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Barrington Street Blues by Anne Emery

Publisher: Ecw Press ISBN: 978-1-55022-813-7

Reviewed by Kathryn Lawson, New Mystery Reader

When two men are found shot dead outside a nautical-themed strip club in an apparent murder-suicide, their families smell money.  The families’ intended target is the substance abuse treatment center that released the shooter, allegedly prior to completion of his treatment.  Attorney Monty Collins and his firm are hired to file the lawsuit, but Monty’s initial investigation turns up too many questions to ignore.  His efforts to determine whether he has a viable case will lead him to talk to prominent citizens and streetwalking sex workers, real estate mavens and homeless unfortunates.  Along the way, he also encounters a mysterious party spot called the Coliseum, about which nobody is willing to speak openly.  Monty’s personal life is just as fascinating, with his attempts to drown his sorrows in Barrington Street bars continually resulting in those sorrows floating up to the surface again.

Anne Emery won the Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel for Sign of the Cross, and her talent is showcased once more in Barrington Street Blues.  The story excels at being both funny and suspenseful; the humorous aspects never interfere with the authenticity of the investigation.  Along with the intriguing plot, Emery offers compelling characters and witty, snappy dialogue.  Monty and his pals dash off the kind of instant comebacks we all wish we had at hand.  A winner of a book – entertaining and enjoyable.    

 

 

 

The Sudoku Puzzle Murders by Parnell Hall

Publisher: St Martins/Minotaur  ISBN 978 9 312 37990 9

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Crime fans will remember the old TV show Remington Steele, which had a handsome, suave Englishman fronting a detective agency, although the real work was done by the young woman who owned the business.  The premise was that people would find the handsome man a more plausible PI than a young woman. 

The premise of the Puzzle Lady series is that an older, folksier woman is a more believable public face for a crossword puzzle column than the young woman who actually makes up the puzzles.  Cora Felton couldn’t fill in “three letter word for feline” if her life depended on it, but she’s the front woman for a nationally syndicated feature compiled by her niece.  

Cora’s lack of puzzleability leads to any number of potentially disastrous and often funny occasions in which her cover is nearly blown.  In this story the usual formula is broadened with the introduction of sudoku, those fiendish Japanese numerical puzzles that can drive you crazy faster than a Rubik’s cube. 

The story opens with Cora standing on a stage, with a large audience watching, and an incomplete sudoku facing her.   On the other side of the stage is her nemesis, Harvey Beerbaum.  Cora is trapped: how will she get out of this?

Readers will be delighted by Cora’s escape method, but no sooner does she accomplish it than she’s trapped again, this time by a puzzle found with a dead man, who’s missing a big chunk off his head.  This is quickly followed by another murder, and two more puzzles are found at the scene, stuck to the dead man by a samurai sword.  Just because three of the suspects  are Japanese is no reason to jump to conclusions—although try telling that to the District Attorney!

Cruciverbaphiles will enjoy this book more than the average reader, but everyone will enjoy Cora for her wit, mental agility, and ability to think on her feet. 

 

 

 

Sleeping Dogs by Ed Gorman

Publisher: St Martins Minotaur  ISBN  978 0 312 367848

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Accusations, blackmail, adultery, betrayal, murder, spin-doctoring—yes, friends, it’s a political whodunit, beautifully timed to hit the market when most of us have had a surfeit of the real-life campaigns. 

Warren Nichols, the handsome Senator from Illinois, is running for re-election and has an eye towards the White House as well.  He needs his veteran political consultant to make a few small problems go away first, but unfortunately Phil Wylie has just committed suicide.  Apparently committed suicide.

There’s a sizeable campaign team already in place when Dev Conrad is hired to pick up where Wylie left off. The devoted Girl Friday has a secret that could blow the campaign out of the water.  The faithful wife turns out to have a lump of tungsten in place of a major organ.  And of course there’s the candidate himself.  It would surprise few of those who know the real man to learn that he’d crawled out of a patch of damp sand as an infant.  Gorman has managed to create a cast of repellent fascination.

Notwithstanding that, his supporters believe Warren Nichols is light-years better than his opposition, and that’s why the narrator Dev Conrad accepts the job replacing Phil Wylie as Nichols’ strategist and fixer.  Conrad is a seasoned, cynical campaigner who deep down in his heart wants to believe there are still some White Knights out there somewhere.  Then the blackmailer is murdered, and his faith begins to get shaky.  The more he finds out about his predecessor, the more he learns about his candidate.  Just how far would Nichols go to secure the nomination?  And how far does Nichols expect Dev to go?

Optimists will read this as a bit of fiction; pessimists will probably regard it as a documentary.   Recommended reading for voters, especially first-timers.

 

 

 

 

Dirty Money by Richard Stark

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; ISBN 978 0 446 178587

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Let’s start with telling you that Richard Stark is a nom de plume for an old veteran of the gritty crime story.  Then a warning: this book isn’t the one you should choose to take you away to a kinder, gentler America.

Dirty Money is the second instalment in the story of Parker, another man with no first name.  In the previous book, “Nobody Runs Forever”, Parker made off with the contents of a bank money transfer truck, over two million dollars.  After hiding the ill-gotten gains in amongst the hymnbooks of a small rural church, Parker has had to lie low for a while.  Now he wants his money, and he’s not too particular who he has to deal with to get it.

Because the money is hot, Parker knows he can’t just use it—one of his henchmen did that and ended up behind bars.  OK, so Nick escaped and is now looking for Parker, the police are looking for Nick, Parker’s looking for a money launderer, and life is getting complicated.

Parker sets up an agreement with a man who has reason to want him dead, but who will buy the money for a tenth of its face value.  You’d think that this might not be a financially sensible move, but Parker doesn’t have a whole lot of choice.  He’s blown all his cover identities in the aftermath of the robbery, and that’s forcing him into a number of bad decisions, including using his girlfriend to drive him around.   Parker has always tried to keep Claire out of the shadier side of his life, but now he must depend on her and others for his survival. 

Laced with a sort of gallows humour, “Dirty Money” is a compact book with a tightly focussed plotline. 

 

 

Antiques to Die For by Jane K. Cleland

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur  ISBN-10: 0312368275

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

It’s been a couple of years since Josie Prescott fled New York after a business scandal and set up shop in rural New Hampshire selling antiques and doing appraisals.  And while her business seems to be growing quite impressively, so does her tendency to be at the wrong place at the wrong time when it comes to murder.  This time out, while working on an art display in the office of a wealthy CEO, she’s shocked to hear of her best friend Rosalie’s death, a death made more shocking considering Rosalie had recently expressed concern over a secret admirer who seemed to be stalking her. So suspecting that Rosalie was in fact murdered comes easy, especially when she begins to learn of the many other secrets her friend had, including an affair with more than one man and a hidden treasure worth big money.  Against her better judgment she becomes involved when Rosalie’s young sister, of whom Rosalie was a guardian of, asks for Josie’s help, once again leading her into a deadly and shocking case of murder.

As is always the case, one has to wonder why these darned amateur sleuths get so easily involved even as they fight against it so strongly.  Why not just give in and admit you’re more curious than a cat and get on with it?  But, with that quibble aside, Cleland does in fact manage to put out a challenging who-done-it filled with enough several plausible suspects to keep one guessing.  And while Josie could do with a little more soul and emotion, her sometimes one-dimensional character coming off a bit monotone at times, she’s likeable enough to make this an engaging and entertaining read.  Not great, but not bad, it fits the bill for a cozy afternoon of breezy escape.

 

 

 

Janeology by Karen Harrington

Publishers: Kunati Press, ISBN :978-1-60164-020-8

Reviewed by Narayan Radhakrishnan, New Mystery Reader

In a thriller world saturated with James Pattersons, John Grishams and Stephen Kings, this debut novel from Karen Harrington comes as a breath of fresh air. As a lawyer and as a self- proclaimed numero- uno legal thriller lover, I read about 35-40 legal thrillers a year, and the more the merrier. More often than not, the choice of sub-genres in legal thrillers is very minimal, usually just a murder mystery with an attorney hell-bent on securing justice for his client. If the lawyer- hero is a defense lawyer, he will fight all odds and prove his client innocent- and later find out some hard truth after the trial, and if the lawyer is a prosecutor- no second guesses, he will fight all odds and secure justice for his community.

It is here that I found JANEOLOGY refreshingly different. An unexplored question of law, a new line of defense, and the plausibility and possibility of such a line of defense in a murder trial, is explored in this debut novel. Tom Nelson, a professor of English at Texas is a happily married man, and father of two- twins, Simon and Sarah. His wife Jane has recently suffered a miscarriage and is affected by post partum depression. But the degree of depression is not known to Tom, and when on one fine day Jane kills Simon and attempts to kill Sarah, Tom’s world is turned upside down. Jane says that she is done being a mother. The lawyers prepare a not guilty by reason of insanity line of defense for Jane. But the real accused before the media and the law is Tom Nelson. He is charged for not providing adequate protection to his children from a potentially dangerous mother, and leaving them to her care and custody.  In the course of his defense, a radical new line of defense is brought out. The lawyers argue that Jane’s gene set-up and family background is the sole reason for the murder, and even if Nelson had been there with his family, sooner or later Jane would have committed murder.

Will such a line of defense work, and more importantly, what would be the impact on society if the law appreciates such a line of defense? Can each murderer break free in the future by adopting such a line of defense? It’s in this midst the whole drama unfolds, culminating in a finish that will just rattle your genes. 

I enjoyed the book, and as a lawyer, while disturbed by the controversial questions raised, I especially enjoyed this challenging and worthwhile read.

 

 

The Mirror’s Edge by Steven Sidor

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur  ISBN-10: 0312354134

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Freelance journalist Jase Deering has a good life going, with his career moving along as well as his relationship with his live-in legally blind girlfriend Robin.  But that’s about to change when he decides to write a follow-up story on the disappearance of a pair of twins on the anniversary of their abduction.  Not only is the story heartbreaking, but when he interviews the nanny who was there when it happened, it will soon turn to terror when she points him in the direction of a mysterious cult like figure whose dreams of immortality will lead Deering down a road filled with horror and evil and a fight for his very own survival.

Sidor is a talented author who can write a sentence infused with enough poetic pathos to satisfy even the most discriminating readers looking for something more literate than the average junk-filled drama.  But that being said, it must also be noted that while his writing never fails, sometimes his plot takes such broad, sweeping, and unconvincing directions, that his well-written words face an uphill struggle to keep it all going.  Yes, this is part “horror,” and indeed there’s going to be some off the wall antics going on, but still, the jumps made sometimes just seem too quick and too far to be justified.  However, all in all, when putting the positive to be had next to the not so positive, there’s much more of the former to make this a read well worth the time spent. 

 

The Locktender’s House by Steven Sherrill

Publisher: Random House  ISBN-10: 1400061539

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Janice Witherspoon has lived most of her young adult life in a state of numbness, never really in the present, nor caring much about the future.  But when her live-in boyfriend is killed in Iraq, she abruptly sets off on a road-trip, her destination vague and undetermined and that will eventually lead her to a mysterious abandoned house in the middle of nowhere.  And even as strange dreams begin to plague her, dreams filled with horror and an indistinct longing, she’ll find herself slowly coming to a frightening and consuming awareness of a far away past filled with ghosts connected to her by blood and the danger they bring with them.  But she’ll also begin to awaken in other ways when she meets her neighbor, an artist who stirs her in ways she’s never known.  But which will eventually claim her; the ghosts from a long dead past, or the promise of a future filled with meaning?

In this story that defies definition, Sherrill brings the ghosts of centuries past to life in the most horrific and imaginative ways.  Touching on the true history of the canals that once traversed parts of America, and the men and women who worked them, he recalls the hardships and often times hideous injustices inflicted on some during that era.  Walking a fine line between suspense and terror, the reader is often left to guess which part of Janice’s midnight wanderings, and the often times very harmful results, are caused by the ghosts that surround her and which are self-induced.  A highly disturbing book, this read by Sherrill shows no mercy towards those easily frightened, nor for those who can withstand much more for that matter.  And while “enjoyable” is not a word that one might use to describe this reading experience, its merits cannot be denied either.

 

 

 

 

Easy Innocence by Libby Fischer Hellmann

Publisher: Bleak House Books  ISBN-10: 1932557660

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

After being suspended from the Chicago police force, Georgia Davis has struck out on her own becoming a private eye.  And after a few months of dealing with the usual boring and tedious PI investigations, she’s more than ready to look into the case of a mentally challenged man who has been accused of killing a young teenaged girl.  With her investigation soon leading her down trails involving high school hazing and teenage prostitution, it becomes more than apparent that there’s much more to this case than what it first appeared to be.  And with the authorities oddly eager to hang the accused and close the case, she finds herself only that more determined to find the answers, answers that will bring her up against some of Chicago’s most powerful and influential players who have some very deadly secrets to hide.

Fans of Hellmann’s series featuring Ellie Forman will no doubt recognize her new protagonist Georgia Davis who previously has been just a minor player.  And while they might be disappointed to see a new female lead at work, my guess is that it won’t take long for that disappointment to fade with Davis; both compassionate and tough as nails, she’s easily a worthy new heroine.  And when you combine such an engaging character with a plot involving teens, sex, and the controversial morality surrounding the combination of the two, you have a read that is not only suspenseful, alarming, and timely, but also one that will make you think twice at the pressures teens face these days.  This one’s a winner, and one that leaves us eager for the next.

 

 

 

Lost Souls by Lisa Jackson

Publisher: Kensington  ISBN-10: 075821183X

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Expanding on her previous series that centered on New Orleans’s detective Rick Bentz, Jackson returns with a new series featuring Bentz’s daughter, Kristi, the young woman who has already survived the  vengeance of two psychos, and who is now about to confront her third.

Kristi, now 28 and more than ready to move on with her life, moves to Baton Rouge to take some writing classes at her old college with the hope this might just be the impetus to help her on the way to her dream of becoming a true crime novelist.  And, fortunately, or unfortunately, she’s come to the right place.  All Saints College seems to have experienced a rash of disappearing female students, with four young loners having mysteriously vanished within the past year without a trace.  And as Kristi starts investigating, she’ll discover that they all had ties to the English department and their new curriculum, one that includes a class on vampires and its rumored connections to a nefarious bloody cult   And the closer Kristi comes to solving the mystery, as yet even more women begin to disappear, the closer she comes to becoming the next victim. 

Having read many of Jackson’s previous titles, and having begun to get a bit wary of the same old, same old, this latest proved to be a refreshing and much welcomed change in direction.  Somewhat, at least.  While, yes, there’s the old stand-by of ‘Should I or shouldn’t I fall in love? No, I’m much too busy. Okay, well maybe.’, accompanied by  the once again ‘Oh, there comes another psycho to mess up my day', there’s still enough exciting and new drama to make this entirely suspenseful read a guilty pleasure to be taken in with gusto.  And as most likely this is probably only the first, you might want to join this hot new series from the beginning as it holds much promise for great things to come.

 

 

Hollywood Crows by Joseph Wambaugh

Publisher: Little Brown ISBN 978 0 316 02528 7

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

It’s always a delight when a new book from one of the old masters is delivered for review.  “Hollywood Crows” is Joseph Wambaugh’s most recent book, and it’s a good read.

This book has a nicely mixed ensemble cast, reminiscent of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct mysteries.  Rather than the gloomy Monroe and Monaghan, we’ve got Flotsam and Jetsam, the blond surfer cops whose private Malibu language is almost incomprehensible to outsiders, but who nevertheless manage to get their points across most of the time.  And there’s Compassionate Charlie Gifford, who could be Fat Ollie’s brother, except he’s not as nice.  Charlie has a warped sense of where the border of black humour lies. 

This isn’t a McBain rip-off, however: it can stand on its own as a complex and involving police procedural.  The Crows are the Community Relations Officers, the cops who deal with the weird and wacky and sometimes dangerous community of Tinseltown.  From the spaced-out Indian to the drag queen threatening to charge her client with fraud, there’s always something strange for the CROs to deal with.  The scene about the purse-snatcher’s eyeball should become a crime fiction classic.  If you don’t find yourself laughing aloud at that one, you must have had a really bad week.

It’s not all fun and games with the CROs, however.  They deal with real crime and real criminals.  Ronnie Sinclair worries that somehow her partner Bix Ramstead has gone across the line into something bad but it takes Nate Weiss to accidentally discover Bix’s involvement in a potentially dangerous situation.  You find yourself wanting to yell “Bix, can’t you see what’s happening?  Back off, get out while you still can!”

There are some real knuckle-gnawing moments in this story, which Wambaugh alternates with lighter scenes, even using the old cop cliché of doughnuts to good effect.  If you like police stories that make you feel like one of the family, you should enjoy this one.