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Requiem in Vienna by J. Sydney Jones

Publisher: Minotaur  ISBN-10: 0312383908

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Returning to nineteenth century Austria, Karl Werthen and his wife Berthe have settled into married life and to concentrate on building his legal practice in Vienna.  Karl has expanded his practice to include the dangerous but controversial job of investigations much to his landlady’s dismay and Berthe’s delight.  Werthen and Berthe became hooked on sleuthing after satisfactorily solving a case for famed painter Gustav Klimt, who, true to form, has yet to settle his bill.

Werthen is soon hired by a determined young woman who secures his services to protect a moody but popular composer.  The lovely and very wealthy Fraulein Schindler admires Herr Mahler’s compositions and hopes to protect him from several near-misses that threaten to give Mahler a very messy curtain call.  After a young soprano dies in a stage accident, Werthen steps up his investigation and plunges into the highly competitive worlds of high society and popular music.

Werthen’s partner in The Empty Mirror, Dr. Hans Gross, returns to conduct inquiries whether or not the Werthens want his help.  Gross, the nonfiction father of criminology, has an insatiable curiosity to match his unending appetite for the housekeeper’s traditional and substantial meals.  The eminently self-assured Gross and maturing Werthen make an entertaining pair who alternately inspire and irritate one another while Berthe quietly becomes an invaluable addition to their inquiries.

Gross’ observations help the investigation but his character has lost its centrality that it had in the first book of the series.  With Werthen and Berthe under his initial tutelage, the Viennese husband and wife could make a formidable team even without his direct guidance.

While The Empty Mirror was saturated in the Vienna art scene, Requiem in Vienna immerses itself in the musical realm where compositional styles were heatedly debated and the greatness of Brahms and other contemporaries were still recalled by Austrians.

The tone of the books remains more reserved than the intimate coziness of many contemporary American mysteries and more in keeping with the style of Sherlock Holmes stories, especially those reimagined by Laurie King, allowing for some Victorian-era stodginess with a modern wink to marital equality.




Shield of Duty by Scarlett Dean

Publisher: Five Star/Gale ISBN 13 978 1 59414 855 2

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Police officer Kate Frost is off with her galpals for a winter holiday in the woods, a holiday that comes to a fast and nasty end when the missing member of the party turns up dead and in pieces in Kate’s car.

There’s something personal about this murder: the killer had already sent one of the victim’s fingers to Kate.  Her partner (in both senses) Gerard Alvarez would prefer Kate to let others solve the murder, but he knows she’s not likely to sit quietly by.  What he doesn’t know is that Kate has a secret helper, her sister Lindsay.  Lindsay was a cop, too, before her death.  Somehow held to the real world, for what reason she isn’t sure, Lindsay has been rather at loose ends in the afterlife, until it occurs to her that perhaps she’s meant to carry on being an investigator.  Her first case makes her even more certain of this, when she helps the ghost of a mobster discover how he died and frees him to go—wherever it is people like that go once released from their bodies.

Kate’s willing to accept any help to discover who killed Evelyn Jakes, and doesn’t give Lindsay the argument she expected, but instead recruits her to find out what she can from the autopsy.  Aided by a dead coroner, Lindsay does that, as well as some other investigating that uncovers a lot of clues, but not quite enough to pin down the murderer. 

Kate has to take time out of her career for a spot of surgery to remove a tumour, and it’s while she’s doped up post-operative that a stranger enters her room and leaves a noose in a box.  Lindsay has seen the man, but can’t do anything physical to restrain him. Very frustrating to be a cop without any powers of arrest!  It’s even more frustrating when Kate is kidnapped and Lindsay loses touch with her.  Help comes from an unexpected source, but will it be in time?

This is one of those books that  could have been a lot better, but  isn’t a bad read.   I wouldn‘t have chosen it for myself, but I suspect a number of people who like a fast read with a dash of supernatural stuff will find it worth their while.   




Let It Ride by John McFetridge

Publisher: Minotaur Books ISBN-10: 031259948X

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader
(Interview with John McFetridge)

The acclaimed HBO series, The Wire, with its season long story arcs, is often referred to as a televised novel. If novels were like The Wire, they’d be a lot like John McFetridge’s books; his newest, Let It Ride, would be Season Three.

Vernard “Get” McGetty is an Afghanistan veteran from Detroit, in Toronto to see about new supply lines for his mother’s drug operation. J.T., a friend from Afghanistan, is connected to The Saints of Hell, a biker gang in the process of bringing all the gangs in Canada under their umbrella by whatever means are necessary. Sunitha has graduated from working in massage parlors to robbing them. Richard Tremblay was a major player in the Saints’ takeover, who then took over himself and wonders what comes next. Throw in the vestiges of the Mafia, some good cops, some crooked cops, and discontent from some of the annexed gangs, let them simmer, and you have Let It Ride.

McFetridge isn’t writing a series so much as he’s writing an epic. Let It Ride extends the main story lines that have carried through Dirty Sweet and Everybody Knows This is Nowhere from different perspectives. Each book brings different characters to the fore, using others as necessary. Past events are recalled when needed, but reading the books in order is not required; each works fine as a standalone.

Relationships are key here. Not the Lifetime, “Tell me how you really feel,” type of relationships.  Most are relationships of convenience, everyone playing an angle with whoever seems to best fit their purposes. All are fully developed; Get likes JT and Sunitha, but neither will be allowed to stand between him and what he decides to do. Richard’s girlfriend, Kristina, says, “Business is relationships,” and Richard immediately thinks, “Relationships are business.” There are no lone wolves in McFetridge’s world, though no individual is indispensible to any other.

There’s an homage to Elmore Leonard early in the book, so it’s not likely McFetridge is tired of being compared to him yet. (Frankly, I think it would take a long time for anyone to tire of being compared to Elmore Leonard.) McFetridge’s voice is not the hip and funny patter found in Get Shorty or Mr. Paradise. Plenty of Leonard-esque humor, with people saying funny things they don’t mean to be funny, but the atmosphere is darker, more like Leonard as he moved from Westerns to crime, in books like City Primeval and Split Images.

Another writer whose influence is felt in Let It Ride is George V. Higgins. Pivotal events are allowed to happen off camera, to be discussed by the characters later. The lack of set piece action sequences not only keeps the character relationships moving along, using dialog to describe events that occurred during this book—but were not seen—allows McFetridge to slip in backstory as needed without a flashing sign going off in the reader’s mind: EXPOSITION AHEAD. This is done deftly enough that no one but another writer is likely to notice, providing another treat included in the price of the book: it can be read on multiple levels without sacrificing entertainment.

McFetridge writes the way people think. What needs to be considered is never left out, but energy Is not wasted on superfluous thought. Things are described because they need to be. Key features are pointed out. The reader’s conception of the characters will evolve over the course of the story, just as you learn about the real people in your life. The pace isn’t car chase and shootout frantic, but it never stops moving.

One caveat when reading Let It Ride: Pay attention. There’s a lot going on. Relationships intermingle, objectives change, partnerships are in flux. This is not a book to be enjoyed while watching television and discussing events of the day, reading as background noise. Let It Ride demands your attention; it also rewards it.

(Note: Let It Ride was released in Canada in 2009 with the title of Swap.)





Slow Fire by Ken Mercer

Publisher: Minotaur Books  ISBN-10: 031255835X

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Will Magowan, once an LA undercover narc, has spent the past few months living a life of quiet grief and shame after the death of his only child led to his release from the force when he became a little too involved with playing his role as a drug dealer and drug taker.  And though he’s completed his days at rehab, the future is still looking bleak with his marriage in shambles and his career in ruins. 

So when he gets an offer from a small mountain town in Oregon offering him the job of sheriff, he’s more than happy to pack it all up and move north with the hope of making a fresh start.  But, Haydenville, while once upon a time an idyllic small town full of beauty and charm, is anything but now that a gang of criminals have moved in and set up a meth lab of epic proportions, turning more than a few residents into burnt-out, violent shells of who they once were.  So, not only will Magowan have to battle larger than life enemies who seem to have the law on their side, but also his continuing grief and his addiction to the self-medication that comes with it.

It’s always exciting when first cracking a book open that comes from a brand new author.  Before the first page is turned, there’s a hopeful anticipation that this one will surely be the one to offer up something refreshingly innovative.  But in this case, that hope is quickly dashed.  And while there is more than one unpleasant distraction, the main one that readers will find themselves unable to move past is the simple lack of research into police procedures and the ensuing lack of credibility and even astonishment at how this investigation is handled that result. 

Not only does this town seem to be living in an invisible bubble without oversight, but even the powers that be within the town have no idea what the other is doing.  And as the bodies begin to stack up, and then are quickly forgotten, the lack of follow-up soon becomes almost comical, if only it wasn’t so disappointing.  Magowan’s propensity to leave his gun, cell phone, back-up, and anything else necessary for stopping and or processing criminals behind is one thing, but readers will be shocked at how he handles shootings, crime-scenes, stake-outs, and all the other events that come standard in this kind of read. 

One can only hope that before the next in the series, Mercer spends a bit more time doing some research into the ins and outs that are basic to police procedures and the genre itself.  This doesn’t require a PhD, merely reading something by Ian Rankin or Deborah Crombie should do the trick and would be well advised.           




Rescuing Olivia by Julie Compton

Publisher: Minotaur Books  ISBN-10: 0312378769

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Anders Erickson has lived most of his adult life as a laid-back Floridian guy with little more on his plate than tending the local country club’s golf course.  But when Olivia, the wealthy daughter of a prominent business man, crosses his path, he finds himself shockingly and irrefutably in love for the first time. And soon the feeling is mutual, leading the two to set up house in a cozy bungalow by the sea. 

But, when six months later while on a motorcycle trip in which Anders was considering proposing the couple is sideswiped by a car that leaves the scene, everything changes – everything.  Anders is devastated when after waking up in the hospital he’s told that the woman he loves died in the crash and, even worse, her father blames him for the death.  Yet after the initial grief subsides, Anders begins to suspect that Olivia is in fact alive and someone has taken her far beyond his reach with evil intentions, and so begins his search for the truth behind his sudden loss. 

And as his search takes him across the country and then to Africa, he’ll discover that not only did Olivia have secrets that might prove deadly, but that those secrets and the journey to uncover them will lead him to face his own past that has been hidden for far too long.

As told, there is in fact a decent plot here, but some readers might find themselves too exasperated to follow it all the way through to its satisfying ending.  Anders, for a good part of the read, spends most of his time getting drunk, driving drunk, and pretty much wallowing in self-pity.  The event that finally inspires him to get off his ass and into gear to actually look for his beloved is so unconvincing and self-serving that the reader might wonder if it's even worth the bother to see if this guy succeeds in his quest.

There are some clever twists to this story, but one can’t help but feel much more could have been done with what was eventually laid bare.  All in all, however, some well-lit settings and a few unique twists make this more than less worth the read.