May Mystery 2008
 

 

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Last Post by Robert Barnard

Publisher:  Scribner ISBN:  978-1-4165-5940-5

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

Imagine Eve’s surprise when her mother gets a letter purportedly from an old friend, someone who might have been more.  This is a part of her mother’s past that Eve knows nothing about.  All she has been told about her father is that he went away and later died while she was very young.

The mystery posed by the letter sets Eve on a search for those lost years and a new desire to know about the father she didn’t know.  Talented author Robert Barnard unravels the puzzle bit by bit, each piece of information making us and Eve want to know more.  Join Eve as the search takes her and the reader to Australia as well.

One of the people she visited is murdered and now the law is looking into part of the same thing Eve is investigating.  The motive for the murder is slowly uncovered and, dear reader, beware jumping to conclusions. There are surprises along the way so consider the clues and trail carefully.

Realistic characters reveal themselves at an easy pace, each one well drawn and different. This is a tale I’m pleased to highly recommend to any mystery fan.  I’ll be looking for Mr. Barnard’s other books to read.  Enjoy. I certainly did.

 

 

 

Madman on a Drum by David Housewright

Publisher: St. Martin’s Minotaur  ISBN: 978-0312370817

Reviewed by Robin Thomas, New Mystery Reader

Victoria Dunston, is abducted in broad daylight on her way home from school with her sister.  She is the daughter of St. Paul’s homicide chief Bobby Dunston and goddaughter of Dunston’s best friend Rushmore McKenzie (I love the name, his parents named him after the place where he was conceived).  The kidnappers want one million dollars and know that McKenzie has the money and will give it up to save Victoria.  Things take a really odd turn when McKenzie finds out that that there is a $50,000 price on his head, people are shooting at him, and the real kicker is that the kidnappers used his own money to fund his demise.  McKenzie has no choice but to quickly find who the kidnappers are in order to figure out who has been hired to kill him because time and his luck are running out. 

David Housewright has developed an intriguing character in Rushmore McKenzie.  He is a wealthy unlicensed PI; his money comes from a reward he received when he solved a case while still on the police force.  As a PI, McKenzie is known to do “favors” for hire and for friends in the neighborhood.  His money does not preclude him from getting shot at a lot, winding up in a fight or two, or from chasing some real bad guys down some of the meanest sections of St. Paul.  Housewright has instilled in McKenzie some of the mystique of the noir private eye like Mike Hammer and includes the colorful characters that you would expect to see while on a case.  Madman on a Drum is the fifth book in the series, but the reader can fully enjoy it without having read the others but may find themselves wanting to get the others in the series as quickly as possible.  Rushmore McKenzie is a fantastic combination of the old world charm and an old fashioned sense of honor mixed into a current day setting with a sprinkle of independent wealth on top.  Madman on a Drum is one of the best books that I have read this year and I highly recommend it and the rest of the series, which is on the top of my “to be read” list. 

 

 

Michaelmas Tribute by Cora Harrison

Publisher: Macmillan ISBN-10: 1405092254

Reviewed by LJ Roberts, New Mystery Reader 

November 1509 brings the Michaelmas Fair to the kingdom of Burren.  It is also time for the citizens to pay tribute, in coin or goods, to their clan lords.  When the steward of clan MacNamara, who collects tributes for his lord, is found murdered, Mara, the Brehon responsible for enacting the laws of Burren, calls for the murderer to come forth.  When no one does, it is up to her to uncover the killer.

I am fascinated by this series and the idea of Brehon law, which existed in Northwest Ireland until it was displaced by English Law.  This is not only a very good mystery, but a look at a different legal system and a time when woman played a significant and valued role. 

Mara is wonderfully depicted as a strong, responsible woman, who does make mistakes and is torn by her love life as it is weighed off against the proposal of the King.  The secondary characters, the boys in her school and her servants, give dimension to Mara and to the story.  Bridget, the cook and housekeeper, is particularly delightful.

The historical and geographic setting is so well written, you feel a part of the time.  I am delighted to have found this series and look forward to the next book.

 

 

 

The Moneylender of Toulouse by Alan Gordon

Publisher: St Martin’s/ Minotaur  ISBN 978 0 312 37109 8

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Writing historical fiction is a balancing act between two extremes: historical verisimilitude and reader entertainment.  You need to have enough ‘real stuff’ in the story to anchor it in its time, but not so much that you anesthetize the reader with more facts than he needs to know.

Alan Gordon has taken an interesting approach with his “Fool” series.  The conversation runs as snappily as the Tonight show on a roll, but the series is set in 13th century Europe.  Gordon shows that comedians and satirists have been with us for a very long time. 

The protagonist is a traveling jester-cum-secret-agent, Theophilos, who is sent to Toulouse by the Head of the Guild of Fools to replace the chief jester there.  His real job is to find a way to remove the Bishop from his post in order that a more suitable candidate can be installed.  Strangely, this candidate is a former troubadour, Folc, who left worldly things behind to become a Cistercian, one of the strictest of all religious orders.

Aided by his wife Claudia, also a jester, and accompanied by their infant daughter and their apprentice, Theophilos rents a rather ratty two rooms in a house outside the city walls of Toulouse and sets about his task. 

Things become complicated almost at once by the discovery of a dead man in the tanner’s vat.  A local jester and his wife end up in prison over the murder.   Aided by his family and a mute jester, Theophilos tries to solve the murder so he can get on to his secret commission, getting evidence that will unseat the bishop.   One of the threads that connects both problems is a small book containing vital information—but in a time when few could read, how is Theophilos to know who really knows what’s in the book?

The powerful and intelligent Count of Toulouse gets involved in the story for his own purposes, and before the end of the tale, finds himself caught up in a drama Theophilos arranges for the purpose of snaring the real murderer. 

As well as the main thread of the story, there are the two big undercurrents of the times:  papal power and influence, and the growing importance of the Cathars, a religious sect feared and despised by many mainstream Catholics.  The Count of Toulouse must juggle these and other issues with all the skill of a professional jester, and sees in Theophilos a handy tool to assist him. 

If you like historical mysteries, you should love this one; if you thought you didn’t like historical mysteries before now, this is a good one to start on.

 

 

 

Holy Moly by Ben Rehder

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur  ISBN-10: 0312357540

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Ben Rehder has put more than one great tale out featuring the rolling countryside of Texas and its eccentric inhabitants, and he does it again with his latest outing featuring Game Warden John Marlin who is asked to assist in looking into the death of a local construction worker. 

With many suspects to look into, however, the job won’t be easy.  The land under development for the new church of the latest and greatest televangelist Peter Boothe, a church seemingly comprised of more saints than sinners, seems to be the key to the mystery when it’s discovered that the dead man had uncovered the skull of a rare dinosaur during construction, a skull worth millions, and one that seems to disprove the church’s dogmatic faith of creationism.  And so with more than one motivation for murder, not to mention the still missing skull, Marlin is going to have to turn over a lot of dirt to uncover the secrets that led to this latest outlandish murder.

One can’t help but appreciate Rehder’s tongue in cheek look at small town life in the South.  Bumbling criminals, pick up trucks, bad whiskey, and muumuus galore make this another humorous and fun-filled ride to the truth.  It’s hard not to like some of these villains, their ineptness usually bringing chuckles instead of fear, making this a light-hearted mystery that is both refreshing and good-natured.  Rehder has a talent for bringing out the charm in the usually mundane, and for that alone, it’s worth the read.

 

 

Vodka Neat by Anna Blundy

Publisher: St Martin/Minotaur  ISBN 978 0 312 36863 0

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Despite the title do not attempt to read this book when you have drunk vodka or any other hard liquor.  Or even a full-strength beer.  This is a complicated story with flashbacks and flash forwards, and anything that will interfere with your concentration should be avoided.  The timeline switches between present day Russia and the chaotic, dangerous period of the late 80’s when the old order was changing but had not quite given way to the new. 

Vodka Neat reveals some of hardboiled heroine Faith Zanetti’s early life, especially her problems with booze, and gives some insight into how she became the woman she now is.

As you’d expect with a novel set largely in Russia, the overwhelming colors in this story are dark and bleak.  From the moment Zanetti lights her first cigarette in the posh apartment assigned to her paper’s senior Moscow correspondent to the moment the police drag her off through the frozen slush in her socks under arrest for an old murder, there’s not much happiness and light.  (If you instantly see Kathleen Turner as Faith Zanetti in your mind’s eye, you wouldn’t be the only one.)

Clearly Faith isn’t going to get out of Russia until somebody else is found guilty of the double axe murder back in 1989.   This is going to take more sophisticated skills than the ability to chain smoke and knock back neat vodka, so Faith cranks up her investigative abilities and tries to track down her husband Dmitri, whom she met, married, and left all those years ago.  She enlists the aid of friends Don and Eden—Eden’s rather more than a friend—and finally tracks down the landlady who really knows what happened.   Along the way she meets Jesus, who tells her something quite amazing.  No, seriously, she meets Jesus, and it’s probably the most moving scene in the book.

This is a serious book with a few uplifting moments.  It’s well-written, it’s well printed, and there are moments of humor.  Don’t believe any promos that tell you it’s some sort of chick lit; it’s closer to Nikolai Gogol than Fern Michaels.  Not for those who are offended by rough language.

 

 

Frames by Loren D Estleman

Publisher: Forge Books  ISBN 978 0 7653 1575 5

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

“The professor looked as much like an unmade bed as ever, but the linen appeared fresh”.  If you like that line, you’ll love this book.    Writers seem to be seeking odder and odder amateur detectives, everything from caterers to dog groomers, but Valentino, lost film finder, is one of the best of the new breed.

While seeking an affordable place to live, Valentino, Val to his friends—of which there are very few—ends up buying a derelict movie theatre.    Part of the appeal of the building is a stack of old film cannisters, some of which seem to have film in them.  Not just any old film, but a long lost silent classic, von Stroheim’s “Greed.”

This being a murder mystery, the story almost at once becomes complicated by the finding of a skeleton in the cellar, along with the other half of the missing film.  It’s now a race against time, with Val and his partners in crime, law student Fanta and the ancient professor Broadhead trying to solve the murder before they are forced to hand over the fragile silver-nitrate film to the police lab where they fear it will be destroyed by ineptitude.

This is what’s usually called  ‘a light-hearted romp’ of a murder mystery, with some very likable characters and an easy-to-swallow dose of Hollywood film lore.  You’ll be delighted to learn that author Estleman is already at work on the next book in this new series. 

 

 

 

 

Trick of the Mind by Cassandra Chan

Publisher:  St Martins/Minotaur   ISBN 0 978 0 312 36939 2

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

At last, a brand new contemporary mystery cast in the mold of the Golden Age writers.  Reminiscent of Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh and Josephine Tey, Cassandra Chan’s voice is all her own but she will remind you of the great women mystery writers of the past.

”Trick of the Mind”  reminds one irresistibly of Tey’s “The Daughter of Time”, featuring as it does a hospital-bound protagonist .  In this story,  Sgt Jack Gibbons is seriously injured and suffering amnesia.  What was it that took him to a seedy part of London to end up nearly dead on a rainy street?  Jack’s notebook, sodden and blood soaked, is no help until the forensic team work their magic on it, but meanwhile Jack’s workmates and his friend Phillip Bethancourt  are determined to find Jack’s almost-killer.

Jack was working on a jewel theft, not normally the type of case that brings one into contact with murderers.  However, as Phillip begins trying to reconstruct Jack’s nearly fatal day, he finds threads that link to another case that did involve murder.   And he’s nearly certain that Jack’s scatty cousin ties in somewhere, but the link eludes him until a chance comment by a child to the dimmest member of the police team provides the connection.

Phillip and Jack’s superior officers each bring their particular gifts to the painstaking task of reconstructing Jack’s movements, but it’s a cab driver that turns things on their head and provides a vital clue.

This is an excellent read for those who prefer brains to brawn and skillful plotting to gratuitous sex and violence.  An elegant piece of work, full marks to Cassandra Chan.


 

The Mercy Oak by Kathryn R. Wall

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur  ISBN-10: 0312375344

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Hilton Head PI Bay Tanner seems to have a knack for getting involved in high-risk cases, a situation that doesn’t bode well with brother-in-law, now turned lover, Sheriff Red Tanner.  And while she’s promised him she’ll try her best to avoid the more dangerous cases after her last one ended in tragedy, a phone call from her housekeeper’s son after a hit-and-run that resulted in one of his friend’s death will once again put her in the hot seat.  But that will soon prove to be only one of the only threats to her safety, sanity, and love life when her father’s housekeeper/companion finds herself caught up in the middle of the latest of a string of robberies that have been plaguing the area.  And the deeper she becomes involved in the two cases, which may or may not be connected, and despite her previous promises and best intentions, Tanner will once again find herself racing against the clock to save those she loves.

This latest Bay Tanner PI investigation novel, like those before it, proves to be a mildly entertaining mystery.  The plot, which at first seems to promise an objective look at the controversies involving immigration and the prejudice surrounding it, never really seems to make a solid landing with its one too many ifs, ands, or buts getting in the way.   Additionally, unsettling at times is the attempt that's required to reconcile the seemingly uncommitted empathy coming from this 'daughter of the revolution' type of privileged character towards minorities, as she fluctuates between treating her and her father’s housekeepers like the hired help one minute, and like second sisters the next.  But, still, fans of the series should enjoy the ambiance of the idyllic setting and the brisk pace employed throughout. 

 

 

 

Tell No Lies by Julie Compton

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur  ISBN-10: 0312378750

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

St. Louis attorney Jack Hilliard seems to have it all: a successful career, a wife he loves, and two beautiful children, and so when the city’s powerbrokers select him to be the next District Attorney, it seems to all that Jack’s future happiness is a slam dunk. 

While at first hesitant to take on the challenge of a political career, it doesn’t take long for Jack to be convinced by his many backers that this is his future, and soon he finds himself willingly on board.  But the one thing he didn’t take into account, and the one thing that just might bring him down, is his feelings for beautiful and single fellow attorney Jenny Dodson.

Friends for years, Jack has always found Jenny to be smart, attractive, and a bit tempting.  But what started out as a simple mutual attraction soon turns into much more as the two are thrown together in situations that increasingly test their limits to fight off their growing desire.  And when one of Jenny’s enemies is found murdered and Jenny is named the main suspect, Jack, who was with her that night finally succumbing to temptation finds himself stuck between doing the right thing and losing everything he holds dear.    

In her debut novel, Compton provides readers with a fast-paced and tightly woven tale of suspense that’s filled with enough twists and turns to challenge even the most dogged reader.  Of course, one’s first question might be why in the heck would this guy jeopardize so much for a roll in the hay?  But Compton manages to make this questionable leap so smoothly and subtly, that not only is the reader grudgingly willing to believe how naively this might happen, but she also manages to invoke some sympathy for the consequences Jack suffers.  Not an easy task by any means.  But, what’s even more noteworthy is Compton’s ability to play an intelligent game of chess with the readers and characters’ sensibilities, with moves so cleverly executed that the real intentions and motives are impossible to foresee. A challenging game of guessing, this is a promising debut that will keep readers on their toes and eagerly awaiting the next.     

 

 

 

Judgment Day by Sheldon Siegel

Publishers: MacAdam Cage, ISBN 978-1-59692- 290- 7

Reviewed by Narayan Radhakrishnan, New Mystery Reader 

I enjoy reading legal thrillers. And each year, I wait for the new Grisham to be published. John Grisham, Scott Turow, Richard North Patterson, Lisa Scottoline and Phillip Margolin are among my favorite lawyer- author/ legal thriller authors. And one thing is for sure, save for Scott Turow, most of these authors deliver a thriller each year.

One other attorney whom I have recently added to my list of a must read lawyer/author is Sheldon Siegel. Siegel is more like Turow in the sense that he doesn’t churn out a novel each year. One has to wait every three years or so to get a thriller, but the one that does eventually come out is guaranteed to be mind-blowing. It was in 2004 that I read THE CONFESSION, and having greatly enjoyed the novel, I have since been looking to get my hands on a new Sheldon Siegel thriller, and with JUDGMENT DAY, it’s proven that the wait was not in vain.

Criminal lawyer- turned priest- turned corporate lawyer- turned criminal lawyer Mike Daley has had a tumultuous life in both his professional career and in the personal front. His marriage to Rosie Fernandez, fellow lawyer, had not exactly been a bed of roses, and so it was no surprise that the duo soon separated. But as a partner in the profession, there is no one to beat Rosie, and so the duo has continued to carve out some great professional victories; however, the case they have now is proving difficult.  They must secure not only a not guilty verdict for a mob-lawyer, Nathan Fineman, who is accused of killing three people including a lawyer, but they must do it before the 8 ½ days end in his execution.

And while Fineman loudly proclaims his innocence and maintains that he has been a victim of a police cover-up, Daley, who in ordinary circumstances, would not have any difficulty in using this line of defense, is finding this charge hard to beat as the officer who reached the scene of the crime on that fateful day happens to be none other than his now deceased father. All of which means that by calling into question the legality of the police investigation would also include hurling suspicion on the integrity of his father, leaving Daley caught in a moral and ethical dilemma. And how the lawyers battle it out in the court is what forms the basis of the novel.

And so with the clock ticking, this latest proved to be an exciting and suspenseful read- a thriller that succeeds both as a provocative courtroom drama and as a personal tale of courage and justice.  With spine-chilling thrills and a mind-blowing finish, I only can say- this novel is a must, must read.