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First Clue
One of our aims with this newsletter is to highlight great mysteries in translation, and we’ve got one this time that’s sure to be on next year’s best lists. It’s The Old Woman with the Knife, a book whose understated title reflects its main character, a fearsome killer who walks the streets of Seoul freely because she’s viewed as old and therefore harmless. She’s far from it, and her shocking “jobs” are matched only by author Byeong-mo Gu’s cutting, precise language, which knocked me over more than once. While you’re waiting for it to come out, try Malin Persson Giolito’s Quicksand, which has a similar style.
The other starred review this week is of Dervla McTiernan’s The Murder Rule, which has a shocking plot of its own, featuring a law student who works on an Innocence Project and tries to sabotage the organization’s effort to free a man who’s in prison for rape and murder. But it’s what she unearths—about her mother, the inmate, and ultimately herself—that makes the book so good.
All that killing will no doubt set you thinking about upcoming family get-togethers and gift-giving. At the bottom of the First Clue profile page, you’ll find previous issues of the newsletter, many of which feature reviews of books that are already published. Happy reading and see you next time!—Henrietta Verma

Linda's Last Laugh
Cannon, Joanna. A Tidy Ending. August 2022. Scribner.
A quirky, droll, and completely captivating novel about Linda, whose sad-sack suburban life slowly falls apart, only to reveal something far better. Linda’s passions are few, namely housecleaning—she’s a bit obsessive compulsive—and her part-time job in a thrift shop. Her contacts are equally meager, mainly her mother, who’s skilled in finding new and creative ways to put down her daughter, and husband Terry, best ignored, which Linda does. When she and Terry move into a new home in their housing estate, Linda becomes fascinated with the advertising catalogs—think West Elm—that are still being delivered to the previous occupant, Rebecca. Linda decides the best way to achieve this lifestyle is by tracking down Rebecca and ingratiating herself, and in some of the funniest yet most cringe-worthy scenes in the book, she succeeds in doing just that. Meanwhile, a serial killer is loose in the estate while Terry’s work hours suddenly become extremely erratic. Cause for concern? Not for Linda, who’s more taken in by BFF Rebecca than anything nefarious that Terry might be up to. A wonderful novel that reminds us that life is rarely what it seems, and outcomes can seldom be predicted.—Brian Kenney
Back to Baker St.
Goldberg, Leonard. The Blue Diamond (A Daughter of Sherlock Holmes Mystery #6). June 2022. 336p. Minotaur.
221b Baker St. is home to a new generation, with Sherlock Holmes’s daughter, Joanna, and her husband, Dr. John Watson Jr., son of Sherlock’s longtime sidekick, in residence and solving crimes. In this sixth in the series, Joanna, who’s just as meticulous and insightful as her father, is called by Scotland Yard to help with a series of thefts in hotels around London. Joanna wonders why she and the Yard are required until she learns that the victim of the most recent crime is the governor general of South Africa, and what was stolen from his locked room was the enormously valuable blue diamond, the search for which sets the Watsons questioning everyone from diamond merchants to underworld dealers. In addition, it’s 1917, and the detectives must pursue another stolen item, one that’s crucial to the British effort to win the Great War. This part of the plot sees the famous offspring draw on every ounce of their courage as well as their connections with Sherlock’s Baker St. Irregulars, a gang of ruffian children, to win the day. Along the way, readers will enjoy the many references to Sherlock Holmes’s cases, often the subject of reminiscences by his daughter and her father-in-law; also a pleasure is the relationship between Joanna and John, she a wily sleuth and he an adoring supporter of her eccentricities. For fans of the great detective, of course, but also those who enjoy tales of wartime espionage.Henrietta Verma
An Efficient Elder
⭐Gu, Byeong-mo. The Old Woman with the Knife. Translated from Korean by Chi-young Kim. March 2022. 288p. Hanover Square Press.
This startling work upends every stereotype of old ladies and killers. Known as Hornclaw, our protagonist is only 65 but welcomes the invisibleness of appearing elderly so as to better function as a disease control specialist: a hired killer. Under her baggy, mismatched clothes, Hornclaw has such a fearsome body that a TV producer at the gym asks her to be on a show about unusual people. But she fears being forced into retirement soon, a euphemism for being killed by the other specialists at the disease control agency. As we observe the abusive childhood that led Hornclaw to obsessively love her dog, Deadweight, but blithely kill strangers, we’re led toward a hairpin turn in her personality, when she finally cares for someone but it is part of a deadly trap. The story, which immerses readers into everyday life in Seoul, is made unforgettable by Gu’s language as she draws readers into the chilling, beautiful wanderings of Hornclaw’s mind, which flits from contemplating someone eating a peach (“she watches a perfect small world being smashed inside his mouth”) to considering the home of a newly butchered man (“the hallway to the living room seemed to loll like a dead person’s tongue”). For lovers of literary fiction and book clubs that will try something different.Henrietta Verma
Mommie Dearest
⭐McTiernan, Dervla. The Murder Rule. May 2022. 304p. William Morrow.
This standalone novel, a break from McTiernan’s Cormac Reilly series, is proof of the extraordinary depth and breadth she possesses as a writer. Hannah, a third year law student at the University of Maine, manages to bulldoze her way into spending a semester at the University of Virginia School of Law’s Innocence Project, a true-to-life initiative that seeks exoneration for wrongfully convicted people in Virginia. She leaves behind her mother—a fragile alcoholic—as she attempts to thwart one of the Project’s high profile cases: the release of Michael Dandridge, who’s serving life imprisonment for rape and murder. Why does Hannah care? The secret lies in her mother’s 1994 diary, passages of which are interspersed throughout the present-day narrative. Hannah’s efforts to sabotage the case—and the shocking facts she unearths in the process—are the stuff of a classic thriller. But the emotional connections forged throughout the book give it added meaning. For a writer who has seemingly never lived in the United States, the locations, diction, and class signifiers are flawless. This novel can appeal to a wide range of readers, from suspense seekers to fans of legal thrillers to those who just want, as the British say, a cracking great read.Brian Kenney
Short Stories
According to The Sunday Post, “Ian Rankin is considering a prequel to his Inspector Rebus novels to reveal more about his most famous detective’s past.”
The power of TikTok. In 1934, Edward Powys Mathers’ Cain’s Jawbone was published, a fiendishly clever mystery in which the pages are all out of order, requiring the reader to rearrange them, create the story, and solve the mystery. Since 1934, only four readers have succeeded. According to The Guardian, “Thanks to a series of TikTok postings by Sarah Scannell, a young documentary assistant in San Francisco, which have been watched by some seven million people, the book has sold out.” The book was reprinted as a paperback in July.
The Sun Sentinel reviews the seventh novel by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Velvet Was the Night, “an absorbing political thriller that is the antithesis of a political thriller by concentrating on ordinary people swept up, often against their will, in the tide of activism.”
In an essay in the Orange County Record, Jennifer Chow, author of the Sassy Cat Mysteries that feature Los Angeles pet groomer Mimi Lee, shares how she came to live in Los Angeles, what she loves about the LA vibe, and how she enjoys “putting hints of Southern California into my writing. In fact, in my forthcoming series, the L.A. Night Market Mysteries, I deliberately include hidden places from the region.”
Bosch fans, don’t miss this: “Michael Connelly talks Harry Bosch, Hollywood and reporter years…” in The Palm Beach Daily News. “’I just wrote a guy I think I’d like to ride with in a car to an unknown destination,’” the New York Times best-selling author said of the lead character in a now 23-book series.
The New York Times obituary of Caroline Todd, who, with her son, wrote historical mysteries under the name Charles Todd, includes her start as a mystery author and how they wrote together while staying apart. “Mystery writing may be a labor of love, but it is still labor, and Ms. Todd was among the hardest-working writers in the business.”
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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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