June 2010 Paperback Mysteries
 

 

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Shadows Over Paradise by Anne K. Edwards

Publisher: Paladin Timeless Books ISBN-10: 1606191357

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Julia Graye is on her way to the tropical paradise of Tiboo, to be the bridesmaid of her old friend Suzanne.  From the minute she gets off the plane on the main island and meets the crusty Captain Martinez she feels unwelcome. He warns her it isn’t a good time to visit because of political unrest.  Julia fails to see why this would have anything to do with a wedding, and gets aboard The Flighty Maid for the trip to Tiboo.   Also aboard is a snobby woman, Isabelle de Cordova, and Suzanne’s stepbrother, Beau. 

After a long uncomfortable journey, Julia reaches the elegant colonial mansion where Suzanne Allener lives with her mother Margaret LaBoudrie.  Despite Suzanne’s warm welcome, Julia is aware that not all is well, Margaret clearly doesn’t approve of her daughter’s engagement to Ramon.  Before Julia can decide for herself is he’s suitable, she finds Ramon dead on the beach.

If Julia had gone home to the US right then, not only would this have been a shorter book, but she’d have been spared some harrowing experiences. But being a loyal friend, she stays for the funeral and to help Suzanne cope with the unpleasant Isabelle, who turns out to be Ramon’s sister.  Isabelle clearly hates the LaBoudries, and Julia, too.  Before long Isabelle is also dead, and Julia suspects who’s responsible, but to tell what she knows will just give more pain to her friend.  Her mental turmoil isn’t eased by Suzanne’s brother Louis who is obsessed with Julia and seems determined to force her to love him.  No amount of patient explaining or outright refusal deters him from his stubborn devotion.

While she’s trying to figure out what to do with her guilty secret, Julia becomes entangled in a much bigger problem: smuggling and treason.  Injured, chilled to the bone and adrift on a dark ocean, all Julia has to depend on is an aged sea captain and Lou, who has collapsed into a morass of apologies and tears.  Clearly she’s going to have to save herself, but how?

If you like an adventure-romance of the Mary Stewart genre, with lots of action, plots and sub-plots, and no graphic sex or violence, take a trip to Tiboo with Julia Graye. 

 

 

 

The Replacement Child by Christine Barber

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin ISBN-10: 0312628161

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

When a private school teacher is found at the bottom of the gorge just below the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge in Taos, 80 miles north of Santa Fe, and drug paraphernalia left behind in her abandoned car is found at a park frequented by drug dealers in Santa Fe, investigators are quick to assume that it was a suicide.  Or, if not that, that the teacher simply got caught up in a drug deal gone bad as did her brother years before.

But after talking to friends and family of the victim, homicide detective Gil Montoya begins to see quite a few holes in that theory, as this was a woman who despised drugs and led the life of a saint.  And when an older woman is next to die just as mysteriously after contacting reporter Lucy Newroe implicating a couple of police officers in the supposed suicidal death, Newroe too becomes convinced that not only was the woman’s death actually murder, but that the two cases are connected.  And as Montoya and Newroe begin to swap information, they’ll discover that there’s more than one person who has something to hide regarding these deaths that involve years of bitter resentment and secrets.

There’s many things that newcomer Christine Barber gets right about this unique area in northern New Mexico: the strong family ties that go back centuries, the deep meshing between church and community, and indeed, the very nature of the tight knitted Hispanic community itself.  Hell, she even gets the dialogue right.  Additionally, heroine Lucy Newroe, transplanted reporter, also adds to this compelling tale; her engaging eccentricities and youthful appeal drawing the reader even further into the story.  But even with that all said, this book still only scratches at the surface of this deeply compelling part of the country, and so we hope there’s more to come from this author who seems more than capable of doing the digging for even greater stories to come. 

 

 

 

Fifty Grand by Adrian McKinty

Publisher: Picador  ISBN-10: 0412429819

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader

Adrian McKinty has been a writer to be watched since his debut novel Dead I Well May Be in 2003. The anti-hero of DIWMB, Michael Forsythe, appeared in two more books (The Dead Yard and The Bloomsday Dead) before McKinty decided Forsythe had suffered enough. (No slur intended; Forsythe’s trials sometimes made The Passion of the Christ look like a Lifetime movie.) His newest book, Fifty Grand, has been much anticipated. The hype was not unjustified.

Detective Mercado (we never get her real first name) is a Havana cop whose father defected when she was a child. After Dad is killed in a Colorado hit-and-run, journalist brother and Party member Ricky sneaks away from a New York assignment to track down some information. Mercado has vengeance on her mind and a difficult trail to find it.

The book moves back and forth through time, with elements of the movie Michael Clayton; the opening scene actually takes place toward the end, and the reader is taken back in time to work up to it. It’s trick to pull off, but McKinty has it under control. He knows exactly how much to tell, and how to make it memorable enough to be anticipated two hundred pages later.

Mercado is a well defined protagonist. Tough as she has to be when, but not always so sure she wants to be. McKinty writes in a female voice unselfconsciously, never drawing the reader away from inside Mercado’s head. He takes risks, but always reveals just enough to maintain the compact of believability promised at the beginning.

The Forsythe books were known for violent and complex endings, and McKinty does not disappoint. The climax on a frozen lake in Wyoming is properly graphic and bloody. Never gratuitous, McKinty has a knack for allowing the reader to feel not only Mercado’s terror, but her determination to get out of the situation. It’s the kind of scene that will look great in a movie, but still won’t be as good as the book, as the movie can’t get inside her head like McKinty does.

The writing style can be described as how James Ellroy might write if Ellroy hadn’t decided he alone was God’s gift to crime fiction. Tight narration and dialog. Short sentences and paragraphs, using white space to pull the reader’s along almost hypnotically. No word is wasted, yet descriptions and emotions are not slighted. Take this excerpt from Page 172:

 

For all of recorded history and for the million years before that humans have taken vengeance into their own hands. A simple code. Kill one of ours, we’ll kill one of yours. The simplest code there is. Only in the last century or two have people given this job to outsiders. To police, lawyers, courts. And no one really buys into that 100 percent. Certainly not in Cuba, where the old ways walk the streets of Cerro and Vedado. This is what Ricky doesn’t understand. He’s never walked those streets. Cops and the rule of law are a blip in deep time.

            No, we don’t completely believe in them and some part of us remembers revenge isn’t just a right—it’s a sacred obligation.

 

There are too many memorable scenes to recount here. Mercado’s unorthodox acquisition of a gun from a dealer stands out, as does, of course, the scene on the lake. Like Ellroy, McKinty sometimes uses real people in his stories. Raul Castro plays a small, but pivotal part.

Fifty Grand  isn’t for everyone. Those who like bloodless murders solved by doddering old ladies or adorable felines will be upset by the language and manners of death. So it goes. If you enjoy tightly written yet colorful prose used to tell a story that always seems to have one more layer, then Fifty Grand should go onto your To Be Read pile immediately. Just don’t leave it there too long. 

For interview with Adrian McKinty

 

 

Intent To Kill by James Grippando

Publisher: Harper  ISBN: 0061628697

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

Ryan James was living the American dream. He had a promising career in minor league baseball with a shot at the majors. There was a beautiful wife – Chelsea - who taught school to supplement their income and who was attending law school at night. Even her adult, autistic brother only intrudes on the picture to a small degree. And there was their two-year-old daughter. All of that ended on fateful night.

Ryan was playing an important game with a scout watching that night. He insisted that Chelsea skip her class to come and see. She did and was struck by a drunk driver. The wife died while the daughter only had minor injuries.

The story jumps forward four years. Ryan had lost his minor league position due to his drinking and slumping performance on the field. At home he can’t sleep due to the nightmares. Ryan is now half of a sports radio-show “shock jock” team. His insomnia is interfering with this job as well.

Meanwhile, prosecutor Emma Carlisle has struggled to solve the case and give closure to Ryan. Just as it looks as though this is a lost cause, an anonymous tipster starts leaving notes that they know who killed Chelsea. When the evidence starts pointing toward Emma’s former boss, she is torn between her duty and her loyalty.

Grippando has crafted a first-rate thriller with believable characters and an intriguing storyline. Additionally, he captures an essence of the struggle for people to do the right thing.

 

 

Greedy Bones by Carolyn Haines

Publisher: Minotaur Books  ISBN-10: 0312377118

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Opening with a burst of spicy aging-debutante flavor, the latest of the Sarah Booth Delaney series quickly mellows into a charmingly gutsy tale of close-knit women who define the apt description of “steel magnolias” when their loved ones succumb to an unknown illness.

Sarah Booth Delaney has just returned from her Hollywood adventures of acting and falling in love with handsome co-star Graf after learning her best friend Tinkie may lose her beloved husband Oscar.  As the personification of the middle-aged modern Southern Belle, Tinkie and fiercely independent Sarah Booth seem unlikely friends but have parlayed their companionship into a detective agency.  Staying in her private detective role, Sarah Booth intends to find out why Oscar and three others have fallen gravely ill after visiting the abandoned Carlisle Farm, which has just gone on the real estate market. 

The situation in Sunflower County worsens as the Center for Disease Control sends two representatives to study and contain the strange illness.  Balancing the fears of a potential epidemic are the frequent appearances of Sarah Booth’s devoted friends Cece and Millie, providing levity and mouth-watering descriptions of country cooking.  To further muddy the narrative waters, Sarah Booth also must navigate her ill-defined relationship with Coleman, her former boyfriend and local sheriff, with whom she closely works to uncover clues to the sickness.

Perhaps the brightest streak of inspiration in Haines’ story comes from the unique character at Dahlia House, Sarah Booth’s ancestral plantation home.  Ever-present Jitty has frequented the grounds for two hundred years and freely offers Sarah Booth cryptic advice and a warm family tone, giving Sarah Booth consistent comfort even while inhabiting a spectral form.

Some of the major plot points are decipherable in the first third of the book, but Sarah Booth’s journey to those discoveries moves along at such a jaunty pace that the obvious solutions can be overlooked in favor of the local scenery.

Greedy Bones offers a pretty fair description of the modern, well-to-do south with heavy doses of exaggeration and colorful adjectives for an occasionally brassy bunch with love, grit, and a deep history that binds these women—dead and alive—to their Mississippi home.

 

 

 

Missing Mark by Julie Kramer

Publisher: Anchor  ISBN-10: 0307388522

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader 

In her follow-up to last year’s Stalking Susan featuring intrepid Minneapolis TV investigative reporter Riley Spartz, Kramer brings back the fearless amateur detective to solve another baffling mystery.  This time around it begins with what seems a rather harmless story that Riley hopes might just hit the right demographics during May’s sweeps, a story sparked off when Riley decides to look into the background of an add in the paper offering “Wedding dress for sale; never worn.”    And when she discovers that the groom went missing within hours before the walk down the aisle, she knows she has a real mystery on her hands, one that might just make bigger headlines than she had hoped.  But convincing her bosses at the station that something’s fishy is only a minor problem compared to the dirt she digs up surrounding the wealthy bride and missing groom in a search that takes her down false trails and head first into danger.

This latest from Kramer is a mixed bag to say the least.  On the positive side, Kramer throws in quite a bit of inside detail regarding local TV news, some of which is actually pretty interesting and also quite eye-opening for those of us unfamiliar with this particular world. On the negative side, she unfortunately tosses in a couple of sideline mysteries that distract more than add to the story as a whole when her character misses the most obvious clues that might have solved them rather quickly.  Interestingly enough, the main mystery of the book could have easily sufficed on its own with its unique turn of events and unfamiliar oddities had they gotten full attention.  This is a series that actually  has potential, so we’ll look forward to the next.

 

 

 

The Neighbor by Lisa Gardner

Publisher: Bantam  ISBN-10: 0553591908

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader 

While on the surface the South Boston couple of Jason and Sandra Jones, along with their four year old precocious daughter Ree, might seem to be living the ideal life of a young family with everything going for them, when Sandra disappears late one night leaving her young daughter alone and her husband a suspect in her disappearance, not only will some very deadly secrets of their own come out, but so too will those of some closest to them.  And as detectives Warren and Miller race against time to find the missing woman, they’ll only find the truth growing more and more evasive with each suspect added to the list.  Not so not knowing just who is a victim and who is a criminal will leave them not only chasing the numerous possibilities, but their own tails as well, in a search that seems to lead nowhere and everywhere at the same time.

Gardner, THE master of what I like to call “domestic suspense,” once again brings to readers an amazingly thrilling ride that unabashedly peers through the walls of every neighbor you’ve ever known (or just thought you did) and reveals some of the terrifying secrets that can reside behind the most seemingly innocuous appearances.  But it’s not only the pure excitement of who and why and where and what that will intrigue and challenge readers, but also the additional layers of complexity that Gardner throws into her characters, her story, and her  perfectly devised resolution.  One of the best books I’ve read this year, this one comes with everything one might hope for and is simply Gardner’s best to date.  Set aside a weekend to read this one -- either that, or plan on calling in sick to finish what’s left when the work week starts.   

 

 

 

 

A Killer Plot by Ellery Adams

Publisher: Penguin ISBN-10: 042523522X

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader 

Olivia Limoges has been encapsulated in the seaside’s small community as a scared, mute girl who was left adrift in the ocean as her father’s breakdown in the aftermath of her mother’s death.  Now an accomplished if secretive adult, she has returned to her hometown and ushered in an era of rehabilitating historic buildings leading to economic benefits.  Still, her admittedly eccentric attitude has just added to her persona, leaving her more emotionally isolated than ever.

Fortunately, she meets Camden, a well-dressed visitor who’s busy researching a controversial family that vacations in the area for a tell-all book.  Olivia quickly warms up to Camden while he confesses to being a well-known gossip columnist and agrees to join the Bayside Book Writers group, which includes a cast of writer hopefuls dealing with their own sense of being misfits whether it’s the housewife with the impatient husband or the happily black-clad young woman interested in sci-fi/fantasy. 

Suddenly, Camden dies outside a bar catering to the local fishermen, leading to a series of questions about what the obviously gay man was doing in a place so inhospitable.  Adding to the mystery is the well-written seasonal haiku written by his body, leading to a partnership between the writers and the local police chief to decipher the cryptic poem.

In this Books by the Bay mystery, one of the more interesting elements comes with each writer’s interest and frustrated efforts.  Even Olivia shows cracks in her harsh façade as she attempts to create a readable historical romance about a Middle Eastern harem girl which fails miserably.

Unfortunately, the clichés abound as the gay men all make themselves obvious with pastel colors and an intellectual manner while the fishermen are rough-hewn stereotypes and the wealthy hone their snobbishness.  Rather than positing it as urban versus rural, the locals come across negatively unless they managed to escape the town for a while as Olivia did.  In addition, Olivia’s willingness to trounce laws such as leaving her dog outside restaurants or even putting her precious poodle on a leash quickly wears thin.  Although she’s got some interesting characteristics, her judgmental behavior shows that a little self-analysis would benefit both her and the town to which she’s returned.

 

 

 

The Bourne Deception by Eric van Lustbader

Publisher: Vision  ISBN 978 0 446 539838

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader 

Jason Bourne is recuperating incognito in Bali from the latest attempt to kill him. He’s enjoying a rare period of peace and companionship with Moira Trevor and pondering what life might be like if he were not Jason Bourne.  Bourne fans will know this can’t last, and sure enough it doesn’t.  An American passenger plane blows up in flight, causing an already unstable world political situation to come very close to actions that will be irreversible and deadly. 

Then a deadly character from Jason’s past returns, with a brief to kill him, and this time to make sure the job is done right.  You’ll have to swallow a big lump of incredulity when you see who the killer is: surely he couldn’t have survived that last ---- (fill in your choice of previous apocalyptic endings to a Bourne novel).

As usual, Eric van Lustbader takes the reader to a variety of exotic locations in the 400+ pages of this latest Bourne adventure.  Some familiar figures are here: Veronica Hart, Soraya Moore, the Secretary of Defence, Colonel Karpov and the ambiguous Willard, as well as a new roster of villains of one sort of another.  The basic premise of the book is all too believable, even if the superhuman ability of people to survive incredible injuries is not.  Pack your common sense away for a few hours and relax with this rousing new addition to the Bourne canon, it will take your mind off your stock options.

 

 

 

Awakening by S.J. Bolton

Publisher: Minotaur Books  ISBN-10: 0312381875

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Wildlife veterinarian Clara Benning has lived the last few years of her life in a small English village in relative peace and isolation, her self-imposed exile a choice she made in order to avoid the heartbreak that her disfigured, scar-filled face has always brought her.  But when the small village comes under attack by a variety of dangerous snakes, some resulting in death, she’s summoned by the townspeople to help fight off the dangerous threat that seem to be increasing with each day. 

While struggling with her instincts to run away from human contact, she’ll find herself forced to uncover the mystery behind the deadly snake attacks, reasons that she’ll soon discover reach back decades to a dark and poisonous past that many of the villagers shared, a past of secrets that now demand a reckoning. But on her trail of discovery, not only will she face the danger head-on that has resulted from these horrible secrets, but also, and perhaps more terrifying, the damage she’s perpetuated from her own willfully forgotten past that left her scarred and alone.

First and foremost, let it be said that I have never been a fan of snakes of any sort, of any size, in any place.  However, after reading this very unique and well researched mystery, I’m now more than willing to give them their ‘props’.  In her latest, Bolton manages to bring out some of the more fascinating facts of these mostly unpopular beings, effectively making them come to life in all their glory, and thankfully far enough removed that readers can appreciate them without too much fear. 

Also appreciated is her worthy protagonist, a woman whose disfiguring scars that while might have led her to a deeper empathy and understanding of these less than welcomed creatures, might have also led her to create her own lonely existence, the repulsion and pity she thought she saw coming from others, more likely having come from within.  All in all, a well-told tale that is both deliciously creepy and provocative layered in just the right amounts.

 

 

The Frightened Man by Kenneth Cameron

Publisher:  Minotaur Books  ISBN:  0312628013

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

For the fan of the dark and dangerous, take a walk on the night streets of London during Victorian times as talented author Kenneth Cameron brings a story that hints back to the times of Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes in his new tale, The Frightened Man.

One evening, a badly frightened stranger visits Denton, an American mystery author now living in London, and tells him a strange tale about a murderer, beginning with the bald statement he has seen Jack the Ripper who has been gone for fifteen years or so.  Something compels Denton to listen and half believe what he’s told.  He communicates the tale to the police who are inclined to dismiss it until a murder draws Denton in and he is viewed with the suspicion as a suspect might be.

Join Denton as he takes matters into his own hands and investigates on his own and much to the annoyance of the police.  The trail twists and turns, red herrings cross his path, and leads grow cold as he tracks a killer.

I’m pleased to recommend this tale that blends mystery and thrills with a touch of old fashioned horror into an enjoyable read. Guaranteed to please with descriptions that put the reader onto those wet streets at night, feeling the tingle of fear from unseen eyes watching from shadows.  Eerily evocative of times and crimes gone by, this atmospheric read entertains.  

 

 

 

Murder on Waverly Place by Victoria Thompson

Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime  ISBN-10: 0425235203

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Wealthy widow Sarah Brandt could choose to live a shallow life of socializing and accumulation thanks to her very well-to-do parents.  Instead, she works odd hours as a midwife and has adopted an adorable orphan named Catherine.  In her spare time, she helps police detective Frank Malloy close cases related to New York’s poorer citizens that the police would otherwise ignore in 1897.

During this era, the paranormal fascinates the public as the possibility of contacting deceased loved ones or discovering what truly happens after death proves too tantalizing for a culture steeped in high infant mortality and deadly common illnesses.  Beautiful Madame Serafina appears to be the rare true psychic in a sea of fakes, and her salon is increasingly filled with society’s best names—until a murder occurs in a locked, dark room during an eerie séance where no one can move without someone realizing it.  Sarah’s own mother, Mrs. Decker, is one of the witnesses and with her presence, Malloy has no chance of keeping Sarah out of police business this time!

There are several lovely sentences including one in which a young man “might be considered handsome in a few more years, when life had etched some character into his well-formed face.”  That’s a sentence revealing experience and humor, and it would be wonderful to see more of that between Sarah and Malloy.  This eleventh installment in the Gaslight Mystery Series would benefit from more depictions of Sarah struggling with balancing her midwifery with her investigations (and tightly controlled feelings for her favorite detective) for the sake of realism and added character depth.  We’re told that she works very hard, long hours but is miraculously left undisturbed throughout the course of the case.  This may streamline the story but Thompson’s best drawn characters are often members of the lower classes when wit and emotions flow more freely. 

 

 

 

The Bride Will Keep Her Name by Jan Goldstein

Publisher: Three Rivers Press  ISBN-10: 0307345939 

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

With only a week to go before her wedding to an up and coming television news reporter, young and hip Maddie Mandelbaum thinks her biggest worries during this chaotic time will be the last minute preparations for her dream wedding.  But when she starts receiving mysterious emails and phone calls suggesting her fiancé is not the man she thought he was and implicating him in the death of a high-class prostitute, she finds her safe and blissful world turned upside down.  Not only will she now have to discover the truth behind the alarming messages, a truth that could possibly destroy her entire future, but she’ll also have to wrap up those final details for a wedding that she’s not even sure will happen.  And so with her wedding and all she’s hoped for at stake, Maddie will be forced to learn some very hard lessons and make some life-changing decisions to save the future she’s always dreamed of.  

While initially some might be tempted to write this off as just another “chick-lit” novel, upon closer inspection it becomes apparent that it has managed to go a bit deeper.  Admittedly, while it does have that “Sex in the City” feel to it with its cast of young, successful, fashion-conscious New Yorkers, it also provides some deeper revelations about family and loyalty that just by their unexpectedness jolt the reader out of their  complacency in a very moving way.  Ultimately, this is a pretty solid tale that successfully combines an unselfconscious, light-hearted mystery with just enough depth to keep it interesting all the way through, making it a satisfying summer beach read that should appeal to a wide audience.

 

 

 

The Dark Horse by Craig Johnson

Publisher: Penquin  ISBN-10: 0413117319

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

It’s been a short while since small town Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire’s life-threatening bout with some vey bad guys almost cost him his life.  And while he’s enjoying the time since to contemplate his continuing roles as wary sheriff, reluctantly distant father of his now grown daughter, and ambivalent lover of his younger deputy, things have gotten just a bit boring - although he’d be the last to admit such a thing.  So when a neighboring county offers him the chance to ease their jail overcrowding by holding their latest murderer, a woman accused of killing her husband, he’s got no problem with helping, especially considering that the woman has confessed, leaving the case tightly wrapped up and free of nasty, unforeseen complications.  

But the more he considers the woman and her story, the more he begins to doubt her confession and the so-called facts implicating her.  And as Longmire is a man who seeks justice at any cost, it’s only natural that he should go undercover as an insurance adjuster in the neighboring small town to find out the truth.  A mission that will leave him soon discovering that the Wild West is still alive and well and a very dangerous place to be.

It seems that Johnson’s series featuring Walt Longmire started out on a different path than the one it currently seems to be following.  Some might find this a positive change, while others might not be so satisfied.  The earlier novels featuring a Longmire whose dealings with the unsavory were more often humorous than violent, and whose solutions were more often reached through cunning insight into the stupidity of the average criminal than show-downs, have now metamorphosed into the type of physical car-chasing, or just as likely horse-chasing, bang ‘em up confrontations found in the latest Matt Damien movie.

Personally, I miss the gentler, wryly resigned Longmire of old.  While I can appreciate his recent approach of diving into the crimes of the still untamed Wild West of today with guns a’blazing, it was always his vividly rendered paintings of this unique place with its all too-human inhabitants that really set his stories apart and made them special - no aerobatics were needed.  And so if the big-city criminals, with their even bigger guns and their occasional bombs, should go back to the big cities they came from next time around, I for one won’t lament their demise.

 

 

 

Doomsday Key by James Rollins

Publisher: Harper ISBN: 978-0-06-12314-X

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

In the year 1086, royal coroner Martin Borr faces a gruesome task. He must perform autopsies upon villagers who have starved to death – with a stomach full of food. It has become a familiar pattern which results in the villages being marked as ‘wasted’ in the Doomsday Book or as it sometimes known – the Domesday Book. The book was commissioned by the king with the purported aim of taking a census, but could there be another reason?

The story jumps forward to modern times. The world is on the brink of famine. The population is rapidly passing the earth’s ability to produce food. A secret group known as the Guild sees this crisis as an opportunity to control the world’s food supplies and thereby control the world.

An equally secret organization – Sigma – is using the power, wealth, and technology of the US government to stop the Guild. Led by agent Grayson Pierce and Sigma director Painter Crowe, the agency chases clues and opposition across Europe. However, can even the government stand against a group with seemingly unlimited resources like the Guild in their conquest? The key seems to lie with the secrets hidden in the Doomsday Book – if they can find it.

James Rollins has crafted an exciting and well-written thriller that moves from science fact to science fiction to spy games with ease. Rollins shows himself to be a master of the genre.