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Iron Axe

Steven Harper. Roc, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-0-451-46846-8

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Harper (The Clockwork Empire) begins the Books of Blood and Iron series with an exciting and somewhat unusual quest. Danr, half human and half troll, is a thrall, mired in servitude and misery. His only friend is Aisa, a human slave who still feels the potent draw of her elven former master. When an earl’s son threatens Aisa, Danr defends her and nearly kills the man, and the two friends are banished from human realms. They seek out the trolls and are given two quests: one by the troll queen, and one by Death itself. Turning common tropes on their heads, Harper portrays orcs as valiant warriors and elves as despicable slavers. His reinterpretations of trolls, giants, and fae folk give this series opener a fresh feeling, while his nods to Norse mythology and folklore root it strongly in fantasy tradition. Readers will be eager to see what’s in store for Aisa and Danr. Agent: Lucienne Diver, Knight Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Jacaranda

Cherie Priest. Subterranean (www.subterraneanpress.com), $25 (184p) ISBN 978-1-59606-684-7

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This gripping postscript to Priest’s Clockwork Century series (which officially concluded with Fiddlehead) takes readers to the titular Galveston, Tex., haunted hotel, in an alternate 1895 seasoned with ghosts and gears. Father Rios is a former gunslinger cursed with second sight and a dark past. When Sister Eileen contacts him about the dozens who have died in the hotel, he visits ahead of an impending hurricane and soon witnesses the horrors firsthand. The hotel’s guests all have dark secrets, and the violence with which the hotel disposes of them is all the more horrifying as it takes place off-page, leaving only the aftermath for the characters to discover. Priest is hardly covering new ground, but the American steampunk setting gives the classic evil haunted house a nice new coat of paint. Rios is a great protagonist, full of conflicts and doubts, and he drives the tale well. While the story stands on its own, it also provides some melancholy closure for fans of Priest’s earlier books. Agent: Jennifer Jackson, Donald Maass Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Blood Line: A Granger Spy Novel

John J. Davis. Simon & Winter, $15.95 trade paper (251p) ISBN 978-0-9903144-1-7

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Davis’s inferior thriller will leave readers scratching their heads. When intruders break into the Park City, Ga., home of Ron and Valerie Granger and hold their 16-year-old daughter, Leecy, at gunpoint, the Grangers show off their self-defense chops from their prior lives as intelligence operatives: Ron for the CIA, Valerie for the Mossad. While the parents rescue their child with ease, the repercussions of the invasion force them to flee for their lives and to reveal to Leecy the secrets of their past. Leecy’s reaction to these startling developments is unnaturally muted (“Okay, so my parents are ex spies. I can get behind that”), but that’s consistent with the lack of any psychological depth for any of the characters. Meanwhile, the town’s leaders support the local police chief after he hires a gay officer because they think the resulting controversy will be a boon to tourism. Other plot elements are just as illogical. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Put On the Armour of Light

Catherine Macdonald. Dundurn (IPS, U.S. dist.; UTP, Canadian dist.), $17.99 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-4597-1549-3

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Archivist Macdonald’s affecting first novel, a mystery set in Winnipeg in 1899, is filled with fascinating, though occasionally superfluous, period details. Peter McEvoy, an old school friend of the Rev. Charles Lauchlan, is accused of the murder of a well-connected businessman. Charles is shocked that his artistic and misunderstood friend has become a down-and-out “drunkard,” but he believes Peter deserves justice and a proper defense. His spirited young friend Maggie Skene insists that they do everything to help Peter, and one of her friends offers to pay for Peter’s lawyer and bail. Charles winds up in the middle of the action as he tries to help Peter find the killer. As the mystery unfolds, so does a budding romance between Charles and Maggie. Macdonald’s pleasing narrative voice and dialogue ring true to the era, but the book would have benefited from some reordering: The first two chapters, which open with police sergeant Setter and photographer Rosetta Cliffe working at the crime scene, lead the reader to expect that they will be the main characters. The pacing of the action is sometimes slowed by the author’s meticulous attention to detail, but the book is, nevertheless, an engaging read. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Red Queen’s Run: A Red Solaris Mystery

Bourne Morris. Henery (www.henerypress.com), $15.95 trade paper (250p) ISBN 978-1-940976-57-0

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Romance fans will best appreciate Morris’s mystery debut, the first of a trilogy. Meredith Solaris, dubbed Red for her hair color, becomes interim dean of Mountain West University, a journalism school in Nevada, after the dean, her friend Henry Brooks, dies in a fall down some stairs. Fortuitously for her ailing love life, the detective who investigates the suspicious death is hunky green-eyed Joe Morgan, whom she recently met at a party. Red becomes as interested in consummating a relationship with Joe as in figuring out who murdered Henry. Her status as a witness with knowledge of those on the faculty who might have wished her friend ill doesn’t stop Joe from getting involved with her or allowing her to play an active role in the case. The plot follows a predictable path as Morris telegraphs developments well in advance. Agent: Kimberley Cameron, Kimberley Cameron & Associates Literary Agency. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Death Comes to London

Catherine Lloyd. Kensington, $15 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-0-7582-8735-9

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Set in 1817, Lloyd’s engaging follow-up to 2013’s Death Comes to the Village takes Lucy Harrington and her younger sister, Anna, from their home in tiny Kurland St. Mary to London. There they hope to find a suitable husband for Anna through the patronage of their uncle, the Earl of Clavelly. Meanwhile, their irascible neighbor, Maj. Robert Kurland, receives a letter from the Prince Regent, who wishes to make him a baronet for his heroism at the Battle of Waterloo. Robert dislikes the prospect of such official recognition, but in the end he follows the Harrington sisters to London, where he soon runs into an old army colleague, Lieutenant Broughton. When Broughton’s sharp-tongued grandmother and wastrel brother die under suspicious circumstances after the grandmother is accused of jewel theft, Robert and Lucy investigate. Regency fans will find plenty to like, though some readers may be disappointed by a paltry array of suspects. Agent: Deidre Knight, Knight Agency. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Beautiful and the Wicked: A Lila Day Novel

Liv Spector. Morrow, $14.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-225848-9

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When wealthy software magnate Jack Warren is murdered aboard his luxury yacht, The Rising Tide, on the night of his 50th birthday in 2008, authorities believe the killer to be his artist mistress, Ava Day, sister to time-traveling former Miami homicide detective Lila Day, the star of Spector’s solid sequel to 2013’s The Rich and the Dead. Lila has always believed in her sister’s innocence and the guilt of Jack’s wife, Elise Warren, whose latest husband has died from a reported self-inflicted gunshot in the present-day of 2019. Lila persuades her friend Teddy Hawkins, who controls her time travel, to let her go back to a month before the murder, promising she won’t interfere with the past. Working undercover as a stewardess aboard The Rising Tide, Lila spots a number of possible killers, from the deckhands to Jack’s daughter. As Lila frantically seeks proof for her theory, Spector provides readers with an entertaining range of overindulgence and corruption. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Nothing but Lies: A Daniel Whelan Mystery

Lyndon Stacey. Severn, $28.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8400-8

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At the start of Stacey’s extremely readable third Daniel Whelan mystery (after 2012’s No Holds Barred), the ex-cop agrees to help martial artist Joey Suzuki, a colleague from his days on the dog squad, to whom he owes a favor. Joey fears that someone is stalking his fiancée, Tamiko. Along with his trained police dog, Taz, Daniel moves into the cottage Joey and Tamiko share in a village outside Bristol in England’s West Country. One of Daniel’s duties is to drive Tamiko in a horse van to shows where she looks after a wealthy woman’s horses. On the surface, everything is serene, until the intrusion of Tamiko’s sister, Hana, pursued by her abusive partner, Jafari. Then a fatal hit-and-run reveals that a homicidal psychopath is lurking in the neighborhood. Daniel and Taz work as a perfect team in pursuit of the killer, and their warm relationship helps make this a feel-good book despite the mayhem. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Doll’s House

Tania Carver. Pegasus Crime (Norton, dist.), $25.95 (480p) ISBN 978-1-60598-654-8

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British author Carver’s formulaic fifth Det. Insp. Phil Brennan novel (after The Black Road) finds Phil and his wife, Marina Esposito, a criminal psychologist, starting anew in Birmingham after enduring a horrific trauma eight months earlier. Phil, now leading a police team whose members don’t know him, looks into an unusual murder. Inside an ordinary house, sitting at a table laid for dinner, is the body of a heavily made-up woman dressed in clothes that make her look like a doll. The investigation follows predictable lines, interspersed with tension between Phil and the man who hoped to have gotten his position, Det. Sgt. Ian Sperring. Meanwhile, Marina must contend with the unwanted attentions of Hugo Gwilym, a best-selling author of pop psychology books. Gwilym’s efforts to seduce Marina complicate Phil’s inquiry once his name surfaces in connection with the case. A key character is predictably put into peril toward the end, while the killer’s identity comes as an anticlimax. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Woman with a Gun

Phillip Margolin. Harper, $26.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-226652-1

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Bestseller Margolin (Worthy Brown’s Daughter) stumbles with this overly complicated whodunit. At an exhibit of Kathy Moran’s photographs at Manhattan’s Museum of Modern Art, budding novelist Stacey Kim is transfixed by a picture of a woman standing on a beach in a white dress, holding a gun. Stacey decides to ditch her East Coast life and travel to Palisades Heights, Ore., where Kathy took the photo and now lives. Flash back to 2005, when Kathy snapped the picture after coming upon newlywed Megan Cahill, whose millionaire husband, Raymond, was shot to death hours after their wedding. An outside prosecutor who shares a history with Kathy helps investigate Raymond’s murder. Back in the present, another body turns up soon after Stacey arrives in Palisades Heights, and she must unravel Raymond’s unsolved murder if she hopes to crack the new case and get the real story behind Kathy’s photograph. With too many characters clogging the story, an intriguing premise devolves into a disappointing mess. Agents: Jean Naggar and Jennifer Weltz, Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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