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First Clue - What to Read after Mare of Easttown

First Clue
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So Mare of Easttown has come to its end, one of the very best mysteries we’ve viewed or read in a long time. What to read next? We’d suggest the new Two Rivers series from Ann Cleeves. Detective Matthew Venn is as uptight as Mare is messy, but he too has his own set of personal troubles, is uncomfortably close to many of the suspects, and is closely tied to his community. Start with the first book, The Long Call (2019). The second book, The Heron’s Cry, is reviewed below. 
Also in this issue we head to the Catskills of the 1950s to chill out—only to have a corpse in the lake ruin our week—head off to a school that turns out use anything but the Montessori method, meet a maid whose difficulty navigating the world has a lot to teach us, encounter a fresh take on the police procedural, and more.
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Echoes of Wartime
Bates, Sonya. Inheritance of Secrets. November 2021. 432p. HarperCollins. 
After her mother left when Juliet was nine, she grew up with her German grandparents, Karl and Grete. The three are close, and she’s devastated when they’re murdered. Even more upsetting, investigators claim that Karl was a long-pursued Nazi war criminal. That present-day story, set in Australia, alternates with the wartime romance tale of Karl and Grete, who love their country but are kind to Jewish neighbors, and who promise to reunite after Karl returns from the front. Most of this earlier tale takes place before and after the war, leaving what Karl did during the conflict a mystery that Juliet is desperate to unravel. This is not a story of Nazi redemption; rather, it’s a thoughtful, immersive look at pre-and postwar life in a destroyed Europe and an examination of the scars left for succeeding generations. Canadian author Bates drops readers right into this family’s heartache and struggle for togetherness. This is Bates’s first novel for adults, and readers will want more; in the meantime, steer them toward Anna Lee Huber’s Verity Kent series, which also features WWII melancholy-tinged romance.—Henrietta Verma
A New Series Gets Even Better
⭐Cleeves, Ann. The Heron’s Cry (The Two Rivers Series Book 2). September 2021. 384p. Minotaur.
Subtle and nuanced, this novel is the prolific Cleeves at the top of her game. Detective Matthew Venn is called to a sort of artist commune, where a body has been found in one of the studios with a large shard of glass protruding from its neck. The victim, Dr. Nigel Yeo, is the loving father of Eve, a glassmaker who lives and works in the commune. This sets in motion an investigation that gains urgency as the days pass and the bodies begin to stack up. Cleeves takes on some tough issues here—including suicide—and it’s one of her darker books. But as always with this author, the murder narrative is delightfully punctuated with insights into the lives of Venn—still recovering from his evangelical upraising—his husband Jonathan, fellow detectives, and even several of the suspects. Cleeves is the author of the hugely popular Vera and Shetland series, the latter now finished. Broadchurch viewers should appreciate Cleeves’ wide-angle lens and focus on community.—Brian Kenney  
Resorting to Violence
Delany, Vicki. Deadly Summer Nights (A Catskill Summer Resort Mystery). September 2021. 304p. Berkley.
A midsize Catskill resort in the 1950s provides a rich setting for Delany’s latest series. Elizabeth Grady manages the resort, while her mother, Oliviaa retired theater and film star who inherited the venueloafs about, deigning to occasionally show up at cocktail hour to dazzle the guests. Keeping the Haggerman’s Resort profitable is serious work, and Grady doesn’t think things can get any busier, when the body of one of the guestsloner Harold Westenham, a former college professoris found floating in the lake. If that doesn’t cause enough of a ruckus, the police find a copy of The Communist Manifesto in Westenham’s cabin, bringing in the FBI and fueling a red scare among the guests. Faced with a hostile police force, Grady ends up taking on the investigation herself. While the detective work is low-key, and the resolution falls pretty much in Elizabeth’s lap, the real pleasures of this book lie in its setting, period, and characters, all of which are wonderfully realized. Cozy readers will be happy to return to Haggerman’s Catskill Resort any time.—Brian Kenney
Public School has Never Looked So Good
⭐Perry, Sylvie. The Hawthorne School. December 2021. 304p. Crooked Lane. 
Since Claudia Vera’s mom died, it’s just Claudia and her four-year-old son, Henry. She struggles to pay for the cheapest daycare in her Illinois town and is overjoyed when the exclusive Hawthorne School gives Henry a full scholarship, asking the awestruck mom only to volunteer at Hawthorne in return. Things soon turn decidedly odd. Claudia never sees any other parents, and the principal is increasingly insistent on Hawthorne’s unorthodox ways and on Claudia spending hours at the school doing unnecessary tasks. Oddness soon turns to a frightening effort to control—as the publisher’s discussion questions note, this book can be read as an allegory on narcissistic abuse—and Claudia finds herself in the most confusing and terrifying situation of her life. Scary, gothic schools are often found in mysteries, but this one differs in only featuring psychological horror (author Perry is a psychologist), no ghostly terrors. It also differs in presenting a Latinx mom and the use of Spanish (which you don’t need to understand to read the book) to both propel the narrative and help the protagonist. Perry excels in getting inside the head of an unsure mom and has written one of the most unusual and best mysteries of 2021. Fans of psychological mysteries and of the movie Get Out are the audience for this.—Henrietta Verma
A Good, Clean Read
Prose, Nita. The Maid. January 2022. 304p. Ballantine. 
Molly Gray struggles to decipher social cues. Her speech is formal and old-fashioned. She’s obsessed with cleaning—a real advantage in her job as a maid in a grand old hotel. Gran, who always helped her navigate the world, recently died, leaving 25-year-old Molly an orphan. Readers may be quick to diagnose Molly as being on the autism spectrum, but Prose wisely avoids such language, forcing us to make sense of Molly on her own terms. Then comes the day when the maid goes to clean the room of the wealthy and loathsome Charles Black, only to find him dead, likely the victim of murder. Molly’s world is turned upside down as she finds herself the lead suspect. Suddenly, she has to do the unthinkable: reach out to others for help in saving herself. The Maid is a lovely, uplifting exploration of friendship and the power of difference. As Gran would say, “We are the same in different ways.”—Brian Kenney 
A Grave Digger's Demise
Schaffhausen, Joanna. Gone for Good. August 2021. 304p. Minotaur.
At first it seems some well-worn police procedural tropes will dominate the latest novel by bestselling Schaffhausen (Ellery Hathaway series). Our protagonist, a detective, is determined to find the serial killer that eluded her cop father, while wondering if she’ll ever find love in this relationship-destroying career. But some twists make the author’s turbulent latest different. The detective in question, Annalisa Vega, dated the son of one of the victims as a teen; the connection to her first heartbreak drives Vega to uncover the truth—and sometimes to go too far. Adding intrigue is that one of the killer’s last victims, Grace Harper, is an avid, insightful member of an amateur cold-case investigation club, the Grave Diggers, which at the time of Harper’s death was focusing on her killer. “Grace Notes,” journal entries on her investigative findings, will give readers the feeling of turning the case around in their hands as the narrative shifts back and forth in time and between Harper and Vega’s differing knowledge and motivations. Schaffhausen’s writing brings readers right into shadowy Chicago streets and family secrets from page one. This first in a new series is a must for readers of innovative police procedurals as well as fans of true crime shows.Henrietta Verma
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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.

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