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Whispers Of Vivaldi by Beverle Graves Myers

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press  

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Another historical mystery from Poisoned Pen Press, which is making rather a name in that line.  This is the 6th in the Tito Amato series, and the first one I’ve read, but I trust it won’t be the last.  Working from the premise that her protagonist became a theatrical director after the lost of his once-great voice, Myers uses the glorious background of 18th century Venice as the backdrop for her drama.

Tito and many other leading singers of his day were castrati, surgically altered—often against their will--to remain boy sopranos forever.  Tito was fortunate when he was taken under the wing of Maestro Torani; director of Theatro San Marco.  Now, however, he has the difficult task of convincing the old gentleman that it’s time to leave the old style deus ex machina operas and try something new and different.  Tito is convinced this is the only way the theatre is going to recover from an economic slump and loss of patronage.  He has acquired the rights to a new work: The False Duke, written by a young musician.  It has some wonderful music, reminiscent of the recently dead genius, Antonio Vivaldi.

Torani reluctantly agrees to stage the new opera, but gives Tito the job of convincing the Savio alla Cultura (the Minister for the Arts) to allow the new production.  Since the State of Venice taxes the theatre, it has an interest in how well a production does at the box office.  The Savio permits the new opera to be staged, with two conditions: there must be a fantastic shipwreck scene, and the opera must star the newest castrato sensation, Angeletto.

Just when Tito thinks everything is finally coming together, a number of things happen in quick succession: Maestro Torani is attacked and later murdered; Tito is attacked and wounded; accused of murder for profit; cleared, but sacked from his post as Acting Director; and confined to bed with fever and infection.  He also loses the support of his long-time servant and friend Benito, who vanishes; then the theatre’s leading lady also leaves quickly after revealing that the old maestro was a problem gambler.  Add to all this is a nasty plot by another leading theatre director to destroy the San Marco by lies and innuendo—and outright thuggery when necessary.  Throw in the promiscuous daughter of the Savio and her knife-wielding lover and you have a plot worthy of the grandest of grand operas.

A very enjoyable reading experience and one which contains a lot of non-fictional information about the Venice of the mid-18th century, delivered in a way that doesn’t interfere with the ongoing plot development.  Well worth the price of admission.

 

 

The Second Letter by Robert Lane

Publisher: Mason Alley Publishing

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Boiled down to one sentence, this would be called an action-packed buddy adventure with echoes of the cold war.  What starts out as a classic ‘guy is called back to action by former boss to find compromising document’ story turns into something much darker and nastier.

Jake Travis is a retired Special Forces soldier who does contract work from time to time for his old outfit to alleviate the blissful boredom of life on the Florida Keys.  One day his former comrade Garrett contacts him and asks him to check out a break-in at a small museum nearby.  Nothing obvious is missing, but the US Government thinks there was a letter hidden in the walls of the museum.  The letter casts a very unfavourable light on certain activities and people in the Kennedy administration.

The government believes the letter is now in the possession of a thug named Raydel Escobar who lives on a heavily guarded island off the coast.  Escobar wants to use the letter as a bargaining chip in his ongoing prosecution by the Internal Revenue Service, a group not noted for their warm hearts and flexible principles.

The simple solution seems to be for Jake to sneak onto the island, find out where the letter is hidden, and steal it.  So far so good, but when Jake and his buddies Garrett and Morgan try to accomplish the task, they bump into FBI Agent Binelli, who’s been under cover (literally) as Escobar’s girlfriend du jour.  Binelli has a different agenda to Jake, but when two little girls are found in the panic room in Escobar’s mansion the plot gets even more complicated.  Jake wants to be sure the girls don’t get sent home to be re-sold into sexual slavery; Binelli is focussed totally on making her case against Escobar.

Bullets fly, a nose is bitten off, a lot of unpleasant things happen in the dark, and Jake hopes he’ll live to get home to explain to his girlfriend Kathleen what’s going on before she refuses to ever see him again.

Not the most original plot every written, but nicely handled, with lots of action and a strong moral thread to make Jake more likeable than many other modern action heroes.

 

 

The Burning Air by Erin Kelly

Publisher: Penguin

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

The MacBride family members seem to lead charmed lives, each benefiting from his or her elite education and from the solid upper-class parents, Rowan and Lydia, who provided their children with so much.  Elder daughter Sophie instills this perspective in the reader’s mind, as she talks of the prestigious school she and her siblings attended and the loving, intellectual interactions that filled her childhood.  She briefly notes that her family has suffered while failing to mention any one thing in great detail, leaving such things as her brother’s physical deformity something almost overlooked, as though one has seen it every day for decades and barely internalizes its presence.  The suffering Sophie feels, and which provides a gathering point for the now grown children and their aging father, stems from Lydia’s death.  Rowan, Sophie, Tara and Felix will send Lydia on her final journey on a typically academic way, echoing Vikings and other great classic sendoffs; Lydia’s ashes will be dispersed during small bonfire at the MacBride family’s country estate, recalling the simultaneous local festival centered on a large public bonfire.

While the MacBride family mourns and remembers together, along with new significant others picked up along the way, other voices interrupt Sophie’s narrative to provide backstory on Lydia and what impact she had on others.  These offer true surprises, revealing the complexity of Lydia’s character, especially in someone who believed she was essentially a good person and who would do anything to protect her children and the blessed world in which she lived.  In fact, her anguish over her failures lives on in her volumes of perfectly bound diaries spanning decades from her youth to just before her death.

Author Erin Kelly’s mesmerizing novel beautifully ties these narratives together while exposing the pain that truth can inflict on those we love the most. She smartly plays with characters’ identities in ways that heighten the feelings of desperation and loneliness while showing the struggle between pity and revulsion evoked by the variety of childhood experiences described here. It’s difficult to explain too much without spoiling Kelly’s carefully layered story, but The Burning Air is well worth the time and emotional investment in the sheltered MacBride clan.

 

 

The Baker Street Translation by Michael Robertson

Publisher: Baker Street Mysteries

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Michael Robertson takes on the massive Sherlock Holmes mythology by shifting the setting to present day and allowing the great fictional detective to creep into the cases through the form of letters addressed to Holmes.  This brilliant device pays homage to the effect of literature while the main character, a skeptical barrister named Reggie Heath, wrestles with his own problems in addition to maintaining Holmsian correspondence. 

In the third installment of the series, Reggie’s brother Nigel has left their shared office to become an attorney in the United States while still answering the weekly letters to Sherlock Holmes.  Reggie hopes to wrest the self-possessed actress Laura Rankin from his rival, Lord Robert Buxton, especially since his career has taken off with the publicity from his involvement in the letters.  His notoriety inspires an honorable translator to visit from China to ask about his nonpayment from an English translation company over language discrepancies in old nursery rhymes.

While Reggie half-heartedly helps Mr. Liu, the insufferable Buxton takes delight and spares little expense in harassing Reggie, making it quite difficult for Reggie to believe it when Laura worriedly informs him that Buxton has not only disappeared but is being  held for ransom.  Reggie’s concern for Laura’s safety as the liaison to the kidnappers means that once again, he’s spending little time deciphering the letters or working other cases.  He continues to work with local police but their increased attention to royal visits leaves them distracted as well.

The Baker Street Translation is a clever although lightweight modern British mystery that successfully plays into the stereotypes and perceptions held by those who long to believe in a legendary investigator haunting dark and misty city streets or finding clues in rural, secret-laden villages.

 

 

 

The Hit by David Baldacci

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader 

In all fields there has to be someone that is best at their job. Will Robie is considered by most to be the best professional killer that the CIA has. Up close or from a distance, Robie can eliminate those individuals marked for death by the U.S. government.

Jessica Reel is a younger assassin that could be as good as Robie. Some in the intelligence community consider Reel better than Robie despite his greater experience. Robie has even supervised Reel on one assignment. The question of who is the best could soon be answered.

For unknown reasons, Reel has started killing leaders in the CIA. Robie is assigned the job to eliminate Reel. Functioning initially as an investigator, Robie follows Reel’s trail – nearly being burned to death by one of her elaborate booby traps.

The second in command in the CIA has been killed by Reel. The man’s replacement is DiCarlo, the woman that has trained Reel. When Robie is forced to protect DiCarlo from a number of unknown attackers, he and Dicarlo are saved by Reel. This puts Robie in difficult position. Eventually he saves Reel and fails to kill her when he has the chance.

Robie now finds himself caught an odd situation. Reel claims a conspiracy involving CIA leaders and even a federal judge and congressman. Robie either carry out his mission or trust his instincts about Reel. Trusting his instincts means giving up his career and risking death from his employers.

Baldacci has penned an interesting conspiracy plot within the clandestine agencies of the government. The competition and camaraderie between those risking death is an interesting subplot as is the call of duty versus doing the right thing in difficult circumstances.   

 

 

 

The Body in the Piazza by Katherine Hall Page

Publisher: Avon

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Faith and her husband Tom are taking the vacation of a lifetime!  Leaving her catering company and the parsonage in the care of trusted friends, the Fairchilds plan to spend several days basking in Italy, savoring traditional dishes and touring ancient ruins and centuries-old cathedrals.  Making things even better, Tom has booked the two of them an inaugural cooking class at a small school owned by Francesca, Faith’s former employee.  Thrilled by the adventure and with the prospect of revisiting old friends, Faith and Tom intend to enjoy a romantic, languid experience while leaving their beloved children and quaint New England village behind.

While in Rome, Faith meets Freddy Ives, a stylish Englishman with a wicked sense of humor and an antipathy for travel books, and who quickly entices Faith to see the Eternal City through European eyes, rather than as a harried tourist.  The Fairchilds and Freddy form a fast bond, making it even more devastating when the dashing Freddy is murdered in front of them.

Keeping to their schedule, heartbroken Faith and Tom join their fellow students at Francesca’s cooking school.  Joined by an ever-bickering middle-aged couple, an upper class British pair whose snobbishness threatens to further ruin their trip, and a highly tanned and gorgeous couple who can barely keep their hands off one another, Faith and Tom wonder just how they’ll fit in.  Rounding out the pack is Olivia, a sullen Gothic girl with quick hands and an appreciation for fine cuisine, and two cheerfully single-minded Cajun women obsessed with Francesca’s amazing dishes.

Through it all, descriptions of Italian cooking (with attention to the differences between crostini and bruschetta among others) and the beauty of both urban and rural centers serve as a tourism marketing tool for readers struck by Italy’s thoroughly engaging sensuality.  

In spite of author Katherine Hall Page’s obvious passion for Italian food and the glorious mixture of ancient legends and modern joys that seeps into everyday life in Rome and Tuscany, there remains a missing element to this mystery that keeps it from shining.  Faith and Tom remain entertaining but the narrative sometimes feels a little rushed with awkward segues.  Still, the atmospheric details will leave readers salivating (recipes included in the back) and ready for the next Fairchild adventure.

 

 

 

Capital Punishment by Robert Wilson

Publisher: Orion Books

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

Robert Wilson has risen to fame and much critical claim via the terrific Falcon series set in Portugal.  With the release of CAPITAL PUNISHMENT he brings forth a stand- alone novel that will hopefully mark the start of a new series.

Charles Boxer is a unique character.  His background consists of ex-military and ex-police experience and now has found his niche as a professional hostage negotiator.  He is not without his own demons as he fights to keep down the darkness of his own past before it consumes him.  Compounding this is the strange relationship he has with his ex-wife, and current Police Investigator, Mercy and the estranged teen-age daughter, Amy, they are both rapidly losing touch with.

In an effort to keep himself busy --- and possibly redeem himself for his personal failures with his own daughter --- Boxer throws himself full force into his latest assignment.  The twenty-one-year-old half Indian/half British daughter of a famous Indian billionaire (Frank D’Cruz) has gone missing and appears to be the victim of a kidnapping. Alyshia D’Cruz went out for a night of drinking and bar hopping with some mates and jumps into a taxi at the end of the revelry to return to her flat.  That is the last anyone sees of her.

Her mother, Isabel Marks, is contacted by a mysterious man calling himself Jordan.  Unlike most kidnapping situations, Jordan is not asking for money.  Frank D’Cruz will only trust Boxer to handle the situation.  This case is quite unique as Alyshia’s captors seem to only want to engage in wordplay and exchanging of information and insist on only speaking to Isabel.  The standard threat of not involving law enforcement is also given and Frank and Isabel are in a quandary as to how to best get their daughter safely returned to them.

Boxer complicates the situation by getting sexually involved with his ‘employer’, Isabel, and realizes this may compromise the case.  He reaches out to his ex-wife, Mercy, of the Metropolitan Police Squad, in an effort to get their support should things get out of control.  

It is obvious that the purpose of the kidnapping has something to do with Frank D’Cruz, but he is unable to pinpoint what potential enemy could be behind this act.  Boxer and his police contacts conduct an investigation into D’Cruz’s ties and the web lies and deceit stretch between London and India revealing a trail that leads to some heavy underground mobsters. 

The plot of CAPITAL PUNISHMENT twists and turns while introducing new characters with every passing page.  As the true intent of the kidnappers is slowly exposed Boxer and his colleagues come to the realization that this kidnapping may just be a smoke-screen for a far more sinister plot --- possibly one of terrorist origins.  Charles Boxer is a refreshingly complex protagonist and definitely worthy of his own series --- a consideration I can only hope Robert Wilson follows through on.

 

 

Dangerous Refuge by Elizabeth Lowell

Publisher: Avon

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Rural Refuge, Nevada, has lived up to its name for Shaye Townsend, giving her a second chance after failing professionally and personally in a big city and as the daughter of an upwardly mobile couple.  She loves the dusty desolation and open spaces that are sought by her employer, the nonprofit National Ranch Conservancy.  Gruff rancher Lorne Davis finds the area his haven as well, greeting the Conservancy’s entreaties to inheriting his land with suspicion, at least until he learns to trust Shaye.

After Lorne dies of a heart attack out on his property but dressed in his town clothes, Shaye mourns for him but is put off by his abrasive nephew, Tanner.  As a LAPD detective, Tanner has little patience for provincial Refuge but knows that Lorne’s death was anything but natural.  Since Lorne’s final wishes about willing his ranch are in dispute, The Conservancy enlists Shaye to convince Tanner to relinquish his claim on the property, forcing Shaye to spend time with Tanner as they track Lorne’s last days and investigate why someone would want to hurt the old rancher.

Packed with romantic feelings between the two outsiders, Dangerous Refuge provides an easy escape into the partnership between Shaye and Tanner as they grieve over Lorne and seek his killer.  Elizabeth Lowell (Beautiful Sacrifice) fleshes out the tense dynamic between the established ranchers and the new money looking for development deals and easy profits, raising the stakes for all involved.  Their search leads them to Nevada’s dark corners stocked with violence and illegal activities, in stark contrast with Lorne’s patch of heaven on earth.

Quick pacing and a well-written narrative make Dangerous Refuge a safe bet for good summer reading.

 

 

Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

Publisher: Harper Perennial

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

One of 2012’s most popular novels was GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn.  It was inevitable that great success always breeds imitators.  The debut novel by Kimberly McCreight, RECONSTRUCTING AMELIA, has already drawn comparisons to Flynn’s best-seller.

The difference in the two novels is quite evident.  GONE GIRL is a more tautly written novel by a veteran author at the top of her game. However, I found the final third of that novel to be predictable once the ‘puzzle’ was revealed.  RECONSTRUCTING AMELIA keeps you guessing right up until the end and does something GONE GIRL does not.  McCreight uses a combination of straight narrative, past reflections and depictions of multiple forms of social media (email, Twitter, texts, school newsletters) to piece together a thriller that will appeal to older readers as well as those who enjoy Young Adult fiction.

Amelia attends a co-ed prep school called Grace Hall located in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn.  Like most teens, she longs to be accepted and predictably ends up with the wrong crowd to achieve popularity.  She has doubts about her sexuality and maintains a text relationship with a gay boy named Ben from Albany, NY, whom she has never met.  All the while, her best friend Sylvia warns her of the opinionated but popular female gang who call themselves the Magpies.

Amelia’s mother Kate is a single-parent struggling to raise her daughter right while traversing the political landscape of the NYC law firm where she works.  One day Kate receives a cryptic phone call from Grace Hall telling them she had to come down immediately and get Amelia who was in some sort of trouble.  When Kate eventually arrives she sees the school surrounded by Police and emergency workers.  Kate experiences every mother’s worst nightmare when she realizes they are there due to the fact that her daughter jumped to her death off the roof of the school building.

Kate is devastated and trying to come to grips with how this could have happened and what signs she may have missed.  As she continues to search for an answer she receives an alarming text message that simply states ---  Amelia didn’t jump.  She shares this information with the police and joins forces with an NYPD Detective to hunt down and piece together everything available to them about Amelia.  This consists of both physical things (diary entries, notes) and electronic records (texts, emails).  At the same time, the messages to Kate continue and each one forces her to look into her own past for an answer as well dealing with the fact that she never told Amelia who her father was.

Characters, clues and assorted red herrings abound in RECONSTRUCTING AMELIA as Grace Hall is far from your average school and Amelia quite a unique young woman.  It is when Kate comes face to face with her own past and decisions she made that she realizes every choice you make must produce a result --- not always the one you are expecting.  The mystery remains in place right up to the final pages and this is destined to become one of the more talked about novels of 2013.

 

 

The Healer by  Antti Tuomaiden

Publisher: Vintage

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader 

Tapani Lehtinen is a struggling poet in Helsinki, Finland in the near future. His wife Johanna is a reporter. Johanna has a habit of texting Tapani frequently – even when on an assignment. When Tapani doesn’t hear from her for more than twenty-four hours, he becomes worried. What follows is a journey for Tapani is across the city’s crumbling landscape and into his wife’s past.

Tapani’s world is beset by the results of dramatic weather change. Where one region such as Scandinavia is suffering from flooding, another is suffering from drought. The changes are severe enough to severely affect the entire world. Some countries such as Sweden and Demark are faring slightly better. This results in escape by citizens from Finland. Refugees quickly take their places from other regions.

The police are short-staffed and overwhelmed by crime. Basic social services are breaking down. Private security firms are rapidly appearing and using brutal methods to protect their clients and gain power.

Johanna has been following the work of a serial killer who has labeled himself as “The Healer”. The Healer is a killer who is massacring industrialists and their families in retaliation for what he perceives as crimes against society that resulted in the weather change.

Gradually, Tapani begins to piece the picture together of events in the hours since Johanna went missing. What he finds is different than a serial killer, but just as sinister. The question becomes will he be able to use this information in time to help his missing wife?

Tuomainen has created an interesting work of mystery and social commentary. The vivid descriptions of a hellish vision that is the future of a major city, creates unease and sadness at once. This contrasts well with the loss that Tapani is feeling about his missing wife. The result is a profound sense of pathos. All in all, this is a superior work.

 

 

A Case Of Redemption by Adam Mitzner

Publisher: Pocket Books

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

With the release of his first novel, A CONFLICT OF INTEREST, NYC Attorney Adam Mitzner drew instant comparisons to greats of the legal thriller genre such as John Grisham and Scott Turow.  His plotting received comparison to the late, great Patricia Highsmith and the end result was a novel that was named one of the best books of 2011.

The question now with the release of his second effort entitled A CASE OF REDEMPTION is whether or not Mitzner would suffer from the infamous sophomore slump.  This latest release stands on its own and does not seek to be a rewrite of the successful formula that made his first effort a hit.  With a storyline ripped right from the headlines of the modern age of celebrity and the music industry, A CASE OF REDEMPTION will ring true with all who read it.

There are two characters most in need for a bit of redemption in this novel.  The first is Defense Attorney, Dan Sorensen.  He is suffering through a personal tragedy whereby his wife and only child were tragically killed by a drunk driver.  He now finds himself being drawn back into the courtroom in what amounts to be the highest profile celebrity murder case since the O.J. Simpson trial.

The other character seeking redemption is the accused --- a hard-core and internationally famous rapper named Nelson Patterson who performs under the moniker L.D. which is short for Legally Dead.  All true hard-core rappers need serious street ‘cred’ to make it in their business and the story is L.D. was shot several times and declared legally dead in a gang-related incident.  Thus, he has the respect of his fans as well as actual gang-bangers.

L.D. performs for the label Capital Punishment (an obvious pun on the real label Death Row Records).  The head of the label is a white record producer named Matt Brooks.  Brooks has ridden the wave of success that has seen L.D. release an instant rap sensation called ‘A-Rod’.  The reference is to the New York Yankees star, Alex Rodriguez, and the gist of the song is that an angry young man beats his girlfriend to death with a baseball bat or ‘goes A-Rod on her’.

The trouble is that L.D. in real life is part of high-profile couple with a young white entertainer with the one-name moniker of Roxanne.  How ironic is it when Roxanne is found beaten to death with a baseball bat.  It seems like an open and shut case to anyone who hears the alleged facts --- but not to an Attorney named Nina, the sister of one of Dan Sorensen’s best friends.  Nina persuades Dan to take on the case and even go into partnership with her on their own firm.  The inevitable love affair follows shortly thereafter.

The problem is that Dan’s client is not very likable and he must face a jury that will have their own prejudicial ideas on the case and thereby become very difficult to persuade.  Dan realizes that innocent men often go to jail in the real world --- especially if they are black and accused of brutally murdering a white woman.

A CASE OF REDEMPTION plays out like a Lifetime movie of the week with so many obvious connections to real-life celebrities it is impossible to not conjure up images in your mind while reading it.   What Mitzner does best, however, is not necessarily producing courtroom trickery but possessing the ability to masterfully plot his novel like someone who has been writing thrillers for decades.   A CASE OF REDEMPTION hits the reader with so many unexpected twists in the last act of this story that you will be left reeling.   The end result is a timely legal thriller with enough surprises to challenge even the most astute reader.   (for an interview with Adam Mitzner)

 

 

 

Tragic by Robert K. Tanenbaum

Publisher: Pocket Books

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

New York prosecutor Butch Karp and Marlene Ciampi his defense attorney / P.I. wife are back. This time Butch is taking on Charlie Vitteli a corrupt and brutal labor leader in a dockworkers’ union.

Karp is a driven professional with a profound sense of empathy. Marlene is tough and ready to protect husband and family.

Vitteli has clawed his up the union ladder to become a powerful leader. He’s held power through blackmail and violence that could extend to contract murder when he deemed it necessary. When Vince Carlotta is perceived as a threat, Vitteli’s union rival is killed in an apparent robbery.

Karp manages to convict the smalltime hoods that murdered Carlotta and even draw a connection with Vitteli through the media, but criminal charges against him are more difficult.  Vitteli is having the witnesses and participants eliminated that could connect him with crime. Karp must use all of his contacts and connections on both sides of the law to bring Vitteli to justice.

Tanenbaums’ extensive and distinguished career in the legal profession shows through in a work that could easily become a dry procedural. However, his superior writing skill allows the characters to have depth and humor. The plot is as clear and logical as a prosecutor’s summation at trial. The parallels with Hamlet and the son of the former union boss are enjoyable as are supporting characters such as Butch’s very Russian gangster cousin who gives him inside information as does Dirty Warren, the newspaper vendor.

While the book is fairly long and detailed, it is well enough written that the reader can put it down for several days and easily resume with the reading. It is small wonder that Tanenbaum enjoys such popularity.

 

 

Caretakers by Jamie Sheffield

Publisher: SmartPig

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader

When Stieg Larsson introduced the world to Lisbeth Salander in his terrific MILLENIUM TRILOGY he single-handedly created a new sub-genre of thriller fiction in the process.  Larsson, who achieved much of his literary success posthumously, opened the door to a siege of Scandinavian crime thrillers.  Books from authors like Jo Nesbo, Hakan Nesser, Camilla Lackberg flood the international best-seller list and television series based on Scandinavian shows like The Killing, The Bridge and most recently Those Who Kill are thrilling audiences each week in their living-rooms.

I humbly issue a challenge to these domestic U.S. fans of Scandinavian fiction. This challenge is to go out of your way to discover the same bleak, cold and stark settings within the continental U.S. borders.  I’m not just talking about Steve Hamilton’s terrific Alex McKnight series but the wealth of stellar crime thrillers set in my own home state of New York.

Upstate New York is home to more than just the Hudson Valley region that inspired Washington Irving to create The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow.  As you continue northward you hit the mysterious and magical Adirondack Mountains region.  This territory is steeped in history and the acres of forest and unchartered land make for the perfect back-drop to stage a murder mystery.

Author Jamie Sheffield of the Lake Placid region has been doing his part as one of the brightest authors in the ‘new’ thriller sub-genre entitled Adirondack Noir.  Of course, this is my own invention --- but it might just catch on.  Sheffield’s latest entry in his incredibly imaginative and unique Tyler Cunningham Adirondack Mystery series is entitled CARETAKERS.

Tyler is not your typical resident of the Adirondacks Mountains region. He is technically an outsider.  He grew up in a family of means down-state and tragically lost both his parents on 9/11.  The money left to him was enough to live out three lifetimes and he chose to take up residence in Saranac Lake, NY.  He defies typical aspects of someone of wealth and is, for all practical reasons, homeless.  Tyler elects to live off the land and enjoys being in the wild and camping out most of the year. 

His days are spent in a small office for his own company he calls Smart Pig.  Because he lacks empathy and has difficulty forming emotional ties with nearly anyone he has created a life for himself doing what he does best --- research and solving puzzles.  His obsession has led to him take side gigs as an unlicensed private investigator. Since he does not need money he trades his unique services and research skills for favors.  These favors could be the use of a fancy automobile or a stay at a vacation home.

CARETAKERS poses an interesting case for Tyler and the opportunity to work on a missing persons mystery over 50 years old.  When one of the wealthiest families in the area, the Crocker’s, contact him he goes to meet with the elderly family matriarch at the campsite her family owns.  Kitty Crocker cannot die peacefully until she learns the truth surrounding the disappearance of her young daughter, Deirdre, nearly 60 years earlier.

Tyler takes on the case and it leads him through decades of Adirondack history --- some of which take him down dark corridor and put him in the crosshairs of pretty dangerous people.  He knows all about this --- a dangerous guy named Barry, who he killed in the previous novel, HERE BE MONSTERS, still exists for Tyler as  ghost/conscience and tries to steer him straight.  The caretakers that are referenced in the title may be part of a dark agenda and Deirdre Crocker’s disappearance may only be the tip of the iceberg.

Extremely entertaining, Tyler Cunningham continues to evolve as a protagonist (if you can get your hands on HERE BE MONSTERS --- do so!).  CARETAKERS never fails to surprise and takes the reader on a literary travelogue of the beautiful Adirondacks and part of their rich history and tradition. Yes --- cold, stark, atmospheric thrillers do exist stateside!

So, next time you wish to take a literary escape there is no need to travel to unfamiliar territory on the other side of the world --- come to the beautiful and spacious Upstate New York Region that is filled to the brim with great tales--- I guarantee you won’t want to leave!

 

 

The Gray Ghost Murders by Keith McCafferty

Publisher: Penguin Books          

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

Sean Stranahan has lived in Montana more than a year. This means that gradually he moving from an outsider, but is still in the process of finding his niche. He makes a living from working as a fishing guide and selling his paintings. In addition he can’t escape his earlier career as an investigator for a law firm. This skill comes into play when Sheriff Martha Ettinger asks him to help investigate the death and possible murder of two middle-aged men whose decomposed remains are found in the wilderness thanks to a grizzly foraging for food. 

In addition, a fishing club asks him to investigate the disappearance of several valuable fishing flies. As he proceeds, Sean begins to realize that there may be a connection between members of the fly fishing club and the murders as either murderers or potential victims.

This is not to say that there is a lack of other suspects or possible victims. A colorful congressman with a love of hunting big game is one. Another is a hunting guide who gruff exterior might hide dark secrets.

Just so Sean isn’t bored with any free time, he begins a romance with a vet student who works part-time as a scantily clad barista. The question asked by his friends is: “How did he get so lucky?”

McCafferty is master storyteller. This is not surprising given his masters in journalism. Coupled with a undergrad degree in zoology, the author gives and authentic and entertaining insight of the Montana wilderness and people. His particular strength is a skill with words that can transport the reader to the open skies and clean water of the rugged landscape. If there is a flaw in the work, it might be McCafferty’s apparent belief that all readers will be as fascinated with many of the nuances of fly-fishing. Still, the work benefits from a well-developed storyline, three-dimensional characters and a surprise at the end.

 

 

Watching the Dark by Peter Robinson

Publisher: William Morrow

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good for New Mystery Reader

Homicide detective Bill Quinn has had a rough year. His beloved wife died and now he’s staying a police convalescent facility where he’s got plenty of time to think about his passion in life, fishing, and the unsolved six year-old case that changed him in ways he never expected. Unfortunately, for Bill, things would only get worse.

Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks wants to know who felt it was necessary to shoot a crossbow bolt into Bill’s chest and why. His colleague, DI Annie Cabbot, is just finishing up her own stay at the convalescent facility due to a work-related shooting injury, and joins Banks and icy blond Joanna Passero, a representative from Professional Standards whose own investigation centers more on Bill Quinn’s professional life than on how he died.

Banks’ investigation takes him on a trip to Estonia, an interesting depiction of post-Cold War life, but it’s clear that Russia still has a very clear presence.  Meanwhile, Annie stays in England to follow leads, while both she and Banks raise plenty of questions about Bill Quinn’s cases and decisions that seemed to strike a wrong note.

When Robinson talks about Bill’s life and career, he uses vibrant fishing imagery to flesh out what could have been a forgettable victim. He also makes a smart choice by sending Banks and Passero to Estonia; it’s a mix of travelogue, underworld and reveals the depths of the underlying tension between the two mistrustful colleagues. Watching the Dark will please Stephen Booth fans and other readers who enjoy imperfect yet relentless detectives intent on finding those who murder with impunity.

 

 

Gun Machine by Warren Ellis

Publisher: Mulholland Books    

Reviewed by Karen Treanor for New Mystery Reader

Responding to a call for help that initially sounds more like a try-out for a new sitcom than a crime in progress, Detectives John Tallow and Pete Rosato find a crazy naked man with a shotgun menacing the residents of an apartment building.  He’s already shot a hole in one door, and there’s no telling what he may go for next.  Before they really get a handle on what’s going on, the crazy naked man has shot Pete Rosato, John Tallow has shot the crazy naked man, and a blood and gore spattered Tallow is on 48-hour administrative leave. 

Long before the 48 hours are up, Tallow has been dragged back in to the 1st precinct office by his lieutenant and told to go back to work.  The apartment that the crazy man shot a hole in turns out to be full of guns of all types and ages, and it looks as if some of them were involved in recent murders.  Assigned a pair of (possible mentally ill) Crime Scene investigators, Tallow starts trying to figure out what all the guns mounted on the walls of the apartment mean.  There’s a pattern, but he can’t convince his lieutenant of it.  There’s a very clever and probably totally deranged killer slipping through the shadows, but nobody wants to know about him.

The job Tallow has been given becomes a lot harder when various powerful figures become involved in it.  It almost seems as if there are some people in town who would prefer the case to be swept under the carpet and forgotten.  Of course, that can’t be right—senior police officers and politicians would never participate in a cover-up to protect a cabal of very rich and powerful men, surely?  And big businessmen wouldn’t have gotten where they are by systematic murder and blackmail!

This is a very fast-moving, incredibly complex and very colourful story.  The author’s previous work writing graphic novels is evident on every page, you can all but hear the “Biff! Pow! Bang!” of the brightly coloured pictures in that genre.  For $17 this is one of the best bargains I’ve seen this year.

 

 

 

Alpha by Greg Rucka

Publisher: Mulholland Books/ Little, Brown & Co

Reviewed by Karen Treanor for New Mystery Reader

As happens to many men whose jobs ensure the safety and security of other people, Master Sergeant Jad Bell has lost his own family to divorce.  It’s hard to be a family man when you’re apt to be sent off on some ‘black ops’ assignment at no notice. 

Jad’s pride and joy is his beautiful teenaged daughter Athena, who is profoundly deaf but not letting that get in the way of her education or entertainment.  She and her classmates are coming to Wilsonville, the biggest theme park in the USA, and expecting to have a great time.

In normal circumstances Jad would be thrilled to have Athena in California, but he’s just been hired to work at Wilsonville undercover due to the suspicion that some sort of terrorist plot may be afoot.  There’s been a murder, and the reason for it may be much worse than simple violence.  Jad has tried to get his wife Amy to cancel the trip, but he can’t tell her why—and she’s understandably reluctant to crush the children’s dreams for no reason.

Not long after Wilsonville opens for the day and Athena and her schoolmates are happily exploring the tacky wonderfulness of the place, all the park’s chemical sensors go crazy.  The readings say botulinum, but Jad suspects there’s something else going on.  The park is evacuated quickly, but some of the visitors are taken hostage—and of course Jad’s daughter is among them. 

Mobilising his small but deadly team of commandos, Jad sets out to rescue his daughter and get to the bottom of who is perpetrating what.  There has to be an inside man, but who among the hundreds of staff can it be?  And is this really a terror attack by foreign jihadists, or is it something even more unthinkable?

The notes at the back of the book say that author Rucka is experienced in comics and graphic novels as well as traditional books, and the “biff-bam-kapow” action of this book proves it.  I rarely manage to stay awake after midnight, but this one kept me turning the pages well after that.

 

Murder Below Montparnasse by Cara Black

Publisher:  Soho Crime

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader 

Her best friend defected to America, her co-worker Saj is injured in a freak car/pedestrian accident, an old man who knew her estranged mother is murdered, a rare Modigliani painting is stolen, she receives death threats from Serbs and is later attacked in her own office and almost drowned in a bucket of water.

All of these events happen within the span of a few days in the life of Private Investigator, Aimee Leduc. The action starts in the Montparnasse section of Paris --- a bohemian area that appears untouched since the 1920’s.  Aimee is hired by an elderly Russian named Yuri Volodya.  Her mission is to protect a rare and priceless painting in his possession.  The painting is allegedly by Modigliani and it depicts the famous Russian leader and revolutionary figure --- Vladimir Lenin.

Making matters more interesting is when Yuri claims to have known Aimee’s estranged mother --- who walked out when she was a young girl.  When Yuri’s tortured body is found a day after meeting with Aimee it appears that initial evidence reveals her mother may very well have played a part in Yuri’s murder.

Aimee does not have the luxury of time to dive into this investigation as she immediately receives death threats from Serbian gangsters and is shortly thereafter attacked in her own office and dunked repeatedly in a bucket of water until she reveals what she knows about the painting.  Escaping these predicaments only makes Aimee more curious and the connection to her mother pushes her curiosity that much further. 

The plot of MURDER BELOW MONTPARNASSE gets more complex with each passing chapter as Aimee is embroiled firmly in the world of international art theft.  Serbs, Russians and fellow Parisians all join the mix --- each group seeking the same thing.  Aimee is conflicted as she must protect herself from the ‘hit’ that has been put out on her while still trying to locate her mother and the missing painting.  Could Modigliani’s depiction of Lenin be enough to rock the foundations of Russian history itself and is it worth killing for?

Any Aimee Leduc novel is a welcome read and with Cara Black as your tour guide the reader is given a glimpse of Paris and all its’ diverse neighborhoods that make you feel like you are actually there.  The smell of baguettes seem to waft off the very pages as the rich Parisian atmosphere plays like a living character in a recurring mystery series that is among the best in the genre today.  MURDER BELOW MONTPARNASSE is an instant classic and one that reveals the very human and susceptible side of protagonist, Aimee Leduc.  The extremely satisfying ending only leaves the reader wanting to spend more time with Aimee and her friends --- a request that Cara Black will certainly fulfill in her next adventure.

 

 

The Family Way by Rhys Bowen

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Rhys Bowen (In Dublin’s Fair City, Bless the Bride) continues her spirited Molly Murphy series in The Family Way, set in New York City in July 1904, and centering on a young woman struggling with losing her private detective practice and becoming a housewife.  Readers can follow the progression of Molly’s path as an Irish immigrant with a dark past to becoming the pregnant wife of a New York City police detective through the book titles, in this case leading to Molly’s great expectations mixed in with a horrifying case that hits too close to home.

Since the previous novel, Molly has shuttered her detective agency and promised her husband, Daniel Sullivan, that she would concentrate more on cooking and removing stains than finding murderers in vice-ridden neighborhoods.  Her bohemian friends Gus and Sid worry that Molly’s spark slowly dims under the drudgery but Molly soon receives a plea from Ireland begging her to find their daughter who has disappeared after working as a maid for a wealthy family.  While Molly mulls over taking their case, she witnesses the kidnapping of a baby in an impoverished neighborhood, resulting in an understandable general fear for her own unborn child.  Reluctantly Molly submits to Daniel’s entreaties that she visit his mother in the country during the hot summer so that she can relax and prepare for the baby’s birth.  Naturally, Molly’s investigation into both the missing young Irish woman and the stolen baby override any temptation to sew baby clothes or live a life of leisure.

Like Molly’s own increasing isolation, author Rhys Bowen concentrates on Molly herself rather than spending a lot of energy on secondary characters.  Molly’s neighbors Sid and Gus briefly appear but the emphasis remains on the former detective, especially during a misguided detour leading to the climax.

Molly’s spirit remains commendable but it’s clear her relationship with Daniel continues to hang by a thread.  He’s in fear of being made a fool of in front of his colleagues by the woman who continually solves cases that have stumped the police.  While Daniel wants a quiet housewife, Molly needs to feel intellectually challenged and free, leaving both at an impasse.  Their resulting arguments quickly become repetitive and leaden, weighing heavily on the sense of adventure that usually makes this a series to follow. Fortunately, Bowen teases that there might be a solution to this, resulting in a happier marriage and allowing the continuation of a series dedicated to a spunky red-haired detective.

 

 

Crossbones Yard by Kate Rhodes

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Reviewed by New Mystery Reader

Once London psychologist  Alice Quentin discovers a body on her regular jogging trail, it’s just a matter of time before she’s drawn into the orbit of a serial killer on the loose.  The  killings eerily echoing those committed 6 years earlier by a couple who finally were caught and put in jail.  And with this new killer getting bolder and bolder each day, she soon discovers there is no one she can trust and, worse yet, the killer may be someone closer than she realizes.

Rhodes'  debut novel is something that fans of a milder type of murder mystery will really enjoy.  Falling comfortably in the middle of the suspense genre, this nongraphic and well-balanced tale offers up the perfect amount of challenges as readers race along with Quentin to uncover the killer before unspeakable damage is done to those she loves and herself.  This one should keep readers eagerly anticipating the next in the series.   

 

 

Leave Tomorrow Behind by Judy Clemens

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press 

Reviewed by Karen Treanor for New Mystery Reader

You’re a dirt-poor dairy farmer with money troubles, a fiancé who’s got a life-threatening illness and whose sister is trying to take over your wedding and maybe your life—what’s the last thing you need?  Finding a dead body in the manure pile at the county fair would have to be close to the top of the list.

Stella Crown is lending a hand to the 4-H kids at the fair when one of them starts screaming.  Stella finds a pair of boots sticking out of the manure trailer, and when she and her fiancé unearth the rest of the body, they discover Rikki Raines, teen singing sensation.  A long, long police interrogation ensues which does nothing to improve Stella’s well-known short temper. 

Stella’s best friend, Veterinarian Carla Beaumont is having her own problems at the fair.  A rich and nasty local businessman’s kids are also in 4-H but they cheat—their dad buys last year’s champion calves for them to pretend to raise.  This year one of the calves gets very ill and Carla is being blamed for not knowing what the problem is.  It turns out to be sabotage, but can that be linked to the murder of Rikki?

Added to the sick animals and the murder is a beauty pageant, which also has strong overtones of cheating.  It looks as if Stella is going to have to put her wedding plans on hold and clear up all these mysteries before she can get her life back.

This was a light-hearted, amusing read that brought back many memories of attending the Topsfield Fair, one of America’s oldest.  Stella is a prickly but likeable protagonist, and I enjoyed joining in her irritation with the future sister-in-law, the sheriff’s office and the pageant organisers.  Entertaining from start to finish.

 

 

 

Dying To Know by T J O’Connor

Publisher: Midnight Ink Books    

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

Just because you’re dead doesn’t mean you can’t still feel all the emotions you did when you were alive.  Recently dead police Officer Oliver Tucker feels anger, jealousy, fear and most of all, confusion.  One minute he was alive, seconds later he was dead.  His partner “Bear” Braddock is at the crime scene and behaving oddly—could he somehow be mixed up in the killing?  And what about wife-now-widow Angela—is she in danger from the killer or did she hire him?

Tuck follows the people who were his colleagues, trying to piece together his last few weeks of work in hopes there’s a clue in there somewhere.  He’s hampered by strange flashbacks and blackouts that make the continuity very choppy.  He has one ally, an old doctor who has been hanging around the anteroom to death for decades, and who tries to help him learn how to cope in his new existence.  After a while, Tuck is able to communicate with Angela.  Despite her happiness in not having completely lost him, Tuck senses a reticence in his widow; she’s keeping something back, but what?

Angel’s assistant, Carman Delgado disappears and is later found, alive but injured, perhaps because she was mistaken for Angel.  Another murder follows, and then a nearly successful third murder.  Everything seems to focus on an excavation knows as “Kelly’s Dig”.  A professor of history in charge of cataloguing the finds at the excavation, Angel and her team have uncovered old bones from the Civil War, but there are more recent bodies buried here.  Tuck is contacted by two girls who were murdered.  They can’t move on until their murder is solved, and Angel is in best position to find their bones and bring them to official notice.

Tuck isn’t the first ghost detective in fiction, and this isn’t a particularly original plot, but it has a likeable pair of protagonists and no doubt this is the first in what will be a series of popular books.  As author O’Connor gets to know his characters better and figures out more about how Tuck’s side of the death-life divide operates I’d expect to see even more intriguing and sophisticated plots.

 

 

The Right Hand by Derek Haas

Publisher: Mulholland Books    

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

If your reading palate has become a bit jaded recently, this is the antidote.  From the first page to the last, this book moves like a rat on fire through a maze of places and situations, plots and counterplots, and barely gives you a moment to catch your breath between one near-fatal encounter and the next. 

Austin Clay works for a very, very secret arm of the US Intelligence community.  He’s a lone wolf known to few, but those few call him The Right Hand.  You know, the one that does stuff that the left hand doesn’t know about—or at least can plausibly can deny knowledge of.

Austin has been doing his job well for 15 years when his handler, Andrew Stedding, gives him a priority assignment: find Blake Nelson.  Nelson’s worked at the American Embassy as a cover job, but secretly has been finding out a lot about what’s going on with Caspian Sea oil, missiles, and other things that have nothing to do with pushing paper around a desk in Moscow.  His handler is a Russian double agent, Adromatov, who shows Clay around Nelson’s other office, the one where he does his real work.  Clay is investigating a secret file room and has just discovered Nelson’s file about a missing girl, Marika Csontos who accidentally became the repository for a lot of very sensitive information, when three armed men arrive.  Clay dispatches them, but not before they kill Adromatov. 

From there on, Clay is on the run, not knowing who to trust while he tries to find and rescue the girl.  He finds her quickly, which is a worry, because clearly if he can do it, the bad guys can as well.  Sure enough, bullets come through the window of Marika’s brother’s tiny apartment, killing him and sending her on the run with Clay for the rest of the book.

There’s an awful lot going on in this story, and just when you think that’s the end of it, another layer is revealed until at last the real reason for all the deaths and betrayals is uncovered.  The author’s long career as a screen writer shows in the construction of this complex thriller; your mind’s eye sees it as a series of scenes, each more explosive than the last.  .  I normally fall asleep with a book about 11 p.m., but this one had me up until well past midnight.  

 

 

The House on the Cliff by Charlotte Williams

Publisher: Bourbon Street Books

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Well-spoken, reserved, and elegant, Dr. Jessica Mayhew led a charmed life with her husband, Bob, and two daughters.  Underneath her façade, Jessica notes the irony of a being a psychologist who missed the warning signs of her husband’s unhappy professional life and resulting affair, and her teenaged daughter Nella’s consistent attempts to break the rules.  Throughout The House on the Cliff, Jessica Mayhew is a woman hoping to regain her footing, much like a small boat trying to right itself in the midst of enormous waves.

Going through the motions, Jessica accepts a new client named Gwydion Morgan.  A handsome  soap opera actor, Gwydion needs help with an unusual phobia, but his problems quickly expand into being much more than Jessica expected.  While reminding herself of the danger of transference, Jessica ignores her declining relationship with Bob and her daughters’ needs to track down clues to Gwydion’s mysterious childhood experience, even leading to his imposing home perched above the Welsh cliffs.  There she meets his elegant mother and hears of their beautifully accessorized lifestyle dominated by a tumultuous relationship between Gwydion’s parents and a barely remembered Swedish au pair who disappeared in the waves decades before.

While Jessica appears composed and comfortable with boundaries, she frequently flouts them with both a patient and by allowing her teenager to dictate the rules in her own well-appointed home.  In the course of her personal investigation, Jessica drifts from person to person, easily believing the person in front of her at the time; making her at risk of fatally trusting the wrong person.  Author Charlotte Williams keeps the plot at a brisk pace, but some readers will be two steps ahead of Jessica and her inquiries.  Because of Jessica’s career and interests in psychotherapy, Williams includes brief, interesting bits about major contributors to the field, making Jung and others seem like old friends that provide Jessica with subconscious insight.

The House on the Cliff works well as a quick read; this atmospheric modern Welsh mystery offers an easy escape from the troubles of real life—a safer version of what Jessica Mayhew needed.

 

 

Mandarin Gate  by Eliot Pattison

Publisher: Minotaur Books                         

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader

This is another in the series about Shan Tao Yun, formerly a top investigator in Beijing, now living hand-to-mouth as a ditch inspector in Tibet after a long term in a Chinese gulag.  Author Pattison  brings the same deep probing of humanity’s best and worst attributes to this story that he did to the only other of his books that I’ve read, “Ashes of the Earth.”  Whereas that book dealt with a possible future post-apocalyptic dystopian society, “Mandarin Gate” deals with the all too real tragedy of modern Tibet and its tortured relations with China.

Looking for a safe place to put the body of his friend , the lama Jamyang, who inexplicably killed himself , Shan goes to what should have been an abandoned convent and finds more death.  Two men and a nun lie arranged in a crude representation of a Chinese flag.  The site is overrun with Chinese security people of various sorts.  Shan bluffs his way through a confrontation by a quick and accurate crime scene analysis and manages to make his escape.  It is quickly apparent to Shan that somehow Jamyang’s suicide is bound up with the murders—but why have the male bodies been so horrifically mutilated? 

Shan soon discovers that the dead men were European.  He tracks one man’s wife to a Buddhist convent and tries to talk her into coming away so that she can eventually tell the story of the horrors she has witnessed to the wider world.   He smuggles Cora, an old abbess, and his mentor Lokesh away from immediate danger by disguising them as corpses for burial.  Before Shan himself can get away, Major Liang from Public Security turns up, and torments him both physically and mentally by threatening to move Shan’s imprisoned son to a gulag far away where he will never be seen again.  The hope of one day being reunited with his only relative has kept Shan going through some hard times: this threat carries more pain that anyone who is not a parent could ever understand. 

In the darkest times, there is often a spark of hope, and this appears in the form of Lieutenant Meng, a woman officer with some humanity beneath her uniform.  Another bright spot in this otherwise grim story is Shan’s meeting with a bunch of old people who call themselves The Vermilion Society, who delightedly rummage in his memories of China’s history , which they are trying to preserve in the face of modern redactors.

Another murder comes to light, the one that led to all the others, but can Shan, from his humble and suspect position, get justice for the dead? 

This is a solid and often grim story that reflects much of what we hear coming out of Tibet in trickles of news, like mountain freshets, despite the best efforts of the Chinese to dam the knowledge.  I look forward to seeing what Pattison does with his unlikely hero in the next book, for surely there will be one.

 

 

The Woman Who Wouldn’t Die by Colin Cotterill

Publisher: Soho Crime

Reviewed by Robin Thomas, New Mystery Reader

Dr. Siri Paiboun was the national coroner of Laos before he retired. He and his wife Madame Daeng, who owns and operates the best noodle shop in Vientiane, continue to hope for a relaxing retirement, but it eludes them once again as they embark on another adventure. When Judge Haeng offers Dr. Siri an all expense paid holiday trip to Sanyburi to watch the boat races at Pak Lai, he knows that there has to be much more to this offer because there is no love lost between them.

The trip to Pak Lai is an expedition to find the remains of a long dead brother of a Laotian general whose spirit is tormenting the general’s wife. The brother was presumed killed in a covert military operation, his body was never retrieved and the general’s wife, who is Vietnamese, believes that the brother-in-law’s spirit is unsettling their ancestors and his remains need to be found and given a proper burial in order to restore a sense of balance to the family.

The minister’s wife has hired a “witch” to locate the body. The “witch” is Madame Keui, the used-to-be woman. The townspeople call her the used-to-be woman because after she was shot in her home by a burglar, declared dead, her body burned on a funeral pyre she was found walking through town several days later looking very much so alive but possessing the skill to converse with the souls of the dead. Despite his scientific training, Siri has his own association with the supernatural. He believes that the spirit of a shaman inhabits his body and that he can see the dead. He is frustrated with his “gift” because he is not unable to understand what the spirits are trying tell him nor can he speak to them. Siri looks forward to meeting Madame Keui and hopefully learning from her how to communicate with the dead.

Madame Daeng travels with her husband to Pak Lai.  While on the trip she is encouraged by Siri to write her memoirs. She captures her involvement in the war against the French to include those she killed during that time. There are tales about a female assassin/spy who was called “Fleur-de-Lis” during the war; is Madame Daeng that infamous woman? She has no idea that her past and the present are on a collision course until a mysterious Frenchman comes to Vientiane looking for her which launches a series of disastrous events.

The Woman Who Wouldn’t Die is the ninth book in the Dr. Siri series. Colin Cotterill captures the essence of South-East Asia and in particular Laos in this series. In this installment the author uses Madame Deung’s memoirs to add a historical perspective onto a really good thriller. The heavy emphasis on the supernatural would be far fetched in many other novels but is appropriate and pivotal to the plot of all the books in the series and the personalities of the characters. I highly recommend reading this series in order. Each book enhances the reader’s familiarity with the author’s writing style, his approach to developing the personalities of all of his characters and his detailed description of the rich culture and history of Laos. After a hiatus, Dr. Siri is back and Cotterill delivers an intriguing mystery while sprinkling a few hints that Dr. Siri a few more adventures coming before he finally retires.

 

The Lawyer’s Lawyer by James Sheehan

Publisher: Center Street

Reviewed by Ray Palen for New Mystery Reader 

James Sheehan was a successful trial lawyer and currently teaches it at the Stetson University College of Law in Tampa, FL.  He clearly knows his stuff as well as possessing a firm understanding of the Florida legal system.  THE LAWYER’S LAWYER is his third legal thriller and previous reviews indicate he is a welcome addition to the genre.

The hero of THE LAWYER’S LAWYER is Jack Tobin and the title of the novel reflects the moniker that has been given to him. He is highly respected and feared in the legal arena and now spends his early retirement fishing and occasionally offering his services to an organization focused on freeing unjustly incarcerated death row inmates by the name of Exoneration.

While spending his time away from his Miami base in the north central part of the state he is approached to represent the most controversial figure he has ever been associated with.  Tom Felton is on death’s row and weeks away from execution.  He is a convicted serial killer and his most high-profile victim was the wife of Sam Jeffries, the Police Chief leading investigation against him.

The Felton case is not new to Tobin for he had a brief affair with a Detective named Danni Jansen who was a critical part of that case.  As Tobin looks deeper into the case he finds overlooked clues and even an indication that facts may have been stretched to insure a conviction.  It’s enough to have Felton rescued by the Governor at the zero hour just prior to his scheduled execution.

While free pending a new ruling on his case, Tom Felton disappears.  While he is gone, Katherine Jefferies, daughter of Sam Jeffries, is brutally murdered.  Tobin and those close to him realize this is not a coincidence and also that the newly retired Danni Jansen may be next in the line of vendetta victims of Tom Felton.

Tobin goes to Danni’s home to warn her and finds Felton lurking in the woods outside her home. It appears to Tobin that Felton is drawing a gun on him and he fires with his own gun.  He and Danni call Jeffries and local law enforcement to come to her house immediately and they respond quickly.

As Tobin is brought down to the Police Station for routine questioning he has no idea that Sam Jeffries is out for retribution of his own and it Jack Tobin who is going to make pay for the murders of his wife and daughter.  Using greed and the possibility of great financial gain as a motive, Jeffries and the State’s Attorney conspire to convict Tobin of the pre-meditated murder of Tom Felton.  Even though Jack gets great legal representation in Tom Wylie --- the deck may be too stacked against him to make a difference with the jury.

James Sheehan succeeds in creating an atmosphere of suspense and brings forward a plot that is uniquely original.  The only issue is that once we get to the Tobin trail things all seem very routine and inevitably predictable.  I would have liked to have seen more exploration into the ethical and moral issue surrounding the defense attorney who is seeking to free a convicted serial killer.  This being said, THE LAWYER’S LAWYER  makes for an entertaining read and is by all means above-average for a genre that has been in desperate need of a kick-start since the early days of John Grisham.

 

 

A Medal for Murder by Frances Brody

Publisher: Minotaur

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Kate Shackleton has just received her second case since setting out her shingle as a private investigator.  Poor Mr. Mooney suffered a theft from his pawn shop, where both the loss of items and possible public disgrace threaten to overwhelm him.  Kate knows that finding the missing jewelry will be a long shot but agrees to try anyway, especially since she’s added former police officer Jim Sykes to her payroll.  Since the investigation will require a road trip, she chooses to stay with Meriel Jamieson, a struggling actress whose winsome talent keeps her out of scrapes and on the stage.

After the Friday performance of Meriel’s latest play, young actress Lucy Wolfendale disappears, leaving only an amateur ransom note with newspaper print letters and cheap glue behind and a frantic grandfather who begs Kate to discreetly help him find his only living relative.  Since Captain Wolfendale is Meriel’s landlord, Kate suddenly gains access to the rest of the Captain’s tenants and enters a world in which few are whom they seem to be.  It seems that everyone in Lucy’s social circle also participated in the play, making her best friend Allison and potential beaus Rodney Milner, Dylan Ashton and Dan Root a very tight-knit group.  Although an experienced and moneyed widow, Kate Shackleton relies on her ability to blend in with diverse groups of people to help her see the end of the knotty case and to determine whether she should try to find young Lucy Wolfendale.

Similar in style and character development to Jacqueline Winspear’s popular Maisie Dobbs series and Mignon F. Ballard’s stateside Miss Dimple Kilpatrick novels, A Medal for Murder starts slow but Kate’s habit of ingratiating herself into the lives of others means that she has plenty of potential suspects to question, wearing each down until even the more experienced actors inadvertently slip up.

The strongest part of the plot comes from the unusual links to the Boer War and the older generation who fought it, now thoughtlessly cast aside by Lucy and her young friends.  While most of the story takes place in 1920s England, occasional flashbacks to South Africa ground the story around another group of young people but with much more at stake.  The generational warfare adds tension between characters and weight to the flimsiness of the flippant theatre cast members who, in this novel, remain self-absorbed and unlikeable.

 

 

Proof of Guilt by Charles Todd

Publisher: William Morrow 

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

French, French and Traynor was an immensely successful well-run English wine importer in 1920 as it had been for many decades run by the descendants of the founders. The company owned vineyards as well as the processing and bottling facility in Madeira. The family owns the distribution network in England. That is well-run until Lewis French, head of the English operation goes missing.

Inspector Ian Rutledge of Scotland Yard is brought into the investigation because of the apparent hit-and-run of an unidentified man. The only clues are the man’s expensive clothes and extremely valuable gold pocket watch and chain. Rutledge is able to trace the watch to the French family. After repeated journeys between the family’s country estate and London residence, Rutledge is able to determine that Lewis French is missing. The Inspector suspects that the victim could be French himself. However, French’s sister disproves this when asked to identify the body.

A request for help from surrounding police agencies reveals French’s car abandoned at a quarry. The car shows a dent where it could have struck a person. Rutledge confirms the car’s involvement in the hit-and-run with a piece of cloth from the victim that was caught under the car, but there is still no sign of Lewis French.

Meanwhile, Matthew Traynor is scheduled to arrive in England by ship from Madeira. He begins the journey, but mysteriously disappears when or before the ship docks.

Now the pressure is increased on Rutledge to make an arrest. Still unconvinced, he bows to the pressure and arrests the company’s senior clerk. He must race the clock to save an innocent man from the gallows, but who is the murderer? Is it the Portuguese man who feels that the French’s grandfather cheated him out of land for the vineyard? Is it the former fiancée of French who had been abandoned for another woman? Is it French’s sister who been forced into the shadow of brother? And what has happened to French and Traynor?

Todd has crafted a first-rate mystery amid the splendor of the wealthy and lives of those trying to carry on two years after the end of the First World War.

Rutledge is an interesting character extremely damaged by the war. He carries the voice of his Scottish corporeal that he was forced to shoot when the man refused to lead the men into battle. The wealthy appear somewhat superficial compared to the middle and lower class citizens who suffered the brunt of the wartime service.