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Painted Lady by  Peter Abresch
Publisher: Worldwide Mystery ISBN: 0373264887

Reviewed by Phillip Tomasso III

It is good to see author Peter Abresch back in the saddle again.  Painted Lady is Abresch's fourth James P. Dandy Elderhostel Mystery.   Though it is a series, you do not need to read one in order to understand the other.  Each novel easily stands on its own as a witty, well-plotted out amateur detective mystery.  Like all of Abresch's novels, the chapters are short, the dialogue is real, there is history involved and a murder or two that needs to be solved.

Elderhostel is an actual group.  It's for people over 55.  They get together and take trips to various locations around the country.  Abresch has secured the permission of the group in order to have his mysteries take place on Elderhostel trips.

In Painted Lady, the Elderhostels are taking a trip along the Sante Fe Trail.  Everyone is gathered at a hotel in Denver, waiting for the adventure to begin.  James P. Dandy met Dodee at an Edlerhostel years ago, and the two have been together ever since (read to Bloody Bonsai).  Dodee is an artist who is a painting portrait in the hotel lobby, while Dandy is mingling with guests of the hotel, when a woman across the street either falls or is pushed off a balcony.  As an emergency medical technician, Dandy shouts for someone to call 911 as he rushes out of the hotel to the side of the fallen woman.  She's dead.  She's dressed in Native American clothing.  Later everyone learns that the woman was a Shaman, like a witch doctor.  To make things more odd the unexplainable image in the likeness of the Shaman begins showing up on the work Dodee paints.

Reports gathered by the police and inferred by the media claim that Dandy swiped something off the Shaman at the scene.  The Mayan Falcon.  Dandy had been certain that the Shaman jumped to her death.  He did not believe the woman was pushed.  That would indicate a murder had taken place.  However, when it becomes clearly apparent that some people think Dandy either has this mysterious falcon artifact, or that he knows where it is, murder isn't as unlikely a cause of death as he once thought.

Priests, reverends and mystic mediums.  Ninety-three year old athletes, handlebar mustache men, and rusty old green Buicks.  The historical Sante Fe Trail, a kidnapping and more murder.  A sťance, dandelions and relationships.  Peter Abresch knows what he's talking about.  He spices the chapters with history, romance and intrigue.  He is craft and clever, weaving a tight-knitted plot.  Fast, easy to read and satisfying.  Another winner by a talented storyteller.

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Death at Hallows End Leo Bruce

Academy Chicago Publishers  ISBN  0 89733 516 3

Reviewed by Karen Treanor

With a cast of characters resembling a minor work of Thomas Hardy, this reprint of a 1965 Leo Bruce mystery will satisfy those readers who have had their fill of chain-saw murders and graphic sexual encounters.

Set in England, the mystery takes place in a grim rural spot not far
from history master Carolus Deene's school. The headmaster doesn't approve of Deene's predilection for murder, but in this particular case, it may be that Deene can prevent a public scandal over the disappearance of solicitor Duncan Humby.  Humby may have wandered off, absconded, or been murdered.  If murdered, was it because of who he is, what he does, or what he might have been about to do?  The mystery deepens when reclusive local millionaire James Grossiter dies before making a new will.  Who is the mysterious Humphrey Spaulding to whom he wished to leave ten thousand Pounds?   Has the solicitor's disappearance got anything to do with the will?

With the aid of a sharp nose for coincidence, Deene gets to the bottom of several mysterious deaths.  He is helped by the observations of the well-named Mrs. Crabling, who suspects any parked car of sheltering immoral goings on, and Sergeant Snow of the CID.  The book is worth a look for the quaint names alone: Doctor Jayboard;  Reverend Whiskins; Mrs. Stick the dyslexic cook; and a parade of other unusually-clept folk.
 

 

Generation Without Souls by Chris Freeburn

Quiet Storm Publishing    ISBN: 0-9728819-3-X      
 

Chris Freeburn, author of Parental Source, the first in the C.C.D. Series, returns to the streets of Virginia in her second police procedural crime novel, Generation Without Souls.  Parallel to books of the 87th Precinct by Ed McBain, Freeburn manages to convey the art of police work while delivering suspense, action, and three-dimensional characters tightly compacted into a page-turning mystery novel.

Rayven Forrester, her brother the attorney, Quinton, and her partner, Preston Richards, spearhead the Child Crimes Division (C.C.D.), established to give more attention to child-related crimes.  Geared toward investigating homicides and abuse cases, the last thing the dynamic trio expected to be working on is one involving stuffed animals.

Ambers, stuffed teddy bears, similar to Beannie Babies, are the latest, hottest fad.  Kids want them, and parents will do anything and everything to get them.  When an expected shipment of dolls is late, the gathered mob of anxious shoppers turns ugly.  C.C.D. is called to the scene and works crowd control.  Things go from bad to worse when a murder is committed under the nose of a police-protected toy store.  And a box of Ambers is missing, perhaps stolen, from inventory.

Who would kill for a box of toys?  Plenty of people would.  The dolls stolen were from an imperfect lot of crafted critters.  The street value of such a delectable doll is through the roof.  Rival teen-gangs are doing anything, and everything to get their dirty little hands on the Ambers, including acts of extreme violence.

It is up to the C.C.D. to figure what, aside from an imperfection in the manufacturing, is making the Ambers so popular.  Their search for answers is hindered by an abundance of roadblocks, both legal and illegal.  One thing is certain: the stakes are high.  The gangs are not fooling around.  Lives are in danger.  No one is safe, not even the members of the C.C.D.

Filled with some tender family moments, a splash of romance and a whole lot of action, Generation Without Souls is filled with everything I expect to find in a mystery novel.  Freeburn is a talented and skilled novelist.  She has created amazing characters that readers will immediately care about.  Generation Without Souls is one of the best police procedurals I have read in a long time.  It is full of twists, turns and stomach-churning loop-de-loops.  I look forward to the third in the series.

                                                           Reviewed by Phillip Tomasso III