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When No One Is Watching by Joseph Hayes

Publisher: Synergy Books    

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

The title poses the premise of the entire book: what would you do if your entire future seemed to hang on one bad action?  If you had a chance to pass the sin onto another’s shoulders, would you do it?  And, having done it, how would you justify your actions to yourself?

Late one night Blair van Howe, widely respected young lawyer with political aspirations, drives his very drunk colleague and friend home from a reception.  In the blink of an eye, there’s a fatal car crash.  Blair rings 911, then moves his friend Danny Moran into the driver’s seat and runs away.

Later, horrified by his actions, Blair considers coming clean, but his pushy wife and overbearing father-in-law talk him out of it.  Danny’s a notorious drunk: if this accident weren’t his fault, sooner or later another one would have been.  Blair has a future life in which he can do a lot of good for a lot of people—why throw all that away?

Blair is easily persuaded, and ends up being the one to convince Danny to accept a plea bargain.  Having no real memory of events, Danny accepts that he is the guilty party.  He doesn’t have much of a life: his wife has left him, his career is down the drain, and his guilt burden is crushing.

After serving his sentence, Danny comes out of jail and sinks further into alcoholism. He would probably have died young but for an ultimatum served by his beloved daughter. This drives him to seek help, and before long not only is he a committed member of AA, he’s becoming a mentor and life-saver for many others.

Years pass and Blair rises higher and higher: first as a Congressman and then as state governor, and he’s being tapped as the most marketable presidential timber since John Kennedy.  His opposition is desperate to find some dirt, but Blair appears to be the original Mr Clean.

Then Victor Slazak returns to Chicago, determined to close the case that has been eating away at him for a decade.  Victor was the investigating police officer at the car crash, but was pulled off the case when Danny ‘confessed’.   When he persisted in trying to learn what really happened, thugs visited him one night and convinced him to leave town or leave life. 

What happens when Slazak decides to pursue the truth no matter what the cost forms the second part of the book.  Author Hayes is both a lawyer and an ethics officer for a big company, and strange as that combination may seem, he gives the reader a lot to think about.  The tone is occasionally a bit didactic, but you should be able to get over that hurdle.  At first blush we may all think we’d ‘do the right thing’ in Blair’s situation—but would we?  How tempted would we be by the easy out, the situational ethics?  If I still had young adult children at home, I’d be sharing this book with them as an object lesson in the pitfalls of trying to live the ethical life in a morally questionable society.

 

 

Red Bones by Ann Cleeves

Publisher:  Minotaur Books 

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Ann Cleeves has a particular skill in depicting the cold northern seas, no doubt a by-product of her time as a coastguard auxiliary.  Her latest foray into crime takes us to the windswept and bleakly beautiful Shetland Islands, where the seemingly accidental death of an old woman uncovers other, older, crimes, and precipitates another new one.

Detective Jimmy Perez, whose roots in Shetland go back to the Armada, is initially unsure how much involvement his young assistant Sandy Wilson should have in the case of Mima Wilson’s death by shotgun.  Mima was Sandy’s grandmother, and the accidental killer is his cousin Andrew.  On the one hand, Sandy’s local knowledge of the island of Whalsay might be useful—on the other hand, Sandy tends to bumble around a bit and blurt out information that might better be kept quiet. 

The Procurator Fiscal (a peculiarly Scottish institution that apparently combines coroner and district attorney) wants the case tidied up and sorted out, but Jimmy smells something a bit off.  Then one of the young archaeologists at the dig near Mima’s house is found dead, an apparent suicide.  Initially it appears her previous mental illness may be the cause, but that doesn’t seem plausible to Jimmy and Sandy, who knew how excited the young woman was about the finds she’d made at the dig.  On the threshold of her first major breakthrough, why would she have killed herself? Could she have uncovered something that the local people would prefer left buried?  Does it involve the anomalous age of one of the bone fragments?

Meanwhile, the more Sandy pokes around Whalsay, the more uneasy he becomes about what’s going on with his parents.  A totally horrifying suspicion begins to grow in his mind, and he resorts to some underhanded investigating away from the official police case to find out more.  The truth when he finds it is bad enough, but there may be more to come, something that will make living in the close-knit community impossible.  For the first time, Sandy’s choice of career and his family responsibilities pull him in opposite directions.  He tries temporarily hiding in the bottle, but quickly discovers that’s no solution.

Whether you like a classic mystery of the old school, a murder in an exotic location, or a character study in crime, this book will satisfy.

 

 

 

Midnight Fugue by Reginald Hill

Publisher: Publisher: Harper  

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Andy Dalziel’s misquote of the old saw “Many a good tune is played on an old organ” sums up Reginald Hill’s latest outing into the adventures of the Mid-Yorkshire constabulary.  When in top form, which he certainly is here, few writers beat Hill at constructing convoluted but plausible plots peopled with convincing characters.

Andy Dalziel is still recovering from a near-fatal explosion, and has returned to work perhaps sooner than he should.  He’s engaged in an unspoken contest with his 2IC, Peter Pascoe, to regain control of the homicide squad.  

The new book starts with a confused morning for Andy, one in which he is literally not sure what day of the week it is.  On his way to what would have been an embarrassing appearance at the office on a Sunday which he thinks is Monday, Andy is diverted by a phone call from a slight acquaintance, Mick Purdy.   Mick beg Andy to help Gina Wolfe, his fiancée,  find out if someone’s playing a cruel prank by sending her a picture that purports to be her long-lost husband Alex, alive and well.  It’s going to take some discreet investigating to find out what’s going on, something that Andy isn’t noted for. To quote his creator, “Normally Andy Dalziel was to diplomacy what Alexander the Great was to knots….”

Andy and Gina meet at a posh hotel for lunch.  Also at the hotel are one of Andy’s constables, Shirley Novello (nicknamed ‘Ivor’, of course), a middle-aged couple who are in a snit about losing their terrace table; a pair of psychopaths who work for a supposedly retired crime king pin; a heavily-disguised man who may or may not be Alex; and Peter Pascoe, who is attending the christening of a friend’s child.  From this apparently innocent scene all manner of mystery and mayhem is launched. 

Can the Fat Man sort it all out, or is it just too much for an aging county copper?   With a little bit of luck, and the help of his devoted but puzzled staff, he might just bring it off.  It won’t spoil the finish to say that all of the disparate threads are, after a complex weaving, brought together in one solid fabric by the end of the book, which covers only 16 hours.

This is one of the best books I’ve reviewed this year, and I heartily recommend it to fans of either police procedurals or just plain good writing.  There’s a particularly satisfying ending for those who long to see Nemesis catch up with the wicked.

 

 

Merry, Merry Ghost by Carolyn Hart

Publisher: Avon

Reviewer: Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Wracked with congestive heart failure and tormented by her tragic, loss-filled life, Susan Flynn knows that this will be her last Christmas as she weakly lays in bed surrounded by her makeshift family of hopeful inheritors to her two million dollar fortune.  With the unexpected entrance of her previously unknown four year-old grandson, curly-haired Keith, Susan regains her will to live and announces to all that Keith will be the beneficiary of a new will as of the following Monday morning. 

Instantly, heirs scramble as they try to protect their expected gifts of Susan’s large house, the expansive ranch, and all of her money.  Jake, short for Jacqueline, has kept house for Susan for all these years and held Susan’s promise of the house as a beacon of hope in her own sad life.  Peg’s delighted for Susan and Keith but deals with her disappointed fiancée who tightly holds his business plans with one hand and extends the other for a loan.  Tucker and Gina Satterlee, siblings fostered by Susan after the deaths of their parents, have their own respective dreams of ranching and non-stop haute couture shopping.  There are plenty of people who knew Susan well and had access to prevent Keith from inheriting anything at all.

Fortunately, Keith seems to have a guardian angel looking out for him.  Spunky, witty and adorned with curls the color of fire, Bailey Ruth Raeburn intends to help the police find who could have killed Susan for her inheritance.  As the title character in the previous book, Ghost at Work, Bailey Ruth doesn’t allow death or heavenly precepts stop her from using unusual tactics to solve her cases.  Although her mentor, British-bred Wiggins, periodically pops in to admonish her, Bailey Ruth fervently believes she can help, and, if she winds up noting that the Mayor is pompous to a living being, well, some things just can’t be helped.

Hart employs an effortless writing style with believable characters in this reader-friendly supernatural sequel.  Tangents about Bailey Ruth’s life or affection for 1940s actress Myrna Loy don’t detract from the action but enhance Bailey’s own carefree and genuine personality and explain why she fearlessly breaks Heaven’s rules as she moves Heaven and earth to protect little Keith Flynn.

 

 

Grace Hammer by Sara Stockbridge

Publisher: WW Norton & Co 

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Grace Hammer’s life has been defined by one thing—the exquisite ruby necklace she stole from a thief when she was a young woman on the run.  As a result of this rare red gem that spreads sparkles on her face when she holds it up to the sun, she has lost her entire family and spends years disappearing in London’s notoriously seedy East End.  Now that Grace has four children, three failed marriages and a well-practiced pickpocket scheme, she encounters charming and shifty Jack Tallis, a womanizing jack-of-all-trades in the crime world, who is drawn to Grace and her family.  All at the same time, women have to figure out how to continue supporting themselves through prostitution and other nighttime activities while avoiding the serial murders in their neighborhood by a faceless shadow dubbed Jack the Ripper.

In Grace Hammer, her past finally confronts her when the thief, the large and well-named Mr. Blunt, tracks her down in London.  Her little familiar niche disappears quickly in a world where loyalty is only sometimes earned, and at other times, bought and sold.  No one other than Grace and Mr. Blunt know why he’s so keen to find her, but his interest sparks that of other dangerous criminal minds and Grace becomes the intended subject of revenge and thievery by experts in the field.

In this version of the Victorian underworld, London’s streets are filled with teeth-deprived prostitutes and smelly criminals who retain their humanity without glossing over their comfortable attitudes towards breaking the law and throw away their ill-gotten gains in the area’s many pubs.  Stockbridge takes care to treat her criminals the way that they would have been treated in reality: long, happy lives are not guaranteed in this gritty world.  Stockbridge’s substantial character development while maintaining sufficient mystery about each criminal leads to a hope that this will become only the beginning of the story of Grace Hammer and her eminently enterprising young children.

 

 

 

The Body in the Sleigh by Katherine Hall Page 

Publisher: Avon

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader 

It’s Christmas time, a time that usually finds the Fairchilds busy with church-related events as Faith’s husband Tom is a pastor.  But this season things are a bit different when Tom is ordered to take it easy in order to recover from a rather serious operation, prompting the family to head out to their summer home in the idyllic Sanpere Island in Maine. 

And while at first the vacation is ideal - the snowy Christmas setting, old friends, and lazy days spent relaxing, when Faith discovers the body of a dead teenager in one of the Christmas displays, Faith and the rest of the island are shocked and dismayed.  The girl, once a cheerful and happy teen, had lately been acting withdrawn and angry, and rumors had it that she had also gotten into drugs.  So when her death is initially attributed to an overdose, nobody is too surprised, but when it’s later proven to murder, shock turns to fear and alarm.

Meanwhile, another one of the town’s residents, Mary, receives an unexpected surprise when she discovers an infant left in her barn on Christmas Eve with a note asking Mary to raise the child.  And while Mary, a 47 year old recluse of a woman whose only company for years being her beloved goats, seems like an odd choice, Mary finds herself thrilled at the prospect.  But with her newfound joy comes the expected questions: Is the child related to the dead girl, and if not, who is the mother? And why did she feel her child was in danger as the note alluded to?  And, most importantly, what if she changes her mind and comes back to reclaim the child?  And so it’s Faith that Mary calls to help track down the mother in the hope of finding the answers. 

What began for Page as an Agatha-nominated short story featuring two very different, yet somehow similar women, turned into much more when Page found herself unable to bid good-bye to these two very compelling characters and decided to feature them in her new Faith Fairchild mystery.  A decision that should leave fans rejoicing. 

From the get-to it’s easy to see why Page fell in love with these seemingly disparate women whose differences are really superficial, and whose similarities of strength and courage go much deeper.  With a goodly amount of the book devoted to their back stories, many readers will find that this latest mystery from Page provides a bit of a departure from her usually straight forward tales - a departure that with its joyful and insightful revealing of these complex characters proves to be dynamic, sweet, and hopeful all at once.  A perfect pre-holiday read that will get even the most grumpy Scrooge in the Christmas mood, this one is easily the best Fairchild has written.      

 

 

 

Comfort to the Enemy and Other Carl Webster Stories by Elmore Leonard

Publisher: Harper Paperbacks

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader  

Elmore Leonard is 85 years old on Columbus Day, and HarperCollins has clearly decided to milk every penny it can from him while he’s still available. Their newest release, Comfort to the Enemy and Other Carl Webster Stories is a cynical repackaging of older work in a shiny new wrapper. We should probably be grateful they released it in paper for fifteen bucks instead of trying to soak the public for the full hardcover price.

Comfort to the Enemy is the serial Leonard wrote for the New York Times Magazine after The Hot Kid  was released. Essentially a sequel, the family newspaper audience required Leonard to hold back on his language and situations. This is fine—he has the chops to write his books any way he wants and get away with it—but some flavor is lost.

In Comfort, Carl Webster is back from World War II after being wounded as a Sea Bee. Working again as a marshal, his primary job is rounding up escaped German prisoners of war, of which Jurgen Schrenk is a regular. What begins as an investigation into how a POW was hanged in his barracks by hard-line Nazis turns into a look at why Jurgen keeps escaping and coming back that allows Leonard to bring back some principles from The Hot Kid, namely Louly (now Carl’s wife), and Kansas City gangster Teddy Ritz. The story detours into kind of a history lesson of Nazis and Jews and kind of stalls until Leonard seems to realize he’s about out of episodes and wraps things up.

I remember reading Comfort in its serial form and thought I lost interest because having to wait a week between segments prevented the familiar Leonard momentum from building up. Reading it straight through isn’t much more rewarding.

The Other Carl Webster stories referred to in the title are clipped from The Hot Kid, filled out a little, and presented here as standalones used as backstory for Carl and Louly. These were part of a good meal when served in the original, but now they’re leftovers with a little filler, warmed over and passed off as dinner. We’ve all eaten these, and they’ll serve in a pinch, but mostly they remind you of how good it was when you ate it fresh.

If you want to read about Carl Webster—and you should, he’s up there with Chili Palmer, Jack Foley, Ordell Robbie, and Raylan Givens among Leonard’s best characters—do yourself a favor and read The Hot Kid. It’s not like it’s out of print.

 

 

 

Tragic Magic by Laura Childs

Publisher: Berkley

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Carmela Bertrand finds New Orleans’ French Quarter to be a constant source of inspiration for projects in her scrapbooking store, Memory Mine.  Carmela loves the constant activity, casual warmth of the regulars and looks of wonder on the faces of tourists.  With plenty of attention from her new beau Edgar Babcock, Carmela thinks post-Katrina life is starting to improve, especially when she and her vivacious best friend Ava Gruiex are hired to help Melody Mayfeldt to convert an empty mansion into a frightful haunted house named Medusa Manor.  In a devastating moment, Carmela and Ava witness Melody’s dramatic and tragic demise, leaving them shaken but determined to finish the project in spite of lingering danger.

The murder bonds the group of shopowners even closer as they try to protect their stores, their customers, and the future of New Orleans’ reputation while trying to uncover who could be the culprit in Melody’s death.  Melody’s husband and jewelry store co-owner, Garth, begs Carmela and Ava to find out who could have killed Melody even as he becomes the number one suspect.

Through all the heavy uncertainty, Carmela’s impending divorce from her self-centered adulterer husband and his unbalanced sister provides levity while also sharing glimpses of life in the cultured, upscale Garden District.  Childs effectively ties up loose ends and touches on some of the many segments of New Orleans society which make the city entirely unique.

Scrapbooking tips and recipes are featured in the back, with some recipes inspired by Cajun and Creole cuisine.  Interestingly, there is one recipe for poboys, but it uses roast beef and mayonnaise instead of the ever-present Louisiana seafood and spicy accompanying poboy sauce.  This is indicative of Childs’ biggest weakness in Tragic Magic- she incorporates New Orleans elements but has a difficult time integrating them without seeming like she’s trying to hard.  (No one in New Orleans would call oysters “New Orleans oysters”—they’re just oysters.)  Still, for someone who likes the idea of New Orleans, loves scrapbooking and some non-gory scary atmosphere, this is a fun read, especially during the Halloween season.

 

 

 

 

Necessary as Blood by Deborah Crombie

Publisher: Avon

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

No doubt London has changed in the last few decades or so, and it’s these changes in all their many forms that are really the backbone of Crombie’s latest mystery.  Focusing on the myriad of ethnicities that now make up London (and most Western big cities), she creates an absorbing tale of just how the search for a better life, while timeless and global, has, and still, can lead to greed and violence against those seeking a better life.

It all starts when while shopping DI Gemma James happens upon a crime scene far from her district, making it one she has no right to get involved with.  But something about this case strikes a chord in her.  What began months before with the disappearance of a happily married wife and mother has now become even more mysterious with the murder of the missing woman’s husband.  But it’s really the beautiful young child left behind that grabs Gemma’s heart and leads to her obsession in finding the answers that could explain these mysterious events. 

Luckily for Gemma, her soon-to-be husband Scotland Yard Investigator Duncan Kincaid has no trouble getting officially involved, smoothing the way for Gemma to help find the answers and, most of all, help protect the beautiful child left behind. 

But is Gemma just using this case as an excuse to avoid making plans for her upcoming wedding, or to avoid her mother’s increasingly failing health, or perhaps her guilt about working too much?  As Gemma comes closer to the truth that lies behind the crimes, one far deadlier and extensive than she imagined, she’ll find her priorities, not to mention her safety, hanging in a precarious balance.       

Crombie does her usual great job of creating a mystery, offering clues, and following up with an intelligent investigation.  But, in this latest, fans will be treated to even more than just another of her consistently well-devised crime stories.  She evokes from her characters, especially Gemma, an added dose of sincerity and intimacy that brings a wonderful depth to the story, and fans will delight in seeing the softer side of this hard-nosed investigator.  And when combined with Crombie’s compassionate depictions of strangers in a strange land that are both heartfelt and stirring, what you end up with is a novel that has it all and that just might be Crombie’s best so far.    

 

 

Locked In by Marcia Muller

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing 

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

At first glance, the title suggests that PI Sharon McCone may have been kidnapped and held hostage by one of the villains she so often runs across in her career.  But it’s worse, much worse: she’s being held hostage by her own body, after an assault late at night near her office.

If you’ve read “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”, you’ll be one step ahead of other readers once you realise what’s going on.  Sharon’s head injury has resulted in her being unable to move or speak, despite her mind being fully awake and active.  Doctors are depressingly reluctant to give Sharon’s husband Hy any hope; he and all her friends and colleagues are wondering if they will ever see the real Sharon again, or if the body in the bed is all there is from now on.

Then, miraculously, Sharon is able to make Hy realise that she’s still here, she’s inside this unresponsive body, and she’s desperate to recover.  All it takes is a blink, but with that one movement, Hy begins to hope and Sharon’s unimaginable frustration is slightly eased.

Over the next few weeks, Hy and all Sharon’s colleagues hold regular staff meetings in her hospital room, reporting to her all they have collected for evidence concerning who attacked her and why.  The scene is reminiscent of Josephine Tey’s classic “The Daughter of Time”, except the detective isn’t merely bedridden, she’s mute and paralysed.  Making herself understood is agonizingly slow: one blink for yes, two for no.

Despite her protagonist’s being the still point in the middle of the drama, Muller keeps the story moving rapidly by cutting between the bedside and the investigation scenes, showing the reader how Sharon’s staff are piecing together what must have happened on that dark night, and what’s going on inside her mind. 

Muller conveys the incredible fear, frustration, desperation and misery of those who suffer from the locked-in syndrome, and makes you hope you get hit by a really big bus before something like that happens to you.  This is a real tour de force by the ever-inventive Marcia Muller.

 

 

 

The Chocolate Cupid Killings by JoAnna Carl

Publisher: Signet

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

In this latest installment of the Chocoholic Mystery series, Ten Huis Chocolade is the place to go for delicious chocolates, juicy gossip, and well-intentioned secrets in the tiny town of Warner Pier.  Lee McKinney Woodyard works in the old-fashioned chocolate shop on the business side, helping her Aunt Nettie and basking in the beautiful and aromatic concoctions.  The shop is especially busy since Valentine’s Day is coming up but too many inhibiting suspicions spoil the season for Lee.

As an employee, Lee knows that an abused woman is temporarily hiding out in the shop, which has temporarily become part of a battered women’s underground railroad station. Even though she’s devoted to her husband Joe, Lee has promised not to tell him about the fragile woman since he’s the town’s attorney.  A short stay for the woman becomes fraught when a determined private investigator stops in the shop, asking pointed questions that throw all the plans off track.  After the nosy investigator is found lifeless outside the shop, then Lee’s personal and professional lives get thick with motives, suspects, and keeping promises to her beloved aunt.

Meanwhile, Joe has secrets of his own when he meets with strange foul-mouthed city-bred men whose appearances seem to unnerve him.  Tight-lipped, Joe won’t share his apprehensions with Lee so his bad temper and frequent absences are a recipe for mistrust between the two.  To ignore her growing doubts, Lee tries to fill her days with working at the shop and visiting other friends who keep the gossip flowing.

Even though she’s a reluctant investigator, Lee can’t help but learn little details while working so she slowly starts to put things together.  Throughout the book, Lee gets flustered and tends to use the wrong word as she panics in any situation that makes her a little uncomfortable.  Sometimes the slip-up is harmlessly Freudian and sometimes reveals her thoughts unexpectedly when she tries to play it cool.

Carl’s writing style often follows Lee’s train of thought, including “hmms” and other self notations which can be occasionally off-putting.  Carl wisely keeps a consistent focus on chocolate by sprinkling chocolate trivia throughout the book and keeping her characters firmly involved in the day-to-day sweet shop’s work. 

 

 

Inspector Singh Investigates: The Singapore School of Villainy by Shamini Flint

Publisher: Piatkus

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Inspector Singh’s wife planned a lovely traditional Indian meal to welcome distant relative Jagdesh Singh’s arrival to Singapore and to lay the groundwork to finding the handsome young lawyer a nice Sikh wife.  Oblivious to his wife’s elaborate plans, the stout police inspector instead meets Jagdesh in an altogether different fashion when the attorney suddenly becomes a prime murder suspect after Mark Thompson, a partner at the law firm, dies at the office.  The situation quickly threatens to become a political mess since Thompson’s expatriate status leads to global interest in the murder.  Singh, who seems to almost delight in frustrating his politically-minded superiors, determines to handle the case as any other, quickly finding that Thompson’s ex-wife of thirty years and his new wife—and former maid—only add further complications to solving the case.

In the first two books of Flint’s series, Singh investigates high-profile murders in Bali and Malaysia, lamenting the absence of his wife’s excellent cooking but otherwise glad to be away from her household dominance.  The Singapore School of Villainy takes place in Singh’s jurisdiction and finally introduces the legendary Mrs. Singh to readers who have come to know her through the Inspector’s decidedly biased point of view.  Inspector Singh, so indomitable anywhere else in the world, finds that he is unable even to ask his wife to remove the sticky plastic tablecloth that covers the delicate lace below.

As in the previous two books in the Inspector Singh series, Singh finds cause in his work to ruminate over marriage and food while solving his cases.  While colored by Singh’s negative views of his own marriage, he often finds cause to empathize with wives of other men even while nakedly admitting their capability to commit murder.  Fortunately for Singh, food brings him nothing but joy with the slight spiritually dampening aspect of his expanding waistline and his loving descriptions of Asian cuisine add a global flavor to the enjoyable mysteries.

Flint carefully creates Singh’s fictional world with internationally little-known details of Singaporean culture and Asian religious traditions.  Inspector Singh’s status as a Sikh offers the occasional opportunity for Flint to delicately remind readers that they should not confuse eastern religions, or even sects of religions, with one another.  Most importantly, Flint’s novels contain excellent and easily relatable descriptions such as describing a stocky man as one who is built “like a Lego figure” embedded in these creative Asian adventures sure to win over fans from many mystery genres.

 

 

 

 

The Test by Patricia  Gussin

Publisher: Oceanview Publishing

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

We’d all like to know we’ve left something worthwhile behind us.  Paul Parnell was one of the richest men in America when he was forced to re-assess his own legacy in the face of a terminal illness.

Paul had made millions and done a lot of good with the money, but like a lot of alpha males, he’d left the raising of his children to others while he amassed the fortune that he was now going to leave behind.  Too late, he saw that his children were flawed people: Carla was a drug addict, Frank was an egotist focussed on political power, Dan was a drop out and Ashley was sweet and bright but easily-led—how could Paul use his fortune to help his children grow into the people he felt they should be?

After the funeral, the family is called together by the old family lawyer and told that the huge pile of money is to be sequestered for a year, at the end of which time the would-be heirs would have to pass a test to get their share.  Each of the children also gets a personal letter from their dead father, telling them of his regrets and hopes for them.  They also discover they have a sibling they never knew about, who is to share in the fortune, as is the step-sister who was never formally adopted.  Frank is disgusted and immediately challenges the legitimacy of the will. He’s a spoiled brat you could hate on sight, always quick to attribute to others his own venal motives.

The book follows the heirs through a lot of ups and downs as they try to figure out what to do to pass the test. The only guidelines they have are the letters from Paul, but do these spoiled adults have the insight to realise how to use their father’s cry from the heart? Moreover, are they willing to change?

As you’d expect when there’s a fortune for the taking, a number of shady characters turn up like vultures at a dead zebra party.  Some are just greedy—but one is a psychopath.  And the new sibling isn’t the only surprise: there are many secrets in the Parnell family, in some very unexpected closets.

This is a very involving story that draws you in from the first chapter.  You may not like some of the characters, but you are compelled to read on to see what happens to them, and to find out if they can really grow and develop as their father hoped.

Author Gussin has given the reader a lot to think about, as well as being a cracking good story-teller.

 

 

 

 

Londongrad by Reggie Nadelson

Publisher: Walker & Company 

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

Artemy  “Artie” Cohen is a New York City detective. He was born in Moscow, but got out of Russia when he was sixteen. His friend - Tolya Sverdkif - owns much real estate and several nightclubs including one in London. Artie is in love with Valentina, Tolya’s daughter, although Tolya doesn’t seem to know.

Artie is delivering some books to a shut-in as a favor to Tolya when he almost runs over a little girl who runs out in the street. After following her to an abandoned playground, he makes a gruesome discovery. There is a young woman wrapped in duct tape and taped to a swing. Was she was killed there or left to die there? Is it a coincidence that she resembles Valentina? Questions like that causes Artie to get involved in the case.

When Valentina is murdered, Artie travels to London to tell Tolya. Tolya begs him to stay there while Tolya returns to NY to make funeral arrangements. Artie reluctantly agrees and finds himself thrown into a world of privileged Russians and spies.

The book is well written and the plot keeps the reader’s interest. The look into the international community of Russians after the collapse of the USSR is intriguing.

 

 

Blackwork by Monica Ferris

Publisher:  Berkley Prime Crime

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

Mystery fans—attention!  This is one tale you won’t want to miss. Guaranteed to provide lots of entertainment. Talented mystery author Monica Ferris has crafted a tale to keep you reading page after page, waiting to see what happens in Blackwork.

The town of Excelsior, Minnesota, has a varied population that will keep you interested as you meet the local witch who brews beer, a Jeckyl/Hyde mechanic whose drinking gets him into trouble, an amateur sleuth who runs Crewel World needlework shop, as well as many others.

Betsy Devonshire has to take time from her needlework shop to help organize the Halloween parade while others arrange for an autumnal event the small town won’t forget for a long time.  One of the parade’s organizers is partner to the town witch who isn’t really a witch, but a woman who is a Wiccan.  Her religion brings out the prejudice in Ryan McMurphy who is vocal and nasty when drunk. 

When Ryan is found dead in a borrowed room in someone’s basement, local speculation begins to plant suspicion on the local witch who Betsy is sure is innocent of any wrong doing.  She is drawn into investigating the death based on her past successes.

This is a tale with lots of surprises and you will keep guessing who did it and why.  Sit back and enjoy a mixed-up Halloween parade as done in a small town.  It took me back to my own childhood and I enjoyed reliving the parades I saw. 

Lots of action and fun characters, this author shows the reader something new in her plotting and you’ll be looking for other books by her.  I’m pleased to highly recommend Blackwork as a run read any mystery fan will enjoy and long remember.  Enjoy.  I certainly did.