RaveCriminal ElementThis even-handed look at real events that rocked America is laudable, not only for the way it examines the many flawed people involved, but also for how much it deeply cares about the victims of abuse. Frankie is a terrific protagonist, a young teen with emotionally fraught relationships with her parents, who is doing her best to honor the good in them while processing the hurt inherent in how they failed her ... This page-turner has chills aplenty as we root desperately for Frankie to prevail against the forces that threaten to overwhelm and destroy her. A neat bonus for readers, especially those of us who grew up devouring pop culture in the 80s, is the inclusion of Frankie’s Choose Your Own Adventure-inspired botanical illustrations. But even readers who don’t care about illustrations will find Litani another terrific, heartfelt entry to Ms. Lourey’s thriller oeuvre.
RaveCriminal Element... this is one of the most laugh-out-loud books I’ve read in a long time ... The responsibility of creators towards their fans is just one of the philosophical topics considered in this exceptionally witty novel ... Filled to the brim with probably mostly true anecdotes about life on the set of Star Trek: The Next Generation, as well as more than its fair share of wisecracks, this book will delight any Star Trek fan or just anyone who enjoys humor in their crime novels. In fact, this book was so hilarious that I didn’t even realize during my first read-through just how profound it is on the topic of celebrity and metafiction. I felt compelled after reading this the first time to research the true events this book was based on and found the ethical quandary raised thereby particularly thought-provoking. As the subject and victim of an unsettling fascination, Mr. Spiner is well within his rights to reclaim and reshape the narrative that has been built up around him. That he further fashions this into a meditation on fandom and the relationship between celebrities and the people who support them makes for a surprisingly deep volume that is worth reading more than once to fully absorb both how thoughtful and dazzling it truly is.
RaveCriminal Element... a page-turning and often genuinely scary psychological thriller, filled with more twists and bite than a rattlesnake! It’s also a searing, brutally honest account of what it means to be a brown person and especially a brown woman in America ... I found so much of this book eminently relatable, and am so glad Amanda Jayatissa gives such uncompromising voice to people like me. Paloma is a deeply flawed heroine but her anger and complexity bring real heart and dilemma to this brilliant and audaciously crafted tale. This haunting fable showcases both how racism kills and how it helps you get away with murder. I loved it.
MixedCriminal ElementI don’t necessarily think Shutter hits all the emotional and intellectual highs it’s aiming for, but I do think this is a very interesting examination and subversion of the typical machismo that underpins a lot of modern American entertainment. As this is Melissa Larsen’s debut, it will be intriguing to see what ideas she explores with her next novel, which I’m certain will be just as thoughtful if not more so.
RaveCriminal Element... a remarkably evocative noir novel set against the backdrop of one of the most turbulent political times in Mexico’s recent history. Silvia Moreno-Garcia deftly maneuvers our two almost-anti-heroes through a dance of revolutionaries, reactionaries, and misdeeds, setting them to chase down the MacGuffin of Leonora’s photographs while each longing for a better life. More importantly, both Maite and Elvis struggle to come to terms with the faults in their own expectations, even as the reader grows to sympathize with these flawed but relatable leads. It’s not quite a romance novel, but it does feel deeply romantic, with a truly wonderful ending.
Kotaro Isaka, trans. by Sam Malissa
RaveCriminal Element... this novel’s frenetic energy brings to mind the best of modern crime cinema, with multiple points of view going back and forth in time to bring us a solidly entertaining, astonishingly clever tale ... The many twisty layers of mystery and violence are a total thrill ride as the five assassins attempt to outwit, manipulate and escape one another, all while frantically trying to communicate—or sometimes avoid communicating—with friends and foes outside the train. The dialog is snappy and the characters each well-defined, with very different perspectives and ideas ... solid and riveting[.]
PositiveCriminal Element\"Besides rethinking a tragic criminal case, The Heathens also continues the series’ terrific examination of rural crime and values, kicking over shibboleths to show off the good, bad, and ugly of life in the modern South ... this installment is a great jumping-on point for readers new to the series. But be warned: nature abhors a vacuum, and just because Quinn has gotten rid of one set of bad guys doesn’t mean another isn’t waiting to ooze its way into power, as the ending tantalizingly promises.
RaveCriminal Element... a mind-bending speculative psychological suspense thriller ... a masterfully constructed science fiction take on the serial killer genre, as an obsessed killer hops between realities to stalk and murder the woman he claims to love. In addition to just being a really thoughtfully put together work of speculative fiction, it’s also deeply intelligent when it comes to the psychology of misogyny and how women really think and feel when faced with it. I was considerably impressed by Max Barry’s sharp dissection of guys like Clay, who think they’re being romantic when what they’re really being is monstrous ... Thrilling and smart, with loads of humor and heart to spare, this may be Mr. Barry’s best book yet. It’s certainly one of the best female-centered takes on the stalker genre I’ve ever read, in addition to being a truly absorbing tale of cross-dimensional travel.
RaveCriminal ElementThis claustrophobic, psychosexual look at people whose lives are governed by deception is one of the best Gothic takes on modern ballet I’ve ever enjoyed ... Megan Abbott’s absorbing novel doesn’t shy away from the self-torture or often catty competitiveness that plague a performer’s life; her book does, in fact, lean into the trope of dancers being weird at sex, as the most modern slang usage of the title implies. Unlike the movie, however, at no point does The Turnout diminish its characters or turn them into flat cardboard cutouts for readers to feel smugly superior to. Dara, Marie, and Charlie are all deeply flawed human beings, but the book explains why while entangling them in the kind of investigative scrutiny they’ve been raised to avoid ... Despite this insistence on opaqueness, The Turnout does a really terrific job of showing off and explaining the obsessive nature of ballet culture and how damaged people don’t just spring from a vacuum ... Ms. Abbott’s writing is both darkly atmospheric and unrelenting in its near-surgical dissection of ballet and desire, plunging the reader past the delicately glamorous facade of a career performer’s life into the nasty, pain-ridden longing that can fester at the heart of it.
RaveCriminal Element... a fast-paced page-turner that reads very much like an update of the airplane hijacking subgenre so popular in the 1980s. Under the skin of this thriller, however, is a perhaps surprisingly philosophical look at the cost of American international policies. It’s a heartfelt examination of why someone would be driven to carry out a suicide mission, especially in a day and age of general pushback against and disillusionment with zealotry. Where this novel really shines however is in the way it deals with the stresses of life at high altitude ... Ms. Newman’s insider eye lends a believability to the entire scenario that, combined with the story’s propulsive pace, sweeps the reader along on a ride of chills and thrills. There are some gaps in the logic, but the motivations of the main characters are believable and, on occasion surprisingly, relatable. There’s a lot of compassion in this entertaining debut. Ms. Newman is a talent to watch.
RaveCriminal Element...chilling and compulsively readable, a superb blend of psychological suspense and horror that reveals the mind and soul of a writer and touches on timely issues that include power, agency, appropriation, and creation ... This witty, deeply literate book is as much an homage to popular entertainment (think of pop fiction turned into acclaimed movies such as Misery and Rear Window) as it is a love letter to and excoriation of the white male writers who’ve dominated American letters for decades now ... The genius of Ms. Lippmann’s latest novel is that even as you’re repelled by Gerry’s self-absorption and privilege, you can’t help sympathizing with him; adaptation is difficult, and we’ve all lied to ourselves in ways that mirror the deceptions of this book’s characters ... it’s an adept exploration of literary culture, high and low, that is by turns slyly hilarious and sobering as it considers the many facets of obsession and their repercussions.
L. R. Dorn
RaveCriminal ElementWhile The Anatomy of Desire differs with its source material in several significant ways, it does invite us, as Dreiser did nearly a century ago, to interrogate the important questions of intent and culpability and how those are channeled through our legal system. Cleo is arguably a more sympathetic character than the protagonist of the older novel—and I have a very definite opinion on whether the state’s burden of proof for the first-degree murder charges against her was met based on my own upbringing and philosophies, which feel incongruent from the mainstream—but the genius of L. R. Dorn’s work here is in getting the reader to think about who societies punish and why and how our cultural sensibilities change around the concept of shame, especially as it has to do with authenticity. This is a gripping, compelling read that does justice to its source material while also sensitively exploring the constant struggle between capitalism and morality in our everyday lives, brought to a head one afternoon by two women whose shared yet conflicting desires to be loved can only end in tragedy.
RaveCriminal ElementIt’s hard to believe that this highwire act of tight plotting, alternating perspectives, and shifting timelines is a debut novel, but Alex Finlay’s Every Last Fear is a remarkable addition to the thriller genre, juggling all its many plot points so deftly that it kept me guessing whodunnit and why till the very end ... Each chapter of this page-turning novel feels almost die-cut, as Finlay effortlessly moves from different perspectives back and forth through time to seed both clues and red herrings ... Every Last Fear combines murders with family trauma in a very 21st century way, touching on so many topics relevant to the modern reader. It’s an intelligent thriller that marks the arrival of a master plotter and craftsman on the mystery scene. It’ll be exciting to see what Finlay has in store for us next, after this standout debut.
RaveCriminal Element... elegant ... I greatly enjoyed the story within a story presented here, especially since Chris Power loosely draws from his own life to fill out the details, creating a third metaphysical layer for readers to unfold. Rarely have the ethics and craft of fictionalization made for such compelling, thrilling reading. Too often, the juxtaposition of genres—particularly one so vital as crime with the more inward-facing studies of the literary—makes for a dull or confusing read as authors choose the form of intellectualism over the function of entertainment. Mr. Power, however, deftly balances his influences to present a suspenseful yet still thoughtful novel of trust and belief and what we, writers or otherwise, owe to the people we spin our stories around.
RaveCriminal Element... it was thrilling to encounter the knotty intellectual problems at the heart of John Verdon’s latest Dave Gurney mystery ... This was a truly ingenious play-fair mystery novel that’s police procedural adjacent while still being able to bend the rules of the latter by featuring an unconventional sleuth and his unconventional friends—Jack Hardwick especially is a hoot! ... equal doses, almost even a tension, of heart and mind make for a wonderfully sympathetic detective who is himself often deeply empathetic to the people he meets in the course of his investigations ... Mr. Verdon’s novel is filled with this sort of exquisite balance, sucking the reader in and ratcheting up the surprises to the point where I protested aloud in emotional distress at a certain poncho-clad plot twist. If you’re looking for a thrilling mystery with a smart, sympathetic detective that will puzzle you every step of the way, you need to pick up On Harrow Hill.
RaveCriminal ElementI cannot even begin to tell you how relatable Anette’s boredom was to me as a mother ... Ms. Engberg’s portrayal of this was refreshing, even as she and I are both advocates for flexible parental leave that centers on the needs of the family. Ms. Engberg also writes with compassion of the people doing their best to navigate an imperfect health and social system ... I really enjoyed reading this layered tale of killers and victims, all hiding behind the masks society has handed them to wear. Jeppe and Anette are wonderful protagonists: smart, flawed, and relatable all at once. The subplot with the aging author Esther de Laurenti was also really well done, particularly in the epiphany she had regarding Alain at the end. Overall, The Butterfly House, translated from the original Danish by Tara Chace, is a terrific addition to the Scandinavian noir genre and one not to be missed by genre fans.
RaveCriminal ElementAngeline Boulley has written a heartbreaking, exquisitely paced page-turner of a mystery novel that genuinely surprised me with many of its clever plot twists. Her observations and insights on Ojibwe culture and rituals are fascinating on their own but coupled with a crime thriller narrative make for utterly compulsive reading ... Books like Firekeeper’s Daughter are so important in amplifying the voices of the marginalized in hopes of creating a better, more just tomorrow. Smart, searing, and singular, this novel deserves to be considered an American classic.
RaveCriminal Element... a wildly entertaining novel...featuring a ripped-from-the-headlines story with all the trademark wry humor, Boston shenanigans, and juxtaposition of violence and sophistication one associates with this property ... If Someone to Watch Over Me is representative of the Spenser oeuvre, then I have certainly been missing out! Fast-paced and thrilling with just the right amounts of humor and pathos to make our protagonists feel more like real people than two-dimensional characters on a page, this was far more entertaining than my hazy memories of the TV show had led me to hope ... Mr. Atkins has written a timely, satisfying novel that has certainly made me a Spenser fan! I’m already eager for the next installment in the series so I can enjoy spending more time with these engaging characters as well as see them embroiled in truly topical issues. In the meantime, I have a rich back catalog to make my way through as I learn more about the terrific Spenser universe.
RaveCriminal Element... pulls no punches as [Gardner] spins an excellent tale ... a very satisfying thriller ... a novel firmly rooted in modern technology and investigative techniques as well as the minutiae of the life of the urban poor. This realism of Ms. Gardner’s served to assuage, too, any reservations I had of Frankie playing a weird, white-lady-savior role even before our heroine bluntly faces the reality of what she’s doing ... Smart, suspenseful, and socially conscious, this novel knows how to concoct a thriller out of current affairs without cheapening the subject or deriding any of the people involved. Frankie is a troubled, complicated woman determined to do the right thing while also recognizing that she doesn’t have all the answers and is in no place to dictate the affairs of others. She’s a wonderful heroine for our turbulent times. In all honesty, I’m sad that this is a standalone, as I’d love to read more of Frankie and her cases. I’ll just have to check out Ms. Gardner’s many other novels to find more heroines I’ll undoubtedly root for as much as I cheered on Frankie.
PositiveCriminal Element... a critical examination of one woman’s struggle not only to survive but also to rear her daughter in such a way as to protect her from the same hardships Rosie herself has undergone. In many ways, Rosie is a turn-of-the-21st-century white American Everywoman: seduced by a dream of riches before being confronted by grinding poverty and a near-complete lack of social net, while criminals and con artists wait to prey on her. The feminism she displays as she ages, like her stubborn independence, is hard-earned ... Fortunately for us readers, prose is a medium that can showcase squalor without sanctifying, as Ms. Finn so searingly does here in this suspenseful examination of a life overshadowed by arguably necessary crimes. It can be hard to root for Rosie at times, but there’s no denying that her interior life is a realistic portrayal of a certain kind of American womanhood that is both familiar and frustrating. By the end, however, I was one hundred percent on her side, in large part due to the fact that she had also come around to finally putting herself first.
RaveCriminal Element... both a taut whodunit and a haunting snapshot of the effects of a violent crime ... features a delicately handled supernatural element ... That the repercussions of violence overshadow all the joy of Haley’s life is only one of the tragedies of this thoughtful novel that examines not only that particular milieu of the ’90s but also the aftermath, 15 years on, of a single night of violence ... Ms. Schultz brings her level gaze and compassionate prose to all these fallible people as they finally unravel the truth, evoking the eras she writes of with intimate knowledge and a cultural depth that will resound with anyone else who lived through them too.
Jeremy Robert Johnson
RaveCriminal Element... the relationships of our heroes—amongst themselves and with their families—is only one of the things that elevates The Loop from your standard, and in this case well-written, nut-job nightmare ... Lucy feels complicated and real, which only serves to underscore the horror of all the gory, terrible things that are happening all around her. This is not a book for the faint of heart, but it was cathartic for me, as a brown person, to see an adolescent version of myself make the best of a hideous situation. It’s nice, too, that The Loop comes out during Hispanic Heritage Month, showcasing a Latina heroine who deserves to become iconic.
Lincoln Michel and Nadxieli Nieto
RaveCriminal ElementThis is an exquisite collection of short stories perfect for spooky season, with 42 gems of flash fiction carefully curated by Lincoln Michel and Nadxieli Nieto to offer readers nearly every variation on horror on the popular market today. Whether you prefer a classic ghost story, a near-future dystopia, or a far-future tale of space horror, you’ll find something to your liking here ... an excellent treasury of short horror fiction that belongs on the shelves of every reader who enjoys a good little scare.
RaveCriminal ElementSamantha Downing has knocked it out of the park again with this twisting, whip-smart tale of three messed up siblings trying to secure an inheritance. Enforced family togetherness is always a recipe for drama, and Ms. Downing embroiders upon the premise of the road trip from hell to tell a really clever, expertly crafted tale of deeply flawed family dynamics that are several levels more complex—though, occasionally, just as petty—as the accusatory phrase that makes up the book’s title ... a very human, very sympathetic look at problems that are common to most families, with the unusual complication of sheer sociopathy exacerbating otherwise run-of-the-mill situations ... Ms. Downing turns her critical eye on the kind of society that enables abusive behavior even as it pretends to care about fairness and justice. He Started It is an indictment of patriarchy from its very first pages, even if the p-word hardly ever shows up in print. From Beth’s first declarations, quoted below, to the stunning ending that had me shrieking with consternation, this book stands up for women and their stories ... Ms. Downing’s talent as a thriller writer continues to dazzle even as she carves out a name for herself as a literary thinker to watch and admire.
RaveCriminal ElementEqual parts police procedural and psychological thriller, Michael Elias’s You Can Go Home Now is an intriguing experiment with genre and form. ... Coming in at under 300 pages, this relatively short page-turner of a novel arrives at an interesting time in the American public’s relationship with our police forces. Mr. Elias is unafraid to show the underside of American policing, displaying how a system that attracts bullies and entrenches chauvinism can harden and coarsen even the best-intentioned applicants. Nina herself is a flawed protagonist who has to tackle the question of advancing what she knows is right versus what she knows is ethical—as well as consider what she owes to a society that too often fails its most vulnerable. You Can Go Home Now is a timely meditation on justice and retribution that will long stay in the memory, in no small part due to its moral complexity.
RaveCriminal ElementAppropriately light-hearted touches like this lend levity to what is otherwise a gory tale of blood and bone magic, conspiracy and violence ... Muir’s ability to balance the humor inherent in the life of a self-important teenage girl with the madness that consumes that same girl (who also happens to be a necromancer in space!) is nothing short of genius. And then you get to the plot, which turns so much of what we know inside out and lays the ground for one heck of a finale in Alecto the Ninth. I honestly needed to lie down and process after I finished reading this book. It’s not quite the sheer brilliance of Gideon the Ninth—though the valor of Ortus Nigenad and his companions did make me cry in a way I would never have imagined before it actually happened—partly because this novel reads less like a standalone and more like a connector. That’s appropriate, though, given its place in the series.
RaveCriminal ElementMatthew Carr has written another historical thriller that is as action-packed as it is thought-provoking...deftly weaving a fictional murder mystery involving eugenics and the British into the factual proceedings. Perhaps more saliently to the discerning reader, it underscores the lessons of an important chapter of Iberian history for global readers in the present day, all while telling a ripping good yarn ... the death quotient is fairly high, though at least this time I was prepared to have the characters I was rooting for meet their untimely ends. I was actually astonished that more of the characters I had grown attached to survived than otherwise ... Lawton’s fate is also satisfying, fitting for a complex hero whose unique background makes him the perfect lens through which to view the tumultuous, sometimes chilling, always thought-provoking proceedings.
RaveCriminal ElementMr. Pepper has a greater faith in both the American people and in America’s systems to do the right thing to make sure that justice, insofar as it can be dealt given the realities of the process, is served. The Voter File is a wonderfully non-partisan look at the way things are supposed to work, regardless of criminal interference. Most of all, it’s an engaging page-turner that will both satisfy series fans as well as make new fans out of readers, like myself, who are just now discovering these terrific books.
RaveCriminal ElementWhile The Poison Flood is a thriller with short, sharp spikes of violence and a healthy dose of Appalachian grotesque, it’s also a poignant meditation on music, love, and belonging. Mr. Farmer writes so movingly on so many subjects in this book ... an even-handed look at the realities of life in rural Appalachia, especially for those who don’t fit the mold of what it means to be \'normal.\' Hollis’ tale is gripping ... one of the most satisfying endings I’ve read in a while, capping what was overall one of the best novels I’ve ever read of modern-day rural America.
Ausma Zehanat Khan
PositiveCriminal Element... devastatingly powerful ... I, too, found myself distracted by all the romantic shenanigans, but I did very much enjoy not only the layered mysteries—with the promise of a greater one to be investigated in the next installment of the series—but also the nuanced and intelligent way that current sociopolitical events are examined and handled through the fictional lens. Ausma Zehanat Khan does not shy away from tackling the tough subjects facing Muslims both in Canada and globally, and her latest novel meditates with eloquent thought and heart on the recent real-life shooting massacre in a Canadian mosque ... I also enjoyed her depictions of Islam...It’s fascinating to see the different cultural and intellectual influences that shape the practices of religion alongside beautifully written descriptions of experiences universal to all Muslims ... is both a celebration of modern Islamic community and a timely look at anti-Muslim bigotry and the structures that allow it to flourish. It also paves the way for a case where Esa is both target and investigator, a situation that I’m greatly looking forward to reading—and solving with our investigative duo—in the next book of this terrific series!
RaveCriminal Element... wildly entertaining ... Granted, parts of the solution may look more obvious to younger folk than to our older detectives, in much the same way that the killer was flummoxed by the generational divide that more or less sets off this tale of grief and vengeance. It’s to Christopher Fowler’s credit that he provides that contrast and acknowledges it frankly while weaving it seamlessly into his narrative ... Fowler also continues his excellent work chronicling the endlessly fascinating minutiae of the city of London. Interspersed with the murder mystery are excerpts from Bryant’s idiosyncratic walking tour guide, which reveal both a boundless knowledge and affection for the great metropolis ... Poetic and evocative, the myriad glimpses into London life had me greatly missing a city I’ve always been fond of but have had only a very few days as an adult to explore. Reading Bryant & May: The Lonely Hour felt like living a love letter, not only to a magnificent city in all its dirt and glory, but also to an unconventional detecting partnership that may have been dealt a deadly blow. Die-hard fans will either love this installment of the series or scream bloody murder: regardless, we’ll all be eagerly awaiting the next book in order to find out what lies in store for our beloved investigative team.
RaveCriminal Element... a truly atmospheric mystery that delves deep into the theme of homecoming and all the secrets we think we leave behind. The novel’s greatest strength lies in Dovalpage’s excellent portrayal of an island nation that has retained its unique cultural identity even as it adapts to the times, and its parallel to protagonist Juan Chiong’s own personal development ... The Cuba depicted in these pages is a riotous blend of old and new, leaping off the pages as Juan compares his previous experiences with the Cuba he’s experiencing today. It is eye-opening to read how multi-faceted everyday life in Havana can be ... a rich exploration of Cuban life through the lens of a murder mystery involving a native son who’s come home to finally sort out the mysteries of his past. It’s a must-read for anyone who wants to know more about everyday life in Havana without the cost of a ticket there.
Kate Elizabeth Russell
RaveCriminal ElementComplex and haunted, Vanessa is a modern-day Dolores Haze ... Kate Elizabeth Russell has written a sensitive, heart-breaking companion to the Nabokov, retelling the relationship through the lens of the character whose voice matters the most, the young girl deemed a nymphet, a Lolita ... Ms. Russell tackles the hard questions in this searing depiction of the interior life of a woman who, while an adolescent, was groomed to satisfy the desires of an abuser, and whose life and outlook have been warped ever since. Ms. Russell is unafraid to delve into the hideous heart of human desire, and to frankly show how society demands too much of women and girls and too little of the men who prey on them ... essential reading.
PositiveCriminal ElementThe most satisfying horror stories, to me, share that impetus towards justice that is a hallmark of the mystery genre, even when said justice is thwarted or subverted. This collection overall gets that balance between horror and mystery exactly right, though several of the more supernatural tales—and particularly the ones involving children—do not conclude happily for all involved. But it wouldn’t be a truly representative collection of scary stories if justice was always served in the end. That’s part of Dame Christie’s spooky brilliance, knowing when to satisfy readers with the mundane monstrosity of a human murderer and when to leave us with the chilling touch of the unknowable.
RaveCriminal ElementUnder the Cold Bright Lights is a gripping page-turner of a book with a truly likable hero. Auhl must wrestle with his own morality as he faces a flawed system that threatens to allow for more harm than it prevents. Award-winning author Garry Disher expertly weaves together Auhl’s different cases and dilemmas to create an authentically Australian standalone police procedural with a memorably different kind of protagonist—one I’m hoping will be able to take his big heart and keen sense of empathy to more crime novels in the future.
PositiveCriminal ElementNovels about toxic female friendships have certainly been making the rounds lately, but Devotion pushes into territory that’s rarely covered and does so with such subtlety that I fear readers might not even consider what happened in it a crime ... the ambiguity of Devotion, however, reflects the prevailing attitude of far too much of our own modern society towards what takes place within its pages. It’s a thought-provoking novel, for sure, with rich, literary prose, and I’m hoping it helps expand the conversation on womanhood and consent, especially in the raised awareness of this #MeToo era.
RaveCriminal ElementNever Look Back by Alison Gaylin is an absorbing, addictive tale of psychological suspense with a Serial-esque podcast twist ... Trust is one of the main themes of this compelling tale of psychological suspense. Told through the viewpoints of its cast of characters, Never Look Back discusses the obligations inherent or otherwise in family relationships as it reveals the truth behind long-ago killings that have been essentially flattened out to two-dimensional renderings both by a sensationalist media and a judgmental public. Based on the true-life 1950s crime spree of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate, it refuses to go for the easy out, particularly when it comes to characterizing April (based on the 14-year-old Caril Ann) as a soulless thrillseeker ... Never Look Back asks us to be unafraid to look deeper, to believe in the healing power of the truth, and to accept the consequences and be good to ourselves regardless.
Jorge Zepeda Patterson, trans by Achy Obejas
RaveCriminal Element... extraordinary ... The build-up of paranoia is exquisite as Moreau must wrestle with his conflicting feelings in light of the evidence he uncovers, even as he strives to fulfill the competing burdens of trust placed upon him by the people he loves and/or respects. Add to this the high-pressure stakes of the Tour de France, and you have a brilliant suspense novel that will please both mystery and cycling enthusiasts alike ... I consider myself both, but even casual fans will be impressed with the way the author draws the reader into the world of competitive cycling. I knew it was a life of ascetic athleticism and dedication, but Mr. Zepeda Patterson shines a light too on the sacrifices, ambitions, and chivalry of the people you rarely read featured in the sports pages. His knowledge of cycling blends so well with his skill at writing a murder mystery that this feels like a book you shouldn’t miss if you have any interest at all in sports or in crime fiction.
RaveCriminal Element... while Murder In Red... does explore new future avenues for Jessica, this tale is still very much grounded in the canon we know and love. Jon Land continues to gently expand the series in such a way that the changes feel both gradual and natural. From the recurring cast of beloved characters to the occasional reference to established history, this is very much a book that respects its origins, while also providing an uncanny continuation of Jessica’s narrative voice ... Honestly, it was like hearing Ms. Lansbury in my head the entire time I was reading this book, which is one of the highest compliments I could possibly pay a novel like this. Mr. Land’s ear for capturing the thoughts and speech patterns of our 60-something sleuth is impressive. Reading this novel was about as close as one can get to enjoying the series without actually turning on the television, and I can’t recommend it to fellow fans highly enough.
RaveCriminal ElementAs always, Ms. Atkinson skillfully weaves together...multiple narratives, among others, in a complex tapestry of a murder mystery that will test what each character thinks they believe about themselves and everything they hold true. Fans will enjoy the callbacks to prior books in the series, but can be read as a standalone novel—even though, personally, I think everyone should at least read When Will There Be Good News?, the novel that first introduced Reggie to the world. It’s a treat to see how Reggie has grown up and how Jackson is dealing with aging as well as with parenting two children separated by a decade in age. All the moral dilemmas are treated with sensitivity and aplomb, and the plotlines wrap up with a naturalness that hearkens back to the best of Ms. Atkinson’s oeuvre. The nine years were well worth the wait; hopefully, it won’t be another nine until we see more of Jackson and my beloved Reggie in print again.
Alexander McCall Smith
PositiveCriminal Element\"I really enjoyed how Professor McCall Smith wove together all these cases in his novel while also highlighting the personal interactions between and interior lives of each member of the squad ... While I can’t say that I enjoyed this book more than the ones featuring Mr. McCall Smith’s most famed heroine, Mma Precious Ramotswe, I did find it an extremely pleasant read that had just enough touches of Scandinavian realism and place to transport me far away from the setting of his other novels. Thoughtful and gentle, The Department of Sensitive Crimes is a must-read for his fans—or for anyone who wants a break from the bleak violence of Scandi-noir without traveling too far afield from its setting.\
Sophie Hénaff, Trans. by Sam Gordon
RaveCriminal Element...a highly entertaining police procedural that balances pathos with hilarity, as Capestan and her squad connect the murder to a series of other grimly heralded killings. A lot of the humor comes from the members of the squad itself, who are here due to peccadilloes that have meant their removal from \'normal\' precincts ... Stick Together builds upon the terrific foundation of its predecessor to present a truly engaging contemporary crime novel that will move you as much as make you laugh. Honestly, I think it’s even better than the first book in the series and am very eager for more of Ms. Hénaff’s work to be translated into English, as this volume was by the very able Sam Gordon. Her third novel has just come out in French but my command of the language is even more awkward than her cops are, so I’ll just have to impatiently wait.
T. J. Martinson
RaveCriminal ElementSuperhero novel? I’m here for it, especially when it’s as well-written and thoughtful as T.J. Martinson’s debut ... I really enjoyed the brisk pacing of this surprisingly dense and thoughtful novel, as we race against time with our heroes to stop a maniac from killing innocent people in his fixation on a superhero long disappeared. A lot happens in this novel, even as Mr. Martinson expertly skewers vigilante superhero tropes ... Mr. Martinson populates this story with some truly remarkable perspectives for the genre, seamlessly melding a fantastic tale to an ultra-realistic present day. The tropes of veteran journalist, rogue cop, and introverted hacker are given fresh life by how grounded the characters are, particularly in their loved ones ... I was also really impressed with how Mr. Martinson conveyed the hacking scenes, something a lot of superhero works, in whatever medium, tend to handwave in a decidedly unpersuasive fashion ... a highly entertaining, well thought-out superhero novel that plays almost cinematically ... T.J. Martinson is a writer to watch out for, and I can’t wait to read what he publishes next.
Thomas Christopher Greene
PositiveCriminal ElementCompulsively readable ... does a terrific job of warning against the assumption that you know a person and their motives just because you’re comfortable in a situation ... While I did guess some of the plot twists, others, including that ending, completely caught me off guard. I really enjoyed how Greene built characters who were relatable despite occasionally being (and even then sometimes at their most) unhinged. This was a page-turner of a domestic thriller that fans of the genre will absolutely want to devour.
RaveCriminal ElementAlan Bradley masterfully channels the interior life of an extremely intelligent young girl growing up under eccentric circumstances as she grapples with her burgeoning emotional maturity ... The Golden Tresses Of The Dead is as delightful a caper as any tale of severed fingers and purloined letters could possibly be. Along with strong character studies and the fascinating chemistry lessons that are a hallmark of the series, this volume also included quite a bit of information on the London Necropolis Railway and other assorted trivia. It’s always fun to feel like I’ve learned something while solving crimes with our winning heroine, and I can’t wait to read more!
RaveCriminal Element\"Harms’ Way is a seductive, almost lulling slide into the mind of a man capable of both great and terrible things. It’s a puzzle box of a book that is at once elegant and disturbing, especially once you get to the denouement and all the pieces fall into place. Thomas Rayfiel has written a compelling character study that is unafraid to indict a correctional system that not only fails to offer any attempt at rehabilitation but is all too open to corruption and further violence. It’s probably one of the best fictional depictions both of criminal insanity and American prison life that I’ve ever encountered and just a terrific read overall.\
RaveCriminal ElementStuart MacBride has written another intensely gripping novel that puts our hero through the wringer, as McRae investigates people pushed to their limits and the violence that too often breaks out when desperation commingles with evil. Mr. MacBride doesn’t flinch when it comes to depicting casual brutality, as here, where a masked man known only as Number One is punishing a transgressor in front of a frightened female witness ... The Blood Road is another terrific entry in the outstanding Logan McRae series, and I’m only sorry that I still haven’t found the time to read the earlier novels that I bought in large bundles after falling in love with Mr. MacBride’s writing in the preceding installment.
RaveCriminal ElementWhen the Lights Go Out by Mary Kubica is a riveting and emotionally charged thriller where a woman is forced to question her own identity ... Mary Kubica writes movingly about the plight of women who feel pressured to have children in a society that too often overemphasizes the value of their fertility while blaming them for any lack thereof ... Some readers may be less than thrilled at the twist, but I thought it was written well and made sense in the larger context ... I am now a fan of Ms. Kubica’s—I’m late to this party, I know—and I look forward to diving into her much-lauded back catalog soon.
RaveCriminal ElementIn Uneasy Lies the Crown, the thrilling new mystery in Tasha Alexander’s bestselling series, Lady Emily and her husband Colin must stop a serial killer whose sights may be set on the new king, Edward VII ... Emily’s arch, often irreverent, sense of humor is but one of the many charms of Uneasy Lies the Crown, which delves not only into English royal history but also into the injustices of life in England at the turn of the 20th century. It provides quite a bit of background as to Colin’s family history but still serves as a great jumping on point for new readers to the series.
PositiveCriminal ElementWhile it was absolutely delightful to slip once more into the familiar milieu—I inhaled the original canon in a single year when I was a teenager—I admit to being a little thrown off by the introduction of some of the newer recurring characters ... if you didn’t know any better, it would be very hard to tell which characters are entirely creations of Ms. Hannah’s and which are continuations ... It’s easy to see why the Agatha Christie estate chose Ms. Hannah for the daunting task of chronicling Poirot’s continuing adventures. In her capable hands, Hercule Poirot lives and investigates as creatively and astutely as he ever has.
RaveThe Criminal ElementI desperately love modern takes on traditional fairy tales, and Dale Bailey’s In The Night Wood is the best recent adaptation I’ve had the pleasure of reading ... it’s a smart, scary novel about stories and choices, deeply rooted in history ... a glorious puzzle box of a horror novel, featuring also two things that I, perhaps idiosyncratically, very much appreciated: a satisfying number of excerpts from Caedmus’ masterwork (I really, really dislike novels that hinge on fictional fairy tales but never include more than allusions to such) and a cipher that wasn’t eye-rollingly obvious. And it’s all written so beautifully, with literary allusions that made the bibliophile in me (quietly) squeal in delight ... In The Night Wood is a moving tale of the grip history has on us all, and of what it takes to move past tragedy without relinquishing love and memory. Full of mysteries and terror, it is the perfect literary horror.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse
RaveCriminalElementA clever pastiche in the world of Sherlock Holmes that expertly captures the tone of the originals while creating a world all their own...a feat of biographical extrapolation that proves how much [the authors] know and love the canon...depicts situations that are less modern than universal, and in so doing updates the canon by presenting us with newfound depths, both to the characters and to the situations they find themselves in. I absolutely loved this book.
RaveCriminal ElementAfter the Monsoon is a multi-layered international thriller that eschews easy answers to our modern conflicts while also centering the humanity of its protagonist in such a way that we readers never forget that real people—not cardboard cutouts or cartoon superhumans—risk their lives and their humanity to protect and preserve us. It’s a devastatingly realistic critique of modern espionage and warfare made more intriguing by its decidedly unique perspective amidst the macho posturing of most popular thrillers today.
James W. Ziskin
PositiveCriminal ElementI’d never read any of the Ellie Stone mysteries before A Stone’s Throw, but I’m going to fix that oversight as soon as I can, as this was a really terrific novel. It felt almost as if the original Nancy Drew had grown up and was living independently as an investigative reporter ... James W. Ziskin writes with extraordinary perception and sympathy, tackling the bigotry and sexism Ellie faces in both her personal and professional spheres ... I also enjoyed how those traits were applied to the study of horses, racing, and gambling, in addition to the solid investigative reporting.
PositiveCriminal ElementMr. Sandford dives into this murky world, examining where it intersects with politics and greed (and in at least two cases, with sheer sociopathy) to bring us another thrilling installment of the bestselling series ... Humor is a hallmark of Mr. Sandford’s novels, and Twisted Prey is no different ... If you do have an interest in thrillers...the Lucas Davenport series is a must-read,
PositiveCriminal ElementBrunetti’s investigations into the assault and the drug dealing soon lead him down paths as narrow and winding as the streets of Venice itself. Donna Leon reveals to us a city of splendors and squalors, with inhabitants who are kind and grasping and unselfish and prejudiced, sometimes in quick succession. Above all, her people are alive in all their greatness and smallness. It’s easy to believe that these are less characters than actual people—a storytelling feat ... The Temptation of Forgiveness is a lovely meditation on the rule of law, set in an exquisitely rendered Venice that is at once modern and timeless. I’m honestly not sure how I felt about the ending, given everything that led up to it, but as with life, it is impossible to make everyone happy all the time. This bittersweetness of reality detracts little from Ms. Leon’s work and only enhances her continuing portrait of the City of Canals.
RaveCriminal ElementSandford...details the investigation into the circumstances of Gina’s death with both empathy and intelligence. And above all, he infuses the proceedings with the sense of humor that has become a hallmark of the Virgil Flowers series. The humor that permeates Deep Freeze is impressive in its range, from innocent dad jokes to the blackest humor, from the lowest form of scatological references to Elizabethan literature callbacks … Deep Freeze is a wacky but heartfelt look at murder and mayhem in the Minnesota cold. For all its wry bluntness, it’s a gracious novel that doesn’t condescend to any of the characters it depicts, no matter how hard-up, self-sabotaging, or unlucky.
RaveCriminal Element...a timely and wildly imaginative techno-thriller about the evil that lurks in real and virtual spaces ... It’s really cool how Mr. Percy draws parallels between faith and technology for this story. I also enjoyed how good and evil weren’t ever limited to a singular belief system ... The Dark Net is a horror-filled examination of the world around us, of what is real and what isn’t, of what’s worth believing in and what terrors lie in the unseen. Despite being a book strongly influenced by cyberpunk, it also reads like an homage to the demon-filled horror novels of the 1970s and ’80s. It’s a great read for anyone who enjoys that rich vein of thriller writing coupled with enough ideas to make for a thoroughly modern telling.