Fiction from Irby, Laukkanen, and McMahon | Xpress Reviews

Irby delivers a story that is comic, mystifying, and ominous, but never, not for one second, boring; short, heart-pounding chapters move Laukkanen's story along quickly; Burntown redeems itself in the end with an intriguing mystery that will delight reading groups
Week ending March 31, 2017 Irby, Lee. Unreliable. Doubleday. Apr. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9780385542050. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385542067. F Late on the evening of July 1, professor Edwin Stith sets out from Ithaca, NY, in his aging Honda, bound for Richmond to attend his mother’s wedding. Edwin has hit a personal low: the author of two unpublishable novels, he is divorced, impotent, and embroiled in an affair with an undergraduate that promises to end his career. Also, he may have just murdered his ex-wife. Or a TGI Fridays waitress. Or his ex-wife’s new lover. It is possible Eddie is cutting a swath down the Eastern Seaboard—but, then again, maybe not. In a first-person narrative that is at times coy, discursive, pompous, and frenetic, Eddie drags readers through two jam-packed days in the aftermath of a crime that has driven him over the edge. Along the way he encounters an eccentric cast, including his neurotic mother and her much younger fiancé, a Vietnam War memorabilia dealer, two troubled soon-to-be step-siblings, a high school love, an assortment of unsavory businessmen, and, of course, his alluring student Lola. Verdict Irby (7,000 Clams) plays with the conventions of the unreliable narrator trope to create an inverted murder mystery in which the question isn’t whodunit but what is the nature of the crime itself. In the process, he delivers a story that is comic, mystifying, and ominous, but never, not for one second, boring.—Lindsay Morton, P.L. of Science, San Francisco starred review starLaukkanen, Owen. The Forgotten Girls. Putnam. Mar. 2017. 386p. ISBN 9780399174551. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780698194106. F forgottengirls033117Kirk Stevens and Carla Windermere from the joint FBI-BCA violent crime force once again pair up to stop a killer in this sixth series entry (following The Watcher in the Wall). Runaway Ash was found dead in a snowdrift, near train tracks in Idaho. She was one of the many “forgotten” women who hopped open-air freight trains in the northern Rockies. As more disappearances are discovered and their search for a killer takes them to Montana, Stevens and Windermere team up with local police to find another missing girl, Mila, who has set out to find the killer and avenge her friend Ash’s murder. Verdict Short, heart-pounding chapters move the story along quickly, while the frigid setting adds to the eerie atmosphere. Fans of the series will eagerly consume this latest tale, though having read the previous titles is not necessary for newcomers’ understanding or enjoyment. [See Prepub Alert, 9/26/16.]—Nanci Milone Hill, M.G. Parker Memorial Lib., Dracut, MA McMahon, Jennifer. Burntown. Doubleday. Apr. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9780385541367. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385541374. F In the sleepy town of Ashford, VT, a mysterious string of family murders has been stumping the locals for generations. At the center of the mystery is Necco, a homeless teen with ties to the mystical Fire Eaters who share premonitions while under the influence of an herb they call the Devil’s Snuff. Necco’s father and brother were killed in a flood years ago and her mother recently committed suicide, leaving her to fend for herself on the streets with her boyfriend. But when her lover is murdered as Necco sleeps next to him, she seeks out the truth behind the tragedy that has plagued her young life. Verdict McMahon (The Winter People) weaves another twisted story of murder and psychological thrills with a dash of the supernatural. After a slow start with a hefty backstory introducing a slew of complex characters, the novel redeems itself in the end with an intriguing mystery that will delight reading groups. [See Prepub Alert 11/26/16.]—Chelsie Harris, San Diego Cty. Lib.

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