Fabulous Fiction Firsts #491 - “I've always wanted to play a spy, because it is the ultimate acting exercise. You are never what you seem.” ~ Benedict Cumberbatch

Called "one of the best and most compulsively readable spy-fiction debuts in years", one-time China correspondent for the BBC, Adam Brookes' debut Night Heron * * relocates the traditional Cold War thriller to modern China.

The novel opens with an edge-of-your-seat escape from a remote high-security Chinese labor camp. Prisoner 5995 was once a promising engineer, imprisoned for impulsively attacking a soldier during the Tiananmen Square protests. Back in Beijing, he (code name Peanut) is desperate to renew the deal with UK intelligence in passing along technology secrets, and mistakes British journalist Philip Mangan for an undercover operative who reluctantly, is drafted into the world of espionage. Navigating not only between their two governments, but also round the opaque American intelligence agenda, Mangan and Peanut find themselves running for their lives.

"Fans of the international espionage genre will inhale this fast tale in a few suspenseful breaths. Brookes uses multiple narrators - the spy, the engineer, the journalist, the agent, the boss, whose conflicting alliances tell the real story."

The Madness of July by James Naughtie is an "explosive, brilliantly written spy novel".

Set over the course of 6 sweltering days in 1976, an American spy is found dead, stuffed into a cupboard in the House of Commons. In his pocket is Will Flemyng's phone number. A former MI6 operative who is now a rising star in the Foreign Office, and tapped for the U.S. ambassadorship, Will is forced to return to his old craft in order to safeguard some of the most sensitive secrets of his government. In the meantime, Will and his 2 brothers with hearts set on vacation in the Scottish Highlands, are confronted with interlocking mysteries that involves family secrets and a cold crime case. Clever readers will sense early on that these threads are part of a single web.

"Unlike thrillers that focus on spycraft, this debut novel from a British political affairs journalist (The Washington Post and The Guardian) digs into the psychology of secrets hidden in the crevices between diplomacy and espionage."

"For mood and atmosphere, Alan Furst's novels come to mind and for tension and pace, think of the British TV series MI-5."

* * = 2 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #489 -“Perhaps it's impossible to wear an identity without becoming what you pretend to be.”~ Orson Scott Card, Ender's Game

In The Distance, a "dark, ultra-contemporary and relentlessly paced debut thriller by Helen Giltrow, a London socialite, desperate to put some distance from her criminal past must contend with the outrageous demand of a hit man.

Behind the closed door of her sleek, high-security London apartment, Charlotte Alton is Karla - who, with a few keystrokes and for the right price, could make anyone disappear. The only mistake she'd ever made in an otherwise perfect career is revealing her face to a man named Simon Johanssen, an ex-special forces sniper turned killer-for-hire. Now, after a long absence, Johanssen has resurfaced with a job, and he needs Karla's help. This time - to take out an inmate inside an experimental prison colony, against impossible odds.

"Written in stylish, sophisticated prose, The Distance is a tense and satisfying debut in which every character, both criminal and law-abiding, wears two faces, and everyone is playing a double game."

"The graphic violence and torture has this thriller bordering on horror, like the work of Chelsea Cain, so be forewarned that it is not for the squeamish."

Gangsterland * * * by Tod Goldberg. Like Karla, Sal Cupertine, legendary hit man for the Chicago Mafia, has only made one mistake in his line of work, but it is a big one - killing 3 undercover FBI agents in a botched sting operation. To stay alive, he agrees to "the family's" radical idea. After a few surgeries and some intensive studying, Rabbi David Cohen is born, spouting quotes from the Torah or the Old Testament, leading a growing congregation in Las Vegas, and overseeing the temple and the new cemetery - a convenience both as a money and body-laundering scheme for the Mob. Meanwhile, a rouge FBI agent is on his trail, seeking vengeance for the murder of his three fellow agents.

"(W)ickedly dark and funny, Gangsterland (is) a morality tale set in a desert landscape as ruthless and barren as those who inhabit it."

"Sal's transformation and intermittent edification into Rabbi Cohen is brilliantly rendered, and Goldberg's careening plot, cast of memorably dubious characters, and mordant portrait of Las Vegas make this one of the year's best hard-boiled crime novels."

* * * = 3 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #480

The Frozen Dead * * by Bernard Minier is the U.S. release of an international best-seller set in the French Pyrenees. Saint-Martin-de-Comminges is a remote small town, reached only by cable car, where winters are harsh and the wind relentless. On a brisk snowy morning, workers arriving for seasonal service of the hydroelectric power station discover a horrific scene - a headless, flayed body of a horse is suspended from the edge of a frozen cliff.

The charismatic, Latin-quoting Commandant Martin Servaz of nearby Toulouse is called on to investigate this priority case since the Thoroughbred belongs to non-other than Eric Lombard, CEO of a multinational company and member of a very influential family with strong political ties to the area.

Just a few miles away on that same day, Diane Berg a young psychiatrist from Geneva starts her first job at the Wargnier Institute, a high-security asylum for the criminally insane. Uneasy with the unorthodox methods used on the patients/prisoners and some alarming behavior among the staff, Dr. Berg teams up with Commandant Servaz when DNA from one of the most notorious inmates (think Hannibal Lecter) of the asylum is found on the horse carcass.

"Complex, fast-paced, and completely absorbing. "

"The pervasiveness of evil in this tense and disturbing novel makes for very compelling reading, with the suspense bordering on horror. It should appeal to those who enjoyed Pierre Lemaitre's Alex (2013) as well as the edgier Scandinavian thrillers."

* * = starred review

Secret Agent Training Center

Monday April 6, 2015: 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm -- Downtown Library: Multi-Purpose Room

This event is intended for grades K - 8

Find out what it takes to be a spy at Super Secret Spy School!

Learn techniques and strategies employed by the sneakiest of spies for carrying secrets, mastering disguises, and writing in code.

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 #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

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #462 "There is no terror so consistent, so elusive to describe, as that which haunts a spy in a strange country" ~ John le Carré

One of the hottest titles this summer - I am Pilgrim * * * by Terry Hayes, a debut espionage thriller, and "a breakneck story reminiscent of John le Carré and Robert Ludlum at their finest."

A young boy watches as his father is publicly beheaded in the blistering heat of a Saudi Arabian public square.

In Damascus, a notorious Syrian biotech expert is found eyeless in a junkyard.

When a young woman is murdered in a seedy hotel near Ground Zero, lying face down in a pool of acid, teeth missing and fingerprints gone, NYPD homicide detective Ben Bradley calls in his long time friend, a retired, reclusive CIA operative to join the investigation. Code named Pilgrim, he immediately recognizes these techniques as ones pulled directly from his book, a cult classic of forensic science, written under a pen name. What follows is a thriller that jockeys between astonishingly detailed character study and breakneck globetrotting, pitting Pilgrim against an adversary known only as the Saracen who has devoted his life in service to jihad. His ultimate weapon - a synthesized fast-acting form of the smallpox virus that cannot be stopped. His target - the continental US.

The inevitable encounter between Pilgrim and the Saracen will come in Turkey, around the murder of a wealthy American, in a thrilling, twisting, beautifully orchestrated finale.

"Two psychos enter, and one psycho leaves. Good entertainment for readers with a penchant for mayhem, piles of bodies and a lethal biochemical agent or two."

Debut novelist Terry Hayes began his career as a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald, and a foreign correspondent in the US during Watergate. He is also a screenwriter and producer.

* * * = 3 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #458

Julia Dahl, a reporter for CBS News and the New York Post specializing in crime and criminal justice impresses with her debut Invisible City *. A solid good read for fans of Gillian Flynn, Cara Hoffman and Laura Lippman. (Check out the New York Times Sunday Book Review).

Twenty-something Rebekah Roberts thinks herself lucky to be hired on as a stringer for the New York Tribune, a daily tabloid. On a brutal winter's evening, she is sent to cover a story at a Brooklyn scrap yard where the body of a woman, head shaved and naked is found. Before the identity of the victim could be established, the body is carried off and quickly buried without an autopsy. She is shocked by the NYPD's lackadaisical handling of the case and its reluctance to cross the ultra-orthodox Hasidic community, even at the risk of letting a killer get away with murder.

There is also a personal reason for Rebekah to keep pursuing the story. She is drawn to this cloistered world of the Hasidic community, hoping to find out more about her mother who abandoned her as an infant to return to her Hasidic roots. Then she crosses path with a rogue detective who knows her mother, arranges for Rebekah to interview persons close to the victim, and presses her to get at the truth. "As Rebekah wades deeper into her mother's world, she finds both brutal truths and a society that eschews outsiders."

"This novel is particularly notable for its combination of a skillfully wrought, increasingly suspenseful mystery populated by well-drawn characters and a deeply sympathetic understanding of a contemporary culture that remains insular for its own understandable reasons."

The explosive conclusion clearly anticipates a sequel. Can't wait.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #456

The darling of the 2012 Frankfurt Book Fair that inspired frenzied bidding, already a bestseller in Europe, The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair * will soon be released in the US (translated from the French by Sam Taylor), and destined to be one of this year's hottest summer read. (Also available in the original in the World Language Collection).

Joël Dicker, the 28 year-old Geneva-based author sets this charming whodunit in an idyllic seaside village in New Hampshire, having spent his childhood summers in New England.

On August 30, 1975, Nola Kellergan 15, was reported by a neighbor fleeing through the Somerset (NH) woods never to be seen again. The narrative picks up in 2008, when Marcus Goldman, a successful young novelist suffering from extreme writer's block, seeks advice from Harry Quebert, his good friend and mentor, and one of the country's most respected writers. Snooping around in Harry's home office in Somerset, Marcus comes across material links between Harry and the missing Nola. Just days after, a landscaper finds Nola's remains in Harry's yard.

As the national media convicts Harry, Marcus launches his own investigation, following a trail of clues literary and tangible, teasing out sordid small-town secrets in an attempt to save Harry, his own writing career, and eventually maybe himself.

The winner of three French literary prizes, including the Grand Prix du Roman from the Académie Française, and was a finalist for the Prix Goncourt, The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair is a "fast-paced, tightly plotted, cinematic literary thriller".

Film rights sold to Warner Bros. Variety reports that Ron Howard will direct.

* = starred review

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