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Cage of Stars by Jacquelyn Mitchard

Publisher: Warner Books  ISBN 0 446 57875 4

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Crime doesn't just affect the victims: often it changes the lives of everyone related to them as well.

Jacquelyn Mitchard's latest book looks at the way the Swan family was shredded, gutted and eventually reassembled into a new configuration. 

Mitchard sets her story in a close-knit rural Mormon community, and observes murder through the eyes of the teenage Veronica.  Left to mind her little sisters for a brief period, Veronica gives in to their demand to play hide and seek.  It is by hiding in the backyard shed that Veronica is spared when the schizophrenic Scott Early wanders in to the yard, finds a scythe, and cuts the throats of the girls.

For years Ronnie labors under a burden of guilt: if she'd been out in the yard, she'd have been able to stop Scott; if she'd kept the girls in doors, the terrible confluence of Scott's illness and her sisters' innocence would never have occurred.

The family is destroyed.  The formerly easy-going cheerful mother retreats into a near-fugue state, and even the birth of a baby boy doesn't bring her out of it.  The father is no longer the dispenser of sage advice and companion in intellectual games and forest walks.  Ronnie is on her own, and tries to give the new baby what he isn't getting from his parents.  And all the while her desire for revenge simmers away.

When Scott Early is sent to a mental hospital rather than the gallows, and when he is later released as cured, Ronnie's sense of injustice boils over. Matters are made worse by her parents' decision to actively forgive Early for his crime.  This begins their own healing, but only deepens Ronie's agony.   She runs away from home and starts a careful, methodical campaign to pay Early back for the damage he's done.

Mitchard takes us inside the head of this precocious girl and makes her crusade  ours.  We find ourselves willing her plan to succeed, even though we know there's something wrong with it.   How Nemesis aids Ronnie but then turns on her at the last minute makes for an exiting finale.

 

Feet of Clay by Ruth Birmingham

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 0312284241

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Atlanta PI Sunny Childs should be used to her cousin Lee-Lee's erratic changes of interests while in pursuit of a career, but her latest incarnation as a documentary film maker really takes the cake.  And so before she has time to even consider the sense of her decision to once again follow her cousin's crazy trail towards stardom, Sunny finds herself in a small town in Georgia looking into the fate of a man on death row that Lee-Lee has decided to make the star of her first movie. 

The young man, charged with the vicious and brutal murders of two young women has only six days until he gets the needle, but the questions surrounding his conviction are plentiful, and so Sunny is once again hooked into a case not of her choosing, but one that's definitely right up her alley.  With only days to prove his innocence or not, in a town filled with secrets and corruption and some pretty dangerous dudes, it's now a race against the clock to save a man who most likely is innocent.

Birmingham plays Sunny's pragmatism and brains wonderfully off of Lee-Lee's less practical allure of flightiness and wackiness, creating a charming and engaging read that's filled with just the right amount of laughs and smarts to keep you going.  And though you think you might have solved the who done it part early on, better hold on to your horses, because there's much to more to come and it's most likely not what you think.  A fun and witty read, this one's a delight.                             

 

 

 

A Moment of Madness by Hilary Bonner

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 0312339488

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

British journalist John Kelly once stood at the top of the heap, reckless and confident, everything he touched turning to gold when at the height of his stunning career.  But it all came crashing down with the taking of too many chances and too much drug and drink, causing him to lose his career, his wife and son, and all self respect.  But he's made his way back somewhat in the ensuing years and is now writing for another newspaper as well as having made amends with his grown son Nick, he's even keeping the company if a vivacious women whose peaceful addition to his life is sweet and uncomplicated.

But things may once again come crashing down when Angel Silver, the mysterious and beguiling wife of a slain rock star, is accused of killing her husband's attacker in a violent and bloody fit of self defense.  Having met up with the women years previously, John is drawn to her story, and to her, with an ever growing obsession, one that's filled with danger and madness that he can't seem to turn away from.  For Angel is not telling all she knows, and the truth that has yet to be discovered is one that could bring John down once and for all, destroying not just him, but those he loves as well.    

Readers may find themselves wondering just when things are going to get started after realizing around two thirds into the book that not much has been happening besides John's growing obsession with this woman whose attraction is questionable at best.  His escalating weakness and the resulting bad decisions are frustrating and senseless at this point, and it grows increasingly tiresome to read only of this for so long.

Thankfully, it's at about this point that Bonner finally steps in and makes things begin to happen, and from there it's quite an exciting read all the way through to the shocking ending, one that mostly makes up for what has come before.  But, prepare yourself; this is a wearying and dark book, one that if not for Bonner's just in time comeback, might not be worth its stunning denouement.  However, since she does in fact save it all before it's too late, readers may find some value in this uneven but disquieting read.

 

 

 

Crime Beat  by Michael Connelly

Publishers: Little, Brown, 2006 ISBN: 031615377X

Reviewed by Narayan Radhakrishnan, New Mystery Reader

We have often wondered how authors come up with their plots. How did Frederick Forsyth think up the plot of Day of the Jackal; Ken Follett think of the plot of Eye of the Needle or more recently James Patterson brought to life Detective Alex Cross in his series of psychological thrillers. 

The answer lies in their experience- and the experience these authors had in the field of journalism (Forsyth and Follett were reporters while Patterson was in the advertising wing), the investigations they did, the people they saw- all provided fodder for their novels.

It is in this background Crime Beat has to be read- or rather understood. Michael Connelly, the talented author of  Harry Bosch Detective series was an ace crime reporter with the  L.A. Times before turning to full time fiction writing. The experiences as a reporter, the people he saw- the topnotch and the underbelly of the society- all provided Connelly with stories, and all of them became characters in his novels. And for the first time Connelly drops the garb of a fiction writer, and presents a series of essays….series of suspense essays that showcases his experiences as a journalist. The hard-hitting “stories”, the terror they create, sure provides ample fuel for fiction writing. And some stories are truly stranger than fiction. I especially liked the first introductory piece- were a 16 year old Connelly first got the inspiration to be a journalist. And how in his stint as a journalist he met a man… a detective… who later proved to be big influence on Connelly creating Harry Bosch.

A stylish collection- and one that should not be missed by the fans of Michael Connelly. Truly a great, great read.

 

Superior Death by Matthew Williams

Publisher: Bouregy, Thomas and Company  ISBN: 0803497687

Reviewed by Robin Thomas, New Mystery Reader

Reporter Vince Mitchell’s life starts to unravel after a woman leaps to her death off Eagle’s Cliff and his mother is the only witness to the tragedy.  His reporter instincts tell him something is not right about the apparent suicide because his godfather, the police chief, is personally handling the investigation and his mother refuses to talk about what she saw.  The autopsy of the woman notes that there were bruises on her arms and Vince fears that his mother could be a suspect in the case.  To make matters worse, Vince’s instincts also tell him that his wife is spending far too much time with a fellow teacher, even though they are heavily involved in the teacher contract negotiations, and he worries that she may be having an affair. 

Vince knows that his job has taken up too much of his life and has left too little time for his wife and daughter, but he is a “reporter’s reporter” and there are things going on in Apostle’s Bay that just don’t make sense.  The police arrested eight local teens for possession of marijuana in the last month but the kids are the best and brightest in their class.  Vince believes that there is more to this case and that the kids may have been set up; so he takes it upon himself to investigate this incident as well. Vince quickly becomes obsessed with finding out more about the mysterious woman and what is behind the sudden rash of good kids going bad.  He also learns that the life he’s known has secrets that have been deeply and meticulously buried for a number of years.

Superior Death is Matthew Williams’ debut novel and the first of the Lake Superior mystery series.  The sense of community found in a small town where gossip travels quickly but secrets can be deeply hidden and protected by the citizenry is well developed in this book.  Superior Death is a good launch for a mystery series that has great potential.

 

 

 

Bishop's Reach by Kathryn Wall

Publisher: St Martin's Minotaur ISBN 0 31233795 7

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Bay Tanner is back, scarred a bit from previous adventures, but still hard at
work building up her private inquiry business on idyllic Hilton Head, South
Carolina.

She's taken Erik Whiteside on as a part-time partner--what he lacks in PI
experience he makes up for with electronic know-how and enthusiasm. He's
also proving to be a dab hand at informal entry into places that aren't exactly
open to the public, such as locked luxury yachts.

The silent partner, Ben Wyler, a retired policeman, drops in from time to time
and almost always manages to put Bay's back up. She has to use his expertise now and then, but she resents the way he tends to take over. (For a smart woman she is remarkably slow to recognise the sexual tension smoldering in the air at almost every meeting.)

In the new book, Bay thinks she's going to be able to handle her current cases
without the interference of Ben or her late husband's brother, the local
sheriff, Red Tanner. One case involves a professional escort who claims
she's been raped by a man who hired her services, and the second case involves  Bay's friend Miss Addie's long-lost brother, who turns up out of the blue, trailing trouble behind him like a bad smell.

And there's a third case, a society woman who thinks her lover has been
murdered--but who seems worried that perhaps he hasn't been. This case ties up with the first case, and then with Miss Addie's brother. You'll need to pay
close attention to figure how this all fits together before Bay does.  Even so,
it takes a life-and-death finale before Bay gets everything sorted out.

Added to the paying cases is Bay's friend Dr Nedra Halloran, who has lost a
patient and insists that Bay help her locate the troubled teen.

The supporting cast from previous books appears again: Bay's overbearing but well-connected father, the wheelchair-bound retired judge; his devoted cook and companion, Lavinia; and Bay's housekeeper Dolores.

A very enjoyable read, plenty of tension and plot twists but no icky bits;
a good bedtime book.