Our Kind of Traitor
Debbi Mack

When disaffected Oxford scholar Perry Makepiece and his longtime girlfriend, Gail, an up-and-coming barrister, meet an extraordinary Russian named Dima and his eccentric family while on vacation, the last thing they expect is to be asked to help him defect. Apparently, Dima is the world’s foremost money launderer. Thus, his defection puts him and his family at risk from the Russian mob. Perry is scared, but intrigued enough to set aside his concerns and step up to a challenge he thinks will stretch his capabilities beyond the merely academic. Although Gail is even warier, she’s ultimately moved to help in order to protect Dima’s children, especially his shy and vulnerable eldest daughter. They end up arranging for Dima and family to relocate to England, in exchange for information Dima will provide the government in a deal brokered by Hector Meredith, a rather loose cannon of a British intelligence officer, and executed with help from Perry, Gail, and Hector’s assistants.

Featuring an elaborately structured, smooth as silk narrative along with well-drawn and colorful characters, the story builds steadily in power and intensity. The escalating tension, breathtaking pace, and increasingly nagging undercurrent that something is, indeed, very wrong with this picture are tempered with the driest of British wit.

John le Carré’s background with British intelligence, as always, serves him well in creating the plot’s spy-versus-spy scenarios, which play out to an unsettling resolution. Le Carré isn’t resting on his stellar literary track record here, he’s still very much the master of the spy thriller genre. The protagonists of Our Kind of Traitor learn a hard lesson in the way only le Carré can deliver it.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 25 September 2010 10:09

lecarre_ourkindoftraitorThe long-awaited espionage novel from a master of the genre does not disappoint.

The Body and the Blood
Charles L. P. Silet

The Body and the Blood is a locked-room, or since this is a prison novel, a locked-cell mystery. Gay inmate Justin Menge is found in his bed with his throat cut at Florida’s Potter Correctional Institution and nobody can figure out how or why or by whom. Chaplin John Jordan, who is trained as both a cleric and a detective, takes on the task of investigating the crime. Aided by his father-in-law, Tom Daniels, Inspector General of the Florida Department of Corrections, Jordan’s investigation leads him outside the prison walls to Pine County where Menge was arrested by a homophobic sheriff and to the victim’s sister, Paula, who seems unaffected by her brother’s incarceration. The list of suspects includes the sheriff’s equally homophobic son who is serving time with Menge, a vicious rapist threatened by Menge’s possible testimony against him, and any number of inmates who also inhabit the protective management unit within the prison, including Menge’s lover Chris Sobel who looks remarkably like him.

The tradition of the priest/detective dates at least from G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown, and the character’s two occupations allow for an interesting combination of the theological and the legal. Such crime solvers usually take time out to ponder the dualities of compassion/justice, mercy/righteousness, and other such ethical issues often omitted by other subgenres of crime fiction.

Jordan is the son of a local police officer and studied criminology before becoming a prison minister, and Lister includes lots of specifics of penitentiary life as well as discussions of the usual moral doubts of clergy and detectives. Lister delivers his fiction in a pulp style, at times excessive in plot and writing, but also quite entertaining. The Body and the Blood delivers a fun variation on a traditional mystery form and a clever surprise ending.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 25 September 2010 10:09

The Body and the Blood is a locked-room, or since this is a prison novel, a locked-cell mystery. Gay inmate Justin Menge is found in his bed with his throat cut at Florida’s Potter Correctional Institution and nobody can figure out how or why or by whom. Chaplin John Jordan, who is trained as both a cleric and a detective, takes on the task of investigating the crime. Aided by his father-in-law, Tom Daniels, Inspector General of the Florida Department of Corrections, Jordan’s investigation leads him outside the prison walls to Pine County where Menge was arrested by a homophobic sheriff and to the victim’s sister, Paula, who seems unaffected by her brother’s incarceration. The list of suspects includes the sheriff’s equally homophobic son who is serving time with Menge, a vicious rapist threatened by Menge’s possible testimony against him, and any number of inmates who also inhabit the protective management unit within the prison, including Menge’s lover Chris Sobel who looks remarkably like him.

The tradition of the priest/detective dates at least from G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown, and the character’s two occupations allow for an interesting combination of the theological and the legal. Such crime solvers usually take time out to ponder the dualities of compassion/justice, mercy/righteousness, and other such ethical issues often omitted by other subgenres of crime fiction.

Jordan is the son of a local police officer and studied criminology before becoming a prison minister, and Lister includes lots of specifics of penitentiary life as well as discussions of the usual moral doubts of clergy and detectives. Lister delivers his fiction in a pulp style, at times excessive in plot and writing, but also quite entertaining. The Body and the Blood delivers a fun variation on a traditional mystery form and a clever surprise ending.

Dexter Is Delicious
Debbi Mack

This fifth installment in the Dexter series opens with the vigilante serial killer protagonist gawking in awe at a life he ironically helped create. Dexter has become the dreamy daddy of a little girl named Lily Anne. Her birth provokes a revelation. He wonders if he can actually be a normal human being, instead of simply mimicking one. This question is raised throughout the story, in which Dexter lends his forensic skills to assist his sister, Deborah, a sergeant with the Miami Police Department, investigate the disappearance of a young woman named Samantha Aldovar and her friend. Initial leads point to a group of vampires. However, when partially eaten remnants of Samantha’s friend are discovered, it becomes clear the perpetrators are cannibals. The investigation leads Dexter and Deborah into danger—a situation in which the tables are turned and Dexter the predator becomes the prey.

The theme of family runs throughout the book, underscored by Dexter’s new role as father, Deborah’s personal problems, and the sudden appearance of a presumed-dead relative. Part of what makes this book fun to read is Dexter’s great sense of humor. He clearly qualifies as America’s funniest serial killer. Dexter describes his evil impulses (originating from the creature inside him he calls The Passenger) with wry and ironic detachment. He has an outsider’s view of human behavior, but you can feel his intense desire to belong. “Had I grown a soul?” he asks, at one point. “Was Pinocchio a real boy at last?” As unlikely as a serial killer with a soul may seem, Lindsay pulls off the remarkable feat of making him plausible and vulnerable—poignant even. On the other hand, Dexter may also appeal to the hidden Passenger in all of us.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 25 September 2010 10:09

lindsay_dexterdeliciousEveryone's favorite serial killer returns in this clever fifth installment.

The Double Cross
Lynne F. Maxwell

Quilting is the deadliest craft, or so one would think after perusing the recent spate of mysteries involving needlework. Most of these quilting and knitting mysteries, such as Terri Thayer’s Ocean Wave and Sally Goldenbaums’s Moon Spinners, are quite good, but Clare O’Donohue’s series featuring Nell Fitzgerald ranks among the best of the genre. And, come to think of it, who better than Nell Fitzgerald and her coterie of quilters to piece together solutions to intricately structured crimes? If you haven’t yet met Nell, make her acquaintance now in The Double Cross. Following The Lover’s Knot and A Drunkard’s Path, this third outing for Nell is her best adventure so far.

In keeping with her role as assistant in her grandmother’s upstate New York business, the likable Nell enthusiastically accompanies the ladies from the Someday Quilts shop as they accept an invitation to conduct a workshop at a remotely situated bed and breakfast. From the beginning of the sojourn, everything from the ramshackle nature of the bed and breakfast itself to the motley crew of workshop participants (none of whom displays much interest in quilting), leads Nell to question the real motive behind the invitation. Add to the mix the fact that the owners of the bed and breakfast are old nemeses of a member of the quilting group, and you have a formula for a first-rate mystery.

Author O’Donohue knows how to craft a plot, one that engages even the craft-challenged reader such as me. Vivid local color, realistic characters, and quilting lore abound, so sit back and enjoy the instructional component of The Double Cross, even as you relish the narrative.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 25 September 2010 10:09

Quilting is the deadliest craft, or so one would think after perusing the recent spate of mysteries involving needlework. Most of these quilting and knitting mysteries, such as Terri Thayer’s Ocean Wave and Sally Goldenbaums’s Moon Spinners, are quite good, but Clare O’Donohue’s series featuring Nell Fitzgerald ranks among the best of the genre. And, come to think of it, who better than Nell Fitzgerald and her coterie of quilters to piece together solutions to intricately structured crimes? If you haven’t yet met Nell, make her acquaintance now in The Double Cross. Following The Lover’s Knot and A Drunkard’s Path, this third outing for Nell is her best adventure so far.

In keeping with her role as assistant in her grandmother’s upstate New York business, the likable Nell enthusiastically accompanies the ladies from the Someday Quilts shop as they accept an invitation to conduct a workshop at a remotely situated bed and breakfast. From the beginning of the sojourn, everything from the ramshackle nature of the bed and breakfast itself to the motley crew of workshop participants (none of whom displays much interest in quilting), leads Nell to question the real motive behind the invitation. Add to the mix the fact that the owners of the bed and breakfast are old nemeses of a member of the quilting group, and you have a formula for a first-rate mystery.

Author O’Donohue knows how to craft a plot, one that engages even the craft-challenged reader such as me. Vivid local color, realistic characters, and quilting lore abound, so sit back and enjoy the instructional component of The Double Cross, even as you relish the narrative.

Babylon Nights
Kevin Burton Smith

I’m happy to report that this sequel to screenwriter Daniel Depp’s likable but flawed first novel, Loser’s Town, is a giant leap forward. The same scattershot plotting occurs (somebody’s been studying their Elmore Leonard), but it’s more focused this time, and the characters themselves are fresher, more fleshed out, and more memorable. Series hero David Spandau still seems too often a mere bystander in his own books, but it’s easier to overlook this time because the author seems far less interested in reminding us who his brother is (the story starts off, fittingly, with the burial of the Johnny Depp-like Bobby Dye from the last novel), and concentrates more on simply spinning a good yarn.

Aging movie star Anna Mayhew knows she’s not getting any younger, but she’s still got enough Tinseltown mojo to attract that latest of LaLaLand accessories: her very own demented stalker. Hairdresser and Franco-American freak Vincent Perec has big plans for the actress, most of which apparently involve sharp-edged implements. But standing in his way is Spandau, the big, lanky former stuntman turned PI, who’s been pressured by his boss to act as bodyguard to Anna, and accompany her to the Cannes Film Festival where she’s agreed to be a judge.

Perec’s nothing if not resourceful, however, and bolstered by a suitcase of stolen mob money (don’t ask), he’s soon hot on their heels, completely unaware that Special, a Los Angeles pimp with an opera jones, is also in France, intent on recovering the missing loot. It’s a deadly game of cat and mouse and mouse (played out amidst the hustle of the sun-bleached Riviera) snapping from point-of-view to point-of-view and character to character, which may catch some readers off-balance, but Depp brings enough of his own sardonic style, wit and surprising twists and characterization into the mix to suggest that this off-kilter series is one to watch—even if Spandau never quite becomes the series star that his creator (or at least his publishers) intend him to be.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 25 September 2010 10:09

I’m happy to report that this sequel to screenwriter Daniel Depp’s likable but flawed first novel, Loser’s Town, is a giant leap forward. The same scattershot plotting occurs (somebody’s been studying their Elmore Leonard), but it’s more focused this time, and the characters themselves are fresher, more fleshed out, and more memorable. Series hero David Spandau still seems too often a mere bystander in his own books, but it’s easier to overlook this time because the author seems far less interested in reminding us who his brother is (the story starts off, fittingly, with the burial of the Johnny Depp-like Bobby Dye from the last novel), and concentrates more on simply spinning a good yarn.

Aging movie star Anna Mayhew knows she’s not getting any younger, but she’s still got enough Tinseltown mojo to attract that latest of LaLaLand accessories: her very own demented stalker. Hairdresser and Franco-American freak Vincent Perec has big plans for the actress, most of which apparently involve sharp-edged implements. But standing in his way is Spandau, the big, lanky former stuntman turned PI, who’s been pressured by his boss to act as bodyguard to Anna, and accompany her to the Cannes Film Festival where she’s agreed to be a judge.

Perec’s nothing if not resourceful, however, and bolstered by a suitcase of stolen mob money (don’t ask), he’s soon hot on their heels, completely unaware that Special, a Los Angeles pimp with an opera jones, is also in France, intent on recovering the missing loot. It’s a deadly game of cat and mouse and mouse (played out amidst the hustle of the sun-bleached Riviera) snapping from point-of-view to point-of-view and character to character, which may catch some readers off-balance, but Depp brings enough of his own sardonic style, wit and surprising twists and characterization into the mix to suggest that this off-kilter series is one to watch—even if Spandau never quite becomes the series star that his creator (or at least his publishers) intend him to be.

The Queen of Patpong
Bob Smith

Patpong, Bangkok’s most notorious district, is where Thailand’s infamous sex trade thrives. Poor girls from rural villages are lured there to become “bar girls” working solely to satisfy men’s sexual desires. Rose, one of those girls, is able to break free of the life when she marries Poke Rafferty, an American travel writer. With their adopted daughter Miaow they live a relatively quiet life, until one night a man from Rose’s past appears and shatters this existence by threatening to kill them all. It is up to Poke to stop him.

Hallinan writes action scenes as good as, if not better than, any thriller writer in the business today, and the beginning and ending of this exciting book belong to Poke. But it is the middle section, the heart, which grabs us and keeps us engrossed. Rose tells her story from the time she was a teenager in a poor village, through her “recruitment” as a bar girl, to her rise as the “Queen of Patpong,” where she meets Howard, a farong (foreigner). Rather than the hero she believes him to be, Howard is a serial killer who gets his kicks by murdering the girls he pursues. How Rose fights him off and escapes death is one of the most exciting, page turning episodes of this fast-paced book.

This is the fourth Poke Rafferty thriller and probably the best. Descriptions of the bar girls’ lives are beautifully and sympathetically done; depictions of village life is authentic yet depressing; action sequences are fast-paced and realistic; and the final face-off against Howard is edge-of-your-seat exciting. All in all, one hell of a fine book.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 25 September 2010 10:09

Patpong, Bangkok’s most notorious district, is where Thailand’s infamous sex trade thrives. Poor girls from rural villages are lured there to become “bar girls” working solely to satisfy men’s sexual desires. Rose, one of those girls, is able to break free of the life when she marries Poke Rafferty, an American travel writer. With their adopted daughter Miaow they live a relatively quiet life, until one night a man from Rose’s past appears and shatters this existence by threatening to kill them all. It is up to Poke to stop him.

Hallinan writes action scenes as good as, if not better than, any thriller writer in the business today, and the beginning and ending of this exciting book belong to Poke. But it is the middle section, the heart, which grabs us and keeps us engrossed. Rose tells her story from the time she was a teenager in a poor village, through her “recruitment” as a bar girl, to her rise as the “Queen of Patpong,” where she meets Howard, a farong (foreigner). Rather than the hero she believes him to be, Howard is a serial killer who gets his kicks by murdering the girls he pursues. How Rose fights him off and escapes death is one of the most exciting, page turning episodes of this fast-paced book.

This is the fourth Poke Rafferty thriller and probably the best. Descriptions of the bar girls’ lives are beautifully and sympathetically done; depictions of village life is authentic yet depressing; action sequences are fast-paced and realistic; and the final face-off against Howard is edge-of-your-seat exciting. All in all, one hell of a fine book.

Wicked Witch Murder
Dori Cocuz

Halloween is just around the corner when the new Wiccan shop Solstice opens in Tinker’s Cove, Maine. Ultra-religious businessman Ike Stoughton does not welcome the “dark arts,” and when the weather goes crazy, he accuses shop owner Diana Ravenscroft of black magic. When a local magician turns up dead, and Ike’s wife dies of a strange wasting disease (and his daughter looks to be following suit), the murder mystery erupts into modern day Salem witch hysteria.

Lucy Stone, a local reporter and mother of two teens curious about Wicca, decides to look into the strange happenings—both sniffing out a good story and allaying her parental concern. It’s up to Lucy to find out what’s really going on before the town is torn asunder and more people get hurt. This is an Aesopian tale, in which the murder mystery is rarely as front and center as its moral about intolerance. The story focuses on the tension between Diana and Ike, and the problems which their conflict engenders—with Lucy consistently caught in between. And while Diana is not the most likeable character in the world (she’s a bit too smug for my taste), Meier does such a good job of painting Ike as a small-minded zealot, the reader can’t help but root for Diana and Lucy.

When the storylines eventually merge, a surprise ending offers resolution to both the murder and novel’s theme of intolerance vs. acceptance. Ultimately, Wicked Witch Murder is enjoyable, albeit slow, and will appeal to readers of light mysteries. It’s also appropriate for young adult readers.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 25 September 2010 10:09

Halloween is just around the corner when the new Wiccan shop Solstice opens in Tinker’s Cove, Maine. Ultra-religious businessman Ike Stoughton does not welcome the “dark arts,” and when the weather goes crazy, he accuses shop owner Diana Ravenscroft of black magic. When a local magician turns up dead, and Ike’s wife dies of a strange wasting disease (and his daughter looks to be following suit), the murder mystery erupts into modern day Salem witch hysteria.

Lucy Stone, a local reporter and mother of two teens curious about Wicca, decides to look into the strange happenings—both sniffing out a good story and allaying her parental concern. It’s up to Lucy to find out what’s really going on before the town is torn asunder and more people get hurt. This is an Aesopian tale, in which the murder mystery is rarely as front and center as its moral about intolerance. The story focuses on the tension between Diana and Ike, and the problems which their conflict engenders—with Lucy consistently caught in between. And while Diana is not the most likeable character in the world (she’s a bit too smug for my taste), Meier does such a good job of painting Ike as a small-minded zealot, the reader can’t help but root for Diana and Lucy.

When the storylines eventually merge, a surprise ending offers resolution to both the murder and novel’s theme of intolerance vs. acceptance. Ultimately, Wicked Witch Murder is enjoyable, albeit slow, and will appeal to readers of light mysteries. It’s also appropriate for young adult readers.

Skating Around the Law
Sue Emmons

Joelle Charbonneau offers a feisty new addition to the ranks of amateur sleuths with the debut of Rebecca Robbins who returns to her insular hometown after her mother bequeaths her the family roller skating rink. Rebecca intends to make a quick trip to Indian Falls, Illinois to set up the sale of Toe Step before dashing back to Chicago and her job as a mortgage broker. Amid a charming set of nosy neighbors and old-time friends, she quickly discovers the body of rogue handyman Mack Murphy in the rink’s restroom, his head stuffed into a toilet. Convinced the slaying will affect the value of her property—now rumored to be haunted—Rebecca stays on to solve the crime. In doing so, she meets a sexy veterinarian, interacts with a retired circus camel, copes with a semi-senile sheriff, and frequently clashes with her rambunctious grandfather. Charbonneau charms the reader with a satisfying conclusion after small-town secrets bubble to the surface in this skating-themed mystery good for some free-wheelin’ fun.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 25 September 2010 10:09

Joelle Charbonneau offers a feisty new addition to the ranks of amateur sleuths with the debut of Rebecca Robbins who returns to her insular hometown after her mother bequeaths her the family roller skating rink. Rebecca intends to make a quick trip to Indian Falls, Illinois to set up the sale of Toe Step before dashing back to Chicago and her job as a mortgage broker. Amid a charming set of nosy neighbors and old-time friends, she quickly discovers the body of rogue handyman Mack Murphy in the rink’s restroom, his head stuffed into a toilet. Convinced the slaying will affect the value of her property—now rumored to be haunted—Rebecca stays on to solve the crime. In doing so, she meets a sexy veterinarian, interacts with a retired circus camel, copes with a semi-senile sheriff, and frequently clashes with her rambunctious grandfather. Charbonneau charms the reader with a satisfying conclusion after small-town secrets bubble to the surface in this skating-themed mystery good for some free-wheelin’ fun.

The Reversal
Jackie Houchin

Connelly first introduced defense attorney Mickey Haller in The Lincoln Lawyer. In The Brass Verdict an uneasy relationship developed between Haller and Connelly’s legendary homicide detective, Harry Bosch. In The Reversal the brothers must team up to retry a child killer.

After 24 years in prison, Jason Jessup’s murder conviction has been reversed due to newly processed DNA evidence. But the district attorney’s office believes he’s guilty and decides to retry the case. They recruit Haller to “switch sides” and become their chief prosecutor. Haller agrees, but only if he can use Bosch as his investigator. Jessup’s defense attorney claims he is an innocent man wrongly imprisoned, but Jessup’s ritualistic midnight jaunts belie the statement and alert Bosch to the man’s deadly intent. Connelly uses alternating chapters to track the strategies of his characters: Haller gives readers a detailed insider view of the justice system at work, Bosch focuses on standard investigative police procedures to find evidence and witnesses who will cinch Haller’s case.

Readers who enjoy courtroom dramas will find The Reversal fascinating. The dialogue is authentic and concise and the pace never drags. Real life spectators of this trial would never become bored. But fans of thrilling crime fiction, especially those who expect blood and bullets on every page, will be disappointed, at least until the final chapters when a shocking turn of events kicks the action into high gear. And although the trial’s conclusion won’t satisfy everyone, there are enough unanswered questions in Connelly’s denouement chapter to write a nice follow-up thriller.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 25 September 2010 10:09

connelly_reversalAttorney Mickey Haller is back in this follow-up courtroom thriller to The Brass Verdict.

Hunting for Hemingway
Verna Suit

The real-life disappearance of unpublished Hemingway manuscripts from a Paris train in 1922 forms the basis for this lighthearted mystery. Hemingway expert David Barnes claims to have gotten his hands on the missing stories and insurance investigator Daphne December “DD” McGil is hired to investigate their authenticity. But she finds David dead and no sign of the manuscripts. Over the next few days, she races around on the trail of the Hemingway papers while sandwiching in new assignments and new men, both of which she finds difficult to turn down. As more bodies fall around her, DD’s status as a murder suspect rises.

Hunting for Hemingway scrambles along at a frantic pace, packing in so many subplots and characters that they’re hard to keep straight. Inconsistencies and excessive references to past cases also mar the book, but the firm grounding in Hemingway lore saves it. Chapter heads include pithy Hemingway quotations. The Chicago setting leads naturally to stories of Hemingway’s unhappy boyhood in the household of his overbearing mother Grace, and allows DD to become embroiled in the battles of the local Oak Park Hemingway Trust. An explanation of how a manuscript can be faked will make fascinating reading for literati and collectors.

For the non-literary, Madsen includes local Chicago points of interest, technical details on crime scene investigation and copyright law, exciting chase scenes, and a cinematic climax. Hunting for Hemingway is Madsen’s second Literati Mystery after last year’s A Cadger’s Curse, concerning Scottish poet Robert Burns.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 25 September 2010 10:09

The real-life disappearance of unpublished Hemingway manuscripts from a Paris train in 1922 forms the basis for this lighthearted mystery. Hemingway expert David Barnes claims to have gotten his hands on the missing stories and insurance investigator Daphne December “DD” McGil is hired to investigate their authenticity. But she finds David dead and no sign of the manuscripts. Over the next few days, she races around on the trail of the Hemingway papers while sandwiching in new assignments and new men, both of which she finds difficult to turn down. As more bodies fall around her, DD’s status as a murder suspect rises.

Hunting for Hemingway scrambles along at a frantic pace, packing in so many subplots and characters that they’re hard to keep straight. Inconsistencies and excessive references to past cases also mar the book, but the firm grounding in Hemingway lore saves it. Chapter heads include pithy Hemingway quotations. The Chicago setting leads naturally to stories of Hemingway’s unhappy boyhood in the household of his overbearing mother Grace, and allows DD to become embroiled in the battles of the local Oak Park Hemingway Trust. An explanation of how a manuscript can be faked will make fascinating reading for literati and collectors.

For the non-literary, Madsen includes local Chicago points of interest, technical details on crime scene investigation and copyright law, exciting chase scenes, and a cinematic climax. Hunting for Hemingway is Madsen’s second Literati Mystery after last year’s A Cadger’s Curse, concerning Scottish poet Robert Burns.

Trail of Blood
Oline H. Cogdill

Lisa Black’s skillful mix of fact with fiction elevates the third novel in her series about Cleveland forensic scientist Theresa MacLean. Trail of Blood works well as an historical novel and a police procedural, giving a glimpse of Cleveland’s past and its present.

During the Great Depression, a murderer called the Torso Killer terrorized Cleveland, claiming at least 12 lives and possibly more, dismembering their bodies and scattering them around the city. Most of the victims were drifters or the working poor who lived in the city’s shantytown. The killer was never found, despite efforts by Eliot Ness, who was the city’s public safety director at the time.

Those are the facts. Black uses that background as a springboard for a tightly wound story that alternates between Cleveland of the 1930s and today. In Trail of Blood, Theresa and her cousin, police detective Frank Patrick, are called to an abandoned building where a decapitated body has been found in a room that has been sealed for decades. The decayed body turns out to be James Miller, an honest cop who had been investigating the Torso Murders before his disappearance in 1936. Was he a victim of the killer he sought? Soon a crop of new victims indicates a copycat killer may be at work.

Black, a former forensic scientist, keeps the level of suspense high as she adeptly switches the action from the 1930s to present day, contrasting Cleveland’s atmosphere and nuances during the Great Depression with those of the 21st century. The author succinctly contrasts Theresa’s devotion to her work with that of James, also a skillful investigator, in the 1930s. Black also lets us see James as a husband and a cop whose refusal to take bribes, like the other detectives in his squad, put a strain on his marriage. The complicated, insightful Theresa continues to show her mettle as an investigator while dealing with a tangled personal life, and the affectionate banter between her and her cousin, Frank, adds real human warmth to Black’s chilling Trail of Blood.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 25 September 2010 10:09

black_trailofbloodLisa Black’s skillful mix of fact with historical fiction elevates the third novel in her series.

Nemesis
Helen Francini

Recently returned from Alexandria to ancient Rome, Marcus Didius Falco is surrounded by death: His father and his newborn son have died on the same day. While sorting out his father’s affairs, he learns that one of his father’s business associates and the man’s wife have gone missing following a border dispute with the Claudii, a lawless group of freedmen. Then a horribly mutilated corpse turns up. Partly to escape his own problems, Falco begins to investigate, aided by his friend, the vigile Petronius. Their enquiry leads them outside Rome, to the pestilential Pontine Marshes where they “one of the most dangerous areas on earth” and back home again, finding menace everywhere.

Davis’ 20th book once again proves why the Falco series is eternally popular among historical mystery fans. To a complicated plot, she adds a wealth of historical detail and a chatty narrative style—often throwing in pieces of gossip about historical characters and places. A dramatis personae appears at the beginning of the story; her cast of characters is large enough to require it. The language occasionally veers into modern British colloquialisms, as when Falco calls a character “po-faced,” but in the author’s hands the language sounds informal and accessible rather than anachronistic.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 25 September 2010 10:09

Recently returned from Alexandria to ancient Rome, Marcus Didius Falco is surrounded by death: His father and his newborn son have died on the same day. While sorting out his father’s affairs, he learns that one of his father’s business associates and the man’s wife have gone missing following a border dispute with the Claudii, a lawless group of freedmen. Then a horribly mutilated corpse turns up. Partly to escape his own problems, Falco begins to investigate, aided by his friend, the vigile Petronius. Their enquiry leads them outside Rome, to the pestilential Pontine Marshes where they “one of the most dangerous areas on earth” and back home again, finding menace everywhere.

Davis’ 20th book once again proves why the Falco series is eternally popular among historical mystery fans. To a complicated plot, she adds a wealth of historical detail and a chatty narrative style—often throwing in pieces of gossip about historical characters and places. A dramatis personae appears at the beginning of the story; her cast of characters is large enough to require it. The language occasionally veers into modern British colloquialisms, as when Falco calls a character “po-faced,” but in the author’s hands the language sounds informal and accessible rather than anachronistic.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter
M. Schlecht

Crooked Letter’s solitary Southern voyeur and co-protagonist Larry Ott is a Stephen King-devouring outcast. Growing up in late-’70s rural Mississippi, he is friendless until the day Silas Jones appears, with his mother, on the side of the road, and Larry’s father stops to give the coatless pair a ride on a chilly March morning. This glimpse into the past captures an innocent time for both boys—one black, one white—before Silas learns the consequences of fraternizing with white folks, and before a teenage Larry becomes “Scary Larry” following a first date with a girl who is never heard from again.

In present-day Chabot, Mississippi, Jones is the town constable, responsible for directing traffic when the shifts change at the Rutherford Lumber Mill, removing snakes from mailboxes, and other similarly unglamorous duties. When the Rutherford family’s daughter goes missing, however, the search becomes priority no. 1, and suspicions fall again on Scary Larry, who was never proven guilty in the earlier case, but also never forgiven by the town.

For reasons both professional and personal, Jones has long been careful to avoid his childhood association with Ott. But as the investigation unfolds, Silas faces a moral dilemma. He can reveal his links to Larry and possibly compromise his authority, or remain silent and let a troubled soul stand alone in the face of the community's fear and loathing.

There are any number of ways in which this flashback-heavy, literary crime novel could fall flat, but it avoids contrivance with its pitch perfect dialogue, unhurried small-town pacing, and day-in-the-life faithfulness to its characters.

Unlike the aforementioned King of verbosity, Tom Franklin is a model of literary economy, creating intimate portraits of his characters in just a few well-crafted early scenes. As each carefully-built piece of the puzzle falls into place, the 270-page novel finishes as tidily as one of Franklin’s short stories, which, as the author’s Best Short Story Edgar Award for 1999’s “Poachers” confirms, makes it a pretty good bet.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 25 September 2010 10:09

franklin_crookedlettercrookedletterA literary crime novel with unhurried southern pacing and pitch-perfect characters.

Never-Ending-Snake
Leslie Doran

Ella Clah, a special investigator of the Navajo Tribal Police and former FBI agent, is arriving by small plane at an airport near Shiprock, New Mexico when a team of attackers open fire with automatic weapons. Although Ella is relatively unscathed, Kevin Tolino, her former lover and father of her 11-year-old daughter, and Adam Lonewolf, a national war hero for his actions in Afghanistan, are critically injured.

Thus begins a twisted tale that involves Navajo traditionalists versus modernists, casino operators accused of stealing funds from the tribe, death threats and old grudges. Also involved is a group trying to bring much needed revenue to the reservation with the Prickly Weed Project. The only problem with the plan is that one family clan will have to vacate their ancestral grazing land.

As Clah and her law enforcement partners try to find just who was the target of the ambush at the airport, tensions rise on the reservation over the land project, and soon both situations threaten to become violent. This is the 15th book in the Ella Clah series by authors Aimée and David Thurlo. The 26,000 square mile reservation is located within the states of New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona. The Thurlos have done their research thoroughly and their portrayal of the Diné (Navajos, known as The People), their culture, and the arid landscape surrounding them is right on.

But what really brings the story to life are the characters, especially Clah, her mother Rose, brother Clifford, and FBI agent Dwayne Blalock, who are finely drawn and represent the spectrum of beliefs on the reservation. This is a book and series worth exploring, especially for readers interested in Native American culture. The mystery is complex, the tension high, and the plot bends and folds like a never-ending snake.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 25 September 2010 10:09

Ella Clah, a special investigator of the Navajo Tribal Police and former FBI agent, is arriving by small plane at an airport near Shiprock, New Mexico when a team of attackers open fire with automatic weapons. Although Ella is relatively unscathed, Kevin Tolino, her former lover and father of her 11-year-old daughter, and Adam Lonewolf, a national war hero for his actions in Afghanistan, are critically injured.

Thus begins a twisted tale that involves Navajo traditionalists versus modernists, casino operators accused of stealing funds from the tribe, death threats and old grudges. Also involved is a group trying to bring much needed revenue to the reservation with the Prickly Weed Project. The only problem with the plan is that one family clan will have to vacate their ancestral grazing land.

As Clah and her law enforcement partners try to find just who was the target of the ambush at the airport, tensions rise on the reservation over the land project, and soon both situations threaten to become violent. This is the 15th book in the Ella Clah series by authors Aimée and David Thurlo. The 26,000 square mile reservation is located within the states of New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona. The Thurlos have done their research thoroughly and their portrayal of the Diné (Navajos, known as The People), their culture, and the arid landscape surrounding them is right on.

But what really brings the story to life are the characters, especially Clah, her mother Rose, brother Clifford, and FBI agent Dwayne Blalock, who are finely drawn and represent the spectrum of beliefs on the reservation. This is a book and series worth exploring, especially for readers interested in Native American culture. The mystery is complex, the tension high, and the plot bends and folds like a never-ending snake.

Bury Your Dead
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

Louise Penny is fast becoming my favorite living mystery writer, and her latest book is, simply speaking, a masterpiece.

Inspector Armand Gamache is recovering from the physical and psychic wounds suffered in a case gone wrong. While on leave visiting his old mentor in Québec City, a mysterious death occurs at the Literary and Historical Society there, and he is reluctantly pulled into the case. Meanwhile, at his request, his second-in-command, Inspector Jean-Guy Beauvoir, also not fully recovered, has been sent to the small village of Three Pines to determine if the right man was convicted of a murder six months earlier.

As Gamache investigates the death of a fanatical historian who spent his life trying to find the body of Québec’s founder, Samuel de Champlain, Beauvoir is slowly coming to doubt that the right man was convicted in Three Pines.

The two mysteries alternate throughout the novel, and they are intriguing puzzles indeed. But what brings this book to another level is the highly nuanced writing that gets us into the minds of the main characters. This sixth book in the series is longer than most novels, but is a fast read that will keep you mesmerized until the surprising and satisfying conclusion.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 25 September 2010 11:09

penny_buryyourdeadAn excellent sixth installment featuring Inspector Armand Gamache and Jean-Guy Beauvoir of Québec.

Wicked Appetite
Cheryl Solimini

Elizabeth “Lizzy” Tucker seems to be the anti-Stephanie Plum. For one thing, she is blonde versus brunette. For another, she was raised in homogenous northern Virginia and now lives in quaint coastal Massachusetts, rather than gritty, multi-ethnic New Jersey. And as a cupcake chef at Dazzle’s Bakery in nearby Salem, she uses her oven for more than warming up takeout pizza.

And yet…Lizzy has not only inherited her Great Aunt Ophelia’s historic house in Marblehead, she seems to have been willed several of Stephanie’s prized recent companions: the golden now-you-see-him-now- you-don’t Diesel of the Between the Numbers series (Visions of Sugar Plums to Plum Spooky), and his dark-haired dark-hearted cousin Gerwulf “Wulf” Grimoire (Plum Spooky), as well as etiquette-challenged Carl the Monkey (Fearless Fourteen, Plum Spooky). Automobiles of various makes and models are also despoiled, then replaced. So to say that Wicked Appetite kicks off a “new” series from author Janet Evanovich is a stretch.

And yet…Evanovich cooks up plenty of half-baked wackiness to nourish a tasty tale. It turns out that Lizzy, like Diesel, is an “Unmentionable”—a more-or-less mortal with special skills. Diesel’s employers (the Board of Unmentionable Marshalls, or BUM) need Lizzy’s ability to scout out a collection of ancient relics known as the SALIGIA Stones, which represent the Seven Deadly Sins. Rumor has it that all have been secreted in Salem, and it’s a madcap race to find the keepers of these “magic charms” before Wulf tracks them down for his own less-benevolent purposes. With Gluttony at the top of the scavenger list in this outing, expect appetites of all sorts to run ravenous.

Evanovich also serves up Lizzy with side dishes of sidekicks: bakery owner and former Unmentionable Clara Dazzle, coworker and amateur spell-caster Glo, and a one-eyed ninja house pet named Cat 7143. This being Salem and an Evanovich novel, it’s hard to tell the normal from the paranormal. You don’t have to possess Unmentionable powers to guess that at least six more Diesel and Lizzy adventures are on the menu. So far, the whimsical banter and over-the-top subplots have a familiar flavor. And yet… As Diesel says to Lizzy, “If this is what happens to you with the Gluttony Stone, I can’t wait until we go after Lust.”

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 25 September 2010 11:09

Elizabeth “Lizzy” Tucker seems to be the anti-Stephanie Plum. For one thing, she is blonde versus brunette. For another, she was raised in homogenous northern Virginia and now lives in quaint coastal Massachusetts, rather than gritty, multi-ethnic New Jersey. And as a cupcake chef at Dazzle’s Bakery in nearby Salem, she uses her oven for more than warming up takeout pizza.

And yet…Lizzy has not only inherited her Great Aunt Ophelia’s historic house in Marblehead, she seems to have been willed several of Stephanie’s prized recent companions: the golden now-you-see-him-now- you-don’t Diesel of the Between the Numbers series (Visions of Sugar Plums to Plum Spooky), and his dark-haired dark-hearted cousin Gerwulf “Wulf” Grimoire (Plum Spooky), as well as etiquette-challenged Carl the Monkey (Fearless Fourteen, Plum Spooky). Automobiles of various makes and models are also despoiled, then replaced. So to say that Wicked Appetite kicks off a “new” series from author Janet Evanovich is a stretch.

And yet…Evanovich cooks up plenty of half-baked wackiness to nourish a tasty tale. It turns out that Lizzy, like Diesel, is an “Unmentionable”—a more-or-less mortal with special skills. Diesel’s employers (the Board of Unmentionable Marshalls, or BUM) need Lizzy’s ability to scout out a collection of ancient relics known as the SALIGIA Stones, which represent the Seven Deadly Sins. Rumor has it that all have been secreted in Salem, and it’s a madcap race to find the keepers of these “magic charms” before Wulf tracks them down for his own less-benevolent purposes. With Gluttony at the top of the scavenger list in this outing, expect appetites of all sorts to run ravenous.

Evanovich also serves up Lizzy with side dishes of sidekicks: bakery owner and former Unmentionable Clara Dazzle, coworker and amateur spell-caster Glo, and a one-eyed ninja house pet named Cat 7143. This being Salem and an Evanovich novel, it’s hard to tell the normal from the paranormal. You don’t have to possess Unmentionable powers to guess that at least six more Diesel and Lizzy adventures are on the menu. So far, the whimsical banter and over-the-top subplots have a familiar flavor. And yet… As Diesel says to Lizzy, “If this is what happens to you with the Gluttony Stone, I can’t wait until we go after Lust.”

Love Songs From a Shallow Grave
Bob Smith

Are there secrets to series that just keep getting better and better with each new book? Whatever those magic ingredients may be, Colin Cotterill has them all in ample supply in his delightful Dr. Siri Paiboun books. Setting? How about Vientiane, Laos following the Vietnam War when the communists took control. Characters? Meet 74-year-old Dr. Siri, coroner for the People’s Democratic Republic of Laos, who takes delight in bucking the system. With help from his assistants, Nurse Dtui, and handyman Mr. Geung, he manages to run a lab that is unlike any seen on TV. It lacks…well, just about everything. That he is on speaking terms with the spirit world is an added bonus. Story? Intrigue, suspense and adventure in every book.

In Love Songs from a Shallow Grave, Siri, who refuses to let a mystery go unsolved, is faced with the murders of three young women, all stabbed with a fencing sword, a weapon not readily found in Laos. Uncovering the murderer and the motive behind the killings is the focus of the “whodunit” aspect of the book, and a more puzzling and absorbing mystery would be hard to find.

The story takes a more somber turn when Siri, as part of an official delegation, travels to Cambodia, despite dire warnings from friends. Cotterill shows us just how barbaric the Khmer Rouge were and brings the “killing fields” into focus.

I can’t recommend Love Songs from a Shallow Grave highly enough. If you have never read any of the series, it might be best to start at the beginning with The Coroner’s Lunch (Soho Press, 2004). You are in for a wonderful experience.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 25 September 2010 11:09

Are there secrets to series that just keep getting better and better with each new book? Whatever those magic ingredients may be, Colin Cotterill has them all in ample supply in his delightful Dr. Siri Paiboun books. Setting? How about Vientiane, Laos following the Vietnam War when the communists took control. Characters? Meet 74-year-old Dr. Siri, coroner for the People’s Democratic Republic of Laos, who takes delight in bucking the system. With help from his assistants, Nurse Dtui, and handyman Mr. Geung, he manages to run a lab that is unlike any seen on TV. It lacks…well, just about everything. That he is on speaking terms with the spirit world is an added bonus. Story? Intrigue, suspense and adventure in every book.

In Love Songs from a Shallow Grave, Siri, who refuses to let a mystery go unsolved, is faced with the murders of three young women, all stabbed with a fencing sword, a weapon not readily found in Laos. Uncovering the murderer and the motive behind the killings is the focus of the “whodunit” aspect of the book, and a more puzzling and absorbing mystery would be hard to find.

The story takes a more somber turn when Siri, as part of an official delegation, travels to Cambodia, despite dire warnings from friends. Cotterill shows us just how barbaric the Khmer Rouge were and brings the “killing fields” into focus.

I can’t recommend Love Songs from a Shallow Grave highly enough. If you have never read any of the series, it might be best to start at the beginning with The Coroner’s Lunch (Soho Press, 2004). You are in for a wonderful experience.

The Holy Thief
Daniel Luft

In this epic debut, author William Ryan proves that Moscow during The Great Purge, a campaign of political persecution under Stalin in the 1930s, was a far more terrifying and paranoid place than any noir novel. With people disappearing off the streets daily, it could seem a bit beside the point to tell the story of Captain Alexei Korolev of Moscow’s criminal division and his attempt to solve a couple of brutal and connected homicides—but even the most corrupt government has use for a good cop.

The murders concern an Orthodox nun found in a decommissioned church, and a master thief dumped in a sports stadium. The mystery, which involves stolen religious icons being sold abroad, is solid, but what elevates William Ryan’s debut is his use of time and place in the city of Moscow. The Holy Thief is a big novel that stretches across many sectors of Soviet society, and Ryan’s depiction of the city is as lively as Holmes’ London. Captain Korolev is constantly in motion, from the precinct to the streets, and into the worlds of the criminal underground, the exiled Orthodox Church, the alleys populated by children left orphaned by The Purge, and, most frighteningly, the interrogation rooms of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD). Along the way, Korolev bumps into all sorts of historical figures: Stalin and his brutal proteges, Ezhov and Molotov, who drive through town and are cheered as heroes; and Korolev’s upstairs neighbor, the doomed,

Jewish, writer of The Odessa Tales, Isaac Babel. Though besieged by a reign of terror, Moscow through Korolev’s eyes is still a place full of possibilities. He’s lived through the Revolution and civil war. He can spout Marxist and Leninist philosophy, and still fully believes in the Soviet State. This is a great beginning to a series, and readers will surely want to stick with Korolev in subsequent volumes, which promise to turn even darker.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 25 September 2010 11:09

In this epic debut, author William Ryan proves that Moscow during The Great Purge, a campaign of political persecution under Stalin in the 1930s, was a far more terrifying and paranoid place than any noir novel. With people disappearing off the streets daily, it could seem a bit beside the point to tell the story of Captain Alexei Korolev of Moscow’s criminal division and his attempt to solve a couple of brutal and connected homicides—but even the most corrupt government has use for a good cop.

The murders concern an Orthodox nun found in a decommissioned church, and a master thief dumped in a sports stadium. The mystery, which involves stolen religious icons being sold abroad, is solid, but what elevates William Ryan’s debut is his use of time and place in the city of Moscow. The Holy Thief is a big novel that stretches across many sectors of Soviet society, and Ryan’s depiction of the city is as lively as Holmes’ London. Captain Korolev is constantly in motion, from the precinct to the streets, and into the worlds of the criminal underground, the exiled Orthodox Church, the alleys populated by children left orphaned by The Purge, and, most frighteningly, the interrogation rooms of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD). Along the way, Korolev bumps into all sorts of historical figures: Stalin and his brutal proteges, Ezhov and Molotov, who drive through town and are cheered as heroes; and Korolev’s upstairs neighbor, the doomed,

Jewish, writer of The Odessa Tales, Isaac Babel. Though besieged by a reign of terror, Moscow through Korolev’s eyes is still a place full of possibilities. He’s lived through the Revolution and civil war. He can spout Marxist and Leninist philosophy, and still fully believes in the Soviet State. This is a great beginning to a series, and readers will surely want to stick with Korolev in subsequent volumes, which promise to turn even darker.

The Koala of Death
Oline H. Cogdill

Who doesn’t love koalas? With their pushed-in faces accented by goo-goo eyes, their long arms ready to cuddle, and their diet of eucalyptus leaves that puts them into a perpetual sleepy state, they are impossible to resist. And the little guys make an interesting back story for Betty Webb’s charming second novel about California zoo keeper Theodora “Teddy” Bentley.

First, keep in mind that no koalas—or animals of any kind—are harmed during the fast-paced The Koala of Death. Instead, Webb delivers an energetic story about greed behind the façade of high society and false philanthropy. The Koala of Death also explores the quirky nature of people who are most at ease among animals. Teddy finds the body of “Koala” Kate Nido, the personality behind Gunn Zoo’s weekly TV segment and newsletter. Teddy is pulled into the investigation when clues point to her fellow zoo keepers and some of her neighbors, who live on boats at the harbor where Kate’s body was found. Teddy also becomes a target of jealousy when she inherits Kate’s TV and newsletter assignments.

Webb balances well-timed humor, the absurd behavior of people, facts about animals, and a behind-the-scenes look at zoos in the deftly plotted The Koala of Death. Scenes at the TV station during which the animals act like, well, animals are hysterical, but counterbalanced by the serious aspects of the investigation. Wild animals can pale next to the wild nature of humans.

Webb, who also writes the Lena Jones series set in the Southwest, continues to show new sides of the likable Teddy, who despite her proclivity for trouble, prefers the simple life, which includes her own pets and a relationship with her high school sweetheart, Sheriff Joe Rejas. And while Teddy is annoyed by her wealthy mother’s nosiness and her constant matchmaking, the two have a loving relationship.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 25 September 2010 11:09

Who doesn’t love koalas? With their pushed-in faces accented by goo-goo eyes, their long arms ready to cuddle, and their diet of eucalyptus leaves that puts them into a perpetual sleepy state, they are impossible to resist. And the little guys make an interesting back story for Betty Webb’s charming second novel about California zoo keeper Theodora “Teddy” Bentley.

First, keep in mind that no koalas—or animals of any kind—are harmed during the fast-paced The Koala of Death. Instead, Webb delivers an energetic story about greed behind the façade of high society and false philanthropy. The Koala of Death also explores the quirky nature of people who are most at ease among animals. Teddy finds the body of “Koala” Kate Nido, the personality behind Gunn Zoo’s weekly TV segment and newsletter. Teddy is pulled into the investigation when clues point to her fellow zoo keepers and some of her neighbors, who live on boats at the harbor where Kate’s body was found. Teddy also becomes a target of jealousy when she inherits Kate’s TV and newsletter assignments.

Webb balances well-timed humor, the absurd behavior of people, facts about animals, and a behind-the-scenes look at zoos in the deftly plotted The Koala of Death. Scenes at the TV station during which the animals act like, well, animals are hysterical, but counterbalanced by the serious aspects of the investigation. Wild animals can pale next to the wild nature of humans.

Webb, who also writes the Lena Jones series set in the Southwest, continues to show new sides of the likable Teddy, who despite her proclivity for trouble, prefers the simple life, which includes her own pets and a relationship with her high school sweetheart, Sheriff Joe Rejas. And while Teddy is annoyed by her wealthy mother’s nosiness and her constant matchmaking, the two have a loving relationship.

The Vaults
Hank Wagner

The Vaults takes place in 1932 against the backdrop of a corrupt and dangerous metropolis simply referred to as “The City.” The tale begins as Arthur Puskis, archivist of the Vault, the repository of all of the City’s police records, finds duplicate files indistinguishable to a layman, but wildly different to the eyes of an expert like himself. This discovery prompts Puskis to start asking uncomfortable questions, the answers to which point him to the mysterious Navajo Project involving criminals who simply vanish after they are convicted. Puskis doesn’t know it, but his investigations are being paralleled by newspaperman Frank Frings, and shady PI Ethan Poole. This sudden attention angers the corrupt powers behind the Navajo Project, putting everyone in danger.

I say this with great respect, as I revere the work of the legendary comic artist Will Eisner: The Vault feels like a novel adaptation of one of Eisner’s classic Spirit comics. All the classic elements are there: a dark, dank city, larger than life villains (Mayor “Red” Henry and his enforcer, Feral Basu), bizarre subplots which eventually merge in satisfying ways, the humor, the pathos, the simple humanity the sudden, brutal, shocking violence—all combining in a satisfying noirish stew.

Astonishingly, Toby Ball is a first-time novelist. The Vaults succeeds on every level, in its language, plotting, and ability to enthrall readers.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 25 September 2010 11:09

ball_vaults.comA dark, dank, wonderful debut.

Fiber & Brimstone
Dori Cocuz

It’s all trick, and no treat, when the owner of the scrapbooking store Memory Mine, Carmela Bertrand, and her best friend Ava Gruiex stumble upon the dead body of Brett Fowler, one of New Orleans’ most notorious float krewe captains. Soon the friends are “in a jam” when their good friend Jekyl Hardy becomes the number one suspect and asks for help—Carmela’s boyfriend is the lead homicide detective on the case, after all. Turns out plenty of people had reason to hate Fowler. He was running a Ponzi scheme that left a lot of people high and dry, including Carmela’s mean-spirited ex-sister-in-law who hired a thuggish private detective to investigate the fraud. Fowler’s widow isn’t exactly upset about his demise either, in the face of evidence of his philandering.

Readers of previous Scrapbooking Mystery titles will enjoy seeing Carmela continue to move on from ex-husband Shamus Meechum—even if her current relationship with Lt. Edgar Babcock isn’t always smooth sailing. That said, for being eight books along, the other characters in the series are largely two-dimensional. They’re fun to read about but hard to connect to.

The strong story in Fiber & Brimstone kept me reading despite the book’s shortcomings, and readers of hobby mysteries will enjoy untangling the myriad suspects and plot strands. And while the whodunnit won’t be too hard to figure out for veteran sleuths, the why is a bit more challenging.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 25 September 2010 11:09

childs_fiberbrimstoneScrapbooking sleuth Carmela Bertrand is back on the case to clear a friend's name.

I'd Know You Anywhere
Bob Smith

Laura Lippman’s latest standalone is a fascinating study of the psychological effects on both the hunter and the hunted. At age 15 Elizabeth Lerner was abducted by Walter Bowman. She was not the first, nor the last, young girl he took, but she was the only one he didn’t murder.

Years later, Elizabeth, married with two children of her own, receives a letter from Walter who is on death row awaiting execution. He claims he wants to see her to apologize for what he did. Her first reaction is to ignore him, but he is persistent and she gives in to him a little at a time. Initially it is frustrating and puzzling trying to fathom Eliza’s actions and the reader will wonder why she just doesn’t tell him off and get on with her life. But, like life itself, it just isn’t that simple.

Is Walter playing a cat and mouse game with Elizabeth? And if so, why? What hold did he have over her and does he still have it? Why did he let her live yet murder others? Was she a willing victim helping him lure other young girls into his truck? These and other questions keep the reader turning pages until the surprising, yet logical conclusion.

Readers used to the author’s more action-packed writing may find the pace of this more meditative departure a little slow at times, especially in the beginning. But don’t give up on it. The talented Lippman creates some very real, very compelling characters who will linger in the mind long after the book ends. Highly recommended to those who like an intellectual puzzle told with expert skill.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 25 September 2010 12:09

Laura Lippman’s latest standalone is a fascinating study of the psychological effects on both the hunter and the hunted. At age 15 Elizabeth Lerner was abducted by Walter Bowman. She was not the first, nor the last, young girl he took, but she was the only one he didn’t murder.

Years later, Elizabeth, married with two children of her own, receives a letter from Walter who is on death row awaiting execution. He claims he wants to see her to apologize for what he did. Her first reaction is to ignore him, but he is persistent and she gives in to him a little at a time. Initially it is frustrating and puzzling trying to fathom Eliza’s actions and the reader will wonder why she just doesn’t tell him off and get on with her life. But, like life itself, it just isn’t that simple.

Is Walter playing a cat and mouse game with Elizabeth? And if so, why? What hold did he have over her and does he still have it? Why did he let her live yet murder others? Was she a willing victim helping him lure other young girls into his truck? These and other questions keep the reader turning pages until the surprising, yet logical conclusion.

Readers used to the author’s more action-packed writing may find the pace of this more meditative departure a little slow at times, especially in the beginning. But don’t give up on it. The talented Lippman creates some very real, very compelling characters who will linger in the mind long after the book ends. Highly recommended to those who like an intellectual puzzle told with expert skill.

Hypothermia
Jackie Houchin

The titles of Arnaldur Indridason’s Icelandic police procedurals seem to reflect not only the wintry land in which they are set, but the chilling crimes that are committed there. His latest novel is no exception. Hypothermia, or death by freezing, is often the way nature kills the unwary in the Arctic. Evidently man has learned a lot from nature.

When a woman’s body is found hanging from a beam in the living room of her lakeside cottage, the local police call it a suicide and the case is closed. However, when Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson of the Reykjavík police visits the husband with the news, casual questioning about the victim stirs up an unusual amount of animosity. In an unofficial investigation, Erlendur follows his suspicions, meticulously examining inconsistencies and questioning multiple witnesses until an unthinkable truth emerges.

Readers will discover that the central crimes in Indridason’s novels, as in real life, don’t always have satisfying conclusions. Fortunately the author weaves into his stories fascinating subplots with solutions that deliver their own rewards. And always in the background is the personal, unsolved tragedy that keeps his protagonist restless and melancholy.

Indridason’s lean, uncluttered writing reflects the harsh, sometimes bleak landscape of his native Iceland. His descriptions are brief but vivid, like contrasting images in a black and white film. An intricately plotted and complex crime thriller, Hypothermia has a “chill factor” way below zero.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 25 September 2010 12:09

The titles of Arnaldur Indridason’s Icelandic police procedurals seem to reflect not only the wintry land in which they are set, but the chilling crimes that are committed there. His latest novel is no exception. Hypothermia, or death by freezing, is often the way nature kills the unwary in the Arctic. Evidently man has learned a lot from nature.

When a woman’s body is found hanging from a beam in the living room of her lakeside cottage, the local police call it a suicide and the case is closed. However, when Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson of the Reykjavík police visits the husband with the news, casual questioning about the victim stirs up an unusual amount of animosity. In an unofficial investigation, Erlendur follows his suspicions, meticulously examining inconsistencies and questioning multiple witnesses until an unthinkable truth emerges.

Readers will discover that the central crimes in Indridason’s novels, as in real life, don’t always have satisfying conclusions. Fortunately the author weaves into his stories fascinating subplots with solutions that deliver their own rewards. And always in the background is the personal, unsolved tragedy that keeps his protagonist restless and melancholy.

Indridason’s lean, uncluttered writing reflects the harsh, sometimes bleak landscape of his native Iceland. His descriptions are brief but vivid, like contrasting images in a black and white film. An intricately plotted and complex crime thriller, Hypothermia has a “chill factor” way below zero.

To the Manor Dead
Lynne F. Maxwell

Sebastian Stuart, an established writer of plays, screenplays, and books (as well as partner of prominent gay author Stephen McCauley), introduces his Janet’s Planet series in this acerbic first installment. One of the first things readers will notice is the sarcastic, witty manner in which Janet, series protagonist, thinks and speaks. Janet never minces words, particularly as she narrates this mystery. Who is Janet, you wonder? Janet is Janet Petrocelli, a refugee from New York City (much like her author) and her successful, but taxing, career as a psychotherapist. Like many similarly situated heroines in the cozy genre, Janet is also recovering from unhappy romantic attachments. Again, like many other characters, she mistakes a bucolic location for a tranquil one.

Appearances deceive as Janet sets up shop as a collectibles dealer in a small Hudson Valley town. Ironically, the inhabitants of this town are every bit as mentally disturbed—perhaps even deranged—as Janet’s former patients. But maybe that goes along with old money and the eccentric characters who have it—or, rather, used to have it.

Certainly, that is the case here, as a potential customer, one of the shabby-genteel members of the previously moneyed Livingston clan, is murdered, and Janet discovers the body. Unlike the local constabulary, who conveniently dispose of the evidence, Janet believes that murder, rather than suicide, has occurred. Accordingly, she investigates the truly mad Livingstons, a clan who bring to readers’ minds the two Edie Beales of Albert and David Maysles cult documentary Grey Gardens—even without Stuart’s many allusions to his inspiration. Not surprisingly, money and ambition impede the investigation, but Janet ultimately prevails.

This book is an amusing romp, but, from the beginning, I found Janet to be an unconvincing character (distractingly so), because, quite frankly, she doesn’t ring true as a woman. Why, one wonders, did Stuart decide to create a female protagonist when a gay male character would have been more credible? You tell me.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 25 September 2010 12:09

stuart_manordeadNew York playwright and essayist unleashes acerbic wit, antiques, and murder in the new Janet Planet series set in the Hudson Valley.