The Devil's Star
Bob Smith

Every so often a protagonist comes along who raises the bar for all others. Meet Harry Hole, a Norwegian police detective, who fits that description to a tee. Harry is everything you want in a cop and a hell of a lot more. The Devil’s Star, the latest Harry Hole book translated into English, may be the best yet of this popular European series. It is a murder mystery, a police procedural and a thriller all in one great read. Harry is a fascinating character and although his bouts of alcoholism threw me off at first, gradually I came to understand him, then admire him, and finally to root like mad for him.

Because serial killers are virtually unknown in Norway the police are stymied when a series of murders occur in Oslo. The chief of the major crimes unit turns to his two best detectives to solve the murders. One, Tom Waaler, a favorite in the department, is rumored to be the chief’s replacement; the other, Harry is an alcoholic. They hate each other, and although Harry doesn’t want to work with Waaler, he becomes intrigued with the murders and settles for an uneasy truce with his rival, a truce lacking trust on both sides. Even with his brain befogged by booze, Harry is able to discern a pattern in the killer’s actions by analyzing two clues left behind at each murder—a star shaped diamond, and a pentagram symbol. There is nothing else to connect the victims and both detectives seem stumped. A stunning, yet logical climax has Harry not only unmasking the killer but also overcoming some personal demons of his own. Read this book and I guarantee that, like me, you’ll want more of Harry Hole.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 21 April 2010 03:04
nesbo_devilsstarPolice detective Harry Hole is back in Jo Nesbø's award-winning Norwegian series.
Mississippi Vivian
Kevin Burton Smith

Although it's set in the early '70s, the hard, tight Mississippi Vivian by Bill Crider and the late Clyde Wilson actually brings to mind an earlier era—it reads like some long-lost Fawcett Gold Medal paperback from the late '50s. And that’s high praise indeed. In fact, the taut, chip-on-the-shoulder vibe created by mystery author Crider and Wilson (a real life private eye), recalls nothing so much as the efforts of Wade Miller, the pen name for the celebrated writing team of Bob Wade and Bill Miller, who put out more than their fair share of hardboiled classics back in the day.

Texas-based insurance investigator Ted Stephens (first introduced in 2007's Houston Homicide) journeys to hot, sticky Losgrove, Mississippi to look into a string of suspicious work injury claims, and soon finds himself immersed in a deep steaming pile of small town corruption, deceit, and dirty secrets that will take more than a motel room shower or two to clean off. This is retro pulp at its best—clear, clean prose; vibrant characters (the cranky, contrary waitress who gives the book its title is a hoot); a finely rendered setting (Ted likens Losgrove air to breathing warm cotton); a stripped down narrative that rockets along; and a terse, business-like and laconic narrator whose navel-gazing fortunately never extends much past his ongoing complaint that nobody ever seems to laugh at his jokes. Readers eager for some high quality, no-frills, private eye action will certainly go for this one. Alas, with Wilson's passing in 2008, we may have seen the last of Stephens. Say it ain't so, Bill.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 21 April 2010 03:04

No-frills, private eye action in a new novel reminiscent of the Fawcett Gold Medal classics.

Half-Price Homicide
Lynne F. Maxwell

Can it really be? Is Helen Hawthorne, ex-CPA on the lam from her greedy, good-for-nothing ex husband, really coming clean by embracing her true identity? Will she perhaps give up her ever-mounting succession of dead-end jobs? Half-Price Homicide won’t answer all of these questions, but it is clearly a prelude to major changes in Helen’s life, hinting at a whole new phase of her existence. With her mother’s death, her ex-husband’s final exit, her reclamation of her nest egg, and her marriage to the handsome Phil, Helen is entering a brave new world—one that takes the reader unawares. Indeed, it feels like the end of an era.

If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading Elaine Viets’ Dead-End Jobs Series, you have a treat in store. Viets is a talented writer, hilarious and perceptive, and series heroine Helen Hawthorne mirrors her creator in these respects. In order to evade paying alimony to her lazy, parasitic ex-husband, Helen has fled St. Louis and her six-figure salary as a corporate CPA, relocating to a unique Fort Lauderdale apartment complex filled with quirky characters. Wishing to remain anonymous and untraceable, she subsists on under-the-counter jobs. Accordingly, in Half-Price Homicide she is a lowly sales associate in an upscale used clothing boutique. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, murder follows her, as one person is killed in the store and another meets her demise at Helen’s apartment complex. As always, Helen’s investigative acumen, in tandem with that of her new husband, private investigator Phil, triumphs. The biggest mystery in this book, though, is where Helen will go from here. Will she relinquish her penchant for dead-end jobs, now that she has the wherewithal to earn a decent salary? I, for one, hope that the Dead-End Jobs Series hasn’t reached a dead-end.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 21 April 2010 03:04

viets_half-pricehomicideSigns of major changes in odd-jobber Helen Hawthorne's life hint at a new direction for the beloved Dead-End Job Series.

The God of the Hive
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

Laurie King has just published her tenth novel featuring the immortal sleuth Sherlock Holmes and his young wife, Mary Russell. In this latest homage to Conan Doyle, the pair is separated after barely escaping the clutches of a religious madman bent on the sacrificial death of Sherlock’s newly discovered son, Damien Adler. Sherlock and his seriously wounded son take refuge on a boat bound for Holland, while Mary and Damien’s young daughter escape by plane.

But is there a more sinister force behind the madman? Why, even after his apparent death, are they still being pursued, and by whom? Who has the power to make Chief Inspector Lestrade issue an order for their arrest? And, of even greater concern, who has the cunning to successfully capture and imprison Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft? The excitement and suspense build as the scene continually shifts between Mary and Sherlock, each evading hired assassins and the law, while trying to get back to London to reunite. Along the way, they meet some remarkable allies who become instrumental in their safety. One of the highlights for me was getting to know Estelle, Sherlock’s very bright granddaughter, and her interaction with Mary. Meanwhile, Mycroft is desperately trying to figure out who is behind his imprisonment and how long he may yet have to live. Throw in the Baker Street Irregulars, several well-concealed London bolt-holes, some Holmesian cunning, and a rousing finale, and you have all the ingredients of another winning entry in the Laurie King canon.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 21 April 2010 03:04

Laurie King has just published her tenth novel featuring the immortal sleuth Sherlock Holmes and his young wife, Mary Russell. In this latest homage to Conan Doyle, the pair is separated after barely escaping the clutches of a religious madman bent on the sacrificial death of Sherlock’s newly discovered son, Damien Adler. Sherlock and his seriously wounded son take refuge on a boat bound for Holland, while Mary and Damien’s young daughter escape by plane.

But is there a more sinister force behind the madman? Why, even after his apparent death, are they still being pursued, and by whom? Who has the power to make Chief Inspector Lestrade issue an order for their arrest? And, of even greater concern, who has the cunning to successfully capture and imprison Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft? The excitement and suspense build as the scene continually shifts between Mary and Sherlock, each evading hired assassins and the law, while trying to get back to London to reunite. Along the way, they meet some remarkable allies who become instrumental in their safety. One of the highlights for me was getting to know Estelle, Sherlock’s very bright granddaughter, and her interaction with Mary. Meanwhile, Mycroft is desperately trying to figure out who is behind his imprisonment and how long he may yet have to live. Throw in the Baker Street Irregulars, several well-concealed London bolt-holes, some Holmesian cunning, and a rousing finale, and you have all the ingredients of another winning entry in the Laurie King canon.

Mint Juleps, Mayhem, and Murder
Lynne F. Maxwell

Readers get a look at what it’s like to be a military wife in this series featuring Ellie Avery, a professional home organizer and spouse to career Air Force pilot Mitch. Ellie and her family are accustomed to the trials and tribulations of military life, the frequent reassignments, and the uncertainty involved in everyday missions. What surprises her, though, is the extreme ambition and competition of Air Force officers as they jockey for plum positions and posts. These nasty traits come into play when a highly regarded commanding officer meets an untimely death, garroted after a golf game. Why would anyone wish to harm the popular and respected Colonel Lewis Pershall?

Throughout Ellie’s investigation readers get an education on the culture, politics, and realities of military life as she works her way through a substantial list of officers and their wives. Her suspicions are disconcerting, especially when numerous bizarre, suspicious accidents befall her apolitical husband, Mitch, and it becomes clear that someone they know well is a vicious killer. Ellie’s devotion to her family, her practical perspective, and her resourcefulness as a sleuth all contribute to the charm of this series. As a bonus Rosett’s series offers a profusion of tips for the disorganized among us.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 21 April 2010 03:04

Readers get a look at what it’s like to be a military wife in this series featuring Ellie Avery, a professional home organizer and spouse to career Air Force pilot Mitch. Ellie and her family are accustomed to the trials and tribulations of military life, the frequent reassignments, and the uncertainty involved in everyday missions. What surprises her, though, is the extreme ambition and competition of Air Force officers as they jockey for plum positions and posts. These nasty traits come into play when a highly regarded commanding officer meets an untimely death, garroted after a golf game. Why would anyone wish to harm the popular and respected Colonel Lewis Pershall?

Throughout Ellie’s investigation readers get an education on the culture, politics, and realities of military life as she works her way through a substantial list of officers and their wives. Her suspicions are disconcerting, especially when numerous bizarre, suspicious accidents befall her apolitical husband, Mitch, and it becomes clear that someone they know well is a vicious killer. Ellie’s devotion to her family, her practical perspective, and her resourcefulness as a sleuth all contribute to the charm of this series. As a bonus Rosett’s series offers a profusion of tips for the disorganized among us.

Invisible Boy
Lynne F. Maxwell

Invisible Boy is a powerful mystery, one that will haunt readers long after they finish the last page. The action begins when Madeline Dare assists her sister in beautifying—or, rather, resurrecting—a cemetery that houses family ancestors. Shortly after commencing her labor, Madeline unearths a tiny skull, clearly that of a young child. Nearby she finds other bones, including a crushed rib cage that suggests the horrifying possibility murder. It doesn’t take long for the police to identify the body as that of a missing boy who endured painfully cruel abuse during his short life. From the time of her discovery, Madeline involves herself in the police investigation and prosecution of the suspects, heartless drug abusers who have neglected and abused—indeed, killed—innocent little Teddy.

In this well-written suspense novel Cornelia Read captures the fashionably profane language and culture of underemployed, privileged, twenty-somethings adrift in Manhattan, circa 1990. While Madeline, her sisters, and mother are listed in the social register, they have long lacked sufficient wealth to maintain their social standing. In fact, the down-to-earth Dares gravitate away from the socialite lifestyle, but still offer up plenty of engrossing and entertaining family dynamics. When Madeline isn’t enmeshed in the murder case, she contends convincingly with the even more tangled complexities of interpersonal relationships with her husband, mother, sisters and unstable best friend—and it’s those relationships that drive the heart of the book. Invisible Boy is so good that it has prompted me to seek out Cornelia Read’s previous mysteries. I predict that others will follow suit.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 21 April 2010 03:04

A powerful character-driven novel that will haunt readers long after they finish the last page.

From Away
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

This is one of the strangest murder mysteries I’ve read in a while. The protagonist, Dennis Braintree, is one of life’s losers—an overweight, under-liked, wisecracking writer for a model train magazine whose main interest in life seems to be antagonizing other people. He also enjoys making up things on the fly, merely for the heck of it. When we first meet him, he has just wrecked his car on an icy road in Vermont and has to spend the night at a local hotel. When a drunken woman he meets that night later ends up dead, he finds himself the chief suspect.

Attempting to leave town, Denny is recognized by a local cop, Nick, not as the suspect, but as a longtime, long-lost townie, Homer Dumpling, who left three years earlier and who looks almost exactly like him. In an outrageous twist Denny, the inveterate improviser who would prefer not being arrested for murder, decides to play along—and is amazingly able to convince most of the townsfolk that he actually is Homer. The only people who are not entirely sold on his impersonation are Homer’s girlfriend Sarah and her current secret lover, Officer Lance. When it looks like he may soon be exposed as an imposter, Denny is induced to discover who actually committed the murder so he won’t be convicted.

One of the things I enjoyed about this mystery was that I never knew where it was going from page to page. And while I didn’t much care for Denny at the beginning, I began warming to him as the strange, humorous story unfolded. Although lying through his teeth for most of it, Denny’s humanity manages to shine through eventually. Someone once told me that, when the main character in a novel is changed by his experience, you know you’ve read a good story. On that basis, David Carkeet, the prize-winning author of four previous novels, has written just that, a good story.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 21 April 2010 03:04

Murder, mistaken identity, and a dose of dark absurdity.

Drink the Tea
Kevin Burton Smith

It took me quite a while to warm to Willis Gidney, the “half-assed” young, streetwise DC private eye/scam artist hero of this occasionally frustrating but ultimately promising debut, the latest winner of the St. Martin’s Press/Private Eye Writers of America Best First Novel Contest. Gidney seemed vaguely defined, inexplicably abrasive and obnoxious at times, not particularly intelligent and too cute by half, more amusing to himself than to readers. And then somewhere along the way, about the time he takes it upon himself to apologize to a young waitress for someone else’s rudeness, I realized that—despite my reservations—I was beginning to like the jerk, or at least wonder what his deal was. The answer, it turns out, is the real mystery at the heart of this novel; not the ostensible case which involves Willis tracking the long-lost daughter of his friend, jazz musician Steps Jackson, that has the former street kid going up against a powerful congressman, a multi-national conspiracy, and a frightened woman desperate to escape her own dark past. Not that that case isn’t without its own charms, but it’s the revelation of Willis’ painful childhood of abuse and neglect, jostled between endless foster homes, the street, and an over-burdened and incompetent child welfare system that provides the real meat here. In fact, by the time we (and Willis) come to terms with his past, the book is almost over—bringing not the sense of closure that Kaufman might have hoped for, but anticipation for what he (and Willis) will do next. Because if there’s a book that deserves a sequel, it’s this one. Kaufman has come up with a bold and original new detective, and he’s only scratched the surface. More, please.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 21 April 2010 03:04

New antihero Willis Gidney is inexplicably abrasive, obnoxious and... boldly original.

I Am Not a Serial Killer
Kevin Burton Smith

Utah writer Wells’ dark, clever first novel (the first in a projected trilogy) is definitely something else: an honest-to-goodness coming-of-age serial killer story. It’s also a schizophrenic and occasionally bumpy ride that starts off like a cross between Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter and J.D. Salingers’ A Catcher in the Rye and ends up taking a sharp and surprising left turn. Still, Wells’ strong sense of character and mastery of tone go a long way toward unifying the disparate halves. John Wayne Cleaver, the book’s ill-named narrator, is an affable but troubled 15-year old living in the small town of Clayton. He’s convinced he’s going to grow up to be a serial killer—and after we discover his unhealthy obsession with serial murders, his nonchalance about death, his messy home life (his single mother and his aunt run the local funeral home), some troubling childhood incidents and his own psychologist’s diagnosis of him as a sociopath, most readers will share his concerns.

Surprisingly, despite his apparent blood lust, John really does seem like a good kid—mixed up as hell, certainly, but he does seem to want to be good. It also helps that his first person narrative voice, wise and knowing beyond its years—not to mention his keen eye for sham and hypocrisy—easily recalls such other beloved but precocious child narrators in literature as Holden Caulfield or even To Kill a Mockingbird’s Scout. John’s brave attempts to “pass as normal” and avoid what he feels is his fate are oddly touching. But when what appears to be a genuine serial killer comes to Clayton, only John realizes it. And all the precious rules and boundaries John has set up for himself will have to be jettisoned if he wants to save the lives of those nearest to him. I’m not entirely sure I liked the direction Wells went with this one, but I’m anxious to see where he goes with the sequel.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 21 April 2010 07:04

Utah writer Wells’ dark, clever first novel (the first in a projected trilogy) is definitely something else: an honest-to-goodness coming-of-age serial killer story. It’s also a schizophrenic and occasionally bumpy ride that starts off like a cross between Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter and J.D. Salingers’ A Catcher in the Rye and ends up taking a sharp and surprising left turn. Still, Wells’ strong sense of character and mastery of tone go a long way toward unifying the disparate halves. John Wayne Cleaver, the book’s ill-named narrator, is an affable but troubled 15-year old living in the small town of Clayton. He’s convinced he’s going to grow up to be a serial killer—and after we discover his unhealthy obsession with serial murders, his nonchalance about death, his messy home life (his single mother and his aunt run the local funeral home), some troubling childhood incidents and his own psychologist’s diagnosis of him as a sociopath, most readers will share his concerns.

Surprisingly, despite his apparent blood lust, John really does seem like a good kid—mixed up as hell, certainly, but he does seem to want to be good. It also helps that his first person narrative voice, wise and knowing beyond its years—not to mention his keen eye for sham and hypocrisy—easily recalls such other beloved but precocious child narrators in literature as Holden Caulfield or even To Kill a Mockingbird’s Scout. John’s brave attempts to “pass as normal” and avoid what he feels is his fate are oddly touching. But when what appears to be a genuine serial killer comes to Clayton, only John realizes it. And all the precious rules and boundaries John has set up for himself will have to be jettisoned if he wants to save the lives of those nearest to him. I’m not entirely sure I liked the direction Wells went with this one, but I’m anxious to see where he goes with the sequel.

Shoot to Thrill
Bob Smith

Can the Internet be an instrument for murder? According to Shoot to Thrill it most assuredly can and probably is. The latest thriller in the Monkeewrench series offers the premise that there are crazies hiding behind the anonymity of the Internet who murder simply to achieve some sort of fleeting online fame. A series of filmed killings are circulating the globe on YouTube, Facebook and other sites, often before the authorities even suspect foul play. Are these deaths the work of a single murderer or a loose group of thrill seekers out for their 15 minutes of fame?

Tracing the origins of the films is a technological nightmare since they are filtered through a number of national and international sites and servers. The FBI wants to investigate but is handicapped by international law. Enter Harley, Annie, Roadrunner and Grace, the computer geniuses at Monkeewrench, to do the Bureau’s dirty work. The Monkeewrench gang and their FBI contact John Smith, with help from Minneapolis police detectives Leo Magozzi and Gino Roleth, tackle the problem and are stunned at the number of actual murders they discover. The tension builds as they hunt for the link to tie all the crimes together.

Regular readers of this series will delight in watching the Monkeewrench team back in action, and should be particularly interested by the potential melting of ice goddess Grace who seems to be thawing for the likeable FBI agent Smith, much to the dismay of longtime admirer detective Magozzi. Patricia J. and Traci Lambrecht, the mother-daughter team who write under the pseudonym P.J. Tracy, prove once again that they are no slouches when it comes to computers, or for that matter in writing a taut, entertaining, suspenseful book. This is the fifth, and one of the best, in the Monkeewrench series after a far too long hiatus. Welcome back gang, we missed you!

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 21 April 2010 07:04

Can the Internet be an instrument for murder? According to Shoot to Thrill it most assuredly can and probably is. The latest thriller in the Monkeewrench series offers the premise that there are crazies hiding behind the anonymity of the Internet who murder simply to achieve some sort of fleeting online fame. A series of filmed killings are circulating the globe on YouTube, Facebook and other sites, often before the authorities even suspect foul play. Are these deaths the work of a single murderer or a loose group of thrill seekers out for their 15 minutes of fame?

Tracing the origins of the films is a technological nightmare since they are filtered through a number of national and international sites and servers. The FBI wants to investigate but is handicapped by international law. Enter Harley, Annie, Roadrunner and Grace, the computer geniuses at Monkeewrench, to do the Bureau’s dirty work. The Monkeewrench gang and their FBI contact John Smith, with help from Minneapolis police detectives Leo Magozzi and Gino Roleth, tackle the problem and are stunned at the number of actual murders they discover. The tension builds as they hunt for the link to tie all the crimes together.

Regular readers of this series will delight in watching the Monkeewrench team back in action, and should be particularly interested by the potential melting of ice goddess Grace who seems to be thawing for the likeable FBI agent Smith, much to the dismay of longtime admirer detective Magozzi. Patricia J. and Traci Lambrecht, the mother-daughter team who write under the pseudonym P.J. Tracy, prove once again that they are no slouches when it comes to computers, or for that matter in writing a taut, entertaining, suspenseful book. This is the fifth, and one of the best, in the Monkeewrench series after a far too long hiatus. Welcome back gang, we missed you!

Naked Moon
Hank Wagner

The fourth entry in Stansberry’s compelling North Beach Series (including Chasing the Dragon (2004), Manifesto for the Dead (2006), and The Ancient Rain (2008)) finds his protagonist, Dante Mancuso, in a tough bind as his violent past comes back to haunt him. Formerly an operative of a secretive “security firm” known as the Company, Mancuso snared an early retirement from the firm via blackmail. When information that only Mancuso could know comes to light, the Company reacts violently and forcefully, pressuring their former employee to locate the source of the leak by threatening those close to him. Mancuso is thus forced back into his old life, which means the body count is sure to start climbing.

As usual, Stansberry proves adept at keeping tensions high, putting Mancuso through a physical and emotional wringer so intense that it leaves readers as exhausted as his lead, leaving them to wonder just how, or even if, the tightly wound ex-cop, ex-operative can extract himself from a seemingly untenable situation. Stansberry gives the quixotic and dangerous Mancuso plenty of psychological depth, and plenty to lose—readers quickly come to feel as if they too have something at stake in how things turn out. That Stansberry provides such a satisfying, yet ambiguous conclusion to this nasty, noirish tale of suspense is a tribute to his immense skill, and to his ability to subtly manipulate his rapt audience’s emotions.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 21 April 2010 08:04

The fourth entry in Stansberry’s compelling North Beach Series (including Chasing the Dragon (2004), Manifesto for the Dead (2006), and The Ancient Rain (2008)) finds his protagonist, Dante Mancuso, in a tough bind as his violent past comes back to haunt him. Formerly an operative of a secretive “security firm” known as the Company, Mancuso snared an early retirement from the firm via blackmail. When information that only Mancuso could know comes to light, the Company reacts violently and forcefully, pressuring their former employee to locate the source of the leak by threatening those close to him. Mancuso is thus forced back into his old life, which means the body count is sure to start climbing.

As usual, Stansberry proves adept at keeping tensions high, putting Mancuso through a physical and emotional wringer so intense that it leaves readers as exhausted as his lead, leaving them to wonder just how, or even if, the tightly wound ex-cop, ex-operative can extract himself from a seemingly untenable situation. Stansberry gives the quixotic and dangerous Mancuso plenty of psychological depth, and plenty to lose—readers quickly come to feel as if they too have something at stake in how things turn out. That Stansberry provides such a satisfying, yet ambiguous conclusion to this nasty, noirish tale of suspense is a tribute to his immense skill, and to his ability to subtly manipulate his rapt audience’s emotions.

The Executor
Betty Webb

The accepted Creative Writing 101 wisdom is that a book must always have a sympathetic protagonist, but Kellerman’s latest foray (after Sunstroke, Trouble, and The Genius) into the dark side upends that wisdom with a vengeance. The author isn’t exaggerating when he describes The Executor as, “a comedy of extremely bad manners.” Bad-mannered Joseph Geist, an anal-retentive Harvard grad student and all-around layabout, can’t finish writing his doctoral dissertation on Nietzsche & Friends so he sponges off his well-to-do girlfriend until she kicks the bum out. Joseph thinks he’s finally been saved when elderly Alma Spielmann hires him as a “conversationalist,” but self-involved jerk that he is, he soon messes that up, too. As for his dissertation, suffice it to say that page 213 rewards us with one of the most insightful depictions of writer’s block I’ve ever chuckled my way through.

Although most of the book’s action takes place in Joseph’s head, thriller buffs need not fear: there are enough violent, messy, gotta-dispose-of-the-bodies murders to satisfy the most persnickety. The only downside here might be the lengthy treatise on determinism versus free will, but it’s necessary because the argument provides the book’s backbone. That, and the exploration of a dark soul who, after giving free rein to his obsessions, grows even darker. If there is a moral here, it’s that those whom the gods would destroy they first make philosophers.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 21 April 2010 08:04

The accepted Creative Writing 101 wisdom is that a book must always have a sympathetic protagonist, but Kellerman’s latest foray (after Sunstroke, Trouble, and The Genius) into the dark side upends that wisdom with a vengeance. The author isn’t exaggerating when he describes The Executor as, “a comedy of extremely bad manners.” Bad-mannered Joseph Geist, an anal-retentive Harvard grad student and all-around layabout, can’t finish writing his doctoral dissertation on Nietzsche & Friends so he sponges off his well-to-do girlfriend until she kicks the bum out. Joseph thinks he’s finally been saved when elderly Alma Spielmann hires him as a “conversationalist,” but self-involved jerk that he is, he soon messes that up, too. As for his dissertation, suffice it to say that page 213 rewards us with one of the most insightful depictions of writer’s block I’ve ever chuckled my way through.

Although most of the book’s action takes place in Joseph’s head, thriller buffs need not fear: there are enough violent, messy, gotta-dispose-of-the-bodies murders to satisfy the most persnickety. The only downside here might be the lengthy treatise on determinism versus free will, but it’s necessary because the argument provides the book’s backbone. That, and the exploration of a dark soul who, after giving free rein to his obsessions, grows even darker. If there is a moral here, it’s that those whom the gods would destroy they first make philosophers.

Hazard
Betty Webb

Mining might be dangerous profession, but someone has to do it, journalist Gardiner Harris reminds us in this polished debut novel. The opening pages take us inside a mine just before tragedy strikes, and we hear rugged coal miner Amos Blevins and his lifelong friends speaking the language of the mine. Seconds later, nine are dead. When mine inspector Will Murphy is brought in to find the cause of the accident, he discovers a culture of corruption that values profits more than human lives. A deeply flawed man seeking atonement, Will’s own life began swimming out of control years earlier, when he inadvertently caused an explosion that killed his younger brother.

With his haunted past, Will makes a marvelous character, but nothing can hold a candle to the almost-feral Amos, a possum-eating hero who risks his life to save others but who isn’t above killing anyone who gets in his way. Besides being a miner, Amos is a marijuana-growing mystic who hears the voice of God and—to the increasing horror of the mine owners—immediately acts upon it. In Hazard, Harris utilizes all the standard twists and turns we’ve come to demand in a thriller, but the heroic and fatalistic nature of the miners themselves puts this novel in a class by itself. Like Marines, these men refuse to leave their dead behind. Instead, they brave poisonous gases, rock falls, and floods to drag their friends’ shattered bodies into the light. Quite simply, Hazard is one of the best novels I’ve read in a long time.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 21 April 2010 08:04

harris_hazardA debut novel centered around a mining tragedy is both timely and touching.

The Name Partner
Betty Webb

Sal Falcone, CEO of BostonMagnifica Pharmaceuticals, is so slimy that he views Hurricane Katrina as a wonderful opportunity to broaden public recognition of Zerevrea, BMP’s anti-depression drug. He’s also evil enough to fight mounting evidence that the drug can trigger acts of violence, so he hires rising Houston attorney Billy Bravo, the son of Mexican immigrants, to defend the drug. Just as Bravo begins to suspect that Zerevrea can, indeed, lead to violence, his daughter is diagnosed with leukemia—and BMP makes the only drug that can successfully treat it. As if this wasn’t grief enough, a skeleton comes rattling out of Bravo’s own closet when he discovers that he is not an American citizen. He could be deported at any moment. Bravo has always believed in the fairness of the US legal system—until it turns on him and his family. His ethical dilemma, and how he resolves it, makes for fascinating reading. While pages of legalese sometimes slow this novel, the stirring human element keeps it alive. Fans of legal thrillers will definitely like Partner, but it should also be read by anyone who believes the immigration issue is black and white. Bravo’s conundrum reveals that it is more complex than it first appears.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 21 April 2010 08:04
::cck::2562
Area 10
Betty Webb

Sometimes a book is so sick you just have to love it. Such a creation is Area 10, an illustrated novel not to be confused with Area 51 (no aliens, folks), a black-and-white thriller that shines its gory light on people goofy enough to drill holes in their heads for kicks. The medical term for this questionable pastime is “trepanation,” which has been around since the cavemen used it as a cure for migraines. In Gage’s sublime splatter-fest, Manhattanites have taken up the practice with a vengeance. Intruding upon their fun is a serial killer the police dub “Henry the Eighth” because like the long-dead Tudor king, he decapitates people. Tracking him is detective NYPD Adam Kamen, who in the past, suffered an injury to the part of the brain that processes memory and sensory input. Kamen believes the damage helps him understand Henry, but then again, he might be hallucinating. Surprisingly, this horrifically fun read contains a tender love story, and the wooing gives us a welcome break from all that blood and brain matter. Delicious fun though the story might be—kids, please don’t try this at home.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 21 April 2010 08:04

gage_area10Another horrifically fun read from Vertigo Crime's series of graphic novels.

Caught
Betty Webb

Harlan Coben is best known for thrillers in which a good man’s loved ones are menaced by extreme evil; the protagonist’s struggles are always personal. In Caught, the author lowers the stakes considerably when New Jersey TV anchor Wendy Tynes merely loses her job after an on-camera “predator” sting results in death-by-vigilante. In an attempt to win back her job and repair her reputation, Tynes reinvestigates the case against accused molester Dan Mercer, and learns that he might have been innocent all along. Mercer, a social worker, was one of several college roommates whose lives have been destroyed by an unknown enemy.

The author is also not exactly famed for his high humor, yet here he delivers a gut-splitting scene centered around an excruciatingly untalented white, middle-aged, suburban rap artist and his white, middle-aged, suburban groupies. Adding to an already convoluted plot is the disappearance of a 17-year-old girl who had known and trusted the murdered social worker, and might—just might—have been murdered by him. One of the major satisfactions in Caught is to watch the television journalist waver back and forth over Mercer’s presumed guilt, as well as the possible criminality of his old college roommates. There is no frenzied race here to save loved ones’ lives, because when the book opens, the damage has already been done. The only question left for Tynes is “Why?” In less expert hands, that wouldn’t be enough; in Harlan Coben’s, it’s plenty.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 21 April 2010 08:04

Harlan Coben is best known for thrillers in which a good man’s loved ones are menaced by extreme evil; the protagonist’s struggles are always personal. In Caught, the author lowers the stakes considerably when New Jersey TV anchor Wendy Tynes merely loses her job after an on-camera “predator” sting results in death-by-vigilante. In an attempt to win back her job and repair her reputation, Tynes reinvestigates the case against accused molester Dan Mercer, and learns that he might have been innocent all along. Mercer, a social worker, was one of several college roommates whose lives have been destroyed by an unknown enemy.

The author is also not exactly famed for his high humor, yet here he delivers a gut-splitting scene centered around an excruciatingly untalented white, middle-aged, suburban rap artist and his white, middle-aged, suburban groupies. Adding to an already convoluted plot is the disappearance of a 17-year-old girl who had known and trusted the murdered social worker, and might—just might—have been murdered by him. One of the major satisfactions in Caught is to watch the television journalist waver back and forth over Mercer’s presumed guilt, as well as the possible criminality of his old college roommates. There is no frenzied race here to save loved ones’ lives, because when the book opens, the damage has already been done. The only question left for Tynes is “Why?” In less expert hands, that wouldn’t be enough; in Harlan Coben’s, it’s plenty.

Nemesis

It doesn't matter that almost every cop in Oslo is looking for a brazen daytime bank robber who killed a cashier during his last heist. Inspector Hole insists on running his own investigation, teamed up with Beate L

Migration Assistant
Wednesday, 21 April 2010 10:04
::cck::2565
Box 21
Barbara Fister

Swedish crime fiction, varied though it is, tends to avoid the sensationalistic cat-and-mouse plot that drives many thrillers and instead uses the genre to examine contemporary society. Victims are often more the focus than the villains, and though police are nominally the heroes, the flaws in the justice system and the corrosive effect of unequal power relationships are implicated. This does not prevent these stories from being thrilling however, and Box 21 is further evidence that social issues can be the stuff of edge-of-the-seat storytelling.

A young woman from a Baltic state who has been trafficked to Sweden by a highly organized prostitution ring is found by police horribly beaten, apparently by an angry pimp. While in the hospital, she asks a friend to retrieve some items from a rental box, and armed with a gun, explosives, and a videotape she takes hostages in the morgue. Though her Swedish is limited, she's able to hold off a police team as negotiators try to find out what she wants. Investigators desperately try to find out who she is and what led to the standoff. What results manages to be brutal and deeply sensitive at the same time.

Roslund and Hellström are, respectively, a criminoligist and an ex-convict who now works with young offenders. There's an authority to their writing; they know the territory firsthand. Published in the UK as The Last Vault, it's a shame the translator's name is not included anywhere in the publication because he or she also deserves high marks.

Migration Assistant
Thursday, 22 April 2010 09:04

Swedish crime fiction, varied though it is, tends to avoid the sensationalistic cat-and-mouse plot that drives many thrillers and instead uses the genre to examine contemporary society. Victims are often more the focus than the villains, and though police are nominally the heroes, the flaws in the justice system and the corrosive effect of unequal power relationships are implicated. This does not prevent these stories from being thrilling however, and Box 21 is further evidence that social issues can be the stuff of edge-of-the-seat storytelling.

A young woman from a Baltic state who has been trafficked to Sweden by a highly organized prostitution ring is found by police horribly beaten, apparently by an angry pimp. While in the hospital, she asks a friend to retrieve some items from a rental box, and armed with a gun, explosives, and a videotape she takes hostages in the morgue. Though her Swedish is limited, she's able to hold off a police team as negotiators try to find out what she wants. Investigators desperately try to find out who she is and what led to the standoff. What results manages to be brutal and deeply sensitive at the same time.

Roslund and Hellström are, respectively, a criminoligist and an ex-convict who now works with young offenders. There's an authority to their writing; they know the territory firsthand. Published in the UK as The Last Vault, it's a shame the translator's name is not included anywhere in the publication because he or she also deserves high marks.

Evil for Evil

Billy Boyle is a third generation Irish-American cop from Boston with a distant relationship to Dwight Eisenhower, supreme commander of American WWII troops in Europe. Billy works in Ike's Office of Special Investigations, a catch-all department of clandestine operations. This time Billy is dispatched to Northern Ireland to investigate the theft of 50 Browning Automatic Rifles (BARs), and teams up with subaltern Sl

Migration Assistant
Thursday, 22 April 2010 09:04

Billy Boyle is a third generation Irish-American cop from Boston with a distant relationship to Dwight Eisenhower, supreme commander of American WWII troops in Europe. Billy works in Ike's Office of Special Investigations, a catch-all department of clandestine operations. This time Billy is dispatched to Northern Ireland to investigate the theft of 50 Browning Automatic Rifles (BARs), and teams up with subaltern Sl

Rizzo's War

Although cheered by his new partner's experience and savvy, newly-minted NYPD detective Mike McQueen also has some qualms. First, he's intimidated by the legendary Joe Rizzo's record, as there's nothing the grizzled veteran hasn't successfully dealt with over the decades. Second, he's not sure whether he can adapt to the enigmatic Rizzo's unique style, and ultra pragmatic way of doing things. Finally, there's the looming Internal Affairs Division investigation into Rizzo's dirty ex-partner, Johnny Morrelli. Is Rizzo, who seems to be concealing something, corrupt as well, or merely too loyal?

The answers to these questions form the backbone of Manfredo's solid debut as readers, in tandem with McQueen, discover the many facets of Rizzo's personality. The author, a 25-year veteran of the Brooklyn criminal justice system, reveals his characters through a series of illuminating set pieces before moving on to the chief action of the story

Migration Assistant
Thursday, 22 April 2010 09:04

Although cheered by his new partner's experience and savvy, newly-minted NYPD detective Mike McQueen also has some qualms. First, he's intimidated by the legendary Joe Rizzo's record, as there's nothing the grizzled veteran hasn't successfully dealt with over the decades. Second, he's not sure whether he can adapt to the enigmatic Rizzo's unique style, and ultra pragmatic way of doing things. Finally, there's the looming Internal Affairs Division investigation into Rizzo's dirty ex-partner, Johnny Morrelli. Is Rizzo, who seems to be concealing something, corrupt as well, or merely too loyal?

The answers to these questions form the backbone of Manfredo's solid debut as readers, in tandem with McQueen, discover the many facets of Rizzo's personality. The author, a 25-year veteran of the Brooklyn criminal justice system, reveals his characters through a series of illuminating set pieces before moving on to the chief action of the story

R-E-S-P-E-C-T Anna Katharine Green (1846-1935)
Kate Stine

Anna Katharine Green (1846-1935)

When Anna Katharine Green’s phenomenally successful first novel, The Leavenworth Case, was published in 1878, Pennsylvania State legislators spent time in session debating whether any woman was capable of writing such a book. The Yale Law School faculty, however, had no doubts about the merit of the book—they made The Leavenworth Case required course reading.

Green, often referred to as the “mother of the detective story,” is credited with bringing middle-class respectability to the genre. She also created two early female sleuths, the elderly and nosy Miss Amelia Butterworth and Violet Strange, a petite girl detective.

green_leavenworthcase





 

 

Pictured: Anna Katharine Green (1846-1935) "The Mother of the Detective Story."

 

Teri Duerr
Friday, 23 April 2010 09:04

green_leaven_case-300x183The Leavenworth Case brought respect to the both women writers and the mystery genre.

Never Fear

Set amid the apocalyptic landscape of Southern California during the hellacious

Migration Assistant
Saturday, 24 April 2010 04:04

Set amid the apocalyptic landscape of Southern California during the hellacious

The Darkest Place

What is the darkest corner in the mind of man? The place where fear lives? Or the place where grief and rage dwell hand in hand? Deacon Kane has allowed sorrow and guilt to rule his life for years. Unable to cope with the death of his son, he's abandoned his writing career and lost himself in the bottle. His affair with a married woman is messy. His job as a college instructor is going downhill. He doesn't need more grief, but he gets it when three boys drown near Southampton and he's suspected of murder.

Like Kane, Tommy Miller lives with guilt. Unlike Kane, he's rebuilding his life. He teams up with two PIs to investigate what are officially called "accidental deaths

Migration Assistant
Saturday, 24 April 2010 04:04

What is the darkest corner in the mind of man? The place where fear lives? Or the place where grief and rage dwell hand in hand? Deacon Kane has allowed sorrow and guilt to rule his life for years. Unable to cope with the death of his son, he's abandoned his writing career and lost himself in the bottle. His affair with a married woman is messy. His job as a college instructor is going downhill. He doesn't need more grief, but he gets it when three boys drown near Southampton and he's suspected of murder.

Like Kane, Tommy Miller lives with guilt. Unlike Kane, he's rebuilding his life. He teams up with two PIs to investigate what are officially called "accidental deaths