“I devoured the most recent Charles Todd mystery, The Red Door. This is part of his Inspector Ian Rutledge series and is set after WWI with elements of the war woven through several of the characters, including the first victim, a grieving war widow. The inspector is still tortured by the ghost of Hamish, a man who died during the war, and surprisingly somewhat of his muse as well. The slow unraveling of the secrets and the tension of never feeling sure who might be the next victim was absorbing. I somehow have missed many of the other books in this series so will be trying to backtrack now. I highly recommend this author. And yes I realize it is a mother and son writing together."
“I have been deep into the entire Inspector Woodend series by Sally Spencer, an author I’ve heard very little about and would like to know better. I have one elusive book left to read. These Woodend mysteries are excellent procedural stories and have at the core a good sensible, sometimes maverick, Northerner who is very likable in a brusque-but-mellow sort of way, has a good sensible wife, a couple of sometimes difficult but efficient bagmen (one a woman), and a series of crimes to solve that are not only skillfully and intricately constructed, but full of well-wrought, mostly interesting characters. I like that we follow Inspector Woodend from his Scotland Yard beginnings to his being assigned to the north country as a chief inspector, through his triumphs and downfalls, friendships, joys and sad loses, until a postscript retirement. This is a well-done series, indeed. I hope Spencer does more. And I’d like to read something (an interview?) on this author.
“Very few authors can create and then place you into a complete new world. But Elizabeth George can. I have followed the five main characters throughout the series, laughed and cried over Helen; admired, loved and worried about Lynley; appreciated Simon and Deb; and really, really remain fascinated with Barbara Havers and how her excellent mind works. The latest George book, This Body of Death, puts a different suit of clothes on Lynley, one I’m not sure I’m ready for, and introduces a new character (the jury is still out on this one). I devoured the book and recommend that readers go back and read a few of the earlier ones before reading this one, just to increase your interest in this new world that will suck you in! Congrats to George.
“Bibliophiles and librarians will love Gayle Lynds’ new thriller, The Book of Spies. From the very first sentence—“A library could be a dangerous place”—readers are taken on an international adventure at breakneck speed. Travel from Los Angeles to London, Rome to Istanbul and Athens, all in the company of former intelligence agent Judd Ryder and rare books curator Eva Blake, who’s equally skilled at martial arts and picking pockets. Throw in a power-hungry “book club” out to rule the world and the fabled Library of Gold. What a recipe for suspense! If you want a book that you can’t put down, this is it.
“I’d like to recommend three series by three different authors—Julie Kaewert’s Alex Plumtree series, Deborah Morgan’s Jeff Talbot series (an antique picker with an agoraphobic wife), and a British author, Marianne MacDonald’s Dido Hoare series (an antiquarian book seller).”
Aileen Schumacher was an environmental engineer in the 1990s, had written an engineering reference book, and ran her own technical supply company. She was conscious of being one of the few women in her field, and she had always wanted to write fiction. So she put it all together and came up with Engineered for Murder, her mystery featuring structural engineer Tory Travers.
She finished the book in the mid ’90s, and sent it to 75 publishers, receiving 75 rejections. Then an agent took an interest, recommended some revisions, and after that it was published by Write Way Publishing in 1996. There followed three more books in the series, ending in 2001 with Rosewood’s Ashes. Each book featured a structural engineering investigation (a ceiling collapse, faulty construction at a new stadium, etc.) by widowed single-parent Tory, and a murder investigation by Detective David Alvarez of the El Paso Police Department. Tory and David carry on a slow-brewing romance over the course of the books, with an unexpected turn in the fourth. Schumacher was born in Texas, and went to school in New Mexico. She studied biology, but became fascinated by engineering because it was possible to put into practice the things she learned in school. “That part of it seduced me,” she says. She was persuaded to switch to civil engineering for her Master’s degree. After school, she and her husband moved to Seattle where they were both offered jobs after school.
While they were there, Schumacher and her husband took full advantage of their new location. For two years they attended operas and ballets, visited Canada, and toured the Northwest. Suddenly they decided to move on.
“I’m the one that has the ideas, and my husband is the one that carries them through. So I was the one who said I was too young to stay in Seattle in the same career for the rest of my life. And he was the one who quit his job and put the house up for sale,” says Schumacher.
The Schumachers sold everything they owned, bought a trailer, and started touring the United States. “We expected to travel longer, but after six months we were in Gainesville, Florida, and a local firm needed someone with engineering experience with coal, and offered me a job. So we decided to stay.” It was in Gainesville that Schumacher started writing, working first on a historical novel about a theatrical architect before writing the Tory Travers mysteries. During this time she bounced story ideas off her two children. “My son’s advice was always to kill more people,” she says.
Schumacher looks back on her writing career with great fondness, but it is unlikely she will be writing more in the short-term. For the past decade she has been suffering from debilitating migraine headaches, and has to remain heavily medicated just to get through a day. “I’ve tried everything: drugs, diet, electrolysis, hypnosis, acupuncture, allergy treatments, massage, and meditation. I’ve tried things I don’t believe in, and things I would have turned my nose up at before I got sick.” While she was writing, Schumacher “got to do things I never thought I would do.” She enjoyed traveling to conventions and meeting fans. She had some experience with public speaking from her engineering work, and so was able to give talks and seminars.
While attending the 2001 Left Coast Crime conference in Alaska, Schumacher volunteered to be one of the writers traveling to the Bush, the part of Alaska not interconnected by roadways, and gave talks, attended signings, and spoke to schoolchildren about writing. “It was wonderful, and the people were grateful for our participation and wanted to give back. So I also got to go on a sled ride similar to what you would do in the Iditarod, and I was taken on a tour of Denali National Park. And my family got to go with me on these things. It was a dream come true,” says Schumacher. She and her family also attended Semana Negra, a week-long literary festival in Spain dedicated to mysteries, graphic novels, and science fiction. “All we had to do was get ourselves to Madrid, and from there any member of the International Association of Crime Writers had all expenses paid. So we just had to pay the travel costs for my family.” Schumacher looks back on her writing career and all that it brought her with great fondness. “It was an absolutely magical time.”
NO Quarter, by Robert Asprin, Eric Del Carlo, and Teresa Patterson, serves as a final tribute to the sci-fi/fantasy/mystery novelist who passed away May 22, 2008, leaving his book in the expert hands of co-writers Eric Del Carlo and Teresa Patterson. And what a bang-up farewell he’s given us!
Set in the French Quarter of pre-Katrina New Orleans, this memory-haunted mystery follows the troubled life of Sunshine, a murdered waitress, and the friends devastated by her death. Bone, Sunshine’s ex-husband, is so grieved that he bails from his table-waiting job to find her killer. Set almost entirely in French Quarter barrooms—except for the occasional brawl on Bourbon Street—the book introduces us to a splendid panoply of characters known only by their nicknames. Besides the pool-playing, movie- obsessed Bone, we meet Maestro, a fencing expert with a dangerous past (rumored to be based on Asprin himself); Rose, a tarot reader and voodoo practitioner; Jugger, a dim but huge ex-con; as well as Dunk, Bear, Werewolf, Firecracker, and Boogie Joe.
Such is the strength of Asprin’s writing that he makes us care about every single one of these troubled souls, right down to the feral street kids who would knife anyone just to break up the boredom of their day. Fascinating though these folks are, the true star of the novel is the French Quarter itself: historical, romantic, and dangerous. Asprin’s sensuous descriptions bring the neighborhood alive with scents of hot asphalt, stale beer, sugared beignets, and bloated corpses. Temperance types might want to forgo its booze-soaked pages, but the only shortcoming in this love song to a cursed and blessed city is that—unlike New Orleans itself—it finally ends.
In Zoë Sharp’s Killer Instinct with a foreword by Lee Child, we meet Charlotte “Charlie” Fox, a tough, motorcycle-riding, leather-wearing chick who teaches self-defense at an English women’s shelter. When offered a part-time job as bouncer at a posh nightclub she is at first a bit leery: one of its female customers has recently been murdered. But the combination of personal demons and innate curiosity outweighs Charlie’s common sense so she signs on, only to suspect that one of her new co-workers might be a killer.
This noir-ish outing is unusual in female-based mysteries in that it is extremely physical, replete with karate chops, groin kicks, and eyeball-poking—all delivered by Charlie herself. Abrasive though she is, the woman has her reasons. In delicately-handled flashbacks, we learn that while serving in the British Army, Charlie was brutally gang-raped by four fellow soldiers. In an astounding act of injustice, her rapists went unpunished while she was forced to resign from the Army. A side note: Killer Instinct was originally published in Britain in 2001, but this is the first time it’s been made available in the US. Seven more thrillers featuring this gloriously gritty ex-soldier are on the way.
One of the best short story collections so far this year is Delta Blues, edited by Carolyn Haines with a foreword by Morgan Freeman, and stories by John Grisham, Charlaine Harris, James Lee Burke, and others. The title of this superb anthology is both literal and metaphorical, incorporating bluesmen, field-hand humor, and tragedy.
Those into the musical sort of blues will thrill to Charlaine Harris’ “Crossroads Bargain,” a barely-disguised tale about legendary songwriter/guitarist Robert Johnson, who was reputed to have sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for his talent. Harris’ tale is so believable that at times, it almost convinces us the event actually happened. In John Grisham’s tragicomic “Fetching Raymond,” a woman and her two sons—both with prison records—are on their way to visit the youngest son, due to be executed that night. Reminiscent of Faulkner’s literature-changing “As I Lay Dying,” “Raymond” is a minor masterpiece, a laugh-out-loud story underpinned by unimaginable grief.
In Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly’s superb “What His Hands Had Been Waiting For,” we hear echoes of Flannery O’Connor. Set in 1927, when a devastating flood wiped out entire Southern communities, we meet Ham and Ingersoll, two friends whose compassion has been blunted by hardship. The pair are wading through corpses and wreckage, shooting looters and taking the bounty for themselves, but their second-hand pillage derails when they find a still-living baby. Although the story illuminates gut-wrenching poverty and the horrific things desperate people will do to remain alive, it manages to be both despairing and miraculous at the same time.
If you like thrillers set in the great outdoors, Sam Hilliard’s The Last Track might light your campfire. Mike Brody’s tracking skills are so expert that many of his clients think he’s psychic, therefore when a boy goes missing from a Montana resort, he’s brought in to find the teenager. Unfortunately, Brody isn’t the only person looking for him. The boy has witnessed a murder and some very bad people are after him, including a professional killer, a rogue Homeland Security agent, and a mysterious person known only as the Partner. Everyone becomes a suspect, right down to the cop in charge of the search and Brody’s journalist ex-wife, who is the mother of his son.
The best parts of this book come when Brody’s search takes us deep into the Montana woods, which the author describes in such beautiful detail that we can almost smell the pines. Hints about Brody’s own tragic background rachet up the tension, which spikes further when his own son is threatened by the Partner. At that point, Brody’s search for the missing teen becomes personal. While Track relies too much on coincidence, Brody is such a riveting character that he could easily anchor an entire series.
If you need some relaxation after all that high-octane hunt-and-shoot, Radine Trees Nehring’s A Journey to Die For provides a good antidote. Arkansas native Carrie King and her retired-cop husband Henry are back in a comforting cozy that focuses more on personal relationships than on murder. But yes, there is a corpse. As the book opens, Carrie and Henry are enjoying a relaxing train ride to Van Buren, a town rich in Civil War history. After shopping in one of Van Buren’s many antique stores, the two temporarily split up, leaving Carrie to amble alone beside the town’s riverbank. Her pleasurable hike ends when she finds the body of a fellow passenger. In his pocket—yes, the enjoyably nosy Carrie always checks—is a sack of what appear to be antique buttons. Once the death is reported to the police, Carrie and Henry re-board the train, only to see the “dead man” take the seat in front of them. Instead of being horrified, Carrie’s curiosity is further piqued, and against the advice of her husband, returns to Van Buren to investigate.
The charm of this series is its Midwestern sensibility, populated by loveable characters who worry more about their dairy herds than about themselves. This isn’t to say we don’t get plenty of bad guys. We do, but their “badness” derives from easily understood motives, not the near-Satanic evil of the Hannibal Lecters of the world. A nice, solid read for those turned off by rougher fare.
Although Curt Weeden and Richard Marek’s Book of Nathan is touted to be a Dan Brown-type thriller, its humorous tone and picturesque characters make it read more like a caper novel. A shady but popular televangelist has come into possession of “The Book of Nathan,” a lost part of the Bible reputed to turn the abortion debate on its ears. Before it can be made public, the televangelist is killed and a down-and-outer nicknamed Zeus is charged with his murder.
Rick Bullock, the agnostic director of the New Jersey homeless shelter which Zeus frequented, believes the hapless man is innocent. Aided by an improbable group of volunteers—among them a hilariously sleazy attorney and a hooker interviewing for a job at Disney World—Bullock tracks the televangelist’s footsteps to Florida. He and his oddball friends quickly run afoul of Quia Vita, a pro-life group every bit as shady as the dead televangelist. Alas, Quia Vita appears to have no qualms about killing anyone already born, so Bullock and Company soon find themselves on the run.
Caper novels can be fun, but in Nathan, the constant jokes frequently get in the way of the action. And while the plot itself revolves around a supposedly religious book, religious beliefs themselves are given such short shrift that it almost undermines the relevancy of the plot. However, some readers might find Bullock’s comments about the prophet Abraham not only entertaining, but possibly psychologically astute.
On The Defenders, Jim Belushi’s role as Nick Morelli is the onscreen version of Marc Saggese while Jerry O’Connell’s Pete Kaczmarek is the renamed Michael Cristalli. This is part 2 of an interview Cristalli and Saggese managed to squeeze in between court dates.
Marc: I hope there’s no confusion. It’s a complete fluke that The Defenders carries the same title as the 1960’s show. Before CBS came on board, we were involved with a documentary series produced by Joe and Harry Gantz titled “The Defenders” and CBS stuck with the name when they became involved in the project.
Michael: I don’t know too much about the previous Defenders show. I think it’s been such a long time, there won’t really be a mistake. The Defenders is about the legal system in Las Vegas as it stands today.
Marc: There’s been a definite change in the perception society has to the role of the prosecutor. I think defense councils have been getting a healthier reception through the years, being seen as someone who fights for the little guy in an effort to defend his rights.
Michael: The public’s view has changed on the justice system in general. There’s a lot of distrust of government these days. Society is more suspect of the police and the authorities and sometimes there may be a rush to judgment.
Marc: Crime is a realm that very few people deal with on a regular basis. So there is some level of curiosity about what goes in that courtroom. The world of law really is a kind of mystery.
Michael: We have a huge appetite for the law and the drama associated with it – it’s human nature. It’s when OJ was driving in his van, being chased by helicopters. It’s about the sensationalism of the big trial. People are attracted this kind of human drama.
Marc: People who we represent are sometimes completely innocent and sometimes they have varying degrees of guilt for a particular defense. Guilt is a complex definition.
Michael: Defense lawyers are portrayed as silk tongue individuals in fancy suits who get paid a lot of money to represent some scumbag who’s guilty. In reality, we care about our cases. We connect with our clients, they have children and mothers and fathers. You see the humanity that goes behind these people and the drama that exists in their personal stories. We fight every day for a cause, not to get a paycheck. The one unique quality of a good defense attorney is belief in the Constitution – truth beyond a reasonable doubt and the rights of all individuals.
Marc: Michael and I communicate with the team of 14 writers daily – up to three times a day. They want to make sure that the cases depicted on the show are legally in line. We are intimately involved and really enjoy that.
Michael: As consultants on the project, we love working closely with everyone involved, especially Jim and Jerry.
Marc: We’ve been on the set a number of times, and we usually go for two or three days a time. It’s great to see it happen in front of us live – there must be 100 or so crew members at every shot. So many people are involved to make the show what it is.
Michael: We continue our day jobs, but try to get on set as much as we can.
Marc: Once it has a viewing audience, we hope it will improve our practice. We definitely want to draw people to our firm.
Michael: I hope people realize that we’re trying to project something positive and shed light on a sometime unfair justice system.
Marc: I would recommend first that he not communicate with the media. Attorneys should do all of the communicating for him. He has certainly been his own worst enemy.
Michael: When cases are high profile and portray a client negatively, you sometimes have to change the perception of the defendant’s character. The client always needs to be humanized; something the state doesn’t want to do.
Marc: Never one, not for a second.
Michael: We have represented the worst of the worst, but I have never felt fear for my safety, even when I’m alone in a cell sitting face to face with a defendant accused of the worst acts. That’s because these people need us and look to us for help. They want to talk to us and want us to help them out.
Marc: I’m not going to take a case that there may be a possibility that I will not be fully invested in it. I will never half-heartedly represent a client.
Michael: Everybody’s entitled to a defense – it’s an inherent right in our system – but we personally have to believe we’re fighting for a cause and have to believe in our client.
As this book opens, a child is waiting in a cold car with her impatient, tense mother. She isn’t sure what is going on, and neither are we, seeing only from the child’s point of view as her mother orders her to hide in the backseat. She hears screams and a window cracks; men pile into the car and they drive off without her mommy.
Meanwhile, Erik Winter, a chief inspector in Gothenburg, Sweden’s diverse second largest city, finds himself investigating the murder of a woman who has no identity. Eventually, through patient work, the police discover her name, but she remains elusive, a woman who had no friends in her large public housing complex filled with refugees from various conflicts, including (in her case) battles between local biker gangs. But Winter knows one thing: she had a sma child. Finding the girl is his first priority.
Contemplative pacing, an introspective lead character, and subtle suspense characterize Edwardson’s Erik Winter series. The original title, whispers from a distance describes the difficulty the police have in piecing together who the woman was and what happened to her child. Readers who persist past the slow opening chapters will be rewarded with a nicely layered and psychologically intriguing story.
As is often the case with translated books, the series order is confusing. This is actually the second in the Erik Winter series, following Death Angels, though three more recent books in the series were translated first.
The make-believe world of the movie industry provides the setting for Elizabeth Brundage’s brilliantly structured third novel. Insurance underwriter Hugh Waters spent five years perfecting a screenplay that is miraculously sold to Hollywood, only to have a new studio executive trash his script and cancel its scheduled production. Something in Hugh snaps. Life imitates art as Hugh tracks down executive Hedda Chase and personally demonstrates for her that the violent ending of his story, which she scoffed would never work, does.
The book up to this point could be a satisfying short story, but in the remaining pages, Hugh, Hedda, and later an Iraq War veteran named Denny, each tell the story again from their own perspective. As they fill in fascinating backstory and exciting aftermath, A Stranger Like You becomes an absorbing thriller.
Moviemaking theory is a thread that runs through the book, with a director stressing a film’s basic elements—protagonist, antagonist, conflict, and resolution—and the importance of a premise. Hedda, Hugh and Denny are the protagonists in their own private dramas. The intersection of their individual conflicts produces consequences that are understandable but nonetheless horrifying. The reader knows things the characters don’t, and looks on in helpless fascination as an avalanche of darkly comic events rolls on to an unpredictable resolution. The premise of A Stranger Like You might be simply that one thing leads to another, but the way it does so here guarantees you won’t be able to put this suspenseful book down.
In this followup to the debut The Ghosts of Belfast, Belfast police Detective Inspector Jack Lennon learns his former lover, Marie McKenna, and their daughter, Ellen, are in danger after Ellen witnesses a bloody massacre loosed by paramilitary assassin Gerry Fegan. When Fegan, Marie, and Ellen vanish, Lennon sets out to find them—but he isn’t the only one on the hunt. Another survivor of the massacre, a decrepit underworld kingpin named Bull O’Kane, hires a sociopathic killer called The Traveller to bring Fegan to him. The story follows Lennon, Fegan, and The Traveller as each attempts to accomplish his mission: Lennon and Fegan seek to protect Marie and Ellen; The Traveller seeks to use them as bait to catch Fegan.
Ultimately, Detective Lennon (who’s operating under something of an official cloud) must follow his heart instead of orders to find Marie and Ellen. In trying to protect the mother and child, Fegan also seeks absolution for past sins. Lennon and Fegan eventually team up against O’Kane and The Traveller in a climactic showdown. Behind all the politically-motivated violence lies the collusion referred to in the title—the details of which make clear that Irish law enforcement and corruption are no strangers. Stuart Neville’s brittle humor, fast pace, and deft characterization make for compulsive reading. Stark and real to its core, the story’s “good” characters are flawed, while most of its “bad” characters possess at least a semblance of humanity. All that notwithstanding, Collusion is essentially about one man who’s trying to save his family and another who’s trying to atone for past wrongs, despite the obstacles. It’s as gritty a piece of noir as you’ll ever read, but one that still manages to have a heart.
When World War I nurse Bess Crawford sees a woman sobbing in the arms of a British army officer at a railroad station, she recognizes her as the wife of Lt. Meriwether Evanson, a severely burned man she’s been treating. Evanson had been clutching his wife’s photo for weeks as he struggles to survive. Thinking that the woman was most likely having an affair with the officer, Bess is shocked and saddened. When she learns that the woman was murdered later that same day, she determines to become involved.
As her investigation proceeds—with the help of her father’s contacts in the military and Scotland Yard—several more people connected to the case are found dead, presumably by suicide, but Bess is convinced that they too were murdered by a very clever and determined killer. Before long, her own life hangs in the balance.
Because she has seen so much bloodshed and suffering as a battlefield nurse, Bess has a no-nonsense way of dealing with things and a tenacity that the reader comes to admire. Both of these traits are necessary to solve the case in this excellent mystery that touches upon the high psychological and emotional cost of war.
This is the second in a series, following A Duty to the Dead (2009) by the mother and son team Charles and Caroline Todd, who previously wrote 12 Ian Rutledge mysteries set in the same time period. Both of these series bring to life the era during and after the First World War in an entertaining way.
When disaffected Oxford scholar Perry Makepiece and his longtime girlfriend, Gail, an up-and-coming barrister, meet an extraordinary Russian named Dima and his eccentric family while on vacation, the last thing they expect is to be asked to help him defect. Apparently, Dima is the world’s foremost money launderer. Thus, his defection puts him and his family at risk from the Russian mob. Perry is scared, but intrigued enough to set aside his concerns and step up to a challenge he thinks will stretch his capabilities beyond the merely academic. Although Gail is even warier, she’s ultimately moved to help in order to protect Dima’s children, especially his shy and vulnerable eldest daughter. They end up arranging for Dima and family to relocate to England, in exchange for information Dima will provide the government in a deal brokered by Hector Meredith, a rather loose cannon of a British intelligence officer, and executed with help from Perry, Gail, and Hector’s assistants.
Featuring an elaborately structured, smooth as silk narrative along with well-drawn and colorful characters, the story builds steadily in power and intensity. The escalating tension, breathtaking pace, and increasingly nagging undercurrent that something is, indeed, very wrong with this picture are tempered with the driest of British wit.
John le Carré’s background with British intelligence, as always, serves him well in creating the plot’s spy-versus-spy scenarios, which play out to an unsettling resolution. Le Carré isn’t resting on his stellar literary track record here, he’s still very much the master of the spy thriller genre. The protagonists of Our Kind of Traitor learn a hard lesson in the way only le Carré can deliver it.
The Body and the Blood is a locked-room, or since this is a prison novel, a locked-cell mystery. Gay inmate Justin Menge is found in his bed with his throat cut at Florida’s Potter Correctional Institution and nobody can figure out how or why or by whom. Chaplin John Jordan, who is trained as both a cleric and a detective, takes on the task of investigating the crime. Aided by his father-in-law, Tom Daniels, Inspector General of the Florida Department of Corrections, Jordan’s investigation leads him outside the prison walls to Pine County where Menge was arrested by a homophobic sheriff and to the victim’s sister, Paula, who seems unaffected by her brother’s incarceration. The list of suspects includes the sheriff’s equally homophobic son who is serving time with Menge, a vicious rapist threatened by Menge’s possible testimony against him, and any number of inmates who also inhabit the protective management unit within the prison, including Menge’s lover Chris Sobel who looks remarkably like him.
The tradition of the priest/detective dates at least from G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown, and the character’s two occupations allow for an interesting combination of the theological and the legal. Such crime solvers usually take time out to ponder the dualities of compassion/justice, mercy/righteousness, and other such ethical issues often omitted by other subgenres of crime fiction.
Jordan is the son of a local police officer and studied criminology before becoming a prison minister, and Lister includes lots of specifics of penitentiary life as well as discussions of the usual moral doubts of clergy and detectives. Lister delivers his fiction in a pulp style, at times excessive in plot and writing, but also quite entertaining. The Body and the Blood delivers a fun variation on a traditional mystery form and a clever surprise ending.
This fifth installment in the Dexter series opens with the vigilante serial killer protagonist gawking in awe at a life he ironically helped create. Dexter has become the dreamy daddy of a little girl named Lily Anne. Her birth provokes a revelation. He wonders if he can actually be a normal human being, instead of simply mimicking one. This question is raised throughout the story, in which Dexter lends his forensic skills to assist his sister, Deborah, a sergeant with the Miami Police Department, investigate the disappearance of a young woman named Samantha Aldovar and her friend. Initial leads point to a group of vampires. However, when partially eaten remnants of Samantha’s friend are discovered, it becomes clear the perpetrators are cannibals. The investigation leads Dexter and Deborah into danger—a situation in which the tables are turned and Dexter the predator becomes the prey.
The theme of family runs throughout the book, underscored by Dexter’s new role as father, Deborah’s personal problems, and the sudden appearance of a presumed-dead relative. Part of what makes this book fun to read is Dexter’s great sense of humor. He clearly qualifies as America’s funniest serial killer. Dexter describes his evil impulses (originating from the creature inside him he calls The Passenger) with wry and ironic detachment. He has an outsider’s view of human behavior, but you can feel his intense desire to belong. “Had I grown a soul?” he asks, at one point. “Was Pinocchio a real boy at last?” As unlikely as a serial killer with a soul may seem, Lindsay pulls off the remarkable feat of making him plausible and vulnerable—poignant even. On the other hand, Dexter may also appeal to the hidden Passenger in all of us.
Quilting is the deadliest craft, or so one would think after perusing the recent spate of mysteries involving needlework. Most of these quilting and knitting mysteries, such as Terri Thayer’s Ocean Wave and Sally Goldenbaums’s Moon Spinners, are quite good, but Clare O’Donohue’s series featuring Nell Fitzgerald ranks among the best of the genre. And, come to think of it, who better than Nell Fitzgerald and her coterie of quilters to piece together solutions to intricately structured crimes? If you haven’t yet met Nell, make her acquaintance now in The Double Cross. Following The Lover’s Knot and A Drunkard’s Path, this third outing for Nell is her best adventure so far.
In keeping with her role as assistant in her grandmother’s upstate New York business, the likable Nell enthusiastically accompanies the ladies from the Someday Quilts shop as they accept an invitation to conduct a workshop at a remotely situated bed and breakfast. From the beginning of the sojourn, everything from the ramshackle nature of the bed and breakfast itself to the motley crew of workshop participants (none of whom displays much interest in quilting), leads Nell to question the real motive behind the invitation. Add to the mix the fact that the owners of the bed and breakfast are old nemeses of a member of the quilting group, and you have a formula for a first-rate mystery.
Author O’Donohue knows how to craft a plot, one that engages even the craft-challenged reader such as me. Vivid local color, realistic characters, and quilting lore abound, so sit back and enjoy the instructional component of The Double Cross, even as you relish the narrative.
I’m happy to report that this sequel to screenwriter Daniel Depp’s likable but flawed first novel, Loser’s Town, is a giant leap forward. The same scattershot plotting occurs (somebody’s been studying their Elmore Leonard), but it’s more focused this time, and the characters themselves are fresher, more fleshed out, and more memorable. Series hero David Spandau still seems too often a mere bystander in his own books, but it’s easier to overlook this time because the author seems far less interested in reminding us who his brother is (the story starts off, fittingly, with the burial of the Johnny Depp-like Bobby Dye from the last novel), and concentrates more on simply spinning a good yarn.
Aging movie star Anna Mayhew knows she’s not getting any younger, but she’s still got enough Tinseltown mojo to attract that latest of LaLaLand accessories: her very own demented stalker. Hairdresser and Franco-American freak Vincent Perec has big plans for the actress, most of which apparently involve sharp-edged implements. But standing in his way is Spandau, the big, lanky former stuntman turned PI, who’s been pressured by his boss to act as bodyguard to Anna, and accompany her to the Cannes Film Festival where she’s agreed to be a judge.
Perec’s nothing if not resourceful, however, and bolstered by a suitcase of stolen mob money (don’t ask), he’s soon hot on their heels, completely unaware that Special, a Los Angeles pimp with an opera jones, is also in France, intent on recovering the missing loot. It’s a deadly game of cat and mouse and mouse (played out amidst the hustle of the sun-bleached Riviera) snapping from point-of-view to point-of-view and character to character, which may catch some readers off-balance, but Depp brings enough of his own sardonic style, wit and surprising twists and characterization into the mix to suggest that this off-kilter series is one to watch—even if Spandau never quite becomes the series star that his creator (or at least his publishers) intend him to be.
Patpong, Bangkok’s most notorious district, is where Thailand’s infamous sex trade thrives. Poor girls from rural villages are lured there to become “bar girls” working solely to satisfy men’s sexual desires. Rose, one of those girls, is able to break free of the life when she marries Poke Rafferty, an American travel writer. With their adopted daughter Miaow they live a relatively quiet life, until one night a man from Rose’s past appears and shatters this existence by threatening to kill them all. It is up to Poke to stop him.
Hallinan writes action scenes as good as, if not better than, any thriller writer in the business today, and the beginning and ending of this exciting book belong to Poke. But it is the middle section, the heart, which grabs us and keeps us engrossed. Rose tells her story from the time she was a teenager in a poor village, through her “recruitment” as a bar girl, to her rise as the “Queen of Patpong,” where she meets Howard, a farong (foreigner). Rather than the hero she believes him to be, Howard is a serial killer who gets his kicks by murdering the girls he pursues. How Rose fights him off and escapes death is one of the most exciting, page turning episodes of this fast-paced book.
This is the fourth Poke Rafferty thriller and probably the best. Descriptions of the bar girls’ lives are beautifully and sympathetically done; depictions of village life is authentic yet depressing; action sequences are fast-paced and realistic; and the final face-off against Howard is edge-of-your-seat exciting. All in all, one hell of a fine book.
Halloween is just around the corner when the new Wiccan shop Solstice opens in Tinker’s Cove, Maine. Ultra-religious businessman Ike Stoughton does not welcome the “dark arts,” and when the weather goes crazy, he accuses shop owner Diana Ravenscroft of black magic. When a local magician turns up dead, and Ike’s wife dies of a strange wasting disease (and his daughter looks to be following suit), the murder mystery erupts into modern day Salem witch hysteria.
Lucy Stone, a local reporter and mother of two teens curious about Wicca, decides to look into the strange happenings—both sniffing out a good story and allaying her parental concern. It’s up to Lucy to find out what’s really going on before the town is torn asunder and more people get hurt. This is an Aesopian tale, in which the murder mystery is rarely as front and center as its moral about intolerance. The story focuses on the tension between Diana and Ike, and the problems which their conflict engenders—with Lucy consistently caught in between. And while Diana is not the most likeable character in the world (she’s a bit too smug for my taste), Meier does such a good job of painting Ike as a small-minded zealot, the reader can’t help but root for Diana and Lucy.
When the storylines eventually merge, a surprise ending offers resolution to both the murder and novel’s theme of intolerance vs. acceptance. Ultimately, Wicked Witch Murder is enjoyable, albeit slow, and will appeal to readers of light mysteries. It’s also appropriate for young adult readers.