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firstCLUE - November 2022 Releases

firstCLUE
Good morning! Here are the books publishing this month that we reviewed over the past six months months or so. They are arranged by date of publication.
Look for our regular edition of firstCLUE tomorrow, when we’ll be featuring reviews of Victoria Gilbert’s A Cryptic Clue, Matt Goldman’s A Good Family, Jessica R. Patch’s A Cry in the Dark, and Jessica Ward’s The St. Ambrose School for Girls.
Take care,
Henrietta Verma and Brian Kenney

November 1
Ballantyne, Lisa. The Innocent One. 352p. Pegasus.
When a child is tried for killing another child and is found not guilty, what’s next? For Sebastian Croll, English law means he’s anonymous and allowed to go on with his life. When he’s wanted for questioning in another killing years later, Daniel Hunter, his solicitor in this case and the earlier one, and the main character here, promises Sebastian that so much time has passed that even the police won’t be able to access records of the previous accusation. Whether they know about that past event or not, the police aren’t dropping their suspicions easily, leading Daniel and readers into the ethical quandary regarding how much a child can be responsible for their actions and how much those past actions should matter if their adult behavior goes off the rails. Ballantyne (The Guilty One, 2022) juxtaposes the paths of two troubled boys’ lives here, with Sebastian’s the more dramatically bad version but Daniel’s own hell—the foster-care system—on display through flashbacks and his current erratic, self-destructive behavior. Can Daniel save himself and his marriage while he fights for a client he can’t believe? Ballantyne’s crisp writing makes getting to the answer a fast, absorbing trip through what happens when self-loathing and love collide.Henrietta Verma
Carter, Andrea. The Body Falls (Inishowen Mysteries #5). 352p. Oceanview.
Lovers of classic mysteries will be familiar with the locked-room trope, in which a finite set of characters is stuck in one place with a murderer in their midst, à la Murder on the Orient Express. Here the “room” is the real northern Irish town of Inishowen, which is cut off from the outside world when a month’s worth of rain falls in 24 hours, with all roads and bridges leading out of town destroyed by floods. The townspeople come together well enough, including the protagonist, solicitor Benedicta (Ben) O”Keefe. When readers last met Ben,, in Murder at Greysbridge, she was heading off to New York for six months, partially to get a break from her confused relationship with a local police sergeant (he hasn’t gone anywhere and the fate of the on-again, off-again relationship is an enjoyable subplot). She returns to find her hometown awash but her small law firm ticking along nicely, even if her replacement didn’t know how to leave any surface paper-free. Not moving along so well is a charity cycling event that’s supposed to run from nearby Malin Head, Ireland’s most northerly point, to Mizen Head, it’s most southerly, with weather keeping the cyclists restlessly bound to Inishowen. Then the rain brings a more macabre result: on a late night call, the local vet’s car is hit by a falling body. Ben once again gives her Sergeant beau a run for his money in the investigation stakes, uncovering family secrets, local scandals, and contentment with her Inishowen lot along the way. Lovers of grittier cozies are the audience for this one.Henrietta Verma
⭐Hays, Katy. The Cloisters. 320p. Atria.
A wonderfully dark novel rich in characterization. After Ann Stillwell graduates from college, she doesn’t waste a minute more in Walla Walla, WA, and heads to New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met), where she has secured a summer position as curatorial associate. But there’s a mix up, and Ann ends up at the Cloisters, the Met’s museum and garden devoted to medieval art, located at the remote northern tip of Manhattan. Here she ends up working with Rachel Mondray, who is everything Ann isn’t: Yale educated, Harvard bound, immensely wealthy. Will they be friends, enemies, or frenemies? Friends, it turns out, providing they stick to Rachel’s terms. Under the tutelage of Patrick, the curator-in-charge, they research early Renaissance tarot cards in preparation for an upcoming exhibit. But the cards aren’t just visually beguiling. They are powerful in ways that go well beyond art history, capable of inspiring evil today. Hays does a wonderful job of opening up the lives of both Ann and Rachel, who forge an alliance—like the contestants in a Survivor-like TV show—that will see them safely through the summer. Or will it? Fans of Shapiro’s The Art Forger, Perez-Reverte’s The Flanders Panel and Santlofer’s The Last Mona Lisa will love this book.—Brian Kenney
Mathews, Francine. Death on a Winter Stroll (The Merry Folger Nantucket Mystery Series #7). 288p. Soho Press.
It’s the first week of December and the residents of Nantucket are braced for the tourist onslaught that is the Christmas Stroll, three days of festivities centered on Santa’s arrival by boat to the island and the lighting of the town’s Christmas tree. Nantucket’s new police chief, Meredith (Merry) Folger, is readying herself more than most for this season that promises to be “a royal pain in the ass.” Royalty of a sort does show up, with Nantucket hosting a nameless but aviator-sunglasses-wearing U.S. President. But the man who carries a cup of Joe (!) in one hand and a dog-leash in the other is a temporary focus, as we move to two other high-energy households: the U.S. Secretary of State, dragging along her reluctant and wayward stepson, Ansel; and a famous, handsome actor with a film crew and his also-not-thrilled daughter, Winter. As Winter and Ansel start a tentative romance, their rich-kid obliviousness is tested when a murder gatecrashes Stroll. Finding out who killed the woman in question takes all of Merry’s skills as she navigates the visitors’ bodyguards, testy relationships, and their Very Important Work. Readers, who have a bird’s eye view of most goings on, will cheer for Merry as she cuts through the thickets to bring justice to the victim. This fast-moving mystery packs in a lot, but never too much, and will work for fans of coming-of-age stories, police procedurals, and romance.Henrietta Verma
Paris, B.A. The Prisoner. 304p. St. Martin’s.
In Paris’s latest thriller, a London woman’s trip from rags to riches and back again is a tense fight against a wealthy man who can’t be denied his out-of-control wishes. The tale alternates between two timelines. In the present, readers find Amelie Lamont kidnapped and trapped one floor above her husband, Ned Hawthorpe, who’s also kidnapped and whose rich father doesn’t seem too interested in getting him back. While they wait, Ned makes clear that he’s his stone-cold father’s son, telling the kidnappers that they can go ahead and kill Amelie as it will make his father cough up the money. The past timeline, which takes place several years earlier in the 1990s, shows how Amelie got into this nightmare, starting when her widowed father died and left her homeless. She finds her way to a job at a magazine, with Ned the boss. Desperate for money for college, she makes a startling deal with the rich man, one she immediately regrets. Both Amelie’s time in her dark prison and the lead up to it are psychologically reminiscent of Emma Donoghue’s Room, portraying the intense inner machinations of a woman pushed to the brink. But this web of fear and lies is much more complex, satisfyingly so, than Room, involving many more characters, intricate plotting, and layers of subterfuge. Paris’s fans won’t be disappointed and readers new to the author will be hooked.Henrietta Verma
November 8
Hancock, Anne Mette. The Collector (A Kaldan and Schäfer Mystery #2). Translated from Danish by Tara Chace. 352p. Crooked Lane.
Hancock’s series debut, The Corpse Flower, which featured in this newsletter’s debut, introduced Danish journalist Heloise Kaldan and police officer Erik Schäfer. The somewhat jaded friends don’t work together per se—it’s more that they investigate the same crime in parallel while throwing each other tidbits that help move the case along. Their unusual arrangement swings into gear again when a child goes missing. Lukas Bjerre goes to the same Copenhagen school as Heloise’s friend’s daughter, so the journalist has an in, but that doesn’t make the search any easier. Lukas seems to have simply vanished, with the whole school day having passed before anyone noticed. At the same time, Heloise is going through personal turmoil as she’s unwillingly pregnant, the father “a crummy wolf in permanent press trousers,” according to Schäfer. Adding to Kaldan’s anguish is her inability to remember where she saw a barn that the missing boy might be held in—one that features in Lukas’s collection of photos illustrating his pareidolia, or tendency to see faces in inanimate objects. As the search continues, a suspect’s PTSD forms part of the tale, adding to the feeling that this whole case hinges on mental instability, with the danger to Lukas the one constant in a storm of fear. Kaldan and Schäfer form a realistic and entertaining if gruff duo, one whose work readers will gladly jump into again.Henrietta Verma
Khan, Ausma Zehanat. Blackwater Falls (Detective Inaya Rahman series). 368p. Minotaur.
Inaya Rahman is stuck between two worlds. She’s a detective with the Community Response Unit of the Denver police department, which was created after 2020’s protests against police brutality. When she’s called to a horrific scene —a little girl, Razan Elkader, has been murdered and nailed to the door of the mosque where Rahman worships—she knows she can help, but she’s facing her usual problem: “too brown for the badge, too blue for her co-religionists.” She forges on, in private dealing with her family’s worries that the police force is too dangerous and her mother’s fretting that Inaya isn’t married yet. Outside forces are far less gentle: a biker gang affiliated with a local Evangelical church is far from happy that Syrian refugees have settled in the town and none too worried about bringing Razan’s murderer to light. Khan’s (Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty Mysteries, Khoran Archives Fantasy Novels) fast-moving but thoughtful series debut goes far beyond newcomers-vs.-racists tropes to look at real life in a changing town. Rahman is a tough, lovable and often funny protagonist who will appeal to fans of Joanna Schaffhausen’s Annalisa Vega.—Henrietta Verma
Mackintosh, Clare. The Last Party (DC Morgan #1). 432p. Sourcebooks.
Rhys Lloyd, a former opera singer, has recently built a series of luxury homes overlooking Mirror Lake, on the boundary between Wales and England. Neither the process nor the end results endear him to the locals, to say the least. To attempt to mend fences, and bring the townies and the posh lake crowd together, he throws a massive New Year’s Eve party, only to disappear in the middle of it. When Rhys’s body is found floating in the lake on New Year’s morning, no one seems all that surprised. Nor sad. Not the town folk, not his wife, and certainly not DC Ffion Morgan, who is assigned to the case. Ffion is a local, back home after a failed marriage, and her search for the killer brings her close to people she’s known her whole life, and close to secrets of her own. Against her wishes, she’s paired with DC Leo Brady from the English side of the lake, and they provide every sort of tension imaginable, from national to sexual, giving the book a good bit of levity. Like the TV series “Broadchurch” and the novels of Ann Cleeves, this wonderful novel takes the reader—through twists and turns, and red herrings aplenty—deep within a community. Crime fiction is a whole lot better now that DC Ffion Morgan has arrived.—Brian Kenney
Nossett, Lauren. The Resemblance. 320p. Flatiron.
When a member of the Kappa Phi Omicron fraternity is killed when crossing an Athens, GA street, it at first seems like an unfortunate accident. Homicide Detective Marlitt Kaplan is first on the scene because she happens to be nearby, but it turns out that her murder-investigation skills might be needed after all, because witnesses all mention the same odd set of facts. The victim, Jay Kemp, appears to have been run over by…Jay Kemp. Although he didn’t have a twin, a person who looked exactly like him was driving the car that ran him over, and that person was smiling as he gathered speed while moving toward Jay. The victim’s fraternity is the first place Kaplan and her partner hit when gathering facts about Jay, and from the start, things don’t look right. Is the boys’ secretiveness just fraternity culture or a coverup? Nothing is clear, and it’s made even murkier by the intertwining of grudges and dramas with former fraternity members, current members who are on the outs, and the many, many girls in the wings. A slowly unfolding backstory concerning what Marlitt endured when her old friend joined a different fraternity adds to the mystery. This intriguing debut is one for fans of academia gone wrong, such as depicted in the TV series The Chair.Henrietta Verma
Reeves, Lynne. Dark Rivers to Cross. 288p. Crooked Lane.
Jonah and Luke Blackwell are teen brothers-by-adoption who are close in age, and close generally. But they disagree on one big thing: whether to find out their origins. Adopting from foster care, Lena Blackwell was planning to take in one child, but on the big day found him holding hands with a smaller boy, and the rest is history. But it’s history that Jonah can’t leave alone. Lena is at first mildly dissuasive, saying only that the adoption was closed for a reason. As time goes on, however, she grows increasingly frightened that Jonah will uncover why she’s a virtual recluse at the Millinocket, Maine inn that she and Luke run while Jonah attends college. Curious too is why the inn is owned by Coop, the Native Penobscot man whom the boys thought was an employee. And why, when a guest arrives at the inn who seems to know Lena from the past, is she bundled off to stay with the competition? As flashbacks that are haunted with fear take readers back to Lena’s long-ago struggles and her arrival in Millinocket, present-day determination, exasperation, and love bring us closer to an unpredictable and scary finale. This fast read is for those who enjoy strong protagonists digging their way out of tough circumstances.Henrietta Verma
November 15
⭐Fredericks, Mariah. The Lindbergh Nanny. 320p. Minotaur.
Most of us are familiar with the kidnapping of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s baby, Charlie, in 1932, which was known as “the crime of the century.” So what can a fictionalized version of the events offer readers today? A whole lot more, it turns out. Fredericks has Betty Gow, the baby’s nanny, narrate this tale, which begins with Betty’s arrival in Detroit from Scotland—in pursuit of love gone wrong—and ends several years later with her permanent return to Glasgow. Kudos to Fredericks for creating in Gow such a hugely compelling character: smart, introspective, full of humor, a loving nanny. She’s also a terrific social observer, watchful of class distinctions, and all too aware of the inequality of the sexes. The first third or so of the book builds towards the abduction of Charlie—it’s incredibly nerve racking—while the middle third is centered on the messy aftermath of the crime: the frenzied press, the myriad ransom notes, the continual interrogations by detectives. In the final third, the narrative builds again as Betty returns from Scotland to testify in the trial of Bruno Hauptmann, who was eventually convicted and electrocuted, and the courtroom drama that unfolds is nothing less than brilliant. As fans of the Jane Prescott mysteries can testify, Fredericks is especially adept at historical settings, and this book doesn’t disappoint. The Lindbergh Nanny can cross-over in all kinds of directions, and should appeal to readers of crime fiction, historical fiction, women’s fiction and those just needing a solid read. Librarians: watch the holds list on this one.—Brian Kenney
Freedman, S.M. Blood Atonement. 416p. Dundurn Press.
Locked-room mysteries and thrillers are booming, but this one has a twist. In the 1990s, young Grace DeRoche’s family lives in a Canadian branch of the FLDS, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Talk about a locked room. Children in the cult headed by Warren Jeffs, who in real life has only left the FBI’s Most-Wanted list because he’s serving a life sentence for child sexual assault, live with their fathers and the men’s multiple wives in Brigham, a secretive, abusive compound. They spend their days praying, in fear of outside-world apostates, are illiterate, and are subject to harsh “corrections.” Girls are married young to much older men. After the police come and “Brigham’s Ten”—Grace and nine other children—escape, the rest of the compound dies by mass suicide. In the years that follow, Grace remains in the locked room of her mind: she has dissociative identity disorder, with multiple personas taking over when she’s stressed. Stress comes in the deaths of members of the Ten, and Detective Beau Brunelli must protect Grace, a challenge when the woman doesn’t believe she needs protection and is too frightened and confused to accept help. Freedman could have made this sensationalist, but it’s a thought-provoking read, providing a look at life after a cult and portraying the survivors as real people, warts and all. The shocking ending here is a reward of its own, and getting there is a journey through incredible details of life inside Warren Jeffs’ world and inside the mind of a troubled woman. While you wait, try the Netflix documentary Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey, which covers the FLDS and is also absorbing.—Henrietta Verma
⭐Morrison, Ewan. How to Survive Everything. Harper. 368p. HarperCollins.
A brilliant look at pandemics through the eyes of Haley, a 16-year-old girl who, with her little brother, are abducted from their mother by their father and taken to a rural farm—no Internet, no cell phones—in northern Scotland. They join a handful of survivalists, Haley’s dad is clearly the ringleader, and they’re waiting for the next pandemic, which should be arriving any day; a new virus, more horrible than anything we can imagine, has just made its way to the U.K. Bleak? Indeed. But fascinating, and even comic at times. Haley writes the book as a sort of parody of her father’s survivalist manual, with her own sarcastic spin (“How to Abduct Your Own Children,” “Home Surgery for Beginners.”) Add to this rich details about life on the compound, a budding romance with the one other teen in lockdown, and continual speculation about her parents, both of whom she believes to be crazy—any reader would agree—and whose epic divorce left her having to always choose between them. At the heart of the book is the question of truth. Is the world beyond the barbed wire that surrounds the farm really erupting in chaos, with riots in the streets and bands of the infected roaming the countryside? Or is life as they knew it chugging along, little different except that Haley and her family have left it? And does Haley—or any of the survivalists—really want to know the answer? A bit of crime fiction, a lot of dystopia, and 100 percent compelling.Brian Kenney
Priest, Cherie. Flight Risk (Booking Agent Series 2). 320p. Atria.
They’re back! The quirky duo of sort-of psychic Leda Foley—she’s also a travel agent and sometime chanteuse—and Seattle P.D. detective Grady Merritt reunites to find two missing people. Leda is approached by a man whose sister has gone missing for a month—driving a bright-orange antique Volvo and with $30,000 in cash—and hopes that Leda can use her psychic powers to locate the woman. Has she been murdered, or has she finally given up on her adulterous husband and run off? Meanwhile, Grady’s dog has gone missing on Mount Rainier, only to pop up with a limb in his mouth. A leg, to be precise. A human leg. Unfortunately, it’s a male leg, so not from Leda’s missing person, but DNA proves that there is a relationship between the two. But where’s the rest of the body? With help from a delightful circle of friends, including Grady’s police partner and Leda’s best friend, the two develop plenty of hypotheses but nothing that will hold water. Fortunately, Leda’s psychic skills kick in, providing some much-needed clues to help resolve the mysteries. As in the first book, Grave Reservations, readers will delight in the banter between Leda and Grady while enjoying Leda’s struggle with her psychic gift. For cozy fans who can tolerate a bit of the macabre.—Brian Kenney
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Henrietta Verma & Brian Kenney
Henrietta Verma & Brian Kenney @1stClueReviews

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