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book review

Disclaimer
By Renée Knight, Harper, 336 pages, $31.50

New authors need to stand out and Renée Knight has a doozy of an opening for Disclaimer. Filmmaker Catherine Ravenscroft opens up a book on her bedside and, after only a few pages, heads for the bathroom. It's clear that the novel is about her, her life, and a deeply held secret hidden for more than 20 years. It's equally clear that the author intends her secret to come out. The disclaimer at the beginning of the book, the classic "This is a work of fiction … " has been marked out with a deep red pen. Someone is out to ruin Catherine's carefully built life. The "someone" quickly turns up. Not only intent on ruining Catherine, he's stalking her, looking for ways to drive her to madness. Why is the driving question here, not how or who, and it's really well done. If Knight can follow up on Disclaimer, she'll be a force in British crime writing.

Black Tide Rising
By R.J. McMillen, TouchWood Editions, 224 pages, $14.95

Retired cop Dan Connor has plans for life in the gorgeous Pacific Northwest coast and they don't include murder. That's the beginning of this excellent police procedural by Gabriola Island's Rachel McMillen. Naturally, there's death, but whose? And why? Dan has a missing girl to find and a puddle of blood to start. McMillen is a solid plotter and there are no extraneous clues. What really makes this novel zing is her love for the scenery and setting. You can almost smell the salt air and feel the trees. That, along with some interesting characters, makes for a terrific weekend book. This is a perfect cottage hostess gift.

Shroud Of Roses
By Gloria Ferris, Dundurn, 392 pages, $14.99

How can you not love a book with a character named Bliss Moonbeam Cornwall? When she's a crazy socialite with a penchant for crime-solving, she's irresistible. This second in the Cornwall series featuring police chief Neil Redfern is as smart and funny as Ferris's award-winning Corpse Flower. This time out, Redfern is called to the old Lockport high school, long shuttered after a final party and dance in 2000. The building is scheduled for demolition when a skeleton turns up in a locker. Just who in the class of 2000 is missing? Cornwall insists she knows the identity but Redfern isn't buying it. He tells her to stay out of police business and then another 2000 grad turns up dead. Just what did happen at the last party? This one is a solid second novel in a series that seems to have a future.

Death In Salem
By Eleanor Kuhns, Minotaur, 336 pages, $31.50

Good historicals are always a pleasure. In this series, set in America shortly after the Revolution, Will Rees is a travelling weaver visiting Salem, Mass., to find a nice gift for his pregnant wife – a fine piece of imported cloth. But, as readers know, death follows Will. He finds himself in a funeral procession for the late Mrs. Antiss Boothe who, he's informed by Twig, an old friend, died of natural causes after a long illness. The next day, however, Mr. Antiss Boothe is dead and it's very obviously murder. When Twig's friend comes under suspicion, Will can do no more for his friend than uncover the truth. This novel has a lot of lore about Salem, its harbour, sailing ships and trade in 1796. Read this one and you'll want to go back and get the three previous novels.

Hell's Gate
By Richard Crompton, Sarah Crichton Books, 256 pages, $29.99

Hell's Gate is a spectacular Kenyan park far from the fast streets of Nairobi and that's where Detective Mollel is consigned for his constant irritation of officialdom. I missed his debut in Hour of the Red God but his return is cause for joy. This short, beautifully written story is full of lively lore and great characters, and the marvellous rural Kenyan setting is the whipped cream on the parfait. Mollel isn't happy to be in the bush town at Hell's Gate. He had promised his late wife that their son would have a Western-style education and opportunities. His own background as a Maasai warrior causes endless personal conflict with the hard-drinking, often corrupt policemen he works with. Even the uniform – the Maasai word for trousers means "fart catcher" – causes distress. But Mollel is resilient and even in the isolation of Hell's Gate, there's crime to be solved. The plot involves corruption and ivory poaching and it's good, but this book is a great getaway to the fastness of Africa.

Run You Down
By Julia Dahl, Minotaur, 304 pages, $29.99

I usually skip novels that feature a female reporter-turned-sleuth. It's a cliché that's long gone stale but I read a few pages of Julia Dahl's first novel, Invisible City, and Rebekah Roberts got me hooked. She's no tough-talking veteran but a struggling new journalism grad grinding out stories for a sleazy tabloid. The first outing found her investigating the quiet closed world of the Brooklyn Hasidim, a world she says looks and feels "like a 1930s Polish village." Run You Down takes her further into the religious world when she hears of a young ultra-Orthodox mother drowned in her bath. There's a personal angle, too; the dead woman knew Roberts's mother, who abandoned her at birth. But there are currents of violence in these patriarchal places, ones that may endanger Roberts or other innocents. Fans of Faye Kellerman will find this series as good as her early work and will love Rebekah Roberts.