1889 London is the setting for The Yard by Alex Grecian ($26.95 signed hc, $16.00 trade pb). The Metropolitan Police Force has recently designated a dozen experienced detectives as the Murder Squad, hoping to restore public confidence in the police after their failure to catch Jack the Ripper. Inspector Walter Day is new to London and new to the Squad, and he has no idea why the legendary Inspector March chose him. So when a body found in a trunk at Euston Square train station turns out to be that of a Squad detective, Day is surprised when the commissioner chooses him to head up the investigation. With backup from Inspector Blacker, an Squad veteran with a fondness for bad puns, Day begins the hunt for the killer, assisted by the astute Dr. Bernard Kingsley, self-appointed forensic pathologist for the police. Grecian has a knack for creating complex, engaging characters. Day's wife Claire is a smart upper-class woman who has quite happily "married down" and is cheerfully trying to learn to care for her husband and house without the help of a phalanx of servants. After a childhood spent working in a Welsh coal mine, Nevil Hammersmith has come to London and become a constable, working tirelessly to help make the city a safer place. Blackleg is a burglar and a villain, but determined to help Hammersmith track down the chimney sweep who left a small boy to die, slowly and horribly, stuck in a chimney. The threads of the various subplots gradually come together, and loose ends are neatly tied up. I can't wait to read The Black Country ($26.95, signed copies expected 5/28), which sees Day, Hammersmith, and Kingsley sent to help a local constable investigate after members of a prominent family disappear from a coal-mining village in the British Midlands.
Ranchero by Rick Gavin ($14.99 trade pb) takes readers on a very funny, mayhem-filled road trip. When Nick Reid got sick of being a Virginia deputy, he wound up in the Mississippi Delta - where he's not entirely at ease as a member of the white minority - working as a repo man for an excitable appliance store owner. Sent to talk to Percy Dwayne, a member of the notorious Dubois (pronounced Dew-boys) cracker clan, about payments for a flat-screen TV, Nick gets walloped with a fireplace shovel and tied up with a lamp cord, after which Percy Dwayne goes on the lam with the TV. Also Nick's wallet, Nick's cellphone, and the car Nick happened to be driving, a mint-condition calypso-coral 1969 Ranchero that was greatly beloved by his landlady's late husband. So Nick calls his best buddy Desmond, a meticulous, methodical, 350-lb. black man. Together they hit the road to track down Percy Dwayne and get the car back, traveling in Desmond's ex-wife's Geo Metro (she got the Escalade in the divorce), armed with the fireplace shovel and a shotgun loaded with rubber riot-control pellets. But retrieving the Ranchero won't be easy; it's been stolen from Percy Dwayne, ending up in the hands of a psychopathic Acadian meth kingpin. To get the car back, Nick sets out to take apart the man's operation, one meth lab at a time, with some help from Percy Dwayne, his much older nephew Luther Dubois, and a couple of cracker swamp rats who know where the labs are. The book has a refreshingly low body count - the characters may tussle, getting scuffed up or walloped with the fireplace shovel or Tasered, but our heroes don't kill anybody. Gavin mines the comic potential of the many twists of the plot, from newcomer Nick's flippant but sympathetic observations on Delta lifestyles, to Desmond's pragmatic observations about their plans, to the over-the-top hijinks of the Dubois clan and the lowbrow slapstick of the swamp rats. I'm looking forward to reading Nick and Desmond's next adventure, Beluga ($24.99 hc).
by Gerri Balter
Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear ($25.99 signed hc or $15.99 trade pb) is my favorite novel so far in the Maisie Dobbs series. It starts when a group of men who have known Maisie since childhood ask her to look into the death of Eddie, a developmentally disabled man who had a way with horses and could gentle them when no one else could. The death has been ruled an accident. Maisie is glad to immerse herself in the case, since her personal life is not going well. Her assistant, Billy, is attacked while helping her investigate. Billy's wife blames Maisie, and refuses to let her see Billy. Maisie blames herself, too, and won’t let anyone else work on the case. The truth about Eddie’s death leaves her with a dilemma of whether to tell the truth or not.
Like most people, Geraldine Porter is thrilled to meet a writer and someone who shares her interest in miniatures in Mix-up in Miniature by Margaret Grace ($15.95). When the writer is murdered after Gerry left her, Gerry tells the police that when she left, the writer was in another room arguing with her brother. But, according to the police, the writer has no brother. Gerry refuses to believe it. When she receives a doll house from the murdered woman, Gerry believes it hides a clue to the murderer. Gerry’s granddaughter is the one who finds the dollhouse’s secret, which Gerry uses to trap the killer.
Although Abby Cooper is a psychic, she doesn’t usually get involved with ghosts. That changes in A Vision of Murder by Victoria Laurie ($7.99). Thanks to her sister, Abby invests in a house that needs renovating. When she begins seeing a dead woman haunting the house, she learns that the only way to get rid of the ghost is to find out who she was and solve her murder. Her boyfriend, FBI agent Dutch Rivers, helps her, and they find out the murder has to do with a hidden treasure from World War II. But a man who will kill anyone who gets in his way is looking for the same treasure, and hoping that Abby will lead him to it. She has no idea that he’s watching her until it’s too late.
Mind Over Murder by Allison Kingsley ($7.99) begins when Clara Quinn returns home after several years and begins to work in her cousin’s bookstore while she looks for another job. When Ana Jordan is found murdered in the store, one of the store’s employees, Molly, is the prime suspect because she made no secret of disliking the victim. Clara’s cousin begs her to find out the truth because Clara has something called the Quinn Sense, a voice that tells her things. But Clara wants nothing to do with the Quinn Sense. When the whole town believes Molly is guilty, Clara tries to find out the truth without using the Quinn Sense. Even without knowing about Clara’s talent, the killer is afraid of what Clara might find out.
Fruit of All Evil by Paige Shelton ($7.99) begins with Becca Robins, who sells her farm-made jams and preserves at the local farmers’ market, helping with her best friend Linda’s wedding. She’s had plenty of experience, having been married twice. Several others who work at the farmers’ market are happy to help. What could go wrong? Let’s start with the murder of Linda’s future mother-in-law. The wedding will have to be postponed, which is bad because the groom has to leave soon for a top-secret military mission. The only way they'll be able to marry before he leaves is for Becca to find the killer, before the killer finds her.
Do you like éclairs? I do. How could they be evil, I wondered, when I saw Evil Eclairs by Jessica Beck ($7.99). Suzanne Hart is furious when a local radio personality says she is a killer for selling donuts. After she goes down to the radio station and yells at him, he is strangled and one of her éclairs is shoved down his throat. Suzanne's business is hurt by the murder, so she feels she has to find the real killer before she goes bankrupt. She finds out that she wasn’t the only one who was attacked on the air. He also embezzled money in his previous job. Then there’s his wife, who doesn’t live with him and that few people knew existed. When one of her friends is harmed, Suzanne has to decide whether it’s worth going after the killer. Unfortunately, the killer has already decided to go after her.