First Clue

By Henrietta Verma & Brian Kenney

First Clue - Interview with Edwin Hill

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First Clue
I hope you’ve cleared your schedule, because we’ve got a lot lined up with this issue. You’ll find our first author interview, with Edwin Hill, who discusses his latest book, The Secrets We Share, and the upcoming crime novels he’s looking forward to reading.
This week’s starred review is Nora Murphy’s The Favor, which looks at two women caught in the toxic, hidden world of domestic violence, too afraid to tell anyone and desperate for a way out.
Also reviewed is Anna Downes’s The Shadow House, in which gruesome gifts portend awful happenings. The famed Mitford sisters—among them an author, an anti-fascist, and some Nazis—pursue one of their own across Europe in The Mitford Vanishing. Less wealthy but no less eccentric is Amos Parisman, “the oldest living Jewish PI in Los Angeles,” who’s getting his third series outing in The Kindness of Strangers.
Enjoy and we’ll see you next week with more great reads!—Henrietta Verma

Terror Down Under
Downes, Anna. The Shadow House. April 2022. 304p. Minotaur.  
If you arrived at your new house and found a package at the entrance, containing not some welcome brownies from a neighbor but a grotesquely mutilated bird, what would you do? If you’re anything like me, you’d head for the hills. But Alex, a single mother-of-two, is made from tougher stuff. Escaping from an abusive partner in Sydney, she’s trying out Pine Ridge, an ecovillage out in the boondocks. She’s committed to making it work, especially for her teenage son, who got up to some nasty behavior online. But the bird is only the beginning, as the creepiness includes more horrifying presents, vandalism, and surveillance. It turns out that Alex’s experiences aren’t all that different from those of another family six years ago, but unlike many a thriller protagonist, she’s no victim, and sets out to confront the evil before it destroys her and her family. This is a wonderfully written work of suspense that succeeds in being both completely terrifying and totally believable—no easy feat. For fans of Lisa Jewell and Ruth Ware.—Brian Kenney
A Missing Mitford
Fellowes, Jessica. The Mitford Vanishing. January 2022. 416p. Minotaur.
The Mitford sisters, six eccentric socialites and political renegades in the interwar years in England, encountered a frightful number of murders in their day, at least as told in Fellowes’s glamorous historical series, now in its fifth installment. This time, Decca, second-youngest daughter of patriarchal Lord Redesdale and his long-suffering wife, Sydney Bowles, is missing. The family suspects that the 18-year-old has run off with her second cousin, Churchill’s nephew Esmond Romilly, to marry him and fight on the side of the anti-facists in the Spanish Civil War (which Decca and Esmond did in real life). Enter the Mitfords’ former maid Louisa and her husband, Guy, proprietors of the Cannon & Sullivan detective agency. Hired to look for Decca, Louisa nervously embraces the fledgling rights of women in 1937, using her maiden name for work and leaving the couple’s baby with sitters. Indeed, she’s far more advanced than the Mitford “girls,” whose blithely colonial ways color their every move. Fellowes’s at times very sad, often funny story stands out for its unusual, Spanish Civil War backdrop; it also offers pleasingly scathing treatment of Nazi sympathizers, exciting chases from England to Spain and back (repeatedly!), and an extraordinarily tense closing scene. While this works as a standalone, go back to the earlier books for a treat.—Henrietta Verma
Just Desserts
⭐Murphy, Nora. The Favor. May 2022. 288p. Minotaur.
This is one of the best-plotted thrillers I’ve read in ages; it’s also a great portrayal of why women experiencing domestic violence are stuck. We meet Leah Dawson during her carefully choreographed routine of visiting a different liquor store every day. She hides the booze from her violent husband, Liam, a lawyer who has coercive control down to an artform. Leah’s legal career came to an end recently because her husband didn’t like her reading a work email at dinner, and took action. At the liquor store, something compels Leah to follow a fellow shopper, pediatrician McKenna Hawkins. Soon Leah’s routinely watching the woman, who’s also needlessly unemployed, from the street outside McKenna’s clinically clean home. The reason Leah felt drawn to McKenna is quickly apparent: McKenna is just like Leah, or rather McKenna’s husband, Zach, is just like Leah’s Liam. Both have ego to spare, enjoy speaking slowly to their wives to make them feel stupid, and are financially abusive. These guys have it all, until they don’t. No spoilers here, but get this book for the very original storyline, true-to-life characters, and a searing look at the pain and mind games endured behind too many closed doors. For more on why “she can leave any time” is ridiculous and insulting, read the afterword by Murphy, an attorney who’s represented survivors of intimate partner violence.—Henrietta Verma 
Murder on the Margins
Weinberger, Andy. The Kindness of Strangers. (Amos Parisman Mysteries Book 3). April 2022. Prospect Park Books.
We have cozies. We have thrillers. But what about mensch mysteries? Because Amos Parisman, AKA the oldest living Jewish PI in Los Angeles, is the definition of a real mensch. In this third book in the series, Amos comes out of retirement—a retirement he doesn’t want—to help the police investigate the murder of a homeless woman, whose corpse he discovers in the bottom of a garbage bin. Soon enough, that murder is followed by others, until it becomes clear that Amos and his sidekick, Omar, have a serial killer on their hands. While the search for the killer provides the underpinning of the novel, there’s always a lot more happening in an Amos Parisman mystery than just the crimes. Here, Amos does a lot of research into the homeless—so often invisible—and the discomfort they provoke in much of society. Also prominent in this volume is Amos’s poignant relationship with his wife, Loretta, who’s now living in a nursing home as she has advanced dementia, and his growing relationship with Mara, whose husband also lives in the home. A wonderful voice, great storytelling, and a completely unique character.—Brian Kenney
Short Stories
The Fredericksburg, VA Free-Lance Star offers a roundup of September mysteries, including Wiley Cash’s When Ghosts Come Home, Linda Castillo’s Fallen, and Tess Gerritsen and Gary Braver’s Choose Me.
The Nerd Daily includes the essay, “Unlocking the Mystery” by Laura Griffin, in which she discusses what makes a thriller or mystery successful. “Good secrets make good stories. And that’s especially true when it comes to suspense fiction.” Griffin’s newest book, Last Seen Alone, published on September 28.
Cecilia Ekbäck’s The Historian is a winner of a High Plains Book Award, according to The Billings Gazette. Set in Sweden during World War II, the book features amateur detective, Laura Dahlgren, who investigates the murder of her best friend.
Northern Ireland’s Stuart Neville published a fascinating essay, “Why I Would No Longer Hide My Accent,” in The Irish Times. For the U.K. market, Neville has faced pressure to drop references to Northern Ireland in a book’s title, while retaining it in the U.S. edition, where it would help sales. “If we insist on a Northern Irish setting, then that will be hidden as far as possible in all cover blurbs and promo material. And we’ve accepted this with little resistance, doffing our caps and remembering our places.” Neville’s latest book, The House of Ashes, published on September 7.
First Clue Interview: Edwin Hill
                                      Author Edwin Hill
Author Edwin Hill
Edwin is the Edgar- and Agatha-award nominated author of three novels in the Hester Thursby series: Little Comfort, The Missing Ones, and Watch Her. We caught up with Edwin to discuss his latest novel, a standalone thriller, The Secrets We Share, which received a starred review in last week’s First Clue.—Brian Kenney
Sometimes traditional mysteries get weighed down by too much detail and plot, whereas suspense novels may provide plenty of tension, but can be too thin in content. The Secrets We Share succeeds in marrying both, providing great characters, a memorable setting, as well as plenty of adrenaline. Was this something you were working towards?
Oh, that’s really kind of you. I feel like I never quite know what I’m doing when I start a novel, and this one was no different! But there are two aspects of writing that I particularly enjoy, one is the psychology of characters and the other is the logic of the story. 
With my characters, my number one goal is to land on a cast of fully rounded characters that I want to hang out with for a year. For me, that means characters that are loveable and frustrating and heroic and infuriating, sometimes in the same sentence. It also means that most of the characters have deep, deep flaws. The more I can accomplish this, the more genuine and authentic the characters feel to me. 
Once I have the characters, then I start figuring out the puzzle. I love logic puzzles and, for me, writing a mystery sometimes feels as though I’m working my way through a year-long puzzle as I figure out which pieces of the story matter and which ones can be cut away. My favorite time in the creative process is when I start to see connections that were there all along but that I hadn’t noticed. Once I see them, I can go into the manuscript and tighten them up. I also clear the clutter by cutting away the clues that are dangling without going anywhere. 
One of my favorite pieces of the puzzle in this novel is a hint on the very first page to one of the big reveals. It was there all along, and I only saw it myself in page proofs. And that’s all I’m saying!
Anna Karenina famously taught us that each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. But in The Secrets We Share, every family is unhappy because of lying. The characters never stop lying to each other! Is the book’s title meant to be ironic? A comment on the power of sharing secrets?
At the core of this novel is a relationship between two sisters, Natalie Cavanaugh, a detective with the Boston police, and Glenn Abbott, a food blogger and author. They’re both smart and tough, and they were both impacted by the bludgeoning death of their father when they were children. I wanted to look at this idea of a common secret—the murder of a parent—and how two people who experienced the event together could see it from different angles and come to different conclusions. Natalie and Glenn both believe they know the truth of what happened to their father, but it’s in revealing their shared secrets that they discover what actually happened.  
I was also fascinated by this very idea of a “secret” that sits out there in the open for anyone to find. Natalie, in particular, wants to lead an anonymous life, even though the death of her father made national headlines and has since been covered in true-crime media. Glenn, on the other hand, tries to embrace her past, even though she doesn’t like everything she sees about herself in that past. And, yes, much lying ensues!
While this is a standalone, I was delighted that librarian Hester Thursby, the eponymous heroine of her own series, made several cameo appearances. Then I realized I knew Detective Angela White from the Hester Thursby series. What’s going on? Are you creating a world where you can share characters among different books?
Yes, that’s my goal! I admire authors who create a universe that allows them to return to characters: the way Tana French focuses in on different protagonists in each of the Dublin Murder Squad novels, or the way Laura Lippman circles around Tess Monaghan and her Baltimore world, even when Tess isn’t necessarily the central character in the novel.
My next novel is about improv comedy, is set in a different time period—the ‘90s—and takes place in New York and San Francisco, so Hester and the gang are taking a short break. I expect they’ll be back, though!
Any chance we will again meet the troubled, brilliant, and tough-as-nails Detective Natalie Cavanaugh? I’d follow her anywhere.
Thank you! I wound up really liking Natalie too, though it took me a while to figure out who she was. 
When I started this novel, it was about a headmaster and his wife who run a prep school in New Hampshire. Then the story transitioned to be about a psychologist who spies on his clients. The psychologist had a brother, an ex-convict, and two sisters, Natalie and Glenn. Once I added Natalie to the story, though, she somehow took over the novel. The day I cut the two brothers from the novel was the moment I finally figured out what the story would be about. I wouldn’t recommend this creative process to anyone at home—it’s infuriating!—but I will say that when I put my characters through this type of ordeal, I know that the ones who survive the gauntlet are the ones I want to have stick around. So, yes, I would love to write another novel with Natalie at the core.
Finally, are you reading anything that has got you excited, and you can recommend to our readers?
There are so many great crime novels coming up. I’ll mention a few, in no particular order (except alphabetic by author): 
  • John Copenhaver, The Savage Kind. This is an ode to the femme fatale, set in the ‘40s and centered on two teenage sleuths.  
  • Tara Laskowski, The Mother Next Door. A fun, creepy novel about a group of suburban mothers—the Ivy Five—with some deep, dark secrets someone is threatening to expose. 
  • Hank Phillippi Ryan, Her Perfect Life. I love Ryan’s domestic thrillers, and this one, about a television reporter desperate to keep a secret, doesn’t disappoint. (Reviewed in the July 1 First Clue.)
  • Joanna Schaffhausen, Gone for Good. Schaffhausen knows her serial killers! This novel is full of twists and introduces a terrific new protagonist in Annalisa Vega. (Reviewed in the June 3 First Clue.)
Anyone who has read any of my novels knows that dogs often have a role in the story, so my last recommendation is for a non-mystery by the terrific writer Jenna Blum, Woodrow on the Bench. This is a memoir that tells of the last months that Blum had with her dog, Woodrow, who died at fifteen. While the concept might sound like a bummer, it’s uplifting and life-affirming, and yes, you’ll sob like a baby when you get to the end!
Edwin Hill's dog, Edith Ann
Edwin Hill's dog, Edith Ann
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Henrietta Verma & Brian Kenney
Henrietta Verma & Brian Kenney @1stClueReviews

The mission of First Clue is simple: to provide succinct reviews of crime fiction far in advance of publication. Our intent is for First Clue to help librarians and booksellers select titles and make recommendations, and readers find that next great read. We’re especially interested in books by authors of color, LGBTQ writers, first novelists, books that are first in a series, as well as translations and titles from smaller publishers. We give stars to books we love or which do a great job at accomplishing what they set out to do.

We are two, New York City-based librarians and former editors at leading review magazines—Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and School Library Journal. We hope you'll subscribe—it’s free!—and after that, watch your email box every Thursday for our recommendations.

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