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The Last Murder at the End of the World

In Stuart Turton’s post-apocalyptic thriller, The Last Murder at the End of the World, the world as we know it came to a cataclysmic end some 90 years back, when a malevolent insect-infested fog engulfed the globe, killing everything in its amorphous path. Only a handful of survivors on a remote Greek island are still alive. The leader of the island is an older (17 decades’ worth of older) woman named Niema, who developed the means to keep the fog at bay, albeit too late for everyone in the world save for the island’s 122 villagers and two of her fellow scientists. And there they sit, living out the peaceful existence that somehow eluded humanity in all the millennia leading up to the end times. But there is trouble in paradise, as the narrator (a disembodied female voice eerily reminiscent of HAL the computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey) lets the reader know from early on. The unthinkable is about to happen on the island—a murder, the resolution of which is key to saving the island from the fog, which has begun to penetrate the defenses that Niema set up all those years ago. If you like some sci-fi with your murder, or conversely, some murder with your sci-fi, you have come to the right place. It’s a locked-room mystery expanded to island-sized dimensions, with a narrator who may be putting a finger on the scale that will determine the continuing existence of humankind: Y’all ain’t seen nothin’ like this before.

The Last Note of Warning

Call it the Jazz Age, the Prohibition era, the Roaring ’20s; whatever you call it, it’s Vivian Kelly’s golden ticket to the naughtiness and revelry denied by her strict Irish upbringing before she emigrated to America. Her venue of choice is the Nightingale speak-easy, where she works pouring drinks for the high society clientele. The Last Note of Warning marks Vivian’s third appearance in Katharine Schellman’s popular series, in which atmosphere doubles as a character and murder abounds. This time out, the murder hits rather closer to home: The prime suspect is none other than Vivian Kelly herself, the damning evidence being wealthy businessman Buchanan’s dried blood on her hands. Luckily for her, some well-placed friends come to her rescue, but the best deal they can broker puts Vivian in the unenviable position of having to serve up the real killer within seven days’ time. The mystery grows, um, mysteriouser when Vivian starts to suspect that someone intentionally framed her for Buchanan’s death. And heaven knows there is no shortage of shady types hanging around the Nightingale. The characters are colorful, the story is deliciously well-spun and the ambiance will make you wish that you too had been a-struttin’ in the Jazz Age.

When We Were Silent

Auspicious debut alert: Fiona McPhillips’ When We Were Silent is the strongest first novel I have read in ages, right up there with Attica Locke’s Black Water Rising, my go-to example of first-timer excellence. If you attend Dublin’s prestigious Highfield Manor private school, the first thing you learn is “What happens at Highfield stays at Highfield,” even if it involves episodes that border on the unspeakable. Louise Manson is haunted by one such episode, even though it’s been nearly 40 years since her time at the school. By most measures, she didn’t really belong at Highfield. She was working class, inhabiting the same hallowed halls as the elite by virtue of a scholarship, not old money and familial connections. And she was not there for the prestige: She was there to exact revenge for her best friend’s suicide and to take down those she deemed responsible. Not to give away anything here, but this endeavor did not go too well. Spectacularly badly, in fact, and decades later Louise is still dealing with the fallout. But now in the modern day, thanks in part to that unwritten Highfield code of silence, she may have a second chance at retribution—or she may face fallout that far surpasses that first time around. When We Were Silent is not always a comfortable read, but you didn’t come here for comfortable, did you?

Farewell, Amethystine

Easy Rawlins is 50?? How the hell did that happen? When we think of him, we think of a young Denzel Washington from the film Devil in a Blue Dress, adapted from the book that introduced Walter Mosley’s iconic private investigator to the world way back in 1990. But hey, even Denzel is past 50 now. As Farewell, Amethystine opens, the 50-year-old Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins of 1970 is, by comparison to his younger days at least, less the firebrand and more the respectable businessman. That said, when a gorgeous young Black woman with a sad story enters his office, an event that has taken place with some regularity over the years, he can still be coaxed into action, and it is a fair bet that he will acquit himself much as he did in his younger days. Amethystine Stoller is missing one husband, and she appears convinced that Easy Rawlins is the go-to guy to find him. Which, of course, he does in short order, but the husband is sadly quite dead. Normally, Easy would tap his cop buddy, Melvin Suggs, to give him a hand with the parts of an investigation that only the police have access to. But at the moment, Suggs is in the wind with problems of his own. Do those problems include another beautiful woman? Well, yes. And will those disparate story lines have some points of connection? Seems likely. And will Mosley wrap it all up better than pretty much anyone else in the field? A resounding yes on that.

The iconic author’s latest Easy Rawlins mystery is another winner, plus our mystery columnist crowns the best new thriller writer since Attica Locke.
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Birding With Benefits

Birding with Benefits by Sarah T. Dubb is a refreshing love story about growing, changing and the natural resistance to both. Fortysomethings Celeste and John are a bit tattered by life. They’re prepared to walk their paths alone until a mutual friend asks Celeste to partner with John at a bird-watching event. On a whim, Celeste decides to continue doing so for the entire six weeks of a contest John’s entered. He’s undeterred by her inexperience and delighted by her enthusiasm, and the commitment-wary pair grow closer, finally succumbing to their attraction. Can their friends-with-benefits relationship end painlessly once the contest is over? Filled with everyday moments and a marvelous sense of place—the author’s hometown of Tucson, Arizona—readers will lose their own hearts to playful Celeste and solid John, both authentic, well-meaning people you’d like to join for a coffee or a hike. Middle-aged characters don’t star in a lot of romances; how fabulous that these two get top billing in this top-notch romance.

Wake Me Most Wickedly

Felicia Grossman’s Wake Me Most Wickedly is a genderswapped spin on Snow White set in the Jewish community of 1832 London. Hannah Moses has dedicated herself to giving her younger sister a better life, and is building a sizable dowry for her by selling secondhand goods and information to unsavory characters. Simon Weiss is similarly loyal to his brother, a banker trying to secure a spot in the gentile world through baptism and marriage. When Hannah and Simon meet, sparks fly and trouble begins. Simon is sure of himself and his feelings, but Hannah knows she can be nothing to him beyond an occasional lover thanks to her criminal activities. Grossman’s second Once Upon the East End romance is a wonderful story filled with adventure, love and, above all, passion.

All’s Fair in Love and War

A Regency governess gets a man in Virginia Heath’s All’s Fair in Love and War. Continually passed over for employment due to her plain-spoken ways, Georgina Rowe can only say yes when a desperate naval officer needs someone to watch over his rambunctious nephew and nieces. Harry treasures order and stability and Georgina provides—well, not that. Not only does she have unconventional views about how children should learn, she’s personally challenging his vow to never fall for a woman again. After a career-disrupting engagement years before, Harry savors his solitary state and how it allows him to pursue his ambitions unfettered . . . until he realizes how much he enjoys family life and the irrepressible Georgina. Readers never tire of a down-on-her-luck heroine and a hero who needs to lighten up, and Heath provides both in this entertaining romp along with puckish children, busybody servants and mischievous dogs.

Sarah T. Dubb’s charming, mature romance delights our columnist, plus the latest from Felicia Grossman and Virginia Heath.

Running Close to the Wind

Avra Helvaçi is lucky, perhaps supernaturally so, but he refuses to believe that. Luck can’t be proven, after all. Did he test the limits of his luck by drunkenly traipsing into a highly protected vault of the Arasti government and stealing the most powerful secret of the empire without getting caught? Well, yes, but that could just be coincidence.

With copies of Arasti intelligence hidden on him, Avra flees to the high seas and back into the arms of his on-again, off-again partner, the intimidating pirate captain Teveri az-Haffar. Tev wants nothing more to do with the spy-turned-poet-turned-traitor, but selling Avra’s secret could solve his ship’s financial problems. Can they get to the Isles of Lost Souls to fence what Avra stole before the Arasti government finds them, the hot monk on the ship drives them mad or before the isles’ infamous cake competition concludes?

A standalone novel set in the world of author Alexandra Rowland’s A Taste of Gold and Iron, Running Close to the Wind and its self-proclaimed “silly little slut” of a narrator will have readers laughing on every page. Despite the book’s zany, breezy to a fault tone, the Isle of Souls and the many political machinations of background characters are refreshingly complex, and Avra’s “Is it blessed?” luck is a fascinating story element. Yet it is the characters that make this story shine. Though some readers are sure to find Avra’s gremlin-esque behavior aggravating, as Tev often does, the rest of the cast makes up for it. Standouts include the flustered yet noble Tev, knowledge-driven and rebellious monk Julian, secretly softhearted fence Black Garda and friendly sex worker Cat.

Though Avra thinks—and speaks—constantly of sex and how hot Julian and Tev both are, there are few actual romantic moments, and Rowland cuts away from any on-page love scenes. Fantasy romance aficionados will find themselves as blue-balled as Avra often claims to feel. However, “Our Flag Means Death” devotees looking for a lighthearted solace after the show’s unfortunate cancellation and fans of whimsical main characters a la Alexis Hall’s Mortal Follies will enjoy Running Close to the Wind.

—Nicole Brinkley

Dreadful

Dread Lord Gavrax has somehow lost his memory, and is unable to recall why he decided to become a Dread Lord in the first place. Gav, as he now calls himself, decides to change his life for the better by vanquishing his rage and toxic masculinity. Complicating matters is the presence of Princess Eliasha, whom Gavrax kidnapped before his hard cognitive reset. Eliasha is determined not to trust her captor’s sudden change of heart, and understandably so: Dread Lord Gavrax has committed a great many crimes. The princess is also a key ingredient in a mysterious ritual of great power. Dread Lord Gavrax is one of four Dark Wizards that are collaborating to do something very important . . . if only Gav could remember what that something is.

Throughout Caitlin Rozakis’ Dreadful, Gav faces several simple yet charming challenges, such as finding a way to save a starving village and undoing years of fear he instilled in his goblin staff. While Gav grows and learns from his and his former self’s mistakes, a series of sitcom-esque events nudge him onto the path of righteousness. His goblin cook, Orla, is thrilled to don an apron and cook truly good food—but she only knows how to cook steaks, bake bread and shove whole (occasionally alive) animals into pie crust. The village decides to throw a garlic festival to make up for the fact that all of their other crops failed. Heroes run in by the hundreds, tripping over each other in an effort to rescue the princess. Dreadful never takes itself too seriously, so moments that could induce secondhand cringe become hilarious escapades instead.

However, Rozakis’ story is not all jokes and gags. Gavrax had serious issues with his own masculinity alongside his relationship with women, and Gav is not immune to his former self’s impulses. Violence is still a reflex, and he must resist incinerating anyone who annoys him. He also must learn to choose other people and his dawning sense of morality over his own self-preservation. Rozakis unobtrusively guides the reader through Gav’s evolution via his inner monologue, never allowing the lessons to get preachy.

With its charming cast and unique mixture of slapstick and sincerity, Dreadful is a heartwarmingly earnest story about how to grow into a better person.

—Ralph Harris

Two tales of swords and sorcery from Alexandra Rowland and Caitlin Rozakis look on the brighter side of life.
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Raised by genteel, churchgoing parents, actress Geena Davis was a shy young woman while she was growing up, but over time, she found her true self as an artist and feminist. She chronicles her personal evolution in her companionable memoir, Dying of Politeness. With wit and honesty, Davis takes stock of her time as a model, key film roles (including Thelma & Louise), important relationships and motherhood. She also considers the difficulties of being a woman in Hollywood. Throughout this vivid book, Davis proves a skillful storyteller with hard-won wisdom to share

Singer and actor Billy Porter opens up about his difficult childhood in Unprotected. As a gay Black kid in 1970s Pittsburgh, Porter was harassed at school and abused at home. But he found empowerment in performing and—thanks to his remarkable talents—went on to achieve professional success. From living with HIV to starring on Broadway, Porter candidly covers personal tests and triumphs. His frankness as he delves into topics like gay rights, racism and the redemptive power of art make his memoir a rewarding book club pick.

Comedian Jo Koy explores his biracial background in Mixed Plate: Chronicles of an All-American Combo. From an early age, Koy—the son of a white father and Filipina mother—struggled to find a sense of self. Inspired by figures like Richard Pryor, he decided to become a comedian. On the path to success, Koy contended with racism and his own sense of uncertainty. In this bold yet vulnerable book, he shares fascinating details about his creative methods and growth. Themes of identity, the immigrant experience and racial stereotyping will kickstart lively dialogue among readers.

With Finding Me, Oscar winner Viola Davis offers an unflinching account of her difficult journey to stardom. One of six children, Davis grew up in a poor family with an abusive father. At Rhode Island College and the Juilliard School, she studied acting and laid the groundwork for an acclaimed career on stage and screen. In her memoir, she traces her development as an actress, reflecting on the challenges of being typecast and the lack of substantial film roles for Black women. Inspired and revealing, Finding Me gives readers insights into the mindset of a legendary actress.

Book clubs will be swept away by 4 rewarding autobiographies by Viola Davis, Geena Davis, Billy Porter and Jo Koy.

Under the Storm

In November 1994, the rural Swedish community of Marback was forever changed when Lovisa Markstrom’s body was found in the ruins of a massive farmhouse fire, and her boyfriend, Edvard Christensson, was charged with her murder and the subsequent arson cover-up.

There was never any doubt he did it. As rookie policeman Vidar Jörgensson muses, Edvard’s father was a violent man, and in Marback, “sons turn out like their fathers; daughters like their mothers. Weaknesses and burdens are passed down, just like in other places. Then again, so are strengths and good traits—but people seldom consider those.”

Edvard’s 7-year-old nephew, Isak Nyqvist, does, though: He simply can’t fathom that his beloved uncle could have done such a thing. Edvard’s always been kind and attentive, and he loved Lovisa. But Isak’s parents tell him he must keep quiet about it and they must cut all ties with Edvard so they can remain in Marback and have some semblance of peace.

Carlsson demonstrates impressive character development and a knack for slow-building suspense.

And so, in Christoffer Carlsson’s intricately crafted Under the Storm, a mantle of grief settles on Isak’s small shoulders, setting him on a life path marked by unresolved anger: at his uncle, his parents and the town that sees him as just the latest bearer of his family’s tainted bloodline.

Under the Storm has three parts. The first draws readers into the initial investigation. In the second, which takes place nine years later, a more experienced Vidar reexamines the case in the wake of possible new evidence. The third section, set in 2015, brings together the tragedies and tribulations of the preceding 30 years as Isak and Vidar push toward the truth, no matter the cost.

As in his internationally bestselling American debut, 2023’s Blaze Me a Sun, Carlsson demonstrates impressive character development and a knack for slow-building suspense as he invites readers to consider the shock waves that can emanate from “One single event. That was all it took to redirect the path of a life. Like the filament of a root moving through time.”

The Hunter’s Daughter

On the opening page of Nicola Solvinic’s standout debut, The Hunter’s Daughter, Sheriff’s Lieutenant Anna Koray greets the reader with the following: “The first time I killed a man was on Tuesday.”

That terrible result to a domestic violence incident brings Anna’s past crashing into the present, opening a Pandora’s box of memories that were locked away via hypnosis 30 years ago. It’s a fascinating premise, one that becomes darker and more twisted as the pages turn and Solvinic, a career criminologist, reveals that said memories are of Anna’s father, a serial killer known as The Forest Strangler.

This engrossing, often hallucinogenic read vibrates with increasing tension and danger.

With the help of the psychiatrist who originally created her “memory vault,” Anna (re)discovers her father was responsible for the deaths of at least 27 young women, each of them bound with poison ivy and arranged in horrifying flower-filled tableaux. Anna’s been living under an assumed identity since his capture. Even as she reels from the discovery, she learns that someone is killing in their rural Midwestern county once again, with a MO very similar to her father’s. Could it be him, somehow? Or is it a copycat? Making matters even worse, the killer’s been taunting Anna with their knowledge of her true identity, the revelation of which would destroy her career and the life she loves.

Solivinic draws readers into Anna’s confused, conflicted mind: She loses time, worries that she’s descending into madness and sees shadowy supernatural figures in the dense forest surrounding her home. For most of The Hunter’s Daughter, Anna straddles the uncertain territory between a repressed state and full knowledge, unsure whether she can trust her boyfriend, her colleagues or herself. It makes for an engrossing, often hallucinogenic read that vibrates with increasing tension and danger as Anna relentlessly works to determine whether biology and destiny are one and the same.

Under the Storm and The Hunter’s Daughter explore the aftermath of murder for both the perpetrators’ families and the dogged detectives assigned to the case.

Discover your next great book!

BookPage highlights the best new books across all genres, as chosen by our editors. Every book we cover is one that we are excited to recommend to readers. A star indicates a book of exceptional quality in its genre or category.

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