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firstCLUE - The Thing in the Snow by Sean Adams, How I’ll Kill You by Ren DeStefano, Your Driver is Waiting by Priya Guns, The Book Spy by Alan Hlad, Feel the Bern by Andrew Shaffer

Do you ever wish you could introduce book characters to each other? The Anna Wintour/Meryl Streep character from The Devil Wears Prada could do with a good kick to the shins from Lewis Carroll’s batty and violent Queen of Hearts. Every marriage-obsessed character in every (yawn) Jane Austen reboot could get a shaking up from Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo of He’s Just Not That Into You fame.
This week’s books offer some ripe pairings. I can’t stop laughing at cartoon Bernie Sanders on the cover of Feel the Bern. Now that he’s forever in our imagination seated with his mittens on, Bernie would be a great teammate in The Thing in the Snow, in which mysterious figures watch…a thing in the snow. The creepy triplets in How I’ll Kill You would love a cab driver who’s had it with the world, making Damani in Your Driver is Waiting their perfect, IDGAF sidekick.
Maria and Tiago in The Book Spy I will leave untouched because they’re already (sob) perfect together and…Bernie. BERNIE! I am once again asking you to leave those young people alone.
Enjoy and see you next week!—Henrietta Verma

Ice Capades
Sean Adams. The Thing in the Snow. January 3, 2023. 288 pages. Morrow.
Not a mystery, but darn mysterious. The Northern Institute is located somewhere in the far north, the only place on the planet where the temperature continues to drop while the snowfall continues to increase. At some point, the vast building held hundreds of scientists, who were presumably studying life in such an extreme climate. But after an unexplained incident, the great building was quickly shut down to researchers. Today, the only residents are three caretakers, led by supervisor Hart, and one remaining scientist. Contact with the world comes from a weekly mail drop that, in addition to food, gives them their assignment for the next week; testing all the doors to determine if any squeak is a prime example. Life for the caretakers is so unspeakably dull—except for Hart, who’s sadly consumed by becoming a better manager—that when a strange object appears in the snow, where there is nothing else on the horizon except snow, the caretakers become obsessed with it. Forbidden to ever go outside, the mysterious snow sickness is given as one reason, the three gaze longingly at the object. Is its color changing? Is it moving? While they are instructed to ignore the object, that eventually becomes impossible, even for manager-in-training Hart, and the three venture out to confront their visitor. A satirical take on corporate life and a darkly suspenseful tale of isolation.—Brian Kenney
Sisterhood is Powerful
⭐Ren DeStefano. How I’ll Kill You. March 21, 2023. 352 pages. Berkley.
I’ll admit it: it took me several tries to get past this novel’s disturbing opening scene, in which two women violently murder a man they just met and with whom they have zero connections. They stick him in the trunk of their car for a few hours, only to discover he’s not actually dead. Then they meticulously prep the body—who knew removing teeth to minimize identification was a thing?—and heave the now assuredly dead man over the side of a mountain. Turns out, this is just the latest murder of the serial killer sisters, identical 25-year-old triplets. Typically, their thing is to make men want them and fall in love with them. Then they kill them. It’s about a six-month process, and the first two sisters have racked up three murders each. But Sissy, our protagonist, has yet to make her first kill. She’s pulled her weight with her expertise in cleanup, removing any evidence that could connect the sisters to a murder site or a corpse. But she’s overdue in the murder department. The women have arrived in Arizona so that Sissy can focus on herself, and in no time she’s met the handsome, gentlemanly, church-going widower Edison. They quickly bond, and Sissy delights in her love affair with Edison as much as she enjoys imagining how she’ll kill him and where she’ll bury him. Until things change. Her desire to kill ebbs away, and her sisters grow increasingly anxious as they fear Sissy is pulling out of their agreement. A new, terrifying take on serial killers that will give fans the sleepless nights they crave.Brian Kenney
Driving to Extremes
Priya Guns. Your Driver is Waiting. February 28, 2023. 320 pages. Doubleday.
Damani Krishanthan’s life is drudgery. Her Amma, or mother, is housebound and expects to be waited on hand and foot, even leaving food all over her face for that extra touch of martyrdom. When not on Amma duty, Damani drives for an Uber-like service that’s taking an ever bigger cut of her proceeds, even her tips, as time goes by, so that she takes every customer who pops up, sleeping only at red lights. A few times in the book the character directly addresses the reader, telling us for example that the city that this story takes place in will remain nameless because cities are all the same now; the effect is to telegraph that she’s so tired that she can’t even maintain the façade of fictionality and will just talk to us, OK? The non-stop grind lifts a bit when Damani gets a cute customer, Jo, who then shows up at a club the cabbie goes to with friends. She’s unlike anyone Damani has dated, but the same is true for Jo, who is not used to being in spaces where she’s a minority, a situation with results that push Damani over the edge. This protagonist’s life is a slow-motion train crash that you won’t be able to look away from, and Guns paints a scathing portrait of the gig economy, both in literal terms and in terms of those considered a temporary novelty in relationships. A debut with shades of Elle Cosimano’s Finlay Donovan series, but also memorably and refreshingly unlike anything else.—Henrietta Verma
It's Not about the Microfilm
⭐Alan Hlad. The Book Spy. January 24, 2023. 304 pages. Kensington.
The walled-off feeling of loneliness in a crowd pervades the pages of Hlad’s piercing historical thriller. Based on a fascinating and little-known true story of World War II, the tale sees librarians from New York Public Library sent throughout Europe to gather materials published by axis powers, photograph it, and send it via microfilm (the thumb drive of its day) back to New York to aid in overthrowing Hitler. Our hero is Maria Alves, a Portuguese American who, due to her parents’ jobs as newspaper photographers, lived all over the world as a child and speaks six languages. Sent to a neutral—but still dangerous—Portugal to scour bookstores for war-relevant information, her cover is that she is working for the Library of Congress to gather materials that are in danger of being destroyed in the conflict. Under no circumstances is she to engage in spying, but that undertaking soon falls by the wayside as the extent of the horror in nearby occupied France becomes apparent. Also affected by the French occupation is Tiago Soares, a Lisbon bookseller whose Grand-père and Grand-mère in Bordeaux run an operation that smuggles Jews to Lisbon, where increasing crowds of penniless, paperless refugees await passage to the United States. Hlad’s immersive portrayal of wartime Lisbon and its inhabitants, of the loneliness caused by the terror that anybody at any time could be an informant, plus his captivating thriller/romance tale make this a must-read, especially for fans of Kate Quinn’s The Rose Code.—Henrietta Verma
A Grade-A Golden of a Cozy
⭐Andrew Shaffer. Feel the Bern. December 6, 2022. 256 pages. Ten Speed Press.
I love mysteries that feature the famous, from Walt Whitman to Dorothy Parker to Eleanor Roosevelt. But featuring a living celebrity—in this case, Bernie Sanders—is even more of a challenge, one that Shaffer succeeds at wonderfully. Gen Z intern Crash Robertson is our wisecracking intern and narrator, and after months of answering phones in the DC office—from constituents who don’t know how to text?—she gets to accompany the senator on a fall-recess trip to Vermont. By chance, they head to Eagle Creek, Crash’s hometown, and end up staying in her mother’s B&B. But what has the makings of a low-key visit with constituents, and plenty of apple griddlecakes, suddenly gets upended when Crash finds the body of the local banker floating in Lake Champlain. Crash’s running commentary on Bernie—who’s always ready to deliver a lecture on the declining honeybee population, or the cozy series he’s reading, set in a cannabis bakery in the Northwest—makes for a good part of the humor in the book. But when a second citizen goes missing, it’s time for our team to get down to work. The biggest suspect is a tech-obsessed one-percenter, think Elon Musk, who’s buying up acres of maple trees, driving out local farmers, and monopolizing maple syrup production in a move Bernie dubs “Big Maple.” Unmitigated fun for everyone, no matter where they might fall on the political spectrum. Shaffer is also the author of the Obama mysteries, Hope Never Dies and Hope Rides Again.—Brian Kenney
Extra Credit
Agatha Christie’s Latest Biographer Plumbs a Life of Mystery | The New York Times
Did Friends Who Vacationed Together for 50 Years Kill Someone?
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Henrietta Verma & Brian Kenney
Henrietta Verma & Brian Kenney @1stClueReviews

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