Abir Mukherjee’s sweeping, emotional and epic Hunted proves the terrorism thriller isn’t dead.
Abir Mukherjee’s sweeping, emotional and epic Hunted proves the terrorism thriller isn’t dead.
A Black woman discovers the internet’s latest obsession dead in her vacation home in Missing White Woman. Plus, excellent new entries from Will Thomas, Anne Hillerman and Jean-Luc Bannalec in this month’s Whodunit column.
A Black woman discovers the internet’s latest obsession dead in her vacation home in Missing White Woman. Plus, excellent new entries from Will Thomas, Anne Hillerman and Jean-Luc Bannalec in this month’s Whodunit column.
May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month! In honor of the occasion, we’ve gathered four mysteries by AAPI authors. Book clubs will love digging in to these suspenseful reads.
May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month! In honor of the occasion, we’ve gathered four mysteries by AAPI authors. Book clubs will love digging in to these suspenseful reads.
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Jane Bettany takes readers back to the quaint English village of Merrywell in her charming second Violet Brewster mystery.

Merrywell is abuzz: the town is readying for its first literary festival, and bestselling author Leonie Stanwick has agreed to appear as the marquee speaker. A successful romance writer, Leonie was born and raised in Merrywell but left shortly after she turned 18.  

Former journalist Violet Brewster interviews Leonie in front of a sold-out audience to kick off the festival. But when Violet discovers a woman’s body just hours later, she realizes Leonie’s return may have stirred up dangerous memories among the Merrywell residents. Violet quietly launches her own investigation, refusing to let someone get away with murder.

Bettany’s pacing is truly perfect in Murder at the Book Festival. This cozy mystery moves fast but still hits all the right notes with unerring precision, revealing clues and surprises at ideal moments. Bettany offers up a slew of convincing suspects—Was the murder committed by a scorned family member or former friend? Jilted lover or aggrieved employee?—to keep readers guessing. The book festival provides an interesting backdrop to murder, as there’s a lot at stake for the event organizers and local businesses. Plus, it offers a large pool of suspects: All the attendees are potential killers.

Violet is an engaging heroine, too. She’s smart, compassionate and deeply relatable, especially when balancing the attention of her just-returned ex-husband and her new love interest, Matthew. Violet cares about her new home of Merrywell, and her burgeoning relationships with Matthew and Leonie are a high point of the novel.

Murder at the Book Festival is a fun, fast-paced mystery with lots for readers to enjoy.

The fun, fast-paced Murder at the Book Festival hits all the right cozy notes with unerring precision.

Fans of Alex Michaelides’ bestselling thrillers The Silent Patient and The Maidens will be delighted that he’s returned with another notably unreliable narrator: Elliot Chase, a playwright who takes the famous Shakespeare quote “All the world’s a stage” quite literally in The Fury, a tantalizing slow burn murder mystery told as a play in five acts.

As befits an artist of his ilk, Elliot has a flair for the dramatic and an enthusiasm for gossipy speculation. When it comes to his own motivations, however, he is far more elusive—slippery, even—thanks to childhood wounds never fully acknowledged or healed, and present-day jealousies he attempts to stifle, with mixed results.

In The Fury, he has readers’ undivided attention, and he’s going to unapologetically enjoy it. “And before you accuse me of telling my story in a labyrinthine manner, let me remind you this is a true story—and in real life, that’s how we communicate, isn’t it?” Perhaps . . . or this is just a sly form of obfuscation from a seasoned dramatist. After all, he plainly states, “We are all the unreliable narrators of our own lives.”

Elliot’s best friend, movie megastar Lana Farrar, owns a remote Greek island named Aura. She hosts Elliot, her husband and son, and her longtime stage actress friend, Kate, for a luxurious Easter holiday. But Aegean winds known as “the fury” batter the island and cut them off from civilization for the duration of the storm. It is then that one of them is murdered, and all of them become suspects.

The British Cypriot Michaelides has cited Greek mythology and Agatha Christie as important influences; in The Fury he draws on elements of both as he creates a darkly immersive atmosphere rife with creeping dread, heightened passion and numerous dubious alibis. There is plenty of paranoid suspense, too, in this inventive take on a locked-room mystery that reminds us people are far more complex than they seem to be—or we would like them to be—for better or (murderously) worse.

Alex Michaelides blends Greek mythology and Agatha Christie to tantalizing effect in The Fury.
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Ilium

As Lea Carpenter’s Ilium opens, the unnamed narrator feels not unlike an actor in a play: “I had no sense of what scene would come next, but as each scene evolved, I could start to see the way I would handle it. . . . It never occurred to me that the life you have is only in part the life you choose, because the moment you start to think you know what’s coming next, that’s when lightning strikes, shatters those windows, and rain starts to pool on the floor.” This is a heavy thought for a 21-year-old who has just wed a man 33 years her senior, and she will come to find out it is deeply portentous. Her new husband is a man of many secrets, not the least of which is that he is grooming her for a major role in a joint CIA-Mossad operation, a task she had been chosen for well before their “chance” meeting and subsequent engagement and marriage. All that said, Ilium is not merely an espionage novel, although there is a certain amount of subterfuge, to be sure. It is rather a story of relationships in which the good guys are neither especially good nor especially bad, and pretty much the same can be said for the bad guys. Ferreting out the truth of who someone truly is must be secondary to achieving the operation’s desired outcomes, and “therein,” noted the Bard, “lies the rub.” Ilium is a masterful literary novel posing as a spy novel, and succeeds brilliantly on both levels.

Northwoods

There’s precious little bucolic woodland ambience to be found in Northwoods, Amy Pease’s debut mystery set in Shaky Lake, a resort town in northern Wisconsin. Sheriff’s Deputy Eli North is plagued by a host of debilitating issues that date back to his military service in Afghanistan. He is about as beaten down as a man can be, yet he still possesses some sparks that make the reader root for him. As the tale begins, Eli is well on his way toward being drunk. He receives a call about a noise disturbance at a lakeside cabin and stumbles (almost literally) upon the lifeless body of a teenage boy. Murder is somewhat outside the purview of a rural sheriff’s department, so when it is discovered that a teenage girl has gone missing as well, the sheriff—who just so happens to be Eli’s mother—calls in the FBI to investigate. The winding road to the crime’s solution involves everyone’s favorite boogeyman, Big Pharma, and touches on the tension between townies and wealthy “summer people.” I strongly hope that Eli will be afforded a sequel or 10, and that he will find his way back to something resembling a normal life.

Two Dead Wives

It is unsurprising, I suppose, that a spate of recent crime novels have been set during the first COVID-19 lockdown. You would think that time would be the perfect milieu for a locked-room mystery, but Adele Parks’ Two Dead Wives is anything but. Once upon a time, there was a woman named Kylie Gillingham. Somewhere along the way, she took on two identities—one named Kai, one named Leigh (Ky-Lie, get it?)—married two different men and lived two separate lives. Now, she has been missing for two weeks. Statistically, that suggests she is dead, and conventional wisdom pegs the husband as the likely perpetrator. But which husband? One is currently in lockdown in his London apartment, and the other has done a runner to his native Netherlands. Meanwhile, a separate narrative unfolds about a woman named Stacie Jones, who is recovering at her dad’s seaside cottage after surgery to remove a brain tumor. She has lost a lot of her memory post-operation and, naturally, that suggests that a key to an important lock or two is buried somewhere in her mind. The investigators—one by the book, the other impetuous—play off one another well, and the two-pronged storyline is bound to engage fans of twisty thrillers and police procedurals alike.

Where You End

Where You End, Abbott Kahler’s debut novel, reads like the work of a seasoned writer. There is a reason for this: She has published a number of works of historical nonfiction as Karen Abbott, and boasts an Edgar Award nomination for Best Fact Crime for The Ghosts of Eden Park. As her first thriller begins, Katherine “Kat” Bird is not at all sitting in the catbird seat. She barely survived a car accident a couple of weeks back, and her memory has virtually been erased. She can form sentences and understand when people talk to her, but the only person she recognizes is her twin sister, Jude. Jude is Kat’s mirror twin—she parts her hair on the other side from Kat; her dimple shows up in the opposite cheek when she smiles. Slowly, Jude brings Kat up to date on the events that helped shape their lives for better and for worse: their father’s disappearance when they were young, their mother’s death, their post-high school backpacking trip to Europe. But there are nagging inconsistencies in Jude’s narrative. As Kat learns more about herself and as bits of memory fall into place, she begins to harbor doubts that Jude is being truthful. Couple this with newfound evidence of her own propensity for (and expertise at) violence, and Kat is shaken to her core. However much Kat thinks she knows, however much she is able to relearn, there is one person who knows her better: Jude, for better or worse. Don’t miss this scary, tense and provocative thrill ride!

Abbott Kahler’s debut thriller delights our mystery columnist, plus Lea Carpenter’s latest literary espionage novel impresses.

By the time she was 12, Ámbar Mondragón knew how to treat bullet wounds. When she turned 13, her father, Victor, gave her a sawed-off shotgun plus shooting and hot-wiring lessons. And as Nicolás Ferraro’s My Favorite Scar opens, 15-year-old Ámbar is tending to her father’s latest injury: He’s returned from a night out with a bullet hole in his upper chest and his murdered friend Giovanni’s body in the passenger seat of his car.

To Ámbar, this horrifying turn of events isn’t all that shocking. Rather, it’s just another terrible moment in the life she’s lived since the age of 9, when Grandma Nuria, who cared for Ámbar after her mother abandoned her, had a fatal heart attack. Dad came to get her, and Ámbar since adjusted to an existence rife with violence and loneliness, one where she wonders if she’ll ever feel happy or secure. After all, while the titular “favorite scar” refers to Dad’s tattoo bearing her name, “He might carry my name on his skin, but he never held me in his arms. He chose my name, but he was never around until he didn’t have any other choice.”

Now, Ámbar has to tag along as Dad embarks on a singularly vicious road trip, determined to exact bloody revenge on those who betrayed him and Giovanni. My Favorite Scar is a nihilistic road novel of unrelenting bleakness that takes readers on a hair-raising tour of Argentina’s criminal underworld. The duo stop at bars, burial sites and hideout shacks where Dad delivers interrogations, warnings and beatings as Ámbar plays lookout or getaway driver, often with sawed-off shotgun in hand.

As in Cruz, his first novel translated into English, Ferraro explores the effects of criminals’ choices on children who become unwitting and/or unwilling accomplices. His deftly created suspense builds with every mile driven, every fake ID used, every drop of blood spilled. Will the cycle of violence ever end? Will Ámbar ever be anything but “what other people have left behind”? My Favorite Scar is a pitch-black coming-of-age tale that reverberates with oft-poetically expressed pain and sadness—and maybe, just maybe, a hint of hope.

Nicolas Ferraro’s My Favorite Scar is a nihilistic, hair-raising road trip through Argentina’s criminal underworld.
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Rachel Hawkins’ The Heiress is a riveting, juicy romp set in Ashby House, a 15-bedroom mansion in the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina that is home to several generations of the McTavish family. As in her previous thrillers The Villa, The Wife Upstairs and Reckless Girls, Hawkins excels in examining how the trappings of excessive wealth can launch dysfunction into hyperdrive. 

After growing up in Ashby House, Cam McTavish desperately tried to flee this fate, and has been living an unassuming life as an English teacher in Colorado with his wife, Jules. Although he has left his inherited fortune mostly untouched, he still owns Ashby House, and after the death of his uncle, Cam is summoned back to the mansion, which is desperately in need of repairs. The couple is greeted by Cam’s Aunt Nelle and her entitled grandchildren, Ben and Libby—all of whom resent the fact that Cam owns the house they live in. He’s seen as a double interloper, as his late mother, Ruby, adopted him at age 3. 

At the center of the story is Ruby, who was abducted at age 3 and found months later living with a family in Alabama. Her life has been tumultuous ever since; as an adult, she earned the moniker “Mrs. Kill-more,” having married and left behind “a pile of dead husbands.” Hawkins delivers this narrative in a series of letters written by Ruby shortly before her death, which have just the right amount of devilishly delicious black humor—a delicate balance that’s hard to achieve. 

One of the great delights of this thriller is the carefully crafted way that Hawkins allows the plot—along with the rich, twisted family history—to unfold. She uses old news accounts, emails and chapters narrated by both Cam and Jules, along with Ruby’s letters. Hawkins seamlessly intertwines all these different modes of storytelling while deftly hinting at the many secrets harbored within the walls of Ashby House. 

When Cam turned 18, Ruby gave him a watch inscribed “Time Brings All Things To Pass.” Indeed it does, and in The Heiress, the twists, turns and betrayals just keep coming, all guided by Hawkins’ skilled hand. The resulting suspense will be quickly devoured and long enjoyed.

In The Heiress, the twists, turns and betrayals just keep coming, all guided by Rachel Hawkins’ skilled hand.
STARRED REVIEW

Our Top 10 books of January 2024

Jami Attenberg’s guide to writing, Derek B. Miller’s World War II art heist and Abbott Kahler’s thriller debut are among January’s top reads.
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Recent Features

Recent Reviews

Jami Attenberg’s guide to writing, Derek B. Miller’s World War II art heist and Abbott Kahler’s thriller debut are among January’s top reads.
STARRED REVIEW

Our Top 10 books of December 2023

This month’s top titles include a chilling historical mystery from Ariel Lawhon and a ripsnorting true crime collection from Douglas Preston.
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Recent Features

Recent Reviews

This month’s top titles include a chilling historical mystery from Ariel Lawhon and a ripsnorting true crime collection from Douglas Preston.
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The Final Curtain

For those of you who have followed Keigo Higashino’s Kyoichiro Kaga series since its inception, I bear sad tidings: The fourth installment in the series, The Final Curtain is also its last. If you haven’t read the previous three, don’t fret; the author brings you up to speed on everything you need to know in order to fully appreciate Tokyo Police Detective Kyoichiro Kaga’s final case. The story, partly told in flashbacks, explores the possible connections between a pair of present-day murders and the strange disappearance of Kaga’s mother, Yuriko Tajima, who vanished when he was a teenager. Kaga didn’t hear a peep from or about her until he was summoned to pick up her ashes from a club owner who had once employed her. As a longtime police detective, Kaga dislikes unanswered questions by nature, particularly when the questions are ones that have haunted him since childhood. But the mystery of his mother’s disappearance has persisted. Ten years later, however, another woman dies in an eerily similar manner: alone in an apartment, far from home. The narrative is complex and there are many names to keep track of, requiring the full attention of the reader; that said, Higashino has thoughtfully provided a list of characters at the beginning of the book. Japanese police investigations unfold in a rather different way than their counterparts in the West, which adds a layer of novelty for those who aren’t familiar with the series on top of the satisfaction of watching a clever, methodical detective get the job done.

The Fourth Rule

The fourth entry in Jeff Lindsay’s popular Riley Wolfe series, The Fourth Rule finds the thrill-seeking thief considering a heist of epic proportions: stealing the Rosetta stone from the British Museum. Never mind that it weighs the better part of a ton and is likely the most heavily guarded treasure in the U.K. after the crown jewels. This would be an over-the-top caper for even the most cunning James Bond villain, but for Riley, it actually borders on the believable. As he smugly notes early on in the narrative, “It’s just me, alone on top . . . Riley Wolfe, top of the heap, the best there ever was. End of discussion.” Um, hubris much? And we all know what happens to people in the iron grip of hubris. Comeuppance, that’s what happens. The grander the self-aggrandizement, the grander the comeuppance. Despite all this, Riley is something of a realist, mostly obeying the rules—Riley’s Laws—he has set out for his life of crime. Riley’s Fourth Law states: “Even if you’re the best there is, watch your back. Because somebody better is coming.” This rule should probably doubly apply when an attractive stranger enters the picture, but hey, even Achilles had a heel, right? The Fourth Rule offers up a tasty combination plate of humor, deception, suspense and villainy—and that is just on the part of the protagonist. Wait until you meet the villain(s).

Murder Crossed Her Mind

Ace private investigator Lillian Pentecost and her sidekick Willowjean “Will” Parker are back in Stephen Spotswood’s fourth mystery starring the duo, Murder Crossed Her Mind. The year is 1947; the location is New York City. The pair has been hired to look into the disappearance of retiree Vera Bodine, who has embarked on a late-in-life mission to expose Nazis hiding in postwar America, an uncommon and dangerous avocation for an 80-year-old. Bodine is reputed to have a photographic memory, and there are some villainous characters who would like to pick her brain or silence her forever. Perhaps both. Lillian, the senior member of the duo, has been somewhat sidelined by advancing multiple sclerosis, but she is as intuitive (and as crusty) as ever. She may do most of her detecting from an armchair these days, but she’s still very invested in securing the well-being of the heroic yet vulnerable Bodine. Will is the action figure, the Archie Goodwin to Lillian’s Nero Wolfe; like Goodwin, she is the narrator (and also like Goodwin, she’s a smartass). The feel is very much of the period in terms of lexicon, fashion and all the other minutiae that make for authentic storytelling. However, as Will and Lillian are both women and Will is gay, they have different perspectives on life as hard-boiled detectives in the 1940s than their forebears in the genre.  

The Other Half

I have long been a fan of English bad-boy writers of the mid-20th century: Kingsley Amis, et al. There is something about the boredom and superficiality of the posh and their hangers-on that appeals to my decidedly middle-class upbringing, and their humo(u)r is of the understated but wickedly delicious variety that I could feast on for hours. Fast forward to 2023, and their spiritual heir—or I should say heiress—is Charlotte Vassell, author of The Other Half, an equal parts modern and traditional English murder mystery chock-full of the rudderless overprivileged, trendy social media influencers and those drawn inexorably to their flame. As the book opens, socialite Rupert Beauchamp is hosting a somewhat ironic 30th birthday party for himself: replete with coke (not of the capital-C variety) and champagne—at McDonald’s. He is about to finish things with his girlfriend, Clemmie, and throw her over in the hopes of winning his longtime inamorata, Nell, who, it must be said, is less than thrilled with that prospect. When Clemmie turns up murdered the following morning, the partygoers comprise the primary suspect pool. Unsurprisingly for regular readers of mystery novels, everyone has an alibi, but trust detective Caius Beauchamp (no relation to Rupert, which becomes something of a running joke) to get to the bottom of things. Blisteringly funny, full of twists and turns, and featuring a cast of characters you will love to loathe, The Other Half deserves to be on your “read now” list.

Plus, the Kyoichiro Kaga series comes to a close and master thief Riley Wolfe tries to steal the Rosetta stone in this month’s Whodunit column.

Tom Straw—the writer behind the bestselling real-life versions of TV character Richard Castle’s mystery novels—is kicking off a thrilling new espionage series with The Accidental Joe. Rockstar chef Sebastian Pike’s cooking travel show is the perfect cover for a covert CIA mission, even if Sebastian himself is less than thrilled with the idea. At least he can flirt with his handler, Cammie Nova, as a bonus. As the show travels through France, the danger and romance heat up to dangerous levels.

The Accidental Joe will hit shelves on May 14, 2024 and is available for preorders now. The thriller will be published by Regalo Press, an imprint distributed by Simon & Schuster that donates proceeds from every title to a charity of the author’s choice. Fittingly, Tom Straw has selected José Ramón Andrés’ World Central Kitchen.

Read on for the official summary of the book and its striking cover!


A maverick celebrity chef reluctantly agrees to let the CIA use his hugely popular international food, culture, and travel TV series as cover for a dangerous espionage mission.

When the CIA approaches celebrity chef Sebastian Pike about using his award-winning food and culture travel show as cover for espionage, the outspoken bad-boy host says no. When they point out how roaming the globe interviewing foodies, heads of state, rock stars, journalists-in-exile, poets, subversives, supermodels—even the pope—gives him perfect cover, Pike smiles and says, “F@#! no.”

They push. Promising it’s only one mission. Vowing he won’t be in danger. Calling him the MVB: Most Valuable Bystander. They’d embed their top agent in his crew to do the spy work.

It’s still no. But when they hit him with the patriotism card, he weakens. And when romantic sparks crackle between him and the female agent, Pike’s all in, kicking off a romantic spy thriller in which the globetrotting celebrity chef uses his TV series to help sneak Putin’s accountant out of Russia before he’s exposed as a mole for US intelligence.

The high-stakes mission quickly puts Pike in harm’s way. So much for MVB. There’s danger, there’s double dealing, there’s torture, there’s shooting with real bullets. Plus, a minefield of complications from the hot romance that grows between Pike and his gutsy CIA handler-producer, Cammie Nova.

From Paris to Provence, this chef is no bystander. Beyond their attraction, Pike and Nova become an operational team, not only to survive the perils they face but to pull off an operation fraught with one twist after another, capped by a shocking, emotional climax.


The Accidental Joe by Tom Straw cover
We're honored to reveal the cover of Tom Straw's new thriller starring a bad-boy chef turned CIA asset.

Theater is life for a specific subset of people. And it’s not just actors and stage managers—for the professional theater critic, the hours spent after the lights go down are just as sacrosanct. Alexis Soloski’s Here in the Dark follows one such critic, a New York City 30-something who finds herself embroiled in a web of deception, sex and murder.

Vivian Parry has loved the theater since childhood, but after her beloved mother’s death and a subsequent psychotic break, the former actor turned to criticism as a way to engage with her passion from a distance. Vivian’s Manhattan life is completely subsumed by her art: Even as she guns for a promotion at her prestigious magazine, Vivian maintains her isolation, disappearing by day in a haze of words, booze and pills until it’s time for that night’s curtain. When Vivian is interviewed by a graduate student who then goes missing, she’s driven to find out what happened to the enigmatic young man. An undercover stint at a Russian gambling startup, the discovery of a corpse (not his) and a fling with an earnest special effects designer follow, with Vivian drinking more and thinking less as she finds herself no closer to the truth. But as the lines between theater and reality blur, she finds herself asking: Is it all just an act?

Soloski is the best possible candidate to write a protagonist like Vivian. She not only holds a doctorate in theater from Columbia University, but also is an award-winning critic for the New York Times, former lead critic at The Village Voice and a past instructor at Barnard College and Columbia. Her debut novel is chock-full of wry observations about lighting design, references to everyone from Shakespeare to Grotowski, and enough industry inner workings to make the hearts of her fellow theater critics (which this reviewer just so happens to be) sing. For those less drama-obsessed, fear not: Here in the Dark is also a tightly paced and expertly crafted noir whose heroine is both hilariously wisecracking and deeply troubled. From curtain up to curtain call, Here in the Dark is flawless.

Theater critic Alexis Soloski’s debut thriller, Here in Dark, is flawless from curtain up to curtain call.
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Ariel Lawhon’s expertly researched and immediately gripping The Frozen River transports readers to 1789 Maine, where a midwife must solve a murder to get justice for both a rape survivor and the deceased.

Martha Ballard is the midwife of the town of Hallowell, a position that also makes her the town’s unofficial keeper of secrets and women’s advocate. When pastor’s wife Rebecca Foster is violently raped by two men, Martha acts as her witness, hoping to help get justice for a crime that is notoriously difficult to prove.

The Frozen River begins four months after Rebecca’s assault, when one of the accused, Joshua Burgess, is found dead in the titular body of water. Martha acts in the capacity of a medical examiner, determining that Burgess was beaten and hanged, and she testifies to such in court. This places Martha in a perilous position, as the man she is testifying to is Colonel North, the second rapist and someone who certainly had motive to see his accomplice dead.

This historical mystery explores the inner lives and societal pressures of women in colonial America with nuance and complexity. Martha is a precise and knowledgeable healer, who chronicles her forensic insights in her precious journal. Her occupation affords her protection and status in her community; however, Hallowell is still a place where the word of a female victim has little weight and where mothers who give birth out of wedlock are fined for the crime of fornication—while the fathers are not.

Even as Martha bristles at the inequity women in her town face, she still seeks justice for Burgess, even if he was a violent criminal himself. All of this puts her at odds with men in seats of power—primarily Colonel North as well as a doctor who doesn’t respect her practice—and puts her livelihood and family at risk.

Atmospheric, unique and elegantly written, The Frozen River will satisfy mystery lovers and historical fiction enthusiasts alike.

Atmospheric, unique and elegantly written, The Frozen River will satisfy mystery lovers and historical fiction enthusiasts alike.
Review by

Molly the maid is ready to clean up another murderous mess in the latest offering from Nita Prose.

Molly Gray has come a long way since Prose’s bestselling debut, The Maid, where she was unfairly accused of the murder of a guest at the five-star Regency Grand Hotel. Cleared of all charges, Molly is now the head maid and blissfully in love with her boyfriend, Juan Manuel, another Grand employee. But when celebrated author J.D. Grimthorpe drops dead in the hotel tearoom moments before making a mysterious announcement about his career, Molly’s plunged into chaos once again. Grimthorpe was poisoned, and police, including Molly’s old nemesis Detective Stark, believe a hotel staff member may be the murderer.

The hotel is full of suspects such as Lily, the new maid-in-training who prepared the poisoned tea cart, and Serena, Grimthorpe’s secretary who disappears in the aftermath of his death. Detective Stark still believes Molly is capable of murder, so to protect herself and her friends, Molly puts her eye for meticulous detail to use to help solve the crime. Molly also has a mysterious connection to the reclusive writer—one that may help her crack the case.

The Mystery Guest is a delightful sophomore novel that showcases how Molly has changed since the first entry in the series: She’s as sharp and honest as ever but has grown into her roles of head maid and girlfriend. Molly’s particularly protective of Lily, and it’s a joy to see the lengths to which she’ll go to defend her friends. Molly’s co-workers, including long-serving doorman Mr. Preston and head barmaid Angela are warm and funny, and both contribute to her sleuthing success in unexpected ways. Another bright spot of the novel are the LAMBS: Ladies Auxiliary Mystery Book Society members. A group of Grimthorpe fans who are staying at the hotel, the women are entertaining, helpful and suspicious in equal measure.

Molly’s a singular character—she’s intelligent, unfailingly honest and the epitome of a professional maid—and readers will enjoy checking in to the Regency Grand to follow her and her exploits. Fans of The Maid will miss Juan Manuel, who spends the bulk of the novel visiting family, but hopefully Prose will reunite him with Molly in the next installment of this charming series.

The Mystery Guest is a delightful sophomore mystery that welcomes readers back to the world of Nita Prose’s bestselling debut, The Maid.
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When Mysterious Press founder Otto Penzler asked bestselling author Lisa Unger (Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six) if she had ever considered writing a Christmas novella, she was delighted. “I’m always interested in the shadow of a beautiful thing, the hidden layers beneath all that glitters and shines,” she notes in the acknowledgements of the resulting Christmas Presents (which at 224 pages, is perhaps a novella only in name). 

The tale starts out cozily enough—but only for a split second—six days before Christmas, as 22-year-old pole-dancer Lolly Morris makes plans to meet up with a handsome stranger after her shift. Meanwhile, Madeline Martin is finishing up a busy day in The Next Chapter Bookshop. To her surprise, a new customer turns out to be Harley Granger, a well-known true crime writer who has just bought a decrepit home in town. Two of Maddie’s close high school friends once lived there, but the sisters disappeared one night. That same horrific evening, Maddie’s bad-boy crush, Evan Handy, killed her friend Stephanie Cramer and left Maddie bleeding and near death. Now, 10 years later, Handy remains in prison and Maddie is trying to go on with her life.

Granger’s arrival stirs up memories, which Maddie begins to discuss with her best friend, Badger, another member of their close-knit high school group. What’s more, additional women in the area have gone missing over the years—with the latest being Lolly. Unger nimbly moves between compelling scenes from the past and present-day chapters following Lolly’s abduction, Harley’s investigations and Maddie and Badger’s continued probing into exactly what happened when they were 17.

Unger embraces the holiday theme throughout: Lolly’s abductor wears a Santa mask, and Maddie believes that Handy has somehow been sending her Christmas gifts each year. With the true crime angle, readers may be reminded of Rebecca Makkai’s recent I Have Some Questions for You, although Unger’s book focuses more on suspense and less on social commentary. Both Maddie and Lolly are strong and well-crafted creations, but readers seeking a lighter holiday read should be warned that Unger doesn’t shy away from the creepy misogyny of a serial killer who preys on young women. In any event, Unger neatly ties up loose ends of the varying cases in an electrifying conclusion. The killer’s identity is a tad implausible—then again, that can sometimes be the case with real-life serial killers. Regardless, Unger fans will find themselves racing through the pages of Christmas Presents at near reindeer speed.

Readers will race through the pages of Christmas Presents, Lisa Unger’s new holiday novella, at near reindeer speed.

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