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First Clue - The Personal Assistant by Kimberly Belle, Killingly by Katharine Beutner, Device Free Weekend by Sean Doolittle, The Boys from Biloxi by John Grisham

Technology has long been the domain of speculative fiction, and sometimes espionage as well. But as technology increasingly enters the lives of us regular folk, we’re seeing it more and more in crime fiction.
The difference is that technology in crime fiction is usually already familiar to us, from the hardware—cell phones and tablets—to social networking. Perhaps it’s ramped up a bit, but most of us could operate any of it without needing to contact our IT department. Or at least give it a whirl.
The Personal Assistant is the perfect example of technology gone awry, exposing the dark side of social networking. And Sean Doolittle’s thriller, Device Free Weekend, is completely immersed in technology, from the tech machinations of the mad CEO to the more prosaic uses of cell phones. Here, technology is used as often against us as it can be used to help us.
Excuse me if I haven’t gotten around to activating Siri yet.
Have a great week!
Brian Kenney

A Viral Nightmare
Kimberly Belle. The Personal Assistant. November 29, 2022. 352 pages. Park Row.
@UnapologeticallyAlex is Alex Hutchinson’s wildly successful Instagram account, one that is moving toward a million followers until she and her personal assistant AC hit the booze and the next morning her following has turned rabid. Through her hangover haze, Alex sees that she has fifteen thousand notifications that give her in ALL ANGRY CAPS the information she dreads: last night, she trashed another online celebrity in a three-paragraph-long diatribe that might or might not have used the words “attention-seeking slut.” And that’s only the beginning. Alex and her handsome, financial-guru husband, Patrick, who has a successful TV show, along with their twin daughters, find themselves suddenly locked in a spiral of misfortune. Alex’s personal assistant—the one person who could fix this Insta nightmare—is missing. The police discover evidence of a crime in their carriage house. And the normally well-behaved twins are in trouble at school for drinking. Can it get worse? Oh yes, it can. Join Alex for this wild ride—you won’t be sorry!—and get ready for a look at the real world of online fame, which is made to seem both frighteningly exposing and frighteningly isolating by the masterful narrative and especially the inner dialogs of Alex, AC, and Patrick. While this is a thriller with tech as a catalyst, anyone who likes a great story will eat it up (the heaping spoonful of schadenfreude doesn’t hurt).—Henrietta Verma
This World of Women
Katharine Beutner. Killingly. June 6, 2023. 360 pages. Soho Crime.  
A haunting tale set in the rarefied world of Mount Holyoke college, the oldest of the Seven Sisters, and inspired by a true story. It’s 1897 and Bertha Mellish, a quiet and rather odd junior, has gone missing, last seen walking into the woods that surround the college. As days go by, her disappearance draws to campus her sister and father—an enfeebled minister from Killingly, Connecticut—the police, and a private investigator hired by the family. But the one person who likely knows what happened to Bertha is Agnes Sullivan, and she’s being incredibly circumspect. Agnes is poor and Irish, a promising scientist, and Bertha’s closest friend…or lover? At a time when women in an environment like Mount Holyoke could establish romantic relationships, and display affection, Agnes and Bertha were such a couple—in fact, they planned after graduation to live in a Boston Marriage, the name for two women who set up a household together. So why is Agnes so tight-lipped? Rape, incest, abortion, vivisection, and insanity swirl around the narrative, as does the imagining of the precarious lives of women, even when privileged. Beutner does a wonderful job of pulling the reader into this world then locking the door behind us, keeping us engaged until the very last page.Brian Kenney  
Social Networking
Sean Doolittle. Device Free Weekend. February 28, 2023. 288 pages. Grand Central. 
Get-togethers with college friends can often be bittersweet, although as we age reunions tend to be more mellow. Except in this novel, in which a weekend with your now-middle-aged friends doesn’t just end in acrimony. It leads to unimaginable destruction, and I’m not talking about damage to the wine cellar. Über billionaire Ryan Cloverhill—substitute him with your least favorite tech CEO—has invited his six closest college friends to an all-expenses-paid weekend on his private island in Puget Sound. Although they haven’t been in touch much lately, this group lived together throughout college, dated one another, and roomed together as adults, with the assumption that they would always be there for one another. After Ryan collects all their devices and locks them away—painful!—the weekend kicks off with plenty of wine, glorious food, and a sunset cruise. But the next morning, the six wake up, bleary-eyed, only to discover that Ryan is gone, they’re locked in the mansion, there’s a tablet computer teasing them (“Unlock Me!”), and they need to work together to discover the code. Yes, it’s another locked-on-an-island mystery, but the ingredients are so unusual and the plot so outrageous that this is completely unique. Readers will love the fast pace, the wonderful integration of technology, the mad Ryansomewhat reminiscent of Dr. Noand the development of the hostages.Brian Kenney
Mississippi Vice
John Grisham. The Boys from Biloxi. October 18, 2022. 464 pages. Doubleday.
The 48th novel from the biggest name in legal thrillers is a departure for him, with the book taking place over generations and lots more of it outside the courtroom than usual, all to great effect. The boys of the title are two sets of fathers and sons on very different sides of the law in Biloxi, Mississippi. Their saga starts with a look at the founding of the hardscrabble city by Croatian fishermen. By the time we reach the 1950s and meet Keith Rudy and Hugh Malco, the sons in question, the city has thriving clubs with prostitution, gambling, and all the violence and intimidation that go alongside. Hugh’s father, Lance, is the head of organized crime in Biloxi, able to grow his awful interests with the help of corrupt police. Fighting against him and his ilk is Keith’s father, Jesse, a lawyer whose education and climb we’ve witnessed and who dreams of becoming DA and cleaning up his city for good. As the two sides becomen entrenched, Grisham takes us on side trips that follow the various small-time and not-so-small-time criminals whose work feeds the Rudy-Malco divide, with the story building toward an epic legal showdown that pits honor against evil. There are no major female characters here, and the book may not pass the Bechdel test, but readers who can overlook that will be treated to vintage Grisham: a great story, characters to cheer for and loathe, and gripping legal drama. Fans of Jeffrey Archer as well as of Grisham will love this.—Henrietta Verma
Extra Credit
‘Unidentified Bodies in Her Morgue Irritate Her Endlessly’
Book Review: Murder by the Book edited by Martin Edwards
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Henrietta Verma & Brian Kenney
Henrietta Verma & Brian Kenney @1stClueReviews

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