Friday, January 17, 2020

LIARS' LEGACY, Taylor Stevens, Second Thriller in New Series

One big benefit of recent global events is, the favorite terrain of international thrillers—pitting Russians against Americans—is suddenly very close at hand and of great concern. Author Taylor Stevens showcased stunning martial arts knowledge and close fighting, as well as advanced weaponry, in her Vanessa Michael Munroe thrillers over the past decade. Now, in a powerful switch to a brother-sister team targeted by multiple assassination forces, Stevens lays out the ultimate conflicts on a European canvas: secrets, power, and above all, potential profits.

While siblings Jill and John (aka Jack), loyal yet often in conflict, struggle to deplane after escaping Dallas (see the prequel, Liars' Paradox), they're unaware that at least two "kill teams" are after them. A collapse in the global assassination market has followed the death of a figure called the Broker, who's kept murder-for-hire available to government agencies. Now it's time to "take out" all the freelancers who ever worked for the Broker. That means at least Jill -- and since the siblings' missing mother Clare was the Broker's final target, there are reasons for these killer contractors to have Jack on their lists, too.

LIARS' LEGACY takes the legacy the siblings have from Clare — not just combat skills but disguises, safe houses, multiple identities — and spins it into both a dangerous safety net for Jill and Jack, and a trap that keeps them seeking Clare herself in the manipulations and risks that surround them. Stevens punches the action in sharp short chapters from several points of view, and danger escalates: Fans of Jason Bourne, and even more so of Karen Robards and Karen Slaughter, will feel at home in this high-tension action thriller with its constant twists of pressure and information. Even if Jill and Jack can enlist some allies, they're overwhelmed by the numbers. Plus they can't trust their own alliance:
Jill gave him a heavy dose of side-eye. "Why would anyone come after us in the first place if they didn't already know what they were chasing?"

[Jack] didn't have an answer for that, either.

"I marked four," she said. "How many do you think we missed?"

He shrugged in noncommittal nonanswer.

There was no we here. He knew exactly how many operatives had followed him off that flight, and he also knew they weren't the only ones who'd come looking. There'd been another spotter in the waiting area — he'd made the guy right about the time he caught sight of Jill — and where there was one, there'd be others. Priorities had forced him to keep moving and trust that she'd find what needed finding and let him know the rest later.

The whole truth required quid pro quo, and she was holding out.
This second book in the new series from Stevens is much stronger than the first, which explained many connections but lacked the sustained force of risk that LIARS' LEGACY conveys. While it's always good to read a series in order, especially to appreciate the author's growth, this may mark one of the rare exception. Best advice: Leap into LIARS' LEGACY and then, more slowly, pick up the prequel and pick apart the threads.

Because for sure, in this Taylor Stevens series, every thread is going to contribute to the ongoing action and revelation of this book and the ones to follow. (Don't you hate having to wait a year between titles?!)

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

TRACKING GAME, Margaret Mizushima, Timber Creek K-9 Mystery #5

Mattie Cobb has a canine partner in police investigation: her trained K-9, Robo, who also acts in part as a chaperone. But when crime and death break out, Robo is all business.

TRACKING GAME is the fifth in the K-9 police procedural series from Colorado author Margaret Mizushima. Deftly portraying the allure of watching this kind of investigation partnership in action -- the gestures that alert a dog's highest capacity to seek, the communication between animal and handler, the risks they tackle together -- Mizushima adds to it a fitting strand of growing romance between Cobb and the veterinarian who keeps her dog fit. Mattie and vet Cole Walker both have engrossing careers that leave them with little spare time, but at least this time, they're learning how to make space for each other.

But then again: With the unfolding criminal entanglement at Timber Creek, even the usual shreds of down time may vanish:
Cole still knelt beside his friend, apparently assessing his condition, while Mattie's heart thudded in her throat. Who in the world could've killed Nate Fletcher? And did the person who shot him torch his van to destroy some kind of evidence?
Mizushima spins an active, smoothly constructed crime novel that tugs at interpersonal connections while also laying the familiar card of a ranch threatened with foreclosure and a possible gambling habit. Then she lights up the strands with a new form of smuggling: exotic wildlife for highly illegal "big game" hunting for big dollars.

The twists of the plot are balanced best by the moments of Robo going into action, prepared for it by Mattie Cobb:
She turned to go to her Explorer, and as she approached, Robo started his happy dance, his head bobbing behind the front seats. He'd probably been watching the entire time, wondering when it would be his turn to play. It took mere seconds to prep him, and when she slipped on his narcotics detection collar, it focused all that eagerness into work. She clipped on his leash and used the phrase that would communicate his mission. "You want to find some dope? Let's go!"
K-9 policing will be new to many crime fiction authors. It makes a great new "shelf" of books to collect, starting with Mizushima's five (she describes them as stand-alones with a character arc). Add this also to Western mysteries, to female leads, and to well-done police procedurals. Violence? Enough for crime, but not gory, although brace for some wildlife moments that aren't always gentle (Western life, right?). Consider this a traditional mystery, treading fresh ground.

Published by Crooked Lane, and already available.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Going Global from 2019: In Laos with Colin Cotterill, in South Africa with Tim Willocks

International mysteries abound now, and make up the second best way to get to know another location and culture -- the first best, of course, being a visit there in person. For those of us staying home this season, thank goodness for Colin Cotterill!

Cotterill's Siri Paiboun series keeps getting more off-beat and more fun, as his Laotian national coroner (circa 1980) ages. Dr. Siri in this 14th book is now 76, and his physical challenges are small compared to his spiritual ones, since he is possessed by a thousand-year-old shaman and finds the other world often intruding into his practical life of would-be retirement and comfortable meals with his noodle-making wife and their friends.

THE SECOND BIGGEST NOTHING refers to a quip of John Kerry's in the past, calling the Vietnam war "the Biggest Nothing in history." Then what was the overlapping war in Laos and Cambodia? To Dr. Siri, obviously it must have been the second biggest nothing! But a hangover from those days is the unresolved anger in some of the survivors, and now there's a major death threat in Dr. Siri's life as a revenge move. Spurring him to frantic action and passionate unraveling of his war-era actions is the size of the threat, which is directed at his family and friends as well.

Siri's police inspector buddy Phosy reminds him to start with the repetitive nature of the threat itself:
"I'm guessing that when he made that threat initially you would have sensed that it was more than just words. You would have seen him as capable of following through with it. It would have frightened you. For some time you would have been looking over your shoulder. On how many occasions have you experienced that kind of fear in your life?"

All eyes turned to Siri. He looked up at the lamp and seemed to be rewinding through his seventy-six years. He sniffed when he reached the end.

"Twice," he said. ... "Better make it three times," said Siri. "Just to be sure. .. I'm not given to panic, but I confess to missing a few heartbeats on those occasions."
As Dr. Siri spins out his personal history for his friends, he reveals the history of his country's war experience at the same time.

Brace for some shudders, as well as the sweet entertainment that Cotterill always provides, full of love of family and friends and efforts to set things right ... that sometimes go awry. A fun read, and one of the most enjoyable mysteries of 2019. From Soho Press, and easily available through orders at local bookstores, as well as online.

* * *

The development of noir within the mysteries genre has often reflected on the term's roots in "film noir" and brought Los Angeles, New York, and many another city with vast socioeconomic inequality into dark fiction. It's also become a home for crime fiction that's rooted in historic injustice and bitterness, as in the Irish noir of Stuart Neville, or even landscapes that produce darkness for large parts of the year, such as the Arctic and Scandinavia.

But for crime fiction where violence is a steel-strong cultural strand, South Africa repeatedly hosts a driven darkness. The names of the authors may not be common in full-page ads in review magazines, but their power is fierce and their writing can shatter the everyday: I'm thinking of Jassy Mackenzie, Malla Nunn, Paul Hardisty, James McClure.

And, new to me this year: Tim Willocks. Willocks, who's also a screenwriter and hence lays out his fiction in action-packed scenes, wrote at least four published novels before MEMO FROM TURNER swept out from Blackstone Publishing. Count on that background for the strength and ferocity of this thriller, in which Turner, a black "warrant officer" with Cape Town's homicide unit, struggles to nail a killer across lines both racial and socioeconomic.

Readers will know early in the book the identity of the likely killer, who's casually injured a black street girl with his high-end Range Rover, while very much inebriated. It's the mandated cover-up by the young man's powerful mining-magnate family that becomes a threat to Turner himself, as he struggles to find a way to force a confession and some kind of justice.
[Jason] looked at. Turner as if giving him his full attention for the first time.

"Turner, right?"


"Where's Rudy?"

"I thought we'd handle this without him ... Rudy said you'd make a witness statement."

Jason waved the jug. "I didn't hurt a f***ing fly in Cpae Town."

"I didn't think you did."

"Now Rudy tells me they want me in a cell, sh**ting in the same bucket as five blacks."

"Tell me what happened early Sunday morning, outside the shebeen."

"You know what happened."

"I wasn't there," said Turner. "I need to hear it from you."

... If Jason would have let him, Turner would have gone. The dash-cam video would be enough to push a warrant through. He felt no pity for the hulking young farmer; but he had no desire to kill him.
Unflinching in his portrayal of a landscape without pity and a stacked deck of injustice, Willocks slams Turner against all of it, and the body count rises swiftly. But there is always an aura of enormous regret in this thriller, something that also seems to ooze from the battered landscape and its terrible history.

It's a book that's hard to put down, and impossible to forget. So consider yourself warned -- but I hope you pursue a copy, and dare to read it all. It's worth all the unease and disturbance. And the deadly risks that Turner's willing to undergo.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

Getting Ready for Holiday Relaxing, with "Cozy" Mysteries from Bree Baker, Lucy Burdette, Denise Swanson

Lists, guests, expectations ... the big year-end holidays can be overwhelming. Even the moments of loving kindness, grace, and appreciation for the holy (especially one's neighbors) can wear a person a bit thin on energy or social pleasure.

Which must be why "cozy" mysteries fit so perfectly for so many in this time of year! Relax, chuckle, ride a small wave of suspense, have confidence that almost everything will come out right -- and even, with some in this genre, pick up an extra delicious recipe to add to your festive kitchen.

Amateur sleuth Hayley Snow is always good for a new recipe, from seafood to dessert. The protagonist of Lucy Burdette's very popular Key West Food Critic Mysteries, Hayley writes a regular column for a community newspaper on the south Florida island famous for Hemingway, festivals, parties, and restaurants. Although she's technically not a "hard news" reporter, her editor often assigns her to take a broad view of a food or restaurant or vacation trend -- and Hayley's ongoing romance with police officer Nathan Bransford helps her justify her urge to climb into risky situations for the sake of justice, or a good friend.

As A DEADLY FEAST (number 9 in the series) opens, Hayley's struggling to get a final assignment done for Key Zest magazine before leaping into the family-complicated celebration of her long-planned wedding to Nathan. Of course there's still the question of whether their home will be ready in time, not to mention a family-and-friends Thanksgiving feast to pull off. But murder, alas, intervenes, and the suspense swings back and forth between who's done the deed, who might be next, and surviving to walk down the aisle!
I couldn't keep my mind from circling back to Nathan's mysterious case. I felt intensely curious. Why wouldn't he tell me more? The answer wasn't obvious like the time last winter when he'd been in charge of security for the Havana/Key West event and its major celebrities ... The more secretive he acted, the more curious I got.
This is one of Burdette's best yet, with steady tension, some quick grins at the turns that friendships take, and well-plotted clues and investigation. The recipes at the end of the book, for Key lime pie, smoked fish dip, and more, are the icing on a terrific cake. For good entertainment that will let you kick back and breathe, no matter how much snow does or doesn't fall, pick up a copy. (And an extra for the gift stack, maybe? From Crooked Lane Books.)


Bree Baker's Seaside Café Mysteries, set in the seaside town of Charm, North Carolina, provide consistent delights: light sweet romance, deftly twisted mysteries that pit members of the close community against each other, and protagonist Everly Swan's warm-hearted life as owner of a tea shop next to the beach, within easy reach of her two endearing great aunts who mentor her and help out in the kitchen.

Two titles in the series arrived in 2019: NO GOOD TEA GOES UNPUNISHED opens with Everly catering a beach wedding and providing a new tea blend for the occasion: "Hibiscus tea, cinnamon sticks, a dash of sugar to taste, lemon for garnish. I call it the Blushing Bride. It's a signature creation for your special day." That's Everly, enjoying every moment -- until there's blood on the cake knife and death in the sands.

By the time the friction explodes into the community (politics! great aunts!) and Everly's barely-started love life, the triangle of motive-means-opportunity is ringing nonstop. Hang on for the ride, ignore any to-do lists (pizza is best when delivered, right?), and read to the end to get the reward of a pair of tea recipes and another for "signature pineapple chicken wraps." Why not stage a beach party for the New Year? (I'm thinking.)

Then Baker also brought out TIDE AND PUNISHMENT this fall, and since the first words of the book are Merry Christmas, it's a perfect fit for this season. In this third in the series (the review for book 1, Live and Let Chai, is here), Baker puts Everly's great-aunt Fran onto the suspect list right away -- which in turn means both Everly and Fran are at increasing risk, as evidence about the mayor's murder piles up. It's easy to lose track of the "cozy" aspect of this mystery, since the tension never lets up. But of course the ending is faithful and just, and there's a recipe for (yumm!) gingerbread bars as a reward. [These are both from Sourcebooks, with the latter coming under this publisher's Poisoned Pen Press imprint.]


Denise Swanson's Scumble River, Illinois, mysteries got a reboot a couple of years back, so COME HOMICIDE OR HIGH WATER clocks in as the third in the "Welcome Back to Scumble River" group. Protagonist Skye Denison-Boyd has just six weeks left of her maternity leave as a school psychologist, and she's already working part time because her fill-in person is a bit scared of the tough cases ... but Skye also has twin babies, a police chief husband, a pushy mom and a controlling father-in-law (they both mean well and are usually sweet, but totally overwhelming too!), and a not-yet-finished house, with Christmas around the corner. (Feel better about your own situation for the holidays now? I do!)

Murder strikes all too soon, and Skye herself discovers the body -- of a woman who'd just filed suit against her school:
Skye knew she wasn't being logical. She knew that the murderer would have attacked Earl or her rather than wait for an armed police officer. But now that she and Wally had kids, some protective instinct had kicked into high gear, and she worried about everyone even more than she had before becoming a mother.
The plot twists are intense and unusually surprising; this is still a great book to unwind with, because Skye has such amazing support people in her life and enough insight to head the investigation toward a good solution. But COME HOMICIDE OR HIGH WATER whips so much suspense that it calls for an occasional break to grab some hot chocolate with a candy cane or a couple of holiday cookies (sugar? almond? rugelach?) for extra comfort. Of all the ones on this page, this is the one to grab for energy! Oh, it won't come out until December 31, but can be pre-ordered of course, from a local bookseller or online. Consider it recovery fuel, for yourself and a best friend or book club.

No need to read the others before this one, but for a taste of Denise Swanson's other titles, check out the reviews here.

Here's wishing you a "cozy" set of holidays ahead!

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Saturday, December 07, 2019

More 2019 Crime Fiction to Sample, from J. D. Allen, Luca Veste, David Putnam

Sort these terms between the categories of "mystery" and "crime fiction": investigation, puzzle, elucidate, race the clock, sleep on it, round up resources, prevention, seek justice.

There, you see? Even on the days when you can't spell out the difference, it's there.

So here are three powerful works of crime fiction from 2019, with diverse locations and investigations, and a drive to cope with an often dark and violent world:

J. D. Allen's second in her Sin City Investigations series is SKIN GAME, again featuring Las Vegas private investigator Jim Bean, as in the first book, 19 Souls. The plot is intense — Jim's ex-fiancée turns up looking for her missing sister, and Jim's own disastrous past surges up to overflow and consume him. The human trafficking ring he faces turns this book into high-risk suspense. The writing also thrives by including great moments of what's important in life, like this cat, for instance:
[Ely] pulled the fussing feline out. "Didn't want the pigs to let her out or hurt her when they pulled their Stormtrooper act." He cooed at her. Patted her head. She calmed down some. ...

Again, Jim fought the urge to let the past and his anger overwhelm him. Annie [the cat] leapt from Ely's arms to his. She clung to his shoulder, digging in with her claws. He inhaled her kitty scent. Petted down her soft back fur. "I really like that damn door. Just painted it blue."
Reed Farrel Coleman blurbed this book, and Jeffrey Deaver blurbed the first one; it's close in feel to their urban suspense, but also a good match for those who enjoy Karen Slaughter and today's California Noir authors. [Midnight Ink is the publisher.]


The sixth book from English author Luca Veste, who describes himself as of Italian and Scouse heritage, is a terrifying crossover of very dark (noir) crime fiction, and horror. THE BONE KEEPER begins with three teens daring each other to pass through a dark tunnel -- and one never makes it back out. DC Louise Henderson probes the case through the uncertain and frightening memories of victims who may have experienced related attacks:
"How did you get away, Caroline?" Louise asked, not taking her eyes off the woman in the bed. "How did you end up on that road?"

Caroline shook her head, blinking away more tears. "I don't know. I don't remember. I was just suddenly ... out. I must have broken whatever was holding me. ... I just know. It was going to kill me. There's no way it would have let me go. No one every gets away from it."
Veste has a perfect pace of terror, suspense, and discovery, so that even though the book had me checking the locked door and turning on extra lights, I never put it down until the end.

[This author's website is not up to date, but here is his agent's. Sourcebooks is the publisher.]


David Putnam, a former law enforcement pro, writes the Bruno Johnson series. THE RECKLESS, his 2019 title, is the sixth. He won a lot of praise for the earlier books, of which I liked The Squandered, but not so much The Vanquished. I was relieved to find THE RECKLESS taut and well-paced with wonderful twists. Bruno Johnson, a young Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff, gets loaned out to the FBI and finds himself caught up in a criminal case that links back to a triple homicide from Johnson's own past, and an episode in the Watts riot of 1965, when he was a kid -- and his father witnessed an accident, extricated a child, and had Bruno, only a child himself, drive them to the hospital, the only way Dad sitting in the passenger seat could keep the child alive.
"Faster, son. You're going to have to go faster. You're doing fine. We only have ten blocks to go, that's all." He brought his foot over and put it on top of mine, and pushed down. The car lurched forward.

One block passed, then another.

"There. There's a police officer," Dad said. "Honk the horn. Honk."

Dad had always taught be to stay away from the police whenever possible, that sometimes the police did not treat blacks appropriately. That's all he'd say about it. My entire life, I'd dodged them, took the long way around, whenever I came upon them. Now, he wanted me to get their attention while I was committing a crime.
Putnam's writing isn't always as smooth as the writers at the top of the field, but it's always edgy, well paced, and comes squarely to grip with the grit and harshness of real life. He continues to earn praise from authors like Michael Connelly and Timothy Hallinan, and he's earned it for sure with THE RECKLESS. [Oceanview Publishing deserves big credit for these.]

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Do You Like Your Espionage Icy or Warm? Check out JOE COUNTRY by Mick Herron

Mick Herron's Slough House espionage novels come along mostly as an annual series now, with occasional diversions into standalone works and novellas and such. JOE COUNTRY is the sixth full-length novel in the set that opened with Slough Horses, where the ever-farting and outwardly vulgar Jackson Lamb corrals the failures of Britain's government-run system: the men and women who've committed mistakes so glaring or costly (or stupid) that they can't be allowed back in the saddle, yet can't be simply fired either, since they know too darned much. Hence Lamb verbally abuses and embarrasses them while giving them small tasks to keep them out of trouble.

But readers of the series know that some of what's put the "slough horses" into this corral has been bad luck or someone else's successful venial plot. Or love. Or grief. So from time to time, Jackson Lamb sends his crew out to actually accomplish something in "joe country": the landscape of where the working spy, aka the "joe," struggles to undermine the forces of evil and somehow stay alive.

In John Le Carré's classic espionage series, George Smiley's drive is not really love or protectiveness, but an ardent belief in honor that can only be justified if he can make the scales around him come into balance. To do that, he has to pay attention to and care about the small people being run over by the government and espionage ("church and spy") maneuvers and sacrifice plays.

Herron gives a very different set of characters, only one of whom might fit into Smiley's honorable world: River Cartwright, grandson and espionage heir of the O.B. (Old Bast***). But as JOE COUNTRY gets underway, River's grandfather is dying, not going to outlast the day.
He had thought about calling his mother, but for no longer than it took to shake his head. Then he'd willed himself up and into yesterday's clothes, arriving at Skylarks, the nursing home, before the sun. His grandfather had been moved into a room that was purpose-built to die in, though nobody actually said so. The lighting was gentle, and the view through the window of winter hills, their treeline a skeleton chorus. The bed the O.B. would never leave was a clinical, robust device, with upright panels to prevent him from rolling off, and various machines monitoring his progress. On one, his pulse echoed, a signal tapping out from a wavering source. A last border crossing, thought River. His grandfather was entering joe country.
River's deep solitude of the soul, and his bitter state of mourning, were in place long before his grandfather began to fail. But they're not a symbol for the state of England (or Britain); they're an honest assessment of his world and his provoked failures in it, as well as the violence of joe country itself. Each of the others who accompany River in Lamb's entourage is broken in some way, some of the ways more entertaining than others—it can be a hoot to see Roderick Ho lasciviously spy on random women and think he's a hot ticket, while it's desperately sad to walk with Catherine Standish as she flirts with destroying herself alcoholically ... only holding back in order to either punish or rescue Lamb (pick any two).

Meanwhile, the Park—that is, the formally surviving manor of espionage where the pay and the politics both serve as honed blades—aims to destroy Lamb and his entourage. Fortunately, Lamb's not just tricky and malicious (and much smarter than his opponents): He's discovered a dangerous foreign agent manipulating the top brass and knows how to use that to ensure protection for his game.

It's Catherine Standish, despite her vulnerability, who takes in the whole scope of the mess at last. "She had to remind herself, maybe for the millionth time, that this was the world she lived in; that Spook Street wasn't all boring reports in manila folders. That joe country lay around the corner."

The twists and wicked humor in JOE COUNTRY, combined with the odd forms of loyalty embedded in the operations underway, make it a classic. Shelve it. Mark for re-reading. (I have.)

Do you need to read the others in the series first? I always want to say no, but ... tell you what, pick any of the preceding titles (Slow Horses, Dead Lions, Real Tigers, Spook Street, London Rules) and read that one first. Then JOE COUNTRY will feel twice as satisfying.

But no matter which route you take, when you finish this book, make room for the other Mick Herron titles on the same shelf. They deserve the space, including in the heart.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Monday, December 02, 2019

Magicians and Mystery, in NOW YOU SEE THEM from Elly Griffiths

When Elly Griffiths opened her "Magic Men Mystery Series," the threads and tension drew on the experience of a team of illusionists, some professional, helping Britain protect itself from World War II bombings. How the men perceived what they'd done in the war and the echoes remaining in their postwar lives deepened the suspense.

With her fifth in the series, NOW YOU SEE THEM Griffiths has already arrived in the 1960s in her seacoast once-was-resort town of Brighton, and those wartime connections have little meaning. The book opens, in fact, with a funeral for The Great Diablo, and Edgar Stephens, now the Detective Superintendent for the city's police force, sees the adventures of his youth being buried too.

But at least Edgar still has crime investigation to do! For his wife Emma, who loved her work on the police force and who's now parenting three small children, even attending the funeral and seeing Max Mephisto there is painful, as she resents the loss of her main identity:
"So, Mrs. Stephens," said Max, "how's married life?"

"We've been married for ten years now," said Emma, rather tartly. She wasn't sure that she liked Max's new habit of calling her Mrs. Stephens. As a child she'd hated her maiden name, Holmes (the source of much teasing when she entered the police force), but now she rather missed it.
Emma also has reason to feel envious of the new young WPC (woman police constable) on the force, Maggie -- who in turn is sick of the way her colleagues hold up Emma as an unattainably heroic beauty.

These frictions push Emma into her own investigations as schoolgirls in the region begin to disappear, and eventually they tip the balance on how much she'll risk to pursue the criminal and reach the girls in time to prevent more than one murder.

Count on revelations about "mods and rockers," Brighton's smuggling history, and the art of magic -- along with as strong traditional mystery framework that lets Griffiths move into the terrain she's already established so well in her other series featuring archaeological specialist Ruth Galloway: the hard choices women face daily in balancing what they want from life. (There are hints that Griffiths will also tag men's choices in her next book, as Max Mephisto and his daughter Ruby work out their own fates in more detail.)

Griffiths is a polished, tight writer, and like her other books, NOW YOU SEE THEM provides a good share of astonishing revelations. Enjoy it as a holiday treat to yourself, and shelve with women sleuths, England, postwar, and sleight of hand.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.