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Did Not Survive by Anne Littlewood

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press   

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Becoming a widow at short notice is hard enough, but when you discover you are a few weeks pregnant as well, it’s hard to know how to feel about it.  Iris Oakley is doing her best to keep a positive attitude after her husband Rob is killed, but it’s not easy.  She’s been removed from her work with the Big Cats at Finley Memorial Zoo due to the danger of exposure to the toxoplamosis germ, and is now working with birds, considered safer for a pregnant woman. 

One morning Iris is finishing up an important night shift job when she hears a fuss coming from the elephant house.  When she enters, she’s horrified to find the zoo foreman unconscious on the floor with Damrey, the senior female elephant, apparently mauling him. 

The initial assumption is proved wrong: Damrey didn’t kill Kevin Wallace, she was trying to help him.  Someone on two legs clobbered him with an elephant goad, but whether the killing was accidental or purposeful, the police can’t yet tell.  It may be Wallace interrupted a crime of some sort, or did something to someone that brought fatal retribution, or perhaps the murky undercurrents of organisational politics hold the secret, or maybe it’s the whacky animal rights activists who haunt the zoo who did him in—it’s hard to know who to suspect, so the police suspect everyone.

The author worked for many years as a zookeeper herself, which brings an authentic flavor to her story.  She skilfully conveys the dumb misery of the elephant which is being blamed for murder, the smell of the penguin pool, and the anxious joy among the staff when the clouded leopard gives birth.  The plot is a topical one and very well obscured until the last few pages.  Iris Oakley is a likeable protagonist and I’m sure we’ll see more of her in the future.

 

 

 

True Blue by David Baldacci

Publisher: Vision

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

The opening chapters of this book are not for the squeamish.  Mace Perry, former police officer, was railroaded on a false charge and has spent a very unpleasant few years in a women’s prison, defending herself against predatory inmates and corrupt guards.  Her sister Beth, the police chief of Washington DC, has done what she could at a distance to protect Mace, but in the dark, closed world of the prison system, that hasn’t been much.

Somehow Mace has survived, and is finally out of parole.  Her sister gives her a home, and surprises her with her old dog, the only thing salvaged from Mace’s former life.  While Mace is trying to figure out how to get a new life, and if possible, clear her name from the unjust conviction, she meets Roy Kingman, who’s labouring under his own little black cloud. Roy found the body of a colleague at his office, and suspects the police are taking the line of least resistance and trying to pin it on him.  Then they find an easier target, The Captain, a homeless Viet Nam war vet. 

Mace is determined to find out who kidnapped her and drugged her and turned her into a latter day Patty Hearst, and Roy is set on clearing the vet.  Their investigations take them to some bad parts of town, where really unpleasant people hang out.  But it’s not the hoods and crims that are the biggest danger: it’s the unseen enemies, the ones who work for the government, who are determined to stymie the two investigators at every turn.  The most dangerous ones of all are the men who will do anything in the name of national security.

Mace may no longer be a working cop, but she still knows how to investigate, and it’s not long before she’s discovered a complex plot that involves not only Roy’s case but also a couple of other murders and her own frame-up.  Knowing is one thing: proving is another—and even when proved, a case doesn’t always end in justice for the injured.

This is a complicated story with one heart-stopping event after another.  It moves at the pace of Mace’s Ducati and cranks up the tension over and over: will Mace find the answers before her parole is revoked; will she even live to be returned to prison?  Definitely a book to be read when you’ve had your wits freshly sharpened.

 

 

 

Blood’s a Rover by James Ellroy

Publisher: Vintage

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader 

James Ellroy is a classical music aficionado. That he despises Brahms is no surprise. Brahms was great, but James Lee Burke’s writing is more closely aligned, with its flowing lines eliding seamlessly into each other. Ellroy is pure Stravinsky: primitive, brutal, visceral. No one reads an Ellroy novel without being moved in some way.

His newest effort is Blood’s a Rover, which picks up where 2001’s The Cold Six Thousand left off, shortly after the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. Blood’s a Rover is another epic, a sprawling story that presents what one can only hope is an alternative reality that spans the Chicago convention riots, organized crime in the Dominican Republic, Communists, voodoo, the Klan, J. Edgar Hoover (man, does Ellroy hate J. Edgar Hoover), up to the days preceding Watergate.

Wayne Tedrow and Dwight Holly are back from TC6K, along with many of their peers. The primary newcomers are Donald Crutchfield, a private investigator/voyeur, and two mysterious women with Communist affiliations, Joan Rosen Klein and Gretchen Farr, who may not even be Gretchen Farr. (Read the book if you want a clearer definition.) Scotty Bennett is a vicious LA cop with a fixation on a violent robbery several years earlier; Marshall Bowen is an LA cop/FBI operative with the same fascination. They will work together and against each other simultaneously.

Blood’s a Rover isn’t as dark as TC6K, which isn’t like saying is a stroll through Cabot Cove, either. Some characters seek redemption, though redemption is a rare commodity in Ellroy’s world, never bought on the cheap. Bigotry, violence, and amorality are coin of the realm. Life is cheap and “Whatever it Takes” is the Golden Rule. Redemption is often paid for in blood. Whose blood depends on the situation.

Ellroy’s relentless style pulls you into his distasteful world whether you want to come or not. He bludgeons you into accepting his view with unsparing descriptions. No edges are polished off. The book reads like an open wound, yet with a brutal eloquence. Wayne’s and Dwight’s feelings toward the woman they become close to are told in the same unflinching style as everything else, yet are touching when measured in context. Crutchfield is a man-child who is evil or innocent, depending on the situation. Always searching, his perverse voyeuristic adventures stem from the same part of his psyche as his devotion to find the mother who walked away, yet sends him a card and five dollars every Christmas.

The book is a mess, in ways both good and bad. Some parts of the plot don’t hold up as well as others. One important plot line becomes so convoluted Ellroy devotes several pages near the end of the story to sorting it out it, presumably to ensure the reader has some idea of what the hell just went on. On balance, he demands a lot of his readers, explaining little, leaving you to pay attention and put things together as best you can. He tells the story through several points of view, some more reliable than others. The reader knows more than any character, and is uniquely aware when they are working at cross purposes, or flat out wrong in their suppositions. At times it’s like having an aerial view to a impending train wreck.

It’s impossible to describe a book like Blood’s a Rover in a review of several hundred words; there’s too much there. Reading Ellroy’s idea of the Sixties and early Seventies is like watching a libertine’s autopsy: the smoker’s lungs, the drinker’s liver, and a brain ravaged by syphilis. He’s not for everybody; I remember The Cold Six Thousand as one of my most distasteful reading experiences. Blood’s a Rover isn’t as dark, and the writing’s a little less intimidating, or maybe I’ve grown. This time around, I was constantly aware of holding genius in my hands. I might not get it all, but Ellroy is writing on a level some people just aren’t going to get. He doesn’t mind. Hell, he’s probably delighted.

You may like Blood’s a Rover. You may hate it. You’ll never forget it.

 

 

The Tale of Applebeck Orchard by Susan Wittig Albert

Publisher: Berkley

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

With echoes of Beatrix Potter’s magical world of talking rabbits and tiny clothes, Susan Wittig Albert slips into Miss Potter’s life on Hilltop Farm in 1910.  Juxtaposing the villagers’ views with the conversations of the neighboring badgers, cats and dogs, the quiet villages of Near Sawrey and Far Sawrey become active with the mysteries of who would burn the Applebeck Orchard’s haystack, causing great financial harm to Mr. and Mrs. Harmsworth, the rough landowner and his miserable wife.  

When Mr. Harmsworth responds by blocking the centuries-old footpath linking Near Sawrey to Far Sawrey, the villages erupt with hot tempers.  By removing access to the footpath, farm dwellers must travel much further to church and school, therefore detrimentally affecting nearly everyone—including the tired old horses and the smaller animals who find it impossible to get through the tar-covered blockade.

Fortunately, level-headed Miss Potter and well-respected Captain Woodcock, who also serves as the local magistrate, will attempt to soothe ill will and uncover the dual mysteries of who started the fire and why—which leads to the discovery of much more in the way of tightly-held secrets.

As a periodic visitor, Miss Potter pops in and out of the story but the real main characters remain the year-round villagers and the animals who supply missing bits of the puzzle.  While enmeshed in their own hierarchies and traditions, the animals witness the strange human behaviour both before and after the fire with shrewd observations.  Notable characters include Max, the tailless Manx who bravely meets the incomparable ferret by the bridge and Bosworth, the esteemed badger who maintains the animal history and frets over the line of succession for the post. 

Rounding out the tale are the accounts of past supernatural mysteries as well the very modern (for the slightly post-Victorian England) progressive dilemma regarding women’s rights to work, vote and to choose spouses, issues gripping the more populated areas at the time.  The narrator speaks from the 21st century, periodically explaining the social difficulties but maintaining the gentle tone used throughout the book.  The Tale of Applebeck Orchard is a lovely book, especially enjoyed during a quiet stretch of time when the reader can be fully immersed in Miss Potter’s treasured community.

 

 

Bryant & May on the Loose by Christopher Fowler

Publisher: Bantam

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

The Peculiar Crimes Unit has been disbanded and thrown away like yesterday’s rubbish, because of their habit of showing up the more traditional police departments and showing no humility about it.  While the squad members search for unemployment, Senior Detectives Bryant and May reassemble the team for one last hurrah after a decapitated body is accidentally found by a PCU member.

Granted only one week to finish the job, the PCU team includes Detective Sergeant Janice Longbright who reluctantly leaves her cushy part-time job in a lingerie shop, Sergeant Jack Renfield (who grudgingly bears with the expected Bram Stoker allusions), Detective Constable Meera Mangeshkar and an unlikely cast of helpers quickly set up shop in an abandoned warehouse that has its own supernatural secrets.

Full of well-timed puns and historical connections once commonly found in popular literature, Bryant & May on the Loose heads into Bryant’s territory in the mystical realm when the pagan, Catholic and Protestant histories of Knight’s Cross smash into the pavement-covered rehabilitation plans of a government-approved developer.  This is one well-trodden building site filled with odd archaeologists, arrogant businessmen, government officials, curiously secular church officials, and the occasional witch or oddity-seeker, all combining to make tracking an iron-willed murdered that much more difficult.

The most dismal aspects arrive in the form of the pencil-pushing bureaucrats in constant fear that the PCU will tarnish the constabulary’s reputation, even though it’s an accepted fact that PCU cases are often unsolvable by anyone else.

After a man covered in deer fur and bearing antlers made of deadly knives begins terrifying construction workers, the PCU knows that their strictly imposed deadline to solve the case may not give them enough time to stop the murders.

Peculiar in every sense, including the promise of twists, myths and darkly humorous characters, Bryant & May on the Loose will please readers looking for a little extra with their mysteries.

 

 

Hollywood Moon by Joseph Wambaugh

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Everyone who enjoyed “Hollywood Crows”, and there’d be a fair few of us, will be glad to see the return of Hollywood Nate Weiss and the repertory company that forms the LAPD’s Hollywood Division, including the surfer dude cops, Flotsam and Jetsam and the tough but compassionate Dana Vaughan, Nate’s partner.  She’s still treating him a bit like her kid brother some days, but Nate’s learned to accept it; he knows there’s a lot to be learned from Dana if you don’t get mired in old-time macho short-sightedness.

The new adventure has the usual line-up of weird Hollywood bit players: the strange people who dress up as super-heroes and panhandle tourists; the flaked out druggies; the lost souls and the wayward innocents.  And then there’s the dangerous ones, the people who’ve got a line on how to get rich at the expense of others, and who aren’t particularly fussed about hurting someone along the way.

Nobody in this story is what he seems to be:  Clark Jones is really Malcolm Rojas; Jakob Kessler is really Bernie Graham is really Dewey Gleason—you need a score card to keep track of the villains in this piece. They all come together in a final collision with Nate, Dana and the rest of the midwatch cops in one of those ghastly confluences that has you mentally screaming “Watch out, watch out!”  Then the thumbscrews are released, and it looks as if everything’s going to work out: the baddies bagged, the police unscathed, justice served.  But wait: who’s missing?

I hate it when a character I’ve become fond of drops out of an ongoing story, and Wambaugh had better replace this one with somebody equally good in the next book.  You’re on notice, Joe.

 

 

The Price of Love by Peter Robinson

Publisher: Harper

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Anthologies are a bit like a holiday bowl of mixed candy: some of the stories are bright and hard, some are chewy, others have soft centers and some have unexpected and unusual flavours.  This anthology of Peter Robinson’s stories is a bit like that; there’s something for every taste here.  Some of the stories feature Robinson’s main character, Inspector Banks; then there are some stand-alone crime stories, and even one verging on being a horror story.  The collection will variously amuse, sadden, or creep you out.

The title story has appeared in another recent anthology, “The Blue Religion".   Several others have been published in other anthologies during the Noughties.

Brand new for this collection is the novella “Like a Virgin”, which covers the previously unpublicised period of Bank’s’ life between leaving London and beginning work in Yorkshire.  It’s a darkly thought-provoking story with the genuine flavour of the grim and greedy 1980’s.

“Like a Virgin gives much insight into how Banks became the man he is, and why Yorkshire was the place he needed to be after what he experienced in Thatcher’s London.  There’s a lot packed into this novella, more than you’d find in many full-length novels, including murder, prostitution, organised—and disorganised—crime, infidelity, corruption and, thankfully, a sort of justice: long deferred but eventually delivered.

If you’re a fan of well-written crime fiction that goes beyond the ‘body-in-the-library’ or ‘loner-on-the-mean-streets’ scenarios, this is a book you will enjoy.

 

 

Alexandria by Lindsey Davis

Publisher: Minotaur Books ISBN- 031265032X

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Marcus Didius Falco deserves a nice relaxing vacation with his family in exotic Alexandria, Egypt, from his busy work as an informer for Rome.  Accompanied by his happy wife Helena Justina, three daughters and his young brother-in-law, Falco plans to see the Pyramids and catch up with his host, Uncle Fulvius and his partner Cassius in Egypt’s most cosmopolitan city.  Although suffering from traveler’s fatigue, Falco attends a welcoming feast including several esteemed guests including Theon, the head librarian of the legendary library of Alexandria.  Falco is determined to enjoy his time off from being the extremely versatile servant of the Emperor. 

Unfortunately, Theon unwittingly imposes on Falco’s vacation by being murdered in his locked office, and his high professional status requires an investigation by the Emperor’s man in spite of Helena’s pre-planned vacation itinerary. In order to uncover the guilty party, Falco surrounds himself with academics and observes the fast shuffling of feet by potential library directors as they seek to make Theon’s tragedy their good fortune.  Surrounded by philosophical disagreements, single-minded students, and hundreds of thousands of unique scrolls, Falco succeeds in learning much more about academia and Egypt than he ever expected from Helena’s tour.  Being a dutiful husband, Falco hopes to solve the mystery while still making it to the pyramids before returning home.

The entertaining story maintains a wry modern tone with witty comments (Theon missed a bureaucratic meeting because he was “detained at the undertaker’s”) and the realization that even ancient Romans thought of history as “ancient”.  Falco muses about city founder Alexander the Great, Cleopatra, and even “antiques” in casual asides without being preachy.  The lively banter between Falco and Helena Justina echoes modern couples but they remain grounded in Davis’ version of ancient Roman culture complete with togas, Greek and Roman philosophy, and empire politics.  Booklovers will enjoy immersing themselves in the richly depicted version of the greatest library in the world and imagining its central role in ancient Egypt.

 

 

 

Royal Flush by Rhys Bowen

Publisher: Berkley  ISBN-10: 0425236390

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader 

Lady Georgianna Rannoch, thirty-fourth in line to the throne, has rushed back to her ancestral home in Scotland just before the annual royal grouse hunt begins at nearby Balmoral.  Initially returning home in disgrace, Georgie is heartened by the return of her wild Irish beau, Darcy, among the large number of jet-setting guests eager to witness shattering speed records on the water and fabulous parties lasting well into the night.  Because of Rannoch Castle’s proximity to the Prince of Wales’ location at Balmoral, Georgie and her irritable sister-in-law reluctantly host American Wallis Simpson with her boisterous friends and sullen husband in tow.  Add a couple of genuine highlander cousins to the mix with their promise of “hunting” haggis, and Rannoch Castle is full of mischief, ghostly visions, and larger-than-life personalities while the lower classes suffer the continuing depression in 1932.

With her brother the Duke laid up after injuring his leg in a mislaid animal trap, Georgie investigates the strange rash of accidents occurring around her relatives, including a couple of close shaves herself.  The Prince of Wales even suffers a boulder landing on his car—could this be an editorial comment on his relationship with Wallis or is someone trying to move closer to the throne? 

Royal Flush, of the Royal Spyness Mystery Series, is ably written and engaging throughout most of the book.  Inherently period British with its quiet tone and background, Royal Flush disdainfully describes Wallis Simpson’s romance with the prince but is less judgmental of the real-life bed-hopping shenanigans of the rest of the British upper-class.  (See The Bolter by the subject’s great-granddaughter Frances Osborne for further insight, especially since Georgie’s own mother was a bolter.)  The story moves slowly at first but the time-period, the mysterious Darcy, and craggy Scottish descriptions maintain interest until Georgie’s naïve passivity dissipates and her investigation begins.

 

 

 

The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny

Publisher: Signet  ISBN-0451231112

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Penny returns with her 4th outing featuring the idyllic Canadian village of Three Pines and the delightful characters that inhabit it.  This time out, once again the close-knit group will discover that all is not as it seems when one of their own is linked to the brutal murder of an unidentified old man who lived deep in the forest, a man who was unknown to the small community until his murder.  And hot on the case is once again the wise and savvy Chief Inspector Gamache and his hand-picked crew of investigators.

It all begins when the victim’s body is discovered in the town’s popular bistro, a shocking discovery that leaves most of the villagers stunned and some of them increasingly suspicious of the new owners of the Hadley House, a once decrepit old wreck that has now been gloriously restored into an upscale spa resort.  But when the victim’s cabin is found deep in the forest, the possible list of suspects grows when several million dollars worth of historical treasures are found inside, along with some mysterious carvings that seem to hold the clues to the entire puzzle.  And as the trail leads closer and closer to Olivier, one of the Bistro’s owners and a beloved friend to all, this tiny village will find that once again, behind the most tranquil of settings lies deep and dark secrets that can be deadly.

Like before, Penny once again provides a tale that is so richly developed, so unassumingly complex, and so emotionally satisfying that readers will find themselves wishing beyond all hope that they could spend just one moment in the world she’s created.  The mystery, the characters, the setting, all combine in what is just about a perfect read. 

Penny manages to at once create what seems to be an idyllic place and time, while simultaneously showing the faults that lie just beneath the surface, making both somehow coexist in a believable way that just makes a wonderfully human sort of sense. This is not done with moments of “ah hah,” but instead with realistic, lovingly lingering glances at the frailties and imperfections that dispel the notion of flawlessness being the sole identifier of beauty and rightness. 

Penny’s novels are pure magic, with their greatest surprises being in not how bad people can be, or by revealing “who done it,” but by revealing the imperfections that somehow make us all so glorious, sorrowful, meaningful, and down-right human.    

 

 

 

Murder, She Wrote: A Fatal Feast  by Donald Bain

Publisher: Signet  ISBN-10: 0451231112

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader 

Jessica Fletcher, mystery writer and amateur sleuth, is doing her best to stay away from anything involving mayhem and murder as she attempts to finish up her latest mystery while preparing to host a lavish Thanksgiving feast for her favorite citizens of Cabot Cove, Maine.  But, as usual, that’s not an easy feat, especially when she starts receiving anonymous letters in the mail bearing cut out letters pasted on plain white paper, while at the same time she observes the new stranger in town lurking across the street night after night.  And as she begins to wonder if these events are related, and if so, if she’s in possible danger, her wavering resolution to answer the unknown will go from unlikely to impossible when she discovers a dead body while taking a breather from the delights of her delicious feast.   

Fans of the long-running series Murder She Wrote will find much to adore in this latest Jessica Fletcher mystery, finding that even though the T.V. series is now a thing of the past except in reruns, the voice and charm of this delightful series is still alive and well.  Not only does Bain manage to nail the dialogue and mannerisms of the many familiar and beloved characters, but he also manages to bring back the cozy, light-hearted touch of the wonderful mysteries and the setting of Cabot Cove with a convincing amount of verve and expertise.  A warm and engaging read that dares to bring back a classic, this is one that is surprisingly done up right.           

 

 

The Professional/A Spenser Novel by Robert B. Parker

Publisher: Berkley  ISBN--0425236307

Reviewed by Don Crouch, New Mystery Reader

This just in: Spenser finds women interesting. We know this because he tells us so. Frequently. More than one interesting woman fuels events in The Professional, Parker’s front-line Spenser offering for ‘09. Within the first page or so, Spenser speaks of no less than 4 women who interest him. Of course, his primary interest is Susan Silverman, and he is nothing if not loyal. Still, interested.

He’s hired by one of them to look into the affairs of a bunch of other women (of as yet undetermined interest levels) who are all having an affair with the same guy and are all being blackmailed by him. That would be the titular Gary Eisenhower, self-employed cad.

If ever there was a case for Spenser requiring the constant input of his Sugar Plum, this is it, and constant she is throughout
The Professional. 

As Spenser digs in, he comes to know Mr. Eisenhower and we see a certain affinity for him. It’s kind of odd, at first, but when we think of Spenser’s history, he’s certainly had his “Swordsman Era”, so a bit of appreciation for what Gary is pulling off can be understood.  And of course it provides fodder for much cracking of wise between Spenser and Hawk.

As he interviews the women involved, Parker reminds us how women love to offer themselves to Ol’ Spens in various and sundry fashions.  It’s always fun to watch, even if somewhat predictable.  Look, you wouldn’t want to see Springsteen without knowing he’d play “Born To Run”, right? Ok, then.

Parker mixes in what are essentially cameos from both Hawk and Vinnie Morris, as well as some Underworld flavor courtesy of Tony Marcus and some new players central to the action; middle-level player Chet Jackson and his back-watchers Boo and Zell. Turns out one of the women in Eisenhower’s orbit is Jackson’s wife. Uh-oh.  These three criminals are pretty much the center of action here, and the Mice-and-Men-like relationship between Boo and Zell provides a pleasant soft spot.

Parker takes a leisurely approach to events in The Professional, but once he does, the bodies start piling up in short order, and the book gains some altitude.

Developments allow Spenser and Susan to spend much time discussing the nature of love, obsession and morality, so if that’s a big part of the series for you, The Professional will make you happy. If not, you’ll still find plenty to like, as Parker scatters the usual blend of action, humor and thrilling heroics throughout.

 

 

Evidence of Murder by Lisa Black

Publisher: Harper  ISBN-10: 0061544507

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla,  New Mystery Reader

After dealing with the death of her fiancée in a failed hostage negotiation, forensic investigator Theresa MacLean has spent the last 8 months in a fog of grief and sorrow.  So when she's called to the scene of a missing beautiful, young woman, a woman who was once an escort and who used her beauty to marry a rich and upcoming technogamer creator, her empathy for the possible victim is pretty much nonexistent. 

But once the woman's body is found she begins to feel a bit of compassion for not only the dead young woman, but for the infant child she left behind.  While all clues point to suicide, Theresa is one of the few who feels there is something more insidious behind her death.  And when the evidence and her instincts begin to suggest that the beautiful child left behind might be the next victim, Theresa finds herself emotionally immersed in a case that everyone else has written off and one that will put her in the same danger as the next possible victim she's trying to protect.

Having read more than one or two "forensic" mysteries, what immediately became clear about this second in Black's new series is her refreshingly truthful approach about the function of the scientist in investigations.  More than once her character admits that her role is in the lab, not out interrogating suspects as a well-dressed CSI wannabe detective.  Naturally, this doesn't stop her from becoming just that, but still, it helps that it's admitted with a bit of irony and self-deprecation.  Personally, I liked this character, and I liked the sometimes awkwardness she displays, it feels real and honest.  And for forensic buffs, hey, there's plenty of that too.  This is a series that shows a lot of promise, and I look forward to the next.

 

 

 

What Alice Knew by Paula Marantz Cohen

Publisher: Sourcebooks  Landmark ISBN-10: 1402243553           

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

If you enjoy a period-piece mystery that focuses on characters and settings, you’ll really enjoy this new book from the well-qualified Cohen, who will have you gagging on a pea-soup fog in no time.

Taking the unlikely trio William and Henry James and their professional invalid sister Alice as her detectives, Cohen reinvestigates the infamous Whitechapel murders.  The book is not illustrated, but if you’ve ever seen any of the photographs taken at the Ripper murder sites, you will get an added frisson from William’s description of the corpse of Mary Jane Kelly.  William James in real life was a trained doctor who never practiced as such, but who had the anatomical knowledge to make his description of the murder scene all the more horrific.  (He was probably also a manic-depressive, although the term wasn’t current in the late 19th century.) 

The premise of the story is that Scotland Yard has called on William in his capacity as a Harvard professor and philosopher, in hopes that his studies in ‘the science of the mind’ may give some clue as to the identity of Jack the Ripper.

William goes to London where Henry and Alice have lived for some years, and before long the three siblings have joined forces at Alice’s suggestion.  William’s knowledge, Henry’s imagination and entrée into London society, and her own keen analytical skills should be sufficient to track the monster to his lair, Alice thinks.  She rarely leaves her room, but counts on her brothers to bring the information that will enable her to solve the mystery.

The investigations soon focus on the London art scene, and you think, “Oh, no, not Walter Sickert again,” but after looking closely at the wild and intense young artist, unlike Patricia  Cornwell, the Jameses discard him as a suspect and fasten instead on another former pupil of their compatriot James McNeill Whistler.  How they deduce his identity makes quite a fascinating story.

A number of historical characters appear in the book, including Oscar Wilde and Inspector Abberline, who pursued the Ripper with great zeal but ultimately no success. 

A highly recommended read for lazy Sunday afternoon.

 

 

Dying for Mercy by Mary Jane Clark

Publisher: Avon  ISBN-10: 0061286125

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Clark brings back NYC morning TV anchorwoman Eliza Blake in a new mystery that should satisfy her established fans. This time out, Eliza is brought into solving a mystery that has murderous roots far into the past, but one that will prove even deadlier as its secrets are slowly revealed.

It all begins when Eliza attends a party in Tuxedo Park, a highly exclusive enclave for New York’s rich and famous.  Being a new resident herself, she’s naturally drawn to the secrets that seem to beckon behind its impenetrable gates.  And when her host draws her aside and hints at a mystery that has long been hidden that he now wants revealed, its repercussions echoing with a current deadly fury and more deaths, Eliza feels she has no choice but to follow the puzzle pieces he left behind that will lead to the answers, especially when her host commits suicide by stigmata.   And as more people begin to die as each clue is revealed, Eliza will find herself too in danger of losing it all once again.

If you’re the type that likes a good puzzle, this one might do the trick.  However, be forewarned that Clark’s layout of the puzzle pieces could have been better arranged with the reader in mind, as most are connected to unrevealed clues that simply can’t be followed without more information.  And so one can’t help but wish that Clark would have gone down a more interactive road providing more involvement for the reader.   Nonetheless, it’s an entertaining enough read that easily maintains the reader’s interest for the duration, and one that should please fans of the series.

 

 

 

Trust Me by Peter Leonard

Publisher: Minotaur Books  ISBN-10: 031238954X

Reviewed by Joseph Obermaier, New Mystery Reader

Who can you really trust?  That’s the question that runs through Trust Me, by Peter Leonard.  Peter Leonard is the son of famed mystery writer Elmore Leonard, and brings us a fast-paced noir caper bursting with quirky characters and rushes through enough plot twists to make your head spin. 

Trust Me starts the way all noir stories should, with the girl:  Karen Delaney is a knockout.   A red-headed former high school drum majorette and erstwhile model, she is quite skilled at manipulating others to get what she wants. 

Karen, however, is awful at picking men.  She’s unhappy with her current paramour, and is still seething over $300,000 of her own money that her bookmaking ex-boyfriend, Samir, refused to return when he kicked her out. 

When two thieves break into her house in the middle of the night to steal the casino winnings of her current boyfriend, she makes them an unlikely offer.  Help her steal the safe in Samir’s home and they can split the proceeds.  Though this is an offer the luckless pair could have, and should have, refused, the two agree to help her.  

They pull off the robbery, but not without some folks getting hurt, and now Karen is running for her life from the thieves who’ve been double-crossed, her ex-boyfriend’s scheming nephew, a pair of hit men and a stubborn ex-cop who’s also an ex-con.  Karen is soon in way over her head as things begin to spin out of control.  “Hilarity ensues” as the chase and the story move at a breakneck pace through the outskirts of Detroit and on into Chicago.  

Karen Delaney can be ruthlessly practical.  She is awful at thoughtful planning, but her ability to think fast on her feet saves her time and time again.  That and a few implausible Houdini-esque escapes.  The rest of the cast fits in to the story well, but be forewarned: the good guys aren’t always good and the bad guys often aren’t as bad as they seem.  It can also be a challenge as the story rushes forward to be remember who each character is, and how they relate to Karen and each other.

It’s a courageous act to follow in your father’s footsteps when your father has been recognized as a Grand Master in the genre.  With the hard-boiled plot twists, clever dialogue, and quirky characters, some may find this a lesser imitation of his father’s work.  Peter’s work is still rough around the edges and not yet up to that lofty standard. 

But this book shows that the son has a lot to offer on his own.  He has an excellent ear for dialogue, and he has his own style.  Peter Leonard is able to put together a tale that keeps the action moving along, while throwing in some hard twists and an occasional laugh.  Trust Me is an entertaining crime caper with multiple double crosses, plenty of action, and a satisfying ending.  I’ll just trust him to do even better next time.