Thomas's Debut of the Month, plus Bowen, Grippando, MacNeal, Moreno-Garcia, Seo, Sigurdardóttir, & Others | Mystery & Suspense

Highly anticipated debuts, new installments of favorite series, these latest mystery and suspense titles will have you on the edge of your seat.

Bohjalian, Chris. The Red Lotus. Doubleday. Mar. 2020. 400p. ISBN 9780385544801. $27.95. SUSPENSE
Alexis and Austin have been dating for months when he suggests they go on a bike tour in Vietnam. Austin is not only a cycling enthusiast, he also wants to visit the site where his uncle was killed in the war. After days of being with the tour group, Austin sets off for his solo journey on the Hai Van Pass. When he doesn’t return to the hotel, Alexis knows something dire has happened. What at first appears to be a tragic hit-and-run case slowly descends into something much more wicked and far-reaching. As more of Austin’s lies are exposed, Alexis wonders what his true purpose was for coming to Vietnam. And instead of grieving a lost lover, she goes all in, even hiring a private detective (himself a Vietnam veteran) to investigate Austin’s death.
VERDICT Best-selling author Bohjalian ( The Flight ­Attendant) paints a bleak picture of pharmaceutical espionage, worldwide pandemics, and the breathtaking adaptability of the rat. Alternating action between Vietnam and New York, along with the dynamic pace, will please suspense fans. [See Prepub Alert, 8/25/19.] —Amy Nolan, St. Joseph, MI

redstar Bowen, Rhys. Above the Bay of Angels. Lake Union: Amazon. Feb. 2020. 348p. ISBN 9781542008266. $24.95. M
Prepare to savor this engaging new novel from the Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity Award–winning Bowen (The Tuscan Child). In 1896 London, Isabella Waverly, trapped in servitude despite her aristocratic background, witnesses Helen Barton’s accidental death and acquires a letter promising a job interview at Buckingham Palace. Assuming Helen’s identity and securing the position of undercook in Queen Victoria’s kitchens, Bella unwittingly exposes herself to a life of subterfuge and blackmail. As her cooking skills improve, bringing her to the notice of the queen herself, Bella loves her newfound independence. Asked to join the royal household in Nice, Bella grabs her chance for betterment, unaware blackmail and death will dog her steps. When a royal sickens and dies after eating her cooking, Bella becomes a suspect in a murder investigation. Will she find the killer or die on the gallows?
VERDICT This delightful mystery neatly blends historical details of late Victorian life, from rich foods to royalty, into a story spiced with humor and romance. Bowen’s depiction of Bella as a modern Victorian woman, skillfully navigating class differences while struggling with the choice between a safe life and her ambitions, rings true. —Barbara Clark-Greene, Westerly, RI

Grippando, James. The Big Lie. Harper. (Jack Swyteck, Bk. 16). Feb. 2020. 368p. ISBN 9780062915047. $27.99. THRILLER
When Democratic presidential candidate Evan Stahl wins the popular vote but loses the Electoral College by five votes, he refuses to concede. Since the Electoral College votes six weeks after the popular election, he hopes to persuade five electors to change their vote, their ability to do so open to varying legal interpretations. Florida elector Charlotte Holmes is the first to declare herself a "faithless elector" and switch from Republican incumbent Malcolm MacLeod to Stahl, unleashing a smear campaign from MacLeod as well as a hearing to determine Holmes’s fitness as an elector. She hires Jack Swyteck to defend her at the hearing, which is rife with innuendo, supposition, and fake news. When she fatally shoots a belligerent man threatening a friend, the stakes become higher. Throughout, MacLeod pressures the prosecuting attorney to get Holmes declared unfit by any means necessary and tweets up a storm.
VERDICT This 16th Swyteck political thriller (after The Girl in the Glass Box) parallels the current political climate with a tweet-happy president and a system in which a majority popular vote no longer means a win. A ruthless candidate might use this engrossing and scary book as a how-to manual. [See Prepub Alert, 7/29/19.] —Edward Goldberg, Syosset P.L., NY

Hawksley, Humphrey. Man on Edge. Severn House. Mar. 2020. 288p.ISBN 9780727889140. $28.99. THRILLER
There are layers upon layers of deceit in this second action-packed "Rake Ozenna" thriller by former BBC correspondent Hawksley (after Man on Ice). Rake, of the Alaskan National Guard, is once again loaned out to the CIA to extract a Soviet admiral with information for the West. What follows is a whirlwind of assassinations and near-assassinations, kidnappings and general mayhem, all well presented and fun to read. Unlike most novels about the West vs. Russia, the adventure takes place in the frozen North, as Russia, the United States, and Britain prepare to meet on a battleship off the Norwegian coast. Rake is aided by his former fiancée Carrie Walker and assorted other players, not all of whom can be trusted. Furthermore, the Russians are out for Rake’s blood: a previous operation (detailed in the first book) left nine Russians dead. Behind Russia’s machinations is a secret brotherhood, the Kolovrat, dedicated to restoring Slavic greatness in the Western world.
VERDICT A hard-as-nails hero, an out-of-the-ordinary location, and oodles of high-action encounter—it’s everything readers want in a political thriller. —David Keymer, Cleveland

McInnis, S.L. Framed. Grand Central. Feb. 2020. 336p. ISBN 9781538732090. $28. THRILLER
DEBUT Washed-up piano prodigy Beth Montgomery hates her husband and her life. Deep in debt, she watches him flirt with other women and sink money into a dream project, while she toils away as a music teacher. When her college roommate Cassie Ogilvy turns up, she reluctantly offers her spare bedroom. Unbeknownst to Beth, her old friend is on the run with a bag of cash, has been implicated in an attempted murder, and is wanted by the man she double-crossed. Hard feelings, long-buried memories, and circumstance set Beth and her friend on a collision course culminating in the ultimate betrayal and eventual frame-up.
VERDICT Short chapters and engaging storytelling with alternating perspectives make this a quick read. A somewhat predictable resolution is offset by a surprise twist in the final pages. The nonlinear plot might confuse some readers, but fans of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies will find much to love. [See Prepub Alert, 7/29/19.]—Vicki Briner, Broomfield, CO

redstar MacNeal, Susan Elia. The King’s Justice. Bantam. (Maggie Hope, Bk. 9). Feb. 2020. 368p. ISBN 9780399593840. $27. M
Taking her old boss Winston Churchill’s advice that "a change is as good as a rest," former spy Maggie Hope leaves the Special Operations Executive and begins working for the "suicide squad," a ragtag group of volunteers who defuse the unexploded bombs left behind in London by the Luftwaffe during the Blitz. However, when a new sequential murderer begins targeting conscientious objectors, some of whom work alongside Maggie, and a Stradivarius violin is stolen, Maggie once again finds herself working with DCI James Durgin on two different investigations even as justice is being served in the Blackout Beast murder case, in which the two were formerly involved. With the ninth stellar entry in her "Maggie Hope" series (after The Prisoner in the Castle), MacNeal once again seamlessly fuses superbly rendered characters, an expertly evoked setting rich with fascinating period details, and a riveting plot to offer up a thoughtful meditation on the subject of good and evil in society. VERDICT Irresistibly readable and brilliantly crafted, this is a story both historical mystery and fiction fans will adore. [See Prepub Alert, 8/19/19.] —John Charles, formerly of Scottsdale P.L., AZ

redstar Moreno-Garcia, Silvia. Untamed Shore. Agora: Polis. Feb. 2020. 288p. ISBN 9781947993921. $25.99. THRILLER 
Moreno-Garcia’s first crime fiction novel (after fantasy title Gods of Jade and Shadow) is set in the small town of Desengaño, Baja California. At 18, resident Viridiana is trapped between an unwanted proposal her mother is urging her to accept and the desire to escape to a bigger, better life beyond. After working as a personal assistant and translator to three wealthy Americans, one of them unexpectedly dies and questions of murder abound. Viridiana suspects the survivors aren’t who they claim to be, but helping them could be her way out of Desengaño. Although set in 1979, the town’s isolation and classic movie references make this story timeless, and the local shark-fishing industry is an apt metaphor for the complex layers of hunters and hunted. ­
VERDICT This thriller sets a quiet tone before building slowly and evenly, showing how a meek teenager trapped by circumstance grows into a strong woman who takes control of her future, though in the end it might change who she is. For fans of Celeste Ng, Alafair Burke, and Kent Anderson.—George Lichman, Rocky River, OH 

Schaitkin, Alexis. Saint X. Celadon. Feb. 2020. 352p. ISBN 9781250219596. $26.99. SUSPENSE
DEBUT Claire Thomas’s sister Alison dies during a Caribbean family vacation. To seven-year-old Claire, college freshman Alison is everything she’s not—beautiful, poised, popular. An omniscient narrator draws us into the story with a surveillance camera–like impassivity. When adult Claire slides into the NYC cab of Clive Richardson, one of the men suspected of killing Alison, she can’t ignore the compulsion to discover the truth behind her sister’s death. Schaitkin carefully inserts pieces of various characters’ lives, gradually completing the jigsaw puzzle of the story for readers. As Claire surrenders to her obsession with Clive, she risks losing everything in pursuit of the answer. While point-of-view shifts may be confusing for readers struggling to orient themselves in the story, the richness of the characters makes the attempt worthwhile. Questions of race and privilege deepen the impact of the characters’ struggle, emphasizing the societal norms each individual and every nation must address for equity to become more than a mission statement or campaign slogan.
VERDICT Readers who enjoy a mystery with emotional depth will find this a compelling and impressive debut. [See Prepub Alert, 10/22/19.] —Julie Ciccarelli, Tacoma P.L., WA

Schneider, Joseph. One Day You’ll Burn. Poisoned Pen: Sourcebooks. (Det. Tully Jarsdel, Bk. 1). Feb. 2020. 336p. ISBN 9781492684442. pap. $15.99. M
DEBUT Det. Tully Jarsdel joined the LAPD instead of staying on the PhD path. His partner, Oscar Morales, and his lieutenant aren’t fans of the new program to advance high-scoring rookies into the homicide division in Hollywood. Yet, Tully’s history background proves invaluable when he and Morales catch the case of the corpse that was burned to death in some sort of oven, and dumped in Thailand Plaza. With no identification, and a fried corpse, it takes a great deal of time for the DNA to come back. After the initial footwork, Jarsdel and Morales’s work on the cold case of the "Dog Catcher," an ongoing case in which dogs are poisoned on the owners’ wedding day. The graphic details of the murders and crimes are in stark contrast to Tully’s philosophical musings about his role in changing the world for good as a police officer.
VERDICT The solid debut police procedural is an homage to Hollywood and its history, with descriptive details of corners of Hollywood, classic films, and even traffic jams. The atmospheric mystery introduces a fascinating new detective who will appeal to fans of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch.—Lesa Holstine, Evansville Vanderburgh P.L., IN

Seo, Mi-ae. The Only Child. Ecco: HarperCollins. Feb. 2020. 304p. tr. from Korean by Yewon Jung. ISBN 9780062905048. $26.99. SUSPENSE
Korean author Seo’s U.S. debut is a dark dive into the mind-set of serial killers. Criminal psychologist Seonkyeong is invited to an interview with infamous killer Yi Byeongdo on the same day Hayeong, her husband’s daughter from a previous marriage, shows up on her doorstep after the girl’s grandparents are killed in an apartment fire. Seonkyeong opens her home to the girl but is unnerved by her strange actions. As she meets and listens to Yi Byeongdo’s account of his childhood, Seonkyeong makes connections to Hayeong, which troubles her enough to start taking a serial killer’s advice for dealing with her own stepdaughter. The novel explores themes of nature vs. nurture and investigates what makes a killer. While the translation may appear clunky to English readers, the author certainly delivers with the book’s creepy atmosphere. ­
VERDICT Fans of Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs, and Zoje Stage’s Baby Teeth will find this admirable, but readers particularly sensitive to depictions of child abuse might want to look elsewhere. [See Prepub Alert, 7/29/19.] —Mara Dabrishus, Ursuline Coll. Lib., Pepper Pike, OH

Sigurdardóttir, Yrsa. The Absolution. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. (Children’s House, Bk. 3). Feb. 2020. 368p. ISBN 9781250136305. $28.99. THRILLER
In Sigurdardóttir’s third "Children’s House" thriller (after The Reckoning), teenager Stella dies slowly and cruelly, begging for forgiveness. When her murder is shared with all her "friends" on Snapchat, the community is traumatized. Her body is found with the number "2" nearby, which begs the question: Could there be a number one? Pressure ramps up when the murder of a teenage boy, #3, is captured similarly. The only connection is they were both considered bullies. Meanwhile, appealing, rule-breaking Det. Huldar is strongly interested in Freyja, the child psychologist serving as a consultant on this case. Attraction simmers between them, although this thread never fully materializes, which is slightly disappointing. The tension surrounding these crimes, however, is top notch, and among parents, schools, teens, and the police, the race is on to find a well-organized, merciless killer.
VERDICT Sigurdardóttir creates an intense focus upon and thorough examination of bullying, including issues of isolation, suicide, counseling, and inept prevention in this excellent, gritty thriller that will appeal to series fans and readers of Kimberly McCreight’s Reconstructing Amelia. [See Prepub Alert, 7/21/19.] —Gloria Drake, Oswego P.L. Dist., IL

Staples, Dennis E. This Town Sleeps. Counterpoint. Mar. 2020. 224p. ISBN 9781640092846. $26. M
DEBUT In small-town Geshig, in northern Minnesota, the center of reservation life for a number of Ojibwe, Marion Lafournier is a young gay man who once planned to leave town, but is drawn back, haunted by the community as are so many of his relatives. He hooks up with white former high school friend Shannon, who won’t admit he’s gay. That relationship draws Marion, as much as the stories of the town. In one, the murder of Kaydan Kelliher, an Ojibwe basketball star, comes alive when Marion discovers a ghost dog, a revenant that contains Kaydan’s soul. This dreamlike debut reveals the memories and stories of Marion, Kaydan, and a number of women with legendary tales of losing the men in their lives. Those generational influences turn women into alcoholics and addicts who abandon their children in a haunted town.
VERDICT With its multiple narrators and stories of ghosts, this debut will find its audience in those searching for #ownvoices authors with an authentic view of reservation life and the tragedies that haunt the communities.
Lesa Holstine, Evansville Vanderburgh P.L., IN

redstar Vidich, Paul. The Coldest Warrior. Pegasus. Feb. 2020. 224p. ISBN 9781643133355. $25.95. THRILLER

On November 27, 1953, bioweapons scientist Dr. Charles Wilson jumps—or is pushed—to his death from the ninth floor of a Washington, DC, hotel. Twenty-two years later, after the release of the Rockefeller Report detailing illegal activities performed by the CIA during that time, agent Jack Gabriel is asked to investigate the mysterious death. The investigation is Jack’s last mission before he retires from the CIA, and it soon pushes him into the crosshairs of his employer, the FBI, and the office of the president, all of whom are eager to hide that Wilson was part of a top-secret germ warfare experiment carried out on civilians during the Korean War. Jack becomes a target as he looks into Wilson’s death and soon discovers that the victim was given LSD before he died. But this truth only leads to more secrets that men in the government would kill to keep.
VERDICT Nonfiction and fiction author Vidich (An Honorable Man) presents a fast-paced, historically accurate thriller, placing him alongside other great spy authors such as John le Carré and Alan Furst. Readers of the genre will want this slow-burn chiller that shows how far government will go to keep secrets. —Bill Anderson, Scott Cty. P.L., Scottsburg, IN


Fee, Vickie. My Fair Latte. Henery. (Cafe Cinema, Bk. 1). Mar. 2020. 252p. ISBN 9781635115826. $31.95; pap. ISBN 9781635115796. $15.95. M
Broke, unemployed barista Halley Greer learns she has inherited the Star Movie Palace from her great-uncle, whom she hasn’t seen since she was eight. When she arrives in Utopia Springs, AR, she finds an art deco theater in need of renovation, and a small group of people willing to help if she wants to save the building. Halley plans to show classic films and sell coffee and local wine. Despite some vandalism and a painted warning to "go home," opening night with My Fair Lady is a success, until intermission, when a man is found dead in the theater. Halley reports that she saw the man staring in at her the day of the vandalism, and thus becomes suspect number one. The victim, however, had threatened to blackmail a few townspeople who wouldn’t sell to him or help him hunt for a treasure hidden by Jesse James.
VERDICT Fee ("Liv & Di in Dixie" mysteries) launches a new cozy series with an appealing amateur sleuth and a diverse cast of characters. Fans of Margaret Dumas’s Murder at the Palace will welcome another humorous series set in the world of classic movie theaters. —Lesa Holstine, Evansville Vanderburgh P.L., IN

O’Connor, Carlene. Murder in an Irish Cottage. Kensington. (Irish Village, Bk. 5). Feb. 2020. 304p. ISBN 9781496719058. $26. M
In the fifth "Irish Village" mystery (after Murder at an Irish Wedding), Garda Siobhán O’Sullivan plans to spend her summer break with her five siblings in Kilbane, County Cork, where they run a bistro. Instead, she becomes involved in a murder investigation when Jane, the cousin of her fiancé Macdara Flannery, places a frantic call. She doesn’t tell Macdara that she found her mother dead in their cottage. But Siobhán and Macdara immediately suspect murder when there’s foam at her mouth. The superstitious villagers knew there would be a death—they warned Jane and her mother, Ellen, that the cottage was on a fairy path, where fairy rings, dancing lights, and unearthly screams have been reported. The villagers want the cottage bulldozed. But, it wasn’t fairies that poisoned Ellen, dressed her in a red dress, and laid her on her bed. Siobhán went to the academy with one of the guards assigned to the case, and she’s not afraid to ask questions.
VERDICT Fans of this series and other Irish cozy mysteries, such as Sheila Connolly’s "County Cork" books, will appreciate this atmospheric story filled with Irish superstitions, legends, and colorful characters. Vivid descriptions of the countryside will appeal to lovers of Ireland. —Lesa Holstine, Evansville Vanderburgh P.L., IN

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.


Get connected. Join our global community of more than 200,000 librarians and educators.

Get access to 8000+ annual reviews of books, ebooks, and more

As low as $13.50/month