Enter the Saint
Dick Lochte

Let me be upfront about this. I’ve been an unalloyed fan of Leslie Charteris’ iconic character since my Jesuit High School days when I spent library hours and weekend spiritual retreats with my nose stuck in “Saint” books, impressing the proctoring priests with my devotion to religious literature. So it follows that, a year ago, when Ian Dickerson, the editor of the brand new trade paperback and ebook editions of 50 of Charteris’ books about Simon Templar, asked me to write a foreword to one of them, I took less than two seconds to agree. My intro appears in Saint Errant, a short story collection that, as of the present, has not been treated to audio format. It features the modern Robin Hood in his middle years. The title here, one of the first audio versions to come from Brilliance, is a collection of early novellas in which Templar is still in his 20s, as was Charteris when he put them on paper. It is a pure delight. Not only are the stories smart and fast-paced with author and character at their youthful best, fearless, brash, brimming over with confidence and vitality and imagination, the narration by British television actor John Telfer is as exuberant and dashing as the prose. Though it is not entirely necessary to listen to the Saint audiobooks in proper chronological order, I think it makes sense to begin with the earliest. That would be Enter the Saint, catching the brighter buccaneer at close to the start of his career, when he was the leader of a group of “Saints” dedicated to stopping crooks, stealing their loot and turning 80 percent of it over to British charities, the remainder being allocated to “operating expenditures.” Along with Templar, there are his dependable right-hand man Roger Conway, Dicky Tremayne who finds romance in the novella The Lawless Lady, Norman Kent, who, shortly after his appearance here, will demonstrate the extent of his heroism, and Simon’s true love, Patricia Holm, whose life he saved in his debut novel, Meet the Tiger. Also on hand are the Saint’s gruff, uber-efficient butler Orace and the outlaw’s frenemy, the ever-exasperated, gum-chewing Chief Inspector Claude Eustace Teal of Scotland Yard. Telfer has found an appropriate voice for each, as well as for the characters in the equally entertaining other audio volumes, while settling for what I suppose is his own natural, British accent for Charteris’ amusing and often enlightening introductions to the stories.

Teri Duerr
2015-05-13 18:07:49
Veronica Mars 2: Mr. Kiss and Tell
Dick Lochte

The first thing one might ask about this second Veronica Mars audio mystery novel is: Can the character survive beyond the page without the participation of Kristen Bell? The answer is yes, but not an enthusiastic one. On the plus side are the well-crafted subplots that carry over from Veronica’s previous adventures, and the main plot. involving Veronica’s attempts to identify and then take down the title character, a shrewd sadist who employs ladies of the night and then delights in maiming and/or beating them to death. The subplots include her father’s continuing recovery from the near-fatal car crash that occurred in the feature film, and former gangsta Weevil Navarro’s attempts to prove his arrest in the first novel was based on evidence planted by Neptune, California’s lout of a sheriff, Dan Lamb. The latter incident ties into an upcoming election that could find Lamb replaced by an honest lawman. Finally, Veronica’s hot-and-cold romance with Logan Echolls turns frigid when, ignoring her pleas, he re-ups for a new tour of faraway Navy duty. It’s always fun to keep up on events in Neptune. The problem with the audio is that reader Rebecca Lowman displays little of Bell’s energy or spikey attitude. I should point out that, unlike the previous installment, this mystery has been written from an objective point of view. Having Bell read the first, Veronica-narrated book, made it a perfect match to the small-town private detective’s cinematic capers. Lowman, on the other hand, though she sounds approximately the same age as Bell, is merely an observer, not the lead character. It might have been wiser to have clarified this point by using a reader who, because of accent, age, vocal timbre, or even gender, would have been different enough from Bell to avoid comparison.

Teri Duerr
2015-05-13 18:13:26
What You Left Behind
Sharon Magee

Hoping for a few days of peace and quiet, Detective Inspector Lorraine Fisher is visiting her sister Jo in the small English village of Rodate. But Lorraine, who was introduced in British author Samantha Hayes’ well-received Until You’re Mine, finds the village on edge. A cluster of suicides 18 months prior has left everyone devastated. Then another young man drives his motorcycle into a tree, leaving a suicide note behind, and yet another jumps in front of a train, also leaving a note, and the citizens of Rodate fear that history is repeating itself. Jo is worried about her son Freddie, who has become withdrawn and uncommunicative. Is it normal teen-age angst or something more dangerous?

Always the detective, even while on vacation, Lorraine looks into the most recent suicides and believes something far more sinister may be killing off the youth of Rodate. Then her nephew Freddie disappears.

Through the use of several characters’ points-of-view—Lorraine, and an autistic man named Gil, sullen Freddie, Freddie’s sometime girlfriend Lana, and creepy shelter volunteer Frank—Hayes leads readers through the furious twists and turns of her psychological thriller. Hayes also effectively brackets her story with chapters from an unnamed character. Who’s good? Who’s evil? It’s hard to tell until the cunning twist on the very last page.

Teri Duerr
2015-05-13 18:42:10
Vanessa Orr

Maxine Revere is an investigative reporter in New York City, which means that she needs to be independent, ambitious, driven, and laser-focused. These are all qualities that make her good at her job, but that tend to drive people away. They also make her an intriguing protagonist in Compulsion, which follows Max as she tries to find the accomplice of serial murderer Adam Bachman—despite the fact that there is no evidence to show that he did not work alone.

This is a good read on a number of levels— Allison Brennan is masterful at building suspense as Max comes closer to the truth, putting the reporter and those who work with her directly into a sociopath’s sights. Max’s compatriots, from her impetuous assistant Riley Butler to her bodyguard/friend David Kane, to her past and present boyfriends Marco Lopez and Nick Santini, are strong, well-drawn characters, who, while loyal to Max, also struggle with her flaws.

Brennan utilizes flashbacks to give insight into what drives Max to take so many risks, from her time as a young child being dragged around the country by a narcissistic mother who later abandons her to her soul-shattering experiences in a Mexican prison. While Max could be an off-putting heroine, understanding what drives her and what she has survived makes it easier to reconcile her driving need to always find the truth. It also allows the reader to feel her pain when she does finally show vulnerability.

As the investigation proceeds, there is no doubt that there will be a final confrontation, but an unexpected twist takes the story to a surprising, and horrifying new level. Readers will be left pondering just how much damage a person in a position of trust can do.

Teri Duerr
2015-05-13 18:46:44
Inspector of the Dead
Betty Webb

David Morrell brings back opium-eater Thomas De Quincey for another look at the hypocritical caste system of Victorian England and the outrageous sufferings of people caused by hunger, cold, and abuse simply because they are poor—or even worse, Irish.

As in his previous outing in Murder as a Fine Art, De Quincey’s decades of drug abuse have left him an emotional and physical wreck, but he continues to solve the most unusual and artistic of crimes. In fact, his frequent inability to separate reality from drugged fantasy enables him to find clues not apparent to most people. When a series of seemingly erratic but horrifically staged murders of wealthy aristocrats stump London’s police force, De Quincey starts his investigation with a question once posed by philosopher Immanuel Kant: Does reality exist outside us or in our minds? A frequenter of both “realities,” De Quincey understands that fantasy, like the artifice of the staged murders, can be created to hide fact, and suspects that may be the case here.

Accordingly, he leads his daughter Emily and his police friends through London’s aristocratic mansions to the vilest hovels, trailing a murderer called the Avenger. Clues purposely left at each murder site suggest that the Avenger’s motive is both personal and political; Queen Victoria herself is the final target.

Author Morrell’s extraordinary research is again on display in Inspector of the Dead. We learn about the bureaucratic incompetence that caused so many deaths during the Crimean War (one of the book’s major characters fought in it), and the shocking unfairness of the Victorian legal system. Most devastatingly, we see the utter contempt with which the ruling classes treated their “inferiors.” Morrell shows us children dying of starvation in the street while aristocrats pass them by with a sneer. These scenes provide insight into the moral decay of those in power that has led to the fall of empires.

Rough stuff, certainly, but compelling and enlightening. Such is Morrell’s talent as a storyteller. Inspector of the Dead is an extraordinary suspense novel, to be sure, but perhaps more importantly, it can serve as a metaphor for our own troubled times.

Teri Duerr
2015-05-13 18:52:21
Vanessa Orr

Detective Ellie MacIntosh and her partner, Jason Santiago, are trying to solve the murders of four men in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, while also trying to come to terms with their own confusing relationship. Though Jason has feelings for Ellie, she holds him and everyone else at a distance, including the man whom she is currently living with. When not working on their serial-killer cases, they are working through their issues with therapist Dr. Georgia Lukens, who sees them each separately. And therein lies my biggest problem with this story.

The detectives’ therapy sessions provide a way for the reader to learn what the partners are thinking about each other, but it was difficult to believe that not only were both of them being treated by the same therapist, but that they would discuss their cases with her in detail—including showing her pictures of a murder victim during one session. Add to that Dr. Lukens’ treatment of a patient involved with a lead suspect. Coincidence? Possibly. Ethical dilemma? Definitely. A huge leap for the reader? Unfortunately.

Even the doctor admits that for a city the size of Milwaukee, it seems unlikely that she would be seeing all of these people. And while she often mentions the ethical issues involved, she doesn’t act on them, rather appreciating the voyeuristic aspect of waiting to see what will happen next between the detectives.

There are a number of things to like about this book. The characters are interesting and their relationships with each other complicated. Cool, detached Ellie and the more passionate, sometimes obnoxious Jason are good foils to one another in this fourth book following their burgeoning relationship. However, the fact that the therapist is the key to the story is, unfortunately, also its weakest link.

Teri Duerr
2015-05-13 18:56:54
The Alpine Zen
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

This is the 26th and last book in Daheim’s long-running folksy mystery series that began in 1992 and takes place in the town of Alpine in Washington State. Emma Lord, small-town newspaper editor-publisher and her husband, Sheriff Milo Dodge, are once again the stalwart investigating team when murder comes calling.

Narrated in the first person by Emma, the story begins when a distraught young woman comes to town in search of the mother who abandoned her as a baby. Before long, a body turns up in a local dump site, and the young woman believes that the long-dead corpse may be her father. Meanwhile, a mysterious stalker is raising the fear level in the town and creating more confusion. If that weren’t enough, Emma’s close friend and House and Home editor, Vida Runkel, has disappeared.

While the mysteries and their solutions seemed a bit convoluted to me—perhaps because there are so many characters in play, and this is the first of the 26 novels that I’ve read—I did enjoy the small-town banter, particularly between Emma and her Sheriff husband as they singly and together work to get to the bottom of things. Although it sometimes comes across as bickering, it’s both amusing and endearing, and one of the best features of this novel. Along the way, we learn how a small-town newspaper gathers the news and creates the features it presents.

Emma Lord survives this final chapter, happy with her small-town life and content in the loving relationship with her husband. The only ghost that appears is the town of Alpine which, thanks to the publicity from this series, was named a Washington State ghost town in July 2011.

Mary Daheim is a Seattle native and has been a reporter, editor, and public relations consultant in addition to being a successful mystery novelist. Her background adds important verisimilitude to the story.

Teri Duerr
2015-05-13 19:01:04
Someone Is Watching
Kevin Burton Smith

Someone is watching? Hell, everyone is watching.

Toronto’s Joy Fielding, one of the go-to pros of domestic suspense, has been cheerfully ripping lives (and families) apart in all sorts of interesting ways for forever, it seems. But her latest, Someone Is Watching, may be her most unsettling yet. In it, she strips the flesh off yet another life—that of cocksure investigator Bailey Carpenter.

Young, beautiful, and sharp as a tack, Bailey works for Holden, Cunningham and Kravitz, a prestigious Miami law firm. She lives in a swanky high-rise, drives a nifty sports car, and is, of course, wonderfully thin. She’s also set to inherit a mountain of money from her recently deceased dad.

So Bailey’s life, despite dear old dad’s passing is, well, pretty much fabulous. Then she gets raped.

Those who object to the threat of rape as an overused (and possibly misogynous) plot device will have plenty to chew over with this one. But it’s not the rape that Fielding is interested in here. The actual assault is dispatched quickly, reduced to a few harrowing pages early on. Bailey never sees her attacker, and comes to in an ambulance with someone telling her it’s going to be all right. It isn’t.

It is the aftermath of sexual assault that Fielding is interested in. Rear Window’s Jimmy Stewart was apartment-bound due to a broken leg, but it’s Bailey herself who is broken here. She showers incessantly, has nightmares, is afraid to leave her apartment. The phone rings and there’s nobody there. She thinks she may be losing her mind. She becomes obsessed with spying on other tenants with her binoculars. Particularly the preening peacock across the way who prances around naked and has sex with various women without closing his blinds. And then, with a shock, Bailey realizes he may be watching her. That he may be her attacker. That he may even be a murderer.

But nobody—the cops, building security, her own brother—believes her. Only Claire, her estranged half-sister, and Claire’s smart-ass teen daughter Jade, who have turned up to help, seem to accept Bailey’s story. Seem to.

As the once cocksure Bailey gets sucked deeper into a drowning pool of paranoia, guilt, and deceit, she begins to question her sanity, and her own credibility. Readers may as well.

This isn’t an easy book. But it’s a powerful and perhaps timely one, both creepy and psychologically complex. Read it now. But pull the blinds.

Teri Duerr
2015-05-13 19:06:42
Fox Is Framed
Robin Agnew

The third installment in the series featuring attorney Leo Maxwell reveals much of Leo’s backstory. It opens with ten-year-old Leo’s memory of discovering his mother’s dead body. Unlike his brother Teddy, Leo always thought his father Lawrence guilty of her murder—and indeed, his father has been in prison for it for over two decades. But his father’s case is under review for prosecutorial misconduct and it seems as though he’ll be released. Leo finds himself going, for the first time, for a jailhouse visit.

In the hands of a lesser writer, there would be a gooey father and son reunion, a realization on the son’s part that his father was never guilty, and all would be forgiven as the reunited family walked out of prison into the happy sunshine. That’s not what happens here. This book never took me where I expected it would. The story is smart, complex, and original. It is the first Leo Maxwell book I have read and the storytelling proved to be so clear and concise I was never at a loss as to who was who or just what was going on.

Leo learns that Lawrence has a fiancée named Dot, and that he wants Leo to tell her of his pending release. Leo reluctantly goes to meet Dot, a motorcycle-riding nurse who is not at all what Leo expected. When his father does get out, he heads to Teddy’s with Leo and Dot, where a granddaughter he’s never met awaits him. Teddy also works as a lawyer, but not in the courtroom since a recent head injury has reoriented him as a work-from-home family man. Lawrence is delighted with his granddaughter and the family reunion really got me emotionally hooked into the story.

This is truly a legal thriller, much of it set inside a courtroom, told by someone who knows the way things work there. It’s left to the reader to interpret what’s happening, and it is almost like being a member of the jury yourself. All the while, Smith keeps the reader on edge. You hope Lawrence is innocent, but you are never really sure. And when a new crime turns up that incriminates him once again, you won’t know what to think. Smith lets you make up your own minds as he relentlessly unfurls his story, one in which every character has a little bit of heartbreak to share. The characters got me hooked, the legal story got me to stay, and the originality of the telling stuck with me when I was finished.

Teri Duerr
2015-05-13 19:10:52
The Dismantling
Matthew Fowler

Brian DeLeeuw’s novel The Dismantling is a smart suspense thriller that delves into the ethical nature of organ trafficking.

Whether they want to admit it or not, every twentysomething has been in Simon Worth’s position at some point in his life. To be clear, that isn’t to suggest everyone goes through a phase in which they drop out of medical school and find a job at a morally corrupt company that subsists on desperate humans selling off their internal organs for money, at least hopefully not. Rather, Simon is such a relatable character because he, like many of his cohort, is lost. He is going through the motions of a job he never considered he’d end up doing, settling in to let life pass him by.

When the story opens, Simon is the middleman, working to connect those who need organs to save their lives and those who are willing to sell their organs to start new ones. He rarely sees his hospital contact who runs the operation and still hasn’t told his father about leaving school. Despite what many would consider a fractured existence built on lies, the trouble really only starts when a former football star calls about getting a liver for his alcoholic friend. The match comes in the form of Maria Campos, a girl with dark secrets of her own. However, when the surgery goes awry and the alcoholic friend proves to be a less-than-suitable candidate even after the procedure has occurred, Simon struggles to ensure he won’t be the one who takes the fall. With his future at stake and a boss who might be even shadier than he seems threatening him, Simon must find a way to take back control of his life.

DeLeeuw lets the reader into Simon’s psyche and layers the story with family strife, teetering on the edge of melodrama, but reeling it back in just as it looks like the story might stumble.

Teri Duerr
2015-05-13 19:16:59
The Bullet
Jordan Foster

You never know when an irritating pain in your wrist will lead to shocking revelations, like finding out that you’re adopted and that there’s a bullet lodged in the back of your neck. Georgetown French Literature professor Caroline Cashion thought her life was fairly ordinary: she grew up the youngest of three children in a stable, middle-class home, and she counts her parents among her closest friends.

That ordinary life comes crashing down when, on the advice of her doctor, she gets a series of routine tests and scans done related to her persistent wrist issue and the technician remarks on how lucky she is to have survived such a horrific gunshot wound. Further tests reveal a bullet in the back of Caroline’s neck.

When she tells her family, she’s shocked to learn that not only did her parents know about her injury—though supposedly not the fact that the bullet remained—but also that she is not their biological daughter. She was born Caroline Smith in Atlanta, Georgia, to Sadie Rawson Smith and Boone Smith. In 1979, when Caroline was three, her parents were murdered in a still-unsolved home invasion, a shooting that nearly killed Caroline as well. Whisked out of the city by social services after her recovery and adopted by the Cashions, Caroline grows up with no memory of her turbulent childhood.

Despite her docile nature when it comes to most things in life (she’s not a strong-willed heroine, a source of continuing frustration for the reader, particularly when the action kicks into implausibly high gear later on), Caroline decides to return to Atlanta to learn about her birth family. In simpler narrative terms, she wants closure for a problem she never knew she had. When she arrives, she’s treated like a minor celebrity by everyone who knew her parents or remembers the murder, including lecherous newspaper editor Leland Brett, who does everything short of shedding his clothes in his (fruitless) attempts to seduce Caroline.

Convinced that someone out there knows crucial information about her parents’ case, Caroline agrees to be profiled by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which predictably brings all sorts of friends—and—foes out of the woodwork. With the assistance of a grizzled former detective who worked the case back in the day, Caroline transforms from mild-mannered French professor into amateur detective. The lengths she goes to discover the truth behind her parents’ murder wouldn’t be outrageous for another character, but Caroline is passive to the point that it makes it difficult for readers to empathize with her, let alone root for her when her methods for getting answers take a turn for the illegal.

Teri Duerr
2015-05-13 19:23:26
Teri Duerr
2015-05-14 14:07:14
Aurora Teagarden to Return

Years ago, Charlaine Harris, at left, put her librarian heroine Aurora Teagarden on vacation.

Harris had a few other ideas in mind she wanted to tackle.

Something about vampires and a waitress named Sookie Stackhouse. You may have heard of those novels. I think there was an HBO series, too? Something about True Blood.

Aurora’s vacation seemed permanent as Harris went on to other projects.

But Aurora will return. According to Publishers Weekly, Harris will do two more Aurora Teagarden novels for Minotaur. The last Teagarden, Poppy Done to Death, was released by Minotaur in 2003; the new novels are set for 2017 and 2018, according to Publishers Weekly.

I loved this series, which featured six novels, and applaud Aurora’s return. Aurora is a young librarian who regularly meets with a group who study unsolved crimes. Naturally, those crimes have a way of being solved during the course of the novels.

On the surface, the Aurora novels seem to be very light and cozy—even her name suggests that. But Harris had an uncanny knack for adding just the touch of needed darkness to these novels.

And now fans of Aurora will have a double dose of the librarian. The series is the basis for two made-for-TV movies—and I hope there will be more—on the Hallmark Channel and the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Channel.

Candace Cameron Bure stars as Aurora. A Bone to Pick, the first Aurora, aired in April, but you can catch it in reruns and on demand.

Oline Cogdill
2015-05-20 12:50:00
Channeling Megan Abbott

abbottmeg dareme
Viewers should have a double dose of Megan Abbott’s novels on TV in the near future.

Abbott’s seventh novel, The Fever, is a precise look at the angst of teenage girls. The novel has jealousy, hormones, and betrayal as a group of high school girls begin to fall ill with a strange fever, symptoms of which include convulsions and foaming at the mouth.

Grounded in realism, The Fever explores the girls’ complicated friendships and unspoken rivalries. The adults want to blame something—from HPV vaccinations, toxic pond water, and female trouble.

The Fever was one of the best novels of 2014. And now it may be a TV series.

Sarah Jessica Parker's company Pretty Matches Productions is developing a MTV show based on The Fever.

Abbott will work with Parker and producer Karen Rosenfelt (The Book Thief, The Devil Wears Prada, and Twilight). Abbott will also write the pilot episode.

In a statement issued by Parker and Pretty Matches Productions: “We are thrilled to be working with Megan Abbott, one of the most exciting voices working in literature today. A master of suspense, Megan’s drama is a searing portrait of the female adolescent psyche that is on haunting display in her gripping novel The Fever.”

But wait, there’s more.

According to reports, Abbott will develop a series based on her novel Dare Me for HBO. She will be writing the pilot episode for the series.

Dare Me also is an unsettling look at teenage girls and is set in the world of cheerleading.

Oline Cogdill
2015-05-24 13:05:00
Mysteries That Change the World

winters countdowncity
Can a book change the world, or at least change a perception of the world?

Of course it can.

Just look at the Gutenberg Bible, which was a game changer for books. Before the Gutenberg Bible, books were hand-written, which meant they were available only to the upper-upper class. The Gutenberg Bible was the first major book printed in the West using movable type and it began the age of the printed book in the West. Now even common people could possess a book—and that start a change in the social and political landscape.

OK, I am not suggesting that any of these books have the same impact as the Gutenberg, but I have noticed a mini trend of mysteries using a book as a pivotal part of the plot.

The Accident by Chris Pavone: Pavone, who won the best first novel Edgar Award for The Expats, has a mysterious manuscript at the center of his second novel. In The Accident, literary agent Isabel Reed knows that the anonymous manuscript she has received has the power to bring down very powerful people and mega-corporations. Who wrote the manuscript and what it suggests keeps the action going as Pavone doles out bits and pieces of the story behind the manuscript. And just who is that author, hiding out in Zurich and trying to atone for his life of lies and betrayals, knowing that at any minute the wrong people could find him? The world of book publishing is full of peril and intrigue in Pavone’s The Accident.

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker. This was hailed as the book of the summer of 2014. While it didn’t quite catch fire as the publishers hoped—the length (656 pages) may have had something to do with it—I felt it was a fascinating look at loyalty and the cult of the celebrity. In this novel, Marcus Goldman—Harry Quebert’s  most successful protégé—has a severe case of writer’s block. Marcus’ first novel was a runaway success but he can barely finish a sentence on his next novel. Then the remains of a teenager and a manuscript of Harry’s bestseller The Origins of Evil are found on his estate 33 years after the girl disappeared. Marcus travels to Somerset, New Hampshire, to help Harry. But Marcus also is a writer and he sees a book in this tragedy. The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair could easily have been trimmed 200 or so pages but it remains a fast read.

Countdown City by Ben H. Winters: Countdown City is the second novel to Winters’ Edgar-winning paperback The Last Policeman, in which the world will soon be destroyed by a massive asteroid that is hurtling toward Earth. Societies start to break down, as do businesses, education, manners, and everything we think of as civilization. Why save money or be nice to each other or diet when we are all going to die in six months? And there is no more Internet. So books become the go-to source of knowledge and entertainment—as they have been for years—and a library is now a commune in Countdown City. That is, if you want to spend your last days just reading. Imagine a world in which no one opened a book because the Internet is even more powerful. Detective Hank Palace actually has to open a book at the library/commune. And it’s the Yellow Pages—when was the last time any of us used the Yellow Pages. Ironically, before all the mess happened, the library was running a program called “How to Eat Less and Live.”

Checked Out by Elaine Viets: Set in a library, Viets’ 14th Dead-End Job mystery finds Helen Hawthorne searching through thousands of donated books to find which one contains a valuable watercolor that was stashed in it by a wealthy Fort Lauderdale pioneer. The search for the book gives Viets a chance to show how a library can be a center for a community as well as a hotbed of intrigue, jealousy and social standing.

The Truth and Other Lies by Sascha Arango. German scriptwriter Sascha Arango’s novel comes out in June and it is an amusing look at a man who has become one of the world’s top mystery writers, without ever having written a word. Henry Hayden’s wife is the real author and she is fine with him being in the limelight as long as no one knows she is the real author. Harry has carefully constructed a world in which he lives quite well, enjoys the fame, and has a house, car, and money beyond his expectations. And then he pretty much destroys everything that is good in his life.

Oline Cogdill
2015-05-16 13:10:00
Jack of Spades
Kevin Burton Smith

Stephen King? You’re soaking in it.

Everything in Joyce Carol Oates’ latest slice of bleak, from the tone to the plot itself, seems to deliberately conjure up thoughts of the Big Man from Bangor. Even the protagonist, much loved and respected bestselling mystery author Andrew J. Rush, is acclaimed as “the gentleman’s Stephen King.” His long-running series of novels have been translated into more languages than he can count, and have sold in the zillions, earning him wealth, prestige, and a huge house in his small hometown, where he still lives with his wife of many years. Sound familiar? It should.

But of course, this quick, pulpy read wouldn’t be true to the spirit of King (or Oates, for that matter) if nice guy Andrew didn’t have some kind of secret. Turns out the hometown hero has a pen name—Jack of Spades—under which he writes bloody, bleak, mean-spirited thrillers. Real nasty stuff. The books don’t sell as well as those written under Andrew’s own name, but they’re slowly gaining in popularity, even as they become more vile and venomous. More alarming, though, is that (shades of King’s The Dark Half) Jack seems to be slowly taking over Andrew’s mind. And that his pseudonymous alter ego is possibly even more violent, hateful, and unhinged than his books.

Meanwhile, back in the “real” world, Andrew has been summoned to court to answer charges from a local woman (no model of sanity herself), who has accused him of plagiarism, while his adult daughter has discovered some disturbing similarities between the Jack of Spades books and the Rush family history.

The literary writer (Oates has won the National Book Award and been nominated several times for the Pulitzer) appears to be having a ball, gleefully picking at King and his oeuvre like a scab. But she never stoops to picking on him. The stylistic differences between herself and King, however, are notable. Her economy of words, her scalpel-like precision, her decision to almost always zig where King would zag, offer illuminating insights on both storytelling and voice, and how a storyteller’s voice and style alone can make a difference. Not better or worse, but different.

It’s like having one of your favorite songs covered by another artist. You’re not sure if you like the new version better, but damn if you don’t turn the volume up when either one comes on.

Teri Duerr
2015-05-22 02:51:27
The Doomsday Equation
Hank Wagner

Pity poor Jeremy Stillwater, seemingly washed up in his late 20s. A genius of sorts, he has designed a program that collates big data to predict global conflicts, with the hope of heading them off. Trouble is, he’s been told by the US government that the program is an abject failure. This doesn’t sit well with Jeremy; already somewhat of a recluse, he further withdraws from friends and associates. Until the day, that is, when his program informs him that World War III is less than three days away. Simultaneously, Jeremy finds himself the subject of a manhunt for the murder of an old friend. Coincidence or conspiracy, Jeremy is forced to go on the lamb, even as he does his best to head off the ultimate disaster.

Fast-paced but well-plotted, cerebral yet exciting, Matt Richtel’s latest is the perfect antidote for those who miss the works of the late great Michael Crichton. Frighteningly alone, with only his wits and his ingenuity standing between him and a bad end, Jeremy must overcome steep odds in a race against time, trying to determine who might be the triggerman, the Gavrilo Princip, in the perfect storm only he can see coming. Kudos to Richtel for writing such a brainy book, where the protagonist must rely on his intellect, rather than brawn or weapons, to solve an urgent dilemma, and staying true to that concept until the very last page.

Teri Duerr
2015-05-22 02:57:23
The Language of the Dead
Matthew Fowler

Set during World War II in a Hampshire town, The Language of the Dead follows gumshoe Thomas Lamb as he tries to solve the ruthless murders of an elderly recluse and a pregnant woman. Following the formula of the classic whodunit, Stephen Kelly looks to form a mystery that feels whole and well worn. The problem is that with so many characters and subplots introduced into the story, the novel is often disjointed as the reader looks for a way in which all the pieces connect.

Thomas Lamb is a malleable character, decent enough as the stand-in for the reader, but smart enough to keep the plot moving. Alongside David Wallace, a friend who has in the past hit the bottle a little too hard, and Harry Rivers, one of the detective’s bitter rivals, Lamb investigates the case searching for answers from anyone who will talk. Rushing to solve the murders before another person is struck dead or the bombs being dropped overhead hit too close to home. As the detective sorts and unsorts the facts of the case, what he uncovers is a bigger surprise than he could ever imagine, though it might not be so difficult for the reader. Despite the interesting backdrop, the story’s pacing suffers, as more and more layers are presented. For instance, Peter, a mute boy with a gift for drawing insects, might know something about the crimes, but his importance as a character is overshadowed because of the amount of persons Kelly feels necessary to use.

The mystery itself is enjoyable enough to watch unfurl but too often the action feels sluggish, starting and stopping so the author can return to a story thread he began chapters back.

Teri Duerr
2015-05-22 03:02:20
The Witch of Painted Sorrows
Sharon Magee

M. J. Rose is celebrated for her works of supernatural suspense, and in The Witch of Painted Sorrows she doesn’t disappoint, bringing us the first novel in a gothic trilogy of passion and possession. It’s 1890s Paris, the Belle Epoch, known for its dazzling nightlife, art scene, sensuality, and fascination with the occult. New York socialite Sandrine Salome has fled her abusive husband and come to Paris to find her grandmother, a famous courtesan. But her grandmother has closed the beautiful home where she lives and forbids Sandrine from entering it, telling her it may harm her. When Sandrine defies her and gains entrance, she feels the house is welcoming her.

Sandrine meets Julien Duplessi, an up-and-coming young architect. They explore the city by day and night—and the house. When they discover a hidden tower room filled with paintings, Sandrine knows she must become an artist and discovers she is supremely talented. She comes alive, discovering a sensuality with Julien she hadn’t known she possessed. Soon it becomes apparent the spirit of the 300-year-old courtesan La Lune, a witch who had previously lived in the house, has possessed her—exactly what her grandmother had feared. La Lune is reliving a torrid affair through Sandrine and Julien, and has no intention of releasing her hold. Sandrine must discover if she has the will to fight La Lune and give up the addicting erotic and artistic world she now inhabits.

New York Times bestseller Rose’s intriguing novel draws the reader into a Paris of lamplit streets, its dark underbelly, and the hidden world of the occult. A consummate storyteller, she has woven a cast of characters into a setting and intricate plot readers will not soon forget.

Teri Duerr
2015-05-22 03:08:38
The Postman Always Purls Twice
Sharon Magee

In Anne Canadeo’s seventh entry in her Black Sheep Knitting Mystery series, the small town of Plum Harbor, Massachusetts, is all atwitter. A movie starring three of Hollywood’s biggest stars, Jennifer Todd, Heath O’Hara, and Trina Hardwick, is being filmed there. Even more exciting to Maggie Messina, owner of the Black Sheep Knitting Shop, and her four knitting buddies is that the shop is going to be used as a set. When the knitters meet Jennifer, the women feel an instant bond. Though a big star, Jennifer’s a genuinely nice person who loves to knit. But things begin to go wrong: a grid of flood lights crashes, barely missing Jennifer; her husband, the movie’s director, is poisoned; and costar Heath becomes the victim of foul play. When it appears Jennifer is the guilty party, the Black Sheep crew is disbelieving. Jennifer is too nice. But wait! She is an actress.

The Black Sheep crew set out to prove Jennifer’s innocence, which gets Maggie sideways with her boyfriend. He’s a police detective, who wants Maggie to stay out of police business. Of course, that doesn’t deter the Black Sheep knitters as they uncover a tangle of revenge, infidelity, and lies before discovering the truth.

Canadeo knows how to do cozies. The five Black Sheep knitters are from such varying backgrounds—knitting shop owner, graphic designer, psychologist, realtor, and college student—that Canadeo has a lot of room to mix up her plots, which she does well. At the end, she provides recipes to dishes referenced in her books, and links to knitting patterns. All in all, a good, fun read.

Teri Duerr
2015-05-22 03:18:16
Sing a Worried Song
Hank Wagner

The tale at the core of William Deverell’s latest involves the honorable Arthur Beauchamp, acting in the role of prosecuting attorney in a case against Randolph Skyler, the alleged “thrill killer.” Despite a difficult prosecution, Skyler is ultimately found guilty, but swears revenge on the attorney, promising to “see him in hell.” Beauchamp recalls that statement a quarter century later, when the supposedly rehabilitated Skyler is paroled. Will Skyler follow through on his threat, wonders Beauchamp? Only time will tell.

The sixth novel in Deverell’s Arthur Beauchamp series, Sing a Worried Song reads like a mash-up of Law & Order and Northern Exposure. The first part of the novel chronicles a contentious 1987 trial, the second part jumps ahead in time to 2012, where Beauchamp is enjoying semi-retirement in the rustic setting of Garibaldi Island in the Salish Sea. Both parts are equally entertaining. The first provides all the thrills and changes in fortune of a John Grisham novel, and the second proves equally exciting, while featuring a cast of characters straight out of Steinbeck’s Cannery Row. Deverell writes beautifully, delivering a thriller replete with human folly, laughs, satire, and truly unexpected twists.

Teri Duerr
2015-05-22 03:24:14
Betty Webb

The characters in Chasm are fascinating, but the Grand Canyon and the river running through it are the real stars in this sixth entry in the excellent Frankie MacFarlane mystery series (after Fracture, Hoodoo, et al.). Geologist MacFarlane is tapped to lead a rafting trip along the Colorado River, she finds her group pursued by two different killers. Unknown to Frankie, Molly McKuen, one of the young people along for the voyage, is a runaway from a ruthless polygamy cult that views girls as nothing more than breeding animals. The cult, led by Molly’s own father, is determined to get her back. If other rafters are killed in the process, no biggie; it’s God’s will.

Meanwhile, another man is tracking Frankie, and, for unknown reasons, seems to want her dead. When Frankie is separated from her group by the killer, she has to make a choice: die of thirst while holed up on a cave, or brave a sniper’s bullets while making a run for the river.

Chasm is a high-octane suspense novel, told from the points of view of Frankie, Molly, a polygamist lusting for yet another “wife,” and the vengeful Jason. In less capable hands, there could be too much going on here between the action scenarios and the geologic science, but author Susan Cummins Miller—herself a geologist—adeptly uses the canyon’s magnificent, multileveled rock formations as a backdrop for the human souls passing through it. And non-geologists needn’t worry; Miller includes a map of the canyon and a graph of its many layers (Zoroaster granite, Bright Angel shale, etc.), so that when one of the characters points out deposits created in the Cambrian or the Permian periods, all is clear. But the educational aspects of Chasm don’t nullify its suspense; the killers provide plenty.

Teri Duerr
2015-05-22 03:39:00
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

When a fast-moving wildfire rages across the outskirts of a small West Texas town not far from the Rio Grande, it leaves behind a trail of burned homes, shattered dreams, and one mysterious charred body in a partially burned home. Police Chief Josie Gray, who is helping with the evacuation, notices something amiss—the fire shouldn’t have reached the home where the body was found. Further investigation finds that the victim was dead before the fire occurred.

So begins an intriguing police procedural involving Texas police and fire personnel, baffling clues that continually seem to lead to dead ends, and a bit of local flavor involving country music bands and their followers.

The investigation proceeds in a very believable way, following clues, gathering forensic evidence, and interrogating suspects and witnesses. Josie Gray is a no-nonsense law enforcement professional who, while recovering from a recent breakup, puts all her energy into solving the mystery.

What sets this apart from the average detective novel is that, despite a number of red herrings that enhance the mystery, I never felt I was being manipulated, and I felt confident that dogged police work would eventually solve the crime. If you’re looking for a thoughtfully plotted and well-written Western mystery, you can’t go wrong with this one.

Teri Duerr
2015-05-22 03:42:54
House of Echoes
Robin Agnew

I liked the setup of Brendan Duffy’s debut very much. The Tierney family, Ben, Caroline, ten-year-old Charlie, and baby Bub have relocated to upstate New York and bought a big house called the Crofts near the property and falling-down house willed to Ben by his recently deceased grandmother. All of them hope life in the country will be a fresh start— Caroline has been diagnosed bipolar and they’d taken Charlie out of his New York City school because of some horrific bullying. They’re renovating the house they’ve bought in the hope of turning it into a successful bed and breakfast.

Ben and Caroline can’t quite seem to get a handle on the way things work in the small town, Swannhaven, they’ve moved to, though. And Charlie spends a disturbing amount of time in the woods alone. Every single character in the book is pretty miserable (except for the adorable baby Bub) and a feeling of impending doom hangs over the story. It’s obvious something terrible is going to happen, and with a pileup of dead animals, mysterious fires, as well as a “Watcher in the Woods” seen only by Charlie, it’s only a matter of time before things go bad.

Maybe too much time. The author spends far too many pages on descriptions of house renovations, mountain scenery, and introducing the village as a whole. The prose is pretty, but doesn’t always advance the story.

Scattered throughout the novel are letters written by a resident of the Crofts in the 1700s, describing a long and terrible winter where many people starved to death. Swannhaven residents remember this particular winter as a turning point for the town, and refer to the families who lived through it as “Winter Families.” It turns out Ben belongs to one of them.

The final message of the novel is a powerful and moving one, though if Mr. Duffy hadn’t taken so long to arrive at his point, I think I would have appreciated it even more. He’s working with interesting material and characters and I did wipe away a tear or two as I turned the last page—but I was also exasperated.

Teri Duerr
2015-05-22 03:48:54
Reykjavik Nights
Jordan Foster

The death of a tramp in a rundown section of Reykjavík gnaws at the young Erlendur Sveinsson in this somber prequel to Arnaldur Indridason’s moody Nordic noir series (Black Skies, et al.). It’s the 1960s and Erlendur is still in uniform and working nights with two eager law students, Marteinn and Gardar. Most of their time is spent collaring drunk drivers—Iceland’s alcoholics are everywhere—and shepherding vagrants into the holding cells to sleep off their night of heavy drinking.

But over the past year, one death weighs heavily on the young cop’s mind, a homeless man known as Hannibal. A group of children discovered his body in a shallow pond, and a cursory police investigation concluded there was nothing suspicious about his death. From his time on the night shift, Erlendur knew Hannibal, an irascible but oddly endearing drunk, and he’s unable to let the case go. The more he begins to dig, the more enmeshed Erlendur becomes in the subculture of Reykjavík’s homeless, a separate world of shelters, hospitals, and hiding places.

Erlendur discovers that much of the police’s attention was diverted from Hannibal’s death by the disappearance of a young woman named Oddny, who failed to return home after drinks out with friends. Erlendur’s own fascination with missing persons cases—Indridason dips into his hero’s backstory here briefly, just enough to give the investigation some emotional weight— fuels his interest in Oddny’s case and in the disparate threads that possibly connect her to Hannibal. He eventually tracks down Hannibal’s sister and, in keeping with the dark theme of Indridason’s series, discovers tragedy in the dead man’s past.

It’s a treat for readers to get a glimpse of Erlendur’s formative years on the force and learn about what cases and people shaped him as a detective and as a man. Much of his personality is already in evidence—he’s pensive, kind, observant—but it’s intriguing to see his skills put to use solving both petty crime and more complex cases.

Teri Duerr
2015-05-22 03:54:27