Fiction from Bowen, Boyce, Downie, Eason, Khan, and More | Xpress Reviews

For readers who enjoy World War ll historical fiction and rural Italian culture; Sarah Alt continues to march to her own drum; the end of this debut is satisfying; Downie's latest serves as a worthy stand-alone; this nonstop, white-knuckled thrill ride will please devotees of police procedurals; Khan's series is well worth investigating; an absorbing story of love and loss with an astounding conclusion

Week ending January 12, 2018


Bowen, Rhys. The Tuscan Child. Lake Union: Amazon. Feb. 2018. 352p. ISBN 9781503951822. $24.95; pap. ISBN 9781503951815. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781503940703. F

In her new stand-alone, Bowen (In Farleigh Field, the “Royal Spyness” and “Molly Murphy” series) gives us two stories wrapped in family history. Going through her recently deceased father’s belongings, Joanna Langley finds a letter that stimulates her curiosity about the period when he was shot down over Tuscany during World War II. Seeking to understand more about the distant man with a serious limp, she begins to wonder if the events of the war shaped his later life. At a personal crossroads of her own, Joanna decides to travel to the Italian village mentioned in the letter in hopes of learning more about what happened there. The story shifts between his story of survival and her story of discovery. The villagers are not eager to recall the German occupation, and Joanna’s questions set off a series of events none of them would have anticipated.

Verdict There are few surprises here, but readers who enjoy World War ll historical fiction and rural Italian culture will appreciate this story by a master of her genre.—Cheryl Bryan, Orleans, MA


Boyce, Trudy Nan. The Policeman’s Daughter: A Detective Sarah Alt Novel. Putnam. Feb. 2018. 352p. ISBN 9780399167287. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780698140721. MYS

In this third series installment (after Old Bones) and a prequel, Officer Sarah Alt, aka Salt, is not yet a homicide detective. She has been patrolling the Homes district in Atlanta for ten years, the city’s toughest section, home to crackheads, drug peddlers, and prostitutes. While she tries to help its occupants, Salt realizes that those born in the Homes rarely leave it alive. When Shannell, a part-time sex worker and full-time drug addict, is found by her young daughter shot to death in her closet, Salt vows to find the killer. Having failed Shannell’s son, Lil D, years earlier by not getting him out of the district and into foster care, Salt feels she owes him. Boyce’s procedural reveals Salt’s human side as well her persistent professional nature that pits her against the pushers and pimps of the Homes. The author also explores her protagonist’s own armor that shields her from a colleague’s attempts to get to know her better.

Verdict Sarah Alt continues to march to her own drum, putting herself in danger more often than not. Her latest action-packed adventure is a strong addition to the series.—Edward Goldberg, Syosset P.L., NY


Dearman, Lara. The Devil’s Claw: A Jennifer Dorey Mystery. Crooked Lane. Jan. 2018. 336p. ISBN 9781683314561. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781683314578. MYS

[DEBUT] Journalist Jenny Dorey is back living on the island of Guernsey, working at the local paper after losing her father. When she is one of the first on the scene after the body of a young woman is found on a local beach, she is assigned to cover the case. Although the cause of death is assumed to be suicide, Jenny’s research uncovers a series of similar deaths stretching back decades and convinces DCI Michael Gilbert that this clue is worth investigating. Together, they begin to see ties linking Guernsey’s dark mythology to a possible serial killer.

Verdict There is a lot going on in this debut novel, and the plot wanders as a result, but the end is satisfying and there is definitely series potential. Readers who favor atmospheric British mysteries such as Peter May’s The Black House will enjoy this effort.—Lisa O’Hara, Univ. of Manitoba Libs., Winnipeg


Downie, Ruth. Memento Mori: A Crime Novel of the Roman Empire. Bloomsbury USA. (Medicus, Bk. 8). Mar. 2018. 432p. ISBN 9781620409619. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781620409626. MYS

Downie’s eighth novel in the best-selling “Medicus” series (after Vita Brevis) opens with a fire at an inn and a body in a sacred spring. Ruso, a Roman doctor, travels with his family to the resort town of Aquae Sulis (the modern city of Bath, England) to aid fellow doctor Valens, who’s been charged with murder. Valens swears he didn’t kill his wife, but he did know of her affair and plans to divorce him. The wife’s lover, an engineer at the baths, has been missing since the night of her murder and is also a suspect. Aquae Sulis depends on the revenue of tourists, and Ruso finds priests, engineers, shop owners, a retired centurion, and servants conspiring to cover up the crime. Ruso, Tilla, and other returning characters are charming even when they are disagreeable and entertaining as they charge into dangerous situations. As a Roman citizen married to a Briton ex-slave, Ruso navigates the political and cultural waters in a way that adds an intriguing dimension to the plot.

Verdict Highly recommended for series fans and readers of Lindsey Davis’s Roman mysteries, but it also serves as a worthy stand-alone.—Catherine Lantz, Univ. of Illinois at Chicago Lib.


Eason, Lynette. Oath of Honor. Revell. (Blue Justice, Bk. 1). Jan. 2018. 352p. ISBN 9780800727215. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781493412532. CF

Izzy St. John comes from a rowdy and boisterous law-enforcement family. But their love for one another and respect for their profession make them a cohesive and formidable unit when arrayed against a common foe. Izzy’s loyalty is challenged, however, when her partner is murdered and clues indicate the killer might be connected to her family. She must work with Det. Ryan Marshall, her late partner’s brother, to solve the case. Inspired by the TV series Blue Bloods, Eason’s (Chasing Secrets) first book in a new series features a large and varied cast of characters and an exciting, twisty plot that keeps readers guessing until the explosive finale. While not the primary focus, the romance that develops between Ryan and Izzy adds a pleasant undertone.

Verdict This nonstop, white-knuckled thrill ride will please devotees of police procedurals.—Christine Sharbrough, First Baptist Church, Bellville, TX Khan, Ausma Zehanat. A Dangerous Crossing. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Feb. 2018. 352p. ISBN 9781250096760. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250096784. MYS

In their fourth outing (after Among the Ruins), Insp. Esa Khattak and Sgt. Rachel Getty of Canadian Community Policing (ethnic relations), with the prime minister’s blessing, are heading to Greece. Esa’s best friend Nathan Clare has asked for their help in finding his sister Audrey, who disappeared from a refugee camp where she headed an NGO, working to help refugees immigrate to Canada. A French Interpol agent and a Syrian youth are found murdered in Audrey’s tent, by her gun. Interpol and the Greek police now are also seeking her as a suspect. Khattak is a practicing Muslim, greatly disturbed by the refugee crisis and the growing realization that there is a tangled web of criminal activity surrounding the human traffic.

Verdict Khan’s doctorate and research in international human relations law give credence to her portrayal of a timely situation. The search for Audrey also is a search for meaning and justice in a world of hatred, betrayal, and despair where the characters are nearly as complex as the global relations. This is a series well worth investigating.—Roland Person, formerly with Southern Illinois Univ. Lib., Carbondale


Powell, Laura. The Unforgotten. Gallery: S. & S. Feb. 2018. 304p. ISBN 9781501181221. $25.99; pap. ISBN 9781501184253. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781501181238. F

[DEBUT] A multiple murderer is at work in the Cornish fishing village of St. Steele in this sophisticated debut by a Daily Telegraph journalist. It is 1956, and the victims are young women. The killer acts as though unassailable. Such crimes inevitably attract the country’s media who flock to the village. Once there, most of the journalists stay at the Hotel Eden, managed by Delores Broadbent and her 15-year-old daughter, Betty. Delores displays signs of bipolar disorder; her bouts of depression force the teenager to care for her mother and manage the hotel. The naive Betty becomes fascinated by Gallagher, one of the journalists, who has a mysterious allure as he is obviously cut from a very different cloth than his rough-and-ready colleagues. Despite Betty’s age, her friendship with Gallagher deepens as the deaths in St. Steele continue. Their feelings and actions entangle the two in the killings, and they make personal choices that shape their own lives and that of an innocent man.

Verdict First novelist Powell adroitly weaves secrets, promises, fear, and guilt into an absorbing story of love and loss with an astounding conclusion.—Penelope J.M. Klein, Fayetteville, NY


Sparrow, Sarah. A Guide for Murdered Children. Blue Rider. Mar. 2018. 400p. ISBN 9780399574528. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780399574542. THRILLER

Sparrow (a pseudonym for a “distinguished award-winning novelist”) has crafted a novel with an intriguing premise that does not quite deliver. The idea, essentially, is what if all murdered children could inhabit an adult’s body (one who recently died) for the sole purpose of punishing their killer. Once that deed is done, the child and the adult body perish. In order to achieve this task, the deceased need a Porter, someone who can guide them to the world of the living. The current Porter, Annie, is dying and needs to persuade Willow Millard Wylde to assume the role. An alcoholic upstart detective who lives just outside Detroit, Willow has had visions of dead people his entire life, but he has learned to ignore them. Meanwhile, siblings who were killed 20 years ago take over the bodies of two of Willow’s deputies, attempting to solve their own murders. The story then becomes convoluted, as multiple names are used for the same human body and the conversations among characters become circular and repetitive.

Verdict Brevity and editing could have improved the reading experience for this psychological thriller with a paranormal twist. [See Prepub Alert, 9/25/17.]—Jason L. Steagall, Gateway Technical Coll. Lib., Elkhorn, WI

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