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The Last Illusion by Rhys Bowen
Publisher: Minotaur ISBN-10: 0312385404
Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader
Once again, Irish immigrant Molly Murphy manages to be in the right place at the right time. Molly, owner of the P. Riley Detective Agency, has decided to forget her current lack of cases by taking in a magic show. Magicians, or illusionists, have become quite popular in the United States and Europe, especially with the increasingly daring escapes by Harry Houdini.
While this performance features a scarcely known illusionist, his anonymity disappears when he performs a new trick that involves sawing a girl in half. Unfortunately, the trick fails and the girl has been truly and severely cut, much to the horror of the crowd, which strains to get a better look. Possibly fearing for his freedom, the illusionist flees and the girl is hastily wheeled out to the ambulance. Strangely, neither can be found by the police during the follow-up investigation.
Molly returns to the theatre to uncover more information and there she meets Bess Houdini, Harry’s wife. After Bess almost suffocates onstage, Molly becomes Harry’s new assistant and personal bodyguard.
Molly’s romance with fiancé Police Captain Daniel Sullivan vacillates between harmonious (when she obeys) and acrimonious. Although the delicate dance of gender equality is historically accurate, this depiction quickly becomes tiresome because Molly does nothing to dissuade Sullivan from being enchanted by the idea of what spirited Molly should be, not whom she actually is. While this appeared in earlier cases, Molly’s lack of introspection on such an important decision is as curious as the inner workings of Houdini’s dangerous water escape trick.
Molly’s empathy also misses the life-threatening danger her cheerfully bohemian lesbian friends encounter just by their open lifestyle, which Molly discounts as them simply having no worries since they have money.
In spite of it all, Molly remains resourceful and determined and her experiences in the heyday of illusion makes for fun reading and a good addition to the Molly Murphy Mystery series.
Double Jeopardy by Martin Stratford
Publisher: Robert Hale Ltd ISBN978 0 7090 8965 0
Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader
This is one of the rare instances of a female protagonist written by a male author; usually it’s the other way around. There are a number of female characters in this book, quite different from each other, but surprisingly real and recognizable as types, if I may be forgiven a sexist observation. Some of the characters border on stereotypes, but as someone once observed, “That’s why we have stereotypes, because they’re things we see all the time.”
The story starts as Det. Sgt Julie Cooper comes out of a long period of undercover work and is enjoying a relaxing day off with her beloved aunt Joyce. The enjoyment is blown to bits in a drive-by shooting in which Joyce dies and Julie is wounded. Julie blames herself, assuming the shooting is pay-back for her trial testimony which locked up a major crime boss. (I’m sorry Stratford had to kill off Aunt Joyce, she seemed like someone you’d like to know better. Perhaps he’ll write a prequel one day.)
Returning to Havenchester after she gets out of hospital, ostensibly to wind up her aunt’s affairs, Julie finds she’s now a fairly rich woman—Joyce had investments, a flat, and a half-interest in three antique shops. Her partners, Archie and Laura Tilling, seem devastated by Joyce’s death and try to make Julie feel welcome.
Being on compassionate leave and having time on her hands, Julie, in the best tradition of tough heroines, decides to see what she can find out about the murder. She soon discovers she will need an ally, and hires PI Alex Tanner to lend a hand. Alec is not only a very good detective, he’s an attractive man and before long he and Julie are experiencing a very strong connection that has nothing to do with crime.
Running parallel to Julie’s story is Beverley Wallace’s desperate attempt at freedom after two years as the live-in girlfriend of thug and drug dealer Harry Milton. Julie and Alec’s investigation takes them down a path that intersects with Beverley’s and puts all of them in extreme danger. More importantly, it uncovers an unexpected connection to Joyce’s murder and shows that even trained professionals can be mislead by unfounded assumptions.
An enjoyable read with a lot of plot twists to challenge the reader.
Frame Up by John F Dobbyn
Publisher: Oceanview ISBN 978 1 933515 63 2
Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader
Imagine you’re a young lawyer, and one day the mentor you have looked up to, the senior partner you’ve respected, suddenly requests you to do something that seems to counter everything he stands for.
Michael Knight finds himself in a large run-down church in a shabby suburb of Boston, in the company of his law partner Lex Devlin, an aged priest, and a man he recognises as Boston’s crime boss. He learns that the three old men grew up together here in Charlestown: two of them became good men and the third followed a criminal career. That man, Dominic Santangelo, now needs the help of his old friends. His son has been arrested for the murder of John McKedrick, one of Michael’s best friends. Michael himself nearly died in the car bomb that killed John, and now he’s being asked to defend the man who may be the bomber?
All this happens in the first few pages of the book; the rest of the story is a mad mix of murder, pursuit, foreign travel, Russian baddies, stolen art treasures, dead men walking, sinister Orientals, and just about every other element of a top-of-the-line film starring Matt Damon or Brad Pitt that you could think of. Along the way Michael meets and becomes very attached to Terry, a friend of John’s, and this attraction increases the danger because it makes Michael more vulnerable to pressure from people who will stop at nothing to regain a treasure.
John Dobbyn manages to pack a great deal into the 278 pages of this book. Some very complicated things seem to happen almost in shorthand, as if saying something makes it so. It may have been a better book with fewer plot twists and more in-depth examination of motives and characters, but all in all it’s a good bit of escapist fiction. It’s certainly a better way to spend an evening than watching fat people be humiliated by fitness gurus wearing lycra and iron-on tattoos.
Fantasy in Death by J D Robb
Publisher: Publisher: Putnam Adult ISBN-10: 0399156240
Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader
If you fear your -iPhone might be smarter than you are, this new adventure with Eve Dallas and Roarke will give you some uneasy moments. Called to the scene of what might be a bizarre game gone wrong, Eve finds the headless body of a young IT genius—and the head—in his own hologram room, where he’s been testing a new game. Forget Super Mario: this game goes to a whole new level of danger. The disk Bart Minnock was running self-destructs when the electronic crime division detectives try to retrieve it, but enough clues remain to suggest something really weird was going on.
Medical Examiner Morris is drawn to the unusual crime scene, and notices that the body bears traces of small burns around the wounds. “So, he was killed with what? A light saber?” snorts New York’s most down-to-earth cop—but she knows she’s going to need some expert help from the geeks and nerds to get to the bottom of this murder. Luckily one of the top gadget men in the world is Eve’s own husband, the fantastically rich, gorgeous and tough Roarke.
Bart Minnock and his three partners are the rising stars on the gaming scene. Their newest, most challenging and most secret project would have really put their company on the map. Where there’s something new and different there’s potential money, which always attracts predators. Could it be a business rival who killed Bart? Roarke Industries is a possible rival, so how’s this going to play if Roarke acts as Eve’s consultant and later there’s an accusation of commercial theft?
Roarke, a man who knows how to deal with a Gordian knot, solves that problem with one of his swift and decisive strokes. Shortly afterwards, Cill, one of the remaining partners, is found all but dead in her home holoroom, with wounds that again show traces of burning.
While the E-cops try to solve the crimes, speaking what to Eve is incomprehensible gibberish, she gets a sudden flash of insight into how the crimes must have happened. Taking a leaf from an earlier literary crime figure, she realises “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
This latest foray into the New York of the mid 21st century differs from some of the others in the series. In recent years author Robb has swung between two styles. Some books are dark and deep, with a lot of detail about character and motive, and some are the lighter, easier, and less analytical: what you could call “In Death—Light” books. It’s entertaining, moderately involving, and has some of our old friends from past books (Capt Feeney, the faithful Peabody, McNab in his flashy clothes, and a few others) but in a sort of short-hand version, with fewer words and wider margins.
There’s little of the usual snappy patter between Eve and Summerset the butler; none of the political tension that usually bedevils Eve from City Hall and not much of the intimate side of Eve and Roarke’s lives. (There’s also not as much ruminating about Eve’s early years as an abused child, for which I was grateful.) There are some marvellous bits of byplay between Peabody and her boss, and a good penultimate scene wherein Peabody helps the accused killer virtually hang himself with his own tongue.
“Fantasy in Death” reads like a Reader’s Digest version of a J D Robb book. That doesn’t make it a bad book, just a less substantial one than some of the others.
Never Look Away by Linwood Barclay
Publisher: Delacorte Press ISBN-10: 055380717X
Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader
Working as a reporter for a small-town newspaper in upstate New York, David Harwood knows his days as a reporter are limited with his newspaper seeming to be dying with its last breath as most newspaper publications are these days. And while the story he’s working on, small-town government in collusion with private prisons, seems like his ticket out, that story will become the last thing on his mind when a weekend visit to a local theme park ends with the sudden disappearance of his wife.
And as the husband is always the first suspect, David finds himself doing anything he can to prove his innocence. But when his search for what really happened that day leads him to question the woman he married and the dark secrets she was keeping, he’ll find himself asking if her disappearance is related to her past, or maybe the story he’s working on, or something else entirely.
Barclay has put out quite a few suspense novels that have been more than exciting, with a number of them even topping the bestseller list. But while he keeps the domestic suspense theme that has served him so well going in this one, there seems to be something missing this time around.
There are some decent twists to this latest, but what is lacking is a decent hero that readers can root for. David Harwood, while a nice guy who is the perfect picture of the everyday man screwed over, is not such an easy guy to like. One has to wonder at his lack of insight and purpose, not only in his career, but in his marriage. He’s basically a sap, and one can’t help but feel the mess he’s in could have been avoided had he lived life with his eyes a bit more open. And with the ending still not providing that “ah hah” moment for him, there’s really little redemption or reason to the tale that would make it all worthwhile. Barclay’s done better than this several times over, so the hope remains that while he didn’t quite hit the mark this time, he might do it again next time.