South African Crime (and Fabulous Fiction Firsts #479)

The Sunday Times Fiction winner Andrew Brown introduces tormented Detective Inspector Eberard Februarie, in Coldsleep Lullaby * *, an intelligent and compelling police procedural set in Stellenbosch, in the heart of South Africa's wine region. Just released in the U.S., this series opener involves the murder of a young woman in the underworld of an old university town fraught with prejudice and sexual hedonism.

Melanie Du Preez, daughter of a prominent law professor is found floating in a river. DI Eberard Februarie, recently reinstated after an emotional meltdown is called to investigate. Eberard discovers a scrapbook of lullabies that Melanie had collected over the years, which could hold a clue to unlock the case. In alternating chapters, the readers learn of the Dutch East India Company's colonization of the region in the 17th century that ultimately plays a role in the current murder. Two other victims will die in rapid succession before the volatile case is solved.

"With its lush, detailed descriptions, Brown's debut successfully captures both the beautiful landscapes and the violent textures of South Africa's racially charged history."

Cobra (an October release) by Deon Meyer - the "King of South African crime", again probes the social and racial complexities of post-apartheid South Africa. The bodies of three people are found at an exclusive guest house in the beautiful Franschhoek wine valley. Two of them were professional bodyguards, but the renowned mathematician David Adair they were protecting is nowhere to be found. Detective Benny Griessel of Cape Town's elite Hawks found spent shell cases at the crime scene bearing a chilling engraving: the flaring head of a spitting cobra, trademark of an international assassin team.

Meanwhile, a small-time pickpocket Tyrone Kleinbooi who steals to put his sister through med school, inadvertently winds up as the Cobra next target. With the help of his colleagues, Detective Benny Griessel rushes to untangle a case that only grows more complex. From Cape Town's famous waterfront to a deadly showdown on a suburban train, Cobra hurtles towards a shocking finale and someone may not make it out alive.

Needing no introduction is the latest in the award-winning series by Malla Nunn Present Darkness *. With Christmas approaching, Detective Sergeant of the Johannesburg major crimes squad, Emmanuel Cooper's much anticipated vacation plan evaporates when a white couple has been assaulted and left for dead in their bedroom. A witness identifies the attacker as Aaron Shabalala, the youngest son of Zulu Detective Constable Samuel Shabalala -- Cooper's best friend and a man to whom he owes his life.

Readers might also explore the David Bengu series by Michael Stanley; the Jacob Tshabalala series by Richard Kunzmann; and the Heat of the Sun mini television series.

* * = 2 starred reviews
* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #474 - "But mothers lie. It's in the job description.” ~ John Green

Two young women are witnesses to their mothers' murders. One of them might be a killer.

Elizabeth Little, author of 2 nonfiction books knocks it out of the park with Dear Daughter *, an "Agatha Christie meets Kim Kardashian... (a) sharp-edged, tart-tongued, escapist thriller", which Tana French praised as "The best debut mystery I've read in a long time"; and Kate Atkinson called "A really gutsy, clever, energetic read, often unexpected, always entertaining.... In the world of crime novels, Dear Daughter is a breath of fresh air."

After spending 10 years in prison for murdering her mother, former It Girl Janie Jenkins is out on a technicality. Her memory of the night in question is hazy, and there is no love lost between them, but she is determined to chase down the one lead she has on her mother's killer. As Janie makes her way (with a false identity) to an isolated South Dakota town, she discovers that even the sleepiest towns hide sinister secrets, and will stop at nothing to guard them.

On the run from a crime blogger convinced of her guilt, a suspicious police chief, maybe even a murderer, Janie must choose between the anonymity she craves and the truth she so desperately needs.

Set in the frozen tundra of rural Montana, Bone Dust White * is Karin Salvalaggio's literary mystery debut. The insistent pounding on her door brings Grace Adams to her bedroom window where she witnesses a man coming out of the woods, stabbing a woman and leaving her to die on Grace's doorstep. Before help arrives, Grace realizes the victim is her mother, Leanne who disappeared more than a decade before.

A heavily-pregnant Detective Macy Greeley is assigned to the case. She needs to track down the killer and find out what the murder has to do with Grace. But the town of Collier is just as hard-bitten now as it was 11 years ago when Macy worked a still-unsolved grisly sex-trafficking and multiple-homicide case. But no one is talking, least of all Grace, whom Macy believes knows a lot more than she's telling.

"The sharp twists, idiosyncratic characters, and vivid setting should appeal to fans of C. J. Box and Nevada Barr."

"This complicated, peel-away-layers debut procedural intoxicates from the opening page.... Recommend for fans of Archer Mayor, Gwen Florio, and Craig Johnson."

* = starred review

Stranger Danger: Sizzling Summer Reads #3 (& Fabulous Fiction Firsts #469)

This bumper crop of debut psychological thrillers would keep you chilled throughout the summer. Alright, this is a long post, but every one of these deserve your attention.

The Good Girl * by Mary Kubica
Inner-city art teacher Mia Dennett, the black-sheep daughter of a prominent Chicago judge is taken hostage after a one-night stand. The kidnapper Colin Thatcher, instead of delivering her to his employer for ransom, hides her in a secluded cabin in rural Minnesota. Gabe Hoffman, Chicago PD assigned to the case work closely with Eve, Mia's mother, to whom he finds himself increasingly attracted to. When eventually recovered, Mia has little memory of what happened to her.

"Kubica's debut thriller builds suspense steadily and will have readers guessing what's really going on until the final pages." It brings to mind Chevy Steven's smashing debut Still Missing.

From the author of the Archie Sheridan/Gretchen Lowell thrillers, One Kick * is the first in a nail-biting new series featuring 21 yr.-old Kick Lannigan, famously kidnapped when she was six, and rescued five years later. To add to her skill set (marksman, lock picker, escape artist and bomb maker) learned in captivity, Kick trained herself to be safe. When two children go missing in the Portland area, and an enigmatic and wealthy former weapons dealer approaches her with a proposition, Kick is set to be the crusader she has always imagined herself.

"A heart-stopping, entertaining thrill ride." Kick will remind readers of Lisbeth Salander as in The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.

Drawing on her own grandmother's experiences Elizabeth is Missing * by British Emma Healey, is a sophisticated psychological mystery. Maud Horsham will be the first to admit that her memory these days is shaky at best but she knows her best friend is missing and in serious danger. But no one will believe her - not her daughter and not the police. So Maud writes everything down, to help her remember clues about her missing friend, and she also writes down how she is treated. But the clues she discovers seem only to lead her deeper into her past, to another unsolved disappearance: her sister, Sukey, who vanished shortly after World War II.

"Part mystery, part meditation on memory, part Dickensian revelation of how apparent charity may hurt its recipients, this is altogether brilliant." "Fans of Alice LaPlante's Turn of Mind and S.J. Watson's Before I Go To Sleep (both FFF) will find much to love here."

An international bestseller and winner of France's prestigious Prix du Quai des Orfèvres prize for best crime fiction, The 7th Woman : a Paris homicide novel by Frédérique Molay is the first of her novels to be translated into English (also available in French in our World Language Collection).

Nico Sirsky, head of the Paris Criminal Investigation Division, known as "La Brigade Criminelle," or "La Crim", and his team of elite detectives race against the clock to solve the murders of a series of young women, all of whom opened their doors to the killer who announces his intention to kill seven women in as many days. To put added pressure on Sirsky, the killer begins to stalk those closest to him.

This series introduces to police procedural fans an endearingly tortured, hardheaded and romantic cop in the vein of Harry Bosch and John Rebus.

An Untamed State * * *, a debut by Roxane Gay is the harrowing tale of a Miami woman's ordeal of her kidnapping during a visit to her native Haiti. Beaten and sexually assaulted, she was held for 13 days while her father, a wealthy businessman, refused to pay the ransom.

"Gay's depiction of Mireille's emotional trauma after her release is particularly intense, precisely capturing her alienation from her own identity that followed the kidnapping and the self-destruction that spilled out of her sense of disconnection... Among the strongest achievements of this novel is that Mireille's story feels complete and whole while emphasizing its essential brokenness. A cutting and resonant debut."

Veteran journalist (the Washington Post) Neely Tucker dazzles with a fast-paced, newsroom investigative journalism in The Ways of the Dead * *, the first in a projected crime series that is based on the real-life 1990s Princeton Place murders.

When the teenage daughter of a powerful Washington, D.C., judge is found dead, three local black kids are arrested for her murder, but reporter Sully Carter suspects there's more to the case. From the city's grittiest backstreets to the elegant halls of power, Sully pursues a string of cold cases, all the while fighting against pressure from government officials, police, suspicious locals, and his own bosses at the newspaper.

A "wickedly entertaining story of race, crime, the law, and the power of the media."

* = starred review
* * = 2 starred reviews
* * * = 3 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #468 - " ...the rich cargo, Congealed in the dark arteries" ~ Mervyn Peake

Two debut novels set in rural northeastern Pennsylvania.

Dry Bones in the Valley * * * by Tom Bouman

After losing his wife, a bereaved Henry Farrell returns to Wild Thyme Township in rural northeastern Pennsylvania, looking to spend his mornings hunting and fishing and his evenings playing music. As the lone policeman in "a landscape wracked by fracking, poverty, meth, and a general mistrust of authority", it falls to him to investigate when the body of a young man is found in the woods owned by a reclusive old codger, and his deputy George Ellis shot dead in his car. All before Henry literally stumbles over an ancient grave that might hold the answer to the current crime spree.

First in a projected 4-book series, "Bouman's debut shows rural noir at its finest: a poetically written mystery about a man struggling with his inner demons and an area of great natural beauty few had heard of before the natural gas boom." For fans of Craig Johnson, Julia Keller, and Wiley Cash.

In The Hollow Ground by award-winning debut novelist Natalie Harnett, underground mine fires forces 11 year-old Brigid Howley and her family to seek refuge with her estranged grandparents.

Tragedy is no stranger to the Howleys, a proud Irish-American clan who takes strange pleasure in the "curse" laid upon them generations earlier by a priest. When Brigid makes a grisly discovery in a long-abandoned bootleg mine shaft, decades' old secrets threaten to prove just as dangerous to the Howleys as the burning, hollow ground beneath their feet.

Inspired by the 1960s infamous Centralia coal mine fires, and the equally devastated town of Carbondale, The Hollow Ground is an extraordinary debut with an atmospheric, voice-driven narrative and an indelible sense of place. "Not since To Kill a Mockingbird has a young character been so heartbreakingly captivating."

"A powerful story of love and survival. "

* * * = 3 starred reviews

Scary Murder Mystery – With Ghosts!

In the mood for something spooky this summer? Then give The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud a try.

This unusual murder mystery is set in an alternative England where ghosts have grown more and more active in the last few decades and Psychic Detection Agencies like Lockwood & Co. employ talented young agents to track down and destroy the sources of these hauntings. When Lucy and her fellow Lockwood & Co. agents uncover an unsolved murder while searching for the source of a haunting, they decide to solve the mystery with the help of the victim’s locket…but someone is out to make sure they never solve this case.

Full of adventure and genuinely scary encounters with ghosts, this story may be written for children but it is not for the faint of heart. Recommended for fans of Alvin Schwartz’s scary stories or older readers who enjoyed Libba Bray’s The Diviners.

Audiobook fans may also wish to check out the audiobook of The Screaming Staircase, which was named one of ALA’s Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults 2014.

Bletchley Circle

Do you love watching mysteries but feel like the genre is a little heavy handed with the male detective? If so, check out Bletchley Circle! With an extraordinary flair for code breaking and razor-sharp intelligence skills, four seemingly ordinary women become the unlikely investigators of a string of grisly murders in this original thriller, set against the backdrop of post-war London.

Season 1 introduces us to Susan. Her conventionality masks a sharp, inquisitive mind. She may appear every inch the typical 1950s wife and mother, but when she hears about a string of unsolved murders in London, Susan’s old Bletchley spirit is ignited. Secretly, Susan reconvenes the formidable foursome – bohemian and streetwise Millie; Lucy, with her brilliant photographic memory and Jean, the methodical no-nonsense organizer. A race against the clock ensues as the women work to outwit the culprit. Can they rekindle their singular expertise and discover the killer’s next move – before he strikes again?

Season 2 opens with the episode Blood on Their Hands. Former Bletchley Park girl Alice Merren is in prison awaiting trial for murder. Jean stands behind her innocence and tries to reunite the circle in an attempt to help one of their own. Lucy is now getting on well in a clerical job at Scotland Yard and keeping her head down, and Millie is working as a German translator. Susan is reluctant to get involved after the occurrences in season 1. The second episode Uncustomed Goods, Millie branches out into what she believes to be a harmless sideline of dealing in uncustomed goods. This endeavor leads to her being kidnapped and held in a seedy hotel by some gangsters. On discovering this, Alice goes to Jean and Lucy to help. The girls start to investigate in order to save their friend and, as they do so, uncover a much darker, hidden world of crime.

New York Times Bestselling Mystery Author J.A. Jance Discusses Her New Mystery 'Remains Of Innocence'

Wednesday August 13, 2014: 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm -- Pittsfield Branch: Program Room

This event will be recorded

New York Times bestselling author J.A. Jance has written the sixteenth book in her Joanna Brady series, Remains of Innocence, and she will be at AADL to talk about it!

For those of you who follow the series, you know Joanna Brady is an Arizona county sheriff. She became sheriff in an election after her husband (who was running for the election) was murdered and accused of being "dirty". After clearing his name and winning the election, although she has little background in law enforcement, Joanna continues to solve crimes with her moxie and uses being a woman excluded from the "boy's club" in her community, to her advantage.

"Remains Of Innocence" delivers all the ambiance and tension Jance’s current and future readers love, while further developing reoccurring characters and introducing unforgettable new ones.

Books will be for sale at this event, courtesy of Aunt Agatha’s Mystery Bookstore and the event includes a book signing.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #464 - The Best Crime Fiction Debuts (2014 Sizzling Summer Reads #1)

You knew about The Abomination and The Curiosity already. The following join Booklist's Best Mystery/Thriller Debuts of the year. Great chillers for the summer heat. Don't forget Summer Game 2104 starts today.

Decoded * by Jia Mai
This riveting tale of cryptographic warfare and a bestseller in China, takes us deep into the world of code breaking, and the mysterious world of Unit 701, a top-secret Chinese intelligence agency. Rong Jinzhen, an autistic math genius discovers that the mastermind behind the maddeningly difficult Purple Code is his former teacher and best friend, who is now working for China's enemy. The author's experience working in the Chinese intelligence service may have contributed to the story's realism.

The Deliverance of Evil * by Roberto Costantini
Haunted by a 24-years unsolved murder case from his early career, brash Commissario Michele Balistreri is overcome with remorse and renewed determination when the victim's mother commits suicide, in a first installment in a best-selling trilogy from Italy.

North of Boston * * by Elizabeth Elo
Surviving a fishing boat collision that ends her friend's life, Boston girl Pirio Kasparov, convinced that the incident was not an accident, is tapped to participate in a research project at the side of a journalist who helps her unravel a plot involving the frigid whaling grounds off Baffin Island.

Precious Thing * by Colette McBeth
Astonished to discover that a police press conference assignment is about her best friend from high school, television journalist Rachel endeavors to learn the fate of her missing friend before making a discovery that brings everything they once shared into question.

Shovel Ready * * by Adam Sternbergh (One of Booklist's Top 10 Crime Fiction as well as Best Crime Fiction Debuts of the year)
In this futuristic hard-boiled noir, working as a hit man on the ravaged streets of New York City after a dirty bomb is unleashed on Times Square, Spademan takes an assignment to kill the daughter of a powerful evangelist only to discover that his mark holds a shocking secret and that his client hides a more sinister agenda.

The Word Exchange * * by Alena Graedon
A dystopian novel for the digital age, when the "death of print" has become a near reality, Anana Johnson, an employee at the North American Dictionary of the English Language (NADEL), searches for her missing father and stumbles upon the spiritual home of the written world and a pandemic "word flu."

BTW...a personal favorite and a cautionary tale that is at once a technological thriller and a meditation on the high cultural costs of digital technology.

* = starred review
* * = 2 starred reviews

Move over Sherlock, a new detective is in town!

Diary of a Wimpy Kid fans should definitely check out Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis. Timmy Failure is a detective who has big ideas and is determined to be the best sleuth in town. Unfortunately, he does not seem to be particularly gifted in solving mysteries. This little detail does not stop him from thinking and saying he is. Along with Total, his polar bear sidekick, Timmy does his best to solve crime and cement his reputation as the world’s best detective agency.

The format of this book follows the popular diary format and the illustrations are brilliant visual humor. Timmy often completely distorts the truth and the truth is shown in the pictures, often with a hilarious outcome. If you enjoy Mistakes Were Made, don't miss the second installment to the Timmy Failure series, Now Look What You've Done.

Pastis is also the creator of Pearls before Swine for the slightly more mature reader.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #460

Being released the latter part of June is Everything I Never Told You * *, the deeply-affecting debut novel by Celeste Ng, a UM grad (MFA, Helen Zell Writers' Program) and recipient of the Pushcart Prize and Hopwood Award. I expect a fair amount of buzz, not just locally. (Check out Vogue's Summer's Buzziest Beach Reads).

"Lydia is dead. But they don't know this yet." - every parent's worst nightmare. All her family knows is that the 15 year-old is missing from her home. The local police treats it as a runaway while her mother refuses to accept anything other than stranger abduction of her middle and favorite child - a motivated and exceptional student, pretty, popular and well-behaved. The rest of the family is less certain and in turn, as they each reflects on the Lydia that they know and love (including Lydia herself), a fractured image emerges, casting shadows, laying bare secrets each is desperate to keep.

The narrative flashed back to 1957 in Cambridge when a premed Radcliffe freshman Marilyn Walker met James Lee, a first-generation Chinese-American who was her graduate teaching instructor. They married over her mother's objection, trading in her dreams of becoming a doctor for the anonymity of a faculty wife at a small college in nowhere Ohio where James was able to find a teaching position. Their background (his - immigrant laborers and scholarship student), (hers- single mother from the South), aspirations (his - to belong) (hers - to stand-out), and dashed dreams became means by which their children were defined and measured, but never truly understood.

"As the police try to decipher the mystery of Lydia's death, her family realize that they didn't know her at all. Lydia is remarkably imagined, her unhappy teenage life crafted without an ounce of cliché. Ng's prose is precise and sensitive, her characters richly drawn." Highly recommended as a YA crossover and book group choice.

* * = 2 starred reviews

Celeste Ng will be in Ann Arbor, July 18, 2014 @ Literati Bookstore, 124 E. Washington. Don't miss this chance to meet her. I am hoping she might touch on her take on ethnic fiction, and why she does not want to be the next Amy Tan.

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