Reviews of Craig Johnson and more…
Summer is on its way but it’s not quite time for beach reads. In this month’s selection, the old adage that crime happens everywhere couldn’t be clearer. From the sparsely populated areas policed by the heroes in Craig Johnson and Karin Salvalaggio’s latest series installments—it’s a safe bet that more people buy their books than currently live in Montana and Wyoming combined—to the remote Scottish island in S.K. Tremayne’s debut, murder and murderers crop up in the most unexpected of places. We’re just lucky these authors invite us along for the ride.
Charlaine Harris (Ace, May 5)
This second installment in her new series, following Midnight Crossroad, finds Midnight, Texas, phone psychic Manfred Bernardo recently returned to the tiny town after unfortunate events in Dallas (a client died during a reading—bad for business). Manfred’s son also accused him of stealing the family jewels and so the wacky residents of Midnight—this being a Charlaine Harris novel, everyone is odd in their own, often supernatural, way—help the psychic try to clear his name while working to sort out their own myriad issues, from running a pet cemetery to dealing with a sudden influx of senior citizens from Las Vegas. Nothing is ever dull in Midnight, or in any world Harris creates, and readers will appreciate discovering a hint—no spoilers here—that may very well link this new series to something from the Harris canon.
Jack of Spades
Joyce Carol Oates (Mysterious Press, May 5)
In a tale with its roots in Poe and gothic horror, Oates’s latest is the twisted tale of a seemingly well-adjusted mystery writer, Andrew Rush, who, despite a solid midlist career, writes a sordid series of blood-soaked novels under the pen name Jack of Spades. No one in Rush’s life, or in the publishing world, knows the true identity of Jack and for a while, the two halves of Rush’s identity coexist. That is, until a kooky local woman accuses Rush of plagiarizing her work and the Jack side of his personality suggests increasingly violent ways to rid himself of the pesky woman who threatens his career (or does she?). Rush becomes more and more unhinged as the narrative progresses and Jack creeps into the forefront. This is a quick and chillingly suspenseful read.
Craig Johnson (Viking, May 12)
Sheriff Walt Longmire has a big problem on his hands in Johnson’s 11th Wyoming whodunit, after Any Other Name. A dinosaur-sized problem, to be exact. In addition to the suspicious death of Danny Lone Elk, an elderly Cheyenne man found floating in a snapping turtle pond on his ranch, there’s trouble brewing in Absaroka County over the recent discovery of a T-Rex skeleton unearthed by a group of paleontologists. The scientists claim they made a deal with the landowner, the recently deceased Mr. Lone Elk, but an over-zealous United States attorney wants to claim the fossil—dubbed “Jen” in honor of the scientist who found her—for the state of Wyoming. In the midst of the dinosaur debacle, Walt and his daughter, Cady, who’s visiting with her new baby, Lola, are hit with terrible news from Philadelphia that sends the whole Longmire family into a tailspin. Luckily, Henry Standing Bear is there to help—is anyone surprised that he’s a baby whisperer? Readers can pass the time with Walt’s latest adventure on the page while waiting patiently for Longmire to return this fall on Netflix.
Karin Salvalaggio (Minotaur, May 12)
In her follow-up to Bone Dust White, Salvalaggio sends her intrepid Montana detective Macy Greely to the remote (really, is there any other kind in Montana?) town of Wilmington Creek to investigate the murder of John Dalton, a young man who’d recently returned from several tours in Afghanistan. There are whispers that Dalton’s death is linked to local militia leader Ethan Green, who’s conveniently MIA, and, as readers soon learn, shares an unpleasant history with Dalton and his twin sister, Jessie. Macy must deal with the dysfunctional Dalton family, led by the bombastic patriarch, Jeremy, as well as navigate her own tricky personal situation with boss Ray Davidson, who just happens to be the head of the state police. As more secrets come to light, Macy realizes that John’s murder is just the beginning of what could become a deadly summer in Montana. In laying bare the complexities—and dangers—of PTSD and our country’s unacceptable treatment of veterans returning home after combat, Salvalaggio’s latest is a timely, necessary book, as well as a thrilling read.
Six and a Half Deadly Sins
Colin Cotterill (Soho Crime, May 19)
Dr. Siri Paboun, the retired Laos national coroner, returns in Cotterill’s 10th series installment, following The Woman Who Wouldn’t Die, set in 1978, just as Vietnam invaded Cambodia. Siri is investigating the mysterious case of a severed finger that arrived in the mail (sewn into the hem of a Lao skirt, of course), trying to identify the digit’s owner and place of origin. Along with the help of his wife, Madame Daeng, he traces the skirt to an area in the north run by drug-dealing warlords. Since it would be a bureaucratic nightmare to secure all the permissions necessary to travel to the dangerous region, Siri instead must exonerate the head of Public Prosecution from a sexual assault charge. There’s also a highly sensitive murder investigation happening concerning Chinese nationals, which could tip the already politically volatile country into outright war, thanks to the Vietnamese invasion. Cotterill manages once again to mix history, mystery, and a healthy dose of humor for a winning combination. Dr. Siri fans won’t be disappointed.
The Ice Twins
S.K. Tremayne (Grand Central, May 19)
Tremayne, the pseudonym for a well-known British journalist and author, wants to make sure that readers take nothing at face value in his haunting novel about the effects of a twin’s death on a family. Sarah and Angus Moorcroft had the perfect life in London with their identical twin daughters, Kirstie and Lydia, until tragedy struck, leaving Kirstie an only child and her parents bereft. A year after the accident, the family is unraveling—Angus lost his job, Sarah is mired in grief, and seven-year-old Kirstie suddenly insists that she is Lydia and that it was really Kirstie who died in the accident. In an attempt to find a fresh start, Angus decides that the family should move to his family’s ramshackle cottage on the isolated Eilean Torran, a Scottish island only accessible by boat. Of course, this does wonders for the novel’s unrelenting suspense and thrilling climax but is probably a terrible idea for the fragile psychological health of a child. Good thing it’s fiction.