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Requiem For a Dealer by Jo Bannister

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN-10: 0312362110

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Brodie Farrell, owner of a business in England that promises to find any and everything requested by a customer, thinks that compared to some of her past undertakings, teaching her best friend Daniel Hood how to drive should be a breeze.  But when only minutes into the task Daniel hits a young woman who suddenly appears on the road, it becomes all too apparent that teaching this young man how to drive is the least of her worries.  And when the uninjured woman accuses them of purposely trying to kill her, just as she claims someone murdered her father, a death that the police are convinced is a suicide, things only get more complicated.  

Yet the mystery deepens even further when the woman ends up in the hospital of an apparent drug overdose, an overdose from a new designer drug that Brodie's lover just happens to be investigating, leaving Brodie to wonder if all of these events are somehow connected.  And as she begins to investigate, she'll find herself once again caught in the middle of the unspoken war between her best friend and her lover, each with different conclusions regarding the events.  But this time might be the last time, and Brodie, if she makes it out alive, may have to finally choose between the two men once and for all.

While Bannister's latest outing featuring this familiar cast gets a little tedious in spots, she still provides a well spun story that fans will enjoy.  The intricate crime provided, though cleverly devised and intelligently executed, now and again seems to get bogged down by the heavy details that are necessary for comprehension by the reader.  And Brodie, our returning heroine, is actually a bit difficult to like now and again this latest.  But, with that being said, the ongoing saga of where Brodie's loyalties lie continues to intrigue and captivate, and with the cliff-hanging ending, readers will definitely be clamoring for the next.

 

Always Say Goodbye by Stuart M. Kaminsky

Publisher: Forge Books  ISBN-10: 0765316013

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

After Lew Fonesca's wife died almost four years ago in a hit and run, Lew left his job as a Chicago investigator and headed for Sarasota, Florida hoping to escape the memories that relentlessly haunted him.   But after four years of earning a living as a process server, and occasionally helping the occasional friend out of a bind, Lew still can't shake the depression and anger of his wife's untimely death.  So in the hopes of finding the killer, Lew heads back to Chicago, unaware that his arrival is being tracked by those who will do anything to keep their secrets hidden for good.

One would think that Kaminsky, author of three different mystery serials, would have run out of tales to tell by now but, amazingly, just the opposite is true.  This latest proves, if anything, that Kaminsky still has much to share and is only getting better at it, if that's even possible.  It's difficult to say which part of this latest is most striking: the dialogue, the poignancy of Lew's grief, or simply the way the story reads like a tale told by a man who might have actually lived it.  The beauty of the telling lies in its simplicity, something Kaminski has mastered like few before in this genre, his stories made all the more remarkable for not only what is said, but by what is not.   This is an amazing book, and the feelings of enrichment and discovery that linger long after it's over make it one you'll want to keep on your shelves to be savored again another day.          

 

 

 

The Sorcerer's Circle by Michael Siverling

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur  ISBN: 0312361920

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Jason Wilder, California PI, is still on the mend from a knife injury from his last case when he all too soon finds himself caught up in another case of an unsolved murder.  It all begins when a strange man enters Jason's office proclaiming his imminent death, a proclamation Jason writes off as just another lunatic wanting some attention.  But when the man is found murdered shortly after the visit, Jason regrets his casual rebuff and avows to find the truth.  And when the mayor hires the agency to find his missing daughter, a young woman who just happened to be a member of the mysterious cult the dead man led, and who is now a suspect in his murder, Jason will find himself caught between proving her innocence and revealing a trail of deceit that just might prove her guilt.    

Fans of this new series featuring private investigators Jason Wilson and his mother Victoria, partners in the Midnight Detective Agency, will most likely feel this second lives up to the promise put forth in the first.  Free of gore and graphic details, this lighthearted mystery breezes quickly along with charming characters, a touch of romance for Jason, and a clever plot that provides a decent challenge for the unraveling.  My only complaint is for overly precious and incessantly applied nicknames for Jason's mother Jason's car, and Jason's group of friends.  Other than that, this one easily entertains while leaving one blissfully free of nightmares.      

 

            

Critique of Criminal Reason by Michael Gregorio

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 0312349947

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader

Historical thrillers have a lot going for them. In addition to the escapist virtues of contemporary thrillers, the historical model transports the reader to a different world which the reader may be only dimly aware of. Good ones are always lurking about, including this year’s Death of Achilles and City of Shadows. Michael Gregorio’s Critique of Criminal Reason is a worthy addition.

Hanno Stiffeniis is Magistrate of the quiet Prussian town of Lotingen in 1804, when he is visited by Sergeant Amadeus Koch, aide to the procurator of Konigsberg, currently in the throes of a series of murders. Since Prussia is at risk of attack by Napolean’s armies, French sedition is suspected and King Frederick Wilhelm III has commissioned Stiffeniis to assist in the investigation.

Or has he? Aside from having no obvious qualifications for the job (as Stiffeniis readily admits), Konigsberg has unpleasant history for the young magistrate. An estranged father and a brief, strained, relationship with renowned philosopher Immanuel Kant has led to his informal banishment from the city. Stiffeniis must struggle not only with his personal baggage, but a constantly shifting investigation, in which he finds himself working with Kant more than for the king.

Gregorio uses his wealth of material wisely. Political intrigue is leveraged without allowing the story to disintegrate into a treatise on European politics of the early Nineteenth Century. Few readers will have the background (or the initiative) to verify his research into the living conditions and geography of 1804 Konigsberg. No matter. Gregorio brings the historical and geographic elements together with a writing style reminiscent of the period, creating a satisfying whole that overwhelms any potential inconsistencies

Using Kant’s theories and mental discipline to underscore Stiffeniis’s investigation is a fascinating and adroit means of tying disparate elements together. Following Gregorio’s scenario, Kant is the father of modern criminal investigation techniques: asking for crime scene drawings before the advent of photography, preserving bodies for post-mortem examination, saving physical evidence for analysis. Gregorio doesn’t make too much of this, allowing Stiffeniis to draw mostly rudimentary conclusions, but the groundwork is well laid.

Weaving Kant’s theories with embryonic CSI techniques gives Gregorio the freedom to add plot twists in unexpected places without losing the logical thread of the story. Stiffeniis encounters a fascinating and physically diverse cast of characters, eccentric in both the appearance and action, through which he follows the slender threads made available to him, with Kant’s pristine logic sometimes delayed, if not deterred, by contemporary superstition.

Stiffeniis’s early groping amidst Kant’s theories also provides Gregorio ample opportunity to play with the reader, who will think, “Why didn’t he do…” or “Check the …” before remembering Stiffeniis wouldn’t think to do that. He’s breaking fresh ground here, and the fun is in watching him do it.

All of the above describe a rocking good read. There is a catch, which may disturb some readers. I am not a Kant scholar, so I can’t say if evidence justifies the descriptions of the philosopher’s dark side that surface in the book. Using real people in fiction is always risky business, especially when painting them in an unflattering light. Kant is long dead, unable to argue for himself. While it’s true the dead cannot be libeled, it’s still unseemly.

This is partly why the ending is ultimately less satisfying than it should be. To say more would be a spoiler, but too much is left to Fate, and Stiffeniis’s last act is too facile in covering up what may be license on Gregorio’s part. Gregorio knows more of Kant that I ever will. I only hope he knows enough to justify his description of the denouement of a brilliant career.

 

The Wildfire Season by Andrew Pyper

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 0312354541

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

It was only a few short years ago that Miles and Alex were planning a bright future in Toronto;  Miles pursuing a career in medicine, Alex in teaching.  But all that changed when Miles, foreman of a firefighting crew, faced the biggest fire of his summertime career; a fire that left one crewmember dead and Miles burned and disfigured.  Unable to face the fallout, he leaves Toronto, Alex, and his unborn child without a word of goodbye, hoping to outrun his remorse and shame. 

Eventually winding up in the small town of Ross River, a village deep in the Yukon,  he keeps his distance from the locals, his disfigurement and pain leaving him unable and unwilling to connect with those around him.  His work as the fire chief is all that keeps him going, but fires seem to be avoiding his particular zone this season, putting his crew in jeopardy of losing their budget and their jobs.  So when at last a fire is spotted, his motley crew of firefighters are quick to respond to what initially appears to be a fire of little subsequence. 

But the fire is not all that has arrived to Ross River, for Alex and her young daughter Rachel have also made a starling appearance.  And as the fire, now suspected to be arson, begins to rage out of control, Alex will have one more chance to save what is left of his life and those he loves.  But the fire isn't the only thing stalking Miles and his family;  there's another danger even closer coming from a man who holds Miles responsible for all he's lost and who will stop at nothing to exact his revenge.

In this latest powerhouse of a book, Pyper offers the reader one hell of an adventurous tale, one surrounded by beautiful settings and inhabited by unique and appealing characters.  However, not only is this an exciting tale of fire and the untamed wild, but also a love story full of redemption and hope.  At times beautiful and poignant, at others brutal and fierce, this one has all the necessary aspects needed to enthrall the reader from beginning to end.  Throw in just a touch of the supernatural, and you have a tale that goes beyond the expected.  Highly recommended, this stunning book of beauty and boldness should not be missed.

 

 

Gravewriter by Mark Arsenault

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 0312335962

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader
December featured author interview! 

Before his gambling problem got the best of him, fallen Providence, RI journalist Billy Povich was one of the best investigative journalists in the city, an exciting life that included a happy marriage and a young son named Bo.  But these days he's writing the obit, living with his father and son in a small apartment, and having dreams of deadly revenge for the man he feels is responsible for the car crash that killed his ex-wife over a year before.  A sad and empty life filled with remorse, continued gambling compulsions that lead to the occasional beating, and a tendency towards disengagement with the small family he has left.

But when he's summoned for jury duty and chosen to sit on the trial of a young addict accused of killing one of his cohorts after a daring escape from prison, he begins to feel the familiar relentless need for truth and justice once again.  Doubting the young man's guilt, he sets off on a search for the truth, a search that will bring him either a sense of redemption and newfound hope, or one that just might get him killed.

In his latest, Arsenault provides the reader with an astonishingly suspenseful tale that is both cunningly humorous and unexpectedly poignant, an enticing blend that makes for one very dynamic and heartfelt read.  And in Billy Povich, Arsenault also gives the reader one hell of a hero worth cheering for, an imperfect man who, in spite of his faults -  or perhaps because of them, is also endearing and humane.  This one will catch you by surprise with just how good it makes you feel when all is said and done, and by how much you'll want to see more of these wonderfully drawn characters.   Let's hope that Arsenault plans to do this again, and soon.

 

 

The Angel and the Jabberwocky Murders by Mignon F. Ballard

Publisher:  St. Martin's Minotaur  ISBN:  13: 9780312354190

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

Have you ever seen an angel?  Or lived with one?  Lucy Nan Pilgrim has and does.  She advertised a room to let and the only applicant, Augusta Goodnight, turned out to be her guardian angel.  Only Lucy Nan and her best friend can see her.

Lucy Nan has take a job teaching a course at the local college at the same time a student who is much disliked disappears. The search seems low key until her body is found in a shed on campus by a couple of Lucy Nan's students.

Then it comes to light that another girl was drowned a few years previously after being hit on the head. And a mysterious note was sent to her as was the victim found in the shed. 

Lucy Nan begins to gather clues about the murders with Augusta advising and encouraging her. She realizes soon that these killings are not random, but the deliberate acts of someone with a purpose. 

Will Lucy Nan and Augusta be able to stop the killer before any more students die? Join the frantic search for the identity of the killer as the search for a motive goes on.

I'm very happy to recommend this fun read with its well drawn characters to any mystery fan.  Talented author Mignon F. Ballard has crafted a tale that guarantees reader satisfaction. Enjoy.  I sure did.