Level Best Books, 2022, $16.99
Jode Millman’s second book in the Queen City Crime Series is an intriguing and suspenseful police procedural. It’s inspired by the crimes of serial killer Kendall Francois, christened the “Poughkeepsie Killer” by the press, who murdered eight sex workers before he was caught in 1998. Blending the genres of thriller, romance, and mystery with suspense, relationships, crime, office politics, courtroom drama, and high stakes, this book will keep you engaged and entertained while giving you a fascinating look into how these complicated investigations unfold.
Millman, a lifelong resident of Poughkeepsie, draws upon her experiences as an attorney and her appreciation of the once majestic, historic city to expertly capture both the beauty and decay of her beloved hometown, as well as the tensions that arise when a horrific crime rocks a small community. The use of alternating point-of-view chapters amongst the main characters excellently paces the book and while some of the storyline is carried over from the first book in the series, The Midnight Call, that does not distract from the current novel (but, it will make you want to go back and read it).
The book opens with Jessica Martin, an attorney and single mother, driving home in a torrential downpour, an already stressful journey interrupted by a phone call from Terrence Butterfield—her father’s best friend and her former mentor, a psychotic cold-blooded butcher who is currently stalking Martin from a state-run psychiatric facility where he is currently being held on the grounds of criminal insanity for the gruesome murder of a teenager he had lured to his home.
While waiting out the storm and contemplating what to do about these unsettling calls, Martin notices a “glittering object lying in a shallow puddle” in the muted lights of her car’s headlights and discovers a body folded in a fetal position in a storm drain. When Detective Ebony Jones arrives on the scene with her partner and fellow detective, Zander Pulaski, Jones is surprised to discover the person is still alive and that Martin, her former best friend—whom she believes “screwed up Poughkeepsie’s PD’s biggest case in 50 years” by inadvertently helping Butterfield get acquitted for murder—is the person who called 911.
Once again, Martin and Jones, with their opposing views of the law, are thrown together to investigate a series of missing women cases. When Lissie—the prostitute who was badly beaten and left in the storm drain—is questioned at the hospital by Jones, she claims to have escaped from the clutches of a murderer. The insightful Jones can tell that there are many more layers to her story, but Lissie disappears, with help from Jessie’s new boss and former nemesis, attorney Jeremy Kaplan, who fears for her life and has hidden her away. Lissie’s long rap sheet has listed him as her lawyer. “It pays to have a shark like Kaplan on your side,” remarks Pulaski at the discovery that Lissie is a “serial arrestee for hooking and minor misdemeanors.”
When Jones, investigating a series of cold cases, realizes that the missing women’s profiles bear a striking resemblance to Lissie’s, she is willing to go to great lengths to find her and prove that there is a serial killer afoot in the Hudson Valley.
Intertwined throughout this gripping, suspenseful crime thriller, insights are also given into the personal relationships of both women. Hal, Jessica’s partner, is the relatively new Dutchess County District Attorney and the person who leads the task force to find the missing women. Jones has a steamy relationship with a young firefighter named Drew, but it seems as though her partner may have caught her eye and heart.
Millman is a wonderful writer. The passage where Lissie describes her attack at the hands of the serial killer will make your heart pound. The ending perfectly sets us up for the next book in the Queen City Crimes series and it will be interesting to see how these two strong women grow into themselves, their lives, and their work in the criminal justice system.
—Jane Kinney Denning
Fomite Press, $16.95, 2022
In 1917, Paleontologist Winifred Goldring discovered the fossils of an ancient forest in the upstate town of Gilboa. That same year construction began on a dam along Schoharie Creek to supply water to a reservoir in New York City. Despite protest from locals, the fossils and town were flooded, and families were forced to relocate. The Door-Man is narrated by Winifred’s grandson, a doorman working in the city in 1993, when the reservoir Gilboa was flooded for was decommissioned. Wheelwright blurs the lines between fact and fiction, past and present, to illustrate the effects the reservoir had on generations of families.
What Are the Rich Doing Tonight?
Dos Madres Press, $18, 2022
Rush, a poet featured in past issues of Chronogram, named this collection after a question the working class might ask when doing something unpleasant. Rush’s poems find the beauty in those moments. A narrator notices leaves rustling in the breeze as he drains his septic tank. Another uses his telescope to watch television with his neighbors from his window. Children search for Easter eggs in a graveyard on a rainy day. A writer notices two beetles mating on his notebook and ushers them to a more private location. Rush’s poems evoke a mix of melancholy and admiration for the mundane.
How to Adjust to the Dark
Long Day Press, $16, 2022
This novella begins with a couplet found inside a fortune cookie: “All men should try to learn before they die/what they are running from and to and why.” Through her narrator Charlotte, Hudson Valley author Van Laer explores what it means to be a writer. Is it a noble pursuit, or is a writer running from something? Charlotte takes us with her through romances, drug trips, and therapy sessions. The prose of her memories is interspersed with poems she wrote at those times, reflecting on herself and the people in her life through the safety of metaphors and fictional characters.
The Music Therapy Studio: Empowering the Soul’s Truth
Rowman & Littlefield, $40, 2021
Soshensky is the founder of Hudson Valley Creative Arts Therapy Studio. Early on in his career, he wanted to make it as a rock star. When he discovered music therapy, he saw it as his way to make an impact in the present instead of waiting on success. Soshensky writes on his faith in the mysterious ways music helps people: “I assume music is a higher intelligence than me.” He pulls stories from his career to illustrate the concrete changes music makes, such as when a man with advanced dementia remembered all the lyrics to Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable.”
The Chocolate Jar and Other Stories
Apprentice House Press, $14.99, 2022
Hudson Valley writing coach Blooston examines everyday power struggles and how relationships fail or thrive in these eight stories. In the title piece, a workplace war erupts over a jar of sweets on someone’s desk. Another story follows a couple staying together not for the kids, but for a house plant. A woman is tasked with erasing her neighbor’s incriminating internet history, and high school rivals meet again in a professional setting, just as at odds as before. A single mother struggles to accept that her son is growing up, and that he might want to reconnect with his father.