Fiction from Kerr, Liu, McAdams, plus a Debut and Akashic Noir | Xpress Reviews

An unstellar police procedural debut, the marvelous return of Bernie Gunther, Lui's short speculative fiction, McAdams is an excellent choice for romance lovers, plus two volumes of Akashic's "Noir" series

Week ending February 26, 2016

Cutter, John & Robert Nivakoff. The Squad Room. Beaufort. Mar. 2016. 320p. ISBN 9780825307911. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780825307201. F
[DEBUT] When NYPD captain Bill Morrison of the major crimes unit is called away on Christmas, he is not upset because his home life has been in shambles for quite a while—since the day rookie policeman Bill Jr. was killed in the line of duty. Morrison travels from his Long Island home to Manhattan’s posh Sutton Place, where a pretty blond has been brutally murdered and mutilated. In the course of the next several weeks, three additional murders occur with similar modus operandi and victim profiles. Despite the squad’s dogged investigation, few clues emerge. However, the last murder is both similar and dissimilar to the previous ones, raising doubts that these crimes were all committed by the same perps.
Verdict Making their fiction debut, the authors, former police officers, provide little atmosphere, little police procedural, and little suspense. Their protagonist is beloved by all, except his incompetent boss, making him a nice guy but making for dull reading. The book has little action until the end, focusing more on the stress Morrison suffers, the kinky sex he has with a woman he meets in a bar, his disdain for his supervisor, and his camaraderie with his colleagues. With its stilted language, this is a middling start to a potential series.—Edward Goldberg, Syosset P.L., NY

starred review starKerr, Philip. The Other Side of Silence: A Bernie Gunther Novel. Marian Wood: Putnam. Apr. 2016. 416p. ISBN 9780399177040. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780698413115. F
othersideofsilence022616In the 11th Bernie Gunther title (after The Lady from Zagreb), it’s 1956 on the French Riviera at the Grand Hotel, where Bernie, a former homicide detective from Berlin, is serving its rich, famous, and shady guests as a concierge under an assumed name. Europe has yet to know peace as spies from the East and West parade across the continent. A local resident, the renowned and unorthodox W. Somerset Maugham, needs a fourth for bridge—and some professional help with the blackmailing Harold Hennig, a former Nazi and the man who in 1945 murdered a woman Bernie loved. While working for the British secret service in 1937, Maugham partied with some naked men—one being an infamous operative and homosexual who had since defected to Moscow. Hennig has the photograph of the gathering and a tape recording for which he’s asking $250,000.
Verdict Kerr carefully develops his plot, sense of place, and characterization, enabling readers to imagine what it must have been like to have lived in a postwar morass of political and moral ambiguity. This is more than a crime or espionage novel; it’s a marvelous, hard-boiled political read. [See Prepub Alert, 10/4/15.]—Jerry P. Miller. Cambridge, MA

starred review starLiu, Ken. The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories. Saga: S. & S. Mar. 2016. 464p. ISBN 9781481442541. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781481424370. SF
If your soul is an ice cube, to what lengths will you go to have a warm, passionate life? “State Change” is one of 15 stories and novellas collected here by the author of The Grace of Kings. As Liu notes in his preface, the volume has the “flavor of a retrospective,” including some of his most popular works such as the title selection, “The Paper Menagerie,” which won the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards, as well as lesser known tales. He also features a new work, “An Advanced Reader’s Picture Book of Comparative Cognition,” that addresses the love between parents and children when they are separated by incredible distances. Verdict These remarkable stories highlight Liu’s themes of family, love, and politics and gathered in one collection pack an even bigger punch. Those who revere shorter speculative works will definitely want this book. [See Prepub Alert, 6/21/15.]—Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., South Deerfield

McAdams, Molly. To the Stars: A Thatch Novel. Morrow. Feb. 2016. 384p. ISBN 9780062358455. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062358462. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
Harlow and Knox met when she was just 15 and immediately fell deeply in love. Despite their promise to wait for each other, Harlow becomes trapped in a terrifying, abusive marriage to a dangerous man and regrets betraying her love with Knox. Knox never stopped loving Harlow despite his heartbreak, so when he sees her in town for the first time in years, he’s elated to make contact with her again. Yet he can tell that something’s not right, and when he learns about her brutal husband, he vows to protect her, holding the tiniest hope that they’ll have a chance to be together at last. But Harlow’s husband is more dangerous than Knox can imagine, and Harlow must get past her fear, trusting that Knox can rescue her and lead them both toward a healing love.
Verdict Book two in McAdams’s “Thatch” series takes readers on a nonstop, heartrending ride. A substantial story with a few steamy scenes, imperfect but lovable characters, and an eternal love capable of beating the odds make this an excellent choice for romance lovers.—J. Harris, New Hampshire


starred review starNew Orleans Noir: The Classics. Akashic. (Noir). Mar. 2016. 309p. ed. by Julie Smith. ISBN 9781617753848. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781617754197. F
neworleansnoir022616Ten years after the publication of the original New Orleans Noir, Akashic’s “Noir” series returns with a follow-up. Stories include classics such as Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” and Eudora Welty’s “The Purple Hat,” as well as contemporary works by popular authors such as James Lee Burke and Nevada Barr. As with other volumes in the series, the stories are mostly dark character studies with an evocative sense of place. Arranged chronologically, the selections provide a glimpse into the Crescent City’s evolving attitudes toward race, gender, sexuality, and class. Only one story directly discusses Hurricane Katrina (Burke’s “Jesus out to Sea”), but the aftermath is very much a presence in the final pieces in the anthology. Each entry is strong, but the collection is worth reading alone for Poppy Z. Brite’s “Mussolini and the Axeman’s Jazz,” a delirious and brutal ghost story.
Verdict Strongly recommended for fans of the Akashic anthologies and Hard Case Crime mysteries and lovers of New Orleans fiction. Devotees of Southern gothic fiction (e.g., the works of Flannery O’Connor and Tom Franklin.) will also find much to enjoy.—Julie Elliott, Indiana Univ. Lib., South Bend

Stockholm Noir. Akashic. (Noir). Mar. 2016. 256p. ed. by Nathan Larson & Carl-Michael Edenborg. ISBN 9781617752971. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781617754227. F
In the latest entry to Akashic’s “Noir” series (Helsinki Noir; St. Petersburg Noir), 13 Swedish authors from a variety of backgrounds were assembled to write short stories about the underbelly of the Swedish capital. In Part 1, “Crime & Punishment,” Åke Edwardsson shines with “Stairway from Heaven,” which illustrates the bleakness of the city and the grittiness of its inhabitants. In Part 2, “Fear & Darkness,” Inger Edelfeldt’s “From the Remains” evokes the typical dreary Scandinavian setting but adds a twist to the noir genre by tying in vampires. In Part 3, “The Brutality of the Beasts,” Unni Drougge’s provocative Stalker” follows a teenage girl in a soon-to-be-gentrified Stockholm suburb as she strolls around dilapidated buildings where bodies are dumped.
Verdict Coedited by local authors Larson and Edenborg, this superb sampling of Swedish crime writing talent, some of whose work has been translated into English for the first time here, will be appreciated by fans of Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium” trilogy and Jens Lapidus’s Easy Money; they will enjoy getting to know these authors, who write about Stockholm’s dark side.—Russell Michalak, Goldey-Beacom Coll. Lib., Wilmington, DE

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