Vatsal's Debut of the Month, Cox, Lehane, Patrick, Scott, plus New Series Lineup | Mystery Reviews, March 1, 2016

A charming new historical series and an appealing fish-out-of-water sleuth; a fun read for mystery buffs and librarians alike; a champagne-flavored frolic of a first mystery set during Hollywood’s golden age; murder in postwar Oxford

Spring can never come soon enough for most people. Publishers, too, are always anxious for the next season, inundating librarians with catalogs and flyers announcing their upcoming lists. Especially noticeable this month are the number of series launches and debut mysteries: a grand total of ten promising titles to satisfy the most avid reader.

In the Cozy Corner, the restaurant business can be murder (Leslie Karst’s Dying for a Taste); running the family farm is not so easy when there’s a body in the barn (Wendy Tyson’s A Muddied Murder); and handling rare books turns deadly (Paige Shelton’s The Cracked Spine).

On the historical front, meet Edith Head, Hollywood costume designer and sleuth (Renee Patrick’s Design for Dying); Miss Kitty Weeks, an aspiring journalist in 1915 New York (Radha Vatsal’s A Front Page Affair); and spy–turned–academic fellow ­Duncan ­Forrester in 1946 Oxford, England (Scott Gavin’s The Age of Treachery). Plus a new contemporary series by Con Lehane explores the hallowed halls of landmarked libraries, starting with Murder at the 42nd Street Library.

Debut of the Month

redstarVatsal, Radha. A Front Page Affair. Sourcebooks Landmark. (Kitty Weeks, Bk. 1). May 2016. 336p. ISBN 9781492632665. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781492632672. M

frontpage.jpg3116Capability “Kitty” Weeks is a well-traveled, Swiss­educated young woman, living with her father and housekeeper in 1915 New York. She dreams of becoming a newspaper reporter but right now is stuck working for Mrs. Busby, editor of the ­Ladies’ Page at the New York Sentinel. When a gentleman is murdered at Mrs. Basshor’s annual Fourth of July picnic, which Kitty is covering, the young writer gets her chance for a big scoop. No one has much good to say about Hunter Cole, except his young widow, Aimee, a former burlesque dancer. Europe is at war, the United States is trying to remain neutral, and tycoon J.P. Morgan has just survived an assassination attempt. High society is on high alert. VERDICT This lively and well-researched debut introduces a charming historical series and an appealing fish-out-of-water sleuth who seeks independence and a career in an age when most women are bent on getting married, particularly to titled Englishmen. Devotees of Rhys Bowen’s mysteries will enjoy making the acquaintance of Miss Weeks.

Check These Out

Arlen, Tessa. Death Sits Down to Dinner. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. (Lady Montfort, Bk. 2). Mar. 2016. 320p. ISBN 9781250052506. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466854284. M

Lady Clementine Elizabeth Talbot, the Countess of Montfort, is invited to dinner, along with other fashionable guests, at Miss Hermione Kingsley’s house to celebrate Winston Churchill’s 39th birthday. Yet a pall is cast on the festivities when one of the gentlemen turns up dead. Having been involved in a previous murder inquiry (Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman), Lady Montfort is warned to stay out of the investigation by both her husband and the Scotland Yard detective assigned to the case. Assisted by her ubercompetent housekeeper, Mrs. Edith Jackson, Lady Montfort blithely ignores her spouse and the good inspector. Espionage, murder, and attempted assassinations are all par for the course. VERDICT Real-life ­Edwardian personalities abound in this period historical, and the upstairs/downstairs focus delivers a clash of temperaments. This title is bound to appeal to fans of historicals set in this period and of such authors as Rhys Bowen and Ashley Weaver.

de Beauvoir, Jeannette. Deadly Jewels. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. (Martine LeDuc, Bk. 2). Mar. 2016. 352p. ISBN 9781250045409. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466844049. M

As publicity director for the city of Montréal, ­Martine LeDuc is excited to hear that a graduate student at McGill University has discovered evidence the British crown jewels were sheltered in the Canadian metropolis during World War II. But when she and the student ­Patricia Mason participate in the excavation of the vault in which the jewels might have been stored, they find an old skeleton with a bullet hole in the skull and diamonds scattered around the floor. Then Patricia is killed, and both an elderly Jewish gem dealer and Martine’s own family are threatened by neo-Nazis. VERDICT In Martine’s second outing (after Asylum), de Beauvoir transforms a historical tidbit (the shipping of British gold reserves and securities to Canada for safekeeping during World War II) into a fascinating premise; an absorbing endnote details the historical record. An intriguing choice for readers of James Houston’s The Blood Flag or Jon Land’s The Last Prophecy.

redstarDePoy, Phillip. Cold Florida. Severn House. (Foggy Moskowitz, Bk. 1). Apr. 2016. 224p. ISBN 9780727885753. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9781780107394. M

In 1971 car thief Foggy Moskowitz fled to Fry’s Bay, FL, and reinvented himself as an investigator for Child Protective Services, trying to atone for his crimes in Brooklyn. Three years later, he gets a late-night phone ­call from his boss, who wants him to track down a missing baby taken from the hospital by her junkie mother. He finds the infant as well as mystical Seminoles, land-grubbing billionaires, and other interesting characters. VERDICT DePoy, acclaimed for his “Flap Tucker” (Dead Easy) and “Fever Devilin” (December’s Thorn) mysteries, starts a new noir series that introduces a flawed man with a heart of gold. Foggy did a bad thing, and now he lives as though every day is Yom Kippur. Atmospheric and with a hero trying to be better than the circumstances in which he finds himself, this title will remind readers of Sharyn McCrumb’s “Ballad” series and Rick Riordan’s “Tres Navarre” books.

Lehane, Con. Murder at the 42nd Street Library. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Apr. 2016. 320p. ISBN 9781250009968. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250036872. M

Raymond Ambler is the archivist for the crime fiction collection at the 42nd Street Library, the gorgeous beaux-arts New York Public Library building on Fifth Avenue. The fatal shooting of a visitor in the office of his boss, Special Collections head Harry Larkin, propels Ambler into an investigative mode when his buddy Mike Cosgrove of the NYPD needs information about the library. Then, Ambler’s literary hero ­Napoleon Yates is killed. Something is rotten in Special Collections. Can our hero’s encyclopedic knowledge of crime fiction translate into real-life crime solving? VERDICT Lehane, better known for his “Bartender Brian McNulty” series (Death at the Old Hotel), brings McNulty along for the ride (as a minor character) in this library-set series launch. His protagonist, named after two masters of the genre (Raymond ­Chandler and Eric Ambler), reflects the author’s in-depth knowledge of the history of the genre. A fun read for mystery buffs and librarians alike. [Library marketing.]

Nickson, Chris. Skin Like Silver. Severn House. (Tom Harper, Bk. 3). Mar. 2016. 224p. ISBN 9780727885708. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9781780107363. M

The latest adventure of DI Tom Harper of the Leeds Police sees the detective balancing two very different cases. In the first, he is trying to locate the mother of a dead baby found in a parcel at the local post office. Then a fire destroys a railroad station and discovered beneath the rubble is a woman’s corpse, covered in melted steel. As Harper works to identify the murderer of Catherine Carr, he has to partner with a former colleague who had transferred to the Fire Brigade. Harper and Billy Reed had a serious falling-out, and their relationship remains tentative at best. Murder, women’s ­suffrage, madness, and industrial shenanigans all come together in a shocking conclusion. VERDICT Harper is a good copper; he wants justice, but sometimes he is forced to seek it in slightly unethical ways. As an industrial hub, Leeds drew immigrants from all parts of the British Empire, making for a riveting historical setting. Readers of Iain Pears and Will Thomas will enjoy this Victorian series.

Patrick, Renee. Design for Dying. Forge. (Lillian Frost & Edith Head, Bk. 1). Apr. 2016. 320p. ISBN 9780765381842. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466884588. M

designfordying.jpg3116Lillian Frost was Miss Astoria Park in 1936. Her claim to fame included a trip to Hollywood for a screen test. One year later, Lillian works at Tremayne’s department store as a sales clerk. When the body of Ruby Carroll, Lillian’s former roommate, is found in an alley, the only clue is the Edith Head gown she was wearing, which was stolen from Paramount Studios. As the prime suspect in Ruby’s death, Lillian gets pulled into the investigation with Head, who wants to protect her career from scandal. Also putting in appearances are Barbara Stanwyck, Preston Sturges, Bob Hope, and Billy Wilder. VERDICT Under the Patrick pseudonym, married coauthors ­Rosemarie and Vince Keenan (Down the Hatch) have written a champagne-flavored frolic of a first mystery set during Hollywood’s golden age. Lillian is determined to make her own way, and Edith aims to take over Paramount’s costume department. Both serve as independent and resolute sleuths. This is sure to delight fans of old Hollywood and Turner Classic Movies.

redstarScott, Gavin. The Age of Treachery. Titan. (Duncan Forrester, Bk. 1). Apr. 2016. 336p. ISBN 9781783297801. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781783297818. M

Returning to Oxford University in 1946 as a junior research fellow in archaeology, ex-Special Operations agent Duncan Forrester is listening to the recitation of Icelandic sagas in the Master’s Lodge when David Lyall, a much-disliked colleague, is murdered. Did Lyall possess an ancient Viking manuscript that might be tied to Nazi mythology? Who ransacked his room before his execution? Did Forrester’s friend Gordon Clark kill ­Lyall because of Lyall’s affair with Clark’s wife? Forrester is determined to help his friend as well as continue his archaeology studies. VERDICT References to J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis ground this book firmly in the postwar period in Oxford. Forrester has to cast aside his PTSD and rely on the skills developed from his espionage experience to ferret out the culprit and motive. A dashing new hero has been born; recommend for readers of Jack Higgins and Joseph Kanon. [See Prepub Alert, 11/6/15.]

cozy corner

Karst, Leslie. Dying for a Taste. Crooked Lane. (Sally Solari, Bk. 1). Apr. 2016. 304p. ISBN 9781629535975. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781629535982. M

After her mother’s death, Sally ­Solari quit her high-powered law firm in San Francisco and returned to Santa Cruz to work at her father’s old-school Italian restaurant. Then her Aunt Letta is murdered in her own eatery, the upscale Gauguin. Eric, an assistant DA who happens to be Sally’s ex-boyfriend, keeps her in the loop as the investigation of her aunt’s death unfolds. When Javier, Letta’s protégé and chef at Gauguin, is arrested, Sally is convinced it’s a miscarriage of justice. There are many other suspects, but the police are convinced they have the culprit in hand. VERDICT Fans of Joanne Fluke, Edith Maxwell, and Lucy Burdette will savor this food-oriented debut, seasoned with well-done plotting and characters, complete with tasty recipes.

O’Connor, Carlene. Murder in an Irish Village. Kensington. 2016. 304p. ISBN 9781617738449. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781617738456. M

After their parents were killed by a drunk driver, the O’Sullivan Six—Siobhán, James, Ciarán, Eoin, Ann, and Craic—were left to run Naomi’s Bistro in tiny Kilbane, County Cork. Niall, the driver’s older brother, soon returns from Dublin to blackmail Siobhán in regards to a secret about her parents’ deaths. No one is terribly upset when Niall is discovered dead in the bistro until James is charged with his murder and another body turns up. The headstrong Siobhán decides to investigate, even though Macdara Flannery, the handsome Garda sergeant, tells her to keep out of it. VERDICT This entertaining combination of Maeve Binchy’s old-world Irish charm and Janet Evanovich’s roguish humor is a smart, fast-paced read. The complex Siobhán is a singular character who struggles with her new role as guardian to her younger siblings. The Irish dialect feels authentic, and a handy glossary is useful for learning the local lingo. Devotees of the ­Hibernian mysteries of Dicey Deere and M.C. Beaton will toast this debut with a pint of Guinness. Sláinte!

Shelton, Paige. The Cracked Spine. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. (Scottish Bookshop, Bk. 1). Apr. 2016. 304p. ISBN 9781250057488. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466861213. M

crackedspine.jpg3116Having just lost her position at a small ­Wichita, KS, museum, Delaney Nichols answers an ad for a bookshop sales associate in Edinburgh, Scotland. Her telephone interview leads to a job offer, and she soon finds herself at the Cracked Spine, a small shop near Edinburgh Castle. Edwin ­MacAlister, her new employer, whisks Delaney off to a book auction and along the way informs her that his sister Jennie is safeguarding a Shakespeare first folio for him. When Jennie is murdered and the folio disappears, Delaney is determined to do anything to protect her new friends. Perhaps the dashing kilt-clad bartender Tom will make investigating worth her while. VERDICT Readers who appreciate bookseller sleuths such as ­Marianne Macdonald’s Dido Hoare (Death’s Autograph) or Joan Hess’s Claire ­Malloy (Strangled Prose) will welcome this new cozy series from the author of the “Farmers’ Market” ­mysteries. The feisty Delaney is an appealing protagonist, and the secondary characters are charming as well.

Simon, Clea. The Ninth Life Severn House. (Blackie & Care Cat, Bk. 1). Mar. 2016. 229p. ISBN 9780727885715. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9781780107370. M

Care rescues Blackie after he is almost drowned. Our feline protagonist and narrator, who has used up nearly all of his nine lives, does not remember much beyond three shadowy figures who held him underwater. Now he must save the pink-haired Care from herself and the men who seek to use her to deliver their drugs, including heroin-addicted boyfriend Tick, or frame her for murder. VERDICT With this new cat series, the author of the “Dulcie Schwartz” books (Code Grey) takes on a darker tone. Blackie is an enigmatic hero, trying to keep Care safe and lamenting his inability to communicate with her. Care is a troubled child attempting to do right. Where they go from here remains to be seen. A delight for anyone who relishes cat mysteries.

Tyson, Wendy. A Muddied Murder. Henery. (Greenhouse, Bk. 1). Mar. 2016. 336p. ISBN 9781635110050. pap. $14.99; ebk. 9781635110067. M

Megan Sawyer left Chicago and her legal career to help her grandmother run the family farm and café in Winsome, PA. ­Washington Acres dates back to colonial times, and ­rumor has it that George Washington slept there. Simon Duvall, the local zoning commissioner, is determined to bring the farm under the aegis of the historical society and stands in Maggie’s way at every step. When she and local veterinarian Daniel “Denver” Flinn find Duvall’s body in her barn, ­Megan must take action to protect her grandmother and the farm. ­VERDICT The author of the “Allison Campbell” mysteries (Killer Image) switches gears with this charming and entertaining cozy series debut that joins the ranks of such farm-related mysteries as Meera ­Lester’s A Beeline to Murder. Megan is a spunky heroine who loves her family and wants to succeed. Readers of animal-centric cozies will flock to this.

Series Lineup

Carter, Maureen. Next of Kin. Crème de la Crime: Severn House. (Sarah Quinn, Bk. 5). Mar. 2016. 224p. ISBN 9780727885647. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9781780107301. M

DI Sarah Quinn’s investigation of a teenager’s murder is not helped by her male colleagues’ hostility, nor by her professional nemesis, reporter Caroline King, who has the story and will not let it go. Was this a random attack, or the work of a serial child killer? Carter’s fifth book in this series (after Child’s Play) is a first-rate police procedural.

singerfrommemphis.jpg3116Corby, Gary. The Singer from Memphis. Soho Crime. (Athenian, Bk. 6). May 2016. 352p. ISBN 9781616956684. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616956691. M

Historian Herodotus hires Nicolaos and his wife, the priestess Diotima, to assist him in writing a book. They travel to Egypt to do research, but is Herodotus’s true purpose espionage? Egypt is in revolt against the Persian Empire, and Nico has to evade assassins. Corby’s sixth sprightly outing (after Death ex Machina) blends humor with fascinating details about the ancient world.

Gregson, J.M. Backhand Smash. Severn House. (Percy Peach, Bk. 19). Mar. 2016. 224p. ISBN 9780727885654. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9781780107318 M

DS Clyde Northcott, a protégé of DCI Percy Peach, has no desire to join the Birch Fields Tennis Club. Yet the club has decided to recruit “desirable” minorities, and Peach believes Northcott should be dragooned into joining. When a dead body turns up, will Peach and Northcott find the killer before more snooty members are murdered? Gregson’s 19th installment (after A Necessary End) features the series’s trademark British humor and amusing characters.

James, Bill. First Fix Your Alibi. Crème de la Crime: Severn House. (Harpur & Iles, Bk. 33). Apr. 2016. 192p. ISBN 9781780290829. $28.95. M

Seeking vengeance for the murder of his wife and son, drug kingpin Mansel Shale teams up with Ralph Ember, another drug lord, in a scheme straight out of Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train: to kill each other’s enemies. ACC Desmond Iles and DCS Colin Harpur are determined to keep the peace without bloodshed spilling onto the streets. Expect fans of the long-running procedural series (Blaze Away) to ask for this entry.

murderatlibrary.jpg3116QUOTABLE “The 42nd Street Library stretches along the west side of Fifth Avenue from 42nd to 40th Street. The landmark beaux-arts structure houses the humanities and social studies collections of the New York Public Library, the largest research collection of any public library in the nation after the Library of Congress…. The 42nd Street Library is a research library, not a circulating library. Everything stays in the library. Under such an arrangement, it has served the research needs of millions for decades.”—Con Lehane, Murder at the 42nd Street Library

Additional Mystery

redstarCox, Michelle. A Girl Like You: A Henrietta and Inspector Howard Novel. She Writes. Apr. 2016. 288p. ISBN 9781631520167. pap. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9781631520174. M

Henrietta Von Harmon makes ends meet as a “26 girl,” keeping scores on dice games in a dive bar in 1935 Chicago. Desperate to support her mother and siblings, she takes another job as a paid dance partner. When the dance hall’s floor matron is murdered. Henrietta finds herself working for the aloof Insp. Clive Howard, going undercover at a notorious burlesque theater where the killer is believed to be hiding in plain sight. Despite the distractions of their growing attraction, Henrietta and the inspector must cooperate to take down a crime boss and bring a murderer to justice. VERDICT ­Flavored with 1930s slang and fashion, this first volume in what one hopes will be a long series is absorbing. Henrietta and Clive are a sexy, endearing, and downright fun pair of sleuths. Readers will not see the final twist coming.—­Kristen Droesch, formerly with Library Journal

Viccy Kemp is the Technical Services Manager for the Flower Mound Public Library, TX, where she buys the books and deals with library technology. Reading mysteries is her passion because it’s only between the pages of a book that justice can really be done

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