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Stuff to Spy For by Don Bruns
Publisher: Oceanview Publishing ISBN: 978-1-933515-22-9
Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader
A fun read from talented author Don Bruns about the adventures of Skip Moore and his pal James Lessor when they get involved with former schoolmate Sarah Crumbly who proves to be something other than she says.
Skip is merely supposed to sell a security system to the company Sarah works for but finds he has opened a can of worms when complications get out of hand. Not only is he selling security but he has some romantic problems of an unusual sort, and death takes a hand in the story.
Nothing is as it seems to be and that makes for an interesting adventure for the reader as well as the characters. You’ll have no trouble following all that is going on, however, and will enjoy the tale. This author writes with a good deal of understanding of how people are influenced by friends and the promise of money.
I’m pleased to recommend this story to any reader as a very satisfying read who is looking for some laughs along the way. A fun blend of comedy, satire, and mystery filled with witty complications to be enjoyed that add up to a good time had by all.
Kindred in Death by J D Robb
Publisher: Publisher: Putnam Adult ISBN-10: 0399155953
Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader
This is the 29th outing for J D Robb’s gutsy future fiction cop, Eve Dallas. This time the victim is the teenaged daughter of a senior police officer. In contract to the previous two books in the series, which had considerable depth of character development and somewhat less focus on the minutiae of cruel torture murders, “Kindred” returns to Robb’s older template. The murderer is pitiless and horribly dedicated to his craft; so much so that I had to skip several pages.
That’s not to say this is a bad book, but it is about very bad people, and I found the foundation for the murders just a bit hard to accept, perhaps because there wasn’t quite enough groundwork laid to establish the motivation of the person behind the crimes. Robb eases the ghastliness somewhat by giving us insight into the parallel lives of the killer and Eve Dallas herself. Whereas the killer was warped past redemption by his unnatural nurture, Eve survived and grew; showing that even in the dingiest alley a thin flower of hope can flourish, given a tiny chance.
All the usual supporting cast is here, from the impossibly rich and handsome Roarke to the faithful Peabody; and Summerset the butler, who has more reason than most to empathise with the victims’ families. Morris the medical examiner is back at work after suffering his own tragic loss by the murder of his partner, and keen to help Eve bring this new monster to justice.
Leavening the gloom brought by the murder of innocent girls is the preparation for the wedding of Charles and Louise, which is to take place at Eve and Roarke’s palatial home—if Eve can close the case and clear the way to be Matron of Honour. (Eve thinks she’d rather face a killer than Trina, cosmetologist extraordinaire, with her pots of goop and hair tongs.)
As long as there are evil people and mass media, J D Robb isn’t likely to run out of plots. This isn’t a cosy read by any stretch, but it is involving and complex and for those in the Northern Hemisphere, will take the mind off the two feet of partly cloudy piling up in the driveway.
The Murdered House by Pierre Magnan
Publisher: Minotaur ISBN-10: 0312367201
Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader
The Murdered House bears a cryptic title that proves truthful in multiple ways. Set in France, it begins in 1896 with the horrific slaughter of a fairly well-to-do family with the last name of Monge. The only survivor was an 18 day-old baby left bawling in its crib with no one left to care for it.
Flashing forward to 1919, angel-faced Seraphin Monge has returned from the front of World War I which has further hardened him to life’s difficulties. As the orphan left by the tragedy, he was raised by the uncharitable Sisters of Charity and suffered ostracization by the village families who did not wish his bad luck to rub off on them.
Although Seraphin has no knowledge of the events which orphaned him, his ignorance is cured by a well-meaning fellow roadworker who arrived at the house soon after the murders and the revelation that the unsellable sturdy stone and wood house now belongs to him. Once Seraphin understands what happened, he becomes haunted by the image of his mother with her blue eyes and need for vengeance. Once the dam has broken, more revelations occur with conflicting information but enough to show Seraphin what he must do to quell his mother’s need.
Witnesses to his work on the house include a fellow war survivor named Patrice, whose family’s immense wealth cannot repair his extreme facial disfigurement, and two lovely young women who proclaim themselves in love with the blond Seraphin and begin a violent rivalry to win his affections.
Translated from Magnan’s French version, there are a few awkward sentences that could have been smoothed out in editing but the majority of the text uses simply stated sentences and well-described visual details to great effect. The original book won France’s Best Novel of the Year award and the slow peeling of layers without ever taking the easy way shows why the novel was so well-received.
Because of the subject matter and the resolutely stoic nature of Seraphin, The Murdered House can be a more difficult read than many popular examples of historic fiction. There are no cuddly housekeepers or cheerful moppets here—just the relentless quest to find the truth.
Slammer by Allan Guthrie
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt ISBN-10: 0151012954
Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader
Describing Allan Guthrie’s Slammer is no small task. This is partly because almost anything that gets said runs the risk of becoming a spoiler. Another reason, in the words of Paul Newman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, is I don’t know where we’ve been and I’ve just been there.
Nick Glass is a guard at a maximum security Scottish prison referred to as The Hilton. He’s married to Lorna, and they have a six-year-old daughter, Caitlin. Nick’s in over his head. He doesn’t like his job, and it doesn’t like him. The prisoners are only slightly more unfriendly than his peers.
Sensing weakness, a con named Caesar asks Glass to smuggle drugs into the prison for him. Refusal isn’t an option, as one of Caesar’s associates on the outside already has a line on Lorna and Caitlin. No one is safe if Glass doesn’t come across. This can’t end well, and it doesn’t. Guthrie is too smart to let the obvious things happen. As time goes on, being a drug mule for convicts is the least of Nick’s concerns.
Nick’s greatest problem is Nick. First, he’s a bit of a wanker, able to plan for what he’d like to do, never quite willing to go through with it, or to have an idea of what to do when he makes a mess of Plan A. He goes to the police with an initial complaint about threats to his wife, but not the reason she’s been threatened. Since nothing has actually happened, they can’t help him. When he does have something they might be able to use—such as the time and location of the drug drop—Nick has what he thinks is a better plan. This is where things really start to go south.
Slammer is not a book to be read with one eye on the television. Events are seen through Nick’s eyes, and Nick will never be confused with Billy Graham as the personification of reliability. Not the strongest tree in the forest to start with, he’s overstressed, and the drug cocktails he uses to deal with that stress don’t help. By the end of the book he’s not sure who’s done what, or even of what exactly has happened, and neither is the reader.
A book like this could become an indecipherable mess. Guthrie uses considerable skill to keep things mostly decipherable, at least where it’s important for it to be. A reader who’s paying attention won’t feel cheated by what’s learned as the layers of Nick’s psyche are peeled back. Everything you need to know to make sense of it was given to you. It just didn’t seem important at the time. Maybe the context changed. Or it struck you as odd at the time, but you don’t know why until ten seconds after the key reveal and you’re shaking your head, thinking, “Oh, my God.”
The writing is tight and reads quickly. Guthrie uses this as a form of misdirection, letting the eye roam quickly through the short sentences and paragraphs so the mind doesn’t dwell on things until he’s ready for you to do so. The dialog is spot on, and his bad guys are realistic. Not evil incarnate, neither do they display uncharacteristic hearts of gold at opportune moments.
The virtues of Slammer take some patience to get to. It can be frustrating early on when Nick doesn’t go to the police when any rational person would. At first it feels like a plot device; as the story goes on, you realize exactly how rational Nick isn’t. Aside from the innocent child, there also aren’t any particularly sympathetic characters early on. The characters don’t get a lot more sympathetic, but your empathy for them will grow as more is revealed.
A lot else could be said about Slammer, but it’s risky. Describing the events, and Nick’s perception of them, would ruin their effectiveness. It’s a quick but unsettling read, its noir psychiatric more than psychological, different in many ways from anything else you’ll read this year. That alone would be reason enough to pick it up; the fact that it’s so well executed is gravy.
Wyatt’s Revenge by H Terrell Griffin
Publisher: Oceanview Publishing ISBN 978 1 93355 53 3
Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader
Laurence Wyatt wasn’t only one of Matt Royal’s closest friends, he was also his mentor and teacher: the man who helped a very young Green Beret learn how to stay alive in the fetid swamps of Viet Nam, and how to be a man of honour in the dangerous world of the 20th century.
Wyatt’s senseless murder hits Matt hard, and the only way he knows how to treat the pain is to make sure the people responsible for Wyatt’s death are brought to justice. Finding the hitman isn’t all that hard; Matt does it quickly, and dispatches him in an almost casual shoot-out in the gunman’s apartment. Afterwards, his conscience gnaws at him, but not enough to stop him backtracking from the gunman to the people who hired him.
That should be the end of it, but it isn’t: there are people behind the people, and Wyatt’s murder begins to be seen as part of a much larger, darker picture. Matt’s going to have to leave Longboat Key in balmy Florida and go to cold, dangerous Germany to find out what’s under the next layer of the onion. Fortunately he’s got some tried and true friends, the sort who are good to have with you when you find yourself in the same room with a bad guy or three, whether they’re dead or alive. (As with other Longboat Key adventures, you have to swallow the premise that Matt has near supernatural survival skills, and that his friend Jock works for a secret organisation that can make corpses vanish. These days that’s not that hard to imagine.)
Along the way, Matt collects a female sidekick, the beautiful and talented Jessica Connor. He doesn’t want her getting involved with the case, but she’s angry at being shot at and determined to help Matt get to the bottom of what now seems to be an international plot with serious ramifications for the future safety and security of the USA. Matt finds out the truth of what he’s suspected all along: there’s sometimes a difference between what the law can do and what justice demands to be done. Is revenge ever justified? That’s something to ponder when the shooting stops.
This is the second book in a month I’ve reviewed that combines a Holocaust treasure, old Nazis and new terrorists; it makes for an intriguing and scary mix.
The Mirror and the Mask by Ellen Hart
Publisher: Minotaur Books ISBN-10: 0312375271
Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader
When Minneapolis restaurant owner Jane Lawless takes pity on Annie Archer, a young woman passing through town looking for some work, she has no idea that her simple act of kindness in having the woman do some odd jobs around the restaurant will result in a tailspin of mystery and menace.
Admittedly, Jane finds the woman more than attractive, and while still recovering from her recent break-up with her last girlfriend, she’s more than vulnerable to the mysterious woman’s needful quest in finding her long missing step-father But when after putting her well-honed amateur detecting skills to work and finding the man in question, she’s quick to realize that her discovery has led to more questions than answers - the most disturbing being those surrounding the lies Annie has told about her past. But even the loudest alarm bells ringing fail to deter Jane from finding the truth about not only the man she’s successfully tracked down, but more importantly, the woman whose search for him seems riddled with dangerous motives.
As a fan of the Jane Lawless series, I’ll be the first to admit that her last couple of outings left a bit to be desired. But, I’ll also be the first to admit that she more than makes up for that in this latest. Fans will quickly note the departure she takes in this new novel, with her shift in focus straying from her usual cast of main characters to highlight those the story is actually about, with much of the book centering on their background stories and the personal motivations that lie at the heart of the mystery. And by doing so, she takes what could have been just another outing of one-of-the-same and turns it into a beguiling and highly gratifying story.
Of course, the cast we’ve grown to love is still here, but their voices are dimmer and relegated to the background, allowing those who really have the story to tell, to tell it, which in this case was a good move on Hart’s part. This is the perfect time for those unfamiliar with the series to join in, as well as for those already familiar to regain their delight in a series that now proves it still has plenty of meat left on its bones.