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An Act of Villainy: An Amory Ames Mystery by Ashley Weaver, Minotaur Books, US $27.99, Pp 310, September 2018, ISBN 978-1250159755

City of Devils: The Two Men Who Ruled the Underworld of Old Shanghai by Paul French, Picador/Macmillan Publishers, US $28.00, Pp 300, July 2018, ISBN 978-1250170583

Red, white, blue: a novel by Lea Carpenter, Alfred A. Knopf/Penguin Random House, US $26.95, Pp 304, August 2018, ISBN 978-1524732141

Three Little Lies by Laura Marshall, Grand Central Publishing, US 26.00, Pp 352, September 2018, ISBN 978-1478948568

An Act of Villainy is set in 1930s London. As amateur detective Amory Ames and her husband Milo walk out of the theatre one night and walk towards their home through London’s West End, they unexpectedly run into wealthy investor and actor Gerard Holloway. Holloway invites the couple to the dress rehearsal of a play The Price of Victory he is directing. Holloway and his wife Georgina are old family friends of Amory and her husband Milo. Amory readily accepts the invitation. Holloway tells them that actress Flora Bell is playing the lead role in the play. Amory has heard that Holloway is having an affair with Flora Bell. Other stars include young Christopher Landon, and famous actor Balthazar Lebeau. Holloway tells them that Flora has been receiving threatening letters and he wants to find out the sender. In the next breath, Holloway requests their help in finding the sender of the letter. Holloway’s affair with Flora reminds her of her own delicately managed marriage. Amory and Milo are also having marital issues. The reason is Milo attracts women because of his carefree manner and good looks. The bond between them is still strong but Amory never stops feeling insecure. When she asks questions from Holloway, she learns that each member of the cast resents Flora because Flora is a beautiful and talented actress. After the dress rehearsal, Amory finds Flora hanged in the theater. Georgina who had been crying before the start of the play is nowhere to be seen now. Suspects include the Landon, who was in love with Flora. Flora’s understudy is another suspect as she was all too eager to take over her role. Amory and Milo must find the killer. An Act of Villainy is tailored-made for readers who love mystery novels mixed with a little love and romance as they keep guessing what’s coming next. From a perfectly calibrated plot to incisively built characters, Ashley Weaver handles everything carefully to make it entertaining for you.

Ashley Weaver is the technical services coordinator at the Allen Parish Libraries in Oberlin, Louisiana. Weaver has worked in libraries since she was fourteen; she was a page and then a clerk before obtaining her MLIS from Louisiana State University. She is the author of four previous Amory Ames mysteries: Murder at the BrightwellDeath Wears a MaskA Most Novel Revenge, and The Essence of Malice. She was a finalist for Edgar Award for Murder at the Brightwell.

*****

City of Devils is set in Shanghai in 1930 when it was a haven for criminals from all over the world. It was a city where criminals assumed new identities, took new names and made — sometimes, lost– fortunes. “Lucky” Jack Riley was one of the most notorious outlaws who had settled in Shanghai. He was an ex-US Navy boxing champion who was serving a sentence in a US prison when he broke jail and fled to Shanghai where he became known as the Slots King of Shanghai. He changed his name after breaking out of the jail. He first fled to the Philippines across the Pacific where he boarded a US Army transport ship heading for Shanghai with the help of his old friends from the US Navy. In Shanghai, he set up his gambling empire. Another notorious outlaw in Shanghai was “Dapper” Joe Farren — a Jewish boy from Vienna’s ghetto. In Shanghai, he was the uncrowned king of the nightclubs. His chorus lines rivaled Ziegfeld’s. Lesser crime and mafia figures ruling the city included tequila smuggler Carlos Garcia and New York mobster “Yasha” Katzenberg. As the revolutionary war raged and became more intense in 1940, Lucky Jack and Dapper Joe literally ruled the mean streets of Shanghai like uncrowned kings, while the country was infested by poverty and starvation, and raging war. Just as they thought they were the uncrowned kings of the megacity comes the Japanese occupation which would pull down their crime empires. City of Devils is the story of their rise, fall and the destruction of the city which was a haven for international criminals. City of Devils offers a portrait of pre-revolutionary crime-ridden Shanghai. This was the time when foreign governments were exploiting China as eagerly as the crime mafias were robbing the country and the people of their wealth with the help of their Chinese collaborators. It is for those who love to read fast-moving dark crime novels.

Paul French was born and schooled in London and in Glasgow and has lived and worked in Shanghai for many years. He is a recipient of both the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime and the CWA Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction. His book Midnight in Peking was a New York Times Bestseller, a BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week, and will be made into an international mini-series by Kudos Film and Television, the UK creators of Broadchurch and Life on Mars.

*****

Anna is a well-groomed woman. She went to Princeton, mastered Chinese and Russian languages and worked at the Ford Foundation. Her decision to marry a pop-music producer shows that she has a very non-conformist and rebellious nature. Her married life is bedeviled by miscarriages and a failing marriage. When her husband announces his bid to fight elections for a New York Senate seat, she becomes a subject of investigations into her own background. There is nothing much she can rebel against. Anna was the only child of her parents. Her globetrotting father, Noel, was a New York City banker. Noel dies in a skiing accident in Switzerland in clearly mysterious circumstances just a day before Anna’s marriage. When Anna and her husband go on their belated honeymoon in the south of France, Anna meets a stranger in the hotel bar who claims to have once worked with her father and has a lot of disturbing information on his life. (Later, it turns out the stranger was a former CIA case worker.) He tells her that his father had worked with him before he died. When she returns to New York, a package is waiting for her. The package contains a number of cryptic recordings and videos that show Noel at an interrogation cell. They suggest that his father may have spied for the Chinese. She is reminded of her mother’s abandonment of her when she was still very little. She now has a sketchy idea of her own life. These recordings and videos show that Anna knew little about her father. She vows to discover the truth about the life and death of her father. Red, white, blue is good spy fiction where duplicity and betrayals and espionage are commonplace. It is a story in which paths of a CIA case worker and a young woman cross. This spellbinding mystery novel depicts how secret agencies such as CIA work. Written in soaring prose, it is a very enjoyable read if you are looking for suspenseful crime and mystery novel.

Lea Carpenter graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Princeton and has an MBA from Harvard Business School, where she was valedictorian. She is a Contributing Editor at Esquire and has written the screenplay for Mile 22, a film about CIA’s Special Activities Division, directed by Peter Berg and starring Mark Wahlberg and John Malkovich, coming out in July. She is developing Eleven Days for television with Lucy Donnelly (Grey Gardens) and Gideon Raff (Homeland). She lives in New York.

*****

Three Little Lies is set in 2005 when 17-year old Ellen instantly develops a liking for the new bohemian neighbors — the Monktons – who have great musical talent. Olivia is a celebrated opera singer and her husband, Tony, a bassoonist. Like their parents, their teenage boys, Nicholas and Daniel, are already showing their musical talent. Sasha, Olivia’s granddaughter, also lives with them. Ellen is a little overwhelmed by the whole family. She is happy that she is warmly welcomed by the new neighboring family. Olivia and Tony are fond of throwing parties where the guests heavily consume alcohol. As the time passes, Ellen becomes close to Sasha, which immensely annoys her best friend, Karina, who feels more and more ignored and neglected. Life takes a dramatic turn at a New Year’s party when Daniel is accused of raping Karina. When the case goes to the court, Sasha, Karina, and Ellen all had to testify at his trial. Daniel is convicted in spite of his family efforts to save him. Fast forward to 2018… Ellen and Sasha remain close friends. Daniel is released from prison but soon Sasha, who shares an apartment with Ellen in London, disappears. Ellen suspects that Daniel has carried out his threats he had made against them. Because Sasha had gone missing like that before also, police do not take it seriously. Ellen is frightened not only for Sasha but also for herself. She decides to uncover the truth about not only what happened on the New Year’s Eve party thirteen years ago but also where has Sasha gone. As she revisits the night of the rape, the unpleasant truth starts emerging. Ellen feels under a bigger threat when she discovers the truth about what happened on the New Year’s Eve thirteen years ago. She has to confront the past but is not sure of who her friends are. Ellen realizes that even Sasha may not be her friend and is unsure what else Sasha is capable of. Three Little Lies is packed with suspenseful twists and turns. It is a thrilling exploration of female friendship. Three Little Lies is a captivating story that will immediately take all your attention.

Laura Marshall was born in Melbourne, Australia, where she has lived all her life and currently resides with her two young sons. She has a degree in journalism and has a career in advertising. She is currently a partner at the creative agency Mr, Smith.

*****

 

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