The Jury Box

by Steve Steinbock

I’ve been working my way through the works of Ellery Queen, especially the early novels, which include the Barnaby Ross tetralogy. So my mind has been tuned in to the motifs, settings, and plotting devices that Dannay and Lee brought to their books and the genre. This month I was taken by surprise when the first book in our lineup, by an author I would have never associated with Queen, revealed many characteristics similar to a classic Queen novel.

***** Archer Mayor, Marked Man, St. Martin’s Minotaur, $28.99. Marked Man—the thirty-second title in the Brattleboro, Vermont Joe Gunther series—opens with a medical student working on a cadaver discovering that his “patient,” an elderly man believed to have died of natural causes a year earlier, had in fact been strangled. When Gunther and team begin their investigation, they learn that the dead man was Nathan Lyon, a multimillionaire who converted an old mill into a huge family compound that he controlled with an iron hand. Details about the dead man’s life—and his death—don’t add up, and as the investigation proceeds, two more members of the Lyon household die under suspicious circumstances. I was struck by several similarities between Marked Man and Ellery Queen’s work: a New England setting is reminiscent of Queen’s Wrightsville novels; the hero, Joe Gunther, has the same avuncular quality as Ellery’s father, Inspector Richard Queen; the most striking similarity was the situation—members of a large, wealthy, multigenerational household begin dying off due largely to the dark secrets of the family’s past. With several side plots all leading to the Lyon family’s case, Mayor brings the book to a surprising and satisfying conclusion.

***** Alafair Burke, Find Me, Harper, $26.99. On a highway in rural New Jersey fifteen years earlier, college student Lindsay Kelly discovers a young woman on the road beside an overturned SUV. The woman has no identification and no memory of who she is or how she got there. She takes the name “Hope Miller” and becomes Linsday’s lifelong best friend. Now in her early thirties, Hope moves to East Hampton, New York, to start a new life for herself. But before she’s had time to settle, Hope goes missing. The locals suspect that Hope is a scammer who ran off with her boss’s money, but Lindsay is convinced that Hope is in danger. Has something—or someone—from Hope’s life before the accident finally caught up with her? Find Me is a moving novel of suspense with unexpected twists right up to the last page.

***** Martin Limón, War Women, Soho Crime, $14.99. Sergeants George Sueño and Ernie Bascom have relied on Sergeant “Strange” Harvey for intelligence in their role as MPs for the U.S. Army. But as book sixteen in this series set in 1970s Korea opens, “Strange” is missing, and it’s up to Sueño and Bascom to find him. Their quest leads to a North Korean spy operation. Along the way, they learn that a group of female GIs are being systematically raped by their colleagues as their superiors look the other way. The “War Women” of the title are an all-female field transportation unit that have decided to take a stand against sexual assault. Various story lines converge on the battle line in this superb volume by a regular contributor to our sister publication, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.

**** Lisa Scottoline, What Happened to the Bennetts, Putnam, $28.00. Jason Bennett and his family are on their way home from his fifteen-year-old daughter’s field-hockey game when they become victim to a carjacking. The Bennetts’ dog breaks loose from the car, and in the confusion one of the assailants fires his gun, killing his partner as well as the Bennetts’ teenage daughter. The dead assailant turns out to be the son of a drug trafficking mob boss who wants revenge on the killer of his son, whom he believes is Jason. Before the family can begin to process their grief, they are taken into Witness Protection. To the friends and family they left behind, it seems that the Bennetts vanished into thin air. Rumors begin to circulate that Jason killed his own family and is now on the run. When Jason discovers there was more to the carjacking than first appeared, he takes the law into his own hands. Despite a few sappy moments and the occasional need to suspend disbelief, Find Me was an emotional and hard-to-put-down novel of suspense.

**** Melissa Yi, White Lightning, Windtree Press, $4.99 ebook, $14.99 TPB. Speakeasies, bootleggers, and the ghosts of chimney sweeps haunt the latest mystery featuring Montreal E.R. doctor Hope Sze. The “detective doctor” is spending a weekend with her fiancé and another couple during a dress-up “Rogue-Con,” a celebration of fictional villains in Windsor, Ontario. As they learn about the town’s history as a rumrunning port during Prohibition, Hope’s friend Tori begins seeing ghostly apparitions. After finding human bones in a blocked-off chimney, Hope helps unravel a century-old act of injustice as well as a current case of corruption and abuse that becomes shockingly personal. Yi’s writing is well researched and exciting, and manages at times to be erotically charged and at others poignantly tragic. Yi’s stories have appeared both in EQMM and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Hope Sze recently appeared in the short story “Flamingo Flamenco” in the May/June 2021 issue of EQMM.

***** Rebecca K. Jones, Steadying the Ark, Bella Books, $17.95. Rebecca Jones appeared in the September/October 2009 EQMM when her story “History on the Bedroom Wall” (cowritten with her father and frequent EQMM contributor Josh Pachter) was included in the Department of First Stories. In this debut novel, Jones draws on her experience as a prosecutor for the Arizona Attorney General’s office. Assistant District Attorney Mackenzie “Mack” Wilson is called to the scene by Tucson police when a girl shows up at a convenience store, her naked body covered with signs of beating and sexual abuse. The girl is unable to speak and begins screaming any time a man gets close. The girl, it turns out, is the daughter of a local politician who is close friends with Tucson’s chief of police and the secretary of state, as well as Mack’s boss. When evidence points to the father, Mack finds her investigation thwarted at every turn. Informed by the five years the author spent prosecuting sex crimes in Arizona, Steadying the Ark is part police procedural and part courtroom drama as well as a disturbing exposé of extreme fundamentalist Mormonism.

**** Stacy Willingham, A Flicker in the Dark, St. Martin’s Minotaur, $27.99. Twenty years ago, twelve-year old Chloe Davis’s father confessed to killing six teenage girls, based largely on evidence that Chloe herself discovered. Today Chloe is living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and working as a psychologist while her father remains behind bars, serving multiple life sentences. As Chloe prepares for her own wedding, two teenage girls go missing, one of them her own patient. Willingham’s debut novel tells an emotional and suspenseful story about the devastating effects of crime on the unsuspecting members of the killer’s family.

As usual, The Jury Box has gone overlong this issue. But there are a few other titles worth mentioning. The Secrets We Share (Kensington, $26.00) is the first standalone novel by Edwin Hill, who’s had a couple of stories appear in the pages of EQMM. It tells of two sisters, one a Boston P.D. detective and the other a baking blogger, forced to face their past when an unidentified body is found in an abandoned house and the younger sister begins receiving ominous messages. Former NCAA quarterback Eli Cranor’s Don’t Know Tough (Soho Crime, $24.95) is the story of Trent Powers, a football coach in rural Arkansas who takes a troubled student under his wing. It’s a painfully honest and moving work of Southern Noir and was  the winner of the Peter Lovesey First Crime Novel contest. From football to Chinese noodles, in Hot and Sour Suspects by Vivien Chien (St. Martin’s Paperbacks, $8.99), things go awry for Cleveland noodle-shop owner Lana Lee when an attendee of the speed-dating event she hosted is murdered. Gary Phillips is one of the most versatile writers in crime with short stories, novels, comics, capers, detective stories, and Westerns. His newest book, One-Shot Harry (Soho Crime, $26.95), features an African American war veteran in 1963 Los Angeles trying to discover who killed his old army buddy, a white jazz trumpeter. In Danger on the Atlantic (Kensington, $26.00), the third novel by Agatha Award winner Erica Ruth Neubauer, intrepid investigator Jane Wunderly is aboard a transatlantic cruise ship in 1926 trying to track a German spy when another passenger vanishes into thin air.

Copyright © 2022 Steve Steinbock

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