firstCLUE

By Henrietta Verma & Brian Kenney

firstCLUE - Locust Lane by Stephen Amidon, Bright and Deadly Things by Lexie Elliott, A Mother Would Know by Amber Garza, The Last Grudge by Max Seeck

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“Pandemic time distortion” is apparently a thing, referring to the feeling of not knowing what day of the week it is and/or that time has speeded up or slowed down. In my case, my internal calendar is stuck in March, the month when the pandemic hit where I live, New York City. Since March 2020, I think it’s March no matter what month it is, and if I think about the season, I think it’s spring. At least, like the broken clock that’s right twice a day, I’m right once a year.
Rather than battling it, I’m throwing out the internal time clock and its idea that what I read should match the season. Beach reads in December, snowed-in murder mysteries in the summer, that’s me. This week brought some chilly reads when it was in the 80s outside and that’s OK! 
Snowy Finland is on the cover of Max Seeck’s The Last Grudge, which Brian recommends for fans of Camilla Läckberg and Jo Nesbø. An estate in the French Alps is the setting of Lexie Elliott’s Bright and Deadly Things, a locked-chalet mystery. The neighbors bring more chills than the weather in the two books I read this week, but they’re still ideal for a day indoors, whatever the weather. Swanky Emerson, Massachusetts is the setting for Stephen Amidon’s Locust Lane, where wealth can’t keep the violence or its sprawling consequences at bay. In Amber Garza’s A Mother Would Know, the coldness is within, as the protagonist feels her mind slipping away as family catastrophe looms ever closer.
Enjoy and see you next time!

Affluenza and Affairs
Stephen Amidon. Locust Lane. January 17, 2023. 320 pages. Celadon.
The puzzle pieces that make up the rich town of Emerson, Massachusetts don’t quite fit and in the cracks between, unhappiness grows. Michel is a striving Lebanese restaurant owner, his son Christopher a quiet kid who’s trying his hardest to fit into a very white town, with his most strident effort expended on friendship with bully Jack. Michel’s fancy restaurant often hosts the ladies-who-lunch crowd, most frequently Alice, Michel’s married girlfriend who’s stepmom to volatile teen Hannah. The façade of prosperous goodness collapses in a heap of gossip and accusations when “that girl Eden,” who’s from the other side of the tracks and has a troubled background, is found dead after partying with Christopher, Hannah, and Jack. The usual haves-and-have-nots divide becomes starker as the pressure mounts on the police to solve this quickly, and secrets and bigotries are revealed…but who did it is tantalizingly unclear until the very end. All through the book, the testing and twisting of relationships keeps the drama high and Amidon leaves us pondering the question of what’s worth sacrificing for love. For Celeste Ng’s many fans.—Henrietta Verma
Everything but an Avalanche
Lexie Elliott. Bright and Deadly Things. February 14, 2023. 384 pages. Berkley.
Oxford don Emily is off to a retreat of sorts at Chalet des Anglais—a large estate in the French Alps, owned by several of the Oxford colleges. Emily is recently widowed, and this Alpine sojourn, including students and faculty—several of whom are her friends—seems to be exactly what the doctor ordered. But from the get-go, something isn’t right. Her house is burglarized as she is leaving for the airport. At the Chalet, someone rifles through her belongings and attempts to log into her laptop. Friends, too, are acting oddly, while an attractive undergrad is busy putting the moves on nearly everyone, including Emily. Not exactly a locked-room—let’s call it a locked chalet—the house is tremendously remote and, naturally, without any Internet access. Elliott slowly and skillfully builds the tension, carefully layering conversations, glances, overheard conversations, diary entries, and annual reports from the Chalet’s earlier years. When all hell finally breaks loose—and it certainly does, in multiple ways—Emily is left without anyone she can trust, forced to recreate her world.—Brian Kenney
Suspicions on the Street
Amber Garza. A Mother Would Know. December 13, 2022. 320 pages. Mira.
Remember We Need to Talk about Kevin, Lionel Shriver’s dark novel about a mother’s fraught efforts to understand her violent son? Here, neighbors believe Valerie Jacobs has set up her own version of Shriver’s book: her son, Hudson, suspected years ago of a violent crime, is back home and seems eager to live off mom. Valerie’s daughter, Kendra, is against the arrangement. Valerie has always spoiled Hudson, Kendra says between snapping at her mother’s attempts to be a new grandma and pushing miracle cures for Valerie’s seemingly encroaching Alzheimer’s disease. Then a shock crashes into the setup: a young woman is found murdered in the neighborhood and Valerie’s neighbors immediately point the finger at her home. Even Valerie herself suspects Hudson, except when she’s suspecting herself and her memory gaps. Garza (When I Was You) excels at making our heads spin as facts emerge, some from the present and others the past, adding to both the murkiness and the drama. This tale is constructed on a scaffold of slights, family grudges, deceit, and quiet love, all of which build to an out-of-the-blue reveal. This isn’t—thankfully!—as dark as We Need to Talk about Kevin, but it’s every bit as gripping.—Henrietta Verma
Horror in Helsinki
⭐Max Seeck. The Last Grudge (A Ghosts of the Past Novel, Book 3). February 7, 2023. 448 pages. Berkley.
A classic police procedural that does a miraculous job of balancing the investigation on the one hand and the complex personal lives of the detectives on the other. One of Helsinki’s most successful business leaders is murdered in his home, by a kitchen knife to his heart. He was on his way to a dinner celebrating his company’s fiftieth anniversary, an event overshadowed by protests because of recent layoffs he’s authorized. Yusuf, one of the leading detectives throughout this series, is put in charge of the investigation, which leads inward, with a meticulous examination of the apartment, and outward, contacting many of the executive’s colleagues and just individuals with whom he may have had contact. Unnerved at his leadership position, Yusuf brings on Detective Jessica Niemi, his partner in the earlier books, who’s now on leave trying to escape from her personal demons—literally, not metaphorically. As the story briskly unfolds—Seeck keeps the plot moving—the past and the present collide in a terrifying way. While this can be a stand-alone, it’s best to read it as part of a series. For fans of Camilla Läckberg and Jo Nesbø.—Brian Kenney
Extra Credit
The Gentrification Plot: New York and the Postindustrial Crime Novel | OCE Events - OCE
With an Online Auction, Mystery Writers Help Justice Prevail at the Polls
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Henrietta Verma & Brian Kenney
Henrietta Verma & Brian Kenney @1stClueReviews

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