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White Fire by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

Prior releases in Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s Special Agent Pendergast series would typically be accompanied by an explanation from the authors.  This explanation would explain to readers that the series did not necessarily have to be read in chronological order to be enjoyed.

From a business perspective --- I understand where they are coming from.  They have to sell books.  As a traditionalist, however, I firmly subscribe to the necessity --- with rare exception --- of reading any series from start to finish in order of release. 

With the release of their latest effort, WHITE FIRE, there is no such suggestion to readers on how to approach this series.  WHITE FIRE can clearly be enjoyed as a pure stand-alone novel as there is little reference to any of the books in the series that have been released prior to this one.

To begin with, I had very high expectations of this latest Preston & Child release.  Not only is it the newest novel from two of my favorite writers but, at its’ core, was a sub-story involving Oscar Wilde, Arthur Conan Doyle and an allegedly unpublished final Sherlock Holmes story.

The novel opens with a prologue centered on a dinner meeting set in London on August 30, 1889.  The authors portray this event as a true story.  During this dinner, two of the participants are meeting for the first time --- Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle.  At this point in time, the Sherlock Holmes series is just starting to take off.  Wilde, in his indomitable fashion, proceeds to make a few ‘suggestions’ to Doyle on how to make the Holmes series more appealing.  This includes everything from use of language to having the lead character suffer from a personal addiction.

Oscar Wilde then goes on to share an actual event he was informed about while in the United States.  He precedes this recounting by warning all present that it will be the most horrifying tale they will ever hear.  The event involved alleged wild grizzly attacks upon helpless miners in the Colorado Mountains.  Oscar Wilde then goes on to finish the tale with the actual account of what was behind this series of brutal murders.

Our story jumps to present day where Special Agent Pendergast’s protégé, Corrie Swanson, has run afoul of the law in a Colorado Ski Resort called Roaring Fork. She went there in hopes of gaining valuable research needed to finish her thesis necessary to her Criminal Law degree at John Jay College in New York.  Her focus is the skeletal remains of some miners killed 150 years earlier in an alleged grizzly attack.  She is jailed when certain members of the financially exclusive Roaring Fork community take exception to her prying into their family histories.

Pendergast comes to bail Corrie out and is instantly drawn into the now open mystery. After doing some local inquires and historical research in Roaring Fork, Pendergast takes a flight to London to follow-up on another lead.  This lead opens up WHITE FIRE to a true story-within-a-story as Pendergast uncovers the final Arthur Conan Doyle story featuring Sherlock Holmes entitled “The Adventure Of Aspern Hall”.  In this tale, Doyle clearly took Oscar Wilde’s dinner story to heart as it is obviously based on the events in Roaring Fork.  Holmes aficionados will also love to see how Preston & Child tie these events also to Doyle’s masterpiece, “The Hound Of the Baskervilles”.

WHITE FIRE is an extremely timely tale as the current residents of Roaring Fork represent the dreaded 1% population that is presently reviled within the United States.  These entitled folks have had an age-old battle with the miners and their families within the town and Corrie and Pendergast may have stumbled on something too dangerous for too crawl out of.   A brilliant novel that lends itself perfectly to this great series and does incredible justice to the memory of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the legend of Sherlock Holmes.

 

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Anyone who’s read any previous adventures of FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast will be prepared for a story line both weird and amazing, and they won’t be disappointed.  Many of the previous stories have had an urban setting, but this one’s different.  Rather than an abandoned subway tunnel under New York City,  a lot of the action—and there’s a lot of action—in “White Fire” takes place in the convoluted bowels of an abandoned silver mine in Colorado.

The book opens with a vignette from the 1880’s when Oscar Wilde allegedly dines with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (in his pre-knighthood days) and two other men, one of them an American Publisher.  In the course of the evening Wilde tells Doyle a horrifying story about violent death in the town of Roaring Fork.  Many years later Doyle fans believe that what arose from that evening was an unpublished Sherlock Holmes story, which could be worth a fortune.

Meanwhile , back in the present day, Pendergast’s protégée Corrie Swanson has gone to Roaring Fork to chase the same story as part of her college thesis for a very demanding  professor.  Corrie’s paper on ‘perimortem trauma in the skeletons of eight miners killed by a grizzly bear’ seems hardly a topic of interest outside the forensic anthropology community, but from the moment she gets to Roaring Fork, now a very posh resort town, Corrie is up to her clavicles in trouble.  Murder and arson are bad enough, but then Corrie’s arrested for desecrating the dead because she tries to examine the bear-gnawed bones of the old miners.  There are moneyed interests in the town and they don’t want any outsiders doing any digging into what happened in former years—and they’re not shy about hiring a gunman to discourage researchers such as Corrie.

It’s at this point that Pendergast rouses himself from his year-long lethargy and gets back into harness.  He gets Corrie out of jail and wants to get her out of Roaring Fork, but she’s determined to stay until her investigation is complete.  She already knows that there was something other than a bear involved with the death and dismemberment of the miners, but there are many powerful people who would stop at nothing to prevent her publishing the truth. 

Running parallel with Corrie’s investigation is Pendergast’s search for the missing Holmes story; he has a strong suspicion that it will shed light on what really happened at Roaring Fork.  Corrie brushes off his idea  but lives to regret it.  A subsidiary plot thread involves Captain Stacy Bowdree, a descendent of one of the dead miners and a very useful new friend for Corrie—when she’s sober.

Everything comes together inside the abandoned mine on a freezing winter’s day: all the main characters are there, but only some of them will walk away.  A rousing good read, not one to start late at night if you have to be somewhere next morning.

 

 

 

American Woman by Robert Pobi

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer 

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

Alexandra “Hemi” Hemingway is a NYPD homicide detective. In her career she has endured much brutality at the hands of criminals and seen even more. This still does not prepare her for the viciousness inflicted upon the young victims of the city’s latest serial killer.

Hemi and the other investigators chase down countless leads as another and another child falls victim. Then, as is often the case, a tip provides a solid lead. A man had a past arrest for possession of human feet. Unable to prove the man a killer and refute his claim that he bought the grisly items at a medical supply house, the man was charged with several minor offenses.

The detectives find the man’s address and crash the front door. What await them are the dissected remains of a long-time serial killer. He has trophies from a number of his victims over twenty years The evidence does not answer who killed him and has taken up the killings.

Another lead comes to light when they realize that the recently murdered children were all the product of a fertility clinic. The clinic has a director who is openly uncooperative and a doctor who disappeared to Europe some time before. The current doctor is cooperative but is murdered before he can be of much help.

Now the detectives are faced with understanding the why. Why are the children being butchered? Who is the surrogate father? Why are only boys being murdered? 

Pobi has provided an interesting take on Hemi. Her concern for her own pregnancy gives a poignant angle from which to view the sadistic violence of the cases she is investigating. This may cause some readers to identify with her while others may question this approach.

A more definite observation is the raw brutality of the story. This level of violence directed toward essentially helpless children can be disquieting. The crisp writing helps to avoid a dry procedural and the storyline distinguishes the book from a multitude of other stories. However, the appeal may be to a limited segment of readers.

 

 

Three Graves Full by Jamie Mason

Publisher: Pocket  Books

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader 

Jason Getty is a young man with a big problem. To begin with, he cannot keep from staring out his back door on to the yard beyond.  Perhaps this is due to the body that is buried out there --- a body he put there.  Jason has had many sleepless nights since the tragic circumstances that resulted in the corpse in the yard --- but he never would have predicted that his problems were just beginning.

While having some work done around his house --- not the back-yard --- the foreman of the contracting team makes a gruesome discovery.  They dig up a corpse.  What makes this so ironic is it’s not the body Jason buried but that of someone unknown.  The body had been buried right beneath his own bedroom window the entire two years he has been living the quiet residential Old Green Valley Road.

Police are called out and a forensics team determines the body has been buried there for a while. Jason reluctantly gives the police carte blanche to check his home in an effort to appear to be cooperative.  Detective Tim Bayard leads the investigation and is on-site when another body is unearthed --- this one on the opposite side of the house.  That body turns out to be female. 

Forensics identify the bodies as that of the wife of the home’s prior owner, Boyd Montgomery, while the first body appears to be that of her male lover.  Jason is told Boyd is dead and that it is simply bad luck that he purchased a home where multiple homicides had taken place.  If only the police knew about the third body put there by Jason.

Jason’s back-story about ‘his’ body is the high-light of the novel.  Victimized by a sociopathic con man named Gary Harris becomes the bane of Jason’s existence and he doesn’t know how to extricate himself from the situation.  One day, Harris pushes the wrong button and Jason snaps --- killing him in a rage.  Readers will surely sympathize with Jason as well as cringe along with him as the mild-mannered loner buries the evil con man in his own yard.

Jamie Mason in her debut novel has created a unique story-line that could present a master plotter with endless possibilities.  Maybe it is due to her inexperience that THREE GRAVES FULL ends up being a great story idea but one that is far from masterly plotted.  She introduces the fiancée of the man killed by Boyd Montgomery and throws her inexplicably into the mix.  The emergence of another character that is ironically tied to both of them just clouds the situation further. 

Mason also writes the novel in a tongue-in-cheek, darkly comic fashion which waters down the intensity level.  Blurbs on the novel compare it to both the Coen Brothers and Hitchcock.  This is a stretch.  Far from a Hitchcock script but bearing some resemblance to early Coen brothers --- sort of a poor man’s “Blood Simple”.  Jamie Mason has quite an imagination and displays bursts of real talent at moments in THREE GRAVES FULL.  At one point one of the characters muses that things watched too long or too intently seemed somehow to watch back.  Here’s hoping Mason takes this to heart with her next novel and goes with the approach --- less is more!

 

 

 

Muzzled by Eileen Brady

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press  

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Kate Turner, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, is the latest arrival on the ‘mayhem with pets throw in’ scene.  This one is written by a bona fide vet, so you can be sure the medical details are correct.  It’s not the health of the animals that’s in question, but rather their owners, whom Kate finds dead in their own living room, apparently due to murder/suicide.  After reporting the event, being thoroughly grilled by the police, and dismissed as probably not the killer, Kate has time to think over what she’s seen.  It’s when she’s making herself a cup of restorative tea that she suddenly realises that Vivian and Thomas Langthorne were not alone just before their deaths: she has seen concrete proof that they were expecting a guest.

The police of course don’t think much of Kate’s ‘proof’ and for a while she puts the case out of her mind—then there’s another attempted murder, once again with Kate as first responder—and Kate’s reputation starts to suffer from the Jonah syndrome.  Who wants to be around somebody who attracts murder—or perhaps commits it?  She’s having a hard enough time being a locum vet for the vacationing Ol’ Doc Anderson and trying to please his demanding practice manager Sandy; she didn’t need murder as well.

Kate is distressed to discover that the Langthornes’ prized and prize-winning Cavalier King Charles spaniels have been sold off with indecent haste by the Langthornes’ daughter.  One of them goes to a foreign breeder who is willing to part with a million bucks to get the champion dog.  But has he got what he paid for?  When Kate rescues a lop-tailed, filthy, starving stray mutt she makes a discovery which is yet another piece of proof that the Langthornes were murdered—but this time she’s too smart to bruit the news about, not until she does some undercover investigating into the real murderer.

We all know what happens when amateur sleuths go after cold-blooded murderers, right?  Will her investigations result in solving the mystery or in Kate’s own untimely death?  Will the handsome sheriff realise Kate’s a better catch than the girl he’s been engaged to forever?  Will Kate’s ex-boyfriend and his current bimbo stop pestering her with unwanted visits?  Buy the book to find out; for the price of a couple of cheap lunches you can have a solid evening’s entertainment.

 

 

By Any Means by Chris Culver

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing  

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Detective Ash Rashid spends his days being the friendly face of the local constabulary, talking to school kids about the nicer side of police work.  OK, it’s important work--but really, it’s punishment detail.  Ash is one of those cops who can’t quite toe the party line and who’s got on the wrong side of the people who matter.

Ash is a complex character: a practicing Muslim, he has a problem with alcohol and a problem with having to work with and for people who don’t have his level of moral behaviour.  He has an understanding wife, but on the subject of demon drink she’s adamant: no more, not if Ash wants to keep his family.  Ash is also fortunate in having a boss who is willing to go to bat for him, but that’s not something one wants to test too often or too far.

One night on his way home from a community meeting, Ash comes across a car accident.  There are two dead bodies in the car, and they didn’t die from crash trauma.  Assigned to handle this case despite his demotion to kiddie kop status, Ash discovers there’s a great deal more to this ‘accident’ than appears at first.  The woman in the car is the daughter of a big-time crime figure, a cold-blooded Russian Mafia type with whom Ash has a strange relationship.  Konstantin Bukoholov has given him useful information in the past, but such gifts are never free.  Ash is tormented: is it all right to use bad people to help bring about good outcomes?  And is it right to use any means to get information to save the innocent? 

The murder case leads to complications which include human trafficking, drugs, more murders, and the involvement of the State Police and the FBI.  It all comes to a head with a midnight raid on a lonely farm, a cast of dozens, and a near miss by a speeding vehicle that leaves Ash injured again.  A wrecked shoulder is small potatoes compared to what’s waiting for Ash in the final chapter—the one person he thought he could count on is apparently about to throw him to the wolves. 

If you like a protagonist who is basically a good guy but who sometimes uses unorthodox methods to solve a problem; who has weaknesses he’s all too aware of but strengths he’s still finding out about, Ash Rashid is your man.  This is the third book in the series; I look forward keenly to the next one.

 

 

 

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

Publisher: Mulholland Books

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

It would be fortunate if this book could have been judged on its own merits, rather than have its writer outed as the famous J K Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series.  That exposure guaranteed that it would be nearly impossible for the book to be assessed as it really is , rather than as what people expect it to be or think it ought to be or wish it were.

The story is set in the present day, but could as easily have been set in 1948.  It is a lengthy detective story in the classic mould with a protagonist who will remind you of some of the better Humphrey Bogart noir heroes.  Cormoran Strike is trying to fit into a disorganised and unstructured life as a private detective after a career in the British Army.  He’s back on Civvy Street, minus a leg and just recently minus a girlfriend, Charlotte, with whom he has had a long and stormy relationship.

Strike has nowhere to live but his grubby office; he has creditors breathing down his neck, and life could hardly be more depressing.  Then he finds Robin Ellacott on his doorstep, a girl from the temporary office staff agency.  Cormoran can’t afford any staff but feels committed to the promised week’s work.  Robin hasn’t been there long when she announces a new client, and life starts down a totally unexpected path for both the girl and Strike.   

As well as being a skilled secretary, Robin has a previously unappreciated gift for the detective business.  She is an internet truffle hound, able to dig up nuggets of information about the new client and his problem, and diplomatic enough to pretend she doesn’t know Strike is living in his office and cadging showers at the local university student centre. 

Strike’s client John Bristow is the brother of a famous model and personality, Lula Landry, whose recent death has been labelled suicide.  Bristow can’t accept the verdict, and has come to Strike to find out the truth. 

The next 450 + pages follow Strike’s and Robin’s painstaking and frequently frustrated investigation into Lula’s life and last hours, which leads them to a strange but inevitable conclusion about who is responsible for her death.  The story is salted with a variety of characters, some likeable but many quite nasty and only interested in their own welfare.  Strike is the illegitimate son of a famous rock star, which status has rarely done him any good, but he finds it occasionally opens doors in the world of the rich, famous and often phoney that he’s now investigating.  

The investigation leads Strike to a near-death experience at the hands of one who has killed several times before and doesn’t expect a one-legged man to be much of a challenge.  There follows an object lesson in the wisdom of making assumptions about those with a physical disability.

I get a lot of books to review; many are what an English Literature teacher would grade as “B-minus” due to their one-dimensional characters, flimsy plots and implausible premises.  Not many of them keep me reading well past my usual bedtime or prevent my watching a new episode of an Attenborough show.  This book did both.  I found it compelling reading; I didn’t guess the ending before it came; and despite his grumpiness and his flaws, I found Cormoran Strike an appealing character.  I look forward to the next book in the series.

 

 

Deeply Odd by Dean Koontz

Publisher: Bantam Books     

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

Odd Thomas is one of the most appropriately named characters ever. Odd Thomas has a gift or a curse depending upon one’s perspective. He can see the dead that have not finished their journey to the other side. They cannot talk to him and for the most part are unable to make physical contact with him. Odd Thomas must figure out why the dead have not crossed over and have reached out to him. Additionally, his psychic ability draws him to places, things and people – living and dead - that harbor evil.

This ability has kept him from pursuing any career more demanding that a fry cook. Part of the reason is to escape government notice for fear of ending up the subject of experiments and examination in some federal lab.

Hiding from authorities’ possible attention related to Odd Thomas’ intervention during a mall shooting, the unlikely hero is thrust into his next adventure while making a trip to the store. A tractor-trailer is cruising the streets of the small town where he is staying with his traveling companion and sometimes spiritual guide, Annamaria. Odd Thomas is drawn to the truck by a sense of evil. A confrontation with the driver involving gunfire unseen by bystanders confirms Odd Thomas’ belief that he is dealing with the supernatural. He has a vision of children kidnapped by the driver and burned to death. He must follow the truck in order to foil these murders.

Odd Thomas steals an SUV from bank robbers and pursues the truck. He is run off the road by the truck and crashes. Standing by the roadside and hoping for a ride, he encounters an elderly, rich and highly eccentric woman named Edie Fischer who needs a new chauffer. Now Edie and Oddie cruise the highways of the far west in search of the trucker. Gradually, Odd Thomas finds that there is much more to Edie than he first imagined. Gradually Edie arms and equips Odd Thomas for his battle with the trucker. An occasional cameo from the spirit of Alfred Hitchcock with some secret to share punctuates this process.  However, Edie does the driving since Odd Thomas won’t keep her Mercedes limo well above a hundred mph as she does.

Koontz has created an unusual if not unique genre with the Odd Thomas stories. The stories are a little bit mystery, a little bit sci-fi and a little bit gothic horror. If the stories have any flaw, it is the author’s highly-developed skill with words. The words come at the reader in an avalanche and are so well crafted that the plot is somewhat overshadowed. However, the books are such a pleasure to read, the evil characters so chilling and good characters so humorous, that any other flaws can be easily forgiven.   

 

 

Choke Point by Ridley Pearson

Publisher: Jove

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

By definition a ‘choke point’ is a geographical feature on land such as a valley, defile or a bridge, or at sea such as a strait which an armed force is forced to pass, sometimes on a substantially narrower front, and therefore greatly decreasing its combat power, in order to reach its objective. A choke point would allow a numerically inferior defending force to successfully prevent a larger opponent because the attacker would not be able to bring their superior numbers to bear.

In Ridley Pearson’s latest novel entitled CHOKE POINT, the trio of protagonists that represent the private security firm known as Rutherford Risk are up against a much larger adversary with international ties and seemingly unlimited resources.

First introduced in last year’s novel THE RISK AGENT the team of David Dulwich (team leader) and his ‘employees’ John Knox and Grace Chu are doing battle in Amsterdam against a ring of knot shops that are utilizing and exploiting underage labor.  A knot shop is literally a manufacturer known for providing knock-off versions of Oriental rugs that are sold for export at a significant profit.

The very thought of this crime against humanity --- and children in particular --- disgusts Knox and Chu and they quickly become personally engaged in doing all they can to bring down this crime ring.  Knox is an American freelance operative with a skill-set that includes the ability to think quickly on his feet and raise the level of violence beyond the appropriate level when necessary.  Chu is a forensic accountant from China who also can handle herself physically.  They are both well-written and multi-layered characters that Ridley Pearson develops perfectly, never allowing the reader to know everything about them as he peels away their backgrounds chapter by chapter.

The ‘bad guys’ in this novel are harder to pinpoint.  Knox takes on an undercover guise to team up with an international journalist who has a personal stake in uncovering the knot shops of the Netherlands as she continues to search for her missing niece.  Chu meanwhile attempts to keep tabs on the Middle Eastern man who was the apparent victim of a hate crime but may actually be at the center of the knot shop ring.

Unlike other thrillers that explore international espionage and intrigue, the characters in this Pearson series are not super-human and literally operate without a net or any form of back-up throughout their mission. As a result, they take their lumps at every turn and the reader can only marvel at how they survive each skirmish without losing their lives.

CHOKE POINT exposes a very real and controversial topic and does so without pulling any punches.  Pearson is in top form here as his novels are famous for their intricate plotting and character development.  CHOKE POINT does what good thrillers are supposed to do --- entertain while keeping the reader guessing. 

I was at a recent reading/book-signing for Ridley Pearson for his highly popular YA KINGDOM KEEPERS series (books based on Walt Disney World and all things Disney).  I was amazed at the dedicated following he has amassed for those novels (in addition to penning PETER AND THE STARCATCHERS which was turned into a Tony-winning Broadway show).  More pointedly, I looked around the room at that reading event and felt privileged that I was one of the few who realized that Pearson has been writing top-notch ‘adult’ thrillers for several decades and CHOKE POINT is yet another example of this versatile and skilled writer operating at the top of his game.

 

 

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

Publisher: Berkley

Reviewed by Don Crouch, New Mystery Reader

Atkins has this, folks.

Wonderland brings Atkins’ well-professed love of the Early Autumn-Spenser into firm sync with the rough-and-tumble of, say, Judas Goat (if you haven’t lately, go back and read that Montreal fight sequence, one of Parker’s best).

Add to that Atkins’ own skill in creating complex tales full of deceit and other bad behaviors, and you have, in Wonderland, a story that carries lots of weight and handles it effortlessly. Bone-crunching ass-kickery. Well-placed cameos. Consequences.

Atkins also does a service by giving us more Henry Cimoli than we ever thought we’d get.....he’s the pivot of the arc here, and he’s drawn real and flinty as ever, but with a new weariness, and it’s fun for long-timers.

We also see how that same Spenser from Early Autumn has evolved, watching his mentorship of Zebulon Sixkill, who debuted eponymously in Parker’s final Spenser work. With not a mention of Paul Giacomin, Spenser’s Dad genes do their thing, and we feel it.

No need to spend a lot of time discussing plot. But we’ve got Vegas Hotshots, Harvard Demigods, and hot women. There’s gambling involved. And crime. And Pearl.

Some folks didn’t feel it for Atkins’ Spenser debut, Lullaby. While clearly not of that camp, it’s understandable. Those that try Wonderland will feel rewarded and hopeful. The rest of us will just dig the hell out of it, pure and simple.

He’s totally got this.

 

 

 

 

 

Widows Tears by Susan Wittig Albert

Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

This is the second in a slightly different style of story in Albert’s well-loved “Pecan Springs” books.  Unlike all but “Cat’s Claw”, this book doesn’t star herbalist and lawyer China Bayles.  In this story China appears in a secondary role, the primary being her friend Ruby Wilcox, the red-haired slightly flaky  tea-leaf reader and crystal-gazer, who runs a small shop next to China’s herb and garden store in the small Texas town on the edge of the eastern hill country.

We know from past adventures that Ruby is particularly sensitive to what others are feeling, which is what makes her so good in the arcane arts such s Tarot.  When her friend Claire sends a desperate message asking for her help, Ruby reluctantly packs up and heads for the ramshackle mansion Claire has inherited.  Nearly there, she sees a woman in Victorian dress with a basket of white roses, and with a shock realises this is the same woman she saw as a child—a woman she later discovers lost her whole family in the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900, and lived in sorrow and regret for many years thereafter.

Meanwhile back in Pecan Springs the bank has been held up and a local woman who worked there shot to death by the robbers.  There’s a distinctive window decal in the getaway vehicle, but the licence plates were stolen and the police don’t have many clues.  China doesn’t have much time to mourn the death of her friend because she’s managing her own shop, helping keep an eye in Roby’s place, coping with her own family’s needs, and doing what she can to assist finding Ruby’s crazy old mother who’s gone missing from the nursing home again and helping Ruby’s daughter deal with her own daughter’s tonsillitis.  On top of that, some nasty weather is brewing after a long, dry spring.

Interwoven with Ruby and Claire’s increasingly spooky experiences in the old Blackwood mansion and the troubles in Pecan Springs is a series of flashbacks to the events just before and during the great hurricane.  The flashbacks explain who the mystery woman is and why she’s haunting the mansion; they also help Ruby understand her own strange inheritance and the woman who passed it to her.  And on top of this multi-layered cake of a novel is the icing: Ruby’s sister Ramona seems determined to take over Ruby’s shop and become an unwanted partner in China’s growing business enterprises.

This is an entertaining and packed-to-the-rafters read.  Pecan Springs is a town you feel at home in, and the people are familiar even if you haven’t met them before.   Writer Albert is the doyenne of the “intelligent cosy” style of mystery novel, with the added benefit of the tasty recipes that appear at the end of most of her books.

 

 

 

Leaving Behind Everything Most Loved by Jacqueline Winspear

Publisher: Harper

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Maisie Dobbs leads an unconventional life for 1933, running an investigative business and living in an English manor in which she once worked as a kitchen maid but now stays with James Compton, who was born into the well-heeled upper class.  Now 36 years old, Maisie knows that she is at a crossroads about marriage and flirts with chucking it all and traveling alone to an exotic locale in search of what makes her truly content.

In the meantime, Maisie’s loyal employee, Billy, continues to convalesce after a devastating injury and works on small matters such as a teenaged runaway who probably left a troubled home in search of gainful employment.  Maisie’s latest rescue and current personal secretary, Sandra, has become much more involved in the cases and gives her boss insightful feedback when needed, although an undercurrent in the office tells Maisie that there’s something else going on.  

In spite of her devotion to James and her employees, Maisie still feels alone, knowing she belongs in neither of the social circles, and purposefully agrees to help her former adversary from Scotland Yard uncover clues to the murder of an Indian woman whose body was left in a foul-smelling canal.  The woman, Usha Pramal, also lived differently than her family in India or the English for whom she works, although all seemed to be enthralled by her self-confidence and free spirit even when her behavior baffled them.  Because butterfly-like Usha obviously positively impacted those around her, Maisie’s curiosity is piqued by finding the rare person who would have hated her enough to kill her.   The pursuit has just begun when another Indian woman meets the same fate, a gunshot wound replacing the red bindi on her forehead.

Jacqueline Winspear seems intent on shaking up Maisie’s nearly perfect world, using Maisie’s ennui as a catalyst for changing her life no matter what the risk.  Winspear appears a little bored with the nearly perfect world she’s created, making it a potentially intriguing mystery as to how she will resolve the consequences of Maisie’s decision in future volumes, especially as the advent of World War II approaches.

 

 

 

Pale Horses by Jassy Mackenzie

Publisher: Soho Crime

Reviewed by Robin Thomas, New Mystery Reader

Sonet Meintjies is an avid base jumper who plummets to her death when her parachute malfunctions during an evening jump off a skyscraper. Her partner, Victor Theron, hires Jade de Jong to investigate Sonet’s death because he packed Sonet’s parachute and knows that there were no problems with it but he fears that he will become a prime suspect when the police conduct their investigation. Victor jumped first and he has no idea what happened before Sonet fell to her death. Jade begrudgingly accepts the case and her investigation takes many twists and turns.

The company that Sonet worked for is a charitable organization that focuses on helping impoverished communities to become self-supportive. When Jade goes to visit one of the communities receiving aid she finds an abandoned wasteland rather than rich farmland and healthy families. As she digs deeper she finds out that many of the people who lived on the farm have died. Sonet’s sister is also missing and Jade learns that the last article she was working on dealt with farming practices and land reform. It quickly becomes clear to Jade that there are people who will do anything, including murder, to keep their secrets. Jade has to deal with some real bad guys as she searches for the truth. Despite the danger, Jade finds solace in her work and a distraction from her love life that is in shambles. The man she loves, David Patel, is married and has moved back in with his wife who is pregnant. Jade feels betrayed by David’s lapse in judgment, and he is miserable because he is trapped in a loveless marriage. 

Pale Horses is the fourth book in the Jade de Jong series. The author does a superb job of capturing the essence of South Africa. Jassy Mackenzie weaves the socioeconomic, racial, environmental, and political issues that abound in South Africa into a well-crafted whodunit. Jade is a strong character, she is tough and gritty, but the author maintains a sense of normality with the flaws and challenges that are part of her personality. In particular Jade’s love life is a real challenge. As a result of the bad situation that David is in there are boundaries between him and Jade, but there are strong emotions that bind them as well. The secondary characters enhance the sense of normalcy and realism that the author infuses into her writing.

The book is thoroughly enjoyable even if the reader has not read the others in the series. The first half of the book seemed a bit slow and predictable to me, but the author has a few tricks up her sleeve that make the second half of the book really good and worth the wait. Pale Horses is a welcome addition to a wonderful series.

 

 

 

Poisoned Ground by Sandra Parshall

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press  

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

The fear of every little rural community is that large outside interests will move in, take over, and ruin the lifestyle that the local people cherish.  But the other side of the coin is that big business brings jobs for the younger generation, and potential windfalls for older people looking to secure a comfortable final decade of life ‘somewhere warm’.

Rachel Goddard is the local veterinarian; given her job, she can’t really afford to take sides in the battle between those who want to take the money and run and those who don’t—but she is committed to Mason County’s protection and preservation. 

Things get nasty when Lincoln and Marie Kelly are murdered.  Is it because they were holding out and refusing to sell—or is there another motive?  Rachel’s husband Sheriff Tom Bridger and his brand-new deputy have to find out, but for every small-town gossip, there’s a small-town Calvin Coolidge, someone who can’t or won’t tell an important bit of information.  “It’s got nothing to do with this,” is the last thing an investigator wants to hear.

The opposing sides are even more polarised by the murder; then there’s an arson attack on a barnful of horses, surely one of the most despicable acts  imaginable, and one that’s easy for the anti-sellers to blame on the pro-developers.  Then Tom discovers a handful of old photographs that cast a new light on the murders—could things get any more complicated?  Of course they could!

Mason County is peopled with some interesting characters; one suspects Sandra Parshall must have spent at least part of her life in a small town.  If you enjoy well-written mysteries without gratuitous violence and without prurient interest in private lives, you will enjoy this 6th outing for Rachel Goddard.

 

 

 

Ice Cold: Tales of Intrigue from the Cold War Ed. by Jeffery Deaver and Raymond Benson

Publisher: Grand Central

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Months go by and you don’t see any short story collections; then, bingo: two in a row.  Both of them involve Jeffrey Deaver; one was a collection of his short stories, reviewed last month, and this is a collection of well-known writers’ takes on the Cold War edited by Deaver and Raymond Benson.

As you’d expect from a book that contains stories by Sara Paretsky, J A Jance, John Lescroart and other high-fliers, all the stories in this collection could carry an episode on a television crime drama.   

Deaver’s own contribution to the collection, “Comrade 35”, provides a whole new slant on the Vietnam War and the Kennedy assassination; I defy you to see the twist in this tale before you get to it.  John Lescroart’s “Last Confession” is a modern version of an old-fashioned morality tale.  It looks at the closeness of two brothers, the death of one, and the response of the survivor. 

T. Jefferson Parker starts his story in the family bomb shelter where Mike and his family are alphabetising the canned goods and checking that the water is fresh.  Mike’s a normal 16-year old, keen to link up with Adlyn, whose parents keep her locked in her room when they aren’t home.  Why do they do this?  When Mike finds out, he’s only got a few minutes to save the life of his own little sister.  Laura Lippman brings a new meaning to the phrase ‘domestic spying’.  And my favourite story in the book is the Sara Paretsky’s story of a young lab assistant and what her concern for a mouse leads to.

For readers under age 40 this collection will read like total fiction—but for those of us who lived through the Cold War, it’s almost a documentary.  A few years ago, visiting the house my uncle built and where his daughter now lives, I saw the family bomb shelter had been converted to a storeroom.  We didn’t have a bomb shelter at our house because my parents felt the fieldstone cellar of the 140 year old farmhouse would probably be protection enough—although I now wonder if it wasn’t really that my father knew that if an A-bomb fell on Boston we’d all be toast.  It was a very different world, one which these stories capture like an album of snapshots.

 

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good for New Mystery Reader

Editors and contributors—and well-regarded authors—Jeffery Deaver and Raymond Benson offer an anthology of stories centering on the Cold War, from the perspectives of willing participants such as spies and assassins to innocent civilians struggling to avoid being the next unnamed casualties.

In spite of the wide range of viewpoints, each story easily flows from one to the next, each a piece fitting into the larger puzzle of political intrigue, greedy opportunists, terrified families and true believers. Editors Deaver and Benson, who respectively open and close the anthology with their own gems, share only solidly written stories, some of which offer twists (J. A. Jance’s “His Mother’s Son”) while others seek a re-examination of stories we thought we knew (Deaver’s “Comrade 35”, Katherine Neville’s “Cuba Libra”).

Others initially seem innocuous, such as in Joseph Finder’s “Police Report”, in which a small town American police chief in Cape Cod responds to a murderer’s confession linking his crime to the Soviets thousands of miles away. John Lescroart ties politics and religion together in “The Last Confession” with the Cold War serving as the backdrop for more regular Americans and their reaction to the escalating Cuban Missile Crisis.

Even children serve as the focus in some of these tales. In Sara Paretsky’s “Miss Bianca”, a young girl and her unlikely friend witness the frantic biochemical research conducted during the tense years of the Cold War.

Perhaps one of the most telling stories is Gary Alexander’s “The Essence of Small People.” In this quiet vignette of daily life in Ho Chi Minh, a group of friends and neighbors endure the constant harassment and intimidation resulting from the airs of a small-time bureaucrat who insinsuates himself into their lives and homes, seemingly leaving them little recourse for relief.

Readers who vividly remember or carefully study the Cold War will notice carefully dropped clues in some stories, but even those looking for just a casual read can enjoy Ice Cold—even while current events serve as a reminder of just why the Cold War inspired paranoia and improbable events.

 

 

 

What Darkness Brings by C. S.Harris

Publisher: Signet

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good for New Mystery Reader

The latest Sebastian St. Cyr mystery reveals a domestic scene of a handsome, intelligent lord with his well-matched pregnant bride, Hero Jarvis St. Cyr.  Readers of previous installments will remember their unlikely union and tenuous steps towards trusting one another after a hasty wedding.  Sebastian bears nearly feral and markedly unusual yellow eyes and an intensity equaled in strength by Hero’s self-assurance and reserved demeanor.  

Hero’s father, Lord Jarvis, has the ear of George III and a Machiavellian streak that previously found a target in Sebastian.  Now that Jarvis has become Sebastian’s father-in-law, the two try to delicately work around one another for the sake of the aptly named Hero, the potential savior of both. Still, English political circles are small enough that they tend to fall in each other’s way, questioning motives at every turn.

While Sebastian and Hero learn more about each other, a despised, mean collector of priceless treasures and even more valuable secrets dies in his home, his murder witnessed by a frightened teenaged prostitute.Russell Yates is found with the body of Benjamin Eisler and quickly arrested.Unfortunately for Sebastian, his complicated family history requires him to investigate who really killed Eisler so that Yates, husband of Sebastian’s first love, will escape summary execution.

As in previous novels, Sebastian’s family entanglements and secrets from the wrong side of the marriage bed leads to complications in both his investigation and in determining his loyalties.His new marriage to Hero must endure his proximity to Yates’ wife and Sebastian’s former lover, Kat Boleyn, an actress of great political conviction and openly passionate about her causes.

Throughout the mystery, the effects of the petulant, spoiled Prince Regent (known as Prinny and later crowned George IV) are felt by a population tired of the king’s madness and Prinny’s extravagance. 

Author C. S. Harris maintains a sense of danger throughout the novel because when a person’s social and economic background is as complex as Sebastian’s, both metaphorical bombshells and real physical dangers threaten  Sebastian’s fragile détente with his father, father-in-law  and of course, Hero.  Readers who enjoy Charles Todd or the Downton Abbey television shows (both of which occupy different eras) should enjoy the tone and complicated relationships found in this high stakes mystery.

 

 

The Book of Killowen by Erin Hart

Publisher: Scribner

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

The Book of Killowen is a lovely mystery steeped in historic legends and realistic consequences of complicated decisions.

Set in modern Ireland, archaeologist Cormac Maguire and pathologist Nora Gavin are called to document and preserve the body of a long-dead man preserved in the famous rural peat fields in the unlikely casket of a buried automobile’s trunk.  Cormac’s academic excitement over studying a centuries-old mummy turns to surprise when a second, fresher corpse is found at the same site.

While he’s working, Cormac’s ailing father and temporary caregiver remain at the artists’ commune near the dig site.  Cormac’s father has become aphasic, meaning he has difficulty using the correct words to communicate, and his resulting distress and depression keep the concerned archaeologist close at hand.  The isolated commune, known as Killowen, attracts a diverse group of temperamental professionals and isolated locals, including an older couple who stumbled on the refuge years before and now help owner Claire Finnerty run the place.  In spite of initial friendliness, Cormac and Nora feel an underlying current of tension but are consumed by their own investigation of the mummified scholar and Cormac’s father’s continuing struggles.

Those tensions only increase when forensics determines that the modern murder victim was well-known throughout the country as an abrasive, argumentative philosophy expert who routinely humiliated guests on his television program.  His personality contrasts sharply with the measured demeanor of Cormac, who happily concentrates on the first body discovered, which has a revelation of its own.

Erin Hart (Haunted Ground) beautifully combines the allure of historical mysteries with the immediacy of contemporary crime, filling the story with interesting characters whose secrets are effectively revealed.  Much like author Michael Kortya (So Cold the River), she pays attention to even secondary characters but manages not to overwhelm the plot with unnecessary details.  The Book of Killowen is thoughtful, with a real sense of mystery and suspense.

 

 

 

Midnight at Marble Arch by Anne Perry

Publisher: Ballantine

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good for New Mystery Reader

When Charlotte and Thomas Pitt witness a formerly vivacious and exotic young woman throw herself out of a window during a formal party, they feel sympathy for the teenager’s heartbroken parents and grieve for the lost potential.  Although Pitt is head of the Special Branch rather than a member of the police, he agrees to look into the death because her father is the Portuguese ambassador.

During another event, former Special Branch head and now Lord Narraway converses with Lord Quixwood before being interrupted with the news that Catherine Quixwood was found dead and brutalized in their home.  Like the Pitts, Narraway feels a special connection to this case and agrees to supplement the work of the detective assigned to the case, Inspector Knox.  Narraway’s friendship with Lady Vespasia plays a role here, and the two complement each other well in their investigation to find the person who viciously beat Lady Quixwood.

In Midnight at Marble Arch, Narraway and Pitt have essentially changed occupational positions now that Pitt must abide by political needs and discretion while Narraway wears out his shoe leather for the first time in decades, following a trail populated by frightened people and powerful nobles.  This results in a newfound understanding between the two, strengthening their respect for one another.

While the ending may not surprise everyone, Perry includes a trial led by the singular Lord Symington and lets each of the four main recurring characters to shine, which allows Charlotte to regain some of her spunk in spite of being relegated to secondary status with Pitt’s promotion and resulting adherence to secrecy.  

The issues here become personal for the Pitt family, raising their own young daughter and son, and become the subject of conversation among the wealthy class. Oddly, the characters seem to think that the crime here rarely happened in Victorian England and then, just as strangely, talk about it with rather a modern bent rather than using euphemisms and subtlety.  

Still, Midnight at Marble Arch is an enjoyable historical mystery in which personal relationships mature and professional skills develop, promising interesting adventures in the future.

 

 

Daddy’s Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark

Publisher: Simon and Schuster

Reviewed by Robin Thomas, New Mystery Reader

The Connelly Fine Antiques Reproduction furniture complex engulfs in flames in the wee hours of the morning. A disgruntled employee dies and the daughter of the owner is gravely injured and lies in the hospital in a coma. The question that remains unanswered is why were they in the facility at that time in the morning. The demand for quality reproductions of antiques is declining rapidly. Kate Connelly sees the writing on the wall and argues with her father Douglas. She wants him to sell the business while it still has some value. Douglas lost interest in the business a while ago.

After the boating accident that took the lives of his wife and brother Douglas has been more interested in women, booze and spending money than in the business. Since he was at the helm of the boat at the time of the accident, Douglas tries to drown his enormous sense of guilt in the bottle since he is the only one that survived the accident. The drinking and excessive spending infuriates Kate. Her anger gets the best of her and she tells her father that she’d love to set the complex on fire and be done with the argument. Hannah, Kate’s sister knows that their dad is not the only person who has heard Kate’s frustration and she fears that if her sister ever regains consciousness, she will become the police’s prime suspect.

Gus Schmidt, who dies in the fire, was a master craftsman who is forced into retirement. Gus’ wife Lottie fears that the police will try to build the case that Gus set the fire because he was upset about being forced to retire. Lottie worries about the large sum of money Gus had a few years ago. He used the money to buy a very nice house for their daughter, but Gus never gave her a good explanation for the source of the funds. Once the authorities find out about the money she fears that they will not stop until they find out where the money came from and she is pretty sure that it will not reflect well on the memory of her dead husband.

Daddy’s Gone a Hunting is a highly complex and captivating novel that reminds us why Mary Higgins Clark is the “Queen of Suspense.” In this book Clark weaves into an arson case, family treachery, murder and deceit. Clark uses short chapters to build suspense and guide the reader through numerous plotlines by telling the story from the viewpoint of varied characters in this book. The technique is effective in building suspense but it does make the flow of the book a bit choppy at times as the author transitions between characters to tell the story. The character development in this book is outstanding. I felt like I got to know all of the main and secondary characters very well as the author used them to feed a tidbit more about the interrelated cases in each chapter. I have not read a book by Mary Higgins Clark in quite some time and I was delighted to find out that she continues to deliver a well written suspense that included a couple of “shockers” that I did not see coming.

 

 

 

A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate By Susanna Calkins

Publisher: Minotaur

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

While Charles II frolics with his multitude of mistresses, young chambermaid Lucy Campion works hard to earn her keep in the well-respected home of an established, comfortable London family.  She’s more fortunate than most girls without family or funds since she’s neither physically nor sexually abused by her employers, which is especially important since unmarried pregnant women typically face unemployment without references and His Majesty’s government threatens dire consequences if there is no one else to support them financially.  In fact, in Lucy’s nearly Utopian workplace, her master asks her opinion during critical readings after dinner, resulting in affection between them.  

When the master’s moody son returns to the house, Lucy quickly retreats into herself while silently observing the appearance of ostracized Quakers visiting the magistrate’s son and his strange nocturnal disappearances from the house.

In spite of the new tension, Lucy lucked out that her fellow servants have helped to create a lovely familial feeling and curly-haired Bessie has become like a sister to Lucy, especially now that Bessie has started seeing Lucy’s brother Will.  Unfortunately, someone starts murdering servants, putting the lives of Lucy and her friends in danger each time they step out for routine errands or romantic assignations.

A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate is Susanna Calkins’ first novel, showing great potential for future stories combining unsentimental historical details, the protagonist’s never ending pluck and significant attention to an English home’s social stratus. The family tends to be too perfect and Lucy’s hopes for choosing her path is unfortunately unlikely, but Calkins’ characters never wear out their welcome nor does the author choose the obvious villain as the murderer.  This historical mystery earns a place as a good summer read for those looking for an inexpensive escape to the 17th century Restoration.