Fabulous Fiction Firsts #407

"Take a dollop of Alfred Hitchcock, a dollop of Patricia Highsmith, throw in some Great Gatsby flourishes, and the result is Suzanne Rinde's debut - The Other Typist, a pitch-black comedy about a police stenographer accused of murder in 1920s Manhattan.... A deliciously addictive, cinematically influenced page-turner, both comic and provocative." Now, who could resist that?

1924 Manhattan. Rose Baker, the recorder of confessions and transgressions of all sorts, is a typist in a Lower East Side precinct of the Police Department, and considers herself to be an astute judge of character. Raised by nun and seemingly destined for the solitary life of a boardinghouse, she comes under the spell of glamorous Odalie Lazare, the new girl in the typing pool who represents the epitome of the new era of relaxed mores and life on the fast lane. Soon Rose is drawn into the sparkling underworld of speakeasies, bootleggers, and elegant house parties.

It is at one such house parties that a young man turns up dead after approaching Odalie, and Rose no longer could ignore the mystery that is her friend.

"With hints toward The Great Gatsby, Rindell's novel aspires to re-create Prohibition-era New York City, both its opulence and its squalid underbelly. She captures it quite well, while at the same time spinning a delicate and suspenseful narrative about false friendship, obsession, and life for single women in New York during Prohibition."

A notable addition to the pantheon of unreliable narrators, joining the likes of The Talented Mr. Ripley. Equally sensational and tantalizing, and set in the same era is Ron Hansen's A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion, based on a true story of the affair between Ruth Brown Snyder and undergarment salesman Judd Gray, whose plot to kill Ruth's husband triggers an explosive police investigation.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #406 - The Revisionist

Having spent 10 years in Muncy, Pennsylvania's death row for women, Noa P. Singleton is resigned to the approaching "X" day - her execution for the first-degree double-murder of Sarah Dixon and her unborn child. She will be the first to acknowledge her guilt which also explains why she slept through the trial and blew off any attempt for appeals on her behalf. What she does not expect is a visit from Marlene Dixon, the high-powered Philadelphia attorney who is also the heartbroken mother of Noa's victim. It appears that Marlene has a change to heart about the death penalty and offers to help Noa petition for clemency.

Elizabeth L. Silver's (JD, Temple University) debut The Execution of Noa P. Singleton * is a "darkly witty, acerbic jigsaw puzzle about legal versus moral culpability". Neither Noa nor Marlene would win any popularity contest. Noa is a smart (she turned down Princeton), complicated and manipulative underachiever, while Marlene is a dominating, judgmental bully with a personal agenda. Long before that fateful day, Noa and Marlene are already inextricably linked through their families and circumstances, and ultimately both play a hand in the tragic outcome.

"This devastating read stands less as a polemic against the death penalty than as a heartbreaking brief for the preciousness of life". Entertainment Weekly gave it an "A-".

Read-alike: Defending Jacob by William Landay, and The Dinner by Herman Koch.

* = Starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #404

Peggy Blair, a Canadian attorney-turn-novelist opens what we anticipate to be a superb series with The Beggar's Opera *, winner of the 2012 Scotiabank Giller Prize Readers' Choice award.

On Christmas morning Inspector Ricardo Ramirez, head of the Havana Major Crimes Unit was called when fishermen found the body of a young boy last seen begging on the Malecon, and the sore subject of a heated argument between visiting Canadian policeman Mike Ellis and his estranged wife. With his wallet in the pocket of the dead boy, Ellis became the prime suspect. But Ramirez only have 72 hours to prove his case while dealing with a form of dementia, when the ghosts of the victims of his unsolved cases haunt his every step.

"The Beggar's Opera exposes the bureaucracy, corruption, and beauty of Hemingway's Havana".

The Caretaker * * by A.X. Ahmad opens Christmas week on Martha's Vineyard. With most of the summer folks gone, Ranjit Singh, a landscaper is lucky to get work as caretaker for Senator Neal's home, and saves him from crawling back to Boston to work as a grocery clerk. A broken furnace forces him to move his family into the Senator's house until 2 armed men break in, searching for something hidden among the Senator's antiqued doll collection. Forced to flee, Ranjit is pursued and hunted by unknown forces, and becomes drawn into the Senator's shadowy world. As the past and present collide, Ranjit must finally confront the hidden event that destroyed his Army career and forced him to leave India.

"Tightly plotted, action-packed, smart and surprisingly moving, The Caretaker takes us from the desperate world of migrant workers to the elite African-American community of Martha's Vineyard, and a secret high-altitude war between India and Pakistan".

"Beyond the masterfully crafted, high-adrenaline story, readers will be fascinated by Ranjit's strong Sikh faith, rarely seen in American fiction".

"Top-notch effort in the first of a promising trilogy".

* = starred review
* * = starred reviews

Dan Brown's latest novel, Inferno

Last week, Dan Brown's new novel, Inferno was released and is in hot demand. In this 476 page blockbuster, Robert Langdon, a Harvard professor whose specialty in symbology takes him to Italy to unravel the secrets of Dante's Inferno, races against time to save the world.

Dan Brown came to the public's attention in 2003 when his intriguing, provocative, controversial The Da Vinci Code broke all sorts of publishing records and is, to this day, one of the bestselling novels of all time. Ever since, he has had one #1 bestseller after another. Just two years after The Da Vinci Code was released, Brown was named one of Time Magazine's 100 Most influential People in the World.

Are you on the wait list for Inferno? Never fear, we have a list of great titles that share Brown's powerful formula of mixing history, religion, and/or literature and cryptography to tell a compelling story. Try some of these to tide you over until your number comes up.

Umberto Eco's very first novel, published in English 30 years ago, is considered a classic. In The Name of the Rose, Brother William of Baskerville, a 14th century monk, is sent to Italy to investigate seven deeply disturbing murders. Three years later, Sean Connery starred in the award-winning film version.

In The Eight (1988), Katherine Neville, tells the story of Catherine Velis, a computer pro for one of the Big Eight accounting firms. Velis is fascinated by the relationship between chess and mathematics and sets out on a dangerous quest to gather the pieces of an antique chess set, scattered across the globe. If found, the complete set will reveal a world-changing secret, which began in 1790.

Jonathan Rabb, in his popular 2001 The Book of Q, moves back and forth between sixth century Asia Minor and 20th century Croatia. Father Ian Pearse is a researcher at the Vatican Library who cannot forget his passionate affair eight years earlier with Petra. When he comes across the translation of an ancient scroll that reveals a shocking code, he returns to Bosnia (and, oh yes, Petra) to save the world from the secrets buried in the scroll.

Scrolls and diaries that beg to be decoded to reveal earth-shattering religious secrets, are at the center of The 13th Apostle (2007), by Richard and Rachael Heller. This time, the sleuths are Sabbie Karaim, a biblical scholar and ex-Israeli commando and Gil Pearson, an American cybersleuth who discover there are those who are willing to kill for this possible link to one of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

If you are too impatient for your hold for the print version of Inferno, why not try Paul Michael's dramatic narrative performance in the audiobook version?

TV Spotlight: Homeland

Are you looking for a new TV show to get sucked into? Look no further. In Showtime’s Homeland, US Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) returns home after spending eight years in Iraq as a prisoner of war, where he was found and rescued on a compound belonging to terrorist Abu Nazir. During an unauthorized mission in Iraq, CIA officer Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) was warned by an informant that an Amerian POW was “turned” by al-Qaeda, and Mathison now believes that Brody is the "turned" POW and that he's plotting an attack on the US. Thinking her superiors wouldn’t believe her and wanting immediate action, Mathison takes it upon herself to set up surveillance on Brody watching him 24/7.

The suspenseful and intense television show focuses on Brody’s reunion with his family after being MIA for so long and now being thought of as a war hero, as well as with Mathison’s obsession with finding intel on Brody. Mathison is dealing with her own mental health issues and this helps fuel her manic search for evidence.

The critically acclaimed Homeland has aired two seasons, winning a 2012 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series, as well as Outstanding Actor/Actress In A Drama Series awards for Lewis and Danes. As well as Golden Globe Awards for Best Television Series – Drama in both 2011 and 2012. A third season premieres this fall.

2013 Edgars have been announced

Last night, the Mystery Writers of America announced the winners of the 2013 Edgars, the mystery genre's most prestigious awards.

Some of the winners are:

Best Novel -- Dennis Lehane for Live by Night. Joe Coughlin, younger brother of Danny Coughlin (The Given Day, 2008) and the son of a cop, becomes a crime boss in Florida in 1926 during the Prohibition.

Best First Novel -- Chris Pavone for The Expats. Kate Moore used to be a CIA spy until she met, fell in love with, and married Dexter. Parenthood turns her off to the dangers of espionage, but her professional radar is triggered when Dexter's job moves them to Luxembourg where new friends, fellow expats, Bill and Julia, do not seem to be what they claim to be.

Best Paperback Original -- Ben H. Winters for The Last Policeman. It takes a special detective to investigate a homicide masquerading as a suicide, when an asteroid is six months away from destroying Earth. But NH investigator, Nick Palace, is no ordinary cop.

Best Fact Crime -- Paul French for Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China -- In 1937 China, the teenage daughter of a retired British consul is brutally murdered and her father refuses to rest until he finds who committed this heinous crime. French brings to edge-of-seat life, the chain of evidence in this case.

For a complete list of all the winners, please check here.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #399

Originally published in Germany in 2001, The Russian Donation * * is the first book in the Dr. Hoffmann series by Christoph Spielberg (translated by Gerald Chapple), and the 2002 winner of Germany's Friedrich Glauser Prize for Best Debut Crime Novel.

When a former patient and hospital employee Misha Chenkov shows up dead at the ER, Dr. Felix Hoffmann, physician at a Berlin teaching hospital is surprised and perplexed. He becomes suspicious when his autopsy order goes unfulfilled, the body is cremated, and hospital records simply vanished. Determined to get to the bottom of it, Hoffmann stumbles into an intricate conspiracy that reaches from the bowels of the hospital to its highest offices and puts his life at risk.

Spielberg, a physician has created a reluctant sleuth who is strong, resourceful, and "unwilling to put up with any crap". Look for future cases to follow.

For fans of Robin Cook's medical thrillers who might also enjoy Helene Tursten's Night Rounds (2012) which features Detective Inspector Irene Huss of the Violent Crimes Unit in Goteborg, Sweden.

* * = Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #395 - The Reconstructionists 2

Holly Goddard Jones's debut novel The Next Time You See Me * revisits the same terrain as in her Girl Trouble (2009), a collection of eight "beautifully written, achingly poignant, and occasionally heartbreaking stories" set in a small Kentucky town.

When middle-school teacher Susanna could not reach her hard-drinking, unpredictable older sister Ronnie, and the rotten take-out food cartons and other alarming signs in her apartment fail to convince the local police to treat it as a missing person's case, she has to turn to Tony, a failed athlete returning to his home town as a detective.

Socially awkward 13 year-old Emily, an easy target for 7th grade bullies, takes refuge in a stretch of deserted woods and stumbles onto a gruesome scene she decides to keep to herself.

Downtrodden Wyatt, is a factory worker tormented by a past he can't change and by a love he doesn't think he deserves. Connected in ways they cannot begin to imagine, their stories converge in a violent climax that reveals not just the mystery of what happened to Ronnie but all of their secret selves.

"Jones' well-crafted tale captures small-town nuances while exploring the individual psychologies of her characters and their struggles".

"In the vein of Gone Girl,...Jones' tightly written Southern thriller will be one of spring's sizzling titles. Jones brilliantly weaves together story lines from unexpected angles. Her writing is fluid and she keeps a pace that will have readers lacing on their running shoes. And what a suspenseful, emotional, addictive run it is! "

Enough said. A must-read this spring.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #394 - The Reconstructionists

One of the most common causes of accidental death in America (right behind motor vehicle crashes) is falls (almost 15,000/year). There is grief but sometimes searching for the why and the how are all the more consuming for those left behind.

In Kimberly McCreight's debut Reconstructing Amelia (earning a "Grade A" from Entertainment Weekly), suspended for cheating at Grace Hall, a prestigious private school in Park Slope, Brooklyn, Kate Baron's daughter Amelia has apparently leapt from the roof by the time Kate arrives to pick her up. Then Kate gets an anonymous text message saying, "Amelia didn't jump".

A single mother juggling a demanding legal career, Kate is rocked with guilt and refuses to reconcile the out-of-character accusations leveled at the over-achieving, well-behaved Amelia. She searches through Amelia's e-mails, texts, and Facebook updates, piecing together the last troubled days of her daughter's life.

"This stunning...page-turner brilliantly explores the secret world of teenagers, their clandestine first loves, hidden friendships, and the dangerous cruelty that can spill over into acts of terrible betrayal". A great YA crossover, and readalike for Mathilda Savitch by Victor Lodato.

This one, I liked a lot - Swimming at Night by Lucy Clarke.

"People go traveling for two reasons: because they are searching for something, or they are running from something". Katie's world is shattered by the news that her headstrong and bohemian younger sister, Mia, has been found dead at the bottom of a cliff in Bali, apparently a suicide, while on an impromptu around-the-world trip. With only the entries in Mia's travel journal as her guide, Katie leaves her sheltered life in London to retrace the last few months of her sister's life, and to uncover the mystery surrounding her death.

"Weaving together the exotic settings and suspenseful twists, Swimming at Night is a fast-paced, accomplished, and gripping debut novel of secrets, loss, and forgiveness".

"A great read for fans of smart contemporary women's fiction as well as thriller and mystery readers". Comparisons are inevitable with Rosamund Lupton's Sister.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #393

Named Book of the Year 2011 by The Economist, The Afrika Reich * is "remarkable for the plot that is clever, imaginative ... wholly unexpected. In a crowded field, (it) stands out as a rich and unusual thriller, politically sophisticated and hard to forget ".

Debut novelist Guy Saville (blog) will hold you in suspense as he spins a tale of an alternate world where a victorious Nazi Germany sets its sight on Africa.

After the "Dunkirk Fiasco", a humiliated Britain under Prime Minister Lord Halifax, signed a non-agression pact with Hilter for peace in Europe and to bring her POWs home. 1952, Africa. The swastika flies from the Sahara to the Indian Ocean. The SS enslaves the native populations and threatens the ailing British colonies. At the helm reigns the architect of Nazi Africa Germany - Walter Hochburg, the psychopathic governor-general of Kongo.

Burton Cole, a retired assassin is hired to eliminate Hochburg. He is motivated less so by the huge purse that would save his little farm, than by a personal score to settle. But when his mission turns to disaster, Cole realizes his small team of mercenaries has been betrayed, and they might not make it out alive.

"Saville gets everything right - providing suspenseful action sequences, logical but enthralling plot twists, a fully thought-through imaginary world, and characters with depth."

"A skin-of-the-teeth escape at the end foreshadows a series." Book 2 (2014) and Book 3 are sure things. The waiting is the tough part.

Fans of alternative history would also enjoy In War Times by Kathleen Ann Goonan (you would love this one if you are a jazz fan as well); The Plot Against America by Philip Roth; and Hitler's Peace by Philip Kerr.

* = starred review

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