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firstCLUE - Waste of a Life by Simon Brett, The Survivalists by Kashana Cauley, Such Pretty Flowers by K. L. Cerra, Murder Book by Thomas Perry

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Every title in this week’s issue surprises in some way. From a book that delves deeply into family—with just the slightest of nods to crime—to a debut that features a group of survivalists in Brooklyn, of all places, we are reminded of the incredible creativity and vast disparities in crime fiction. Even the Southern gothic gets a breathe of fresh air…and some carnivorous plants.
Enjoy and see you next week.
Brian Kenney

Unhappy in Its Own Way
⭐Simon Brett. Waste of a Life (The Decluttering mysteries, 3). December 6. 192 pages. Severn.
What do you remember most about a Simon Brett novel? The characters. Brett, a genius at writing traditional mysteries, has created several series over the years, all based on personalities that draw readers back again and again. These days, Brett has two series in the works, the long-standing Fethering mysteries—featuring two sort-of best friends in a very English village—and a newer series featuring professional declutterer Ellen Curtis. Having a declutterer as your protagonist is inspired: they allow for easy access into other people’s lives—through their stuff—whether those people are dead or alive. Here, Ellen has been hired to work with Cedric Waites, an octogenarian who hasn’t left the house since his wife died years ago. Yes, there are mountains of empty frozen-dinner containers, but Ellen is slowly making headway with Cedric. Only to find him, one day, dead. And not just dead, but likely murdered, with Ellen one of the suspects. The novel goes deeply into Cedric’s past, marriage, and his dealings with his awful son and even worse daughter-in-law. But more compelling is Ellen and her relationships with her two adult children, both of whom are deeply troubled, and both of whom end up moving home at some point. The publisher describes this as a light-hearted mystery. It’s not. It’s actually a darn good novel about families—the good, the bad, and the ugly—set against a murder inquiry.—Brian Kenney
But it's an Artisanal Bunker
⭐Cauley, Kashana. The Survivalists. January 10, 2023. 288 pages. Soft Skull Press.
Ready for something completely different? This brilliantly odd and unexpected tale sees striving corporate lawyer Aretha go on—finally!—a great date, one that doesn’t end with her crawling out the bar’s bathroom window to escape (yes, she has) or wondering mid date if she’s already dead. Aaron does arrive in the bar looking like he “[chops] wood for a living right there in the middle of Brooklyn,” but that’s not so unusual for the area. What is unusual is that he’s part of the “dead parents club.” His mom died of cancer while Aretha’s were gored by deer, but her past dates have made her less choosy. This might be why Aretha tries to chalk it down to individuality when she finds that Aaron and his housemates have built a bunker in their garden to keep safe when the world is destroyed, eat only optimized protein soy bars, and own guns (not just a few). As Aretha drops further into this bizarro world, into crime, and away from Aaron, the sadness underneath the spectacle shows itself: this tale is about the rot that sets in when you sell something that doesn’t belong to you. Plagiarism features, with housemate James a perpetrator and Aretha, in a separate event, a victim, but even worse is Aretha and Aaron selling versions of themselves that can never be. A must-read debut.Henrietta Verma
When Botanicals Go Bad
K. L. Cerra. Such Pretty Flowers. February 7, 2023. 336 pages. Bantam.
A little bit of a mystery, a whole lot of a thriller, and definitely a Savannah gothic, this novel is 100 percent guaranteed to creep you out. Holly and Dane are close as brother and sister, but when Dane starts having psychological problems in his final semester of college, Holly pulls back. After all, Dane now has Maura, his girlfriend who he has moved in with and who is taking care of him. But when Dane dies from suicide—he actually tried to disembowel himself—Holly spirals into a guilt-induced depression. “Get it out of me,” reads Dane’s last text to his sister. To understand what happened to Dane, Holly seeks out the mysterious and beautiful Maura, a florist obsessed with carnivorous plants and harnessing the power of botanicals. From stalking Maura to rooming with her to surrendering to her erotic powers, Holly realizes that if she doesn’t solve the mystery of what Maura did to Dane, then she will be forced to reenact it, with the same tragic results. A steamy f/f romance. Gothic vibes. A love story gone terribly wrong. Carnivorous roses. Get this title on Booktok!—Brian Kenney
Midwestern Noir
Thomas Perry. Murder Book. January 17, 2023. 420 pages. Mysterious Press.
It’s no wonder Harry Duncan’s ex-wife, Ellen, a U.S. Attorney, calls him when her cases need some extrajudicial help. Former cop Harry is an expert at getting himself into trouble—just the kind that suits his investigations—and getting back out, with each leg of the journey equally satisfying. His current murder book, or record of a crime investigation, opens when Ellen asks him to hit the road on her behalf to look into what might be a new criminal organization setting itself up in Indiana. Arriving in Parkman’s Elbow, a town identified as one focus of the possible gang, Harry stops for lunch, the action finds him immediately, and his combination MacGyver/James Bond maneuvers are decidedly ON. The investigation often takes a back seat as readers get lost in Harry’s vigilante moves—defeating bumbling bad guys in ways that ridicule them, saving a woman the gang is trying to extort—and his smart evasion and tracking methods. But the case is almost beside the point when such exciting chases and devastating put-downs of criminals are on the menu. Would the police really ignore the wild things Harry does? Probably not, but you won’t care. One for a late-night binge.Henrietta Verma
Extra Credit
The Mysterious Case of Inspector Maigret | The New Yorker
Bouchercon 2022: Anthony Award Nominees & Winners | Criminal Element
Deanna Raybourn: On Writers and (Characters) of a Certain Age | CrimeReads
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Henrietta Verma & Brian Kenney
Henrietta Verma & Brian Kenney @1stClueReviews

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