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Blood Game by Iris Johanson

Publisher:  Publisher: St. Martin’s Press  ISBN-10: 0312368127

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

This new chapter in the life of Eve Duncan, a forensic sculptor who suffers an obsessive compulsion to find her long-missing daughter’s body, takes a further step into the foreign country that is the human mind.

Joe Quinn, Eve’s long-time partner in both crime investigation and romance, is not himself.  Eve and her adopted daughter Jane both notice that Joe is withdrawn, introspective and abrupt, but they don’t know the reason.  Eve blames herself: she knows her obsession with finding Bonnie’s body has been wearying for Joe—perhaps he’s had enough, wants to be free of her and her problems?  They have just been through an unbelievably evil experience with a serial killer, and perhaps Joe’s mental stability has been rocked by it.  Despite being aware of her obsession, Eve isn’t willing to let it go, she’s like a person always picking off a scab; there’s no chance of healing while that’s going on.

Joe, barely recovered from the horrors of the recent child-murder case, is having to deal with a new murderer, one who appears to believe he’s a vampire.  The case is made worse by the fact that the first victim is the daughter of a powerful and pushy U.S. Senator who is making Joe’s life harder by having his every move followed and second-guessed.  Worst of all, Joe discovers he can talk to the dead girl.  While this is handy because it provides him with clues he couldn’t get any other way, he’s still not sure if he’s really talking with Nancy Jo or if he’s going mad.

The book requires the reader to accept that there may in fact be ‘more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of’, and crime purists may jib at the large serving of otherworldliness that takes the book to the boundaries of another genre.   At the end, there’s a spark of hope that Joe and Eve may both be able to move on to a better, healthier future.  This would probably be a good thing for the future of this series, as the child-murder-obsession theme will wear thin one day soon if not developed into something new and believable.

 

 

 

Collision of Evil by John J LeBeau

Publisher: Oceanview Press  ISBN 978 1 933515 54 0

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader 

It had to happen eventually: a thriller writer saying to himself, “What if I combined the two nastiest groups of the past century?”  It took a retired CIA clandestine ops officer to link a legacy of the Third Reich with modern-day jihadlist monomania, and it makes for very scary reading indeed.

Tourist Charles Hirter is murdered while hiking through picturesque Bavaria, and his brother Robert wants to know why.  The local police inspector, Franz Waldbaer, is sympathetic, but urges Robert to go home and leave the job to the professionals.  He might have done that but for meeting an old man who says he knows nothing of the murder, but has a story which might interest Robert.  It concerns some mysterious crates stowed in a cave in the mountains at the end of the war. 

Waldbaer keeps pushing Robert to go home, and Robert keeps pushing back.  Finally he comes clean and informs the policeman that he’s a CIA operative, and proposes they work together on an informal level to get to the bottom of what now appears to be a lot more complicated than a single murder. 

Thanks to an observant farmer and a car rental agent who has more than the usual ability to note details, Waldbaer and Hirter get on the trail of a pair of suspicious characters with Middle-eastern connections.  One of the men is picked up in Turkey, and thanks to the power of suggestion and a Black and Decker drill, is soon singing like a bird.  That helps move the investigation forward, but not fast enough.  However, when the investigators find an old warehouse that has recently been used to manufacture something nasty, the situation becomes urgent.  At last they know what was hidden in the Bavarian cave, and they can guess to what dreadful purpose it will be put.

This is a fast-moving and all too believable novel.  Despite the author’s disclaimer in the epilogue, you have a spine-chilling feeling that his characters are based on real people with real agendas, and you hope his good guys will always overcome his bad guys.

 

 

 

 

Sherlock Holmes Handbook by Christopher Redmond

Publisher:  Dundurn Press ISBN:  978-1-55488-446-9

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

A reference book that will make an excellent gift for the Sherlock Holmes fan. Its inclusion in any private or public library will expand the information base on this well known fictional character who, at times, is thought to have actually lived.

The research done by talented author Christopher Redmond brings us up to date on the people who lived during the days of Sherlock’s investigations, a short introduction to each story about the detective and his companion, Dr. Watson. We are introduced to Arthur Conan Doyle who created the world famous detective and reflected the world of his own day as the setting for his tales.

This book contains as much information on Holmes as is possible to ever need. He includes the movies and TV shows based on the stories, gives the facts about whom the characters in the stories are based on, the influence the Holmes tales have had on other literature in other countries of the world. The description of the lengths some fans go to to bring Holmes to life or to live in the time of the detective will make you smile or perhaps feel a little sad that they can’t achieve that reality.

So thorough is the job done by author Christopher Redmond you will find yourself reading the book page by page, rather than piecemeal in search of certain facts.  The interest in Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson is so strong that it continues to be exercised in films, cartoons, books, articles, and now on the Internet one will find multiple sites dedicated to the Holmes mystique.

I’m pleased to highly recommend the Sherlock Holmes Handbook as a must have for any library or fan of the detective.  This is one book that should be kept at hand for the mystery fan.  I enjoyed reading it and know you will too.

 

 

Blind Eye by Stuart MacBride

Publisher: Minotaur Books  ISBN-10: 0312382642

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

MacBride is one of several crime writers who delight in making puns in their titles.  This one is particularly apt and macabre: people are being found all over Aberdeen with their eyes gouged out.  Most of the wounded are Polish, but there are a couple of local lads in there as well, which confuses the trail for DS Logan “Lazarus” McRae and his workmates in the Grampian Police.

McRae has barely recovered from his previous near-death experience, and now finds himself hip-deep in a new case that eventually threatens his life and sanity.  Searching for a clue to the eye-gouger’s identity, Logan goes to Poland, meets a female police officer, gets blown up again, returns home to be tongue-lashed by his superior officers and constantly dragged into trouble by DI Steel.  Steel is a sort of female version of Andy Dalziel: large, ugly, scary, but sound at the core.  Regulations are there to be ignored in Steel’s opinion.

There are precious few clues for Logan and Steel to follow, but one of the only witnesses is a pedophile, who has to be stashed somewhere safe while the cops make their case.  Steel reluctantly takes the man into her home, but cautions Logan that her partner, Susan, mustn’t know that Rory Simpson is a child molester.  Rory falls in with her plan, and passes himself off as an outrageously gay man who’s lost his partner to death, which gets Susan’s sympathy.  Susan’s particularly vulnerable, having just been knocked back for the IVF program, which was her best hope of having a child of her own.  Steel will do almost anything to help her achieve her dream, and there’s a running sub-plot in the book of Steel’s attempts to get Logan to agree to provide the vital fluid for a do-it-yourself impregnation kit.

This is a big thick book with a lot of really grim stuff in it; definitely not one to read if you’re feeling a bit down.  The two major plot threads, organised crime and a serial mutilator, plus the secondary threads of drugs, prostitution, police corruption and pedophilia make for pretty heavy going.  There are some lighter moments, but by the last few chapters you find yourself wondering why Logan doesn’t just chuck it all in and find himself a job guarding a distillery somewhere.

If you’re a MacBride fan you’ll find this is as good as his previous Logan McRae adventures.  It would be good on a long plane trip, to take your mind off the spooky guy across the aisle who’s talking to his rucksack.

 

 

 

Doubleback by Libby Fischer Hellmann

Publisher: Bleak House Books  ISBN-10: 1606480529

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader 

Bringing back together the two heroines from her duo of successful series, video producer Ellie Foreman and PI Georgia Davis, Hellmann provides readers with a wonderfully written tale of mystery that is both stimulating and highly riveting. 

It begins when a neighbor’s young daughter is kidnapped and Ellie is asked her advice on how to proceed.  Ellie, knowing she’s not quite up to the task of running down the facts, suggests both the police and PI Georgia Davis be brought in.  Both of whom seem hardly needed when the child is unexpectedly released by the kidnappers.  But when shortly thereafter the child’s mother is murdered, the mystery begins anew.

And while initially it seems that the mother, an IT specialist at a local bank, may have been involved with a 3 million dollar embezzlement scheme that could have had something to do with her death, Georgia is convinced there’s a whole lot more going on than meets the eye.  And so following the clues, she’ll go down a trail that leads to a much more frightening truth than she imagined in a case involving border town drug cartels, illegal immigrants, and government paid mercenaries that all just might prove to be a bigger battle than she could possibly fight, much less win. 

Hellmann’s latest is a compelling, well-mixed bag of suspense, controversial values, family loyalties, and unresolved emotions from the past that all come together in just the right way to prod the reader into thinking about some pretty heavy stuff.  And amidst the swinging pendulum between right and wrong, in the end, she still manages to remain true to her characters. Even when that proves far from easy, especially with the sometimes hero, sometimes sinner, Georgia Davis - a character that definitely deserves another showing.  With this type of story-telling, Hellmann proves she’s got what it takes to keep readers interested and, personally, I can’t wait to see Georgia Davis go to battle again.

 

 

 

Capitol Offense by William Bernhardt

Publisher: Ballantine Books  ISBN-10: 034550299X

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

When Tulsa defense attorney Ben Kincaid is visited by a bereaved college professor asking Ben’s assistance in facing a charge of murder, Ben is immediately wary in offering his services when he quickly learns that the murder hasn’t actually taken place yet.  Apparently, the professor is seeking an out for his possible act of retribution against the detective who failed to take the report of his missing wife seriously, a judgment call that resulted in his wife’s slow and horrible death following a car accident that left her barely alive for days waiting for a rescue that would come a mere few hours too late to save her. 

When the detective is actually murdered a few days later, with all the evidence pointing straight to the professor, Ben decides to take on the case using a defense of temporary insanity, even though with more than enough evidence to convict, and less than ideal support from the community, the case is doomed before it begins.  But when a number of disturbing questions begin to arise after his client is sent to death row, Ben will find that nothing was as it appeared and his failure to discover the truth might be his biggest failure yet, a failure that just might result in an innocent man’s execution.

On the positive side, Bernhardt’s latest in the series does attempt to address the issue of the “one size fits all” brand of punishment that makes up our justice system.  His implications being that most crimes are as individual as those who commit them, and “cookie cutter” justice not only fails to deal with the underlying reasons for many crimes, but tends to meet out punishment that is more likely than not inappropriate for many.  And one can easily see his point, especially when given the startling statistics of our over-burdened prison system. 

On the negative side, Ben’s lack of true commitment to his client, along with his initial tendency to overlook certain suspicious events, seems incongruous coming from the Ben readers have come to root for. And, too, while Ben does manage a bit of self-reflection near the end of the book, too much of the book seems to have an overload of glibness and forced humor that just didn’t seem to fit.  One can’t help but wish Bernhardt would ease up a bit on his attempts at levity and concentrate more seriously on the issues he’s so knowledgeable about.    

Still, this is a decent read that does raise some very interesting points that will leave readers thinking.  Personally, I’m hoping next time out we’ll see a more mature Ben who can live up to the worthy premises Bernhardt tends to tackle.

 

 

 

 

Stained Glass by Ralph McInerny

Publisher:  Minotaur Books ISBN:  978-0-312-58264-7

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader 

Father Dowling fans will enjoy a complex tale of how a book about stained glass windows in churches leads to murder. In the background lurks the thread of St. Hilary’s being closed by the bishop due to dwindling attendance in several of the smaller churches. While Father Dowling doesn’t want it closed, he will obey and go where they send him.

But the wealthy family that donated so much to the church and has members buried in a section of it do not want to see this happen as do the senior citizens who visit the senior center almost daily.  There is also involved a couple of local reporters and lawyer in their efforts to keep the church open.

A murder then takes the headlines on the local paper and the possible closing of the church is pushed to the back pages.  The murder draws authors and a publisher into the confusion also while the priest is visiting the wealthy benefactress of the church and the bishop’s representative in hopes of learning their intentions. 

There is a lot of action with fun characters moving the plot along.  A series of stories within the main tale will keep you reading to the end.  Be on the lookout for some surprises along the way.  I’m pleased to recommend this story to any mystery reader or one who is simply looking for an enjoyable tale with interesting characters.  Enjoy.  I sure did.

 

 

 

 

Dark Tiger by William G. Tapply

Publisher: Minotaur Books  ISBN-10: 0312379781

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Stoney Calhoun has been living a life without memories after being struck by lightening over seven years ago.  And while his life has been relatively peaceful as part owner in a fishing bait shop in Casco, Maine - his comfortable ties to the locals and his romance with his business partner keeping him more than satisfied - every now and then he gets an unsettling visit from the “Man in the Suit” whose sole mission seems to be checking on the status of Stoney’s memory of the past as a secret government operative. 

And while the visits may be unsettling, this time things are taken up a notch when the “Man” drops by to not just check in, but to bring an order from the top, assigning Stoney to investigate the mysterious death of another operative at one of Maine’s premier fishing lodges.  The death of the operative is anything but straightforward, his body found along side that of a local teen, both with a bullet in their head.  But the fact that they died from botulism before being shot is what Stoney is really meant to figure out.  So as Stoney goes undercover as a fishing guide, he’ll soon find himself deep in danger when after his arrival not one, but two, other employees of the lodge are killed, their deaths a little too close for comfort, making it ominously clear that Stoney might be next on the list to die.

If this all sounds complicated, oddly it’s not.  Tapply takes most of this ride at a slow amble that seems to have little concern for where it’s going and how it’ll end up.  Possibilities are thrown out - terrorists, drug runners, jealous lovers - with next to no follow-up.  The mystery itself never really even seems to even take root, it’s ending so anti-climatic that if you blink you might miss it. 

For most mystery novels written by someone else, this might be a big negative; however, in Tapply’s case, not so much.  There’s something calming about this read, most likely having to do with the peaceful setting of the forests, the fact that this is a character who is unburdened by recriminations over past mistakes, and by the lackadaisical attitude of ‘what will be, will be.’  It’s easy to recognize Tapply’s love for fly-fishing in the pace of this read, and so if that’s the kind of thing you like, you’ll love this latest.   

 

 

 

Evidence by Jonathan Kellerman

Publisher: Ballantine Books  ISBN-10: 0345495152

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

When an architect and an unidentified woman are found dead on the upper floor of an abandoned, half-built mansion in one of L.A.’s ritzier neighborhoods, Detective Milo Sturgis is quick to bring in his side-kick psychologist buddy Alex Delaware for help in solving this odd case of murder.  And with a list of suspects ranging from an eco-friendly developer, to a Middle-Eastern Prince, to a group of college students whose crimes reach back years, to a line of jilted lovers, these two will have their hands full finding those responsible. 

It’s been too long since I’ve enjoyed a title in this series as much as I did this one.  Kellerman manages to throw in twists after turns that are both believable and challenging, inviting readers to test their own skills at playing detective.  And while, yes, a bit more insight into the main characters would be welcomed, and without such a touch things can get a bit dry, this is still a fun ride full of L.A.’s more interesting oddities and eccentrics.  Fans and new readers alike will enjoy this latest from Kellerman that reads as enjoyably as his earlier works and will no doubt generate interest for his next.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Broken Teaglass by Emily Arsenault

Publisher: Delacorte Press  ISBN 978 0 553 80733 2

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

(Disclaimer: I should probably declare my bias upfront and confess that I felt instant kinship with Emily Arsenault because I, too, am a New Englander, former Peace Corps Volunteer in southern Africa, and logophile.) 

In her debut novel, Emily has created an imaginary dictionary publisher, the Samuelson Company.  (Word lovers will spot her homage to Dr Samuel Johnson, father of the first modern dictionary.)  To this august place comes Billy Webb, desperate for work and beginning to wonder if having majored in philosophy was a good career move.

Billy is shown the ropes by Dan Wood, the senior editor.  Billy is intrigued to learn that in the 21st century, dictionary makers still work much as Dr Johnson’s team of starving scribblers did: collecting citations and writing them on little slips of paper and collating them in big cabinets. 

It is in this collection of ‘cits’ that Billy first finds a slightly disturbing citation attributed to a Delores Beekmim in a book apparently called ‘The Broken Teaglass”.  He and his workmate Mona find several more from the same book, and begin to feel that the cits are in fact part of a narrative about a crime.

Billy and Mona are intelligent people who know how to do research, so it isn’t long before they ‘ve tracked down a crime that matches up with the scraps of story that Delores Beekmim’s citations have told them. 

Their interest in Delores Beekmim eventually comes to the attention of Dan Wood, who seems strangely keen on their replacing all the cits and forgetting they ever read them.  They pretend to agree, but the story has gotten too much of a hold on them by now; they have to know how it ends.  Billy’s interest becomes a compulsion that starts to take over his life and perhaps threatens his sanity.  Then there’s a surprising revelation, and the amateur investigators must make a decision.  Perhaps Billy’s philosophy degree will come in handy now?

This is an intriguing debut by an insider who has manufactured a story reminiscent in some ways of Dorothy Sayers’ classic “Murder Must Advertise”.  There’s no gore, sex or car chase in this book, but if you have any interest in the world of words, you won’t miss those too-common ingredients.  Brava, Emily; I await your next story with interest.