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Avoidable Contact by Tammy Kaehler

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

My favourite race driver is back, and once again up to her neck in danger, intrigue and near-death experiences.  Kate Reilly is at Daytona 24 hoping for a big win when she’s informed that a hit and run driver has left her boyfriend Stuart Telarday in a critical condition.  Even if she weren’t suited up and ready to start racing, there’s not much Kate could do for Stuart other than pace around outside a hospital—better to keep her mind on the job and focus on doing her part in the Sandham Swift Racing team.

Bad enough that Stuart is in the hospital, Kate then sees a horrific accident involving her teammate Ian and a Porche whose driver she’s already marked as an amateur, and dangerous because of that.  Ian’s car is in flames as Kate drives past; she knows there’s no point in stopping when the professional rescuers are tending to the crash, but that doesn’t stop her making a few comments over the open mic about the driver of the other car.  Ian is taken to the hospital—now Kate has two men to worry about—and Kate pulls herself together and finished her laps.  Back at the pits she learns Ian has died and Stuart is still hanging on but not out of the woods yet. 

Kate is determined to find out why the accident that shouldn’t have happened, the ‘avoidable contact’, did.  She’s a bit concerned that some of her own family may be involved in some way; that would make a bad day a whole lot worse.  Then the half sister Kate only recently met gets into some deep trouble, and it’s up to Kate to find a way to save her.

Kate Reilly is one of the more unusual of the new crop of heroines.  I have to admit to a sneaking envy of her professional activity: it must be fun to race around at high speed, pitting your wits and technique against other, more experienced drivers.  Having just moved to an area where the speed limit is high and the roads are up, down and sideways, often on the edge of cliffs, I wouldn’t mind having a few lessons from Kate!

 

 

The Richebourg Affair by R M Cartmel

Publisher: Crime Scene Books

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

There’s a lot to like in this debut novel: France, wine, food, family drama, and the very topical problem of how a middle-aged man with a busy career copes with the sudden realisation that his father is suffering dementia and the ramifications that has for the family wine business.  At another time, Inspector Truchaud of the Paris Police could have left the problem to his brother Bertin, but Bertin has apparently died in his sleep and Truchaud must go home to sort things out.

Perhaps a policeman is by nature suspicious, but not long after returning to Nuits-Saint-Georges, Truchaud wonders whether Bertin’s death was natural.  The discovery of some fiddle-faddle with the family winery’s production that year increases the Inspector’s concern.  Despite his being home on compassionate leave, he is soon involved actively in a murder investigation that may tie up with his brother’s death and a possible black-market wine scandal.  His Paris boss sends Sgt Delacroix down to Burgundy to lend a hand but, his help is short-circuited by an apparent murder attempt.  With Delacroix out of action, Truchaud and a friendly local police captain continue the investigation.  Not all the local police are nice guys, and with a nice touch of irony, the pistol-inept Truchaud has to shoot one of them with his own gun.  “Sometimes you just got lucky” (Truchaud paraphrasing Eastwood).

Meanwhile, Truchaud is having to keep an eye on his father, whose dementia often results in his wandering off to do work on somebody else’s vines.  The problem of how to manage the family vineyard now that Bertin is gone becomes urgent: Truchaud’s nephew Bruno is too young and inexperienced to take over; his sister-in-law has previously only been involved in the administration and book keeping, and the old man is no longer reliable.  Will the Truchaud family have to sell the vineyard that’s been in their keeping for generations?  Will Truchaud himself have to retire from the work he loves to resume the life of a rural vintner?

You’ll learn a lot about life in small-town France and the grape-growing and wine-making business in this book, and I await with interest Book II in the promised trilogy.

 

 

 

The Good Know Nothing by Ken Kuhlken

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

This fictional mystery involves some real mystery characters: the writers B. Traven, whom some may recall wrote “The Treasure of Sierra Madre”, and Ambrose Bierce: men whose lives read like a film noir script.

The book is labelled “The final chapter in the Hickey saga” and follows the story of police detective Tom Hickey as he takes on the biggest case of his career: there whereabouts of his own father, and the reason for his abrupt disappearance. 

Charlie Hickey’s departure condemned his son and daughter to years of misery at the hands of their insane mother, something Tom can’t forgive his father for—nor his father’s friend Leo, who apparently stood by and said nothing when all the time he had a book that would have helped Tom find Charlie.  Could Charlie Hickey have vanished, only to reappear in Mexico as B Traven?   The only way to find out is to go to Mexico, which he does, and where he meets the (now retired) Sundance Kid who provides the last chapter of the Charlie Hickey story.  Maybe Tom can’t meet Charlie, but he can avenge him, so back to the USA he goes.

With his gorgeous blond sister in tow, Tom takes off on a crusade, which brings him into contact with many different people, including dustbowl refugees, bent cops, and William Randolph Hearst and his mistress the actress Marion Davies.  At last the trail leads Tom back to where he started, and the final shocking revelation.

This is a story that could have come out of the pages of a 1940’s edition of Esquire.  It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but if you know a bit about the Depression era, and the incredible power that Hearst and other press barons exercised in that decade, you will enjoy the book.  There isn’t any actor of the Bogart mould around these days, but if there were, this book is just waiting to be turned into a screenplay for him.

 

Dead Float by Warren C Easley

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Some people go to pieces when a personal tragedy strikes; but it’s what they do with the pieces that makes for an interesting story.  High-flying Los Angeles prosecutor Cal Claxton reacted to the death of his wife by fleeing the big city and settling in the backwoods of Oregon where he runs a one-man law firm, does pro bono work, and occasionally works as a guide and fly-fishing coach for his friend Philip Lone Deer’s outdoor adventure business.

Cal takes on a three-day job at Philip’s request, thinking it will be a simple and easy project that might take his mind off his daughter’s welfare.  Claire is in Darfur doing community work during a break from her UC Berkeley graduate program, and she’s overdue for checking in with Dad.  Cal tries not to worry, but it’s hard not to.

It turns out this is not Cal’s only worry: when he meets his fishing party, an old flame and her husband are part of it.  Also part of the group is Daina Zakaris, a dark-eyed somewhat exotic woman who is immediately attractive to Cal, but who’s all business on this trip.  Her job is to motivate some not very enthusiastic executives who work for Hal Bruckner’s company NanoTech, which is about to expand and change.

The very first night of the fishing trip, somebody is motivated to murder another member of the party, and Cal’s knife and jacket have both vanished, leading the local police to decide he must be the killer., especially when they find the knife carelessly discarded near camp.  There’s a particularly nasty bully cop in the investigation, and if it weren’t for a little help from his friends, Cal would have spent more than one night in jail with sore ribs.

Desperate to clear his name and even more desperate to find out what’s happening with Claire, who has been kidnapped by bandits, Cal has to resort to some unorthodox methods to find the real murderer.

This is a fast-moving readable adventure which has a lot of action but no gratuitous gore.  I’ll be looking out for the third book in the series.

 

 

Light of the World by James Lee Burke

Publisher: Pocket     

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader 

Dave Robicheaux is a Louisiana Sheriff’s detective on vacation in Montana when an arrow nearly impales his daughter, Alafair. Was it intentional or an accident? Then a series of gruesome crimes begin.

His friend and partner Clete Purcel is with them on vacation and waiting for his daughter Gretchen Horowitz to come from California.

Dave and Clete have seen their share of evil in war and police work. Dave wants to escape this for while, but it follows them.

Alafair is an aspiring writer who interviewed Kansas serial killer Asa Surrette in prison. Surrette is supposed to have died in a prison van wreck after that. However, the methods of a stalker of the two families bear uncanny resemblances to Surrette’s patterns.

A local sheriff’s investigator brutalizes Gretchen who has a past as a contract killer. When he murdered in a brutal fashion, Gretchen is held as the prime suspect.

The murder of an adopted granddaughter of a powerful millionaire should add support to Dave and Clete’s efforts to protect their daughters. However, Clete has been having an affair with the millionaire’s daughter-in-law and they have gained an important and dangerous enemy.

Now Dave must use all of his skills to save both families.

Burke’s exceptional skill with words allow him to convey a degree of the breathtaking beauty of Montana while making clear that it is at once a rugged way of life embraced by a special breed of person. At the same time, the author proves himself an astute observer of the human mind and the psychopathic characteristics that allow some individuals to operate outside of the social norms and commit deranged atrocities against humanity.

 

 

The Crooked Maid by Dan Vyleta

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

World War II has recently ended and young Robert Seidel and elegant Anna Beer are returning to Vienna on the train from Switzerland, taking them further from their comfortable lives to a broken Vienna, one in which former soldiers are routinely spirited away to Russian prisons and where everyone bears a look of utter dejection.

Robert returns to find his stepfather comatose and his step-brother Wolfgang on trial for attempted murder.  His mother is manic, drugged on powders and barely coherent.  Robert’s only real companionship comes from the new maid, Eva Frey, whose bent spine imbues her with feelings of both self-loathing and invincibility.  Robert’s mother despises the friendship between Eva and Robert but Eva threatens to expose a family secret, forcing her to accept Eva’s haughty presence.

Anna returns to her apartment, implausibly maintained for her and not overrun by other city-dwellers.  Her husband was sighted days earlier but is now missing again. Czechoslovakian Karel Neumann and American journalist Sophie Coburn seem as ill at ease with the new reality, with the Czech giant spending every bit on alcohol and Sophie struggling to publish stories for papers back in the United States.  Meanwhile, a strange man with a red scarf keeps watch over Robert’s house, perplexing his paranoid mother and giving Eva hope.  

The Crooked Maid strikes a very lovely and intense Russian literary tone, grimy with intertwined grim lives, with the occasional very British colloquialisms that don’t work for a novel populated by German and Russian speakers. On the whole, Dan Vyleta creates a very involved world in which so many little details serve as clues on how each character relates to one another, each life serving as an example of misfortune.

 

 

The Highway by C.J. Box

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

Thousands of individuals go missing on America’s highways.  Many of these people go seemingly unnoticed.  They are drifters, run-aways, vagrants.  However, a good portion that go missing are innocent travelers --- usually young women --- preyed upon by predators who roam the highways and by-ways of this great country.

This is the impetus for the latest stand-alone thriller by Wyoming crime writer, C.J. Box.  Best known for his terrific Joe Pickett series, Box has now found an outlet to delve into the true heart of American darkness with the thriller THE HIGHWAY.  The novel opens up with a look into the psyche and methods of a cross-country trucker who goes by the handle The Lizard King.  Unlike Jim Morrison, this Lizard King is no poet --- his canvas is the long, lonesome stretches of highway and creepy truck stops that canvas the country and provide numerous opportunities for victims.

The Lizard King has found his next target, a 2006 Ford Focus carrying sisters Danielle and Gracie Sullivan.  The two teens are on the road a few days prior to Thanksgiving and heading towards the home of Danielle’s sometime boyfriend, Justin.  They never reach their intended destination.

Enter Montana investigator, Cody Hoyt.  He has just been suspended from his job and looking to start a bender at the local bar prior to spending a stressful Thanksgiving with his family.  His partner, Cassie Dewell, attempts to talk him out of an extended stay in the bar and shows her support for getting him back on the force.  It is not long into his suspension that Cody’s son, Justin, contacts him to let him know his friend Danielle may have gone missing en route to their home.  Cody quickly snaps out of his suspension funk, enlists the aid of Cassie Dewell, and dives right into his own personal investigation.

Cody makes calls and hooks up with a local Officer who patrols the remote area of the Rockies near Yellowstone.  Unfortunately, Cody does not know where to begin and has no idea just how dangerous and depraved his unknown adversary is.  It seems The Lizard King may not be working alone and is following a sinister pattern whereby he and a network of cohorts have been preying on young women taken from the highway and placed in a deadly chamber of death.

THE HIGHWAY will literally chill you to the bone and make you paranoid to ever travel on remote parts of highway ever again.  The only critique I have is that C.J. Box lets you behind the curtain too early in the novel by revealing the identity of the killer and his cohorts.   By putting a human face on the monsters involved takes some of the terror out of the story.  This in no way lessens the intensity of what is covered within the slickly moving pages of THE HIGHWAY and there are big and unexpected surprises around every bend that this terrifying novel takes.  Put on your seatbelt and enjoy the ride!

 

 

King And Maxwell by David Baldacci

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

I ended the review of a previous Baldacci book with the comment, “Definitely a book to be read when you’ve had your wits freshly sharpened.”   Baldacci’s latest falls into the same category.

What starts out as a classic ‘teen angst about dead father’ story quickly becomes much more complex.  Tyler Wingo gets a text from his father—the father that the U S Army told the family was killed in action in Afghanistan.  After nearly being run over by them in the middle of a thunderstorm, Tyler hires former secret service agents Maxwell and King to find out what’s going on.

Having once worked deep inside the very dark and complex system that is behind the public face of the US Government, Maxwell and King have a pretty good idea about what rocks to start turning over.  Very quickly they discover that a lot of powerful people don’t want any sunshine on the places the rocks used to be.  The dead soldier appears to have been a crook on a large scale—or was he?  More to the point, is he really dead? 

That’s an academic point, because whether Sam Wingo died in Afghanistan or not, there are plenty of people who want him dead now.  When there’s a billion Euros in cash involved, a single human life is mere chump change. 

As Maxwell and King dig through possible plots and motives, everything from terrorism to simple greed to treason turns up.  While they are having an innocent coffee break they are kidnapped by Homeland Security, whisked away to an anonymous interview room, and threatened quite clearly by a DHS agent who wants to story of Sam Wingo’s death to be taken at face value.  Anyone who has read any of the previous King and Maxwell adventures knows this would be the red rag to the bull: no way are they giving up now.

Embarrassingly for King, his ex-wife’s new husband seems to be involved.  Whatever King does next will have unhappy consequences for Dana, but he and Maxwell are determined to solve the case.  They turn to their favourite Aspergian savant, Edgar, for the technical help they need, and this, too, has unintended consequences.  As usual with this sort of drama, there are some life-and-death situations to be faced before the curtain finally falls, as well as a bit of air-clearing about relationships. 

If this is your first time with Maxwell and King, you’re in for a treat.  Well worth the price of admission.

 

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader 

The sixth novel to feature private investigators Sean King and Michelle Maxwell starts out with an unexpected and clandestine international incident and continues along a break-neck story-line whereby the ripple effects of this event lead all the way to the steps of the Oval Office.

KING AND MAXWELL opens with a sequence set amidst a bleak Middle Eastern landscape as a late night truck delivery is stopped before reaching its intended destination.  U.S. Army soldier Sam Wingo is driving the small box truck containing a cargo weighing in at a hefty forty-eight hundred pounds.  When the truck is stopped, Wingo fears he is being hijacked by Afghan rebels.  Much to his surprise, the group that asks for possession of his truck (and the cargo it carries) is American and claiming to be from the CIA.  Wingo walks away from the truck and the delivery he was tasked with completing is never made.

The action switches state-side where King and Maxwell, while driving back to their office at night, nearly run over a gun-wielding teen boy.  When they grab the teen they find him distraught and the weapon he holds is not loaded.  The boy is Tyler Wingo and he is in a frenzy due to the fact that the U.S. Army showed up at his door that evening to inform him and his step-mother that his father, Sam Wingo, was killed in action overseas.  The only problem is that Tyler received a message from his father after the notice of his death was given.

In learning that King and Maxwell are PI’s, Tyler pleads to them for help in getting to the bottom of the situation with his father and find out why the Army is falsely claiming him to be deceased.  To begin with, King and Maxwell must face an uphill battle in clearing Sam Wingo’s name.   It turns out that the cargo was forty-eight hundred pounds in Euros and Sam is considered to be a traitor to the U.S. and suspected of working with others to steal this money.

Tyler is sure of his father’s innocence and King and Maxwell, after doing some digging, begin to agree with him.  Tapping into their savant colleague, Edgar, they are able to utilize his superior hacking skills to find out what may actually be going on.  This leads them to a local D.C. blogger who is posting a leaked story suggesting that the stolen billion in Euros was intended to fund weapons for a group seeking to topple the Iranian government. This serious allegation is quickly noticed by Homeland Security and the White House and threat of an international scandal is on the forefront of their agendas.

A visit with the POTUS himself assures King and Maxwell that they are on to something.  The only issue is that the person who leaked the story is deeply imbedded in the U.S. Government and has a deadly agenda that only he is aware of.  With the ultimate goal being the takedown of the President and his cabinet there is no time to waste and King and Maxwell are literally caught in the cross-hairs of a deadly showdown that will claim many lives before it is over.

David Baldacci has become one of America’s most prolific writers --- turning out nearly as many novels per year as James Patterson.  The only difference is that this abundance of fiction has not in the least diluted his exceptional story-telling (cannot say the same for Mr. Patterson).  Baldacci truly has his fingers on the pulse of the U.S. Government and KING AND MAXWELL is a timely and chilling international thriller.  It is with regret that I noticed Mr. Baldacci dedicating the novel to the cast of the TNT series entitled “King and Maxwell” that features his enjoyable duo.  The regret comes from the fact that just this week TNT announced that they were cancelling the series --- even though it received decent reviews and ratings.  We’ll have to wait for Baldacci’s next installment of this great series to spend more time with Sean and Michelle!

 

 

 

Hell With the Lid Blown Off by Donis Casey

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press  

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Picking up this book I thought, “Uh-oh, it’s one of those folksy country stories with everyone spittin’ terbacker and talkin’ dialect.”

Colour me reproved: yes, the story is set in a country town about 100 years ago, but there’s nothing quaint or unsophisticated about it.  Instead it’s a very well-crafted production with a huge cast of characters including some unpleasantly brutish possible villains, and featuring an overwhelming force of nature in a leading role.

Alafair Tucker and her laconic husband Shaw have a large brood of children, ranging from married daughters to toddlers.  The Tuckers are hard-working famers in Boynton, Oklahoma, a town with all the virtues and vices of any small town anywhere.  You’d think with all the work she has to do, Alafair wouldn’t have time to get interested in mysteries, but of course she does, despite her husband’s best efforts to restrain her.

The Hell referred to in the title has to do with a tornado that comes tearing through Boynton one day, leaving death and destruction everywhere.  Among the dead is Jubal Beldon, a cold-eyed vicious fellow with a gang of brothers cut from the same cloth.  Turns out Jubal was dead before the storm mangled him, so where did he die, and did he have help?

When you have the town bully’s murder to solve, you’ll be hard-pressed to eliminate anyone, as deputy sheriff Trent Calder discovers.  Hardly anyone has a good word to say about Jubal, including his own mother.  Blackmail and brutality were among Jubal’s hobbies, and when Trent learns the man was attempting hanky-panky with Ruth Tucker, Alafair’s middle daughter, he’d have to put himself on the list of people who wished Jubal dead.

The book is divided into three main sections: Before, During and After the great storm.  These sections are divided into small segments detailing events from the point of view of the various leading characters, but because it’s always written in the third person, you don’t get confused about who’s saying what and when. 

I really enjoyed this story and plan to seek out others in the series. 

 

 

Gold Digger by Frances Fyfield

Publisher: Witness Impulse

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Thomas Porteous is a terminally ill, wealthy older man with a vast collection of carefully curated paintings and an enormous seaside house which he shares with his young wife, Diana. Thomas’ estranged two daughters despise Diana and the threat she presents to their inheritance, believing her to be the stereotypical, legendary gold digging twenty-something using their father to further her own agenda. While Thomas made his fortune from creating games beloved by families and retains his own childlike sense of wonder, his daughters Gayle and Beatrice devolved into bitter wretches whose own houses reveal their insecurities and inescapable inadequacies.

Diana, called Di by her friends and husband, offers a very different reality; reserved yet magnetic, fiercely protective and enigmatic. Although she’s lovely and came from a difficult childhood, her true mysteriousness stems from the night that she met Thomas—and one that initially cost her two years in prison.

Now, ten years later, Di is joined by a grizzled former copper named Jones who loves fishing and a frazzled hairdresser named Monica; a young runaway who calls herself Peg; her art liaison who agrees to play Thomas’ most dangerous game; and an attorney who’s tired of always being the dutiful messenger. Each has secrets, but agree to allow Di’s problems to supersede their own, sometimes without knowing precisely why.

The enormous, aging house with curved walls and staircases galore and a basement threatened by the sea becomes an important character in itself. Cherished both for itself and as a singular place for Thomas and Di’s beloved art collection comprised of pieces they love—never because of the investment value—the former school continues to entice visitors, especially Thomas’ smart, artistic grandson, Patrick. Much like Thomas and Di, the house seems irresistible to others, offering open fun balanced with peculiarity.

Frances Fyfield excels with the characters, lagging only slightly with the plot, and writes wonderful prose that suits Di and Thomas perfectly, filled with concise observations about both people and art. As the art procurer, Saul, notes to himself, Thomas’ greedy daughters had “minds [that] were addled and worst of all, they had no taste.” Gold Digger is filled with expertly-placed, well-crafted sentences to complement the strongly drawn characters, making this a joy to read.

Through a few flashbacks interspersed in the narrative, Fyfield gradually allows readers to get to know the tough Di, creating initial concerns about where Di’s loyalties truly lie. Did she really love Thomas? Or does she just love his art collection? Fyfield threatens to choose an easy, predictable path on a couple of occasions, but instead offers surprises about her fully-developed characters, creating a lovely mystery that promises to stay with readers long after the end of Thomas’ last game.

 

 

 

Let It Burn by Steve Hamilton

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

When Private Investigator and former Detroit P.D. Officer Alex McKnight visits the city he used to call home --- Detroit, MI --- he is horrified at how run-down and barren parts of the area are.  It’s as if people stopped caring…like they just looked at it as the flames approached and decided to ‘let it burn’.

These thoughts race through Alex’s head as he is forced to return to his old stomping ground and open up some old wounds in the process.   LET IT BURN is the title of the latest in the popular Alex McKnight series and astute readers will recognize it as a metaphor for much of what takes place within the pages of this taut thriller.

Even though he is long removed from the force and living several hours north of Detroit in the town of Paradise there are some things in his past that cannot be put to rest.  The last bust he made prior to the event that ended his police career (and put a bullet lodged near his heart at the same time his partner was gunned down) involved Alex chasing a young black man along the railroad tracks who then tosses an item away.

Alex chases after the man but cannot catch him.  What he finds as he returns to the train station is the badly mutilated corpse of a young woman --- knifed over a dozen times.  A task force helps to scan the area for the item the alleged perp tossed and it ends up being a piece of jewelry taken from the dead woman.  When the young man, Darryl King, is eventually caught he is grilled by a Detective with a desire to use a high profile case to further his own career.  King confesses to the murder and is put away for the crime.

Now in the present, Alex receives a phone call from an old sergeant notifying him that Darryl King is being released from prison.  It’s just a courtesy call --- but Alex takes it seriously.  Could Darryl have been waiting all this time in prison to get his revenge at the men who put him away?   Is Alex in danger?  Rather than feeling threatened, Alex goes through a range of other emotions with the most important one being guilt.  It seems Alex never felt right about the confession and has always had doubts that Darryl King was responsible for the murder he ‘confessed’ to.

To make matters worse, the FBI has been on the hunt for a multi-state serial killer.  This would not interest Alex except for the fact that the killer has targeted only women and killed them all in the same manner as the woman Darryl King was indicted for.  More importantly, Darryl King was in prison for all of these killings.  Alex realizes he has to return to Detroit and face his past in the form of old police cronies as well as the mother of Darryl King.  He also wants to be there to face off with Darryl himself when he returns home.  Unfortunately, things do not always work out the way we imagine they will and Alex will soon find himself in the middle of an intense trip down memory lane and directly in the sights of a deadly killer with a vendetta.

Every time a new Steve Hamilton novel comes up it immediately goes to the top of my reading list.  The Alex McKnight series is head and shoulders above most in the crime genre today and Hamilton writes with such an easy style it is impossible to not get instantly drawn into the drama.  LET IT BURN is a great and unforgettable read and one that does the Alex McKnight series proud.

 

 

 

 

Stay With Me by Alison Gaylin

Publisher: Harper

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

STAY WITH ME is the third novel in the Brenna Spector series and features a protagonist and story-line unlike any other currently in the mystery/thriller genre.  Brenna suffers from a rare neurological disorder that enables her to recall every moment of every day of her life.  This disorder began simultaneously with the disappearance of her sister, Clea, twenty-eight years earlier who was taken at the age of seventeen.

What is ironic is that Brenna works as a Private Investigator committed to solving Missing Persons cases.  This provides her with a small bit of closure in the endless search for her missing sister.  She is convinced that Clea is not only alive and still out there but feels that recent events in her own life have been indicative of Clea's involvement.

While a unique power like the total recall Brenna possesses could become trite or, at best, an overused distraction, in the hands of Alison Gaylin it is used subtly and nicely underscores the events of each novel.  The first novel in this series, AND SHE WAS, dealt with a missing persons cold case that Brenna is finally able to solve.  It is with the second novel in the series, INTO THE DARK, that the plotline directly focuses on Brenna.

INTO THE DARK deals with a case of a missing web cam performer who has full knowledge of events in her sister Clea's life and even recites directly from her diary.  Now with STAY WITH ME we find Brenna's daughter, Maya, pulled into the action.  Brenna is a normal thirteen year-old girl who splits time between her mother and father (Jim) and his new wife (Faith).  While staying with Jim and Faith, Maya is allowed to attend a sleepover at a school friend's house.

The problem here is that Maya allegedly never attends this sleepover.  She also is rumored to have been seen entering a strange vehicle as she wandered down the road and taking off to points unknown.  All that is left for Brenna, Jim and Faith is a text message email from Maya indicating that she has decided to leave her life and start over and they are not to follow her.

Brenna swiftly moves into action calling upon all her own skills and missing persons expertise while also involving the local Westchester Police Department.  When they are able to unlock Maya's computer they find a strange series of blogs in a chat room where Maya appears to have started a relationship with an unknown adult.  The question is whether or not she left willingly with this person or if she was abducted.

Brenna now lives by the personal mantra "stay with me" as she silently wishes Maya to return to her so they can solve whatever issues may exist between them.  The search for Maya takes them down many roads --- most of which are dead ends.  The overlying feeling Brenna has is that this is somehow directly related to her lost sister Clea.  What Brenna needs to determine is if Maya's abduction is by the same person/people who took Clea or if Clea is somehow involved directly in kidnapping her daughter.

STAY WITH ME will stay with the reader long after the final page is turned and proves why Alison Gaylin has continued to receive much deserved acclaim for penning this terrific psychological thriller series that just demands successive novels. I highly recommend reading the first two entries in the series prior to digging into STAY WITH ME.

 

 

Face Value by Michael A Kahn

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press  

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

I’ll tell you for free: this is one of the best reads I’ve had all year.  Interesting characters, a feisty (but not stupidly courageous) heroine, a plausible but twisty plot, and some bad guys you are delighted to see get their comeuppance.  What’s not to like?

Attorney Rachel Gold shares her law office with a six-foot transgender friend who comes in handy when Rachel is trying to ease information out of a man who might be the murderer.  Mind you, Rachel is one of the few people who believes that the death of Sari Bashir was murder—the police and most of her colleagues believe the young lawyer jumped—or maybe fell—from the 8th floor car park. 

Rachel might never have questioned the death were it not for the persistence of Stanley Plotkin and Jerry Klunger, who work in the mail room of Sari’s former firm.  Like many who have Asperger’s Syndrome, Stanley isn’t good at understanding emotions, but he’s made himself an expert in the complex facial muscle interpretation scheme, FACS.  Stanley is a bit like those high-stakes poker players who can read the smallest tic in an opponent’s face.  This time he’s playing for the highest stakes of all, a human life.

An inside contact is required, and Rachel is able to find one of Sari’s friends who also thinks her death is suspicious.  To avoid being seen by anyone who might wonder what they’re up to, Rachel and her team of investigators meet in out-of-the-way coffee shops and in Rachel’s mother’s kitchen, where they are force-fed kamishbroidt and hot tea.

Rachel eventually convinces the police that there’s something to Stanley’s insistence on murder, and with the aid of a highly-regarded but eccentric law professor, she homes in on the likely killer.  However, at the very last minute, when there’s nobody she can call on for help, she realises the real killer is about to get away and only she can get there in time to stop him.  This is as safe an attempt as it ever is in detective fiction, but author Kahn isn’t about to let his likeable heroine be summarily dispatched.  What happens next?  You’ll be amused and amazed.  Come on, you can’t get two bagels with a shmeer these days for as little as $14.95; buy the book already.

 

 

The Death of Lucy Kyte by Nicola Upson

Published by Bourbon Street Books

Reviewer: Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

The Death of Lucy Kyte sparks with characterizations of the reserved and fiercely independent Josephine Tey and the mysterious Lucy Kyte that Josephine’s feisty godmother mentioned in her will. Josephine’s godmother, an  actress named Hester who grew up with Josephine’s mother in a small village, willed the bulk of her estate to her goddaughter, in spite of the fact that the two never met as adults.

As part of her inheritance, Josephine must sort through the treasures and papers collected by Hester over decades, all housed in Hester’s history-filled Red Barn Cottage. Josephine, suffering  from writer’s block just when she’s already received advance payment for a new book on a legendary figure, soon learns that the cottage bears witness to a local legend filled with illegitimate children, desperate women and a horrifying murder that forever binds two families together. The villagers, loathe to admit outsiders in anyway, think that the sophisticated author should sell the cottage and move on.

Upson took a chance when she chose Josephine Tey as her protagonist for her mystery series, since Tey (one of the pen names for a real-life popular author in the early twentieth century) remains both enigmatic and distinct. Upson’s decision to use a pen name adds to the portrayal of Josephine, and she adds subtle comments such as remarking on Josephine’s surprise at the number of crime volumes that exist; Tey later wrote an historical fiction examination of the culpability of Richard III for his nephews’ murders in Daughter of Time.

In each book of the series, Upson emphasizes relationships, whether between friends or between family members, and the stresses that routinely occur as a matter of life. In The Death of Lucy Kyte, Josephine examines not only the relationship between Hester—and it turns out, another person as well—and Lucy Kyte, but also the unusual friendship between her own mother and joyously flamboyant godmother. As seen through Lucy’s own uncommon relationships and her preference for seclusion, these relationships bear truth and meaning, even after the deaths of those involved.

Adding to the richly drawn characters are detailed observations of both landscape and secondary characters, which guarantee a certain atmospheric lingering long after Josephine finally finds Lucy Kyte. As was true with the previous installment, Fear in the Sunlight, The Death of Lucy Kyte, with its aura of Agatha Christie with a twist, should please readers who love historical fiction, well-plotted mysteries and beautiful sentences.

 

 

 

 

Omens by Kelly Armstrong

Publisher: Plume

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

Olivia Taylor-Jones lives a storybook life. She is the daughter and eventual heir of a department store fortune earned by her father. Olivia is engaged to the son of another wealthy family. Her fiancée is even being groomed to run for the Senate.

This is not say that her life is without sorrow and difficulty. Her father has passed away and her mother needs Olivia’s help and support more that Olivia needs her mother’s. Still, life is good. Then a dark secret from her past comes to haunt Olivia. She finds out she is adopted – from parents that have been convicted and imprisoned as serial killers.

The sensational nature of the murders immediately forces Olivia into the arena of the public scrutiny. She must flee to avoid overzealous media. Her adopted mother and lawyer agree that time away on her own would be the best thing for all concerned.

Olivia has always lived the privileged of the uber-wealthy and is at first lost in her quest to survive among the average population. In her search for an affordable apartment, an old man in Chicago suggests that she would find life easier in a small town named Cainsville. 

Olivia is propelled by forces unseen and initially unknown to her. Slowly she comes to respect the abilities and support of who have the ability to see objects and signs not visible to those who doubt.

The story is a combination of mystery and the occult. Supporting characters such as the lawyer Gabriel and citizens of Cainsville give dimension and humor to the plot.

Kelly has created a tight, well-crafted work. The author is capable and willing to periodically review characters and previous events. This not only makes the book easier to read steadily, but the reader could pick up after several days if necessary – a valuable option given the hectic schedule of many readers.

 

 

 

 

Murder As A Fine Art by David Morrell

Publisher: Mulholland Books/Little Brown & Co

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

This is a totally different type of book to Morrell’s more famous “First Blood” which introduced Rambo into the language and onto the world stage.  Those who aren’t particularly interested in Rambo need have no fear; the protagonist in this new work is a man of thought and intellect, not gore and violence.

Thomas De Quincey is one of those quiz-night answers most of us know, the author of “Confessions of an English Opium Eater”, but few of us know more than that about him.  The sickly child of a widowed and strict mother, De Quincey was a brilliant scholar but had a patchwork education, culminating at Oxford where he never took the oral exam that would have given him a degree.

Morrell introduces De Quincey in his later years, the pressure of his debts eased due to an inheritance, and the fact that his daughters now manage his affairs better than he could.  As a literary device, Morrell co-opts the unmarried daughter, Emily, as De Quincey’s  partner in detecting—and detect he must, because he finds himself suspected of five horrific murders.  Someone has apparently used one of De Quincey’s books, “On murder considered as one of the fine arts” as a blueprint for the slaughter of a shopkeeper and his entire family.

Police Detective Inspector Ryan and Constable Becker literally have to fight their way to the murder scene, the local people having turned into a mob ready to string up anyone they think might be the killer.  They are particularly ready to find an Irishman responsible, so Ryan’s red hair is a distinct disadvantage.  Ryan’s boss points out the striking similarities between the current murder and the infamous Ratcliffe Highway murders of a previous era.  The police illustrator (precursor of the crime scene photographer) notes that De Quincey’s book gave “so many gruesome details it’s like he was there.”

Ryan and Becker track down De Quincey, but unlike many fictional policemen they don’t automatically assume his guilt, and in fact find him and his practical daughter Emily quite useful.  Emily is a modern woman with a logical mind, who knows a great deal more about the seamy side of life than most young women.  She doesn’t bat an eye when her father goes to ground and spends time quizzing “the linen-lifting tribe”, as he calls the lowest order of prostitutes in London.  These raddled hags have important knowledge that may lead to the killer, so Thomas promises them a guinea each—a fortune at the time—from Lord Palmerston if they agree to help.

This is a wonderfully atmospheric novel, thoroughly researched and well-written by a writer who knows how to compel the reader to keep reading long after her usual bedtime. 

 

 

 

Rage Against The Dying by Becky Masterman

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader 

The opening sequence of this novel immediately sets the tone for what is to come and will chill readers to the bone.  An apparent serial killer has staked out his next target --- an elderly woman wandering all alone with a walking stick by the banks of a tucked away river bed.  He proceeds to confront the woman, duct tape her mouth closed and toss her into the back of his van which doubles as his killing chamber.

The novel then quickly jumps back in time ten days and this opening sequence remains seemingly unrelated.  We are introduced to retired FBI Agent, Brigid Quinn.  At age fifty-nine and several years as part of the FBI hunting serial killers she has seen her fair share of horror. She successfully keeps this part of her past from partner, Carlo, himself a former priest.

Brigid has her tranquil new life with Carlo disrupted as she is called back into action to serve as an advisor on a case.  Though initially reluctant, she springs to duty when she learns that the case involves the still unclosed Route 66 killer.  She lost one of her young colleagues to this uncaptured killer and latest reports indicate the FBI  may have not only found the killer but also the remains of his last victim who may be the missing agent.

Floyd Lynch shows all the signs of being the Route 66 killer and knows details that only FBI and law enforcement were privy to.  He is quickly arraigned and cuts a deal for a life sentence in return for information on the bodies of other victims.  It all seems too neat for current FBI Agent Laura Coleman.  She has doubts that they have in fact caught the actual Route 66 killer and shares these concerns with Brigid.  Brigid is reluctant to believe these allegations until Coleman herself goes missing.

We are soon brought to the prologue sequence where --- to no one’s surprise --- the old woman that is abducted by the serial killer turns out to be Brigid herself.  Using her guile and years of experience she is able to thwart the killer and deliver a fatal blow with the blade connected to the end of her walking stick.  Brigid realizes that this killer was sent for her --- a true sign that the real killer is not only still out there but may be operating a team of killers to do his bidding.

Now throwing herself fully into the investigation, mostly ‘off the grid’, Brigid uncovers clue after clue to lead her closer to finding the real killer and also the whereabouts of Agent Coleman.  Little does she know that the answers may be closer than she ever could imagine.  However, Brigid Quinn is a self-proclaimed woman of a certain age, raging, and a force to be reckoned with.

Becky Masterman has put together a stellar debut effort. The serial killer genre that was made popular by Thomas Harris and his Hannibal Lecter/Clarice Starling novels has seen many imitators over the decades since their release.  Most attempts at this genre are clichéd and tired while at the other end of the spectrum lie authors like Jeffrey Deaver and Robert Walker who have excelled at it.  It is safe to add Becky Masterman to the list of authors who have truly captured the horror of the serial killer genre.  I would have liked to have gotten more into the head of the killer/killers in RAGE AGAINST THE DYING, but the characters and suspense are so good I am confident Masterman can dig deeper in her next effort.  Welcome, Brigid Quinn!

 

 

The 9th Girl by Tami Hoag

Publisher: Signet

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

Tami Hoag has published over 30 novels and continues to produce high-caliber thrillers for nearly twenty-five years.  Her latest thriller entitled THE 9th GIRL is begins on a frigid New Year’s Eve in Minneapolis and the stark landscape makes the ideal cool-down for a summer beach read.

A limo driver carrying some New Years’ partyers is stunned when the trunk of the car in front of him opens up and the battered body of a young woman pops out.  When the local Minneapolis P.D. gets the call partners Sam Kovac and Nikki Liska arrive on the scene.  Kovac and Liska will be recognizable to readers of Hoag as two of her most popular characters.

The body of the girl is described as a zombie.  Her features are hardly recognizable as the coroner rules that she was killed by a combination of multiple stab wounds and being drowned in disfiguring acid bath.  Could this ‘zombie girl’ be the ninth victim of notorious serial killer Doc Holiday?

Kovac and Liska are quick to believe that Doc Holiday has struck again since he received his moniker by leaving bodies to be found on U.S. holidays.  In each case, the female victims were abducted and dumped far away from their original location --- usually near a highway.  With a year worth of holiday kills the P.D. and FBI are at a loss as to the identity of the killer and are canvassing multiple states in their efforts to find clues.

As the crusty Kovac and the stressed out Liska begin to seek out girls who may have gone missing in recent days another story-line emerges.  Nikki Liska is having issues with her two teen-age sons who are depicting typical responses to living through a nasty divorce.  Her older son, Kyle Hatcher, is featured in a separate narrative that appears to involve bullying and other current teen issues.

At this point, I wondered why the focus of the story moved away from Doc Holiday and on to Kyle and his high school friends.  My dismay was quickly relieved as Tami Hoag ties the narratives together.  It turns out that ‘zombie girl’ may actually be one of Kyle’s high school friends --- a lonely, misunderstood girl named Penny.  Penny fancied herself a poet and within her poems may lie the clues as to what actually happened to her.  She also was tattooed with a Chinese symbol meaning ‘acceptance’ --- just like the body of the Zombie Girl lying in the morgue.

As the investigation begins to focus on Penny’s family, as well as Kyle and his high school crowd, things get interesting.  Could Doc Holiday be someone they all know or was Penny just a random abduction in his killing spree?  THE 9Th GIRL allows Hoag to exhibit her masterful plotting and the chill felt on the first page does not go away until the final page is turned.  An afterwards that includes information on high school bullying is included and nicely addresses a timely issue that often goes unnoticed.