If We Were Villains

posted by: May 24, 2017 - 7:00am

Cover art for If We Were VillainsShakespeare and murder take center stage in M. L. Rio’s debut novel If We Were Villains. An enthralling literary mystery that takes readers into the world of an exclusive arts college and the inseparable group of students that will do anything to protect each other — even if it involves turning on one of their own.

 

Oliver Marks is being released from prison after having served 10 years for a crime he may or may not have committed. The man that put him behind bars, Chief Joseph Colborne, visits Oliver one last time to ask him the question that has been nagging at him for the last decade. Is Oliver guilty of murder, and if not, who was the real perpetrator? Oliver agrees to this request once he is guaranteed by Joseph, no longer involved in law enforcement, that nothing will become of the information that Oliver provides for him.

 

The story then begins a decade earlier at the prestigious Dellecher Classical Conservatory, where Oliver and the six other seniors in his class studying Shakespearian acting have formed a close friendship during the four years they have lived and studied together isolated from the rest of the student body. Though once inseparable, as their final year begins, infatuation and competition for the best acting roles sets in motion a tale of jealousy and violence that ends in tragedy for one of the players involved.

 

If We Were Villains is a suspenseful and evocative mystery set amongst the dramatic backdrop of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies. You don’t need to be a lover of the Bard, however, to enjoy this engrossing tale of friendship, loyalty and obsession that will remain with you long after finishing the haunting last paragraph.

 


 
 

IQ

posted by: May 10, 2017 - 7:00am

Cover art for IQThis is Sherlock like you’ve never seen him before. Joe Ide’s IQ is a fresh take on the famous detective that really boils down the essence of the character and reimagines him in an entirely new context. This is not just another “update” where Sherlock becomes a quirky PI with a psychiatric disorder and a nicotine habit, nor is it a recasting where they take a cranky doctor or a malcontent police officer and throw in some brilliant deductive reasoning. Ide crafts an entirely new character who embodies the spirit of the great detective while breaking new ground; in this story he is a young African American man, growing up poor but smart in south central Los Angeles. It feels like a breath of fresh air for a story that, even when done well, has been done to death.

 

The story spans a couple of time periods. It begins present day where IQ (the nickname of Isaiah, our titular character) has become well known as a problem solver, and is called in to solve an attempt on the life of a rap mogul. It flashes back and forth with the past where Isaiah takes steps down a dark path while simultaneously beginning the journey to become a positive force to the world around him. In the present, a bevy of suspects and an unusual crime scene confuse the field for Isaiah and his assistant/frenemy/partner Dodson, while in the past we see the pair in their earlier days, striking out at others and themselves as they struggle with the curveballs life throws their way and the questionable choices they make.

 

At times, the story may feel distant from the experiences of many of its readers, but the author does a good job of including threads we can all identify with. We may not be poor and growing up in the inner city, but we all understand struggling with grief, giving in to temptation and making bad, easy choices, or trying to help people even when they won’t help themselves. If anything, Ide’s IQ is more generous and well intentioned than most of us — going above and beyond to help others even at real cost to himself. Rather than being alienating though, I found it inspiring. Plus Ide includes a cast of oddball true-to-life characters that keep the story moving and the reader’s interest piqued.

 

I really enjoyed this story — especially the tension of the mysteries and the well-developed main characters. If you like this story, you’ll probably enjoy a lot of Sherlock stories — both the originals by Arthur Conan Doyle and many of the derivatives by a batch of other authors. I would highly recommend BBC’s recent adaptation of Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch. It shares the modern setting and a certain irreverent sense of humor.


 
 

Everything You Want Me to Be

posted by: March 8, 2017 - 7:00am

Everything You Want Me to BeIf you’re looking for a suspenseful murder mystery full of unexpected twists and turns, check out Everything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia. An enthralling new novel that cleverly uses the narratives of the victim, the main suspect and the sheriff investigating the crime to reveal whodunit and why, while also exploring how a murder has effected a small, close-knit community.

 

Hattie Hoffman, an 18-year-old on the verge of graduating high school in the sleepy town of Pine Valley, Minnesota, has been found dead in an abandoned barn. Hattie, an aspiring actress, had plans to leave for New York City after graduating, and to everyone who knew her, she was the perfect daughter, a model student and a loving girlfriend to her football player boyfriend Tommy.

 

Unsurprisingly, the crime sends shock waves through the community made up of mostly farmers, where the worst crimes to take place are traffic offenses. Sherriff Del Goodman, a friend of Hattie’s family, is tasked with finding out what happened the night Hattie died, and his investigation into the last few months of her life uncovers secrets that have him questioning whether anyone actually knew the real Hattie.

 

Everything You Want Me to Be is an intricately plotted thriller that gradually unravels the mystery through the three connected narratives. And just when you think you have figured everything out, Mejia throws in a twist to let you know things are not always as they seem, and that innocence and deception sometimes go hand in hand.


 
 

Her Every Fear

posted by: March 1, 2017 - 7:00am

Cover art for Her Every FearHer Every Fear, Peter Swanson’s latest suspense thriller, is just what its title suggests. This novel knows exactly what you’re afraid of — and it’ll get you when you’re least expecting it.

 

Kate Priddy is more familiar with danger than she cares to admit. She is the survivor of an abusive, suicidal ex-boyfriend and she has crippling anxiety. In her mind, any situation can be life-threatening, and any person can be a killer. That is why everyone (especially Kate) is surprised when she agrees to apartment-swap with her American cousin, Corbin, for six months. This is the fresh start she’s been looking for.

 

When Kate arrives at Corbin’s luxurious Boston apartment complex, however, something is already wrong. Her next-door neighbor is missing, and Kate knows even before the body is found that the woman is dead.

 

Now, with a murder investigation underway and her cousin as the prime suspect, Kate has no idea who she can trust. She tells herself that she’s safe because Corbin is halfway across the world and that the noises she hears around the apartment are just her mind playing tricks on her.

 

Swanson uses multiple perspectives to control the information he gives his audience and build the suspense to almost unbearable levels. Her Every Fear will have you glancing over your shoulder and thinking twice about turning off the lights.

 


 
 

The Strivers' Row Spy

posted by: February 22, 2017 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Strivers' Row SpyJason Overstreet’s suspenseful debut transports readers to the dazzle and excitement of the 1920s Harlem Renaissance in The Strivers' Row Spy, the first entry in a promising mystery series. Sidney Temple is a recent college graduate on the brink of opportunity that even his bourgeois family could not have imagined. His impulsive marriage to artist Loretta brings him great happiness, but even more is in store for this bright young man.

 

J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, hand-picks Sidney to be the FBI’s first African-American agent, and Sidney knows this is his chance to make a change and work for justice. The FBI is intent on bringing down Marcus Garvey, prominent head of the back-to-Africa movement. Sidney uses his previously unknown skills at deception and undercover work to thwart the Bureau’s investigation. And by giving renowned leader W.E.B. DuBois insider information, Sidney gambles on a change that could mean a fair future for all Americans.

 

As Sidney and Loretta climb into the most influential Harlem circles, the stakes become more perilous. Tragedy threatens to shatter Loretta’s trust in her husband, and Sidney’s double-life is dangerously precarious. Overstreet does a marvelous job of capturing the heady atmosphere of 1920s Harlem, and is so convincing in his storytelling that readers may forget this is all fiction and Sidney Temple never existed. Overstreet peppers his story with real historical figures from the ‘20s. Besides Hoover, DuBois and Garvey, Sidney also has encounters with James Weldon Johnson, Adam Clayton Powell and Max Eastman. Readers who enjoy spy stories or historical fiction will definitely find a new author to follow in Jason Overstreet.

 

Are you doing BCPL’s Reading Challenge? This would be a great one for February’s challenge. Don’t forget to take a picture of yourself with the book and submit your entry by visiting Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and post or tweet the photo with the hashtag #bwellread. Camera-shy participants may post a photograph of the book they’ve chosen.

 


 
 

Song of the Lion

posted by: February 1, 2017 - 7:00am

Cover art for Song of the LionA deadly car bombing on a Navajo reservation sets in motion professional rivalries, intertribal tensions and an FBI investigation into possible eco-terrorism in Anne Hillerman’s Song of the Lion. Off-duty tribal officer Bernadette Manuelito is anticipating an epic battle between the current Shiprock High School basketball team and the old-time alumni seeking to recreate past glories. Instead, an explosion rocks the night, and Bernie is thrust into a miasma of fleeing spectators. In the parking lot lays the ruined remains of a BMW owned by the mediator of a multi-million dollar development intended for the Grand Canyon. Considering the highly controversial negotiations about to be conducted, it is assumed the mediator is the target of the attack. Bernie’s husband, tribal officer Jim Chee, is assigned to protect the very uncooperative potential murder victim.

 

 
While dozens of stakeholders plead their case for the future use of the land, sabotage threatens the hearings and tensions rise between the Hopi and Navajo tribes. As Bernie and Jim are drawn deeper into the case, what appears to be straightforward case against eco-terrorists becomes an investigation into a complex web of events buried deep in the past. Patiently plotting, this killer has waited a very long time to carry out his well-laid plans for revenge.

 

The sacred ground of the Grand Canyon provides the landscape for this latest entry in the Navajo detective series. Anne Hillerman proves herself a worthy keeper of the flame for her acclaimed father, Tony Hillerman. Like his, her writing is rich with the customs, lore and sacred myths of the Hopi and Navajo tribes. Readers of Craig Johnson, William Kent Krueger and Steve Hamilton will enjoy this haunting read.


 
 

The Clairvoyants

posted by: January 30, 2017 - 7:00am

Cover art for The ClairvoyantsKaren Brown won acclaim for her debut The Longings of Wayward Girls, a suspenseful novel about two missing girls. Although her new book, The Clairvoyants, is also billed as psychological suspense, it’s really more accurate to describe it as a coming-of-age story with dark, supernatural overtones.

 

Martha and her sister Del grow up on a farm in Connecticut. When Martha is only 7 years old, she has a vision of her great aunt. Unfortunately, her great aunt has already been dead for many years when they “meet.” As a child, Martha is only mildly disconcerted by the event. It seems to be an isolated, intriguing fluke. But in her late teens, a harrowing incident triggers her strange gift again. She begins experiencing more visions of the dead — most not as pleasant as her great aunt.

 

Hoping to leave the dead behind, Martha flees to college in Ithaca. There she finds romance with a brooding photographer named William. But her idyll is disrupted when the past comes calling in the form of her impulsive sister Del. Just as Martha tries to reconcile herself to being her unstable sister’s caretaker, a fellow student on campus vanishes. Martha’s visions return with a vengeance.

 

Although the missing girl is pivotal to the plot of The Clairvoyants, Brown’s story is too leisurely paced to feel like suspense. Her focus is less on finding the missing girl and more on understanding Martha’s unwillingness to use her “gift.” Indeed, Martha’s reluctance to get involved in the case becomes a symbol for her reluctance to take charge of her own life.

 

Readers who enjoyed Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic and Sarah Addison Allen’s The Peach Keeper should enjoy The Clairvoyants. Like these authors, Brown uses the suspense genre to explore the rivalries that shape women and their relationships with one another.


 
 

The Fifth Petal

posted by: January 25, 2017 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Fifth PetalBrunonia Barry brings us an exciting and enchanting mystery in her new book The Fifth Petal, which takes place in Salem, Massachusetts.

 

On Halloween night in 1989, a group of women gather to bless the grave of their ancestors, who were accused of witchcraft and hanged during the Salem witch trials. That night, three of the women mysteriously die, leaving Rose Whelan and Callie Cahill, the 5-year-old daughter of one of the other women, as the only survivors. Rose is convinced that a banshee murdered the women and is sent to a mental hospital. Callie is questioned and sent away, and the case grows cold.

 

On Halloween night 25 years later, a teenage boy mysteriously dies while harassing Rose, and Rose is once again convinced that the banshee is the killer. While investigating the murder of the boy, old memories and the unsolved case resurface. Tormented by the memory of that night in 1989, Callie returns to Salem to see Rose and uncover some answers for herself.

 

The mysteries of the past are unraveled as Callie begins to remember exactly what happened the night her mother and the other women died. Full of mysteries, myths and strong storytelling, The Fifth Petal is entirely captivating. Check out Brunonia Barry’s other novel, The Lace Reader, also set in Salem.


 
 

Dear Amy

posted by: January 2, 2017 - 7:00am

Cover art for Dear AmyIn Helen Callaghan’s electrifying debut novel Dear Amy, a young teacher battles a faceless enemy to save an abducted student’s life. Margot Lewis teaches in an exclusive private high school in Cambridge, England. She has discovered a talent for reaching her students, and they often turn to her for advice. It’s a natural step for Margot to become an advice columnist for the local newspaper under the pseudonym Dear Amy. One day, Margot receives a letter that shakes her down to the depths of her soul. Dear Amy: I’ve been kidnapped by a strange man. I don’t know where I am. Please help me. It's signed by a young girl who went missing 20 years before.  

 

It is a desperate plea that Margot cannot ignore. The letter may be a hoax, but if it’s not, it could be the missing girl’s only chance at survival. When a student from Margot’s class goes missing, Margot knows she cannot stand idly by. Facing the possibility of being accused as a fraud, she takes the letter to the police, where it is authenticated as written by the missing girl. The police renew their investigation, and refer the case to criminologist Martin Forrester of Cambridge University. Together, Martin and Margot descend into the mind of a serial felon. Echoes from Margot’s past resonate into her present. Margot must conquer her own demons in order to defeat this new enemy.

 

Powerful, lyrical and taut with suspense, this literary thriller will seize you from the first page to the last. Helen Callaghan has woven a compelling tale of obsession and evil that takes her characters to the limits of their endurance. Laced with references to the classics, readers of Tana French, Peter Robinson and Gillian Flynn will appreciate the prose as well as the plot.


 
 

Dr. Knox

posted by: October 26, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Dr. KnoxA tale of human trafficking and refugees masquerades convincingly as an L.A. noir thriller in Dr. Knox, the latest novel from Shamus Award-winning author Peter Spiegelman. In three previous books featuring banker-turned-detective John March, Spiegelman pretty much created the genre of “Wall Street noir.” Now, he takes that same grim sensibility and applies it to Dr. Adam Knox, a man whose apparent death wish is constantly at war with his desire to save the world. These conflicting goals lead to lots of trouble, not only for Knox, but for his employees and the few friends he has.

 

In Dr. Knox, a woman fleeing Russian mobsters leaves her little boy at Knox’s shabby clinic in L.A.’s Skid Row. Rather than turn the child over to Social Services, Knox becomes convinced he can save both child and mother. He sets out to do so with the help of his buddy Ben Sutter, a former Special Forces operative. The vibe between these two was very reminiscent of the relationship between Robert Parker's detective, Spenser, and his sidekick, Hawk.

 

Like that master of L.A. noir, Raymond Chandler, Spiegelman keeps much of the real story bobbing just below the surface throughout this tale. As Knox searches for the boy’s missing mother and runs afoul of mobsters and corrupt American business tycoons, readers get unsettling glimpses into Knox’s own messy backstory. It becomes clear that while the doctor’s heart is in the right place, his penchant for self-destruction could hurt the very people he seeks to help.

 

Fans of classic noir fiction and old-fashioned “hard-boiled” detective stories should enjoy Dr. Knox.

 


 
 

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