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.

Xav ID 1
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.

Xav ID 1
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.

Xav ID 1
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.

Xav ID 1
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.

Xav ID 1
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.

Xav ID 1
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.

Xav ID 1
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.

Xav ID 1
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.

Xav ID 1
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.

Xav ID 1
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.

Xav ID 1
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!

Xav ID 1
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.

Xav ID 1
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.

Xav ID 1
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.

Xav ID 1
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.

Xav ID 1
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.

Hold My Hand
Mary Helen Becker

The first mystery/suspense novel by Serena Mackesy, author of three mainstream novels, is a winner. Ghost stories are traditional fare in Britain around the holidays, and this one may be the perfect winter read. Bridget "Sweeny," adopts her mother's maiden name to confound pursuit and she and her small daughter Yasmin surreptitiously leave London to escape Kieran, Bridget's monstrous and abusive ex-husband. Kieran, who cannot conceal his violent personality, hires a private detective to find his prey.

Bridget's only connection with her past life is her friend Carol and a cell phone, and she soon finds an isolated new home, an enormous, centuries-old mansion in Cornwall called Rospetroc where Bridget has taken a job as housekeeper. Located near Bodmin Moor, deep in Daphne du Maurier territory, the house is cut off from the nearest village, has erratic electricity, and more importantly, is haunted. The family who owns it avoids it, because of their unhappy history there, and Bridget and Yasmin are all alone unless paying guests rent the house--many of whom are driven away by the spooky atmosphere at Rospetroc.

Mackesy splendidly evokes the Cornish countryside, the locals, and the loneliness of the house cut off from the rest of the world by bad weather. This is a fine suspense novel, and I, for one, stayed up way too late to find out what happened at the end. I look forward to Serena Mackesy's next mystery.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-25 16:16:03

The first mystery/suspense novel by Serena Mackesy, author of three mainstream novels, is a winner. Ghost stories are traditional fare in Britain around the holidays, and this one may be the perfect winter read. Bridget "Sweeny," adopts her mother's maiden name to confound pursuit and she and her small daughter Yasmin surreptitiously leave London to escape Kieran, Bridget's monstrous and abusive ex-husband. Kieran, who cannot conceal his violent personality, hires a private detective to find his prey.

Bridget's only connection with her past life is her friend Carol and a cell phone, and she soon finds an isolated new home, an enormous, centuries-old mansion in Cornwall called Rospetroc where Bridget has taken a job as housekeeper. Located near Bodmin Moor, deep in Daphne du Maurier territory, the house is cut off from the nearest village, has erratic electricity, and more importantly, is haunted. The family who owns it avoids it, because of their unhappy history there, and Bridget and Yasmin are all alone unless paying guests rent the house--many of whom are driven away by the spooky atmosphere at Rospetroc.

Mackesy splendidly evokes the Cornish countryside, the locals, and the loneliness of the house cut off from the rest of the world by bad weather. This is a fine suspense novel, and I, for one, stayed up way too late to find out what happened at the end. I look forward to Serena Mackesy's next mystery.

In the Dark
Barbara Fister

Those familiar with Billingham's excellent Tom Thorne series may pick up this book expecting another imaginative variation on his signature "serial killer with a twist" plot launched brilliantly in 2001 with Sleepyhead, but with this standalone, he's up to something very different.
Employing spare language and the kind of complex characterization he excels at, Billingham lays out a tragic triangle: A cop who has grown distant from his pregnant partner; a young drug dealer anxiously negotiating his way up the ladder of illicit trade; and an old-school gangster with a strangely intimate relationship to the cop. When the drug dealer is given a test--he's told to fire a gun into a car as he and his mates speed past it--the bullet sets off a chain reaction that arouses the gangster's ruthless sense of retribution.
Soon the dealer's friends are being picked off and Helen, the cop's pregnant partner, is trying to rouse herself from a numbed state to find out what happened that night. Theo, the young dealer, is a decent kid whose world offers no good choices. Their paths cross in ways that seem accidental, though in fact they're ensnared in a conspiracy that none of them can quite grasp.
The complicated truth that Helen eventually teases out is almost trivial in comparison to the grim reality Billingham portrays with the eye of a documentarian. Many thrillers have a kind of bounciness, offering action that accelerates until justice is done; here, the characters live in a gravitational field that resists fast and easy answers.

Admin
2010-04-25 16:16:03

Those familiar with Billingham's excellent Tom Thorne series may pick up this book expecting another imaginative variation on his signature "serial killer with a twist" plot launched brilliantly in 2001 with Sleepyhead, but with this standalone, he's up to something very different.
Employing spare language and the kind of complex characterization he excels at, Billingham lays out a tragic triangle: A cop who has grown distant from his pregnant partner; a young drug dealer anxiously negotiating his way up the ladder of illicit trade; and an old-school gangster with a strangely intimate relationship to the cop. When the drug dealer is given a test--he's told to fire a gun into a car as he and his mates speed past it--the bullet sets off a chain reaction that arouses the gangster's ruthless sense of retribution.
Soon the dealer's friends are being picked off and Helen, the cop's pregnant partner, is trying to rouse herself from a numbed state to find out what happened that night. Theo, the young dealer, is a decent kid whose world offers no good choices. Their paths cross in ways that seem accidental, though in fact they're ensnared in a conspiracy that none of them can quite grasp.
The complicated truth that Helen eventually teases out is almost trivial in comparison to the grim reality Billingham portrays with the eye of a documentarian. Many thrillers have a kind of bounciness, offering action that accelerates until justice is done; here, the characters live in a gravitational field that resists fast and easy answers.

Mean Town Blues
Oline H. Cogdill

Tommy McLain planned for a life in the military until a stomach wound in the Iraq war derailed his career. Without family or future plans, Tommy drifts toward Chicago where at least he has a standing invitation from an old friend.

In Chicago, he finds some ready-made friends thanks to his buddy, Brian. While Tommy feels like an outsider next to Brian's educated friends, he also sees a future. "He was starting to get an impression of the dimensions of the world outside the army."

Among Tommy's new circle is Lisa DiPetro, who is being stalked by a man she may have met briefly in a bar. Lisa's problems echo with Tommy and a tragedy his family suffered. But the talk he has with the man takes a fatal turn, setting off repercussions that cause a gang war between Chicago's mob families and involve the FBI and two police departments.

Author Sam Reaves finely tunes his look at Chicago and its people in the intricately plotted Mean Town Blues. You can almost feel the snap of the wind and hear the city sounds. Reaves realistically shapes Tommy as a simple, but not stupid, man who is forced to reevaluate his ethics as a result of of his actions.

Stalkers are about control, and Reaves creates a gripping tale about manipulation that has far-reaching effects. Reaves cleverly moves Mean Town Blues into the unpredictable with several well-placed twists. The author, whose work includes Homicide 69 and three novels as Dominic Martell, delivers another satisfying thriller.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-25 16:16:03

Tommy McLain planned for a life in the military until a stomach wound in the Iraq war derailed his career. Without family or future plans, Tommy drifts toward Chicago where at least he has a standing invitation from an old friend.

In Chicago, he finds some ready-made friends thanks to his buddy, Brian. While Tommy feels like an outsider next to Brian's educated friends, he also sees a future. "He was starting to get an impression of the dimensions of the world outside the army."

Among Tommy's new circle is Lisa DiPetro, who is being stalked by a man she may have met briefly in a bar. Lisa's problems echo with Tommy and a tragedy his family suffered. But the talk he has with the man takes a fatal turn, setting off repercussions that cause a gang war between Chicago's mob families and involve the FBI and two police departments.

Author Sam Reaves finely tunes his look at Chicago and its people in the intricately plotted Mean Town Blues. You can almost feel the snap of the wind and hear the city sounds. Reaves realistically shapes Tommy as a simple, but not stupid, man who is forced to reevaluate his ethics as a result of of his actions.

Stalkers are about control, and Reaves creates a gripping tale about manipulation that has far-reaching effects. Reaves cleverly moves Mean Town Blues into the unpredictable with several well-placed twists. The author, whose work includes Homicide 69 and three novels as Dominic Martell, delivers another satisfying thriller.

Murder Express
R. Smith

In Murder Express, Canadian author Robert Scott has created one of those puzzling situations in which a murder is committed in a confined space filled with several witnesses and suspects. The crime takes place in a second-class car on "The Last Spike Special," a leisurely traveling train that passengers take mainly to enjoy the scenic views across the Canadian countryside. On the second day out, Oscar Dempster, a retired, arrogant, and obnoxious American, is found hanged in the washroom. Vacationing Vancouver Police Officer Jack Elton, traveling on his honeymoon with his bride Valerie, also a police officer, suspects foul play. Word is radioed ahead and the train makes a stop to pick up an official police investigator but this officer dismisses the death as suicide and promptly leaves to spend the rest of the trip in the dining car. Jack can't accept that, especially when another passenger, a beautiful Brazilian in her last year of medical school, points out some obvious indications that Dempster was first knocked unconscious with a taser gun before he was strangled. Jack takes it upon himself to solve the murder and sets out to talk with the other passengers hoping someone noticed something unusual. He eventually learns that an incident in Dempster's past is the catalyst for his death and uncovers the real murderer. Murder Express has faint echoes of two Agatha Christie's books, And Then There Were None and Murder On The Orient Express, although this novel doesn't measure up to the Dame Agatha's classics.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-25 16:16:03

In Murder Express, Canadian author Robert Scott has created one of those puzzling situations in which a murder is committed in a confined space filled with several witnesses and suspects. The crime takes place in a second-class car on "The Last Spike Special," a leisurely traveling train that passengers take mainly to enjoy the scenic views across the Canadian countryside. On the second day out, Oscar Dempster, a retired, arrogant, and obnoxious American, is found hanged in the washroom. Vacationing Vancouver Police Officer Jack Elton, traveling on his honeymoon with his bride Valerie, also a police officer, suspects foul play. Word is radioed ahead and the train makes a stop to pick up an official police investigator but this officer dismisses the death as suicide and promptly leaves to spend the rest of the trip in the dining car. Jack can't accept that, especially when another passenger, a beautiful Brazilian in her last year of medical school, points out some obvious indications that Dempster was first knocked unconscious with a taser gun before he was strangled. Jack takes it upon himself to solve the murder and sets out to talk with the other passengers hoping someone noticed something unusual. He eventually learns that an incident in Dempster's past is the catalyst for his death and uncovers the real murderer. Murder Express has faint echoes of two Agatha Christie's books, And Then There Were None and Murder On The Orient Express, although this novel doesn't measure up to the Dame Agatha's classics.

Murder Short & Sweet
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

This is simply one of the best mystery short story anthologies I've ever read. And why wouldn't it be, with 25 classic tales concocted by some of the greatest mystery writers of all time? Included here are earlier masters such as Poe, Doyle, Christie and Sayers. More current writers include Block, Westlake and Rendell.

The incomparable Sherlock Holmes appears in two adventures: In "The Speckled Band" he foils one of the cleverest murder schemes of all time, and in "Abbey Grange," he uses his uncanny ability in observing minutiae to bring a murderer to justice...or does he? In Christie's "Philomel Cottage," we share the slowly deepening fear of a newlywed as she discovers that her husband may be a serial killer. Rendell's "Fall of a Coin" shows why a woman scorned can be lethally dangerous and why it's important to pay attention to details.

If you like police procedurals, you'll enjoy Clark Howard's "Under Suspicion," in which a detective travels the mean streets to find the killer of his partner's daughter, and Lawrence Treat's "H as in Homicide" where a missing person report turns into a puzzling murder case. If you have an appetite for irony, Roald Dahl's "Lamb to the Slaughter" is one of the most ironic stories you'll ever read.

This anthology offers something for every mystery lover's taste: For courtroom drama enthusiasts, there's Vincent Starrett's "The Eleventh Juror;" for those who enjoy a touch of Gallic humor, there's James Holding's "The Inquisitive Butcher of Nice;" and for those who revel in seeing villains get their just desserts, there's Francis Iles' "Dark Journey" and Brendan Dubois' "The Dark Snow." This wonderful anthology should provide many hours of enjoyment for mystery readers of every genre.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-25 16:16:03

This is simply one of the best mystery short story anthologies I've ever read. And why wouldn't it be, with 25 classic tales concocted by some of the greatest mystery writers of all time? Included here are earlier masters such as Poe, Doyle, Christie and Sayers. More current writers include Block, Westlake and Rendell.

The incomparable Sherlock Holmes appears in two adventures: In "The Speckled Band" he foils one of the cleverest murder schemes of all time, and in "Abbey Grange," he uses his uncanny ability in observing minutiae to bring a murderer to justice...or does he? In Christie's "Philomel Cottage," we share the slowly deepening fear of a newlywed as she discovers that her husband may be a serial killer. Rendell's "Fall of a Coin" shows why a woman scorned can be lethally dangerous and why it's important to pay attention to details.

If you like police procedurals, you'll enjoy Clark Howard's "Under Suspicion," in which a detective travels the mean streets to find the killer of his partner's daughter, and Lawrence Treat's "H as in Homicide" where a missing person report turns into a puzzling murder case. If you have an appetite for irony, Roald Dahl's "Lamb to the Slaughter" is one of the most ironic stories you'll ever read.

This anthology offers something for every mystery lover's taste: For courtroom drama enthusiasts, there's Vincent Starrett's "The Eleventh Juror;" for those who enjoy a touch of Gallic humor, there's James Holding's "The Inquisitive Butcher of Nice;" and for those who revel in seeing villains get their just desserts, there's Francis Iles' "Dark Journey" and Brendan Dubois' "The Dark Snow." This wonderful anthology should provide many hours of enjoyment for mystery readers of every genre.

Old Flame
Hank Wagner

Ex-cop Jackson Steeg suspects that trouble is looming when his harpy of an ex-mother-in-law Jeanmarie shows up at his apartment. Those suspicions are confirmed when she asks him to help his ex-wife Ginny, whose third husband has recently been beaten to death by an unidentified assailant. Adding to his steadily mounting troubles, Steeg is asked by a childhood pal for assistance in resolving a dispute he is having with a local crime lord. Compelled by loyalty to help both parties, Steeg (who, incidentally, is still recuperating from a gunshot wound sustained some months prior) soon finds himself caught up in a war involving a merciless Israeli gangster and Steeg's gangster sibling Dave. He is also in a scandal involving the police and a powerful local politician, a situation that places him, as they say, between a rock and a hard place.

In a blurb praising the book, Thomas Perry calls Old Flame "a good old-fashioned crime novel," a quote which sums up both its strengths and weaknesses. As Perry goes on to say, the book, set in New York's Hell's Kitchen, is "crowded with fast talking, colorful characters, each of whom carries a secret or two and the temperament of a killer." It's also well written and executed. The only knock is, if you read extensively in the genre, you've seen all this before. Although obviously talented, Berkowitz doesn't break any new ground here, either with his language or his plot, making his second novel a competent, but somehow familiar, effort.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-25 16:16:03

Ex-cop Jackson Steeg suspects that trouble is looming when his harpy of an ex-mother-in-law Jeanmarie shows up at his apartment. Those suspicions are confirmed when she asks him to help his ex-wife Ginny, whose third husband has recently been beaten to death by an unidentified assailant. Adding to his steadily mounting troubles, Steeg is asked by a childhood pal for assistance in resolving a dispute he is having with a local crime lord. Compelled by loyalty to help both parties, Steeg (who, incidentally, is still recuperating from a gunshot wound sustained some months prior) soon finds himself caught up in a war involving a merciless Israeli gangster and Steeg's gangster sibling Dave. He is also in a scandal involving the police and a powerful local politician, a situation that places him, as they say, between a rock and a hard place.

In a blurb praising the book, Thomas Perry calls Old Flame "a good old-fashioned crime novel," a quote which sums up both its strengths and weaknesses. As Perry goes on to say, the book, set in New York's Hell's Kitchen, is "crowded with fast talking, colorful characters, each of whom carries a secret or two and the temperament of a killer." It's also well written and executed. The only knock is, if you read extensively in the genre, you've seen all this before. Although obviously talented, Berkowitz doesn't break any new ground here, either with his language or his plot, making his second novel a competent, but somehow familiar, effort.

Once Were Cops
Verna Suit

Matthew Patrick O'Shea, a cop in Galway, Ireland, wrangles a one-year appointment to the NYPD. This has long been his goal, and as a New York cop, he'll be able to carry a gun, which he looks forward to using to "do damage." Shea and those close to him recognize that he has problems. One side of him wants to be a decent guy and settle down with a good woman, but too often his dark side takes over and he "zones." Plus he has this thing for long white necks... When Shea reports to his New York precinct he is paired with another demented cop, nicknamed Kebar. They appear to be a match made in heaven, or someplace else, until Shea discovers Kebar's weakness.

Once Were Cops is a standalone thriller in Ken Bruen's best over-the-top noir style. Psychopath Shea's forthright narration and Bruen's wry turns of phrase produce black humor that catches readers unawares. Shea's arrogance, warped mind, and outrageous crimes make him an intriguing character, but not at all a likeable one. Surely his compulsions or his hubris are bound to bring him down eventually. Or are they? Once Were Cops is a fast, compelling read that will leave you horrified and grinning.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-25 16:16:03

Matthew Patrick O'Shea, a cop in Galway, Ireland, wrangles a one-year appointment to the NYPD. This has long been his goal, and as a New York cop, he'll be able to carry a gun, which he looks forward to using to "do damage." Shea and those close to him recognize that he has problems. One side of him wants to be a decent guy and settle down with a good woman, but too often his dark side takes over and he "zones." Plus he has this thing for long white necks... When Shea reports to his New York precinct he is paired with another demented cop, nicknamed Kebar. They appear to be a match made in heaven, or someplace else, until Shea discovers Kebar's weakness.

Once Were Cops is a standalone thriller in Ken Bruen's best over-the-top noir style. Psychopath Shea's forthright narration and Bruen's wry turns of phrase produce black humor that catches readers unawares. Shea's arrogance, warped mind, and outrageous crimes make him an intriguing character, but not at all a likeable one. Surely his compulsions or his hubris are bound to bring him down eventually. Or are they? Once Were Cops is a fast, compelling read that will leave you horrified and grinning.

One Night Stands and Lost Weekends
Kevin Burton Smith

Eager to crack the pulp digest market of the late '50s and early '60s, the twentyish Block dove right in, dishing up a man's man's man's world of crime, treachery, and obsession, with women mostly depicted as thieves, con artists, murderers, tramps, and dolls (with a virginal victim tossed in occasionally for good measure). But if these early tales, some so dated they might as well be timestamped, aren't up to the author's later high standards (he points out in an amusingly apologetic introduction that at the time his typewriter still had training wheels on it) there's still a giddy, pulpy charm at play here. Sure, some of the plot twists seem a tad too obvious, and the enthusiasm at times outpaces the craft, but in general these hard, tough tales satisfy, in both their inventiveness and their variety, offering everything from the Spillanesque "I Don't Fool Around" to the malicious O Henry-like legerdemain of "Lie Back and Enjoy It." And the concluding three novelettes, all featuring New York private eye Ed London, make clear how rapidly Block, even early in his career, was already developing the keen craft and powerful storytelling mojo for which he would soon become so justifiably famous.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-25 16:16:03

Eager to crack the pulp digest market of the late '50s and early '60s, the twentyish Block dove right in, dishing up a man's man's man's world of crime, treachery, and obsession, with women mostly depicted as thieves, con artists, murderers, tramps, and dolls (with a virginal victim tossed in occasionally for good measure). But if these early tales, some so dated they might as well be timestamped, aren't up to the author's later high standards (he points out in an amusingly apologetic introduction that at the time his typewriter still had training wheels on it) there's still a giddy, pulpy charm at play here. Sure, some of the plot twists seem a tad too obvious, and the enthusiasm at times outpaces the craft, but in general these hard, tough tales satisfy, in both their inventiveness and their variety, offering everything from the Spillanesque "I Don't Fool Around" to the malicious O Henry-like legerdemain of "Lie Back and Enjoy It." And the concluding three novelettes, all featuring New York private eye Ed London, make clear how rapidly Block, even early in his career, was already developing the keen craft and powerful storytelling mojo for which he would soon become so justifiably famous.

Second Violin
Charles L.P. Silet

Second Violin is the sixth in the Inspector Troy series, and it provides the backstory for his emigre Russian family and his early career as a beat cop in the East End of London. The novel opens at the beginning of the Second World War during the Anschluss, as the Germans march into Austria. Subsequent atrocities are committed by the Nazis, which is being covered by Rod Troy, the inspector's reporter brother. Then it shifts to London to record the early days of the Battle of Britain with its bombings, indiscriminate death, and wartime privations to pick up Inspector Troy's story.

Troy is a lowly sergeant in Scotland Yard's Murder Squad, until he is seconded to MI5, Special Branch, to round up foreign nationals for internment, an assignment he hates. However, his experience with the Jewish community in the East End helps to return him to the Murder Squad when the local Rabbis begin to die in numbers and under suspicious circumstances.

This is a first-class period thriller. John Lawton effectively packs lots of historical detail into an engaging narrative, and he is especially skillful at interweaving the personal history of his Inspector Troy with the early days of the war, Hitler's first triumphs, the rescue of the British army at Dunkirk, and the beginnings of the Blitz. Second Violin whets the appetite to pick up the previous novels in the series.

Xav ID 1
2010-04-25 16:16:03

Second Violin is the sixth in the Inspector Troy series, and it provides the backstory for his emigre Russian family and his early career as a beat cop in the East End of London. The novel opens at the beginning of the Second World War during the Anschluss, as the Germans march into Austria. Subsequent atrocities are committed by the Nazis, which is being covered by Rod Troy, the inspector's reporter brother. Then it shifts to London to record the early days of the Battle of Britain with its bombings, indiscriminate death, and wartime privations to pick up Inspector Troy's story.

Troy is a lowly sergeant in Scotland Yard's Murder Squad, until he is seconded to MI5, Special Branch, to round up foreign nationals for internment, an assignment he hates. However, his experience with the Jewish community in the East End helps to return him to the Murder Squad when the local Rabbis begin to die in numbers and under suspicious circumstances.

This is a first-class period thriller. John Lawton effectively packs lots of historical detail into an engaging narrative, and he is especially skillful at interweaving the personal history of his Inspector Troy with the early days of the war, Hitler's first triumphs, the rescue of the British army at Dunkirk, and the beginnings of the Blitz. Second Violin whets the appetite to pick up the previous novels in the series.