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Murder Packs a Suitcase by Cynthia Baxter

Publisher: Bantam  ISBN-10: 0553590359

Reviewed by Tracey Jipson, New Mystery Reader

Recently widowed Mallory Marlowe finds a job and stumbles onto detective duty in Murder Packs a Suitcase, the first book in a new series by Cynthia Baxter.  Despite her continued sorrow over the sudden loss of her husband David and the challenges of abruptly becoming the only parent to her two college-age children, Mallory finds that she is ready for a life change and applies for a job at the New York magazine The Good Life.  Rather inexplicably (in both the reader’s eyes and Molly’s own), she is given the job of travel writer for the magazine.  She eagerly embraces her first assignment, which is to explore the glory days of Old Florida and rediscover the attractions that made Florida a popular travel destination before the days of “Disneyfication”.  Unfortunately, Mallory’s trip gets off to a rocky start.  First, her kids make their unhappiness with the demands of her new job quite clear.  Then, Mallory gets into an altercation on the plane with fellow travel writer Phil Diamond.  This incident has grave ramifications for both writers.  The unpleasant Mr. Diamond ends up a victim of murder, and Mallory becomes a suspect in his death. 

To prove her innocence, Mallory begins to investigate the murder.  She quickly discovers by chatting with the other travel writers in their group that Phil was disagreeable and disliked.  Finding out who hated Phil Diamond enough to kill him proves to be not only challenging and dangerous for Mallory, but brings up some surprising connections to her past life, as well.

This lively cozy is a quick and enjoyable read.  Mallory is likeable and engaging, and a strong central figure.  The rather large group of supporting characters, including Mallory’s children and a possible love interest, are mildly intriguing and actively move the story forward.  Armchair detectives will have no difficulty solving the mystery, but the author creates an interesting wrinkle with the victim’s connection to Mallory’s past.   Perhaps most appealing of all is the travelogue aspect of the book.  While writing her article for The Good Life, Mallory travels to many of the more exotic tourist attractions of “old Florida”.  The finished article is actually included in the back of the book, and it provides real life contact information for readers who may want to experience the attractions on their own.  Cynthia Baxter has created a fun new series and I look forward to reading Mallory’s next travel adventure.



The Hiding Place by Karen Harper

Publisher: Mira  ISBN-10: 0778325881

Reviewed by Tracey Jipson, New Mystery Reader

The Hiding Place, a romantic thriller from bestselling author Karen Harper, is a turbulent ride of a book that takes off at full speed and doesn’t let the reader catch a breath until the very end.  Private Investigator Tara Kinsale has recently woken from a months-long coma, the result of a violent attack on her by the ex-husband of her best friend Alexis.  Upon awaking from her coma, Tara finds out that Alexis is dead, her attacker, Alexis’ husband, is in jail and her own husband Laird Lohan has divorced her and moved to another state.  When Alex’s mother dies soon after her daughter, Tara is given temporary custody of Alex’s daughter Claire. 

Together, Tara and Claire try to start their lives over while they await the arrival of Claire’s uncle and guardian Nick MacMahon.  Then, during a routine doctor visit, Tara receives the most devastating news of all—while in the coma, she somehow gave birth.   This unbelievable news sets Tara off on an investigation into her own life, and with Nick’s help, she begins to piece together the mystery of her lost child. Danger awaits at every twist and turn as Tara battles her ex-husband’s wealthy and powerful family, as well as unknown assailants who want to harm her before she finds the truth.

This book is an extremely fast paced, if slightly hysterical read, with new stunners in every chapter.   The intrigue is well-plotted and the characters, while somewhat cookie cutter, still manage to provide surprise and interest.  Overall the story is just too melodramatic to be true, but the action is irresistible and the bombshells are breathtaking.  This book is a true page turner with thunderbolts right up to the last page.



Casting Spells by Barbara Bretton

Publisher:  Berkley Books  ISBN:  978-0-4425-22364-2

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

Be prepared to laugh a lot as a newly empowered witch learns to use her powers.  Pity the fellow she’s fallen in love with and let their love warm you.

This is a fun read beginning to end and any reader of any genre could enjoy it.  All you need is a willingness to laugh and believe.  This is romance writing at its finest by talented author Barbara Bretton.

Chloe from Sugar Maple, Vermont, was born the only human in town among a population of faeries, vampires and other supernatural beings. The town is waiting for her to get her powers to protect them from the rest of the world by strengthening the spell cast long ago by her ancestress.  To do so, Chloe must fall in love and to date it has not happened.  Meanwhile, a faery hungry for power wants to take over and pull the town beyond the mist so she may rule.

Luke is a city cop though reared in a town like Sugar Maple, but he has no knowledge of magic or its consequences.  He is merely a mortal sent to investigate the death of his friend Suzanne in a town that hasn’t had any crime for several decades nor deaths for centuries.  And his boss wants copies of their birth and death certificates.

Supernatural or not, the inhabitants of Sugar Maple will keep you thoroughly entertained as you join Chloe and Luke and others in the rollicking tale of magic and romance.  This tale will have you looking for other books by this very entertaining author.



Even Cat Sitters Get the Blues by Blaize Clement

Publisher:  St. Martin's Minotaur  ISBN:  0312945361

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

If you’ve ever been involved in an unpleasant situation that involved the law, even as an innocent bystander, you will sympathize with Dixie Hemingway in this tale of strange doings and even stranger characters.  Have you ever met someone with blue skin?

The day may have started as an ordinary work day for Dixie as she got ready to make her rounds to care for pets that were home alone. Included for the first time on her list was an iguana named Ziggy.

Caught in a downpour, Dixie decided to take shelter where she could and stopped at a guardhouse to wait it out.  She didn’t stay long. The guard was dead.  And so Dixie found herself as a suspect in his death.

She manages to make her rounds only to find the guardhouse belonged to the owner of the iguana and meets some of the strangest people she’s met yet—a blue man, a disappearing nurse, a mysterious woman and others. The only normal being seems to be the iguana.

Talented author Blaize Clement invites us into the world of Siesta Key, a small island off the tip of Florida where mystery abounds.  I’m pleased to highly recommend this fun read that will keep you glued to your chair.  You’ll be wanting to read other tales by this creative author. This is a very satisfying read.  Enjoy. I sure did.




Strip Search by William Bernhardt

Publisher: Ballantine Books  ISBN-10: 0345470206

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Bernhardt brings back the highly unique pair of crime fighters, Las Vegas detective Susan Pulaski and autistic savant Darcy O'Bannon, in a creative and unusual mystery that eager fans will find well worth the wait.  The pair, against all odds, have kept their unlikely friendship alive since their last dangerous case, and so when the victims of a brutal serial killer begin to turn up, Susan once again reluctantly turns to Darcy for help when the trail goes cold. 

With what appears to be randomly selected victims and a complete lack of forensic evidence, the only thing the police have to go on is the mysterious mathematical clues strategically left behind by the intelligent but twisted killer, clues that only make sense to Darcy.  And the closer they get to solving this complex and unpredictable investigation, the closer they get to a killer who is much closer than they could have guessed, a killer whose final act has been planned with such perfectly brilliant madness, it could bring everything crashing down for good.

With its distinctive and provocative plot, this cunningly written thriller manages to so adeptly combine substance and thrills that readers might be surprised at not only its ability to excite, but also its ability to inflame some hearty deliberations.  Bernhardt brings forth some concepts that under less-qualified hands would be so daunting many would be tempted to just drop the whole thing.  Instead, the reader is left feeling like a mathematical genius with a firm grasp of some of the beginner's basic theories surrounding some very interesting questions in the world of math and beyond. 

However, some readers might find it difficult to empathize with Susan and her wildly inconsistent swaying between extreme confidence and self-destructive thought patterns, patterns that are not as convincingly explained away by her addictive personality as probably intended (especially when her own best friend provides her with Valium and neither of them sees the danger in that). 

But, when all is said and done, what's good about this read more than easily outweighs what might be a tad questionable, at least by 90%, and that's better than most.



Patriot Acts by Greg Rucka

Publisher: Bantam  ISBN-10: 0553588990

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader

It has been stated – accurately – that a review says more about the reviewer than it does about the alleged subject. Blind spots and prejudices are exposed, along with gaps in knowledge and personal preferences. It would be hard for me to rip anything by Elmore Leonard. I don’t know Mr. Leonard, never met him, but he has provided me so many entertaining hours that anything he writes gets the benefit of the doubt.

On the dark side, I don’t care for contemporary thrillers. Hitchcock I love, and a good suspenseful story will hook me every time. What passes for a thriller today is the literary equivalent of an action movie, all chase scenes and body counts, with only minimal reference to why this is happening, or how feasible it is. This can be fun in a movie, as the theater experience wraps the audience in the moment and doesn’t leave time to see the holes in the plot, or the gauze-thin characterizations and dialog.

So when I started Greg Rucka’s Patriot Acts, my first thought was, “Oh, this is one of those books.” (Apologies to fellow reviewer Barbara Fister for borrowing her line.) A dozen bodies in the first twenty pages, no idea why, and a hero named Atticus Kodiak. Not too promising.

This is why I always read the whole book. Patriot Acts is the thriller that exposes the weaknesses of its peers. Rucka never allows Kodiak to become too much of a superman, though he’s damned good. He has the doubts anyone would have, yet never succumbs to the navel gazing that makes it difficult to believe someone so sensitive could do what he’s about to do. Kodiak knows he’s damaged goods, but deals with it and moves on each time, careful not to become the killing machine glorified by too many patriotic thrillers today.

Rucka gives Kodiak and his team enough warts and self-doubts to seem real, without making them oxymoronic amalgamations of characteristics put together by the marketing department to appeal to every demographic. His villains are motivated, and grounded in contemporary culture. Most difficult of all, he is able to navigate the swamp of political perspective without preaching about it.

There’s not much to say about the plot without ruining it. Picking up where previous books left off, Patriot Acts begins with Kodiak and his friends Alena and Natalie fighting off a quick sequence of attacks, the origins of which they can only guess. The book catalogues the backtracking and resolution of the initial battles, and ties up some loose ends that one suspects have been floating throughout the series. To say more than that would risk spoiling the sequence of climaxes, and they’re worth waiting for.

Rucka assumes the reader is familiar with the series, which makes it hard to keep track of who and why and how and when. Hang in there. By the end everything material is made clear enough to be satisfying, and your curiosity may be piqued to go back to the previous stories to see how Kodiak and Alena got to this point.

Patriot Acts is a roaring good read, full of action and characters worthy of a reader’s empathy. To say it’s a page turner is faint praise; I set my DVR to delay a baseball playoff game until I could finish the last couple of chapters. Now that’s high praise.



Chat by Archer Mayor

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing  ISBN-10: 0446196932

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

When Joe Gunther, lead investigator for one of Vermont's special state investigative teams, arrives at the scene where the corpse of a middle-aged man has been found, he, along with his fellow investigators, has no idea that this is just the first body to be discovered in a string of victims that have been left with no identification and no clues as to how or why they died.  And when Joe finds out that his mother and brother have been critically injured in a suspicious auto accident, his abilities to unravel the secrets in the small communities that surround him will be even further challenged. 

Torn between solving the first case of revenge with its connection to possible victims of chat room predators, and the second case of revenge against his own family, Joe will find that even those closest to him are not as innocent as they seem, and someone he knows might just be hiding secrets that are deadly enough to kill for.

Mayor's return to the idyllic Vermont setting featuring Joe Gunther and significant others will no doubt please fans of the series.  As usual, Mayor provides a good dose of investigative procedure along with his vivid and affectionate portrayal of the Vermont area.  However, Mayor also continues his tendency to digress from scene to scene and case to case; a tendency that makes it much too easy for the reader to become distracted before complete engagement in either case has had the chance to occur.  But, in the end, he does tie it all neatly together; his portrayal of small town secrets and long-held dreams of revenge ultimately providing a good dose of entertainment that fans will enjoy.           




Kissing Christmas Goodbye by M C Beaton

Publisher: St Martin's Paperbacks   ISBN 0312946775

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Middle-aged private detective Agatha Raisin once more gets involved in a number of lives which aren't being lived the way she knows they should.

First there's the waif Toni.  Agatha hires her an an apprentice, having recently lost one of her operatives and being badly in need of someone who can track down lost pets and other modest tasks of that sort.  Toni proves to be a natural at the detecting business, and lucky to boot: she gets evidence in 2 bothersome infidelity cases which Agatha is able to finalize profitably.   Toni's home life with a drunken mother and abusive brother won't do: Agatha sweeps her up and sets her down in a small flat of her own.

Toni is barely settled when Agatha bring her along to the Tamworthy family's manor house, where the matriarch recently died of hemlock poisoning.  The four adult children all had cause to hate their mother Phyllis, who had hired Agatha to watch out for her welfare.  Mother now dead, it falls to daughter-in-law Alison to retain Agatha to get to the bottom of the death.  Alison sees that unless the murder is solved, all four of the children  and their partners will forever be under a cloud. 

From where Agatha stands, she doubts that the four remaining Tamworthys will ever be able to lead normal lives: Phyllis has blighted them for far too long.   The more Agatha pokes around, the nastier a character Phyllis appears to have been.  In the course of their detecting, Agatha and Toni unearth a skeleton which shows just how ruthless Phyllis really was, and this leads to the thought that there's only one really obvious person who could have killed Phyllis.

Threading through the story in between bouts of mayhem and detectivery is Agatha's determination to have a real old-fashioned Christmas with everything picture-book perfect.    Her friends wouldn't give long odds on this happening, but when Agatha's set on something, somehow things get done, even if the result may not be quite what she had in mind.

This is one for the fans of the Classic Cosy murder genre.   There's no wasted motion and few side trips, the story moves ahead like Agatha herself, plain-spoken and determined, and you don't need a degree in Eng,. Lit. to appreciate it.




Chillwater Cove by Thomas Lakeman

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur  ISBN-031291190X

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Decades ago, FBI agent Peggy Weaver witnessed her best friend Samantha's abduction from their small home town in Tennessee.  And while she has little memory of the crime, when photographs of the terror her friend went through make their way to her, what she does remember attacks with a ferocity she never expected.  And so when Sam contacts her with the news that she too has received the same alarming photos, Sam returns back home in the hope that as an FBI agent she can once and for all solve the biggest mystery of her life.  But, she gets more than she bargained for when after her arrival, not only does Sam go missing, but as she begins to put the pieces together of then and now, she discovers that her very own father may hold the key to the very deadly secrets she must reveal to save her friend's life and her own.

After his last successful outing in which he focused on the other half of the dynamic FBI duo of Mike Yeager and Peggy Weaver, Lakeman now turns his attention to Peggy Weaver's personal and mysterious past.  Combining a tale of the South and its disturbing past of prejudice and hate that still lingers, dark family secrets, and a not so subtle reminder that the only way to dispel the ugliness of it all is to confront it head-on, mix together effortlessly to make this an entirely engrossing thriller.  Provocative and compelling throughout, Lakeman shines again, and we look forward to his next.        




Dead Connection by Alafair Burke

Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks,   ISBN-10: 0312944810

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

For Interview With Alafair Burke

When a young woman is found murdered in a NY alley, renegade homicide detective Flann McIlroy is the only one who connects her death to that of another young woman precisely a year previous - both sharing many familiar traits- the most important being that both had ties to an online dating service.  And so pulling a few strings he brings in Ellie Hatcher to help investigate, a young detective who shares some of the physical traits of the women killed and one who just might make the perfect bait to lure the killer out of hiding. 

To Ellie this case involving a potential serial killer hits close to home, her own father having killed himself after being unable to track one down years before in a suicide that Ellie has always believed was really a murder.  And so as the murder count rises, Ellie is driven even further to find the answers, even if it means putting herself in the line of fire from a threat that might be closer than knows.

In her latest, Burke takes a break from her legal series to offer up a tale of electrifying suspense that features such a compelling and laudable new heroine that dedicated fans of old might feel a bit guilty about when demanding an encore.  Ellie, just a little more jaded and a little rougher around the edges than Burke's other wonderfully drawn heroine Samantha Kincaid, adds some bite and urgency to this highly readable plot, both of which combine seamlessly to propel the reader forward at a rapid fire pace.  After completing this wonderfully thrilling new tale, readers will no doubt want more of the same, and so will be delighted to hear that it is indeed in the works.



Precious Blood by Jonathan Hayes

Publisher: Harper  ISBN-10: 0060736674

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Edward Jenner, once a medical examiner in New York City, hasn't practiced his trade ever since his burn-out from working with the tragic aftermath of 9/11.  But when a young woman is found savagely murdered and he's asked to consult on the case by the victim's wealthy father, he warily agrees.  But not only is he faced with tracking a serial killer who has done this before and has no intention of stopping, he's also taken it upon himself to watch over the young woman who just barely managed to escape from the terrifying scene that left her roommate dead. 

In his first outing, Hayes successfully introduces a new protagonist to the ever expanding field of the forensic mystery in a well-told story that holds much promise.  And while this is a familiar plot: the graphic details that many have long since become inured to, the office politics of big city agencies, and the trials and tribulations of the angst-ridden investigator, with the haunting echo of 9/11 playing out in the background, a bit a depth is added.  If there's a quibble to be had, it rests with our hero Jenner's inability to ward off temptation when there's so much at risk.  But, that being said, this is a chilling and exciting read that will no doubt leave most readers eager for more.           




Death Angel by Martha Powers

Publisher: Oceanview Publishing ISBN: 1933515554

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Karen and Richard Warner seem to have the perfect family, their home in the idyllic Chicago suburb of Pickard, Illinois outwardly safe and peaceful.  That is until the day their young daughter Jenny is abducted, raped, and killed.  The grief following this event is almost unbearable, but things get even worse when Richard becomes one of the top suspects in the horrendous crime, with his alibi nonexistent.  And while Karen knows he is hiding something, she also believes that can't possibly be the killer, which means that the killer is still out there and, based upon the evidence, it is someone the family knows and trusts, and someone who will kill again to keep his ugly secret.  But can Karen, a woman who has relied on Richard for everything, claim enough independence to finally see through to the truth, a truth that will further shatter the only world she knows?

Powers does an efficient job of keeping the reader guessing throughout this mostly suspenseful tale of grief, loss, and betrayal.  And while the subject matter is a bit disquieting, it is handled with delicacy and sensitivity, easily keeping the reader engaged even through the most difficult scenes.  However, it should also be noted this is partly accomplished by a somewhat remote detailing of the emotional impact of events, which unfortunately at times creates a sense of detachment for the reader, preventing a more complete immersion in the story and its characters.  Still, a well told story that most will enjoy and one that more than suffices for a hearty dose of entertainment.