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The Practice of Deceit by Elizabeth Benedict

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin ISBN: 0618563717

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader 

New York psychotherapist Eric Lavender is happy with having reached his mid-forties and having never married.  But when his father dies and he meets the stunning and wily Colleen who has a young daughter, his interest begins to veer towards the thoughts of finally having a family.  And so when Colleen announces she is pregnant, he dives right in and makes it a reality.  Things go smoothly, at first, with the birth of their daughter, and Eric's relocation to the suburbs of the upper middle class, with Eric being pleasantly surprised at how much he adores his new lifestyle. 

But everything is soon about to turn when Eric begins to question his wife's ethics involving a client that they have in common.  And the closer he looks the more he begins to see that all is not right with his wife, that she has secrets she's been hiding, and lies she's been telling.  And the closer he gets to the truth, the more vindictive Colleen becomes, placing Eric's newfound happiness into a nightmare of epic proportions.       

Writing in the first person, Benedict convincingly nails the perspective of a die-hard bachelor who surprises himself by falling in love with domesticity, family, the suburbs, and all the cozy accoutrements that any self respecting aging lothario would run screaming from.  A man who thinks his concessions and sacrifices, along with his grudging submission to contentment, has somehow rendered him immune to the pitfalls of those he treats, his surprise at having it all turned on him is made that much more convincing.  But even more interesting is how Benedict turns the tables in the gender game, devising a Machiavellian plot that if perpetuated by a man would be, if not understood, at least accepted.  And in the hands of her female villain, it somehow seems that much more treacherous for the rage that begets it.  Authentic motivations and characters that are both despicable and engaging make this a realistic excursion into the havoc a woman can wreak if holding the right amount of power.  Highly recommended, and sure to make any bachelor think twice about marriage, this is a suspenseful and provocative look at the intricacies and dangers of intimacy with the wrong person.

 

The Black Angel by John Connelly

Publisher: Atria ISBN: 0743487869

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader

Supernatural thrillers are tough sells to lovers of hard-boiled crime fiction. We demand a certain realism and grit; invoking the supernatural implies operating on a level apart from those mean streets. Hard-boiled readers like their plots grounded; dead men stay dead, unless they were only pretending. In the supernatural, the suspension of disbelief is raised at least one level; characters are only as dead as the author needs them to be.

Unless the author is John Connelly. In The Black Angel, Connelly continues his successful series of Charlie Parker novels, upping the ante once more to move Parkerís character closer to his destiny. Part The Da Vinci Code, part Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, part The Maltese Falcon, Connolly has a story with potential to be more compelling in the idea than in the execution. In his hands itís a fascinating tale that defies the readerís belief without straining his credulity.

The story begins with the taking of Alice, a young prostitute who her kidnappers assume will not be missed. They are, of course, wrong. Alice is the cousin of Parkerís friend and Hawk-equivalent, Louis, who is not about to let her go gentle into the not-so-good night, for conflicting reasons of his own. Parker is torn between helping his friend and holding together a budding new family.

To say the scope of The Black Angel is broad is like saying Paris Hilton get too much publicity: itís true, but a woefully inadequate description. The novelís topics range from the horrifically beautiful ossuary at Sedlec, Czechoslovakia, to the apocryphal Book of Enoch (an alternate to the traditional Genesis); from evil angels buried for centuries, to a quiet Maine town where Parker has hoped to resurrect his life. Everyoneís motives are open to question in a responsible way: they all have unique perspectives and interests. No cast member is ever contrary just to move the plot.

And what a cast it is. Parker is as capable a protagonist as any currently working; Spenser without the invincibility, Elvis Cole with a darker side. Louis, Angel, Walter, and Rachel are all treated with importance appropriate to their roles. Each is a fully-formed individual, and we learn enough about their backgrounds and personalities to believe everything they say and do. Even the evil Brightwell and his accomplices have responsibilities beyond destruction; their violence, while gruesome, is never mindless.

Connolly rolls out an impressive arsenal of skills to do the heavy lifting required to keep The Black Angel from becoming just another Dungeons and Dragons with a gumshoe. Shifting perspective from first person to third is in vogue; Connolly actually makes it work. The entire voice of the writing changes as the reader is let into the perception of each character in turn.

Make no mistake, this is Parkerís book; his story is told in the first person, and Charlie Parker is a hero well-suited to be the readerís guide: flawed, unsure, knowing that if he goes with Louis his fragile relationship may not wait for him, yet unable to shirk the loyalty he feels to Louis. Best of all, he doesnít whine about it. Connelly knows exactly how much Parker may decry his fate without becoming maudlin. The readerís glimpses into other characterís heads serves to increase the tension over Parkerís welfare, not as a lazy excuse to provide information he doesnít have.

The Black Angel  treads a line that marks the edge of a slippery slope in crime fiction with the sureness of a tightrope walker working without a net. There are wobbles here and there (usually when a change of voice isnít as well-delineated as it might be), but they donít detract from the strength of the performance as a whole. If youíre looking for something a little different in your crime fiction, The Black Angel is the place to start.

And for Dana's review of The Killing Kind, another great outing from Connelly just follow the link: The Killing Kind by John Connelly