The Dead Witness
Bill Crider

In this hefty volume of over 550 pages, Sims has assembled “A Connoisseur’s Collection of Victorian Detective Stories.” The authors include names both familiar (Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Arthur Conan Doyle) and not so well known, at least to me (Harvey O’Higgins and Hesketh Prichard).

The title story is by an Australian, Mary Fortune, which Sims says is the first known detective story by a woman. That’s reason enough right there to get a copy of the book, but Sims also provides an excellent introduction and a bibliography with suggested further reading for those interested in the time period or the history of the crime story.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-21 19:18:57

sims_thedeadwitnessThis hefty, 550-page-plus anthology is "A Connoisseur’s Collection of Victorian Detective Stories."

Buried in a Book
Lynne F. Maxwell

In Buried in a Book, Lucy Arlington initiates a splendid new series introducing Lila Wilkins, a middle-aged journalist whose job has just been terminated, an all-too-common phenomenon these days. Lucy’s plight is complicated by the fact that she is a single mother whose son is slated to enter college in several months. What to do?

Fortunately for Lila, she rapidly lands the (barely) paid internship from hell at a literary agency, A Novel Idea, located in aptly named Inspiration Valley, North Carolina. With a mother who earns a living as a psychic and a son who gets into mild trouble with the law, Lila needs plenty if inspiration to remain grounded, and she finds it handily when a peculiar would-be author makes a regular appearance at the agency to inquire about the status of his query letter and is discovered dead in the office shortly thereafter. Murder? You bet! And Lila won’t quit until she solves the mystery. Buried in a Book provides a charming new protagonist and cast of characters, and promises rewarding exploits in future series novels. Keep your eyes peeled for the next Novel Idea Mystery.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-21 19:33:59

arlington_buriedinabookA splendid new series introducing Lila Wilkins, a middle-aged journalist-turned-sleuth.

The Walled Flower
Lynne F. Maxwell

Lorraine Bartlett returns with The Walled Flower, the second installment in her Victoria Square series. Protagonist Katie Bonner, manager by financial necessity of a crafts fair named Artisans Alley, continues to mourn the death of her dream to purchase the old Webster mansion and renovate it as an inviting new bed-and-breakfast on Victoria Square in McKinlay Mill, New York—if only her husband, recently deceased, had not surreptitiously squandered their savings on Artisans Alley. Instead, another couple purchases the house and begins refurbishing it, only to discover something even worse than skeletons in a closet—i.e., a body buried in the wall. While the victim’s identity is readily established, the motive for murder is a great deal more cryptic. Not surprisingly, author Bartlett skillfully orchestrates an intricate plot that keeps readers in suspense until the end. And for the romance lovers among us, let it be known that her relationship with her hot boyfriend intensifies, even as she schemes to create her dream B&B.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-21 19:37:26

Lorraine Bartlett returns with The Walled Flower, the second installment in her Victoria Square series. Protagonist Katie Bonner, manager by financial necessity of a crafts fair named Artisans Alley, continues to mourn the death of her dream to purchase the old Webster mansion and renovate it as an inviting new bed-and-breakfast on Victoria Square in McKinlay Mill, New York—if only her husband, recently deceased, had not surreptitiously squandered their savings on Artisans Alley. Instead, another couple purchases the house and begins refurbishing it, only to discover something even worse than skeletons in a closet—i.e., a body buried in the wall. While the victim’s identity is readily established, the motive for murder is a great deal more cryptic. Not surprisingly, author Bartlett skillfully orchestrates an intricate plot that keeps readers in suspense until the end. And for the romance lovers among us, let it be known that her relationship with her hot boyfriend intensifies, even as she schemes to create her dream B&B.

An Appetite for Murder
Lynne F. Maxwell

This series opener unfolds in one of my favorite places in the US, Key West, Florida. Burdette (aka Roberta Isleib) cleverly combines the insuperable Key West location with the always-irresistible hook, food. Series star Hayley Snow has recently left snowy New Jersey to follow her new boyfriend to his residence in Key West. Alas, the relationship rapidly deteriorates, and Hayley depends upon the kindness of her former college roommate for a place to stay, which is actually a berth on a houseboat. Hayley wants to begin a dream career as a restaurant reviewer and competes for the job on a local paper. Competition is tough, but Hayley’s chances diminish when Kristin Faulkner, co-owner of the paper and her ex-boyfriend’s new lover, is murdered and Hayley becomes the prime suspect. I won’t divulge any more about the plot, but I assure you that it is a good one. Hayley is a vibrant young character to watch, and she writes scrumptious food reviews, as well. Even better than a “cheeseburger in paradise,” trust me.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-21 19:40:47

This series opener unfolds in one of my favorite places in the US, Key West, Florida. Burdette (aka Roberta Isleib) cleverly combines the insuperable Key West location with the always-irresistible hook, food. Series star Hayley Snow has recently left snowy New Jersey to follow her new boyfriend to his residence in Key West. Alas, the relationship rapidly deteriorates, and Hayley depends upon the kindness of her former college roommate for a place to stay, which is actually a berth on a houseboat. Hayley wants to begin a dream career as a restaurant reviewer and competes for the job on a local paper. Competition is tough, but Hayley’s chances diminish when Kristin Faulkner, co-owner of the paper and her ex-boyfriend’s new lover, is murdered and Hayley becomes the prime suspect. I won’t divulge any more about the plot, but I assure you that it is a good one. Hayley is a vibrant young character to watch, and she writes scrumptious food reviews, as well. Even better than a “cheeseburger in paradise,” trust me.

Stay at Home Dead
Lynne F. Maxwell

Suburban Texan stay-at-home dad and former football hero Deuce Winters discovers what women have known from time immemorial: stay-at-home parenting is murder! In Stay at Home Dead, Jeffrey Allen (aka Jeff Shelby) offers a hilarious new voice and wit as our hero Deuce narrates this highly entertaining book. What does one do when a body appears in one’s minivan in the parking lot of the local grocery store? Even worse, what if the body is that of an old high school football adversary who inflicted your career-ending knee injury? Well, Deuce’s solution is to go on the offensive and try to find the real killer. Also, when necessary, he unveils his secret weapon, Julianne, his barracuda attorney wife, who can easily subdue the cattiest of the women who want to eject Deuce from his Room-Dad duties at their daughter’s school. This offbeat cozy provides a welcome, refreshing new male perspective on the genre, but even more significantly, it is incredibly funny. Jeffrey Allen has definitely scored a touchdown here—and the extra point, as well. I can’t wait for second down!

Teri Duerr
2012-02-21 19:47:19

allen_stayathomedeadStay-at-home dad Deuce Winters discovers what women have known from time immemorial: stay-at-home parenting is murder!

Success Secrets of Sherlock Holmes: Life Lessons From the Master Detective
Jon L. Breen

No kidding, this is a serious self-help book using the Holmes canon to prepare the reader for personal and professional success. Thirty-two “secrets” (e.g. Start Small, Find the Right Watson, Honor Your Teachers, Picture Your Dreams as Reality) are illustrated in a few pages each. An appendix catalogs Sherlockian quotations under headings like Focus and Single-Mindedness, Motivation, and Attention to Detail. It isn’t a bad job; certainly most of the advice is good. Acord misunderstands the expression “The game is afoot,” in which game refers to a hunter’s quarry not a chess or tennis match. The creator of The Shadow was Walter B. Gibson, not Hudson. In Secret 26, Talent Isn’t Enough, Accord underestimates Mycroft, whose behind-the-scenes government work may have made him a more important figure in Victorian and Edwardian Britain than Sherlock.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-21 22:31:58

No kidding, this is a serious self-help book using the Holmes canon to prepare the reader for personal and professional success. Thirty-two “secrets” (e.g. Start Small, Find the Right Watson, Honor Your Teachers, Picture Your Dreams as Reality) are illustrated in a few pages each. An appendix catalogs Sherlockian quotations under headings like Focus and Single-Mindedness, Motivation, and Attention to Detail. It isn’t a bad job; certainly most of the advice is good. Acord misunderstands the expression “The game is afoot,” in which game refers to a hunter’s quarry not a chess or tennis match. The creator of The Shadow was Walter B. Gibson, not Hudson. In Secret 26, Talent Isn’t Enough, Accord underestimates Mycroft, whose behind-the-scenes government work may have made him a more important figure in Victorian and Edwardian Britain than Sherlock.

Afterthoughts
Jon L. Breen

Block previously wrote an essay-length piece for the Contemporary Authors autobiography series and a book-length memoir of his race-walking career. This gathering of afterwords for many of Block’s novels and collections adds many more biographical details and makes as entertaining reading as everything he writes. There is quite a bit of repetition—the same anecdotes recur in slightly different words—but to anyone interested in Block, his work, or the 20th-century writing life in general this canny promotional device will be money well spent.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-21 22:54:17

Block previously wrote an essay-length piece for the Contemporary Authors autobiography series and a book-length memoir of his race-walking career. This gathering of afterwords for many of Block’s novels and collections adds many more biographical details and makes as entertaining reading as everything he writes. There is quite a bit of repetition—the same anecdotes recur in slightly different words—but to anyone interested in Block, his work, or the 20th-century writing life in general this canny promotional device will be money well spent.

An Autobiography
Jon L. Breen

This is a reprint of the 1977 British first edition, which differed in pagination but not content from the American edition, of Christie’s charming and informative though selective and sometimes reticent autobiography (see “What About Murder,” 1981, #129). It has been an important primary source for her biographers, though they have had to go elsewhere for any information about her mysterious 1926 disappearance. An added feature makes the new edition valuable even for holders of the original: a scratchy but listenable CD of some of Christie’s dictation for the book, totaling around an hour and 20 minutes and touching on all aspects of her writing life. Grandson Matthew Prichard’s three-page introduction describes how these tapes, made on a now-obsolete recording machine, were found and recovered. Twenty-four pages of illustrations include some not in the original American edition.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-21 23:05:43

This is a reprint of the 1977 British first edition, which differed in pagination but not content from the American edition, of Christie’s charming and informative though selective and sometimes reticent autobiography (see “What About Murder,” 1981, #129). It has been an important primary source for her biographers, though they have had to go elsewhere for any information about her mysterious 1926 disappearance. An added feature makes the new edition valuable even for holders of the original: a scratchy but listenable CD of some of Christie’s dictation for the book, totaling around an hour and 20 minutes and touching on all aspects of her writing life. Grandson Matthew Prichard’s three-page introduction describes how these tapes, made on a now-obsolete recording machine, were found and recovered. Twenty-four pages of illustrations include some not in the original American edition.

Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years of Mysteries in the Making
Jon L. Breen

This first of two volumes, an Edgar nominee, explores the seemingly chaotic, undated, and sometimes barely legible notebooks in which Christie interspersed ideas, plot outlines, and casts of characters for her novels, plays, and stories with shopping lists, reading lists, and other ephemera. Curran, an Irish literary adviser to the Christie estate, organizes it all with admirable thoroughness, often bringing together material on a given title scattered among several notebooks. The arrangement is mainly topical, bringing together titles with a theme or type of background in common. Though the inclusion of two previously unpublished Poirot stories serves to attract a wide audience of fans, the real appeal of the book is to specialists and scholars. Solutions are routinely revealed, with warnings in the chapter headings. Curran’s critical differentiations add to the interest.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-21 23:28:41

This first of two volumes, an Edgar nominee, explores the seemingly chaotic, undated, and sometimes barely legible notebooks in which Christie interspersed ideas, plot outlines, and casts of characters for her novels, plays, and stories with shopping lists, reading lists, and other ephemera. Curran, an Irish literary adviser to the Christie estate, organizes it all with admirable thoroughness, often bringing together material on a given title scattered among several notebooks. The arrangement is mainly topical, bringing together titles with a theme or type of background in common. Though the inclusion of two previously unpublished Poirot stories serves to attract a wide audience of fans, the real appeal of the book is to specialists and scholars. Solutions are routinely revealed, with warnings in the chapter headings. Curran’s critical differentiations add to the interest.

Agatha Christie: Murder in the Making: More Stories and Secrets From Her Notebooks
Jon L. Breen

This second of two volumes, the first an Edgar nominee, explores the seemingly chaotic, undated, and sometimes barely legible notebooks in which Christie interspersed ideas, plot outlines, and casts of characters for her novels, plays, and stories with shopping lists, reading lists, and other ephemera. Curran, an Irish literary adviser to the Christie estate, organizes it all with admirable thoroughness, often bringing together material on a given title scattered among several notebooks. The first volume’s arrangement was mainly topical, bringing together titles with a theme or type of background in common; the second is chronological by decade from the 1920s to the 1970s. Though the inclusion of two previously unpublished Poirot stories in the first volume and an alternate version of a Miss Marple in the second serve to attract a wide audience of fans, the real appeal of the books is to specialists and scholars. Solutions are routinely revealed, with warnings in the chapter headings. Curran’s critical differentiations add to the interest. Special features of the newer volume relate Christie’s work to the detective-story rules of Van Dine and Knox, list her favorite novels and short stories with Curran’s comments, and offer an early denouement of The Mysterious Affair at Styles in which Poirot elucidates his solution from the witness stand.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-21 23:41:35

This second of two volumes, the first an Edgar nominee, explores the seemingly chaotic, undated, and sometimes barely legible notebooks in which Christie interspersed ideas, plot outlines, and casts of characters for her novels, plays, and stories with shopping lists, reading lists, and other ephemera. Curran, an Irish literary adviser to the Christie estate, organizes it all with admirable thoroughness, often bringing together material on a given title scattered among several notebooks. The first volume’s arrangement was mainly topical, bringing together titles with a theme or type of background in common; the second is chronological by decade from the 1920s to the 1970s. Though the inclusion of two previously unpublished Poirot stories in the first volume and an alternate version of a Miss Marple in the second serve to attract a wide audience of fans, the real appeal of the books is to specialists and scholars. Solutions are routinely revealed, with warnings in the chapter headings. Curran’s critical differentiations add to the interest. Special features of the newer volume relate Christie’s work to the detective-story rules of Van Dine and Knox, list her favorite novels and short stories with Curran’s comments, and offer an early denouement of The Mysterious Affair at Styles in which Poirot elucidates his solution from the witness stand.

Was Corinne’s Murder Clued?: the Detection Club and Fair Play, 1930-1953
Jon L. Breen

Though members of the Detection Club swore allegiance to fairly clued classical puzzles, even founding members like Anthony Berkeley and Dorothy L. Sayers strayed from strict conformity to the rules. Evans draws on members’ correspondence in an engagingly written and impeccably documented history of the organization showing the gradual erosion of the fair-play concept. Apart from the still-famous names, the contributions of writers like Milward Kennedy and E.R. Punshon to the development of the form are given their due. Writers heretofore names on a page are brought to life as individual personalities. The title refers to an entertaining debate over the membership qualifications of Douglas G. Browne and the elaborate solution to a bathtub murder in his novel What Beckoning Ghost (1947). Illustrations include pictures of members and prospects plus a few dust jacket covers. Everyone interested in the history of the British detective novel should read this.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-21 23:57:42

Though members of the Detection Club swore allegiance to fairly clued classical puzzles, even founding members like Anthony Berkeley and Dorothy L. Sayers strayed from strict conformity to the rules. Evans draws on members’ correspondence in an engagingly written and impeccably documented history of the organization showing the gradual erosion of the fair-play concept. Apart from the still-famous names, the contributions of writers like Milward Kennedy and E.R. Punshon to the development of the form are given their due. Writers heretofore names on a page are brought to life as individual personalities. The title refers to an entertaining debate over the membership qualifications of Douglas G. Browne and the elaborate solution to a bathtub murder in his novel What Beckoning Ghost (1947). Illustrations include pictures of members and prospects plus a few dust jacket covers. Everyone interested in the history of the British detective novel should read this.

A Century of Detection: Twenty Great Mystery Stories, 1841-1940
Jon L. Breen

In an anthology intended as a textbook, the 20 entries are bolstered by a good introduction, extensive and accurate editorial notes on the authors and their contributions to the form, explanatory footnotes, occasional illustrations, and a four-page secondary bibliography. Sections are devoted to Poe (three stories), “Variations of Poe, Expansions to the Form” (Collins, Twain, Chesterton), Doyle (three Sherlock Holmes stories plus Bret Harte’s parody), “Gender, Sexuality, and Detection” (Mary Wilkins Freeman, Orczy, Green, Glaspell), the hardboiled (Daly, Hammett, Woolrich), and African-American writers (Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins, Himes, Ralph Ellison), the latter an academic specialty of the editor.

There’s nothing wrong with what’s here but plenty with what’s left out. Apart from scattered references to Agatha Christie (whose Miss Marple I suspect the editor wanted to include), the whole Golden Age of Detection in Britain and America is ignored. Closest is Chesterton’s story published in 1911. Why not have a bit less Poe and Doyle, who are represented by very familiar material, to allow a wider representation of the detective story’s first century?

Teri Duerr
2012-02-22 00:19:35

78_hunter_momentshewasgoneTwenty entries make up this well-done academic anthology covering detection from Poe to Doyle to Hammett.

Blood Relations: the Selected Letters of Ellery Queen, 1947-1950
Jon L. Breen

In the collection of Frederic Dannay’s papers at Columbia University are copies of the Ellery Queen team’s correspondence when Manfred B. Lee was living on the West Coast and they were developing three of their finest novels: Ten Days’ Wonder, Cat of Many Tails, and The Origin of Evil. Edgar-winning playwright Goodrich has done a superb job of editing and annotating the letters, which reveal the painful-to-contemplate combativeness and mutual recrimination of the Queens’ professional relationship. That they could work together for 40 years, creating America’s finest body of classical detective fiction, is nothing short of a miracle. Lee to Dannay in 1948: “You get sick after you open my letters. I get sick before I open yours. The mere sight of your handwriting on the envelope upsets me.” Fortunately, the letters also reflect enough of the cousins’ genuine concern for each other and empathy for their difficult family lives to balance the incredible level of bile, insult, and willful misunderstanding.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-22 00:24:12

goodrich_bloodrelationsEditor Joseph Goodrich has done a superb job of editing and annotating the Queen team's correspondence.

Jonathan Kellerman's Milo
Oline Cogdill

kellermanjon_victimsI worry about Milo Sturgis' eating habits.

It's not that I stay up nights fretting about Milo, the L.A. detective who is psychologist Alex Delaware's sidekick in Jonathan Kellerman's novels, the latest of which is Victims.

But Milo packs away a lot of food and I worry that his over mega meals.

It's also a chance to live vicariously as Milo goes through practically an entire buffet at an Indian restaurant, waxes poetic about a pizza, longs for a special breakfast. Leftovers are not a problem because Milo will make sure they are cleaned out.

I appreciate Milo's zest for food and I admit to a bit of vicarious living through the detective's eating habits.

After all, as described by Kellerman, Milo is a big guy—a "bear of a man" who is at least 6-foot-3, weighing 240 to 260 pounds.

Despite his love of food, Milo never comes across as a glutton.

Instead, he's a bit of a foodie, who embraces all kinds of food, from fine dining to fast food.

Even when he's downing a quart of orange juice and a quart of milk, it doesn't seem excessive.

At least not for Milo.

Next to Blanche, the adorable French bulldog, Milo is my favorite character in Kellerman's series.

In creating this big, insightful detective, Kellerman never stooped to clichés. Milo may have been one of the first openly gay detectives in a crime fiction novel written by a straight author. Milo's sexuality is weaved into every story as naturally as Alex's relationship with his girlfriend, Robin.

Milo has been in a 22-year relationship with Richard Silverman, the head ER surgeon at a hospital. Like Robin, Rick stays in the background, occasionally on the phone or at a restaurant when he and Milo double date with Alex and Robin.

Each Alex Delaware novel leaves me wanting more of Milo.

While the Alex and Milo team has been Kellerman's main series, the author took a mini break when he introduced half-brothers Aaron Fox and Moses Reed in intriguing True Detectives. Since that novel, Aaron and Moses make frequent appearances in the Alex Delaware series.

I think it's time that Kellerman focused a novel on Milo.

Wouldn't you love to know more about Milo, his family, his early life, how he and Rick met? I know I would.

Milo deserves no less.

Super User
2012-03-04 10:14:49

kellermanjon_victimsI worry about Milo Sturgis' eating habits.

It's not that I stay up nights fretting about Milo, the L.A. detective who is psychologist Alex Delaware's sidekick in Jonathan Kellerman's novels, the latest of which is Victims.

But Milo packs away a lot of food and I worry that his over mega meals.

It's also a chance to live vicariously as Milo goes through practically an entire buffet at an Indian restaurant, waxes poetic about a pizza, longs for a special breakfast. Leftovers are not a problem because Milo will make sure they are cleaned out.

I appreciate Milo's zest for food and I admit to a bit of vicarious living through the detective's eating habits.

After all, as described by Kellerman, Milo is a big guy—a "bear of a man" who is at least 6-foot-3, weighing 240 to 260 pounds.

Despite his love of food, Milo never comes across as a glutton.

Instead, he's a bit of a foodie, who embraces all kinds of food, from fine dining to fast food.

Even when he's downing a quart of orange juice and a quart of milk, it doesn't seem excessive.

At least not for Milo.

Next to Blanche, the adorable French bulldog, Milo is my favorite character in Kellerman's series.

In creating this big, insightful detective, Kellerman never stooped to clichés. Milo may have been one of the first openly gay detectives in a crime fiction novel written by a straight author. Milo's sexuality is weaved into every story as naturally as Alex's relationship with his girlfriend, Robin.

Milo has been in a 22-year relationship with Richard Silverman, the head ER surgeon at a hospital. Like Robin, Rick stays in the background, occasionally on the phone or at a restaurant when he and Milo double date with Alex and Robin.

Each Alex Delaware novel leaves me wanting more of Milo.

While the Alex and Milo team has been Kellerman's main series, the author took a mini break when he introduced half-brothers Aaron Fox and Moses Reed in intriguing True Detectives. Since that novel, Aaron and Moses make frequent appearances in the Alex Delaware series.

I think it's time that Kellerman focused a novel on Milo.

Wouldn't you love to know more about Milo, his family, his early life, how he and Rick met? I know I would.

Milo deserves no less.

The Black Stiletto
Betty Webb

In Raymond Benson’s The Black Stiletto, a 1950s rape victim becomes a vengeance-seeking superhero, skintight black costume and all. Just because a book’s plot sounds improbable doesn’t mean it isn’t a terrific read, and this stirring, action-packed book is a prime example of imagination triumphing over logic. At puberty, Judy Talbot develops unusually acute vision and hearing, along with an almost ESP-like ability to sense when someone’s lying. After fleeing from her abusive stepfather, she heads to Manhattan, where she takes boxing and martial arts lessons in order to protect herself in the future. Once fighting fit, she uses her physical prowess to wreak vengeance on the mobsters who murdered her lover, then patrols the mean streets to rescue New Yorkers in distress.

Given such an unlikely setup, this book shouldn’t work, but it does—we follow Judy “Black Stiletto” Talbot’s adventures with a mixture of delight and awe. Benson isn’t just a talented writer, he’s an experienced one, too. The author of several James Bond 007 books knows a thing or two about making extraordinary heroes come alive. Understanding that Judy’s exploits might stretch the limits of credulity, he tells his story through Judy’s journal, which has been discovered years later by her son Martin. As Martin begins to read, we share his disbelief when he initially dismisses his aged mother’s journal as the delusions of an Alzheimer’s patient. When he eventually finds yellowed newspaper clippings that back up Judy’s journal, along with her famous black costume, we rejoice with him. But even if those clippings hadn’t appeared, we’d believe Judy’s tale anyway because Benson has packed her exploits with so much heart that we want them to be true.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-22 19:21:25

In Raymond Benson’s The Black Stiletto, a 1950s rape victim becomes a vengeance-seeking superhero, skintight black costume and all. Just because a book’s plot sounds improbable doesn’t mean it isn’t a terrific read, and this stirring, action-packed book is a prime example of imagination triumphing over logic. At puberty, Judy Talbot develops unusually acute vision and hearing, along with an almost ESP-like ability to sense when someone’s lying. After fleeing from her abusive stepfather, she heads to Manhattan, where she takes boxing and martial arts lessons in order to protect herself in the future. Once fighting fit, she uses her physical prowess to wreak vengeance on the mobsters who murdered her lover, then patrols the mean streets to rescue New Yorkers in distress.

Given such an unlikely setup, this book shouldn’t work, but it does—we follow Judy “Black Stiletto” Talbot’s adventures with a mixture of delight and awe. Benson isn’t just a talented writer, he’s an experienced one, too. The author of several James Bond 007 books knows a thing or two about making extraordinary heroes come alive. Understanding that Judy’s exploits might stretch the limits of credulity, he tells his story through Judy’s journal, which has been discovered years later by her son Martin. As Martin begins to read, we share his disbelief when he initially dismisses his aged mother’s journal as the delusions of an Alzheimer’s patient. When he eventually finds yellowed newspaper clippings that back up Judy’s journal, along with her famous black costume, we rejoice with him. But even if those clippings hadn’t appeared, we’d believe Judy’s tale anyway because Benson has packed her exploits with so much heart that we want them to be true.

Hominid
Betty Webb

John C. Boland’s Hominid is a riveting scientific suspense novel on the order of the popular Preston and Child thrillers. Archeologist David Isaac and his crew are researching a 17th-century English colony on a secluded island off the Maryland Shore, when something goes terribly wrong. While excavating a deeply buried crypt on unhallowed ground, one of the archeologists is found with her throat cut. Luther, the villager who was working beside her, is the obvious suspect, but he has disappeared and the islanders—including the local lawman—appear reluctant to hunt him down. Luther’s motive is baffling, too, but Isaac suspects that it might be because Luther never wanted the crypt opened in the first place. The crypt is supposed to contain the remains of the Wakelyn family, victims of the cholera epidemic that swept the island in 1702, but when their three lead-lined coffins are opened, only the skeletons of a man and young child are found; both were tied up and beheaded. The third coffin, which should have contained the body of Elspeth Wakelyn, is empty.

Hominid could have been a novel only for the science-minded reader, but author Boland makes complicated theories about DNA and genetically linked illnesses easily understood. And in contrast to many science-heavy suspense novelists, Boland also has the ability to create three-dimensional characters. Isaac’s love life is a mess; Silas Merton, the island’s mayor and only clergyman, is also the town drunk; local artist Sydney Wood seems oddly comfortable with the bizarre behavior of her fellow villagers; and even brutish Luther turns out to be much, much more than your average killer. Hominid never fails to make for exciting reading, but its true value may lie in the question it poses: What happens to DNA in long-isolated populations?

Teri Duerr
2012-02-22 19:30:55

John C. Boland’s Hominid is a riveting scientific suspense novel on the order of the popular Preston and Child thrillers. Archeologist David Isaac and his crew are researching a 17th-century English colony on a secluded island off the Maryland Shore, when something goes terribly wrong. While excavating a deeply buried crypt on unhallowed ground, one of the archeologists is found with her throat cut. Luther, the villager who was working beside her, is the obvious suspect, but he has disappeared and the islanders—including the local lawman—appear reluctant to hunt him down. Luther’s motive is baffling, too, but Isaac suspects that it might be because Luther never wanted the crypt opened in the first place. The crypt is supposed to contain the remains of the Wakelyn family, victims of the cholera epidemic that swept the island in 1702, but when their three lead-lined coffins are opened, only the skeletons of a man and young child are found; both were tied up and beheaded. The third coffin, which should have contained the body of Elspeth Wakelyn, is empty.

Hominid could have been a novel only for the science-minded reader, but author Boland makes complicated theories about DNA and genetically linked illnesses easily understood. And in contrast to many science-heavy suspense novelists, Boland also has the ability to create three-dimensional characters. Isaac’s love life is a mess; Silas Merton, the island’s mayor and only clergyman, is also the town drunk; local artist Sydney Wood seems oddly comfortable with the bizarre behavior of her fellow villagers; and even brutish Luther turns out to be much, much more than your average killer. Hominid never fails to make for exciting reading, but its true value may lie in the question it poses: What happens to DNA in long-isolated populations?

Fly by Night
Betty Webb

We’re in big-time-adventure territory when we hit Ward Larsen’s Fly by Night. This time out (after Fly by Wire) Jammer Davis, a pilot and crash investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, finds himself in hot water in the African nation of Sudan. He’s ostensibly looking into the crash of a cargo plane owned by a Bahamian company whose planes are so substandard it’s referred to as “Fly by Night” airlines. Despite Jammer’s NTSB papers, he’s really there to find out if the Bahamian company has any connection to the local Muslim terrorists, and if so, to determine if the company caused the crash of an expensive US Air Force drone. It’s a dangerous posting, but Jammer, a modern-day Errol Flynn, is up to it. He can fly, he can box, he can scuba dive, and he can shoot very, very straight.

If Jammer has a weakness, it’s his tender heart. When he meets the beauteous Dr. Regina Antonelli, a United Nations doctor working at an isolated desert clinic, he’s swept off his feet. Smitten, he attempts to help her get food and medicine for her patients, but this turns out to be as dangerous as exposing terrorists. The scenes involving the clinic will tear at your heart, for we see fat, government-backed warlords stealing food meant for starving children, and the author uses easily checked data to prove that this is happening right now in real-life Sudan (and other war-torn countries).

Eye-openers aside, Larsen keeps his plot moving by giving us Rafiq Khoura, a shady imam who isn’t the pure-hearted cleric he pretends to be, and Fadi Jibril, an engineer whose brilliance is second only to his religious extremism. Okay, I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for Jammer. His chivalric combination of toughness and tenderness has gained him many women readers such as myself, but Jammer’s intimate knowledge of aircraft and other skills keeps his male readership strong. And giving him a rebellious teenage daughter to deal with while he’s dealing with corrupt governments, warlords and terrorists—well, that was a stroke of brilliance on Larsen’s part. If you’re ever in trouble in the Sudan, you’d want an all-around hero like him by your side.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-22 19:38:00

We’re in big-time-adventure territory when we hit Ward Larsen’s Fly by Night. This time out (after Fly by Wire) Jammer Davis, a pilot and crash investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, finds himself in hot water in the African nation of Sudan. He’s ostensibly looking into the crash of a cargo plane owned by a Bahamian company whose planes are so substandard it’s referred to as “Fly by Night” airlines. Despite Jammer’s NTSB papers, he’s really there to find out if the Bahamian company has any connection to the local Muslim terrorists, and if so, to determine if the company caused the crash of an expensive US Air Force drone. It’s a dangerous posting, but Jammer, a modern-day Errol Flynn, is up to it. He can fly, he can box, he can scuba dive, and he can shoot very, very straight.

If Jammer has a weakness, it’s his tender heart. When he meets the beauteous Dr. Regina Antonelli, a United Nations doctor working at an isolated desert clinic, he’s swept off his feet. Smitten, he attempts to help her get food and medicine for her patients, but this turns out to be as dangerous as exposing terrorists. The scenes involving the clinic will tear at your heart, for we see fat, government-backed warlords stealing food meant for starving children, and the author uses easily checked data to prove that this is happening right now in real-life Sudan (and other war-torn countries).

Eye-openers aside, Larsen keeps his plot moving by giving us Rafiq Khoura, a shady imam who isn’t the pure-hearted cleric he pretends to be, and Fadi Jibril, an engineer whose brilliance is second only to his religious extremism. Okay, I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for Jammer. His chivalric combination of toughness and tenderness has gained him many women readers such as myself, but Jammer’s intimate knowledge of aircraft and other skills keeps his male readership strong. And giving him a rebellious teenage daughter to deal with while he’s dealing with corrupt governments, warlords and terrorists—well, that was a stroke of brilliance on Larsen’s part. If you’re ever in trouble in the Sudan, you’d want an all-around hero like him by your side.

The Curse of Senmut
Betty Webb

Vickie Britton and Loretta Jackson’s The Curse of Senmut is set in Egypt. I’ve always loved good archeological mysteries, so when this landed on my desk I turned to it with relish. For those not in the know, Senmut was the architect and rumored lover of Pharaoh/Queen Hatshepsut (1508-1458 BC), the man responsible for building so many still-standing temples. When Egyptologist Jane Darvin dies from poisoning during the excavation of a tomb near Luxor, her friend Ardis Cole takes over the dig. After discovering that the tomb is truly that of the famed Senmut, Ardis is warned that the tomb carries a curse which might be responsible for Jane’s death. It soon becomes apparent that someone—or something—is determined to drive the excavators away, which leads to some nice thrills and chills.

The authors have obviously done their archeological homework, and in between all the mysterious goings-on, we learn fascinating details of Hatshepsut’s stormy reign, along with the nitty-gritty on Thutmose III, the stepson who hated the female pharaoh and possibly had her murdered so that he could ascend the throne. The Egyptology is all there, and it’s enjoyable. But the book is hurt by the dated, near-Victorian characterization of its protagonist. Although fully aware that someone is trying to kill her, Ardis continues to poke around in dark places by herself, take solitary trips into dangerous territory, and at one point she even gulps down a drink “made especially for her” although a tentative first sip reveals a strong chemical taste. Of course she becomes violently ill, but that doesn’t stop her reckless behavior. Ardis’ irritating lack of common sense mars what is otherwise an enjoyable book.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-22 19:43:42

Vickie Britton and Loretta Jackson’s The Curse of Senmut is set in Egypt. I’ve always loved good archeological mysteries, so when this landed on my desk I turned to it with relish. For those not in the know, Senmut was the architect and rumored lover of Pharaoh/Queen Hatshepsut (1508-1458 BC), the man responsible for building so many still-standing temples. When Egyptologist Jane Darvin dies from poisoning during the excavation of a tomb near Luxor, her friend Ardis Cole takes over the dig. After discovering that the tomb is truly that of the famed Senmut, Ardis is warned that the tomb carries a curse which might be responsible for Jane’s death. It soon becomes apparent that someone—or something—is determined to drive the excavators away, which leads to some nice thrills and chills.

The authors have obviously done their archeological homework, and in between all the mysterious goings-on, we learn fascinating details of Hatshepsut’s stormy reign, along with the nitty-gritty on Thutmose III, the stepson who hated the female pharaoh and possibly had her murdered so that he could ascend the throne. The Egyptology is all there, and it’s enjoyable. But the book is hurt by the dated, near-Victorian characterization of its protagonist. Although fully aware that someone is trying to kill her, Ardis continues to poke around in dark places by herself, take solitary trips into dangerous territory, and at one point she even gulps down a drink “made especially for her” although a tentative first sip reveals a strong chemical taste. Of course she becomes violently ill, but that doesn’t stop her reckless behavior. Ardis’ irritating lack of common sense mars what is otherwise an enjoyable book.

Speechless: a Life of the Mind University Mystery
Betty Webb

Morty Guggenmoose’s Speechless: A Life of the Mind University Mystery is a convoluted Canadian mystery, where overeducated academics divide their time between perusing the Greek and Latin classics, and perhaps plotting the murders of competing academics. Protagonist Morty Guggenmoose (yes, I know, he’s also the supposed author of this odd little book), a student at Life of the Mind University, has fallen for a gorgeous fellow student named Sunny Lee. Beside himself with lust and longing, Morty uses an ancient Greek incantation to make her return his affections, but it doesn’t appear to work. Also in trouble is Morty’s conference paper, “Horace: What’s with All the Ablatives?” (Note for non-philologists: an ablative is a grammatical case expressing the relation of separation and source, God help us.) Morty’s woes escalate when an old Greek coin disappears and Professor Elder Nooken, Director of the Pfumpfermeister Museum, gets murdered. Now it’s up to our befuddled hero and his equally befuddled friend, Wilber “Mashie” Micklechuck, to find out whodunit. A parody of sorts (did you notice those names?), Speechless is witty in its scholastic send-ups, and should thus have strong appeal for the wounded veterans of Academia. However, the average reader might want to approach its convoluted sentences and drawn-out Homeric and philological references with caution—or at least not without a big, fat dictionary.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-22 19:51:38

Morty Guggenmoose’s Speechless: A Life of the Mind University Mystery is a convoluted Canadian mystery, where overeducated academics divide their time between perusing the Greek and Latin classics, and perhaps plotting the murders of competing academics. Protagonist Morty Guggenmoose (yes, I know, he’s also the supposed author of this odd little book), a student at Life of the Mind University, has fallen for a gorgeous fellow student named Sunny Lee. Beside himself with lust and longing, Morty uses an ancient Greek incantation to make her return his affections, but it doesn’t appear to work. Also in trouble is Morty’s conference paper, “Horace: What’s with All the Ablatives?” (Note for non-philologists: an ablative is a grammatical case expressing the relation of separation and source, God help us.) Morty’s woes escalate when an old Greek coin disappears and Professor Elder Nooken, Director of the Pfumpfermeister Museum, gets murdered. Now it’s up to our befuddled hero and his equally befuddled friend, Wilber “Mashie” Micklechuck, to find out whodunit. A parody of sorts (did you notice those names?), Speechless is witty in its scholastic send-ups, and should thus have strong appeal for the wounded veterans of Academia. However, the average reader might want to approach its convoluted sentences and drawn-out Homeric and philological references with caution—or at least not without a big, fat dictionary.

Forever Rumpole: the Best of the Rumpole Stories
Bill Crider

Collections of good short stories just keep on coming. One of them is the huge (just over 500 pages) Forever Rumpole: The Best of the Rumpole Stories by John Mortimer. This volume contains 14 of what editor Ann Mallalieu calls “The Best of the Rumpole Series.” That tells you all you need to know right there, but I’ll go ahead and add that seven of the stories originally appeared in a 1993 collection titled The Best of Rumpole. Those stories were chosen by Mortimer himself, and to them Mallieu has added seven more to represent the best of Mortimer’s later work. There’s one other selection, too. When Mortimer died in 2009, he’d begun work on a Rumpole novel, and four pages from that work are included here. Add in Mortimer’s introduction to the 1993 collection and Mallalieu’s fine introduction to this one, and you have a book that any reader of short fiction would be glad to add to the bookshelves.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-22 20:00:14

Collections of good short stories just keep on coming. One of them is the huge (just over 500 pages) Forever Rumpole: The Best of the Rumpole Stories by John Mortimer. This volume contains 14 of what editor Ann Mallalieu calls “The Best of the Rumpole Series.” That tells you all you need to know right there, but I’ll go ahead and add that seven of the stories originally appeared in a 1993 collection titled The Best of Rumpole. Those stories were chosen by Mortimer himself, and to them Mallieu has added seven more to represent the best of Mortimer’s later work. There’s one other selection, too. When Mortimer died in 2009, he’d begun work on a Rumpole novel, and four pages from that work are included here. Add in Mortimer’s introduction to the 1993 collection and Mallalieu’s fine introduction to this one, and you have a book that any reader of short fiction would be glad to add to the bookshelves.

The Duel of Shadows: the Extraordinary Cases of Barnabas Hildreth
Bill Crider

Ellery Queen called Vincent Cornier the author of “one of the great series of modern detective stories.” Of course he said that more than 60 years ago, so you can be forgiven if you didn’t know it. Mike Ashley brings back some the best of Cornier’s stories in The Duel of Shadows: The Extraordinary Cases of Barnabas Hildreth. Hildreth is an agent of the British Secret Service, and he deals with some wonderful problems, such as the one involving an ancient Egyptian curse. I find stories like this irresistible, and while some might find Cornier’s writing style a bit dated, I have no problem at all getting into the spirit of things to read about impossible crimes and incredible events. The first story in the book, “The Stone Ear,” is probably the best known, mainly because the mystery is not resolved until the final word. Ashley provides a comprehensive introduction to Cornier and the stories.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-22 20:05:21

Ellery Queen called Vincent Cornier the author of “one of the great series of modern detective stories.” Of course he said that more than 60 years ago, so you can be forgiven if you didn’t know it. Mike Ashley brings back some the best of Cornier’s stories in The Duel of Shadows: The Extraordinary Cases of Barnabas Hildreth. Hildreth is an agent of the British Secret Service, and he deals with some wonderful problems, such as the one involving an ancient Egyptian curse. I find stories like this irresistible, and while some might find Cornier’s writing style a bit dated, I have no problem at all getting into the spirit of things to read about impossible crimes and incredible events. The first story in the book, “The Stone Ear,” is probably the best known, mainly because the mystery is not resolved until the final word. Ashley provides a comprehensive introduction to Cornier and the stories.

A Study in Sherlock
Bill Crider

Laurie King has won just about every crime-writing award there is, and half her novels feature Mary Russell, the wife of Sherlock Holmes. Now King and Leslie S. Klinger have put together A Study in Sherlock, an anthology of stories “inspired by the Holmes canon.” The key word is “inspired,” as most of these stories aren’t pastiches but tales that are often only tangentially related to the canon. There’s a lot to enjoy, like Colin Cotterill’s “The Mysterious Case of the Unwritten Short Story,” presented in graphic novel form. Or Neil Gaiman’s “The Case of Death and Honey,” which will tell you why Holmes decided on beekeeping. There’s a lot more, all of it by Big Names, all of it thoroughly entertaining. An introduction and an afterword by King and Klinger add to the volume’s value. For Holmes fans this is a must-have. For everybody else, it’s highly recommended.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-22 20:10:11

Laurie King has won just about every crime-writing award there is, and half her novels feature Mary Russell, the wife of Sherlock Holmes. Now King and Leslie S. Klinger have put together A Study in Sherlock, an anthology of stories “inspired by the Holmes canon.” The key word is “inspired,” as most of these stories aren’t pastiches but tales that are often only tangentially related to the canon. There’s a lot to enjoy, like Colin Cotterill’s “The Mysterious Case of the Unwritten Short Story,” presented in graphic novel form. Or Neil Gaiman’s “The Case of Death and Honey,” which will tell you why Holmes decided on beekeeping. There’s a lot more, all of it by Big Names, all of it thoroughly entertaining. An introduction and an afterword by King and Klinger add to the volume’s value. For Holmes fans this is a must-have. For everybody else, it’s highly recommended.

Crime Factory: the First Shift
Bill Crider

If you’re the kind of person who thinks impossible crimes and locked rooms are too old-fashioned and finds Holmes and Rumpole too civilized, have no fear: New Pulp Press is here with Crime Factory: The First Shift, an anthology of noir stories that are dark, bitter, and filled with criminals and con men, psychos and sinners. The table of contents reads like a Who’s Who of contemporary noir, with writers from all over the world. There’s Ken Bruen from Ireland, Roger Smith from South Africa, Leigh Redhead and Adrian McKinty from Australia. The US is well represented, too, with the likes of Patricia Abbott, Hilary Davidson, and way too many more to name. Editors Keith Rawson, Cameron Ashley, and Jimmy Callaway have put together as wild an anthology as you’re likely to find, and if you want to know what’s shaking the crime field right now, this is a book you need to read.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-22 20:17:32

If you’re the kind of person who thinks impossible crimes and locked rooms are too old-fashioned and finds Holmes and Rumpole too civilized, have no fear: New Pulp Press is here with Crime Factory: The First Shift, an anthology of noir stories that are dark, bitter, and filled with criminals and con men, psychos and sinners. The table of contents reads like a Who’s Who of contemporary noir, with writers from all over the world. There’s Ken Bruen from Ireland, Roger Smith from South Africa, Leigh Redhead and Adrian McKinty from Australia. The US is well represented, too, with the likes of Patricia Abbott, Hilary Davidson, and way too many more to name. Editors Keith Rawson, Cameron Ashley, and Jimmy Callaway have put together as wild an anthology as you’re likely to find, and if you want to know what’s shaking the crime field right now, this is a book you need to read.

Chicago Lightning: the Collected Nathan Heller Short Stories
Bill Crider

Max Allan Collins must maintain a separate shelf in his house for the Shamus awards he’s received for his Nate Heller short stories. Now Amazon Encore has brought all the stories together in a collection called Chicago Lightning: The Collected Nathan Heller Short Stories with a fine introduction by Collins. It’s private-eye fiction as you like it, with wonderfully researched historical backgrounds, and it’s essential reading.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-22 20:23:27

Max Allan Collins must maintain a separate shelf in his house for the Shamus awards he’s received for his Nate Heller short stories. Now Amazon Encore has brought all the stories together in a collection called Chicago Lightning: The Collected Nathan Heller Short Stories with a fine introduction by Collins. It’s private-eye fiction as you like it, with wonderfully researched historical backgrounds, and it’s essential reading.

Dire Threads
Lynne F. Maxwell

In keeping with the motif of towns sporting theme-oriented specialty shops, typified by Lorna Barrett in her Booktown Mysteries, Janet Bolin introduces Threadville, Pennsylvania, a crafter’s mecca for all things related to needlework arts. In Dire Threads, Bolin introduces Willow Vanderling, proud proprietor of a new embroidery shop, In Stitches. In the good company of her best friend Haylee, who has also opened a textile crafts boutique, Willow embraces the placid small-town lifestyle far removed from the frenzied pace of Manhattan, but it doesn’t take long for her to discover that peace is illusory.

When Willow resists pressure from Mike Krawbach, the zoning commissioner, to promote his petition to create an ATV trail through Willow’s own property, she makes enemies very quickly. When Mike’s body turns up in her yard, Willow must defend herself against accusations of murder.

Accompanied by Tally-Ho (Tally) and Sally Forth (Sally), quite possibly the cutest puppies in the world, Willow takes matters into her own hands, discovering, in the process, that apparently innocuous neighbors can be vicious, even on the shores of Lake Erie. Bolin weaves a tale that will keep readers guessing. It doesn’t hurt if said readers are also fans of embroidery, the featured craft in the fresh Threadville Mystery Series.

Teri Duerr
2012-02-22 20:27:57

In keeping with the motif of towns sporting theme-oriented specialty shops, typified by Lorna Barrett in her Booktown Mysteries, Janet Bolin introduces Threadville, Pennsylvania, a crafter’s mecca for all things related to needlework arts. In Dire Threads, Bolin introduces Willow Vanderling, proud proprietor of a new embroidery shop, In Stitches. In the good company of her best friend Haylee, who has also opened a textile crafts boutique, Willow embraces the placid small-town lifestyle far removed from the frenzied pace of Manhattan, but it doesn’t take long for her to discover that peace is illusory.

When Willow resists pressure from Mike Krawbach, the zoning commissioner, to promote his petition to create an ATV trail through Willow’s own property, she makes enemies very quickly. When Mike’s body turns up in her yard, Willow must defend herself against accusations of murder.

Accompanied by Tally-Ho (Tally) and Sally Forth (Sally), quite possibly the cutest puppies in the world, Willow takes matters into her own hands, discovering, in the process, that apparently innocuous neighbors can be vicious, even on the shores of Lake Erie. Bolin weaves a tale that will keep readers guessing. It doesn’t hurt if said readers are also fans of embroidery, the featured craft in the fresh Threadville Mystery Series.