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The Right Side

posted by: May 31, 2017 - 7:00am

Cover Art for The Right SideSpencer Quinn is best known for his somewhat lighthearted Chet and Bernie mysteries, which are narrated by Chet the Dog. Featuring titles like A Fistful of Collars, this series, as well as Quinn’s middle grade Bowser and Birdie books, are justly popular with dog loving fans of mystery and suspense with a dash of humor. Those readers might be a little surprised by Quinn’s new book, The Right Side.

 

The Right Side is a much heavier book than we’re used to seeing from Quinn, but it doesn’t disappoint. The big change here is that Quinn tells a story from the point of view of a human — and what a human she is. Veteran LeAnne Hogan was badly wounded in Afghanistan, both physically and mentally. She’s horribly scarred on one side of her face and blind in one eye. Recuperating at Walter Reed, she befriends a fellow wounded warrior named Marci. When Marci dies suddenly, LeAnne goes AWOL from the hospital and makes her way back to Marci’s hometown. There, she discovers Marci’s daughter has been kidnapped and makes it her mission to recover the child. When a stray dog begins poking its sizeable nose into LeAnne’s life, the vet is annoyed, inconvenienced and angry. But, in time, LeAnne realizes she needs the dog even more than the dog needs her.

 

Fans of the Chet and Bernie series might be surprised to learn the dog doesn’t appear until nearly halfway through this story, but her entrance is well worth the wait. The Right Side boasts a charismatic animal companion and an intriguing mystery. But it's Quinn’s intensely moving portrait of a traumatized veteran that makes this book truly memorable.


 
 

If We Were Villains

posted by: May 24, 2017 - 7:00am

Cover art for If We Were VillainsShakespeare and murder take center stage in M. L. Rio’s debut novel If We Were Villains. An enthralling literary mystery that takes readers into the world of an exclusive arts college and the inseparable group of students that will do anything to protect each other — even if it involves turning on one of their own.

 

Oliver Marks is being released from prison after having served 10 years for a crime he may or may not have committed. The man that put him behind bars, Chief Joseph Colborne, visits Oliver one last time to ask him the question that has been nagging at him for the last decade. Is Oliver guilty of murder, and if not, who was the real perpetrator? Oliver agrees to this request once he is guaranteed by Joseph, no longer involved in law enforcement, that nothing will become of the information that Oliver provides for him.

 

The story then begins a decade earlier at the prestigious Dellecher Classical Conservatory, where Oliver and the six other seniors in his class studying Shakespearian acting have formed a close friendship during the four years they have lived and studied together isolated from the rest of the student body. Though once inseparable, as their final year begins, infatuation and competition for the best acting roles sets in motion a tale of jealousy and violence that ends in tragedy for one of the players involved.

 

If We Were Villains is a suspenseful and evocative mystery set amongst the dramatic backdrop of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies. You don’t need to be a lover of the Bard, however, to enjoy this engrossing tale of friendship, loyalty and obsession that will remain with you long after finishing the haunting last paragraph.

 


 
 

My Favorite Thing Is Monsters

posted by: May 22, 2017 - 7:00am

Cover art for My Favorite Thing Is MonstersIt’s surprising when a debut book is a masterpiece, but here we are. My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris arrives perfect and out of nowhere. A graphic novel about a werewolf girl investigating a murder in 1960’s Chicago, it’s a new classic, reminiscent of other identity-driven comics such as Fun Home, Maus and Persepolis. Maybe Swamp Thing too.

 

The story begins in a tiny Chicago apartment, where 10-year-old Karen Reyes has turned into a werewolf. Or at least she thinks she has. Whether Karen’s werewolfism is real or metaphorical is left up to the reader, but one thing’s for sure: Karen loves her monsters. She sees them everywhere. Her upstairs neighbor looks as wrinkled as an Egyptian mummy. Her classmate’s facial scars resemble Frankenstein’s monster. And when she tries to imagine what he looks like, her absent father takes the shape of the Invisible Man.

 

Karen’s gothic imagination draws her into the murder investigation of her upstairs neighbor, Anka, a Holocaust survivor with a mysterious past. But along the way, her detective story turns into an investigation of identity. Karen is beginning to realize that she is a lesbian, and as she encounters other people that society regards as outsiders, she begins to understand the difficulties that she is going to face. It might sound sad, but make no mistake: Karen is tough as nails, and her identification with monsters is never portrayed as any kind of self-loathing. Remember, to a certain kind of kid, being a monster is the coolest thing in the world! Monsters don’t want acceptance. They’re empowered and interesting and full of stories. Monsters are the ones worth listening to.

 

It’s hard to imagine a richer book coming out this year. My Favorite Thing is Monsters feels like an accumulation of lifelong obsessions: horror movies, art history, EC comics, Holocaust narratives and a childhood spent in Civil Rights-era Chicago. Somehow Ferris has brought them all together into a page-turning murder mystery. Who knows how.


 
 

Universal Harvester

posted by: May 15, 2017 - 7:00am

Cover art for Universal HarvesterPrimarily known as a musician, John Darnielle has hidden his literary chops in plain sight through his narratively dense lyrics in The Mountain Goats and a consistently sharp-witted presence on Twitter. But after the success of his first novel Wolf in White Van, Darnielle has announced himself as an impressive novelist in his own right.

 

Darnielle’s new novel Universal Harvester introduces us to a strange mystery surrounding a video rental store. Jeremy is a 22-year-old sales clerk at the Video Hut who appears to be riding the clock on his days, avoiding commitments toward a career or college, but this rudderless existence masks a deep hurt caused by the recent death of his mother in a car accident. Now, his existence revolves around the shared comfort of quiet frozen dinners with his father and little else. This routine gets upset when customers begin complaining to Jeremy about strange scenes appearing in the rentals. Disturbing footage of people tied up in sheds and masked individuals abusing their captives, spliced randomly into harmless fair like She’s All That. Jeremy’s investigation into these crimes finds him pulled into the orbit of strange rituals and bizarre organizations, ultimately leading to a confrontation with the trauma he’s been avoiding.

 

Set in the '90s (as you probably guessed by VHS being back in style), the novel is written in clean and precise prose that is endlessly inventive. One of the neatest inventions of the novel is the narrator, a mysterious party with a secret to hide. They seem strangely omniscient, speculating about alternate paths and choices the characters could have made, while dropping sinister hints about their involvement in the story. It gives the novel a sense of impending tragedy that elevates its most languid moments. Pop-culture obsessives will enjoy the deluge of references to film and '90s ephemera, but fans of white-knuckle thrillers like Gone Girl will find themselves pulled in by the mounting suspense of Darnielle’s narrative.

 


 
 

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