June 2011 Hardcover Mystery Reviews


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The Quest for Anna Klein  by Thomas H. Cook

An Otto Penzler Book; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Reviewed by Joe Obermaier, New Mystery Reader

The Quest for Anna Klein is a tale told within a tale.  We start with an elderly Thomas Jefferson Danforth meeting with a young Paul Crane, a worker at a Washington think-tank summoned to interview Danforth a few months after 9/11.  It seems Danforth has had “an experience” which might be relevant to those making policy in the wake of the attack on the Twin Towers. 

The tale Danforth relates is the inner tale and concerns his unexpected recruitment in 1939 into “the Project,” a covert operation planned for the outbreak of the Second World War.  Danforth is initially only to provide a place where a certain woman (the eponymous heroine Anna Klein) can receive training in covert actions.  Anna is an enigma.  She is a linguist with a dark, hidden past; a natural actress who can slip from persona to persona with ease.  Danforth quickly falls in love with her, but things inevitably go wrong and Anna vanishes mid-operation leaving him with only questions.  Who is Anna Klein?  Who was she working for?  And what went wrong?  The quest for Anna and her fate begins in earnest, sending Danforth on a decades-long search across the globe to uncover the answers. 

The story’s point of view swings back and forth between the meeting in 2001 and Danforth’s “little parable.”   The tale unfolds into a romance of deception and duplicity; it is a tale of the unexpected twists in life that change the plans we thought we had, and deals honestly with questions of revenge and forgiveness. 

This is a truly dark and many-layered novel.   But is it a mystery?    Well, yes, it is a mystery, and it is also an espionage thriller, a love story and an historical epic.  Don’t look for red herrings and the usual suspects in this genre-bending tale; they aren’t there.  The plot is precisely woven, full of double-crosses and deception, choices and consequences, that in the end make perfect sense and never come across as gimmicky.  The writing is likewise elegantly constructed; there is no doubt that we are in the hands of a master craftsman with a gift for rich, lush language.  The novel defies easy categorization and is elevated instead into the realm of quality literature.   

My sole reservation is that it seemed at first to take a long time to get there.  The novel begins with a slow pace, a pace that doesn’t pick up until much later.  Early on, Danforth holds forth repeatedly with a series of fortune cookie aphorisms and blatant foreshadowing in the “Had I But Known” vein that quickly grows tiresome.  I found myself repeatedly longing for their return to the story set in the thirties and forties and wishing they would just stay there.    

But when the novel does take off, it’s a real page-turner.   Those scattered threads of characters and stories from across the novel (and Danforth’s life) are woven back together seamlessly in a series of surprise twists, none of which I anticipated.   It is only in the final pages that everything becomes wonderfully, and startlingly, clear.



Waist Deep : A Stefan Kopriva novel  by Frank Zafiro

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Anyone who wondered what happened to Stef Kopriva after he dropped out of the River City series can find out in this new stand-alone novel by that master of noir, Frank Zafiro. 

Kopriva’s living in a spartan apartment in a run-down part of town and by means of well-integrated flashbacks, Zafiro illustrates what happened to the tough but sensitive cop after he left the force.  Eaten up by guilt demons, Stef crawled into a bottle and took a long time to reach bottom.  He found a precarious balance and might have gone on barely existing but for bumping into an old school friend.  Not a friend, really; an acquaintance—but a man with a problem that somehow makes Stef care about something again.

Matt Sinderling’s 16 year old daughter Kris has gone missing.  The police aren’t interested in what they term just another runaway, but Matt is desperate.  He convinces Stef to try and find her, and reluctantly, Stef starts to do so.  Almost against his will, he’s drawn into the case deeper when he discovers a lot of really nasty people involved in making movies you wouldn’t take Aunt Hattie to see.  While he’s tracking the missing girl, Stef gets some rough treatment and loses one of the few possessions he treasures, but he also runs into the kindness of strangers when he most needs it. 

Unfortunately the old saying is proved right, “Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas”.  His attempts to put rescue Kris from the nasties leads to Stef’s coming to the attention of his former colleagues on the River City police force, who jump to the conclusion he’s involved in the underage porn industry.  The book comes to a rather surprising  but perhaps inevitable conclusion, leaving the reader wondering what might be next for Kopriva.  Will he go up the ladder, or slip back into the snake pit? 

This is the second book in recent years that’s brought Humphrey Bogart to my mind.  This is his sort of story, and if there were an actor of that type around today, this book could make a confronting and probably prize-winning film.

“Zafiro” means sapphire in Spanish, and in the old days, sapphires were thought to be an antidote to poison.  I can’t help wonder if this author chose his nom de plume for the same reason, and exorcises some of what he’s experienced as a working copper through his writing.

Definitely worth the price of admission. (It’s available in print or as an e-book.)



Unraveled by Maggie Sefton

Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime

Reviewed by Robin Thomas, New Mystery Reader

Kelly Flynn is recovering from a broken heart with the help of her good friends, her passion for knitting and her successful accounting business. The real estate market in Colorado is in bad shape and things get worse when one of the most cutthroat real estate buyers is found dead in a house that he is considering to purchase. What appears to be suicide is actually murder and Kelly is back in the sleuthing business. An antique gun, a plot of land, and a family that has owned the land for over a century are the clues that Kelly follows to find the murderer. Aided by her fellow House of Lambspun knitters, Kelly helps the police to close the case.

Unraveled is the 9th book in the Kelly Flynn series. Maggie Sefton envelops the reader in the spectacular rugged beauty of Colorado and the wholesome warmth of the House of Lambspun. Romance is in the mountain air and at times seems to overpower the cozy mystery. Readers that are not followers of the series may be overwhelmed by the large number of secondary characters who are introduced very quickly as the story begins. The author wisely provides a listing of the cast of characters in the front of the book. Unraveled is an entertaining read for the romance as well as the cozy mystery lover.