Reviews of the Week with Katie Tallo, Rory Power, Michael Elias, and More!

Every weekday, we feature a different review on Booklist Online. These reviews are notable for different reasons—they may be starred, in high demand, or especially relevant to the current issue’s spotlight.

Our issue’s spotlight on crime and mystery fiction still shines as we reveal hidden pasts, nefarious plans, and dogged investigations in this week’s #ReviewsOfTheWeek. Booklist wishes you all well.

Monday, May 4

Laetitia Rodd and the Case of the Wandering Scholar, by Kate Saunders and read by Anna Bentinck

Laetitia Rodd, widow of an archdeacon and Victorian detective, is summoned by her barrister brother to help on a case in the second of this fine series. Before he dies, a wealthy man seeks forgiveness from his brother, a scholar who has gone into hiding. There are rumors that the scholar is mad and living in the outskirts of a small village. When Laetitia arrives at the village, she is delighted to be reunited with her husband’s former vicar and wife. But there’s trouble in the parsonage, which leads to murder, and Laetitia must use all her clergy contacts and a dose of intuition to solve the case. Laetitia is a carefully drawn, genteel character with sharp intelligence and a kind spirit. Reader Bentinck shines in this atmospheric mystery as she did in the first of the series, The Secrets of Wishtide. Her lovely, refined English accent is perfect for Laetitia, whom she voices with obvious affection.

Tuesday, May 5

Dark August, by Katie Tallo

This truly inspired piece of writing, reminiscent of William Faulkner, whose most acclaimed novel is, interestingly enough, Light in August. In Dark August, we meet Augusta “Gus” Monet, a 20-year-old badly damaged by the death of her mother when she was eight and by an emotionally deprived childhood spent under her great grandmother’s care. Living an aimless existence in Toronto with a no-good boyfriend, surviving on the proceeds of petty crime, Gus learns that her great grandmother has died. At first, it appears that all that has been left to Gus is a decaying old house and a geriatric dog, but then she makes an amazing find in great granny’s mattress and uncovers a special treasure that reconnects Gus to her police-detective mother—files from the crime she was working on at the time of her death. Gus journeys, often dangerously, through a small town’s secretive past looking for answers, as the reader witnesses her transformation into a remarkable and resilient woman while a mystery of epic proportions unfolds around her.

Wednesday, May 6

Burn Our Bodies Down, by Rory Power

Margot Nielsen has grown up with no family but her mother, and that has not made for an easy childhood. Margot has had to learn to navigate her mother’s strange quirks (“Keep a fire burning; a fire is what saves you”) and quicksilver temper changes, and she understands the signs of a good day and a bad one. She knows nothing at all about her mother’s past. When a chance discovery leads her to a town called Phalene and a grandmother she never knew existed, Margot seizes the opportunity, returning to her mother’s hometown just as a fire—not, the locals say, the first—tears across her grandmother’s land. As she tries to get to know Gram, who is as much an enigma as Margot’s mother, Margot’s confusion and suspicions about her family history grow. There’s something strange and troubled about Nielsen women—they hide things from the world and from each other—and Margot is determined to uncover the darkest of family secrets, no matter the cost.

Thursday, May 7

Hold Your Breath, China, by Qiu Xiaolong

The tenth Inspector Chen mystery again takes up Xiaolong’s passionate concern with China’s pressing environmental problems, especially that of air pollution (as seen in the author’s previous powerhouse of an environmental mystery, Don’t Cry, Tai Lake, 2012). As always in Inspector Chen mysteries, Chen and his associates in the Shanghai Police Bureau are fighting on two fronts: solving crimes and navigating the byzantine directives (many of them seeking to cover up crimes) of the Communist Party. This time, a party official pulls Chen off a case in which three victims have piled up, each with the strong probability of having died at the hands of a serial killer, and orders him to insinuate himself inside a group of environmental activists. Chen is torn by many concerns, including his own environmental sympathies, his felt need to preside over the serial-killer case, and his love for one of the activists (a woman encountered in Don’t Cry, Tai Lake).

Friday, May 8

You Can Go Home Now, by Michael Elias

Long Island City PD homicide detective Nina Karim tells her boss that police shows on TV—and especially Angie Dickinson in Police Woman—inspired her to become a cop. But the real motivator was the murder of Nina’s physician father, worked for Planned Parenthood and was presumably killed by an anti-abortion zealot. Working in law enforcement seemed the best way to find the “cowardly bastard” who did it, a promise Nina made to her younger brother and mother, both now dead. Years later she’s still searching, when an old friend comes up with a new lead while Nina is working on a possible connection between the murders of persons who savagely abused their domestic partners.

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About the Author:

Michael Ruzicka, Office Manager, was raised in suburban Los Angeles, received a BA in Creative Writing/Poetry at UC Santa Cruz, then moved to Birmingham, AL, where he spent five years owning an independent bookstore and earned an MLIS. He has brought his librarian skills to Vanderbilt’s Television News Archive, Battle Ground Academy, The Museum of Contemporary Art-Chicago, and the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Michael is very excited to be a part of Booklist and call Chicago his home.

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