By Henrietta Verma & Brian Kenney

First Clue - Death by Bubble Tea by Jennifer J. Chow, No Strangers Here by Carlene O'Connor, Dirt Creek by Hayley Scrivenor, The Dinner Guest by B.P. Walter, The Second Husband by Kate White



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I laughed this week when Ruth Ware, author of the upcoming The It Girl, tweeted about an Amazon review she read, luckily of a novel by someone else. “It feels like the author just was making it up as they went along,” complained the reviewer, to which Ware commented, “dude, I hate to tell you…”
This might join my list of favorite reviews, along with Ambrose Bierce’s possibly mythical complaint, “The covers of this book are too far apart,” and a New York Times review I read years ago of a new tech gadget. The reviewer was not a fan of the product, and after a lengthy list of detractions added, “but wait, there’s less.” And of course there’s the recent restaurant review to which the chef responded with a drawing of a horse. When I read the twitter reply that stated, “get off your picture of a high horse,” reader, I cried.
But back to the detractor who so amused Ruth Ware. Authors do make it up as they go along, and isn’t that the joy of it? Each story and each character can do anything and bring us anywhere, including places we’ve been but forgotten, such as the inside of a child’s mind, as portrayed memorably in Hayley Scrivenor’s Dirt Creek, reviewed below. A visit to Australia is also on the cards in that book, and in Carlene O’Connor’s No Strangers Here, we’re off to Ireland. Los Angeles food culture is the destination in Jennifer J. Chow’s Death by Bubble Tea, while in B.P. Walter’s The Dinner Guest and Kate White’s The Second Husband, we’re ushered into unstable homes and marriages. Enjoy the trips, and we’ll see you next week!—Henrietta Verma

Perils of a Foodstagrammer
Chow, Jennifer J. Death by Bubble Tea (LA Night Market #1). 304p. July. Berkley. 
A delicious exploration into family, culture, and above all, food. We meet early twenties Yale Yee as she is let go from her job in a bookstore—no business—and is thinking of returning to work in her father’s dim sum restaurant. Yale’s a bit of an eccentric: no cellphone, no car (we’re in West Los Angeles), few friends, and still mourning her mother’s death. When Ba, her father, informs her that her rich, spoiled cousin, who she hasn’t seen in 20 years, is arriving from Hong Kong, Yale would rather hide in her apartment with Jane Austen. But instead, at Ba’s suggestion, she and cousin Celine end up running a food stall at the pop-up night market. Celine is everything you’d imagine: beautiful, vain, fashion obsessed, an influencer and foodstagrammer. But these polar opposites end up finding some common ground—at least enough to make the food stall a roaring success. If only there weren’t that dead customer Yale discovers, making the cousins the leading suspects. Off we head into the foodie world of West L.A.–Taiwanese breakfasts and Salvadorean pupusas as Yale and Celine try to clear their names. Chow gets so much right in this book, from the exploration of Asian cultures in L.A. to the growing relationship between the cousins. A fun start to a wonderful new series.Brian Kenney 
Death in Dingle
O’Connor, Carlene. No Strangers Here (A County Kerry Mystery, #1). October. 320p. Kensington.
In too many circles in rural Ireland, doing anything fancier than, say, living in a cave is just asking for the accusation that you have “notions’‘ about yourself. The O’Reillys, racehorse owners in Dingle, Co. Kerry have embraced their notions, going as far as to have a butler (A BUTLER!) and marble floors, but their shady ways keep them immune from (open) ridicule. Dr. Dimpna Wilde, a native of Dingle who hit the road years before, is forced back into the O’Reilly’s grimy orbit when the clan’s patriarch is found dead on Dingle’s famously beautiful beach. Dimpna’s father, a vet, is accused of killing Johnny O’Reilly with an animal euthanasia drug. Dimpna, also a vet, steps right into work in her father’s practice; her new base serves as a way for O’Connor to humanize this kind, smart protagonist and as a means for the character to reacquaint herself with the townspeople and their complicated relationships. Some tense and emotional (but never cruel or gory) scenes await as Dimpna helps Dingle’s pets and farm animals; similar emotions are engendered by the murder mystery, which sees our protagonist revisiting painful scenes from decades past, including a rape. With an almost anthropological exploration of rural entanglements paired with a perplexing mystery, O’Connor’s series debut is a winner.Henrietta Verma
A Searing Debut
⭐Scrivenor, Hayley. Dirt Creek. August. 336p. Flatiron.
Searing heat and searing pain pulse off the pages of Scrivenor’s debut novel, which brings to mind the colonially forged dysfunction described by her Australian countryman David Malouf. The sad tale, in which awful events take on an air of near-inevitability, is narrated by Ronnie, a 12-year-old girl whose best friend, Esther, vanishes one day after school. Esther wears her name “like a queen wearing her crown at a jaunty angle” and even on a normal day exudes a kind of magic, says Ronnie; it’s impossible to her that anything bad could have happened. Still, nighttime comes and Estie’s not home, and the search is on. While the girls’ movements take center stage in Ronnie’s mind, to the reader, there are three centers of gravity here. Yes, there’s Ronnie and Estie. But also starring are their mothers and other weary, disappointed women of the dilapidated town. Finally, there’s a Greek chorus of disembodied children’s voices whose chillingly detached versions of what happened alternate with the more conventionally delivered story. Brace yourself, this is something.Henrietta Verma
Floreat Etona
Walter. B.P. The Dinner Guest. May. Ebook and audiobook released April, 2021 416p. One More Chapter.
I’m hard pressed to recall a crime novel with a more despicable group of characters yet a more compelling premise. Matthew and his husband, Charlie, lead the perfect life. Rich, well-connected, with a fabulous London flat, access to a wonderful country home, and an absolutely charming tween son, Titus, adopted by the couple after the death of Matthew’s sister. But slowly, things start to fray. Nearly always, the problems stem from Rachel, a stranger the couple met in a bookstore and whom Matthew befriended against Charlie’s instincts. Matthew invites Rachel to join their book group, giving her a wedge that she could drive into their personal life. So when the police are called and arrive to find Matthew at the dinner table stabbed to death, Charlie in shock, and Rachel holding the murder weapon—this isn’t a spoiler, trust me—we aren’t exactly surprised. What is shocking is the complex but gripping backstory that gets us to this point. This novel is very, very British. Class issues abound, class signifiers—schools, stores, real estate, and the like—are everywhere, and some things inevitably get lost in translation. But one thing remains certain: this plot will leave you twisted, and quite a bit disturbed.—Brian Kenney
Trouble in Westport
White, Kate. The Second Husband. June. 384p. Harper.
A perfect marriage nearly implodes in this slick and sleek domestic thriller from suspense expert White. Thirtyish Emma has barely recovered from the death of her first husband, Derrick—who was inexplicably shot to death in a SoHo alley—when she meets, then quickly marries, widower Tom. Life along the Connecticut gold coast, where they work and play, is pretty darn good, and marriage with Tom is everything that Emma ever wanted. But then an NYC detective knocks on the door with questions for Emma about her marriage to Derrick, questions she would rather avoid and from that moment on, we are never on sure ground again. White brilliantly moves from suspect to suspect, including a range of colleagues and family members, never letting our anxiety lapse for a second. The very satisfying ending will have your head spinning 365 degrees at least twice. For fans of Liane Moriarty and Sally Hepworth.—Brian Kenn
Coming Next Week
An interview with Jane Pek, author of The Verifiers, publishing February 22. “A smart, witty amateur detective has entered the crime fiction galaxy, and you won’t want to miss her. Twenty-five-year-old Claudia Lin, from a Taiwanese-American family, doesn’t live up to anyone’s model-minority expectations.”
Extra Credit
Q&A: Mia P. Manansala, Author of 'Homicide and Halo-Halo' | The Nerd Daily
Must-Read Crime Fiction by Filipino Authors | CrimeReads
Donald Goines, Detroit’s Crime Writer Par Excellence | JSTOR Daily
What Gets Lost When Adapting An Agatha Christie Mystery Novel Into A Film
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Henrietta Verma & Brian Kenney
Henrietta Verma & Brian Kenney @1stClueReviews

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