April 2015 Must Reads in Mystery, Suspense, and Fiction

Here are the  books that I’m especially looking forward to in Mystery, Suspense, and Fiction for April.  Enjoy (all synopsis are from B&N or Amazon)!


Blood on Snow by Jo Nesbo  (Vintage-April 7th)

Synopsis-From the internationally acclaimed author of the Harry Hole novels—a new, electrifying stand-alone thriller set in Oslo in the 1970s: the story of an unusually complicated contract killer—the perfectly sympathetic antihero—that is, as well, an edgy, almost lyrical meditation on death and love.

This is the story of Olav: an extremely talented “fixer” whose unexpected capacity for love is as far-reaching as his talent for murder. He works for Oslo’s crime kingpin, “fixing” anyone who causes him trouble. But it’s becoming clear to Olav that the more you know about your boss’s business, the more your boss might want you fixed yourself, especially if you’ve fallen in love with his wife….


The Only Words That Are Worth Remembering by Jeffrey Rotter  (Metropolitan-April 7th)

Synopsis-A darkly comic, wildly original novel of a family in flight from the law, set in a near-future American dystopia.

In an America of the semi-distant future, human knowledge has reverted to a pre-Copernican state. Science and religion are diminished to fairy tales, and Earth once again occupies the lonely center of the universe, the stars and planets mere etchings on the glass globe that encases it. But when an ancient bunker containing a perfectly preserved space vehicle is discovered beneath the ruins of Cape Canaveral, it has the power to turn this retrograde world inside out.

Enter the miscreant Van Zandt clan, whose run-ins with the law leave them with a no-win choice: test-pilot the spacecraft together as a family, or be sent separately to prison for life. Their decision leads to some freakish slapstick, one nasty bonfire, and a dissolute trek across the ass-end of an all-too-familiar America.

As told to his daughter by Rowan, the Van Zandt son who flees the ashes of his family in search of a new one, the story is a darkly comic road trip that pits the simple hell of solitude against the messy consolations of togetherness.

Jeffrey Rotter’s The Only Words That Are Worth Remembering is an indelible vision of a future in which we might one day live.


The Winter Family by Clifford Jackman (Doubleday-April 14th)

Synopsis-Tracing a group of ruthless outlaws from its genesis during the American Civil War all the way to a final bloody stand in the Oklahoma territories, The Winter Family is a hyperkinetic Western noir that reads like a full-on assault to the senses.

Spanning the better part of three decades, The Winter Family traverses America’s harsh, untamed terrain, both serving and opposing the fierce advance of civilization. Among its twisted specimens, the Winter Family includes the psychopathic killer Quentin Ross, the mean and moronic Empire brothers, the impassive ex-slave Fred Johnson, and the dangerous child prodigy Lukas Shakespeare But at the malevolent center of this ultraviolent storm is their cold, hardened leader, Augustus Winter—a man with an almost pathological resistance to the rules of society and a preternatural gift for butchery.

From their service as political thugs in a brutal Chicago election to their work as bounty hunters in the deserts of Arizona, there’s a hypnotic logic to Winter’s grim borderland morality that plays out, time and again, in ruthless carnage.

With its haunting, hard-edged style, The Winter Family is a feverishly paced meditation on human nature and the dark contradictions of progress.


Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight (Harper-April 14th)

Synopsis-An idyllic suburban town.

A devastating discovery.

Shocking revelations that will change three lives forever.

At the end of a long winter in well-to-do Ridgedale, New Jersey, the body of a newborn is found in the woods fringing the campus of the town’s prestigious university. No one knows the identity of the baby, what ended her very short life, or how she came to be found among the fallen leaves. But for the residents of Ridgedale, there is no shortage of opinions.

When freelance journalist and recent Ridgedale transplant Molly Sanderson is unexpectedly called upon to cover the disturbing news for the Ridgedale Reader—the town’s local paper—she has good reason to hesitate. A severe depression followed the loss of her own baby, and this assignment could unearth memories she has tried hard to bury. But the disturbing history Molly uncovers is not her own. Her investigation reveals a decades-old trail of dark secrets hiding behind Ridgedale’s white picket fences.

Told from the perspectives of three Ridgedale women, Kimberly McCreight’s taut and profoundly moving novel unwinds the tangled truth behind the tragedy, revealing that these women have far more in common than they could ever have imagined: that the very worst crimes are committed against those we love. And that—sooner or later—the past catches up to all of us.


Whispering Shadows by Jan-Phillip Sendker (Atria-April 14th)

Synopsis-The first in a suspenseful new trilogy by the internationally bestselling author of The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, this gripping story follows a retired expat journalist in contemporary China who tries to crack a murder case as he battles his own personal demons.

American expat Paul Leibovitz was once an ambitious advisor, dedicated father, and loving husband. But after living for nearly thirty years in Hong Kong, personal tragedy strikes and Paul’s marriage unravels in the fallout.

Now Paul is living as a recluse on an outlying island of Hong Kong. When he makes a fleeting connection with Elizabeth, a distressed American woman on the verge of collapse, his life is thrown into turmoil. Less than twenty-four hours later, Elizabeth’s son is found dead in Shenzhen, and Paul, invigorated by a newfound purpose, sets out to investigate the murder on his own.

As Paul, Elizabeth, and a detective friend descend deeper into the Shenzhen underworld—against the wishes of a woman with whom Paul has had a flirtation—they discover dark secrets hidden beneath China’s booming new wealth. In a country where rich businessmen with expensive degrees can corrupt the judicial system, the potential for evil abounds.

Part love story, part crime thriller, Whispering Shadows is the captivating tale of one man’s desperate search for redemption within the vice of a world superpower, a place where secrets from the past threaten to upend the country’s unchecked drive towards modernization.


Burn Cards by Christopher Irvin (280 Steps-April 14th)

Synopsis-Mirna Fowler believes she has been cheated in life, growing up in a broken home alone with a drunken and gambling-addicted father. Now she works at a small hair salon in Reno, doing her best to survive while she saves money for school. Hoping to get a degree that will take her places.

But in the wake of her father’s death, Mirna inherits his extravagant debt, an amount of money she can never repay. As her fractured world begins to crumble, the search for the truth sets her on a path where life hangs on her every move.


The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma (Little, Brown-April 14th)

Synopsis-In a Nigerian town in the mid 1990’s, four brothers encounter a madman whose mystic prophecy of violence threatens the core of their close-knit family.

Told from the point of view of nine year old Benjamin, the youngest of four brothers, The Fishermen is the Cain and Abel-esque story of an unforgettable childhood in 1990’s Nigeria, in the small town of Akure. When their strict father has to travel to a distant city for work, the brothers take advantage of his extended absence to skip school and go fishing. At the ominous, forbidden nearby river, they meet a dangerous local madman who persuades the oldest of the boys that he is destined to be killed by one of his siblings.

What happens next is an almost mythic event whose impact-both tragic and redemptive-will transcend the lives and imaginations of its characters and its readers. Dazzling and viscerally powerful, The Fishermen never leaves Akure but the story it tells has enormous universal appeal. Seen through the prism of one family’s destiny, this is an essential novel about Africa with all of its contradictions-economic, political, and religious-and the epic beauty of its own culture.


Viper Wine by Hermione Eyre (Hogarth-April 14th)
Synopsis-“Using an alchemy all of her own, Eyre’s postmodern take on the 17th century renders it dazzlingly fresh and contemporary.” —Guardian (UK)

Venetia Stanley was the great beauty of her day, so dazzling she inspired Ben Jonson to poetry and Van Dyck to painting. But now she is married, the adoration to which she has become accustomed has curdled to scrutiny, and she fears her powers are waning. Her devoted husband, Sir Kenelm Digby—explorer, diplomat, philosopher, alchemist— refuses to prepare a beauty tonic for her, insisting on her continued perfection.

Venetia, growing desperate, secretly engages an apothecary to sell her “viper wine”—a strange potion said to bolster the blood and invigorate the skin. The results are instant, glorious, and addictive, and soon the ladies of the court of Charles I are looking unnaturally youthful. But there is a terrible price to be paid, as science clashes with magic, puritans rebel against the decadent monarchy, and England slides into civil war.

Based on real events and written with anachronistic verve, Viper Wine is an intoxicating brew of love, longing and vanity, where the 17th and 21st centuries mix and mingle in the most enchanting and mind-bending ways.


The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman (Riverhead-April 14th)

Synopsis-The Crimson Petal and the White meets Fight Club: A page-turning novel set in the world of female pugilists and their patrons in late eighteenth-century England.

Moving from a filthy brothel to a fine manor house, from the world of street fighters to the world of champions, The Fair Fight is a vivid, propulsive historical novel announcing the arrival of a dynamic new talent.

Born in a brothel, Ruth doesn’t expect much for herself beyond abuse. While her sister’s beauty affords a certain degree of comfort, Ruth’s harsh looks set her on a path of drudgery. That is until she meets pugilist patron George Dryer and discovers her true calling—fighting bare knuckles in the prize rings of Bristol.

Manor-born Charlotte has a different cross to bear. Scarred by smallpox, stifled by her social and romantic options, and trapped in twisted power games with her wastrel brother, she is desperate for an escape.

After a disastrous, life-changing fight sidelines Ruth, the two women meet, and it alters the perspectives of both of them. When Charlotte presents Ruth with an extraordinary proposition, Ruth pushes dainty Charlotte to enter the ring herself and learn the power of her own strength.

A gripping, page-turning story about people struggling to transcend the circumstances into which they were born and fighting for their own places in society, The Fair Fight is a raucous, intoxicating tale of courage, reinvention, and fighting one’s way to the top.


What You Left Behind by Samantha Hayes (Crown-April 14th)

Synopsis-A mesmerizing new thriller from the author of Until You’re Mine

Two years after a terrifying spate of teenage suicides, the remote village of Radcote has just begun to heal. Then a young man is killed in a freak motorcycle accident and a suicide note is found among his belongings. When a second boy is found dead shortly thereafter, the nightmare of repeat suicides once again threatens the community.

Desperate for a vacation, Detective Inspector Lorraine Fisher has just come to Radcote for a stay with her sister, Jo, but the atmosphere of the country house is unusually tense. Freddie, Jo’s son, seems troubled and uncommunicative, and Jo is struggling to reach out to him. Meanwhile, Lorraine becomes determined to discover the truth behind these deaths. Are they suicides, or is there something more sinister at work? Finding answers might help Freddie, but they’ll also lead to a shocking truth: whatever it is–or whoever it is–that’s killing these young people is far more disturbing than she ever could have imagined, and unraveling the secret is just as dangerous as the secret itself.

Wicked, intense, and utterly compulsive, What You Left Behind confirms Samantha Hayes as a top thriller writer.


The Russian Bride by Ed Kovacs (Minotaur-April 14th)

Synopsis-Major Kit Bennings is an elite military intelligence agent working undercover in Moscow. When he is blackmailed and compromised by a brutal mafia don and former KGB general, he knows that his military career, if not his life, will soon be over. With little to lose, he goes rogue in the hope of saving his kidnapped sister and stopping a deadly scheme directed against America.

Yulana Petkova is a gorgeous woman, devoted mother, and Russian weapons engineer. And maybe more. Spy? Mob assassin? The shotgun marriage to stranger Kit Bennings takes her on a life-or-death hopscotch from Moscow to Los Angeles, from secret US military bases to Las Vegas, where she uses her wiles at every turn to carry out her own hidden agenda.

Hunted by killers from both Russia and the United States, Bennings struggles to stop the mobster’s brilliant deception–a theft designed to go unnoticed–that will make the mafia kingpin the richest man in the world, while decimating the very heart of America’s economic and intelligence institutions.


The Thunder of Giants by Joel Fishbane (St. Martin’s Press-April 14th)

Synopsis-The year is 1937 and Andorra Kelsey – 7’11 and just over 320 pounds – is on her way to Hollywood to become a star. Hoping to escape both poverty and the ghost of her dead husband, she accepts an offer from the wily Rutherford Simone to star in a movie about the life of Anna Swan, the Nova Scotia giantess who toured the world in the 19th century.

Told in parallel, Anna Swan’s story unfurls. While Andorra is seen as a disgrace by an embarrassed family, Anna Swan is quickly celebrated for her unique size. Drawn to New York, Anna becomes a famed attraction at P.T. Barnum’s American Museum even as she falls in love with Gavin Clarke, a veteran of the Civil War. Quickly disenchanted with a life of fame, Anna struggles to prove to Gavin – and the world – that she is more than the sum of her measurements.Both meticulously researched and resounding with the force of myth, Joel Fishbane’s The Thunder of Giants blends fact and fiction in a sweeping narrative that spans nearly a hundred years. Against the backdrop of epic events, two extraordinary women become reluctant celebrities in the hopes of surviving a world too small to contain them.


Reykjavik Nights by Arnaldur Indridason (Minotaur-April 21st)

Synopsis-In this stunning prequel to his critically acclaimed Inspector Erlendur series, Arnaldur Indridason gives devoted fans a glimpse of Erlendur as a young, budding detective.

The beat on the streets in Reykjavik is busy: traffic accidents, theft, domestic violence, contraband … And an unexplained death.

When a tramp he met regularly on the night shift is found drowned in a ditch, no one seems to care. But his fate haunts Erlendur and drags him inexorably into the strange and dark underworld of the city.

The writer whose work The New York Times describes as “having the sweep and consequence of epic story telling” has outdone himself in this multi-layered and masterful suspense story. His latest book in the series, Strange Shores, was nominated for the 2014 Crime Writers of America Gold Dagger Award.


Pleasantville by Attica Locke (Harper-April 21st)

Synopsis-In this sophisticated thriller, lawyer Jay Porter, hero of Attica Locke’s bestseller Black Water Rising, returns to fight one last case, only to become embroiled once again in a dangerous game of shadowy politics and a witness to how far those in power are willing to go to win.

Fifteen years after the events of Black Water Rising, Jay Porter is struggling to cope with catastrophic changes in his personal life and the disintegration of his environmental law practice. His victory against Cole Oil is still the crown jewel of his career, even if he hasn’t yet seen a dime thanks to appeals. But time has taken its toll. Tired and restless, he’s ready to quit.

When a girl goes missing on Election Night, 1996, in the neighborhood of Pleasantville—a hamlet for upwardly mobile blacks on the north side of Houston—Jay, a single father, is deeply disturbed. He’s been representing Pleasantville in the wake of a chemical fire, and the case is dragging on, raising doubts about his ability.

The missing girl was a volunteer for one of the local mayoral candidates, and her disappearance complicates an already heated campaign. When the nephew of one of the candidates, a Pleasantville local, is arrested, Jay reluctantly finds himself serving as a defense attorney. With a man’s life and his own reputation on the line, Jay is about to try his first murder in a case that will also put an electoral process on trial, exposing the dark side of power and those determined to keep it.


The Memory Painter by Gwendolyn Womack (Picador-April 28th)

Synopsis-Two lovers who have traveled across time. A team of scientists at the cutting edge of memory research. A miracle drug that unlocks an ancient mystery.

Bryan Pierce is an internationally famous artist whose paintings have dazzled the world. But there’s a secret to his success: Every canvas is inspired by an unusually vivid dream. When Bryan awakes, he possesses extraordinary new skills…like the ability to speak obscure languages and an inexplicable genius for chess. All his life, he has wondered if his dreams are recollections, if he is re-experiencing other people’s lives.

Linz Jacobs is a brilliant neurogeneticist, absorbed in decoding the genes that help the brain make memories, until she is confronted with an exact rendering of a recurring nightmare at one of Bryan’s shows. She tracks down the elusive artist, and their meeting triggers Bryan’s most powerful dream yet: visions of a team of scientists who, on the verge of discovering a cure for Alzheimer’s, died in a lab explosion decades ago.

As Bryan becomes obsessed with the mysterious circumstances surrounding the scientists’ deaths, his dreams begin to reveal what happened at the lab, as well as a deeper mystery that may lead all the way to ancient Egypt. Together, Bryan and Linz start to discern a pattern. But a deadly enemy watches their every move, and he will stop at nothing to ensure that the past stays buried.

A taut thriller and a timeless love story spanning six continents and 10,000 years of history, The Memory Painter by Gwendolyn Womack is a riveting debut novel unlike any you’ve ever read.


The Doll Maker by Richard Montanari (Mulholland-April 28th)

Synopsis-Detectives Byrne and Balzano return to the streets of Philadelphia to put an end to a macabre succession of murdered children.

A quiet Philadelphia suburb. A woman cycles past a train depot with her young daughter. There she finds a murdered girl posed on a newly painted bench. Beside her is a formal invitation to a tea dance in a week’s time.

Seven days later, two more young victims are discovered in an abandoned house, posed on painted swings. At the scene is an identical invitation. This time, though, there is something extra waiting for Detectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano: a delicate porcelain doll.

It’s a message. And a threat. With the killers at large, Detectives Byrne and Balzano have just seven more days to find the link between the murders before another innocent child is snatched from the streets.

Read my review of The Stolen Ones


Dark City Lights:New York Stories edited by Lawrence Block (Three Rooms Press-April 28th)

Synopsis-Famed detective and mystery writer Lawrence Block (A Walk Among the Tombstones, 8 Million Ways to Die) takes the helm as guest editor for DARK CITY LIGHTS, the fourth edition of the Have a NYC series. Twenty-three thrilling, hilarious and poignant short stories—all based in New York City—written by new and acclaimed fiction masters, including Robert Silverberg (Hugo and Nebula Award multiple winner; grand master of SFWA); Ed Park (author, Personal Days; senior editor, Amazon’s literary imprint, Little A); Jim Fusilli (rock and pop music critic, Wall Street Journal; author, Closing Time and A Well-Known Secret); Parnell Hall (author, Last Puzzle & Testament); SJ Rozan (Edgar, Shamus, Anthony, Nero and Macavity award-wining author); Brian Koppelman (co-writer, Ocean’s 13 and Rounders); Elaine Kagan (author, No Good-Byes; actress, GoodFellas), and more. A brilliant book that redefines the New York of today—and tomorrow.


The Last Bookaneer by Matthew Pearl (Penguin Press-April 28th)

Synopsis-The bestselling author of The Dante Club takes us deep into a shadowy era in publishing ruled by a forgotten class of criminals
A golden age of publishing on the verge of collapse. For a hundred years, loose copyright laws and a hungry reading public created a unique opportunity: Books could be published without an author’s permission with extraordinary ease. Authors gained fame but suffered financially—Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, to name a few—but publishers reaped enormous profits while readers got their books on the cheap. The literary pirates who stalked the harbors, coffeehouses, and printer shops for the latest manuscript to steal were known as bookaneers.

Yet on the eve of the twentieth century, a new international treaty is signed to protect authors and grind this literary underground to a sharp halt. The bookaneers, of course, would become extinct. In The Last Bookaneer, Matthew Pearl gives us a historical novel set inside the lost world of these doomed outlaws and the incredible heist that brought their era to a close.

On the island of Samoa, a dying Robert Louis Stevenson labors over a new novel. The thought of one last book from the great author fires the imaginations of the bookaneers, and soon two adversaries—the gallant Pen Davenport and the monstrous Belial—set out for the south Pacific island. Pen Davenport—a tortured criminal genius haunted by his past—is reluctantly accompanied by Fergins, the narrator of our story, who has lived a quiet life of bookselling before being whisked across the world on his friend’s final caper. Fergins soon discovers the supreme thrill of aiding Davenport in his quest: to steal Stevenson’s manuscript and make a fortune before the new treaty ends the bookaneers’ trade forever.

Yet Samoa holds many secrets of its own, and the duo’s bookish concerns clash with the island’s violent destiny. A colonial war is afoot between the British, American, and German powers; even as Stevenson himself quietly supports native revolutionaries from high in his mountain compound. Soon Pen and Fergins are embroiled in a conflict larger, perhaps, than literature itself. Illuminating the heroics of the bookaneers even while conjuring Stevenson himself to breathtaking life, Pearl’s The Last Bookaneer is a pageturning journey to the dark heart of a forgotten literary era.


The Dismantling by Brian DeLeeuw (Little, Brown-March 17th)

Synopsis-How much of yourself are you willing to sell?

Brian DeLeeuw hits that sweet spot between literary and commercial suspense with his brilliantly adept, ingeniously plotted novel—a chilling, fast-paced drama that urges readers to question the meaning of atonement and whether revenge might sometimes be the only way we can liberate ourselves from our past.

Twenty-five-year-old med school dropout Simon Worth is an organ broker, buying kidneys and livers from cash-strapped donors and selling them to recipients whose time on the waitlist is running out. When a seemingly straightforward liver transplant has an unexpectedly dangerous outcome, Simon finds himself on the run. In order to survive, he must put aside his better moral judgment and place his trust in a stranger who has a shocking secret.

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