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Hot, Shot, and Bothered by Nora McFarland

Publisher: Touchstone

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Anti-hero Lilly Hawkins has spent most of her adult life trying to amend for her mistakes and crimes from her miserable youth.  Preferring to be anywhere but the center of attention, she excels in her job as a “shooter,” or camera-person, for a local news station.  Things are literally getting hot around her small California town when wildfires blaze out of control, resulting in a small army of firefighters attempting to control the damage. 

Lilly’s personal life has actually solidified with the growth of her relationship of TV personality Rod, although his work on-air may give him a shot at the big time in a new city hours away from little Bakersfield.  Being back in her adolescent stomping grounds forces Lilly to examine her past while deciding what would be best for her future while still shooting the biggest story of her life.

When a body surfaces, both a firefighter and Lilly get the shock of their lives when the dead girl is identified as environmentalist Jessica Egan.  The firefighter, Jessica’s brother, describes his late sister as “trash” on the air while Lilly remembers unexpected Jessica’s sacrifice to protect Lilly over a decade before.  For both Jessica’s brother and Lilly, the unapproved search for Jessica’s killer means learning more about the person Jessica truly was—and why someone might go to great lengths to silence her.

Nora McFarland does an admirable job of making Lilly complex and likeable enough to root for her even though her tally of mistakes is substantial.  Through Hot, Shot, and Bothered, Lilly continues to grow and become more comfortable in her skin even as the identity of Jessica’s killer remains elusive until the heated climax in the latest of the Lilly Hawkins mystery series.

 

 

 

Acceptable Loss by Anne Perry

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

A simple yet distinctive silk gentleman’s cravat threatens a man’s life, especially when it’s found wrapped around the neck of a despicable murder victim and its Oscar Wilde-styled owner remains socially acceptable solely because of his father’s powerful position.

In the Victorian-era mystery, River Police Commander William Monk and his wife Hester try to find out who really killed the blackmailing child molester found strangled with the silk cravat owned by Rupert Cardew.  As a nurse in the Crimea, Hester has seen much of the worst of humanity but it’s her life in England that exposes her to significant abuse of young boys.  In fact, Wiliam and Hester’s first-hand knowledge of the trade stems from a case which resulted in their unofficial adoption of one protective young orphan named Scuff. 

While Monk investigates the child trade, his friend Oliver Rathbone represents his father-in-law after Monk accuses the latter of murder.  Rathbone, still feeling guilty after raking Hester and Monk over the coals under oath in a previous case, must reconcile his won doubts with his need to protect his wife, Margaret. 

Anne Perry takes care to construct the dialect of London’s lower social classes while preserving both dignity and intelligence with characters as helpful and resourceful as the villains are vile.  She strives to give Cardew redeeming qualities to make his plight as the suspected murderer more sympathetic, although the motivation behind his actions still remains questionable.

More successfully, Perry creates an interesting juxtaposition of both home and professional lives of aristorcratic Rathbone and middle-class Monk.  Their complicated friendship aids in preventing broad generalizations while demonstrating the rigidity of tradition of the era.

Perry’s characters sometimes discuss pedophilia anachronistically, using descriptions stemming from more modern psychology than in Freudian times and the abuse appears throughout the novel with occasional graphic information.    

 

 

 

 

White Heat by M. J. McGrath

Publisher: Viking Adult

Edie Kiglatuk, the only female guide in this part of the cold interior of the Arctic, manages to scrape by on the jobs that come her way guiding mostly white males into this desolate region.  But on one particular trip while guiding two supposed hunters, her license ends up in jeopardy when one of the men dies by a fatal gunshot wound.  And the questions surrounding the death, mainly if it was an accident or murder, only become that much more crucial in answering when another man, and then someone very important to her, dies on her watch.  What really were these men searching for?  And who is next on the list to die?

If you’ve ever wondered what living in the Arctic is like, McGrath provides plenty of detail in this vivid and atmospheric novel.  Her story, like the landscape, is stark, dark, and chilling.  Well rounded characters and a timely plot complete this first in what promises to be an engaging series featuring a tough, independent, and slightly flawed heroine who easily holds her own.

 

 

 

 

The Magdalena Curse  by B.F. Cottam

Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

Mark Hunter is a Special Ops officer in the British military. He lives an orderly, quiet life. He meets and marries a special woman. The marriage produces a son and a daughter. His future looks ideal.

Then he ordered to the jungles of the Amazon as part of a multi-national force battling the drug trade. Along with two other officers and an elite group of commandos, Hunter prepares to attack a camp. Recon brought by one of the soldiers make them uneasy, but they proceed.

What they find is beyond their experiences and comprehension. They have encountered witches with tremendous power. The commandos are killed. The officers are cursed with a spell that fits each. Hunter kills the more powerful of the witches. Hunter and one officer make it out.

A decade passes. Hunter has lost his wife and daughter to tragedy. He lives quietly in Scotland. The other officer that survived kills himself. Now Hunter’s son – his last hope – has suffered the spell and speaks in voices of the long dead in ancient languages. Hunter must seek out the other witch and try to have the curse lifted before it is too late.

Leaving the boy in the care of a kind doctor – Elizabeth Bancroft – Hunter sets out. Neither know the extent of the threats to which they have been exposed.

Cottam has combined mystery with dark sorcery to create an intriguing tale. The book is well written in an almost journalist style of a reporter. The style works well for the story line.

 

 

 

Flowering Judas by Jane Haddam

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

When crime consultant Gregor Demarkian is called to aid in solving a case in a small New York town, he gladly takes to the post, happy to be out of his home that is being overrun by decorating samples that his new bride is considering for the renovation of their shared Philadelphia apartment. 

The case, which begins oddly enough by the discovery of the body of a man gone missing twelve years prior hanging off his own missing person's billboard, ends up going in some wild directions as it seems everyone has something to hide, including the original investigators on the case.  And what follows might just leave Gregor wishing he was back home again wading through carpet and faucet samples.

Haddam's latest in the series offers up a steady dose of dry wit that lends an easy hand in making this challenging mystery even more engaging.  Readers who are familiar with her work will find this a bit more lighthearted than earlier novels, and after getting used to that aspect, will find themselves gladly riding along with Gregor as he deals with a set of modern day Keystone cops and a village with more than its fair share of idiots.  With its alternating spotlight on several different characters and its irreverent attitude towards big/small city/towns, this one remains entertaining all the way through.     

 

 

 

The Woodcutter by  Reginald Hill

Publisher: Harper-Collins

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

Wolf Hadda is an enigma. On one hand he is the son of a lowly rural worker who. Wolf rose to be a successful English businessman. He married a nobleman’s daughter. He fathered his own daughter. He lived in luxury and comfort.

On the other hand, Wolf called upon his climbing skills developed during his youth in rural countryside. Retribution is handed out through an organization known as “Woodcutter International” for criminals that escape justice by its members, including Wolf.

Suddenly, Wolf’s ideal life collapses. He is accused of child pornography. He is convicted. His wife divorces him and marries his former lawyer. Their daughter dies.

Wolf nearly dies as he attempts an escape.

In the prison, Alva Ozibzo, psychologist, delves into the psyche of Wolf. Through a series of journals, Wolf reveals his life’s journey. Still there remains the question of who set him up and why.

“The Woodcutter” is a monumental work at more than five hundred pages. Excellent writing and an interesting plot will reward the dedicated reader. 

 

 

The Bourne Dominion by Eric Van Lustbader

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Reviewed by Ray Palen, New Mystery Reader

It is hard to believe that Robert Ludlum has been gone for ten years.  During his prolific writing career he penned three novels featuring amnesiac super-spy, Jason Bourne.  These three novels were all made into popular films starring Matt Damon.

The public always seems to be clamoring for remakes and a return to the past.  That being said, THE BOURNE DOMINION marks author Eric Van Lustbader’s sixth novel featuring Ludlum’s Jason Bourne --- like James Bond and Sherlock Holmes, another character that does not want to go away.  Additionally, a new Jason Bourne film is also being made starring Oscar-nominee, Jeremy Renner.

Van Lustbader has done an admirable job reinvigorating the Bourne series and I’m sure fans around the world have been pleased to have the ability to still spend some time with one of the most famous fictional spies of all time.  Unfortunately for me, THE BOURNE DOMINION seems to not live up to Van Lustbader’s previous Bourne efforts and features far less action and excitement that the prior novels produced.

In this entry into the Bourne saga, Jason is on a mission to stop a group of international terrorists seeking to destroy several of the United States most strategic natural resources.  This would be a crippling blow to a mighty country already dealing with crippling economic woes.  To make matters more interesting, Bourne needs help in tracking down this elusive cadre of terrorists and must seek out the aid of his former friend and ally, Russian General Boris Karpov.

Unbeknownst to Bourne, Karpov is on a mission of his own --- one that will most assuredly find their paths crossing in the near future.  Karpov had to make a deal with some of his own enemies in order to save his position as the head of the Russian FSB-2 group.  The deal focuses on one aim --- hunting down and killing Jason Bourne.

Early in the novel, Jason Bourne is told by another character: “Anything is possible. Everything is possible.”  For readers familiar with the saga of Jason Bourne, you realize how true this statement is.  The novel twists and turns, focusing on a small handful of different characters, and sets an expanse that covers many parts of the globe.  We realize that the only way to stop the global threats that are posed by these terrorists must involve Bourne and Karpov working together --- but how will that happen?

Though very well written, THE BOURNE DOMINION is the least exciting of all the Jason Bourne novels and has too many story-lines occurring simultaneously.  This takes away from the main focus of the Bourne/Karpov inevitable showdown.  The big chases and races against the clock are saved for the very end of the novel, but the slow and often confusing pace that leads up to the finale takes away from the overall impact.  However, any time spent with Jason Bourne is welcome and I look forward to Mr. Van Lustbader continuing to keep this classic character alive in further adventures.

 

 

 

 

Garden Of Secrets Past by Anthony Eglin

Publisher: MinotaurBooks                     

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

If you enjoyed “The Trail of the Wild Rose” which was reviewed on the NMR website a few years back, you will enjoy this new offering from the master of botanical mysteries.  This one is less about specific plants and more about the big picture: the stately home garden.

Laurence Kingston accepts a commission from Francis, Lord Morley, a man who stiffed him out of a fee once before. You’d think Laurance would tell him to get lost, but there’s a sufficient attraction in the healthy cash advance and the chance to explore one of England’s grand gardens to lure Laurence away from his cosy flat in Cadogan Square to investigate the murder at Shugborough Hall.

Morley is concerned that the police aren’t making much progress in the murder of the archaeologist who was found near one of the neoclassical monuments in the garden.  He says visitor numbers are down, and that’s affecting the estate’s income.  Laurence soon discovers that there’s more going on than a simple murder: there’s clearly some connection with the old family legend about buried treasure at the Hall.  Did the archaeologist decipher the secret code in one of the monuments, and was he killed for it?  Laurence has a go at the code himself, and with help from a surprising ally, learns enough to make him decide on an after-dark foray into the wilds of Staffordshire.

Where there’s treasure, there’s treachery.  Laurence ponders this truism as he sits in the dark, injured after a fall into a secret chamber.  Will his friend Andrew arrive with help before a greedy killer comes back?  Has Eglin come up with one of the cleverest places to hide electronic data you could ever think of?  Buy the book and find out.