Blood and Fire
Oline H. Cogdill

Corruption and murder seep throughout Mombasa in the thrilling, action-packed Blood and Fire. British author Nick Brownlee offers an intriguing look at Kenya and its ruthless characters in this hard-charging follow-up to his debut, Bait (2009).

British ex-cop Jake Moore and Detective Inspector Daniel Jouma dismantled a human-trafficking ring in their first outing together, and now those behind that ring have sent an assassin to Mombasa for revenge. Meanwhile, Jake and Daniel are also investigating the disappearance of an elderly nun who belonged to a fringe church, and the harassment of a small village whose residents are being driven away by a ruthless developer with a policy of “slash and burn.”

Brownlee, a former Fleet Street journalist, delivers an evocative view of the countryside and cities of Kenya, where the primitive and the modern often collide. Since the action in Blood and Fire hinges so much on the preceding novel, events of the first book are thoroughly explained.

Anchoring the series is the friendship between Jake, now a fishing boat captain, and Daniel, an honest cop. They are two good men trying not to be overwhelmed by the evil that surrounds them. The dark, gritty, and powerful Blood and Fire moves at a brisk pace with surprising but believable twists and culminates in a shocking finale.

Teri Duerr
2010-12-01 20:45:49

Corruption and murder seep throughout Mombasa in the thrilling, action-packed Blood and Fire. British author Nick Brownlee offers an intriguing look at Kenya and its ruthless characters in this hard-charging follow-up to his debut, Bait (2009).

British ex-cop Jake Moore and Detective Inspector Daniel Jouma dismantled a human-trafficking ring in their first outing together, and now those behind that ring have sent an assassin to Mombasa for revenge. Meanwhile, Jake and Daniel are also investigating the disappearance of an elderly nun who belonged to a fringe church, and the harassment of a small village whose residents are being driven away by a ruthless developer with a policy of “slash and burn.”

Brownlee, a former Fleet Street journalist, delivers an evocative view of the countryside and cities of Kenya, where the primitive and the modern often collide. Since the action in Blood and Fire hinges so much on the preceding novel, events of the first book are thoroughly explained.

Anchoring the series is the friendship between Jake, now a fishing boat captain, and Daniel, an honest cop. They are two good men trying not to be overwhelmed by the evil that surrounds them. The dark, gritty, and powerful Blood and Fire moves at a brisk pace with surprising but believable twists and culminates in a shocking finale.

Blood Count
Hank Wagner

Nadelson’s ninth Artie Cohen mystery finds the NYC detective involved in a locked room mystery of sorts; Nadelson’s twist is that the locked room is the Harlem apartment building known as The Armstrong where tenants have been turning up dead, and nearly all of its remaining inhabitants are suspects. These include a businessman who has been buying up apartments in the building as they go vacant; a doctor with a history of assisting terminal patients who wish to commit suicide; and, unfortunately, Cohen’s ex-flame Lily, whose frantic early morning phone call brings the Russian émigré to the scene.

While less intense than Nadelson’s masterful Londongrad (2009), Blood Count is a compelling character study of Cohen, whose cop instincts are instantly aroused by the strange circumstances surrounding the death of Lily’s neighbor, fellow Russian expat Marianna Simonova. As he follows his instincts, readers gain deep insights into his past and his thought processes. They also learn a great deal about Harlem, as it is today and as it was during the earlier part of the century, when it was a gathering place for legendary jazz artists. Nadelson combines these disparate elements to form a satisfying whole, delivering an effective story which, although very much concerned with the past (there is even a surprising connection to the events of Londongrad), also sets the stage for future tales.

Teri Duerr
2010-12-01 20:54:37

Nadelson’s ninth Artie Cohen mystery finds the NYC detective involved in a locked room mystery of sorts; Nadelson’s twist is that the locked room is the Harlem apartment building known as The Armstrong where tenants have been turning up dead, and nearly all of its remaining inhabitants are suspects. These include a businessman who has been buying up apartments in the building as they go vacant; a doctor with a history of assisting terminal patients who wish to commit suicide; and, unfortunately, Cohen’s ex-flame Lily, whose frantic early morning phone call brings the Russian émigré to the scene.

While less intense than Nadelson’s masterful Londongrad (2009), Blood Count is a compelling character study of Cohen, whose cop instincts are instantly aroused by the strange circumstances surrounding the death of Lily’s neighbor, fellow Russian expat Marianna Simonova. As he follows his instincts, readers gain deep insights into his past and his thought processes. They also learn a great deal about Harlem, as it is today and as it was during the earlier part of the century, when it was a gathering place for legendary jazz artists. Nadelson combines these disparate elements to form a satisfying whole, delivering an effective story which, although very much concerned with the past (there is even a surprising connection to the events of Londongrad), also sets the stage for future tales.

Christmas Mourning
Sue Emmons

Margaret Maron serves up another winner in her 16th mystery featuring District Court Judge Deborah Knott of Colleton County, North Carolina. With her usual deft touches and well-rounded characters, Maron’s holiday tale begins with a one-car accident on a deserted county road in which a popular cheerleader, Mallory Johnson, sustains fatal injuries. But the cause of the crash comes into question after Knott’s husband, Chief Deputy Sheriff Dwight Bryant, discovers that while the teen was her daddy’s darling, she was considered a sometimes treacherous flirt by her peers, and was enroute home from a party where liquor and perhaps drugs were available to the underage high schoolers.

As Bryant and Knott prepare both for Christmas and their first wedding anniversary, the case quickly turns into a maelstrom of death. Maron cleverly sprinkles a host of red herrings throughout this twisted tale of longtime feuds, interconnected families, and strained relationships. And she once again delights with a glimpse at the holiday revelries of Deborah’s 11 boisterous brothers and their families (introduced in Bootlegger’s Daughter, the first, heralded mystery in this series). Although clues abound, the windup of this mystery will still shock and surprise.

Teri Duerr
2010-12-01 21:06:22

Margaret Maron serves up another winner in her 16th mystery featuring District Court Judge Deborah Knott of Colleton County, North Carolina. With her usual deft touches and well-rounded characters, Maron’s holiday tale begins with a one-car accident on a deserted county road in which a popular cheerleader, Mallory Johnson, sustains fatal injuries. But the cause of the crash comes into question after Knott’s husband, Chief Deputy Sheriff Dwight Bryant, discovers that while the teen was her daddy’s darling, she was considered a sometimes treacherous flirt by her peers, and was enroute home from a party where liquor and perhaps drugs were available to the underage high schoolers.

As Bryant and Knott prepare both for Christmas and their first wedding anniversary, the case quickly turns into a maelstrom of death. Maron cleverly sprinkles a host of red herrings throughout this twisted tale of longtime feuds, interconnected families, and strained relationships. And she once again delights with a glimpse at the holiday revelries of Deborah’s 11 boisterous brothers and their families (introduced in Bootlegger’s Daughter, the first, heralded mystery in this series). Although clues abound, the windup of this mystery will still shock and surprise.

The Final Reckoning
Daniel Luft

Sam Bourne’s new novel begins with the accidental shooting of an elderly Englishman, Gerald Merton, who is mistaken for a terrorist as he walks onto the grounds of the UN in New York. The UN then hires ex-employee-now-wealthy-lawyer Tom Byrne to travel to England and hush up the incident by paying off the old man’s daughter, Rebecca. But shortly after Byrne arrives in England, Rebecca’s house is sacked and Byrne gets sucked into a mystery when Rebecca hires him to find out about her father and the people he secretly worked with. He soon finds that Merton was actually Gershon Matzkin, a Lithuanian survivor of the Holocaust and a member of a secret society of Nazi hunters and assassins, active ever since the end of World War II.

The rest of the book follows Byrne as he learns about the Nazi hunter’s past and tries to figure out who Merton was looking for in the UN building when he died. The trail eventually leads back to New York and right into the offices of the most powerful players in world politics. Bourne juggles several plots and dozens of characters with ease in The Final Reckoning, and the reader is never lost among the names, time periods, or characters’ motivations. The story of Merton/Matzkin’s life as a young, Jewish resistance fighter during WWII is especially well-researched and chillingly real. In fact, Bourne’s searing descriptions of the Holocaust dominate this book and make the modern, fictitious story of The Final Reckoning seem a bit inconsequential by comparison.

Teri Duerr
2010-12-01 21:10:36

Sam Bourne’s new novel begins with the accidental shooting of an elderly Englishman, Gerald Merton, who is mistaken for a terrorist as he walks onto the grounds of the UN in New York. The UN then hires ex-employee-now-wealthy-lawyer Tom Byrne to travel to England and hush up the incident by paying off the old man’s daughter, Rebecca. But shortly after Byrne arrives in England, Rebecca’s house is sacked and Byrne gets sucked into a mystery when Rebecca hires him to find out about her father and the people he secretly worked with. He soon finds that Merton was actually Gershon Matzkin, a Lithuanian survivor of the Holocaust and a member of a secret society of Nazi hunters and assassins, active ever since the end of World War II.

The rest of the book follows Byrne as he learns about the Nazi hunter’s past and tries to figure out who Merton was looking for in the UN building when he died. The trail eventually leads back to New York and right into the offices of the most powerful players in world politics. Bourne juggles several plots and dozens of characters with ease in The Final Reckoning, and the reader is never lost among the names, time periods, or characters’ motivations. The story of Merton/Matzkin’s life as a young, Jewish resistance fighter during WWII is especially well-researched and chillingly real. In fact, Bourne’s searing descriptions of the Holocaust dominate this book and make the modern, fictitious story of The Final Reckoning seem a bit inconsequential by comparison.

Power Down
Verna Suit

When terrorists attack an American-owned oil platform off the coast of Colombia, platform chief Dewey Andreas springs into action. He’s a former member of Delta Force and has trained for just such an emergency. But even Dewey cannot save all his men or the oil rig from the powerful bomb planted to destroy it. Soon after, a second terrorist attack targets a giant hydroelectric plant in Canada, and it becomes clear that the two attacks have been coordinated. The US government, energy companies, Dewey, and a few other like-minded heroes mobilize to find and stop whoever is behind this plot to cripple America.

Power Down is a high-energy thriller that starts accelerating in chapter one and doesn’t slow down for 400 pages. The story is big in every way: super rich people running giant corporations and the hedge funds behind huge energy plants. The suspense builds, and the body count rises, as the terrorist plot unfolds.

The title itself cleverly works on several levels—the obvious destruction of power plants, the subtler rescue of the situation by a few private individuals while the slow wheels of government grind, and at least one more meaning for the reader to discover. My only quibbles were overuse of the word “protocol” and locating the NSA in the wrong state, but these are quite minor considering the otherwise excellent quality of this first novel. Power Down is a book worth calling in sick to finish reading.

Teri Duerr
2010-12-01 21:14:05

When terrorists attack an American-owned oil platform off the coast of Colombia, platform chief Dewey Andreas springs into action. He’s a former member of Delta Force and has trained for just such an emergency. But even Dewey cannot save all his men or the oil rig from the powerful bomb planted to destroy it. Soon after, a second terrorist attack targets a giant hydroelectric plant in Canada, and it becomes clear that the two attacks have been coordinated. The US government, energy companies, Dewey, and a few other like-minded heroes mobilize to find and stop whoever is behind this plot to cripple America.

Power Down is a high-energy thriller that starts accelerating in chapter one and doesn’t slow down for 400 pages. The story is big in every way: super rich people running giant corporations and the hedge funds behind huge energy plants. The suspense builds, and the body count rises, as the terrorist plot unfolds.

The title itself cleverly works on several levels—the obvious destruction of power plants, the subtler rescue of the situation by a few private individuals while the slow wheels of government grind, and at least one more meaning for the reader to discover. My only quibbles were overuse of the word “protocol” and locating the NSA in the wrong state, but these are quite minor considering the otherwise excellent quality of this first novel. Power Down is a book worth calling in sick to finish reading.

A Dead Man in Malta
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

When a German balloonist crashes into the Malta harbor during a hot-air balloon show in 1913, he appears to be only slightly hurt when taken to a hospital for examination. But later that evening, he is found dead in his hospital bed from respiratory failure. This would be curious enough, but since he is the third healthy patient to die similarly in a brief time, a local murder investigation begins.

Were all three deaths, two Brits and the German, connected? Were the two British seamen and balloonist targeted for some reason? Or is there a serial killer on the island? Sandor Seymour of Scotland Yard’s Foreign Office is sent to investigate as Malta is a Crown Colony governed by the British at that time.

Seymour is aided in his efforts by the local Inspector and, despite his misgivings, by the head of a British nursing group visiting the Maltese hospital to compare nursing practices there. To complicate matters further, his girlfriend Chantale has managed to talk her way into the nursing group and is also on the island.

In addition to trying to figure out the who, why, and especially how of the murders, what I found most interesting was the politics of the island: how the Maltese felt about their British colonizers, and how different Maltese factions on the island interacted with each other. This is the seventh Sandor Seymour novel and worth reading both for the history and the mystery.

Teri Duerr
2010-12-01 21:18:08

When a German balloonist crashes into the Malta harbor during a hot-air balloon show in 1913, he appears to be only slightly hurt when taken to a hospital for examination. But later that evening, he is found dead in his hospital bed from respiratory failure. This would be curious enough, but since he is the third healthy patient to die similarly in a brief time, a local murder investigation begins.

Were all three deaths, two Brits and the German, connected? Were the two British seamen and balloonist targeted for some reason? Or is there a serial killer on the island? Sandor Seymour of Scotland Yard’s Foreign Office is sent to investigate as Malta is a Crown Colony governed by the British at that time.

Seymour is aided in his efforts by the local Inspector and, despite his misgivings, by the head of a British nursing group visiting the Maltese hospital to compare nursing practices there. To complicate matters further, his girlfriend Chantale has managed to talk her way into the nursing group and is also on the island.

In addition to trying to figure out the who, why, and especially how of the murders, what I found most interesting was the politics of the island: how the Maltese felt about their British colonizers, and how different Maltese factions on the island interacted with each other. This is the seventh Sandor Seymour novel and worth reading both for the history and the mystery.

Dangerous to Know
Dori Cocuz

Emily Hargreaves’ convalescence in Normandy after almost dying while tracking a killer on her honeymoon isn’t going smoothly. She’s still recovering from a miscarriage, she’s not getting along with her mother-in-law, and to top it off, she has just discovered the tortured body of a young woman. But worst of all, her beloved husband Colin is trying to reign in her natural crime-solving instincts, actually forbidding her from becoming involved in the investigation.

In the Victoria era setting of Dangerous to Know, Colin has the right to dictate his wife’s life, but it’s a betrayal Emily is struggling to accept. But his disapproval doesn’t stop Emily from asking questions, and it’s not long before the killer is stalking her.

The sixth book of a series, Dangerous to Know had me from the opening sentence. There is not a single weak element in this novel. The characters are wonderful, the puzzle pieces are numerous and fun to uncover, the descriptions of people and places vibrant.

Emily is a bright, strong-willed woman living in a time when women are just starting to push traditional limits. Her husband, Colin, wants to accept her for who she is, but is terrified at the thought of losing her. Watching them work out their relationship is fascinating. Tasha Alexander does a marvelous job of fleshing out all the characters, while still leaving each with a trace of mystery that makes the reader want to know more. Dangerous to Know will appeal to fans of historical and cozy mysteries, as well as to anyone who appreciates character-driven fiction with a touch of romance.

Teri Duerr
2010-12-01 21:23:32

Emily Hargreaves’ convalescence in Normandy after almost dying while tracking a killer on her honeymoon isn’t going smoothly. She’s still recovering from a miscarriage, she’s not getting along with her mother-in-law, and to top it off, she has just discovered the tortured body of a young woman. But worst of all, her beloved husband Colin is trying to reign in her natural crime-solving instincts, actually forbidding her from becoming involved in the investigation.

In the Victoria era setting of Dangerous to Know, Colin has the right to dictate his wife’s life, but it’s a betrayal Emily is struggling to accept. But his disapproval doesn’t stop Emily from asking questions, and it’s not long before the killer is stalking her.

The sixth book of a series, Dangerous to Know had me from the opening sentence. There is not a single weak element in this novel. The characters are wonderful, the puzzle pieces are numerous and fun to uncover, the descriptions of people and places vibrant.

Emily is a bright, strong-willed woman living in a time when women are just starting to push traditional limits. Her husband, Colin, wants to accept her for who she is, but is terrified at the thought of losing her. Watching them work out their relationship is fascinating. Tasha Alexander does a marvelous job of fleshing out all the characters, while still leaving each with a trace of mystery that makes the reader want to know more. Dangerous to Know will appeal to fans of historical and cozy mysteries, as well as to anyone who appreciates character-driven fiction with a touch of romance.

The Left Handed Dollar
Hank Wagner

In Estleman’s latest, Detroit PI Amos Walker is hired by liberal defense attorney Lucille Lettermore, aka “Lefty Lucy,” to investigate an old crime in hopes of clearing her client, Joseph Michael “Joey Ballistic” Ballista. Walker pursues the case, even though it brings him into conflict with his oldest friend, investigative reporter Barry Stackpole, who lost his leg in the bombing that most believe to be Ballista’s handiwork. It also brings him into conflict with the police, and a killer who seems hell-bent on eliminating anyone with any connection to the case.

Estleman celebrates Amos Walker’s 20th appearance, and his 30th anniversary in print, with style. Walker is an icon, one of mysterydom’s most memorable characters, and fans pretty much know what to expect by now. Yes, the sarcastic PI is going to cause trouble by poking his nose into other people’s business, and he’ll probably take a lot of physical abuse, and maybe come close to getting killed. And yes, he’ll uncover something nasty, something that will make both him and his audience wince at the weaknesses and foibles of our fellow human beings. But he does it with such determination, panache, and edgy sarcasm that readers feel privileged to watch him do it again and again. Add Estleman’s superb wordsmithing and expert plotting, and you get a consistently excellent product that leaves readers with a hankering for more.

Teri Duerr
2010-12-01 21:27:34

In Estleman’s latest, Detroit PI Amos Walker is hired by liberal defense attorney Lucille Lettermore, aka “Lefty Lucy,” to investigate an old crime in hopes of clearing her client, Joseph Michael “Joey Ballistic” Ballista. Walker pursues the case, even though it brings him into conflict with his oldest friend, investigative reporter Barry Stackpole, who lost his leg in the bombing that most believe to be Ballista’s handiwork. It also brings him into conflict with the police, and a killer who seems hell-bent on eliminating anyone with any connection to the case.

Estleman celebrates Amos Walker’s 20th appearance, and his 30th anniversary in print, with style. Walker is an icon, one of mysterydom’s most memorable characters, and fans pretty much know what to expect by now. Yes, the sarcastic PI is going to cause trouble by poking his nose into other people’s business, and he’ll probably take a lot of physical abuse, and maybe come close to getting killed. And yes, he’ll uncover something nasty, something that will make both him and his audience wince at the weaknesses and foibles of our fellow human beings. But he does it with such determination, panache, and edgy sarcasm that readers feel privileged to watch him do it again and again. Add Estleman’s superb wordsmithing and expert plotting, and you get a consistently excellent product that leaves readers with a hankering for more.

The Templar Salvation
Derek Hill

Three years after the events of The Last Templar, FBI special agent Sean Reilly and archaeologist Tess Chaykin (now a bestselling novelist) are plunged back into the bloody tides of history as it intersects with the present. An Iranian terrorist ensnares the two into his plot to recover some long lost Templar scrolls, certain that the blasphemous writings will crumble the Catholic Church and eventually Western civilization itself. Reilly and Chaykin are determined not to let that happen, though the human cost to prevent such anarchy comes with a heavy, almost devastating price.

The best thrillers grip you from the start and never give you time to think about how ludicrous or implausible much of the plot is. Raymond Khoury’s follow-up to his international bestseller The Last Templar fits the bill. That’s not meant as a backhanded compliment. The Templar Salvation is over-the-top and stretches credibility at times, especially as many of Reilly’s decisions to stop the Iranian from succeeding instigate even more mayhem and violence. But Khoury’s well-researched, tightly-paced book is smashing stuff for fans of page-turning thrillers set in exotic locations. The narrative switches from events in the 14th century involving the demise of the Templars to the present day, from the Vatican to Istanbul to Greece, from crowded city streets to desert wastelands. Khoury is best with the major set pieces: a car chase through the streets of Rome; a nocturnal commando raid gone awry; and in the mysteries surrounding the demise of the Templars. He’s not as successful with plausibility or with developing Reilly and Chaykin’s relationship—but no one reads thrillers like this for those reasons. Khoury knows that and delivers where it counts, offering up a breathtaking ride that will satisfy fans of his previous work.

Teri Duerr
2010-12-01 21:30:47

Three years after the events of The Last Templar, FBI special agent Sean Reilly and archaeologist Tess Chaykin (now a bestselling novelist) are plunged back into the bloody tides of history as it intersects with the present. An Iranian terrorist ensnares the two into his plot to recover some long lost Templar scrolls, certain that the blasphemous writings will crumble the Catholic Church and eventually Western civilization itself. Reilly and Chaykin are determined not to let that happen, though the human cost to prevent such anarchy comes with a heavy, almost devastating price.

The best thrillers grip you from the start and never give you time to think about how ludicrous or implausible much of the plot is. Raymond Khoury’s follow-up to his international bestseller The Last Templar fits the bill. That’s not meant as a backhanded compliment. The Templar Salvation is over-the-top and stretches credibility at times, especially as many of Reilly’s decisions to stop the Iranian from succeeding instigate even more mayhem and violence. But Khoury’s well-researched, tightly-paced book is smashing stuff for fans of page-turning thrillers set in exotic locations. The narrative switches from events in the 14th century involving the demise of the Templars to the present day, from the Vatican to Istanbul to Greece, from crowded city streets to desert wastelands. Khoury is best with the major set pieces: a car chase through the streets of Rome; a nocturnal commando raid gone awry; and in the mysteries surrounding the demise of the Templars. He’s not as successful with plausibility or with developing Reilly and Chaykin’s relationship—but no one reads thrillers like this for those reasons. Khoury knows that and delivers where it counts, offering up a breathtaking ride that will satisfy fans of his previous work.

Outwitting Trolls
Debbi Mack

Boston attorney Brady Coyne gets more than he bargained for after he meets his old friend, Ken Nichols, at a hotel bar. Coyne and Nichols go back years, to a time when both were happily married. Since then, each has been amicably divorced. When Nichols ends up stabbed to death in his room, Coyne agrees to represent the victim’s ex-wife Sharon, who is the prime suspect. Coyne’s involvement in the case requires that he untangle a rat’s nest of family intrigue and complex relationships in order to find the killer. And, although Sharon seems sincere in her protestations of innocence, Tapply hints that there may be other reasons she seeks Coyne’s counsel.

Coyne combines a hardboiled sensibility with the serene outlook of a man who seeks a simple and orderly life and Tapply’s plain-spoken prose perfectly reflects this. Coyne is not a wisecracking sort, he’s a gentleman with a genial attitude and a penchant for the occasional dry barb. These zingers spice up the story like dashes of pepper.

The novel’s title, Outwitting Trolls, refers to getting past the obstacles that stand between people in relationships. It is an engaging detective story with subplots about family and relationship dynamics deftly woven into it. For all his gentleness, Coyne has trouble relating to people—particularly family and lovers. (In the beginning, Coyne’s warmest relationship seems to be with his dog—the affection between them is palpable and touching.)

The solution may not come as a total surprise but the story nonetheless provides a graceful and satisfying conclusion to the Brady Coyne series which ended with Tapply’s death in 2009.

Teri Duerr
2010-12-01 21:34:25

Boston attorney Brady Coyne gets more than he bargained for after he meets his old friend, Ken Nichols, at a hotel bar. Coyne and Nichols go back years, to a time when both were happily married. Since then, each has been amicably divorced. When Nichols ends up stabbed to death in his room, Coyne agrees to represent the victim’s ex-wife Sharon, who is the prime suspect. Coyne’s involvement in the case requires that he untangle a rat’s nest of family intrigue and complex relationships in order to find the killer. And, although Sharon seems sincere in her protestations of innocence, Tapply hints that there may be other reasons she seeks Coyne’s counsel.

Coyne combines a hardboiled sensibility with the serene outlook of a man who seeks a simple and orderly life and Tapply’s plain-spoken prose perfectly reflects this. Coyne is not a wisecracking sort, he’s a gentleman with a genial attitude and a penchant for the occasional dry barb. These zingers spice up the story like dashes of pepper.

The novel’s title, Outwitting Trolls, refers to getting past the obstacles that stand between people in relationships. It is an engaging detective story with subplots about family and relationship dynamics deftly woven into it. For all his gentleness, Coyne has trouble relating to people—particularly family and lovers. (In the beginning, Coyne’s warmest relationship seems to be with his dog—the affection between them is palpable and touching.)

The solution may not come as a total surprise but the story nonetheless provides a graceful and satisfying conclusion to the Brady Coyne series which ended with Tapply’s death in 2009.

Disciple of the Dog
Kevin Burton Smith

As though being named Disciple Manning isn’t enough of a handicap, this pothead private eye/Gulf War vet from Newark is cursed with one hell of a mental quirk: perfect memory. Which should be a blessing considering his line of work, but t’ain’t necessarily so. There’s a price to pay for total recall: it seems you can’t forget anything. Even if you want to.

No wonder Disciple’s cynical—he’s literally seen it all before. And it’s left him with a pretty dim view of not just humanity, but life itself. “We keep waiting for something Shakespearean to happen,” he explains, but we end up with “the Jerry Springer Show. Squalid. Cheap. Mean-spirited.” Which also probably explains his disastrous relationships with women, his periodic substance abuse binges, and occasional suicide attempts. Only dope, the task of journal-keeping that his latest therapist has foisted upon him, and the slight chance that a case will expose him to something new that will actually challenge his “mangy capabilities” keep him from just turning out the big light.

So when Jonathan and Amanda Bonjour ask him to look into the disappearance of their missing daughter, Jennifer, who had recently left home to join a doomsday cult in Pennsylvania, Disciple jumps at the chance. Not because he’s heroic or noble or even gives a “fawk” but simply because it might not be boring—and there might a sizeable fee. Drugs and bimbos don’t come cheap, after all. And while Disciple may not always the most likable of human beings, there’s something rather enjoyable about watching this self-destructive scuzzball square off against small town cops, assorted true believers, a slew of neo-Nazis, a sexy journalist who sniffs a career-making story and the charismatic but possibly insane psychology professor turned cult leader. Toss in a few clever, pulpy plot twists, and Disciple’s constant stream of occasionally nasty wisecracks, putdowns, wry observations, and philosophical asides and you’ve got one of the more memorable PI characters of the last year. You might even say “unforgettable.” Fawk!

Teri Duerr
2010-12-01 21:38:31

As though being named Disciple Manning isn’t enough of a handicap, this pothead private eye/Gulf War vet from Newark is cursed with one hell of a mental quirk: perfect memory. Which should be a blessing considering his line of work, but t’ain’t necessarily so. There’s a price to pay for total recall: it seems you can’t forget anything. Even if you want to.

No wonder Disciple’s cynical—he’s literally seen it all before. And it’s left him with a pretty dim view of not just humanity, but life itself. “We keep waiting for something Shakespearean to happen,” he explains, but we end up with “the Jerry Springer Show. Squalid. Cheap. Mean-spirited.” Which also probably explains his disastrous relationships with women, his periodic substance abuse binges, and occasional suicide attempts. Only dope, the task of journal-keeping that his latest therapist has foisted upon him, and the slight chance that a case will expose him to something new that will actually challenge his “mangy capabilities” keep him from just turning out the big light.

So when Jonathan and Amanda Bonjour ask him to look into the disappearance of their missing daughter, Jennifer, who had recently left home to join a doomsday cult in Pennsylvania, Disciple jumps at the chance. Not because he’s heroic or noble or even gives a “fawk” but simply because it might not be boring—and there might a sizeable fee. Drugs and bimbos don’t come cheap, after all. And while Disciple may not always the most likable of human beings, there’s something rather enjoyable about watching this self-destructive scuzzball square off against small town cops, assorted true believers, a slew of neo-Nazis, a sexy journalist who sniffs a career-making story and the charismatic but possibly insane psychology professor turned cult leader. Toss in a few clever, pulpy plot twists, and Disciple’s constant stream of occasionally nasty wisecracks, putdowns, wry observations, and philosophical asides and you’ve got one of the more memorable PI characters of the last year. You might even say “unforgettable.” Fawk!

Moonlight Mile
M. Schlecht

Twelve years ago, in Lehane’s bestselling Gone, Baby, Gone, hardscrabble Dorchester private eyes Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro rescued four-year-old Amanda McCready from captors and returned her to her mother. Problem is, the drug-filled home was a worse proposition than her well-meaning kidnappers’ care. Patrick’s moral calculus created more problems than it solved, not least in his own relationship with the disapproving Angie. Yes, being a working class hero is a sometimes thankless task.

Still holding to the high ground more than a decade later in Moonlight Mile, Patrick is working freelance for a downtown Boston outfit of professional fixers, but having trouble defending corporate interests. Still, the recession is felt even in fiction, and work is work. But when Amanda’s aunt comes to Patrick for help in finding the now 16-year-old Amanda, who has disappeared again, his guilt leads him to take on the case pro bono.

Lehane certainly stands to earn quite a bit from what amounts to a sequel to Gone, Baby, Gone, but the update suffers from a lack of fuel, and has a hard time igniting. Kenzie’s evidentiary trail leads to Russian mobsters, who are tasked with providing both menace and jokey relief to the story. Also significantly dialing down the temperature is the low profile of Angie, who focuses more these days on child care than packing heat. As a precocious teenager, the runaway Amanda has created multiple identities to disguise her flight from a broken home. A self-determined girl with a clear-eyed view of her situation, she just might be the most complex character in the novel. Too bad, then, that Patrick must spend most of his time trying to find her for us.

Teri Duerr
2010-12-01 21:42:59

Twelve years ago, in Lehane’s bestselling Gone, Baby, Gone, hardscrabble Dorchester private eyes Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro rescued four-year-old Amanda McCready from captors and returned her to her mother. Problem is, the drug-filled home was a worse proposition than her well-meaning kidnappers’ care. Patrick’s moral calculus created more problems than it solved, not least in his own relationship with the disapproving Angie. Yes, being a working class hero is a sometimes thankless task.

Still holding to the high ground more than a decade later in Moonlight Mile, Patrick is working freelance for a downtown Boston outfit of professional fixers, but having trouble defending corporate interests. Still, the recession is felt even in fiction, and work is work. But when Amanda’s aunt comes to Patrick for help in finding the now 16-year-old Amanda, who has disappeared again, his guilt leads him to take on the case pro bono.

Lehane certainly stands to earn quite a bit from what amounts to a sequel to Gone, Baby, Gone, but the update suffers from a lack of fuel, and has a hard time igniting. Kenzie’s evidentiary trail leads to Russian mobsters, who are tasked with providing both menace and jokey relief to the story. Also significantly dialing down the temperature is the low profile of Angie, who focuses more these days on child care than packing heat. As a precocious teenager, the runaway Amanda has created multiple identities to disguise her flight from a broken home. A self-determined girl with a clear-eyed view of her situation, she just might be the most complex character in the novel. Too bad, then, that Patrick must spend most of his time trying to find her for us.

Law of Attraction
Leslie Doran

This debut novel strikes all the right chords, drawing on the author’s experience as a federal prosecutor in the nation’s capital. Anna Curtis is a new assistant US attorney in Washington, DC, where she has the lowly job of preparing paperwork in the Domestic Violence Papering Department. On the morning after Valentine’s Day, Anna is greeted at her desk by a bleeding and bruised Laprea Johnson, who finally seems ready to hold her abusive boyfriend, D’marco Davis, accountable for his violent actions. Reminded of her own traumatic childhood, Anna is determined to put Davis away for a long time. But a major complication arises when Laprea recants her story in court, allowing Davis to be released.

When Laprea’s body is found tossed in the trash outside of Davis’ apartment building, Anna is assigned to second chair with the top homicide prosecutor, Jack Bailey, in what is now a homicide case—but she is forced to make a difficult choice between her work and her personal life when she discovers her love interest, Nick Wagner, a former classmate from Harvard Law School, will be defending D’marco on the murder charge.

Law of Attraction is an impressive accomplishment, particularly for a novice writer. Leotta has fashioned a gritty, suspenseful novel that is part courtroom drama and part mean streets chronicle with a smidgen of romance. The characters are well formed and multi-layered and Leotta deftly portrays the thin line those in the law must walk between personal and professional ethical behavior. This is a new writer to watch.

Teri Duerr
2010-12-01 21:47:09

This debut novel strikes all the right chords, drawing on the author’s experience as a federal prosecutor in the nation’s capital. Anna Curtis is a new assistant US attorney in Washington, DC, where she has the lowly job of preparing paperwork in the Domestic Violence Papering Department. On the morning after Valentine’s Day, Anna is greeted at her desk by a bleeding and bruised Laprea Johnson, who finally seems ready to hold her abusive boyfriend, D’marco Davis, accountable for his violent actions. Reminded of her own traumatic childhood, Anna is determined to put Davis away for a long time. But a major complication arises when Laprea recants her story in court, allowing Davis to be released.

When Laprea’s body is found tossed in the trash outside of Davis’ apartment building, Anna is assigned to second chair with the top homicide prosecutor, Jack Bailey, in what is now a homicide case—but she is forced to make a difficult choice between her work and her personal life when she discovers her love interest, Nick Wagner, a former classmate from Harvard Law School, will be defending D’marco on the murder charge.

Law of Attraction is an impressive accomplishment, particularly for a novice writer. Leotta has fashioned a gritty, suspenseful novel that is part courtroom drama and part mean streets chronicle with a smidgen of romance. The characters are well formed and multi-layered and Leotta deftly portrays the thin line those in the law must walk between personal and professional ethical behavior. This is a new writer to watch.

Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop
Bill Crider

If you’re a customer of The Mysterious Bookshop, you may have been lucky enough to receive a very special Christmas gift. Each year since 1993, owner Otto Penzler has commissioned a short story by a prominent writer of crime fiction. Each writer is asked to set the story at Christmas, to make it a mystery, and to have at least part of the action take place at The Mysterious Bookshop. The stories are published in booklets and given to Penzler’s customers as Christmas gifts. Those limited editions have naturally become collector’s items, and some of the individual titles would now cost you quite a bit, if you could even find them.

But readers can now find all these stories in Christmas at The Mysterious Bookshop. This collection boasts a table of contents that any editor might envy, from the first story by Donald E. Westlake to the last by Mary Higgins Clark.

Some of the writers involve their well-known series characters in the action. In the Westlake story, it’s Dortmunder, everyone’s favorite inept criminal mastermind. Lawrence Block’s tale is narrated by Chip Harrison, and John Francis Cuddy appears in Jeremiah Healey’s story. George Baxt gives us Pharaoh Love, and Nick Velvet is after another worthless object in Ed Hoch’s contribution. Another Cuddy, this one Cuddy Mangum, narrates Michael Malone’s “Christmas Spirit.”

While many of the stories are quite funny, S.J. Rozan’s “The Grift of the Magi” has more puns and rhymes and jokes than any of the others. Lisa Atkinson’s title, “Yule be Sorry,” matches Rozan’s for punning, but the comedy’s more muted in the story itself. Ann Perry’s “My Object all Sublime” has a funny and satisfactory conclusion that any writer can appreciate, and Rupert Holmes and Mary Higgins Clark both present a neat combination of laughter and seriousness. Ron Goulart does the same in “Murder for Dummies.” I particularly liked Jonathan Santlofer’s “The 74th Tale” because of the very funny Poe homage that constitutes the tale within the tale.

Ed McBain’s “I Saw Mommy Killing Santa Claus” is quite dark, and a couple of other offerings are also on the serious side, including Thomas H. Cook’s “The Lesson of the Season” and Andrew Klavan’s “The Killer Christian.”

Charles Ardai’s “Cold Reading” is a nice bow to both John D. MacDonald and the methods of Sherlock Holmes, and one of the entertaining things about every story in the book is that the writers all manage to work in references to other writers and their works. In fact, they seem to take a lot of pleasure in tweaking their friends, and those friends include Penzler, who claims that the character with his name in so many of the stories is entirely fictional. Maybe so, but that character seems remarkably consistent, no matter who’s writing the story.

And they’re all fine stories, all of them variations on a theme. If you’re looking for a Christmas gift for the book lovers and readers on your list, you can’t go wrong with Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop.

Teri Duerr
2010-12-01 21:54:09

If you’re a customer of The Mysterious Bookshop, you may have been lucky enough to receive a very special Christmas gift. Each year since 1993, owner Otto Penzler has commissioned a short story by a prominent writer of crime fiction. Each writer is asked to set the story at Christmas, to make it a mystery, and to have at least part of the action take place at The Mysterious Bookshop. The stories are published in booklets and given to Penzler’s customers as Christmas gifts. Those limited editions have naturally become collector’s items, and some of the individual titles would now cost you quite a bit, if you could even find them.

But readers can now find all these stories in Christmas at The Mysterious Bookshop. This collection boasts a table of contents that any editor might envy, from the first story by Donald E. Westlake to the last by Mary Higgins Clark.

Some of the writers involve their well-known series characters in the action. In the Westlake story, it’s Dortmunder, everyone’s favorite inept criminal mastermind. Lawrence Block’s tale is narrated by Chip Harrison, and John Francis Cuddy appears in Jeremiah Healey’s story. George Baxt gives us Pharaoh Love, and Nick Velvet is after another worthless object in Ed Hoch’s contribution. Another Cuddy, this one Cuddy Mangum, narrates Michael Malone’s “Christmas Spirit.”

While many of the stories are quite funny, S.J. Rozan’s “The Grift of the Magi” has more puns and rhymes and jokes than any of the others. Lisa Atkinson’s title, “Yule be Sorry,” matches Rozan’s for punning, but the comedy’s more muted in the story itself. Ann Perry’s “My Object all Sublime” has a funny and satisfactory conclusion that any writer can appreciate, and Rupert Holmes and Mary Higgins Clark both present a neat combination of laughter and seriousness. Ron Goulart does the same in “Murder for Dummies.” I particularly liked Jonathan Santlofer’s “The 74th Tale” because of the very funny Poe homage that constitutes the tale within the tale.

Ed McBain’s “I Saw Mommy Killing Santa Claus” is quite dark, and a couple of other offerings are also on the serious side, including Thomas H. Cook’s “The Lesson of the Season” and Andrew Klavan’s “The Killer Christian.”

Charles Ardai’s “Cold Reading” is a nice bow to both John D. MacDonald and the methods of Sherlock Holmes, and one of the entertaining things about every story in the book is that the writers all manage to work in references to other writers and their works. In fact, they seem to take a lot of pleasure in tweaking their friends, and those friends include Penzler, who claims that the character with his name in so many of the stories is entirely fictional. Maybe so, but that character seems remarkably consistent, no matter who’s writing the story.

And they’re all fine stories, all of them variations on a theme. If you’re looking for a Christmas gift for the book lovers and readers on your list, you can’t go wrong with Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop.

Disappeared
Verna Suit

Ted Snowe failed as a pro basketball player and stumbled into a career as a double-dipping pseudo-hit man. He’s paid to whack people, but he gets his targets to pay him even more not to. He then creates new identities for them and hopes to never see them again. Ted’s trouble starts when Jimmy “Knuckles” Brutto, the last person Ted “disappeared,” shows up on national TV. A real hit man, a psychopath known as the Asp, is now after Ted. So is Brutto’s wife Beth, who wants reimbursement for the $100,000 life insurance settlement she received and promptly spent, and which the insurance company now wants back.

Ted’s dilemma represents the first installment in the Buster Hightower mystery series. Buster is Ted’s next-door neighbor in Kent, Washington, south of Seattle. He and his girlfriend Carla feed Ted’s cat when he’s away and they’re willing to help when he explains his predicament. Little do they expect that helping out will result in a madcap race for Buster, Carla, Ted, and Beth to Washington, DC and then to Rome, with the Asp hot on their heels.

Disappeared is a caper book, filled with absurdities reminiscent of Donald Westlake. The quirky characters are walking contradictions. Ted’s a hit man who doesn’t kill, Buster’s a stand-up comic who’s not funny, and Carla runs an insurance company for the uninsurable. Even the Asp prefers an ice pick over the convenience of a handgun and refuses to wear gloves to mask his fingerprints. Part chase thriller, part farce, part travelogue, Disappeared will keep readers turning pages and smiling in spite of themselves.

Teri Duerr
2010-12-01 22:01:44

Ted Snowe failed as a pro basketball player and stumbled into a career as a double-dipping pseudo-hit man. He’s paid to whack people, but he gets his targets to pay him even more not to. He then creates new identities for them and hopes to never see them again. Ted’s trouble starts when Jimmy “Knuckles” Brutto, the last person Ted “disappeared,” shows up on national TV. A real hit man, a psychopath known as the Asp, is now after Ted. So is Brutto’s wife Beth, who wants reimbursement for the $100,000 life insurance settlement she received and promptly spent, and which the insurance company now wants back.

Ted’s dilemma represents the first installment in the Buster Hightower mystery series. Buster is Ted’s next-door neighbor in Kent, Washington, south of Seattle. He and his girlfriend Carla feed Ted’s cat when he’s away and they’re willing to help when he explains his predicament. Little do they expect that helping out will result in a madcap race for Buster, Carla, Ted, and Beth to Washington, DC and then to Rome, with the Asp hot on their heels.

Disappeared is a caper book, filled with absurdities reminiscent of Donald Westlake. The quirky characters are walking contradictions. Ted’s a hit man who doesn’t kill, Buster’s a stand-up comic who’s not funny, and Carla runs an insurance company for the uninsurable. Even the Asp prefers an ice pick over the convenience of a handgun and refuses to wear gloves to mask his fingerprints. Part chase thriller, part farce, part travelogue, Disappeared will keep readers turning pages and smiling in spite of themselves.

The Detroit Electric Scheme
Hank Wagner

Despite its title, which suggests something far more grandiose, The Detroit Electric Scheme turns out to be a rather straightforward mystery, as protagonist Will Anderson is apparently set up to take the fall for the murder of his romantic rival, John Cooper. (I say apparently because Anderson is the first person narrator of the book, and, as a borderline alcoholic and ne’er-do-well, is classically unreliable.) But, as the police and the press have all but convicted him of the crime, the surprisingly unlikable Anderson has no choice but to soldier on, and attempt to discover the truth behind Cooper’s death. His rather inept investigation leads him to the discovery that nothing is ever what it seems to be on the surface, and everyone has something to hide.

Johnson’s sure-handed debut doesn’t break new ground as far as mysteries go, but is noteworthy for its fascinating period detail. Set in 1910 Detroit, it chronicles an era decidedly different, yet strangely reminiscent, of today. For instance, Anderson works for Detroit Electric, purveyors of an electric car, which, at the time, might have been the way the auto industry ultimately went. It is fascinating to be thrown into this period, where the future was not yet set in stone.

Johnson does an excellent job of relaying the details, beliefs, and customs of the era, without dropping huge exposition bombs on his audience. He also effectively combines fact with fiction, as when young Edsel Ford assists Anderson in his search for the real killer.

Teri Duerr
2010-12-01 22:05:42

Despite its title, which suggests something far more grandiose, The Detroit Electric Scheme turns out to be a rather straightforward mystery, as protagonist Will Anderson is apparently set up to take the fall for the murder of his romantic rival, John Cooper. (I say apparently because Anderson is the first person narrator of the book, and, as a borderline alcoholic and ne’er-do-well, is classically unreliable.) But, as the police and the press have all but convicted him of the crime, the surprisingly unlikable Anderson has no choice but to soldier on, and attempt to discover the truth behind Cooper’s death. His rather inept investigation leads him to the discovery that nothing is ever what it seems to be on the surface, and everyone has something to hide.

Johnson’s sure-handed debut doesn’t break new ground as far as mysteries go, but is noteworthy for its fascinating period detail. Set in 1910 Detroit, it chronicles an era decidedly different, yet strangely reminiscent, of today. For instance, Anderson works for Detroit Electric, purveyors of an electric car, which, at the time, might have been the way the auto industry ultimately went. It is fascinating to be thrown into this period, where the future was not yet set in stone.

Johnson does an excellent job of relaying the details, beliefs, and customs of the era, without dropping huge exposition bombs on his audience. He also effectively combines fact with fiction, as when young Edsel Ford assists Anderson in his search for the real killer.

Mr. Hooligan
M. Schlecht

Vasquez’s Hooligan is Riley James, a Belize bad boy trying to go straight. He and a pal have opened up a tourist-friendly bar, and life is struggling toward copacetic. There’s a girl, too, an American photographer, and Riley allows himself to imagine a future marriage and new life in the US—until a traffic accident shatters James’ fragile tropical dream and debt forces him to get reacquainted with the drug-running Monsanto brothers, for whom he promises to deliver “one last score.”

If we’ve seen these broad strokes painted before—troubled criminal (with, yes, a heart of gold) who just needs a break, Caribbean drug smuggling, stormy tropical romance—Vasquez, to his credit, does not let the tropes get in the way of a damn good story. James has such low-key confidence, and faith in his friends, that it is hard not to root for the guy.

Vasquez also has confidence in his characters, and there are great relationship dynamics in the novel. A friendly former nun acts as a surrogate mother to James, and the elder Monsanto, his stand-in for a father. Never trust something that’s too good to be true, though, and James learns this lesson: It’s not easy to start over when you start out the hard way. Mr. Hooligan is only Vasquez’s third book, and it shows off a developing Elmore Leonard-ian gift for writing seriously cool, confident crime.

Teri Duerr
2010-12-01 22:09:54

Vasquez’s Hooligan is Riley James, a Belize bad boy trying to go straight. He and a pal have opened up a tourist-friendly bar, and life is struggling toward copacetic. There’s a girl, too, an American photographer, and Riley allows himself to imagine a future marriage and new life in the US—until a traffic accident shatters James’ fragile tropical dream and debt forces him to get reacquainted with the drug-running Monsanto brothers, for whom he promises to deliver “one last score.”

If we’ve seen these broad strokes painted before—troubled criminal (with, yes, a heart of gold) who just needs a break, Caribbean drug smuggling, stormy tropical romance—Vasquez, to his credit, does not let the tropes get in the way of a damn good story. James has such low-key confidence, and faith in his friends, that it is hard not to root for the guy.

Vasquez also has confidence in his characters, and there are great relationship dynamics in the novel. A friendly former nun acts as a surrogate mother to James, and the elder Monsanto, his stand-in for a father. Never trust something that’s too good to be true, though, and James learns this lesson: It’s not easy to start over when you start out the hard way. Mr. Hooligan is only Vasquez’s third book, and it shows off a developing Elmore Leonard-ian gift for writing seriously cool, confident crime.

Murder in Caleb’s Landing
Lynne F. Maxwell

I must admit that when I began this book I wasn’t sure that D-L Nelson could pull off a tale combining present-day mystery and a slave narrative history, and make it work but Murder in Caleb’s Landing coalesces into a fascinating story.

D-L Nelson (Donna-Lane Nelson), a Swiss-American author, introduces her new series protagonist, the engaging Annie Young, also Swiss American. Annie is visiting Caleb’s Landing, a small Massachusetts town where her parents have retired after inheriting a quaint old house. While assisting her parents in cleaning out the house’s cluttered basement, Annie discovers a diary—and a skeleton.

For Annie, an avid avocational historian when not pursuing her “day job” as a technical writer, it soon becomes apparent that she has certainly come to the right place to exercise her skills and to sate her curiosity about matters historical. The diary turns out to be written by a former slave (Nelson readily credits Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl as a model for the slave narrative), and initially everyone assumes that the skeleton is that of the journal’s author. The mystery accelerates, however, when forensic evidence indicates that, in fact, the person found was murdered much more recently than the 19th century.

Nelson proceeds to skillfully interweave these plot strands, including an additional thread focusing upon domestic violence, into a spellbinding mystery. Her spare, elegant writing style is an additional treat. I highly recommend this book, particularly to aficionados of the historical mystery.

Teri Duerr
2010-12-01 22:16:34

I must admit that when I began this book I wasn’t sure that D-L Nelson could pull off a tale combining present-day mystery and a slave narrative history, and make it work but Murder in Caleb’s Landing coalesces into a fascinating story.

D-L Nelson (Donna-Lane Nelson), a Swiss-American author, introduces her new series protagonist, the engaging Annie Young, also Swiss American. Annie is visiting Caleb’s Landing, a small Massachusetts town where her parents have retired after inheriting a quaint old house. While assisting her parents in cleaning out the house’s cluttered basement, Annie discovers a diary—and a skeleton.

For Annie, an avid avocational historian when not pursuing her “day job” as a technical writer, it soon becomes apparent that she has certainly come to the right place to exercise her skills and to sate her curiosity about matters historical. The diary turns out to be written by a former slave (Nelson readily credits Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl as a model for the slave narrative), and initially everyone assumes that the skeleton is that of the journal’s author. The mystery accelerates, however, when forensic evidence indicates that, in fact, the person found was murdered much more recently than the 19th century.

Nelson proceeds to skillfully interweave these plot strands, including an additional thread focusing upon domestic violence, into a spellbinding mystery. Her spare, elegant writing style is an additional treat. I highly recommend this book, particularly to aficionados of the historical mystery.

A Shot Rang Out: Selected Mystery Criticism
Art Taylor

Few mystery critics can boast the encyclopedic knowledge of the genre that Jon L. Breen possesses. Already a two-time Edgar winner for previous critical guides (1981’s What About Murder and 1984’s Novel Verdicts), Breen here samples some of his more recent contributions to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, to the Washington, DC-based Weekly Standard, and to the magazine in your hands, as well as to a number of online publications and various anthologies.

What’s covered here? It might be easier to list what’s not covered, since these writings survey both the broad history of crime fiction and the latest developments in the field. In short essays, Breen can touch on nearly a century of American women masters (from Metta Fuller Victor’s The Dead Letter [1867] to Dorothy B. Hughes’ In A Lonely Place [1947]; survey 20th-century British mysteries with a level of insight and erudition comparable to P.D. James’ much vaunted Talking About Detective Fiction; and even assess (and in one case roundly dismiss) recent revelations about the identities of Jack the Ripper and of the Black Dahlia killer. (One piece even offers a short romp through Mystery Scene’s own history, from its debut as a four-page newsletter up to the arrival of its current owners—an essay that also serves to revisit key questions about mystery criticism in general.)

What may be most useful to mystery readers, however, are Breen’s essays, both extended and capsule, on a wide range of authors. The collection opens with 15 longer features on major names then and now, including Chester Himes, Elmore Leonard, Michael Connolly, and Henning Mankell, and I was particularly impressed with his examination of the careers of Margaret Millar and Vin Packer. A second section provides brief glimpses at 100 mystery writers, excerpting Breen’s reviews of individual books to give a sense of each author’s career and contributions. I used the word encyclopedic before, and this section proves it, being a veritable who’s who of famous players: Lawrence Block, Dick Francis, Stephen King, Ruth Rendell, Donald Westlake. Pick a page, any page, and you’ll learn something new.

And that’s the beauty of the book—the pleasure of browsing through it, the delight of encountering new perspectives on a favorite writer or just discovering a writer whom you didn’t know, and the unfolding sense of reverence for the critic who, ultimately, seems to know them all.

Teri Duerr
2010-12-01 22:21:42

breen_ashotrangoutA broad and impressive history of crime fiction and the latest developments in the field.

Open Season
Barbara Fister

The unlikely pairing of detectives has a rich tradition in crime fiction, and it is just such a pairing that provides much of the internal combustion of Open Season, a novel billed as the first of the new Seasons series.

Sarah Kingsley, an experienced homicide detective, is reeling after a shooting that has left her partner dead and her reputation at risk as the city of Dallas debates whether her killing of a black teen was justified. But she bottles up her emotions and refuses her boss’ offer of counseling, not ready to deal with her grief.

Instead, she tackles a heater case: someone is killing shopping mall security guards and the killer signals that he is agonized at the thought of doing it again—but he will if the police don’t act on his cryptic messages. Sarah’s prickly new partner, Angel Johnson, is a straightlaced rookie raised by a father who distrusts whites and questions his daughter’s new partnership. They must overcome their differences as they race to figure out just what the killer’s message is.

As the first in a series, there is a great deal of focus on the protagonists and their interaction. The friction between the two detectives, as they try to develop the trust necessary to work together, sometimes overshadows the murder investigation. But Miller has obviously done her homework on police procedure, and on the whole, Open Season lays the foundation for a solid new police procedural series.

Teri Duerr
2010-12-01 22:27:40

The unlikely pairing of detectives has a rich tradition in crime fiction, and it is just such a pairing that provides much of the internal combustion of Open Season, a novel billed as the first of the new Seasons series.

Sarah Kingsley, an experienced homicide detective, is reeling after a shooting that has left her partner dead and her reputation at risk as the city of Dallas debates whether her killing of a black teen was justified. But she bottles up her emotions and refuses her boss’ offer of counseling, not ready to deal with her grief.

Instead, she tackles a heater case: someone is killing shopping mall security guards and the killer signals that he is agonized at the thought of doing it again—but he will if the police don’t act on his cryptic messages. Sarah’s prickly new partner, Angel Johnson, is a straightlaced rookie raised by a father who distrusts whites and questions his daughter’s new partnership. They must overcome their differences as they race to figure out just what the killer’s message is.

As the first in a series, there is a great deal of focus on the protagonists and their interaction. The friction between the two detectives, as they try to develop the trust necessary to work together, sometimes overshadows the murder investigation. But Miller has obviously done her homework on police procedure, and on the whole, Open Season lays the foundation for a solid new police procedural series.

Tied In: the Business, History and Craft of Media Tie-in Writing
Jon L. Breen

If this is the Golden Age of anything in the popular fiction field, it may be the tie-in novel, usually but not always in mass market paperback, based on motion pictures, TV shows, games, or comics. There were always formidable writers doing tie-ins (Jim Thompson once did an Ironside paperback, John D. MacDonald a novelization of the Judy Garland vehicle I Could Go On Singing), but they have generally been dismissed, not unreasonably, as quickies tossed off for a fast buck. That image has been improved somewhat by the quality work of editor Goldberg, the late Stuart Kaminsky, Max Allan Collins, and some of the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers members contributing to this volume. The subject is tie-ins generally, but mystery and science fiction projects predominate.

Collins, among the most esteemed and prolific of current tie-in writers, says he approaches a movie assignment as “creat[ing] a novel that seems to be the book the film was based on.” His account of two unhappy experiences, novelizing Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy and novelizing the film version of his own graphic novel Road to Perdition, is a highlight. Among other contributors most familiar to mystery readers are editor Goldberg (original Monk and Diagnosis: Murder novels), Donald Bain (new Murder She Wrote cases in ostensible collaboration with Jessica Fletcher), and Burl Barer (Edgar winner for a study of Leslie Charteris’ The Saint).

With its helpful how-to tips and articles, the book is primarily directed toward other writers, and established pros at that. But many fans and scholars will enjoy the inside-the-business stuff. Among the most interesting to the latter group are two of the longest pieces in the book: David Spencer’s critical-historical article on TV tie-ins of the 1950s through ’70s, which devotes the most space to the consensus “best of them all,” Walter Wager, author of Mission: Impossible and I Spy novels under the pseudonym John Tiger; and John Cox’s extensive interview with Raymond Benson about his experiences writing James Bond originals and movie novelizations.

Teri Duerr
2010-12-02 16:32:28

A look at the art of the tie-in from veteran film and TV writer Lee Goldberg.

New Chapter for Book Carnival
Oline Cogdill
titleAnne Saller doesn't seem to believe in retirement. She's tried it -- twice -- and each time has come back to a new career.
An escrow officer, she owned her own company and when she closed it -- after finding jobs for all of her employees -- started her first retirement. But after a few years of taking it easy and traveling, she went back to work, heading the accounting office for
Mater Dei High School, a private Catholic high school in Southern California. "It was another great experience," Saller said, but after 15 years, she retired again and began to travel again.
But Saller doesn't plan to retire from her latest career as owner of the independent bookstore Book Carnival in Orange, California.
Saller's purchase of Book Carnival last September fulfilled a lifelong dream of owning a bookstore. But other factors influenced her decision to make the plunge. Saller had been friends of Pat and Ed Thomas, Book Carnival's original owners, for more than
20 years. Saller started as a customer of Book Carnival and then became friends with the Thomases, often traveling with them to Bouchercons. The Thomases had built Book Carnival into a destination that greeted more than 80 authors a year and scores of
customers. For their efforts, Ed and Pat Thomas received the Raven Award for their contributions to the mystery field in 2003.

But last year, Book Carnival went on the market. Ed has passed away and Pat, who has Alzheimer's, now lives in an assisted living apartment.

"This store has such a long, rich history that it was meant to be," said Saller, 77. "I had known Ed and Pat so long that I can continue what they started."
Saller also wants to continue the legacy of independent bookstores.
"Independents are disappearing and we can not let that happen," she said.
altSo far, Saller says the response has been terrific. Because she wasn't able to take over until September, Saller wasn't able to lock in advance author signings. Instead, several authors "went out of their way" to work Book Carnival into their schedule. Michael Connelly (left with Saller), Margaret Coel, Miles Corwin and Jeri Westerson arranged to come in for signings.
"Michael Connelly was so thoughtful and kind," Saller said. "He remembered some of the customers and asked how their friends and family were. He really remembers. It is so wonderful for someone to care so much."
Saller also mentioned that Dean Koontz, who dedicated his 1989 novel Midnight to Ed and Pat Thomas, has continued to fit in signings at Book Carnival. "He's a kind man who has not let success go to his head. He's been wonderful."
But Saller has found mystery authors supportive of her store as she sets up signings for 2011. Among those she has scheduled are Robert Crais and T. Jefferson Parker.
"Mystery authors are very supportive of the independent bookstore because that is who sells the books. The independents know what we are selling. We read the arcs. We talk to our customers and listen to what they want. We know the products we are selling. Mystery writers are so nice."
Support also comes from her customers. "We have wonderful customers and they are so happy we are staying open. I ship across the country and often get calls from Missouri or Connecticut who want to know we if we have an author coming in."
Saller said she will never forget the "sheer joy" of walking into Book Carnival the first time after the sale was complete and knowing "it is all mine."
"I am in love with the store. It has consumed me. Of course, the paperwork for the publishers also is consuming," she said, her sense of humor obvious during our telephone call. "But the stocking, the ordering, the talking to customers -- that is wonderful."
She says she enjoys the large number of collectors who are Book Carnival customers. She said she is helping several of her collector/customers bring their collections up to date because the store went for nearly a year without signings. She also loves introducing new authors to readers who want a book for a trip.
"The secret is getting to know your customers and their likes and dislikes. I have one man who loves Sherlock Holmes and so I am always looking for something for him. This is a personal business."
While a love of mysteries drew Saller to the genre, she realized it also was a community when she attended her first Bouchercon in 1987, and has kept her return to the conference every year. "Bouchercons are a place of immediate friends. Where else can you be in a place where everyone likes what you like? Everyone is a friend at Bouchercon. You share this common interest and there is a real excitement of finding new authors."
Saller said she remembers the first time she heard Elizabeth George talk was at a Bouchercon and "immediately ran to the book room, bought her book and had her sign it." At another Bouchercon, she sat at a table with the late Lawrence Sander and his wife and then later had breakfast with the couple. As recently as the Baltimore Bouchercon, Saller discovered the novels of Marcus Sakey.
"The camaraderie is wonderful," said Saller, who has also attended Left Coast Crime and Thrillerfest. "And that camaraderie continues with our customers."

Saller does have a life away from the store. She has two daughters, five grandchildren, one great-grandchild, and another great-grandchild on the way. She volunteers twice a week at the Orange Police Department.
Despite the economy, Saller didn't hesitate to buy Book Carnival. "I took a chance because I feel so strongly about the independent bookstore and this location."
Still, she is a realist. "You don't go into this to make a lot of money. This is a love."
Right now Saller is focusing on ordering Book Carnival stock, setting up author signings, getting the word out about her store and setting up a computer system -- a frantic pace she hopes will slow down.
"The irony of it is I don’t have as much time to read as before," she said.
Xav ID 577
2010-12-05 09:57:39
titleAnne Saller doesn't seem to believe in retirement. She's tried it -- twice -- and each time has come back to a new career.
An escrow officer, she owned her own company and when she closed it -- after finding jobs for all of her employees -- started her first retirement. But after a few years of taking it easy and traveling, she went back to work, heading the accounting office for
Mater Dei High School, a private Catholic high school in Southern California. "It was another great experience," Saller said, but after 15 years, she retired again and began to travel again.
But Saller doesn't plan to retire from her latest career as owner of the independent bookstore Book Carnival in Orange, California.
Saller's purchase of Book Carnival last September fulfilled a lifelong dream of owning a bookstore. But other factors influenced her decision to make the plunge. Saller had been friends of Pat and Ed Thomas, Book Carnival's original owners, for more than
20 years. Saller started as a customer of Book Carnival and then became friends with the Thomases, often traveling with them to Bouchercons. The Thomases had built Book Carnival into a destination that greeted more than 80 authors a year and scores of
customers. For their efforts, Ed and Pat Thomas received the Raven Award for their contributions to the mystery field in 2003.

But last year, Book Carnival went on the market. Ed has passed away and Pat, who has Alzheimer's, now lives in an assisted living apartment.

"This store has such a long, rich history that it was meant to be," said Saller, 77. "I had known Ed and Pat so long that I can continue what they started."
Saller also wants to continue the legacy of independent bookstores.
"Independents are disappearing and we can not let that happen," she said.
altSo far, Saller says the response has been terrific. Because she wasn't able to take over until September, Saller wasn't able to lock in advance author signings. Instead, several authors "went out of their way" to work Book Carnival into their schedule. Michael Connelly (left with Saller), Margaret Coel, Miles Corwin and Jeri Westerson arranged to come in for signings.
"Michael Connelly was so thoughtful and kind," Saller said. "He remembered some of the customers and asked how their friends and family were. He really remembers. It is so wonderful for someone to care so much."
Saller also mentioned that Dean Koontz, who dedicated his 1989 novel Midnight to Ed and Pat Thomas, has continued to fit in signings at Book Carnival. "He's a kind man who has not let success go to his head. He's been wonderful."
But Saller has found mystery authors supportive of her store as she sets up signings for 2011. Among those she has scheduled are Robert Crais and T. Jefferson Parker.
"Mystery authors are very supportive of the independent bookstore because that is who sells the books. The independents know what we are selling. We read the arcs. We talk to our customers and listen to what they want. We know the products we are selling. Mystery writers are so nice."
Support also comes from her customers. "We have wonderful customers and they are so happy we are staying open. I ship across the country and often get calls from Missouri or Connecticut who want to know we if we have an author coming in."
Saller said she will never forget the "sheer joy" of walking into Book Carnival the first time after the sale was complete and knowing "it is all mine."
"I am in love with the store. It has consumed me. Of course, the paperwork for the publishers also is consuming," she said, her sense of humor obvious during our telephone call. "But the stocking, the ordering, the talking to customers -- that is wonderful."
She says she enjoys the large number of collectors who are Book Carnival customers. She said she is helping several of her collector/customers bring their collections up to date because the store went for nearly a year without signings. She also loves introducing new authors to readers who want a book for a trip.
"The secret is getting to know your customers and their likes and dislikes. I have one man who loves Sherlock Holmes and so I am always looking for something for him. This is a personal business."
While a love of mysteries drew Saller to the genre, she realized it also was a community when she attended her first Bouchercon in 1987, and has kept her return to the conference every year. "Bouchercons are a place of immediate friends. Where else can you be in a place where everyone likes what you like? Everyone is a friend at Bouchercon. You share this common interest and there is a real excitement of finding new authors."
Saller said she remembers the first time she heard Elizabeth George talk was at a Bouchercon and "immediately ran to the book room, bought her book and had her sign it." At another Bouchercon, she sat at a table with the late Lawrence Sander and his wife and then later had breakfast with the couple. As recently as the Baltimore Bouchercon, Saller discovered the novels of Marcus Sakey.
"The camaraderie is wonderful," said Saller, who has also attended Left Coast Crime and Thrillerfest. "And that camaraderie continues with our customers."

Saller does have a life away from the store. She has two daughters, five grandchildren, one great-grandchild, and another great-grandchild on the way. She volunteers twice a week at the Orange Police Department.
Despite the economy, Saller didn't hesitate to buy Book Carnival. "I took a chance because I feel so strongly about the independent bookstore and this location."
Still, she is a realist. "You don't go into this to make a lot of money. This is a love."
Right now Saller is focusing on ordering Book Carnival stock, setting up author signings, getting the word out about her store and setting up a computer system -- a frantic pace she hopes will slow down.
"The irony of it is I don’t have as much time to read as before," she said.
Jim Fusilli's Narrows Gate
Oline Cogdill
altI am a major fan of audio books. No, they do not replace the joy of holding an actual novel, but audio books have gotten me through many a long, traffic-ridden drive.
While I have no actual statistics for this, I wouldn't be surprised if audio books prevented road rage. Who wants a fight when you're at a crucial part of book?
So it makes perfect sense to me that as authors find new platforms to get their work to readers that a novel would be written specially for audio.
Readers can now enjoy the only-in-audio novel Narrows Gate by Jim Fusilli. It is performed by Emmy Award-winning actor Joe Pantoliano (The Sopranos) and narrator Joe Barrett (A Prayer for Owen Meany). It's available at Audible.com.
Fusilli has published a number of excellent mysteries, inclucing Closing Time, Tribeca Blues and Hard Hard City in the Terry Orr series. Fusilli also is a Wall Street Journal music critic and contributing writer to 2008 Audiobook of the Year, The Chopin Manuscript.
With Narrows Gate, Fusilli shows a new leap in his writing. Audible.com describes Narrows Gate as "a powerful epic in the spirit of The Godfather and On the Waterfront, Narrows Gate follows the fates of three men as their lives intersect with the dangerous and seductive power of the Mob in a vividly imagined, fictional version of 1940s Hoboken."
I'd say that description is right. In the couple of samples I listened to, Narrows Gatehas the makes of a well-plotted novel with strong, believable characters. It also helps, too, that Pantoliano, who is a Hoboken native, captures each character's distinct voice. Set in the first half of the 20th century, Narrows Gateis set in Manhattan, Hollywood, Las Vegas, Havana, Miami, and Hoboken, NJ, where Fusilli was born and raised.
Straight to audio is a trend I think we will see more of. And Fusilli's Narrows Gate is just the beginning.
Xav ID 577
2010-12-08 10:26:28
altI am a major fan of audio books. No, they do not replace the joy of holding an actual novel, but audio books have gotten me through many a long, traffic-ridden drive.
While I have no actual statistics for this, I wouldn't be surprised if audio books prevented road rage. Who wants a fight when you're at a crucial part of book?
So it makes perfect sense to me that as authors find new platforms to get their work to readers that a novel would be written specially for audio.
Readers can now enjoy the only-in-audio novel Narrows Gate by Jim Fusilli. It is performed by Emmy Award-winning actor Joe Pantoliano (The Sopranos) and narrator Joe Barrett (A Prayer for Owen Meany). It's available at Audible.com.
Fusilli has published a number of excellent mysteries, inclucing Closing Time, Tribeca Blues and Hard Hard City in the Terry Orr series. Fusilli also is a Wall Street Journal music critic and contributing writer to 2008 Audiobook of the Year, The Chopin Manuscript.
With Narrows Gate, Fusilli shows a new leap in his writing. Audible.com describes Narrows Gate as "a powerful epic in the spirit of The Godfather and On the Waterfront, Narrows Gate follows the fates of three men as their lives intersect with the dangerous and seductive power of the Mob in a vividly imagined, fictional version of 1940s Hoboken."
I'd say that description is right. In the couple of samples I listened to, Narrows Gatehas the makes of a well-plotted novel with strong, believable characters. It also helps, too, that Pantoliano, who is a Hoboken native, captures each character's distinct voice. Set in the first half of the 20th century, Narrows Gateis set in Manhattan, Hollywood, Las Vegas, Havana, Miami, and Hoboken, NJ, where Fusilli was born and raised.
Straight to audio is a trend I think we will see more of. And Fusilli's Narrows Gate is just the beginning.
Don Bruns' Dog Story
Oline Cogdill
altHaving your name used as a character in a favorite author's novel is a thrill for any reader. A character's name also is often one of the most popular auction items at mystery fiction conferences.
Some people want to be a character, others bid on a name for a friend, relative or even a pet's name.
Don Bruns' latest novel, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff (Oceanview Publishing) is set against the backdrop of a traveling carnival where the rides come off the tracks and people are killed. His protagonists, stumbling and bumbling James Lessor and Skip Moore, are hired to investigate the situation.
While writing the novel, Bruns one day drove pass a farmer’s field, which had an assortment of donkeys, goats, pigs and animals. So Bruns thought he would add
a petting zoo to the carnival.
That gave Bruns' longtime publicist Maryglenn McComb an idea. Why not add Garcia, her 10 1/2-year-old, blind, 125-pound, Old English Sheepdog, to the petting zoo?
Actually, McComb said she didn't ask Bruns, she begged.
And what started as a simple idea made a plot change Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff as Bruns learned that the old dog could learn new tricks.
altIn Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff , Garcia becomes more than a bit player. In fact, according Bruns and McComb, Garcia literally steals the show and becomes a major force in the story.
Not only that, but McComb arranged for Garcia to photo-shopped into Bruns’ author photo.
Garcia's shaggy dog story continues. Garcia has taken to Twitter to share news about his book and his views on life as Garcia. Well, I imagine that McComb probably helps him. Follow him on Twitter @AmazingGarcia.
Bruns, who has auctioned off character names to raise money for charities in the past, says this dogged tale shows how a novel can take a different route than the author expects. “Fiction writers need to remember that you never know where a story will lead—and you never know where the ideas will come from. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff is a result of an idea, driving by a farm, and an off-the-wall suggestion from my publicist,” said Bruns.
As a devoted and longtime dog owner, I totally understand McComb's desire to get her dog in the novel. Starting with my first dog, Lou, when I was a year and a half, I have never been without a dog. I think I do my work when either Dash or Gizmo are at my feet, as they are now. But I don't dare show my shih tzus Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff . They'll just want their own novel.
Xav ID 577
2010-12-15 10:20:17
altHaving your name used as a character in a favorite author's novel is a thrill for any reader. A character's name also is often one of the most popular auction items at mystery fiction conferences.
Some people want to be a character, others bid on a name for a friend, relative or even a pet's name.
Don Bruns' latest novel, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff (Oceanview Publishing) is set against the backdrop of a traveling carnival where the rides come off the tracks and people are killed. His protagonists, stumbling and bumbling James Lessor and Skip Moore, are hired to investigate the situation.
While writing the novel, Bruns one day drove pass a farmer’s field, which had an assortment of donkeys, goats, pigs and animals. So Bruns thought he would add
a petting zoo to the carnival.
That gave Bruns' longtime publicist Maryglenn McComb an idea. Why not add Garcia, her 10 1/2-year-old, blind, 125-pound, Old English Sheepdog, to the petting zoo?
Actually, McComb said she didn't ask Bruns, she begged.
And what started as a simple idea made a plot change Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff as Bruns learned that the old dog could learn new tricks.
altIn Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff , Garcia becomes more than a bit player. In fact, according Bruns and McComb, Garcia literally steals the show and becomes a major force in the story.
Not only that, but McComb arranged for Garcia to photo-shopped into Bruns’ author photo.
Garcia's shaggy dog story continues. Garcia has taken to Twitter to share news about his book and his views on life as Garcia. Well, I imagine that McComb probably helps him. Follow him on Twitter @AmazingGarcia.
Bruns, who has auctioned off character names to raise money for charities in the past, says this dogged tale shows how a novel can take a different route than the author expects. “Fiction writers need to remember that you never know where a story will lead—and you never know where the ideas will come from. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff is a result of an idea, driving by a farm, and an off-the-wall suggestion from my publicist,” said Bruns.
As a devoted and longtime dog owner, I totally understand McComb's desire to get her dog in the novel. Starting with my first dog, Lou, when I was a year and a half, I have never been without a dog. I think I do my work when either Dash or Gizmo are at my feet, as they are now. But I don't dare show my shih tzus Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff . They'll just want their own novel.
Play Mystery Scene Hangman!
Brian Skupin
2010-12-05 23:35:33