February Paperback Mystery Reviews
 

 

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Silent Voices by Ann Cleeves

Publisher: MacMillon

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

This is the fourth in the Vera Stanhope series, and comes on the heels of the announcement that there will be a television series made this year, starring the zoftig Blenda Blethyn as the large, untidy, forthright Detective Inspector.  It’s a brave actress that takes on a role that requires her to present herself physically at her worst, but if made well, this promises to be a show worth watching.

Meanwhile, we have the books, and “Silent Voices” is as good a read as the previous three.  We get a bit more insight into the lonely, work-obsessed DI this time, as well as her colleague Joe Ashworth, who is torn between the growing demands of his family and his dedication to the job and his boss.  Vera rarely rewards Joe’s work with praise—she’s had precious little experience with how to treat people well, given the off-hand raising she got from her father—but she relies on him and is having a hard time accepting that he now has another focus in his life.

The new case begins with Vera’s discovery of a dead woman in the steam room of the health club which Vera frequents surreptitiously.  Vera would rather be caught in a brothel than in her swim suit; so she dries and dresses quickly, then rings Joe and the crime scene team, brushing off their inquiries about how she came to be at the club.

As the investigation proceeds, it is clear that there is more to this crime than a simple killing for gain.  The dead woman’s large handbag is missing, but Vera is pretty certain it wasn’t money that the killer wanted, but the notebooks Jenny Lister was using to write down the rough draft of her book about her past cases.  As a social worker, she’s in a position to know a lot of things that people would prefer to keep private, and apparently the killer feared exposure of old secrets.

Or was the motivation something different?  In crime, it isn’t always the most likely motive that explains the action.  Has Vera been sidetracked by the obvious?  You can join her on the bank of a flooding river to find out.

Former probation office and coastguard Cleeves has no doubt drawn on her own past experience to make Vera’s story so urgently believable, and she does it without excessive gore, gratuitous sex or four letter words (except for ‘food’.)

 

 

Angel’s Verdict by Mary Stanton

Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

As an attorney with two busy practices in historic Savannah, Bree Beaufort grapples with the distinct needs of two different clients whose requests share an unusual connected past.

Aging local actress Justine Coville hires her to find out why the movie production company wants to buy out her contract, leaving her out of the suspenseful movie based on an area murder from the 1950s.  Justine had some success in Hollywood before returning home and plans to make the most of her return to the big screen in the meaty role of bitter matriarch Consuelo Bulloch.  In the real murder case, Consuelo detested her son’s girlfriend, Haydee Quinn, and Haydee’s murder resulted in life-changing implications for many of Savannah’s residents including the man electrocuted for her death.

Bree’s second client consults her through her Angeles Street office, a very special branch devoted to appealing sentences of men and women who have already passed away without earning immediate entrance to Heaven.  As in any law system, Bree navigates through bureaucracy and arcane rules to help the celestial courts determine if her clients will move to a different level in Hell, Heaven or appear in Purgatory. 

Appropriately enough, Consuelo Bulloch becomes Bree’s second client as a woman desperate to atone for her earthly actions.

Through the excitement of the film productions, Florida “Flurry” Smith believes she has a surprise ending regarding Haydee’s killer based on her research.  When Flurry threatens to reveal the truth, Bree’s work becomes much more urgent.

Stanton effectively creates two no-nonsense believable law practices for Bree while showing the strain of balancing between the worldly and otherworldly realms.  Supporting characters add depth to Bree’s own character while also weaving in fragments of Savannah’s authentic history in addition to the fictional elements.  Stanton’s thoughtfully imagined world refuses to resort to histrionics or to take the easy way out for either Bree or in solving Haydee’s murder, making this enjoyable for a variety of mystery readers.

 

 

 

The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley

Publisher: Bantam

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Returning for a second adventure, 11 year-old Flavia de Luce spends her time finding answers in her small post-World War II English village.  Flavia dedicates her considerable intellectual resources and equally vast reserves of impishness to pursue the truth, whether it involves solving a scientific query in her incredible Victorian-era chemistry lab or figuring out who committed murder in front of the villagers.

Flavia’s chance to solve another murder occurs accidentally, when a visiting puppeteer and his unhappy secretive assistant stay in town after their aging van breaks down.  The puppeteer famous for his BBC television program, Rupert, agrees to hold two performances while waiting, ensuring that most of the villagers will get a break from the monotony of their lives.  They get a little too much excitement, however, when Rupert’s rendition of Jack and the Beanstalk ends with a thud—and Rupert’s lifeless remains.  Curious about everything, Flavia’s familiarity with the backstage set-up gives her close contact with the late, lamented BBC star.

In spite of being aghast at her close-up of ill-fated Rupert, Flavia quickly notes pertinent clues and embarks on her own investigation, periodically punctuated by recitations of her own poems celebrating the chemical properties of poisons or by her attempts to retaliate against her older sisters in their daily bouts of household warfare.

Using her precociousness and keen wit, Flavia gently interrogates key witnesses who normally avoid the police as a matter of course.  The quirky characters include the estate’s awful cook, Mrs. Mullet, whose cooking skills are tolerated by the family in order to avoid hurting her feelings, and war-scarred Dogger, who spends some of his time disoriented but susses out secrets when he’s aware.  The village keeps plenty of its own secrets, from a mismatched vicar and his wife to the Anglophile German POW who made the village his home.  Flavia, well-known to all but in different ways, has found her niche even as she dreams of escaping it.

Especially entertaining when Flavia converses with the official investigator, Flavia de Luce will be worth the acquaintance of any reader interested in wry, English mysteries filled with interesting characters and explosive chemicals.

 

 

 

 

Naming the Bones by Louise Welsh

Publisher: Felony and Mayhem Press     

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Murray Watson is proof of the old saying that you should be careful what you pray for: you might get it.  Now a professor of English Literature, Murray has been fascinated by the Scottish poet Archie Lunan since he was a teenager.  Now he’s been given the chance to write the definitive biography of the poet, but the more he digs, the less appealing the man and the project become to him.

Desperate to find something spectacular to fire up the project, Murray goes to a distant island to track down people who knew Archie.  The few he is able to convince to talk say disturbing things, leading him to think that Archie was involved with Satanism in some way, or at least a close friend of his was.  Further, he was writing a science fiction novel, a total departure for him.    Murray also learns that his head of department at the university, with whose wife Murray has been having a desultory affair, had close ties with Archie in the 1970’s.  Why would Fergus Baine not have told him about this? 

It appears that there are still some folk around who want the dead poet to stay obscure, and his death by drowning to be accepted as an accident.  Murray’s island landlady tells him he can’t stay longer, she has another booking.  A female friend of Archie’s avoids him.  Murray’s own friends think he’s on a wild goose chase, and even his lover becomes distant.  All that keeps him going some days is the old professor, Dr James, who gives tantalizing clues and suggestions, but won’t come right out and help Murray.

Eventually Murray begins to wonder about Archie’s death.  Could it have been suicide rather than accident?  Or something worse?  When Dr. James sends him a small volume of poetry ostensibly written by Fergus, a lot of senseless things suddenly make sense, but by then it’s almost too late.  Steeped in the cold harsh northern air, Murray becomes prey to the same dark currents that carried away so many of the lives that touched Archie’s.

This is not a typical mystery story, and its pace is nothing like a modern thriller.  It’s beautifully written in spots: almost lyrical, as befits a book about the life and death of a poet.  If you read and liked George Mackay Brown’s Hamnavoe, you will like this.  And, perhaps strangely, if you liked Robert B Parker’s writing, you may well like this, despite the genres being poles apart.

 

 

 

Polished Off by Lila Dare

Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Set in a cozy beauty shop reminiscent of Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias, the close-knit group of Southern women offers each other support, gossip, and beauty intervention in Violetta Terhune’s salon in St. Elizabeth, Georgia.

Violetta’s daughter, Grace, has a habit of finding bodies and this time is no different.  When she reluctantly agreed to help style beauty pageant contestants before the events, she knew the pageant business could be cutthroat but didn’t expect to literally find the pageant coordinator murdered backstage. 

While in shock, Grace is also confused by the odd behavior of her normally stalwart colleagues, Stella, and Althea, the latter of whom has suddenly changed from a wash and wear lifestyle to a regal African-inspired wardrobe and an elegant but uptight boyfriend. 

Because the beauty pageant will continue at all costs, Grace and Violetta race to find the culprit behind not only the murder but also the accidents that have plagued the pageant while trying to stay out of the way of the local police.  Her investigation leads to plenty of surprises among the remaining beauty contestants plus an astonishing participant whose appearance threatens to further throw Grace off track.

Filled with characters who realistically banter like those who’ve known each other all their lives and well-loved landmarks, Polished Off revels in their small town’s open secrets even as Grace questions her future when her casual boyfriend, Marty, returns to St. Elizabeth from Atlanta.  The third in the Southern Beauty Shop series, Polished Off also includes two organic skin-care recipes touted in the book.

 

 

Blotto, Twinks and the Ex-King’s Daughter by Simon Brett

Publisher: Felony and Mayhem Press

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Readers familiar with Simon Brett’s Charles Paris series will find this a very different cup of tea—or nip of Bell’s.  Unlike the subfusc series about the fading B-grade actor with the drinking problem, this new series is so OTT that you’d never spot it as written by the same author.

Set in the interwar period, when there was still a recognisable upper class in Britain, the book is peopled with enough stereotypes to open its own ad agency.  Blotto and Twinks are a brother and sister amateur detective team. He’s handsome and bright as a three-watt bulb; “Blotto’s thoughts rarely ran deep enough to dampen the soles of his handmade brogues.”  She’s gorgeous and intelligent, and has a voice which bears “the upper class authority that can only be developed through many generations of exploiting serfs.”

Finding the body of one of the ex-King of Mitteleuropia’s men in the ducal library, Twinks at once decides he must have been a spy, because he was “wearing evening blacks, not his dress uniform”.  (Of such subtleties are clues made in Golden Age detective stories.)

Before you can say “Orient Express”, Twinks and Blotto are hock-deep in mysterious doings, evil assassins, plots and counter plots.  Not to mention being in a particularly nasty dungeon somewhere east of Ruritania.

If you like a well-written parody, and enjoy the Bertie Wooster genre of book, you will get a chuckle or two from this very different story.    I’m not sure the pigeonhole ‘comic novel’ is a perfect fit for this work, perhaps a more appropriate slot would be labelled “I felt like a bit of fun and I’ve made enough money to indulge my whims now and then”.  

 

 

The Executor by Jesse Kellerman

Publisher: Jove

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

It’s been awhile since one-time Harvard philosophy scholar Joseph Geist was dropped from his graduate program after failing to make any decent headway on his thesis.  And when his determination of living a life of thoughtful meditation continues to show less than tangible results also strikes out with his girlfriend, he finds himself out on the street with next to nothing.  So when he spots an ad in the Harvard newspaper asking for a “conversationalist,” he figures he has nothing to lose by looking into it.  And it’s to his amazement that he finds the perfect job, discussing the philosophical questions of life with a like-minded woman, Alma, whose advanced age and wisdom makes her the perfect companion.    

It doesn’t take long for her to offer Joseph a room in her stately home, his duties remaining the same of merely offering up a couple of hours of intelligent discourse each afternoon, a task he was born to fulfill.  And while Joseph couldn’t be happier, there is more than one knot in the seam.  Not only are there the disturbing visits from his companion’s money-hungry nephew, but also the alarming bouts of illness Alma seems to suffer with increasing frequency.  Both of which will all too soon lead to a terrifying and tragic ending to the charmed life Joseph is finally living.

Kellerman’s latest can initially be a bit difficult to get into.  Joseph, an entirely disagreeable character with his sanctimonious views on philosophy, his contempt of the uneducated, and his tendency to exaggerate his own intelligence, can make the read a bit wearisome at times.  BUT, there does prove to be a point to this, and while it takes a while to get there, eventually all the threads of the novel are brought together in a final cohesive tale that puts it all in perspective in a brilliant way that both mocks and gives heed to what has come before. 

Those who enjoy the endless philosophical debate of free will versus determinism will no doubt find that the summation of this tale only serves to fan the flames of the ongoing questions that fire this unanswerable query.  And regardless of which side you’re on, you’ll find this to be a challenging treat that feeds the mind just as successfully as it quickens the pulse.

 

 

 

The Ghost In The Polka Dot Bikini by Sue Ann Jaffarian

Publisher: Midnight Ink 

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Emma Whitecastle’s TV show, “The Whitecastle Report” is gaining a solid following and has been renewed for another season.  Few of her viewers would be aware that part of the reason for the show’s success is that when Emma reports on the paranormal, it’s from a position of inside knowledge.  She’s one of those who can see ghosts, and talk to them as well.  Mentored by her own great-great grandmother “Granny Apples”, Emma has already solved one murder, and before you can say ‘boo!’, another one lands in her lap.

It’s not that Emma goes looking for trouble:  murder was the furthest thing from her mind when she took a short vacation to Catalina Island with her main man, Phil Bowers.  But there was something appealing and pitiful about the cute blonde ghost in the polka-dot bikini, and once Emma hears her story, she has to find out what happened.

Very soon Emma’s sorry she started poking around, because it looks as if the ex-father-in-law she’s very fond of was somehow mixed up with Tessa North’s disappearance—and presumed murder--43 years ago.  Grant Whitecastle, Emma’s slimy ex, somehow finds out about Emma’s newest investigation and forbids her to have any contact with his parents, claiming she’s upset them.  There are a couple of nasty incidents, and one just plain ludicrous confrontation, none of which do anything to dampen Emma’s determination to get to the bottom of Tessa’s tragic story.  But when one of Tessa’s girlhood friends is murdered just after Emma visits her, it’s clear that someone out there won’t stop at anything to keep the past buried.

Peopled by an interesting cast of characters, both dead and alive, this second book in the Emma Whitecastle series is a light-hearted but not light-weight story.  Author Jaffarian has a deft touch and is able to write ‘cosy’ without falling over the line into ‘cute’.  For the price of a sidewalk café lunch you can enjoy an entertaining tale that doesn’t leave a bad taste in your mouth—and it’s totally carb-free.

 

 

The Mapping of Love and Death by Jacqueline Winspear

Publisher: Harper Perennial

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Maisie Dobbs returns as the externally composed and internally compassionate private investigator whose experience as a World War I nurse allows her to navigate through the traumatic aftermath of war and the crippling depression stifling much of the world.  With her able assistant Billy and a vast network of interesting people she met during the war, Maisie manages to procure and solve cases while also caring for her little circle of family and friends.

Although set in London in 1932, Maisie’s new case returns her back to those unforgotten war years after Edward and Martha Clifton hire her to locate a missing person that they have never met.  The Cliftons live in America but their son impulsively joined the British Army to help his father’s native country before the United States entered the war.  Since young Michael Clifton was an experienced cartographer who had mapped out part of the American west, the British Army accepted him and he went to the front to help mark territory that the British needed to cross.

After Michael’s remains were found in a trench, letters to “The English Nurse” gave the Cliftons an unexpected link to their son while a suspicious blow to Michael’s head troubles Edward and Maisie.  Since Michael left without a will, the land he bought has left the Cliftons fighting legal battles which suddenly become much more physical.  Now, Maisie must find the unnamed nurse before the Cliftons become targets themselves.

Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series becomes stronger for this volume.  Maisie begins to heal from her psychological wounds even as her mentor sinks into his own ailing health.  Although there are psychological insights not usually common for the era, the ideas are worded appropriately for the period and give the reader a better understanding of the long-term implications of both the war-wounded and unrelenting unemployment.  In spite of grim subjects, The Mapping of Love and Death offers a lightness new to the series and it is rewarding to see Maisie’s strength as an collected professional slowly transform her personal life as well.

 

 

The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Reviewed by Carol Reid, New Mystery Reader

What she saw from two stories up was the unnerving sight of her three uncles parking their pickup trucks in front of her parents' house, when she hadn't even known that two of the uncles were in town. She still called it her parents house even though Hugh-Jay and Laurie Linder had been gone almost all of her life. It was still their home to their only child—the descendant of a famous, violent night twenty-three years earlier—and it was still their home to everyone else in Henderson County, which was named for Jody's great-great-grandfather on her father's mother's side of the family.

            "What is this fearsome thing I see? " she whispered at the high windows, mimicking Shakespeare.

When Jody Linder is three years old, her father is murdered, her mother vanishes and the rural community of Rose, Kansas unites in making sure that local hooligan Billy Crosby pays for the crime. More than two decades later, Crosby's sentence has been commuted and he intends to return home. His imminent arrival opens old wounds for every member of the proud and damaged Linder clan and forces each to revisit his participation in the investigation and aftermath of this devastating crime.

This is an engrossing, beautifully spun story which explores the nature of guilt, pride, and retribution. The large cast of characters is without exception three-dimensional and completely authentic. Nobility and pettiness, stubbornness and compassion, selflessness and self-interest co-exist here just as in "real life" and give this tale an almost epic feel.

Pickard is totally adept at creating the physical and social topography of Rose, to the point where the reader could mentally walk into George's supermarket and pick an item off the shelf. This intimacy deepens the horror of the revelations that appear as inevitably as a bad storm on the horizon. Family loyalties are pushed to the breaking point and beyond, in a landscape as stony and unforgiving as the Linder patriarch, Hugh Sr.

Despite the horrific nature of the crime which fuels the narrative, a fierce love and devotion develops between the now adult Jody Linder and Billy Crosby's son, Collin. Can this forbidden relationship ultimately bring about the catharsis and redemption these families and the community needs?

A first-rate novel of passion and murder. Highly recommended.

 

 

This Body of Death by Elizabeth George

Publisher: Harper 

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

While Thomas Lynley of Scotland Yard would have liked more time to grieve his murdered wife and their unborn child, that's simply not going to happen when after a few short months into his leave, his temporary replacement of his unit comes knocking on his door to ask for aid in tracking down the killer of a woman found dead in a cemetery.   And so while he tracks the clues closer to London with the more than attractive new supervisor, his old partner and workmates follow the leads into one of England's most picturesque countrysides of New Forest where ponies run free and thatching roofs remains an art.  But this case is one that won't prove easy as the victim seems to have had many secrets and a love life that would put Mick Jaggar to shame.  But it also might just be the case to not only end Lynley's overwhelming grief, but to also bring a new light into his wonderfully ungainly partner Barbara. 

As it seems that the offenders of brutal crimes keep getting younger and younger, George's latest couldn't be more timely.  Through her as-usual insightful and comprehensive manner that presents all aspects of this alarming and growing issue fairly, she leaves the reader able to walk away with a decent idea of how all the players might feel when all is said and done and so the better equipped to make up his or her own mind regarding this divisive dilemma.  And no matter which side you end up on, you won't walk away untouched by the pain felt by all and the troubling, unanswered questions that will no doubt continue to rage on.

And for those who have read the previous outings in this remarkable series, they will additionally find themselves pleased to revisit some characters who by now seem like old friends.  Treating these characters' individual stories with just the right amount of humor and poignancy only adds more to this already engrossing read. 

Weighing in at a pound or two and several hundred pages more than your average mystery, some might decide not to invest the time into this long read.  But that would be a mistake and definitely a loss, as while George does take her time to flush out the answers, she does it with a panache that keeps the suspense and interest unflagging all the way through.  A very well thought-out mystery that addresses one of the more troubling issues in crime today, this one is easily worth the time spent.

 

 

Deception by Jonathan Kellerman

Publisher: Ballantine Books 

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

L.A. psychologist Alex Delaware and Detective Milo Sturgis return in an outing that fans will most likely find heads and shoulders above some of the few that have come before.

This time out it begins when a substitute teacher and tutor from a local private high school academy is found dead, her body resting in a bathtub of dried ice.  And while the case soon proves to be cold as her body, things only get murkier when the chief of police, whose son is a student at the high-priced school, throws more than one obstacle in their way.  Rich kids, and even richer parents, will make this a difficult case to solve, especially when more than one body is found shortly after the first.

Kellerman, for awhile there, seemed to be on a weary road - his depictions of LA’s worst  being less than interesting.  But with this latest, much like his last, Kellerman again seems to have successfully shaken off the dry spell and returns again with something smart and challenging.  Naturally, we all like to see the overly rich and infamous fall to their knees when their plotting and planning goes awry, but Kellerman’s unflinching approach to the children of this new clan of monsters makes its point with a surprising savvy and an awareness that, while obvious, is shocking nonetheless. 

I did like Kellerman’s previous title (the first in long while I did enjoy), but I like this one even more; Kellerman makes his point regarding the new breed of meaningless greed without preaching or offering platitudes guised as quick answers, and it works.  Kellerman is back doing what he does best: revealing the not so pretty side of Southern California’s supposed best and brightest and the darkness that lies just beneath the surface.

 

 

The Good Son by Michael Gruber

Publisher: St. Martins Griffith

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

If you like a book as complex and challenging as a Persian carpet design, this one’s for you.  No doubt drawing on experience in his previous life as a policy analyst in Washington DC,  Gruber has produced a book that draws you in from the very first chapter, and keeps you reading compulsively all the way through. 

The Good Son of the title is a hybrid man, Theo Bailey Laghari, who was born and raised for some years in Pakistan, served in the guerrilla war in Afghanistan, then was  kidnapped by his mother and some shadowy CIA-types and taken to the USA where he was Americanized for a while, and then joined a dark ops group .  In order to really enjoy this story, you’re going to have to believe that any American organisation would allow a foreign-born non-Christian  to join a secret organisation involved in the nation’s security.  And you will further have to accept that a circus girl could have married into a high-born Pakistani family and become a noted Islamic scholar in between adventures in the umma disguised as a boy, a stoning offense had she been found out.    Oh, and later she became a Jungian therapist. 

If you can accept that premise, you will find the story of Sonia Laghari, her kidnapping, torture and survival, totally engrossing.  Sonia was organising a peace conference and travelling to a country house in Pakistan when she and her companions were kidnapped by terrorists.  Almost at once one of the party was killed on video tape to establish the seriousness of the terrorists’ demands. 

All that prevents the serial murder of the entire group is Sonia’s facile tongue and her ability with card tricks.  Drawing on a vast and superior knowledge of the Qur’an, the Hadith and a number of golden age poets, Sonia spins a web of confusion around the captors, some of whom hold genuine, if ill-educated, religious beliefs, and all of whom are superstitious.  Sonia interprets dreams, which gets her a wide underground following in the village where she and the others are being held.  She counters accusations of her being a witch by quoting the highest Islamic authorities and putting her accusers at a disadvantage.

While this is going on, Theo is manipulating events back in Washington in order to force the US to mount a rescue operation, something they wouldn’t do if it were just a matter of eight  missing peaceniks—but which they might if they thought there were nuclear weapons involved somehow.  To establish the legitimacy of the ploy, Theo has to destroy the reputation of the one woman in Washington who isn’t swallowing his story line.  This involves some all-too-believable ill treatment that some readers will find very unpleasant to read, especially those of us old enough to have been raised with the notion that we were the guys in the white hats.

This is the first of Michael Gruber’s books I have read, but for sure I’m going to seek out others.  It’s totally engrossing, and educational to boot.

 

 

 

Supreme Justice by Phillip Margolin

Publisher: Harper

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

In 2006 John Finley is the captain of a vessel and smuggler. One night he awakened aboard his ship anchored near an Oregon harbor. The radioman is systematically killing the rest of the crew. Finley wins a gun battle aboard the ship and disappears. Police try to investigate only to have Homeland Security appear and make the vessel vanish.

He reappears a few months later and has an affair with Sarah Woodruff, a Portland police officer. When she learns of his smuggling background there is a loud argument and a parting of the ways – for a short while. Finley appears at Sarah’s condo and is kidnapped. Sarah is struck from behind causing her to fire her weapon. The earlier argument, the gunshot, blood at the condo and the kidnapping cause Sarah to be convicted of murder.

In 2012 the conviction has reached the Supreme Court. Liberal justice Felicia Moss feels that the case has merit based upon evidence withheld from the defense as state secrets. When a conservative justice resigns from the court, Moss has sufficient votes to table the case until a successor is named.

One of Moss’s law clerks, Brad Miller, reports that two law clerks from another justice’s office have tried to get information about the case. Shortly after the meeting, an attempt is made on her life. Moss is barely saved by the arrival of Brad. Between the two, they foil the efforts of the assassin.

John Finley is the ex-director of the CIA and quickly pressures the president into nominating his conservative candidate for the vacancy. What does a six-year-old murder case have to do with national security and would someone be willing to kill a Supreme Court justice to cover it up? Through Brad, private investigator Dana Cutler is hired to find out. With dogged determination and sometimes brutal methods, Cutler takes the case and heads to Oregon. 

Margolin has crafted an intriguing mystery. With a large cast of characters and a plot that moves quickly through time and place, the reader will have to pay close attention to make the connections.

 

 

 

Jane Goes Batty by Michael Thomas Ford

Publisher: Ballentine

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Jane Austen, hero to coquettish girls coveting empire-waisted dresses, has become a thoroughly modern woman thanks to being turned into a vampire by her one-night stand but close friend, Lord Byron, many years before. 

With a new identity as a bestselling author named Jane Fairfax, Jane struggles to write her follow-up novel quickly enough to please her publisher.  She’s already six months late and facing additional pressure on the homefront when her boyfriend, Walter Fletcher, tries to coax her into marrying him.  It’s a very good thing that she has Byron and her best friend and descendent, Lucy, to help her cope because things get really rough when both her new editor and potential mother-in-law descend on her with a vengeance.

Making matters worse, her first novel, Constance, is being transformed into a 1950s era movie set in Jane’s own town, forcing her to witness the most frightening parts of filmmaking up close.  Jane nearly loses her composure when an unassuming romance writer comes in to “sex up” the script, although the writer’s presence remains unfortunately minor.

Ford keeps the tone light and fills his story with inside jokes about other notable literary greats who just may have a connection to the supernatural.  He also builds on the Bronte-Austen rivalry, resulting in very funny imagery during the book’s climactic scenes, while also revealing a secret about Jane’s surprising connection with The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  While some readers may have a hard time letting go of the proper Austen, this version clad in pink flannel pajamas with little grey mice proves to be a quite amusing character now that she’s loosened up.

 

 

Hush by Kate White

Publisher: Harper Paperbacks

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

When marketing consultant Lake Warren takes a job offering advice to one of the many fertility clinics that seem to be booming lately in NYC, little does she know that the job will put everything she has into jeopardy.  After a one night stand with a handsome doctor ends in his murder with Lake leaving his apartment in total panic mode followed by her suspicion the killer is lurking close behind in the ensuing days and weeks to come, Lake finds herself not knowing who to trust and just who is stalking her or why. 

Could it be her ex-husband who is seeking sole custody of their two young children, or maybe her alleged best friend who seems to ask way too many questions about her love life, or could it be one of the many employees at the clinic who all seem to be hiding a horrible truth and one of whom perhaps had something to do with the gruesome killing?  While these questions haunt her and leave her looking over her shoulder at every step, she has the additional problems that come from her leaving the scene of the crime, with the detectives on the case seeming to suspect her involvement and asking way too many questions.  But, in the end, having not admitted being in the dead man’s apartment will be the least of her worries as the killer closes in with only one objective – to keep her from finding out the truth at any cost.

While White does a reasonable job of explaining why Lake would run and why she would continue to keep her secret, it’s not always entirely convincing.  But that’s really a minor quibble when compared to the many more positive aspects of the mystery.  White does a great job at keeping readers guessing, not only as to who is really behind the death of the handsome doctor, but if that person is in fact even the one responsible for the growing threats to Laura’s life.  All in all, this is an exciting, fast-paced mystery that provides a good enough ride to hang on to the end.

 

 

The Devil’s Star by Jo Nesbo

Publisher: Harper  Paperbacks

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Oslo detective Harry Hole has had more than one bad year since his partner was killed. The slow death of his career, the loss of the love of his life due to his obsession with solving her murder, and his obsessive drinking have left him with almost nothing.  But even worse is the fact that the man he knows is responsible, Tom Waaler, a detective on the force whose star is only rising, is still out there free and innocent. 

But when a killer hits the streets of Oslo leaving behind a blood red diamond in the bodies of his victims, Harry is asked to play nice and work with Waaler to solve what appears to be the beginning of a serial killer’s reign of madness.  And so while Harry is trying to solve who is behind the brutal deaths, he must also continue to search for proof that Waaler is yet another monster who should be stopped - a search that might just end his life.

In Nesbo’s latest there’s a lot going on; way more than initially meets the eye.  The story often shifts in ways that at first may seem nonsensical, but it’s in how Nesbo adeptly shifts it back that makes this latest a bit better than average.  He easily leads the reader down trails that seem solidly placed only to suddenly fill the next step with quicksand or a simple dead end, resulting in a read that is both challenging and surprising.  But most striking of all is Nesbo’s ability to create characters worthy of both deep empathy and total repulsion, often evoking both in the same character.  Either way, most readers will find themselves invested early on and determined to see how it all plays out.  While this is a longer book than most in the genre, it manages not to waste a single page on its thrilling ride to the end.

 

 

 

 

The Bone Thief by Jefferson Bass

HarperCollins Publishers  ISBN: 978-06-128476

Review by Jim Sells,  New Mystery Reader

Dr. Bill Brockton directs the Body Farm at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Brockton – with the help of his graduate assistant Miranda Lovelady - has duties ranging from studying the decay of human bodies to fighting for every penny of budget money.

When a Dr. Glen Faust, VP of research for OrthoMedica – a multi-billion dollar supplier of medical devices, including artificial joints – approaches with a massive funding proposal for the Body Farm, Brockton is tempted.

In Bones of Betrayal, Brockton helped the authorities solve multiple murders involving death by radiation. In the process, Dr. Eddie Garcia, a pathologist and friend of Brockton’s, received a massive dose of radiation and barely survived. Miranda was injured from a lesser dose of radiation poisoning and made a full recovery. Survival for Garcia came with hefty price tag – loss of almost all of both hands. Now Garcia is seeking options that could let him return to his chosen profession. One is a revolutionary bionic hand and another involves a new procedure for a hand transplant.

The murderer from that case – Isabella Arakawa Morgan – escaped and may be ready to resurface again. Isabella may also have a very personal connection to Brockton.

Now Brockton has been asked by the FBI to participate in a sting operation involving stolen bodies to supply parts. When OrthoMedica -that has just bought the company that manufactures the hand - withdraws the bionic hand from the market, Brockton is faced with another temptation. How far will he go to restore Garcia’s hand?

The novel is a first rate work of mystery and forensic technology. Fans of CSI – as the authors note – may find the solving cases more difficult than portrayed on television, but the procedures are fascinating. As with Bones of Betrayal, this novel goes into grisly detail about forensics. If the reader can stomach some of the more graphic details, they will be rewarded with superior story.

 

 

 

 

Gator A-Go-Go by Tim Dorsey

Publisher: William Morrow  ISBN: 978-0-06-143271-2

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

Florida Spring Break is wild enough without the characters present in this book. Serge and his sidekick, Coleman, are roaming the length and breadth of the state. Serge – video camera ever ready – is making a documentary of the history of spring break. As the pair travel, an entourage forms for them thanks to Serge’s messiah-like influence on the easily influenced and Coleman’s mastery of mind-altering substances ranging from smuggling alcohol in oranges to maximizing the potency of pot brownies. As if the frequent disturbances brought on the over-aged frat boys weren’t enough, Serge has one other major quirk. He’s a serial killer leaving bodies across the state as a result of his macabre booby-traps.

One pair of psychopaths isn’t sufficient for this novel. There is another group of killers lead by Guillermo who are leaving another path of bodies in their wake as they look for a boy kept in witness protection. As chance would have it, the boy has ended up with Serge and company.

Dorsey has created an odd and thoroughly entertaining mix. Be warned, the violence is plenty, but done tastefully as is the sex. Despite the number of characters, the plot is easy to follow. The biggest problem is that Serge is a very likable serial killer.

 

 

Wild Penance by Sandi Ault

Publisher: Berkley

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

When taking an early morning jog in New Mexico’s high desert near Taos, NM, BLM (Bureau of Land Management) ranger Jamaica Wild is shocked to witness two shadowy figures tossing a body over the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.  After calling in the authorities, with the rising sun giving more light to the broken figure lying deep below in the rushing river, Jamaica is even more shocked to see that the body is tied to a huge cross - a tableau that immediately strikes a chord of recognition. 

For the past few months Jamaica has been researching a splintered Catholic religious sect that has been in New Mexico for ages known as Los Penitentes.  This very private and secretive group is renowned for the legends of self-flagellation, intense sacrifice, and even supposed crucifixion that surrounds it.  But except for those who are involved, what really goes on has always remained shrouded in myth and mystery.  And it’s this very mystery that ultimately connects this murder and Jamaica’s research in even deadlier ways when Jamaica becomes the next target.  But just who is targeting her - the gentle hermanos of the brotherhood, or someone who wants to see them, and her, silenced forever?

Being from the area myself, and being somewhat familiar with the topics in Wild’s novel, I have to give Ault her due.  She does a fantastic job of taking this particular subject and infusing it with just enough myth and fact to make it both convincing and mesmerizingly mysterious - of which in fact it always has been, and always will be.  Many might be tempted to treat this subject with an ignorant disdain, yet Ault shows respect and restraint as needed and treats the subject with a delicacy that both is extraordinary and compassionate.

As for the mystery itself, that’s there too in abundance, along with her well-drawn character of Wild - a strong and independent heroine who is not afraid of midnight fence checking on a horse’s back or tiny Hispanic witches who appear out of nowhere - as well as her affectionate and vivid depictions of New Mexico’s more unusual and beautiful charms.  And those who have read previous outings in the series will find delight in the suggestion that this latest is one that “is before that other time.” 

Full of ambience and spirit (both natural and otherworldly), this one comes highly recommended. 

 

 

The Fourth Assassin by Matt Beynon Rees

Publisher: Soho Crime

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

Palestinian schoolteacher Omar Yussef arrives in New York to for a conference on the UN school system in the refuge camp that is his home. He also wants to visit his son Ala who is living in ‘Little Palestinian’ as the immigrant area of Bay Ridge has become known. 

Upon arrival at his son’s apartment, Yussef makes a gruesome discovery – a headless corpse. While waiting for the police and wondering if the body is his son, he sees a figure in a black coat depart the building.

Ala comes home while Yessef waits. By looking at the way the body is dressed, Ala decides it is Nazar – one of his roommates and boyhood friends. This leaves the other roommate, Rashid, as a possible suspect. However, when Ala refuses to give police an alibi, they take him as a suspect for questioning.

Yessef finds out that Ala was with a girl – Rania. He would not risk dishonoring her. Unfortunately, Nazar was interested in her too. Next Rania’s father -  involved in drug dealing - is murdered Then Yussef finds Nazar alive and that the body was Rashid. During this time, there are several attempts on Yussef’s life. The murders could be related to politics, drugs, or jealousy.

Mr. Rees has combined culture clash with several other themes to make a believable mystery. His long residence in the Middle East lends depth and insight to the story.

 

 

Split Image—A Jesse Stone Novel by Robert B. Parker

Publisher: Berkley

Reviewed by Don Crouch, New Mystery Reader

So let’s deal with the elephant in the room right away: how does one review a book when the author unexpectedly dies while it’s being read?

The death of Dr. Parker was a shock to the genre community, to be sure. Eulogies steeped in eloquence can be found with just a few clicks.  The eloquence is deserved, Parker saved the PI genre. That is not debatable. So we will leave those eulogies for you to find (we recommend the one from the NY Times), and say, going forward, this review takes that sad fact into account not one bit.

Split Image is more accurately described as a Jesse Stone/Sunny Randall Novel, both characters are present, together and apart.

Our story begins as Sunny visits Jesse for professional consult. She’s been hired to look into an “eccentric” religious organization based in Paradise known as The Renewal. Her clients are parents whose daughter has moved into their house in Paradise.  Sunny isn’t quite sure if her clients are worried about their daughter or their reputation, and she starts her investigation by getting a briefing from the Paradise Police Chief, with whom she has an interesting romantic relationship.  This briefing is filled with the banter that Parker is most famous for, and we immediately feel at home with these two. We like the fact that they are each others’ refuge from bad situations in their own lives—Jesse’s, the near-constant disappointment brought by his ex-wife, Jenn; Sunny, the irresolvable distance between her and her ex-husband, Richie.

During their chat, a body is discovered in Paradise, that of Mob Enforcer Petrov Ognowski. Jesse leaves Sunny to her business, and start digging. He finds that Petrov was a soldier for Reggie Galen, who lives in a very fashionable house, next door to a nearly-identical house where resides Knocko Moynihan, another “colorful” fella. He then finds out that both gentlemen are married to....wait for it....IDENTICAL TWINS. Rebecca and Robbie, the Bang Bang Twins.

Let your minds get busy, because Parker clearly did the same thing. Two women, growing up separate but the same. Dressing with the same clothes. Making every effort to be indistinguishable. Sleeping with each others’ boyfriends, etc.

Parker has big fun exploring the psychosis of all this, from Jesse interviewing the parents, to being a temporary object of the twins’ affection during an interview.

Sunny works her way through The Renewal, and her first impression is fairly benign. A little kooky, but her client’s daughter seems both happy and healthy. She reports this to her clients, then learns the daughter has disappeared from The Renewal residence. Vetting the usual suspects, Sunny moves her focus back to the cult, and things get pretty interesting at that point. Along the way, Parker shares Sunny’s therapy session with Boston’s Greatest Shrink, Susan Silverman. We always enjoy these interludes, as they provide a strictly empirical look at Susan, something we definitely don’t get from the Spenser books.

Don’t wait too long for these two cases to intersect, because they don’t. They simply give us the joy of watching Jesse and Sunny, together and apart, do what they do and then ruminate on it. Sound familiar? It should.

And that’s the key to why Parker’s books are so effective. He lets his characters tell the story. He puts them on the path, and then more or less gets out of the way.

Split Image moves the stories of both Jesse Stone and Sunny Randall, together and apart, forward.  Parker weaves in the great supporting cast in Paradise, primarily Molly Crane and Suitcase Simpson, with his usual skill.

At its core, it’s a story of what happens when a childhood psychosis is untreated, perhaps encouraged, and manifests itself in adult behavior. Parker excels at this kind of superficial examination (we’re not interested in clinical, are we?) to tell his story, and it’s the main strength of Split Image.