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First Clue - Scavenger Hunt by Chad Boudreaux, Even When You Lie by Michelle Cruz, Now You See Us by Balli Kaur Jaswal, Small Mercies by Dennis Lehane

I’m not a gambling man, but I’d wager that Dennis Lehane’s Small Mercies—set in Boston on the eve of busingwill be on many a 2023 best book list. It’s a miracle that a book can be that disturbing yet so compulsively readable.
Speaking of oppression, Balli Kaur Jaswal’s tale of three Filipina domestic workers in Singapore, Now You See Us, is insightful and emotional…served with a dollop of levity. Great reading group choice!
Hankering for some espionage? Follow newbie lawyer Blake Hudson in Chad Boudreaux’s Scavenger Hunt as he races to escape from vicious foes while trying to figure out exactly how his job took this bizarre turn.
Finally, meet Reagan Reyes, a criminal defense lawyer’s investigator whose double life involves a relationship with her boss (always a bad idea) and a mystery woman who shows up at her law firm. Michelle Cruz’s Even When You Lie delivers the sort of romantic suspense that so many readers love.
Have a great holiday weekend, and see you next week!—Brian Kenney

Newbie Lawyer vs. Global Terrorism
Boudreaux, Chad. Scavenger Hunt. January 2023. 296p. Morgan James.
Blake Hudson is a decided underdog in the office of the U.S. Attorney General. This is a status that’s made plain in the book’s opening pages, when the young lawyer is so desperate to be on time for work that he arrives swearing he knows nothing—nothing at all!—about a cab that raced so fast to the Justice Department that it nearly caused the Attorney General’s motorcade to crash. Underdogs don’t choose their work assignments, and this inauspicious start to the day turns out to have been an accurate omen when Blake is ordered to the eighth floor of the building—a building that appears to have only seven floors—to work on a project about which he gets only the barest details. Terrorists have recently hit the United States and the new task force’s job is to get ahead of the killers’ activities, but what exactly the group will do, and how a fledgling lawyer can contribute to work with military specialists, is left frustratingly murky to Blake. He soon finds out that he’s part of a deadly plan that keeps him on the run and readers on their toes as one chase leads to another and the peril deepens. Readers who like a story in which someone is shoved headlong into a very different life, à la Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne, are the audience for this fast-moving thriller.—Henrietta Verma
Secrecy and Peril
Cruz, Michelle. Even When You Lie. March 2023. 336p. Crooked Lane.
One of the trends we noted in this year’s Crime Fiction Preview in Library Journal was the welcome presence of some untraditional sleuths—a couple of books starring photographers as amateur detectives, for example. This romantic and suspenseful debut is on the darker side of that subgenre, featuring a Dallas criminal defense lawyer’s investigator, Reagan Reyes, who was formerly an Air Force captain and congressional staffer. Reagan’s grit and investigative skills are top-notch, but she’s endangering her job and even her career with her current relationship: it’s with her boss, attorney Cade McCarrick. Reagan is more or less living with Cade, a situation that makes her jumpy at work, and her first instinct is to keep it secret when a woman who decidedly doesn’t look like the law firm’s moneyed clients shows up demanding to see Cade and then collapses in the street outside after she’s denied the meeting. Thus begins an investigation that sees Reagan live an emotional double life, by night settling more and more into intimacy with Cade, while in the outside world working to uncover the truth behind the strange woman’s visit and the complicated politics at work. As things turn violent and race toward a shocking finish (a Porsche is involved!), the book turns almost to noir, with everyone looking suspect and all characters looking like they could face a messy end. For fans of the show Ray Donovan and of Joey Hartstone’s just-released The Local.—Henrietta Verma
Merry Maids
⭐Jaswal, Balli Kaur. Now You See Us. 320p. Morrow.
Insightful, political, deeply meaningful—with a wonderful vein of humor throughout—this tale of three Filipina domestic workers should attract a huge audience. Singapore may be luxurious, orderly, and privileged, but that’s at the expense of the behind-the-scenes maids, cleaners, and other caregivers who keep the island afloat, exploited by six-day work weeks, bare-minimum salaries, and relentless oppression. It’s twenty-something Donita’s first stint in Singapore. Bold, witty, beautiful—and not afraid to show it—she’s hired by Mrs. Fann, a notoriously mean employer who regularly confiscates Donita’s phone and locks her up. Angel takes care of an elderly man while mourning her break-up with the woman she loved and fearing that she may lose her job. Corazon, truly the heart of the book, has returned to Singapore after years at home in the Philippines; but neither country affords her the peace she desperately wants. When a Filipina maid, a casual acquaintance, is accused of murdering her female employer, the three women, convinced of their friend’s innocence, investigate. While the crime provides a clothesline on which to hang the narrative, it’s the deep exploration of each woman’s life that makes this book so powerful. Yes, we now see Donita, Angel, and Corazon. We hear them. And we are unlikely to ever forget them.—Brian Kenney.
All I Ever Saw Was Hate and Rage
⭐Lehane, Dennis. Small Mercies. April. 320p. Harper.
We’re in the projects of “Southie”—Irish American South Boston—in the summer of 1974, just days before the desegregation of Boston’s schools through busing is to begin. The neighborhood is the proverbial tinderbox, ready to explode in mass protests and violent resistance. Mary Pat Fennessey, a lifer in the Commonwealth projects, is upset about busing, sure, but she has other problems, especially how to support herself and Jules, her teenage daughter, on her meager salary. But then Jules disappears, not just for a night, but for days, and neither her boyfriend nor her buddies are talking. Then a young Black man is murdered the same night Jules goes missing, killed by a subway train just a few stops from Southie, in a manner that can only be murder. Is there a connection? Mary Pat sets off to find Jules, or at least to learn what happened to her, in a quest that overruns with racial hatred and extraordinary violence. Immensely raw, yet completely compelling, this scorched-earth narrative is Lehane at his very best: every word, every sentence, every paragraph matters. Tragically, it is a book that speaks as much to our time as to Boston’s nearly 50 years ago. Brilliant.—Brian Kenney
Extra Credit
Join a Desperate Search Through the Australian Outback in This Stunning Debut Thriller | BookTrib
Review: “The Life of Crime,” by Martin Edwards | The New York Times
Crime Writing Gets a Fillip at Home | The Week
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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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