The Beige Man
Jordan Foster

Even with our worst winter storms, it’s rare that Americans in the lower 48 states experience the kind of bone-chilling cold that Swedes contend with every winter. It’s nearly Christmas in Göteborg and Detective Inspector Irene Huss and her colleagues in the Violent Crimes Unit are ready for a break. While no case involving the loss of life is easy, their latest investigation at least seems straightforward, albeit tragic: two young men steal a car off a crowded street, hit a pedestrian while attempting to evade police, and then torch the car before abandoning it in the woods.

Of course, nothing is ever simple in a crime novel. Not only is the hit-and-run victim a retired cop, Torleif Sandberg (known around the station as “Muesli” for his healthy eating habits), but when officers search the area around the abandoned car, they discover the body of a murdered girl. The investigation soon balloons into a multiple-task-force inquiry that stretches beyond car theft and vehicular homicide into the dark and dangerous world of human trafficking, where young girls, often from Eastern Europe, are bought and sold as sex slaves. Tursten underscores that the trafficking business is second only to narcotics—to which it is often closely linked—in yearly profits. Huss’ investigation takes her from frigid Sweden to the warmer climes of the Spanish island Tenerife—though the sunnier weather doesn’t make the sale of girls for sex (or worse, as she soon discovers) any more palatable.

In this excellent seventh entry in the series (originally published in Sweden in 2007), Tursten paints a compelling, flawed, and empathetic heroine who’s also very appealing. DI Huss is the kind of cop that we’d all want investigating our case.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-08 12:21:06
The Honest Folk of Guadeloupe
Betty Webb

In this intriguing novel set in 1990 on a collection of French islands in the Caribbean, the title phrase is used with considerable irony. Times are hard for the islanders (Indian, black, Creole, English, French), because to climb their way out of tin-roof-shack poverty they have to be either liars, thieves, or involved in the tourist trade.

When the body of a beautiful French tourist is found near a popular beach, everyone—especially government officials—goes into full cover-up mode. One of the only people interested in an honest solution to the crime is judge Anne Marie Laveaud. Under the French system of justice, the judge serves as an investigator, much like a US police detective, only with considerably more politics involved. Orders from on high cut short Laveaud’s previous investigation of politician Rudolphe Dugan’s presumed suicide, and now, facing obstacles from all quarters on both investigations, the judge must decide what is more important to her—her daughter, her career, or her pursuit of justice.

The Honest Folk of Guadeloupe is a fascinating book, partially because most of its characters are the opposite of honest. Even Laveaud, who was born in Algiers and raised in Paris, has secrets she must sometimes make compromises in order to keep.

The book serves as a nice respite from the US legal thriller genre by giving us a peek into the French legal system in the Caribbean. American readers unfamiliar with the Napoleonic Code will be intrigued by the serpentine pathways Laveaud must maneuver in order to achieve an honest verdict, a system that was set up by Napoleon himself to bring justice to the poor as well as the wealthy. That was the plan, anyway.

But, as rendered here, the Guadeloupe of 1990 is no egalitarian paradise. Although the islands that make up the French colonies may be lush and blessed with pristine beaches, they are a racial, cultural, and political quagmire only the brave and nimble-footed can successfully navigate. Fortunately for the hurting souls seeking her help, Anne Marie Laveaud is up to the task.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-08 12:38:15

williamshonestfolkofguadeloupeA fascinating look at the French legal system and the judge who navigates it in this novel set in the Caribbean

The Chessmen
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

When a small plane with the remains of a long-dead and apparently murdered pilot bobs to the surface of a loch in the Scottish Hebrides after a “bog burst,” ex-Detective Inspector Fin Macleod becomes an active participant in an investigation that’s full of twists, turns, and surprises. Although only recently returned to his native soil and hired as a security officer by a local landowner, Fin was a good friend of the pilot in their youth and knows many of the people on the island, most of whom remember the 20-year-old mystery of the missing plane.

Fin’s good friend, Whistler Macaskill, reacts very strangely when they inspect the wreckage together, and the mystery deepens. Before all is said and done, another murder occurs, and another whodunit needs to be investigated.

This intriguing story alternates between the present, the past, and the distant past, skillfully introducing all of the characters and motives that will play an integral part in the solution of the mysteries. It is powerfully written, both in the descriptions of the barren landscape and the complicated and constantly changing relationships of the primary people involved.

My only criticism of the book is that it wasn’t immediately clear from chapter to chapter whether we were in the past or the present, and I was a bit thrown when the story switched from third-person narrative to first person, and then back again. However, don’t let that deter you. The final chapters are both intriguing and moving.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-08 12:42:20
Little Black Lies
Vanessa Orr

If you liked the movie The Sixth Sense, you will like Little Black Lies, which has a worthy twist at the end. Zoe Goldman is a psychiatrist haunted by childhood memories of a fire that killed her birth mother—or at least that’s how she remembers it. But when she meets a new patient, a sociopath who killed her own mother, it triggers new memories of the fire which raise questions about what really happened.

The reader joins Zoe in her quest to unlock her past, sharing in her frustration when hypnotic regression fails to help or questions posed to the mother who raised her—who is now suffering from dementia—go unanswered. The fact that Zoe is on a number of medications also adds to the confusion, as the reader can’t always be sure that Zoe’s perceptions are accurate. Her brain is, as she says, “on spin cycle.”

This is a very fast-paced book, and Sandra Block does an excellent job of pulling the reader along with Zoe as she tries to get to the heart of what happened. Block is a master of description and uses Zoe’s perceptions to introduce the reader to her world, detailing Zoe’s psychiatrist’s office (it resembles the “inside of a yacht”) or her mother’s care home (a “huge Victorian tearoom…with happy mauve peasants playing flutes and toiling in the fields”). Zoe is also self-deprecating and funny, which adds a welcome note of levity to a story about madness and murder. The surrounding characters are also well-drawn, from her brother Scotty to the other medical residents to Sophia, Zoe’s enigmatic new patient.

I was surprised to learn that this was Block’s first novel, as it is quite an impressive debut. The story kept me hooked. I’m looking forward to seeing more from this new talent.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-08 12:49:08
Teri Duerr
2015-03-08 13:54:27
The First Wife
Sharon Magee

Erica Spindler began her literary life as a romance writer and it’s evident in The First Wife. While classified as suspense, it could more correctly be called romantic suspense—heavy on the romance.

Bailey Browne has always dreamed of being swept away by a knight in shining armor. While vacationing in the Grand Cayman Islands, she meets Logan Abbott, the dark and brooding owner of a Louisiana horse farm, sleeps with him within hours of their meeting, and marries him within days.

When he whisks her away to what she anticipates will be an idyllic life, she finds it anything but. Logan’s first wife, True, disappeared a few years back, something he’d neglected to mention. When confronted, he claims she was having an affair and left him; others, including Sheriff Billy Ray Williams, believe he killed her. Williams, who was obsessed with True, is on a mission to prove Logan’s guilt and to pin the disappearance of several other young women on him as well. Locals whisper to Bailey that she may be in danger of becoming Logan’s next victim.

After Bailey is knocked unconscious in a riding accident, she is unable to remember anything about what happened. But the family’s retainer is dead and she is covered in his blood. Bailey knows she must regain her memory to learn the truth about her husband and how the retainer’s murder fits into the puzzle of the missing women.

Spindler, a New York Times bestselling author with 30 published novels, has a way of keeping the reader guessing right to the end. Readers who like their mysteries peppered with a healthy dose of romance will find this the perfect book.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-08 13:57:24
Before He Finds Her
Jordan Foster

Sometimes family secrets are best left buried. Eighteen-year-old Melanie Denison knows this better than most. For the past decade and a half, she’s lived a secluded life in a tiny West Virginia town with her aunt and uncle, unable to enjoy any of the luxuries most teenagers take for granted. She can’t travel, use the Internet, or even apply to college, all because, 15 years ago, her father, Ramsey Miller, murdered his wife and, as far as everyone else knows, his three-year-old daughter, Meg (now known as Melanie).

Tired of living on such a short leash under the constant threat of her father’s return, Melanie decides not only to come out of hiding, but to solve her mother’s murder. Michael Kardos ably shifts back and forth between Melanie’s present-day investigation and the days and weeks leading up to Ramsey Miller’s crime. Melanie is a particularly clumsy amateur detective, given her extremely sheltered upbringing (seemingly without the presence of any crime television staples like Law & Order).

The deteriorating relationship between Ramsey and his wife, Allie, as well as his series of dead-end jobs, is a surprisingly more compelling story line than Melanie’s quest to uncover her past—even though Kardos does introduce several satisfying plot twists in the latter story line that will throw readers for a loop.

Each of the characters, in their own way, spends the narrative clinging to an idea on which their entire life is built, only to discover—often in the most painful, heartrending ways imaginable—that this thing they’re holding on to so tightly is actually a lie. It takes only takes one tiny shift, one bit of new information, for Melanie’s whole world to come crashing down.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-08 14:03:21
Vanessa Orr

When rich, beautiful, and sophisticated Nina decides to befriend Emma, an overworked, exhausted mother of two young children, Emma isn’t sure why Nina would want her friendship. Instead of questioning it too deeply, however, she lets Nina into her life—and it’s easy to understand why. Despite having a husband and two little ones, Emma’s lonely at home. She misses her career and her friends, and her larger sense of self has been superseded by her role as a mother, leaving her wondering if that’s all that there is. Nina plays Emma like a violin: helping when necessary, coming to the rescue often, and giving Emma a glimpse into a more glamorous, fulfilling life.

The story is told through the eyes of both women, with each narrating the same incidents in alternating chapters. While this is an interesting approach, in time, it becomes far too repetitious. Harriet Lane would have done better to condense the detail in each chapter so that the reader was not going over much of the same territory again and again. I often wasn’t sure which woman was narrating, because so many of the details were the same. On the plus side, it was interesting to get a look into Nina’s mind as she plotted ways in which to manipulate Emma, including luring her toddler away so that she could return him, heroically, to his mother.

While the plot isn’t overly original, I kept reading this book because I, too, wanted to know why Nina was obsessed with Emma. Unfortunately, Lane doesn’t let the reader know much of the backstory until the book is almost over and even then, I found the reveal to be a disappointment. Nina’s need for revenge against Emma seemed a stretch, and not worth the effort that she put into ruining the other woman’s life. Instead of answering the question “Why?” it left me wondering, “Why bother?

Teri Duerr
2015-03-08 14:53:02
Night Life
Eileen Brady

Night Life is an impressive debut mystery by author David C. Taylor, who gets the mood of ’50-era New York City just right. It’s 1954, J. Edgar Hoover is the head of the FBI, and everybody smokes in hospitals, including the doctors. America is obsessed with commies, thanks to the House Un-American Activities Committee and Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin. Because of a confrontation with Roy Cohn (McCarthy’s lawyer), cop Michael Cassidy is now on the committee’s radar.

Cassidy is a no-nonsense guy, who’s famous in the department for once throwing another cop out a window. Hailing from a privileged theater background, he’s been familiar with all the downtown late-night haunts since he was a kid. So when a Broadway dancer is found dead, Cassidy is assigned the case. Right from the beginning things go wrong and he’s viciously attacked by a knife-wielding thug while searching the victim’s apartment. Things go from bad to really bad as the FBI, CIA, and mob boss Frank Costello muscle in on the investigation. The only good thing to come of it is meeting Dylan McCue, his beautiful new neighbor. Dylan is a welder, who works for Carlos Ribera, a Cuban modernist artist whose metal sculptures are all the rage. But is the smart and savvy lady too good to be true?

Night Life is a love letter to a bygone New York, and Taylor does a great job of taking us back to 1954, from drinking at the White Horse Tavern to hoisting a few at the male-only McSorley’s, whose sawdust covered floors provided a hangout for so many famous writers and reporters over the years. Anyone familiar with Broadway will appreciate the backstage references and the character of theater producer Tom Cassidy. Throw in a mysterious lady in red and a juicy scandal, and you have an entertaining story with nonstop action.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-08 14:58:44
The Tapestry
Sharon Magee

This is Nancy Bilyeau’s third installment of the trials and tribulations of former novice of the Dominican order and aristocrat Joanna Stafford. After having her priory demolished by decree of King Henry VIII during the English Reformation, Joanna finds herself living contentedly in the small English town of Dartford, weaving elegant tapestries that provide her an income.

When the king, who is a distant cousin, orders her to the Palace of Whitehall in London to receive a commission for a tapestry, she has mixed emotions. She’s not a fan of King Henry, but she is anxious to see her cousin, Catherine Howard, who is one of the queen’s maids of honor. And she knows it’s not wise to ignore a kingly order.

While she travels, she feels watched, but sees no one. Upon arriving at Whitehall’s gatehouse, a page offers to take her to the Keeper of the Great Wardrobe, who is in charge of tapestries. Instead he leads her to an outbuilding where he attempts to kill her. She’s rescued by Thomas Culpepper. It’s clear someone wants her dead, but she doesn’t know why. The royal court is filled with rumors, treachery, and intrigue, and men—and women—with hidden agendas. Not knowing whom she can trust, Joanna sets to unravel the mystery with the help of Constable Geoffrey Scovill, a friend and former suitor from Dartford.

It’s obvious that the award-winning Bilyeau knows her English history. In this meticulously researched Tudor thriller, the names of the real-life characters who populated Henry VIII’s court come fast and furious. In addition to Catherine Howard and Thomas Culpepper, figures include Lord of the Privy Thomas Cromwell, Bishop Stephen Gardiner, Archbishop Thomas Kranmer, Sir Walter Hungerford, and Anne of Cleves, the king’s sad fourth wife caught in a six-month unconsummated marriage. With the many references and situations that refer back to the first two books in the series, it’s recommended that those books be read first.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-08 15:11:16
The Winter Foundlings
Jordan Foster

London-based psychologist Alice Quentin should wear a badge that says, “Caution: I attract serial killers.” And yet, even though readers are aware of her, for lack of a better phrase, magnetism for nutters, Alice herself seems blissfully, even stubbornly, oblivious. Perhaps that’s why, instead of deciding to recuperate from the unsettling events of A Killing of Angels (hint: a serial killer was involved) in the protective arms of academia, or even on some tropical isle, she decides to study the worst of the worst, at Northwood, a high-security psychiatric hospital outside of London. There are three high-security psychiatric hospitals in the UK after which Northwood was most likely modeled: Ashwood, which houses Moors Murderer Ian Brady; Broadmoor, which houses Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe; and Rampton.

Even though Alice swears off police work—particularly the gruff charm of DI Don Burns—it’s inevitable she’ll be sucked back in when little girls start disappearing off the streets in North London, the stomping ground of convicted child killer Louis Kinsella, who just happens to be locked up at Northwood.

The scenes between Alice and Kinsella—who, of course, deigns only to speak to Alice and communicates to the rest of the staff via haughty and condescending notes—owe a bit too much to Clarice Starling and Dr. Lecter’s quid pro quo chats in The Silence of the Lambs, and further drive home how little power Alice actually wields in her own story. Kinsella is very clearly the puppet master from the beginning, which in and of itself is not a revolutionary concept, but does allow room for exploration, should Rhodes decide to take the less expected route (disappointingly, she does not).

Alice races to find the person responsible for the new spate of abductions, and nail down the connection between the kidnapper at large and Kinsella. Rhodes includes interstitial chapters detailing the increasingly harrowing ordeal of ten-year-old Ella, one of the kidnapped girls. But while these ratchet up the suspense early on, they later serve to slow down an already meandering plot. After this case, someone may want to suggest that Alice change careers.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-08 15:16:25
Everybody Goes to Jimmy’s

It’s 1932 in New York City. The Depression has set in, and gangsters and speakeasies are in vogue. Jimmy Quinn, a young man who survived the 1920 bombing on Wall Street while acting as a runner for racketeer Arnold Rothstein, now owns and operates his own successful Manhattan speakeasy. One day, a mysterious package containing books with indecipherable numbers in them arrives addressed to him. Soon after, a bomb explodes outside his club, and the mystery begins.

Before long, a variety of bad guys from New York thugs to Nazis arrive with varying degrees of threats, offers, and general skullduggery. Jimmy is just trying to figure out what it’s all about without being killed in the process. Before all is said and done, another package arrives, and things go from bad to worse for Jimmy.

In many ways, this reminds me of the old Jimmy Cagney-Humphrey Bogart movies of the 1930s, where there was a thin line between crooks and cops and some women were dames who couldn’t be trusted. Mayo has an uncanny knack of nailing the dialogue and jargon of the era so that it all seems real, in a movie-style kind of way.

Although there’s no murder to be solved here, the mystery is nonetheless intriguing, and the writing is crisp and fast moving.

This is the second book in the series that began with Jimmy the Stick. Mayo has written about film for a number of newspapers and radio shows, and is the author of Murder: Criminals, Crime, and the Media.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-08 15:25:32
Down Don’t Bother Me
Vanessa Orr

Jason Miller is probably best known as one half of the Miller Brothers writing team that creates the graphic novel RedBall 6, but I think that’s about to change. In his first novel, set in the hardly welcoming world of southern Illinois coal country, he is funny, smart, and extremely self-assured in his writing, creating a book that is almost as addicting as the meth that has taken over the town of Little Egypt, Illinois.

Down Don’t Bother Me, a series debut, features Slim, a lifelong miner who is known for his talent in “bloodhounding,” or finding people who have gone missing. As a result, after a newspaper reporter is killed in the mine, Slim is approached by the mine’s owner to find the reporter’s missing photographer colleague, who also happens to be his son-in-law.

Along the way, Slim has to deal with angry miners, meth dealers, corrupt cops, gun nuts, and more—and more often than not, he finds himself on their bad side. He is supported in his quest by his girlfriend Peggy, his 12-year-old daughter Anci, and his best friend Jeep Mabry. These are characters who in lesser hands might become stereotypes, but instead reflect real strengths and weaknesses—as well as somewhat resigned views of being pulled along by Slim’s inability to “leave it lie.”

Readers will learn a lot about coal mining and its effects on the environment—serious topics that Miller manages to make interesting while enlightening the reader on the damages that can occur when mine owners and regulators turn a blind eye. While this book won’t make anyone want to live this type of life—even Slim “hates it like poison”—it does make the reader want to return to this grimy setting just to spend more time with this hard-luck, smart-mouthed miner.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-08 15:31:21
The Violent Century
Kevin Burton Smith

Don’t get me wrong. I love comics. Love ’em. But this clever retelling of our just-passed “violent” century, with its heavy emphasis on World War II, the Holocaust, and the Cold War, full of superhero derring-do baked right into the mix, didn’t quite do it for me. Still, I give it props for its ambitions, combining as it does history, comic books, B movies, detective novels, spy thrillers, and all sorts of other good stuff.

Following a never-quite-explained “change” in the 1930s, an unknown number of people develop assorted powers. Henry, an awkward, sensitive English schoolboy, becomes Fogg, able to control smoke and fog, while Oblivion has gained the ability to make things “no longer exist.” The two chums are recruited by the Professor Xavier-like “Old Man” into the government’s Bureau of Superannuated Affairs, where they develop their powers for the glory of “God and King,”—just in time for World War II. There is a balance of power of sorts, however, with most nations—including the Nazis—boasting their own “heroes,” so history proceeds along mostly familiar lines.

It’s all relayed in a series of brief, disjointed, present-tense snippets and sentence fragments that flick back and forth in time, as the Old Man interrogates the long-retired Henry about a botched operation that occurred in postwar Berlin over 60 years ago.

There’s much here to boggle the mind, with plenty of rock-’em, sock-’em action, and the author has great fun with countless pop culture shout-outs and potshots, while the fleeting meditations on heroism, friendship, loyalty, and that damned emotion (love, of course) give the book some unexpected, if fleeting, depth. And it’s great yuks when a bad trip (Hey! It’s the ’60s!) leaves Oblivion imagining the world as…a two-dimensional comic book.

But the choppy flashbacks fail to mask the often rudimentary characterization. After endless X-Men movies, The Watchmen, V Is for Vendetta, etc.—and especially Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel MausThe Violent Century isn’t quite the head-spinner it might have been. Stripped of splashy Hollywood special effects, or the BIFF! BAM! POW! of illustration, the novel comes off as, well, nothing particularly novel. My suggestion? Wait for the movie.

Or better yet, the comic book.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-08 15:40:05
A Murder of Magpies
Eileen Brady

Anyone interested in publishing will enjoy Judith Flanders’ newest tongue-in-cheek mystery, A Murder of Magpies. Set in a fictitious London publishing house, Timmins & Ross, where no one shows up for work until ten, editor Samantha “Sam” Clair discovers one of her favorite writers, Kit Lovell, is missing. After a messenger delivering Kit’s completed manuscript turns up murdered, the police pay her a visit, in the form of attractive Inspector Jacob Field, CID.

As Sam tries to find out what dangerous information Kit discovered, what follows is a romp through London nightlife, and a stop with front-row seats at a Paris fashion show. Along the way we meet marketing people who can’t spell, readers who don’t like to read, and editors who hate everyone’s acquisitions but their own. Sam gets some help on her search from her lawyer mom Helena, neo-goth assistant Miranda, and her reclusive upstairs neighbor Pavel Rudiger, who has a secret of his own. On top of it all, poor Sam has to deal with one of her best-known authors, who has turned in a manuscript that everyone at the publishing house hates.

Do they risk telling their star writer Breda McManus just how bad her novel is? Author Flanders must have enjoyed writing this and it shows. Needless to say, there’s more silliness and a little romance before the surprise ending in this fluffy, funny mystery.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-08 15:46:29

flandersmurderofmagpiesA wry and winning debut mystery set in a fictitious London publishing house

Death in the Pines
Kevin Burton Smith

With its New England setting and its genetically engineered whiff of the supernatural, this one suggests John Connolly on a green jag.

Former big-shot Atlanta private eye Oakley Tyler has taken early retirement (à la Travis McGee), moving to a small cabin deep in the Vermont woods, deliberately off the grid, burned out after too many deaths (parents, fiancée, business partner), and too many years in the shamus game. He just wants to reconnect with something. Anything. But, as he hastens to tell an uninvited visitor, “this ain’t no Walden Pond.”

No kidding.

That visitor is Jeremiah Smith, a persnickety old coot, determined to hire Oakley. Seems Jeremiah’s worried that “the kind of men who think they got the right to play God” may be out to kill Jerry, a local newspaper reporter and his only “livin’ relative.” But Oakley’s hesitant to take on any clients, never mind some “aging hippie” who seems more than a little paranoid—if not outright crazy.

Then Jeremiah’s truck, parked down the hill aways blows up, and someone takes a couple of potshots at the two men. Suddenly, Jeremiah doesn’t seem quite as crazy.

It’s a good start to what promises to be a solid, fast-paced bit of woodsy noir, as Oakley squares off against Caleb Benson, a notoriously ruthless local timber tycoon. There’s plenty of familiar private- eye action here: a complicated romantic relationship (with a local waitress) for the hero, several dirty secrets, more than a little greed, some murders (of course), and some damn great characters, just dripping with local color.

But the author is apparently after bigger—or at least different—game. As Tyler heads off into the woods to track down the shooter, he stumbles across a young woman with long black hair, clad in buckskins, sitting on a rock. A woman who can walk in the snow and leave no tracks. She’s enigmatic as hell, and pops in and out of the story, apparent only to Oakley, full of jargon about Spirit and suggestions that her People have—and will—always be here. And to be kind to Mother Earth— a sentiment which complements Oakley’s investigation, which leads to a sobering look at the threat genetic engineering may pose to the environment.

I don’t know. I liked the book, and I admire the message, but I’m not convinced having it delivered by Pocahontas Barbie in a series of unnatural-feeling intrusions was the best move.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-09 00:55:02
Long Way Down
R. T. Davis

Murder, greed, and corruption—the tried-and-true triple-threat themes in compelling crime-detective-mystery fiction. These are the centerpieces of the newest novel from Michael Sears, an author with a 20-year Wall Street career and two previous thrillers (Mortal Bonds and Black Fridays) to his credit. When Long Way Down opens, investment fraud investigator Jason Stafford is asked to apply his considerable, albeit tarnished expertise in an inquiry that will either exonerate or imprison a wealthy biofuel researcher accused of insider trading.

Stafford, as narrator, succinctly boasts of his qualifications: “I fix things. I find things.” But he also admits, “I’m a bit of a loose cannon.” Furthermore, this loose cannon—not appreciating the considerable ironies involved— also admits to being somewhat too tolerant, skeptical, thoughtful, optimistic, romantic, and forgiving.

At any rate, as the action unfolds, some people with a huge stake in the big-money worlds of alternative energy and high finance are not very happy about Stafford’s investigation, and murder soon rears its ugly head.

Long Way Down is remarkable for its crisp, natural dialogue, as well as some excellent action and suspense (albeit of the testosterone-fueled variety). The subplot involving the narrator’s autistic six-year-old son adds a compelling human interest angle, though some readers might feel as though the plot flags a bit in the first half of the book during the necessary diversions into the narrator’s backstory and personal issues. Readers who are patient will find themselves rewarded by a timely tale in which the good, bad, and ugly intersections of crime and capitalism are showcased.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-09 01:02:43
The Accidental Alchemist
Sheila M. Merritt

Born in 1679, Zoe Faust has survived centuries of ordeals to find herself settling into a newly purchased Portland, Oregon, fixer-upper. Courtesy of The Elixir of Life, the alchemist’s appearance is that of someone in her thirties.

While Zoe is unpacking her boxes from France, she uncovers Dorian Robert-Houdin, a stowaway. Dorian is a three-foot-tall, living, breathing gargoyle who is a trained gourmet cook. An even more disconcerting discovery is the murdered man Zoe finds on her doorstep—her remodeling contractor Charles Macraith.

Dorian is reverting to his old statuary state, but an antique book that he has brought with him from France has information that could halt the process and keep him mobile. He’s relying on Zoe to decipher the text, but the tome is stolen in tandem with the murder of Macraith. The crime throws the community into upheaval and introduces Zoe to the attractive Portland detective Max Liu. As a secret practitioner of magic, though, Zoe is circumspect, which puts a strain on a potential romance with Max.

The Accidental Alchemist is a whimsical and charming supernatural mystery. The rapport between Gallic gourmet Dorian and Zoe is delectable, and Zoe’s chemistry with Detective Liu is sizzling.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-09 01:07:12
The Autumn Dead / The Night Remembers
Kevin Burton Smith

If Ed Gorman were a different type of writer, I’d call this a two-fisted collection, but Gorman’s not that kinda guy. Oh, he’ll sock it to you, all right, but you’ll never see it coming. Let’s face it. Any lout in a bar can spit in your face, punch you in the gut, or kick you in the, uh, guts, but it takes a real master to look you straight in the eye and KO you before you even know you’re in a fight.

This collection rounds up two of Gorman’s better novels, both of which aptly demonstrate the author’s long-recognized ability to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.

The Autumn Dead (1987) was Gorman’s fourth novel to feature Jack Dwyer, a private eye in a thinly disguised version of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. A former cop who developed a taste for acting, he quit the force, figuring being a gumshoe would give him more time to pursue his passion.

But Marlowe he’s not, and he soon takes a job with a security firm to keep the wolf from the door. And then Karen Lane, a high school sweetheart, waltzes back into his life, asking him to recover a suitcase she’d left with a previous lover, figuring the now middle-aged Jack—despite being in a solid relationship—won’t be able to resist her still considerable charms. And he can’t. At least at first. But the suitcase isn’t where it’s supposed to be, and Karen hasn’t exactly been telling him the whole truth.

There’s a solid mystery here, full of murder, rape, blackmail and old secrets, but the real mysteries lie within the complicated relationships between men and women, between past and present, between what we want and what we have. Through it all, Jack displays considerable empathy and a gentle humor as he plies his trade, and brings things to a emotionally satisfying ending.

But as satisfying as that one is, it’s The Night Remembers that’s the real treasure here, a cold and bloody hallelujah tempered by Gorman’s warmth and compassion. Sixty-four years old, recently retired from the sheriff’s office, Jack Walsh is an apartment house manager who does a little private eyeing on the side, while pursuing a relationship with Faith, a much younger woman who claims her young son is his. Yet one more case of the past calling dibs on the present—a frequent theme of Gorman’s.

But the big call from the past comes in the form of a visit from the wife of George Pennyfeather, a man Jack helped send to prison on a murder rap years ago. Lisa Pennyfeather still believes her husband is innocent, and now that he’s been released, wants Walsh to clear his name. Not surprisingly, Walsh is hesitant, but when a woman is killed behind the Pennyfeather’s house and all fingers point to George as the culprit, Jack begins to have doubts and starts to poke around. It does not go well.

Gorman’s work has always had a deep and heartfelt sense of tenderness and abiding humanity in it, and if you ask me, this is his masterpiece, a quietly powerful gem of a novel, full of real people living real lives, trying desperately to hang on to the little they have, and living with real hurt. Like much of Gorman’s work, it’s drenched in nostalgia and tinged with noir, a brooding contemplation of this train wreck of existence. But the delicate fragility of life is beautifully woven into a brooding, almost Leonard Cohen-esque song of lust, violence, regret, and redemption, all minor chords and major lifts.

If this one doesn’t move you, I’m sorry, but you just ain’t human.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-09 01:18:20
The Scent of Death
Robin Agnew

Andrew Taylor has visited many different eras of history in his novels. He’s one of those authors who can not only make you see what life was like in another time, but also almost smell it (sometimes that’s unfortunate). In The Scent of Death he brings a Brit, David Saville, across to America in 1778 and plunges him into wartime Manhattan, as an observer for the “American Department.” When there’s a crime involving a Brit or a Loyalist refugee who needs assistance, Saville is called in.

The book starts off with the mysterious death of one Colonel Pickett. A young slave boy is caught and hanged for the crime; the casual brutality of it shocks Saville, but he reminds himself he is only there to observe. He is needled by doubt, though, as he’s not sure the young man was guilty.

Pickett’s murder is just the first in a series of assaults and murders that run through this vast and complicated novel. As Saville negotiates his way as an outsider through the minefield of violence, politics, and relationships in early America, Taylor’s running exploration of loyalty is examined from all angles: slave to master; wife to husband; child to parent; friend to friend; employee and employer. The changing nature of loyalty and the perception of it are his concern throughout.

While I thought The Scent of Death was slightly overlong, the writing, the setting, and the characters are all exquisitely rendered. You will have a complete picture of 1778 New York City when you are finished. The criminal mastermind behind the murders that run through the novel is a fantastic reveal, patiently laid out by Taylor for the perfect “aha” moment—a surprise, but a well set up one. And as you know how the Revolutionary War will end, you will also feel bad for the probable fate of the characters you have been reading about. I loved the flavor of the times in this novel. Much of it is brutal, especially the treatment of slaves, but it also felt real. While I love reading about the Revolutionary War, I’m glad I didn’t live through it.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-09 01:19:29
Watch Me Go
Oline H. Cogdill

Pushcart Prize winner (Stand Up, Look Good) Mark Wisniewski’s foray into crime fiction is an outstanding noir look at a man who lives his life on the edges, a consummate outsider who, because of his own inertia, is arrested for murder.

Douglas “Deesh” Sharp ekes out a life by hauling away trash for cash. It’s not much in terms of a paycheck but it pays the rent on his Bronx apartment. His latest job takes him and two friends to Poughkeepsie, New York, to haul away an oil drum. When they balk, saying that the drum is too heavy, their proffered payment suspiciously doubles—a tip-off to Deesh and his pals that “there’s death in that drum.”

Naturally, it doesn’t go well, and Deesh lands in a Bronx jail, charged with three murders. There he is paid a visit by Jan Price, a woman who says she will help exonerate him of murdering jockey Tom Corcoran—if Deesh can prove he is innocent of the other two murders, too.

Jan and Deesh alternate telling their stories, delving into their past and how their lives intersect. At 37, Deesh is looking at a life of failures, having peaked in high school as a basketball star. At 20, Jan is an aspiring jockey who, while trying to overcome the sexism that still exists in racing, becomes involved in the world of compulsive gambling.

Watch Me Go derives its atmosphere from the noir outlook of its characters, eschewing car chases and gun battles for a tough, quiet build to its intriguing end.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-09 01:27:20
Winter at the Door
Hank Wagner

Lizzie Snow thinks she knows what she’s signing up for when she accepts a position with the Aroostook County Sheriff’s department, but the reality is something else entirely. It turns out that Sheriff Cody Chevrier has a hidden agenda in hiring her—he wants Lizzie to apply the hard-won skills she’s honed as a Boston homicide detective to look into the strange deaths of several retired police officers in and around the Maine town of Bearkill. Also motivated by her own agenda (she’s recently been provided with a lead in the case of her niece’s disappearance, which brought her to the area), Lizzie agrees to do so, little realizing that her investigation will lead her into direct contact with some of northern Maine’s most dangerous denizens.

Winter at the Door is the first of a planned series featuring Snow, who made her initial appearance in Sarah Graves’ last Jake Tiptree mystery, A Bat in the Belfry. The book’s publicity materials compare Graves to Jenny Milchman, and that comparison is apt, especially in relation to Milchman’s excellent debut Cover of Snow; both authors explore similar, dark terrain, focusing on strong, but isolated women, solving mysteries in tiny, insular, and, above all, creepy old towns. Like Milchman, Graves is very comfortable in this milieu, finding both depravity and humor in her backwoods setting, and telling an entertaining story that proceeds to an explosive conclusion.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-09 01:30:49
Win a Signed Copy of Lis Wiehl's Lethal Beauty


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Mia Quinn is back. And you can win a signed copy of her latest case.

Mia Quinn discovers that a series of seemingly unrelated murders are linked. How far up are the strings being pulled—and what happens when one of her own is at risk?

The murder Mia is prosecuting seems like an open and shut case—until the accused claims he was the real victim and that the dead girl attacked him first. The tabloids dub her a “lethal beauty.” Still, a conviction seems imminent. Then a key witness goes missing. Just when it looks like the killer could walk free, the dead woman’s mother takes matters into her own hands.

Meanwhile, Charlie Carlson, a Seattle homicide detective, is investigating the murder of a man whose body washed up on the beach of Puget Sound, but he’s got little to go on. He has no dental work, fingerprints aren’t on file, and he doesn’t match any missing person reports. Then a church pianist is senselessly gunned down before horrified parishioners.

All three cases seem unrelated—but are they? Together, Mia and Charlie race to find the answer before another crime hits too close to home.

Visit to learn more about the author.
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Offer Terms and Conditions
Mystery Scene and HarperCollins is giving away TEN (10) signed copies of LETHAL BEAUTY by Lis Wiehl. One book each will be sent to TEN (10) eligible respondents drawn at random. ARV of each book: $26.99 US. Offer available to legal residents of the US only who have reached the age of majority in their state/province/territory of residence. Limit one book per household. Offer ends April 15, 2015 , 11:59 p.m. (ET). Winner will be announced and notified by Mystery Scene.
Personal information is collected in accordance with Mystery Scene Magazine’s privacy policy.
Teri Duerr
2015-03-09 18:21:29
Cara Black on Georges Simenon's Maigret
Cara Black

cara blackKeeping Some Streets Dark in the City of Light

Georges Simenon kept his story lines simple, often using no more than a 2,000-word vocabulary and economical descriptions, keeping his stories brief to appeal to a broader audience. But deeper themes and insights into human psychology lie at the core of his characters. No penny dreadful, each Maigret novel is a quick read but makes a major impact. You can pick one up, read it, and walk away with a deeper understanding of the human psyche. His characters—from the crew at the Prefecture, investigators, and flics on their daily beat to the victims’ neighbors, hotel concierges, and even Paris itself—really speak to readers.

With countless television adaptations of Simenon’s work in the UK, France, and other parts of Europe, everyone knows of the pipe-smoking Maigret. These novels capture a time, a part of Paris that exists now only in the imagination. It was a time when cell phones and numeric-entry keypads were unheard of—one could only ring the concierge’s bell to gain entry after midnight. Everyone knew everyone else’s business in a city with enclosed courtyards, high walls, and watchful eyes. Parisians smoked and drank morning, noon, and night. Men’s wool overcoats and hats steamed as they came in from a wet winter evening to a warm, charcoal-stove-burning café. People knew their neighbors. Snitches snitched. Girlfriends chatted with each other and mother-in-laws complained—human connections abound, often forming a web of lies and deceit. But Maigret keeps at it—plodding, questioning, then throwing out those questions, lighting his pipe when it goes out, and the suspect in the chair opposite him knows it’s only a matter of time. As does Maigret. He drinks at lunch, sometimes he gets angry, even orders sandwiches and beer in the afternoon. He takes the annual August vacances with Madame Maigret unless a case comes up—but when doesn’t it?—and detains him in hot, deserted Paris. But a few of his investigations find him out in the countryside, in those small, hermetically sealed villages where observant eyes don’t miss a thing.

I confess that when I first began writing my Aimée Leduc novels, I would think, Okay. There’s a murder, a staircase dripping with blood…. What would Inspector Maigret do? That wasn’t always much help, since Aimée is a PI, not a policewoman. But then I’d consider what she might do if Maigret appeared on the scene and questioned her after she had found the body. That worked a little better. Of course, the police system in place now is different: Jules Maigret, as the head Commissaire, would certainly not respond in person. Today, it would be the Brigade Criminelle and le procureur (the equivalent of our DA) who would hotfoot it to the scene and dictate the next steps in the investigation. I had to change my way of thinking about police process in a murder investigation, my flic friends told me. The way Maigret operated didn’t make for a plausible scenario now. So I relearned in order to keep the details in my books accurate, and came to the conclusion that Maigret had it easier than a head Commissaire would today.

Is Simenon’s work dated? Historical? Timeless? I’d argue the second two. I personally like my Paris streets dark and narrow, with glistening cobblestones, the air thick with mist and suspicion. The Montmartre cemetery wall the same as it was then, hulking with old, lichen-covered stone; I’ve imagined a corpse there more than once. Returning late at night from the last Métro, walking uphill from Place de Clichy, the cinéma marquees dark, the café lights fading as I cross over the cemetery, I hear the thrum of the old Citroën or Renault engine, the shift of gears, and smell the cherry tobacco. (I like to think he smoked cherry tobacco, though I don’t know that it’s ever specified; perhaps there’s a Simenon scholar out there who can tell me.) Flashlights illuminate the corpse sprawled on the damp pavement. Maigret nods to his lieutenant and says, “Take this down," and we’re off on an investigation. An investigation that leads to the hidden life behind the walls, intrigue in the quartier, and worlds we’d never visit otherwise.

Cara Black is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of 14 books in the Private Investigator Aimée Leduc series, which is set in Paris. Cara has received multiple nominations for the Anthony and Macavity Awards, a Washington Post Book World Book of the Year citation, the Médaille de la Ville de Paris—the Paris City Medal, which is awarded in recognition of contribution to international culture—and invitations to be the Guest of Honor at conferences such as the Paris Polar Crime Festival and Left Coast Crime. With more than 400,000 books in print, the Aimée Leduc series has been translated into German, Norwegian, Japanese, French, Spanish, Italian, and Hebrew.

This Writers on Reading essay was originally published in At the Scene eNews March 2015 as a first-look exclusive to our enewsletter subscribers. For more special content available first to our enewsletter subscribers, sign up here.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-10 21:57:20

Keeping Some Streets Dark in the City of Light

Mystery Writers Are A-Cookin’ in new cookbooks

mysterywriterscookbook 2015

Mystery writers are always cooking up some devious plot, nasty villain, or compelling hero or heroine.

And we hope they are not cooking up bad puns like I just used.

But some mystery writers are also good in the kitchen as two new cookbooks show.

The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook: Wickedly Good Meals and Desserts to Die For, edited by Kate White, published by Quirk Books, is now on bookshelves and reading devices.

The Cozy Cookbook from Berkley doesn’t list an editor on my advanced copy but will be coming out on April 7.

Both books are chock-full of a variety of recipes that sound terrific.

The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook is illustrated with beautiful photography with more than 100 recipes from authors whose offerings continue the mystery theme with breakfasts, entrees, desserts..., well, you get the picture. And of course there is a section on cocktails.

The offerings are quite varied.

The description alone of Alafair Burke’s Ellie Hatcher’s Rum-Soaked Nutella French Toast alone makes me hungry. Just wait until you see the photo. But Burke’s offering, like those of the other authors, also pays homage to her series character, NYPD detective Ellie Hatcher.

Ben H. Winters’ Detective Palace’s Three-Egg Omelet also talks about how his character, Hank Palace of The Last Policeman, can’t find a good restaurant now that the world is ending.

Some are as simple as Kinsey Millhone’s Famous Peanut Butter & Pickle Sandwich, contributed by, naturally, Sue Grafton; or the Very Unsophisticated Supper Dip, courtesy of Charlaine Harris.

But nothing beats simplicity as Lee Child’s “recipe” on making a cup of coffee. Well, what do you expect from Jack Reacher, the epitome of simplicity?

cozycookbook 2015
One would expect authors of culinary mysteries such as Diane Mott Davidson to contribute but it also is nice to see offerings by Harlan Coben, Frankie Y. Bailey, Alison Gaylin, Greg Herren, Peter James, among others. And the editors have gotten a good range of authors, too, from the well known such as Mary Higgins Clark to authors you may not be familiar with, but should.

The authors featured in The Cozy Cookbook have each somehow written about food and include an excerpt from their novels to introduce a recipe.

Julie Hyzy, who writes about a White House chef, offers three egg recipes that go with the snippet from her novel State of the Onion, and then returns to offer recipes for entrees, side dishes, and more.

Cleo Coyle’s Murder by Mocha is the introduction for her recipes of Roasted Rock Cornish Game Hens with Rosemary and Lemon Butter and Clare’s Roasted Chicken with Rosemary and Lime for Mike.

Chicken also is on the menu for Leslie Budewitz, who uses her segment from Crime Rib to offer The World’s Best Grilled Chicken Breasts.

The Cozy Cookbook offers a list of novels by each author along with a short bio, a handy guide to end the book.

This is one time when I will say neither of these books belong on your bookshelf. Instead, both cookbooks deserve to be in the kitchen.

Oline Cogdill
2015-03-14 22:06:54