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June new mystery book reviews in paperback.  Click on titles for buying info.

The Lord God Bird by Russell Hitt

Publisher: Caravel Books/Pleasure Boat Studios   ISBN 978 1 929355 53 2

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

This is a story of obsession, love and the terrible price one may be required to pay for a dream.

Jack Hamrick grew up in the 1940’s with a desire to see a live Ivory-billed Woodpecker, a bird so rare that it was thought to be extinct by 1944.

Jake’s very quick on his mental feet, but not patient enough to put up with the slow slog of public education in Illinois.  He teachers himself ornithology and taxidermy and works at a menial job while dreaming of seeing the woodpecker.

Jake meets Robin, who against all odds joins him in his dream.  Cashing up everything they own, the two of them set off for the deep woods of Louisiana, to find the Lord God Bird, so named by Theodore Roosevelt because when people saw it they were so amazed they’d exclaim ‘Lord God!’

Robin becomes even more driven than Jake to find the fabled bird, and he soon finds himself being pulled along in the wake of her nearly pathological determination. She demands, and he makes, a crow feather cloak. She crops her hair and dyes the top red and mousses it into a crest, like that of the woodpecker.  She climbs a tree and makes the wild sad cry of the perhaps extinct bird.  Days go by, more trees are climbed and the local folk begin talking.

One incredible day, a real Ivory-billed Woodpecker answers Robin’s call—only to be shot by a local low-life whose answer for everything is a gun.  Almost by reflex, Jakes fires his .22 from the bushes where he’s been keeping watch.  The man is carried away by his companion, alive but brain-injured, (or more brain-injured than he was already).  Later the sheriff comes calling, pretty sure that Jake’s responsible, but not yet able to prove it.

The second half of the book relates Jake and Robin’s long, dangerous trip through bug-infested swamps, where they meet with unexpected kindness and sympathy from the poor black people who scratch a living in the bayous.  Ironically, at one point Jakes gets some work for a logging company, the very sort of operation whose habitat destruction has led to the woodpeckers’ presumed extinction.

Jake eventually gets home to Illinois and expects to find Robin there before him, but no-one’s seen her. He must go back south and try to rescue her from the prison of his dream, now her nightmare.

This is a strange, occasionally depressing, but marvelous book, reminiscent of “The Yearling”.  The author’s lifelong devotion to the English language shines through even the darkest passages.

Footnote: in 2005 there were several reliable sightings of the Lord God Bird in the hardwood forests of Arkansas.  Perhaps the dream lives on.

 

 

The Book of Lies by Brad Meltzer

Publishers: Grand Central Publishing,  ISBN: 0446616141

Reviewed by Narayan Radhakrishnan, New Mystery Reader

First things first- THE BOOK OF LIES is not a sequel to THE BOOK OF FATE, Brad Meltzer’s bestselling novel of 2006. Save for the deceptively sequel-sounding title, and the fact that this also is a history-fantasy thriller, there is nothing similar in plot or story in these two books.

I have enjoyed the Brad Meltzer legal thrillers. But in the last couple of years Meltzer has somewhat abandoned the genre, and unlike other lawyer-authors who have sought greener pastures writing about what they do not know, Meltzer has achieved success in a genre little known to most lawyer-authors -the historical genre. The author here has combined his love of comics (Meltzer has also a comic Last Will and Testament to his credit) and a passion for history in a new novel that is surely going to be a widely read book of 2008.

This time around the author focuses his attention to the second greatest mystery of the Bible: What happened to the weapon with which Cain killed Abel? (The first greatest mystery is of course of that of the Holy Grail- a theme explored in The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown). The weapon was thought to be lost to history, but it seems that the murder weapon had eventually reached the hands of one Mitchell Siegel. Mitchell Siegel was unfortunately murdered in 1932 following a gunshot wound to his chest. His son Jerry, an artistic genius, took the death hard and had always wondered: What if there existed a man on whom bullets would do no harm; a man with powerful lazar vision, a man with the speed of light, a man with the ability to fly, etc…?  And so eventually Jerry created one such man. Yup, I am speaking about Jerry Siegel and his wonderful creation Superman-the world’s first superhero.

The murder of Mitchell Siegel has always remained a mystery, and so what was it that was unknown? Was he killed for possessing the world’s oldest murder weapon?  It’s up to Cal Harper and his father Lloyd to find out the truth- by not only uncovering what was behind a 1932 murder, but also by taking a ride back into the Biblical times and seeking out the clues there.  Taking this trip, Brad Meltzer astounds us with these answers in THE BOOK OF LIES, and the finish is, without mincing words, fantabulous. I enjoyed the book so very much.  And Mr. Meltzer, if you are reading this, I would like to read a historical- legal thriller from your pen.

 

 

 

Sucker Punch by Sammi Carter

Publisher:  Berkley Prime Crime ISBN:  978-0-425-22706-0

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

If you have a sweet tooth for murder you will definitely enjoy Sucker Punch by talented author Sammi Carter.  Valentines Day looms over Paradise, Colorado, but it turns out to be a day perfect for anything but love.

Arrogance in the form of Laurence Nichols and his agent Geoffrey Manwaring causes problems for candy shop owner Abby Shaw when murder interrupts a play being staged by Abby’s friends and one of them is suspected of murder.  Abby sets out to prove the friend’s innocence and is nearly a victim herself when her new love comes to her rescue. But things don’t work out the way he plans.

The combination of characters and interesting settings give a varied flavor to the story as well as the delicious recipes, all of which will make the reader want to try all the sweets included while working on the puzzle of who the killer is. 

A fun read all the way through, guaranteed to satisfy even the pickiest mystery buff, I’m pleased to highly recommend Sucker Punch.  Join me in looking for her other works.  Happy reading.

 

 

Another Man’s Moccasins by Craig Johnson

Publisher: Penguin  ISBN-0413115529

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Small time Absaroka County, Wyoming Sheriff Walt Longmire might initially look like a laid-back lawman with his gentlemanly manners and tendency towards compassion.  But as fans of the series discovered with his last outing, there’s more than one layer to this onion.  And in this latest, Johnson reveals yet another darker one when Longmire is forced to revisit his past in Vietnam when the body of young Vietnamese woman is discovered on the side of the road, and in her possession, a picture of the him as the young soldier he was years before.  And so Longmire will have to look deep into his past, including the unsolved death of another young Vietnamese woman he had once befriended, to discover if the deaths of these two innocent woman may somehow be related, and if so, how?

Alternating between then and now, Johnson provides the reader with a powerful glimpse of what it must have been like then to be caught in the middle of a situation with very few winners, and what it must be like now to live with the ambiguity that still must haunt those that came back alive.  And it’s with this provocatively honest approach, filled with unanswered questions and unresolved issues, that he creates a mystery that manages to be both judicious and absorbing.  If you’ve never read a Longmire mystery, you might want to start now; this is one guy who doesn’t shirk from the big questions, and one who’s not afraid of much- except maybe a good looking woman – but one who approaches both with a gentle humor and sincerity that is striking all on its own.  Kudos to Johnson, he’s done it again!

 

 

Publisher:  Berkley Prime Crime  ISBN:  978-0-425-22838-8

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

The Tarzana Hookers, a local group of crocheting lovers, are baffled when they find an unknown bag of crafts left behind at their table at a local fund raiser.  When no one claims it, Molly Pink who works in the local book store becomes charged with finding the owner and returning the bag to him or her.  A mystery made more enticing when an examination of the contents shows it to be piece of filet crochet with a scrawled diary entry.

While at first the crochet piece designs don’t seem connected, a further study shows them to be a message of some sort, and so Molly decides to find the answer to the message’s meaning in hopes to find the owner. 

With the help of other knitters and a few other unexpected sources, Molly soon breaks the code of the designs, but in the process nearly winds up as a murder victim. 

A delightful combination of knitting information and murder, By Hook or By Crook by talented author Betty Hechtman will keep you reading. You’ll enjoy meeting the members of the knitting circle and may actually wish to join them.  I’m pleased to recommend this cozy and well told read that will satisfy any mystery fan.  

 

 

 

Angel’s Advocate by Mary Stanton

Publisher: Berkeley Crime ISBN 978 0425 228753

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

This is the much-awaited second book in what we hope will be a series about young lawyer Bree Winston-Beaufort, a girl with a lot of spirit.   Or spirits.  Since inheriting her uncle’s law firm in Savannah, Bree has divided her time between ordinary legal cases and things to do with a Higher Court—and I don’t mean the Supreme Court. 

In this new adventure, Bree is juggling two cases, one apparently a fairly mundane simple assault and theft case committed by a young girl with more money than brains, and the second an appeal against the decision of the Celestial Court which has consigned a man to the 9th circle of Hell.  The two cases come together when Bree realises that the girl’s bad behaviour ties in with something that happened before her late father died in an apparent accident.  The accident was murder; Bree determines that pretty fast, but convincing the police is quite another matter.

Besides the usual legal work, Bree is having to watch her back all the time because a malign spirit has left its grave in the cemetery next to her office and is stalking her.  The Powers That Be can’t fight her battles for her, but they do lend her a pair of spooky big black dogs, which get Bree into a few embarrassing moments.  Her own dog, Sasha, who is also a partially supernatural creature, takes these newcomers with equanimity, but most other people find them rather scary, including Bree’s sister Antonia, who doesn’t know a lot about Bree’s other career, but is beginning to suspect.  Bree’s support staff, all beings from the bright side of the life-after-death realm, are back again, including the squabbling Ron and Petru, her secretary and research assistant.

This is a cheery romp through the fringes of the Other World, based on a rather original premise, and is highly recommended as a good way to while away a dull evening.

 

 

Hell Hole by Chris Grabenstein

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur  ISBN-10: 0312565615

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Sea side resorts of New Jersey aren’t usually a hot bed of crime, so when Danny Boyle and his partner are called to quiet down a loud party, it seems to be just another case of summer beach tourists gone crazy, with this latest involving a group of soldiers just returning from a tour in Iraq.  But when a call is received by one of the partying soldiers that one of their fellow troop members has been found dead by an apparent suicide in a bathroom stall in a nearby rest stop, Boyle is drawn to look into the scene.  Feeling that something isn’t right, he talks fellow officer John Ceepak into investigating what he feels might just be foul play, an investigation that will lead these small town cops into a conspiracy that reaches far beyond their expectations.

There’s not much, if anything, readers won’t like about this latest Grabenstein outing.  Written in a first person narrative with a style that makes the reader feel like they might be viewing it just outside of camera range, combined with an enticing sense of humor that only further solidifies the feeling of having an inside scoop on what’s going on, Grabenstein manages to draw the reader in so effortlessly that any noise from the outside world seems like an affront to the senses.  This is a location you’ll want to visit, heroes/heroines you’ll want to know, villains you’ll want to put in the pokey, and a world you’ll want to return to.  An amazing read, this shouldn’t be missed.   

(For interview with Chris Grabenstein) 

 

 

 

 

Wishbones by Carolyn Haines

Publisher:  Minotaur Books   ISBN:  0312377096

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader 

Sarah Booth Delaney packs up and heads to Hollywood to test for a role in a remake of Body Heat.  Her opposite in the film is an old lover and actor from her New York City days.  Can she forget her love for her home town sheriff and find new love with him?

The cast and crew assemble and the cameras begin to roll.  However, there is someone who doesn’t want it to go forward.  A man is hurt, property is damaged, the house is reputed to be haunted, a woman is pushed downstairs. There are several suspects; even Sarah is questioned as if she has a motive. Using her PI skills, Sarah tries to determine if the film is cursed or not.

Talented author Carolyn Haines gives the reader a delightful look into the world of make believe and those who believe it to be the world of reality. Join Sarah as she finds behind the glitz and glamour can be the face of danger.  The question is, of course, which face and why.

Lots of clues, both true and false, lots of action, lots of romance and a tale played out by a cast of likeable and not so likeable characters you will enjoy meeting.  You’ll want to know if Sarah will remain in Hollywood or not. 

Recommended highly for any mystery buff or  suspense fan who enjoys a very good tale that will capture your imagination and hold your interest from start to finish.  Enjoy.  I sure did.

 

 

 

The Diva Takes the Cake by Krista Davis

Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime  ISBN-10: 0425228401

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Hannah is getting married—again!  Her family hopes number three will be good luck but once the wedding week starts, her luck runs out.  First, she learns that her fiancé Craig had an ex-wife when the first Mrs. Beacham is murdered on the prissy neighbor’s pergola.  Unfortunately for Hannah and her long-suffering family, this is just the first unhappy surprise during the festivities.

Hannah’s lucky charm remains her older sister and wedding planner, Sophie, who is dealing with her own issues while receiving steadfast support from only her happy dog Daisy and playful ocicat Mochie.  Struggling to maintain her relationship with police detective Wolf Fleishman while battling for control over the wedding plans with her Martha Stewart-wannabe neighbor, Sophie will do anything to protect her kid sister from secretive fiancés, party crashers, and starkly unflattering modern wedding décor. 

The large cast of relatives and their accompanying quirks will ring true with readers and lovingly described baked concoctions punctuate the pages.  It’s entertaining to read about Sophie’s struggles with her jealous neighbor, Natasha—since it’s only fiction.  True to the genre, recipes and cooking tips related to Hannah’s planned wedding are included along with wedding planning advice from both Sophie and Natasha.  Fans of cozy mysteries soft on gore, full of relationship missteps, and accented by winsome rescue dogs will feast on The Diva Takes the Cake.

 

 

A Fatal Waltz by Tasha Alexander

Publisher: Harper Paperbacks   ISBN  0061174238

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

If you’ve ever wanted to spend New Years’ Eve in Vienna; if you’ve ever watched “The Last night of the Proms”, or even if you feel Sacher-torte is the drug of choice for Seasonal Affective Disorder, than you should enjoy this book.

Starting at the English country house of the odious Lord Fortescue, one of those pillars of late Victorian society and government, the story ranges between London and Vienna before a surprise ending in Greece.

Fortescue is murdered and the only viable suspect is his protege, Robert Brandon.  Robert’s wife Ivy begs her best friend Lady Emily Ashton to help—it won’t be enough just to get the charge dropped, the real criminal must be identified if Robert, Ivy and their unborn child are to have any sort of future.

Packing a few hundred pounds of necessary clothing and escorted by her friends Jeremy, Duke of Bainbridge, and Cecile du Lac (who happens to be friends with the Empress Elizabeth of Austria), Emily dashes off for Vienna.  She has learned of a mysterious letter which could clear Robert—and she has an ulterior motive.  In Vienna resides the fabulously beautiful Countess von Lange who was once close friends with Emily’s fiance Colin Hargreaves.  Just how close? wonders Emily.

As her investigations proceed, Emily meets a host of famous or not-yet-famous people including Gustav Klimt , and is constantly coming across the mysterious and sinister Mr Harrison, who amuses himself by leaving bullets where she will know that he can reach her—or anyone dear to her—whenever he wants.  Harrison wants Emily to go home and stop poking into the past and makes it clear that if she continues to try and clear Robert, it may prove fatal for Colin.

This is a lovely, lavish read, full of gowns and grand meals and romance, but with a solid foundation of the politics of the day: the desperate nihilists, the starving artists, the hare-brained socialites and all.  Escape from the humdrum and dismal 21st Century for a while; read this book.

 

 

Angel’s Tip by Alafair Burke

Publisher: Harper ISBN-10: 006156124X

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

When after a night of partying in one of New York City’s exclusive clubs a beautiful, young, female college student is found dead, detectives Ellie Hatcher J.J. Rogan are sure the culprit must be one of men she met during her last night in New York City.  And it isn’t too long after that Jake Myers is arrested, a wealthy young hedge fund manager.  But when 3 cold cases that occurred 10 years previously bearing the same MO catch Ellie’s attention, it becomes clear that there might just be a killer, who after a ten year hiatus, is once again stalking the clubs of New York City for another round of beautiful young victims.

By calling on the set of fears elicited by the latest and greatest boogie man in the closet, in this case the handsome stranger in a bar who might or might not be a psychopath, Burke gets back to the basics of what has always made any contemporary mystery alarmingly relevant and thus more frightening.  And by bringing back the engaging Ellie Hatcher, who now must begin to question her own lifestyle that doesn’t seem too different from those of the victims, Burke injects another dose of immediacy for the reader.  With the second in this new series, this talented author easily outdoes even herself in a story that will not only keep you guessing throughout, but just might make you think twice before accepting the attention from the next good looking stranger you meet.

 

 

 

Ghostwriter by Travis Thrasher

Publisher: Faith Words ISBN 978 0 446 50558 1

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

All writers know the dreadful experience of writer’s block, but it’s particularly hard on those who’ve written a best seller and now have a publisher breathing down their necks demanding the next blockbuster.  It’s understandable, if not perhaps forgivable, if a writer gives in to temptation and passes off another person’s manuscript as his own.

Dennis Shore did that, but now the chickens have come home to roost. Well, maybe not chickens, maybe more like vultures.  Dennis writes horror stories, and now he seems to be trapped inside one partly of his own making.  The real author of his last big book is haunting him, and the longer it continues, the more fragile Dennis’s hold on sanity becomes.

Alone in the world since his beloved wife died and his daughter went away to college, Dennis rattles around in a big empty house where he is vulnerable to hallucinations cast up by a guilty imagination.  But is he imagining the increasingly horrifying things that happen to him?  He gets the definitive answer to than when he wakes up in a cold, deserted barn, torn and bleeding and tied with electrical wire.  Worse still, his daughter, who has become concerned about his apparent mental breakdown, is a prisoner as well.  Nothing good awaits either of them, of that Dennis is certain.

This is a spooky story that deals with some big themes: loss—of faith, love and creativity—guilt; honesty and vengeance.  For all that, it has some surprisingly uplifting moments.  Christian readers particularly will find Dennis Shore resonates with them, although he’s no goody-goody and this isn’t a sweetness-and-light exercise.  Definitely worth a few hours’ reading time.

 

 

 

Russian Roulette by Austin Camacho

Publisher: Intrigue Publishing  ISBN-10: 0979478847

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader

Hannibal Jones made his first appearance in Austin Camacho’s debut novel, Troubleshooter. Camacho’s newest effort, Russian Roulette, is Hannibal’s fifth appearance, and he’s as unflappable as ever. A more or less traditional tough guy, Hannibal knows not to be any tougher than necessary, as well as when he’s not tough enough for the situation. Sometimes in over his head, he’ll tread water until he can sort things out.

Aleksandr Ivanovich is a hit man for the Russian mob, trained to fight Chechens by the Soviet Army. His infatuation with his old boss’s daughter, Viktoriya, brings him to Hannibal with a request more often made by a member of the family: to see if her betrothed is worthy of her. Ivanovich can’t do it himself. He’s too well known to too many of the people involved, and he lacks the prerequisite subtlety. Hannibal has neither disqualification, which means he won’t have to shoot half a dozen people to get a simple answer.

Camacho writes thrillers, so expect in advance the answers won’t be that simple. Getting them is complicated even more by the premature deaths of those who have them. Hannibal is a reluctant user of deadly force, but is more than able to take care of himself if a beat down is all that’s needed. Unlike too many thriller heroes, this ability gives him the confidence not to feel as though he has to break a bone every other chapter just to feel manly.

Russian Roulette has a satisfyingly complex plot that never morphs into the stereotypical mob story. Hannibal and Ivanovich gain respect for each other as professionals, though Aleksandr’s occupation is never trivialized into, “killing people happens to be his job.” He was trained to do it from a young age, and believes his destiny has been set. He shows enough smarts to understand there’s more out there, but also enough emotional immaturity not to understand what that might be. Not the villain, not a good guy, he’s a solid character to drive the story.

The little crew of irregulars that sometimes helps Hannibal and was used most effectively in Troubleshooter is missing here, and it’s a shame. Many of Hannibal’s best scenes and insights are gained through his interaction with Sarge and the boys. Still, Camacho earns points for not forcing them into a situation beyond their capabilities. Hannibal’s a pro, and he learns early on he can’t handle Ivanovich. His citizen helpers could only serve as fodder, or to lessen the plausibility of the story.

The writing is straightforward, if standard. There are a few law enforcement jurisdictional oddities that might not bother someone not as well acquainted with the DC area as this reviewer. The dialog sometimes inclines toward stiffness; it’s understandable the Russians wouldn’t use contractions when they speak, but the Americans would. Of course, Camacho is writing a thriller, and Chandler-esque subtleties of writing would only slow things down.

Russian Roulette is a quick read at 253 brisk pages, and will easily fit in a carryall for a plane trip or the beach. Good, escapist fare that should entertain without burdening the reader is not as easy to find as you’d think.

 

Also reviewed by Karen Treanor:

Hannibal Jones was dog-tired after a hard day protecting a whistle-blower in a class-action suit.  He parked his Volvo (I’m serious!) and went into his comfortably shabby apartment, and found a Russian with a gun waiting for him.

This is how Hannibal Jones, “The Troubleshooter”, starts his new adventure.  Half German and half African-American, ex-police officer and ex-Department of Treasury operative, Hannibal now makes his living as a private detective and occasional bodyguard.  On the personal front, his relationship with girlfriend Cindy Santiago is under strain due to her suddenly improved financial status and his masculine ego.  What better way to take his mind off his troubles than to get involved with a case working for the Russian Mob?

Well, not the Mob exactly, just one: Aleksandr Ivanovich, who is worried that his own object of affection is about to make a bad mistake and marry an alleged Algerian, Dani Gana.  Hannibal is persuaded not by reason, but by fear: if he fails to help Ivanovich get the information he wants, Cindy’s life is in danger.

Hannibal starts digging and uncovers several alternate identities for Dani Gana, but which, if any, is the real one?  Then there’s a murder or three and a missing bag of money and two carloads of Red Mafiosi and a dark-cold, dangerous pursuit on Roosevelt Island—just an average day in the life of a Washington DC private eye.

This is a fast-moving, violent book, but without needless gore and mayhem; everything that happens ties up and leads to the next thing.  It would be surprising if a big publisher doesn’t eventually gobble up Intrigue in order to get Hannibal on their own books.

 

 

 

The Likeness by Tana French

Publisher: Penguin  ISBN-0143115626

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

It’s been six months since Dublin detective Cassie Maddox and her ex-partner solved a murder that left her partnership in ruin and her career almost in shreds.  Working now with the Domestic Violent Unit, Cassie still has yet to get over the fall-out from the tragic events of that last case.  So when the body of a young woman is found who looked just like Cassie and, even stranger, was using the identity Cassie once used years back while undercover, Cassie reluctantly agrees to join forces with her old boss to go undercover once again, resurrecting the woman they had invented called “Lexi” who now, as their story will go, miraculously lived through the attempt on her life.

Moving into the unexpectedly enchanting home that “Lexi” shared with four others before her death, Cassie will find herself inexplicably drawn to the four young post-graduates who seem to share a special bond much like that she once knew with her ex-partner.  But as one of them might be the killer, Cassie will find herself walking a fine line between getting overly involved and being the cop who is trying to reveal the secrets they share, one of which might just include a murder.  And as she finds herself being drawn in further and further into this magical family of friends and the home they share, the closer she gets to losing sight of not only her purpose for being there, but of her very own self.

In this haunting and literate mystery, French returns to her previous themes of the ties that bind and what happens when those ties begin to wear thin, and how the truth can change its appearance, depending on which side of the road you’re standing on. Underscoring her suspenseful and intelligent who done-it with richly drawn characters and lyrical prose, French proves that her last great hit was only the beginning, with this latest being even more provocative and satisfying.  Filled with powerful and credibly detailed emotion, this is one highly recommended read that will stay with the reader long after the last page has been turned.

 

 

 

White Nights by Ann Cleeves

Publisher: Minotaur Books   ISBN-0312384424

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

In her follow-up to her first mystery set in the Shetland Islands, Cleeves returns with another well-written mystery that’s sure to garner even more fans world-wide.  This time out, Detective Jimmy Perez finds himself personally involved in a murder when a strange man shows up at his girlfriend’s gallery opening, first throwing a dramatic fit then taking off for the hills, only later to be found dead in a deserted shack.  And, while initially, it seems as if this man was a stranger to the islands and its citizens, a second death will prove that this closed-knit group of people might just be hiding a secret that spans more than one decade and that will end in even more deaths before the truth is revealed.

Cleeves once again manages to bring this unfamiliar place alive; her unsettling depictions of the never-ending dusk that make up the long summer nights adding to her amazingly vivid ambience that’s as compelling as the cast that dwells there.  And what a cast it is – most so individually and realistically portrayed, it’s easy to be convinced of their stories and their secrets, and most of all, why they’re kept.  All which combine to make the mystery itself highly engaging all the way through to its shocking and unexpected ending.

This is one read that somehow takes the reader somewhere that’s both oddly familiar, yet excitingly new, and one that once having visited, will demand a return.

 

 

 

Sacrifice by S. J. Bolton

Publisher:  Minotaur  ISBN-10: 0312381867

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Pediatrician Tora Hamilton was never happy with her husband’s decision to relocate to the isolated Shetland Islands in Scotland, an area known for its inhospitality and suspicion towards outsiders.  And after six months of mostly unsuccessful attempts to fit in, her reciprocated disliking of the locals only grows when she uncovers the murdered body in her land of a woman who had given birth just before her gruesome death.  Unable to accept the authority’s seemingly unconcerned attitude towards the identity of the victim, one that eventually proves to conflict with all legal records, Tora soon finds her resolve to find the truth only intensifying.  With only the local female detective, Dana  Tulloch, on her side, and against all warnings from the locals including her own husband, Tora begins a search  for answers that will take her deep into the fabled and troubled history of the area that will leave her distrustful of not only the strangers surrounding her, but those closest to her as well.

Bolton’s debut novel brings a more than welcomed refreshing and unique tale to the crowded bookshelves of murder and mayhem.  Exploring the unfamiliar area of the Shetland Islands – their fables and questionable history – she creates an ambiance that’s both beautiful and terrifying.  And even while her premise is based on what most might view as inconceivable at times, this being fiction after all, she manages to convince the reader of the possibilities inherent in her tale by confronting the readers’ doubts head-on without missing a beat.  With an unbeatable pair of heroines, a plot full of discovery and hidden pathways, and twists you’ll never see coming, this makes for a powerful debut that promises great things ahead.

 

 

 

Cool Cache by Patricia Smiley

Publisher:  Signet:   ISBN 0451225260

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Tucker Sinclair is back, and right in the middle of a tasty mystery.  She’s trying to help Helen Taggert promote her fabulous handmade chocolates when the cleaning lady, Lupe Ortiz, is found dead in the back room of Nectar, Helen’s shop.

The police at once fix on Lupe’s gangbanger meth-head son as the most likely suspect, but Tucker isn’t so sure.  If a dope addict killed Lupe, why didn’t he steal something from the shop?   And why would the boy later break into Helen’s apartment and ransack it, yet leave behind $100 in cash that was there for the taking?

Tucker is considering what to do when her brilliant but emotionally fragile assistant Eugene Bostok takes off on what he tells his overbearing mother is a ‘secret mission’.   Tucker can’t contact Eugene and the longer he’s away, the more worried she gets.  She begins to trace his steps, trying to piece together what he discovered, but at every turn she’s just a bit too late.

It’s obvious to Tucker that the case hinges on an antique chocolate pot which may have great value.  She hides the pot at her own home, not perhaps the wisest move, given that she’s tipped her hand to the man who may be the killer.

This is a quick read with a number of good characterizations—Eugene’s mother, for instance, whom you start out being appalled by but come to have a sneaking respect for in the end, and Tucker’s own dippy parent, who is facing a career crisis and needs Tucker’s support at a time when she is already stressed out.  And of course there’s the grumpy Charley Tate, the PI with whom Tucker shares an office.

Complicating everything in Tucker’s frantic life is the reappearance of Lt Joe Deegan, once her great love, but now engaged to another.   Can Tucker’s fears for Eugene’s safety overcome the chasm of hurt between Joe and Tucker? 

 

 

 

 

The Price of Blood by Declan Hughes

Publisher: Harper Paperbacks  ISBN-10: 0061763586

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader

The writing of Irish crime novelist Declan Hughes captures much of Raymond Chandler’s mean streets’ poetry. Harder edged than the lyricism of James Lee Burke. With the possible exception of compatriot John Connolly, no one sets a mood better than Hughes. His third book, The Price of Blood, rises to the level of his original (The Wrong Kind of Blood) after a minor drop-off in The Color of Blood.

Ed Loy is still living in his dead mother’s house, taking work as a PI. A local priest no one much cares for pays him €5,000 and gives him only a name: Patrick Hutton. Doesn’t say what he wants to know, if he wants Hutton found, or what Loy should do about anything he finds. Ed subscribes to The Maltese Falcon school of accepting cases: the five grand is more than the case is worth, and enough more to make it all right.

Then again, maybe not. The priest is the estranged brother of the local master horse trainer, whose training, stud, and resort operation pretty much governs the local economy. Soon Loy is drawn into overlapping Venn diagrams of deceit containing fixed horse races, dead bodies, and a woman who looks disconcertingly like his ex-wife.

Loy is a good hero for a gritty series. He drinks too much, not an alcoholic. Troubled, not paralyzed with self-analysis. Tough, not superhuman. His sidekick, Tommy Owens, is good enough to provide support, without being the avenging Angel of Death sidekicks so often become. Frankly, it’s a bit of a surprise when Tommy comes through, partly because he doesn’t all the time, another nice touch.

Hughes has a knack for writing female leads who are no good for Loy. He knows it, can’t quite stay away, and Hughes is good enough to keep them from becoming formulaic. The supporting cast is varied and well-developed. Hughes isn’t afraid to drop a scene in just for the characters, advancing the plot no more than a hair, yet never making it feel as though the pace has slowed.

Another American master can be found between the lines of all three books. Like Ross Macdonald’s work, the stories are about family ills that go beyond dysfunction to touch on depravity. Hushed up, possibly through generations, until some external event brings them to the light. It lends a visceral impact to his work; we all have families, and the thought, however subconscious, of what Hughes’s families are put through will make anyone uncomfortable.

He does get a trifle more complicated than he needs to, sending you flipping back a page or ten, wondering if you missed something. You’re never abandoned, but you have to read for plot, too, and not let his use of the language lull you into reading just for the sake of letting his words run through your mind. Chandler and Macdonald were guilty of the same; worse things can happen.

Another problem is that much of the ending happens to someone other than Ed, and we only hear about it later. It’s admirable that Hughes didn’t feel the need to get Ed implausibly out of a situation just so he could be around for the pay-off; it also diminishes the impact to the reader.

No book is perfect, and neither of the above faults break the compact Hughes establishes with the reader from Page One. The Price of Blood continues Ed Loy’s progress into the first rank of contemporary mystery protagonists. The humor is dry, genuine, and unforced; Loy’s attraction to Miranda Hart is understandable, as are its consequences; the friendship with Tommy is real, which means occasionally strained. Hughes and Loy show no signs of bleeding out any time soon, which is good news for all.

 

 

 

 

Murder on Bank Street by Victoria Thompson

Publisher:  Berkeley Crime ISBN 0425228371

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

If you still hope on someone finding an unpublished Sherlock Holmes story, dream on.  But if you’d be satisfied with something that has a similar flavour, engaging characters, and some complex plotting, stop right here: Victoria Thompson is for you.

Sarah Brandt works as a midwife in some of the worst sections of  New York in the 1890’s.  She needn’t work at all, for her wealthy father would happily have her home again , and pretend that her years married to Dr Tom Brandt never happened.   Tom was murdered, and some nasty rumors have been going around about why.

However, it’s her work that keeps Sarah going, somehow what she does seems to keep Tom’s spirit alive.  She has recently tried to adopt a little girl, Catherine, but as she is a widow, this isn’t allowed.  The best Sarah can do is become Catherine’s legal guardian.  For good measure she takes in Maeve, an older orphan from the Prodigal Son mission, as a nursemaid.

Sarah has despaired of ever knowing why her husband died, but four years later her friend Frank Malloy of the New York Police Department re-opens the case .  For his own reasons, Sarah’s father has put up the money to run the investigation.  Despite Teddy Roosevelt’s attempts to clean up the old NYPD, you still had to pay if you wanted service.

Starting from the very few clues to the murder—that it was done by a man with a heavy silver-headed cane, who accused Tom of ruining his daughter—Frank, Sarah, and a female Pinkerton’s agent  undertake investigations which eventually lead to one household.  There’s no way to find out more without getting an agent inside—and Maeve is the only one who can do it.

 

 

 

The Dirty Secrets Club by Meg Gardiner

Publisher: Signet  ISBN-10: 0451227174

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

When a wealthy San Francisco designer is found dead along with his lover, it seems at first to be an obvious case of murder-suicide, that is until the next inexplicable suicide occurs, this one also involving a wealthy San Francisco player.  And when one takes into account the odd circumstances surrounding a US attorney’s plunge off a bridge, killing herself and 3 others, it becomes frighteningly obvious that there’s much more going on than meets the eye. 

Brought in to try and find a connection between the cases is forensic psychologist Jo Beckett, a woman who knows the pain of unexplained death on a very personal level, but one who isn’t afraid to look beyond the obvious.  And so when she discovers that the victims all belonged to a mysterious and elite club called The Dirty Secrets Club, she’s willing to fight the odds to prove that the deaths are all part of something much larger and much more alarming.  But as she races towards the truth, she’ll find that the enemy is much closer than she thought, and more than willing to do what it takes to keep this master plot of revenge alive.

With this first of what’s hopefully to be a new series, Gardiner, who already has scored with the European crowd with a previous series, starts out with a sure-fire winner that will no doubt bring her a whole new fan base.  Her heroine, down-to-earth Jo Beckett, with her intelligence and movingly guilty regrets surrounding her past, makes for a sincere and appealing character that is easy to root for and even easier to like.  And her secondary characters aren’t too shabby either, especially her eccentric hypochondriac neighbor who provides a welcome dose of humor.  Throw in some great unexpected twists and turns that keep the story consistently suspenseful and unpredictably challenging and you have a solid foundation for what we hope is only the first of many to come.