Jorge Zepeda Patterson: The Black Jersey

Review by Mike Simowski

In the colorful setting of the Tour de France (the world’s greatest bicycle race), murder and mayhem ensue in this unique and compelling thriller. Marc Moreau is a professional cyclist and one of the best in the world. But on his top-notch team, he is relegated to supporting his best friend who has won the Tour several times and is gunning for another against stiff competition. In this highly competitive atmosphere, accidents, crashes and other incidents occur at a rate that is both suspicious and alarming. Marc, a former military policeman, agrees to assist the French police in an undercover manner on the investigation, while still competing in the high-pressure 2,000-mile race. read more

Charles Fergus: A Stranger Here Below

Review by Nancy Shaw

Gideon Stoltz has come to Adamant, Pennsylvania, in the 1830s from his family’s farm in Pennsylvania Dutch country. A run-in with brigands has led him to the sheriff of fictional Colerain County, an area of deep hollows, heavily-forested hills, small farms, and a prosperous ironworks. He becomes the sheriff’s assistant, despite being out of his element. The local Scotch-Irish deride his Pennsylfawnisch Deitsch speech and habits. When he marries, he endures his in-laws’ teasing. He adores his wife and son, but feels he is a stranger. The historical mystery A Stranger Here Below is the first of a planned series about this sympathetic protagonist. read more

Ellen Hart: Twisted at the Root

The 26th novel in the Jane Lawless series is as good, as crisp, as memorable, as the first in the series. Jane, the calm center of every storm in her life, agrees to investigate a closed case (the alleged perpetrator is in prison) when her father, lawyer Raymond Lawless, asks. The case involves the murder of one partner by another – the partner was an obvious choice as the killer and was duly convicted. But.

Everyone Jane talks to – including her old friend, the flamboyant Cordelia – affirms the man’s goodness, and their disbelief that he could harm anyone. Many threads swirl around the case, which at first looked like a suicide. Ellen Hart, in her masterly way, uses these many threads to paint her complex portrait of a crime. read more

Ann Cleeves: The Long Call

Ann Cleeves wrapped up her stellar Shetland series and has turned her hand and eye to Devon, a British resort area where of course she finds out what’s lurking under the surface. She introduces the reader to detective Matthew Venn, who has a complex backstory that would seem to lend itself to further discovery in more books down the road.

Matthew is a bit OCD, reminding me slightly of Margaret Maron’s great creation, Sigrid Harald. He was raised by parents who were members of a Christian cult and when he renounced their faith he was banned from their lives. He’s married to the lively, artistic and sometimes messy Jonathan, who runs the local center for art and disabled adults. The odd combination of artistic pursuit and mental health and disabled adult care seems to work well and the center is a lively place, important to many families in town. read more

Kate Atkinson: Big Sky

It’s been a long wait for the new Jackson Brodie novel. Kate Atkinson was writing Life After Life and other literary hits. But her unlucky-in-love, tough-but-soft-hearted P.I. is back. This time Jackson’s 13-year-old son Nathan is staying with him on Yorkshire’s east coast while his mother Julia, Jackson’s former flame, acts in a TV crime series. Jackson’s daughter Marlee is now a law graduate and about to be a bride. Jackson does “dog work for solicitors—debt tracing, surveillance, and so on.” He also documents adulterous couples. read more

Hank Phillippi Ryan: The Murder List

What makes a thriller good?  What makes one stand out from the pack of – let’s be honest – the many, many books at the moment about women in jeopardy who have lost their memories or are unreliable narrators or have terrible husbands?  Let’s start with the main character.  Lawyer in training Rachel North has none of those problems.  Her memory is intact and her husband seems like a doll in a Red Sox cap.  She seems reliable and balanced.  She’s just – in a situation.

Thrillers need to be plotted like clockwork, without the gears showing to the reader.  So someone as gifted as Hank Phillippi Ryan can introduce many characters onto her canvas, turn the wheel of the plot, and a previously introduced character will unexpectedly show up where you least expect it.  Gears at work here, but not on display.  Masterful. read more

Rhys Bowen: Love and Death Among the Cheetahs

Every time I finish a Lady Georgie book by Rhys Bowen I think to myself, well, there’s no way she can write another book that’s so insanely enjoyable. But every time…she does write one that’s just as positively crazily enjoyable as the one before. She has the gift of narrative in spades, but she also has a light hand with it. Each time, she puts her characters in a fresh situation, and this is book 13 in a series. In the last book (Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding) Georgie and Darcy were married at last. So what comes next? A honeymoon, naturally. read more

Louise Penny: A Better Man

This is one of the more stripped down narratives Louise Penny has delivered.  Stripped down for Penny, that is.  The essential story is a simple one that drives her narrative, but being a complex writer and thinker, she’s made the simple complex.  There are two threads.  One concerns the disappearance of a woman who happens to be the goddaughter of a Surete officer.  Gamache, who has returned to work with a demotion (he’s head of homicide, not the entire Surete) accompanies the officer to the village where the woman lived. read more

William Kent Krueger: This Tender Land

While this wonderful novel bears all the hallmarks of William Kent Krueger, it’s not exactly a mystery. There are some mysterious – or criminal – elements and the fact that it’s not a straight up mystery should keep no reader away. Written as a companion to Krueger’s classic, Ordinary Grace, it is a spiritual companion but it’s not a sequel or a prequel or anything like it. It’s very much its own country.

Set in 1930’s Minnesota, it’s the story of Odie, his brother Albert, and their friend Mose, who doesn’t speak. All of them are young and living in an “Indian” boarding school. At the time (and up through the early 70’s) native children were taken from their homes and put in these harsh schools where they were allowed little to no contact with their families and were forbidden – even punished – if they spoke their native language. They were given western style haircuts and forced to anglicize their names. read more

Annelise Ryan: Needled to Death

This book has a cozy look, but I wouldn’t say it’s a cozy. It’s kind of a half cozy, but if you shop by cover art, the cute dog isn’t going to quite give you the picture of what’s inside. I’m a fan of Ryan’s Mattie Winston series because of the complex characters and situations, and this book, the first in a “new” series, actually features a character introduced in the last Mattie Winston book, Hildy Schneider.

Hildy is a hospital social worker who leads a grief group. As the book opens, the group is meeting, and a new member to the group has lost her son to addiction, a sadly unremarkable story. What’s different is that the woman insists her son wasn’t involved with drugs and that he was murdered. The cops are skeptical and have closed the case – the young man was found with a needle hanging out of his arm, and after all, does a parent always know what their child is up to? read more