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A Rule Against Murder by Louse Penny

Publisher: Minotaur Books  ISBN-0312365160

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

When Quebec’s head of homicide Armand Gamache and his wife head for a lovely, secluded lodge in the mountains of Canada for their yearly anniversary celebration, they have no idea that their idyllic vacation will soon turn into yet another investigation of murder.  Sharing the lodge with the wealthy and highly dysfunctional Morrow family, who has also just arrived for their yearly reunion, will all too soon shatter the peace and serenity of the Canadian wilderness when one of the family members is killed by a fallen memorial statue that has been erected in the memory of their father. 

And with a cast and crew that have everything to hide, including the lodge’s long-time employees, figuring out the secrets behind the murder might just prove to be deadly for everyone involved.

While Penny still manages to infuse her latest with her well-known magic for putting words together with the ultimate effect, it’s hard not to miss the enchanting setting of Three Pines and its inhabitants that usually take her stories to that next level. And so for those fans who have grown accustomed to her previous tales that seemed to be filled more with the wondrous events and the captivating characters of Three Pines than the actual details of a police investigation, there could be a tad bit of disappointment in this latest with its alternate focus on logic and details that might make it seem a bit less enchanting.

However, this is far from being a bad thing, for if anyone can make even the most detailed investigation exciting and compelling, it’s this talented author.  And so for those who love that kind of thing, this is one of the best.  But, still, while superbly written and better than most in the genre, I personally can’t wait to get back to Three Pines and the cast of characters who can make any read’s journey more than worth the time it takes to get there.

 

 

 

Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell

Publishers: Back Bay Books  ISBN: 0316032212

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader 

Dr Peter Brown went to some trouble to leave his old life behind him and thought he’d succeeded when who should turn up in the hospital where he works but Eddy Squillante, under an assumed name and also under a death sentence from a particularly rapid and nasty cancer. 

Eddy recognizes Peter and threatens to tell The Mob, specifically Skinflick Locano, a man with a reason to kill Peter on sight.  The price of his silence is his own life: if Peter can ensure that Eddy stays alive, even for a short time, Eddy will keep his knowledge to himself.  (He has left the information about Peter with a friend, “to be released in case of my death”, in the time-honoured way of such stories.) The only problem is that Eddy’s cancer is going to prove fatal very soon, even sooner if the noted surgeon John Friendly operates on him.

With a bit of long-distance advice from Dr Marmoset, his old mentor in the FBI’s Witness Protection Programme, and the help of a couple of his own trainee doctors, Peter Brown battles the clock, the Establishment, the Mob and the Grim Reaper.  Just wait til you get to the bit where he’s locked in the blood bank’s cold storage room and plotting how to defend himself against men with guns.  “Why didn’t I think of that?” you may ask yourself.  But then again, you may not—not unless you’re a sleep-deprived sociopath who used to be a professional hit man.

This is a fast-moving book with a lot of flashbacks and background material which requires close attention by the reader, who will also have to swallow mightily to get down the initial premises of the story. 

Writer Bazell may have his sights on the throne that The Reaper recently scythed clear of Michael Crichton.  Would it be churlish to suggest that the world needs good doctors more than it needs another implausible thriller writer?   Perhaps it’s possible to be both.  It will be interesting to see how Bazell’s career develops from here.

Reviewed by Narayan Radhakrishnan, New Mystery Reader 

Save for a Robin Cook, Michael Crichton (in the telly-ER) or a Michael Palmer, I don’t think the medical thriller genre has been utilized to its maximum. Unlike the legal thriller genre- the medical thriller genre still remains vastly unexplored. It is at this juncture the debut work of Dr. Johs Bazell reached me. I didn’t expect anything different from this work, and frankly thought that it would be some regular medical mystery written by a Robin Cook- Michael Palmer wannabe.

But boy-oh-boy was I ever so wrong. Never, ever did I dream that I would use the word hilarious to describe a medical mystery. Never ever did I think that I would read a medical thriller with a smile on my face. Josh Bazell is to medical fiction of what John Mortimer is to legal fiction. And BEAT THE REAPER is an outstanding, funny novel which succeeds as a new addition to medical fiction.

Nicholas LoBrutto is a patient at one of Manhattan’s famous city hospitals. He has just months to live. His treatment is in the hands of Dr. Peter Brown- a dedicated and talented professional. But LoBrutto is disturbed about something; his doctor bares an uncanny resemblance to a hitman of the mob - a hardened criminal by the name of Pietro Brnwa. And LoBrutto believes that both Brnwa and Brown are the same person. Soon everyone is after the good doctor…the government on one side and the mob on the other, an ever-escalating game of cat and mouse and life and death; culminating in a fish that’s truly unique and original.

A guaranteed bestseller, buy the book and read it. It’s worth more than the money spent.

 

Makeovers Can Be Murder by Kathryn Lilley

Publisher:  Obsidian Mystery ISBN:  978-0-451-22826-0

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

For the mystery fan who is tired of the impossibly perfect heroines, talented author Kathryn Lilley has created an amateur sleuth many of us can identify with.  Kate Gallegher stands in sharp contrast to the impossibly lovely heroines in many books as an overweight gal with ordinary problems, except she is a television journalist.  Competition in the form of Lainey Lanston, a lovely blond has shown on the scene and she doesn’t miss many chances to remind Kate she is out to get her job.

On orders from her boss, Kate must do spots on the different weight loss schemes offered to the public.  To Kate’s horror she learns she must wear a bikini on television. She turns to her support group for help.

When one of the group is murdered, Kate begins her own investigation thinking the two timing husband had done the deed, but clues lead her down other trails.  At the same time Kate’s love life is in trouble and she tries desperately to find out why.

What appears to be a simple murder case becomes complicated as facts surface from the victim’s past and others become involved. This clever author.has crafted a great tale with fun characters who you’ll enjoy meeting. This tale takes the reader into familiar territory of diets but then launches us into a shared terror of having the world see us in a bikini.

I’m pleased to recommend this fun read to any mystery fan who likes original plots and fresh characters who seem to live and breathe.  Enjoy. I sure did.

 

 

 

Snake in the Glass by Sarah Atwell

Publisher:  Berkley Prime Crime  ISBN:  978-0-425-23031-2

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

Mystery lovers, attention!  Talented author Sarah Atwell has crafted another great read in Snake in the Glass. It is a complicated, twisting tale that will hold your attention and provide a pleasant way to pass the time.

Emmeline Dowell is a glassblower who can’t seem to keep from getting involved in other people’s problems.  Like when a trip to Ireland puts a possible end to her brother’s romance with her assistant Allison, and so on hearing the news, Em’s brother Cameron disappears. Or renting time on one of her ovens to a stranger who claims to be a professor and who becomes a little more weird each time they meet.

In her increasing worry about her brother, Em turns to the local police chief for help, and soon while looking for answers, they uncover a murder tied to the stranger using Em’s oven. 

This is a fun read with lots of action, twists, red herrings and a cast of characters you won’t forget.  Wear walking shoes and carry lots of water as you join Em and a friend as they drive dusty dirt desert roads looking for her missing brother.  A tale you’re sure to enjoy and will have you wanting to read other books by this creative author.  Enjoy.  I sure did.  I’m pleased to recommend it highly as a tale that is well worth the time.

 

 

 

The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indridason

Publisher: Picador ISBN: 0312428588

Reviewed by Ray Palen, New Mystery Reader

Icelandic author, Arnaldur Indridason, finally found a global home for his engaging Reykjavik mystery series when the film version of his novel JAR CITY was made into an award-winning film in 2008.  The film was short-listed as Iceland’s entry for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards and suddenly Indridason’s novels found a home on the international level.

With his 2007 effort, THE DRAINING LAKE, the translation by Bernard Scudder does not diminish the power of the story-telling.  In this novel, originally released in Iceland in 2004, an earthquake in the Icelandic village of Reykjavik unearths a long-buried skeleton at the bottom of a now dried-up lake.  Inspector Erlunder and his team are called in to investigate and the mystery surrounding the identity of the skeleton begins.

With a mix of limited forensic ability and hard-nosed investigating, Erlunder’s team eventually traces the identity of the body to a murder that took place decades earlier.  Told in recurring flashbacks, THE DRAINING LAKE flips between the present-day investigation and the plight of some 1960’s Icelandic college students who are studying abroad in Leipzig during the height of the Cold War.  Turns out these radical Icelandic students were unwittingly being used as pawns in the “heavenly state” of Communist East Germany.  As depicted in films like the Oscar-winner “The Lives Of Others”, the East German state during this time period was one of extreme paranoia and represented a country that spied on its’ own citizens with more frequency than any other Cold War nation during this time period.

Could the body in the drained Icelandic lake, found weighed down with a Russian listening device, be that of one of these ex-patriot Icelandic students that had been caught up in Cold War spy games decades earlier?  The pace is tense and the flashbacks slowly allow the reader to piece together a puzzle that whittles down the suspects as well as the potential identity to the skeleton.  Erlunder and his team quickly realize that the deep roots of this decades-old murder still resonate in the present and there may still be forces from this time period that do wish for the truth to ever come out.

For those who are unfamiliar with this great crime series, THE DRAINING LAKE is a nice place to start and does not take away from any of the prior Indridason novels – allowing the curious reader to easily pick up earlier books in the series and fall right into place.  Another great international thriller that brings the unfamiliar territory of the cold Icelandic landscape to life.

 

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

In Iceland’s Lake Kleifarvatn, a scientist is measuring water levels for the government. The water level is steadily declining thanks to fissures resulting from the country’s earthquakes. Mired in what was the lake bottom, the scientist finds a skeleton with a hole in the skull.

Police Inspectors Erlendur, Elinborg, and Sigurdur Oli are called in. The location of the body and forensic evidence indicates that the body was dumped in the lake sometime before 1970. The body had been weighted down with a radio transmitter. Inscriptions on the radio in are in Cyrillic writing bringing the possibility of Iceland’s socialist movement and Russian attempts to spy on the American military base into the mix.

The police begin the laborious task of interviewing citizens who had loved ones disappear around that time.

The procedural is relieved somewhat by glimpses into Erlendur’s personal life in the form of his grown son and lady friend. Particularly poignant is his son’s discovery that Erlendur lost his brother in rural Iceland years before thereby giving a focus to the detective’s fascination with missing persons cases. 

Meanwhile, a series of flashbacks reveal the past interactions of young Icelandic students sent to East Germany for indoctrination into the communist agenda.

The story does provide a good mystery in a very traditional format. The translation is excellent and there appears to little difficulty grasping the concepts translated into English.

However, this is very heavy reading and while providing good insight into the culture and criminal genre of Iceland, the reading can be more scholarly than entertaining at times. One such section is from the discovery of the skeleton onward for thirty or so pages. If the reader continues past this part, they are rewarded with an increasingly engrossing tale.

 

 

The Good Mayor by Andrew Nicoll

Publisher: Bantam Books  ISBN 978 0 385 34312 1

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Tibo Krovic has been the mayor of Dot for many years.  (Dot seems to be somewhere between Estonia and Middle-earth.)  For much of that time, he has had a prettily plump secretary, Agathe Stopak, whom he worships from a safe distance.  He thinks it is his secret, but most of the small city knows, and wonders when, if ever, he will act on his deepest desires. 

Agathe is unhappily married to a man who never recovered from the death of their baby.  He refuses to take the chance of losing another child, and so has withheld marital intimacy from Agathe, who is ripe for romance. When it is not forthcoming from the besotted Tibo, she falls into the predatory arms of Hektor, the local artist and layabout.  Being a good woman, she can’t accept that it’s sheer animal need that’s driven her to Hektor, but rather it’s a grand passion. She sticks to him through thick and thin—mostly thin—even when he beats her and takes all her money and run around with loose women.  The only character who’s happy with this situation is Agathe’s cat, who delights in the adventures he’s experiencing in his new home on Canal Street.

Good Mayor Krovic, seeing Agathe’s increasing misery, is distraught but unable to do anything.   He missed his chance with Agathe and now tries to put all thoughts of her from his mind, not easy to do when she’s in the office every day.  When Agathe offers herself to him he misunderstands her motives and makes the split between them even wider, a veritable chasm of discontent and unhappiness.  Then there’s an unexpected death, which ought to help, but just causes more complications.  It’s going to take a miracle to bring about a happy ending to this story, but fortunately, in this odd little patch of the Baltic, miracles can still happen.

There are some wonderful characters in this story, not least of which is Dot’s patron, Saint Walpurnia.  This is one of the most engaging and charming stories I have read in years.  No matter what your taste in books, if you don’t have a smile on your face most of the time you are reading this, you may want to consider getting therapy. 

 

 

Ancient Laws by Jim Michael Hansen

Publisher:  Dark Sky Publishing, Inc.  ISBN:  13:  9780976924326

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

Another winner!  For thriller and dark mystery fans, talented author Jim Michael Hansen has produced a story you won’t be able to put down until you turn that last page.

A weird murder takes Bryson Coventry to Paris to see if their weird murder is the work of the same killer.  He meets French detective named Fallon Le Rue and falls head over heels into lust once again.

Together they chase down clues to a killer who looks like a caveman.  One such man is a lawyer who turns up to convince them of his innocence. Another is a D.J., and a third is a cabdriver and sometime hitman. The fourth is an archaeologist.  Will one of them be the killer Coventry seeks?  The question is which one.

Added complications deepen the mystery in the guise of two women, Jade and Alexandra, who work together to find a lost pharaoh’s treasure and the man who murdered Jade’s uncle for information to the treasure. 

Are the two cases related?  How? What do they have in common besides a certain killer?

An exciting tale that will keep you on the edge of your seat as vipers make attacks on visitors to their valley, an airplane goes into the river, and a thousand thrills that will permanently fix goosebumps to your skin. 

A well told tale with a masterful blend of intrigue, murder, greed, lust, and that little touch of horror will keep you reading.

 

 

 

Stuck on Murder by Lucy Lawrence

Publisher:  Berkley Prime Crime  ISBN:  978-0-425-23029-9 

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

For the mystery reader who likes new experiences such as learning about hand made paper or decoupage, talented author Lucy Lawrence has crafted a fun tale in Stuck on Murder that will have you laughing up your sleeve at two old town gossips and enjoying the warm relationships between friends and new loves. Join Brenna Miller as she builds a new life in a small town and tries to put the past behind her. 

Like all towns, Morse Point has a variety of characters including those gossipy elderly sisters and a mayor who insists it’s his right to demand another resident sell his property to be developed for the town good.  However, his motives are regarded with suspicion by many.

When murder reaches out, the land owner is immediately the number one suspect and Brenna is certain he didn’t do the deed.  But the town newspaper editor digs deep into his past to press the case that he is guilty. 

Join Brenna in her search for clues to the real killer while she tries to avoid stepping into danger.  Recommended as a pleasant read for any mystery fan who enjoys settings of small towns and interesting characters. Enjoy.  I did.

 

 

Sweetheart by Chelsea Cain

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur  ISBN- 0312943830

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

In this follow up to Heartsick, Cain brings back the truly diabolical female serial killer Gretchen Lowell and the detective who has long since joined her in a twisted mutual obsession, Archie Sheridan.  Archie, who over a decade ago was held captive and tortured by the beautiful killer, had been spending most every Sunday since the time of her recent capture visiting her in prison to learn of her victims not yet found; his obsession with her fueling the demise of his relationships with his family and friends, his attempts to curb his drug habit, and his sanity. 

But now for two months, back with his ex wife and daughter, by all appearances he seems ready to tackle the new case involving the body of a young woman found in the same park that Gretchen’s first victim was found.  But this one will lead to an entirely new case, a new set of victims, and another twisted killer.  But even a new macabre case of murder will seem pretty irrelevant when Gretchen escapes from prison, setting off what could be the final chapter to Archie’s obsession, or as he himself wonders, the culmination of his fantasies.

While, yes, there is a new case to be solved in this latest, most readers who have read Cain’s first most likely won’t really care.  It’s the extremely disturbing and violent obsession between Archie and Gretchen that continues to steal the show.  Watching Archie’s escalating fall into hell is far from fun, and to be honest, at times it’s actually stomach-churning and sickening.  This is not an easy read.   But what it is, is compelling, electric, and impossible to put down.  Cain is a master at the diabolical, and the further she draws the reader into these characters’ madness, the more some might begin to feel a sort of voyeuristic shame in continuing on…much like when stopping to see the gruesome remains of a deadly car accident.  But still, one has to ultimately admit, this author knows which buttons to push, and how to push them for maximum effect, creating a book that will rock you to the core in the most unexpected and frightening ways.

 

 

 

Heartless by Alison Gaylin

Publisher: Signet   ISBN-10: 0451228677

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Ever since her up close, personal run-in with a serial killer years ago Zoe Greene, once a driven investigative journalist, has spent her time writing puff pieces for a soap opera magazine, her memories of that dangerous time keeping her ever fearful of digging too deep for a story. And while not necessarily ludicrously happy, she’s content enough, especially when she meets soap star Warren Clark, a man who seems to have the charisma and looks to drive her even further into her self-imposed distraction.  And when Warren invites her to share his Mexican villa right about the time she gets fed up with her job, it makes perfect sense to throw in the towel and head for Mexico. 

However, after arriving, her attentive lover turns out to be not so attentive; his frequent disappearances begin to make Zoe question her impulsive decision.  And when she learns about the gruesome deaths of more than one visitor to this seemingly perfect village, all of whom knew Warren, her questions turn into alarm, especially when she discovers hidden away in Warren’s closet a wooden cross bearing a gem in the shape of a blood red heart.  Against her better judgment Zoe begins to dig for answers, a quest that will lead her to discover that trust is only skin deep, and the man she thinks she loves just might be a killer.

What can I say - this is a fun, exciting, suspenseful, dig-in-your-heels, can’t put it down read.  There’s the wonderful Mexican village ambiance, the handsome, chiseled jawed boyfriend who might be a psychopath, the questions of who belongs to the mysterious cult and who can be trusted, the crushing self-doubt and, ultimately, the ending that just slams out the shocking truth you never saw coming. 

Okay, sure, Zoe should have ditched this scene around page 90 or so, it’s obvious all is not well.  And, fine, if not then, she should have really, really ditched the scene around page 150, about the time clues start popping up with the same regularity as dead people and the people closest to her start acting more than just a bit weird. It’s all very obvious - or is it?  Beware, this author just might be pulling a fast one on you, and before you know it you’ll be as turned around as the main character - but oh what fun you’ll have being there too.

 

 

 

 

Divine Justice by David Baldacci

Publisher: Vision  ISBN: 0-446-6544884

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

What do two men – John Carr and Oliver Stone – have in common? They are one and the same. Carr is one of the top assassins in the employ of the US government. When Carr finds out a double cross resulted in the death of his family, he exacts vengeance with his sniper rifle against two high-ranking government officials. Then he sets out to escape by train to New Orleans. Unable to ignore bullies beating a young man – Danny - on the train, Carr intervenes. The two find themselves thrown off the train. With limited resources and an ever-expanding manhunt for him, Carr decides to take Danny back to the young man’s hometown of Divine, Virginia. There are strange events going on the small, isolated mining town that rival Carr’s problems in the outside world.

Former General Macklin Hayes uses his position as high-ranking intelligence official to try and silence Carr. Hayes sends Agent Knox to locate Carr with the understanding that Hayes’ men will take care of it when Carr is found. Knox is truly caught in the middle between Hayes’ abuse of power and a growing sympathy for an American hero being betrayed by the powers he served. Meanwhile, three of Carr’s friends are executing a plan to help Carr – much to the chagrin of Agent Knox.

With numerous plot twists and subplots, the reader could easily become bogged down in the details. To his credit, Baldacci calls upon his mastery of the genre to produce an exceptional work of mystery and government intrigue.

 

 

Trigger City by Sean Chercover

Publisher: Harper  ISBN-10: 0061128708

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader
(For Interview with Sean Chercover)

We’ve all seen it: new author writes a solid first novel, gets good sales and reviews, wins some awards. Second book comes out to great hype, “the next Chandler/Hammett/Macdonald/Burke.” Big publicity tour, plenty of ads. Except the second book can’t quite get over the hurdle of increased expectations. New Author took four years to write the first one; one to write the second, which is a warmed over version of the original, with the same character doing pretty much the same things, with a little more action and a few more, but less believable, plot twists, because the Marketing Department says this will make you a breakout writer. So the second book disappoints and the new author is either finished, or destined to troll for small publishers, as no big New York house will take another chance on him.

Not this time.

Sean Chercover’s second Ray Dudgeon novel, Trigger City, grabs you from the first sentence. (“Facts are not truth. Listen carefully, this is important.”) The facts are summed up in a page: Joan Richmond, single woman, shot in the face on a sunny Saturday afternoon by a co-worker, who then went home, left a note confessing to the terrible thing he’d done, and killed himself. Joan’s father, a retired Army colonel, hires Dudgeon to give him some peace of mind. He knows little of his daughter, who was raised by a series of caregivers as his career took him around the world, her mother dead since Joan was seven.

Colonel Richmond doesn’t question the police report; he just wants to get to know his daughter. Dudgeon knows he can’t really help him, but the Colonel’s willingness and ability to pay conspires with Dudgeon’s financial situation, and he takes the case.

The greatest of Trigger City’s many virtues is all seems so damn real. No one is better than he should be, and no one is really worse. The same cop who recommended Dudgeon for the case refuses to help him once the word comes down from on high. None of this, “okay, I’ll do it, but keep it to yourself,” or slamming down the badge and gun to go do the right thing. Cops are also bureaucrats in their way, subject to the demands of a power structure with more than justice on its mind. Pensions and assignments are not tossed away lightly. Everyone has a family.

The plot is tightly woven, building intensity to a twist that is both foreshadowed and surprising. Whatever shock you feel fades to a sense of inevitability as miscommunicated intentions build on each other to change the story’s entire thrust. All plot turns are treated with similar respect, so even when you think, “I never saw that coming,” (and you didn’t) your next thought is, “but I should have.” (No you shouldn’t.) It’s doubly rewarding to be reminded how much fun a surprise is when it’s been properly prepared, and Chercover never cheats. The ending is the best Dudgeon can reasonably hope for; the Hollywood Sap-Meter can be left at home.

The writing style is perfectly suited to this content and attitude. No nonsense, not too dry, acquainting you with Dudgeon’s character by what he comments on. The understated eloquence found in the best hard-boiled fiction runs throughout the book, such as this from Pages 42–43, describing yuppies drinking in a club formerly frequented by Al Capone:

Capone’s booth was now full of young urban professionals, who knew nothing of the tunnels and didn’t have the sense to keep an eye on either entrance. There were four of them. Double dates, I figured. They were too young and frivolous to be married. They drank Cosmopolitans and Bullshit-Tinis and wore Versace suits and carried Prada purses, and everything anybody said was hilarious, judging by the recurrent spasms of too-loud laughter that erupted from the booth.

I hated them. Then I hated myself for hating them. I finished my drink, dropped enough money on the bar, and resumed my walk.

Chandler would have been proud, but Dudgeon is no Marlowe, existing in his own vacuum of honor. He has his associate tail the man dating his former lover, all the while knowing he’s lying to himself about his motivations. His best friend is a journalist, Dudgeon’s original profession, their bonhomie haunted by unspoken resentments over who is more righteous.

Then there’s Gravedigger Peace, the most unique sidekick in current detective fiction. Childhood friend of Dudgeon, now a retired mercenary, he works as the groundkeeper at a cemetery to keep his demons at bay, except that in Trigger City one of his demons has come for a visit. He’s set up as the classic psycho sidekick, a man to make Hawk into a negotiator. Chercover refuses to use him in the expected ways, turning the story around on his insights more than his skills. The possibilities for this character are endless.

It’s easy to say a young writer may be the next Chandler or Hammett or Macdonald. Chercover is none of these. He is the original Sean Chercover, which is more than good enough. Trigger City  is a must read for anyone interested in the continuing evolution of private detective fiction.

 

His Father’s Son by Bentley Little

Publisher: Signet  ISBN:  978-0-451-22777-5

Reviewed by Ray Palen, New Mystery Reader

Bentley Little has continued to write some of the best and most creative horror/thriller novels in the genre today.  His career kicked-off with a Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel for his classic THE MAILMAN and his work over the past few decades has included accolades from some of the giants in this business --- most particularly, Stephen King.

This being said, HIS FATHER’S SON is unlike anything Bentley Little has written to date.  His prior novels have all focused on the supernatural, for the most part.  Conversely, the horror in his latest effort is exclusively man-made.  HIS FATHER’S SON features the character, Steve Nye, a California-based writer for alumni publication’s and only child of his retired parents. The action starts out almost immediately when Steve receives a call from his mother indicating that his father, Joseph Nye, apparently went crazy and tried to kill her.  Upon further investigation, Steve discovers his father suffered some sort of stroke and had been taken to the psych ward of a local hospital.

Steve goes to visit his father and learns from his Doctor that Joseph Nye did indeed have a stroke which has brought on an advanced form of dementia that is untreatable.  When he visits his father, Steve is troubled to find that he can only speak in indecipherable phrases.  However, one phrase does get through loud and clear – “I killed her.”  It’s obvious to Steve that his father was not referring to his mother --- who survived the attack following the stroke --- and he urges his father to clarify.  Could this be more delusion caused by the dementia or is Joseph Nye hiding a secret past.  Steve, having some investigative techniques due to his job as an alumni writer, beings to explore his father’s past.  From both statements his father makes from his hospital bed and what appears to be old journals found in his father’s personal effects, Steve begins to be led down a path that will highlight a dangerous and homicidal history his father has kept hidden from everyone he knows.

Steve discovers a previous marriage that ended in an apparent suicide by Joseph Nye’s first wife --- made that much more horrific when Steve discovers she was pregnant when she leapt from a tall building.  His father eventually succumbs to his mental break-down and passes away in the hospital. This does not slow down Steve’s efforts to find the truth behind every cryptic statement and journal entry his father left him with.  As Steve finds what appears to be the trail of a successful serial killer, he begins to take on similar

characteristics in his own life.  Beginning by avenging his father against a former high school enemy of his --- via strangulation --- Steve finds he is easily led into homicidal behavior, just like his father was. 

As the novel rolls forward like a steam engine, Steve Nye begins to let paranoia take over and anyone who is viewed by him as a threat to his mission (or protection of his father’s secret past) are dealt with severely.  Steve merely justifies the situation by rationalizing – ‘some people needed killing’.   He is also led by an even higher mission based on the premise that every son is continually seeking his father’s approval and wants them to be proud of their sons.  Unfortunately, Steve’s obsession and easy devolvement into homicidal activity is not typical father – son behavior.

What Bentley Little has created with his complex character, Steve Nye, is a dual protagonist/antagonist figure whose mind becomes his own worst enemy.  The break-down of a ‘normal’ person into homicidal behavior is handled in brilliant fashion by Little and the reader should be shocked not only by the violence Steve Nye perpetrates but also by the story’s shocking resolution.  Throughout HIS FATHER’S SON, there are chapters that appear to be trips into the past which highlight a history of homicidal behavior.  Did these events actually take place and was Joseph Nye at the center of this evil activity?  Or, is Steve Nye simply letting his own imagination and the power of suggestion push him to the darkest areas of his own psyche?  HIS FATHER’S SON should stand apart as Bentley Little’s most complex and compelling work and will hopefully allow his work to be recognized as not merely ‘horror’ but extremely well-written psychological suspense and terror.

 

 

 

Oscar Wilde and the Dead Man’s Smile by Gyles Brandreth

Publisher: Touchstone  ISBN-10: 1416534857

Reviewed by Carol Reid, New Mystery Reader

The third Oscar Wilde mystery opens in the delicious gloom of the Chamber of Horrors in Madame Tussaud’s Baker Street Bazaar, December 24, 1890. Wilde and his “recording angel” Robert Sherard contemplate the effigy of one of the Chamber’s notorious citizens, whose grimace, preserved in wax, gives this novel its name.

Soon, Wilde’s friend Arthur Conan Doyle appears on the scene. Sherard presents him with the manuscript of the story of the “Dead Man’s Smile” accompanied by this irresistible caveat from Wilde-

“This is a true story, Arthur. I suppose you’d call it a murder mystery. It can’t be published, at least not in my lifetime. Much of it is libelous. Some of it is salacious. And, as yet, the story is incomplete…I want you to read every word, even though some of it will make you blush…and when you’ve read it and pondered long and hard, I want you to tell me what you think the final chapter should reveal.”

The narrative which follows is a delectable gift to the reader, well worth the “wait” of nearly a hundred and twenty years.

This is an intricately plotted, fabulously atmospheric historical mystery. Author Gyles Brandreth’s ear for sparkling dialogue is as keen as his understanding of the nature of this decadent era, in which nothing is as it seems and yet “seeming” is everything. With a light, deft hand he successfully brings his portrait of the paradoxical Oscar Wilde to life and surrounds him with equally vivid sketches of other luminaries of the age- Conan Doyle, the Divine Sarah and the dark poet Maurice Rollinat, disciple of Baudelaire.

Much of the story takes place in the world of the theatre and much of the plot revolves around the dynastic La Grange family, in whose theatre Wilde’s translation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet will have its premiere. As the body count increases, the reader is pulled deeper and deeper into a web of dissolution and deceit.

The fictional rendering of Wilde is as hedonistic and urbane as the reader might expect, but also sensitive and in a sense, pure, especially in comparison to the family LaGrange and its coterie.

Does Brandreth play fair? My advice ( and I think Wilde would agree with me) is to adopt an Epicurean outlook and savor the numerous and varied pleasures offered by the story of the Dead Man’s Smile. I doubt that you will be disappointed.

 

 

 

The Brass Verdict By Michael Connelly

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing  ISBN 0446401196

Reviewed by Don Crouch, New Mystery Reader

Mickey Haller! Harry Bosch! Together again for the first time!!

Connelly has always enjoyed crossing his characters over, so this combo is no big surprise, really.

It’s also no surprise that the combination is very effective, and leaves us wanting more. Oh boy does it. In ways we can’t talk about, and if anyone tells you, they aren’t your friend, ok?

Haller, returning from the depths Connelly deposited him in during The Lincoln Lawyer, finds himself dropped square in a maelstrom of events the reader will fear he’s not capable of handling.

When a former adversary/ally, Jerry Vincent, is murdered, Haller is notified of his having been bequeathed the entire practice, including what is already billed in current media as The Trial Of The Century. That would be the murder trial of one Walter Eliot, Hollywood big-shot. Set to begin in a matter of days. Yikes!

Connelly is great as setting atmosphere while events unfold. He seamlessly blends flashbacks with current events to set up the relationship between Vincent and Haller.

With Bosch being the lead detective on the Vincent murder investigation, the time-honored conflicts between law enforcement and defense attorneys receives the Deluxe Connelly Treatment, and it’s huge fun to watch these two do the dance.

Haller, balancing his genuine dedication to his client against his desire to survive, walks a thin ethical line as he tries to help Bosch solve Vincent’s murder, and Connelly weaves the web with the subtle skill that makes him planetary in the genre.

The heart of The Brass Verdict is the murder trial itself, and Connelly moves things along at a rapid pace, while making us feel like we’re sitting in the gallery at the trial, right next to Nancy Grace.

Connelly definitely has some things to say about the jury system, how it’s been abused and manipulated, and why that is probably necessary for the system to be able to evolve. He does this via Haller’s narration of the trial proceedings, from jury selection through opening statements and evidence presentation, on to the Shocking Conclusion, which is, of course, a necessary ingredient to any good legal thriller, right?

Connelly also brings in his sorta-alter-ego Jack McAvoy, from The Poet and The Narrows, to complete the comfortable assemblage of characters that compose what fans like to call the ConnellyVerse. All that’s missing is Cassie Black!!

The Brass Verdict is a bit “bigger” in scale and feel than we’re used to with Connelly, and that’s a really great thing to read and be part of.

Oh, and the end? Very cool. That’s all we’re sayin’!