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The Last Justice by Anthony J. Franze

Publishers: Sterling & Ross Publishers,

Reviewed by Narayan Radhakrishnan for New Mystery Reader

More and more lawyers are breaking into print. (It seems that law schools now will have to devote a subject solely for the study of law and fiction writing). And most lawyers are one book wonders… a sudden flash in the pan and we hearing nothing more about them. But here is a lawyer whom I am damn sure we will hear about in the coming years…a name that’s going to be said in the same breath as that of Scott Turow, John Grisham and Steve Martini. That lawyer in Anthony J. Franze and the book that is going to create waves in the legal fiction writing this year is THE LAST JUSTICE.

Only one other legal thriller that I know of has started with the assassination of a judge; that was John Grisham’s THE PELICAN BRIEF. But Franze goes one step further and murders six United States Justices. The question is not who did it, but why it was done. The person called into action is Solicitor General Jefferson McKenna and a multiagency commission is formed to look into the matter.  But the preliminary investigations lead to an unlikely suspect…McKenna himself.  Is the shikhari becoming the shikhar?? 

And so with now more than the quest for truth, McKenna finds himself in a conundrum, to disprove the shadow of suspicion hanging around him. What follows is taut suspense that takes the reader the upper echelons of the hallowed doors of justice…and of what really and truly happens behind closed doors and the venerated chambers. 

Franze’s narrative style is suspense filled and nitty-gritty. It seems that the lawyer has spent much time into researching the subject matter. I felt sort of an Irving Wallace touch in the narration- not in the prose style, but the way the author manages the rich background for carrying on the story. 

2012 has started on a bright note so far as the legal thriller genre is concerned. William Landay’s DEFENDING JACOB proved to be intriguing and with LAST JUSTICE, Franze has proved to be promising lawyer novelist…one from whom we expect more in the future; and Jefferson McKenna has all the tapping of a series protagonist.  Watch this space. 

 

 

 

The Look of Love by Mary Jane Clark

Publisher: William Morrow 

Reviewed by Robin Thomas, New Mystery Reader

Beauty can be deadly in the City of Angels. In The Look of Love, Piper finds this out all too soon after accepting a job in Los Angeles to bake a wedding cake for Jillian Abernathy. The job includes a round trip ticket to Los Angeles and an all expense paid stay at the luxurious Elysium spa. The timing is right for Piper; she has moved back in with her parents who are smothering her, her fiancé has called off their wedding and she is having relationship issues with FBI agent Jack Lombardi who wants to be more than friends. Even before Piper arrives, bad things are happening at Elysium and Jillian is the target. The Abernathy family attempts to block the bad publicity that the spa is getting due to the series of untimely and fatal events occurring at Elysium. Piper learns that love can cause people to make fatal decisions.

The Look of Love is the second installment in Mary Jane Clark’s Wedding Cake mystery series. Piper is a realistic protagonist who is a struggling actress suffering with commitment issues. She has been burned once and is being overly cautious. Her relationship with Jack Lombardi is strained as his interests go beyond friendship while she keeps her distance, protecting her heart from being broken again.

The author uses short chapters to provide the reader with a range of perspectives as the whodunit unfolds and the danger escalates at the spa. The book is a quick read and the author keeps the reader questioning their list of suspects up until the final chapters. I highly recommend The Look of Love and plan to read the first in the series because this book was so enjoyable.

 

 

 

 

The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau

Publisher: Touchstone

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

The Crown recreates the unstable world of the religious orders who try desperately to hold onto their convents and monasteries after the advent of Henry VIII’s English Reformation.  Young novice Sister Joanna Stafford grew up in an old noble family of enormous privilege but Joanna’s experience with the sympathetic figure of the pious, feisty but dying Katherine of Aragon encouraged Joanna to seek the life of a Dominican nun.  Thanks to her half-Spanish heritage and her inquisitive nature, Joanna has many skills that make her the perfect candidate to be used by a paranoid former favorite of the king, Bishop Stephen Gardiner.  Gardiner believes that Joanna’s priory at Dartford shelters a legendary artifact of great symbolic and mystical importance, potentially embodying the key to saving England.

Joanna’s habit of breaking rules means that few trust her and her family’s recent disgrace makes her wary of others.  Fortunately, her intelligence and earnestness encourage readers to cheer her on in a well-written, illuminating treasure hunt filled with key historical figures and believable supporting characters.

Author Nancy Bilyeau has certainly researched the Tudor era well, both the court politics surrounding an aging, volatile monarch struggling to get an heir and the confusion permeating the lives of the common people as to what religious beliefs they should support in order to preserve their lives.  She accurately describes where a condemned person could expect to die, depending on method of execution, and includes the Protestant influences that infiltrated England at this time while Henry and his advisors determined what kind of Catholicism they would allow. 

There are some questions, however, about a couple of oddities in The Crown, such as claiming Jane Seymour supported old-style Catholicism and thoroughly assassinating the character of George Boleyn.  While historians tend to fall on either Team Anne Boleyn or Team Katherine of Aragon, most agree that Anne’s brother George was falsely charged and executed.  The backstory concerning George Boleyn does not point readers to the murderer’s identity so readers of this review will still have the opportunity to be surprised at the final unveiling.   Regardless, readers intrigued by the fiction of Phillippa Gregory and Dan Brown should be pleased by Nancy Bilyeau’s The Crown.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1222 by Anne Holt

Publisher: Atlantic Books

Reviewed by Robin Thomas, New Mystery Reader

1222 is a Nordic crime fiction that elegantly recreates Agatha Christie’s “locked room” whodunit technique in an isolated hotel where the guests are stranded due to a horrendous snow blizzard. A train on its way to Bergen from Oslo derails in a severe snowstorm, killing the conductor at an altitude of 1,222 meters above sea level. Using the altitude as the title of the book is unusual because it is a minor fact in the book and provides the reader with little or no information. I found the title to be so intriguingly different that it drew me into book just to understand how it tied to the plotline. It was clear from the cover that 1222 was different and as I read on I found that Anne Holt had created a contemporary mystery that leveraged the classic charm of Christie’s And Then There Were None.

Hanne Wilhelmsen is one of the passengers on the train, she is a retired police inspector who was shot in the line of duty and is left paralyzed having to use a wheel chair to get around. Hanne is a bristly character who has modified her observation skills to accommodate her disability. Little did she know that those skills would come in handy because as the passengers settle in to wait out the storm, some are dying and not of natural causes. Hanne is asked to use her investigative skills to help figure out who is the murderer in their midst. She worries about how long they will be trapped due to the storm and fears the night because that is when the murderer strikes. The passengers are quirky characters that add depth and complexity to the story and Hanne’s investigation. The author uses these secondary characters to weave subplots and red herrings into the novel that leave the reader guessing until the end. As the death toll rises so does the suspense and the level of anxiety of the passengers. Hanne mingles with the passengers to draw out clues and ultimately to figure out who is doing the killing and why. In classic Christie manner, Hanne gathers all the passengers and shares her insights and ultimately the identity of the murderer.

Anne Holt is a former Norwegian Minister of Justice and her books have topped the charts in Norway and many other European countries. 1222 is the eighth book in the series and the others are in the process of being translated. Not having knowledge of what happens in the earlier books in the series has no impact on the delightful experience of reading this book. It only whets the appetite for more experiences with Hanne and to understand the events that led up to her getting shot. The only minor regret I had about the book is that the ending feels a bit rushed but overall this is a wonderful mystery and I can’t wait to read the other books in the series once they are available.

 

 

 

A Killer Christmas in Wales by Elizabeth J. Duncan

Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books

Reviewed by Robin Thomas, New Mystery Reader

Llanelen, Wales is a wonderful example of a small town in that residents who have lived there for a couple of years are still considered newcomers. The Christmas holidays are approaching, Penny Brannigan and Victoria Hopkirk are preparing for the opening of their new spa. The town is also abuzz about the arrival of Harry Saunders, an American who has worked on crew ships and is a ballroom dance instructor. Harry has great charm and good looks. As he gets to know the townspeople his interests focus on Evelyn Lloyd, a well-to-do widow. Evelyn quickly falls for his attention despite the warnings of all of her friends. When Harry is found dead, Evelyn becomes the prime suspect. Evelyn asks for Penny’s help, as the town’s amateur sleuth, to figure out who killed Harry and to clear her good name.

A Killer’s Christmas in Wales is a delightful read and a wonderful way to get into the Christmas spirit. This is Elizabeth Duncan’s third cozy mystery set in Wales with Penny Brannigan as the amateur sleuth. The author does a fantastic job of bringing Llanelen to life and immersing the reader in the lives of Penny, Detective Inspector Garth Davies, Victoria, and all of the other townspeople. While reading the book I could easily visualize the quaint beauty of the town. All of the characters are realistic and I felt that the author did a particularly good job capturing the relationship between Penny and Garth. They are dating but are more mature. Each have important careers and they genuinely care for each other but are cautious about their future together. The author expertly crafts the whodunit, she weaves several “red herrings” into the plotline that keep the story interesting and the reader curious to the end. I thoroughly enjoyed this return to Llanelen and another opportunity to solve a mystery with Penny Brannigan and her friends. I highly recommend this lovely Christmas-themed cozy mystery.

 

 

 

Swift Edge by Laura DiSilverio

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Reviewer: Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Charlie Swift is used to being tough.  Formerly of the Air Force, Swift now owns a PI business called Swift Investigations with a quirky partner and bills piling up.  Unlike many hard-nosed PIs, Charlie is short for Charlotte and she has to prove herself everyday.

In Swift Edge, teenage skating star Dara Peterson hires Charlie to find her missing skating partner, Dmitri Fane.  Dmitri, in his twenties and full of his own hype, has been known to disappear before but this time it’s only a few days before Nationals, a required competition if the duo hopes to make it to the next Olympics. 

In this case, part-time employee Kendall finally becomes useful with her own skating background and information that almost makes up for her smart alecky attitude and tendency to literally burn through the agency’s coffeepots.  Kendall, daughter of Charlie’s brightly gussied up partner, Gigi, has a crush on Dmitri, leaving her with her own agenda to find the highly ranked skater.

Meanwhile, Gigi’s amusingly recounted fascination with hi-tech gadgets prominent on TV shows gives her the confidence to follow leads on her own case, tracking a homeless teen nicknamed Kungfu.  While Gigi clearly shows her naiveté and inexperience, her resourcefulness and economic necessity ensures that she has a tenacity to match Charlie’s, even if Charlie doesn’t yet believe it.

True to its name, Swift Edge moves quickly and with a strong but pleasant flow.  Author Laura DiSilverio allows both Charlie and Gigi to show heart without being treacly.  While Gigi’s partnership may have been initially unwanted by both of them, it’s clear that their unlikely business deal gives this PI/Cozy series legs.