May 2011 Paperback Mystery Reviews
 

 

Home
Current Issue
Additional New Mysteries
Readers Recommend
Small Press
Featured Authors
Books In Audio
Hard Cover Archives
Submission Guidelines
Short Stories
Mystery links

click on links for buying info

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

Publisher: Harper Perennial

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Coming from very different backgrounds as young boys in small town Mississippi, Silas and Larry still manage to form a brief friendship.  While young, the differences between Silas, an athletic black boy living in poverty, and Larry, a middle-class white boy only interested in books, seem to matter little when it comes to exploring the woods and sharing their interests.  But as the years go by, the differences between their two small worlds become insurmountable, and sooner, rather than later, their friendship becomes simply too difficult to sustain - the final straw being when Larry is the number one suspect in the disappearance of a young girl when she goes missing after a movie date with him.  

Years later, after having moved from the county, Silas returns to the small town in Mississippi and takes the job a constable.  While Larry, living for the past 25 years as a guilty man never charged, has been barely living at all, unless you call replacing his windshields, mailboxes, and  assorted damage to his property ‘living’.  But still, Larry wants nothing more than to renew his friendship with Silas.  But age-old secrets, some very surprising, will prevent this from happening.  And when another young woman goes missing, these two men will once again find themselves on different sides of life when Larry is again the main suspect in the disappearance of a beautiful young woman.  But what is really the truth?  The answer to that is what comes as the biggest and most compelling surprise that makes this read more than just a mystery and one that is worth reading to find out.

After reading this novel, it’s easy to see why Franklin has received rave reviews from just about every publication out there.  From the very first page, lyrical and evocative prose takes the reader into an immediate and intimate place that is uniquely the Deep South, complete with its small-town life and complicated relationships involving family ties and sometimes casual racism, but that just like everywhere else, suffers the life-long consequences of lying low when standing up would be the better thing to do. 

Franklin writes with such perfect detail that one shouldn’t be surprised that while reading they find themselves scratching at the bites of nonexistent mosquitoes, just as they’re feeling a low rumbling heartbreak at the loneliness and despair of a simple man caught in the crossfire of small-town gossip based on nothing but rumor and supposition.  Simply put, this is a beautiful tale that offers something deeper than most, and one that comes with an ending that with its universal offering of redemption and soul-finding will resound no matter where you come from.

 

 

 

Our Kind of Traitor by John le Carré

Publisher: Penguin

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

Perry is a college teacher and Gail is a lawyer. The young English couple take a holiday in Antigua. While there, Perry – the accomplished tennis player - is first invited and then somewhat pressured into a match with Dima, a Russian with questionable sources of income. After beating Dima, Perry encounters Dima and his entourage several times on the island. Each meeting has a strained quality to it.

The events are revealed to the reader via a series of interviews that the young couple have with the British Secret Service. The group has an interest in Dima. Soon the couple find themselves caught in a series of events that involve powerful opponents clashing on the world stage. The why and how this situation comprises the mystery. Additionally, how the couple will escape with their lives provides the tension for the story. The author shows his ample skills in how the events and reasons are revealed to the reader. The reader will have pay close attention to details so as not be lost in the unfolding of the events.

 

 

 

 

Vintage Connor: The Blonde in the Lotus Elite by Robert Baty

Publisher: R J Buckley Publishing

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Ray Connor has the advantage over other ex-cop-turned-investigators in that his former partner Vince Hendrix is not only still on speaking terms, he’s willing to bend any number of rules to help out his old buddy.  This comes in handy when Ray gets hit in the face with his own past, and that past wants his help.

Evie and Ray were an item back way back when, but she couldn’t see herself as a cop’s wife, and Ray couldn’t see himself as anything but a cop.  They parted, but Ray’s never forgotten her. Now here she is in the doorway of his vintage car workshop, begging him to find out who killed her daughter.  The Monterey police have written Janey off as a suicide, but Evie is convinced it was murder.  The Monterey police are as happy to see Ray as a skunk at a picnic, but Detective Dave Thurmond cuts Ray a bit of slack when he turns up some evidence that indicates there’s more to the suicide than they originally thought.  An amateur sleuth can sometimes get access to places and things informally, and when Ray turns up a pearl ring and some interesting tapes, Thurmond starts to pay attention.

Ray is walking a very fine line with Thurmond: he needs to give him enough information to catch and convict Janey’s killer, but somehow he has to keep Evie’s shooting of one of the villains with her (unlicensed) gun secret.  The injured hood escapes in an accomplice’s car, but turns up dead later, and coincidentally, a truckload of classic cars is at the crime scene.  Curiouser and curiouser, as someone once said.

All the various plotlines come together in a warehouse late at night, but that’s going to be cold comfort to Ray if he doesn’t get out of there alive.

This book is a clever amalgam of genres: cop buddies, informal private eyes, and crime noir with a touch of the late great Robert B Parker thrown in here and there.  Many bigger publishing houses have put out material that’s not as good.  Do a bit of digging at your local indie book store if you’re lucky enough to still have one in your town, and check out some of the lesser known writers from small publishing houses.  At $19 this is a bargain basement good read.

 

 

 

Untouchable by Scott O’Connor

Publisher: Tyrus Books             

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader         

Most of us are aware there’s a social group in India called The Untouchables, those who do the lowest, most menial jobs that nobody else wants to do.  Western Society has a similar group, although we pretend don’t see them.  You know:  toilet cleaners, hotel maids, septic tank pumpers, garbage collectors and the like.  David Darby has an untouchable job, probably the worst imaginable. He works for a company that cleans up after the Grim Reaper. He’s one of the people who come to a suicide-by-shotgun scene and clean away the gore, or who go to the storage unit where an old man has lain for a week in summer before he’s found.

Dave is a single father of a mute 11-year old son.  At first we aren’t sure what’s happened to his wife, because his son, “The Kid”, keeps up such a convincing pretence of her being alive somewhere that we believe him.  Later we enter Dave’s memory and learn she died of a brain hemorrhage in her classroom at school, in front of her students.  Later still we suspect this isn’t the truth, and that Dave’s constructed as convincing a fable as The Kid has.  It can’t last, of course.  Reality begins washing away the foundations of Dave’s sanity, leading him to do some very unwise things.

The Kid wasn’t always mute; he stopped talking when his mother vanished, and he communicates solely through writing, in notebooks.  His peculiarity has made him the target for school bullies, and he spends a lot of his life trying to avoid another beating or another humiliation.  Few animals are as cruel as human young, and The Kid suffers a great deal. He can’t tell his father why he won’t talk, because just like telling someone what you wish when you blow out your birthday candles, speaking would destroy the spell that he hopes will bring back his mother.

You can’t just keep on wishing, you have to act to make something happen, so The Kid begins visiting a burnt-out house and drawing wonderful pictures on its walls.  He lets a couple of friends in on the secret and the three of them spend hours in the mysterious place.

Desperate to do something to help his son, Dave brings home a stray dog that’s also suffered at the hands of humans.  Initially The Kid is frightened of the large animal, but eventually they develop a bond of sorts.  Things come to a head when the dog has an epileptic fit and it’s too dark for The Kid to communicate by writing.  When Dave returns from a near-psychotic episode he realises that he, too, must stop wishing and take some action. 

Nine-tenths of this book is wonderfully written and carefully constructed.  The first chapter lets it down badly.  O’Connor has tried to convey some universal truths but fallen into a slough of political correctness, and makes such a hash of single nouns and plural pronouns in order to avoid using the simple word ‘he’ that you want to scream.  Partly it’s the fault of our language which doesn’t have a simple pronoun that means ‘he or she’.  If you persevere and get past sentences like The person in the doorway is not sure what kind of men they expected, but these are not those men,” you will be rewarded with a unique reading experience.

 

 

 

And Every Man Has To Die by Frank Zafiro

Publisher: Gray Dog Press

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

The thin blue line from River City is back: Chisholm, Sullivan, Battaglia, Kahn, Katie McLeod, and the new kid, B J Carson. 

Katie McLeod gets sidelined early in the story due to a badly injured ankle that happens in an altercation with a humongous Russian thug.  Bored to tears and home alone, she starts self-medicating with wine. Fortunately she gets some desk work helping Renee, the department crime analyst.  Renee sees a scary crime trend in the Russian community, but is having a hard time convincing the new police chief.  Is she jumping at shadows, or is the chief just preferring not to see?

Several shooting incidents occur which at first seem unrelated, but there are some common threads that make Renee consider the possibilities even more seriously.  At the scene of a black gang’s ambush outside the leader’s house, Tom Chisholm is disgusted to discover FBI agent Maurice Payne throwing his weight around.  Payne was once a rookie cop under Chisholm’s oversight, and he washed out as being not Grade-A material—so how did he make it in the FBI?  Chisholm wants action, but Payne counsels surveillance.  Mutual loathing ensues.

Thanks to the heavy-handed Russian personnel management tactics, one of their insiders decides to rat to the police.  He’s put under guard by both the cops and the FBI in a supposedly safe hotel room.  The head of the mob, Sergey Markov, puts a price on his head and it’s only a matter of time before there’s a leak and the location of the rat is discovered.  Sergey and his lieutenant Valeriy Romanov plan Oleg’s liquidation, but Sergey doesn’t know there’s a hidden agenda in play. 

“The horse may run quickly but it cannot escape its own tail”.  Valeriy quotes to Sergey from an old Russian proverb, and this one is more telling than most.  The Russians in the new world cannot escape their past, and that is to some extent a handicap.  Sergey never went to the Harvard Business School, an omission he will live to regret—but not for long.

The Russian mob lieutenant and the solid River City cop Sullivan have more in common than first appears: Valery Romanov is single-mindedly pursuing his ‘business plan’, and has an abiding devotion to his sister.  Connor Sullivan is single-mindedly pursuing his determination to make River City safe from villains, and has an abiding devotion to his partner and the partner’s family.  Both men are dangerous people to cross.  There’s an echo of the Corleone family in both men’s personalities.

This was a compelling read, even given that I don’t have an e-reader and had to use a Kindle app on my PC.  I soon forgot that as I scrolled faster and faster through the involving story.  This book deserves wider recognition; perhaps someone will bring it to the attention of a film-maker, as it would make an excellent movie with its short, sharp scenes and rapid pace. 

July's author of the month is Frank Zafiro

 

 

Queen of Patpong by Timothy Hallinan

Publisher: William Morrow  

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader

I was lucky enough to discover Timothy Hallinan’s Poke Rafferty series with its first installment, A Nail Through the Heart. Nail was an excellent book, but The Fourth Watcher surprised me with how much better it was. I didn’t figure Hallinan could top that, but Breathing Water did. Having been fooled a couple of times, I expected a lot from his newest, The Queen of Patpong, and he confounded me again. It’s that good.

The love story of Poke and Rose is a consistent thread throughout the series. It’s never a completely comfortable alliance; Poke is farang, a foreigner, who can never fully understand some elements of Thai culture. Rose found her way out of Bangkok’s sex industry—with Poke’s assistance—and struggles with her internal scars and an inability to completely unburden herself to Poke, no matter how much she loves him.

This changes after a chance encounter in a restaurant with Howard Horner. Horner claims he and Rose were almost married; Rose responds by telling Poke she thought she’d killed him, one more thing about Rose Poke discovers piecemeal. When Horner and a friend begin to stalk Rose, Poke, and their adopted daughter Miaow, Rose finally has to tell Poke everything so he can fully grasp the seriousness of the situation.

This is where The Queen of Patpong veers away from being an excellent thriller into something else entirely. Hallinan stops the story and takes the reader back over ten years, to Rose’s village, where her father is about to sell her into prostitution. She’s saved at the last minute by Nana, a former resident who has made a new life for herself in Bangkok. Rose—known then as Kwan—escapes with Nana, only to find safety is a relative concept for beautiful young women in Thailand. Ending up in the sex industry, she eventually meets Horner to bring her story back around to where it was left off.

The digression into Rose’s past is daring, and remarkably successful. Hallinan is a master at building tension on a low heat to draw the reader in before he realizes he’s fully invested; to stop that story with another, no matter how it’s related, is an act of literary courage. Rose’s tale is just as suspenseful as the one left temporarily behind, ratcheting up the tension so that when the initial plot returns things are already at a level well above where they were left, even though nothing has changed. This is virtuoso writing, made even better by Hallinan’s gift for never drawing attention to it.

To list the virtues of this book would take more time than we have here. There is no better sidekick in crime fiction today than Poke’s friend Arthit, his eternal reality check. A straight cop in a bent society, Arthit is a master at playing the corrupt system without sacrificing his own honor; that there are other cops willing to go along with him shows it is the system that is corrupt, not the Thai people.

Hallinan’s work is proof the most powerful writing evokes emotions rather than manipulating them. The scene in Rose’s village the night before she leaves with Nana for Bangkok is heartbreaking, never maudlin. Hallinan has a gift for appealing to universal commonalities that will bind any reader to the grief and terror of a sixteen-year-old girl who has learned her father has betrayed her completely. The paragraphs in which Rose finds a package she hid when she was nine—her “treasures”—will take you back to your nine-year-old heart, now mature enough to fully appreciate the impact of what she is about to do, even though she doesn’t. Reminiscent of Ma Joad’s last look around the house before leaving Oklahoma forever in The Grapes of Wrath, this scene of Rose’s last night in the village is worthy of study by writers who want to see how to do it right.

This is not the place for another skirmish in the literary vs. genre war, and I’ll not insult Hallinan’s accomplishment by saying it “transcends the genre.” Still, though The Queen of Patpong is marketed as a thriller, it bears as much resemblance to the work of Dan Brown as Scarlett Johansson does to a motorcycle. Love, sacrifice, honor, are all examined, and are sometimes found wanting. Hallinan gives no easy answers, not even at the end, which is satisfying, yet unexpected in a Suddenly Last Summer kind of way.

The Queen of Patpong’s emotional and visceral impact make it challenging, though eminently readable; not to be affected is a sign of a cursory reader participation. Hallinan is never voyeuristic or gruesome in his depictions of sex and violence, though the story it rife with both. His balancing relies not so much on the theory of “less is more” than on “if properly told, this is enough.” Everything about The Queen of Patpong  is properly told, though once you finish it, you’ll not have had enough of Hallinan.

 

 

 

Pretty Little Things by Jilliane Hoffman

Publisher: Vanguard Press 

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Thirteen year-old Lainey has just moved away from all of her friends, leaving her with a bratty younger brother and a mom who spends her time yelling at her.  Fortunately for Lainey, she’s just started chatting with a 17 year-old football player online and she agrees to meet him secretly after school..

After hearing about Lainey’s disappearance, FDLE Special Agent and Crimes Against Children Supervisor Bobby Dees feels a special connection to Lainey although he’s not sure if it’s because she’s had such a rotten life or because her vanishing act reminds him of his own daughter’s disappearance from nearly a year before.  He and wife LuAnn have tacitly agreed to throw themselves into work, trying to think of anything other than their daughter, Katy.  With Lainey’s case on a frantically short clock, Bobby tries to work through the meager clues as quickly as he can so that at least one little girl can return home.

While investigating, Bobby starts getting graphically horrific depictions of young girls that are addressed to him, forcing him to realize that this case will be difficult to forget.  The kidnapper seems to play with Bobby’s own misery while taunting him to discover his identity, a task which seems enormous in the Floridian towns which brim with people of every background.

Hoffman provides enough background information to give life to each major character while offering motivation for uncharacteristic behavior or even for the dismal everyday events that stifle Lainey and Bobby, encouraging each to find an escape.  Hoffman’s knowledge of the grim real world of child abductions shows throughout Pretty Little Things, making this a disturbing yet captivating read with well-produced twists that raise concern for little Lainey’s fate.

For Interview with Jilliane Hoffman

 

 

 

 

The Bourne Objective by Eric Van Lustbader

Publisher: Vision

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Van Lustbader has been doing the Bourne novels for so long now that it is hardly required to mention that the series was originally written by Robert Ludlum.  At first it may have been necessary to reassure the book-buying public that Jason Bourne’s ongoing trials and adventures were being written under the aegis of the dead Ludlum, but now we don’t need that: Van Lustbader can stand on his own as a contriver of twisted plots and desperate situations.

In this latest outing, Jason Bourne once again faces his nemesis Arkadin, a fellow graduate of a dark ops CIA training school and a man who has as much luck in the survival stakes as Jason himself.  Both men have survived bombs and bullets and assassins enough times to make the fabled nine-lived cat look like an amateur.

The book starts where the previous volume left off, with Jason in Bali consulting the Balinese shaman Suparwita in hopes of discovering more clues to his past life—not the recent past, but his real, original life, the one that has somehow been erased from his memory.  This time he has a solid clue, a gold ring with obscure writing on it: which he thinks is tied to the past he cannot remember.  Before Jason finds out more than a few tantalizing clues, Russian agents attack.  Jason outwits them with his usual skill, and learns that he is in a very dire situation.  There are more bad guys after him than he thought, and the best way to deal with them may be to make common cause with Arkadin—if he can get close enough to negotiate before Arkadin kills him.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, Soraya Moore, head of the Muslim anti-terrorist branch of Central Intelligence, comes in to work to discover that she’s been sacked and her department rolled up.  The new head of CI, M Errol Danziger, who is at least as nasty as his Russian counterparts, is cleaning house and disposing of any traces of his predecessor’s staff.  In the paranoid atmosphere of the national capital, all that’s needed to purge the unwanted is the hint that they have unsavoury connections.  Soraya’s romance with the Egyptian Amun Chaltoum is cited, and she’s out the door and looking for employment.

Gold rings with mysterious messages; stolen lap-top computers, professional killers, double and triple agents, safe houses that are anything but, exotic locations, corrupt government officials in the east and west—this book is stuffed full of everything you need to make a rainy weekend slip past unnoticed.  Try to suspend your amazement that people could be injured almost to the point of death and be on a plane to foreign parts two days later, and just go with the flow and enjoy Jason’s latest adventure. 

PS It’s also got some pretty good writing: “Night descended like a curtain of scuttling insects, coming alive with the setting of the sun.”  This sentence will resonate with anyone who’s spent any time in the tropics.  Or this, describing a man who never recalled his dreams: “His entire sleeping existence was a perfect blank wall on which nothing was ever scrawled.”

 

 

 

They’re Watching by Gregg Hurwitz

Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

It’s hard to believe that just a few months ago, first time screenwriter Patrick Davis had the world by the tail.  Having sold his first screenplay that’s to be made into a movie starring the current “Brad Pitt,” Davis quits his job to work on the movie version for the producers.  But once on the set he’s quick to realize that his dream of making it in Hollywood is fast becoming a nightmare.  The bastardization of his script, the petty behind the scenes politics, and the diva demands of the star only bring Davis closer to despair over his belief that the movie will never get made.  And when after a skirmish with the star he’s thrown off the set, Davis returns home with his tail between his legs, only to find that not only has this dream been cut short, but that of a happy marriage has gone along for the ride as well.   

But Davis struggles on, battling the lawsuit brought forth by the star while attempting to resume his life by taking a job teaching screenwriting at the local college and trying to forgive his wife for her brief affair.  It won’t be easy, but Davis will soon discover that these failures are nothing compared to the fear he feels when he begins to receive movies of himself going about his daily business.  Movies that are ominous and hint at even greater threats to come.  So when the emails begin showing up making odd demands on Patrick, he’s too frightened to do anything but obey.  And as things grow progressively more dangerous, the demands more frightening, Patrick will find himself longing for the life he had before he hit the big time.

With plenty of suspense to keep the reader easily enthralled along with plenty of surprising twists and turns, readers will enjoy the challenge of trying to guess where this one is going to go next and where it’s going to end up.  “Be careful what you wish for” is the underlying theme behind this new novel by Hurwitz, and although this message comes out a bit overly black and white at times – seeming to suggest that going for any of your dreams is rarely the best road to follow - this is an exciting and wildly adventurous tale that will keep readers tuned in all the way through.

 

 

Still Missing by Chevy Stephens

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Vancouver Island Realtor Annie O'Sullivan's life as she knows it comes to an end when during a Sunday open house, her last visitor, a seemingly guileless and charming man turns into her worst nightmare when he suddenly overpowers her and takes her captive.  During the next year, she will be forced to endure unspeakable acts while living in a locked down cabin in the middle of the forest; a year of hell that only ends when she takes one of the first opportunities she has and puts an end to it. 

But once she's free she'll soon discover that attempting to reclaim the life she once led is impossible; her fear of the ordinary leaving her to alienate those she was once close to, and her isolation, while in a different form, remains much the same for all intents and purposes.  And as the case continues to be investigated, she'll also soon discover that the abduction was a walk in the park compared to the horrifying truth behind it all that is slowly being revealed.

Told mostly as a first person narrative as speaking to her therapist, this chilling telling is both hauntingly and disturbingly real.  Annie's attempts to put her life back together are heartbreaking and Stevens easily imparts to the reader the horrifying magnitude of not only the ordeal but the aftermath.  But if you think that's all there is to this, as if that wasn't enough to compel the reader breathtakingly forward throughout, Stevens also throws in some surprises that will really shake you to the core.  This is a standout read that's full of emotional depth including both intense sorrow and moments of hope, both of which will leave the reader championing this stricken heroine all the way through.  Hate to use this over familiar saying, but this one is truly a "must read."      

 

 

Hangman by Faye Kellerman

Publisher: Harper

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

In Kellerman's latest featuring Lt. Peter Decker and crew from LA's homicide unit, fans get treated to a novel that features not just one, but two cases that these detectives must solve before time runs out and the victim count rises. 

The first case begins when a woman is found hanging from the rafters at a construction site.  It doesn't take long for the detectives to discover that while the corpse is that of a well-respected nurse who was tops in her field, her private life was not as upstanding.  Those who knew her on a more personal level also knew that she had a boyfriend whose love for the ladies was nearly unrivaled by the victim's love for partying and sexual encounters fueled by revenge.  With the boyfriend MIA, the detectives come to a standstill in the investigation, that is, until one of her female partying buddies turns up dead as well.  Obviously the cases are connected, but following these trails to the same destination will prove quite the task when yet another friend goes missing, and the fearful concern the detectives must face is that of a serial killer on the prowl.

Meanwhile, Lt. Decker has been contacted by a young woman he helped out years ago who is now trying to separate from her violent husband, a vicious hitman with an odd side of sentiment that Decker helped free from a false charge way back when.  And when the woman disappears, leaving Decker in charge of her young teenaged son who happens to be a musical prodigy, Decker isn't sure if her husband finally killed her, or if she left voluntarily.  Either way, until the question is answered, and maybe even after, he's left with the questionable custody of the angry and bitter teen who is older than his years and more than capable of taking care of himself.

As usual, Kellerman puts out a solid police procedural.  One has to admire her ability to get the details of an investigation down with little fuss; straightforward and to the point goes without saying.  And while this is definitely a plus when compared to the more Hollywood CSI type of procedurals that tend to throw reality down the drain for dramatic purposes, fans might actually miss some of that drama.  There's a certain lack of animation in the telling that results in a sometimes dry and single-note tale that while still providing solid details, leaves out a lot of the deeper feelings no doubt simmering underneath.  Still, this is a solid read that fans will most likely enjoy, and although we can hope for a bit more passion next time out, this outing does the trick of providing decent entertainment at a good price.

 

 

 

 

Damaged by Alex Kava

Publisher: Anchor

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

FBI profiler Maggie O’Dell leaps at the chance—literally—to get away from her obnoxious boss Raymond Kunze in the latest in this series.  Loaned to Homeland Security to investigate body parts found floating in a cooler, Maggie has to fly in a helicopter, one of her pet hates, and then finds herself jumping out of it to save her new gal pal Liz Bailey, a Coast Guard rescue swimmer.

How did it come to this?  It starts with the previous case where Maggie runs a serial killer to earth and Kunze has to shoot him in a violent showdown. Kunze seems to blame Maggie for that, and when she gets a chance to go to Florida and investigate a new case, she’s more than ready to do so.

The cooler and its grisly contents was retrieved from the sea by the Coast Guard and found to be full of bits of people.  Some inspired detective work uncovers the origins of the parts and leads to the uncovering of several crimes, murder being only one of them. 

Meanwhile Maggie is delighted to find her friend Benjamin Platt is also in Florida on what looks like an unrelated case.  Just as the forced intimacy of a shared hotel room looks promising, Ben gets a phone call, Maggie gets a visitor, and a hurricane hoves into view on the horizon.  What a pity—Ben’s skill as a masseur looked like it was leading somewhere interesting.  Before Maggie has time for regrets, she’s again in pursuit of a serial killer while being pursued herself by a Category 4 storm.

For all its gory premise, Damaged doesn’t dwell unduly on the murder process, but focuses more on the motives and personalities involved.  Not that this story could be classified as a ‘cozy’ by any means, but it can safely be read after supper without endangering your digestion or your sleep.

 

 

 

Betrayed by Robert K. Tanenbaum

Publisher: Pocket

Reviewed by Jim Sells ,  New Mystery Reader 

Betrayed begins with seemingly isolated characters engaged in what appears to be unrelated events. A mysterious figure known as “The Fixer” is engaged in cleaning up the death of high-dollar prostitute to avoid a scandal for a rich client. A home-grown Muslim terrorist has tried to blow up the New York Stock Exchange, but by diplomatic arrangements between the U.S. and Mid-East governments is being escorted to a plane to leave the country. The District Attorney of New York County is enjoying a vacation with his family out West.

However, a phone call tips DA “Butch” Karp that terrorist Sharif Jabbar is leaving the country. Karp makes some phone calls of his own and Jabbar is transferred from federal custody to New York County to face charges. The high-dollar prostitute turns out to be the daughter of a wealthy suburban couple. Harry Chin, the DA of that county sees the case as an opportunity for publicity. Chin had been fired by Karp for such tactics while working for him.

The sinister Son of Man organization is somehow involved in the crimes taking place. Mareline Ciampi, Karp’s wife, becomes involved in the murder investigation of a recurring street character with a surprising background.

So with his usual skill, Tanenbaum has brought events together that revolve around recurring character Butch Karp. At more than 350 pages loaded with relevant detail, the work requires the reader to pay close attention lest she or he misses an important connection or clue. While not a nail-biter that the reader will have difficulty putting down, Betrayed is a comfortable work with familiar characters and a plot straight from today’s headlines.

 

 

 

Never Wave Goodbye by Doug Magee

Publisher: Touchstone 

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

While Lena Trainor might be looking forward to the next two weeks as a time to mend the cracks in her marriage while her daughter is at summer camp, letting her daughter get on the bus proves more than difficult.  But when she finds out that the bus she put her daughter on has nothing to do with summer camp, and is instead part of a kidnapping plot that involves her family and her neighbors, her bittersweet feelings turn to horror.  But while she can blame herself for not noticing that she let her daughter go straight into the arms of danger, that will do little to bring her back.  Nor will it help the children of the other three families who are on the same bus and in the same danger.  And to make things worse, as the clock clicks down more than one of these families will become suspects in this ingenious plot, leaving Lena with nobody to trust, including those closest to her.

Magee’s debut novel easily offers up a suspenseful tale that will keep the reader anxiously turning the pages to see what happens next in this kidnapping plot that is more than clever.  But while the reader is challenged by the guessing game of who all is involved, somehow the answer that eventually is provided seems anti-climatic when at last revealed.  Nonetheless, this is a quick and exciting read that suggests this author is one to watch.

 

 

Among The Departed by Vicki Delany

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press   

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Few things are as distressing for serving police officers as searching for a missing child, knowing how many bad things might have happened to it.  Constable Molly Smith is having a romantic evening with her main man, Adam Tocek, when the Mountie gets a call about a missing five-year-old.  Molly goes along to the search area with Adam and his canine partner Norman, and for once the search has a happy ending: the boy is found safe.  Also found is a human bone…and another…and another.

It doesn’t take long for the Trafalgar B.C. police department to narrow down the list of missing persons and decide that the bones probably belong to Brian Nowak, a family man who went out for cigarettes fifteen years ago and was never seen again.  Molly has more reason to remember the event than most: she was a teenager at the time, and had spent the night with her friend Nicole, Nowak’s daughter.  In fact, Molly was probably the last person to see Nowak alive before his accident—or murder, as it later becomes apparent.

Molly’s boss, Sergeant Winter, sets the investigation rolling, not without misgivings, because his recently-returned wife Eliza is professionally involved with the missing man’s son, Kyle, an artist of dark talent.  Will Eliza forgive him if Winter’s investigation upsets her planned one-man show?     The missing man’s other child, Nicky, is now pursuing a different sort of colourful career in Vancouver, and her arrival on the scene makes some waves that threaten Molly’s private life.  Also complicating the picture is Molly’s mother’s affair with the Chief Constable, who was the original investigating officer when Nowak went missing. 

This is a typical small-town mystery, where every thread that’s pulled from the social fabric is connected to something else.  Violent death impacts more heavily here than it might in the big city, and life can’t get back to normal until the case is settled.  Author Delany has clearly done her homework: anyone who’s ever lived in a place like Trafalgar will identify with the setting and the people easily.

 

 

A Curtain Falls by Stefanie Pintoff

Publisher: Minotaur

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Nimbly following Pintoff’s In the Shadow of Gotham, Detective Simon Ziele returns to New York City to investigate a strange theatrical murder of a bit-part actress in 1906.  Simon, already internally tortured by the memories of his late fiancée, finds himself tracking down a serial killer who leaves poetical clues in spidery handwriting but remains just out of Simon’s reach. 

With each murder, the killer becomes more inspired by the setting of the early New York theatre district, creating complicated scenes and leaving the young women bearing stage make-up and intricate costumes.  Charles Frohman, owner of several theatres including those that become the killer’s stage, quickly becomes Ziele’s suspect in part because he requires his stars to be the models of publicly conceived Victorian purity and adhere to his controlling restrictions at all times.

To help him solve this baffling case, Ziele reluctantly calls on wealthy criminologist Alastair Sinclair and daughter-in-law Isabella Sinclair again to help him decipher what the clues could mean to a well-educated suspect whose standard of living vastly outranks that of a police detective. Throughout, Ziele and Isabella attempt to overcome the tension remaining from Ziele’s previous abandonment of the Sinclairs after the conclusion of their earlier collaboration.  Isabella, the widow of Alastair’s son Teddy, remains in a higher social class but her chosen occupation as Alastair’s assistant means that she especially enjoys working with Ziele for both professional and personal reasons.  Ziele maintains his internal conflicts which are only heightened by his doubts about Alastair’s own loyalties.

Because of the Sinclair network of academics, the era’s forensic science details fingerprinting and handwriting methods which could supplement fact-finding but not always serve as court-accepted evidence.  Ziele has resources of his own, though, thanks to his contacts in the criminal underworld, including his debt-ridden father who believes in conning anyone willing to fall for his schemes or loan him money.

While Pintoff’s award-winning debut was promising, A Curtain Falls shows that promise fulfilled with more intricate plots and greater detailed characterizations, which serve to create an enjoyable New York historical mystery.

 

 

A Bad Day for Pretty by Sophie Littlefield

Publisher: Minotaur 

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Stella Hardesty is a Missouri 50-something widow who owns a sewing shop.  She may sound settled or stuffy but in fact, Stella is a gun-packing, foul-mouthed woman who finally killed her husband after years of physical and mental abuse and has undertaken a crusade to help other women in her former predicament.

In A Bad Day for Pretty, readers take a wild ride as Stella makes the unprecedented decision for her as she agrees to help out a former abusive husband who has just been accused of murdering a woman during the years he battled a prescription drug addiction.

Stella complicates her life even more by tentatively dating local sheriff Goat Jones.  She adamantly refuses to trust anyone and a law enforcer is the last person in whom she should confide since she started “persuading” domestic abusers to reform, but she just can’t stay away from Goat.  Stella and Goat finally seem to decide about their potential relationship on a tornadic night, which only foreshadows the arrival of Goat’s not quite ex-wife Brandy, in all of her teased blonde hair and high heeled glory.

Stella uses her case to distract her from the fact that Brandy seems smitten with Goat as she resolves to help her former client, Neb.  The tornado may have brought bad news for Stella but it truly turned Neb’s life upside down when the storm tore up the cemented Fairgrounds supports, exposing the final resting place for the blonde, mummified corpse.  Stella hopes to clear Neb by finding the real guilty party all while trying not to act on her own murderous impulses towards Goat’s annoyingly helpless ex.

Adding to the boisterous atmosphere, Stella loves to spend time with her eclectic group of friends and family that she’s collected since the death of her oppressive husband and her new family is as informal and fond of cursing as any who know that family, lovingly created food, and the rural outdoors is all they need in life. 

Littlefield produces memorable characters full of colorful expressions and big hearts in a great setting while updating the idea of what’s really going on in the often overlooked “flyover” country between America’s coasts.  This follow-up to A Bad Day for Sorry fulfills its promise and then some, making Sadie one of the most rollicking and imminently quotable characters in recent memory.

 

 

Running Dark by Jamie Freveletti

Publisher: Harper

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

The region of Africa surrounding Somalia can be dangerous as are the waters off its coast. Thanks to covert operations run by the security corporation Darkview, some piracy and other criminal acts have been foiled. However, now key players associated with Darkview are the targets of revenge.

Emma Caldridge is called a “mad scientist” by the head of Darkview and just the person to send in when a load of deadly pharmaceuticals are in danger of falling into the hands of Somali pirates. Cameron Sumner is another Darkview operative and just the man to happen to be aboard the luxury liner carrying the pharmaceuticals. However,

Emma is injected with an unknown substance as she runs a marathon which seems to be a performance enhancement drug, but what will be the side effects?  

Richard Stark is the head of Stark Pharmaceuticals and the subject of a negative report by Emma regarding a new medication that doesn’t live up to its advertising. Despite appearing to cooperate and assist Emma, does he have a different agenda?

Cameron Banner is the head of Darkview. With his second in command, former military officer Carol Stromeyer, Banner has succeeded well as a government contractor, but there are political and criminal forces working in tandem to end that.

Freveletti has crafted an intriguing tale. Using current world events, the author has created a relevant story with some interesting commentary regarding Western naiveté to world affairs.