firstCLUE

By Henrietta Verma & Brian Kenney

First Clue - Jackal by Erin E. Adams, An Affair of Spies by Ronald H. Balson, Photo Finished by Christin Brecher, You’re Invited by Amanda Jayatissa

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Vindicated. That’s how I felt putting this issue together.
I’ve always abhorred weddings, and two of the novels reviewed this week spell out exactly why: the pressure to create the perfect day, the unwise mixing of families, the near narcissism of the bride and groom, the tedium, the financial pressures, the dredging up of the past.
And I’m not alone. A good number of books (remember Lucy Foley’s The Guest List?) confirm what many of us have long suspected: weddings provide the perfect toxic environment for thrillers to thrive.
Also up this week is the start to a great new series set in New York City and featuring a young photographer—great choice for a cozy!—and a nail biting work of espionage that Etta says is perfect for World War II spy fans.
Till next week,
Brian Kenney

Into the Woods
Adams, Erin E. Jackal. October. 352p. Bantam.
Liz Rocher hasn’t been to her hometown of Johnstown, PA, in 14 years, but now her childhood best friend is getting married and it’s time. She’s got her bridesmaid dress and one other outfit, just enough to attend the event and then get the hell out. Liz faces s two main problems back home: her strict Haitian mother, who doesn’t hide her disappointment about her daughter’s single lifestyle, and the woods behind the wedding venue, where a little girl vanished years ago. While the wedding is in full swing, history seems to repeat itself, and soon Liz is fighting Johnstown’s racism-tinged apathy as she discovers that many of the area’s Black girls have gone missing over the years, each one vanishing on the summer solstice. Haitian American Adams’s thoughtful language first drops us into the private phobia of a damaged young woman and slowly pulls back to reveal wider horrors: the sudden taking of the girls and the lingering physical and social markers of the infamous Johnstown flood, which largely killed poor Black families in the valley while white residents lived in the hills. Adams’s exciting conclusion finds us in the grip of supernatural terror that makes this debut novel a great recommendation for horror fans who like a side of mystery.Henrietta Verma
Spying On Science
⭐Balson, Ronald H. An Affair of Spies. September. 336p. St. Martin’s.
It’s 1943, and U.S. Army Sergeant Nathan Silverman is preparing to head back to Germany, his homeland, to fight the Nazis and, he hopes, find his close-knit Jewish family still alive. He’s one of the “Ritchie Boys,” members of a real WWII army unit made up of Germans and Austrians who were trained in intelligence and sent back to Europe as spies. But his days at Camp Ritchie are interrupted when Uncle Sam orders him to New York City to prepare for a different mission. Nathan has a valuable connection: his father is a physicist with the Nazi equivalent of the Manhattan Project, and the allies can use Nathan to find out how close Germany is to building a nuclear bomb. One problem: Nathan knows little about physics, but the army has taken care of this. His partner on the trip will be an American physicist, Dr. Fisher, whom Nathan is surprised to find is a young woman rather than the aging male academic he expected. The setup is absorbing on its own, with Balson (winner of the National Jewish Book Award for The Girl from Berlin) providing actual details about the race on both sides of the Atlantic to make a devastating weapon. Once the pair heads off, the action doesn’t disappoint either, at one point involving the most audacious plan imaginable to trick the enemy. There are sad moments and romantic ones here, but overall this is one nailbiting espionage scene after another, and perfect for fans of the large World War II spy genre.Henrietta Verma
I Am a Camera
Brecher, Christin. Photo Finished (A Snapshot of NYC Mystery). October. 288p. Kensington.  
A struggling photographer, twenty-something Liv Spyer is gifted with the powerful abilities to both observe and remember the world around her, gifts she needs if she ever wants to get out of her grandparent’s Greenwich Village brownstone, where she helps out in their key shop while carving out a tiny photography studio for herself in the basement. Finances are at an all time low—the holidays are approaching—when Liv crosses paths with Regina Montague, a prominent events photographer. After a little coercion, Liv convinces Regina to hire her and before you know it, she’s helping to photograph the social event of the season: the Holiday Debutante Ball. This is Liv’s big chance, until socially prominent Charlie Archibald interrupts the evening by being found dead in a pool of his blood, killed by a knife through an eyeball (yikes!). It doesn’t take much for Liv to decide to take on the case, and it’s a delight to follow her over Manhattan as she tries to piece together the puzzle, trusted camera in hand. While the plot can get super complicated, Brecher has done some great world building here—from Liv’s warm and loving Italian family to a possible boyfriend who may be an FBI agent—creating a world we’d be all too happy to return to again.—Brian Kenney
Love Conquers All
⭐Jayatissa, Amanda. You’re Invited. August. 384p. Berkley.
Murder at the wedding of one of Sri Lanka’s one percent? I initially imagined this to be a cozy affair, with lots of chatter about couture, gossip about affairs, and the body of one of the bridesmaidsthe one no one likesbeing discovered in the shrubbery, poisoned. Boy, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Yes, no extravagance is spared or undocumentedVuitton is the bag of choicebut this crime novel is far darker, far more terrifying than I had ever imagined. It’s super-perfect Kaavi’s weddingshe of the billionaire family, the foundation devoted to girl empowerment, the perfect blow-outand she’s invited her former best friend, Amaya, to the wedding. Not only were the two besties all throughout childhood, they were college roommates in the U.S., until an epic falling out involving Amaya’s boyfriendwhom Kaavi is now set to marry. Though they haven’t spoken in five years, Amaya flies to Colombo with one goal: stop the wedding, by any means necessary. Jealous much? Oh, if only it was mere jealousy in this nothing-is-what-it-seems narrative. Perfectly paced, rich in Sri Lankan culture, witty in its descriptions, and well aware of gender and class disparities, Jayatissa’s creation is that rare bird: the perfect thriller. By the author of My Sweet Girl, this book will appeal to fans of Julie Clark, Samantha Downing, and Lucy Clarke.—Brian Kenney 
Extra Credit
15 Cozy Mysteries Coming Out in the Second Half of 2022 | Book Riot
John Grisham Is Still Battling His Southern Demons | The New York Times
Suddenly Many New Fictional Detectives Are Sniffing for Clues on the Streets of Bombay 
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Henrietta Verma & Brian Kenney
Henrietta Verma & Brian Kenney @1stClueReviews

At firstCLUE we read crime novels way in advance of their publication and share our favorite finds with you. We hope that firstCLUE will help librarians and booksellers select titles and make recommendations, and readers find that next great read. If we really love a book we put a star on it.

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