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The Valcourt Heiress by Catherine Coulter

Publisher: Putnam

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader
 
At its best, The Valcourt Heiress coyly winks at the continually conflicted Medieval Age to create the context for hidden identity, nobles’ ego-driven pursuits, and a clever girl who entertainingly discovers what she wants in the midst of the mayhem.

Teenaged Merry runs her father’s household, oversees the servants and has spent time at court with the purpose of attracting a husband as Valcourt’s sole heir.  Much to her dismay, the lovely girl has done just that, but believes that her betrothed will not be a good husband nor a good lord to her people.  Merry runs away in the disguise of a boy only to be caught and fought over by two small groups of men who lose her in the midst of their posturing and brutal fighting.  Once more taking initiative, she seeks shelter in a recently devastated castle whose few inhabitants still reel from the death of their protective nobleman and from decimating attacks by a mysterious “Black Demon.”

Into the mix arrives the castle’s new lord, Garron, who never expected to command anything other than soldiers in his position as a younger son.  Garron and Merry steadfastly guard their respective secrets, even as a powerful nun with ties to the occult threatens their tenuous peace and continued search for the Black Demon.

Catherine Coulter has taken much from the smattering of true stories of well-educated, royally bred nuns who retreated to convents, making them quiet centers of learning while adding a twist that would shock the real-life predecessors.  

She also references Eleanor of Aquitaine and other formidable period queens to pave the path of understanding for the independence shown by young Merry, although historically girls in the Middle Ages without parental or male support would have few resources and fewer chances to prove their usefulness.  As a paranormal historical romance with mystery woven throughout, The Valcourt Heiress makes light but pleasant reading.  

 

 

Rivers of Gold by Adam Dunn  

Publisher: Bloomsbury, U.S.A.

Reviewed by Jim Sells  New Mystery Reader

New York in 2013 is a dark, almost post-Apocalyptic landscape. However, the Apocalypse in this case is not war or disease, but rather economic. Business, bars and restaurants have failed because of astronomical rents and marauding criminals.

Amid this landscape, cabs deliver people and products to temporary restaurants and bars that overcome costs and police interference by squatting for a night or two. The bars are throwback to the “speakeasies” of Prohibition.

In the midst there are those who make a living. Renny, a main character and narrator of the story, pursues a marginally successful career as a photographer and a very successful career as a drug dealer delivering the “product” to the “speaks” via a network of cabs.

Pursuing a career in cabs is Detective Santiago. He and a partner are part of the Citywide Anticrime Bureau (CAB) and work undercover in cabs to take up the overflow from overworked homicide, drug enforcement and other bureaus. When Santiago and his new, mysterious partner more are charged with finding out how the “speaks” are being supplied with drugs, they and Renny will come into conflict.

Dunn has crafted an intriguing view of the near-future shaped by the economy. The author chooses a main character to narrate that is at once likable and despicable. Renny narrates with a rapid-fire style that creates portraits of the crumbling city while rationalizing his own illegal activities. Santiago shifts back-and-forth from public servant to an ambitious detective trying to get ahead. As a possible turf war over the drug trade looms on the horizon, the reader comes to realize that both Renny and Santiago are in over their heads. This is an interesting and entertaining work made more so by an unusual perspective and story-telling style.  

 

 

 

 

Death Notice by Todd Ritter

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Perry Hollow, PA, police chief Kay Campbell is more than content to look over her sleepy town’s safety with little fanfare.  With not much crime to speak of, this idyllic town, once a mill town now a tourist destination, leaves this single mother with plenty of time to take care of her special-needs young son.  But that all changes when a local farmer’s murdered and embalmed body is found on the side of the road encased in a home-made coffin.  And when the state investigators join in the investigation, believing the killing is linked to one of their own sought after serial killers, Kay is more than happy for the help.

But as the suspects one by one are eliminated, and with the number of murders growing, it becomes clear that the true villain might be a bit closer to home than anyone suspected.  But finding who that is in this sleepy town will not prove as easy as it seems as there are more secrets being held than that of the murder’s identity, making everyone suspect in a case that seems to have no end.

Ritter’s debut novel shows that we can expect some great reads to come.  Well-defined characters who easily stand on their own and make their individual mark, a colorful setting, and a heroine whose down-to-earth sensibilities and compassion all combine to make for an interesting, challenging, and well-rounded read.  It’s easy to like this group of investigators and the innocent others who are drawn in against their will, but who nonetheless stand up to the challenge.  Hopefully, Ritter plans on returning to these characters and this charming place because once you’ve finished this foray into small town PA, you’ll definitely want to return.         

 

 

 

 

 

Law of Attraction by Allison Leotta

Publisher: Touchstone

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

A newcomer to the field of legal thrillers, Leotta begins her promising career as an author with a read that’s both compelling and heartfelt.

U.S. Assistant Attorney Anna Curtis, a recent Harvard graduate, is busy prosecuting misdemeanor domestic violence cases in D.C. when she gets the one case that will change her career, and her life.  At first, Laprea Johnson, a battered girlfriend and single mother, seems to be just one more victim of domestic abuse in the long line of cases Anna has prosecuted with the all too familiar story.  The case is cut and dried and it seems Laprea’s boyfriend, and the father of her twins, is going to definitely spend some time in jail for his latest round against the delicate, young mother.  But when Laprea takes a 180 on the stand, lying to protect her boyfriend, he’s set free and Anna knows it’s just a matter of time before she’s sees this couple again. 

But while this may be an old story very familiar to Anna, one reminiscent of her own past, what sets this case apart from the others is her growing romance with the defense attorney on the case Nick Wagner, an old acquaintance from college.  And while she’s able to at first set aside her attraction to the attorney, after the dismissal of the case, the two jump head first into a romantic entanglement that will quickly spell trouble for Anna when months later Laprea is found murdered after a deadly fight with the accused.  But while initially it may seem the answers are obvious, not only will the new charges of murder put a cramp on Anna’s happy relationship, but they’ll also impact Anna’s own life when it becomes clear that nothing is as it seems and what really happened to the young mother that fateful night might just end more than Anna’s faith in those close to her and the justice system she holds dear.

When reading Leotta’s debut novel, it’s clear that this is an author who has experience in the field of dealing with both domestic violence law and the prosecution, or sadly too often enough, the lack thereof, of the offenders.  Adeptly putting forth the truth of how these cases really go, she manages to keep the reader both interested and informed, while also showing the pitfalls that exist from all viewpoints involved. There’s a lot of compassion here as well that keeps this read moving forward.  And if there’s a complaint to be had, it’s the heedless mistakes this young prosecutor makes that end up being a bit difficult to believe as realistic.  Still, this debut novel shows a lot of promise, and this is one young prosecutor we wouldn’t mind seeing again.       

 

 

 

The Dead Path by Stephen M. Irwin

Publisher: Doubleday

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

To begin with, I’m not usually a fan of the horror/supernatural type genre, but now and again, an author will write a tale that can even beguile me, and Irwin’s debut novel is one of them.

It starts out relatively “normal” enough when every-day guy Nicholas Close loses his wife in a freak accident.  Heartbroken and filled with guilt, he returns home to the small village of his youth, a suburb not too far from a big city in Australia.  But if he thinks that being back home will alleviate his pain, he’s soon to find out it will do anything but that.  As the drenching rain brings him back to the memories of a childhood trauma of losing his best friend to an odd death while walking in the foreboding surrounding woods of their homes, he’ll find himself slipping deeper into his depression.  And when there is a murder of a child, reminiscent of his childhood friend’s, he’ll soon discover that the woods surrounding his house are filled with a malice and hunger that comes from something so evil, he nor anyone one else, can explain it.

Creepy, crawly, and entirely frightening, Irwin gives readers a tale that is deliciously read if from a safe place.  Excellent prose, well-drawn characters, and unabated suspense drive this one from beginning to end.  As mentioned before, this type of book is not usually my cup of tea, but in this case, as in the case when a writer defies the clichés of the genre, it feels like a brand new experience.  This one bringing about a uniqueness and delightful chills with a grace and elegance that encourages long forgotten feelings of the stories of Brothers Grimm and the fears that went with them.  Encouraging debut that promises great things to come.           

 

 

And Then There Was One by Patricia Gussin

Publisher: Oceanview   

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Three little girls go to the movies, but only one little girl comes home.  The trite phrase ‘every parent’s worst nightmare’ was never more apt than in this new spine-tingler from Oceanview. The Monroe triplets have been guarded like rare jewels all their short lives, but in a dreadful confluence of opportunity and motive, two of them vanish in the middle of a busy shopping mall cinema complex. 

The FBI gets onto the case at once, but it’s complicated by the interference of an unrelated criminal trying to cash in on Scot and Katie Monroe’s fear and grief, and the reappearance of Katie’s old boyfriend in her life.  The possibility that Katie’s work as an abused children’s advocate has given rise to an awful vengeance by an abuser cannot be discounted.  And then there’s the possibility that an old grudge is being acted upon by someone from Scott’s past, either as a star baseball player or later as a coach.  Or there might even be a racial motive at play: Katie’s black, Scott’s white, and who knows what a hatemonger might feel driven to do about that?

To make a bad story worse, the third child, Jackie, falls down the stairs and ends up in hospital.  What else could go wrong?

The tension is incredible, but just when you have gnawed off your last fingernail, there’s a breakthrough.  A credible witness comes forward with a description of a middle aged woman and two little girls at the Mall.  One clue leads to another.  Then, miraculously, Sammie turns up, dirty and scared but alive, and with a fantastic tale to tell.  Too late the FBI agents storm the house she leads them to, only to find the kidnapper and Alex gone.  It’s now a desperate race to find the child before a dreadful fate overtakes her.

I don’t willingly choose this sort of book to read, but have to admit this one had me galloping through the pages to learn what happened next.  Ms Gussin’s technique of short, punchy chapters which jump between the hunters and the hunted is very effective and adds to the feeling of urgency.

Definitely one to short-list for your Christmas gift buying.

 

 

 

Voyeur by Daniel Judson

Publisher: Minotaur Books  ISBN-10: 0312383614

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

When former PI Remer fled Manhattan over 7 years ago after an investigation turned ugly and ended in an act of deadly revenge, he hoped his new life as a liquor store owner in Southampton would be relatively worry-free.  But when an ex-employee, now a cop, asks him to look into the disappearance of a young woman on the behalf of the woman’s mother, his new life is going to start looking just as violent and dark as his previous one.   

As it turns out, the missing woman, Mia Ferrera, is not only also an ex-employee of his liquor store, but also a woman who took off over a year ago with not only $80,000 of Remer’s hard earned money stashed in the safe, but also Remer’s heart.  And so with his bitter memories to guide him, Remer is determined to find her, if for nothing else but to finally get answers as to why she left.

But things are never as they seem, and the deeper Remer digs into this mystery, the more complicated they become.  Is Mia part of a set-up to con her way into even greater gains, or is she a victim of those who claimed to love her? 

This latest by Judson certainly has its share of twists and turns that take the reader on a wild ride that seems to turn in a different direction with each new chapter, with just who is to be believed and who to trust changing just as quickly.  It’s very easy to get ensnared in this guy’s search for the truth, and it’s easy to see why he’s been living a relatively lonely life filled with work and his over-reliance on his unique mix of natural herbs that lead him to forget what he was and what he’s done.  And while his blend of herbs does in part explain his lack of true emotional investment in it all, it still somehow seems there should be a wee bit more something here, whether anger or sadness, shame or guilt, it’s hard to say, but the chasm between his actions and his emotions often seems too far apart to reconcile.  However, all in all, this is a hard book to put down, and one that should please those who like a dark and violent read.

 

 

 

Velocity by Alan Jacobson

Publisher: Vanguard Press ISBN 978 1 569315 621 3

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

You needn’t have read previous books in this series to know how deeply the disappearance of Bobby Hernandez will affect FBI profiler Karen Vail.  Karen’s a real professional and ruthlessly clamps down on her fears as she carries on with her daily work, but it’s hard, given that the work involves Mayfield, a serial killer who is probably responsible for Bobby’s disappearance.  Mayfield’s in a coma in the hospital, and Karen can’t get into his evil mind to find out about Bobby.  The best way to figure out what Mayfield may have done is to track down his friends, confederates, contacts—anybody who might have a clue to his recent activities.

Karen and her partner Roxx Dixon start with the bent cop Ray Lugo. Ray’s dead, killed in a shootout but what made him go bad in the first place?   Was is greed, or something else?  The something else—Ray Lugo’s wife—walks into the office one day with a proposition which seems to be the only way Karen and Roxx can get further  in their investigation.   Karen understands why Mrs Lugo is holding out, but that doesn’t stop her from wanting to slap her silly until she coughs up everything she knows about Mayfield. 

Before Karen can follow this tenuous lead, she’s yanked off the case by her boss and assigned something totally unrelated.    This doesn’t stop her trying to find Robby: Karen Vail is nothing if not pig-stubborn when she’s got her mind set on something.   Then there’s a shocking turn of events and it looks as if Karen’s attempts to rescue her lover may ensure his death.  This is a lesson in being careful how you try to help someone—you must be sure you know what the problem is first, or you may do more harm than good.

If you like a fast-moving story with a lot of twists and turns, you’ll enjoy this new adventure from Jacobson.  The writing style isn’t going to win the Pulitzer, but given the velocity of Velocity, you probably won’t notice that.