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Fall Guy by Carol Lee Benjamin

Publisher: Avon  ISBN: 0060539005

Fall Guy by Carol Lee Benjamin: Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

P.I. Rachel Alexander, and her dog Dashiell, returns to solve another mystery in New York City.  This time around Rachel is surprised to learn that she has been named executor of one Timothy O'Fallon's estate, a man she hardly knew, but one she remembers as being filled with sadness.  O'Fallon, a cop, had committed suicide, or so it seems, and now Rachel must clean up the life he left behind.  But as she begins her melancholy task, she begins to suspect that his death was not suicide, but murder, and that it all connects somehow to a tragedy in his life 30 years before. 

When other people begin to die, Rachel is even more convinced there's more to his story.  And so with the help of Tim's colleague, Michael Brody, she begins to investigate, soon uncovering secrets that will put her own life in danger.

This gentle mystery will easily appeal to fans who enjoy a slower moving story, one in which clues are used to solve the puzzle as opposed to force.  With likable unassuming characters, a cool dog, and just a touch of romance, there's enough here to keep one's interest without causing nightmares.  Involving and appealing, this one comes recommended.     

 

Fire Flight by John J. Nance

Publisher: Pocket Star ISBN: 0743476603

Reviewed by Donna Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Forest fires are sweeping through Yellowstone National Park threatening everything in its path.  Tanker pilots are working long exhausting hours to drop slurry on the flames.  When a wing falls off a plane and the pilot and copilot are killed. fear adds to their state of exhaustion.   

Long time pilot Clark Maxwell, who flies one of the older tankers, suspects that the loss of planes is not accidental and begins to investigate.

People who live in the Rocky Mountains and have seen tanker planes working forest fires will have their hearts in their throats throughout this entire book.  The action is real and the danger is unquestionable.  This is a tremendous novel that makes one pause and think.  While reading this book my imagination took off and I could imagine stunt men trying to recreate some of the scenes that Nance has written.  A high octane adventure, but not for the weak of heart, this comes highly recommended.

 

 

The James Deans by Reed Farrel Coleman

Publisher: Plume ISBN: 0452286506

Reviewed by Donna Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Moe Prague was an NYC cop until he tore up his knee and left the force.  Now he and his brother Aaron own wine shops and Moe occasionally takes on investigative work.  He is approached by a very wealthy man who backs Democratic candidates in every way he can.  One candidate, state Senator Steven Brightman, who he considers to be worthy of higher office, currently lives under a cloud of rumors and suppositions.  Moria Heaton, one of his interns, has been missing for two years and is rumored to have met foul play at Brightman's hands.  Moe is to clear his name so that voters will return to the fold.

What an enticing novel this is.  Coleman has a very smooth readable style with a plot that logically builds in intensity.  Moe Prague is an honest, down to earth likable character with bulldog tenacity and an absolutely hilarious dry wit.  Dedicated detective fans will accept Moe's hunches because Coleman carefully lays the ground work for the "light to come on."  They will also applaud his honesty and tenacity.  

 

 

The Cutting Room by Laurence Klavan

 

Publisher: Ballantine Books ISBN: 0345462750


Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader  

 

Roy Milano, a thirty-something single guy living in New York, is a movie trivia buff, so much so that he runs a newsletter devoted to his deepest obsession.  So when he gets a call from a fellow enthusiast who claims he has found the lost film of Orson Wells, he rushes over, only to find the man dead and with no evidence of the film in sight.  What follows is a deliciously wacky and humorous romp through Hollywood, Barcelona, and New York, as this detective-in-the-making attempts to track down the film while dodging bullets and fists, and for perhaps the first time, actually living his own life instead of watching others on the big screen.

 

Milano is so innocently engaging that you can’t help but be drawn in to his story.  Ever self-effacing and definitely nobody’s idea of a hero, he clumsily, but charmingly, makes his way through the Hollywood world of fantasy and lies.  Movie buffs will love the trivia strewn throughout the story, romance lovers will adore this regular guy’s attempt at love, and detective fans will enjoy his bumbling attempts to solve the puzzle.  A bit of something for everyone, this one’s a winner. 

 

A Question of Blood by Ian Rankin

Publisher: Little Brown & Company ISBN: 0316159182

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, , New Mystery Reader

Scotland’s DI John Rebus has yet to meet a rule he doesn’t like, doesn’t like breaking that is.  He has a way of finding trouble, and this time out, he’s found a bit more than even he might be able to handle.  His good friend and co-worker, Siobhan Clarke, was being stalked by a criminal who has now turned up as a burned corpse, and unfortunately Rebus has turned up with a couple of very bad burns on his hands.  Meanwhile, he has been helping on a case involving a shoot-out at a school which left two innocent dead, one hanging on for life, and the shooter being the third corpse after turning the gun on himself.  So although the case might be solved, there’s plenty who want answers as to why the shooter, an ex-soldier, might have wanted these teenagers dead. 

As usual, Rankin has put out another thriller that soars above many of his contemporaries.  Both Clarke and Rebus are characters that the reader will find themselves fully engaged by.  Rebus especially, with his love for music, drink, and cigarettes, along with his unerring penchant for trouble.  The trail of suspense that Rankin weaves in this latest is unflagging and exciting, making for yet another sure-winner from this remarkable author.  So if you haven’t yet sampled this extraordinary series, now might be the time to start.      

 

Hate Crime by William Bernhardt

 

Publisher: Fawcett Books ISBN: 0345451481

 

Tulsa lawyer Ben Kincaid and his associate Christine are back in yet another suspenseful and chilling story, this time involving a frat boy accused of beating a gay man to death.  Kincaid initially refuses the case, as the mother of one of the boys is a woman he shares a complicated and painful past with, but when Christine takes the case, Kincaid can’t help but get involved when things start getting ugly.  It seems there’s much more to this case then meets the eye, and while the young man may be guilty of a hate crime, he just may be innocent of murder.

 

As usual, Bernhardt puts forth a great legal tale involving relevant and timely issues of our society.  However, in this case, I wish a bit more emphasis would’ve been placed on the ugliness and viciousness of such a reprehensible crime.  And although a decent attempt was made to do this, too much of it was obscured by the greater mystery that comprised this story; that of the boy’s questionable guilt in the victim’s actual death, which while adding suspense, it detracted from a much more important point.  But what was said on the subject, albeit much more subtly than Bernhardt’s last wonderfully appropriate attack on the death penalty, was sincerely heartfelt.   All in all, the story is a good one, the characters are engaging, and the growing relationship between Ben and Christine remains highly appealing. 

 

Loaded Dice by James Swain

 Publisher: Ballantine Books ISBN: 034563277

Reviewed by Donna Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Retired cop Tony Valentine now owns a consulting business.  He contracts his services to casino owners who want him to identify and stop cheaters.  He hires his son and sends him to card counting school in Las Vegas.  When a new Las Vegas casino owner wants Tony to show him how a new cheating device works, and since he hasn't had contact with  his son, he sets out for Las Vegas.  Within 24 hours he's a suspect in the murder of a stripper and also finds out that his friend Nick, who owns a casino, is being bankrupted by cheaters.  Tony has to clear his name, find his son, and determine who is cheating Nick and how they are doing it.

Anyone who has ever won or lost a nickel in Las Vegas will want to read this book.  There is a whole other world behind the glitz, glimmer and fun of Las Vegas.  This world is full of cheaters, murderers and law enforcement officers.  The main characters embody the full spectrum of the underbelly of Las Vegas.  Any novice gambler will delight in the new knowledge of shilling, card counting, cold decking , deadlock mechanisms, and other forms of cheating.

To be able to write this book Swain has either done a great deal of research or has been involved (in some way or other) in the mechanics involved in the plot.

 

Dangerous Women Presented by Otto Penzler

Mysterious Press, 2005 ISBN 044669584X

Reviewed by by Paul Kane, New Mystery Reader

Otto Penzler is a past master – or rather, grandmaster - at assembling mystery anthologies; and this book is perhaps his most illustrious achievement to date.  In bringing it together, he has marshaled a virtual phalanx of distinguished writers, from both crime and literary fiction, to explore the theme of Dangerous Women.  So it is that, within 363 pages, we are given 17 stories in praise of the femme fatale, in all her lovely and treacherously seductive guises.  For be warned, this Lady can assume a myriad of different forms.

She can be a predatory killer, as in Laura Lippman’s “Dear Penthouse Forum (A First Draft)”, which is, as you might guess from its title, an epistolary tale.  And what a grisly little tale it is, telling of a demure young businesswoman who is nonetheless adept at the homely art of pickling: men are, as it were, grist to her mill.  This is the work / life balance as Roald Dahl might have imagined it: deliciously nasty, but fun too.  Clearly, Ms. Lippman is enjoying herself; her readers will too.

This theme recurs in several stories, not least in J.A. Jance’s “Witness”, where it is given a rather more serious treatment.  Ms. Jance here explores the issue of domestic violence, and of how friendships can become soured by time.

We are probably all familiar with the saying that “hell hath no fury like a woman spurned”, so it should come as no surprise to see our Lady in the role of avenging angel, as the victim come to wreck havoc on her abuser.  Joyce Carol Oates delivers a strong story on this theme; so too does Anne Perry.

In “Sneaker Wave”, three sisters, all of whom have been involved with the same deceased man - one had been his wife, another his mistress - spend the weekend together in Oregon.  All are grieving, but for one a murderous desire for revenge lies just below the surface – and will find expression.  Anne Perry is a writer whom I’d never read before, and this has been my loss. Her story, a subtle psychological study of grief, jealousy and vengeance, was unexpected and ultimately impressive.  It had suspense and melodrama, and this in the best sense: the extreme expression of emotion was well-suited to the theme of her story.

My encounter with Ms. Perry underlines one of the useful functions served by Dangerous Women and other such anthologies.  They are a good way of sampling the wares of a writer you’re unfamiliar with, before committing yourself to a novel by them.

When the Lady is good she’s good; when she’s bad, she’s better; and an erotic element is strong in many stories, but is especially pronounced in two or three of them.  In “Her Lord and Master” by Andrew Klavan, a wide-eyed reporter tells how a masochistic seductress with a penchant for kinky games brings about the corruption of his best friend.  Klavan’s story seems to have been written in the same tongue-in-cheek vein as Ms. Lippman’s; the epithet “throbbing tumescence” comes up in its opening pages.

John Connolly’s “Mr. Gray’s Folly” is a supernatural tale in the mode of L. P. Hartley (I was especially reminded of Hartley’s story, “The Pylon”).  It concerns a pedestrian man whose wife is transformed into a raving succubus with voracious appetites.  Her poor hubby cannot cope, and is left “wondering at the nature of the woman to whom I was married”.  This too is a black comedy in its way; the literary equivalent of some of James Thurber’s “Battle of the Sexes” drawings.

Curiously, suicidal women feature in a good proportion of the stories.  Is this because it is the extreme form of “passive aggression”?

One such is “What She Offered”, a bleak offering by Thomas H. Cook.  This story reads as a kind of coda to his Instruments of Night; it seems to have been written from the same dark place.

Walter Mosley’s long short story, “Karma”, comes to just under 50 pages; and in other respects too Mosley gives good value.  He combines a compelling P.I. story with a sombre meditation on justice and unintended consequence, on the collateral damage wrought by our everyday actions.  Mosley seems to be using his contribution to showcase a new character, P.I. Leonid McGill, and we may look forward to seeing him in a novel pretty soon.  I say this because the fictional world is so fully realized.  You heard it here first.

Finally, the femme fatale may appear in her deadliest form: as the unforgettable woman, the one who breaks your heart and won’t let you go.  Michael Connelly has a story like this, so too does Jay McInerney.

In his Paris- set “Third Party”, an American bon vivant comes to realise, over the course of one self-destructive night, that he is guilty of the crime of “betrayal, that most intimate of transactions between two people”.  McInerney’s story is absolutely contemporary.  Yet for all its explicit sex and pop culture references, it is reminiscent too of “Babylon Revisited”, one of Fitzgerald’s later stories.  It has the same mood of melancholy longing so typical of Fitzgerald.

Once again, it must be said: Otto Penzler puts together a mean anthology.  Allow Dangerous Women to seduce you and you will be guaranteed an immensely satisfying experience.  However, one word of advice.  For your own good health and peace of mind, play safe.  And keep the light on.

 

Dangerous Games by Michael Prescott

Publisher: Onyx Books ISBN: 0451411692 

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

In this latest thriller from Prescott he pulls from previous titles two of his most fascinating characters, FBI special agent Tess McCallum, and private operator, Abby Sinclair.  Tess, still not quite over her last big case, is called into Los Angeles to help stop yet another serial killer, this one who is kidnapping young women and holding them in the labyrinth maze of water tunnels underneath the city, demanding ransom in exchange for their location.  Two women have already died, and Abby, having worked on a stalking case, thinks she knows just who it is, as well as who the next victim might be, but what neither woman knows is that he has a partner, someone close to the case, and someone just as deadly. 

Prescott provides the reader not only with a thrilling and gripping read, but with two characters who each stand out in their own way.  Abby, cynical and seemingly flippant, is really lonely and defensive, and Tess, a woman deeply scarred by the loss of her lover, is just as lonely.  These are strong and independent women who Prescott portrays with just the right touch, and we would welcome back another teaming of this exciting and engaging duo.     

 

Walking Home by Gloria Goldreich

Publisher: Mira ISBN: 0778321096 

Reviewed by Donna Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Rochelle Weiss is the only child of Holocaust survivors and is thoroughly loved by her parents.  In return Rochelle will do anything to make them proud of her.  She is a scholar and an athlete.  She lands a public relations job with a good salary and fabulous perks and bonuses.  When she leans her parents are dying she asks her boss for flex time so she can take care of them.  Instead, her boss fires her.  Then she looses her boyfriend who cannot understand her sudden lack of ambition. When Rochelle's parents die she takes a job as a dog walker to help with her grief, and discovers a whole new world out there that she knows absolutely nothing about.

This is a story about an inner journey.  A protected, loved, and loving child becomes a mature adult with no one to rely on but herself.  It is a moving novel written with a great deal of compassion.  Goldreich certainly understands the human heart.

 

The Wilderness by Karen Novak

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA ISBN: 1582344833

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Leslie Stone, a woman of whom the reader is never sure to be psycho or psychic, once again tugs at the emotional and fright strings of the heart.  After having promised her family after barely making it back alive after her last case that she would never return to her very own particular dark side, she nevertheless can't turn her back on the latest mystery that comes her way.  And where and how it begins is at a place she's been before, a petting zoo from her past, where now lies a dead man, a mystifying children's poem called, "The Wilderness", and frightening ghosts from long-ago. 

And when Leslie's hired by a woman to help with research in the writing of a book, a book that reaches back decades attempting to unravel the issues of slavery and madness, and a book that involves the death of victims for the most part unknown, Leslie accepts against her family's better judgment.  And at first it seems so simple and safe, and so very innocuous, but as the investigation soon connects with current events, the ghosts in Leslie's head only become louder and more fearful, once again taking Leslie back to the darkest part of her soul, a place only she alone can understand, but also a place that can lead her into danger like no other.  Soon, the voices and visions are crying for justice, trying to reach Leslie in order to have their side of the story told, and before you know it, Leslie is seeing the past in all it's not so glorious beauty.  She sees a young girl in particular, a girl who died a brutal death, and so this is what drives Leslie to forsake all in order to find how and why this mysterious place holds such visions of death, and how it all ties to the mysterious poem that indelibly imprints itself on all it touches.  

The plot, as in all of Novak's Leslie Stone books, is multifaceted, intensely imaginative, and unerringly wicked.  But as usual, it's Leslie who easily steals the show; maddening, yet deserving of empathy, she's one of the most complex and unique heroines to come along.  Most readers may find themselves both frustrated and sympathetic to Leslie's predicaments, but her unmitigated drive towards the truth cannot be denied in either case.  Sometimes not so easy to like, but always provocative and alluring, she has the capacity to grab onto the reader's emotional strings with little mercy of letting go.  And if nothing else, she can drive the plot towards a place that few authors dare to tread.  If it's easy and breezy you seek, this is not for you, but if it's intelligent and daring plotting and characterization, than look no further, Novak provides it all and then some.     

 

Darkness on the Edge of Town by J. Carson Black

 Publisher: Signet Book ISBN: 0451213912

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Written by Margaret Falk under the pen name J. Carson Black, this new mystery series featuring Arizona investigator Laura Cardinal is nothing short of spectacular.  In this first outing Laura is summoned to a gruesome crime scene in the small town of Bisbee, AZ, involving the death of a young girl who has been murdered and then purposefully posed.  Everything soon points to the existence of a serial killer, and unsettlingly reminds Laura of the abduction of a young girl during her school days.  Are these cases connected?  As Laura comes closer to answering this question she will soon find herself in danger, as she unknowingly pursues a killer that just may be closer than she knows.

This stunning mystery debut has everything the aficionado requires; fast-paced plotting, realism and well-researched detail, suspenseful red-herrings and, most importantly, a heroine who is fascinating and completely human.  We eagerly await the next outing featuring this most engaging character and are delighted to hear that this highly qualified author is already at work on the next.     

For more info on this exciting new series, visit Carson's website for all the latest news, reviews, blog entries, and inside info to Laura's world!

 

 

The Search by Christiane Heggan   

Publisher: Mira ISBN: 0778321266

Reviewed by Donna Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Assistant district attorney Sydney Cooper and investigative reporter Lilly Gilmore are friends.  Lilly calls Sydney late one night and asks for a meeting on the outskirts of Philadelphia so she can get some advice on a urgent matter.  When Sydney arrives at the designated meeting place, she is the sole witness to Lilly's kidnapping and determines to find Lilly and identify the kidnappers.

Jake Sloan, a driller on a Louisiana oil rig is contacted by an FBI agent who wants Jake to find gun trafficking evidence on one of his former army officers.  Jake moves into the apartment across the hall from Sydney.  It doesn't take them long to figure out the connections between the kidnapping and the gun running, and begin working together to solve both problems.

An exciting multifaceted plot keeps the reader spellbound.  There is enough fast paced action to hold any readers interest, and anyone who likes romantic suspense will definitely want to read THE SEARCH.