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A Game For All The Family by Sophie Hannah

Publisher: William Morrow / 4.5 bolts

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

Sophie Hannah received one of the highest honors in mystery fiction when the Agatha Christie Foundation selected her to continue Dame Agatha's world renown Hercule Poirot series (no small feat)!  THE MONOGRAM MURDERS brought Hercule Poirot literally back to life for fans and Hannah more than proficiently guided Christie's famous detective through a classic mystery. 

For those who were aware of Sophie Hannah prior to her stand-in for Dame Agatha Christie they will know she is recognized as one of the top authors working in the psychological thriller genre.  British readers will appreciate my comparison when I refer to Hannah as the 'female Robert Goddard'.  Hannah and Goddard are masters of the suspenseful twist and it's about time U.S. readers made a regular spot on their to be read pile for everything she puts out.

A GAME FOR ALL THE FAMILY is a stand-alone novel that bears all the signature stamps of a Sophie Hannah story.  To put it bluntly, no one and nothing are as they seem and readers will find themselves questioning everything they digest in this novel.  Better to just go along for the ride in the expert hands of a master story-teller.

The narrator is Justine Merrison who lives with her husband Alex (an Opera singer who travels most of the time) and her teen-aged daughter, Ellen.  Ellen is at that tough age where she is always moody and sullen and seemingly friendless at school.  When Justine pries a bit she learns that Ellen is distraught because her 'friend' George was expelled from school.  The meaning she gives does not make sense or seemingly warrant expulsion so Justine decides to visit her school and meet with the Principal.

Justine was not prepared when the Principal hears her story and then proceeds to tell her that no one named George exists or was ever expelled from school.  Simultaneous to this, other odd things are occurring in Justine's world.  She reads a story Ellen is writing about the history of a family named Ingrey who used to live in their old house.  When confronted, Ellen admits it is not a work of fiction but a retelling of her friend George's family history.  The trouble is that Justine cannot verify any of the names in this family tree when she Googles them.

Additionally, Justine has  been subjected to harsh anonymous prank calls from a woman who claims to share a secret with her.  The calls get more and more disturbing and ultimately lead to threats on the life of Justine and her family.  As readers are trying to wrap their minds around this, Justine finds that George does actually exist when she returns home to find him in Justine's room.  They are playing a classic board game that George brought with him - Monopoly.  Or, as he refers to it: 'A game for all the family!'

To continue describing the plot would give away too much.  Leave it said that no one will be able to predict what happens next and may still question certain events in this book even after the last page is turned.  Sophie Hannah is simply that good and I look forward to all of her novels.  Her recurring detective series has seen a handful of novel adaptations for BBC TV starring actress Olivia Williams and they do a nice job depicting her work.  I'm proud to say that Hannah will be releasing her second Hercule Poirot novel this Fall and sure it will be well worth the wait!

 

 

 

 

City of the Lost by Kelley Armstrong 

Publisher: Minotaur Books / 4 bolts

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

Casey Duncan is a detective in Canada. In some ways her chosen profession is a continuation of her role as the black sheep of her family. Her parents were both physicians and want her to follow this family tradition. This did not suit her temperament or talents. While in college, Casey dated the son of a criminal family. This resulted in a beating by a rival drug gang that put her in the hospital for weeks. The boyfriend avoided the beating by running and leaving Casey on her own.

After being released from the hospital, Casey confronted the boyfriend. Casey came armed with a gun. When the boy refused to admit his actions and grabbed for the gun, Casey shot him.

She was never arrested for the crime. Instead she went through a series of therapists and confessed her actions. Somehow word got back to boy’s criminal family. Casey once again had to face her past.

Diana had been Casey’s friend for most of their lives. Diana knew Casey’s terrible secret. In turn, Casey supported Diana through an abusive marriage. The two moved several times to different cities, but somehow Diana’s ex found them.

Diana heard rumors of a mysterious town that would take in refugees fleeing different pursuers. Largely due to Casey’s talent as a detective, the two were admitted to the frontier-like town of Rockton.

Dalton is the sheriff and runs the town with an iron fist. He answers only to a city council that is as mysterious as the town itself. Soon Casey learns that there have been a series of murders. She also learns that the council has allowed some serious criminals to come there if they could pay a hefty bribe.

Now Casey and Dalton have two reasons to solve the murders. Diana has been accused of one of the murders. Dalton’s days as sheriff could be numbered if the crimes don’t stop.

Kelly Armstrong has created not only a top-notch mystery but an interesting study of a town off the radar and living by its own rules. All-in-all, the book is a fascinating read.

 

 

 

Arrowood by Laura McHugh

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau / 4 bolts

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader 

Laura McHugh impressed with her debut thriller THE WEIGHT OF BLOOD in 2014.  That novel was set in the stark wintry plains of the Ozark Mountains and dealt with a disappearance in the past and the questions and secrets that were to follow.  The setting for her newest novel, ARROWOOD, could not be more different.  The humid and sticky southern home set on the Mississippi River is the Arrowood estate where the mystery lies in this story.

The book opens with the haunting poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye entitled "Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep".  This is very telling as the protagonist of the novel,  a young woman named Arden  is still grieving over the young twin sisters she lost twenty years earlier.  Violet and Tabitha disappeared one day never to be seen again.  They were thought to be dead but no one knows for sure who was responsible. Was it Arden's violent father or could it be the strange gold car she remembers driving away from their home the day the twins disappeared that should take the blame?

Arden has now returned to the home of her youth, Arrowood, for the first time since the tragic loss of her sisters.  She's not sure what she is doing there, she only knows she has questions that need to be answered.  Arden also needs to rediscover who she is she has been a lost soul ever since the twins disappeared.

The novel is told in a haunting, dreamlike manner where every character Arden meets up with from her past all appear to be hiding something --- to know something she doesn't.  While she is staying there she meets up with a writer named Josh who has made a career writing true crime stories.  He is obviously intrigued by the unsolved Arrowood mystery but Arden is unsure as to his true motives.

As Arden digs deeper she begins to piece together the mystery from the past and is horrified when she finds things are far worse than she ever expected.  She is visited on Halloween night by a pair of young girls claiming to be her twin sisters.  Are they really there as some sort of 'visitation' or was it merely some locals having fun portraying the dead on the most haunted night of the year?

ARROWOOD mixes in mystery, thriller and supernatural elements to piece together a story that will creep under your skin right up to the startling revelations revealed at the end of the story.  Laura McHugh has another success on her hands with a psychological thriller that will surprise and unnerve.

 

 

 

The Last Mile by David Baldacci

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing / 4 bolts

Reviewed by Ray Palen  for New Mystery Reader 

The prolific author David Baldacci has created a handful of recurring series each of which present well-plotted thrillers with complex characters.  He probably never penned a more complex character than that of ex-NFL player Amos Decker.

Amos Decker first appeared in the best-seller MEMORY MAN.  The title referred to the unique condition Amos suffers from.  His NFL career lasted just one play.  On the opening kick-off of his only NFL game, Amos received a blow to the head that ended his career.  Rather than bringing on typical post-concussive syndrome symptoms his brain was somehow rewired.  He now possesses total memory coupled with a lack of social skills giving him the appearance of being a high-functioning autistic adult.

His condition is a curse as Amos is unable to forget the image of finding his wife and daughter brutally murdered in their home.  It is that story and the revenge he takes on the guilty party that provided the story for MEMORY MAN.  Now with THE LAST MILE the focus shifts to another character.  Melvin Mars is also a former football star but his story is the opposite of Amos Decker's.   Melvin had his career derailed before he ever made the NFL when he was imprisoned for the murder of his parents.  Melvin's issue is that he has no memory of this event only knows he didn't do it.

Melvin Mars sits on 'the last mile', the stretch of prison cells that house the soon to be executed.  Just hours before his execution Melvin receives a stay when a prisoner at another penitentiary confesses to the murder of Melvin's parents.  Amos Decker, now working as a liaison with the FBI takes on Melvin's case and his team takes the now freed Melvin Mars into their custody.  Melvin wants the twenty years back that he lost in prison.  More than that, he wants to know the truth behind his parents murder.

Amos and Melvin make a good team and the scenes with each of them are a pleasure to read.  Unfortunately, their search for the truth puts them in the crosshairs of a dangerous and powerful trio of men who refer to themselves as the Three Musketeers.  They are behind many criminal acts and very likely the responsible party for the murder of Melvin's family.  This makes Melvin Mars and anyone associated with him marked for death.  The question is --- will Amos and Melvin outsmart the Three Musketeers before they  are silenced forever? 

 

THE LAST MILE is a dynamite read with twists, turns and surprises around every corner.  Amos Decker is a great character to spend time with and hopefully Mr. Baldacci has more up his sleeve by way of further stories in this engaging new series.

 

 

Death at Breakfast by Beth Gutcheon

Publisher: William Morrow / 4 bolts

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Tragedy. That seems to be the defining word for the people that Maggie Detweiler and Hope Babbin meet in this bucolic New England setting. Even though everything looks perfect on the surface, it soon becomes clear that almost everyone the two meet has a wistful air or a closely guarded secret. 

The two long-time friends—friends in spite of the fact that Maggie once had to firmly explain that Hope’s son, Buster, was not a good fit at Maggie’s school—want to take extended trips together now that both are widowed.

Hope reserved spots in a week-long cooking class in an historic inn in Maine, allowing them to enjoy good food and each other’s company on their first vacation together. Both women good-naturedly enjoy the town’s offerings and the inn’s restful setting, although there’s one person in town who finds their appearance most unsettling. Deputy Sheriff Buster Babbin has made good; he’s got a reliable job, a comfortable routine, and a smart girlfriend. What he doesn’t want is an interfering mother or the woman who’s populated his nightmares for years to suddenly be part of his daily life.

Initially, Hope and Maggie are too involved in Chef Sarah’s fantastic course to worry too much about Buster’s doings, but the inn becomes a little less relaxing upon the revival of the very large, very loud Alexander Antippas. The Antippas family, including wife, Lisa, her sister, Glory, and Lisa’s yappy dog, Colette, clearly expects their wealth and celebrity status to grant them special privileges even though it’s at the expense of everyone else.

Meanwhile, front desk clerk Cherry Weaver desperately needs to keep her job, a fact that her mother, helping Chef Sarah in the kitchen, keeps hammering home. Cherry’s pretty, but her attitude and lack of common sense often overwhelms her, this time leaving her at the mercy of the steamrolling Antippas.

The family garners a little sympathy when their errant daughter—far away from Maine—dies unexpectedly. But, as Hope and Maggie find out, death will soon visit the family much closer, ensnaring everyone at the inn, and leading the two ladies into a little detecting of their own.

Death at Breakfast excels in portraying the difficulties of family relationships, even under extraordinary circumstances. While Buster is small town cop and a former school problem, he’s never cast as a caricature and instead has a chance to show his strengths. Likewise, the two older women at the center of the book don’t feel as though they’re trying to be anything than what they are and Gutcheon allows them to be well-rounded and realistic.

Gutcheon’s secondary characters never feel second-rate; instead, they have quirks and pasts and feel interesting, especially regarding a couple of twists centering on the pets (particularly Grommet) who live in or visit the inn. Characters who should feel guilty—even if not about murder—still receive background details that allows readers to understand their points of view, even if they remain unsympathetic. There may be cigar chomping by Alexander Antippas, but never any hamhanded scene chewing.

Death at Breakfast is the promising start of what will hopefully be a long, fruitful crime-solving partnership between Maggie and Hope. Tragedy may be the impetus behind murder, but, as these two amateur sleuths show, it doesn't have to get in the way of a good time!

 

 

 

The Body in the Wardrobe by Katherine Hall Page

Publisher: William Morrow / 4 bolts

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Baker and amateur sleuth Faith Fairchild really bonded with Sophie Maxwell, the level-headed lawyer last seen in The Body in the Birches. In fact, that adventure in the world of Northeastern “cottages” led to Sophie’s marriage to Will Tarkington Maxwell, leading to the book’s joke that she’s Sophie Maxwell Maxwell.

The Body in the Wardrobe sees Faith ensconced back in her life as a successful baker and caterer and also as the busy mom. Faith continues to straddle the line between decorum as a pastor’s wife and an independent personality, giving her skills when an unexpected situation threatens her daughter’s future at her school. Her teenagers aren’t the only ones facing changes; her husband, Tom, is also contemplating a change that would upend Faith’s sense of control over her life.

Meanwhile, Sophie has moved to Savannah, Georgia, home of Will’s large family. Will’s job as a PI takes him away from home quite a bit, leaving Sophie to discover the enchantingly described Southern jewel on her own. The couple resides in a house that his step-mother plans to flip, meaning that Sophie has to deal with a less than ideal realtor in one of the story’s more contrived details.

There’s little interaction between the newlyweds here, and like Faith, Sophie often seems adrift while waiting for others to make decisions. Fortunately, Sophie’s sense of being lost in a strange new world—with amazing food and architecture—inspires her to reach out to Faith, continuing their close relationship as they navigate months of uncertainty. This is especially fortuitous when strange things start happening in Savannah, a town already known for hauntings and plenty of local color.

In Sophie’s new temporary home, she opens the door of the armoire in her bedroom and is surprised by the body of a man tumbling out at her feet. Screaming, she runs out of the house, waking the neighborhood and summoning the police—only to be told that there’s nothing there. No body, no mysterious disturbance, no sleep—just a shaken and lonely young woman who has now garnered a reputation as being odd among the city’s upper crust. Sophie can’t rely on her husband, but she does have Faith.

Katherine Hall Page’s Faith Fairchild series remains very readable, peopled with fleshed out characters and location descriptions that serve as a tempting travel guide for readers. This book is a little different from others because the women here seem much more unsure of themselves and there’s an undercurrent regarding a lack of communication that causes much of the book’s conflict.

In fact, there was an odd comment between Faith and Sophie about communication which will probably cause marriage counselors to cringe, but perhaps Hall intends it to show that Faith has firmly attached herself to the local cultural habit of few words about other people’s business—unless a mystery is involved.

As noted, Page does a spectacular job of describing each locale in the book, setting the stage with food and friendly people, but repeats the mistake from an earlier book of using “y’all” for a singular “you.” (To a Southerner, this is incredibly jarring and may cause the reader to look around, wondering when the other characters suddenly appeared.)

Still, it’s always nice to visit Faith Fairchild and Sophie’s return in the series is welcome and hopefully bodes well for future Faith-Sophie adventures.

 

 

 

Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman

Publisher: William Morrow / 5 bolts

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

What makes reading a Laura Lippman novel so compelling is her extreme knowledge of her source material.  From her time spent as a journalist and now as a highly successful best-selling author of literary crime novels she excels when speaking about her favorite character --- Baltimore, Maryland and its surrounding landscape.

Her Tess Monaghan series is one of the best in the business and not just a little bit auto-biographical.  Lippman now ventures out with another excellent stand-alone novel in WILDE LAKE.  Our protagonist is Luisa 'Lu' Brant, the first female state's attorney for Howard County, Maryland.  What is most ironic about this is the fact that Lu is following in the footsteps of her father, former state attorney Andrew Jackson Brant.

Rather than resting on her laurels after beating her former mentor for the state's attorney role, Lu jumps right into a criminal case --- the first of her career.  A local vagrant by the name of Rudy Drysdale allegedly broke into the home of Mary McNally and shortly thereafter beat her to death.  Sounds like an open and shut case as Drysdale had a reputation that preceded him as an unpredictable vagrant. What Lu Brant is not expecting is how this seemingly simple case has ties into her own family history.  Secrets, lies and tests of loyalty will all be dredged up before this interesting case is finally closed.

WILDE LAKE jumps back and forth between the present and the Brant family past.  Particular attention is given to Lu's brother AJ and his involvement in the death of a young man who attacked a high school friend of his at a graduation party.  Layer by layer, Laura Lippman unravels bits of family history that also cast Lu's unshakeable father Andrew in a less than flattering light. 

Lippman deftly draws the reader into both past and present narratives and forces you to take each piece of new evidence to heart before settling upon an opinion of where the guilt lies in this now complicated case.  When Rudy Drysdale dies while in police custody things begin to quickly spiral out of control and Lu Brant must decide where her loyalty lies --- with upholding justice or keeping certain family secrets forever buried.

WILDE LAKE is a terrific drama/soap opera disguised as a crime thriller and dares the reader to put it down for even a moment's rest.  Lippman is a skilled writer who uses her plotting and insightful knowledge of Maryland history to create a pot-boiler of a read.

 

 

 

 

The Second Life Of Nick Mason by Steve Hamilton

Publisher: Putnam / 5 bolts

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

There are three kinds of people in prison.  People who want to get out, people who never want to get out and people who know they are never going to get out.

THE SECOND LIFE OF NICK MASON is about someone who believes in that first sentiment.  The only issue is that Nick Mason is doing twenty-five-to-life in a maximum security prison for being an accomplice in a robbery that ended in murder.

No one is more surprised than Nick when he gets word that after five tough years he is being released.  The reason in the record books is a technicality discovered with the arrest records that frees him by default.  The actual reason is something far more sinister and will have Nick quickly wondering which side of the prison wall he was better off on.

The dangerous man behind Nick's newfound freedom is Darius Cole --- the meanest man in Chicago since Leroy Brown.  Darius is still behind bars and needs someone on the outside to do his bidding.  He already has an army working for him in Chicago --- on both sides of the law.  Still, Nick has some trepidation doing the bidding of a prisoner with the power to get him released from a federal prison.

Nick is set up with a phony job, great townhouse and a 'handler' by the name of Quintero who hands Nick a cell phone and tells him to answer it whenever it rings, without question.  Meanwhile, on the outside Nick becomes nostalgic for the past.  He misses his friends Finn and Eddie (both with him during the robbery that got him incarcerated and where Finn was killed).  He also has to deal with the fact that his wife is remarried and another man is raising his young daughter.

The first phone call Nick receives tasks him with killing a man.  After committing his first actual murder he later learns the victim was a cop.  Nick begins to question the cost of his freedom and whether it was worth the price.  The calls keep coming and Nick keeps answering --- at least until he thinks he can find a way out.

The entire time, Nick is being tailed by a Homicide Detective named Frank Sandoval.  It was Sandoval's partner that was killed during the robbery that put Nick behind bars.  How will Nick Mason keep himself sane while being hounded by both Darius Cole's minions and Detective Sandoval?   The answer, in the hands of the great Steve Hamilton, is completely unpredictable making for one helluva great read!

Steve Hamilton has already won two Edgar Awards and is the author of one of the best all-time crime series featuring Alex McKnight.  This stand-alone novel, THE SECOND LIFE OF NICK MASON, has already been optioned for a film version.  It is one terrific novel that calls to mind the grit and dirty modern crime noir of George Pelecanos --- less the pop culture and music references. 

 

 

When Falcons Fall by C. S. Harris

Publisher: Obsidian / 4 bolts

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader 

Readers of Harris' Regency Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries know that the yellow-eyed noble is haunted by the question of his biological father--and the source of those penetrating, disconcerting eyes. Sebastian has finally found some happiness with his very independent wife, Hero, and new son, Simon, even as the fathers that he knows-- the rigid one who raised him and his archenemy-turned-father-in-law-- continue to plague him.  

In the previous installment, Sebastian receives a clue to his origins from a dying man who also sports those unusual eyes, and so the little St. Cyr family makes its way to the small village from where the dying man came. Instead of finding answers to a decades-old mystery, Sebastian finds himself helping a novice village leader solve the very fresh murder of another mysterious visitor to the usually quiet, nearly forgotten community.

The visitor, a friendly young woman named Emma Chance, had been in the area only a week, but had already met many of the villagers, sketching them and various buildings in her ever-ready notebook. As a young widow, she traveled only with another young woman as her "abigail," or assistant, which was unusual enough in the period, but Emma's behavior became more striking when she committed suicide with only a printed page marked with a few words as indication of her unhappiness. 

When St. Cyr realizes that Emma hired the abigail only the week before and that there's no record of an "Emma Chance," suddenly Sebastian realizes that there's much, much more to the lovely woman now lying lifelessly on a table. 

Author C. S. Harris does a beautiful job of writing interesting, unpredictable primary and secondary characters and in creating memorable settings filled with period details. Sometimes the modern world slips in a bit, with choice of language or attitudes, but it's a minor detail. Harris remembers to allow Sebastian to follow his own search, but the focus of the novel stays on the identity of Emma Chance and the motive for her murder.

Readers who love historical mysteries in the same vein as work by Anne Perry-- whether previous fans of the series or not-- should definitely try When Falcons Fall.

 

 

The Girl From Home by Adam Mitzner

Publisher: Gallery Books / 5 bolts

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader 

If you're not already reading Adam Mitzner then you should make a point of adding him to your reading list.  His latest novel THE GIRL FROM HOME is a terrific thriller that blends elements of legal, financial securities and  love-triangle-murder into a tightly wound pot-boiler of a read.

The first page of the novel, serving as a mysterious prologue, features lead character Jonathan Caine sitting in a prison cell in East Carlisle, New Jersey, contemplating a murder charge.  No other information is given and this enticement will naturally have readers eager to move forward.

Our introduction to Jonathan Caine is that he is a quintessential 'Master of the Universe' working as a currency wizard for a top Wall Street firm and living in a penthouse condo with his beautiful trophy wife named Natasha.  His firm is so impressed with the money Jonathan makes for them that they freely throw $15M bonuses at him like candy to a child.  The most difficult decision he has to make is which part of the Hamptons they want to purchase their summer retreat in.

Things change quickly when a multi-million dollar client of Jonathan's seeks to back out of a deal by acting on a two-hundred-fifty million dollar redemption that could sink him.  Jonathan gambles and uses all his skills to try to save the deal on his own without his firm noticing.  Unfortunately, things go sour and he ends up not only getting fired but under possible prosecution for securities fraud.

This story alone would have made for an intriguing novel but Adam Mitzner has other ideas.  He mixes in a secondary narrative that begins as flash-forward chapters.  This story shows Jonathan caring for his near-death father in a New Jersey nursing home while he resides in the home he grew up in.  Natasha has left him and filed for divorce and all his assets have been frozen. The only interesting thing going on in his life is attending his High School reunion.  It is here where he meets Jackie. 

Jackie Williams is married to Rick Williams, the star QB of the High School football team.  Now, Rick is an abusive, alcoholic and philandering husband who regularly beats Jackie and terrorizes their two teen-aged children.  The inevitable happens when Jonathan and Jackie hit it off and start up an illicit affair that allows each of them to briefly escape from their lousy lives.  No matter how hard they try to conceal their affair it is just a matter of time before Rick finds them out.

When Rick is suddenly killed by a hit-and-run driver it seems all their worries are over.  This opens up a dual-criminal investigation whereby Jonathan and Jackie are both suspected of colluding in Rick's murder.  The only way out for either of them is to lawyer up and turn on each other. The question is, will they give up each other to save their own lives or is something else at play?

I'll leave things off there because to tell more would spoil things.  Leave it said that the plot is brilliantly conceived and not all is as it may appear to be.  I find it no coincidence that Mitzner chose the name Caine for his protagonist as a shout-out to author James M. Cain who penned DOUBLE INDEMNITY.  This novel takes inspiration from that as well as the film "Body Heat" and mixes in a little John Grisham for good measure.  THE GIRL FROM HOME is Mitzner's finest work to date and I won't be surprised to see it up for award consideration this year.

 

 

 

 

The 14h Colony by Steve Berry

Publisher: Minotaur Books / 4 bolts

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

Quite frankly no one is better at historical fiction/thrillers --- especially those involving the United States --- than author Steve Berry.  His latest in the long-running Cotton Malone series is THE 14TH COLONY.  I'm going to hold off on explaining the meaning of this title for just a bit.

The novel opens up with a depiction of the historic meeting between President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II.  The essential message that came from this congress of great men was their goal to eliminate the Soviet Union.

We all know that the Cold War ended some time during the start of President George Bush's presidency.  The 14TH COLONY introduces us to a character named Alexsandr Zorin, a man who is still fighting the Cold War.  In his efforts to bring down the United States he reaches into what the U.S. believed to be a myth --- the existence of RA-115 nuclear weapons.  Allegedly, 250 of them were snuck in through Canada and planted at strategic locations in the U.S. and North America.

This brings us to our title.  THE 14TH COLONY refers to Canada.  At two points in U.S. history there was discussion about making Canada a part of the U.S.  The first was during the Revolutionary War in an effort to keep the territory from the British.  The next was during WWII when fears of the Axis Powers taking over Europe would have given Hitler and company a direct line to the U.S. by possessing ownership of Canada.

Meanwhile, Cotton Malone and his allies are pursuing answers to the alleged Soviet threat through an ancient Revolutionary War clandestine group known as the Society of Cincinnati.  This quest along with what we know about Zorin's plans answers the question at the heart of this novel --- what does a two-hundred-year-old Revolutionary War social club have to do with the USSR?

Packed within all this great speculative fiction grounded in solid historical fact is a terrific thriller.  Cotton Malone, special agent often called into action on behalf of the President is racing against the clock in this electrically-charged thriller.  It looks like the focus of Zorin's weapons are being saved for an event that will do the most harm to the U.S. Government --- the inauguration of the new President.

THE 14TH COLONY grabs you by the throat at the prologue an never lets up.  You learn something every time you read a Steve Berry and there is no loss for history to be gobbled up with this novel.  Thought-provoking and exciting simultaneously, THE 14TH COLONY is another winner.

 

 

Double Switch by T.T. Monday

Publisher: Doubleday / 5 bolts

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader 

Released just in time to coincide with the start of another Major League Baseball Spring Training season is the second baseball mystery by author T.T. Monday entitled DOUBLE SWITCH.  Monday is the admitted pseudonym of novelist Nick Taylor and he combines his obvious love of baseball with terrific plotting and characters that spring to life on the page.

Veteran lefty --- or 'southpaw' --- reliever Johnny Adcock is resigned to the fact that his waning years in the big leagues will be spent as a set-up man.  He is a situational relief pitcher typically called on in the latter third of the game to get out tough right-handed batters.  Adcock pitches for the fictional San Jose Bay Dogs and they are in the middle of a pennant race in the National League Eastern Division.

Outside of the fictional Bay Dogs and their players the majority of the other teams and players are actual major leaguers. This brilliant blending of fiction with reality makes for an especially entertaining novel and readers will find themselves easily believing that the action transpiring in DOUBLE SWITCH really happened.

To make extra income on the side, Johnny Adcock works as a private investigator.  Most of his work is assisting teammates and other figures from the game of baseball.  Typical work for him is standard P.I. fare --- cheating spouses, dirty sports agents, gambling debts, etc.  The case he gets involved in this time is something far bigger and considerably more dangerous.

Fans of MLB have witnessed the influx of Cuban professional ballplayers escaping their home country for greener pastures and success in the Major Leagues.  Current MLB stars like Jose Abreu, Aroldis Chapman and Yasiel Puig instantly come to mind.  The fictional ball-player at the center of DOUBLE SWITCH --- Yonel Ruiz --- has more in common with the former Cleveland Indians pitcher Fausto Carmona.  After a few highly successful seasons the truth leaked out that Carmona was actually Roberto Hernandez and much older than the birth date on the back of his baseball card.

A professional MLB image consultant named Tiff Tate approaches Adcock about looking into the Colorado Rockies young Cuban star, Mr. Ruiz.  Adcock reaches out to the current hitting coach of the Rockies --- a disgraced fictionalized former player who was involved in the steroids scandal by the name of Erik Magnusson.  Mags shares some concerns about Ruiz but Adcock feels he is not getting the whole story.  When Magnusson turns up dead in the Rockies clubhouse, Adcock realizes he was silenced by someone close to the Ruiz case.

Adcock's challenge is to stay alive and under the radar --- all the while playing a vital role in the Bay Dogs pennant chase.  Who is behind the murder of Mags?  Is it the woman who passed herself off as Ruiz's sister but was actually a mule for illegally transported Cuban players nicknamed La Loba?  Tiff Tate, the image consultant who is making way too much money assisting MLB players?  Or, could there be a double switch going on whereby Yonel Ruiz was not in need of protection but was actually the person everyone should be afraid of?

The pages will fly by like a nail-biter play-off game and this novel demands to be read in one sitting.  Monday shows intimate knowledge of this great game and the credibility he lends to his characters and the plot-line consistently blur the line between fact and fiction.  The result is an outstanding novel that is the perfect way to kick off another MLB season.

 

 

The Watcher In The Wall by Owen Laukkanen

Publisher: Putnam / 5 bolts

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader 

We are not even two full months into 2016 and there have already been a handful of thrillers that are destined to make the 'best of' list for this year.  Add to this list the terrific new thriller from Owen Laukkanen entitled THE WATCHER IN THE WALL. If you are not reading Owen Laukkanen then THE WATCHER IN THE WALL is a great place to start.

What I enjoyed most --- and there is much to enjoy here --- is that the story is loosely based on an actual case.  Beyond that, this is a deeply personal novel for the author who confesses in the acknowledgements that he has dealt with depression and suicidal thoughts since he was a teen-ager.

This story pits FBI Agents Carla Windermere and Kirk Stevens against a monster-like predator who is nearly impossible to find. When Agent Stevens daughter calls about a classmate who committed suicide following a day of public bullying at school she pleads with her father to get involved. What he and Windermere find is the tip of the iceberg surrounding an on-line predator who is trolling suicide websites and convincing teens to take their own lives and film the act as well.

The novel jumps back in time to a back-story that has incredible impact on the entire story.  A young man by the name of Randall Gruber is having a difficult time.  He is regularly abused by his mean drunk of a step-father, Earl and the only consolation he has is taking his frustrations out on his step-sister, Sarah.  Randall has watched Sarah for years through a hole in the wall separating their two rooms. He wants to see if he can break Sarah physically and emotionally in much the same way that her father has done to him.

My only criticism of this terrific novel, and it' a minor one, is that Laukkanen lets on too soon who the killer is.  I then recognized that this is not a mystery but a real-world modern day crime and the magic is in watching how the FBI agents will be able to stop this clever killer before another innocent teen is victimized.

THE WATCHER IN THE WALL is filled with complex characters and consistently surprises.  Most of all, Laukkanen has succeeded in giving a voice to those lonely and disillusioned young people who are often forgotten.  A great read that hopefully will get Laukkanen the fan base he deserves!

 

 

 

Most Wanted by Lisa Scottoline 

Publisher: ST Martin’s Press / 4 bolts 

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader  

Christine and Marcus Nilsson enjoyed a near ideal life. Christine is a schoolteacher. Marcus is an architectural engineer. The only thing lacking from their life was a child. After Christine was unable to become pregnant, they seek medical help. Tests reveal that Marcus is infertile. He goes through various procedures to remedy the problem but to no avail.

Eventually, the couple resorts to the use of a donor. They secure the services of a respected fertility clinic. From the carefully screened candidates, they select a medical student based upon his bio, an interviewer’s impression and picture.  The Nilssons never meet the donor or know his name.

There have been seemingly miraculous events thanks to merging technology. Christine and Marcus Nilsson felt that they were the recipients of such a medical miracle. Then something unthinkable happens. Christine sees a news video about a serial killer arrested in Pennsylvania. She believes that she recognizes the man as the donor. Despite Marcus’s efforts, she remains convinced of this. 

The couple approaches their doctor with their fears. He reassures them. When they log on to the sperm bank’s website and their donor’s sperm has been “temporarily” made unavailable. This once again ignites their fears. 

As more details unfold Marcus secures the services of an attorney – unknown to Christine. The threat of lawsuit makes their visit to the doctor strained as he counters by informing them that they should leave and that he will contact his own attorney. 

Christine takes her best friend to meet their lawyer – Gary Leonardo. Leonardo is not what she expects. He is warm and supportive. The lawyer paints a picture of the sperm banking industry as just that – an industry. He portrays them as being focused on profit rather than the best interest of their clients. Leonardo convinces her to go forward with the suit against the sperm bank but agrees to give her doctor a pass. 

The couple must undergo even greater personal and marital strain as the process continues to an unexpected conclusion. 

In previous works such as “Corrupted”, Scottoline has provided insightful and revealing looks in into the justice system. With this work the exploration peeks into a possible moral dilemma posed by ever evolving technology.