Living Proof
Debbi Mack

In the year 2027 Dr. Arianna Drake runs such an amazingly successful fertility clinic that it’s caught the eye of the US Department of Embryo Preservation (DEP), an agency tasked with enforcing the laws that protect human embryos from harm. DEP suspects dirty business is going on beneath the clinic’s squeaky clean exterior, particularly given Dr. Drake’s radical past in which she supported the now-illegal use of embryos for scientific research.

In the hope that Dr. Drake will divulge her secrets, DEP agent Trent Rowe goes undercover and cozies up to Arianna but soon finds himself reluctantly falling for her. Rowe, whose faith has wavered in the past, discovers that, indeed, everything is not as it seems at the clinic, but what is at stake for Arianna is much more than academic research—it’s a serious matter of life and death, and a potentially groundbreaking scientific advancement. Faced with difficult moral decisions about faith, God, love and reason, Trent struggles to accommodate the seemingly conflicting ethics of science and religion.

Living Proof is a well-written thriller that deals with issues of great relevance in today’s world: When exactly does an embryo become a human being? Whose life is of most value? To her great credit, Peikoff creates believable, well-rounded characters who represent both sides of a tough moral question.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-15 21:49:28

peikoff_livingproofA thriller set in the near-future where medicine, ethics, and religion collide.

The Spy Who Jumped Off the Screen
M. Schlecht

Early buzz surrounding this sophisticated novel of international espionage has focused on its introduction by President Bill Clinton, author Thomas Caplan’s former college roommate. It’s a fitting beginning for a thriller about a spy who takes full advantage of his high-profile connections.

Playing the starring role in The Spy Who Jumped Off the Screen is Ty Hunter, Hollywood’s hottest actor and a spy for the US government serving at the personal request of the Commander in Chief. The call to serve interrupts his post-Cannes lounging around the Mediterranean, although Hunter’s mission takes him onboard the mega-yacht of super-rich Ian Santal. Not a bad gig. Santal is a “man of science” who may be dealing in nuclear warheads with the help of his protégé Philip Frost, whose position supervising the decommissioning of Russian nukes provides easy access. The pair is ruthless but pragmatic. Together they almost make one good Bond villain.

So if you’re keeping score at home: Bad guys with access to advanced weaponry? Check. Expensive boat sailing on the Med? Check. All we need now to reach level 007 is...a soft, feminine voice with an irresistible English accent. This belongs to jewelry designer Isabella Cavill, whose flirtatious invitations Hunter cannot turn down. Complications? She’s Santal’s goddaughter and Frost’s current lover. And she believes in Frost despite his obviously villainous surname. It’s up to Mr. Hunter to convince her to switch allegiances, and maybe her bedroom as well. But it turns out there’s no time for rumpled bedsheets in a novel that, despite willfully channeling the spirit of Fleming, remains a bit chaste. The action, too, could stand to be either a bit more fantastically fun or rivetingly real. We can assume, though, that Caplan will have a chance to fine tune in the sequel(s).

Teri Duerr
2012-02-15 21:53:13

caplan_spywhojumpedoffthescreenThis debut espionage thriller channels the spirit of Ian Fleming and the bonhomie of Bill Clinton.

The Whisperer
Derek Hill

Somewhere in central Europe a middle-aged sales rep is arrested after rural police find the body of a little girl in the trunk of his car. Brilliant criminologist Goran Gavila and his experienced crew of special investigators arrive at the mountain village to interrogate the suspect, who is believed to be responsible for the murder of five girls and the disappearance of a sixth. Before Gavila and his squad can interrogate him, however, the suspect kills himself while in custody. One of the investigators, newcomer Mila Vasquez, a troubled but experienced cop specializing in missing children, shares Gavila’s belief that more than one person is responsible for the grisly crimes.

It’s difficult to get excited by yet another serial killer novel, but Donato Carrisi’s first book is a bewitchingly macabre stunner with an unnerving and ingenious premise reminiscent of Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs. Although the character of Gavila is the calm-headed, rational center of the novel, it’s Vasquez that makes for the emotional punch. Just as brilliant, in her own way, as Gavila, Vasquez is nevertheless troubled with severe mental health issues—she cuts herself to make herself feel and cry—because of a horrifying earlier incident. Gavila is likewise no stranger to personal tragedy, and the two of them make for engaging, all-too-human protagonists.

Carrisi is expert at generating suspense and conjures up enough twists on the subject to please readers who think they’ve read it all. Not all of the plot revelations work—a pivotal dramatic disclosure in the last 100 pages or so comes off as outlandishly unnecessary— and Carrisi’s intentional obscuring of the story’s locale is distracting. But this is a riveting and well-written debut.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-15 21:59:12

Somewhere in central Europe a middle-aged sales rep is arrested after rural police find the body of a little girl in the trunk of his car. Brilliant criminologist Goran Gavila and his experienced crew of special investigators arrive at the mountain village to interrogate the suspect, who is believed to be responsible for the murder of five girls and the disappearance of a sixth. Before Gavila and his squad can interrogate him, however, the suspect kills himself while in custody. One of the investigators, newcomer Mila Vasquez, a troubled but experienced cop specializing in missing children, shares Gavila’s belief that more than one person is responsible for the grisly crimes.

It’s difficult to get excited by yet another serial killer novel, but Donato Carrisi’s first book is a bewitchingly macabre stunner with an unnerving and ingenious premise reminiscent of Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs. Although the character of Gavila is the calm-headed, rational center of the novel, it’s Vasquez that makes for the emotional punch. Just as brilliant, in her own way, as Gavila, Vasquez is nevertheless troubled with severe mental health issues—she cuts herself to make herself feel and cry—because of a horrifying earlier incident. Gavila is likewise no stranger to personal tragedy, and the two of them make for engaging, all-too-human protagonists.

Carrisi is expert at generating suspense and conjures up enough twists on the subject to please readers who think they’ve read it all. Not all of the plot revelations work—a pivotal dramatic disclosure in the last 100 pages or so comes off as outlandishly unnecessary— and Carrisi’s intentional obscuring of the story’s locale is distracting. But this is a riveting and well-written debut.

The Hunter
Derek Hill

Private eye Wyatt Hunt, the sometime lead and sometime supporting player in Lescroart’s fictional San Francisco (which also lists criminal lawyer Dismas Hardy and homicide cop Abe Glitsky as residents) is back in his third novel. Unfortunately, the author has ventured a little too deep into Big Book Bloat this time. With its meandering subplots that verge on soap opera, a talking points exposition style that revels in telling rather than showing, and an orgy of extraneous details, the narrative occasionally seems in danger of losing its way.

What saves it all, at least for me, is that Lescroart’s built this shaky house of cards on a solid, compelling plot and one hell of a hook. A former Child Protective Services investigator, Hunt, heads the up-andcoming Hunt Club detective agency and receives a disturbing text message from a number he doesn’t recognize. “How did your mother die?” it teases. The answer, of course, is murder, but for the emotionally repressed Hunt, a man who’s always been coldly incurious about his biological parents, it’s just the first step in a heart-wrenching odyssey that takes him across the country, into Mexico, and even brushing up against one of the 20th century’s most shocking mass murders. But the biggest journey for Wyatt is when he comes face to face with his biological parents’ own dark and troubled history.

At times, Lescroart milks the inherent passion of the story so hard it almost squeals, Wyatt’s emotional rebirth is a little too pat and strangely inconsistent, and the gee-whiz details and Oprah-esque pop psychology get slathered on too thickly, but there’s no denying the wallop of the basic story. If only the author had dared to boil this son of a bitch down to the bone, opting for Hammett-like tautness instead of Patterson-like melodrama, this would have been a real San Francisco treat.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-15 22:04:28

Private eye Wyatt Hunt, the sometime lead and sometime supporting player in Lescroart’s fictional San Francisco (which also lists criminal lawyer Dismas Hardy and homicide cop Abe Glitsky as residents) is back in his third novel. Unfortunately, the author has ventured a little too deep into Big Book Bloat this time. With its meandering subplots that verge on soap opera, a talking points exposition style that revels in telling rather than showing, and an orgy of extraneous details, the narrative occasionally seems in danger of losing its way.

What saves it all, at least for me, is that Lescroart’s built this shaky house of cards on a solid, compelling plot and one hell of a hook. A former Child Protective Services investigator, Hunt, heads the up-andcoming Hunt Club detective agency and receives a disturbing text message from a number he doesn’t recognize. “How did your mother die?” it teases. The answer, of course, is murder, but for the emotionally repressed Hunt, a man who’s always been coldly incurious about his biological parents, it’s just the first step in a heart-wrenching odyssey that takes him across the country, into Mexico, and even brushing up against one of the 20th century’s most shocking mass murders. But the biggest journey for Wyatt is when he comes face to face with his biological parents’ own dark and troubled history.

At times, Lescroart milks the inherent passion of the story so hard it almost squeals, Wyatt’s emotional rebirth is a little too pat and strangely inconsistent, and the gee-whiz details and Oprah-esque pop psychology get slathered on too thickly, but there’s no denying the wallop of the basic story. If only the author had dared to boil this son of a bitch down to the bone, opting for Hammett-like tautness instead of Patterson-like melodrama, this would have been a real San Francisco treat.

Sticks and Stones
Jackie Houchin

K. J. Larsen’s second Cat DeLuca mystery opens with the feisty owner of the Pants On Fire Detective Agency hot on the trail of a two-timing husband. A self-proclaimed catcher of cheaters and liars, Cat makes her living providing evidence for her aggrieved-spouse clients.

The current jerk is proving difficult, however, so when Cleo, her hot-tempered assistant, says she’s found her own runaway husband’s new house, Cat agrees to accompany her to “pick up a few of her things.” What they find instead is his freshly dead body. Minutes later two of Chicago’s finest burst in, discover the women standing over the body, and arrest Cleo for murder. Cat insists she didn’t kill him, but the cops don’t see it that way, especially when just hours earlier, neighbors reported seeing Cleo screaming murderous threats outside his house. To keep Cleo from doing time, Cat vows to find the real killer. Using all her cheatercatching skills, a few “resources” in her big Italian family, and the special talents of two hunky boyfriends, Cat discovers the real culprit.

Sticks and Stones is a delicious romp from start to finish. The author’s enjoyment in telling the story comes through in her tonguein- cheek tone that keeps readers grinning even through the scary parts. The plot is twisty, the villains are shades of gray, the sexy moments are discreetly brief, and the many disguises Cat uses are enough to make a costumer drool. Plus, Larson’s tough, wisecracking protagonist—who always gets her man—will give Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum a run for her money.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-15 22:08:07

K. J. Larsen’s second Cat DeLuca mystery opens with the feisty owner of the Pants On Fire Detective Agency hot on the trail of a two-timing husband. A self-proclaimed catcher of cheaters and liars, Cat makes her living providing evidence for her aggrieved-spouse clients.

The current jerk is proving difficult, however, so when Cleo, her hot-tempered assistant, says she’s found her own runaway husband’s new house, Cat agrees to accompany her to “pick up a few of her things.” What they find instead is his freshly dead body. Minutes later two of Chicago’s finest burst in, discover the women standing over the body, and arrest Cleo for murder. Cat insists she didn’t kill him, but the cops don’t see it that way, especially when just hours earlier, neighbors reported seeing Cleo screaming murderous threats outside his house. To keep Cleo from doing time, Cat vows to find the real killer. Using all her cheatercatching skills, a few “resources” in her big Italian family, and the special talents of two hunky boyfriends, Cat discovers the real culprit.

Sticks and Stones is a delicious romp from start to finish. The author’s enjoyment in telling the story comes through in her tonguein- cheek tone that keeps readers grinning even through the scary parts. The plot is twisty, the villains are shades of gray, the sexy moments are discreetly brief, and the many disguises Cat uses are enough to make a costumer drool. Plus, Larson’s tough, wisecracking protagonist—who always gets her man—will give Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum a run for her money.

Death Drops
Sue Emmons

Chrystle Fiedler, author of four nonfiction books on natural remedies, relies on her extensive knowledge of alternative medicine to offer a cozy mystery centering on Willow McQuade, a naturopathic doctor, in this debut novel.

McQuade discovers her Aunt Claire’s body sprawled on the floor of her shop, Nature’s Way Market and Café. Nearby is a bottle of Mimulus—a floral potion used to fend off fear, particularly of accidents. McQuade soon learns that her aunt invented an age-defying lotion, Fresh Face, which has turned up missing in the wake of Claire’s death.

McQuade enlists the help of a former police officer, Jackson Spade, to track down both the killer and the motive behind the crime. They quickly learn that her aunt had many rivals in the small Long Island seaside town and are faced with weeding out multiple suspects to apprehend a killer. McQuade is a spunky character with a penchant for getting involved, as she does in this village mystery. Her exploits should intrigue readers, particularly those with an interest in homeopathic medicine. The lively doctor is a welcome addition to the ranks of specialized cozies.

Fiedler has a knack for detailing aspects of acupuncture, massage, yoga and homeopathy which should provide fertile ground for further adventures of an unconventional, but eminently likeable, doctor.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-15 22:14:01

Chrystle Fiedler, author of four nonfiction books on natural remedies, relies on her extensive knowledge of alternative medicine to offer a cozy mystery centering on Willow McQuade, a naturopathic doctor, in this debut novel.

McQuade discovers her Aunt Claire’s body sprawled on the floor of her shop, Nature’s Way Market and Café. Nearby is a bottle of Mimulus—a floral potion used to fend off fear, particularly of accidents. McQuade soon learns that her aunt invented an age-defying lotion, Fresh Face, which has turned up missing in the wake of Claire’s death.

McQuade enlists the help of a former police officer, Jackson Spade, to track down both the killer and the motive behind the crime. They quickly learn that her aunt had many rivals in the small Long Island seaside town and are faced with weeding out multiple suspects to apprehend a killer. McQuade is a spunky character with a penchant for getting involved, as she does in this village mystery. Her exploits should intrigue readers, particularly those with an interest in homeopathic medicine. The lively doctor is a welcome addition to the ranks of specialized cozies.

Fiedler has a knack for detailing aspects of acupuncture, massage, yoga and homeopathy which should provide fertile ground for further adventures of an unconventional, but eminently likeable, doctor.

The Butterfly Cabinet
Sarah Prindle

Told from alternating viewpoints, The Butterfly Cabinet is a poignant story about motherhood, abuse, family, and secrets. In 1892 Ireland, Harriet Ormond—a mother of nine—is accused of causing the death of her only daughter, four-yearold Charlotte, and is thrown in prison. (Author Bernie McGill, a playwright and short-story writer from Northern Ireland, based this, her first novel, on true events.)

Seventy-six years later, Maddie McGlade, a former nanny at the Ormonds’ home, decides to reveal what she knows about the day Charlotte died after receiving a letter from Harriet’s pregnant great-granddaughter, Anna—the last child in the Ormond family whom Maddie took care of. Events are revealed slowly though Maddie’s recollections and Harriet’s prison diaries, which Maddie had hidden in the cabinet that stored Harriet’s butterfly collection. Despite Harriet’s and Maddie’s differing styles of narration and personalities—Harriet is snobbish and harsh while Maddie is concerned and caring—the story flows nicely. McGill describes the setting and time period in great detail, giving the reader the impression of being right there on the Ormond family estate. The characters are well rounded and their relationships to each other show the protocols of the time between the upper and lower classes.

The ending, however, was a letdown. A reader might expect a shocking twist, but the final revelation seems skimpy when compared to the suspenseful build up to it. Less a mystery than a tale of tragedy, The Butterfly Cabinet is still a fascinating read.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-15 22:17:01

mcgill_butterflycabinetA poignant YA read about motherhood, abuse, family, and secrets in 1892 Ireland.

The Jaguar
Bob Smith

Many thrillers necessitate a suspension of disbelief. We don’t expect multidimensional characters or deep psychological studies in our thrillers: we turn pages fueled by excitement and the desire to find out how it all turns out. In The Jaguar, T. Jefferson Parker’s fifth Charlie Hood thriller, it is necessary to suspend many levels of disbelief. Parker piles on the implausibility, but keeps the action-packed story flowing so swiftly there is little time to question.

The plot concerns the efforts of Bradley Smith, a corrupt California Deputy Sheriff in the pay of a Mexican drug cartel, to rescue his wife, Erin, a famous American singer, who has been kidnapped by a rival cartel demanding a million dollar ransom. Erin is held deep in the Yucatán jungle in a castle which everyone seems to know about but that no one can find. She spends her time composing narcocorrido drug crime ballads about the cartel leader Benjamin Armenta and hiding from his evil son, who wants to skin her alive.

Charlie, who is searching for Erin separately from her husband Bradley, is tasked with delivering Erin’s ransom money while overcoming corrupt police officials, a hurricane, a flood, and hungry alligators (among other perils). His adventures are pulse racing, but, as with other recent installments in the Hood series, he’s but one player in a much larger cast. In addition to Erin and Bradley, and psycho Mexican crime lords, readers can look forward to the appearance of Hood’s colorful nemesis, Mike Finnegan (who probably is the Devil incarnate), and Mike’s girlfriend (who is also at the secret jungle castle as the mistress of the cartel chief).

It’s a story that is wildly, and unapologetically, larger than life, pumped-up with action and machismo to match.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-15 22:22:09

Many thrillers necessitate a suspension of disbelief. We don’t expect multidimensional characters or deep psychological studies in our thrillers: we turn pages fueled by excitement and the desire to find out how it all turns out. In The Jaguar, T. Jefferson Parker’s fifth Charlie Hood thriller, it is necessary to suspend many levels of disbelief. Parker piles on the implausibility, but keeps the action-packed story flowing so swiftly there is little time to question.

The plot concerns the efforts of Bradley Smith, a corrupt California Deputy Sheriff in the pay of a Mexican drug cartel, to rescue his wife, Erin, a famous American singer, who has been kidnapped by a rival cartel demanding a million dollar ransom. Erin is held deep in the Yucatán jungle in a castle which everyone seems to know about but that no one can find. She spends her time composing narcocorrido drug crime ballads about the cartel leader Benjamin Armenta and hiding from his evil son, who wants to skin her alive.

Charlie, who is searching for Erin separately from her husband Bradley, is tasked with delivering Erin’s ransom money while overcoming corrupt police officials, a hurricane, a flood, and hungry alligators (among other perils). His adventures are pulse racing, but, as with other recent installments in the Hood series, he’s but one player in a much larger cast. In addition to Erin and Bradley, and psycho Mexican crime lords, readers can look forward to the appearance of Hood’s colorful nemesis, Mike Finnegan (who probably is the Devil incarnate), and Mike’s girlfriend (who is also at the secret jungle castle as the mistress of the cartel chief).

It’s a story that is wildly, and unapologetically, larger than life, pumped-up with action and machismo to match.

Anatomy of Murder
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

A historical mystery that’s also a spy thriller, Anatomy of Murder takes place in London in 1781 while England and America are at war and the French are aiding the American Revolution. The mystery begins when a body is pulled from the Thames and brought to anatomist Gabriel Crowther, an odd duck who is an amateur precursor to what we now know as coroners. In their second novel together, Crowther and his intelligent sidekick, Harriet Westerman, a sea captain’s wife with a penchant for detecting, find themselves in the middle of a murder mystery with important political ramifications. Together, they are an entertaining and imposing pair, reminiscent of the medical examiner and detective in the Rizzoli & Isles TV show.

Interspersed with their investigation is a second storyline featuring slum resident and tarot card reader, Jocasta Bligh, and Sam, a young orphan boy she’s befriended. Through her readings, Jocasta foresees the murder of a young woman, but is too late to stop it. While trying to bring the murderers to justice, she and Sam find themselves in a case that’s far more complex than they realize. The two stories converge in an exciting and moving finish that brings all of the disparate elements together to a satisfying conclusion. Because of the many layers of plot turns and the variety of characters and locations, this is a book that should not be rushed through. It should be savored slowly for maximum enjoyment.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-15 22:26:21

robertson_anatomyofmurderAn atmospheric historical mystery and spy thriller set in 1781 London.

The Professionals
Debbi Mack

Facing a lousy economy and a bleak future in unsatisfying work, four college friends turn to pulling a series of small kidnapping jobs with just enough payoff to fund a really early retirement without attracting unwanted attention. Their leader, Arthur Pender, thinks the plan is flawless and figures they’ll do fine as long as they keep their heads and play it cool. However, things go sour when they kidnap the wrong man, one whose wife has mob connections. Soon the would-be professionals are on the run, caught between mobsters seeking payback and Carla Windermere, a young up-and-coming, hotshot FBI agent, and her partner, the veteran state investigator Kirk Stevens.

The Professionals is a rousing chase, with some great characters and agonizing suspense. And in the end, Laukkanen’s thriller lays bare the stark question of where our humanity fits in with the choices we make in our pursuit to be the consummate professional.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-15 22:31:33

When four college-age kindappers pick the wrong victim, it's a whole new, dangerous league of crime.

Edge of Dark Water
Debbi Mack

Plain spoken 16-year-old Sue Ellen and her buddy, the handsome and sensitive Terry, find out that their mutual friend, May Lynn, has been murdered—in fact, drowned in the Sabine River that runs by the small Texas town where they live. It was always May Lynn’s dream to escape the confines of their town and run off to Hollywood. One that she’ll never realize now.

Along with her good friend Jinx, Sue Ellen joins Terry in a plan to dig up May Lynn, burn her to ashes, stick her in a can, and make off down the river with money May Lynn’s no-good and now-dead brother stole. And Sue Ellen’s mom, who’s been abused by her husband for years and surviving on nothing but laudanum dreams, comes along for the ride. May Lynn’s death is mighty mysterious, but dead is dead and the sheriff is crooked, anyway.

But life on the river isn’t all peaches and cream, especially when you’ve got stolen money that others want to get their hands on—and they send the meanest guy after you they can rustle up, a fellow named Skunk, who’s so scary people doubt his very existence.

If Mark Twain had written Huckleberry Finn as a thriller with a twist of the paranormal and a female protagonist, Edge of Dark Water might have been the result. Through the adventures of the three friends and Sue Ellen’s mother, this genre-defying tale explores the difficult lessons of growing up, no matter what age you are.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-15 22:53:06

lansdale_edgeofdarkwaterIf Mark Twain had written Huckleberry Finn as a thriller with a twist of the paranormal and a female protagonist, Edge of Dark Water might have been the result.

Love in a Nutshell
Roseanne Wells

Kate Appleton is down on her luck, in this first collaboration between Janet Evanovich and Dorien Kelly. Appleton is divorced, jobless, and seeking refuge in Keene’s Harbor, Michigan, where her parents have a summer home. She dreams of fixing it up and buying it back from the current leaseholder, even without a penny to her name and lots of repairs to be made. She takes a job at the local microbrewery (despite a personal aversion to beer) in order to help owner (and eligible bachelor) Matt Culhane find a vandal who is trying to sabotage Matt’s business.

As readers will surely be hoping, soon Matt and Kate are unable to deny their attraction, even though it’s a bad time for romance for Kat, who needs to get her own life on track. Can the two find the person behind the vandalism and overcome the differences that divide them? I bet you know the answer.

While the premise is a bit short on mystery, and the action less thrilling than farcical (Kate is at one point rescued from a quickly filling vat of beer), readers of light romantic suspense and mysteries will find that the whodunit is the perfect excuse for this couple to spend lots of time together. Evanovich and Kelly have created great romantic tension. And when their characters start to turn up the heat, the crafty authors put more obstacles in their way, heightening the enjoyment and excitement for readers.

Kate is determined and sassy, with a touch of vulnerability, and beer goggles won’t be needed for female fans to appreciate the caring, stand-up guy Matt. We see them circling around each other, trying to find the right time to connect. With chemistry like this, the reader will eagerly wait for the stars to align for Kate and Matt—oh, and to find out the culprit, too.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-15 22:56:29

evanovich_loveinanutshellDorien Kelly and Janet Evanovich brew up romance with the debut of beer biz partners, Kate and Matt.

 

Before the Poison
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

Being a huge fan of Peter Robinson’s incomparable Inspector Banks novels, I was somewhat disappointed to see that his latest is a standalone. But it didn’t take me long to feel that I was back in familiar Robinson mystery territory...and I’m not talking about just the Yorkshire countryside.

The primary character here, Chris Lown-des, is a 60-year-old composer of Hollywood movie scores, recently widowed and the owner of a newly purchased old farmhouse in his native Yorkshire. When he discovers that a woman who lived there was hanged as a murderess more than 50 years earlier, he becomes interested in the Grace Fox case, mainly to take his mind off the loss of his wife.

With the help of Grace’s granddaughter, some old friends who knew her back in the day, and Grace’s diary from her years as an Army nurse during World War II and after, he is able to investigate the case and determine who was indeed guilty of murdering her husband in the early 1950s, and why.

As in most of Robinson’s Inspector Banks’ novels, there are two separate stories intertwined that come together in the end. Sometimes they are two separate cases; in this novel, they are two separate eras, a narrative skill longtime readers may remember from his masterpiece, In A Dry Season. The past story here is in the form of the diary, an intensely moving document that takes Grace through her war years and beyond.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-15 23:01:02

Being a huge fan of Peter Robinson’s incomparable Inspector Banks novels, I was somewhat disappointed to see that his latest is a standalone. But it didn’t take me long to feel that I was back in familiar Robinson mystery territory...and I’m not talking about just the Yorkshire countryside.

The primary character here, Chris Lown-des, is a 60-year-old composer of Hollywood movie scores, recently widowed and the owner of a newly purchased old farmhouse in his native Yorkshire. When he discovers that a woman who lived there was hanged as a murderess more than 50 years earlier, he becomes interested in the Grace Fox case, mainly to take his mind off the loss of his wife.

With the help of Grace’s granddaughter, some old friends who knew her back in the day, and Grace’s diary from her years as an Army nurse during World War II and after, he is able to investigate the case and determine who was indeed guilty of murdering her husband in the early 1950s, and why.

As in most of Robinson’s Inspector Banks’ novels, there are two separate stories intertwined that come together in the end. Sometimes they are two separate cases; in this novel, they are two separate eras, a narrative skill longtime readers may remember from his masterpiece, In A Dry Season. The past story here is in the form of the diary, an intensely moving document that takes Grace through her war years and beyond.

The Man From Primrose Lane
Hank Wagner

The mystery at this novel’s core concerns the bizarre circumstances surrounding the strange death of Joseph Howard King, aka The Man from Primrose Lane. King’s grisly demise captured the public’s imagination, provoking much thought and comment in the media. Enter David Neff four years later, journalist, widower (his wife died around the same time as Mr. King), and author of the mega-bestseller, The Serial Killer’s Protégé. Asked by his publisher to write about the case, Neff agrees, only to find that his life intersects with that of the dead man in odd, and increasingly alarming, ways. Those ties cause the police to reopen their investigation, and to eventually accuse him of wrongdoing in the case, and in relation to the death of his wife. Knowing he is innocent, Neff digs deeper, but, the facts he uncovers cause him to doubt his very sanity.

And there’s the rub about Renner’s first novel—his unpredictable explanation of these strange goings on may offend conventional mystery fans while pleasantly surprising others with its originality. Going into details will ruin the surprise, but readers may get a hint of the direction the narrative takes from the allusions Renner makes (among them references to fantasist Joe Hill, Watchmen, and The Princess Bride). This reviewer thoroughly enjoyed the twist, especially after going back and assuring himself that Renner played fair all along, dropping enough hints so that discerning readers might have guessed correctly.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-15 23:04:52

The mystery at this novel’s core concerns the bizarre circumstances surrounding the strange death of Joseph Howard King, aka The Man from Primrose Lane. King’s grisly demise captured the public’s imagination, provoking much thought and comment in the media. Enter David Neff four years later, journalist, widower (his wife died around the same time as Mr. King), and author of the mega-bestseller, The Serial Killer’s Protégé. Asked by his publisher to write about the case, Neff agrees, only to find that his life intersects with that of the dead man in odd, and increasingly alarming, ways. Those ties cause the police to reopen their investigation, and to eventually accuse him of wrongdoing in the case, and in relation to the death of his wife. Knowing he is innocent, Neff digs deeper, but, the facts he uncovers cause him to doubt his very sanity.

And there’s the rub about Renner’s first novel—his unpredictable explanation of these strange goings on may offend conventional mystery fans while pleasantly surprising others with its originality. Going into details will ruin the surprise, but readers may get a hint of the direction the narrative takes from the allusions Renner makes (among them references to fantasist Joe Hill, Watchmen, and The Princess Bride). This reviewer thoroughly enjoyed the twist, especially after going back and assuring himself that Renner played fair all along, dropping enough hints so that discerning readers might have guessed correctly.

Helpless
Lourdes Venard

Daniel Palmer’s second novel, Helpless, joins a long list of thrillers featuring an innocent protagonist wrongly framed—but Palmer manages to give this old trope some fresh and unique twists. Former Navy SEAL Tom Hawkins moves back to Shilo, New Hampshire, after his ex-wife dies under suspicious circumstances. He hopes to raise their 15-year-old daughter Jill without disrupting her life anymore. But that’s not to be. First, Police Sgt. Brendan Murphy, a nemesis of Hawkins’ since their high school days together, tries to tie Hawkins to his ex-wife’s death. Then, rumors begin to float around that Hawkins, a high school guidance counselor and soccer coach, is involved with one of his players. And that’s when pornographic photos of teenage girls turn up on his work computer.

With the evidence mounting against him, and the FBI joining the investigation, Hawkins finds few friends willing to help him. His own daughter is unsure of whether to trust him. It’s up to Hawkins to prove his innocence using his Navy SEAL skills. And he’ll need them as he’s assaulted, drugged, and locked in a freezer—and that’s just for starters. Palmer, whose story includes “sexting” teenagers and social media bullying, as well as a discussion about how new technologies can be powerful tools for both crime and crime fighting, has written a lean, mean thriller that will hook you from the opening pages.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-15 23:08:36

Daniel Palmer’s second novel, Helpless, joins a long list of thrillers featuring an innocent protagonist wrongly framed—but Palmer manages to give this old trope some fresh and unique twists. Former Navy SEAL Tom Hawkins moves back to Shilo, New Hampshire, after his ex-wife dies under suspicious circumstances. He hopes to raise their 15-year-old daughter Jill without disrupting her life anymore. But that’s not to be. First, Police Sgt. Brendan Murphy, a nemesis of Hawkins’ since their high school days together, tries to tie Hawkins to his ex-wife’s death. Then, rumors begin to float around that Hawkins, a high school guidance counselor and soccer coach, is involved with one of his players. And that’s when pornographic photos of teenage girls turn up on his work computer.

With the evidence mounting against him, and the FBI joining the investigation, Hawkins finds few friends willing to help him. His own daughter is unsure of whether to trust him. It’s up to Hawkins to prove his innocence using his Navy SEAL skills. And he’ll need them as he’s assaulted, drugged, and locked in a freezer—and that’s just for starters. Palmer, whose story includes “sexting” teenagers and social media bullying, as well as a discussion about how new technologies can be powerful tools for both crime and crime fighting, has written a lean, mean thriller that will hook you from the opening pages.

A Quiet Vendetta
Hank Wagner

Readers of this impressive novel don’t learn the central character’s identity until several chapters have passed. They are first introduced to New Orleans Homicide Detective John Verlaine, called in to investigate a body in a car trunk, then to a pair of FBI agents, who reveal that the murder is connected to the kidnapping of Catherine Ducane, daughter of the Governor of Louisiana. The focus then shifts to New York cop Ray Hartmann, who becomes involved at the request of Catherine’s kidnapper, mob hitman Ernesto Cabrera Perez. In return for being allowed to relate his life story to Hartmann, Perez promises to lead investigators to Catherine. The story then alternates between Perez’s oddly compelling autobiography to law enforcement’s efforts to locate Catherine before her time runs out. Over several days, Hartmann learns the story of Perez, who sees killing as his vocation. Ellory makes this repulsive man utterly fascinating, pulling readers in deeper and deeper with each act of depravity the old man relates. His career in organized crime, spanning five decades, makes for riveting reading, especially when he describes his involvement in one of the most notorious hits in history.

A Quiet Vendetta is the fourth Ellory novel that Overlook Press has reprinted in the US, following A Quiet Belief in Angels (2009), The Anniversary Man (2010), and A Simple Act of Violence (2011), all first published in the UK. It’s the third novel he ever published, a few years older than the other books mentioned. It’s a fine introduction to his work.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-15 23:25:25

Readers of this impressive novel don’t learn the central character’s identity until several chapters have passed. They are first introduced to New Orleans Homicide Detective John Verlaine, called in to investigate a body in a car trunk, then to a pair of FBI agents, who reveal that the murder is connected to the kidnapping of Catherine Ducane, daughter of the Governor of Louisiana. The focus then shifts to New York cop Ray Hartmann, who becomes involved at the request of Catherine’s kidnapper, mob hitman Ernesto Cabrera Perez. In return for being allowed to relate his life story to Hartmann, Perez promises to lead investigators to Catherine. The story then alternates between Perez’s oddly compelling autobiography to law enforcement’s efforts to locate Catherine before her time runs out. Over several days, Hartmann learns the story of Perez, who sees killing as his vocation. Ellory makes this repulsive man utterly fascinating, pulling readers in deeper and deeper with each act of depravity the old man relates. His career in organized crime, spanning five decades, makes for riveting reading, especially when he describes his involvement in one of the most notorious hits in history.

A Quiet Vendetta is the fourth Ellory novel that Overlook Press has reprinted in the US, following A Quiet Belief in Angels (2009), The Anniversary Man (2010), and A Simple Act of Violence (2011), all first published in the UK. It’s the third novel he ever published, a few years older than the other books mentioned. It’s a fine introduction to his work.

The Golden Scales
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

As I was reading this mystery novel, I kept thinking of The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett...which is weird because The Golden Scales takes place in modern Cairo shortly before the Arab Spring. Upon reflection, I guess it’s because Makana, the detective in this case, is very like Bogart in a number of ways: tough, complex, more interested in doing the right thing than in money, and with a look of having seen the worst the world has to offer, yet going on.

A former police inspector in Sudan who left after the new, evil regime took over there, Makana lives in a ramshackle houseboat, his detective business in Egypt far from flourishing. One day he is approached by the minions of one of the most powerful men in the country to find his son, a celebrated soccer player who has disappeared. As he begins his investigation in the mean streets of Cairo, he realizes that there is far more at stake than simply locating a missing person.

Although the plot is labyrinthine to say the least, it moves quickly—sometimes at breakneck speed—thanks to the author’s uncluttered writing style. Along the way, we meet a variety of interesting characters, including a Sydney Greenstreet type and a Peter Lorre clone. (Coincidentally, Lorre’s character in The Maltese Falcon was named Cairo.)

This is the first of a new series by an author who was born in London and brought up in Khartoum, Sudan, and has written a number of critically acclaimed literary novels. It is being published on the anniversary of the revolution in Egypt. I strongly recommend this initial entry into Egyptian noir.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-15 23:29:57

bilal_goldenscalesDetective Makana hits Cairo's mean streets and your book shelf. Make way for Egyptian Noir.

Helsinki White
Lourdes Venard

In crime fiction, we usually like our police heroes to be upstanding, honorable men or women. But what if our protagonists were dirty in the name of doing good? In Helsinki White, Inspector Kari Vaara, is a beloved national figure thanks to his heroism at a school shooting. Vaara has been ordered by the national chief of police to form a black-ops team, one that would use illegal tactics to achieve their means. Vaara recruits only two people: his partner from Homicide, Milo Nieminien, also a brilliant computer hacker, and Sulo “Sweetness” Polvinen, a former criminal and the group’s “enforcer.” Later, they let another person in on the conspiracy: Arvid Lahtinen, an 89-year-old war hero who is to be tried because of his recent murder of a Russian businessman.

This motley crew starts out with good intentions, but the more crimes they commit, the more morally compromised they become. Crime, it turns out, is never easy or simple, even when done for the “right” reasons. On top of their clandestine actions, they are also asked to investigate the murder of a top politician, thought to have been killed by a hate group. Then a former French Legionnaire, who figures out what Vaara and his team are doing, seeks help in the unsolved kidnapping of a billionaire’s children. And Vaara undergoes brain surgery two days after his wife gives birth, coming out of the operation with a chilling side effect.

Thompson’s atmospheric novel nicely interweaves real-life events in Finland, such as the meteoric rise of the anti-immigration political party True Finns, into the taut storyline. Thompson is an American writer who has lived in Finland for more than a dozen years. As a result, readers get a well-drawn picture of Finnish society without the sometimes- clunky translation that often mars foreign thrillers. With his third book in the Vaara series, Thompson has definitely become one of the Nordic noir authors to put on your to-read list.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-15 23:34:52

thompson_helsinkiwhiteWhat if our heros were dirty to do right? Meet Inspector Kari Vaara and his black ops team.

Blue Monday
Betty Webb

Two children kidnapped in London, 22 years apart, form the centerpiece of this astonishing novel, whose shocks start early and continue through to the end. Trying to unravel the possible connections between the children are psychiatrist Frieda Klein, who suspects that one of her patients may be connected to the second kidnapping; and Chief Inspector Malcolm Karlsson, who believes both children are dead, killed within hours of their disappearance. Dr. Klein isn’t so certain. While she recognizes that the first child, a five-year-old named Joanna, is probably long dead, she still holds out hope for the second, five-year-old Matthew “Matty” Farraday. This conviction leads her to risk her license, along with the trust of her patient, to find him.

Nicci French’s outstanding novel is haunted by the specter of vanished children, but also haunted by its characters. Klein risks her life time and time again in lonely walks through London in the wee hours of the night, seemingly oblivious to the dangers surrounding her. A death wish, perhaps? Possibly most troubled of the many troubled characters is Alan Dekker, Klein’s suspicious patient, a young man so unable to cope with real life that he escapes into fantasy.

Although mystery stories usually frown on the use of coincidence, French makes effective use of it in much the same way as Kate Atkinson does in her twisty novels. French also isn’t afraid of experimenting with magical realism, as in the scene where a Ukrainian workman falls through Dr. Klein’s ceiling, right into the middle of a session with Dekker. Literary but never ponderous, shocking but deeply subtle, Blue Monday—for all its experimentation and labyrinthine plot—is so superb that you might find yourself rereading it. And not just once.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-15 23:39:22
french_bluemondayA novel haunted by the specter of vanished children, and the troubled souls who seek to save them.

The Invisible Ones
Sue Emmons

Stef Penney returns with a tale of a gypsy clan tinged by tragedy in 1980s Britain. Half gypsy himself, private investigator Ray Lovell awakes in a hospital, partially paralyzed and gradually regaining his memories of the past. He has no recollection of his car smashing into a tree or the investigation that preceded it that resulted in these injuries.

Penney’s brilliant tale is recounted by both Lovell and JJ, the 11-year-old nephew of Rose Janko, the woman who had been missing for seven years before Lovell was hired to find her. JJ and Rose are both members of the Romany clan of gypsies, and Lovell’s case provides the author with ample opportunity to reveal the trail of tragedies, social prejudices, and discrimination that has befallen the family as the plot veers from past to present. Readers will be intrigued not only by the Romany lore, but with Lovell’s recovery from both his accident and a failed marriage, as well as with JJ’s efforts to find himself in an often cruel society.

The author provides a glossary to alert readers to the meaning of the gypsy terms she uses throughout the compelling and complex plot, but it’s hardly needed. Penney’s research is impressive, and her characters will touch the hearts of readers. The Invisible Ones is an enviable follow-up to her bestselling The Tenderness of Wolves.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-15 23:44:02

Stef Penney returns with a tale of a gypsy clan tinged by tragedy in 1980s Britain. Half gypsy himself, private investigator Ray Lovell awakes in a hospital, partially paralyzed and gradually regaining his memories of the past. He has no recollection of his car smashing into a tree or the investigation that preceded it that resulted in these injuries.

Penney’s brilliant tale is recounted by both Lovell and JJ, the 11-year-old nephew of Rose Janko, the woman who had been missing for seven years before Lovell was hired to find her. JJ and Rose are both members of the Romany clan of gypsies, and Lovell’s case provides the author with ample opportunity to reveal the trail of tragedies, social prejudices, and discrimination that has befallen the family as the plot veers from past to present. Readers will be intrigued not only by the Romany lore, but with Lovell’s recovery from both his accident and a failed marriage, as well as with JJ’s efforts to find himself in an often cruel society.

The author provides a glossary to alert readers to the meaning of the gypsy terms she uses throughout the compelling and complex plot, but it’s hardly needed. Penney’s research is impressive, and her characters will touch the hearts of readers. The Invisible Ones is an enviable follow-up to her bestselling The Tenderness of Wolves.

The Comedy Is Finished
Jackie Houchin

Not only is The Comedy Is Finished set in 1977, but Westlake wrote the novel in those same turbulent years following the Vietnam War and Watergate, giving it an authentic feel that even the best research today mightn’t afford. Westlake chose not to publish the book then (a similarly themed Scorsese film had just been released), and it was only after his death that it has come to light.

Halfway between his hardboiled Parker and his comic Dortmunder series, this book tells of a popular radio and TV comedian, Koo Davis (think Bob Hope), who is kidnapped for political reasons by a radical group of young socialists. Appropriately, the story is set in Hollywood.

The chapters alternate between Davis’ casual, often self-deprecating present tense narrative, the past tense narratives of his five captors and the Watergate-tainted FBI agent who leads the search.

Davis, a stand-up comic who can’t stop throwing out witty one-liners, even when terrified or tortured, doesn’t understand why the group chose him as their negotiating prize. But as the story develops and the background of each character is revealed, sometimes in shocking detail, he sees a connection to his early USO tours with the troops in Korea.

The plot starts at a measured walk, gets waylaid occasionally for brief political rhetoric, and then escalates to a terrifying sprint for redemption and rescue with the reader kept in agonizing suspense until the literal last page. Not to be missed.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-15 23:48:11

Not only is The Comedy Is Finished set in 1977, but Westlake wrote the novel in those same turbulent years following the Vietnam War and Watergate, giving it an authentic feel that even the best research today mightn’t afford. Westlake chose not to publish the book then (a similarly themed Scorsese film had just been released), and it was only after his death that it has come to light.

Halfway between his hardboiled Parker and his comic Dortmunder series, this book tells of a popular radio and TV comedian, Koo Davis (think Bob Hope), who is kidnapped for political reasons by a radical group of young socialists. Appropriately, the story is set in Hollywood.

The chapters alternate between Davis’ casual, often self-deprecating present tense narrative, the past tense narratives of his five captors and the Watergate-tainted FBI agent who leads the search.

Davis, a stand-up comic who can’t stop throwing out witty one-liners, even when terrified or tortured, doesn’t understand why the group chose him as their negotiating prize. But as the story develops and the background of each character is revealed, sometimes in shocking detail, he sees a connection to his early USO tours with the troops in Korea.

The plot starts at a measured walk, gets waylaid occasionally for brief political rhetoric, and then escalates to a terrifying sprint for redemption and rescue with the reader kept in agonizing suspense until the literal last page. Not to be missed.

A Catered St. Patrick’s Day
Debbie Lester

Longely, New York, is known for its colorful St. Patrick’s Day celebrations that include food, friends and lots of green beer. But when a body is found floating in the drink, caterers Libby and Bernie Simmons have a vested interest in figuring out who wanted Mike Sweeney dead, and why. One of their best and most influential customers at A Little Taste of Heaven, needs their help in proving that her nephew Duncan didn’t commit the crime but the more clues the Simmons sisters uncover, the more uncertain they become about Duncan Nottingham’s innocence.

The eighth installment in the Mystery with Recipes series, A Catered St. Patrick’s Day finds Isis Crawford’s culinary duo up against one of their most challenging cases yet. The author has found her niche with holiday themed mysteries that appeal to both food lovers and cozy mystery enthusiasts, and she describes the dishes created by the talented sisters in mouth-watering detail.

But Crawford also focuses on the relationships and personalities of her main characters. The relationship between Libby, Bernie, and their father Sean is an excellent example. She reveals a deep sense of love and loyalty in how the sisters respond to their father and his advice on the case. And she provides a welcome dose of humor in the light-hearted banter Libby and Bernie share, making the novel fun to read despite the seriousness of the subject.

Overall, A Catered St. Patrick’s Day is an excellent mystery, full of humor, and seasoned with complex and interesting characters. The suspects and motives are believable and the ending is gratifyingly unpredictable. A great addition to a tasty series.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-16 00:06:24

Longely, New York, is known for its colorful St. Patrick’s Day celebrations that include food, friends and lots of green beer. But when a body is found floating in the drink, caterers Libby and Bernie Simmons have a vested interest in figuring out who wanted Mike Sweeney dead, and why. One of their best and most influential customers at A Little Taste of Heaven, needs their help in proving that her nephew Duncan didn’t commit the crime but the more clues the Simmons sisters uncover, the more uncertain they become about Duncan Nottingham’s innocence.

The eighth installment in the Mystery with Recipes series, A Catered St. Patrick’s Day finds Isis Crawford’s culinary duo up against one of their most challenging cases yet. The author has found her niche with holiday themed mysteries that appeal to both food lovers and cozy mystery enthusiasts, and she describes the dishes created by the talented sisters in mouth-watering detail.

But Crawford also focuses on the relationships and personalities of her main characters. The relationship between Libby, Bernie, and their father Sean is an excellent example. She reveals a deep sense of love and loyalty in how the sisters respond to their father and his advice on the case. And she provides a welcome dose of humor in the light-hearted banter Libby and Bernie share, making the novel fun to read despite the seriousness of the subject.

Overall, A Catered St. Patrick’s Day is an excellent mystery, full of humor, and seasoned with complex and interesting characters. The suspects and motives are believable and the ending is gratifyingly unpredictable. A great addition to a tasty series.

Agent 6
M. Schlecht

Twenty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it might seem hard to squeeze any more suspense from the Cold War-era thriller, but Tom Rob Smith’s Agent 6, the last installment of a trilogy featuring Soviet secret police agent Leo Demidov, proves this talented author can spin as least three novels’ worth of hammer-and-sickle intrigue. Throughout the books, Smith has realistically depicted the everyday paranoia and calculation involved in Leo’s career, and that remains true here. He's drawing intimate character studies within ambitious, actionoriented narratives.

An opening 60-page flashback anchors the action in Agent 6, as a pro-Communist African American celebrity singer, Jesse Austin, visits ’50s Moscow. His interaction with Demidov, whose job is to show the foreign star only a shiny, happy facade of Soviet life, kick-starts the book. A schoolteacher is also entangled in this charade, and so curious readers of the previous two books learn the story of how Demidov met his wife, Raisa. We then zoom ahead in time to a small 13th floor walk-up apartment where Leo and Raisa live with their daughters. Raisa is getting ready to take the girls to a diplomatic “peace mission” performance by a Soviet children’s choir at the United Nations in New York. Smith likes to jump between eras and locations, and at this point he has skillfully maneuvered all of his characters into position so that what happens next, a tragedy involving both Austin, now living in Harlem, and the Demidov family, will have maximum narrative and emotional effect.

Agent 6 loses some of its accelerated pulse in the aftermath. The second half of the novel takes place in Afghanistan under the Soviet occupation, where Leo, disgraced after what happened in New York, is exiled to a lowranking position. There are plenty of moments that will remind the reader of the current occupation in that country: the invading forces are too arrogant, the terrain is too mountainous, the civilians too suspicious, the local fighters too entrenched to be defeated easily. And despite his attempts to learn what really happened in New York and keep what is left of his family safe, Leo discovers there are too many people seeking to destroy the only things he would protect. The little justice he eventually finds, after an exhilarating nighttime mission across the snowy mountains to the Pakistan border, can not make up for what is lost. It’s a fittingly epic end for a richly imagined series.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-16 00:09:50

Twenty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it might seem hard to squeeze any more suspense from the Cold War-era thriller, but Tom Rob Smith’s Agent 6, the last installment of a trilogy featuring Soviet secret police agent Leo Demidov, proves this talented author can spin as least three novels’ worth of hammer-and-sickle intrigue. Throughout the books, Smith has realistically depicted the everyday paranoia and calculation involved in Leo’s career, and that remains true here. He's drawing intimate character studies within ambitious, actionoriented narratives.

An opening 60-page flashback anchors the action in Agent 6, as a pro-Communist African American celebrity singer, Jesse Austin, visits ’50s Moscow. His interaction with Demidov, whose job is to show the foreign star only a shiny, happy facade of Soviet life, kick-starts the book. A schoolteacher is also entangled in this charade, and so curious readers of the previous two books learn the story of how Demidov met his wife, Raisa. We then zoom ahead in time to a small 13th floor walk-up apartment where Leo and Raisa live with their daughters. Raisa is getting ready to take the girls to a diplomatic “peace mission” performance by a Soviet children’s choir at the United Nations in New York. Smith likes to jump between eras and locations, and at this point he has skillfully maneuvered all of his characters into position so that what happens next, a tragedy involving both Austin, now living in Harlem, and the Demidov family, will have maximum narrative and emotional effect.

Agent 6 loses some of its accelerated pulse in the aftermath. The second half of the novel takes place in Afghanistan under the Soviet occupation, where Leo, disgraced after what happened in New York, is exiled to a lowranking position. There are plenty of moments that will remind the reader of the current occupation in that country: the invading forces are too arrogant, the terrain is too mountainous, the civilians too suspicious, the local fighters too entrenched to be defeated easily. And despite his attempts to learn what really happened in New York and keep what is left of his family safe, Leo discovers there are too many people seeking to destroy the only things he would protect. The little justice he eventually finds, after an exhilarating nighttime mission across the snowy mountains to the Pakistan border, can not make up for what is lost. It’s a fittingly epic end for a richly imagined series.

The Thief
M. Schlecht

An existential, first-person thriller with a title worthy of Chekhov or Camus, The Thief is the diary of a man apart.

The opening pages briskly move in and out of train stations, Tokyo streets, and department stores, all seen through the eyes of a master pickpocket. It’s a thorough, how to demonstration. He steals with casual abandon, keeping his hands warm with a can of hot coffee from the vending machine during his short waits for the next wealthy target. But what, the reader begins to wonder, is our protaganist really waiting for?

Page by page, bits and pieces of the thief’s past are revealed: the big job he reluctantly agreed to, and why he’s now walking the streets a marked man. Even so, he doesn’t seem particularly troubled, spending his days with fingers in others’ coats and helping out a troubled young boy whose mother leaves him to fend for himself. Our thief teaches the boy the tricks of his trade in a grocery store, and then offers the opinion that he probably shouldn’t do this kind of thing. The unspoken sentiment: don't be like me, kid.

Nakamura’s prose is lean and affectless, as his narrator reveals the details of how he, a mere pickpocket, became wrapped up in a political murder job gone bad. And in doing so, Nakamura debates the possibility of free will, particularly when a Yakuza boss has his eye on you. Deceptively simple, The Thief manages to wrap you up into its pages, tightly, before you are quite aware of it.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-16 00:13:50

nakamura_thiefAn existential, first-person thriller with a title worthy of Chekhov or Camus, The Thief is the diary of a man apart.

Believing the Lie
Betty Webb

When an English lord asks Inspector Thomas Lynley to determine if his nephew drowned accidentally or was murdered, a set of circumstances is set into motion that tears the outwardly happy Fairclough family apart. Lord Fairclough has plenty of reasons to suspect the worst. Ian Cresswell, the dead nephew, had just come out of the closet and moved in with his Iranian lover Kaveh, earning the enmity of his wife and desolating his violent teenage son Tim. Nicholas, Lord Fairclough’s own son, had for years lived a dissolute, drug-addled life, but once he cleaned up his act, he found Ian running the family business—a perfect motive for murder. Fairclough’s daughter has barricaded herself in a tower, and spends her days trolling for suitors on the Internet.

Into this maelstrom of the neurotic and psychotic comes Zed Benjamin, the world’s most inept tabloid reporter. How inept? Zed could witness the Prime Minister raping a nun on a pile of murdered puppies, yet his story would be about how much laundry detergent it took to clean up the mess. After all the psychopathology in the Fairclough family, Zed delivers much-needed comic relief.

Some readers might wish George’s novel were shorter, but it’s a portrait of a large, complicated family, thus requiring a large, complicated book. When one character blurts, “I’m surrounded by liars and knaves,” we have to agree. Yes, the Faircloughs are walking disasters, and the wonder here is how George has managed to instill such marvelous humanity into each and every one of them. But George’s crowning achievement is her portrayal of Inspector Lynley’s friend, Deborah St. James, a well-intentioned woman whose own obsessions have turned her into a human wrecking ball. Compared to her, the Faircloughs appear almost normal. Believing the Lie is so fascinating that even at a thundering 606 pages, I wished for at least 100 more.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-16 00:18:44

george_believingthelieSix-hundred-plus pages of "liars and knaves," and marvelous humanity mark Inspector Lynley's new case.