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Two of the Deadliest  edited by Elizabeth George

Publisher: Harper Paperbacks  ISBN-10: 0061350346

Reviewed by Carol Reid, New Mystery Reader

Few recipes for crime fail to contain Lust and Greed, Two of the Deadliest of the Deadly Sins.  And in each of the twenty-three stories in this collection, one sin inevitably leads to another, most often the most mortal sin—murder.

Editor and mystery diva Elizabeth George has assembled a distinguished roster of well-known female crime writers and challenged them to create new stories using lust, greed or both as backdrop. Many familiar names here, representing many sub-genres- Marcia Muller, Dana Stabenow, Carolyn Hart to name just a few. Also included are stories by five new writers, all of whom have been students of George’s and whose talent she wished to introduce to a wider readership. This mix of established and new is a trend I’ve noticed in several recent crime story collections. You can probably hear the sound of my hearty applause. Fabulous idea!

The opening story Dark Chocolate by Nancy Pickard is a standout and sets the bar high for the stories which follow. Dark indeed- a rich, evocative story of a young mother’s madness and hunger.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s tale E-Male is a delightfully convoluted account of a man’s ingenuity in satisfying his obsession with a former flame. His expertise in navigating the virtual world leads him into stalking a depraved killer who uses the internet to display his work. Disturbing and chillingly convincing.

Another great story which is sure to appeal to anyone who has ever fallen under the influence of a celebrity crush is by new writer Barbara Fryer. The Runaway Camel is an appealingly sexy tale in which a fortyish successful lawyer achieves her goal of a very intimate encounter with an NBA player. When this hunk of burning love is threatened by a false rape charge, the lawyer channels her lust into brainstorming his defense. Her payment?  A slam dunk all around. 

Having a theme run through a collection such as this one is like using a set piece in music competition. Comparison between performances becomes perhaps too easy and some entries fare much better than others. Two of the Deadliest ranges from adequate to virtuoso in quality but taken as a whole certainly provides solid entertainment.

 

 

 

Trust Me by Jeff Abbott

Publisher: Onyx  ISBN# 0451412850

As Reviewed by Scott Parker, New Mystery Reader

Sometimes, summer blockbusters don’t arrive in theaters. Sometimes, they show up at your bookstore. Jeff Abbott’s Trust Me is a summer blockbuster worthy of the name.

Like many a thriller, Trust Me starts with the bad guys. There are two men, one old and one dressed in a gray suit. They are in a park in London and they are discussing how many terrorist attacks they could unleash with the fifty million dollars the old man, a Middle Eastern prince, is giving to the man in the gray suit. Unbeknownst to them, a third party is there, a lady named Jane, listening in. Armed with this new knowledge, she telephones someone and says, “We start tonight. Rock and roll.”

Rock and roll is certainly one way of describing the intense action of the rest of the book. At the center of all this rocking and rolling is Luke Dantry, a twenty-four-year-old University of Texas graduate student. He’s a psychology major and has been helping his step-father—Henry Shawcross, his only living relative after his parents died in two separate accidents—conduct research into extremists groups on the Internet. Specifically, they want to find the radical folks online who may be the next Timothy McVeigh, people who will take their ranting to the next level. After a brief visit by Henry in which Luke delivers the latest reports on these online nut cases, Luke takes his step-father to the airport. On the way back to his car, Luke finds a gun in his ribs. Now, he’s kidnapped.

A desperate man, Eric, tells him to drive to Houston. Bit by bit, Luke learns that he is to be the ransom for Eric’s girlfriend. Chained to a bed in a cabin in the middle of the east Texas woods, Luke has to escape and stay out of the hands of the bad guys as well as the police who want him in connection with the murder of a homeless man, a man Eric shot and Luke witnessed.

The chase is on. From Houston to Chicago to New York to Paris, Luke has to stay one step ahead of the authorities and the members of the mysterious Night Road, the group of extremists whose sole desire is to inflict damage upon America. They’ve already started, too. An explosion near Houston is linked to other acts of terror across the country. Luke knows they are tied together and he must figure out a way to stop it while simultaneously clear his name.

As a writer, the structure of Abbott’s book was fantastic. In multiple POVs, we readers are privy to everything. We know the identity of the hired guns sent to the cabin to fetch Luke. We know what they’re thinking and what they don’t know. Later on in the novel, we know things Luke has to find out for himself. I usually write my stories with a limited POV, allowing the mysterious things to remain unknown until the main character learns about them at the same time as the reader. Abbott’s approach ups the intensity and tension. We know who is coming for Luke, even if he doesn’t. Armed with our omniscient viewpoint, we know the hired killers are bad, bad people and Luke best get out of whatever situation he’s in.

Luke is a regular guy. He’s not Jack Bauer or James Bond or Jason Bourne and he doesn’t have a name that starts with “J.” Abbott allows Luke’s logical brain to run through each scenario, putting together plans and contingencies, trying to find a way out of the nightmare in which he finds himself. It’s that normalness, that sense of This-Can’t-Be-Happening-To-Me, that grounds Trust Me. In the world of the fantastic, you get the sense that it could possible happen, even to you.

Luke’s progress throughout the book, from the young, innocent university student to what he becomes in the end, is evenly paced and believable. It’s not like, say, Catwoman in the 1992 movie “Batman Returns,” where one day she’s a secretary and the next she knows how to fight. Luke’s learns the hard way, usually with great pain and suffering. He’s put through the ringer and he’s damaged.

The pace of Trust Me is pretty relentless, an essential component in a thriller. The number one thing that propels the prose of the story is Abbott’s use of “Pulp Words.” You know what I’m talking about: one character “slithers” through mud; another has thoughts that “boom” in his head. Action words, words designed to punch the reader in the face at the same time describe non-stop action. I found myself smiling throughout the entire book as I would guess what sentence came next, the words I’d have chosen, and the better words Abbott chose.

Trust Me is the first book I’ve read by Jeff Abbott. I’m a regular reader of his blog and have begun to put into place some of the writing habits he blogs about in his “Organized Writer” posts. Without a doubt, I’ll be reading more Abbott books. If you’ve got a hankering for a thrill-a-minute rush equal to or better than most things in the theaters this summer, Trust Me is it.
 

As Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

Luke Dantry has a seemingly privileged life. From the comfort of his Texas condo, he researches and baits users of the Internet he has labeled ‘Night Road’. These users express discontentment with the system. Thanks to the anonymity of cyberspace, sometimes this discontentment takes the form of dark and violent exchanges. Luke does this for his think tank stepfather, Henry and to gather data for his own graduate degree in psychology.

Then the reality of the physical words crashes upon him in the form of a kidnapping at the airport as he sees off his stepfather’s flight. At first Luke thinks that the kidnapping is related to his study of cyber terrorism. Gradually a different picture emerges that involves his stepfather.

There is colorful cast of characters lurking about as Luke escapes the clutches of his kidnapper. Eric, his kidnapper claims to be saving his girlfriend, but appears to be a banker who stole money intended for terrorist plots. There are Mouser and Snow, who hunt Luke for Henry. There is a mysterious British woman who pulls strings from afar. And there is Drummond – Henry’s former associate and who is involved in the actions and death of Luke’s father that is turn related to the mysterious “Book Club.”

Abbot presents a well-written and fast paced mystery. While containing a large cast of characters, the author’s skillful introductions and explanations of the characters allow the reader to keep details straight and enjoy the story.

 

 

 

Black Water Rising by Attica Locke

Publisher: Harper  ISBN-10: 006173585X

Reviewed by Carol Reid, New Mystery Reader

Houston,1981. Former activist Jay Porter, now a struggling storefront lawyer and only weeks away from the birth of his first child, seems closer than ever to closing the book on his former life. But on a late night river cruise—a gift to Bernadine, his eight-months pregnant wife --  he saves a mysterious young woman from drowning, setting in motion a chain of events which bring all manner of dark deeds to the surface. Porter is compelled to risk his marriage, his sanity and his freedom to set things right.

This is a powerful first novel by screenwriter Attica Locke, whose storytelling skills make for a spellbinding debut in crime fiction. The tension never lets up as Porter follows the scant trail left behind by the woman he rescued, leading to betrayal, extortion and murder. His troubled past relationship with Cynthia, now mayor of Houston, opens many old wounds as he realizes how far she will go to promote her own position and success. The many secrets of his tormented youth, never shared with his wife, form a wall of silence in his marriage, testing Bernie’s love and trust in him to its limits.

Locke’s rendering of political upheaval and violence, from the Black Power movement of the 1970s to the union struggles of the early 1980s, is utterly convincing.

Shady dealings in the oil industry add another level of dark menace to this intricate plot and shine an unforgiving light on North America’s addiction to oil and the machinations of the powers that be to maintain the status quo.

Often stark and hardboiled, this novel still holds at its core a belief that standing strong against the darkness and endeavoring to do right will bring at least a glimmer of light. A worthwhile read, recommended.

 

 

My Soul to Take by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir

Publisher: Harper Paperbacks  ISBN-10: 0061143391

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

When Icelandic attorney Thóra Gudmundsdóttir, single mother of two, is invited by one of her more unusual clients to visit his New Age seaside resort for the weekend, she jumps at the chance to add some spice into her rather dreary life.  But while a weekend at the lovely resort sounds good in theory, Jónas, the owner of the retreat, is also inviting her to see if a case can be made against the family who sold him the land, his complaint being that the whole place is haunted and it’s killing his growing business, not to mention creeping out the staff. 

But while Thóra may be more than dubious of making a case out of the so-called huantings, she’ll all too soon find her hands full defending her client in a murder charge when he becomes the chief suspect after the body of the resort’s young and beautiful architect is discovered on the beach.  And the only way it seems to prove her client innocent is to find out who the killer really is, leading Thóra to begin her own investigation into the strange happenings in this very strange place that holds some very strange and deadly secrets, many of which reach back decades, and that in their own insidious way stubbornly seem to have remained to haunt the living.

While this is the second in the series, have no worries if you didn’t catch the first. Sigurdardóttir does a great job of bringing back just enough aspects of her first novel to make it flow seamlessly for both the initiated and the not, giving away just enough to make the first group glad to return and the latter enticed to go back to the beginning. 

With easy-to-like characters, a grand setting, old secrets, and a challenging who-done-it, there’s a lot to enjoy in this mystery.  And if there’s a complaint to be made, it’s only that perhaps the guessing game goes on for just a tad too long, with the many wrong trails taken becoming a bit wearying towards the end.  But for those who like a mystery with plenty of suspects who have plenty of motives, and who like to puzzle out the truth, this will fit the bill.  Engaging and entertaining, it’s a great way to spend an afternoon or two.

 

 

Murder of a Wedding Belle by Denise Swanson

Publisher:  Obsidian Books ISBN:  978-0-451-22961-8

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

When a fancy wedding is planned by a cousin who she hasn’t seen for years, suddenly Skye Denison finds herself allowing to be coerced into acting as assistant to a nasty wedding planner. The bride is not noted for a sweet disposition either, but as long as she gets her own way, she is almost civil, and so Skye remains determined to finish what was started in spite of the circumstances.

Chaos reigns when the wedding planner turns up dead in a flower refrigerator, and in this one murder, there are many suspects.  So all Skye and her boyfriend, who is the chief of police, have to do is choose the right one – not an easy task by any means.

A few irritants arose while reading this new cozy.  Skye apparently doesn’t know how to say ‘No” to presumptuous relatives and arrogant wedding planners and walks around on egg shells so she doesn’t upset the snotty bride to be. It seems she can’t please anyone and yet she perseveres in her thankless task when she is stuck with the dead woman’s job as well.

This story may please the reader who doesn’t mind the main character’s lack of ability to stand up for herself. However, in spite of this problem there is a good mystery to be found between the insults directed towards this slightly passive character, ultimately making this one worthwhile. 

 

 

 

Even by Andrew Grant

Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks   ISBN: 978-0-312-358482

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

David Trevellyan is not your average English tourist visiting New York. So when he discovers the body of a homeless man who has been murdered in an alley and is immediately arrested by the NYPD, he realizes that someone is setting him up. David is no stranger to arrest or tight spots as an intelligence operative attached to the Royal Navy.

David puts in a call to the British Consul. First Tanya – an attractive attorney and former love interest of David’s – is sent to help. Then he is transferred to FBI custody. Now his employers refuse to help. He finds out that the homeless man was an undercover FBI agent. The FBI is trying to pin the murder of a number of homeless men on him.

Being an enterprising fellow, David decides to clear his name. First he escapes FBI custody. He is then captured by members of a shadowy group that admits to being responsible for the murder and his frame-up. The leaders of the group consider the murder and frame-up to be no more than a miscalculation. They meant to kill a number of homeless men – just not an undercover FBI agent. In exchange for one small favor, the group will clear his name. Unfortunately, the favor involves setting up an FBI agent for assassination. David reluctantly agrees - with a condition of his own. The group must release another captive he met – a female journalist.

Ultimately, David foils their plot and finds himself working with the FBI thanks to Tanya’s efforts to help her brother’s friend. However, there is a sense that something else is afoot involving the death of the homeless men and identity theft. The homeless men turn out to be former military who fought in the war against terrorism and left to work for private contractors. 

So unfolds the complicated life of an intelligence operative and an interesting mystery. While well written and fast-paced, the complexity of the plot makes this work suitable for the more serious mystery fan. 

 

 

Shadows Still Remain by Peter de Jonge

Publisher: Harper  ISBN-10: 0061882267

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

When while doing some overtime during the Thanksgiving holidays NYC detective Darlene O’Hara files a missing person’s report on a female college student, she initially thinks it’s just another situation of “girl gets drunk, meets boy, and comes home late.”  But when too many hours go by with the young woman still missing, Dar can’t help but give into her growing concern and begin a full-fledged investigation.  

When the media turns its spotlight on the case, an enticing story for their readers of a girl who has risen from nothing to become a successful young woman, leads her superiors to yank the case from her, Dar’s obsession to find answers will lead her to continue her own search regardless of the damage it might do to her career.  And dangerous it will be, for this is one young woman who had many secrets - her ties to the wealthy and powerful included – and the search for answers will lead Dar down a trail where nothing is as it seems. 

Some readers might recognize de Jonge’s name as he has co-authored a few books with James Patterson, but after reading this stellar single-authored outing, many more will wonder why the heck the guy doesn’t do this more often.  His creation of one of the most unique and heart-breaking, politically incorrect, give ‘em hell female characters is something that shouldn’t be missed.  And not having had the opportunity to ever have visited NYC (gasp!), de Jonge brings that alive as well in swatches of colorfully vivid detail.  This is an all too quick read that will leave most readers wanting some more novels featuring this vibrant city and this wonderfully drawn detective, and so let’s hope de Jonge reads this and gets busy on another invigorating story featuring both.    

 

 

 

Cut to the Corpse by Lucy Lawrence

Publisher:  Berkley Prime Crime ISBN:  978-0-425-23389-4

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

Hey, mystery lovers, this one is a read you will really enjoy.  Talented author Lucy Lawrence has crafted a strong plot with plenty of suspense to keep you going.

Love is in bloom in Morse Point where Brenna Miller has taken up residence after a nasty point in her life. The lovers, the daughter of a wealthy family and the boy who is a mechanic, have become engaged and all the town knows it.  And Brenna can't help but feel a bit envious because her own wayward heart has decided it admires her landlord, Nate Williams, but it is another admirer who courts her openly.

And when the young lovers Brenna so admires are nearly destroyed when the bride to be is found in bed with the best man now dead, friends and family rally to her side and Brenna finds herself involved in the hunt for a killer, a hunt that nearly proves her undoing.

This is one story I'm pleased to recommend to any fan of the mystery genre who likes a surprise ending, a love story that doesn't include graphic love scenes, and one who enjoys an interesting read that will hold your attention.  Join Brenna as she tries to solve the mystery.  You will enjoy it as much as I did. 

 

 

Flipping Out by Marshall Karp

Publisher: Minotaur Books ISBN: 0-312-378238

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader 

In Los Angeles, some cops’ wives and one mother-in-law have found a lucrative job. The wives fix up houses and ‘flip’ them for a reasonable profit. Nora Bannister – the mother-in-law – writes mystery novels and sets fictitious murders in the houses. When the mystery hits the bestseller list, the houses’ prices soar. All is going well until one of the wives is murdered.

Detectives Mike Lomax and Terry Biggs are assigned to the case. They have more than just the murder of fellow cops’ wife to deal with, Biggs’ wife is a partner in the house flipping business.

Before the detectives make significant progress, Nora and her daughter are murdered. Lomax and Biggs start closing in on a likely suspect, but another detective’s wife is shot to death and the detective / husband runs in and kills the suspected killer before being wounded himself.

With pressure to close the case, Lomax and Biggs’ supervisor wants the case closed. They go along until they find a voice mail from the suspected killer before his death. This and a million inheritance to one detective from his murdered wife make them take a different view of the case.

The mystery is enjoyable and first rate, with writing that is lively and fast-paced. The detectives could be considered hardboiled and consequently there is less depth to the main characters than that of some of victims.

 

 

 

Murder on the Eightfold Path by Diana Killian

Publisher:  Berkley Prime Crime ISBN:  978-0-425-23391-7

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

A read yoga fans will especially enjoy since the story has a yoga studio and personnel as part of the setting.  You'll love A.J.'s heavy handed co-manager as a character who runs so true to life, someone we've all known and not loved.  Talented author Diana Killian has crafted a cast of lifelike characters who will step off the page to say 'howdy'.

No one would appreciate finding a corpse on the lawn of a family home and tripping over it.  That is how AJ learns something about her famous mother's secrets and follows her into investigating the murder to keep her mother out of jail. This is an especially hard case to be involved in since her policeman boyfriend arrests her mother. 

Alone with a building crisis at her yoga studio, a back injury and a mother with a penchant for getting herself and those around her into messes, AJ must deal with a romance problem also. The question of who the new woman in her love's life is arises to add to the ache in her heart.  AJ worries that she may lose him if she has to choose between him and her mother.

Tagging along with her mother who loads her with guilt, AJ and her mother soon find new facts about the body on the lawn, even though her mother has told her who he was.  This is one story you will find a treat to read in its differences from the stereotypical plot of the genre.

I'm pleased to recommend Murder on the Eightfold Path as a fun read that will provide lots of reading pleasure.  For any mystery fan or the reader looking for something a bit different. 

 

 

 

Plea of Insanity by Jilliane Hoffman

Publisher: Vanguard Press ISBN-10: 1593155735

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Miami Dade Prosecutor Julia Vacanti has spent the few short years in her career down in the “pits,” dealing with your everyday, run-of-the-mill cases, and so she’s shocked when the D.A.’s office superstar asks her to second chair in Miami’s, and the nation’s, latest front page murders.  The suspect, David Marquette, a wealthy and prominent surgeon, has been accused of slaughtering his wife and their three young children, a crime that initially seems to have no plausible defense, that is until the suspect’s attorney announces he’s going with an insanity plea, a strategy that’s notoriously unsuccessful. 

And so while working the case with the handsome lead prosecutor, one who she’s now romantically involved with, Julia will find herself slowly sinking into an abyss of doubt when alarming memories of her past begin to surface.  Memories that lead her to question if it might just be possible that the defendant was, and is, in fact mentally ill, and not the “monster” the state is trying to label him as.  And so as she slowly begins to question her own sanity, she’ll have to face not only her own disturbing past, but the system that she now is not so sure she believes in.

It’s obvious that Jillian has done her homework on the very tragic disease of schizophrenia and the devastating impact it can have on not only those afflicted, but those who are close enough to be caught up in the fall-out.  However, in the end, some readers might find themselves wondering just what exactly she was trying to convey – empathy or suspicion?

Either way, this is a suspenseful tale, that while not as solid and put-together as her previous novels, is still one that rides like a roller coaster with enough surprises to keep things moving at a fast clip. An interesting and imaginative read that will leave most readers feeling challenged by the questions of what is real and what isn’t, as well as most likely grateful for usually knowing the difference.       

 

 

 

The Memorist by M J Rose

Publisher: Mira Books  ISBN 0778326632

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

We’ve all experienced that odd feeling called déjà vu, but what if it were true, what if you really had seen something before, because you’d actually lived before?  Meer Logan has memories that are so real that it seems as if she has another life somewhere—or somewhen, and they are always accompanied by flute music. 

Meer’s father Jeremy is determined to help his daughter find out what’s behind these disturbing events. He’s well placed to investigate, since he works for the Memorist Society, an old and little known group that studies ancient mysticism and eastern knowledge.  Following clues, Jeremy comes to the conclusion that Meer’s experiences are tied somehow to a flute once owned by Beethoven, a flute with possible supernatural properties.  He takes Meer to Vienna in an attempt to find out more—and then vanishes.

Jeremy turns up again in Geneva, victim of an apparent robbery attempt, but Meer suspects there’s more to it than her father is admitting.  He has always tried to protect her, but in Vienna that’s difficult, as almost every street contains something to set off ‘the dreads’, Meer’s experiences in those other lives that sometimes seem more real than her own.  She has a hard time maintaining her mental balance between the present and the memories that connect her to past lives.

Others are seeking the lost flute, some for reasons of greed and power and one for the salvation of a lost child, locked inside his own mind.  Vienna becomes a very dangerous place for a scholar and his daughter.  In a climatic scene that brings together the past and present, the full power of the flute becomes known. 

This isn’t a book to pick up when you are tired, as the plot is complex and the moving back and forth in time requires careful attention.  If you like a story that mixes science, history and a bit of what for want of a more precise term we call magic, and if you believe that love is eternal, this one’s for you.

 

 

 

 

Wormwood by Susan Wittig Albert

Publisher:  Berkley Prime Crime  ISBN:  978-0-425-233863

Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader

Cranky and stressed after the murder of her newly-discovered half-brother, China Bayles decides (with some strong nudging from friends and family) that ten days at a Shaker village in Kentucky will heal her spirit.  While there, she will be assisting her friend Martha Edmond in teaching some herb classes.  China is eager to learn more about the Shakers and their uses for herbs, but what she doesn’t know is that Martha had an ulterior motive for inviting her.

Mount Zion, the Shaker village they’re visiting, has suffered a series of mishaps recently, and the executive director/board president is pursuing a decidedly un-Shaker use for the site—an exclusive spa.  Martha has more than a passing interest in Mount Zion: her great aunt Charity was one of the sisters there, Martha serves on the current board of directors, and her childhood friend, Allie, is current director of the financial office.  Allie suspects Mount Zion’s endowment has been mishandled, and her suspicions serve as the catalyst for more than China’s unwilling investigation.  The murder of one of Mount Zion’s employees make the earlier incidents seem more than unfortunate coincidences.

Alternating between chapters set in the present and excerpts from journals and letters from the village’s archives, Wormwood reveals that the Shaker community was no more peaceful in 1912 than it is in 2009.  Add to the normal human vice of greed those of suppressed love and lust, and Mount Zion was a tinderbox. Literally as well as figuratively.

Wittig is not so skillful at composing early twentieth century journal entries as she is at writing twenty-first century mystery prose, and some of her depictions of an archives fall short of accuracy (Cups of coffee?  White latex gloves?  The archivist in me shudders). The attempt at phone sex between China and McQuaid is just embarrassing (although if he could see China sporting her fanny pack, he’d probably lose interest altogether).  Nonetheless, Susan Wittig Albert, even when not at her best, is so far better than many writers that Wormwood should not be passed over by China Bayles fans.

 

 

Johnny Porno by Charlie Stella

Publisher: Stark House Press  ISBN-10: 193358629X

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader

Late summer of 1973 in New York. Watergate is attracting daily headlines and Vice President Spiro Agnew is near to resigning over corruption charges. The economy is in the dumper and the American League has adopted the Designated Hitter rule. In short, times stink. The movie Deep Throat has made Linda Lovelace a household name; when a New York judge rules the film to be obscene and bans it from theaters, the nation and media have something to discuss over dinner and bars, since nothing else important is going on.

This is the setting for Charlie Stella’s new novel, Johnny Porno. John Albano has lost his union carpenter’s card after an altercation at work, and is reduced to humping bootleg copies of Deep Throat around Brooklyn and Long Island for made man Eddie Vento. Albano has no long-term mob desires; he’s only trying to catch up on his child support, maybe take his kid to a Yankees game. Nothing too complicated there, right?

Enter John’s ex-wife, Nancy. She’s remarried to a member of the New York Philharmonic, but has never stopped sleeping with her pre-Albano husband, Louis Kirsk. Louis is a degenerate gambler who sleeps with anyone carrying complementary plumbing and will turn a nickel any way he can to stay one step ahead of the loan sharks and bookies. When Nancy tells him what John is doing for money, Louis develops a plan to rob him when he’s carrying the receipts of the underground showings back to Vento. Who better to rob than someone carrying illicit money? What Vento will do to John doesn’t enter into the equation.

That’s a movie’s worth of story already; Stella is still warming up. Nick Santorra is Vento’s driver, with an attitude about moving up and an abiding dislike of John. Bridget Malone is Vento’s mistress, and may have an arrangement with the FBI. Law enforcement is represented by NYPD Detectives Kaprowski, Levin, Brice, and Kelly, one of whom is in Vento’s pocket while the others try to bring him down.

Each of the stories is enough to carry a book of its own. Stella’s gift as a storyteller is to give thorough renderings of each without slighting any, and not making the book seem long. He build the stories independently, then pulls them together in increments so deftly the relationships may not dawn on the reader until sometime after they’ve become interdependent.

Stella is of the George V. Higgins school and tells the story through compelling dialogue; Tony Soprano may speak like a gangster, but Stella’s hoods speak as gangsters. Like Higgins, Stella isn’t afraid to let action occur offstage, to be described by the principals after the fact. In Stella’s hands, this adds to the suspense, as he understands every overt climax lessens tension at its conclusion, while covert climaxes continue to ratchet it up. No character is ever aware of as much as the reader, so actions that make perfect sense to them immediately set off alarms as the potential consequences become evident. Stella never succumbs to the temptation to have someone do anything out-of-character stupid for the sake of raising the stakes; his creations are more than capable of making logical decisions guaranteed to make things worse, and believably so.

It is Charlie Stella’s misfortune that gangster stories are popular for their romanticized portrayals. There’s nothing romantic or dashing in his world. Hoods are venal and petty, violent not solely as a business technique, but for convenience sake. The public would be better served if Stella’s depiction of organized crime was more generally accepted, as there would be no question of how vigorously to prosecute them. That’s not the world we live in, so take some solace in the entertainment provided by Stella’s non-fragrant universe, where the peripheral players most books and movies use as pawns have their own stories told without sentiment or window dressing. You’ll lose yourself in it, and remain grateful you only came for a visit.

 

 

In the Dark by Brian Freeman

Publisher: Minotaur Books  ISBN-10: 031236332X

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

When Tish Verdure returns to Duluth, MN with the intent of writing a book about the unsolved murder of her best friend over 30 years ago when the two were mere teenagers, those who were involved at the time, both the innocent and guilty, are ill-prepared with the fall-out when their old secrets are eventually revealed.  And for Detective Jonathan Stride, this particular cold case will strike especially close to home with the victim also being the sister of his beloved wife who died from cancer over five years ago. 

And while Jonathan has since moved on, finding a new love with PI Serena Dial, his tentative reopening of this old case will bring up not only bittersweet memories, but some disturbing revelations of the secrets his own wife kept hidden.  But when the old case slowly begins to show ties to some recent alarming events, this cold case suddenly becomes hot and very dangerous.     

Brian Freeman only seems to get better with each outing in this highly suspenseful series.  By altering points of view through his different main characters, the reader is just about guaranteed to get a refreshingly new story filled with a cast that is both engagingly familiar, yet always evolving; his novels seeming to grow with added depth and dimension each time out.  With this latest, Freeman again proves his ability to tell a tale filled with intensity, emotion, and driving suspense, and is one fans old and new won’t want to miss. 

 

 

The Perfect Poison by Amanda Quick

Publisher: Jove  ISBN-10: 051514777X

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Set in Victorian London, Caleb Jones continues the family tradition by working with the Arcane Society founded three centuries before to study psychic powers, which usually run through secretive, well-regarded families such as his own.  Expanding the Society’s focus in his own eccentric way, Caleb forms his own investigative company which further allows him to devote his time to research the implications of these paranormal talents.  He knows how to behave in polite society but, with his pressing work, would prefer not to live by anyone’s rules but his own. 

Wealthy Lucinda Bromley may be a virtuous spinster but her reputation plummets after her father’s suicide and fiancé’s murder, for which she is publicly blamed by the newspapers and local gossips.  Keeping to herself in only partially chosen exile, a strange theft from her plant conservatory requires her to hire Mr. Jones when she fears that her secrets will land her in prison.  Keeping things interesting, Lucinda also serves as a consultant for the police due to her own amazing ability to detect botanical ingredients often misused by those ready to be widowed or receive inheritances earlier than nature intended.

Amanda Quick’s Arcane Society books may be set in the days of tight corsets and prim manners, but the women remain as resolute and powerful as the men and wordplay abounds between the sexes.  New readers to the series will be able to follow the story and long-time devotees will especially enjoy learning more about the creation of the legendary Jones & Jones.  Those who enjoy a good mix of mystery, romance and sci-fi/fantasy will be impressed with Quick’s (also known as Jayne Ann Krentz in the modern Arcane Society volumes) ability to create interesting characters with enviable powers and considerable knowledge in this fast-paced addition to the Arcane Society Series.