Quick Review: PORTRAIT OF A THIEF by Grace D. Li (Tiny Reparations)

LiGD-PortraitOfAThiefUSHCDiaspora, History, Heists, and Ennui

History is told by the conquerors. Across the Western world, museums display the spoils of war, of conquest, of colonialism: priceless pieces of art looted from other countries, kept even now.

Will Chen plans to steal them back.

A senior at Harvard, Will fits comfortably in his carefully curated roles: a perfect student, an art history major and sometimes artist, the eldest son who has always been his parents’ American Dream. But when a mysterious Chinese benefactor reaches out with an impossible — and illegal — job offer, Will finds himself something else as well: the leader of a heist to steal back five priceless Chinese sculptures, looted from Beijing centuries ago.

His crew is every heist archetype one can imag­ine — or at least, the closest he can get. A con artist: Irene Chen, a public policy major at Duke who can talk her way out of anything. A thief: Daniel Liang, a premed student with steady hands just as capable of lockpicking as suturing. A getaway driver: Lily Wu, an engineering major who races cars in her free time. A hacker: Alex Huang, an MIT dropout turned Silicon Valley software engineer. Each member of his crew has their own complicated relationship with China and the identity they’ve cultivated as Chinese Americans, but when Will asks, none of them can turn him down.

Because if they succeed? They earn fifty million dollars — and a chance to make history. But if they fail, it will mean not just the loss of everything they’ve dreamed for themselves but yet another thwarted at­tempt to take back what colonialism has stolen.

Who doesn’t like a heist story? I love them, so when I had the chance to read and review Grace D. Li’s debut novel, I jumped at the chance. Five amateur thieves thrown together by a wealthy benefactor, on a mission to retrieve stolen Chinese antiques. This had a lot of promise, and I’m happy to report that it lived up to my expectations. I very much enjoyed this.
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Quick Review: THE MURDER RULE by Dervla McTiernan (William Morrow)

McTiernanD-MurderRuleUSHCA young law student tries to derail a murder trial

First Rule: Make them like you.

Second Rule: Make them need you.

Third Rule: Make them pay.

They think I’m a young, idealistic law student, that I’m passionate about reforming a corrupt and brutal system.

They think I’m working hard to impress them.

They think I’m here to save an innocent man on death row.

 They’re wrong. I’m going to bury him.

Dervla McTiernan’s latest novel has been getting quite a bit of good buzz in the lead up to publication. The synopsis was intriguing, and I’m always on the look-out for new authors to follow. (Because, you know, I never have enough to read.) After receiving a review copy, I dove right in, and blitzed through it in just a few sittings. This is a well-paced, well-written, and gripping thriller. Continue reading

Excerpt: THE SHADOW OF MEMORY by Connie Berry (Crooked Lane Books)

BerryC-KH4-ShadowOfMemoryUSHCToday, we have an excerpt from The Shadow of Memory, Connie Berry‘s fourth Kate Hamilton Mystery. Due to be published by Crooked Lane Books on May 10th, here’s the synopsis:

American antiques dealer Kate Hamilton uncovers a dark secret buried in Victorian England.

As Kate Hamilton plans her upcoming wedding to Detective Inspector Tom Mallory, she is also assisting her colleague Ivor Tweedy with a project at the Netherfield Sanatorium, which is being converted into luxury townhouses. Kate and Ivor must appraise a fifteenth-century painting and verify that its provenance is the Dutch master Jan Van Eyck. But when retired criminal inspector Will Parker is found dead, Kate learns that the halls of the sanatorium housed much more than priceless art.

Kate is surprised to learn that Will had been the first boyfriend of her friend Vivian Bunn, who hasn’t seen him in fifty-eight years. At a seaside holiday camp over sixty years ago, Will, Vivian, and three other teens broke into an abandoned house where a doctor and his wife had died under bizarre circumstances two years earlier. Now, when a second member of the childhood gang dies unexpectedly — and then a third — it becomes clear that the teens had discovered more in the house than they had realized.

Had Will returned to warn his old love? When Kate makes a shocking connection between a sixty-year-old murder and the long-buried secrets of the sanatorium, she suddenly understands that time is running out for Vivian — and anyone connected to her.

Now, on with the excerpt!

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Quick Review: NIGHTCRAWLING by Leila Mottley (Knopf/Bloomsbury)

MottleyL-NightcrawlingUSHCA gripping, wrenching story of survival in modern America

A young Black woman who walks the streets of Oakland and stumbles headlong into the failure of its justice system…

Kiara Johnson and her brother Marcus are barely scraping by in a squalid East Oakland apartment complex optimistically called the Royal-Hi. Both have dropped out of high school, their family fractured by death and prison. But while Marcus clings to his dream of rap stardom, Kiara hunts for work to pay their rent — which has more than doubled — and to keep the 9-year-old boy next door, abandoned by his mother, safe and fed.

One night, what begins as a drunken misunderstanding with a stranger turns into the job Kiara never imagined wanting but now desperately needs: nightcrawling. And her world breaks open even further when her name surfaces in an investigation that exposes her as a key witness in a massive scandal within the Oakland police department.

Leila Mottley’s debut novel has been getting a lot of positive pre-publication buzz. I was luck enough to get a DRC, and am very happy to report that the buzz is justified: it’s a very well-written, engaging, and moving novel about a young woman’s attempts to survive in a modern America that has little compassion for people like her. Gripping, I was hooked from very early on.
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Upcoming: THE FIELDS by Erin Young (Flatiron/Hodder)

YoungE-FieldsUSHCThe American crime and mystery genres are oversubscribed with novels and series set in the big cities — especially New York and Los Angeles (with a surprisingly large number set in Minnesota, too). There is a growing number of author setting their novels elsewhere.* A notable upcoming example is Eli Cranor’s Don’t Know Tough (Arkansas). Now, we can also add Erin Young‘s The Fields, which is the first crime novel I’ve seen set in Iowa. Here’s the synopsis:

Some things don’t stay buried.

It starts with a body — a young woman found dead in an Iowa cornfield, on one of the few family farms still managing to compete with the giants of Big Agriculture.

When Sergeant Riley Fisher, newly promoted to head of investigations for the Black Hawk County Sheriff’s Office, arrives on the scene, an already horrific crime becomes personal when she discovers the victim was a childhood friend, connected to a dark past she thought she’d left behind.

The investigation grows complicated as more victims are found. Drawn deeper in, Riley soon discovers implications far beyond her Midwest town.

“Erin Young” is a pseudonym of bestselling historical fiction author Robyn Young. Erin Young’s The Fields is due to be published in North America by Flatiron Books (January 25th), and in the UK by Hodder (April 28th).

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

* Feel free to share recommendations in the comments of other crime/thriller novels set in cities and regions that are under-represented in the genre.

Upcoming: DO NO HARM by Robert Pobi (Minotaur)

PobiR-LP3-DoNoHarmUSHCBack in 2019, I was lucky to get a DRC of Robert Pobi‘s first Lucas Page novel, City of Windows. It offered everything a great mystery/crime/thriller novel should have — a gripping, fast-paced plot, an interesting and engaging protagonist, and some cool twists on genre conventions. The follow up, Under Pressure added to readers’ understanding of the main character as well as another clever and gripping mystery. In August, Minotaur Books is due to publish the third novel in the series, Do No Harm, and I am very much looking forward to reading it. Here’s the synopsis:

A series of suicides and accidental deaths in the medical community are actually well-disguised murders and only Lucas Page can see the pattern and discern the truth that no one else believes.

Lucas Page is a polymath, astrophysicist, professor, husband, father of five adopted children, bestselling author, and ex-FBI agent — emphasis on “ex.” Severely wounded after being caught in an explosion, Page left the FBI behind and put his focus on the rebuilding the rest of his life. But Page is uniquely gifted in being able to recognize patterns that elude others, a skill that brings the F.B.I. knocking at his door again and again.

Lucas Page’s wife Erin loses a friend, a gifted plastic surgeon, to suicide and Lucas begins to realize how many people Erin knew that have died in the past year, in freak accidents and now suicide. Intrigued despite himself, Page begins digging through obituaries and realizes that there’s a pattern — a bad one. These deaths don’t make sense unless the doctors are being murdered, the target of a particularly clever killer. This time, the FBI wants as little to do with Lucas as he does with them so he’s left with only one option — ignore it and go back to his normal life. But then, the pattern reveals that the next victim is likely to be… Erin herself.

Robert Pobi’s Do No Harm is due to be published by Minotaur Books in North America, on August 9th. The first two novels in the series are published in the UK by Hodder, so maybe the third one will be as well.

Also on CR: Reviews of City of Windows and Under Pressure

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads

Upcoming: A SECRET ABOUT A SECRET by Peter Spiegelman (Knopf)

SpiegelmanP-ASecretAboutASecretUSHCBack in 2016, I read an excellent crime/thriller novel: Dr. Knox by Peter Spiegelman. It was one of my favourite novels from that year, and it led me to hunt down his other novels, not all of which are readily available — I was able to find Thick As Thieves. Anyway, I’ve often found myself wondering what he’s been up to recently, and it turns out he’s been writing A Secret About A Secret (among other things, I’m sure).

A hypnotic mystery about a murder at a secluded research facility and the secrets that it exposes.

In a world not quite our own, a stranger arrives at a brooding manor on a remote coast.

Myles is an agent of Standard Division, the most feared element of a vast security apparatus, and he has come to Ondstrand House, the headquarters of biotech firm Ondstrand Biologic, to investigate a murder. Ondstrand Biologic is engaged in advanced genetic engineering, and Allegra Stans, one of the firm’s most gifted scientists, has been found dead on the premises — her neck broken.

As his investigation proceeds, Myles quickly discovers that gifted scientist is only one thread in the complicated fabric of Allegra’s life; there are darker strands as well — of ambition, manipulation, and bitter grievance — all woven in a web of secrets and motives for murder. And Allegra’s aren’t the only mysteries Myles finds himself unraveling. Her colleagues, lovers and former lovers — the very halls of Ondstrand House itself — have much to hide, and Myles eventually learns that even his own masters in Standard Division haven’t told him everything they know.

When another murder is discovered, Myles finds himself an increasingly unwelcome presence in an ever more hostile landscape.

Peter Spiegelman’s A Secret About A Secret is due to be published by Knopf in North America, on June 7th.

Also on CR: Review of Dr. Knox

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

Quick Review: THE GOODBYE COAST by Joe Ide (Mulholland)

IdeJ-PM1-GoodbyeCoastUSHCRaymond Chandler’s iconic detective, Philip Marlowe, gets a dramatic and colorful reinvention at the hands of award-winning novelist Joe Ide

The seductive and relentless figure of Raymond Chandler’s detective, Philip Marlowe, is vividly re-imagined in present-day Los Angeles. Here is a city of scheming Malibu actresses, ruthless gang members, virulent inequality, and washed-out police. Acclaimed and award-winning novelist Joe Ide imagines a Marlowe very much of our time: he’s a quiet, lonely, and remarkably capable and confident private detective, though he lives beneath the shadow of his father, a once-decorated LAPD homicide detective, famous throughout the city, who’s given in to drink after the death of Marlowe’s mother.

Marlowe, against his better judgement, accepts two missing person cases, the first a daughter of a faded, tyrannical Hollywood starlet, and the second, a British child stolen from his mother by his father. At the center of The Goodbye Coast is Marlowe’s troubled and confounding relationship with his father, a son who despises yet respects his dad, and a dad who’s unable to hide his bitter disappointment with his grown boy.

Steeped in the richly detailed ethnic neighborhoods of modern LA, Ide’s The Goodbye Coast is a bold recreation that is viciously funny, ingeniously plotted, and surprisingly tender.

When I heard that Joe Ide was going to be writing the first novel in a new Philip Marlowe series, I was intrigued. I know of Marlowe, of course, but have never actually read any of Raymond Chandler’s novels (although, like a great many classic books, I do own a few of them — just keep forgetting, because they’re on my Kindle). Having read all of Ide’s other novels to date, though, I knew I wanted to read The Goodbye Coast. I’m happy to report that it is a very enjoyable P.I. novel. Continue reading

Quick Review: THE MAID by Nita Prose (Harper/Ballantine)

ProseN-MaidUKHCAn intriguing mystery, starring an engaging protagonist

I am your maid.
I know about your secrets. Your dirty laundry.
But what do you know about me?

Molly the maid is all alone in the world. A nobody. She’s used to being invisible in her job at the Regency Grand Hotel, plumping pillows and wiping away the grime, dust and secrets of the guests passing through. She’s just a maid – why should anyone take notice?

But Molly is thrown into the spotlight when she discovers an infamous guest, Mr Black, very dead in his bed. This isn’t a mess that can be easily cleaned up. And as Molly becomes embroiled in the hunt for the truth, following the clues whispering in the hallways of the Regency Grand, she discovers a power she never knew was there. She’s just a maid – but what can she see that others overlook?

Escapist, charming and introducing a truly original heroine, The Maid is a story about how everyone deserves to be seen. And how the truth isn’t always black and white – it’s found in the dirtier, grey areas in between…

Molly is a dedicated, utterly focused maid at a boutique, exclusive hotel. Someone who struggles with social cues and reading others, she unwittingly becomes entangled in the strange goings-on at the Regency Grand Hotel. Through her eyes, we get an engaging, interesting view of society, relationships, and the motivations for murder. I enjoyed this. Continue reading

Very Quick Review: DOUBLE SOLITAIRE by Craig Nova (Arcade Crimewise)

NovaC-DoubleSolitaireUSIntroducing Quinn Farrell: Hollywood fixer

Quinn Farrell is a modern-day fixer in Los Angeles — he cleans up other people’s messes. Rich people’s messes. For a lot of money. He’s so good that he’s become indispensable to Hollywood moguls and he’s managed to construct a working moral framework so that he can live with himself. That is until a new neighbor moves next door, Rose Marie, who works with terminally ill teens. Against all his survival instincts, Farrell falls in love with Rose Marie and then her uncanny patients, who shine a spotlight into his soul.

When a client steps over the line and Farrell is hired to clean up after a reprehensible crime, his carefully constructed ethical house of cards comes crashing down. 

This is Craig Nova’s first crime novel, which introduces us to Hollywood/LA fixer, Quinn Farrell. Making a living cleaning up the (self-inflicted) messes made by the rich and famous, in Double Solitaire he’s introduced to the absolute worst that Hollywood can produce. An interesting introduction to a complicated new protagonist, this is a pretty good novel. Continue reading