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Dead Air by D Shlian & L Reid
Publisher: Oceanview Press ISBN 978 1 933515 50 2
Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader
Sammy Greene is helping to fund her tertiary education by working on the college radio station, compeering the popular talk-back show “The Hot Line”. The local news is usually pretty tame here at Ellsford University in Vermont, but then Sammy stumbles on what could be the story of the decade—if she lives to report it.
It starts when Sammy finds her favourite professor dead in his home, an apparent suicide. The police are ready to accept the death at face value, but Sammy isn’t. Her investigation into Professor Conrad’s death leads her to discover other deaths, and suddenly the phrase ‘student body’ takes on a whole new meaning. Students are dying or disappearing; the university health service may be involved, but how? Sammy can’t convince anyone, even her med student boyfriend, that there’s a conspiracy on the conservative New England campus. She’s pretty sure there’s big money and big business involved, but who’s going to believe her when respected and respectable senior staff at the university claim everything’s fine? At least one of them is likely to be a killer, but Sammy needs proof.
Sammy has one ally, Brian McKernan, the studio engineer. Brian analyses an audio tape for Sammy, a tape that proves a lot of what she’s been alleging, but before he can tell her or anyone else what he’s found, Brian dies in a fire at the radio station, allegedly an accident. Sammy is devastated: she’s convinced that someone murdered Brian for what he discovered on the tape, but with no tape and no proof, there’s no hope, not unless Sammy can come up with something new and irrefutable.
Sammy’s on her own now; can she find the proof and convince the authorities before the people who have a lot to lose catch up with her? It’s hard to know who to trust in this once safe and familiar campus which now seems to be filled with enemies.
It takes very special skills for two people to write a book together and have the end result be a seamless production. This story is not without some flaws; there are clichés and choppy sentences and tired adjectives but on the whole this book a good read. It’s another fast-moving story from the folks at Oceanview.
Overkill by Eugenia Lovett West
Publisher: Minotaur Books ISBN-10: 0312371144
Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader
When the wealthy and widowed 40-something amateur sleuth Emma Streat gets word that her young niece is avoiding her duties in Venice as a famous international opera singer, Emma naturally feels a need to jump on a plane and straighten the misguided girl out. But when soon after her arrival, her niece’s manager is found dead and her niece is struck down by an unknown viral infection that has left her on death’s bed, Emma is quick to realize that sorting things out is going to entail a bit more than a firm talking to.
Bringing her niece back to the U.S., Emma is quick to start making use of her international connection with a sexy operative who helped her solve her husband’s murder. And it doesn’t take long to realize that some very bad people who are in the lethal virus business are determined to see their criminal enterprise straight through to the end no matter the cost, leaving Emma unsure who to trust, including the handsome scientist who looks like a viable future husband. And so with danger coming ever closer, not to mention some sexy suitors, Emma’s latest quest for answers just might be her last.
While the subject matter of the danger of viral infections in this latest by West is more than timely, this alone does little to redeem this feeble and unsatisfying read. The plot itself is actually a good one, but when combined with the one-dimensional characters, it becomes apparent that plot alone cannot keep this story alive. While wealthy and in possession of more than one Hermes scarf, along with the respect given to her as a crime solver from the most covert and powerful agencies ever, main character Emma Streat still comes off as either unbearably prim and proper or simply uninteresting, depending on the chapter. And, ultimately, it’s this unconvincing main character that makes this one a miss.
London Boulevard by Ken Bruen
Publisher: Minotaur Books ISBN-10: 0312561687
Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader
Sunset Boulevard may be the greatest film noir ever made. Now give Joe Gillis the day off and substitute Richard Stark’s Parker as the kept man. Hire Ken Bruen to write it, and you have London Boulevard.
Mitchell is all set when he gets out of prison after three years. His buddy Billy Norton has him fixed up with nice digs, not only furnished, but full of clothes. Seems the previous owner got behind on some debts and was required to relocate. As might be expected, ain’t nothing free, and Mitchell’s physical skills are requested to help Billy in his business.
Mitchell just got out and isn’t immediately interested in going back in. A good deed done for a reporter earns him an introduction to Lillian Palmer and her servant, Jordan. Lillian is a former stage star, pushing sixty, living as a recluse. Mitchell gets a job as a handyman, with responsibilities that go somewhat beyond what gets advertised on Angie’s List. Billy’s criminal requests and Mitchell’s (more or less) straight life both become more complicated until they eventually overlap, leading to violence Mitchell had hoped to avoid, probably because he’s so comfortable with it.
Bruen spins his story out with no evident destination until toward the end; even then he holds back a twist or two. Full of treachery, sex, violence, and humor, London Boulevard pulls no punches. The matter of fact descriptions of make all of the above more effective. (The scene describing Mitchell’s first post-prison sexual encounter is a masterpiece of no frills, deadpan detachment, perfect for him and his situation.) Mitchell displays sentiment without being sentimental. The writing is sometimes funny, never comic.
Bruen’s writing is so spot on, the style so fluid, the greatest risk for the reader is getting through it too quickly. There’s a rhythm to his writing that speeds the eye down the page; momentum builds as the reader locks in. Keep in mind it’s only 250 pages and will be over too quickly even if you don’t speed read it.
London Boulevard was originally published in 2001, re-released now to accompany the “major motion picture” that is about to be released. (Calling a motion picture anything other than “major” is like describing a mattress sale without using “blowout.”) Colin Farrell plays Mitchell; Clive Owen seems a better choice, but Farrell’s good enough to pull it off. Keira Knightley is the female lead, listed as neither Lillian nor Mitchell’s actual love interest, Ainsley, in the credits, so something has to give plot-wise.
Why take a chance? The book’s available now, telling the story just as Bruen intended it. You won’t want to miss a word.