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Aloha, Lady Blue by Charley Memminger

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Reviewed by Jim Sells for New Mystery Reader

Stryker McBride was a crime reporter in Hawaii until a bullet ended his career and nearly ended his life. After a successful lawsuit against the City of Honolulu for employing the maniacal cop that shot him, Stryler has settled into retirement at age thirty-nine. He works as night watchman with his two dogs to get a free spot for his houseboat, the Travis McGee, at a yacht club.

Stryker grew up with a career military father who traveled the world. One thing the military bases had in common was swimming pools. Stryker became a champion swimmer due to this. When his father was stationed in Hawaii, this allowed Stryker to earn a scholarship to an exclusive, private school. There he admired Amber Kam, a Chinese-Hawaiian beauty from afar.

Stryker earned a scholarship to a university in Oregon where his family then lived. Stryker’s ill-prepared attempt at water sports in the ocean there ended any hope in a career in swimming. Finishing a degree in journalism, Styker managed a career in journalism that led back to Hawaii and the fateful encounter with the corrupt cop.

Stryker is surprised when a call from Amber Kam disrupts his quiet life. Amber wants him to look into the apparent drowning of her elderly grandfather in a few inches of water in field. Stryker agrees and encounters a colorful and entertaining cast of characters. He meets the deadly Tommy Chang, who heads both a martial arts school and a vicious Chinese gang. Stryker also meets Auntie Kealoha, the reputed head of crime in Hawaii. Along with Auntie comes Tiny Maunakea, the gigantic enforcer for her mob who has the disquieting habit of speaking in Victorian English.

Further digging by Stryker reveals U.S. government connections with Chinese gangsters that date back to World War II and lasted through the Cold War to today. Now Stryker finds that he has involved himself in an apparent power struggle between the gangs. 

Memminger shows an interesting variety of writing talents. He was an investigative reporter and this shows in his apparent knowledge of police and criminals alike. At the same time, the author possesses a skill with words that transports the reader to the beautiful vistas of the islands. Additionally, Memminger creates and describes delightful characters that might well have the reader laughing aloud. At the same time, Stryker has a dark, brooding quality and sardonic wit. On many levels, this is an outstanding work.

 

 

 

 

 

The Next Time You See Me by Holly Goddard Jones

Publisher: Touchstone

Reviewed by New Mystery Reader

When teenager Emily discovers a body of a young woman in the woods it is just the beginning of a heart-pounding journey that collides with that of her unhappily married school-teacher; her teacher's missing wild sister, Ronnie; a lonely factory worker; and a few callous young men.  Emily doesn't tell anyone of her discovery, instead returning daily to observe the body's decomposing return to the earth.  And she's not the only one hiding terrible secrets.  As the search for Ronnie continues, it seems that everyone who knew her has something to hide and will have to begin facing some very uncomfortable truths about their own lives. 

It's rare that a debut novel shows such heart breaking honesty and illuminating brilliance.  To see so comprehensively into the lives of those who could be our neighbors, friends, co-workers, or even ourselves, Holly takes off the masks and makes this a journey that while unsettling, is more than worthwhile. There are no easy answers or quick fixes in this one, much like life, and much like life this will bring more than one emotion to the surface for the reader.  Easily one of the best reads I've personally read this year, this stirring, emotionally packed novel comes highly recommended.

For an interview with Holly

 

 

The Sound of Broken Glass by Deborah Crombie

Publisher: William Morrow

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

A highly respected barrister has been murdered in a London hotel. To complicate things, the barrister was bound as if engaged in S&M sex.

Detective Inspector Gemma James is assigned to the case along with her partner Detective Sergeant Melody Talbot. The investigation reveals that the barrister has a wife with advancing Alzheimer’s. In addition has been enjoying one-night stands with women he picks up from a pub near their home. This makes identifying the companion on the night of his death difficult.

Witnesses indicate that the barrister had words with the guitarist of the band playing at the pub that night. This seems to lead to dead-end.

Meantime, Gemma’s husband, Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid is staying at home with their three-year-old foster daughter. Mention of the case reveals that he knows the guitarist and his manager. He volunteers to speak with them. Before this can happen, another barrister is found murdered in a similar fashion.

The pressure to solve the first murder is about to be increased greatly by the second. The bizarre nature of the crime makes them prime material for the mainstream media and tabloids alike.

The author does a good job of connecting seemingly separate storylines. The guitarist is a sympathetic and well-developed character. The police officers are somewhat more stiff and two-dimensional. This may be intentional to contrast their personalities with other characters. The reversed roles of the husband and wife detectives make them more believable and lends an interesting twist to the storyline.

 

 

The Alpine Xanadu by Mary Daheim

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Set in February 2005 in the little Washington state village of Alpine, Sheriff Milo Dodge and Advocate newspaper Editor/Publisher Emma Lord have just become engaged after years of trying to avoid the inevitable.  That new development doesn’t deter boorish Wayne Eriks from hitting on Emma—and much of the rest of Alpine’s female population.  Still, the town is small enough that everyone is shocked when Eriks is electrocuted while working on an electric pole during a storm.  The death may seem cut and dried but Milo relentlessly follows police procedures by the book, even when it means Emma has to pay a parking ticket.

Eriks’ death isn’t the only topic of conversation; a new mental health facility has opened up and resulted in the return of a former resident who’s no stranger to local gossip and a director who rarely seems to be around.  Emma’s staff diligently roots through the tangle of family estrangements—especially when her House and Home editor becomes central to one in particular—to find all the news that’s fit to print, periodically confusing Mitch, a new reporter fresh from the Detroit beat and not quite used to doing things the Alpine way.

As part of the long-running Emma Lord series, The Alpine Xanadu includes extra background on well-known characters while still enabling new readers to join in without difficulty.  In fact, Mary Daheim includes so many squabbling secondary characters that a little extra explanation helps most readers.  Milo and Emma remain brash but still show the stability that becomes their hallmark later in the series.  They acknowledge the tension coming from their respective jobs and joke rudely with one another as they navigate the fallout from an ex-wife, a troubled adult daughter and their own tumultuous past.

Daheim adds smartly phrased foreshadowing at the end of several chapters but sometimes waits to deliver the payoff in a much later chapter, losing the impact.  In spite of this, The Alpine Xanadu flows well and brims with vim and vigor, making this one of the best recent installments of the series.

 

 

 

Perfect Hatred by Leighton Gage

Publisher: Soho Crime

Reviewed by Dana King for New Mystery Reader

Leighton Gage has carved a nice niche for himself with his Chief Inspector Mario Silva series of mysteries set in Brazil. Gage knows how to use Brazil’s exotic beauty to his benefit, deftly juxtaposing it with extremes of wealth and poverty and corruption at all levels. The public officials and politicians who aren’t corrupt are as venal as their peers anywhere else. Gage’s gift is an ability to expose and explore all Brazil has to offer to a writer of crime fiction, while allowing the love of his adopted country to live in every line.

The United States has no equivalent of the Brazilian Federal Police. Their jurisdiction is nation-wide, and supersedes local authority. This allows them to open investigations on their own initiative, and gives Gage carte blanche with his plots, as there is no crime in Brazil in which the federals may not take an interest.

His newest book, Perfect Hatred, allows Gage to take full advantage of the breadth of the Brazilian federal police, Silva’s skills, and the devotion his team has for each other. The book begins with a horrific terrorist bombing; the bomb in a baby carriage, its intent disguised by the bomber’s use of a real baby to cover the explosive. In a province hundreds of miles away, a popular political candidate is shot to death at a televised campaign appearance, on the eve of defeating the incumbent. Silva’s team is split between the two and he is tasked with focusing on the assassination when his instinct is to concentrate on the bombing, as there is reason to believe this was not an isolated incident.

As if Silva isn’t busy enough, a high-ranking criminal who is about to go away forever has sworn vengeance on the prosecutor and cop who put him there; the cop is Silva.

Laid out like that, the book sounds like a hare-brained modern thriller, where the stakes are continuously raised and bodies pile up. (“Now it’s personal.”) This would likely be the case in the hands of a lesser writer. Gage has bigger plans, and better chops. The situation teeters on the brink of becoming out of control; Silva never does. He may be frustrated, angry, and even scared, but he’s the right man at the right time. He has personal problems and ghosts that affect him, but he’s not the stereotypical tormented series protagonist. He’s a good man under intense pressure from multiple sides, and he handles the situation with grace and as much humanity as he can muster. Not perfect and not always on time to be a savior, he’s the glue that holds everything in Gage’s fictional universe together. If his squad is the Brazilian equivalent of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct (the analogy that comes most often to mind), Silva is Gage’s Steve Carella.

The writing is perfect for the story, as it always is. Gage is of the school where the writer’s goal is to be as unobtrusive as possible, where he scored highest marks. Nothing will jump out at a first time reader, though those who have several Silva stories under their belts will start to recognize subtle touches that are Gage’s own. He understands suspense is the building of tension and violence is the release of at least some of it. He also trusts his situation, characters, and talent not to beat you over the head with how bad things are. If you don’t feel it on your own, you’re reading the wrong books.

Perfect Hatred may well be the best of an excellent series that gets better book by book. It is not to be missed.

 

 

 

 

 

Speaking From Among the Bones by Alan Bradley

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Alan Bradley’s lovely, intelligent series about a brave scientist obsessed with poisons and who has now solved four murders in rural mid-century England returns with Speaking From Among the Bones.  The scientist-detective, Flavia de Luce, may be only eleven but nearly twelve but her innate genius and usually held childlike feeling of safety grants her a singular way of investigating while alternately exasperating and endearing her to the adults around her.  As only Flavia could say, whenever she’s “blue she just thinks of cyanide, whose color so perfectly reflects [her] mood.”

In Speaking From Among the Bones, Flavia’s older sister Feely (derived from the more elegant Ophelia but no less appropriate) has taken on organist duties for the local Anglican church.  While the Roman Catholic de Luce family are stalwart attendees of this particular Anglican church, the organists seem to last a few years at most.  The congregation has become used to this pattern but is still taken aback by the sudden night-time disappearance of the previous position-holder; blond haired, angel-faced Mr. Collicutt disappointed lovelorn members of the congregation and the organizational hopes of the gentle vicar. 

As a girl of eleven—but nearly twelve—Flavia delights in bickering with her sister but appreciates the oddities of the situation surrounding Mr. Collicutt’s reappearance.  During the unfolding of this local mystery, Flavia also delights in the prospects of seeing the exhumed corpse of St. Tancred, conveniently resting in the church’s very graveyard and intended to provide relics for its 500th anniversary.  Flavia finds this unveiling very compelling and will resort to any tricks a little but very astute girl has to offer to witness this historic and educational event.  After she discovers a murder, Flavia happily investigates, melding her scientific interests with the village’s simulataneous mysteries and avoiding the heartbreaking family drama waiting for her at the beloved de Luce home.

Alan Bradley continues expanding Flavia’s world with the stately if crumbling Buckshaw Hall and a distracted, mourning father and the villagers who may not understand the precocious girl but will protect her if they can.  The post-World War II era gives an additional feeling of impending change and the ongoing transition to life after losing so many in the war but without ever dragging down Flavia’s story.  Bradley, like Flavia, knows success is in the details and  packs his story with witty quotes and rich characters that eagerly persuade readers to follow Flavia down the proverbial garden path into dark, bloody (iron-rich) places.

 

 

A Cold and Lonely Place by Sara J. Henry

Publisher: Crown

New Mystery Reader

Troy Chance, a freelance photographer, is enjoying her light-weight gig shooting sporting and other events in the Adirondacks when she's once again thrust into a dangerous mystery.  This time it's when the body of an acquaintance is discovered buried under the ice during the set up of the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival.  And while her good sense tells her to leave this one alone, that may prove difficult as the body belongs to the wealthy and good-looking boyfriend of one of her roommates.  And the deeper she digs the closer she'll come to understanding that going with your first impression cannot only be a callous mistake, but also a deadly one.

The second in Henry’s series featuring Troy Chance is both a good read and a decent follow-up to the first, yet at the same time is slightly disappointing.  While Troy is a character that definitely is welcomed back, this time around her sense of emotional isolation made me feel like this was someone I'd rather leave alone than get to know.  This distance created is difficult  to bridge through most of the story, with the first person narrative coming off as a bit too matter-of-fact.  But, thankfully, by the end, Henry does manage to bridge that gap, with a breakthrough in both the plot and the main character that comes just in time to make this a worthwhile read. 

 

 

Whispering Death by Garry Disher

Publisher: Soho Crime

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

I have to admit to a fondness for crime novels where the villain is someone you can develop a liking for.  This sixth volume in Disher’s Inspector Hal Challis series offers several baddies, one of them a female burglar you just have to admire, both for her technical skill and her almost cat-like sixth sense about danger, traps and other perils of the criminal life.

“Grace” as she’s known by some people, carefully scopes out her potential targets, plans down to the last contingency, and then gets in and out slickly and quickly.  She has one trusted fence who disposes of some of her loot, and there are a number of safe places in banks around Australia where she stashes cash and the occasional treasure she can’t bear to fence.  All the while she’s hoping to learn about her origins, but has only one faded photograph as a clue. 

Grace has a number of different aliases and characters that she slips in and out of like uniforms.  She also has one place to call home, where she can relax, let down her guard, and have some sort of a life, albeit a solitary one.  But always in the back of her mind is the shadow of the man who set her on this lifestyle, a crooked cop—or is he?—who won’t rest until he’s had his revenge for her betrayal.

Inspector Challis is in his boss’s black books for saying in public what many people are thinking: that the budget cuts to the police department are putting the public in peril, because there aren’t enough officers to hold back the tide of criminal activity that’s on the rise in the state of Victoria.  There have been home invasions, graffiti attacks on rich people’s homes and there’s a rapist on the loose who appears to be a police officer.  Then Challis connects the dots of a number of burglaries in other states and draws some conclusions that don’t please the boss, who thinks he’s wasting time and resources. 

Challis’s personal life is in the dumps, because his girlfriend is overseas on a study trip, so he’s got no one close he can talk to.  Add to this the complicated problems of his own staff (Scobie, who isn’t really suited to the job, and Pam Murphy, who is, but who’s having a lesbian fling with a visiting sex crimes specialist) and the Inspector is about ready to chuck it all in and take up a job anywhere else doing anything else.   He could get twice the pay with half the headaches in private security, but Hal Challis is a stubborn sod, so he keeps on coming to work anyway.

Then things begin to coalesce: Challis sees a connection between Grace’s fence—who turns up dead—and an unreported burglary, a witness on the run, a rogue cop, and a bank robbery.   Things take a grim turn when Pam Murphy is kidnapped by someone with nothing to lose.  Can Challis find her in time to prevent another murder?   Would I tell you?

 

Reviewed by Robin Thomas, New Mystery Reader

Inspector Hal Challis is a cop’s cop but he is deep trouble with his bosses because he spoke his mind about the impacts of the budget cuts the police department has experienced to a reporter who then published his comments in the newspaper. On the Mornington Peninsula of Victoria, Australia, crime does not take a hiatus. Detective Constable Pam Murphy responds to a report of a naked woman wandering in the woods. By the time she arrives the woman has vanished, but she is later found and claims that a man wearing a police uniform raped her. A female cat burglar who has been extremely successful in eluding the police stumbles when she discovers an artifact that ties to the little she knows about her family history. She becomes obsessed with possessing the artifact and robs the house, taking the icon and other high value items that she can easily fence; but the real mystery is why do the owners tell the police that nothing is missing from their home.

Challis and his team also struggle with personal challenges. Ellen Destry, Challis’ lover is on travel, her absence gives him time to reflect on their relationship. Scobie Sutton struggles to deal with his wife’s depression and his inability to emotionally detach from the horrors when working a crime scene. Jeanne Schiff, a sergeant on assignment from the Sex Crimes Unit, fills in for Ellen to work the rape cases, and adds to the complications in Constable Pam Murphy’s life.

Whispering Death is the sixth book in the Hal Challis series. Garry Disher continues to energetically enthrall his readers with the setting and characters in this series. There are multiple plotlines in this book and Disher leaves the reader in suspense wondering how he is going to resolve the many threads in this police procedural.

Garry Disher is an author with great breadth that he displays with his standalones and his series written from the “good guy” (Challis) and “bad guy” (Wyatt) perspectives. I highly recommend Whispering Death and the entire Hal Challis series. For a change of pace check out Disher’s Wyatt series; these books are wickedly good reads as well.

 

 

 

Little Elvises by Timothy Hallinan

Publisher: Soho Crime

Reviewed by Dana King for New Mystery Reader

Junior Bender has a tough life. A professional burglar with an ex-wife who left him because—well, because he’ a professional burglar. A teenage daughter he adores, who likes that Dad is somewhat disreputable and isn’t above using it to her own ends. He has no fixed address, moving from cheap motel to cheap motel to stay one step ahead of people who might wish to do him harm.

And who are these people? Could be anyone, since Junior’s second greatest skill—after breaking and entering—is getting into trouble with people who don’t sue. Ever. Junior gets in Dutch with the kind of people who avoid courtrooms the way vampires avoid sunlight. (Real vampires, not these pasty-faced Twilight phonies.)

Junior has fallen into a side business not of his choosing, as de facto private investigator to the underworld. It’s not a lucrative gig, as payment is often rendered by not killing Junior. In the second Junior Bender novel, Little Elvises, Junior is “hired” by Vinnie DiGaudio, a giant of the music industry fifty-plus years ago. DiGaudio made his fortune by recruiting and promoting young men as Elvis Presley knockoffs. Not impersonators—those came later—but dreamboats girls could swoon over as if they were Elvis, since once teenage girls were afflicted with Swoon Syndrome, it didn’t take much to set them off.

DiGaudio has been accused of killing a tabloid journalist he’s threatened to clip a couple of times before. Junior is impressed into proving DiGaudio is innocent, which in short order involves him with the dead man’s libidinous wife and a corrupt cop. His current landlord’s daughter is missing, and he can’t not help her. Oh, and his ex and daughter each have new boyfriends. That’s a full plate.

Fans of Hallinan’s Poke Rafferty series of thrillers set in Thailand will find a far different environment in Junior’s world. The humor that pops its head up from time to time in the Rafferty books takes center stage in Junior’s stories, which are somewhat reminiscent of Donald Westlake’s Dortmunder tales for their complications. Hallinan has a light touch with his humor, and weaves it through each scene.

Among the more endearing qualities of the Bender books are the descriptions of how Junior plies his trade. Caper stories have become dependent on gadgetry to defeat time locks, lasers, and closed-circuit cameras. Junior uses his wits, which are more than sufficient. No Ocean’s Eleven or James Bond wizardry is needed; Junior doesn’t do anything you couldn’t do, with a little imagination. (And a willingness to risk going to prison.) This human element makes the stories more satisfying and fun.

Little Elvises and its predecessor, Crashed, have been out in Kindle format for a couple of years. Soho, with vision too often lacking in today’s publishing world, is bringing both out in hardcover and paperback, along with Junior Number 3, The Fame Thief, which will launch in July.

A lot of writers fancy themselves able to pull off humorous crime books; few succeed. Either the humor takes the edge off the tension, the tension kills the humor, or the situation just doesn’t lend itself to comedy. (I read a book once where the opening scene involved killing a child molester who worked at a theme park. I guess it could have been worse had the guy been a priest, but, really? Child molesters as comic figures, even in their demise?) Hallinan hits just the right blend of humor to tension in a book that flies by. If you’re a crime fiction fan who’d looking for some fun, you’ll have a hard time doing better than Little Elvises.

 

 

 

The Midwife’s Tale by Sam Thomas

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Women had little power in 17th century England, especially during the religious struggles between Catholics and Anglicans in the tenuous reign of Charles I (well known for “not playing well with others” as British scholar Terry Taylor explains.)  Because of this, many powerless women worked as servants or prostitutes, either of which gave them a good chance of becoming pregnant.  Neither the king nor the agitated members of Parliament wanted to encourage unclaimed illegitimate children so midwives were given a great deal of power to discover if a woman had conducted herself wantonly and if so, the identity of the father so that he could help support his offspring.

In this world, Lady Bridget Hodgson wields double the influence as both a gentlewoman and as a respected midwife.  To this end, when her friend Esther Cooper is found guilty of murdering her husband, Esther requests that Lady Bridget serve as her midwife before she is burned at the stake for her crime.  Simultaneously, the body of an infant drowned in a privy appears, leaving Lady Bridget heartsick and angry over the death, both of which drive her to find the person who killed the newborn. 

In The Midwife’s Tale, Lady Bridget takes on a capable servant named Martha whose own backstory changes things for the genteel widow.   Throughout the investigation, Lady Bridget shows both empathy and a brutal lack of restraint whether dealing with an unfortunate girl or a quick-tongued Italian assassin.  Lady Bridget’s position and work results in being involved with both the well-born and the impoverished, ensuring that she maintains a realistic view of the world around her.

Author Sam Thomas chooses an obscure setting for his mystery but shows why the uncertainty and shifting position of power grant Lady Bridget’s world an air of danger, even without murders and veiled threats.  The prose seems a little distant, similar to the tone of Anne Perry’s, but Thomas creates a fully realized version of the besiegement of York and life during the English Civil War.

 

 

Watching The Dark by Peter Robinson

Publisher: William Morrow

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader 

The murder of a veteran Detective while recuperating on the tranquil grounds of the St. Peter’s Police Treatment Centre would have been troubling enough for DCI Banks.  The victim, Detective Bill Quinn, had recently lost his wife and was taking a much needed rest at St. Peter’s.  His body is found early one morning and the cause of death was murder by crossbow.

Banks steps in after the initial CSI team tends to their duty.  What they turn up in Quinn’s room are some compromising photos of him with what appears to be underage women --- possibly illegal immigrants or prostitutes.  This causes much anguish for Banks as Quinn was not only a long-time colleague but also a friend.

As a result of the suspicion of possible police corruption, Banks has an officer from Professional Standards (the British version of Internal Affairs) thrust upon him for the duration of the investigation.  Inspector Joanna Passero is a no-nonsense type and Banks intends to follow his typical detective instincts to get to the truth in spite of the interference he expects from Passero.

It is quickly discovered that Bill Quinn was obsessed with a six-year-old cold case involving a young British woman named Rachel Hewitt who disappeared during a ‘hen’ (bachelorette) party with her friends in Tallin, Estonia. When a second murder takes place nearby Quinn’s things begin to look much worse than it originally appeared on the surface.  It turns out that the second murder victim, Mikhel Lepikson, was in contact with Quinn prior to being tortured and murdered.  He was also a journalist from Estonia.

Banks is shrewd enough to dig deeper and recognize that his late friend, Bill Quinn, may have indeed been silenced due to his getting too close to a dangerous conspiracy while continuing to investigate the Rachel Hewitt disappearance.  The problem is connecting the dots in a web of lies and deceit which includes illegal drugs, human trafficking and a slave labor ring.

The answers will have to be found in Tallinn, Estonia, and this is where Banks and Passero head to.  Meanwhile, back on home ground, Detectives Cabbot and Winsome continue to pursue leads into the human trafficking and slave labor rings that Mikhel Lepikson was close to exposing.  Estonia is full of corruption and not very easy for Banks and Passero to navigate.  As they rub shoulders with some dangerous people while pursuing the Rachel Hewitt case they have no idea how close they are coming to the truth and perhaps putting themselves in the same position that Bill Quinn was in before his murder.

The DCI Banks British mystery series is one of the finest in the genre and the characters are all very real, dripping with humanity.  What I look most forward to every time I open the pages of a Peter Robinson book is the complete emersion into popular culture --- music, food, wine, etc… --- that every Banks novel brings. He is like the British version of George Pelecanos in this fashion making the stories that much more real and a treat to read.  

 

 

 

The Fifth Assassin by Brad Meltzer

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader 

What if all four of the U.S. Presidents who were assassinated while in office was actually part of some sinister conspiracy --- a plot that has existed for nearly 150 years?

This is the amazing premise of Brad Meltzer’s latest novel --- THE FIFTH ASSASSIN. What makes this brilliantly conceived novel jump out of the readers hands is the fact that the action within is even more exciting than the premise it is built on.

The assassins in question – John Wilkes Booth, Charles Guiteau, Leon Czolgoz and Lee Harvey Oswald successfully assassinated President Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley and Kennedy.  What if these four assassins were all part of a secret cabal?  The group goes by the moniker The Knights of the Golden Circle.  These Knights believe themselves to be serving a higher power and the latest incarnation of this group is on a mission to make the fifth Presidential assassination a reality.

The protagonist is the delightfully interesting Beecher White.  Beecher himself is a member of a group with a long-standing history --- the Culper Ring.  However, the Culper members stand for good and Beecher’s mentor in the group, Tot, believes the idea of the current threat against the President coming from the Knights to be farfetched as he personally saw the last of the Knights vanquished decades earlier.

The Culper Ring was initially introduced in Meltzer’s last novel, THE INNER CIRCLE.  During the course of the action in that novel the Culper Ring made themselves a dangerous enemy --- the current POTUS, President Wallace.  As revealed in the last novel, the Culper Ring originated during the Revolutionary War under the guidance of then General George Washington. Now, archivists Beecher and Tot along with a handful of other patriots comprise the current membership.

A series of religious figures are attacked in the Washington D.C. area.  What makes the attacks most unique is that each one takes on the characteristics of the four Presidential assassinations --- right down to the literal calling card left at each crime scene. The Knight is the assassin in question and his holy mission will not end until President Wallace is dead.

To battle the Knight and whatever group is behind him will require Beecher and company to partner with some dangerous people --- including a childhood friend of Beecher’s named Marshall.  Marshall is badly disfigured from a fire that occurred years earlier and is also somewhat mentally unbalanced by his mother’s suicide when he was a young boy.  He now works in the service of the President --- but Beecher is not completely convinced of Marshall’s loyalty.  Beecher also has a sneaky suspicion his old friend could be the Knight himself.

THE FIFTH ASSASSIN is brimming with intrigue and U.S. history at every turn.  Like his highly successful television series found on the History Channel – ‘Brad Meltzer Decoded’ – learning was never so much fun!  This novel is the result of four years of painstaking research that was briefly touched upon during an episode of Decoded.  Meltzer even gives thanks to former U.S. President George W. Bush for providing access to government archives pertaining to the four Presidential assassinations.  This is a novel that thrills and informs while possessing a clever plot that will keep the most astute reader guessing right up to the stunning climax.

 

 

 

Good Junk by Ed Kovacs

Publisher: Minotaur Books       

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

Cliff St. James was a New Orleans police detective. After a run-in with a supervisor he left the force. Cliff then splits his time between a PI business and operating a martial arts dojo. He is doing well until he accidentally kills an opponent while sparring. Cliff has issues after the accident that could get him hurt or killed if he hesitates when confronted with violence.

Honey Baybee was a colleague of Cliff’s in the PD. Now she is a homicide detective. She talks her supervisor into hiring Cliff as a consultant. In the post-Katrina world of New Orleans, Cliff investigates the death of two men who worked at a NASA contractor. The deaths first appear to be a murder-suicide. Details lead Cliff to recognize it was double-murder.

Now Cliff must determine if the murders were related to the men’s alternative life styles or to their sensitive jobs. Gradually a plot to sell weapons to various shadowy customers emerges – first as a plan by a small group that grows to a scheme by the Pentagon to raise money for the government.

Cliff’s investigation brings the attention of Russian and Chinese assassins as well as the possibility of renegade FBI agents. Then the CIA offers help and protection. This worries Cliff more than it reassures him.

Kovacs combines the short, sharp style and dialogue of the noir genre with a complex mystery storyline. While this is an original approach, the twists and turns in the plot and introduction of multiple characters so frequently, can make the plot difficult to follow. The author does do a good job of bringing the various elements together at the end so that it is worth the effort to finish the book.

At the same time, Cliff appears to need more character development. Readers might have this to look forward to this in future offerings by the author. An interesting character can found in the eccentric Decon who is at once entertaining and critical to the plot. Decon is more focused than some central characters.

A strong point of the book is the author’s apparent expertise with martial arts, firearms and other lethal weapons. This eliminates many of the glaring errors found in other stories of the same genre. All in all, the book’s positive characteristics outweigh its shortcomings.       

 

 

 

Miss Dimple Suspects by Mignon F. Ballard

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Reviewer: Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

World War II continues to rage on, leaving Americans worrying about their loved ones and resolutely carrying on as best as they can in the meantime.  Elementary school teacher Miss Dimple Kilpatrick is just the sort of strong presence that the local townspeople need, especially during the unusual instances when the area’s crimes change from petty misdemeanors to murder.

In Miss Dimple Suspects, Miss Dimple and a younger teacher named Charlie befriend a talented artist named Mae Martha who lives in an isolated home with only a young Asian woman nicknamed Suzy as a companion.  In spite of their isolation, the war has touched Mae Martha and Suzy since Mae Martha’s grandson and only heir, Madison, perished overseas.  Madison had urged Suzy to take care of his beloved grandmother before he shipped out and now the two women provide each other with friendship and Suzy, a former medical student, can take care of the elder woman’s physical needs.  Mae Martha, rendered here as a warm, humorous woman who still finds joy in life, loses her life under mysterious circumstances and Suzy disappears, leaving the locals puzzled and suspicious.  

Author Mignon Ballard’s interpretation of the 1940s is to focus on the strength of community during the war while fleshing out characters that can be easily imagined in any small town.  Some believe in the best of others while their counterparts stir up unrest because of boredom or innate distrust.  Since it is a small town, the characters know each other well and that shared history becomes stronger with each Miss Dimple mystery.  Depictions of violence and death are never gory in this series and readers will see a gentle version of the pending social changes that will occur later.  Ballard has created a very traditional mid-century heroine whose persistence and continuing adventures will appeal to cozy mystery readers.

 

 

Found Guilty at Five by Ann Purser

Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Inspector Hunter Cowgill typically investigates small cases in the village of Long Farnden but when something bigger happens, he relies on his secret weapon and subject of his well-known schoolboy-type crush: Lois Meade.

Lois’ husband Derek prefers that his wife avoid “ferretin’” and likes her antagonistic relationship with Cowgill even less but knows that neither he nor his live-in mother-in-law can stop his headstrong wife.  In Found Guilty at Five, Lois intends to follow their advice but just can’t help herself when her son Jamie becomes involved.  Jamie, a professional musician, has started touring with a delicate-looking Japanese woman named Akiko when her cello disappears, probably the result of a local theft ring.  Jamie and Lois quickly realize that they have more to worry about than the missing cello or locals making World War II slurs alluding to her nationality when Akiko herself disappears.  

Meanwhile, the new estate-owners regret their decision to hire a volatile gamekeeper who has ties to the very secretive and nearly wholly self-sufficient commune in the area.  The estate’s previous owner, an upper class droll grand dame in the traditional sense offers a source of amusement as she joins Lois in ferretin’ and becomes used to her version of downsizing.

Purser makes a few generational discrepancies such as when Jamie and his sister comment that they often phone each other; it’s possible but more probable that the young siblings text.  It’s also interesting that the villagers retain their intense anti-Japanese sentiment several generations after World War II, raising the question of what personal stories became part of the local family tradition to remain so widespread and powerful after most of the soldiers have gone.  Akiko’s powerful father seems more of a stereotype until the last few pages, which also show a sense of progress in the insular village.  While Cowgill initially seems like a major and potentially contentious character, he primarily works with Lois in this mystery, allowing them to pool resources and support the investigation.

Long Farnden and its most famous detective may not offer the warmest welcome but it’s easy for readers to get caught up in trying to peel back the layers of distrust towards outsiders and find the warmth that binds them so tightly together.

 

 

 

 

Two Graves by Preston & Child

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader 

In Ira Levin’s classic 1976 novel, THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL, a plot is foiled that would have produced mass cloning of former Nazi party leader, Adolf Hitler.  In the latest novel by Preston & Child, TWO GRAVES, a faction of the apparently endless Nazi party still exists and they are seeking to create their version of a master race once again.

This is a central plot element to the latest Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast novel that includes many more thrills and surprises.  After believing for twelve years that his wife, Helen, had died in an accident --- Pendergast is amazed to find her not murdered but still alive.  Alas, their reunion is short-lived as she is gunned down in a Central Park shooting right before his eyes.

The group responsible for taking Helen’s life is linked to the Nazi party with roots in a small South American village that is conducting radical experiments.  Meanwhile, Pendergast’ s long-time colleague, Detective D’Agosta of the NYPD, calls on him once again as his assistance is needed in solving a string of apparent serial murders.

The Hotel Killer has not only been killing and mutilating his victims but also leaving additional body parts at each crime scene?  Are the body parts from the killer --- or someone unrelated?  Pendergast is preoccupied with vengeance and bringing down the group responsible for Helen’s death.  Still, he pitches in with the Hotel Killer case and begins to see an eerie pattern in the slayings.  He believes they may be the trademark of his brother, Diogenes.

As they dig deeper, Pendergast discovers that he is half right.  The Hotel Killer is indeed related to him but it is not his brother. Rather, DNA evidence reveals that Pendergast and Helen had a son who appears to be the Hotel Killer.  To make matters more interesting, further investigation shows that they actually sired twins --- one good and one evil. The evil one is doing the killing while the good one seems to be the one supplying the additional body parts for the murder scenes.

The production of twins ties directly into the South American village where Nazi party experiments are being conducted to produce a new master race with eyes on global domination.  One of the twins exists while the other is there merely for parts.  Pendergast goes undercover to South America to thwart this plot and bring down the people responsible for his wife’s death.  Standing between him and his ultimate vengeance is his ‘evil’ son --- and the inevitable showdown may bring them both down.

Preston & Child have penned another intriguing and thrilling entry in the Pendergast series.  TWO GRAVES is never predictable and full of secrets that will please long-time fans and readers of thriller novels alike!

 

 

 

 

Dying on the Vine by Aaron Elkins

Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Famed “Skeleton Detective” Gideon Oliver returns in Dying on the Vine as a conference lecturer on forensic anthropology to criminal investigators in the beautiful Italian region of Tuscany.  Accompanying him are his wife, Julie, and his best friend, FBI Special Agent John Lau and his wife Marti.  Since they’re already in the area, the Olivers and Laus intend to visit their friends Linda and Luca at their family winery.  The four companions get along well, borne out of a long-term friendship and acceptance for idiosyncrasies such as Marti’s vegetarianism and Gideon’s propensity to lecture about anthropology whenever the mood strikes him.  Likewise, Linda and Luca fit in well with the group although their relationship faces an unexpected surprise when the fragmented remains of Luca’s estranged parents turn up after more than a year of uncertainty after their disappearance.

Fortunately, the lead police officer, half-American, easy-going Rocco Gardella may give his supervisor fits for skirting sharp salutes and formal salutations but he’s also the best detective in the area.  Rocco asks Gideon for help, allowing Gideon to enjoy his favorite activity through solving a forensic mystery while surrounded by good company and fantastic food and wine.  While Gideon takes his impromptu investigation seriously, the vacation surroundings and downtime with his best friend shows him as relaxed, with both wine and humor flowing. 

Aaron Elkins’ Skeleton Detective series continues to happily develop Gideon’s character and his wonderfully normal family life while giving him a platform to describe forensic methods and changes in related science.  The story also allows a gradual telling of the Sicilian family facing dissolution after the winery becomes successful but Elkins wisely gives each character real personality rather than allowing them to blend together.  Gideon retains his flaws (he gets queasy at the sight of fleshed-out remains) but his happy warrior stance and fellow travelers in Dying on the Vine makes this easily one of the best books of a great series.

 

 

 

Lethal Investments by K.O. Dahl

Publisher: Minotaur

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader   

These days, every single crime and thriller writer emerging from the desolate tundra known as Scandinavia owes a debt of thanks to the late Stieg Larsson.  If not for the incredible international success (posthumously) of his GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO trilogy Western readers might never have been introduced to terrific talents like Henning Mankell, Jo Nesbo, Camilla Lackberg and Anne Holt.

Seeking to add his name to this growing list is Norwegian author, K.O. Dahl.  He has already won a handful of literary awards in his home country and now is attempting to breakthrough to American readers.  LETHAL INVESTMENTS is actually the fourth novel in the series that features Inspectors Frolich and Gunnarstranda.

Set primarily in the Norwegian capital of Oslo, this novel is not set against a cold and mysterious phone call at her apartment where no one appears to be on the other end of the line.  Shortly thereafter, her dead body is spotted through her slightly ajar apartment door by the child of her neighbors.

Just prior to being killed she had spent the evening with a young man named Sigurd.  Once they learn of his existence, Frolich and Gunnarstranda immediately push him to the top of their list for potential suspects.  After questioning him and detaining him they have no choice but to let him go until they can produce more evidence.  This becomes complicated when the body of Sigurd is found with his throat brutally slashed.

Frolich and Gunnarstranda now realize that the pair was murdered because of something they knew or may have seen in Reidun’s apartment.  This leads them to Reidun’s place of business --- a highly suspicious and sparsely populated software company aptly named, Software Partners.  The few employees all seem to have something to hide and most of the men appeared to have had a physical relationship with Reidun.  Which way to go?

Further investigation into Software Partners reveals the organization to be a complete sham.  They would acquire capital from investors without actually producing any work.  The businessmen duped into partnership with the organization would reveal a small amount once the company went under while those behind its’ creation would become quite wealthy.

Reidun Rosendal must have had some documentation or other item of significance about Software Partners that was worth killing over.  When another employee is found murdered, Frolich and Gunnarstranda must step up their investigation before all potential witnesses are eliminated and a clever killer is allowed to walk away untouched.  LETHAL INVESTMENTS is a quick-paced read that gets bogged down slightly in the middle with a few extraneous plot-lines and extra characters.  However, Frolich and Gunnarstranda make a good team and the novel is at its’ best when they are hammering through suspects to find the murderer.