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The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates

Publisher: Harper ISBN: 0060722290

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

There was a time when no wedding was considered complete without a honeymoon at Niagara Falls.  This dark and disturbing book starts at the height of that period, 1950, and finishes in  1978.

The book is peopled with strange and often unlikeable characters who nevertheless manage to draw the reader into their peculiar situations.  We meet Ariah Erskine, the widow-bride, desperately seeking her brand-new husband who has apparently jumped into the falls after realising he shouldn't have married her.  (1950 was also a time when a sudden awareness of latent homosexuality left one with only two choices: living a lie, or not living at all.)  Shortly after that, Ariah meets Dirk Burnaby, a lawyer friend of the honeymoon hotel manager, and in an indecently short time, they are married and bound in a passionate relationship.

The respective families are aghast, of course; but they get over it.  Years pass.  Ariah and Dick continue to be lustily in love--or perhaps in thrall--with each other, until the day Dick takes on a new case.  This is one of the first of the toxic pollution cases, with  Swann Chemicals, the City of Niagara Falls, and various bodies corporate defending themselves against the attack of Nina Olshaker, humble housewife, who is convinced that the misnamed "Love Canal" is a festering sewer of poison that is blighting the lives of all who live near it.  She convinces Dirk of the justness of her cause.

Dirk doesn't want this case, but he can't refuse it.  Something forces him to see that these people deserve their day in court, even if it means by helping them he will alienate all his rich and powerful friends and possibly blight his own future.  Worse is to come: Ariah becomes convinced Dirk is having an affair, and the great love of their lives withers.  And then Dirk dies, ostensibly in an accident, but in circumstances so obscure that it could be suicide, or murder.

Ariah becomes more peculiar as the years pass, and her three children grow up as best they can.  Things finally come to a head when the adult sons begin questioning what happened to their father--but it is the half-grown daughter who finally discovers the answer.

This is a book to be best appreciated when things are reasonably stable in your life; I doubt it would do much for someone recovering from a depressive illness, or bed-bound with flu.  It's a complex work with some complex characters, and as with all of Oates' books, studded with memorable phrases and clever constructions.

 

Absent Friends by S. J. Rozan

 Publisher: Delta Press ISBN: 0385339231

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

This emotionally searing novel of friendship, heroes, and good people making bad decisions is difficult to read, but oh so worth it.  The story is told from where it truly begins; with a group of friends all living on Staten Island, a group of girls and boys who love each other and fight each other with equal passion.  But once they become young adults, a tragedy will change everything forever- their futures, and their friendships, and when we catch up with them later still in the aftermath of 9-11, it will be difficult to discern just who the heroes are, and what the truth really is.  And as it's slowly revealed, everything will change yet again, as these childhood friends play out the tragedy of yesterday, all in the rubble of the more recent tragedy that is 9-11.

Rozan brilliantly captures the pathos of yesterday and today, but perhaps what is best captured is the total emotional upheaval that resulted from 9-11.  The genuine passion and courage with which this tragedy is revealed is both gracious and valiant, as are the people of New York who lived through it, and those who didn't.  Yes, there is suspense, and characters of great magnitude, but it is the story of 9-11 that will leave this resonating for a long long time in the reader's minds, and in the reader's hearts.  Kudos to this author for bringing those of us not immediately touched by this heartbreak to a closer understanding of how it may have felt for those who were.

 

Reviewed by Donna Padilla, New Mystery Reader 

Turquoise and silver are being smuggled from Mexico into the Navajo Nation and two law enforcement officers assigned to the case have been murdered.  Lee Nez, a Navajo nightwalker (vampire) and New Mexico State Policeman, has been assigned to the case along with FBI agent Diane Lopez.  This is not the first case the two have worked together, and Diane is aware of and fascinated by Lee's secret life.

When they discover that the smugglers are skinwalkers and change into a pack of wolves at night and cannot be jailed,  they realize they have to kill the entire pack without raising the suspicions of their supervisors.

When the reader puts this book down it gnaws at the mind until it is picked up again.  There is suspense and action with every turn of the page.  This book is intense and realistic and makes every reader believe in nightwalkers and skinwalkers.  Cannot wait for the next Thurlo book.

 

A Taint in the Blood by Dana Stabenow

 Publisher: St. Martin's ISBN: 0312985657

A Taint in the Blood by Dana Stabenow: Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Kate Shugak, Alaskan PI with an attitude, is in-between cases and pestering everyone she knows when a new case finally lands on her plate.  Charlotte Muravieff, descendent of one of the wealthiest and premier families in the state, would like Kate to prove her mother's innocence in the death of her brother 30 years previously.  Initially hesitant to take such a cold case, especially after talking to the woman accused who wants no part of it, she nevertheless is shortly dragged into it wholeheartedly by her ravenous curiosity.  And the deeper she gets, the more toes she steps on, and soon more people are dying, as it becomes clear that Kate has once again angered some mighty powerful people. 

Not as emotionally intense and poignant as Stabenow's last Shugak mystery, this latest still thrills and entertains with gusto.  Kate's humorously stubborn seduction of Trooper Jim Chopin adds a lot of hearty laughs, as do some of the new sidekicks joining the fray, all making for a read that's witty and suspenseful.  And of course, Alaska herself is here in abundance, big and beautiful as ever, with Stabenow's usual peppering of history and detail to round off the story to near perfection.  Another highly recommended read, don't miss Stabenow's latest tale of Shugak's adventures, and misadventures.             
 

 

Love In All The Wrong Places by Frank Devlin

Publisher: Jove ISBN: 0515139548

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Devlin's first suspense novel nails it, completely and without reservation.  This masterful tale manages to enthrall, entertain, and beguile all at the same time with its poignant and smart narrative, taking the reader down a road filled with heartrending insight and unabated suspense. 

Helen Rainey, beautiful, seductive, and lethal, is looking for her knight in shining armor.  And of course she can't help but be let down by the men she meets in bars night after night, and so they must die.  San Francisco cops Rose and Josh come on the scene with the death of one of her victims, and soon suspect that this is not just some random killing, as it's all too soon followed by others.  And with Rosie's marriage on the brink of ruin, her body growing with child, and her feeling for her partner crossing the professional line, it'll take much more than good detective work to keep things from crashing. 

Just about every scene in this book is flawless, from the humorous banter in the bar pickup scenes, to the portrait of a marriage under fire.  Devlin's insight into these marvelous characters is a breath of fresh air in a genre that sometimes relies too heavily on action and procedure.  There's wit, aching tenderness, and brutal suspense, all combined to bring this story alive with a stark yet gentle realism.  If you only read one book for the rest of the year, make it this one.   

Check out our interview with Frank Devlin!

 

Survivor in Death by J. D.  Robb

Publisher: Berkley ISBN 0425204189

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

I suspect a lot of J D Robb fans feel as I do about this series: slightly ashamed at enjoying the final chapter where our heroine, Lt Eve Dallas, mops the floor with the villains to the sound of spurting blood and crunching nose bones.

It is no different this time.  Lt Dallas is called to the scene of a homicide and finds an entire family wiped out, except for a little girl who crawled away through her parents' blood and hid.  This gruesome scene is quickly followed by the shooting of two policemen, which moves the crime up to another plane--killing civilians is bad enough, but killing cops strikes at the very roots of society.  If cops aren't safe from murder, who is?

This book, the umpteenth, is the mixture as before: a heinous crime, some fiendishly clever criminals, a lot of hard slogging police work, plus some brilliant technological assistance from Eve's reformed crim husband, Roarke, all complicated by the presence of a little girl who has latched onto Eve like a liferaft.  Eve sees her own younger self in the child, and it's hard for her to keep this at arm's length.

Accompanied by her newly-recovered partner, Peabody, Eve sets out to track the killers, despite their having left almost nothing in evidence.  This very lack points Eve to her first correct suspicion: these people are professionals, trained killers, and yet this hit is a personal one.  The search for the answer to why a normal family with no vices, no underworld connections, should be wiped out finally turns up the hint of a motive, one of the oldest on the book.  After that, it's a race to get the killers before they get their final target.

Lt Dallas is supported by the usual cast of characters: the faithful Peabody, sexy and clever Roarke; the old family retainer and sparring partner, Summerset, the wild and wacky and now pregnant Mavis, and the cops of the precinct.

A criticism of any series is that it's formulaic.  I don't see how a series can be otherwise: that's why people keep buying books in a series, because they like the formula.  I don't count being formulaic as a sin, as long as the writer doesn't just re-write the same book over and over with a different title.  This new chapter in the Eve Dallas story brings out more of Eve's long-hidden past, and shows again how she is growing outwards from the hard cold center that was both her salvation and her punishment in her earlier life.  Highly recommended.

 

Head Games by Eileen Dreyer

Publisher: St. Martin's Press ISBN: 0312996772

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

St. Louis Medical Death Investigator and trauma nurse Molly Burke has seen her fair share of pain and misery, and she’s been running from it ever since.  But it’s the children who get to her the worst, and after having spent years fruitlessly trying to help the abused and victimized, she now instead just applies rules of “The Game”.  The Game is where she looks into the child’s eyes, and if she still sees a spark of life, she knows there is still a chance to help that child, if not, she must let it go.   

But it appears that one of the children that she tried to help in her younger and more idealistic days is back, now a man that bears the scars and rage of a lifetime of hell.  And it’s now pay-back time for the child who has turned into a vicious monster, and he wants Molly to once again be there, as the only adult whoever tried to help, so he’s sending her gifts, body parts of his victims.  Meanwhile, she must also deal with the arrival of her teen-aged nephew Patrick, a boy with his own difficulties, and a boy who trouble seems to follow.  And as the body count rises, and the threatening notes she’s also been receiving escalate into acts of fury, Molly must look closely at everyone around her, because he is there in disguise and Molly might just be his next target

This latest from Dreyer comes as close to perfection as can be.  Molly is one of the most compassionate and scarred heroines to come along in awhile, and joining her for this trip of terror is nothing short of spectacular.  And while the subject matter is seriously disheartening, it’s made all the more humane through its passionate and poignant treatment.  This is so much more than just a good mystery, it’s a warning and a distress signal sent to stop the madness inflicted on children, because today’s ignored and abused may just turn to be tomorrow’s monsters.  Be prepared to be shaken and saddened by the realities that Dreyer portrays, and hopefully just a little bit enlightened as well.  Highly recommended, this suspenseful and gripping tale is one of the best to come along so far this year. 

Eileen Dreyer was our featured author for March, includes interview!

 

The Godfather Returns by Mark Winegardner

Publisher: Ballentine Books  ISBN: 0345478983

Reviewed by Narayan Radhakrishnan, New Mystery Reader 

WOW!,WOW, WOW!!!!! 

In the history of Hollywood movies, there has only been one instance of the sequel being as good as the original- and that was THE GODFATHER II, the sequel to THE GODFATHER. Likewise of all fiction works I have read, I believe THE GODFATHER RETURNS is the only sequel that proves worthy of the original.

The Godfather was a cult classic and it still remains the same. I have read my copy at least a dozen times. Would the sequel be great, or at least good….So it was with a little bit of trepidation that I started The Godfather Returns and let me tell you, the work gave me four solid hours of pristine entertainment. Winegardner remains faithful to the Puzo spirit. The Godfather followed the life of the Corleone family over a period of thirty years upto 1955. The Sicilian covered almost 4- 5 years of Michael Corleone’s life in Sicily where he had gone as a refugee. The Godfather Returns is the story of the Corleone family, rather Michael Corleone from 1955 to 1965.

I wont say more- for I believe that the sequel is also destined for bestseller, cult status and it is for each and every reader to savor each line of the work. But one thing is sure, the author has left enough loopholes for there to be a second sequel.

Enjoyed the work, tremendously relished The Godfather Returns.

 

 

Skin River Steven Sidor

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 0312997949

Reviewed by Donna Padilla, New Mystery Reader 

Buddy Bayes leaves his shady past in Chicago behind him and buys a tavern in a small Wisconsin town to get away from the crimes and bad vibes he was once a part of.  But when a young woman goes missing, Buddy joins the search and finds her severed hand, and it seems he's right back where he started.  Not long after, Margot the tavern maid is attacked and dragged off into the woods.  Buddy rescues her and becomes a suspect.  Feeling that the events are somehow connected to his past, he heads for Chicago, and learns that the woman who belonged to the severed hand had worked un the strip joint where his brother works.  Two women attacked and both have links to Buddy.  He has to find out what is going on.

This is a very thrilling suspense novel that grabs the reader during the first chapter and does not turn loose until the last page.  The main characters, in spite of their checkered pasts, are warm hearted people who want a better life, but the odds seem to be stacked against them, making for decent conflict that adds to this already well-written plot.  A good read that comes recommended.

 

The Society by Michael Palmer

Publisher: Bantam ISBN: 055358362x

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

In Palmer's latest stunning medical thriller he attacks the managed health care industry with aplomb and purpose.  There's a serial killer on the loose in Boston, with the targets being the major players in the HMO industry, each dying a horrid and vicious death.  Because of the nature of these killings, the police believe that the killer is yet another victim of an industry that has put patients' healthcare behind profits, and is finally instituting his own brand of revenge. 

Dr. Will Grant, a Boston physician who has had his share of dealing with the red-tape and drops in decent patient care, is one of the few willing to take up arms by joining the Hippocratic Society, a group dedicated to stopping the growth of managed care by putting health care back in the patient's and doctor's hands.  But now the serial killer has contacted Grant, making it clear that Grant is to join his cause, or else.  And so when Grant takes the threat to the police, they instead look at him as their new main suspect.  And when someone sets up Grant to take a fall, things get even uglier for him as his personal and professional life begin to slip into an ugly oblivion.  Working with the only cop on his side who believes him, the lovely Patty Moriarity, the two find themselves soon on the trail of an ugly conspiracy where no one can be trusted, and where they soon become the hunted by a malevolent force that will stop at nothing for the cause.

In this timely and highly significant book, Palmer takes on the HMO's with intelligence and force.  Combining heart-pounding suspense with likable heroes and nasty villains, this is an exciting and worthwhile read that provides a high dosage of thrills.  And here's to hoping that Palmer's imperative message is listened to as well, as he has provided a much needed dosage of sensibility and, unfortunately, fright into a topic that has too long been overlooked.

 

Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan

Publisher: Pocket Star ISBN: 0743496825

Reviewed by Marcus Brandt, New Mystery Reader

Prince of Thieves is the story of a group of four young friends who, since their childhood, have been involved in a life of petty crime.  In the course of the story they decide to “go to the next level” and break into major bank robberies.  Prince of Thieves takes place in the Irish Charlestown neighborhood of Boston, and is extremely evocative of the culture, dialect and lifestyle of the area.  Anyone who has grown up in the Northeast or in any kind of “street” situation can easily identity with the characters.  This is one of those rare books that had me cheering on both the protagonists and antagonists throughout, indeed, one is never even quite sure who the “bad guys” really are, or for that matter, the good guys. The ending was a little disappointing to me, but not because of the writing – only because I cared enough about the main characters to have it turn out a particular way – and it didn’t.  A great recommendation, but not for those who love Agatha Christie – a lot of course language and real-life situations. A pretty cool book.