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Want You Dead by Peter James

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader 

Red Cameron has not had an easy life in some ways. In her mid-thirties, she has had menial office jobs and several failed relationships. For this reason, she is hopeful for the prospects that her real estate career and potential relationship with Dr. Karl Murphy. He is a young widower with two small children and seems the kind of man she seeks.

Red has never been able to measure up to her older sister in her own mind. The sister is a highly successful lawyer with a socially and professionally prominent husband. Her sister is expecting her first child and never passes on an opportunity to brag of her successes and point out Red’s failures.

Red is at first angry when Karl fails to show up for a scheduled date. Then she is torn between worry and anger. Finally she is incredulous when police investigators come to question her about the number of calls she placed to Karl – calls placed around the time of his supposed suicide.

Detective Superintendent Roy Grace is at first relieved that Karl’s death appears to be a suicide. After all, he has a handwritten suicide attributing the suicide to Karl missing his deceased wife. Even though self-immolation seems an unlikely method of suicide, he has nothing to indicate otherwise. He has enough going in his life without a high profile crime. Grace is about to be wed and enjoy a short honeymoon. However, something about the incident disturbs Grace.

Bryce Laurent has failed at most if not all undertakings in his life. He was a British commando dismissed from the service due to his conduct. He tried to train for the fire brigade and was fired – blaming his superior rather than himself. He worked for a time in security systems.  Bryce failed in his relationship with Red – vacillating between extreme generosity, irrational jealousy, passionate lovemaking and violent attacks.

As Bryce puts into motion his plan for revenge against various persons for transgressions – real or imagined – the reader is treated to a portrait of a potentially real monster. He could walk among us without setting off a panic. The experiences from his jobs lend themselves well to his plans for revenge.

The plot is strong. The violence is graphic. The story has a Hitchcock like feeling to it. Male character development is well executed. Female character development is more superficial. This fact could keep the work from reaching its full potential and makes Red less of a sympathetic character. Still, it is a worthwhile read. 

 

 

Wait for Signs by Craig Johnson 

Publisher: Viking

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader 

Sheriff Walt Longmire is a product of the American West. The howling winds, deep snow and vast expanses have done much to shape the man. Longmire is intimately familiar with violence after serving as a Marine in the Vietnam War and in law enforcement. Yet he would rather use his head to solve most problems in his job.

Many readers may be familiar with the television series based upon the characters created by Mr. Johnson. The producers and crew do a good job with the television series. However, fans may gain more insight into the character by reading the books. They are written in the first person and give a sense of looking outward from Walt’s perspective.

“Wait for Signs” is not a novel. It is a collection of short stories. Mr. Johnson explains that he wrote a short story some ten years ago a “gift” to subscribers of his newsletter. Now his fans want to know when the next story will come out each year.

The stories are focused upon the human-interest perspective of people that Longmire encounters on his job and in his personal life. Several of plots deal with the holidays and resulting problems – both criminal and personal. Not all authors are able to produce quality work in this genre. Mr. Johnson shows himself to be up to the task. The storylines are complete and interesting. The characters are likeable or not. The stories are infused with humor and a good twist at the end.

Walt is able to handle most situations with little difficulty – except for his relationship with his daughter and the void left by the death of his wife.

The author has produced superior works here. It is not surprising that the series was based upon his work. The reader will have the joy of twelve beginnings and the sadness of twelve endings. May Mr. Johnson continue to produce his creations and may Sheriff Walt Longmire continue to protect the citizens of Wyoming.  

 

 

The Laws of Murder by Charles Finch

Publisher: Minotaur

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader 

Charles Lenox has cheerfully given up his position in Parliament, relishing his return to life as a well-heeled detective. To that end, he’s joined three partners to form a detective agency: his protégé, wealthy and newly focused Lord Dallington; observant and practical Miss Strickland; and Frenchman, Monsieur LaMaire, joined by his exuberant nephew.

With the start of his agency, Lenox expects his ongoing relationships with Scotland Yard to result in welcome publicity, but quickly realizes the threat that his new firm poses to professional police detectives and their superiors. Sinking into misery, Lenox must cast aside his self-doubts after a close friend dies in a very suspect location, leaving Lenox and his colleagues to solve a murder with significant consequences.

Charles Finch’s series gains a bit of spark now that Lenox has returned to private life, while still allowing the natural progression of time. Key figures in previous books now serve other purposes, offering possibilities for future installments, including Parliament.

Lenox’ partnership allows him to falter a bit while also showing how Dallington, formerly troubled, has grown into a respectable man who can now help his mentor. It’s interesting to see Miss Strickland, who works under a pseudonym to retain her respectability, perform her own brand of investigation among lower classes than the aristocracy Lenox knows so well. Her addition allows an interplay between classes as well as between gender, while LaMaire’s inclusion brings Continental methods to the fore.

Readers fond of Anne Perry’s William Pitt or C. S. Harris’ Sebastian St. Cyr should enjoy The Laws of Murder, which is set in 1876 during Victoria’s reign. True to form, the Victorian era may look proper on the outside, but Lenox’ case reveals dark truths writhing underneath the delicate exterior, resulting in a deeply personal case that taxes his agency and gives light to his fears.

 

Soul of the Fire by Eliot Pattison 

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

As the story opens, three individuals have been detained in Tibet and are being transported to an unknown destination by Chinese authorities. These include a young Buddhist nun named Yosen, an old man named Lokesh and central character Shan. Shan assumes that they are headed toward a prison or a hard labor camp – nothing new for him. The authorities have something different in mind for him.

They are transported to a former training center for monks turned into a massive prison and government facility. Yosen and Lokesh are quickly whisked away by guards. Shan has a different fate. While not being treated with respect, Shan receives less harsh handling. He finds that someone has chosen him to fill a position of reformed criminal on a religious commission dealing with the Tibetan people under Chinese rule.

Shan quickly finds that the work of the commission is to condemn actions by the Tibetan population that the Chinese invaders seek to oppress. The Tibetan action that has the Chinese most disturbed is practice of self-immolation – setting fire to themselves in protest. This practice has increased in frequency.

Shan has been different things in his life. He was an investigator in China whose outspoken criticism got him sentenced to several government facilities designed to punish and “reeducate” if not kill. The experiences served to achieve the opposite. He emerged with faith by sharing his suffering with many wise and learned llamas including Lokesh.

The insights of Tibetan culture he gained him made him useful to the Commission – if they can control him. Shan finds that he is replacing a commissioner that died of an apparent heart attack. He finds that the man had a daughter, Dawa, who is the leader of the purba –the Tibetan resistance movement. She has been prophesized to be the future mother of the next Dali Llama. Many including Shan realize that she must be saved at all costs.

Lokesh is being used as leverage to control Shan. Every defiance results in abuse to the old man. Shan, a decidedly apolitical person finds that he must play politics to survive this newest situation and to help the Tibetan people. With the assistance of Tibetans working menial positions such as janitors, American members of the commission and several brutal and power-hungry Chinese officials, Shan uses the oppressors own system to best them and realize his own fate.

         

Pattison has created a work composed of contradictions. The story is at once as beautiful as the Buddhist poetry and rugged peaks of Tibet while being as ugly as the brutal actions of the Chinese oppressors. The work is a first rate mystery with many a twist including a surprise ending.

 

 

Festive In Death by J D Robb

Publisher: Putman Books

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Once again it’s the holiday season, and once again our heroine, Lt. Eve Dallas, is dreading the festivities.  Not only does she have the burden of buying presents for friends, she is facing an obligatory house party planned by her husband, the world’s richest, handsomest and sexiest man, Roarke.  The party means getting glammed up and suffering the attentions of Trina, beautician extraordinaire, who terrifies Eve more than an axe murderer in a dark alley.  Fortunately a murder interrupts the holiday plans and Eve hopes that with a little bit of luck she might have an excuse not to turn up for the party.

It’s hard for Eve and her faithful assistant Delia Peabody to feel much sympathy for the murder victim.  He’s a personal trainer, Trey Zeigler, and the more they find out about the people who had a reason to wish him dead, the more they understand why he ended up in that condition.  Trey was a sexual predator, a blackmailer, and a thorough rotter, to use an old-fashioned term.

Trey may not have been likeable, but he’s Eve’s case now, and she’ll work as hard to find his murderer as she would for a victim she felt was more worthy of her attention.  She interviews his employer, his competition, the other trainers in the business; she interviews his lovers—if one can use that word for the way Trey treated them—and his neighbours.  In between tracking down clues, she manages to get her Christmas shopping done and makes an ill-considered promise to Roake’s major domo, Summerset, to be available to help organise the big house party.

All the usual supporting cast is here : Captain Feeney, e-geek McNab, Dr Mira, Medical Examiner Morris, the boys and girls in the detectives bullpen, and the slightly futuristic post-urban-war city of New York.

The scene where Eve has to front up and keep her promise to Summerset is one of the funniest you’ll ever read in this usually fairly dark series; you’ll wish you knew someone like Eve to help you organise your own holiday activities.  Does she also manage to solve the murder?  Need you ask?

As always, a very enjoyable read.  OK, so it’s not “Great Litrachoor”, but come on, ’fess up: when was the last time you picked up a literary classic as an escape from the humdrum, or to cheer yourself up?  There’s a time for Thomas Hardy and a time for J D Robb.

 

 

Deadline  by John Sandford

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons 

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

Virgil Flowers is a skillful if colorful investigator for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. In place of dress shoes, he chooses cowboy boots. His sidearm is more often left in his truck than carried by him.

Virgil’s caseload had gotten a little light when his friend Johnson Johnson approaches him about a number of missing dogs. Some of the dogs are just family pets and some are high dollar hunting dogs.

Despite his best efforts and help of the dogs’ owners, progress is slow. Every time they get close, the thieves manage to move the dogs. While scouting for the dogs, Virgil happens across drug labs capable of producing commercial quantities of several drugs. The calling of the Feds and raid on the labs proves one of several disruptions to the dog case.

Then more serious crimes arise. A writer for the local advertiser is gunned down by a three round burst from an AR15. The three round burst is significant since it proves lead.

The writer had once been a skill investigative journalist but was on the down slope of his career thanks to booze and drugs. At first, his drug habit proves a possible lead. However, Virgil finds that the man had turned his life around and was apparently on the verge of breaking a big story. Could this be the motive for the murder?

Then there is a second murder and questions of a serial killer arise. Virgil finds the reporter’s flash drive thanks to the help of a local prostitute. The drive gives substance to the reporter’s story and makes it likely that the motive for the second murder was cover embezzlement – substantial embezzlement - by school board members.

Virgil’s case is coming together, when a “mysterious” fire occurs in the school board offices. The paper trail is destroyed, but Virgil is not one to give up. However, he is dealing with a cold-blooded group willing to stop at little – including his murder – to cover their tracks.  

Sandford has been successful with the Virgil Flowers franchise and does not disappoint in this latest offering. The descriptions of the small towns are vivid as are the people. The relationship between Virgil and Johnson is at once mutually beneficial along with a deep bond. The story is entertaining and a good mystery at the same time.

 

 

 

 

Fighting Chance by Jane Haddam

Publisher: Minotaur

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Gregor Demarkian enjoys helping the police out on occasion as a case consultant, but when they ask for his help on their latest case, he’s flummoxed. The chief suspect is a priest caught on videotape brutally murdering a judge known for her tough sentencing practices. Worst yet, the priest is Gregor’s dear friend, Father Tibor, whose only response to questioning is to plead the Fifth Amendment.

Things only get worse when it turns out that the murdered judge engaged in wide-ranging questionable practices and the list of potential suspects could be a yard long, although Father Tibor’s motive is one dear to his empathetic heart.

Fighting Chance has strong ties to the Armenian-American community, especially since most of the immigrants and their families attend Father Tibor’s church. While Father Tibor remains uncommunicative in the local jail, the Dekanian family worries about losing their home to a bank threatening to foreclose—even though the bank had nothing to do with the home’s mortgage. Fortunately, attorney Russ Donahue—whose wife is part of the community—is working through his nerves and ulcers to try to stop the bank from foreclosing.

The immersion into the Armenian/American culture mix proves enjoyable—one almost expects System of a Down to make an appearance—but the large cast of characters may require readers to do a little backtracking to establish personalities and relationships to other characters. Still, there’s a lot of personality in this little neighborhood and readers fond of Louise Penny and PD James should consider the Gregor Demarkian novels.

 

 

 

Don't Look Back by Greg Hurwitz

Publisher: St. Martin's Press

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

I must admit that I was not terribly excited about this review as I have not really enjoyed any of the previous work by Greg Hurwitz that I have read.  His writing was stilted and characters one dimensional.  With great trepidation I ventured into his latest novel, DON'T LOOK BACK.

The best things about being an avid reader are the opportunities to be proven wrong about a book and find endless delight inside its pages.  This was my experience with DON'T LOOK BACK.  Not since Scott Smith's THE RUINS has a novel acted as a cautionary tale for American foreign travel --- especially to Mexico.

This novel has everything and includes suspense that grabs you almost immediately by the throat and never lets up.  There is no horror worse than human horror and that is what is at the center of this novel.   It boils down to innocent, 'soft' Americans being tortured, terrorized and killed by an Islamic fundamentalist waging his own personal war in the jungles of Mexico.

DON'T LOOK BACK at times reminded me of the work of the late, great Richard Laymon ---  no author I have ever read captured human horror like he did.  It also rang out in comparison to authors like Brad Thor and David Baldacci who seem to have their fingers on the pulse of the modern terrorist threat against the western world.

Eve Hardaway needed an escape and change of scenery.  She is a single mother, abandoned by her ex-husband and seeking to find herself.  She carries a copy of Melville's MOBY DICK with her --- but she has yet to bring herself to read it.  This will become a strong metaphor for the journey and ordeal she is about to withstand. 

She and a handful of other Americans are staying at a Mexican resort located deep in the jungles of Oaxaca where their days are spent exploring the terrain, climbing mountains, river rafting and enjoying the local cuisine.  This seemingly tranquil oasis escape is shattered when Eve comes across a strange man within the jungle hurling an ax into a wooden cutout of a human body.  He sees her and warns her to leave and 'don't look back'.

On her way back to her party she comes across a digital camera on the jungle floor.  Research tells her it belonged to an American woman named Teresa Hamilton.  Even with a limited internet connection, Eve is able to get on the web long enough to find news of Teresa's disappearance and her being given up for dead.  When looking at the photos on the digital camera the last are of the strange man who accosted Eve in the jungle.

That man is actually a Middle Eastern terrorist named Bashir who is trying to remain hidden in the heart of Mexico while secretly plotting his own personal war against the Americans.  Knowing that the digital camera Eve found will reveal his identity is something he cannot have.  Like an Agatha Christie story, the members of Eve's group are picked off one by one and dispatched of in horrible ways.

What transpires is a life-or-death struggle amidst the jungles of Oaxaca between Eve Hardaway and Bashir and features an ending that will have readers gasping for breath.  In my eyes, Greg Hurwitz has not only redeemed himself but written one of the best thrillers of the year in the process!

 

 

Darkness, Darkness by John Harvey

Publisher: Pegasus Crime

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader 

In 1984, The National Union of Mineworkers led by Arthur Scargill, brought about one of the most infamous and costly strikes in the history of the United Kingdom.  This strike effected the entire coal industry and the ramifications were felt country-wide.

The ending of the strike was seen as a major victory for then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and struck a powerful blow against the British Union movement.  It is this event, thirty years in the past, that is at the heart of John Harvey's latest novel --- DARKNESS, DARKNESS.

Based in the town of Nottinghamshire --- a major player in the infamous strike --- John Harvey has chosen to use this actual historical event as impetus for the final novel in his Charlie Resnick series.  During the time of the strike there were some obvious situations that escalated into violence, specifically when scab workers crossed the picket line to continue work in the mines.

When the wife of a prominent figure in the strike went missing thirty years earlier the town just assumed she had left of her own accord.  With labor issues once again rearing their ugly head in the present day, Resnick's hope of finishing his time on the force quietly are squashed when his superiors send him to Nottinghamshire to quiet things down.  It is during his reconnaissance of the unit at the heart of the labor dispute that the remains of a human are uncovered.

Modern CSI analysis is done and the bone is traced to the woman who disappeared thirty years earlier during the big strike.  This symbolism is not lost on Resnick or those close the current situation.  When a young woman goes missing during Resnick's investigation into the cold case he quickly realizes that history may be repeating itself in ugly ways.

What I have liked about Resnick is the professional distance he keeps from his difficult job.  Like Peter Robinson's DCI Banks,  DI Resnick is a real person with a fondness for music (particularly jazz), the arts and fine food.  He has spent much of the series questioning the actions of his own department, sometimes to his own detriment.

With DARKNESS, DARKNESS clearly being subtitled 'Resnick's Last Case', I won't reveal anything further about him.  Let's just leave it said that the one opponent Resnick is unable to defeat is called fate.

 

 

 

 

Ghost Wanted by Carolyn Hart

Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Bailey Ruth has enjoyed being married to her dear husband for decades; cares deeply for the residents of her Oklahoma hometown, Adelaide; and still looks like she’s 27. Well, yes, she’s dead, too; Bailey Ruth works for Heaven’s Department of Good Intentions, helping to right wrongs on Earth while trying—as much as possible—to remain unseen by the living, who mistake her for a ghost.

As an emissary of the Department, Bailey must work under a set of precepts, or rules, whenever she returns to earth. Some precepts she routinely breaks, such as the one in which she should not appear to the living, but another precept also warns her not to appear to other “ghosts,” either.

In Ghost Wanted, Bailey Ruth’s stern, but good-hearted supervisor, Paul Wiggins, asks Bailey Ruth to help an earthbound ghost who remains on her family estate on a college campus in Adelaide. While residents formerly believed the ghost was a romantic and benevolent entity who left roses for prospective couples, recent acts of vandalism attributed to the ghost inspire a new sense of fear in the students.

The ghost, an elegant woman named Lorraine, also has a surprising connection in Heaven, but refuses to leave the living, making equally intriguing connections on earth. Meanwhile, a young woman chosen by Lorraine as a potential romantic partner with the local paper editor disappears,  along with a very rare, very expensive book.

Carolyn Hart’s latest installment in the Bailey Ruth Ghost series remains as appealing as ever; Bailey Ruth’s bubbly, never-say-die (so to speak) personality shines through on both planes of existence and her bits of vanity and other flaws keep her believable and likeable. The series remains ideal for cozy mystery fans, but never delves into blandness; fans of Bailey Ruth are unlikely to confuse one of her mysteries with any others.

Hart seems to care a little less if readers take umbrage of her vision of Heaven and the afterlife as a whole. Hart never preaches, but instead relishes the mixing of famous and nonfamous people, cheerfully creating unexpected, Heavenly friendships that entertain her readers. She pays equal attention to the relationships related to the missing college student and to the night watchman, respectively; both of which factor in well with Lorraine’s mission to spread joy and love.

Tenacious investigator Bailey Ruth has her non-corporeal hands full with this assignment, but her big heart and fashion sense serve as great assets in her latest case to help the living—and the dead.

 

 

Murder at the Brightwell by Ashley Weaver

Publisher: Minotaur

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Amery Ames lives the life most people in the 1930s dreamed about: dashing husband, well-appointed home, and the freedom and wealth to follow her whims. After reading  the Society page about her “infuriating” husband of five years, Milo, spending his time gambling and frolicking with women in Monte Carlo, Amery decides things must change.

Her former fiancé, Gil Trent, offers her an escape with the request that she accompany him on a seaside vacation to persuade his beloved younger sister, Emmeline, not to make the same mistake in marrying a cad. Amery can’t help but compare the parallels to her own life and wonder what might have been had she married Gil instead of Milo.

Amery and Gil travel to Brightwell, a popular hotel for the upper class and those who wish to be perceived as such. In addition to Emmeline, they meet several friends of Gil and Emmeline’s: bombshell Anne Rodgers and and her bland husband, Edward; meek Larissa Hamilton and her boorish husband Nelson; stage actor Lionel Blake; and, of course, the charming, cheating man engaged to Emmeline, Rupert Howe.

While Amery decompresses from her stressful marriage in the serene setting, she discovers a body, leading to the introduction of Inspector Jones, a Hercule Poirot-inspired detective who alternately intrigues and irritates Amery. Amery is nearly as much of an outsider as Inspector Jones, since she only knew Gil and Emmeline before the visit to Brightwell, and knew very little of their lives after she married Milo.

Similar in tone and style as Nicola Upson’s elegant and riveting Josephine Tey novels, Murder at the Brightwell marks the debut novel of Ashley Weaver, a Louisiana librarian. Murder at the Brightwell flows well, allowing readers to see the hidden passion between the chilly exteriors of many of the characters.

Everyone’s got secrets, including the outwardly enigmatic Amery, which plays out when she receives one of several surprises at Brightwell in this graceful, provocative 1930s mystery.

 

 

 

Long Way Home by Louise Penny

Publisher: Minotaur
 
Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader
 
In  How the Light Gets In, Armand Gamache retired from his lofty and fraught position as head of Quebec’s police department, finding peace in the appropriately named Three Pines, a singular place he discovered while investigating a murder years before. His wife, Reine-Marie, enjoys having her husband home each day, knowing he’s safe and able to enjoy doing things together as a couple. This placid life also means that Armand becomes a creature of routine—a very bored creature.
 
Three Pines resident and artist Clara Morrow notes his habits, including reading the same book every morning on a park bench without ever finishing, but says nothing in spite of her curiosity. The people of Three Pines formed a tight bond during the course of previous investigations and have welcomed Armand and his extended family with open arms. Each person in Armand’s circle shows memorable quirks and bears significant scars, and all are protective of one another and each other’s secrets.
 
When Clara has her own problem, she knows Armand retains the resources to help her and will not judge. Clara separated from her husband, Peter, a year before with the intention to meet again after the year was up. Peter, also a prominent artist, fails to return to Three Pines and the uncertainty plagues Clara.
 
Armand and his former second-in-command and now son-in-law, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, quickly pick up Peter’s trail only to realize that the artist’s reason for not returning home to Clara is much darker than anyone imagined.
 
Louise Penny, an accomplished storyteller who uses Canada’s setting to its full effect, describes the various states of marriage in The Long Way Home, allowing the happily married Armand to continue his own deep relationships with his former colleagues while helping his friend with her broken marriage.
 
True to form, Penny refuses to allow Armand’s path to be either easy or simplistic, but always reveals compassion for these beloved characters. Her writing remains strong and plot twists keep readers guessing what’s happened and why. In fact, G. M. Malliet namechecks Penny’s How the Light Gets In in the current book, A Demon Summer.
 
Thoughtful and quick-paced, smart and enjoyable, Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache Novels are easily one of the best current series and a must for readers who love Malliet, P. D. James, Stephen Booth, and Faye Kellerman.