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firstCLUE - Twenty Years Later by Charlie Donlea, The Villa by Rachel Hawkins, You Know Her by Meagan Jennett, The Mimicking of Known Successes by Malka Older, The Kind Worth Saving by Peter Swanson

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Here’s where I admit to being puzzled. I had a moment of panic on Tuesday night when I realized that the book I had just read, loved, and reviewed for firstCLUE had already been published for a year. What? WHAT. We’re not called AYearLaterClue. In a little (ok, not little) panic, I checked the usual sources: Amazon, Edelweiss, WorldCat, the publisher’s site, tea leaves, my neighbor’s cousin’s friend’s college roommate who used to work at the publisher for a while back in the ‘90s, etc., etc.
Amazon said December 2021, but I crossed my fingers in hopes that it was an overseas date. WorldCat seemed to confirm my wish, giving a 2021 date for the book’s publication in Australia and the UK and 2022 here in the U.S. Edelweiss gave a date of January 2023 (I sat up straighter) but then I saw the note, “Status: POSTPONED INDEFINITELY” (slump). Still, Amazon says they can send it to me today, and the publisher’s site also says the book is available now.
I give up! My review of Charlie Donlea’s Twenty Years Later is below. I loved the book, if not the metadata tangle. This week we’re also featuring a bartender serial killer, a cozy writer who becomes obsessed with a decades-old villa, an investigator who is in search of a missing professor—on Jupiter, and another whose client has been a murderer since high school.—Henrietta Verma

9/11 Revisited
Donlea, Charlie. Twenty Years Later. 368p. Kensington.
Crimes and investigators that could not be more different collide in Donlea’s immersive thriller. The first crime is the obscure possible suicide, possible murder of a man who’s found hanging off his balcony in the Catskills area of upstate New York on July 15, 2001, and the other the murder of thousands in downtown New York City 27 days later. The investigators are Avery Mason, a glamorous, up-and-coming TV journalist and Walt Jenkins, a burned-out, former FBI agent who’s now living in Jamaica and steadily becoming an expert on rum. Fate brings the crimes and sleuths together when, twenty years later, a stunned medical examiner finds a match to a body part from the wreckage of the World Trade Center. It’s from a woman who was under investigation for the killing of the hanged man, and Walt, who investigated that hanging in 2001, and Avery, who’s breaking the story of the 9/11 victim and hoping to prove the woman’s innocence, are pushed together (not exactly against their will, it turns out) to get to the bottom of the decades-old case. There are many twists here, both in the backgrounds of the characters and in the secrets that are revealed. The tragedy of 9/11 is not taken lightly, rather it forms a fittingly sober backdrop to the torment faced by the characters in the past and today. For a readalike, try a series character who on the surface is nothing like Walt Jenkins, but who has the same kind of rock-steady kindness and intelligence: Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie.—Henrietta Verma
Under the Umbrian Sun
Hawkins, Rachel. The Villa. January, 2023. 288p. St. Martin’s.
A double narrative, one in the present day, the other in 1974, both set in Villa Aestas on the outskirts of Orvieto, Italy. Emily, a 30-something writer of cozy mysteries, narrates the present. She’s going through a tough time: a messy divorce, writer’s block, and recovery from an awful, but undiagnosed, illness. So when Chess, her best friend since childhood, invites her to come along to the Italian villa she’s rented for six weeks, it’s a no brainer. Chess has become rich as a bestselling author of wellness/relationship books geared toward women and can easily afford an Italian villa fantasy. Villa Aestas is indeed charming, but it also has a dubious reputation, and Emily can’t help but investigate its past. It turns out that a famous rock star spent a summer there with several friends, a stay that ended in the murder of one of the men in the group. The two women in their midst fared far better; one went on to publish a horror novel that ended up a classic, while the other released a best selling album. Emily begins to recreate the narrative of that summer—through the novel, song lyrics, and documents she discovers in the villa—and becomes so obsessed that she begins a book about the summer of 1974. Chess meanwhile develops her own fascination with the murder, urging Emily to let her coauthor the book. As sinister details from the past emerge, equally disturbing revelations about the present come to light, and the two narratives begin to overlap. For fans of Lucy Foley.—Brian Kenney 
There But For the Grace of God...
⭐Jennett, Meagan. You Know Her. April 2023. 368p. MCD.
Brother and man and buddy are triggers cocked halfway,” observes Sophie Braam, weapons that men can use to defuse each other. Sophie has no such luxury, in her bartending job and simply as a woman enduring the rage and boredom induced by being “Annoyed, poked at, talked over, catcalled, groped, ignored.” Making it intolerable are the hordes of mites that Sophie knows inhabit her body, crawling invaders that almost surface when she’s pushed to the brink. The men she encounters like to push, and when one takes some wine she was saving for herself, she has no option but to kill him and remove his tongue. It gets easier, with the next victim’s corpse freezing for weeks at the back of her bar after he goes too far; before long, she’s killing men out of a kind of ennui. A cop investigating some of these crimes, which don’t appear linked and certainly aren’t thought of as a woman’s doing, is Sophie’s kindred spirit, Nora Martin. Nora, whose father is Black and mother is white, left her previous department because of exhausting racism and sexism. Where Sophie struggles with her (psychological in origin) mite infestation, Nora sees what her grandmother called haints, “people who died with questions in their mouths.” How women must work with and against the beings the world shoves in our way is this kick-to-the-face debut’s unforgettable lesson. One for fans of Byeong-mo Gu’s also-stunning The Old Woman with the Knife.—Henrietta Verma
Who Needs Earth When You've Got Jupiter?
⭐Older, Malka. The Mimicking of Known Successes. March 2023. 176p. Tordotcom.
It’s hard to pull off a novel that attempts to have equal footing in two genres—never mind three—and typically one of the genres ends up taking on a minor role. Just think of all those unrequited romances lurking in the background of crime novels, sometimes through a whole series. But The Mimicking of Known Successes, a work of speculative fiction, a traditional mystery, and a romance is a walloping success. Earth is no longer a livable planet, and humans have long been settled on a colony located on the far outskirts of Jupiter, itself a gas giant. The worldbuilding here—how can humans survive in such an inhospitable environment?—is both subtle and fascinating. Layer over that a very traditional, academic, British mystery—think Gaudy Night—add a heart-felt romance, and you have one of the most unusual mysteries of the year. Terse and reserved, Investigator Mossa is seeking a man who’s gone missing, she doesn’t buy the notion that he committed suicide. He’s an academic, so the search takes her back to her university and Pleiti, an old girlfriend who’s now a professor researching the possibility of humans returning to Earth. Together they set out to find the missing academic, save themselves from death, and maybe even help rescue Earth from a calamity. Older is the author of the Centenal Cycle Trilogy. This would be a great choice for a book group.—Brian Kenney
Committing Murder? Let Me Help
Swanson, Peter. The Kind Worth Saving. March, 2023. 320p. William Morrow. 
A sequel of sorts to the devious The Kind Worth Killing, this novel also features PI Henry Kimball, one of the more low-key but wry detectives in the business. Central to this story is Joan, one of Henry’s students from the one year he taught high school. She pops up in his life wanting him to prove that her husband is cheating on her—a bread-and-butter job for any detective—except Henry can’t quite shake the feeling that there’s more to the story than Joan is telling. As it turns out, Joan, helped out by her buddy Richard, has been a murderer since high school–it’s the only thing that really brings the friends to life–and Swanson takes us through each of the perfect murders the team has executed. By the time we get back to the present, it’s clear that there’s a whole lot more in store for Henry than he would ever have imagined. Swanson is such an adroit novelist, moving us smoothly from present to past and back again, building up the tension, stoking the anxiety, all while interjecting some perverse humor through the characters and their observations. And kudos for such a surefire depiction of the Boston suburbs. Reading the earlier book first would be slightly helpful, but this still works as a standalone. Wickedly delicious!—Brian Kenney
Extra Credit
When Your Mystery Needs a Good Murder, Call the Poison Lady
Strength of Convictions: On Dervla McTiernan’s “The Murder Rule”
Trouble Is Her Business
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Henrietta Verma & Brian Kenney
Henrietta Verma & Brian Kenney @1stClueReviews

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