Mighty Old Bones
Lynne Maxwell

Mighty Old Bones is the second Thistle and Twigg mystery, following last year's eponymous Thistle and Twigg. Lest you think that Saums has written a mystery with a "green" theme, let me assure you that this is not the case. In fact, Thistle and Twigg are the surnames of two unlikely friends, Jane Thistle and Phoebe Twigg. Jane Thistle is a reserved Brit who has landed in Tullulah, Alabama, after a globe-trotting life as the wife of a Colonel, now deceased. In addition to being an amateur archeologist, Jane is also a skilled markswoman. Most incongruous of all, though, she is also a former spy.

Retired librarian Phoebe Twigg, on the other hand, is a lifelong resident of Tullulah. Although she's a confirmed homebody, the exuberant Phoebe has a late-blooming yen for adventure. When she and Jane become friends during an investigation, Phoebe's life takes a turn for the exciting as she encounters bodies and assists in solving murders. Under Jane's tutelage, she even develops a passion for guns. When Jane and Phoebe stumble upon "mighty old bones" buried on Jane's property, the action begins as outsiders vie for access to what might be a valuable archaeological find.

Add to all this a supernatural element, since Jane can see and take counsel from ghosts, and you have the makings of a unique mystery. Jane and Phoebe alternate chapters, recounting the book's events from their own perspectives. All told, then, Mighty Old Bones is a mighty interesting novel.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-25 16:02:23

Mighty Old Bones is the second Thistle and Twigg mystery, following last year's eponymous Thistle and Twigg. Lest you think that Saums has written a mystery with a "green" theme, let me assure you that this is not the case. In fact, Thistle and Twigg are the surnames of two unlikely friends, Jane Thistle and Phoebe Twigg. Jane Thistle is a reserved Brit who has landed in Tullulah, Alabama, after a globe-trotting life as the wife of a Colonel, now deceased. In addition to being an amateur archeologist, Jane is also a skilled markswoman. Most incongruous of all, though, she is also a former spy.

Retired librarian Phoebe Twigg, on the other hand, is a lifelong resident of Tullulah. Although she's a confirmed homebody, the exuberant Phoebe has a late-blooming yen for adventure. When she and Jane become friends during an investigation, Phoebe's life takes a turn for the exciting as she encounters bodies and assists in solving murders. Under Jane's tutelage, she even develops a passion for guns. When Jane and Phoebe stumble upon "mighty old bones" buried on Jane's property, the action begins as outsiders vie for access to what might be a valuable archaeological find.

Add to all this a supernatural element, since Jane can see and take counsel from ghosts, and you have the makings of a unique mystery. Jane and Phoebe alternate chapters, recounting the book's events from their own perspectives. All told, then, Mighty Old Bones is a mighty interesting novel.

Murder at the Bad Girl's Bar and Grill
Lynne Maxwell

Shaye Areheart Books, June 2008, $23.00This book isn't for everyone, but if you're a fan of zany postmodern fiction, you'll love N.M. Kelby's wildly imaginative plot and narrative style. In fact, not since Thomas Pynchon have I encountered such manically humorous storytelling. Take, for instance, the aptly named Brian Wilson, a security guard in the fictional Florida town Laguna Key. When, within the opening pages, Wilson hears vultures hissing as they feed on carrion, he investigates and finds himself in the thick of the vulture feast: "...Wilson flinched and the other birds began, again, their hissing. Spat at him. Bits of undigested flesh covered his shirt, turned the cool morning air acid...And so Wilson did the only thing that a man in his position could do. He sang 'Surfer Girl.'" And this is just the first example of Kelby's twisted genius, combining the macabre with the incongruous.

In truth, it's hard to tell what this book is about, but that's part of the fun. My best guess is that it unravels Brian Wilson's quixotic quest to solve several murders occurring in the vicinity of the Bad Girl's Bar and Grill.

In addition to Brian Wilson, it features wacky characters such as Danni, owner of the bar and former "Queen of Scream," having starred in a handful of dreadful horror movies. Then there's Buddy, a Barry Manilow imitator who ends up being murdered. And Buddy has a shih-tzu named Mandy. I won't even enumerate the increasingly bizarre cast of characters. Suffice it to say, they fully live up to the standards Kelby sets from the beginning.

All told, Murder at the Bad Girl's Bar and Grill defies description, even as it demands experience. To see for yourself, belly up to the bar and check out this psychedelic whirl of a mystery.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-25 16:07:34

Shaye Areheart Books, June 2008, $23.00This book isn't for everyone, but if you're a fan of zany postmodern fiction, you'll love N.M. Kelby's wildly imaginative plot and narrative style. In fact, not since Thomas Pynchon have I encountered such manically humorous storytelling. Take, for instance, the aptly named Brian Wilson, a security guard in the fictional Florida town Laguna Key. When, within the opening pages, Wilson hears vultures hissing as they feed on carrion, he investigates and finds himself in the thick of the vulture feast: "...Wilson flinched and the other birds began, again, their hissing. Spat at him. Bits of undigested flesh covered his shirt, turned the cool morning air acid...And so Wilson did the only thing that a man in his position could do. He sang 'Surfer Girl.'" And this is just the first example of Kelby's twisted genius, combining the macabre with the incongruous.

In truth, it's hard to tell what this book is about, but that's part of the fun. My best guess is that it unravels Brian Wilson's quixotic quest to solve several murders occurring in the vicinity of the Bad Girl's Bar and Grill.

In addition to Brian Wilson, it features wacky characters such as Danni, owner of the bar and former "Queen of Scream," having starred in a handful of dreadful horror movies. Then there's Buddy, a Barry Manilow imitator who ends up being murdered. And Buddy has a shih-tzu named Mandy. I won't even enumerate the increasingly bizarre cast of characters. Suffice it to say, they fully live up to the standards Kelby sets from the beginning.

All told, Murder at the Bad Girl's Bar and Grill defies description, even as it demands experience. To see for yourself, belly up to the bar and check out this psychedelic whirl of a mystery.

Murder at the Hotel Cinema
Helen Francini

At the grand opening of Los Angeles' five-star Hotel Cinema, a young movie star plunges to her death in the hotel pool. Stab wounds on her body prove that this death was no drowning accident. With the press and paparazzi at his doorstep, Trevor Lambert, the Canadian-born general manager, has to save the reputation of the hotel and prevent any other guests from being murdered. On top of everything, Trevor is also coming to terms with the airplane accident that killed the woman he wanted to marry.

Murder at the Hotel Cinema brings together a host of hilarious Tinseltown caricatures: a grieving actor boyfriend, a dragon of a personal assistant, and a police detective with dreams of stardom. Chief among the Hotel Cinema's equally eccentric staff are hotel owner Tony Cavalli, a star-struck Italian-American gangster who insists on staffing his property with a seemingly endless supply of gum-chewing relatives from Brooklyn, a celebrity-phobic sales manager, two front desk clerks who insist on addressing their manager as "Treva," and a dedicated chief engineer who may or may not have something shady in his past.

Author Craig, an ex-general manager himself, delivers in this comedic summer mystery. Take Murder at the Hotel Cinema with you on vacation for a rainy day, and you may not even notice when it rains.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-25 16:07:34

At the grand opening of Los Angeles' five-star Hotel Cinema, a young movie star plunges to her death in the hotel pool. Stab wounds on her body prove that this death was no drowning accident. With the press and paparazzi at his doorstep, Trevor Lambert, the Canadian-born general manager, has to save the reputation of the hotel and prevent any other guests from being murdered. On top of everything, Trevor is also coming to terms with the airplane accident that killed the woman he wanted to marry.

Murder at the Hotel Cinema brings together a host of hilarious Tinseltown caricatures: a grieving actor boyfriend, a dragon of a personal assistant, and a police detective with dreams of stardom. Chief among the Hotel Cinema's equally eccentric staff are hotel owner Tony Cavalli, a star-struck Italian-American gangster who insists on staffing his property with a seemingly endless supply of gum-chewing relatives from Brooklyn, a celebrity-phobic sales manager, two front desk clerks who insist on addressing their manager as "Treva," and a dedicated chief engineer who may or may not have something shady in his past.

Author Craig, an ex-general manager himself, delivers in this comedic summer mystery. Take Murder at the Hotel Cinema with you on vacation for a rainy day, and you may not even notice when it rains.

Not in the Flesh
Dianne Day

The versatile and prolific Ruth Rendell gives us Chief Inspector Wexford in top form in this, his 21st mystery. This time he is drawn away from home territory in Kingsmarkham to the nearby village of Flagford, where a truffle-hunting dog has sniffed out human bones in Old Grimble's Field. The bones, it seems, have been there for the 11 years since Old Grimble died and left the place to his stepson, an unpleasant heir who wanted to tear down the cottage and build four houses--until the eccentric, mostly elderly neighbors stopped him. A murder is presumed, but who was it, and who did it? Wexford turns the investigation over to the well-honed team of police officers readers have come to know.

The point is not so much the horror of the crime, but a fascination with characters and milieu, especially the impact of the 21st century on the village. Reginald Wexford is an unusual police protagonist: he has few discernible bad habits, likes his work, and loves his wife. Readers, particularly we who have grown older along with Wexford, may be amused by his Sergeant Hannah's chiding of certain out-of-date attitudes, but Wexford tries. In a subplot concerning genital mutilation of Somali emigrant girls, he tries very hard indeed. He also prods his team to a successful conclusion of the main crime with characteristic laidback, yet relentless style. This is, as ever, a most enjoyable read.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-25 16:07:34

The versatile and prolific Ruth Rendell gives us Chief Inspector Wexford in top form in this, his 21st mystery. This time he is drawn away from home territory in Kingsmarkham to the nearby village of Flagford, where a truffle-hunting dog has sniffed out human bones in Old Grimble's Field. The bones, it seems, have been there for the 11 years since Old Grimble died and left the place to his stepson, an unpleasant heir who wanted to tear down the cottage and build four houses--until the eccentric, mostly elderly neighbors stopped him. A murder is presumed, but who was it, and who did it? Wexford turns the investigation over to the well-honed team of police officers readers have come to know.

The point is not so much the horror of the crime, but a fascination with characters and milieu, especially the impact of the 21st century on the village. Reginald Wexford is an unusual police protagonist: he has few discernible bad habits, likes his work, and loves his wife. Readers, particularly we who have grown older along with Wexford, may be amused by his Sergeant Hannah's chiding of certain out-of-date attitudes, but Wexford tries. In a subplot concerning genital mutilation of Somali emigrant girls, he tries very hard indeed. He also prods his team to a successful conclusion of the main crime with characteristic laidback, yet relentless style. This is, as ever, a most enjoyable read.

Nothing to Lose
Verna Suit

As itinerant ex-marine MP Jack Reacher travels the country, he passes through Hope, Colorado, and on a whim detours to Hope's neighboring town, Despair. Where Hope is pretty and welcoming, Despair is dowdy, gloomy, and throws strangers out of town. But the people of Despair make a grave mistake when they throw out Jack Reacher. He's "a large stranger with nothing to lose," and hates turning back. Soon Reacher is investigating the huge metal recycling plant that dominates the town, and the town boss who owns Despair and all its residents.

Nothing to Lose is Child's 12th Jack Reacher thriller and will be warmly welcomed by Reacher's many fans. Physically Reacher's in his usual fine form, "a spectacular mesomorph" always ready for action and always in control. He is refreshingly unfettered. He makes his own rules and never hesitates to do whatever's necessary. Fortunately for the world and righteous readers, he's morally on the side of good. When an unexplained military guard unit stationed nearby suggests that Despair's sinister forces have something shady to do with the Iraq War, Reacher is there to put the world back on the right path. The excitement in Nothing to Lose never lets up. Bones will break and worse before he's done, but with Reacher on the case we know things will turn out fine.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-25 16:07:34

As itinerant ex-marine MP Jack Reacher travels the country, he passes through Hope, Colorado, and on a whim detours to Hope's neighboring town, Despair. Where Hope is pretty and welcoming, Despair is dowdy, gloomy, and throws strangers out of town. But the people of Despair make a grave mistake when they throw out Jack Reacher. He's "a large stranger with nothing to lose," and hates turning back. Soon Reacher is investigating the huge metal recycling plant that dominates the town, and the town boss who owns Despair and all its residents.

Nothing to Lose is Child's 12th Jack Reacher thriller and will be warmly welcomed by Reacher's many fans. Physically Reacher's in his usual fine form, "a spectacular mesomorph" always ready for action and always in control. He is refreshingly unfettered. He makes his own rules and never hesitates to do whatever's necessary. Fortunately for the world and righteous readers, he's morally on the side of good. When an unexplained military guard unit stationed nearby suggests that Despair's sinister forces have something shady to do with the Iraq War, Reacher is there to put the world back on the right path. The excitement in Nothing to Lose never lets up. Bones will break and worse before he's done, but with Reacher on the case we know things will turn out fine.

Politics Noir: Dark Tales From
Kevin Burton Smith

Wouldn't you know it? I'd just wrapped up my column on the PI genre and politics when this one comes winging in over the transom, fangs bared. The corridors of power, it turns out, are even nastier than Chandler's fabled mean streets in Gary Phillips' fierce new collection of politically-charged hardboiled and noir tales.

This book is about as in your face as it gets, an unapologetic no-holds-barred slice of venom aimed at the powers that be and the corruption and ideological treachery and unbounded ambition that is.

To be sure, a lot of these relentlessly black-hearted stories have nothing to do with the current administration per se, and editor Phillips' attempts at a fair and balanced tone in his introduction are admirable--if not always completely convincing. The actual stories (including the big guy's own "Swift Boats for Jesus") make it pretty clear which side of the line most of these writers are coming from--and are all the more powerful for it. Contributors include Mike Davis, Darrell James, John Shannon (whose "The Legend of Bayboy and the Mexican Surfer" offers a tantalizing suggestion of what his next Jack Liffey novel may entail), Robert Greer, Twist Phelan, Ken Wishnia, Pete Hautman and Sujata Massey, and there isn't a dud in the bunch. I mean, even Nixon and J. Edgar come back to haunt us.

This is primo stuff, angry and pissed off, its bleak cynicism and impotent despair perhaps best summed up by a character in Ken Bruen's heartbreaking contribution, "Dead Right": "Call it politics. I call it shite." I call the entire collection an essential read. Try to get it done before November.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-25 16:07:34

Wouldn't you know it? I'd just wrapped up my column on the PI genre and politics when this one comes winging in over the transom, fangs bared. The corridors of power, it turns out, are even nastier than Chandler's fabled mean streets in Gary Phillips' fierce new collection of politically-charged hardboiled and noir tales.

This book is about as in your face as it gets, an unapologetic no-holds-barred slice of venom aimed at the powers that be and the corruption and ideological treachery and unbounded ambition that is.

To be sure, a lot of these relentlessly black-hearted stories have nothing to do with the current administration per se, and editor Phillips' attempts at a fair and balanced tone in his introduction are admirable--if not always completely convincing. The actual stories (including the big guy's own "Swift Boats for Jesus") make it pretty clear which side of the line most of these writers are coming from--and are all the more powerful for it. Contributors include Mike Davis, Darrell James, John Shannon (whose "The Legend of Bayboy and the Mexican Surfer" offers a tantalizing suggestion of what his next Jack Liffey novel may entail), Robert Greer, Twist Phelan, Ken Wishnia, Pete Hautman and Sujata Massey, and there isn't a dud in the bunch. I mean, even Nixon and J. Edgar come back to haunt us.

This is primo stuff, angry and pissed off, its bleak cynicism and impotent despair perhaps best summed up by a character in Ken Bruen's heartbreaking contribution, "Dead Right": "Call it politics. I call it shite." I call the entire collection an essential read. Try to get it done before November.

Quiver
Dianne Day

This first novel by Peter Leonard, son of Elmore, will make you believe there must surely be an inheritable writing gene. Quiver is an irresistible, fast read.

Owen was a racecar driver until he died in a hunting accident at his family's vacation lodge on Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Kate is his widow, the sort of feisty woman who might marry such a risk-taking man. Luke, their son, is 16, and the tragedy of his young life is that it was he who shot his father with a hunting bow, mistaking dad for a deer. Jack is an ex-con, an old boyfriend of Kate's; he once helped her out of a very tight spot in Guatemala and she's retained a soft spot for him. Now out of jail and pursuing the widowed Kate, Jack is in turn pursued by a dumb and disgusting bad-ass, Teddy, and girlfriend Celeste, and DeJuan, a black guy with brains and class, who just happens to be a contract killer. When Luke runs away from school and heads for the lodge to face down his guilt, Kate follows him, and the rest follow her. Leonard builds suspense to an unbearable degree before the resolution, in which the bravery of mother and son shines.

The joy of reading Quiver is primarily in its easy-flowing dialogue, and Peter Leonard has a style all his own. His success should be assured.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-25 16:07:34

This first novel by Peter Leonard, son of Elmore, will make you believe there must surely be an inheritable writing gene. Quiver is an irresistible, fast read.

Owen was a racecar driver until he died in a hunting accident at his family's vacation lodge on Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Kate is his widow, the sort of feisty woman who might marry such a risk-taking man. Luke, their son, is 16, and the tragedy of his young life is that it was he who shot his father with a hunting bow, mistaking dad for a deer. Jack is an ex-con, an old boyfriend of Kate's; he once helped her out of a very tight spot in Guatemala and she's retained a soft spot for him. Now out of jail and pursuing the widowed Kate, Jack is in turn pursued by a dumb and disgusting bad-ass, Teddy, and girlfriend Celeste, and DeJuan, a black guy with brains and class, who just happens to be a contract killer. When Luke runs away from school and heads for the lodge to face down his guilt, Kate follows him, and the rest follow her. Leonard builds suspense to an unbearable degree before the resolution, in which the bravery of mother and son shines.

The joy of reading Quiver is primarily in its easy-flowing dialogue, and Peter Leonard has a style all his own. His success should be assured.

Real World
Betty Webb

When a disturbed teen nicknamed "Worm," murders his mother and escapes into the Japanese countryside, the teens in his suburban Tokyo neighborhood elevate him to hero status. Among the young girls keeping secret contact with Worm via cell phone are the compassionate but inexperienced Ninna Hori; her friend Kirarin, a morally inert rebel-without-a-cause who has been toying with the idea of killing her own father; Yuzan, a closeted lesbian who sees Worm's outsider status as a reflection of her own; and Terauchi, the only teen in the group who seems aware that helping an unrepentant killer escape justice might be dangerous.

Told in turn by Worm and each of the girls, Real World is a discomfiting exploration of the adolescent mind, a hormone-ridden world where values shift daily and morality takes a back seat to a new cell phone. Teenagers are another country, author Kirino tells us, a country that has declared war on our own.

Kirino, a master of Japanese feminist noir, and author of 16 other novels, including the Edgar-nominated Out, has won six premiere Japanese literary awards, including the top Mystery Writers of Japan Award. Her subtle yet scathing prose in Real World has been well-served by translator Philip Gabriel, who has wondrously managed the daunting task of morphing Japanese slang into American teen-speak.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-25 16:07:34

When a disturbed teen nicknamed "Worm," murders his mother and escapes into the Japanese countryside, the teens in his suburban Tokyo neighborhood elevate him to hero status. Among the young girls keeping secret contact with Worm via cell phone are the compassionate but inexperienced Ninna Hori; her friend Kirarin, a morally inert rebel-without-a-cause who has been toying with the idea of killing her own father; Yuzan, a closeted lesbian who sees Worm's outsider status as a reflection of her own; and Terauchi, the only teen in the group who seems aware that helping an unrepentant killer escape justice might be dangerous.

Told in turn by Worm and each of the girls, Real World is a discomfiting exploration of the adolescent mind, a hormone-ridden world where values shift daily and morality takes a back seat to a new cell phone. Teenagers are another country, author Kirino tells us, a country that has declared war on our own.

Kirino, a master of Japanese feminist noir, and author of 16 other novels, including the Edgar-nominated Out, has won six premiere Japanese literary awards, including the top Mystery Writers of Japan Award. Her subtle yet scathing prose in Real World has been well-served by translator Philip Gabriel, who has wondrously managed the daunting task of morphing Japanese slang into American teen-speak.

Red Sky in Morning
Beverly J. DeWeese

Drawing on his father's wartime adventures, Patrick Culhane, a pen name used by Max Allan Collins, cooks up a wartime mystery infused with racial tension. Mix four white Naval Reserve, college-educated officers with an all-black crew. Add a salty commander who hates both blacks and college boys, and throw in an edict from the President of the United States that the military shall be integrated. Stir it all together and you've got trouble, right here in San Francisco's Port Chicago. If that weren't enough, the crew's ship itself is literally a powder keg, an ammunitions craft where the smallest mistake can explode in their faces.

Ensign Peter Maxwell, a na?ve son of Iowa, loves two things, his wife Kay and music--all kinds of music. And it is music that helps Maxwell establish a tentative racial harmony with his shipmates. But the murder of the ship's second in command renews tensions and Maxwell enlists the aid of a former Chicago police detective turned seaman. Together they follow clues that coalesce during a historical naval battle scene: Zeros dive from the skies, guns rattle, and Maxwell uncovers a not-so-unexpected murderer.

Culhane/Collins touches upon the little discussed racial aspect of World War II service. And once again, as in many of Collins' writings, a historic event plays a pivotal role: the 1944 Port Chicago Naval Explosion. Drawing upon an era of patriotic zeal, the author depicts men joining against a common enemy. Good overcomes evil on several levels, but readers should be warned that the book bristles with racial epithets, nicknames and prejudices.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-25 16:07:34

Drawing on his father's wartime adventures, Patrick Culhane, a pen name used by Max Allan Collins, cooks up a wartime mystery infused with racial tension. Mix four white Naval Reserve, college-educated officers with an all-black crew. Add a salty commander who hates both blacks and college boys, and throw in an edict from the President of the United States that the military shall be integrated. Stir it all together and you've got trouble, right here in San Francisco's Port Chicago. If that weren't enough, the crew's ship itself is literally a powder keg, an ammunitions craft where the smallest mistake can explode in their faces.

Ensign Peter Maxwell, a na?ve son of Iowa, loves two things, his wife Kay and music--all kinds of music. And it is music that helps Maxwell establish a tentative racial harmony with his shipmates. But the murder of the ship's second in command renews tensions and Maxwell enlists the aid of a former Chicago police detective turned seaman. Together they follow clues that coalesce during a historical naval battle scene: Zeros dive from the skies, guns rattle, and Maxwell uncovers a not-so-unexpected murderer.

Culhane/Collins touches upon the little discussed racial aspect of World War II service. And once again, as in many of Collins' writings, a historic event plays a pivotal role: the 1944 Port Chicago Naval Explosion. Drawing upon an era of patriotic zeal, the author depicts men joining against a common enemy. Good overcomes evil on several levels, but readers should be warned that the book bristles with racial epithets, nicknames and prejudices.

Resolution
Bob Smith

The prolific Robert B. Parker has expanded his writing talent to westerns and he is just as much at home on the range as he is on Boston's mean streets. Resolution, a follow-up to Parker's first western adventure Appaloosa, is pure cowboy noir but with that added Parker touch. Everett Hitch (read Spenser) rides into Resolution, a town just beginning to take form, and gets hired in Amos Wolfson's saloon as a lookout (bouncer). Soon he has tamed the town, eliminated much of the riff-raff and become the unofficial protector of all the saloon "girls." He is joined by his partner Virgil Cole (read Hawk) and peace reigns--for awhile.

Then Wolfson decides to take over the entire town and drive out the local ranchers in order to claim their property when they can't pay the mortgages. When he hires a band of ex-soldiers to do the dirty work that Hitch and Cole refuse to do, the two join with the ranchers and an all out war ensues with the expected, yet exciting, final shootout before our heroes ride off into the sunset. It is a basic western plot, but Parker uses his considerable story-telling talents to make it much more. Action starts immediately and never lets up; staccato dialogue from the two Clint Eastwood-like heroes, plus fully-realized minor characters (for instance, a rancher's wife who goes to Cole for comfort and protection after her husband beats her up), lift this book out of the run-of-the mill cowboy-lit field into an enjoyable change for even the most dedicated fans who only read mysteries.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-25 16:07:34

The prolific Robert B. Parker has expanded his writing talent to westerns and he is just as much at home on the range as he is on Boston's mean streets. Resolution, a follow-up to Parker's first western adventure Appaloosa, is pure cowboy noir but with that added Parker touch. Everett Hitch (read Spenser) rides into Resolution, a town just beginning to take form, and gets hired in Amos Wolfson's saloon as a lookout (bouncer). Soon he has tamed the town, eliminated much of the riff-raff and become the unofficial protector of all the saloon "girls." He is joined by his partner Virgil Cole (read Hawk) and peace reigns--for awhile.

Then Wolfson decides to take over the entire town and drive out the local ranchers in order to claim their property when they can't pay the mortgages. When he hires a band of ex-soldiers to do the dirty work that Hitch and Cole refuse to do, the two join with the ranchers and an all out war ensues with the expected, yet exciting, final shootout before our heroes ride off into the sunset. It is a basic western plot, but Parker uses his considerable story-telling talents to make it much more. Action starts immediately and never lets up; staccato dialogue from the two Clint Eastwood-like heroes, plus fully-realized minor characters (for instance, a rancher's wife who goes to Cole for comfort and protection after her husband beats her up), lift this book out of the run-of-the mill cowboy-lit field into an enjoyable change for even the most dedicated fans who only read mysteries.

Rules, Regs and Rotten Eggs
Charles L.P. Silet

Detective Superintendent Harriet Martens, a no-nonsense copper known to the media as the "Hard Detective," is contemplating retirement after the bombing death of her police officer son, Graham, and what she sees as the loss of confidence of her new Assistant Chief Constable. However, she's drawn into a case when she and her husband witnesses the attempted murder of politician Robert Roughouse one Sunday afternoon. She soon finds herself investigating a rich and powerful old-boy network from the Zeal School that seems to be up to shady dealings in Transabistan.

When Roughouse, an ex-M.P. and founder of the new Innovation Party, is then murdered while checked in at an exclusive clinic, Harriet redoubles her efforts to unearth the killer or killers. Saddled with the laconic, cigar smoking Detective Sergeant "Bolshy Bill" Woodcock, the Hard Detective proves her mettle and remains undecided about her retirement.

H.R.F. Keating is one of the most-celebrated authors of traditional British police procedurals and in this latest novel, the seventh in the Harriet Martens series, he proves once again his skill at fashioning a satisfying mystery with overtones of social commentary on contemporary British life.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-25 16:07:34

Detective Superintendent Harriet Martens, a no-nonsense copper known to the media as the "Hard Detective," is contemplating retirement after the bombing death of her police officer son, Graham, and what she sees as the loss of confidence of her new Assistant Chief Constable. However, she's drawn into a case when she and her husband witnesses the attempted murder of politician Robert Roughouse one Sunday afternoon. She soon finds herself investigating a rich and powerful old-boy network from the Zeal School that seems to be up to shady dealings in Transabistan.

When Roughouse, an ex-M.P. and founder of the new Innovation Party, is then murdered while checked in at an exclusive clinic, Harriet redoubles her efforts to unearth the killer or killers. Saddled with the laconic, cigar smoking Detective Sergeant "Bolshy Bill" Woodcock, the Hard Detective proves her mettle and remains undecided about her retirement.

H.R.F. Keating is one of the most-celebrated authors of traditional British police procedurals and in this latest novel, the seventh in the Harriet Martens series, he proves once again his skill at fashioning a satisfying mystery with overtones of social commentary on contemporary British life.

Scream for Me
Dianne Day

Alex Fallon is a nurse who had a troubled childhood and, because of it, left her hometown for good; Daniel Vartanian is an FBI agent whose past includes even heavier family problems. Their paths cross when Daniel's investigation of a series of copycat killings takes him to the small town Alex wanted to forget. Her stepsister has disappeared, and however reluctantly, Alex has returned to find her. And those copycat killings? They imitate the brutal serial murders committed by Daniel's own brother, Simon, who died in Rose's previous Die For Me.

Alex is a sympathetic character who gives the appearance of having much going on beneath the surface. It comes as no big surprise that Daniel and she are attracted to each other, yet their attraction does not slow down the fast pace of the narrative toward a conclusion that seems inevitable and does not disappoint.

Scream For Me is billed as a romantic thriller, and is Rose's first appearance in hardcover, following the huge success of the New York Times bestseller, the paperback Die For Me. Like Sandra Brown and Iris Johansen before her, Rose brings her large readership from the world of romantic suspense as she crosses over.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-25 16:07:34

Alex Fallon is a nurse who had a troubled childhood and, because of it, left her hometown for good; Daniel Vartanian is an FBI agent whose past includes even heavier family problems. Their paths cross when Daniel's investigation of a series of copycat killings takes him to the small town Alex wanted to forget. Her stepsister has disappeared, and however reluctantly, Alex has returned to find her. And those copycat killings? They imitate the brutal serial murders committed by Daniel's own brother, Simon, who died in Rose's previous Die For Me.

Alex is a sympathetic character who gives the appearance of having much going on beneath the surface. It comes as no big surprise that Daniel and she are attracted to each other, yet their attraction does not slow down the fast pace of the narrative toward a conclusion that seems inevitable and does not disappoint.

Scream For Me is billed as a romantic thriller, and is Rose's first appearance in hardcover, following the huge success of the New York Times bestseller, the paperback Die For Me. Like Sandra Brown and Iris Johansen before her, Rose brings her large readership from the world of romantic suspense as she crosses over.

Singularity
Beverly J. DeWeese

When the body of a wealthy, powerful Texas businessman is found, grotesquely intertwined with that of a beautiful young woman, it quickly becomes an embarrassing, politically sensitive situation. The local police are almost immediately convinced the murderer is the man's estranged wife, Priscilla. However, Sarah Armstrong, a profiler for the Texas Rangers, insists the murder has all the earmarks of a serial killing. So Sarah must fight the establishment, scrabbling through police records throughout the state to prove this man has killed before, and will kill again. Recently widowed and a single mom, Sarah's investigation becomes even more critical when she realizes that the serial killer has identified her, her mother, and her young daughter as future targets.

Sarah is a believable heroine with a likeable family. Her supportive mother, a cheesecake baking fanatic, and her clever, young daughter, still grieving for her father, are also quite appealing. And Sarah even gets to work with a sexy, handsome FBI agent. Conversely, Casey has also successfully created an intriguing killer, a religious fanatic with a damaged, chilling personality.

Though the setup and the characters are familiar, the plot moves right along and the escalating tension between Sarah and the killer is very suspenseful. A good read.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-25 16:07:34

When the body of a wealthy, powerful Texas businessman is found, grotesquely intertwined with that of a beautiful young woman, it quickly becomes an embarrassing, politically sensitive situation. The local police are almost immediately convinced the murderer is the man's estranged wife, Priscilla. However, Sarah Armstrong, a profiler for the Texas Rangers, insists the murder has all the earmarks of a serial killing. So Sarah must fight the establishment, scrabbling through police records throughout the state to prove this man has killed before, and will kill again. Recently widowed and a single mom, Sarah's investigation becomes even more critical when she realizes that the serial killer has identified her, her mother, and her young daughter as future targets.

Sarah is a believable heroine with a likeable family. Her supportive mother, a cheesecake baking fanatic, and her clever, young daughter, still grieving for her father, are also quite appealing. And Sarah even gets to work with a sexy, handsome FBI agent. Conversely, Casey has also successfully created an intriguing killer, a religious fanatic with a damaged, chilling personality.

Though the setup and the characters are familiar, the plot moves right along and the escalating tension between Sarah and the killer is very suspenseful. A good read.

Siren of the Waters
Barbara Fister

Crime fiction has truly gone global. In addition to Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Thailand, Laos, and Palestine, the armchair detective can now visit Slovakia, where a down-to-earth investigator, Jana Matinova, is called to the scene of a horrific car accident. A van has plowed into a tree and burst into flames, spilling the bodies of six women and one man into the snow. The women are sex workers from several East European countries, and Jana sees signs that the crash is suspicious. Before long, she finds herself caught in the middle of organized criminals vying for dominance.

Jana's investigation crosses borders, into the Ukraine and to France, where she has been called to participate in an EU meeting on human trafficking. The plot also traverses timeframes, as we learn about the breakup of Jana's family after her husband, a struggling actor, becomes an outlaw activist.

It's hard for the reader unfamiliar with present-day Slovakia to get much sense of the country or its culture, other than that it's dreary, bureaucratic, and oppressive. Genelin's prose style is as unadorned as Soviet-era public housing and even the American characters sound as if their dialogue has been translated. That said, many of the characters are well-drawn, with Jana Matinova emerging as an engaging professional, doing her best in a drab and shabby world.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-25 16:07:34

Crime fiction has truly gone global. In addition to Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Thailand, Laos, and Palestine, the armchair detective can now visit Slovakia, where a down-to-earth investigator, Jana Matinova, is called to the scene of a horrific car accident. A van has plowed into a tree and burst into flames, spilling the bodies of six women and one man into the snow. The women are sex workers from several East European countries, and Jana sees signs that the crash is suspicious. Before long, she finds herself caught in the middle of organized criminals vying for dominance.

Jana's investigation crosses borders, into the Ukraine and to France, where she has been called to participate in an EU meeting on human trafficking. The plot also traverses timeframes, as we learn about the breakup of Jana's family after her husband, a struggling actor, becomes an outlaw activist.

It's hard for the reader unfamiliar with present-day Slovakia to get much sense of the country or its culture, other than that it's dreary, bureaucratic, and oppressive. Genelin's prose style is as unadorned as Soviet-era public housing and even the American characters sound as if their dialogue has been translated. That said, many of the characters are well-drawn, with Jana Matinova emerging as an engaging professional, doing her best in a drab and shabby world.

Skin Deep
Mary Welk

A conflict of interest arises when Boston's Lt. Steve Markarian and Sgt. Neil French investigate the strangulation death of Terry Farina. French, who was dating Farina, insists she accidentally hanged herself while engaging in a sexual fantasy. Markarian believes she was murdered, and he suspects not only his partner, but also himself. Like French, he knew Farina and met with her the night of her death. A combination of alcohol with sedatives caused him to black out after their last meeting. Could he have killed her during those lost hours?

Markarian attempts to clear his own name while investigating the French-Farina relationship. Simultaneously, he tries to reconcile with his wife, Dana, by accompanying her to a face lift appointment. Dana's desire to look young again forces Markarian to examine his own unhappy youth and new insights into his marriage take him down a different investigative path in the Farina case, one that eventually leads to a grisly discovery.

The author teases his readers with intermittent chapters describing the killer's troubled childhood. These chapters point to any of four people as the killer and serve nicely to offer both clues and red herrings. Braver also addresses the dangers involved in sloppy investigations where undue police power denies suspects the presumption of innocence. Disappointingly, Skin Deep glosses over the tragic consequences of such actions. Nevertheless, the characters are fully fleshed out, and there's a good deal of realism in this suspenseful third novel by Boston creative writing teacher Gary Braver.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-25 16:07:34

A conflict of interest arises when Boston's Lt. Steve Markarian and Sgt. Neil French investigate the strangulation death of Terry Farina. French, who was dating Farina, insists she accidentally hanged herself while engaging in a sexual fantasy. Markarian believes she was murdered, and he suspects not only his partner, but also himself. Like French, he knew Farina and met with her the night of her death. A combination of alcohol with sedatives caused him to black out after their last meeting. Could he have killed her during those lost hours?

Markarian attempts to clear his own name while investigating the French-Farina relationship. Simultaneously, he tries to reconcile with his wife, Dana, by accompanying her to a face lift appointment. Dana's desire to look young again forces Markarian to examine his own unhappy youth and new insights into his marriage take him down a different investigative path in the Farina case, one that eventually leads to a grisly discovery.

The author teases his readers with intermittent chapters describing the killer's troubled childhood. These chapters point to any of four people as the killer and serve nicely to offer both clues and red herrings. Braver also addresses the dangers involved in sloppy investigations where undue police power denies suspects the presumption of innocence. Disappointingly, Skin Deep glosses over the tragic consequences of such actions. Nevertheless, the characters are fully fleshed out, and there's a good deal of realism in this suspenseful third novel by Boston creative writing teacher Gary Braver.

Swan Peak
Betty Webb

When Dave Robicheaux leaves his beloved but drowned New Orleans for the clean air of Montana, he learns that mountain madmen can be as degenerate as the lost souls he left behind in the Big Sleazy. Upon arrival in Montana, he and his sidekick, Clete Purcel, immediately become embroiled with Ridley and Leslie Wellstone, two wealthy, oil-drilling brothers who carry emotional scars that dwarf those on their bodies. Particularly driven is Leslie, whose fire-melted face repels his wife, Jamie Sue, a former country singer.

Further south, Jimmy Dale Greenwood, father of Jamie Sue's child, is doing time in a West Texas prison. After carving up sadistic guard Troyce Nix with a shank, he heads north to Jamie Sue with a vengeful Troyce following close behind. Like a Greek tragedy, these desperate players converge on a gas-and-go Montana town at the exact time a serial killer begins his evil work in the area. The implosion is almost too much for our hero Robicheaux, a recovering alcoholic who still craves the comfort of a bottle.

Burke's deft plotting pales next to the extraordinary depth of Swan Peak's characters. There are no "side" characters here. The conscience--or lack thereof--of everyone becomes known, and in that knowing, readers can only feel pity for them. Even bad men suffer, Burke reminds us, and no matter how horrible their deeds, redemption always remains a possibility.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-25 16:07:34

When Dave Robicheaux leaves his beloved but drowned New Orleans for the clean air of Montana, he learns that mountain madmen can be as degenerate as the lost souls he left behind in the Big Sleazy. Upon arrival in Montana, he and his sidekick, Clete Purcel, immediately become embroiled with Ridley and Leslie Wellstone, two wealthy, oil-drilling brothers who carry emotional scars that dwarf those on their bodies. Particularly driven is Leslie, whose fire-melted face repels his wife, Jamie Sue, a former country singer.

Further south, Jimmy Dale Greenwood, father of Jamie Sue's child, is doing time in a West Texas prison. After carving up sadistic guard Troyce Nix with a shank, he heads north to Jamie Sue with a vengeful Troyce following close behind. Like a Greek tragedy, these desperate players converge on a gas-and-go Montana town at the exact time a serial killer begins his evil work in the area. The implosion is almost too much for our hero Robicheaux, a recovering alcoholic who still craves the comfort of a bottle.

Burke's deft plotting pales next to the extraordinary depth of Swan Peak's characters. There are no "side" characters here. The conscience--or lack thereof--of everyone becomes known, and in that knowing, readers can only feel pity for them. Even bad men suffer, Burke reminds us, and no matter how horrible their deeds, redemption always remains a possibility.

The Black Hand
Joseph Scarpato Jr.

London in 1885 is a melting pot of immigrants, some of whom are criminally inclined. As this fast-moving historical mystery begins, one of these criminals, an Italian assassin and his wife, are found dead and floating in a barrel off the London docks. Because of his knowledge of the London underworld, enquiry agent (read private detective) Cyrus Barker is asked to help the police with their investigation.

Told in the first person by Barker's young assistant, Thomas Llewelyn, the story takes the pair through the city's underbelly, filled with criminal activity, and ethnic enclaves, each with their own specialties and territories. It is soon apparent that a newly-arrived group from Palermo, Sicily, known as the Mafia, is behind the killings. But who is the shadowy figure behind this dangerous new group, and what could be his motivation?

The assassinations continue and soon Barker and Llewelyn become targets themselves. The investigator's quest to bring the mysterious leader of the Mafia out of the shadows, results in an unorthodox and dangerous denouement and a surprising conclusion.

Author Will Thomas is an Oklahoma resident and a research librarian. More importantly, he's a scholar of Victorian England, which accounts for the realisticly rendered setting in this fourth in the award-winning Barker and Llewelyn Victorian mystery series.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-25 16:07:34

London in 1885 is a melting pot of immigrants, some of whom are criminally inclined. As this fast-moving historical mystery begins, one of these criminals, an Italian assassin and his wife, are found dead and floating in a barrel off the London docks. Because of his knowledge of the London underworld, enquiry agent (read private detective) Cyrus Barker is asked to help the police with their investigation.

Told in the first person by Barker's young assistant, Thomas Llewelyn, the story takes the pair through the city's underbelly, filled with criminal activity, and ethnic enclaves, each with their own specialties and territories. It is soon apparent that a newly-arrived group from Palermo, Sicily, known as the Mafia, is behind the killings. But who is the shadowy figure behind this dangerous new group, and what could be his motivation?

The assassinations continue and soon Barker and Llewelyn become targets themselves. The investigator's quest to bring the mysterious leader of the Mafia out of the shadows, results in an unorthodox and dangerous denouement and a surprising conclusion.

Author Will Thomas is an Oklahoma resident and a research librarian. More importantly, he's a scholar of Victorian England, which accounts for the realisticly rendered setting in this fourth in the award-winning Barker and Llewelyn Victorian mystery series.

The Calling
Barbara Fister

Literary novelists seem to be flocking to crime fiction, sometimes crafting beautifully told mysteries full of cliches, coincidences, and implausibilities that more seasoned mystery writers know to avoid. Inger Wolfe, a pseudonymous "prominent North American literary novelist," is no exception.

Wolfe has created a compelling heroine in Hazel Micallef, a 61-year-old inspector in an understaffed post in rural Ontario. Hazel suffers from a bad back and a cheerfully bossy live-in mother. There isn't much crime in her small community, so it's a shock when an elderly woman is murdered, especially since the case is a peculiar one. The apparently willing victim has been drained of blood and her mouth contorted into a disturbing shape, as if she's trying to tell the living something unspeakable. Hazel gradually realizes she's dealing with a serial killer who is traveling across Canada like a sizzling fuse, literally taking the lifeblood from the elderly and sick as he blazes a path from British Columbia to the Maritimes.

What follows is a well-told but unlikely and often grotesque serial killer investigation that Hazel, for obscure reasons, insists on handling herself. Too much of the story is seen through the killer's crazed eyes, and too many of the plot twists are both implausible and predictable. Though The Calling is certainly readable, it's too bad the author did not read more widely in the genre before trying her hand. She could learn a lot from writers like Giles Blunt, whose work honors logic and the reader's intelligence without sacrificing literary style.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-25 16:07:34

Literary novelists seem to be flocking to crime fiction, sometimes crafting beautifully told mysteries full of cliches, coincidences, and implausibilities that more seasoned mystery writers know to avoid. Inger Wolfe, a pseudonymous "prominent North American literary novelist," is no exception.

Wolfe has created a compelling heroine in Hazel Micallef, a 61-year-old inspector in an understaffed post in rural Ontario. Hazel suffers from a bad back and a cheerfully bossy live-in mother. There isn't much crime in her small community, so it's a shock when an elderly woman is murdered, especially since the case is a peculiar one. The apparently willing victim has been drained of blood and her mouth contorted into a disturbing shape, as if she's trying to tell the living something unspeakable. Hazel gradually realizes she's dealing with a serial killer who is traveling across Canada like a sizzling fuse, literally taking the lifeblood from the elderly and sick as he blazes a path from British Columbia to the Maritimes.

What follows is a well-told but unlikely and often grotesque serial killer investigation that Hazel, for obscure reasons, insists on handling herself. Too much of the story is seen through the killer's crazed eyes, and too many of the plot twists are both implausible and predictable. Though The Calling is certainly readable, it's too bad the author did not read more widely in the genre before trying her hand. She could learn a lot from writers like Giles Blunt, whose work honors logic and the reader's intelligence without sacrificing literary style.

The Demon of Dakar
Verna Suit

Serbian-Swedish Slobodan Andersson and his Armenian partner, Armas, have just opened a restaurant, the hot new Dakar in Uppsala, Sweden. But the restaurateurs have an important sideline: international drug smuggling. When one of the partners is brutally murdered, everyone connected with them and their restaurant comes under suspicion.

The restaurant Dakar becomes the nexus for everything that happens in this complex and psychologically-rich mystery from the author of The Princess of Burundi. Eriksson's titles, and his stories, reflect an interest in today's globalized society. Scenes in the restaurant's kitchen simmer with tension and camaraderie among its international staff, and are full of wonderful details of commercial food preparation.

The Demon of Dakar is also about family responsibilities. A poignant storyline involves a Mexican peasant's cultural odyssey when he comes to Sweden on behalf of his two brothers, who have been caught smuggling drugs for Slobodan and Almas.

Eriksson sympathetically portrays Detective Ann Lindell's efforts to juggle the murder investigation with her new role as single mother, and a Dakar waitress' frantic worry when her son gets in trouble with police. Kjell Eriksson writes disturbing, insightful books that look at life from many angles and through the eyes of well-drawn characters. This third police procedural featuring Detective Lindell will captivate readers and have them debating the real identity of Dakar's demon. Be warned, though: In Eriksson's view, life is too complex for simple happy endings.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-25 16:07:34

Serbian-Swedish Slobodan Andersson and his Armenian partner, Armas, have just opened a restaurant, the hot new Dakar in Uppsala, Sweden. But the restaurateurs have an important sideline: international drug smuggling. When one of the partners is brutally murdered, everyone connected with them and their restaurant comes under suspicion.

The restaurant Dakar becomes the nexus for everything that happens in this complex and psychologically-rich mystery from the author of The Princess of Burundi. Eriksson's titles, and his stories, reflect an interest in today's globalized society. Scenes in the restaurant's kitchen simmer with tension and camaraderie among its international staff, and are full of wonderful details of commercial food preparation.

The Demon of Dakar is also about family responsibilities. A poignant storyline involves a Mexican peasant's cultural odyssey when he comes to Sweden on behalf of his two brothers, who have been caught smuggling drugs for Slobodan and Almas.

Eriksson sympathetically portrays Detective Ann Lindell's efforts to juggle the murder investigation with her new role as single mother, and a Dakar waitress' frantic worry when her son gets in trouble with police. Kjell Eriksson writes disturbing, insightful books that look at life from many angles and through the eyes of well-drawn characters. This third police procedural featuring Detective Lindell will captivate readers and have them debating the real identity of Dakar's demon. Be warned, though: In Eriksson's view, life is too complex for simple happy endings.

The Dirty Secrets Club
Betty Webb

Stephen King speaks and the publishing world listens. Last year, Uncle Stevie devoted his entire Entertainment Weekly column to Meg Gardiner's books, claiming that the US publishing world was crazy-out-of-its-mind for not recognizing Gardiner's talent. It was a shame, he wrote, that the gifted American writer could only get published in England. Sniffing a bestseller in the air, Dutton won the ensuing race for rights to Gardiner's new novel, The Dirty Secrets Club, slating it for summer release. Their reliance on Uncle Stevie's taste proved to be smart.

The Dirty Secrets Club, which follows the decimation of San Francisco's Beautiful People by a series of suspicious suicides, is a keep-you-up-all-night read introducing one of the most intriguing heroines to come along in years. When a football superstar leaps to his death off the Golden Gate bridge, forensic psychiatrist Jo Beckett links his death to the murder-suicide of a famed designer and his companion, as well as to the puzzling, high-speed car crash of a rising federal attorney, whose body bore the lipsticked word, "Dirty." What could these disparate suicides have in common? While the action is almost always non-stop, every now and then Beckett slows the pace to insert some King-like dark humor, best put to use in a Halloween party attended by Klingon-costumed nerds, a companion monkey, and a very big earthquake.

As Uncle Stevie advises, don't miss out on The Dirty Secrets Club.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-25 16:07:34

Stephen King speaks and the publishing world listens. Last year, Uncle Stevie devoted his entire Entertainment Weekly column to Meg Gardiner's books, claiming that the US publishing world was crazy-out-of-its-mind for not recognizing Gardiner's talent. It was a shame, he wrote, that the gifted American writer could only get published in England. Sniffing a bestseller in the air, Dutton won the ensuing race for rights to Gardiner's new novel, The Dirty Secrets Club, slating it for summer release. Their reliance on Uncle Stevie's taste proved to be smart.

The Dirty Secrets Club, which follows the decimation of San Francisco's Beautiful People by a series of suspicious suicides, is a keep-you-up-all-night read introducing one of the most intriguing heroines to come along in years. When a football superstar leaps to his death off the Golden Gate bridge, forensic psychiatrist Jo Beckett links his death to the murder-suicide of a famed designer and his companion, as well as to the puzzling, high-speed car crash of a rising federal attorney, whose body bore the lipsticked word, "Dirty." What could these disparate suicides have in common? While the action is almost always non-stop, every now and then Beckett slows the pace to insert some King-like dark humor, best put to use in a Halloween party attended by Klingon-costumed nerds, a companion monkey, and a very big earthquake.

As Uncle Stevie advises, don't miss out on The Dirty Secrets Club.

The Evil That Men Do
Hank Wagner

Crimes committed in 1938 provide the impetus for White's follow up to 2007's When One Man Dies, which saw the debut of his series character, New Jersey PI Jackson Donne. This time out, members of Donne's family are threatened by a killer with a grudge that has its roots in the actions of one of Donne's ancestors, who made the mistake of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Regardless of whether that blame is properly assigned, the madman is out to even the score, ruthlessly striking at Donne and his kin to achieve his goals.

It's hard for a lifelong New Jersey native like me to resist the charms of this book, as its action is firmly rooted in the northern part of the wondrous Garden State--White makes good use of the urban and suburban geography, accurately depicting the terrain. But that's not what makes his sophomore effort so readable and engaging. Rather, it's White's realistic depiction of family dynamics--readers will be struck by the sheer humanity on display in this novel, from Donne's strained relationship with his sister and brother-in-law, to the tragedy of the PI's mother's valiant but futile struggle with Alzheimer's disease, and finally, to the sacrifices that are sometimes required to keep one's family intact and safe.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-25 16:07:34

Crimes committed in 1938 provide the impetus for White's follow up to 2007's When One Man Dies, which saw the debut of his series character, New Jersey PI Jackson Donne. This time out, members of Donne's family are threatened by a killer with a grudge that has its roots in the actions of one of Donne's ancestors, who made the mistake of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Regardless of whether that blame is properly assigned, the madman is out to even the score, ruthlessly striking at Donne and his kin to achieve his goals.

It's hard for a lifelong New Jersey native like me to resist the charms of this book, as its action is firmly rooted in the northern part of the wondrous Garden State--White makes good use of the urban and suburban geography, accurately depicting the terrain. But that's not what makes his sophomore effort so readable and engaging. Rather, it's White's realistic depiction of family dynamics--readers will be struck by the sheer humanity on display in this novel, from Donne's strained relationship with his sister and brother-in-law, to the tragedy of the PI's mother's valiant but futile struggle with Alzheimer's disease, and finally, to the sacrifices that are sometimes required to keep one's family intact and safe.

The Hidden Man (Flacco)
Kevin Burton Smith

Fans of the cinematic one-two punch of The Prestige and The Illusionist, those feeling nostalgic for the Harry Houdini chapters of Doctorow's Ragtime or simply those who have been waiting impatiently for the sequel to The Last Nightingale, the author's acclaimed previous book in this series, should get a kick out of Anthony Flacco's magical new historical thriller. It's a darkly picaresque romp through 1915 San Francisco, which is still reeling from the catastrophic fire and earthquake of a decade previous, even as it readies itself for the World's Fair.

This sprawling saga has an intriguingly fractious cast, including renowned mesmerist J.D. Duncan, who fears he can no longer control his troubling visions (a by-product of "a magic powder" we now call Ecstasy) and Detective Randall Blackburn, assigned (against his wishes) to protect Duncan, whom he suspects of being a fraud and who may or may not actually be in danger. But it's the battling, make-shift Blackburn clan who truly steal the show: not just the dogged lawman, but also his adopted son and prot?g? Shane Nightingale, an enigmatic young man with occasionally troubling visions of his own; his proto-feminist sister, the mischievous and fearless Vignette; as well as the relentlessly proper Miss Janice Freshell, who has set her romantic hooks into Randall, much to Shane and—especially Vignette's—dismay.

This is a somber and troubling tale but Flacco breathes real life into the era, casting an unblinking spotlight on a society—and a family—caught on the cusp of a turbulent new age, unknowingly tottering toward technological, cultural and sociological upheaval—and world war.

Admin
2010-04-25 16:07:34

Fans of the cinematic one-two punch of The Prestige and The Illusionist, those feeling nostalgic for the Harry Houdini chapters of Doctorow's Ragtime or simply those who have been waiting impatiently for the sequel to The Last Nightingale, the author's acclaimed previous book in this series, should get a kick out of Anthony Flacco's magical new historical thriller. It's a darkly picaresque romp through 1915 San Francisco, which is still reeling from the catastrophic fire and earthquake of a decade previous, even as it readies itself for the World's Fair.

This sprawling saga has an intriguingly fractious cast, including renowned mesmerist J.D. Duncan, who fears he can no longer control his troubling visions (a by-product of "a magic powder" we now call Ecstasy) and Detective Randall Blackburn, assigned (against his wishes) to protect Duncan, whom he suspects of being a fraud and who may or may not actually be in danger. But it's the battling, make-shift Blackburn clan who truly steal the show: not just the dogged lawman, but also his adopted son and prot?g? Shane Nightingale, an enigmatic young man with occasionally troubling visions of his own; his proto-feminist sister, the mischievous and fearless Vignette; as well as the relentlessly proper Miss Janice Freshell, who has set her romantic hooks into Randall, much to Shane and—especially Vignette's—dismay.

This is a somber and troubling tale but Flacco breathes real life into the era, casting an unblinking spotlight on a society—and a family—caught on the cusp of a turbulent new age, unknowingly tottering toward technological, cultural and sociological upheaval—and world war.

The Judas Window & the Crooked Hinge
Brian Skupin

The Rue Morgue press has re-issued two of John Dickson Carr's classics, The Judas Window, and The Crooked Hinge.

The Judas Window, undoubtedly the finest book written by Carr under his Carter Dickson pseudonym, has it all. It's a fast-paced, fair-play detective novel with trial scenes running throughout most of the book, and two thundering climaxes in court at the end. It's also a locked-room mystery, with one of the best practical solutions to murder in a locked room ever devised.

The book features Sir Henry Merrivale, known as H.M., grumpy, paranoid, ruthless, and devious, defending young James Answell who is accused of murdering the father of his fiancee. The evidence is all against Answell, who went to Justice Bodkin's house to ask for the hand of his daughter. While in Bodkin's study, Answell is drugged into unconsciousness, and when he awakens he finds that Bodkin has been stabbed to death, and the room has been bolted--from the inside.

It's a murder that no one else could have committed, and other evidence is also stacked against Answell, but H.M. believes in his innocence and agrees to defend him despite not having been in court in years. What results is a virtuoso performance by H.M. and by Carr. In other books, Carr used Merrivale for comic relief, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, but here the humor is effective and comes directly from character.

This edition omits the floor plan which is commonly included, and which is useful in understanding a key plot point--although it's not needed to understand the locked room itself. It also has a cast of characters up front, and an introduction by Rue Morgue which is identical to the one in the new edition of The Crooked Hinge. The cast of characters contains a minor error (Reginald Answell is James' cousin not his brother), but these details won't affect your pleasure in what is one of the five best detective novels ever written. The Crooked Hinge, written under the Carr byline and featuring his other major series character, Dr. Gideon Fell, has created two distinct camps of readers.

The first camp praises the book's wonderful writing, atmosphere, and plot construction, all of which show Carr at the height of his powers. At stately Farnleigh Close in Kent, Sir John Farnleigh, squire and baronet, has lived an honorable and respectable life after surviving the sinking of the Titanic years ago. But a man arrives claiming that he is the real John Farnleigh, and has been usurped.

Carr's narrative skills have never been better, and he manipulates the reader into believing first one man's story, then the other's, then back again. When one of the key players is killed under impossible conditions, the stakes are raised and the quest to find the truth escalates until the final denouement and solution.

The second camp of readers agree with most of the above, but also point out that the impossible problem is not as clearly explained as in most of Carr's work, leaving the reader a bit unsure as to the actual issue, and the solution to the impossible murder is, in fact, impossible. This reviewer and Carr fanatic is in the second camp. You may love the first 180 pages, but the 181st may make you throw it across the room.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-25 16:07:34

The Rue Morgue press has re-issued two of John Dickson Carr's classics, The Judas Window, and The Crooked Hinge.

The Judas Window, undoubtedly the finest book written by Carr under his Carter Dickson pseudonym, has it all. It's a fast-paced, fair-play detective novel with trial scenes running throughout most of the book, and two thundering climaxes in court at the end. It's also a locked-room mystery, with one of the best practical solutions to murder in a locked room ever devised.

The book features Sir Henry Merrivale, known as H.M., grumpy, paranoid, ruthless, and devious, defending young James Answell who is accused of murdering the father of his fiancee. The evidence is all against Answell, who went to Justice Bodkin's house to ask for the hand of his daughter. While in Bodkin's study, Answell is drugged into unconsciousness, and when he awakens he finds that Bodkin has been stabbed to death, and the room has been bolted--from the inside.

It's a murder that no one else could have committed, and other evidence is also stacked against Answell, but H.M. believes in his innocence and agrees to defend him despite not having been in court in years. What results is a virtuoso performance by H.M. and by Carr. In other books, Carr used Merrivale for comic relief, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, but here the humor is effective and comes directly from character.

This edition omits the floor plan which is commonly included, and which is useful in understanding a key plot point--although it's not needed to understand the locked room itself. It also has a cast of characters up front, and an introduction by Rue Morgue which is identical to the one in the new edition of The Crooked Hinge. The cast of characters contains a minor error (Reginald Answell is James' cousin not his brother), but these details won't affect your pleasure in what is one of the five best detective novels ever written. The Crooked Hinge, written under the Carr byline and featuring his other major series character, Dr. Gideon Fell, has created two distinct camps of readers.

The first camp praises the book's wonderful writing, atmosphere, and plot construction, all of which show Carr at the height of his powers. At stately Farnleigh Close in Kent, Sir John Farnleigh, squire and baronet, has lived an honorable and respectable life after surviving the sinking of the Titanic years ago. But a man arrives claiming that he is the real John Farnleigh, and has been usurped.

Carr's narrative skills have never been better, and he manipulates the reader into believing first one man's story, then the other's, then back again. When one of the key players is killed under impossible conditions, the stakes are raised and the quest to find the truth escalates until the final denouement and solution.

The second camp of readers agree with most of the above, but also point out that the impossible problem is not as clearly explained as in most of Carr's work, leaving the reader a bit unsure as to the actual issue, and the solution to the impossible murder is, in fact, impossible. This reviewer and Carr fanatic is in the second camp. You may love the first 180 pages, but the 181st may make you throw it across the room.

The Likeness
Hank Wagner

It's said that every one has a double, but it's a rare that anyone actually encounters his or her mirror image. It is this conceit that drives The Likeness, as Detective Cassie Maddox (heroine of French's debut novel, the Edgar-winning In the Woods), is called in to consult on a murder case with an improbable victim, a woman who not only looks like her, but who has hijacked an identity Maddox created for herself when she was part of an undercover unit some years prior. Seeing a rare opportunity, her former superior cajoles her into once again assuming the identity of Lexie Madison, inserting herself into the victim's life to uncover the identity of her slayer.

An implausible scenario, you say? Well, French makes it work, addressing reader's skepticism through that displayed by her heroine, answering each logical objection in turn until achieving her audience's buy in. Once that hurdle is overcome, French delivers an intense, well-constructed novel of suspense, as Cassie once again steps into the shoes of her fictional construct. She finds that she likes the life Lexie has built for herself, and the friends she has made, even though one of them is certainly responsible for her death. Through Carrie's first person narration, French allows readers to experience the tension and duplicity first hand, first making them complicit in Cassie's deception, then making them feel the intensity of her emotions as she grows to admire, and even to love, her new friends and suspects.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-25 16:07:34

It's said that every one has a double, but it's a rare that anyone actually encounters his or her mirror image. It is this conceit that drives The Likeness, as Detective Cassie Maddox (heroine of French's debut novel, the Edgar-winning In the Woods), is called in to consult on a murder case with an improbable victim, a woman who not only looks like her, but who has hijacked an identity Maddox created for herself when she was part of an undercover unit some years prior. Seeing a rare opportunity, her former superior cajoles her into once again assuming the identity of Lexie Madison, inserting herself into the victim's life to uncover the identity of her slayer.

An implausible scenario, you say? Well, French makes it work, addressing reader's skepticism through that displayed by her heroine, answering each logical objection in turn until achieving her audience's buy in. Once that hurdle is overcome, French delivers an intense, well-constructed novel of suspense, as Cassie once again steps into the shoes of her fictional construct. She finds that she likes the life Lexie has built for herself, and the friends she has made, even though one of them is certainly responsible for her death. Through Carrie's first person narration, French allows readers to experience the tension and duplicity first hand, first making them complicit in Cassie's deception, then making them feel the intensity of her emotions as she grows to admire, and even to love, her new friends and suspects.

The Streets of Babylon
Sue Emmons

Swedish novelist Euthanasia Bondeson turns intrepid investigator when her companion, the lovely Agnes, goes missing. The two have traveled to London to enjoy the splendor of the 1851 Great Exhibition, which they soon learn has also attracted hordes of shady visitors. With the aid of a Welsh policeman, Euthanasia swishes her long skirts through dark alleys and broad boulevards in search of the lost Agnes.

In the course of her adventures, she meets a variety of intriguing characters, ranging from street beggars, to the highest members of society. Moreover, Euthanasia finds London to be a gender-bending challenge, where people are not always what they seem. The heroine, however, remains undaunted as the merry investigation takes the reader back in time with a firm grasp of both the flavor and dialogue of this bygone era. This is the author's fifth novel and the first to be offered in the US.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-25 16:07:34

Swedish novelist Euthanasia Bondeson turns intrepid investigator when her companion, the lovely Agnes, goes missing. The two have traveled to London to enjoy the splendor of the 1851 Great Exhibition, which they soon learn has also attracted hordes of shady visitors. With the aid of a Welsh policeman, Euthanasia swishes her long skirts through dark alleys and broad boulevards in search of the lost Agnes.

In the course of her adventures, she meets a variety of intriguing characters, ranging from street beggars, to the highest members of society. Moreover, Euthanasia finds London to be a gender-bending challenge, where people are not always what they seem. The heroine, however, remains undaunted as the merry investigation takes the reader back in time with a firm grasp of both the flavor and dialogue of this bygone era. This is the author's fifth novel and the first to be offered in the US.