/Notable Reviews
Notable Reviews 2018-03-06T09:52:55+00:00

Notable Reviews

(Starred reviews indicate books of exceptional merit, as deemed by the publication.)

An Innocent Client review

Star reviewAn Innocent Client by Scott Pratt (Onyx Press)

Former attorney Pratt delves into rural Tennessee law and politics in this brilliantly executed debut. When a preacher is murdered after visiting an infamous strip club, the club’s owner hires jaded attorney Joe Dillard to defend Angel Christian, a beautiful waitress accused of the crime. Dillard, savvy but cynical, wants to quit doing criminal defense, but he can’t resist the chance to represent someone who might actually be innocent. His drug-addicted sister has just been released from prison and his mother is succumbing to Alzheimer’s, but Dillard’s commitment to the case never wavers despite the personal troubles and professional demands that threaten to destroy him. Pratt’s richly developed characters are vivid and believable, especially the strong Southern women who fight their male-dominated culture from behind a facade of vulnerability. Readers will eagerly anticipate Dillard’s further adventures. Read More

Publisher’s Weekly

Saving Elijah reviews

Star review

Saving Elijah by Fran Dorf (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

Taking a chance with a heart-wrenching subject–a dying child, and a mother’s guilt and desperation–Dorf (Flight) has produced a stunning third novel that crackles with suspense, dark humor, and provocative questions. Dorf, who lost her own son six years ago, explores the depths of maternal desperation in psychologist Dinah Galligan, whose five-year-old, Elijah–born with cognitive and developmental difficulties as well as myriad physical ailments–is in a coma in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. In the hospital corridor, Dinah encounters a wise-cracking, guitar-playing ghost, who, she realizes later, is the spectral remnant of her first lover, Seth Lucien. Dorf draws Seth with an irreverent pen: his bloody, dirty, phantasmal body has the stench of decomposition; his mouth is dirty as well, slinging insults, mocking Dinah and blaspheming against God. Read More

Publisher’s Weekly

Poison Pen by Sheila Lowe

Star review

Poison Pen by Sheila Lowe (Capital Crime)

Suicide or murder? Only the graphologist knows for sure in this dynamite debut, the first in a new series, from forensic handwriting expert Lowe (Handwriting of the Famous and Infamous). When celebrity publicist Lindsey Alexander drowns in her hot tub at her L.A. penthouse apartment, Lindsey’s business manager, Ivan Novak, hires handwriting analyst Claudia Rose to look into the authenticity of the block-printed note left at the scene. Ivan believes it was penned by a murderer, not a suicide victim. Claudia, who was once Lindsey’s friend before being alienated by her pathologically malicious behavior, isn’t surprised to learn that Lindsey liked to blackmail her famous clients by threatening to tarnish rather than shine their images. When hunky LAPD detective Joel Jovanic enters the investigation, the “grapho lady” and the cop make a hot team, in and out of the sheets. Read More

Publisher’s Weekly

Crazy for the Storm by Norman Ollestad (Ecco)

Ollestad’s memoir intersperses his harrowing childhood trauma as the sole survivor of a plane crash that killed his father with his coming of age in the ’70s West Coast culture of surfing, skiing, and skateboarding. A competent and engaging narrator, Ollestad evokes emotional intensity without descending into sentimentality and creates memorable portraits of his heroic father and his mother’s abusive boyfriend. Granted, Ollestad presents his 11-year-old self as a tad more introspective and worldly wise than one might expect, but as the adult Ollestad reflects on how he was shaped by the hard-living, extreme sports culture of his family and community, the essence of a young man forced to grow up too quickly rings true. Read More

Publisher’s Weekly

Death in a Wine Dark Sea by Lisa King (Permanent)

Magazine editor King’s absorbing first mystery introduces San Francisco wine critic Jean Applequist, an unapologetic, tell-it-like-it-is gal with a penchant for wine and men. Jean tempers her attitude on occasion, like the nuptials of her closest friend, Diane, aboard a yacht in San Francisco Bay. On her best behavior during the ceremony, Jean tries to believe that the unscrupulous groom, Martin Wingo, who has a reputation for womanizing and blackmail, has reformed. Shortly after Diane and Martin exchange their vows, someone tosses Martin overboard, and so begins a tale of lust, greed, and revenge. Jean teams with Martin’s former right-hand man, Jay “Zeppo” Zeppetello, and together they dig deep into Martin’s blackmail schemes, though they soon find themselves in danger from a long list of Martin’s enemies. Read More

Publisher’s Weekly

The Last Six Million Seconds: A Thriller by John Burdett (William Morrow)

Six million seconds are, in Burdett’s second novel (after A Personal History of Thirst, 1995), all the time left until Hong Kong is subsumed by the People’s Republic of China. Burdett means his book to be a scary cautionary tale as well as an enthralling thriller, and it is both. During the 10 weeks before June 30, 1997, Hong Kong Chief Inspector “Charlie” Chan Siu-kai—33, half-Irish, half-Chinese—attempts to solve a horrific triple murder. His investigation, which Burdett bolsters with much forensic detail (the victims were minced alive), takes Chan into an astonishingly complex power struggle over the future of Hong Kong waged by cynical British diplomats trying to hide the bloodstains on their three-piece suits, American mafiosi scheming to exploit a China ripe for anarchy and, most malevolently, a Chinese warlord planning to establish Hong Kong as his fiefdom, in part by purchasing a black-market A-bomb. Read More

Publisher’s Weekly

A Personal History of Thirst by John Burdett (William Morrow)

Former lawyer Burdett’s first novel cleverly exploits a love triangle to highlight the mordant ironies of the British class system. Couched in terms of psychological intrigue, this three-part thriller uncovers deception involving ambitious James Knight, a defender turned prosecutor; Oliver Thirst, his former client; and Daisy Smith, an Anglomaniac American. In the first part, Daisy is charged with Oliver’s murder. The second part is a flashback to the late 1970s, which establishes and develops the dark triangle. James, Oliver and Daisy all seek escape from their respective places in society. James, not being of blue-blood public-school stock, feels an outsider in the legal ranks even as he rises to the verge of receiving silks as a Queen’s Counsel. That’s when Oliver, trying to polish his native intelligence with schooling in order to escape the streets, reenters his life. Read More

Publisher’s Weekly

Crowfoot Ridge by Ann Brandt (HarperCollins)

Brandt makes a strong and steady impression with her debut novel (originally self-published), exploring one woman’s struggle to unlock the secrets of her past. Avery met her husband, Ken Kessler, in college in the ’60s, and 18 years later, family and friends are still telling her how lucky she is to be married to the successful Florida real-estate developer. But Avery’s not so sure. She’s at odds with Ken over his company’s anti-environmental greed and suspicious of his fidelity; their relationship has deteriorated to separate bedrooms. Avery’s epiphanic crisis following a car accident makes her recognize that she’s never lived in the present because she’s never faced up to traumatic events in her youth. She decides to leave Ken and return to the site of her childhood joy and sorrow, Crowfoot Ridge in North Carolina, where she and her family vacationed every summer. Read More

Publisher’s Weekly

Casual Slaughters by Robert A. Carter (Mysterious Press)

A civilized publisher, a squirrely agent, a rugged movie star and a dead celebrity biographer prove that the book trade can be murderous in this vigorous and sexy mystery. Pleasingly plump, leisure-loving publisher Nick Barlow, with his cushy Gramercy Park apartment and Players Club membership, isn’t typical gumshoe material. But when a bestselling author is stabbed and a manuscript goes missing, Barlow’s curiosity gets the better of him. Teamed with an NYPD lieutenant who aspires to authorship and thus endures thrill-seeking book folk, Barlow chases down leads, has a brush with death and learns that real murder isn’t pretty. Fully familiar with detective fiction cliches, Barlow delivers hard-boiled utterances—“Her voice made me think of gin on the rocks”—with tongue-in-cheek relish. Read More

Publisher’s Weekly

Losing Isaiah by Seth J. Margolis (Hyperion Books)

Recent headline-making custody cases are echoed in this contrived, yet provocative book. Selma Richards, black, illiterate and drug-addicted, sold her premature baby boy Isaiah to Margaret and Charles Lewin, an affluent white couple, for $25,000. Two and a half years later, Selma has turned her life around: she is drug-free, employed, learning to read—and she wants her son back. But Isaiah is now a cherished part of the Lewin family and they will not give him up easily. Using the connections of her sympathetic reading tutor, Selma hires a powerful attorney, and a bitter custody case begins. What is in Isaiah’s best interests? A strong cultural identity? Emotional and material security? Mystery writer Margolis ( Disappearing Acts ) turns a sharp eye on the legal system, the media and the less savory side of family life. Read More

Publisher’s Weekly

Perfect Angel by Seth MatgolisPerfect Angel: A Novel of Psychological Suspense by Seth Margolis (Avon Books)

Which one of seven successful 30-something friends has just begun a career as a particularly vicious serial killer? That’s the question in this raw new thriller from the author of Losing Isaiah. On the night of her 35th birthday party, Julia Mallet, a New York City ad executive, gives in to the coaxing of six old college chums and performs an old stunt: hypnotism. The evening gets out of control, and Julia is able to snap her friends out of some frightening confrontations only by taking them briefly back to their childhoods. The following night, a brutal murder occurs in her building, and the murderer leaves a signature that a horrified Julia knows has everything to do with her hypnosis session. Julia goes to the police with the information, more murders follow and Julia finds that she and her friends are under a 24-hour watch. Read More

Publisher’s Weekly 

Siding Star by Christopher Bryan

A detective inspector joins forces with an Anglican priest and an astronomer to thwart a shadowy organization’s sinister plans in this debut suspense thriller. In England’s Exeter Cathedral, a man with a strange black book is found dead in front of the altar, with occult signs spray-painted on the floor and a crucifix overturned. In Australia’s Siding Springs Observatory, a young astronomer named Charlie Brown discovers a supernova that’s sending “a hail of high-energy particles and electromagnetic radiation” straight toward Earth. Read More

Kirkus

Peacekeeper by Christopher Bryan

An English detective investigates a homicide that has supernatural implications and leads to a mysterious organization and the ultimate battle between good and evil. In Exeter, England, DI Cecilia Cavaliere investigates the death of John Cox, a young teacher. She quickly finds that his murder is connected to the mysterious Academy for Philosophical Studies, whose chairman is secretly in league with the devil. At the same time, at nearby R.A.F. Harlsden, Capt. Lancelot Scott, of the 92nd Missile Wing of the U.S.A.F., is unaware that the deadly Peacekeeper nuclear missiles under his command are part of the chairman’s plot to jump-start World War III. Read More

Kirkus

Angel by Mary E. Kingsley

Kingsley’s debut, a bildungsroman with humor, mystery, and magical realism. Thirteen-year-old Angel Bishop’s father hasn’t been in her life since she was a baby. The few stories she can glean from her mother, Ruth, and grandmother, Naomi, do little to elucidate who he is or why he’s lived apart from them for so long. In addition to her despondency in believing herself to be the cause of his absence, she resents her family members, who refuse to tell her anything meaningful about him. When a phone call suddenly announces his return for Thanksgiving, confusion and trepidation overshadow any happiness she thinks she ought to feel. With the help of Old Susan, the town recluse, and her Aunt Patsy, a resident of the local mental institution, Angel attempts to discover exactly why he left. Read More

Kirkus

Never Knowing by Chevy Stevens (St. Martin’s Press)

A Canadian furniture refinisher gets much, much more than she bargained for, none of it good, when on the eve of her wedding she decides to search for her birth mother. Sara Gallagher has never exactly been comfortable in her adopted family. Her mother-by-choice is loving and kind, but her relationships with her adoptive father and her two non-adopted sisters are rockier. So it’s no wonder that she’d want to celebrate her nuptials to Evan, the rugged outdoorsman who’s fathered her own daughter, 6-year-old Ally, by tracking down the mother who gave her up as a baby. All too soon, Sara learns that the art-history professor who calls herself Julia Laroche is actually her mother. So why does Julia demand that Sara stay far away from her? For that matter, why did she change her name from Karen Christianson? Read More

Kirkus

The Darkening Dream by Andy Gavin

Vampires run rampant in Gavin’s debut supernatural thriller. Teenager Sarah Englemann finds her life in 1913 Salem, Mass., turned upside down with the murder of a classmate—and his reappearance as a feral vampire. Drawn into an underworld of the occult, Sarah, with the help of her friends and a new classmate (a mysterious Greek named Alexandros Palaogos), must confront the forces of darkness in their town. These forces include Parris, a local pastor who is secretly a warlock, and an ancient, mysterious demon named Al-Nasir—together they search for Gabriel’s Horn, an instrument designed to bring about the end of the world. The teenagers struggle to stop their enemies in time, and they try to understand Sarah’s mysterious connection to Gabriel’s Horn. Read More

Kirkus

untimed by andy gavinUntimed by Andy Gavin

Time-traveling teens unwind history to fix what went wrong in a battle between clockwork mechanics and electricity in this first installment of a planned series by Gavin. Nobody remembers Charlie Horologe’s name. Even his mother has to post notes around the house to remember what to call him. Charlie finds out why when he falls through a time portal created by machines made in an alternate history. Charlie emerges in 1725 London, where he meets another time traveler, Yvaine, who must travel with him. They need each other; girls can only go uptime and boys go downtime. By sticking together, they can go anywhere. Their nemeses—Tick Tocks—are creepy gears and clockwork cogs that try to kill time travelers to preserve their preferred timeline. That future does not include Ben Franklin, portrayed as a young man 20 years before he discovered electricity. Read More

Kirkus

Still Missing by Chevy Stevens (St. Martin’s Press)

Stevens’s blistering debut follows a kidnap victim from her abduction to her escape—and the even more horrifying nightmare that follows. One moment, Vancouver Island realtor Annie O’Sullivan is taking one last client, a quiet, well-spoken man with a nice smile, through the property where she’s holding an open house; the next moment, she’s being marched out to a van at gunpoint, unaware that it’s the last time for months that she’ll see the sky or breathe the open air. The man who’s taken her calls himself David; she calls him The Freak. And her ordeal over the next year, described in unsparing detail in a series of lacerating sessions with her psychiatrist, indicates that her name is a lot more accurate than his. Annie is fondled, beaten, raped and starved by a man whose troubled background has evidently convinced him that she wants him to treat her with exactly this combination of brutality and solicitude. Read More

Kirkus

Where I'm Bound by Allen BallardWhere I’m Bound by Allen B. Ballard (Simon & Schuster)

The experiences of black soldiers during the Civil War, and the ordeal of a family victimized and fragmented by slavery, are the subjects in this well-researched and solidly written debut novel, by a respected teacher and historian (One More Day’s Journey, not reviewed, etc.). As the War draws to its close, runaway slave Joe Duckett escapes from a Confederate prison camp and joins the Union Army as a scout, then is soon made sergeant in a Colored Cavalry troop. Meanwhile (and in parallel chapters throughout), Joe’s wife Zenobia, left behind on the Kenworthy plantation in Mississippi, plans to escape to freedom with her youngest children (the two eldest having been sold to another owner), aided by black field-boss Drayton, who not-so-secretly loves her. Ballard leans rather too heavily on melodramatic coincidence: people who in real life doubtless would never have seen one another again manage to keep meeting on various estates and battlefields (the most egregious such examples are Joe’s chance reunion with his oldest son Luke and his man-to-man combat with Colonel Richard Kenworthy). Read More

Kirkus

enough rope by pl doss book coverEnough Rope by P.L. Doss

In Doss’s debut thriller, a lawyer and a medical investigator both suspect that an accidental death is actually the work of a calculating, meticulous killer. When attorney Elliot Carter’s body is found hanging from a tree, police want to write off the death as autoerotic asphyxiation. But fellow lawyer Tom Halloran believes that his friend was murdered, and though physical evidence doesn’t support his theory, Hollis Joplin of the medical examiner’s office also has his doubts—especially after learning that Elliot’s estranged ex-wife–to-be, Anne, had hired a PI who’s suddenly missing. As Halloran and Joplin each begin an investigation into the mysterious death, Doss’s twisty, curvy plot dishes out the goods: scandalous secrets, including blackmail and extramarital affairs; another death or two that appear to be suicides; and a possible connection to a 20-year-old kidnapping case. Read More

Kirkus

The Geneva Decision by Seeley James

A fast-paced, globe-trotting debut thriller featuring a former Olympian with something to prove. When Pia Sabel’s adoptive father puts her in charge of his security firm, she knows the transition won’t be easy. Neither the firm’s employees nor its clients welcome the idea of a 25-year-old former soccer player at the helm. Pia doesn’t make things easier when she ignores her father’s request that she work in the front office, opting to work in the field instead. She goes to Geneva, Switzerland, where a team of Sabel Security agents is scheduled to meet with a wealthy banker. But the day before the meeting, an assassin murders the banker in Pia’s presence. She manages to capture the killer, but he escapes soon after he’s turned over to the Geneva police. He leaves behind a matchbook bearing the name of a ship that pirates recently commandeered off the coast of Cameroon. Four other bankers are killed in short order, and a hit man even attempts to take Pia’s life. Read More

Kirkus

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