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Mighty Old Bones by Mary Saums

Publisher:  Minotaur Books   ISBN 031294439X

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

This is another volume in the Twigg and Thistle mystery series.  The series, which features Jane Thistle and Phoebe Twigg  is very reminiscent of the Felicity Kendall mystery series on the BBC a few years back, “Rosemary and Thyme” which featured a landscaping guru and her untrained but keen assistant who kept finding bodies in the moss phlox  and conspiracies in the oleanders.

This book has the same folksy touch, with the two very different protagonists playing off each other: Jane, sophisticated, well-traveled, and possessed of a spooky ability to see ghosts and connect with a time long past, and Phoebe, a down-to-earth southerner who’s rarely been five miles from home but who has some relatives with unusual capabilities, and an AK46 and-a-half named “Smokeahontas”.

The trouble starts when Jane finds a skeleton on her newly-inherited property.  It is buried near some interesting and ancient rock carvings.  After some initial trouble with an alleged Native American burial site representative who turns out to have a lot less claim to the connection than most people (including Burt Reynolds),  Jane is able to get some anthropological assistance in the form of her old friend Michael.

The excavation starts and a number of interesting things turn up which suddenly make this old grave the focus of not only some other-wordly interests, but also the all-too-common world of crime for profit. 

The final scene where two old ladies armed to the teeth, a dog,  and one ancient seer take on a bunch of heavies will have you gasping with disbelief and laughing  at the same time—and cheering for the little old ladies, of course.

Despite the occasionally confusing narrator switching you’ll find this a fast read.  You don’t have to believe in the Other World to find this an absorbing story.

 

 

 

Dying By the Sword by Sarah D’Almeida

Publisher: Berkley  ISBN-10: 0425224619

Reviewed by Tracey Jipson, New Mystery Reader 

In Dying By the Sword, the delightful fifth book in the historical Musketeers Mystery series, author Sarah D’Almeida transports readers to France in the time of Alexandre Dumas and his Four Musketeers.  The author, writing in a style reminiscent of Dumas  himself, brings the Four Musketeers, Porthos, Aramis, Athos, and D’Artagnon, back to life in all their swashbuckling glory, fleshing out these period characters into colorful and lively personas.   A firestorm of events is set off when Porthos, who has damaged his sword, sends it off for repairs with his faithful if somewhat shady servant Mousqueton.   When the Four Musketeers arrive at the armorer’s shop to retrieve the sword, they find that someone has murdered the armorer and Mousqueton lying unconscious nearby, looking guilty by dint of the sword in his hand.  Despite protestations from Porthos and the others, who believe that their loyal servant has been framed, Mousqueton is imprisoned in the Bastille and sentenced to death at the gallows.  The Four Musketeers decide to prove that their friend is innocent, and consult with their captain, Monsieur de Treville, to decide on a course of action.   Unfortunately this plan puts them squarely up against their old enemy Cardinal Richelieu, as well as the King of France himself.  The Musketeers discover that Mousqueton has inadvertently become involved in a complicated murder plot, one they must unravel and quickly if the foursome want to save their servant’s life.

Fast paced and snidely humorous, historically accurate but not scholarly, this mystery is an absolute joy.   Old Paris, glamorous and filthy all at once, comes alive in the author’s richly detailed descriptions.  The involved plot is well-planned and well-paced, slowed only by the plethora of side characters introduced into the story.  The Four Musketeers could have been caricatures, but are instead believable and fully formed, with back stories that were carefully researched by the author and that help bring the various threads of the narrative together.  Sarah D’Almeida’s Dying By the Sword will take you on a highly enjoyable journey into the adventurous past of the Four Musketeers.

 

 

 

The Book of Old Houses by Sarah Graves

Publisher: Bantam  ISBN-10: 0553588036

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

When readers last met up with Jacobia  (Jake) Tiptree, a woman intent on restoring her Eastport, Maine home, she had uncovered a century's old book in her cellar that listed the names of the home's residents written in blood - including her own.  And as the book appeared to be written long before Jake even existed, she had sent it to an expert to verify its age, never suspecting that her request might lead to death. 

So now she's confronted with yet another mystery when the book historian is murdered and a stranger comes to town who claims to be a dear friend of the murdered man and who is searching for the answers behind the victim's death.  But when he asks Jake to safe keep his gun for him, she can't help but question what this man is really looking for: revenge, the truth, or something even deadlier?  And so as she prepares to host a party for the town's matriarch, redo her bathroom, keep her son sober, and stay out of the way of her housekeeper's quarrel with her father, she'll find herself once again in facing her own demise as she determinedly searches for the truth.

After having read a few in this series and not being overly impressed, I was delighted with just how entertaining this latest proved to be.  Not only does Grave, as usual, do a fine job of depicting the wonder that is rural Maine, but this time around she throws in some great secondary characters, a dash of something ethereal, and a solid detailing of the continuing saga of her regular cast and crew that all combine to make this one of the best so far.  So if you're in need for a cozy and engaging romp through the woods and alongside the sea, filled with well drawn good guys and bad guys, this one easily fits the bill.

 

 

 

Mr. Clarinet by Nick Stone

Publisher:  Harper Paperbacks  ISBN:  978-0-06-0897333

Reviewed by Susan Illis, New Mystery Reader

Miami private investigator turned inmate Max Mingus is still in Attica when he is approached with a missing persons case.  He tears up the letters and refuses the phone calls without a second thought.  Until his wife, Sandra, dies tragically and he is set free—physically, but not emotionally.

Most private investigators would be tempted by the multimillionaire dollar reward the white Haitian family is offering for information on the missing boy, Charlie Carver.  Many would also be frightened off by the disturbing fates of Max’s predecessors.  Max is neither attracted nor deterred by these factors.  Mainly, he isn’t ready to go home to a house filled with memories of his wife and doesn’t have any better offers.

Charlie Carver disappeared when he was a toddler, and most people assume he is dead.  Too many Haitian children have disappeared without a trace for the last few generations, and most blame the legendary Mr. Clarinet, a sort of Pied Piper who lures children with his clarinet. 

Through Max Mingus, Nick Stone offers an unforgettable portrayal of Haiti—bleak, corrupt, and filthy.  The Carvers control a banking empire with tentacles stretching all over the world.  The cracks in the family armor are not far below the surface, but Max assumes the Carvers have been torn apart by the loss of their young heir.  He soon realizes that the cracks are more like canyons.

Max Mingus is a flawed but likeable hero, with his own unique sense of morality.  Mr. Clarinet has waaay too much back story for the first book in a series, and some readers will be put off either by the graphic violence or the subject matter.  Others will just enjoy the suspense and the insider glimpse into Haiti.  Although Mr. Clarinet is billed as the first in a series, it’s hard to imagine Nick Stone creating a setting so expertly as he does with Haiti.

 

 

 

False Witness by Aimee and David Thurlo

Reviewed by Donna Padilla, New Mystery Reader 

Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks  ISBN-10: 0312993714

Sister Agatha is an extern nun at Our Lady of Hope monastery is Bernalillo, New Mexico, and with her set of wheels being a red Harley Classic with a side car for her dog Pax, she's far from what one might expect.  Not to mention the well deserved reputation the pair has for solving crimes.  This latest mystery begins when a stolen SUV crashes through the front gates of the monastery and the driver disappears.  And the nuns, having no money for repairs, gladly accept an offer from John Guttered, a friend who is very ill and one who has made several charitable contributions to the nuns in the past.  But the contribution comes with a price tag: Sister Agatha must agree to search for the man's long estranged niece, a search that will most likely put the good Sister into another deadly confrontation with good and evil.

Once again the Thurlos have written an engrossing and entertaining novel with Sister Agatha giving equal diligence to her religious obligations, her fellow nuns, and the sleuthing task she has been given.  Roaring around on her Harley with Pax in the side car she tracks down every lead until she has solved the puzzling case in what proves to be another cozy and delightful read from this talented duo. 

 

 

 

Hush My Mouth by Cathy Pickens

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur  ISBN-10: 0312354436

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

It hasn’t been that long of a time since attorney Avery Andrews fled the big city to return to her small home town in the Carolinas, a return she’s not quite sure about as evidenced by her unpacked boxes.  But still, she’s more than willing to take on the scraps unwanted by others in her profession of the miscreants and misdemeanors thrown her way.  So when she’s approached by a young woman who needs help to find her best friend who has gone missing, she’s wary, but agreeable, to aide in the search.  But when she finds out that the missing woman’s aunt had been found murdered years before, her case still unsolved, she begins to suspect there might be a connection in the two cases, a connection that might prove to be deadly for anyone who dares to reveal it.

For fans of Southern mysteries, there’s more than one reason to pick up this book.  In addition to the zesty Southern ambiance, the well-drawn characters, and the tightly woven plot, readers are treated to a narrative that zips and zings and rarely misses a step all the way through.  You’ll like these people--those you should like anyway--and you’ll dislike those you shouldn’t.  Pickens knows how to tell a good story, and she does it with conviction and sensibility while still maintaining a bit of the wackiness that is part of the South.  This one is definitely a winner, and we look forward to the next.

 

 

A Pale Horse by Charles Todd

Publisher: Harper Paperbacks   ISBN-10: 006167270X

Reviewed by Harvey Lau, New Mystery Reader

There are nine cottages in Berkshire, England beneath the hill with the chalk horse etched out on its side, presumably by ancient Britons.

One of the cottages has been empty for a while, once occupied by a man known as Partridge, who has “gone missing.”  No one has seen him recently, not his neighbor who feeds his cat in his absence, nor any of the other residents of the cottages.

Partridge worked for the British army during WWI, developing poison gases for the war effort. The British War Office has since been keeping tabs on him due to the sensitive nature of that work. When he disappears, Inspector Ian Rutledge is sent out from London by Scotland Yard to find him.

Rutledge is also called on visit Yorkshire, a town where some young schoolboys have found a man lying dead in a deserted abbey, his face covered with a WWI gas mask. The schoolboys are convinced it’s the work of the devil, and give no information to the authorities looking into the case.

Rutledge clears the local schoolmaster of this crime after the local inspector falsely puts the blame on him. Rutledge begins to suspect the dead man is actually Partridge, the man the War Office wants to find. 

The mystery of Partidge’s life and death and the effects on his family of his work on poison gases for warfare is the basis of the book’s plot. There are several false leads and red herrings in the way of the truth, including the suspicious deaths of two of the other cottage residents in Berkshire, but with uncommon persistence, Rutledge is able to untangle the web to get to the heart of the mystery of Partridge, his life, the suicide of his wife, and the estrangement of his two daughters.

The novel is set in the 1920s, just a few years after the end of the first World War. The theme follows early attempts to develop biological weapons. The seriousness of Inspector Rutledge's job is offset somewhat by a subplot involving Rutledge’s sister and her love affair, which, unlike Partridge’s life, has a happy ending.

I heartily recommend the book for mystery lovers who are also history buffs.

 

 

Blue Heaven by C. J. Box

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur  ISBN-10: 0312365713

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Determined to go fishing one late spring day, 12 year old Annie and her younger brother decide to hitch a ride to a nice spot on the river near their home in the mountains of beautiful North Idaho.  But their act of rebellion all too quickly turns to a race for survival when they witness a brutal murder.  Fleeing from the killers and not knowing who to trust or where to run, the kids soon end up at the home of a lonely old rancher who also is facing the end of a life he once thought indestructible.  And as the bond between these unlikely friends grow, the danger will creep every closer as they approach the final play in a game of greed and conspiracy that begun long ago.         

What's not to like about this book?  Box's stand alone thriller provides everything needed to compel, engage, and dig from the reader every type of emotion possible.  Poignantly drawn characters, a heart-racing plot, and an unflinching and provocative look at the nasty reality behind the destruction of a way of life, land, and community that is becoming all too common these days combine to make this a winner that is impossible to put down. Yes, this review is riddled with clichés, but all well deserved nonetheless; a top notch read that fans of this wonderfully creative author will devour and one that will leave them easily forgiving the author for his departure from his well-loved series. 

 

 

Dead Men Don’t Crochet by Betty Hechtman

Publisher: Berkley  ISBN-10: 0425225003

Reviewed by Tracey Jipson, New Mystery Reader

“My name is Molly Pink and I’m a yarnaholic” announces Molly to her friends, the Tarzana Hookers. This group of crocheting women is an interesting and varied group of personalities, and with Molly as their emotional center they form the warm and fuzzy core of this second book in Betty Hechtman’s Crochet Mystery series.   The Tarzana Hookers meet at a bookstore as often as possible to crochet together, usually working on charity projects, and in this book are working on shawls for abused women at a women’s shelter.   But they also work on their own projects as well, with some even (gasp!) knitting, which is how the group becomes involved in murder. 

Shy and nervous Sheila knits lovely scarves and has been selling them through consignment at a local antiques store.   But the store’s new owner begins to cut Sheila’s commission, even though the scarves are still popular items and Sheila desperately needs the money.  The Hookers, with Molly in the lead, convince Sheila to confront Drew Brooks at his store and argue for more money.  Unfortunately, after Sheila’s contentious and unsuccessful meeting with Drew, the store owner is killed and Sheila’s fingerprints are on the murder weapon.  Despite the protests of her police detective boyfriend, Molly feels that she must look into the murder to prove Sheila’s innocence.   But the investigation is anything but easy, with the personal lives of her friends and even her own issues with her kids, her love live and her reputation as “the crime scene groupie” all severely hindering Molly as she works to solve the crime.

Dead Men Don’t Crochet is a brisk and enjoyable cozy.  Molly and her fellow Tarzana Hookers are interesting characters, each with their own issues that the author manages to incorporate seamlessly into the story.  While crocheting is certainly at the heart of this book, there are plenty of other hooks as well, with the two men vying for Molly’s heart helping to form an intriguing love triangle and the turmoil in the lives of other characters continuously stirring up the action.  While this is a fun read, the mystery is quite transparent and easily solvable.  However, most readers will be hooked on the plot and want to stitch it out to the cozy end.

 

 

 

Death Song by Michael McGarrity

Publisher: Onyx  ISBN-10: 0451412494

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

With a mere three weeks to go until his retirement, Santa Fe Police Chief Kevin Kearney unexpectedly finds himself teaming up with his son Lincoln County investigator Clayton Ishtee in the dual investigation of the murder of a patrol officer in Lincoln County and the murder of his wife near Santa Fe.  But with little clues to go by, discovering the possible motives behind the deaths might just prove this likely last case of the Chief's impossible to solve, especially when it's discovered that the officer's teenaged son has gone missing.  And as the investigation progresses, the mystery will only deepen when it's discovered that more than one person in this family had some very deadly secrets worth killing for. 

Not having been too impressed with McGarrity's previous outings featuring Chief Kearney, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying this latest quite a bit.  Usually finding his factual detailing of investigating to be dry and unemotional, the teaming of Kearney with his newly discovered Apache son, while not necessarily a first, added color and depth to this fast moving read.  And, as usual, McGarrity's depiction of the slow corruption by wealth of Santa Fe and environs proved to be accurate and timely, and one that will be familiar to anyone who lives in such a place.  A tightly woven and cleverly written tale, this one will easily hit the spot for those who like a good police procedural.

 

 

An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear

Publisher:  Henry Holt ISBN:  978-0-8050-8215-9

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader                    

Enjoy a well-told story with a balanced mixture of mystery and intriguing characters. Talented author Jacqueline Winspear has crafted a tightly drawn plot using several subplots with riddles and secrets blended in you’ll want to know the answers to.

An old acquaintance hires Maisie Dobbs to conduct an investigation into the background of a brickworks he intends to purchase and the surrounding area.  It seems there has been a series of fires over the years as if someone intends to burn the small village of Heronsdene one building at a time. The buyer wants to know if the problems might affect the sale. Is the brickworks in danger of being a target.  The villagers won’t call in the police to catch the arsonist. Why?

Maisie and her assistant, Billy Beale who takes his family to work in the hop fields, are drawn into the acquaintance of gypsies as well as the villagers.  A mutual distrust among the gypsies, villagers and hop pickers from London adds difficulty to the investigation. Then there is another fire—this time at the inn where Maisie has a room.  

Maisie uncovers a second mystery in the village that adds spice to the story.  Then, on a visit to the gypsy camp, she finds yet another secret to be unraveled. 

This story is a combination of side stories of tragedy and the pleasure of old friends and family set amidst a series of mysteries, both small and large, that create a sense of realism and continuity in the life of the characters.  Reading it is like a visit with friends whose presence gives your life added warmth and pleasure. 

I’m pleased to highly recommend this tale to any reader who enjoys a really good read.  You’ll be looking for the other Maisie Dobbs stories as well.  Enjoy.  I sure did.

 

 

Last Call by James Grippando

Publisher: Harper  ISBN-10: 0060831170

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Author of the legal thriller series featuring defense attorney Jack Swyteck returns with a new suspense novel that focuses on his best friend Theo Knight, the man he got off death row years ago, and who now might end up there again when the past comes back to haunt him.  It all begins when a fellow gang member from Theo's past escapes from prison and winds up on Theo's door asking for help, help that Theo has no intention of delivering.  But things change when the convict suggests that he might have the answers behind the death of Theo's mother, a prostitute found murdered on the street when Theo was just a teen. But what Jack and Theo don't know is that in confronting the past and revealing the answers long asked, they'll also uncover secrets that are deadly.

Fans of Grippando's legal thrillers might be disappointed that while this one returns with the engaging duo of Jack and Theo, there's not a single courtroom scene to be found.  Instead the reader is treated to more of an adventure buddy thriller, that while offering excitement, thrills, and revelations regarding Theo's past with the occasional poignant moment thrown in for good measure, is unable to compare to what has come before.  It seems much more could have been made of Theo's agonizing childhood in an emotional context, but instead Grippando chooses to go down the all too typical road of gangs, guns, and drugs - a road that many may find a bit tedious in its familiarity to what's out there already.  However, if one approaches this latest without expectations of something similar to former titles, this one will most likely do the job of entertaining.                

 

 

Wicked Ways by Donna Hill

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin  ISBN-10: 031238808X

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, Editor-New Mystery Reader

In this sequel to Getting Hers, Hill brings back the dynamic trio of women who, after having gotten rid of certain pesky people in their lives through some ingenious plan, are now trying to settle in Aruba while running a high-class brothel.  However, as is usually the case, their desperate crimes have followed them.  And in one of the woman's case, the man from the other side of the law she fell hard for and thought she'd never see again.  And as the secrets the women have slowly begin to be revealed, their trust in each other will begin to crumble as friend turns upon friend, leaving them facing the biggest threat of all: Each other.

Having not read the prequel, I was a bit worried about how difficult it might be to get involved with this follow-up.  A concern that was thankfully soon dispelled by Hill's ability to not only include salient facts from before, but to do it in a way that blended effortlessly with the resulting current drama.  And for those who did read the first, no worries, she manages to throw in quite a few surprises that will more than shock. 

And while it's unthinkable to condone what these women have done, somehow their Machiavellian tale of revenge, betrayal, and greed is impossible to put down.  A quick and very dirty read that while probably would be even better if having read the first, still manages to completely enthrall throughout in this stunning follow-up.

 

 

 

Defending Angels by Mary Stanton

Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime  ISBN  978 0 425 22498 4

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Bree Beaufort was rather surprised when her Uncle Franklin left her his law practice in Savannah.  She was even more surprised to learn that his speciality was what you might call ‘discorporate law’—and it turns out that he wasn’t her uncle, either.

Uncle Franklin died in a freak accident, burned to death in a small fire that only consumed his chair and his body, and charred his law offices a bit.  Bree finds a temporary office in an old section of Savannah, allegedly the South’s most haunted city.  Life at the new office is strange from the start:  the landlady is eccentric (she has an apartment full of lemurs and owls), a stray dog adopts Bree, there’s a graveyard full of murderers—some of whom don’t want to stay dead—next door to the office and the office supply people send along a really scary painting with the second-hand desk and chairs.

Bree has barely caught her breath when the first client turns up, a desperate woman who claims she’s being haunted by a murdered man.  The police and coroner have already pronounced the death of Benjamin Skinner a tragic accident, but Liz Overshaw, his business partner, tells Bree that Ben keeps pestering her to bring his killer to justice.

Bree privately thinks Liz is round the bend, but hey, her money’s as green as anyone’s, and Bree doesn’t need to believe her client is sane to undertake the brief, which is to find out how Benjamin died.  Besides, Bree herself got a voicemail from Skinner several hours after his death, so she is pretty sure there’s something seriously weird going on.

Aided by her staff, the mysterious and vaguely sinister Petru Lucheta and the impossibly camp but likeable Ron Parchese, Bree begins investigating.  It isn’t long before she begins to believe that Skinner was in fact murdered, and she’s got a pretty good idea that the murderer is one of several people who stand to benefit from his death—but how to prove it?

With the help of a handsome police officer and a handsome private eye, Bree begins to narrow the field of suspects, but this proves to be a very dangerous thing to do.  It looks entirely possible that Bree is going to join the ghosts of Savannah herself before she establishes the identity of the murderer.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable light-hearted look at the problems one might encounter as a lawyer for the corporeally-challenged, with enough spookiness to establish a shivery ambience, but enough humour to keep your spirits up—you should forgive the expression.   Readers will be keen to know when the next book in the series is coming.

 

 

 

Hand of Evil by J.A. Jance

Publisher: Avon  ISBN-10: 0060828412

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Jance returns with her second outing featuring the interesting and chaotic life of 40-something Sedona resident Ali Reynolds; a woman who is not only still getting over the recent loss of her career in broadcasting, the death of her philandering ex-husband and a dear old friend, but also her own brush with danger while trying to solve the murders.

This time out, once again there's a couple of interesting mysteries for Ali to distract herself with - including the sudden disappearance of her father's handy man, the unrelated disappearance of her handsome detective friend's young daughter, and the mysterious summoning from a wealthy old woman who wishes to share some very dirty family secrets with her.  And as Ali jumps from puzzle to puzzle, she'll find herself once more facing danger as she attempts to find the answers to all the mysterious happenings that surround her.

No doubt many readers are familiar with J.A. Jance's two other successful serials - one featuring an older male Seattle detective, and the other featuring an indomitable female Arizona sheriff.  So it should come as no surprise that she's garnering her fair share of attention with this third series; its own success most likely guaranteed as well.  And indeed, in many ways, there is just cause for this to be just as appreciated - with its emphasis on some of the changes that woman of a particular age might realistically face.  However, that being said, as in her Seattle series, this one too has the proclivity of having too much going on to keep the reader entirely focused and convinced throughout, sometimes going in so many directions at once that the switching back and forth is more of a distraction than anything.  But as this latest is a big improvement from the first, there is plenty of promise to be had for the third.