August 2008 Paperbacks
 

 

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Mayhem in Miniature by Margaret Grace

Publisher: Berkley ISBN-10: 0425223051

Reviewed by Tracey Jipson, New Mystery Reader

As warm as California in winter time, this Christmas mystery is a fun and easy page turner.  Geraldine Porter is retired, but that doesn’t mean she takes it easy.  She’s a miniature crafter—she’s not small, of course, but the room boxes that she meticulously designs and makes are.  Geraldine has many friends in her small California town, and she also loves to spend time with her family, especially her granddaughter, Maddie.  And she spends many a volunteer hour at the Mary Todd Home, an upscale residential retirement facility, where she teaches and helps residents with crafts.

It is there at the Mary Todd Home where Geraldine crafts her newest adventure.  One of her students, Sofia Muniz, despite being a delicate eight seven years old, first disappears then becomes a suspect in a murder.   When Geraldine begins to look into the mystery, she discovers that the situation is much more complicated then it appears, involving everyone from high ranking city administrators to Abraham Lincoln (or at least a look-alike).  Geraldine needs to use all the tools in her craft box to solve this one, including granddaughter Maddie, who steps up to help Geraldine find clues using the internet, her son Skip (Lincoln Point’s newest detective), who plays body guard and sounding board, and her many friends, who keep their eyes and ears open for helpful information. Even when her life is in danger, Geraldine never comes unglued and is able to piece together the solution and help catch a crafty murderer. 

There is a surprising amount of action in this story, which moves along quickly and has more than a few layers.  There are also some crafting tips for making miniatures, but they are unobtrusive and do not detract from the story.   Don’t be fooled into thinking this one is only for retirees or crafters.  With its many interesting characters and fast pace, this well written mystery is crafty enough to hold the interest of anyone who enjoys a quick and pleasant read.

 

 

 

Shoots to Kill By Kate Collins

Publisher: Signet  ISBN-10: 0451224744

Reviewed by T. Jipson, New Mystery Reader

Florist Abby Knight returns in Shoots to Kill, the seventh Flower Shop Mystery, and as usual, where amateur detective Abby goes, so goes trouble.  Eight years ago, young teen Elizabeth Blume wreaked havoc in Abby’s life, copying her clothes, reading her diary, maneuvering her way in Abby’s family and even interfering in Abby’s love life, humiliating her in the process.  Now, Elizabeth is back, only she goes by the name Libby.  That’s the only thing about her that’s changed, though, as Libby immediately begins to interfere once more in Abby’s life.  Libby becomes identity theft personified, opening an art shop that resembles Bloomers, Abby’s flower shop, even down to the bright yellow door.  She gets her hair cut to look just like Abby’s, buys a car identical to Abby’s distinctive yellow convertible, and even sets her sights on Abby’s boyfriend, Marco.  Then Libby’s mother is murdered, and the plot takes a bizarre twist as Abby becomes a suspect, due to a strange case of mistaken identity.  Because Abby needs something to investigate, there are other suspects, including a disfigured former model and Libby’s own mentally ill brother, in whose lives Abby of course can’t resist meddling.

Kate Collins has produced another solid and enjoyable entry in the Flower Shop Mystery series.   The characters are fun, the story flows well, and the plot is fairly nuanced, with enough twists and turns to keep the reader interested until the final page.  

 

 

Hard Row by Margaret Maron

Publisher: Warner Books  ISBN 978 0 446 58243 8

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Newly-wed Judge Deborah Knott is back, in the thirteenth in the series.  That’s not an unlucky number: this is just as engaging a story as any of the previous books.  It’s a rather darker tale than some of the preceding books, littered as it is with body parts and racism, as well as the minefield that stepmotherhood is proving to be for Deborah.

Juggling the responsibilities of providing a welcoming home for her husband and his recently motherless son Cal with a demanding job wouldn’t be easy at the best of times, but Deborah is finding coping with the problems of an unhappy eight-year-old really difficult.  She still has the Knott Family Support Group behind her: a slew of older brothers and their wives and children, plus her old reprobate of a father, but this is a case where they can’t really help much: she’s got to find a way to connect with Cal herself.  Eventually she does, through a selfless act that turns out to be more enjoyable than anyone would have expected.

Meanwhile, back at the courthouse, Deborah has to deal with the day-to-day petty criminals who are brought before her, plus some much more serious cases, including a violent man whose wife lives in fear.  There’s an awful inevitability about this case, and despite the best efforts of good people, the tragedy you expect does happen.

The main case that’s occupying Deborah’s husband, Deputy Dwight Bryant, is the rapidly mounting pile of human limbs.  Piece by piece, a man’s body is accumulated—and then a third hand is found!  Are they looking at a serial killer here?  When the body is identified, the investigation leads to a complex motive involving migrant laborers and laissez faire capitalism at its worst.    

This isn’t quite as cosy a book as some of the previous offerings in the series, but it’s well worth your time. 

 

 

Killer Riff by Sheryl J. Anderson

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur  ISBN-10: 0312945892

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

After having solved a major crime and nearly dying in the process, NY City's advice columnist Molly Forrester couldn't be happier with her promotion to a feature's reporter for her magazine.  Her first assignment is to interview the daughter of a legendary rock promoter for a featured profile after his death by an accidental overdose.  But, of course, in Molly's world nothing is so ever cut and dried, with her story soon revealing accusations of not just one murder, but two: the promoter and the legendary rock star he once represented who too died in much the same way. 

The connection between the two seems to be a set of underground and never released recordings of the musician, recordings that if actually exist could be worth millions.  But getting anything out of the very dysfunctional families left behind by the two dead men is going to take some work, and Molly will not only once again put herself in a very dangerous position looking for answers, but will also have to face the hunky detective who left her for that very same reason last time around.

It's easy to see why this series has often been compared to "Sex in the City", with Molly and her crew of glamorous and successful girlfriends, her hunky boyfriend, and the bright lights of NY City all fairly reeking of the show's glib and flighty banter, up-to-the-minute fashions, and hearty gossiping sessions of men, career and shoes.  So, if this is the kinda thing you like, you'll love this one. Admittedly, most men and the more staid type of female might find this a little too chick lit for their tastes, but that being said, it's still a charming bit of entertainment for those willing to give it a shot.

 

 

 

Written in Bone by Simon Beckett

Publisher: Dell  ISBN-10: 0440335965

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

When London forensic investigator Dr. David Hunter is suddenly called in to help investigate the discovery of a mysteriously burnt corpse on a remote island, while wary, he eventually agrees and heads for the storm tossed island.  It doesn't take long for him to figure out that the death was not accidental, but with a storm raging on that is preventing access to the mainland and the professionals who might be able to help, it's left to him and a couple of incompetent locals to unravel the clues.  And so as storms continue to batter the desolate island, and with everyone in the entire community being a possible suspect, the next murder will only make the investigation that much more deadly. 

Although this second in the series from Becket was very well written, with the author doing a more than competent job of creating quite a few colorful characters, somehow it  still seemed to lack one compelling enough to arouse a whole lot of passion, making complete immersion a bit difficult.  And while the ambiance of the desolate and stormy island helped create a chilling backdrop, making any reader feel glad and cozy for the roof over their head, the mystery itself in comparison seemed unable to provide the same amount of chilling menace.  But, that being said, Beckett did throw in enough red herrings, surprising twists, and shocks at the end to somehow make this an overall entertaining read that is easily worth the time spent.          

 

 

The Blackstone Key by Rose Melikan

Publisher: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster  ISBN 978 4165 6080 7

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

If you like a historical novel in which the writer has taken the trouble to get the facts and the ambience correct, you will enjoy this.  Reminiscent of Georgette Heyer but with a bit more ‘edge’, Melikan has come up with a believable heroine in Mary Finch.

The Napoleonic Wars are beginning, and in England there are plenty of shifty characters around waiting to take advantage of any opportunity, legal or otherwise.  Mary is offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to escape a dreary job in a girls’ school, one of the few ‘careers’ open to gentlewomen in reduced circumstances.  The opportunity comes in the form of an invitation to visit him from her wealthy uncle, a man she’s never met due to her late father’s estrangement from his elder brother.

Mary is on the way to her uncle’s country place, White Ladies, when her coach comes across a road accident victim.  Without thinking, she volunteers to stay with the badly injured man while the coach goes on to the town to find a doctor.  The injured man seems delirious, talking of danger and terrible risks.  Mary doesn’t know what he means, but it puzzled by the fact that he’s carrying her uncle’s watch—or a watch with her uncle’s initials, at any rate.

Mary finally arrives at her uncle’s home to find it dark and unwelcoming.  A new acquaintance, Captain Holland, assists her to get inside and goes off to learn what he can in the village.  Bad news: Mary’s uncle has died of influenza.  While she’s pondering what to do, Mary is captured by strange men and locked in the cellar with the injured Holland.  They escape and make it to a neighbour’s house, the overbearing Mrs Tipton, who takes Mary under her wing.

Meanwhile, the men who are doing the job that MI5 will take up in a future century are trying to get to the bottom of Mary’s puzzling report about the ramblings of the injured man, who has since died.  It’s Mary who discovers the secret to the code that is hiding the information that’s being passed on by the French spies, and this discovery (of course!) puts her in great danger.  Who can she trust? 

This is a well-written, pleasant read with a good sense of time and place, and no gratuitous sex and violence, which this reviewer finds a nice change.

 

 

 

The Black Path by Asa Larrson (Translated by Marlaine Delargy)

Publisher: Delta  ISBN-10: 0385341016

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Larrson continues her series featuring hot shot lawyer Rebecka Matinsson, who lately seems far from the high priced Swedish attorney she once was.  After a case in which  she was forced into killing more than one man, and then another in which she was forced to play a part in a beloved one’s death, she’s barely made it out of the depression that almost ruined her too when she’s asked to help investigate the murder of a wealthy woman found dead near her home town.  And so working with the local detectives on the case, she and this team of investigators will soon discover that this women’s death is not an isolated incident, and in fact is connected to some very dangerous secrets and lies that go deeper than they might have ever suspected. 

I’m not sure what all goes into the translation of a book, but in this instance one has to give kudos to the translator of Larson’s latest, Marlaine Delargy.  Coming in as one of the best books that I’ve read this year, it’s more than obvious that Delargy has captured this brilliant author’s words as they were meant to be.  And a difficult job it must have been – this racing plot that switches from character to character and time and place would be a challenge in any language, but with this particularly flawless translation and, of course, the seamlessly flowing words and storyline of the author herself, this mystery ends up being a wondrous work of art.  

At times it seems that we might actually be viewing these characters’ inner thoughts and feelings more intimately than would be appropriate in any other circumstance.  But therein lays the wonder of this book; with each character’s past story of disillusion and loneliness slowly revealed with such keen insight, we’re so convincingly shown how and why things have come to where they are now that the heartbreaking realism can almost seem too much to bear.  But, in the end, every single word is worth it, and if you can get to the final page without a tear in your eye, you definitely might have missed something important along the way.  Amazingly beautiful, and poignantly real, this is one that should not be missed.

 

 

 

You've Been Warned by James Patterson and Howard Roughan

Publisher: Vision, ISBN 04461988974

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

The large print makes this an easy-read book, especially at the end of a long day of office work, but don’t be fooled by that: it’s not a book to attempt when you’re not at your sharpest.  And don’t have more than one drink while you are reading or you will lose the thread for sure.

Kristin Burns, would-be world-class photographer, scrapes a living as a nanny to a really  rich New York family.  Oh, the kids are OK, it’s Mrs Turnbull who’s the problem.  Penley Turnbull treats Kristin with that nasty-nice manner that people use to those they see as their inferiors. 

Little does Penley know that Kristin is more than just the nanny: she’s also the bit on the side for Michael Turnbull.  Michael is the man of Kristin’s dreams, except for that tiny detail of his being married to someone else.  And it’s Kristin’s dreams that are the problem: lately they have been weird and getting weirder.  Photographs she couldn’t have taken turn up on her film, and strange smells and rashes afflict her body.  She sees things that can’t have happened, or haven’t yet happened, or might happen, or—is she going mad?

You may well ask.  You may think you are going mad also, given the frequent interspersed italics, sentences all in capital letters, the almost constant use of the present tense, and the confused temporal comings and going in the Turnbull penthouse.

This should have been a better book.  It’s got some good moments and a spooky premise.  It’s got a big name writer at the top of the jacket, and an old, respected publisher.  It’s got a villain you can enjoy hating, and a couple of cute kids.  What’s not to like?  I wish I knew.

 

Reviewed by Narayan Radhakrishnan, New Mystery Reader 

He died, she died, they all died….or are they really, really dead?

After carving a neat niche of his own in popular fiction writing- conquering the other established masters of each sub- genre including Horror (Stephen King) and Legal (John Grisham) – this time round, Patterson, along with co-creator Roughan, decides to enter the fiction territory that was once  home to Ira Levin (of Rosemary’s Baby and Stepford Wives fame).

The book starts with Kristen Burns witnessing the aftermath of a gruesome death of four people in an ill-reputed hotel called The Falcon.  She sees the dead bodies being carried away in a gurney bag and suddenly to her shock discovers that there is some movement in one of the bags, but nobody believes her account.

Now shift to the next chapter- Kristen dreams of becoming a topnotch photographer; however, her actual job is that of a nanny, and while not her dream job, it is a job she adores.  What’s more her employer Michael is caring and attentive…..ok…more caring, more attentive, than necessary. The one glitch is that the missus is not too happy about that. 

But it seems that life is somewhat becoming blurry and hazy for Kristen.  She begins to loose sense of time; it seems that she can see the future and its dead (Yup a lady version of The Sixth Sense’s Haley Joel Osmond), their translucent images appearing in her photos forewarning their impending doom.  So while on one side life seems to be on the fast and right track, on the other it is giddy and confusing. Who is the real Kristen?  Is there something wrong with her, or is she the only one who is ‘normal’?  It's these questions that keep you intrigued throughout the book.

To say I enjoyed it would be a lie; I absolutely, fabulously loved reading the book.

A great read. Don’t miss it. ……..

 

 

HeartSick by Chelsea Cain

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur  ISBN-0312947151

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

It was ten long years ago that Portland homicide detective Archie Sheridan was held hostage and brutally tortured by a female psychopathic serial killer.  And although, for reasons known only to her, she eventually allowed her own capture to prevent Archie's death, the horror that destroyed his soul remains.  Forced to visit her weekly in order to find out who and where her many undiscovered victims lay, the pair's mutual obsession only seems to grow, with the chances of Archie ever reclaiming his once happy life, including his family, growing more distant with time.  But when a series of young teen girls begin to disappear off the streets of Portland, Archie will have to put his demons aside in order to track down this new danger in an investigation that will either save him or destroy him completely.  

This terrifying and heartbreaking tale from Cain not only provides all the ingredients needed to keep the reader enthralled throughout, but also successfully adds some unique dimensions to the overly familiar serial killer novel.  It's not often that we get to see a woman doing the nasty deeds, and this particular one makes many of her male counterparts look like choir boys in comparison.  And even if that was all that distinguished this remarkable read, it alone might be enough, but Cain pulls the reader in even further with her affecting portrayal of a broken and selfless man attempting to put it all back together.  For readers who want something different, who like their characters fully realized and their suspense nonstop, this one comes highly recommended.            

 

 

The Burnt House by Faye Kellerman

Publisher: Harper  ISBN-10: 0061227366

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

When a small commuter plane takes an unexpected dive into a LA neighborhood apartment building, killing everyone on board as well as others in the building, the city's initial fear is that it might have been a terrorist attack.  And although this fear is soon put to rest when it's discovered to have been caused by mechanical failure, new questions come to light when LA detective Peter Decker is contacted by the parents of one of the alleged victims who insist that their daughter did not die in the crash, but instead was murdered by her husband.   And as Decker begins to investigate their claim, he'll begin to unravel the secrets surrounding not only this young woman's death, but also the death of another young woman years before, her murdered corpse only now discovered below the burning rubble.  

Kellerman scores a direct hit with this exciting new outing in her successful and long-running series.  There's much to like about this latest -  Peter Decker and his cohorts being especially noteworthy.  Simply put, Kellerman's cast of crime fighters are just very nice people; her detectives and their loved ones come minus the angst, dark pasts, and dangerous compulsions that seem to preoccupy most fictional detectives these days.  Not to say there's anything wrong with the darker look at life but, one has to admit, it's refreshing now and again to read of compassionate people battling the criminal element and then going home at the end of the day to peaceful and contented existence.  So if you like your mysteries cleanly and humanely told, this richly detailed police procedural is one you won't want to miss.

 

 

Lying With Strangers by James Grippando

Publisher: Harper  ISBN-10: 0061138398

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

At first glance, Peyton Shields, a Boston pediatric resident on the fast track to success, and her husband Kevin, a lawyer with one of Boston's premier law firms, seem to have it all.  But when Peyton becomes the victim of a stalker, the fissures in their marriage, their careers, and their very identities begin to crumble under the strain.  And as the threat against Peyton escalates, with each event seeming to unleash more and more damaging secrets of everyone involved, not only will Peyton find her own credibility increasingly in doubt, but also her long held trust for those she only thought she knew.

Fans of Grippando's legal thrillers will no doubt find this new stand-alone tale of suspense to be just as satisfying as what's come before.  And, admittedly, it does indeed do the job of keeping the reader glued to the pages in eager anticipation of what's going to come next.  However, the more discerning reader might feel a bit disappointed with the few threads left dangling in the end, the amazing amount of coincidences, and the capacity for complete self-denial that most of the characters seem to posses.  But when all is said and done, this is one of those that will keep you reading long after you should, and so even with its minor faults, it's one that shouldn't be missed.

 

 

Blonde Faith by Walter Mosley

Publisher: Little, Brown  ISBN 978 0 316 73459 2

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

The tenth Easy Rawlins story is one of the most compelling yet, involving as it does an abandoned child, an adoption racket, murder, missing persons and Faith, the blonde of the title.

As with previous Easy Rawlins stories, nothing is what it looks like at first. The child, Easter Dawn Black, hasn’t been so much abandoned as left to the care and protection of Easy by her father, a man on the run who knows Easy can be trusted as few others can.

Trying to track Easter’s father, Easy seeks help from his friend Mouse, only to find Mouse is gone also: on the run from a murder charge that isn’t any less dangerous for being trumped up.

In between trying to find his friends and solve the murder to clear Mouse, Easy gets in a few of his regular private eye jobs, including returning the errant Chevette Johnson to her bewildered father.  The controlled violence of this episode is nicely done: you can feel Easy’s temper balanced like a nocked arrow; you wait for the ‘twang’.

As always, Mosley conveys the poor, troubled but dramatic and occasionally cheerful world of black Los Angeles in the late 60’s with a web of words that draws you into the neighbourhoods and makes you feel you know some of these people.  His prose is like the style of one of those distance runners back before steroids spoiled athletics: spare, sinewy, elegant; no wasted gestures, everything focussed on path to the finishing line.  Here’s Easy at a diner, looking at Faith, the beautiful and compassionate stranger, the untouchable white woman in a black world: “The minutes were not passing by but pooling around, waiting for a sign to continue on their mindless way.”  For a brief time, Faith and Easy inhabit a small joyful oasis before the grim and gritty desert of reality intrudes again.

If you like your mayhem delivered well written and thought-provoking, you can’t go past Mosley.

 

 

 

The Night Ferry by Michael Robotham

Publisher: Vintage  ISBN-10: 03727585X

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

It's been 8 long years since Ali Barba, a Sikh detective in London, has spoken with her  once best friend Cate, their friendship having ended on a bitter note after an unforgivable betrayal by Ali.  But now Cate has contacted Ali, begging her to show up at a class reunion, her request sounding ominous and urgent.  But the renewal of their friendship is short-lived, when Cate, now pregnant, and her husband are struck down by a car in what appears to be an accident.  And when it's discovered that Cate's pregnancy was faked, it's the memory of her last haunting plea for help concerning a dangerous threat to her baby that brings Ali into an unauthorized investigation that will span many countries, reveal a conspiracy of greed, and just might get her killed.   

Fans of Robotham's previous outings will not be disappointed in this stellar addition to the series.  Once again, he provides the reader with outstandingly realistic and in-depth characterizations, ones that not only prove his amazing ability to truly understand gender and ethnic differences, but also demonstrate his sincere and compassionate respect for those differences.  And with a provocative plot full of suspense, humanity, poignancy, and intelligence, he not only gives readers an imaginative glimpse into a diverse world, he also leaves them pondering the overwhelming and lasting impacts, along with the sometimes unanticipated consequences, that are intrinsically tied to the deep need for friendship and family.  Highly, highly recommended, this is one author who just gets better with each outing, making this easily one of the top hits this year.

 

 

 

 

Left to Die By Lisa Jackson

Publisher: Zebra  ISBN-10: 1420102761

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

After the discover of the first body, when the second body of a woman is found naked and tied to a tree in the snowy Bitteroot Mountains in Montana, detectives Selena Alvarez and Regan Pescoli are quick to see the connections between the two murders. Not only had both women’s cars been found wrecked and abandoned, but each woman’s body was left with a cryptic note and a star carved into the tree in which they were tied to.  And as the winter storms continue to pound the region, yet even more bodies and abandoned cars will be discovered but, unfortunately, not a whole lot of clues.

Meanwhile, Jillian Rivers, after having received some anonymously sent recent photos from Montana of her first husband who had disappeared years before and thought to be dead, has made her way to Montana to follow-up on the mystery when she too finds herself in danger when waking up in a stranger’s cabin after being shot off the road.  And while her “savior,” the oddly reclusive Zane MacGregor seems to only want to help her heal until the storms break, Jillian is all too aware that he might be anything but the concerned rescuer he appears to be.

Jackson alternates between the two stories with little effort, enticing the reader down the beguiling trails of these two separate but possibly related events as she gradually reveals parts of the truth along the way.  And while this is a well-thought out plot, the reader will have to swallow some moments of convenient machinations that are necessary to make the story work.  But this is easily done, as she fills her story with not only the dynamite duo of detectives whose opposite personalities play off of each other perfectly, but also with enough shocking twists and turns to keep the reader guessing.  And as this is the first of two in the series, not all is resolved, which will leave most readers even hungrier for the next.

 

 

 

Capitol Offense by Mike Doogan

Publisher: Putnam Adult  ISBN-10: 0399154310

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Nik Kane, once a detective with the Anchorage PD, is still working on putting his life back together after his impressive, self-destructive fall from the force.  Off the bottle and attempting to make amends with the family he left in tatters, it's his old connections to the force that keep him going.  So when he's asked by his old chief to look into the murder of a young senator's aide, a beautiful woman allegedly killed by an up and coming Native politician, he heads off to Juneau, wary of the motives behind those who hired him, but intent on finding the truth either way.  But unraveling the complicated ties between politics, money, oil, greed, power, and desire will prove to be more dangerous than he expected, as he himself becomes the target of more than one sinister force who will kill to keep their secrets buried.

Not having read the first in this new series didn't prove a problem, as Doogan does a good job of providing background with just enough information to catch up newcomers while not boring those who have returned.   And while this is a solid mystery that effectively incorporates political agendas and tempestuous desires into the unique Alaskan setting, if not for the distinctive environs and the well-drawn main character, it might have been difficult to distinguish from others like it.  However, that being said, even with its familiarity, this is still an entertaining and gripping read with enough differences to make it worthwhile.     

 

 

 

Eye of the Beholder by David Ellis

Publisher: Berkley  ISBN-0425222918

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Private attorney Paul Riley has built a lucrative career out of his conviction of a deranged serial killer as a prosecutor 15 years previously.  And while not a difficult case, the evidence of the culprit's guilt in the killing of several young women almost handed to him on a silver platter; it was one that made his name and reputation worth a pound of gold as a lawyer.  But now, years later, women are being killed again in much the same way, leaving Paul to question if he convicted the wrong man, or is there a copycat on the loose?

While Ellis, one of the better authors of legal thrillers out there, has created a suspenseful tale that should please his many fans, he's also created a tale that may leave some readers a bit confused and dissatisfied.  Ellis provides a mostly cunningly and intelligently conceived plot, but it does take a bit of work to keep up with some of the more convoluted twists that occur on the road to the final denouement. 

The more optimistic reader might call this a story of redemption - the triumph of justice and humanity over money, fame, and glory; however, the time it takes for these themes to be fully realized might come a bit too late for those who are unable to swallow the questionable motives and reasoning that characterize the majority of the read.  Still, it's a hard book to put down once you start, making it a read that most likely will be enjoyed, ambiguous or not.

 

 

Stone Cold by David Baldacci

Publisher: Macmillan   ISBN 033045098

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Based no doubt on the success of his previous books, Baldacci’s publishers are laying on a pretty grand campaign to launch his newest offering.  TV, Radio and print advertising coast to coast; special floor displays: you name it, they are doing it.

All that hoopla no doubt moves books in large numbers, but in Baldacci’s case, word of mouth would probably do the job pretty well, too.  He’s got the knack of coming up with convoluted plots based on quirky premises, acted by an appealing cast of characters.  Throw in some villains you love to hate and what’s not to like?  The editing is a bit light in spots--how did they let a phrase like “still encased in his seat belt” get through?—but to be fair, one should not judge advance reading copies the same way as one would the final print.

“Stone Cold” starts with Harry Finn breaching the security of a major airport and airline with believable ease that will have you looking around nervously when you next fly.  It’s OK, Harry was doing a contract job for Homeland Security, but what if he wasn’t?

Harry’s next job is much, much worse than the airport security problem, and makes the reader suddenly realise that Harry’s nobody to fool around with.  Harry’s family knows nothing of his real job, and that’s how he wants it: unfortunately the real world has a way of breaking into the most carefully guarded heartland. 

Harry’s family is caught up in a very dangerous situation, which involves a bunch of ratbags called The Camel Club, the world’s most successful female con artist (until now, anyway), crooked politicians, and some secrets so dark that their keepers will kill to keep them that way.  Will Harry get his family out of danger?  More to the point, will his wife ever speak to him again now she knows what he does for a living?  And who is the man who calls himself Oliver Stone?

Don’t start reading this book after supper: you’ll be much too tired to go to work the next day.

 

 

Strangers in Death by J D Robb

Publisher: Berkley  ISBN 04255222898

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Lt Eve Dallas is back, in her 28th battle with the forces of evil in mid-twenty-first century New York.  The prolific J D Robb has veered away from her recent forays into the really twisted and sadistic killer model and returned to that good old standby, murder for gain.  Which isn’t to say her latest villain is a wimp; no, this is a villain you will join her in hating once you see what’s at the bottom of the crime and the reasons for its doing.

It starts with the death of a well-respected businessman in what looks like a sex-game-gone-wrong scene.  The widow, who’s been holidaying with gal pals, is devastated; the friends and business associates are stunned, and the case is about to be written off as, at worst, accidental manslaughter by a person unknown. 

Eve Dallas doesn’t take anything at face value, and she’s puzzled by a few anomalies. For instance, where are the man’s conservative cotton pyjamas?  If he died by accident, she can understand the partner-in-nooky running out in a panic, but why take the pyjamas?  From such little things the seed of doubt sprouts, and before long Eve’s convinced that she’s got a homicide on her hands.

The more Eve investigates, the more she feels that she’s up against a stone-cold and very clever killer, one who has planned everything down to the last detail, leaving nothing to chance, not even a parking space.   Suspicions are one thing; proof that will satisfy Assistant DA Reo is another.  Eve’s investigation isn’t helped by the fact that among the suspects is a close friend of the Chief of Police’s wife.

Strangely enough, it’s the meticulous planning that gives Eve the loose thread to tug to unravel the complex fabric of murder.  You can plan down to the last inch and the final second, but you can’t ever know in advance how reliable the human factor will be.  For all the killer’s careful arrangements, there’s one area of vulnerability, and you can count on Lt. Dallas to press it until it pops.

This book doesn’t dwell as much on Eve’s horrific early life as some previous books have done, which will be a relief to many long-time Dallas fans.  But it does make enough reference to that bad time in her life to provide insight into why she’s reacting so violently to this particular murder and murderer.  Roarke, Eve’s husband and frequent collaborator, articulates her feelings: “That thin edge of pity around the disgust.”

All the regulars are back for this latest outing: Delia Peabody, Baxter, Trueheart, Summerset the butler, Nadine the reporter, Galahad the cat, and Dr Mira; even a cameo appearance by Mavis and Baby Bella.  And there are a couple of new characters on the scene which one suspects we’ll see again, if only for the lemon meringue pie.

This is a good read which won’t give you the same grade of nightmares some of Robb’s previous works.

 

 

 

Merciless by Richard Montanari

Publisher: Ballantine Books  ISBN-10: 0345492412

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Montanari returns with another exciting thriller featuring Philly detectives Jessica Balzano and Kevin Bryne in a detailed mystery that's sure to please fans.  This time out the duo and their cohorts must track a serial killer who seems intent on turning childhood fairy tales into gruesome scenes of murder, his victims found one by one positioned on the banks of the Schuylkill River with ambiguous clues relating to fairy tales from long ago.

And for Detective Kevin Bryne, finding the killer terrorizing his city is not the only problem he faces, he must also deal with the fallout of an unexpected moment of deadly violence that left one woman dead, a grieving husband who blames Bryne, and his own self doubts for failing to stop the gunman who turned a coffee shop into a scene of horror and death. 

In this double-shot police procedural, readers may find themselves a bit out of breath keeping up with Montanari as he rushes from one scene of murder and mayhem to the next.  Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but some might find that while Montanari has increased the pure action, it comes at the price of less time spent on the remarkable characterizations that made his previous outings so noteworthy.  Instead of the intense foray into what made these guys think and act the way they do, this time out Montanri focuses on the procedural aspects of the investigation and the city of Philly itself.  Admittedly, he does this with great panache - capturing the dialogue and grittiness that make up this diverse city and its police force with convincing detail, with the results being a more than worthy read. But still, many, like me, just might wish for a return from the "what and where" to the "whom" next time around.  

 

 

 

Monkey See, Monkey Die by Cynthia Baxter

Publisher: Penguin Books,  ISBN 978 0 553 59037 1

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

We’ve all had a call out of the blue from an old school friend we haven’t seen for years—but when it happens to veterinarian Jessica Popper, she doesn’t expect it to lead to murder.

Jessica hasn’t seen Erin Walsh for years, then Erin rings, sounding stressed, and begs her to meet her in a coffee shop early in the morning.  Jessica goes, waits, and finally gives up.  Later the police contact her and tell her Erin has been murdered.  They want to know what was on Erin’s mind, but Jessica doesn’t know.

Motivated by whatever it is that drives amateur sleuths to try and do the police department’s job for them, Jessica starts digging into what Erin has been doing for the past ten years.  She meets Erin’s husband, another vet school colleague, and finds he’s living the high life and apparently making a fortune with a business partner in the pet shop business.  But all is not as it seems in the business, in fact, there’s monkey business afoot.  Some how this is tied in with Erin’s work with a famous primate researcher, but how?

Jessica feels compelled to get to the bottom of what’s going on, but meanwhile her fiancé Nick is beginning to wonder if there’s going to be a wedding or not.  Jess is supposed to be walking down the aisle with him next week, but her attention seems to be wandering.  All he can do is pitch in and try to help figure out what Erin learned that led to her death. 

This is a light-hearted book with lots of humorous spots, but it deals with a genuine and real problem in connection with the multi-billion dollar pet industry.  Jessica and her friends and relatives are a good ensemble cast who will entertain you for a few hours.