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The Diabolical Miss Hyde

Viola Carr. Harper Voyager, $16.99 ISBN 978-0-06-236308-4

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Carr’s steampunk debut is electrifying, memorable, and razor sharp. Eliza Jekyll—daughter of the late Dr. Henry Jekyll, a forensic investigator for the London police—continues her father’s work by battling serial killers and other monsters. No one knows that she hides a monster of her own: Lizzie Hyde, her seductive, wild alter ego, who comes out to play at night. Eliza’s current case has her tracking a murderer who steals body parts, and every avenue of investigation seems to take her into deeper, darker territory. While Lizzie’s influence and desire for freedom grow, Eliza is forced to work with Remy Lafeyette, a member of the Royal Society who could unmask her unnatural state at any time. The shift between Eliza and Lizzie’s narrative voices further amplifies their complex, difficult relationship, and Carr evokes a host of Victorian nightmares—Jack the Ripper, Sweeney Todd, Frankenstein’s monster, and more—as she brings the subtly disturbing setting to life. Agent: Marlene Stringer, Stringer Literary Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Chasing Daybreak

Ranae Glass. Crimson Tree (www.crimsontreepublishing.com), $9.95 trade paper (236p) ISBN 978-1-63422-033-0

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Glass’s by-the-numbers debut is filled with character archetypes, paranormal tropes, and plot points straight out of the Laurell K. Hamilton playbook. Isabel Stone is a 22-year-old PI in a world that’s still adjusting to the recent revelation that vampires are real. She lives (nonromantically) with her now-vampiric ex-fiancé, Shane. When she lands what appears to be a standard missing-persons case, sure enough, there turns out to be a supernatural element, and that soon leads to the usual slate of vampire and werewolf political and romantic machinations. There are certainly worthwhile moments, although the best—a well-deserved slam at Twilight’s ephebophilia—is undercut both by its lack of originality and by a protagonist’s name that’s only a few characters away from “Bella.” There’s nothing wrong with walking in the footsteps of other creators (the influences seem to range from Laura Lippman to Veronica Mars), but Glass never manages to find her own unique stride. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Alcatraz Rose: A Lawrence Kingston Mystery

Anthony Eglin. Larkspur, $15.99 trade paper (229p) ISBN 978-1-502707-03-1

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Cozy fans will enjoy Eglin’s sixth mystery featuring British botany professor Lawrence Kingston (after 2011’s Garden of Secrets Past), despite some improbable plot developments. Kingston has garnered a reputation as a successful amateur sleuth with an eye for the telling detail (he cracked one case by noticing a wire coat hanger the police overlooked). His notoriety leads a 13-year-old girl, Letty McGuire, to ask him to find out what happened to her mother, who went missing eight years earlier. Kingston tells her not to expect much, but does pull strings to meet the investigating officer on the case. Meanwhile, he learns that a rare type of rose, believed extinct for half a century, has surfaced on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay. This discovery proves to be connected to an English murder and sends the botanist to visit the site of the legendary prison. Eventually, he finds some answers for Letty. Assured prose helps compensate for a few clunkers (a police officer asserts that “proof is a rare thing in police work”). (BookLife)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Tears of Innocence

Bill Rapp. Five Star Publishing, $25.95 (252p) ISBN 978-1-4328-3011-3

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In this routine thriller from Rapp (Berlin Breakdown), Capt. Karl Baier, an American employed by U.S. Army intelligence in post-WWII Berlin, examines “German industrial and scientific records” to identify individuals who actively aided the Nazis. When Baier explores the house where he’s billeted, he finds an unfamiliar laundry ticket bearing his name. Intrigued by this remarkable coincidence, Baier goes to the launderer to learn more, only to discover that there’s nothing there to claim. Baier does meet Sabine, who reveals that her husband, a German supply officer who is also named Karl Baier, has disappeared. Attracted to the married woman, he agrees to do what he can to learn what happened to the other man. Meanwhile, Baier becomes suspicious of his driver and follows the man to a romantic rendezvous, only to witness his murder. Baier is often a step behind the reader, and the depiction of 1945 Berlin suffers in comparison with the Berlin depicted in Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Death and the Redheaded Woman: An Auction Block Mystery

Loretta Ross. Midnight Ink (www.midnightink-
books.com), $14.99 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-0-7387-4393-6

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Ross’s winning debut, the first in a new cozy series, introduces auctioneer Wren Morgan, a redhead who has the misfortune to encounter a naked dead man at the bottom of the stairs leading to the cupola of the Campbell house, an antebellum Victorian mansion whose contents she is cataloguing. At the East Bledsoe Ferry, Mo., police station, where Wren goes to make a formal statement, she meets Death (pronounced “Deeth”) Bogart, a hunky bounty hunter and newly minted PI. Her remark that Death is one of the middle names of Dorothy Sayers’s fictional detective, Lord Peter Wimsey, immediately catches the attention of the incorrigible Death, who recognizes the dead man from a photo as an ex-con connected to a case he’s working on. Death is happy to join the fetching Wren for some sleuthing. Distinctive characters transcend the usual cozy archetypes, though prudish readers should be prepared for some mild sexual content. Agent: Janet Reid, FinePrint Literary Management. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Toured to Death

Hy Conrad. Kensington, $25 (320p) ISBN 978-1-61773-678-0

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This convoluted first in a new travel whodunit series from Conrad (Mr. Monk Helps Himself) introduces tour operator Amy Abel, who is in Europe to supervise the Monte Carlo to Rome Mystery Road Rally. Amy’s mother and business partner, Fanny, hired the odd Otto Ingo to create this mystery game in New York. Shortly after Otto gave Fanny the first installment (also emailed to Amy in Monte Carlo), he was shot dead in his dingy Manhattan apartment. It turns out that the reclusive Otto based his game on a real case in San Diego, and—surprise, surprise—two of the participants in the road rally were involved in the original case. The attractive Marcus Alvarez, who has joined the group as the companion to a wealthy heiress and becomes Amy’s potential love interest, could be implicated in the crime. Readers may struggle to keep track of the many backstories, but armchair travelers should enjoy the romp through France and Italy. Agent: Allison Cohen, Gersh Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Striver

Stephen Solomita. Severn, $28.95 (208p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8462-6

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At the outset of Solomita’s satisfying sequel to 2013’s Dancer in the Flames, Teddy Winuk, an ambitious crook on the rise, goes for a walk early one cold fall morning in Greenpoint, the industrial Brooklyn neighborhood where he grew up. Muffled sobs lead him to look behind one of the footings of the Pulaski Bridge, where Carlo Pianetti, the son of mob boss Johnny Piano, is raping a woman on the pavement. Since Teddy has been paying tribute to Johnny and getting nothing in return for two years, he makes what he considers a reasonable decision to fire a bullet into Carlo’s head. NYPD Det. Boots Littlewood catches the call on Carlo and works out what was happening when he was shot—and searches for Carlo’s victim as well as the killer. Johnny is soon looking for the shooter, too. Because Boots and Johnny have a history, Boots’s hot-blooded police partner, “Crazy” Jill Kelly, is assigned to keep an eye on him. Solomita delivers a thoroughly entertaining match of wits, brawn, and daring. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Satan’s Lullaby: A Medieval Mystery

Priscilla Royal. Poisoned Pen, $24.95 (228p) ISBN 978-1-4642-0356-5

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At the start of Royal’s outstanding 11th medieval whodunit featuring Prioress Eleanor and Brother Thomas (after 2013’s Covenant with Hell), the imperious Fr. Etienne Davoir arrives from France to inspect the operations of Eleanor’s Tyndal Priory, of the Order of Fontevraud, in East Anglia. While such inspections are routine for other orders, this will be Tyndal’s first in Eleanor’s eight years as prioress. Abbess Isabeau, Davoir’s sister, has sent a message from France saying her brother “would look into whether any impropriety had occurred amongst the religious.” The night before the priest’s arrival, a soldier escorting his party has his throat slit while sleeping in an inn. Another murder follows, and suspicions center on a member of Tyndal Priory, even as Eleanor must fend off an accusation of a carnal affair. Royal amplifies and deepens her series characters in the service of a clever plot that elevates her work to the top rank of historical mystery writers. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Arsenic and Old Books: A Cat in the Stacks Mystery

Miranda James. Berkley Prime Crime, $25.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-425-25729-6

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In James’s diverting sixth cozy featuring librarian Charlie Harris and his Maine Coon cat, Diesel (after 2014’s The Silence of the Library), Mayor Lucinda Long donates a set of Civil War–era family diaries to the archives of Athena College in Athena, Miss. Interest in the volumes is surprisingly high—so high that they disappear from Charlie’s locked office. Politics enters the picture when rumor has it that the diaries contain a Long family secret that could affect the race Lucinda’s son, Beck, is running against an old family rival for the state senate. Soon the books mysteriously reappear, and everyone’s attention turns to the murder of an unpopular Athena faculty member who was involved with the diaries. What could be so shocking in the Long family history that someone would kill for it? Once again, series fans will learn that the library holds more than dusty tomes, besides enjoying a visit with their favorite oversized cat. Agent: Nancy Yost, Nancy Yost Literary Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Burning Gates: A Makana Mystery

Parker Bilal. Bloomsbury, $27 (384p) ISBN 978-1-62040-886-5

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Set in Cairo in 2004, Bilal’s riveting fourth Makana mystery (after 2014’s The Ghost Runner) plunges the intrepid investigator into the world of art dealers and high-stakes art theft. Fellow exile and artist/automobile restorer Ali Shibaker introduces Makana to Aram Kasabian, a rich and well-connected art dealer who, it appears, is on the lookout for certain modern masterworks that disappeared during the Nazi regime—but have somehow resurfaced in connection with the notorious Col. Khadim al-Samari of the Iraqi armed forces. Kasabian employs Makana to locate al-Samari, a fugitive on America’s most-wanted list, who may be secretly in Egypt thanks to his cronies in the army. Makana’s quest takes him to shabby bars, discreet nightclubs, and even to mosques. More than one gruesome death helps propel the twisty plot to a Pyrrhic conclusion. Agent: Euan Thorneycroft, A. M. Heath (U.K.). (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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