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The China Conspiracy by P.M. Terrell

Publisher:  Drake Valley Press ISBN:  0972818634

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader  

While interviewing newly elected Virginia governor Stallworth, Carter Leigh elicits a sharp reaction from him about a comment on starving children in China. What possibly could the governor take offense at with such an offhand remark?

Kit Olson is a programmer for a front company for the CIA and not happy to be told she is being transferred to the office of a missing man who also worked there. She is immediately given the task of figuring out the function of a certain program. 

On her way home, she sees the kidnapping of her former boss who later turns up dead. There are a series of questions about Kit's veracity arising from her account of this event. But as events prove out, the suspicion from one event turns into suspicion of another kind as money appears mysteriously in her accounts, her son is kidnapped and other things happen, bringing her into contact with Carter and they must work together to unravel the several questions that crop up as the plot unwinds.

Kit solves the problem of the program she is working on and realizes what it was used for. Can she stop it from further use? Who can she trust?

The China Conspiracy will hold your interest to the last page. The characters live and breathe and are driven by necessity of protecting ones they love or by motives of greed and power. It brings to mind The Manchurian Candidate, but the plot here is much more complex. Can Kit and Carter answer the many questions that arise as the story unfolds?

A very enjoyable read, one you will long remember. Highly recommended as it will hold any reader's interest.  I enjoyed it for the low key tension that pulled me ever onward. No shoot 'em ups, no gore, but an eminently readable tale.

 

The Killing Kind by John Connelly

Publisher: Pocket Star ISBN: 0743456378

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader

John Connellyís The Killing Kind is the work of a master in his prime. Connelly weaves a complex story without making it so complicated the reader canít appreciate the characters and quality of writing. For that, Connelly deserves our thanks. The characters and writing are whatís worth reading here.

Not that the plotís bad; far from it. A young woman commits suicide while researching her Masters thesis on the mysterious disappearance of a small band of religious zealots that disappeared without a trace in the Sixties. A rich man with a guilty conscience hires detective Charlie Parker to make sure suicide isnít just an uncomplicated way for the police to close the case. Parkerís investigation inexorably takes him from a two-bit grifter turned faith healer to the sinister machinations of a church for whom all imperfect life, being damned, is without value.

Parker once again has his inner demons pitted against formidable forces that seem almost other-worldly in their menace. The treat is watching him fight both without bathos. He faces up to his dark side as well as he can, imperfectly, letting us identify with him while rejoicing because nothing like this ever happens to us. Parker takes his situation and relationships seriously, making it doubly important to the reader that things work out for him.

Parkerís not in it alone. Louis, his alter ego, could easily be a not-so-pale imitation of Spenserís Hawk. Connelly wonít have it. Louis, Hawk-like in his controlled menace, serves a distinct purpose as Parkerís sidekick, understanding and helping to define his friendís needs and internal struggles. The depth of their friendship is more evolved than Spenserís with Hawk, who understand each other well enough to relate in the traditional manner of quiet bonding. Each knows the other is there for him; their mutual feelings are conveyed in the subtext of their banter. Parker and Louis are more open. They pick open each otherís psychic scabs to discuss things about which Spenser and Hawk will only smile knowingly.  (Note to the reader: This is written by a Spenser devotee, and is no faint praise.)

Louisí partner Angel is a perfect foil, lacking their level of menace and injecting a lighter side without becoming comic relief. Rachel is a woman meant for a man like Parker, strong enough to both stand up to him and to let him do what he has to.

Itís a good thing. Rare is a cast of villains found to match those in The Killing Kind. From Mr. Puddís spiders and his mute female companion through the spectral Golem, the undercurrent of evil is always touched by the malevolent offstage presence of a master unseen until the end.

Connellyís writing is reminiscent in some ways of early Robert B. Parker in more than the relationship between Charlie Parker and Louis. The descriptions, the pace and flow of the language, and the easy and genuinely amusing banter between friends are all Parker trademarks, here made distinctly Connellyís own. The humor is particularly effective. Characters are only intentionally funny when theyíre relaxing. The humor that erupts in dangerous situations is the unintentional levity of men under stress, or building their courage by whistling through the graveyard.

Connelly excels at letting the reader in on things at his own pace and in his own way. He uses excerpts from Grace Peltierís unfinished thesis to foreshadow events, letting you peek far enough ahead to guess at a few things without giving them away. Exercise some discipline. The Killing Kind will make you want to turn every page, but not too quickly. Skipping over anything here means youíll miss something more than plot: good writing. And thatís worth lingering over.

 

Sleep Tight by Anne Frasier

Publisher: Onyx Books  ISBN: 0451410777 

When FBI agent Mary Cantrell is sent to her hometown to help track down a serial killer who is targeting young females, she has mixed feelings about going home again.  Ten years previously her best friend had become the victim of a brutal murder, and Maryís very own sister, now a Minneapolis cop, is still friends with the just released killer, never having believed in his guilt.  When it seems that the past and present cases may be related, the two sisters must find a way to set aside their differences if they hope to prevent further deaths.    

Another intensely suspenseful read from Ms. Frasier, this story provides thrills, emotional drama, and great characterization.  These are characters that are both real and imperfect, making them that much more appealing.  A word of caution, start this one when you have plenty of time, because thereís a good chance you wonít want to stop once you start.  

 

Absolute Certainty by Rose Connors

 Publisher: Scribner; ISBN: 0743229061  (August)

When a gruesome murder of a young man is followed by a swift arrest, prosecutor Martha Nickerson is handed the case, easily winning a conviction a year later.  But when another murder occurs, jarringly similar to the first, Marty begins to doubt the reliability of her first conviction.  And when yet another murder occurs, she becomes convinced that innocent men are being framed.  Putting her career in jeopardy and joining with defense attorney Harry Madigan, she throws away her beliefs in the justice system as she races to find the truth.    

Connorís debut novel is definitely a solid piece of work.  It maintains a steady beat of suspense, while also offering an adroit view of the legal process.  Her characters are likable and believable, and the relationship between mother and son is surprisingly touching.  This is a quick read, offering the reader a nice thrill and an insiderís view of the stateís prosecuting office.  Her detailed descriptions of life on Cape Cod are also to be appreciated, giving the novel an even more realistic and atmospheric touch.  We hope this is the first of many, as we look forward to seeing where Martyís life takes her next.

4 bolts

 

The Murder Book by Jonathan Kellerman

Publisher: Ballantine Books (Trd); ISBN: 0345452534

When Psychologist Alex Delaware is sent a package detailing old murders, he soon finds himself caught up in a maelstrom of intrigue featuring the unsolved murder of a teenage girl 20 years earlier.  After bringing in Detective Milo Sturgis, it is quickly discovered that this was once one of Miloís cases, one that has haunted him ever since.  Tracing the trail through time, it is soon discovered that all clues point to a group of teenagers who once belonged to the same club in high school, The Kings, and who are now prominent members of society.   And once again Alex and Milo team up to solve another unsolved crime while putting their personal lives through hell, especially their love lives.          

Kellerman strikes gold yet again in his latest thriller.  A fine mixture of suspense, dirty politics, age-old secrets, and well-defined characters keep this one on par with his earlier works.  Itís hard to imagine how one could keep the same character interesting after so long, but Kellerman manages it again and again with each new Delaware novel.  Making this one of added interest is the focus on Milo Sturgis, Delawareís detective ďside-kickĒ.  We get to find out what has driven Milo, what has shaped him, and most interestingly, how his sexual identity has impacted him.  Written in alternating view points; first-person as seen through Delawareís eyes, then switching to third person and using frequent flashbacks, we learn about the enigmatic Milo, finding him to be a man as deserving of respect as Delaware, and perhaps even deserving his own series?  One can only hope.  Kudos to Kellerman for another distinguishing and exciting read.  

The Waking by Mike Nichols

Publisher: William Morrow & Co; ISBN: 0062734237 (June)

Will and Sandy seem to have it all: money, looks, health, and above all, a happy marriage.  But this all comes into question when Sandyís car is found at the bottom of a cliff one snowy day, an accident (?) which has left Sandy in a vegetative state with no chance of recovery.  When her ex-loverís body is also discovered shortly thereafter, Willís complicity becomes an even greater reality. However, the main suspect in the case is a client of Sandyís, and the reader is taken on a wild ride involving many twists and turns, leaving the final revelation until the very end.  Never knowing Willís degree of involvement, the reader will be wondering from page to page what is truly going on. 

Mike Nichols has supplied the reader with a true mystery.  It is involving and highly readable.  Interestingly enough, however, while his actual writing abilities surpass many with its literate and poignant tone, the actual flowing of the plot leaves a bit to be desired.  Sometimes confusing and unsteady, the reader will be left wondering at the sudden and seemingly unconnected turns it takes.  Nonetheless, the reader by hanging on will be quite delighted by the shocking denouement.  It all comes together in a very tight package leaving the reader thinking Ďof courseí.  As a debut novel, this comes highly recommended for its insight concerning how well one can really know those they love.  

 

Dead Run by Erica Spindler 

Publisher: Mira Books; ISBN: 1551669145 May

Liz Ames, in response to a frantic message from her sister, rushes to Key West in the hope of preventing tragedy.  But her sister has gone missing, and the police refuse to get involved, citing witnesses who testify to her increasingly odd behavior in the weeks prior to her disappearance.  To further complicate matters, shortly after her arrival she becomes aware of  a couple of ill-conceived deaths that echo the ďNew TestamentĒ killerís methods, who is now on death row.  With no one to believe her, except a burnt-out ex cop who now runs a bar, she must find the answers before others die.  Together, the couple discover an increasingly evil force at work, and it is up to them alone to stop the madness.  

Spindler consistently puts out thrilling and exciting novels, yet seemingly is underrated.   Perhaps this hard-cover debut will deservedly increase her fan base.  Never boring, and always providing plenty of suspense along with romance, she effectively and convincingly combines the two to create highly readable books.  The paperbacks preceding this one are all worthwhile reads, and come highly recommended, as does this one. 

 

 

The Survivors Club by Lisa Gardner 

Publisher: Bantam Doubleday Dell Pub (Trd); ISBN: 0553802518

This book literally starts off with a bang, and after that, gets even better.  When a rapist convicted on DNA evidence is shot down outside the courtroom, and then his assassin blown to pieces, itís obvious that itís his surviving victims who have the biggest motivation for these gruesome deaths.   Three beautiful women are the main suspects, college coed Meg, socialite Carol, and successful business owner Jillian.  The three had begun a club for survivors, and it was at their urging that the rapist was finally brought to justice.  But shortly after his bloody demise, another rape occurs with the same MO, and the questions really begin.  Detective Griffin, a man with plenty of demons of his own, is made lead investigator, and must fight conflicting evidence, along with his growing attraction to Julian, to prevent yet even more victims from suffering the same fate. 

This book was a true delight from start to finish, with the suspense never flagging for even a page.  Each character is fully drawn and defined, bringing the reader even deeper into this gripping story.  The horrors of rape, and its aftermath, are sympathetically and realistically drawn and soon have the reader empathetically cheering for the victims regardless of what they may have done.  But once again, nothing is as it seems, and the question of justice served looms large and hard to define. The race towards a nail-biting climax, when all questions are finally answered, will leave the reader breathless.  This is Lisa Gardner at her best, and we couldnít recommend it more.    

5 bolts

 

 

The Beach House by James Patterson and Peter De Jonge 

Publisher: Little Brown & Company; ISBN: 0316969680 June

When 28 year old law student Jackís brother dies in what the authorities insist is a suicide, Jackís doubts lead him to investigate.  Taking place in the Hamptons amongst the rich, the famous, and the detestable, Jack faces treachery and deceit with every step.  And only with the help of his close friends and remaining family member is he able to finally find answers.  Along the way, an unexpected love helps raise the stakes in the struggle to keep alive. 

I was fully prepared to be disappointed in this new novel, as I have been in Pattersonís latest attempts.  However, I was greatly and pleasantly surprised to find myself reading far into the night to finish this finely written thriller.  Perhaps itís De Jongeís hand that has made this an entirely readable and exciting ride.  With finely tuned characters, romance and intrigue, and just plain good writing, this is the best from Patterson in awhile.  And although one must suspend ideas of reality when the final decisive scene is played out, the reader canít help but cheer at the audacity of it all.   

4 bolts   

 

Flesh Tones by M. J. Rose 

 Publisher: Ballantine Books (Trd); ISBN: 034545104X June

Genny Haviland fell in love with artist Slade Gabriel at the tender age of 17, and a brief but intense love affair followed.  But when Gabriel discovers her age, himself being 37, he quickly lets her go.  Twenty years later, their paths cross again, and soon the love affair begins anew.  But when Gabriel suddenly dies, with the help of Genny, questions arise as to her true innocence. Gabriel was an important member of her fatherís gallery, and his threats to switch galleries seems motive enough, as this could very well lead to her fatherís downfall.  Written in flashbacks and the present, the truth is slowly unveiled.      

More of a beautifully rendered love story, than a mystery, this bookís flawless depictions of character and emotion will easily move even the most jaded reader.  But for the die-hard mystery fans, there is still enough suspense and questions regarding the truth to keep one satisfied until the very end.  But it is definitely the infinitely tender portrait of an endless love that will resonate with the reader most strongly.  This is a book that will stay with you long after youíve finished, and for that, is a real piece of art in itself.  

4 bolts