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Inside a Silver Box

Walter Mosley. Tor, $25.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-7653-7521-6

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In this terrific genre-defying work, Mosley (Rose Gold) uses an eons-old battle for control of existence as a backdrop for a character-driven novel of philosophy and social commentary. Ages ago, the Laz created the Silver Box to inflict torture on other life forms, but the Silver Box rebelled and imprisoned the Laz within itself. In the present day, black thug Ronnie Bottoms kills white Columbia student Lorraine Fell in Central Park, above the Box’s resting place. Lorraine’s spirit draws Ronnie back to her body and he resurrects her using the artifact’s power, but a sliver of the Laz escapes, so the Silver Box calls upon the unlikely duo to “try to save the Earth” and sends them on a journey to gain superpowers. Mosley really pulls out all the stops, managing with improbable success to combine a struggle for the fate of all existence with a story about two New Yorkers from very different backgrounds coming to understand each other and address the mistakes they’ve made in their own lives. Wild concepts and deep thoughts sit comfortably alongside the musings of ordinary people undergoing radical changes in this top-notch tale. Agent: Gloria Loomis, Watkins/Loomis Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The City Stained Red

Sam Sykes. Orbit, $16 trade paper (608p) ISBN 978-0-316-37487-3

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This dense, overwritten fantasy novel reunites the ragtag crew of adventurers from Sykes’s Aeons’ Gate series (Tome of the Undergates, etc.). Done with adventuring and the requisite tally of murders, Lenk—a hardcore killer with an incongruously sweet face—wants out, and he needs his team to help him collect his final payday. Unfortunately, things do not exactly go to plan, and it’s up to this comically inappropriate group to save the day as their city descends into chaos and ruin. The fantastical, dangerous world and the creatures that populate it are packed with potential, different enough from standard fantasy fare to be exciting. The delivery is less appealing; Sykes struggles to get a handle on non-human perspectives and the mindset of people who kill for money, and characterization is inconsistent. Meanwhile, the potential for a rousing and gritty adventure is disappointingly smothered by pages of repetitive and meandering narrative. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Grand Theft Death: A Salty Sister Mystery

Ann Philipp. Salty Sister, $12.99 trade paper (260p) ISBN 978-0-9895654-0-0

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Philipp’s tongue is firmly in cheek in this goofy, entertaining series debut. Graphic artist Patricia Schuster, who has hit a professional dead end, gets a chance to start over when she inherits her grandmother’s house and antique business in Lakeville, a short distance north of San Francisco. But when Patricia drives a drunken friend home without knowing her friend’s car has been reported stolen, she gets arrested for stealing it. This humiliation turns into something more complex when her friend drowns in a swimming pool. Aided by some of her late grandmother’s close friends, including the widow of a mobster, Patricia plays gumshoe while falling for the hunky son of the officer who arrested her. The ending is a bit over the top, but Philipp’s light touch and the endearing romantic subplot bode well for the sequel. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Fatal Feast: A Merlin Mystery

Jay Ruud. Five Star Publishing, $25.95 (298p) ISBN 978-1-4328-2987-2

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Scholar Ruud (Encyclopedia of Medieval Literature) makes his fiction debut with this promising first in an Arthurian mystery series, though as he notes at the end, “I have set this story not in the sixth century, the time of the historical Arthur’s career, but rather in the High Middle Ages... when the legendary Arthur flourished.” After Sir Patrise is poisoned at the queen’s table, Guinevere is accused of treason and murder. King Arthur is bound by duty to remain neutral but sends Guinevere’s young page, Gildas, to find Merlin and persuade him to discover Patrise’s real killer. Gildas and Merlin, who have never met before, are soon working together to save the queen before her trial by combat. Given the many names to remember, a list of characters would have been helpful, but that won’t stop enthralled readers from looking forward to the sequel. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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A Killer Retreat: A Downward Dog Mystery

Tracy Weber. Midnight Ink (www.midnightinkbooks.com), $14.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-7387-4209-0

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Weber’s entertaining second Downward Dog mystery (after 2013’s Murder Strikes a Pose) takes Seattle yoga instructor Kate Davidson to Orcas Island in Puget Sound for a working vacation. Teaching yoga classes at the Elysian Springs resort seems like a good idea, until Kate finds the body of Monica, a guest attending the wedding of resort caretakers Emmy and Josh, in the spa. Nearly everybody heartily disliked Monica, including Kate, who becomes the primary murder suspect. A quirky lawyer helps her stay out of jail for the time being, but Kate and her boyfriend, Michael, will have to find the real killer with the help of Kate’s German shepherd, Bella. Meanwhile, Bandit, an intensely annoying Jack Russell terrier, terrorizes Bella and the resort’s guests, while Monica’s distraught husband, a cranky chef, also distracts from the investigation. Cozy readers will enjoy the twist-filled plot. Agent: Margaret Bail, Andrea Hurst & Associates Literary Management. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Nun Too Soon: A Giulia Driscoll Mystery

Alice Loweecey. Henery (www.henerypress.com), $15.95 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-940976-65-5

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Last seen in 2013’s Veiled Threat, Giulia Driscoll fights injustice in this solid start to a series relaunch. The nun-turned-private investigator in Cottonwood, Pa., must now prove that Roger Fitch, the so-called Silk-Tie Killer, didn’t strangle his girlfriend, Loriela Gil. Everyone but Roger and his attorney is convinced he’s guilty. Roger has a motive, but Loriela had many enemies, any of whom could have killed her. Giulia’s search is set back by a sleazy, sensationalist reporter, and by Roger himself, who accuses her of not trying hard enough. Her husband, police detective Frank Driscoll, thinks she’s making a mistake in her effort to absolve Roger, and she begins to worry she may be helping a killer escape justice. After a promising start, the story drags in the middle but picks up speed toward the end, as it approaches the exciting and suspenseful climax. Agent: Kent Wolf, Lippincott Massie McQuilkin. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Eruption

Adrienne Quintana. Cedar Fort/Sweetwater, $16.99 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-4621-1536-5

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Jace Vega secures a job at Omnibus, a rising company that has monopolized the field of modern electronics. Soon after, she stumbles upon an Omnibus tablet dropped by a stranger, a device that does not yet exist in the company’s product lineup. When she searches the tablet to find the stranger’s identity, she discovers an impending information-terrorism crisis and photos of her that she doesn’t recognize. Jace believes there’s only one possible explanation: somebody from the future sent the tablet to the past, as a message. Jace’s efforts to untangle the mystery of the tablet force her to confront forgotten memories, her father, the son of Omnibus’s CEO, and her own social-media obsession. Quintana’s debut is a standard fast-paced techno-thriller, its momentum set more by intrigue than action as her characters question each other’s motives and loyalties. This quick, entertaining read unravels toward the end but holds potential for future installments to resolve the time-travel paradoxes it sets up. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Slow Down

Lee Matthew Goldberg. New Pulp (www.newpulppress.com), $14.95 trade paper (270p) ISBN 978-0-9899323-7-0

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In the prologue of Goldberg’s frenetic first novel, Noah Spaeth sets out to explain how he was robbed of the best-director Oscar for his film Slow Down. Flash back four years to New York City: actress Nevie Wyeth introduces Spaeth, who dreams of becoming a famous author and filmmaker, to director Dominick Bambach at a Lower East Side bar. Bambach becomes Spaeth’s mentor, and while Spaeth plots to use Bambach, Bambach, a master manipulator, uses him instead. A mysterious yellow-circle tattoo, a deadly new drug called fast, and any number of would-be actresses, actors, and writers figure in the meandering plot. Spaeth twists and turns as he woos Nevie, spars with Bambach, and makes a risky deal with Bambach’s estranged wife, in a tale full of unedifying characters scrambling for the elusive, perhaps imaginary, brass ring. Agent: Sam Hiyate, Rights Factory. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Death and the Cyprian Society

Pamela Christie. Kensington, $15 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-0-7582-8644-4

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In Christie’s quirky third Arabella Beaumont mystery (after 2014’s Death Among the Ruins), the Regency courtesan sets out to create a club—the Cyprian Society—for the pleasure of her London colleagues. To complete the project, Arabella needs the £40,000 she’s owed by Constance Worthington, a rather stupid woman who now has a wealthy protector. Constance says she cannot repay the debt, because she’s being blackmailed for her relationship with Lady Ribbonhat’s footman. To get her money back, Arabella resolves to expose the blackmailer. The process uncovers more secrets and even leads to murder. The book’s tone of ironic detachment urges the reader not to take these mostly self-absorbed and venal characters too seriously. Thus, when Arabella becomes temporarily responsible for her extremely bright 11-year-old niece, Edwardina, the child expresses hope that when she grows up she can follow her aunt into prostitution. Agent: Michele Rubin, Writers House. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Fiction River: Pulse Pounders

Edited by Kevin J. Anderson. WMG (www.wmgpublishing.com), $15.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-56146-607-8

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A wide range of styles powers this anthology of 14 genre-bending stories, all of which, according to series editor Dean Wesley Smith, “start with a bang, have a lot of bangs in the middle, and then end with an even bigger bang.” Several of the selections qualify as science fiction, including Anderson and Peter J. Wacks’s “Change of Mind,” a battle of wits between a serial killer and a preserved mind on an ice planet that builds to a nifty ending. A previously unpublished story by SF master Frank Herbert follows three robbers trying to escape from their pursuers and one other. Pulp fiction lives on in Patrick O’Sullivan’s over-the-top “A Man of His Times,” a delightful WWII romp in which a reporter faces various clichéd dangers. Dayle A. Dermatis’s dark “The Scent of Amber and Vanilla,” about a woman trying to protect her child from her psycho partner, is a nail-biter. Although not all the entries meet Smith’s bold description, fans of the unconventional will be well satisfied. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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