Burn Out
Betty Webb

At the beginning of Marcia Muller's 26th, aptly-named Sharon McCone mystery, the San Francisco PI is teetering on the edge of disbanding her successful investigation agency. Suffering from a depression that even her doctor can't fix, she decides to reconsider the direction her life has taken during a stay at her ranch in the high desert.

But depression follows her there, paralyzing her to such an extent that she doesn't follow through on her offer of help to a distraught Indian girl standing in a small town parking lot. Later, when a young woman's body is found not far away, McCone wonders if her own inaction could have contributed to the death. When the murder appears to involve some of her closest friends, her depression deepens even further.

Readers accustomed to some of Muller's more action-oriented novels might at first be puzzled by Burn Out with its much slower pace, but those who prefer a psychological approach to mystery will find great rewards here. Throughout the entire series, McCone's character has deepened, becoming ever more complex. After making peace with her own Shoshone Indian heritage and an ever-widening circle of relatives, the PI has discovered that the past can cast a murderous shadow; and that sometimes, the shadow leads us right back to where we started--home. This is a careful, thoughtful read, and for McCone fans, one to be savored.

Super User
2010-04-25 16:07:34

At the beginning of Marcia Muller's 26th, aptly-named Sharon McCone mystery, the San Francisco PI is teetering on the edge of disbanding her successful investigation agency. Suffering from a depression that even her doctor can't fix, she decides to reconsider the direction her life has taken during a stay at her ranch in the high desert.

But depression follows her there, paralyzing her to such an extent that she doesn't follow through on her offer of help to a distraught Indian girl standing in a small town parking lot. Later, when a young woman's body is found not far away, McCone wonders if her own inaction could have contributed to the death. When the murder appears to involve some of her closest friends, her depression deepens even further.

Readers accustomed to some of Muller's more action-oriented novels might at first be puzzled by Burn Out with its much slower pace, but those who prefer a psychological approach to mystery will find great rewards here. Throughout the entire series, McCone's character has deepened, becoming ever more complex. After making peace with her own Shoshone Indian heritage and an ever-widening circle of relatives, the PI has discovered that the past can cast a murderous shadow; and that sometimes, the shadow leads us right back to where we started--home. This is a careful, thoughtful read, and for McCone fans, one to be savored.

Caravaggio's Angel
Mary Elizabeth Devine

Curator Regine Lee of the National Gallery in London plans to mount a small exhibit centered on Caravaggio's painting, Saint Cecilia and the Angel/em>. Of the three versions in existence, one must be borrowed from the Louvre, a loan usually arranged without problem. However, when Regine gets to Paris, she is told that the offer has been withdrawn--no explanation given.

Determined to learn the reason for this high-handed behavior, Regine attempts to track down Antoine Rigaut, the curator who denied the loan. Unfortunately, before she can speak to him, he is murdered. Regine seeks out Antoine's octogenarian mother in France. In one of the funniest scenes in the novel, she tells Regine how she masterminded (at age 18) the "borrowing" of one of the Louvre's Caravaggios.

The plot is interesting (though probably not to a non-art lover) in its dizzying pace and high art counterfeiting. Regine is a complex character, trying against odds to learn the truth and worrying (correctly) that her intransigence has been the cause of two murders. When it comes to a final test of morality, Regine makes a tough choice that reveals a heroine as complex and complicated as a Caravaggio masterpiece.

Super User
2010-04-25 16:07:34

Curator Regine Lee of the National Gallery in London plans to mount a small exhibit centered on Caravaggio's painting, Saint Cecilia and the Angel/em>. Of the three versions in existence, one must be borrowed from the Louvre, a loan usually arranged without problem. However, when Regine gets to Paris, she is told that the offer has been withdrawn--no explanation given.

Determined to learn the reason for this high-handed behavior, Regine attempts to track down Antoine Rigaut, the curator who denied the loan. Unfortunately, before she can speak to him, he is murdered. Regine seeks out Antoine's octogenarian mother in France. In one of the funniest scenes in the novel, she tells Regine how she masterminded (at age 18) the "borrowing" of one of the Louvre's Caravaggios.

The plot is interesting (though probably not to a non-art lover) in its dizzying pace and high art counterfeiting. Regine is a complex character, trying against odds to learn the truth and worrying (correctly) that her intransigence has been the cause of two murders. When it comes to a final test of morality, Regine makes a tough choice that reveals a heroine as complex and complicated as a Caravaggio masterpiece.

Cold in Hand
Barbara Fister

After a series of ten brilliant books, John Harvey retired his rumpled, jazz-loving Nottingham detective, Charlie Resnick--until now. With Cold in Hand, Resnick returns, and readers rediscover what makes this series so great. The streets are mean, the jazz is muted, and a cop who is good to the core does what he can to set things right, knowing that it's always two steps forward, three back.

On Valentine's Day, a gang dispute leads to violence and Resnick's partner, Lynn Kellogg, is caught in the middle. Her vest saves her from a deadly gunshot, but the girl she is arresting isn't so lucky and her family blames Kellogg for her death. As the case is being investigated, Lynn has to prepare for another trial: A woman was stabbed to death in a massage parlor and her Albanian pimp is on the hook for it. Yet a key witness disappears and the Albanian is released, thanks to pressure from an elite police unit investigating illegal firearms. That puts the remaining witness, a young Romanian hooker who Lynn persuaded to testify, in peril.

Harvey handles the multiple strands of Cold with ease, letting each take the melody in turn and making it seem as effortless as a jazz riff. Like the music that Resnick loves, Cold in Hand mingles beautiful writing with a lingering sense of sorrow.

Super User
2010-04-25 16:07:34

After a series of ten brilliant books, John Harvey retired his rumpled, jazz-loving Nottingham detective, Charlie Resnick--until now. With Cold in Hand, Resnick returns, and readers rediscover what makes this series so great. The streets are mean, the jazz is muted, and a cop who is good to the core does what he can to set things right, knowing that it's always two steps forward, three back.

On Valentine's Day, a gang dispute leads to violence and Resnick's partner, Lynn Kellogg, is caught in the middle. Her vest saves her from a deadly gunshot, but the girl she is arresting isn't so lucky and her family blames Kellogg for her death. As the case is being investigated, Lynn has to prepare for another trial: A woman was stabbed to death in a massage parlor and her Albanian pimp is on the hook for it. Yet a key witness disappears and the Albanian is released, thanks to pressure from an elite police unit investigating illegal firearms. That puts the remaining witness, a young Romanian hooker who Lynn persuaded to testify, in peril.

Harvey handles the multiple strands of Cold with ease, letting each take the melody in turn and making it seem as effortless as a jazz riff. Like the music that Resnick loves, Cold in Hand mingles beautiful writing with a lingering sense of sorrow.

Deadly Beautiful
Verna Suit

The international fashion world provides a stylish setting for Deadly Beautiful, second in a series featuring Annie Anderson, editor at a British fashion magazine. Annie's best friend, fashion critic Lou, is concerned about her half-sister Scarlett, a former child supermodel who has disappeared in Japan. Scarlett may have fallen victim to a serial killer. Annie, who used to be an investigative journalist, agrees to hunt for Scarlett to help Lou, but also because she senses a big story.

Annie moves breathlessly from New York's fashion week, to a Japanese proving ground for young models, to fashion week in Milan. Her experiences as a Westerner in Tokyo make for the book's most fascinating reading, as she follows in Scarlett's footsteps and becomes immersed in the details of modeling work and the parallel world of club hostessing. Also absorbing are the tortured childhoods of Lou and Scarlett that are revealed in a series of flashbacks.

Deadly Beautiful has few likable characters, with both Annie and Lou carrying around bitterness and hatred. Annie doesn't really have sympathy for anyone and treats her loyal boyfriend quite shabbily. Perhaps the cynicism and self-loathing is a reflection of the fashion world itself, which author Sam (Samantha) Baker certainly knows well as editor in chief of Cosmopolitan UK. It's tempting to compare Baker's mystery series with that of Kate White, American editor of Redbook and now Cosmopolitan. Though their worlds are similar, Baker's books are a fashionable shade darker.

Super User
2010-04-25 16:07:34

The international fashion world provides a stylish setting for Deadly Beautiful, second in a series featuring Annie Anderson, editor at a British fashion magazine. Annie's best friend, fashion critic Lou, is concerned about her half-sister Scarlett, a former child supermodel who has disappeared in Japan. Scarlett may have fallen victim to a serial killer. Annie, who used to be an investigative journalist, agrees to hunt for Scarlett to help Lou, but also because she senses a big story.

Annie moves breathlessly from New York's fashion week, to a Japanese proving ground for young models, to fashion week in Milan. Her experiences as a Westerner in Tokyo make for the book's most fascinating reading, as she follows in Scarlett's footsteps and becomes immersed in the details of modeling work and the parallel world of club hostessing. Also absorbing are the tortured childhoods of Lou and Scarlett that are revealed in a series of flashbacks.

Deadly Beautiful has few likable characters, with both Annie and Lou carrying around bitterness and hatred. Annie doesn't really have sympathy for anyone and treats her loyal boyfriend quite shabbily. Perhaps the cynicism and self-loathing is a reflection of the fashion world itself, which author Sam (Samantha) Baker certainly knows well as editor in chief of Cosmopolitan UK. It's tempting to compare Baker's mystery series with that of Kate White, American editor of Redbook and now Cosmopolitan. Though their worlds are similar, Baker's books are a fashionable shade darker.

Death's Half Acre
Art Taylor

The changing North Carolina landscape--and particularly the impact of rampant residential and commercial development on rural settings--has been a recurrent theme in Maron's Deborah Knott novels. In Death's Half Acre, she tackles that topic and the politics behind it head-on.

The murder of Candace Bradshaw, a hard-nosed businesswoman and new chair of the Board of Commissioners, has no lack of suspects, especially because she was poised to help vote down a recommendation to slow growth across Colleton County. Her family, her political rivals, and even the political bigwigs used her as a puppet--and all seem to have both motive and opportunity. But when Deborah discovers suggestions of Bradshaw's political malfeasance in the files of late newspaper editor Linsey Thomas, the net widens--suggesting that the hit-and-run that killed Thomas might not have been accidental and that present events might draw strongly from past wrongdoings. Deborah finds the past casting a long shadow over her as well: Her name is in Thomas' files and in the dead woman's notes, along with references to a missing flash drive that could solve the case, but might also reveal details about Deborah's dubious path to her judgeship.

An equally compelling subplot involves real estate maneuverings by a local minister. When the grandson of one parishioner turns to Deborah's father Kezzie to help save the family farm from being turned over to the church, the old bootlegger proves he's still got some tricks up his sleeve--another harkening back to the beginnings of this fine series.

Super User
2010-04-25 16:07:34

The changing North Carolina landscape--and particularly the impact of rampant residential and commercial development on rural settings--has been a recurrent theme in Maron's Deborah Knott novels. In Death's Half Acre, she tackles that topic and the politics behind it head-on.

The murder of Candace Bradshaw, a hard-nosed businesswoman and new chair of the Board of Commissioners, has no lack of suspects, especially because she was poised to help vote down a recommendation to slow growth across Colleton County. Her family, her political rivals, and even the political bigwigs used her as a puppet--and all seem to have both motive and opportunity. But when Deborah discovers suggestions of Bradshaw's political malfeasance in the files of late newspaper editor Linsey Thomas, the net widens--suggesting that the hit-and-run that killed Thomas might not have been accidental and that present events might draw strongly from past wrongdoings. Deborah finds the past casting a long shadow over her as well: Her name is in Thomas' files and in the dead woman's notes, along with references to a missing flash drive that could solve the case, but might also reveal details about Deborah's dubious path to her judgeship.

An equally compelling subplot involves real estate maneuverings by a local minister. When the grandson of one parishioner turns to Deborah's father Kezzie to help save the family farm from being turned over to the church, the old bootlegger proves he's still got some tricks up his sleeve--another harkening back to the beginnings of this fine series.

Different Paths
Mary Helen Becker

Different Paths, the fifth in Clemens' fine series set in rural Pennsylvania, has the small community around Stella Crown's dairy farm in turmoil: The local vet, a woman, has been badly injured in a car-jacking; the new Mennonite pastor has had her office vandalized; the local doctor is found murdered in her surgery, and that is not all. The victims are all professional women, apparently targets of someone who can't accept women in jobs traditionally held by men.

Stella's small farm is delightfully portrayed, making readers feel at home--although a dairy farm must be as exotic to most of today's readers as Paris, Venice, or Istanbul. Clemens is particularly good at creating characters and showing the dynamics of large families. Walk-ons and major figures are equally well-evoked. The author shows her characters' flaws and handicaps while putting them in situations that reveal their strengths. Stella, through most of the tale, is suffering from a broken foot, stepped on by a pregnant cow; Nick, her boyfriend, has been diagnosed with MS. An amateur detective who is taken seriously by her friends at the police department, Stella is a very likeable heroine. Readers who have not yet discovered Judy Clemens will enjoy these mysteries that are cozy in the best sense.

Super User
2010-04-25 16:07:34

Different Paths, the fifth in Clemens' fine series set in rural Pennsylvania, has the small community around Stella Crown's dairy farm in turmoil: The local vet, a woman, has been badly injured in a car-jacking; the new Mennonite pastor has had her office vandalized; the local doctor is found murdered in her surgery, and that is not all. The victims are all professional women, apparently targets of someone who can't accept women in jobs traditionally held by men.

Stella's small farm is delightfully portrayed, making readers feel at home--although a dairy farm must be as exotic to most of today's readers as Paris, Venice, or Istanbul. Clemens is particularly good at creating characters and showing the dynamics of large families. Walk-ons and major figures are equally well-evoked. The author shows her characters' flaws and handicaps while putting them in situations that reveal their strengths. Stella, through most of the tale, is suffering from a broken foot, stepped on by a pregnant cow; Nick, her boyfriend, has been diagnosed with MS. An amateur detective who is taken seriously by her friends at the police department, Stella is a very likeable heroine. Readers who have not yet discovered Judy Clemens will enjoy these mysteries that are cozy in the best sense.

Envy the Night
R. Smith

When he was 18 years old, Frank Temple's father committed suicide rather than face jail as a murderer-for-hire. And for the next eight years Frank lived with the shame of this. Frank loved his father and still believes him a good man who killed only criminal types, so when he learns that mobster Devin Matteson, who Frank suspects of turning in his father to avoid prosecution himself, is returning to the Wisconsin lake where they grew up, he is determined to exact revenge.

Driving to the lake, Frank deliberately smashes into a car he mistakenly assumes is driven by Matteson. Vaughn Duncan, the actual driver, suspiciously insists on paying in cash to have the two cars fixed at the local garage with no questions asked. Duncan then flees to hide out at Matteson's cabin on a nearby island lake in company with a mysterious beautiful woman. Two of Matteson's goons arrive and murder the garage's mechanic to learn Duncan's whereabouts. The FBI is called in and immediately suspect Frank of following in his father's footsteps. Frank, who had been trained in all the defensive fighting skills by his father, enlists the aid of Ezra, a fishing guide who served with both Frank's and Matteson's dads in Vietnam. Along with a young woman who owns the local garage, they try to stop Matteson and his thugs.

Once all the main characters are finally in place, the action never stops, with plot twists to satisfy the most avid thriller fan. This is Michael Koryta's first standalone in addition to his Edgar-nominated Lincoln Perry series.

Super User
2010-04-25 16:07:34

When he was 18 years old, Frank Temple's father committed suicide rather than face jail as a murderer-for-hire. And for the next eight years Frank lived with the shame of this. Frank loved his father and still believes him a good man who killed only criminal types, so when he learns that mobster Devin Matteson, who Frank suspects of turning in his father to avoid prosecution himself, is returning to the Wisconsin lake where they grew up, he is determined to exact revenge.

Driving to the lake, Frank deliberately smashes into a car he mistakenly assumes is driven by Matteson. Vaughn Duncan, the actual driver, suspiciously insists on paying in cash to have the two cars fixed at the local garage with no questions asked. Duncan then flees to hide out at Matteson's cabin on a nearby island lake in company with a mysterious beautiful woman. Two of Matteson's goons arrive and murder the garage's mechanic to learn Duncan's whereabouts. The FBI is called in and immediately suspect Frank of following in his father's footsteps. Frank, who had been trained in all the defensive fighting skills by his father, enlists the aid of Ezra, a fishing guide who served with both Frank's and Matteson's dads in Vietnam. Along with a young woman who owns the local garage, they try to stop Matteson and his thugs.

Once all the main characters are finally in place, the action never stops, with plot twists to satisfy the most avid thriller fan. This is Michael Koryta's first standalone in addition to his Edgar-nominated Lincoln Perry series.

Exit Music
Barbara Fister

The title of this entry in the popular John Rebus series is bittersweet for the readers who have followed him for two decades. It's only a few days before Rebus' retirement, and he's spending them in good form: He's pursuing a murder case that the brass wants buried, dragging Siobhan Clarke with him to the brink of insubordination, and telling us things about the world that are complicated and troubling.

The dead man is a Russian poet and dissident. Though he may be the victim of official skulduggery, he hasn't been poisoned exotically, like another famous dissident who lies dying in an English hospital; rather, he's found battered to death on a secluded Edinburgh street. Rebus senses a connection to a wealthy Russian businessman who is busy making deals with Scottish financiers--and perhaps even Rebus' old nemesis, Big Ger Cafferty. But as always, Rebus' intuition is met with skepticism among his colleagues and hostility from those who see an opportunity to revitalize the city--or their own bank accounts.

Rankin paints on a Hogarthian canvas that revels in a vast cast of fully-realized characters, a well-loved setting, a twisty plot, and a wry sense of irony. Take a step back, though, and out of that detail something larger always emerges. In this case, the underworld Rebus fought for so long is beginning to look more and more like business as usual. That recognition of opposites is most poignantly revealed in the last pitch-perfect scene.

Super User
2010-04-25 16:07:34

The title of this entry in the popular John Rebus series is bittersweet for the readers who have followed him for two decades. It's only a few days before Rebus' retirement, and he's spending them in good form: He's pursuing a murder case that the brass wants buried, dragging Siobhan Clarke with him to the brink of insubordination, and telling us things about the world that are complicated and troubling.

The dead man is a Russian poet and dissident. Though he may be the victim of official skulduggery, he hasn't been poisoned exotically, like another famous dissident who lies dying in an English hospital; rather, he's found battered to death on a secluded Edinburgh street. Rebus senses a connection to a wealthy Russian businessman who is busy making deals with Scottish financiers--and perhaps even Rebus' old nemesis, Big Ger Cafferty. But as always, Rebus' intuition is met with skepticism among his colleagues and hostility from those who see an opportunity to revitalize the city--or their own bank accounts.

Rankin paints on a Hogarthian canvas that revels in a vast cast of fully-realized characters, a well-loved setting, a twisty plot, and a wry sense of irony. Take a step back, though, and out of that detail something larger always emerges. In this case, the underworld Rebus fought for so long is beginning to look more and more like business as usual. That recognition of opposites is most poignantly revealed in the last pitch-perfect scene.

Germania
Joseph Scarpato Jr.

Some good news and some bad news for mystery readers. First the bad news: This novel is not a mystery. The good news? It's a terrific first novel and a very readable historical thriller set during the final months of the Nazi regime.

In addition to the real historical characters who people this novel, such as Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, Albert Speer, Admiral Donitz and many others, the primary protagonists are four Jewish quadruplets, known to Berlin and the world before the war as the Magical Flying Loerber Brothers. In addition to great talent as singers, dancers and tumblers, Manni, Franzi, Ziggy and Sebastian each have a distinctive special power of sorts from thought transference to healing.

Despite their Jewish heritage, which they take pains to hide, in the spring of 1945 the first three find themselves in important positions with the German military: Manni with Albert Speer, Franzi with Himmler, and Ziggy as a U-Boat captain under Admiral Donitz. Sebastian, meanwhile, is an operative for a secret Jewish terror network. Through their eyes, readers see what was happening in the German High Command as the Allied forces made their way toward Berlin from the west and the Russians from the east. When Franzi's life is imperiled, his three brothers try to use their special powers to save him.

Although the Loerber brothers are interesting characters, the primary interest for me was the realistic and historically accurate description of the Third Reich's final days. The author is a former Pentagon defense journalist himself, and spent years researching the period and interviewing many of the people who were around at that time.

Super User
2010-04-25 16:07:34

Some good news and some bad news for mystery readers. First the bad news: This novel is not a mystery. The good news? It's a terrific first novel and a very readable historical thriller set during the final months of the Nazi regime.

In addition to the real historical characters who people this novel, such as Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, Albert Speer, Admiral Donitz and many others, the primary protagonists are four Jewish quadruplets, known to Berlin and the world before the war as the Magical Flying Loerber Brothers. In addition to great talent as singers, dancers and tumblers, Manni, Franzi, Ziggy and Sebastian each have a distinctive special power of sorts from thought transference to healing.

Despite their Jewish heritage, which they take pains to hide, in the spring of 1945 the first three find themselves in important positions with the German military: Manni with Albert Speer, Franzi with Himmler, and Ziggy as a U-Boat captain under Admiral Donitz. Sebastian, meanwhile, is an operative for a secret Jewish terror network. Through their eyes, readers see what was happening in the German High Command as the Allied forces made their way toward Berlin from the west and the Russians from the east. When Franzi's life is imperiled, his three brothers try to use their special powers to save him.

Although the Loerber brothers are interesting characters, the primary interest for me was the realistic and historically accurate description of the Third Reich's final days. The author is a former Pentagon defense journalist himself, and spent years researching the period and interviewing many of the people who were around at that time.

Good People
Betty Webb

Some people are just too good to be true, as in Marcus Sakey's thrilling Good People. Young Tom and Anna Reed want a baby so desperately that they're willing to do anything to get one--other than adopt. Instead, they've almost bankrupted themselves in several attempts at in vitro fertilization. So imagine their joy when, in putting out a stove fire in their downstairs tenant's kitchen, they discover $400,000 in cash hidden in the cabinets. After the tenant is found dead of an overdose, Anna convinces her husband to use the money for more in vitro treatments. Neither knows that the money was part of a drug deal/robbery gone deadly, and now some very bad people want it back every bit as much as the good Reeds want a viable pregnancy.

Each person in Good People has a dream: to have a baby; to retire to a cabin by a woodland lake; to gain street cred; to move to Arizona. And thanks to Sakey's gifts for dead-on characterization, each of these dreams, grand or simple, loom more or less equal. The Reeds often look less than good and the robbers not entirely evil. Even the murderers are sometimes honorable.

Disguised in 323 sleep-depriving, roller-coaster, shoot'em-up pages, Sakey has inserted a subtle morality tale, an almost mythic story where dreams can kill and desperation can cleanse. Never has that old adage, "Be careful what you wish for," been more adeptly illustrated.

Super User
2010-04-25 16:07:34

Some people are just too good to be true, as in Marcus Sakey's thrilling Good People. Young Tom and Anna Reed want a baby so desperately that they're willing to do anything to get one--other than adopt. Instead, they've almost bankrupted themselves in several attempts at in vitro fertilization. So imagine their joy when, in putting out a stove fire in their downstairs tenant's kitchen, they discover $400,000 in cash hidden in the cabinets. After the tenant is found dead of an overdose, Anna convinces her husband to use the money for more in vitro treatments. Neither knows that the money was part of a drug deal/robbery gone deadly, and now some very bad people want it back every bit as much as the good Reeds want a viable pregnancy.

Each person in Good People has a dream: to have a baby; to retire to a cabin by a woodland lake; to gain street cred; to move to Arizona. And thanks to Sakey's gifts for dead-on characterization, each of these dreams, grand or simple, loom more or less equal. The Reeds often look less than good and the robbers not entirely evil. Even the murderers are sometimes honorable.

Disguised in 323 sleep-depriving, roller-coaster, shoot'em-up pages, Sakey has inserted a subtle morality tale, an almost mythic story where dreams can kill and desperation can cleanse. Never has that old adage, "Be careful what you wish for," been more adeptly illustrated.

Green Monster
Sue Reider

Louis Kenwood, owner of the Boston Red Sox, receives an extortion threat involving the authenticity of the Sox's 2004 World Series title win. He hires private investigator Sam Skarda to discreetly find the blackmailer and, while he's at it, to discover whether the allegations are true.

Sam is a master of networking. He has all sorts of connections in the world of sports, including a vast knowledge of mobsters and sports betting. He uses these to great advantage as he travels from Boston, to southern California, to Venezuela in search of the truth. Though his employer wants to keep the investigation out of the public eye, Sam tends to go his own way in spite of his employer's instructions. He has little patience, and becomes physically aggressive with little provocation, which creates abrupt, but well-handled, shifts in the story from relative calm to violence.

The story is intriguing because of Sam's uncanny ability to uncover small lies and reveal miscommunications. He's a rough hero who also possesses the smarts to put a multiplicity of facts together to reach a solution. Shefchik's incorporation of baseball history and trivia into this action-oriented tale adds to the enjoyment.

Super User
2010-04-25 16:07:34

Louis Kenwood, owner of the Boston Red Sox, receives an extortion threat involving the authenticity of the Sox's 2004 World Series title win. He hires private investigator Sam Skarda to discreetly find the blackmailer and, while he's at it, to discover whether the allegations are true.

Sam is a master of networking. He has all sorts of connections in the world of sports, including a vast knowledge of mobsters and sports betting. He uses these to great advantage as he travels from Boston, to southern California, to Venezuela in search of the truth. Though his employer wants to keep the investigation out of the public eye, Sam tends to go his own way in spite of his employer's instructions. He has little patience, and becomes physically aggressive with little provocation, which creates abrupt, but well-handled, shifts in the story from relative calm to violence.

The story is intriguing because of Sam's uncanny ability to uncover small lies and reveal miscommunications. He's a rough hero who also possesses the smarts to put a multiplicity of facts together to reach a solution. Shefchik's incorporation of baseball history and trivia into this action-oriented tale adds to the enjoyment.

Heartless
Oline Cogdill

Alison Gaylin skillfully blends chick lit and the supernatural into a lively plot in her fourth novel. Although she occasionally strides a little over the top, Gaylin's high energy and enthusiasm for her story make Heartless believable.

Romance is the only thing that Zoe Greene thinks of when she decides to meet her lover, handsome actor Warren Clark, at his villa in the quiet Mexican town of San Esteban. A former investigative reporter turned writer for a soap opera magazine, Zoe's involvement with Warren crosses an ethical line. But how can she resist this "male Susan Lucci"? There's an excitement to those clandestine meetings, furtive glances and that most modern of secretive plans, text messages, in a crowded room.

Although she chucks her job--and possibly her sanity--to join him for three weeks, Zoe hardly knows Warren whose entire life, it turns out, is a series of secrets. No personal items adorn either his dressing room or his home; a creepy amulet of a heart on a cross is hidden in his closet and he refuses to talk about his past or any friends. When he and Zoe are together, Warren is an attentive lover. So why does he keep disappearing every morning from his villa? And where does he go?

San Esteban holds even more secrets than Warren. On the surface, it's an idyllic mountain town filled with "American hippies, retirees who think they're artists." But the murder of a young man, his heart ripped out, and the existence of a strange longevity cult, exposes San Esteban's sinister side. It's disconcerting when nearly every person asks Zoe's age and then says, enviously, "We don't get a lot of young people around here." As Zoe's affair with Warren unravels, she asks for help from her best friend, reporter Steve Sorenson.Gaylin keeps the action high, especially at a scary party at which Zoe is the reluctant guest of honor, and provides a nifty, breathless twist at the end. Zoe's warm personality, not to mention her incredible bad taste in men makes her as appealing as she is infuriating. Her friend, Steve, who is secretly in love with her, is Zoe's perfect foil. An aging groupie, her inquisitive niece and a stoic doctor add to the story. Gaylin (Hide Your Eyes, You Kill Me) avoids cliches while keeping Heartless fresh and creepy.

Super User
2010-04-25 16:07:34

Alison Gaylin skillfully blends chick lit and the supernatural into a lively plot in her fourth novel. Although she occasionally strides a little over the top, Gaylin's high energy and enthusiasm for her story make Heartless believable.

Romance is the only thing that Zoe Greene thinks of when she decides to meet her lover, handsome actor Warren Clark, at his villa in the quiet Mexican town of San Esteban. A former investigative reporter turned writer for a soap opera magazine, Zoe's involvement with Warren crosses an ethical line. But how can she resist this "male Susan Lucci"? There's an excitement to those clandestine meetings, furtive glances and that most modern of secretive plans, text messages, in a crowded room.

Although she chucks her job--and possibly her sanity--to join him for three weeks, Zoe hardly knows Warren whose entire life, it turns out, is a series of secrets. No personal items adorn either his dressing room or his home; a creepy amulet of a heart on a cross is hidden in his closet and he refuses to talk about his past or any friends. When he and Zoe are together, Warren is an attentive lover. So why does he keep disappearing every morning from his villa? And where does he go?

San Esteban holds even more secrets than Warren. On the surface, it's an idyllic mountain town filled with "American hippies, retirees who think they're artists." But the murder of a young man, his heart ripped out, and the existence of a strange longevity cult, exposes San Esteban's sinister side. It's disconcerting when nearly every person asks Zoe's age and then says, enviously, "We don't get a lot of young people around here." As Zoe's affair with Warren unravels, she asks for help from her best friend, reporter Steve Sorenson.Gaylin keeps the action high, especially at a scary party at which Zoe is the reluctant guest of honor, and provides a nifty, breathless twist at the end. Zoe's warm personality, not to mention her incredible bad taste in men makes her as appealing as she is infuriating. Her friend, Steve, who is secretly in love with her, is Zoe's perfect foil. An aging groupie, her inquisitive niece and a stoic doctor add to the story. Gaylin (Hide Your Eyes, You Kill Me) avoids cliches while keeping Heartless fresh and creepy.

Immunity
Beverly J. DeWeese

Dr. Alexander Blake, an Armed Forces pathologist, is called in to examine a Las Vegas DEA agent who died from a sudden, violent anaphylactic reaction with no apparent cause. Dr. Alex and his partner Castro soon discover eight children also died that night with similar symptoms. What is causing this sudden, grotesque swelling that breaks bones and chokes victims? Is it a new disease, is it bioterrorism, or is it an insane murderer?

This action packed thriller races from one horrific situation to another. Soon Homeland Security, the DEA, and the military are fighting one another for control and a radical Native American group is using the panic to convince the US to return to Indian ways. While Alex frantically searches for answers, she also has to quell government panic.

The detailed pathology of these attacks is skillfully integrated into the story. Andrews, obviously an expert in the field, knows how to explain the medical aspects briefly and simply. Even with a talking DNA computer, the bulk of the story is extremely believable. Alex and Castro in particular are sympathetic. The talented Alex has to fight sexism and stupid bureaucrats, and Castro keeps his marriage difficulties secret from Alex, though they are obviously attracted to one another. Even the criminal mastermind seems to have complex, almost sympathetic reasons for his behavior. Extremely suspenseful, with taut writing and appealing characters, this book is an exciting read.

Super User
2010-04-25 16:15:22

Dr. Alexander Blake, an Armed Forces pathologist, is called in to examine a Las Vegas DEA agent who died from a sudden, violent anaphylactic reaction with no apparent cause. Dr. Alex and his partner Castro soon discover eight children also died that night with similar symptoms. What is causing this sudden, grotesque swelling that breaks bones and chokes victims? Is it a new disease, is it bioterrorism, or is it an insane murderer?

This action packed thriller races from one horrific situation to another. Soon Homeland Security, the DEA, and the military are fighting one another for control and a radical Native American group is using the panic to convince the US to return to Indian ways. While Alex frantically searches for answers, she also has to quell government panic.

The detailed pathology of these attacks is skillfully integrated into the story. Andrews, obviously an expert in the field, knows how to explain the medical aspects briefly and simply. Even with a talking DNA computer, the bulk of the story is extremely believable. Alex and Castro in particular are sympathetic. The talented Alex has to fight sexism and stupid bureaucrats, and Castro keeps his marriage difficulties secret from Alex, though they are obviously attracted to one another. Even the criminal mastermind seems to have complex, almost sympathetic reasons for his behavior. Extremely suspenseful, with taut writing and appealing characters, this book is an exciting read.

Lie Down With the Devil
Verna Suit

PI and cabbie Carlotta Carlyle is feeling adrift. Her mob-connected fiance Sam Gianelli is out of the country lying low and her adopted little sister Paolina is in a psych ward. Carlotta takes a job tailing a suspicious bride-to-be's fiancee that ensnarls her in two murder cases and an Indian tribe's quest for certification. When Sam is implicated in one of the murders, Carlotta defends his innocence, even while nagging discomfort about his mob-family ties turns into doubt about how well she really knows him. She turns for help to her staunch friend Mooney, an old boss from her days as a cop with the Boston PD, even though her own mob connection through Sam is tainting Mooney's career.

Much of the story in Lie Down With The Devil, a welcome 12th entry in Barnes' enjoyable Carlotta Carlyle series, follows from events in previous books, but the author provides enough information for new readers to piece things together. The heart of the story is Carlotta's uncertainty about Sam. She walks a fine line as she tries to heed her grandmother's warning that she who lives with the devil becomes the devil. This time around Carlotta is slow to recognize set-ups, probably because she's distracted by her emotional turmoil, and each missed clue draws her deeper into a web. Suspense builds steadily to a jaw-dropping climax. Meanwhile, readers tour Boston through the eyes of a cabbie and experience the real Cape Cod in its off-season as Carlotta and Mooney unravel the mystery.

Super User
2010-04-25 16:15:22

PI and cabbie Carlotta Carlyle is feeling adrift. Her mob-connected fiance Sam Gianelli is out of the country lying low and her adopted little sister Paolina is in a psych ward. Carlotta takes a job tailing a suspicious bride-to-be's fiancee that ensnarls her in two murder cases and an Indian tribe's quest for certification. When Sam is implicated in one of the murders, Carlotta defends his innocence, even while nagging discomfort about his mob-family ties turns into doubt about how well she really knows him. She turns for help to her staunch friend Mooney, an old boss from her days as a cop with the Boston PD, even though her own mob connection through Sam is tainting Mooney's career.

Much of the story in Lie Down With The Devil, a welcome 12th entry in Barnes' enjoyable Carlotta Carlyle series, follows from events in previous books, but the author provides enough information for new readers to piece things together. The heart of the story is Carlotta's uncertainty about Sam. She walks a fine line as she tries to heed her grandmother's warning that she who lives with the devil becomes the devil. This time around Carlotta is slow to recognize set-ups, probably because she's distracted by her emotional turmoil, and each missed clue draws her deeper into a web. Suspense builds steadily to a jaw-dropping climax. Meanwhile, readers tour Boston through the eyes of a cabbie and experience the real Cape Cod in its off-season as Carlotta and Mooney unravel the mystery.

Mama Does Time
Lynne Maxwell

USA Today reporter Deborah Sharp knows how to write family dynamics, as displayed in Mama Does Time, the debut of her Mama series. As the title suggests, Mama Bauer is a real pistol, and her adult daughters Mace, Maddie and Marty have a difficult time keeping her in check. It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes a triad of sisters to minister to Mama, who, true to form, gets arrested because she's carrying a corpse in the trunk of her car. How could this feisty church-going woman possibly be guilty of murder, and how can her daughters prove her innocence despite the rigid certainty of the police? Series heroine Mace, the rugged sister who works in a nature preserve, takes on the burden of proving Mama's innocence, with a little help from mild librarian sister Marty, and Maddie, the harridan sister from hell. As the women play out their drama of stereotypical sibling rivalry, something strange occurs: Each sister takes on positive traits of the others, as they work together, for once. Mild-mannered Marty becomes assertive like Mace and Maddie, while Maddie, like Mace and Marty, becomes softer and less of a narcissistic perfectionist. And Mace is able to give her sister a chance, recognizing that Maddie has the potential to become a more caring person. As the sisters learn about themselves and each other, they remain steadfastly united throughout by their love for Mama. Mama Does Time is a humorous, touching reflection on familial love and politics.

Super User
2010-04-25 16:15:22

USA Today reporter Deborah Sharp knows how to write family dynamics, as displayed in Mama Does Time, the debut of her Mama series. As the title suggests, Mama Bauer is a real pistol, and her adult daughters Mace, Maddie and Marty have a difficult time keeping her in check. It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes a triad of sisters to minister to Mama, who, true to form, gets arrested because she's carrying a corpse in the trunk of her car. How could this feisty church-going woman possibly be guilty of murder, and how can her daughters prove her innocence despite the rigid certainty of the police? Series heroine Mace, the rugged sister who works in a nature preserve, takes on the burden of proving Mama's innocence, with a little help from mild librarian sister Marty, and Maddie, the harridan sister from hell. As the women play out their drama of stereotypical sibling rivalry, something strange occurs: Each sister takes on positive traits of the others, as they work together, for once. Mild-mannered Marty becomes assertive like Mace and Maddie, while Maddie, like Mace and Marty, becomes softer and less of a narcissistic perfectionist. And Mace is able to give her sister a chance, recognizing that Maddie has the potential to become a more caring person. As the sisters learn about themselves and each other, they remain steadfastly united throughout by their love for Mama. Mama Does Time is a humorous, touching reflection on familial love and politics.

Murder on the Eiffel Tower
Sue Reider

Several mysterious deaths attributed to bee stings plague Paris during the 1889 World Exposition. Local bookseller Victor Legris is asked to write an opinion column about books for an upstart newspaper. There he meets Tasha Kershon, a reporter and illustrator who was present at some of the deaths. Both his passions and his suspicions are aroused by the Russian woman.

Victor is an engaging and intense young man--and also very impulsive. A curious, natural-born sleuth, Victor leaves his shop for one reason and is distracted by something or someone that seems out of place, only later to realize that he has ignored his original plan. He also seems to have no boundaries with regard to other's property, snooping in his partner's apartment at will. He ignores his business affairs, much to the dismay of his partner, to investigate the bee sting deaths. His character--like the others in this book--is developed very slowly. The reader learns bits and pieces about Victor's life, and gradually forms a clearer picture of his personality. Victor appears to be unfocused, as everyone and everything arouses his suspicions; however, he also remembers the tiniest particulars of who and what he sees. His outstanding ability to pull together details leads him to the solution of a truly bizarre scheme.

Murder on the Eiffel Tower is very well-written. The descriptions of Paris made me feel like I was there. The intermingling of real people with fictional characters was intriguing, as were Izner's philosophical comments about the social order of the era. This is one of those rare books that one hates to see end. A very impressive debut.

Super User
2010-04-25 16:15:22

Several mysterious deaths attributed to bee stings plague Paris during the 1889 World Exposition. Local bookseller Victor Legris is asked to write an opinion column about books for an upstart newspaper. There he meets Tasha Kershon, a reporter and illustrator who was present at some of the deaths. Both his passions and his suspicions are aroused by the Russian woman.

Victor is an engaging and intense young man--and also very impulsive. A curious, natural-born sleuth, Victor leaves his shop for one reason and is distracted by something or someone that seems out of place, only later to realize that he has ignored his original plan. He also seems to have no boundaries with regard to other's property, snooping in his partner's apartment at will. He ignores his business affairs, much to the dismay of his partner, to investigate the bee sting deaths. His character--like the others in this book--is developed very slowly. The reader learns bits and pieces about Victor's life, and gradually forms a clearer picture of his personality. Victor appears to be unfocused, as everyone and everything arouses his suspicions; however, he also remembers the tiniest particulars of who and what he sees. His outstanding ability to pull together details leads him to the solution of a truly bizarre scheme.

Murder on the Eiffel Tower is very well-written. The descriptions of Paris made me feel like I was there. The intermingling of real people with fictional characters was intriguing, as were Izner's philosophical comments about the social order of the era. This is one of those rare books that one hates to see end. A very impressive debut.

Separate From the World
Helen Francini

Murder, genetics and an ideological battle between ancient and modern ways make a compelling read in P.L. Gaus' new Amish mystery. Professor Michael Branden of Millersburg College in fictional Millersburg, Ohio has his hands unusually full at graduation time with two seemingly unrelated deaths and a kidnapping.

First an Amish shopkeeper appears to have fallen off a ladder--except that he was never flexible or strong enough in life to climb high enough to fall. The victim's brother, Enos Erb, trusts only the professor for help. Then a senior jumps to her death from the top of a campus building, and her boyfriend, who is there with her, becomes crazed with grief. While counseling the boyfriend, Branden also assists the local police investigating the shopkeeper's death, which involves a rift in the local congregation over whether to accept or shun modern medicine. It seems the shopkeeper was less conservative than some in his community. Outgoing and friendly to non-Amish folk, he had wholeheartedly embraced modern ways. The situation gets even more complicated when a pair of Amish children and their puppy go missing and the dead coed's research project on the local Amish (who have intermarried for generations, resulting in genetic problems) links her death to that of the shopkeeper.

The pro-medicine/anti-medicine debate that splits the Amish community literally pits brother against brother and the clash of cultures, and of ideals within a culture, adds complex depth to Gaus' story. Yet although they may argue passionately about the merits of modern vs. ancient lifestyles, the Amish community is united as passionate pacifists, shunning violence even when a sociopathic killer threatens their own children. Their stubborn belief that all violence is wrong may exasperate some readers, but it will make others think, and keep turning the pages. Gaus knows how to set a gripping scene.

Super User
2010-04-25 16:15:22

Murder, genetics and an ideological battle between ancient and modern ways make a compelling read in P.L. Gaus' new Amish mystery. Professor Michael Branden of Millersburg College in fictional Millersburg, Ohio has his hands unusually full at graduation time with two seemingly unrelated deaths and a kidnapping.

First an Amish shopkeeper appears to have fallen off a ladder--except that he was never flexible or strong enough in life to climb high enough to fall. The victim's brother, Enos Erb, trusts only the professor for help. Then a senior jumps to her death from the top of a campus building, and her boyfriend, who is there with her, becomes crazed with grief. While counseling the boyfriend, Branden also assists the local police investigating the shopkeeper's death, which involves a rift in the local congregation over whether to accept or shun modern medicine. It seems the shopkeeper was less conservative than some in his community. Outgoing and friendly to non-Amish folk, he had wholeheartedly embraced modern ways. The situation gets even more complicated when a pair of Amish children and their puppy go missing and the dead coed's research project on the local Amish (who have intermarried for generations, resulting in genetic problems) links her death to that of the shopkeeper.

The pro-medicine/anti-medicine debate that splits the Amish community literally pits brother against brother and the clash of cultures, and of ideals within a culture, adds complex depth to Gaus' story. Yet although they may argue passionately about the merits of modern vs. ancient lifestyles, the Amish community is united as passionate pacifists, shunning violence even when a sociopathic killer threatens their own children. Their stubborn belief that all violence is wrong may exasperate some readers, but it will make others think, and keep turning the pages. Gaus knows how to set a gripping scene.

Stranger Room
Mary Elizabeth Devine

A "stranger room" is a separate chamber in a plantation where a traveler has privacy and amenities unavailable in a public inn. The Lydell plantation in the Shenandoah Valley has such a room. It was once the scene of a never solved murder during the Civil War, or, as the unregenerate plantation owner refers to it, "The War of Northern Aggression." Another murder, 150 years later, occurs in the same room. In both cases, the locked door has to be broken down to gain access to the victim.

Ramsay does a fine job of integrating the Civil War murder and the 21st-century murder, all the while giving the reader a strong sense of Shenandoah in both times. The present-day plantation owner longs to recreate the world of the antebellum South and sees no reason for offense when local folks are asked to portray slaves as part of his restoration of the plantation--complete with slave quarters. More progressive is the larger community, which has elected a Jewish sheriff and (eventually) accepts the interracial romance of the black deputy and his white policewoman girlfriend.

The characters in The Stranger Room are rich and vivid; Ramsay tolerates no simple stereotypes. Neither the author nor the characters ever lose sight of the mystery, which comes to an unexpected but very satisfactory conclusion.

Super User
2010-04-25 16:15:22

A "stranger room" is a separate chamber in a plantation where a traveler has privacy and amenities unavailable in a public inn. The Lydell plantation in the Shenandoah Valley has such a room. It was once the scene of a never solved murder during the Civil War, or, as the unregenerate plantation owner refers to it, "The War of Northern Aggression." Another murder, 150 years later, occurs in the same room. In both cases, the locked door has to be broken down to gain access to the victim.

Ramsay does a fine job of integrating the Civil War murder and the 21st-century murder, all the while giving the reader a strong sense of Shenandoah in both times. The present-day plantation owner longs to recreate the world of the antebellum South and sees no reason for offense when local folks are asked to portray slaves as part of his restoration of the plantation--complete with slave quarters. More progressive is the larger community, which has elected a Jewish sheriff and (eventually) accepts the interracial romance of the black deputy and his white policewoman girlfriend.

The characters in The Stranger Room are rich and vivid; Ramsay tolerates no simple stereotypes. Neither the author nor the characters ever lose sight of the mystery, which comes to an unexpected but very satisfactory conclusion.

Sweeping Up Glass
Charles L.P. Silet

Sweeping Up Glass is a Southern coming-of-age novel set during the early years of the 20th century in a small Kentucky hamlet. Olivia Harker grows up in a small apartment behind a grocery store in hardscrabble Aurora with her father, Tate, who doctors his neighbor's animals and brews moonshine on the side, and her crazy-as-a-loon mother, Ida, who has taken up religion since her return from the asylum she was admitted to after the birth of her daughter.

As with all such tales, there are layers of unexplored history to both Olivia's life and the interrelated lives of the people of Aurora, and the plot becomes darker and Olivia's world more dangerous as the novel unfolds. Questions arise over the accidental death of her father, her mother's strange relationship with others in the town, the odd doings of the mysterious Hunt Club out on Phelps' farm, and the shooting of Alaskan Silver wolves imported by Olivia's grandfather that live on the mountain behind the store. The climax of this mystery involving racism, murder, and poverty finally takes place in 1938 and involves Olivia with the local KKK and ritual killings. In the end it threatens both her life and the lives to those closest to her.

Carolyn D. Wall has created an engaging character in Olivia Harker and a complex and densely interconnected community in Aurora, Kentucky. Her evocative prose recalls the regional style of such authors as Flannery O'Connor, Harper Lee, and Eudora Welty.

Super User
2010-04-25 16:15:22

Sweeping Up Glass is a Southern coming-of-age novel set during the early years of the 20th century in a small Kentucky hamlet. Olivia Harker grows up in a small apartment behind a grocery store in hardscrabble Aurora with her father, Tate, who doctors his neighbor's animals and brews moonshine on the side, and her crazy-as-a-loon mother, Ida, who has taken up religion since her return from the asylum she was admitted to after the birth of her daughter.

As with all such tales, there are layers of unexplored history to both Olivia's life and the interrelated lives of the people of Aurora, and the plot becomes darker and Olivia's world more dangerous as the novel unfolds. Questions arise over the accidental death of her father, her mother's strange relationship with others in the town, the odd doings of the mysterious Hunt Club out on Phelps' farm, and the shooting of Alaskan Silver wolves imported by Olivia's grandfather that live on the mountain behind the store. The climax of this mystery involving racism, murder, and poverty finally takes place in 1938 and involves Olivia with the local KKK and ritual killings. In the end it threatens both her life and the lives to those closest to her.

Carolyn D. Wall has created an engaging character in Olivia Harker and a complex and densely interconnected community in Aurora, Kentucky. Her evocative prose recalls the regional style of such authors as Flannery O'Connor, Harper Lee, and Eudora Welty.

Takeover
Mary Welk

Drawing on her experience as a forensic scientist, Lisa Black has concocted a plot as chilling as some of the evidence she's dealt with. Mirroring the author, Takeover heroine Theresa MacLean works for the Cleveland Medical Examiner. Theresa is hard at work one morning, examining the body of a murder victim, when she's told Paul Cleary, her police detective fiance, has been taken hostage in a bank robbery gone wrong. After he's shot several hours into the standoff, Theresa offers herself to the thieves in trade for the wounded cop.

Hostage negotiator Chris Cavanaugh has never lost a victim, but he's hard pressed to end this case after Theresa pulls her unauthorized stunt. The thieves have read Cavanaugh's life story, and they foresee his every move in this dangerous cat-and-mouse game. Always one step ahead of Chris, they play a trump card that leaves even the wily negotiator in shock.

There are ho-hum thrillers and there are gotcha! thrillers, all of them published with glowing cover blurbs. Blurbs can deceive, but this time the buzz is right on target. Takeover is a thriller of the first order, a pulse racing adventure that grabs you in the first chapter and has you sweating until the very end. Each time you catch your breath, Black adds a plot twist that takes you down another devilishly clever path. Knowledge of her subject, along with credible characters and an unpredictable ending, lend reality to this highly recommended first novel.

Super User
2010-04-25 16:15:22

Drawing on her experience as a forensic scientist, Lisa Black has concocted a plot as chilling as some of the evidence she's dealt with. Mirroring the author, Takeover heroine Theresa MacLean works for the Cleveland Medical Examiner. Theresa is hard at work one morning, examining the body of a murder victim, when she's told Paul Cleary, her police detective fiance, has been taken hostage in a bank robbery gone wrong. After he's shot several hours into the standoff, Theresa offers herself to the thieves in trade for the wounded cop.

Hostage negotiator Chris Cavanaugh has never lost a victim, but he's hard pressed to end this case after Theresa pulls her unauthorized stunt. The thieves have read Cavanaugh's life story, and they foresee his every move in this dangerous cat-and-mouse game. Always one step ahead of Chris, they play a trump card that leaves even the wily negotiator in shock.

There are ho-hum thrillers and there are gotcha! thrillers, all of them published with glowing cover blurbs. Blurbs can deceive, but this time the buzz is right on target. Takeover is a thriller of the first order, a pulse racing adventure that grabs you in the first chapter and has you sweating until the very end. Each time you catch your breath, Black adds a plot twist that takes you down another devilishly clever path. Knowledge of her subject, along with credible characters and an unpredictable ending, lend reality to this highly recommended first novel.

The Blackstone Key
Lynne Maxwell

A trained historian, Rose Melikan is a newcomer to the mystery scene, but one would never suspect it after reading The Blackstone Key, her wonderful, atmospheric, first installment in a proposed trilogy set in the England of Napoleonic times. From the first chapter she evokes the gloom, penury and perilous political straits pervading the country. Warfare threatens and spies run rampant. Amidst this turmoil, protagonist Mary Finch escapes her grim, thankless life teaching in a girls school. Expecting an inheritance from her uncle and striving to escape poverty, Mary embarks upon an ambitious journey that turns out far differently than she anticipated. While she isn't the heiress she hoped to be, Mary learns a great deal about the world around her, probably the best and most useful education possible. She becomes familiar with the upper class and its pretensions, as well as with the criminal element involved in a dangerous smuggling operation.

As an educated woman, Mary is much more learned and intelligent than others initially acknowledge--or wish to acknowledge. Her academic mastery and keen curiosity provide her with the acumen necessary to decipher a crucial coded message that defies the attempts of others, all men, of course. Like Elizabeth Bennet, the quintessential literary character educated beyond the established norms, the prototypical Mary Finch defies the stereotypes of her class and times. Melikan makes certain that readers revel in Mary's well-deserved liberation.

Super User
2010-04-25 16:15:22

A trained historian, Rose Melikan is a newcomer to the mystery scene, but one would never suspect it after reading The Blackstone Key, her wonderful, atmospheric, first installment in a proposed trilogy set in the England of Napoleonic times. From the first chapter she evokes the gloom, penury and perilous political straits pervading the country. Warfare threatens and spies run rampant. Amidst this turmoil, protagonist Mary Finch escapes her grim, thankless life teaching in a girls school. Expecting an inheritance from her uncle and striving to escape poverty, Mary embarks upon an ambitious journey that turns out far differently than she anticipated. While she isn't the heiress she hoped to be, Mary learns a great deal about the world around her, probably the best and most useful education possible. She becomes familiar with the upper class and its pretensions, as well as with the criminal element involved in a dangerous smuggling operation.

As an educated woman, Mary is much more learned and intelligent than others initially acknowledge--or wish to acknowledge. Her academic mastery and keen curiosity provide her with the acumen necessary to decipher a crucial coded message that defies the attempts of others, all men, of course. Like Elizabeth Bennet, the quintessential literary character educated beyond the established norms, the prototypical Mary Finch defies the stereotypes of her class and times. Melikan makes certain that readers revel in Mary's well-deserved liberation.

The Brass Verdict
Jackie Houchin

Multi-award winning author Michael Connelly is best known for his popular Harry Bosch series. Three years ago he penned The Lincoln Lawyer, which introduced Bosch's half-brother, Mickey Haller. Now he brings these two opposite but beloved characters together in The Brass Verdict.

Told from Mickey's point of view, the novel follows two murder cases. In the first, Jerry Vincent is the defense attorney for Walter Elliot, a mega-rich studio owner accused of killing his wife and her lover. Both attorney and client are sure of an acquittal because of a mysterious "magic bullet." When Vincent is murdered and his laptop and important files are stolen, Mickey inherits the high-profile Elliot case. Mickey has been "retired" for two years following an injury and a stint in rehab, and has mixed feeling about going back into the courtroom. As lead detective on Vincent's murder case, Bosch is convinced that one of the lawyer's clients killed him. Bosch hunts for Vincent's killer and Mickey searches for the magic bullet that will clinch Elliot's defense. Neither are above using each other to further their own investigations, but when their discoveries put Mickey in serious danger, they agree to work together.

Connelly's easy, informative style quickly draws readers into the story, and his likable characters and exciting plot twists keep them reading. He's as adept in the courtroom as he is in the precinct, and his lawyer-slang and cop-speak ring true. Mystery fans who've anticipated seeing these two characters together will not be disappointed in this fast-paced legal drama by a storytelling master.

Super User
2010-04-25 16:15:22

Multi-award winning author Michael Connelly is best known for his popular Harry Bosch series. Three years ago he penned The Lincoln Lawyer, which introduced Bosch's half-brother, Mickey Haller. Now he brings these two opposite but beloved characters together in The Brass Verdict.

Told from Mickey's point of view, the novel follows two murder cases. In the first, Jerry Vincent is the defense attorney for Walter Elliot, a mega-rich studio owner accused of killing his wife and her lover. Both attorney and client are sure of an acquittal because of a mysterious "magic bullet." When Vincent is murdered and his laptop and important files are stolen, Mickey inherits the high-profile Elliot case. Mickey has been "retired" for two years following an injury and a stint in rehab, and has mixed feeling about going back into the courtroom. As lead detective on Vincent's murder case, Bosch is convinced that one of the lawyer's clients killed him. Bosch hunts for Vincent's killer and Mickey searches for the magic bullet that will clinch Elliot's defense. Neither are above using each other to further their own investigations, but when their discoveries put Mickey in serious danger, they agree to work together.

Connelly's easy, informative style quickly draws readers into the story, and his likable characters and exciting plot twists keep them reading. He's as adept in the courtroom as he is in the precinct, and his lawyer-slang and cop-speak ring true. Mystery fans who've anticipated seeing these two characters together will not be disappointed in this fast-paced legal drama by a storytelling master.

The Clinch Knot
Verna Suit

Ned Oglivie has dropped out and become a trout bum known as "Dog." While fly-fishing in Montana, Dog befriends another dropout, a black kid named Sneed who soon falls in love with a white local girl named Jesse Ringer. When Dog is run out of town by the local sheriff, he comes across a dead Jesse and an almost dead Sneed in what appears to be a murder-suicide. The scene is clearly a set-up, but for what reason? Racial prejudice or some more obscure conflict? Dog has no choice but to stay around and investigate.

You don't have to fish to enjoy this fly fishing mystery. The Clinch Knot, a follow-up to Galligan's 2005 Blood Knot, is a gripping, metaphor-rich story about the freedom to be oneself. The wild Montana landscape teems with bands of pronghorn antelopes and other wildlife and a beautiful but vicious river offers heart-stopping rafting. Numerous multidimensional characters all hold surprises, beginning with Dog himself, a free-spirited drunk who lives on vodka and Tang in a rusted-out RV and who habitually drives as far as his gas tank will take him before stopping to fly-fish and "do life." When Sneed's long-lost mother surfaces, she and Dog join forces to exonerate Sneed and save him from a criminal death sentence. The three become an odd but tight family unit, three fellow travelers on the bumpy, twisty road to healing.

Super User
2010-04-25 16:15:22

Ned Oglivie has dropped out and become a trout bum known as "Dog." While fly-fishing in Montana, Dog befriends another dropout, a black kid named Sneed who soon falls in love with a white local girl named Jesse Ringer. When Dog is run out of town by the local sheriff, he comes across a dead Jesse and an almost dead Sneed in what appears to be a murder-suicide. The scene is clearly a set-up, but for what reason? Racial prejudice or some more obscure conflict? Dog has no choice but to stay around and investigate.

You don't have to fish to enjoy this fly fishing mystery. The Clinch Knot, a follow-up to Galligan's 2005 Blood Knot, is a gripping, metaphor-rich story about the freedom to be oneself. The wild Montana landscape teems with bands of pronghorn antelopes and other wildlife and a beautiful but vicious river offers heart-stopping rafting. Numerous multidimensional characters all hold surprises, beginning with Dog himself, a free-spirited drunk who lives on vodka and Tang in a rusted-out RV and who habitually drives as far as his gas tank will take him before stopping to fly-fish and "do life." When Sneed's long-lost mother surfaces, she and Dog join forces to exonerate Sneed and save him from a criminal death sentence. The three become an odd but tight family unit, three fellow travelers on the bumpy, twisty road to healing.

The Clockwork Teddy
Lynne Maxwell

Once I willingly suspend my disbelief that a retired San Francisco cop could become a teddy bear aficionado, I really enjoyed this series. Improbable as the protagonist's hobby might seem, the Teddy Bear Collector's Mysteries uniquely meld the cozy with the police procedural, yielding a strangely intriguing amalgam.

In The Clockwork Teddy, Brad Lyon, ex-detective, returns from the Shenandoah Valley to his native city, San Francisco, to attend a teddy bear convention with his wife. Not surprisingly, Brad and his wife, Ash, quickly stumble upon a hotbed of intrigue when someone wearing a giant teddy bear costume (remember, willing suspension of disbelief) robs a renowned teddy bear vendor. To take the teddy bear motif a bit further, the robbery and later, murder, seem to be tied to the theft of an amazing robotic teddy bear that can walk and converse with eerie verisimilitude. The book's most compelling factor, though, is Brad's immediate reversion to cop mode as he brings the criminals to justice at the end of a breakneck chase. Brad's deployment of police procedures rings true, which is no surprise since Lamb, too, is a retired policeman--and a teddy bear collector.

If the hardcore elements of this mystery don't appeal, you might find satisfaction in its cozy components. One thing is certain, however, after you've read The Clockwork Teddy and the other titles in this series, you will have developed a new found respect for teddy bears and their creators.

Super User
2010-04-25 16:15:22

Once I willingly suspend my disbelief that a retired San Francisco cop could become a teddy bear aficionado, I really enjoyed this series. Improbable as the protagonist's hobby might seem, the Teddy Bear Collector's Mysteries uniquely meld the cozy with the police procedural, yielding a strangely intriguing amalgam.

In The Clockwork Teddy, Brad Lyon, ex-detective, returns from the Shenandoah Valley to his native city, San Francisco, to attend a teddy bear convention with his wife. Not surprisingly, Brad and his wife, Ash, quickly stumble upon a hotbed of intrigue when someone wearing a giant teddy bear costume (remember, willing suspension of disbelief) robs a renowned teddy bear vendor. To take the teddy bear motif a bit further, the robbery and later, murder, seem to be tied to the theft of an amazing robotic teddy bear that can walk and converse with eerie verisimilitude. The book's most compelling factor, though, is Brad's immediate reversion to cop mode as he brings the criminals to justice at the end of a breakneck chase. Brad's deployment of police procedures rings true, which is no surprise since Lamb, too, is a retired policeman--and a teddy bear collector.

If the hardcore elements of this mystery don't appeal, you might find satisfaction in its cozy components. One thing is certain, however, after you've read The Clockwork Teddy and the other titles in this series, you will have developed a new found respect for teddy bears and their creators.

The Fourth Victim
Hank Wagner

The Fourth Victim is Tony Spinosa's (aka Edgar finalist Reed Coleman) follow up to Hose Monkey. It chronicles the further adventures of Joe Serpe and Bob Healy, two ex-cops who, through various circumstances, one day find themselves in the home heating oil business. Here, the murders of five independent oil men are certainly cause for concern for the duo, but one in particular resonates with Serpe--the death of a crooked ex-cop who once saved his life. Serpe embarks on a mission to settle a debt to a man he despised, single-mindedly pursuing the perpetrators; such is Healy's loyalty to Serpe that he is dragged along for the ride. Although the men realize the grave danger they face, they find their return to the fray invigorating; the hunt for the killers makes them feel alive again, allowing them to do what they were born to do.

Although somewhat conventional in terms of plot, the novel is nevertheless a worthwhile way to spend a few hours, mostly due to Spinosa's crisp, direct style of writing, his gift for creating genuine suspense, and the presence of Serpe and Healy, fully developed, three-dimensional characters who actually change over the course of the novel, affected by its events in convincing ways. Spinosa also shows a talent for delivering credible action scenes, constantly placing his heroes in peril, making readers fear for their safety and root for their success and survival. The violence, when it comes, is sudden and inevitable and intense, guaranteed to set your nerves jangling.<p

Super User
2010-04-25 16:15:22

The Fourth Victim is Tony Spinosa's (aka Edgar finalist Reed Coleman) follow up to Hose Monkey. It chronicles the further adventures of Joe Serpe and Bob Healy, two ex-cops who, through various circumstances, one day find themselves in the home heating oil business. Here, the murders of five independent oil men are certainly cause for concern for the duo, but one in particular resonates with Serpe--the death of a crooked ex-cop who once saved his life. Serpe embarks on a mission to settle a debt to a man he despised, single-mindedly pursuing the perpetrators; such is Healy's loyalty to Serpe that he is dragged along for the ride. Although the men realize the grave danger they face, they find their return to the fray invigorating; the hunt for the killers makes them feel alive again, allowing them to do what they were born to do.

Although somewhat conventional in terms of plot, the novel is nevertheless a worthwhile way to spend a few hours, mostly due to Spinosa's crisp, direct style of writing, his gift for creating genuine suspense, and the presence of Serpe and Healy, fully developed, three-dimensional characters who actually change over the course of the novel, affected by its events in convincing ways. Spinosa also shows a talent for delivering credible action scenes, constantly placing his heroes in peril, making readers fear for their safety and root for their success and survival. The violence, when it comes, is sudden and inevitable and intense, guaranteed to set your nerves jangling.<p