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Paganini’s Ghost by Paul Adam

Publisher: Minotaur Books  ISBN-10: 0312383851

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

When the last note of a well-played and remarkable music piece has played, listeners may retain some of the magic even after the end of performance, sometimes in memories that last years.  Paganini, the powerful violinist whose instrument was called “the Cannon”, gained fame in the 18th and19th centuries for his showmanship and difficult compositions that would delight pianist Jerry Lee Lewis, notorious for his own musical antics.  

Paganini’s music continues to reverberate in Adam’s well-crafted journey through the highly competitive musical golden age which paralleled the excesses of the short-lived Napoleonic French Empire. 

With careful attention to detail, Adam takes the reader through sections of Italy, Paris and London through the work of widower Gianni Castiglione.  Gianni has worked on Stradivaris and other highly regarded historic violins before but finds himself truly moved when working on Paganini’s own Cannon.  Ironically, this short assignment leads to an unexpected friendship and the beginning of a murder mystery after a Frenchman dies at a concert featuring the rare performance with Paganini’s violin.  Things only get more complicated when the young performer disappears, leaving his strident mother frantic with worry.

While others view him as an old man with an unglamorous career attending to rare violins in a sedate rural setting, Gianni’s mental faculties and witty sense of humor not only help him empathize with a Russian prodigy but also assist in his friend Detective Antonio Guastafeste’s murder investigation.

Although set in the present day, Gianni’s background in music history helps him decipher clues for a mystery with ties to Catherine the Great, Paganini and Napoleon’s sister Elise.  Although full of intellectual matter and humor, Paganini’s Ghost will be easily appreciated by musical novices and historical neophytes.

 

 

 

Gone ‘Til November by Wallace Stroby

Publisher: Minotaur Books  ISBN-10: 0312560249

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader

Meet Sara Cross, single mother and deputy sheriff in a quiet Florida town. Tonight another deputy will shoot a man in the swamp. Sara will be the first officer on the scene and her life will never be the same.

This is Nathaniel Morgan. His boss in Newark sent a man to Florida with $350,000. Now the man’s dead and the money is missing. Morgan’s job is to get it back, but he has plans of his own.

Sara and Morgan are about to cross paths.

(Gunshots and tires squealing.) Morgan Freeman.

(Exciting music. More shots and tires.) Ashley Judd.

(Explosion, then silence. The screen fades to black, then the title fades in.) Gone ‘Til November.

Sound like a movie you’d like? Then get on down to your local bookseller and buy a copy of Wallace Stroby’s newest, Gone ‘Til November. Rarely has a book read more like it was standing on the corner of Hollywood and Vine looking for a movie deal.

This can be good and bad. Stroby inexorably tightens his knots, leading to a climax that is both inescapable and unpredictable. It’s not clear who will walk away until they actually do. His characters talk like real people, their accents and habits describe them better than photographs. The complications are sufficient to keep you guessing, not so twisted as to be confusing.

On the down side, the characters talk like real people, just not like particularly interesting real people. The shooter, Billy Flynn (no relation to Chicago’s Billy Flynn) is Sara’s former lover; her son has cancer. Her conversations are what you’d expect in a movie that wants neither to be too noir nor too Oxygen, superficial comments on how life can be tough.

Crime devotees are used to that by now. Hard to be a date movie without some interpersonal angst. Of greater concern is Stroby’s reliance on another, more objectionable movie standard: Sara keeps making the same mistakes over and over again. You’d think, after almost getting killed because she didn’t get backup, she’d be more conscientious about calling for it in the future. That would be more realistically acceptable, but it ruins the tension of whether she’ll escape from the next problem. Movies can sometimes get away with this, as they force the viewer to move at their pace; reader have more time for reflection.

Gone ‘Til November is the kind of book that can breakout an up and coming writer like Stroby. The plot is intriguing, the writing stays out of the way, and people will engage with the characters. It’s also a little safe; Stroby goes to the brink of writing kickass noir and settles for conventional. Nothing wrong with that, and to comment too much would say more about the reviewer than about the book.

Some books are like that. Everything’s there; it just didn’t light me up. Then again, consider the source. My daughter complained to my wife because none of the books on my Wish List were available in Borders. “Dad has such obscure tastes,” she said. If you like more mainstream crime fiction, Gone ‘Til November may be just what you’re looking for.

 

 

 

 

Baja Florida by Bob Morris

Publisher: Minotaur Books  ISBN-10: 0312377266

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Zack Kasteen is happy living the simple, quiet life in Florida watching his new daughter go from infancy to toddlerhood with his partner in love Barbara.  But when he’s contacted by an old friend who used to share the limelight with him on the football field and who is now about to die, asking for his help in finding his long-lost daughter Jennifer, Zack’s hard-found serenity is soon to turn into just a memory. 

Zack’s friend, now a millionaire several times over, has been given the news he has only a few weeks left to live.  And  wanting to make up for past mistakes, he decides Zack is now the only man he can trust to find the daughter he hasn’t seen for over 20 years when the detective he first hired won’t answer his calls.  It appears that his long lost daughter who left for a long cruise in her new boat along the Bahamas coastline seems to have vanished into thin air, along with her very expensive boat and a few of the friends who were on board with her. 

So Zack heads out in an attempt to follow her trail, going up and down the coast and hitting the small villages that sit along the way, not knowing if she’s disappeared with intent, or if she’s the victim of one of the ever increasing bands of pirates that steal boats and kill their crew, or, even worse, if some members of her own sailing crew posing as friends were in fact desperados out to take her boat and her life.   And as each stop along the trail results in an ever-increasing body count, Zack will find himself in jeopardy of being the next victim of an enemy he can't put a face to.

For those of us dealing with snow and chilly temperatures, this read provides the perfect antidote.  Filled with vibrant details of the region, it’s easy to forget the snow falling outside your window, and instead place yourself in a warm and delightful place, complete with a salty, sultry breeze.  Even without Johnny Depp, this Caribbean mystery provides enough colorful, swashbuckling adventure to transport the coldest of reader into a warm and vibrant fantasy of daring action and thrills.  Fast-moving and easily inviting, this hits the spot for those of us who can only dream of sandy beaches and the tropical adventures they can bring.  

 

 

Gutshot Straight by Lou Berney

Publisher: William Morrow   ISBN: 978-0-06-176604-6

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

The story opens with Charles ‘Shake’ Bouchon being released after a prison sentence for grand theft auto. He plans on opening a restaurant, but at forty-two years old and with less than two thousand cash, that’s unlikely.

Then he is picked up in a limo by Lexy - an old flame and the ruthless boss of the Armenian mob in L.A. Shake went to prison rather than inform on her. Lexy offers Shake $20,000 to take a car from L.A. to Vegas – no questions asked and deliver it to Dick Moby a strip club owner.

When Shake thinks he has flat on the way, he makes the mistake of opening the trunk. Inside he finds a woman - Gina Clement – tied up. Gina spins a tale of her husband running out on a gambling debt. She doesn’t have a husband and is an exotic danger at Moby’s club. Shake takes her to a motel where an exchange is supposed to take place. His heart takes over and he clocks Moby’s man.

Gina and he run, but she takes time to grab the briefcase that was supposed be traded for her. Inside they find what looks like antique stamps. In reality, they are priceless religious relics. Gina double-crosses Shake and in turn is double-crossed by a coin and stamp dealer.

Gina and Shake decide to team up and chase the dealer to Panama where a millionaire swindler is interested in the relics. In turn, they are being chased by muscle sent by Lexy and Moby.

Berney has captured the quirky character and development and stylish double-crosses of Elmore Leonard. “Gutshot Straight” makes for lively and entertaining read.

 

 

Desperate Measures by Patti Battison

Publisher: Robert Hale   ISBN 978  0 7090 8926

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Detective Sergeant Mia Harvey is having a hard time keeping her temper when it comes to her colleague Nick Ford.  When a major crime scene needs to be attended, he’s nowhere to be found. Nowhere that the boss, DCI Paul Wells knows, that is.  Mia knows Nick spends time with Lisa Mackey, a prostitute, and her heads-up call to him at Lisa’s place isn’t received with gratitude. 

Nick resents Mia and excuses his own lack of advancement in this unnamed fringe-of-London police force by telling himself she’s the teacher’s pet.  Not true, but Nick’s bundle of guilt from his wife and daughter’s deaths has screwed up his life so much that he can’t see anything clearly: not his work, and not his private life.

The crime to be investigated is the torture murder of a young woman whose body is found in a landfill dump by a couple of scavengers looking for saleable items.  It takes a while to identify the girl, but  once she’s known, a number of suspects pop up. There’s her Goth brother, who’s hiding something that the police are unable to winkle out due to his over-protective mother’s interference.  There’s the boyfriend, currently in a remand centre, but presumably able to get his mates on the outside to do something for him.  There’s the prison guard who has taken sudden leave and vanished. 

All of these suspects are examined, and one of them is charged, but Mia Harvey has a niggling feeling that there’s something missing; the solution is just too pat, and so far there’s no forensic support for the arrest.  Nick’s stretching of the truth will, if discovered, bring down Wells’ wrath on everyone.  The only way to avoid this is to identify a concrete-solid suspect.

Acting on a clue and a hunch and a faked piece of evidence, Mia confronts the man she thinks is a better fit for murderer than anyone else.  She’s amazed when he not only confesses but seems proud of what he’s done.  DCI Wells congratulates Mia, but she suddenly sees him through new lenses, and suspects he’s only patting her back because she’s made him look good.  Drop the ball and she’ll find herself as despised as Nick Ford. 

There’s an interesting second-string story running parallel with the murder, a story involving aged care which considers the paradox of an ‘angel’ with feet of clay, and which will resonate with any reader responsible for a frail elderly relative.

Battison has constructed a believable police force and some interesting characters, which with a bit more development should take their place alongside the Thames Valley Division or the Grampian Police.  It will be of particular interest to see if Nick Ford faces his demons and accepts them for what they are, and moves on to become a more sympathetic character.  At present, the reader’s impulse is to ‘give him a smack upside the head’ and tell him to get a life.

 

 

Silencer by James W. Hall

Publisher: Minotaur Books  ISBN-10: 0312359594

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

What begins as an idealistic real estate deal involving an old rancher, the state of Florida, and Thorne, the Key Largo simple guy and reluctant investigator who recently inherited millions of dollars, turns into a nightmare of death and deception when their plan to preserve hundreds of acres of Florida’s natural beauty is discovered by those who aren’t so happy with the loss of profit that the deal might bring.  A patriarch is killed, Thorne is kidnapped and left for dead, and family ties are shattered in the days leading to the final signing.  And just who might survive and who might be the one to end the quest in glory or by corruption is the question nobody can quite answer until the very end.  

In this exciting and thrilling adventure, James W. Wall races from scene to scene and character to character without a single instance of distraction.  If there is a complaint to be had, it’s that the read is too short and goes by much too quickly.  But with that being said, it’s amazing how Wall is able to flush out his many characters to the extent that he does; each one seemingly fully realized and totally capable of holding their own in a story where not just one is the ultimate hero or villain, but one in which each character shares the spotlight just about equally - including Florida itself - the ambience and steamy setting adding much to this already invigorating tale.  This one has it all, and although maybe not enough of it, that’s a minor complaint when all is said and done.

 

 

The 13th Hour by Richard Doetsch

Publisher: Atria Books  ISBN: 978-1-4391-4791-7

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

Nick Quinn has a seemingly idyllic life. He is married to a beautiful woman – Julia. They have made a detailed plan to realize their goals in life. This includes buying and restoring an old house and waiting to have children.

Although he has to travel for business, the couple makes up for lost time when they are reunited. Upon his last return, Nick and Julia quarrel over a dinner date Julia has made with another couple. She leaves angrily for work and Nick settles in his home office. That could be the last time he will see her alive.

The following chapters provide numerous questions and only a few answers. How is it that evening, Nick is arrested and interrogated for Julia’s murder? Who killed Julia with an antique revolver and framed Nick with the weapon? Why was Julia called from a business flight that day and saved from a fatal plane crash? Who is the man that everyone thinks is a lawyer sent by his neighbor to the police station? What is the purpose of the mysterious letter and antique watch that the man gives to Nick?

Then the watch does an incredible thing. It propels him back in time one hour – to just before he is arrested. He reads the letter as he waits in his friend’s library for the police to come and arrest him. The letter tells that he can travel back twelve times – each trip putting him one hour further into the past. Armed with this knowledge he goes back and changes events on each trip, but can he change fate and save him and Julia?

Doetsch has fused an excellent mystery with elements of science fiction. The novel has a small enough cast of characters that the reader is able to focus on the mystery. The adult themes are presented in good taste and do not take from the story line. Although the story might be slightly more entertaining with some snappy dialogue or other device to provide comic relief; overall, this a superior work with well-defined characters and plot.

 

 

 

Watchlist by Jeffrey Deaver and Other Top Thriller Writers

Publisher: Vanguard Press  ISBN 978 1 59315 559 9

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

In the grand tradition of the Golden Age of writing roundtables comes a new multi-author production, “Watchlist”, which is two books in one, both featuring Harold Middleton, former military officer and member of the little-known organisation known as the Volunteers.  Initially produced as two serialised audio books, “Watchlist” is now in print for readers who like to turn pages.

The idea originated with authors M J Rose, of the International Thriller Writers group, and Jeffrey Deaver, creator of the Lincoln Rhyme series.  Rose rounded up 21 other willing participants, and Deaver wrote the first and last chapters of each story.  It’s no easy task: launching an idea, handing its development over to a succession of other writers, and then having to draw all the threads together at the end, but Deaver has done a very competent job.  The co-writers are too numerous to mention, but the list includes Linda Barnes, Lisa Scottoline, John Gilstrap, James Phelan and Erica Spindler.

As you’d expect with names like that involved, the stories are complex, exciting, fast-moving, and a bit scary.  OK, a lot scary.  Nobody beats thriller writers for coming up with horribly plausible disaster scenarios.  “The Chopin Manuscript” starts off looking like a simple case of “lost-musical-treasure-worth-a-fortune”, but rapidly changes into something much darker, as bodies pile up and both federal agencies and assorted villains pursue Harold and his daughter to the ends of the earth. The second story, “The Copper Bracelet” has a final scene that will leave your nails chomped to the cuticles, unless you take a hefty dose of Xanax before you get to it. 

With 22 experienced writers involved in a book, you can imagine how many twists and turns and surprises can be packed into 400 pages.  Whether Deaver supplied a general outline to guide his fellow writers or not we don’t know, but however the work was accomplished, it’s a rousing adventure that would be top of my list for a book to be snowbound with this winter.