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His Majesty’s Hope by Susan Elia MacNeal

Publisher: Random House

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Winston Churchill’s lovely and highly capable former secretary has now undertaken an assignment quite unlike her previous work for Her Majesty’s government.  Maggie Hope will make use of her fluent German as an infiltrating spy during World War II.  Knowing that she may see her biological mother, now a high-ranking Nazi, only heightens the tension as Maggie parachutes into enemy territory.  Armed with forged papers, her wits and a cyanide pill, she makes her contacts but refuses to leave on schedule after a chance encounter promises much greater returns for the Allied cause.

Back in England, Maggie’s beau, Hugh also works for the government, trying to navigate through his own assignments while also enduring the stressful interaction with Maggie’s father.  As it turns out, Maggie’s family members each offer something to this adventure, whether it’s bravery or well-established self-preservation.  

MacNeal adds clever bits throughout (Jeffersonian agnostic and a Madame Defarge-inspired spy) and mentions things that give historical context to England and Germany, including a quip that Anne Boleyn left the tower minus her head (although in truth, Boleyn’s body remains in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula on the Tower grounds.)  While the Jews and those deemed unworthy to live are massacred, Nazis enjoy dinner parties and elegant nights out at the opera during the early part of the war.

Because the subject matter requires readers to revisit Hitler’s Germany, this well-written story isn’t a beach read but is worth discovering the mystery.  MacNeal creates a nice sense of place without interrupting the flow, making this ideal for readers of Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series or Charles Todd’s Bess Crawford series.

 

 

Let the Devil Sleep by John Verdon

Publisher: Broadway Books

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

After getting shot during his last case, world renowned puzzle solver and semi-retired NYPD  detective, Dave Gurney gets sucked back into the game when  the daughter of a good friend approaches him to help her gather some information on a string of serial killings from over a decade ago for a new documentary she’s shooting.  The killer in question was known as the Good Sheppard, never caught, and only leaving behind one clue: a long and rambling manifesto decrying the rich and greedy, the group from which he chooses his victims. 

But the closer Gurney looks at the cases, the more he begins to disagree with the popular opinion that this killer was using these murders to spread his message, and instead believes there is something far more complicated behind them.  But he’s in the minority on this one with no one willing to revise their long held beliefs, that is until bodies of the loved ones of the previous victims begin to show up.

This is my first time to read from this series, and I have to admit it was a bit difficult to enjoy the main character Detective Gurney.  A bit on the self-pitying side, his bitterness over his injuries, when combined with his over-logical mind, make for a stand-offish man that is sometimes difficult to connect with (which is most likely the point).  And while the plot itself involved a good puzzle to be solved, it’s one that many readers will see coming, perhaps even getting a bit frustrated by Gurney’s own slow understanding of it.  Still, overall this is a good read and one that should delight those who love to solve mystery puzzles with answers gleaned from well-placed clues.

 

 

Some Kind of Peace by Camilla Grebe and Asa Traff

Publisher: Simon and Schuster

Reviewed by Jacqueline Corcoran, New Mystery Reader

In Some Kind of Peace, Camilla Grebe and Asa Traff, offer Siri Bergman, a psychotherapist, whose patient dies while Siri is still grieving the loss of her husband.  Although there are a few well-known mystery authors with psychotherapist amateur sleuths—Jonathan Kellerman, Hallie Ephron, and Stephen White—all of these are male, so a female therapist is a welcome addition.  Siri’s patient’s death is ruled a suicide although Siri believes that her patient wouldn’t have killed herself during this stage of her treatment.  As other accidents pile up, Siri comes to believe that she is being stalked by a predator who is out to hurt her. 

The Swedish are becoming quite popular worldwide for their detective fiction.  I don’t know if Some Kind of Peace has anything new to add though.  It’s hard to read about an amateur sleuth who is as passive as Siri. She seems to do nothing to try to figure out the case, but get a crush on one of the investigators and guzzle red wine.  Indeed, she and the people she shares space with in her practice seem alarmingly hard-drinking for a psychotherapist crowd.

One device that is used to structure Some Kind of Peace is the use of alternating, first-person viewpoints of both the main character and the antagonist.  I usually don’t like to hear from the antagonist is a mystery novel, and I don’t see this viewpoint here being especially engaging either.  There are some literary touches in the present tense writing, and the ending lines of chapters I found particularly poetic.  The mystery of Siri’s husband’s death became the more interesting storyline for me, but the main plot was disappointing, despite some pretty prose along the way. 

 

 

 

Never Tell by Alafair Burke

Publisher: Harper

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader 

The young NYPD detective Ellie Hatcher returns in Burke’s latest, this time involving a case that hits close too home for comfort.  It begins with the apparent suicide of a pampered teen whose body was found in the tub of her upscale NYC apartment.  But while this might look like a suicide, including the slit wrists, suicide note, and a girl known for her troubled ways, her parents insist it was anything but.  And with the money and power to back them, Ellie and her partner are forced to treat the case as a possible homicide.  And for Ellie, whose own father committed suicide, this is not a case she wants to be involved with, especially as all the evidence points to a clear and cut case of suicide.

But as the pair of detectives begin looking at the girl’s past, the troubled teens she ran with - a mix of the pampered and homeless - a connection to a blog about sexual abuse, and odd  ties to a drug trial for a new medication aimed at troubled tweens and teens, they’ll soon discover that nothing is as it seems.  And with Ellie’s own difficult dealings with the suicide of her father, most troublesome is that they might just be blinding her to a murderous truth.

In her latest, Burke adeptly takes on the contentious issues involving the sometimes seemingly over-prescribed medications aimed at the younger generation and provides a well-thought out mystery that looks at them from all angles.   Are the drug companies making a literal “killing” on keeping kids better adjusted with their mood stabilizers?  Can a fair assessment be made when drug companies do their own research?  And, most importantly, are kids being unduly prescribed drugs for simply being kids? Or, is it possible, that drugs can indeed help a child in need?  Combine these questions with a look at the over-stressed but pampered teens of the upper echelons of society, and layers of secrets within secrets, and you get a thoughtful mystery that will leave you questioning more than just who did what, but the larger question of just what the balance might be when it comes to determining how we should help troubled kids.  Another winner from Burke who again proves she can mix mystery with timely issues in a way that will leave the reader satisfied and pondering the questions posed long after reading.  

 

 

Odd Apocalypse by Dean Koontz

Publisher: Bantam Books

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

Odd Thomas is a fry cook by trade. He has the ability to see and communicate with spirits of the dead. Thanks to his past success in helping troubled spirits cross over, the dead actually seek his help. His sidekick, Annamaria is a charming pregnant teen-ager who can get herself invited as a guest of even the most anti-social billionaire. Her ability has gotten them invited as guests at Roseland – the former estate of a 1920’s movie mogul. A reclusive investor now owns the property.

At the estate, a beautiful blond spirit of a dead woman appears repeatedly to Odd and appeals for his help. Eventually Odd is able to figure out who the woman was and how it connects the investor to the movie mogul.

The story is difficult to follow for the first hundred or so pages. If the reader perseveres, they will be rewarded with a tale that blends the occult with science fiction and mystery.

The style is similar to Stephen King, with biting wit coming from Odd. Despite Koonz’s success, he could perhaps provide some of the crystal clarity present in King’s stories and give an even more enjoyable experience for the reader.

 

 

 

Line of Fire by Stephen White

Publisher: Signet

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

White has decided to put to rest his long running series featuring Boulder psychologist and part time police consultant Alan Gregory in an explosive two-part publishing event.  And while it’s a bit disappointing to see this beloved character go, one can’t help but agree with White’s decision.  It’s always better to go out on top rather than continue a series that risks mediocrity.

In the first of the final two, some life altering events occur that will shake up Alan’s world irrevocably.  The first involves the revealing facts behind a  skeleton long buried in his and Detective Sam Purdy’s closet, literally, coming back to haunt them in the most troubling of ways.  The case involves the death of a woman who had ties with their most hated enemy, a death once thought of as suicide now being examined as a possible homicide.  And what the truth reveals might just end the freedom that these two men have shared since her untimely death.  Along with dealing with that threat, Alan must also deal with his practicing partner Diane’s spiral into mental instability, a spiral that will lead to a shocking and tragic event. 

Readers will be stunned at how this one ends, and will no doubt find it difficult in waiting to read the ultimate conclusion to this long running saga.  Everything we know about these characters is thrown into a tailspin and the result is nothing less than mind-bending suspense.  Morality and character, truth and justice, love and betrayal, all of these are brought into question with White’s typical aplomb, but with many unexpected twists.  How far will these two men go to keep a secret and how much do they have to lose before they break?  Personally, I can’t wait to find out the answers and look forward with a bit of sadness but great eagerness for the final revelations that will tie it all up.          

 

 

Black List by Brad Thor

Publisher: Pocket Books

Reviewed by Ray Palen, New Mystery Reader 

Are they watching us?

This is the question posed by the latest electrifying and extremely relevant new novel by Brad Thor.  BLACK LIST plays to the fear that Thor himself has that our government is crossing the line in efforts to maintain total control over the population.

Imagine, if you will, a government that attempts to reconfigure the Internet in such a way that they can dictate who is able to receive what information and decide who is even privileged enough to be allowed access to the ‘new’ Web!  Brad Thor’s hard-hitting novels have created a new terminology to describe them --- faction.  His work with Homeland Security’s Red Cell division made him privy to much top secret information in the wake of 9/11 and it is remarkable how much he is able to disclose in each novel.  What is more disarming is what he may NOT be telling us.

BLACK LIST starts off with the tragic murder of Riley Turner in front of Thor’s main protagonist, Scott Harvath.  Riley was a member of the Athena Project --- an all-female band of U.S. Special Forces operatives who were featured in their own novel.  Harvath, himself a member of the Carlton group and former Secret Service Agent is more determined than ever to bring about justice since he realizes he was also a target of the assault that killed Riley Turner.

A member of a group known by the acronym ATS --- Adaptive Technology Solutions --- have decided to bring about a major upheaval of the government that begins with the overhaul of the Internet and may end with the death of millions.  In order for the ATS, who are operating under contract from the NSA, to sell their deadly agenda they must eliminate any U.S. operatives that pose a threat.  This ‘black list’ includes Scott Harvath, several of his colleagues and his boss at the Carlton Group, Reed Carlton.

It is an uphill battle as the ATS has smeared the entire Carlton Group membership to the current President and the group must operate independently and in total communication black-out --- never even knowing if their colleagues are even alive.  Harvath makes his way from Europe to Texas (via Mexico) to team with his friend, Nicholas --- a dwarf with amazing political reach and superlative technical and hacking skills.  Nicholas is able to put Harvath in touch with the right people to both arm and protect him.  More importantly, Harvath gets the opportunity to enact his revenge on the ATS.

In the author’s note, Brad Thor states: “all of the technology contained in this novel is based on systems currently deployed, or in the final stages of development, by the United States government and its partners.”  If that fact is not enough to keep you awake at night --- I don’t know what will!

 

 

The Frozen Shroud by Martin Edwards

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press                 

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

It’s always satisfying when you get a book to review that’s right to your taste.  This is a classic English mystery with everything one could want: a cast of characters you’ve met before, an atmospheric location with just a hint of the supernatural, a bit of history, and enough romance to spice it up without taking too many side trips into someone’s bedroom.

The story opens with DCI Hannah Scarlett facing a lot of problems.  The two main ones are the budget-pruning rampage of Assistant Chief Commissioner Lauren Self (if ever someone was well-named….) who is on Hannah’s back to cut her department’s costs to the bone, despite its excellent record in solving cold cases.  And former lover Mark Amos just can’t seem to understand that Hannah wants nothing to do with him.  Anyone who has read previous books in this series has wondered for years why Hannah didn’t chuck Marc out of her bed, her house and her life well before this.  She’s finally done it, but Marc can’t take ‘no’ for an answer—not until he walks in on Hannah and one of her sergeants in an ill-advised get-together, that is. 

Meanwhile, in another part of the county, Daniel Kind, a historian who specialises in old murders and who has a strong liking for Hannah, is at a house party with his sister, listening to ghost stories about the mysterious murder of a woman in 1915, and discovering there was a nearly-identical one five years ago.  Before he’s done more than scrape the surface of the mystery, another house guest, Hannah’s best friend Terri, is killed in a very similar manner to the previous two victims.  This brings Hannah onto the scene and lets her tackle the very coldest of cold cases while helping a colleague with the present murder.

Author Edwards proceeds to draw all his various threads together, past and present, and provides the solution to all the murders, ancient and modern, plus brings about a very satisfying final scene for those of us who like tidy endings.

Definitely looking forward to the next Lake District Mystery!

 

 

Red Cell by Mark Henshaw

Publisher: Touchstone

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader 

He has already been called the ‘Tom Clancy of a new generation’.  Such is the high acclaim that debut author, Mark Henshaw, must live up to.  He has set the bar incredibly high with his first novel, RED CELL.  This is because he himself was a decorated CIA analyst and charter member of the think tank known as Red Cell.

Created on September 13, 2001 in direct response to the infamous terrorist attacks on U.S. soil,  the Red Cell team was set up to tell the CIA Director what no one else is telling him.  With this sort of insight at play, readers should prepare themselves for a novel that will inundate them with the inner-workings of one of the world’s most covert and vital counter-terrorist groups.

RED CELL lives up to these expectations.  In this novel that is so eerily close to actual world events that it is difficult to refer to it as a work of fiction, the Red Cell group is tasked with intervening in a potential military skirmish between China and Taiwan.  Protecting Taiwan is not the only concern of the group but, more importantly, they are tasked with uncovering a rumored super weapon that the Chinese army may be in possession of and neutralizing it.

The weapon in question, referred to as the Assassin’s Mace is alleged to be the great equalizer and one that gives China more than a slight competitive advantage in their step towards becoming the mightiest world power on the planet.  A raid on a band of Chinese spies in Taiwan results in the release of a deadly chemical that takes many lives.  It is at this point that the U.S. President (or POTUS, to use his military handle) turns to CIA Director Kathy Cooke requesting that she and Red Cell get more information and infiltrate.  What could China really be up to?

Two of the most important parts of the Red Cell team are rookie case officer, Kyra Stryker and veteran analyst, Jonathan Burke.  They are polar opposites in personality and do not always see eye-to-eye.  As a team, however, they are in sync with this mission that starts with their attempts to extricate a top Chinese CIA asset who has spent his life working and living in China.  The asset, known simply as Pioneer, has knowledge that China cannot let out to the CIA and they will stop at nothing to silence him before he can be snuck out of the country.  The scenes involving this great escape are nothing short of breathtaking. 

Nothing will prepare the reader for the final act of this novel that involves a U.S. naval battle in the South China Sea as the U.S. military, led by intel from the Red Cell group in the form of Stryker and Burke are set to defend a strategic Taiwanese island from hostile takeover by the Chinese military.  It is during this battle that the secret weapon --- the Assassin’s Mace --- is revealed --- and I will keep that spoiler a secret in this review.  The action is nerve-wracking and intense and incredibly authentic.

The biggest wonder of this novel is how Mark Henshaw can reveal so much behind-the-scenes details. You would think there would have been some sort of gag order when he left his detail as a member of Red Cell.  The scary part is if this is what he is ‘allowed’ to reveal I can only imagine the deep, dark secrets he is keeping under wraps.  All hail the new Tom Clancy!

 

 

 

Dead Scared by S. J. Bolton

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Young college students are dying in the idyllic town of Cambridge, but while a certain number of deaths are to be expected, the fact that they’re all killing themselves is not.  So when young detective Lacey Flint is asked to go undercover as a student to investigate whether there is something more nefarious going on, the last thing she expects is to become one of the intended victims. 

The first word that comes to mind when reading this is diabolical.  The intricate web designed to murder the innocent is nothing short of brilliant.  Taking one’s darkest fears and making them real is something anybody would dread, and then posing the question of what one would do when they do come to life makes it that much more terrifying.

Bolton creates suspense by creating fully realized characters who are not really that more different than the reader, and whose actions we can easily understand.  Not only our heroine’s, but the victims’ as well, adding to one of the best plots to come along in a while.  More terrifying than a read featuring an ax wielding madman, this one shines the light on the more realistic nightmares we all desperately hope to keep hidden, only to discover they’re waiting somewhere in our mind ready tor strike at any time.   One of the best reads so far this year, this one comes highly recommended.

 

 

Gone Missing by Linda Castillo

Publisher: Minotaur Books 

Reviewed by Jacqueline Corcoran, New Mystery Reader

In Gone Missing, the fourth in a series by Linda Castillo, ex-Amish police chief Kate Burkholder is asked to consult by her boyfriend, a State Agent with a haunted past, on a possible serial case of missing Amish adolescents.  Blood evidence turns up during the investigations, which seems to indicate that the Amish youth are being killed.  The case escalates when a teen that the chief knew personally is snatched. 

One of the chief strengths of Gone Missing is the Amish world setting, but it could have been exploited more fully.  The Amish characters tend to be very much alike with no interesting, nuanced characters among them.  The plot, too, is a bit one-note, and the moment when the main character puts together the link between the missing teens does not come as a surprise to the reader. 

I found the denouement a disappointment. Perhaps if I had understood the characters in greater depth, the ending would have been more satisfying.  Notwithstanding plot and character problems, Linda Castillo’s writing style and sense of description are excellent, although I didn’t understand the need for present tense, which, to me, should be reserved for more edgy work. 

 

 

A Fatal Fleece by Sally Goldenbaum

Publisher: NAL Trade

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

In her Acknowledgments, author Sally Goldenbaum thanks those who helped her inhabit the character of Finnegan, a cranky old fisherman whose moral compass shows him only right or wrong.  In spite of this, Finnegan transcends a potentially one-note character into being a multi-layered creature of habit whose personality is a strong  thread in the fabric of Sea Harbor, Massachusetts.

In this latest installment of the Seaside Knitters Mystery series, four friends Izzy, Birdie, Nell and Cass once more work through their fears and hopes as they knit blankets, sweaters and hats together on Thursday nights.  Lovely grey-haired Birdie’s life and knitting circle expands when a ten year-old winsome granddaughter named Gabby appears.  Raven-haired Gabby’s Uncle Nick Morietti has brought her to Sea Harbor as they tour the eastern coast, giving her a break from her home in Manhattan.

Cass has changes in her life, too, although they’re unsettling as she worries that the recession will soon spell the end of the Halloran family lobster business that she’s trying so hard to save.  A tough lobsterwoman, Cass manages her crews with a stone face but her troubles seep out into her personal life.  In spite of this, she continues to bring her mother’s food to Finnegan, or Finn, leaving it for him at his gate.

Finnegan manages to alienate several members of the community by transforming his lovely oceanside property into one filled with overgrown grass and dilapidated buildings.  Rusty junk dots the land and Finn chases teenagers and vagrants away with shots of his BB gun.  Aging and solitary, Finn won’t let anyone onto his property until Gabby appears, much to the dismay of Finn’s estranged daughter and the host of developers pleading with Finn to sell.

Much too soon, someone murders Finnegan on his own precious land, making the property’s future and the killer’s identity  the main topics of buzz in a town in which everyone knows each other when the seasonal tourists are away.  The four knitters regret the loss of their innocent summer and the death of their friend, adding to their cares.  Birdie and her friends become even more worried when they realize that charming Nick Morietti has lied to them and witnesses saw him arguing with Finnegan.

Goldenbaum shares a cast of potential murderers as well as a passel of sinners according to Finn,  but never overwhelming the realistic feel of the beach community.  Some readers will correctly suspect a revelation or two but A Fatal Fleece’s thick texture promises satisfaction regardless.  The Seaside Knitters are there for each other—and their community—through thick and thin and their elegies for Finn beautifully reveal why one old man’s death matters so much.

 

 

Robert B. Parker’s Lullaby: A Spenser Novel by Ace Atkins

Publisher: Berkley

Reviewed by Don Crouch, New Mystery Reader

For those of you holding off on Lullaby based on the highly non-Parker-like Jesse Stone entry, relax!

Ace Atkins is ABSOLUTELY the right guy to pick up the Spenser series. If you know his other work, you know this already.

Any questions would be immediately answered by his touching Parker tribute “Songs Spenser Taught Me”, in the highly-enlightening Penzler anthology, In Pursuit Of Spenser.

Lullaby delivers everything you’ve come to expect from a Spenser book....powerful action sequences, witty banter with Hawk, intimate musings with Susan, and strong narration from that guy.

It also drops things you don’t expect: a stunning new character, the return of some classic bad guys, an amped-up plotline, and, just, well....DENSITY!! PAGES FULL OF WORDS!!! Ya know?

Atkins wastes no time in introducing us to Mattie Sullivan, a 14-year-old-adult, raising her family after the death of her mother. She’s convinced the wrong guy was convicted, and she wants Spenser to give her some justice.

So, yeah, it’s a well-used device, but a dependable one. It provides Atkins a great landscape for sharing his vision of Spenser with us. You’ll find shout-outs aplenty to past books, but it’s the subtle references that resonate, and they assure you that if the series must be continued, Atkins is definitely the guy to do it. There’s a reverence to the characters’ history humming beneath the events in Lullaby, providing comfort as we navigate them.

Spenser and Hawk kick a lot of ass in Lullaby.  Seriously, a lot. It’s one of the best things about it.

But folks, really...Mattie Sullivan. This kid is spectacular. You’ll get parental for her in about 10 pages.  She is focused, stubborn, foul-mouthed, and, mostly, real.  Atkins has provided her with plenty of flaws. You’ll just love her more for them. And you’ll love how Hawk invests in her as well, it’s very sweet.

So, get off that fence, and read Lullaby.  And get ready for a new era in Spenser-land, Ace Atkins has got the goods! Bring on the next one!!

 

 

 

I Hear Sirens In the Street by Adrian McKinty

Publisher: Seventh Street Books

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader

I live to cite Raymond Chandler to buttress my points. In his classic essay, ”The Simple Art of Murder,” Chandler wrote:

I suppose the principal dilemma of the traditional or classic or straight-deductive or logic—and—deduction novel of detection is that for any approach to perfection it demands a combination of qualities not found in the same mind. The cool-headed constructionist does not also come across with lively characters, sharp dialogue, a sense of pace and an acute use of observed detail. The grim logician has as much atmosphere as a drawing-board. The scientific sleuth has a nice new shiny laboratory, but I’m sorry I can’t remember the face. The fellow who can write you a vivid and colorful prose simply won’t be bothered with the coolie labor of breaking down unbreakable alibis. The master of rare knowledge is living psychologically in the age of the hoop skirt. If you know all you should know about ceramics and Egyptian needlework, you don’t know anything at all about the police. If you know that platinum won’t melt under about 2800 degrees F. by itself, but will melt at the glance of a pair of deep blue eyes when put close to a bar of lead, then you don’t know how men make love in the twentieth century. And if you know enough about the elegant flânerie of the pre-war French Riviera to lay your story in that locale, you don’t know that a couple of capsules of barbital small enough to be swallowed will not only not kill a man—they will not even put him to sleep, if he fights against them.

Chandler was wrong, but we may excuse him his error; Adrian McKinty had yet to be born.

I Hear the Sirens in the Street is Book Two of The Troubles Trilogy, as told by Royal Ulster Constabulary Detective Inspector Sean Duffy, circa 1982. Argentina takes over the Falkland Islands as the book begins; John DeLorean has opened the plant to build his eponymous sports cars in Dunmurry, a suburb of Belfast. Duffy has a more immediate problem: a headless, limbless torso found stuffed in a suitcase. No identification. Not even a time of death; the body had been frozen for an undetermined period.

Duffy has similar difficulties to those encountered during The Cold Cold Ground. Not only are sectarian murders commonplace, he and his team are often diverted from the matter at hand to help out with riot duty or crowd control at a bombing now that elements of the British army are being transferred to the Falklands. He’s a Catholic cop in Northern Ireland, so the locals hate him doubly; as a peeler and as a fenian.

Such a setup could turn into melodrama. Those who have read McKinty in the past know that’s not going to happen. Sirens is a tightly- and densely-plotted tale that sometimes leaves the core case—that of the dismembered torso—alone for long stretches. Pay close attention to what appear to be diversions. Nothing is wasted in a McKinty novel. Everything is used to achieve what is often described as the zenith of a mystery ending: one that is both surprising and inevitable at the same time.

The list of Sirens’s virtues is considerable. McKinty is unafraid to wax poetic. The beauty of some phrases, stark as they may be, would do proud any advocate of Irish literary tradition. The characters are three-dimensional and help to hold the reader into a world that may seem foreign, especially to a modern American as far removed from the Troubles as we are prone to be. We all know these people, or people very much like them. The dialog reads like eavesdropping. No one makes speeches. They talk, though the potential for speechifying would be too much to avoid for a less disciplined writer.

What makes both of the existing Troubles books work so well is the seamless manner with which McKinty weaves Duffy’s story into historical events. Done well in The Cold Cold Ground, the manner into which well-known facts are integral to the story, even to the point of meeting historical figures, is even more key to the story’s resolution in Sirens. The deftness with which McKinty interweaves fact and fiction would do James Ellroy proud, though McKinty avoids the Devil Dog’s blunt force style, preferring a more rapier-like approach.

I could go on, but you really need to stop reading about the book and go it. Sirens may lack some of the visceral impact of The Cold Cold Ground for those who read the series in order, if only because you’ll know a little more of what to expect in day-to-day life from the outset. I Hear the Sirens in the Street is a brilliant second volume of the trilogy.

Rumor has it Book Three will have Duffy solve a locked-room mystery. I can hardly wait.

 

 

 

Broken Harbour by Tana French

Publisher: Penguin Books

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

There are a handful of authors who merit having their latest novels jump directly to the top of my ‘to be read’ pile of books.  Tana French is near the top of a short list that has earned this privilege in my over-crowded reading list.

Her first three novels --- IN THE WOODS, THE LIKENESS and FAITHFUL PLACE --- became international best-sellers and instant classics in the mystery/thriller genre.  How did a nice Irish lass like Tana French break through the over-crowded police procedural genre produce works of art that obliterated the boundaries these type of novels typically find themselves enclosed in?  The only answer to that question is to pick up one of her novels, sit back and find out for yourself!

Her latest release, BROKEN HARBOUR, features at its’ heart a brutal mass killing of a family.  A husband and two young children were brutally murdered and the mother left clinging to life.  Hardened detective Scorcher Kennedy walks into this case with a new partner, young Richie Curran and in spite of the horrifying end results it appears that they are looking for a single killer in a tranquil part of Ireland known as Broken Harbour.

Realizing that it was a Tana French novel I held in my hand should have forewarned me that the investigation and eventual outcome of this multiple murder case would be anything but typical.  Jenny Spain is the only surviving member of the Spain family who were brutally assaulted in their beach-front home in the quiet housing development of Broken Harbour.  Like many other part of the country, Broken Harbour now features many deserted homes and for sale signs --- indicative of the harsh economic times the majority of the world is living through.

Scorcher and Richie speak with neighbors and friends and also go over the evidence that was left in the Spain house.  One startling discovery is the amount of holes drilled into walls throughout the home.  There are also small cameras discovered in the walls of the home along with the decomposing bones of small animals.  Further investigation into the hard-drive on the Spain’s computer reveals that Mr. Spain believed that their home was invaded by some type of creature living in the walls of the house. It also seems that the Spain house had been broken into by an unknown person or persons --- yet very little was disturbed and there was no outward evidence of any theft.  What could these odd occurrences have to do with the attempted annihilation of the Spain’s?

Scorcher and Richie are pointed in the direction of a lone suspect --- a young drifter named Conor who it turns out was a close child-hood friend of both Pat and Jenny Spain.  To make matters more interesting, Conor eventually confesses to not only being the person who had been sneaking in and out of the Spain household but also the one ultimately responsible for their deaths.  This all seems far too neat an end to their investigation and Scorcher and Richie are haunted by the fact that the real killer or killers may still be out there --- directly under their noses.

The plot may sound familiar, but in Tana French’s deft hands the writing is far from common.  She has a way of stripping back the flesh of her characters and digging into the very nerve-center of their bodies revealing complex and fallible individuals at the basest of levels.  Scorcher Kennedy is just such a character.  His ten years on the force have been stellar --- but he has his own secrets.  A mother who committed suicide after a severe bout of depression is his family’s dark secret and the living result of this trauma is his younger sister, Dina.  Dina is severely damaged and needs constant care from family members and friends.  When she turns up on Scorcher’s doorstep in the midst of the Spain investigation he is not prepared to deal with her.  Little does he know that her presence coincides with a serious break-down in his partnership with Richie Curran --- one that may destroy the Spain investigation and permanently ruin Kennedy’s career.

BROKEN HARBOUR is a long novel but worth the effort. It is masterwork of intrigue and the dark side of the human psyche.  Regardless of whether or not the reader figures things out is secondary to the unveiling of emotions and true character study that Tana French handles with the skill of a fine surgeon.  Certainly to be another award winner and one of the finest novels of 2012 that is not to be missed!

 

 

 

 

Don’t Cry Tai Lake by Qiu Xiaolong

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Reviewed by Ray Palen, New Mystery Reader

In 1988, author Qiu Xiaolong read a poem entitled “Don’t Cry, Jade River” and was so moved by the title that he used it twenty-five years later as the inspiration for the title of his latest Inspector Chen novel, Don’t Cry Tai Lake.

Inspector Chen finds himself blessed with a long overdue opportunity for rest and relaxation when a high-ranking Party member offers him a week-long vacation at a luxurious resort near Tai Lake.  Chen is wary of the intentions of nearly everyone --- even high-ranking Party officials.  Could there be an ulterior motive in offering Chen a week at Tai Lake? The once beautiful Tai Lake is now damaged by pollution and toxic waste from many of the surrounding factories that occupy its lakeside borders. 

When the director of one of the manufacturing plants causing the environmental issues is found dead, Inspector Chen is roused to action.  He befriends a local woman named Shanshan who is part of an ecological group that is intent on saving Tai Lake and bringing the polluting plants to justice.  The leader of her group, a young man named Jiang, is immediately identified as the primary murder suspect. 

Inspector Chen contacts local law enforcement and finds himself aiding a Sergeant Huang in this case. Huang is a huge fan of Chen’s work and plays along appropriately as Watson to his Holmes.  In similar fashion, Chen takes on the persona of Conan Doyle’s Holmes who often assisted local law enforcement while travelling abroad and constantly finding himself seeking out a mystery due to in inability to relax while on vacation.  Chen’s China is one with a history of environmental protection being all but irrelevant.  Local authorities want to shut down this case as quickly as possible but Chen is not convinced that Jiang and his group are responsible for the murder.

The locals of Tai Lake have been paying a terrible price for the disastrous pollution problem and law enforcement seems unconcerned about this fact.  To that effect, Chen must move fully forward in Holmes mode and find something important yet previously unnoticed by others who have examined the crime scene.  Chen’s poetic side inspires him to pen a poem entitled “Don’t Cry, Tai Lake” as homage to both Shanshan and the environmentally challenged Lake he is visiting. 

Environmental issues would normally not make for exciting subject matter with a murder mystery.  In the deft hands of Qiu Xiaolong, this novel moves at a brisk pace featuring all of the standard elements of solid investigative crime fiction while sprinkling enough poetry into the mix to give Don’t Cry Tai Lake an identity all its’ own --- uniquely Chinese and grounded in the beautiful history of the surrounding landscape.

 

 

 

The Fallen by Jassy Mackenzie

Publisher: Soho Crime

Reviewed by Robin Thomas, New Mystery Reader

Jade de Jong invites her lover, Superintendent David Patel, to take a much needed vacation scuba diving in St. Lucia. Jade is stunned when Patel announces that their affair must end and that he is not going to leave his wife. Jade has little time to deal with her shock, disappointment and rage over Patel’s announcement. Amanda Bolton, a scuba diving instructor at the resort is murdered, both Patel and Jade volunteer to assist in the investigation, which helps to diffuse some of the tension between them. Jade and Patel have no idea how dangerous a quagmire they are in; the case is complex and the list of suspects lengthens with each clue they find.

Jade de Jong is a fascinating character; she is an outstanding private investigator who handles bad situations with cunning skill and natural instincts. Jade and David are a perfect match professionally; however, romantically their relationship is just a mess. Jassy Mackenzie integrates her protagonist into the culture and political climate of South Africa providing the reader with an intimate view of the country’s underbelly that includes the crime rate, racial tensions and environmental challenges.

When I began to read this book for review, I had no idea that The Fallen is the third book in the Jade de Jong series. Needless to say the author provides just the right amount of background to ensure that the reader has no problems following the storyline if this is an introduction to the series as it was for me. The Fallen is a fast-paced, thrilling mystery with a strong female lead. I so thoroughly enjoyed The Fallen that I can’t wait to read the other books in the series.

 

 

The Reckoning by Jane Casey

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader 

Casey’s female protagonist London DS Maeve Kerrigan may be young, but when it comes to solving the most brutal cases, her intuition and pure bravado easily gets the job done.  This time around, mere months after almost being killed by a serial killer, she finds herself on the hunt for another when members of the sex offender list begin to show up brutally tortured and murdered.  And while most other investigators show little enthusiasm for finding the killer, Maeve remains all about justice.  But once it’s discovered who is behind this proves to be only the beginning, she’ll find herself in the crosshairs of a group of sadistic killers who carefully choose their targets one of which might be herself .

While this is the third in the series, it’s a first for me personally.  Never having read this author, I instantly felt that twang you get when reading a personally undiscovered author who just hits every note with perfection.  Casey provides enough detail so readers new to the series easily understand who this inspector is and what drives her.  Both full of determination and vulnerability, this is one heroine who is easy to like even while her inability to commit to others leaves something to be desired.  And with plenty of twists and turns, besides the wonderfully drawn characters, this read also offers up plenty of suspense.  And while the changes in direction can be disconcerting, it’s more than welcomed when all is tied together at the end.  This is a series to watch, so if you haven’t yet experienced this one, now is the time.      

 

The Bull Slayer by Bruce Macbain

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press 

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Poisoned Pen Press has brought out quite a number of historical mysteries recently.  This is another one where a real historical figure is cast as the detective.   In this case it is Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, Pliny the Younger.

Author and Classicist Macbain has taken what’s known of the younger Pliny from many old Roman documents, including his letters and reports, and made him into a believable and surprisingly modern  character with many of the same problems  a modern administrator faces when posted to an outlying post of a political or commercial empire.  Sent to be the Governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor by the Emperor Trajan, Pliny finds corruption, back-biting, inefficiency and betrayal at every turn.  Not exactly the quiet semi-retirement he would have preferred.  Still, it’s an honour to be given an important job by the Emperor, and Pliny sets to it with his usual determination and organisation. 

In the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, the Freemasons were the group to be in if you wanted to get ahead by fraternal networking.  In the Roman Empire in the first century the worship of the god Mithras was the ‘happening group’.  Originally the soldiers’ god in ancient Persia, Mithras-worship and the secrets associated with it spread to Greece and then Rome, becoming popular with merchants, customs officials and minor bureaucrats—which is where Pliny’s problems start.  He quickly becomes aware of an undercurrent involving Mithraism in Bithynian society , but getting hard proof of anything is another matter.

When the fiscal procurator goes missing and turns up dead, Pliny investigates, with the help of his devoted servant Zosimus and Suetonius, his acid-tongued friend who acts as a sort of chief of staff for him.  Suetonius has a knack for blending in and collecting gossip and information, useful skills to a high-profile Governor in a new job.   Suetonius reports on many rumours and facts, some of them painfully close to home.  Pliny’s analysis and deductions lead him to the palatial country house of a very evil and greedy man who is in a position to ruin the governor—until Poseidon intervenes.  (Those who remember  the sea-god’s main epithet can guess the form the intervention takes.)

This is a fascinating visit to a vanished age, which nevertheless bears a very strong resemblance to much of our own world.  I await the next book in the series with keen anticipation.

 

 

 

Braking Points by Tammy Kaehler

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

This is the second in what’s likely to be a long-running series about feisty female race car driver, Kate Reilly.  It is a testament to the author’s skill that she manages to make the fairly technical narration of Kate’s races quite compelling reading, even for those of us who don’t know our pistons from our tie-rods.

Kate’s well on her way to what could be a place on the winner’s podium when the driver in the blue corvette doesn’t give way, crowds Kate to the wall, and crashes.  The driver who ends up in hospital is Miles Hanson, one of the biggest names in NASCAR, who was a guest driver at this Road America Race.  Miles has a huge fan club that turns on Kate like rat terriers on a field mouse; her life becomes a nightmare of personal abuse, evil emails and worse: there are attempts on her life.

One bright spot in the ensuing days is Kate’s rediscovery of two old friends, Juliana and Ellie, whom she hasn’t seen in years.  Barely has contact been re-established when Ellie dies, a victim of medicinal poison which Kate thinks may have been meant for her.  Juliana was another aspiring female driver whose career took a different turn: she’s now a rising media star covering the racing circuit, working with Felix, a really nasty journalist who seems determined to ruin Kate.  Before Juliana can do anything to bring about a rapprochement between her colleague and her old friend, Felix is murdered, and since Kate was on record apparently threatening him, she’s the first suspect.

Beset on all sides by bad press, suspicious cops and vindictive fans, Kate can’t see anything for it but to grit her teeth and do what she does best: drive like hell.  This pays off when she places third at the Petit Le Mans race, but at the height of her enjoyment she finds herself trapped with a killer who will give no quarter.  What she does next is worth noting; you never know when a tip like this might save you from a psycho.

This is an enjoyable series, with a no-nonsense heroine you just have to like, plus a supporting cast of solid characters.  And you might learn something about driving while you’re at it.

 

 

 

Heartbroken by Lisa Unger

Publisher: Broadway

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

Lisa Unger has been a perennial visitor to the Best Seller lists for her engaging thrillers. She has been described as perfecting the art of the emotional thriller. Her stories have run the gamut of espionage, romantic thriller and psychological intrigue.

With her latest release, HEARTBROKEN, she has created a three-part narrative whereby the female protagonists are all on a collision course with each other. The location of this inevitable collision is a remote and mysterious island in the middle of the Adirondack Mountains called Heart Island.

Kate is a burgeoning author currently researching old journals and historical archives to piece together the life of her grandmother, Caroline Love Heart. Caroline’s controversial past has always been well hid by her daughter, Birdie Burke --- Kate’s mother. Birdie still resides in the family home on Heart Island and does her best to keep both the ghosts and the secrets at bay.

Chelsea is Kate’s daughter --- a teen-ager going through her own period of self-discovery and eager to go on a family trip to visit Birdie and Heart Island. She is doubly excited to be sharing this adventure with her ‘BFF’ and most popular girl in her high school, Lulu. Chelsea and Lulu are your typical high-school girls dealing with boys, jealousy and secrets of their own.

The third prong in this three-part narrative is a young woman named Emily. Emily is troubled and tormented, abandoned at birth by her father and raised by her mother in a broken household. Emily is working as a waitress and has fallen in with the wrong crowd. Specifically, her boyfriend Dean is an addict and gambler who owes a great deal of money to some bad people. One of these people, a maniac named Brad, coerces Emily and Dean to help him rob the restaurant where she works. This attempted robbery ends tragically and the three find themselves on the run.

Of course, Emily leads them in the direction of Heart Island. She tells them about a safe that is on that island that will bring them the money Dean needs to settle his debt to Brad --- and much more. Emily has been told by her mother that she is part of the Burke bloodline and she has her own personal reasons for going to Heart Island as she is attempting to find herself.

Kate arrives with Chelsea and Lulu and is greeted with apprehension by Birdie Burke. It seems Birdie has foretold some tragedy is fast approaching the small island and the ghosts she has seen over the years now are appearing with startling frequency. Birdie does also does not like the fact that Kate is digging into the past for her book. Unfortunately, the dysfunctional family reunion doesn’t have much of a chance to get started before a small boat runs ashore during a terrible storm --- a boat carrying a young couple named Emily and Dean. Birdie instantly recognizes Emily and realizes that she is the harbinger of doom she knew was coming. Brad, of course, is not far behind and when he does arrive things will get really interesting.

Lisa Unger has done a fine job of building tension and creating an atmospheric setting that is complete with many elements of a good thriller --- remote islands, bad weather, shut off from the mainland, etc. HEARTBROKEN is not her most satisfying novel to date but definitely ranks as an above-average thriller that is an exploration into family secrets and hidden pasts that always seem to threaten present and future outcomes.

 

 

 

 

Cat’s Claw by Susan Wittig Albert

Publisher: Berkley

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

China Bayles returns in Susan Wittig Albert’s latest book although in a different format in a new series called the Pecan Springs Mysteries.  This time, China becomes secondary as local police chief Sheila Dawson takes center stage in a case that livens things up in little Pecan Springs.  Larry Kirk is found murdered in his computer repair shop while local quilters with wagging tongues ruminate on his nasty divorce from his wife Dana.  Dana has taken up with her sleazy boss and now wants her share of Larry’s business to fund her new life even though it means Larry will have to liquidate his shop and fire his employees.

Sheila’s case gets more complicated when she realizes that George Timms just got caught burgling Larry’s shop and then promptly disappeared.  Since Sheila’s second in command has taken time off to go fishing, it’s up to Sheila and a detective with a Casanova reputation to solve Larry’s murder.  Through it all, Sheila battles the sexist attitudes and resistance to change from some of her staff who haven’t quite gotten used to a woman being in the literally oversized chair.

China, a former lawyer and current shop owner, takes the opportunity to do a bit of her own investigation and help Sheila out.  Sheila and China have a genuine camaraderie, further deepened by their concern over their husbands’ foray into dangerous Juarez, Mexico, on a case the PIs are working. 

As in the China Bayles series, Albert includes recipes in the back and sprinkles humor throughout the story.  Ever attuned to nature, Albert also includes snippets about the cat’s claw plant that seems to easily snare everyone and from which the book derives its title.  Readers may also know Albert from the charming Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter novels populated by the beloved artist/author and a host of wise animals or from the sparkling Southern Darling Dahlias series. 

The Pecan Springs mystery proves enjoyable, with a nice mix of familiar characters and a solid police case in a well-developed setting.

 

 

 

Vengeance by Benjamin Black

Publisher: Picador       

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

The Delahayes and the Clancys have a partnership that has produced one of Ireland’s most successful companies. The two families are living the life of the wealthy. However, all is not well in their lives, as often is the case.

Something causes Victor Delahaye to invite his partner’s son to go sailing with him. While on the ocean, Victor produces a pistol and commits suicide. There are few clues as to the cause of this act.

Detective Inspector Hackett and pathologist Quirke investigate the bizarre act. They discover rumors that Jack Clancy, Delahaye’s partner, has been trying to take over the company by secretly buying up shares through shell companies. Before they can fully follow this lead, there is a second death on the water. They cannot determine positively if this was murder or an accident. Their instincts tell them murder.

The investigation moves forward, but motives and potential killers multiply. Hackett and Quirke find themselves navigating a minefield because of the wealth and power of the players.

Black has produced a character study of the rich and privileged contained within a first rate mystery. The sardonic wit of Hackett and Quirke contrasts well with the shallow personalities of the wealthy characters who take themselves much too seriously and major events such as death too lightly.

 

 

 

 

The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Publisher: Harper Perennial

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

The very presentation of The Prisoner of Heaven promises a unique understanding of an historical era through the gorgeous gold-tinged book jacket and traditional uneven pages that beg to be turned.  Carlos Ruiz Zafon therefore undertakes quite a challenge, delivering a curious story set in mid-twentieth century Barcelona, Spain, alternating between a cozy, struggling bookstore and a ruthlessly operated Franconian prison.

As a son of a bookstore owner, Daniel Sempere shares his father’s concern over red ink and few patrons, especially with the approach of winter.  Daniel has a young son and a sensible, beautiful wife but his most intriguing relationship is that with his best friend, Fermin Romero de Torres.  Fermin becomes increasingly agitated with the approach of his wedding but he’s not experiencing the usual big day jitters.  Instead, a reminder from his past makes an ironic purchase in the Sempere bookstore, resulting in Fermin’s revelation of his imprisonment under Franco years before and how his own story links to Daniel’s youth.

Zafon transposes the beauty and comfort of 1950s Spain with the horrors of those caught within the corruption of Franco’s regime.  Fermin’s imprisonment rivals that of modern dispatches from current hotspots on Amnesty International’s warning list, making Fermin’s experience even more sickening by Fermin’s likeable nature. Still, the truly terrible beginnings make the mystery of the stranger in the bookstore worth pursuing, ending in a satisfying resolution even as new mysteries begin.

Part of the series about the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, The Prisoner of Heaven can be read in conjunction with the first two novels or by itself since the only mention of the Cemetery arrives late and is only indirectly related to Fermin’s tale.  Perhaps the most wonderful aspect of the story echoes the lovely exterior of the book: Zafon’s deliberate yet casual referencing of books as relevant as The Count of Monte Cristo and Les Miserables to a book of Michado’s poetry.  Some of Zaton’s sentences beautifully convey suppressed emotions or a lack of political beliefs both in sound and through the voice of character.  Daniel keeps the reader linked to his present but Fermin’s voice, easygoing, teasing and burdened, remains with the reader long after the last page is turned.

 

 

 

When Maidens Mourn by C. S. Harris

Publisher: Signet

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Sebastian St. Cyr has serious family troubles.  His wife, bearing the tellingly unusual moniker of Hero, remains both unknown and strangely comforting despite her intellect and independence considered so unfeminine in early nineteenth century Regency England.  Their rushed marriage  has now lasted only days, highlighting the mutual tension and ongoing complications of their arrangement, especially since Hero isn’t quite positive that her father has given up trying to have Sebastian murdered.  Hero’s father, Jarvis, retains his post as a Warwick-style power behind the throne, which proves especially crucial with the unpopular German monarchs who have so far implicated the country in unpopular wars and saddled the country with a prince known for extravagance and foppery.  Making things worse, Sebastian’s former mistress, also bearing a name filled with meaning in England, is known as an actress named Cat Boleyn, who continues to make her way into Sebastian’s troubled dreams, piercing him with the intense blue eyes shared by a  powerful enigmatic man well known to Sebastian.

Of course, Sebastian’s family concerns pale compared to those of the House of Hanover or the gentrified Tennyson family later made famous by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.  In When Maidens Mourn, Hero’s friend and colleague Gabrielle Tennyson realizes her archaelogical ambition with an exciting excavation on what could be the ruins of the legendary kingdom of Camelot.  Gabrielle’s murder  raises questions of professional jealousy, political intrigue and rural pagan traditions, all of which factor into Hero and Sebastian’s separate investigations into Gabrielle’s death. Making the resolution more time sensitive, Gabrielle’s two young cousins have disappeared at the same time as her death, adding to the mystery of why someone wanted her dead or raising the question if Gabrielle was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Author C. S. Harris fills the novel with excellent research, even calling the prince by his nickname “Prinny,” while never making the facts devolve into tedium.  The mystery of Gabrielle’s death effortlessly permeates the story with clues dropped in at just the right opportunities.  While the setting serves the story well,  the real draw is the fascinating pair of protagonists who aren’t quite certain whether they can trust one another even though their complementary skills imply significant potential in the realm of crime solving.  Sebastian and Hero find tracking clues infinitely easier than grappling with their new marital status or parsing the meaning of  awkward exchanges with the equally intimidating fathers-in-law.  Both offer plenty of surprises to each other—and the reader—while clear writing and well-placed details provide a sense of place and danger inherent in the politically dangerous shifts of the era. 

 

 

Blue Monday by Nicci French

Publisher: Peguin books

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

When a young boy is abducted in London, the media frenzy surrounding the tragedy quickly catches psychotherapist Frieda Klein's attention, with the description of the abducted boy eerily matching those of a client's very detailed dreams involving his connection with a boy much too similar for coincidence.  But while Frieda feels some doubt whether her mild-mannered and seemingly above-board client is responsible, she is also hesitant to rule out his involvement, especially when he begins to speak of confusing moments in which he seems unable to determine fantasy from reality. 

And so while it goes against her dedication for her patient's confidentiality, she contacts the detective in charge with her suspicions that there might be a connection.  But the detective is anything but convinced, only hesitatingly allowing Frieda to join in the investigation.  But as the case continues, the similarities prove too much to be written off, and how these events are tied together soon become a nightmare that is all too real.

For those familiar with this dynamic husband/wife writing team's many highly suspenseful stand-alone thrillers, this first in a new series should prove to be just as exciting as what has come before.  As in their previous novels, there is the familiar ominous sense of darkness and gloom that pervades the setting, plot, and characters; this isn't the London of glowing tourist guides, this isn't a plot filled with light-hearted moments of discovery, and these characters are not cheerful amateurs caught up in a charming puzzle.  Instead what the reader is gifted with is an intelligently written thriller that provides an insight into the more dysfunctional side of human nature and the surprising twists that usually accompany it.  And this being only the first in the series, it will be more than interesting to see how these characters develop in the stories to come.  

 

 

Defending Jacob by William Landay

Publisher: Dell

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

William Landay has kicked off the year by penning the legal thriller that will be the one to beat in 2012.

DEFENDING JACOB combines both psychological thriller elements along with intense courtroom scenes. The novel has already been compared to other legal classics as Scott Turow’s PRESUMED INNOCENT and even Harper Lee’s TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.

Assistant District Attorney Andy Barber has his normally serene New England lifestyle rocked by the brutal slaying of a fourteen-year-old boy named Ben Rifkin.  Everyone knows each other in Andy Barber’s small town and he is no stranger to the Rifkin’s.  Andy’s own son, Jacob, is a classmate of Ben Rifkin ---  that makes the shock of this senseless murder that much more powerful.

At the onset, the criminal case begins and ends with a local pedophile that has a history of molesting young boys and sometimes becoming violent.  While Andy and his legal team are pursuing that conviction a startling wrinkle is thrown into the case.  It appears that several posts on various social media sites by Ben Rifkin’s classmates are pointing an accusing finger at Andy’s son, Jacob Barber.

As evidence begins to mount against Jacob, Andy is removed from the case due to conflict of interest and suspended.  Stepping in now is one of Andy’s blood-thirsty colleagues, Neil Logiudice, who is seeking to make a big name for himself by bringing down Jacob Barber (and Andy’s career in the process).  Andy’s world is rocked and he and his wife, Laurie, must now deal with not only the legal defense of their only son but also the ostracizing their family is now subjected to by the rest of their close-knit community.

Andy hires a friend of his, Jonathan Klein, to defend Jacob.  Andy and Laurie have to sit by quietly and hope for the best as the testimony about Jacob’s motivation to kill his bullying classmate, Ben Rifkin, comes to light during the course of the trial.  To make matters worse, Andy has a family secret that he has kept from even his own wife.  His estranged father is an infamous criminal currently serving a life sentence.  It turns out the Barber family has a history of violence --- one in which Neil Logiudice is sure to exploit in court.

One of the more interesting premises in DEFENDING JACOB is the possibility of there being a ‘murder gene’ and the realistic possibility that  Jacob could be afflicted with it.  The quandary that this poses is whether or not to plead Jacob guilty and use the murder gene defense or continue to protest his innocence. Without revealing any major plot twists, there are more than a few doubts in Andy and Laurie Barber’s minds about their son, Jacob, and that keeps this novel consistently interesting.

Just when the reader thinks they have things figured out, William Landay hits you with another curve-ball that will have you rethinking everything you thought you knew up to that point.  DEFENDING JACOB is a top-notch and engaging thriller that never falters in intensity and will appeal greatly to fans of both psychological and court-room based thrillers!

 

 

Dorchester Terrace by Anne Perry

Publisher: Ballentine Books

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Thomas Pitt of the Special Branch returns in Anne Perry’s long running series set in late Victorian England among murderers and thieves of all persuasions.  As usual, Pitt’s wife Charlotte shows her astute perceptiveness although Pitt’s precarious promotion to Head of Special Branch means that he can no longer share the highly classified information that he receives in his cases.  This causes not only Pitt but also the reader some distress since Charlotte’s insight and knowledge supplied in previous cases added extra depth while showing strengthening bonds between the characters.  Instead, Pitt must attempt to create new alliances and connections while shaking the social class insecurities among the wealthy and levels of nobility that he retains as the son of a gameskeeper, all while keeping his own counsel.  Meanwhile, Charlotte also feels the new loneliness and inadvertently clashes with her sister, who is dealing with her own husband’s sudden professional rise as secretary to Lord Tregarron of the Foreign Office.

In Dorchester Terrace, Pitt learns of possible attacks on visiting nobles on English soil.  Information must be tied together, one vague scrap at a time and Pitt’s inferior social start and new position means that he has just begun the process of earning respect from other government officials.  Pitt envies his former boss’ ease with high-ranking figures even as the deposed chief finds his departure bittersweet and retirement to be mindnumbingly dull.

Simultaneously, Lady Vespasia, a relative of the Pitts and well-regarded as a sparkling if aging wit, asks her friend, former Special Branch chief Victor Narraway, to inquire about her friend Serafina Montserrat’s fear that she will let slip dangerous information.  Serafina, now in her seventies and failing fast, believes that her past work in aiding budding revolutions in countries such as Croatia still proves highly volatile although her lapses into mental confusion and the sheer number of elderly or dead comrades add uncertainty to Vespasia’s concerns.

First time readers of the series will find extensive recapping of the continuing characters and familial relationships, bringing them quickly up to speed.  While the intimate relationships between so many European countries and the unique bonds shred by the considerable number of Victoria’s offspring throughout the continent are worth description, Perry models much of the plot on the events that finally thrust Europe into the Great War, or World War I.  More mystery about the intended victim, or naming someone other than a minor duke, may have allowed readers a bit more escapism rather than the feeling of deja vu.  Perry effectively shows the rise of the Pitt family socially and economically, which shows the growth in their characters while effortlessly providing a bit of turn-of-the-century history in a continuation of the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series.

 

 

Delusion In Death by J D Robb

Publisher: Berkley

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

NYPSD Lieutenant Eve Dallas is back in her 30-somethingth adventure, and it’s as enjoyable as all the others; in fact, more so than some.  In this latest outing, author Robb has returned to a style more like that of her earlier books after a period of what you could call “In Death Lite”.

“Delusions” begins with mass mayhem and murder in a small neighbourhood bar, the sort of place where the worst trouble that usually happens is somebody overindulging and getting a bit raucous.  Not this time: when Eve and her partner Peabody arrive to answer the call from the local patrolman they find a scene out of Hieronymous Bosch.  Dead and dying people litter the bar, torn to bits by each other’s teeth, fingers and eating utensils.

Eve get chief medical examiner Morris on the case, sensing that this is going to be a crime scene that needs the very best of diagnostic investigation.  Soon she learns that the cause of the carnage is a noxious mix of dangerous drugs that was last used during the Urban Wars many years ago.  Someone has found either a stash of the poison or learned to make it anew.  Surprisingly, Eve has to draw on the experience of Summerset, the butler she inherited when she married Roarke, world’s richest and handsomest man.  Eve and Summerset have had a running sniping war ever since they met, but this time they have to call a truce to serve the greater good.

Eve wants to keep a lid on the case, to prevent public panic, but that’s harder than usual due to pressure from the Mayor of New York, among others.  Many people are jumping to the conclusion that this is a terrorist attack, especially when another outbreak of citizen carnage happens soon after the first.

Working around the clock, Eve and her crew begin to narrow down the suspect list from the entire city to a handful of people and then one in particular—but suspicion isn’t enough, they need hard evidence.  Meanwhile there is the hovering fear that there will be another attack, perhaps at a much larger venue where any intervention will be impossible and the death toll will be unimaginable.

I am a rusted-on Robb fan; you can’t beat her for involving stories that take you away from the daily grind and give you a dose of pure escapism for a few hours.  If you’re looking for a fast, involving read, be sure to get this one.