Snowbound
Leslie Doran

When Rachael Innis disappears on a stormy night somewhere along an isolated, deserted highway in Arizona, her husband Will and daughter Devlin are faced with the anguish of not knowing her fate. And if Will’s loss and uncertainty aren’t enough to drive him to desperation, the fact that his daughter is weak and possibly dying with cystic fibrosis, and that the authorities have begun to suspect him of Rachael’s apparent murder, is. So, in the middle of the night, Will and Devlin disappear as well.

Five years later in southwestern Colorado FBI agent Kalyn Sharp shows up on Will and Devlin’s doorstep. Surprisingly, she doesn’t want to arrest Will, but rather to enlist his help. It seems that Rachael is not the only one to disappear under exactly the same circumstances. Their quest for answers leads them into the wilds of Alaska where, if the weather or the wolves don’t get you, something even worse just might.

Crouch has fashioned a premise that plays on readers’ most primal fears. The author throws together a very fit and prepared professional FBI agent with a geeky web designer and a sickly 16-year-old, then pits them against a group of cold-blooded villains in the middle of nowhere with Ma Nature and a blizzard to muddy the outcome. Snowbound is a gripping read for thriller fans.

Teri Duerr
2010-06-22 15:33:26

crouch_snowboundGet snowbound this summer with a chilling thriller set in Alaska.

Never Wave Goodbye
Debbi Mack

Four couples are thrown together by a parent’s worst nightmare when their children are kidnapped by a fake camp counselor and held for ransom. Lena Trainor, the protagonist, blames herself for overlooking clues that the so-called counselor was a phony, and blames her husband, David, for not being there to send their daughter Sarah off to her first overnight camp. Lena’s anguish and helplessness are expressed in vivid detail and her family’s dynamics, along with the other families’ agendas, propel the narrative—the results of which end up pitting families against one another and challenging the police investigators.

Magee also tells the story alternately from the kidnappers’ and children’s points of view, with Sarah Trainor stepping up and assuming a quasi-leadership role among the kids. The author’s habit of switching points of view within a scene creates a distancing effect at times, but the scene-to-scene perspective flipping effectively builds suspense. And though the resolution strains credulity a bit, Magee writes with the kind of emotional, dramatic punch that makes readers care enough about Sarah and her parents to stick with Never Wave Goodbye up to its finish.

Teri Duerr
2010-06-22 15:40:40

Four couples are thrown together by a parent’s worst nightmare when their children are kidnapped by a fake camp counselor and held for ransom. Lena Trainor, the protagonist, blames herself for overlooking clues that the so-called counselor was a phony, and blames her husband, David, for not being there to send their daughter Sarah off to her first overnight camp. Lena’s anguish and helplessness are expressed in vivid detail and her family’s dynamics, along with the other families’ agendas, propel the narrative—the results of which end up pitting families against one another and challenging the police investigators.

Magee also tells the story alternately from the kidnappers’ and children’s points of view, with Sarah Trainor stepping up and assuming a quasi-leadership role among the kids. The author’s habit of switching points of view within a scene creates a distancing effect at times, but the scene-to-scene perspective flipping effectively builds suspense. And though the resolution strains credulity a bit, Magee writes with the kind of emotional, dramatic punch that makes readers care enough about Sarah and her parents to stick with Never Wave Goodbye up to its finish.

Betrayers
Kevin Burton Smith

Since he first appeared in the ’70s, fedora fetishists have never been quite sure what to make of Nameless, Pronzini’s series gumshoe. Despite his obvious and deliberate roots in the lone wolf private dicks of ’30s and ’40s pulps, Nameless has always had a decidedly modern personal life. But even more disconcerting for traditionalists is that Nameless has continued to evolve. Whatever problems Pronzini originally threw at him—cancer scares, woman problems, and rogue partners—Nameless always faced them down alone. But that was then—this is now.

These days, Nameless has a name (Bill), a wife (Kerry), a daughter (Emily), and partners he can count on (Tamara and Jake). Hell, he’s even got a cat (Shameless)! He isn’t even necessarily the star of his own series anymore. Domestic crises and the (generally thematically linked) adventures of his partners have been getting equal page time for several years now. Fortunately for less hidebound readers, Nameless is still the endearingly cranky regular Joe he’s always been, combining the quiet professionalism of Hammett’s Continental Op and the gentle compassion of Thomas B. Dewey’s Mac.

In the 34th installment in the long-running series, we’re presented with three thematically linked subplots, plus a related domestic crisis in the Nameless household. Seems a vial of cocaine has been discovered in young Emily’s bedroom. Meanwhile, back at the office, Bill’s trying to figure out who’s behind the ongoing harassment of Mrs. Abbott, an elderly woman who lives alone. Jake (who has a few personal problems of his own) is also hot on the trail of a bail jumper with decidedly unpleasant relatives, and Tamara, the agency’s mercurial office manager, has taken it upon herself to go after a deceitful ex-lover. Betrayal, of course, is the theme that binds all these disparate threads together, and once again, Pronzini keeps readers off-balance, deftly weaving from plot to plot, and tying things up in the kind of emotionally satisfying conclusion the old pulps rarely featured.

Teri Duerr
2010-06-22 15:44:39

Since he first appeared in the ’70s, fedora fetishists have never been quite sure what to make of Nameless, Pronzini’s series gumshoe. Despite his obvious and deliberate roots in the lone wolf private dicks of ’30s and ’40s pulps, Nameless has always had a decidedly modern personal life. But even more disconcerting for traditionalists is that Nameless has continued to evolve. Whatever problems Pronzini originally threw at him—cancer scares, woman problems, and rogue partners—Nameless always faced them down alone. But that was then—this is now.

These days, Nameless has a name (Bill), a wife (Kerry), a daughter (Emily), and partners he can count on (Tamara and Jake). Hell, he’s even got a cat (Shameless)! He isn’t even necessarily the star of his own series anymore. Domestic crises and the (generally thematically linked) adventures of his partners have been getting equal page time for several years now. Fortunately for less hidebound readers, Nameless is still the endearingly cranky regular Joe he’s always been, combining the quiet professionalism of Hammett’s Continental Op and the gentle compassion of Thomas B. Dewey’s Mac.

In the 34th installment in the long-running series, we’re presented with three thematically linked subplots, plus a related domestic crisis in the Nameless household. Seems a vial of cocaine has been discovered in young Emily’s bedroom. Meanwhile, back at the office, Bill’s trying to figure out who’s behind the ongoing harassment of Mrs. Abbott, an elderly woman who lives alone. Jake (who has a few personal problems of his own) is also hot on the trail of a bail jumper with decidedly unpleasant relatives, and Tamara, the agency’s mercurial office manager, has taken it upon herself to go after a deceitful ex-lover. Betrayal, of course, is the theme that binds all these disparate threads together, and once again, Pronzini keeps readers off-balance, deftly weaving from plot to plot, and tying things up in the kind of emotionally satisfying conclusion the old pulps rarely featured.

Cut, Paste, Kill
Verna Suit

The opening scene of Cut, Paste, Kill will hook you: A woman scatters numbered ping pong balls and waits to see which one her cats will catch first, thus identifying her next murder victim. This cavalier attitude towards life and death sets the stage for the fourth installment in an entertaining series featuring Hollywood homicide detectives Mike Lomax and Terry Biggs. Lomax and Biggs take investigating murders seriously, but their approach to life in general is more California lite.

The murderer they are after in Cut, Paste, Kill targets people who have done terrible things but have escaped justice. She kills her victims by stabbing them with scissors, then leaves a scrapbook behind that tells their story. Just when Lomax and Biggs think they have solved the case and put the vigilante scrapbooker safely behind bars, another scissors-stabbed body turns up, complete with scrapbooked documentation. Who, then, is the real killer?

Cut, Paste, Kill is a light and breezy police procedural that readers will fly through in one sitting. Mike and Terry are likeable and funny with unconventional families who, despite their eccentricities, are refreshingly stable. The Hollywood setting, where everyone is in the movie business or wants to be, provides its own entertaining side story when Mike’s father gets a Big Idea for a movie and talks Terry into writing the script. This fast, fun, buddy-cop book has surprising twists and wisecracking humor, but also a fascinating psychological study, and touching family scenes with emotional depth. An over-the-top cinematic climax ices the cake. Fans of the Lomax and Biggs mysteries will be happy to learn that a TV series is said to be in the works.

Teri Duerr
2010-06-22 15:48:20

The opening scene of Cut, Paste, Kill will hook you: A woman scatters numbered ping pong balls and waits to see which one her cats will catch first, thus identifying her next murder victim. This cavalier attitude towards life and death sets the stage for the fourth installment in an entertaining series featuring Hollywood homicide detectives Mike Lomax and Terry Biggs. Lomax and Biggs take investigating murders seriously, but their approach to life in general is more California lite.

The murderer they are after in Cut, Paste, Kill targets people who have done terrible things but have escaped justice. She kills her victims by stabbing them with scissors, then leaves a scrapbook behind that tells their story. Just when Lomax and Biggs think they have solved the case and put the vigilante scrapbooker safely behind bars, another scissors-stabbed body turns up, complete with scrapbooked documentation. Who, then, is the real killer?

Cut, Paste, Kill is a light and breezy police procedural that readers will fly through in one sitting. Mike and Terry are likeable and funny with unconventional families who, despite their eccentricities, are refreshingly stable. The Hollywood setting, where everyone is in the movie business or wants to be, provides its own entertaining side story when Mike’s father gets a Big Idea for a movie and talks Terry into writing the script. This fast, fun, buddy-cop book has surprising twists and wisecracking humor, but also a fascinating psychological study, and touching family scenes with emotional depth. An over-the-top cinematic climax ices the cake. Fans of the Lomax and Biggs mysteries will be happy to learn that a TV series is said to be in the works.

The Magician’s Accomplice
Verna Suit

Commander Jana Matinova of the Slovakian police returns for a third outing in this crime series set in Europe. Jana is finally on the verge of happiness. She and prosecutor Peter Saris are about to announce their engagement when Peter is killed by a bomb. That same morning, a student is assassinated after sneaking into a hotel buffet. The coincidence of their timing leads Jana to suspect the events are somehow related, but she is barred from either case despite being the department’s top investigator.

Instead, she is sent to The Hague as Slovakia’s representative in the international police force, Europol. She soon realizes her real assignment there is to use Europol’s cross-border authority to investigate an international conspiracy that reaches high into governments, and which may be related to Peter’s death. Jana doesn’t know whom she can trust and soon becomes a target herself.

Along the way, Jana joins forces with a former magician known as “The Professor” who is the uncle of the assassinated student. Together they race around Europe one step ahead of a team of assassins. Under the Professor’s tutelage, Jana learns to use magician’s standbys of diversion and misdirection to evade their pursuers.

The Magician’s Accomplice is steeped in the remnants of communist-era paranoia, but isn’t nearly as gloomy as the series opener, Siren of the Waters. Instead it’s darkly comedic. Genelin is a master at capturing characters in a few pointed words. His descriptive powers make readers feel they are there with Jana and the professor prowling through Amsterdam, Prague, and Bratislava. The Magician’s Accomplice is an exotic, suspenseful, book-long chase scene that’s hard to put down.

Teri Duerr
2010-06-22 15:52:15

Commander Jana Matinova of the Slovakian police returns for a third outing in this crime series set in Europe. Jana is finally on the verge of happiness. She and prosecutor Peter Saris are about to announce their engagement when Peter is killed by a bomb. That same morning, a student is assassinated after sneaking into a hotel buffet. The coincidence of their timing leads Jana to suspect the events are somehow related, but she is barred from either case despite being the department’s top investigator.

Instead, she is sent to The Hague as Slovakia’s representative in the international police force, Europol. She soon realizes her real assignment there is to use Europol’s cross-border authority to investigate an international conspiracy that reaches high into governments, and which may be related to Peter’s death. Jana doesn’t know whom she can trust and soon becomes a target herself.

Along the way, Jana joins forces with a former magician known as “The Professor” who is the uncle of the assassinated student. Together they race around Europe one step ahead of a team of assassins. Under the Professor’s tutelage, Jana learns to use magician’s standbys of diversion and misdirection to evade their pursuers.

The Magician’s Accomplice is steeped in the remnants of communist-era paranoia, but isn’t nearly as gloomy as the series opener, Siren of the Waters. Instead it’s darkly comedic. Genelin is a master at capturing characters in a few pointed words. His descriptive powers make readers feel they are there with Jana and the professor prowling through Amsterdam, Prague, and Bratislava. The Magician’s Accomplice is an exotic, suspenseful, book-long chase scene that’s hard to put down.

Whiplash
Lynne F. Maxwell

Catherine Coulter is a veteran writer of thrillers, and Whiplash is the 12th entry in her series featuring FBI agents Dillon Savich and Lacey Sherlock, generally referred to by their last names. Married to each other, agents (and parents) Savich and Sherlock, are nonetheless able to maintain a balance between challenging jobs together as a professional duo and a satisfying home life—when they are home between jobs, that is. As the length of Coulter’s series suggests, these agents are in high demand and fortunately for readers, their exploits are complex and intricately plotted, providing first-rate entertainment for thriller fans. In Whiplash Savich and Sherlock land a complicated case involving corporate espionage and a Big Pharma company’s manipulation of the supply of a crucial chemo drug in order to generate inflated profits. Even before Savich and Sherlock arrive on the scene, a PI is hired to investigate the drug company shenanigans, but matters spin out of control with unexpected murders of drug company higher-ups.

Coulter’s work is best known for its frenetic action and suspense, and Whiplash is one of her best. This is ideal for summer beach reading, but it’s so engrossing readers will need to make a conscious effort to avert sunburn!

Teri Duerr
2010-06-22 15:55:15

Catherine Coulter is a veteran writer of thrillers, and Whiplash is the 12th entry in her series featuring FBI agents Dillon Savich and Lacey Sherlock, generally referred to by their last names. Married to each other, agents (and parents) Savich and Sherlock, are nonetheless able to maintain a balance between challenging jobs together as a professional duo and a satisfying home life—when they are home between jobs, that is. As the length of Coulter’s series suggests, these agents are in high demand and fortunately for readers, their exploits are complex and intricately plotted, providing first-rate entertainment for thriller fans. In Whiplash Savich and Sherlock land a complicated case involving corporate espionage and a Big Pharma company’s manipulation of the supply of a crucial chemo drug in order to generate inflated profits. Even before Savich and Sherlock arrive on the scene, a PI is hired to investigate the drug company shenanigans, but matters spin out of control with unexpected murders of drug company higher-ups.

Coulter’s work is best known for its frenetic action and suspense, and Whiplash is one of her best. This is ideal for summer beach reading, but it’s so engrossing readers will need to make a conscious effort to avert sunburn!

Strong Justice
Betty Webb

The Texas Rangers enjoy a legendary past, and author Jon Land does nothing to dispel the myths. Superheroes? His Texas Rangers lack only capes in order to be admitted into the X-Men’s august company. Violence? Don’t ever pull a gun on a Ranger, because you’ll either wind up dead or maimed for life—and that’s before the Ranger pulls his own gun. Manly silences? Yep, even when the Ranger is a woman, especially when she’s Caitlin Strong, granddaughter of a particularly famed Texas Ranger. When Caitlin does battle with Mexican drug lords, serial killers, human traffickers, and no-better-than-they-oughta-be Texas oil billionaires, it’s like watching John Wayne single-handedly clean up a corrupt border town. This is not to say that Caitlin doesn’t have her softer side. Her warm heart emerges when she’s in the vicinity of ex-con Cort Wesley Masters and his two young sons. In between over-the-top gunfights and beat-downs, Caitlin helps Cort keep his boys out of the hands of the state’s foster care system (even though she knows he’s almost as violent as she is). In this knock-down, drag-out action thriller, standard police procedure seldom appears as Caitlin wields her cartoonish violence for the Greater Good of Texas. While Strong Justice will entertain fans of brazen mythic heroes, readers who prefer realism might be disappointed.

Teri Duerr
2010-06-22 15:57:54

The Texas Rangers enjoy a legendary past, and author Jon Land does nothing to dispel the myths. Superheroes? His Texas Rangers lack only capes in order to be admitted into the X-Men’s august company. Violence? Don’t ever pull a gun on a Ranger, because you’ll either wind up dead or maimed for life—and that’s before the Ranger pulls his own gun. Manly silences? Yep, even when the Ranger is a woman, especially when she’s Caitlin Strong, granddaughter of a particularly famed Texas Ranger. When Caitlin does battle with Mexican drug lords, serial killers, human traffickers, and no-better-than-they-oughta-be Texas oil billionaires, it’s like watching John Wayne single-handedly clean up a corrupt border town. This is not to say that Caitlin doesn’t have her softer side. Her warm heart emerges when she’s in the vicinity of ex-con Cort Wesley Masters and his two young sons. In between over-the-top gunfights and beat-downs, Caitlin helps Cort keep his boys out of the hands of the state’s foster care system (even though she knows he’s almost as violent as she is). In this knock-down, drag-out action thriller, standard police procedure seldom appears as Caitlin wields her cartoonish violence for the Greater Good of Texas. While Strong Justice will entertain fans of brazen mythic heroes, readers who prefer realism might be disappointed.

Black Moonlight
Dori Cocuz

It’s 1935 and war is brewing in Europe, but mystery writer Marjorie McClelland and her new husband Creighton Ashcroft simply want to enjoy a quiet honeymoon on a secluded island near Bermuda. Instead they find Creighton’s estranged family, including his overbearing father, already in residence at the family estate. The next day the old man is dead and Creighton is suspect number one. When he’s whisked off to jail, it’s up to Marjorie to wade through a sea of secrets to determine who done it. The in-laws? Ashcroft Senior’s secretary? A local mother and son duo who manage the estate?

Black Moonlight, the third in a series by Amy Patricia Meade, is a classic whodunit in the truest sense and it had me hooked by page 20. Marjorie is a compelling character, whom I wanted to get to know better immediately. Likable and ballsy at a time when women were just starting to stretch their traditional boundaries, Marjorie is easy to root for.

Meade hits a snag with the ending, which was a little far-fetched and required a second reading to understand some of the logistics. However, the book is a fun read that keeps the reader accompanying Marjorie trying to figure out whodunit before she does. Readers of traditional mysteries will find much to enjoy in Black Moonlight.

Teri Duerr
2010-06-22 16:00:44

It’s 1935 and war is brewing in Europe, but mystery writer Marjorie McClelland and her new husband Creighton Ashcroft simply want to enjoy a quiet honeymoon on a secluded island near Bermuda. Instead they find Creighton’s estranged family, including his overbearing father, already in residence at the family estate. The next day the old man is dead and Creighton is suspect number one. When he’s whisked off to jail, it’s up to Marjorie to wade through a sea of secrets to determine who done it. The in-laws? Ashcroft Senior’s secretary? A local mother and son duo who manage the estate?

Black Moonlight, the third in a series by Amy Patricia Meade, is a classic whodunit in the truest sense and it had me hooked by page 20. Marjorie is a compelling character, whom I wanted to get to know better immediately. Likable and ballsy at a time when women were just starting to stretch their traditional boundaries, Marjorie is easy to root for.

Meade hits a snag with the ending, which was a little far-fetched and required a second reading to understand some of the logistics. However, the book is a fun read that keeps the reader accompanying Marjorie trying to figure out whodunit before she does. Readers of traditional mysteries will find much to enjoy in Black Moonlight.

Slow Horses
Jim Winter

When a bomb wrecks a train in one of London’s rail stations, the MI5 operative deemed responsible, River Cartwright, finds himself sent to Slough House. It’s where all MI5 agents who fail spectacularly go. Slough House has only one purpose: to drive the agency’s “slow horses” to resign. Only Jackson Lamb, the overweight, overbearing head of Slough House, cares to be there—after all, it’s his kingdom.

Things change, however, when British nationalists kidnap a Pakistani student and threaten to cut off his head live on the Internet. All of MI5 is on alert, including the Slough House misfits, who are dropped into the thick of it when it is discovered that one of their own is involved. Soon, Lamb and his agents are not only scrambling to find the kidnap victim, but dodging their own fellow agents.

The narrative is laced with the sort of dry, cynical sarcasm you’d expect in a story about people whose careers are finished. In Herron’s take on the spy thriller, parallels are drawn to Ian Fleming’s novels about the better-known and more glamorous MI6 and James Bond. The message here? MI5 is decidedly duller and more political than its sister agency, riddled by corruption and inefficiency. Herron’s MI5 lives in more fear of bad press and politicians than terrorists. Though the humor is subtle, Slow Horses’ verdict on Britain’s security service is blunt as hell.

Teri Duerr
2010-06-22 16:03:44

herron_slowhorsesM15, the inefficient, unglamorous, cynical and hilarious British agents to the rescue.

Running Dark
Leslie Doran

In Running Dark Jamie Freveletti delivers an adventure reminiscent of a Clive Cussler thriller with a female heroine. Emma Caldridge, biochemist and über runner, is competing in the grueling South African Comrades Ultra-Marathon when a roadside bomb explodes and throws her in the air. While she lies dazed in the dirt, a stranger using an EpiPen injects her with an unknown substance that allows her to jump up and complete the contest despite her injuries. With the marathon behind her, Emma’s real race against bi-terrorism has just begun in this multi-plot novel where the action flows from Africa to Washington DC, and finally to the Gulf of Aden located between Yemen and Somalia.

In a timely move, Freveletti focuses on piracy on the high seas in Running Dark. Emma’s friend, Special Agent Cameron Sumner, along with a suspected store of a dangerous chemicals, is being held hostage aboard a cruise ship. The descriptions of combat on the seas pitting fast, armed cigarette boats against an unarmed cruise ship are taut, suspenseful, and explosive. In addition to Agent Sumner, Edward Banner, President and CEO of Darkview (a Blackwater-like contract security firm), and retired Major Carol Stomeyer, Darkview’s Vice-President, also return from Freveletti’s first novel, Running from the Devil. Add to this rapidly escalating action a strong cast of appealing secondary characters: Harry Block, the loud Texan; Alicia, the tattooed receptionist; and Lock, the drug running pilot; and Running Dark is one entertaining read.

Teri Duerr
2010-06-22 16:13:07

In Running Dark Jamie Freveletti delivers an adventure reminiscent of a Clive Cussler thriller with a female heroine. Emma Caldridge, biochemist and über runner, is competing in the grueling South African Comrades Ultra-Marathon when a roadside bomb explodes and throws her in the air. While she lies dazed in the dirt, a stranger using an EpiPen injects her with an unknown substance that allows her to jump up and complete the contest despite her injuries. With the marathon behind her, Emma’s real race against bi-terrorism has just begun in this multi-plot novel where the action flows from Africa to Washington DC, and finally to the Gulf of Aden located between Yemen and Somalia.

In a timely move, Freveletti focuses on piracy on the high seas in Running Dark. Emma’s friend, Special Agent Cameron Sumner, along with a suspected store of a dangerous chemicals, is being held hostage aboard a cruise ship. The descriptions of combat on the seas pitting fast, armed cigarette boats against an unarmed cruise ship are taut, suspenseful, and explosive. In addition to Agent Sumner, Edward Banner, President and CEO of Darkview (a Blackwater-like contract security firm), and retired Major Carol Stomeyer, Darkview’s Vice-President, also return from Freveletti’s first novel, Running from the Devil. Add to this rapidly escalating action a strong cast of appealing secondary characters: Harry Block, the loud Texan; Alicia, the tattooed receptionist; and Lock, the drug running pilot; and Running Dark is one entertaining read.

Lethal Rage
Barbara Fister

Jack Warren has transferred from a relatively placid Toronto assignment to the notorious 51 Division, a downtown area that seethes with violence, vice, and temptation. Luckily, Jack has been teamed up with Sy Carter, a cop whose years of experience and encounters with the dregs of society haven’t loosened his grip on his moral compass. He guides the young man through the filth and the despair, keeping his young charge’s faith in justice—and his skin—intact, until tragedy makes Jack question everything he’s ever believed in.

Characterization is not a strength of this novel. Jack’s in-laws are cartoonish snobs who look down on his choice of career, and we get to know nothing about his wife other than that she’s chronically impatient with the demands of his job, but both beautiful and sexy. The story is a string of anecdotes that you imagine cops would tell in the bar after work. Some of them are touching, others a bit repulsive. However, it’s the realistic depiction of the day-to-day experience of uniformed police and their interactions with one another, and with the public that is the strength of this book. The author, an officer who spent 15 years in the district, knows his beat. In the best scenes, the reader gets a real insider’s ride-along experience and a short course in police work.

Teri Duerr
2010-06-22 16:18:44

Jack Warren has transferred from a relatively placid Toronto assignment to the notorious 51 Division, a downtown area that seethes with violence, vice, and temptation. Luckily, Jack has been teamed up with Sy Carter, a cop whose years of experience and encounters with the dregs of society haven’t loosened his grip on his moral compass. He guides the young man through the filth and the despair, keeping his young charge’s faith in justice—and his skin—intact, until tragedy makes Jack question everything he’s ever believed in.

Characterization is not a strength of this novel. Jack’s in-laws are cartoonish snobs who look down on his choice of career, and we get to know nothing about his wife other than that she’s chronically impatient with the demands of his job, but both beautiful and sexy. The story is a string of anecdotes that you imagine cops would tell in the bar after work. Some of them are touching, others a bit repulsive. However, it’s the realistic depiction of the day-to-day experience of uniformed police and their interactions with one another, and with the public that is the strength of this book. The author, an officer who spent 15 years in the district, knows his beat. In the best scenes, the reader gets a real insider’s ride-along experience and a short course in police work.

Think of a Number
M. Schlecht

Ok, think of a number between one and ten. Got it? Now keep that in mind as you read the next few paragraphs. John Verdon’s debut thriller plants retired NYPD detective Dave Gurney on an upstate New York farm with his wife Madeleine. An analytical legend and crime-solving superstar in his time, Gurney is having trouble getting in touch with his creative, nature-loving side. Then he settles on a hobby, spending hours indoors putting together digital portraits of serial killers for a local gallery owner. Madeleine is not pleased.

She is also less than thrilled when, inevitably, her husband is pulled back into detective mode. An old friend, Mark Mellery, has been receiving threatening letters that refer to his alcohol-fueled past misdeeds—and they promise retribution. But what really has Mellery scared is a number: 658. It’s the number he came up with when his unwanted correspondent requested that he think of a number between one and a thousand. When it arrives written on the next piece of mail delivered, it means Mellery’s number just might be up.

Parlor tricks do not a good thriller make, however. So Verdon has supplied Gurney with a second puzzle, a interstate serial murder investigation. As Gurney is increasingly drawn back into his familiar surroundings, his marriage suffers. It is this domestic conflict that puts the glue in Think of a Number’s spine, and allows the reader a deeper knowledge of what makes our protagonist tick. We’re connecting more than the dots of a procedural drama here. Verdon knows that the key to a good story is to learn as much about the detective’s demons as the criminal’s. And the number that you had in your head? Now multiply that by zero. Which is how many times you’ll put down this book before finishing.

Teri Duerr
2010-06-22 16:21:22

Ok, think of a number between one and ten. Got it? Now keep that in mind as you read the next few paragraphs. John Verdon’s debut thriller plants retired NYPD detective Dave Gurney on an upstate New York farm with his wife Madeleine. An analytical legend and crime-solving superstar in his time, Gurney is having trouble getting in touch with his creative, nature-loving side. Then he settles on a hobby, spending hours indoors putting together digital portraits of serial killers for a local gallery owner. Madeleine is not pleased.

She is also less than thrilled when, inevitably, her husband is pulled back into detective mode. An old friend, Mark Mellery, has been receiving threatening letters that refer to his alcohol-fueled past misdeeds—and they promise retribution. But what really has Mellery scared is a number: 658. It’s the number he came up with when his unwanted correspondent requested that he think of a number between one and a thousand. When it arrives written on the next piece of mail delivered, it means Mellery’s number just might be up.

Parlor tricks do not a good thriller make, however. So Verdon has supplied Gurney with a second puzzle, a interstate serial murder investigation. As Gurney is increasingly drawn back into his familiar surroundings, his marriage suffers. It is this domestic conflict that puts the glue in Think of a Number’s spine, and allows the reader a deeper knowledge of what makes our protagonist tick. We’re connecting more than the dots of a procedural drama here. Verdon knows that the key to a good story is to learn as much about the detective’s demons as the criminal’s. And the number that you had in your head? Now multiply that by zero. Which is how many times you’ll put down this book before finishing.

Faithful Place
Barbara Fister

Tana French burst on the scene with her talented, but (for some readers) frustratingly ambiguous and highly literary first novel, In the Woods. Now, with her third novel, she’s thoroughly at home in the top ranks of crime fiction.

Frank Mackey runs undercover operations in Dublin. He’s a competent and no-nonsense cop who hails from a rough, hardscrabble slum where poverty is pervasive and nobody talks to the police. He left home as a teen, planning to head for England with the love of his life, Rosie Daly, but she stood him up. He hasn’t been back since—not until someone discovers Rosie’s suitcase shoved up the fireplace of an abandoned building. It seems Rosie didn’t betray Frank after all, and now he wants to know what really happened that long-ago night.

Faithful Place is a terrific book, full of richly-developed characters, a knotted tangle of close but badly frayed family ties, and a neighborhood that’s real down to every brick. Frank’s voice is funny and fierce, as down-to-earth as a lump of peat, and complicated to boot, but heartbreakingly true. French proves it doesn’t take serial murders, high-level conspiracies, or the world’s fate teetering in the balance to create a compelling, absorbing story. The lives of ordinary people on a single city block, observed closely with heart and skill, holds all the mystery anyone could ask for. Absolutely brilliant.

Teri Duerr
2010-06-22 16:24:03

french_faithfulplaceTana French now thoroughly at home in the top ranks of crime fiction.

So Cold the River
Hank Wagner

Although filmmaker Eric Shaw has an intuitive sense of storytelling, and for presenting provocative, resonant images, his career trajectory has not gone as planned. Starting at the top, he now finds himself mired in the middle, reduced to creating mini-documentaries shown at funerals. It is at one such funeral that he is hired to create a film about hard-nosed businessman Campbell Brown, who hailed from the small Indiana town of West Baden Springs. Armed with minimal background, and a preternaturally cold bottle of mineral water, he travels there, unknowingly enabling a long dormant supernatural force to act on ancient grudges. Finding himself in the middle of increasingly bizarre happenings, Shaw struggles to maintain his sanity and to stay alive.

One theory about purchasing hardcover books at today’s inflated prices is that they yield more value than a similarly priced meal at a good restaurant, providing many more hours of enjoyment in comparison. That theory certainly holds for Koryta’s second standalone novel, a true literary feast. Already an outsized talent, Koryta continues to grow and improve with this eerie and engrossing supernatural mystery. Shaw is an ideal protagonist, reacting to strange events in exactly the way many of us would, initially with skepticism, then slowly responding more forcefully. Koryta makes him believable and credible, grounding his tale solidly in the real world before introducing more outré elements, creating a novel which compares favorably to such horror classics as Stephen King’s The Shining and Peter Straub’s Ghost Story.

Teri Duerr
2010-06-22 16:33:21

koryta_socoldtheriverAn eerie and engrossing supernatural mystery.

Fragile
Debbi Mack

Fragile starts on a dark and stormy night, but the story is anything but clichéd. It centers around a family—Maggie Cooper, a psychologist; her husband, a cop named Jones; and their son, Rick—living in the small upstate New York community of The Hallows. When Rick’s girlfriend, Charlene, disappears Hallows residents slowly realize that the girl didn’t run away, she was taken, and possibly killed. This dredges up memories of a similar incident in Jones’ past—a story that gets seamlessly woven into the modern day narrative.

Using multiple points of view, including Maggie’s troubled teen patient, Marshall, who appears to be involved, as well as various close-knit friends, relatives, and newcomers to the neighborhood, Lisa Unger does a masterful job of depicting small town claustrophobia, dysfunctional family dynamics, and the dark secrets that haunt people.

Maggie is a sympathetic protagonist, despite her tendency to over-mother Ricky (as she calls him). The prose is elegant, mesmerizing even—enough to lull the reader past a minor crack in the plot structure. Highly suspenseful, Fragile is about more than a missing child. It’s about weird twists of fate, life decisions, regrets and wondering how things might have been.

Teri Duerr
2010-06-22 16:42:44

Fragile starts on a dark and stormy night, but the story is anything but clichéd. It centers around a family—Maggie Cooper, a psychologist; her husband, a cop named Jones; and their son, Rick—living in the small upstate New York community of The Hallows. When Rick’s girlfriend, Charlene, disappears Hallows residents slowly realize that the girl didn’t run away, she was taken, and possibly killed. This dredges up memories of a similar incident in Jones’ past—a story that gets seamlessly woven into the modern day narrative.

Using multiple points of view, including Maggie’s troubled teen patient, Marshall, who appears to be involved, as well as various close-knit friends, relatives, and newcomers to the neighborhood, Lisa Unger does a masterful job of depicting small town claustrophobia, dysfunctional family dynamics, and the dark secrets that haunt people.

Maggie is a sympathetic protagonist, despite her tendency to over-mother Ricky (as she calls him). The prose is elegant, mesmerizing even—enough to lull the reader past a minor crack in the plot structure. Highly suspenseful, Fragile is about more than a missing child. It’s about weird twists of fate, life decisions, regrets and wondering how things might have been.

The Search
Helen Francini

On a sleepy, wooded island off the coast of Washington State, Fiona Bristow heads a canine search and rescue team and trains dogs for a living. Her idyllic lifestyle is a reaction to a deeply traumatic event: years ago, a serial killer brutally murdered her policeman fiancé and his dog, and almost killed her too. Due to the evidence she gave at the killer’s trial, he is now jailed for life, but now a copycat killer is coming after Fiona.

A hybrid thriller-romance, this book provides a pleasant change of pace from the relentless action found in so many of today’s hardboiled suspense novels. Although not slow, it is more leisurely than most, with plenty of time given to the relationship between Fiona and her new love interest, Simon, a recent addition to the island. When we meet Simon he is comically and endearingly exasperated with his new puppy. It is in no way love at first sight, but their romance develops over time, slowly and naturally.

As the book progresses and the serial killer closes in, Fiona proves she is no damsel in distress; she is a survivor, a strong, sensible and refreshingly capable woman who recognizes danger and does not lose her head. Animal lovers will revel in Fiona’s rapport with her dogs, and in the information on puppy training.

Teri Duerr
2010-06-22 16:45:58

On a sleepy, wooded island off the coast of Washington State, Fiona Bristow heads a canine search and rescue team and trains dogs for a living. Her idyllic lifestyle is a reaction to a deeply traumatic event: years ago, a serial killer brutally murdered her policeman fiancé and his dog, and almost killed her too. Due to the evidence she gave at the killer’s trial, he is now jailed for life, but now a copycat killer is coming after Fiona.

A hybrid thriller-romance, this book provides a pleasant change of pace from the relentless action found in so many of today’s hardboiled suspense novels. Although not slow, it is more leisurely than most, with plenty of time given to the relationship between Fiona and her new love interest, Simon, a recent addition to the island. When we meet Simon he is comically and endearingly exasperated with his new puppy. It is in no way love at first sight, but their romance develops over time, slowly and naturally.

As the book progresses and the serial killer closes in, Fiona proves she is no damsel in distress; she is a survivor, a strong, sensible and refreshingly capable woman who recognizes danger and does not lose her head. Animal lovers will revel in Fiona’s rapport with her dogs, and in the information on puppy training.

The Wolves of Fairmount Park
Tim Davis

Ed McBain, famous author of police procedurals, once described the process for writing his 87th Precinct novels: “I usually start with a corpse. I then ask myself how the corpse got to be that way.” This prescriptive analysis perfectly describes the power of Dennis Tafoya’s approach in his second Philadelphia mystery. Here is how it all starts: “Michael Donovan and George Parkman Jr. were shot in front of the dope house on Roxborough Avenue on a Thursday night in June, [and] Mia and Tisa were standing on the stoop at Pelchin Street [. . . while taking] a little break before the next johns[.]“

Building upon that attention-grabbing opening, Tafoya shows readers what really happened to Donovan and Parkman by interweaving four distinct narrative voices (two fathers of the victims, one detective, and one junkie) in a complex tale that is much more than a routine whodunit crime story. The Wolves at Fairmount Park is a dark portrait of a harrowing world inhabited by characters threatened by addictions, passions, and secrets. Readers discover along the way that the police and the families of the shooting victims will have a difficult time maintaining a delicate balance between rage and grief in their “rough and tumble” quest for justice. Much like Tafoya’s superb first novel, Dope Thief, the carefully crafted plotting, the deftly nuanced characterizations, and the compelling themes combine to make The Wolves of Fairmont Park a highly recommended novel.

Teri Duerr
2010-06-22 16:49:13

tafoya_wolvesoffairmountparkThe Wolves at Fairmount Park is a dark portrait of a harrowing world inhabited by characters threatened by addictions, passions, and secrets.

Following Polly
Lynne F. Maxwell

Following Polly is a murderous romp featuring a clever and gently unhinged protagonist. Author Karen Bergreen, a professional comedian, exercises her comedic skill in creating New Yorker Alice Teakle, a perpetually underemployed (now unemployed), Harvard grad. Alice harbors unresolved resentment toward her former dorm-mate, Polly Linley Dawson, who has developed a wildly lucrative career as an entrepreneur in the fashion industry. With time on her hands, Alice takes on the bizarre task of stalking Polly and discovers the usual sexual indiscretions; however, nothing too dramatic occurs—until Polly is murdered, and Alice is named the prime suspect. Alice goes on the lam and seeks to identify the actual murderer. Along the way, she develops an unusual relationship with Charlie, the object of her college fantasies. Despite the screwball nature of this mystery, it works, and memorably so.

Moreover, one of Bergreen’s major strengths as a writer is her ability to create witty repartee. The quick, ever-sarcastic Alice is highly entertaining. Also, Alice has an uncanny ability to navigate various strata of society, from the extraordinarily wealthy to the homeless. Her incredible resourcefulness and ready wit are guaranteed to entertain.

Teri Duerr
2010-06-24 14:51:20

bergreen_followingpollyMeet Polly, the gently unhinged protagonist, at the heart of this screwball murder mystery from professional comedian-turned-author Karen Bergreen.

Hailey’s War
Betty Webb

Hailey Cain has washed out of West Point and now makes a hand-to-mouth living as a bicycle messenger in San Francisco. Although oddly unemotional, Hailey begins each morning by walking along the pedestrian pathway of the Golden Gate Bridge in order to dissuade would-be jumpers. This daily routine changes when old chum Serena, now the leader of a Los Angeles girl gang, hires her to escort Nidia, a young Hispanic woman, to Mexico. During this ill-fated trip, Hailey is shot and Nidia is kidnapped. After recovering from her wounds, Hailey enlists the gang’s help to rescue her charge, but first must get “jumped in” and become a gang member herself.

In this wonderfully oblique thriller, patriotic West Point values are thrown into conflict with gangsta girl bonding, although at times, they don’t seem all that far apart. Bravery and loyalty are the hallmarks of both organizations. Hailey, for all her emotional blankness (and perhaps because of it), is a series-worthy character, often calling to mind Barbara Seranella’s popular Munch Mancini. She never runs from a fight, and at times, seems to actually provoke one. This is a mystery within a mystery until the final pages, when we discover the reason Hailey left West Point. Harrowing and uplifting, Hailey’s War calls for a dozen sequels, because once you meet this ex-cadet, you’ll want to hang out with her for a long, long time.

Teri Duerr
2010-06-24 15:15:51

Hailey Cain has washed out of West Point and now makes a hand-to-mouth living as a bicycle messenger in San Francisco. Although oddly unemotional, Hailey begins each morning by walking along the pedestrian pathway of the Golden Gate Bridge in order to dissuade would-be jumpers. This daily routine changes when old chum Serena, now the leader of a Los Angeles girl gang, hires her to escort Nidia, a young Hispanic woman, to Mexico. During this ill-fated trip, Hailey is shot and Nidia is kidnapped. After recovering from her wounds, Hailey enlists the gang’s help to rescue her charge, but first must get “jumped in” and become a gang member herself.

In this wonderfully oblique thriller, patriotic West Point values are thrown into conflict with gangsta girl bonding, although at times, they don’t seem all that far apart. Bravery and loyalty are the hallmarks of both organizations. Hailey, for all her emotional blankness (and perhaps because of it), is a series-worthy character, often calling to mind Barbara Seranella’s popular Munch Mancini. She never runs from a fight, and at times, seems to actually provoke one. This is a mystery within a mystery until the final pages, when we discover the reason Hailey left West Point. Harrowing and uplifting, Hailey’s War calls for a dozen sequels, because once you meet this ex-cadet, you’ll want to hang out with her for a long, long time.

The Amateur Historian
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

When York policeman Rick Rounder fails to save a young girl from her suicidal father and is injured in the attempt, he decides to leave the force and move to Australia. Ten years later, now married, he returns to the area and sets up shop as a private detective, much to the dismay of his older brother, who is now a Chief Inspector in the York constabulary. While Rick works on his first assignment, spying on the young wife of a suspicious older man, a young girl is kidnapped, but neither case is as uncomplicated as it first seems...and the two brothers eventually find themselves working together in an attempt to save a young girl from harm.

As one might expect from the title, history plays a major role in this novel, both recent history and that which goes back more than a century. Revenge, “a dish best served cold,” is also a major factor. This is a difficult book to read, in part because it involves crimes against young girls, but also because it alternates between three different time periods: 1901, the present day, and ten years ago, and several different crimes.

Having said that, it’s a book I can recommend as well worth the effort, both for its compelling prose and the intricacy of its plot. Julian Cole, a journalist and columnist, spent three years researching and writing this, his first novel, and it shows. I do have one minor quibble, however: A particular incident set in a hospital and concerning someone out for revenge seemed like unnecessary overkill.

Teri Duerr
2010-06-24 15:21:49

When York policeman Rick Rounder fails to save a young girl from her suicidal father and is injured in the attempt, he decides to leave the force and move to Australia. Ten years later, now married, he returns to the area and sets up shop as a private detective, much to the dismay of his older brother, who is now a Chief Inspector in the York constabulary. While Rick works on his first assignment, spying on the young wife of a suspicious older man, a young girl is kidnapped, but neither case is as uncomplicated as it first seems...and the two brothers eventually find themselves working together in an attempt to save a young girl from harm.

As one might expect from the title, history plays a major role in this novel, both recent history and that which goes back more than a century. Revenge, “a dish best served cold,” is also a major factor. This is a difficult book to read, in part because it involves crimes against young girls, but also because it alternates between three different time periods: 1901, the present day, and ten years ago, and several different crimes.

Having said that, it’s a book I can recommend as well worth the effort, both for its compelling prose and the intricacy of its plot. Julian Cole, a journalist and columnist, spent three years researching and writing this, his first novel, and it shows. I do have one minor quibble, however: A particular incident set in a hospital and concerning someone out for revenge seemed like unnecessary overkill.

Rock Paper Tiger
Kevin Burton Smith

In her bold, deliciously off-kilter debut, Lisa Brackmann sets up a dizzying itinerary, jostling readers back and forth in time and space from the war-torn Iraq of “a rough six years or so” ago to contemporary China. But just in case anybody gets too complacent, she tosses in a few Stateside flashbacks and excursions into the virtual world of online role-playing.

Still, readers have it relatively easy—it’s Ellie Cooper who has to live it. She’s a 26-year-old ex-pat American vet still recovering from wounds sustained while serving as an EMT in Iraq. Having been abandoned in China by her cheating husband Trey, Ellie is marginally employed, estranged from her born-again Stateside mother, and racked with guilt over her reluctant participation in possible war crimes. Ellie is adrift, barely hanging on—a loose cannon without a country. And then, while visiting her sometime-boyfriend Lao Zhang, a young artist with a growing international rep and “suspect” politics, she meets one of his friends, an Uighur—a member of the barely tolerated Chinese Muslim minority—and Ellie finds herself a pawn in a game of political and corporate cat-and-mouse. Suspected of being a terrorist—or at least a potentially valuable double agent—and pursued by both the American and Chinese governments and other, more shadowy entities (including the private “American interests” that now employ Trey), Ellie has no idea what’s going on.

When Lao Zhang disappears, Ellie takes it on the lam herself, in a frantic trek by bus and train through a polluted, paranoid China that Western readers rarely see: a restless place of grungy Internet cafes, jet-setting art collectors, greasy noodle joints, Starbucks-strewn suburbs, under-the-radar activists, faceless cities of millions of people, disco parties on the Great Wall, desolate outposts, and most incongruously of all, a vibrant world of online gaming fanatics who may—or may not—be trying to use the game to contact Ellie and thus avoid what Ellie derisively calls “the Great Firewall of China.” In this truly post-modern mash-up of Hitchcock, National Geographic, Reds, G.I. Jane, John le Carré, and Tron, Brackman covers more ground in one thriller than some writers do in a career. Recommended.

—Kevin Burton Smith

Teri Duerr
2010-06-24 15:25:01

brackmann_rockpapertigerA bold, deliciously off-kilter debut set in contemporary China.

The Burning Wire
Jackie Houchin

Police routinely apprehend felons wielding guns, knives, and even bombs, but what about a criminal whose weapon is electricity? It’s everywhere, it’s invisible, and it takes only a tenth of an amp to stop a heart. When a spectacular arc flash destroys a Manhattan electrical substation, fries a bystander, and plunges a section of the city into darkness, finding just such a criminal is the challenge faced by quadriplegic forensic criminalist Lincoln Rhyme. Heading a task force of personnel from the NYPD, FBI, and Homeland Security, Rhyme sends his top investigators to search the still-smoking crime scene for evidence.

In his townhouse lab, each fiber and element is dissected and examined by the methodical investigator. How was it done? Who is responsible? When and where will he strike next? Tried and true methods of investigation run by veteran cops and agents are pitted against the changing world of modern technology and communications used by Homeland Security and FBI hotshots. Can the “tortoise” and “hare” work together? When a message from the killer arrives, demanding an immediate power outage or more people will die, the deadly countdown begins.

On the other side of the country the California Bureau of Investigation and Mexican Police are pursuing “The Watchmaker,” Rhymes’s old nemesis. As the criminalist tries to monitor both operations, the strain takes its toll on his fragile health. Meanwhile setbacks stall the New York investigation and more lives are lost.

As fans of the previous eight Rhyme thrillers know, this series takes suspense to the highest level, setting desperate situations and ticking clocks against micro-detailed studies of evidence. As soon as the solution is in sight, Deaver twists the story in a new direction and the race is on again. The author’s knowledge of electricity and forensics is fascinating, but his extensive use of initials and acronyms slows down the action.

Teri Duerr
2010-06-24 15:31:40

Police routinely apprehend felons wielding guns, knives, and even bombs, but what about a criminal whose weapon is electricity? It’s everywhere, it’s invisible, and it takes only a tenth of an amp to stop a heart. When a spectacular arc flash destroys a Manhattan electrical substation, fries a bystander, and plunges a section of the city into darkness, finding just such a criminal is the challenge faced by quadriplegic forensic criminalist Lincoln Rhyme. Heading a task force of personnel from the NYPD, FBI, and Homeland Security, Rhyme sends his top investigators to search the still-smoking crime scene for evidence.

In his townhouse lab, each fiber and element is dissected and examined by the methodical investigator. How was it done? Who is responsible? When and where will he strike next? Tried and true methods of investigation run by veteran cops and agents are pitted against the changing world of modern technology and communications used by Homeland Security and FBI hotshots. Can the “tortoise” and “hare” work together? When a message from the killer arrives, demanding an immediate power outage or more people will die, the deadly countdown begins.

On the other side of the country the California Bureau of Investigation and Mexican Police are pursuing “The Watchmaker,” Rhymes’s old nemesis. As the criminalist tries to monitor both operations, the strain takes its toll on his fragile health. Meanwhile setbacks stall the New York investigation and more lives are lost.

As fans of the previous eight Rhyme thrillers know, this series takes suspense to the highest level, setting desperate situations and ticking clocks against micro-detailed studies of evidence. As soon as the solution is in sight, Deaver twists the story in a new direction and the race is on again. The author’s knowledge of electricity and forensics is fascinating, but his extensive use of initials and acronyms slows down the action.

The Pull of the Moon
Oline Cogdill

Teenagers in an isolated situation have been fodder for countless novels. Raging hormones, no adult supervision and, often, a bit of alcohol and drugs, can lead to just about anything. Evan Hunter made the most of this in 1969 Last Summer and so did Donna Tart in The Secret History. British author Diane Janes brings her own spin to this timeless setup in her tightly plotted debut, The Pull of the Moon. More than a simple cautionary tale about good kids going bad, it is also a testament to the influence of one’s past, and the corrosiveness of secrets.

Retired teacher Kate Mayfield has tried to forget the summer of 1972 when she shared a remote country house in Herefordshire with her boyfriend, Danny Ivanisovic, and Danny’s college friend, Simon Willis, but a letter from Danny’s dying mother forces Kate to re-examine that summer and the person she has become.

The pleasant routine of their days is shaken up when the trio of friends encounter the enigmatic Trudie Finch. Trudie quickly becomes the newest member of their household. The boys are fascinated by the lithe newcomer, who refuses to talk about her past, and who makes sumptuous feasts. Kate just finds her annoying and is especially irritated with Trudie’s fascination with a ghost story connected to the house. Friendships and sanity begin to unravel when a fatal accident occurs. While The Pull of the Moon is predictable in spots, Janes eases in myriad twists that keep her plot moving towards its stunning finale. In the end it is Janes’ insight into her characters (Kate’s bristly nature hides a wellspring of emotion and regret, and the teenagers’ awkwardness with each other parallels each’s unease with him- or herself), that elevates The Pull of the Moon.

Teri Duerr
2010-06-24 15:34:51

Teenagers in an isolated situation have been fodder for countless novels. Raging hormones, no adult supervision and, often, a bit of alcohol and drugs, can lead to just about anything. Evan Hunter made the most of this in 1969 Last Summer and so did Donna Tart in The Secret History. British author Diane Janes brings her own spin to this timeless setup in her tightly plotted debut, The Pull of the Moon. More than a simple cautionary tale about good kids going bad, it is also a testament to the influence of one’s past, and the corrosiveness of secrets.

Retired teacher Kate Mayfield has tried to forget the summer of 1972 when she shared a remote country house in Herefordshire with her boyfriend, Danny Ivanisovic, and Danny’s college friend, Simon Willis, but a letter from Danny’s dying mother forces Kate to re-examine that summer and the person she has become.

The pleasant routine of their days is shaken up when the trio of friends encounter the enigmatic Trudie Finch. Trudie quickly becomes the newest member of their household. The boys are fascinated by the lithe newcomer, who refuses to talk about her past, and who makes sumptuous feasts. Kate just finds her annoying and is especially irritated with Trudie’s fascination with a ghost story connected to the house. Friendships and sanity begin to unravel when a fatal accident occurs. While The Pull of the Moon is predictable in spots, Janes eases in myriad twists that keep her plot moving towards its stunning finale. In the end it is Janes’ insight into her characters (Kate’s bristly nature hides a wellspring of emotion and regret, and the teenagers’ awkwardness with each other parallels each’s unease with him- or herself), that elevates The Pull of the Moon.

The Liar’s Lullaby
Barbara Fister

Forensic psychiatrist Jo Beckett is back, this time performing a forensic autopsy on country singer Tasia McFarland, whose theatrical entrance at a sold-out show ends in disaster. Either she committed suicide, died accidentally in a stunt gone horribly wrong...or her paranoid delusions came true. It’s a complicated case, not just because she was a star battling bipolar disorder—being the ex-wife of the president of the United States raises the stakes. Soon things threaten to get out of control as rumors of conspiracy spread, fanned by incendiary Internet postings and right-wing anti-government extremists.

Jo Beckett and her colleagues provide the story with more depth and nuance than the breathless, twisty, anxiety-fueled plot. If you like thrillers that start out with a bang, where the fate of the nation hangs in the balance, and where the pages fly by too fast to let plausibility get in the way, you’ll enjoy having the smart, courageous, and resourceful Jo Beckett at your side.

Teri Duerr
2010-06-24 15:39:19

Forensic psychiatrist Jo Beckett is back, this time performing a forensic autopsy on country singer Tasia McFarland, whose theatrical entrance at a sold-out show ends in disaster. Either she committed suicide, died accidentally in a stunt gone horribly wrong...or her paranoid delusions came true. It’s a complicated case, not just because she was a star battling bipolar disorder—being the ex-wife of the president of the United States raises the stakes. Soon things threaten to get out of control as rumors of conspiracy spread, fanned by incendiary Internet postings and right-wing anti-government extremists.

Jo Beckett and her colleagues provide the story with more depth and nuance than the breathless, twisty, anxiety-fueled plot. If you like thrillers that start out with a bang, where the fate of the nation hangs in the balance, and where the pages fly by too fast to let plausibility get in the way, you’ll enjoy having the smart, courageous, and resourceful Jo Beckett at your side.

The Devil Amongst the Lawyers
Sue Emmons

The “devils” of this intriguing Appalachian Mountain mystery are the exploitative and unscrupulous yellow journalists of the 1930s. When comely school teacher Erma Morton is accused of slaying her father in 1935, the trial draws national press attention, including the interest of small-town rookie reporter, Carl Jenkins, from Tennessee. Jenkins is quickly disillusioned when he discovers that getting ahead demands that “truth should never stand in the way of a good story.” And while the media circus seems taken by the lovely defendant, the locals aren’t so sure of Morton’s innocence.

In addition to the murder trial itself, McCrumb’s tale is laden with several intertwining plot threads, including a mountain girl with intuitive “sight,” an examination of the anti-feminism that prohibits women from serving on the jury, the culture of hard-drinking reporters, flights in new-fangled airplanes, and even a tie to the mob in New York City.

Devil Amongst the Lawyers is the eighth in the author’s Ballad series, and veteran mystery writer McCrumb sure-handedly conveys the tenor of the times. She falters occasionally with her courtroom scenes, but the 1930s atmosphere along with its roster of delightful characters (like a scrappy photographer and both the lawyers on the case) makes this an enjoyable courtroom mystery.

Teri Duerr
2010-06-24 15:42:04

The “devils” of this intriguing Appalachian Mountain mystery are the exploitative and unscrupulous yellow journalists of the 1930s. When comely school teacher Erma Morton is accused of slaying her father in 1935, the trial draws national press attention, including the interest of small-town rookie reporter, Carl Jenkins, from Tennessee. Jenkins is quickly disillusioned when he discovers that getting ahead demands that “truth should never stand in the way of a good story.” And while the media circus seems taken by the lovely defendant, the locals aren’t so sure of Morton’s innocence.

In addition to the murder trial itself, McCrumb’s tale is laden with several intertwining plot threads, including a mountain girl with intuitive “sight,” an examination of the anti-feminism that prohibits women from serving on the jury, the culture of hard-drinking reporters, flights in new-fangled airplanes, and even a tie to the mob in New York City.

Devil Amongst the Lawyers is the eighth in the author’s Ballad series, and veteran mystery writer McCrumb sure-handedly conveys the tenor of the times. She falters occasionally with her courtroom scenes, but the 1930s atmosphere along with its roster of delightful characters (like a scrappy photographer and both the lawyers on the case) makes this an enjoyable courtroom mystery.