The Terror of Living
Hank Wagner

Urban Waite’s impressive debut opens as young Deputy Bobby Drake confronts two drug smugglers, ex-cons Phil Hunt and his companion, “the Kid,” in a dense forest located in the mountains of Washington State. Drake foils a delivery, capturing the Kid but allowing Hunt to escape. The chance encounter triggers events that force Drake and Hunt to confront their pasts, even as they deal with the fallout from the disrupted drug deal; the enraged owners of the heroin unleash their enforcer, the lethal Grady Fisher, to mete out punishment to those who have failed them.

There’s much to praise about The Terror of Living, including the relentless pacing and Waite’s stunning prose, but what really makes it compelling is the humanity of its characters. From Drake trying to cope with the sins of his father, to Hunt and his wife, Nora, desperately scrambling to maintain the happy life they’ve carved out for themselves against all odds, Waite’s richly imagined characters spring to life in the reader’s mind.

The book will no doubt be compared to Cormac McCarthy’s bleak No Country for Old Men, in many ways an apt comparison, but not in all, because it also evokes masterpieces like Deliverance, and even Lonesome Dove, in that one can actually feel Waite’s cast being transformed by events, some for the worse, but, more importantly, some for the better.

Teri Duerr
2011-03-24 21:11:02

Urban Waite’s impressive debut opens as young Deputy Bobby Drake confronts two drug smugglers, ex-cons Phil Hunt and his companion, “the Kid,” in a dense forest located in the mountains of Washington State. Drake foils a delivery, capturing the Kid but allowing Hunt to escape. The chance encounter triggers events that force Drake and Hunt to confront their pasts, even as they deal with the fallout from the disrupted drug deal; the enraged owners of the heroin unleash their enforcer, the lethal Grady Fisher, to mete out punishment to those who have failed them.

There’s much to praise about The Terror of Living, including the relentless pacing and Waite’s stunning prose, but what really makes it compelling is the humanity of its characters. From Drake trying to cope with the sins of his father, to Hunt and his wife, Nora, desperately scrambling to maintain the happy life they’ve carved out for themselves against all odds, Waite’s richly imagined characters spring to life in the reader’s mind.

The book will no doubt be compared to Cormac McCarthy’s bleak No Country for Old Men, in many ways an apt comparison, but not in all, because it also evokes masterpieces like Deliverance, and even Lonesome Dove, in that one can actually feel Waite’s cast being transformed by events, some for the worse, but, more importantly, some for the better.

Spiral
Oline H. Cogdill

Nanotechnology—manipulating matter on an atomic and molecular scale—is a dry ingredient of which term papers are made, but Spiral deftly mixes science with a gripping bioterrorism plot and interesting characters.

Author Paul McEuen, a Cornell physics professor and a leader in nanoscience research, could easily have lost the average reader in science terminology and concepts, but his debut is a real thriller rather than a crash course in science.

Spiral opens during the waning days of World War II. Dr. Liam Connor, a brilliant young scientist and first lieutenant in the British Army, is ordered to investigate germ warfare in which soldiers become living bombs. More than 60 years later, Liam is considered one of the world’s most eminent biologists, the secrets he learned during WWII having influenced his life’s work. Liam is found dead, an alleged suicide. But Liam’s granddaughter, Maggie, and his research collaborator, Jake Sterling, refuse to believe Liam killed himself. As they try to make sense of Liam’s death, they become the target of government agents, ruthless tycoons, and an assassin.

McEuen uses the real-life tale of a bioterrorism unit run by the Japanese Imperial Army during WWII and research in fungal biology to enhance the solid plot. McEuen matches his plot’s scientific aspects with strong, believable characters, including Dr. Connor, whose legacy permeates the book, and the intelligent Maggie and Jake, who play off each other well.

Teri Duerr
2011-03-24 21:30:43

Nanotechnology—manipulating matter on an atomic and molecular scale—is a dry ingredient of which term papers are made, but Spiral deftly mixes science with a gripping bioterrorism plot and interesting characters.

Author Paul McEuen, a Cornell physics professor and a leader in nanoscience research, could easily have lost the average reader in science terminology and concepts, but his debut is a real thriller rather than a crash course in science.

Spiral opens during the waning days of World War II. Dr. Liam Connor, a brilliant young scientist and first lieutenant in the British Army, is ordered to investigate germ warfare in which soldiers become living bombs. More than 60 years later, Liam is considered one of the world’s most eminent biologists, the secrets he learned during WWII having influenced his life’s work. Liam is found dead, an alleged suicide. But Liam’s granddaughter, Maggie, and his research collaborator, Jake Sterling, refuse to believe Liam killed himself. As they try to make sense of Liam’s death, they become the target of government agents, ruthless tycoons, and an assassin.

McEuen uses the real-life tale of a bioterrorism unit run by the Japanese Imperial Army during WWII and research in fungal biology to enhance the solid plot. McEuen matches his plot’s scientific aspects with strong, believable characters, including Dr. Connor, whose legacy permeates the book, and the intelligent Maggie and Jake, who play off each other well.

Eyes of the Innocent
Daniel Luft

Brad Parks’ second novel about Carter Ross, a jaded investigative reporter who works for a struggling Newark, New Jersey daily, is a tightly wound thriller about city corruption. It begins with Ross getting assigned to look into a fire that killed two young boys in the rough part of town. This is a dull story to him and he’s incensed when he’s also told to bring along a very green and annoyingly cute young intern commonly known as “Sweet Thang.”

While investigating the burnt house they run into the dead boys’ mother, Akilah Harris, who spins an interview into a tragedy of an orphaned single mother trying to make good, working two jobs while short on child care. But Akilah’s story proves to be full of holes and this routine assignment quickly spirals into something much larger involving subprime mortgages, unsafe construction, government kickbacks and the disappearance of an aging city councilman.

Eyes is a harrowing trip through political greed, white flight, urban decay, fly-by-night contractors who worked the system during the housing boom, the death of the newspaper industry, and the extreme efforts police and press go through to finesse information from each other.

Background information about a large cast of characters is provided through the dialogue and narration effortlessly and humorously. Ross is a fast talker who is knowledgeable about his city and the people who live there. He narrates the novel with the precision of Hammett and the cynical humor of George Carlin. And while Ross is at first put off by Sweet Thang’s naiveté, he notices that angry witnesses open up to her in a way that they will not to him with his experienced, professional attitude.

Parks’ Faces of the Gone won the Shamus Award for best first novel, and Eyes of the Innocent proves that his debut was no fluke. This is hardboiled writing that is modern in its subjects, classical in its tone, and riveting in its language and pace.

Teri Duerr
2011-03-24 21:38:18

Brad Parks’ second novel about Carter Ross, a jaded investigative reporter who works for a struggling Newark, New Jersey daily, is a tightly wound thriller about city corruption. It begins with Ross getting assigned to look into a fire that killed two young boys in the rough part of town. This is a dull story to him and he’s incensed when he’s also told to bring along a very green and annoyingly cute young intern commonly known as “Sweet Thang.”

While investigating the burnt house they run into the dead boys’ mother, Akilah Harris, who spins an interview into a tragedy of an orphaned single mother trying to make good, working two jobs while short on child care. But Akilah’s story proves to be full of holes and this routine assignment quickly spirals into something much larger involving subprime mortgages, unsafe construction, government kickbacks and the disappearance of an aging city councilman.

Eyes is a harrowing trip through political greed, white flight, urban decay, fly-by-night contractors who worked the system during the housing boom, the death of the newspaper industry, and the extreme efforts police and press go through to finesse information from each other.

Background information about a large cast of characters is provided through the dialogue and narration effortlessly and humorously. Ross is a fast talker who is knowledgeable about his city and the people who live there. He narrates the novel with the precision of Hammett and the cynical humor of George Carlin. And while Ross is at first put off by Sweet Thang’s naiveté, he notices that angry witnesses open up to her in a way that they will not to him with his experienced, professional attitude.

Parks’ Faces of the Gone won the Shamus Award for best first novel, and Eyes of the Innocent proves that his debut was no fluke. This is hardboiled writing that is modern in its subjects, classical in its tone, and riveting in its language and pace.

Agent X
Daniel Luft

Steve Vail, the protagonist of Noah Boyd’s Agent X, isn’t fazed by violence. Even while he’s getting shot at by Russian or Lithuanian agents, he still takes time to flirt with his partner and ex-love, FBI Assistant Director Kate Bannon. Kate is willing to play along and flirts right back at him through the gunfire.

In the first 20 pages, Vail, who has quit the Feds for a simpler life as a bricklayer, arrives in Washington DC, is invited by local police to help in a kidnapping investigation and solves that and another five-year-old cold case in one night. Then, still the same night, Vail gets the call from Kate’s bosses—the FBI.

The FBI has made, and then lost, contact with a Russian agent known only as Calculus, who wants to expose Americans who are selling secrets to Russia. The FBI requires Vail’s expertise with Russian espionage and quietly allows him to break laws that the Feds will not. They wish to remain informed but not very much.

What follows is a series of extremely complicated puzzles that Calculus has left before he disappeared back to Russia. Each one is obscure: a brief pause in a recorded telephone message, Morse code scratched into the narrow edge of a compact disk. There are references to Greek mythology and a couple of puns, but each puzzle is solved by Vail and Bannon in short order.

Boyd is more adept at pacing and witty dialogue than developing mood or character. There is violence all around Vail and Bannon, but very little sense of danger. Still, this is enjoyable, light entertainment. From the moment he walks into the story, Steve Vail is the smartest, most resourceful, and best looking guy in the room and all he’s looking for is a little romance. The story zips along like a race car on fire from the very beginning and the fun doesn’t let up until the last page.

Teri Duerr
2011-03-24 21:46:38

Steve Vail, the protagonist of Noah Boyd’s Agent X, isn’t fazed by violence. Even while he’s getting shot at by Russian or Lithuanian agents, he still takes time to flirt with his partner and ex-love, FBI Assistant Director Kate Bannon. Kate is willing to play along and flirts right back at him through the gunfire.

In the first 20 pages, Vail, who has quit the Feds for a simpler life as a bricklayer, arrives in Washington DC, is invited by local police to help in a kidnapping investigation and solves that and another five-year-old cold case in one night. Then, still the same night, Vail gets the call from Kate’s bosses—the FBI.

The FBI has made, and then lost, contact with a Russian agent known only as Calculus, who wants to expose Americans who are selling secrets to Russia. The FBI requires Vail’s expertise with Russian espionage and quietly allows him to break laws that the Feds will not. They wish to remain informed but not very much.

What follows is a series of extremely complicated puzzles that Calculus has left before he disappeared back to Russia. Each one is obscure: a brief pause in a recorded telephone message, Morse code scratched into the narrow edge of a compact disk. There are references to Greek mythology and a couple of puns, but each puzzle is solved by Vail and Bannon in short order.

Boyd is more adept at pacing and witty dialogue than developing mood or character. There is violence all around Vail and Bannon, but very little sense of danger. Still, this is enjoyable, light entertainment. From the moment he walks into the story, Steve Vail is the smartest, most resourceful, and best looking guy in the room and all he’s looking for is a little romance. The story zips along like a race car on fire from the very beginning and the fun doesn’t let up until the last page.

Devil-Devil
Leslie Doran

Devil-Devil is the debut novel in a mystery series set in the exotic Solomon Islands during the turbulent times of the 1960s and Sergeant Ben Kella, one of the few indigenous islanders on the Solomon Police Force, is its uncomfortable hero.

As the story opens, the islands are under British colonial rule and Kella is trying to bridge two cultures. He is torn between duty to the British commanders and his role as an aofia, an inherited position as spiritual peacekeeper to the Lau people of Malaita Island.

Kella is assigned to find an American anthropologist, Dr. Mallory, who has gone missing on Malaita. As Kella embarks on his journey into the island’s interior, he is cursed by a magic man, discovers an incipient tribal uprising, and finds himself at the center of a battle for power on the island.

Sister Conchita, a young American nun, complicates Kella’s life by trying to dispose of a murder victim’s bones to protect the local Catholic priest. She is young, adventuresome, intelligent, and not easily cowed by local expatriate hooligans or by Kella. The indigenous islanders, however, embrace her fearlessness and call her Praying Mary. Kella has his hands full dealing with the willful Sister Conchita as he tries to unravel a murder while keeping his superiors and tribal leaders satisfied.

Author Kent showcases his background in education with his well-researched depiction of the Solomon Islands and their turbulent history. This inaugural story lets the culture of the Solomons shine while the mystery is less prominent. Perhaps the next installment will give readers more tension and interplay between Sister Conchita and Sergeant Kella.

Teri Duerr
2011-03-24 21:53:18

Devil-Devil is the debut novel in a mystery series set in the exotic Solomon Islands during the turbulent times of the 1960s and Sergeant Ben Kella, one of the few indigenous islanders on the Solomon Police Force, is its uncomfortable hero.

As the story opens, the islands are under British colonial rule and Kella is trying to bridge two cultures. He is torn between duty to the British commanders and his role as an aofia, an inherited position as spiritual peacekeeper to the Lau people of Malaita Island.

Kella is assigned to find an American anthropologist, Dr. Mallory, who has gone missing on Malaita. As Kella embarks on his journey into the island’s interior, he is cursed by a magic man, discovers an incipient tribal uprising, and finds himself at the center of a battle for power on the island.

Sister Conchita, a young American nun, complicates Kella’s life by trying to dispose of a murder victim’s bones to protect the local Catholic priest. She is young, adventuresome, intelligent, and not easily cowed by local expatriate hooligans or by Kella. The indigenous islanders, however, embrace her fearlessness and call her Praying Mary. Kella has his hands full dealing with the willful Sister Conchita as he tries to unravel a murder while keeping his superiors and tribal leaders satisfied.

Author Kent showcases his background in education with his well-researched depiction of the Solomon Islands and their turbulent history. This inaugural story lets the culture of the Solomons shine while the mystery is less prominent. Perhaps the next installment will give readers more tension and interplay between Sister Conchita and Sergeant Kella.

The Poison Tree
Verna Suit

At the end of her senior year in college, studious Karen Clarke meets free-spirited Biba Capel and is instantly enchanted. She soon moves into the once-stately London house that Biba shares with her older brother Rex, and the three of them live a happy, bohemian existence. Karen’s linguistic skills as a polyglot make her acutely aware of speech’s nuances, and language forms a fascinating theme in this intelligent book. As an added bonus, the author’s own descriptive abilities are finely tuned. Reading about Karen’s first wine-soaked party at the Capel house is like being a guest there.

The Poison Tree centers on the intense relationships between its three young protagonists—brilliant Karen, hedonistic Biba, and protective Rex. What starts for Karen as an unconventional summer fling before the onset of adult responsibilities soon becomes the defining experience of her life.

Ten years later, Karen has a nine-year-old daughter named Alice, and Rex is being released from prison. The details of what led up to this situation are slowly unspooled through an utterly captivating narrative.

While at first disconcerting, the narrative’s sudden shifts in time between 1997 and the present are effective in keeping the reader alert. Kelly steadily drops hints of a tragedy to come, but keeps readers in suspense as to when and how it will all go wrong. The deft handling of the circumstances surrounding the tragedy, Karen’s motherhood, and other untold secrets, builds relentlessly mounting suspense in this outstanding debut.

Teri Duerr
2011-03-24 22:03:45

At the end of her senior year in college, studious Karen Clarke meets free-spirited Biba Capel and is instantly enchanted. She soon moves into the once-stately London house that Biba shares with her older brother Rex, and the three of them live a happy, bohemian existence. Karen’s linguistic skills as a polyglot make her acutely aware of speech’s nuances, and language forms a fascinating theme in this intelligent book. As an added bonus, the author’s own descriptive abilities are finely tuned. Reading about Karen’s first wine-soaked party at the Capel house is like being a guest there.

The Poison Tree centers on the intense relationships between its three young protagonists—brilliant Karen, hedonistic Biba, and protective Rex. What starts for Karen as an unconventional summer fling before the onset of adult responsibilities soon becomes the defining experience of her life.

Ten years later, Karen has a nine-year-old daughter named Alice, and Rex is being released from prison. The details of what led up to this situation are slowly unspooled through an utterly captivating narrative.

While at first disconcerting, the narrative’s sudden shifts in time between 1997 and the present are effective in keeping the reader alert. Kelly steadily drops hints of a tragedy to come, but keeps readers in suspense as to when and how it will all go wrong. The deft handling of the circumstances surrounding the tragedy, Karen’s motherhood, and other untold secrets, builds relentlessly mounting suspense in this outstanding debut.

Backstage Stuff
Jackie Houchin

Backstage Stuff is the seventh in Sharon Fiffer’s engaging Jane Wheel series about a talented antique picker and private investigator. This one has her protagonist not only rummaging through drawers, closets, and attics for treasures, but also looking behind the curtain for the villain in a murder mystery play.

Moping over her upcoming divorce, Jane jumps at the chance to help her pal Tim Lowry prep an enormous old mansion for an estate sale. When he asks her to help him with the production of a “silly old play” written by the estate’s deceased owner, she’s not as thrilled, especially when she finds a warning note in the script that says the play is cursed.

At the mansion, priceless items go missing; at the theater, cast members are mysteriously injured and the show’s carpenter dies in a suspicious accident. Jane is convinced someone is trying to stop the play, first by fear and then by murder.

Fiffer writes in an upbeat, humorous style that’s easy and fun to read. Her protagonist is deceptively smart and so likable you’ll want her as your best friend. The mentoring relationship she has with Detective Oh is intriguing. Not only will readers learn about antiques and the goings-on in a theater, they might also pick up some fascinating tips on investigating murder.

Teri Duerr
2011-03-24 22:10:30

Backstage Stuff is the seventh in Sharon Fiffer’s engaging Jane Wheel series about a talented antique picker and private investigator. This one has her protagonist not only rummaging through drawers, closets, and attics for treasures, but also looking behind the curtain for the villain in a murder mystery play.

Moping over her upcoming divorce, Jane jumps at the chance to help her pal Tim Lowry prep an enormous old mansion for an estate sale. When he asks her to help him with the production of a “silly old play” written by the estate’s deceased owner, she’s not as thrilled, especially when she finds a warning note in the script that says the play is cursed.

At the mansion, priceless items go missing; at the theater, cast members are mysteriously injured and the show’s carpenter dies in a suspicious accident. Jane is convinced someone is trying to stop the play, first by fear and then by murder.

Fiffer writes in an upbeat, humorous style that’s easy and fun to read. Her protagonist is deceptively smart and so likable you’ll want her as your best friend. The mentoring relationship she has with Detective Oh is intriguing. Not only will readers learn about antiques and the goings-on in a theater, they might also pick up some fascinating tips on investigating murder.

First Grave on the Right
Sue Emmons

She sees dead people. Meet Charley Davidson whose peculiar skills have led to a fragmented career—part private detective, part police consultant, and part bartender mixed with a tinge of grim reaper apprentice. Fortunately for the reader, Charley has a ribald sense of humor that adds spice to this somewhat odd debut mystery that is seemingly searching for a genre niche. Early on, she is visited by a brand new corpse and subsequently meets his two slain law partners, one of whom insists he is not dead despite evidence to the contrary, and the other a female partner who doesn’t doubt she is dead but is fascinated by Charley, who jumps into the investigation at the instigation of her uncle, an Albuquerque homicide detective. Both Uncle Bob and Charley’s ex-cop-turned-bar-owner dad have used her unusual talents to enhance their own crime-solving careers. Toss into this homicidal mix a mysterious, but quite dead, hunk known as Angel, his mysterious mentor, and—oh, yes—Mr. Wong, a permanent ghost who occupies a corner of her apartment.

Jones throws a lot of plot and romance at the reader, including explicit sex. First Grave on the Right will probably appeal more to those intrigued by the occult than those hooked on straightforward crime-solving, but Charley is a delightfully hip narrator.

Teri Duerr
2011-03-24 22:15:58

She sees dead people. Meet Charley Davidson whose peculiar skills have led to a fragmented career—part private detective, part police consultant, and part bartender mixed with a tinge of grim reaper apprentice. Fortunately for the reader, Charley has a ribald sense of humor that adds spice to this somewhat odd debut mystery that is seemingly searching for a genre niche. Early on, she is visited by a brand new corpse and subsequently meets his two slain law partners, one of whom insists he is not dead despite evidence to the contrary, and the other a female partner who doesn’t doubt she is dead but is fascinated by Charley, who jumps into the investigation at the instigation of her uncle, an Albuquerque homicide detective. Both Uncle Bob and Charley’s ex-cop-turned-bar-owner dad have used her unusual talents to enhance their own crime-solving careers. Toss into this homicidal mix a mysterious, but quite dead, hunk known as Angel, his mysterious mentor, and—oh, yes—Mr. Wong, a permanent ghost who occupies a corner of her apartment.

Jones throws a lot of plot and romance at the reader, including explicit sex. First Grave on the Right will probably appeal more to those intrigued by the occult than those hooked on straightforward crime-solving, but Charley is a delightfully hip narrator.

The Girl in the Green Raincoat
M. Schlecht

First appearing in serial format in the NY Times Magazine in 2008, Lippman’s The Girl in the Green Raincoat has now been released as a slim, standalone novel. The author notes that it emerged from an especially productive year for her, along with the Edgar-nominated short story Scratch a Woman and her well-received novel Life Sentences. The breezy chapters of Girl must have come in the more playful, lighthearted moments of the work week.

Baltimore PI Tess Monaghan is pregnant and, due to complications, under strict doctor’s orders not to leave the house. Initial fantasies of indulgent lounging and copious TV and Utz crab chips consumption soon become dull reality. She’s eager to get back in the game, and armed with binoculars, turns her front porch into a stakeout location as she spies on the dog walkers in the park across the street. A mysterious, fashionable woman with a small greyhound catches her eye. Then, one day, the dog shows up without its owner. It’s not much, but under the circumstances, enough for Tess to begin her (literally) armchair missing-person investigation. Call it Hitchcock Lite.

Lippman’s low-key charm and everywoman wit help the story zip along, as Tess’ friends assist her in the necessary off-site inquiries. Some of the characters she finds along the way, including her prime suspect, are drawn a little thin, but the real center of the story is the owner of the little feet kicking at Tess’ stomach. Life will never be the same for Ms. Monaghan. She is both thankful for, and uncertain of, her partner, as well as her parenting skills, but at least there will always be mysteries to solve.

Teri Duerr
2011-03-25 18:02:54

First appearing in serial format in the NY Times Magazine in 2008, Lippman’s The Girl in the Green Raincoat has now been released as a slim, standalone novel. The author notes that it emerged from an especially productive year for her, along with the Edgar-nominated short story Scratch a Woman and her well-received novel Life Sentences. The breezy chapters of Girl must have come in the more playful, lighthearted moments of the work week.

Baltimore PI Tess Monaghan is pregnant and, due to complications, under strict doctor’s orders not to leave the house. Initial fantasies of indulgent lounging and copious TV and Utz crab chips consumption soon become dull reality. She’s eager to get back in the game, and armed with binoculars, turns her front porch into a stakeout location as she spies on the dog walkers in the park across the street. A mysterious, fashionable woman with a small greyhound catches her eye. Then, one day, the dog shows up without its owner. It’s not much, but under the circumstances, enough for Tess to begin her (literally) armchair missing-person investigation. Call it Hitchcock Lite.

Lippman’s low-key charm and everywoman wit help the story zip along, as Tess’ friends assist her in the necessary off-site inquiries. Some of the characters she finds along the way, including her prime suspect, are drawn a little thin, but the real center of the story is the owner of the little feet kicking at Tess’ stomach. Life will never be the same for Ms. Monaghan. She is both thankful for, and uncertain of, her partner, as well as her parenting skills, but at least there will always be mysteries to solve.

A Lonely Death
Sue Emmons

In this riveting, multifaceted mystery, Charles Todd (a mother-son writing team) offers an atmospheric tale with roots in the bloody battlefields of World War I. Inspector Ian Rutledge is haunted by the war, ended only two years before, and plagued with its horrors. Always present in his head is the voice of the corporal whom he ordered before a firing squad for disobeying orders on the Somme battlefield.

Rutledge is sent to the Sussex town of Eastfield to investigate a series of killings in the “lonely places” of the title. The three victims served together in the war and each is found garroted with a dog-tag-like metal disc in his mouth. Such discs were used to identify the war dead on foreign fields.

Todd brilliantly charts the echoes of the war and its impact on those who survived its battles. Fully realized characters, well-researched settings, and exquisite writing combine with a surprising and chilling solution to mark this 13th outing as a standout in Todd’s deservedly award-winning series.

Teri Duerr
2011-03-25 23:15:20

In this riveting, multifaceted mystery, Charles Todd (a mother-son writing team) offers an atmospheric tale with roots in the bloody battlefields of World War I. Inspector Ian Rutledge is haunted by the war, ended only two years before, and plagued with its horrors. Always present in his head is the voice of the corporal whom he ordered before a firing squad for disobeying orders on the Somme battlefield.

Rutledge is sent to the Sussex town of Eastfield to investigate a series of killings in the “lonely places” of the title. The three victims served together in the war and each is found garroted with a dog-tag-like metal disc in his mouth. Such discs were used to identify the war dead on foreign fields.

Todd brilliantly charts the echoes of the war and its impact on those who survived its battles. Fully realized characters, well-researched settings, and exquisite writing combine with a surprising and chilling solution to mark this 13th outing as a standout in Todd’s deservedly award-winning series.

The Border Lords
Kevin Burton Smith

Three-time Edgar winner T. Jefferson Parker has made a name for himself over the years, cranking out tough, ambitious crime novels focusing on the moral and ethical challenges faced by the men and women who work law enforcement in Southern California. These are smart, savvy books full of crisscrossing subplots and multiple viewpoints, high on moral ambiguity and short on easy, pat answers.

But The Border Lords, the fourth book to feature journeyman cop Charlie Hood (last seen in Iron River earlier this year) is something else. Mostly because this time it’s difficult to suss out exactly what’s going on—a marked change for a writer as generally rooted in clean, clear storytelling as Parker. Initially things seem pretty straightforward: Charlie is on loan to the Feds at Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, where fellow ATF agent Sean Ozburn has been deep undercover for an inordinate length of time, hopping back and forth across the US-Mexico border, buying and selling houses and guns, slowly building up a case against the notorious Baja drug cartel. But the young operative’s behavior has become increasingly erratic of late, to the point where Charlie and his team must confront the very distinct possibility that Sean’s gone seriously rogue—or completely over the edge.

Parker gets a big thumbs up for hinting that Sean’s abrupt about-face may involve more than the usual cop pulp fare of corruption and coercion, dangling left-field suggestions of everything from poison to the supernatural. Whether the author pulls it off—and whether readers want hot-tub soaked New Age hokum introduced into their gritty police stories—is another matter. Parker lets the reasons for Sean’s fall from grace dangle for far too long. It doesn’t help that Charlie, never the most dynamic of series heroes, ends up playing second banana here not just to the scenery-chewing Sean and his frantic wife Seliah (who seems to be slipping into the same darkness), but also to ambitious (and ambitiously crooked) rookie cop Bradley Jones, Bradley’s rock star wife, and to a mysterious interloper with apparently mystical powers who claims to be eternal.

With so much going on—and most of it out of his sight, Charlie seems more lost than usual, a befuddled innocent bystander in his own series. Fortunately, when the various plot threads finally do come together, Charlie’s there to ride out the stormy conclusion. But by then, it may be too late for readers new to the series.

Teri Duerr
2011-03-25 23:38:33

Three-time Edgar winner T. Jefferson Parker has made a name for himself over the years, cranking out tough, ambitious crime novels focusing on the moral and ethical challenges faced by the men and women who work law enforcement in Southern California. These are smart, savvy books full of crisscrossing subplots and multiple viewpoints, high on moral ambiguity and short on easy, pat answers.

But The Border Lords, the fourth book to feature journeyman cop Charlie Hood (last seen in Iron River earlier this year) is something else. Mostly because this time it’s difficult to suss out exactly what’s going on—a marked change for a writer as generally rooted in clean, clear storytelling as Parker. Initially things seem pretty straightforward: Charlie is on loan to the Feds at Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, where fellow ATF agent Sean Ozburn has been deep undercover for an inordinate length of time, hopping back and forth across the US-Mexico border, buying and selling houses and guns, slowly building up a case against the notorious Baja drug cartel. But the young operative’s behavior has become increasingly erratic of late, to the point where Charlie and his team must confront the very distinct possibility that Sean’s gone seriously rogue—or completely over the edge.

Parker gets a big thumbs up for hinting that Sean’s abrupt about-face may involve more than the usual cop pulp fare of corruption and coercion, dangling left-field suggestions of everything from poison to the supernatural. Whether the author pulls it off—and whether readers want hot-tub soaked New Age hokum introduced into their gritty police stories—is another matter. Parker lets the reasons for Sean’s fall from grace dangle for far too long. It doesn’t help that Charlie, never the most dynamic of series heroes, ends up playing second banana here not just to the scenery-chewing Sean and his frantic wife Seliah (who seems to be slipping into the same darkness), but also to ambitious (and ambitiously crooked) rookie cop Bradley Jones, Bradley’s rock star wife, and to a mysterious interloper with apparently mystical powers who claims to be eternal.

With so much going on—and most of it out of his sight, Charlie seems more lost than usual, a befuddled innocent bystander in his own series. Fortunately, when the various plot threads finally do come together, Charlie’s there to ride out the stormy conclusion. But by then, it may be too late for readers new to the series.

Rock Bottom
Verna Suit

Erin Brockovich is not a name one expects to see on the cover of a mystery novel. Most people know her as the feisty environmental activist played by Julia Roberts in an Oscar-winning turn in the 2000 movie Erin Brockovich. But in Rock Bottom, co-authored with medical suspense writer CJ Lyons, Brockovich shows she can crusade against industrial pollution in fiction, too.

Angela Joy (“AJ”) Palladino is an environmental activist who finds herself out of a job and forced to go back home to Scotia, West Virginia, an “insular unforgiving small town” that she left ten years ago when she was 17 and pregnant. She has a job lined up with an activist lawyer in town, but he dies suddenly of an apparent heart attack. AJ and the lawyer’s daughter join forces to take up his fight against King Coal—specifically, mountaintop removal extraction, which is destroying AJ’s beautiful home state and polluting its drinking water.

AJ and Erin share many characteristics. Both are hotheaded and get in trouble through their big mouths. AJ, like Erin, is a courageous heroine we are happy to cheer on. Another courageous character is AJ’s nine-year-old son, David, who is in a wheelchair with cerebral palsy. He may be handicapped physically, but his wits and bravery ultimately save the day.

Rock Bottom takes the reader for a wild ride along winding West Virginia mountain roads, alternating between heartwarming scenes and bone-chilling crises. Cliffhangers keep the pages turning, up to a spectacularly exciting climax. Brockovich’s debut thriller is the first in a planned series and that’s good news for readers.

Teri Duerr
2011-03-25 23:56:16

brockovich_rockbottomIn Rock Bottom, Brockovich shows she can crusade against industrial pollution in fiction, too.

The Death Instinct
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

This wildly entertaining book mixes fact and fiction effortlessly into a thrilling adventure. The action begins with a September terrorist attack in New York City, one that killed and injured many innocent people. But the year is not 2001. It’s 1920. And that part of the story is factual.

Who was behind the attack? How did one person, who may or may not be insane, know about the attack beforehand? And how does Madame Curie fit into the plot? All of these questions (with historically true answers) are resolved, thanks to the efforts of three fictional characters: James Littlemore, a New York police captain; Dr. Stratham Younger, a World War I medic; and Colette Rousseau, a French nurse with a background in radiochemistry.

The story moves with breathtaking speed from New York City to Paris, Prague, Vienna and Washington, DC. Along the way, we meet a number of real people, including Mme. Curie, Sigmund Freud, and a host of New York and Washington politicians of the time. Although the plot twists and turns in unexpected ways, it’s easy to follow, building interest along the way.

One of the best parts of the book is the discourse between Sigmund Freud and Dr. Younger. It captures the essence of Freud’s theories and the rationale behind them. The fact that the author is a Freud scholar as well as a Yale Law professor helps bring clarity and intelligence to these discussions and to the book as a whole.

Of special interest is the “Author’s Note” in the back of the book that explains which characters and which parts of the story were real and which were imagined by the author. This provided a perfect cap to a sensational read.

Teri Duerr
2011-03-26 00:05:51

This wildly entertaining book mixes fact and fiction effortlessly into a thrilling adventure. The action begins with a September terrorist attack in New York City, one that killed and injured many innocent people. But the year is not 2001. It’s 1920. And that part of the story is factual.

Who was behind the attack? How did one person, who may or may not be insane, know about the attack beforehand? And how does Madame Curie fit into the plot? All of these questions (with historically true answers) are resolved, thanks to the efforts of three fictional characters: James Littlemore, a New York police captain; Dr. Stratham Younger, a World War I medic; and Colette Rousseau, a French nurse with a background in radiochemistry.

The story moves with breathtaking speed from New York City to Paris, Prague, Vienna and Washington, DC. Along the way, we meet a number of real people, including Mme. Curie, Sigmund Freud, and a host of New York and Washington politicians of the time. Although the plot twists and turns in unexpected ways, it’s easy to follow, building interest along the way.

One of the best parts of the book is the discourse between Sigmund Freud and Dr. Younger. It captures the essence of Freud’s theories and the rationale behind them. The fact that the author is a Freud scholar as well as a Yale Law professor helps bring clarity and intelligence to these discussions and to the book as a whole.

Of special interest is the “Author’s Note” in the back of the book that explains which characters and which parts of the story were real and which were imagined by the author. This provided a perfect cap to a sensational read.

The Anatomy of Ghosts
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

Jerusalem College, Cambridge, in 1786 was an enclosed fortress attended by the sons of the wealthy and powerful, a place where more than a little skullduggery was afoot. Into this educational bastion comes John Holdsworth, a bookseller from a nearby town who has fallen on hard times after the deaths of his wife and son.

Holdsworth has been commissioned by Lady Anne Oldershaw, a wealthy widow, ostensibly to determine if the library at Jerusalem College is suitable for a donation of her late husband’s valuable books. His real mission, however, is to investigate why her son, a student, has been deemed mentally unstable after claiming to have seen the ghost of a woman who recently drowned at the college. Before long, Holdsworth, who has his own “ghosts” to deal with, finds himself looking into a suspicious death, a student Hellfire-style club called the Holy Ghosts where wealthy students commit immoral acts, and certain people at the University who will stop at nothing to protect their lifestyles and reputations.

Andrew Taylor writes so vividly and is so meticulous in his descriptions of the time and place that you’ll feel you are there in the hallowed halls and the grimy streets. The map of Jerusalem College and environs at the front of the book was quite helpful as was the list of the many characters. There is an eerie suspense to the writing style, which is maintained throughout the circuitous plot. Events are hinted at but not explained until the end.

Taylor has won nearly every crime writing award on both sides of the Atlantic and is a recipient of the 2009 Cartier Diamond Dagger for sustained excellence in crime writing. The Anatomy of Ghosts is a glowing example of his talents.

Teri Duerr
2011-03-26 00:13:15

Jerusalem College, Cambridge, in 1786 was an enclosed fortress attended by the sons of the wealthy and powerful, a place where more than a little skullduggery was afoot. Into this educational bastion comes John Holdsworth, a bookseller from a nearby town who has fallen on hard times after the deaths of his wife and son.

Holdsworth has been commissioned by Lady Anne Oldershaw, a wealthy widow, ostensibly to determine if the library at Jerusalem College is suitable for a donation of her late husband’s valuable books. His real mission, however, is to investigate why her son, a student, has been deemed mentally unstable after claiming to have seen the ghost of a woman who recently drowned at the college. Before long, Holdsworth, who has his own “ghosts” to deal with, finds himself looking into a suspicious death, a student Hellfire-style club called the Holy Ghosts where wealthy students commit immoral acts, and certain people at the University who will stop at nothing to protect their lifestyles and reputations.

Andrew Taylor writes so vividly and is so meticulous in his descriptions of the time and place that you’ll feel you are there in the hallowed halls and the grimy streets. The map of Jerusalem College and environs at the front of the book was quite helpful as was the list of the many characters. There is an eerie suspense to the writing style, which is maintained throughout the circuitous plot. Events are hinted at but not explained until the end.

Taylor has won nearly every crime writing award on both sides of the Atlantic and is a recipient of the 2009 Cartier Diamond Dagger for sustained excellence in crime writing. The Anatomy of Ghosts is a glowing example of his talents.

The October Killings
Verna Suit

When Abigail Bukula was 15, white South African soldier Leon Lourens saved her life during a raid on an ANC safe house. Now 20 years later, Leon asks for Abby’s help in saving his own life. For the last few years, someone has been killing the team members of that raid on October 22, the anniversary of her rescue. On October 18, Leon is kidnapped and Abby enlists the help of experienced criminologist Yudel Gordon to find Leon before he is dead, too.

Yudel was featured in three of Wessel Ebersohn’s earlier political thrillers but this is the first appearance for up-and-coming young lawyer Abby, whose parents were active in the anti-apartheid struggle. Abby and Yudel represent the uneasy racial balance in contemporary South Africa: an ambitious young black woman and an aging white professional just glad to still have a role in the new society. Their collaboration reflects the kind of “empowerment partnership” encouraged between blacks and whites in order to do business in the country.

Permeating The October Killings is the theme of South Africa’s growing pains and the difficulties of creating a new society after apartheid. Thumbnail sketches show citizens at various levels adapting to changed circumstances. Another theme is the moral ambiguity of the violence perpetrated during the Struggle. The killer that Yudel and Abby are trying to track down has been hailed as a hero of the liberation, but the truth may be that he is more of an evil Superman, a psychopath who uses revolutionary fervor as a pretext to kill.

The story drags in places and the ending is left unresolved, but for anyone interested in South Africa, The October Killings provides fascinating insights into the struggle against apartheid and, 11 years after the revolution, the ongoing battle to make a new society work.

Teri Duerr
2011-03-26 00:20:29

When Abigail Bukula was 15, white South African soldier Leon Lourens saved her life during a raid on an ANC safe house. Now 20 years later, Leon asks for Abby’s help in saving his own life. For the last few years, someone has been killing the team members of that raid on October 22, the anniversary of her rescue. On October 18, Leon is kidnapped and Abby enlists the help of experienced criminologist Yudel Gordon to find Leon before he is dead, too.

Yudel was featured in three of Wessel Ebersohn’s earlier political thrillers but this is the first appearance for up-and-coming young lawyer Abby, whose parents were active in the anti-apartheid struggle. Abby and Yudel represent the uneasy racial balance in contemporary South Africa: an ambitious young black woman and an aging white professional just glad to still have a role in the new society. Their collaboration reflects the kind of “empowerment partnership” encouraged between blacks and whites in order to do business in the country.

Permeating The October Killings is the theme of South Africa’s growing pains and the difficulties of creating a new society after apartheid. Thumbnail sketches show citizens at various levels adapting to changed circumstances. Another theme is the moral ambiguity of the violence perpetrated during the Struggle. The killer that Yudel and Abby are trying to track down has been hailed as a hero of the liberation, but the truth may be that he is more of an evil Superman, a psychopath who uses revolutionary fervor as a pretext to kill.

The story drags in places and the ending is left unresolved, but for anyone interested in South Africa, The October Killings provides fascinating insights into the struggle against apartheid and, 11 years after the revolution, the ongoing battle to make a new society work.

Learning to Swim
Barbara Fister

As she rides the ferry across Lake Champlain, Troy Chance glances at a ferry headed in the opposite direction and sees something—a child’s face?—as a bundle topples from the deck into the cold water. Impulsively, she dives in and finds the bundle is, indeed, a child of about six, bundled in a tightly tied sweatshirt. It’s a long, hard swim back to shore, where oddly enough nobody has reported the boy missing. The traumatized child himself is not talking, except to murmur a couple of words in French.

Troy, who lives an independent and outdoorsy life as a freelance reporter, finds herself captivated by the fragile boy and is reluctant to take him to the authorities, fearing he may be returned to an abusive family. Instead, she uses her journalistic skills to discover he is the son of a Quebecois businessman, whose wife and child were abducted for ransom months earlier. She isn’t sure she can trust the child’s father. All she knows is that she cares too much about the child to turn back.

Though at times the plot depends on Troy taking actions that aren’t entirely rational, the depth of her attachment to a little boy who toppled into her life is brought to life on the page. Learning to Swim is a suspenseful mystery with a rich emotional texture.

Teri Duerr
2011-03-26 00:26:56

As she rides the ferry across Lake Champlain, Troy Chance glances at a ferry headed in the opposite direction and sees something—a child’s face?—as a bundle topples from the deck into the cold water. Impulsively, she dives in and finds the bundle is, indeed, a child of about six, bundled in a tightly tied sweatshirt. It’s a long, hard swim back to shore, where oddly enough nobody has reported the boy missing. The traumatized child himself is not talking, except to murmur a couple of words in French.

Troy, who lives an independent and outdoorsy life as a freelance reporter, finds herself captivated by the fragile boy and is reluctant to take him to the authorities, fearing he may be returned to an abusive family. Instead, she uses her journalistic skills to discover he is the son of a Quebecois businessman, whose wife and child were abducted for ransom months earlier. She isn’t sure she can trust the child’s father. All she knows is that she cares too much about the child to turn back.

Though at times the plot depends on Troy taking actions that aren’t entirely rational, the depth of her attachment to a little boy who toppled into her life is brought to life on the page. Learning to Swim is a suspenseful mystery with a rich emotional texture.

Three Seconds
M. Schlecht

So the holidays are over—trees curbed, stockings unhung, joyful carols joyfully absent from the radio for another eight months.... Hopefully you managed to pack in a lot of feel-good reading along with the cookies and eggnog, because the bleak early months of the year call for something cold and calculating like Roslund and Hellström’s latest thriller, Three Seconds.

The formidable Swedish writing duo, a journalist and an ex-con, respectively, are experts in the art of the slow reveal, detailing principal characters with precise close-ups before setting in motion the next frame. Piet Hoffmann is the enigmatic man on the run in most of them, an informant for the Swedish police who has infiltrated and ascended the ranks of a Polish mafia outfit looking to control the drug market in Stockholm. His handler takes care of the legal gray zones, but an unplanned murder sparks an investigation by Detective Inspector Ewert Grens, a man typecast from the Swedish Department of Aging Insomniacs With Holes in Their Hearts, who quickly suspects that something is amiss.

The narrative pushes forward at a sometimes excruciatingly methodical pace, and Hoffmann—a classic stoic whose wife and child know nothing of his real occupation—finds his operating room squeezed into the size of a prison cell, where both the government and his mafia employer believe he can further their differing interests. Deftly handling much trial with little error, Hoffmann completes his mission behind bars (with help from the local public library), and reaps the seeds of insurance within Roslund and Hellström's ingenious plot that give him a fighting chance to survive the bloody aftermath. Tautly translated by Kari Dickson, Three Seconds is a heaping dose of insightful, clear-eyed crime fiction that will do away with any lingering holiday hangovers.

Teri Duerr
2011-03-26 00:33:16

So the holidays are over—trees curbed, stockings unhung, joyful carols joyfully absent from the radio for another eight months.... Hopefully you managed to pack in a lot of feel-good reading along with the cookies and eggnog, because the bleak early months of the year call for something cold and calculating like Roslund and Hellström’s latest thriller, Three Seconds.

The formidable Swedish writing duo, a journalist and an ex-con, respectively, are experts in the art of the slow reveal, detailing principal characters with precise close-ups before setting in motion the next frame. Piet Hoffmann is the enigmatic man on the run in most of them, an informant for the Swedish police who has infiltrated and ascended the ranks of a Polish mafia outfit looking to control the drug market in Stockholm. His handler takes care of the legal gray zones, but an unplanned murder sparks an investigation by Detective Inspector Ewert Grens, a man typecast from the Swedish Department of Aging Insomniacs With Holes in Their Hearts, who quickly suspects that something is amiss.

The narrative pushes forward at a sometimes excruciatingly methodical pace, and Hoffmann—a classic stoic whose wife and child know nothing of his real occupation—finds his operating room squeezed into the size of a prison cell, where both the government and his mafia employer believe he can further their differing interests. Deftly handling much trial with little error, Hoffmann completes his mission behind bars (with help from the local public library), and reaps the seeds of insurance within Roslund and Hellström's ingenious plot that give him a fighting chance to survive the bloody aftermath. Tautly translated by Kari Dickson, Three Seconds is a heaping dose of insightful, clear-eyed crime fiction that will do away with any lingering holiday hangovers.

Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun
Lynne F. Maxwell

Make way for Lois Winston’s promising new series featuring the witty and acerbic Anastasia Pollack, who is the crafts editor for a major New York women’s magazine. As Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun begins, Anastasia is undergoing a few major assaults—of the psychological kind. Not only has her beloved just dropped dead abruptly, but he did so at a Vegas casino, having lied about his whereabouts. Instead of attending a boring conference in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, he was gambling away the family savings, leaving Anastasia virtually penniless and her two sons stripped of their college funds. To make matters even worse, she is persecuted by a loan shark who demands repayment of a $50,000 debt incurred by her late husband.

But wait, there’s more. Anastasia’s communist mother-in-law has taken up residence at her house, as has her own mother, a serial widow—and the two are sworn enemies. And this is just her home life. Her workplace, the office of a popular women’s magazine, is poisoned by the abusive behavior of a universally loathed senior employee—at least, that is, until she is murdered at Anastasia’s desk. And the murder weapon? Yes, you guessed it: Anastasia’s glue gun. By now I have revealed enough of the plot for you to get a sense of Winston’s zany imagination. Suffice it to say that Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun is great fun and I’ll be eagerly awaiting the next installment in this thoroughly delightful series.

Teri Duerr
2011-03-28 16:12:48

winston_assaultdeadlygluegun A promising new series featuring the witty and acerbic Anastasia Pollack, a New York crafts editor.

Come and Find Me
Betty Webb

Suspense fans love the thrill of the chase, so how is it possible to write a successful suspense novel when the protagonist is an agoraphobe who’s afraid to leave her home? Diana Banks, a reformed “black hat” computer hacker, hasn’t left her bunker-like house since her husband Daniel died in a mountain climbing accident. Grief-stricken and terrified of the outside world, she supports herself by working as a computer security consultant for a nationwide health care organization, and lives her “social” life online in the guise of Nadia, her computer game avatar.

Diana appears to be making the best of an unhealthy situation until her sister Ashley disappears. After being blown off by the cops, she realizes the only way to find Ashley is to overcome her terror of the outside world and search for her sister herself.

Psychologically astute and emotionally gripping, author Ephron understands that the fears we inflict upon ourselves can be more crippling than a man with a gun. She brings readers into Diana’s anguished mind so completely that no shoot-outs or car crashes are necessary for us to feel terror right along with her when she leaves her house for the first time in ages. But Diana’s love for her sister trumps her fear. Almost as gripping as the psychological suspense is Ephron’s take on the black hat versus white hat hacker wars, which reveals how their online shoot-outs can have real-life consequences for us all. A unique and compelling novel to be read more than once.

Teri Duerr
2011-03-28 16:22:37

ephron_comeandfindmeHow do you write a thrilling suspense novel when the protagonist is an agoraphobe afraid to leave home?

Noche Roja
Betty Webb

The torture and murders of dozens of young women in the border town of Ciudad Juárez are infamous, and in this wrenching illustrated novel, they are front and center. Drunken PI Jack Cohen falls into this morass when he’s hired by Paloma Flores, a hollow-eyed beauty who runs a Mexican women’s aid agency. Already grieving because so many of her clients have turned up dead, Flores becomes even more anguished when an innocent 14-year-old disappears on the way home from her job at the maquiladora, a border factory. Flores knows that chances are good the girl will wind up tossed onto the same garbage dump where other victims were found. Cohen, meanwhile, is trying his best to stay sober, but it’s a losing battle, especially when he discovers that the sex crimes have high connections. They are rooted in a snake’s nest of dirty cops and politicians, all of them milking NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement, which allows for easy-access commerce between the US and Mexico).

The girls and women of Juarez are caught in the middle. Despised by men on both sides of the border, they have only one way of escaping their horrific lives—to work at the maquiladoras until they’ve saved enough money to buy their way out. This is grim stuff. Writer Oliver spares us no details about the women’s mutilations, as well as the thoughts and language of the men responsible for their fate. Artist Latour’s work is purposely crude, and each of his panels is filled with massive shadows and brutish faces. There’s no beauty here, nor was there meant to be.

Teri Duerr
2011-03-28 16:32:38

The torture and murders of dozens of young women in the border town of Ciudad Juárez are infamous, and in this wrenching illustrated novel, they are front and center. Drunken PI Jack Cohen falls into this morass when he’s hired by Paloma Flores, a hollow-eyed beauty who runs a Mexican women’s aid agency. Already grieving because so many of her clients have turned up dead, Flores becomes even more anguished when an innocent 14-year-old disappears on the way home from her job at the maquiladora, a border factory. Flores knows that chances are good the girl will wind up tossed onto the same garbage dump where other victims were found. Cohen, meanwhile, is trying his best to stay sober, but it’s a losing battle, especially when he discovers that the sex crimes have high connections. They are rooted in a snake’s nest of dirty cops and politicians, all of them milking NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement, which allows for easy-access commerce between the US and Mexico).

The girls and women of Juarez are caught in the middle. Despised by men on both sides of the border, they have only one way of escaping their horrific lives—to work at the maquiladoras until they’ve saved enough money to buy their way out. This is grim stuff. Writer Oliver spares us no details about the women’s mutilations, as well as the thoughts and language of the men responsible for their fate. Artist Latour’s work is purposely crude, and each of his panels is filled with massive shadows and brutish faces. There’s no beauty here, nor was there meant to be.

The Cruel Ever After
Verna Suit

Chester (“Chess”) Garrity is a freelance dealer in antiquities who has come to Minneapolis to try to sell a statue looted from the Baghdad Museum. When he finds his would-be buyer dead he needs to lie low and moves into his ex-wife’s guest room. He is looking for a new buyer and carrying on a sometime affair with his co-conspirator Irina Nelson when Irina’s mother is killed and her antiquities shop is ransacked. Chess becomes the primary suspect and begs his ex-wife for help.

His ex is none other than restaurateur Jane Lawless, an upstanding member of the local lesbian community. Jane isn’t proud of their brief marriage of convenience and wants to keep it quiet, but she also wants to help Chess. The problem is, there is so much about him that she doesn’t know, and what she thought she knew is turning out to be false.

The Cruel Ever After, 18th in Hart’s Jane Lawless series, is a sophisticated traditional mystery. The complex story centers on the problems that Chess’ shady dealings and arrival in Minneapolis cause for the families of the women in his life. Jane’s lawyer father and her brother’s family are dragged in because of their ties to Jane.

Jane’s colorful and overdramatic friend Cordelia provides comic relief to the otherwise serious situation brought on by Chess’ chronic lying and Irina’s increasingly fragile mental state. The leisurely pacing allows in-depth examination of highly emotional situations and complex family dynamics, the volatile ingredients of a surprising climax.

Teri Duerr
2011-03-28 16:43:19

Chester (“Chess”) Garrity is a freelance dealer in antiquities who has come to Minneapolis to try to sell a statue looted from the Baghdad Museum. When he finds his would-be buyer dead he needs to lie low and moves into his ex-wife’s guest room. He is looking for a new buyer and carrying on a sometime affair with his co-conspirator Irina Nelson when Irina’s mother is killed and her antiquities shop is ransacked. Chess becomes the primary suspect and begs his ex-wife for help.

His ex is none other than restaurateur Jane Lawless, an upstanding member of the local lesbian community. Jane isn’t proud of their brief marriage of convenience and wants to keep it quiet, but she also wants to help Chess. The problem is, there is so much about him that she doesn’t know, and what she thought she knew is turning out to be false.

The Cruel Ever After, 18th in Hart’s Jane Lawless series, is a sophisticated traditional mystery. The complex story centers on the problems that Chess’ shady dealings and arrival in Minneapolis cause for the families of the women in his life. Jane’s lawyer father and her brother’s family are dragged in because of their ties to Jane.

Jane’s colorful and overdramatic friend Cordelia provides comic relief to the otherwise serious situation brought on by Chess’ chronic lying and Irina’s increasingly fragile mental state. The leisurely pacing allows in-depth examination of highly emotional situations and complex family dynamics, the volatile ingredients of a surprising climax.

Found Wanting
Hank Wagner

Richard Eusden is on his way to his humdrum job in the UK Foreign Office one morning when, to his great surprise, he sees a Mazda driven by his ex-wife Gemma in the street in front of him. He joins her in her car and is even more surprised when he learns her purpose in seeking him out after so many years: she wants him to deliver a locked briefcase to her other ex-husband, Eusden’s estranged friend, Marty Hewitson. Because of their past relationship, and because it involves his former bosom buddy Marty, Eusden reluctantly agrees, thus embarking on a long, strange, dangerous trip across several European cities, which, although he does not realize it immediately, may cost him his life.

At times evoking Graham Greene’s The Third Man or John Buchan’s tales of Richard Hannay, Goddard seduces readers with irresistible cliffhangers and colorful locales, as well as a sympathetic leading man, one readers can easily identify with and root for as he attempts to unravel a labyrinthine conspiracy involving a woman claiming to be Anastasia, last of the Romanov royal family. Found Wanting is an absolutely wonderful read—fresh and innovative, blending great writing with intelligent plotting, good humor, nail-biting suspense, and sudden violence.

Teri Duerr
2011-03-28 16:49:30

Richard Eusden is on his way to his humdrum job in the UK Foreign Office one morning when, to his great surprise, he sees a Mazda driven by his ex-wife Gemma in the street in front of him. He joins her in her car and is even more surprised when he learns her purpose in seeking him out after so many years: she wants him to deliver a locked briefcase to her other ex-husband, Eusden’s estranged friend, Marty Hewitson. Because of their past relationship, and because it involves his former bosom buddy Marty, Eusden reluctantly agrees, thus embarking on a long, strange, dangerous trip across several European cities, which, although he does not realize it immediately, may cost him his life.

At times evoking Graham Greene’s The Third Man or John Buchan’s tales of Richard Hannay, Goddard seduces readers with irresistible cliffhangers and colorful locales, as well as a sympathetic leading man, one readers can easily identify with and root for as he attempts to unravel a labyrinthine conspiracy involving a woman claiming to be Anastasia, last of the Romanov royal family. Found Wanting is an absolutely wonderful read—fresh and innovative, blending great writing with intelligent plotting, good humor, nail-biting suspense, and sudden violence.

Force of Habit
Dori Cocuz

In Force of Habit Giulia Falcone, formerly Sister Mary Regina Coelis, is perfectly happy just to have a job as an office assistant for PI Frank Driscoll. It pays enough to cover her rent and bills, and she can concentrate on trying to fit back into life outside the convent. But when playboy client Blake Parker and his fiancée start receiving threatening packages with passages from the Hebrew Bible’s Song of Solomon, Giulia’s expertise is needed to crack the case.

Before she knows it, she’s Frank’s partner-in-training, and falling for Frank in a big way. But when the person threatening Blake and his fiancée begins targeting Giulia as well, things go from weird to disturbingly kinky to just plain dangerous.

Force of Habit does not boast the strongest writing, and readers may find the bizarre ending a bit too over the top, but Giulia herself is a unique and engaging character—made more interesting, no doubt, by the fact that Loweecey is a former nun herself. When Giulia’s life starts to unravel and we really see what she’s made of, this reader truly began to root for her. And when Frank allows his perception of reality to unfairly color his opinion of her, readers won’t be able to help but feel righteous indignation on her behalf. And whether they’ve been a nun or not, plenty of readers will relate to Giulia’s struggle to embrace herself and her sexuality without the burden of guilt.

Genteel readers should be warned that this book contains explicit sex and incest. And Catholic readers should be aware Loweecey often implies that the goings-on behind convent doors are not as serene as one would believe. As a non-Catholic reader, I am intrigued, and hope to learn more in her next book.

Teri Duerr
2011-03-28 16:54:01

In Force of Habit Giulia Falcone, formerly Sister Mary Regina Coelis, is perfectly happy just to have a job as an office assistant for PI Frank Driscoll. It pays enough to cover her rent and bills, and she can concentrate on trying to fit back into life outside the convent. But when playboy client Blake Parker and his fiancée start receiving threatening packages with passages from the Hebrew Bible’s Song of Solomon, Giulia’s expertise is needed to crack the case.

Before she knows it, she’s Frank’s partner-in-training, and falling for Frank in a big way. But when the person threatening Blake and his fiancée begins targeting Giulia as well, things go from weird to disturbingly kinky to just plain dangerous.

Force of Habit does not boast the strongest writing, and readers may find the bizarre ending a bit too over the top, but Giulia herself is a unique and engaging character—made more interesting, no doubt, by the fact that Loweecey is a former nun herself. When Giulia’s life starts to unravel and we really see what she’s made of, this reader truly began to root for her. And when Frank allows his perception of reality to unfairly color his opinion of her, readers won’t be able to help but feel righteous indignation on her behalf. And whether they’ve been a nun or not, plenty of readers will relate to Giulia’s struggle to embrace herself and her sexuality without the burden of guilt.

Genteel readers should be warned that this book contains explicit sex and incest. And Catholic readers should be aware Loweecey often implies that the goings-on behind convent doors are not as serene as one would believe. As a non-Catholic reader, I am intrigued, and hope to learn more in her next book.

Heartstone
Oline H. Cogdill

A country in the midst of a controversial war, besieged by inflation and economic crisis, with a leader whose popularity is plummeting and whose policies are constantly questioned—welcome to Tudor England during the uneasy summer of 1545.

The already overtaxed British people, whose coinage has been devalued by King Henry VIII, prepare for attack by the huge French fleet at Portsmouth. Nearly every able-bodied man has been drafted to fight the war. To say the British people are a little fed up by their sovereign is an understatement.

In these uncertain times, English attorney Matthew Shardlake is asked by Queen Catherine Parr to look into a private matter. The son of an old servant of the queen recently committed suicide, distraught because he had learned that “monstrous wrongs” had been inflicted on a former student. Shardlake’s investigation links the student, a ward of the court, with that of a rape victim, who has been institutionalized in Bedlam for more than 20 years. As with anything dealing with the royal court, Shardlake’s latest case is a minefield of political intrigue.

C.J. Sansom delivers a sumptuous, epic story about Tudor England in his fifth novel featuring the brilliant and compassionate Shardlake. Despite its length—640 pages—Heartstone moves briskly, working equally as a war novel and a story about privilege, unchecked power, and abject poverty. Shardlake’s quest for justice has never been more profound than in Heartstone and his concerns never more relevant to today.

Teri Duerr
2011-03-28 16:59:29

A country in the midst of a controversial war, besieged by inflation and economic crisis, with a leader whose popularity is plummeting and whose policies are constantly questioned—welcome to Tudor England during the uneasy summer of 1545.

The already overtaxed British people, whose coinage has been devalued by King Henry VIII, prepare for attack by the huge French fleet at Portsmouth. Nearly every able-bodied man has been drafted to fight the war. To say the British people are a little fed up by their sovereign is an understatement.

In these uncertain times, English attorney Matthew Shardlake is asked by Queen Catherine Parr to look into a private matter. The son of an old servant of the queen recently committed suicide, distraught because he had learned that “monstrous wrongs” had been inflicted on a former student. Shardlake’s investigation links the student, a ward of the court, with that of a rape victim, who has been institutionalized in Bedlam for more than 20 years. As with anything dealing with the royal court, Shardlake’s latest case is a minefield of political intrigue.

C.J. Sansom delivers a sumptuous, epic story about Tudor England in his fifth novel featuring the brilliant and compassionate Shardlake. Despite its length—640 pages—Heartstone moves briskly, working equally as a war novel and a story about privilege, unchecked power, and abject poverty. Shardlake’s quest for justice has never been more profound than in Heartstone and his concerns never more relevant to today.

Gone
Leslie Doran

A woman loading groceries into the back of her car is violently shoved aside and a stranger sporting a rubber Santa mask grabs her keys and takes off. She tries to hang on to the car but she is helpless to prevent her daughter, in the back seat, from being stolen away. British author Hayder plays on the fears of every parent in the compelling opening of her seventh novel, Gone.

Detective Inspector Jack Caffery of the Major Crime Investigation Unit arrives on the scene expecting the carjacker to follow past actions where the unexpected presence of children are involved—drop them off somewhere fast. As the hours drag on with no sign of 11-year-old Martha, Sergeant Flea (Phoebe) Marley, a police diver, puts forth an alternative theory: a horrifying pattern where seemingly unrelated carjackings might actually be a well-organized plan to kidnap the children. But why? When a four-year-old girl is taken and Martha still hasn’t turned up, Caffery and Marley realize the stakes have been raised and the proverbial clock is ticking.

Hayder has written a multilayered story that involves dedicated lead detectives, agonized parents, and a brilliant antagonist (who manages to stay one step ahead of the investigation). The author excels at getting inside Caffery and Marley’s heads as they frantically attempt to discover the villain before another child is taken. Her characters are fascinating; flawed and weighted with their own past, but dealing with the demands of the current case. Caffery in particular relates only too well to this case, because as a child, his own brother was taken and never seen again. The detective also navigates his strained relationship with Marley, which began professionally then veered toward the romantic only to be derailed by Caffery’s belief that Marley was involved in the disappearance of another woman.

Gone is a classic tension-filled thriller, elevated by Hayder’s characterization and her facility with description (which especially shines in Flea’s underwater search scenes). The final pages bring surprising revelations and the story ends with a shocking bang.

Teri Duerr
2011-03-28 17:08:26

A woman loading groceries into the back of her car is violently shoved aside and a stranger sporting a rubber Santa mask grabs her keys and takes off. She tries to hang on to the car but she is helpless to prevent her daughter, in the back seat, from being stolen away. British author Hayder plays on the fears of every parent in the compelling opening of her seventh novel, Gone.

Detective Inspector Jack Caffery of the Major Crime Investigation Unit arrives on the scene expecting the carjacker to follow past actions where the unexpected presence of children are involved—drop them off somewhere fast. As the hours drag on with no sign of 11-year-old Martha, Sergeant Flea (Phoebe) Marley, a police diver, puts forth an alternative theory: a horrifying pattern where seemingly unrelated carjackings might actually be a well-organized plan to kidnap the children. But why? When a four-year-old girl is taken and Martha still hasn’t turned up, Caffery and Marley realize the stakes have been raised and the proverbial clock is ticking.

Hayder has written a multilayered story that involves dedicated lead detectives, agonized parents, and a brilliant antagonist (who manages to stay one step ahead of the investigation). The author excels at getting inside Caffery and Marley’s heads as they frantically attempt to discover the villain before another child is taken. Her characters are fascinating; flawed and weighted with their own past, but dealing with the demands of the current case. Caffery in particular relates only too well to this case, because as a child, his own brother was taken and never seen again. The detective also navigates his strained relationship with Marley, which began professionally then veered toward the romantic only to be derailed by Caffery’s belief that Marley was involved in the disappearance of another woman.

Gone is a classic tension-filled thriller, elevated by Hayder’s characterization and her facility with description (which especially shines in Flea’s underwater search scenes). The final pages bring surprising revelations and the story ends with a shocking bang.