June 2011 Paperback  New Mystery
 

 

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212 by Alafair Burke

Publisher: Harper  Paperbacks

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

When NYPD detectives Ellie Hatcher and J.J. Rogan are called to the site of a brutal murder at one of New York’s most prestigious addresses, they’ll soon find that the rich and powerful hold secrets that are far from what they’ve come to expect.

The body belongs to the bodyguard of a powerful developer in the city, and as the two try to investigate his death, they find nothing but roadblocks thrown in their way, including those by the judge assigned to the case, leaving this one hot case that is all too soon quick to grow cold. 

But when five months later, a young and beautiful college student is found just as brutally murdered, with her roommate left for dead and hanging on for life, the case will heat up again in the most unexpected of ways.  And when yet another brutal slaying, this one of an up and coming female real estate agent, adds another tie to these seemingly unrelated cases, the two will find themselves battling the powers that be who are capable of keeping even the worst secrets locked away forever.

Wow!  Burke’s new outing featuring this young female detective quickly proves to be better than anything Burke has put out before.  Actually, her realistic dialogue, her detailed descriptions of New York City’s vivacious vibe and pulse, and her ability to provide unending suspense makes this one of the year’s best across the board.  This is simply how a police procedural should be done, and with Burke’s background in prosecution, it’s easy to see how she manages to get it right at just about every step.  And with trails leading down roads that tempt the reader to think they have it figured out, there’s the additional thrilling allure to discover time and time again that nothing is as it seems.  Full of dirty secrets and the repercussions that result when trying to hide them, this comes highly recommended as a nonstop tale of suspense that races without pause to its satisfying ending.  

 

 

 

Faithful Place by Tana French

Publisher: Penguin

Reviewed by Ray Palen, New Mystery Reader

Tana French’s third novel, FAITHFUL PLACE, has quickly become one of the most highly-anticipated novels of 2010.  This is mainly due to the fact that her first two novels --- the multiple award-winning IN THE WOODS and the intense follow-up THE LIKENESS --- were two of the best written novels of the past decade.  I must admit that I agree whole-heartedly with this claim as her first two novels are personal favorites of mine.

FAITHFUL PLACE involves different characters and settings but still rings with themes that have made French’s work stand out --- the strain of familial secrets and ties and the power the past holds on the present.  The premise of FAITHFUL PLACE is one that will instantly draw in any reader.  Undercover officer, Francis ‘Frank’ Mackey, has not seen his family for over 22 years.  He walked away one night from their tenement apartment, located on Faithful Place deep in the heart of Dublin, and never looked back.  Frank was going to meet his girlfriend, Rosie Daly, and they were going to head to London and try to make it in the music industry.  The only problem is that Rosie never showed up, prompting Frank to take off on his own and stick to the original intention of escaping from Faithful Place and making something of himself.  All that he ever received as explanation of why Rosie was a no-show was a letter indicating she was breaking it off and doing her own thing.  Frank continued to believe that Rosie and he would cross paths again one day.

Frank never made it into the music industry, but has become a successful undercover cop.  His world is turned upside-down when he receives a call from one of his sisters, Jackie, who has still kept in contact with off and on.  Jackie informs Frank that some contractors working on renovating an abandoned building on Faithful Place came across a piece of luggage jammed behind the old chimney.  Upon further inspection, the identification inside the luggage shows that it belonged to Rosie Daly and it was the very same suitcase she had packed for her escape to London twenty-two years earlier.  If the suitcase never made it off of Faithful Place what happened to Rosie?

Frank returns to Faithful Place and the dysfunctional family he left long before.  They are in possession of the suitcase and have not reported the finding yet to the local authorities or to the Daly family.  Frank examines it and realizes there is nothing there to show him what might have happened to Rosie and has no choice but report the finding to the Daly family.  Mr. Daly still wants nothing to do with Frank and holds him accountable for his oldest daughter leaving home.  Frank brings along his younger brother, Kevin, to help smooth things out and he reassures the Daly’s that he will report things to the local police and assist however possible in finding out what happened to Rosie.

Unfortunately, once local police excavate the abandoned building where the suitcase was found they come across human remains which are eventually identified as Rosie’s.  The body shows signs of being forcibly struck on the head and stuffed in a crevice in the old building.  Now begins the game of resurrecting a ‘cold case’ and trying to find anyone who would have motive twenty-two years earlier in killing young Rosie Daly.  The problem Frank has with the situation is that he thought no but himself and Rosie was aware of their plans to escape to London.  A former police colleague of Frank’s is heading up the investigation and warns him to stay out of it.  Of course, Frank does not heed this advice.

Tana French, now with the reader firmly caught in the web of intrigue caused by these circumstances she has created, begins to peel away layer by layer of Frank Mackey’s past and all of his family relationships to the point where both protagonist and reader have their heads spinning.  Frank has to start with the relationships within the family he left so many years early --- his mentally abusive parents; older brother, Shay, who he never was close with; sisters Jackie and Carmel and younger brother, Kevin.  He also revisits with a few of Rosie’s friends as well as her younger sister to try and see what pieces of the puzzle they may be able to put into place for him.  Frank Mackey puts it best when he states: “Nobody in the world can make you crazy like your family can.”

I cannot quite put my finger on what it is about Tana French’s writing that makes her work so endearing --- but these characters ring so true it’s like you’ve known them for years.  The tension that she creates in this and both of her previous works never lets up and each surprise will have you reeling.  Sudden plot twists like the additional death of Frank’s younger brother, Kevin, and the uncovering of the fact that Frank’s own daughter has been having a secret relationship with his family for years come as startling revelations that only add to the overall mystery.  In the end, the collision of past meeting present  full-on causes permanent damage and no character within the confines of this text will remain unchanged by it.  FAITHFUL PLACE is a haunting and deeply-textured work that is destined to become a classic and guaranteed to stay with the reader long after the final page is turned.

 

 

 

The Fall by Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan

Publisher: Harper

Reviewed by Ray Palen, New Mystery Reader

The second novel in the vampire epidemic trilogy by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan faces the same scrutiny every follow-up novel to a huge successful debut faces --- does it continue to drive the successful formula forward or does it bring things to a screeching halt?

The ‘middle child’ in most trilogies --- whether they be novel or film --- typically face the challenge of maintaining interest in the series while having little to no resolution (as that is reserved for the series finale). While that is indeed the case with THE FALL --- which has a non-ending and clear cliff-hanger --- the damage that occurs during this spectacularly bleak novel will leave all readers wondering how the protagonists can possibly overcome the vampire strain that seems to have taken over the entire planet!

Led by the dark vampire lord known simply as the Master --- the vampire strain that began in the first novel has reached well beyond epidemic proportions.  The Master’s hordes are using the earth’s own global warming transition to their favor and with the help of several nuclear plant meltdowns are seeking to create a new global atmosphere known as The Night Eternal.  In this new world of perpetual darkness, the vampires can exist 24 hours per day and feed on any remaining ‘living’ adversaries that have been driven into hiding.

Our heroes – Eph, Abraham and the exterminator turned vampire-hunter, Fet, have their hands full as they seek to use ancient vampire lore that a group of undead ‘Ancient Ones’ are in possession of.  It is only through this that they stand any chance of reversing the destruction the Master and his vampire empire have brought about.  Unfortunately for Eph, his ex-wife, Kelly, is a main figure in the new vampire legion and she has plans for their son, Zack that only the Master knows about.  The novel moves at a quick pace and successfully raises the interest level and expectations that hopefully will be satisfied by next year’s finale to this extraordinary trilogy!

 

 

 

Blind Man’s Alley by Justin Peacock

Publisher: Vintage

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

Duncan Riley is a senior associate of the elite New York law firm of Blake & Wolcott. A major client is Roth Properties, a large NYC developer. Duncan is assigned to defend Roth against a suit stemming from a construction incident that took the lives of three workers. Additionally, Duncan is working a case of libel brought by Roth against reporter Candace Snow and her paper. The article alleges mob connections in the construction industry and implies guilt by association against Roth.

Also Duncan is given a pro bono eviction case by partner Blake. The case involves Rafael Nazario and his grandmother being evicted from public housing. Rafael was allegedly smoking dope at the projects and the private security company guarding a Roth project busted him. None of the cases seem to be too much for Duncan to handle in his quest for partnership.

Then Rafael is charged with killing the guard that accused him on the dope charge. Increasingly, Duncan is feeling himself caught in the middle of doing the right thing for Rafael and following Blake’s wishes. Then Candace offers to trade information. Duncan finds himself walking a dangerous tightrope.

Peacock has created a first rate mystery using the corrupting influences of power and money. Duncan is a sympathetic character torn between his humble beginnings and a desire to mingle with New York’s elite. Candace is a tough investigator looking for facts. Rafael is an innocent wanting to believe in Duncan’s ability to save him. All make an interesting blend.  

 

 

 

 

 

The Whisperers by John Connolly

Publisher: Pocket 

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader 

Amid war torn Baghdad, U.S soldiers alternate between vicious fighting and protecting the people and national treasures of the country. When Damien Patchett is assigned to help an Iraqi museum curator  search the looted museum, many such treasures are gone.

The dangers for the soldiers are great to their bodies and their minds. Even when some unit Stryker C soldiers return to Maine, the damage remains. Damien takes his own life. His father – a diner owner - hires PI Charlie Parker to look into it and to check on another ex-soldier that is living with one of Parker’s waitresses.

Parker uncovers smuggling of antiquities from the Mideast via Canada. He also discovers the apparent suicides of two other Styker C vets. Then he is interrogated by hooded men – apparently some of the soldiers – about the case. After nearly being drowned he tells them, but vows to himself they will die.

The novel presents a myriad of questions and puzzles. Are the soldiers victims of the emotional damage wrought by war or there another sinister force at work? Other characters show interest in the treasures – a Mexican drug smuggler and Herod, a mysterious collector of treasures.

Connolly presents a powerful mystery and pitiful characters as well as those you love to hate. All is clothed in prose that rises to the heights of great literature. This is a work that is truly a pleasure to read.

 

 

Burn by Nevada Barr

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Park Ranger Anna Pigeon arrives in New Orleans sans new husband Paul for some much needed rest from the past year’s soul and body crushing forays into saving lives.  However, as she’s hoping the city and an old good friend will somehow ease her wounds,  she’s all too soon to discover that this city, still deep in a questionable recovery from Katrina, holds an underbelly of violence and darkness like none other she’s seen before. 

Staying with her old friend in the lovely revamped French Quarter, it doesn’t take long for Anna to run into her friend’s other tenant, a violent street punk who seems to be on the brink of complete self-destruction and yet somehow out of synch of who he appears to be - his attachment and caring for his dog being especially at odds with his own unkempt façade.  Sensing danger from him after finding a dead pigeon bearing the marks of some sort of black magic, Anna feels compelled to look into who this man really is.

Meanwhile, far away in Seattle, a housewife has returned home from a late night dash to the drugstore in search of cough medicine only to find her house on fire and the police looking at her as the arsonist responsible for the death of her husband and two young children found in the burning embers.  Smart enough to run from the scene, Clare Sullivan, refusing to believe her children are dead, heads for the truth behind what really has happened.

How are these seemingly disparate stories connected is best discovered by reading for yourself this amazingly well written tale of determination and the fight against unspeakable evils.  

While Barr’s heroine Anna Pigeon might be getting older, Barr’s writing seems as fresh and vital as it’s always been.  But then too, even while Pigeon herself may be getting older, she too remains as independent, courageous, and vital as she too has ever been, proving to be just as capable of slaying enemies in the big city of New Orleans as she is in the relatively tamed environs of nature.   

There are so many layers to this intricately woven novel that it’s easy for the reader to become instantly drawn in for the duration.  Barr’s graceful aging of Anna Pigeon being only one of the more heartfelt and sincerely real aspects of her latest, her candid view of a city struggling to remain humane as it attempts to repair and rebuild being another.  And while many readers will find the ultimate subject matter extremely disturbing, as they should, here too, Barr holds no punches in describing the true horror behind this particular evil in a compellingly straightforward manner.  This highly readable novel is easily one of Barr’s best, which considering I seem to say that after each novel, should come as no surprise.

 

 

The Taken by  Inger Ash Wolfe

Publisher: Mariner

Reviewed by Ray Palen, New Mystery Reader

With the release of her  (? – author’s identity is unknown) first novel, THE CALLING, in 2008, Inger Ash Wolfe entered into the highly-populated serial killer genre and left an indelible mark.  There was something about that novel --- the off-beat protagonist, the motivation for the killer, the writing that called to mind ‘serious literature’ --- that set this novel apart from the rest of the field.

The highly-anticipated follow-up is THE TAKEN.  Once again, our protagonist is the unlikely heroine --- Detective Inspector Hazel Micallef.  She is a 55+ year-old leader of the police squad in the quiet Canadian hamlet of Port Dundas.  The start of the novel finds Hazel in an unlikely and uncomfortable situation.  Recovering from serious back surgery, she is being cared for and nursed back to health in the basement apartment in the home of her ex-husband, Andrew, and his new wife. As a result, her elderly mother is also staying in the house and the familial bonds are way too close for comfort for Hazel who dearly misses being on the job.

She is not able to stay away for long.  It turns out that a new fictionalized serial novel running in the local paper mirrors a crime that occurs at one of the lakes near Port Dundas.  A body is found by a few fishermen and is eerily similar to the story penned by author, Colin Eldwin.  As Hazel and her lead detective, James Wingate, begin receiving live feeds of a person tied up in a basement dungeon they recognize that they are dealing with a villain or team of villains that is toying with them, daring themselves to be caught.  Micallef and Wingate’s investigation leads them into the city of Toronto, Wingate’s former office, and all paths lead to a series of murders that may involve a former rouge cop and mother of one of the victims of a case he worked  --- a young girl who allegedly may have been killed by the now missing author, Colin Eldwin.

The set-up and story may seem to be routine and par for the course with other examples of thriller fiction.  The difference is the writing style.  The writing of THE TAKEN is so expressive and interesting that the reader is taken beyond often stereotypical aspects of this genre and elevated to a form of literature usually reserved for classic novels.  Wolfe writes with grit and an almost noir-like style that feels as if Dennis Lehane or George Pelecanos were relocated to Canada.

The biggest mystery remains the identity of the author, Inger Ash Wolfe.  There has been no hiding the fact that this is a pseudonym for a well-known North American author.  The feeling is that it is an author who does not typically write in the ‘thriller’ genre and speculation has included the award-winning author, Margaret Atwood, as being a prime candidate for being the unmasked Inger Ash Wolfe.  I try not to let myself get caught up in this speculation. I merely look forward to the next installment of the Hazel Micallef mystery series and hail whoever the author is for writing some of the finest thrillers of recent years.

 

 

Murder on Lexington Avenue by Victoria Thompson

Publisher: Berkley

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

What should a Victorian detective think when investigating a murder and the victims spill out of the woodwork with gleeful countenances and barely hidden secrets? 

The Gaslight Mystery series continues with the amiable and unofficial partnership between police detective Frank Malloy and midwife Sarah Brandt in the transitional turn of the century in New York City when carriages still ruled the streets and wilderness still covered parts of the booming city.

In Murder on Lexington Avenue, wealthy businessman Nehemiah Wooten is found murdered in a school for deaf children, where his own daughter Electra attends. During the investigation, Malloy realizes that Wooten’s daughter flippantly receives the news and the grieving widow is anything but.  In fact, the newly minted widow has her own distraction, making it necessary for Malloy to bring Sarah into the fold.

As part of the nouveau riche, Wooten’s social status was lofty but not as esteemed as the long-term good fortune of Sarah’s own family, giving the midwife the unexpected advantage of discretion and professionalism needed by the family.  In turn, she learns her fair share of clues from Mrs. Wooten and Mr. Wooten’s grieving sister, Mrs. Parmer, giving the investigation a detective on the outside and a competent scout on the inside as well.

While many of the series’ installments focus more on Sarah, this time we learn more about Malloy, especially when the unexpected birth reminds him of his own wife, who died in childbirth years before.  Furthering the uncomfortable parallel, Malloy’s son Brian also attends a school for the deaf, although Malloy chose one that taught sign language and Wooten, a believer in the era’s popular notion of eugenics, abhorred anything that threatened to socially ostracize his daughter even more.

Throughout the mystery, Thompson effectively describes some of the period’s very real conflicts between economic classes, trendy philosophies, and an inherent mistrust by the poor and innate disrespect by the rich for the police who try to solve the plentiful crimes of the period.