Fall Mysteries in Paperback
 

 

Home
Current Issue
Additional New Mysteries
Readers Recommend
Small Press
Featured Authors
Books In Audio
Hard Cover Archives
Submission Guidelines
Short Stories
Mystery links

click on titles for buying info

The Utopia Experiment by Kyle Mills

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing      

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

This fast-paced novel examines the possibilities of what happens when a technological genius becomes obsessed with the ancient question of whether or not humankind is perfectible.  If his musing had remained in the realm of philosophy, nobody would have paid much attention—but it doesn’t.  He’s invented a new electronic gadget, called “Merge”. 

It starts with the total annihilation of an Afghan village by its traditional enemies—and quickly followed by the annihilation of the enemy village by unknown but highly organised professional killers.  Randi Russell, investigating for the CIA, knows there’s something really big going on, but she can’t get a line on it until she makes contact with Colonel Jon Smith of Covert One a secret and exclusive agency of the United States Government, who’s investigating Merge’s potential for military use.

Merge’s inventor Christian Dresner is a complex character, with traits of Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerman, and a scary dash of Assange and Nietzsche thrown in.  Dresner’s new gadget is far beyond a smart phone or a PC, and underneath its apparently helpful and useful exterior, there’s some very dangerous software that can be turned on when the inventor chooses to do so. 

Many pages later—408, to be exact—Smith, Russell and a crazy but brilliant hacker are holed up in Dresner’s HQ desperately trying to save the world as we know it from the good intentions and heavily armed security personnel of the tragically flawed inventor.  This is where the dachshunds come in, but I won’t spoil the surprise by telling any more about the final scene.  

If you like a really fast-moving thriller dealing with up-to-the-minute whizz-bang technology, this should be on your reading list.

 

Rituals by Mary Anna Evans

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

It’s always nice to catch up with old friends, or find out what’s happened in the life of a favourite fictional character.  When I last met archaeologist Faye Longchamps-Mantooth  she had just met a distressed teenager, Amande, who lost her only reliable relative in the course of the book.  Despite having been left some property by her dead grandmother, Amande’s future looked uncertain, and one hoped that somehow Faye would be able to keep track of the girl.

In Rituals, we find that Amande, now a six-footer, has been adopted by the diminutive Faye and her native American husband Joe.  Amande is fitting in pretty well, although she’s not immune to the usual problems and angst attacks that all teens experience.  Faye has taken Amande along on a job to give the girl a bit of experience in the real world.  Together they are sorting out and wading through an enormous pile of artifacts and documents that have been collected over the course of a century by well-meaning but ill-organised people at the museum in Rosebower, New York, a small town that’s deeply into spiritualism and other late-Victorian pursuits.

Invited to a séance, Faye and Amande experience some very strange events, but before they can learn more about the medium who led the séance, she’s dead and her house is partly burnt.  The accident proves to be attempted murder, but which of the several possible killers did the deed?  There’s the dead women’s sister, who stands to gain a lot but is frail and elderly; there’s the daughter who runs what Faye is sure is a racket putting people in touch with their dear departeds; the son-in-law who’s too handsome to be true; a greedy local property developer; and a mysterious visitor who has come to Rosebower for a purpose that is bound to make many enemies if her motives are uncovered.

Faye juggles the demands of the job she’s being paid to do with some amateur sleuthing that leads to a life and death situation.  The dead woman’s daughter decides to re-enact the original séance, and Faye and Amande are invited.   Despite having taken every reasonable precaution, including having her big strong husband on guard, Faye finds herself in the gravest peril.   For once her tiny size proves to be an advantage, but can she play that card before the fire consumes them all?

This is a very enjoyable read that will teach you quite a lot about spiritualism, as well as the early days of the feminist movement in America.

 

 

Dead Men’s Harvest by Matt Hilton  

Publisher: Harper    

Reviewed by Jim Sells,  New Mystery Reader

Martin Maxwell is a former Secret Service agent who committed crimes so vile that they earned him the title “Harvestman”. Federal agent Joe Hunter was sent after him and nearly killed him Maxwell survived and was imprisoned by the military under the alias “Tubal Cain”.

Now Tubal Cain is on a mission of vengeance against Hunter, Hunter’s brother and Hunter’s best friend. These are the primary targets, but Cain had no compunction about maiming and killing anyone that could lead to Hunter.

Cain has an alliance with two rich and evil men. Hunter succeeds in freeing his best friend and killing one of Cain’s allies, but loses his cell phone. Cain uses the cell to locate a woman important to Hunter.

The CIA rescues the woman. Hunter manages to kill the second wealthy alley. However in the process an ex-intelligence officer escapes and joins Cain in war against Hunter. Cain grabs Hunter’s sister-in-law and wants to trade her for Hunter’s brother. The cat and mouse game continues as the protagonists struggle to establish who is the hunter and who is the hunted.

This book is not for the squeamish, but the author is stylish is his terror by allowing the reader to fill in many of the gory details. At times the gore seems a substitute for a more solid plot and the story line seems to drag slightly toward the end. It does have a certain macho air with the comrade in arms mentality prevailing that may not appeal to all readers.

Hilton’s expertise at law enforcement and martial arts lends realism to the story. While the book is adequate it could use some plot twists along the way to make it a more enjoyable journey.

 

 

Eleven Pipers Piping by C. C. Benison

Publisher: Anchor Canada

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

In Eleven Pipers Piping, C. C. Benison fulfills the promise of his first Father Tom Christmas installment, Twelve Drummers Drumming.  In spite of the intentional allusions to the Christmas carol, Anglican priest Father Tom Christmas tries to downplay the moniker “Father Christmas,” asking his new parishioners instead to call him “Tom.”  Likewise, Benison avoids overplaying the expected holiday puns, setting this mystery in the midst of a Burns Night feast, a traditional Scottish holiday commemorating poet Robert Burns.

As a new resident of the English village and newcomer to Burns Night, Tom expects to be a “restraining presence” among his fellow hard-drinking participants but indulges along with the other men in the group.  Several of the men at the gathering belong to the local bagpipers group even though most hail from England or Australia rather than from Scotland, a fact which they cheerfully acknowledge.  Burns Night, appropriate for the Scottish propensity towards long memory, serves a dual purpose since one of the bagpipers has been very distressed over the last few months.  Will Moir, a competitive, large-living guy, hasn’t been himself since he roundly cursed a young poorly-playing soccer player in a match only for the teenager to kill himself soon after.  The teen’s parents, Victor and Molly, are still grieving and their daughter, Becca, has the difficult position of being close friends with Will’s daughter Ariel.  Tom’s precocious preteen daughter Miranda invites both Ariel and Becca over for a Burns Night of their own.

Unfortunately, Burns Night proves unforgettable after Will Moir is found dead after a supper of a perfunctory bite of haggis, curry and special tartlets baked with yew berry pulp by Tom’s housekeeper, Mrs. Prowse.  More questions arise when a woman with long-severed ties to the village appears at the feast, becoming a witness to the events and a guest of the vicarage during the snowstorm.  As keeper of parishioner secrets and an experienced observer, Tom gently investigates his new friends and their tightly-kept secrets with humility and discretion.  As in the first installment, Miranda remains a pleasant part of the story with her own observational skills and Mrs. Prowse punctuates the story with her gossipy laboriously typewritten letters to her mother, providing heavy contrast to Tom’s careful self-counseling ways that mark him so clearly as an outsider.

Benison chooses not to take the obvious way out of his conundrums, as Tom puts it, instead adding a final dreadful twist before setting up the third book, Ten Lords-A-Leaping, in the enjoyable series reminiscent of an English Father Dowling surrounded by well-drawn characters in a setting well worth revisiting. 

 

 

Hand for a Hand by T. Frank Muir

Publisher: Soho Crime

Reviewed by Robin Thomas, New Mystery Reader

Hand for a Hand is a wickedly dark edgy mystery that scared the daylights out of me but was so good and addictive I decided to turn the lights on rather than put the book down. Someone is leaving messages for DCI Andy Gilchrist on dismembered body parts across a majestic golf course in St. Andrews, Scotland. Gilchrist experiences the first of many shocks when the identity of the remains is determined and that person is someone close to his family and is missing. Deciphering the clues left on the body parts becomes an obsession with Gilchrist for he fears that the murderer is fixated on him and is using his family to make him pay. Once Andy figures out what the murderer is saying via the clues he knows that he is experiencing his worst nightmare and a member of his family is in grave danger. Gilchrist then finds out that his boss has assigned Ronnie Watts to the case. Gilchrist has good reason to detest Watts and it gets worse when it appears that he is hiding information about the case from Andy. DS Nancy “Nance” Wilson is Gilchrist’s partner and the one that he leans on to keep him sane as he pushes himself to the edge trying to figure out the identity of the allusive murderer before time runs out.

T. Frank Muir firmly establishes himself as a member of the “super thriller” club with his Andy Gilchrist series. Like so many of the protagonists in the club Gilchrist has a lot of baggage. He is estranged from his children, divorced, and is often overcome with the lifetime of regrets he carries around. As Gilchrist works the case in Hand for a Hand he learns how little he really knows about his grown children and he understands the heavy price he has paid because he is a cop who is unable to protect himself or his family from the effects of his profession. The agony the Gilchrist feels throughout the case is raw and intense. The author is thorough in his development of the secondary characters as well. I felt a strong bond with Nance as she works the case with Andy and struggles with her own demons. I felt the raw hatred between Gilchrist and Watts. The author keeps the reader guessing about Watts and his ties to the case, which are more than professional.

Hand for a Hand hooked me from the first page, it kept me enthralled and on the edge of my seat until the end of the book.  I am confident that it will be on my list of the best reads of 2012 and is highly likely to be one of the “Top 5.” Needless to say I loved this book and highly recommend it as a must read for those who enjoy dark haunting and sometimes grisly police procedurals.

 

 

A Fatal Winter by G. M. Malliet

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Vicar Max Tudor has left his post at the rural church of St. Edwold’s to comfort a young woman whose uncle was just murdered.  The morose young woman, Lamorna, forecasts doom and divine retribution for her family’s greed as the extended family gathers in the family castle filled with heirlooms and generations of titles.  Lamorna’s uncle, Oscar, Lord Footrustle, had recently decided to surround himself with his family members, hoping to lift up the feeling of advancing age from his seventy-five years. 

Oscar’s brash Hollywood-struck daughter, Jocasta, and her American husband Simon have moved in, making the castle suddenly seem small with the arrival of Oscar’s greedy ex-wife, actress Gwynyth, and the ethereally blonde 14 year-old twins (“twyns”) Amanda and Alec.   Oscar’s own twin sister, Leticia, Lady Baynard, fills the rooms with her own brand of traditional snobbish disapproval mimicked by her son Randolph and his assistant Cilla.

While the family periodically refers to Max as “Father Brown,” this vicar’s much more than just an amateur detective.  Max Tudor previously served as an MI-5 agent, earning the respect of the local police department and serving as an inside source with the department’s blessing.  Max’s mild manner and observational skills recall the Father Tom Christmas mysteries as well but his MI-5 background and devotion to goddess-worshipping Awena in the village mark him as far different than the average Anglican priest.

Author G. M. Malliet (Wicked Autumn) relishes adding small details that entertain readers without overburdening the story.  Noting the unfortunate family situation regarding inheritances and a jockeying of power, Malliet compares the fictional heir’s situation with young Edward VI after Henry VIII’s death left him in care of ambitious uncles.  On a lighter if still thoughtful note, Max Tudor muses at one point on modern morality tales for children as a sort of “Bible according to Barney” although several passages in the book make it clear that Max’ spirituality is genuinely reverent if tinged with a humorous self-awareness.

A Fatal Winter is filled with wit, charm and a mystery-solver who offers the best of both the amateur sleuth and police detective genres in the form of an English country murder mystery. 

 

 

Backlash by Lynda La Plante

Publisher: Bourbon Street Books

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

DCI Anna Travis now heads up a team in the Specialist Caseword Investigations unit, solving cold cases shunted to the side even as they remain in the memories of the former lead detectives. When police catch scruffy vagrant Henry Oates with a body in his borrowed van, his admission to murdering two others and subsequent retraction brings Anna back to working with Dectective Chief Superintendant James Langton as they try to uncover the true number of victims claimed by Oates.

Anna is charged with finding out if Oates really did kill a 13 year-old equestrienne and a naïve, curly-haired Irish émigré, or if he’s just pursuing media attention for his inflated ego. Like many Londoners, she remembers the public searches for the victims even though years have passed and the lack of resolution and ongoing grief of their parents remains raw.

Anna works best alone but has to manage working with a colleague heading up the recent murder case of the young woman discovered in the clown-covered van plus informing Langton, who’s both the supervisor and her former lover, while he recovers at home from a work-related surgery.  Tensions run high between the detectives as they try to manipulate Oates into telling them the truth while unexpected twists blind them to new developments.  Fortunately, Anna’s fearless tenaciousness keeps her on the right path even as her volatile mix of vulnerability from her fiancé's death and inner strength threaten to overcome her.

Best known as the author of the Prime Suspect series featuring DCI Jane Tennison, Lynda La Plante’s detached style sometimes reads almost like a Law and Order narrator while other sections allow the characters’ emotions to bleed through.  She does use exclamation points liberally to illustrate frustration, impatience or anger, which sometimes reads inelegantly.  When the complexity of issues behind Anna’s and Langton’s struggles are revealed, La Plante humanizes them and shows that their reserved prickliness and quick temper, respectively, are the price of survival.

Ultimately, Backlash shows Anna’s evolution while offering an interesting mystery more about the scope of evil rather than the culprit behind the crimes.  Topical, character-driven, and full of surprises, Backlash is well worth the read.

 

 

 

Hercule Poirot: The Complete Short Stories by Agatha Christie

Publisher: William Morrow

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Hercule Poirot, the astute and rather self-assured Belgian detective, bears a place beside the unflappable Miss Jane Marple and glittering jazz age Tommy and Tuppence Beresford as detectives in Agatha Christie’s impressive canon.  Readers and television viewers often remember the diminutive detective from Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile, and while those are not included here, mysteries such as “Dead Man’s Mirror” will gratify those expectations with its character development and style in setting the scene.

Throughout this collection of over fifty short stories, readers will watch as Poirot evolves over decades, always knowing, sometimes insulting but ever brilliant at deduction, crediting his “little grey cells.”  He’s sometimes accompanied by his companion, Captain Hastings, whom Poirot appreciates as willing to make guesses even as he misses the clues patently obvious to Poirot.  Later in the series, the unimaginative but effortlessly efficient secretary Miss Lemon replaces Hastings and her character is deftly summed up by Christie in “How Does Your Garden Grow?” as a woman whose primary dream is to create the “perfection of a filing system beside which all other filing systems should sink into oblivion.  She dreamed of such a system at night.”  

Because some of the earlier stories may become too familiar or implausible (“The Kidnapped Prime Minister,”) readers may prefer to read a few stories at a time rather than attempting several in one course.  This will also allow a greater appreciation for the attention to detail in the upper class English homes and the restrictions placed on people that are considered archaic for the average American reader.  Or, as Hastings might note based on “The Million Dollar Bond Robbery,” space between readings will prevent exasperation with Poirot’s occasional smugness in figuring out the identity of the guilty party when all others, including police, remain mystified.  Still, Poirot remains good company, and well worth taking the time to know.

In fact, most of the stories were originally published singly in magazines such as the venerable The Strand, which also published mysteries by Arthur Conan Doyle and other significant mystery authors.  Appropriately, the collection features a short, admiring foreword by Charles Todd, the author of the excellent series featuring World War I nurse Bess Crawford and post-World War I Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge.

While ensconced in the early twentieth century setting, Hercule Poirot continues to charm, never more so than when revealing the solution to a mystery with a grand flourish and a wink.

 

 

 

Grind Joint by Dana King

Publisher: Stark House

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

It’s a rare crime novel that doesn’t tell me something I didn’t know before.  This time it’s a new term, “grind joint’.  Apparently it’s a small-stakes casino, aimed at the working stiff who hasn’t got a lot of money or hope, but who can be induced to part with some of the former because of the latter.  (It’s not so much a gambling hell as a gambling heck.)

Doc Dougherty of the Penns River police department, whom we met in King’s previous book “Worst Enemies”, is called out on a frosty morning to attend a homicide.  A small-time criminal has been found dead at the door of the soon-to-open casino.  The crime looks like it might track back to Mike Mannerino, the local mob boss.  When Doc and his team start digging, they uncover something much worse than Mike—who’s bad enough—when they find the Russian Mob is involved. 

Things get more complicated when Daniel Rollison shows up.  Ostensibly the head of security at the casino, he’s also the private detective who worked for Marion Widmer, Doc’s candidate for the title of ‘worst criminal still walking free’ after she set up her none-too-bright husband to kill for her.  The case was closed when the husband got a life sentence, but Doc is still working it in his spare time.  If Rollison is mixed up in this new case, you can be sure there’s something nasty going on.

The Penns River mayor and the acting police chief both want this case closed ASAP, and they don’t care if someone’s trying to frame Mannerino for it.  If he’s not behind this murder, he’s behind plenty of other crime, so why not take the path of least resistance and arrest him?

Doc is an old-fashioned cop who doesn’t mind telling the chief what he can do with this idea.  It’s plain stupid to arrest a man for something he will easily prove he didn’t do.  Clearly the Russian mob is at the bottom of the case, so they are the ones the cops should be pursuing.  The chief and the mayor aren’t keen on this idea; the Russians are known for being psychopaths without a smidge of compassion; who’d want to cross them? 

Dougherty’s insistent digging brings him some unpleasant attention, and leads to an attack on his parents’ house.  Luckily Doc’s cousin Nick is visiting the town and helps drive off the attackers.  The men get some mileage out of the fact that Nick isn’t a cop and isn’t bound by some of the pesky regulations that hinder Doc; also the two men look very much alike. 

Besides learning about the term ‘grind joint’, I also learned a lot more about the retribution practices of the Russian mob than I would have chosen.  I’m not surprised Hizzoner and the acting chief preferred not to offend them.  (The chief has another reason, but let’s not spoil the secret.)

If the film and T.V.  industry doesn’t latch onto this book and do something with it, they’re not as sharp as I thought.  This is a mini-series waiting to be made.  It’s got everything going for it: crime, violence, a bit of romance and a lot of bromance, some dark humour, and a good dash of our old friend Nemesis.

 

 

A Question Of Identity by Susan Hill

Publisher: The Overlook Press

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

The latest entry in the popular and well-respected Chief Superintendent Simon Serrailler mystery series may be the best and darkest yet.  A QUESTION OF IDENTITY opens with a horror story that took place in Yorkshire back in 2002.  A series of horrific murders of elderly women was perpetrated on the usually tranquil community.  A man by the name of Alan Frederick Keyes was taken into custody and put on trial for the crimes.

It appeared to be an open and shut case.  Keyes all but admitted to the crimes and his own wife believed him to be guilty.  Regrettably, the prosecution dropped the ball and allowed Keyes and his attorney to find a loophole to exploit.  This technicality was enough for the jury to find Keyes not guilty.  The town went into an uproar and the local police feared that Keyes would be ripped apart if released back into society.

Taking a page from Anthony Burgess’ classic, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, the authorities decide to attempt a rehabilitation of Keyes.  He is given a new identity, trained in a new trade, had his appearance altered and his entire past was erased.  Keyes was placed in a town far from Yorkshire and given an opportunity to start life over with his new identity.

Enter the small town of Lafferton.  DCS Simon Serrailler and his team have had mysteries and crimes to investigate in the past but nothing like what they are about to face.  An elderly woman is murdered in her home.  Found bound by electrical bands, strangled and oddly enough having all her toenails clipped.  No evidence is left behind and the police are at a total loss.  The town is outraged and in disbelief that a murder this brutal could have happened under their nose.

When another slaying happens with same modus operandi, things begin to spiral out of control as the families of the victims want retribution and hold DCS Serrailler and his team directly responsible.  Serrailler gets a tip that he should look into a ten-year old case that drew startling similarities to the one he was investigating.  A lot of digging along with a number of called in favors put him on the path of Alan Frederick Keyes.  The only trouble is that the case has all but disappeared and some powerful forces want it to stay that way.

Only through perseverance does Serrailler break through the red tape to unopen enough clues to point his team in the right direction.  In the meantime, an innocent man is apprehended and held in suspicion while a third elderly female victim is claimed.  A local town vagrant, infamous for patrolling the streets of Lafferton at night draws the focus of the police.  Could this strange man be Keyes reinvented? Or does the real Frederick Alan Keyes wear another face and is he waiting to strike again?

Susan Hill has written a masterpiece of classic detective fiction filled with high tension and intrigue and never predictable.  She has received world-wide acclaim mostly for her gothic horror novel, THE WOMAN IN BLACK --- a work that has received the trifecta of novel, play and film adaptations.   A QUESTION OF IDENTITY proves she can more than hold her own in the detective fiction genre and the Simon Serrailler series is one worth catching.
 

 

 

 

Robert B. Parker’s Fool Me Twice by Michael Brandman

Publisher: Berkley 

Reviewed by Don Crouch, New Mystery Reader

Brandman took something of a beating upon release of his first effort, Killing The Blues....those bashers will find much to dislike in Fool Me Twice as well, so we’ll dispense with that first. It’s not Parker, not even close. He’s probably never meant to be taken as such, he seems like a humble enough guy. For that, you’ll have to be satisfied with Atkins’ Spenser (it’s really good). Brandman tells the same character’s stories his way, for better or worse.

As such, Fool Me Twice feels more like a well-constructed Jesse TV-movie-for-cable than a novel.  Which is just fine, really.

Brandman provides us with the usual cast, powered by 3 trope-ish plot threads that get nicely resolved. They provide character,  death, romance and a chance for Jesse to show all the sides make readers care about his stories.

There is, thankfully, nary a mention of ex-wife Jenn, for which Brandman deserves hearty praise...way to process, Jesse!!

Brandman’s issues du jour issues include child-rearing, meth-madness, and the world water situation, all worthy and used to good effect here.

So, another fans-only release that will garner many heated opinions....something Dr. Bob would surely get behind!

 

 

 

 

Deadly Stakes by J. A. Jance

Publisher: Pocket Books

Reviewed by Robin Thomas, New Mystery Reader

Lynn Martinson has bad luck with men. Readers of the Ali Reynolds series met Lynn in Fatal Error. She returns in Deadly Stakes having and is dating Chip Ralston who she thinks may be “the one.” Lynn’s joy becomes a nightmare when Ralston’s ex-wife, Gemma Ralston, is found dead with Lynn’s cellphone beside her body. The police rapidly gather enough evidence and they arrest Lynn and Chip as their prime suspects. Lynn’s distraught mother reaches out to Ali Reynolds for help. She remembers how Ali helped her daughter and several other women who had been targeted online by a sociopath.

The police continue to investigate the murder and they want to find the person who used the cellphone to call for help but left the scene before the authorities arrived. This person was most likely the last one to see Gemma Ralston alive. While gathering evidence at the crime scene the police find a second body. He is James Mason Sanders, an ex-con who served time in prison for counterfeiting when he was in college. Since the bodies were found fairly close to each other, the police and Ali look for any clues that might tie these two cases together.

The tie between these seemingly unrelated crimes is A.J. Sanders. A.J. has been raised by his mother and does not know his father until he appears in town just before A.J.’s sixteenth birthday. He receives a cryptic email from his father that includes directions to a box for him and a caution that he must not tell anyone about the contents. The directions lead A.J. to a remote location but before he gets to where the box is buried he sees Gemma and tries to get her help. Unfortunately, she dies before the EMTs or the police arrive. A.J. is the last person to see her alive but he runs away because he can’t tell the police the real reason why he is out it that desolate location. A.J. is also James Mason Sanders’ son.

Ali does what she does best; unearthing unrelated clues and knitting them together to solve the whodunit. She is racing against time to find evidence that Lynn Martinson and Chip Ralston are innocent.

Deadly Stakes is the eighth book in the Ali Reynolds series. J.A. Jance displays her prowess as a storyteller whose prose is a smooth as silk. Jance effortlessly leads the reader through intricate plotlines that include numerous characters while maintaining an even tempo to the pact of the book. Although she reaches back to previous installments in the series, Jance does an excellent job of providing enough context to understand the reference while leaving the reader with a desire to know more. Jance is a master of character development. In Ali Reynolds, she has developed an amateur sleuth who uses her journalistic curiosity and knowledge of law enforcement to draw relationships between clues that on their own seem unrelated. Her secondary characters are as fully developed as Ali, which allows the reader to develop a sense of familiarity with all of them. I personally have not followed the series but Jance has hooked me. I must know more about Ali Reynolds and the other cases she has solved in the series. Deadly Stakes is an outstanding read that I enjoyed and highly recommend.

 

 

 

Hit Me by Lawrence Block

Publisher: Mulholland Books 

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

The cover of this book says it’s a novel, but in fact it is a collection of novellas, and none the worse for that.  It picks up the life of hitman John Keller, now living a new life under a new name in a new place.

Keller is besotted with his baby daughter, and wants to give her the best life possible.  The downturn in the home rehabbing business he’s been operating in New Orleans begins to make him feel uneasy, especially when he has to start nibbling at his capital to pay the bills.  He has an expensive hobby: stamp collecting, and the current economic pinch is cramping his style.  Therefore when his old contact Dot contacts him with a job in his former specialty, he finds it hard to say no.

Keller’s new name is Nicholas Edwards and Dot is now Wilma Corder, but both of them are able to slip easily back into their previous relationship.  At first Keller isn’t keen to take on the job, but since it coincides with a stamp auction in Denver, he sees the fickle finger of fate at work, and says he’ll do it.  It should be straight-forward: a marriage has broken down, the husband doesn’t like the idea of alimony and property division, and he’d like his wife’s paramour to reap the wages of sin.  All Keller has to do is kill the wife and frame the boyfriend.  The fact that along the way he has to terrorise a harmless illegal immigrant housekeeper leaves a bitter aftertaste, but it’s all in a day’s work, right?

As will surprise nobody who’s read other books by Lawrence Block, there is an unexpected twist which is oddly satisfying at the end of the job.  There are also many flashes of humour, irony, and a surprising amount of really interesting information about stamps and stamp fanatics.  Tasty and satisfying, like a well-made fruit loaf, this story and the others in the book have little surprises tucked away in them, rather like those lumps of apricot that zing on your tongue when you aren’t expecting them.

I usually give away review copies of books when I’m done, but I think I’ll keep this one for another reading. 

 

 

Cold Tuscan Stone by David P Wagner

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

“Cold Tuscan Stone” is a bit like a stroll through the Italian countryside: not too fast, very colourful; much to see and smell and taste, one or two sudden frights from cliff-edge paths; a little romance, but nothing to give you bad dreams.

Rick Montoya is half Italian and half American.  He was raised as an American Foreign Service brat and speaks Italian like a native thanks to his Roman mother and his much-admired uncle, a policeman, who lives in the hope that his nephew will follow in his own footsteps.

Rick divides his time between Santa Fe and Rome, earning a reasonable living as a translator and interpreter.  During his most recent trip, an old school friend who now works for the Ministry of Culture in Italy invites him to lunch.  Before you can say ‘zabaglione’, Rick has taken on an undercover job to help the Ministry find a gang of art thieves who are apparently plundering ancient tombs.

Leaving his high-maintenance girlfriend Erica in Rome, Rick heads for the charming hill town of Volterra where history seeps out of the very stones: Etruscan, medieval, renaissance, it’s all here.  Also here are several shady art dealers who may or may not be involved in the tomb robbing, artefact faking—or murder.  When a dealer’s representative Rick has been speaking to takes a header off a battlement, it becomes apparent that some of the arty crowd aren’t very nice people.

Overcoming the suspicion and reluctance of the local chief of police, Rick eventually narrows down the suspects and thinks he’s identified the main villain.  But like many amateur sleuths before him, Rick has made a nearly fatal mistake. 

If you like a mystery that isn’t drenched in gore and grotty sex, but instead has a good plot, interesting location, likeable characters, and is written in decent English, this book is for you.   You’ll even pick up a few less common Italian phrases you can try out at your local trattoria.

 

 

The Black Box-A Harry Bosch Novel by Michael Connelly

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Reviewed by Don Crouch, New Mystery Reader

If The Drop is Connelly’s version of “taking a breath” after Nine Dragons, it appears the author is now oxygenated. Fully.

The Black Box is Connelly building momentum from the jump, twisting it up right, then changing gears to a whole other level of “oh crap, really?”, to a finish as gripping and cinematic as any Bosch adventure to date.

After an opening flashback of his current cold case, we pick up Our Guy in the opening phases of his new look into things as a member of the Open/Unsolved team. Using newer technologies on the murder weapon and such. Fighting the disadvantage of chasing down twenty-year-old clues with a scintilla of new information. Faded memories make it harder. And that stuff is all minus intention.  Which Connelly adds with glee.

The other primary element of The Black Box, is the evolving dynamic between Harry and his 16-year-old daughter Maddie. 

Being a fly-on-the-wall to this relationship has become the emotional core of the series, especially the way Connelly shows how it affects all aspects of Bosch’s life.

But wait, there’s more. Bosch’s beloved aversion to authority has created more than his share of boss issues, and the current punching bag is punching back, pushing an internal beef about a side-visit Bosch makes during his investigation, involving the son of his current flame, Hannah Stone, first intro’d in The Drop. Connelly’s integration of her into BoschLand seems a bit tentative, tying in with Harry’s similar attitude towards her, Plenty of walls there. This thread also introduces a new character, Detective Mendenhall, a tightly-wound by-the-book gal providing all kinds of conflict for Harry, and maybe a little spark!

Connelly takes a peek into military life during Desert Storm, as things move forward, building great back story and locking in Bosch’s dedication to the victim, a European female photojournalist. Connelly uses this character to send a nice valentine to the amazing real-life reporters that jump into harm’s way in a perilous search for truth and, sometimes, justice.

It’s these basic elements that Connelly winds up, then as the gears of the cold case start to mesh, Bosch hits the road, and before long we’re in a Joe Carnahan movie.....intense action, high stakes, and a hero pushed to his limits both physical and spiritual.

The Black Box is yet another rocket-ride from one of the acknowledged masters, and one of the year’s best books.

 

 

The Thieves Of Legend by Richard Doetsch

Publisher:   Pocket Books

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader 

Richard Doetsch has enjoyed much recent success with his novels --- specifically the Michael St. Pierre ‘Thieves’ series that has taken.  His first novel in that series, THE THIEVES OF HEAVEN has been optioned for a film along with one of his recent stand-alone novels, THE 13TH HOUR.

A former business-man and regular world traveler, he has spun his interests in adventure-seeking into a great series of high-caliber thrillers.  Michael St. Pierre has gained success through his abilities as an expert thief and usually sells his unique skill-set to the highest bidder.

When he is approached to do a job by an old colleague, a Vatican priest named Simon, Michael jumps at the opportunity.  It sounds simple enough.  All he has to do is break into the mansion of a wealthy crime-lord in Italy and walk out with some documents that are of specific interest to Simon.

Things do not go as planned.  While attempting to confiscate the documents, Michael discovers the beheaded bodies of the Italian crime-lord’s family.  He then witnesses from his hiding place aboard a yacht the torture and murder of the man he was sent to steal from.  Michael quickly recognizes there is much more going on --- particularly when the assassins who wiped out the Italian family appear to be Asian Ninjas.

When Michael presses Simon for answers he discovers that the documents he was after revealed the location of an ancient Chinese weapon known as Dragon’s Breath.  Whoever controls this item has the potential to threaten the entire world with its’ deadly properties.  Michael finds himself on the outs with his girlfriend and fellow adventurer, K.C.  K.C. decides to leave Michael and take off on a flight for London.  She runs into a charming female stranger named Annie who talks her into traveling with her.

While K.C. is being manipulated by the mysterious Annie, Michael is approached by a U.S. military man named Colonel Lucas.  Lucas sends Michael on a mission to locate the same Chinese puzzle that Simon had been in search of.  Ironically, K.C. and Annie end up going to the Forbidden City in China in search of the same.  Michael recognizes that he is being used and that K.C. is in harm’s way --- unless one of them can locate the Dragon’s Breath first.

Making matters more complicated is the man who led the Chinese triad that murdered the Italian crime-lord, a deadly man named Xiao Yan Wang, also needs to possess the Dragon’s Breath and will eliminate anyone in his path to accomplish this.  Colonel Lucas and Xian Yan Wang are connected in a very interesting way and each will stop at nothing to beat the other to the artifact in question.

 

 

 

 

Ratlines by Stuart Neville

Publisher: Soho Crime

Reviewed by Robin Thomas, New Mystery Reader

Ratlines is set in Ireland in 1963. The Irish are excitedly preparing for the visit of President Kennedy. This trip has huge symbolic value to the Irish because Kennedy will be visiting the land of his ancestors. Unfortunately, there is a problem that could result in the cancellation of the official visit. A number of Nazis found their way to Ireland after WWII. Three of them have been murdered and Justice Charles Haughney turns to Lieutenant Albert Ryan who works for the Directorate of Intelligence to investigate and put an end to the killings before the world and in particular the U.S. becomes aware that Ireland is providing safe asylum to Nazi war criminals.

Somehow, the murderers have found a source that provides them with the locations of Nazi war criminals. Early in his investigation, Ryan determines that the murderers are leaving messages at each crime scene. The messages indicate that their ultimate goal is to kill Colonel Otto Skorzeny who was one of Hitler’s favorite commandos during the war. When the war was over he spent time in the company of Franco in Spain and Peron in Argentina before setting up permanent residence in Ireland. Skorzeny uses his significant war plunder to help other Nazis to establish fake personas in countries where they can live safely and without fear. Ryan finds out the hard way that there are a number of factions interested in getting to Skorzeny and the wealth he manages to aid his comrades.

In Ratlines, Stuart Neville leverages his in-depth research to shed light on aspects of post-WWII that are not commonly known. Neville creates a genuinely wholesome character in Lieutenant Albert Ryan. Despite his Irish heritage, he left Ireland and fought with the British in WWII. He hates the task that he has been asked to do and continually fights with his conscious and better judgment in order to protect a vicious Nazi war criminal. This mission puts Ryan’s life in the crosshairs of Mossad and SAS operatives who want to take down Skorzeny. As a warning, there is a fair amount of violence in this novel that is graphic but not overdone. Neville artfully weaves actual historical events and characters with a plotline that is clever and keeps the reader wondering if Ryan will survive this mission. Ratlines is an action-packed, wickedly good thriller that held me captive from the first page to the end.

 

 

The Bone Bed by Patricia Cornwell

Publisher: Berkley

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

Patricia Cornwell’s twentieth novel in the Kay Scarpetta series opens with the viewing of an online video clip.  This jpg.com clip is difficult to see but appears to be a depiction of the bone bed where the Red Willow and Wapiti Rivers meet in Alberta, Canada.  The video taken from a jet boat also shows a shadowy depiction of what may or may not be a severed human ear.

Thus begins THE BONE BED.  A paleontologist named Emma Shubert has disappeared while digging for fossils in the afore-mentioned bone bed.  This bone bed does not appear to have changed much since the cretaceous period and is a big draw for fossil hunters world-wide. The question is why Emma Shubert’s disappearance would have any bearing on Chief Medical Examiner Kay Scarpetta and her work with the Cambridge Forensic Center in Boston, MA.

The video clip in question was e-mailed --- possibly by accident --- to Scarpetta’s office.  Kay is already preparing to testify in another trial of a potentially missing woman named Mildred Lott.  Lott’s husband, Channing Lott, is the lead suspect in the alleged foul play that may have befallen his wife and Scarpetta’s testimony could be crucial.

Complicating matters is the discovery of another body --- this one found floating in Boston harbor.  Closer inspection shows the body to be of a mature woman who was apparently tortured and tied down.  Additionally, the body was found tangled to the body of a huge and near-extinct breed of turtle.  Scarpetta and her forensic team must not only extricate the body of the nameless female from the turtle but also deal with the larger ecological and environmental issues they are faced with by the animal activists who are there to defend the still living turtle.

The case of the floating Jane Doe makes Scarpetta late for her testimony in the Mildred Lott case.  As it turns out, the evidence she is starting to reveal of the newly discovered body in Boston Harbor may be inextricably tied to both the Mildred Lott disappearance and even the mysterious video clip sent from Canada.  The testimony does not go well as the defense attorney and judge combine to grill Scarpetta on the stand in ways she had never before seen.

Patricia Cornwell takes this opportunity to not only make a statement about ecology and animal rights but also directly targets the controversial Melendez-Diaz ruling.  That ruling, which took place in Massachusetts in 2009 claimed it was a violation of Sixth Amendment rights for a prosecutor to submit a chemical drug report without the testimony of the person performing the test.  This ruling impacted forensic specialists nation-wide and fictionally effects Kay Scarpetta’s ability to represent her findings (or lack thereof) in the Lott case.

As Scarpetta and team, in league with the FBI team led by her husband Benton Wesley, dig deeper into the body of the woman found in Boston Harbor they identify her as a Peggy Stanton.  Further investigation shows that Peggy Stanton and the video clip from Canada both were tied to a fake Twitter Page called ‘Pretty Please’.  What makes things even more odd is the fact that Scarpetta’s long-time friend, Detective Peter Marino, may be tied to Peggy Stanton via an on-line dating site and now has become a potential suspect of the FBI in her murder.

Kay Scarpetta must pull out all stops, personally and forensically, to solve all of the mysteries and hopefully clear the name of Marino in the process.  This is not as easy as it seems as she meets resistance at every turn and it looks like the FBI want Marino to take the fall.  What THE BONE BED does best is put the reader directly in the center of an intense forensic investigation that pulls no punches.  Cornwell does this better than any other ‘forensic’ author and somehow continues to keep her characters interesting without having them become a distraction to the mystery or plot-line.  THE BONE BED proves that, even after twenty novels, Scarpetta and company can still deliver a solid page-turner of a thriller.