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The Son by Jo Nesbo

Publisher: Knopf  

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

"Sometimes we're wrong when we think that we know the truth about our parents.  Perhaps they aren't weak.  Perhaps something happened to give you the wrong impression.  What if they were strong?  What if they were willing to leave behind a disgraced name, allow themselves to be stripped of all honour, take the blame, to save the ones they loved?  And if they were that strong, perhaps you're strong, too."

It is this realization of his station in life that propels young Sonny Lofthus to seek to square things up.  You see, Sonny has spent many years behind bars for a crime he didn't commit.  He was persuaded to take the fall for some very dangerous and violent men.  In return for his service in prison Sonny is plied with the one thing he cherishes above all else --- a regular supply of heroin.

It's a tough thing to handle when you realize all that you thought you knew about yourself and your own family was a lie.  Sonny is put in this position when he discovers that his father, an alleged corrupt cop who took his own life, may have been an innocent man framed by others.  More importantly, Sonny's father didn't actually commit suicide but was murdered --- forced to sign a suicide note by the men who killed him in an effort to protect his wife and young son.

The years Sonny spent incarcerated were unique.  Because he was doing time for another person's crime --- that person being connected with the top local crime syndicate in his area of  Oslo, Norway --- means he was able to co-exist with all other inmates and guards without fear of injury or intimidation.  His stay was almost country club-like in manner and Sonny gained a reputation as someone who other prisoners could get spiritual guidance from.

Sonny spent nearly half of his life in prison and was continuously pumping his veins full with heroin.  This narcotic was smuggled in to the prison by the very crime syndicate that had put him behind bars.  After years of existing in this manner, Sonny discovers the truth about his own father.  When he learns that his father was an innocent man who died to protect him --- and that the same individuals he was doing time for were responsible for killing his father --- means Sonny must perform his greatest feat yet.  He has to escape from prison.

Sonny pulls off a daring escape and attempts to blend into Oslo society by staying at a place for those who are battling addiction.  He uses the name Stig while he is there and spends his time plotting against those who did his family wrong.  Sonny is finally stepping up to become the son his father never got to see and the people who are in his cross-hairs are about to face some brutal and hard justice.

Author Jo Nesbo is easily one of the finest crime writers in the world and his Harry Hole series one of the best I've ever read.  That being said, THE SON is a nice stand-alone novel for Nesbo (his first since HEADHUNTERS) but ultimately does not pack the punch of the stellar Harry Hole series.  THE SON is not for the squeamish as this story of revenge assures that those feeling Sonny Lofthus's vengeance will do so in a slow and excruciating manner.  Now --- looking forward to the next Harry Hole novel, Mr. Nesbo!

 

 

Casey’s Last Chance by Joseph B Atkins

Publisher: MoJo Triangle Books           

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

What’s the worst character flaw a hired killer could have?  Scruples.

Casey Eubanks, with his hair dyed blond and going by the name of Thompson, has been sent to Memphis by some very bad men to kill a troublesome woman.   Casey is on the run after killing a man, and he’s been given a last chance job by a crooked deputy sheriff, Clyde Point.  Clyde put Casey on a bus with a sealed envelope and the job offer, one of those jobs a man in Casey’s position can’t really refuse.

Casey meets Tate Kettle,  who works for Max Duren, Mr Big, who lives in a penthouse and never gets his owns hands dirty as long as there’s someone who can be hired.  Everything is set up very professionally; there’s a gun, a white Pontiac, detailed instructions, and a clearly identified target.  Casey gets to the place where the target will be and discovers she’s a union organiser, given a pep talk to a bunch of overworked and underpaid garment workers.  He lines Ala Gadomska up in his sights—but then can’t kill her.  Thirty seconds later he discovers that his employer didn’t get where he did by trusting anyone—and there’s a back-up killer who is about to shoot Ala and Casey.  This is an easy call: Casey shoots the back-up.

The sound of gunfire causes panic in the gathered crowd, and before he has time to think about it, Casey is on the run again in the big white Pontiac—with Ala Gadomska as a passenger.  A lot of dangerous people are after them, with the only ray of hope being an FBI agent who is very, very keen to take down Max Duren, alias Alois Dürren.

Set in the deep south in the 1960’s, this book touches some of the dramatic events of the times.  Casey Eubanks is a dark and deeply flawed protagonist, but with an unexpected streak of nobility.  He gets the reward such men usually do.

 

 

Blood Infernal by James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell

Publisher: William Morrow

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

The fired up finale to this spectacular trilogy by authors James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell, BLOOD INFERNAL, pushes the envelope in every direction while consistently entertaining the reader with action and historical thrills.

In the fictional Order of the Sanguines Series, Rollins and Cantrell have proposed that there was a missing Gospel left out of the Bible.  This would be the Gospel of Jesus Christ also referred to as The Blood Gospel.  Rather than going the direction of Dan Brown and alleging that Jesus lived with Mary Magdalene and continued his own blood line, The Blood Gospel reveals far more deadly secrets.

This series has recounted the age-old battle between Sanguinists and the Strigoi.  Both of these are groups of immortal beings on either side of the moral spectrum.  Modern times might refer to them by the simpler term --- vampires.  The Blood Gospel revealed the creation of these immortal creatures --- some of whom followed God and the Roman Catholic Church, the others were in league with Satan.  The blood of Christ is more than just symbolism used in Church --- it could literally grant immortality. 

The resurrection of Lazarus was not merely a miracle performed by Christ but a sharing of his own blood that continues to keep Lazarus alive even today.  This is just part of what the three protagonists in this book must face.  The prophecy from the Blood Gospel spoke about The Woman of Learning, The Warrior of Man and The Knight of Christ.  These are the labels taken by our three heroes --- archeologist Erin Granger, army sergeants Jordan Stone and Father Rhun Korza.

Opening in the lab of the infamous Dr. John Dee and jumping right to the current day battle between good and evil, BLOOD INFERNAL details the biggest and most dangerous prophecy from the Blood Gospel --- the return of Satan.  A demonic force that is currently possessing a hapless victim calling itself Legion is following the steps of the prophecy that will open the gates of Hell and allow the evil Satan to reign supreme over everyone.

 

The only way this prophecy can be stopped is if the three heroes are able to locate the Chalice of Lucifer before Legion does.  Filled with thrilling adventure and continuous biblical prophecy, BLOOD INFERNAL is an explosive finale to one of the best examples of speculative fiction in recent years.  A satisfying end that will please fans of both writers.

 

 

 

 

Wolf Winter by Cecelia Ekback

Publisher: Weinstein Books

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Scandinavian thrillers captured international attention a few years ago with the success of Camilla Lackberg (The Hidden Child), Jo Nesbo (Blood on Snow) and Stieg Larsson (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). These authors (among others) notably provided unsentimental, unblinking portraits of those who commit crimes and those who suffer the effects of those crimes, often leading to surprising transformations.

Cecilia Ekback also creates a stark, literally frozen world in which loneliness and quietly desperate self-preservation play prominent roles. Ekback takes it a step further, setting her tale in early 18th century Swedish Lapland, complete with reindeer, folk legends and family secrets.

Maija has convinced her husband, Paavo, to move from their family-filled community in Finland to her uncle’s abandoned homestead near Blackasen Mountain, rumored to be full of evil and ancient magic. Unfortunately for the new family—who already struggle to fit in with the taciturn locals—daughters Frederika and Dorotea discover a man’s body on the mountain. While everyone assures them that it was the work of a wild animal, Frederika knows better—she sees the man’s ghost before her and he insists that she find his killer.

During this time, the church diligently purges any hint of disobedience or signs of magic. Ekback subtly ties in religious historical elements along with the trials of the king and his court, showing how these stresses manage to infiltrate even tiny enclaves miles away from the center of power in Sweden.

Themes of mother/daughter relationships and of being outsiders permeate Wolf Winter. The slowly encroaching winter adds to the bleakness while ironically forcing the area’s inhabitants to spend more time with one another. Ekback never lets Wolf Winter take the easy road, instead forcing Maija’s family to brutally, determinedly shine light on secrets during a season without sun.

Wolf Winter never feels like a light beachy read, but the gradual immersion into Maija’s world proves haunting, authentic, and, ultimately, mesmerizing.

 

 

 

Lies That Bind  by Maggie Barbieri  

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader 

Maeve Conlon grew up the daughter of a NYPD officer. She married, started a bakery, had children and divorced. Now she has teenaged children and struggles to emotionally and financially survive. With the death of father, new secrets are revealed. It appears that her parents had another daughter of which Maeve was unaware. The girl may have had developmentally handicapped. It appeared that the girl was sent to a facility that was eventually closed for its corrupt and abusive practices. Some of the residents were relocated. Others simply vanished. 

At the same time, Maeve has a mystery in the bakery and at home. Someone has broken into the business several times and innocuous items have gone missing or were vandalized. The strange events continue until Maeve finds a severed finger in a plastic bag inside the business’ refrigerator. At home, a $3000 insurance check goes missing. 

Maeve suspects her landlord of the bakery. She tries sneaking outside his house and is nearly caught. Her employee’s husband who is a detective confirms that landlord has criminal connections. All of these elements still leave her with more questions than answers. 

This is not an easy read. The story has twists and turns. Characters seem more tailored to the events and events resulting from character traits. The plot does not flow and may be dry to some readers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Winter Foundlings by Kate Rhodes

Publisher: Minotaur

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Ten year-old Ella has had a rough time of it. Both of her parents are dead and her fragile older sister needs her calming personality. Fortunately, their grandfather gives them a loving home and the three have created a safe home for their unconventional family in London. Ella’s luck runs out, though, when someone snatches her after school, leaving her grandfather in disbelief and her sister Suzanne in shambles.

Ella is one of a series of young girls who have disappeared recently in a pattern that echoes the serial murders of notorious murderer Louis Kinsella, a man who would be the primary suspect except that he’s under lock and key at a high security mental hospital. The police want to question him, but Kinsella has maintained silence for years now, requiring desperate measures.

Alice Quentin recently began working at the Northwood mental facility so that she could do research for a book. An experienced psychologist who formerly held a cushy job, she presents an outsider’s view of the loud clamor and tense security setup of the facility. The police intend for Alice’s former mentor, famous psychologist Alan Nash, to conduct the interviews with Kinsella, but Kinsella finds Alice short stature and youthful looks too intriguing.

Tucked within the hunt for a child killer and endangered children, The Winter Foundlings also includes historical elements from the Foundling Hospital, a home for orphaned children in London from the 18th century to the 19th century. While this story threads through the narrative, it never overpowers the primary thriller element, but does add depth.

The Winter Foundlings slightly echoes the formula of The Silence of the Lambs when the main female character is the only one who can effectively interview a highly cerebral serial killer about another, although Rhodes ensures that her protagonist offers a plot-changing difference.

Rhodes carefully builds up the tension during the search for the little girl while also imbuing the story with realistic, almost banal details of Alice’s daily life. Rhodes also layers elements of a police procedural with the appearance of Detective Don Burns and his partner, both of whom are desperately trying to find Ella and the other missing girls.

Ultimately, The Winter Foundlings boasts a well-developed and realistic primary character who’s trying to help in the search of a child in distress—a character who loses her own faceless anonymity-- allowing the reader to genuinely care about Alice’s attempts to break through Kinsella’s wall and save the little girl.

 

 

Finding Jake by Bryan Reardon

Publisher: William Morrow

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader 

The tragic school shootings at Columbine are still fresh in our memory.   In fact, it is hard to turn on the news any day and not hear about a senseless tragedy like this happening somewhere on the planet. 

In the wake of this author Bryan Reardon has his finger firmly on the pulse of the intense drama surrounding this type of event.  Simon and Rachel Connelly are proud parents to Jake and Laney.  They live in their own home in the suburbs and by all appearances are the normal nuclear family. 

The difference is that Rachel goes out to work each day while Simon has acted as stay-at-home dad. Simon is never sure if he's done a good job or not.  Especially with his oldest --- son Jake.  The novel jumps back and forth from Jake's birth right up to his current day life as  a high school student. 

Readers will get to watch Jake's transformation from happy young boy to a somewhat shy, distant and disillusioned teen.  He is respectful at home, but has started to shy away from sports and hanging out with the neighborhood kids he grew up with.  Instead, he has spent most of his time with Doug --- a young boy Simon has never trusted. 

One day a nightmare that no parent ever wants to experience takes place.  Simon and Rachel learn of a shooting at Jake and Laney's school that has left 13 children and the shooter dead.  The shooter, who took his own life after slaying his classmates, was Jake's friend Doug.  The problem and mystery is that Jake has disappeared.  The media has grabbed hold of the story and are running with.  With their love of sensationalism they begin to spread the rumor of a second shooter being involved and have named Jake as that accomplice. 

Now Simon and his family must deal with the media, angry neighbors and parents and a high powered attorney who is a friend of Simon's father.  All Simon cares about is finding Jake and letting him know he's not alone and that they support him.  However, in between he is battling the crushing guilt that his son may have been involved in this tragedy and that Simon may somehow be culpable with how he raised him. 

FINDING JAKE is a riveting and thrilling read that demands to be finished in one sitting.  There are surprises to be had an unexpected reactions by many of the main characters.  This is all extremely real since no one knows how to behave in a situation like this.  You would have to be extremely heartless to not shed a few tears before turning the final page of this brilliant novel.  An extremely relevant novel and examination of the world we all live in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

High Stakes by John McEvoy

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Fine Summer’s Day by Charles Todd

Publisher: William Morrow

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Devoted readers of Charles Todd’s Ian Rutledge mysteries will find a different Rutledge in A Fine Summer’s Day. Set in 1914, Rutledge has yet to enlist or to serve in the Great War that will ultimately leave him shattered and haunted by Hamish MacLeod, a Scottish highlander whose unique voice appears briefly here. 

Instead, Rutledge is working his way up the ranks of Scotland Yard, solving difficult cases and gaining enough notice to irritate a cranky superior officer. Readers see long-lasting relationships in their infancy, showing a bit of what forms the detective’s character.

In fact, Rutledge appears happy here, not a word usually reserved for his character. He thrives in his profession and has found Jean Gordon, the vivacious, high-maintenance woman he intends to marry even though he will never achieve the social status of a barrister or other position.

Even through his happiness, Rutledge undertakes a series of peculiar death investigations, several of which seem entirely unconnected and concern well-respected and even well-liked men who suddenly end their lives to the consternation of their grieving families. Criss-crossing a large geographical part of England while also attending to his superior at the Yard and lonely Jean, Rutledge feels the pressure of time constraints and duty, while the drums of war beat louder.

Through the course of the novel, Todd shows the events before, during, and after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, leading to the domino effect of European countries entering the war. Sometimes this narrative device feels a bit unwieldy, but mostly provides context to Rutledge’s own concerns and the unraveling of normal daily life in England. Readers truly see what might have been, not only for Rutledge, but for the world.

A Fine Summer’s Day feels less weighty than previous installments in the series in spite of the theme of war, but offers insight into a fascinating character’s formation and should not be missed.

 

 

 

Cain and Abe by James Grippando 

Publisher: Harper Collins 

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

Abe Beckham is a prosecutor for the State Attorney’s Office in Miami. He doesn’t visit every crime scene - even when it is murder. However, the story open with him is at a murder scene in the Florida Everglades. It is because this could be the latest victim of a serial killer labeled “Cutter” due to his use of a machete on the victims. Additionally, the bodies are dumped in sugar cane fields and ash from controlled burns is smeared on their faces.

Gradually it emerges that most of the victims are Caucasian women who have been dating African-American men. FBI agent Victoria Santos is in charge of the Cutter Task Force. Miami police detective Riddel is working on the case for his department.

When a former lover of Abe’s is murdered in a similar manner, he is looked at a possible suspect. The victim does not fit Cutter’s other victims. Then Abe’s new wife disappears after a fight. There are conflicting clues to her disappearance. Her cell phone turn up in the Everglades and a lock box is missing from their home, but other valuables are left. As her disappearance goes unsolved, the pressure on Abe increases. Santo forces Abe into a polygraph which he fails-possibly due to the wording of the questions. Now it is vital to solve the murders for the well being of the community and to save Abe.

This is a complex work. The plot creates a first rate mystery. There are sufficient twists and red herrings to keep the reader guessing to the very end.

Character development is less clear-cut. Possibly by design, the characters are inconsistent through the beginning, middle and end of the story. Whether this is a result of changes due the events or some other factor will have to be decided by the reader.

Most of the characters are not particularly likeable. Since the story is written in the first person, Abe serves as the narrator. There seems to be a little use of the character to impart clarity and understanding for the reader. Other character flaws are that Abe has a tendency to whine, blames most of his problems on others and is strangely naïve for someone in his position. 

Followers of the author and his series will probably enjoy this latest offering. Newcomers may have greater difficulty appreciating the work.

 

 

The Great Zoo Of China by Matthew Reilly

Publisher: Gallery Books

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader 

If  I could have given this book 6 stars, I would have.  Matthew Reilly's THE GREAT ZOO OF CHINA is that good!

In the Q&A at the end of the novel Reilly indicates that Michael Crichton's JURASSIC PARK is not only his favorite novel of all time but the book that inspired him most to become a writer.  It is no mystery that when reading THE GREAT ZOO OF CHINA the obvious comparisons to JURASSIC PARK will arise.

There are some significant differences between the two novels and , in my opinion, Reilly's novel is the more exciting of the two.  THE GREAT ZOO OF CHINA opens with an introduction that poses the question, "where is China's Disneyland?"  China seeks to become the preeminent super-power on the planet and constantly compare themselves to the U.S. --- who they are seeking to supplant.  One area they seek to excel at  is in becoming a global entertainment center that outdoes the U.S. Disney Theme Parks and resorts.

The Chinese government, in conjunction with an international group of scientists and engineers, has created what they call The Great Zoo of China.  At the preview to this unique attraction they have invited a group of U.S. journalists, publicists, political types and a world-famous vet/animal expert named Dr. Cassandra 'C.J.' Cameron (who has brought as her guest her randy brother, Hamish).

The visitors are impressed with the airport hanger sized entrance atrium to the zoo, but still have no idea what to expect.  The zoo appears to be operated by both scientific and socialist military personnel (ironically, a separate group of top socialist Chinese cabinet members are having their own tour).  When C.J. and her group are brought to a large amphitheater they are astounded to see a female trainer on stage, wearing a special blue-tooth headpiece, who begins to summon the zoo's primary attraction to perform for the visitors --- live dragons!

Reilly has created a fiction that is grounded in both history and folklore about the actual existence of dragons.  The Chinese in this book allege that the legends were all true and these seemingly mythical beasts have always existed on earth but have just been well hidden for centuries.  The performance shows trained dragons of different sizes and colors performing.  After the show, the zoo's tour guide explains how the dragons that they have found and populated the zoo with are kept in check.  There are electronic perimeters around the inner and outer sections of the zoo and each dragon has been implanted with an electromagnetic transmitter in their ears that allow the zoo handlers to assure their submissiveness.  The actual name of the park is then revealed as The Great Dragon Zoo of China.

Unlike the dinosaurs in JURASSIC PARK who are extremely dull-witted (with the exception of the Raptors) these dragons are highly intelligent. As the tour group begins to travel through the zoo on a cable car they quickly find themselves under surprise attack by a group of angry dragons.  The stunned and shocked Chinese realize that the dragons have scratched off their own ears in order to free themselves of any control the zoo had over them.  The dragons have an agenda of their own --- to free the largest of their kind and escape the zoo.  They also have a plan for bringing down the electronic perimeter shields and no amount of military or human response to their attacks will be able to stop them.

Like Crichton's novel, the tour of humans find themselves abandoned with little to no defenses in the middle of an artificial world now ruled by dragons (and a bunch of nasty crocodiles).  The humans are killed in horrific fashion and a small band of survivors, led by C.J. and Hamish, will have to face near impossible odds in not only getting out of the zoo alive but also stopping the dragons from breaking free and building nests all over the planet.

The action is non-stop and Reilly puts his protagonists in one extreme pitfall after another.  C.J. Cameron is one of the most resilient heroines in recent fiction and when she actually teams up with a 'nice' dragon the story really gets interesting.  It's hard to explain more without giving anything away --- I'll just say that this book will literally leave you breathless and very upset when the thrill ride ends.  Easily the  most exciting book I have read in years and I will hold out hope that someone quickly scoops up the film rights to this unique adventure story.

 

 

 

Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm

Publisher: Viking

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

The debut novel from Rebecca Scherm starts off with an interesting and now familiar premise for the thriller genre --- someone assuming a new identity to hide from their criminal past.

In the wake of the enormous success of Gillian Flynn's GONE GIRL (the least impressive of her novels, in my opinion) in 2013 we are now inundated with a flood of novels with assumed identities and characters running away from their lives.  Not surprising as we saw the same in the Historical Fiction genre following Dan Brown's THE DAVINCI CODE.

In the case of Rebecca Scherm's UNBECOMING, the protagonist is a young American woman named Grace now living in Paris under the name Julie and working in the antique business.  As expected, the past she is seeking to get away from --- in the form of the 2 guys she loved being jailed in Garland, Tennessee for a crime she planned --- is about to catch up with her.  The story jumps between past and present and sets up Grace as a torn character with a real case of the 'guilts'.

The comparisons to Patricia Highsmith are a bit premature as the character of Julie/Grace is far from a Tom Ripley.  The most interesting thing about UNBECOMING is the choice of setting --- even though you never truly understand why the clearly American character chooses to hide in a well-known metropolis like Paris, France.  This slow boil of a novel is an entertaining albeit predictable read.

 

 

The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins

Publisher: Doubleday

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

The current #1 best-seller in the nation and most wildly talked about new novel is the debut effort from London author Paula Hawkins entitled THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN.  It has already garnered much praise including comparison to the classic Alfred Hitchcock film "Rear Window".

The premise is not a new one.  A young British woman and recent divorcee, Rachel, has lost her job due to bouts of depression and excessive drinking.  She does not want her flat-mate (and landlord) Cathy to know she is unemployed.  As a result, Rachel wakes up the same time every day, dresses for work and takes the daily commuter train into London.

She spends her days kicking around London and then takes the regular train back home at the end of the business day.  Her return trip is usually accompanied by a few beers or mixed drinks purchased at the railroad station.  To pass the time, Rachel lets her imagination run away with her as she gazes out of the train window.  She has one house in particular that she likes to look at and even creates an imaginary life for the couple that lives there.

When the woman from Rachel's favorite home, named Megan, goes missing --- Rachel truly lets her imagination run wild and inserts herself directly into the situation by claiming to be a friend of Megan's.  She interacts with Megan's husband, Scott, and leads him to believe that Megan was abducted (or worse) by her psychiatrist.  Meanwhile, Scott and Megan live in the same neighborhood as Rachel's ex-husband, Tom.  Tom and his new wife Anna have welcomed a baby girl named Evie to their family.  Rachel also asserts herself into their lives --- often while heavily intoxicated --- and her harassment of them makes things very uncomfortable.

Seeing things through Rachel's eyes is unnerving, to say the least.  When she attracts the attention of local law enforcement with her allegations about Megan's disappearance it provides some especially uncomfortable moments.  The chapters of the novel are told from the perspective of Rachel, Megan and Anna (in no particular order) and the puzzle is put together a little at a time until the stunning climax.

Overall, I expected to like THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN a lot more than I did.  Similar to the experience I had reading GONE GIRL a few years back, the hype outweighs the actual product.  I also found the comparisons to "Rear Window" a little off base as Jimmy Stewart was confined to a wheelchair throughout that film and unable to physically insert himself into the people he spies on with his binoculars.  Still, THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN is a compelling and will probably make a decent film.

 

 

 

 

 

Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King

Publisher: Bantam

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader 

In the 1920s, most people know that Sherlock Holmes is a figment of Arthur Conan Doyle’s imagination and merely a remnant from the Victorian era. For those who have extra resources and a desperate need, however, Holmes is much more than that—he’s an aging detective married to Mary Russell, one of his former assistants and every bit as tenacious as he.

In  Dreaming Spies, the couple continue their Eastern adventures after the last dangerous investigation in India, with much of this mystery’s action taking place in Japan. Lord Darley, whom Holmes knows to be an experienced blackmailer, threatens the delicate position of Prince Regent Hirohito within his own realm. Because the emperor, Hirohito’s father, suffers from health problems that preclude him from governing, it’s especially important that Hirohito’s reputation remains impeccable.

Holmes and Russell find an unusual ally whose own skillset surprises them greatly. Because this third person also keeps secrets, the couple are less sure-footed than usual, leaving them to speculate more than usual. Fortunately, both are up to the task of navigating through parties filled with boisterous, carefree youth from England’s upper crust and quieter gatherings hewing strictly to Japan’s own stratus of societal roles.

King’s selection of Hirohito proves wise; the historical figure’s life spanned much of the twentieth century and included World War II, although that’s later than this book’s timeline. Still, it’s interesting to think of the emperor as a disciplined, quiet prince with so much ahead of him.

King (Touchstone) keeps readers at a careful distance, rarely letting the details of a most unusual marriage and partnership show other than those relating to their business relationship. Mary Russell’s voice continues to echo Arthur Conan Doyle’s character of Dr. Watson even as she finds excitement in being an extremely active part of the investigations.

Although the historical eras are different, devotees of Anne Perry’s William Pitt series should feel right at home with King’s long-running series. Holmes and Russell whisk readers away to an  exotic locale in an era on the brink of change, interweaving real historical figures with legendary professions, resulting in a formal, but fun chapter of the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series.

 

 

 

 

 

The Big Finish by James W. Hall 

Publisher: Minotaur Books 

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

Thorn is interesting person. On the surface, he appears to be a social outcast scratching out an existence in the Florida Keys while doing his best to remain off the grid. This façade covers a cold and calculating mind with the skills to take extreme actions when necessary.

Sugar is a retired deputy and Thorn’s best friend. Sugar is in turn scratching out an existence as a PI. Sugar’s second career is made difficult by technology. Things that people came to a PI for in the past can now be accomplished on the Internet at a fraction of the cost.

Flynn Moss is Thorn’s grown son. He has become involved with an eco terrorist group. His involvement threatens his freedom from federal authorities and his life from industrial and agricultural businesses that the group has targeted.

Thorn has lost touch with his son except for a series of postcards. The postcards depict a number of places and are connected by only thing. The places have the subject of action by the eco group.

Thorn worries about Flynn. He plans on driving to North Carolina where the last postcard mailed and find his son. Sugar agrees to drive him since Thorn hasn’t had a driver’s license in years. Sugar takes Tina, his girlfriend, along with the intention of dropping her in Jacksonville on the way.  This never happens. Cruz, a woman who identifies herself as an FBI agent who is using Flynn as an undercover informant, intercepts them. Cruz persuades Thorn that Tina is smuggling weapons and sends her off with another agent. Cruz persuades Thorn to come with her to North Carolina without Sugar.

In route, Cruz and Thorn are joined by two of her associates – Pixie and X-88. Thorn has been suspicious of Cruz all along. The other two make him more so and he plans on escaping from the group at the first opportunity. He accomplishes this and heads out on his own with the three in pursuit.

Waiting for Thorn in Pine Haven, N.C. are Webb and Laurie Dobbins. The brother and sister run the largest hog farm in the area. Webb followed in his father’s footsteps in the hog business. He had grand ambitions but not the skill or luck to succeed legitimately. So the two keep the business afloat by illegal horticulture. This is what has placed the eco-activists in danger. However with the arrival of Thorn and later Sugar, there will be a reckoning.

Hall has created a taunt and fast-paced thriller. His approach to the raising of hogs and other livestock is thoughtful. This may cause the reader to consider the inhumane treatment of animals in the name of greater efficiency and profit for the corporate giant that oversees the industry.

Character development is another matter. Sugar and Webb are both interesting characters with depth. Cruz is misguided and vengeful. She is unwilling to accept her failing as a mother and lashes out at others. Laurie and Pixie are shallow – perhaps intentionally so. X-88 is one of the most chilling villains imaginable. Thorn is an enigma. This could be intentional or there may be an assumption by Hall that readers know him from the author’s series.

The plot is clever. There are enough twists and turns to keep the reader engaged. The ending is a surprise, but be forewarned that not all stories, as with life, end happily.

 

 

The Ice Queen by Nele Neuhaus

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

The latest novel by the best-selling author of SNOW WHITE MUST DIE,  German writer Nele Neuhaus, starts off with a bang and an exciting premise.  Regrettably, it gets bogged down along the way with too many characters and plot-lines and the tension abates dramatically in place of soap opera-like events.

At the opening of THE ICE QUEEN we are met with an elderly man, recently having moved back to his home country of Germany after decades in the United States, who is soon brutally murdered in his own home.  Ninety-two-year-old Jossi Goldberg was a Holocaust survivor.  How ironic that he should escape that horror only to meet his end in such terrible fashion.

Detectives Pia Kirchoff and her boss, Oliver Bodenstein, are on the case and they uncover some remarkable things at the crime scene.  First off, nothing was taken and there is no evidence of forced entry.  There is also the series of numbers scrawled in blood on the floor near the body.  When additional bodies turn up, all featuring the same gruesome message written in blood, Pia and Oliver realize the murders are all related.

What their investigation turns up is something decidedly unexpected.  When the son of the first victim arrives with a caravan of lawyers to whisk away his father's body there is suspicion that they are seeking to hide something.  Imagine that the victims were not all Holocaust survivors but actually members of the Nazi regime --- possibly even members of the SS?!?!

This plot twist is indeed an interesting one and plays into the moral and social conscience of the entire country of Germany still seeking to escape from the atrocities committed during WWII.  When it appears that a rich and powerful German socialite may be behind the murders, the so-called Ice Queen of the novel's title, all focus of the investigation shift to her and her family and how they all interconnect with the victims.

It is at this point where the novel runs slightly off the rails as so many new characters and plot-lines are introduced you will need a scorecard to keep everything straight.  This diminishes the intensity that the opening of the novel promised and was a disappointment.  Thankfully, Neuhaus begins to bring it back around in the latter part of the story and is able to throw a few surprises in as well.

Overall, a unique plot and interesting idea for a thriller that falls just shy of being a great novel.  The interaction between Pia and Oliver is believable and well-drawn and this is enough to keep the reader interested even when the mystery elements get a bit muddled.

 

 

 

 

River of No Return by David Riley Bersch  

Publisher: Scribner

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader 

Jake Trent was a lawyer who moved on to work as an investigator for the Department of Justice. He abandoned the intrigue of the investigator’s position for the life of a fishing guide in Wyoming.

When Divya Navaysam, former law school classmate and former lover, invites Jake to Washington he is curious. Jake is subjected to a series of meetings and cocktail parties focusing on a Senator’s interest in tracking devices that could control subjects and even kill. Divya resorts to seduction when Jake declines the chance to participate in what appears to be a well financed and well organized Washington lobby. Jake chooses to go back to Wyoming.

Jake’s best friend J.P. has been frantically trying to reach him. Esma, J.P.’s girlfriend, has disappeared on her way back to Wyoming. Through technology and favors by associates from his DOJ days, Jake and J.P are able to locate Esma. After a bloody gun battle with her kidnappers, they are able to free her.

Divya is not a lobbyist. She is a federal agent operating out of Langley, VA. She has been tasked with investigating the tracking devices and their connection to a rumored Chinese operation with similar goals. She intends to complete her assignment even if resorting to blackmailing Jake is necessary.

Jackson Wyoming Police Chief Roger Terrell and his wife Charlotte have been given a free trip to a new Chinese resort with a Western frontier theme. Ostensibly, the purpose of their trip is raise funds for a renovation of the Jackson airport. A powerful Chinese businessman has a sinister purpose in mind.

Xiao is the Chinese businessman who holds Roger and Charlotte hostage in a game of international blackmail and intrigue. His stated purpose is to get his estranged daughter back from the U.S. In reality, he has a darker motive.

How do all of these apparently disconnected events relate? Finding that answer is the pleasure of reading this novel of international intrigue and mystery. The plot moves along briskly and is split between introducing new events and characters and tying together the previous ones. 

Bertsch has done an excellent job with plot and settings. The good guys are not so pure as sometimes the ends justify the means. Xiao is a master villain worthy of a James Bond novel. Jake makes an excellent instrument to connect the events. J.P. serves as comic relief in what could be a serious and troubling scenario. This is an enjoyable read, although the twists and complexity will require the reader’s full attention.

 

 

 

 

Fear the Darkness by Becky Masterman

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

Becky Masterman stormed on to the crime thriller front with her stunning first novel in the FBI Agent Brigid Quinn series entitled RAGE AGAINST THE DYING.  That effort found her showered in accolades that included an Edgar nomination for Best First Novel as well as a slew of other awards.

What was surprisingly the most talked about feature of her debut novel was the fact that the lead character was a 'mature' woman.  Mind you, Brigid Quinn is miles away from Miss Marple or the elderly detective you might find in a British tea cozy mystery.  She is bad-ass and pulls no punches (and I find her late-50's age being far from 'mature' or elderly).

The second novel in this series, FEAR THE DARKNESS, is not nearly as dark as RAGE but once again pits the retired Brigid Quinn --- a dinosaur by FBI standards in her late 50's --- against an unknown killer.  She is at first overwhelmed with taking in her niece, Gemma-Kate, who recently lost her mother.  Set in Arizona, Quinn and her husband must deal with not only acclimating Gemma-Kate from her Florida environment but also deal with her rebellious and sometimes dangerous personality.

Quinn tasks herself with helping a local couple investigate the death of their son in what may have been a hate crime.  Needless to say, the people Quinn and her husband thought they knew may end up surprising them as we never realize how little we actually know about the people we share a community with.  It is probably more horrifying when the killer or criminal you are chasing turns out to be someone from your own metaphorical back-yard then a nameless/faceless serial killer.

Though far from the edginess created by the terrific RAGE AGAINST THE DYING, FEAR THE DARKNESS is an interesting read and Becky Masterman proves herself to be a thriller writer to be reckoned with.  The characters are well drawn and you will find yourself rooting for Quinn as she continues to get into deadly situations that put herself and her family in harm's way.

 

 

 

 

Die Again by Tess Gerritsen

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

Those readers who are regular viewers of the hit TNT series "Rizzoli and Isles" are in for a rude awakening.  While that is a solid and well-acted television show it comes nowhere near the intensity of the source novels by Tess Gerritsen.  Never has this been more apparent than with the release of DIE AGAIN.

DIE AGAIN does not read like your typical R & I novel.  Although there is a Boston-based series of brutal murders within the novel it is the parallel narrative that truly drives the plot.  That story-line is set four years earlier in the deadly jungles of Botswana, Africa.

A British woman named Millie Jacobsen and her author husband are members of an ill-fated safari along the Okavango Delta.  I use the term ill-fated because, allegedly, Millie is the only person to survive that safari.  When members of the safari begin to die in mysterious ways all attention is focused on the safari leader, a man named Johnny Posthumus.  Posthumus is the only one who knows the terrain and has the skill-set and weapons to pick off members of his safari one by one.  The question is, why?

An attempt to overpower Posthumus goes awry and Millie flees into the African jungle.  Defying all odds, she steps out of the jungle two weeks later alive but changed forever.  Quite frankly, Millie Jacobsen no longer exists and what is left is a frightened shell of a women who will never again have a peaceful night's rest.

Jumping to Boston, Detective Jane Rizzoli and Medical Examiner Laura Isles are dealing with the brutal and vicious murder of a local taxidermist.  The victim was killed in true hunter fashion and gutted before being strewn upside down in his own home.  It seems like the latest case he was working on --- the stuffing of the late Boston Zoo snow leopard known as Kovo --- may have prompted the murder.  The pelt from a snow leopard is quite lucrative on the black market and may provide the motive for the murder.

When another victim is found killed in the same fashion, Rizzoli and Isles recognize that they may be dealing with a brutal serial killer --- one who has killed like this before across several states. Further investigation finds a link to the safari that Millie Jacobsen was on and, being the only survivor, her help may be needed in identifying the killer in Boston.

What transpires next is particularly chilling as Jane Rizzoli flies to Millie's new home in South Africa to try to convince her to come back with her to Boston and help out in the case.  Even though she is successful in this persuasion, the promises keeping Millie safe while in Boston will be nearly impossible as Rizzoli may have just played directly into the game plan of a strategic and brutal killer.

DIE AGAIN is impossible to put down and could easily have been two novels.  Had Tess Gerritsen decided to do a story just on the safari story-line it would have been a great stand-alone novel.  Combining this plot within a Rizzoli and Isles case is pure genius and the result is perhaps the finest novel in the series to date!

 

 

 

 

The Bishop’s Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison

Publisher: Soho Crime

Reviewed by Robin Thomas, New Mystery Reader

A Mormon Bishop’s wife has numerous duties that are expected of her but amateur sleuth is not on the list.  Linda Wallheim is a devoted wife and mother, she embraces her additional duties due to her husband’s position without complaint.  She recognizes that she is facing a “crossroad” in her life as her last son enters his senior year in high school and will soon be leaving for college. She wonders what the future will be like since her focus for so many years has been concentrated on raising her sons.  As she goes about her duties as the “Bishop’s wife” Linda stumbles into not one but two unsolved murders.

The first is a cold case that comes back to life as one of the members of her husband’s ward faces death. The other case starts when a frantic husband comes to visit her husband distraught because his wife has left him.  In the process of offering her assistance to the two families it becomes clear to Linda that something is not right and despite her husband’s cautions to not get involved, Linda cannot help herself and she becomes deeply entwined in both of the cases. Painful memories of a tragic event that occurred early in her marriage come to the surface and propel Linda to seek answers to what really happened in both cases. Unbeknownst to her, Linda is also putting her own life in jeopardy.

It is hard to really categorize The Bishop’s Wife as a mystery because the whodunit is a secondary plot and the life challenges that Linda faces in addition to the detailed immersion into the practices of the Mormon Church play a greater role in the book.  Linda struggles with the realization that her identity has been defined by her role as mother and as her youngest prepares for college she knows that things will be changing but she has no idea what to do to fill the void.  She has been thrust into the role of caring for the families in her husband’s ward and is forced to deal with some of the darker issues of the Church. 

The author does an excellent job of fully developing Linda as a loving wife and mother who struggles with her faith. The author, who is Mormon, immerses the reader in the life of the Church. Through Linda, the author emphasizes the challenges that Mormon women face as she exposes the reader to the darker side of the faith.  The two murder cases themselves are predictable and are primarily the catalyst to learning more about Linda and the Mormon culture.  The book will interest those readers who wish to learn more about the Mormon faith from a woman’s perspective. This novel is also a cozy mystery but the whodunit is not the strong aspect of the story.

 

 

 

Flesh And Blood by Patricia Cornwell

Publisher: William Morrow

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

Kay Scarpetta and her husband, FBI profiler Benton Wesley, are planning for a vacation to sunny Miami where they hope to enjoy some fun, sun, scuba diving, great food and much needed relaxation.  Then, while cooking on their backyard BBQ, Kay spies something shiny on the brick wall surrounding their yard.  It turns out to be 7 shiny copper pennies all dated 1981 and each facing up. Coincidence or foretelling of something more sinister?

Next, Detective Pete Marino calls Kay at her Cambridge, Massachusetts home to make her aware of a murder just five miles away from her.  The victim was a high school music teacher shot while unloading groceries from his car.  When other seemingly unrelated victims turn up under similar circumstances whispers of a serial sniper begin.  There goes Kay Scarpetta's vacation!

FLESH AND BLOOD is the 22nd novel in the Dr. Kay Scarpetta series and has what readers have come to expect --- cutting edge forensics, deftly plotted mysteries and intricate descriptions of fine food.  It was author Patricia Cornwell who put forensic science on the literary map.  This is a genre now over-populated with CSI shows and authors like Kathy Reichs and Tess Gerritsen --- each of  whom have seen successful TV shows of their books with the "Bones" and "Rizzoli and Isles" series. 

They all have Patricia Cornwell to thank, in some way, for their success.  Televised autopsies didn't exist until she described a cold morgue examining table and how blood splatter patterns tell a story.  With 22 novels under her belt, fans like myself who have been there from the beginning have literally seen these characters grow up.  Lucy, Dr. Kay Scarpetta's niece, was born and grew up in the these novels.  She is now a young woman, proudly leading an alternate lifestyle, who is a technology whiz and a great help to her Aunt Kay.

FLESH AND BLOOD hits hard and takes on current and relevant subjects like the anti-Jihad sentiment in the Boston area in the wake of the Boston Marathon tragedy.  As Chief Medical Examiner for the state of Massachusetts, Scarpetta and her team are vital in helping uncover the clues that might be able to stop a serial sniper with a deadly agenda. 

Having read all of her books I found Patricia Cornwell getting a little mundane a few years back and hoped she had not lost her steam or forgotten what made this series such a success.  Sustaining interest and coming up with exciting storylines through twenty-two novels is a challenge.  I am proud to say Cornwell is up to the task as FLESH AND BLOOD proves to be an exhilarating and suspenseful read.  Perhaps a TV series featuring Dr. Kay Scarpetta is to follow?

 

 

 

 

Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman by Tessa Arlen

Publisher: Minotaur

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

In a Downton Abbey-styled world of opulence, strict social conventions and meticulously planned social events, Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman opens up both the proper, well-heeled “Upstairs” and the servants’ gossip-filled “Downstairs” to readers during the course of the mystery.

Lady Clementine Montfort took great pains to ensure that her annual summer costume ball at her country estate will be the talk of society, sparing no servant and little expense. All of her friends attended, including a handful who are staying at the estate for a few days. Unfortunately, the end of the ball also means the end of young Teddy, Lord Montfort’s errant nephew, whose body appears in a rather unexpected, unappetizing place that also happens to be well off the beaten path.

The ball’s glowing success pales in comparison to the murder’s aftermath, with plenty of awkwardness and required extended visits, both of which reveal interesting effects not only on the Upstairs contingent, but also on the Downstairs staff. This dual approach adds depth to a genre well-claimed by Agatha Christie.

Lady Montfort’s friends, while not especially developed, contribute to the paranoia and increase the stifling atmosphere felt by all, revealing much more to Lady Montfort than she ever expected to learn at her superficial triumphant event intended to be all about sumptuousness, glorious attire and Cook Thwaite’s magnificent food.

While the local and competent Mr. Valentine investigates the murder, Lady Montfort decides to take matters into her own hands. Relying on her lady’s maid, Mrs. Jackson, to suss out information unattainable by the upper class, she and Mrs. Jackson form an unlikely criminal investigation duo, forcing each to reappraise each other as well as the societal constraints under which they both comfortably lived before.

Tessa Arlen offers an interesting take on the early 20th century upper class mystery, especially with the exploration of the relationship between Lady Montfort and her prim but resourceful lady’s maid, Mrs. Jackson. Lady Montford’s friend, Gertrude, or Lady Waterford, also offers a hint of a formidable nature that could well serve future investigations.

As a debut novel, Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman is a solidly plotted, well-written effort and shows promise to become an enjoyable historical mystery series if events conspire to put more bodies in the way of Lady Montfort and Mrs. Jackson.

 

 

 

 

The Skeleton Road by Val McDermid

Publisher: Little, Brown

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

The Balkan Wars of the 1990's --- also labeled the Yugoslav Wars --- took place over a period of 8 years and featured a battle for the ethnic identity of the territory formally known as Yugoslavia.  It involved specific battle between Serbs and Albanians. Like all wars, there were moments of deep horror and war crimes that left scars not easily healed over time.

This conflict is at the heart of Val McDermid's latest novel, THE SKELETON ROAD.  A stand-alone novel that starts out as a simple cold case murder and develops into something much deeper.  In Edinburgh, Scotland, DCI Karen Pirie catches the case that involves a group of bones discovered atop a crumbling, gothic building.

The old building was about to be torn down and converted into luxury flats when the bones are discovered.  Initially, the thought was that the bones must belong to a thrill-seeker who was participating in the high-rise scaling of abandoned buildings.  Pirie can only hope it is something so easily explained as the death of a foolish daredevil.  Unfortunately, further examination traces the origin of the bones to as far away as Yugoslavia.

Pirie insists on seeing this cold case closed and finds herself traveling to a small village in Croatia to physically unearth further remains that will help her identify why foreign bones were found in her Scottish town.  She will get more than she bargained for as she comes up against a nation of people who have endured terrible horrors in their lifetime and the mysterious death of one person is not taken as seriously as Pirie would like it to be.

War crimes are at the center of this mystery and DCI Pirie will quickly learn that there are many different types of justice administered in this world and what she is now involved in does not at all resemble her own experience with it.  THE SKELETON ROAD is a very serious novel and moves quickly away from mystery into political and social commentary.  McDermid is a terrific writer and I respect the statement she is making with this novel --- I just didn't find myself nearly as interested as I've been in her terrific prior work (particularly the Tony Hill series).