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The Sculptor by Gregory Funaro
Publisher: Pinnacle Fiction ISBN: 978-0-7860-2212-0
Reviewed by Ray Palen, New Mystery Reader
In 1981, Thomas Harris wrote a novel entitled “Red Dragon” and a monster was created. I’m not just referring to the character of Hannibal Lecter --- who went on to star in three more Harris novels, most famously “The Silence Of the Lambs” --- but the official birth of the serial killer genre of fiction. Even though Dr. Hannibal Lecter was not the primary character in “Red Dragon”, he became the one most readers remember after reading this intense novel.
Ever since Harris started the ball rolling on the serial killer genre there have been countless books and imitators creating their own ‘monster’ serial killers. With each new release, it seemed the authors entering this field were seeking to top each other by creating more horrific methods of murder and coming up with clever techniques and motivations for their fictional killers. Unfortunately, with very rare exception, no author has really been able to match the literary success of Thomas Harris’ novels and the results are typically cardboard thin characters and clichéd plots.
The release of Gregory Funaro’s debut novel, THE SCULPTOR, included a blurb that read: ‘It reminded me of why I loved “The Silence Of the Lambs” so much.’ That was high praise indeed and made me eager to read the novel to see if the end result lived up to that claim. I am pleased to say that Funaro’s novel is clearly a cut above (no pun intended) many of the other serial killer novels of the past few decades. He has successfully created a chilling atmosphere, believable characters with levels of complexity and depth and a serial killer that is horrific enough to unsettle the sturdiest reader.
When a famous NFL player goes missing the nation is stunned --- especially since it occurred before his team’s appearance in that season’s Super Bowl. No one could have predicted that he was abducted by a serial killer with a vision of both horror and beauty whereby his victims become part of his ‘art’. In the case of Wide Receiver Tommy Campbell, he is posed along with parts of a young boy and a goat to reenact the infamous Michelangelo statue – Bacchus.
When the ‘statue’ is found – horror spreads through the media when Campbell is uncovered as being part of this madman’s creation. No one is more stunned by this than Art Historian, Cathy Hildebrandt. Hildebrandt became famous with the release of her novel, “Slumbering In the Stone”, which focused on the sculptures of Michelangelo. The killer, shortly thereafter given the moniker ‘The Sculptor’, not only uses Hildebrandt’s book as his inspiration but actually dedicated his version of Bacchus to her. Hildebrandt is asked by the FBI to assist with the investigation and is teamed with Special Agent, Sam Markham. Markham quickly falls for Hildebrandt and soon realizes he may be the only one who can protect her as the fear that The Sculptor may have her in mind for one of his ‘creations’ remains a constant threat.
When The Sculptor begins work on his next creation, his version of Michelangelo’s The Rome Pieta, Hildebrandt and Markham continue to scramble for any clues that could lead them uncovering his identity before he can victimize any more subjects for his horrific vision. As is the case with most serial killers, The Sculptor is a man-made monster --- mostly through years of abuse at the hands of his own parents. The Sculptor is not just obsessed with his art but has also become quite adept at methods of disfiguration and preservation of dead bodies that allows for his creations to be painted and posed as near-perfect recreations of Michelangelo’s sculptures. For him, the medium is also the message. The question that looms over the entire novel is whether or not Hildebrandt and Markham can decipher The Sculptor’s messages in time to stop him from completing his ‘masterpiece’.
Gregory Funaro does a great job of keeping the pace at a high level and never letting up on the tension. The Sculptor is very complex character and the horrors he is creating are truly the stuff of nightmares. Thankfully, the reader is kept guessing right up until the final chapters as to the intentions for the final work and the identity of the victims to be used in this act. Funaro’s understanding of art history is apparent throughout the novel and his experience in Theatre lends itself nicely to a novel that is appropriately set in three acts and has a finale that brings everything together in a very satisfying manner.
Final Finesse by Karna Small Bodman
Publisher: Forge Books ISBN 978 0 7653 62422
Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader
There’s nothing like a bit of inside information to give a writer’s work the flavour of the real thing. Ms Bodman seems to be the real-life version of CJ from “The West Wing”, somebody who’s worked inside the White House on a daily basis and who probably knows more scary stuff about the workings of government than most of us.
The story opens with an ordinary family waking up freezing in Oklahoma because their furnace has gone off. The cause is an explosion in the gas pipeline, which initially looks like nothing more than an accident. Several more explosions happen, and the Head of Homeland Security’s Deputy Assistant Samantha Reid believes that there’s a major terrorist operation underway. Not everyone in Washington sees—or wants to see—the danger Samantha does, so she makes common cause with Tripp Adams, one of the senior men in the pipeline company, and they begin investigating what’s going on.
Samantha and Tripp also begin investigating each other, which adds an unexpected complication to the story. No sooner does the romance begin to grow than Tripp has to go to Venezuela to follow a lead on who’s sabotaging his pipelines. Before he gets very far, he’s kidnapped and held for ransom.
Meanwhile back in the USA, there’s another serious gas explosion. Samantha’s had enough; she packs a small bag and hops a plane for Caracas, lightly disguised as a tourist, and links up with a friend of Tripp’s, Joe Campiello, who has a bag of tricks that may help to rescue Tripp. That’s if there’s anything left to rescue: the kidnappers have already sent a box containing a finger with their renewed demands for money. Joe has a very clever way to identify and track the imprisoned executive, and a plan to free him.
However, behind the kidnappers is a shady group with a very different agenda; they don’t want anything as simple as a few million dollars. Samantha has suspected something like this from the beginning, but was unable to convince her boss. Fortunately he becomes caught up in an entirely different problem, but it’s going to be a race to the wire to prevent the ultimate disaster.
Like most thrillers, this book requires you to suspend disbelief in a big way to accept the premise that someone as high up in government as Samantha would go haring off into the jungles of Venezuela to rescue a friend, or chase terrorists through a processing plant, but if you can swallow that, you’ll enjoy this fast-paced story.
A Bolt From the Blue by Diane A. S. Stuckart
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime ISBN-10: 0425232174
Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader
The Renaissance of scientific wonder and advanced artistic techniques has exploded into vogue and the nobles fight over the best craftsman in Italy as proof of their own great power and wealth. Young Dino puts in long hours as an apprentice to the Master Artist in Castle Sforza in Milan, plastering during the day and practicing his artistry during his off-hours. All of the apprentices know that to keep their hard-won positions, they are at the beck and call of Master Leonardo the Florentine, also known as da Vinci, at all hours to help him carry out his latest inspiration, whether with paints, marbles or something else entirely.
Dino has another task as well—hiding the fact that she is really a young woman who has fled her home to pursue painting. Because of a strange development of events, Dino has already helped Leonardo investigate horrific crimes at the Castle but now the pair must find out who killed their beloved Senior Apprentice, Constantin.
Caught with Leonardo’s secret papers on his body, Constantin cried out for his Master before being struck by the bolt of a crossbow. Whether he was loyal or a spy, Leonardo and Dino will discover the truth.
This third installment of the Leonardo da Vinci Mystery series answers a lot of questions raised throughout the series about the fictionalized Leonardo. Stuckart continues to insert historical details about daily life that offers believability, especially when the apprentices listen to music and play period games at the end of their long workdays. The descriptions of preparation and creation of the famous art never overwhelm the reader and instead provide tidbits of interesting technical information about the production of frescoes found in Europe.
In A Bolt From the Blue, Stuckart lays much more on the line as Dino’s father travels to the castle to work with Leonardo on a secret project involving what is now one of da Vinci’s most famous inventions. Dino must juggle solving a murder with convincing her father that her charade is worth the potential social disgrace.
Eggsecutive Orders Julie Hyzy
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime ISBN: 978-0-425-23203-3
Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader
A visitor dies during dinner at the White House so chef Olivia Paras and her staff are put through the meat grinder of suspicion and questions by the Secret Service. The only way to clear them is for Olivia to undertake her own investigation in spite of being told to butt out by several male members of the White House staff.
Who would dare commit murder at a formal dinner with the President and his wife present? Is it a mistake? Was the President safe? These are but a few questions hanging over Olivia’s head as she tries to bring order out of chaos and prepare unofficially for the Easter Egg roll on the White House lawn while she is on leave from her job. To add to the problems, her mother and grandmother pay their long planned visit.
Talented author Julie Hyzy has crafted a tale that any mystery fan will truly enjoy. The complexities of working for the White House and knowing what lines one must never cross guide the characters in their work in the kitchen, yet do nothing to allay the insecurities or petty jealousies that arise. In-house politics of the staff behind the scenes contribute to the tension of this tale and you will find the resentments and jealousies lurking here interesting and with more than a bite of reality.
Filled with plenty of red herrings and false trails, this read provides many fun challenges as the reader matches wits with a killer, making for one highly satisfying read.
Murder Has No Class by Rebecca Kent
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime ISBN-10: 0425232077
Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader
Meredith Llewellyn keeps a tight grip on her sentiments and a close eye on her fifty charges at the Bellehaven Finishing School in a remote English village. As headmistress with only three other teachers, her hands are full with adolescent whims, societal changes and unruly ghosts. Meredith, singularly blessed with the ability to see ghosts, has been visited again by pink mists of transparent visions which prompts her to investigate what happened in the ghost’s human past. When she finds out that the dead man had been hanged for murdering his own father, her disgust deters her from discovering the truth but the horrifying spirit’s relentless presence soon changes her mind.
Meanwhile, housemaids Olivia and Grace stir up some of the bored teens with a rousing protest for women’s suffrage, a controversial hot-button in early twentieth century England. Olivia, filled with visions of following famous militant Christabel Pankhurst, leads the charge full of determination in her purpose and the satisfaction of having the girls behind her. Curiously, the wealthy girls from the boarding school show no real interest in suffrage but only in rebellion, causing problems of an entirely different sort for poor Mrs. Llewellyn.
Naturally, Stuart Hamilton shows up unexpectedly at the worst times in his capacity as owner of the school and the romantic tension between Meredith and Stuart becomes evident to all of the adults but Meredith. His behavior, while proper for the time, serves to highlight why suffrage and other women’s rights were a tense topic.
Meredith’s investigation into her ghost leads her and fellow tutors Felicity and Essie into nervously impersonating the wealthy while weeding out murder suspects. Whether staring down a strangely unservile butler or communicating with a silent angry ghost, Meredith employs every trick she has to try to solve the crime—without becoming a victim.
Kent has obviously done her research into the era’s social stresses and the structure of girls’ schools, and the namecheck for Pankhurst of the WSPU makes for a witty touch. Unfortunately, she has decided to discontinue her Bellehaven House Mystery series and expects this to be the last. She will continue to write the Manor House Mysteries and Pennyfoot Hotel Mysteries under the name Kate Kingsbury.
Innocence by David Hosp
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing ISBN 0446618608
Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader
“Ripped from today’s headlines!” is a favourite promotional bleat of film producers. In the case of “Innocence”, the claim is close to truth; the book can be read as a dramatized version of several recent front-page stories.
A policewoman is brutally killed in Boston, and a Salvadoran man is arrested and accused of her murder despite his solid alibi. Fifteen years later he’s still in jail when young lawyer Mark Dobson convinces former colleague Scott Finn to reopen the case. With the aid of policeman Tom Kozlowski, Finn investigates.
Despite his initial misgivings about getting involved, Finn soon begins to realise that the young lawyer’s claim that Vincente Salazar was framed has some substance. Before the investigation gets very far, Dobson is murdered. Finn realises there’s a lot more involved in the Salazar case than a couple of lazy cops looking for a quick conviction: there’s an organized crime connection that has more tentacles than an octopus. Finn and Kozlowski soon find out that the case could be injurious to their health, and the only way out of danger is to go further into danger in search of the answers.
There’s a subplot to the book which should satisfy anyone who’s ever felt outraged by seeing someone get rich through shady practices; the reader will wonder if the Slocum divorce case has any real roots in the author’s experiences as a trial lawyer.
“Innocence” is a disquieting book. As much as you tell yourself it’s a work of fiction, you can feel a bedrock of fact under it. Author Hosp works with the New England Innocence project, and at the end of the book there’s a chapter about some real-life cases of wrongful convictions. Reading these leaves you with mixed feelings: you are appalled that such miscarriages happened; you wonder how many more innocent people are in jail; and you are grateful that people like Hosp are out there working for Justice for no better reason than that it is the right thing to do. But, most of all, you might just wonder how many of those men executed in Texas, or anywhere else, might have been innocent.
The Dakota Cipher by William Dietrich
Publisher: Harper ISBN-10: 0061568082
Reviewed by Scott D. Parker, New Mystery Reader
If you like your heroes as smart as Ben Franklin, adventurous as Indiana Jones, and as randy as Austin Powers, then William Dietrich’s Ethan Gage is your man. Oh, and he’s as humble as Douglas MacArthur. You don’t’ think so? How about the opening lines to Gage’s third adventure, The Dakota Cipher:
“I suppose it’s not precisely true that it was solely I who consolidated Napoleon’s power and changed the course of world history. I did contribute to his idea of crossing the Alps and outflanking the Austrians, and then had to help save the day at the Battle of Marengo—but frankly, my role was somewhat accidental.”
Arrogance aside, Gage has reason to see himself as a modern man, circa 1800. He’s a protégé of Franklin and people think of him as a ‘sorcerer’ when it comes to taming electricity. And, with America only a decade old, Europeans are fascinated by anything American. That would include Napoleon’s sister, almost as randy as Gage. In fact, it’s his tete a tete with her that lands him in hot water, so to speak, and he escapes with the able assistance of Magnus Bloodhammer, a large Norwegian who has grand designs on proving that his ancestors landed in North America centuries before Columbus. He has a map that, if followed, will lead to the mythical hammer of Thor. Of course, Gage and Bloodhammer are not the only ones seeking the hammer. Against them are a diabolical English seductress and her partner and an Indian chief who hates the white men with a passion.
The scope of this book is as grand as the new American landscape. In 1800, we were still three years away from the Louisiana Purchase so the land west of the Appalachians is wild, uncharted, and open to anyone who can defend it. Dietrich’s descriptions of the geography and technology of 1800 are among the high points of the book. As a historian, I appreciated the level of detail and the time he took to help readers in 2009 understand, for example, just how long it took adventurers to get from one place to another. In fact, I think the best part of the book is the historical figures Gage meets: Thomas Jefferson, Napoleon, Meriwether Lewis, among others. I don’t mean this as a detriment: The Dakota Cipher is like a history textbook come to life. It’s exciting, it’s informative, and it’s gives us modern Americans a glimpse into what it was like to live in our newborn republic. It’s all the things a James Michener novel could have been but wasn’t.
I’ll admit that, at times, the middle section of the book slowed down a bit. But the opening chapters in Europe were quite fun and the rollicking finale was as grand as you could get. Gage’s first person POV was a fun narrator. Like Franklin, Gage knows he’s on the cusp of a new century and the frontiers of America are limitless. Like Austin Powers, Gage is easily charmed by the ladies as they are to him. Like Indiana Jones and his loathing of snakes, Gage doesn’t like various things like, say, a dark cave or being shot at. But he does what needs doing in an engaging and witty way and I’ll be happy to follow this adventurer wherever he next travels.
Death of a Witch by M. C. Beaton
Publisher: Grand Central ISBN: 978-0-446-15495
Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader
When Hamish Macbeth returns to his home in Lochdubh, Scotland, he finds a woman claiming to be a witch has taken up residence in a cottage near the town. What the woman is up to seems to be anyone’s guess, but she does manage to get involved with several people from the village, including Hamish.
No one seems to like her and many believe she is a witch because they lose bits of time when they go to see her. When there is a fire at her cottage and she is found dead, there are several suspects, one of which might just include Constable Macbeth.
With several characters to choose from, and motives too, the reader will have a hard time reasoning out who killed the witch and why. The question of where the witch was from and who she really was becomes part of Hamish’s investigation.
Lots of interesting characters and lots of things going on, even a lady or two to romance Hamish, add fun touches to the story. For the reader of other Hamish Macbeth stories, this is like a stop to visit an old friend. Well worth the time.
Talented author M C Beaton has crafted a fun read in Death of a Witch that is sure to please any reader who enjoys a bit of adventure to different lands.
Ghost Sudoku by Kaye Morgan
Publisher: Berkley ISBN-10: 042523262X
Reviewed by Bonnie Bergsma, New Mystery Reader
Liza Kelly can do many things, one of which is keeping the locals entertained with her regular contribution of Sudoku puzzles in the “Oregon Daily.” But when she discovers that someone has thrown her hat into the race for mayor, not only is she baffled about who might have done it, but she’s also not so sure that it’s a task she’s up for. And so when Liza sets out to discover who set the petition in motion for her to run for mayor of Maiden’s Bay, the plot begins to thicken.
Liza tries to get in touch with an old school mate, Chad Redbourne, who is now involved in the politics of Maiden’s Bay, hoping he might be able to give her some answers. However, she gets more then she bargains for when she finds Chad hanging dead in the grotto on his family’s property. So, now, the big question switches from who set Liza up to run for mayor to what caused Chad’s death - did Chad commit suicide or is it murder?
Liza discovers that Chad had a love of Sudoku, money, and women – or rather, one woman in particular. And, interestingly enough, the very clues to blow the whole case wide open may rest within the grids of the work Liza knows best - puzzles.
If you’re looking for a quick read with a colorful cast of characters mixed with mystery, politics, adultery, and a few good Sudoku puzzles, then sit down, grab a cup of Java, and step into Liza Kelly’s world, it’s a challenging read that you’ll surely enjoy.
Bleeding Heart Square by Andrew Taylor
Publisher: Hyperion ISBN: 978-1-4013-1041
Reviewed by Anne K. Ewards, New Mystery Reader
When Lydia Langstone’s husband slaps her one time too many, she moves out. Her new residence is Bleeding Heart Square where she shares an apartment with her father, former military man and confirmed drunk.
The new home is a drastic come down from her former life style as she runs into a seedy man who develops a crush on her, a landlord whose behavior is strange and menacing at the same time even though he makes no overt threats, an old woman who does not cross the line of friendliness yes is helpful to Lydia in her new life.
The apartment house is watched by a man who tells unemployed Rory Wentworth he’s investigating the disappearance of a Miss Penhow who formerly owned the building. He’s convinced the new owner is involved in some way.
Scattered between the chapters are excerpts from this same Miss Penhow’s diary and it clearly leads to a relationship to this man. The policeman gets Rory to move into the building so he can collect information for him.
Talented author Andrew Taylor has crafted a mystery that has a slow buildup within the lives of the characters. The tension created by this growing suspicion will hold your interest to the end.
More than just a mystery, this is a story crafted around the changes in people’s lives and how they are linked together without knowing it. Couples split up, new friends are made, families break up and make up. Also, a fascinating look into the politics and innocence of the day that led to the rise to power of the madmen who led the world into World War II.
There is plenty of action, intrigue, emotion and suspicion to keep the story moving. A well told tale that any mystery fan will enjoy.
I’m pleased to recommend this book as well worth the read. I’ll be looking for other tales by this talented author. Enjoy. I sure did.
Through the Heart by Kate Morgenroth
Publisher: Plume ISBN-10: 0452295890
Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader
From the very beginning in Morgenroth’s latest masterpiece, readers are made aware that there is going to be a murder. But just who, when, why, and where isn’t revealed until near the end. She begins by sharing a love story told in alternate narratives of the two main characters: Nora, a woman who was on her way to success until brought back home to Kansas to take care of her cancer-ridden mother, and Timothy, a wealthy and handsome man from New York City who seems to have everything but love.
Fate brings the two together when Timothy ends up in Kansas via a few odd twists of circumstances and winds up in the coffee shop where Nora is working. And while these two very different people seem the most unlikely couple, the attraction they feel for each other is sudden and almost overwhelming, and one that will eventually sett off a chain of events that will lead to tragedy.
Morgenroth’s devilishly sly approach to this story is uniquely unnerving for what it doesn’t make obvious, providing a great deal of unexpected suspense without a single drop of blood falling for the most part of the read. By letting readers know that something is going to happen, she lets that create its own ominous feeling that easily instills a sense of unease throughout. But that’s not even what makes the read soar above so many others in the genre - it’s how she subtly but convincingly reveals her characters’ true selves that makes this so utterly mesmerizing. Readers get enough glimpses into the deeper aspects of these lovers that while alarm bells are ringing, we just don’t know quite why and what that will mean in the end. An excellent character study, an astounding mystery; this read reinforces the idea that literate fiction and mystery can coexist in one book.
Daemon by Daniel Suarez
Publisher: Signet ISBN: 0451228731
Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader
Silicon Valley billionaire Matthew Sobol made his fortune off designing complex computer games that were their own little universes. Shortly after his death from a brain tumor at the age of 34, Sobol’s former employees and office suffer a series of bizarre tragedies. Local detective Pete Sebeck, always eager to escape his unhappy home life by working, becomes involved in the case of a lifetime. And one that may well end his life.
When the investigation of Sobol’s palatial estate turns into a deadly massacre, the involvement of multiple federal agencies—eager to execute war on an enemy other than drugs or terror—is guaranteed. They quickly squelch reports that a Daemon, i.e., a computer program that runs continuously in the background, is at fault for the frightening chain of events laying waste to individuals’ lives and international corporations. They don’t want to start a panic.
Preying upon the disaffected, the greedy, and those just wanting to protect their loved ones, Sobol’s Daemon creates an almost parallel universe that promises to annihilate the old world order. All while the federal agencies alternately deny there’s a problem and find scapegoats for what they can’t hide.
Originally self-published in 2006, Daemon quickly became a cult sensation, praised by the techno-geeks whose alter ego its Sobol embodies. A stunning example of the new genre of techno-thriller, Daemon is by turns suspenseful, disturbing, and depressing, but always refreshingly different. Despite being mass-published by Dutton, Daemon may not achieve the level of universal appeal its publishers hope for, but computer geeks, gamers, and some others will love it. The rest will make sure their internet security is up-to-date and hope there are no real-life Matthew Sobols.
Sinner’s Ball by Ira Berkowitz
Publisher: Three Rivers Press ISBN: 978-0-307-40863-1
Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader
Jackson Steeg is an ex NYPD detective who lives on his disability retirement. He occasionally takes an investigation case to supplement his pension and keep busy.
When an arsonist burns down a warehouse that belongs to Dave, his mobster brother, Steeg agrees to investigate. Things become more complicated when bodies are discovered both on the main floor and in the basement of the warehouse.
The police and district attorney go after Dave with the attitude that if he isn’t guilty of the arson then he deserves prosecution for his other crimes. Eventually they give up, but the identity of the arsonist creates equally severe problems for Dave.
Berkowitz creates a good mystery with three-dimensional characters. Jackson and Dave are brothers who have the bond of shared demons. The moral aspect of the sins of the fathers as it relates to Dave gives another interesting perspective.
Never Tell a Lie by Hallie Ephron
Publisher: Harper ISBN-10: 0061567167
Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader
Pregnant with her first child, Ivy Rose feels the sudden need to get rid of the junk in the attic left by the previous owner of her and her husband’s beautiful Victorian house. So holding a yard sale seems the perfect way to accomplish her latest nesting goal. And when an old acquaintance shows up, a girl she once knew in high school, she thinks nothing much of it. But when the woman goes missing, with the last place she was seen alive being when her own husband David took her inside the house for a supposed tour, Ivy’s whole life will turn upside down when she and her husband become suspects in what soon becomes a case of murder. And Ephron throws even more red-herrings into the mix when Ivy’s own doubts begin to rise when she starts to consider if her own husband and his secrets from the past have something to do with the missing woman.
Fans of domestic suspense will gobble up this first solo endeavor from Ephron. Reading much like the great thrillers that Mary Higgins Clark offered when she was still fresh and creative, this highly beguiling mystery provides the same type of domestic dread that comes about when the familiar turns dark and deadly. So take note, there’s a fresh, “new” kid on the block who knows how to do it up right, and fans of the genre will no doubt love this initially uncomplicated thriller that soon turns into much more as each increasingly creepy page is turned. Let's hope there's more to come from this talented author who seems to have much to offer.