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March new mystery book reviews in hardcover.  Click on links for buying information.

Promises in Death  by J D Robb

Publisher: G P Putnam & Sons ISBN 978 0 399 15548 2

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

J D Robb continues to amaze with her consistently good futuristic crime series featuring Eve Dallas, once an abandoned battered child, now one of  New York’s top cops.  Somehow she manages to deliver the same formula with different twists in every volume.  You have to wonder if Robb has a bunch of writers in her attic, like Dr Johnson and his great dictionary project: the woman’s output is phenomenal, both under this pseudonym and her own name. 

In “Promises” you have the familiar supporting cast from the 26 previous stories, but with the focus this time on Medical Examiner Li Morris, the guardian of the dead who has turned up in a minor role in the previous books.  This time he’s centre stage when his lover, Amaryllis Coltraine, a police officer, is found brutally killed.  It falls to Eve Dallas to break the news to her colleague, and it’s one of the hardest things she’s ever had to do in a career of unpleasant tasks.

Morris is devastated by the news.  If there’s any comfort at all, it’s his knowledge of how Eve stands for the victims, commits to finding the killer.  He begs to be let into the case: having lost his great love, work is his only way of coping.  Eve extracts a promise from him to let her handle the case, and not to take any action over information he may discover: she wants the killer tied up in an escape-proof case, and it mustn’t be tainted by vengeance.

It’s not long before Eve sees that Amaryllis must have known her killer, and this brings in the difficult and delicate problem of cops investigating cops. Eve has to bring in her friendly enemy Webster from Internal Affairs to clear away some of the underbrush, which makes for some bad feeling around Cop Central.   When a tie-in to Eve’s arch-enemy Max Ricker is uncovered, the case takes on a new and more dangerous level.

All the usual suspects are here: Roarke, world’s handsomest and richest man; Summerset the sardonic major domo, Mavis Freestone, only slightly toned down by motherhood; the loyal Peabody, and all the cops at Central, and of course Morris, handsome and heartbroken, and becoming a real three-dimensional character in his own right.  

 

 

 

 

 

Feelers by Brian M. Wiprud

Publisher:  Minotaur Books ISBN:  978-0-312-38861-4

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

In the business of cleaning out the homes of people who have died in Brooklyn, the people who do so are called feelers—for having a feeling they might find something valuable among the leftovers of someone’s life, especially money that the heirs didn’t find. Imagine Morty Martinez’s shock and joy when he finds over eight hundred thousand dollars in cans under a couch.

Of course word is soon out that he’s found a treasure and other feelers want to claim it or take it away from him.  Suddenly Morty finds himself envied and friendless. 

It soon becomes apparent to him and the reader that the original owner of the money as well as other strangers are hunting for the money and for Morty. Join him as he tries to outsmart and stay ahead of those hunting him.

Talented author Brian M. Wiprud has crafted a story with high humor and with  humanity at some of its lower levels. You’ll hope Morty wins, but if he doesn’t, you’ll have to know what happens to all that money.  Cleverly crafted using all the lower human vices of greed, fear, envy, and others with a touch of humor, this tale will give you a taste of what the real struggle to survive in the lower levels of society in our cities is about.

I’m pleased to recommend this well written tale as well worth the time. Enjoy.  I sure did.

 

 

 

Broken Wing by Thomas Lakeman

Publisher: Minotaur Books   978 0 312 38022 4

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

This is one of the darkest and scariest books I’ve read in a while.   It moves fast, and goes into areas you hope are just made up out of Lakeman’s fertile imagination—but a chilly spine tells you maybe some of it is true.

Mike Yeager is a top-notch FBI agent, but he’s made a few mistakes, so when he’s given a chance to wipe the past off his record, he’s tempted.  Maybe not quite so tempted when he finds out that what he’s being assigned to is the next thing to a suicide mission, but by that time he’s gone too far to get out.

Framed very publically for a heinous crime, Mike goes to earth in battered post-Katrina New Orleans, acting as a bouncer and man-of-all-work for some old friends.  Soon he connects up with the local head criminal whose daughter Sofia is his old girlfriend.  Mike discovers she had a baby 20 years ago, his son Noah, and that boy is now an apprentice gangster.

Trying to make some sort of connection with the boy, protect Sofia, rescue a missing scientist, outfox a carload of professional criminals, find out what the Kadmos corporation is really up to, and regain his reputation proves to be every bit as dangerous and stressful as Mike expected and then some.  There are double-crosses in unexpected places, and people on the good guys’ team who turn out to have a vested interest in Mike’s failure.   He finds one or two unexpected allies, but for the most part, he’s on his own in tiger country.

Not recommended for those of a nervous disposition!

 

 

Shatter by Michael Robotham

Publisher: Doubleday  ISBN-10: 0385517912

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Psychologist Joe O’Loughlin once had the perfect family, career, and London life-style that most would die for; at least until the police asked him to consult on a case that nearly cost him his life.  And so now, months later, while the case is long over and the danger in the past, Joe finds his new and peaceful life in the countryside of England maybe a bit less engaging than he hoped for.  Working as a part-time professor, and with his wife being the main bread-winner, combined with his escalating symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, has left Joe vulnerable and more than willing to help out when called to the scene of a woman about to jump off a bridge. And when the woman takes the final step just moments after contact, he finds himself unable to let the case go, feeling there was more going on than what appeared.  So when another woman dies in similar circumstances, the niggling doubts he had with the first death only become more prominent, leading Joe to believe that these women did not die by choice, and were instead driven by a killer who knew just how to get them there. 

Some novelists would love to place their tales in the genre of “psychological suspense,” and yet it seems there’s actually few that qualify and so readers will be thrilled to find that this is actually one that does indeed meet the standards.  There’s so much to like about this novel that it’s hard to pinpoint one particular aspect.  Filled with mind games galore, it dares the reader to ask what they would do in the same situation when faced with almost equally unbearable options. 

Personally, what I liked most about this book was that Robotham managed to convince me why the main characters did what they did, and then why they continued against all odds to do what they did next.  The motivations attributed simply worked.  If you finish this book still wondering who the bad guy is and who the good guy is, and how they came to be one or the other—considering the fine line that separates the two via alternative pasts—it could be that you got the point.  There’s a lot of sadness here and no easy answers, but then again, if that’s what you want, there’s plenty of books that will provide that.  This instead puts forth the heavy questions that have no quick and simple answers, and so it’s left to the reader to question what could have been different had the road been smoother, had the heart been tougher, making this read a journey and not a destination.

 

 

 

 

Bahama Burnout by Don Bruns

Publisher: Oceanview Publishing ISBN 978 1 933515 20 5

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Poor old Mike Sever, what an awful job he has: travelling to one lush Caribbean island after another, writing news stories about music and musicians and other boring things!

This time Mike’s in Nassau to cover the re-opening of the Highland Studios, once the place where some of the biggest names in rock and roll recorded their hits and hung out.  Partly Mike is doing the story because it is potentially a big one and partly because the studio’s owners are Rita and Jonah Britt, his old friends.  The studio’s destruction by fire several years back nearly ruined the Britts: this reconstruction is their chance at a new life, if only today’s recording stars will give them a chance..

The story has some interesting characters, not least of which is a huge Cadillac that is rumoured to have belonged to Elvis.  The car sits there waiting for someone to buy it while a lot of strange things go on in and around it.  There’s also a sort of living ghost, at least that’s what he thinks he is.  He’s got some serious reasons to hang around the rebuilt studio, and he can be dangerous—particularly since most people don’t know he exists.

Stretch Cunningham, once a big star, comes back to the Island to cut a new CD, but before long he’s dead, and so’s the policeman investigating his murder.  There’s some question about how honest the policeman was, and whether his death has more to do with his personal life than his official cases. 

Mike is drawn into a dangerous brew of music, magic and murder.  He can’t leave his friends when they may be facing a second disaster, and his own good name has been called into question as well.  In the best amateur sleuth tradition, Mike tries to find the truth in a pile of lies and confusion.

Included in the fast-moving story is a recipe for an Island cocktail which involves flaming rum and sounds like it might cure stomach ulcers by pyrochemical means.

 

 

 

 

Wild Sorrow by Sandi Ault

Publisher: Berkley Hardcover  ISBN-10: 0425225836

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

It’s late winter in Northern New Mexico, and for Jamaica Wild, an employee of the Bureau of Land Management, that makes her job of patrolling the high desert and rugged mountains that much more difficult with the temperamental weather that the season brings.  And so it’s no surprise that while out on patrol tracking a wounded mountain lion, she’s stranded by a raging blizzard.  Her search for shelter takes her to an abandoned Indian school, a relic from decades before that once housed Indian children in the government’s attempt to “assimilate” them into the system. 

And when during her stay, she comes across the body of an elderly Anglo woman who had obviously been murdered, she finds herself not only tracking a wounded mountain lion, but a killer.  But suspects are plenty in the neighboring Indian communities, with more than a few people left who have horrid memories of their time spent in what amounted to a tortuous prison camp disguised as an educational school.  But finding out the true motive for the death of this woman, who was one of the system’s most sadistic “teachers,” will prove just as elusive as everything else she is attempting to track down, and much more dangerous.

While the mystery itself is fairly decent in this latest by Ault, it’s really her ability to describe the beauty that is Northern New Mexico, along with her seemingly instinctive understanding of the surrounding Indian cultures, that distinguishes this from the pact.  Her greatly detailed depictions of the land and her obvious warmth for the many cultural differences that make up this part of the country are evident from page one.  Especially appreciated is her empathy for some of the more disturbing ways in which some of these cultures were treated not too long ago.  This latest from Ault, like those before it, is definitely recommended for those who appreciate a strong character, a story with soul,  and a setting filled with ambience and beauty.    

 

 

 

 

Mixed Blood by Roger Smith

Publisher:  Henry Holt ISBN:  978-0-8050-8875-5

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

Modern Cape Town is a hotbed of crime that comes home to American on the run, Jack Burn, when his home is invaded by two hoodlums from an area called The Flats.  His home is targeted by chance and his pregnant wife and child are threatened. This leads him to a violence he did not expect to visit upon another human being.

The home invasion forces Jack and his wife to make plans to move again to escape the past that brought them to this place.  Unfortunately, a corrupt local policeman is also making plans that involve them.

Talented author Roger Smith has crafted an interesting, balanced tale of how one wrong choice can destroy a lifetime of work.  His villains are as real as his mixed up protagonist and equal in contributing to a tale well worth the time to read.

This is a suspenseful mystery that will keep you reading.  The description of life in modern Africa will make you aware of the vast problems this society has to conquer and you’ll experience the hopelessness of the poor, and of the isolationist tendencies of the educated that breaks it into classes. 

I’m pleased to recommend this tale as a read well worth the time.  An adventure into another part of the world you won’t soon forget.  You will be looking for more work by this imaginative author.  Enjoy.  I did.

 

 

Until It’s Over by Nicci French

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur  ISBN-10: 0312375395

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Young Astrid Bell has been promising herself that she’ll soon get it together; find a real job that pays more than that as a bicycle messenger battling the heavy London traffic, find her own apartment away from the 6 roommates she currently resides with, and maybe even find a grown-up relationship.  But those long held hopes are once again put on hold when first her neighbor, a woman who accidently caused Astrid to take a spill on her bike, is found murdered, followed by yet another murder of a woman Astrid knows and who she didn’t particularly like. 

While at first the police think it all might be a coincidence, when yet another woman is killed who Astrid knows, she goes from possible witness to suspect, along with one of her roommates, an ex-lover who has his own motives for the killings.  But the truth may or may not be so simple, and the longer it goes undiscovered, the closer it brings danger to everyone involved.

Nicci French, actually a writing team of husband and wife, manages to yet again put out a suspenseful novel that takes a normal, every-day life and infuses it with doubt and fear.  And as always, they do it with their unique undertone of darkness that seems to shadow even the most innocent of circumstances, creating a tingling alarm for something coming that the reader can never really identify.  This, like many before from this talented duo, will have the reader constantly second guessing each character’s motive and possible guilt, creating some very delicious uncertainty.  An unsettling mystery- this is suspense how it was meant to be.

 

 

 

The Architect of Murder by Rafe McGregor

Publisher: Robert Hale Ltd., ISBN 978 0 7090 8728 1

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Historical novels aren’t to everyone’s taste. Some writers gets too bogged down in trying to impress with their knowledge of 14th century France, at the expense of the plot.  In other cases the anachronisms make the historical figures unbelievable and sometimes downright laughable, and end up being just modern stories in historical drag.

Rafe McGregor’s first novel does not commit either of those sins, and is so well plotted and written that you forget you’re in London in the early20th century and just get swept away with the story.

Victoria Cross winner Alec Marshall returns to London from South Africa after a long and bloody war that has wounded him physically and emotionally.  There’s nothing to attract him in London since the death of his beloved younger sister in a riding accident, but very soon after his arrival two people demand his attention and involve him in two different investigations.

Roberta Paterson, a young journalist, visits Alec and tells him she is certain his sister’s death was not an accident.  At first he dismisses this as a girl’s fancy, but not long after he meets Roberta he is temporarily pressed into the government’s service by William Melville, “The King’s Detective”.  With King Edward’s coronation only days away, Melville’s resources are stretched to the limit, and he desperately needs Alec’s assistance.  Unable to refuse, Alec is given the job of finding out what shady dealings are going on regarding the will of Cecil Rhodes, the great empire-builder, and a very rich man indeed.  Already one of the witnesses to Rhodes’s 7th and final will has been murdered, and another has disappeared.  Alec needs to find the man before the murderer does.

While trying to find the missing man, Alec discovers a huge plot which if successful would change history—and perhaps not for the better.  He discovers that his own family is bound up with the plot and that his sister’s death is directly linked to something she overheard in their father’s house.

McGregor has woven his story around real historical figures such as the Rhodes brothers, Earl Grey, and William Melville, the original “M” of MI5, who was the doyen of spymasters in the early years of the 20th century.  This is an enjoyable adventure which should please most readers—there’s even a touch of romance to leaven the heavy mix of spies, treason and murder.

 

 

 

Safer by Sean Doolittle

Publisher: Delacorte Press  ISBN-10: 0385338988

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

When Paul and Sara Callaway move from Boston to a small suburb in Iowa, their main hope is that the slower pace will give them some much needed time to repair the tiny fissures that have started to show themselves in what was once a happy and uncomplicated marriage.  But when Sara is attacked by a home intruder their first night in their new home, it proves to be an ominous sign of things to come.    

And so Paul, trying his best to fit in with the community and to do his part in making the  neighborhood safer, joins the local neighborhood watch program; something that goes against his big-city, loner mentality.  But when Paul begins to suspect that these very friendly neighbors might have a hidden agenda and starts asking one too many questions, this once hopeful move begins to turn dangerous when some ugly accusations are thrown his way.  And when he finds himself battling charges that he’s innocent of, with next to no one who believes in his innocence, things will turn into not just a fight for his freedom, but all too soon, for his very life.

Those who have read Doolittle before might be a bit surprised to read this somewhat deviation from his previous hard-boiled tales.  My guess, however, is that the surprise will be a well-received one.  Not only does this latest paint a picture of how the unspoken tensions in a marriage can cause pain and doubt, but how the external forces that one takes for granted as being friendly and protecting can turn out to be anything but.   This is suspense at its finest, and guessing who is behind the badness is only half the fun, with the other half being why.  Good luck putting this one down once you start it; my best advice is to save this one for a long weekend where you don’t have to.