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Caught by Harlen Coben

Publisher: Signet

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

New York reporter Wendy Tynes has a reputation for exposing pedophiles on air; her method of posing as a young girl in a teenaged chat room and luring the perpetrator to the site of exposure being a big hit with fans around the area.  But while she has always thought of this as this as a noble endeavor, things get a bit more complicated when her latest exposure leads to a shockingly violent scene when Dan Mercer, the man she’s recently targeted, asks for a meeting that ends with a masked gunman shooting Dan down in cold blood and absconding with the body.          

Naturally, the local police force isn’t too motivated to solve this particular crime, especially as they’re dealing with the disappearance of a local popular high school teen.   But as time goes by, Wendy can’t help but feel something just isn’t right about this case that seems all too easily wrapped up, and so she begins to dig in Dan Mercer’s past with the hope of putting her questions to rest.  And what she discovers is shocking to say the least, leaving her to ask if she ultimately sentenced an innocent man to death, or did she merely have a hand in seeing justice done? 

Reading a new novel by Coben can be compared to partaking in a favorite treat that deserves to be savored in its entirety.  One wants to put up a “Do not disturb” sign on the study/bathroom/bedroom door and be left alone for the duration of the read.  And in this latest novel that focuses on forgiveness and moving forward, Corben delivers what he always has – a novel of suspense that’s just about impossible to put down.  But while, yes, this is suspense at its best, in some ways it still feels as if there’s something missing. 

Suburbia is laid out in all its not so glorious tree-lined streets of conformity and perfection, but while it seems the point here is to question how realistic these comfortable facades of contentment are, along with those who hide behind in them fragile bliss, Coben somehow doesn’t quite reach far enough to make these questions more significant than the careless thoughts and actions that can result from such hapless following of the yellow brick road.  On the surface, this book, as like all that’s come before, is excellent; yet, one can’t help but wish for a bit more insight into what drives these so called “normal” people to act as they do without question.  Not only concerning their own lives, but also in their unquestioning belief in gossip and a media that sacrifices the truth for ratings.

That being said, I have to wonder if because Coben’s titles have always left so little to bitch about that he’s created his own impossible standard to live up to.  When compared to many other books out there, this one excels, and so it does come highly recommended.

 

 

 

Burning Lamp By Amanda Quick

Publisher: Jove

Reviewed by Carol Reid, New Mystery Reader

Burning Lamp is the second book of a series identified as the Dreamlight trilogy, which began with Fired Up, written under the author’s real name, Jayne Ann Krentz. These novels revolve around the Arcane Society, a secret organization devoted to paranormal research .The centuries-old rivalry between two families of alchemists and psychics continue their feud in Victorian London.

Readers new to the series might appreciate some history, available here-

http://www.krentz-quick.com/arcanehouse/history.html

Burning Lamp marks the first appearance of Adelaide Pyne, whose zeal for social reform—in particular the destruction of brothels—is matched by her skill as a “dreamlight reader”. Her “talent” is the ability to read traces of energy left behind by human contact. This talent makes her fatally attractive to the seekers of the burning lamp, which is said to cure the family curse of the Winters clan, but only with the assistance of a dreamlight reader. Enter Griffin Winters, crime lord and magnetic alpha male figure, and the latest member of the psychic family to require the services of the artifact. He is plagued by nightmares and the fear that he is about to fall victim to the Winters curse of psychic turmoil and insanity. Seething chemistry simmers and sparks of the normal and paranormal variety fly between the two. But Griffin is not alone in his quest for the lamp and soon the couple is locked in battle against his enemies and in the throes of a psychic storm.

Quick makes good use of the lust and deepening love between these characters and the standard but always appealing devices of subterranean passages and Victorian gloom. She creates an entertaining array of paranormal talents for shadow concealment, botany, deception, to name just a few. Fans of the series and the genre are likely to enjoy this addition to the Arcane Society saga.

 

 

 

The Third Rail by Michael Harvey

Publisher: Alfred K. Knopf   ISBN:  978-0-307-27250-8

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

People stand on a platform waiting for the L train in Chicago. Among them are several women and several men. One woman doesn’t live to board the train. She is shot dead by one of the men - Robles. Robles runs – pursued by ex-cop Michael Kelly. Kelly follows Robles’ tracks in fresh snow down an alley where Robles gets the drop on Kelly. Kelly stares down the barrel of .40 cal and waits for death. Instead the man knocks him cold. Later Kelly realizes that must have been two men to leave the tracks.

Robles calmly takes a bus to an apartment – an apartment overlooking the L. He sets up a sniper rifle with a view of the trains. He is interrupted by the super. Robles takes long enough to kill the super with a knife and let his pulse rate slow – ready for the shot that kills a young woman on the train.

The FBI and Chicago work feverishly to solve the crimes. The Chicago mayor summons Kelly and lets him know that if the PI kills the sniper, there will be no charges and plenty of rewards.

Robles is shot while trying to escape his latest ambush, but not by Kelly. The authorities think Kelly did it and rush to proclaim the case solved. Kelly asks and gets one more day to investigate on his own. With the help of a computer wiz, Kelly shows that the reign of terror is not over. Then the mastermind of the scheme calls and tells Kelly that he has Kelly’s girlfriend.

Who is the man? What does an old accident on the L have to do with it all? Why does he draw Kelly into his plot? What does the Catholic Church have to do with it.

These are questions that confront Kelly and the reader. Harvey combines the fast talk and beat of the Chicago streets with an intriguing plot. The characters are distinct and identifiable while the plot keeps the reader guessing. 

 

 

Laughed ‘Til He Died by Carolyn Hart

Publisher: William Morrow  ISBN-10: 0061453099

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Hart provides another “Death on Demand” title that will no doubt please her many fans, once again providing the dramatic ambience of an island in South Carolina and the cast of mostly charming and familiar characters.

This time out the happily married Darlings, Max and Annie, get involved yet again with murder when a wealthy local man is shot dead during a community event for the Haven, a local gathering spot for kids of all ages.  And when this murder is followed by the murder of a beloved teen who frequented the center, the entire town becomes involved, including Annie’s favorite customers of her mystery bookstore.  But can these amateur detectives find the killer before another brutal slaying? 

No doubt those who like a cozy, breezy mystery will enjoy this latest.  Perhaps even happily willing to ignore the fact that the local cops and townsfolk incredibly have little problem with this cast of amateur sleuths running around asking questions and working at odds against the own ongoing investigation.  But then again, this is what Hart does in her Death on Demand series, so it is to be expected.  Readers who are familiar will gladly follow along, loving the overly cheerful Annie, the mystery store regulars posing as detectives, a plethora of suspects and, of course, snippets of the Darling’s blissful marriage.  Hart does what she does, and she does it well.  While this might not please mystery readers who like a bit of an edge, it will easily satisfy those who want something light and easy.

 

 

 

Capitol Betrayal by William Bernhardt

Publisher: Ballantine

Reviewed by Danny Donegan, New Mystery Reader 

The United States military is on the border of Kuraq, a Middle Eastern country who is close to invading the Benzai Strip. A Red Cross helicopter has gone down over Kuraq, and U.S is trying to rescue the survivors.  Kuraq’s leader, Colonel Zuko refuses to allow the U.S to perform a rescue mission.  He believes the United States is preparing to invade Kuraq should it threaten the Benzai Strip.  Zuko threatens to destroy targets all over the America until the U.S withdraws its troops from his nation’s borders.  Somehow he has gotten control of some of America’s ballistic missiles guidance systems, the nature and control of which are known only to a select few top Government Officials. America’s own ballistic missiles have their cross hairs are right on U.S territory.  President Kyler is adamant about not giving into to terrorist, while Vice President Swinburne wants our troops out to protect U.S soil.

Lawyer and former Senator Ben Kincaid is in the oval office with the President Kyler, Admiral Cartwright and other White House Senior Staff discussing the threat of Kuraq.    During the meeting, the President seems to be acting a bit odd…singing show-tunes and playing the air.  When in an immediate threat to the White House is received, Kincaid, the President and senior staff are whisked away to an underground bunker impervious of a nuclear blast.

On the outside, Veteran CIA agent Seamus McKay is racing around Washington D.C to find a hidden command center that has control over our ballistic missiles.  He’s getting a bit old for the job, but he’s one of the agencies best and will stop at nothing to stop these fanatics before it is too late.

Amidst the crisis at hand, President Kyler begins to act even stranger.  So strange that Vice President Swinburne tries to enact the 25th amendment, declaring that the President is not mentally stable and therefore not able to fulfill his duties as President of the United States.  An unheard of trial is set up in the bunker, with Admiral Cartwright fulfilling the job of the judge, Kincaid the Presidents defense, and Swinburne as the prosecutor.  It’s now up to Kincaid to ensure the President remains in office.  The problem Kincaid begins to have is, is his defendant, the President of the United States, actually going insane? 

Most will find Bernhardt’s Capitol Betrayal to be an overall worthwhile read.  It’s not necessary to go through all of Bernhard’s previous Ben Kincaid stories to understand it, making it easy to jump right in.  It’s a bit slow at first, but it eventually begins to take off into a fun guessing game.  And while at times a bit inconceivable, leaving readers wondering just how the president got to this point and how the enemy accessed ballistic missiles, the reader can still capture the seriousness and intrigue of the plot.  The side story of Agent McKay also adds a bit of fun.  If you’re looking for serious firefights and neck snapping, this political thriller might not do the trick, but if you’re interested in a political and legal thriller with two different and interesting stories going on, then this one might just work.   

 

 

The Barbary Pirates by William Dietrich

Publisher: Harper

Reviewed by Sheridan Whiteside, New Mystery Reader  

William Dietrich returns with his enigmatic lead character, Ethan Gage, in “The Barbary Pirates”.  This is the fourth book in the Ethan Gage series and with each successive story Dietrich seems to push the envelope a little further with this unpredictable character.

When we left off at the end of the last novel, “The Dakota Cipher”, Ethan Gage was returning from a trip to the United Stated in search of the mystical Dakota Cipher alleged to be found somewhere amidst the unchartered American wilderness.  During this adventure, he made one heck of an enemy in Aurora Somerset.  As with all good serial adventures, the villain (or villainess) is sure to rear their ugly head again until they are ultimately dealt with.

Gage finds himself at the start of the novel in the company of three characters from around the world who he refers to as the ‘savants’.  The savants in question are the French zoologist, Georges Cuvier; British geologist, William Smith; and, American steamship inventor, Robert Fulton. The year is 1802 and Ethan is still claiming allegiance to Napoleon’s France while still striking deals with the British and operating the entire time as a United States agent.

“The Barbary Pirates” gets its’ title from the group of sea-bandits that terrorized the waterways of Europe and the surrounding coastlines during this frantic time in world history.  Initially, Ethan Gage and his group of savants use a Barbary Pirate ship to make passage into Greece in search of Archimedes’ Mirror.  This infamous object is sought by Napoleon and others under the premise that possession of this object could turn the tide for the military team that owns it.  This Mirror takes the solar power of the sun and converts it into a weapon capable of destroying entire naval fleets during battle.  Of course, Gage & Co. are not the only ones seeking this object.

As expected, the Barbary Pirates turn on Gage and his comrades as a higher bidder makes herself visible to the adventure – none other than Aurora Somerset herself!  She represents the Egyptian Rite and seeks to possess Archimedes Mirror so that her group of bandits and cut-throats can rule the high seas themselves.  Of course, she needs Ethan’s help and coerces it by threatening his long-lost love, Astiza, and the son he never knew he had. The plot twists and turns and never loses steam (no pun intended, Mr. Fulton) as the race to the finish for possession of this rare object makes for page-turning fiction at its best.

William Dietrich has indeed developed a series that will appeal to fans of historical fiction and fast-paced adventure.  With the lack of quality material in Hollywood these days it is a wonder that no shrewd producer or screenwriter hasn’t snatched up these tales to develop a film series out of them.  “The Barbary Pirates” is a swash-buckling good read and provides immense entertainment throughout.  I look forward to the next Ethan Gage adventure!

 

 

False Mermaid by Erin Hart

Publisher: Scribner 

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

It’s been five years since pathologist Nora Gavin’s sister was found brutally murdered on the shore of the Mississippi River in St. Paul, an event that kept Nora searching for answers without relent.  But when after years of unsuccessfully trying to prove that her sister’s husband was the killer drove Nora to escape to the wild bogs of Ireland, she had hoped she could put it all behind her and bury her recriminations into studying the century-old bodies and the folklore found in the windswept coasts of Ireland’s most enigmatic locals.

But, naturally, she has never forgotten, nor forgiven, the man she feels is responsible for the death of her sister, so when she hears that he is about to marry again, she is forced to think of not only the threat he poses to his new bride-to-be, but also the threat he still poses to her young niece who is still in his care. 

However, traveling back home to St. Paul, leaving behind the man she suddenly realizes she loves, the career that challenges her, and the country that speaks to her soul, will be the least of her worries when she discovers that the man she suspects to be a killer might just have killed more than once and won’t hesitate to kill again.  

While this is not the first in the series, new readers will have no trouble feeling like they’ve been part of the ride all along.  Hart does better than most at continuing a series in a way that satisfies readers of old while welcoming new readers just as easily with a manner that makes both feel right at home.  But that’s only the beginning of what’s great about this read.  Throw in the haunting Irish melody of another woman’s tragic tale from years gone past that’s wrapped up in folklore and legend that seamlessly blends with the current - both encompassing the timeless themes of love, betrayal, the search for self, and purposeful blindness - and you have another reason to read this story.  If that’s not enough, there’s the evocative ambience of Ireland’s beauty, and the satisfying mystery itself - with red herrings galore - that mesmerize right until the final page.  Highly, highly recommended, this one brings it all and is one that lingers long after it’s finished.     

 

 

 

The Burying Place by Brian Freeman

Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Just when you think an author couldn’t possibly take it up another notch, you read a new outing like this.  Freeman goes the distance, and then some, in his latest featuring his well known cast from his previous titles.

This time around, LT. Jonathan Stride can initially be found in his isolated cabin in the Minnesota woods licking his mental, emotional, and physical wounds that have left him nearly incapacitated after his last run-in with a nasty killer.  Sharing his space is Serena Dial, the woman he’s been loving for the past three years, but also a woman who has no idea how to help Stride’s slow migration into the ugly abyss left by his memories of his near death just months before.   But when he gets the call to assist the force in Grand Rapids with the sudden disappearance of the infant of a cocky and cold surgeon, he and Dial put their personal issues aside to rush to the aide of the local police force.  And as the baby girl is the niece of his one-time partner, Stride is more than determined to find out what happened to her.  But the answers to this become complicated when after looking into the surgeon’s past, the two find more than one reason to suspect he’s connected to the crime.

Meanwhile, Stride’s partner on the Duluth force, Maggie Bei, has her own hands full dealing with the disappearance of women who were alone in their isolated farmlands near the city.  While the crime scenes suggest that these women are not alive, it isn’t until a rookie female cop has a face-to-face encounter with the killer and his latest victim during a snow swept winter night that ends in the victim's death that convinces investigators that the previous victims have met the same fate. 

But all is not as it seems, as while these cases seem miles apart, literally, they may be tied closer to each other than anyone suspects, not only by how far the killer is willing to go to get a victim, but how far another is willing to go to keep a secret.

Freeman has always provided a read that is both suspenseful and heartfelt, and in this latest, he not only does what he’s always done, but he does it even better than before.  Not only in question is who has done what to whom, but so too are the questions concerning if Stride will make it through his heavy case of PTSD and, just as important, if Stride and Dial will be able to keep their romance alive under such a heavy emotional weight.  

Going from scene to scene, Freeman juggles both seemingly disparate stories with an equally well-thought out narrative, with the switch from one to the other providing an almost unbearable dose of suspense and tantalizing questions that makes the reader tempted to go straight to the end to see where all the answers lie.  And Freeman’s vibrant detailing of the wind and snow-covered environs of Minnesota add even more to this already deliciously chilling read.  But if that’s not enough, Freeman also throws in some emotional aspects to the characters fans have grown to love, shaping them in new ways that hint of interesting things to come.  Personally, I think this might be Freeman’s best, proving that Freeman is one of those rare authors that continues to surprise and beguile instead of rehashing what has come before. Highly recommended.

 

 

The Last Illusion by Rhys Bowen

Publisher: Minotaur

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.

 

 

The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton

Publisher: Minotaur Books 

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Stepping away from his Alex McKnight series, Hamilton brings forth a new character that just might leave his fans asking for more.

We first meet Michael, aka Miracle Boy, aka The Ghost, Jr., aka Boxman extraordinaire, serving 10-25 for a crime that is not yet revealed. Also not revealed is the tragedy that started it all 20 years before and that helped shape his future years. But have no fear, Michael is more than ready to tell the story, albeit at his own pace, of how he went from a normal 9 year old boy to a mute young man in his late 20s who became a master at picking locks and breaking into safes that made him a hot commodity in the criminal world.  In a story that goes back ten years and switches back and forth from one year to the next, we get to know how this boy grew into the man he is now, and how events led him into a life of crime not necessarily chosen, but instead one that seems to have chosen him.

Admittedly, the first few chapters of this latest from Hamilton seemed to be a bit disjointed with his abrupt changes in time initially hard to follow.  By starting off at the end and then going back in time the way he did, with each separate story only separated by a year or two, it was hard to adjust to the flow, especially not knowing the beginning and the end.  However, once settled into understanding the flow, what followed was nothing short of a breathtaking tsunami.  Hamilton’s intimate portrayal of a young man truly alone, made mute by a childhood tragedy and driven into crime by a profound love while still maintaining a will to survive, is both powerfully heart wrenching and ultimately encouraging.  And it’s not only Michael readers will find themselves taken with, but many of his fellow criminals seem to have a spark of soulfulness that makes them human and worth caring for as well. 

This is a read that starts off a bit tangled, but one that is more than worth hanging in there for the brilliance that follows.  And for the record, do read the forward from Hamilton; while there are many detailed incidences of lock picking and safe cracking, he’s made sure to toss in some misdirection to keep us all legal.  

 

 

 

Last Snow by Eric Van Lustbader

Publisher: Forge Books

Reviewed by Robin Thomas, New Mystery Reader

Put your “…this would never happen in real life” button on pause, open Last Snow by Eric Van Lustbader and take a ride with this thriller. You may wish that your favorite place to read was equipped with seatbelts, because this fast paced book is full of twists and turns.  Jack McClure is the Special Advisor to President Edward Carson and the only person that he trusts without question. Carson earned this special relationship with the President by saving his daughter Alli who was abducted by a seriously deranged person. Carson asks Jack to investigate the mysterious death of minority whip Sen. Lloyd Berns and find out why he traveled to the Ukraine and who was the last person to see him alive.  Jack accepts the task and is heading to the Ukraine only to find that the First Daughter is going to accompany him against his better judgment. 

Alli is still dealing with the mental distress of the abduction and Jack is the only person who can reach her. Additionally they share an even deeper emotional bond due to the loss of someone that was very special to both of them.  Not only is the First Daughter accompanying Jack but he is also traveling with Annika, a beautiful Russian agent who befriends Jack and complicates his mission. Jack now has to keep both the First Daughter and a Russian spy safe while finding out what Senator Berns was really doing and there are a number of people both American and Russian who will do anything to ensure that Jack fails in his mission

Lustbader has crafted an international spy thriller in which the reader questions every character, be they Russian spies, civilians or U.S. government personnel part of the President’s “inner circle.” As the sequel to First Daughter, Lustbader provides enough detail in this book for the reader to understand what happened to Alli and the impact the abduction has had on her. Eric Van Lustbader is also writing the new novels in the Jason Bourne series.  His novels based around Jack McClure are exciting with intricate plotlines.  They are a welcome addition to the international spy thriller genre and readers of the Jason Bourne series will also want to read Lustbader’s Jack McClure books as well.

 

 

31 Bond Street by Ellen Horan

Publisher: Harper  

Reviewed by Robin Thomas, New Mystery Reader

Who killed Dr. Harvey Burdell? Is Emma Cunningham his widow or his murderer?  Harvey Burdell is found brutally murdered in his Bond Street townhouse.  Emma is accused of the heinous crime and Henry Clinton, a lawyer, risks his reputation and his career to defend her. 

Ellen Horan masterfully takes the reader back to mid-nineteenth century Manhattan with her rich details of the dichotomy between the wealthy and poor, government corruption and the impact of the Fugitive Slave Acts on the Underground Railroad. The author slowly divulges the events that led to Dr. Burdell’s demise by alternating chapters between the courtroom drama and Harvey’s last days.  As the story unfolds it becomes clear that there are a number of people who had reason to harm Dr. Burdell.

31 Bond Street is not only a murder mystery/legal thriller it is also based on a true story. The author found a newspaper clipping that led her to research the real-life murder of Dr. Harvey Burdell and the trial of Emma Cunningham. 

In 31 Bond Street, Ellen Horan does an outstanding job weaving together historical facts with a dramatic legal thriller and murder mystery that I most highly recommend.