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Baker's Will by Gary Hill

Publisher:  AuthorHouse ISBN 1420828975

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader 

After the Civil War had freed the slaves, two elderly men sat at a checkerboard and made a bet that will impact on their descendents a hundred years hence.  Even though they wouldn't be around to enjoy the final outcome, Les Baker set into motion something that would, as far as he was concerned, prove the Negro race weren't as smart or productive as the white race.  Who would the winner be?

A hundred years later, Laura Sanders, a young lawyer working in the file room of Grover Bank and Trust discovers the trust file and seeing how close the date is to its being settled, takes it to her boss. He assigns her the task of finding the descendants of Slim Evans, the ex slave. Her boss has discovered Les Baker's descendants own a multi-billion dollar business that is now in danger of being split.

How will the Baker heirs react to the news that they stand to lose half of all they own?  How will the Evans heirs react? Is any one of them worth the million dollars required by the will's stipulation to lay claim to billions??

Laura Sanders finds Michael Evans, policeman in New York City, but events have already been set into motion that could affect the outcome of the hearing. 

A story that holds true to the black versus white racism theory that serves as the basis for the book. A tale that might satisfy the reader in search of an offbeat story.


Jonny Double by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso

Vertigo/DC Comics, 2002 ISBN: 1563898152

Jonny Double is the graphic novel that first brought together the creative team of writer Brian Azzarello and artist Eduardo Risso, a collaboration that was to reach its zenith with the Eisner Award-winning 100 Bullets series.  And we can see here, albeit in embryonic form only, many of the themes that have come to characterize this later work.  Jonny Double is a rattling good read.

The plot of Jonny Double is resistant to summary, as many of Azzarello's stories are, but it would be remiss not to make at least one shot at it.  So here goes.  Our eponymous hero is a former cop turned PI, and has been hired by one Mr. Hart to find Faith, his wayward daughter.  In carrying out his assignment Jonny falls in with Faith and her friends, and aids them in carrying out a scam to take $7 million from a mobster's bank account.  Then the money goes missing.  Cue mistrust amongst the acolyte thieves with - on top of this - the mob chasing Jonny and company for a cool $7 mill that they can't find and don't have … duplicitous intrigue, frenetic action and bloody mayhem are guaranteed!

Along with the storyline, what Brian Azzarello brings to Jonny Double is a sympathetic depiction of alternative lifestyles and milieus (one cop is gay, many of Faith's friends are in the rave scene); throwaway insights into love, loss and the cost of redemption; and a street dialogue that is witty and on the ball.  When Paul, a cool young dude (rather like me, but that’s another story …), tells 1960s survivor Jonny to chill out and get over it (i.e., their precarious predicament), Jonny replies:

Get over it?  Which "it" do ya mean, Paul?  The we-stole-the-money-from-somebody-very-dangerous "it" or the we're-being-picked-off-one-by-one "it"?

The artwork of Eduardo Risso is imaginative and impressive.  Sometimes he will explode the page with splatter-shot violence, while at other times he uses close-ups (many panels, all inset) to escalate the tension or emphasis the emotion in a scene.  There are offbeat perspectives and angles: e.g., at one point we view a conversation between two characters from between a girl's crossed legs.  It all makes for a richly cinematic experience. 

Jonny Double is B-movie pulp that is deserving of a straight A.


MISMATCH  by J Clayton Rogers

Books Unbound E-Publishing Co.   ISBN 1-59201-028-8 buying info:

Reviewed by Karen Treanor

The last thing a middle-aged heart surgeon expects is to be kidnapped by a ruthless ex-Mountie.  Worse: kidnapped along with his wife Claire, and his patient, who turns out to be someone from Claire's own mysterious past.

During a tension-fraught drive from Richmond to Quebec, Paul Racine is pushed from one fear to another: panic about his wife's safety; concern for his patient, whose donor heart seems to be giving up the fight; fear of the gun-carrying law-man gone bad; and suspicion that there is some bigger plot running in the background.  Somehow the various Quebec separatist movements are involved, but Racine, who is French-born, has only a dim understanding of the bitter divisions in his wife's homeland, and even less of the depth of her own feelings about the English Canadians.

During the drive north, Racine gets tantalizing glimpses of what motivates the renegade lawman, but still can't figure out what it is that the man wants from his rapidly failing patient.  There's a tense but funny scene in a New Jersey drugstore where Racine tries to obtain the drugs that will keep the patient alive.  Readers will find memorable lines, including,  "The hapless pharmacist seemed not to know what to do about his professional grin, as though it was a grenade he dare not release lest it blow up in his face."

As the trip continues, McNaught, the ex-Mountie, reveals more and more, almost as if by telling Racine of the past he will somehow be able to convert him to the present cause.   The millions of dollars that are hidden in Canada were earmarked for something, but is that still in McNaught's plans?  Or is this just a case of simple greed?   By a skilful use of flashbacks to the 1970s, Rogers gives pieces of the puzzle through McNaught's narrative to Racine.

Death has been riding as an unseen but not unnoticed passenger in the hostage car, but when he taps his victim on the shoulder, it's a shock to all, not least McNaught.

How Racine, his wife and her brother finally get back to Quebec, and what they find when they get there, occupies the last few chapters, and seems initially an anti-climax.  But then there's a meeting in the Biodome at which one final shocking revelation is made which will take the reader totally by surprise, as it does Racine and Claire.

This is a complex and fascinating story which will keep the reader involved from start to finish.  Highly recommended.


Luz Stella's Tale by Max Blue and Wilson Abut

Publisher: iUniverse (September 1, 2003) ISBN: 059528728X

Reviewed by Narayan Radhakrishnan

Max Blue is a pseudonym and Wilson Abut, a pen name of the same author- whose real name is Paul Fritz. Confused? So was I, the myriad plots and the adventure plethora in Luz Stella’s Tale left me confused and exhausted.

The novel, for one, has an interesting background- mysteries set in South America are few and far between. Most novels set in South America center around the Amazon, or bad drug dealers. Luz Stella’s Tale is different in this respect. The novel combines the better elements of Michael Crichton/ Robin Cook type thrillers and the action intrigue of Wilbur Smith novels- and proves to be a roller coaster of a novel.

From Colombia to U.S. we follow the trials and tribulations of Inspector Bismark Pacheco, ‘one tough hombre and the most respected man in Costa Rica’, his Assistant, the beautiful, smart scientist Luz Stella and journalist Wilson Abut, an alter – ego of the author himself- in their quest to save the world from the menace of a dangerous fungi that can totally wipe out the farming economy of Asia and America.  Together they defeat baddies and take the reader on a joy- ride- in their quest to rid the world from the menace of eco- terrorism.

The book is thick in action, but personally, I felt that the myriad plots and action were a wee bit overload- it was a bit too much for me. The author sure has in depth knowledge of what he is writing. Good book and a solid read. Look out for two more Bismark Pacheco mysteries - Murder at the Cat and Cielito Lindo by the same author.


The Carnival Never Ends by Sparky Thorne

Publisher: Bon Tiki Publishing Inc ISBN: 0974707201

Reviewed by Narayan Radhakrishnan

For those who though the Indies/Caribbean was place for fun, frolic and entertainment, well, The Carnival Never Ends is an eye-opener. Behind the music, the hot beaches and the eazeeeeeeeee life, there exists another life, a dark one, where drugs and ancient superstitious beliefs run amok. Each island is a separate region with its own unique culture and tradition, that though on the face of it seems welcoming to all- hides behind it some traditions and customs that are taboo and alien to ‘the outsider’.

It is to this world almost burnt- out corporate attorney Bob Kaufman arrives, for living a dram life and for ‘something different.’ A lawyer in New York, Kaufman is thrilled at having inherited an island somewhere in the Caribbean. And it is with great expectations that the lawyer reaches the Indies. But the dream was short lived. In place of palm tress and beautiful beaches, he saw a world of drugs and bombs and freaky politics and a freakier legal system. What follows is a gentle, but captivating novel of a man trying to escape from a nightmare, all the while blaming himself for jumping the confines of his house on the belief that the ‘grass is greener…’

Thorne a musician and diving instructor puts to marvelous use his experiences in the Caribbean to deliver a masterful thriller- The Carnival Never Ends succeeds not only as a comic novel, but also as an entertainment thriller.

A nice novel, and a lovely read.


Invitation to Valhalla by Mike Whicker

Publishers: iUniverse, 2003 ISBN:0595297390

Reviewed by Narayan Radhakrishnan

Debutant novelist Mike Whicker, a teacher by profession, delivers a good old- fashioned spy thriller in his first novel Invitation to Valhalla.

The novel set in the background of the 2nd World War features a daring, dashing anti- heroine Erika Lehmann. Beautiful and intelligent she is one of the top spies and a person in the inner circle of Hitler’s Nazi regime, and her devotion to Hitler is unparalleled. Erika is given the task of posing as a Jew and date Joe Mayer, a metallurgist working for the U.S. Navy. Well hiding her loathing for Jews, Erika seduces the Jewish scientist- all for the Fatherland. But unknown to Erika, danger lurks close behind, not in the form of an enemy, but of a fellow nazi, Axel Ryder, who has been deployed by Himmler to finish off Erika. On the other side is cynical veteran FBI agent Charlie Pulaski- who smells a rat, but cannot place what it actually is. What follows is a stylish action packed spy thriller- with a final hi-fi action between a beautiful nazi and devilish murderer culminating in an exciting finish.

The author combines in it the better elements of the early Ken Follett novels, especially Triple and Key to Rebecca and the elements of Robert Ludlum novels. In fact, I must say, even the title reads almost like a Ludlum title- The Road to Omaha or The Ostermann Weekend.

The book is a good read, and I am sure of one thing- Whicker will soon be back- watch this space.


Fit For Fate by Eugene Aubrey Stratton

Publishers: Universe, 2003 ISBN:0595287549

Reviewed by Narayan Radhakrishnan

Fit for Fate is a romantic mystery.

Fit for Fate is a suspense thriller

Fit for Fate is a novel of international intrigue.

This first novel by CIA Case Officer and former Greek resident Eugene Aubrey Stratton, succeeds on al counts as a pucca modern day mystery set in a colorful cultural background- of that of modern day Athens, Greece.

Police Director Spyro Roussos, the protagonist of the story is a highly efficient and honest policeman working in Athens.  His nemesis is the corrupt and degenerate politician Petropoulos. Director Roussos has in his possession some top- secret files that might just bring out some skeletons from the closets of many a politician. Petropoulos wants these files so as to blackmail these politicians, and he has many a trick up his sleeve to procure them. Roussos slowly finds his work in jeopardy. The novel till this point has the tone of a local flavor mystery. But all this changes when the niece of the American Ambassador is kidnapped and suddenly Athens is caught in the midst of a boiling fury- a controversy, an international controversy that just might tilt international power equations- or cause the next World War. Caught in this midst is Roussos, and together with the help of his son Dimitri- Roussos tries to solve the ‘problem’ – trying to preserve the honor and integrity of a great nation and to prevent international chaos from boiling over. Success is essential for failure means devastation, worldwide devastation.

The novel is a good read. Conspiracy, intrigue etc. are staple ingredients of a regular thriller- and Fit for Fate offers nothing spectacular, but where the book succeeds is in the colorful background of an alien culture- that reminds one of ancient Greek stories. A good read. Enjoyable.



THE JERICHO FLOWER   by Stephen F Wilcox

Mystery and Suspense Press ISBN  0 595 21509 2

 Reviewed by Karen Treanor

If you're a fan of maxims, adages and old saws, this is the book for you.  Our hero, Hackshaw (who apparently has no first name) manages to pack more of them into his speech than anyone since Benjamin Franklin. 

Slow Eddy is dead, and nobody seems terribly distressed by his passing except  Hackshaw, and he only because the well-named Mel Stoneman, local lawman, likes him for the role of Chief Suspect.

No sooner has Hackshaw slipped out of that mess then he's kidnapped by Gypsies.  Honest.  It seems Bimbo Wanka, Gypsy Princess, is missing.  Hawkshaw is given an easy choice: find her, or be beaten to a pulp.  Just to encourage him, the Gypsy chief has his minions give Hackshaw a free sample.

OK, so where would you be hiding if you were a Gypsy Princess?  Hackshaw's investigation soon leads him right back to the doorstep of the dead conman Slow Eddy.  After a bit more digging, it looks as if Bimbo and Eddy had something going, and not just on the romance front.

The story takes a twist through a few more subplots, including blackmail, toxic waste, upholstery, chicken sacrifices, and what passes in this small New York State town for high society before Hackshaw gets to the bottom of the several mysteries.

More stringent editing and less liberal use of em dashes would have made this book a more enjoyable reading experience; but that aside, it's an engaging romp with some Runyonesque characters, and worth devoting an afternoon's reading time to.


Ruby Tuesday by Baron R. Birtcher

Publisher: Durban House Publishing Company, Inc ISBN: 1930754124 (Nov 01)

Baron R. Birtcher has outdone himself.  Ruby Tuesday is the second hardboiled mystery in the Mike Travis series.  The Mike Travis character was first introduced in the impressive debut novel, Roadhouse Blues (October 2000).  Both novels are fast, exciting and tough to put down.  

In his latest, Ruby Tuesday, we start up where Roadhouse Blues ends off.   What's great is, you do not need to read one in order to read the other.  Each novel is a complete novel all by itself.  (However, if you read one, I can almost guarantee you will want to read the other).  

A trend setting band works diligently in the recording studio to put the final touches on their next album release.   The pressure is on.  Every new release has outsold the previous release.  And with each new release there is a spike in sales of previous releases.   So when the band realizes the tapes with their recording is missing, everything falls apart.  Things only get worse when the lead singer, who was perhaps the brains and brawn behind the band, allegedly commits suicide.  What ever happened to the recordings?  Were they stolen?  Erased?  There are no answers until years later …

Mike Travis was born into money.  His brother and he inherited the family business.  While his brother decided to work at the company, Travis became a police officer, and shared in half the company profits as a silent partner.  After taking an early retirement as detective with the Los Angels Police Department, Travis decides to sail his yacht toward home, Kona, Hawaii.

Ready to relax and enjoy life, the last thing Travis expected was to get sucked into a multiple murder investigation.  To make matters more complicated the victims are murdered inside Travis' house.  Ruby is one of the deceased and was a good friend of Travis', while another was a member of the band whose recordings disappeared, a third was the producer for the recordings and the list goes on ...

None of the details makes much sense except for the fact that the Ruby's husband, Tino, also a friend of Travis', looks like the prime suspect.  After all, what was she doing in the house with the drug abusing band junkies? Dedicated to getting to the bottom of the mess, Travis hopes to clear Tino's name.  But he hasn't much time.  With Tino in custody, the local police are ready to call the case closed …

From page one until the last page, Birtcher knows how to engage his readers.  In the classic noir style, he builds the tension and suspense until you think you can't take any more … but there is always more to be had.  A regular whodunit, Birtcher feeds clues and designates suspects.  Great dialogue, beautiful narrative and description (which make me want to move to Hawaii) make the entire book resemble a movie.  Everything is three-dimensional.  The plot is tight.  The mystery is clever.  The ending a huge surprise.  I look forward to Birtcher's next novel.

© 2003 Phillip Tomasso III

Roadhouse Blues by Baron R. Birtcher
Durban House        1930754000

Baron R. Birtcher has created a fine start to his investigator series featuring Mike Travis The novel Roadhouse Blues is fast and competent.  It is full of wit that makes you laugh out loud.  It is full of characters that you quickly find yourself caring about.  But more importantly it is full of suspense that keeps you turning pages.  

Mike Travis is a newly retired LAPD Homicide detective.  Planning to spend his life with his boat, he starts a small-time charter service.  Before his beer has a chance to chill in the cooler his former partner calls him away from the serene and scenic ocean.  

Before retiring a case Travis worked on went unsolved.  Someone had been murdering people.  The police worked to link the victims, but could not.  They were men, women, white, black…there seemed no pattern.  What connected the crimes was the similar M.O.  A single knife wound to the heart was determined the cause of death, and the palm of the left hand of the victims was cut.  

There was a lull in the murders back when Travis first retired.  But now the body of a new victim is found and Travis might be the only one who can find and stop the killing before more bodies turn up.

From the beginning until the end I was unable to think about much else besides Roadhouse Blues.  Mostly told from the Mike Travis' point of view, Birtcher does a skillful job of switching to the point of view of the killer.   This technique not only adds insight to the crimes committed, but it also adds tension for the reader.  Quick chapters, great dialogue and full of action, Roadhouse Blues is the type of noir I enjoy most.  I look forward to the second in the series, Ruby Tuesday.  

© 2003 Phillip Tomasso III

SUCKER BET James Swain
Ballantine Books ISBN  0 345 46175 4

A well-written murder-mystery is not unusual, but a well-written
mystery that taps into a little-known sub-genre is.  James Swain's
third book about cop-turned-scam-breaker Tony Valentine is enjoyable on both levels.  It's a well-plotted mystery, and it's an in-depth look into the world of gambling casinos and the fringes of organised (and disorganised) crime.

Valentine is hired by the Micanopy Indian elders in Florida to discover how their casino is  being cheated. This leads to the discovery of a murder, which leads in turn to the discovery of--but why spoil your fun?    It's enough to say that there are plots and sub-plots as tangled as a mangrove swamp,and Valentine is pushed to the limit to untangle everything, save the casino's reputation, and bring the criminals to justice.

Along the way, Valentine meets some amazing characters,  including Mr. Beauregard, the ukelele playing chimpanzee; a four-hundred pound bookie, and Valentine's own son, who is undergoing a metamorphosis that seems too good to be true.  Valentine survives attack by alligators (thoughtfully left in his car by an ill-wisher) and assorted thugs, but ends up saying his prayers in a dark swamp without any hope of rescue.  He is saved by an unsuspected ally, and goes on to unravel the last few
plot twists minus a bit of his anatomy.  No, of course I'm not going to say which bit!

Meanwhile back at the office, Valentine's neighbor and sometime
secretary Mabel is undergoing her own trials.   Readers, especially older women, will probably applaud Mabel's solution to her difficulties.   Those who assume females over 60  are feeble fumblewits will find Mabel giving the lie to the stereotype.   Swain is expanding the character of Mabel in this third book; let's hope he continues in this vein.  She  has a lot of potential.

Swain uses his inside knowledge of gambling, card sharps and scams to good effect: he gives the reader enough information to be able to follow the plot twists, without often getting bogged down in excessive detail.  There is one drawn-out explanation of how to cheat at Blackjack,  but you can skip it and still enjoy the story.  Or you can read it and try to figure out how you might use it on your next trip to Vegas!
                                                                            Highly recommended.
                                                                                   --Karen Treanor


The Saracen’s Golden Armor by Hawthorne Vance

Publishers: KiwE Publishing, 2003 ISBN:1931195323

Reviewed by Narayan Radhakrishnan

The first novel by this lawyer- turned- author, Hawthorne Vance is a historical thriller of the first order.

In the lines of the Jeffrey Archer thriller, A Matter of Honor and some works of that of Frederick Forsyth (Icon for an example), the novel follows the exploits of  law school dropout and private detective Akard Phermstoole in his efforts to return a ‘relic’ to a rightful owner.

The story begins with a sharp foreword to the life of Saladin,  a Muslim hero of the 12th century. Now the action shifts to the present day. A soldier in World War II, Roscoe Periwinkle,  has taken a piece of a golden armor supposedly belonging to Saladin. The armor remained with the soldier till his death. Now his widow wishes to return the relic to its rightful place, in Siena, and seeks the help of Akard Phermstoole. Akard agrees- but no sooner has he embarked on the mission he faces stiff opposition from a terrorist- who fancies himself as a modern day Saladin, ( of course the traces of Osama are unmistakingly present in this terrorist)  and  wants the ‘relic’ for furthering his ambitions.  What follows is taut action culminating in a grand and exciting finish.

The author keeps the action thick and fast. Blended with a bit of reality and fact, a ‘what- if’ scenario is explored, The Saracen’s Golden Armor is a fiction work totally rooted in reality. And as the author puts it in the foreword- “ what I have written as fiction today could be reality tomorrow.”

A great read, and I look forward to more Akard Phermstoole thrillers from this author. A good and fine debut.