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The Drifter’s Wheel by Phillip DePoy

Publisher: St. Martin’s Minotaur, 2008, ISBN:  9780312362034

Reviewed by LJ Roberts, New Mystery Reader

Folklorist Fever Devlin receives a visit from a man who is young in appearance but claims he is over 100 years old, and a veteran of the Civil War, whose uniform he is wearing and with a gun from the same period.  He tells Fever a story about traveling on the stream of time and of brother killing brother, then falls asleep sitting in the chair.  Devlin calls his friend, Sherriff Skidmore, turns back and the man has vanished. 

In the morning, he is called to identify a body found on the Jackson property.  The body is wearing the right clothes, looks very similar to the missing man, but isn’t the same one.  The coroner wants to declare it a suicide but Devlin and Skidmore know it was murder. 

Devlin, with the help of his English friend, Professor Dr. Winton Andrews, has 48 hours to find the killer.

DePoy has a wonderful, lyrical, evocative, haunting style.  The story captured me from the first sentence.  He has a way of describing the ordinary in a way that is extraordinary. 

His observations are both humorous and profound.  The sense of place is so strong; you are there with the characters.  The characters are so well developed, you can see and hear them.  The dialogue has a wonderful flow and banter, particularly between the two friends, Fever and Andrews, about whom you also learn more of their history. 

One thing I so enjoy about DePoy’s writing is that it reads on several levels while being filled with thoughtfulness and humor.  There is the mystery of the murder; the relationships of the characters; and the thoughts of “time travel,” memories and what holds us to life.  All these elements combine to make an excellent story and one that made me think.

 

 

 

A Moment of Silence by Anna Dean

Publisher: Allison & Busby,    ISBN:  074907910X

Reviewed by LJ Roberts, New Mystery Reader

Catherine Kent is engaged to Richard Montague.  During a special ball at Betsfield Hall, Richard reacts strongly to a red-headed man and then disappears.  Catherine’s father sends for his spinster sister, Miss Dido Kent. 

The same day Dido arrives, the body of a murdered woman is found under a hedge on the property and Dido decides it’s up to her to discover the killer.

Ms. Dean’s writing is literate, intelligent, funny and completely captivating.  I give her top marks for sense of time and place, as well as dialogue, which is delightfully appropriate to the period. Her observations on women, marriage and inheritance are done with a light, but informative, touch. 

Dido Kent is a wonderful protagonist.  She is smart and clever without being malicious; something of a Miss Marple of 1805, but better. I particularly enjoyed the letters to Dido’s sister, which convey Dido’s internal questions, observations and explorations.  All the characters come to life under Ms. Dean’s deft hand. 

The story is very well plotted.  Ms. Dean provides her readers all the clues as Dido uncovers them but, as one who let’s the protagonist solve the crime, I was delighted watching the solution unfold. 

Those who are fans of Jane Austin, traditional mysteries, and/or historical mysteries, should enjoy this book.  Personally, I loved it!

 

 

 

 

 

Exile Trust: A Frank Cole Mystery by Vincent H. O’Neil

Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books ISBN: 0-312-38064-X

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

Freelance fact-checker and reluctant private investigator Frank Cole is asked to track down safety deposit box owners by Exile, Florida Police Chief Denny Dammon. Cole is a former computer business owner now forced to take low-paying jobs due to legal troubles up north. Visiting lawyer / friend Mark Ruben warns Cole to distance himself from the safety deposit boxes since bank regulators would soon be involved.

With the Ollie Morton – the disorganized bank manager – this is not an easy task. Arriving at the bank, Cole is disturbed to see a haphazard operation to open and inventory the contents of unclaimed boxes. Immediately Cole is thrust in the middle of what he was warned against.

In his new vocation, Cole is learning the ins-and-outs of private investigation from lawyers, PI’s and others in the trade. The author goes into detailed accounts of such methods that benefit the main character and reader alike.

Characters are an aspect of the author’s style that give substance to what could be a dry procedural. Susan Wilmington is the fiercely protective bank employee given recent charge of the preparing the safety deposit boxes for the bank regulators. Gray Toliver –retired Navy accident investigator and Cole’s chess partner – jumps at Cole’s offer to help find the unknown owner of a Navy Cross left in a safety deposit box. Gray’s wife Emily shares her knowledge of Exile’s small town gossip with Cole. Add to that, a nemesis that Cole will probably encounter in later stories.

The preparation for the bank regulators is going well until a man claiming to be customer’s husband wants into a box. Since he had proper identification and a key he, is given access to a safety deposit box. Bothered by the incident, Susan asks Cole to look into the matter. Cole discovers that the woman died from a broken neck days before and her husband has been dead for more than a year. The women was disliked by most who her knew her and her husband was into numerous, questionable real estate deals.

To complicate matters even more, assistant DA Vera Cienfuegos demands that Cole be fired from the safety deposit box matter because of his ongoing legal difficulties. Then Susan admits that she failed to check the imposer’s signature when she allowed him access to box. Next enters the deceased real estate speculator’s former partner and Cole has plenty of suspects to look into.

The author keeps enough twists and turns for an interesting read. These include deaths that may or may not be murders, missing con artists, blackmail and more interest by the authorities than they’re willing to admit. Add a twist at the end and there’s plenty to keep the reader’s attention.

O’Neil’s style is somewhat a combination of Sherlock Holmes’ deductive style meets Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series docudrama.

 

 

Hell’s Gate by Richard E Crabbe

Publisher: St. Martin’s Minotaur  ISBN-10: 0312341598

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

If you like a book that unwinds in your mind’s eye like an old movie, you should find this one very satisfying.  There’s something about it that calls to mind Clark Gable in the original “San Francisco”.

The New York City of Mike Braddock, second generation cop, is tough, dangerous, and filled with crime of all sorts, from petty theft to prostitution to blackmail.    Particularly important to the economic life of the criminal element is the black-market.  Mike Braddock stumbles across something big in this line when he has a shoot-out with Smilin’ Jack O’Banion.  Jack dies with one word on his lips, a word that sends Mike into the depths of Hell’s Kitchen in search of the man who would be the new gang leader of all New York.  If he can be found and disposed of now, much future misery will be prevented.

Tracking down the elusive character known as The Bottler, Mike uses methods that wouldn’t pass these days: people with information who won’t give it up are dealt with by fists, boots, and guns.  There wasn’t any ACLU watching out for the rights of anyone in those days.  Mike learned from his father, Tom, who gets respect by being tougher than anybody else on the street.

As a back story to Mike’s crusade is his relationship with Ginny, who works in a bordello, but somehow has preserved a fresh and lovable personality. Ginny really cares for Mike, but it takes a crisis to push her into the bravest action she’s ever done: to walk away from the life of relative ease and get what is laughingly called ‘an honest job’ for $6 a week, sewing dresses.

The major event in the story is the real-life disaster, when the “General Slocum”  ferry boat sank with over a thousand fatalities.  This little-known disaster represented New York’s worst mass fatality for nearly a century, until the events of September 11th.  Crabbe ties this real event neatly into his fictional story.

This is a fascinating book that gives you an in-depth look into the New York that once was.  The characters are three-dimensional, some larger than life.  Somewhere out there there must be a film producer salivating in anticipation of the film awards this could bring him.

 

 

 

Escape From Amsterdam by Barrie Sherwood

Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books  ISBN 978 0 312 38040 3

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

The most amazing thing about this book is that it reads like one of the better modern Japanese woman writers, but is in fact penned by a male Englishman who was born in Hong Kong.

Like many of the modern Japanese books, this one is grim, bleak and in spots both frightening and depressing.  There is none of the ‘lightly Zen’ flavor of Inspector Sato, or the solid police procedural of Inspector Otani here.

The story focuses on the ne’er do well Aozora Fujiwara, a student who has managed to run up large gambling debts with some very tough people.  He’s facing some serious pain when his father advises that Aunt Okane’s estate is about to be settled.  The chance of getting enough money to pay off his debts and maybe start afresh is very compelling—but there’s a catch: Aozora’s sister Mai is equal heir with him.  Without her signature on the legal documents, no money will be released.

Simple solution: find Mai.  Problem: Mai has run off to the bright lights of the big city to pursue a singing career. Things haven’t gone to plan and she has ended up as a high-priced prostitute, ‘owned’ by a crime boss in the Amsterdam section of Kyoto.

How Aozora finds and rescues Mai forms the second half of the book.  As well as getting his sister away from the gangsters, Ao has to avoid the hired hurt-merchants of Mr Uno, the man he owes money to. This would probably be easier if he hadn’t smashed a fluorescent light tube in Mr Uno’s face.   And meanwhile, old Mr Fujiwara’s simple gall bladder operation has gone bad and the old man is dying, and desperate to see his children again.

There are very few light or jolly moments in this book, and almost no likable characters.  It is well-written, and at the very end there is cause for hope, but I sure wouldn’t recommend reading it on a grey cold day in February.

 

 

 

I Shall Not Want by Julia Spencer-Fleming

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur  ISBN-10: 0312334877

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Both Miller’s Kill, NY Reverend Clare Fergusson and Police Chief Russ Van Alstyne are still having difficulties getting past the murder of the chief’s wife not too long ago, a death that caused a serious, and perhaps irreparable, rip in their friendship.  But when the bodies of Latino men begin to be discovered in their small community, they’ll find their paths crossing once again as Clare tries to find out how it all might be connected to the burgeoning immigrant community and Russ just tries to find the killer.  Muddying the waters even more is Clare’s reenlistment with the Reserves and the new young female officer on the force who is causing quite a stir with her fellow male officers.  And as the two get closer to the very dangerous truth that may prove to be deadly, they’ll be forced to not only put their differences aside, but to once again confront the temptations that have always haunted them.

While the mystery itself in Spencer-Fleming’s latest in the series comes off as a bit uneven and oddly lacking in suspense, there are still plenty of other compelling reasons to make this a worthwhile read.  The new female officer is one of them, her vividly drawn character adding a refreshing spark to this already well-established and appealing cast.  There’s also the sweet love affair between a Latino immigrant and a white woman that plays out softly in the background, adding some relief from the sometimes tedious main plot of drugs, gangs, and the long-asked question of when the two main characters are going to give into temptation and finally seal the deal.  (To find out the answer to that one, you’ll have to read it for yourself.)  All in all, the pluses outweigh the minuses, making this another decent outing, and one that ends on a note that hints of yet even bigger challenges ahead.

 

 

The Unforgiving Eye by Beth Andrews

Publisher: Hale Books ISBN 978 0 7090 8572 0

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

This is another in the charming series featuring John and Lydia Savidge.  They are now married, but their wedding trip is interrupted by their overbearing friend Mrs Wardle-Penfield.  She wants them to investigate the murder of Sir Benedict Stanbury, who is the uncle of her godchild Portia.   Portia’s lover James Bromley is in jail for the murder, but Portia is very sure he is innocent.

John and Lydia use the pretext of delivering a gift from Mrs Wardle-Penfield to gain entry to Portia’s home, and it isn’t long before she insists that they stay and help her prove James’s innocence.

The Savidges promise to give three days to the investigation.  Those days are packed with interviews of everyone in the family and all the servants and the family lawyer as well.  At the end of the time they have accumulated a great deal of information and formed several conflicting views of Sir Ben before hitting on the key to his personality, which also one of the keys to the crime.  Sometimes the person who dies isn’t the person who was meant to die, and it is a chance sartorial mixup on the third day that suddenly shows John and Lydia what really happened in the little stone temple in the garden.

Set in rural England in 1818, this story should appeal to historical mystery buffs and also those who like Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen’s works.  Andrews uses enough quaint words from the time (such as ‘bosom-bow’ to describe a best friend) to flavor the story without overwhelming the reader with incomprehensible archaisms.  

 

 

 

Fixation by Mark Schorr

Publisher: St Martins Minotaur/Thomas Dunne Books   ISBN 978 0 312 35916 4

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Who better to counsel the deeply disturbed than one who has experienced traumatic events himself and survived?

Brian Hanson went through post-traumatic stress syndrome after the Viet Nam war, and like many other survivors took up drug and alcohol abuse to try and cope with his memories.  When that didn’t work, he was one of the lucky ones who salvaged a life and made a career helping other sufferers.  He’s got a home, a demanding but rewarding career and a girlfriend, Louise, who’s an FBI agent.

Fresh from a hair’s-breadth rescue of a suicidal patient, Brian hears on the radio that there’s been a botched FBI raid on a white supremacist hideout and a female FBI agent has been killed.   The gut-wrenching panic he feels at this news helps him to realise just how much Louise means to him, so he’s extremely relieved to learn that it is not she who was killed.  However, she’s being blamed for the way the assault went wrong.  While she’s under suspension, Louise starts experiencing weird events.  Her wallet is stolen in church, and then she starts getting things she hasn’t ordered: DVDs, pizzas, and, most worrying, a Cayman Island bank account. 

The bank account comes to the attention of the FBI, or course, and Louise is in deep, deep trouble.  Brian tries to help find out who has set her up, meanwhile juggling his overload of cases, all of them dealing with some very disturbed—and disturbing—people.

This is a book that delves deeply into the dark corners of mentally and emotionally ill people, and Schorr bring to bear his many years as a psychotherapist, which makes the story read almost a documentary in some sections. 

It’s not the sort of book you’d give a depressed friend, but it is a very involving and well-written one. 

 

 

 

Ambush by Paul Carson

Publisher: St Martin’s Press ISBN 978 0 312 36711 4

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader

This is a revenge story with a difference: the man who has lost everything isn’t a Rambo-type, not a Charles Bronson clone, he’s a doctor, a pediatric specialist, and he wouldn’t know an Uzi from a wishbone.

That all changes when Scott Nolan’s adored wife Laura is shot on the streets of Dublin  by contract killers who are gunning for Scott.  They have been paid to kill him in order to cripple Justice Minister Harry Power’s anti-drug campaign, of which Scott has been a very effective and very public part.

When Laura dies, Scott is devastated.  All he has left in life that means anything is his work with serious ill children, and even that is taken away when the hospital makes it clear that Scott is too dangerous to have around any longer, no matter how skilled he is.

Laura’s brother Mark Higgins thinks Scott is responsible for Laura’s death, and wishes he could force him to swap places with his dead sister.  Scott would happily do that if he could, but since that’s not an option, he makes a proposal to Mark.  He’s got a plan for revenge, and he knows it will work if Mark and his superiors in the police support it.  It involves some sophisticated drugs that aren’t officially in existence; an unmarked van; and a secure location somewhere.

Gritting his teeth and swallowing his hatred of Scott, Mark throws his support into the project and manages to convince the higher ups that this is a workable plan.   A good plan is only as good as the weakest member of the team carrying it out, of course, and when things start to get messy, one of the links starts to slip.  This puts Scott and Mark in the way of serious danger.  Will they survive to see Laura’s killer face to face?

This is a fast-moving, exciting story that gives you a guilty thrill as the good guys close in on the bad guys.    It’s a really good twist on the revenge and retribution theme.  Wouldn’t we all like to be able, just once, to step outside the law and mete out much-deserved punishment to the evil ones who lurk in the dark alleys of society? 

 

 

 

Eight in the Box by Raffi Yessayan

Publisher: Ballantine Books  ISBN-10: 0345502612

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

When police are called in to investigate the case of a young and successful woman who has gone missing, there’s little doubt left that she’s most likely dead when investigators find her bathtub full of blood.  But without a body, there’s not a whole lot of evidence to indicate what might have caused her death, much less who might have killed her.  And when this case is followed by others much the same, Boston investigators must face the fact that they have a serial killer on their hands, one whose motive is unknown, but one whose identity might just eventually prove to be all too familiar as it could be one of their very own.

The plot from Yessayan’s debut novel isn’t much different from so many that have come before and so it would take something very special to distinguish it from the pack, such as outstanding characterization or a novel narration that is compelling on its own.  Unfortunately, this really has neither.  After turning the last page, most readers will get the sense that the book has mostly relied on its “shocking” ending to carry the entire read; however, most will also have seen the ending coming long before its dramatic unveiling, making it feel like getting there has just a matter of going through the motions. And, ironically, it’s because of this very goal to keep the reader guessing “who done it,” that Yessayan is forced into making every character equally despicable, resulting in a read that is rather unpleasant all the way through.  But, keep in mind, this is a debut novel, so there is hope that next time out Yessayan will come a bit closer to hitting that spot that will entice readers to want more.

 

 

 

Rules, Regs and Rotten Eggs by H R F Keating

Publisher: St Martins Minotaur ISBN 978 0 31237533 6

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

This is what may be the final in the DS Harriet Martens series.  There is an elegiac quality to the story, which details Harriet’s most difficult case to date, involving as it does powerful people in high places, people who have been raised in the belief that they are above the law.

Previously known as “the Hard Detective”, Harriet has taken a while to recover form the death of her son Graham, who was following in his mother’s footsteps in police work  when a terrorist’s bomb took his life.  She’s on top of things now, she thinks, but has to battle her new chief to be allowed to hang onto the case she caught almost by accident, the attempted assassination of Robert Roughhouse,  a pro-hunting MP who has a lot of enemies. 

Harriet happens on a street demonstration and sees the rotten eggs of the title being flung at Roughhouse—unfortunately, one of them is an egg-shaped grenade.  Robert is whisked off to the hospital and just as quickly removed from there and locked up in a high security very expensive private clinic.  It seems a bunch of his old school friends feared for his safety and took his care into their own hands.  Sadly, it hasn’t worked, and before Harriet can find out much from Robert, he is found suffocated with his own pillow.  Aided and sometimes hindered by her assigned assistant, known as Bolshy Bill, Harriet starts investigating who wanted Robert Roughhouse dead besides the obvious candidates, the friends of local foxes.

All the scanty clues point back to the same exclusive boys school, and to a small inner circle at the school which has continued to bind the former school boys into their adult lives.  Some of them are very important people indeed, and Harriet not only has to battle her way through the enchanted briar patch of corporate security, she has to fight her own boss for the privilege of solving the case.  He can’t believe that an important corporate giant would stoop to murder, heaven forefend!

Harriet knows better, and despite the growing unease among her superiors, perseveres until she forces the issue.    There’s a stunning final scene where Bolshy Bill proves his worth after many a day of dumb insolence. 

It will be interesting to see if this is the final in the series, or if Keating has a different direction for the Hard Detective in her next outing.  You need to pay careful attention while reading, as much of the action takes place inside Harriet’s head, and there aren’t any italics or quotation marks to guide you.  Highly recommended.

 

 

 

 

 

The Blood Detective by Dan Waddell

Publisher: St Martin’s Minotaur ISBN: 0312378904

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Yet another really intriguing book from the St Martins Minotaur stable, something really unusual in a mystery, which will keep you guessing until the last few pages.

Nigel Barnes, who calls himself a family historian rather than a genealogist, has fled back to the musty rooms of research from his brief adventure as a university teacher.  Nigel’s been hurt, and he’s going around in a sort of fog—until the day that Detective Superintendent Heather Jenkins rings him up and asks for his help with tracing a murder victim.

Heather and her boss, DCI Foster, have discovered that a serial killer is working in London.  With Nigel’s help, they discover that the victims are all tied in somehow to  a murder  trial back in 1879.  Nigel is as familiar with old records and news sources as Heather and Foster are with the data base at New Scotland Yard.  Before long, he is deeply involved with the case, and beginning to wish to be involved with Heather, and not just on a professional basis.

Nigel thinks he can predict where the next body might be found—in fact, he might be able to help stop the killer’s committing the murder.  Unfortunately, a last minute glitch due to the changes in the London Underground  system mean that what is finally located is yet another dead body.   This time the murder victim is an MP’s sister, and this puts the case front and centre in the news.

The pressure is really on Foster and his team to solve the murders fast—and then he disappears.  Only Nigel has the required skills to piece together where the Foster has gone—and it’s going to be a life and death race to get to him before the killer commits his final horrendous crime.

This book has its very gruesome moments, but they are integral to the plot and well balanced by the academic research undertaken by Nigel and his amateur helpers.  Highly recommended as something quite different, and yet containing the best  bits of a police procedural.

 

 

 

In the Heat by Ian Vasquez

Publisher:  St Martin’s Minotaur  ISBN 978 0 312  37809 7

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

You’re an almost washed up boxer, you’ve come home to Belize to care for your small child; you’ve lost your last fight and haven’t got much to look forward to, and then somebody offers you a job to find her missing teenage daughter and the cash she absconded with.  What do you do?

You think it over very hard, but when they sweeten the pot with the news that you have a shot at another fight, one that will net you $30,000, well.......

Miles Young suspects from the start that there’s more to this set-up than is obvious.  Isabelle Gilmore’s daughter Rian has run off with Marlon Tablada’s son Joel, and there’s a lot of cash missing also.  Tablada is a hard man, a dangerous man, a connected man, and it isn’t long before Miles finds out just how bad an enemy Tablada can be.  Miles is badly injured while investigating where the missing teenagers have gone, and it’s not unlikely that if he keeps on, he might be killed.

Pride keeps Miles going, and later, anger, when he discovers that someone he trusted is part of the crooked set-up.  The only way out of the increasing danger is for Miles to think smarter than the crooks, and to find a way to get some of them to suspect the others of double-dealing.   If he can make a few bucks along the way, so much the better.

This is a first novel from Vasquez, but it is certain not to be his last.  Having set Miles up with a new career as an investigator, surely he will want to know what happens next, and share it with the reading public.

 

 

 

Old School Bones by Randall Peffer

Publisher: Bleak House Books  ISBN-10: 1932557857

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

When the body of New England prep student Liberty Baker is found, authorities and school officials are convinced it’s suicide.  And while at first faculty advisor and dorm “mother” Awasha Patterson is willing to go with the ruling, she’s soon convinced by Liberty’s best friend Grace that the death was in fact a murder.  It turns out Liberty had been investigating rumors that suggested the school had a history of secret societies; one, in particular, that might have been responsible for a young girl’s disappearance years before, and one that to this day might still exist. 

So Awasha turns to Michael DeCastro, lawyer now turned fisherman, a man who’s seen his own share of pain and the consequences of keeping deadly secrets, to help them find the truth.  But the truth might bring more than answers to these slightly damaged seekers, because it seems that everyone involved has some hidden shame and anguish still lurking from their pasts – and for some, the shame might be deep enough to drive them to murder.

The fact that Peffer includes Holden Caufield in his dedication should tell you right off the bat that this is one author who is going to go deep beneath the surface of his character’s lives with poignancy, gentle compassion, and understanding.  So yes, while the plot itself is suspenseful, daring, provocative, and moving, it’s these characters who make this the wonderfully enticing journey what it is.  Peffer manages to get into the hearts and souls of these distinctly different characters with such ease that each stands out as being both brilliantly unique and entirely convincing.  It’s rare to come upon an author who knows his characters so well, and who has the courage to follow them - good or bad - where they need to go, but Peffer does this - even as he simultaneously keeps his plot focused and thrilling all the way to the end.  One of the best books of the year, don’t miss this stunning achievement in literate mystery.