Joelle Charbonneau offers a feisty new addition to the ranks of amateur sleuths with the debut of Rebecca Robbins who returns to her insular hometown after her mother bequeaths her the family roller skating rink. Rebecca intends to make a quick trip to Indian Falls, Illinois to set up the sale of Toe Step before dashing back to Chicago and her job as a mortgage broker. Amid a charming set of nosy neighbors and old-time friends, she quickly discovers the body of rogue handyman Mack Murphy in the rink’s restroom, his head stuffed into a toilet. Convinced the slaying will affect the value of her property—now rumored to be haunted—Rebecca stays on to solve the crime. In doing so, she meets a sexy veterinarian, interacts with a retired circus camel, copes with a semi-senile sheriff, and frequently clashes with her rambunctious grandfather. Charbonneau charms the reader with a satisfying conclusion after small-town secrets bubble to the surface in this skating-themed mystery good for some free-wheelin’ fun.
Connelly first introduced defense attorney Mickey Haller in The Lincoln Lawyer. In The Brass Verdict an uneasy relationship developed between Haller and Connelly’s legendary homicide detective, Harry Bosch. In The Reversal the brothers must team up to retry a child killer.
After 24 years in prison, Jason Jessup’s murder conviction has been reversed due to newly processed DNA evidence. But the district attorney’s office believes he’s guilty and decides to retry the case. They recruit Haller to “switch sides” and become their chief prosecutor. Haller agrees, but only if he can use Bosch as his investigator. Jessup’s defense attorney claims he is an innocent man wrongly imprisoned, but Jessup’s ritualistic midnight jaunts belie the statement and alert Bosch to the man’s deadly intent. Connelly uses alternating chapters to track the strategies of his characters: Haller gives readers a detailed insider view of the justice system at work, Bosch focuses on standard investigative police procedures to find evidence and witnesses who will cinch Haller’s case.
Readers who enjoy courtroom dramas will find The Reversal fascinating. The dialogue is authentic and concise and the pace never drags. Real life spectators of this trial would never become bored. But fans of thrilling crime fiction, especially those who expect blood and bullets on every page, will be disappointed, at least until the final chapters when a shocking turn of events kicks the action into high gear. And although the trial’s conclusion won’t satisfy everyone, there are enough unanswered questions in Connelly’s denouement chapter to write a nice follow-up thriller.
The real-life disappearance of unpublished Hemingway manuscripts from a Paris train in 1922 forms the basis for this lighthearted mystery. Hemingway expert David Barnes claims to have gotten his hands on the missing stories and insurance investigator Daphne December “DD” McGil is hired to investigate their authenticity. But she finds David dead and no sign of the manuscripts. Over the next few days, she races around on the trail of the Hemingway papers while sandwiching in new assignments and new men, both of which she finds difficult to turn down. As more bodies fall around her, DD’s status as a murder suspect rises.
Hunting for Hemingway scrambles along at a frantic pace, packing in so many subplots and characters that they’re hard to keep straight. Inconsistencies and excessive references to past cases also mar the book, but the firm grounding in Hemingway lore saves it. Chapter heads include pithy Hemingway quotations. The Chicago setting leads naturally to stories of Hemingway’s unhappy boyhood in the household of his overbearing mother Grace, and allows DD to become embroiled in the battles of the local Oak Park Hemingway Trust. An explanation of how a manuscript can be faked will make fascinating reading for literati and collectors.
For the non-literary, Madsen includes local Chicago points of interest, technical details on crime scene investigation and copyright law, exciting chase scenes, and a cinematic climax. Hunting for Hemingway is Madsen’s second Literati Mystery after last year’s A Cadger’s Curse, concerning Scottish poet Robert Burns.
Lisa Black’s skillful mix of fact with fiction elevates the third novel in her series about Cleveland forensic scientist Theresa MacLean. Trail of Blood works well as an historical novel and a police procedural, giving a glimpse of Cleveland’s past and its present.
During the Great Depression, a murderer called the Torso Killer terrorized Cleveland, claiming at least 12 lives and possibly more, dismembering their bodies and scattering them around the city. Most of the victims were drifters or the working poor who lived in the city’s shantytown. The killer was never found, despite efforts by Eliot Ness, who was the city’s public safety director at the time.
Those are the facts. Black uses that background as a springboard for a tightly wound story that alternates between Cleveland of the 1930s and today. In Trail of Blood, Theresa and her cousin, police detective Frank Patrick, are called to an abandoned building where a decapitated body has been found in a room that has been sealed for decades. The decayed body turns out to be James Miller, an honest cop who had been investigating the Torso Murders before his disappearance in 1936. Was he a victim of the killer he sought? Soon a crop of new victims indicates a copycat killer may be at work.
Black, a former forensic scientist, keeps the level of suspense high as she adeptly switches the action from the 1930s to present day, contrasting Cleveland’s atmosphere and nuances during the Great Depression with those of the 21st century. The author succinctly contrasts Theresa’s devotion to her work with that of James, also a skillful investigator, in the 1930s. Black also lets us see James as a husband and a cop whose refusal to take bribes, like the other detectives in his squad, put a strain on his marriage. The complicated, insightful Theresa continues to show her mettle as an investigator while dealing with a tangled personal life, and the affectionate banter between her and her cousin, Frank, adds real human warmth to Black’s chilling Trail of Blood.