The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin
Roberta Rogow

The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin, by Josh Berk, introduces overweight, snarky, and profoundly deaf Will Halpin. He’s left the safety of the “deaf school” for Carbon High School, and he’s ready to take on anything using his lip-reading skills and texting to communicate with the hearing world. It’s not easy, and it gets worse when Will and his only friend, class nerd Devon Smiley, are involved in what may or may not be an accidental death during a class field trip to a local abandoned coal mine. Was the popular, if caddish, football star pushed to his death? Suspects include an overly friendly teacher, a loutish school bus driver, and even the boy’s father’s political enemies. Research reveals new possibilities in an old local mystery, and Will solves both cases, and discovers not only a murderer but some family connections he never knew he had. A very different detective, and a look at a “hidden” disability.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 23 September 2010 05:09

berk_darkdaysofhamburgerOverweight, sarcastic, deaf Will Halpin is on the case of a fatal high school field trip.

The Morgue and Me
Roberta Rogow

In The Morgue and Me, by John C. Ford, Christopher Newell takes on what is supposed to be a menial position in the town morgue as a summer job before starting college. He finds himself hip-deep in small-town scandal when he realizes that his boss has blatantly lied on a death certificate. There’s a dead man in the morgue with bullet holes in his chest and no one except Christopher seems to care about how he got them.

Christopher enlists the help of a hot-looking, tough-talking reporter, a stoner buddy, and several of his classmates to solve this mystery. Along the way he discovers that the world of the private detective holds many perils that television shows and movies prefer to ignore. The language of these teens is rough, but that’s the way it is, even in a small-town morgue!

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 23 September 2010 05:09

In The Morgue and Me, by John C. Ford, Christopher Newell takes on what is supposed to be a menial position in the town morgue as a summer job before starting college. He finds himself hip-deep in small-town scandal when he realizes that his boss has blatantly lied on a death certificate. There’s a dead man in the morgue with bullet holes in his chest and no one except Christopher seems to care about how he got them.

Christopher enlists the help of a hot-looking, tough-talking reporter, a stoner buddy, and several of his classmates to solve this mystery. Along the way he discovers that the world of the private detective holds many perils that television shows and movies prefer to ignore. The language of these teens is rough, but that’s the way it is, even in a small-town morgue!

Thrillers: 100 Must Reads
Jon L. Breen

Members of the International Thriller Writers cover key titles in their genre. Thriller is a notoriously flexible (and expandable) term, but Allison Brennan’s compact list of characteristics (“high stakes, something personal at risk, and strong pacing”) will do. Subjects range chronologically from Lee Child on Theseus and the Minotaur (1500 B.C.) to Steve Berry’s celebration of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code (2003), the single exception to the 2000 cutoff date. Each essay includes a summary and appreciation of the book discussed, usually with a biography of the author. Among the contributors are major names in the field, and books covered include classics by Homer, Shakespeare, Defoe, and Dumas; early science fiction by Poe, Verne, and Wells; and horror landmarks like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Well represented are inevitable names like John Buchan, E. Phillips Oppenheim, W. Somerset Maugham, Eric Ambler, Geoffrey Household, and Graham Greene; and less expected mystery crossovers like Agatha Christie and Mickey Spillane. Writing on Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, Laura Benedict harmonizes thriller and detection, while Kathleen Sharp on a surprising cinematic inclusion, King Kong, resuscitates Edgar Wallace’s claim to its authorship. The last third or so of the list concentrates on living contemporaries, including John le Carré, Len Deighton, Joseph Wambaugh, Clive Cussler, Ken Follett, Thomas Harris, Tom Clancy, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Peter Straub; and recently deceased writers like Ross Thomas, Michael Crichton, John D. MacDonald, and Robert Ludlum. Appearing both as authors and subjects of essays are Lee Child, Katherine Neville, Justin Scott, editor Morrell, Gayle Lynds, David Baldacci, Jeffery Deaver, Sandra Brown, James Grady, and John Lescroart.

The selections and the essays are generally excellent, making the book a fine introduction to the range of thrillers. Quibbles over inclusions are inevitable. I was disappointed not to see Manning Coles, Donald Hamilton, Victor Canning, or Charlotte Armstrong. Scott Turow would have been a better choice to represent the legal thriller than John Grisham, who like Spillane is more a commercial phenomenon than an artistic trailblazer. In the “What About Murder?” test kitchens, I tried a couple of the hundred I’d previously missed. Nelson DeMille’s The Charm School (1988) is intelligent and absorbing, a true genre classic, and I’m grateful for the tip; but I can’t imagine why a novel as derivative and definitively dreadful as James Patterson’s Along Came a Spider (1992) was included.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 23 September 2010 05:09

morrell_100thrillermustreadsMembers of the International Thriller Writers cover favorites of their genre.

A Local Habitation
Deb Andolina

“I am basically a mystery reader but I do read some fantasy such as books from Mercedes Lackey, Barbara Hambly and Jim Butcher. When I read the synopsis for Rosemary and Rue, the first October Daye novel from Seanan McGuire, I thought here’s another one that will pretend to be a mystery but is really an "urban fantasy." Then I started the book. It was a true PI novel, but with mythological references and a storyline that called to my imagination. I was thrilled there was a second book available—A Local Habitation. That one is even better. These are books I can read again and maybe even again to get all of the twists and turns and snappy dialogue."

Teri Duerr
Friday, 24 September 2010 03:09

“I am basically a mystery reader but I do read some fantasy such as books from Mercedes Lackey, Barbara Hambly and Jim Butcher. When I read the synopsis for Rosemary and Rue, the first October Daye novel from Seanan McGuire, I thought here’s another one that will pretend to be a mystery but is really an "urban fantasy." Then I started the book. It was a true PI novel, but with mythological references and a storyline that called to my imagination. I was thrilled there was a second book available—A Local Habitation. That one is even better. These are books I can read again and maybe even again to get all of the twists and turns and snappy dialogue."

Let the Dead Lie
J. Michael Daniel

“I would like to recommend Let The Dead Lie by Malla Nunn (With Malla towards Nunn?). Set in South Africa, this second in a series is very good at presenting life before segregation ended there. A bit brutal in spots, but well worth your time.”

Teri Duerr
Friday, 24 September 2010 06:09

“I would like to recommend Let The Dead Lie by Malla Nunn (With Malla towards Nunn?). Set in South Africa, this second in a series is very good at presenting life before segregation ended there. A bit brutal in spots, but well worth your time.”

Arcadia Falls
Sherrie Bouldin

Carol Goodman’s Arcadia Falls: “The absolutely perfect gothic mystery.”

Teri Duerr
Friday, 24 September 2010 06:09

Carol Goodman’s Arcadia Falls: “The absolutely perfect gothic mystery.”

False Mermaid
M. Dorrell

Anything by Erin Hart. “She writes about the bog people in Ireland—a contemporary American paleontologist and an Irish detective...fascinating and excellent stories.”

Teri Duerr
Friday, 24 September 2010 06:09

Anything by Erin Hart. “She writes about the bog people in Ireland—a contemporary American paleontologist and an Irish detective...fascinating and excellent stories.”

The Red Door (Reader Recommendation)
Constance Ford

“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."

Teri Duerr
Friday, 24 September 2010 06:09

“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."

Dangerous Games
Marilyn Henry

“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.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 24 September 2010 06:09

“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.

This Body of Death
Luella Rogers

“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.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 24 September 2010 06:09

“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.

The Book of Spies
Louise Paziak

“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.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 24 September 2010 06:09

“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.

Unsolicited
Kimberlie Shriver

“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).”

Teri Duerr
Friday, 24 September 2010 06:09

“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).”

What's Happening With...Aileen Schumacher?
Brian Skupin

schumacher_aileenAileen 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.

schumacher_engineeredformurderThe 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.”

Teri Duerr
Friday, 24 September 2010 07:09

schumacher_aileenFound! The long-lost author of the engineering mystery series featuring structural engineer Tory Travers.

No Quarter
Betty Webb

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.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 24 September 2010 07:09

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.

Killer Instinct
Betty Webb

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.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 24 September 2010 07:09

sharp_killerinstinctMeet the tough action heroine Charlotte “Charlie” Fox.

Delta Blues
Betty Webb

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.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 24 September 2010 08:09

haines_deltabluesA winning collection of short stories edited by Carolyn Haines, with a foreword by Morgan Freeman, and stories by John Grisham, Charlaine Harris, James Lee Burke, and others.

The Last Track
Betty Webb

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.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 24 September 2010 08:09

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.

A Journey to Die For
Betty Webb

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.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 24 September 2010 08:09

nehring_journeytodieforA charming series with Midwestern sensibility led by the loveable Carrie and Henry King.

Book of Nathan
Betty Webb

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.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 24 September 2010 08:09

weeden_bookopfnathanTouted as a Dan Brown-type thriller, a humorous tone and picturesque characters make this book more like a fast-paced caper novel.

Courting the Defenders
Oline Cogdill
Las Vegas attorneys Michael Cristalli and Marc Saggese are the real Defenders whose courtroom exploits are the inspiration for the new CBS drama that airs at 10 p.m. EST/9 p.m. CST on Wednesdays.

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.
alt
Q: The original The Defenders TV series, back in the day, was about a father and son who often tackled heavy issues; they didn’t always win either. Do you think there will be any confusion about your show?
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.
Q: Has the American public’s attitude toward lawyers changed during the past decades and what do you think it is?
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.
Q: Yet, we never seem to loose our appetite for stories about crime, the law, etc., both in the newspaper, TV news, TruTV, etc. Why?
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.
Q: You’ve handled some pretty high-profile cases that, on the surface, seem as if the defendants are guilty, given that, how can the series make the audience care about these two attorneys?
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.
Q: What, if any, role did you two have in the writing, stories, scripting, etc, in the series?
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.
Q: Did you go to the set often?
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.
Q: How will this series affect your practice? Or has it already?
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.
Q: What would you do if they were Joran van der Sloot’s attorneys?
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.
Q: Have you ever been afraid of your clients?
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.
Q: Would you ever turn down a case?
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.
Photo: Marc Saggese and Michael Cristalli. CBS photo
Super User 2
Sunday, 26 September 2010 10:09
Las Vegas attorneys Michael Cristalli and Marc Saggese are the real Defenders whose courtroom exploits are the inspiration for the new CBS drama that airs at 10 p.m. EST/9 p.m. CST on Wednesdays.

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.
alt
Q: The original The Defenders TV series, back in the day, was about a father and son who often tackled heavy issues; they didn’t always win either. Do you think there will be any confusion about your show?
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.
Q: Has the American public’s attitude toward lawyers changed during the past decades and what do you think it is?
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.
Q: Yet, we never seem to loose our appetite for stories about crime, the law, etc., both in the newspaper, TV news, TruTV, etc. Why?
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.
Q: You’ve handled some pretty high-profile cases that, on the surface, seem as if the defendants are guilty, given that, how can the series make the audience care about these two attorneys?
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.
Q: What, if any, role did you two have in the writing, stories, scripting, etc, in the series?
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.
Q: Did you go to the set often?
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.
Q: How will this series affect your practice? Or has it already?
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.
Q: What would you do if they were Joran van der Sloot’s attorneys?
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.
Q: Have you ever been afraid of your clients?
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.
Q: Would you ever turn down a case?
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.
Photo: Marc Saggese and Michael Cristalli. CBS photo
The Shadow Woman
Barbara Fister

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.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 25 September 2010 09:09

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.

A Stranger Like You
Verna Suit

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.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 25 September 2010 09:09

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.

Collusion
Debbi Mack

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.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 25 September 2010 09:09

neville_collusionA gritty noir with an Irish heart.

An Impartial Witness
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

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.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 25 September 2010 09:09

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.