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Nantucket Five-Spot by Steven Axelrod

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

A big mystery on a small island, and a tough guy with a soft centre to investigate it: a formula for a good read if ever there was one.  Nantucket’s police chief Henry Kennis keeps the peace, writes poetry when he has a spare minute, and occasionally mourns a lost love.

The peace looks like being well and truly broken when there’s a threat to ruin the Island’s summer season by a mad bomber—he must be mad, he’s threatening to bomb the Boston Pops concert, and no sane New Englander would ever do that.  The Department of Homeland Security rocks up to take over the investigation, convinced that terrorists must be behind the threat.  After all, a lot of very rich and very influential spend their summers on Nantucket, and it would never do to have them blown to kingdom come in the midst of the William Tell Overture.

Now working for DHS is the lost love of Henry’s life, and for a short time it looks as if Frances Tate and Henry might finally get together.  First, however, there’s a lot of unravelling of the mystery to be done, and it doesn’t help that Franny’s associate Jack Tornovich takes an instant dislike to Henry and Henry’s theory about what’s going on.  Before you can say ‘frame-up’, Henry is on the run across a very small piece of real estate, trying to stay away from the good guys, the bad guys, and the guys he’s not sure about. 

When Henry, some of his loyal deputies, a psychopath, a bomb, and a barge full of fireworks come together it’s more fun than the last few bars of the 1812 Overture.  Does he get the girl?  Read the book and find out.  It’s well written; there’s no unnecessary gore for the sake of gore; and there’s refreshingly little swearing.

As the liner notes suggest, Axelrod’s writing is rather reminiscent of the late, great, Robert B Parker, and Henry is woven of similar fibre to Spenser and Jesse Stone.  I look forward to his next adventure.

 

 

The Accident by Chris Pavone

Publisher: Crown

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

The Accident marks the anticipated follow-up to Chris Pavone’s well-received 2012 novel spy thriller debut, The Expats. While Expats readers will recognize a brief appearance by a Paris-based major character, The Accident centers on another case and relies less on the marital examination which made The Expats so intriguing. Pavone does include a long-term friendship to complicate matters, but in The Accident, it’s the highly competitive publishing industry that warrants careful navigation.

Isabel Reed, a literary agent who once shone in the publishing world but now is the weary has-been, receives a real page-turner— a manuscript that exposes the secrets of a wealthy, powerful man who intends to seek public office. Well-written and well-documented, the manuscript offers no clue as to the author’s identity, which is given only as Anonymous.

Knowing that this is the Next Big Thing, she enlists the help of her long-time friend, Jeffrey, to help her start the literary process while swearing him to secrecy. Jeffrey also desperately needs a career-boost and drops everything  to help the woman for whom he’s pined for decades. The almost-comic cutthroat publishing industry shifts Isabel’s best-laid plans for a quiet negotiation into an explosion of thrilling chases of both primary and secondary characters throughout the northeastern United States.

When a CIA agent named Hayden enters into the fray, Isabel suddenly finds herself in the very dangerous world of spygames and her entire world changes, revitalized in ways she never expected, but hesitant to trust anyone because everyone wants this manuscript and no one wants witnesses.

Pavone drops hints midway through the novel about the author’s general identity, but ensures that this knowledge serves as a stepping-stone to much bigger bombshells revealed in the climax. The Accident offers a solid thriller with an unexpected backdrop, making it ideal for a quick or vacation read.

 

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader 

The most ironic thing about Chris Pavone’s latest thriller THE ACCIDENT is that is about a manuscript so hot it will set the publishing world on fire --- while this novel itself is a highly-anticipated release that readers will have a hard time putting down.

His debut novel, THE EXPATS, won the coveted Edgar Award and the advance word on THE ACCIDENT is that it would be a solid contender for that award again in 2014.  Having spent nearly two decades as a book editor, Chris Pavone is quite comfortable with the territory covered in this novel and deftly uses that knowledge to his advantage.

Literary agent Isabel Reed receives an anonymous manuscript in the mail and breathlessly finishes it in one sitting.  The manuscript is entitled “The Accident” and authorship is unknown.  The story contained in this manuscript does not appear to be based on fiction.  Instead, it purports to expose one of the richest and most powerful people in the world --- media mogul, Charlie Wolfe.

Charlie Wolfe is sort of like Ted Turner and Oprah Winfrey all wrapped up in one.  “The Accident” manuscript alleges that Charlie, along with his friend David as a witness, murdered a young girl one night and covered it up.  Even though this alleged event happened when Wolfe was a young man it is still damaging enough to take down his multi-billion dollar empire.

Isabel is not sure what to do with this manuscript or who to trust with it.  Even though she goes out of her way to limit the amount of people she involves in examining this manuscript it quickly grows out of control and numerous people become aware of it.  Unfortunately for these publishing world individuals there are some very dangerous people aware of the existence of this manuscript and they are being paid very well to make both it—and anyone who has read it --- disappear.

THE ACCIDENT switches back and forth with various chase sequences involving both Isabel Reed in New York City/Long Island and the anonymous author in Europe fleeing the people who are after them.  The author needs Isabel, or someone else in the publishing world that he trusts, to be able to successfully bring this manuscript to light in order to take down Charlie Wolfe.  The question is, will either of them live long enough to see this through?

THE ACCIDENT moves like a train off the tracks for the first two-thirds of the novel and only gets bogged down slightly in the latter third once the identity of the author is revealed.  There are some surprises along the way and the ending is satisfying.  What makes this novel a worthwhile read is the inside look into the world of publishing and the fun Pavone has with making this a life-or-death profession.

 

 

A Circle Of Wives by Alice LaPlante

Publisher: Grove Atlantic

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader 

My fear with looking at the cover of Alice LaPlante's A CIRCLE OF WIVES is that this was going to be a 'woman's book'.  You know the kind  I'm talking about.  Romance Fiction that cleverly disguises itself as another genre --- like Mystery or Thriller.  I could not have been more wrong or pleasantly surprised.

The novel's cover, depicting the back of a young blonde woman's head, is deceiving.  This is not a novel about young women --- even though the protagonist is a twenty-something police detective named Samantha.  Samantha 'Sam' Adams is a detective in the quiet and upper class California town of Palo Alto. She does not typically get murder  cases or even mysterious deaths.  She is in for a big change as the events of this story unfold.

Dr. John Taylor, a well-known plastic surgeon with a thriving practice, is found dead at a Westin hotel in Palo Alto.  Being middle-aged and overweight, and being found all alone without any signs of suspicious activity in his hotel room, make it easy for the coroner and police to call this a heart attack.  It is only when the police begin the process of next of kin notification that things become sketchy.

It seems John Taylor was happily married to his wife of many years Deborah while simultaneously being 'married' to two other women --- the ex-hippy M.J. and an oncologist named Helen.  Apparently none of the women knew about each other as the frequent traveler John Taylor was able to maintain three separate existences. 

A CIRCLE OF WIVES cleverly switches chapter to chapter by creating the point of view of Samantha, Deborah, M.J. and Helen.  Each chapter adds more to the mystery and the plot quickly becomes one exceedingly smart murder mystery.  Samantha is sure one or all three of the women are hiding something but the fact that there was no physical evidence makes for a daunting case.

Once Samantha visits Dr. Taylor's practice she is hit over the head with another unforeseen revelation that will turn the case on its ear.  It seems one of Taylor's co-workers, Claire, was also secretly seeing him and claims to have been his fiancée.  Claire insists Taylor was going to divorce Deborah and dissolve his other two marriages in order to marry her.

The reader is constantly hit with clues and red herrings and the ending should be a complete surprise.  What started out as a California-based intertwining story of four women as well as an expose on the nature of love and marriage ends up resembling a classic British murder mystery --- and I couldn't have been happier!

 

 

 

Where The Bones Are Buried by Jeanne Matthews

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

If you had to make up a protagonist and put her in an unlikely location with an unusual lover, you’d have to work hard to go past Jeanne Matthews’ new book.  Matthews has put her half-Seminole Indian heroine Dinah Pelerin in Berlin where she is teaching Native American Cultures at university level, and living with her  Norwegian boyfriend, a policeman named—what else?—Thor.

Complicated enough for Dinah to fit into a new culture where she doesn’t speak much of the language, but then Thor is called home for work, and no sooner has he left than Dinah’s weird mother Swan turns up in town, accompanied by Margaret, another of Swan’s ex-husband Cleon Dobbs’s former wives.  Confused yet?  Don’t worry, it gets worse.

Many Americans won’t be aware of this odd fact, but there is great interest in Germany in Native American history, art and culture.  This goes back to the 19th century, and explains why Dinah has been invited to teach at the German university.  Dinah discovers that Swan and Margaret have some crack-brained plot to blackmail Reiner Hess, a tax dodger whom they believe to have cheated their mutual husband out of money some time before Margaret shot him.  (Don’t ask.)  Hunting for her mother and Margaret at a faux-Indian powwow, Dinah finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation, starring a dead man minus his scalp.  Talk about clues pointing the way in neon lights!

Dinah hopes her mother and Margaret weren’t responsible for the murder, but she’s very nervous about what the police investigation is apt to turn up.  Her own past has a couple of murky spots which she’d rather Thor didn’t learn about.  One secret Dinah has been sitting on for a long time is that Cleon Dobbs, left a lot of money (probably dirty) and one of these days Dinah is going to give it to his children, if she can ensure it isn’t pilfered and squandered by their mother or other low-life relatives.  She’d rather Thor didn’t know about this cache, as it probably would look bad to his employers, not to mention raise suspicions about her own character in his mind.

Dinah is on the telephone talking to a man she suddenly realises must be the murderer when she hears a scuffle and a shot.  In the best tradition of amateur sleuths the world over, she hares off to the man’s house to find out what’s happened without waiting for Thor or the other police.  This proves not to be the best idea of the week.

This was an entertaining and amusing read, if a bit unbelievable in spots—but that’s why we call it fiction.

 

 

 

Just You Wait by Jane Tesh

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Jane Tesh has revived the once-popular custom of chapter headings.  She uses lines from “My Fair Lady’ to good effect in this amusing and charming story from Grace Street, home of several people who could have come from the Central Casting “character actor” pool.

This is the fourth book in the series and the first one that I’ve read—although I am certainly going to seek out the others.  The big yellow house at 302  Grace Street is owned by John Camden, who was given it by a man he saved from financial ruin by his disconcerting ability to see  things in the lives of other people.  For himself he can’t see very clearly, but for others, Cam has a startling psychic ability.  His fianceé Ellin works on a cable TV station show that focuses on the paranormal, and she’d like Cam to make some money with this gift so they can get married, move into a more respectable house, and leave all his weird friends behind.

One of Cam’s tenants and friends is private eye David Randall.  Randall asks Cam to help him find a missing old lady, amateur actress Viola Mitchell.  They visit Viola’s house and almost at once Cam tells Randall and the sceptical police officer Jordan Finlay to check out the cellar.  They do, and Viola’s body is discovered buried there.  Cam can’t ‘see’ the murderer, but he knows Viola was poisoned and that there’s wine involved.

It becomes apparent that the local production of “My Fair Lady” is tied up with the murder, and this worries David, whose girlfriend Kary is in the cast.  Against the wishes of the professional investigator—when did you ever read about a policeman who welcomed the help of an amateur sleuth?--David pokes around and finds there are connections between his new client; a homeless dog;  the murder; and the past history of the amateur thespians. 

Meanwhile the wedding plans get more and more complicated as Ellin’s two sisters and control-freak mother step in; Cam is ready to elope if only he could talk Ellin into it.  He’s not sure if he should get married at all, because his paranormal powers have taken on a new and frightening aspect.  It all comes to a head at the beauty pageant where the cosmetics are being provided  by David’s client, and there’s a very satisfying final chapter where all the loose threads are tied up nicely.

A thoroughly enjoyable read; highly recommended.

 

 

The Black-Eyed Blond by Benjamin Black

Publisher: Henry Holt and Company 

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader 

Cynical, wise cracking California P.I. Phillip Marlow has been resurrected for a new story in the tradition of Raymond Chandler. In the 1950’s Marlow continues to operate his low-rent private detective agency in Bay City. That’s why he is surprised by the arrival of a striking femme fatal at his door. The woman is made that much more striking by black eyes framed by blond hair.

Mrs. Clare Cavendish is a member of an elite family making obscene wealth in the cosmetics business. She wishes Marlow to find Nico Peterson – a love interest of Mrs. Cavendish’s. Such trysts are tolerated if not approved of by her husband who has no wish of losing his place in the posh lifestyle provided the marriage.

A hit-and-run driver apparently killed Nico Peterson. Clare insists that she saw Peterson in San Francisco after the alleged accident.

Marlow isn’t the only one looking for Peterson. Two Mexicans with a penchant for guns and knives are on the trail too. Marlow is pistol whipped by them and unable to prevent the kidnapping and murder of Peterson’s sister. To complicate matters even more, Marlow isn’t even sure of Peterson’s true name.

Black has done a superior job of bringing Marlow back to life. The reader could easily envision Bogart and Bacall moving through the scenes with the grace and style of the film noir. It contains enough plot twists and memorable characters to pay proper homage to the genre.   

 

 

 

The Innocent Sleep by Karen Perry

Publisher: Henry Holt and Company

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader 

There are not many horrors on this earth worse than losing a child.  To compound that misery would be the soul-crushing guilt of solely blaming yourself for their death.  You would give anything to have them back.  Anything.

Thus is the premise of the latest thriller written by the Dublin-based writing duo of Paul Perry and Karen Gillece, THE INNOCENT SLEEP.  Harry and Robin are a young Irish couple living in Tangiers.  The reason they have relocated to Morocco is for Harry’s work as an artist.  Along with them is their three-year-old son, Dillon.

One day when Harry is watching Dillon by himself, Harry decides to give Dillon a sleep remedy and put him down to bed while he runs around the corner to pick up some items he had forgotten while shopping earlier.  Tragedy strikes when Harry is gone as a massive earthquake hits the area, devastating many homes and businesses.  One of those homes that is destroyed is the house Harry just left.  The remains lie in a huge crater and Dillon’s body is never found.

The heartbroken young couple head back to Dublin to try and pick up the pieces.  Five years later, as he is traveling through the streets of Dublin, Harry swears he sees his son, Dillon, holding hands with a strange woman.  Because a demonstration march was taking place, Harry loses track of them in the crowd.  He is convinced and undeterred in the fact that this was his son he spied and will not rest until he finds him again.

When Harry makes dinner plans with his wife, Robin, to share this startling revelation she beats him to the punch.  She orders champagne and proudly announces to her husband that she is pregnant.   This takes all the steam out of Harry’s announcement and he decides it is not the time to bring it up.  In fact, he waits a while before sharing his own news with Robin.

During this time, Harry elicits the aid of a friend who is able to retrieve CCTV video showing the street at the time and place Dillon was spotted and is able to print out grainy photos of a child that does indeed resemble his lost son.  Never having forgiven himself for abandoning Dillon during the earthquake, Harry has had a number of breakdowns and even been hospitalized for it.

As things unfold, some secrets in Harry and Robin’s past lend credence to the possibility that their son may be alive.  If not, this crazed obsession of Harry’s will most certainly push their relationship beyond the breaking point.  THE INNOCENT SLEEP creates a very unique premise that never loses its grip on the reader.  The suspense takes time to build, but Perry deftly spins this highly atmospheric tale out like a classic murder mystery with a solution that most readers will not see coming.

 

 

 

 

Little Black Lies by Sandra Block

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader 

Getting a debut novel published today is no easy task.  You need to make sure you are saying something original and unique and something that readers will pay to enjoy.  The psychological thriller genre is already a crowded field and blazing new ground there is no easy task.

I give debut author, Sandra Block, an 'A' for effort.  Her first novel, LITTLE BLACK LIES, is far from perfect and shows the expected immaturity you typically get with a new author.  At the same time, setting a psychological mystery amidst the halls of a psychiatric hospital --- where the protagonist, a psychiatrist with plenty of her own issues --- is an interesting choice and one that made for a fairly enjoyable read.

Dr. Zoe Goldman has spent her life battling her own ADHD and this may be the impetus behind her desire to pursue the field of psychiatry.  That is just the tip of the iceberg with the issues she faces in LITTLE BLACK LIES.  Her own life, in essence, is a lie. She was adopted at a very early age with no memory of her birth parents.  Yet, she suffers from crippling nightmares involving her adoptive family and the woman she knows as 'mom' supposedly burning down their home.

Zoe undergoes regular therapy for her nightmares and subconscious fears, but it is only when hypnotism is introduced to her sessions that she truly begins to unlock the mystery hidden within her own mind.  Zoe does not have many healthy relationships in her life and her adopted mother is in a senior home suffering from dementia.  Zoe feels compelled more than ever to find her birth mother and feels deep down that this will settle her mind and nightmares.  If she only knew that the answer to her own puzzle might exist with one of the patients she cares for.

The title of the novel comes from Alfred Lord Tennyson: 'That a lie which is half a truth is ever the blackest of lies'.  LITTLE BLACK LIES deals with deception and the true nature of family but none of the truths revealed here are terribly earth-shattering.  There is also too much time devoted to a dead-end relationship Zoe has with a French boyfriend who is consistently unfaithful to her.  Nothing to read into here --- he's just simply a dirt-bag.  However, I applaud Sandra Block for attempting to do something a bit different and I recommend LITTLE BLACK LIES as a nice starting point for what will hopefully become a successful career.

 

 

 

The Magician’s Daughter by Judith Janeway

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press  

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Valentine Hill became a magician because her mother said that her father was one.   It’s only years later that she discovers this was a sort of sick joke, but by that time  Valentine has no illusions about her mother’s tenuous grasp on anything approaching truth.  Valentine herself has an almost pathological dislike of lying, thanks to her Aunt Jane.

Elizabeth, Valentine’s mother, has never earned an honest dime, and the girl’s early years were spent helping her mother to cheat, gyp and lie her way into and out of the lives of various well-to-do men.  Escaping that life, Valentine entered another one equally odd: having no identity papers of any sort, she’s a non-person.  Homeschooled by Aunt Jane, Valentine is well-educated, but without a birth certificate she can’t get a social security card and without that, she might as well not exist.  At age twenty-something she sets off for San Francisco, pursuing both her former partner, who stole her life savings, and the rumour of her mother, whom Ashley, a chance acquaintance, informs her is living with her own father.

In short order Valentine gets badly beaten up in the apartment where her mother lived, finds a dead man, is suspected of murder, meets an FBI agent who is herself beaten up and killed, and ends up living in temporary digs in a derelict building.  She has a hard time convincing the law enforcement people she meets that she’s an honest woman.   She eventually manages to convince the FBI that she’s their key to building a case against the criminal with whom Elizabeth now lives, and to do this she inveigles her way into Ashley’s home and confronts Elizabeth.

“Whatever the con is, I want in,” Valentine tells her mother.  To a crook, the world is crooked, so Elizabeth doesn’t suspect that Valentine might be working for or with the guys in the white hats—and Valentine herself isn’t sure about some of them.  Is the cab-driver Rico on the wrong side of the law; is he a double agent; and how can she tell her heart to stop finding him so attractive?

This is a very entertaining book with lots of twists and turns.  You’ll be as puzzled as Valentine is about some of the characters and their motivations---who’s on the up-and-up and who’s up to no good?  And at the end, will Valentine have the answer to the one question for which she’s been hunting her mother for the last nine years?

 

 

Cookie's Case by Andy Siegel

Publisher: Mysterious Press

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

The aptly named COOKIE'S CASE is the latest Tug Wyler mystery from New York based author Andy Siegel.  It is a crime/legal mystery written with respect for the classic pulp fiction style of authors like Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald.  The cover depicting the silhouette of a stiletto high-heeled woman only tells part of the story and proves that you should never judge a book by its' cover.

The novel opens with a prologue chapter entitled "The Unfortunate Event".  It proceeds to describe a surgical procedure that goes badly wrong. The female patient lying on the table is undergoing neck surgery while the lead surgeon, Dr. McElroy, is humming along to Led Zeppelin's "Stairway To Heaven". The head OR Nurse notices the obviously distracted Doctor performing in a careless and sloppy manner that results in his nicking the spinal cord of the patient and causing a leak of spinal fluid.

When the OR Nurse brings her case to the Hospitals' Risk Manager, he and Dr. McElroy brush the incident away as minor as the patient showed no sign of debilitation.  Unfortunately, this patient --- a stripper named Claudette "Cookie" Krumke --- does begin to experience serious side effects from her surgery gone wrong that keeps her from earning a living.  Her much older boyfriend,  a Doctor named Major, has taken over her care that includes rather dangerous and suspicious spinal taps.

Enter our hero, Attorney Tug Wyler.  When a friend introduces Tug to this case it appears to be a standard cut and dry case of malpractice.  However, nothing in COOKIE'S CASE is quite normal and Tug begins to see that there are far more nefarious things going on behind the scenes and Cookie is a victim in more ways than one.

Tug Wyler is not your typical attorney.  He's sort of like the NYC version of Bob Odenkirk's attorney in the AMC series "Better Call Saul".  Tug is just as likely to meet a client in a seedy bar or strip joint as he is in his own office.  That suits this latest case to a tee as that is the world inhabited by Cookie and her colleagues.  Tug realizes he may have bitten off more than he can chew when a strange tough guy threatens him more than once to drop the case.  Cookie is in for a large malpractice settlement --- but she is completely unaware that she may also be at the center of a major medical fraud case.

COOKIE'S CASE is never predictable and far from ordinary.  There are other characters, cases and plot-lines within the novel that I found somewhat distracting.  While they rounded out the novel and provided more substance to Tug's law practice I was so intrigued by the Cookie case that I wanted the focus to stay there!  Overall, an enjoyable novel from start to finish. Andy Siegel is someone to watch in the Crime Thriller genre.

 

 

The Forgetting Place by John Burley
 
Publisher: William Morrow
 
Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader
 
Dr. Lise Shields works at the Menaker State Hospital, a collection of drab, neglected buildings where long-term mental patients receive treatment and a place to wait out their long days. She’s only been there five years, but it’s longer than many fresh-faced doctors straight out of school last. Even though she knows big break-throughs in psychology aren’t likely to happen here, she still feels a connection with the place, keeping her coming in to work each day.
 
From the start, Lise knows that her new patient, sad-eyed Jason Edwards, is a special case—so special that the hospital admits him without proper paperwork or even his psychological records. This unusual lack of a patient history makes it hard for her to treat him and causes friction between her and the hospital administrator.
 
Still, Jason’s heartbreaking story of a life of family tragedy that culminated in his admittance strikes a chord in Lise, making her remember her own youth amidst neglectful parents and her troubled Uncle Jim. She strenuously tries to bury herself in her work, seeing patients and working with her colleagues.
 
When two suited FBI agents contact her for her help, she realizes that things are much deeper, much darker than what they seem. The more Lise treats Jason, the more she learns about his secrets—putting her and everyone at Menaker in danger, especially Jason.
 
Careful readers will probably solve the key mystery early on, but Burley (The Absence of Mercy) adds multiple subplots that encourage continued reading. Burley’s own medical training shows through in Lise’s discussion of psychiatric hospital methods as well as detailing the mental illnesses prevalent in Menaker State Hospital.
 
The Forgetting Place makes a great vacation or one-night read—fast-paced and compelling.

 

 

 

 

Dying For the Past by T J O’Connor

Publisher: Midnight Ink

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

This is the second in what promises to be a popular series.  I enjoyed the first one, which dealt with how Detective Oliver Tucker was killed and then helped solve his own murder with the help of his widow, his former partner, and his dog.  Oh, and with the added help of the ghost of his great-grandfather, “Doc”.

This new adventure starts with a murder in an old gangster’s mansion.  Stephanos Grecco is a mystery man with deep pockets and no known past; when he’s shot on the ballroom floor it puts a crimp in the gala fundraiser Tuck’s widow Angela is running.  Things get worse when all the money raised vanishes, along with one of the waiters who was hired at the last minute.

Tuck starts investigating—just because a detective is dead doesn’t mean he can’t do what he was trained for, right?  He meets two ghosts at Vincent House, Vincent Calaprese who once owned it back in the heyday of speakeasies and bathtub gin, and his moll, Sassy.  Vincent gives him some good bourbon, Sassy gives him the eye, and Tuck discovers that dead people can have bad things happen to them.  Vincent want him to find someone named Ben and also find a notebook that Vincent wrote down a lot of incriminating information in.  If Tuck doesn’t do this, he may discover just how prescient the old artists like Hieronymous Bosch were in their depictions of the afterlife.

The story become very complicated, with danger lurking in the cellars under Vincent house for Tuck’s widow, her mentor Andre, and Tuck’s old partner Bear Braddock, not to mention something really nasty in wait for his great-grandfather’s ghost if Tuck doesn’t find the missing book.  An assortment of live—more or less—FBI agents, local law enforcement personnel and a very scary Senate candidate not to mention Russian agents come and go throughout the story, but it’s down to Tuck and his old partner to bring the criminals to justice.

This is a really entertaining book; a ghost detective is not a new premise but it’s handled in a refreshing manner.  You could spend $14.99 on many less edifying things.

 

 

Butterfly Kills by Brenda Chapman

Publisher: Dundurn Books

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

This is another of the recent wave of entertaining crime novels set across the border in Canada; familiar, but with just a touch of strange that gives it an extra fillip of enjoyment.  I haven’t read the first book in the series, but there’s enough reference to it to establish that one of the two protagonists, Kala Stonechild, is a member of a First Nations group who finds living astride two different worlds just as demanding as the work she’s paid to do.  Echoes of Dana Stabenow’s Kate Shugak may resonate with you.  Kala is a loner with a companion dog, like Kate.  She also has a heavy weight on her heart from a family relationship that’s gone wrong.

In this second volume, Sergeant Jacques Rouleau has left the big city for a smaller one and is juggling the care of his aged and ill father with his new job.  He’s barely hung up his peaked hat in the new office when he’s faced with two deaths: a murdered college student and an apparent self-defence killing.  In the second case, a woman has shot her estranged husband who has been threatening her.  Or has he?  As Jacques digs into the case, he finds confusing opinions about the dead man. 

Jacques is trying to organise his new Criminal Investigation Division, a task which is difficult because two of the staff aren’t working any harder than they have to.  One is nearing retirement, and his sloth is slowing down his partner.  Jacques starts to sort out the problem by assigning the younger man to work with Kala Stonechild, which may reawaken his policing skills.  Kala’s almost uncanny ability to sniff out things that are not what they seem soon leads to the suspicion that somehow the murder of the college girl who’s been working in a crisis hotline centre, and the death of Brian Munroe, may be connected.

Author Chapman has done a great job of weaving the routine and not-so-routine police work onto the background weft of Rouleau and Stonechild’s personal lives.  These are believable people with the same sort of problems we all have, and the same occupational demands on them that make solving those problems harder.  I look forward to the next book in the series.

 

 

Cooler Than Blood by Robert Lane

Publisher: Mason Alley Publishing

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

This is the second outing for Jake Travis, whom readers may recall from “The Second Letter” which we reviewed last year.  In that book retired Special Forces soldier Jake undertook a job for his old bosses; this time it’s a lot more personal.  Susan Blake, a woman Jake is attracted to despite having a permanent lover, has a niece who’s gone missing.  The police are strangely reluctant to treat her concerns seriously.  The girl was attacked by a man who may be a serial killer and she responded violently; in fact she killed him.  Now she’s vanished, and Susan wants her found. 

Jake is torn between his knight-errant desire to find the missing girl and the fear that if he gets too close to her aunt he will get far more intimately involved than he wants to.  He agrees to have a look into the case, and very quickly discovers there’s a lot more to it than just a missing girl.  There’s also a considerable amount of missing money.  Add to that the rather unhappy brothers of the dead man, a mafia boss to whom a lot of money is owed, and some bad stuff in Kathleen’s past and you have an interesting and complicated story.  (Did I mention the bent cop?)

Jake thinks he knows who has the missing girl, and he comes up with a cold-blooded way to rescue her and protect his Kathleen.  Then crunch time comes: will he be able to make good on his threats, and can he live with himself if he does?  Just kicking in a door or two might be simpler--but which doors?

There’s a fair bit of violence in this book, but it’s not without purpose.  Travis is in some ways a very old-fashioned  protagonist, given to occasional introspection and some softer moments.  This is not a cosy read, but to quote my previous review of Lane’s work: “it’s nicely handled, with lots of action and a strong moral thread to make Jake more likeable than many other modern action heroes.”

 

 

 

High Stakes by John McEvoy

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press 

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Jack Doyle , a retired boxer with a talented financial adviser, has fallen into a new career that often involves horses.  In his newest adventure, he’s contacted by a pair of FBI agents—one of whom he’s not all that keen on—about a serious crime wave.  Somebody is killing horses at veterinary schools, and there’s no knowing when the apparent ‘mercy killings’ might escalate and result in murder of humans as well as horses.

While Jack is looking into the horse killings, his old friend Niall Hanratty is having problems back in Ireland.  At first Niall laughs off the ‘accidents’, but his wife Sheila rings Jack and begs him to come across the pond and look into Niall’s troubles.  Jack makes a flying trip to Ireland and is assured by Niall that everything is under control.  Jack has a quick visit with his lady friend Nora and goes back to Chicago to get back to work.  He hasn’t been home a day when another attempt is made on Niall, this one almost successful. 

Meanwhile, in another part of the state a villain is brooding over the wrongs he believes Jack did him which resulted in his being a guest of the state for a considerable period of time.  Rexwroth can’t do anything directly to Jack, but he still has connections on the outside, and it’s not that hard to hire a hitman if you have the money and the desire, and Rexwroth has both.

Once again Sheila calls Jack from Ireland and begs him to come back and help Niall discover who’s trying to kill him, so Jack puts the investigation into the horse killings on hold, flies to Connemara (picking up Nora on the way) and meets Niall again only to learn that as well as the car ‘accident’ that worries Sheila, there’s been a shooting attempt on Niall’s life.

On this third trip back to Ireland, the story behind the attacks on Niall becomes clear, and Jack is at last free to return to his main case, the horse killings, Meanwhile, the hitman who’s been on his trail catches up with him, and Fate catches up with both of them in the guise of a long-haul trucker who should have stopped for a rest hours ago.

This is a fast-moving story with three or four threads that McEvoy ties off one by one.  If you like tough guys and horses, this book should please you.

 

 

 

 

Black Horizon by James Grippando

Publisher: Harper Collins  

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

What could be worse than a major oil spill near U.S. waters by American companies or her allies? “Black Horizon” answers that question with an ecological disaster of massive proportions where the U.S. is helpless to intervene.

An alliance of countries unsympathetic to U.S. policy and politics has supported Cuba in a drilling projects perilously close to the Florida Keys. There is a lack of technical expertise and accountability by Cuba. The oilrig was built entirely in China without oversight of more experienced oil-producing countries. Venezuela has participated with continued hostility toward the United States. Russia has interests – possibly through organized crime.

Not surprisingly, disaster happens. A hurricane strikes and in the fury of the storm, the rig explodes and releases oil at an unimaginable rate. The slick heads toward Florida. U.S offers are rebuffed by Cuba who even threatens military action against craft entering her waters.

Key West lawyer Jack Swyteck and his sidekick Theo are drawn into the resulting legal fray. They agree to represent a young and beautiful Cuban immigrant made a widow by the death of her husband in the explosion.

A slick and slimy lawyer representing the Venezuelan company challenges the widow’s claim with accusations that she was not married at the time of explosion since her husband had remained in Cuba and appeared engaged to another woman.

Jack and Theo make a covert trip to Cuba to try and find evidence of the marriage and disprove the Venezuelan’s claim. A mysterious man kidnaps them as they try to elude Russian mobsters. The single condition of their release is that the explosion be treated as sabotage. The kidnapper provides a string of numbers that were used to disable the rig’s electronic safeguards.

In the meantime, Jack’s new wife Andie Henning has been called back to work at the FBI. She has an undercover assignment involving the alliances that led to the drilling disaster.

Jack feels that he is making headway in the legal battle when the young widow disappears. Left behind is a warning to drop the case – written in what appears to be blood.

Grippando has penned a first rate thriller / mystery infused with humor and memorable characters. He has made the plot relevant to most readers through the threat to a major coastline. His legal background is evident in the courtroom scenes but his superior writing skills prevent the work from deteriorating into a monotonous procedural. Altogether, this is a superior read. 

         

 

 

 

The Double by George Pelecanos

Publisher: Back Bay Books

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Spero Lucas is a tough young man who grew up fast when he was deployed to Fallujah, and who’s been looking for an adrenaline rush ever since he returned, whether he knows it or not.  Maybe that’s why he can’t settle down with one woman and has left broken relationships behind him over the years.

Spero now works as a free-lance investigator for a Washington DC attorney, and occasionally takes on other work that interests him—or that pays well.  One day his friend Amanda, a bartender, tells him a friend of hers needs his kind of help.  Grace Kinkaid has a bad habit of picking the wrong men, and her most recent one has stolen a very valuable painting from her.

Spero meets Grace and agrees to find the painting and get it back.  As the old radio dramas used to say, “Little does he know”... what sort of a snakes’ nest he’s just agreed to walk into.  On the side, he’s dallying with Charlotte, a handsome housewife who only meets him in a hotel for sex but who isn’t the committing type—probably because she’s still married.  Spero gets a taste of what it’s like to be the one who cares the most in a relationship, and what it’s like to be used and discarded.  Not a bad lesson for a young man to learn, perhaps.

Spero has a network of old Marine buddies who help him out now and then, and after his investigation gets him badly beaten up he needs all the help he can get.  A friend is someone who helps you when you need it; a good friend is someone who will sew you up when you’re gushing A-positive, nurse you back to a semblance of health, and keep his mouth shut.  A really good friend can get you an untraceable gun.

This is a book full of hot sex and cold violence.  It’s well plotted, written in a decent grade of English, and a cut above other books of the genre.  Pelecanos shows us something of Spero’s inner workings, some of the demons he brought home from Iraq and some that were probably already resident.  It’s this deeper level of story that saves the book from being just another “tough guy vigilante and his emotionally damaged buddies take on the world” story. 

I await the next volume of Spero’s adventures; it will be interesting to see if what happened to him in this story changes him for the better....or just changes him.

 

 

 

Police by Jo Nesbo

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader 

There are not many crime fiction/thriller writers in the world more talented than Oslo, Norway’s Jo Nesbo.  He is one of the few writers who consistently have produced suspenseful and compulsively readable novels in this genre and I cannot name another writer who has always received five out of five stars from me with each successive release.

At the end of the previous Jo Nesbo thriller, PHANTOM, his anti-hero Harry Hole was badly injured and left for dead at the hands of a driven and insane young man he referred to as ‘son’.  When the latest novel, POLICE, opens we find Harry’s old squad faced with the most horrific killer they have ever met --- and are at a complete loss at how to stop this maniac.

It looks like this latest serial killer is targeting the police themselves.  More importantly, the killer is victimizing specific law enforcement personnel that had direct relation to an unclosed cold case.  It is as if the killer is seeking his own brand of justice and blames these members of the Oslo police squad who in their mind dropped the ball and let other killers go unpunished.

Nesbo does a terrific job of misdirection as readers will be squirming in their seats waiting to find out what happened to Harry Hole after the end of the previous novel.  There is coverage given to an unnamed man in a coma at the local hospital lying in a room that is under constant police watch.  Could this be our hero Harry?

Without giving too much away, Nesbo eventually lifts the veil of secrecy and we find Harry Hole continuing on in a new role.  No longer a member of the Oslo police squad, Harry now works as an instructor to college students studying law enforcement and seeking to gain insight from his first-hand experience.

Meanwhile, as the police body count continues to rise, Harry’s old squad reluctantly reaches out to him for help.  In the role of consultant, Harry is able to shine a light on the case at hand without the burden of the politics that literally drove him to drink while operating as a full-time investigator.  The only problem is that as he sees some of his former colleagues perish at the hands of this ruthless killer he has no idea whether or not this killer is targeting Harry himself for a past case that may have gone unsolved.

As a writer, there is seemingly nothing Jo Nesbo cannot do.  The Harry Hole series remains fresh and is written so well that it is impossible to stay one step ahead of either Nesbo or his protagonists.  POLICE is an instant classic and one that will keep readers guessing right up to the final chapter.

 

 

 

Mirage by Clive Cussler with Jack Du Brul

Publisher: Penguin Books

Reviewed by Karen Treanor for New Mystery Reader

This adventure thriller starts off with a couple of mysteries: what happened that day in 1902 aboard the SS Mohican, and how did a rich man’s yacht end up grounded on the bleak shores of the Aral Sea?

Juan Cabrillo and his mixed team of adventurers and geeks once again sail the seas in the tramp steamer Oregon searching for explanations of mysterious events and several times escape death by millimetres.    The premise of this story is that foreign powers have rediscovered  a project by the amazingly inventive Nikola Tesla, and plan to use the technology for their own greedy ends.  

A corrupt Russian admiral is among those whom Cabrillo and his crew must challenge and defeat, no small task given the man’s endless wealth and top-of-the-line security.  How Cabrillo repays Pytor Kenin for the death of his friend Yuri Borodin is amazing—and almost believable.  There seems to be little that Cabrillo and his fantastic collection of artificial legs can’t do, with the aid of a technical team of a quality not seen since the demise of the original Mission Impossible show.   

Poetic justice closes the chapter on Kenin, but that isn’t the end of the story.  Much worse is to come as Cabrillo and his ship sail away to face the might of China and a good chunk of a very angry U S Navy task force.   Trying to track and destroy the Chinese secret weapon while being bombarded by your own side is a dangerous job, and for a while it looks like this might be the last adventure of the Oregon and her crew.  It’s fortunate that the ship isn’t really a tramp steamer, but is packed to the gunwales with technology and weapons—but it’s still a near-run thing for Cabrillo and his crew

Those readers who feel that Cussler’s Dirk Pitt adventures have rather lost their edge in recent years might consider switching allegiance to Cabrillo and crew.  Aided by Jack Du Brul, his writing partner through most of the “Oregon” series, Cussler has produced another enthralling story based on a handful of long-forgotten facts and a lot of clever supposition.

 

 

Dust by Patricia Cornwell

Publisher: Putnam

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good for New Mystery Reader

Perennial favorite forensic detective Kay Scarpetta returns with a deeply personal investigation affecting those she loves and while threatening many others.

As the chief medical examiner of the Cambridge Forensic Center, Kay’s specialized expertise helped with the grisly forensic tasks following the bloody, heartrending Newtown massacre.  Even though she’s returned home, the images of the twenty murdered children and six adults continues to haunt her.  Now there’s a serial killer targeting women in her niece Lucy’s professional circle and her FBI profiler husband tries to hint at helpful details, especially since his boss just effectively gagged him.

Authorities found several women murdered and posed gracefully under flowing white fabric.  The women show evidence of unusual blue fibers but offer few other details as to why the killer targeted them or even the exact method of their demise.  The FBI quickly identifies Martin Lagos as the suspect but Kay questions the assumption because the teenaged-Lagos disappeared from public record more than a decade before, after the murder of his own well-connected mother.  Kay uses her public reputation to bluster past bureaucratic roadblocks, always relying on her team to accurately uncover evidence.

While readers are spared the specifics of the real-life tragedy of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, Kay’s memories of the experience never leave her for long and serve as a startling contrast between those feelings and the detachment of her niece, Lucy, whom Kay describes to her husband as a “little sociopathic.”  Some readers may also find Kay’s mental evaluation of each step of the autopsies too graphic although most of the true horror stems from her tendency to imagine the difficult deaths experienced by each victim.

During the first third of the book, Kay’s strained relationship with her former lead investigator, Marino, sets the tone as he struggles to regain his footing as a police detective.  Strain permeates Kay’s relationships although, because of their years of shared experience, she remains very secure in the longtime loyalty between her and Benton, Lucy and Marino.

Publically reserved but internally roiling, Kay Scarpetta serves as the hero of a forensic-thriller mystery fully immersed in the very real dangers of living in a world with publicity-seeking multiple murderers.

 

 

Storm Front by John Sandford  

Publisher: G.P. Putnam & Sons

Reviewed by Jim Sells for New Mystery Reader 

Reverend Elijah Jones has spent some time in Israel on an archeological dig that is seeking religious relics. The dig reveals a stele – a piece of an ancient column with early Hebrew writing inscribed upon it. Jones steals the stele and smuggles it back to his home state of Minnesota where he is apparently trying to sell it to mysterious Mid East customers.

State investigator Virgil Flowers is ordered by his boss to cooperate with an investigator from the Israeli Office of Antiquities in the recovery of stele.

Various facts are revealed in the investigations along with a multitude of questions. Jones is dying. The discovery of the stele could create upheaval throughout some of the major religions of the world. Why did Jones steal the stele and is trying to sell it? Who is the woman who represented herself as the Israeli investigator and who disappeared when the real investigator arrived?

Now Virgil has moved from investigating thefts of lumber to being caught in an international conspiracy involving mysterious Turks, a Texas professor, a treasure hunter, and Mid-eastern terrorists along with American and Israeli spies. Virgil must keep himself alive as well as Jones’ daughter and others who could end up collateral damage.

Sandford is the pseudonym of Pulitzer Price winning journal. The author has called upon his varied and amazing career to craft a first-rate mystery pitting Virgil’s good ole boy reasoning against a parade of colorful and dangerous characters. The story has superior character development and provides humorous interactions between the various cultures represented. Throughout the book one fact remains clear – almost nobody involved is what they seem.

 

 

The Kill Room by Jeffery Deaver

Publisher: Grand Central             

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Lincoln Rhyme is back in what must be his tenth or eleventh outing.  This time he and his support team, and his space-age wheelchair, head for the Caribbean to examine a crime scene that has links to a much bigger crime back in the USA.  There’s a sniper on the loose, and he’s one of those OCD types who tidies up behind himself.

Trying to track down the sniper, forensic wizard Rhyme’s partner Amelia Sachs gets a bright idea where the man may have been captured on camera—unfortunately the killer thinks of this as well and Amelia and several innocent bystanders learn first-hand that an IED isn’t only found on the streets of Iraq.

While Amelia is dusting herself off and lamenting the loss of the only solid lead she had, Rhyme is battling against the obstructionism of the Bahamian police who seem determined to write off the assassination of an American citizen as a drug war incident.  About the time that Rhyme discovers his wonderful wheelchair has one fatal flaw—it can’t float—Amelia finds another potential witness and the race is on to get to her before the killer does.

Behind the straightforward police procedural story line is another, darker, story about a top secret department of the US government that has refined killing from a distance to an art form of sorts.  The toll taken on those who are involved with this work, and the sort of men required to do it, is a topic that might have been examined more deeply, but Deaver does provide some insight into it while keeping the main plot moving at Autobahn speed.  Few of the people in this thread of the story are very likeable, although it could be argued many of them are pitiable.

As usual with a Lincoln Rhyme novel, there are a number of other stories going on simultaneously, including the ongoing challenges of Rhyme’s quadriplegia and the arguments for and against any further surgery.  Amelia has some health problems of her own that she won’t be able to hide from her NYPD boss forever.  If she becomes a victim of ‘desking’, Rhyme will lose his proxy right arm.

OK, it isn’t great literature—presumably you’d have bought a Penguin Classic if you wanted that—but it’s a rollicking good read, and it goes beyond just entertainment to take a hard, if brief, look at some big moral questions.

 

 

 

The Bones of Paris by Laurie R. King

Publisher: Bantam Books

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

It’s September 1929, and Paris is buzzing with the activity resulting from daring European artists such as Pablo Picasso and infamous American artists Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein during the heady Lost Generation era.  Young men and women migrate to France in the hopes that they, too, will experience some of the dazzling effects of the City of Lights, failing to respect that Paris also has a long history of stepping on the dark side, with once-literal pools of blood filling the pretty streets.

Harris Stuyvesant, previously seen in the excellent Touchstone, also lives in Europe, trying to escape the devastation he experienced during World War I.  Working as a private investigator and spending much of what he makes on liquor and cheap women, Harris welcomes the chance to leave his latest temporary digs when a missing persons case comes his way.  Philippa Crosby disappeared in France months earlier, leaving her Boston-based mother and uncle worried for her safety.  Harris actually knows Philippa, or Pip as she’s better known, having had a brief affair several months before.  Since Pip became a sort of groupie to the prolific surrealist artists, Harris quickly involves himself in their scene, with the charm of a porcupine and the finesse of an elephant.  His zeal to find Pip increases when he discovers that one person who works for a suspect is beautiful, elegant Sarah Grey, the woman he’s tried desperately to forget and who happens to be the sister of his best friend Bennett.

The Bones of Paris occurs one month before the American stock market crash of 1929, an event which plunged much of the world into the Great Depression and ended the free-wheeling era of widespread (in some circles) free love and feelings of invincibility.  As seen in Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series, King frequently includes literary and historical references—allowing one character to decry the formerly controversial Parisian transformation by Napoleon III and Bruno Haussmann—but does so casually.  While Harris and Sarah offer plenty of interest with their own individual backgrounds, it’s Bennett Grey whose secondary presence elevates the mystery into the realm of the near-supernatural, with his unwanted special abilities resulting from shell shock (PTSD.)

From the glittering jazz-filled nightclubs to the dusty yet decorative underground catacombs, King creates a Paris filled with murder and mystery that both unsettles and entices mystery readers to join Harris on his nearly impossible quest to find a girl who purposefully joined the Lost Generation.