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Dark Echo by F. G. Cottam

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press  ISBN-10: 0312544332

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

More than just a mystery, Dark Echo weaves past crimes with the present through the acquisition of a wreck of a boat with a storied past to create a lovely, frightening supernatural investigative thriller. 

Martin’s father grew up poor, dreaming of the amazing things he learned about in an outdated set of encyclopedias including a photograph of a shining boat named the Dark Echo manned by an obviously content American captain with perfect white teeth.  The boat became derelict through years of neglect and ill-regard, thanks to a series of horrific accidents which surrounded her after the American’s death.  While researching the boat, Martin and his girlfriend Suzanne learn more about Harry Spalding, the man in the Encyclopedia photo and his position in the mysterious and malevolent Jericho Crew during World War I. 

Decades later, accidents continue during the refurbishing of the boat and Martin experiences something very sinister and remarkably tangible during the process.  Spalding refuses to let go of his hold on the Dark Echo and seems to take pleasure in Martin’s terror.  In spite of his misgivings along every step of the way, Martin accedes to his father’s wishes and begins a life-changing voyage aboard the cursed ship, forcing him to face his deepest fears.  Rather than becoming a stereotypical ghost story, Dark Echo terrifies through its inventiveness.

Readers will quickly identify with Martin’s dilemma throughout the deeply personal narrative outlining his unusual reason for wanting to please his father while simultaneously wanting to run away from Dark Echo as fast as he can.  Fortunately, Martin has his own strength of character as shown in his happy relationship and through his ability for creative economic self-reliance.  Even though he is a son of privilege, Martin is no trust fund baby frittering away his father’s cash but instead has become someone his father finally respects, making the Dark Echo’s appearance even more devastating.

Dark Echo is beautifully written with a European sensibility, capturing the feel of an old-fashioned ghost story in the midst of one man’s dream of having it all and his son’s fear of losing it.

 

 

 

Judgment and Wrath by Matt Hilton

Publisher:  William Morrow ISBN: 978-0-06-171813-7

Reviewed by Ray Palen, New Mystery Reader  

Dantalion is a great and mighty Duke of Hell.  He knows the thoughts of all men and women and can change them at will.  He is one of the Fallen, the angels that were expelled from Heaven and exiled to Hades.  The Book of Enoch, in a quote from the Boneless Ritual, states: “The thunders of judgment and wrath are numbered.”

This explains where author Matt Hilton obtained the title for this exciting new action novel.  It also indicates why the seemingly indestructible assassin, who calls himself Dantalion, keeps a book constantly attached to his person that is filled with numbers that only he can decipher.  These numbers represent those that he has killed in the name of the Dark Lord and his latest mission now puts him directly in the path of Private Investigator, Joe Hunter and his partner, Rink.

Hunter has his own agenda. He feels that men who hurt women are only a step lower on the ladder of shame than those who hurt children and that there is sometimes no distinction between the two.  He believes himself to be more than a P.I. or hired muscle and sees his role as vigilante for those who have been unjustly wronged.  When he is approached in a seedy Florida bar by the father of a young woman named Marianne Dean, he is moved by the photos he is shown of the man’s daughter allegedly beaten and humiliated by her millionaire boyfriend, Bradley Jorgensen.

Hunter sets out under an assumed name and plants himself in the summer cottage next door to the one occupied by Marianne and Bradley.  He strikes up a quick conversation with her and tries to glean some information from her as to whether or not she is a victim of abuse being held against her will.  Surprisingly, Hunter’s initial reaction is that this is a woman in full command of herself who is willingly staying with her new boyfriend. Unfortunately, Bradley Jorgensen has many enemies who want his share of his family fortune and some of them may be his own cousins.  When Marianne and Bradley’s summer house is shot up by Dantalion in an act of annihilation, Hunter must use all of his British Special Forces training to extract them from this deadly event.

Such starts this ball-of-fire moving forward, and the pace never lets up!  Matt Hilton is an expert in martial arts with a career in private security for the Cumbria police department in the U.K. and all of his experience and knowledge is brought to bear within the pages of Judgment and Wrath.  Joe Hunter is a character reminiscent of the tough-guy

P.I.’s in the genre today --- like Harlan Coben’s Joe Pike & Elvis Cole and Lee Child’s Jack Reacher.  When Hunter and Rink finally cross paths with Dantalion things explode and they are at a loss to figure out what Dantalion’s agenda is, who is paying him to assassinate Marianne and Bradley and if there is any weakness to exploit in efforts to defeat him.

This book grabs you by the jugular and never lets go.  A finale that takes place in the swampy marshes of south Florida is the perfect setting for an epic battle between good and evil, the anointed and the fallen.  Hilton is a new writer with amazing depth and ability and the Hunter and Rink characters are definitely worthy of their own series of novels.  Here’s hoping our paths cross again!

 

 

 

Hemlock Lake by Carolyn Rose

Publisher: Five Star/Gale ISBN 978 1 59414 884 2

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

The last thing police sergeant Dan Stone wants to do is investigate possible eco-terrorism operating around a new housing project at Hemlock Lake, the lake where his wife drowned and his brother shot himself.  The Sheriff insists, so Dan returns to the lake to try and discover who’s committing acts of vandalism and making odd cairns of stone around the area.

Almost at once, Dan runs into a wall of hostility from his former neighbours, most of whom are against the building of new houses  for ‘incomers’.  The unfriendliness eases a bit when Dan joins the local volunteer fire brigade, but he still has enemies, including the one who put a rattlesnake in his SUV. 

Investigating a fire in a remote valley, Dan and his boyhood pals Ron, Willie Dean and Stub, find a campsite containing stolen items from several local families: food, clothing, and books.  The locals assume that the camper is probably responsible for most of the petty crime and strange events that have been happening, but Dan isn’t so sure.  He can’t stop the local posse from trying to hunt down the mystery man, but he continues his own investigation quietly.

Things take a nasty turn when there’s an arson attack on the developer’s office and the project manager Lee Fosmark barely escapes with his life.  Throughout the book, one serious event follows another, interspersed with lunatic practical jokes by Willie Dean, who can’t seem to tell humour from mayhem.  (Readers may be amazed that Dan doesn’t push Willie Dean off the dock early in the book: he’s annoying, stupid, and irritating beyond belief, not to mention dangerous.)

All through his investigation Dan is bedevilled by nightmares about the deaths of his wife and brother, but it isn’t until his father dies that the suppurating spiritual boil finally bursts and Dan starts healing, with the help of Camille, a woman who knows more about pain and loss than most people.  She helps him face the truth that his nightmares have been masking, and gets small thanks for her trouble.

This is a fast-moving action adventure filled with a lot of unlikeable people.  The fact that some of them have cause for their surly behaviour doesn’t make them any easier to like.  Author Rose scrapes at the surface of their motivations but seems to have been caught between styles: this is neither a straight-forward crime novel nor a psychological thriller, but something that seems stranded in the middle.  That quibble aside, it’s a better read than many of the books that have achieved print this year.

 

 

 

Dream Queen by Betsy Thornton

Publisher: Minotaur Books  ISBN-10: 0312602057

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

One of my personal favorite authors finally returns with a story that instead of going forward returns to the beginning of how this amazing cast of characters ended up where they are.

For those who have read Thornton's previous novels, no doubt you've wondered how and why Chloe Newcombe ended up in the small Arizona town of Dudley, how she became to be a victim's advocate, and why she often lacks the ability to trust and open herself to new relationships.  Well, in this novel, many of those questions are answered.

For the uninitiated, this latest might be confusing, but that again is coming from someone who has read what's come before.  Either way, it's a beautifully written novel that in tone and voice doesn't stray from what Thornton has previously provided.  The desert still is mysterious and untamed, and so is our heroin's heart and her ability to connect in any long-term meaningful way to others without fear.

A brief synopsis for those not in the know would be that Chloe Newcombe leaves NYC to visit her beloved brother in small town, hippie Dudley AZ.  A trip she thinks will only serve to reconnect her with her brother.  But on the way from the airport her brother vanishes, leaving Chloe with his ditzy girlfriend to share the ride home with. But shortly after arriving in Dudley the girlfriend is killed, and Chloe is the only one who seems to wonder why beyond the obvious of a drug deal gone wrong.  Can't say much more without giving too much away. 

Those who have read Thornton's prior amazingly stirring novels will appreciate how this lives up to what's come before.  Thompson deserves much more attention as a novelist than she's gotten so far, and so my advice is to start from the beginning and read them all in order; she's one of the best, and one of those authors that seems to fly under the radar with the ability to create beauty without the need for glory and who avoids the enforced once a year contract that too often results in stilted and by-the-number novels.  So while it seems too long between books from this spectacular author, it's always well worth the wait, with this latest delivering on an unspoken promise made from the beginning to wow the reader with suspense and intense emotions.

 

 

Book of Nathan by Curt Weeden and Richard Marek

Publisher: Oceanview Publishing ISBN 978 1 933515 915

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

You’d think escorting a dancer to a job interview in Florida would be simple enough.  Rick Bullock, manager of a homeless shelter, needs to get to Florida to help one of his lame ducks who is being framed for murder.  When his friend Doug Kool offers the escort job as a way to defray the trip’s expenses, Rick agrees.

Quite soon, Rick regrets the agreement.  The dancer does a brisk sideline business as a prostitute at every opportunity, and she’s a mob boss’s niece as well.  When they get to Florida she begins a torrid affair with the public defender who’s representing Zeusenodorf, called “Zeus”, the man accused of murdering a famous evangelist. 

That’s complicated enough, but then Rick learns that there’s a missing CD that contains explosive information that many people want to get their hands on.  The CD has notes about and a translation of the Book of Nathan, one of the ‘lost’ books of the Bible.  The book may shed light on the controversial theory of ensoulment, the point at which an embryo is believed to become human.   Whichever side of the Pro-life debate one is on, this CD could be dynamite, and suggests several new motives for the murder.

Rick’s attempts to help Zeus are hampered by the fact that the man has a mental age of about 8, and a severe speech impediment.  Defending him is difficult, because getting a clear understanding of what happened on the night of the evangelist’s assassination is all but impossible.

If Damon Runyon had written Don Quixote, you might have ended up with something like Book of Nathan.     It’s a strangely compelling read with enough humour to leaven what’s a fairly dark story.  And for once I’m not going to complain about the character development, proofreading or editing: one of the co-authors is an experienced editor whose experience shows in the finished product, and the other left a high-flying job to work in the field of social responsibility and philanthropy. 

 

 

Death’s Excellent Vacation Edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L. P. Kelner

Publisher: Berkley Publishing Group ISBN-10: 0441018688

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

This anthology of supernaturally inspired vacations may offer only a couple of more traditionally formatted mysteries such as Jeaniene Frost’s “One for the Money,” but fans of paranormal fiction from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to editor Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series will be delighted with this collection that varies from flaunting vamps to quieter tales starring melancholy gargoyles or two average guys who open up a B&B on the coast.

Harris, admittedly the most well-known of the solid array of contributors thanks to her writing and to the HBO series True Blood, offers “Two Blondes” straight from the starting gate. The two blondes in question include Sookie Stackhouse and Pam, Eric’s vampiric right-hand woman, who go on a road trip to casino-laden Tunica, Mississippi with an errand for Eric.  Sookie’s propensity for ending up in places she never expected continues here and Pam’s dead-on line delivery adds humor to their dangerous quest.

“Meanwhile, Far Across the Caspian Sea” resonates with both wordsmiths and with cubicle dwellers who dream of something more in this tale by Daniel Stashower.  In a company devoted to creating reference books, there is the quintessential albeit quirky senior researcher who toys with junior staff on a whim, causing his colleagues to wonder about periodic sudden disappearances.

Perhaps the shiniest gem in this treasure box is the quiet A. Lee Martinez story, “The Innsmouth Nook,” in which two friends convert an inheritance into a New England Bed & Breakfast in a gloomy, cloud-covered town populated by grey-clad people shuffling along the city streets.  The story’s beginning presages a surprising end, making Martinez’ combination of humor, horror, and setting absolutely perfect.

While vampires and werewolves get their share of ink, lesser publicized supernaturals get their space here as well.  In Lilith Saintcrow’s “The Heart is Always Right”, an unnamed gargoyle shifts from his natural state to an ugly, pitted human who inadvertently finds a specially designated human just before his planned vacation to sunny Bermuda, leading him to make tough choices.

Throughout many of these stories, thinly veiled references to modern people and places add a knowing angle while making some of these seem more realistic.  While a couple of stories slow down the pace, most are smart, entertaining and definitely worth the time it takes to read them.