The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Barbara Fister

A sensation in Europe, this Swedish blockbuster has finally reached our shores. Unlike the typical American bestseller, it is long, complex, and not paced with a stopwatch in hand.

At first it appears to be a variation on the classic locked-room mystery. A disgraced business reporter is hired by a man who wants a family mystery solved. Forty years earlier, his nephew's daughter, Harriet, disappeared from a small island; the only bridge was blocked at the time, no boats were missing, and her body was never found. Yet every year someone sends him a memento of the vanished girl. Beyond finding out what happened to Harriet, the old man wants the reporter to write a family history--one that uncovers the poisonous relationships that played a role in the girl's disappearance.

The reporter finds an unusual ally in Lisbeth Salander, a strange young hacker who has a chilly intelligence and an aversion to opening up to others. At one point, a character annoys her by comparing her to Pippi Longstocking, but it's oddly apt. Like the popular Swedish children's book heroine, she is independent, almost freakishly gifted and touchingly alone in the world. The two of them uncover truths that are brutal and deeply disturbing. The original title of the book--Men Who Hate Women--hints at the passions that drive the story. Sadly, the author died before this book saw publication, but as it is the first in a trilogy, readers have more to look forward to.

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

A sensation in Europe, this Swedish blockbuster has finally reached our shores. Unlike the typical American bestseller, it is long, complex, and not paced with a stopwatch in hand.

At first it appears to be a variation on the classic locked-room mystery. A disgraced business reporter is hired by a man who wants a family mystery solved. Forty years earlier, his nephew's daughter, Harriet, disappeared from a small island; the only bridge was blocked at the time, no boats were missing, and her body was never found. Yet every year someone sends him a memento of the vanished girl. Beyond finding out what happened to Harriet, the old man wants the reporter to write a family history--one that uncovers the poisonous relationships that played a role in the girl's disappearance.

The reporter finds an unusual ally in Lisbeth Salander, a strange young hacker who has a chilly intelligence and an aversion to opening up to others. At one point, a character annoys her by comparing her to Pippi Longstocking, but it's oddly apt. Like the popular Swedish children's book heroine, she is independent, almost freakishly gifted and touchingly alone in the world. The two of them uncover truths that are brutal and deeply disturbing. The original title of the book--Men Who Hate Women--hints at the passions that drive the story. Sadly, the author died before this book saw publication, but as it is the first in a trilogy, readers have more to look forward to.

The September Society
Elizabeth Foxwell

Following his last appearance in A Beautiful Blue Death (2007), Victorian detective Charles Lenox faces conspiracy and murder set against the dreaming spires of Oxford. The son of Lady Annabelle Payson has vanished from his college, leaving in his wake a dead cat, a card bearing the enigmatic phrase "the September Society," and questions about the actions of his wastrel father and his father's associates in India. Complicating Lenox's case are his abortive attempts to propose to his neighbor, Lady Jane Grey; a duke's dilettante son casting himself as Lenox's indispensable Watson; and a series of unexplained deaths. The best scenes of Agatha nominee--and Oxford graduate--Finch are those set in that university town, with lovingly rendered depictions of such landmarks as the Turf Tavern and Christ Church Meadow and even an encounter with a future poet of some renown. All in all, Finch delivers a tale of unexpected twists that resonates in the present day, as it portrays the abuses that can occur in a conflict on foreign soil.

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

Following his last appearance in A Beautiful Blue Death (2007), Victorian detective Charles Lenox faces conspiracy and murder set against the dreaming spires of Oxford. The son of Lady Annabelle Payson has vanished from his college, leaving in his wake a dead cat, a card bearing the enigmatic phrase "the September Society," and questions about the actions of his wastrel father and his father's associates in India. Complicating Lenox's case are his abortive attempts to propose to his neighbor, Lady Jane Grey; a duke's dilettante son casting himself as Lenox's indispensable Watson; and a series of unexplained deaths. The best scenes of Agatha nominee--and Oxford graduate--Finch are those set in that university town, with lovingly rendered depictions of such landmarks as the Turf Tavern and Christ Church Meadow and even an encounter with a future poet of some renown. All in all, Finch delivers a tale of unexpected twists that resonates in the present day, as it portrays the abuses that can occur in a conflict on foreign soil.

The Shadow Walker
R. Smith

Few would imagine that a police procedural set in remote Mongolia could be so gripping, suspenseful and out-and-out readable. Michael Walters' first effort, The Shadow Walker, is all that and more. This can't-put-it-down-once-you've-started-it novel brings Mongolia, its capital Ulan Baatar, and the vast Gobi desert to life. In it, Inspector Nergui of the Serious Crime Unit must stop a serial killer. With few leads other than the dismembered bodies of the victims, he tries to make sense of a phenomenon previously unknown in this Asian nation. When a visiting British mineralogist becomes one of the killer's victims, Inspector Drew McLeish is sent from London to assist Nergui. The two hit it off immediately, but neither is aware of the danger awaiting the British cop.

Mongolia is loaded with valuable minerals, especially gold, and Nergui suspects this untapped wealth is the impetus behind the murders. Having studied in both England and America Nergui is a modern man in a not-so-modern country struggling to join the developed world after years of Soviet domination. Clues are meager at best but the detectives slowly and methodically build a case, battling politicians (Mongolian, Russian, British and American), international corporations, local nomads living in gers (tent cities), and even corrupt police officers, to get at the truth. Suspense builds as Nergui gets closer to his target and the final chapters will have readers eagerly turning pages. Nergui is a wonderful addition to the genre and author Walters promises at least two more adventures. I, for one, can hardly wait.

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

Few would imagine that a police procedural set in remote Mongolia could be so gripping, suspenseful and out-and-out readable. Michael Walters' first effort, The Shadow Walker, is all that and more. This can't-put-it-down-once-you've-started-it novel brings Mongolia, its capital Ulan Baatar, and the vast Gobi desert to life. In it, Inspector Nergui of the Serious Crime Unit must stop a serial killer. With few leads other than the dismembered bodies of the victims, he tries to make sense of a phenomenon previously unknown in this Asian nation. When a visiting British mineralogist becomes one of the killer's victims, Inspector Drew McLeish is sent from London to assist Nergui. The two hit it off immediately, but neither is aware of the danger awaiting the British cop.

Mongolia is loaded with valuable minerals, especially gold, and Nergui suspects this untapped wealth is the impetus behind the murders. Having studied in both England and America Nergui is a modern man in a not-so-modern country struggling to join the developed world after years of Soviet domination. Clues are meager at best but the detectives slowly and methodically build a case, battling politicians (Mongolian, Russian, British and American), international corporations, local nomads living in gers (tent cities), and even corrupt police officers, to get at the truth. Suspense builds as Nergui gets closer to his target and the final chapters will have readers eagerly turning pages. Nergui is a wonderful addition to the genre and author Walters promises at least two more adventures. I, for one, can hardly wait.

The Turnaround
Hank Wagner

The first section of Pelecanos' latest is set in the outskirts of Washington D.C. circa July 1972. It chronicles the activities of two sets of teens, one trio black, the other white; they don't know it, but fate has placed them on a collision course with one another, one that ends in a sad, violent encounter. The second part of the novel, set in 2007, slowly reveals the results of that grim episode. It follows the lives of the survivors, still residents of the same neighborhoods, still struggling with both the past and present, trying to get by. Although those involved have had no contact since that fateful day three-and-a-half decades ago, their lives will once again intersect in ways both poignant and tragic.

The Turnaround is easily one of the best crime novels, if not one of the best novels, you'll ever encounter. A true craftsman, Pelecanos establishes his milieu and his characters with a few deft strokes, then expertly navigates towards a moving climax which will likely take readers by surprise, even though it comes to seem inevitable upon further reflection. A tale of dashed hopes and shattered dreams, it's also a novel of courage and redemption, one that will leave your emotions roiled for days after you finish reading. Always able to find the humanity in even the most despicable of his characters, Pelecanos again demonstrates why many consider him one of the top crime novelists working today.

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

The first section of Pelecanos' latest is set in the outskirts of Washington D.C. circa July 1972. It chronicles the activities of two sets of teens, one trio black, the other white; they don't know it, but fate has placed them on a collision course with one another, one that ends in a sad, violent encounter. The second part of the novel, set in 2007, slowly reveals the results of that grim episode. It follows the lives of the survivors, still residents of the same neighborhoods, still struggling with both the past and present, trying to get by. Although those involved have had no contact since that fateful day three-and-a-half decades ago, their lives will once again intersect in ways both poignant and tragic.

The Turnaround is easily one of the best crime novels, if not one of the best novels, you'll ever encounter. A true craftsman, Pelecanos establishes his milieu and his characters with a few deft strokes, then expertly navigates towards a moving climax which will likely take readers by surprise, even though it comes to seem inevitable upon further reflection. A tale of dashed hopes and shattered dreams, it's also a novel of courage and redemption, one that will leave your emotions roiled for days after you finish reading. Always able to find the humanity in even the most despicable of his characters, Pelecanos again demonstrates why many consider him one of the top crime novelists working today.

Toros and Torsos
Hank Wagner

In his first adventure, set in 1957 (chronicled in Craig McDonald's delightful novel Head Game), noir novelist and Black Mask alumnus Hector Lassiter traveled to Mexico seeking the head of Pancho Villa at the behest of Prescott Bush. Toros and Torsos, in which Lassiter seems to always be one step behind a serial killer inspired by surrealist art, begins in 1935 in the Florida Keys, moves on to Spain in 1937, continues in Hollywood in 1947, and concludes in 1959 in Cuba. As in its predecessor, the womanizing, hard as nails, violence prone Lassiter ("the writer who lives what he writes") moves in elite circles throughout, rubbing elbows with the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Orson Welles, John Huston and Rita Hayworth.

McDonald's sophomore effort is a lot of fun, as the author effortlessly and credibly incorporates his characters and storyline into such real life happenings as the Labor Day hurricane of 1935, the Spanish Civil War, the filming of The Lady from Shanghai, and the Black Dahlia murders. Reminiscent of the fine work that Max Allan Collins has done in his Nate Heller series, Toros and Torsos manages to convey interesting historical tidbits even as it entertains. Although lethal tough guy Lassiter is indeed larger than life, his presence among the likes of Hemingway and Welles feels appropriate, as if he actually were a vital part of that notable crowd. Add McDonald's myriad, but uniformly clever, allusions to all things noir to the mix, and you get one captivating read.

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

In his first adventure, set in 1957 (chronicled in Craig McDonald's delightful novel Head Game), noir novelist and Black Mask alumnus Hector Lassiter traveled to Mexico seeking the head of Pancho Villa at the behest of Prescott Bush. Toros and Torsos, in which Lassiter seems to always be one step behind a serial killer inspired by surrealist art, begins in 1935 in the Florida Keys, moves on to Spain in 1937, continues in Hollywood in 1947, and concludes in 1959 in Cuba. As in its predecessor, the womanizing, hard as nails, violence prone Lassiter ("the writer who lives what he writes") moves in elite circles throughout, rubbing elbows with the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Orson Welles, John Huston and Rita Hayworth.

McDonald's sophomore effort is a lot of fun, as the author effortlessly and credibly incorporates his characters and storyline into such real life happenings as the Labor Day hurricane of 1935, the Spanish Civil War, the filming of The Lady from Shanghai, and the Black Dahlia murders. Reminiscent of the fine work that Max Allan Collins has done in his Nate Heller series, Toros and Torsos manages to convey interesting historical tidbits even as it entertains. Although lethal tough guy Lassiter is indeed larger than life, his presence among the likes of Hemingway and Welles feels appropriate, as if he actually were a vital part of that notable crowd. Add McDonald's myriad, but uniformly clever, allusions to all things noir to the mix, and you get one captivating read.

When Will There Be Good News?
Betty Webb

In her new mystery/suspense novel, Kate Atkinson, author of the acclaimed Case Histories and One Good Turn, continues her habit of breaking every writing rule. She annihilates families, right down to the last baby and puppy. She combines Greek myth with nursery rhymes. She employs truckloads of coincidence. She tells her story from disparate points of view, choosing characters who are seemingly unconnected until...

It's that "until" which makes Atkinson's heresies so successful. When Will There Be Good News? begins with the slaughter of the Mason family by a madman, then jumps forward three decades to a time when the memory of the murders has blurred. Atkinson's usual hero, Jackson Brodie, a former British policeman, has inherited loads of money and set himself up as a PI. When he is badly injured in a horrific train derailment, his life is saved via the first aid skills of Reggie, a 16-year-old girl who eventually draws him into a re-investigation of the Mason family tragedy.

With all the heartbreak and gore Atkinson has funneled into Good News, you'd think the book would be a tough read; It's not. The author's trademark dark humor abounds in these pages, and frequently--even in the grisliest of scenes--you find yourself laughing out loud. This is a master work by an author at the very top of her game. In fact, Good News is so extraordinarily on so many levels (especially in its eye-popping ending), that once you're finished, you might--as did I--go right back to the beginning and start over.

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

In her new mystery/suspense novel, Kate Atkinson, author of the acclaimed Case Histories and One Good Turn, continues her habit of breaking every writing rule. She annihilates families, right down to the last baby and puppy. She combines Greek myth with nursery rhymes. She employs truckloads of coincidence. She tells her story from disparate points of view, choosing characters who are seemingly unconnected until...

It's that "until" which makes Atkinson's heresies so successful. When Will There Be Good News? begins with the slaughter of the Mason family by a madman, then jumps forward three decades to a time when the memory of the murders has blurred. Atkinson's usual hero, Jackson Brodie, a former British policeman, has inherited loads of money and set himself up as a PI. When he is badly injured in a horrific train derailment, his life is saved via the first aid skills of Reggie, a 16-year-old girl who eventually draws him into a re-investigation of the Mason family tragedy.

With all the heartbreak and gore Atkinson has funneled into Good News, you'd think the book would be a tough read; It's not. The author's trademark dark humor abounds in these pages, and frequently--even in the grisliest of scenes--you find yourself laughing out loud. This is a master work by an author at the very top of her game. In fact, Good News is so extraordinarily on so many levels (especially in its eye-popping ending), that once you're finished, you might--as did I--go right back to the beginning and start over.

White Mary
Beverly J. DeWeese

Marika Vecera, a tough, young war correspondent, hears that her idol, journalist Robert Lewis, has been sighted alive in Papua New Guinea. Though everyone else believes he is dead, she vows to travel to the innermost part of this primitive island to find him. Essentially alone, she faces horrific physical conditions on her journey, while struggling with her own fascination with the dark, violent side of humanity.

Salak's descriptions of the unbearably hot, humid jungle, filled with swarms of mosquitoes, are extremely vivid. Dirty water, malaria, and constant cuts from unfriendly flora are daily enemies. The suspicious, almost Stone Age natives, who call all white women "White Mary," are rarely helpful. Since Marika's untrustworthy guide, the stench, the dirt, and the lack of medicine almost destroy her and Salak's strong, colorful writing drags the reader right into the jungle with her.

Marika is an incredible character. Apparently based heavily on Salak's own experiences, Marika's trip is not only believable, but compelling. She spends a lot of time, even when delirious, wondering why reporters, such as Lewis and herself, are drawn to writing about war, torture, and savagery. Though this has only a minor mystery--Is Lewis alive?--it's an exciting page turner with a memorable ending and an admirable, gutsy heroine. A terrific read.

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

Marika Vecera, a tough, young war correspondent, hears that her idol, journalist Robert Lewis, has been sighted alive in Papua New Guinea. Though everyone else believes he is dead, she vows to travel to the innermost part of this primitive island to find him. Essentially alone, she faces horrific physical conditions on her journey, while struggling with her own fascination with the dark, violent side of humanity.

Salak's descriptions of the unbearably hot, humid jungle, filled with swarms of mosquitoes, are extremely vivid. Dirty water, malaria, and constant cuts from unfriendly flora are daily enemies. The suspicious, almost Stone Age natives, who call all white women "White Mary," are rarely helpful. Since Marika's untrustworthy guide, the stench, the dirt, and the lack of medicine almost destroy her and Salak's strong, colorful writing drags the reader right into the jungle with her.

Marika is an incredible character. Apparently based heavily on Salak's own experiences, Marika's trip is not only believable, but compelling. She spends a lot of time, even when delirious, wondering why reporters, such as Lewis and herself, are drawn to writing about war, torture, and savagery. Though this has only a minor mystery--Is Lewis alive?--it's an exciting page turner with a memorable ending and an admirable, gutsy heroine. A terrific read.

Working Stiff
Sue Reider

When a body is stolen from her aunt's funeral home, Sofie Metropolis' Greek family guilt-trips her into investigating. Then a young woman, convinced her brother is innocent of a murder charge against him--especially since the victim has never been found--also hires Sofie. As a PI, Sofie exhibits a keen commitment to seeing justice done. Her preliminary inquiries seem to corroborate that her client's brother is being railroaded. Her strong work ethic and dedication (including a lot of stakeout time) will out the real culprit.

It's approaching Halloween, so her secretary's theory that the body was stolen by marauding vampires makes perfect sense to Sofie, who is a charming character, if something of a ditz at times. She has a lot on her plate besides her work--her extended family provides all the day-to-day drama anyone could ever want. Add in her two boyfriends, her unmanageable dog, and her matchmaking neighbor, and the opportunities for humor are rampant. Carrington takes full advantage of all this to deliver an amusing romp coupled with a strong story line and satisfying resolutions to both cases.

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

When a body is stolen from her aunt's funeral home, Sofie Metropolis' Greek family guilt-trips her into investigating. Then a young woman, convinced her brother is innocent of a murder charge against him--especially since the victim has never been found--also hires Sofie. As a PI, Sofie exhibits a keen commitment to seeing justice done. Her preliminary inquiries seem to corroborate that her client's brother is being railroaded. Her strong work ethic and dedication (including a lot of stakeout time) will out the real culprit.

It's approaching Halloween, so her secretary's theory that the body was stolen by marauding vampires makes perfect sense to Sofie, who is a charming character, if something of a ditz at times. She has a lot on her plate besides her work--her extended family provides all the day-to-day drama anyone could ever want. Add in her two boyfriends, her unmanageable dog, and her matchmaking neighbor, and the opportunities for humor are rampant. Carrington takes full advantage of all this to deliver an amusing romp coupled with a strong story line and satisfying resolutions to both cases.

Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong: Reopening the Case of the Hound of the Baskerville
Charles L.P. Silet

Fans of the Sherlock Holmes stories seem to be insatiable, devouring pastiches, parodies, and spin-offs of the Holmes canon by the score. However, there is a secondary Holmes enterprise and that is in scholarly (and pseudo-scholarly) works on the master. Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong, a mix of crime novel and intellectual exercise, falls into this second category.
In his re-reading of the Hound of the Baskervilles Pierre Bayard attempts to prove Holmes' solution of the case incorrect by challenging no less than Holmes' vaunted deductive method itself. In this counter-investigation of Doyle's most famous Holmes case, Bayard challenges the reader to suspend belief in the detective's conclusions about not only the perpetrator of the crimes, but even the famous sleuth's reading of the clues. Bayard expands the claims of his method by also calling into question mystery authors' conclusions in crime stories in general thereby empowering the reader in his/her ability to deconstruct fictional texts of all sorts. How Bayard works this all out the reader will have to experience, but he does provide a fascinating and rewarding examination of Holmes' method of operations, i.e. observation, comparison, and reasoning backward.
The French have long been fascinated by crime fiction. In Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong, Pierre Bayard combines this with a second fascination of French intellectualism, that is, various theoretical approaches to texts. In the process Bayard's little book opens an engaging and enlightening discussion of one of the central works of classic detective fiction.

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

Fans of the Sherlock Holmes stories seem to be insatiable, devouring pastiches, parodies, and spin-offs of the Holmes canon by the score. However, there is a secondary Holmes enterprise and that is in scholarly (and pseudo-scholarly) works on the master. Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong, a mix of crime novel and intellectual exercise, falls into this second category.
In his re-reading of the Hound of the Baskervilles Pierre Bayard attempts to prove Holmes' solution of the case incorrect by challenging no less than Holmes' vaunted deductive method itself. In this counter-investigation of Doyle's most famous Holmes case, Bayard challenges the reader to suspend belief in the detective's conclusions about not only the perpetrator of the crimes, but even the famous sleuth's reading of the clues. Bayard expands the claims of his method by also calling into question mystery authors' conclusions in crime stories in general thereby empowering the reader in his/her ability to deconstruct fictional texts of all sorts. How Bayard works this all out the reader will have to experience, but he does provide a fascinating and rewarding examination of Holmes' method of operations, i.e. observation, comparison, and reasoning backward.
The French have long been fascinated by crime fiction. In Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong, Pierre Bayard combines this with a second fascination of French intellectualism, that is, various theoretical approaches to texts. In the process Bayard's little book opens an engaging and enlightening discussion of one of the central works of classic detective fiction.

A Song for You
Betty Webb

When a skeleton is discovered at a Dudley, Arizona construction site, it summons memories of a 17-year-old murder case involving local singer Annie Glenn. At the time, most of the town suspected Annie's boyfriend, Kurt Dickens, of killing her, but a jury found him innocent. Now Rachel, Annie's daughter, enlists the help of PI Brian Flynn to get to the truth. Rachel remains traumatized from discovering her mother's body, and as Flynn goes over the old case files, he finds that her hazy memories conflict with the documented facts.

Arizona dwellers will recognize Bisbee, a former miner's town and now a thriving artists' colony, as the fictional "Dudley." The town's highly-textured setting and its many bohemian characters play nicely off Rachel's near-Gothic heroine persona. When first introduced, Rachel is a weak young woman getting through the day on Ativan, working her part-time job at a Tucson art gallery, and shopping at upscale malls. But as the book progresses, we see her emerge from her medication-induced haze. Then her new clarity brings new dangers, and the murderer strikes again.

A Song for You also stands out in its many voices. Written mainly in third person from multiple points of view, the novel makes several forays into first person via Chloe Newcombe, a victims' advocate brought in by Flynn to help with the investigation. Because of the complexities involved, this writing technique can be a precarious one, but author Betsy Thornton pulls it off nicely.

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

When a skeleton is discovered at a Dudley, Arizona construction site, it summons memories of a 17-year-old murder case involving local singer Annie Glenn. At the time, most of the town suspected Annie's boyfriend, Kurt Dickens, of killing her, but a jury found him innocent. Now Rachel, Annie's daughter, enlists the help of PI Brian Flynn to get to the truth. Rachel remains traumatized from discovering her mother's body, and as Flynn goes over the old case files, he finds that her hazy memories conflict with the documented facts.

Arizona dwellers will recognize Bisbee, a former miner's town and now a thriving artists' colony, as the fictional "Dudley." The town's highly-textured setting and its many bohemian characters play nicely off Rachel's near-Gothic heroine persona. When first introduced, Rachel is a weak young woman getting through the day on Ativan, working her part-time job at a Tucson art gallery, and shopping at upscale malls. But as the book progresses, we see her emerge from her medication-induced haze. Then her new clarity brings new dangers, and the murderer strikes again.

A Song for You also stands out in its many voices. Written mainly in third person from multiple points of view, the novel makes several forays into first person via Chloe Newcombe, a victims' advocate brought in by Flynn to help with the investigation. Because of the complexities involved, this writing technique can be a precarious one, but author Betsy Thornton pulls it off nicely.

The Best American Mystery Stories 2008
Jon L. Breen

Reviewing last year's volume in this well-established series, I praised the general quality but groused about the lack of variety and the failure to include even one real detective story. Guest editor George Pelecanos' introduction to this year's collection lets the reader know to expect more of the same: "...[T]here is no obvious direct line from the grandfathers and fathers of crime fiction to the stories in this collection... Though there are twists and surprises to be discovered, none of these stories are puzzles, locked-room mysteries, or private detective tales." Again literary magazines are a more frequent source of stories than genre publications--Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine are represented by one story each, Antioch Review by two, and the plethora of noir-themed anthologies by a scattering throughout. The title Best Mainstream Short Stories that Happen to Concern a Crime might be more precise. Definitional quibbles aside, however, this is a superb collection without a single misfire among its 20 entries. It is both quite a bit stronger and more varied than last year's volume.

James Lee Burke's curtain raiser "Mist," about alcoholic Louisiana war widow Lisa and her 12-step sponsor Tookie, is a beautifully executed short story, marked by the author's magnificent lyrical prose and fueled by anger over the twin horrors of Katrina and Iraq. Is it a detective story? No. Not even the reader-as-detective has a chance at anticipating its secrets. Is it a mystery? Arguably, yes, and the eternal mystery of character--what made Lisa the person she is?--is answered by two surprising revelations. But is it a crime story? Mainly in a political sense.

In the stories that follow, the crimes are more traditional, the treatment anything but. While the mood is almost unrelentingly grim and downbeat, the variety of background and approaches is considerable. The prize of the collection is Kyle Minor's structural experiment "A Day Meant to Do Less," in which an embarrassed pastor takes on the task of bathing his disabled mother, told first from his viewpoint, then (after some back story) from hers. The result is extraordinarily affecting and, in a unique way, terrifying. Another successful use of an unusual structure is Scott Phillips' "The Emerson 1950," a series of vignettes about a newspaper crime photographer at mid-20th century. It provides a rare example of a modular procedural in short story form, with various crimes described but not necessarily solved, occasional touches of mystery and detection, and a darkly comic wind-up.

Others of special merit are Holly Goddard Jones' "Proof of God," a collegiate gay coming-of-age murder story that reminded me of some of Vin Packer's 1950s novels; Alice Munro's "Child's Play," an incisive character study in which a horrific incident at a Canadian summer camp is recalled in adulthood by the anthropologist narrator; and Elizabeth Strout's "A Different Road," exploring the effect (not what you might expect) on an older couple of their experience in a hospital bathroom hostage situation.

Though detection is mostly absent, tricky crime story plotting is not. Chuck Hogan's "One Good One" is a fresh take on the classic situation of the thug protective of his mother, with a nicely managed surprise twist. (Novelist Hogan credits the late Edward D. Hoch with inspiring him to write short stories.) Michael Connelly's accident reconstruction procedural "Mulholland Drive" is a devious variation on a crime-fiction classic--to say which one would reveal too much. Rupert Holmes' clever "The Monks of the Abbey Victoria," with a 1950s TV network background and a lighter, more humorous touch than most of its companions, reminded me at times of Billy Wilder's film The Apartment and some of the stories of Stanley Ellin.

It's only fair to point out that there is one genuine whodunit in the book, starring one actual series detective, and an amateur at that. In Jas. R. Petrin's "Car Trouble," elderly moneylender Leo Skorzeny, a great character, solves the murder of a car dealer. For espionage buffs, there's Peter LaSalle's strongly political "Tunis and Time," a post-9/11 spy story cum Tunisian travelogue centered on an FBI man with a cover as professor of French literature.

Oddest of the lot may be Hugh Sheehy's "The Invisibles," a psychological suspense story bordering on horror, with suggestions of the supernatural. It includes a great piece of cop dialogue: "People break laws all the time. Sometimes I think we have so many just so I can arrest someone if I know I need to."

Other contributors include two series perennials, Joyce Carol Oates and Scott Wolven; well-known crime novelists Robert Ferrigno and Edgar-winner S. J. Rozan; plus Thisbe Nissen, Nathan Oates, Stephen Rhodes, and Melissa VanBeck. All are to be congratulated, along with editors Penzler and Pelecanos and first-line reader Michele Slung, on being part of a great short story anthology regardless of title or genre.

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

Reviewing last year's volume in this well-established series, I praised the general quality but groused about the lack of variety and the failure to include even one real detective story. Guest editor George Pelecanos' introduction to this year's collection lets the reader know to expect more of the same: "...[T]here is no obvious direct line from the grandfathers and fathers of crime fiction to the stories in this collection... Though there are twists and surprises to be discovered, none of these stories are puzzles, locked-room mysteries, or private detective tales." Again literary magazines are a more frequent source of stories than genre publications--Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine are represented by one story each, Antioch Review by two, and the plethora of noir-themed anthologies by a scattering throughout. The title Best Mainstream Short Stories that Happen to Concern a Crime might be more precise. Definitional quibbles aside, however, this is a superb collection without a single misfire among its 20 entries. It is both quite a bit stronger and more varied than last year's volume.

James Lee Burke's curtain raiser "Mist," about alcoholic Louisiana war widow Lisa and her 12-step sponsor Tookie, is a beautifully executed short story, marked by the author's magnificent lyrical prose and fueled by anger over the twin horrors of Katrina and Iraq. Is it a detective story? No. Not even the reader-as-detective has a chance at anticipating its secrets. Is it a mystery? Arguably, yes, and the eternal mystery of character--what made Lisa the person she is?--is answered by two surprising revelations. But is it a crime story? Mainly in a political sense.

In the stories that follow, the crimes are more traditional, the treatment anything but. While the mood is almost unrelentingly grim and downbeat, the variety of background and approaches is considerable. The prize of the collection is Kyle Minor's structural experiment "A Day Meant to Do Less," in which an embarrassed pastor takes on the task of bathing his disabled mother, told first from his viewpoint, then (after some back story) from hers. The result is extraordinarily affecting and, in a unique way, terrifying. Another successful use of an unusual structure is Scott Phillips' "The Emerson 1950," a series of vignettes about a newspaper crime photographer at mid-20th century. It provides a rare example of a modular procedural in short story form, with various crimes described but not necessarily solved, occasional touches of mystery and detection, and a darkly comic wind-up.

Others of special merit are Holly Goddard Jones' "Proof of God," a collegiate gay coming-of-age murder story that reminded me of some of Vin Packer's 1950s novels; Alice Munro's "Child's Play," an incisive character study in which a horrific incident at a Canadian summer camp is recalled in adulthood by the anthropologist narrator; and Elizabeth Strout's "A Different Road," exploring the effect (not what you might expect) on an older couple of their experience in a hospital bathroom hostage situation.

Though detection is mostly absent, tricky crime story plotting is not. Chuck Hogan's "One Good One" is a fresh take on the classic situation of the thug protective of his mother, with a nicely managed surprise twist. (Novelist Hogan credits the late Edward D. Hoch with inspiring him to write short stories.) Michael Connelly's accident reconstruction procedural "Mulholland Drive" is a devious variation on a crime-fiction classic--to say which one would reveal too much. Rupert Holmes' clever "The Monks of the Abbey Victoria," with a 1950s TV network background and a lighter, more humorous touch than most of its companions, reminded me at times of Billy Wilder's film The Apartment and some of the stories of Stanley Ellin.

It's only fair to point out that there is one genuine whodunit in the book, starring one actual series detective, and an amateur at that. In Jas. R. Petrin's "Car Trouble," elderly moneylender Leo Skorzeny, a great character, solves the murder of a car dealer. For espionage buffs, there's Peter LaSalle's strongly political "Tunis and Time," a post-9/11 spy story cum Tunisian travelogue centered on an FBI man with a cover as professor of French literature.

Oddest of the lot may be Hugh Sheehy's "The Invisibles," a psychological suspense story bordering on horror, with suggestions of the supernatural. It includes a great piece of cop dialogue: "People break laws all the time. Sometimes I think we have so many just so I can arrest someone if I know I need to."

Other contributors include two series perennials, Joyce Carol Oates and Scott Wolven; well-known crime novelists Robert Ferrigno and Edgar-winner S. J. Rozan; plus Thisbe Nissen, Nathan Oates, Stephen Rhodes, and Melissa VanBeck. All are to be congratulated, along with editors Penzler and Pelecanos and first-line reader Michele Slung, on being part of a great short story anthology regardless of title or genre.

Blood Wedding
M. Schlecht

The Mahfouz family is well-off, well-educated, and well-liked in the picturesque mountain town of Granada in southern Spain. When their beloved Leila Mahfouz turns up murdered, and the primary suspect, a young Muslim named Hassam, commits suicide after unfair police treatment, the racial, political and religious tensions of the community quickly come to a head. Thus begins Blood Wedding, a traditional murder mystery tale with modern commentary on tolerance, contemporary multiethnic identities, and the politics of the war on terrorism.

At the heart of the investigation, and this able new series, is a fittingly 21st century guy, Inspector Max Romero, a diligent cop who loves Scottish football and Spanish poetry in equal measure. Max is a politically correct cop for politically complex times, which he needs to be as part of a special team working closely with Granada's Muslim community, and later an international anti-terrorist group under the American Inspector Linda Jefe Concha. Toss in a few red herrings, a potentially terrorist local "community center," a healthy dash of secrets, a dose of Spanish Civil War history, and some striking poetry from communist hero/poet Federico Garcia Lorca (friend to the likes of Dali and Bunuel in his time), and you have a sense of the kind of literary, culturally-adept storytelling that the husband and wife writing team Jane Brooke and Philip O'Brien have in store for Max Romero and this promising new series.

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

The Mahfouz family is well-off, well-educated, and well-liked in the picturesque mountain town of Granada in southern Spain. When their beloved Leila Mahfouz turns up murdered, and the primary suspect, a young Muslim named Hassam, commits suicide after unfair police treatment, the racial, political and religious tensions of the community quickly come to a head. Thus begins Blood Wedding, a traditional murder mystery tale with modern commentary on tolerance, contemporary multiethnic identities, and the politics of the war on terrorism.

At the heart of the investigation, and this able new series, is a fittingly 21st century guy, Inspector Max Romero, a diligent cop who loves Scottish football and Spanish poetry in equal measure. Max is a politically correct cop for politically complex times, which he needs to be as part of a special team working closely with Granada's Muslim community, and later an international anti-terrorist group under the American Inspector Linda Jefe Concha. Toss in a few red herrings, a potentially terrorist local "community center," a healthy dash of secrets, a dose of Spanish Civil War history, and some striking poetry from communist hero/poet Federico Garcia Lorca (friend to the likes of Dali and Bunuel in his time), and you have a sense of the kind of literary, culturally-adept storytelling that the husband and wife writing team Jane Brooke and Philip O'Brien have in store for Max Romero and this promising new series.

Bones
R. Smith

Few readers need an introduction to Jonathan Kellerman's Alex Delaware books, which began in 1985 and now, 23 novels later, continues with Bones. It's apparent that the author hasn't lost his touch. A series this successful has to have something extra special, and in this case it is the fact that Mr. Kellerman spins one helluva fine tale. Bones is no exception. The body of a young female piano teacher is found in a preserved marsh and while examining the area, the decaying bones of three other female bodies are found, all of whom are minus their right hands. Meanwhile, the contents of a storage bin are auctioned off and the buyer finds a wooden box with a number of dried, polished bones, which prove to be right hand fingers. LAPD Detective Milo Sturgis handles the investigation and brings along his friend Alex, a psychologist, for consultation. The investigation leads to a troubled young man who is house sitting for a wealthy family away on vacation. The son of this family, a piano protege, was being tutored by the murdered teacher. The house sitter as a youth had spent time in jail for the accidental killing of another boy, and this is all that Milo needs to suspect him of the latest crime. Alex isn't as positive and does a little investigating on his own. The suspense builds as more murders occur and the main suspect flees. Misleading tips, meaningless clues, and dead end leads keep Milo, and a new assistant, frustrated, but Alex keeps a cool head and untangles the mess to reach a logical solution. This is a perfect book for the long winter nights ahead.

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

Few readers need an introduction to Jonathan Kellerman's Alex Delaware books, which began in 1985 and now, 23 novels later, continues with Bones. It's apparent that the author hasn't lost his touch. A series this successful has to have something extra special, and in this case it is the fact that Mr. Kellerman spins one helluva fine tale. Bones is no exception. The body of a young female piano teacher is found in a preserved marsh and while examining the area, the decaying bones of three other female bodies are found, all of whom are minus their right hands. Meanwhile, the contents of a storage bin are auctioned off and the buyer finds a wooden box with a number of dried, polished bones, which prove to be right hand fingers. LAPD Detective Milo Sturgis handles the investigation and brings along his friend Alex, a psychologist, for consultation. The investigation leads to a troubled young man who is house sitting for a wealthy family away on vacation. The son of this family, a piano protege, was being tutored by the murdered teacher. The house sitter as a youth had spent time in jail for the accidental killing of another boy, and this is all that Milo needs to suspect him of the latest crime. Alex isn't as positive and does a little investigating on his own. The suspense builds as more murders occur and the main suspect flees. Misleading tips, meaningless clues, and dead end leads keep Milo, and a new assistant, frustrated, but Alex keeps a cool head and untangles the mess to reach a logical solution. This is a perfect book for the long winter nights ahead.

Bright Hair About the Bone
Helen Francini

In this 1920s mystery, amateur archaeologist Laetitia Talbot receives a coded message from her godfather that compels her to join him on a dig in Burgundy, France. However, when she arrives, she finds he has been stabbed to death. Strong-willed Laetitia, recently sent down from Cambridge University, becomes determined to discover who killed her godfather. Guarded from a distance by an ex-army chaplain, she attracts the attention of a local nobleman, whose family harbors an explosive secret that has pre-Christian roots and possibly disastrous political implications.Mystery shares the stage with adventure in this tale, and at times takes a back seat, but through it all Laetitia is a thoroughly fearless and fun heroine. The Celtic civilization and culture that her godfather was exploring makes the setting more exotic, and the many implied connections between the Biblical Mary Magdalene and various pre-Christian goddesses should intrigue anyone with an interest in religious history.

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

In this 1920s mystery, amateur archaeologist Laetitia Talbot receives a coded message from her godfather that compels her to join him on a dig in Burgundy, France. However, when she arrives, she finds he has been stabbed to death. Strong-willed Laetitia, recently sent down from Cambridge University, becomes determined to discover who killed her godfather. Guarded from a distance by an ex-army chaplain, she attracts the attention of a local nobleman, whose family harbors an explosive secret that has pre-Christian roots and possibly disastrous political implications.Mystery shares the stage with adventure in this tale, and at times takes a back seat, but through it all Laetitia is a thoroughly fearless and fun heroine. The Celtic civilization and culture that her godfather was exploring makes the setting more exotic, and the many implied connections between the Biblical Mary Magdalene and various pre-Christian goddesses should intrigue anyone with an interest in religious history.

Company of Liars
Sue Reider

In southern England in 1348, a just and kindly seller of holy relics becomes the de facto leader of a group of itinerants he finds under his care. He leads the band northward through the countryside, attempting to avoid the Black Plague, encountering harsh weather and wary strangers along the way. Throughout their travels, the group seems to be followed by a wolf that bays in the night. This disturbs some of the travelers, who tell stories to distract the group, inadvertently letting slip hidden information about themselves. Some die after telling their secrets and no one is sure if the deaths are murder or suicide.

This epic story makes wonderfully interesting reading. Every one of the multitude of characters--from the rune-casting child to the elderly peddler--is vividly portrayed. Each person is an amalgam of good and evil, with even the most righteous character in the story a liar to herself and others.

Fear ruled the world during the 14th century, when any person was a potential plague carrier. The author's depiction of the tenor of the times is articulate and the details of the era's brutal daily existence are historically accurate. The dark mood is--simply put--stunning. Company of Liars is a most impressive and well-researched book, with an intricate plot and richly drawn, memorable characters.

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

In southern England in 1348, a just and kindly seller of holy relics becomes the de facto leader of a group of itinerants he finds under his care. He leads the band northward through the countryside, attempting to avoid the Black Plague, encountering harsh weather and wary strangers along the way. Throughout their travels, the group seems to be followed by a wolf that bays in the night. This disturbs some of the travelers, who tell stories to distract the group, inadvertently letting slip hidden information about themselves. Some die after telling their secrets and no one is sure if the deaths are murder or suicide.

This epic story makes wonderfully interesting reading. Every one of the multitude of characters--from the rune-casting child to the elderly peddler--is vividly portrayed. Each person is an amalgam of good and evil, with even the most righteous character in the story a liar to herself and others.

Fear ruled the world during the 14th century, when any person was a potential plague carrier. The author's depiction of the tenor of the times is articulate and the details of the era's brutal daily existence are historically accurate. The dark mood is--simply put--stunning. Company of Liars is a most impressive and well-researched book, with an intricate plot and richly drawn, memorable characters.

Cruel Intent
Lynne Maxwell

Judy Jance is simply remarkable. Jance is one of a select few authors able to produce multiple series mysteries that retain a consistent standard of excellence. Whether Jance is writing the J.P. Beaumont series, the Joanna Brady series, or, as in the present instance, the Ali Reynolds series, her books are superb.
In Cruel Intent, Jance's third Ali Reynolds novel, the protagonist is an ex-news anchor who has retired from her high-profile television job and focused her efforts on rehabbing a house she purchased after retreating from L.A. to her home town in Arizona. Construction is moving along apace until the contractor's wife is brutally murdered, and he becomes the prime suspect. Unable to believe that he is guilty, Ali begins her investigation. That takes her into the sordid world of Internet dating and death.Cruel Intent is notable for its local color, winning characters and clever plot line. As always, Jance perfectly captures the arid climate and shifting culture of Arizona, her favorite venue. In Ali, she presents a sympathetic character who is trying to reshape her life in a way that allows her to prosper psychologically. And the plot? It will keep you riveted to the end. This third series entry bodes well for future efforts. I can't wait to see what Ali gets into next.

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

Judy Jance is simply remarkable. Jance is one of a select few authors able to produce multiple series mysteries that retain a consistent standard of excellence. Whether Jance is writing the J.P. Beaumont series, the Joanna Brady series, or, as in the present instance, the Ali Reynolds series, her books are superb.
In Cruel Intent, Jance's third Ali Reynolds novel, the protagonist is an ex-news anchor who has retired from her high-profile television job and focused her efforts on rehabbing a house she purchased after retreating from L.A. to her home town in Arizona. Construction is moving along apace until the contractor's wife is brutally murdered, and he becomes the prime suspect. Unable to believe that he is guilty, Ali begins her investigation. That takes her into the sordid world of Internet dating and death.Cruel Intent is notable for its local color, winning characters and clever plot line. As always, Jance perfectly captures the arid climate and shifting culture of Arizona, her favorite venue. In Ali, she presents a sympathetic character who is trying to reshape her life in a way that allows her to prosper psychologically. And the plot? It will keep you riveted to the end. This third series entry bodes well for future efforts. I can't wait to see what Ali gets into next.

Darwin's Nightmare
Kevin Burton Smith

At one point in Mike Knowles' raw, savage crime yarn, his young anti-hero Wilson confesses he isn't "one of the good guys." No kidding. Before Darwin's Nightmare has run its course, Wilson will have dished out--and received--a world of hurt. Not that he enjoys it particularly, but fans of Richard Stark and Andrew Vacchs will immediately recognize his cold-blooded pragmatism and his brass-knuckled approach to problem solving. Wilson is a fixer, a freelance criminal, a professional go-between, a thug for hire and the offspring of a pair of thieves. But even with an office downtown, he's little more than a rumor to most of the denizens of the criminal netherworld of Hamilton, the tough, gritty steel town that lurks like a waiting beast on the Canadian side of Lake Ontario, just outside the bright lights of clean, shiny Toronto. Wilson survives by keeping to the shadows, doing "special jobs" on the sly for people like local Hamilton crime lord Paolo Donati. But when what seems like a fairly routine gig--snatching a bag from some amateur extortionists at the local airport blows up in his face, Wilson is suddenly on everyone's radar and in everyone's sights. The action is as straight, hard and fast and the characters are as sharply etched as this stuff gets. Knowles displays considerable storytelling chops here as well, deliberately interrupting the roaring drive of the narrative by fleshing it out with short bitter snapshots of Wilson's dysfunctional childhood being raised by career criminals. The flashbacks not only fill out the sparse narrative and give it room to breathe, but help ratchet up the tension to the breaking point. Even so, the whole thing still clocks in at less than 200 pages; as clean and tight a debut as I've seen recently. Even better is that the violence never seems gratuitous or cartoonish, no mean feat in today's land of neo-noir where too often excess means success. The sure hand and utterly convincing tone displayed by the first time author, a school teacher, bodes well for not just him and Canadian crime writing, but for fans of hardboiled fiction everywhere. Wilson himself may not be one of the good guys, but I'm betting Knowles will be. Keep an eye on him.

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

At one point in Mike Knowles' raw, savage crime yarn, his young anti-hero Wilson confesses he isn't "one of the good guys." No kidding. Before Darwin's Nightmare has run its course, Wilson will have dished out--and received--a world of hurt. Not that he enjoys it particularly, but fans of Richard Stark and Andrew Vacchs will immediately recognize his cold-blooded pragmatism and his brass-knuckled approach to problem solving. Wilson is a fixer, a freelance criminal, a professional go-between, a thug for hire and the offspring of a pair of thieves. But even with an office downtown, he's little more than a rumor to most of the denizens of the criminal netherworld of Hamilton, the tough, gritty steel town that lurks like a waiting beast on the Canadian side of Lake Ontario, just outside the bright lights of clean, shiny Toronto. Wilson survives by keeping to the shadows, doing "special jobs" on the sly for people like local Hamilton crime lord Paolo Donati. But when what seems like a fairly routine gig--snatching a bag from some amateur extortionists at the local airport blows up in his face, Wilson is suddenly on everyone's radar and in everyone's sights. The action is as straight, hard and fast and the characters are as sharply etched as this stuff gets. Knowles displays considerable storytelling chops here as well, deliberately interrupting the roaring drive of the narrative by fleshing it out with short bitter snapshots of Wilson's dysfunctional childhood being raised by career criminals. The flashbacks not only fill out the sparse narrative and give it room to breathe, but help ratchet up the tension to the breaking point. Even so, the whole thing still clocks in at less than 200 pages; as clean and tight a debut as I've seen recently. Even better is that the violence never seems gratuitous or cartoonish, no mean feat in today's land of neo-noir where too often excess means success. The sure hand and utterly convincing tone displayed by the first time author, a school teacher, bodes well for not just him and Canadian crime writing, but for fans of hardboiled fiction everywhere. Wilson himself may not be one of the good guys, but I'm betting Knowles will be. Keep an eye on him.

Echoes From the Dead
Betty Webb

Mysteries set in the frigid northlands tend to be glummer than those set in the balmy south, and Johan Theorin's superb Echoes from the Dead is no exception. Winner of Sweden's Best First Crime Novel Award, the novel is set on a windswept Swedish island where Julia, a middle-aged woman sunk in alcoholism and self-pity, still mourns the young son who vanished into the mist two decades earlier. Julia believes that Jens is still alive. The authorities are certain he drowned. The townsfolk whisper that he was kidnapped and murdered by Nils Kant, the island's infamous psychopathic killer.

Then one day Julia's estranged father receives a battered child's shoe in the mail--the shoe Jens was wearing when he disappeared. Gerlof, a retired sea captain living in a nursing home, decides to re-examine the still-open case in hopes of bringing the child's body home for burial. This moody, brilliant novel presents two unlikely detectives: Julia, the self-deluded alcoholic, and Gerlof, a man so infirm that he can barely walk across a room. Readers will move from transfixed disbelief to fervent hope as this Don Quixote/Sancho Panza-pair risk what is left of their troubled lives in search of a truth that might destroy them.

Theorin's language and imagery are gorgeous, especially when detailing Gerlof's memories of his seafaring life with its ivory sails silhouetted against blue skies. And the author's sure-footed descent into a flawed mother's grieving soul is nothing short of a dark miracle.

Super User
2010-04-25 16:16:03

Mysteries set in the frigid northlands tend to be glummer than those set in the balmy south, and Johan Theorin's superb Echoes from the Dead is no exception. Winner of Sweden's Best First Crime Novel Award, the novel is set on a windswept Swedish island where Julia, a middle-aged woman sunk in alcoholism and self-pity, still mourns the young son who vanished into the mist two decades earlier. Julia believes that Jens is still alive. The authorities are certain he drowned. The townsfolk whisper that he was kidnapped and murdered by Nils Kant, the island's infamous psychopathic killer.

Then one day Julia's estranged father receives a battered child's shoe in the mail--the shoe Jens was wearing when he disappeared. Gerlof, a retired sea captain living in a nursing home, decides to re-examine the still-open case in hopes of bringing the child's body home for burial. This moody, brilliant novel presents two unlikely detectives: Julia, the self-deluded alcoholic, and Gerlof, a man so infirm that he can barely walk across a room. Readers will move from transfixed disbelief to fervent hope as this Don Quixote/Sancho Panza-pair risk what is left of their troubled lives in search of a truth that might destroy them.

Theorin's language and imagery are gorgeous, especially when detailing Gerlof's memories of his seafaring life with its ivory sails silhouetted against blue skies. And the author's sure-footed descent into a flawed mother's grieving soul is nothing short of a dark miracle.

Face of a Killer
Barbara Fister

On the night Sidney Fitzpatrick is marking the 20th anniversary of her father's murder with a bottle of bourbon, she's called in to work. As a forensic artist for the FBI, her talents are needed to help a rape victim identify her attacker. Sydney carefully teases out descriptive details that give the assailant a face, and soon she and a colleague are on the trail of a violent criminal.

Sydney is equally determined to face down the man who is scheduled to be executed for her father's murder; but when they finally meet, he mentions details that make her think he may be innocent after all. Her uncertainty increases when a photograph and some bank records arrive in the mail and turn her world upside down. It seems her father was not the man she thought--and someone's determination to cover up her father's past puts Sydney's future in danger.

Burcell has created an appealing heroine snared in a complex web of conspiracy. Drawn from the real-life money-laundering scandal surrounding the Bank of Credit and Commerce International's ties to terrorists, narcotics dealers, and covert government operations, Burcell explores themes of corruption and greed. This book is anchored in authenticity, thanks to the author's extensive experience as a police officer and forensic artist. Fans of her Kate Gillespie mysteries will welcome this first entry in a new series.

Super User
2010-04-25 16:16:03

On the night Sidney Fitzpatrick is marking the 20th anniversary of her father's murder with a bottle of bourbon, she's called in to work. As a forensic artist for the FBI, her talents are needed to help a rape victim identify her attacker. Sydney carefully teases out descriptive details that give the assailant a face, and soon she and a colleague are on the trail of a violent criminal.

Sydney is equally determined to face down the man who is scheduled to be executed for her father's murder; but when they finally meet, he mentions details that make her think he may be innocent after all. Her uncertainty increases when a photograph and some bank records arrive in the mail and turn her world upside down. It seems her father was not the man she thought--and someone's determination to cover up her father's past puts Sydney's future in danger.

Burcell has created an appealing heroine snared in a complex web of conspiracy. Drawn from the real-life money-laundering scandal surrounding the Bank of Credit and Commerce International's ties to terrorists, narcotics dealers, and covert government operations, Burcell explores themes of corruption and greed. This book is anchored in authenticity, thanks to the author's extensive experience as a police officer and forensic artist. Fans of her Kate Gillespie mysteries will welcome this first entry in a new series.

Fidali's Way
M. Schlecht

Western backpackers and Islamic fundamentalists meet in this literary thriller set in the mountainous tribal areas of Pakistan. Nick Sunder is an American dropout from a successful law career. While in South Asia, he falls in with a beautiful French girl, Yvette, a fellow traveler. The only problem is her on-and-off boyfriend, Simon, making for a three person relationship that tests Nick's open-mindedness.

Conditions on the ground change quickly, however, when Yvette turns up at the morgue. Suddenly Nick's biggest problem is no longer where to score premium hashish. After he is dragged into a fetid cell for questioning by the police, Nick decides to test his luck and make an escape from the country through the tribal areas, a place where foreigners are not exactly welcome.

In this exciting and emotional tale, author George Mastras does not portray Pakistan as a mere exotic locale. In the first half of the novel, the narrative alternates between Nick's unenviable situation in Peshawar, and the budding romance between Aysha and Kazim, two teenagers in the mountain village of Gilkamosh. Kazim is recruited into the muhajideen, but Aysha wants to become a doctor. These worlds inevitably collide as Nick makes his escape to India.

Fidali's Way is a smart, pulse-quickening novel with a true feel for everyday street life in South Asia. Although its politics are sometimes heavy-handed--"Were not issues like secession from India, equal rights for Muslims, and union with fellow Kashmiris across the Line of Control more crucial than keeping women locked up in their homes?"--readers will appreciate the local color while remaining riveted to their seats.

Super User
2010-04-25 16:16:03

Western backpackers and Islamic fundamentalists meet in this literary thriller set in the mountainous tribal areas of Pakistan. Nick Sunder is an American dropout from a successful law career. While in South Asia, he falls in with a beautiful French girl, Yvette, a fellow traveler. The only problem is her on-and-off boyfriend, Simon, making for a three person relationship that tests Nick's open-mindedness.

Conditions on the ground change quickly, however, when Yvette turns up at the morgue. Suddenly Nick's biggest problem is no longer where to score premium hashish. After he is dragged into a fetid cell for questioning by the police, Nick decides to test his luck and make an escape from the country through the tribal areas, a place where foreigners are not exactly welcome.

In this exciting and emotional tale, author George Mastras does not portray Pakistan as a mere exotic locale. In the first half of the novel, the narrative alternates between Nick's unenviable situation in Peshawar, and the budding romance between Aysha and Kazim, two teenagers in the mountain village of Gilkamosh. Kazim is recruited into the muhajideen, but Aysha wants to become a doctor. These worlds inevitably collide as Nick makes his escape to India.

Fidali's Way is a smart, pulse-quickening novel with a true feel for everyday street life in South Asia. Although its politics are sometimes heavy-handed--"Were not issues like secession from India, equal rights for Muslims, and union with fellow Kashmiris across the Line of Control more crucial than keeping women locked up in their homes?"--readers will appreciate the local color while remaining riveted to their seats.

Fleece Navidad
Lynne Maxwell

A recent spate of scrapbooking, quilting, and antiquing mysteries are appearing with regularity, but Maggie Sefton's knitting mysteries are among the most consistently entertaining of these crafting cozies. In Fleece Navidad, Sefton's most recent addition to the series, proprietor Kelly Flynn of the House of Lambspun knitting shop gears up for the holiday rush by knitting, with the assistance of her friends, popular Christmas capes for sale in the store. When a new member with a spurious past purchases a cape and joins the knitting circle, anomalies begin popping up, culminating, of course, in murder. Fortunately, Kelly exercises her customary resourcefulness to solve the case in a tale that will keep readers guessing to the end. Initially, the cozy Christmas setting may appear to be at odds with the surrounding criminal activity, but in the end it is perfect for creating a warm, celebratory holiday atmosphere that readers will relish.
Sefton's series is most noteworthy for her successful, inviting characterization of Kelly and friends. Readers may readily feel as though they could drop in at the House of Lambspun and join its cozy knitting circle for excellent camaraderie and conversation. For a pleasant, upbeat read, Fleece Navidad is ideal, and Sefton's accompanying recipes and knitting patterns add a delectable finishing touch. Needles up!

Super User
2010-04-25 16:16:03

A recent spate of scrapbooking, quilting, and antiquing mysteries are appearing with regularity, but Maggie Sefton's knitting mysteries are among the most consistently entertaining of these crafting cozies. In Fleece Navidad, Sefton's most recent addition to the series, proprietor Kelly Flynn of the House of Lambspun knitting shop gears up for the holiday rush by knitting, with the assistance of her friends, popular Christmas capes for sale in the store. When a new member with a spurious past purchases a cape and joins the knitting circle, anomalies begin popping up, culminating, of course, in murder. Fortunately, Kelly exercises her customary resourcefulness to solve the case in a tale that will keep readers guessing to the end. Initially, the cozy Christmas setting may appear to be at odds with the surrounding criminal activity, but in the end it is perfect for creating a warm, celebratory holiday atmosphere that readers will relish.
Sefton's series is most noteworthy for her successful, inviting characterization of Kelly and friends. Readers may readily feel as though they could drop in at the House of Lambspun and join its cozy knitting circle for excellent camaraderie and conversation. For a pleasant, upbeat read, Fleece Navidad is ideal, and Sefton's accompanying recipes and knitting patterns add a delectable finishing touch. Needles up!

Flesh House
Hank Wagner

Scotsman Detective Sergeant Logan MacRae is back for his fourth outing, this time trying to track down The Flesher, a serial killer who has been quiet for more than two decades, until recently embarking on a killing spree that gets national attention--the flesh of several of his known victims has entered the food chain, and is being sold in butcher shops across the country. Under intense pressure to bring the killer down, the intrepid MacRae embarks on an investigation, which could either make or break his career, all the while dealing with difficult superiors, quirky colleagues, and a deteriorating personal life.

A winning mix of action, humor, and horror, Flesh House combines all the best elements of three series: Ed McBain's 87th Precinct books, Michael Slade's Section X novels, and Ian Rankin's tales featuring the complex Inspector Rebus. MacRae is the perfect everyman hero, a man who admirably soldiers on despite the myriad obstacles thrown in his path, while solving tangential cases along the way almost as an afterthought. What really makes this book work so well, however, is MacBride's sly humor, evidenced by the inclusion of clever tabloid journalism clips, and by several laugh out loud lines of dialogue, which pop up at the strangest, but in hindsight, most welcome times, temporarily easing the tension the author has so craftily built. The sigh of relief you expel at these moments makes you realize just how expertly MacRae has manipulated your emotions.

Super User
2010-04-25 16:16:03

Scotsman Detective Sergeant Logan MacRae is back for his fourth outing, this time trying to track down The Flesher, a serial killer who has been quiet for more than two decades, until recently embarking on a killing spree that gets national attention--the flesh of several of his known victims has entered the food chain, and is being sold in butcher shops across the country. Under intense pressure to bring the killer down, the intrepid MacRae embarks on an investigation, which could either make or break his career, all the while dealing with difficult superiors, quirky colleagues, and a deteriorating personal life.

A winning mix of action, humor, and horror, Flesh House combines all the best elements of three series: Ed McBain's 87th Precinct books, Michael Slade's Section X novels, and Ian Rankin's tales featuring the complex Inspector Rebus. MacRae is the perfect everyman hero, a man who admirably soldiers on despite the myriad obstacles thrown in his path, while solving tangential cases along the way almost as an afterthought. What really makes this book work so well, however, is MacBride's sly humor, evidenced by the inclusion of clever tabloid journalism clips, and by several laugh out loud lines of dialogue, which pop up at the strangest, but in hindsight, most welcome times, temporarily easing the tension the author has so craftily built. The sigh of relief you expel at these moments makes you realize just how expertly MacRae has manipulated your emotions.

Frame Work
Verna Suit

New PhD Sarah Brandau is on her way to a Prague literary conference to deliver a paper and takes along her grandmother Edith. The two women begin their Czech visit by browsing in an antique shop and buying a small landscape painting in a lovely old frame. They soon discover what appears to be a far more valuable picture underneath the first. When the frame is stolen from their room and the clerk who sold them the picture is found dead, Sarah and Edith are warned that their own lives are in danger too. An elderly art expert who befriends Edith and a reporter who courts Sarah stay close and offer advice, but is either one what he appears?

Frame Work provides a nice travelogue of Prague with lots of history concerning Czechoslovakia, WWII, and the Nazi looting of art treasures. The author traces in fascinating detail the subsequent path that looted art takes through the international collecting world. The predictable, uncomplicated story isn't burdened with believability concerns or character depth. Publisher Avalon's goal of providing "wholesome adult fiction suitable for family reading" also ensures that Frame Work is free of any objectionable swear words or sex scenes. Readers who prefer a bit more edge may want to give this book a pass, but Frame Work might be just the ticket for those wanting a quick read, some interesting background on stolen art, and an exciting conclusion.

Super User
2010-04-25 16:16:03

New PhD Sarah Brandau is on her way to a Prague literary conference to deliver a paper and takes along her grandmother Edith. The two women begin their Czech visit by browsing in an antique shop and buying a small landscape painting in a lovely old frame. They soon discover what appears to be a far more valuable picture underneath the first. When the frame is stolen from their room and the clerk who sold them the picture is found dead, Sarah and Edith are warned that their own lives are in danger too. An elderly art expert who befriends Edith and a reporter who courts Sarah stay close and offer advice, but is either one what he appears?

Frame Work provides a nice travelogue of Prague with lots of history concerning Czechoslovakia, WWII, and the Nazi looting of art treasures. The author traces in fascinating detail the subsequent path that looted art takes through the international collecting world. The predictable, uncomplicated story isn't burdened with believability concerns or character depth. Publisher Avalon's goal of providing "wholesome adult fiction suitable for family reading" also ensures that Frame Work is free of any objectionable swear words or sex scenes. Readers who prefer a bit more edge may want to give this book a pass, but Frame Work might be just the ticket for those wanting a quick read, some interesting background on stolen art, and an exciting conclusion.

Frankly, My Dear, I'm Dead
Sue Emmons

Gone With the Wind fans will cozy up to this tale rooted in Margaret Mitchell's bestseller. It's the inaugural literary tour for the 50-something, recently divorced Delilah Dickinson and her new literary travel agency. Murder is the last thing she expects when taking her group for an overnight stay at an imitation-Tara Plantation, where actors recreate the Hollywood actors recreating the novel's characters. But murder she finds when the Rhett Butler impersonator, who doubles as the drama director at a nearby college, is fatally stabbed. When Dickinson's dimwitted son-in-law becomes the prime suspect and her two twin teenage nieces claim the victim made improper advances toward them, she becomes embroiled in the investigation. Another murder follows in this lively cozy, which serves up Old South atmosphere and accents as sure as grits come with breakfast. It's pleasant to imagine all the future tours with a twist of mystery and famous Southern authors and books which surely await readers of this series debut.

Super User
2010-04-25 16:16:03

Gone With the Wind fans will cozy up to this tale rooted in Margaret Mitchell's bestseller. It's the inaugural literary tour for the 50-something, recently divorced Delilah Dickinson and her new literary travel agency. Murder is the last thing she expects when taking her group for an overnight stay at an imitation-Tara Plantation, where actors recreate the Hollywood actors recreating the novel's characters. But murder she finds when the Rhett Butler impersonator, who doubles as the drama director at a nearby college, is fatally stabbed. When Dickinson's dimwitted son-in-law becomes the prime suspect and her two twin teenage nieces claim the victim made improper advances toward them, she becomes embroiled in the investigation. Another murder follows in this lively cozy, which serves up Old South atmosphere and accents as sure as grits come with breakfast. It's pleasant to imagine all the future tours with a twist of mystery and famous Southern authors and books which surely await readers of this series debut.

Hardly Knew Her
Verna Suit

Hardly Knew Her is a virtuoso collection of 16 stories about the secret motivations of driven women and girls by the immensely talented Laura Lippman. The stories mostly take place in and around Baltimore, with several settings familiar to Lippman's regular readers. Three feature PI Tess Monaghan, including a delightful "journalist's" profile of Tess. Two others center on prostitute Heloise Lewis who lives in the suburbs and finds herself threatened with being "outed" when she runs into a client at her son's soccer game. Both the Anthony-winning title story "Hardly Knew Her" and the truly frightening "The Crack Cocaine Diet" explore a favorite theme of Lippman's: Young people who commit monstrous adult crimes for adolescent reasons.

These stories are strong and unique, and packed with action and suspense. As George Pelecanos points out in his introduction, Lippman "is not afraid of plot." In some, like "Easy As A-B-C", the action is as clear and unambiguous as the title suggests, while others like "Black-Eyed Susan" describe a child's observations and leave it to the reader to speculate on what goes down. Killers speak in many different voices as they recount rage, frustration, and revenge carried out in cold, calculating ways. Through dialogue simmering with subtle meaning and casual statements that speak volumes, this excellent collection of stories shows warped minds arriving at the only solutions to personal dilemmas that they see possible.

Super User
2010-04-25 16:16:03

Hardly Knew Her is a virtuoso collection of 16 stories about the secret motivations of driven women and girls by the immensely talented Laura Lippman. The stories mostly take place in and around Baltimore, with several settings familiar to Lippman's regular readers. Three feature PI Tess Monaghan, including a delightful "journalist's" profile of Tess. Two others center on prostitute Heloise Lewis who lives in the suburbs and finds herself threatened with being "outed" when she runs into a client at her son's soccer game. Both the Anthony-winning title story "Hardly Knew Her" and the truly frightening "The Crack Cocaine Diet" explore a favorite theme of Lippman's: Young people who commit monstrous adult crimes for adolescent reasons.

These stories are strong and unique, and packed with action and suspense. As George Pelecanos points out in his introduction, Lippman "is not afraid of plot." In some, like "Easy As A-B-C", the action is as clear and unambiguous as the title suggests, while others like "Black-Eyed Susan" describe a child's observations and leave it to the reader to speculate on what goes down. Killers speak in many different voices as they recount rage, frustration, and revenge carried out in cold, calculating ways. Through dialogue simmering with subtle meaning and casual statements that speak volumes, this excellent collection of stories shows warped minds arriving at the only solutions to personal dilemmas that they see possible.