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Stars of Darkover: Darkover Anthology 14

Edited by Deborah J. Ross and Elisabeth Waters. Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust (www.mzbworks.com), $16.95 trade paper (263p) ISBN 978-1-938185-25-0

The late Marion Zimmer Bradley (1930–1999) was a central figure of feminist SF, and she inspired and mentored a great many female speculative fiction writers. In celebration of Bradley’s 84th birthday, this volume relaunches the Darkover anthology series after a 20-year hiatus. Included are 15 stories by authors renowned and obscure, all set on Bradley’s psionics-rich, technology-poor world of Darkover. Janni Lee Simner’s “All the Branching Paths” and Gabrielle Harbowy’s “Catalyst” draw inspiration from specific Bradley novels, while others, like Judith Tarr’s “The Cold Blue Light” and Kari Sperring’s “House of Fifteen Widows,” simply share the setting. The anthology is competent, but with no stories that stand out as deserving particular praise or castigation, the effect is curiously bland. Longtime fans of the Darkover series may enjoy this opportunity to revisit the works of their old friend and teacher, but new readers are unlikely to be enticed. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Bald New World

Peter Tieryas Liu. John Hunt/Perfect Edge (www.perfectedgebooks.com), $16.95 trade paper (229p) ISBN 978-1-78279-508-7

Perhaps a century in the future, all humans suddenly go bald, putting wig factory owners like filmmaker and womanizer Larry Chao in the spotlight. Larry’s best friend, cameraman Nicholas Guan, fights for his own identity in this thought-provoking story where fakery is preferred over the real. Liu (Dr. 2) crafts a vivid, imaginative setting with lush descriptive phrases: “Beijing had become a city of vapors, a metropolis of neon calligraphy... Store names floated in mid-air, Mandarin phrases wandered the alleys like unforgiven spirits, and a sentence cried for redemption, crucified in mist.” What begins as a broad farce with spy girls and gadgets gradually becomes a serious commentary on the nature of self. Nick struggles against those who would reform, use, or manipulate him, trying to find himself in a world strewn with literal false faces. Gorgeous language choices combine with Nick’s philosophical journey of personal discovery to create a deceptively deep story. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Hard to Be a God

Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, trans. from the Russian by Olena Bormashenko. Chicago Review (IPG, dist.), $16.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-61374-828-2

Bormashenko’s rewarding new translation of this slim 1964 novel makes available a regrettably obscure Cold War–era hybrid of SF and satire. Anton is disguised as aristocratic Don Rumata and sent to the archaic planet Arkanar by enlightened Communist historians from the future. Anton is instructed to only observe and not intervene (“like a god”) as cruel Don Reba, First Minister to the King, orders the murder of intellectuals and artists whose individuality threatens state authority. This dark allegory of unrestrained governmental power lauds the pens that battle swords. Communism is unsubtly attacked beneath a veneer of escapism. While some overly adolescent humor minimizes emotional intensity, themes of culpability and responsibility remain effective. The Strugatsky brothers (Roadside Picnic) use Anton’s struggle between impartiality and interfering as the emotional bridge connecting time travel whimsy with mature soul-searching. The unadorned prose cloaks rich ideas, illustrating the ability of imaginative literature to probe troubling moral questions. This edition includes an informative introduction by Hari Kunzru and an afterword by Boris Strugatsky. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Montauk Monster

Hunter Shea. Kensington/Pinnacle, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-0-7860-3475-8

Pairing the urban mythologies of the Montauk Monster and the government labs on Plum Island creates staggering levels of mayhem in this unreservedly recycled yet wholly enthralling hulk of a summer beach read. An oceanside rendezvous lifted directly from Jaws propels police officers Gray Dalton and Meredith Hernandez to uncover the origins of bizarre animal attacks in the Long Island town of Montauk. A muscular plotter, Shea (Evil Eternal) initially withholds more than he reveals; mutant animals with toxic blood lurk in the shadows for some time before attacking in a wave of dismemberments and gruesome gore. Not content with merely dispatching hapless tourists and hard-luck townies, Shea gleefully hurls in the cast of a Real Housewives–inspired TV show, pot-addled teenagers haplessly defending themselves with fireworks, a surprisingly resilient indigent known as Can Man, and an acronym-fest of heavily armed federal agents. This affectionate homage to a bygone genre is redolent of sunscreen and nostalgia, hardly groundbreaking but a lot of splattery fun. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Girl 4

Will Carver. Arrow (IPG, dist.), $14.95 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-09-955103-4

This arresting thriller debut pits Det. Insp. January David against a sadistic serial killer, Eames, who methodically seduces and butchers three women in increasingly showy displays of gore and perversion. Carver builds suspense by switching point of view among Eames, David, David’s professionally successful yet personally unfulfilled wife, and the first three victims, each of whom comes from a different London suburb. As the death toll rises, David runs into one dead end after another, with Eames seemingly always two steps ahead. In a chilling scene, David gets a personal shock when he comes across the mangled, bleeding body of the fourth victim, who’s hanging above a theater stage with her blood dripping into a coffin below. Fortunately, she’s still alive. Fans of British crime fiction will enjoy the many cultural references and clever witticisms sprinkled throughout the twisty plot. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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All the Things You Are

Declan Hughes. Severn, $28.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8371-1

As this slick but superficial thriller from Hughes (City of Lost Girls) begins, suburban housewife Clare Taylor returns to her Madison, Wis., home to find husband Danny Brogan and their daughters gone, and her beloved dog, Mr. Smith, savagely dismembered. By the time Clare brings the police back to her home, her slaughtered pet has vanished, replaced by something even more disquieting: the body of the man she knows only as a childhood friend of Danny’s, Gene Peterson. Stalked by determined killers, shocked by unexpected revelations about her family, Clare will have to unravel a mystery at whose core is Danny’s most closely guarded secret: that it was he who 35 years earlier set the fire that killed Clare’s parents and siblings. Hughes, who lives in Dublin, renders his Midwestern American setting with a specificity that somehow never quite becomes convincing. Though he has created an effective puzzle, rife with misdirection and unreliable protagonists, the work falls short. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Supreme Justice

Max Allan Collins. Amazon/Thomas & Mercer, $14.95 trade paper (302p) ISBN 978-1-612185-30-9

At the start of this unsatisfying political thriller set a decade in the future, two masked gunmen invade the Verdict Chophouse, a Washington, D.C., restaurant, where Supreme Court Associate Justice Henry Venter, who led the successful effort to overturn Roe v. Wade under President Gregory Watson Bennett (Obama’s Republican successor), and other top government officials are eating unguarded. One of the robbers shoots Venter dead after the judge makes a sudden move. When former Secret Service agent Joseph Reeder, who took a bullet for Bennett, views a video of the murder, he concludes that Venter was the target all along in what was meant to look like a robbery gone wrong. Reeder joins a task force investigating the crime. Other implausible security lapses and a completely predictable ending add up to a work well below Collins’s best, like his Nate Heller series (Ask Not, etc.). Agent: Dominick Abel, Dominick Abel Literary Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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A Deadly Business: A Mia Quinn Mystery

Lis Wiehl, with April Henry. Thomas Nelson, $26.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-59554-904-4

In Wiehl and Henry’s uneven second Mia Quinn mystery (after 2013’s A Matter of Trust), Mia, a prosecutor in Seattle’s King County Violent Crimes Unit, must decide whether three 15-year-old boys, whose thoughtless actions resulted in severe injury to a young mother, should be charged as juveniles or adults. Meanwhile, Mia and her children—14-year-old Gabe and three-year-old Brooke—are still adjusting to the loss of her accountant husband, Scott. His death in a car accident seven months earlier wasn’t an accident, according to Det. Charlie Carlson. Mia’s efforts to discover Scott’s secrets attract the attentions of an enforcer named Vin. The suspense rises as Mia and Charlie close in on a killer, but the mix of mystery, romance (Mia attracts both Charlie and DA Eli Hall), and social issues never quite gels. Agent: Todd Shuster, Zachary Shuster Harmsworth Literary Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Windswept

Patricia Ryan. Severn, $27.95 (192p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8357-5

The island paradise of Aruba, where Emily Harrington arrives on vacation from wintry Manhattan, stars in Ryan’s clunky romantic suspense novel. Emily is looking forward to being joined by her fiancé, Michael, currently detained in London, but it’s quickly obvious that do-gooder Emily is a poor match for him, an ambitious up-and-coming lawyer. On the island, much of the excitement comes from hard-drinking travel writer Roger Stirhew, who makes enemies faster than the staff can whip up signature cocktails. When Roger is killed, there’s no shortage of suspects, including his wife, resort owner Martin Maitland, society columnist Marietta St. John, and restaurateur Jon Peterson. Emily, who finds the body, may have glimpsed the killer and must therefore spend a lot of time with the relentless but charming Insp. Thomas Moller. Ryan (A Bucket of Ashes) relies heavily on her picturesque setting, making for a whodunit that’s longer on description than on suspense. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Coldsleep Lullaby

Andrew Brown. Minotaur, $24.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-250-03599-8

A London Sunday Times Fiction Prize winner, this outstanding series debut from South African Brown (Inyenzi) introduces tormented Det. Insp. Eberard Februarie. “In need of a work environment with less expectations and fewer temptations” after becoming addicted to drugs while on narcotics duty, Eberard transfers to the small town of Stellenbosch, where he hopes to make a fresh start and repair his relationship with his school-age daughter, who lives in nearby Cape Town with his ex-wife. When the body of Melanie Du Preez, an 18-year-old white girl, is found floating in a river, routine police work leads to a black man from Burundi known only as Bullet, who argued with Melanie shortly before her death. The case takes an unexpected turn after Bullet’s arrest, and Eberard becomes convinced that the obvious explanation is wrong. His further probing exposes him to an underworld of sexual perversity that may point the way to the truth. Fans of gritty procedurals in unfamiliar settings will look forward to the next book. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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