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Treachery In Death by J D Robb

Publisher: Berkley

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Robb’s pithy titles always relate to her main theme and this 20-somethingth volume in the adventures of the cop of the future, Eve Dallas, is no exception.  Unlike some mysteries, we know almost from the start who the baddies are; and the plot tension arises from how they are brought to justice.

Eve’s right-hand-woman Delia Peabody accidentally overhears a damning conversation between two villains.  That’s bad enough, but these two happen to be fellow police officers: worse, one of them is the daughter of a legendary former Commissioner, a man who is revered as almost a saint by the NYPSD.

Peabody squeaks out of danger and races off to tell Eve what she’s heard.  It’s clear from the start that any investigation to establish not only the truth but also the breadth and depth of the situation will have to be carefully and quietly handled.  If this story breaks, it can reflect very badly on an already beleaguered police department.  It would clearly be best if Eve can clear up the case first, then the police can make the announcement that a nest of vipers has been uncovered and extirpated.  Far better that than an investigative reporter getting hold of the story and plastering headlines about corrupt cops across the city.

Convincing the Chief and the Commissioner takes some doing, but soon Eve and the EDD department, plus the chief rat of the internal affairs division, Webster, are working from her home office to get the goods on the bent cops.  Also being helpful is Eve’s husband, super-rich IT geek Roarke, who’s not wild about Webster being under his roof, given Webster’s former infatuation with Eve.  This complication eases when Webster meets Darcia Angelo, Chief of security at the Olympus Resort—although there’s always the worry that Webster may trip over his tongue when Darcia is around.

As with several of the recent “in Death” books, this one is a budget model: not as much romance, not as many sub-plots, less rivalry and banter among the characters, and only brief appearances by the rest of the characters in the NYPSD repertory company.  That said, it still a good way to use up a winter’s afternoon.

 

 

 

AGENT X by  Noah Boyd

Publisher:  William Morrow

Reviewed by Ray Palen, New Mystery Reader  

Author Noah Boyd burst on the scene in 2009 with the release of his first novel, THE BRICKLAYER.  To some, this was simply a new writer attempting to enter the already over-saturated field of espionage fiction. To others, Boyd was an important new voice with a writing style that clearly displayed his in-depth knowledge of the FBI and their inner mechanisms.

Boyd was a former FBI agent who spent more than 20 years with the organization and worked on some of the more prominent national cases that agency handled.  It is no wonder that his identity is kept fairly secret and may even be a pseudonym --- as you will find no photos of Boyd on the author jacket of either of his novels.

His second novel is a fast-paced and intricately detailed thrill-ride entitled AGENT X.  Ex-FBI agent, Steve Vail, now works in Chicago as a humble bricklayer and attempts to keep a low profile.  Unfortunately for him, his special abilities seem to always be needed by the FBI or NSA and he is once again called into temporary duty in service of his country.  His former boss, and potential love interest, Kate Bannon, Assistant Director of the FBI, receives a phone call on New Years Eve from the head Director and she drags Vail with her to their Washington D.C. office.  Vail had shown up unannounced at Bannon’s door in attempt to spend a romantic New Year’s Eve with her.  On the way to this meeting, in typical Vail fashion, they get sidetracked by a local child abduction case that Vail solves almost effortlessly.

Once inside an FBI war room, the Director lays out a scheme whereby a Russian intelligence officer going by the name of Calculus has approached the FBI claiming to have a list that names several prominent Americans who are supplying information to the Russian secret service.  Word is that Calculus has been called back to Moscow and his cryptic, coded messages are all the FBI has to work on to identify and question the alleged spies operating within the U.S.  Good thing that Steve Vail is an expert on code-cracking!

The game is not as easy as they first thought it would be as several of the codes may be wild goose chases intended to misdirect the FBI from actual targets.  Additionally, they are under the gun as it appears the Russians are also seeking the same members of this  

list and wiping them out before the FBI can question them.  Bannon and Vail make a great team and even enlist the help of one of Vail’s former colleagues, Luke Bursaw.  It turns out Luke needs Vail’s help as well in locating a missing FBI agent.  Ironically, as the plot twists intertwine, both of the cases appear to be related to the same overall scheme.

What Noah Boyd does best is give the reader a clear and overly detailed step-by-step forensic overview of the thought process that is used by the modern FBI agent to solve high-profile cases.  Fans of no-nonsense/little detail novels, like those written by James Patterson, will be challenged by Boyd’s writing.  However, if you enjoy commitment to detail and realism then you will not find much better writing in this genre than Boyd’s work.  As for his lead character, Steve Vail, there are not many more smart-alecky and engaging characters you will find in this genre.  I find him to be very similar in character to the Agent Chance role played by Mark Valley on TV’s hit show, “Human Target”.

AGENT X represents a person or group who has an unknown purpose or agenda.  As the case move forward, Vail and company recognize that someone within the FBI has to be a mole and is the afore-mentioned, Agent X.  How can decipher the names on Calculus’ list, find those members before the Russians do and smoke out Agent X from their own back-yard?  You will have to read this intense novel to find out!

 

 

Following Polly  by Karen Bergreen

Publisher: St Martin’s Griffin     

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

So there you are, newly sacked from a job you did well and real enjoyed, so what do you do?  You start stalking someone you haven’t seen since college, of course.  Yes, yes; Alice Teakle knows what she’s doing isn’t normal, and she’s going to stop, really she is—tomorrow.   Or maybe the next day.  But meanwhile she dogs Polly Linley  Dawson’s every step, initially out of curiosity about how Polly’s life got to be so perfect, but then to find out why Polly goes to some of the strange places she does, and who  she’s meeting there.  Then comes the day when Alice finds Polly’s newly dead body and through a cascade of errors ends up on the run, hunted by the police.

No money, no home—Alice is in a bad way, but with a bit of luck and the kindness of strangers, she manages to survive.  It’s clear that the only way she’s going to have a normal life again is to find the killer herself, given that the police already think they know who it is: Alice.

Desperate circumstances call for desperate remedies, so Polly starts stalking someone else, the man she’s loved from a distance for twelve years. “Charlie” (not his real name) was another college contemporary, one with whom Alice never had any real relationship, but whom she now believes can help her out of her trouble, if only she dares approach him, if only he believes her.

Alice’s adventures in not-so-wonderland make for a fast-moving, entertaining read, with some amusing turns of phrases.   Joan Rivers liked it; so did I. 

 

 

 

Dead Man’s Switch by Tammy Kaehler

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Here’s another in the new wave of feisty, young, tough female protagonists.  This one’s Kate Reilly, who’s desperate to get a permanent job as a racing car driver for the American Le Mans Series circuit, but so far she’s mainly been a fill-in.  Then a senior driver dies in strange circumstances and Kate steps in at the last minute. 

It’s not long before she’s got a lot more trouble than just trying to win a race: the detective investigating Wade’s death seems to think Kate might have caused it, and there’s some dirty work going on at the track that points to other potential murderers, plus Kate’s father, from who she’s been estranged, turns up to wish her well.  Kate’s trying to focus on preparing for the race and, with luck and skill, winning it, but it doesn’t help that there’s a lot of gossip flying around about her.  With the help of some supportive women, she decides to try and solve the mystery of the dead driver, the strangely performing cars, and what appears to be a blackmail scheme.  We all know the dangers that lie in wait for the amateur detective, and on a racetrack they are compounded by speed, high octane and high levels of  testosterone.

This is a quick, entertaining read by a newcomer from whom I expect to hear more. Kaehler strikes a nice balance between giving you enough technical information to set her scene, but not burying you in details you don’t want or need to know.  And she resists the impulse to provide an unrealistically happy ending.

 

 

 

Two for Sorrow by Nicola Upson

Publisher: Harper

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Nicola Upson revisits famous mystery writer Josephine Tey (the pen name for Elizabeth Mackintosh) in the third of the Josephine Tey series set in early twentieth century England.

In Two for Sorrow, Josephine investigates the case of two “baby farmers” who were executed for murdering the illegitimate infants whose mothers believed that they were destined for new wealthy families eager for children.  Fortunately for Josephine, her former mentor had comforted one of the condemned women while working as a prison warder.

The former warder, Celia Bannerman, has since risen to a prominent position, meaning that she has much more to lose when someone gruesomely murders a young ex-convict and gifted seamstress named Marjorie. Since Marjorie worked for relatives of Josephine’s good friend Archie, the writer quickly engrosses herself in the new murder even while tracking down leads from those committed decades before.  Archie, a police inspector, also becomes involved, allowing him to interrogate suspects while Josephine employs a more delicate approach.

Upson intersperses the narrative with Josephine’s imagined manuscript covering the baby farm killings using fictionalized details to flesh out the horrific reality described in public documents and in newspapers.  Upson’s inclusion of Josephine’s writing may remind readers of the author’s own work such as Daughter of Time, in which similar information is presented about another set of murdered children, albeit those of royal blood (the Plantagenet “princes in the tower”) as opposed to the poorest of London’s citizens.  

Throughout the novel, romantic relationships between women play a part, even causing confusion and considerable distraction for Josephine.  Although this may seem a more modern adaptation in literature, these relationships are well-documented in Victorian and Jazz Age archives and the setting of the performing arts gives Upson freedom to elaborate on public discussion about the topic.

Two for Sorrow makes for a disturbing, engrossing period mystery featuring a writer just as mysterious as many of her own characters.

 

 

City Of Veils by Zoë Ferraris

Publisher: Back Bay Books

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Besides his ill-associated given name, Detective Inspector Osama Ibrahim of the Saudi police has a lot to deal with: a dead woman on the beach, bearing marks of torture; no partner to work with because his is on sick leave after being shot; and a conservative society where change is coming only in small staggering steps. 

One of the visible changes is Katya Hijazi, a female lab technician who wants to be a field investigator despite the many problems that would bring in a country that treats women as pets at best and as slaves at worst.  While examining the dead woman’s clothing, Katya finds a Bluetooth connection which provides a clue to the dead girl’s identity: she was Leila Nawar, reported missing by her father last week. 

In another part of town, Miriam Walker is beginning to panic. She’s just come back from a month’s home leave and after picking her up at the airport, her husband has vanished.  A prisoner in her own apartment, unable to drive herself anywhere because of the religious police’s constant supervision of women, Miriam takes a taxi to the home of Eric’s work colleague.  Jacob and Patty haven’t seen Eric, but Miriam notices a photograph of Jacob, Eric and a stranger, taken somewhere in the desert.  She learns that it was hunting and camping trip, about which she had known nothing—but the stranger isn’t unknown, he’s the man who was sitting next to her on the plane back to Jeddah just a day ago.  Moreover, he is apparently the source of the memory chip she found in her purse after the flight.

Eric Walker eventually turns up, but rather than solving anything, it adds to the mystery.  Ibrahim and Katya find a link between the dead girl and the missing man, but there’s more going on than the obvious suspicion of illicit romance, they’re sure of it, but how can they prove it? 

The book has a strong local flavour, due to the author’s years living in the strangely disjointed world that is Arabia.  The reader may be occasionally confused by the number of characters that have identical or similar names, but careful reading will be repaid by this fast-moving tale of intrigue and murder that has one foot in the 12th century and one in the 21st

 

 

Ghosting by David Poyer

Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

While Dr. Jack Scales has witnessed more than his fair share of fame and fortune on the operating table and as a pharmaceutical consultant, that will prove of little help when he makes the ill-fated decision to take his family on a sailing trip to the Bahamas.  And while, yes, he’s purchased the most expensive and well-tuned yacht that money can buy, that too will do little to save him from what’s to come after setting sail. 

But his hopes of bringing his disconnected family back together again, including his wife who is having an affair with a student, his teen-aged daughter who only wants nothing more than to go to swimming camp, and his mentally ill son who is slowly becoming more dangerous to himself and others will seem like nothing when smugglers overtake the boat and lead his family on a path of death and destruction.

While highly suspenseful and about impossible to put down, this read still misses the mark of having a definitive purpose.  All too often overshadowed by relentless violence and pure desperation, the meaning of a family gathering together in the worst of times becomes squelched by the pure brutality of horrible people doing horrible things to sometimes not so great people.  And when even the victims are for the most part capable of causing revulsion, the book turns into another disaster movie where just about nobody wins.  However, if you like sailing and high adventures on rollicking seas mixed with violence galore, this might work for you. 

 

 

 

A Stranger in Mayfair by Charles Finch

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Private detective Charles Lenox has achieved a degree of respect in Victorian English society in spite of his uncouth profession due to his inherited wealth and high rate of well-publicized success.  In previous installments of the Charles Lenox series, Lenox established a productive relationship with Scotland Yard while finally marrying his neighbor and long-time best friend, Lady Jane Grey.  In spite of her immediate distraction of his wife’s name, Lenox’s return to business and introduction to life as a Member of Parliament (MP) after a European honeymoon gives him a chance to help out a fellow MP whose footman died violently in a nearby alley.

In the midst of the flurry of parliament preparations and settling into the newly literally joined houses, Lenox and his student John Dallington reluctantly make enquiries regarding the young man’s death even as the MP who requested their help pleads with them to stop.  When Lenox discovers that the footman’s personal effects includes copies of Hegel, an expensive suit and a valuable engraved signet ring, he realizes that there is much more behind the young man’s death.

Throughout his investigation, Lenox starts to realize that juggling his new position in Parliament with his love of investigation in addition to his fledgling marriage will require much more effort than he previously supposed.  Fortunately, his ever-ready butler remains by his side, although in a surprisingly new position, adding continuity to Lenox’s life.

Finch’s story slowly builds in both the professional and personal lives of his protagonist.  Although the motive behind the murder will surprise few careful readers, Charles Lenox and Lady Jane offer an idealized version of the Victorian Age with insight into intriguing rituals of the era’s twin pillars of power: society parties and Parliament politics.

 

 

In Search of the Rose Notes by Emily Arsenault

Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Best friends Nora and Charlotte spend most of their days as other 11 year olds - hanging out with their idolized teen-aged babysitter Rose and dreaming and scheming of being older and wiser.  But when Rose disappears suddenly, their young lives are shaken to the core, and nothing will ever be the same.

Using the Time-Life series of “Mysteries of the Unknown,” the two girls set out to investigate the mystery on their own, one that while perhaps may prove fascinating, will also be one that will fail to provide any answers.  And so the time will pass, they’ll move on, and life will inevitably take them further from that time.

But fifteen years later when Rose’s body turns up, these two friends will reunite and once again try and put this mystery to rest, and the answers, along with the memories they conjure, will be surprising  in their ability to sting and heal at the same time.

While this may initially seem like a novel geared towards the younger market, it is definitely an adult story, told alternatively through the eyes of a maturing young girl and the woman she becomes.  Lost friendships, secrets told  under willow trees and trampolines, the pain of moving on and forward, and the ambiguous feelings towards growing older are all featured here in an unabashedly sincere story.  Hauntingly beautiful and expertly told, this intricate novel of the road traveled past the age of innocence is perfectly drawn and one worth reading for its insights into more than one gloriously painful stage of growing up.

 

 

 

Power Slide by Susan Dunlap

Publisher: Counterpoint  

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Darcy Lott is getting ready to do one of her death-defying stunts for a film, secure in the knowledge that one of the best drivers in the business will be behind the wheel of the 18-wheeler she has to slide under.  Damon Guthrie is not one of the most punctual of people, but he’s a magician when it comes to making his big rig do tricks.  When he turns up at the last minute he nearly kills Darcy with a mistimed jacknife maneuver.

Darcy’s questions about what went wrong, and what’s bothering Guthrie don’t get many satisfactory answers, but her off-and-on lover does ask her about what her Zen master could do for him.  Hoping that maybe Guthrie is at long last ready to open up to someone—even if it’s not herself—Darcy introduces him to Leo. 

While she’s wondering what’s going on with Guthrie, a recurring problem returns to gnaw at Darcy.  Her brother Michael disappeared years ago and the family has been searching for him fruitlessly ever since.  Things come to a head when elder brother John suggests that it’s time to end things one way or another: one last push to find Michael, then the search must be given up. It’s consumed time and money and emotion for 20 years: enough is enough.

Darcy isn’t sure that her mother and siblings can let the problem go after so long, but she agrees with John that one last major effort might be warranted.  When Guthrie dies in mysterious circumstances, Darcy juggles her attempts to solve his murder with the ongoing hunt for Mike.

In a physical and emotional mess after an attempt to find out something of Guthrie’s past life, Darcy rings her older sister Janice, “the nice one”.  Janice picks her up and takes her home, and lets her use the phone.  It’s while talking to one of Guthrie’s friends on the other side of the world that something clicks for Darcy: Janice knows where Mike has been all this time; her flaky lifestyle has been that way to allow her flexible hours to track the missing brother.  Why would Janice not share her knowledge with the family? What could explain the cruelty of letting the family remain mired in regret and ignorance?

This is an involving novel with a lot to chew on for the thinking reader.  A worthy successor to Civil Twilight, which was the first in what one hopes will be an extended series.

 

 

 

Fragile by Lisa Unger

Publisher: Vintage

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

While the town of The Hollows outside of NYC might seem the idyllic place to raise a family, a closer look at the simmering dramas that lie just beneath the surface will show the many fissures that are ready to crack.  Especially after the disappearance of young teen-aged girl brings to mind a similar disappearance of another young girl in the past.  And Maggie Cooper, a teenager herself when the first girl went missing and now the mother of her own teenager and the wife of the town's detective, is just one resident who is about to face the repercussions from past mistakes that have remained hidden for far too long.  

It all starts when Maggie's son's girlfriend Charlene goes missing, an event that leads more than one eye to focus on her teenaged son, one of the last to presumably have had contact with her.  But almost just as unsettling as the girl's disappearance is Maggie's husband's inexplicably suspicious reaction to it all.  A reaction that brings forward the doubts that Maggie has never quite faced concerning her perfect marriage and her perfect Hollow's golden boy husband.  What is his connection to another young girl's disappearance years before and why is he suddenly acting as if he's got something terrible to hide?  

But Maggie's not the only one feeling the strain, so too are other residents of this small community where  past and present are about to collide in dramatic and unexpected ways.

The never forgotten,  complicated, and sometimes dangerous entanglements that can arise from growing up in a small town are compassionately and insightfully portrayed by this new suspense thriller from Unger.  Perfectly balancing the need for independence from one's past and the indelible ties that persist regardless of any attempt otherwise, Unger creates a tale that's full of realistic characters that will remind readers of either someone they know, or perhaps even themselves.  

And filled with perfectly written passages that are worthy of being read twice also serve to make this read an intense journey that evokes a surprising amount of emotion. As does the beautifully written side-story involving the man (and his new love)  who will eventually provide important clues in the case.  Unger reminds us with a persistent grace that while the past is physically over, it remains a part of who we are.  Poetic at times, heartbreaking at others, and suspenseful throughout, this is easily the best book of the year and comes with the strongest recommendation we have.

 

 

 

 

The Viognier Vendetta by Ellen Crosby

Publisher: Pocket

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Darker than previous installments of the Wine Country series, winery owner Lucie Montgomery seems to lose battles in winemaking, friendship and even romance in The Viognier Vendetta.  Her limited, prize-winning Viognier wine is turning worse with each day even as her relationship with her winemaker Quinn disintegrates amid secrets and unexpected absences.  Worst of all, bittersweet memories of her college friend Rebecca Natale rush back when Rebecca returns after twelve long years of silence.

The twelve years haven’t been kind to either friend as Lucie still walks with a cane as a reminder of her horrific car accident and Rebecca, beautiful and stylish as ever, radiates unease and fear.  Despite her misgivings, Lucie accepts her invitation to join her in Washington, D.C., at the Willard Hotel while Rebecca’s business keeps her in town.  Rebecca’s paranoia seems to be a byproduct of working closely with demanding billionaire Sir Thomas Asher, whose financial acumen and generosity has made him an immediate A-list guest in Washington and a good friend of a Virginia Senator.  Shortly after Lucie’s arrival, Sir Thomas sends Rebecca on a trip of national historical significance which ties in with Sir Thomas’ own British family, resulting in Rebecca’s disappearance. 

Strangely, Rebecca leaves Lucie clues in the form of poetry from long-dead Alexander Pope, ensuring Lucie’s mystification even as her other problems distract her.  Unfortunately, strange things keep happening to the people whose lives intersected with Rebecca’s and Lucie needs to immediately refocus on Rebecca’s case, leading to several trips between her Virginian winery and the nation’s capitol.   

Crosby’s Lucie continues to be likeable but this series of crises deepens her character and builds suspense for each facet of her life.  Crosby doesn’t neglect the secondary characters of the series and old favorites such as the town gossip and Lucie’s social climbing ex make their appearances in believable form.  Quinn’s erratic behavior may mystify new readers but devoted fans will find as much suspense in his backstory as they will in new character Rebecca’s secrets.  Throughout the novel, Crosby continues to weave a little vintner education and local Virginia history without preaching, creating a strong-bodied mystery that lives up to its name.