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New York To Dallas by J D Robb

Publisher: Putnam Adult

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

The incredibly productive J D Robb has produced another in the Eve Dallas canon, this one a bit different to previous books, which take place almost completely within the city limits of mid 21st century New York City.

This time Eve spends most of her time in Dallas, city of evil memories, the place which gave her a surname when the social service officers found a nameless child wandering the streets with a broken arm, covered in blood and clearly the victim of prolonged sexual abuse.  From that dark beginning, Eve made herself into a successful police officer and totally independent woman.  Later she met and married the fabulously handsome and amazingly rich entrepreneur Roarke, himself a former street child.

Marriage to a rich man hasn’t dulled Eve’s hunger for justice for victims of crime, so when a young woman comes to her with the story of her twin’s kidnapping, Eve leaps into the case.  This is no ordinary case: the sisters had been rescued from sexual predator Isaac McQueen many years ago, when Eve was a brand new police officer.  McQueen has recently escaped from prison, and it doesn’t take a Ph.D. to figure out that revenge on Eve for caging him will be top of his list of things to do.

The trail leads to Dallas, Texas, and Eve’s boss gives her the option not to follow it there.  He knows how hard it may be for her to again face the city where she suffered so much.  Eve doesn’t see that she has a choice, however: Melinda’s only hope of salvation lies in Eve’s playing McQueen’s game—not to mention the young girls that are McQueen’s natural prey and who even now may be chained to a wall in some awful den.

Once again co-opting Roarke as a civilian advisor (remember this is a fictional story).Eve heads for Dallas and has to marshal all her tact—a commodity fans will recall she hasn’t much of—to work along with the Texas authorities as well as the FBI, whose agents get their usual dose of mistrust from the other law enforcement agencies.  At least Robb lets them be intelligent and not totally bound by the rule book. 

There’s a smaller cast of characters in this book—Medical examiner Morris, Dr Dimatto, Charles, Mavis and Summerset are conspicuous by their absence, but the cat Galahad plays an important supporting role, and Dr Mira is there when needed.  Not to be missed is the shellacking Commander Whitney gives the head of the prison from which McQueen was allowed to escape—it will warm the heart of anyone who ever ran into an obstructive less-than-civil servant.

Perhaps not the best of the Eve Dallas stories, this one is still worth the price of admission.

 

 

 

The Sandburg Connection by Mark de Castrique

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press (also in paperback)

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

If you think that all that remains of the Confederate states of America is a century and a half of bitterness and some funny money only fit for papering the walls of the playroom, think again.  The premise of this intriguing novel is that hidden within the work of the poet Carl Sandburg is the key to a treasure worth killing for.

One-legged Iraq vet Sam Blackman and his partner Nakayla Robertson have been hired by an insurance company to find out if a claimant is really as disabled as she claims to be.  Their surveillance leads them to a steep and rocky path on Glassy Mountain, behind the Sandburg homestead.  Sam is keeping an open mind about the disability of their target, Janice Wainwright, but he’s all too aware of his own problem: he’s wearing his ‘dress’ prosthetic leg, not his heavy-duty fit-to-climb-mountains model.  He moves as fast as he can, but before he gets to the top of the mountain, Janice comes barrelling down the short way, badly injured and soon dead.  All she says before dying is “The Sandburg verse.”

After explaining themselves to the authorities who want to know how Sam and Nakayla happened to be on the scene, the weary detectives go back to their office.  The autopsy shows that Janice was indeed in pain and the malpractice suit she was pursuing was legitimate, so what could have pushed her to climb that mountain?  A bit of research by Nakaylah reveals that Janice was on the track of a valuable secret.  Following a thin trail of clues they learn that Sandburg found a strongbox hidden in his house when he was doing renovations, and somehow this ties in with an old folk song, and maybe a fortune in Mexican silver.

While they are trying to solve the mystery, Sam and Nakaylah are nearly killed by Janice’s daughter Wendy, who is confusedly blaming them for hounding her mother to her death.  Sorting out this misunderstanding leads to Sam taking on the job as a goat midwife while Wendy goes to her mother’s funeral. 

This is a fast-moving story full of local colour and some interesting background on one of America’s great poets—and you get change from a $15 bill to boot.

 

 

The Surrogate by Tania Carver

Publisher: Pegasus

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

When pregnant women begin being discovered brutally murdered and, even more appalling, with their unborn children being atrociously ripped from their bodies, England’s DI Phillip Brennan knows that it’s time to call in psychologist Marina Esposito.  And even though their last case ended badly, as did their burgeoning relationship, Marina thinks this might be just the thing she needs to get out of her current rut of jumping at shadows and hiding from life.  But one thing she never bargained for was putting herself in danger yet again when the culprit sets his sights on her and her unborn baby.

While this is a fairly well-written suspense novel, many will find the subject matter as well as the all too often graphic detailing of it a bit too gruesome to get through.  And parents-to-be will definitely want to avoid this one.  Carver takes a big risk with this, and it will be up to the individual reader to determine if it pays off.  For me it was a bit too disturbing to truly enjoy, but this author does have obvious talent so maybe the next one will hit the spot.

 

 

 

A Murder in Tuscany by Christobel Kent

Publisher: Minotaur

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Sandro Cellini misses his days in the police force but tries to keep his adrenaline up by working as an investigator.  Most of his cases involve following spouses or kids, such as the spoiled rich girl whose father worries that she’s taking drugs.  Still, Sandro’s relieved to have work to keep him busy even as his wife Luisa becomes more important to her boss, the owner of the Frollini empire.  Sandro frets about his marriage, making their unofficially adopted daughter, Giuli, lose her own fragile sense of security about the aging couple.

After a new case opens up, Sandro shifts his case regarding the teenage girl to Giuli, knowing that her past as a drug user and prostitute will allow her to blend in and observe carefully.  Sandro feels the familiar rush of action when he manages to land the investigation in the death of Loni Meadows, an American of high style and blindly sharp criticism.  Loni’s car veered off the road on a cold night as she left Castello Orfeo, leading the local police to the conclusion of an accidental death.  Sandro’s arrival at the castle and its commune of forcibly celibate and secluded artists promises a very different reality.

At the castle, beautiful Caterina has been elevated from a new kitchen helper into working as a coordinator while the rest of the staff try to tend to the commune’s needs and to manage the death as delicately as possible.  Unfortunately for the investigation, Loni antagonized the staff as much as she angered the guests, adding more names to the list of suspects.

Sandro immediately senses Caterina’s status as an outsider, piquing his interest in her and what she has observed from being around the sculptors, painters, musicians, and writers attracted to the private and forbidding castle.

One artist in particular, Tiziano, is almost as big a mystery as who killed Loni.  Paralyzed in a terrorist bombing that also killed his father, the gifted pianist maintains a jovial exterior belied by his haunting music.  Caterina is entranced by him but isn’t quite sure how much to trust him, especially after she finds out about a link between the bomber and Loni’s family.

Peppered with Italian phrases and an appreciation for both scenery and cuisine, A Murder in Tuscany creates an ideal closed setting for a murder with limited suspects in the murder of someone whom everyone hated.  Periodically, Christobel Kent’s sentences provide revelation, such as in the case when one character looks “determined, like a man whose only hope was to get as drunk as he could.”  (183)

A Murder in Tuscany excels in character development and embraces an air of a continental Agatha Christie novel with Sandro serving as Hercule Poirot with a side of rumpled personal worries.

 

 

The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

Publisher: Crown

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

Chris Bohjalian has made a career out of writing compelling fiction with complex characters that are placed in situations that challenge them.  Some of his better-known novels include MIDWIVES, THE DOUBLE BLIND and SECRETS OF EDEN.  In all of those novels, conscience and morality come into play and every character is forced to make difficult decisions.

It will come as quite a surprise to his regular readers that Mr. Bohjalian has now ventured into the realm of the supernatural with his latest release --- THE NIGHT STRANGERS.  Since his novels never pull any punches --- and quite often present surprising plot twists --- I was prepared for anything with this book.  It’s safe to say that there is something for everyone here --- enough chills to satisfy fans of the supernatural in a character-driven plot that reads like dramatic fiction.

Airline pilot Chip Linton and his family --- wife Emily and twin daughters Hallie and Garnet --- are settling into their new home in Northern New Hampshire.  They are looking to make an escape from a tragic airline incident that has emotionally scarred Chip.  A seventy-seat regional jet he was flying suffered double engine failure and was forced to make an emergency landing in Lake Champlain.  Unlike the Miracle on the Hudson, Chip Linton and Flight 1611 were not the subject of a heroic feat.  Flight 1611 crashed hard and the impact along with the freezing lake water claimed the lives of 39 of his passengers.

Now, attempting to rebuild their lives, the Linton’s have moved into an old Victorian home in Bethel, New Hampshire.  It is not long before the images and memories in Chip’s mind begin materializing to him in the basement of the home.  He sees victims of his crash --- adults and children --- and is drawn to a door in the basement that ironically has 39 bolts in it.  These night strangers that Chip visits with most evenings are trying to both console and warn him.  What they are trying to tell him is unclear and strange things begin to befall Chip Linton.

At the same time, the rest of his family are attempting to settle in to their new community.  Hallie and Garnet are attending fifth-grade and Emily is making friends with some of the locals.  Emily suspects that there might be something more than simply eccentric with the local residents as the women of the local White Mountain village have all adopted names representing herbs and spices.  If this weren’t creepy enough, the women are showing a strange interest in Emily’s daughters.  Are the Linton’s all going mad or is there really something wicked happening among the White Mountains?

Bohjalian deftly peels back the layers and let’s the readers decide if Chip Linton is going insane or if he is really in the midst of a supernatural haunting.  THE NIGHT STRANGERS will not make you jump out of your seat but instead provides chills and creepy moments that make you question all that is happening.  There are definite echoes of classic literary horror from Ira Levin’s ROSEMARY’S BABY to Thomas Tryon’s HARVEST HOME and a New England feel that calls to mind the better work of Stephen King.  A great book for a spooky fall night!

 

 

 

 

Death and the Maiden by Gerald Elias

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Daniel Jacobus returns in the latest classical music-laced installment of the Daniel Jacobus Mysteries by Gerald Elias.  Grumpier now in a House sort of way, aging Jacobus has grudgingly survived the evolution of adding “enhancements” to classical music in promoters’ desperate grabs to attract newer audiences even as the blind amateur detective passionately decries these modern attempts.

For all of his faults, Jacobus’ loyalty remains intact and he has agreed to support his favorite student, Yumi, as she prepares for a tension-fraught concert featuring dancers, lights, and a stressed quartet in the midst of a lawsuit.  Things worsen when the first violinist fails to show up for practice and Yumi finds an unattached finger in another musician’s instrument case.  Jacobus begins his investigation in earnest by tracking the missing musician to Lima, Peru, which was also the site of the quartet’s last engagement.  While investigating, Jacobus finds a kindred cynical soul in Police Detective Oro, whose interest in classical music without frills but filled with truth binds them in their search.  The pair also find amusement in their respective long-winded tales and hilarious exchanges that make readers hope for more music-related crime to occur in Lima so that Jacobus and Oro can once more pair up.

Jacobus’ stalwart friend and colleague Nathaniel Williams helps Jacobus investigate once again while also providing the good natured balance to Jacobus’ complaints although Jacobus’ closest relationship may now be with the cast-off bulldog affectionately named Trotsky, whose name inspires Jacobus to joke ad nauseum. 

Elias typically delves into music theory and history during the course of the Daniel Jacobus Mysteries, but in Death and the Maiden he strives to explain the beauty of well-played notes and the importance of giving the music the appropriate weight even as Jacobus becomes physically frailer.  Because of this, he grants Jacobus a climax far different from what is usually found in a mystery and it becomes a greater triumph because of it.

 

 

 

L.A. Mental by Neil McMahon   

Publisher: HarperCollins             

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

Tom Crandall is a L.A. full-Tim psychologist and amateur detective. His brother Nick is a full-time drug abuser and part-time con artist. When Tom gets a call from Nick that indicates his brother is losing his tenuous grip on sanity, Tom rushes to his aid. A struggle between the brothers on a cliff overlooking the ocean ends in a near fatal fall for Nick. Only thanks to Tom’s youthful experience as lifeguard saves Nick.  

Tom has a sister, Erica. When a potentially embarrassing video turns up on the eve of her wedding, Nick is the first suspect, but they cannot prove it.

Tom’s other brother is an aspiring businessman who has become involved in a film project with a cult leader.

Watching McMahon bring together these apparently unconnected people and events makes an intriguing storyline. At times, “L.A. Mental” seems to be more a character study or chronicle of a rich family than a mystery in the traditional sense.

 

 

Murder In The 11th House by Mitchell Scott Lewis

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press   

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Sherlock Holmes was touted as the world’s first consulting detective; David Lowell is perhaps the world’s first consulting astrologer-detective.  Formerly poor, Lowell is now living comfortably thanks to his ability to interpret the messages of the stars into practical “runs on the board” in the stock market.  He has a nice home, a chauffeur-driven limousine and a successful business.

One day his lawyer daughter comes to call, asking him to do a bit of pro bono work.  She has taken on the case of Johnny Colbert, a feisty but often offensive young woman who scrabbles a living as a bartender and has now been accused of murdering a judge.  On the face of it, the case looks rock-solid, except for Lowell’s niggling feeling that something’s off—the case is just too perfect to be real, and as he begins digging into the star charts of the leading characters, things don’t fit.  Johnny has been set up, but why?  Lowell has barely begun looking into the case when Johnny is attacked in the remand jail, and Lowell’s life is threatened.  He gets Johnny out on bail, and bunkers down with his daughter and staff in his townhouse.  They put together a plan to get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding the judge’s last few weeks of life.  Once they know more about that, Lowell reasons, they will have a lead on who wanted her dead.

When a writer want to call your attention to something that concerns him but which may not be a natural part of the story line, it’s tricky to fit that into the framework of a novel, and it takes a writer of considerable skill and experience to carry it off well.  George Orwell comes to mind. 

Mr Lewis wants the reader to be aware of the parlous state of the US economy and the possibility that the country may fade from the world stage as a bit player if big reforms do not take place soon.  Many of us will agree with his assessment, but perhaps think it would have been better presented as an essay in The Economist.  There are parts of this book that come across as stilted and preachy, and that’s never a good thing for a crime novel. 

That said, by and large the book is a good read, moves along fast, keeps you interested without gratuitous sex and violence, and tells you a lot about astrology you didn’t know before—perhaps a bit more than you need to know.  There’s nothing here to give you nightmares other than that big agenda item about the US and world economy, but since most of us are still pretending that particular elephant is invisible, you can probably sleep well after finishing the book.

 

 

 

 

Rip Tide by Stella Rimington

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Reviewed by Robin Thomas, New Mystery Reader

Amir Khan, a British-born Pakistani, is arrested after an unsuccessful attack on a cargo ship off the coast of Somalia. Khan was not alone, he was with a gang of pirates. British Intelligence is alerted of Khan’s arrest and MI5 officer Liz Carlyle is assigned to the case. The pirates attacked a cargo ship that was carrying charitable supplies. The United Charities’ Shipping Organization (USCO) is a coordinating charity that arranges for the transport of aid in support of relief operations. Of late, pirates have been targeting only those USCO shipments that include high value cargo (large sums of cash or gold). The head of the USCO office in Athens fears that there may be a “mole” in his organization and he requests assistance from British Intelligence. The last attack on a cargo ship carrying high value USCO relief supplies was thwarted by the French Navy and resulted in the arrest of Amir Khan.

The investigation takes Liz and her team to the coast of Africa, the USCO offices in Athens and London and to a mosque in Birmingham, England where young Islamic men are trained to be terrorists. She is searching for clues to how a well-to-do British citizen ends up in jail with a gang of pirates.

Prior to becoming an author of spy thrillers, Dame Stella Rimington completed a distinguished career in MI5, Britain’s Internal Security Service. She served in every major branch of MI5 and ultimately became the first female director general in 1992. Rimington applies her decades of experience as an intelligence officer to the development of her main character, Liz Carlyle and Rip Tide is the sixth book in the series. Unfortunately, the book suffers from a predictable plotline and a very slow pace. With the wealth of experience that Rimington has to draw upon, it is very likely that future books in the Carlyle series will have a more complex plot and a faster pace which is what readers of spy thrillers expect and love.

 

 

 

The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta

Publisher:  St. Martin’s Press

Reviewed by Ray Palen, New Mystery Reader 

Tom Perrotta may be one of the finest American writer’s at capturing the dark side of suburbia.  His serio-comic and complex dramas have been hailed as fine literature and two of his better known novels were made into award-winning films --- “Election” and “Little Children”.

THE LEFTOVERS is Perrotta’s latest effort and it tackles another controversial and timely subject --- the Rapture.  Certain fanatical religious sects believed that the Rapture or, quite literally, the End of Days was upon us this year.  Well, it didn’t happen.  But that didn’t stop Tom Perrotta from pointing his wit and wisdom firmly on this topic.  The backdrop is the fictional West Coast suburban town of Mapleton and how the residents are handling ‘the event’ that has shaken the world.

This event was not the Rapture that Christians have been expecting.  One day, for no good reason (as it is never explained anywhere in the novel) millions upon millions of Earth’s inhabitants disappear.  They range in scope from men to women, Christian to Jewish to Muslim and encompass every race on the planet.  This apparently random selection of individuals is both angering and perplexing those left behind --- the literal left-overs of the human race.  How are these people supposed to carry on existence with no answers in a life that seems even more pointless and unpredictable now than it ever was before?

The narrative is told through the lives of the Garvey family of Mapleton.  Kevin Garvey is the Mayor of Mapleton and has lost touch with many of his citizens in addition to his own family.  His wife, Laurie, has cannot deal with the guilt of being left behind and has elected to join a new cult that has sprung up around the nation known as the Guilty Remnant.  She now dedicates her life to this mysterious cult where member take vows of silence and proclaim their loyalty by continuously smoking cigarettes.

Kevin Garvey’s son and daughter aren’t doing much better.  Jill has shaved her head while still trying to deal with the loss of her mother and High School.  Tom has dropped out of College to follow a sketchy prophet by the name of Holy Wayne.  Jill remains at home with her father as well as a school-mate, Aimee, who is also trying to find herself while still playing the role of a young Lolita that constantly tempts her new ‘landlord’ – Mr. Garvey.  Kevin tries to rebuild a sense of normality by starting up a relationship with a woman named Nora who lost her entire family to the event that is now referred to as ‘the Sudden Departure’.

Perrotta definitely knows how to write, but THE LEFTOVERS does not have the emotional power of some of his earlier efforts (most specifically, his classic LITTLE CHLDREN).  THE LEFTOVERS was hailed by Stephen King as a modern-day Twilight Zone episode.  I can only partially agree with this statement as the novel really has no end and especially not the stunning and ironic twist ending the Twilight Zone was so famous for.  That being said, this is still a highly interesting and unique novel that will definitely entertain and shock those who read it.  Mr. Perrotta once again deftly holds up a mirror to American Suburbia --- and you may not like the reflection.

 

 

The Perfect Suspect by Margaret Coel

Publisher: Berkley

Reviewed by New Mystery Reader

Coel returns with her second outing in her latest series that features Denver reporter Catherine McLeod.  This time out the reporter takes a call from an anonymous source who identifies the killer of the top runner candidate for governor as none other than the female detective in charge of the case.  But with nothing to substantiate the tip, and with those who can being murdered one by one, proving it will not only be a challenge, but will also put Catherine on the killer's list.

This latest by Coel proves that this series is here for the long run.  A heroine who shows both an intrepid spirit and compassion, not to mention a fearlessness in the face of danger, makes for a new female character that is highly appealing.  Throw in a tight and fast-paced plot that combines obsession, corruption, and unadulterated evil and you have a satisfying read that will easily satisfy readers of any genre.

 

 

Sanctus by Simon Toyne

Publisher: William Morrow       

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

A mountain looms above the tourist town of Ruin, Turkey. Housed in catacombs of the mountain is an ancient sect of monks. The monks are the caretakers of great secrets handed down from antiquity.

Members of the sect are carefully screened. Only those without family ties will be considered. However, it appears that a highly placed monk has a living sister. When the monk throws himself from the top of the mountain in a ritualistic and very public suicide, the leaders of the sect feel their secrets are threatened.

The monk’s death sets several different processes into motion. The leaders of the monks will stop at little to keep the secrets. This includes murder if necessary. This puts the sister and a police inspector in danger. At the same time, another group sees the suicide as a sign of a prophecy being fulfilled. There is little doubt of the coming conflict between this group and the monks.

The author has written a tense and timely thriller. Toyne’s terse writing style and short chapters make for an interesting read. Fans of mystery and the occult will both find value in this work.

 

 

 

Damage Control by Denise Hamilton

Publisher: Scribner

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader 

Maggie Silver is an up and coming PR specialist in LA working with big name clients, a situation that no longer inspires awe in her until she’s handed the job of doing a spin number for a senator whose beautiful, young aide has been found murdered.  And while normally this too would be a case of one of the same, it turns into something entirely more personal when she discovers that the senator is the father of her best friend from years before; a friendship that unfortunately ended in tragedy. 

But as she resumes her closeness with the family, things begin to take an ominous turn when she begins to uncover secrets that the family will do anything to hide, including, it seems, their part in suspicious deaths then and now.  And deciding who she can trust, be it coworkers, old friends, or even new ones, will determine the fate of her career, and perhaps even her life.

In her latest suspense novel, Hamilton does a pretty tight job of exposing the world of spin doctors and all the little tricks they have up their sleeves for turning dishonorable actions into ones deserving of sympathy. And while all this can be illuminating at times, in many ways they come as no surprise to those of us who watch the news of politicians, athletes, and actors sobbing with remorse over their bad behavior. 

But then Hamilton goes a step further and also attempts to elicit sympathy for the spin doctors, which proves, even for her, a trick that is not always successful or convincing. It’s difficult to like any of these characters whose self-absorption and situational ethics quickly becomes taxing.  But then maybe that’s the point.  However, by the end of the tale, she expertly wraps up the many threads in one concise package that makes one glad they made it through.