View profile

First Clue - That Dangerous Energy by Aya de León, Of Manners and Murder by Anastasia Hastings, A Death in Tokyo by Keigo Higashino, The Guest House by Hank Phillippi Ryan

There’s just the two of us here on First Clue, so the work is done simply, using one Google doc and lots and lots of texts. Over the (very quick) week between issues, we text each other what we’re reading so that the other person doesn’t read the same thing, when we’ve selected a book (“OMG THIS BOOK”), and share reading suggestions. We often get into review wording as well, and that’s what happened this week. Brian texted me to ask whether I use hero or heroine for a woman. Heroine, I said, but after reading Hero vs. Heroine: Why They’re Not the Same, by Lewis Jorstad at The Novel Smithy, an article that Brian texted to me, I won’t be using that anymore, only hero. (Why not only heroine? I’m not that brave.)
Jorstad explains that the terms don’t mean the same thing, and that “these character types have nothing to do with gender.” But the article had the opposite effect on us than the one intended. It notes that while heroes and heroines in literature have much in common, with their stories each relating to a challenging journey, “the hero’s character arc is all about a character gaining physical mastery over their world, the heroine’s arc is much more concerned with their mastery over their own mind.” It smacks of hysterical women needing to get a hold of themselves while staying put (at home, perhaps?) while the hero can literally travel and conquer the world.
At this point I think we can move on to using only one term for this kind of character, and heroine can now join my pet-peeve list of unnecessary words that are used when no distinction is needed (an expat is an immigrant, don’t make me come over there!). So, in the reviews below, you’ll find both Morgan Faraday in That Dangerous Energy and Violet Manville in Of Manners and Murder described as heroes.
Enjoy, and see you next week!—Henrietta Verma

Love Conquers All
⭐de León, Aya. That Dangerous Energy. December 2022. 352p. Dafina.
This novel should come with a warning label: start this book at your own risk. It’s that suspenseful, that seductive. We meet our hero, Morgan Faraday, running through the NYC subway to escape from Sebastian, her ex-fiancé, and two armed rent-a-cops. How does love go so wrong? We then jump to ten months ago for the backstory that answers this question. Morgan—who identifies as Black, she has North African heritage via Moorish Spain, but is often assumed to be white—escaped from a poor Pennsylvania town for NYC and art school. A textile artist, she’s struggling when she meets billionaire Sebastian Reid, the CEO of one of the world’s largest energy companies. The answer to all of Morgan’s problems? Perhaps, but sleeping with a man you don’t love and barely find attractive is still work, and even with best friend Dashawna’s how-to-marry-a-millionaire advice, Morgan remains conflicted. Marrying white men for financial security, while necessary, was never a good decision for the women in her family. Worse, once she moves in with Sebastian, she discovers that his claim that his company is going green is just a façade, and he’s still responsible for several ecological disasters, with communities of color the most adversely affected. Encouraged by an oh-so-hunky environmental activist, Morgan begins to spy on Sebastian, recording his calls and filming his meetings. It’s incredibly anxiety-producing, and readers will be madly racing to the book’s surprising conclusion. Social commentary, feminism, racism, family history, courtroom drama, plenty of suspense, and a very hot love affair all come together for one powerful read.Brian Kenney
An Agony Aunt Makes Her Debut
Hastings, Anastasia. Of Manners and Murder (A Dear Miss Hermione Mystery #1). February 2023. 304p. Minotaur.
“The right choice can be made to seem impossible, especially for a woman on her own,” learns “spinster” Violet Manville during her work as Miss Hermione, agony aunt for A Woman’s Place magazine. The usual Miss Hermione is Violet’s actual aunt, Adelia Henrietta Georgina Tylney Manville. When the feisty lady sets off from England for the Continent with her gentleman friend, she reveals that she is the mysterious author of the popular column and helpfully sets the shocked Violet up with folders of advice that have labels such as “Comportment,” “Mourning,” and “Mothers in Law.” Violet makes the right choice for herself, breaking out of her life as the studious, ignored, half-sister of the beautiful, flighty Sephora, who has an inheritance, which for a woman in 1865 is everything. Being unmarriageable frees Violet from some of the social duties Sephora adores, allowing her to visit a young woman who wrote to Miss Hermione for help. But when Violet reaches Ivy Armstrong’s village, she finds a very different scene from what she expected, and a murder investigation is soon afoot. Further choices abound, with Hastings keeping her hero within the boundaries of what a Victorian lady can do, while showing what life is like within those strictures and what happens when a woman has her freedom of choice stolen. Readers will empathize with Violet and even with her sad, social-climbing sister, both of whom are doing their best with what life’s dished out. Funny at times, this series debut is also an adventurous and thoughtful look at a time when women’s lives were on the brink of change. And it’s a puzzling whodunit to boot.Henrietta Verma
Kyoichiro Kaga to the Rescue
Higashino, Keigo. A Death in Tokyo (The Kyoichiro Kaga Series, Book 3). December 2022. 368p. Minotaur.
Some mysteries go deep into the lives of just a few characters. Others go wide, spreading the investigation across a community. Keigo Higashino, in his Kyoichiro Kaga police procedurals, manages to do both. Here a businessman is found dead on Tokyo’s famous Nihonbashi bridge, a knife in his chest. But he was attacked elsewhere and somehow managed to stagger to the bridge, dying beneath the statue of a kirin, a winged beast of Japanese mythology. Hours later, a young man is in a car accident nearby—he was killed trying to avoid the police—and the businessman’s wallet is found on his person. Sounds like a wrap, doesn’t it? Except we’re in the hands of Detective Kaga, and despite pressure from the higher ups, he isn’t ready to sign off on the case. Kaga investigates the lives and families of everyone involved, unpacking their secrets, holding them up to the light, seeking connections. Eventually, the narrative opens up, like one of the many origami cranes that end up being so important to the story. It’s a delight to again encounter the mysterious but brilliant Detective Kaga.—Brian Kenney  
Always Get a Prenup
Ryan, Hank Phillippi. The House Guest. February 2023. 336p. Forge.
Alyssa, née Alice, Macallen, has changed her name and subjugated everything else about herself to please her unpleasable husband, Bill, who has left with no explanation. All Alyssa knows for sure is that he’s taking his wealth with him and she has no job and no prenup, which he insisted was unnecessary because he was going to love her forev—you know the rest. Anyway, Bill’s gone and Alyssa’s sitting in a hotel bar nursing her sorrows when she meets a woman who may be even worse off. Bree Lorrance is living at the hotel after getting away from an abusive boyfriend. She moves into Alyssa’s guest house, and soon readers and Alyssa are wondering how things have taken such a fast turn. Far from lonely and terrifying, Alyssa’s days are now taken up with helping her friend, who encounters a new tragedy that sets the women, and another player who becomes involved and moves in, on an exciting trajectory. We’re left wondering whom Alyssa can trust in her new life, if anyone. Are some of these strange new people part of Bill’s team or out to get her for some other reason? Or maybe Alyssa is making everything up and we’ve got an unreliable narrator on our hands…it’s impossible to know until Ryan brings all to a satisfying ending that readers will never see coming. The author’s fans will snap this up; it’s also a must for Liane Moriarty’s readers.Henrietta Verma
Extra Credit
At 75, Sara Paretsky, the pioneering Chicago crime writer, has changed — but she doesn’t plan to stop
Review: ‘Dirt Creek,’ by Hayley Scrivenor and ‘Wake,’ by Shelley Burr | The New York Times
Crime Fiction Goes Global and Diverse, as These 20 Books by Women Writers Show
Review: ‘An Honest Living,’ by Dwyer Murphy | The New York Times
Did you enjoy this issue? Yes No
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.

Any fiction that involves crime we consider to be fair game. 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 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.

In the first week of every month we publish a list of the titles we have reviewed that are publishing that month.

In order to unsubscribe, click here.
If you were forwarded this newsletter and you like it, you can subscribe here.
Created with Revue by Twitter.
84-12 35th Ave., Jackson Heights, NY 11372