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Perfect Alibi by Sheldon Siegel

Publisher: MacAdam/Cage

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla,  New Mystery Reader

Siegel returns with yet another solid legal thriller featuring the San Francisco law partner (and on-again-off-again love partners) defense attorneys Rosie Fernandez and Mike Dailey in a case that strikes closer to home than ever before.

This time out, instead of defending their typical underdog client, they find themselves in the precarious, and often-times conflicting, position of defending their teenaged daughter’s boyfriend who has been accused of murdering his father, a well known and well respected judge.  And while all evidence might point to the boy’s guilt, it’s their daughter who is the only one standing between him and a verdict of guilty; her being his alibi for the night in question. And the further these two investigate, not only will they reveal additional suspects in the crime, but more secrets of their own daughter’s life than then they could’ve imagined.

Those familiar with this series will enjoy the continuing saga of these very interesting characters’ lives, and how they manage to juggle career, raising children, and sustaining a relationship that is not easily defined.  However, readers, new and old alike, might find the read at times a bit too matter-of-fact and heavy on the interrogational-like dialogue that oddly permeates a read that would seem better off focusing on the emotional aspects of the more personal issues raised.  Nonetheless, this is a strong read that can easily hold the readers interest throughout.   

 

 

Danse Macabre by Gerald Elias

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Following Devil’s Trill, expert violinist Daniel Jacobus returns to a fresh mystery revolving around the gruesome murder of his friend and colleague, Rene Allard, who has been callously murdered on the eve of his retirement as a well-beloved classical musician.    

Allard’s rival and former student, flashy young BTower is quickly fingered as the suspect and widely blamed by both the police and Allard’s surviving friends.  Allard, Jacobus and other members of their group despised BTower’s populist playing style in which the violinist added lasers, lights, and other gimmicks to attract young people to his concerts.  BTower’s tumultuous relationship with Allard becomes widely known, and the young African American virtuoso receives the death penalty for the crime.

It’s only two years later, on the eve of BTower’s execution that Jacobus reluctantly revisits the case, relying on the heightened senses sharpened by decades of blindness, although he continues to make unsupported assertions in a crude way of deciphering motives and aspirations.  Jacobus’ method of barreling through serves in stark contrast with his delicate musings on the best work of Beethoven, Mozart and others whose work he admires.

In this mystery, the names of suspects are also those who make up Jacobus’ own circle of friends and acquaintances, and Jacobus makes no secret of his suspicions even while dining with the suspects almost as though nothing has changed.  He delights in the presence of elegantly scented Hennie, Allard’s longtime companion, and feels comforted by ever-present Ziggy, the obsolete elevator boy who still runs the archaic hand-run elevator in Allard’s building.  Helping Jacobus is the sighted, funny, and smart Nathaniel who helps Jacobus “see” certain clues and a strange, Shakespeare-quoting denizen of the underground whose chosen lifestyle curiously fits with Jacobus’ dark reality.

Although technically good with an elegant writing style, Danse Macabre takes a page from Jacobus, remaining a little elusive in capturing emotion or in creating absolutely gripping characters.  Author Gerald Elias quickly skips around the initial investigation and trial, but makes up for it with Jacobus’ rather late re-examination of the facts.  Elias’ undeniable musical background gives Danse Macabre a believable look at the elite of classical music, while examining the strains placed on tradition by evolving modern taste.

Jacobus’ investigation takes him on a path involving decades of secrets, racial issues, and musical triumphs, ironically making his physical blindness a true asset.

 

 

 

The Shadows in the Street by Susan Hill

Publisher: Overlook Hardcover ISBN-10: 1590204085

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

While Lafferton, England might not be the big city of London, it is by no means immune to the crime that runs rampant there.  And when first one, then another, of the city’s prostitutes are found dead by strangulation, the fear is that the city has just inherited another evil of the big city - a serial killer.

Normally heading the force would be Simon Serrailler, but when the crimes begin, he’s cooling his well worn heels on a tiny windswept island in Scotland, far from the burgeoning terror.  His sister Cat, however, is in the thick of things working with her church group and the new church head to form an outreach program aimed at getting the prostitutes off the street.  A task she’s not sure she’s up to considering she’s still very much in the throes of grief over her husband’s untimely death

But, Simon, of course, returns just in time to become involved in the investigation just as it becomes even direr.  Another woman has gone missing and this one is not a prostitute but instead a respected member of the community, throwing this police force, and the community, into a race to find the killer before another victim is claimed.

Having loved all of Hill’s previous titles featuring this community and police force, I was eagerly looking forward to this latest.  And while it didn’t necessarily let me down, it wasn’t quite as captivating as I’d hoped.  Hill, normally adept at racing from plotline to plotline, seems this time around to have a bit less focus on when and where her narrative goes - sometimes excessively expanding on a storyline at the expense of the overall picture that will eventually be revealed.  But, that being said, Hill repeats her past glorious ability to shine the spotlight on characters that become unexpectedly real and heartfelt in ways not anticipated.  One or two in this latest shine far and above her regular cast and crew and will leave readers wondering what came of them after the last page was turned. 

Hill remains a master at characterization, and while fans might miss the lack of changes and forward movement in her usual stars, they will no doubt fall into the drama that lies with her secondary, and this time around, better creations.  This one overall is still highly worth the read when all is said and done.   

 

 

Nemesis by Lindsey Davis

Publisher: Minotaur Books ISBN-10: 0312595425

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Nemesis marks the return of Roman informer Marcus Didius Falco and his warm, squabbling family as they unexpectedly rise in social status allowing Falco to contemplate retirement in first century Rome.  Fortunately for the fast-thinking investigator, he realizes that informing keeps him happy although the aptly titled Nemesis (for both the god and for a long-standing enemy) forces him to consider darker themes than in his recent cases.

Beginning with the deaths of his estranged father and infant son on the same day, a sense of loss permeates this mystery which also delves into family relationships and how so much depends on how children are nurtured.  Escaping from his overwhelming sense of loss, Falco and his brother-in-law Petronius begin an investigation into the disappearance of a wealthy couple who sold statues to Falco’s late father.  When the missing husband is found mutilated and murdered, Falco and Petronius set their sights on a high ranking spy who rankles Falco’s entire family.

In spite of the contextual grimness, Davis adds bits of humor that lift the series.  For example, Davis sometimes inserts obviously modern ideas or phrases which can be inadvertently funny but the humor primarily comes from intentional observations of the cynical Roman culture.  Falco has to warn the servants to watch his mother so that she doesn’t steal goods from her estranged husband’s house.  Even the glossary explains the role of the Praetorian Guards as “Bastards!”

The twentieth installment in the Marcus Didius Falco series remains enjoyable although with a bleaker tinge than previous volumes, reminding readers that Roman excesses were balanced by ever-present danger and a carefully observed political and societal hierarchy. 

 

 

Fly By Wire by Ward Larsen

Publisher: Oceanview Publishing  ISBN 978010933351508601

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

The folks at Oceanview continue to impress with their edge-of-your-seat thrillers.  Fly by Wire is set in a different time and place to Larsen’s previous book, Stealing Trinity, but is even more complicated and frightening.  Whereas Trinity was historical and therefore ‘safe’ —you were aware that it was fiction as you read—this new book is set in the present and its premise is all too awfully believable.

It starts with a plane crash, then a factory fire and then a suicide attack on an oil refinery.  Bad enough, you’d think, but then there are other attacks and very soon the people who think they’re in charge of the world are facing a massive problem.  If there’s no oil, there’s no transport, and if there’s no transport, economies around the world will come to a halt.

“Jammer” Davis works for the NTSB, investigating airplane crashes.  He’s a widower and has for the past two years made it a rule that he’s not to be away from his daughter for more than a few days.  When a flying wing cargo airplane is apparently driven into the ground by its pilot, Jammer is convinced to go to France to look into the problem.   Jammer’s not noted for his diplomatic skills, and when he figures out that the French officials are trying to derail the investigation he’s not backward about telling people off.  Fortunately he has a colleague, Anna Sorensen, who isn’t what she first seems, but nevertheless proves useful in the investigation.

As you’d expect in this sort of book, very soon the bad guys want Jammer out of the picture, permanently, and this leads to a few hair-raising events.  Larsen is very skilled at leading the reader down the garden path and jumping at all the wrong shadows, and you may or may not see the real motive lurking in the verbiage before the climax of the book.  (I did, but I’ve read thousands of books and might be more sensitive to red herrings than most.)

After all the blood-pressure-raising adventures, there’s a final chapter that should find you smiling as you read it, a sort of decompression chamber to help you sleep easily—until you wake up at 4 a.m and say to yourself, “What if…?”

 

 

 

 

Death on a Budget by Michael W Sherer

Publisher: Five Star/Gale ISBN 978 1 59414 891 0

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

This is the sixth in this series; I haven’t read any of the others, but I quickly felt as if I knew Emerson Ward.    Everyone’s got a friend or relative like Emerson, a man who’s lived a fairly independent knock-about life for a long time and then suddenly finds a serious love which affects a lot of his actions from then on.

Emerson has found Nell and they’ve made Emily, who’s two and has her father totally wrapped around her smallest digit.  Nell won’t marry Emerson for some reason he can’t quite fathom, but they are co-parenting their daughter fairly happily when the past walks in to Emerson’s life and proceeds to chew up his future.

Brandt Williams, Emerson’s friend, stops by his house one day to tell that a banker they knew has been the victim of a violent murder—and the other is that the investments Brandt made for Emerson went south in a big way and his former nest egg  is now much reduced.   Then Meg, the sister of his grade school best friend Lou Barrett, rings up to say that Lou is dead, apparently by his own hand, and she’d like Emerson to come to the funeral.  He’s really not all that keen to do it, especially when he gets back to the old home town and gets a distinctly cool reception from a number of people he’d just as soon not seen again.  There’s an ugly scene after the funeral, and Emerson is certain he should have stayed away, but he gets through what he must and goes back home as soon as he decently can.

Like the camel with its nose in the tent, the past keeps intruding on Emerson’s new life.  Meg turns up in Chicago; Emerson lets her come for a walk with him and Emily, Emily falls and gets a minor bump.  Nell hits the roof, then she tells Emerson her mother is very ill and she has to go to Seattle, and before he knows it, Emerson is alone.  For reasons he probably doesn’t understand himself, Emerson dusts off his RV and drives back to his home town to investigate Lou’s death.  Partly he’s driven by Meg, who seems to think he owes Lou something—and partly, finding out stuff is what Emerson does.  Now that his family is far away he needs something to do, so he starts poking around. 

As any reader of mystery fiction would expect, it’s not long before Emerson is in a heap of trouble, with not much chance of getting out alive—but sometimes we get a chance we don’t deserve, that’s why they call it ‘luck’.  Read the book to find out how Emerson’s luck pans out.