Wednesday, April 17, 2013

New England Mysteries: Lea Wait, Steve Ulfelder, J.P. Choquette

Maine author Lea Wait's newest title, SHADOWS ON A CAPE COD WEDDING, slipped into print a week or so ago while I was navigating through major editing deadlines ... but the workload here made me all the more pleased to have read this neatly constructed Cape Cod autumn small-town mystery. It was the perfect antidote, keeping me interested, intrigued, and cheerful.

Wait's "Shadows" series has mostly been set in Maine (this is the sixth;, but this time Maggie Summer, a dealer in antique prints, has an October wedding to attend on the Cape. She's the maid of honor for her dear friend Gussie, owner of local antique shop Aunt Augusta's Attic. And it would all be perfect -- except that before Maggie even has a chance to find Gussie, she finds a dead body on the beach. That's rough news all around: Maggie's record of stumbling over violent death is long enough to work against her by now, complications could affect the wedding plans, and Maggie's own sweetheart, Will, is definitely not going to appreciate Maggie's instant commitment to helping solve the crime.

Stormy weather and threats of violence lead to a far-from-cozy situation -- and if Maggie can actually solve the issues for her friends and for the family of the dead man, there's no guarantee it will solve her own. A good read, sweet with a smoky edge of intrigue and suspense.

I was very excited to latch onto an advance copy of Steve Ulfelder's third Conway Sax thriller, SHOTGUN LULLABY. Ulfelder is making the most of the socioeconomic fracture lines of the rest of Massachusetts (off the Cape) -- wealthy industrialists and hard-hitting criminals practically next door to blue-collar clusters of folks to scrape by on hard work and sometimes hard drinking. But Conway Sax is done with the drinking part, and done with getting in trouble with the law: An "oldtimer" in the local Alcoholics Anonymous group, he's trying to figure out ordinary domestic life (the kind that comes with rocky finances and confused stepdaughters) while also committing to straightening out the newly sober when they need a mature hand (or a boot in the seat) to get their lives back on track.

Sax even has a friend on the police force, as well as his AA buddies. But "sponsoring" young Gus Biletnikov has complications that the 12-step program doesn't address: the strong likeness between Gus and Sax's much-loved son who won't speak to him anymore, and Gus's own mixed-up family where money and love get misdirected, time after time. Before he's had time to say the Serenity Prayer, Sax is dodging hard-core criminals and psychopaths, while trying to redeem Gus's short life and make sense of his own family's needs. Taut, believable, layered, SHOTGUN LULLABY bears witness to life on life's terms: sometimes sweet, more often hard to handle, and occasionally downright dangerous.

Ulfelder's earlier work -- Purgatory Chasm and The Whole Lie -- brought him an Edgar Award nomination and a lot of fans. This third Conway Sax crime and detection novel is going to win more acclaim, more readers ... and earn a heck of a lot of appreciation. Release date is May 14; visit Ulfelder's website,

Add a second New England state to this crime fiction list with a debut thriller from J. P. Choquette of Vermont -- EPIDEMIC is a medical thriller set in the hardscrabble town of St. Albans, less than an hour away from urban Burlington. Choquette forms her own take on the medical thriller style of Michael Crichton and pulls it home to small-town life, where people's connections both complicate and comfort.  Ava Morely, a relatively new nurse confronting a rapidly spreading deadly virus, finds her life moving into reverse as she runs into journalist Everett James. He's not just a prying reporter -- he's also someone she last saw next to the altar on her wedding day. The two quickly align in both a medical battle to save lives, and a web of threats that connect to the epidemic around them. Self-published by its "Vermont independent" author, the book's small flaws (alas for the lack of a pro editor) are easy to overlook, and the pace and deft characterizations convince me that Choquette's second thriller -- already in process -- will be at least as good.

A great chance to catch a fine debut while Choquette's still less well known than she deserves! Order online, and visit the author's enjoyable website:

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