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Posts Tagged ‘Witness Impulse’

zigzagSo many mysteries the last month or so. A popular author kicks off a new series, while another chooses to end a longtime favorite. Star turns by trusted detectives, past crimes leading to present-day puzzles, procedurals, capers, a serial killer — or two.

Elly Griffiths, whose Ruth Galloway series is known for its engaging characters, introduces another memorable cast in The Zig Zag Girl (Houghton Mifflin, digital galley), set in 1950 Brighton. Police detective Edgar Stephens and magician Max Mephisto both served in a special ops/disinformation group known as the Magic Men during World War II and reteam as sleuths when someone starts killing people by restaging famous magic tricks. Atmospheric, clever and appropriately tricky. Encore, please.

longlandWith the evocative Long Upon the Land (Grand Central, library hardcover), Margaret Maron brings her long-running Deborah Knott series to a close by circling back to Deborah’s complicated family history as bootlegger Kezzie Knott’s daughter. She marries a contemporary mystery about a dead man found on Kezzie’s North Carolina farm to one with roots in World War II, when Deborah’s mother Susan befriended both a young soldier and widower Kezzie. In both cases, Deborah needs answers from her many older brothers, her aunt and her father, as well as others with long memories. Sweet and bittersweet.

raggedLand is also at the heart of Last Ragged Breath (St. Martin’s Minotaur, advance reading copy), Julia Keller’s fourth entry in her excellent series featuring prosecutor Bell Elkins. A native of the hardscrabble West Virginia mountain town of Acker’s Gap, Elkins is familiar with the area’s history, even if the disastrous 1972 Buffalo Creek flood was before her time. Royce Dillard was only two when he survived the rushing waters that claimed the lives of his parents and more than a hundred other souls, but now the solitary dog-lover’s life is imperiled once again. He is on trial for the murder of an outside developer on his land. The circumstantial evidence points to Dillard, but Elkins has her doubts, well aware of the passions aroused by the dead man and his plans that could forever change Acker’s Gap. Like her protagonist, Keller knows the landscape and its residents. Unlike Elkins, though, she also knows dogs. I fell hard for Goldie.

natureofA boy cries wolf once too often in Louise Penny’s The Nature of the Beast (St. Martin’s Press, library hardcover), a stunning addition to her Inspector Gamache series. I was disappointed by the last one (choppy writing, digressive plot), but this one took my breath away as the isolated Quebec village of Three Pines is invaded by suspicion and betrayal with far-reaching moral consequences. All the familiar characters are on hand, including Henri the dog and Rosa the duck, as Gamache resists peaceful retirement in his search for answers. What little Laurent finds in the woods is real and fearsome.

xgraftonThe only problem with Sue Grafton’s X (Penguin Putnam, digital galley) is that it means we’re nearing the end of her alphabetically titled series starring PI Kinsey Millhone. As always, it’s a treat to watch Kinsey using the old-fashioned tools of the trade circa 1989 to catch criminals. Here, knocking on doors, using library reference books and looking at public records in person has Kinsey figuring out frauds large and small, even as the private files of a late colleague lead to a trail of missing women and a serial killer. Yikes! The colorful characters include a wily divorcee, a slick sociopath and annoying new neighbors for Kinsey and her elderly landlord Henry.

susansThe plot of Julia Heaberlin’s thrilling Black-Eyed Susans (Random House/Ballantine, digital galley) reminds me of an episode of Criminal Minds but minus most of the gory details. In 1995, 16-year-old Tessa was found buried alive under a blanket of black-eyed Susans in a Texas wheat field that served as a grave for three other girls. Tessa, who only has flashes of memory of her traumatic experience, nevertheless testified at the trial of the presumed killer, who was sent to Death Row. Now, with his execution only days away, Tessa reluctantly agrees to help a defense attorney and a forensics expert trying to free the condemned man by finally identifying the other victims. Heaberlin alternates between past and present, piling on the red herrings, and Tessa struggles to recover her memory. The ending’s a bit muddled and unevenly paced, but Heaberlin’s third book will keep you up all night.

marrykissWith its snappy dialogue and cinematic scenes, Marry Kiss Kill (Prospect Park Books, digital galley) reads like a rom-com caper TV movie — no surprise since author Anne Flett-Giordano’s writing and producing credits include Frasier and Hot in Cleveland. With the glitzy Santa Barbara film festival as backdrop, police detective Nola MacIntire and her partner, Tony Angellotti, try to solve the case of a murdered street artist while also looking into the suspicious death of a wealthy businessman. Nothing especially original here, but appealing characters and a spritz of name-dropping make for fast-paced fun.

pargeterKeeping up with so many series means I hardly ever run out of new mysteries to read. A shout-out to the Witness Impulse imprint that introduced me to several excellent writers from across the pond, including Brian McGilloway, whose Lucy Black series is set in Northern Ireland; Mari Hannah, whose Kate Daniels series takes place in Northumbria; and Alison Bruce, whose Gary Goodhew procedurals are set in Cambridge. I also count on British publisher Severn House for witty new tales from Simon Brett, who writes the Charles Paris series and the Mrs. Pargeter books. Severn also publishes new mysteries from American writers (and Facebook friends) Clea Simon and Sarah Shaber.  Recommended all.

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tatianaAsked if Russian police detective Arkady Renko is depressed because he has a wandering bullet in his brain, one of his colleague notes that “he’s not a ray of sunshine.” But in Martin Cruz Smith’s Tatiana (Simon and Schuster, digital galley), it’s melancholy Renko’s persistent idealism that shines like a beacon in dreary, corrupt Kalingrad, an industrial outpost on the Baltic. He ends up there because he doesn’t believe that crusading journalist Tatiana Petrova’s fall from a sixth-floor Moscow apartment was a suicide, and that she was killed after obtaining a coded notebook belonging to an interpreter killed on a Kalingrad beach. While his young chess-whiz friend Zhenya tries to decipher the symbols and gibberish in the notebook, Renko follows a complicated trail eventually involving a dead mob boss, his impulsive son and shadowy partners, an amber mine, Russian submarines, Chinese businessmen and a stolen bicycle. Bullets fly, but Renko’s not ready to give up on life, not by a long shot.

nightingaleRuth Rendell’s venerable detective Reg Wexford is officially retired, but in No Man’s Nightingale (Scribner, digital galley), he takes time off from reading Gibbon’s hefty Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire to help find the killer of the local vicar. But this is no armchair cozy — the strangled vicar is single mother Sarah Hussain, whose gender, race and progressive views have divided St. Peter’s congregation. Indeed, Wexford’s former colleague, Mike Burden,  decides the murder is a hate crime and collars a likely suspect with motive and opportunity. But after meeting the dead woman’s teenage daughter and and a couple of longtime friends, Wexford suspects her complicated past — of which he hears several versions — may have played into her murder.  He also picks up clues from the constant prattle of his gossipy house cleaner, who found the body, and who unwittingly reveals details of another crime. Even as he copes with the loss of power and respect that came with his former job, Wexford proves himself as astute a detective as ever, as canny as his creator.

paganThe vicar is the hero and the heartthrob in Pagan Spring (St. Martin’s Press, purchased e-book), the third in G.M. Malliet’s witty series featuring Max Tudor, a former MI5 agent whose sleuthing skills were tested in Wicked Autumn and A Fatal Winter. Max has had little problem fitting into the village life of postcard-pretty Nether Monkslip, although he’s disappointed the ladies by taking up with Alwena Owen, a New Age herbalist. But several newcomers trouble the community’s apparent serenity, including a famous actor and playwright past his prime, his much-younger wife, and an enigmatic hairstylist from France who writes long e-mails. Of course, there’s a murder for Max to solve, and he is both helped and hindered by his friends, including the members of the Writers’ Square (because everybody has a writers’ circle). Old secrets come to light as villagers confront unpleasant truth. Fans of Miss Marple will feel right at home.

evilactScotland Yard detectives Thomas Lynley and Barbara Havers take off for Italy in Elizabeth George’s Just One Evil Act (Dutton/Penguin, digital galley), with Havers risking her career in search of Hadiyyah, her 9-year-old neighbor. The girl is apparently with her English mother, who never married the Pakistani microbiologist who begs Havers for help. Not much can be done officially or legally, but Havers, more unlovely than ever, goes off on a tear, and handsome, aristocratic Lynley covers for her. The twisting plot, with echoes of the Amanda Knox case and that of still-missing Madeleine McCann, is absorbing, but at more than 700 pages, the book is overly long, and Havers’ self-destructive behavior grows tiresome. She’s better and brighter than this, as a charming Italian detective discerns.

cleelandNow, imagine that Lynley was sexually obsessed with Havers, and you’ll have an idea of the discomfiting atmosphere of  Anne Cleeland’s Murder in Thrall (Kensington, digital galley). Scotland Yard newcomer Kathleen Doyle isn’t really sure why Chief Inspector Michael Acton has taken her under his wing on a homicide case, but readers will quickly realize he’s been stalking her on the sly. When Lord Acton makes his intentions clear, Doyle is more than willing, although she takes a minute to worry about jeopardizing her career. I’ve already forgotten the murder this odd couple was investigating. Cleeland is better than this, as her appealing historical mystery Daughter of the God-King (Sourcebooks, digital galley) proves. Enjoy intrepid Miss Hattie Blackstone’s adventures in France and Egypt as she looks for missing archaeologists — who happen to be her parents.

cambridgePublisher William Morrow/HarperCollins is feeding my addiction to British crime with its new Witness Impulse e-book series. I’m a longtime fan of Frances Fyfield and Stephen Booth, and it’s good to see their titles available. But I’m especially happy to be introduced to excellent police procedurals by Alison Bruce (Cambridge Blue, The Calling), Mari Hannah (The Murder Wall) and Leigh Russell (Cut Short, Road Closed). Bruce’s Gary Goodhew is the youngest member of the Cambridge police force, Mari Hannah’s Kate Daniels is working homicide cases in Northumberland, and Russell’s Geraldine Steele is a DI in the rural town of Woolmarsh.

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