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Night Terrors by Dennis Palumbo
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader
Consulting psychologist Daniel Rinaldi is dragooned into a job when the FBI scoops him up and carries him off to treat one of its retired profilers, Lyle Barnes, who is suffering the night terrors of the title. Lyle wakes screaming if he allows himself to sleep, and it’s unnerving the other agents. Lyle and the FBI Director ‘go way back” so he can’t be left to go mad on his own; that would be bad for the Agency’s image.
Daniel has already had a pretty bad day, helping the local Pittsburgh police find the dismembered body of a missing businessman. He’s less than pleased to learn that the FBI has hacked his private records and rescheduled his patients so that he can focus on their distressed agent.
There’s a further complication: somebody is systematically killing everyone who had anything to do with the trial and conviction of a man who murdered a number of prostitutes and is now himself dead. (Crime fiction addicts won’t be amazed to learn that there’s a connection among all the initially disparate parts of this complex and fast-moving novel.)
The one bright spot is that Daniel gets to spend time with Eleanor Lowrey, the woman he has been attracted to for a long time. Detective Lowrey “has issues” as the popular press like to say—she has an ex-lover who’s still there in the background, she has family trouble that she feels responsible for, and her work partner has been injured on the job, very badly injured. Harry Polk is gruff and grumpy and stubborn as three pigs, but his latest injury hits both Eleanor and Daniel hard.
The FBI agents in this book are mostly unlikeable, and totally hidebound by their own institutional constraints. You’d like to think this is fiction, but how come almost all the FBI agents in literature are depicted as one-eyed people wedded to procedure and unable to think laterally? That might be the scariest part of this very scary book.
After trudging through the evidence as doggedly as he’s trudged through the bad weather afflicting Pennsylvania during the story, Daniel has a flash of prescience and suddenly knows who the killer has to be. His attempts to recruit official law enforcement officials to his theory hit a wall of disbelief, so only he and Eleanor and a wounded Lyle Barnes are on stage for the last scene with a very dangerous man who has nothing to lose.
In summary, I’ll quote from my own review of a previous Rinaldi adventure: “ If you accept that a consulting psychologist could have almost as many hair’s breadth escapes as Jason Bourne and still go to bed and sleep easily, you’ll enjoy it. It’s another winner from Poisoned Pen Press.”
Prophet of Bones by Ted Kosmatka
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader
Paul Carlsson is a brilliant and slightly eccentric scientist specializing in the analysis of bones. Where the puzzle of DNA is a mystery for most people, Paul can easily see patterns that comprise genetics.
Paul has accepted a job with Westing, a massive biotech company. Among Westing’s missions is the analysis of bones from digs around the world.
Paul is offered the chance to go to the remote island of Flores and collect samples from such a dig. When Paul arrives, he finds the conditions primitive at the camp and he must remain there during his assignment due to unknown dangers in the nearest town. The hardships prove worthwhile after Paul realizes that these could be remains of a previously undiscovered primate or early human.
However, Paul is unprepared for the effect such a discovery could have upon the world of religion and science at the same time. The local authorities suddenly appear and shut down the dig at gunpoint. Paul and two colleagues escape.
Unknown to anyone, Paul has smuggled DNA samples out with him. Before they can escape the island, one colleague disappears and other is killed in an apparent robbery attempt. Paul struggles with the attacker and kills him, but not before losing an eye.
Paul returns to his job at Westing. He hides the sample in his apartment. If Paul had let things lie there, he might have been safe. Instead, he seeks an analysis of the DNA. This results in several mores deaths. Paul then gets to face the CEO sinister and probably of the company who is enjoying the opportunity to “play God” by engineering creatures that nature did not create. Now Paul must face the dark side of science and human nature.
Kosmatka has succeeded in creating a science fiction mystery of superior quality. The mystery is tense enough to make it difficult to put down the book. The science is accurate and comprehensible to the reader. The struggle between corporate greed, lust for power and roles of religion versus science give an additional dimension to the work. All in all, this is an excellent work.
Follow Her Home by Steph Cha
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Reviewed by Ray Palen a.k.a. Chandler Marlowe for New Mystery Reader
‘I thought about the word hard-boiled. Marlowe was hard-boiled. Spade was hard-boiled. Was I? Maybe they were scared, too, then, these heroes of mine, scared, but with their fear kept separate and suspended from everything else.’
This is just a sample of the stream-of-consciousness inner monologue that plagues the protagonist of FOLLOW HER HOME. Her name is Juniper Song. Part Korean but all-American she inhabits a persona that is well-read in the classic noir novels of Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald and longs to be like them.
Song is not a detective, but filled with what she has gleaned from Chandler and armed with a pack of Lucky Strikes she is ready to give it a go. It looks like she finally has the opportunity to put her skills to work when her good friend Luke approaches her with the suspicion that his father, Mr. Cooke, is having an affair with a young paralegal from the firm where he works.
Sounds easy enough. Tail the father and/or the alleged lover and see where it leads. However, like the tangles often met by her favorite literary characters, things are never as simple as they may seem to be on the surface. Song’s first job at tailing one of the suspects results in her getting knocked unconscious and waking up on a park bench. To make matters worse, she returns to her car to find a dead body in the trunk. Now, the real fun begins!
FOLLOW ME HOME is filled with references to classic noir with Luke’s Los Angeles apartment being named the Marlowe Apartments of Hancock Park. Song admits to having read THE BIG SLEEP when she was 13 and then consuming everything that featured Phillip Marlowe. She reflects on how her literary hero also got knocked out in nearly every case he took in --- she just didn’t realize how much it would hurt.
Steph Cha’s debut novel is well written and dripping with homage on nearly every page. The story itself dangles on the precipice of merely being ordinary and at times not very interesting. What pulls it back is how firmly grounded it remains in its reflection of the noir work that is so often mentioned. Even more moving is Juniper Song’s own back-story. Cha deftly balances the action of the narrative with an interspersing of Song’s family history and as each page is turned the reality of the challenges she has faced on that front provide all the fuel required to drive her forward in her pursuit of uncovering all the secrets in her first case. I look forward to seeing more of Miss Juniper Song.
When the Devil Doesn’t Show by Christine Barber
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Reviewed by New Mystery Reader
Bringing back her cast of characters, including Detective Gil Montoya and reporter Lucy Newroe, Barber’s latest mystery set in beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico entices readers to enjoy a remarkable trip through The Land of Enchantment. It all begins with a fire burning in the foothills of the mountains in Santa Fe - a fire that soon reveals three bodies that have been tortured before the fire ever started. And with Christmas right around the corner, and a small-town force that averages only eight homicides a year, this is going to prove to be difficult case to solve in more ways than one. And when other bodies begin to surface with the same MO, the clock begins to tick with even greater urgency to tie the cases together before another victim appears.
Barber vividly brings to life the people, the cultures, and the setting that makes up Northern New Mexico, and in particular, Santa Fe. As a native of the area, I was more than appreciative of the authenticity she brought to this read. Serving as not only a well-told mystery, but also as a travel guide that manages to capture what makes this part of the country so unique, she balances it all with just the right amount of historical detail and current settings that bring it all to life in vivid color. And with a narrative that captivatingly jumps from scene to scene with assured quickness and finesse, this is a perfectly paced novel that will leave readers hungry for the next.
Calculated In Death by J D Robb
Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader
It’s always a pleasure to find a new Eve Dallas adventure from the prolific Robb. This newest chapter in the ongoing life of the 21st New York policewoman is as entertaining as any that have gone before, and stocked with enough suspects to keep you guessing for a fair while. You are really spoilt for choice: which of the loathsome rich guys would you like to see swing for the crimes?
The story starts with a dead accountant, apparently the victim of a mugging. Eve and her offsider Delia Peabody quickly agree with the first officer on the scene that something doesn’t smell right about the whole set-up—in fact, it is a set-up: this is a murder disguised as a random mugging. Who’d want the accountant dead? Eve rules out the usual first suspect—the husband—and soon starts thinking that it isn’t the person, but the job that was the target of the killer. Marta Dickinson was a last-minute replacement for another accountant, who suffered serious injuries in a road accident. Perhaps a closer investigation of Chaz Parzarri is called for.
A great idea, but too late: Parzarri’s ambulance is hijacked and he, too, is murdered. Unable to interview the accountant, Eve turns to her favourite e-geek, Peabody’s partner McNab, to backtrack through cyberspace to find clues.
As you’d expect, there are a few more murders before the killer is finally pinned to Eve’s murder board; along with some amusing and occasionally sexy side trips into Eve’s private life. Everything comes together at the premiere of the video based on Eve’s most famous case, the Icove affair.
The list of suspects in this story include some of the most unlikeable people Robb has ever produced, including a spoilt rich girl who echoes several well-known glitzy ‘personalities’ from our daily news outlets, and several business men notable for their total lack of compassion or empathy. Also present are many of the repertory company that features in all the Eve Dallas novels: Morris the medical examiner; Feeney the e-detective; Mavis the singer and of course Roarke, the world’s richest and most gorgeous man, who married Eve despite—or because of—her total dedication to ‘standing for the dead’.
Not great literature, but a great read. Robb always delivers. (Presumably if you want great literature you can find your way to the Barbara Pym and Margaret Atwell shelves of your library.)
The Burning Air by Erin Kelly
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader
The MacBride family members seem to lead charmed lives, each benefiting from his or her elite education and from the solid upper-class parents, Rowan and Lydia, who provided their children with so much. Elder daughter Sophie instills this perspective in the reader’s mind, as she talks of the prestigious school she and her siblings attended and the loving, intellectual interactions that filled her childhood. She briefly notes that her family has suffered while failing to mention any one thing in great detail, leaving such things as her brother’s physical deformity something almost overlooked, as though one has seen it every day for decades and barely internalizes its presence. The suffering Sophie feels, and which provides a gathering point for the now grown children and their aging father, stems from Lydia’s death. Rowan, Sophie, Tara and Felix will send Lydia on her final journey on a typically academic way, echoing Vikings and other great classic sendoffs; Lydia’s ashes will be dispersed during small bonfire at the MacBride family’s country estate, recalling the simultaneous local festival centered on a large public bonfire.
While the MacBride family mourns and remembers together, along with new significant others picked up along the way, other voices interrupt Sophie’s narrative to provide backstory on Lydia and what impact she had on others. These offer true surprises, revealing the complexity of Lydia’s character, especially in someone who believed she was essentially a good person and who would do anything to protect her children and the blessed world in which she lived. In fact, her anguish over her failures lives on in her volumes of perfectly bound diaries spanning decades from her youth to just before her death.
Author Erin Kelly’s mesmerizing novel beautifully ties these narratives together while exposing the pain that truth can inflict on those we love the most. She smartly plays with characters’ identities in ways that heighten the feelings of desperation and loneliness while showing the struggle between pity and revulsion evoked by the variety of childhood experiences described here. It’s difficult to explain too much without spoiling Kelly’s carefully layered story, but The Burning Air is well worth the time and emotional investment in the sheltered MacBride clan.
Black Irish by Stephen Talty
Publisher: Random House
Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader
It is always refreshing to read a talented new voice in the mystery/thriller genre. Those successful in this arena are able to pay homage to the more popular writers in the field while still forging their own way with a unique voice. I am pleased to say that Stephen Talty has successfully blended the best of both in his first fiction novel, BLACK IRISH.
These days it seems many mystery/thriller novels are set against bleak landscapes making them that much more chilling and terrifying. Talty has chosen Buffalo, NY, an area that can be as dark and cold as any part of the planet during the height of winter.
It is in this territory that Homicide Detective Absalom” Abbie” Kearney earns her keep. She is returning to this area she calls home and follows in the footsteps of her famous father and former police hero, John Kearney. Abbie is referred to as being ‘black Irish’ --- a reflection of her midnight black hair and deep Irish roots.
The Kearney’s are from the South Buffalo section called the County and it here where a series of brutal murders have taken place. The first victim is Jimmy Ryan. While Ryan may have been a shady character he was not deserving of the brutal demise he suffered --- left as a mangled corpse in a local church basement with a sinister message carved into his body.
Abbie’s search is thwarted at every turn and residents of the County are far from forthcoming. It is only when her investigation leads to the local Gaelic Club that she begins to find some answers. She learns about a secret sect known as the Clan na Gael--- a group reminiscent of the infamous IRA and just as deadly.
As succeeding horrific murders occur Abbie begins to feel her grip on the case slipping. To make matters worse, fellow investigators in her Department are following the case closely and even begin to present the possibility that Abbie herself may be behind the murders. Fighting for her career, life and the truth will push Abbie Kearney into dangerous territory and put her face to face with her own family history.
BLACK IRISH moves quickly and Talty keeps the suspense building with each passing chapter. The description of the County put the reader right in the middle of this stark area once referred to as the ‘original Detroit’. Abbie Kearney is a welcome new voice on the hard-boiled detective front and I hope to hear more from her in the future.