By Winnie M. Li.
Sept. 2017. 352p. Polis, $26 (9781943818624); e-book
Following official celebrations marking
the anniversary of Northern Ireland’s peace
agreement, film producer Vivian Tan is finally free to finish her trip with a solo hike
through the hills overlooking Belfast. The
hike lives up to her guidebook’s promises
until Vivian’s solitude is interrupted by a
teenage boy’s unrelenting efforts to befriend
her. Vivian’s annoyance gives way to fear as
she realizes the boy is stalking her through
the forest. Hours later, Vivian stumbles from
the woods after enduring a brutal assault and
rape at the hands of 15-year-old Irish Traveller Johnny Sweeney. In careful detail, Li
chronicles Vivian and Johnny’s experience
with the justice system, Vivian’s struggle with
PTSD, and Johnny’s confused efforts to reconcile unfamiliar feelings of guilt with the
lack of empathy he’s cultivated under his older brother’s influence. Li captures Vivian and
Johnny’s opposing perspectives realistically,
skillfully contrasting their similarities (both
are from stereotyped, misunderstood cultures) and dramatic differences. This debut,
based on true events, is a thoughtful, empathetic portrayal of the challenges rape victims
face when seeking justice. —Christine Tran
Dark River Rising.
By Roger Johns.
Aug. 2017. 304p. Minotaur, $26.99 (9781250110091);
e-book, $12.99 (9781250110114).
Johns has managed to assemble a fine
thriller out of stock parts. There’s the opening with the gruesome murder—a 10 on the
Richter, it involves a snake—the persistent
cop, the questioning colleague, the jerk boss,
and, finally, the hostage and the attempt at
a last-minute rescue. The victim is a Baton
Rouge drug lord pushing “the most popular drug since the inception of organized
religion.” Then federal crime-watchers notice that street prices for the white powder
are going down when they should be going
up. Police Detective Wallace Hartman thus
finds herself with two mysteries to solve;
help comes from a surprising place: a DEA
agent who turns out to be a nice, smart man
and not the turf-mad cliché we’re used to.
Their interplay as they partner up is refreshing. The key is chemistry, though we could
have done without all the natter on isotopes
and alkaloids. The fine, tense ending overlays the scary message: soon cokeheads won’t
need coca leaves, mules, dealers, all that. Just
a chemistry set. —Don Crinklaw
Dead Woman Walking.
By Sharon Bolton.
Sept. 2017. 368p. Minotaur, $25.99 (9781250103444);
e-book, $12.99 (9781250103451).
While floating above Northumberland National Park in a hot-air balloon, sisters Jessica
and Isabelle Lane spot a woman fleeing from
the ruins of a medieval home. As they watch,
a man chases the woman down, eventually
subduing her with blow to the head. Realizing that the floating tourists are filming the
attack, the man fires at the balloon, causing a
crash that only Jessica survives. She hides in a
tree, barely conscious, as their attacker hunts
for surviving witnesses. But Jessica refuses to
become another victim and evades the killer,
who remains on her trail. Determined to destroy her sister’s murderer, Jessica turns the
hunt on its end, relying on both her training as an undercover cop and the nuns from
her sister’s convent to lure the killer into a
trap. Although the final twist feels a bit convenient, the Reacher-like thrills leading there
generate adrenaline-fueled pleasure. Bolton,
who also writes as S. J. Bolton, delivers another strong, resourceful female character in
Jessica Lane. —Christine Tran
Death by His Grace.
By Kwei Quartey.
Aug. 2017. 272p. Soho, $26.95 (9781616957087);
e-book, $14.99 (9781616957094).
When fertility problems strain newlywed
Katherine and Solomon Vanderpuye’s marriage, Katherine begins counseling with
her celebrity evangelist minister. While
she works on reconciliation, her in-laws
are poisoning Solomon’s mind with accusations that she’s a witch intent on killing
him and their unborn children. Their tactics succeed,
and Kate is soon packing
her things. But the night
before her move, she is
murdered at her home in
Accra, Ghana. Accra’s CID
Director Darko Dawson is
called to the scene by his
distraught wife, who found Kate’s house
crawling with police when she arrived to
help her cousin move. The last thing Darko wants is a case certain to strain family
relations, but his commanding officer sees
things differently. Darko and a trainee detective, one of Accra’s few female officers, must
sort through a host of potential suspects—
the charismatic evangelist, Kate’s prominent
in-laws, and a disturbed stalker—to find
the machete-wielding killer. In the series’
fifth installment (following Gold of Our
Fathers, 2016), Darko is tested by his duty
to his in-laws and increasingly challenging
roles as son and father, complications that
add layers to a skillfully developed character
and build suspense toward a jaw-dropping
cliff-hanger. Quartey’s Ghanaian mysteries,
driven by tension between traditional culture and modernity, share top-notch writing
and full-sensory settings with those of Michael Stanley, Deon Meyer, and Parker Bilal.
Death of a Busybody.
By George Bellairs.
Sept. 2017. 206p. Poisoned Pen, paper, $12.95
(9781464207365); e-book, $9.99 (9781464207372).
This British Library Crime Classics reissue
brings back George Bellairs, who was ex-
tremely popular during Britain’s golden age
of detective fiction. Bellairs’ detective stories
starring Inspector Littlejohn of Scotland Yard
spanned more than 40 years and 57 books.
This one, Bellairs’ third, published in 1942,
is a vintage village cozy, but the village in
question is polluted by a cesspool with both
physical and symbolic dimensions. The body
of Miss Tither, the titular busybody, is found
face down in a cesspool next to the vicarage.
Miss Tither had a surfeit of enemies, due to
her berating of the villagers about their sins
or their lack of religious zeal. As is usual in
golden-age mysteries, the local constabulary
is more given to eating than sleuthing, so
Inspector Littlejohn is summoned for help
from Scotland Yard. Littlejohn’s uncanny
way of sizing up people and getting the
most out of minutiae is the appeal here, as
is his witty skewering of characters accord-
ing to their foibles. Fascinating period detail
from the blackout days, a plot that keeps
surprising, and contemporary crime novelist
Martin Edwards’ insightful introduction add
to the fun. —Connie Fletcher
Even if It Kills Her.
By Kate White.
Oct. 2017. 432p. Harper, paper, $15.99
(9780062448873); e-book, $9.99 (9780062448880).
Crime writer Bailey Weggins has one
regret: not comforting Brown University
classmate Jillian Lowe when her parents,
sister, and brother were stabbed to death
16 years earlier. But when Bailey meets Jillian at a book event, Bailey sees a chance to
make amends. DNA from the crime scene
has been uncovered, suggesting that the
learning-disabled teenager convicted of the
crimes may have been innocent. Prompted
by this information, Jillian asks Bailey to
find the real killer. Soon Bailey is butting
heads with local authorities and putting herself and others at risk, as she uncovers Lowe
family secrets and marks possible suspects,
all of which frightens her live-in boyfriend,
Beau Regan, threatening their longstanding
relationship. Although the identity of the
killer comes out of left field, White builds
suspense masterfully, and this seventh in
the Bailey Weggins series (after So Pretty It
Hurts, 2012) has the makings of another
hit. Bailey is a smart, sexy sleuth, and her
exploits make for thoroughly entertaining
reading. —Michele Leber
By Laura Marshall.
Sept. 2017. 320p. Grand Central, $26 (9781478948513);
e-book, $13.99 (9781478948506).
Louise’s darkest secrets threaten to surface
when she receives a Facebook friend request
from an old schoolmate, Maria Weston. In
school, their brief friendship imploded after Louise helped her popular friend Sophie
target Maria in a ruthless bullying campaign.
Maria disappeared the night of the senior-class
party, and although her body wasn’t found, it’s