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Black Valley by Charlotte Williams

Publisher: Bourbon Street Books

Reviewer: Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Jessica Mayhew, last seen in Williams’ debut, House on the Cliff, returns in Black Valley as a professional psychotherapist who does her best to keep her emotions in check, ensuring her patients have every chance to acquire the tools they need to help them better manage their lives.

Out of the office, however, she’s separated from her philandering husband, her 17 year-old rock star-wannabe daughter has a foot out of the door, and her 11 year-old escapes by reading or regressing to behavior reminiscent of her memories of a blissful childhood.

With dark circles under her eyes, Jessica meets her new patient and fellow insomniac, artist Elinor Powell. Elinor’s mother died during a violent burglary in Elinor’s art studio only four months before. Jessica realizes that her new patient has a lot of issues, including claustrophobia and an unusual relationship with those in her family.

Like House on the Cliff, Black Valley returns to a nearly mystical rural Welsh setting, although this one bears scars from the dying mining industry. One of the disgruntled former miners, Hefin Morris, is making a splash in the local art scene with politicized large, dark canvasses made even more enigmatic with the artist’s refusal to appear in public.

Elinor’s brother-in-law, Blake, has become a champion of the reclusive artist as has the handsome, well-spoken Londoner Jacob Dresler, who catches Jessica’s eye at an art show. Elinor, a more conventional fine artist, barely receives any attention while the untrained Morris now fetches high prices for his uncompromising work. Jessica, distracted by Dresler, still notices the unspoken drama surrounding the otherwise celebratory event.

When Jacob and Jessica take a romantic getaway to a secluded Welsh tower, late-night visitors from the small Cardiff art world take them by surprise—especially when one ends up murdered.

Jessica is an interesting protagonist because the narrative focuses on her point of view, showing both a likeable self-awareness, but also that her professional skills bleed into mentally assessing friends and family around her, blurring lines and probably becoming as tiresome to them as it can be to the reader. She also allows her kids to dominate the household and repeatedly uses the word “pressurizing” instead of “pressuring.”

Yet, Williams’ devotion to small details and setting relatable domestic scenes remains as enticing here as in her debut novel. While this means that it’s difficult to put Black Valley down once started, it also means that there’s a sense of dismay upon realizing that the author passed away in 2014 and our time with the Mayhews is frustratingly finite.

 

 

 

Newport by Jill Morrow

Publisher: William Morrow

Reviewer: Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Adrian de la Noye is on his way to Newport with his faithful assistant, Jim Reid. Adrian remembers Newport from its heyday in the Gilded Age, and now, in the 1920s, Newport has lost its youthful vibrancy even as Adrian himself has aged into a respectable attorney with a devoted wife and two children. As he sees familiar landmarks, he begins to inwardly cringe.

Jim, however, feels a little more excitement in his first trip to Newport to meet with longtime client Bennett Chapman. Bennett requires a new will, essentially disinheriting his miserable children in favor of his much younger bride, Catherine Walsh of Sacramento, California. Catherine and her niece, Amy Walsh, have taken up residence in the enormous family “cottage” along with Bennett, his drunken daughter, Chloe, and weaselly son, Nicholas. Not surprisingly, Chloe and Nicholas intend to contest the new will.

What is surprising, however, is Adrian’s reaction when he meets the prospective Mrs. Chapman and, as he and Jim settle into the cottage for a few days, the two stalwart friends suddenly discover each has very different agendas.

Meanwhile, in the midst of unease, Jim and Adrian can’t help but see how uncomfortable Bennett and Catherine are with one another, making it clear that their marriage is not exactly the ideal situation for either. Adrian and Jim soon discover that the determined matchmaker behind their union is, in fact, Bennett’s long-deceased first wife, Elizabeth.

Many readers will spot some of the narrative’s plot twists early on and one of the final reveals seems rather unlikely based on the era’s societal mores, but Jill Morrow’s richly drawn characters and 19th century mystery within the early 20th century storyline eagerly feed into the climactic unveiling of the parallel significant mysteries.

Morrow’s readers will ponder secret identities, supernatural hoaxes, and the excesses of both eras, but ultimately, this very enjoyable book is about relationships with those whom we believe we know best and how their grip on us remains.

 

 

Crooked River by Valerie Geary

Publisher: William Morrow

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Quietly told, this emotional story about young girls caught in extraordinary circumstances packs a punch, from revelations about their parents to their desire to find their way back to the land of the living.

15 year-old Sam McAllister and her 10 year-old sister, Ollie, need the peace of the green meadow in which they live with their father, Bear. Their home is a teepee and Bear rents the land from a kindly older couple who look out for the reclusive father and his young charges. Sam and Ollie have just lost their mother to a sudden heart attack and their traditional city home, although Bear’s country retreat promises healing and love.

Unfortunately for Sam, the heartbreak continues when she and Ollie find a young short-haired woman’s body caught in the crooked river not too far from their meadow. The police believe that Bear, a loner who subsists off of money he makes from beekeeping, is the prime suspect for the murder, threatening to permanently destroy the already-broken family.

Just as she did after their mother’s death, Ollie stops talking, frustrating Sam, especially with Ollie’s escape into pretense. Ollie’s told Sam before that ghosts speak to her and that her mother’s ghost “took her words.”  Now, Sam desperately needs Ollie to help her find the real killer to free their father from jail while also needing the comfort from the person closest to her.

The small town teems with people who know everybody’s stories, promising Sam and Ollie both hope and danger even as the girls experience normal preteen and adolescent experiences.

Although this is her debut novel, Valerie Geary uses strong narration devices, keeping the voices of Sam and Ollie clear, and the theme of family poses significant questions throughout. Although there is plenty of sadness, there’s no wallowing from Sam’s family and the novel refrains from drowning in heaviness. Instead, Geary’s plot moves as swiftly as Sam rides her bike, each intent on coming to the answer of who’s guilty at the end.

Geary doesn’t also advertise the exact time period of the story until the reader is firmly entrenched in the story. For some readers, this will add extra depth and understanding of the context while encouraging readers to note the details that flesh out the events  in the small town.

With a touch of the supernatural, Geary creatively gives both Sam and Ollie a voice as they tenaciously investigate the murder and simultaneously learn the truth behind their parents’ heartrending and long-reaching tragedies.

 

 

Woman With a Gun by Phillip Margolin

Publisher: Harper

Reviewer: Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

A woman, dressed in a wedding gown and with her back turned to the camera, staring out at the ocean, holding an old-fashioned gun behind her back.

With that one photograph, Stacey Kim believes she finally has the inspiration for writing her Great American Novel. The intriguing image offers so many possible stories; Kim excitedly contacts Kathy Moran, the photographer who took the image ten years before.

The woman in the image was Megan Cahill, the bride of wealthy Raymond Cahill. When Kathy snapped that photograph, Megan’s new husband already lay in a pool of blood in their magnificent beach home a short distance from where Megan stood. Even with the bride’s identity revealed, questions remain: Did Megan kill Ray? If not, who? 

Jack Booth, handsome and in control, travels to Palisade Heights in 2005 upon the request of Oregon’s attorney general. He has no jurisdiction in the small community, but the local police department requested the expertise of a big city professional to review the crime scene and he fits the bill.

Jack is startled to realize that he recognizes the witness to Megan’s stance at the sea; it’s a former attorney-turned-photographer Kathy Moran whom he knew from another case and in entirely different circumstances in 2000. Since Megan appears to suffer from memory loss, Jack’s conducting his own investigation to find who killed Ray, whether it was Megan or some other person.

Told through the events of three different time periods—2000, 2005, and 2015—Phillip Margolin creates a unique mystery that follows its main characters through the most difficult times of their lives and the time changes show how those events changed them.

He also provides the true image on the book jacket as well as the story that inspired the real author, in addition to his fictional female counterpart. Margolin lets readers—including aspiring writers—into his process, which proves both kind and entertaining.

On occasion the writing style is a bit more elementary than required by noir, but overall, Margolin’s writing flows well, allowing the reader to concentrate on the mystery at hand. His time structure adds to the mystery of who these characters are as well as the events pertaining to the murder.

Careful readers will catch a significant, casually-dropped clue that reveals the murderer’s likely identity, but Margolin makes sure the journey of getting to the final revelation is well worth the trip. Woman With a Gun serves as an excellent escape through a trip to the beach where murder is in the air.

 

 

The Golem Of Hollywood by Jonathan and Jesse Kellerman

Publisher: Putnam

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader   

Fresh off his highly disappointing Alex Delaware novel, KILLER, Jonathan Kellerman returns with a stand-alone novel, THE GOLEM OF HOLLYWOOD.  After decades of solid work, Kellerman seems lost and the effort of his last few novels was noticeably sub-par.

With this latest novel, Jonathan is teaming up with his son, Jesse.  The improvement, initially, really showed.  The story kicks off with a burnt out former LAPD Homicide Detective, Jacob Lev, being called away from his new duties as part of the Traffic squad to join a highly secretive operation that will involve him chasing down both a myth and a legend in the local crime world.

THE GOLEM OF HOLLYWOOD starts off with a blast and is written in the style of a David Lynch film with dream-like sequences and oddball characters who seemingly have no relation to the plot.  I can only attribute this to the influence of Jesse Kellerman for this prose did not resemble anything his father has ever written.

It turns out Jacob Lev may not have been chosen for his homicide skills but due to his Jewish heritage.  Severed heads begin to turn up in the LA area with the Hebrew symbol for 'justice' left near the decapitated bodies.  Even with this additional clue the work seems oddly familiar to the infamous cold case murders blame on the serial killer nick-named the Creeper.  Could the Creeper be back --- or is this a copycat?  Even worse, could the Creeper actually be a supernatural figure that has somehow re-awoken and now terrorizing L.A.?

Great premise --- crime thriller meets Jewish mysticism with a supernatural twist.  Unfortunately, it quickly unravels from there.  The Jewish religion is a beautiful one with rich traditions and history that can readily apply themselves to modern fiction tales.  However, the Kellerman duo overdo it during this novel.  The tale keeps getting interrupted by Old Testament era tales involving everyone from Adam and Eve to Cain and Abel.  The legend of the Golem of Prague is eventually covered and it is this supernatural being who may allegedly be behind the murders in modern-day L.A.

I only wish the story was as exciting as that premise.  At nearly 550 pages in length, it is a long way to go for your average thriller and crime readers to go for a satisfying story.  Unfortunately, the latter half of this book is almost unreadable and extremely boring.  By the time the ending comes around you probably won't care anymore.  In the hands of a better editor this could have been a far tighter novel.  Once again,  a big miss for Kellerman who has yet to show the promise of his older work with his latest efforts.

 

 

Beware Beware by Steph Cha

Publisher: Minotaur Books 

Reviewed by Ray Palen a.k.a. Chandler Marlowe for New Mystery Reader 

With the release of FOLLOW HER HOME last year the mystery world welcomed a refreshing and unique new voice.  Steph Cha, a graduate of Stanford University and Yale Law School, created one of the most interesting protagonists in the mystery genre today in Juniper Song.

Song, as she goes by, is a twenty-seven-year-old Korean woman who grew up on Phillip Marlowe and Raymond Chandler novels.  She fulfilled a lifelong dream of following in their footsteps by working as an 'intern' in a local L.A. Private Investigation office.

The second novel in the series, BEWARE BEWARE, takes us deep in to the seedy heart of Hollywood and features the death of a famous movie star.  Song has been getting some small bites while working as a P.I. but most of the cases she is assigned are divorce issues and following cheating spouses around town.  When a similar case walks in the door of her office sounding like the same sort of situation she's been working on it ends up being different than initial appearances would have her believe.

A local artist named Daphne Freamon specifically asks for Song to take her case.  She has suspicions about her boyfriend, a small-time writer named Jamie Landon, who has been working for and getting uncomfortably close with Hollywood star Joe Tilley.  Daphne suspects not only drug abuse by both but also fears Jamie has turned to dealing narcotics.  Song jumps at the case as it immediately grabs her interest and could propel her up the ladder at her small firm.

However, just like most Hollywood films, nothing is what it appears to be.  When Joe Tilley is found dead in his bathtub in a pool of blood from two slashed wrists the initial determination is suicide.  When the toxicity report shows high levels of drugs --- including both cocaine and roofies --- in his system, the local Police Department begin to suspect foul play.  Their case turns directly to both Jamie Landon and Song herself.  It turns out Song was the first person Jamie called upon finding Tilley.  He was well aware of the work Song was doing on behalf of his girlfriend, Daphne.

What transpires next is textbook crime noir where multiple characters, plot-lines and motives are introduced and Song finds herself in serious bodily harm more than once.  This neo-noir style is often effective even when the story-line does begin to stray a bit outside the lines.  What seemed like a cut and dry case may very well end Song's career before it really ever got started.

I enjoyed but did not love BEWARE BEWARE.  To begin with, the title really makes no sense and I could not find anything in the plot that it related to.  Also, the cover depicting a partial steamed mirror with the ghostly appearance of what looks like a woman's face is misleading.  If I was walking through the bookstore I would thinks this a horror or straight thriller novel.  Nevertheless, I am delighted that a young writer has so much respect for classic noir and look forward to seeing this series and protagonist evolve in successive adventures.

 

 

 

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

Publisher: Ecco

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Eighteen year-old Petronella Oortman has just left her home in the country, with little more than her centuries-old good name and memories of her recently impoverished mother and two siblings. She’s moving into her new home, a large city home she’ll share with her wealthy new husband, middle-aged Johannes Brandt, in a complicated Amsterdam that evokes the contemporary paintings of Johannes Vermeer. Johannes Brandt is practically a stranger to Nella, and the bustling, trade-obsessed and socially restrictive 17th century city initially offers promise before becoming a jail with invisible bars.

Petronella, or Nella, lives in a household which she, as the wife, should oversee, but in truth, Johannes’ slender, judgmental sister Marin instructs the maid, orphaned Cornelia, and the Johannes’ manservant, Otto. Nella feels unwanted, even by her husband.

Overwhelmed, Nella’s only comfort comes from the imposing, expensive miniature replica of her new house, given to her by Johannes for a wedding present. To fill its rooms, she contacts a mysterious miniaturist who never seems to be available for consultation, but whose symbolic sun on the shop’s sign beckons Nella in spite of warnings from the other wealthy merchants.

The miniaturist sends remarkable tiny pieces to Nella, who’s so disturbed by their similarities to the objects in her house that she sends a haughty note back, discontinuing the order. Still, the pieces continue, forcing Nella to re-examine the realities of her new life.

The well-written The Miniaturist isn’t a mystery in the typical sense in that there are no murders to solve, but Nella’s genuine confusion over the miniaturist’s identity and motives becomes compelling. It’s the meanings behind the oddly-chosen pieces, however, that keep the reader involved with Nella’s quest to learn if the miniaturist is benevolent—or intends something else entirely.

 

 

 

 

Visions by Kelly Armstrong

Publisher: Dutton 

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader 

Olivia Taylor-Jones was first introduced in Omens.  Olivia believed herself to be the daughter of a wealthy department store founder and his wife. To her surprise and dismay, she found that she was adopted and was the child of convicted cult killers.

Olivia wanted to escape the attention these events brought upon her. She chose to hide in the small town of Cainsville near Chicago. Unknown to Olivia, Cainsville is a mysterious place cloaked in mystical powers. With the help of seer Rose and Rose’s lawyer nephew, Gabriel, she survives a series harrowing experiences and even proves her birth parents innocent of two of the murders.

Now Olivia sees a large hound near her adopted parents’ house and finds a dead woman with her eyes removed. The woman turns up in her borrowed car. Olivia calls Gabriel. By the time he arrives, the dog and body are nowhere to be found.

Gabriel is supportive and seems to believe her story. Olivia finds that the dead woman had gone missing from Cainsville. This makes her experiences seem more credible Then, Olivia discovers that her former fiancée has hired Gabriel to look after her. Now Olivia is unsure if Gabriel believes her or just working for his fee.

Olivia must decide who has her best interests, who wants use her for their own benefit and who means her harm. This journey will once again relate to the possible innocence of her birth parents.

Armstrong has crafted a well-written story with fully developed characters. This work seems to have less fun with the quirky nature of Gabriel and the residents of Cainsville. The evolution of Olivia as she moves from the pampered world of the privileged gives an interesting backstory.

Unlike Omens, Visions is more difficult to follow. The author appears to assume that the reader has read Omens. It could be difficult to tackle Visions without reading that earlier work. Visions proves that it is challenging to create a sequel as good as the original.

 

 

An Unwilling Accomplice by Charles Todd

Publisher: William Morrow

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

While the Great War continues to serve as the backdrop, this mystery takes place entirely in an England weary after four years of war. The hospitals—often former aristocratic homes—are filled with soldiers suffering from physical and mental war wounds. One of these soldiers, a war hero named Sergeant Wilkinson will receive a high award from the king himself, and he’s asked for Sister Bess Crawford to attend to him. The Sisters are actually nurses and Wilkinson’s lingering leg and head wounds require medical help during his visit to London.

Bess, ordinarily stationed in France, doesn’t remember Wilkinson or his wounds, but attends the ceremony with the distinguished hero. Afterwards, though, the invalid disappears, casting doubt on Bess’ own character, forcing her to find Wilkinson and clear her good name. The question remains: why did Wilkinson ask for her by name?

With a slightly more perfunctory feel than previous Bess Crawford installments, An Unwilling Accomplice allows Bess to investigate with the assistance of longtime family friend, Simon Brandon. The two retain their chemistry, although that never overshadows the task at hand. Once more, the investigation takes them to small villages, including one dominated by a smart, focused aristocratic woman who takes in a severely wounded childhood friend in spite of his own efforts to escape what should be an ideal place to recover.

Though Todd’s story contains plenty of revelations, the most important may be what’s become the new normal for many of the era’s communities: the constant reminders of war as seen in a few of the haunted, nearly insane men who no longer hold jobs or behave in a pre-war fashion. Bess’ occasional return to her shared apartment with other wartime nurses in London also provides additional perspective in the war that’s marking its centennial this year.

Bess Crawford remains compelling and resourceful, in the midst of duty to her country and to her patients, even as readers foresee many years of self-discovery and war-related mysteries before her.

 

 

 

The Bone Seeker by M. J. McGrath

Publisher: Viking

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Inuit Edie Kiglatuk continues to mourn the death of her former stepson, Joe, and the collapse of the family life she once enjoyed. Seeking a change in scenery, Edie accepts a temporary teaching job a few miles away from her home in the Arctic Circle.

She erects a tent in her friend Derek’s backyard, killing and cooking snowgeese and other treats, relieving him of his steady diet of Ramen and raw meat. Sergeant Derek Palliser serves as more than just a landlord, though; an earlier investigation cemented their bond and helped them to develop a strong working relationship.

When a teenaged girl named Martha disappears, Derek deputizes his resourceful friend, Edie, to help him investigate since the Arctic Circle’s unique cycles and terrain mean that Derek’s department is understaffed for a monumental challenge. The girl’s body appears in a deserted, barren lake called Lake Turngaluk that the Inuits mythologized, and the brutality of her death makes the discovery even harsher.

During their investigation, Derek and Edie encounter Martha’s family, including her overshadowed sister, Lizzie, and the strong-willed men whose survival in both the wild and their struggles with the United States and Canadian governments has become legendary. In addition, a new military installation offers plenty of suspects with resources to attract young native women and motives to quickly hush someone up.

M. J. McGrath describes Inuit traditions of cooking and survival within the context of the mystery, letting it melt into part of the story rather than overshadowing the plot. Edie quietly grows on the reader; she fully acknowledges her lifetime of mistakes while also revealing her unglorified self-sufficiency and good heart.

While McGrath makes Edie and her Inuit customs feel very natural, editorial issues arise from the repetitive use of “disorientate” (rather than “disorient”) and the occasional use of ill-formed sentences that shock the reader out of the story.

In spite of those few things, the strong characterizations and striking setting make The Bone Seeker an  appetizing choice, especially for fans of Tony Hillerman and other novels centering on native cultures in general and the relationship of culture with the land in particular.

 

 

No Safe House by Linwood Barclay

Publisher: New American Library

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader 

In 2008 author Linwood Barclay made a major splash on the mystery/thriller scene when his novel NO TIME FOR GOODBYE was nominated for Best Novel by the International Thriller Writers Association.  Up until that time the Canadian author had modest success with a series of serio-comic novels that followed years as a Toronto-based journalist.

NO TIME FOR GOODBYE is easily one of the Top 5 thrillers I have ever read.  That being said, I approached the sequel --- NO SAFE HOUSE --- with trepidation.  As eager as I was to revisit these characters there remained the fear that the magic of the first novel would not be achieved again.  I am pleased to say that NO SAFE HOUSE holds up well under my personal scrutiny.

The premise of NO TIME FOR GOODBYE was a tragic event from the past that blows up in the face of the protagonist, Cynthia Bigge.  Now married to an English teacher named Terry Archer, Cynthia experienced a horror in her youth that she has been unable to get past.  She woke up one morning in 1983 to find her family --- mother, father and brother --- had completely vanished without a trace.  The truth behind that event threatens Cynthia and her own family in present day and she is only able to solve the puzzle by calling on the aid of a former boyfriend and now local criminal, Vince Fleming.

NO SAFE HOUSE finds Cynthia and Terry attempting a mutual separation.  Cynthia's anxiety issues from the scars of her past have resulted in her harming their daughter, Grace.  As Cynthia lives alone in a self-imposed exile things start to get weird again for the Archer's.  To begin with, Grace is mixed up with a 'bad boy' named Stuart  who is the son of one of Vince Fleming's gang.  Stuart coaxes Grace to break into a house with him in the attempt to borrow a vehicle.  The end result is the two teens finding someone else in the house and guns are fired.

Grace calls her father to come and rescue her.  She spills the whole story to Terry and indicates that Stuart is missing and possibly shot by herself.  Terry enters the same house in an attempt to find evidence and comes up empty.  However, this was no random house.  It turns out that Vince Fleming and his criminal enterprise have selected various houses in the Milford, CT, area for the purpose of using them to store stolen merchandise.  Everything from money to weapons to crystal meth have been hidden in these allegedly safe houses.

The moral of this tale is that no house is ever truly safe.  When an outside team of bad people go in search for some of the items hidden away in one of these safe  houses they leave a trail of bodies and mayhem in their path.  It is only when Vince Fleming's step-daughter Jane is abducted that the reality of the safe house issue comes to light.  Unfortunately for the Archer's they are dragged directly into the middle of this crime spree.  Not only was Grace in one of the safe houses at the time a crime was committed but their own home is being used to hide illegal merchandise.

NO SAFE HOUSE plays out like an episode of "Breaking Bad" whereby everyday people are pushed to do unimaginable things and the fine line between good and evil is crossed.  Barclay's use of upscale Milford is reminiscent of David Lynch's "Blue Velvet" where the shroud of a seemingly picket-fence, all-American town is pulled back to reveal the dark underbelly that lies beneath the surface.  Extremely readable and constantly unpredictable --- NO SAFE HOUSE is another winner for Linwood Barclay.

 

 

 

Clam Wake by Mary Daheim

Publisher: William Morrow

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

In the latest installment of the Bed-and-Breakfast series, Judith and her cousin Renie decide to leave their homes for a few days to housesit for their beloved and cantankerous Aunt Vance and her narcoleptic husband, Vince. Since they’re still smarting over their husbands’ decision to leave on a raffled fishing trip to New Zealand, Judith and Renie feel pretty cantankerous themselves.

Fortunately, they look forward to staying in Vance and Vince’s home in isolated Whoopee Island in the northwest, especially since the post-Christmas season is slow for Judith’s B&B. The pair visited the island when they were kids, but don’t really know anyone. Still, true to form, the cousins quickly discover a body, but this time, being practically strangers, they realize anyone could be a suspect and, most disconcertingly, that they, too, are suspects in the eyes of the local police.

The body turns out to be of a genial older man who seemed to get along with everyone on the island, making it even more difficult to understand why someone  stabbed him. The mystery overtakes the previous topic of conversation on the island, an oddly controversial sewer issue. Vance and Vince asked the cousins to vote for them by proxy against the proposed new sewer line, a development which seems to rend the island by demographic lines. The aging population of Whoopee Island begins to skew younger, as newcomers arrive with school-age kids in tow—a change not always to the liking of the more established residents.

Not unexpectedly, the local police want to know why their main witnesses remain so cool and how they know so much about murder, leaving Judith and Renie in potentially hot water—and not for the clams.

Middle-aged amateur detectives Judith and Renie may be a little crass and too quick to insult (usually affectionately) for some readers, but author Mary Daheim packs plenty of twists in this mystery; her quaint setting of an insular island of clam-diggers and gossips makes an ideal backdrop for her popular detectives.

 

 

 

The Splintered Paddle by Mark Troy

Publisher: Gale Cengage Books

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

I had better start with a disclaimer.  Normally I don’t read any promo material that comes with the books I am sent to review; it helps keep my objectivity.  However I did learn that Mark Troy was a Peace Corps volunteer in previous times, which as an old RPCV myself, may call my even-handedness into question.  That said, I do make a real effort to read all books without bias. 

What I probably can’t ignore is my fondness for Hawaii, and since this book is set there you’ll just have to accept that I might be a tiny bit influenced by the palm trees, memories of mai tais, and fantastic scenery. 

Private eye Ava Rome is a defender of the defenceless, a moral stand that attracts a lot of unpleasant people bent on revenge.  She’s being stalked and harassed by an ex-con whom she helped convict; there’s a crooked cop who will do anything to get back at her for helping a working girl get away from him; there’s a distressed father and a runaway teenager—nothing in Ava’s life is simple.

She’d feel a lot better if she had a gun carry permit, but her cop buddy Tim DeFranco isn’t able to help her; there’s not enough evidence to show that she’s in mortal danger from anyone.  She points out that when the body bag arrives there will be plenty of evidence, but that’s not going to be much comfort to her then.

Carrying her Glock illegally, Ava sets out to untangle all the problems in her and her clients’ lives.  The pressure increases when one of the clients is murdered.  Things come to a head on a jungle mountain top where Ava is on her own, with nothing but her wits and a knife.  How she gets to that desperate place makes for a fast and exciting read.  This is definitely the sort of book that will take your mind off your worries while you’re waiting for a colonoscopy. 

 

 

The Bone Orchard by Paul Doiron

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

Many people considered Jimmy Gammon a hero.  He served his country valiantly in Afghanistan and returned home.  Those who knew him before he enlisted saw the change in 'Jim'.  One night he got high on booze and pills and pulled a shotgun on a pair of cops.  The ruling was suicide by cop.

It is this unfortunate death that lies at the center of Paul Doiron's latest Mike Bowditch novel, THE BONE ORCHARD.  Jimmy was an acquaintance of Mike's.  The real issue is that one of the cops that shot Jimmy is Mike's mentor, Sgt. Kathy Frost. 

Life hasn't been great for Mike Bowditch either.  He left the Maine Warden Service in disgrace, ultimately resigning rather than being fired.  During his time as a Game Warden he had been investigated or disciplined for numerous infractions.  He was the subject of two use-of-force inquiries, shooting and killing two men.  The warden colonel himself called Mike an embarrassment to the service.  On top of that, he is still dealing with the open wounds of grief following the tragic circumstances that cost his father his life.

He has now grown his hair as well as lumberjack-style beard and taken to leading fishing tours across the various lakes of Maine.  As much as he wanted to stay out of the limelight his instincts as a law enforcer are continuously called into action.  He propels himself fully into a police investigation that he was a direct witness to.  When going to visit his mentor, Kathy, a sniper opened fire on them seriously wounding her and blowing out his windshield in the process.

With Kathy in the hospital on life support, Mike decides he needs to pursue this matter as he himself could have been victimized by the sniper.  Most of all, he needs to find out if this shooting was in any way retribution for the death of Jimmy Gammon.  What transpires is Mike digging into Jimmy and finding out what he was really all about and how his time in armed services impacted him.

To make things more difficult, a wild card pops up in the form of Kathy's derelict brother, Kurt.  Kurt is a Viet Nam vet who has clearly never recovered from that experience and has found himself in constant trouble which his sister has bailed him out of.  When Mike finds him in Kathy's bed, even though the house was covered in police tape as an active crime scene, he wakes Kurt out of his alcohol induced slumber and lets him know what happened to Kathy.  Kurt is a loose cannon and his involvement in the situation makes things quite interesting.

Paul Doiron is a truly gifted writer and his ability to create the atmosphere that puts readers in the heart of the Maine countryside and backwoods is extraordinary.  In lesser hands, this would have been a mere novel of revenge.  Doiron has raised it to the level of serious literature and the result is a compelling novel that is exciting right up to the last page.

 

 

 

 

House Reckoning by Mike Lawson

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

Gino DeMarco was a longshoreman in NYC who got laid off and had bills to pay. When he was offered job for a mobster, he took it but soon found the minor jobs he was assigned paid less than the longshoreman’s salary. So when a contract killing came up, he offered to do it. For better or worse, he had found his skill. Over the years, he killed many a rival gangster or disloyal associate for his boss. Then he was betrayed by the boss and murdered by Quinn, a corrupt cop.

The murder happened just as his son Joe finished law school and barely passed the bar exam. Joe knew his father had worked for a gangster, but not the details of his job. With few prospects, a family friend landed Joe a job with U.S. Congressman as a “fixer’. This job entailed doing the dirty work that the congressman didn’t want associated with his staff.

Then after years of working for the congressman, a dying gangster tells him who killed his father, but the corrupt cop is now the commissioner of the NYPD and about to be nominated as the next director of the FBI.

Joe first tries to get help from the congressman. He finds himself out of work. Joe works with the chief of staff of a powerful congressman to gather evidence against Quinn. Joe’s carelessness and inexperience allow Quinn’s men to break in and steal the evidence. They bribe and intimidate witnesses Joe had found to an early cover-up by Quinn. Joe even goes so far as attempt the murder of Quinn but is stopped by a friend and he narrowly misses losing his life.

Now Joe serves as bait to tempt Quinn. At the same time, Quinn is plotting Joe’s murder by a hired killer.

Lawson has crafted a first-rate thriller and mystery. His characters have sufficient depth to be interesting without letting character development overshadow the plot. This book should appeal to fans of several genres.

 

 

 

Ice Shear by M.P. Cooley

Publisher: William Morrow

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

What do you get when you mix a dead female impaled on an ice shear, arctic midwinter temperatures and a  seemingly quiet town set in New York State's Capital Region?  The answer is debut author M.P. Cooley's chilling novel --- ICE SHEAR.

Set in the town of Hopewell Falls which resides in the Upper Hudson Valley region outside of Albany, ICE SHEAR places an ex-FBI agent in the middle of a town and people filled with secrets and lies.  Ironically, this is the second book I'm reviewing this week that features a lead protagonist named Juniper.  Here, Juniper 'June' Lyons is ex-FBI and now operating as part of the Hopewell Falls police department.

The young girl discovered dead on the frozen Mohawk River ends up being Danielle Brouillette, the daughter of congresswoman Amanda Brouillette who has been rumored to be a future Vice Presidential candidate.  Amanda and her husband are not at all pleased at their daughter's downward spiral and particularly reject her impulsive marriage to Marty Jelickson --- an employment challenged man who appears to be a deadbeat.

June not only has to deal with handling a case that has serious implications on one of New York State's most exclusive families but also finds herself caught between her own local P.D. and federal authorities, each of whom has their own agenda.  June has no regrets in leaving the FBI and is just trying to resume her life in quiet Hopewell Falls where she and her young daughter grieve the loss of her husband Kevin after a long illness.

At times this novel resembles a cross between "Breaking Bad" and "Sons of Anarchy" as a secret meth lab is uncovered at the center of the investigation.  All the while, local motorcycle gangs --- one of which has direct ties to the Jelickson clan --- have inserted themselves directly into the action making things difficult for local police to handle.  When Marty's younger brother is found murdered the suspects begin to get lined up. Are the two murders related or is this a retaliation murder for Danielle?

At times ICE SHEAR throws so many characters at you that a scorecard may be required.  It's a valiant first effort and compelling read that lends itself nicely to the growing genre of upstate New York crime noir.

 

 

 

The Good Suicides by Antonio Hill 

Publisher: Crown Publishers   

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader 

At a Spanish subway station, an unidentified woman has thrown herself to her death on the tracks in the middle of the night. This is not that rare an occurrence and would not have required summoning Inspector Salgado had it not been for the woman’s phone. On the phone is a macabre photo of dogs hanging from the branches of a tree and an eerie message – “never forget”.

Eventually, the suicide victim is identified as Sara Mahler. The woman was Austrian and had immigrated to Spain a few years before where she had become secretary to Victor Alemany, the president of Alemany - a respected cosmetics company.

When her father is contacted back in Austria, his response is strangely unemotional. The investigators don’t know whether this is significant or if it is a difference in the two cultures. Her boss comes in to speak with investigators. His responses are perhaps too emotional for a casual work relationship. Salgado senses that the man is hiding something, but hesitates to press too hard without more evidence.

Further investigation reveals that this not the first suicide by an employee. An earlier one involved a male employee murdering his family and taking his own life.

As the author gradually reveals relationships, a different picture begins to emerge. Alemany is filled with company politics and office romance. Still, it doesn’t explain the suicides or their relationship to a team-building company retreat.

Investigator Leire Castro is normally Salgado’s assistant. Unknown to Salgado, Leire has gained permission to investigate the earlier disappearance of Salgado’s wife.  This occupies Leire while she is on maternity leave from her job.

Hill has crafted a first-rate mystery in terms of the main storyline. This subplot about Leire may have been intended to give more depth to Salgado’s character. However, it adds even more detail to an already complex work. The book is perhaps only for the most dedicated mystery reader.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weaponized by Nicholas Mennuti and David Guggenheim

Publisher: Mulholland Books

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Kyle West is eking out an existence in Cambodia, on the run from various law enforcement and investigative agencies.  His former boss is living back in Washington, testifying before a Senate committee, but Kyle is living like a sewer rat and avoiding looking into the mirror: “If you don’t want to crack, shun surfaces, be a mystery to yourself.” 

Back home, Kyle thought he was just doing his job, but it turns out he was doing it too well.  The American Congress has been embarrassed, and that’s not a sin that’s easily forgiven. One day a stranger turns up and offers to swap passports.  Julian Robinson looks enough like Kyle to be a brother, so the swap is feasible on the physical level, at least.  The men could probably pass for each other if they were both clean and dressed the same. 

This sort of offer one should view with alarm at the best of times, but Kyle’s so keen to get out of his fetid half-life that he agrees to do it.  Next thing he knows he’s been kidnapped by some really nasty people who think he’s really Julian Robinson and haven’t got time to finesse information—they’re going to torture it out of him.  This process is just starting when a mystery woman turns up, shoots everyone in sight, and pushed Kyle into a SUV.

More bad guys turn up, this time on the road, shooting as if they mean it.  Kyle escapes and runs for his life, only to end up back with the deadly female again, because she’s the least lethal option.  Suddenly Kyle’s life of sweaty anonymity seems like paradise to him: if only he hadn’t wanted to get home to defend himself he’d still be safe.  As it is, everyone from the CIA station chief to the Red Chinese security service wants to get him to force him to tell what Julian Robinson is up to, and they’re prepared to do a lot of persuading with fists and sharp implements.

Reminiscent of Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne adventures, this is a fast-moving book with one desperate situation after another.  Can Kyle possibly get through this minefield and reclaim his own life?  Not if the baddies have any say in the matter.

 

 

A Dark and Twisted Tide by Sharon Bolton

Publisher: Minotaur

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Lacey Flint turned down her opportunity to be a homicide detective after a series of horrific cases struck too close to home and nearly cost her life. Instead, she chose to return to life as a uniformed officer with the Marine Unit, informally known as the River Police. For Lacey, the river feels like life, from the mornings she spends swimming in the dank, bacteria-ridden river to the days she patrols, looking for illegal activities, and the nights her houseboat bobs up and down in accordance with the current.

While swimming in the river in a dangerous section, which is also illegal, Lacey discovers a shrouded, skeletonized figure disappearing and reappearing. Characteristically, she dives below to check to see if the body is secure before calling it in. For Lacey, her grisly find opens the door to another homicide investigation and further events require her continued involvement.

During her normal hours patrolling the river, Lacey and her colleagues happen on a human-trafficking gang, but the men and desperate women slip from their grasp. Haunted by the story of Nadia, a traffic victim Lacey saved from drowning the year before, Lacey urgently wants to help the other women who leave their impoverished, patriarchal countries in the hope of finding a more welcoming existence in England.

Adding levity to the story, Alex and Thessa are aging twins who also live on the river and who offer Lacey a safe place to think. Alex enjoys teasing his seemingly all-knowing sister, while wheelchair-bound Thessa creates herbal tinctures and surprises the enigmatic Lacey with personal revelations that the younger woman takes great pains to hide.  In spite of Thessa’s ability to read her, Lacey feels comfortable with the two, which is especially important since the “man in her life,” Mark Joesbury, returned to undercover work and is now on the lam.

Author Sharon Bolton keeps the action flowing like the Thames currents, faster during the action sequences and slowing when necessary to highlight Lacey’s attempts to grasp the puzzle. While A Dark and Twisted  Tide is clearly a thriller and  contemporary police procedural, fans of Anne Perry’s William Pitt historical series may enjoy seeing the evolution of the River Police from the Victorian era to the modern version on the River Thames.

For the aptly-named Lacey Flint, it’s clear that her past will make almost any homicide investigation a personal one, which also makes her a tenacious detective that readers will gladly follow.

 

 

The Three Emperors by William Dietrich

Publisher: Harper

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

Ethan Gage is a cad.  Ethan Gage is a scoundrel.  Ethan Gage is also the hero/anti-hero of this terrific historical thriller series by William Dietrich set in the Napoleonic age.

When I think of Ethan Gage I visualize a man with the adventurous spirit of Indiana Jones along with the cantankerous rascality of Captain Jack Sparrow.  He is married to an Egyptian beauty named Astiza who bore him a son named Horus. He is American but has claimed allegiance to Great Britain as well as Napoleon's France --- depending on the situation or simply to save his  own skin.

As THE THREE EMPERORS opens, Ethan Gage is thought to be dead after the battle at the end of the previous adventure.  He is traveling in Venice under the guise of Hieronymus Franklin --- an alleged descendent of the deceased American inventor and politician, Benjamin Franklin.   But, since this is an Ethan Gage adventure, his anonymity is most assuredly going to  be short-lived!

Astiza and Harry are imprisoned by a ruthless man named Richter who fancies himself a mystic.  He works in conjunction with an evil dwarf named Auric and the two of them have spearheaded a small army in pursuit of the Brazen Head.  Medieval legend has it that the Brazen Head built by Albertus Magnus could foretell the future.  It is also alleged that this object was destroyed by Saint Thomas Aquinas.  Should it still exist it could purportedly give the owner a huge advantage over all adversaries.

Once Ethan's cover is blown he drops the Franklin moniker and finds himself back in front of his old nemesis (and sometime employer) --- Napoleon Bonaparte.  Bonaparte has no problem supporting Ethan's mission to recover his wife and child as long as he pursues the Brazen Head at the same time.   Gage --- being an American neutral --- agrees to this but secretly remains a man who just wants his family back.

Ethan finds an unlikely ally in the person of Jewish Napoleonic soldier, Gideon Mandel.  He owes his life to Gideon who saved him from demise at the battle of Austerlitz.  It turns out Gideon's father is a Rabbi who has knowledge of both the legendary Golem as well as the Brazen Head.  Armed with this newfound understanding of what he is after, Ethan journeys on to face off with a colorful cast of villains who stand in the way of his family reunion as well as obtaining the mythical Brazen Head.

As with all of William Dietrich's Ethan Gage novels, THE THREE EMPERORS is steeped in history and most of the people and events depicted within are real.  Never has European and World History been so much fun!  You need not to have read the prior Ethan Gage adventures to enjoy this one -- - however, those who have will delight in the characters from prior stories who regularly appear. Readers who jump on board for this seventh Ethan Gage adventure will be pleasantly rewarded with an engaging, fun and stimulating adventure that will make you long to be in our hero's company again.  This adventure ends on the doorstep of the Russian Empire --- could this be the setting for Ethan's next adventure?  Stay tuned!

 

 

 

All Day and a Night by Alafair Burke

Publisher: Harper

Reviewer: Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

New York Detective Ellie Hatcher returns as part of a “fresh look” team to examine an old case in which DNA evidence may exonerate the convicted murderer, a man suspected of murdering and desecrating the bodies of several prostitutes, but convicted for only one.

Ellie and her partner, J.J. Rogan, reluctantly accept the involuntary assignment, since it not only adds to their caseload, but also because they—and all the other detectives—know that the lead prosecutor specifically chose them. Ellie and Rogan must delve into a case that causes distrust among other cops whose work will be relentlessly questioned, while also drawing attention to Ellie’s romantic relationship with the prosecutor.

Meanwhile, Carrie Blank leaves her position in a powerful corporate law firm to work for a sleazy, Nancy Grace-styled high profile lawyer named Linda Moreland who intends to free the convicted murderer based on new forensic information. There’s a reason that Moreland wants Carrie rather than another lawyer; Carrie’s own sister, Donna, died at the hands of the same serial killer years before. Carrie doesn’t believe that her sister sank to turning tricks to support her drug habit and desperately wants to find out what really happened to Donna.

Alafair Burke, daughter of prolific writer James Lee Burke, continues her strong stream of crime fiction with All Day and a Night. As a former prosecutor, she realistically portrays the strengths and limitations of the legal side of the case while her detective characters ably chase down leads in the tight time frame they receive. Burke’s choice to add a second strong character (Carrie) in addition to series protagonist Ellie Hatcher means that readers get to participate on both sides of the story, and for the better. For Burke’s characters, decisions result in life or death consequences in a mystery filled with suspense surrounding the ultimate question—who really did it?

 

 

This Private Plot by Alan Beechey

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press   (also available in paperback)

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Imagine that Caroline  Graham, author of the intricately-plotted “Midsomer Murders’ series got together with P G Wodehouse to write a murder mystery.  You might end up with something like “This Private Plot”.

I get a lot of books to review and some are more enjoyable than others.  This one I rationed to make it last longer, only reading two chapters a night.  It’s a really amusing and charming book, chock full of strange people, likeable protagonists, tricky plot twists, and some memorable character names; among them Underwood Tooth, who could have come straight out of Dickens.

Romping around naked on a moonlit night with his policewoman girlfriend Effie, our hero Oliver Swithin discovers a dead body hanging from a tree and bumps into his aunt and uncle—and Effie’s boss—at the same time.  How they all retrieve their clothing and deal with the dead body I leave for you to read for yourselves.

Oliver is holidaying with Effie in the quaint village wherein his parents have settled, and had hoped for a week of relaxation and romance.  As things work out, everyone else but Oliver seems to be having romantic interludes, some of them of Olympic level.  The five unmarried Bennet sisters (oh, you caught that reference, did you?) are among the star performers, albeit unaware of how widely their amorous adventures are known. 

The apparently suicide in the tree is finally proven to be what Oliver claimed all along: murder most foul.  Finding the murderer is another matter, because half the village had cause to wish Dennis Breedlove dead.  Among the suspects is a vampire who isn’t; Oliver’s younger brother; several local actors who are trying to stage a new version of Hamlet, a blackmailer, an archaeologist hoping to find a lost Shakespearean manuscript, and assorted villagers.