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Criminal by Karin Slaughter

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

If you’re one who has been following this series featuring the cast from Atlanta, GA, you’ll love this latest that shows in flashbacks,  interspersed with current events, how some of these main characters got their start. 

Told from the viewpoint of Sarah and Will’s story now, and Amanda and Evelyn’s story in the mid-seventies, this is a bold and exciting novel that connects these lives and reveals long held secrets regarding Will’s parentage and the horrible tragedies that connect the past to current day events. 

Slaughter gets all the details right from the 70s to make this tale come vividly alive.  The issues of race, gender equality, and social class shine through brilliantly and profoundly, made only that more genuine by her inclusion of social-cultural facts from the era.  Amanda and Evelyn’s trial to solve the case of several missing prostitutes when everyone else on the force thinks they should restrict their duties to crossing guards is brilliantly portrayed, and watching these two grow from girls to true woman of power is inspiring, while the tales of fallen prostitutes are deeply disturbing, and the depictions of racism enlightening.  This one has it all and might just be considered Slaughter’s best to date.

 

 

Midwinter Blood by Mons Kallentoft

Publisher: HarperCollins

Reviewed by Robin Thomas, New Mystery Reader

“If only the dead could talk,” is a phrase uttered by many sleuths and mystery readers. In Midwinter Blood, Bengt Andersson (nickname Ball-Bengt Andersson), who has been murdered, speaks to the reader. He expresses his opinions about being dead and his assessment about how Malin Fors, the officer in charge of this case, is doing in finding is murder. The reader gets two points of view of the case throughout the book.

Malin Fors is a superb cop who takes all of her cases seriously and as one can expect her and tends focus on her job has severe impacts on her family. Janne her ex-husband is a member of the Swedish Rescue Services and prefers to travel to underdeveloped countries than stay at home. Malin and Janne became parents at too early an age and although he loves his daughter Tove, Janne resents the loss of his youth due to having the responsibilities of being a parent at such an early age. Tove is a teenager and the normal challenges of raising a young adult are magnified due to Malin’s obsession was her job in solving her cases. Tove has a boyfriend and Malin’s stress level goes off the charts as she attempts to keep Tove from making the same mistakes that she did. Zacharius “Zeke” Martinsson, Malin’s partner, has more balance in his life; he loves to sing and often wishes that he was not missing choir practice in order to question witnesses with Malin.

Midwinter Blood is one of many great mysteries set in Sweden that have recently been made available in the US. Although the setting is similar, I found to my delight that this book is very different than any of the other Norwegian crime novels. Mons Kallentoft weaves fascinating Norwegian folklore into the book and the whodunit. The author provides the reader with a vivid sense of the culture, climate, and extreme differences between the rural areas and modern Swedish towns.

At the beginning, I did not like the interjection of narrative from the dead and found it distracting but as I continued reading the book I started to look forward to Bengt’s perspective on the case and I found this to be a very effective technique that the author uses to not only inform the reader but also to keep interest. Midwinter Blood is an excellent addition to the strong genre of Norwegian crime mysteries and readers who enjoy these types of books will not be disappointed.

 

 

The Bourne Imperative  by Eric van Lustbader

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Eric van Lustbader has now written more Jason Bourne novels than did their originator, Robert Ludlum.  This newest outing for the indestructible Bourne harks back in some ways to the first in the series.  Bourne is pretending to be fishing on the outskirts of Stockholm, but in reality having a meeting with Christien Norén to discuss the threat posed by Nicodemo, a terrorist who may be a real individual, or may be a construct of a malign organisation.  They don’t get any fish, but they do fish out a half-dead man.  He’s been shot, he’s wet and cold and when he wakes up in hospital, they discover he’s lost his memory.  Sound familiar? 

In an attempt to jog the missing memory, Jason takes the man back to the fishing spot where he was rescued, only to be attacked by a gunman.  Jason and the man he has nicknamed ‘Alef” end up in the icy lake again, and surface to find that Rebeka, a Mossad agent Jason met in  a previous adventure, has saved them.  Thawing out in a nearby cabin, Jason learns from Rebeka that the mystery man with no memory is Manfred Weaving.  Manfred, however, is now convinced that he is Henry Rowland, and when another attempt is apparently made on his life at the cabin, he unexpectedly turns on Jason with murderous intent.

While all this is going on, there are several other stories running parallel, but which eventually link up in an unbelievably complex web of espionage, intrigue, murder, betrayal, counterfeit money and a number of examples of the old adage “Politics makes strange bedfellows”.  Many of the stock characters of previous adventures appear: Peter and Soraya and Don Fernando, plus a number of new ones, most of whom don’t survive their various meetings with Bourne.

If you have a long plane ride in your future, you should consider packing this book in your carry-on; it should hold your attention very nicely for a number of hours.

 

 

No Mark Upon Her by Deborah Crombie

Publisher: William Morrow

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

For Becca Meredith, rowing meant everything—from the fit of the scull to the feel of gliding on the river.  She had a chance to be an Olympian over a decade before but threw it away in the casual invincible manner of youth.  Now in her thirties, Becca clings to rowing even as she moves through the ranks of the police—making her murder twice as shocking.

Scotland Yard Superintendant Duncan Kincaid and his team conscientiously investigate Becca’s death even as it threatens to derail their careers with high profile suspects and questionable witnesses.  Becca’s ex-husband Freddie Atterton maintained a close relationship with his ex-wife but is thrown for a loop when her secrets begin to become public.  Complicating the investigation, search and rescue team members Tavie and Kieran found Becca’s body with the aid of their dogs, Tosh and Finn, and this search has impacted them in a totally unexpected way.

While Becca and Kieran each built their lives as loners centered around their personal sense of failure, the other characters ruminate over relationships, both as crime-solving team members and in their quieter efforts to remain part of society without obsessing over the death they see each workday.

Deborah Crombie’s (Necessary as Blood) strength lies in well-drawn characters juggling with relatable personal struggles in addition to professional conundrums, both of which result in greater perspective and observational skills.  Great visuals abound, particularly when describing the rowing sequences, and Crombie stresses the structure and achievement of the English rowing community.  Fast-paced and engrossing, No Mark Upon Her makes for an excellent and relaxing mystery.

 

 

 

Holy Smoke by Frederick Ramsay

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Here’s another good read from Poisoned Pen Press, who seem to find the most unusual writers and topics of any publishers around.  The author this time is an Episcopal priest with a medico-military background—not something you’re going to run across every day in the week.  He also has a fascination with the earliest days of the Christian Era, or perhaps it’s the last days of the Classical Era—in any event, this third book in his trilogy is an entertaining read, well-researched and well thought out.

The story starts with the finding of a rope trailing out from under the curtain that hides the Holy of Holies in Herod’s temple in Jerusalem in the year 29.  Nobody knows for sure what, if anything is at the other end of the rope, but all the priests are guessing that it has to be a body. Why?  Because there was a general belief that at some point somebody had decreed that any priest entering the holiest place in Judaism should have a rope tied to his leg, in case ha Shem, “The Name”, a.k.a. God, should choose to strike the priest dead.  No priest until now has had a rope tied to his leg when going behind the veil, but everyone knows what might happen if he did.

In the midst of much milling around and mild hysteria, Gamaliel the head rabbi turns up and asks the obvious question: has anyone pulled on the rope to see what’s at the other end?  No, and nobody wants to, either.  A compromise is reached, and a man goes up in a tower and manages to see that there is indeed a body attached to a rope.  More time is wasted until Gamaliel and his friend Loukas the physician convince Caiaphas the high priest to remove the body so that it can be properly examined.  To everyone’s horror, the body proves to be horrible burned, quite beyond recognition, but only from the knees up.

The rest of the book is taken up with Gamaliel’s persistent investigation into who the dead man is, why he was murdered, and how he was brought to the temple without anyone apparently knowing about it.  The latter question is fairly easily solved: somebody had to have been bribed, and this is proved when several of the temple guards on the night watch vanish and turn up murdered in a ditch some days later.

Caiaphas wants the whole problem to go away, and is quite happy to blame ha Shem for the dead man’s demise.  It plays to his own needs to have people think that the Almighty strikes down sinners still.  By some excellent Talmudic logic and just plain common sense argument on Gamaliel’s part, Pontius Pilate is convinced to lend a few soldiers in plain clothes to the hunt for the murderer.  It’s not in Pilate’s nature to help the Jews, but he can see that Gamaliel’s argument is valid: there’s a product involved that, if loosed on the streets of the Roman Empire, could bring untold problems and attack the very foundations of Rome’s might.

Unlike some I am sent for review, I found this a very enjoyable book. It is intelligently written, has some nice touches of humour, has little violence and no grotty sex scenes, and depends on plot, location and characters for its success.  I’d be pleased to see what Fr. Ramsay comes up with next.

 

 

Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes

Publisher: Harper Paperbacks

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Catherine Bailey is just another young, beautiful English woman searching for something to alleviate her boredom and hoping to find it in bars, work or occasional adventures with her passel of friends.  When she meets a handsome and charismatic doorman named Lee at one of the local bars, Catherine is pleased to discover that he is interested in making their connection last much longer than a one-night stand.  Even better, her friends jealously eye Lee and wish that they, too, could find a man with everything to offer, especially his focused devotion on Catherine.  

Four years later, Catherine is now Cathy and has fled Lancaster to the crowded city of London, shearing her now silver hair and becoming a master of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) habits.   She lives alone in a building with two other apartments and spends her time working during the day and checking and rechecking her locks at night.  

Author Elizabeth Haynes successfully transforms Catherine from a potentially vapid, one-note character into a sympathetic, desperate figure in this debut novel.  She jumps chronologically between Catherine’s fearful present and her carefree early twenties before Lee changed her life.  While the juxtaposition reveals a dramatic difference, the short narratives sometimes read as jumpy or jarring.  Still, Catherine’s battles to reestablish herself mentally and physically give her heft, especially after she meets her upstairs neighbor who works strange hours but always carefully locks the front door to the apartment building.  His appearance is convenient but necessary to help Catherine work through her fears.

The modern English setting unexpectedly provides a contrast with American novels dealing with similar issues, primarily because Catherine never voices the possibility of obtaining a gun for self-protection.  No matter what the reader’s political opinions, this proves striking for readers on this side of the pond because of nearly reflexive cultural assumptions.  While the young men and women in both countries share similar lifestyles, aspirations and regrets, England’s gun laws differ greatly from those of the United States.  This forces Catherine to be creative in how she will manage her fears about seeing Lee, but Haynes fails to let Catherine actually form a plan, perhaps the weakest part of the plot.

Into the Darkest Corner gains much of its chills from the premise but the effects of Catherine’s paranoia promises readers will give strangers a second look.

 

 

Rules of Crime by L.J. Sellers

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

Renee Jackson has been fighting alcohol addiction for some time. It contributed to the end of her first marriage. Things in her life were looking better. She had meant a new man who was successful in his business. They were engaged. Then things began to go wrong. She started to drink again despite attending AA meetings. She had decided to check herself into rehab for the third time when criminals kidnapped her in order to demand ransom from her fiancée.

Katie, Renee’s teen-aged daughter contacts her father – police detective Wade Jackson. He leaves his Hawaiian vacation to fly to Eugene, OR and assist on the investigation. Renee’s fiancée agrees to pay the ransom, but something goes wrong at the money drop. The bagman drowns in the river and the money disappears. Now all the people who care about Renee are left to wonder if she can still be released.

In the meantime, police are investigating the vicious beating of the college coed. Slowly, they begin to wonder if the cases are connected. Now they need to find out what is behind each and how they are connected before time runs out for Renee.

Sellers had created an interesting mystery with her hometown as the setting. Her experience and expertise are evident in procedural style of the story. Additionally the plot twists will keep the reader guessing up to end.

 

 

The Llama Of Death by Betty Webb

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press                     

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Anyone who knows a real llama won’t be amazed by the premise that opens this story of critters and crime.  A tacky marriage mill minister is found dead in near where Alejandro the llama has been penned for the night.  Zookeeper Teddy Bentley has brought Alejandro along to the local Renaissance Faire and he’s blamed for the death, .until someone notices a crossbow quarrel in the dead man’s back.  Quarrel indeed: there may be many people who have a bone to pick with the late Rev—seems he wasn’t really a man of the cloth, unless you count an orange jumpsuit.  Victor Emerson is really a man named Jamison and he’s been on the run from the law. 

Things get complicated when Teddy’s mother Caro is arrested by the dim-witted acting sheriff for Victor’s murder.  Then her father, who also happens to be on the lam, comes back to town to provide his version of help.  (Think of Tempe Brennan’s dad on “Bones”.)

Teddy’s fiancé Joe Rejas is away from town, so it looks like the best bet is to find the real killer in order to get Caro freed.  We all know what sort of trouble comes to amateur detectives who go hunting killers, right?  Starting with a little gentle breaking-and-entering, Teddy discovers the fake minister’s blackmail book, which leads to other revelations and eventually, by circuitous way, to a confrontation with the killer after a long chase through the undergrowth at the zoo where Teddy works.  The killer has a gun and all Teddy has is her exhausted father in tow—but wait, are those pounding hooves the sound of the cavalry arriving? 

This is a gentle, amusing and entertaining mystery, perfect for people who don’t want to read chainsaw massacres and grotty sex scenes.  It would make a great TV series for those of us still mourning the departure of Angela Lansbury’s long-running Murder She Wrote series from the small screen.

 

 

 

 

Miss Dimple Rallies to the Cause by Mignon F. Ballard

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Set during World War II, Miss Dimple Rallies to the Cause tells the story of a small town in the United States whose preoccupations with war and young romance are suddenly interrupted with the discovery of a body. 

Author Mignon Ballard weaves the daily details of life on the American homefront into the murder mystery, making the local violence almost secondary to the rations and home and true deprivation and death in the European and the Pacific arenas.  Even the discovery of the young woman’s body occurs when the local school children enjoy a quick picnic after picking cotton on the Hutchinson farm to help the war effort. 

Miss Dimple, a calm, lovely schoolteacher, quietly observes and gently persuades her friends and charges to help each other on a regular basis, making her subtle suggestions on solving the case neither unwelcome nor unexpected.  Ballard periodically refers to an earlier investigation involving Miss Dimple and the town seems to genuinely look up to the sixty-something detective.

In spite of Miss Dimple’s status, plenty of other townspeople try to piece together what they know, especially after one of their own suffers a gunshot wound behind the scenes of the womanless wedding fundraiser, the sort of event that proved popular in many of the era’s small towns, eliciting funds and giggles during a time of food rationing and gas shortages.

Throughout the story, the young women in the community worry about the brothers and lovers fighting overseas, while stepping up to help in the various war effort activities.  Ballard makes these relationships seem personal by describing Charlie Carr, a teacher in her twenties, who hopes to marry Will Sinclair after the war is over. 

Filled with knowledge of the era (although an error slips in concerning the 1936 novel Gone With the Wind claims that Melanie shot a Union soldier rather than Scarlett), Miss Dimple Rallies to the Cause will best entertain readers who enjoy old-fashioned cozies reminiscing about the best parts of humanity during the mid-twentieth century, without delving into the cultural changes soon to occur. 

 

 

 

Taken by Robert Crais

Publisher: Berkley

Reviewed by Don Crouch, New Mystery Reader

Taken is the latest in Crais’ noted run of teeth-gnashing palm-sweaters to feature, in some shape, form or fashion, Elvis Cole and Joe Pike.

The series’ standing among the premier of its’ ilk is a surprise to no one that notices.  Crais is an NYT Top 10 regular, so his days as a “genre-fave” are long behind him. He’s transcended to torch-bearing game-changer.  So it’s comforting to mention here that Crais has again kicked it up another notch and delivered an episode of soul-stirring thrills.

Taken commences with the, well, taking of Jack Berman and Krista Morales.  What begins as 70’s-romantic nostalgia quickly becomes terror as they stumble into a human-traffic transaction and become collateral ransom.  Fast forward a few days and Krista’s mother hires Elvis to find her.  Then Crais moves us forward to an action-flashpoint with Joe Pike and Jon Stone.  These jolts start out jarring, like they’re supposed to, in order to set the rhythm that Crais is building...to keep us limber....the early flashes of action help build tension for future events, and sometimes you don’t even know it!

Crais created some strategic challenges for himself with Taken, and he responded by expanding (exploding?) his narrative palette . In creating what can briefly be described as Tarentino-esque plotting, Crais gives himself the freedom of multiple moving parts.  Location, story arcs and character beats all serve to keep the reader learning just enough to stay afloat.

And then he does this: somewhere in the middle third of Taken, he pulls us totally out of the story and spends some time looking at how events affect Joe Pike. It’s Joe, Elvis’ cat, and a car. But it puts us square in the sights of what is the essence of Joe Pike, and it resonates in ways both subtle and direct throughout the book.  It’s why Crais is a heavyweight.

The broad palette Crais manages in Taken involves human-trafficking and the filth it spreads. Of course, the long-neglected US Immigration system, whose margins allow human-traffic slime to thrive, is a big part of what Crais wants us to pay attention to.

The multi-national roots of the human-traffic hell-world are what Elvis must use to rescue Jack and Krista as he attempts to infiltrate the system.

Of course, Elvis gets taken. What follows is in the high-body-count Crais tradition we’ve all come to know and love, because these are high-stakes affairs, folks, and our guys are not messing around.

The emotional core is, of course, the bro-mance.  Crais’ primary themes always are seasoned with “friendships forged in fire”.  Elvis loves to talk about their friendship...yeah, Elvis pretty much loves to talk about anything....while Joe generally speaks via behavior. In Taken, he does so loudly. But Crais does shine a little more inner light on to Joe’s processes, and it’s always welcome.

Crais regs will find much to love here. Those freshly on-boarding will have no problems getting up to speed. Taken is another big step forward for a writer we’ve been trained to expect nothing less from. Sit down, strap in and HAVE FUN!

 

Dying in the Wool by Frances Brody

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Nearly forgotten in popular fiction, World War I has clearly become a source of inspiration in the current literary revival nearly a hundred years later.  In Frances Brody’s Dying in the Wool, Kate Shackleton has maintained her wits thanks to a strong network of well-wishers and her own curious nature after being widowed four years earlier in the Great War.  Navigating through the English society struggling to return to normal after its physical and mental devastation, Kate helps others who have lost contact with their spouses, children or other relatives through death, bureaucratic uncertainty or misadventure after the war. 

In Dying in the Wool, a school acquaintance of Kate’s, a wealthy millowner’s daughter named Tabitha, requests Kate’s help in finding her missing father in just a few weeks time.  Tabitha, sparkling on the outside and a bit fragile on the inside, plans to marry a young man several years her junior in an attempt to find happiness and perhaps recapture the youth she lost during the war.  Tabitha’s father, Joshua Braithwaite, suffered the loss of his son Edmund on the first day of the Somme, apparently causing a nervous breakdown of sorts and an embarrassing episode in which the local boy scouts found him in great confusion.  His later, seemingly permanent disappearance continues to haunt Tabitha seven years later and she fears that her painful past will snuff out her dreams of future happiness.

Fortunately for Tabitha, Kate’s experience during the war and its aftermath resulted in a determination to find the truth, undimmed by social conventions or gender bias and supported by a tender heart towards others who have suffered.  Kate’s family may believe that her husband is really and truly dead, but Kate shares Tabitha’s hope that their loved ones are just missing and confused, perhaps, or somewhere in need of their aid.  The fighting by soldiers may be over, but the war still affects everyone in this story.

Brody evokes a genuine sense  of the regrets and ongoing concerns felt by those who lived through the rebuilding efforts, especially those in the more economically comfortable classes who feel the  economic currents in a way modern readers understand, without an unrelatable nobility found in other books whose heroines seem to have little trouble scraping by.  Sympathetic character development appears throughout and enhances the believability of both immediate victims and their survivors.

Readers who appreciate Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series and Charles Todd’s Bess Crawford mysteries should find Brody’s Kate Shackleton mysteries worth investigating.

 

 

Oath Of Office by Michael Palmer

Publisher: St. Martin’s Paperbacks

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

Michael Palmer has been writing edge-of-your-set medical thrillers for several decades and firmly taken the place of Robin Cook in that genre.  His last few novels have ventured out into pure thriller territory and with a nice political spin!

His latest effort, OATH OF OFFICE, combines both the medicine and politics to create a novel that has very current and relevant themes at its core.  The story opens with a well-respected but curiously troubled Doctor named John Meacham going on a shooting spree in his own office and killing several people before taking his own life.

The results of this tragedy are placed at the feet of Dr. Lou Welcome, the counselor who had worked to get Dr. Meacham’s medical license restored after it was revoked due to prescription drug addiction.  Welcome does not want to believe that the two acts are related so he begins to look into the homicidal act to find out what the actual root cause was.

Welcome’s search quickly pits him against powerful opponents.  He uses his position as a physician with the PWO --- Physician Wellness Office --- to look further into the Meacham case.  When a few other cases of people acting out sorts or maniacal occur, Welcome suspects that this is no mere coincidence and delves further into the investigation.

His journey leads him to a small town named Kings Ridge where the residents have been acting odder than usual.  Ironically, this is also the town of multi-millionaire William Chester, the head of Chester Enterprises.  Chester is a major food magnate and Lou and the colleagues he enlists to aid him in his efforts find out first-hand just how powerful Chester is when they find themselves nearly mowed down in one of his huge corn-fields.

Death by a corn thrasher is more than just a sick coincidence when it turns out that this very corn (and other produce being manufactured by Chester Enterprises) may have been genetically tampered with.  Could this tampered food be behind the behavioral changes of the local residents and possibly have brought about the homicidal reactions of Dr. Meacham?

As frightening as this premise is for Welcome, it does not come near the greater revelation that he uncovers.  Could the White House itself have been behind the genetically tampered food products?  If yes, the next question would have to be to what end was this being done?  That answer is one that Welcome is definitely not prepared for and will terrify readers with how eerily plausible this discovery is.

 

 

The Hope Vendetta by Scott Mariani

Publisher: Touchstone  

Reviewed by Jim Sells,  New Mystery Reader

Ben Hope was a professional British Army officer who moved on to a career as a consultant ensuring the return of kidnap victims. Ben acquired enough money for comfortable life. He decided to return to the theological studies he left for his military career.

Zoë Bradbury is a brilliant yet wild child of a professor at Ben’s university. She is abducted on a Greek isle just before returning to her parent’s home. In the kidnapping, Zoë receives a head injury and memory loss. Professor Bradbury begs for Ben’s help, but Ben is now intent upon his path to the clergy. He recommends Charlie, a friend and another former soldier. When Charlie asks for his help, Ben meets him on the isle. At a café, a bomb kills many, including Charlie. Ben is only spared by happenstance.

A female assassin makes an attempt on Ben. She and her partner suffer for their fatal error. Now Ben is chasing clues that lead from England, Jerusalem and Greece to the United States. They involve a low rent lawyer, an elderly lady billionaire and a ruthless evangelist. Zoë’s loss of memory has kept her alive as the kidnappers seek some missing object that she possessed and that holds power over the evangelist.

Ben must solve the mystery in order to save Zoë and avenge Charlie’s death.

This is a first-rate thriller and mystery. The locales infuse color into the superior plot. The characters are well developed. The contrast between Zoë  wild and willful only child status to Zoë the kidnap victim show the skill level of the author. Ben is a likable and understated hero who has no qualms about expedience in accomplishing his mission.

 

 

The Dark Rose by Erin Kelly

Publisher: Penguin Books

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

When professional gardener, Louisa, and witness for the prosecution, Paul, meet when Paul is sent to help with the renovation of an English garden after being given a second chance at redemption after his involvement in a murderous crime, no one is prepared for the events that follow.  Louisa is for all intents a recluse, holding a secret that she’s been running from for years, but upon seeing Paul, who looks like the boy she once loved, she's sent into a tailspin, with the memories coming back in full force.  And for Paul, a young man whose second chance at life first seems hopeful, he will find that nothing and no one is ever what they seem.  And when these two lives collide in a steamy and unexpected love affair, it becomes all too clear that this is a story that most likely will not end well.

Erin Kelly brings us two damaged souls whose background stories, which make up a good part of the novel, are easy to empathize with and even easier to like.  For awhile anyway, as the further we get to know these characters, the more we see how one of them is not quite as innocent as first appeared.  But in a tale that forces confrontations with one’s past, we also see how it’s inevitable that the day of reckoning will arrive, with rebirth for some forever remaining just a dream.  A character-driven story that offers a great deal of mystery and, at times, a tender story of hoped for renewal through love, this one stirs the senses with an ending that is as perfectly heartrending as its beginning.      

 

 

Death of A Kingfisher by M C Beaton

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

This is the umpteenth in the Hamish McBeth series.   M C Beaton takes us once again to the tiny town of Lochdubh, once described as “the murder capital of the Highlands”.  Hamish McBeth has resisted every attempt to prise him out of his comfortable niche in the police house in Lockdubh, and despite his enviable record solving crimes, he’s always been able to sidestep promotion to the big city. 

In the newest episode of the McBeth oats opera, Hamish has been lumbered with an unwanted housemate, the lazy Constable Dick Fraser, who’s marking time until retirement.  Despite being nearly as inanimate as a turnip, Fraser manages to acquire a fair bit of local knowledge by listening to gossip, some of which comes in handy later.

All the stock Lockdubh characters are here, including the old dog Lugs and the wild cat, Sonsie, plus some new people including the wealthy widow Mrs Colchester .  She’s moved to the edge of the town of Braikie and is reportedly unhappy that the land she purchased didn’t include Buchan’s Wood, now renamed Fairy Glen and being run by Mary Leinster as a tourist attraction.  However, after her grandson is saved from a potentially fatal accident foreseen by Mary, Mrs Colchester warms to the idea of the glen.

Hamish meets Mary and is instantly smitten.  He’s ripe for romance, having mucked up several previous relationships.  Mary is married, but she lets it be known it’s not happily ever after.  Soon after they meet, Mary rings Hamish to report a murder.  He dashes to her side, only to find the corpse is that of the kingfisher that frequents the pool in the fairy glen.  Sad though this is, it doesn’t count as a real murder—but there’s not long to wait until there’s a near fatal accident, and then a real murder, and another one--not to mention some lesser crimes such as car theft.

There’s a great deal going on in this book, and some of the action has been compressed to fit the series’ usual modest sized volume.  It makes for a bit of a choppy read in spots, and one wishes the author had taken more time and used more words.  Some of the subplots seem to have been dealt with in a very perfunctory manner.  There is a rather different sort of ending to the murder case this time, and there’s a foreshadowing of trouble to come for Hamish.

I’ve read most of Beaton’s previous McBeth novels and wouldn’t put this on top of the A List; however,  her B list is still better than many other writers’ best efforts.

 

 

Stay Close by Harlen Coben

Publisher: Signet

Seventeen years ago when an exotic dancer, Cassie, and one of her best customers, Stewart, went missing, Broome, the New Jersey detective on the case had no leads but he also never gave up.  Also, never forgetting were the loved ones left behind, Cassie’s lover Ray, and Stewart’s family. 

Now it’s 17 years later and another man has gone missing from the same area.  Ray, who is making his yearly pilgrimage to the site where he last saw his lover Cassie, happens to photograph the missing man, entangling him in an investigation that will bring the past alive and expose secrets that the most innocent looking are keeping.  Including those of his ex Cassie, who is now known as Megan, a happily married soccer mom who too will have to face her past when even more bodies are found and she’s thrust into the middle of the investigation they may cause her seemingly idyllic life to implode around her.

If I wasn’t told who had written this stand alone suspense tale, I never would have guessed it was Coben.  There was something a bit different in this one.  Not something bad, just different; something indefinable missing that seems to always touch Coben’s tales, an intimacy almost.  But the familiar goodies usually included in a Coben novel are definitely to be found in abundance: domestic suspense, secret pasts, family ties, and an electrifying plot.  So as always, this one comes with a recommendation, especially  for those who while might be secretly missing their deviant pasts, would not be too happy see them come back to life again.

 

 

Believing the Lie by Elizabeth George

Publisher: New American Library

Reviewer: Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Children—or a lack thereof—are at the heart of Elizabeth George’s lengthy but magnetically compelling Believing the Lie.  Bernard and Valerie Fairclough have transformed their fairytale courtship into a marriage spanning more than four decades, producing three children and a magazine-worthy estate.  They believe that they will finally have grandchildren and commission an extensive children’s garden area filled with secret play spots tucked in, all within easy viewing of their home. 

The Faircloughs waited for years for this possibility since their son Nicholas spent most of his time either high or in rehab and their childless twin daughters became nearly polar opposites: Mignon is now a bitter, disabled recluse while Manette recently divorced her nearly perfect husband and continues to live with him in their home.  Fortunately for Bernard and Valerie, Nicholas finally cleaned up his life, returning home with a gorgeous Argentinian woman named Alatea as his wife. 

In the midst of all this hope, the Faircloughs’ nephew and potential business heir, Ian Cresswell, dies while trying to tie up his boat in the family’s ancient boathouse.  Local authorities rule the death accidental but Bernard requests additional police assistance, suspecting Ian died at the hands of someone very dear to Bernard and Valerie.

Inspector Thomas Lynley investigates with the help of his friends Simon and Deborah St. James, each of the three allowing their personal trials to direct their courses of inquiry. The recently widowed Lynley welcomes time off from his difficult relationship with his direct supervisor and the St. James’ deal with their own ongoing marital problem in very different ways, resulting in the revelation of a devastating secret pertaining to the case.

In this latest Inspector Lynley novel, George ensures that readers will find both significant and thoughtfully placed little surprises throughout the investigation even while being led down a seemingly predictable garden path of desire, heartbreak and considerable secrecy. 

 

 

A Woman of Consequence by Anna Dean

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Miss Dido Kent, prim but with a wholly Jane Austen-style understanding of “proper,” returns in this English Regency mystery to uncover the identity of a ghost romantically named the “Grey Nun.”  Visions of the Grey Nun caused sensitive young Penelope Lambe to fall, hitting her head on the ancient abbey’s stone ruins, creating concern for her recovery.  Dido believes the apparition to be more earthly but the discovery of a skeleton in the area adds to the hysteria.  The mistress of the property encompassing the ruins asks for Dido’s help in the investigation, granting her access to an upper-crust British home and the secrets encased in dark wood paneling and yards of lush fabric. 

Dido welcomes the work as she tries to forget Mr. Lomax’ proposal and her need to turn it down in order to preserve her independence and the right to her own opinions.  Mr. Lomax’ return complicates both her investigation and matters in her heart, resulting in a quandary of her own making.  His reaction to Dido’s investigation adds depth to his character and another angle for Dido to consider.

Anna Dean portrays a gentle view of early 19th century English life amidst empire-waisted ladies summering in country houses.  Dido remains likeable and resourceful in the third installment of the Investigations of Miss Dido Kent, making her presence well worth the reader’s time on a leisurely afternoon with a nice cup of hot tea.

 

 

The Columbus Affair by Steve Berry

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

Steve Berry has firmly taken the mantle of historical fiction writing from Dan Brown and turned himself into the leading voice in this genre.  His internationally acclaimed Cotton Malone series is one of the most popular in modern fiction.  With the release of THE COLUMBUS AFFAIR he provides readers with his first stand-alone novel since his debut, THE AMBER ROOM.

The historical legend of Christopher Columbus is well known --- but is popular knowledge of Columbus really accurate?  For years rumors have surfaced pointing to the fact that Columbus may have been Jewish and his famous mission to the New World was really an accident.  Could the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria really have been an excursion of converted Jews seeking asylum from the Inquisitions and searching to reestablish themselves in Asia where a clan of Jewish brethren await them?

This is the premise behind THE COLUMBUS AFFAIR --- another terrific historically infused thriller by Steve Berry.  To enjoy this novel demands an astute reader who is able to juggle multiple story-lines and ancient history in great abundance.  The novel begins with an ill-fated journalist attempting to take his own life.  The writer, Tom Sagan, is unsuccessful as his suicide attempt is thwarted by a man known as Zachariah Simon.  Simon is a radical European Jew with a dark agenda and he needs Tom Sagan alive to achieve this.

Parallel to this is a plot-line set on the island of Jamaica where a man known as Bene Rowe is at odds with Zachariah Simon to unearth the alleged treasure of Christopher Columbus --- a treasure with different meaning for each man but one that both will stop at nothing to claim.  Tom Sagan starts on his own adventure and runs into his daughter, Alle, who he has been separated from for years. It seems Tom Sagan renounced his Jewish heritage as part of a second marriage and turned off his daughter in the process. Now, Tom must embrace his Jewish upbringing to make sense of the Columbus legend --- particularly when he discovers that Christopher was a converso or convert and a member of the Levite clan.  Zachariah Simon and his henchman create separate allegiances with both Tom and Alle, knowing that they can both be easily discarded once they have helped Simon to Columbus’ treasure.

Traveling from Florida to Prague and ending in the caves deep within Jamaica, THE COLUMBUS AFFAIR is a thrill ride that never lets up.  If you are able to wade through the ancient Jewish mysticism that dominates much of the novel you will be well rewarded with a non-stop adventure full of intrigue and eye-opening history.  Fans of the Cotton Malone series will also love the fact that Stephanie Nelle makes an appearance towards the end of the novel in a moment that ties the microcosm world Berry has created all together in a nice package.  THE COLUMBUS AFFAIR is a great summer read and yet another reason to proclaim Steve Berry the reigning king of the historical thriller. (For interview with Steve Berry)

 

 

 

Nocturnal by Scott Sigler

Publisher: Broadway     

Reviewed by Jim Sells,  New Mystery Reader 

Bryan Clauser is a tough and effective detective in San Francisco. This is demonstrated by his four justified shootings where criminals have died.  Pookie Chang is less tough and more ambitious. Chang is a good balance as Clauser’s partner. When a series of brutal and high profile murders begin, Chang is focused on furthering his career by solving the case, but the two are excluded from the investigation. Clauser worries less about politics and is somewhat indifferent to this treatment. That is until it looks as though some high police and government officials are covering up something and protecting the killers. Clauser has a very basic sense of right and wrong. This means he takes his job seriously.

The cover up isn’t the worst of what Clauser experiencing. He is plagued by a series of dreams so real that he questions his own sanity. Then he and Chang go to setting of one of the dreams. They find the body of a victim. The next time they interrupt the murder but are too late to save the victim. Despite warnings from superiors, they continue and discover a cult whose members have superior physical abilities and a thirst for blood.

Sigler has successfully merged the crime drama with the macabre. The reader will not be able to finish the book in one sitting because of length. The plot and characters are strong enough to hold the reader’s interest despite the length.