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Writings on the Wall  Edited by Valerie J Patterson

Publisher: WritersWall Publications

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Since the demise of magazines like Saturday Evening Post that used to publish short stories, there have been fewer short story forums available, which is rather a shame.  A collection of short stories is handy to have on the bed side table when you don’t want to get involved in a full length novel.  It’s a useful volume to have in your briefcase while you’re waiting for a meeting, taking a short train or taxi ride, or sitting in the dentist’s waiting room trying not to think of the cost of a porcelain crown.

Fortunately, some of the small independent publishers are still presenting collections, such as “Writings on the Wall”, edited by Valerie Patterson, author of “The Lincoln Room” (the book that probably put a lot of people off going to the library after dark).

“Writings on the Wall” features offerings by a number of members of the Writers’ Wall group.  The selections vary from the short and (sometimes) humorous pieces by Gordon Grace to the longer, gritty tale by the editor herself, warning women of the perils of “A Sharp Dressed Man”.  There’s the whimsy of “Psychic Detectives” and a war story set in another time and place in “Valor’s Way”.  There’s something for everyone in this collection, even a story for children about an adventurous hamster.

Worthy of particular note is the youngest writer in the group, the 15-year-old Cathy Zhang, who will curdle your blood with her story about the imprisoned sisters.  See how quickly you can figure out what’s really going on here—and then wonder if you’ve really figured it out after all.

Scattered through the story collection are a number of poems, rather like the raisins in an apple cake: totally different to the rest of the mix, but still tasty.

You can buy “Writings on the Wall” at http://www.lulu.com/content/743148 for a very modest price.

 

Hidden in the Heart by Beth Andrews

Publisher: Robert Hale Publishers;  ISBN  978 0 7090 8109 8

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

If you've ever felt sad that you'll never read a new Jane Austen or Louisa May Alcott, be of good cheer: Beth Andrews has spun a nice little tale that will remind you of both.

When Lydia Bramwell's impecunious parents pack her off to stay with her Aunt Camilla in order to use their small funds to launch  Lydia's airhead sister Louisa into Regency society, Lydia expects a fairly boring summer.

Things look up when she discovers her aunt is a beautiful woman who harbors a tendresse for a handsome Frenchman.  Aunt Camilla introduces Lydia to several of the locals, including the overbearing (but kind at heart) Mrs  Wardle-Penfield, and the well-to-do son of the local innkeeper, John Savidge. 

Next, one of Lydia's companions on the long coach ride to Aunt Camilla's peaceful village is found battered to death and burned in the woods, the second body to be found in the same spot.  Lydia and her new acquaintance John Savidge determine to discover the murderer, in order to clear the name of M. d'Almain, the mysterious Frenchman.  He has been tagged as a likely villain for no better reason than his nationality.  At the end of the Napoleonic wars, to be French in England was to be automatically suspected of just about anything.

Lydia sneaks out of the house in borrowed male clothing and meets John in the woods, in hopes of identifying the real murderer, but their first vigil has no result.  Undaunted, they try again, and not only find a group of smugglers, but romance.

Everything is eventually sorted out satisfactorily: indeed, Gentle Reader, more than satisfactorily.  To say more would spoil the tale.  Andrews has flavoured her story with a nice selection of archaisms that don't require a BA in English Literature to understand: who could not know instantly what Lydia means when she refers to her sister as a ninnyhammer? (Need help anyway? Try www.worldwidewords.org.)

Highly recommended, both for teenagers and adults.

 

 

Grave Descend by John Lange

Publishers: Hard Case Crime, 2006  ISBN: 084395597X

Reviewed by Narayan Radhakrishnan, New Mystery Reader

Most mystery readers, even ardent mystery connoisseurs, might not have heard the name John Lange. The back cover jacket reads “a stunning thriller by the best-selling author of BINARY, ZERO COOL, ODDS ON and THE VENOM BUSINESS.  And if the author is a “bestselling author,” Why haven’t we heard about John Lange previously? you might ask. The answer is simple- John Lange is the pseudonym of an author who attained world wide fame towards the mid eighties and has continued his success since then. I will not divulge the name of the author, but will give you two clues- he has written two grand bestsellers about dinosaurs and his name rhymes with frighten.  Before attaining world wide fame, this author published a series of books under this pseudonym during the late Sixties and early Seventies.

The novel is a regular off-the block adventure story- James McGregor is a diving expert who has an uncanny ability to search and retrieve treasures from sunken ships. And of course he dresses and acts like a regular hero (like Flint and James Bond). And when he is called to retrieve the treasures from a ship called Grave Descend, McGregor thinks it is a routine job. But something smells fishy and a perfunctory investigation reveals that the ship has not yet sunk, in fact the ship slowly sinks to the sea in front of McGregor’s eyes.  Knowing fully well that he is risking his life, McGregor jumps in to solve the mystery, and what follows is a fast moving tale of adventure and betrayal. At around 200 pages the novel is a paced page-turning read.

The publisher, Hard Case Crime has done a great job of bringing back to life these great classic golden-oldies. The aficionados of ‘John Lange’ will sure treasure this work. The unique touch of the spy adventure novels of the seventies is well preserved in this novel- such that the jacket looks quaint and gives a nostalgic feel. Kudos to the publishers for a task well done.

And of course, the highlight for me is the pure thrill, excitement and exhilaration in getting my hands on a classic that has been out- of print for almost 37 years. This book is simply Gold….pure GOLD.

 

The Dirt-Brown Derby by Ed Lynskey

Publisher: Mundania, 2006; ISBN 1591262322

Reviewed by Narayan Radhakrishnan, New Mystery Reader

I have one major complaint against this book: there is not a hardbound edition available, which is too bad, for this is one book that is to be treasured a long time in one's library.

Reminiscent of the classic noir novels of the Sam Spade series by Dashielle Hammett and the Phillip Marlow series by Raymond Chandler, debut novelist Ed Lynskey, in Dirt- Brown Derby, delivers a mystery that would surely  make these masters proud. 

Frank Johnson is a private investigator- a down- and out of luck guy who finds the money difficult to come by, so when a case comes along that can make or break him, he quickly agrees to investigate the matter.

Mary Talliaferro is a wealthy widow who has money to burn and whose teenage daughter has recently died in a freak accident. The police maintain that the girl's demise is simply an unfortunate accident; she fell off her horse and was trampled to death. Her mother thinks otherwise, feeling that the death was instead a deviously planned murder.  Frank Johnson jumps into the investigation and faces obstacle after obstacle, including stiff opposition from the local sheriff, but Johnson knows there's something wrong with the picture. His intuition proves correct when the trainer of Hellbent, the horse that caused the death, is found murdered. A dark secret lies ahead- and it's up to PI Frank Johnson and his brilliant acumen to reveal the truth.

What follows is mystery action at its pulsating best, culminating in a finish that would make Hammett and Chandler real proud. Frank Johnson is an interesting protagonist and I wouldn’t be surprised if I catch another PI Frank Johnson thriller in the book racks a couple of years from now. He truly is a worthy successor to Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe- and to put it in a cliché – have we found the Marlowe- Spade of this generation??????????

Dirt- Brown Derby is a grand read, highly recommended!

 

 

Behind the Polygamy Veil by Kenneth Brown

Publisher:  Xlibris ISBN:  1425721818

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

What is polygamy?  Why does it persist into today's world?  Who are the men that practice it and where do they find their wives?  Do the women come willingly into this world?

Talented author Kenneth Brown gives a look into this shadowy world by raising the curtain on it in this tale. A vanished wife draws PI Greg Forman into this world, then a girl vanishes on her way to school. 

A mysterious message from the girl gives the searchers their first real break and the hunt is on. Will they find her alive? 

A story for any one interested in the practice of polygamy and how it impacts the lives of its victims. A tale told by an author with a sure knowledge of his subject.  Enjoy.

 

 

Earth is Ours by Gary W. Babb

Publishers: Author House, ISBN-10: 142592364X

Reviewed by Narayan Radhakrishnan, New Mystery Reader

I am not an aficionado of sci-fi or fantasy novels. But this book caught my attention. An unassuming title- but with a cover image that reminds one of the ancient Greek mythologies- I was intrigued- and what I found in EARTH IS OURS is one grand fantasy novel- that borders on mythological status.

The novel is the story of two diverse personalities- Amy and Levi. The first chapter takes us through a painful period in Levi’s life. We slowly begin to understand that Amy is the source of inspiration for Levi- his strength and weakness. But then a sudden twist comes (one of the few hundred unexpected twists in the storyline), we understand that Amy is not a person but a computer…’a symbiotic self aware  computer’ without which Levi is not complete. It seems that aliens have taken control over the world of Amy and Levi and each day is a fight for survival. The highlight of the movie is the inter-moving perception of events from the female angle (through the eyes of Amy) and the male angle (through Levy).

I must confess…sometimes the sci-fi was too much for me- but I think for an ardent fan of sci- fi/ fantasy thriller- this one will be a grand and welcome read. I really enjoyed the concept of “oneness”- the concept of ASONE. Didn’t understand what ASONE means….I will tell you- then otherwise- why don’t you read the book.

Highly recommended- I for one am on the lookout for the sequel TARGET EARTH. Only one regret- I think we will have to wait for sometime before the book hit the stands. A grandiose debut.
 

 

The Snow Dogs of Lost Lake by Dorothy Bodoin

Publisher: Wings ePress,  ISBN 59705 106 3

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

It's always nice to find a new 'cosy' to read over the Christmas break.  This is Dorothy Bodoin's seventh book, in which she returns to frosty Foxglove Corners, Michigan, to drop her heroine Jennet Greenway into another mystery.. 

This time there's a flavour of other worldliness about the story: Jennet keeps seeing a trio of white collies which nobody else sees.  Driving home from school, where she teaches English literature, Jennet is sure she's hit one of the dogs.

Her fiancé, deputy sheriff Crane Ferguson, tries to be sympathetic, going to far as to help her search for them in the wind and snow, but no trace of the animals is found.

Jennet eventually comes to the realisation that the collies aren't real dogs at all, but spirit dogs.  But what can their appearances mean?  Spirit animals often presage a violent death.  Sure enough there's a death, at first put down to accident, but later upgraded to murder.  The body has been badly mauled, apparently by a cougar.

The dead man was a student at the state university, an apparently harmless boy who wanted to be a ranger when he left school. Then, only a few weeks later, his college roommate is found dead, shot and mauled in the same way.  It's now obvious to everyone that there's a two-legged murderer in the dark woods.

Jennet's worried about the murders, but even more worried about the ghostly collies, whom she sees for the third time.  What are they trying to tell her?  Maybe it's "Keep out of cabins in the woods when there's a man with a gun out there."  Jennet's search for dogs, both ghostly and real, leads her into peril that could result in her own death, except for the last-minute intervention of a very surprising ally.


 

 

Caribbean Calling by J D Gordon

Publisher: Red Engine Press,  ISBN  97445 65288

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader 

When she volunteered to work for a poor Caribbean island clinic, new doctor Elaine Keller didn't expect much drama beyond the occasional shark bite.   Then a patient with a gunshot wound turns up, telling of being pursued and shot by cult members to whom he'd delivered some 'equipment'.  What he doesn't mention is that the equipment was guns, and that most of them were fakes and he's made off with the cash the baddies handed over for the shonky goods.  They are understandably miffed.

Elaine has barely patched up the injured Marty when some rough men raid the clinic, kill several of the staff, and kidnap Elaine and Marty.  They are taken to the cult headquarters where the evil leader, "The Caretaker", makes Elaine an offer she'd better not refuse.

Running parallel to this story is another one.  Fireman Eddie Gilbert has taken a vacation job in Florida with Mr Klein, whose daughter he rescued in the previous book in the series.  Eddie's considering giving up firefighting in the cold north and moving south permanently.  But would he be happy being a glorified courier for Mr Klein?

The two story lines join when Elaine's father calls on his friend Klein to find Elaine, who's been out of contact for three days.  Klein sends Eddie and Mario to the island to find out what's happening.  The two men get into trouble almost at once.  There's more shooting and bloodshed that in a John Wayne Western, and it starts to look pretty grim  for our heroes and the pretty doctor.

The story takes a while to get into third gear, but once it does, it moves fast and furiously to the penultimate chapter.  One could wish for a better representation of Australian and Islander colloquial speech, but adventure fans will probably forgive that in the adrenaline rush of flying bullets and exploding grenades.

 

Point Blank by Julie Cambria

Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press, ISBN 1 59374 537 0

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader 

You read the first page of this book--a guy , a girl, waves shimmering under a full moon--and you think you've got it pegged: this must be a romance novel.  Then, in the middle of the clinch, kapow!  The young woman lies in the sand, a 9 mm slug in her heart.

Enter Taylor O'Ryan, beautiful and tough homicide detective for the County of Palm Beach , Florida.  Dead on her feet from a previous double shift, Taylor sets the investigation into Cindy Cattel's murder in motion before crashing in her oceanfront condo for a few hours.  The apartment is her refuge from the world, earned by hard work, and far different from the shabby trailer park where she grew up as an unwanted child of drunken parents.

Heading up the list of murder suspects is Nick Carrera, handsome, super-rich, self-made businessman with a slightly shady past and a penchant for guns.  Taylor is drawn to him and has to battle her hormones to keep her eye on the plot.

Yes, I know: it sounds like J D Robb in another town and time, doesn't it?  Don't be put off by the similarity--there are only about five plots in all of fiction: it's how the individual writer handles her chosen theme that holds our interest.  Julie Cambria brings an easy-to-read episodic style from her PR background to this book.  There are no literary 'traffic calming' devices, it's freeway all the way to the end.

How Taylor copes with the growing sexual tension with Nick, the bureaucratic red tape, an attack on her kid sister, the disapproval of her partner, and her continuing nausea any time she has to visit the medical examiner's office makes for an entertaining and involving read.  If you want great literature, buy a Thomas Hardy reprint; if you want a few hours' fun, get this.

 

 

Lilah and the Locket by Nikki Leigh

Publisher:  Ebooksonthe.net  ISBN:  1594314756

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

If you are a mystery fan who likes sand in their shoes and the sound of waves and the scudding of clouds just offshore, you should definitely join Kristie Connelly and her dog, Lilah, as they stroll along the beach.  Of course, your walk would be interrupted when Lilah turns up a human bone.

Thus begins the hunt for the identity of the body buried beneath the sand dunes put up to protect the island fifteen years ago.  And for the identity of the murderer.

The unexpected involves Kristie on a level she hadn't expected when the body is identified by a tarnished locket found buried with it.  Old memories bestir themselves and form links in a chain that leads to the killer.

Could Lilah's new friend be involved?  Why does she find him so irresistible?  What does Kristie think of him? Why does he suddenly appear just at this time? 

These and many other questions will pull you along as the tension builds.  The motive for murder will take you by surprise and look out for red herrings dragged across the path. 

A cleverly plotted tale by talented author Nikki Leigh that provides a pleasant and satisfying read.  Enjoy.  I did.

 

 

Stinger by Diana Chambers

Publisher: Books Unbound;  ISBN 1 59201 048 2
Print: Aventine Press; $13.95 ISBN 1-59330-377-7 

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Take a western-educated mujahadeen, a sensuous and determined woman, a jaded and suspicious American government spook, and a carload of stinger missiles and you have the ingredients for a top-notch thriller.

The liner notes about Diana Chambers say that she has written for television, and it shows: this book moves fast, hitting one suspenseful peak after another until the final shocking revelation--all that's missing are the annoying advertisements.

Journalist Robin Reeves finds out first-hand where her student lover Jamal came from, and why his world is not one in which she could flourish.  While she's trying to reconnect with Jamal, years after they parted in college, she meets Nick Daley.  Nick isn't about to fall prey to her attempts to charm him, and sets off into the rugged mountains on his own, with only apprentice agent Taj Akbar for company.  The determined Robin doesn't accept the brush-off and turns up when least expected.   

You won't want for villains in this book: There's the sinister Mr Yu who trades in arms of all sorts; Syed Hussain, the Afghan chief of secret police; General Rashid, and his cowardly womanizing, nephew who is so susceptible to blackmail--they all have something to lose if that shipment of stingers falls into the wrong hands.  And it's Nick's job to see that it does!

Set in the turmoil of mid-80's Afghanistan, "Stinger" keeps readers on their toes trying to keep up with the plot twists.  Highly recommended, but not as a bedtime book--not if you want untroubled dreams.

 

THE CENTURION by Alex Domokos and Rita Y. Toews

Publisher: Hard Shell Word Factory ISBN 0-7599-4243-9

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Current events in the Middle East may seem turbulent and dangerous to those who live in the 21st century, but this part of the world has been a focus for violence since the beginning of history.

Authors Domokos and Toews have written about one of the most dramatic periods in that history: the first millennium CE.  Jerusalem and all of Judaea are in ferment under the apparently quiet surface.  Roman troops and Roman governors have clamped down on free speech and movement, and are keeping the populace repressed, sometimes with savagery that rivals anything we are seeing today.

Through the life of the Centurion Marco Claudianus Secundus, we experience the political machinations and the military campaigns that put Judaea in turmoil.  Murder and treachery are rife all over the Roman Empire, and a wise man trusts nobody.  The early Christians are seen by many in Rome as potential traitors, and by the High Priest in Jerusalem as apostates.  It's a brave man or woman who openly confesses the faith.  Life is hard for a common soldier who's just trying to do his job.

In Rome, Sejanus is plotting to overthrow the Emperor Tiberius.  The emperor didn't survive to be an old man by being stupid, however, and thanks to a network of spies and loyalists, the plot is uncovered.  Sejanus and all who appeared to support him are condemned to death--even those whose association was quite innocent.

Marco and his wife and child are caught up in the web of power and fear, which only becomes worse when Marco volunteers to guard a tomb wherein lies the body of a man known as the Teacher. Pushed by his superior officer to admit to having collaborated with those who stole the body of the crucified man, Marco stubbornly tells the truth, and gets prison as his reward.

Things look grim for Marco and his family, despite the best attempts of Claudia Procula, Marco's former owner, and wife to Pontius Pilate. The story appears to be at a premature end when intervention by a most unlikely character changes things, but not before a tragic death tests Marco's belief in the Teacher to the limit.

If you like the Marcus Didius Falco series of Lindsay Davies, you will enjoy this book.  It's darker, longer (120,000 words), and heavier on the history, but deals with almost the same period and is based on careful research by the authors.  Building on what we know of first century Rome and Romans, the authors have fleshed out the characters to make them into very believable people.  The handling of Pontius Pilate and his wife are particularly good.  Pilate is a man torn by conflicting motivations: expediency, loyalty, self-preservation, and that little voice in the dark of night that makes you wonder if you are doing the right thing.  He could well have walked out of any political arena in today's world.

This is the perfect book for a long weekend when you really didn't want to mow the lawn or clear out the garage anyway.

 

No Doubt by Kathleen O'Connor

Publisher:  Whiskey Creek Press ISBN:  1593744757

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

A fun read that any mystery fan will enjoy. Something a little different with the detective and the suspected murderer.

Do you go to the library often?  Have you ever met a library employee who was obnoxious?  Joanne Gallagher did and the obnoxious employee wound up dead.

Since Joanne was the last known person to see the victim alive, she was well on her way to being accused of murder. Will Native American Royal Sun (Sunny) Cloud, recovering from a gunshot would and retired, be able to prove her guilt?

Once Sunny meets Joanne, he has trouble believing her guilty but carries on with his investigation.  Complications are added to the case because Joanne's son is also a policeman and she is an alcoholic in stages of recovery. 

Lots of well-drawn characters in a well-told tale by talented author Kathleen O'Connor.  I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this book to any mystery reader who likes a bit of the unexpected and romance in their reading.  A story I'm sure you will enjoy.  I did.

 

 

The Metadata Murders by William Fietzer

Publisher: IUniverse, ISBN 9788 0 595 36822 8

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

The Wikipedia says metadata are 'the data that describe the structure and workings of an organization’s use of information, and which describe the systems it uses to manage that information.'  At the simplest level, metadata are data about data. 

Knowing all about data and how it can be manipulated is Benjamin Hackwell's stock in trade. (I haven't decided if that name was an intentional pun.)  Benjamin works as an internet security expert, but loses his job over a misunderstanding one day.

The misunderstanding involves a porn site on which Benjamin discovers his daughter performing.  Ben is determined to find out what this means: is Caitline tormenting him, or is someone else tormenting her?  Is this real , or is someone manipulating data?  Things get murkier when Ben discovers his close friend Hoot perving on Caitline's site--or so he thinks.  It turns out to be nothing that simple, but by then Hoot is dead and Ben is left to run down the clues alone.  He tried to get his ex-wife to help, but she suspects his motives.

Along the way various government agencies get involved, but Ben is pretty much on his own in the final scene where suddenly all the data comes together and makes sense--of a sort.

This book will probably be of interest to those who are more computer literate than most, but the main theme of the worried father and the errant daughter is one that every reader will be able to relate to.  All in all an entertaining mystery that is timely and intelligently written, and with its plenty of high tech maneuverings, those who love that kinda thing will love this one.