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Miss Me When I’m Gone by Emily Arsenault

Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

It’s been awhile since Jamie  has been in touch with one of her best friends from college, best selling author Gretchen Waters.  And so when she hears of her sudden death, which may or may not be an accident, she feels compelled to honor Gretchen’s mother’s request to perhaps find a way to complete and prepare for publishing the new book she was working on.  Unlike her first, a journey through Country music’s most famous women, this one was an attempt to deal with the male side of the same.  At least that’s how it started, but the direction Gretchen took was unexpected when she got sidetracked into her own mother’s mysterious death.  And with the many notebooks and journals left behind, Jamie is quick to see that something dark and deadly was haunting her friend, something that may have led to her untimely death.

Alternating between the narrative of Gretchen, snippets from her original book, and some from her current work in progress means that the reader is treated to basically three books in one.  And which is the better is hard to say.  I was personally fascinated with the essays  on  Country stars such as Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynne, with songs such as  “Stand by your man” playing in my head for the duration of the read.  A totally unique approach to a mystery is what Arsenault  does best, and she does it again here beautifully and poignantly.  Heartbreakingly tender and with enough mystery to keep readers guessing, the problem is not being drawn in, it’s having the ability to put this aside and forget about it.  One of the years best, this comes highly recommended.

 

 

 

Bad Intentions by Karin Fossum

Publisher: Mariner Books

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

One of the signs of a good writer is if she can so involve you in the story that you forget that it’s “foreign”.  The process is assisted by a good translator, of course. 

Norwegian writer Fossum has a knack for focussing the reader on the mental processes of the criminals in her stories, few of whom are your average bash-and-run types.  In Bad Intentions, there are several crimes, one of which leads to another, and then another, yet none of them are what could be labelled ‘traditional’ murders. 

I picked this book up for my bedtime reading yesterday, figuring to put it down around 11 p.m….at midnight I was still reading, and at one p.m. I was still reading….it’s that sort of book.

Fossum brings her stock characters Inspector Sejer and his offsider Jacob Skarre to the lakeside scene of a missing person who is believed to be either lost or dead.  Jon Moreno took  weekend leave from the hospital where his psychiatric problems are being treated.  His friends Axel and Philip convinced him it would do him good—but when they awoke in the cabin the next day, he was gone.  That’s their story, anyway.  Jon’s body is found by divers and the whole incident looks like being written off as either accidental drowning or purposeful suicide.

Sejer and Skarre interview the friends, and find first one and then another and another weak link in Axel’s story.  (Philip says little; he just goes along with Axel’s account.)  Such little things as the mark of the prow of a rowboat in the mud begin to make Sejer’s radar hum.  It’s obvious that there’s more to Jon’s death than appears, but there’s no evidence that it was anything other than suicide.  However, Sejer wants to know the reason for the suicide, and whether it was assisted or not.  Philip is clearly the weak partner in the surviving pair; could some pressure on him produce the truth?  And does the appearance of another body from the depths of the lake have any connection with the more recent death?

On the cover of this book is a quote from Ruth Rendell: “I always eagerly await a new novel from Karin Fossum.”  Rendell gives that sort of approval sparingly; that comment should tell you that this book is worth your time.

 

 

Fall From Grace by Wayne Arthurson

Publisher: Forge Books             

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Canadian journalist Leo Deroches robbed his first bank by accident: it was all a misunderstanding, but when the teller gave him cash, he took it and walked out.  He found the experience strangely exhilarating, and then he discovered that bank robbing could replace his destructive gambling habit, which had ruined his life, wrecked his career, and destroyed his marriage.

Faced with a choice between bad and bad, Leo opts for—you guessed it: bad.  He robs a bank whenever the gambling bug bites, and somehow he keeps getting away with it.  The ever-present possibility of being caught gives him the same buzz that drawing a royal flush does for a poker player. 

Leo has managed to climb out of the gutter, is working as a journalist again, and lives almost like a normal person—except for that little bad habit.  Called in to a crime scene by Whitford, a police detective, Leo becomes involved in a murder case.  At first it looks like just another prostitute killing, but Leo digs deeper and finds the story behind the young Native American’s death.  Leo himself is half Cree, but he’s never given a lot of thought to that part of his heritage.  As he researches the victim’s life, he begins to find out more about himself at the same time.  He learns that other young women have been killed over a period of years, but nobody has strung the murders together and seen that they must have been committed by the same person.  The Edmonton Police Service is understandably loath to believe his theory, but Leo persists, despite active discouragement from the brotherhood in blue—some of it nearly fatal.

While he’s trying to track down the killer, Leo is also trying to repair his damaged life.  Against her better judgment, his ex-wife lets him have contact with their son.  This fragile relationship is seriously endangered by Leo’s bad habit.  On one occasion when he takes his son out for the afternoon he stops for a brief robbery while pretending to go to the drugstore.  Perhaps one would have to be a psychologist or a counsellor in Gamblers Anonymous to understand how Leo can take such a chance, but readers will find themselves mentally yelling at him to stop before he destroys what’s left of his family life.

Leo’s investigation into the murders ends with his coming face to face with the killer.  You’d expect the cavalry, in the person of Detective Whitford, to gallop in to rescue him, but that’s not what happens.  (If you see the ending coming, you’ve got as devious an imagination as the author.)  In a way, the denouement is a logical next step for Leo, but I shudder to think what he’ll get up to if Arthurson writes a second book about this interesting but disturbing anti-hero.

 

 

 

Death of a Schoolgirl by Joanna Campbell Slan

Publisher: Berkley Trade

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Have you ever wondered what happened to Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester?  Joanna Slan knows, and tells all in her new book. 

The story begins with Jane’s safe delivery of a baby son, and Mr Rochester’s plans for the rebuilding of his ruined house, which , Dear Reader, you may recall burned along with Rochester’s mad first wife, at the end of Charlotte Brontë’s original novel.

The Rochesters have been providing care and education for another child, Adele, who might have been Rochester’s daughter but isn’t.  An apparent death threat against the girl at her boarding school causes Jane to go to London to investigate matters.  Along the way she is robbed and beaten, losing a fortune in diamond jewellery and gaining a black eye.

Mistaken for the governess she once was, Jane pretends to be the German language teacher that the school has been wanting, and sets about discovering what’s going on.  The only one at the school who knows her true identity is Miss Miller, a former colleague.

The school itself is far nicer than Lowood where Jane once worked, but the superintendant Mrs Thurston is a martinet, and nosy with it.  She has strong opinions about everything, including things about which she knows little.  Jane has to bite her tongue so often one is amazed it doesn’t bleed. 

All of the girls at the school are nervous, since the murder of Selina, one of their schoolmates.  Selina is not the innocent lass that one might expect, and few of her classmates mourn her.  Jane discovers Selina’s extracurricular activities; some very high-up people may have a vested interested in the girl’s life—or death.  Further investigation indicates that there may be a motive for murder much closer to home, but can Jane expose the killer before she has to leave the school?

Author Slan has woven in some nice bits of real history and knitted her new story almost seamlessly onto the end of the Brontë novel.  If you have read the original, your enjoyment will be enhanced, but if you haven’t you will still enjoy this involving tale.

 

 

The Unseen by  Katherine Webb

Publisher: William Morrow

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

In 2011, Leah’s ex-boyfriend contacts her only six months after their brutal, heart-wrenching breakup.  As a free-lance journalist, she rationalizes her journey to Belgium to meet his as just part of her job.  After all, he’s investigating the discovery of an early twentieth century corpse for the War Graves Commission and there’s something mysterious about the latest unknown soldier, beautifully preserved and carrying artifacts.  In spite of grave bodily damage, the body retains beauty in the face and mystery from both the lack of identification and a few cryptic letters found on the body, linking the dead man to a respectable woman who died years before.

A century earlier, Vicar Albert Canning and his lovely wife Hester have agreed to take in a former convict as a house maid in their home in a sleepy village.  Both Albert and Hester enjoy their naiveté and quiet country life, at least until the arrival of the maid, Cat, and a theosophist named Robin Durrant.  Robin is soft and charming while Cat uses her sharp, honest tongue to keep others at length.  Hester realizes something sinister is going on but can’t figure out what it could be.  As a theosophist, Robin believes in fairies and seeks to prove their existence and make his fortune.

The Unseen intersperses Hester’s letters to her sister, Albert’s journal entries and Cat’s narrative into the framework of Leah’s quest for the truth exactly one hundred years later as both a journalistic endeavor and an escape from her own pain.  Author Katherine Webb (The Legacy) believably details the lives of the servants and the emotional prisons we make for ourselves, creating a marvelous, multi-layered mystery of superstition, suffrage and secrets.

 

 

Flash And Bones by Kathy Reichs

Publisher: Pocket Books

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Things are looking up on the romance horizon for Dr Temperance Brennan—or are they?  The handsome Cotton Gallimore is attracting her like the proverbial magnet and iron filings, but he could be trouble.  He’s a reformed drinker, a smoker, and a former cop who spent time behind bars but swears he was set up.  He’s also the head of security at the motor speedway that has a connection to Tempe’s latest dead body, so she has to work with him.

The dead body is in a large drum of asphalt, which has been left at a landfill sometime in the last ten years or less.  There are several missing persons that the body might be, but first Tempe has to get it out of the hardened matrix.  There’s the usually factual and gruesomely fascinating descriptions of the process that eventually results in a clean skeleton, and you will learn a lot about motor racing you didn’t know before unless you’re a rev head.  While Tempe is doing the work she’s paid for, she has to juggle unwanted interruptions from her ex-husband and his fiancée, the bouncy blonde bimbo Summer, who’s going into meltdown over the wedding plans.  Who knew the colour coordination of napery was so important?

A newly-dead body turns up at the speedway, and while investigating, Tempe gets deeper and deeper into danger—no surprises here, right?  This time she’s teetering on the edge of a life-changing experience in more ways than one.  This is a fast-moving book with a lot of undercurrents and sub-plots, nicely braided up into a satisfying conclusion.  There’s some humour to balance the graphic gore.  Unlike the emotionally-challenged television avatar of Dr Brennan, the literary version has feelings and shares them with the reader.  There’s an added bonus of an ‘interview’ with the author at the end. 

I suppose it would be churlish of me to carp about the intrusive product placements in this and other recent novels—but I’m going to do it anyway.  If the plot doesn’t require a trade name of a product, why use it?  (Go sit in the corner, Karen.)

 

 

 

 

A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Penny returns with her new novel involving the citizens of the beautiful Canadian village of Three Pines Montreal Chief Inspector Armand Gamache in a riveting tale of revenge, art, and betrayal.

Clara Morrow has returned home and is having a barbeque to celebrate her first solo show in Montreal, one that went very successfully, when she discovers a body in her garden.  The dead woman is no stranger, but is one Clara hasn’t seen for years, a woman from her past who she shared a friendship with that didn’t end well.  And with suspects being many, as the woman betrayed more than one soul in her life, Gamache will find himself learning more about the behind–the–scene doings in the artworld than he ever wanted to know.   

As usual Penny writes with elegance and grace; her characters remaining multi-faceted with aspects of both good and bad apparent in even the most seemingly kindest of hearts.  And her sly and dead-on portrayal of the not so pretty scene behind the world of art is both convincing and magnetic.  It’s always a huge delight to come back to this seemingly idyllic village that while never as innocent as it seems, is always filled with the beautiful complexities that are part of the human experience.         

 

 

 

Half-Past Dawn: A Novel by Richard Doetsch

Publisher: Pocket Books

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

Jack Keeler has led an exceptional life. Refusing the pressure to enter business as his father before him, Jack becomes a NYPD cop. He quickly rises to the position as a homicide detective. At the same time, he is taking classes to become a lawyer. After the tragic killing of his partner, Jack moves the DA’s office. He rises again and becomes the DA.

Now Jack has married beautiful FBI Mia. They have two daughters. While not an ideal life – Jack is danger of not being reelected thanks to his no nonsense approach to prosecuting criminals including the rich, white-collar kind – they have a good life.

Then one morning, after they have attended a party, he wakes up to find a strange tattoo covering his arm. What appears to be a bullet wound has been crudely stitched up and worse of all – Mia is missing. The morning paper tells Jack that he himself is dead.

With discreet help from his law enforcement buddies, Jack must unravel the mystery to save Mia and himself. Thanks to flashes of memory and careful investigation, he follows the elusive trail to the stunning truth.  This is a superior mystery that will keep the reader guessing to the very end.

 

 

The Burning Soul by John Connolly

Publisher: Pocket Books

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Connolly brings back PI Charlie Parker - the haunted, sometimes brutal, but mostly morally-centered detective, who almost always believes the end justifies the means – in one of his better outings in awhile. 

This time out Parker is hired by a lawyer to look into the anonymous threats sent to a man who was long ago convicted of murdering a young girl following a sexual assault, but who has since served his time and been given a new identity.  But with the recent disappearance of another young girl, the convicted felon is battling an unknown source who is seemingly trying to pin the recent tragedy on him. So the biggest questions become who in this small town on Maine’s rugged coast knows of his real identity, and is he really the culprit, or does it relate to a mobster about to lose it all?

Admittedly, Connelly does throw in quite a number of subplots into this latest tale that might just distract the reader if not careful.  But once the reader does accept one of the primary subplots of the Boston Irish Mob scene, that aspect of the read becomes one of the more satisfying parts of the novel.  Blending some real-life mobsters with a few realistic “what-ifs” makes this seemingly sudden diversion offered half way through more than interesting.  And while some fans might miss the more prominent supernatural aspect usually offered, they might also find that sometimes a little is just enough. Sticking  through this read will reward most readers with an ending, that although attempts to offer more than one needed surprise, still provides a high degree of satisfaction.     

 

 

 

Darkness All Around by Doug Magee

Publisher: Touchstone

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Eleven years ago in the span of one tragic week, Risa’s best friend was murdered and her alcoholic husband disappeared.  Now still living in small town Braden PA, Risa seems to have ended up with the perfect life; her new husband is a congressional candidate and her teenage son a high school football hero. 

But everything she knows gets thrown into question when she hears of her first husband’s return and his wild claims that it was he who killed her best friend and not the man convicted of it.  And when another woman is found brutally murdered, Risa will not know who to trust and where to turn for answers.

For those who enjoy a decent dose of suburban suspense, this one should do the trick.  It does have a quick pace and offers more than one suspect, which makes it somewhat absorbing.  But then again, Risa’s immediate and almost unquestioning ability to forgive all from a husband who basically abandoned her and her son years before can lead to distraction.  Still, all in all, this provides enough suspense to keep it a tantalizing read throughout. 

 

 

 

The Silent Girl by Tess Gerritsen 

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Rizzoli and Ives return in an outing which many may think is Gerritsen's best in the series.  It all begins when a woman dressed in black is found murdered in Chinatown, a death that seems to have a murky connection to a massacre 19 years before in which five people were gunned down in a Chinese restaurant.  The mass killing followed by suicide was blamed on the dishwasher, but the wife, Iris Fang, of one of the men killed never bought that tale.  And this was not the first time tragedy struck this martial arts master, her young daughter having disappeared years before.

It doesn't take long before a second murdered victim is discovered, also dressed in black.  The killings are obviously connected, but how?  And when it's discovered that the relatives of the victims of the massacre have been receiving messages each year hinting at a truth yet revealed, Rizzoli is even more convinced everything is connected; a feeling further enhanced when it's discovered that one of the other victims also had a missing daughter. But tying all this together will put Rizzoli in great danger from an unknown enemy, but it will also expose her to a mysterious protector who seems to be in the right place at the right time on more than one occasion.

This haunting and stirring novel easily evokes the scents and mysteries that reside in Chinatown's shadows, bringing its legends and culture vividly alive.  Readers will also appreciate the martial arts master and her protégé; two strong female characters that kick ass and take names with a graceful sensuousness.  A great read that has it all: heart, guts, glory, and beautifully and vividly drawn characters and place, this is well worth the time spent. 

 

 

 

 

Eyes Wide Open by Andrew Gross

Publisher: Harper

When Jay Erlich's nephew is found shattered at the base of a cliff in Morrow Bay, Jay temporarily leaves behind his successful post as a top surgeon and happily married man to rush to his stepbrother's side to help comfort in anyway he can.  But his brother, unlike Jay, has led a long life of desperation as a sufferer of bipolar disorder, and his insistence that his son didn't kill himself but was instead forced to his death begins to take its toll on Jay.  But the more Jay learns about his brother's past, especially the part back in the 70s when he spent time in a commune led by a dangerous psychopath, much like Charlie Manson, Jay begins to wonder if that past has come back to haunt the present with some unfinished business.

A rather downhearted and depressing read, this one is a bit rough to get through at times.  Ironically, this is in most part due to Gross' ability to so adeptly portray the difficulties that can surround those who deal with bipolar disorder.  Ultimately, this is a sincere and heartfelt look at this disorder that in between the sorrow and challenges has enough suspense to make it a worthy read until the end.      

 

 

Killed at the Whim of a Hat by Colin Cotterill

Publisher: Minotaur

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New mystery Reader

Jimm Juree has spent years chasing stories and establishing her press credentials for a decent newspaper promising plenty of career opportunities.  When her mother uproots the family with a sudden vision of running a resort in rural Southern Thailand, Jimm and her bodybuilding brother Arny pack up their lives to move with their mother and grandfather.  With only her mother Mair enjoying the failing resort business—and that due to her occasional mental wanderings—Jimm spends her time cooking and resenting the upheaval in her life. 

Fortunately for Jimm’s malaise, a saffron-clad abbot is murdered nearby, resulting in a perkier attitude seemingly strengthened by the proof of inhumanity and a new bonding with her grandfather, a retired traffic cop whose honesty cost him career promotion.  When a placid but skeletal couple is found buried in an old VW van dating from the period of hippie travel soon after the abbot’s murder, southern Thailand becomes much more interesting for the crime reporter.

Jimm’s penchant for finding new information pays off with new contacts in the local police department plus the promise of news articles detailing the crimes.  Jimm’s investigation also spurs new contact with the surprise-filled and multi-talented sister she left behind in the city.

Author and British native Colin Cotterill’s recreation of rural Thailand encapsulates the pace of life while also noticing the scenic views so attractive to international tourists.  While describing popular tropical flowers, Cotterill writes, “Like Scotch whiskies, bougainvilleas were at their happiest without water.”  The unusual title also bears an interesting provenance, deriving from one of President George W. Bush’s quotes, one of many found throughout the text in a whimsical, primarily nonpolitical fashion.  Readers who enjoy Alexander McCall Smith and Shamini Flint (Inspector Singh series) will enjoy Cotterill’s ability to make exotic locales accessible and the initially wary locals irresistible. 

 

 

Call Me Princess by Sara Blaedel

Publisher: Pegasus

Reviewed by Robin Thomas, New Mystery Reader

In Call Me Princess, Internet dating sites are the venue for setting up a series of brutal rapes and a murder. The predator leverages the anonymity of the Internet to change his persona, blur his location and lure in extremely vulnerable, introverted and naïve women. Louise Rick, Assistant Detective with the Copenhagen Police Department is assigned the first rape case and she becomes increasingly obsessed with the investigation as her personal life unravels while the number of victims rise. She becomes so consumed that she decides makes an extreme risky decision to set herself up as “bait” in order to lure the serial rapist out of hiding. Hopefully, Louise can solve the case before she becomes the next victim.

Call Me Princess is the second book in the Louise Rick series but the only one that has been translated to English at this time. Sara Blaedel does an outstanding job of fully developing the characters in this novel. The reader experiences Camilla Lind’s struggles to balance her friendship with Louise with her rabid journalistic desires to deliver yet another compelling article. At times it is unclear that Camilla is maintaining that delicate balance between her career and her friendship. On the other hand, Lars, Louise’s partner, is “rock solid.” He is a veteran cop who is respected by his peers, maintains a well-balanced home life and has earned Louise’s trust. Call Me Princess is a gripping novel that exposes the “darker side” of Internet dating.

 

 

 

Full Black by Brad Thor

Publisher: Pocket Books

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

Brad Thor is one of the few authors who can proudly claim to be a true-blue American patriot.  He dedicates his latest novel in the Scott Harvath series, FULL BLACK, to ‘the patriots who exist across the political spectrum. To all supporters of freedom and democracy.’

When you read a novel by Brad Thor you know you are getting the real deal.  He was actually an insider within the small nucleus of experts called upon following 9/11 to battle terrorism and any threat to America.  This is not due to his prowess as a fiction writer but because his novels cut to the bone of the reality that is the dangerous world we all live in today!

FULL BLACK is a term that represents going off the grid.  It is used when a team of covert operatives need to pull out all stops in defense of the nation we know and love and to protect the inhabitants of the U.S. of A.  Everyone on the team must operate off the radar because we live in an age where it is near impossible to distinguish friends from enemies.

FULL BLACK posits a nation that has so many sleeper cells of Muslim extremists and/or terrorist sympathizers living unseen within its’ walls that no one is a safe.  This novel marks the 11th in the terrific Scott Harvath series and possibly the darkest to date.  What I enjoyed most about FULL BLACK is the fact that Thor chose to just call it like he sees it and not fill the plot with conspiracy theories or ancient mysteries that lie behind the murderous intent of the ‘bad guys’.  The bad guys in this are hard to tell from the good guys --- it is this realism that makes the novel that much more chilling.

A handful of international incidents take place that appear to be unrelated.  A famous Hollywood producer working on a documentary that may anger some rich and powerful people is attacked by a cell of Russian hit-men.   A series of terrorist bombings and random movie theaters in the U.S. has people scrambling and afraid to leave their homes.  The head of London’s MI-5 has made a deal with the devil in an apparent power play that involves one of the world’s richest men --- a Muslim sympathizer with the ability to attack the U.S.A.’s financial infrastructure and cripple the economy of this nation from the inside out.

How can Scott Harvath and team be successful against such odds?  How can you prevent terrorists who look like our neighbors and co-workers?  A sad joke is thrown in when one of Harvath’s colleagues suggests purchasing stock in Netflix as the movie theatre bombings will keep U.S. citizens out of the movie theatres permanently.  Scott Harvath is now giving his service to his old friend Reed Carlton and his new security firm --- the Carlton Group.  This is due to the exiling of covert operatives under the Presidential regime.  Harvath is no longer wanted by his country above the board --- so he must operate in ‘full black’ to do what he does best --- protect and serve the interest of the U.S.A. to the best of his ability.

With FULL BLACK, Brad Thor has written a modern horror novel far more frightening than anything from Stephen King. That is because everything he depicts within the covers of this novel are all actual possibilities and probably a lot closer to becoming a reality than any of us would like to think.  FULL BLACK has no ending --- a perfectly symbolic gesture by an author who recognizes that we are no where near the end of the dark days we exist in and that things can get far worse than we ever thought possible.

 

 

The Sixes by Kate White

Publisher: Harper Paperbacks

After being accused of plagiarism, celebrity biography author Phoebe Hall flees NYC to take a teaching post at a small town college in Pennsylvania.  And while at first life is relatively peaceful, that soon changes when Phoebe is asked by the head of the school to discreetly look into a secret club on campus known as The Sixes - a group of young women who seem to run the school through wicked means.  And when a young woman is discovered dead in a local river and a series of threatening events begin to stalk Phoebe, she'll soon find herself questioning everyone she knows as she searches for the truth behind this ever-growing danger.   

What's not to love in White's latest: a mysterious club of powerful young women who bully and threaten their way to power, a new love interest who just might be a killer, a mysterious stalker who knows her deepest secrets, and hints of a serial killer whose deadly deeds go much deeper.  This one has it all, making for an all too quick read full of shocking surprises.

 

 

 

Darkness My Old Friend by Lisa Unger

Publisher: Vintage

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Unger returns to the seemingly sleepy setting of her last novel, the Hollows, that brings back some familiar faces along with some new ones that have landed in this town with a whole new set of complications and mysteries that need solving.  Michael Holt is one of them; a young man whose mother suddenly up and left the family when Michael was a young boy, her sudden abandonment leaving him forever questioning the events of that fateful evening that seem to point towards more sinister circumstances.  In his quest for answers he turns to psychic Eloise Montgomery and her PI partner Ray Muldune to help him uncover what really happened.

Also new in town is Willow Grove, a young teen whose penchant for running away when things get tough leads her down some seriously dangerous paths while out in the woods skipping school with a couple of misfits like herself.  

And still in town is James Cooper, ex-police chief of the Hollows, and a man who is still trying to put his own demons to rest after a scandalous case shredded his career and still might do the same to his marriage.  And the tale of how these people's lives collide is what makes for one of Unger's best novels to date.

While I'm sure I said that Unger's last novel, Fragile, was her best, it's no surprise to find myself saying that yet again with her latest.  Unger, who once wrote under the name Theresa Monsour, and who put out some great suspense stories then, has remarkably continued to get even better still.  She brings it all to this latest: fully developed characters whose hidden hearts can break those of the readers, unrelentingly suspenseful storylines that come together in the end in surprising and wondrous ways and, simply put, graceful and poetic writing that often is worth re-reading just for the joy of the perfectly caught moment.  Without a doubt, one of the best in the genre, this is one writer whose books should not be missed.         

 

 

 

 

Back Of Beyond by C.J. Box

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

C.J. Box has acquired a modest following for his Joe Pickett novels but really hit the big-time when he won the Edgar Award for Best Novel of 2008 with his stand-alone thriller, BLUE HEAVEN.

Now, with the release of his latest stand-alone effort --- BACK OF BEYOND, Mr. Box may be taking things to a whole other level.  Set in the dangerous backdrop of Yellowstone National Park, BACK OF BEYOND does a nice job of depicting a remote area where the fears of the natural and unknown terrain is not nearly as frightening as that of a sociopathic killer with a deadly agenda.

Montana Detective Cody Hoyt is an admitted alcoholic.  This disease has cost him his family as well as the respect of many of his colleagues and has kept his career from fully blossoming.  Now, a full-fledged member of AA and trying to get his life back together, Hoyt is faced with an investigation that will test him more than anything he has faced before.

When his friend and fellow AA member, Hank Winters, is found burned to death within the charred remains of his own home, Hoyt immediately suspects foul play.  Hoyt is convinced Hank was murdered and that someone is using the fire to cover up the evidence of this.  Hoyt rubs too many people the wrong way during the investigation and summarily finds himself tossed off the case and suspended.

Little does this deter Hoyt from proceeding with the investigation.  With a little bit of help from his one trust-worthy friend on the inside of the Montana P.D. --- Larry --- Hoyt puts together evidence that points to a member of a wildlife hiking outfitter that takes groups of tourists into the wilds of Yellowstone National Park.  To make matters worse for Hoyt, his own son is with his new ‘step-dad’ on this very excursion that may be carrying a killer or killers responsible for Hanks Winters death as well as others from Hoyt’s AA circle.

Operating on his own and outside the limits of law enforcement, Hoyt faces road-blocks wherever he turns.  It almost appears that someone on the inside knows what he doing before he even does. When his motel room is ransacked and set on fire (with Hoyt barely escaping) he realizes there is now no one he can trust --- not even good friend, Larry.

The novel begins to shift between Hoyt’s plight and that of the members of the Yellowstone tour.  Aptly called, the Back of Beyond Tour, there are plenty of possible suspects to choose from.  The reader is placed right along with Hoyt as he goes through the background of each tour member that he obtained when he visited their office.  Like every classic murder mystery, there are too many potential bad guys and you will be guessing right along with Hoyt as the body count begins to pile up.

The novel wanes slightly during the last act, and I found one of the murder suspects easy to identify (I must read too many murder mysteries!).  However, C.J. Box has several tricks up his sleeve and BACK OF BEYOND kicks into high gear when Hoyt pays a retired tour guide to lead him along the same trail the group is on --- with the dead bodies piling up before him and his son in mortal danger.  A terrific summer read and possibly Box’s finest effort to date!

 

 

 

All the Pretty Hearses by Mary Daheim

Publisher: Avon

Reviewed by Robin Thomas, New Mystery Reader

Judith McMonigle Flynn, owner of the Hillside Manor Bed and Breakfast, is absolutely stunned when her mother tells her that her husband Joe has been taken away in handcuffs by the police. Joe is a retired policeman who is now a private investigator. Joe takes an easy case of insurance fraud and Judith cannot imagine how this results in murder with Joe being the prime suspect because his gun is the murder weapon. The fact that the police are not answering Judith’s questions and are blocking her attempts to communicate with Joe really alarms her. Since she has a B&B to run, Judith juggles between her concern for Joe and preparing for new arrivals. Judith donated a weekend stay at the school auction that was purchased by the Paine family. The Paine’s prove to be quite the “pain” for Judith with their wide variety of dietary requirements and inability to get along with each other. Judith has no idea that her “painful” experiences with the Paine’s will tie into the clues she is unearthing in hopes of getting Joe out of jail before the story of the murder and his involvement is published in the newspaper. This type of publicity would have a negative impact on Joe’s reputation in the neighborhood. Judith relies on her cousin Renie to help her find the real murderer but danger comes knocking on the Manor’s door.

All the Pretty Hearses is the 26th book in Mary Daheim’s bed and breakfast series. In the book there are many references to the other whodunits in the series and in some cases not enough detail is provided to understand the connection without having read the other books. All the Pretty Hearses is such an enjoyable read it will entice readers to add this series to their list, if this book is a first experience with Judith, her cousin Renie, Joe and her prickly mother. Mary Daheim has done a wonderful job of maintaining a sense of newness and excitement with each new addition to this series.

 

 

 

Hideout by Kathleen George

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Homeless and young, brothers Ryan and Jack are driving through the streets of Pittsburgh one night with Ryan at the wheel and high as a kite when Ryan spots a young woman in the road.  Thinking it would be fun to scare her, he goes too far and she winds up dead, forcing the brothers to go on the run.  So they head for Sugar Lake, a vacation spot they knew as children, to hole up until things cool down.  But Ryan, always looking for a high and a thrill, isn't done wreaking havoc on those around him, and more people will die before this duo is caught.

George effortlessly mixes an intelligent police procedural that includes the Pittsburgh detectives that her fans will recognize with a heart pounding tale of two young men on the run and the escalating danger that surrounds them.  One brother just plain bad, the other heartbreakingly redeemable if he could only get another chance, in a dichotomy that will leave readers aching for Jack to make it out alive, while hoping to see the demise of the other.  Gritty and realistic dialogue, a cast of unforgettable characters, and a hair-raising chase make this a stellar addition to any suspense lover's list of favorites.

 

Matinicus by Darcy Scott

Publisher: Maine Authors Publishing

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Gil Hodges comes back to Matinicus Island, Maine, ostensibly to complete a botanical study started by his former student, Ben Leland, dead tragically young of cancer.  Gil has harbours an unrequited love for the boy’s mother, Rachel Leland and it’s her house in which he’s planning to stay while he does the survey.  Rachel won’t be there, but Gil somehow hopes to find some comfort in her house.  This hope doesn’t last long: the house soon becomes too uncomfortable to live in.  Partly it’s the fact that Rachel isn’t there; partly it’s that somebody else is, somebody Gil can’t see, but he can hear crying.  He’s a scientist, he can’t believe in ghosts—but there seems no other explanation for what he’s feeling and hearing.

The house is old, and has a sad history.  There’s a diary left by a young woman who once lived here, married against her will to an older man, stepmother to a brood of children she doesn’t want and who don’t want her.  Gil starts reading the diary, in between visits to the general store-cum-restaurant, and desultory attempts to do the work he came to the island for.

Al Freeman, the store owner, has taken a liking to Gil because of their shared interest in baseball, but some of the other islanders are suspicious of him.  Then the deaths start.  First it’s a dog, then the people start to die.  At first it looks normal enough: heart attack; then a falling down drunk fatality—but then there’s a very clear murder.  And then another one.  Gil feels there’s a connection somehow, somewhere between what happened in 1829, and what’s happening now.  He fears for the safety of Tiffany, Al’s niece, who seems vulnerable to the unseen evil currents swirling around this speck of land. 

This is an absorbing story, which switches easily back and forth between the modern period and the story told in Hannah Burgess’s journal.  Like a scorpion, the sting in the tail will jab you when you least expect it.  You don’t have to be an exiled New Englander to appreciate the story, but it adds an extra fillip if you are.

 

 

 

Long Gone by Alafair Burke

Publisher: Harper Paperbacks

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Allison March has spent almost a year unemployed in NYC.  And while her famous film producer father is more than capable of keeping her in an expensive loft in the city, dripping in diamonds and furs, that's just not her way.  She's determined to make it on her own, even if that means a loss of self-confidence and a deep sense of insecurity while looking for the career that will help her define herself. 

Which is why when she gets offered the chance of a lifetime, running a gallery in NYC, she jumps at the chance.  And even though the man offering the job is unknown to her, it looks like the opportunity she's been waiting for.  That is until he shows up dead, and she finds herself accused of not only his murder, but to some nefarious events going on through the gallery.  But while finding out why she looks just like the woman who is responsible for everything gone wrong looks like the bigger challenge, little does she know that her search for answers will lead her to secrets wrapped up in events from her past that are far more dangerous, and include those closer to her, than she could have imagined.

It's difficult sometimes as a reviewer to justify one's opinion as to why a book succeeds or fails.  Is it the characters, the plot, the setting, or something else too intangible to isolate?  Sometimes pinpointing these aspects can be difficult; identifying exactly which ones are responsible for failure or success almost impossible.

Which is why, now and again, you get a book such as Alafair Burke's latest that has everything going on in just the right way that while it's almost impossible to say exactly why it works so perfectly, you just know that it simply does -  in its entirety.  Everything comes together in such a symbiotic way that it really doesn't matter why you can't put the book down until the end; you just know that reading it evokes a craving for answers that must be satisfied.  Burke gets better with each book she writes, and her most recent books exemplify why one should pick one up as opposed to the latest DVD; she gives the reader brilliant adventures that involve the senses and the heart until the very end, all the while making readers feel that they’re an intricate part of the ride.  Check this one out instead of something from the red box at your grocery store next time you need a great story, you'll be glad you did.

 

 

 

Misery Bay by Steve Hamilton

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

Steve Hamilton’s latest novel, MISERY BAY, is the 8th in the award-winning Alex McKnight mystery/thriller series.  Hamilton took a brief respite from the McKnight series to pen two stand-alone novels that included the Agatha Best Novel Winning, THE LOCK ARTIST.  He now returns us to the bleak and stark landscape of Northern Michigan for a new Alex McKnight effort that may be the finest in the series to date.

Alex McKnight is a former major leaguer --- playing for his hometown favorite Detroit Tigers --- as well as being an ex-Detroit P.D officer who was forced out of duty after an incident that left his partner dead and himself with a bullet lodged near his heart.  He has been spending his days renovating the cabins that he owns and working as a Private Investigator in ‘the Soo’ or Sault St. Marie area of northern Michigan.

MISERY BAY may be the darkest entry in the successful McKnight series as the murders involved reveal an evil pattern by a devious individual who is operating on a deadly agenda fueled by revenge.  When the son of a police officer is found hung from a tree off of the frozen Misery Bay authorities initially rule a suicide.  However, the actual truth behind the events is far more sinister.  The boy’s father is the ex-partner of Chief Maven --- the local police Chief and sometime adversary of P.I. McKnight.  Maven calls in McKnight for assistance at the boy’s fathers request as they are confident that the act was not one of a suicidal college student. When the father is found murdered in Maven’s very home, McKnight and Maven realize they are dealing with something much bigger.

Of course, the FBI gets involved --- this raises the suspicion of Maven and McKnight as well as muddying the waters for their own investigation.  The FBI have information about another teen suicide that also is followed up shortly thereafter by the murder of the father (also ex-police).  Maven and McKnight, along with the FBI, now recognize that these incidents are all murders that are tied to each other in some way that must involve revenge against these police officers.  Making matters worse is the fact that Maven himself may be the target.  Thankfully, his wife and daughter are on vacation in Amsterdam and warned not to return until a suspect is apprehended.

McKnight does what he does best --- ignore warnings from law enforcement and federal agents and follow his own instincts on a private investigation that always seems to lead him closer to the truth than anyone else is able to get to.  Investigation of difficult busts by the two officers that were killed produces a short list of suspects who may want

revenge.  One in particular, a former actor who has had many run-in’s with the law, is singled out.  His name is C.C. Wiley and McKnight makes him the focus of his investigation.  It turns out the Wiley and his family (a son and grand-son) run a film production company in Bad Axe, Michigan.  Just when McKnight feels that Wiley is his man things take a drastic turn as C.C. Wiley is found dead in the basement of his lakeside cabin.  A film spool was left running in front of Wiley’s body.  McKnight and Wiley’s son play the film and are horrified when they view each of the murders that have occurred.  The question remains --- did Wiley commit these horrible deeds and was he acting alone?

The last part of the novel leads McKnight deep into the mind of a demented killer and the past is thrust upon the present as the streak of murders are far from over.  With Maven’s wife and daughter returning from Europe --- could they be the next targets?  MISERY BAY grabs the reader by the throat and never lets up.  Steve Hamilton is an expert at building tension and mastering a plot that is always unpredictable.  On top of that, Alex McKnight remains one of the most interesting fictional characters in literature today.  What is next for Mr. McKnight?  Whatever it is --- I hope we find out soon in this continually top-notch mystery series. 

 

 

Some Degree Of Murder by Frank Zafiro and Colin Conway

Publisher: CreateSpace

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Faced with a choice between two evils, common wisdom advises choosing the lesser: but what if you aren’t sure which one that is?  A philosopher might say you should refuse to make a choice, but in real life, that’s not always an option.  After an intense and often solitary hunt, Detective John Tower comes face to face with two killers and one of their victims.  Of the four people in the room, one has to die, but has Tower the right to choose which one?   If he makes the wrong choice, three may die—but any choice is going to leave a heavy mark on him.

In this latest chapter in the ongoing drama of the River City police force, authors Frank Zafiro and Colin Conway have chosen a plot as old as a Greek tragedy: the death of innocence and the pursuit of evil by an avenging demon.  The narrative switches between Tower and Virgil, the agent of Nemesis, and despite their being on opposite sides of the law, there are attributes they have in common.

Two girls have died in a sleazy neighbourhood peopled by prostitutes, pimps, druggies and gangs.  Detective Tower is assigned to the second case before he’s had a chance to solve the first, but he soon makes a connection between them. Despite the bad neighbourhood, the second girl wasn’t on the game, and the first one was a beginner, so this doesn’t seem to be a ‘usual’ prostitute killing.  Before long, Tower realises he’s not the only one looking for the killer or killers—there’s a vigilante out there, and he’s not bound by the rules of evidence or any other wussy modern conventions.  Worse, there’s a biker gang involved in this somehow, and they’re more close-mouthed than a sprung bear trap—at least until their members start turning up dead…

Tower calls in a favour here and there to move his investigation forward, but is loathe to share too much information with his colleagues, and especially not his superior, Lt Crawford, the infamous “Crawfish”, whom you hope to see come to a bad end in a future Zafiro book.  It’s this lone wolf characteristic that puts Tower in the abandoned building with two killers, one victim, and a big, big decision to make.

The story is as bleak and cold as a rainwashed murder scene, but leavened here and there with domestic interludes for Tower, who is the guardian for his wheelchair-bound nephew, and some surprisingly gentle moments between Virgil and his ally Gina, the friend of one of the murdered girls.  There’s some rough talk and what comes across as genuine cop-speak throughout the book, and some heavy-duty violence that should be stomach-turning but somehow isn’t, given the context—but I wouldn’t give this book to your aromatherapist. 

If you’re still in mourning for Robert B Parker, you might want to visit River City and see if that eases the grief a bit.

 

 

 

Dead End Deal by Allen Wyler

Publisher: Astor + Blue Editions (E-book edition)

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

When you are a whizz-kid CEO who specialises in rescuing companies in trouble and then moving on with a big fat negotiable ‘thank-you ‘ package, you can’t afford to make a misstep.  Richard Stillman has succeeded four times previously, but now he’s in trouble.  The Trophozyme Company hired him to find a blockbuster new drug therapy before their patents on some other drugs run out—and his attempt has failed.  He needs something really big, and he needs it now.

Fast forward to a parking garage a month later. Neurosurgeon Jon Ritter is wondering why anyone would send him a fake message about his car being broken into when two masked men appear.  They deliver a threatening message about Jon’s research, and while he is protesting that he doesn’t use human stem cells for what he does, his supervisor Gabriel Lippmann enters the garage. 

The next thing Jon knows he wakes up in the hospital with a cracked head; Gabe’s dead; and a lunatic fringe group called the Nuremberg Avengers is being blamed.  FBI agent Gary Fisher visits him in the hospital and suggests that at least for now, Jon’s research should be back-burnered.  Jon is working on a therapy for Alzheimer’s disease and has invested a decade in the work; he’s not going to be scared off now.  All that becomes academic—or not—when the government pulls the funding for the project, more terrified about bad publicity than the reality of millions of dementia patients who need an effective treatment.

Jon puts his pride in his pocket and goes to see Stillman, who has previously tried to recruit him.  They strike a deal: Jon will carry on the human trials in Korea at his friend Jin-Woo Lee’s lab; Stillman will provide the funding.  To protect his investment, Stillman insists that the formula and notes about Jon’s new therapy be put in a safe, neutral place, just in case anything happens to Jon.  Jon goes to Korea, the first two experimental procedures are done, everything is going well—and then the patients die.  Worse: they’re murdered and Jon is blamed.

For the rest of the book, Jon is on the run in a strange land, with no passport, no knowledge of the language, and sticking out like two sore thumbs due to his race and size.  The American embassy can’t help except by the most subtle of hints about what his next move should be, and agent Fisher is too far away to be much use.  Jon has one ally, but she’s under observation.  He’s being tracked not only by the police but also a hired killer.  His life hangs by a thread, sometimes literally.

This is one of the fastest-moving and scary books I have read in years.  I defy you to put it down once you get to the scene where Jon learns his patients have died and starts his long difficult escape from Korea.  There are twists and re-twists, mistaken identities and hair’s breadth near-misses—if this doesn’t get made into a really good movie, Harrison Ford must not need the money. 

Buy this book; either the paperback or the e-reader version; steal it if you have to, but don’t miss it.

 

 

 

Target: Tinos by Jeffrey Siger

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

This fast-moving story set in modern Greece doesn’t sugar-coat the problems that the world’s first democracy is going through.  Written before the latest tsunami of fiscal disaster struck, the story nevertheless illustrates how poverty and crime are frequent companions, and how hard it is for an honest cop to solve a crime when there’s pressure from above to pin it on immigrants and low-lifes, and do it fast.  When two gypsy brothers are found dead in a burned-out car, it’s clear that the higher-ups want the crime attributed to an immigrant turf war and to have the whole thing tidied away fast.

Added to the pressure on him from the Minister of Public Order is the pressure Andreas Kaldis faces from his soon-to-be-wife, Lila.  Mother of his son and daughter of an upper-crust family, Lila’s patience with Andreas’s pursuit of criminals is wearing thin, given that the wedding is less than a week away.  In a peculiar stroke of reverse luck, a new crime takes Andreas to the island of Tinos, just a short ferry ride away from Mykonos, where the wedding is to be held on Sunday.

Tinos is a ‘holy island’, with wall-to-wall churches and a priceless icon of the Virgin Mary, the megalochari,  that Andreas thinks may be the target of international art thieves.  He thinks the double murder is part of a much larger picture, and when he finds links back to a secret society that was involved in Greece’s push for independence from the Ottoman empire in the early 19th century, he’s sure that he’s on to something.  Discovery of a long-term pilferage of valuable things from the charitable foundation that oversees the cult of the megalochari just reinforces Andreas’s suspicions: something big is being planned.  Then there’s the influx of people to the island, people that don’t seem to be there for religious reasons, many of them petty criminals.  Who’s bringing them, and for what purpose?

Despite the time spent in the sleazy underside of Greek society, and the depressing predictability of the time-serving bureaucrats, this is quite an upbeat book.  You can almost smell the sea air and feel the bright sun of the Cyclades on your head as you read.  Andreas has somehow come to terms with the conditions under which he must work, and he does what he has to do in spite of the difficulties.