Paperback new mystery book reviews for July. Click on links for buying info
Fractured by Karin Slaughter
Publisher: Dell ISBN-10: 044244471
Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader
Shortly after arriving at a murder scene in an upscale Atlanta neighborhood, Georgia Bureau of Investigation detective Will Trent quickly notices that things are not what they appear to be at first glance. While the city detectives think they have it all wrapped up: a seemingly cut-and-dried case of two murders, with a mother, who after walking into the aftermath of her daughter’s murder and finding the killer looming over the body, kills him in self-defense, Will immediately senses something is off. And he’s right, the dead girl is not the woman’s daughter, and the dead boy might not even be her killer, and complicating matters even further is the question of where Emma is, the girl originally thought to be the female victim.
Put in charge of the case, Will is soon partnered with Faith Mitchell, a woman who Will has never met personally, but one who has every reason to hate him, making for a tense and embittered partnership that adds even more complications to a case that already seems unsolvable. So with not only a young teen’s life on the line and virtually no clues to go on, but also a case involving layers and layers of past and present events butting heads, this case is one that might just leave even more victims than those found dead in the beautiful house in Ansley Park.
Slaughter, one of the top writers in the suspense genre, once again proves why she deserves such a distinction. Not only is the mystery itself top-notch and filled with enough challenging variables to confound even the most skilled mystery buffs, but the well-drawn characters add an additional depth to this multi-layered tale. Almost every character seems to be made of flesh and bone, and soul and heart, with each positive characteristic offset by a tangible and somehow more personal failing that makes them seem even more worthy of our attention and, oftentimes, our empathy.
Be warned, however, Slaughter is not one to make things easy or cozy, nor is she one to pretend that closing a case means it’s over, but in the end, this is what makes her novels so striking and so very human. This is yet another stunning and poignant read from Slaughter that will leave you thinking long after it’s over.
Wild by Pamela S Beason
Publisher: WildWing Press ISBN 978 0 9798768 0 6
Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader
If you’re looking for a good, fast read that’s got just about everything—feisty heroine, hunky hero, great scenery, nasty bad guys and an adorable lost child—plus some magnificent big cats—this book’s guaranteed to satisfy.
Summer Alicia Westin, who understandably prefers to be known as Sam, is a tough but petite freelance wildlife writer. In pursuit of a story she’s in a national park when a small boy goes missing. In the ensuing press and public opinion hysteria, the cougars who live in the park are blamed, and a hunt is planned to punish the big cats for their crime. (For some of the locals, it seems to be a case of ‘any excuse to shoot something’.) The only problem is, it wasn’t the cougars who snatched Zack Fischer, and Sam’s pretty certain she can prove it.
In company with sceptical but attractive FBI agent, Chase Perez, Sam goes up-country in search of Zack. If she can find the child, she can get the hunt called off and save the cougars from unjust annihilation, and just maybe complete the assignment she came here to do. If Sam can make contact with one of the feral humans who lives in the high country: he may have seen or heard something that will help find Zack. However, there are a lot more dangerous things around than cougars, not to mention some very violent weather. Getting to the bottom of the mystery won’t do anyone any good unless Sam and Chase get back alive.
This is a very believable story, showing how supposition is accepted as truth and few people bother to gather the facts before condemning the innocent, both human and animal. Beason does a good job of illustrating the gritty reality of conducting a search in rough country with a mostly volunteer search party. She really cranks up the tension, and you can feel Sam’s explosive frustration when she’s told the local helicopter can’t pick up a badly injured man because of ‘liability issues’, or she can’t get the telephone operator to realise that the small baseball cap she’s found is an important clue and needs to be reported at once.
Exert yourself to get hold of this book, you’ll enjoy it. I look forward to Sam Westin’s next assignment.
Desolate Angel by Chaz McGee
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime ISBN: 978-0-425-22873
Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader
Kevin Fahey is dead. His spirit doesn’t quite know what to do or where it should go so he continues to hang around the world he knew. He watches his partner who is a drunk, like he once was, lets his career slide downhill while he and his new partner Maggie Gunn are supposed to be trying to catch a serial killer.
In the world of law officers, between partners there is supposed to be loyalty and moral support, neither of which Danny Bonaventura gives Maggie even as she tries to support him. Kevin wishes he could have known Maggie in life and hopes Danny will straighten up before it’s too late.
As a ghost Kevin can only but watch as the body of a new victim of the killer is discovered. He also has another problem—he is being haunted by the spirit of a girl whose death he investigated and sent the wrong man to jail for. He wonders how he can correct his error and free himself of the silent sad spirit only he can see.
A tale of the darker side of being a ghost without a destiny or reason to exist until he figures out what he needs to do. Join him as he follows an obsessed killer of young women.
I’m pleased to recommend this fun read to any mystery or paranormal fan. The combination of genres by talented author Chaz McGee has produced a read that will satisfy the pickiest reader. Lots of action and characters who will keep you on your toes. Happy reading.
Kill For Me by Karen Rose
Publisher: Grand Central ISBN 978 0 446 616931
Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader
If you’ve never read a Karen Rose thriller, this is as good a one as any to start with. “Total Immersion in Terror” would be a good subtitle to this creepy, scary, spine-chilling story of a pedophile ring that has tendrils into the most unexpected areas of a small southern community.
Susannah Vartanian is a New York District Attorney who has come back home to testify in a long-deferred trial of one the boys—now men—who raped her 13 years ago. Luke Papadopoulos is a special agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and partner of Daniel, Susannah’s brother from whom she has been estranged for years. Nothing goes as planned: some of the rapists are dead, including Susannah’s other brother; and there’s been a spate of missing, presumed kidnapped young girls. One of them turns up half dead at the roadside as Luke and Susannah drive by, as well as another missing person, who has managed to rescue the girl from certain death.
Susannah doesn’t want to be here in her home town, or in her dead father’s house, but Luke’s determination to find the missing girls, and the horrific discovery of some of them dead in a cellar hardens Susannah’s resolve—she can’t undo what happened to her in the past, but maybe she can help Luke track down and save the missing girls and punish their abusers. Her brother, belatedly aware of what happened to her, joins the hunt but is injured almost fatally. People Luke thought he could trust aren’t all what they seem; finally only he and Susannah are sure of each other.
This story has more twists and turns than a bag of pretzels, and just when you think there can’t be any more shocking revelations, Rose presents another one. This is not the sort of book I could recommend to someone in a frail mental state, or who is easily upset by the darker side of mankind, but if you can get past that, you’ll find this a fast-moving adventure that really is what publicists call ‘a page-turner’.
Body Blows by Marc Strange
Publisher: Dundurn Press ISBN: 978-1-55488-390-5
Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader
Talented author Marc Strange has crafted another intriguing tale about the world an ex-boxer turned body guard and security chief at Lord Douglas Hotel owned by millionaire Leo Alexander. Join Joe Grundy as he tries to find out who set up Leo for the murder of the woman he loved.
A night on the town for Leo ends with finding the body of Leo’s housekeeper and lover on the floor and shortly thereafter he is arrested. Joe Grundy knows that Leo is innocent and sets out to find a killer and the why of the death of someone as nice as Raquel
This is a tale with twists in the trail of looking for the killer with red herrings dragged across it to have the reader and Joe considering other possibilities as the killer goes on with their lie as usual. Leo has two sons and a daughter who turns up using an alias. Joe doesn’t like snooping but thinks maybe the answer is in Leo’s past.
This is a book that urges the reader to continue. You will want to know the truth of this complex tale with its well drawn characters who will keep you guessing. You’ll be looking for other books by this imaginative author.
Rotten to the Core by Sheila Connolly
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime ISBN-10: 0425228762
Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader
Former city-girl Meg Corey eagerly awaits the first spring blooms on her apple trees in the beautiful rural country near Amherst, Massachusetts. After deciding to take over her deceased great-aunts’ orchard just a couple of months earlier, Meg has settled in, started restoring the farmhouse and even adopted a cat named Lavinia after Emily Dickinson’s sister. With the help of a very handy plumber named Seth Chapin and his fun-loving sister Rachel, Meg has pushed away the thoughts of the body previously found in her septic tank and embraced the rustic lifestyle, calluses and all. When she finds the body of a divisive grad student in her springhouse, the investigation and its bad karma blow in fresh decay in the season of renewal. Using her can-do attitude and surrounded by loyal friends, Meg intends to find the murderer and restore order in her beloved sanctuary.
Readers interested in apple farming techniques and an informative, non-judgmental debate regarding pesticides, integrated pesticide, and organic methods will enjoy the well-researched tidbits interspersed throughout the text while cooks will salivate over the apple-based recipes in the back. Connolly’s well-written characters including Meg, Seth, new orchard manager Bree Stewart and local chief Art Preston make a humorous, practical, and stalwart crew with the promise of many enjoyable adventures to come in the Orchard Mystery Series.
The Night Stalker by James Swain
Reviewed by R. Don Copeland for the New Mystery Reader
In James Swain’s The Night Stalker, we have another opportunity to follow Jack Carpenter, a South Florida P.I. whom Swain introduced in 2007’s Midnight Rambler. Jack Carpenter combines gelid competence with white-hot intensity to create one of the more original personalities in modern detective fiction. Carpenter’s expertise of finding people has been further specialized to finding lost children. If you’re a parent whose worst nightmare has come to pass, it’s Jack Carpenter you want searching for your abducted child. A grizzled ex-cop, Jack Carpenter knows the nightmarish world of child predators better than anyone should ever have to know the shadowy realm of monsters. A parent himself, Carpenter keenly feels the anguish of those who’ve had their children abducted and brings his uncompromising, implacable nature to bear on quickly reuniting parents with their child. Count on Carpenter’s Australian Shepherd Buster to ably assist.
The Night Stalker begins with Jack Carpenter visiting serial killer Abb Grimes behind bars. In a grim irony, Grimes’ own three year-old grandson Sampson has been abducted, and the ultimate predator and killer of eighteen young women Abb Grimes knows that there’s nobody better to find his missing grandson than Jack Carpenter, one of the men who brought Grimes himself to justice. Grimes has received a note in prison telling him to stop talking to the F.B.I. or little Sampson Grimes will die.
When Jack Carpenter begins his investigation, he finds the Broward County Sherrif’s Missing Persons and the F.B.I. have pretty much opened and shut the case based on circumstantial evidence alone, laying the abduction of young Sampson at the feet of the boy’s father, Jed Grimes. The son of Abb Grimes, Jed fits the F.B.I. profile of a killer and is estranged from his ex-wife and generally unsavory. The Night Stalker moves swiftly along with James Swain deftly handling the authorial helm and we hardly notice that the storyline becomes quite complex. It seems that Jack Carpenter was the former top cop of Broward County’s Missing Persons Unit, and that Carpenter was forced to resign after beating an uncooperative suspect. Carpenter’s replacement in Missing Persons is a surly hack detective named Ron Cheeks. Cheeks is convinced that Jed Grimes is the perpetrator and doesn’t want to be distracted by suggestions or (worse, yet) evidence that suggests an otherwise. Cheeks immediately threatens Jack Carpenter to lay off snooping around, but Carpenter has other ideas. First and foremost, Jack Carpenter’s other ideas include finding the actual abductor of Sampson Grimes.
The reader will find that the pages of The Night Stalker literally turn themselves. James Swain is a master of his craft and you should experience that magical reading experience of a believable and utterly engaging story moving along at the perfect pace. Along with working the case of young Sampson Grimes, Jack Carpenter briefly works three other missing person cases, and navigates the complications of a murder or two. There’s a solid hard-boiled authenticity with which author James Swain has Carpenter about his investigations. Swain closely consulted with child abduction expert Andrew Vita in the creation of the character of Jack Carpenter. The association has paid wonderful dividends in such masterful detail as thriving pedophile chat rooms, and drug dealers who take children in virtual pawn for product.
I enjoyed The Night Stalker as much as any book I’ve read this year. Less than truly memorable but absolutely solid in every respect, James Swain’s The Night Stalker is the perfect detective fiction to curl up with over a day or two. You may even miss some sleep from not being able to put The Night Stalker down, but it will be worth it to see what unfolds. You’ll want to see more of Jack Carpenter, so expect to begin a collection.
The Fourth Watcher by Timothy Hallinan
Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader
Conventional wisdom says a thriller must start quickly and get faster. Car chases and high body counts are mandatory. Romance trumps love; affections are generated through the sexual tension of the situation, with no real emotional foundation. (If the hero is a killing machine the love interest may be dispensed with.) Fortunately, Timothy Hallinan is not bound by conventional wisdom, and his editors at Harper Collins let him get away with it. Hallinan’s new book, The Fourth Watcher, shows what can happen when formulas are ignored and a book is allowed to find its own way.
Poke Rafferty is an American living in Thailand, writing a series of books for tourists less interested in sending beautiful postcards than in exploring the seamier parts of their destinations. Rafferty’s Looking for Trouble in… series keeps him in contact with players on both sides of Bangkok law enforcement, as well as those for whom law enforcement is a nebulous concept.
The book takes its time unveiling its concurrent plots. The real story is Poke’s love for Rose and Miaow. The first fifty pages or so are spent watching the interactions of Poke, his lover Rose, and their adopted daughter Miaow, as their bonds gradually envelop the reader. All have baggage: Poke was abandoned by his father; Rose worked her way through the infamous Bangkok strip clubs: Miaow, rescued by Poke and Rose from the streets, doesn’t even know how old she is.
The growth of trust for each other and themselves is tested when an American Secret Service agent, accompanied by Thai police, wakes everyone on the night of Rose’s birthday. The maid service Rose co-owns has paid its employees with counterfeit money, which is news to Rose and her partner. Poke recruits his friend Arthit, a colonel in the Bangkok police, to help.
At least he tries to. Before Poke gets things fully squared away with Arthit, an unrelated adventure arises: his father is in Bangkok, on the run from a Chinese triad. Frank Rafferty swears he didn’t want to involve Poke, but he has something that belongs to the mysterious and notorious Colonel Chu, and triads are not fussy about who they hurt to get what they want.
The two stories run in parallel, each diverting Poke’s attention from the other, inexorably drawing together. Poke is a hero Alfred Hitchcock could have done much with. A man in over his head, but not without resources, possessing an inner strength he is not always aware of. He hovers at the edge of despair several times, always remembering what is important, never forgetting who he is, and what he is—and is not—capable of.
The supporting ensemble is superb. Rose is a woman any man could love: beautiful, exotic, intelligent, and strong, but with ghosts she is only now able to successfully contend with. Miaow is an eight-year-old, with all the insecurities and sass that come with it. She lived on the streets, so nothing fazes her, yet the fear of returning is never too far away. Arthit stabilizes Poke emotionally, and uses his expertise in law enforcement to keep him in line as the stories build, a man who lives by the book but will go outside the lines for his friend. Arthit’s wife, Noi, is gradually succumbing to multiple sclerosis; there is a brief, heartbreaking passage in which Hallinan describes how both minimize her condition to save the feelings of the other.
All of the supporting characters have multiple dimensions. Each facet makes the others more believable, and more endearing or terrible, depending on the character. It’s hard to know what to think about some of them, and Hallinan skillfully manipulates the reader’s uncertainty to maintain suspense. Thai law enforcement plays its role as well, since no one is ever sure which side any individual cop—except Arthit—is on.
The Fourth Watcher is true suspense in the Hitchcock mold. Just as one story line reaches a lull, the other picks up. Sometimes they overlap, Poke torn in two directions at once, not sure what to do, or which takes priority; to make a mistake in either could be fatal. Layering the tension allows it to build geometrically, as both sides make mistakes, none of which are so serendipitous to Poke’s well-being to break the suspension of disbelief.
The considerable machinery of The Fourth Watcher is held together by understated, yet virtuoso writing. Hallinan doesn’t draw attention to his descriptions or similes; there are no blondes to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window, a la Chandler. (Though Rose could probably do it, were she so inclined.) Hallinan’s virtuosity is more subtle. Looking for doubt in a gunman, Poke is disappointed to see he is “steady as a photograph.” A man recovering from serious injury has a “throat as loose and rippled as a theater curtain.” A minor player caught in the act has, “Half a dozen emotions chase each other across [his] face, but the one that stakes it out and claims it is despair.” While not a funny book, the humor works, and always grows from the situation, whether it shows the bonding between Poke and Arthit, or Poke whistling through the graveyard while talking to another cop.
No book is perfect. It’s hard sometimes to keep track of where everyone is, and the Thai names are a bugger to wrap the mind’s tongue around, though Hallinan is more sympathetic in that regard than the other excellent writer of Thai-based fiction, John Burdett. Those are minor trespasses, as easily forgiven as a bad habit of a lover.
For all the intrigue, danger, and violence, The Fourth Watcher is a book about love. How a family comes together by choice; the friction and dilution of a blood family; how physical suffering can anneal the bonds of husband and wife; even Miaow’s appeal to the conscience of a gunman. It’s not action that ultimately makes The Fourth Watcher work, though there’s plenty of it, and expertly done. Not sex, or romance. Love keeps Poke moving, and the quandaries it presents are his burden. Hallinan has created an exceptional thriller with real people, facing real problems. The complex plot serves their personalities as much as their abilities serve its resolution. Exactly as a good novel should be, regardless of where it is shelved in the bookstore.
Poppy Done to Death by Charlaine Harris
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime ISBN-10: 042522807X
Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader
As a beautiful, successful woman, Poppy seems to have it all—and she does. In addition to her handsome husband and adorable little boy, she’s got lovers all over town, a careless attitude and truly terrible family secrets. She’s also just gotten an exclusive membership to the Uppity Women’s Club, which performs professional-quality charitable fundraising and soul-searching book discussions with its number limited to thirty accomplished women. On the day of her initiation, Poppy misses her first meeting with the hard-to-top excuse of her own murder. Fortunately, her sister-in-law Aurora (Roe) Teagarden finds her and immediately sets out to restore order to their family after the mess that Poppy leaves in her wake.
In the middle of all of this, Roe also hosts Thanksgiving dinner and meets her boyfriend Robin’s mother for the first time while also sharing her home with the sixteen year-old brother that she hasn’t seen in ten years and Poppy’s emotionally destroyed parents. Roe desperately seeks a return to order or to have at least some semblance of control again, but Poppy’s messy murder continues to haunt her along with the more mundane questions she has about the future of her relationship with Robin.
Harris, the versatile author of the Sookie Stackhouse novels that inspired the “True Blood” series, keeps a steady pace in this cozy mystery with its familial wisdom (and stunning lack in some members) and small town community of suspects, grieving former lovers, and those who try to uncover Poppy’s plethora of surprises.
Stalking Susan by Julie Kramer
Publisher: Anchor ISBN-10: 0307388514
Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader
When Minneapolis television reporter Riley Spartz is given a list by an informant of women all named Susan who died on the same date, but years apart, she sees a tantalizing opportunity for a big story - one that will put her back on the map after her lengthy sabbatical following her husband’s death. But, unfortunately, those in charge of the network have no interest in following up on these cold cases that are now over a decade old, even after considering that the anniversary of the first Susan’s death is fast approaching. Now it’s up to Riley and her informant, ex-cop turned security expert, to look for the connections between the deaths, a search made only more vital with the discovery of the more recent murder of yet another woman named Susan. So their hunt intensifies, with their motives being to not only revitalize their near-dead careers, but to stop a killer who seems to have revitalized his own – a killer who might be closer to Riley than she thinks.
You guessed it, another serial killer plot. Admittedly, while this familiar storyline is a bit more interesting than the drug deal gone bad, or the mob retribution type of plot, it’s still one that’s just a bit too common to cause a whole lot of hoopla. But plot quibbles aside, this particular one isn’t too bad once you shed the serial killer bit - offering up some interesting inside glimpses into the cut-throat world of news broadcasting and what it’s like to be a woman whose every aging breath relies on the latest ratings. And, sure, even though most readers will figure out who done it long before our heroine, who seems to miss the most obvious of clues even as she arduously explains the ins-and-outs of detective work, that’s okay too, because it’s still lightly entertaining to watch her get to that point. Being just the first in the series, this one does hold some promise of good things to come.
Death’s Half Acre by Margaret Maron
Publishing: Grand Central Publishing ISBN 978 0 446 61808X
Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader
Judge Deborah Knott and the whole repertory company from Colleton County, North Carolina, are back, in a timely book about the dark side of development.
The county is shocked when Candace Bradshaw, Chairwoman of the Board of Commissioners, commits suicide—and even more shocked when it turns out to be murder. Candace came from a hard-scrabble background and then maneuvered herself into an important position by application of a well-kept body and a streak of rat cunning. There are a lot of people with reasons to want her dead, and it’s up to Deborah’s husband Dwight, Deputy Sheriff of the County, to find out which of them actually did the deed.
Things are changing in Colleton, and not for the better. Small farms are being sold up for huge profits and the rural land is being paved over with large tacky houses on small lots. Deborah’s father Kezzie and her eleven brothers hate to see the changes, but it’s only Kezzie who comes up with a plan to forestall at least some of the depredations of the developers. His plan causes some concern to Deborah, who doesn’t know the full story, and assumes the worst when she sees her father at a jewellery store with a very expensive pair of earrings. What is the old ex-bootlegger up to?
Deborah is drawn into the investigation of Candace’s death by the accidental discovery that Candace had been a considerable collector of information about people, information that they might not want to have made public. The story of how Deborah got appointed to the bench is something she’d prefer to keep private, especially since her lawman husband doesn’t know about it. She rationalises by thinking that despite the irregularity of her getting the job, she has carried it out scrupulously and fairly—but she still wants to find Candace’s missing flash drive to find out what’s on it. And so, of course, does the murderer.
Deborah’s sleuthing brings her to the most dangerous situation she’s ever faced, and for a few pages it looks as if the Coletton County stories might end abruptly. All the familiar characters are here again: Sheriff Bo, officer Maylene and her Hispanic boyfriend, Deborah’s best gal pal Portland, and all the Knott brothers, plus Dwight’s son Cal and his dog Bandit. You’ll feel like you’ve come home even if this is the first of the series that you’ve read. Highly recommended.