January New Mystery Book Reviews
 

 

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On the Grind by Stephen J. Cannell

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press ISBN: 0-312-36628-0

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

Detective Shane Scully has twenty years in the LAPD. He is a member of the Homicide Special Unit that handles cases with the potential to prove difficult for the department.

How is it then that he would have illicit relations with a suspect and lose evidence vital to a high profile case? Could it be the temptation of a movie starlet suspected of killing her sleazy producer – husband? The mistakes cost Scully his LAPD career. He’s been caught on tape in an FBI sting.

Scully is allowed to resign from the force. He wants to stay in law enforcement, but has been blackballed on a law enforcement web site that all departments check before hiring – except Haven Park. Haven Park - a small, incorporated area near LA - is the last refuge for alcoholics, corrupt officers, and many cops shunned by their departments. Scully is  hired and partnered with a former LAPD colleague. Immediately, he begins to learn the scams that the characters “on the grind” routinely engage in. However, Shane,  - like many things in the story - is not what he seems. This makes for an entertaining story line linked with topnotch character development.

The novel has the feel of tuning into an episode of a favorite TV mystery or PI show. This is for good reason since Stephen J. Cannell created many hit shows including The A Team and The Rockford Files.

 

 

 

 

Honestly Dearest, You’re Dead by Jack Fredrickson

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur  ISBN-10: 0312380925

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

When Chicago PI Dek Elstrom is notified by a small-town lawyer that he has been named to execute the will of a dead woman he’s never heard of, while he has his doubts in completing the task, the $700 fee he will receive is enough to motivate him to travel to the small town where the woman’s body was found to do his legal duty.   But his misgivings and questions regarding the job will only grow when he finds an artifact from the past in the dead woman’s home; a typewriter that looks very similar to one owned by his first love, a girl who went mysteriously missing decades ago when the two were mere teens.  And so as he begins to uncover this mysterious woman’s life, who may or may not be his missing love, and one who left almost nothing behind, he’ll be forced to go down a road that reaches not only to his heart-breaking past, but to a dangerous and maybe deadly future.

Not sure how I missed the first in this enticing new series that got Frederickson a nomination for the Shamus Award for the Best First Novel, but after reading his second in the series, I can certainly understand why he was nominated.  Not only is Frederickson’s  down-on-his luck PI Dek Elstrom a worthy and engaging hero, but his multi-layered plotting that effortlessly and swiftly peals down to the juicy core is one wild ride that provides plenty of suspense and unanticipated shocks.  And just when you think you got it all figured out, Frederickson throws in yet another layer to his already succulent plot.  Filled with past regrets, love-lost but not forgotten, and mystery galore, this is an outstanding read that will make any aficionado of good mystery hungry for the next.

 

 

 

 

Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts by Laura Benedict

Publisher: Ballantine Books  ISBN-10: 0345497694

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

It’s been years since the best friend trio of Alice, Roxanne, and Del wondered the halls of their Catholic school breaking the rules and being your basic teens. And while their friendships might have cooled a bit after a scandalous event involving Roxanne and a young priest at the school, years later they still find themselves connected, albeit, not all of them as strongly as they once were.

Roxanne, now a celebrated sculptress, remains single and continues to stick what has always worked for her: seducing men only to toss them aside once she’s had enough and boredom sinks in.

Alice, now a woman who has the gold but not the glory, finds herself alone and miserable when her husband leaves her for a younger woman.

And Del, still the voice of reason and the conscience of the group, struggles with being the perfect housewife and step-mother in her second marriage. 

And while these three women struggle with their search for happiness, they’ll soon find that search meaningless when they’re suddenly confronted with the secrets and lies from a past they’ve tried to forget.  But while they might have managed to put certain events behind them, there’s one player from the past who hasn’t.  One whose thirst for revenge will bring about catastrophe when his wish comes true via a source whose price is far more than ever imagined.

While reading this novel, one of the first things that will no doubt come to the reader’s mind is to be careful what you wish for.  The second thing might be the questions of how, and why, one should continue reading until the end.  Filled with a cast of such unhappy and unpleasant people whose fate is pretty much sealed, that instead of reading a novel filled with mystery, or even redemption, the reader is faced with a tale that consists merely of misery and hopelessness.  But if you do make it to the end and you find yourself asking how you made it that far, at least it can be safely answered that at least the pacing and writing itself was not so bad. 

This is neither an engaging nor pleasant read, and one that will no doubt keep the reader wondering right up until the final, unsatisfying end if they missed the entire point of it all, or if there was one even to be had. 

 

 

 

The Empty Mirror by J. Sydney Jones

Publisher: Minotaur Books  ISBN: 978-0-312-38389-3

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Set in the Austria-Hungary Empire of 1898, famous painter Gustav Klimt (The Kiss) hires attorney Karl Werthen and Dr. Hanns Gross to prove his innocence in a rash of serial killings.  Several mutilated bodies, seemingly with no clear connection to one another, are discovered throughout the normally charming city of Vienna, Austria, while the recent Jack the Ripper murders remain fresh in European memory.  There are many possible motivations for the strange mutilation of each body including the traumatic havoc suffered by those afflicted with untreated syphilis, xenophobia, and even garden fertilizer.  Gross, considered the father of criminology, attempts to use his new scientific methods to determine the identity of the guilty, thus absolving Klimt.  Periodically mocked and misunderstood, Gross grumbles about his methods being copied by Arthur Conan Doyle for his fictional character Sherlock Holmes and causing the disrespect Gross suffers as a result. 

The Empty Mirror effectively shows what society was like on the cusp of the modern era even while remnants of the past remain.  Werthen and Gross must maneuver through the class conventions as they discover the secrets of the traumatized royal family and also suffer through slow transportation and communication methods.  The Empty Mirror allows us to meet several influential historical figures including Gross, Klimt, and Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand, whose later assassination would spark World War I, and we barely miss seeing a doctor with increasing popularity, Sigmund Freud. 

Jones enables the reader to get a feel for Victorian Vienna although more descriptions of this beautiful city would further enhance the story.  Although it’s often perilous for writers to use well-known historical figures as characters, Jones chooses well by using men whose work proved transformative but whose biographies are not part of our common knowledge. Readers who like historical mysteries with resolve, royalty and a little romance should definitely take the time to glimpse into The Empty Mirror.