May 2010 Paperbacks
 

 

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Diamondhead by Patrick Robinson

Publisher: Vanguard Press  ISBN 978 159315 5786

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader 

At his top form, Patrick Robinson takes a lot of beating, and in Diamondhead he’s pretty close to that.

Navy SEAL Mack Bedford is accused of murder after the death of his men in a horrific incendiary missile attack in Iraq.  Apparently his one-man counterattack and the subsequent death of some Iraqi terrorists wasn’t the thing to do.  The military tribunal can’t bring itself to convict him of any big crimes, but they are clearly under the gun, so to speak, to do something.  The result is an official reprimand which would have Mack swimming in the typing pool for the rest of his career, so he resigns and soon takes up an offer to become a paid assassin.  If this seems a bit out of character for a SEAL, wait for the details.

Pierre Foche is the front-running Gaullist candidate for the French elections—and is also the owner of the armaments factory that is producing the ghastly missiles that are killing a lot of good men.  There seems to be no way of stopping him short of death, so when Mack is approached with the offer of a big pay check if he disposes of Foche, he’s tempted.  It’s unfortunate that the people offering to pay aren’t doing so out of pure motives: for them this is business, and if Foche is elected, an American shipyard will lose a fat contract and perhaps be forced to close, taking jobs with it.  It’s also unfortunate that Mack needs money, lots of it.   His son has a fatal illness that can only be cured by one expensive Swiss clinic. (Are there any other kinds?)

If you can overlook the very venal motives and just focus on the story, you will enjoy Mack’s carefully plotted and slickly executed campaign to attempt the assignation of Foche.  Nothing ever goes to plan, and even a retired SEAL runs into some unexpected and dangerous problems along the way.  In a few words, it’s “Carlos the Jackal goes to Navy Survival School”.

With lots of not very nice people, a quick tour of France, and some fast killing that seems almost unbelievable: this is a quick read and will take your mind off whatever boring plane trip you have to face this month.  You may shut the book wondering how such a high-principled White Hat turned so quickly into a professional assassin, and how Mack will square his conscience, but that’s a problem for another day. 

 

 

 

Dismantled by Jennifer McMahon

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader 

Publisher: Harper  Paperbacks ISBN-10: 0061689343

While attending a liberal arts college 10 years ago, four students, Tess, Henry, Winnie, and Suz, came together and created their own special club that they called the Compassionate Dismantlers.   The premise being that for anything to have meaning, it first had to be torn apart, and only then could it be recreated with substance.  And while at first their pranks were harmless, their “dismantling” of the familiar more of a series of larks than anything else, one night things went a step too far during a haze of tequila and the spontaneity of youth.  And while the group may have thought that simply walking away would lay the past to rest, they’re in for a horrible surprise when it comes back to haunt them in a series of terrifying events nearly a decade later.

For husband and wife Tess and Henry, their romance that began that summer has long lost its bloom, with the child that was born as a result the only thing keeping them together.  And when an anonymous postcard arrives bringing up that summer, and with it the deadly truth they thought they left behind, what problems were only simmering come to a full boil.   The situation only getting worse when another member of the group Winnie arrives, along with the news that the student she was involved with at that time has recently hanged himself.   And from there, events grow increasingly troubling, suggesting that the past is never as dead as one might hope. 

Jennifer McMahon is no doubt one of the better, new suspense authors to come out in awhile.  A master at the messing with the mind via characters and events that are never what they seem, delving into her latest novel, just like her first, is like diving into a shiny, clean lake, only to find that just below the surface are compounding layers of silt and darkness that can drown the unwary.  Some authors do creepy, some do smart, McMahon does both by taking your worst regret and its barely escaped consequences and kicking it up a notch by taking what is human in all of us, and coloring it dark.  Nothing is sacred or safe in McMahon’s stories, which make them all the more real and wonderfully satisfying.

 

 

 

The Last Ember by Daniel Levin

Publisher: Riverhead Trade   ISBN: 978-1-59448-84600

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

Jonathan Marcus arrives in Rome during a heavy rain. This is a fitting entrance given the storm that will follow in his personal and professional life. Jonathan once was a scholar in classical studies at the prestigious American Academy in Rome. However, he had to leave following a fatal accident at an archeological dig. In New York, a partner in a law firm recognized his potential and Jonathan gave up the classics for the law.

Back in Rome, Jonathan defends a client accused of trafficking stolen antiquities. The young lawyer finds himself opposed by Emili – an official who battles on behalf of the UN against illegal activities associated with the antiquities trade. Then the two are thrown together in a mystery involving international terrorists with ties going back to World War II Nazis. Now Jonathan must choose between his duties as a lawyer and his love of the classics.

The work is scholarly and could easily be boring. However Levin calls upon his own expertise and writing skills to craft an entertaining and interesting mystery that keeps the reader guessing.

 

 

 

I Can See You by Karen Rose

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing  ISBN 978 0 446 53834 5

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader 

This is a very topical story, given how many real news items turn up every week about stalkers, both physical and virtual.  It may make you think twice about accepting invitations to join cyber clubs and social networking sites.

Eve Wilson is a graduate student, and like many people, has a part-time job in a bar to keep body and soul together.  That phrase turns out to have more resonance than a mere literary device, for Eve’s very life becomes endangered when somebody from her research into online groups comes into the real world, and begins killing some of her cyber-subjects in real life—or death.

Eve carries a lot of baggage from a horrific event in her own past, and it keeps her from intimate relationships in real life.  Fortunately, another damaged soul finds her interesting, and she slowly forms a connection with Noah, a police detective.  Noah has been yearning for Eve for months, and finds an excuse to get closer because of her specialist knowledge in the case he is trying to solve.  Noah is juggling a lot of baggage, too, not least of it his partner, Jack, who has gone off the rails in a big way—it’s only going to be a mater of time before Jack’s dereliction of duty comes to the attention of the captain, but meanwhile Noah’s having to carry him.

Tracking the killer through cyberspace with Eve’s help, Noah gets closer, but it isn’t easy, because the killer has hidden his true identity under layers of lies and other people’s identities.  Noah also gets closer to Eve, then she suddenly vanishes, and Noah knows that he has very little time to save her from the fate so many previous victims have suffered.  The tiniest of clues gives him some hope, but will he be in time?

The final scene is gruesome in the extreme; you will wonder if Eve will die of fright even before she’s murdered.  This murderer is one truly sick puppy; Rose has outdone herself in the ‘disgusting villains I have written’ stakes.  Don’t leave this book around for any youngsters to come across.

 

 

 

This Wicked World by Richard Lange

Publisher: Back Bay Books   ISBN 978 0 316 018791

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

This is a dark and bloody story that gets darker and bloodier as it goes along.  It’s not a book I’d recommend as a present for your kindly old Auntie Mabel, not unless she’s a retired drill sergeant.

Jimmy Boone is newly out of prison, having served time for GBH.  He attacked and beat up a man whom he thought was a child abuser, only to discover he’d been manipulated by a scheming female for her own purposes.  Nobody believed Jimmy’s story, and he’s given up trying to justify himself to the world.  He’s working in a bar in Hollywood and counting the days until he can move on to something else, somewhere else.

Enter his old friend Robo who needs help with a slightly shady operation. Jimmy doesn’t want to get into trouble, but Robo plays the guilt card, and before he knows it, Jimmy is pretending to be a cop and helping Robo find out what happened to a dead boy, Oscar Rosales.

One thing leads to another and pretty soon Jimmy is on the wrong side of a major criminal and his band of merry men, any one of whom would kill you as soon as give you the time of day.  The answer to Oscar’s death is at Taggert’s lair, but finding out is one thing; getting justice for Oscar is quite another.  Especially when some high-end illegal activities are endangered by Jimmy’s snooping.

Along the way, Jimmy picks up a toothless fighting dog, a potential girl friend, some near-fatal injuries, and the possibility of having his parole revoked.  There are some occasional spots of humour in this dark story, but overall it’s pretty grim.  It moves fast, it’s full of colourful characters, and it’s sadly believable.

 

 

 

Sidney Sheldon’s Mistress of the Game by Tilly Bagshawe

Publishers: William Morrow  ISBN  978-0-06-172838-1

Reviewed by Narayan Radhakrishnan, New Mystery Reader

The first thought that came to my mind after reading SIDNEY SHELDON’S MISTRESS OF THE GAME was that it’s a natural continuation - there’s no artificiality, no ridiculous and implausible linkups, but instead is a virtual down to earth continuation of the tale that started with THE MASTER OF THE GAME. It’s difficult to imagine that another author had taken up the task of continuing the story started by Sidney Sheldon, and I occasionally had to double check on whether this book had been written by someone else. 

MASTER OF THE GAME was a worldwide bestseller that still sells in thousands today. Written by Sidney Sheldon, the world’s most translated author (and the most popular author in India), the novel followed the life and times of the Blackwell family - the riches, the deceit, the ruthless competition and the treachery within and outside their domain. 

Sheldon had created an enigmatic and charismatic protagonist with Kate Blackwell. Bagshawe has followed the Sheldon footsteps and created an equally enigmatic, ruthless, and tenacious protagonist in Lexi Templeton, the great-grand daughter of Kate, and the daughter of Alexandra Blackwell, the new Master of the Game.

Kruger-Brent, the company started by Kate’s father Jamie McGregor, is still flourishing and the race is now on to find the new chairman. In consideration, other than Lexi, is her cousin and son of Eve Blackwell, Max Webster. Robert, the elder son of Alexandra has made it clear that he is isn’t interested in the company, and so the ruthless race is now between Max and Lexi, both of the same age, both with same ruthless tenacity, and  both of whom would never blink twice in killing each other. So who will be the force that controls Kruger Brent?

In the meantime, in another part of the world, a great-grand nephew of Jamie McGregor,  Gabriel McGregor, is making a fortune in South Africa, and is making inroads in to the Kruger- Brent enterprise. The race is on and only one will emerge the winner. With pulsating action and cunning maneuvers, Sidney Sheldon…oops… Tilly Bagshawe takes the reader through a whirlwind of a ride that culminates in a finish that even Sheldon himself couldn’t have thought of.

I enjoyed the book- and I have a sneaky suspicion that we haven’t seen the last of Kruger- Brent. Ms. Bagshawe tell me the truth, are you working on Grandmaster of the Game??

 

 

 

 

 

Revenge Served Cold by Jackie Fullerton

Publisher: Thomas House Publishing  ISBN 978 0 9843815 0 0

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader 

I said at the end of the review of Fullerton’s first book about Anne Marshall “I have rarely found a fictional man as irritating as Jason Perry.   Ditch him, Anne, you can do better!” In the second book in the series, Jason Perry is still Anne’s lover, but he has changed a bit and is nowhere near as irritating as he was in the first book—although I stand by my first assessment: Anne could do better than this Assistant D.A.

Anne’s a law student, trying to complete her degree, but she keeps being drawn into real-life legal problems.  This time it’s her friend Shirley, who convinces Anne to help prove that her friend Kathy Spence isn’t guilty of killing her husband in an apparent hit and run accident.  Things look bad for Kathy: a blonde woman, driving her car, was seen at the accident site by a witness—admittedly not a first-class leading citizen, but a witness nonetheless—and Kathy’s only alibi for the time of the murder is three empty wine bottles.  Her car is in her garage, damaged and blood-spattered.

The police haven’t been looking for any other explanations: they think they’ve got a cut-and-dried case against Kathy, for vehicular manslaughter at the very least, and maybe first degree murder at the worst.   They’ve reckoned without Anne and her unseen helper, her father’s ghost: in very short order they sniff out some anomalies to the police case and after a bit of persuasion, manage to get a couple of other potential suspects into the limelight.  There’s Ross, Kathy’s old beau, who has been carrying a bitter torch for fifteen years, and there’s Alice, Kathy’s former best friend, who has her own reasons for wishing to see Kathy convicted of a serious crime.

How Anne and her father sort out the truth from a mist of lies and conspiracies forms an absorbing tale with some nail-biting moments.  There are a few thin spots in the plot here and there: why does Mr Marshall’s ghost not tell Anne at once that somebody has a bottle full of sleeping drug powder?  Why wait until the powder is in the teapot before thinking it worthy of comment?  Why are the police so slow on the uptake when it’s pretty clear to the reader that there’s some dirty work at the crossroads going on?

That aside, this is an enjoyable read that keeps your attention from start to finish.

 

 

Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo

Publisher: Minotaur Books  ISBN-10: 0312374062

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

The small town of Painters Mill, Ohio has done a pretty fair job of keeping a peaceful balance between the burgeoning Amish community and the “English.”  As chief of police and previous member of the Amish community, Kate Burkholder knows better than most just how difficult that can be.  It was sixteen years ago that her peaceful life as an Amish teenager was brought to a tragic end when she was brutally raped, a rape that ended with one man dead, and her ties to all she knew broken beyond repair.  After 16 years of trying to outrun her past, she’s returned as a woman determined to keep the peace between the two worlds when she’s hired as the head of the small police department.  

But when the body of a young woman is found brutally raped bearing the signature of the man who attacked her years ago, a man whose return should be impossible, she’ll be forced to look back on that harrowing time years ago and face the damage, the secrets, and the heartache that she only thought she had buried for good.    

In her debut mystery, Castillo does an impressive job of bringing to readers a cast of mostly well-rounded characters, a tightly packed, suspenseful plot, and a chillingly atmospheric setting that vividly brings it all to life.  Also appreciated is the unique backdrop of the Amish community, a distinctive approach that, if anything, could have done with even more detail.  But with this being only the first in the series, there’s no doubt that she intends to provide even more next time around. 

However, some readers might find the detailed crime scenes a bit too graphic for comfort and the young sheriff, a bit too mature and hardened considering her age and background, to be entirely convincing.  Still, this first shows a lot of potential in what might prove to be a great series.

 

 

 

The Lost Witness by Robert Ellis

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur  ISBN-10: 0312366167

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

Since revealing some unkindly truths about LA’s homicide department in her last case, Detective Lena Gamble has been stuck investigating police shootings, a job that nobody on the force would ever want.  So when a young woman is found hacked up in a dumpster and she’s called out to head the case, she smells a rat, knowing the case will be a hit with the media, and also knowing that as not a single viable clue has been left it’ll be her failure if it goes unsolved.  But the one thing Lena ever expected was to feel a connection with the victim, who while at first seemed the picture of innocence, is eventually identified as a local prostitute.

And when Lena is sent a video of the crime, too distorted to make sense of, she’s quick to realize that there is a witness who saw everything.  But, while she knows this will lead to answers, she’s also quick to realize that she’s not the only one looking for this witness who can reveal the entire truth, making it a crucial race to the end to find the witness before the truth is lost forever.

One of the first things noticed when reading Ellis’s latest, much like his first, is the realistic and fantastic job he does with his approach to this high octane tale from a female’s perspective.  With not too much, and not too little, his creation of a female heroine comes off with just the right amount of bravado and sensitivity to convince even the most discerning of readers.  And to top that off, while the story starts off with an even and steady tone, its steady but ever-increasing pace heads towards the explosive ending like a firecracker; one that explodes with more force and surprises than ever expected.  And it’s in reaching this unexpected ending and finding out finally who done what and why that makes this read top-notch; there’s much more here than meets the eye.  Filled with greed, big money, family loyalty, and things best left to the reader to discover on their own, this is one that comes highly recommended.

 

 

 

 

 

Dead Men’s Dust by Matt Hilton

Publisher: Harper  ISBN: 978-0-06-1717193

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

Some people might label Joe Hunter as a vigilante. He calls himself a problem-fixer.

Hunter has been a longtime soldier and entered the private sector to help those who cannot stop the abuse of society’s predators. The story opens with Hunter violently discouraging three thugs from terrorizing a woman and her children in England. Gradually it emerges that she is his sister-in-law. The thugs were sent to try to collect a debt owed by Hunter’s brother, John. Hunter has long cleaned up his brother’s messes and squared his debts. The sister-in-law is worried that the John is missing even though she admits he ran off to America with another woman, Louise. She still believes he’s in trouble.

The story shifts to Florida and then Arkansas. Louise confirms that John is missing. Once again, John has debts owed to a local criminal. The question is whether John has fled to avoid his debts or if the criminal has done something to John. Hunter goes straight at the criminal to find out.

Meanwhile, John is taking a sojourn across the country. Stranded in the western desert, he steals a car from an apparent Good Samaritan who stops to help him. Tubal Cain is anything but a Good Samaritan. In Cain’s SUV, John finds a bundle containing an assortment of inexpensive knives. John takes the Bowie knife from the bundle and leaves Cain in the desert.

Unfortunately for John, Cain is well on the way to his goal of becoming America’s most prolific and undetected serial killer. The knives hold fond memories for Cain, as does thumbs collected from his victims as well as entire bodies hidden in his secret place. Cain uses the skills that he had developed stalking his victims to follow John. The story then becomes a race for Hunter or Cain to find John first.

Hilton writes a tale that is simple and complex at once. The plot is relatively simple. The characters are more complex. This results in an interesting combination that makes it difficult for the reader to put down the book.

 

 

 

 

In the Shadow of Gotham by Stefanie Pintoff

Publisher: Minotaur Books  ISBN-10: 0312628129

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

In 1905 New York, Detective Simon Ziele struggles to recover from the horrific large-scale accident that killed his fiancée and a thousand others by leaving the city for the nearby small town of Dobson with its two-person police department.  After being called to a rare murder, the rush of memories comes back to him and he finds himself dealing with two deaths instead of one.  Like his fiancé e victim is a young woman, although in this case, she’s Sarah Wingate, a wealthy mathematician e, th and suffragette who sparks controversy as she attempts to solve a famous mathematical problem to the dismay of her jealous university peers.  As Ziele tries to focus on Sarah’s murder, local professor Alistair Sinclair quickly approaches Ziele with the promise of the murderer’s identity and the help of his own unusual criminology team.

Using period forensic techniques and weaving in suffragette issues plus academic politics, Pintoff’s award-winning debut includes tantalizing teasers that never spoil the secrets exposed in later chapters.  The time period provides a good historical setting for her intense but humorous characters and well-paced character development.  The character of Ziele in particular would be welcome as a serial detective, especially in continuation of the uneasy partnership with Alistair Sinclair or the professor’s equally resolute daughter-in-law.  Ziele may be a little too perfect, with modern sensitivity and a strong moral imperative, but he possesses enough rough edges and secrets in a time of considerable national and international change. 

Although readers may figure out elements of the solution before the final pages, Pintoff ensures that surprises remain, making this a satisfying mystery populated by a turn of the century conscientious cop, struggling academics, and capable women.

 

 

 

The Language of Bees by Laurie King

Publisher: Bantam   ISBN-10: 055358846

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

“It had been a long day, filled with bees and Bohemians, children scrubbed for bed and children in the most terrible distress.”

In this latest of the popular Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes mystery series set in 1924, Sherlock Holmes is enlisted by Damian, the son he barely knows and met only five years before, to find Damian’s wife and daughter after they disappear while on an “adventure”.  Learning more about Damian proves as compelling to Holmes as does the case, and both inspire him to move quickly to find his daughter-in-law and little granddaughter, leaving Holmes’ young wife Mary Russell to work out why one of Holmes’ beloved hives at his Sussex farm swarms, losing the queen and heirs. 

Not only is the existence of Damian’s wife, Yolanda, a surprise to Holmes, but he also finds that his artistic, passionate son has chosen a vivacious Chinese woman scarred by a terrible childhood, resulting in her quest  for peace in the most obscure of religions during an era filled with mysticism and charlatans.  In order to track Yolanda’s “adventure”, Holmes and Russell separately delve into the spiritual fringes to follow her trail.  At the same time, a bizarre killing spree centered on early religious sites leaves several unfortunate victims with no apparent connection.  Luckily, Russell’s education in ancient religions provides Holmes with knowledge on one of the few subjects he purposely avoids and the two take off on parallel quests with occasional checking in, proving their partnership remains more than just marital. 

Throughout the series, we’ve seen the Holmes/Russell relationship evolve from a mentor/student one into an egalitarian partnership weighted with intelligence and passion.   Russell especially continues to develop into a well-educated and self-assured woman who balances the great, aging and moody detective made famous by Dr. Watson’s case stories during the reign of Victoria.  

In the story, the modern age bursts through with the setting of the roaring twenties in which Mary Russell maintains her maiden name and sports a fashionable “smart” cut, although her short hair resulted from a case described previously in the series.  Even bearing in mind that the 1920s were a time to stretch fashion, art, and morals into new modern directions, the book still reads a little too 21st century.  This is surprising since King superbly evokes a slightly later period in Touchstone, a mystery which also benefits from the lack of iconic characters.  Fortunately, the witty Language of Bees focuses on the first person narrative of Mary Russell, supplemented with almost as much emphasis on her brother-in-law Mycroft Holmes as on Sherlock.  Still, if it’s been a while since you’ve read Arthur Conan Doyle, King’s version remains uncommunicative and independent enough to remain a viable character and the addition of Damian and a Holmes granddaughter (!) prove fascinating.

 

 

 

 

The Secret Speech by Tom Rob Smith

Publisher: Grand Central Books   ISBN 0446402149

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

This is the second in Smith’s series set in mid-20th century Russia, and it immerses the reader in a dark, cold and very grim time and place.  

Leo Demidov and his wife Raisa both have pasts that don’t bear thinking of, but which constantly affect their present lives.  They are trying to be good parents to two little girls they’ve taken into their home, but it’s difficult.  Leo’s involvement in the girls’ parents’ deaths is a barrier to trust, for the older girl in particular.

The arrest of someone else who trusted Leo and was betrayed by him opens the story.   Lazar is sent to a Gulag for crimes against the state.   The man is well-named, for he rises again from the living death to which he was condemned.  We then jump forward seven years to the apparent suicide of a printer of cheap books.   Or was it murder?  What did the printer do or know that made him a danger? 

The story ranges from Moscow to Siberia and back, and involves Leo and his entire family when they become targets for a hidden assassin who is powerfully motivated.  Trying to do his job, protect his family, make amends for his past errors, and just plain survive puts Leo under nearly intolerable pressure.  The price of his family’s survival is the rescue of his old friend, but how can he get the man to trust him now?

At the end of the book there’s a tiny hint of a new day dawning: Stalinist Russia is fading, and Kruschev ‘s Russia is striding on stage.  Whether this will improve Leo and Raisa’s  lives remains to be seen, but they’ve survived this far against incredible odds. 

This book has the same stylistic format as the first one in the series, with direct speech in italics with dashes, rather than quotation marks.  There would be more than one reader who finds this irritating, and a real barrier to the appreciation of the book. 

This book has ‘naught for your comfort’ and can’t be recommended as a nice way to while away a rainy weekend.  However, it is a book that those of us who have comfortable lives and take our relatively democratic governments for granted should all read, especially those who can’t be bothered to vote.

 

 

 

Gold of Kings by Davis Bunn

Publisher:  Touchstone Books ISBN:  1416551632X

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

Sean Syrrell died seeking a treasure beyond value; he died because others wanted it too. Recognizing the danger he was in, he put his granddaughter Storm out of harm’s way. To aid her and protect her he had Harry Bennett freed from the Barbados prison where a greedy official had sent him so he could steal the treasure he’d found.

To help his old friend and thank him for his release, Harry agrees to help Storm and protect her.  Once they are on the trail of the mysterious treasure that Sean had been seeking, the enemy seems to be everywhere and there is more than one, but with the aid of a federal agent, Harry and Storm follow the elusive trail of the treasure.

A story with plenty of intrigue and fascinating characters set against an exciting background as created by imaginative author Davis Bunn, this fun tale is a step above the usual treasure hunt with lots of tension and mystery and a plot that is tightly crafted and with characters that are realistically drawn.  A story you won’t soon forget and one that will have you looking for other work by this talented author, I’m pleased to recommend it as a read well worth the time for anyone.  Enjoy.  I sure did.