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Dead Water by Ann Cleeves

Publisher: Minotaur

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good for New Mystery Reader

Inspector Jimmy Perez has lost his spark since his fiancée Fran died during a previous police investigation only a few months earlier.  Jimmy, known for his unusual Spanish-tinged looks in spite of his upbringing on the Shetland Isles, continues to brood rather than revert back to his former easy leadership style. In fact, Fran’s seven year-old daughter Cassie may be the only thing to keep Jimmy tethered to reality now that he’s on leave for depression from his position.

Unlike Jimmy, Jerry Markham seems to have it all now that he’s left the island for a newspaper job in London and found a strikingly gorgeous woman with whom to settle down.  In his home village, Jerry still struggles with his reputation as a former playboy with flashy habits and an overreliance on charm. In fact, his behavior of flitting from one girl to another resulted in a major local scandal, ensuring that not everyone is happy that he’s returned.

Unfortunately for Jerry, someone hates him enough to kill him, even though he’s now apparently the prodigal son returning to his wealthy innkeeping parents. Jimmy slowly joins the investigation, although primarily as a local resource to the lead investigator, Willow Reeves. Jerry’s murder happens to be Willow’s first case as the lead investigator and she’s aware of both her inexperience in that role and as an outsider looking into a very tightknit village.

Willow’s own backstory offers plenty of depth, preventing her from reverting to a stereotype or two-dimensional figure. This informs her self-sufficiency, especially when she must navigate politically tough waters far outside Jimmy’s control.

Filled with introspective characters and rich detail, Dead Water is a police procedural ideal for readers who crave installments from series by Louise Penny, Stephen Booth and P. D. James.

 

 

 

The Kill Switch by James Rollins and Grant Blackwood

Publisher: William Morrow

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

James Rollins seems very comfortable sharing the spotlight these days. His Sanguine series with Rebecca Cantrell has been a hit and he now teams with former Tom Clancy collaborator, Grant Blackwood, for the Sigma Force spin-off novel, THE KILL SWITCH.

First seen in the previous Sigma Force novel, BLOODLINE, as well as the Kindle short story exclusive entitled TRACKER, James Rollins introduced reader to the unique team of  Former Army Ranger Tucker Wayne and his military-trained service dog Kane.   Readers have already come to expect top-notch thrillers with historical and scientific intrigue from Mr. Rollins.  He now shows that his touch is subtle enough to reveal the intimate and complex relationship between man and dog.

In THE KILL SWITCH, Tucker is tasked with what appears to be a standard assignment. While doing some free-lance work in Russia, Sigma Force tracks him down and asks him to safely escort a Russian citizen out of the country and into the U.S. The citizen is no ordinary individual but Dr. Bukolov, a pharmaceutical magnate who is the key to a deadly situation. He is the one person who has studied the work of Dr. Paulos de Klerk that pertains to the fabled Apocalypse Seed. Those who can harness the power of the alleged seed of life can potentially rule the world as a mere sample of this seed or LUCA (Last Universal Common Ancestor) can bring mankind to its knees.

Some really bad people want the LUCA --- specifically a crazed Russian General who is in cahoots with a deadly Scandinavian female sniper --- and they have targeted Tucker and Dr. Bukolov. The adventure goes from Russia to South Africa and eventually to U.S. soil and each chapter raises the level of suspense to nearly unbearable levels.

What many readers may not be aware of is that James Rollins is, firsts and foremost, an accomplished veterinarian.  It only stands to reason that he would have the insight to successfully portray the soldier/military dog relationship found in THE KILL SWITCH.   Rollins states that, after three decades of working with dogs, he wanted readers to experience what it's like to be a war dog.

Soldiers do not merely exist with two-legs and the opportunity to walk in the 'paws' of Kane in these stories is a thrilling experience.  I'm sure this will not be the last collaboration between Rollins and Blackwood as the world needs patriots like Tucker Wayne and Kane to fight the good fight!

 

 

 

Love Story, With Murders by Harry Bingham

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

Cotard's Syndrome is a rare mental disorder that causes the unfortunate recipient to believe they are dead (figuratively or literally), do not exist, or are decaying/putrefying in some fashion.  Not a pleasant delusion to have.

The protagonist of Harry Bingham's second novel, Detective Constable (D.C.) Fiona Griffiths is stricken with this disorder.  In fact, she has no idea how she came into existence.  The first two years of her life are non-existent for her and she does not know who her mother and father are.  The couple that raised her are surrogate parents, but the constant feeling that she does not belong is always scratching at the back of her psyche.

An interesting affliction to give a character and this is what makes LOVE STORY, WITH MURDERS an unusual and unique thriller.  The other thing that makes this thriller memorable is the grisly fashion the murder victims are discovered by the Cardiff, Wales, police force.

Parts of Mary Langton and Ali el-Khalifi are turning up seemingly everywhere.  Once the body parts are all tallied up the identification of each victim is confirmed (even though only half of Mary Langton is actually found).  The question for Fiona and her team are what, if any, relationship was there between the seemingly unconnected victims and who could have murdered them in such a brutal fashion.

Fiona is not your typical detective and her approach can easily be described as unconventional.  She reports to a Police Chief by the name of Rhiannon Watkins who is humorless and always seems to have an eye on Fiona.  We find out, as the plot unravels, that Watkins has more than mere professional feelings for Fiona.

There are many theories to explore.  One actually finds Fiona investigating the 'Men's' Club run by her adopted father.  Not only does he have a shady past but Mary Langton may have been a performer in this club at one time.  This could also be the connection needed to bind Langton and Khalifi to each other.

As Fiona continues to track down various leads she finds herself in a situation where she comes up against two extremely dangerous men --- one Scottish and the other from Norway.  These two men prove to be prime suspects and when they attempt to kill Fiona it pretty much confirms her suspicions.

The rest of the novel tends towards revenge drama as Fiona now not only wants to avenge the two deceased victims but also the attempt on her own life.  The case gets complicated as ties to an arms dealer and Special Forces Operation may also be involved.  The title of this novel falls somewhere between absurd and corny but is an effective way to get readers to explore further.  Harry Bingham ensures that this is time well spent as LOVE STORY, WITH MURDERS is definitely one of the most interesting thrillers you will read this year.

 

 

 

 

 

Killer by Jonathan Kellerman

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader 

Author Jonathan Kellerman has been pumping out thrillers for nearly thirty years and the center-piece of his opus has been the Dr. Alex Delaware series.  Beginning in 1985 with the release of WHEN THE BOUGH BREAKS the Delaware series now enjoys its 29th installment with release of his latest effort entitled KILLER.

Dr. Alex Delaware is a brilliant psychologist who has often assisted law enforcement with his unique insight into the deadly and disturbed minds that exist out there.  The novels in this series have ranged from truly terrifying to disappointing.  As Alex Delaware has matured so has this series --- moving away from more horrific and thriller oriented stories into more character driven efforts.

KILLER falls well short of Kellerman’s classic thrillers of the past but still provides enough of the reliable Dr. Delaware to keep faithful readers of this series engaged.  Delaware has taken on some additional work to compliment his regular patient lineup.  He is assisting as a subject matter expert on various court cases that do not involve direct testimony on his part.

One particular case proves to be much more trouble than it initially seemed.  The case in question is a child custody battle between two sisters.  Dr. Constance ‘Connie’ Sykes wants her sister, Cherie ‘Ree’ Sykes to turn over custody of her daughter, Rambla Pacifico Sykes, to her.  Delaware is impressed upon by the presiding judge,  Judge Maestro , to help in having this case thrown out.  This will require his expert discrediting of Connie.

Dr. Delaware meets with both sisters and eventually sees the child in its home environment with Ree.  He sees no reason that the current arrangement should not remain intact. He also has some concerns about Connie and makes his recommendation to the court without reservation.  As expected, the court holds in favor of Ree Sykes keeping her child.

This decision does not please Connie Sykes and she confronts Dr. Delaware and threatens him.  The threat is so overt that there is inference that Delaware’s life may be in danger.  He takes appropriate precautions and notifies the local LAPD in the form of his long-term colleague and friend, Detective Milo Sturgis.

As the LAPD begins to investigate Connie Sykes an alarming discovery is made --- that of Connie’s dead body found brutally murdered.  Simultaneously to this, Ree Sykes and little Rambla have disappeared without a trace.  In the wake of this, Dr. Delaware now is forced to second guess his recommendation in the Sykes custody case and recognizes that his career and life may be in jeopardy.

KILLER has a great premise and story, just not a lot of action or suspense.  The case unfolds methodically and we find a Dr. Alex Delaware who is far more introspective then he has appeared in past novels.  The evolution of this character and series continue and  I am sure loyal fans will enjoy this effort.

 

 

 

Death Of A Policeman by M C Beaton

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Regular visitors to the murderous small corner of Scotland called Lochdubh will already be acquainted with policeman Hamish Macbeth, his old dog Lug, wild cat Sonsie and the supporting cast of eccentric highlanders.  Those for whom this is a first meeting have a treat in store.    

Chief Inspector Blair has been trying to get rid of Hamish for years, but something—usually Hamish’s solving of a murder—always prevents the achievement of his dream.  Now, however, there’s a budget slashing move to close small rural police stations and transfer staff to larger urban centres.  Blair knows Hamish would hate that and probably turn in his badge, so he sets about proving the Lochdubh station is useless.  Blair blackmails a young officer, Cyril Sessions, into sneaking around spying on Hamish.  Fortunately the local folk figure out what’s going on and report to Hamish.  Then Sessions is found dead and Hamish comes under suspicion.

As usual, the only way for Hamish to clear himself is to find the real murderer.  Easier said than done: it turns out there are a number of people who wished young Cyril out of the way.   Complicating the murder investigation is the reappearance of two of Hamish’s old loves, the aristocratic Priscilla and the silver-eyed reporter Elspeth.  He had strong feelings for both girls in the past and there are still embers that flare up now and again.  And then there’s back-packer Michelle....what’s a puir red-headed bachelor tae do?

This modest-sized volume is packed with villains of all types from  common thugs to sophisticated white-collar criminals, with a psychotic crofter thrown in for good measure—and how she deals with a couple of the other criminals is grim indeed.  It’s always a pleasure to visit Lochdubh, although by now one is amazed that author Beaton hasn’t achieved a second Highland Clearance with her annual serving of murder and mayhem.

Much good old-fashioned fun with not a vampire or zombie in sight.  Highly recommended.

 

 

 

Blood Royal by Eric Jager

Publisher: Little, Brown & Co   

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

This amazing book is based on a real murder, which happened in Paris in 1407. 

“Oh, I don’t read non-fiction” I can hear a few people mumbling.  Not to worry: this book is so well constructed you’ll think you’ve picked up a Jeffrey Deaver novel and Lincoln Rhyme has been time-travelling.

Author Jager has based his story on an old parchment; but unlike most literary devices of this sort, this one is real: it is the real record of the investigation of the murder of Louis, Duke of Orleans, the king’s brother.  It details the testimony of witnesses to the events of that dark and blood-spattered night.  It reveals the possible motives for the killing and the potential murderers—and there were many, because Louis was a womanizer and a pillager of France’s treasury; a bully and a spendthrift.  Finally, it tells you whodunit and why and what happened to him after that.

Leading the investigation is Guillaume de Tignonville, an honest man who was the chief law-enforcer in medieval Paris, appointed by the (intermittently mad) King Charles.  Having a patron who is not always in control of his own mind makes one vulnerable to attack by those who’d prefer their law enforcement to be biased towards their own activities, and Guillaume has several narrow escapes due to this.

Jager has used the long-mislaid notes of the investigation to reconstruct interviews and direct speech, which makes the story come alive.  You can smell the fear on the young man who opens his door to find murder in the street; his only thought is not getting justice or help for the victim but to save his own skin.  An arrow whizzes past; he slams the door and stands trembling in the dark, the vision of an amputated hand burned into his memory.  A young mother, calming her baby for the night’s sleep, looks down onto a scene of mayhem.  God help us, what’s happening?  You know that in this violent age thoughts of invasion, rape and pillage, fire and sword would leap to her mind.  Imagine her relief when the torch-bearing investigators of the Provost of Paris turn up, and then the man himself.  All may yet be well.

Jager has provided a great deal of background to set the murder in its time and place.  The information has been knitted into the action smoothly, and helps the reader understand why the murder happened and what its consequences were, chief among them the Hundred Years War.  The upright investigator Guillaume de Tignonville suffers the fate of many of his ilk; one hopes that virtue is indeed its own reward, for he is treated shabbily by many who should know better.  There are copious footnotes sequestered in an appendix at the back for those who like the fine detail as well as a complete list of sources.  The endpapers bear a marvellous map that helps one follow the action.

Readers of “NewMysteryReader.com” will be familiar with the Editor and her bibliophile staff; we all take our jobs seriously and don’t hand out plums to the undeserving.  I can count on one hand the times I have given a full five bolt rating to a book—and I’d have a few digits left over.

 

 

 

Runner by Patrick Lee

Publisher: Minotaur

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader   

Already signed up for a sure to be high octane film treatment, Patrick Lee’s latest effort RUNNER has enough chills and thrills to build excitement for its eventual big screen release.  The only issue is that the suspense in the novel gets bogged down slightly by an occasionally confused plot and prevents this from being a classic.

Sam Dryden is out jogging late at night on the docks of his seaside town in El Sedero, California.  He is surprised by sudden sounds of a chase --- shouts and screams, both adult and child.  A pre-teen girl comes literally flying into Sam and begs him for protection.

As they secure themselves under the dock Sam starts to put some things together.  First off, those men who are chasing this young girl (she introduces herself as Rachel) are members of a dangerous organization who seek to do her harm.  Sam is the perfect ‘protector’ having a background in Special Forces and black-ops that allow him to adapt to the most perilous of situations.

The ironic thing is that Rachel already knows all this.  In fact, she seems to know everything everyone is thinking.  Even more astounding is that she also possesses the ability to transfer thoughts to anyone she likes and operate them like a puppet-master.  Sam is shrewd enough to realize that Rachel wasn’t born this way and that  the organization that is chasing her --- both on the ground and with intense air and military fire-power --- are the ones responsible for creating her.

What follows is a non-stop chase that takes Sam and Rachel across the U.S. in an effort to keep from getting caught.  Rachel is sure that this organization means to kill her.  Sam intends to protect her at any cost even when he realizes that those chasing her are the same U.S. Government and Homeland Security officials he used to work for.

The challenge in a ‘chase’ novel is sustaining enough interest in the characters, consistently building suspense and throwing in a surprise or two to keep things from becoming mundane and predictable.  Patrick Lee nearly succeeds on all these points.  When Rachel brings Sam to the location of two other women --- Audrey and Sandra --- the plot becomes confused as you are never given enough information about either of these characters to decide if they are friend or foe.

What Patrick Lee does well is to throw a very interesting plot twist into the last third of the novel that will make the reader second guess what they have read and understood to that point --- and possibly re-evaluate who they should be rooting for.  I could have done without the overly sentimentalized ending --- but RUNNER overall is an enjoyable read that tries to do something different with the cat and mouse thriller.

 

 

Murder in the Afternoon by Frances Brody

Publisher: Minotaur

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good for New Mystery Reader

Kate Shackleton’s private investigation business keeps her busy, allowing her to employ former policeman Jim Sykes and a helpful housekeeper, Mrs. Sugden, who lives next door. Since her husband disappeared in the Great War five years before, Kate has used her privileged upbringing as a great asset, feeling comfortable amidst those in the English upper classes from whence her mother came to knowing how to interrogate suspects and follow clues in the grand tradition of her father, who’s highly ranked in the police department.

When Mary Jane Armstrong knocks on her door, Kate feels that she’s ready for almost anything, even after Mary Jane shares the first of many secrets. Mary Jane’s practical ten year-old daughter, Harriet, claims that she saw her father lying dead on his workshop floor at the quarry. By the time Harriet convinced an adult to look, Ethan Armstrong’s body was nowhere to be found. The local constable dismisses Harriet’s claims out of hand, but Mary Jane convinces Kate otherwise.

Kate’s investigation takes the well-heeled detective to the heart of stonemasons and their hand-to-mouth existence, with Mary Jane realizing that if Ethan really did die, she’ll lose her home as the house is tied to the quarry and available only for a highly-skilled stone mason.  In spite of this, the police believe Mary Jane killed her husband and Kate’s uneasy feeling that Mary Jane continues to hide something very important from her makes her question her own client. Making things worse, the police inspector who most suspects Mary Jane is Kate’s own beau, Chief Inspector Marcus Charles.

Murder in the Afternoon moves swiftly and Kate’s investigation uncovers plenty of twists to keep readers interested. The romantic angle seems a bit more forced or predictable, but author Frances Brody focuses on the disappearance of Ethan Armstrong. Fans of Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs and Rhys Bowen’s Molly Murphy series will find common ground with a determined private investigator braving a new post-war world while navigating personal relationships in the midst of solving murders.

 

 

The Execution by Dick Wolf

Publisher: William Morrow  

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader 

Jeremy Fisk is a member of NYPD’s Intelligence Division– an antiterrorist unit. He has come to know Muslim terrorism in the job and his personal life thanks in part to the murder of his girl friend. He has become an unwilling celebrity by saving the president’s life from terrorists.

As the story opens, he narrowly escapes death as he waits with federal agents as terrorists try to sneak a nuclear device across the border from Canada. The federal agents aren’t so lucky. Fisk survives by attacking the pair of heavily armed terrorists with a broken ice scraper.

Meanwhile in Mexico, gang members murder gang members and innocents as well. Comandante Cecilia Garza of the Mexican federal intelligence agency is investigating the brutal murders of gang members that includes beheading of the victims. She finds progress frustratingly slow as she tracks the killer known as Chuparosa. To complicate things more, the new president wants her join his security squad.

In New York City, several men are killed in a car with Mexican diplomatic plates. There is the usual jurisdictional between local and federal authorities. When Garza arrives ahead of the Mexican president who is scheduled to attend United Nation’s Week, she claims the crime scene as being under her authority. Reluctantly US authorities relinquish control.

A short time later, Fisk is requested at the site of mass murder at Rockaway Beach. He finds a dozen bodies with Mexican gang tattoos. Many of the bodies are missing their heads.

Now Fisk and Garza must put aside personal and professional differences since both of the agencies and countries are at risk.

The style and tense plot are earmarks of Dick Wolf’s expertise gained by creating many success law enforcement dramas. The plot is masterful. The characters are memorable. The violence is gory. The politics are maddening. All in all, the book is a masterpiece, but how could the reader expect any less from Mr. Wolf.

 

 

Red 1-2-3 by John Katzenbach

Publisher: The Mysterious Press

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader 

John Katzenbach attempts his own re-telling of the classic Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale.  In RED 1-2-3 the red hood is replaced by three women with red hair and the Big Bad Wolf is the moniker of the killer who has targeted them.

The Prologue  begins with a description of each of the red-headed targets of the Wolf.  Red One is a middle-aged physician;  Red Two is a former schoolteacher and grieving widow;  Red Three is a young college student.  Each apparently has no connection to the other with the exception of their hair color.

RED 1-2-3 instantly poses its dilemma to the reader as the killer calling himself the Big Bad Wolf appears to be a mystery writer.   Not just any writer, but one who has had much success in the past.  The question is then raised --- is the plot we are reading just for the purpose of research on his latest novel or is this writer so desperate to get back to the top of the best seller list that he would actually plot to kill three innocent women just to provide fodder for a new book?

The fact that this dilemma is thrown out so early in the novel, along with the fact that the three Reds all find each other very quickly, takes much of the steam out of any suspense or questions Katzenbach might have intended.  Instead, RED 1-2-3 moves along as any standard thriller where the intended victim(s) plot revenge against the bad guy that is hunting them.

The saving grace for me was the wild card thrown into the plot mix.  The writer’s wife --- referred to cleverly as Mrs. Big Bad Wolf --- finds the notes for the novel her husband is working on and contacts the police as she is unsure whether or not her husband is doing research on cold cases or possibly planning his own.

Using classic fairy tales as the impetus for fiction and film has been a popular theme in recent years and Katzenbach’s use of the Little Red Riding tale does provide for some intrigue.  I only wish he had plotted things a bit differently to have made the bulk of the novel more engaging.

 

 

Dead Man’s Fancy by Keith McCafferty

Publisher: Viking ISBN: 978-0-670-01469-9

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

Martha Ettinger is a Montana sheriff. Even though Martha has several deputies, delegation is difficult for her. This results in the discovery by the sheriff of a missing wrangler impaled upon the antlers of a dead moose. Forensics indicates that an accidental death is unlikely.

At the same time, Nanika Mattinelli, a fishing guide, goes missing, Nanika is known as the the “Fly Fishing Venus” for her ability to lure fisherman as well as fish.

With so much on her plate, Martha delegates Nanika’s case the perfect contractor for the job. Sean Stranahan is an artist fishing guide and has experience as PI back East.

The case leads to an extreme animal rights group. In a world that revolves around nature with the wolf as point of contention, Martha and Sean find themselves in a precarious position between the lovers and haters of the predator.

McCafferty does an excellent job in transporting the reader to a world unfamiliar to many. The characters have depth and the storyline carries humor in the interactions. This allows an entertaining read in a plot that could be as dark as some days of the Montana winter.

The work has a plot that could be difficult for some readers while others might find the storyline complex enough to remaining entertaining. In any case, the book is not dull. McCafferty does a good job of tying up loose ends including the explanation of title.

 

 

Cop Town by Karin Slaughter

Publisher: Random House

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

Karin Slaughter's first stand-alone novel, COP TOWN, has already been hailed as a masterpiece as well as a powerful and moving read.  It is a departure from her fourteen previous thrillers and a highly personal story for the Georgia native.

COP TOWN is set in 1974 in Atlanta, Georgia.  This is an area that still seems unchanged by the Civil Rights movement that captured the nation during the 1960's and remains a hotbed of racial tension.  The story opens with the brutal shooting of an Atlanta Police Officer who literally has half of his face blown off.

The partner who seemed to risk his life in getting the victim to the nearest hospital, Jimmy Lawson, may not be the hero everyone believes him to be.  Certain facts about the shooting turn up that paint a different picture.  Jimmy and his inability to react to a serious situation may have cost his partner, Don Wesley, his life.

Regardless of the facts behind the tragic shooting remains the realization that a cop killer is on the loose and may soon be targeting other members of the Atlanta P.D.  Are these random shootings from a crazed sniper or could there be racial motivation behind the slayings?

These questions are in the back of the mind of every member of the Atlanta P.D.  None take it more personally than Maggie Lawson --- a female beat officer who would like to clear the family named soiled by her brother, Jimmy.  Maggie finds herself saddled with a green rookie named Kate Murphy.  Not only are they one of the few all-female police partnerships but they must also face the internal hazing of their own 'brotherhood'. 

For Maggie and Kate all the battles are not left out on the street.  No one expects the attractive and uptight Kate Murphy to survive in her new role --- but she is determined to see them proven wrong.  It becomes apparent that we are now witnessing the story of two women who, against great odds, have much to do to overcome the challenges that have befallen them. 

COP TOWN is a pot-boiler of a novel in which the racial tensions on the street and internal relations within the Atlanta P.D. may both explode at any moment.  I would like to have seen some more suspense and mystery within rather than a depiction of what things were like in mid-1970's Atlanta.  This is the novel Karin Slaughter has probably wanted to write for years and covers a controversial era that she obviously cannot forget.

 

 

Satan’s Lullaby by Priscilla Royal

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader 

If you enjoyed the Brother Cadfael books, you’re sure to like this series, set in the 13th century at Tyndal Priory, a double monastery where both men and women live within the walls, all of them overseen by Prioress Eleanor and her second in charge, Brother Andrew.

On a day in autumn 1278 the entire congregation is gathered to welcome—although the term may not be quite correct—Father Etienne Davoir, the brother of the order’s founder, Abbess Isabeau.  He has come to investigate the workings of the priory from top to bottom, and the implied insult is not lost on Eleanor and her senior staff.  Eleanor knows her accounts are in impeccable order, but fears there is dirty work afoot somewhere.  Someone must have cast suspicion on the priory or its prioress.

Father Davoir and his staff are a burden on the busy priory, more so when one of the junior clerics becomes ill and Davoir refuses to let Sister Anne, the best qualified medical person present, treat or even examine the young man because she is a woman.  Anne must attempt to diagnose the problems second hand through the eyes of Andrew.  The illness is in fact merely a bad hangover, but then the young man dies and Davoir is determined that the devil has worked through Anne to murder his clerk. 

Eleanor is beside herself with worry about this but Davoir pursues his campaign with the zeal of a fanatic.  He offends just about everyone in the monastery and the wider world outside, including Ralf the Crowner, the agent of the King’s justice in this part of Norfolk.  Eleanor’s worries are increased by learning that the real reason behind the inspection is an accusation that she and Brother Thomas have had a carnal relationship.  Support comes from an unexpected quarter when Davoir interviews sub-Prioress Ruth, a woman who bitterly resents Eleanor’s elevation to the top job.  Told of the allegations against Thomas and Eleanor , Ruth, obviously hating having to speak well of her superior, swears that the accusation is “without any basis and spoken with foul intent.” 

Clearly it will take more the prayers to identify the murderer and exonerate Sister Anne.  Ralf steps in, and putting aside his deep worry about his heavily pregnant wife, he and Thomas manage to bring things to a head in an unexpected and dramatic denouement.  The murderer’s motive proves to be as old as Genesis; one could hope it might teach the haughty Davoir something, but that’s a fleeting thought: he gathers up what dignity he can and departs in a cloud of self-righteousness.  (He’s a nasty piece of work, and many of us would have met his ilk in the modern world.)

Whether you think you like historical fiction or not, you will enjoy this book. 

 

 

The Sirena Quest by Michael A Kahn

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader 

This book is about a treasure hunt, but one with a twist.  Four old college friends are hunting a missing statue to claim a huge reward.  The statue was a sort of mascot of their alma mater, Barrett College, and it’s gone missing before.  It was a tradition for students to kidnap Sirena and take her on various adventures.  After she was recovered the last time, the college president decided that it would be a good idea to hide the Greco-roman beauty, and nobody has seen her since 1959.  Now President Washburn has died, and a well-to-do alumnus has offered a huge endowment to the college and a substantial reward to the finders if the statue is returned to her former home in the college.

Lawyer Lou Solomon is struggling with a particularly difficult and emotionally draining case when old buddy Ray Gorman comes to town.  He’s got an idea about how to find the missing statue and claim the reward.  Unfortunately, Ray’s idea hinges on the memory of the late Henry Washburn’s sister, and that’s a sometime thing.  Abigail Washburn flits in and out of the present day like a time-travelling butterfly.

Roping in another friend from college, Gordie Cohen, Lou and Ray follow a tenuous clue to a dead lawyer’s office in Chicago and from there they collect the last member of their old gang, Billy McCormick, and then hit a brick wall when they discover a file they need has vanished from the public records office.

Lou and Ray aren’t going to be put off that easily, and after some heavy winnowing of other public records, they find a clue that leads them to the next step in their search.  They also discover that they are in a race against two much better funded alumni who seem to have the edge.  If only they can figure out who ‘the sultan’ is and where he pointed.  (If you are old enough, and a sports fan, this phrase is a dead giveaway).

The pace hots up and the deadline for the return of Sirena gets closer every day.  There are some last-minute twists and turns and double-crosses before the final reveal which will surprise you, the author hopes.

A rollicking good read which should take your mind off the weather, whatever it is in your part of the world.

 

 

 

 

The Lincoln Myth by Steve Berry

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

The Mormons, the religious and cultural group that make up the largest part of the Latter Day Saint movement, came to prominence under the inspirational leadership of Joseph Smith.  Smith resided in upstate New York and sought for a territory that his sect could call their own.  After Smith's death in 1844, the group followed Brigham Young to what would become the Utah Territory. 

All of this action was not unnoticed by the U.S. Government.  However, there was a Civil War in process.  President Abraham Lincoln, contrary to popular opinion, fought the Civil War to create a new Union not to save the existing one that had since splintered.  What role, if any, did the Mormons of Utah play in any of this? 

It is this question that author Steve Berry explores in his latest Cotton Malone historically infused thriller entitled THE LINCOLN MYTH.  Allegedly, a deal was struck between the Mormons and President Lincoln that allowed for them to grow within their Utah Territory.  In exchange, the Mormons agreed not to push for secession.  It turns out a clause within the very U.S. Constitution provided an opportunity for states or territories to secede.  If this knowledge was made public it would undermine Lincoln's goals for the Civil War between the North and South. 

The myth involves a letter passed on from President to President, that outlines the right of secession and the deal struck between Lincoln and the Mormons to bury any knowledge of this deal.  Meanwhile, Cotton Malone is oblivious to any of this as he continues in his newfound role of Danish bookstore owner .  Since this is a Cotton Malone adventure, he won't remain idle long.

An agent working for Malone's former boss, Stephanie Nelle of the U.S. Department of Justice, connects with Malone during a mission.  This agent makes Malone aware of the potential uprising that a Mormon U.S. Senator is threatening involving knowledge of the Lincoln Myth.  Making matters worse is the fact that Malone's girlfriend, Cassiopeia Witt is somehow involved. 

It turns out Cassiopeia is being wooed by an ex-boyfriend named Josepe Salazar.  Salazar is a loyal supporter of the Mormon Church and deeply involved in the plot to reveal the Lincoln Myth and bring down the current U.S. Government.  It will be a race to the finish as Malone's small team vies with Salazar's to locate long-lost artifacts that could permanently change the course of U.S. history.

THE LINCOLN MYTH is intelligent historical fiction at its finest as only a master plotter like Steve Berry can deliver.  The globe-hopping action, mixed with plenty of historical context, provides for a highly entertaining read and perfect summer adventure!

 

 

 

Hunting Shadows by Charles Todd

Publisher: William Morrow

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good for New Mystery Reader

During a lovely but routine wedding celebration in a small English village called Ely, a sniper shoots a man standing in close proximity to the groom; shattering the peace and instantly reminding many of the male revelers of fighting in World War I only a year before.  Men drop, women scatter, and the killer leaves without notice.

Two weeks later, a well-respected man in a neighboring village stumps for votes to elect him to the House of Commons and the attendees consider him a shoo-in.  Inexplicably, he, too, dies from a well-aimed bullet, resulting in quick attention from Scotland Yard.

Inspector Ian Rutledge (and his rather unusual partner, Hamish) settles into a local inn while investigating potential suspects; a number possibly limited to those who served as snipers in the war and returned home with their concealed service rifles.  One witness shakily declared that she saw a “monster” commit one of the crimes, but somehow Rutledge can’t find anyone else who saw anything suspicious at these crowded events. 

Rutledge realizes that he’s an outsider struggling to learn long-kept secrets from wary villagers, but he thrives away from London and the politicized bureaucracy of Scotland Yard.  His quiet manner and respect for those who do their jobs well translates into mutual respect and cooperation from effective local constables.  In Hunting Shadows, Rutledge must travel between villages, rarely settling in either, while trying to solve the puzzle linking the two murder victims together.

Charles Todd continues to create solid, atmospheric mysteries filled with references of shell-shock and lost potential.  Rutledge, lonely and haunted, remains intriguing as he works to survive his own war experience while tracking murderers.  While some popular serial novelists drift into formulaic, middling mysteries, the mother-son writing team behind the Todd moniker only improves, making Rutledge a detective worth following in his heart-wrenching search for truth and peace.

 

 

 

The Last Dead Girl by Harry Dolan

Publisher: Putnam

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

When Stephen King blurbs an author or a particular book readers tend to take notice.  It was also the first time I ever saw an expletive utilized in a blurb in a positive way to describe how he felt about Harry Dolan’s work.

THE LAST DEAD GIRL is the third novel in Dolan’s series that features crime fiction magazine editor David Loogan.  In this installment, we are taken back to the year 1998 when David Loogan was twenty-six and went by his original name --- David Malone.

The place is Rome, NY --- a desolate small town in the northwestern part of the state outside of Syracuse.  THE LAST DEAD GIRL opens with a stark bare room populated by a single person, a wooden table, two metal chairs and some noisily distracting fluorescent lighting.

The occupant of this room is David Malone and he is the guest of the local Police.  A young woman by the name of Jana Fletcher has been violently murdered and Malone is the number one suspect.  He may be the last person to have seen her alive and had been shacking up with her during the last week of her life.

Malone and Jana met literally by accident.  Malone came across her car stopped in the middle of the highway at the location where she just struck a deer that had darted out in front of her.  They put the still living deer in Malone’s pick-up and drive it a local animal hospital.  Unwittingly, a whirlwind romance between Malone and Fletcher is underway with neither one realizing it will be a short-lived affair.

Malone tells the local Police Detective that he is innocent of the Jana Fletcher’s murder --- but may have some leads as to who was behind it.  It seems Malone had felt Jana’s apartment was being stalked by someone hiding in the woods behind her rental.  This was evidenced by a leftover Popsicle stick found there.  As Malone begins to piece together his week with Jana he lays out for the Police a profile of someone who may have been in serious danger. 

The back-story provides numerous potential suspects as well as dangerous situations Jana Fletcher was involved in --- like her work with a college criminal defense club that helped free a convicted felon.  Soon the Police and Malone realize there was much more going on with the innocent young Jana Fletcher and her killer may not be finished.

Dolan’s work is hard-hitting and THE LAST DEAD GIRL grabs you by the throat with the first sentence.  Dolan studied fiction writing under author Frederick Busch and the crime noir style is clearly seen in his writing.  A solid hard-boiled story but not quite in the realm of Connelly, Lehane, Pelecanos or Steve Hamilton.

 

 

 

The Gods Of Guilt A Mickey Haller Novel by Michael Connelly

Publisher: Little Brown

Reviewed by Don Crouch for New Mystery Reader

The title of Connelly’s latest Mickey Haller novel refers primarily to the jury. Paraphrasing can’t do justice to how Connelly explains it, but you’ll like it.

As it begins, we are brought up to speed on the nightmare that has become Haller’s life. The failed campaign. The drunk driver case.  The estrangement from his daughter.  Add these to Haller’s regular issues, and yikes! There are some Guilt Gods at work here as well, perhaps!!

Then, Haller has a murder case dropped in his lap, and off we go.  We find out shortly that the victim played heavily in Mickey’s past.  And it involves characters on both sides that Haller has had run-ins with.

Some people think making Harry Bosch a half-brother to Haller was a bit too convenient.  Actually,  Connelly’s genius in this move is to create two sides of the same coin. If you are a faithful reader of both series, you already know this. If you’re new, you’ll get it. Both Haller and Bosch understand the cost of doing business as they do, on all fronts.  He also gives Harry a fairly significant cameo.

A big difference in the two series is that Haller’s stories require a much heavier dose of process, usually in the form of courtroom events.  Connelly excels at creating these moments, resulting in excitement, character development and, occasionally, actual knowledge!  I’m sure there are a lot of “legal thriller” writers creating more complex and perhaps more accurate courtroom stuff, but Connelly has the right blend.

Connelly shows he’s not afraid to wink at himself, with an amusing reference to the hit film of The Lincoln Lawyer, and the effect of its’ popularity on the way Mickey rolls.

The case goes forward in typical Connelly style.....fast-paced and informative. And tragic, as we lose a valued character in a brutal murder.  This provides some righteous motivation to Haller and his team as they attempt to exonerate their client, who frankly, is not that great a person to begin with, but clearly innocent of this particular crime.

Connelly sets up conflict right up there with the best. Every time Lee Lankford enters the picture, your hairs rise.  Their courtroom scene is the thematic nexus of the story, and it’s also incredibly exciting.

The Gods Of Guilt takes Mickey’s story forward, creating both hope and concern for our fave lawyer’s future.  It’s a pretty good starting point for new readers as well, so no matter where you stand on that continuum, you need to genuflect to The Gods Of Guilt.

 

 

The Invisible Code by Christopher Fowler

Publisher: Bantam Books

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good for New Mystery Reader 

Amy O’Connor exudes a quiet grief, noticed but misunderstood by the two children playing “Witch Hunters” around the church where Amy mediates.  Demurely dressed even though she’s only a young woman, Amy tries to read her copy of Rosemary’s Baby even while the kids stare at her, unnerving her further.  When Amy suddenly dies in the church soon after the children see her, the police find no physical cause of death, stumping them in their investigation.  Soon after, a motorcycle-riding thug brazenly murders a celebrity photographer, leaving no real clues.

The Peculiar Crimes Unit (PCU) thrives on unusual cases, especially when its enemies stationed in the higher-ranking bureaucratic offices leave it alone.  Oskar Kasavian, head of Home Office security, routinely threatens the demise of the PCU. Kasavian surprises senior—in every sense of the word—detectives John May and Arthur Bryant when he throws a delicate case to the unit, relying on their discretion and unique methods to close the case.

In the midst of it all, the team has discovered that the resident tomcat, Crippen, is actually a pregnant female feline about to make her own important contribution to PCU.

The Invisible Code’s strengths come from its eccentric, insightful characters rather than the murders whose supernatural tinge seems almost an after-thought.  Arthur Bryant’s odd collection of gifted friends who sport whimsical clothes while battling negative forces adds a level of interest, and new readers may want to start with the first of the ten-volume  series in order to follow the threads of those relationships. 

On a more tangible plane, the PCU relies on London’s ubiquitous CCTV, which records people on public streets and allows police to track potential suspects and witnesses.  May, Bryant and their supporting team members follow a trail through England’s privileged elite and overlooked underclass in their quest to stop the next killing.

Fowler’s world includes true evil, but also overflows with people that readers will want to spend more time getting to know, while solving a series of murders along the way.

 

 

Lying With Strangers by Jonnie Jacobs

Publisher: Five Star Books 

Reviewed by Karen Treanor for New Mystery Reader

This book makes a baker’s dozen for the prolific Jacobs.  It’s the first one I’ve been sent for review in a few years and I’m impressed by the way her style has matured over that period.  The new book is a very complex story of two women who discover the men in their lives aren’t what they thought.  They are both lying with strangers—strangers who have lied to them, so the title works both ways.

Chloe knows that Trace is a bit of a bad lad but he’s the father of her expected baby and she really doesn’t have much of a choice but to stay with him.  One innocent mistake brings her face to face with his dark side and involves her in robbery, murder, and endangers her and her unborn child.

Diana is another sort of woman: a professional with apparently everything anyone could want: a career, a healthy son and daughter, a caring husband—then it all crashes down when her husband is shot and she finds out he has been living under a stolen name.

Diana and Chloe’s lives intersect on several levels and in one of those coincidences so weird that you can believe it’s real, Chloe ends up staying with Diana and caring for her son while Diana tries to find out who Roy really was, and what connection he had with a 20-year-old murder.  Did he do it, this kind and caring man—or was he set up?

This is a fast-moving story with a lot of twists and turns.  It’s easy to empathise with the two women, one stuck in a dead-end job and relationship; and one driven by the need to find the truth no matter how terrible. 

 

 

Innocent Blood by James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell

Publisher: William Morrow

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

“I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood.  And they said, What is that to us?”  --- Matthew 27:4.

That biblical quote from the Gospel according to Matthew provides the inspiration for the title of the latest release in the Order of the Sanguine series from authors James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell.

Rollins has developed a strong following as one of the top adventure/historical thriller writers out there while Cantrell has gained notoriety mostly on the YA front with a series of hit gothic themed novels.  As a team, they complement each other well and this makes INNOCENT BLOOD a brisk and enjoyable read.

In the first novel in the series, THE BLOOD GOSPEL, readers learned of the existence of two ancient sects of undead/vamphyrric characters who are engaged in endless battle --- the Sanguines and the Strigoi.  Drawn into this skirmish are archaeologist Erin Granger and Army Sergeant Jordan Stone.  Along with a group of religious figures --- some of whom are immortal --- they initially are in search of the gospel allegedly written in the blood of Jesus Christ.

Readers who are easily offended or might find the mixing of biblical lore with vampire legend are probably not the target audience for this series.  Those who like fiction that reads like a combination of Dan Brown and Anne Rice should definitely venture further as there is enough symbolism and gothic themes to provide entertaining moments and thrills.

INNOCENT BLOOD refers to the prophecy that the innocent blood drawn from the First Angel can be used to open the Gates of Hell.  The successive releasing of Lucifer will bring about both the second coming and end of days.  Ironically, the figure at the forefront of achieving this is the infamous biblical betrayer, Judas Iscariot.  Judas did not commit suicide after turning Jesus Christ over to his enemies.  Rather, Judas was cursed with immortality and has had a long time to wait for the right moment to bring the ancient prophecy to light.

The action and suspense lies in the group led by Erin Granger and Jordan Stone who must traverse parts of Europe and the Middle East to keep innocent blood from being spilled.  The question that lingers on until the next novel is whether or not the entire prophecy was thwarted or if some part of the evil netherworld was able to sneak through.  I’m sure James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell are working on that very idea and readers will have much to look forward to with the next novel in this unique series.

 

 

Ten Lords A-Leaping by C. C. Benison

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good for New Mystery Reader

Father Tom Christmas—always Vicar Tom, Mr. Christmas or anything but Father Christmas—of St. Nicholas Church needs to raise funds for a new church roof.  To achieve this (and the removal of the hated plywood funds raised thermometer on his lawn) the charitable group Leaping Lords has agreed to a parachute event featuring some of England’s nobles.  Tom and most of his board members also participate, ensuring fervent prayers from St. Nicholas’ congregation, while the public make a day out of the event at posh Eggscombe Hall, recalling a day at a modern Downtown Abbey.

When two of the lords, Oliver and Hector, start physically fighting at twenty thousand feet a sense of dread permeates the crowd.  Fortunately the two land safely, although grumpy, and the only mishap comes from Tom’s badly sprained ankle, resulting in an invitation to stay at Eggscombe Hall with his precocious ten year-old daughter Miranda.  He discovers that being wealthy and titled assures no peace among family members, especially one whose blood ties are as complicated as those staying at Eggscombe.

During Tom’s convalescence, he discovers a body in the estate’s famous labyrinth and spends much more time with the dazzling Lucy, vivacious Countess Dowager, other bickering relatives and the silently efficient staff (coincidentally supplemented by Tom’s own housekeeper, Madrun Prowse) than he ever expected.  Meanwhile, Miranda entertains herself by investigating with theatrical young Maximilian, a lord in his own right and the snazziest dresser present. 

Throughout the story, Tom’s housekeeper writes letters that offer the “downstairs” interpretation of events, especially with certain phrases crossed out as Mrs. Prowse edits herself.  Between Tom’s findings and Mrs. Prowse’s observations, readers gain a fuller understanding of both the murder and a lesser mystery while still maintaining surprise at the ending.

Ideal for devotees of G. M. Malliet’s Max Tudor series or Carolyn Hart’s work, Ten Lords A-Leaping falls third in the series based on the Christmas carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” although Benison adds a fresh, enjoyable mystery to fit in with the verse alluded to in the title.