January 2011 Paperback Mystery


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Deliver Us From Evil by David Baldacci

Publisher: Vision

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

Reggie Campion is a hunter of evil. Working with a super-secret organization based in England, she hunts some of the perpetrators of the worst atrocities in human history. At the beginning of the story she has just dispatched a WWII Nazi leader hiding in South America. Now she has been give a new target – Evan Waller.

Not minimizing the atrocities of the Nazis, Reggie realizes that Waller was part of an even greater plague upon humanity – the mass murder of Ukrainians by Soviet leader Stalin and his subordinates. However Campion is not the only hunter on Waller’s trail.

While Campion’s mission is simple – assassinate, Shaw’s has a more complicated objective. As part of a little-known intelligence agency, Shaw is to kidnap Waller so as to use him to capture others.

The two converge on Waller as he vacations at a French resort. Nor surprisingly, their paths cross. What is surprising is the electricity between them. Neither is in the business to trust, but each has a convincing cover story. This leads each to believe the other is an innocent in danger from the obliviously menacing Waller and entourage.

The mystery comes from the questions of how this situation will reconcile itself. Baldacci shows himself once again to be a master storyteller. The characters are well developed, the imagery vivid, and suspense palpable. This is in all ways a superior read.



Death Without Tenure by Joanne Dobson

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press

Reviewed by Pam Voisey, New Mystery Reader 

Karen Pelletier, has worked her way from a single mother to daughter, Amanda, putting herself through college as a waitress, to a professor of English at the tony Enfield College. Now after six years she is up for a sole tenure position the, which would provide her a permanent position on the college staff. Her competition for the spot is a Native American professor, Joe Lone Wolf, who is being championed by the department chairman. As Karen assembles her tenure materials for presentation to the tenure committee, Joe Lone Wolf dies from an overdose of peyote buttons and Karen becomes the prime suspect on a very short list.

That her boyfriend, Charles Pitrowski, a State Police investigator, has been deployed to Iraq, Amanda is backpacking her way through Nepal and she has recently and unwillingly become the caregiver of her elderly mother who is experiencing health issues, complicates her life even more. While trying to clear herself, Karen is faced with a slew of odd characters; a visiting professor who by turns is creepy and suggestive, star-crossed students, a homicide detective with a grudge against Charlie and a bumbling, drug addled department chair while sorting through accusations of plagiarism, false credentials, petty squabbles and in fighting between faculty members. 

While I did miss some of my favorite characters from her previous mysteries, Dobson introduces several new characters and reacquaints the reader a few of her family members. With help from a colleague of Charlie’s from the State Police, Karen works to untangle the snake’s nest of clues.

Death Without Tenure is a clever and quick mystery, sure to delight fans of this series.



The Things That Keep Us Here by Carla Buckley

Publisher: Bantam

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

It seems that each new era brings with it a new danger to fear that will wipe out all of mankind.  Be it asteroids, terrorists, nuclear war, pollution, corporate greed…etc.  Or as in the case of first time author Buckley, a threat that is not so new – one that has been seen before and one that could easily happen again – a pandemic virus that spreads without recourse and is capable of bringing down society as we know it.

And so this is how the tale begins when a strain of the avian flu begins to slowly infect at first just a few, but then quickly takes flight, so to speak, and spreads its deadly wings over the entire globe.  And as societies begin to crumble, it’ll be each person for themselves in order to survive, forcing all to not only protect themselves from the virus, but from each other, at any cost.

If you’re thinking yeah, yeah, yeah, this has been done before, you’re right.  However, in the midst of the several world-wide panic theory books, Buckley manages to stand out by keeping a steady and heartfelt focus on one family in particular.  And as we get to know this family - a couple finalizing their divorce and their two young daughters, this fictional threat becomes that more personal and all too real. But it’s also her depiction of how such a thing can lead to the break down of not only the systems and institutions we rely on, and how that break-down can eventually lead to the downfall of cities, communities and, eventually, neighbors, friends, and even our own selves that makes this a terrifyingly immediate read.  

This isn’t an easy book to get through, but it’s both timely and worthwhile; a reminder of how delicate our world systems are, our relationships with others, and our taken-for-granted duty towards civilization, and how easily they can all be put aside when push comes to shove. This is a book that will leave you asking yourself just how far you would go in the same circumstances to protect what you love. And, most likely, as with these characters, the answer will be an uncomfortable one.     

Buckley easily scores with her first novel; one of nonstop suspense that while posing the harder questions of survival, balances out the uglier answers by keeping in mind the better ones of compassion and hope.      



Money to Burn by James Grippando

Publisher: Harper 

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Wall Street wunderkind Michael Cantella’s career was just starting to take off when after a whirlwind romance he married another Wall Street whiz, Ivy Layton.  But when she disappears off their rented yacht only hours after their impromptu wedding in the Bahamas, Michael’s gold-touched world comes to a temporary halt.  And when eventually her DNA is discovered in the belly of a captured shark, Michael somehow manages to continue his mostly uninterrupted ride to the top of Wall Street’s highest peaks, becoming even wealthier than his wildest dreams.

But now, less than five years later, Michael’s career, wealth, and his marriage to his second wife is about to come crashing down.  It first begins when his identity and the money that goes with it, is stolen from all his accounts, followed by his wife’s demand for a divorce, and culminates with the disastrous rumor that he schemed to defraud investors of his company millions of dollars.  And, just like in real life, before you can say “Wall Street did what?” Michael finds himself on the run from an enemy he can’t identify, leaving behind a trail of ruin in the financial world that he is blamed for, but of which he is innocent.

While this book is definitely focusing on a timely subject - the near collapse of Wall Street as we know it - one can’t help but wish that Grippando would’ve kept it to only that premise.  Heaven knows there’s enough drama and villains to write dozens of thrillers based on that fact alone when it comes to this subject.  Instead, he takes us down trails of personal vendettas, wild supposition, and the inconceivable events that result.  Double, triple, quadruple crosses ensue, with each page putting forth a tale that becomes more and more unlikely. 

And it’s too bad.  Had Grippando just gone with the basic plot initially put forth, he might’ve had something great.  He’s done it before with such timely themes.  But this time readers might find he goes a step too far by attributing most of the bad guys’ motivations in making millions to personal vendettas instead of the all-consuming greed that we have seen lately over and over again. But, that being said, Grippando does make his point of how easily it can all fall down.  And, who knows, maybe that’s why he told the story as he did.  All in all, Grippando provides enough Wall Street insider info and glimpses behind the soiled curtains to make this worth the read.             





The California Roll by John Vorhaus

Publisher: Broadway

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

Radar Hoverlander is a con artist extradonaire. He has been conning people since he was a child and he has been looking for the one big score – The California Roll.

Some of the keys to being a successful grifter are to maintain control of the situation and people around you and keep complications to the minimum. The closest thing Radar has to a friend is inept con man Vic Mirplo. So when Allie Quinn suddenly intrudes on Radar’s secretive life, knowing more about him than she should be able to, he is more curious than cautious – a bad mistake.

Radar goes along with her request to teach her straight-arrow grandfather how to run one con to spice up his otherwise dull life. Radar tries to figure if she is what she appears or if he is being played. Then events take a sudden turn. Just as Radar thinks he has a handle on the new situation, he’s thrown still another curve ball.

Vorhaus has crafted an intriguing and quirky blend of a read. Sometime compared to Elmore Leonard, the author mixes in twists and other literary devices, while exhibiting an unusual understanding of the mechanics and psychology necessary to make reasonably intelligent citizens part with their money. The musings of Radar about life gives yet another dimension to the story, and when all is combined with the well-written dialogue and a generous helping of humor, the reader is provided with a more than worthwhile read.
(For the interview with John Vorhaus!)





False Convictions by Tim Green

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

If you know anything about the real world ‘Innocence Project’, you’ll know that there are an unknown number of people in prisons around the world who are incarcerated unjustly.  How fortunate it would be if all of them had an attorney working for them who’s as smart and determined as Casey Jordan.

Casey’s been hired by The Freedom Project to reopen the case of a poor black man who may have been convicted of a rape-murder unjustly—no surprises here.  (Echoes of “To Kill a Mockingbird’ can be heard.)  Unlike Atticus Finch, Casey has modern science to call on, and she expects a straight-forward solution and the imminent freeing of Dwayne Hubbard. 

Casey is somewhat hampered by her fling with fame: a movie was made of one of her previous cases, and some people can’t or won’t take her seriously.  Lawmen particularly are leery of her—especially those with something to hide.  Casey gets an unexpected ally in Jake Carlson, a TV reporter assigned to do a warm and cosy profile of Robert Graham, millionaire founder of The Freedom Project.  Jake rapidly discovers there’s something nasty going on with Graham and that this may tie in with the stone walls that Casey keeps hitting as she tries to collect the evidence to clear Dwayne.  Casey doesn’t want to believe there’s anything ‘off ‘about Graham—he’s promised to help fund her legal service in California, one which helps poor and marginalised women—but she begins to wonder.

Things go from bad to worse as evidence vanishes, Jake’s nearly killed, Casey’s arrested, and the only way out of the mess seems to be to compound a few felonies.

If you like a book that moves really fast, has all its loose threads tied up by the end of the story, and has a bit of snappy patter to lighten the serious premise, this new offering from Tim Green should suit you down to the ground.




Eye of the Raven by Eliot Pattison

Publisher: Counterpoint

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

With a keen eye and calmly rendered detail, Pattison deftly pulls the reader into the American Colonies through the investigation of Scottish Highlander Duncan McCallum after several surveyors disappear while recording boundaries for the expansion of the colonies.  Accompanied by his Native American mentor, Conawago, Duncan seeks to uncover a serial murderer while avoiding his own capture as a fugitive from a powerful man who claims him as an indentured servant.

Duncan, a medically trained man with a penchant for speaking his mind and distressing his social betters, has learned many of the native ways, leading him to feel more comfortable in the forest than in the towns which attempt to replicate European life.  Some Iroquois choose to move into the towns with easily accessible rum while others fiercely hold onto their nature-based traditions, blurring lines and increasing unease on all sides as alliances attempt to keep peace with Indians, British and the French while improving the lot of each.

While on the Warrior Path, Duncan and Conawago find a trail of bodies meshed with trees and metal to send a mystifying message.  After tribal leader Skanawati turns himself into colonial authorities in spite of his innocence, Duncan and Conawago race to find the real killer before Skanawati’s public hanging occurs.

Meanwhile, delegations from all parties converge to negotiate a new treaty and the murders threaten to derail the meetings.  Adding to the mix is a desperate group of slaves with their own paradoxical link to some of the esteemed members of society and an austere but imminently fair Quaker magistrate who will do anything to uphold his beliefs.

Pattison, acclaimed for previous novels such as the excellent The Skull Mantra and The Bone Rattler, reveals the complex negotiations between the well-known British and French governments but also the Iroquois tribes regarding the land and resources in the Pennsylvania region.  He wisely chooses not to create caricatures of any nationality, but instead shows the difficulties the wise leaders of each group have in maneuvering through the greed and baser instincts found everywhere.





The First Rule: A Joe Pike Novel by Robert Crais

Publisher: Berkley

Reviewed by Don Crouch, New Mystery Reader

A loving family, together at the crest of the day. Dad wrapping up work in his office, children and wife doing what they do as dinner approaches. Dad, so at peace with his place in the Universe, he might be dreaming. An idyllic opening mise’ en scene for Robert Crais’ latest thriller, The First Rule.

But it’s, you know, him, so it won’t last.

The First Rule’s tension explodes from the jump. Once this family’s peaceful evening is disturbed, Crais is basically the cat, and we are the toy, as he bats us around at will, manipulating thrills, drama and character to suck us in. And, like in all of Crais’ best work, there’s that moment out of nowhere when he takes you much deeper to the core of things.

Joe Pike and Frank Meyer soldiered together. That bond is eternally unshakable. When Meyer and his family are slaughtered, Pike is amongst the first to be questioned. Crais’ readers will know how well that goes. Once dealt with, Pike goes into motion to find out what happened. And ensure accountability.

Of course, Pike brings in his partner, The World’s Most Evolved Detective, Elvis Cole. Elvis can go places Pike can’t, and together they start their perilous journey into what becomes a vortex of Russian mobsters, arms smugglers, and urban gangsters.

And, a baby.  Blood ties are clearly on Crais’ mind in The First Rule, and in ways you won’t begin to anticipate until you’re there—the light comes on, your mind is blown. Crais’ unique scrutiny of human connection is always the soul of his books, it’s what invests us in the tightness of his plots.

Pike is methodical in his pursuit of Meyer’s attackers, and Crais sets up, quite nicely, a number of dangerous confrontations, attacks, and counter-moves. Crais does a great job describing the speed and efficiency of Pike’s physical movement—especially as a function of his will—particularly in the close combat sequences, giving us a visual picture of Pike as Tightly Wound Avenger.  It’s been mentioned that Pike was an inspiration to the creation of Jack Reacher, and in The First Rule, that inspiration is clear.

The details are best discovered, not narrated. We’ll just say that Crais is rockin’ the joint with The First Rule. His fans will love it, first-timers will be compelled to get the rest of the story. What are ya waitin’ for?



Death of a Valentine by M C Beaton

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing 

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

In an about-face more unlikely than if Obi-wan Kenobe turned to the Dark Side, Scotland’s most elusive bachelor is found at the altar with a pregnant bride in the opening pages of this, Beaton’s 25th visit to Lochdubh, murder capital of the Highlands.

How has it come to this?  Quickly backtracking, the author takes us step by step through the tortuous path by which Hamish was ensnared. And ‘snare’ is the right term, because far from being a blushing innocent, the bride is a verra tricksy lassie indeed. 

It all started when Hamish was promoted to sergeant.  Despite his best efforts to get demoted again, Hamish seems stuck at this higher level, and because of that, is now required to have a constable working under him.  Josie McSween is sent to Lochdubh to be Hamish’s assistant.  He’s not about to give the community gossips any fodder, so rather than give Josie his spare room, Hamish billets her with the local minister’s wife.  This does not stop Josie lurking around the police station every chance she gets, convinced that she’s found her one true love.

Shortly after Josie’s arrival, a local beauty is killed by a parcel bomb.  Investigations by Hamish and Josie lead to all sorts of dark secrets being uncovered, as well as two further deaths.  Hamish discovers the killer’s identity but the last thing he wants is more professional recognition by his superiors—that will only lead to a forcible transfer to Strathbane, which is the last place Hamish wants to be.  He manages to slip the information to Superintendent Daviot and bring about the killer’s arrest without anyone knowing.

The killer’s partner knows who to blame, however, and shoots Hamish, who is rushed off to the hospital.  Barely recovered, he finds himself at the altar, resigned to doing the honorable thing, even though in his heart he knows something’s wrong.  Is it all over for the red rover? 

This is a much fun as all the previous Lochdubh stories, although with perhaps more of a sweet-and-sour flavour to it than some of the others.  All the rep company is here again: Angela, Elspeth, the hated DCI Blair, who’s still as crooked as a dog’s hind leg and lucky as the devil to boot; Jimmy, and even Priscilla; plus the bit part players: Jessie and Nessie , Patel, and Hamish’s loopy old dog Lug and the giant wild cat, Sonsie.