The Twisted Thread
Lynne F. Maxwell

There’s no other way to say it: this is an astonishing book. Bacon’s prose, plot, and characterization are superb. The novel begins with the discovery of the murder of Claire Harkness, a beautiful senior at Armitage Academy, a preeminent prep school located on a lovely Maine campus. Attractive, bright and not-quite-likable, Claire was prototypical of the privileged, entitled Armitage student. Or, was she, really?

As the plot of The Twisted Thread unravels. It seems that Claire was full of surprises, not least the fact that, unbeknownst to any of her teachers, she was pregnant and had recently delivered a baby boy. With the assistance of a team of girls belonging to the secret society to which she was elected head, Claire managed to pull this off—until, that is, she was murdered and the baby kidnapped. Who killed Claire—and why? Who was the baby’s father? What follows is a tale of wealth, neglect and revenge, concluding with the unmasking of Armitage Academy, exposing its true character of subterranean ugliness.

Bacon dazzles with the elegance of her narrative. In fact, her precise prose verges on the poetic in a story that skillfully explores the disconnect between appearance and reality, surface and depth. But to counterbalance the novel’s ruminations on the darker side of human nature, Bacon also gives readers two admirable and complex characters: Madeline Christopher, an intern at the school, and Matt Corelli, a police detective with an Ivy League degree and a connection with Armitage. In the midst of a lot of human failings and viciousness, these two heroes struggle toward comprehension of the crime and of themselves.

Teri Duerr
2011-07-07 15:29:55

Prose, plot, and characterization combine in this superb novel about what lies beneath the surface.

Cozy With an Edge
Oline H. Cogdill

Beaton_Chesney_MarionFrom the Scottish Highlands to the English Cotswolds, M.C. Beaton laces lovely landscapes with an acidic wit.

During her writing career, M.C. Beaton has been called many things—Sarah Chester, Helen Crampton, Ann Fairfax, Marion Gibbons, Jennie Tremaine, Charlotte Ward, and her real name, Marion Chesney.

Marion Chesney has had just as many professions—bookseller, journalist, theater critic, fashion magazine editor, crime reporter, BBC commentator, and of course she is the author of the Hamish Macbeth and Agatha Raisin series.

Chesney/Beaton’s push for variety led her to publish 101 historical romance novels and 44 mysteries.

Her prolific output has earned her a legion of readers on both sides of the pond, who are drawn to her two witty, well-plotted series that foster a contemporary version of the English village mysteries. She’s often been compared to Agatha Christie.

Last year, Beaton was the British guest of honor at two mystery fiction conferences, the Bouchercon in Madison, Wisconsin, and Magna cum Murder at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.

Beaton shows no sign of slowing down. Death of a Chimney Sweep, her 26th novel about the artfully lazy police constable Hamish Macbeth came out in February 2011. The 22nd novel about prickly, pushy Agatha Raisin, to be called As the Pig Turns, is scheduled for publication in fall 2011. She has also written four Edwardian detective novels.

Hamish Macbeth is featured on a popular BBC television series that has been shown in the U.S. on PBS and is now available on DVD. The Agatha Raisin novels have been dramatized on BBC Radio 4.

beaton_hamish_tvIn person, Beaton—let’s call her that for the sake of simplicity and because that’s how most of her mystery readers know her—is a diminutive British lady who is charming and quick-witted, prone to peppering her answers with a joke, a smile or a quote from George Orwell, Robert Louis Stevenson, or W. Somerset Maugham.

Each turn in Beaton’s life has prepared her for a career in crime writing. At least, it seems that’s exactly where she has been heading since her birth in Glasgow, Scotland in 1936. When she was 11, one of her first crushes was Richard Hannay, the hero in The Thirty-Nine Steps. She graduated to Lord Peter Wimsey at age 13. Hanging out at libraries and devouring novels became her favorite pastime.

Her career as a journalist began at age 18 with a cookbook. While working in Glasgow as a bookseller, she helped a customer find a cookbook for a bachelor. On a coffee break a few weeks later, she met the woman again and it turned out she was the features editor of the Glasgow Daily Mail. The editor needed a reporter who could cover a play. Other reporters had turned down the assignment because a nephew of the editor was in the play and any review would have to mention him. Beaton had 50 words to review the play—and, of course, had to throw in a line about the nephew.

Beaton’s turn as a theater critic was followed by stints as a fashion writer, a crime writer, and finally work as a journalist on London’s Fleet Street.

“I would walk down Fleet Street at night and smell the hot paper and see St. Paul’s floodlit and think this was it. It was like six characters in search of an author. Everyone told me it was an exciting job,” said Beaton who added she wasn’t sure she liked being a reporter.

“I used to have Walter Mitty fantasies and if I had a good one, I would save it for the way home. And I read detective stories, one after the other.”

Beaton’s leap to novelist began after she and her husband, Harry Scott Gibbons, a former Middle East correspondent, moved to Brooklyn Heights where they both worked for Rupert Murdoch’s Star newspaper. She began reading Regency romances written by American writers and found herself getting madder and madder.

“I said to my husband, ‘These are crap. The history is wrong, the dialogue is silly, the scenery is off and the writing is just bad.’”

So her husband issued her a challenge—write one herself. It took her agent three days to sell her first Regency novel. The agent took the manuscript on a Friday and by Monday had it sold based on Beaton’s first 50 pages and a plot outline. A month later her agent asked if she could also write novels set in Edwardian times.

“I said ‘sure.’ I thought it was going to be like ‘have some Madeira, my dear,’ but they wanted some candlelight romances.”

Starting in 1979, Beaton began churning out Regency and Edwardian novels and, along the way, acquired an impressive library on the history and fashion of the times.

“It’s not just the history you are writing; it’s the clothing, the snobbery, the feel of the times and the double standards. And the 13th commandment—thou shalt not get found out,” said Beaton, who added that she has begun to weary writing about those eras.

She may have tired of the period, but not of writing. Her debut as M.C. Beaton was just around the corner. You might say she just needed the right hook.

While living in Brooklyn, she and her husband vacationed at a fishing school in an isolated Scottish village. While learning about fly casting, she got to thinking about murder. What better place to set a mystery, she thought, than this remote wilderness.

“Here were 11 of us trapped in the wilderness. What a wonderful place for a murder! Especially this one woman who was irritating the hell out of me.”

Beaton talked to her editor about a series set in Scotland, maintaining the area was ripe for stories.

“You could set your watch back 100 years [in north Scotland],” she said. “It’s like a sped-up nature film. You could believe in fairies up there. It is very beautiful. It’s a fascinating mix of people—those who treat everyone the same way; the cowboys and, yes we have cowboys in Scotland, who can’t stand to see anyone getting on. They don’t like incomers. It’s good for detective stories, what with its weird landscape, twisted mountains and totally landlocked center. It’s as if being in a time-away land.”

Her agent agreed that Beaton certainly had the setting and the makings of a good plot. There was just one problem.

beaton_deathofchimneysweep“She said, but who is the detective?” said Beaton. “I wasn’t going to tell her I hadn’t thought that far. So I said off the top of my head ‘the village bobby.’ So then she has to ask another question—‘What’s his name?’ Well, again, I just said off the top of my head ‘Hamish Macbeth.’”

That was the beginning of Hamish Macbeth, the local constable in Lochdubh, a quiet village in the Scottish Highlands. And not so coincidently, Hamish’s debut in Death of a Gossip in 1985 featured a local fishing school. Beaton’s light approach and snappy dialogue launched her new writing career. Hamish, who “understands the happiness and contentment of the truly unambitious man,” struck a chord with readers.

With a new genre, it was also time for a new name. Her romance novels had been written under several different names.

“Half the time, I didn’t know who I was,” she said.

Her agent told her that since she had made a name—actually several names—for herself with the romances, she needed a new nom de plume so the readers wouldn’t be confused.

“She said give me a name that sounds Scottish, but is not a ‘Mac’ something,” she said. So the author quickly recited an old Scottish ballad:

“Yestreen the queen had four Maries,
The night she’ll hae but three;
There was Marie Seaton, and Marie Beaten,
And Marie Carmichael, and me.”

The agent said she would take Beaton, and the author said she would keep M.C. for Marion Chesney. And a new mystery writer was born.

For several years, Beaton’s popularity increased with each Hamish Macbeth novel. But Beaton wasn’t content to write just one series. During the 1980s, she and her husband moved back to the Cotswolds in the heart of England, a picturesque area famous for its honey-colored limestone villages, castles, and history. The Cotswolds encompass the cities of Bath and Stratford-Upon-Avon and Warwick; the Rollright Stones, considered England’s third most important stone circle after Stonehenge and Avebury; and Malmesbury Abbey.

With all that scenery to serve as inspiration, Beaton’s agent asked her to come up with a detective series set there. It would have been easy for Beaton to clone Hamish and plop him down in the Cotswolds. Instead, she came up with Agatha Raisin, a prickly, pushy snoop who, at 53, is about to retire from her public relations job in London to reinvent herself in the countryside.

Female characters who dominated the genre at the time tended to be in their early to mid-30s, establishing their careers and dealing with their fears of commitment. Agatha had done all that. She retired at the height of her career, and, as good as she was at public relations, she was a bumbling sleuth in the early books. Divorced, her ex-husband wouldn’t appear in the series until the fifth novel. Still, Agatha has several close, though not always successful, relationships with men. Her obsessiveness, her completely politically incorrect approach to life and her rudeness belied a vulnerability that connected with readers. Agatha may act as if she thinks she’s a little more sophisticated than her neighbors, but in truth she desperately wants to be accepted by the villagers. The child of alcoholic parents, Agatha is a self-made woman.

“I wanted to create someone you might not like but who you wanted to win out in the end,” she said.

As in the Hamish novels, Agatha’s Cotswolds are as much of a character as the villagers.

“The Cotswolds are very foggy and misty and you think if you could see beyond that (hill) you know there is a perfectly good party going on to which you have not been invited,” said Beaton.

As with the launch of Hamish, Beaton used her own experiences to form the plot of Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death, the series’ 1993 debut. The headmaster at the school Beaton’s son attended asked if she would contribute some of her “splendid home baking” for a fundraiser the academy was holding. Beaton didn’t want to let her son down—and she didn’t want to admit that baking just wasn’t one of her priorities. So she purchased a couple of storebought quiches, prettied them up and passed them off as her own. “They sold for 30 pence a slice. They were a great success,” she said.

In real life, Beaton’s “homemade” quiche helped raise some money for the Vietnamese boat people who the school was sponsoring; in Agatha’s world that store-bought quiche poisoned a judge.

beaton_busybodyIn creating Agatha, Beaton said she wanted a heroine with life’s experiences that she could relate to.

“Fifty can be a bad time for a woman because she’s not yet at menopause, but everything is starting to go south in the body. The lines suddenly seem to spring up overnight and the mustache starts to grow, you know. And the waistline thickens all by itself. That makes Agatha more vulnerable because [aging] is something women approach differently, but they have to come to terms with it.”

“My customers love Agatha Raisin,” said Joanne Sinchuk, owner of Murder on the Beach bookstore in Delray Beach. “They love her spunk. M.C. Beaton offers everything my customers like—a British series set in modern times and a cozy.”

Beaton said she didn’t plan for her two lead characters to be so different. “They just came out that way,” she said.

“Hamish is based on my knowledge of people in the Highlands. Agatha is based on my knowledge of myself.”

Although Beaton’s series are quite different, both examine life in a British village. The village mystery endures, said Beaton, because you have “a small cast of characters in one place and in this world, justice will be done. It’s about friends and neighbors. George Orwell said that middle class crimes are the ones people remember. There are plenty of murders that are a smash on the head or a slash in the gut. But the ones that fascinate are the ones that sort of lift the veil of respectability.”

“Village mysteries also offer readers an escape. Again, in an increasingly violent world, you know that justice will be done here. And that escape is highly entertaining. I always just wanted to be an entertainer. And I think I am an entertainer. I am certainly not literary,” she said with a laugh.

The village mysteries also allow Beaton to share her sharp British sense of humor. British humor has more irony, she says; her humor comes from “cynicism.”

“What makes me laugh is the ridiculous, the unexpected, the quirky.”

And gossip, which shows up in many of her novels and often helps her lead characters uncover the mystery.

“I quite like gossip,” she said with an almost impish smile and a little shrug. “I like finding out about people. Of course, I mean that in a good way.”

The Hamish MacBeth novels were made into a popular British series that lasted for three seasons, from 1995-1997, starring Robert Carlyle. Beaton is not particularly a fan of the series, which she says are nothing like the novels.

“The scenery is good,” she said. “The dog is good.” But that’s pretty much all she has to say on the subject, except: “Do you know they even changed the dog’s name from Towser to Wee Jock?”

Beaton much prefers the radio dramatizations of 12 Agatha novels that have been broadcast for BBC Radio 4 since October 2005. A television production company is now interested in the Agatha novels, but Beaton says only, “We’ll see. We’ll look at that contract very carefully.”

Beaton and her husband share their time between “a very small” cottage in the Cotswolds and a Paris apartment that they rent (“We couldn’t afford to buy there.”) The cottage was built in 1807 (“quite new for around here”) and features a long garden that her husband tends. “I write and read or sit and stare at the wall. If it weren’t for my husband handling all the accounts taxes and so on, I would just give up.”

The couple has one child, a son, Charles, 35, a computer programmer who is unmarried. “I’m a granna-be.”

Juggling the two series does take its toll. Beaton had begun an Edwardian mystery series featuring Lady Rose Summer, an independent 19-year-old. After four novels, Beaton decided to stop because of time constraints. Meanwhile, she plans to write more Hamish or Agatha novels.

“I am a writer,” she said. “That’s what I do. It’s not like you like it—maybe there’s one day out of [writing] each book that’s good. But it’s something you have to do. It’s something you cannot not do.”

Despite the scores of novels she has written, Beaton said she doesn’t know where her characters are going next.

“They are just there when I start writing. It’s a great mistake to fall in love with your characters. The minute you do you forget about the reader. The character must not just appeal to you but to the reader. The reader must be as interested in them as you are.

“I don’t know where either of them is going until starting writing. I actually don’t. If I knew, I think that would break the spirit of the story.”

village_of_Bibury_Cottswolds_crDavid_Iliff

M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin novels make evocative use of the charming English Cotswolds. Shown here is the
village of Bibury. Photo: David Iliff

An M.C. Beaton Reading List

THE HAMISH MACBETH MYSTERIES
Death of a Gossip, 1985
Death of a Cad, 1987
Death of an Outsider, 1988
Death of a Perfect Wife, 1989
Death of a Hussy, 1990
Death of a Snob, 1991
Death of a Prankster, 1992
Death of a Glutton, 1993
Death of a Travelling Man, 1993
Death of a Charming Man, 1994
Death of a Nag, 1995
Death of a Macho Man, 1996
Death of a Dentist, 1997
Death of a Scriptwriter, 1998
Death of an Addict, 1999
A Highland Christmas, 1999
Death of a Dustman, 2001
Death of a Celebrity, 2002
Death of a Village, 2003
Death of a Poison Pen, 2004
Death of a Bore, 2005
Death of a Dreamer, 2006
Death of a Maid, 2007
Death of a Gentle Lady, 2008
Death of a Witch, 2009
Death of a Valentine, 2010
Death of a Chimney Sweep, 2011

THE AGATHA RAISIN MYSTERIES
Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death, 1992*
Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet, 1993
Agatha Raisin and the Potted Gardener, 1994
Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley, 1995
Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage, 1996
Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist, 1997
Agatha Raisin and the Wellspring of Death, 1998
Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham, 1999
Agatha Raisin and the Witch of Wyckhadden, 1999
Agatha Raisin and the Fairies of Fryfam, 2000
Agatha Raisin and the Love from Hell, 2001
Agatha Raisin and the Day the Floods Came, 2002
Agatha Raisin and the Case of the Curious Curate, 2003
Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House, 2003
The Deadly Dance, 2004
The Perfect Paragon, 2005
Love, Lies and Liquor, 2006
Kissing Christmas Goodbye, 2007
A Spoonful of Poison, 2008
There Goes the Bride, 2009
Busy Body, 2010

*In the US, St. Martin’s Press has reissued the first four Agatha Raisin books with abbreviated titles, e.g., The Quiche of Death.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Winter Issue #98.

Teri Duerr
2011-07-07 15:10:26

Beaton_Chesney_MarionFrom the Scottish Highlands to the English Cotswolds, M.C. Beaton laces lovely landscapes with wit.

Tammy Kaehler's "Dead Man's Switch" Revs Up
Oline Cogdill

Get your motors running Saturday, July 9, in Sharon, Connecticut, with Darren Winston Bookseller, Lime Rock Park racetrack, and Mystery Scene for a reading and signing to celebrate the launch of Tammy Kaehler's Dead Man's Switch, the first in a new American Le Mans Mystery series set at Connecticut's real Lime Rock Park raceway.

Readers can pick up an advance copy of this debut mystery due out later this August from Poisoned Pen Press, which features the competitive female Corvette racer Kate Reilly who takes pole position on a list of murder suspects when she gets a dead driver's place in the big race. The first 100 visitors will also receive gift bags including a free issue of Mystery Scene's Summer #120 Issue just out.

"I tell people I'm genetically predisposed to be a sports fan (thanks, dad)," says Kaehler on her site. "By marriage, I'm disposed to like cars. And then I fell into the racing world because I was interested in learning something new. Then I met a woman who used to race cars. It all clicked."

Mystery Scene publishers Kate Stine and Brian Skupin will be on hand, as will Skip Barber, the owner of Lime Rock Park, along with several Corvettes, which will be parked up and down Sharon's Main Street.

See you at the races!

darrenwinstonbooksDead Man's Switch Official Book Launch
5:30-7:30 pm, Saturday, July 9, 2011
Darren Winston Bookseller
81 Main Street
Sharon, Connecticut 06069
Tel: 860-364-1890 | MAP

kaehler_deadmansswitch

Dead Man's Switch
by Tammy Kaehler
Poisoned Pen Press, August 2011, $22.95

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Xav ID 577
2011-07-07 17:46:01

Get your motors running Saturday, July 9, in Sharon, Connecticut, with Darren Winston Bookseller, Lime Rock Park racetrack, and Mystery Scene for a reading and signing to celebrate the launch of Tammy Kaehler's Dead Man's Switch, the first in a new American Le Mans Mystery series set at Connecticut's real Lime Rock Park raceway.

Readers can pick up an advance copy of this debut mystery due out later this August from Poisoned Pen Press, which features the competitive female Corvette racer Kate Reilly who takes pole position on a list of murder suspects when she gets a dead driver's place in the big race. The first 100 visitors will also receive gift bags including a free issue of Mystery Scene's Summer #120 Issue just out.

"I tell people I'm genetically predisposed to be a sports fan (thanks, dad)," says Kaehler on her site. "By marriage, I'm disposed to like cars. And then I fell into the racing world because I was interested in learning something new. Then I met a woman who used to race cars. It all clicked."

Mystery Scene publishers Kate Stine and Brian Skupin will be on hand, as will Skip Barber, the owner of Lime Rock Park, along with several Corvettes, which will be parked up and down Sharon's Main Street.

See you at the races!

darrenwinstonbooksDead Man's Switch Official Book Launch
5:30-7:30 pm, Saturday, July 9, 2011
Darren Winston Bookseller
81 Main Street
Sharon, Connecticut 06069
Tel: 860-364-1890 | MAP

kaehler_deadmansswitch

Dead Man's Switch
by Tammy Kaehler
Poisoned Pen Press, August 2011, $22.95

{youtubejw width="430"}OKpqCBFyu8Y{/youtubejw}

Before I Go to Sleep
Barbara Fister

There’s something terrifying about the idea of losing one’s memory, and S. J. Watson uses that fear to subtle and elegant effect in this claustrophobic and suspenseful literary thriller.

Christine wakes in an unfamiliar bed beside a man she doesn’t know. She feels ashamed of herself, but there is worse in store. When she stumbles into the bathroom and looks in the mirror she sees a middle-aged stranger. It’s the result of a car accident, she learns when the strange man explains that he is her husband Ben, and that she has amnesia and has to relearn every morning who she is. After Ben leaves for work, she gets a call from a doctor who has been treating her. If she looks in her closet, he tells her, she’ll find a journal where she has been recording any memories that surface. Following his instructions, she locates the notebook and starts to read her own story, one that begins with the disquieting instruction, “Don’t trust Ben.” Over the next 350 pages, we experience Christine’s daily erasure and her mundane life as an isolated housewife, but bit by bit, with the help of her secret diary, she pieces together the memory of a previous life and a violent attack.

Reading this accomplished novel is like waking over and over again from a disturbing dream, trying to grasp its meaning just as it fades, leaving nothing but cold fear behind—and a compulsion to start the next chapter.

Teri Duerr
2011-07-08 17:46:53

watson_beforeigotosleepS. J. Watson uses fear to subtle and elegant effect in this suspenseful literary thriller.

Misery Bay
Hank Wagner

It wasn’t all that long ago that I was lauding Hamilton’s The Lock Artist in these pages (it just won the 2010 Edgar for Best Novel, by the way), so it may seem a bit repetitive for me to sing the praises of his latest, the aptly titled Misery Bay, so soon afterwards. But heck, when an author is on a roll, you have to act accordingly, so let me say right up front that it’s hard to imagine anyone being disappointed with this book, the latest entry in Hamilton’s popular Alex McKnight series.

The book starts out grim, with an apparent suicide, and gets darker from there, as McKnight, hired by a grieving father to look into his son’s final days, begins to perceive connections to other deaths, some glaringly obvious, and others so subtle as to go unnoticed until now. McKnight’s investigations lead him into an unlikely alliance with Paradise Police Chief Roy Maven and the duo investigates a series of tragic deaths that unfortunately hit very close to home.

It’s impressive how Hamilton, who started out so strong way back in 1997 with the first McKnight book, A Cold Day in Paradise, continues to grow and improve as a storyteller. Expertly crafted, written with obvious passion, and featuring a durable, engaging cast of characters, it’s clear that Hamilton, and the McKnight series, can continue to provide entertaining diversions for many years to come.

Teri Duerr
2011-07-08 17:57:50

It wasn’t all that long ago that I was lauding Hamilton’s The Lock Artist in these pages (it just won the 2010 Edgar for Best Novel, by the way), so it may seem a bit repetitive for me to sing the praises of his latest, the aptly titled Misery Bay, so soon afterwards. But heck, when an author is on a roll, you have to act accordingly, so let me say right up front that it’s hard to imagine anyone being disappointed with this book, the latest entry in Hamilton’s popular Alex McKnight series.

The book starts out grim, with an apparent suicide, and gets darker from there, as McKnight, hired by a grieving father to look into his son’s final days, begins to perceive connections to other deaths, some glaringly obvious, and others so subtle as to go unnoticed until now. McKnight’s investigations lead him into an unlikely alliance with Paradise Police Chief Roy Maven and the duo investigates a series of tragic deaths that unfortunately hit very close to home.

It’s impressive how Hamilton, who started out so strong way back in 1997 with the first McKnight book, A Cold Day in Paradise, continues to grow and improve as a storyteller. Expertly crafted, written with obvious passion, and featuring a durable, engaging cast of characters, it’s clear that Hamilton, and the McKnight series, can continue to provide entertaining diversions for many years to come.

English Tea Murder
Bliss Kern

In this, the 15th in the series, reporter and sometimes detective Lucy Stone jumps at the chance to join her girlfriends on a tour of London. She gets more than her guidebooks might have led her to expect though, when just hours into the trip, the group’s tour guide dies. Lucy is shocked by the scene and the callous reactions of her fellow tourists. Soon tempers flare, one of the group’s members is rushed to the hospital, and a web of surprising relationships among the tourists begins to emerge.

Because we all know the travel partner who would rather shop than absorb the culture, the one who always needs to find a restroom, the one who marks time through meals, we laugh along with the Lucy and her friends as the trip brings out the best and worst in each of them. The girlfriends banter their way through the major sights of London, letting the reader experience a bit of Westminster Abbey and the Crown Jewels along with them.

However, the hundred-odd pages of travelogue do slow down the narrative; most of the whodunit happens in the final third of the novel. The limited space provided for the plot’s unraveling results in a certain oversimplification and key characters are left one-dimensional. Still, the story manages some good twists and poses a serious and unexpected moral conundrum to Lucy, who must decide what, if anything, can justify a murder. The journey might not be what the reader expects, but it is enjoyable all the same.

Teri Duerr
2011-07-08 18:03:04

In this, the 15th in the series, reporter and sometimes detective Lucy Stone jumps at the chance to join her girlfriends on a tour of London. She gets more than her guidebooks might have led her to expect though, when just hours into the trip, the group’s tour guide dies. Lucy is shocked by the scene and the callous reactions of her fellow tourists. Soon tempers flare, one of the group’s members is rushed to the hospital, and a web of surprising relationships among the tourists begins to emerge.

Because we all know the travel partner who would rather shop than absorb the culture, the one who always needs to find a restroom, the one who marks time through meals, we laugh along with the Lucy and her friends as the trip brings out the best and worst in each of them. The girlfriends banter their way through the major sights of London, letting the reader experience a bit of Westminster Abbey and the Crown Jewels along with them.

However, the hundred-odd pages of travelogue do slow down the narrative; most of the whodunit happens in the final third of the novel. The limited space provided for the plot’s unraveling results in a certain oversimplification and key characters are left one-dimensional. Still, the story manages some good twists and poses a serious and unexpected moral conundrum to Lucy, who must decide what, if anything, can justify a murder. The journey might not be what the reader expects, but it is enjoyable all the same.

Bloodline
Oline H. Cogdill

In Bloodline, Mark Billingham delivers a multilayered crime novel that digs deep into characters’ psyches with the dark, edgy approach that has made him a bestseller in England. The fragility of families proves a compelling theme for the latest outing of Detective Inspector Tom Thorne. A family isn’t in the immediate future for Thorne and his girlfriend, Louise Parker, who has just miscarried. Neither knows quite how to deal with the loss of their baby, and Thorne finds that anything he does or says is wrong.

A family tragedy of another sort occupies Thorne at work. What appears to be a domestic murder turns out to be the first in a series of killings targeting the children and relatives of a notorious serial killer’s victims. Anthony Garvey died in prison years ago, but a copycat killer is now preying on his victims’ survivors. Thorne tries to find the killer as well as track down the next victims, while seeking a link between the late Garvey and the unknown murderer.

It’s easy to understand why Bloodline, which is just now hitting American bookstores, quickly became a bestseller when it was released during 2009 in England. Billingham builds a superior police procedural filled with twists and turns as he explores his richly imagined characters. Each member of Thorne’s tight-knit team emerges as a unique individual, but the standout has always been Phil Hendricks, an intelligent medical examiner who mourns the breakup with each of his boyfriends with a new piercing. Phil is a friend to both Louise and Thorne, the latter of whom admits to being a bit jealous that his girlfriend seems more comfortable discussing her feelings with Phil than with him. Louise, a detective inspector in the Kidnap Investigation Unit, finds it easier to talk about murder with her lover than the miscarriage. Billingham continues to explore the broody, complex, country music-loving Thorne. While melancholic cops abound in the mystery genre, Billingham is careful to make Thorne realistic, not a caricature.

Teri Duerr
2011-07-08 18:05:40

billingham_bloodlineA multilayered crime novel that digs deep into characters’ psyches with the dark, edgy approach that has made its author a bestseller in England.

A Spark of Death
Sue Emmons

In an autobiographical footnote to this debut mystery, Bernadette Pajer confides that she loves to do research, be it for a few minutes, hours, or days. Her passion shines through in this nuanced introduction to widowed Benjamin Bradshaw, an introspective but inspired professor at the University of Washington.

Set in 1901, the inspiration for this tale is the new invention of electricity, its various adaptations, its detractors and admirers. Think electricity can’t be fascinating? Pajer will change your mind.

With President William McKinley due to visit the university, and in particular its electrical laboratory where excited students plan to exhibit their projects, the campus proves a hotbed of intrigue that leads to three murders and an attempt on Bradshaw’s life at Snoqualmie Falls which powers Seattle’s electrical power. Moreover, he is the initial suspect in the strange electrocution of his nemesis, the overbearing department chairman who dies in a cage that houses the Electric Machine’s Tesla Coil. While the chairman was a devotee of Tesla, one of the pioneers of electricity, Bradshaw favors the inventions of Thomas Edison, which led to heated disputes between the two.

This enjoyable mystery touches on quirky students, politics, anarchists, feminism, police detection, and even the search for elusive Alaskan gold. When Bradshaw’s own life is at stake, he fears for the future of his eight-year-old son and finds a soupcon of romance as well. Pajer offers full-fleshed characters and spares no effort in detailing turn-of-the-century life and the new-fangled electricity that forever changes it. She skillfully weaves her subplots into the story, making seamless transitions among them. Hopefully, this is the just the first of many adventures for the indefatigable Bradshaw and his equally delightful cronies.

Teri Duerr
2011-07-08 18:09:19

pajer_sparkofdeathA debut mystery that touches on detection and electrical invention at the turn of the century.

Revenger
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

In this swashbuckling adventure-mystery set in 1592, John Shakespeare, the fictional older brother of William Shakespeare, is a retired intelligencer (super spy) who now runs a school for boys. Because of his unique talents, he is called back to duty by the Earl of Essex to locate a woman named Eleanor Dare, who may be the lone survivor of the ill-fated Roanoke settlement in the New World. He is soon called upon by Sir Robert Cecil, another high-ranking aristocrat, to spy on Essex, who Cecil suspects is planning a royal coup. Before long, John is up to his doublet in an unsolved double murder and more political intrigue than you can shake a broadsword at.

Thanks to the meticulous research done by the author, many of the most important characters here are real people who were involved with much of the historical action described in the novel. The aging Queen Elizabeth and her favorite courtier, Essex, are pivotal characters, as, in a lesser role, is the real William Shakespeare. Even the deadly plague, which ravaged Europe at the time, plays an important part in the story.

I call this an adventure-mystery because the murder investigation is less important than the growing intrigue and heart-pounding adventure that carries the story to its conclusion. The intricate plot moves at lightning speed and the author’s knowledge of the language, clothing weaponry, etc., of the era makes you feel you are in that place and time. This is the second John Shakespeare mystery penned by Rory Clements, and it’s a dandy!

Teri Duerr
2011-07-08 18:16:05

In this swashbuckling adventure-mystery set in 1592, John Shakespeare, the fictional older brother of William Shakespeare, is a retired intelligencer (super spy) who now runs a school for boys. Because of his unique talents, he is called back to duty by the Earl of Essex to locate a woman named Eleanor Dare, who may be the lone survivor of the ill-fated Roanoke settlement in the New World. He is soon called upon by Sir Robert Cecil, another high-ranking aristocrat, to spy on Essex, who Cecil suspects is planning a royal coup. Before long, John is up to his doublet in an unsolved double murder and more political intrigue than you can shake a broadsword at.

Thanks to the meticulous research done by the author, many of the most important characters here are real people who were involved with much of the historical action described in the novel. The aging Queen Elizabeth and her favorite courtier, Essex, are pivotal characters, as, in a lesser role, is the real William Shakespeare. Even the deadly plague, which ravaged Europe at the time, plays an important part in the story.

I call this an adventure-mystery because the murder investigation is less important than the growing intrigue and heart-pounding adventure that carries the story to its conclusion. The intricate plot moves at lightning speed and the author’s knowledge of the language, clothing weaponry, etc., of the era makes you feel you are in that place and time. This is the second John Shakespeare mystery penned by Rory Clements, and it’s a dandy!

Fun & Games
Kevin Burton Smith

If there’s an Edgar for truth in titles, Philly’s favorite cheesesteak, Duane Swierczynski, better dust off his mantle. His latest, Fun & Games, the first in a planned trilogy of back-to-back thrillers featuring ex-cop turned housesitter and old movie buff Charlie Hardie, is the most fun I’ve had in a long time; a total thumbs-up. Not for Duane the endless navel-gazing and angsty pontification over what is (or isn’t) noir. Nope, Duane’s too busy putting his delightfully loopy characters through their paces to worry about stuff like that. Call him the Stephen King of pop noir, if you must—the pop culture references, nods and winks fly through the air like bullets. But what this really is, is pure, unadulterated (and unapologetic) pulp; a videogame for those who read.

Poor Charlie just wants to move into the swank Hollywood Hills pad of his latest client, a flaky film composer who’s off to Europe. His big plans? Unpack, order some grub, and then drink and watch movies until he passes out. But his slacker utopia is disrupted when he discovers the mansion is already occupied—by Lane Madden, a troubled action movie star in hiding, who’s convinced a team of hired assassins is lurking outside, intent on killing her. Even worse for Charlie? She’s absolutely right. Exotic poisons, bombs, gas, death vans, even rigged traffic “accidents”—there’s almost no ploy that The Accident People—or their ruthless but huge-breasted (hey, it’s pulp!) leader Mann—won’t use to complete their “narrative.” But the apparently indestructible Charlie’s got a few tricks of his own, not the least of which is the fact he’s got a golden horseshoe up his, uh, sleeve.

When in doubt, Chandler said, have a guy come into the room with a gun. Swierczynski takes him at his word, but that dour fusspot Ray never cut loose like this. There may be more important books out this year, but there won’t be a wilder ride. Pure pulp for now people. Dig it.

Teri Duerr
2011-07-08 18:18:50

If there’s an Edgar for truth in titles, Philly’s favorite cheesesteak, Duane Swierczynski, better dust off his mantle. His latest, Fun & Games, the first in a planned trilogy of back-to-back thrillers featuring ex-cop turned housesitter and old movie buff Charlie Hardie, is the most fun I’ve had in a long time; a total thumbs-up. Not for Duane the endless navel-gazing and angsty pontification over what is (or isn’t) noir. Nope, Duane’s too busy putting his delightfully loopy characters through their paces to worry about stuff like that. Call him the Stephen King of pop noir, if you must—the pop culture references, nods and winks fly through the air like bullets. But what this really is, is pure, unadulterated (and unapologetic) pulp; a videogame for those who read.

Poor Charlie just wants to move into the swank Hollywood Hills pad of his latest client, a flaky film composer who’s off to Europe. His big plans? Unpack, order some grub, and then drink and watch movies until he passes out. But his slacker utopia is disrupted when he discovers the mansion is already occupied—by Lane Madden, a troubled action movie star in hiding, who’s convinced a team of hired assassins is lurking outside, intent on killing her. Even worse for Charlie? She’s absolutely right. Exotic poisons, bombs, gas, death vans, even rigged traffic “accidents”—there’s almost no ploy that The Accident People—or their ruthless but huge-breasted (hey, it’s pulp!) leader Mann—won’t use to complete their “narrative.” But the apparently indestructible Charlie’s got a few tricks of his own, not the least of which is the fact he’s got a golden horseshoe up his, uh, sleeve.

When in doubt, Chandler said, have a guy come into the room with a gun. Swierczynski takes him at his word, but that dour fusspot Ray never cut loose like this. There may be more important books out this year, but there won’t be a wilder ride. Pure pulp for now people. Dig it.

Twice as Dead
Lynne F. Maxwell

This is the sixth entry in Jaffarian’s delightful series featuring plus-sized Southern California paralegal Odelia Grey, a self-proclaimed “corpse magnet.” Jaffarian doesn’t waste time getting down to business, as the book opens with one of Odelia’s habitual grisly discoveries, this time inconveniently situated at the wedding reception of her BFF’s daughter. Who killed the likable and talented wedding planner? No murderer stands a chance when Odelia, her wheelchair-bound husband Greg, and their police detective friend Dev, pool their collective wits and resources to solve the mystery.

Jaffarian outdoes herself this time with an exceedingly clever plot turning upon the apparent resurrection from the dead of a whole group of characters (and, no, this book isn’t one in Jaffarian’s supernatural series). People who had purportedly been killed in previous accidents reemerge with new identities, and, even more strangely, apparently socialize with each other. Even more perplexing is the fact that members of this group begin dying, this time for real (hence the title). I won’t reveal more because you will want to read and enjoy this intricately plotted mystery for yourself. Suffice it to say, however, that you will never guess the motive for the murders, although you will enjoy spending time with savvy, sassy Odelia and crew.

Teri Duerr
2011-07-08 18:23:05

This is the sixth entry in Jaffarian’s delightful series featuring plus-sized Southern California paralegal Odelia Grey, a self-proclaimed “corpse magnet.” Jaffarian doesn’t waste time getting down to business, as the book opens with one of Odelia’s habitual grisly discoveries, this time inconveniently situated at the wedding reception of her BFF’s daughter. Who killed the likable and talented wedding planner? No murderer stands a chance when Odelia, her wheelchair-bound husband Greg, and their police detective friend Dev, pool their collective wits and resources to solve the mystery.

Jaffarian outdoes herself this time with an exceedingly clever plot turning upon the apparent resurrection from the dead of a whole group of characters (and, no, this book isn’t one in Jaffarian’s supernatural series). People who had purportedly been killed in previous accidents reemerge with new identities, and, even more strangely, apparently socialize with each other. Even more perplexing is the fact that members of this group begin dying, this time for real (hence the title). I won’t reveal more because you will want to read and enjoy this intricately plotted mystery for yourself. Suffice it to say, however, that you will never guess the motive for the murders, although you will enjoy spending time with savvy, sassy Odelia and crew.

Collecting Cooper
Kevin Burton Smith

Let’s face it—there’s something creepy about our collective serial killer fetish. Maybe even more disturbing if you’re a bookseller, watching customers stocking up daily on Manson, Bundy, et al. And don’t even get me started on those novels full of lovingly detailed gore and mutilation narrated in the first person. New Zealand thriller writer Paul Cleave’s dark and bloody Collecting Cooper kicks off with, yes, yet another abduction of yet another pretty young woman, and relates the horrendous details of her prolonged captivity as the forces of good race to save her. But Cleave is actually doing more than writing porn for sickos—he’s also poking a stick into some very dark places, which is what makes his tale alternately enthralling and unsettling.

It’s not enough that Christchurch, New Zealand, is crawling with psychos—no, everyone in the story is seemingly obsessed in one way or another with homicidal maniacs, in particular nominal hero Theodore Tate, the disgraced, guilt-ridden private eye just out of prison after four months for driving under the influence. He’s hired by Donovan Green, a figure from his troubled past, to find his daughter, Emma. Meanwhile, Schroeder, one of Tate’s few remaining police friends, asks him to look into the whereabouts of another serial killer, Melissa X. And then Emma’s psychology professor, Cooper, who’s writing a book on serial killers, is kidnapped by a former mental patient who is also, yes, obsessed with serial killers.

The circle of obsession—and the impulse to torture and kill—spreads through this book like a virus, as though contact with monsters alone can turn you into a monster. Cleave juggles multiple points of view and some deft misdirection to keep readers off-balance. His hellish depiction of Christchurch in the middle of a heat wave is without pity, and, as a reward to the faithful, perhaps, villains from his previous thrillers also pop up (because of course, who doesn’t want to recall fond memories of eyeball gauging, cannibalism and torture?). The cynical, ambiguous conclusion to this wild, violent romp really makes you wonder about Cleave. And his fans...and me. I couldn’t put it down.

Teri Duerr
2011-07-08 18:25:24

cleave_collectingcooperThis wild, violent romp will raise questions about your mental soundness—when you can't put it down.

Chihuahua of the Baskervilles
Lynne F. Maxwell

With a title like this, can a mystery be anything but hilarious? Fortunately, Chihuahua of the Baskervilles lives up to its comedic promise—and the mystery isn’t bad, either. Despite the title’s invocation of Arthur Conan Doyle, there’s nary a Holmes and/or Watson to be found here. Instead, the sleuths are a ragtag team of freelancers working for a moribund publication, Tripping Magazine. Again, flaunting expectations generated by its title, this magazine isn’t a vestige of the ’60s chemical culture. Rather, it chronicles ghostly tourist destinations and is targeted toward connoisseurs of the supernatural.

The action commences when the Boulder-based freelance team is commissioned to do a story on the appearance of a ghost—ahem—chihuahua. Ostensibly the ghost of the deceased Petey, this apparition manifests itself to the dog’s former owner, Charlotte Baskerville, who also owns a successful catalog business selling boutique clothing for dogs. Suspend your disbelief, and enjoy the play of the improbable here, as “Petey” enjoins Charlotte to divorce her husband, Thomas, and is also instrumental in causing Thomas’ death. The skeptical freelance team ultimately deflates the supernatural element of the plot, but not without offering immense entertainment value of its own, namely through the sardonic nature of its investigation. Employing deductions worthy of Holmes himself, the Tripping team reveals the truth about Petey’s ghost and about the dysfunctional dynamics of the household in which he “appears.” Frightfully funny.

Teri Duerr
2011-07-08 18:42:35

allbritten_chihuahuaifthebaskervillesChihuahua of the Baskervilles lives up to its comedic promise—and the mystery isn’t bad, either.

A Bad Night’s Sleep
Kevin Burton Smith

The public relations flacks for the Chicago Police Department are going to just love this one. When private eye Joe Kozmarski dozes off in his parked car while guarding an abandoned South Side construction site on a freeze-your-ass-off November night, the last thing he expects is to wake up in the middle of what looks like a convention of cops (in uniform, no less) loading up vans with rolls of stolen copper wire. I mean, gee, who ya gonna call? Chicago’s finest? They’re already there. It’s one of the best opening scenes I’ve read in years, a real WTF? that drags you right into this pulpy, hardboiled yarn.

If Wiley doesn’t quite keep up the feverish pace throughout, it’s not for lack of trying. Shootouts, betrayals, corruption, violence, narrow escapes, and more betrayals keep things moving and deliciously off-kilter, so that readers—and Joe—are never quite sure where the next hit is coming from. And there are some doozies in store, particularly when Joe, a recovering alcoholic and a disgraced former cop himself, with few friends left on the force or anywhere else, is roped into going undercover to nail the bad boys in blue. Who, it turns out, have some very big and very nasty dreams.

The author, a Shamus Award winner, manages to keep the occasionally high-flying plot grounded with clean, taut prose and an appealing grit that melds perfectly with his beleaguered, Everyman hero. Another solid entry in a series that never fails to get the job done. Just don’t expect Wiley—or Joe—to be awarded the key to the city of Chicago any time soon.

Teri Duerr
2011-07-08 18:48:57

The public relations flacks for the Chicago Police Department are going to just love this one. When private eye Joe Kozmarski dozes off in his parked car while guarding an abandoned South Side construction site on a freeze-your-ass-off November night, the last thing he expects is to wake up in the middle of what looks like a convention of cops (in uniform, no less) loading up vans with rolls of stolen copper wire. I mean, gee, who ya gonna call? Chicago’s finest? They’re already there. It’s one of the best opening scenes I’ve read in years, a real WTF? that drags you right into this pulpy, hardboiled yarn.

If Wiley doesn’t quite keep up the feverish pace throughout, it’s not for lack of trying. Shootouts, betrayals, corruption, violence, narrow escapes, and more betrayals keep things moving and deliciously off-kilter, so that readers—and Joe—are never quite sure where the next hit is coming from. And there are some doozies in store, particularly when Joe, a recovering alcoholic and a disgraced former cop himself, with few friends left on the force or anywhere else, is roped into going undercover to nail the bad boys in blue. Who, it turns out, have some very big and very nasty dreams.

The author, a Shamus Award winner, manages to keep the occasionally high-flying plot grounded with clean, taut prose and an appealing grit that melds perfectly with his beleaguered, Everyman hero. Another solid entry in a series that never fails to get the job done. Just don’t expect Wiley—or Joe—to be awarded the key to the city of Chicago any time soon.

The Hypnotist
Lourdes Venard

In the wake of Stieg Larsson’s mega-Millennium trilogy, crime fiction readers have been looking for the next good Scandinavian crime story. Their next stop might be The Hypnotist, a fast-moving, well-written Swedish thriller. The story opens with a 15-year-old boy, Josef Ek, having been admitted to a hospital. His father, mother, and younger sister have been stabbed to death outside Stockholm; Josef himself has hundreds of cuts and stab wounds, from the soles of his feet to his face and scalp. Dr. Erik Maria Bark is called in, not for his expertise in shock and trauma, but for his hypnosis skills. Bark hasn’t hypnotized anyone in 10 years, and is reluctant to do so. He’s persuaded, though, by Det. Joona Linna; Josef’s older sister is missing, and the detective feels she may be in danger. Under hypnosis, Josef’s revelations are shocking—and the consequences to Bark are larger than could have been foreseen.

Like hypnosis itself, the full story reveals itself in pieces, layer by layer. But this is not a slow-moving psychological novel; this is a read-late-into-the-night thriller. Kepler (the pseudonym for married coauthors Alexander and Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril) are adept at moving the story between past and present, and between character narratives. The book is dark and violent, and there’s a nightmarish quality running through it at times—but those who love Scandinavian fiction shouldn’t be put off by this. The only drawback might be the translation—leaden in spots. But, mesmerized by the plot, you are likely to overlook it.

Teri Duerr
2011-07-08 18:53:56

kepler_hypnostistFor lovers of Swedish crime fiction, a new psychological suspense that reveals its plot piece by piece.

The Wild Hog Murders
Bob Smith

The feral hogs in Clearview, Texas, are causing all kinds of havoc, much to the chagrin of Sheriff Dan Rhodes, but there is no way he can blame the pigs for the two murders that occur. Wild hog hunting is legal, but very dangerous, so it is no surprise when a couple of bodies are discovered after a hunt. The problem is both victims were shot and, well, that isn’t the usual modus operandi for pigs who prefer to just gore and trample their victims to death.

If you are familiar with the ongoing Dan Rhodes series, than you know you are in for a puzzling mystery (always logically solved), an interesting, small-town Texas setting, offbeat characters, and many a smile at the author’s subtle humor. For instance, can anyone resist the back and forth, Abbott and Costello-style repartee of Rhodes’ two deputies, Lawton and Hack? They may frustrate the Sheriff but they delight the reader.

This time around the cast includes a couple of motorcycle thugs (with whom Rhodes has had previous run-ins), a loudmouth radio talk show host, a bounty hunter—oops sorry, a “Fugitive Recovery Agent” as he prefers to be known, and an animal lover and her son who, in an effort to save the hogs use rock salt loaded rifles to discourage hunters. These and all the regulars of Clearview make this book the perfect leisure-time read. Start with any of the 17 other Dan Rhodes books and you’re sure to end up reading them all.

Teri Duerr
2011-07-08 19:01:58

crider_wildhogmurdersFeral hogs are causing havoc for Texas Sheriff Dan Rhodes, but he can't blame the pigs for murder.

Killer Move
Derek Hill

For the last six years, ambitious realtor Bill Moore has been making a name for himself in the Florida Keys selling condos in the once-exclusive area known as The Breakers. He loves his wife, Steph, and his career is moving in the right direction to make a financial killing and early retirement. That’s the plan, at least. But when he receives a mysterious business card with only the word “modified” printed on it, an element of chaos infiltrates his stable life: a sexually provocative book that Moore never ordered arrives at his house; without his knowing, a racist joke is sent from his email account to all of his associates; a dinner reservation is made at a restaurant for him and his wife that he doesn’t remember; and disturbing photos of a co-worker undressing are found on his home computer. Meanwhile, a mysterious man named Hunter is released from prison and is exacting methodical revenge on the people he believes sent him to jail for a crime he did not commit, and he’s circling toward Moore.

Marshall’s thriller is the perfect summer read: a high concept page-turner that is always rooted in character and the everyday despite its outlandish plot—which is why it’s so horrifying. The plot machinations that Marshall wields so effectively, and that become increasingly more distressing as Moore’s life unravels, preys on our fears about privacy and how we expose so much of ourselves online, especially on social media sites where sharing the mundane, private details of one’s life with friends, family members, and sometimes strangers, is de rigueur. Reading Killer Move, you realize that much of our interaction online is based on trust—the trust that someone with nefarious intentions and the technical know-how won’t destroy your life with a few clicks of the mouse.

Marshall’s skills are in his characterization as much as his handling of plot. Moore, all arrogant and self-assured before his world comes crashing down, is not the most likeable of characters at first. But as his life goes haywire, he’s humbled and readers relate on a primal level to his panic and fear. Killer Move is a forceful, well-crafted nightmare for the modern age.

Teri Duerr
2011-07-08 19:07:50

For the last six years, ambitious realtor Bill Moore has been making a name for himself in the Florida Keys selling condos in the once-exclusive area known as The Breakers. He loves his wife, Steph, and his career is moving in the right direction to make a financial killing and early retirement. That’s the plan, at least. But when he receives a mysterious business card with only the word “modified” printed on it, an element of chaos infiltrates his stable life: a sexually provocative book that Moore never ordered arrives at his house; without his knowing, a racist joke is sent from his email account to all of his associates; a dinner reservation is made at a restaurant for him and his wife that he doesn’t remember; and disturbing photos of a co-worker undressing are found on his home computer. Meanwhile, a mysterious man named Hunter is released from prison and is exacting methodical revenge on the people he believes sent him to jail for a crime he did not commit, and he’s circling toward Moore.

Marshall’s thriller is the perfect summer read: a high concept page-turner that is always rooted in character and the everyday despite its outlandish plot—which is why it’s so horrifying. The plot machinations that Marshall wields so effectively, and that become increasingly more distressing as Moore’s life unravels, preys on our fears about privacy and how we expose so much of ourselves online, especially on social media sites where sharing the mundane, private details of one’s life with friends, family members, and sometimes strangers, is de rigueur. Reading Killer Move, you realize that much of our interaction online is based on trust—the trust that someone with nefarious intentions and the technical know-how won’t destroy your life with a few clicks of the mouse.

Marshall’s skills are in his characterization as much as his handling of plot. Moore, all arrogant and self-assured before his world comes crashing down, is not the most likeable of characters at first. But as his life goes haywire, he’s humbled and readers relate on a primal level to his panic and fear. Killer Move is a forceful, well-crafted nightmare for the modern age.

Pigeon English
Jem Bloomfield

Stephen Kelman’s first novel, Pigeon English, is a startlingly assured piece of work. Writing about teenage knife crime in inner London requires a careful balancing of the demands of ethics and plotting, but doing so in the voice of a 12 year old asks for a level of sensitivity and craftsmanship which few crime novelists can offer. What strikes the reader all the way through is the superb control with which Kelman writes, rarely blundering into heavy-handed moralizing, sentimentality, or easy jokes above the head of his protagonist, Harrison. The latter must be a particularly difficult temptation to resist, and there are some cringing moments when he’s “explaining” things (girls, the English language, school rules) which the author and reader both know he’s got wrong, but on the whole the book gives its main character a fair deal. Like other successful child narrators (Nigel Molesworth springs to mind), Harrison has a texture to his speech which—though it probably isn’t “authentic” in a literal sense—persuades the reader far more efficiently than any amount of corroborating detail.

Pigeon English doesn’t set out to explain —or even enquire particularly—why teenagers kill each other, or to call for solutions. It doesn’t give more than a vague outline of the problems Harrison’s family find themselves grappling with, such as their debt to the gangster who arranged their passage to England. What it does provide, however, is a vivid sense of what it might feel like to live in his world. One might expect the viewpoint to constrict the narrative, but paradoxically it opens it up: we get glimpses of the story’s crimes as framed by TV programs like CSI, the gang rules of the “Dell Farm Crew” who carried out the murder, and the bystanders at the scene of the crime. With a very light touch, Kelman makes us view from a new perspective the kind of story we’re used to reading about in the newspapers. (One of the most audacious perspectives the book offers is the brief interjections by a pigeon who pontificates about the span of life and the lairyness of magpies. Some readers will find this a flight too far, but it’s hard not to admire the ambition.) Stephen Kelman is a writer to watch.

Teri Duerr
2011-07-08 19:11:43

kelman_pigeonenglishAn assured debut about teenage knife crime in inner London from the voice of a 12-year-old narrator.

An African Affair
Oline H. Cogdill

A corrupt government about to implode, political intrigue, an exotic locale, and a plucky heroine combine for a multilayered plot that has something of the flavor of Christopher Koch’s famous The Year of Living Dangerously. Nina Darnton lived in Africa for five years, two of them in Lagos, and she has written for The New York Times, NPR, and Newsweek.

She makes good use of this experience in depicting the chaos and violence of rebellion-wracked Nigeria during the mid-1990s.

An African Affair is a harrowing thriller that shows how a corrupt government seeps into every aspect of a culture. American journalist Lindsay Cameron has her year of living dangerously when she joins the New York Globe’s Nigerian bureau located in Lagos in 1994. Lindsay finds no lack of events to cover as rebels protest the policies of military dictator Gen. Michael Olumide, whose new restrictive government is funded by drug runners. But doing the job is another matter. Poor telephone service, electrical blackouts, and archaic technology make filing her stories difficult. Write a story that the government dislikes and a journalist may be kicked out of the country—or never heard from again.

Lindsay knows she has to tread lightly when she lands an exclusive interview with Olumide. Shortly after she files her story, Olumide’s trusted adviser and his rival are both killed, and the general begins to backpedal on his promise to hold free elections. A burgeoning romance with art gallery owner James Duncan gives Lindsay a break from work, while her new friendship with a CIA agent may put her journalism ethics at risk. Much of An African Affair’s plot is predictable, but Darnton’s realistic approach and her knowledge of Nigeria elevate her novel. An African Affair doesn’t only focus on politics, but also reveals the nation’s culture through trips to the countryside studio of a folk artist, the emotional family gathering for a child’s funeral, and religious rituals. It is the beginning of a planned series that should take readers even deeper into this troubled country.

Teri Duerr
2011-07-08 19:16:47

darnton_anafricanaffairA corrupt government about to implode, political intrigue, an exotic locale, and a plucky heroine.

Bet Your Bones
Lynne F. Maxwell

Needmore, Georgia, meets Honolulu, Hawaii. Okefenokee Swamp meets Hawaiian volcano, Kilauea. Jeanne Matthews provides major cultural contrasts as she takes Southern protagonist Dinah Pelerin to Honolulu for the second wedding of Claude Ann Kemper, her childhood friend from small-town Georgia.

From the beginning, Dinah is skeptical about Xander Garst, the too-good-to-be-true volcanologist fiancé of Claude Ann. And actually meeting him does nothing to dispel her suspicion. After all, he certainly seems to have a knack for running through the money Claude Ann has received from her divorce settlement. Furthermore, it doesn’t bode well for the marriage that a group of native Hawaiian activists vehemently opposes a real estate development deal that Xander has put together on a shoestring. Matters come to a head when Xander’s exceedingly obnoxious son-in-law is murdered. Is the marriage cursed—whether by ancient Hawaiian gods or by nefarious humans?

Dinah’s intelligence and sense of humor render her an ideal tour guide through this exotic and enjoyable mystery. You can bet your bottom dollar that Bet Your Bones is a worthy successor to Bones of Contention, the first Dinah Pelerin outing.

Teri Duerr
2011-07-08 19:22:00

Needmore, Georgia, meets Honolulu, Hawaii. Okefenokee Swamp meets Hawaiian volcano, Kilauea. Jeanne Matthews provides major cultural contrasts as she takes Southern protagonist Dinah Pelerin to Honolulu for the second wedding of Claude Ann Kemper, her childhood friend from small-town Georgia.

From the beginning, Dinah is skeptical about Xander Garst, the too-good-to-be-true volcanologist fiancé of Claude Ann. And actually meeting him does nothing to dispel her suspicion. After all, he certainly seems to have a knack for running through the money Claude Ann has received from her divorce settlement. Furthermore, it doesn’t bode well for the marriage that a group of native Hawaiian activists vehemently opposes a real estate development deal that Xander has put together on a shoestring. Matters come to a head when Xander’s exceedingly obnoxious son-in-law is murdered. Is the marriage cursed—whether by ancient Hawaiian gods or by nefarious humans?

Dinah’s intelligence and sense of humor render her an ideal tour guide through this exotic and enjoyable mystery. You can bet your bottom dollar that Bet Your Bones is a worthy successor to Bones of Contention, the first Dinah Pelerin outing.

The Glass Demon
Oline H. Cogdill

The Glass Demon is a coming-of-age tale that will draw in adults as well as younger readers. This absorbing second novel comfortably straddles several genres—mystery, history, the supernatural, and even fairy tales. Teenager Lin Fox resents spending a year away from her friends and school, “stuck in an obscure part of Germany” in a nearly uninhabited castle that abuts a dark, mysterious forest. But her ambitious, overbearing father, Oliver, a medieval studies professor, decides a year in Germany may revive his waning career. He believes Allerheiligen stained-glass church windows, “a kind of Holy Grail to medievalists” that were lost and possibly destroyed more than 200 years ago, are hidden in this small German town. The Allerheiligen, allegedly, are cursed by Bonschariant, the glass demon.

Oliver is so consumed by his work that he barely notices the local residents’ open resentment toward him and he downplays the disturbing fact that Lin finds the body of an elderly man surrounded by cut glass. Worried about her family and with no adult she can turn to, Lin and neighbor Michel Reinartz start their own search for the windows.

Lin is also the only one concerned about the declining health of her 15-year-old sister, Polly. And although she doesn’t like her stepmother, she worries about her father’s fraying marriage. Worse, she loses respect for her father whose “monstrous” ambition overwhelms his family. It’s a situation that forces Lin to grow up quickly. Aside from the passing references to designer coffee drinks, cellular phones, and George Clooney, The Glass Demon has a timeless feel—as if it were set in the Victorian era or the early part of the 20th century. Grant adds suspense to the atmosphere created by the hostile, insular community by adding a villain who seems to vanish into thin air, and a spooky woods straight out of Grimm’s fairy tales. But underlying the magical realism of The Glass Demon, is a skillfull illustration of the very real fragility of family, and the destructive nature of unbridled ambition.

Teri Duerr
2011-07-08 19:25:32

grant_glassdemonAn absorbing coming-of-age mystery with fairy tale influences that will draw in adults and younger readers alike.

Long Gone
Barbara Fister

In this standalone novel of suspense, Alafair Burke takes a break from her procedural series featuring NYPD detective Ellie Hatcher, but remains in the Manhattan setting that she has made her own. Alice Humphrey has been unemployed for too long when she stumbles into a dream job running an art gallery in the fashionable Meatpacking District. The only drawback is that the opening show will feature the sexually provocative photography of a second-rate artist. Still, Alice is ready for a chance to show her wealthy film-star parents that she can stand on her own two feet.

Alice is prepared for a media siege around the controversial artwork, but something worse happens: when she returns to open the gallery the next day, the walls have been stripped bare. The only thing left behind is the man who hired her—and he is dead.

Alice becomes the prime suspect, but with the help of good friends and a discredited FBI agent who takes her side, she stays just one step ahead of the NYPD detectives who are sure they’ve cracked the case. As she tries to clear her name, she learns uncomfortable truths about her own family. Fans of the Ellie Hatch series will enjoy Burke’s portrait of the New York social scene, solid plotting, and straightforward narrative style. Though Long Gone doesn’t have the breakneck pace that characterizes many thrillers, Burke develops a set of intriguing characters and a twisty plot with enough red herrings to keep the reader guessing.

Teri Duerr
2011-07-08 19:33:08

burke_longgoneAspiring New York gallerist Alice expects controversy with her art show, but gets framed for murder in this sleek thriller.

A Simple Act of Violence
M. Schlecht

Despite its title, A Simple Act of Violence is quite a complicated affair. This hefty eighth novel from the award-winning Ellory begins with a chilling, slow-motion murder in a Washington DC living room. Crime scene evidence appears to set the stage for an old-fashioned serial killer investigation by detectives Robert Miller and Al Roth. The deceased woman is the fourth victim found with a ribbon and tag around her neck, and, in alternating chapters, Simple Act goes first-person deep into the obsessive mind of the man responsible.

Sounds like a straightforward enough case for the average Det. Joe Homicide, but this being DC, even the killer is politically connected. While Miller and Roth pursue leads in their half of the action—which, by the way, there is frustratingly little of for nearly 200 pages—their suspect reveals (to the reader, at least) more of himself and whom he has worked for. Digressions into his childhood and activities in Nicaragua provide a trail that eventually links up with the main fork of the narrative, and once Miller finally realizes how deep he’s plunged himself into the murky netherworld of state secrets, there’s no choice but to keep diving.

And this is where A Simple Act of Violence finally starts to swim. Miller and his suspect meet face to face, but it’s clear the detective is the one being questioned. There’s not enough evidence to bring the man in, leading to an entertaining back and forth, even a chemistry, between the two. Ellory delays this confrontation by keeping his detectives’ wheels spinning for so long, and the story really opens up when he lets loose on the throttle. Is it worth the wait? Absolutely.

Teri Duerr
2011-07-08 19:40:44

Despite its title, A Simple Act of Violence is quite a complicated affair. This hefty eighth novel from the award-winning Ellory begins with a chilling, slow-motion murder in a Washington DC living room. Crime scene evidence appears to set the stage for an old-fashioned serial killer investigation by detectives Robert Miller and Al Roth. The deceased woman is the fourth victim found with a ribbon and tag around her neck, and, in alternating chapters, Simple Act goes first-person deep into the obsessive mind of the man responsible.

Sounds like a straightforward enough case for the average Det. Joe Homicide, but this being DC, even the killer is politically connected. While Miller and Roth pursue leads in their half of the action—which, by the way, there is frustratingly little of for nearly 200 pages—their suspect reveals (to the reader, at least) more of himself and whom he has worked for. Digressions into his childhood and activities in Nicaragua provide a trail that eventually links up with the main fork of the narrative, and once Miller finally realizes how deep he’s plunged himself into the murky netherworld of state secrets, there’s no choice but to keep diving.

And this is where A Simple Act of Violence finally starts to swim. Miller and his suspect meet face to face, but it’s clear the detective is the one being questioned. There’s not enough evidence to bring the man in, leading to an entertaining back and forth, even a chemistry, between the two. Ellory delays this confrontation by keeping his detectives’ wheels spinning for so long, and the story really opens up when he lets loose on the throttle. Is it worth the wait? Absolutely.

No Rest for the Dead
Lynne F. Maxwell

Editors Andrew F. Gulli and Lamia J. Gulli enlisted the aid of 26 mystery superstars to create a collective novel, each chapter the brainchild of a different author. This group venture involving Jeff Abbott, Lori Armstrong, Sandra Brown, Thomas Cook, Jeffery Deaver, Diana Gabaldon, Tess Gerritsen, Peter James, J.A. Jance, Faye Kellerman, Raymond Khoury, John Lescroart, Jeff Lindsay, Gayle Lynds, Phillip Margolin, Alexander McCall Smith, Michael Palmer, T. Jeffferson Parker, Matthew Pearl, Kathy Reichs, Marcus Sakey, Jonathan Santlofer, Lisa Scottoline, R.L. Stine and Marcia Talley among others, is, against all odds, both coherent and compelling. While there is some inevitable unevenness in style and tone, the story quickly gathers enough momentum to create a truly intricate and suspenseful narrative.

No Rest for the Dead takes place over the course of a decade, as the central character, disgraced ex-San Francisco cop Jon Nunn, deals with the consequences of what he now fears was a flawed investigation involving a murdered art scene Lothario and the eventual conviction and execution of the man’s wealthy wife, Rosemary. Now, a decade later, Nunn is haunted by the fear that he has been instrumental in killing an innocent woman. Matters come to a head when Rosemary’s request for a gathering to commemorate the ten-year anniversary of her death is honored, once again bringing together the major players from her life, several of whom realized substantial financial gain upon her execution. In a masterful rendition of the locked room motif, the novel’s authors bring to light a number of startling plot twists that will amaze even the most astute reader. What else would one expect, however, from such a convocation of literary masters?

But that’s not the end of the story. Best of all, No Rest for the Dead is no mere mercenary enterprise. Rather, a portion of its proceeds will be donated to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, an organization dedicated to fighting blood cancers. Editors Andrew F. and Lamia J. Gulli have devised a wonderful plot for wresting real life from fictional death. Kudos to all!

Teri Duerr
2011-07-08 19:46:05

gulli_norestforthedeadTwenty-six mystery superstars create a collective novel in support of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Very Bad Men
M. Schlecht

For a Michigan mystery magazine editor, David Loogan sure has a busy nightlife. Instead of cocktail parties, however, Loogan is more likely to be found at crime scenes. Readers of Harry Dolan’s debut, Bad Things Happen, know that the editor of Gray Streets isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty with more than ink, and in Very Bad Men, he is back at it when a unsettling manuscript turns up at the office door. The tale amounts to only a few pages, but it describes two real-life murders already committed and one more planned. Convenient for his continued involvement in the case, Loogan’s “almost-wife,” Elizabeth, is an Ann Arbor police detective. She has already opened up an investigation into an attack on the manuscript’s proposed third victim. Alerting her to the content of his latest find, Loogan and Elizabeth drive to the Upper Peninsula to research the previous killings and it’s revealed that the story’s players were all involved in a decades-old bank robbery that ended with a good cop paralyzed.

It turns out the killer—readers know early on his name is Anthony Lark—has an unhealthy fascination with the injured officer’s daughter, who is running for US Senate. The questions multiply: Is someone putting him up to this? For what reasons?

Using Elizabeth’s connections and access, Loogan is soon making his own inquiries, parallel to the official investigation. With a keen eye for detail, he excels in the kind of stubborn dedication combined with imagination that marks many an amateur sleuth, while Elizabeth keeps him from getting into too much trouble. Well, he does get shot in the stomach, but that’s just another typical day in the life of a mystery magazine editor, right? Dolan makes sure that both the characters and dialogue stay rough around the edges, just like the scenery of northern Michigan, giving Very Bad Men a satisfyingly realist bite.

Teri Duerr
2011-07-08 19:55:03

dolan_verybadmanThe game is afoot when a manuscript containing murder turns up at the office of editor David Loogan.