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Claw Back by Mike Cooper

Publisher: Viking

Reviewed by Ray Palen, New Mystery Reader  

Mike Cooper, the pen name for a former financial executive, has set the action of his latest thriller firmly in familiar territory.  CLAW BACK is a Wall Street based thriller and attempts to capitalize on all the negative publicity this area of the country has received in recent months.

It was hard to turn on the television or radio last fall without hearing about the Occupy Wall Street movement.  This movement was also imitated in several other parts of the country --- including the ugly events in Oakland, CA.  The purpose of these protests, allegedly, was to give voice to the ‘99%’ of the population that blames the financial inequities of the United States on the ‘1%’. 

For those not in the in know (or for those who don’t care) the 1% are specifically the greedy Wall Street set ---  investment bankers, stocks and bonds traders and megalomaniacal billionaire business owners.  Imagine if you had the opportunity to knock off some of these 1% players in a far more violent way than occupying a local park and living like a crazed vagrant.

That is the premise of CLAW BACK.  Someone is apparently targeting some significant Wall Street players and assassinating them in due course.  There does not seem to be any rhyme or reason for this anti-social and homicidal action --- but it has left some wealthy Wall Street types running for cover.  That is where Silas Cade comes in. Cade is a black-ops veteran who has leased his special talents to the highest biller.  In this case, he has been hired to protect some Wall Street bankers who may be the next targets of an individual or group that seems to have marked them for death.

Cade is considered an ‘accountant’ by the Wall Street set.  A fixer who is the go-to person when financiers need a messy job to be done without getting their own hands dirty (or leaving a paper trail).  However, this current mission is nothing like what Cade has been used to.  As he begins to dig into the backgrounds of the bankers who have been killed or targeted he finds the list of possible suspects to be endless.  To make matters worse, it might not be an individual behind this but possibly a radical group of pseudo-jihadists enacting their own revenge against those they blame for the financial corruption of this country.

CLAW BACK has some highly readable moments and a few terrifically violent scenes that will appeal to fans of gangster media.  However, unless you are part of the Wall Street set or incredibly investment savvy, you will find a good deal of the novel to be inaccessible and difficult to relate to. For instance, only those in the investment world will even know that the term ‘claw back’ refers to the mandatory return of compensation paid on a deal that later goes bad.  I give Cooper credit for jumping on a subject that is quite timely --- the only trouble is there are not enough of the 99% that know or care enough about the inner workings of the 1% to allow this work of fiction to ever catch fire.

 

 

 

Trail of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Lately things seem a little bit odder at the family run PI firm Spellman Investigations than usual with Isabel for once feeling like the normal one instead of the usual black sheep.  Her mother has suddenly taken up an odd bevy of hobbies, her usually perfectly groomed brother is looking frazzled and unkempt since he became Mr. Mom, and her younger sister sending in fake surveillance reports on a college student she’s supposed to be tracking.  In addition, the three new cases the agency has undertaken seem to be connected in the strangest of ways, bringing about some conflicts of interest and moral and professional ambiguities that may just put Isabel’s future with the agency at a greater risk than ever.

This being my first time to read this series, I immediately found myself looking forward to reading all the titles that have come before.  While you won’t find a lot of blood and gore here, and maybe not even that much actual suspense and mystery, what you do find in laugh-out-loud humor and the quirkiest family to come along in a long time more than makes up for it.  These lovable characters prove to be charming and endearing all the way through, especially Isabel, whose irreverent ways and sarcastic comebacks make you wish you could meet up with her for a drink or two.  This is one family I can’t wait to visit again, and look forward to starting from the beginning of the series to get my fill of funny, smart, and light-hearted mysteries that are a refreshing change from some of the darker and gorier stuff out there these days.     

 

 

 

Celebrity In Death by J D Robb

Publisher: Putnam Adult

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

The prolific J D Robb has produced another in the on-going adventures of NYPSD police lieutenant Eve Dallas, one of the toughest fictional heroines you’ll ever meet.  After some intervening volumes that were “Dallas Lite”, this one seems more like Robb’s earlier works, with a broad cast of characters and some very convoluted plot twists.

Series fans will recall the Icove case, several years back, when Eve and her trusty sidekick Peabody met some of the nicest killers with the strangest motives in crime history.  Barely escaping alive, Eve and her husband Roarke (world’s richest and handsomest man) thought the case was behind them, but suddenly it’s back in the spotlight.  A movie is being made of the case, with several famous actors playing the key roles.  Eve is intrigued and repelled in about equal parts, but Peabody is delighted to have been offered a tiny walk-on part in the show.

When the production is almost ready to wind up, the director throws a huge party, to which everyone in the film and everyone from the case is invited.  Dr Mira and her husband are there; Eve’s best friend Mavis and her trendy gown designer husband Leonardo are there, and of course the best newshound since Brenda Starr, girl reporter, Nadine Furst, is on the scene.  Then the actor playing Peabody is found dead in the roof-top pool.  K T Harris was generally disliked, so there’s no shortage of suspects, but after the first two obvious ones are cleared, Eve’s got a job ahead of her to find the real killer.

Wading through a veritable forest of accusations and alibis; friends and enemies; lovers and haters takes a while, but Eve eventually homes in on a likely suspect.  The person of interest isn’t just a suspect in KT’s murder, however: Eve has a growing suspicion that she’s dealing with a serial killer, someone who’s solved past problems by murdering as a matter of course, and getting away with it for decades. 

This is a more cerebral and less violent narrative than many of Eve’s previous criminal investigations, but no less enjoyable for that.  And there’s a good dollop of the famous Eve and Roarke intimate moments for the romantics out there.

 

 

 

 

Anatomy of a Murder by Imogen Robertson

Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Anatomy of a Murder centers on an investigation by a ship’s captain’s wife named Harriet Westerman and anatomist Gabriel Crowther, two well-known crime solvers whose very reputations theoretically enable them to quietly ferret out spies while looking into a murder.  Because it is a time of war, England worries French and American spies will irrevocably turn the tide of war against England and in favor of the American colonies. 

The investigation by quietly wry Crowther and the resourceful Mrs. Westerman takes them into the world of opera and the contemporary popularity of the castrato. 

At the same time, Jocasta Bligh remains troubled by a difficult Tarot reading she gave to an unhappy young wife.  Illiterate but effortlessly streetwise, Jocasta’s relationships with her aging terrier and an orphaned street waif gives her a bit of family and the need to interfere in order to do right by the young wife.

Throughout both stories, characters develop naturally and with respect to believability.  The themes closest to the Westerman family reoccur throughout the novel.  The first is the vast sea, home of the ships captained by James Westerman during battles and also those used as transport by the growing family to new posts far from England.  For the first third of the book, oceanic imagery appears even when unexpected, such as in a child’s play.

This leads to a second theme of children.  Robertson takes care to detail the starvation and hardships of street children as well as the cares of wealthier orphaned children lucky enough to be of higher birth.  One of the most poignant episodes occurs from the perspective of young Stephen Westerman who fears his mother barely notices him while paying close attention to everything else.

The tone of the book reminds one of Gabriel Crowther himself.  Slightly standoffish at first but with considerable knowledge and well worth making the acquaintance.  Robertson threatens to saddle the story with a predictable ending but instead refuses to give in to laziness, reflecting a more accurate messiness required by the situation and a reminder of the churning sea amidst a storm.