Dark Prophecy
Oline H. Cogdill

Creator and producer of the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation franchise, Anthony E. Zuiker trademarked the term “digi-novel” for his 2009 novel, Level 26. It enhanced the printed word with film, the Internet, and social networks. It seems only fitting that Zuiker would utilize each of these facets since the CSI TV series is known for showcasing cutting-edge technology. It certainly worked. The Level26.com site boasts in excess of 100,000 registered users who come to see and read about the exploits of Steve Dark, an agent whose specialty is “level 26” killers—considered the worst of the worst.

Zuiker employs the same technology for the sequel Dark Prophecy, which features an hour-long movie on his website and a tie-in with “Sqweegel,” an episode of CSI, originally aired on October 14, 2010.

But do all these technological enhancements detract from the novel? Not really. Dark Prophecy is a fast-moving, action-packed novel that stands on its own. It also helps that Zuiker enlisted Duane Swierczynski (Severance Package), an ingenious writer, to help deliver the goods. Dark Prophecy finds Steve Dark, now retired from the elite secret Special Circs, trying to rebuild his life and make a home for his 5-year-old daughter. Dark has been forbidden to have any contact with his former colleagues. But Dark can’t escape his need to hunt killers. Instead of fixing up his daughter’s room so she can live with him, he indulges in late-night drives around Los Angeles and scans newspaper headlines to find criminals. A series of murders by the “tarot card killer” catches his interest as well as that of a mysterious woman with unlimited funds to fight crime. As Dark tracks down the killer, readers are referred to Zuiker’s website to follow the agent’s tarot card readings. The media enhancements are a clever idea, and certainly have a following, but a reader can ignore them and still enjoy the printed novel.

Zuiker and Swierczynski use everything in their considerable arsenal to keep the entertainment level high and disguise the strain in the plot’s believability.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 01 December 2010 03:12

Creator and producer of the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation franchise, Anthony E. Zuiker trademarked the term “digi-novel” for his 2009 novel, Level 26. It enhanced the printed word with film, the Internet, and social networks. It seems only fitting that Zuiker would utilize each of these facets since the CSI TV series is known for showcasing cutting-edge technology. It certainly worked. The Level26.com site boasts in excess of 100,000 registered users who come to see and read about the exploits of Steve Dark, an agent whose specialty is “level 26” killers—considered the worst of the worst.

Zuiker employs the same technology for the sequel Dark Prophecy, which features an hour-long movie on his website and a tie-in with “Sqweegel,” an episode of CSI, originally aired on October 14, 2010.

But do all these technological enhancements detract from the novel? Not really. Dark Prophecy is a fast-moving, action-packed novel that stands on its own. It also helps that Zuiker enlisted Duane Swierczynski (Severance Package), an ingenious writer, to help deliver the goods. Dark Prophecy finds Steve Dark, now retired from the elite secret Special Circs, trying to rebuild his life and make a home for his 5-year-old daughter. Dark has been forbidden to have any contact with his former colleagues. But Dark can’t escape his need to hunt killers. Instead of fixing up his daughter’s room so she can live with him, he indulges in late-night drives around Los Angeles and scans newspaper headlines to find criminals. A series of murders by the “tarot card killer” catches his interest as well as that of a mysterious woman with unlimited funds to fight crime. As Dark tracks down the killer, readers are referred to Zuiker’s website to follow the agent’s tarot card readings. The media enhancements are a clever idea, and certainly have a following, but a reader can ignore them and still enjoy the printed novel.

Zuiker and Swierczynski use everything in their considerable arsenal to keep the entertainment level high and disguise the strain in the plot’s believability.

The Last Confession
Daniel Luft

In his sixth series book Solomon Jones tries to bridge the swampy territory between cop novel and dark, supernatural horror novel with mixed results. As the book begins, aging Philadelphia detective Mike Coletti is bothered by a ten-year-old case involving a priest who is now on death row for shooting three people in his church. Coletti secretly believed Father O’Reilly when the priest claimed that it was the Angel of Death who committed the murders. As Father O’Reilly’s execution approaches, the Angel reappears and commands junkies to murder while leaving messages all over town about how Detective Coletti must die.

The cast of characters is interesting as Coletti butts heads with his new, dreadlocked, college-educated partner Charlie Mann and flirts with Mary Smithson, a profiler on loan from the state police. There is also wonderful use of local, urban details as the case leads all over Philadelphia. Jones knows the locations and histories of every building, street corner and alleyway and really excels in his descriptions. The city itself is a living beast in this novel, breathing, rumbling, and growing in different directions at all times.

What falls flat is the nearly supernatural plot as the Angel of Death stalks the city and invades Coletti’s dreams. Coletti, jaded by a life on the force and fast approaching retirement, should be more skeptical of demons on the streets he’s known for so long. In the end, when the Angel of Death is revealed, the finding is nearly as impossible to believe as a supernatural explanation would have been.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 01 December 2010 03:12

In his sixth series book Solomon Jones tries to bridge the swampy territory between cop novel and dark, supernatural horror novel with mixed results. As the book begins, aging Philadelphia detective Mike Coletti is bothered by a ten-year-old case involving a priest who is now on death row for shooting three people in his church. Coletti secretly believed Father O’Reilly when the priest claimed that it was the Angel of Death who committed the murders. As Father O’Reilly’s execution approaches, the Angel reappears and commands junkies to murder while leaving messages all over town about how Detective Coletti must die.

The cast of characters is interesting as Coletti butts heads with his new, dreadlocked, college-educated partner Charlie Mann and flirts with Mary Smithson, a profiler on loan from the state police. There is also wonderful use of local, urban details as the case leads all over Philadelphia. Jones knows the locations and histories of every building, street corner and alleyway and really excels in his descriptions. The city itself is a living beast in this novel, breathing, rumbling, and growing in different directions at all times.

What falls flat is the nearly supernatural plot as the Angel of Death stalks the city and invades Coletti’s dreams. Coletti, jaded by a life on the force and fast approaching retirement, should be more skeptical of demons on the streets he’s known for so long. In the end, when the Angel of Death is revealed, the finding is nearly as impossible to believe as a supernatural explanation would have been.

The Hidden
Bob Smith

In an effort to patch up his marriage, Jay Macklin persuades his wife Shelby to spend the days between Christmas and New Year’s at a friend’s cottage in a remote section off the coast of Northern California. What he doesn’t know is that a serial killer has been active in the area and that a major storm is about to hit. Jay and Shelby’s only neighbors are two disagreeable couples who spend their time drinking and arguing. The Macklins drift further apart and it appears the marriage is doomed when Jay has a heart attack.

At this point the storm hits, knocking down trees, taking out electricity, and making it impossible to communicate with the outside world. Shelby is an EMT back in the city and does what she can for him, but she knows Jay needs medical help from the nearest village, some miles away. Fallen trees block the road making driving impossible; she must find another way. A dire situation turns even more so when one of the neighbors is found shot to death on the road, and Shelby realizes a killer is on the loose.

Many authors could take this premise and make a good tale, but only a pro as experienced and talented as Bill Pronzini could turn it into a page-turning, nail-biting suspense thriller. The chapters dealing with Shelby’s battle against both the serial killer and the elements are Pronzini at his best—and fans won’t be disappointed. The opening chapters drag a bit as the author details the Macklin’s marital problems, but once that storm hits, the action and suspense are relentless. If you are looking for a book to curl up with in front of a roaring fire on a cold, winter night, this is it.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 01 December 2010 03:12

In an effort to patch up his marriage, Jay Macklin persuades his wife Shelby to spend the days between Christmas and New Year’s at a friend’s cottage in a remote section off the coast of Northern California. What he doesn’t know is that a serial killer has been active in the area and that a major storm is about to hit. Jay and Shelby’s only neighbors are two disagreeable couples who spend their time drinking and arguing. The Macklins drift further apart and it appears the marriage is doomed when Jay has a heart attack.

At this point the storm hits, knocking down trees, taking out electricity, and making it impossible to communicate with the outside world. Shelby is an EMT back in the city and does what she can for him, but she knows Jay needs medical help from the nearest village, some miles away. Fallen trees block the road making driving impossible; she must find another way. A dire situation turns even more so when one of the neighbors is found shot to death on the road, and Shelby realizes a killer is on the loose.

Many authors could take this premise and make a good tale, but only a pro as experienced and talented as Bill Pronzini could turn it into a page-turning, nail-biting suspense thriller. The chapters dealing with Shelby’s battle against both the serial killer and the elements are Pronzini at his best—and fans won’t be disappointed. The opening chapters drag a bit as the author details the Macklin’s marital problems, but once that storm hits, the action and suspense are relentless. If you are looking for a book to curl up with in front of a roaring fire on a cold, winter night, this is it.

Dead Like You
Bob Smith

Twelve years ago Brighton Detective Superintendent Roy Grace tried unsuccessfully to track down a serial rapist dubbed the “Shoe Man” who had a predilection for women wearing expensive, erotic shoes. The rapes abruptly ceased, but after 12 years, they’ve begun again. Grace is baffled, not knowing if the original Shoe Man is back or if a copycat is on the loose. Two separate but linked cases, separated by years, are examined with many aspects of the original investigation juxtaposed with the latter one.

The police zero in on four suspects, but readers are never sure just which one is the murderer. Even though the clues are all there, it was impossible for this reader to pinpoint the villain. James writes so clearly that readers are never confused as to who’s who and what’s what, even though he jumps back and forth in time in alternating chapters. The conclusion shocked, surprised and totally pleased me. I never saw it coming.

Dead Like You, the sixth novel in the Detective Superintendent Roy Grace crime series, was my introduction to British crime writer Peter James and what a perfect introduction it was. Ignorance is often equated with bliss, but being ignorant of this author is anything but. This is one of the best police procedurals that I have read in years. The book is almost 600 pages long, but when I finished it I was sad that there wasn’t more. It’s that good! James is an international favorite, his books translated into 33 languages, with over 5 million copies sold. If the others are anywhere near as good as Dead Like You his fame is well-deserved. I just regret it took me so long to find him.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 01 December 2010 03:12

Twelve years ago Brighton Detective Superintendent Roy Grace tried unsuccessfully to track down a serial rapist dubbed the “Shoe Man” who had a predilection for women wearing expensive, erotic shoes. The rapes abruptly ceased, but after 12 years, they’ve begun again. Grace is baffled, not knowing if the original Shoe Man is back or if a copycat is on the loose. Two separate but linked cases, separated by years, are examined with many aspects of the original investigation juxtaposed with the latter one.

The police zero in on four suspects, but readers are never sure just which one is the murderer. Even though the clues are all there, it was impossible for this reader to pinpoint the villain. James writes so clearly that readers are never confused as to who’s who and what’s what, even though he jumps back and forth in time in alternating chapters. The conclusion shocked, surprised and totally pleased me. I never saw it coming.

Dead Like You, the sixth novel in the Detective Superintendent Roy Grace crime series, was my introduction to British crime writer Peter James and what a perfect introduction it was. Ignorance is often equated with bliss, but being ignorant of this author is anything but. This is one of the best police procedurals that I have read in years. The book is almost 600 pages long, but when I finished it I was sad that there wasn’t more. It’s that good! James is an international favorite, his books translated into 33 languages, with over 5 million copies sold. If the others are anywhere near as good as Dead Like You his fame is well-deserved. I just regret it took me so long to find him.

Dark Road to Darjeeling
Lynne F. Maxwell

Dark Road to Darjeeling is the fourth in the fine Victorian historical series featuring Lady Julia Grey, a self-appointed sleuth newly married to the famed Detective Brisbane (even Julia refers to him by his last name).

In this book, Lady Julia travels to a Himalayan tea plantation to investigate the death—perhaps suspicious—of a distant relative (Julia’s sister’s former lover’s husband). Yes, the relationships in this book are complicated, nearly incestuous at times, but Raybourn employs them to draw attention to controversial social issues such as homosexuality—issues even more charged when set in the purportedly prudish Victorian time period. Of course, the hypocrisy of many Victorians, eminent and otherwise, is not news, but Raybourn does make provocative and revelatory use of the idea.

Raybourn’s storytelling, however, is not merely didactic; it is wholly enjoyable and engaging. The first-person narration by Lady Julia is elegant, witty and perceptive. Not only does Julia’s point of view mirror the narrative style of Victorian novels, it evokes other detective fiction, such as Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series books. Other rewards include a subtly intricate plot and sophisticated character development. For all of these reasons, I heartily recommend Dark Road to Darjeeling, along with the other Lady Julia Grey mysteries. Perfect, especially accompanied by a cup of hot tea!

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 01 December 2010 03:12

Dark Road to Darjeeling is the fourth in the fine Victorian historical series featuring Lady Julia Grey, a self-appointed sleuth newly married to the famed Detective Brisbane (even Julia refers to him by his last name).

In this book, Lady Julia travels to a Himalayan tea plantation to investigate the death—perhaps suspicious—of a distant relative (Julia’s sister’s former lover’s husband). Yes, the relationships in this book are complicated, nearly incestuous at times, but Raybourn employs them to draw attention to controversial social issues such as homosexuality—issues even more charged when set in the purportedly prudish Victorian time period. Of course, the hypocrisy of many Victorians, eminent and otherwise, is not news, but Raybourn does make provocative and revelatory use of the idea.

Raybourn’s storytelling, however, is not merely didactic; it is wholly enjoyable and engaging. The first-person narration by Lady Julia is elegant, witty and perceptive. Not only does Julia’s point of view mirror the narrative style of Victorian novels, it evokes other detective fiction, such as Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series books. Other rewards include a subtly intricate plot and sophisticated character development. For all of these reasons, I heartily recommend Dark Road to Darjeeling, along with the other Lady Julia Grey mysteries. Perfect, especially accompanied by a cup of hot tea!

Devoured
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

Violent death is no stranger to the poor in the Victorian London of 1856, but when the wealthy and titled are found murdered, Scotland Yard spares no effort to solve the crimes. Thus, when Lady Bessingham, benefactress of emerging new natural sciences, is found bludgeoned to death with a fossil, Inspector Adams of Scotland Yard enlists the aid of pathologist Adolphus Hatton and his morgue assistant, Albert Roumande, to help find the killer.

Did the murdered woman’s interest and support of naturalists have any bearing on the crime? And why were her letters from the noted botanist Benjamin Broderig stolen? As more bodies are discovered, pinned and posed as museum specimens, the investigation becomes more complex.

This is an interesting first novel with action interspersed with letters from the botanist about his discoveries in Borneo and other far-flung places. The era itself is appealing, including the conflicts between organized religion and science over the origin of man. And although pathologists are all the rage in today’s world of crime stories, such science was just beginning in the 1850s.

Having said that, I felt the plot was a little more complex than it had to be. Although I liked the main characters, Hatton and Roumande, and look forward to more of their cases, I hope the next novel will have fewer bodies and fewer overall players, so we can spend more time with this intriguing duo.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 01 December 2010 03:12

Violent death is no stranger to the poor in the Victorian London of 1856, but when the wealthy and titled are found murdered, Scotland Yard spares no effort to solve the crimes. Thus, when Lady Bessingham, benefactress of emerging new natural sciences, is found bludgeoned to death with a fossil, Inspector Adams of Scotland Yard enlists the aid of pathologist Adolphus Hatton and his morgue assistant, Albert Roumande, to help find the killer.

Did the murdered woman’s interest and support of naturalists have any bearing on the crime? And why were her letters from the noted botanist Benjamin Broderig stolen? As more bodies are discovered, pinned and posed as museum specimens, the investigation becomes more complex.

This is an interesting first novel with action interspersed with letters from the botanist about his discoveries in Borneo and other far-flung places. The era itself is appealing, including the conflicts between organized religion and science over the origin of man. And although pathologists are all the rage in today’s world of crime stories, such science was just beginning in the 1850s.

Having said that, I felt the plot was a little more complex than it had to be. Although I liked the main characters, Hatton and Roumande, and look forward to more of their cases, I hope the next novel will have fewer bodies and fewer overall players, so we can spend more time with this intriguing duo.

Velocity
Derek Hill

FBI profiler Karen Vail, still in Napa Valley (the setting for Jacobson’s previous Vail novel Crush), should be wrapping up the Crush Killer case that she and her partner/boyfriend Robby Hernandez solved in their previous outing. But Hernandez has vanished from their hotel room and all clues suggest that he may be a victim of another murderer, either an accomplice or copycat of the Crush Killer, who is brazenly leaving the bodies of his victims in public places. Unfortunately, Vail is forced back to Washington DC to investigate another case. Despite being told to drop the Hernandez case and let others investigate it, she refuses to give up hope and eventually finds herself embroiled in something far darker and conspiratorial than she ever imagined.

Jacobson’s third Vail novel is as hard-hitting as they get. No time for niceties here. Jacobson plunges us into the narrative, racing through a disorienting series of events—the disappearance of Hernandez, the brutal slayings, and the hunt for the killer and Hernandez’s kidnapper. This whirlwind of an opening is disconcerting at first, especially if one is not familiar with the events from the previous book. But it feels appropriately harried, reflecting Vail’s own bewilderment, grief, and fear.

Vail is not the most sympathetic character: she’s rude, impulsive, and in no way a team player—characteristics that don’t necessarily benefit an FBI agent. However, she is also loyal, brave and fiercely determined; a character with deep flaws, but perhaps all the more relatable because of them. Velocity is gripping throughout and Jacobson’s research is impressive, easily separating it from the otherwise pedestrian subgenre of serial killer books. This is two-fisted crime writing at its best.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 01 December 2010 03:12

FBI profiler Karen Vail, still in Napa Valley (the setting for Jacobson’s previous Vail novel Crush), should be wrapping up the Crush Killer case that she and her partner/boyfriend Robby Hernandez solved in their previous outing. But Hernandez has vanished from their hotel room and all clues suggest that he may be a victim of another murderer, either an accomplice or copycat of the Crush Killer, who is brazenly leaving the bodies of his victims in public places. Unfortunately, Vail is forced back to Washington DC to investigate another case. Despite being told to drop the Hernandez case and let others investigate it, she refuses to give up hope and eventually finds herself embroiled in something far darker and conspiratorial than she ever imagined.

Jacobson’s third Vail novel is as hard-hitting as they get. No time for niceties here. Jacobson plunges us into the narrative, racing through a disorienting series of events—the disappearance of Hernandez, the brutal slayings, and the hunt for the killer and Hernandez’s kidnapper. This whirlwind of an opening is disconcerting at first, especially if one is not familiar with the events from the previous book. But it feels appropriately harried, reflecting Vail’s own bewilderment, grief, and fear.

Vail is not the most sympathetic character: she’s rude, impulsive, and in no way a team player—characteristics that don’t necessarily benefit an FBI agent. However, she is also loyal, brave and fiercely determined; a character with deep flaws, but perhaps all the more relatable because of them. Velocity is gripping throughout and Jacobson’s research is impressive, easily separating it from the otherwise pedestrian subgenre of serial killer books. This is two-fisted crime writing at its best.

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
Wednesday, 01 December 2010 03:12

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
Wednesday, 01 December 2010 03:12

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
Wednesday, 01 December 2010 04:12

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
Wednesday, 01 December 2010 04:12

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
Wednesday, 01 December 2010 04:12

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
Wednesday, 01 December 2010 04:12

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
Wednesday, 01 December 2010 04:12

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
Wednesday, 01 December 2010 04:12

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
Wednesday, 01 December 2010 04:12

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
Wednesday, 01 December 2010 04:12

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
Wednesday, 01 December 2010 04:12

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
Wednesday, 01 December 2010 04:12

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
Wednesday, 01 December 2010 04:12

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
Wednesday, 01 December 2010 04:12

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
Wednesday, 01 December 2010 05:12

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
Wednesday, 01 December 2010 05:12

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
Wednesday, 01 December 2010 05:12

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
Wednesday, 01 December 2010 05:12

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.