Wyatt
Barbara Fister

If you want an armchair trip to Australia, try this cool caper about a highly professional thief who, in the first few pages, steals a duffel bag full of extortion money from a crooked harbormaster and evades a police stakeout by the skin of his teeth. His next job, at least as hazardous, involves devising an elaborate plan to relieve a Frenchman of stolen bearer bonds. Unfortunately, Wyatt is working with Oberin, a career criminal who has fallen for Khandi Cane, a reckless young woman with a serious anger management problem and complications ensue. Adding to their troubles, Wyatt is being stalked by a young admirer who is in awe of the legendary criminal and seeks to tag along. Soon the heist is tangled up in double- and triple-crosses. One dogged police officer, Lynette Rigby, is hot on their trail—until she gets her hands on the bearer bonds and is seduced by her own greed.

Readers familiar with Garry Disher's procedural series featuring Hal Challis will recognize the author's straightforward style and his ability to create an ensemble cast of three-dimensional characters with a few deft strokes.

Wyatt is a thoroughly Australian anti-hero: a cool, intelligent, and capable crook who plans meticulously and avoids emotional entanglements. In the rare moments when he lets himself feel something for another human being, the reader gets a sense of his depth and complexity. Though he previously starred in six books published in the 1990s, readers meeting him for the first time will not feel at a disadvantage. This recent entry in the series won the Ned Kelly award for best Australian crime novel of the year.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 29 September 2011 02:09

If you want an armchair trip to Australia, try this cool caper about a highly professional thief who, in the first few pages, steals a duffel bag full of extortion money from a crooked harbormaster and evades a police stakeout by the skin of his teeth. His next job, at least as hazardous, involves devising an elaborate plan to relieve a Frenchman of stolen bearer bonds. Unfortunately, Wyatt is working with Oberin, a career criminal who has fallen for Khandi Cane, a reckless young woman with a serious anger management problem and complications ensue. Adding to their troubles, Wyatt is being stalked by a young admirer who is in awe of the legendary criminal and seeks to tag along. Soon the heist is tangled up in double- and triple-crosses. One dogged police officer, Lynette Rigby, is hot on their trail—until she gets her hands on the bearer bonds and is seduced by her own greed.

Readers familiar with Garry Disher's procedural series featuring Hal Challis will recognize the author's straightforward style and his ability to create an ensemble cast of three-dimensional characters with a few deft strokes.

Wyatt is a thoroughly Australian anti-hero: a cool, intelligent, and capable crook who plans meticulously and avoids emotional entanglements. In the rare moments when he lets himself feel something for another human being, the reader gets a sense of his depth and complexity. Though he previously starred in six books published in the 1990s, readers meeting him for the first time will not feel at a disadvantage. This recent entry in the series won the Ned Kelly award for best Australian crime novel of the year.

Operation Napoleon
Jackie Houchin

Unlike Indridason's novels featuring the unrelenting Inspector Erlandur, this standalone thriller boasts a female protagonist, an ordinary Icelandic citizen whose sisterly concern for a younger brother pushes her to extraordinary heights of bravery and resourcefulness.

Fiercely protective, Kristen is alarmed when a call from Elias, who's conducting winter exercises with a search and rescue team on the Vatnajokull Glacier, is abruptly severed. He mentioned lights, a plane in the ice, and armed soldiers approaching on snowmobiles.

Decades before, in the final moments of World War II, a desperate plan by the Allied powers was set into motion. A young American pilot was to fly a top secret cargo from Europe to the United States, stopping briefly in Iceland to refuel. In a fierce blizzard the plane crashes and seems to disappear into the ice.

Now its shadow has appeared on a satellite image, and a massive clandestine operation to extract it and its cargo has begun. Stealth is vital, and Kristen's determination to find her brother threatens exposure. She must be eliminated.

Readers may guess what the government is so desperate to hide, although the author casts many enticing red herrings, but it's not until the closing paragraphs that the truth is revealed.

Always a master at doling out clues, Indridason escalates the action and suspense in this thriller. There's no time for his protagonist to ponder, only to act, and rarely time for readers to catch their breath. The narrative is lean, but powerful, and although his descriptions are minimal, Indridason never fails to set his readers firmly into the chilling darkness of an Icelandic winter or the minds of evil men.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 29 September 2011 02:09

Unlike Indridason's novels featuring the unrelenting Inspector Erlandur, this standalone thriller boasts a female protagonist, an ordinary Icelandic citizen whose sisterly concern for a younger brother pushes her to extraordinary heights of bravery and resourcefulness.

Fiercely protective, Kristen is alarmed when a call from Elias, who's conducting winter exercises with a search and rescue team on the Vatnajokull Glacier, is abruptly severed. He mentioned lights, a plane in the ice, and armed soldiers approaching on snowmobiles.

Decades before, in the final moments of World War II, a desperate plan by the Allied powers was set into motion. A young American pilot was to fly a top secret cargo from Europe to the United States, stopping briefly in Iceland to refuel. In a fierce blizzard the plane crashes and seems to disappear into the ice.

Now its shadow has appeared on a satellite image, and a massive clandestine operation to extract it and its cargo has begun. Stealth is vital, and Kristen's determination to find her brother threatens exposure. She must be eliminated.

Readers may guess what the government is so desperate to hide, although the author casts many enticing red herrings, but it's not until the closing paragraphs that the truth is revealed.

Always a master at doling out clues, Indridason escalates the action and suspense in this thriller. There's no time for his protagonist to ponder, only to act, and rarely time for readers to catch their breath. The narrative is lean, but powerful, and although his descriptions are minimal, Indridason never fails to set his readers firmly into the chilling darkness of an Icelandic winter or the minds of evil men.

A Trick of the Light
Lourdes Venard

Louise Penny writes books that at first glance may seem cozy: They are full of interesting people, mouth-watering foods, and set in a scenic village tucked into the Canadian countryside. But underneath the beauty, threads of jealousy, greed, and pain run deep. This is especially true in her seventh book, A Trick of the Light.

As the book opens, middle-aged artist Clara Morrow has finally achieved recognition with a solo show at the prestigious Musée d'Art Contemporain in Montreal. Afterward, friends and family gather for a party at her home in Three Pines. But the next morning, a body is found in the Morrows' garden. It is art critic Lillian Dyson, a childhood friend of Clara's whom she hadn't seen in 20 years.

As Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Québec Sureté and his team investigate, they find Dyson was bitterly despised. Her scathing dismissals of artists were so notorious that everyone has memorized a line from one of her reviews: "He's a natural, producing art like it's a bodily function." But Dyson had recently joined Alcoholics Anonymous, and was described by fellow AA members as someone who had changed her life. If so, who would want to murder her now? And, as Gamache keeps asking, can someone really change?

The novel's central theme is the interplay between light and dark. Clara's art is described in terms of chiaroscuro, containing shadow and illumination. As Gamache says at one point, "That's what this crime, this murder was about. The question of just how genuine the light actually was. Was the person really happy, or just pretending to be?"

Penny's novels are beloved not just for their murder mysteries, but for their deep exploration (and sometimes upsetting) of her characters' lives: Gamache's team and the residents of Three Pines. Gamache's second-in-command, Jean Guy Beauvoir, continues to struggle with the aftermath of the police raid that left him and Gamache injured, both in body and psyche. A small rift begins to open between them. A bigger rift threatens the marriage of Clara and husband Peter, who has always been jealous of her art. And so, a murder is solved at the end of A Trick of the Light, but problems in relationships are not so easily wrapped up. If there's any drawback to Penny's books, it's that we have to wait a year for the next one.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 29 September 2011 02:09

Jealousy, greed, and pain lie just beneath the surface of scenic Three Pines in Penny's stellar seventh.

Pirate King
Barbara Fister

Mary Russell flees the Sussex home she shares with her husband, Sherlock Holmes, to do a favor for Scotland Yard—and to escape a visit from her irritating brother-in-law, Mycroft. Her assignment takes her to Lisbon, where she joins a company of actors working on a film about a film about a performance of The Pirates of Penzance. No, that's not a misprint: The film is about a theatrical company attacked by pirates when making a film of the operetta. (Moreover, it's 1924, so this is a book about a silent film, about a film about a musical.)

The filmmaker, Randolph Fflytte, has been dogged by mischief throughout his career. After wrapping up each of his films, meticulously shot on location, some related criminal activity related to the story line follows: gun smuggling, drug dealing, rum running. Now his assistant has disappeared under suspicious circumstances, so Mary is dispatched to work as Fflytte's girl Friday and keep her ear to the ground. In fact she has her hands full simply managing the affairs of the large cast filming on locations in Lisbon, aboard a brigantine, and in Morocco, all while the unlucky director's curse continues.

This 11th adventure in the Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes series is a clever bit of fun that is as much about detection as Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance is about piracy, but it showcases Mary Russell, who is every bit as intelligent and capable as her better-known husband. Being in her company is bracing entertainment.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 29 September 2011 02:09

Mary Russell flees the Sussex home she shares with her husband, Sherlock Holmes, to do a favor for Scotland Yard—and to escape a visit from her irritating brother-in-law, Mycroft. Her assignment takes her to Lisbon, where she joins a company of actors working on a film about a film about a performance of The Pirates of Penzance. No, that's not a misprint: The film is about a theatrical company attacked by pirates when making a film of the operetta. (Moreover, it's 1924, so this is a book about a silent film, about a film about a musical.)

The filmmaker, Randolph Fflytte, has been dogged by mischief throughout his career. After wrapping up each of his films, meticulously shot on location, some related criminal activity related to the story line follows: gun smuggling, drug dealing, rum running. Now his assistant has disappeared under suspicious circumstances, so Mary is dispatched to work as Fflytte's girl Friday and keep her ear to the ground. In fact she has her hands full simply managing the affairs of the large cast filming on locations in Lisbon, aboard a brigantine, and in Morocco, all while the unlucky director's curse continues.

This 11th adventure in the Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes series is a clever bit of fun that is as much about detection as Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance is about piracy, but it showcases Mary Russell, who is every bit as intelligent and capable as her better-known husband. Being in her company is bracing entertainment.

Stealing Mona Lisa
Lourdes Venard

In 1911, the Mona Lisa was brazenly stolen from the Louvre Museum in Paris, not to reappear for another two years. That real-life theft forms the jumping-off point for Carson Morton's Stealing Mona Lisa, in which he crafts a historical mystery populated with con men, art forgers, a loathsome railroad titan, and beautiful but dangerous women.

Morton excels at mixing fact, fiction, and conjecture in this entertaining art caper. His characters are criminals, but likable ones. The real-life thief, Vincenzo Perugia, figures in the tale, but Morton takes advantage of the conspiracy theory long in vogue that Perugia had help, to paint the shadowy historical figure Marquis Eduardo de Valfierno as the mastermind behind the theft. Valfierno's international crew includes Emile, once a Paris street urchin; Julia Conway, an American pickpocket who can't seem to stop herself from lifting wallets and pocket watches; and Diego, a Spanish forger whose artistic temperament could put the whole plan in peril.

In Morton's what-if take, Valfierno and his team plan to steal the painting and sell six forgeries as the "real" Leonardo Da Vinci masterpiece. But one of their buyers, Joshua Hart, senses trickery. To make matters worse, Valfierno is falling in love with Hart's wife, while attempting to outwit the dogged police investigator on the team's trail.

Before, the biggest Mona Lisa mystery was her enigmatic smile, but Morton gives us such a plausible plot that we wonder, long after the last page is turned, what really happened during that long-ago theft.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 29 September 2011 02:09

In 1911, the Mona Lisa was brazenly stolen from the Louvre Museum in Paris, not to reappear for another two years. That real-life theft forms the jumping-off point for Carson Morton's Stealing Mona Lisa, in which he crafts a historical mystery populated with con men, art forgers, a loathsome railroad titan, and beautiful but dangerous women.

Morton excels at mixing fact, fiction, and conjecture in this entertaining art caper. His characters are criminals, but likable ones. The real-life thief, Vincenzo Perugia, figures in the tale, but Morton takes advantage of the conspiracy theory long in vogue that Perugia had help, to paint the shadowy historical figure Marquis Eduardo de Valfierno as the mastermind behind the theft. Valfierno's international crew includes Emile, once a Paris street urchin; Julia Conway, an American pickpocket who can't seem to stop herself from lifting wallets and pocket watches; and Diego, a Spanish forger whose artistic temperament could put the whole plan in peril.

In Morton's what-if take, Valfierno and his team plan to steal the painting and sell six forgeries as the "real" Leonardo Da Vinci masterpiece. But one of their buyers, Joshua Hart, senses trickery. To make matters worse, Valfierno is falling in love with Hart's wife, while attempting to outwit the dogged police investigator on the team's trail.

Before, the biggest Mona Lisa mystery was her enigmatic smile, but Morton gives us such a plausible plot that we wonder, long after the last page is turned, what really happened during that long-ago theft.

Outside the Bones
Barbara Fister

Some critics of crime fiction say it's too formulaic. Outside the Bones could be offered as proof that it's full of surprises. Lyn Di Iorio's first novel is a weirdly compelling, funny, sexy, and deeply strange tale of a Nuyorican practitioner of palo monte, a Caribbean form of magic with African roots.

Fina, who narrates the story in a sassy, earthy voice, has been putting spells on people for some time, but it has been mostly for show. She wants to learn how to really communicate with the spirits, so apprentices herself to Victor, a well-known master of magic. Once he initiates Fina into his dark arts, she begins to interact with the spirits of the dead. She wants to use her new powers to discourage two women who have turned the head of Chico, a musician with whom Fina has fallen in love. But as Fina begins to communicate with the spirits, she connects with a woman who vanished from a Puerto Rican beach 16 years ago and has plans of her own.

Though this unusual story violates most of the classic rules S.S. Van Dine once set for the detective story, it does offer one thing armchair detectives often seek: a window into another culture. Lyn Di Iorio, born in New York but raised in Puerto Rico and a scholar of Latino literature, has taken the crime story to a strange and mysterious new place. Adventurous readers interested in Afro-Caribbean culture will want to follow her there.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 29 September 2011 02:09

Compelling, funny, sexy, and deeply strange, this Caribbean-flavored debut is full of surprises.

All Cry Chaos
Hank Wagner

Shortly after capturing Bosnian war criminal Stipo Banovic, Inspector Henri Poincare (pronounced "Pwon-Ka-Raaay") of Interpol finds himself investigating the murder of internationally famous mathematician James Fenster, who was killed in a meticulously planned explosion: The bomb, powered by rocket fuel, blew in a crowded hotel, but only one room was affected. The leads in the case are many, unfortunately, no one clue provides Poincare with a clear idea of any of the whos, whats, or whys needed to bring the killers to justice. As Poincare grinds his way to a solution, he finds himself questioning his life and profession. He also finds himself and his family in considerable danger, as investigations current (Fenster) and past (involving Banovic) converge, placing those he loves squarely in the sites of ruthless criminals.

Although it feels like a late entry in an established series, All Cry Chaos is in fact Rosen's first novel. Clearly, he has been living with this idea and these characters for a long while, as indicated by the sense of depth in his cast and his plotting—one has the impression that, if asked, Rosen could tell you exactly what each character, no matter how minor, was doing a day, a week, even a year before they appear in the narrative. Add in Rosen's sharp, lucid prose, and his way of rendering complex mathematical and scientific concepts like fractals sexy and engaging, and you get an involving, high-concept, but eminently readable thriller, easily one of the best first novels of the past couple of years.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 29 September 2011 02:09

Shortly after capturing Bosnian war criminal Stipo Banovic, Inspector Henri Poincare (pronounced "Pwon-Ka-Raaay") of Interpol finds himself investigating the murder of internationally famous mathematician James Fenster, who was killed in a meticulously planned explosion: The bomb, powered by rocket fuel, blew in a crowded hotel, but only one room was affected. The leads in the case are many, unfortunately, no one clue provides Poincare with a clear idea of any of the whos, whats, or whys needed to bring the killers to justice. As Poincare grinds his way to a solution, he finds himself questioning his life and profession. He also finds himself and his family in considerable danger, as investigations current (Fenster) and past (involving Banovic) converge, placing those he loves squarely in the sites of ruthless criminals.

Although it feels like a late entry in an established series, All Cry Chaos is in fact Rosen's first novel. Clearly, he has been living with this idea and these characters for a long while, as indicated by the sense of depth in his cast and his plotting—one has the impression that, if asked, Rosen could tell you exactly what each character, no matter how minor, was doing a day, a week, even a year before they appear in the narrative. Add in Rosen's sharp, lucid prose, and his way of rendering complex mathematical and scientific concepts like fractals sexy and engaging, and you get an involving, high-concept, but eminently readable thriller, easily one of the best first novels of the past couple of years.

The Bad Always Die Twice
Cheryl Solimini

All signs point to hardboiled. Start with the classic pulp cover—black sheers and slit skirt, leather and velvet. Then note the author, Cheryl Crane: The daughter of much-married movie legend Lana Turner, Crane made tabloid headlines herself in 1958, at age 14, for stabbing her mother's gangster lover to death. The title echoes The Postman Always Rings Twice, James M. Cain's steamy melodrama whose film version earned Turner the best reviews of her career. And a blurb by L.A. Confidential's James Ellroy doesn't hurt either

But noir this is not. In her bright and breezy fiction debut (she already has two nonfiction memoirs under her belt), Crane paints her home turf with more glitter than grit. Even as she winks at the excesses of Tinsel Town's past and present, Crane's affection and compassion for its denizens—hungry for fame, money, sex, love or all of the above—shines through. She has wisely chosen Nikki Harper, a local realtor (like Crane), as the down-to-earth amateur PI. Nikki turns from high-end condo listings to low-rent crime investigating when her best friend and agency partner, Jessica Martin, discovers Rex March, a has-been '70s sitcom star, dead in her bed wearing nothing but gold lamé bikini briefs. The double indignity: Rex had supposedly already entered Syndication Heaven, killed in a plane crash six months ago.

Nikki, offspring of '50s silver screen icon Victoria Bordeaux, seems more than a little embarrassed by her megawatt pedigree but is more than willing to flash The Smile (learned at her mother's knee) or some hand-me-down Lakers tickets to get the information she needs to clear her friend. Though Nikki herself prefers a vintage sweater dress and flats to Badgley Mischka and spike-heeled Jimmy Choos, readers also get an insider's guide to Tinsel Town's current fashions and hot spots without alienating those who haven't taken their own stroll along Rodeo Drive or Melrose Avenue. Yet the fun really begins when La Bordeaux takes on a major role, highlighting her and Nikki's enmeshed but endearing diva-and-daughter act. Though herself Turner's only child, Crane has given Nikki at least one half-sibling (from Victoria's nine marriages) who is both poignant and hilarious, and hints of other family skeletons that are sure to be rattled in future entries in this series.

In Crane's critical but not cynical view, everyone in Hollywood is a character in his or her own movie and anyone is capable of murder. So, grab a bucket of popcorn or a box of Junior Mints and enjoy!

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 29 September 2011 03:09

All signs point to hardboiled. Start with the classic pulp cover—black sheers and slit skirt, leather and velvet. Then note the author, Cheryl Crane: The daughter of much-married movie legend Lana Turner, Crane made tabloid headlines herself in 1958, at age 14, for stabbing her mother's gangster lover to death. The title echoes The Postman Always Rings Twice, James M. Cain's steamy melodrama whose film version earned Turner the best reviews of her career. And a blurb by L.A. Confidential's James Ellroy doesn't hurt either

But noir this is not. In her bright and breezy fiction debut (she already has two nonfiction memoirs under her belt), Crane paints her home turf with more glitter than grit. Even as she winks at the excesses of Tinsel Town's past and present, Crane's affection and compassion for its denizens—hungry for fame, money, sex, love or all of the above—shines through. She has wisely chosen Nikki Harper, a local realtor (like Crane), as the down-to-earth amateur PI. Nikki turns from high-end condo listings to low-rent crime investigating when her best friend and agency partner, Jessica Martin, discovers Rex March, a has-been '70s sitcom star, dead in her bed wearing nothing but gold lamé bikini briefs. The double indignity: Rex had supposedly already entered Syndication Heaven, killed in a plane crash six months ago.

Nikki, offspring of '50s silver screen icon Victoria Bordeaux, seems more than a little embarrassed by her megawatt pedigree but is more than willing to flash The Smile (learned at her mother's knee) or some hand-me-down Lakers tickets to get the information she needs to clear her friend. Though Nikki herself prefers a vintage sweater dress and flats to Badgley Mischka and spike-heeled Jimmy Choos, readers also get an insider's guide to Tinsel Town's current fashions and hot spots without alienating those who haven't taken their own stroll along Rodeo Drive or Melrose Avenue. Yet the fun really begins when La Bordeaux takes on a major role, highlighting her and Nikki's enmeshed but endearing diva-and-daughter act. Though herself Turner's only child, Crane has given Nikki at least one half-sibling (from Victoria's nine marriages) who is both poignant and hilarious, and hints of other family skeletons that are sure to be rattled in future entries in this series.

In Crane's critical but not cynical view, everyone in Hollywood is a character in his or her own movie and anyone is capable of murder. So, grab a bucket of popcorn or a box of Junior Mints and enjoy!

Getting Off
Kevin Burton Smith

Getting Off is subtitled A Novel of Sex and Violence and boy, they ain't kidding. I can't think of anyone since maybe Mickey Spillance who's offered such a seamless—and deliciously trashy—welding of the two. But whereas Spillane's Mike Hammer books were angsty, revenge driven fantasies of rage, revenge and testosterone, Emerson (actually Lawrence Block) offers a decidedly more female perspective. Or at least as female a perspective as a man who used to be a lesbian can offer.

Dragging his Sapphic pseudonym out of mothballs for the reinvigorated Hard Case Crime imprint, Block serves up an unapologetically trashy wallow that will appeal to fans of his early pulp fiction tales of serial killers and other homicidal wing nuts that populated countless second-string digests in the late '50s and early '60s, as well as those who adored the soft-porn paperbacks he churned out as Emerson (and a slew of other pen names) right into the '70s. And now, almost four decades later, "Jill" is back, with a gloriously politically incorrect little yarn about small-town Minnesota gal Kit Tolliver who escapes a childhood of incest and tragedy, only to become a hot little minx whose specialty is "romance at short notice." And murder.

Seems Kit (or Grace or Jen or Lucretia or whatever name she's using that week) likes nothing better than rambling into some town, picking up some guy, having some great sex...and then killing the poor sap. It would be easy enough to dismiss this as simply a great author slumming (and the cover illustration is just as unapologetically sleazy and cheesy as the premise), and while there's no doubt this is mostly a lark, Emerson's too good a writer to not want to write the hell out of this. Yes, there are any number of "hot parts." Lots (and lots) of salubrious detail. And lots of people getting off all over the place, in oh-so-many colorful ways. But when Kit has an epiphany of sorts (in a Kansas City bar) and realizes she can never really be free of her past until she's bumped off every man she's ever boinked, the book turns decidedly darker and nastier.

Kit makes a surprisingly effective detective, crisscrossing the country intent on cleaning up her past, keeping in touch with her new BFF, Rita, via the web and a string of steamy long-distance calls, and the inevitable finale is as hot and bothersome as you'd might have expected. Share it with someone you love. But please. Don't kill them afterwards.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 29 September 2011 03:09

Getting Off is subtitled A Novel of Sex and Violence and boy, they ain't kidding. I can't think of anyone since maybe Mickey Spillance who's offered such a seamless—and deliciously trashy—welding of the two. But whereas Spillane's Mike Hammer books were angsty, revenge driven fantasies of rage, revenge and testosterone, Emerson (actually Lawrence Block) offers a decidedly more female perspective. Or at least as female a perspective as a man who used to be a lesbian can offer.

Dragging his Sapphic pseudonym out of mothballs for the reinvigorated Hard Case Crime imprint, Block serves up an unapologetically trashy wallow that will appeal to fans of his early pulp fiction tales of serial killers and other homicidal wing nuts that populated countless second-string digests in the late '50s and early '60s, as well as those who adored the soft-porn paperbacks he churned out as Emerson (and a slew of other pen names) right into the '70s. And now, almost four decades later, "Jill" is back, with a gloriously politically incorrect little yarn about small-town Minnesota gal Kit Tolliver who escapes a childhood of incest and tragedy, only to become a hot little minx whose specialty is "romance at short notice." And murder.

Seems Kit (or Grace or Jen or Lucretia or whatever name she's using that week) likes nothing better than rambling into some town, picking up some guy, having some great sex...and then killing the poor sap. It would be easy enough to dismiss this as simply a great author slumming (and the cover illustration is just as unapologetically sleazy and cheesy as the premise), and while there's no doubt this is mostly a lark, Emerson's too good a writer to not want to write the hell out of this. Yes, there are any number of "hot parts." Lots (and lots) of salubrious detail. And lots of people getting off all over the place, in oh-so-many colorful ways. But when Kit has an epiphany of sorts (in a Kansas City bar) and realizes she can never really be free of her past until she's bumped off every man she's ever boinked, the book turns decidedly darker and nastier.

Kit makes a surprisingly effective detective, crisscrossing the country intent on cleaning up her past, keeping in touch with her new BFF, Rita, via the web and a string of steamy long-distance calls, and the inevitable finale is as hot and bothersome as you'd might have expected. Share it with someone you love. But please. Don't kill them afterwards.

Calling Mr. King
M. Schlecht

It's a depressingly regular occurrence: some poor, overworked stiff hits the wall and "goes postal." But what happens when a stone cold killer ices one mark too many and starts to lose it? Maybe he develops an interest in Georgian-style homes and makes his new target the art and architecture section of the local bookstore. At least, that's what Mr. De Feo, a former editor at ARTnews magazine, has imagined in this entertaining debut from an author clearly drawing from what he knows.

An American hit man based in London, our assassin is only identified by who he is not. When the telephone rings and his handlers ask for "Mr. King," it's his signal to answer, "No, you have the wrong number," and then call back on a pay phone for job details. Flirting with a young grad student on a trip back to New York, he attempts to impress as "Sir Peter Chilton," an independently wealthy Brit with a Georgian house on the Thames, and almost seems to believe it himself.

In short, Mr. Not King Nor Chilton is having a midlife, mid-career crisis, questioning his choice of profession for the first time. Morals don't exactly enter into it. He's simply ready for a change of scenery, to be alone with a stack of books, and naive enough to complain bitterly when his bosses just don't understand his new passion for J.M.W. Turner. Meaning they are unhappy. Meaning watch it, pal.

But as his assignments take him to Paris to the British countryside to New York to Spain, the nascent aesthete progressively loses interest in, you know, killing people. And when his Barcelona contact happens to mention Antoni Gaudí—forget it. It's time to buy a guidebook, brush up on Catalan modernism, and take a stand in the name of Art.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 29 September 2011 03:09

It's a depressingly regular occurrence: some poor, overworked stiff hits the wall and "goes postal." But what happens when a stone cold killer ices one mark too many and starts to lose it? Maybe he develops an interest in Georgian-style homes and makes his new target the art and architecture section of the local bookstore. At least, that's what Mr. De Feo, a former editor at ARTnews magazine, has imagined in this entertaining debut from an author clearly drawing from what he knows.

An American hit man based in London, our assassin is only identified by who he is not. When the telephone rings and his handlers ask for "Mr. King," it's his signal to answer, "No, you have the wrong number," and then call back on a pay phone for job details. Flirting with a young grad student on a trip back to New York, he attempts to impress as "Sir Peter Chilton," an independently wealthy Brit with a Georgian house on the Thames, and almost seems to believe it himself.

In short, Mr. Not King Nor Chilton is having a midlife, mid-career crisis, questioning his choice of profession for the first time. Morals don't exactly enter into it. He's simply ready for a change of scenery, to be alone with a stack of books, and naive enough to complain bitterly when his bosses just don't understand his new passion for J.M.W. Turner. Meaning they are unhappy. Meaning watch it, pal.

But as his assignments take him to Paris to the British countryside to New York to Spain, the nascent aesthete progressively loses interest in, you know, killing people. And when his Barcelona contact happens to mention Antoni Gaudí—forget it. It's time to buy a guidebook, brush up on Catalan modernism, and take a stand in the name of Art.

The Widow's Secret
Lourdes Venard

In Victorian London, a prostitute is murdered in Covent Garden—not generally an event to attract much notice. But widow Bella Wallis and her small band of friends do notice. Wallis, nearing 40, is a woman "wrapped in mysteries," as one character describes her. One of Wallis' many secrets is that she writes sensationalist novels under the pen name Henry Ellis Margam, using real-life villains for her characters. With the murder of prostitute Welsh Alice, she has found one of the worst such villains.

She and her team trace a crested cigar case found at the murder scene to Lord Freddie Bolsover, an out-and-out snake. The more they investigate, the more horrors they find he has perpetuated. Wallis figures to use him for her next book, but she's surrounded by men who would do even more: employee Capt. Percy Quigley; Charles Urmiston, who was wronged and left destitute by Bolsover; and Billy Murch, a shadowy acquaintance of Quigley's. These men follow Bolsover to France, with plans to kill him, and so Wallis, reluctantly, follows them.

While only 284 pages, the story unfolds leisurely in stylish prose, revealing Wallis' secrets along the way. The strength of the book is the characters, who don't always act as we expect. Wallis herself is an intelligent, strong woman, yet one who would exact justice only from a distance, and who is conflicted in her personal relationships. The Widow's Secret is the first in a planned series, and Thompson manages to bring his Victorian manhunt to a satisfying conclusion while leaving readers with some very tantalizing threads for the next book.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 29 September 2011 03:09

In Victorian London, a prostitute is murdered in Covent Garden—not generally an event to attract much notice. But widow Bella Wallis and her small band of friends do notice. Wallis, nearing 40, is a woman "wrapped in mysteries," as one character describes her. One of Wallis' many secrets is that she writes sensationalist novels under the pen name Henry Ellis Margam, using real-life villains for her characters. With the murder of prostitute Welsh Alice, she has found one of the worst such villains.

She and her team trace a crested cigar case found at the murder scene to Lord Freddie Bolsover, an out-and-out snake. The more they investigate, the more horrors they find he has perpetuated. Wallis figures to use him for her next book, but she's surrounded by men who would do even more: employee Capt. Percy Quigley; Charles Urmiston, who was wronged and left destitute by Bolsover; and Billy Murch, a shadowy acquaintance of Quigley's. These men follow Bolsover to France, with plans to kill him, and so Wallis, reluctantly, follows them.

While only 284 pages, the story unfolds leisurely in stylish prose, revealing Wallis' secrets along the way. The strength of the book is the characters, who don't always act as we expect. Wallis herself is an intelligent, strong woman, yet one who would exact justice only from a distance, and who is conflicted in her personal relationships. The Widow's Secret is the first in a planned series, and Thompson manages to bring his Victorian manhunt to a satisfying conclusion while leaving readers with some very tantalizing threads for the next book.

A Mortal Terror
Bob Smith

It's World War II and the Allies in Italy are pushing toward Rome via Anzio when two American officers are murdered. One, a lieutenant, has a ten of hearts card in his hand, and the other, a captain, has the jack of hearts in his. The fear that an officer-murdering psychopath could be moving up the ranks sends shock waves through the senior staff, prompting General Eisenhower to send his nephew Lt. Billy Boyle, a former Boston cop, to investigate. When a Major is murdered and the queen of hearts found on his body, Billy knows he has to act fast.

In the sixth entry of this exciting series, Billy faces finding a killer while violence erupts all around him. He narrows his search down to a specific unit, but as the fighting at Anzio rages, his suspects are being slaughtered by German forces faster than Billy can eliminate them as suspects.

This is a thrilling, fast-paced book, a great yarn wonderfully told. The mystery ploy is top notch with the "who," "why," and "how" aspects of the murders as puzzling and suspenseful as anyone could wish. The historical/military aspects of WWII are accurately presented and the battle of Anzio, with all the confusion, mayhem and carnage of war, is described with authentic reality. Author Benn skillfully blends the mystery of the murders and the violence of the war into one fantastic, satisfying whole. If you haven't already been hooked by this series, this book will do it and have you reaching back for the previous five.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 29 September 2011 03:09

It's World War II and the Allies in Italy are pushing toward Rome via Anzio when two American officers are murdered. One, a lieutenant, has a ten of hearts card in his hand, and the other, a captain, has the jack of hearts in his. The fear that an officer-murdering psychopath could be moving up the ranks sends shock waves through the senior staff, prompting General Eisenhower to send his nephew Lt. Billy Boyle, a former Boston cop, to investigate. When a Major is murdered and the queen of hearts found on his body, Billy knows he has to act fast.

In the sixth entry of this exciting series, Billy faces finding a killer while violence erupts all around him. He narrows his search down to a specific unit, but as the fighting at Anzio rages, his suspects are being slaughtered by German forces faster than Billy can eliminate them as suspects.

This is a thrilling, fast-paced book, a great yarn wonderfully told. The mystery ploy is top notch with the "who," "why," and "how" aspects of the murders as puzzling and suspenseful as anyone could wish. The historical/military aspects of WWII are accurately presented and the battle of Anzio, with all the confusion, mayhem and carnage of war, is described with authentic reality. Author Benn skillfully blends the mystery of the murders and the violence of the war into one fantastic, satisfying whole. If you haven't already been hooked by this series, this book will do it and have you reaching back for the previous five.

Harbor
Hank Wagner

Like many mystery novels, the abrupt disappearance of a young child provides the backdrop for Harbor, set in a seaside town on the edge of the icy Baltic Sea. As in those novels, the book explores the effect the child’s disappearance has on those left behind, in this case, the inhabitants of a tiny island fishing village off the coast of Sweden, near Stockholm, and of the six year old girl's parents, Anders and Cecilia. Like many a missing-child novel, a parent is compelled to search for his child, despite the heavy odds against ever finding her alive.

It’s here though that this tale veers off in a wildly different direction, as this book has been penned by the Swedish author, John Ajvide Lindqvist, currently one of the hottest writers in the horror genre.

Having done fresh takes on vampires (Let the Right One In) and zombies (Handling the Undead), Lindqvist tackles several new horror tropes in Harbor, touching on magic, possession, ghosts, haunted houses, insular towns trying to appease supernatural forces (think Shirley Jackson's classic short story, "The Lottery"), and ancient, Lovecraftian entities. That he handles these disparate elements so well while giving them a unique spin is a blessing to readers. That his writing remains compelling even in translation (despite some obvious gaffes, sentence-wise) is further reason to celebrate.

Most significant is the fact that the author has written a huge, sprawling, genre-crossing novel, a story about a man's search for his child, and a metaphor for humanity's uneasy relationship with forces greater than our own, here represented by the sea, an unforgiving character in it's own right. For that reason, Harbor, a massive, expansive, character-driven, revelation of a book, makes for satisfying reading.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 29 September 2011 02:09

lindqvist_harborA missing child provides the backdrop for Harbor, a Swedish genre-crossing suspense.

Plugged
M. Schlecht

Keeping New Jersey sleazy, Plugged is full of fake boobs, Irish gangsters, dirty cops, and a sea of salty language. And like a double shot of Jameson on an empty stomach, the buzz comes on quick. Daniel McEvoy is ex-Irish army and now-bouncer at Slotz, a low-rent strip club/casino. Does it sound like this doorman needs a little ambition in his life? Well there's nothing like committing unpremeditated murder to light a fire under your expat ass.

Colfer's prose is generous with the jokes and nimble with plot twists. For starters McEvoy must deal with the consequences of having knifed a mobster in the office of his friend, Zeb, who, by the way, is missing and presumably dead. Zeb's about the only friend the Irishman has, a shady pill dealer and part-time hair transplant surgeon who counts McEvoy as a paying customer. As he tries to get a handle on things, undesirable new challenges multiply, and before you know it McEvoy has a nude police woman handcuffed to the radiator in his apartment. But really, he's a good guy! Things happen, okay?

Wildly unbelievable, but you knew that already, Plugged is what a Jason Bourne movie would look like on a low...lower...keep going...budget. Relying on his somewhat faded military training, McEvoy manages a serviceable reaction to obstacles thrown in his way, reading situations for danger and coming out with most of his newly grown hair intact.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 29 September 2011 03:09

Keeping New Jersey sleazy, Plugged is full of fake boobs, Irish gangsters, dirty cops, and a sea of salty language. And like a double shot of Jameson on an empty stomach, the buzz comes on quick. Daniel McEvoy is ex-Irish army and now-bouncer at Slotz, a low-rent strip club/casino. Does it sound like this doorman needs a little ambition in his life? Well there's nothing like committing unpremeditated murder to light a fire under your expat ass.

Colfer's prose is generous with the jokes and nimble with plot twists. For starters McEvoy must deal with the consequences of having knifed a mobster in the office of his friend, Zeb, who, by the way, is missing and presumably dead. Zeb's about the only friend the Irishman has, a shady pill dealer and part-time hair transplant surgeon who counts McEvoy as a paying customer. As he tries to get a handle on things, undesirable new challenges multiply, and before you know it McEvoy has a nude police woman handcuffed to the radiator in his apartment. But really, he's a good guy! Things happen, okay?

Wildly unbelievable, but you knew that already, Plugged is what a Jason Bourne movie would look like on a low...lower...keep going...budget. Relying on his somewhat faded military training, McEvoy manages a serviceable reaction to obstacles thrown in his way, reading situations for danger and coming out with most of his newly grown hair intact.

Bye Bye, Baby
Kevin Burton Smith

Who killed Marilyn Monroe? In the long-awaited 13th novel-length adventure (after 2002's Chicago Confidential) to feature historical gumshoe Nate Heller, the ex-Chicago cop turned "private eye to the stars," Heller finds himself involved (very, very involved, in fact) in the life—and subsequent death—of the troubled sex symbol.

The usual suspects are trotted out and a multitude of names dropped—the mob, assorted Kennedys, the CIA, Sinatra, etc.—and Collins is careful not to weird out on us. Instead, as in previous forays where Heller "solved" the Lindbergh kidnapping, the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, the murder of Bugsy Siegel, and other 20th-century mysteries, Collins sticks to the facts and reasonable conjecture, avoiding the mouth-drooling, History Channel–ready conspiracy theories that so often mar books like this. As always, Collins comes clean with the reader in an extensive afterword that details his research, cites his sources, and admits where he occasionally fudges things. But once again, he makes a compelling and convincing case.

It's 1962, and both Nate and Marilyn are flying high. His A-1 Detective Agency has offices in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Manhattan, and he's enjoying the high life, rarely getting his hands dirty, doing "mostly PR and management duties." Meanwhile, his old pal Norma Jean isn't doing too shabbily either. Despite a few rough years of personal problems, broken marriages, and a reputation for being difficult to work with, she's slowly taking back control of both her life and her career, studying scripts, and settling into her new house in Brentwood, Los Angeles.

When a very public smear campaign by Fox Studios raises her ire, she hires Nate to have her phone tapped in case she has to defend herself. But Nate soon discovers that the blonde bombshell's home is already bugged—by numerous groups, for various purposes. When Marilyn is found dead and promptly labeled a "probable suicide," Nate realizes things don't add up, and the "big bad private eye" gets back in the game.

Sure, the tsunami of name-dropping gets a little predictable (does Nate really have to have known everyone?) and buffs may dispute some of the facts, but Collins offers a smart, heady mind game that plays fair with all concerned, while delivering the kind of hardboiled action he's known for. Even better news, though, is that Bye Bye, Baby is the first in a planned trilogy that will also cover the murders of John and Robert Kennedy. Welcome back, Nate.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 29 September 2011 03:09

Who killed Marilyn Monroe? In the long-awaited 13th novel-length adventure (after 2002's Chicago Confidential) to feature historical gumshoe Nate Heller, the ex-Chicago cop turned "private eye to the stars," Heller finds himself involved (very, very involved, in fact) in the life—and subsequent death—of the troubled sex symbol.

The usual suspects are trotted out and a multitude of names dropped—the mob, assorted Kennedys, the CIA, Sinatra, etc.—and Collins is careful not to weird out on us. Instead, as in previous forays where Heller "solved" the Lindbergh kidnapping, the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, the murder of Bugsy Siegel, and other 20th-century mysteries, Collins sticks to the facts and reasonable conjecture, avoiding the mouth-drooling, History Channel–ready conspiracy theories that so often mar books like this. As always, Collins comes clean with the reader in an extensive afterword that details his research, cites his sources, and admits where he occasionally fudges things. But once again, he makes a compelling and convincing case.

It's 1962, and both Nate and Marilyn are flying high. His A-1 Detective Agency has offices in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Manhattan, and he's enjoying the high life, rarely getting his hands dirty, doing "mostly PR and management duties." Meanwhile, his old pal Norma Jean isn't doing too shabbily either. Despite a few rough years of personal problems, broken marriages, and a reputation for being difficult to work with, she's slowly taking back control of both her life and her career, studying scripts, and settling into her new house in Brentwood, Los Angeles.

When a very public smear campaign by Fox Studios raises her ire, she hires Nate to have her phone tapped in case she has to defend herself. But Nate soon discovers that the blonde bombshell's home is already bugged—by numerous groups, for various purposes. When Marilyn is found dead and promptly labeled a "probable suicide," Nate realizes things don't add up, and the "big bad private eye" gets back in the game.

Sure, the tsunami of name-dropping gets a little predictable (does Nate really have to have known everyone?) and buffs may dispute some of the facts, but Collins offers a smart, heady mind game that plays fair with all concerned, while delivering the kind of hardboiled action he's known for. Even better news, though, is that Bye Bye, Baby is the first in a planned trilogy that will also cover the murders of John and Robert Kennedy. Welcome back, Nate.

Wicked Autumn
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

First, a confession: As an incurable Agatha Christie fan, I am immediately prone to liking a murder mystery that takes place in a small English village. That murderous intent exists in such a bucolic setting somehow makes the evil even more intense.

While no one recognizes hidden evil as well as Christie's Miss Marple, Malliet's Max Tudor is no slouch. As a former MI5 agent turned Anglican priest, he has a professional background that makes his investigative skills quite believable. While looking for peace after a traumatizing experience in MI5, his calm existence in the village of Nether Monkslip is interrupted by a suspicious death during the annual Harvest Fayre. Because of his background and his familiarity with the villagers, Max is asked to help the police with their investigation.

Unfortunately, since the victim was killed in the Village Hall which was open and not far from the Fayre grounds, anyone could have had access to the murder scene. Moreover, although the victim was not well liked, no one in the village seemed to have a strong enough motive for the murder.

Malliet is an Agatha Award winner for her St. Just Mystery series novel Death of a Cozy Writer, and like Christie, she knows how to establish characters and setting, develop a fiendish plot, an unusual method of murder, and sprinkle the lot with red herrings among the real clues. Where she differs is in her writing style. While Christie's plots moved swiftly thanks to her spare language and brief descriptions of character, Malliet describes people and places with more specificity. As a result, the reading is a bit slower, but we get to know the people and places better. And despite what I thought I knew about Nether Monkslip and its inhabitants, I was surprised by the ending. Wicked Autumn is the debut novel in the Max Tudor series and a winning entry in the quiet English village mystery genre.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 29 September 2011 03:09

malliet_wickedautumnMeet MI5 agent turned Anglican priest Max Tudor in this new series set in the English countryside series.

The Blood Royal
Jem Bloomfield

Barbara Cleverly's Commander Joe Sandilands is far from the flatfoot two-dimensional Plods-of-the-Yard which feature in so many historical crime novels. Widely traveled in the Indies, struggling to deal with the new "austerity" in police budgets, and a supporter of women's emancipation, Sandilands is drawn against a detailed 1920s milieu. In The Blood Royal he is faced with the twin problems of Fenian Irish terrorism and Russian émigré subversion, not to mention a London press whose sensational reporting of the issues could cause panic to break out amongst the public. It's a promising setup and Cleverly is clearly eager to explore the larger consequences and contexts of the crimes Sandilands uncovers.

Unfortunately, the clogged prose prevents the story from really taking off. Cleverly's characters have the maddening habit of making contemporary references and then pausing to explain them to each other. After a few chapters of this, the novel feels like an annotated edition of itself. It's hard to get involved with a story, which takes so long to tell, because the book doesn't trust the reader to understand anything without having it spelled out. Aside from which, the tone is strikingly uneven: The inner life which Cleverly attempts to provide for her characters is impossible to reconcile with their penny-dreadful speech style, with its references to "murderous menace" and "this foul matter." The obvious enthusiasm for the 1920s, which the book displays, is quickly squandered by these problems, which keep the reader at arm's length throughout.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 29 September 2011 03:09

Barbara Cleverly's Commander Joe Sandilands is far from the flatfoot two-dimensional Plods-of-the-Yard which feature in so many historical crime novels. Widely traveled in the Indies, struggling to deal with the new "austerity" in police budgets, and a supporter of women's emancipation, Sandilands is drawn against a detailed 1920s milieu. In The Blood Royal he is faced with the twin problems of Fenian Irish terrorism and Russian émigré subversion, not to mention a London press whose sensational reporting of the issues could cause panic to break out amongst the public. It's a promising setup and Cleverly is clearly eager to explore the larger consequences and contexts of the crimes Sandilands uncovers.

Unfortunately, the clogged prose prevents the story from really taking off. Cleverly's characters have the maddening habit of making contemporary references and then pausing to explain them to each other. After a few chapters of this, the novel feels like an annotated edition of itself. It's hard to get involved with a story, which takes so long to tell, because the book doesn't trust the reader to understand anything without having it spelled out. Aside from which, the tone is strikingly uneven: The inner life which Cleverly attempts to provide for her characters is impossible to reconcile with their penny-dreadful speech style, with its references to "murderous menace" and "this foul matter." The obvious enthusiasm for the 1920s, which the book displays, is quickly squandered by these problems, which keep the reader at arm's length throughout.

Trackers
Derek Hill

Meyer's latest is a massively complex tale of criminality, a structurally ambitious novel that weaves together three major genres, and three plot arcs into a cohesive resolution.

The first, with elements of the espionage thriller, follows a well-to-do Cape Town homemaker in her forties, Milla Strachan, who grows weary of living with a husband who would rather ride his motorcycle with friends than be with her. Neither can she suffer silently through the constant manipulation and verbal abuse that her teenage son regularly dumps on her. Strachan leaves them, moves into her own apartment, and lands a job with a clandestine department within the government that monitors suspected Islamic terrorists in the country.

Meanwhile the second thread, a more straightforward drama, concerns a privately employed bodyguard named Lemmer who is hired by a farmer to safely deliver two rare rhinos from up north to the farmer's property. Things get complicated, however, when a woman accompanying the rhinos during the handover demands to come along with them, and along the way Lemmer realizes someone is following them.

The last story, touching on the detective novel, involves private investigator, Mat Joubert, who has been hired via the firm he works for to locate a missing husband.

Many readers may know Joubert from earlier Meyer novel Dead Before Dying. Lemmer, the bodyguard, also appeared in a previous novel, Blood Safari, and here steals the show. With his mysterious past and his charismatic brooding and man-of-action style, it's difficult not to want the entire novel to center around him. That said, Strachan makes for a great, realistic character, and is clearly the one most readers will identify with.

Meyer never shortchanges us by offering up a one-dimensional portrayal, but what makes Trackers so memorable and gripping throughout, is its ambitious overview of a country pushing into the future yet still troubled by lingering racial, economic, and political divides. South African life itself dominates every crucial detail in the novel, and haunts us long after we set the book down. This is a colossal achievement in many ways and sets the bar high for a writer who's already built his reputation writing exciting fiction.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 29 September 2011 03:09

A complex, cross-genre tale of criminality set in South Africa that unfolds as three intertwoven stories involving espionage, detection, social politics, and thrills.

Trick of the Dark
Betty Webb
In Val McDermid’s moving Trick of the Dark two lesbian couples find themselves caught up in a murder case. Magda, a physician, is newly involved with Jay, a dot-com millionaire who has left a train of “accidental” deaths in her wake; Charlie, a psychiatrist, is married to Maria, a dentist, but finds herself falling for the mysterious Lisa, author of I’m Not Okay, You’re Not Okay: Negotiating Vulnerability. And this is a vulnerable time in Charlie’s life. Her career is down the crapper and she’s on the outs with the medical board because her courtroom testimony freed a suspected murderer who subsequently raped and killed four women.

So when Corinna, Magda’s mother, begs Charlie to find out if Jay is a murderer and is therefore a vastly unsuitable lover for her daughter, Charlie reluctantly agrees. A complex, beautifully told story, Trick of the Dark will not only appeal to fans of the best gay fiction, but to anyone who prefers deep psychological mysteries to shallow shoot-’em-ups. Of particular note is the scene where Magda comes out to her drunken, bigoted father. Never have the judgmental been so ill-suited to judge others.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 29 September 2011 04:09
A deft psychological mystery set around a murder in Oxford and featuring protaganist Charlie Flint.
The Goat Woman of Largo Bay
Bob Smith

Largo Bay, a small village in an isolated corner of Jamaica, is without police presence, so when problems arise the people turn to either the obeah man (the local magician) or to Shadrack "Shad" Myers (the local bartender). Shad has a knack for solving problems, and since he has everyone's confidence, he is the town's de facto private eye.

The latest mystery concerns the unknown woman who suddenly appears living on the small island just outside the village. Who is she? Where did she come from? Why is she there? Do the upcoming national elections having anything to do with her? Shad suspects that her presence will cause, if not out and out trouble, then at least unnecessary concern, curiosity, and rampant rumors among the villagers, and he is right.

It's fun to become engrossed in the locals' reaction to this strange woman. And author Royes, a Jamaican native, has the feel, look, and dialects of the area down pat. These are people one could easily feel at home with. A couple of shady types try broaching the island for nefarious purposes but are run off. Shad must prevent them from trying again, and with the help of the obeah man, comes up with a wild solution.

This is a pleasant, light read and although it is weak on the mystery aspects, it does boast some likeable characters, an exotic locale, and fun situations all with a dash of Caribbean flavoring. If only the author would present Shad with a case worthy of his talents this series could easily take its place alongside the Alexander McCall Smith Botswana books.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 29 September 2011 04:09

Largo Bay, a small village in an isolated corner of Jamaica, is without police presence, so when problems arise the people turn to either the obeah man (the local magician) or to Shadrack "Shad" Myers (the local bartender). Shad has a knack for solving problems, and since he has everyone's confidence, he is the town's de facto private eye.

The latest mystery concerns the unknown woman who suddenly appears living on the small island just outside the village. Who is she? Where did she come from? Why is she there? Do the upcoming national elections having anything to do with her? Shad suspects that her presence will cause, if not out and out trouble, then at least unnecessary concern, curiosity, and rampant rumors among the villagers, and he is right.

It's fun to become engrossed in the locals' reaction to this strange woman. And author Royes, a Jamaican native, has the feel, look, and dialects of the area down pat. These are people one could easily feel at home with. A couple of shady types try broaching the island for nefarious purposes but are run off. Shad must prevent them from trying again, and with the help of the obeah man, comes up with a wild solution.

This is a pleasant, light read and although it is weak on the mystery aspects, it does boast some likeable characters, an exotic locale, and fun situations all with a dash of Caribbean flavoring. If only the author would present Shad with a case worthy of his talents this series could easily take its place alongside the Alexander McCall Smith Botswana books.

Killed at the Whim of a Hat
Bob Smith

Good news for mystery fans who love tales that occur in foreign locales. Colin Cotterill, who captured a wide fan base with his Dr. Siri Paiboun stories set in Laos, has a new series set in southern Thailand. Freelance crime reporter Jimm Juree has moved from exciting Chiang Mai to seemingly dull Chumphon Province. She soon discovers her new home is more like Cabot Cove than Bali Hai when two mysteries occur: a Buddhist monk is murdered and a vintage VW is unburied to reveal two skeletons. The crimes provide Jimm an opportunity for a major scoop but take a backseat in reader interest to the locale, sparkling dialogue, and delightful cast of characters. Principal among them are those in Jimm's—if not dysfunctional then at least eccentric—family: her mother, who has a unique way of extracting revenge; her granddad, a retired cop who never rose above traffic duty because he refused to take bribes; an older brother who became a female beauty contestant following his sex change operation; and a younger brother who took up body building to overcome bullying and now has a build to make Arnold proud, but who is meek and cries when confronted. Toss in sundry villagers, local cops (in particular a homosexual lieutenant with a sharp mind and a quick wit), plus a thieving puppy and you have a cast to love and long remember.

Cotterill is a born storyteller and has a wonderful way with one-liners. Some of his quips had me laughing out loud. ("I hadn't seen Granddad this animated since the great diarrhea onslaught of 2005.") His writing flows easily, and although the solutions to the crimes disappoint, it doesn't matter because the rest is more than fine. Regrettably, prior to each chapter the author cites quotes from George W. Bush that seem meant to mock the former president, but that have absolutely nothing to do with the story and serve only as annoying distractions.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 29 September 2011 04:09

Good news for mystery fans who love tales that occur in foreign locales. Colin Cotterill, who captured a wide fan base with his Dr. Siri Paiboun stories set in Laos, has a new series set in southern Thailand. Freelance crime reporter Jimm Juree has moved from exciting Chiang Mai to seemingly dull Chumphon Province. She soon discovers her new home is more like Cabot Cove than Bali Hai when two mysteries occur: a Buddhist monk is murdered and a vintage VW is unburied to reveal two skeletons. The crimes provide Jimm an opportunity for a major scoop but take a backseat in reader interest to the locale, sparkling dialogue, and delightful cast of characters. Principal among them are those in Jimm's—if not dysfunctional then at least eccentric—family: her mother, who has a unique way of extracting revenge; her granddad, a retired cop who never rose above traffic duty because he refused to take bribes; an older brother who became a female beauty contestant following his sex change operation; and a younger brother who took up body building to overcome bullying and now has a build to make Arnold proud, but who is meek and cries when confronted. Toss in sundry villagers, local cops (in particular a homosexual lieutenant with a sharp mind and a quick wit), plus a thieving puppy and you have a cast to love and long remember.

Cotterill is a born storyteller and has a wonderful way with one-liners. Some of his quips had me laughing out loud. ("I hadn't seen Granddad this animated since the great diarrhea onslaught of 2005.") His writing flows easily, and although the solutions to the crimes disappoint, it doesn't matter because the rest is more than fine. Regrettably, prior to each chapter the author cites quotes from George W. Bush that seem meant to mock the former president, but that have absolutely nothing to do with the story and serve only as annoying distractions.

A Crack in Everything
Debbi Mack

Susan Callisto, a Boston real-estate lawyer turned political consultant who's pushing 30 and scrambling to pay the bills, is hired by the well-heeled Charles (aka Chaz) Renfrow at the 11th hour to consult on his run for mayor. The incumbent is harassing Renfrow's biotech company, NovoGenTech, or NGT, and Chaz is willing to pay Susan $20,000 to handle the situation. Managing not to faint at the sight of so many zeros, Susan takes the check, even as she asks herself, "Why me?"

Susan has no idea what's going on and doesn't get her first clue until Chaz's assistant Torie turns up dead in the trunk of her car. Murdered, possibly because of things she threatened to tell about NGT and toxic waste dumping. Susan starts to smell a rat.

What ensues is a riotous tangle of trouble, which readers may need a flowchart to follow. Let's just say it involves campaign antics, shady politicians (including one who's gunning for another of Susan's political clients, Roddie Baird), a corporate coverup (NGT), a couple of wives who may not be quite what they seem (Chaz's and Roddie's), an assassination (Chaz's), a friend in a coma (Nino Biondi, Susan's "half-stand-in grandpa"), and a complicated professional vs. personal conflict (did I mention Susan's ex, detective Michael, is investigating both murders?). Remarkably, these events all tie together and lead up to a big climax in which the killers are revealed. The answers will rock Susan's world in ways she can't begin to imagine. It is a purposefully convoluted plot, but Angela Gerst writes with assured and fluid prose. Susan Callisto is a funny, strong protagonist worthy of a long series of books. Enjoy the ride and don't sweat the details.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 29 September 2011 04:09

Susan Callisto, a Boston real-estate lawyer turned political consultant who's pushing 30 and scrambling to pay the bills, is hired by the well-heeled Charles (aka Chaz) Renfrow at the 11th hour to consult on his run for mayor. The incumbent is harassing Renfrow's biotech company, NovoGenTech, or NGT, and Chaz is willing to pay Susan $20,000 to handle the situation. Managing not to faint at the sight of so many zeros, Susan takes the check, even as she asks herself, "Why me?"

Susan has no idea what's going on and doesn't get her first clue until Chaz's assistant Torie turns up dead in the trunk of her car. Murdered, possibly because of things she threatened to tell about NGT and toxic waste dumping. Susan starts to smell a rat.

What ensues is a riotous tangle of trouble, which readers may need a flowchart to follow. Let's just say it involves campaign antics, shady politicians (including one who's gunning for another of Susan's political clients, Roddie Baird), a corporate coverup (NGT), a couple of wives who may not be quite what they seem (Chaz's and Roddie's), an assassination (Chaz's), a friend in a coma (Nino Biondi, Susan's "half-stand-in grandpa"), and a complicated professional vs. personal conflict (did I mention Susan's ex, detective Michael, is investigating both murders?). Remarkably, these events all tie together and lead up to a big climax in which the killers are revealed. The answers will rock Susan's world in ways she can't begin to imagine. It is a purposefully convoluted plot, but Angela Gerst writes with assured and fluid prose. Susan Callisto is a funny, strong protagonist worthy of a long series of books. Enjoy the ride and don't sweat the details.

The Cut
Hank Wagner

Spero Lucas is a modern version of John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee—a vet of a recent war, he does recovery work for his clients in return for a sizable portion of what he recovers. There are other ways he resembles MacDonald's character: He's quick-witted, resourceful, tough, and has a way with the ladies. The major differences between them are their environs (Washington, DC for Lucas vs. Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for McGee), and their standards: Whereas McGee liked to nobly tilt at windmills, Lucas is, by necessity, less choosy about clients. This lack of selectivity can lead to trouble, as it does in The Cut, when he goes to work for a local drug dealer whose shipments are being hijacked. Because he is good at what he does, Lucas quickly finds himself in "kill or be killed" territory, where one mistake could cost him his life.

The Cut, the first in a new series starring Lucas, finds the author in fine form: The pacing is deft, the dialogue crackles, and the action is intense and harrowing. Newer readers will find Lucas a compelling lead character for his compassion, wit, and lethality. Longtime Pelecanos readers should take to him because he inhabits the familiar urban world that the crime writer has so skillfully detailed over the past couple of decades (at one point, for instance, he drives past Derek Strange's detective agency). Both sets of readers should also appreciate his (and his brother's) taste in literature, as Pelecanos gives numerous shout-outs to classics like Elmore Leonard's Unknown Man #89 and Daniel Woodrell's The Death of Sweet Mister.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 29 September 2011 04:09

Spero Lucas is a modern version of John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee—a vet of a recent war, he does recovery work for his clients in return for a sizable portion of what he recovers. There are other ways he resembles MacDonald's character: He's quick-witted, resourceful, tough, and has a way with the ladies. The major differences between them are their environs (Washington, DC for Lucas vs. Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for McGee), and their standards: Whereas McGee liked to nobly tilt at windmills, Lucas is, by necessity, less choosy about clients. This lack of selectivity can lead to trouble, as it does in The Cut, when he goes to work for a local drug dealer whose shipments are being hijacked. Because he is good at what he does, Lucas quickly finds himself in "kill or be killed" territory, where one mistake could cost him his life.

The Cut, the first in a new series starring Lucas, finds the author in fine form: The pacing is deft, the dialogue crackles, and the action is intense and harrowing. Newer readers will find Lucas a compelling lead character for his compassion, wit, and lethality. Longtime Pelecanos readers should take to him because he inhabits the familiar urban world that the crime writer has so skillfully detailed over the past couple of decades (at one point, for instance, he drives past Derek Strange's detective agency). Both sets of readers should also appreciate his (and his brother's) taste in literature, as Pelecanos gives numerous shout-outs to classics like Elmore Leonard's Unknown Man #89 and Daniel Woodrell's The Death of Sweet Mister.

Triple Crossing
Barbara Fister

First time novelist Sebastian Rotella is no stranger to organized crime, terrorism, and border politics. As a journalist and a Pulitzer Prize finalist, he has investigated the links between the drug trade, extremist violence, and human trafficking in Europe, Latin America, and along the US border with Mexico. He brings his authority and passion to bear on this nail-biting story in which a few honest officers go up against global organizations that move drugs and people into the United States.

In San Diego, Valentine Pescatore, a rash young border agent so ambivalent about his work that he shoves money into the hands of the desperate people he intercepts, causes a diplomatic incident when he impulsively pursues a smuggler over the border into Tijuana. Pescatore is soon recruited to go under cover, under the direction of a beautiful and fiery-tempered federal agent, Isabel Puente. She has an uneasy alliance in Mexico with a crusading ex-journalist turned cop, Leo Mendez, who is the head of a small but incorruptible investigative team.

The situation Rotella sets up is so complex that the story gets off to a slow start as the various elements are put in place, but once Pescatore is ensconced in the cartel and they head to the exotic "triple border" where Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil come together, the reader can't turn the pages fast enough.

Has the ambivalent young border agent thrown his lot in with the criminals? How deeply has the global mafia penetrated the political system? The moral borderland where politics, terrorism, big business, and organized crime come together is a fascinating and frightening place, vividly evoked by a writer who knows the territory.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 29 September 2011 04:09

First time novelist Sebastian Rotella is no stranger to organized crime, terrorism, and border politics. As a journalist and a Pulitzer Prize finalist, he has investigated the links between the drug trade, extremist violence, and human trafficking in Europe, Latin America, and along the US border with Mexico. He brings his authority and passion to bear on this nail-biting story in which a few honest officers go up against global organizations that move drugs and people into the United States.

In San Diego, Valentine Pescatore, a rash young border agent so ambivalent about his work that he shoves money into the hands of the desperate people he intercepts, causes a diplomatic incident when he impulsively pursues a smuggler over the border into Tijuana. Pescatore is soon recruited to go under cover, under the direction of a beautiful and fiery-tempered federal agent, Isabel Puente. She has an uneasy alliance in Mexico with a crusading ex-journalist turned cop, Leo Mendez, who is the head of a small but incorruptible investigative team.

The situation Rotella sets up is so complex that the story gets off to a slow start as the various elements are put in place, but once Pescatore is ensconced in the cartel and they head to the exotic "triple border" where Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil come together, the reader can't turn the pages fast enough.

Has the ambivalent young border agent thrown his lot in with the criminals? How deeply has the global mafia penetrated the political system? The moral borderland where politics, terrorism, big business, and organized crime come together is a fascinating and frightening place, vividly evoked by a writer who knows the territory.

The Heirloom Murders
Lynne F. Maxwell

Kathleen Ernst lives up to her promise in The Heirloom Murders, her second mystery featuring Chloe Ellefson. As readers learn in the series opener Old World Murder, Chloe is a collections curator for a replica of an antique Wisconsin town. Chloe is responsible for maintaining the authenticity of the town, which entails preserving for public consumption both the artifacts, surroundings, and cultural conventions of model Old Town, Wisconsin. Unfortunately, the present intrudes, introducing contemporary crime to the tranquil village. Much of the novel centers upon the history and attraction of the Eagle Diamond, a precious stone that vanished long ago. Murder and mayhem ensue as the chase for possession of the diamond escalates. Oh, and don't forget the romantic subplot that pits Chloe's ex-fiancé, another collections curator, against her new love interest, a lowly cop. Read The Heirloom Murders for entertainment and edification.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 29 September 2011 04:09

Kathleen Ernst lives up to her promise in The Heirloom Murders, her second mystery featuring Chloe Ellefson. As readers learn in the series opener Old World Murder, Chloe is a collections curator for a replica of an antique Wisconsin town. Chloe is responsible for maintaining the authenticity of the town, which entails preserving for public consumption both the artifacts, surroundings, and cultural conventions of model Old Town, Wisconsin. Unfortunately, the present intrudes, introducing contemporary crime to the tranquil village. Much of the novel centers upon the history and attraction of the Eagle Diamond, a precious stone that vanished long ago. Murder and mayhem ensue as the chase for possession of the diamond escalates. Oh, and don't forget the romantic subplot that pits Chloe's ex-fiancé, another collections curator, against her new love interest, a lowly cop. Read The Heirloom Murders for entertainment and edification.