Fiction from Adcock, Alger, Arvin, Cargill, La Plante, McCafferty, & Wiggs, plus a Debut | Xpress Reviews

This leisurely paced second novel that is bound to attract readers of feminist sf mysteries; highly recommended for fans of fast-paced thrillers in the tradition of John Grisham; this somewhat facile work will entertain fans of dark humor; a sharply observant literary debut novel; more than enough thrills to satisfy any crime novel enthusiast; fans of C.J. Box and Craig Johnson will relish this page-turner; recommended for readers of contemporary romance

Week ending May 25, 2018


Adcock, Siobhan. The Completionist. S. & S. Jun. 2018. 320p. ISBN 9781501183478. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781501183492. SF

Marine Carter Quinn returns home from war just in time for his sister Fred’s wedding. There is a fertility crisis in dystopian America; getting pregnant naturally is extremely uncommon now, but Fred, who is marrying into a wealthy family, conceived naturally, subjecting her to strict regulations. She needs the assistant of her sister Gard, a Nurse Completionist, to help her meet the punishing Care Standard requirements during and after her pregnancy. But Gard has gone missing, and Fred asks Carter to find her. However, their father doesn’t seem to think it’s in Fred’s best interest for Gard to be found. After fighting in the multifront war over engineered water, Carter suffers from his own medical issues (PTSD and debilitating headaches), but he soon realizes that his brilliant and strong older sister, Fred, is actually the one in serious trouble.

Verdict Adcock (The Barter) creates a startling dystopian world in her leisurely paced second novel that is bound to attract readers of Sarah Hall’s Daughters of the North and feminist sf mysteries.—Michelle Gilbert Doshi, Lake Forest Lib., IL

starred review starAlger, Cristina. The Banker’s Wife. Putnam. Jul. 2018. 352p. ISBN 9780735218451. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780735218468. F

Offshore banking creates strange and deadly bedfellows, as American Annabel Lerner, the titular banker’s wife of Alger’s (The Darlings) third novel, is living in Geneva when she learns that her husband, Matthew, has died in a plane crash in the Alps. He was coming home from a destination unknown to her and died with a woman she doesn’t know. Was it an accident? Or was it murder? Meanwhile, journalist and bride-to-be Marina Tourneau agrees to investigate one last story by secretly obtaining a flash drive from a source in Paris that might have evidence to prove that a man involved in a Ponzi scheme is still alive after faking his own death. When Marina’s boss suddenly winds up dead after a supposed home robbery, Marina is determined to find the truth.

Verdict Readers riding this international financial roller coaster will be kept on edge through its many twists and turns. Highly recommended for fans of fast-paced thrillers in the tradition of John Grisham.—Susan Moritz, Silver Spring, MD

Arvin, Nick. Mad Boy: An Account of Henry Phipps in the War of 1812. Europa. Jun. 2018. 256p. ISBN 9781609454586. pap. $17; ebk. ISBN 9781609454593. F

Henry Phipps is way too young to be unsupervised and on his own. And yet he finds himself pulling a cart containing the body of his dead mother, whom he has packed into a pickle barrel and struggles to deliver to the ocean to fulfill her dying request. Though dead, his mordant mom audibly and vociferously directs Henry to thread his way through British-American skirmishes during the War of 1812 in hopes of “getting the family together” for her ceremonial burial at sea. It’s an impossible task for a boy attempting to find an enlisted brother, a wastrel father confined to debtor’s prison, and a pregnant sister-in-law-to-be in the wilds of Baltimore. But his rage-driven perseverance may just be enough if Henry can manage to stay alive. Verdict Arvin (Articles of War) has produced a curious and fanciful historical novel with eccentric characters staged in a rainy and fetid world of unforgiving nature and political circumstance. Occasionally “laugh out loud” funny, this somewhat facile work will entertain fans of dark humor, convoluted adventure stories, and historical drama.—Russell Miller, Prescott P.L., AZ

Bazzle, Bradley. Trash Mountain. Red Hen. May 2018. 256p. ISBN 9781597099103. pap. $16.95. F

[DEBUT] In this first novel by the winner of the Red Hen Press Fiction Award, young Ben Shippers comes of age at a time when the best prospect for employment is the waste management company that squats over the border, blurring the class divide between his small, economically depressed Southern city and its racially diverse “twin.” Growing up near Trash Mountain with low expectations, the independent-minded Ben industriously sets to blow up the dump that probably caused his sister’s curvature of the spine. Pursuing this secret mission, Ben traverses his community on his bike, striving to improve his sister’s lot and encouraging her to go to college. With guilelessness to rival Forrest Gump’s, Ben slips past all societal divides.

Verdict Like Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project without the rom-com element, this sharply observant literary novel will appeal to readers who enjoy quirky narrators and fans of socially conscious fiction.—Laurie Cavanaugh, Thayer P.L., Braintree, MA

Cargill, C. Robert. We Are Where the Nightmares Go and Other Stories. Harper. Jun. 2018. 448p. ISBN 9780062405869. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062405883. HORROR/SHORT STORIES

This collection by screenwriter/novelist Cargill (Sea of Rust) is filled with the darkest of dark fantasy. With one exception, the stories are horror with a supernatural or magic realism bent. The titular shiver-inducing tale centers on a girl unafraid of what is hiding in the dark under her bed, yet she should be terrified. The horrifying twist ending will stick in readers’ minds. In “Hell Creek,” a plucky triceratops fights off zombie T. rexes, while the novella “The Soul Thief’s Son” returns to the world of the author’s dark fantasy, Queen of the Dark Things. As with that work, this story revolves around decisions and consequences, with revenge served icy cold.

Verdict Aficionados of supernatural horror and fantasy with extremely dark surprises will thrill at every chill.—Marlene Harris, Reading Reality, Duluth, GA

La Plante, Lynda. Widows. Zaffre. Jun. 2018. 432p. ISBN 9781499861556. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781499861549. F

The planned heist of an armored car in central London goes horribly amiss. The bodies of the ringleader and two accomplices, charred beyond recognition, are found in the burned-out shell of one car. A second car, driven by a fourth man, is unaccounted for. The police investigate. Other gangland figures jockey to fill the void left by the loss of the top guy. But it is the three weeping widows who act. The boss’s wife finds her meticulous husband’s ledgers in which he has outlined step-by-step how to carry out the perfect crime. Can she and her fellow widows, plus a fourth conspirator, manage to accomplish what their menfolk could not? Thus they set off on this tale of female empowerment, evolution, and enrichment. This first U.S. publication of La Plante’s (“Prime Suspect” series) novelization of her successful British TV series precedes the November release of a film adaptation from Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave), with a screenplay coauthored by Gillian Flynn, and starring Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, and Daniel Kaluuya.

Verdict This thriller provides more than enough thrills and plot twists to satisfy any crime novel enthusiast.—Bob Lunn, Kansas City, MO

McCafferty, Keith. A Death in Eden: A Sean Stranahan Mystery. Viking. Jul. 2018. 320p. ISBN 9780525557531. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780525557548. MYS

The setting for the seventh installment of this outdoors series (after The Royal Wulff Murders) is the Smith River of central Montana. Home to spectacular scenery and world-class trout fishing, the river is at the center of a debate about a proposed copper mine that could negatively impact the purity of the water and damage the ecosystem. Sean Stranahan guides a float trip that includes both the leading opponent and the proponent of the mine and a documentary filmmaker to record their conversations. Also on the river is Sean’s friend Harold Little Feather, who is investigating the appearance of scarecrows and antimine slogans posted along the waterway. Award-winning author McCafferty, who is also editor of Field and Stream, adroitly intertwines the stories of Sean and Harold as they, along with Sheriff Martha Ettinger, seek to discover the identity of a headless man found floating in the water, locate the creator of the scarecrows, find Harold’s son who disappeared while enjoying the river, and determine how a vengeful and dangerous man who has been poaching bears in Yellowstone National Park figures into the overall scheme of events.

Verdict Fans of C.J. Box and Craig Johnson will relish this page-turner. [See Prepub Alert, 1/8/18.]—Patricia Ann Owens, formerly with Illinois Eastern Community Coll., Mt. Carmel

Wiggs, Susan. Between You and Me. Morrow. Jun. 2018. 368p. ISBN 9780062425539. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062425577. F

Caleb Stoltz has never been baptized into the Amish church; but he lives an Amish lifestyle because he promised to raise his orphaned 16-year-old niece and 11-year-old nephew in the faith. When Jonah loses an arm in a shredder in a terrible accident, Caleb chooses between allowing his nephew to bleed to death and being airlifted to Philadelphia, where Caleb encounters and is attracted to medical student Reese Powell, who is on rotation in the emergency room. Adding to Caleb’s problems is the disapproval of his community toward Jonah’s robotic arm, which is viewed as “too modern.” Reese also has her own troubles as she fights her parents’ desire for her to become a pediatric surgeon and must select a residency placement.

Verdict While there may be some crossover appeal to readers of inspirational Amish fiction, Wiggs’s latest novel does not paint an idealized portrait of the Amish community. Instead, it explores family relationships, including abuse and unwed pregnancies, cultural differences, and the need to live one’s own life. Recommended for readers of contemporary romance.—Margaret Bentley, Shiawassee Dist. Lib., Owosso, MI

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