Fiction from Dahl, Leon, Macallister, Pywell, and Vargas, plus Newcomers | Xpress Reviews

Week ending March 3, 2017

starred review starDahl, Julia. Conviction. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Mar. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9781250083692. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250083715. MYS
conviction030317In 1992, a young black family was brutally murdered in a neighborhood already reeling from the Crown Heights riots between the African American and Hasidic Jewish communities. The family’s teenage foster son was quickly arrested and convicted, and no one looked back. Twenty-two years later, DeShawn continues to proclaim his innocence when freelance reporter Rebekah Roberts takes a chance on his case. She quickly uncovers missing evidence and lying eyewitnesses as the holes in the case grow. If DeShawn is innocent, the real killer is still out there and willing to protect his interests at all costs. The historical and present-day narratives are equally compelling, and together create a heartbreaking and realistic story. Dahl’s crime reporting background pays off, combining just the right amount of detail with a fast-moving pace and a fascinating glimpse into an insular world.
Verdict Newcomers to this award-winning series can jump right in with this installment and be eager to read about Rebekah’s earlier investigations (Invisible City; Run You Down). The unsettling coercion of a confession from a teenage suspect could make this a good suggestion for fans of the show Making a Murderer. A surefire winner for any mystery or suspense fan. [See Prepub Alert, 7/25/16.]—Emily Byers, Salem P.L., OR

Leon, Donna. Earthly Remains. Atlantic. (Guido Brunetti, Bk. 26). Apr. 2017. 320p. ISBN 9780802126474. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780802189455. MYS
Following events from The Waters of Eternal Youth, Venice Commisario of Police Guido Brunetti has just been given some time off as a result of his intervention on behalf of one of his men, who was about to commit a career-ending mistake. Brunetti decides to stay at the villa of one of his wife’s relatives on a small island in the lagoon of Venice. He is pleasantly surprised to discover that the estate’s caretaker Davide Casati is a friend of his late father’s. Brunetti takes to rowing around the lagoon with his new acquaintance, getting some exercise and inspecting Casati’s beehives. Unfortunately, the bees aren’t doing too well, and Casati seems preoccupied. Then Casati disappears during a storm. Unable to suppress his policeman’s instincts, Brunetti begins searching for his friend and investigating what had made the man so upset.
Verdict Longtime fans of this long-running series will find many of their favorite elements in this latest worthy entry: Venice architecture and food, rampant corruption, and a patient yet more world-weary Brunetti, who continues to bear witness to the many crimes of our modern age. [See Prepub Alert, 10/17/16.]—Dan Forrest, Western Kentucky Univ. Libs., Bowling Green

Macallister, Greer. Girl in Disguise. Sourcebooks Landmark. Mar. 2017. 320p. ISBN 9781492635222. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781492635239. F
Macallister follows up The Magician’s Lie with another stellar historical novel featuring a fierce female lead. It’s Chicago, 1856, and Kate Warne, widowed and penniless, manages to convince the great Allan Pinkerton to hire her as one of his detectives. From there, Kate fights her way to becoming one of Pinkerton’s elite squad. Her talents lie in deception and manipulation, taking on the role of countless women, all in the name of getting the job done. Her work takes Kate from her former life of near-ruin to one of danger, deviousness, and trickery as she establishes herself in a man’s world. From Chicago’s mean streets to the battle lines of the Civil War, Kate’s dangerous journey is a never-ending thrill ride. Macallister’s masterly storytelling brings her characters to life, and the skillfully handled suspense never wavers.
Verdict Inspired by true events, this is a sure crowd-pleaser for lovers of historical fiction and chilling plotlines.—Kristen Droesch, Div. of Libs. UX Dept., New York Univ.

Pywell, Sharon. The Romance Reader’s Guide to Life. Flatiron: Macmillan. Apr. 2017. 320p. ISBN 9781250101754. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250101747. F
Neave and her sister older Lilly grow up in Massachusetts in the years preceding World War II. While Lilly is charming, popular, and beautiful, Neave is temperamental and bookish, getting into fights with her mother and brother. Neave’s only solace is the time spent reading to elderly Mrs. Daniels, and it is there that she discovers a love of romance novels, including one steamy tale entitled The Pirate Lover. During the war, Neave takes a job baking pies and Lilly works at a makeup counter. The postwar world finds the siblings launching a door-to-door cosmetics business. But just as their company is at its most successful, Lilly disappears and Neave starts receiving threatening messages. Both a coming-of-age tale and a romance, this genre-bending novel should appeal widely to readers of historical fiction who like strong female heroines as well as readers who enjoy a good love story. A thread of suspense weaves well with elements of the paranormal.
Verdict The themes of women’s rights, sisterhood, various kinds of love, and family duty are also lightly explored in Pywell’s (My Other Mother: Everything After) entertaining novel.—Christina Thurairatnam, Holmes Cty. Dist. P.L., Millersburg, OH

Stern, Abby. According to a Source. Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. May 2017. 304p. ISBN 9781250106797. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250106803. F
[DEBUT] Ella Warren is an undercover reporter for The Life, one of the top celebrity news outlets in Hollywood. By night she trolls the L.A. club scene as “Bella,” a society girl who socializes with movie stars—then covertly relays sightings and scandals to her editors. When The Life’s legendary founding editor in chief returns to give the magazine a facelift, Ella is forced to compete with her fellow club reporters in a race to keep her job. Under pressure to secure a story, Ella must decide whether she’s willing to compromise her personal ethics and risk her relationships in order to write for her favorite publication. In her debut novel, Stern, a celebrity reporter, offers a glimpse into the world of the Hollywood insider.
Verdict While the premise is initially fascinating, the plot becomes bogged down in intricate tertiary gossip about the fictional stars. The central characters and their relationships feel underdeveloped, making it difficult to invest fully in the story. Nevertheless, the book should please fans of Lauren Weisberger’s Everyone Worth Knowing and similar works.—Lindsay Morton, P.L. of Science, San Francisco

Tingley, Nancy. A Head in Cambodia. Swallow: Ohio Univ. (Jenna Murphy Mysteries). Mar. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9780804011853. $26.95. MYS
headcambodia030317[DEBUT] Tingley, an independent art consultant and curator, makes her mystery debut with this new series featuring Jenna Murphy, a curator specializing in Asian art. Already swamped preparing for the opening of an exhibit on Chinese Qing ceramics, Jenna is intrigued when her friend, a generous museum donor, asks her to authenticate a sculpture. Found at a garage sale, the intricately carved stone head may be a missing part of an 11th-century Khmer masterpiece or an incredible fake. As Jenna investigates, the previous owner is murdered. His decapitation seems a warning to those who continue to study the stone head. Jenna is asked to lead a last-minute tour to Thailand and Cambodia for museum patrons, and she finds that danger has followed her overseas.
Verdict In a crowded field of art history whodunits, this first novel stands out for its focus on Cambodian sculpture, history, and mythology. Jenna, an unabashed sleuth both on and off the job, is a fresh new voice. A great pick for fans of of Iain Pears and B.A. Shapiro looking to expand their geography.—Catherine Lantz, Univ. of Illinois at Chicago Lib.

Vargas, Fred. A Climate of Fear: A Commissaire Adamsberg Mystery. Penguin. Mar. 2017. 410p. tr. from French by Siân Reynolds. ISBN 9780143109457. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781101992234. MYS
An act of kindness by a stranger—mailing a letter dropped by an elderly woman who had collapsed on a Parisian street—sets off a chain of mysterious deaths marked with strange symbols and presumed to be suicides. Asked to investigate by an officer from another arrondissement who suspects murder, Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg and his Serious Crime squad (last seen in The Ghost Riders of Ordebec) soon find links both to a tragic expedition to Iceland a decade earlier, in which two French tourists were killed, and a secret organization dedicated to reenacting the speeches of Maximilien Robespierre, one of the key figures during the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror. The unorthodox Adamsberg is stumped by this complex case, which he describes as a tangled knot of seaweed. But to unravel the puzzle, he must travel to the remote Icelandic island where the earlier deaths had occurred, said by locals to be home to a demon.
Verdict The four-time winner of the CWA International Dagger returns with an entertaining atmospheric mystery, touched with a soupçon of the supernatural. While the plot is convoluted to the point of ridiculousness, the eccentric characters and decidedly French attitude toward policing (a stash of white wine is key to loosening witnesses’ tongues) make this an appealing Gallic alternative for fans of Christopher Fowler’s “Bryant and May” series. [See Prepub Alert, 10/3/17.]—Wilda Williams, Library Journal

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