Burke’s Black Cherry Blues

2. Denise Mina’s Gods and Beasts

Laura DiSilverio

1. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes tales

2. Cornelia Read’s novels

Meg Gardiner

1. Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train

2. Zoë Sharp’s “Charlie Fox” novels

Robert Greer

1. Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago

2. Rudolph Fisher’s The Conjure-Man Dies

Tammy Kaehler

1. Charles Dickens’s Bleak House

2. Small presses: Poisoned Pen, Midnight Ink, Henery

Sophie Littlefield

1. Barbara Vine’s A Dark-Adapted Eye

2. Benjamin Whitmer’s Cry Father (coming 9/14)

Gregg Olsen

1. Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl

2. Kevin O’Brien’s thrillers

Alan Orloff

1. Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon

2. Steve Ulfelder’s “Conway Sax” mysteries or Allison Leotta’s “Anna Curtis” series

Brad Parks

1. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles

2. Jamie Mason’s Three Graves Full

Hank Phillippi Ryan

1. Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White

2. M.P. Cooley’s Ice Shear (coming in 2014) or Rachel Howzell Hall’s Land of Shadows

Deborah Sharp

1. Louise Penny’s Still Life

Deborah says, “As embarrassing as it is to admit, I haven’t read a single book by Louise Penny—who is not only a fabulous, much-feted mystery writer but also a lovely and generous woman. In 2014, I resolve to start with Still Life, the first of Penny’s highly regarded Chief Inspector Armand Gamache Mysteries.”

2. Ali Brandon’s “Black Cat Bookshop” mysteries

She adds, “Deserving of more attention is a cute cozy series by Ali Brandon, the Black Cat Bookshop Mysteries. I started with the first of the now three-book series, Double Booked for Death. It introduces Darla Pettistone, a Texas transplant to Brooklyn who finds herself both the unexpected heir to her great aunt’s bookstore and to the store’s clever, cranky cat, Hamlet.”