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Max Conquers the Cosmos by Mark Bouton

Publisher: Five Star (ME); 1st edition (December 1, 2003) ISBN: 1594140723

Reviewed by Narayan Radhakrishnan

Reading the title Max Conquers the Cosmos, I initially thought that it was a children’s book- like Jeffrey Archer’s Willy Visits the Square World or Willy and the Killer Kipper.

But the title proved to be misleading- Max Conquers the Cosmos is an absolute stunner of an action novel- the first in a proposed series by veteran FBI Agent turned author Mark Bouton.

Attorney Amy Harrington is a topnotch criminal defence lawyer. But when Vicki Jacobson comes for her help on charges of murdering her husband, Harrington has a tough case on her hands. Vicki Jacobson’s husband was killed, by a gun that belonged to Vicki, there is blood on here clothes, and to make matters worse, Vicki had taken a high insurance policy in the name of her husband, a couple of days before the murder. But Vicki holds steadfast to her claim that she is innocent and that a prowler had in fact committed the murder. A sixth sense prompts Harrington to probe into the matter- and here enters Max Austin, former FBI Agent. and Private Investigator.

Max thinks that it is a routine case, but the more he delves into the case- he finds that there is something more than what meets the eye. What follows is exhilarating action, and page-turning suspense that is bound to thrill and chill the action- adventure lover.

Enjoyed it, looking forward to more from Max Austin and Mark Bouton.


The Weaver and the Factory Maid by Deborah Grabien

 Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur  ISBN: 0312314221

Reviewed by Donna Padilla

Ringan Laine is a folk musician and historian who makes a living by restoring old English manors to their historical architecture.  He is given a lifelong lease on a cottage and tithe barn in lieu of payment for one of his jobs.  However when he moves in he discovers that the cottage is haunted.  When his girlfriend Penny arrives to stay a while, she discovers the ghost in the barn.  Together they set out to research the history of the property and develop a plan to exorcise the spirits.

This is a charming book that is fun to read.  It is a tale based on a ballad that has everything necessary for a good story or song—young lovers, murder, and restless spirits.


Buried Diamonds by April Henry

 Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur  ISBN: 031230403X

When Claire Montrose finds a diamond ring in a stone wall during one of her morning jogs, she has no idea she’s about to unravel a 50 year old mystery.  Taking it home, she’s surprised when her 81 year old roommate, Charlie, recognizes the ring as belonging to an old friend back in the 50’s.  Claire learns of the tragic events surrounding the ring; it was an engagement ring belonging to a young woman who was to have wed a soldier from a wealthy family upon his return from Korea.  But the wedding never took place, as the young woman committed suicide shortly after his arrival home.  And as Charlie and Claire look up people from the past, they slowly fit together the story of a love gone wrong, and a tragic death that may have been murder.      

I was surprised by the depth in this latest from Henry.  Her exploration into Charlie’s past added a surprising profundity into what otherwise might have been just another cozy.  Charlie’s character is made fully realized by a sprinkling of brief forays into her time spent in a concentration camp in the 40’s, and the resulting impact on her life thereafter.  Added to the suspense of a well-written story that looks at crimes of the past, this nifty book has much to offer.  And while some events seem mere diversions with no necessity, they will make sense in the end.  A great read from Henry, we heartily recommend this gem of a book.            


The Water Clock by Jim Kelly

 Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 0312321430

Phillip Dryden is a reporter for a weekly in the Cambridgeshire Fens, a place that doesn’t get too much action, but enough for Dryden, who is still recovering from a tragic auto accident that has left his wife in a coma for the past two years.  But when a body is found, soon followed by a murder, things heat up in this wintry countryside.  Both bodies seem to be connected to a robbery 30 years previously, in which a woman was seriously maimed and left for dead.  So as Dryden combats snow storms, an inept editor, bungling cops, and a growing attraction to a co-worker, he also may find out why he was saved after the crash by a mysterious stranger, while his wife was left for dead. 

Phillip Dryden is wonderfully written as the lanky reporter who is part mischievous charmer and part tormented soul.  And for every sad or tragic moment, there is one that is wickedly humorous-- sometime subtle, sometimes blatant, but always adding to the perfect balance that makes up this delicious debut.   My only complaint, and it’s a small one, is that at times it was a bit too regional and those unfamiliar with the area will just have to fill in the blanks.  But all in all, a great first novel from Kelly, and we look forward to the next.


The Devil’s Acre by David Holland

 Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur  ISBN: 0312318669

Reviewed by Donna Padilla

Needing funds to rebuild his burned out cathedral, Dean Tuckworth travels to Victorian London in search of financial support.  When he is invited to dinner at the home of wealthy philanthropist Hamlin Price, the discovery of a faceless corpse ends the dinner party, but begins a quest for answers.  The inspector who is summoned does not ask the questions that will satisfy Duckworth’s curiosity, so he teams up with journalist Leigh Hunt, another dinner guest, to discover the identity of the corpse.  Their investigation takes them into Devil’s Acre, the seediest part of London.  Here they learn a secret that can ruin lives and force each of them to examine their beliefs about good and evil.

Holland has written a gothic novel that cannot be rushed through.  Every sentence and phrase must be carefully savored to extract the essence of the scene, the heartfelt beliefs of the main characters, and the nuances and subtle twists and turns of the plot.  An intelligent and worthwhile read that explores both the dark and light in man, it should appeal to those who like their historical mysteries with substance.