November Hardcover Mysteries
 

 

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The Extinguished Guest by Jeanne Glidewell

Publisher: Five Star/Gale Cengage

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

It’s very flattering to have your new beau name his beautifully-restored Victorian inn after you, but somehow Lexie Starr didn’t expect this honour would come along with a murder.

Lexie’s boyfriend Stone van Patten, a jeweller, hoped that his new venture would be well-launched by having the local historical society hold the dinner celebrating the induction of their new president at the inn.  And it would have been fine if someone hadn’t shot Horatio Prescott III on the morning of the big event.

The police want to question everybody, and Lexie decides (in the best malice domestic tradition) that they probably need her help to solve the crime.  Like all strong-jawed heroes, Stone doesn’t want Lexie getting into danger with her snooping—and we’re off and running!

Almost everyone in Rockdale has a motive for killing Prescott: he was a thoroughly objectionable man who bullied his way through life and won’t be missed by anyone.  The police will have a job to sort through the pile of suspects; meanwhile said suspects are staying on at the Alexandria Inn making life hard for Stone, Lexie and their staff.  From Cornelius Walker (“Horny Corny”) to the grossly overweight Patty Poffenberger, these are guests who need special care and close scrutiny, for among them, Lexie is sure, is the killer.

The police quickly arrest a suspect, a man whose alibi proves easy to break, but luckily for him Lexie just as quickly learns why the alibi broke and manages to glue it back together.  Her snooping continues, and before long, Lexie is in a life-or-death situation in which her only salvation may prove to be lemonade.

Wonder how that fits into the plot? Buy the book.  Another amusing read from Five Star/Gale.

 

 

Dead Man’s Chest by Kerry Greenwood

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Thanks to Poisoned Pen Press, American readers no longer have to wait for friends to return from trips to Australia to get the latest Kerry Greenwood book.   Dead Man’s Chest is the 18th outing for the fierce and funny Phryne Fisher, one of the most intriguing heroines of modern crime fiction.

Permanently fixed in 1928, The Hon. Phryne works as a private investigator in Melbourne when the mood takes her, but in the new book she’s on holiday, and expecting no problems that expensive skin cream can’t address.  All that changes the minute the big Hispano-Suiza pulls up at the rented holiday house: the back door is open, the servants are gone, and the larder is bare.

With the aid of her faithful maid Dot and her adopted daughters Ruth and Jane, Phryne makes do, but the mystery of what happened to the butler and cook niggles away at her.  When their small dog turns up much the worse for wear, she begins to suspect a serious crime has happened.  There’s also another mystery: who is the slasher who’s going around hacking off the long braids of unsuspecting local girls? 

The holiday house has some very peculiar neighbours: one household is comprised of a group of surrealists who wander around saying obscure things, and have parrots or stuffed hyenas for pets.  Another neighbour is a matron who drinks rather more than is good for her while trying to cope ineffectually with her own teenage son and his two unsavoury friends.  The local doctor has an unpleasant ancient relative as a houseguest and finds it hard to be sad when she suddenly dies.  And then there’s the moving company which moves many items that the folks at Customs and Excise would probably like to know about.

With her usual cool dispatch, Phryne sets about sorting out the pranks from the crimes and then bringing appropriate retribution to all, with the aid of Dot’s visiting fiancé, Detective Hugh Collins.  Along the way she rescues several half-starved Irish children and a prematurely aged spinster.

If you enjoy a really well-written story with a good plot, one in which the historical background is solid but not intrusive, and whose heroine is totally capable as well as thoroughly feminine, this one’s for you.   As well as the story, you’ll get the bonus of a few recipes of the time including “Impossible Pie”.  (For more about Kerry Greenwood, see the NMR Author Interview for February 2010.)

 

 

 

Indulgence In Death by J D Robb

Publisher: G P Putnam & Sons

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Everybody’s favourite future-fiction detective is having a brief holiday.   Eve Dallas and her fabulously rich husband Roarke are visiting his aunt Sinead and dozens of cousins in the west of Ireland.   Eve barely holds her fear of cows in check during the visit, and wonders to herself about a possible farm animal uprising.  The brilliant flowers of the fuchsia hedge remind her of blood spatter.   The country isn’t her natural milieu, but fortunately Eve finds a friend in young Sean, who’s fascinated with crime and police work and who manages to find her a local crime to solve to keep in practice.

The holiday is soon over and Eve’s back on the mean streets of mid-twenty-first-century New York, where a cross-bow murder is followed by another old weapon killing and yet another.  The dead people have no apparent connection with each other, but some inspired digging soon throws up a tenuous link—however, the likely suspects always have rock-solid alibis. 

Readers who know Eve Dallas will know that there’s no such thing in her book as a solid alibi, and those that look so only increase her suspicions.  With the aid of the Electronic Detective Division, Roarke, and her usual gang of detectives, Eve begins to dissect the crimes with all the care of ME Morris at a post mortem.  Morris himself turns up in the story, slowly overcoming the grief from his fiancée’s murder, and finding in work something to revive his interest in life. 

Other than the first few chapters in Ireland, this Dallas adventure is tightly focussed on New York and the cop shop.  There are no side trips to the Olympus Resort, no episodes with Trina the mad hairdresser, and only a few mild verbal scuffles between Eve and Roarke’s major domo Summerset.   Even Nadine Furst, ace reporter, is sidelined in this story: it’s all about cop and crime, and the difficulty of working in a system that defers to the rich and powerful.

As the motivation for the murders becomes clearer, so does the inevitability of the ultimate target: Eve herself.  Will she become a trophy on a killer’s wall before she finds a way to break the unbreakable alibis? 

As always, a rousing good read from J D Robb.

 

 

The Severance by Elliott Sawyer

Publisher: Bridge Works Publishing

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

The dream of every soldier in a hot war is to get home alive. If you can get home alive with a bag of money, so much the better.

Captain Jake Roberts and his band of misfits are stuck in Afghanistan.  No matter how many high flown and noble phrases the Commander in Chief may fling about, they know what their main purpose is: to survive, preferably uninjured, until their tour is done.  They’ve almost made it when a brand-new captain who just arrived in the country gets them into a bloody mess—literally—and it takes a lot of  dangerous effort to rescue him and get back to safety.  To accomplish this, Jake has to bend and twist some rules, and of course he gets hauled over the coals by the higher ups later.  

All that keeps Jake going some days is the knowledge that he has a Severance Package awaiting him.  This is in the form of a couple of gym bags of cold cash that Jake and his team discovered in the vehicle of someone they had to shoot, someone who was apparently a crooked contractor on the way to stashing the cash for himself, so they figure he’s not much of a loss.

Jake’s unit is made up of soldiers who have screwed up badly, and been given a last chance in the Kodiak Platoon.  Jake himself has done some things the Army didn’t find appropriate, so he seemed the logical man to put in charge.  Jake thinks his men have been dealt an unfair hand, and mostly he trusts them—but having possession of millions of dollars is a hard secret to keep, and there’s always the chance there’s a rat in the barracks.

The brass has second thoughts later: here’s a ready-made band of heroes to provide some good publicity, so after chewing out Jake, they decide to pin medals on everyone.  While he’s waiting for this to happen, Jake tries to gently sever relations with an Army nurse, but she turns nasty and threatens to tell his wife about their fling.  How’s he going to get out of this?  Then worse happens: the rat in the barracks turns out to be a government spy, and everything Jake and the boys have worked for looks like going down the S-bend. 

Sawyer gathers up all the slippery threads of his story in the last chapter and braids them into a rope that could be either a noose or the rip-cord of a golden parachute—read the book to find out which.

 

 

 

 

Peril at Somner House by Joanna Challis

Publisher: Minotaur

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader 

Daphne du Maurier captured readers (and later, movie-going audiences) with textured, sumptuous suspense stories such as Rebecca, inspiring author Joanna Challis to reimagine the great writer as a character in her own British period mystery.

As a young well-bred woman, Daphne is used to mansions, plentiful food, and entertainment, all of which she mines for inspiration for her short stories and future novel ideas.  Her rather independent sister has nervously convinced her to spend part of the winter on a sparsely populated island near Cornwall even while promising new experiences for the young writer.  Intrigued by a new, unknown location and by the strange behavior of her sister, Daphne quickly agrees to forgo London for a brief visit.

The du Maurier sisters temporarily move into the dilapidated mansion owned by wild-eyed Lord Trevalyan and his beautiful if sad wife, Lady Trevalyan, both of whom quickly dispense with formality and urge Daphne to explore the island.  The couple has invited several friends, artists and other guests to help provide entertainment and wit, occasionally joined by Lord Trevalyan’s quiet younger brother who lives in a decaying tower on the estate.  Punctuated by vignettes of realistic upper-class pursuits, Peril at Somner House sets the scene for an unexpected turn of events leading to murder and wild accusations instead of celebrations.

Lord Trevalyan’s gambling and drug excesses have earned him plenty of enemies and when his body is found on the beach, the lonely local constable has an excess of suspects and plenty of trepidation about dealing with the crime, leaving the holiday guests to investigate on their own.  Accompanied by the witty and daring Sir Marcus, Daphne leaves her melancholy sister and the new widow to discover more about their fellow visitors and the isolated local island people even as her own romantic possibilities are suddenly revealed.  In fact, Daphne learns much more about family secrets—both the Trevalyans’ and new knowledge about her own.

Fans of Jacqueline Winspear and Charles Todd will enjoy Challis’ take on an era in which closely guarded fantasies of the elite begin to splinter against the swell of significant social and economic changes taking place.  While the young character of Daphne sometimes seems surprisingly naïve for the great writer, Challis points out that imagined adventures such as Peril at Somner House would do much to help Daphne shape her future work while opening her mind to the darker possibilities.  Challis’ intriguing portrayal should inspire readers not only to enjoy this book but also to rediscover du Maurier’s captivating and secretive stories.

 

 

 

 

 

Outwitting Trolls by William G. Tapply

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

In his last outing before his death in 2009, Tapply one final time gives readers another solid outing featuring the stoic Boston lawyer, Brady Coyne.  This time out, just after sharing a drink and a grin with his old suburban buddy Ken, Brady is shocked the next evening when he’s called by Ken’s ex-wife Sharon who has just found Ken dead in a hotel room.  Naturally, Sharon is one of the first to be suspected in Ken’s brutal slaying.  But it turns out Ken has more than just one enemy, and there’s more than one suspect in his murder, as this is one guy who had a tendency to do the wrong thing.

Tapply was an author who had more than one successful series, and an author who more than most kept them all going on a steady road, not allowing them to get too old or dry.  This latest is made more bittersweet for its familiar featuring of a regular guy doing his job while enjoying the sweeter things in life.  Much, no doubt, like the author himself once did. 

It’s difficult to separate this latest from the fact that it is his last, so on that note, I’ll just end this review by saying it’s worth the read, and that this is an author who has personally brought me great joy though his wonderful writing throughout the years and one who will be deeply missed. 

 

Trust the Dawn by John Cardinal

Publisher: Book Guild Publishing

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

There’s nothing like a family funeral for bringing the skeletons out of the closet.  After Uncle Ben dies, Guy Chandler is surprised to hear from Aunt Tilly that there was another brother, Edward, who took off in 1951 for Sweden and apparently dropped off the face of the earth.  When it comes time to settle Ben’s estate, the missing uncle becomes important, and Guy’s brother bullies him into going to Sweden to see what he can discover.

Guy’s not wild about this idea, as he’s been not long in his new job, and he’s just begun to make headway with a workmate,  the delicious Georgina.  Leaving either one for a protracted period could mean losing them both.

On the fictional island of Lammland in the Baltic Sea, Guy back-tracks his uncle and finds out that he died some years ago, but that there are descendents.  With the help of friendly librarians and local people, he discovers Edward had a son, Phillip, but he is dead, and his daughter, Sofi, has disappeared with her boyfriend.  The boyfriend turns out to be the missing brother of Helena, a beautiful young woman Guy meets during his travels, and who has a strong power over him. 

Guy is more and more drawn to Helena, but she has dark secrets and he can’t seem to make any headway with her.  Then tragedy strikes: Sidney, Guy’s boss, dies suddenly and Georgina phones him, saying she’s barely keeping things together and really needs him back at the office.  Reluctantly, Guy packs and returns to England.  He feels as if he’s left part of himself in Sweden and just goes through the motions of living back in England—then in an amazing sequence of events something happens that not only sorts out the inheritance, but also opens a possible future Guy didn’t dare dream of.

This is not a crime novel in the usual sense, but it is a mystery with roots deep in the past.  It’s a bit disjointed and you may get confused as Guy wanders around looking for his missing uncle, and you may find him a difficult character to warm to.  That said, it beats watching another celebrity cooking show.

 

 

 

Hollywood Hills by Joseph Wambaugh

Publisher: Little, Brown & /Co  

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Readers of this entertaining series will know that policeman “Hollywood Nate” Weiss is always on the lookout for his big chance.  A card-carrying actor who’s had a few minor roles, Nate lives in the hope that one day his patience will pay off.  When he meets Leona Breuger, fading over-sexed millionaire widow with a boyfriend in the film industry, Nate thinks success may be near.  Leona wants the police to watch her palatial estate and its art treasures while she’s away in Europe.  She’d also like to find out Nate’s other talents, but his virtue remains intact when Leona’s assault is deflected by an unexpected visitor.

Having lost his partner to a stray bullet in the previous book, Nate’s at loose ends until he gets assigned a new man, Snuffy Salcedo.  Years of being the assigned driver for the Chief of Police hasn’t softened Snuffy, who lifts weights for fun, but he is a bit out of the loop when it comes to the weird and whacky—and dangerous—street life of Hollywood.  From the emotionally fragile to the downright crazy, Hollywood Division has more than its share of people with problems.  Some are funny, some are pitiful, some are criminal, and some, like Rolf Thunder, are all three.  Trying to remove Rolf from the home of a Goth family involves just about everyone on duty at the time and gives policewoman Della Revelle one of her strangest experiences yet.

There’s some serious criminal activity going on amongst the merely weird stuff, and it involves several priceless paintings belonging to Leona Breuger.  An opportunistic theft ruins weeks of careful preparation, and leads four people into a deadly confrontation.  Two of them walk away almost unscathed, and two die.  You’ll find yourself holding your breath and speed-reading to see if Megan survives, because despite her degradation, you can see a hope for her if only she can get out of this mess.  Wambaugh has a knack of presenting losers you care about, no doubt a legacy of his time on the streets as a police officer.

All the regular gang from the Hollywood Station are back again, including the surfer cops, Flotsam and Jetsam, who come up against a problem that their laid-back lifestyle hasn’t prepared them to cope with.  Hollywood Hills is not going to win the Pulitzer, but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable reading experience.  (And, confess, when was the last time you read a Pulitzer Prize winner?)

 

 

 

Kind Of Blue by Miles Corwin

Publisher: Oceanview Publishing ISBN 978 1 60809 007 5

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Jewish cops aren’t unusual in fiction.  We’ve had Ed McBain’s patient but tough Meyer Meyer, and Faye Kellerman’s Pete Decker who tries to follow the dictates of his faith while doing his difficult job; now comes Asher Levine, a much darker and more complex character than either of them.

Ash is what he himself terms a ‘cultural Jew’.  Other than the unavoidable Sabbath dinners with his mother, Ash doesn’t do much that identifies him with his roots—other than having a highly developed sense of guilt and self-loathing for what he sees as a failure in his career, and that’s a trait that many other introspective fictional characters have had.  

Last year, the witness in a senseless shooting at a convenience store was herself murdered while Ash should have protected her.  Ash’s response to his superior officer’s reprimand for his failure is to chuck in his badge and gun and go off to beat himself up for ten months.  During this time, he discovers that all he really wants to do is be a cop, but he’s too proud to ask for his job back.  It is therefore welcome news when his old boss, Duffy, begs him to get back on the job to solve the murder of a retired cop, Pete Relovich, a friend of one of the Big Bosses. 

Ash sees his regaining of his job as a way back into the investigation of Latisha Patton’s murder, but he’s stymied at every turn by Duffy, who wants the cop killer found, and found fast.  The Patton murder was handed over to another division, but Ash soon learns that not much is happening.

In his own squad room, Ash has few friends, and some overt enemies, including the odious Graupmann who, besides being a bad cop, is a practicing anti-Semite.  In fact, he’s gone way past practicing; he’s pretty much a professional. 

As he digs through the despoiled crime scene, Ash comes up with the goods to identify and convict a local bad boy for the Relovich murder.  Everyone’s thrilled, except Ash himself, who quickly smells a rat and wants to pursue some of the loose ends.  This is particularly important when one of those ends ties up with the earlier murder of Latisha Patton.  This leads to a second dramatic climax and you think the story’s over—but wait, there’s more!

This is a book that will keep you on your mental toes with every turn of the page.  The plot is incredibly complex, the red herrings are scattered with a liberal hand, and the hero is flawed but almost likeable.  OK, we could have done with a bit less information about surfing, I reckon, and the sexual proclivities of the woman Ash takes up with seem to have been grafted on as an afterthought, but all in all it’s a show worth the price of admission.  Buy it to read now and if you don’t bend the spine, you can give it to another crime fan for Christmas.