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Girl In The Dark by Marion Pauw

Publisher: William Morrow / 3 bolts

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader 

The latest in the seemingly endless wave or Nordic crime/thriller writers to invade the bookshelves of the U.S. is author Marion Pauw.  GIRL IN THE DARK has already won a literary award for Best Dutch Crime Novel as well as being adapted into a film.

From the title I expected something dark and moody and was surprised to find the novel taking a distinctly different tone.  GIRL IN THE DARK is much less Jo Nesbo and actually reminded of something an author like Jodi Picoult might have penned.

With the huge success of Gillian Flynn's GONE GIRL, using the dual-narrative style in mystery/thriller has been overly utilized by authors in various genres.  Pauw utilizes this technique in GIRL IN THE DARK.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it just feels like an annoying gimmick. In addition, there are flashback chapters thrown in which helps to keep the reader on edge (if that was the intended effect).

Iris is a single-mother, an attorney and mother to a very needy/high maintenance young son named Aaron.  She also has an overbearing mother named Agatha who has always seemed to Iris like she was hiding something.  Our other protagonist is Ray.  Ray begins the novel in prison having been convicted of a brutal double murder.  He is shortly thereafter transferred to a mental institution for special therapy that will address his behavior that shows many signs of serious autism.

Of course, the big secret (NOT a spoiler) is that Iris and Ray are siblings.  When Iris discovers this she is furious at her mother and immediately wants to meet the brother she never knew she had.  When she visits Ray she is alarmed at the resemblance to both their mother as well as her son Aaron.  She becomes aware of the reason behind Ray's incarceration and she finds it hard to believe that the gentle and confused man she has just met could be capable of such horrific violence.

Flashback chapters introduce us to Ray's former neighbors, a divorced woman named Rosita and her daughter Anna.  It is these two females that were brutally murdered with Ray taking the fall for the crime.  Of course, the ex-husband involved with Rosita and Anna is an abusive, loud-mouthed jerk and Ray makes it a point to take out some aggression on him and his prized auto.  It will not take a very astute mystery/thriller reader to surmise what might have actually happened to Rosita and Anna and who was responsible.

The rest of the novel is about a family seeking to heal itself.  Iris makes it her mission to re-open her brother's case and see him cleared of a crime she is confident he did not commit.  There are some twists and turns but in the end we are left with a well-written family drama that will probably appeal more to the fans of the dramatic fiction genre than those looking for hardcore thrills.  What I found most interesting was the lack of Nordic atmosphere.  It felt like this novel could have been set anywhere which makes it far more accessible to potential U.S. readers.

 

 

 

Pacific Burn by Barney Lancet                                                                          

Publisher: Simon & Schuster / 3.75 bolts

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader 

Jim Bodie is a San Francisco art dealer and part-time PI. He has recently been recruited to serve as liaison for the Pacific Rim Friendship Program by the mayor of San Francisco due to his expertise in Japanese culture and fluency in the language. These same talents have landed Brodie a position as a consultant for the SFPD.

Brodie receives a call from Detective Lieutenant Frank Renna. There has been the death of a Japanese man and there is a young boy chanting in Japanese at the scene. The murder has taken place in Napa wine country outside the department jurisdiction. However, the department’s assistance has been requested. Brodie’s assistance has been requested in particular.

What began as a professional duty to the police quickly becomes personal. The victim is Toru Nobuki – known to Bodie as a gifted artist and friend. Even more shocking and heartbreaking is Toru’s eight year son who has stayed with his father’s body chanting – a chant asking for Bodie’s help.

After these events, Bodie’s life seems to settle down to a reasonably normal pace - for a short time. Bodie’s duties to the Asia-San Francisco cultural exchange has resumed with a ceremony including the mayor, Ken Kobuki –Toru’s father – and Brodie. The ceremony is disrupted by a sniper’s shots. Brodie manages to push Kobuki down – saving his life but not before a bullet grazes Ken’s head and inflicts critical injury to his brain.

Hours after escaping with his life, Brodie is at the hospital in time to intervene with another assassination attempt. Brodie narrowly escapes with his life while saving Ken’s from the hands of a mysterious and highly skilled assassin.

Brodie reaches out to warn Ken’s family of possible danger. He is surprised when, Naomi, Ken’s daughter calls him unaware of the events. She has been in the U.S. on a retreat with her husband and has just arrived in Washington. Brodie uses his connection to a D.C. detective agency to provide protection until he can get there.

Arriving as quickly as possible in Washington, Brodie is receives a less-than-friendly greeting from representatives of the FBI and CIA. He senses that he may have an ally in the FBI agent.  The CIA is intent upon accusing Naomi because of her outspoken criticism of the Tokyo power company’s failure to safeguard against a nuclear accident following the tsunami and earthquake. Brodie stands his ground and is able to protect Naomi at the cost of making an enemy in the CIA.

Brodie flies to Tokyo to protect Ken’s wife and youngest son. Using the resources of his detective agency in Japan, he investigates and discovers that the family and he are the targets of an assassin called the Steam Walker. Unfortunately, the youngest son and his fiancée are killed. Bodie has several narrow escapes from the Walker. He has to find the motive and the person who has hired this killer. Fanatic opposition to the Pacific Rim Friendship Program and powerful supporters of the nuclear power program are possibilities.

Pacific Burn is interesting and intriguing on several levels. The mystery plot is sound. Brodie’s interaction in two cultures gives insight to both. The international political intrigue adds another dimension. Readers will not be bored. However, the intricate plot, multiple important characters and shifting settings require close attention to detail. This not a casual read.

 

 

The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian

Publisher: Doubleday / 4.5 bolts

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

Best-selling author Chris Bohjalian has had great success writing literary novels with complex characters typically facing a challenging moral dilemma.  I have to hand it to Bohjalian for stepping way out of the box with recent efforts like THE NIGHT STRANGERS which was a classic ghost story and his latest novel, THE GUEST ROOM, which rivals the best suspense thrillers on the market.

The set-up for this novel is chilling and extremely plausible.  Richard Chapman is a wealthy NYC banker who lives with his family in the upper-class Westchester town of Bronxville.  He offers to host his younger brother Philip's bachelor party at his fancy home and makes sure his wife and young daughter are gone for the evening.

A small group of Philip's friends gather for the traditional night of debauchery that includes heavy drinking and strippers.  These are not just any strippers but Russian prostitutes who arrive with two heavily muscled body-guards.  While Richard is off in the family guest room dealing with his test of faith that comes in the form of the young Russian vixen, Alexandra, his brother Philip and some of his friends are exercising their far more relaxed morals with some of the other hired help (even getting freaky in Richard's daughter's bedroom).

This is not the messy part.  Things take a wicked twist when Alexandra and one of her colleagues suddenly attack and kill the two Russian men who accompanied them before fleeing the premises.  Richard and company must now pick up the pieces not only with the local police who have taken over his house as a crime scene but, more importantly, must deal with how to sensitively explain to Richard's wife and Philip's fiancée what actually transpired.

What happens next is brilliant to watch.  Chapters ping-pong back and forth between Richard and the downward spiral this incident has sent his life into as well as the full back-story of Alexandra.  We find out that Alexandra was less a prostitute and more a sex slave and readers will find it hard not to sympathize with her plight.  Richard, on the other hand, must now try to repair his relationship with his wife and daughter; salvage his job and reputation at work and defend against the unexpected blackmail brought against him by one of Philip's friends named Spencer.

The paths of Richard and Alexandra eventually cross again in a finale set once again inside Richard's Bronxville home.  The showdown this time will involve Richard, his family and Alexandra against some very angry Russian mobsters seeking to avenge their fallen brothers.  This is the most non-Bohjalian book the author has ever put together and long-time fans (like myself) will find themselves forgetting that they are reading one of his novels.  THE GUEST ROOM is an edge-of-your-seat thriller with deeply layered characters and highly suspenseful situations packed with surprises.

 

 

Funeral Hotdish by Jana Bommersbach

Publisher: Poison Pen Press / 4 bolts

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

If you want to know how to make a tomato hamburger casserole for 175, this is the book for you—and it will tell you how to make a murder disappear as well. 

Joya Bonner is a hard-working journalist in Phoenix Arizona who stumbles into the story of her career. On the basis of recognising a supposedly retired mafia capo, she finagles her way into the confidence of the police department which is seeking to break a drug ring and bring down Sammy “The Bull” Gravano. (True crime fans will realise that Sammy is a real-life villain who’s presently in jail for his most recent sins, although it’s suspected there are many more for which he’s never been charged.  The author has drawn on some of her own real experiences for background and local colour.)

On the other side of the country in Joya’s tiny home town in North Dakota, a high school rave party ends in tragedy with popular Amber Schlener dead after taking ecstasy, and her boyfriend Johnny Roth in a coma, roundly condemned for having brought drugs to the party.  Suspected of being the pusher is local ne’er-do-well Darryl “Crabapple” Harding.  Quite a few local people would happily see Darryl get a one-way ticket to hell, but for the moment he has vanished into thin air. 

Darryl reappears as a messy corpse, gory from a shotgun blast and showing signs of detention and starvation prior to death.  Sherriff Potter homes in on three of the town’s respected elders, who have ill-advisedly been heard to make threatening statements about Darryl.  One of the suspects is Joya’s father.

Having got the scoop of her career with the arrest of Sammy Gravano, Joya goes home to provide moral support to her parents, and at once sees there’s more going on than any will admit.  The sheriff comes to Joya’s parents’ home and tries to confiscate her father’s shotgun, but Joya stands her ground and demands to see his warrant.  She is confident her father is innocent, so starts investigating, and almost at once hits a nerve.  She knows this because she’s run off the road on a snowy evening by a dark blue car.  Coincidentally a dark blue car comes along later driven by a sheriff’s deputy who pulls her car out of the snow bank and wishes her a safe and early trip back home to Phoenix.

Joya is scared but not about to be put off, not until she finds out the truth of what’s happened in Northville.  She can see at once how bad things look for her father and his friends, and gets the best lawyer she can find to provide professional help.  When Johnny Roth is found dead, clearly a suicide, everyone seems willing to accept that he must have killed Crabapple. 

Interlaced with the story of big-city crime and small-town murder is a lavish helping of rural life in the late 20th century.  Anyone who ever lived in a small town will relate to the characters, the gossip, the caring and sharing, and the incredible ability of church ladies to feed and minister to multitudes regardless of weather or logistical difficulties. 

 

 

 

Brotherhood In Death by J D Robb

Publisher: Piatkus Books / 4.5 bolts

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

This is the 41st in one of the most popular and consistent crime series of this or any other century.  I have read all of them at least twice, and reviewed many, so count myself as something of a connoisseur of the work.  All the books feature Lt. Eve Dallas of the New York Police and Security Department, her upbeat sidekick Delia Peabody, and her incredibly rich and handsome husband (and retired criminal) Roarke.

Not all of the books in the series have had the same appeal; there have been a few where I’ve skipped pages due to the awfulness of the villains—it isn’t a deficiency in writing; rather, a personal distaste or a raw nerve, perhaps.  “Brotherhood in Death” has its awful moments, but when you discover the reason behind the horrific murders, you can’t help but have a bit of empathy with the perpetrators, and understand why Eve is similarly torn between duty and something much more personal.

The story opens with Eve’s being contacted by Dr Charlotte Mira, the police department’s star shrink and profiler.  Mira’s husband, the lovable, mild-mannered and harmless Professor Dennis Mira has been attacked at his grandfather’s old brownstone when his cousin Edward was kidnapped.  No ransom demand is forthcoming, which makes the crime look like something personal to Eve, who tries unsuccessfully to pry some information from Edward Mira’s wife, a woman as cold as a repo man’s heart. 

Edward turns up dangling from the chandelier at the grandfather’s mansion, horribly dead after what can’t have been a very enjoyable 24 hours.  A post mortem shows a tiny tattoo in a sensitive spot, and the same tattoo turns up on the next corpse to be found.  What do these men have in common?  When a third man goes missing, the common thread is been identified.  (One trusts author Robb’s legal team has advised her well about naming one of the most venerable Ivy League schools as the site of an old crime and a modern conspiracy.)

Eve discovers the motive for the murders and it has a loud resonance with her own early history.  In a tragedy of errors, while trying to comfort Dennis Mira she reveals to him her own pain and misery—and completely melts at his reception of the story.  We can see in Dennis Mira the father that Eve (and every abused child) should have had.   Eve’s emotional maturity in dealing with her past has been growing over the period covered by these books, and despite the resurgence of the awful nightmares which once bedevilled her, we can hope that at long last she may get out from under the dark and bloody shadow of her childhood. 

As usual, there’s a lot of hard support work by Eve’s team of detectives and her clever husband; together they pin down the location of the murder site and the murderers, but will they get there in time to save the current victim?  And if they do, does he deserve saving?  You be the judge.

 

 

The Oxford Inheritance by Ann A. McDonald

Publisher: William Morrow / 4 bolts

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader 

Cassie Blackwell has always dreamed of attending Oxford University and it’s a dream her loving parents back home in the States have cheerfully encouraged. At least, that’s what she tells her new peers and professors, carefully avoiding mentioning the years of being on her own as an orphan or her intense feeling of rage that lies beneath her surface.

In fact, Cassie’s life looks like a fairytale; her hard work at Smith helped her earn a year of study at the vaunted British university’s Raleigh College and she’s got a steady job, enough food, and, thanks to her new roommate, Evie, access to the dazzling high society students who combine partying and academics with style. In spite of her new life, Cassie can’t forget the reason why she spent years trying to get here—a mysterious link to her late, unhinged mother that begged her to come to Oxford.

Ann A. McDonald allows the impoverished American’s point-of-view to serve as the main focus as she learns about the rather different British academic world, especially one in which future prime ministers and corporate leaders are made. Cassie’s own secrets unfold slowly as she begins to trust new friends, with a climax at the end that offers a culmination in a series of murders that plagues the campus.

Readers may expect the big surprise at the end—it’s been done before—but Cassie’s own character and experiences make her worth following. In fact, the ending feels slighter than the rest of the book; until then, readers can almost feel the cobblestones under their feet or see the storied halls filled with generations of students. In addition to her own experience as an Oxford student, McDonald’s work as a professional screenwriter shines in the imagery and characterization of Cassie. Throughout the story, the fictional Raleigh College ties both past (through Sir Walter Raleigh and the book’s primary secret) to present, making for an enjoyable mystery with a worthy hero.

 

 

 

 

Try Not To Breathe by Holly Seddon

Publisher: Ballantine Books / 5 bolts 

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

TRY NOT TO BREATHE is a fantastic debut thriller and destined to be one of the hottest and most talked about novels of the year.  I predict it will have similar impact like GONE GIRL and THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN have had on the publishing world in previous years.

The most amazing thing is the central character in the novel spends nearly the entire time trapped in a coma.  When a former newspaper writer named Alex Dale grabs a chance at redemption after drinking herself out of a career and marriage who would have thought it would be through re-opening a 15-year-old cold case.  The case in question involves Amy Stevenson who was abducted in her teens, brutally assaulted and ending up in a coma.

As with any good mystery story there are a slew of suspects.  First off is Bob, the step-father.  How guilty does it make him look when Amy's mother commits suicide one year after her abduction?  Next is her boyfriend at the time, Jacob.  The interesting thing is that young Amy and Jacob had stated that they were saving themselves for each other --- yet when Amy is abducted she was not a virgin.

Aside from a local pedophile and other boys at school the suspect list is thin.  Only one of Amy's girlfriends agrees to be interviewed by Alex and she is not able to provide much help.  The answer may lie with Jacob.  Is he is innocent as he claims to be or could he and one of his miscreant older brothers have a deadly plan in mind for Amy.

With the story jumping between 15 years earlier and present day there are enough clues and leads to keep the most astute mystery reader on edge.  Throw in the mysterious unknown male who may have been in Amy's life as her deep, dark secret and the list of suspects is complete.

What makes TRY NOT TO BREATHE stand out above your average thriller are the passages narrated by Amy while she is lying comatose in her hospital bed.  She can definitely help unlock many of the mysteries surrounding her abduction but there is still so much that comes across as dream-like and difficult to interpret.

All of the characters are interesting and complex and this novel is impossible to put down.  TRY NOT TO BREATHE works well from beginning to end and Holly Seddon comes across as a seasoned thriller writer rather than a first-time novelist.  Enjoy!

 

 

 

The Flying Dragon by Georges Ugeux

Publisher: Archway Publishing  / 3.5 bolts

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Victoria Leung worked in the fraud department of the Hong Kong police before finding a better-paid and better respected position at an international security firm.  She’s had an unfair share of misogyny but manages to keep her sense of humour and her self-confidence, because she knows she’s better at her job than most of the men she’s had to work with.  She earned her soubriquet by busting a huge fraud case involving a large company and a lot of important people.  This didn’t win her many friends, but it did establish her as someone to be feared by crooks and scam artists.  If the Flying Dragon is on your trail, you’d better watch your step!

One day Victoria’s normally sane and sensible friend Diana calls up with a major worry: her former boyfriend Henry Chang may be involved in something dangerous and nasty and for some reason Diana feels she must help.  Henry is a nasty piece of work whom you’ll want to smack in the chops the minute he enters the story, proving once again a good brain can’t always protect a girl against bad decisions when it comes to romance.

It doesn’t take Victoria long to discover that the recent suicide of a young trader in Henry’s company is not what it seems.  Her previous experience as a forensic auditor comes in very handy, but it also puts her in danger from some powerful men who have much to hide.

Victoria Leung is a good addition to the growing number of intelligent and independent young heroines in modern fiction.  Ugeux’s eye for detail comes from his long career in global finance, and you suspect this book could as well have been cast as a nonfiction study in grubby dealing rather than a novel.  Perhaps his legal advisers suggested the format he has chosen.

 

 

 

The Undoing by Averil Dean

Publisher: Mira / 4.75 bolts

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader 

In a small ski resort town, the bloodied bodies of Celia Dark, Rory McFarland and Eric Dillion are found in a neglected hotel that teeters on the edge of Jawbone Ridge. That’s the story that newcomers to the town hear, and now, five years later, handsome, aging skiing star, Julian Moss, and the hotel’s new owner, the wealthy and fiercely independent Kate Vaughn, meet again in the hotel, reminiscing about the three they once knew. 

From the first, author Averil Dean offers an expectation of what trail the story will follow, only to take a much different, more difficult-- black diamond, if you will—path in this gorgeous story about a young nomadic spirit whose love for her supportive step-brother, Rory, and their best friend, Eric, adds as much color as Celia’s own hippie-ish touches in the remodeling of The Blackbird.  

Celia, no stranger to damaging pasts and estranged relationships, seems to know how to bring out the best in others, making them long to be worthy of her attention. She has no real ambition to leave her small town, but instead just longs to give The Blackbird new life; with the help of Eric and Rory, she has finally found everything that she needs. Rory loves skiing on the nearby slopes and works hard at his job. Eric has just used an inheritance to buy The Blackbird so that he, his girlfriend and his best friend call all renovate the historic hotel and make into a welcoming place for visitors. So, why did such a terrible thing happen to the free-spirited girl and the two young men who lived there? 

Dean tells her story using a backwards narrative; we see Julian and Kate still haunted by the deaths of the three years later and get a glimpse of how the tragedy continues to affect them. It’s not until we step into the past, step by step, that we see not only the truth behind Julian and Kate, but also the truth behind the heartbreaking murders.  

Each of the five major characters refrains from becoming a stereotype; instead, Dean fleshes them out with strengths and flaws, allowing each a way to mesmerize and to be mesmerized. She manages to nestle heartbreak within heartbreak within heartbreak, all while allowing joy and beauty to emanate. 

The Undoing is a truly beautifully told story that allows readers to delve further into this world, anxious to discover the “why” and the “who,” all while mourning what could have been. This is one that stays with you, much like Celia’s own almost mystical presence.

 

 

The Bitter Season by Tami Hoag

Publisher: Dutton / 5 bolts

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

Tami Hoag has been writing solid thrillers for decades with over thirty novels of hers seeing world-wide acclaim.  I am pleased to offer that THE BITTER SEASON may be her best and most complex work to date.

The novel settles on two separate murder cases --- one a brutal slaying of a university professor and his wife and the other involving a twenty-five-year-old cold case that saw a police detective gunned down in his own yard by an unknown assailant.

Two of Hoag's regular characters are back in THE BITTER SEASON --- Minneapolis Detectives Nikki Liska and Sam Kovac.  This time they are separated with Nikki getting the cold case and Kovac the double homicide.  It is a pleasure to watch as Hoag deftly strings together clues and events that will see these two crimes that are decades apart and tie them together in a bizarre fashion.

Nikki is digging into the murder of Detective Ted Duffy and that requires opening up some old wounds.  His own family does not seem the least bit interested in helping Nikki and everyone she interviews seems to be hiding something. Two facts keep rising to the surface and they involve neighbors of the Duffy's.  First off, did cranky Donald Nilsen hate the Duffy's enough to kill Ted?  Secondly, what is the real story behind the extremely odd Evi Burke, a former foster child who has grown up into a troubled and tormented woman.

Meanwhile, Kovac and his new partner are finding some similar challenges in investigating the death of the two academics, beginning with their children.  It seems their son and daughter had a difficult relationship with their father, but were their psychological wounds enough to drive them to commit this vicious murder?

Eventually, suspicion falls upon a man named Gordon Krauss.  What is most unique about Krauss is that his name is one of  a handful of aliases used by Jeremy Nilsen --- son of Donald Nilsen.  Could Jeremy be the answer behind both murder cases or is something else actually going on beneath everyone's noses?

These many questions will have readers puzzling with delight as THE BITTER SEASON never fails to entertain from start to finish.  A finely crafted psychological thriller and top notch police procedural.

 

 

Return To Dust by Andrew Lanh

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press / 4 bolts

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

If you only know one private eye, you’ll probably call on him when you have a problem that needs investigating.  Karen Corcoran  met Rick van Lam briefly, so when her aunt dies and the police don’t seem to recognise it was murder, Karen calls on Rick.  She is convinced Marta was murdered, because she was Catholic, and Catholics aren’t supposed to resort to suicide, and because she had bought tickets for a holiday in Las Vegas.

Rick knew Marta Kowalski because she cleaned his apartment but he didn’t care for her snoopy ways, and wasn’t all that sad to hear of her suicide, except in the generic sadness one feels for a fellow human pushed to extremes.  He hears Karen’s theories and thinks they are pretty flimsy, but agrees to look into the death.

Despite himself, Rick gets interested in the case.  Marta had all sorts of relationships with a number of people, and she knew a great deal about many of them.  There’s more than one person in Farmington who won’t be sad that she’s gone.  Marta had a lot more money than most cleaning ladies have, and she sometimes made loans.  Could someone who owed her have decided to pay the debt in death? 

Things take a nasty turn when Karen’s brother Davey dies, also by his own hand.  Karen suddenly turns on Rick, saying he’s responsible for everything that’s gone wrong, and fires him.  Rick has nightmares and flashbacks to his troubled childhood in Viet Nam, where to be a half-breed child is to be nothing, to be reviled and called a child of the dust.  His friend Hank Nguyen sees that he’s having a hard time, and takes him home to Grandma’s house for a good meal, and while there Rick gets a chance to talk to another of Marta’s victim, Uncle Willie.  Rick’s collecting lots of information, but it doesn’t seem to be getting him anywhere until his business partner Jimmy tells him, “Go home, rethink everything.  Strip it down to its essentials.  You’ve already talked to the murderer—now put a name to him.”

This is an involving story with a lot of background detail about the expatriate Vietnamese community in the USA.  Rick Van Lam is a private eye with more depth than many of his ilk.  The author, Andrew Lanh, is using a pseudonym which I won’t give away here, but it’s easy enough to find out who he really is thanks to the all-knowing Google.

 

 

 

Karma’s A Killer by Tracey Weber

Publisher: Midnight Ink / 4 bolts

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Once you stop laughing at the idea of yoga classes for dogs and understand that Kate Davidson is teaching the dog’s human companions as much as she’s teaching the dogs, the idea sort of grows on you.  I can think of quite a few hyper-active dogs (and their owners) who’d benefit from some soul-soothing yoga practice.

Kate has only agreed to the “Doga” lessons to help her partner Michael, who is in turn helping the organiser of DogMa, the no-kill dog shelter in Seattle, with a fund-raising event in Green Park.  Kate is sitting in a quiet corner gathering her thoughts—and her courage—when she overhears two women, Dharma and Raven,  discussing what sounds like potential trouble for the event.  She tries to find Michael to warn him.

The family fun day out starts off well, but things go downhill fast when a large and determined woman insists on bringing her pet bunny to the doga class.  A dog’s gotta do what a dog’s gotta do, and before you can say “Fight!”, the dogs and bunny and humans are going in all directions—and that’s even before the animal rights activists storm the event, set fire to the trash bins, and generally wreak havoc.

Kate discovers that Dharma, one of the women she overheard is her long-lost mother, who ran off to save the world when she was a toddler, and from whom she’s heard nothing since.  She accepts a collect call from the city jail the next day and learns that Dharma is in there on a charge of murdering Raven.  Kate’s a natural-born fixer, and despite having no relationship with Dharma, manages to talk a retired lawyer friend into helping her.  Meanwhile Kate starts poking around with the help of her hugely pregnant BFF René to find out who really killed Raven.

There are a number of red herrings in the trail, but Kate and René finally face the killer—possibly not the brightest idea they have had since their last get-together at the coffee shop.  Surely nobody would shoot a woman pregnant with twins and a harmless yoga teacher!  It will cost you a modest $14.99 to find out.

A very gentle, enjoyable reading experience which will teach you a bit about yoga, the price of holding in old griefs, family dynamics, and quite a lot about rescuing unwanted pets.

 

 

The Treacherous Net by Helene Tursten

Publisher: Soho Crime / 3.75 bolts

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader 

Detective Inspector Irene Huss doesn’t like the changes occurring in the Violent Crimes Unit in Gotesburg, Sweden. Her new boss clearly favors men and ignores the few women in the department; she’s even gone so far as to transfer Irene’s partner to a new job and new office far away from Irene. Fortunately, Irene has a supportive husband at home and a see-if-I-care attitude at work. Irene knows she’s made for her job and isn’t interested in the political dance to rise in the ranks. Right now, she just wants to stay employed.

Irene’s employment is almost assured as the understaffed Violent Crimes Unit is rocked by multiple unsolved murders, including some connected to gang activity. For Irene, however, she’s most caught up in the cases of two young girls found murdered independent of one another.  Both of the girls’ bodies were brutalized and barely clad, leaving the Violent Crime Unit terrified that Gotesburg has an anonymous serial killer.

At the same time, the demolition of a burned out building reveals the skeleton of a long-missing man with a surprising connection to Sweden’s past. The cold case team, led by two charming, quick-witted detectives counting down the days to retirement, handles the mystery of the walled-in man and takes a very different path than Irene’s primary case.

Author Helene Tursten intersperses the grim murders of the teenagers with the somewhat lighter accounts of the cold case department. The characterization of the kids involved with the investigation seems realistic even though it would be surprising if a modern police department was as ignorant of basic pedophilic internet trolling as this fictional version. Sweden’s slight innocence and touch of exoticism blend well with Irene’s chilled reserve although this results in common elements being revealed as revelational.

The cold case inspires historical research by the detectives, providing a nice counter-point to the immediacy of the serial killer case.

Marlaine Delargy’s translation is occasionally uneven. The prose usually flows, allowing readers to focus on the characters, but periodically, the prose channels noir before settling back into modern storytelling. It’s hard to determine if that’s from the translation or from the original version.

All in all, The Treacherous Net serves as a quick escape into Sweden’s crime unit. Readers of James Patterson may enjoy the thrill of the chase and fans of Lydia LaPlante’s Jane Tennison (Prime Suspect) will find much to cheer about in Irene.

 

 

 

Find Her by Lisa Gardner

Publisher: Dutton / 4 bolts

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader   

Award-winning author Lisa Gardner has been creating hard-hitting thrillers for decades.  Mostly set in the Boston area and featuring Detective D.D. Warren the series has been consistently good and occasionally rising to the level of greatness.

FIND HER is not only an above-average thriller but also one of the darkest Gardner has penned.  The primary reason is that the protagonist of the story shifts away from Detective Warren to a new character.  Flora Dane takes center stage and may be one of the most controversial heroines you will find.

This novel is dedicated to survivors everywhere and Flora Dane is definitely one of them. Readers are grabbed by the throat immediately as the first chapter depicts a woman trapped inside a wooden box and intimately outlining the horror that causes her mind to wander near the edge of madness.

We then are introduced to Flora Dane --- a young woman who herself was once a victim of abduction at the hands of a sadistic killer.  She was kidnapped seven years earlier when she was a carefree college student enjoying spring break.  472 days later she was free --- having finally bested her captor.  

Flora is now a woman on a mission and this mission is to lure and destroy other potential predators.  This will put her directly in the line of fire with local law enforcement and that is exactly what happens.  Flora and her FBI victim advocate, Samuel Keynes, meet with D.D. Warren following the apprehension of a sexual predator lured to justice by Flora.

Things will seemingly continue going on this way until Flora disappears.  Has a predator finally got the best of her or could it be something far worse?  Clues point to the fact that Flora may have set her sights on the infamous kidnap victim, Stacey Summers.  It is now up to Warren to find both women --- if still alive --- and catch a killer that no one suspects.  FIND HER is taut and brisk writing and makes for a dark and exciting read.

 

 

 

American Blood by Ben Sanders

Publisher: Minotaur Books / 2 bolts

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader 

Crime Noir, as a genre, has been popular for over a half century and it is a writing style that is often imitated.  Thanks to writers like Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald and Elmore Leonard we have seen the genre rise from mere pulp fiction into a dramatic art form that is not easily copied. 

New Zealand writer Ben Sanders seeks to add his name to the list of modern Crime Noir authors and I was excited at the prospect of reading this debut crime thriller. Especially after learning that the film rights had been obtained with Bradley Cooper set to star. Sadly, the writing and story did not hold up as well as expected.  AMERICAN BLOOD is nowhere near the work of the classic authors mentioned earlier and not in the same league as current writers like George Pelecanos, Dennis Lehane or Michael Connelly.

A former NYPD Officer, Marshall Grade, is living in New Mexico following a botched undercover operation that has put him in the sights of the Mob. Of course, he is unable to keep a low profile and immediately gets involved in a search for a missing woman and butting heads with some local drug lords. It's just a matter of time before he is back on the radar of the criminal underworld and his NYC past will come back to haunt him.

I only wish the story and Ben Sanders' writing was as exciting as the above premise. The story starts out with a bang but quickly gets stuck in the mud and mires there for the rest of the novel. I was hoping for something to happen --- or to care about any of the characters --- and was bored to death eagerly waiting for the story to end. Hoping the film has a bit more oomph.

 

Fans of Crime Noir will have to continue to wait for the second coming of Raymond Chandler and company as AMERICAN BLOOD fell well short of classic status in this much loved genre.

 

 

 

The Good Liar by Nicholas Searle

Publisher: Harper / 4 bolts

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Roy is truly a good liar. He may be elderly now, but he’s spent his life conning naïve marks out of their financial assets and he’s not about to stop now. Thanks to the rise of the internet, it’s easier than ever to find the right person to dupe and then to make his getaway. Even at his age and with a natural dulling of his wit and charisma, Roy finds online dating an ideal way to find lonely widows with healthy bank accounts. In fact, Roy’s recent find, the still beautiful blond Betty, craves his company and concedes to his wisdom, allowing him to cash in at least one more time.

Roy and his partner, Vincent, have the perfect scheme for an old con in a modern age, especially since Vince pretends to be a financial planner interested in helping widows securely plan for their futures. In spite of his current ploy, Roy can’t help but revisit previous cons, though, and other major events that changed his life in pivotal ways.

He’s not normally a sentimental man, but these stories, told chronologically backward throughout the forward-going narrative of his relationship with Betty, reveal Roy’s character and the impact he’s made on the people around him. Roy—last name changes as needed—is proud of who he has become and deserves every last bit.

While the book’s primary revelation may not surprise readers—and, in fact, may disarm them-- the motivation and genuine emotion behind it add to a mesmerizing climax. Nicolas Searle expertly weaves the past with the present, and the baggage of a horrific event that transformed western history. Searle’s facility with European history adds authenticity and depth at the same time that he maintains a believable American pensioner’s lifestyle. The Good Liar is worth the sometimes painful recollections to get to a very satisfying end.

 

 

Violent Crimes by Phillip Margolin

Publisher: Harper / 4 bolts

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader 

Christine Larson really believes in her friend, Tom Beatty. Tom works for her as a very competent paralegal at their firm, Masterson, Hamilton, Rickman and Thomas, and Christine herself is gaining notice as tenacious and honest in her work in business and tax law. So much so, that one of the firm's founders has asked her to report on an independent audit of the firm's finances to a top prospective client.

Christine knows that she's successful in part because of her staff and she believes that Tom could be much more than a paralegal, but his PTSD from years of intense military service makes him feel that the lower stress levels of his current job work best for him. After a casual night at a bar turns into an arrest for Tom, Christine asks her friend Amanda Jaffe to represent him on the charges related to the barfight.

Amanda works in criminal law, defending a wide range of clients—from a strip club owner with a soft spot for his occasional attorney to a young, wide-eyed environmentalist who confesses to police that he murdered his father. Tom’s case is small potatoes for Amanda, who sometimes works on death penalty cases and even teaches new lawyers about how to approach those cases. She quickly helps Tom out, but then the savage killing of her friend, Christine, puts Tom back on the court docket and forces Amanda to find out who would kill a tax attorney and why.

Prolific Phillip Margolin (Worthy Brown’s Daughter) creates a nicely fleshed out story of a corrupt law firm and the attorney who manages to be at home in the courtroom and the underworld at the same time. As in other books in the series, Amanda’s investigator, Kate, keeps things moving, especially thanks to her friendship with police detective Billie Brewster, allowing a little police procedural to mix with the courtroom drama and the investigative action.

Margolin’s short, choppy sentences jar on occasion and some of the exposition dulls a little bit, but for the majority of Violent Crimes, readers will wonder just how this will play out before reaching a satisfactory conclusion—which Margolin then deftly shifts in an unexpected and welcome twist at the very end.

 

 

The Drowning by Camilla Lackberg

Publisher: Pegasus

Reviewer: Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader 

Erica Falck is very pleased with herself. While in between writing projects and in the midst of expecting twins with her husband, Detective Patrik Hedstrom, she has used her own credentials as a successful true-crime writer to support her friend, Christian Thydell, in his dark, enigmatic debut, The Mermaid. Thydell’s work is creepy, but glowing reviews bolster high hopes for a long, fruitful career.

Unfortunately for her friend, Christian’s highly anticipated book launch is hijacked by a series of cryptically threatening letters written on good white paper stock and in inimitable handwriting. Christian swears he has no idea of who could send him things like these, but Erica’s curiosity and concern are piqued, giving her one more mystery to solve before her twins are born.

Meanwhile, Erica’s husband, Patrik, and his colleagues have finally found the body of a beloved family man who disappeared several months before. Patrik can finally cross him off the missing persons’ list, but the body’s injuries mean that the tightknit police in the peaceful, seaside area have a new homicide case to solve.

Author Camilla Lackberg (The Ice Princess) displays the same intensity and strength as in previous novels in developing the characters who permeate the police department, intertwining both personal and professional lives. This successfully draws readers in, but also punctuates the underlying grimness of their work.

The detectives and their extended family members continue to bond together and create new ties (as they have throughout the series), with even a characteristically annoying know-it-all in the “family”—but one who still manages to surprise his underlings. 

Characters may have happy marriages and expect a baby—or two—soon, but The Drowning is filled with once-happy plans gone terribly wrong, dragging unfortunate spouses and children along with it. Lackberg’s work reads quickly like a beach novel, but the content is better suited to long, cold winter nights, filled with warnings that linger late into the night.

 

 

 

Corrupted by Lisa Scottoline  

Publisher: St Martin’s Press   

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader 

Philadelphia attorney Bennie Rosato is tough, successful and a champion for the underdog. Twelve years ago Bennie agreed to take a case for Jason Leftavick, a middle school student jailed for fighting with bully Richie Grusini in school. Bennie made the trek from Philadelphia over much of the state to secure hearings, summit legal documents and visit Jason as the holiday season made the justice system move even more slowly. 

All could have come out well if two events had not occurred. Bennie decided to speak with Richie’s mother Doreen since Bennie felt jail was extreme for Richie as well as Jason. Then she met Richie’s uncle Declan. She fell almost instantly in love with the handsome State Trooper.  

Doreen’s questionable mental state came into play when she attacked Bennie at the juvenile detention center. This event brought Bennie’s brief relationship with Declan out and Jason’s father fired her. Both boys were left at the mercy of the system and under the control of a corrupt judge. 

Bennie is summoned to the Philadelphia Police Headquarters in the present day to help Jason Leftavick, who has been accused of the brutal murder of Richie. Past events are brought back to life. Declan comes to her house to try to convince her not to defend Jason. Doreen sits in the courtroom and confers with a reporter seeking a sensational story. 

Through careful questioning of Doreen, the DA paints a picture of Richie as a victim and Jason as the aggressor. The State rests its case and Bennie is confronted with mounting her defense the following day. Bennie gradually sees a pattern in Jason’s behavior – not as an aggressor but as a protector. Now she must determine who Jason was protecting from Richie and why he is willing to risk prison to keep it a secret. 

Scottoline as crafted a thoughtful work. It tackles some tough issues such as an overworked and seemingly callous judicial system that allowed corruption to go unchecked for years and a justice for the juvenile victims to be lost years and ruined lives compensated by a paltry $5000 per victim. 

Bennie is a complex character. She is a workaholic who allowed human weakness to cloud her judgment twelve years before. Racked with guilt, she drives herself to make up for her perceived failure to Jason. The book is not an easy read and may require time and reflection by the reader.

 

 

Dark Places by Reavis Z. Wortham

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press - Mystery

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

This is the second book I’ve read from the Red River series, and it’s every bit as good as the first, and even more complex.  Wortham has a gift for telling a story by means of short, sharp scenes, almost like one of the old film serials.  Some of the story is told through the point of view of 14-year-old Top Parker, some through his cousin Pepper’s eyes, and the rest as either third person omniscient or third person limited, as appropriate.  Like I said: complex.

The mixed narrative styles don’t get in the way of the story, which moves very fast and carries the reader along irresistibly.  You keep reading ‘just one more chapter’, because the events in this Texas town in the late 1960’s are so compelling.  There’s murder, robbery, violence, misplaced loyalty, family solidarity and just about any other plot thread you can name.  There’s also a missing person, a young girl who is in serious danger.

Pepper has run off with a boy from her school, partly because she’s bored to tears with small town life, and partly because she’s dead keen to see San Francisco—and partly because she’s terrified of the ringleader of a gang of who thinks she knows too much about his misdeeds.  Leaving town seems the safest thing to do.

Constable Ned Parker, not fully recovered from a previous injury, sets out after the runaway, aided and sometimes hindered by his son Jim, Pepper’s father, and a mysterious Native American who says he wants to help but is also following a hidden agenda.  Ned is in increasing pain and it’s going to be a race to see if he’s able to find Pepper before he is carted off to the ER.

Meanwhile back at Center Springs, Sheriff Cody Parker and his new deputy Anna Sloan are trying to find out what happened to a couple of cashed-up businessmen who have dropped off the face of the earth.  Increasingly bad weather hinders the search, and when the men are found dead and buried, Anna ends up in great peril with only the slimmest chance of surviving.

“Dark Places” is full of dark places, but also a lot of warm and sometimes amusing family interactions.  Some of the characters from the previous books appear again: Aunt Becky, Ida Belle, Norma Fay, and the big black deputy John Washington who walks a difficult line between the old ways and the rising consciousness of the young black men in town.

This is a book that can take your mind off the troubles of the modern world and give you a few hours in another time and place that will recharge your batteries. 

 

 

All Dressed in White by Mary Higgins Clark and Alafair Burke

Publisher: Simon & Schuster - Suspense

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader 

Amanda Pierce had everything going for her—she was the classic blond beauty with the intelligence and PR skills to successfully guide her family’s multi-generation women’s undergarment business into the modern age. She was also about to marry public defender Jeff Hunter, a man who was both attractive and genuinely kind, in a gorgeous Palm Beach wedding adorned with white flowers and seemingly made for TV.

In fact, the whole affair seems made for TV, which is why Laurie Moran thinks that Amanda’s story works for her TV show, Under Suspicion. Unfortunately for Amanda, the story isn’t about a dream wedding with a happy ending waiting, but rather the bride’s vanishing act just before the wedding. The press dubbed Amanda the “Runaway Bride,” but, now, five years later, her disappearance seems much more sinister. Laurie missed the case when it first occurred due to a violent loss in her own life at about the same time, but she quickly realizes that this was one that captivated the country and one that people still remembered.

Laurie and her team, gregarious assistant Grace Garcia and good-humored production assistant Jerry Klein, recreate a semblance of that lost weekend in Palm Beach for filming purposes and to help them review the clues to the cold case. In the sumptuous Grand Victoria Hotel, Amanda’s parents, Walter and Sandra Pierce, reconnect with their remaining children, Henry and Charlotte. Charlotte’s taken over the company and Henry has fled to the opposite side of the country, avoiding both his family and the company at all costs.

Bridemaids Kate Fulton, now a harried mother of four, and Meghan White, also married, return to the place where they lost their best friend; each clearly hiding something and just as plainly, ready to leave. Groomsmen Austin Pratt and Nick Young remain stuck in their roles as young men—always looking for the next conquest, whether it’s women or business, and committed to almost nothing other than what to name their respective new yachts. Jeff has even agreed to return—quickly and without talking it over with his new wife, surprising the investigation team. Before the wedding, Amanda made her fiancé her beneficiary to her trust; five years later, Jeff remains the top suspect, but he lives frugally in a small apartment and has yet to claim his inheritance.

With the help of Laurie’s retired cop father and the high profile attorney Alex Buckley as the show’s interviewer, the Under Suspicion team begins to investigate the case—recovering familiar territory at first, but quickly finding out that if they don’t find the truth, Amanda won’t be the only one who regrets it.

The high-powered, intelligent combination of Mary Higgins Clark and Alafair Burke comes through in a well-developed plot and a believable ensemble of characters. There are a few missteps—FB is touted as the major social media used by young tech-oriented people in Laurie Moran’s office—and some stilted expository sections which jar against the easy flowing grace of most chapters.  The detailed legal explanations bear Burke’s stylistic imprint, making these elements ring true while remaining concise. Readers looking for a pleasant modern mystery should look into this second installment of the Laurie Moran series.

 

     

Sidney Sheldon's Reckless by Tilly Bagshawe

Publisher: William Morrow  -- Crime/Thriller / 4 bolts

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader 

When author Sidney Sheldon passed away in 2007 he was the 7th best-selling author of all-time. His success spanned multiple platforms and earned him an Oscar, a Tony and an Edgar Award.  His name was synonymous with crime thrillers and he owned the Best Seller's list throughout the 1970's.

Sheldon's work was also as well known for steamy and sultry sex scenes as they were for nail-biting suspense.  Through it all, strong women always emerged as the central characters in most of his work.  Author Tilly Bagshawe has now picked up the mantel penning a series of novels in Sidney Sheldon's name. 

The latest Sidney Sheldon inspired thriller is entitled RECKLESS and the cover features a pair of long female legs inside a pair of six-inch high red high heels.  Quite simply, sex still sells.  However, some may claim false advertising after reading this taut thriller which --- outside of one brief sex scene --- goes straight for the jugular with a timely and relevant story-line that lends itself to the term 'page turner'.

Tracy Whitney is the protagonist and a long-time favorite of Sidney Sheldon's work.  Tracy is a former con artist and thief who now does her work for the CIA.  A terrorist group calling themselves Group 99 include an international base of global hackers out to attack the establishment and big business.  Their name comes from the 99% who fall outside of the extremely wealthy 1% who hold most of the world's financial clout.

Group 99 appears to have escalated from mere hacking to out and out murder.  They execute a British soldier and transmit the murder throughout social media.  Additionally, the terrorist faction has kidnapped an American investigative journalist and blown up an international industrialist.  Supposedly funding this nefarious activity is a woman known merely as Althea.

The CIA tasks Tracy Whitney with assisting to infiltrate and bring down Group 99. Part of this will include finding out why the kidnapped journalist --- Hunter Drexel --- was targeted and what motive he had for running away from the military group who fought to free him from his captors.  Tracy's allegiance in this case goes beyond the defense of her country.  She believes that some of the people working with Group 99 may have had a hand in the death of her son, Nicholas.

Now, Group 99 seems to be targeting billionaire Cameron Crewe who's business plans include fracking efforts that many see as raping the land and poisoning the environment at large.  Tracy hooks up with Crewe, in more ways than one, and they both share the tragic loss of their children as a common trait that instantly draws them together.  Little does Tracy realize that the death of her son may have been played up by the CIA as a murder to ensure her involvement in this situation.

RECKLESS tackles many issues and juggles them all equally well.  Both the CIA and MI6 are colored with various shades that highlight more than just the black and white paint brush they are usually seen with.  Tilly Bagshawe deftly plots this exciting novel and throws in enough twists and surprises to keep the most astute thriller fans on the edge of their seats.

 

 

Never Look Down by Warren C Easley

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press – Mystery / 4 bolts         

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

At the end of my review of Easley’s previous book last year, I said “This is a fast-moving readable adventure which has a lot of action but no gratuitous gore.  I’ll be looking out for the third book in the series.”

The third book is now available, and it does not disappoint.  The story starts with the frightening experience of a teen-age street artist, who climbs buildings to leave her mark.  Kelly is way up a brick wall with her spray cans when she witnesses a murder in the alley below.  The killers become aware of her but she escapes by the proverbial teeth-skin, and then has to live with the increasing weight of guilt about what she knows.  When her friend Rupert is killed because he won’t tell who or where Kelly is, she knows she has to do something.

Using an anonymous email account on a public computer, Kelly lets lawyer Cal Claxton know a bit about what she knows.  Cal is desperate to meet her, but she’s understandably jumpy about anyone being able to identify her.  A bit of brain work leads Cal to Kelly’s step-mother, with whom she has been living sporadically.  Unfortunately the bad guys find Veronica’s apartment too, but Kelly is able to get her out of town and out of danger.

Cal has already been involved in the murder case from another angle, because the dead woman in the alley was the fiancée of his friend Nando.  Cal’s intent on solving the murder if he can, before Nando does something stupid that will get him jailed for life—or worse. 

This is another fast-moving readable adventure from Easley which switches smoothly between the various protagonists and gives you a ‘crime in the round’ story.  A good book to take along on a long, boring plane or bus trip, or just to read on the back porch with a pitcher of something tasty by your side.

 

    

Hush Hush by Laura Lippman

Publisher: William Morrow –M ystery/Thriller / 4 bolts

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

All hail the return of Tess Monaghan.  For the uninitiated, Laura Lippman's Tess Monaghan is one of the strongest and most dynamic female protagonists in the mystery/thriller genre today.  First introduced in BALTIMORE BLUES, Tess began as a journalist in Baltimore and now operates as a private investigator.

We have not seen Tess in a while as Lippman has focused on stand-alone novels.  The absence is reflected in HUSH HUSH as this novel looks and feels different than any previous Monaghan novel.  To begin with, Tess and her P.I. partner Sandy are representing a particularly reprehensible character in the infamous Melisandre Harris Dawes.

Melisandre is known throughout the country as the heartless mother who let her two-month old daughter perish in a locked car while she lounged at a nearby river.  Found not guilty by reason of insanity kept her from jail time but she was sent to a psychiatric facility to work on the issues that caused her to act in such a callous and criminal way. 

HUSH HUSH opens with the transcript of a commentary from a documentary being made about Melisandre.  The film is being done by a woman named Harmony Burns and the transcript of several interviews  conducted with various characters from Melisandre's life are scattered throughout the novel. 

Tess is a mother now herself and abhorred by the behavior of Melisandre Dawes.  Had it not been the fact that her mentor, attorney Tyner Gray, asked Tess personally to take on Melisandre as a client it would have never happened.  Tyner is Melisandre's lawyer and the issue is that she is receiving a series of disturbing and threatening messages as she attempts to acclimate back into society.

Meanwhile, Melisandre's ex-husband Stephen Dawes has remarried and lives with his new wife, Felicia, as well as his daughters Alanna and Ruby.  Stephen and Felicia also have a young son of their own and have tried to move on from the tragic events perpetrated on their lives by Melisandre.

Tess and Sandy see many possibilities for suspects who might have issues with Melisandre --- including the family that she destroyed.  An attempt on her life is made as one of her colleagues is nearly poisoned to death having a cup of tea at her place only to find the sugar had been laced with a drug. Things get really interesting when, following a rare meeting between Melisandre and Stephen, he is found dead with his body strewn through a glass door at the house he and Melisandre used to share.

HUSH HUSH is an unpredictable novel sure to stir up emotions for and against the character of Melisandre Dawes.  The city of Baltimore has always acted as an additional character in the Tess Monaghan novels and there is no difference here --- particularly with the depiction of class separation seen throughout the novel.  A welcome return for Ms. Monaghan and a gritty read for 2015.

 

 

The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny

Publisher: Minotaur - Mystery / 4.5 bolts

Reviewer: Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader 

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is now Monsieur Gamache, recently retired and a new permanent resident of the beautiful, tight-knit Canadian village of Three Pines. He and his wife, Reine-Marie, enjoy his retirement from the darkness emanating both from the corruption within the Surete du Quebec and the cases of murder which fell under his purview as head of Homicide.  

Octagenarian  poet and wildwoman Ruth Zardo, eternally clutching her pet duck, Rosa, offers wisdom in verse one minute and foul insults the next. Retired psychologist Myrna Landers has left the darkest corners of the human mind to run a used bookstore that allows patrons to plunk money on the countertop when no one minds the store. Clara Morrow, the brilliant artist who lost her husband in The Long Way Home, suffers quietly at home, sitting amidst her grief, unable to finish a portrait of her husband, Peter, even as her friends envelop her with understanding and care. 

Through the deep emotional connections of these characters, Laurent Lapage bursts through, all nine-year old joy and imagination, with no understanding of self-containment or decorum. He’s fanciful, good-natured, annoying, and as much a part of Three Pines as the rest of the singular souls who live in the hidden sanctuary the Penny has created. Laurent briefly disturbs the morning peace when he swoops into the bistro, describing a large gun accompanied by a great monster. Armand, Reine-Marie, and their friends wonder at what has sparked this latest imaginary adventure, but then return to their quiet adult conversations. 

The next day, Laurent’s monster has become real—the boy’s body is found next to his bike, the result of an untimely accident. Former Chief Inspector Gamache can’t quite reconcile that finding, though, with what he sees and feels, allowing him to bring in his old team—now Chief Inspector Isabelle LaCoste’s team—once more. 

Jean-Guy Beauvoir, Gamache’s former right-hand man and now his son-in-law, returns to the serene village along with LaCoste. They’re doing Gamache a favor, but also unexpectedly take this opportunity to truly pass the torch along from Gamache’s legendary status to the new, also effective leadership. As always, the team, with Gamache in a secondary role, works well together, but a surprising discovery in the woods changes the scene from that of a crime into something much, much larger. Gamache must face his past even as he contemplates his future in an investigation that hits terribly close to home. 

In this eleventh installment of the series, Louise Penny continues to build strong characters whose struggles evoke real emotion, from the well-established series’ regulars to the secondary characters such as the tormented parents of young Laurent. Three Pines is such a well-drawn geographic setting that it becomes as real as Gamache. There may be great darkness around, but it eventually comes to light in Three Pines, strengthening the bonds of the inhabitants and granting relief to those who find their way home.

 

 

 

The Killing Lessons by Saul Black

Publisher: St. Martin's Press – Thriller  / 4 bolts

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader 

THE KILLING LESSONS marks the debut of a promising new talent on the thriller front.  Saul Black dives right into the deep end with his foray within the heavily populated serial killer genre.

Just when you thought you had read it all in this type of novel, Black successfully kicks it up a notch and effectively ramps up the thrills and chills in the process.  The novel hits the ground running with the depiction of  a brutal double murder of a mother and her young son inside their farmhouse by two mysterious strangers.

These brutal murders were not completely clean as there was a survivor.  Young Nell eluded one of the captors and raced into the woods in search of help.  Things then switch gears to San Francisco Homicide Detective Valerie Hart.  She has made it a mission to stop this string of terrible slaughters --- especially since the victims have been found in a particularly eerie condition.

It seems the killers are leaving a different artifact inside the bodies of one of their victims,  to be found eventually by law enforcement.  The items appear to be random, but Valerie Hart realizes if she can puzzle out what the connection may be she could find herself that much closer to stopping the next murders before they happen. 

Meanwhile, young Nell has narrowly escaped death to find herself in another precarious situation. She comes upon a house deep in the woods where a man named Angelo lives.  Angelo has no modern conveniences or even a telephone.  He takes Nell in and insists she rest up before he goes for more help.  Unfortunately, escaping the overly eager to help Angelo will not be easy as Nell is nursing injuries from her prior escape. 

Valerie Hart has her own issues to contend with.  One of her colleagues, Special Agent Carla York, seems to have it in for Valerie.  Valerie makes herself an easy target as she is unable to hide her own substance abuse issue --- which kicks into high gear under the stress of this latest manhunt.  Even her own partner, Will, can only protect Valerie so much. 

The two villains in this story, Xander and his dim-witted cohort, Paulie, are extremely dangerous with Xander having a uniquely sick agenda.  Their darkness and depravity is matched only by the will to succeed and survive that is exhibited by both Nell and Valerie.  THE KILLING LESSONS is a true battle between good and evil and the causalities mount as readers will breeze through this novel while holding their breath the entire time.

 

 

 

The Girl In The Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz

Publisher: Knopf – Thriller / 3.5 bolts

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

The late Swedish author Stieg Larsson left quite a legacy when he prematurely passed away.  First off, the international success of his Millennium Series spawned a slew of Nordic crime writers who have pretty much created their own niche in the genre.  Secondly, Larsson's series has resulted in not one but two film adaptations (the English language version unfortunately fizzling out after just one film).

Ironically, the author and journalist so shook up the establishment in his native Sweden that some conspiracy theorists suppose that he may have been murdered rather than succumbing to a heart attack at an early age.  This mirrors his primary character, Mikael Blomkvist, who has made more than a few enemies as a lead writer for the politically charged magazine Millennium.

We thought we had seen the last of these great characters --- but author/journalist David Lagercrantz had other ideas.  He not only brought back Blomkvist and the now iconic Lisbeth Salander but has created a very entertaining new thriller that features both them as well as many other characters first seen in Larsson's Millennium universe.

In THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER'S WEB some time has passed since the end of the original trilogy and Blomkvist is looking for that next big scoop to hang his hat on.  He may have found it when an anonymous stranger calls to request a late-night meeting with him at Blomkvist's favorite local bar. 

The source, one Linus Brandell, works for a famous name in the tech industry --- Frans Balder.  Allegedly, Balder and his company had a multi-billion dollar idea stolen from them by another gaming company in a feat of corporate espionage and the gloves are now off.  To enact his revenge, Balder utilizes the assistance of a female hacker known in the hacking community merely as Wasp.  Wasp, among other deeds, has been famous recently for supposedly hacking into the NSA's unimpenetrable database.

Blomkvist is interested for a couple of reasons --- one is that Frans Balder is killed in an apparent hit where his son was kidnapped and the second is that Blomkvist immediately knows the real identity of Wasp.  Wasp is none other than Lisbeth Salander.  She has inserted herself into the Balder situation by capturing his son from the bad guys.  In the process, she has now made the hit list of some very deadly people and the NSA becomes the least of her worries.

We learn that the handle 'Wasp' was a reference to the Marvel Comics character (and sometime member of the avengers). The group behind the Balder slaying go by the tag 'Spiders' --- and we now recognize where the novels title came from.  What follows is a thrill ride that jumps around between various story-lines and ends up with Blomkvist and an American working with the NSA searching for Salander before the Spiders catch her in their webs --- or worse.

THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER'S WEB reads like a classic thriller but falls a bit short of Larsson's own efforts.  There are so many characters within the action, or just referred to, that the glossary of names at the front of the book will still leave readers ill equipped to keep everyone straight.  For me, Lisbeth Salander was highly under-utilized and this will definitely disappoint hardcore fans.  I trust that this will be remedied in what will hopefully be successive novels in this great series.

 

 

 

Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham

Publisher: Doubleday  - Legal Thriller / 2 bolts

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

In 1987, author Scott Turow stunned the literary world with a courtroom mystery/thriller named PRESUMED INNOCENT.  The huge success of this novel not only re-ignited the legal thriller genre but also influenced a young author named John Grisham. 

Grisham had little success with his first novel that was entitled A TIME TO KILL.  However, in 1991 he penned a juggernaut book called THE FIRM.  This novel took what Turow had started and kicked it up several notches.  Thus started a long and mostly successful literary career --- which included a re-release of his first novel. 

John Grisham's name has become synonymous with the legal thriller and many of his works have been developed for film.  If you ask Grisham, the only film version that got it right was THE RAINMAKER.  But I digress.  With the release of ROGUE LAWYER, Grisham was being heralded as finally putting together a book that would launch him back to the top of the best seller list.

This novel will no doubt have success on his name alone.  I regret to say that there is little substance beyond the author's name for me to give a ringing endorsement.  I really wanted to like ROGUE LAWYER but had a hard time getting past the initial resemblance to Michael Connelly's THE LINCOLN LAWYER. Instead of doing his legal work from a Lincoln, Grisham's protagonist --- Sebastian Rudd --- does his from a converted bulletproof van.

Rudd is a controversial lawyer who defends seemingly open and shut guilty clients and get many of them of.  In the process, he has made many enemies, ruined his marriage and not endeared himself to any other attorneys.  His only 'friend' is the soft-spoken, hulking body-guard/van driver simply known as Partner.

What really annoyed about this novel (and many things did) is the over-simplification Grisham uses for proper names and titles.  Partner and Go Slow are just a few of the simple names given to characters.  The most glaring is the failure to set the novel in a real place.  Rudd simply works in City.  It is only towards the end of the novel that we find out City is not very far from Atlanta.

The novel jumps around between a handful of cases --- none of them very compelling.  A satanic child-molester/murderer, a man whose wife if killed during a police home raid, an ultimate fighter who killed a ref in the ring.  The last act of the novel involves an alleged serial killer named Arch Swanger.  He allegedly kidnapped and killed the daughter of a cop.  The only point ROGUE LAWYER gets interesting is when Rudd's son is kidnapped by the police in return for the location of the body of the one cop's murdered daughter. 

Unfortunately, the kidnapping is wrapped up quickly and what little suspense there could have been defused in the process.  ROGUE LAWYER is an epic fail, considering the high expectations from an author of Grisham's caliber.  I cannot understand why he chose to phone this one in when I have found his recent novels very entertaining --- especially his foray into baseball with the terrific CALICO JOE.  I hope this is the last we see of Sebastian Rudd --- but if this novel inevitably hits the best seller lists, money will talk louder than substance and this weak novel may spawn sequels.

 

 

 

Devoted In Death by J D Robb

Publisher: Putnam Books – Mystery

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Prolific writer Robb has returned to the dark side with this 41st outing for her crime-fighting wonder-woman, Lieutenant Eve Dallas of the NYPSD.   If the Macbeths had lived in a slightly future version of New York City, they might well have been like the killer couple Eve comes up against just after New Year’s Day 2061.

Called to a crime scene, Eve finds a murder victim who died slowly and horribly before being fatally slashed.  The gifted young cellist Dorian Kuper shouldn’t have had an enemy in the world, but the manner of his death by torture makes it seem very personal.  Further investigation indicates that Dorian wasn’t targeted for who he was, but for what he was: a person alone in a place where he could be easily abducted.  As usual, Eve’s husband Roarke, the richest, handsomest and cleverest ex-criminal in the country lends a hand with his access to information that ordinary cops can’t get.

Eve’s nose for a serial killer leads her to investigate similar crimes elsewhere, and before long she’s found a bloody trail leading back through many states to where it seems to have begun: a bar in Oklahoma where Ella-Loo met Darryl and an unholy partnership was formed. 

Eve gets some unexpected help from a Midwest lawman, who’s been tracking the killers himself, on his own time, and his own nickel.  Deputy Will Banner is overawed by New York City and Eve’s residence, but not for long—he’s on the trail of killers and even the splendour of Eve and Roarke’s home isn’t going to slow him down for long.  Will’s appearance in Eve’s home office gets Roarke’s Irish stirred up for a moment—Eve’s forgotten to let him know about their guest—but the two soon find common interests.  Saving Jayla Campbell, whom it appears the killer couple have snatched, is the most important job any one can think of right now.  Even the importance of young cop Trueheart’s looming detective exam has to be shunted to one side.  His mentor Detective Baxter is feeling like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs about it, so Eve puts him to work on the case to stop his worrying.

This is a much darker and scarier book than Robb has been writing recently.  She’s pared back the cast list to a handful of detectives, and left out the usual interactions with Eve’s best friend Mavis and her family, as well as reduced the sarcastic exchanges with Eve’s verbal sparring partner, Summerset, Roarke’s major domo.  Everything is focussed on the terrible things happening to Jayla Campbell, her fellow prisoner Mulligan, and the ongoing efforts by the NYPSD to rescue the prisoners before their bodies turn up in a dumpster.  Even for Robb fans this book is a strong potion, and for sure I would not give it to anyone on your Christmas list who is prone to nightmares.

 

 

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter

Publisher: William Morrow – Mystery / 2.5 bolts

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader 

Karin Slaughter has been writing thrillers for a while now but is still not in the upper echelon of elite authors in this genre.  Her recurring series featuring Will Trent have been solid but mostly unmemorable.

Typically, when a writer branches out to a 'stand-alone' novel the results are hit or miss.  With PRETTY GIRLS, I am leaning slightly more towards miss.  It is a thriller that indeed features a dark and disturbing premise at its' core --- the abduction, rape and murder of young girls.  Unfortunately, I did not find any of the characters in this novel to be likeable and that ultimately kept this from being a fully satisfying read.

Claire and Lydia are sisters who have not spoken to or seen each other for several years.  It takes an unfortunate series of events to bring them together.  They had each suffered the loss of their sister, Julia, decade earlier.  Julia seemingly disappeared without a trace but foul play was always suspected.

Claire's husband Paul is killed in a violent attack that appeared to be a mugging.  Lydia hears of this and makes contact almost at the same time Claire had decided to reconnect with her.  As the sisters dredge up old wounds and attempt to talk through their differences Lydia finally reveals what caused her to stop speaking with her sister.  It seems Paul had beaten and attempted to rape Lydia in an unprovoked attack.

Prior to Paul's death, Claire would not have believed or even considered such an accusation from her sister.  Unfortunately, while going through Paul's things after his death she makes an unsettling find.  Video tapes, some quite old, that feature snuff films of young girls being tortured, sexually abused and kills. One of the men seen in these films appears to be Paul.  Add to this the fact that some of the girls on film resemble those who were abducted in the area clearly shakes Claire's foundations about what she thought she knew about her late husband.

Things take an even darker turn when the possibility that Julia, their long missing sister, may have been on one of the older tapes.  Even more upsetting is that the man allegedly abusing their sister on tape could very well have been Paul's own father. 

This sounds really good on a book jacket and makes for a unique premise.  I just found the pace way too slow and, try as I might, just could not find any empathy towards Claire and Lydia.  The characters just were not written in a manner that warranted caring or rooting for either of them.  Overall, PRETTY GIRLS is a great idea that just falls short on delivery.

 

 

A Line Of Blood by Ben McPherson

Publisher: William Morrow – Mystery / 3 bolts

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

Norwegian writer Ben McPherson comes from a lengthy background as a television director, producer and writer and now ads published author to his resume.  His debut novel, A LINE OF BLOOD, is a challenging and complex drama that explores the nature of family and the secrets that they keep.

Alex Mercer and his 11-year-old son Max call upon their neighbor only to find him dead --- a victim of an apparent suicide.  Alex tries his best to shield his son from this disturbing event, but the damage is done.  Little does Alex realize but this event is just the tip of the iceberg in a series of events that will slowly pull his marriage and family apart.

Alex informs his wife, Millicent, of the event and they phone the police.  The parents decide it is best to not only inform Max's school teacher but also to put him into therapy to deal with the potential damage caused by witnessing their dead neighbor.

As the police begin to investigate they question Alex and begin to press pretty hard during their meetings.  They inform Alex that they are considering the death a murder investigation and that he is a suspect.  The primary reasoning includes their suspicion that the neighbor may have been having a relationship with Millicent.

Alex conducts his own investigation and finds a bracelet of his wife's in a headboard of the neighbor's bedroom.  Millicent confesses to a relationship with him but assures Alex it was non-sexual in nature.  Alex uses this act to proceed with finally separating from Millicent and leaving a marriage that has probably dissolved long ago.

The problem is that all three members of the household become suspects in their neighbors death, in one form or another.  Now, the only way to protect each other and their son, Alex and Millicent must attempt to stay together and do whatever it takes to keep each other safe and out of trouble --- no matter how extreme. 

A LINE OF BLOOD is a complex read and this makes it difficult to categorize.  It has elements of family drama, mystery and thriller --- but goes into strange territory at times with different details that do not all work.  This novel is at times taut and suspenseful while other times becoming surreal and muddled.  It is the characters that drive this novel and there is enough interest in them to keep readers moving forward to the unpredictable conclusion.

 

 

 

The Last September by Nina de Gramont

Publisher: Algonquin - Mystery / 4.75 bolts

Reviewer: Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader 

Brett Mercier finally buckled down in college, devouring literature classics in such a way that her academic parents—who named her after Hemingway’s character, Lady Brett Ashley-- would be proud. Fortunately, her close friend, Eli Moss, makes sure that she has a little fun in her life and he’s invited her to a winter party, filled with college kids warming themselves with alcohol, oblivious to the tracked in snow melting on the wooden floors. It’s there that Brett, small, dark and happily ensconced in her ivory tower, unexpectedly meets Eli’s brother, Charlie, all golden boy and charm. Charlie’s not particularly ambitious, but he’s got an intuitive way with mechanical things—and women.

Years later, Brett understands full well why Eli didn’t want her to meet his fickle brother. Of course, Eli is also far from the fun-loving, blond pre-med student she once knew so well; he’s schizophrenic and has embarked on the habit of being institutionalized, getting out, and getting off his meds.

Now, with a toddler on her hip, her hair wild and her shirt stained, Brett and the perennially underemployed Charlie see a marriage therapist, live on almost nothing, and verbally fight on a regular basis. They’ve left Brett’s beloved Amherst for a Moss family cabin so that Brett can work on her dissertation on Emily Dickinson and the family can repair itself. Brett has her hands full with life, with little time left for her ivory tower.

Then, Charlie is murdered.

Nina de Gramont, also author of Gossip of the Starlings, writes beautifully; she gorgeously renders her sentences and included vivid imagery that makes the characters and setting feel real. In keeping with Brett’s literary background, de Gramont accentuates various events through Dickinson quotes or allusions before chapters and also allows Brett to occasionally discuss Dickinson’s life and work, which a grad student would most definitely do.

De Gramont also chooses to open her story in the middle, with Charlie’s murder so that his past gradually unfolds as Brett remembers. De Gramont is careful not to allow this to become distracting and it feels genuine. There is a mystery as to who killed Charlie, but the family relationships are the primary focus throughout the novel.

There are so many wonderful elements in The Last September; it’s a remarkable and believable blend of literature, marital issues and love, family, and mental illness that evokes deep, sometimes painful emotion, but also pleasure in the act of reading a well-crafted story.

 

 

 

White Leopard by Laurent Guillaume

Publisher: Le French Book – Mystery / 4 bolts

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader 

The publisher is a new player in the print books market.  Le French Book’s motto is “If we love it, we’ll translate it”.  There’s a real skill required to translate a book from one language and culture to another.  One man’s slang is another’s incomprehensibility; just knowing a language’s vocabulary and grammar isn’t enough to make a translated book read smoothly.

All of which is prologue to saying that Sophie Weiner, the translator of “White Leopard” is as good a translator as Guillaume is a writer.  There were no awkward spots where the reader thought “Oops, clumsy phrase there.” 

White Leopard is the nickname of Souleymane Camara, “Solo” for short.  Solo is an ex-cop, a wanted man back in France where he was once a policeman, a mixed-race man whom Malians term white and whites call coloured.  An all-around tough guy, Solo works as a private eye in Bamako, one of the more dangerous of the capital cities in francophone Africa.  One day a beautiful lawyer comes into his office ready to pay, and pay well, for his help in getting her sister Bahia out of jail.  Farah Tebessi knows that in places like Mali, anything can be accomplished if you find the right person to bribe.  On the face of it, the girl is an innocent drug mule, one of hundreds.  .  Against his better judgment, Solo agrees to help make the arrangements.

A considerable amount of money is placed in the right hands, Bahia is freed, and that should be the end of the job for Solo.  Unfortunately there’s some sort of mix-up and the girl is not waiting for her sister to pick her up, she’s taken a taxi somewhere.  She never turns up at Farah’s hotel, and the next time she’s seen, she’s dead in the Niger River.

Farah is determined to find out why Bahia was killed.  It’s obvious that there was more to her involvement with the drug gang than being an unknowing mule; somebody wanted the girl dead for fear of what she could tell.  Farah hassles Solo to find the killers and kill them in turn, but he’s not interested—not until he finds his long-time houseman Drissa held prisoner in his own home by some very bad men.  Drissa dies of his injuries and Solo in a cold rage sets out to find the villains.

The rest of the book involves a lot of travel, a lot of tracking down the higher-ups in the criminal enterprise, a great deal of bloody violence, and a small serving of passion between Solo and Farah.  If there’s one criticism of the story, it’s that no normal human, even fuelled by righteous anger, could carry on after the amount of physical punishment that Solo suffers.  That’s an afterthought—at the time you are reading it, the story moves so fast that you don’t stop to question the superhuman tenacity of this anti-hero.

The author, having worked in Mali and being an experienced law enforcement officer, brings a real flavour of the country and the milieu to his writing.  While this sort of thriller isn’t my usual fare, I am rather looking forward to the next offering of “noire d’Afrique.” from Le French Book.