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Here Be Monsters by Jamie Sheffield

Publisher: SmartPig

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader 

If you were to ask most people what they think of when they hear the word – New York – what they will immediately call to mind is NYC and its’ many landmarks.  Regrettably, these people are doing themselves a disservice by not recognizing the beauty and mystery of New York State outside of Manhattan.

One of the most beautiful, historical and mysterious parts of New York State is the Adirondack Mountains region that has been made most famous by the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics held in Lake Placid.  Who will ever forget the Gold Medal won by the U.S. Olympic Hockey squad over arch-rival Russia!?

This area has also spawned many literary works from Theodore Dreiser’s AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY (made into the classic film “A Place In the Sun” featuring Montgomery Clift); to tales of the Lady In the Lake murder in Lake Placid, and, most recently the mystery series written by Julia Spencer-Fleming who lives in nearby Plattsburgh in Northern New York.

Debut author Jamie Sheffield now presents his own entry into the sub-genre that can be entitled Adirondack fiction with his release of HERE BE MONSTERS.  This novel is the result of thirty years of research and personal experience that Sheffield was able to fit into this first effort in the Tyler Cunningham Adirondack Mystery series.

The term ‘here be monsters’ refers to the language often found on old maps when map-makers and sea travelers could not describe unchartered territory and relegated the unknown region that possibly houses monsters and mysteries yet to be seen by man.  Tyler Cunningham is a highly unique protagonist and has a personal obsession with maps which the title of this novel draws obvious reference from.

To put it succinctly, Tyler is technically homeless with no one he can really call a friend.  He has issues with social interaction and prefers to live off the land in the manner of a survivalist.  He likes to do research and help people out.  Legally, he is not a private investigator, but that does not stop him from getting involved in situations where his particular expertise and knowledge of the Adirondacks terrain is needed.

HERE BE MONSTERS opens with Tyler rescuing a young Amish girl from some bad guys and safely returning her to her family.  This is only the beginning for Tyler Cunningham.  A much larger problem --- and the one that drives the plot of this novel --- is when Cynthia Windmere (the closest thing to a girlfriend Tyler has ever had) --- goes missing.  She works at the local library in Saranac Lake and also is a fan of research.  Cynthia had mentioned to Tyler her desire to track down a local businessman named George Roebuck who she thinks is a major league drug dealer.

Tyler also has similar suspicions and it turns out they were both right.  George is a drug kingpin, specializing in meth (Breaking Bad anyone?)  and his network spans well beyond the Adirondack Park.  When Tyler attempts to confront George on his own and demand Cynthia’s safe return he underestimates the crime lord and is nearly killed in the process.  He also learns that Roebuck’s goons claim to have dumped Cynthia in the nearby lake.  For once in his life, Tyler Cunningham may truly have bitten off more than he can chew and it will take every ounce of his creativity and vast knowledge of the surrounding area to get his revenge on the bad guys.  Like Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Predator”, Tyler must use his knowledge of the terrain and become one with it in order to battle evil.

Tyler Cunningham is one of the more unique protagonists you will ever meet.  He is clearly damaged goods having lost both of his parents in the 9/11 tragedy and now forced to deal with the loss of Cynthia.  His inner monologue is covered on every page and makes up for the lack of dialogue that results from Tyler being a true lone wolf.  He is also a fan of classic crime noir --- Spenser, Parker, Travis --- and HERE BE MONSTERS is a clever homage to that great genre.  A fine debut and I eagerly await what comes next for Mr. Cunningham. 

 

 

Garment of Shadows by Laurie R. King

Publisher: Bantam

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

While Sherlock Holmes’ imagined late-life investigations take place in the 1920s, author Laurie R. King adds a layer of modern urgency by placing Holmes and his wife, Mary Russell, in the midst of Middle Eastern politics and intrigue.  As in previous installments of the series, Mary Russell narrates the story and serves as the focus point during the investigation.  Normally shrewd, resourceful and intellectually appealing to Holmes, Russell begins this story enveloped in a shroud of confusion, remembering neither her  name nor how she acquired her significant injuries, briefly posing the interesting question concerning Holmes’ reaction to a wife who is no longer his confidante or partner.

Russell instinctively believes that she can trust no one, judging from her masculine clothes and short hair that her life has been habitually unusual and reserves her trust to encircle one small, mute Middle Eastern boy.  This child, Idir, proves his astuteness and own resourcefulness by helping Russell navigate the city and to avoid French soldiers who pursue the bandaged woman.  Once Russell finds Holmes, she learns that not only was she nearly murdered for unknown reasons but that her companion, now totally forgotten to her, disappeared.  Russell is surrounded by multi-lingual men with multiple allegiances and hidden agendas, including Holmes, and still must take part in an early twentieth century chase while trying to regroup and regain her wits.  Intriguingly, Russell and Holmes encounter Holmes’ cousin, Marechal Lyautey, serving as the French Resident General for Morocco and as a worthy counterpart to Holmes.

King does thread some elements from previous England-based installments such as the ubiquitous beehives but primarily leaves England behind in favor of an immersion into Morocco and the European countries which threaten to pull it apart over treasures of iron ore and bragging rights.  Russell’s attempts to discern who is telling the truth highlights the difficulty of Moroccans trying to fend off vying European interests in their own country while revealing some of the historically unresolved problems in the region.  In Garment of Shadows, Russell shows that she truly is coming into her own even as Holmes slowly sinks into old age but readers should be well aware that this is a Middle Eastern mystery rather than one ensconced in the previously gorgeously rendered British sensibilities of high tea and beloved bee hives.

 

A Sunless Sea by Anne Perry

Publisher: Ballentine

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Prolific Anne Perry (Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series) returns with the latest installment in the William Monk police procedurals in a story filled with humanity’s worst tendencies, poverty, power and strong women who magnify the best or worst in their spouses.  In A Sunless Sea, Monk finds the eviscerated body of a middle-aged woman on a river pier in 1864, making this the jurisdiction of the River Police and foreshadowing the Jack the Ripper cases by twenty years.  

Monk soon makes an arrest but brings his friend, barrister Oliver Rathbone, for unexpected help when the accused turns out to be someone far different than a grubby, filthy river runner or an angry customer looking for a prostitute.  The dead woman had been kept by a man who faithfully visited her each month, stopping only when he committed suicide two months before the gruesome crime.

In the course of the investigation, Monk must turn to Runcorn, a former colleague with whom he had previously been very close and then suffered a malevolent split.  The case requires each to carefully consider the investigation’s implications and, as a result, leads to a new development in their estrangement.  Hester Monk also aids Monk by discreetly investigating where he cannot; adding a layer of interest now stifled by professional changes in the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series.

Perry’s prose remains evocative and her storylines well-plotted but continues to repeat phrases (“turn to fat”) in short sections.  She enjoys including historical figures such as future Prime Minister William Gladstone and writes significant historical events such as the Opium Wars into the frame of the mystery.  She never shies from difficult subject matter and A Sunless Sea navigates not only through grisly murder but also the remnants of the pedophilia ring from the previous book.  The main problem in A Sunless Sea becomes that the accused’s responsibility is assumed by most Londoners from the beginning, while cultural and class dictates of the era would have aided hesitation at proclaiming guilt.  Still, A Sunless Sea imaginatively creates a murder with broad implications, several twists and nearly breathing characters whose lives transcend the pages.

 

 

Luther: The Calling by Neil Cross

Publisher: Touchstone 

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

John Luther is an English police investigator. He is successful at his job, but at a high cost. He is burned out after sixteen years on the job. Luther’s marriage is in danger from the job-related stress. Every time he is pressured into asking for time off by Zoe, his wife, another case comes along. Now Luther finds himself caught in the middle of heartbreaking and high profile murder case.

Tom and Sarah Lambert are the successful couple whose marriage only lacks a baby to be complete. After many attempts and visits to fertility clinics, Sarah finally conceives. Their life looks ideal until the intrusion by a maniac that ends their lives. The maniac removes the baby from Sarah’s womb and disappears with the little girl.

Once more Luther must postpone his off time, as he becomes the face of investigation in the media. Zoe surrenders to temptation and seeks comfort the arms of a lover.

Luther struggles as the murderer tries to turn blame for the death of the baby on to the police. The killer proves skillful in manipulating the media. Luther must find the maniac before he steals yet another baby to fulfill is twisted goals.

Cross has created a vision of modern English society that allows glimpses into the lives of criminals and police alike. The sight is often not pretty, but skillfully combines a fascinating mystery with a superior study.  

 

 

Red Rain by R.L. Stine

Publisher: Pocket Books  

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

Lea Sutter has been laid off as a travel writer. Lea becomes determined to make a success of her new travel blog. She is willing to travel to a mysterious island off the U.S. coast in order to write about destinations off the beaten path. Lea is willing to risk voodoo and warnings by locals. Lea is even willing risk the trip with the island in the possible path of a massive hurricane.

Mark, Lea’s husband, is a child psychologist and author. Mark has written a controversial child-rearing guide that advocates guidance rather than control by parents. Mark’s beliefs are about to be put to the test by events that take place on the island.

The hurricane strikes the island with extreme fury and tragic consequences. Many are killed. Lea encounters two angelic boys who tell her that they have been left orphans by the storm. Lea decides to take the boys home despite warnings from a friend and protests by Mark.

Back home Lea’s other children try to make the best of her decision, but not all is well. The boys have mysterious secrets that could threaten the Sutters and others.

Stine has skillfully blended the tragic consequences of nature’s fury with evil and well-meaning people. This skill is not surprising from the creator of “Goosebumps”. This makes an interesting read on a number of levels. The ending is surprise, but may not appeal to those readers seeking happy outcome.

 

 

A Death in the Small Hours by Charles Finch

Publisher: Minotaur

Reviewed by  Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Charles Lenox has settled into his role as a Member of Parliament, only occasionally reminiscing about his old private investigation agency with John Dallington, the once troubled young man who has since taken over his business.  Unexpectedly given the honor of giving the potentially career-making opening speech to Parliament, Lenox eagerly accepts his cousin’s invitation to stay with him in the country, giving him time to craft the highly anticipated speech without the constant interruptions found in his London office. 

Lenox’s cousin, known as Uncle Frederick because of his greater years, has greatly loved his time spent on his vast estate and in the extensive gardens that he has coaxed to show stopping revelations.  Uncle Frederick feels his age though and this visit threatens to be the last the two devoted kinsmen share at the estate, making the relaxing time shared with wife Jane and infant daughter Sophia and the new nanny truly memorable.

Frederick Ponsonby also worries about strange acts of vandalism in the nearby village of Plumbley, which are not dangerous but still unsettling and he hopes that Lenox will look into them.  After a young man is murdered, Lenox’s speech is all but forgotten while he investigates who would kill not only someone so likeable but also someone who was the cousin of the investigating officer.  Fortunately, Dallington has joined him at the estate, giving Lenox a taste of the good old days before he started rubbing elbows with Britain’s best.

Author Charles Finch comfortably describes both smog-filled Victorian London and the peculiar rules governing England’s lawmaking houses in the midst of political deal making and following alliances.  While he only briefly remarks on London’s smog, Finch sets the scene and bursts the romantic notion of the era by noting that the pollution blackened white stone buildings and white umbrellas, creating a trend for the black umbrellas that dot the city today. 

Finch also allows his characters to go through extensive life changes in between novels, making the reacquaintance with Mr. Lenox interesting as readers learn how he’s changed or, more importantly, has not.  A Death in the Small Hours should also appeal to fans of Downton Abbey (which is set several decades later but has a similar feel) and anyone looking for an intelligent mystery set in Victoria’s heyday to pass the time. 

 

 

 

A Small Sacrifice by Dana King

Amazon Digital E-Book

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Nick Forte is a private eye with a lot of baggage.  Like many of his kind, he was once a police officer, and like them, didn’t find taking orders easy.  He’s kept some connections, of course, and these provide him with information that often helps him in his work.  He returns the favour when he feels it’s wise.   Nick has a strong sense of what’s right, which makes some of the choices he has to make in this book really difficult.   He’s a failed husband but a pretty good father—when his ex lets him be. 

Shirley Mitchell hires Nick to clear her son’s good name.  It doesn’t take Nick long to figure out that the good name isn’t as merited as the mother thinks,  but he does find out that Doug Mitchell and his wife Michelle probably didn’t kill their child Justin, despite what the local sheriff and the wider community think. 

Nick talks the case over with Marian Bradshaw of the Illinois State police.  Among the bits of information is something not generally known: among the thousands of fingerprints at the murder scene all belonging to the family, there were two partials that lead back to a non-violent burglar, Pete Diehl.  Neither Marian nor Nick can figure out how he might play into the murder, but Nick reckons it’s worth finding out.  Diehl’s excuse to Marian that he was lost and stopped at Mitchells to ask directions seems pretty feeble.

Nick head for Diehl’s house and finds him stuffed into the trunk of his own car, quite dead.  It looks like a mob hit, but why would a small-time crook who always paid his dues to the big bad boys end up dead?  Not long thereafter, Nick’s walking along the street and happens to turn his head to check out a lycra-clad jogger’s backside.  Simultaneously he sees a man in the park tugging something out of his pocket.  Fortunately armed with a gun that’s not caught up in his jacket pocket, Nick shoots before he is shot. 

After the expected long and tough grilling by Sonny Ng, Nick’s training officer in the old days on the Force, Nick discovers that not only is he the luckiest PI in the middle west, but he’s got some big, big trouble.  The dead man was a hired gun who, until today, never missed a target.  But for the conceit of using an extra-long barrelled gun that snagged in his windbreaker, Tommy Licati would have added another notch to his grip.  Tommy worked for Bruno Pirelli, a very bad man.  Desperate to find out why he’s in Pirelli’s black books, Nick ignores good advice and keeps digging in the Mitchell case, which is the only new work he’s had recently and which has to be connected somehow.

The digging brings to light so much greed, stupidity and downright evil that even the hardened ex-cop in Nick can’t believe it.  He has to spend a lot of time with the sort of people his ex-wife wouldn’t approve of, but the only way he can get his life back—and protect his own child—is to solve the original case, the murder of Justin Mitchell.

Among the bad guys is a sort of ally, Goose Satterwhite.  If he doesn’t remind you of Robert B. Parker’s Hawk, you aren’t paying attention.  Come to think of it, Nick has traces of Spenser, from the same author.  Goose makes an offer to Nick that only a very strong man could turn down—a decision Nick lives to regret.

This is an enthralling read, with some memorable images:  “A unique brand of menace hung off him like a cape.” and “He dressed like he kidnapped the wardrobe designer from Good Fellas.”   Maybe you shouldn’t give this book to your grandmother—then again, I’m a grandmother, and I really enjoyed it.

 

 

Buried on Avenue B by Peter De Jonge

Publisher: Bourbon Street Books

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

It’s been far too long of a wait for De Jonge’s return with the irrepressible NYPD homicide detective Darlene O’Hara.  This time out O’Hara’s  new case starts out when she is told by an Alzheimer-ridden  ex-junkie about another junkie’s  body he buried beneath  a tree in one of the city’s parks.  But when she finally convinces that powers that be that the junkie just might be telling the truth, their digging instead reveals the corpse of a ten year old boy.  Buried with the boy are some odd mementos such as a CD, a comic book, and some money.  What these clues mean and how they might lead to the killer sends O’Hara on a hunt for the truth not only through the streets of NYC, but down South to Florida and beyond.  And what she eventually discovers might just break her heart if it doesn’t kill her first.

Darlene O’Hara, one of the more unique and inspired female characters out there, makes a more than triumphant return.  There’s something about this woman that is the perfect blend of hard and soft, practical and sentimental, violent and tender that will appeal to fans of the genre who are more used to seeing a male in this role.  De Jonge does a stellar job at character creation, with even the secondary characters shining brightly.  Plan a long weekend for this one because once started it’s easy to get so immersed you won’t want it to end.  Beautifully written and with just the right amount of mystery, this is just about perfect.

 

 

Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes

Publisher: HarperCollins

Reviewed by Robin Thomas, New Mystery Reader

Into the Darkest Corner is an electrifying suspenseful thriller that reads like a classic Alfred Hitchcock movie. A brutal murder is in progress as the book begins; although the details of the crime are precise, the author does not divulge any information about the murderer nor the victim. Next, the author provides a transcript from a trial held in the UK in 2005. The relationship between the transcript and the rest of the book is established early on but the significance is held from the reader for quite some time. The body of the book tells the story of Catherine Bailey, a woman who suffers with a severe case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress. The book focuses on two major periods of time in Catherine’s life. In 2007, Catherine lives in fear and struggles with her afflictions. The author then provides the reader with a flashback to 2003, and we get to see what Catherine was like before her mental illness and we experience the tragic events that caused her breakdown. The author moves back and forth between these two periods of time giving the reader a bit more information each time. I found the timeline approach that the author employs to be a very effective way of building the tension in the plot. Additionally, I found that I kept close track of how much time had elapsed between each snippet the author provides because they vary depending on what was happening to Catherine.

Catherine has a love interest in each of the major threads of the book. In 2003, Catherine is a single woman looking for love. She meets Lee who seems to be her “Mr. Perfect” and he seems to be quite smitten with her. Lee is very secretive about his job; frequently leaving on short notice, he is unable to say how long he will be gone or when he will return. Over time Catherine’s relationship with Lee seems to be more like a “fatal attraction.” Stuart is Catherine’s love interest in 2007. He is a psychologist who quickly recognizes Catherine’s mental state and enables her to get help. Their relationship starts as a friendship but becomes much more over time.

I found Into the Darkest Corner to be a very well written book but one of the scariest thrillers I have read in some time. The author graphically describes the physical, sexual and mental abuse that Catherine experiences and there were times when it was difficult for me to read. The book is pretty lengthy (~ 400 pages) but each section is fairly short alternating between the two major timeframes in Catherine’s life. I found the book hard to put down because I honestly did not know what would happen next and how the author would tie the two plotlines together. I truly enjoyed Into the Darkest Corner but this is not a book to read right before going to bed. Without giving away any spoilers, after having read this book, I will think twice before I ever buy a red dress again. I highly recommend reading Into the Darkest Corner to find out why.

 

 

Human Remains by Elizabeth Haynes

Publisher: Harper

Reviewer: Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Police officers and supporting staff members have seen just about everything, much of it the worst humanity has to offer.  Still, police analyst Annabel is unprepared for what happens after she discovers an unexpected uptick in the number of people who pass away in their homes.  While the small community usually counts four or five cases a year, Annabel realizes that the pattern has increased to well over twenty cases and counting.  Dutifully, she reports her findings and creates helpful charts for her superiors and colleagues but is ignored.  She’s got her own problems, anyhow, dealing with obnoxious co-workers who think of her as strange and an overbearing disabled mother who steals her downtime by berating her and sending her on mental guilt trips.

Only one person seems remotely interested in Annabel’s findings and that’s Sam, a journalist who balances his quest for breaking news with a strong ethical streak.  Sam and Annabel begin a tentative friendship, interrupted by the sudden appearance of an “angel,” threatening to change Annabel’s life forever.

While using relatively little gory imagery and a straight-forward story, Elizabeth Haynes (Into the Darkest Corner) builds on the creepiness of lonely lives in our technological world suddenly invaded by malevolence with a very personal effect.  In a story centered on solitude, the sparely-told story makes Annabel’s perspective very believable even as the suspect remains a somewhat shadowy figure even after his identity is declared.  Haynes’ experience as a British police intelligence analyst informs Annabel’s character, giving a different feel to the police detective genre and making this well worth the time, even though readers may find that an unsettled feeling may last well after the book is finished.

 

 

 

The Widows of Braxton Country by Jess McConkey

Publisher: William Morrow

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Kate has just married a man she met on the internet and has known in person barely long enough to make her pregnant.  Joe Krause has promised her a life as a farmer’s wife in Iowa, surrounded by green fields and considerable attention from her new husband, making her upbringing by a bitter grandmother a distant memory.  When she arrives at her new homestead, she quickly realizes that the reality will be much harsher than she dreamed, with a disdainful mother-in-law living with her and days filled with manual labor.  What’s more, the townspeople clearly don’t like Kate’s new  family, a habit dating back generations when patriarch Jacob Krause died in his bed—and a knife in his back.

Virtually ignored by Joe and under her mother-in-law’s thumb, Kate mentally escapes by researching the horrific mystery of Jacob’s murder and the well-known curse that seems to plague that branch of the family.  Since Kate’s friends, Will and Rose, are considered decades-old enemies of the family, Kate quickly learns that she has to finally start making her own choices about who she is and what she’s willing to accept—especially after a murder in her own house brings the past into her life in a sudden and very real way.

The narrative jumps between Kate’s present and the patriarch’s era as seen through the perspective his long-suffering wife, Hannah, and jealous son Joseph, a technique used more effectively in Deborah Lawrenson’s excellent The Lantern.  Occasionally choppy during Kate’s initiation into the Krause household, the flow improves as she establishes herself in the community with her job and in the flashbacks with Hannah.  At one point, Kate reveals her profession as a CPA but her behavior during the first half of the book makes her seem like an unworldly, inexperienced young woman rather than a well-educated professional familiar with business.  

The Widows of Braxton County offers an interesting premise and a promising setting but would benefit from more nuance and deeper development of the primary characters.

 

 

 

Three Lives of Tomomi Ishikawa by Benjamin Constable

Publisher: Gallery Books

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Tomomi Ishikawa has decided to kill herself.  The young American, known to her friends and family as Butterfly, first writes horribly confessional stories that may or may not be true, hiding them throughout Paris and her native city of New York.  Before her life is over, she promises her friend Benjamin Constable a treasure hunt of sorts, if only he will follow the clues she provides for him using both technology and historical hiding places.  

Benjamin, a struggling English writer living in Paris, reveals a naiveté that alternately charms and baffles, especially after he recruits Beatrice into his bizarre search.  His relationships with both Beatrice and the late Butterfly appear enigmatic, with each woman capitalizing on his innocence and the medical condition that leaves him unable to recognize faces.

Surreal from the first conversation between Butterfly and Benjamin regarding writing a novel about themselves, the narrative only gets stranger with the introduction of a worldly and self-sufficient imaginary cat unimaginatively named “Cat.”  Constable beautiful winds through his “treasure” hunt as created by Butterfly, walking readers through his beloved Paris and exotic vision of New York City.  Since Butterfly’s clues require physical knowledge of architecture, history or even transportation in the two cities, readers benefit from the intimately detailed descriptions while he ponders Butterfly’s demise and his own motivations for continuing the hunt.

In his debut, author Benjamin Constable writes lovely sentences in which no word of gorgeous description is wasted.  The curious approach of using his name as the main character and the mutual devotion to writing offers a very personal perspective even as the author and character remain markedly different.

With a whimsical yet intense approach, it’s not surprising that the ending will not satisfy every reader but those looking for a different kind of literary adventure may enjoy a walk in Paris with Benjamin Constable and Cat.

 

 

Capacity For Murder by Bernadette Pajer

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Electricity is still a mysterious phenomenon, but we know a lot more about it now than they did in 1903, when you could buy an amazing array of gadgets and therapeutic treatments, all running on the newly-harnessed natural power.  Most of the gadgets were useless, and some were downright dangerous.  No wonder Professor Benjamin Bradshaw can make a living as an electrical forensic investigator!

In this third book in the series, the professor takes his entire summer school class of experimental physics students, plus his motherless ten-year-old son Justin, and heads for a small coastal settlement.  The director of the Healing Sands Sanitarium is desperate for help—his son-in-law died during a course of electrotherapy and Dr Hornsby fears it’s his fault.

David Hollister was the sanitarium’s technical expert. He kept everything running and his death is a personal and professional blow to Hornsby.  Professor Bradshaw begins examining the machine in the electrotherapy room and is stunned to discover it is a prototype machine he built—but with someone else’s name on it.  Worse, someone altered it to cause a fatal short-circuit. David was murdered—but there seems to sensible reason for it.

Finding his former business associate on site, the professor is naturally suspicious of the man and his motives.  If he’d steal someone else’s invention, what other crimes might he consider?  A second murder causes the professor to send his son home for safety, along with his assistant’s niece, Missouri Fremont.  Bradshaw has feeling for the young woman, but resolutely pushes them down, believing he’s too old for her.  Missouri is a feisty girl who isn’t happy about the situation, but she doesn’t have much choice: this is 1903, after all.

A third murder and the discovery of something very valuable in the healing sands ratchets up the suspense and the danger.  Bradshaw is now at the mercy of a killer with no conscience and no compassion.  Electrical devices aren’t going to save him this time, but another phenomenon of physics might just be able to.  (It’s hard to avoid bad puns about a shocking ending.)

I look forward to the next instalment in this unusual series.

 

 

 

Rizzoli & Isles: Last To Die by Tess Gerritsen

Publisher:  Ballantine Books

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

Tess Gerritsen has been enjoying enormous success with the hit-TNT series “Rizzoli and Isles” based on her two most prolific characters.  Detective Jane Rizzoli and her best friend, medical examiner Maura Isles have a great relationship full of witty banter and constant needling. They also make a formidable investigative team and typically get the more nasty assignments from Boston homicide.

In LAST TO DIE, the 11th novel in Tess Gerritsen’s Rizzoli and Isles series features a highly disturbing premise as its central plot point.  Someone seems to be targeting children.  In particular, three children --- seemingly unconnected to each other --- have had both their birth families and now foster parents wiped out by a killer or killers who seem intent on ending the lives of these orphans.

Rizzoli and Isles have their own personal youngster who is overcoming his own double-tragedy.  Teddy Clock survived a massacre where his entire family was murdered and now finds himself the lone survivor of the slaughter of his foster family.  Rizzoli is called into action on the investigation side of the case.  Meanwhile, Isles is tasked with taking Teddy to an exclusive boarding school called Evensong.

Evensong is no ordinary boarding school.  All of the students enrolled have survived some sort of personal tragedy.  Once Isles realizes this fact she begins to delve deeper into the ownership of Evensong. She is alarmed and surprised to find that the mysterious Anthony Sansone and his notorious Mephisto Club (themselves the subject of a prior novel) are at the heart of this unique school.

Meanwhile, Rizzoli and her team’s investigation lead them down the path of a killer on a relentless killing mission.  Three children --- all students at Evensong --- seem to be connected in some way and have become the targets of this killer.  It is revealed in earlier chapters that the killer goes by the name of Icarus and his motives for wanting to annihilate these children and anyone who protects them is a mystery.

Slowly, both stories begin to converge and things eventually lead to a showdown at Evensong.  After a few mysterious deaths occur at Evensong, Rizzoli and her team recognize that Icarus may already be there --- and the killer’s identity may be right under everyone’s nose! 

What makes LAST TO DIE such a pleasurable read is the fact that Gerritsen features all the regular characters both loyal readers and new fans of the TNT series have come to know and love.  For me personally, it is heartening to see a fiction series that remains consistent with its TV series.  Other series based on hit novels like DEXTER and TRUE BLOOD have strayed so far from the books that it just makes watching the TV series confusing for fans of the book.  Not Tess Gerritsen --- I am pleased to report Rizzoli, Isles and all the other series regulars are still here bringing a great story to life!

 

 

 

Invisible Murder by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis

Publisher: Soho Crime

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

A Red Cross nurse never knows what she’s going to find when dealing with the dangers of modern life.  Nina Borg’s worst suspicions are alerted when she discovers what appears to be radiation sickness in some gypsy children.  Nina herself soon falls ill, and comes to the attention of some very scary national security people who seem to think she knows more than she does. 

You can’t blame them for being concerned: the possibility that somebody in Denmark has a supply of caesium chloride, planning to do heaven knows what with it, is enough to make the most hardened investigator  ready to do whatever it takes to find the stuff.  Caught up in the investigation is Sandor, whose brother Tamas has stolen his passport and dumped him into serious trouble.  From a promising life as a soon-to-be college graduate, Sandor finds himself relegated to the social dust-heap, regarded as a potential terrorist and religious fanatic, all because of his brother’s greed.

The chief investigator is Inspector Søren Kirkegård, coincidentally the name of the 19th century Danish philosopher who was noted for his criticism of organised religion.  One of the many threads the Inspector is investigating in this complex case is whether or not the radioactive material has fallen into the hands of religious fanatics. 

The case gets more complicated when Nina leaves the hospital where she’s being treated for radiation sickness.  The CCTV footage shows her apparently alone, but there are all sorts of ways to coerce someone, and in this case, some of the villains have kidnapped her daughter in order to force her to say where the caesium is.  Taken to the hideout, Nora finds not only her daughter, but also Sandor, much the worse for wear.  Somehow she pulls from her confused memories the piece of information the kidnappers want, although it means putting a friend in peril, and by no means guarantees the safety of herself and her daughter.  Before long, Nora discovers just how much a mother will do to save her child, even as difficult and prickly child as her daughter.

This is a very plausible, very modern story.  It deal with big themes: the plight of the dispossessed in an affluent society; the pull of the clan over that of the nation; fear of the stranger, but most of all this is a police procedural, showing the hard slog and occasional luck involved with solving a case.  The book has very few lighter moments and can seem as bleak as a Scandinavian winter for much of the time, but is definitely worth reading. 

 

 

 

Resurrection Express by Stephen Romano

Publisher: Pocket Books          

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

Elroy Coffin is a world-class thief. He works his way up in his chosen profession and hones his electronic skills to a level where he can overcome any theft-deterrent device. With his father, a professional killer and thief, they circle the globe while stealing and accumulating massive wealth. Eventually, Elroy meets and marries.

Life is good – until he has a conflict with a powerful crime boss. Elroy finds himself in prison after surviving a gunshot to his head. He has to survive prison while his wife is under the control of the crime boss.

Then Elroy is offered his freedom by a mysterious, wealthy woman who wants his help. Elroy agrees when the woman tells him that he can rescue his wife and her daughter. Elroy agrees is quickly free – to a limit. He is on probation with a minimum wage job at high-end store.

Elroy’s job is to breach a complicated grid that guards a vault belonging to the crime boss. Before the operation can begin, a team of assassins enters the store and massacres men, women and children in an attempt to kill Elroy. Only with the help of the woman’s security, does Elroy escape.

The operation progresses and the vault is breached. Then things become confused as friend becomes enemy and enemy becomes ally. Elroy’s father dies to save him. A woman claims to be Elroy’s wife. His head wound has interfered with his memory and he cannot be sure. The crime boss captures them and then he escapes with her help. 

Ultimately, Elroy learns the truth after many twists and turns. He must breach the ultimate security grid to prevent the end of the world.

Romano has created a satisfying mystery requiring the main character and reader to navigate a complex maze. The fusion of mystery with an apocalyptic tale makes for a most satisfying read. 

 

 

 

 

 

Trust Your Eyes by Linwood Barclay

Publisher: Signet

Reviewed by Ray Palen, New Mystery Reader

With each successive release, Linwood Barclay has gained more readers and now finds himself an internationally known author with award-winning best-sellers every year.  He has been writing for several years but really came to prominence with his outstanding thriller, NO TIME FOR GOODBYE, which was nominated for Best Novel at the International Thriller Awards.

His latest novel, TRUST YOUR EYES, is by far his most accessible novel to date and is sure to win over even more readers.  Cartoonist/artist Ray Kilbride is tasked with taking care of his younger brother, Thomas, in the wake of their father’s sudden death at the hands of his own lawn-mower.  The only issue is that Thomas is 35-years-old and suffers from schizophrenia and mental illness.

As a result of Thomas’ mental and social challenges he has become a recluse, rarely leaving his own bedroom.  There is no need for Thomas to leave his room because he does some important work there.  It is within his room that Thomas spends nearly every waking hour on the computer --- primarily on the site for a computer program called Whirl360.

Whirl360 allows the user to visit any street in the modern world (that has a camera aimed at it).  Already being obsessed with maps, Thomas has taken to Whirl360 in a highly enthusiastic way as he feels it is his duty to monitor the streets of the world.  He also claims to be getting regular messages from both the CIA and former U.S. President Bill Clinton, assigning him tasks as he monitors his on-line maps.

One day, Thomas sees something in the window of an apartment building in Greenwich Village, NYC, which causes him to become alarmed.  He tasks his brother Ray with visiting this apartment as he swears he saw someone suffocated by a plastic bag in the window.  Ray does not find any evidence of this --- other than the fact that the young woman who lived in that apartment has not been seen.  While Ray does not find any proof of what Thomas allegedly saw, his visit to NYC does not go unnoticed.

There was a murder there that involved some very prominent political figures.  In particular, the murdered female was the wife of the current NYS Attorney General --- who plans to run for Governor.  The issue for those responsible for this murder is that they killed the wrong person!  They are also now aware of Ray and Thomas Kilbride who have no idea what kind of danger they are now in.

Throwing in an additional mystery over the mysterious circumstances behind the death of the Kilbride’s father --- along with a story of child-hood abuse of Thomas at the hands of a family friend --- keeps TRUST YOUR EYES moving forward at a fast and sometimes disjointed pace.  I love the work of Linwood Barclay and always look forward to his unpredictable thrillers that seem to feature the most unique and dangerous set-ups.  That being said, TRUST YOUR EYES was only a ‘good’ read.  I found the characters to be very believable but they seemed to come out of the minds of more predictable mystery writers.  The premise is still a unique one --- sort of a “Rear Window” for the electronic age.  But there was very little surprise or intrigue --- not nearly as much as his prior outstanding work.  TRUST YOUR EYES is sure to return Barclay to the best-seller list but is a far lighter read than what he has become known for.

 

 

 

 

Bad Little Falls by  Paul Doiron

Publisher: Minotaur Books    

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

Game Warden Mike Bowditch has a tendency to rub the bureaucrats the wrong way. As a result, he has been transferred to a remote area of Maine. This does not prevent Mike from citing locals for violations of state hunting laws, participating in the murder investigation of a drug dealer or becoming involved with Jamie Sewall, the sister of the prime suspect in the murder.

His citations cause Mike to be threatened and harassed by local hunting guides whose revenge extend to loosing a skunk in his trailer. The involvement with the sister of the murder suspect results in scathing scrutiny from the sheriff and a state investigator.

An interesting subplot is the potential relationship that Jamie sees for Mike as a role model for her son Lucas. Lucas is an intelligent yet strange child. While small for his age, he is capable of using underhanded methods in inflicting damage upon those whom harm him.

Doiron has created a winner by exploring the wilderness law enforcement represented by Mike. The author’s character study is well developed from the parallels between Mike and Lucas to the liner thinking of hunters and poachers that will put food on the table at all costs as well as drug dealers and users who stop at nothing to support their habit. Given the extreme poverty of the area, crime is abundant. An extra dimension has been added by having a narrative throughout the book from the perspective of Lucas in the form of his journal. All in all, this is an original and superior piece of writing. 

 

 

 

Port Vila Blues by Garry Disher

Publisher: Soho Crime

Reviewed by Robin Thomas, New Mystery Reader

Wyatt Wareen executes the perfect heist. He breaks into the home of politician Cassandra Wintergreen and finds in the safe the $50,000 in cash that he was expecting but also a beautiful Tiffany diamond butterfly brooch. Wyatt decides to sell the brooch and Liz Redding comes highly recommended to broker the deal. Redding is real nervous about being involved in this sale because she knows that the brooch was originally stolen by the Magnetic Drill Gang; a team of professional thieves. No one knows how Wintergreen ended up with the brooch.

The Magnetic Drill Gang is comprised of crooked police officers, professional thieves and their ringleader is a judge. Judge Victor De Lisle gave the brooch to Cassandra and this error in judgment ties him to the Magnetic Drill Gang. De Lisle will do anything to get the brooch back and that includes killing Wyatt. Wyatt has no choice but to come after De Lisle in order to survive and the hunt leads to Port Vila; a luxurious tropical resort located off the coast of Australia.

Garry Disher writes an outstanding classic noir mystery in which all of his characters have “baggage.” In Port Vila Blues the protagonist is a thief with a conscience, policeman are “on the take”, and a judge uses his position to mastermind robberies, he also threatens the thieves who work with him by maintaining damaging information about each of them that could lead to jail time. The novel is fast-paced with a number of violent scenes that crackle with energy and tension. Port Vila Blues is the 5th installment in the Wyatt series that consists of six books. Although it is the first one in the series that I have read I am certain that it will not be the last.

 

 

 

The Namesake by Conor Fitzgerald

Publisher: Bloomsbury 

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

The story opens with the kidnapping of a young girl in Italy. Despite their best efforts, law enforcement officers have difficulty establishing a clear motive and identifying possible kidnappers. While the girl’s father was a journalist who had written exposes addressing organized crime, the method of the kidnapping is too complex and amateur for professional criminals.

An insurance executive named Matteo Arconti is murdered and his body dumped in a conspicuous place. The significance is in the man’s name – a name he shares with a police magistrate.

The mystery emerges as details are revealed and police Commissario Alec Blume must determine if this is the work of the Ndrangheta – a secret branch of the Mafia that has been emerging in recent years.

Fitzgerald has created an interesting picture of contemporary Italy. The dangers associated with opposing organized crime are even greater than other countries. However, the plot is difficult to follow and connections between the events and characters do not begin to emerge until a hundred pages into the book.

 

 

 

 

Serpent’s Kiss by Melissa de la Cruz

Publisher: Hyperion

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Joan Osbourne asked “what if God was one of us.”  Melissa de la Cruz expands on that by asking about if Norse gods walked among us, wearing jeans and working in bars while trying to navigate through tricky family relationships.  Joanna and her two daughters live in North Hampton on Long Island while her estranged husband has been gone since 1692 and their brother Freddie was sentenced to Limbo.  The daughters, Ingrid (Erda) and Freya retain their close relationship in spite of being very different.  Ingrid fits the stereotype of her profession: as a librarian, she dons conservative clothes and a tight bun while remaining inexperienced in love.  Bartending Freya, on the other hand, makes love potions for her patrons and gleefully throws herself into her passionate romance with Killian (Balder), especially on Killian’s large boat named The Dragon.

Things start to go terribly wrong when Joanna’s normally tidy kitchen bursts into sudden Sixth Sense-style disasters and the sisters keep secrets from one another.  Freddie secretly returns, living in a seedy motel visited by sprightly coeds who happily do his laundry, telling only his twin sister Freya of his whereabouts.  Freddie blames Killian for his punishment, saying that Freya’s lover is the one who destroyed a bridge which channeled their powers to the Earth-bound gods and goddesses.  From this crime comes the mystery: the reason for the destruction and the identity of the destroyer, both of which clearly make the case that this is not an average human-filled mystery.

Melissa de la Cruz’ latest installment of the Witches of East End series uses the premise of how supernatural beings would integrate in our modern society such as in the popular Charlaine Harris or Stephenie Myers books but adds a humorous helping of family misunderstandings.  The series seeks to explain atypical episodes in human history such as the witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts, when the Puritan communities hanged Freya and Ingrid in an earlier form.  Additional editing would smooth out occasionally rough sentences but de la Cruz’ story moves quickly in spite of some halting explanatory paragraphs on the Norse mythology. 

 

 

 

 

Swimming with Sharks by Nele Neuhaus

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer  

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

Alex Sontheim is a on her way to becoming a financial wizard on Wall Street. Beginning with a large investment firm, she works her way up by proving her worth through ambitious investments and large profits.

She leaves the large firms behind to set her own terms at a smaller one – Levy Manhattan Investments. This proves a relationship beneficial to herself and the firm. She rapidly rises in the company and is rewarded with generous bonuses. Her future seems unlimited.

Alex is invited to a party attended by New York City’s elite. There she meets Sergio Vitali, a famous and wealthy real estate developer. He in turn introduces her NYC mayor, Nick Kostidis, who made his name while district attorney by taking down high profile criminals. Alex senses a strange animosity between the two men despite a forced civility.

Despite warnings from a colleague and rumors of Sergio’s criminal enterprises, Alex enters into an affair with Sergio. At the same time, she is invited to a board meeting of Levy Manhattan. Some board members ask her to keep them informed of information on clients and potential clients. On one level, Alex is uncomfortable with this request. On another, she feels loyalty to the firm and wishes to show this.

Gradually, shadowy figures and connections come to light. When she tries to break off the relationship with Sergio, she finds this harder than she first thought. Now Alex must fight for professional survival and avoid being used as the scapegoat for improprieties at Levy Manhattan.

Neuhaus has penned an interesting work here. She makes the mysterious workings of Wall Street more comprehensible to the layman while warning of the dangers of criminal enterprises mixing with legitimate investment firms. At the same time, she uses the time-honored theme of the temptation of large amounts of money. The character development is good and overall supports a solid novel.

 

 

 

Die A Stranger by Steve Hamilton

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Reviewed by Ray Palen, New Mystery Reader

Steve Hamilton’s ninth novel in the terrific Alex McKnight series starts off with a bang.  The night of his mother’s funeral, Alex’s best friend --- Vinnie Leblanc goes missing.  What makes Alex particularly concerned is that he found out about a deadly shoot-out at the local airstrip which left five unnamed bodies behind and Vinnie may have been involved!

Vinnie, a reclusive Ojibwa Indian living off reservation in one of his friend Alex’s cabins, is not prone to drinking or any form of reckless behavior.  It makes it all the more confusing to Alex that his friend could have somehow been mixed up in what appears to be a drug standoff gone wrong. Especially on the night he buried his mother.

Alex soon receives aid in his search for Vinnie and the truth from the unlikeliest of sources --- Vinnie’s long estranged father, Lou Leblanc.  Lou had abandoned Vinnie and his family almost thirty years earlier.  Recently paroled from a long stretch in prison, Lou heard about the death of his ex-wife and the disappearance of his son and has come back to northern Michigan to help in any way he can.

Alex, an ex-cop and sometime private investigator, starts piecing together clues to Vinnie’s disappearance and they all seem to point in the direction of Vinnie’s cousin, Buck.  When Alex and Lou visit the local reservation, they are not greeted kindly.  Lou is still an outcast --- exiled and told to never return.  They are both met with hostility and not given any type of clue to help them find Vinnie.

Lou uses the term --- Anishinabe --- which stands for ‘one people’ in the Ojibwa language.  Lou cannot understand how his own people cannot stand together in an hour of need so he takes it upon himself to live up to this term and atone for his own past sins in the process.  Alex and Lou actually make a formidable, if not somewhat dysfunctional, team and the passages with them working together on this case are a pleasure to read.

In true Hamilton fashion, things begin to get hard-boiled quickly and the case spins out of control.  Not only were Vinnie and Buck in the wrong place at the wrong time but they were involved with some very dangerous people.  Particularly, a deadly couple who pose as two ex-hippies but are actually cut-throat drug traffickers.  In addition, a maniacal drug-lord from Chicago with a penchant for carving people up with knives just for kicks.

Alex McKnight gets himself in and out of deadly situations with regularity --- but the scenario set in DIE A STRANGER may not be one he or his close friends are able to work their way out of.  This novel reads like a house afire and ends way too soon.  I cherish the Alex McKnight series and any time spent with this character and his native northern Michigan brethren is always a good time and some of the best reading in the crime fiction genre today!

 

 

The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton by Elizabeth Speller

Publisher: Mariner Books

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Five year-old Kitty Easton disappeared from her bed in the great manor of Easton Deadall over a decade before, leaving her mother, Lydia, and remaining relatives in a stasis of ever-present mourning, joining the rest of England in “what ifs” after the end of the Great War.

Lydia, herself frail and nearly ethereal, commissions the construction of a massive hedge maze in memory of all of Easton’s war dead, sparking a bit of life around the estate. Lydia’s brothers-in-law, Julian and Patrick, add to the layer of tension while Lydia’s sister Frances tries to help her sister during her decline.  Architect William Bolitho and his wife Eleanor join the family during the elaborate planning and construction, resulting in William’s request to Laurence Bartram for help with the restoration of a decommissioned pre-Tudor chapel on the grounds.

It is through Laurence’s eyes that the family’s secrets unfold, his outsider status granting him the realization that the extended family and staff are all bound to Easton in some way.  Even the architect suffers from a lack of professional work since World War I rendered him paraplegic. 

In spite of the lovely setting, Easton Deadall’s ambience continues to oppress its inhabitants, especially when one of the few remaining servants, fifteen year-old Maggie, disappears after a day at the fair.  A woman’s body soon turns up, giving Laurence much more to investigate than just the original details of a pre-Tudor church.

Author Elizabeth Speller clearly intends readers to fall under the spell of Easton Deadall, the narrative’s slowly revealed secrets build to the final suspense, making the last third nearly impossible to leave until finished.  Speller gives each major character nuances and regret with the hope of redemption, leaving readers a feeling of being just as caught as the characters, if not more pleasantly, in the thrall of Easton Deadall.

 

 

The Fear Artist by Timothy Hallinan

Published by Soho Crime

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader

Once upon a time—not that long ago—there was a genre of books and movies referred to as thrillers. In this not-so-distant past, a thriller was a story of suspense that kept you on the edge of your seat. Peril lurked behind every activity. The fact that not every activity actually delivered on that peril made the suspense more acute, for two reasons. You never knew which activity would lead to a bad result—thus making you suspect all of them—and the authors and directors understood that action is the release of tension; the suspense necessary for a true thriller comes from the anticipation of what might happen, not watching it happen. The situations, however fanciful, were grounded in realism. The tension remained high because readers/viewers always carried the thought, “This could happen to me,” or, “What would I do next?” in the back of their minds. Frederick Forsythe and Alfred Hitchcock are acknowledged masters.

Times change. Forsythe and Hitchcock have given way to Dan Brown and Michael Bay and situations that defy belief, resolved by übermenschlich heroes with skill sets Alistair Maclean would require an entire platoon to pull off. Bizarre situations. Explosions. Double- and triple-digit body counts. Orgies of violence and vacuums of logic have made the time tested virtues of slowly building suspense and knowing how to release it appear quaint in modern eyes.

Fortunately for those who expect a little more from their thrillers, Timothy Hallinan and his Bangkok-based travel writer hero Poke Rafferty are around. Their fifth story, The Fear Artist, is available now and ready to show what a true thriller is all about.

The story begins with Rafferty buying paint. His wife and daughter are away for a week, and Poke wants their apartment to be painted before they return. Backing into the street with cans of Apricot Cream and Urban Decay in each hand, he is run over by a fleeing mob. Shots are fired. A man falls onto Rafferty, spilling the paint. By the time Poke realizes the man is bleeding, the man is dying. His last acts are to put a laundry ticket into Poke’s shirt pocket, and to whisper three words with his last breaths. Helen. Eckersley. Cheyenne.

A TV news crew is there, followed within seconds by uniformed Thai officers from a branch of service Rafferty does not recognize. The YV crew and body are whisked away, and Rafferty is taken in for questioning. He soon discovers two American have watched this seemingly all-Thai operation from behind a two-way mirror.

Having hit the ground running, Hallinan takes his time letting the reader get acquainted with all the things that could be wrong here. Not everything that looks troublesome is a problem, and some things not thought of as problems are. That’s how suspense is built. You’re never sure who to trust, or what may come of any action, but it all seems like something happening in real time, and Thank God it’s not happening to you. This is a true thriller.

Hallinan’s writing provides the perfect backdrop for such a story. Enough description is given to keep you wondering which facet is important, never so much the mind wanders. The dialog is crisp, and the characters are real and flawed. Humor infuses itself into the dialog and descriptions to keep what could become a relentlessly dark story readable and moving. Rafferty has built up a cadre of people, both in and out of Thailand, he can go to for help, so he needs no miracles or superhuman gifts. Who he can trust, and how much, is an eternally open question.

It’s the Rafferty character that makes all five books work, and that is never more true than in the Fear Artist. He’s Hitchcock’s Everyman, with chops. His travel books describe the seedier sides of Eastern vacation destinations, which has required him to develop some street smarts and a ruthless side. Not cold. He’s not the modern “hero” who drops bodies by the handful, sending each off with a pithy wisecrack. He’s scared, he misses his family, he’s scared for them, and he wants to do the right thing by his friends without getting himself killed in the process. He’s good, and sometimes lucky, though never so lucky you slap your forehead over the convenience of his good fortune.

This is the most overtly political of Hallinan’s books, though far from a polemic. The crisis Rafferty finds himself in has geopolitical origins ranging from 9/11 to recent governmental strife in Thailand and all the way back to the Vietnam War’s Phoenix Program. He makes no more of them than he has to, and is scrupulously fair about how far to go with each. What he has managed to do is to create an excellent entertainment that demands the attentive reader to wonder what is done in the name of Good and question the cost. That comes later. While you’re reading, all you’ll think about is, “What the hell is he going to do now?”

The Fear Artist lacks a little of the visceral impact of The Queen of Patpong, and the climactic scene isn’t quite as well-executed as some of his others. The set-up to that scene is virtuosic, keeping the reader in multiple places at once with no confusion. There aren’t a lot of thrillers out there anymore for readers who like some thought and empathy with their excitement. Theaters and the front displays of bookstores are full of mindless entertainment The Fear Artist is just as entertaining, and far more mindful. Give it a try. You’ll be happy you did.

 

 

 

And When She Was Good by Laura Lippman

Publisher: William Morrow

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

Laura Lippman can flat out write.  She has proven this time and again with her terrific Tess Monaghan series --- exemplified by the fact that she has taken home nearly every literary award for that series.

Lippman also knows Baltimore and the bulk of her writing is set in that crime-ridden area.  AND WHEN SHE WAS GOOD is a stand-alone novel that features one of the more unique narrative voices in any of her books. Jumping back and forth in time is a creative style of story-telling and this keeps the pages turning quickly.   Heloise Lewis, a.k.a Helen Lewis, is a single-mother who works as a lobbyist defending the rights of women in the workplace.  At least that is what the IRS thinks.  Heloise actually runs a highly successful call-girl ring and occasionally meets special clients herself.

That premise is somewhat unique but it is not what drives this story.  How young Helen transformed herself into Heloise is a tale of triumph.  In particular, Heloise has overcome years of violence and mistreatment at the hands of men.  Early on it was her hateful step-father who physically and psychologically abused her, telling her she would amount to nothing.  Later, it was her boyfriend Valentine ‘Val’ DeLuca --- a pimp and criminal with a violent streak.

It is hard to feel sorry for Heloise when she takes up with Val because you would have expected her to know better --- especially with all the tell-tale signs of abuse she lived through at home.  However, she realizes soon enough just how dangerous Val is and this is proven when he kills a man who worked for him named Martin. Heloise was quite fond of Martin and wants to see Val punished for this.

She takes a big risk by going to the local authorities and is able to provide them with enough evidence to put Val behind bars, seemingly for life.  Heloise continues to run the call-girl ring that Val built on her own and visits him regularly in prison.  She never lets on that she had anything to do with his incarceration.  She also keeps an even bigger secret from him.  At the time of Val’s jailing, Heloise was pregnant with their child.  She is now raising young Scott by herself --- keeping this fact from Val and telling her son that his father was dead.

Lippman keeps the tension bubbling as word of Val’s legal efforts indicate he might be up for parole.  At the same time, women who had worked fro Val and now Heloise are turning up dead --- women who threatened the business through blackmail.  If Val knew about this business is it possible he knows the secrets Heloise is keeping from him?  If so, what will he do to her?

The latter part of the novel deals with Heloise’s attempts to extricate herself from her life of crime and relocate before Val is released and can find her.  She soon finds out that you cannot run away from your past and when you work with criminals there is no one you can trust.  AND WHEN SHE WAS GOOD is well written and Heloise Lewis is a character you can easily root for.  The last act of the book loses some of its’ steam as not all the tension and threats are followed through on --- but a Laura Lippman novel always features an intense character study and this fast-paced novel is no exception.

 

 

The Map of Lost Memories by Kim Fay

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

The Map of Lost Memories takes readers on a treasure hunt while also revealing the imperialism spirit and early twentieth century zeal, both of which were supported by different segments of wealthy westerners whose understanding of other cultures remained one-dimensional.

This particular treasure hunt, fraught with sentimentality and a need for vindication, revolves around two young women and two men that they’ve chosen to bring into the fold.  Irene recently resigned from the Brook Museum after being passed over for the curatorship and Simone needs to escape Shanghai after a life-changing event.  Irene has spent nearly her entire life researching the ancient Khmer of Cambodia (not to be confused with the later, devastating communist Khmer Rouge) and her dying benefactor has just given her resources and funding needed for a major expedition to find a specific set of artifacts at the King’s Temple deep in Cambodia.  While Seattle-based Irene dreamed of Cambodia, Simone considered it her home since she and her parents lived there while maintaining French citizenship. 

Irene invites a mysterious man named Marc and Simone includes her former lover, Louis, to join them on their quest.  Marc has considerable experience managing Asian customs and field experience while Louis’ soul is torn between his love for the fragile, unstable Simone and his devotion to archaeology.  While the four may journey together, each has very different motives and intentions, adding tension to the dangerous trek.

Curiously, the four westerners think of themselves as being alone on this expedition in spite of the Chinese coolies and long train of livestock-borne supplies that accompany them.  The women in particular are unlikeable (Irene angrily calls a fellow ship passenger a “fat Alsatian brood cow”) although author Kim Fay plays with their potential for redemption.  Vivid descriptions add necessary layers to the story, depicting the irony of wealthy communists and also that of westerners annoyed by individuals of the very long-storied culture they swear they want to protect.  Fay offers insight into the triumphant treasure hunters of the twentieth century while revealing baser motives in a creative, thought-provoking novel.