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A Conflict Of Interest by Adam Mitzner

Publisher: Pocket Books

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader 

Adam Mitzner’s first novel, A CONFLICT OF INTEREST, has already drawn comparison to the works of both Patricia Highsmith and Scott Turow.  High praise indeed --- and more than enough to pique my interest in reading this debut effort.

What Mitzner has accomplished with A CONFLICT OF INTEREST is creating a legal thriller combo that does indeed call to mind Scott Turow’s classic novel, PRESUMED INNOCENT, as well as the earlier works of John Grisham.  Unexpected plot twists, legal intrigue and moral complications abound in this page-turning thriller.

Criminal defense attorney, Alex Miller, is saddened by the death of his father and flies down from his home in NYC to attend his father’s wake in Florida.  It is at the wake that he meets with a long-time friend of his father’s named Michael Ohlig.  Alex is instantly struck by Ohlig and his intense mannerisms.  He is most curious because he is the one old friend of his parents at the wake that he has never previously met.

When Alex’s mother introduces them, the mysterious Ohlig tells Alex he is well aware of his legal prowess and wishes to speak with him about a private matter.  They do not speak further at the wake, but Ohlig does fly up to NYC to meet with Alex in his office.  It turns out that Ohlig runs a successful investment firm and they have recently been accused of illegally pushing a ‘dog’ stock on their clients in order to reap a large reward.  With corporate greed being under intense scrutiny in the current economic environment, Alex and Ohlig recognize that there will not be many jurors to have sympathy with an investment firm that pulled a ‘Madoff’ on their own investor clients.

Alex and his colleague, Abby, prepare the defense for Ohlig.  As much as the prosecution wants to nail Ohlig --- they may have over-stepped their boundaries in their desire to nail the investment banker.  Alex receives an unmarked packet that contains an audio tape that shows the key witness for the prosecution --- Ohlig’s second in command --- has accepted money from the feds to save himself and falsely testify against Ohlig and the rest of their firm.  However, things are not nearly as easy as this apparent gift of new evidence seem to be. 

Alex has several conflicts going on --- both internal and external.  He has been suspicious as to why Ohlig insisted that Alex not tell his mother that he is representing him in this criminal case (of course she finds out). He also finds himself starting an illicit affair with

his co-worker, Abby --- knowing full well the moral implications this creates for his marriage and employment as Abby is being considered for a partnership with their firm.  The height of deception occurs when Alex finds evidence that Michael Ohlig had been having an affair with his own mother, dating back well before his father passed away.

Before the Ohlig trial is finished, Alex receives tragic news.  His mother’s body has been found washed up on a local beach in Florida --- a drowning victim and apparent suicide.  Alex flies down to Florida to meet with the local authorities.  He refuses to believe his mother capable of taking her own life --- and there is no suicide note.  Ohlig instantly comes to mind as a suspect and Alex fully believes he may have murdered his mother. How can Alex continue to represent someone that has torn his family apart and possibly taken the life of his own mother?

Alex is successful in his defense of Ohlig in the investment fraud trail.  Immediately following the verdict, the prosecutor and a team of law enforcement officials arrest Ohlig for the murder of Alex’s mother.  The second phase of the novel begins as Alex’s life is turned upside down.  Returning to work after a brief leave of absence following the Ohlig trial, he finds himself peremptorily dismissed by his firm due to the disclosure of his affair with Abby.  Alex now must face his wife and confess his indiscretions.  He must also head down to Florida to testify for the prosecution in the murder trail of Michael Ohlig.

The novel loses a little bit of steam in the last act --- but the revelation of more plot twists and some serious morale breaches by a few of the characters that more than make up for this.  The end result is a fine legal thriller that does not fall into the traps of recent novels in this genre which infuse their plots with unbelievable turns and surprises that are legally and physically implausible.  Mitzner knows his stuff and A CONFLICT OF INTEREST will hopefully become the start of additional intelligent legal thrillers.

 

 

 

 

Come and Find Me by Hallie Ephron

Publisher: William Morrow

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Diana Highsmith has spent the last year and a half since her boyfriend's tragic fall to death in a climbing accident living in mourning isolation, not even willing to venture past her fenced in and highly secured front yard.  Everything Diana does is through the Internet, including her job as computer security consultant stopping the kind of hackers as she herself, her boyfriend, and good friend had once been.  And though the company idea was meant for the three of them, only two remain to carry on its noble mission. 

While Diana's life is far from content, she does manage to build up a social network of friends in a virtual second life in a world known as "OtherWorld," a place where she feels safe and confident when going by her alias "Nadia." 

But this whole world is about to come crashing down when Diana's sister goes missing after dressing like Nadia's avatar and attending a flashmob event.  And while solving this mystery, Diana will find herself forced into the real world and all the dangers that lurk there, with deciding who can be trusted being the biggest danger of all.

This latest sure to be bestseller from Ephron is a one-sitting read.  Jam-packed with adventures in this world and the "other" world, this high-tech thriller brings both alive with verve and passion.  And if you feel safe at home chatting on your computer, perhaps one of the many who enjoys hiding behind a different identity, you'll love this even more as Ehpron exposes both the dangers and thrills that can come from being temporarily anonymous.  But are you really?  And just how safe is the information that you share that travels from computer to computer every day?  This explosive novel dares to go there with an inside look of all that lurks behind an innocent computer screen and just how vulnerable we all are who dare to open our lives up to this inanimate reality.             
For Interview with Hallie Ephron

 

 

A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear

Publisher: Harper Perennial

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader 

Special Inquiry Investigator Maisie Dobbs notices a satisfying uptick in businesses, marking 1932 as one of her best yet.  Thanks to the substantial bequest of her late mentor, Dr. Maurice Blanche, she has left her impoverished childhood behind and become an employer of tenacious and kind-hearted Billy and a young widow named Sandra who serves as a part-time secretary.

In spite of the increasing caseload, Maisie heeds the call of crown and country when she’s asked to go on a special assignment out of town as a philosophy professor at a college built on the premise of promoting peace.  Communism and fascism are on the rise throughout Europe and the recent memories of World War I and its devastating aftermath have left substantial visible and invisible scars on England and her people, making the government highly proactive in preventing a second outbreak of fighting.

Maisie’s youthful experience and well-earned skills as a wartime nurse plus her innate discretion make this an ideal opportunity for the unusual investigator.  Like many during the era, Maisie listens closely to the intellectual arguments boasting of the merits of various political governing styles while trying to imagine what the reality of their successful implementation would actually be. 

Jacqueline Winspear uses Maisie’s case to highlight the growing social and economic unrest bred from the Great Depression and which foreshadow the rise of intense nationalism and ultimately, World War II only seven years later.  The now largely forgotten role of women during the Great War also plays a part with only a mild hint of lecture from the author.

Maisie’s continuing emotional maturity and resulting self-confidence make for an increasingly enjoyable series ideal for readers of Charles Todd’s Bess Crawford series, Agatha Christie’s mysteries and other well-written period  investigations.

 

 

 

And she was by Alison Gaylin

Publisher: Harper

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Missing persons investigator Brenna Spector is committed when it comes to searching for missing loved ones, having experienced the trauma first-hand when her big sister disappeared decades earlier.  But that event not only left her determined to help others, but with another very special gift when shortly after the event she was struck with a  rare disorder in which she remembers everything, and I do mean everything.   And so when Carol Wentz disappears, a woman whose own child had disappeared years before, Brenna finds herself drawn to the case in the hopes of unraveling the complicated threads that seem to tie these cases together.  

The first in a series featuring missing persons investigator Brenna Spector features not only a unique and endearing heroine who easily stands out from the pact, but a brilliant backstory that's simply fascinating.  While some might be familiar with this disorder of never forgetting a thing from perhaps having seen the new TV show Unforgettable, it must be said that this book was written before that show aired.  And while both heroines have the disorder in common, where the TV show tends to treat this and the character with an almost smug air, Gaylin goes quite a few steps further and shows us the high emotional toll this can take, making for a more enticing and meaningful journey.  With this being only the first in the series, it's with great anticipation that we look forward to the next.

For more on Gaylin's new series, please see our informative interview

 

 

 

The King of Diamonds  by Simon Tolkien

Publisher: Minotaur Books   

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

The King of Diamonds is a story of less than likable characters. In 1960 England, David Swain has been convicted and imprisoned for the murder of ex-girlfriend's new love. Then Swain escapes with a fellow inmate. On that very night, the ex-girlfriend is murdered. Given his presence at the murder scene and highjacking of a car at gunpoint, there is little doubt of his guilt.

Yet, Inspector Trave does doubt his guilt. There are plenty of other suspects in the girl’s household. Trave goes enthusiastically after the girl’s uncle. Unfortunately for Trave, the uncle is a wealthy diamond merchant with the clout that comes from wealth.

Is Inspector Trave correct about the uncle or is he jealous that the man has shown romantic interest in Trave’s estranged wife? The fun is figuring out the answer. Tolkien, the grandson of JRR Tolkien, has woven a rich fabric thanks to his literary skills and experience as a barrister.

 

 

 

Aunt Dimity & the Family Tree by Nancy Atherton

Publisher: Penguin

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader 

Aunt Dimity provides advice and a sympathetic ear to her best friend’s daughter, especially now that the young woman, Lori Shepherd, lives in Aunt Dimity’s former cottage.  Remarkably, the two women have created a strong bond in spite of Aunt Dimity’s death years before, creating a stream of communication between Lori’s spoken words and Aunt Dimity’s elegant, flowing blue writing on the pages of her old journal.

As in the previous installments of the Paranormal Detective series filled with Aunt Dimity’s good sense, Lori benefits from discussing her worries and even supplying her deceased friend with the ongoing topics discussed heavily among the village people.

After Lori and her husband, Bill, moved from the United States, Bill’s father William realized that he missed the impish exploits of his twin grandsons and decides to retire to the same English countryside as his son and daughter-in-law.  William takes no half-measures in his restoration of a long-neglected manor house, giving rise to the interested twittering of the local group of widows who each hope to become lady of the manor.

Ironically, the one widow who has no interest in marrying wealthy William forces a charade as being the very thing that she does not want to be, all to save her reputation even while forcing several levels of farce from each family member that even she does not expect.  Through it all, Lori, Bill, and William rise to each preposterously difficult occasion, making them likeable and sympathetic as they grapple with their situation.

While Aunt Dimity & the Family Tree features no traditional murder, the mystery derives from the strangely perfect couple whom William has hired in the middle of the night to serve as his staff.  Mr. and Mrs. Donovan combine stellar cooking talents with ceaseless energetic landscaping and housecleaning in addition to cheerfully agreeing to the bizarre requirements forced by William’s involvement with the local widow. 

After their arrival, Lori is disturbed by strange things such as Benny Goodman’s music that plays at all hours and the things that William recovered from the decaying stables move from one location to another, seemingly without explanation.  The safe little village also experiences a traumatic break-in at a local shop, shaking the confidence of many who live there.

Nancy Atherton’s charming series continues to expertly blend the supernatural, family, farcial, and cozy elements to create a lovely idyllic atmosphere filled with questions that are ultimately all satisfyingly resolved.

 

 

Love You More by Lisa Gardner

Publisher: Bantam

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

When D.D. Warren and Bobby Dodge are called to the home of state trooper Tessa Leoni's home, they're unprepared for where this complicated mystery will eventually lead them.  How Tessa's husband came to be lying dead on the floor from 3 gunshot wounds fired from Tessa's service weapon is one big mystery they'll have to solve, but the much more pressing one is that of Tessa's missing little girl.  Making matters worse D.D. and Bobby, and just about everyone else, are far from convinced by Tessa's claim of self-defense after being beaten by her husband; feeling instead that Tessa killed her husband and daughter and has hidden her daughter's body somewhere; a belief strong enough to lead to her arrest shortly thereafter.

But soon after Tessa's arrest, she is able to escape, leading investigators on a wild search across the state for this wily and clever alleged killer.  But did she really do it, or are her pleas to find her missing daughter sincere and the story behind them enough to explain everything?

Going back and forth between investigators' and Tessa's version of events makes for a spellbinding read from start to finish.  And faced with two equally strong and independent women on either side of the law in a fiercely fought race against time, it's also a battle for the reader in determining just who they should be rooting for.  Not being quite sure of Tessa's motives and the truth behind that awful day keeps the pages turning for readers in their search for the elusive answers surrounding her guilt or innocence.  And readers are also treated to a softer side of D.D. herself, who perhaps is getting a bit too close to this case as she has a big surprise of her own concerning motherhood.  But this surprise could be why that before she knows it, she might be able to understand how a mother could be willing to do anything for a child she loves, and how far she would go to protect that child.  A passionate and exciting read, this one showcases Gardner's excellent characters in a suspenseful tale about the bonds between mother and child.

 

 

 

The School Of Night by Louis Bayard

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

We’ve all had passing thoughts about such things as what would have happened if any of Henry VIII’s sons had lived to adulthood, or who Shakespeare’s ‘Dark Lady’ was, or if Leonardo was really a time traveller.  For most of us these thoughts are fleeting and rarely considered in depth.  Louis Bayard has the gift for taking a passing “what if?” thought and making it into a compelling full-length novel.

Bayard’s new book alternates between the early 17th century and the modern day.   Part of the book focuses on the life of Thomas Harriot, a scientist almost unknown today, but in his time a man of great knowledge and intellectual curiosity. (He is believed to have mapped the moon , using a telescope, several months before Galileo did.)  In this part of the book, Bayard investigates the ‘School of Night’, a group that formed around Walter Ralegh.  Meeting in country houses after dark, Ralegh and his peers discussed all manner of topics, and were viewed with suspicion by the establishment.  Anyone who questioned the origin of things was questioning religion, and questioning religion was tantamount to an attack on the King, and the penalty for that is, at the very least, a long and uncomfortable stay in the Tower of London. It was an elite—if dangerous—group to belong to, and one of the cornerstones of the story is what might have been the response of a guest at a meeting who was brushed off as a light-weight and not invited back.

The basis of the book is the premise that a letter in Ralegh’s handwriting has been found in modern times and that it sheds light on another historical figure, and will shake the trees of many a grove of academe.  Trying to locate the letter is Henry Cavendish, a scholar who once had the misfortune to be gulled by a hoaxer, and whose reputation has suffered.  He’s the last person who’d want to buy in to the supposed new find, but against his will he is drawn into the hunt.  As the executor of a dead friend’s estate, Henry is asked by the mysterious Bernard Styles to look for the missing letter, which Styles claims belongs to him. 

Also on the scene is a strangely attractive woman, Clarissa Dale, who is either going mad or really does have visions of past lives.  There’s something extremely odd and puzzling about Clarissa, something that, when Henry understands it, brings a bittersweet flavour to their relationship.  She also knows about the letter, and in fact seems to know about it in a first-hand way, not just as a document.

Bayard brings his skill at the felicitous turn of phrase to this story as he did to “The Dark Tower’, with descriptions such as   “a balmy, moth-speckled night’ and this description of the Plague :”The black tokens spread across her body like tiny footprints.”

This is a complex and involving story, and while telling of the parlous adventures of intellectual voyagers of another age, sheds light on our own time as well.  One is entranced by the thought of what Ralegh, Harriot and the rest might have made of the Internet!

 

 

The Sixth Man by David Baldacci 

Publisher: Vision   

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

Former Secret Agents turned private eyes, Sean King and Michelle Maxwell, are on their way to a supermax prison in Maine to work with Sean’s old friend and lawyer, Ted Bergen. Bergen is defending an accused mass killer. King and Maxwell stop to help a stranded motorist on a deserted highway. Much to their surprise and dismay, the motorist is Bergen, who has been shot and killed.

A 911 call summons the Maine State Police. After repeating the story up the chain-of-command, they are told that they have wait for the FBI to arrive. What appears to have been a local murder is great interest to the federal government. After further questioning, they are allowed to go.

With Bergen dead and Sean a licensed lawyer, they decide to visit Bergen’s client. Edgar Roy. Through the interview, Roy appears to be comatose. In reality and unknown to the PI’s, Roy is a genius of immeasurable intelligence. He is an asset of the U.S. intelligence community.

In Maine, an expert marksman shots out the PI’s car windows while they are cruising down the highway. They ignore the warning. Then Bergen’s assistant is shot and killed. After meeting Roy’s half-sister, they began to doubt Roy’s guilt.

The mystery becomes whether Roy is a murderer and if not, who killed the men and buried them on his farm? Who is killing off the key players? The reader has little doubt King and Maxwell will solve the case, but the how’s and why’s keep them guessing. This is up to Baldacci’s usual high standards with plenty of twists and turns.