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Isolation by Mary Anna Evans

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

This is the 9th Faye Longchamp-Mantooth mystery, and one of the darkest yet.  The usually lively archaeologist has fallen into the Slough of Despond following the premature birth and death of her much-wanted baby daughter.  She can’t find a way to deal with the tragedy, other than to dig holes obsessively all over her home island, Joyeuse.  Her easy-going husband Joe hasn’t a clue what to do, other than keep on loving his desperately unhappy wife.  Faye doesn’t seem to know what she’s digging for, but one day she finds a buried cache of some liquid that seems dangerous.  Despite the fear that they will be required to pay for the cleanup even if it isn’t their fault, the Mantooths have to call in the authorities.  Their arrival has an unexpected silver lining of piquing Faye’s interest in something other than her sorrow.

Joe’s life is complicated by the arrival of Sly, his disreputable old father, fresh out of prison for unspecified reasons.  Other than being a whiz at keeping the woodpile stocked, Sly is not providing much help or support.  Joe does his best to care for his and Faye’s young son and to establish some sort of connection with his father.  This usually involves a daily trip to Liz’s Bar and Grill at the marina, where Sly and Liz carry on a heavy-handed flirtation headed nowhere in particular.

One morning Joe and his kin find Liz floating near the dock, dead from a gunshot or drowning or both.  Then a local low-life who is arrested for illegal dumping of toxic waste claims Liz was the mastermind who ‘made him do it’.  Faye is incensed; clearing Liz’s name and finding her killer suddenly take centre stage for her.  Then another woman is attacked, and eyes turn to Sly Mantooth.  Faye is able to give him an alibi of sorts, but clearly he will be under suspicion until that mystery is solved also.

A number of complex threads run through the story: the murder, the waste-dumping, a man in search of his past, Faye’s inability to escape from hers—and then to crown it all, a terrible fire breaks out and threatens Joe and Faye’s beloved home. 

This is a fast-moving story with some very modern problems, as well as several as ancient as Thebes.  Ms Evans manages to get into the minds of her characters to make them very real for the reader.

 

 

Dead Soon Enough by Steph Cha

Publisher: Minotaur Books – Mystery / 4 bolts

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

The Armenian Genocide began in 1915 and continued through WWI.  In total, upwards of 1.5 people were slaughtered. The phases of this genocide included the slaughter of all able-bodied males and later the deportation via death marches of women, children, the elderly and infirmed.

Heavy subject matter for the typically light-hearted Juniper Song mystery series.  Author Step Cha definitely dials it up for this one with a plot firmly related to the above-referenced historical event.  Twenty-something Korean-American Juniper Song is the least likely person you would go to for help.  Examination of her life indicates she cannot even help herself --- zero career prospects, single, lonely, etc.

What Juniper does have is a love of all things crime noir --- specifically LA Noir and the works of Raymond Chandler featuring his Phillip Marlowe character.  That drove her to give private investigation a go.  She fills out a three-person team that includes her elderly mentor, Chaz, and another investigator named Arturo.

DEAD SOON ENOUGH presents Juniper with her most involved and deadly case yet.  A woman named Rubina Gasparian approaches Juniper with an interesting proposal.  She wants her cousin, Lusig, followed.  Rubina is concerned for her well-being as Lusig is not only pregnant but dealing with the disappearance of her closest friend, Nora.

Nora is far from innocent.  She is a volatile personality who throws herself into life and various causes.  The latest cause is heading up a group seeking universal recognition of the Armenian Genocide.  Nora has stirred up many Armenian youths, particularly in Southern California, and must have pushed someone's buttons as she suddenly disappeared.

Juniper begins her investigation, but it is far from straight-forward.  First off, she learns that Lusig is allegedly carrying the baby as surrogate for Rubina and her husband Van.  Juniper also begins to have feelings for a contact she meets up with in regards to her search for Nora, a fellow Korean-American named Robert Parks. 

As the case become more and more complex Juniper realizes that she may never find Nora.  The situation now is one of survival as her investigation may have put her in danger as well.  DEAD SOON ENOUGH deals with serious social and moral issues with ease.  It is by far the most impressive novel in this young series.  Nice to see Juniper and her creator, Steph Cha, take things to the next level and the result is a mystery series that now needs to be taken seriously.

 

 

 

The Tempest by James Lilliefors

Publisher: Witness Impulse - Cozy / 4.75 bolts

Reviewer: Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Pastor Luke Bowers creates a peaceful and welcoming presence in the Methodist church in Tidewater County, Maryland. Middle-aged newcomer Susan Champlain seeks him out for just that reason; she’s obviously unsettled and secretive, facts that delights Aggie, Luke’s gossipy church secretary. Susan is married, but her husband rarely takes time from his high-powered position to visit, leaving Susan’s true story a hot topic among the area’s locals, who are keenly observant after decades of watching tourists come and go.

The day after Susan confides in Luke, someone finds her body in a secluded, dangerous area that she was known to frequent for its natural beauty. Even though Susan lived in a rented house in Tidewater County since June, Maryland State Police Homicide Detective Amy Hunter realizes that no one really knew Susan—making her final conversation with Luke vital to her investigation.

Fortunately, Amy and Luke work well together, even despite the piggish local sheriff’s best efforts to thwart Amy’s professionalism, as they pore over the clues Susan left behind.

Combining pastoral Maryland and an unusual look into stolen art masterpieces, James Lilliefort creates a thrilling yet lovely mystery populated by realistic characters in the latest installment of the Bowers and Hunter series. Luke and his wife, Charlotte, add an extra dimension to the small town police procedural tone set by the character of Amy Hunter. The three are imperfect—and even deal with palpable jealousy – but intelligently and kindly written.

Fans of Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series and others who love well-written fiction should definitely visit Tideland County for an enjoyable, smart mystery well worth its price.

 

 

After the Storm by Linda Castillo

Publisher: Minotaur – Investigative 4.5 bolts

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader 

Kate Burkholder has one foot in the very real world of rural Ohio, where she serves as the town’s police chief, and the other in the equally vivid, but much more insular, Amish community in which she grew up. 

Since there are several Amish and Mennonite families around, Kate’s experience as ex-Amish gives her special insight into the culture, language, and very specific mindset. The Amish may not trust anyone who’s left the fold, but they are still part of the community she’s sworn to protect, especially when there’s murder. 

A terrible tornado winds through the area, devastating the local trailer park in addition to many other areas. The clean-up throughout the county requires substantial help with many volunteers, who work long hours to help put things right.

One hardworking Boy Scout troop patiently cleans up a once-solid barn, but two wisecracking Scouts find a fleshless skull mixed in the debris of broken boards, giving them a good story to go along with earning their Community Service merit badge.

As police chief, Kate has to use her already underpowered department to handle the storm’s aftermath, and now, a murder investigation into finding out how a young man’s skull ended up under an old barn, throwing her back into the heart of the Amish world.

Kate Burkholder is a conflicted, well-intentioned, and courageous woman who’s made a good life for herself. She’s happy, yet she recognizes that her past in a very strict Amish family will never leave her. She’s very determined, eminently trustworthy, and a character whom readers will enjoy.

After the Storm is a smart novel with an intriguing setting and characters who benefit from the cohesiveness of a long-running series.

 

 

Little Black Lies by Sharon Bolton

Publisher: Bantam Press - Psychological Thriller / 4 bolts

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

British author S.J. Bolton --- now writing as Sharon Bolton --- has put together a nice career with a string of psychological thrillers that never pull any punches.  With the release of LITTLE BLACK LIES she has entered a realm of darkness not previously seen in her prior work and in the process has created an unsettling piece of fiction that will literally get under your skin.

The unique setting is the Stanley region of the Falkland Islands.  This is a place where the close-knit community know each other well and have each others backs.  One thing capable of rocking the foundations of this community is the disappearance or murder of a child.  It is this fear and sentiment that lies at the heart of this novel.

LITTLE BLACK LIES is broken into three sections, each narrated and told from a different character's point of view.  The first is Catrin Quinn.  In Catrin, we have one of the more sullen and morose central characters in recent fiction. She has gone to a dark place and sunk so low that even suicide cannot change things. 

Catrin has a best friend named Rachel. Rachel and Catrin were inseparable and Catrin referred to her friend as the past, the now and the ever more.  All this changed the day Rachel killed her sons. It was a tragic accident --- yet the fact that Rachel survived while letting both of Catrin's son die in her vehicle is something Catrin can never forgive.  Catrin has lost her parents, had her husband walk out on her and now must live with the grief of the two sons she lost.  It is this grief, combined with hatred for Rachel, that drives Catrin.  The reader will have to figure out what is really going on and whether or not Catrin is a sympathetic figure or a dangerous woman with severe psychological issues.

When a trio of young boys go missing, Catrin volunteers along with other members of the community to help search for them. One of those leading the search is her one-time lover, Callum.  He still has feelings for her and their complicated relationship drives the novel forward as Callum is the second narrator of the story.

The third narrator is Rachel.  This is quite ironic simply due to the fact that the third missing boy is her own son, Peter.   The novel threatens to spin wildly out of control when all three of the narrators claim to be responsible for Peter's abduction (and possible murder).  Once again, the reader will have to decide who to believe --- and none of the possible outcomes are pleasant.

Sharon  Bolton has created a psychological story of madness and revenge that will call to mind recent best sellers like GONE GIRL (which also utilized multiple narrators to tell different sides of the same story).  I found the last third of the novel a bit uneven --- but things pick up every time Catrin is around.  Catrin Quinn is a complex fictional character that is not easy to forget and LITTLE BLACK LIES will disturb and linger with readers for days after finishing this novel.

 

 

 

 

The Eternal World by Christopher Farnsworth

Publisher: William Morrow - Historical Mystery 4 bolts

Reviewer: Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Spanish conquistadors searched what is now Florida for the fabled Fountain of Youth, finding plenty of beautiful rivers but failing in their goal. Well, except for one very fortunate young man named Simon De Oliveras who led his fellow stragglers to the source of eternal revitalization. Suddenly, their injuries from fighting disappear, as do the more routine pains of everyday life such as toothaches and headaches.

Over the centuries, these conquistadors have learned to blend in and become powerful men, shrugging aside their previous lives as desperate, impoverished 16th century Europeans. In keeping with the timeless tale of searching for the Water, now they want to mass produce a synthetic version rather than just relying on the original source. Fortunately for these moguls, the money they’ve accumulated over the centuries allow them to keep searching and now they’ve finally found the scientist who can do it.

David Robinton is young, motivated by goodwill and boasts of a scientific brilliance that goes off the charts. He’s abandoned any real social life in favor of his work, and feels that his long hours are finally paying off when he gets the opportunity to work for a major pharmaceutical company named Conquest with enormous pockets. David is a true innocent; he wants to use his work in genetics to save people from suffering from cancer and a host of other diseases. David truly wants to cheat death, no matter the cost to humanity in general.

While humankind waits for a cure for death, there’s another person, always watching and waiting, prepared to stop Conquest’s success, transforming The Eternal World from a character study of motivations into a climactic thriller, leaving David unsure of whom to believe.

Author Christopher Farnsworth creates interesting characters with an inventive narrative. The Eternal World feels slow to engage the reader, but the book’s action in the last third and the creative mythological origin story of a real legendary civilization makes it worth the initial pace. Farnsworth adds a special, significant character whose own motivations and abilities greatly add to this unusual retelling of humanity’s search for eternal life.

 

 

 

In The Dark Places by Peter Robinson

Publisher: William Morrow - Investigative 4 bolts

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader 

Peter Robinson is, quite frankly, one of the finest thriller writers in the world.  His DCI Banks series has not only spawned decades of quality novels but also an outstanding BBC TV series.

With IN THE DARK PLACES he literally goes into some of the darkest territory ever seen in this series.  In this 22nd DCI Banks novel we are faced with a series of bizarre and unsettling incidents which may be related in some grisly way.  First off, a farmer from the British countryside reports one of his vehicles stolen.  Around the same time, Banks and his team are on the lookout for two missing young men from the same area.

Neither of these alleged crimes are anything unique --- until something else happens.  A local delivery-man loses control of his truck and spins off the road to his death.  As police search the wreckage for answers they find something that takes them all by surprise --- a dead male who was obviously killed long before the truck went off the road.

What makes this accident that much more disturbing is the fact that the truck was filled with various animal parts that were discarded by many of the local farms.  However, the male victim's body appeared to have been in the same condition as much of the livestock that are slaughtered at these farms.  Banks and his team begin to recognize something far more nefarious is at work and all of the recent cases in the area are somehow related.

By this point the readers head should be spinning.  Without spoiling anything I will only interject that the sickest ideas you may get which potentially tie these various crimes together may not be too far off from the truth.  IN THE DARK PLACES delivers on all levels and will definitely unsettle even the sturdiest thriller reader.  The fact that an abattoir may be at the heart of some of these crimes is ghoulish work indeed.

What I enjoy most about Peter Robinson's novels is first the depiction of the tight relationships DCI Banks has with every member of his team.  I enjoy reading about all of them after so many years and Annie and Winsome could hold up as characters in their own series.  The other thing is Robinson's love of music, food and pop culture --- sort of like the British version of George Pelecanos.  I have checked out more than one CD that Alan Banks has enjoyed in these novels and again have never been disappointed.

 

 

 

Woman With A Secret by Sophie Hannah

Publisher: William Morrow Suspense / 5 bolts

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

Recently British author Sophie Hannah received a high and extremely enviable honor.  She was selected by the Agatha Christie foundation to continue writing Dame Agatha's acclaimed Hercule Poirot series.  The result was her last novel entitled THE MONOGRAM MURDERS and it was more than worthy of the Christie name.

Now, with the release of WOMAN WITH A SECRET, Hannah returns to her own series.  The Sgt. Charlie Zailer and DCI Waterhouse series has been made into a successful BBC TV Series and has spawned several critically acclaimed and noteworthy novels.

The running theme in these novels are people --- both suspects and victims --- who are never quite what they seem to be on the surface.  All of Sophie Hannah's characters do a great job of keeping secrets and our author delights in revealing only a small glimpse at a time behind the curtain leaving readers to put together the puzzle along the way.

WOMAN WITH A SECRET is just such a novel.  The story opens up with a personal ad on a site called Intimate Links.  The ad was placed by someone claiming to be seeking out a woman with a secret.  The secret is exposing the identity of the murderer of a controversial newspaper columnist named Damon Blundy.

Nicki Clements falls under suspicion in this murder case but she is far from your typical suspect.  She is both mother and housewife --- but why do the police feel she had some illicit relationship with the deceased?  Also, why would the placer of the personal ad be focusing on Nicki?  As Sophie Hannah allows things to unfold we see a piece of Nicki at a time and quickly recognize nothing is what it appears to be.

Sophie Hannah once again takes the psychological thriller novel to another level and this puzzling and perplexing read will challenge and delight fans of the genre.  I believe she is in very small company --- with authors like Tana French and Gillian Flynn --- who have raised the bar on the psychological thriller while everyone else is trying to catch up.

 

 

 

 

No Other Darkness by Sarah Hilary

Publisher: Penguin Suspense  / 4 bolts 

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

There is probably nothing more horrific in crime fiction than the depiction of a child abduction or murder.  Yet, this plot element is used repeatedly to the point where you would find it hard to believe someone could do anything different with it.

Leave it to award-winning author Sarah Hillary to attempt such a feat with her second release.  She is following the success of her first novel, SOMEONE ELSE'S SKIN, where the British author introduced readers to the investigative team of Detective Inspector Marnie Rome and her colleague Detective Sergeant Noah Jake.

Marnie has been dealing with the inner demons of coming to terms with the murder of her parents by her foster brother, Stephen, five years earlier.  She has been made particularly sensitive to family crimes as a result of that unfortunate event.  Ironically, the newest case her and Noah are thrown into involves the discovery of a set of  bones of what appears to be young children that had been buried alive.

The bones are found in a man-made bunker under the garden in the London suburbs and the current residents, Terry and Beth along with their two children and a wayward teen-ager they took in named Clancy, are horrified with the discovery.  DNA results point to two young boys who had been missing for a handful of years and assumed dead.  The reason they were assumed dead is that their mother, Esther Reid, confessed to murdering them along with their younger sister in a fit of post-partum psychosis.

Esther is now out of prison and seeking to reinvent herself and forget her past. That includes her name being officially changed to Alison Oliver.  When the two young children of Terry and Reid go missing all suspicion points towards Esther/Alison.  Is she picking up where she left off or is there another sinister presence at work?

Sarah Hilary is not afraid to go into the darkest corners of crime fiction with this novel and has more than enough unpredictable surprises that will keep readers guessing and reeling with each turning page.  NO OTHER DARKNESS marks the emergence of a talented new voice in the crime/thriller genre and Marnie Rome and Noah Jake are simply crying out for a PBS or BBC series to be made about their exploits.

 

 

The Mask by Taylor Stevens

Publisher: Crown

Thriller / 4 bolts

Reviewer: Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Vanessa Munroe has spent her whole life trying to escape the hellish childhood that left her body covered in scars and her mind on constant alert. She’s built her career on her chameleon looks—including her alter-ego, Michael—and quick reflexes, both mentally and physically. Munroe finds it difficult to relate to others even as she blends in with hardly a ripple.

In The Mask, she finally lets her guard down as she comes “home” to Miles Bradford, the former military man with his own penchant for finding trouble in his business. Bradford now lives in Japan on an assignment to find a mole in a top-secret industry; he’s living his own Texas-influenced persona of brash American and nonconformist clothes in a highly conformist society.

Munroe knows something’s wrong, but it’s not until the Japanese police arrest Bradford for murder that Munroe springs into action. With this death, Munroe knows there’s a good chance it also killed her future with Bradford, but she’ll do anything to save her new client before he disappears into the penal system forever.

Author Taylor Stevens’ Vanessa Michael Munroe series remains consistently engaging in the evolution of her character. Stevens’ own past as a cult member during her childhood allows her to explore the sense of outsiderness with truth while she imbues Munroe with keen observational skills necessary to help her blend—at least superficially. While expanding on a relationship could imperil the originality of a narrative, Stevens’ approach allows Bradford and Munroe to remain enigmatic while promising a creative partnership between the two—provided, of course, that they manage to stay alive and free.

It’s impossible to ignore similarities between Munroe and Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander, but the catlike Munroe demands a reader’s interest while carving out a firm niche for herself in the thriller genre.

 

 

Obsession In Death by J D Robb

Publisher: Piatkus Books

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

This is the 40th outing for J D Robb’s top cop Eve Dallas, and it’s as good a read as any of the ones that went before.  The murders Eve has investigated in the New York City of 2060 have always been unusual, and broadly fall into two categories: those committed by totally bad people with no possible justification, and those committed by mentally unstable folk who think they have a cause worth killing for.

“Obsession” falls in the latter category.  Eve suspects she’s got a gnarly case when she finds the prominent defence lawyer’s tongue in a candy dish at her bedside-- then there’s the personal message from the killer neatly printed on the wall.  The message indicates that the killer thinks he or she is helping Eve by killing someone who insulted her and who did not serve justice.  

Reviewing the security disks from the building, Eve and her faithful sidekick Peabody discover that the killer gained entry by pretending to be a delivery man, and managed to use the delivery to shield his features most of the time.  A lot of planning clearly went into this murder; all indications are that the killer is smart, patient, dedicated to the idea of justice, and fixated on Eve as a hero figure.

Consulting her friend and police profiler Dr Mira, Eve gains further insight into the killer.  Mira warns that the killer is unlikely to stop at one murder and clearly has an agenda; also that if Eve does anything that the killer regards as betraying their special relationship, she herself may become a target.  Further, the killer may regards anyone close to Eve as a barrier between them, so everyone from Eve’s old friend Mavis to her husband Roarke and his major domo Summerset may be target. 

Sure enough, there’s another message at the scene of another murder, tailored to the killer’s perception of what the dead man deserved.  A third attempt is foiled by the merest chance, but it provides a bit more insight into the killer’s thought processes.  It also establishes that the killer is a woman, something Eve suspected quite early in the investigation. 

All the usual suspects are here: Morris the medical examiner, the boys and girls of the NYPSD bullpen, Roarke, world’s richest, handsomest man; the fat feline Galahad, and all the other familiar faces from the series.  One minor quibble is that for some reason Eve has taken up the frequent and to my ear unnecessary use of “the F-word”.  In previous books Eve has shown her toughness by her actions, not cheap talk.  Words of emphasis, whether Anglo-Saxon in origin or not, lose their impact and edge by common use.  Yeah, OK, everybody says it these days....still...

 

 

 

Death in Brittany by Jean-Luc Bannalec

Publisher: Minotaur

Reviewer: Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Commissaire Georges Dupin involuntarily left his beloved Paris only two years ago, thanks to his impolitic manner during high-stakes police investigations. He may get results, but his brusque manner and refusal to kowtow to high-ranking individuals sealed his fate, resulting in a new posting on the coast of Breton. Breton is fairly rural, although its proximity to the sea gives it a certain cache among tourists during the summer and its comparable isolation encourages the year-round residents to tightly bond and build traditions. All in all, it’s quite a far cry from the vivaciousness of Paris and not a place where just any Parisian could happily settle. 

The Bretons still regard Dupin as an outsider—and will continue to so until his family has settled for two or three generations at least – but they seem to consider him with interest and routinely show him kindness. He’s Parisian, yet has settled into Breton’s slower pace quite comfortably.

When an elderly hotelier of a famed establishment is found murdered, suddenly Dupin’s instincts awaken and he reverts to his dogged, take-no-prisoners personality. It’s almost tourist season, and as the local administration reminds him constantly, those tourists want to spend time in the area known as Gaughin’s haunt during the 19th century so they can see the artist’s inspiration firsthand. An unsolved murder will devastate the tourist economy, but also Dupin’s reputation.

Jean-Luc Bannalec (a pseudonym) creates a charming yet driven detective reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot or Donna Leon’s more modern Italian Commissario Guido Brunetti. Dupin fully realizes that he suffers from none of the trendy ailments of depression, alcoholism, or PTSD for fictional detectives, but he does appreciate a well-made meal while being surrounded by beauty. Fortunately, the setting allows Dupin to enjoy both, while his outsider status offers Bannalec the chance to more fully describe Breton’s history and culture in a natural way.

Bannalec takes full advantage of Gaughin’s artistic reputation to imbue Death in Brittany with additional color and add depth to the motive to the murder. Secondary characters could use additional fleshing out, but Dupin and Breton are the true reasons to enjoy this steady, traditional mystery with minimal gore for a culturally atmospheric, lovely reading experience.

 

 

 

 

Signal by Patrick Lee

Publisher: Minotaur

Sci-Fi/Thriller / 5 bolts

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

The first novel in Patrick Lee’s Sam Dryden series, RUNNER, was somewhat of a disappointment for me. I found his BREACH trilogy to be outstanding while RUNNER started out with a bang and quickly fizzled, never quite reaching the potential expectations I had for it.

I am pleased to report that this is not the case with the latest Sam Dryden novel entitled SIGNAL. This novel is a pure adrenaline rush that grabs you by the throat and never lets up. The novel opens with an FBI agent coming across the burnt-up remains of a trailer found on the roads of the California desert. Inside, Agent Marnie Calvert is horrified to find the bodies of four human beings trapped in a cage within the damaged trailer.

Things immediately shift to ex-Special Forces Op Sam Dryden receiving a late night phone call from an old colleague --- Claire Dunham. Claire frantically asks Sam to drive a great distance as fast as possible to meet her at a pre-determined location in Barstow. She also gives explicit details that he leave his cell phone at home.

Sam arrives and he and Claire come upon a trailer that appears to have four young women being held against their will by an unidentified adult male. Sam and Claire thwart this villain just as he was about to set the trailer on fire, having recognized that one of the captive girls made a cell phone call out for help. Readers will be confused when they recognize this as the same trailer that Marnie Calvert found in the first scene.

The explanation is a wild one. Claire convinces Sam that they are dealing with a device which has the ability to transmit radio signals from the future. Sometimes, the far distant future. Whoever is in possession of this device can literally change the course of the pre-determined future by taking action in the present. Wild stuff and reminded me of some of Dean Koontz’s earlier work (think LIGHTNING). 

In the right hands, this device can be used for good deeds --- like the one perpetrated by Sam and Claire. However, the wrong hands usually get control of devices like this in fiction and all bets are off. How can you battle a nefarious group that can see into the future and recognize every move you are going to make?!! Things begin to spin wildly out of control when Sam and Claire are instantly set upon after the trailer incident and taken captive separately.

Sam escapes his captors and eventually hooks up with Agent Calvert --- who he has a hard time convincing about the signal issue. Sam not only needs to find and rescue Claire but also needs to prevent his own death --- which he picked up as a future broadcast from the signal box. There are deadly enemies at every turn and behind them is a megalomaniac who seeks to one day be President by manipulating the course of time and setting all events in his favor via the mystery device.

SIGNAL is a treat for both Sci-Fi and Thriller/Adventure readers and literally has unpredictable turns around nearly every corner. Would love to see film made of this highly-entertaining read that I predict will be one of the summer’s biggest hits!

 

 

 

 

The Precipice by Paul Doiron

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

Paul Doiron has had a nice run with the Mike Bowditch series.  Typically, I might not find the adventures of a Maine game warden terribly interesting but Doiron does a fantastic job of not only building excitement but creating a satisfying mystery/thriller read.

THE PRECIPICE deals with some relevant and controversial social issues.  Set in an area of the Maine backwoods referred to as the Hundred Mile Wilderness, this novel focuses on two missing female hikers last seen venturing into this challenging and dangerous terrain.

The prologue features Mike Bowditch lamenting that it is not easy to prepare for searching in a remote place for human beings who may or may not be alive.  The two teen hikers --- using the hiking pseudonyms of Naomi Walks and Baby Ruth --- had hiked previously and there was physical evidence of their interaction with other hikers squatting at a retreat for other wilderness explorers.

One thing not recorded in their signatures along the trail was the fact that 'Naomi' and 'Baby Ruth' may have been involved in an alternate lifestyle relationship.  When Mike Bowditch and his colleagues, like girlfriend and wildlife biologist Stacey Stevens, find out this tidbit they are at a loss as to whether the girls were lost and killed by animals, victimized by someone because of their sexual orientation or just the prey for a twisted serial killer.

When a top suspect himself turns up dead, Bowditch is at a loss as to which direction to look.  To compound this problem, he and the other game wardens must now deal with local hunters who are slaughtering coyotes and other forms of protected wildlife who the locals suspect are the reason for the two girls' disappearance and assumed death.

Mike Bowditch understands that people want to believe in big bad wolves but only humans can be truly evil.  THE PRECIPICE can hold several meanings, the most common as a reference to a deadly area of the Hundred Mile Wilderness. The more symbolic reason may refer to the depths of depravity that human beings are capable of, a precipice of dark behavior that is impossible to overcome.  A compelling and unpredictable read.

 

 

 

 

Superfluous Women by Carola Dunn

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Reviewer: Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Daisy Dalrymple returns in Carola Dunn's series about a resourceful, well-bred amateur detective who solves crimes in post-World War I England. It's 1927 and Daisy's happily married to Alec Fletcher, a Detective Constable Inspector for Scotland Yard. She's financially secure and enjoys spending time with her growing twins on their estate. Still, in spite of Scotland Yard's disapproval, Daisy continues to quietly assist in investigations, providing invaluable information in a way that Alec both admires and finds occasionally cringeworthy.

In fact, Daisy's enviable status becomes even moreso in Superfluous Women. The title is a nod to the post-war generation of "surplus" women who remain unmarried due to the war's high casualty rate of eligible men. These women often could rely only on themselves and on each other for sustenance and support.

One of these women, the fictional Wilhelmina "Willie" Chandler, has formed a household with two others, Vera Leighton and Isabel Sutliffe. Willie's a professional accountant, which was exceedingly rare for the era, while Vera teaches at the local school. Isabel owns the house (called the Cherry Trees) and performs most of the domestic duties not done by the irritable local charwoman, Mrs. Hedger.

Daisy, recovering from a debilitating illness in the area near the Cherry Trees, takes advantage of the opportunity to visit with her former schoolfriend, Willie, and agrees to a meal at the Cherry Trees with the three good friends.

While looking for a better bottle of wine, the new foursome-- joined by Daisy's husband, Alec-- decide to open up the locked, keyless cellar. Mrs. Hedger's intense dislike of disorder results in heavy cleaning supply smells, making the discovery of a body in the cellar an extremely distasteful surprise.

Suddenly, Vera's nervousness becomes questionable, and the former owner, Mrs. Gray, also becomes a point of interest. As the three residents of the Cherry Trees open up, plenty of new questions arise. Who is the woman in the basement? Did Mrs. Gray know about the body-- or is she the barely recognizable remains laying on the cold chalk floor?

Carola Dunn's Daisy continues to show character development and becomes increasingly interesting, especially as an experienced woman who grew up in an upper class world before losing her footing and then regaining it again. She and Alec share a believable relationship, and it's nice to see Daisy interact with others who remember her past.

Readers who enjoy Charles Todd's Bess Crawford's mysteries or the Jacqueline Winspear Maisy Dobbs' novels should look into Superfluous Women or earlier installments of the series. It's fast-paced, light reading, but broaches serious subjects stemming from true historical events.

 

 

 

 

 

The Deep by Nick Cutter

Publisher: Gallery Books Thriller / 3 bolts

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader 

Nick Cutter, an admitted pseudonym for a Canadian author of novels and short stories, submits the follow-up to his highly acclaimed debut thriller last year entitled THE TROOP.

THE TROOP was classic horror at its finest.  A troop of Boy Scouts out in the wilderness come across a crazed man who happens to be infected with a contagion that brings on madness and rabid behavior.  One by one, the troop begins to fall.  That novel thrilled immediately and was reminiscent of Scott Smith's THE RUINS.

Now his latest release, THE DEEP (not to be mistaken with the Peter Benchley novel of the same name) has elements of both horror and science fiction and makes for another chilling read.  The planet is being brought to its knees by a disease called The Gets.  No one knows the source or how it is passed on --- those afflicted with it begin forgetting little by little until there is nothing left and they forget how to breathe and function. 

Dr. Luke Nelson is contacted by the government and informed of an underwater facility that may have found the cure to the disease that is crippling all mankind.  The reason he was chosen is because his own brother, a scientist named Clayton, is many miles beneath the sea in the research facility known as Hesperus and specifically asked for Luke to be with him.

Thus starts the long and dark journey beneath the sea --- farther than man has ever previously explored.  Luke recognizes that mankind has spent billions to explore outer space and not a fraction of that to understand their own planet and what exists at the ocean floor.  What Clayton and a small group of scientists have discovered is a substance nicknamed Ambrosia.  This is not the elixir of the gods as professed in Greek mythology but rather a gelatinous and unpredictable material that can mimic anything it touches.  Ambrosia has also cured cancer and other diseases in guinea pigs and lab rats and may be the answer to combating The Gets.

However, what Luke finds in the ocean deep is a house of horrors and men driven to utter madness.  The dreams are all nightmares and the isolation enough to rip any mind apart.  The Ambrosia also seems to be much more than the life-saving blob they thought it was.  It is part of a sentient being that has been watching and studying mankind...and waiting for the right moment to strike.

I would have liked to have seen a little more science as the moments in the novel that deal specifically with the Ambrosia and what it may be are fascinating.  Overall, a chilling and unsettling thriller that will stick with readers long after the final deadly page is turned.

 

 

 

Sometimes the Wolf by Urban Waite 

Publisher: William Morrow

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader 

What does a sheriff in the Pacific Northwest do when they are desperate for money? In Patrick Drake’s case, he smuggled in contraband. One of Patrick’s problems was that he continued to smuggle contraband when he wasn’t so desperate for money. His supplier made a deal with the DEA and Patrick went to prison.

Upon his release after twelve years, Patrick finds that the outside world has changed much. His son Bobby is now a deputy. A former deputy under Patrick is now sheriff.

Bobby is a good man who suffered the humiliation of his father’s crimes. Bobby brings Patrick home to family homestead that he has worked to change and make into a suitable home for his wife Sheri and himself.

As Bobby observes Patrick’s interactions with Sheri, his picture of Patrick becomes less clear. Has Patrick changed over time or was the opinion of his father inaccurate to start with?

Bobby has been helping Wildlife Officer Ellie Cobb as she pursues poachers after deer. Also, different people including Bobby have spotted a she wolf several times in the area. It is the first time a wolf has been the area in more than fifty years. Ellie is afraid that the wolf will become a threat to livestock and be killed by a farmer.

Bobby spending so much time with Ellie may not be the best thing for his marriage given that Ellie is a beautiful young woman. Ellie has asked Bobby and Patrick to spend several days on a stakeout. Sheri seems happier that Patrick is going.

Apparently unknown to any of the main characters, two shadowy figures are secretly observing them. Men willing and capable of killing at a second’s notice have followed them from the time Bobby picked up Patrick at the prison. Only Patrick noticed this and the reader is left to wonder if his law enforcement experience or something else allowed him to spot the man.

Waite has crafted a first-rate mystery with well-developed characters. If the work has any shortcoming, it is in the description of violent events. The descriptions are so graphic that they may be difficult for some readers.

 

 

 

The Final Silence by Stuart Neville

Publisher: SOHO

Mystery/Thriller / 4 bolts 

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

There is nothing more frightening or unsettling than discovering that those closest to you --- family, friends, spouses --- may have secrets or even double-lives that you are totally oblivious to.  This plot theme has been used throughout the mystery genre in both print and film and never fails to entertain.

This is the initial premise of the latest Irish-based mystery/thriller by critically acclaimed author, Stuart Neville.  Set in and around Belfast, Ireland, Neville's novels have become known for providing gritty realism mixed with classic noir elements.  Rea Carlisle --- daughter of well-known politician Graham Carlisle --- has inherited a house and property from an uncle she never knew.

This uncle, Raymond Drew, left his rundown house practically barren.  When Rea and her mother go to inspect the house, Rea comes across a deadly secret.  She locates a hidden room that most people would never have noticed.  In this room is a book --- a journal that explicitly details what seems to be dozens of murders taking place over decades. Even creepier is that fact that the journal contains 'trophies' taken from  many of the victims --- hair, fingernails, etc.

Sickened and seeking to keep this discovery secret from the press --- lest it adversely impact the political campaign of her father --- Rea reaches out to someone she dated five years earlier.  This brief ex-boyfriend is none other than D.I. Jack Lennon --- the haunted and misunderstood protagonist of several prior novels by Neville.  Lennon agrees to meet Rea at the house and reviews the journal of death.  He agrees to help her, even though he is currently under suspension and investigation by his own department.

***SPOILER ALERT***  Just as Lennon is beginning to look into the background of the late Raymond Drew he learns from a colleague that the body of Rea Carlisle has been found beaten to death with a crowbar.  The murder took place in the Drew house and, to make matters worse, Lennon was witnessed leaving the property at the supposed time of death. Even more  bizarre is that fact that the journal Rea found has disappeared.  

The novel takes a complete shift from one of secrets and purloined horrors to a cat and mouse chase as DCI Serena Flanagan is on the hunt for Lennon as he is now the prime suspect in a murder investigation.  Flanagan is going through her own issues having just been diagnosed with breast cancer and needs to find Lennon in what she feels could be her final case on the job.

Lennon remains on the lam while continuing to investigate the Raymond Drew file.  When he receives a mysterious phone call from someone claiming to know all the intimate details of Drew's journal, Lennon realizes Drew must have had a partner in crime and this person was responsible for Rea's murder and theft of the book.  How does he convince his fellow police colleagues that this 'ghost' is the actual guilty party and needs to be found in order to clear his own highly tarnished name? 

Initially I had some problems with the sudden and untimely murder of the lead character in this story --- Rea Carlisle.  I was looking forward to watching her dig further into her own families sordid history and uncover more horrors about Uncle Raymond.  Thankfully, Lennon is such a complex and interesting character it was easy to shift gears and watch as this became a novel about his own retribution and vindication.

THE FINAL SILENCE pulls no punches and Neville deftly keeps the surprising plot moving forward with twists and turns that are unexpected at times but always satisfying.  He may very well be doing for Irish Crime Fiction what Ian Rankin has done for Scotland and I look forward to spending more time with D.I. Lennon.

 

 

 

Second Life by S.J. Watson

Publisher: Harper

Mystery/Thriller / 4 bolts

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader 

I'm biased here as S.J. Watson's first novel, BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP, was my favorite novel of two years ago. It was also turned into the movie of the same name starring Oscar winners Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth.

SECOND LIFE is not nearly as good as Watson's debut effort --- but still a solid psychological thriller on its' own. The novel starts slowly, outlining the brutal murder of a young woman named Kate. Her sister, Julia, ends up taking in Kate's son Connor to be raised by her and her husband Hugh. As Julia uncovers some interesting websites on emails on her late sister's computer she finds that Kate lived a double life. She was immersed in on-line sex sites and anonymous trysts with men she met via the internet. Could one of these relationships have been behind her slaying?

To find out what the police inexplicably are unable to will involve Julia shedding her own life and stepping into this strange and dangerous world that Kate inhabited. When she begins an illicit affair with one of Kate's on-line companions she sees the lines between fantasy and reality blur. She may also be heading towards the same tragic ending.

SECOND LIFE is a dark expose of grief and the hidden worlds and secrets that may exist out of sight.  Julia is a complex character who will draw instant credibility as a person who attempts to always to the right thing but clearly has no grasp on what may actully be going on in her own family and backyard.

While the actual identity of  author S.J. Watson may be a mystery --- no jacket photo and listed as a British journalist --- he is quickly building a nice body of work with two solid novels.  SECOND LIFE is timely and  often creepy.  It is a well-written, though somewhat contrived at times, and a solid thriller for the cyberspace age.

 

 

 

Badlands by C.J Box

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Suspense / 4 bolts 

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!

 

 

 

A Ghostly Demise by Tonya Kappes

Publisher: Witness - Paranormal /  Bolts:4 

Reviewer: Bonnye Busbice Good

Marking the third installment of the Ghostly Southern Mystery series, A Ghostly Demise shows that feisty undertaker Emma Lee Raines isn’t likely to get much rest now that dead people stuck in Between realize that she can help them. She hasn’t always been able to see ghosts, but thanks to a freak accident, her clients are a little livelier.

Emma’s last ghost, Chicken Teater, told Cephus Hardy that Cephus’ being dead for five years thanks to an unknown assailant won’t necessarily prevent him from moving on. Cephus, in all of his Stroh’s loving, country living, compulsive gambling ways, won’t let poor Emma enjoy time with her boyfriend, Jack Henry, the local law and fortunately, the one living person who believes that Emma truly sees dead people and doesn’t just suffer from “funeral trauma.”

Of course, Emma’s singular grandmother doesn’t appreciate Emma’s “bringing the crazy” as the older woman relentlessly pursues the position of mayor against her arch-enemy (well, one of them, anyway as previous books point out), O’Dell Burns, the proprietor of the town’s other funeral home.

Since Cephus has no idea who killed him, he’s got unfinished business, but Emma doggedly pursues any lead in the tightknit town even in the midst of a festival with local celebrity Teddy Hardy—Cephus’ own son—and a host of people who know all about Cephus’ very bad behavior before he disappeared.

Tonya Kappes, known for successfully self-publishing previous work, hits her stride with A Ghostly Demise. She seems quite comfortable in this colorful Kentucky community; her characters are memorable without sinking into complete caricature. Her fun stories avoid gore and should please fans of the Murder She Wrote mysteries and Carolyn Hart’s multiple series (especially those featuring Bailey Ruth). Emma Lee Raines is smart, funny, and worth visiting—especially when she’s got otherworldly company.