Quick Review: A SECRET ABOUT A SECRET by Peter Spiegelman (Knopf)

SpiegelmanP-ASecretAboutASecretUSHCA murder at a secluded research institute unveils decades of secrets

Looming high above the cliffside along a remote coastline, Ondstrand House is the headquarters of the shadowy biotech firm Ondstrand Biologic. When the body of the organization’s most gifted young scientist, Allegra Stans, is discovered in a walk-in refrigerator — her neck has been broken — Agent Myles is called in to investigate. Myles works for Standard Division, the most feared element of a vast state security apparatus, and he’s been dispatched to the brooding manor, a massive stone campus that once housed a notorious boarding school, to do what Standard Division agents do best — complete the task at hand.

As his investigation proceeds, Myles 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 into a pattern of secrets, each presenting a reasonable motive for murder. It appears everyone has something to hide, including Allegra’s colleagues, lovers, and former lovers — even the very halls of Ondstrand House itself.

Questions continue to pile up: What interest does Standard Division, an organization best known for intelligence gathering and clandestine international operations, have in this seemingly straightforward case? Could the killing have anything to do with the sprawling estate’s sordid past? And what, exactly, is this research facility researching? Before long, another murder is discovered, and Myles finds himself an increasingly unwelcome presence in an ever more hostile landscape with few allies and fewer answers.

Peter Spiegelman’s Dr. Knox was one of my favourite reads of 2016, and I’ve been eagerly anticipating his new novel ever since it was announced. A Secret About a Secret is another satisfying read, one that offers a different take on the crime/mystery genre than did the aforementioned Dr. Knox. I very much enjoyed this. Continue reading

Excerpt: THE LAST GIRL TO DIE by Helen Fields (Avon Books)

FieldsH-LastGirlToDieUKPBToday, we have an excerpt from The Last Girl to Die, the new novel by Helen Fields. The latest mystery from the author of the D.I. Callanach series, this appears to be a stand-alone. Due to be published by Avon Books tomorrow, here’s the synopsis:

In search of a new life, seventeen-year-old Adriana Clark’s family moves to the ancient, ocean-battered Isle of Mull, far off the coast of Scotland. Then she goes missing. Faced with hostile locals and indifferent police, her desperate parents turn to private investigator Sadie Levesque.

Sadie is the best at what she does. But when she finds Adriana’s body in a cliffside cave, a seaweed crown carefully arranged on her head, she knows she’s dealing with something she’s never encountered before.

The deeper she digs into the island’s secrets, the closer danger creeps – and the more urgent her quest to find the killer grows. Because what if Adriana is not the last girl to die?

Now, on with the excerpt…

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Quick Review: THE RESEMBLANCE by Lauren Nossett (Flatiron Books)

NossettL-ResemblanceUSHCA mysterious hit-and-run, a dedicated detective, and the many secrets of the privileged

Never betray the brotherhood

On a chilly November morning at the University of Georgia, a fraternity brother steps off a busy crosswalk and is struck dead by an oncoming car. More than a dozen witnesses all agree on two things: the driver looked identical to the victim, and he was smiling.

Detective Marlitt Kaplan is first on the scene. An Athens native and the daughter of a UGA professor, she knows all its shameful histories, from the skull discovered under the foundations of Baldwin Hall to the hushed-up murder-suicide in Waddel. But in the course of investigating this hit-and-run, she will uncover more chilling secrets as she explores the sprawling, interconnected Greek system that entertains and delights the university’s most elite and connected students.

The lines between Marlitt’s police work and her own past increasingly blur as Marlitt seeks to bring to justice an institution that took something precious from her many years ago. When threats against her escalate, and some long-buried secrets threaten to come to the surface, she can’t help questioning whether the corruption in Athens has run off campus and into the force and how far these brotherhoods will go to protect their own.

A detective with deep roots in the university community comes face-to-face with the worst of campus tradition and life, in this intriguing and engaging debut mystery from Nossett. The author keeps the reader guessing, raises the stakes nicely throughout the book, and delivers a satisfying mystery. I enjoyed this a lot. Continue reading

Quick Review: DO NO HARM by Robert Pobi (Minotaur/Hodder)

PobiR-LP3-DoNoHarmUSHCLucas Page returns as a killer stalks medical professionals — including his wife!

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.

Lucas Page returns. Even more banged up than he was at the start of each of the previous novels in the series, his mind nevertheless remains as intact and sharp as ever. His personality, also, remains rather sharp… As a series of suspicious deaths inches closer to home, Page finds himself back in the FBI’s orbit hunting a devious killer. Do No Harm is another fast-paced, gripping thriller from Pobi. Continue reading

Quick Review: RIGHTEOUS PREY by John Sandford (G. P. Putnam’s Sons)

SandfordJ-P32-RighteousPreyUSHCLucas Davenport and Virgil Flowers return, and take on a powerful vigilante group

“We’re going to murder people who need to be murdered.” So begins a press release from a mysterious group known only as “The Five,” shortly after a vicious predator is murdered in San Francisco. The Five is believed to be made up of vigilante killers who are very bored… and very rich. They target the worst of society — rapists, murderers, and thieves — and then use their unlimited resources to offset the damage done by those who they’ve killed, donating untraceable Bitcoin to charities and victims via the dark net. The Five soon become the most popular figures on social media, a modern-day Batman…though their motives may not be entirely pure.

After a woman is murdered in the Twin Cities, Virgil Flowers and Lucas Davenport are sent in to investigate. And they soon have their hands full — the killings are smart and carefully choreographed, and with no apparent direct connection to the victims, The Five are virtually untraceable. But if anyone can destroy this group, it will be the dynamic team of Davenport and Flowers.

Lucas Davenport and Virgil Flowers, two of the best investigators in Minnesota (and sometimes Wisconsin) team up again to bring a dangerous, exceedingly well-funded group of self-styled vigilantes to justice. As with all Sandford novels, I was quickly swept up by the story, and was gripped from start to finish. One of the most reliable crime authors writing today.
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Quick Review: CITY ON FIRE by Don Winslow (William Morrow)

WinslowD-1-CityOnFireUSHCAn excellent start to a new, final trilogy

Two criminal empires together control all of New England.

Until a beautiful woman comes between the Irish and the Italians, launching a war that will see them kill each other, destroy an alliance, and set a city on fire.

Danny Ryan yearns for a more “legit” life and a place in the sun. But as the bloody conflict stacks body on body and brother turns against brother, Danny has to rise above himself. To save the friends he loves like family and the family he has sworn to protect, he becomes a leader, a ruthless strategist, and a master of a treacherous game in which the winners live and the losers die.

From the gritty streets of Providence to the glittering screens of Hollywood to the golden casinos of Las Vegas, two rival crime families ignite a war that will leave only one standing. The winner will forge a dynasty.

I’m a relative newcomer to Don Winslow’s novels, having started with The Force (2017). Since then, I’ve eagerly anticipated each new book, as well as gone back and read some of his older novels. He recently announced that the trilogy that City on Fire starts will be his last — he is retiring from writing to focus on political activism. Based on this novel, it looks like he’s going to be going out on quite a high — City on Fire is an excellent start to a series, and one that hooked me pretty much from the get-go. Continue reading

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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