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Channel Blue

Jay Martel. Head of Zeus (Trafalgar Sq., dist.), $17.95 trade paper (374p) ISBN 978-1-78185-580-5

In this irony-laden novel of apocalyptic farce, debut author Martel tries for the sharp wit of Douglas Adams but comes closer to the patter of George Burns. Screenwriter Perry Bunt is great at pitching to movie studios but following through with completed scripts is his weakness—until he delivers a pitch to save the world. Earth has been produced as a TV channel for the rest of the galaxy for over 150 years. Now the network has decided to cancel the show, and the planet. With the help of Amanda Mundo, the alien producer who doesn’t want her show to end, Perry must come up with the perfect solution to keep galactic watchers tuned in. There are one-liners in abundance, but they don’t quite carry Martel’s story to the finish line. Agent: Georgina Capel, Capel & Land. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Hawley Book of the Dead

Chrysler Szarlan. Ballantine, $26 (352p) ISBN 978-0-345-54502-2

Bookseller and debut novelist Szarlan gives an informed and assured launch to her Revelation Quartet. The Amazing Maskelynes—Revelation “Reve” Dyer and her husband, Jeremy—are acclaimed Las Vegas stage magicians. After someone tampers with their equipment, Jeremy is fatally shot by Reve as they perform the “Defying the Bullet” trick. Horrified, Reve and her three daughters seek refuge with her maternal grandmother in her childhood home of Hawley Five Corners, Mass. The Dyer women all have supernatural abilities, and Reve can vanish at will from the world. When she encounters the titular volume, she’s drawn into generations-old mysteries involving magical objects, government spooks, and malevolent fey. Readers will be thoroughly engaged in the lives of the literary, magical, horse-loving Reve, teen twins Grace and Fai, and 10-year-old Caleigh. Agent: Alexandra Machinist, Janklow & Nesbit Associates. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Age of Iron

Angus Watson. Orbit, $16 trade paper (576p) ISBN 978-0-316-39978-4

Watson’s Iron Age trilogy kicks off in the relatively uncharted period before Britain was invaded by the Romans, circa 61 B.C.E. The land is populated by strapping warriors, power-hungry kings, and enigmatic druids, all battling for survival and supremacy. Dug Sealskinner, past his prime at 40, is still playing mercenary when he’d rather be settled down with a family. Lowa Flynn is a powerful archer in service to the cunning, ambitious King Zadar, who intends to conquer Britain, one village at a time. After Dug flees a disastrous battle and Lowa is betrayed by Zadar, the two become reluctant allies and traveling companions, soon adopting the plan of killing Zadar to avenge Lowa’s slain sisters in arms. They’re joined by an inexperienced druid and a fast-talking girl, and must face an entire army if they want to succeed. Watson’s tale is gore soaked and profanity laden—full of visceral combat and earthy humor, and laced with subtle magic. The blend of historical accuracy and authorial liberties suggests an old-school sword-and-sorcery epic, though with some clearly modern sensibilities thrown in for good measure. Agent: Angharad Kowal, Writers House U.K. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Radiant

Karina Sumner-Smith. Skyhorse/Talos, $15.99 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-940456-10-2

Inequality, economics, and postapocalyptic necromancy combine persuasively in Sumner-Smith’s ingenious, insightful debut. Born without the “bright magic” commonly used as currency and power, 15-year-old Xhea is a nonperson in a sharply divided society of floating Towers and earthbound ruins, forced to scrounge a living from her unusual ability to see and manipulate ghosts. Shai Nalani is the living ghost of a “Radiant,” one of the wellsprings of raw bright magic who serve as “part mint, part power plant” to the constantly competing Towers. After Xhea takes possession of Shai’s ghost, fast-paced intrigue between Towers follows, as does the awakening of Xhea’s own “dark magic” with its complex power over death and the tantalizing promise of sweeping social change. With a clean, evocative style (“Outside, the world was the grey of fishing weights and galvanized nails”), a clever transposition of corporate warfare into a feudal future, and a strong, complementary pair of protagonists, Sumner-Smith’s Towers Trilogy is off to a captivating start. Agent: Sara Megibow, Nelson Literary Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Cottoncrest Curse

Michael H. Rubin. Louisiana State Univ., $29.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-8071-5618-6

Rubin’s gripping debut mystery depicts the bitter racial divides of post-Reconstruction South and its continuing legacy. The story begins in 1893 in Louisiana with the discovery of middle-aged colonel Augustine Chastaine’s corpse sprawled across the mutilated body of his much younger wife, Rebecca, in their home, Cottoncrest Plantation. The evidence seems to indicate murder/suicide; just two more victims of the “Cottoncrest Curse.” Sheriff Raifer Jackson, however, is canny enough to realize that he’s actually looking at a double murder. Unfortunately for Jewish peddler Jake Gold, his religion and acquaintance with the dead couple makes him an ideal scapegoat; even the help of his friends and allies may not be enough to get him out of Louisiana and save him from the rage of the white supremacist Knights of Camellia. Aside from clumsy flash-forwards to 1961 and the present day notwithstanding, Rubin has created a convincing, if unsympathetic, examination of the Old South. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Murder in Time: An Ellie Quicke Mystery

Veronica Heley. Severn, $28.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8398-8

In Heley’s 15th outing for Ellie Quicke (after 2013’s Murder With Mercy), the harried grandmother finds herself spread thin while caring for her cranky infant grandson, Evan, and helping her live-in housekeeper, Vera, through a crisis. Both women are shocked when Abdi, the man who raped Vera when they were both teenagers, turns up seeking custody of their son, Mikey, now nearly a teenager himself. Ellie decides to intervene after Abdi claims to have evidence Vera murdered one Dr. McKenzie, owner of the house where the rape occurred. Though Ellie has faith in Vera’s innocence, she also knows the wealthy Abdi will use whatever means to get what he wants. Between defending Vera and discovering the true killer, Ellie is once again immersed in a web of deceit, debauchery, and death. Heley’s prose is sure, her characters well-drawn, and though her tone is light, the plot is satisfyingly dark and sinister. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Mountains of the Misbegotten: A Lute Bapcat Mystery

Joseph Heywood. Globe Pequot/Lyons, $26.95 (384p) ISBN 978-1-4930-0608-3

Set in 1914, Heywood’s stirring second Lute Bapcat mystery (after 2012’s Red Jacket) takes the “Deputy State Game, Fish and Forestry Warden” to Ontonagon County, on Michigan’s sparsely populated Upper Peninsula, to locate missing deputy Farrell Mackley. Later, Bapcat receives orders to find and arrest Heinrich Junger (aka Henry Young), a dangerous character he used to know as Hank the Shank, for murder. He must also deal with the trapping and selling of bears. Along the way, Bapcat encounters miners, trappers, entrepreneurs, and enterprising ladies. Besides wonderfully odd characters, Heywood offers strong descriptions of the region’s rugged topography. In one memorable scene, a school teacher leads naked charges into a pool where they are bait for leeches; they later sell the hundreds of leeches they gather to a St. Louis hospital for $1.25 each. Agent: Phyllis Westberg, Harold Ober Associates. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Day of Vengeance: A Dorothy Martin Mystery

Jeanne M. Dams. Severn, $28.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8397-1

In Dams’s captivating 15th Dorothy Martin mystery (after 2013’s Shadows of Death), Dorothy’s husband, retired chief constable Alan Nesbitt, is serving on the Crown Appointments Commission to select the next bishop of Sherebury Cathedral. When one of candidates, the Rev. Andrew Stephen Owen Brading, is murdered in his own church, everyone involved falls under suspicion, including Alan. An informal team gathers to clear Alan’s name by investigating each of the remaining candidates on the list. The stakes rise when a friend of the Martins goes missing after probing the cooked books of the charismatic Rev. Geoffrey Lovelace’s church. Meanwhile, the inquiry into Brading’s past opens questions as to why he was shortlisted for the mitre in the first place. Anglophiles, especially those with an ecclesiastical bent, will find much to savor. Agent: Kimberley Cameron, Kimberley Cameron Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Mystery of the Invisible Hand: A Henry Spearman Mystery

Marshall Jevons. Princeton Univ., $24.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-691-16313-0

Jevons (the pen name of economics professor Kenneth G. Elzinga) combines entertaining economic lessons with a crafty whodunit in his excellent fourth Henry Spearman mystery (after 1995’s A Deadly Indifference). Harvard economics professor Spearman, who’s riding high after winning the Nobel Prize, accepts an invitation to serve as a visiting professor at Monte Vista University in San Antonio, Tex., where a few weeks earlier, the city was stunned by a baffling art theft. Five paintings by an acclaimed local artist Tristan Wheeler disappeared from the owner’s home under inexplicable circumstances. Soon after Spearman arrives in San Antonio, the suspicious suicide of a prominent individual appears to relate to the theft. Jevons delights in dropping counterintuitive economic insights into the story line (e.g., why someone afraid of staining his tie should buy more expensive neckwear). The solution, with a nod to a classic deduction of Sherlock Holmes, flows naturally from an economic explanation of human behavior. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Beyond the Pale Motel

Francesca Lia Block. St. Martin’s, $24.99 (224p) ISBN 978-1-250-03312-3

In this fast-paced, if shallow, erotic thriller from Block (The Elementals), L.A. hair stylist Catt struggles with alcoholism and with the departure of her husband, Dash, who leaves her for “starlet du jour” Darcy London. Meanwhile, a serial killer is dismembering women in Hollywood. Within a month, Catt hooks up with her godson Skylar’s baseball coach, Jarell Hardin; Carlton, a Canadian artist she meets on an Internet dating service called FU Cupid; and even with Dash’s brother, Cyan Berns. Each encounter proves unsatisfactory. Catt manages to stay sober with the help of best friend Bree, Skylar’s mom, and AA sponsor Shana, a “hot lesbian documentary-film producer.” Catt’s worries about the serial killer intensify after her neighbor, a model and aspiring actress, becomes his third victim. Abandoned by Bree, Catt hits the bottle and sets the stage for the climactic confrontation with the killer. Few readers will care about her fate. Agent: Laurie Liss, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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