Cooking the Books
Sue Emmons

Fans of culinary mysteries spiced with humor will relish Kerry Greenwood's sixth Corinna Chapman adventure. It's not surprising that Greenwood has devoted fans: She is a winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Crime Writers' Association of Australia, where her clever mysteries are set. Perhaps better known for a series featuring the svelte and chic Phryne Fisher set in the 1920s, the Chapman series features a plus-size sleuth with a sense of fun, a taste for adventure, and, oh yes, an ardent enthusiasm for her hunky boyfriend.

This time, Corinna is supposed to be vacationing from the rigors of running her own pastry shop, but boredom looms so she agrees to cater the set of a soap opera, Kiss the Bride, in which two of her lissome employees have scored small parts.

Corinna uncovers devious schemes among the actors, tangles with a tiger, and helps to track down the corporate culprits who are "cooking the books" while exploiting a female employee. Animals are a staple in this series but it is the sarcastic humor of the Joseph Wambaugh sleuth coupled with surprising twists that keeps the plot on the right burner.

Cooking the Books should send readers scurrying to read Greenwood's earlier mysteries. As a finale to this tasty tale of murder, the author offers up medieval recipes adapted for modern cookery.

Teri Duerr
2012-06-01 21:18:18

Fans of culinary mysteries spiced with humor will relish Kerry Greenwood's sixth Corinna Chapman adventure. It's not surprising that Greenwood has devoted fans: She is a winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Crime Writers' Association of Australia, where her clever mysteries are set. Perhaps better known for a series featuring the svelte and chic Phryne Fisher set in the 1920s, the Chapman series features a plus-size sleuth with a sense of fun, a taste for adventure, and, oh yes, an ardent enthusiasm for her hunky boyfriend.

This time, Corinna is supposed to be vacationing from the rigors of running her own pastry shop, but boredom looms so she agrees to cater the set of a soap opera, Kiss the Bride, in which two of her lissome employees have scored small parts.

Corinna uncovers devious schemes among the actors, tangles with a tiger, and helps to track down the corporate culprits who are "cooking the books" while exploiting a female employee. Animals are a staple in this series but it is the sarcastic humor of the Joseph Wambaugh sleuth coupled with surprising twists that keeps the plot on the right burner.

Cooking the Books should send readers scurrying to read Greenwood's earlier mysteries. As a finale to this tasty tale of murder, the author offers up medieval recipes adapted for modern cookery.

Guilt by Degrees
Bob Smith

I confess I approached this book reluctantly. I usually avoid books by celebrities or books about trials and this one promised to be both. (Clark is a well-known Los Angeles trial lawyer,most famous as the lead prosecutor on the O.J. Simpson case.) I now happily admit that my trepidation was 100 percent misplaced and that Clark's second novel, Guilt by Degrees, had me sold in the first few chapters, and kept me that way until the surprising, yet wholly satisfying, conclusion. Clark's writing is fluid and easy, her characters well delineated, her dialogue crisp and witty, and the story she tells is entertaining and suspenseful—all combining for hours of pure reading pleasure.

Clark demonstrates here that she does indeed know her way around the L.A. court system. But this novel isn't just another "Is the defendant innocent or guilty?" tale. It is more about tracking down a suspected killer and unraveling the reasons behind the murders. DA Rachel Knight, with help from her pals, LAPD Detective Bailey Keller, and fellow DA Toni LaCollette, search for a clever femme fatale who two years earlier had been acquitted in the brutal murder of her police officer husband and is currently suspected of murdering his brother. The woman in question is a bit of a clichéd supervillain, but Clark's writing is so skillful we accept this without question. It comes down to a case of one brilliant evil woman against three hardcharging dames. And what a battle of wits it is! The story bogs down a little when it comes to Rachel's love life, but not enough to spoil the fun.

Teri Duerr
2012-06-01 21:22:00

I confess I approached this book reluctantly. I usually avoid books by celebrities or books about trials and this one promised to be both. (Clark is a well-known Los Angeles trial lawyer,most famous as the lead prosecutor on the O.J. Simpson case.) I now happily admit that my trepidation was 100 percent misplaced and that Clark's second novel, Guilt by Degrees, had me sold in the first few chapters, and kept me that way until the surprising, yet wholly satisfying, conclusion. Clark's writing is fluid and easy, her characters well delineated, her dialogue crisp and witty, and the story she tells is entertaining and suspenseful—all combining for hours of pure reading pleasure.

Clark demonstrates here that she does indeed know her way around the L.A. court system. But this novel isn't just another "Is the defendant innocent or guilty?" tale. It is more about tracking down a suspected killer and unraveling the reasons behind the murders. DA Rachel Knight, with help from her pals, LAPD Detective Bailey Keller, and fellow DA Toni LaCollette, search for a clever femme fatale who two years earlier had been acquitted in the brutal murder of her police officer husband and is currently suspected of murdering his brother. The woman in question is a bit of a clichéd supervillain, but Clark's writing is so skillful we accept this without question. It comes down to a case of one brilliant evil woman against three hardcharging dames. And what a battle of wits it is! The story bogs down a little when it comes to Rachel's love life, but not enough to spoil the fun.

Cat's Claw
Jackie Houchin

With a title like Cat's Claw it's no surprise that Susan Wittig Albert's latest China Bayles mystery contains references to felines. But as fans of the series know, her titles are also the names of plants whose characteristics often point to the book's theme. Cat's Claw herbs have sharp, strong, claw-like thorns that "hold fast and refuse to let go."

A quiet neighborhood in Pecan Springs is shocked when one of its inhabitants is found dead in his kitchen, an apparent suicide. Larry Kirk is in the middle of a messy divorce, his computer shop has been burglarized, and his finances are in ruins. Who would doubt the gunshot wound to his head, the weapon in his hand, and the suicide note on his laptop?

But a closer look at the evidence proves it a homicide and the hunt for the killer is on. Among the suspects are his estranged wife and her new boyfriend, a disgruntled employee, a female stalker, and the unknown burglar. A second gruesome murder further complicates the investigation.

Cat's Claw is unique in the series because two protagonists share in solving the crime. In alternating chapters, herb shop owner China Bayles uses her intuitive observations and connections in the community to ferret out facts, while Sheila Dawson, the town's new police chief, follows law enforcement protocol in a detailed investigation.

The book has the feel of an experiment, an attempt by the author to mesh a cozy mystery with a police procedural. Uneven in parts, it nevertheless works. Together the cop and the sleuth believably unravel the multiplot mystery and deliver a satisfying ending.

Teri Duerr
2012-06-01 21:25:47

With a title like Cat's Claw it's no surprise that Susan Wittig Albert's latest China Bayles mystery contains references to felines. But as fans of the series know, her titles are also the names of plants whose characteristics often point to the book's theme. Cat's Claw herbs have sharp, strong, claw-like thorns that "hold fast and refuse to let go."

A quiet neighborhood in Pecan Springs is shocked when one of its inhabitants is found dead in his kitchen, an apparent suicide. Larry Kirk is in the middle of a messy divorce, his computer shop has been burglarized, and his finances are in ruins. Who would doubt the gunshot wound to his head, the weapon in his hand, and the suicide note on his laptop?

But a closer look at the evidence proves it a homicide and the hunt for the killer is on. Among the suspects are his estranged wife and her new boyfriend, a disgruntled employee, a female stalker, and the unknown burglar. A second gruesome murder further complicates the investigation.

Cat's Claw is unique in the series because two protagonists share in solving the crime. In alternating chapters, herb shop owner China Bayles uses her intuitive observations and connections in the community to ferret out facts, while Sheila Dawson, the town's new police chief, follows law enforcement protocol in a detailed investigation.

The book has the feel of an experiment, an attempt by the author to mesh a cozy mystery with a police procedural. Uneven in parts, it nevertheless works. Together the cop and the sleuth believably unravel the multiplot mystery and deliver a satisfying ending.

Oscar Wilde and the Vatican Murders
Jem Bloomfield

To write one murder mystery starring Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle might be considered unfortunate; to write two looks like carelessness. By the fifth book, one may deduce a publisher in the background who knows when she is onto a good thing. Gyles Brandreth, the originator and culprit of these farragoes in the fin de siècle, is well known to the British public. An ex-Conservative Member of Parliament, he famously declared on the radio that however much he despised the Labour Party, it was nothing compared to the loathing and contempt he felt for the constituents who had voted for him. His exuberance in both speech and knitwear led the working-class comedian Paul Merton to describe him as "seven times winner of the parliamentary Git-in-a-Sweater Competition." He founded a museum of teddy bears, and is said to have made the longest afterdinner speech in recorded history, which took twelve and half hours. He might be called a raconteur and a bon viveur. An uncharitable observer might add several more epithets ending in "-er."

All of which being said, this book is much better than it has any right to be. Brandreth arranges for Wilde and Conan Doyle to meet in the dreary spa town of Bad Homburg, Germany, where they are opening the avalanche of letters that a starstruck public sends to Sherlock Holmes when a severed hand falls out of one. Finding a curl of hair and a finger in two similar missives, the two men are soon following the trail of clues to the Vatican. There they become embroiled in a mystery involving a private society of papal chaplains, and the death of a teenage girl whom some believe to be a future saint.

Brandreth seems at home enough in the details of Wilde's life and times not to need to be continually waving and winking at his audience—there is some irritating byplay with cucumber sandwiches and some obvious references to both men's later literary output, but it's kept fairly low-key. The mystery is mildly puzzling, the dialogue amusing, and the whole novel has the air of a cheerful game into which the reader is welcomed without ceremony.

Teri Duerr
2012-06-01 21:30:10

To write one murder mystery starring Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle might be considered unfortunate; to write two looks like carelessness. By the fifth book, one may deduce a publisher in the background who knows when she is onto a good thing. Gyles Brandreth, the originator and culprit of these farragoes in the fin de siècle, is well known to the British public. An ex-Conservative Member of Parliament, he famously declared on the radio that however much he despised the Labour Party, it was nothing compared to the loathing and contempt he felt for the constituents who had voted for him. His exuberance in both speech and knitwear led the working-class comedian Paul Merton to describe him as "seven times winner of the parliamentary Git-in-a-Sweater Competition." He founded a museum of teddy bears, and is said to have made the longest afterdinner speech in recorded history, which took twelve and half hours. He might be called a raconteur and a bon viveur. An uncharitable observer might add several more epithets ending in "-er."

All of which being said, this book is much better than it has any right to be. Brandreth arranges for Wilde and Conan Doyle to meet in the dreary spa town of Bad Homburg, Germany, where they are opening the avalanche of letters that a starstruck public sends to Sherlock Holmes when a severed hand falls out of one. Finding a curl of hair and a finger in two similar missives, the two men are soon following the trail of clues to the Vatican. There they become embroiled in a mystery involving a private society of papal chaplains, and the death of a teenage girl whom some believe to be a future saint.

Brandreth seems at home enough in the details of Wilde's life and times not to need to be continually waving and winking at his audience—there is some irritating byplay with cucumber sandwiches and some obvious references to both men's later literary output, but it's kept fairly low-key. The mystery is mildly puzzling, the dialogue amusing, and the whole novel has the air of a cheerful game into which the reader is welcomed without ceremony.

The Eyes of the World
Kevin Burton Smith

no_1_ladies_jill_scott_wallA rich roundup of some of the best international 'tecs.

This article originally appeared in #111 Fall Issue, 2009.

Jill Scott stars in the HBO series based on Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency novels. The first season, gorgeously filmed on location in Botswana, is just out on DVD. Photo courtesy HBO.

 

Once upon a time, it was easy enough to believe that the “private eye” was 100 percent American. Oh sure, there were always exceptions, but for many fans, that’s all they were. Exceptions. Curiosities. Rarities. Something to cleanse the palate between more red, white, and blue fare.

Oooh, look! An African gumshoe! A Greek private eye! How quaint!

These days some of the most interesting—and successful—private eye action is taking place in the rest of the world. It ranges from the genteel, charming adventures of Botswana’s number-one lady detective Precious Ramotswe (the latest novel, Tea Time for the Traditionally Built, was climbing the charts just as the HBO series featuring Jill Scott was winding down its first season) to the surprisingly popular, grisly noir of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, by the late Stieg Larsson, which introduced mismatched Swedish detectives Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander.

If you haven’t heard the buzz about The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, you really should get out more often. It’s simply one of the hottest and most acclaimed new series around. Blomkvist is a disgraced middle-aged reporter and Salander’s a high-maintenance punkette and computer whiz. Their wallow through some of Sweden’s dirtiest secrets while pursuing a 40-year-old cold case has been snapping up major crime fiction and literary awards left and right, from Sweden to South Africa. The Girl Who Played With Fire, has recently been translated into English and is out now, while the third and final book in the trilogy waits in the wings.

moore_payingbackjackSweden too cold for you? On the increasingly busy Bangkok beat, Timothy Hallinan’s third book featuring American travel writer and sometime eye Poke Rafferty is due to drop any moment. In Breathing Water, Poke is coerced into writing a biography of one of Thailand’s most controversial (and richest) men. In the just-published Paying Back Jack, Christopher G. Moore’s tenth Vincent Calvino novel, the American expat gumshoe is hired to tail a Thai politician’s “minor wife” and soon gets involved in a steaming tangle of corruption and revenge.

It's not just the boys walking the Bangkok beat. Angela Savage’s Jayne Keeney has, so far, only appeared in one book, 2006’s critically acclaimed Behind the Night Bazaar, which introduced her hardboiled Bangkok private detective. For those craving something a little off the beaten track, this foray into the mean streets of Thailand ought to do the trick. There’s corruption and greed and plenty of good old violence and a wonderfully intense seediness about the whole thing as Jayne, an Australian ex-pat, goes through her paces, investigating a gruesome murder in the wide open city of Chiang Mai that may have huge personal implications for her. Jayne’s descent into the nastier parts of that sexual demimonde, where child hookers openly cater to pedophiles, is not for the timid. The good news is Savage has just finished a sequel which we can look forward to in 2010.

Surprisingly, India has not inspired much PI fiction even though H.R.F. Keating’s Mumbai policeman, back this summer in the intriguing Inspector Ghote’s First Case, has been a longtime reader favorite. British writer Tarquin Hall introduces Vish Puri, the head of Delhi’s Most Private Investigators Ltd., in The Case of the Missing Servant. As in both Keating and Smith’s novels, the charm here comes from subtle and gracefully nuanced character studies and vividly rendered cultural color, rather than fisticuffs and gunfire. Chubby, eccentric Puri is middle-aged and married, a Delhi version of Horace Rumpole, but with better grooming skills. Most of his cases consist of background checks on potential spouses. But don’t be fooled—he’s not quite the complacent, dandyish buffoon he appears to be. When push comes to shove, as it does when he’s called upon to look into the disappearance of a servant girl whose employer has been charged with her murder, it soon becomes apparent that Vish possesses a keen wit and a razor-sharp mind.

hall_TOC_Missing_servantAnd if there's a spot on this planet just begging for its own gumshoe, it's gotta be the Middle East. Maybe it's time Matt Beynon Rees had his series character, Omar Yussef, a Palestinian history teacher and so-far amateur sleuth, ditch school for what is obviously his true calling: private investigation. The fourth in the series, The Fourth Assassin takes Omar from his home in Bethlehem to Brooklyn where his youngest son lives.

Then there’s Diane Wei Liang’s Mei Wang, working the Bejing beat in the recent Paper Butterfly, which I’ve already praised (Summer #110), and we can’t forget Ireland, the Celtic Tiger of private eye fiction. What with the likes of Ken Bruen (Sanctuary), Declan Hughes (All the Dead Voices) and a host of others, the Emerald Isle now seems to have almost as many private eyes wandering around as Southern California.

Meanwhile, over in Australia, Peter Corris, “the father of Australian crime fiction,” is still going strong, clocking in with his 29th (!) Cliff Hardy novel, Deep Water. Criminally hard to get in the US these days, this series is the real deal. Hardy is a feisty nod to the classic two-fisted tough guy with a smart mouth, a nose for trouble and an eye for the telling detail; a “cold bastard… good at his job.” Think television’s Joe Mannix transported to the beaches and dog tracks of Sydney and you’re halfway home.

The truth is today’s private eye is a citizen of the world. Grab your passport and go along for the ride.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Fall Issue #111.

Teri Duerr
2012-06-01 21:36:45

no_1_ladies_jill_scott_wallA rich roundup of some of the best international 'tecs.

Spilled Blood
Lynn Kaczmarek

Hate. Brian Freeman's new standalone, Spilled Blood, is filled with it. Two small Minnesota towns sit side by side, separated by a river and money. Barron is home to Mondamin Research, a scientific research company surrounded by green grass and affluent homes. St. Croix is just the opposite—blue collar and in decline. Home to five teenagers dead from leukemia, the residents of St. Croix are convinced that the cancer cluster is the result of Mondamin's research. A lawsuit against the company has failed and tensions in both towns are mounting when Florian Steele, Mondamin's owner, receives the first threatening letter from "Aquarius."

Late one night on a deserted road, Steele's 17-year-old daughter, Ashlynn, gets a flat tire. When a drunken schoolmate, Olivia Hawk, shows up, Ashlynn is relieved—Olivia will take her home or at least get help. But Olivia, who has recently lost her best friend to leukemia, has a different idea. And the next day, Ashlynn is found shot to death. It's obvious to the police what happened, but Olivia's attorney father, Chris Hawk, is convinced that she's innocent.

Freeman has an insider's understanding of the dynamics of a small town and uses it to his advantage to build the suspense in this fast-moving thriller. The characters in Spilled Blood are not solely good or bad, though there are some very bad people in this book. Although you invariably side with Chris Hawk, somewhere in the back of your mind you wonder about Olivia, given the circumstances.

Spilled Blood is Freeman's second standalone, the first being last year's The Bone House (a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award), following the five books in his Jonathan Stride police series. His storytelling skills are finely tuned in Spilled Blood, so turn off the TV, close the computer, put the mobile on vibrate, and settle yourself down for one thrilling ride.

Teri Duerr
2012-06-02 12:00:02

freeman_spilledbloodHate. Brian Freeman's new standalone thriller, Spilled Blood, is filled with it.

Clawback
Lourdes Venard

Clawback, in financial terms, refers to money or benefits that are distributed and then taken back as a result of special circumstances. Clawback, in this thriller, is a bit different: Silas Cade, a former black ops officer now living anonymously in Manhattan, provides clawback for his financier clients, retrieving money from shady hedge fund managers by any means necessary. But someone else has a more permanent solution to dealing with investment bankers whose funds have done very badly—they are killing them.

On his way to a job, Cade finds himself drawn into the investigation of the murders. He acquires a sidekick—and later, love interest—in a young financial blogger, Clara Dawson, who soon enough figures out what Cade does. They try to stay one step ahead of the killer or killers, but it's hard when they don't know who they are looking for. Is it a single disgruntled investor, an anti-Wall Street terrorist group, or someone who hopes to make a killing on the market—literally and figuratively?

Short story Shamus-winner Mike Wiecek, writing his "debut" novel under the pen name of Mike Cooper, offers a financial thriller with plenty of action, although this doesn't completely make up for a convoluted plot and flat characters. But there are some humorous scenes, especially those involving Cade's collection of cell phones—he uses different numbers for different contacts—and there's later a clever plot point that utilizes the phones. If you don't mind too much inside baseball—if, for example, you know what an HP-12c is—then Clawback will probably be all reward, and little risk.

Teri Duerr
2012-06-02 12:08:34

Clawback, in financial terms, refers to money or benefits that are distributed and then taken back as a result of special circumstances. Clawback, in this thriller, is a bit different: Silas Cade, a former black ops officer now living anonymously in Manhattan, provides clawback for his financier clients, retrieving money from shady hedge fund managers by any means necessary. But someone else has a more permanent solution to dealing with investment bankers whose funds have done very badly—they are killing them.

On his way to a job, Cade finds himself drawn into the investigation of the murders. He acquires a sidekick—and later, love interest—in a young financial blogger, Clara Dawson, who soon enough figures out what Cade does. They try to stay one step ahead of the killer or killers, but it's hard when they don't know who they are looking for. Is it a single disgruntled investor, an anti-Wall Street terrorist group, or someone who hopes to make a killing on the market—literally and figuratively?

Short story Shamus-winner Mike Wiecek, writing his "debut" novel under the pen name of Mike Cooper, offers a financial thriller with plenty of action, although this doesn't completely make up for a convoluted plot and flat characters. But there are some humorous scenes, especially those involving Cade's collection of cell phones—he uses different numbers for different contacts—and there's later a clever plot point that utilizes the phones. If you don't mind too much inside baseball—if, for example, you know what an HP-12c is—then Clawback will probably be all reward, and little risk.

Border Run
Oline Cogdill

Being young often means being naive to the ways of the world, feeling almost indestructible with a certainty that offers cautionary tales to others.

British backpackers Will and Jake are young and a bit gullible, out to experience the world as they hike through China. Jake, the more spirited of the two, talks Will into following a tour guide he just met into a forest near the Burmese border. Sure, Howard the guide looks a bit weird, but he promises to take the pair to some "amazing secret places," including a picturesque waterfall and the chance to meet some tribal girls who are uninhibited about casual sex. And Will, a photographer, is guaranteed an array of unusual photos. Raging hormones and the idea of an adventure spurs them on, but the reality is different. Sure, it is a beautiful place; but the girls have been paid to be available. And, no surprise, Howard turns out to be a smuggler and possibly worse.

While it's obvious the trip will go bad, Simon Lewis builds the suspense to take a perceptive look at society's fragile rein on our worst impulses. Unfettered by rules, Will and Jake's behavior begins to slide into betrayal, violence, and, finally, homicide. Border Run cleverly descends into a heart of darkness, chipping away at the duo's conscience and morals until they are faced with losing their souls. Border Run becomes a survivor-of-thefittest tale as each young man turns on the other. The two realize they can be as wild as the jungle or try to find their way back to ciilization and their own humanity.

Lewis' novel Bad Traffic, the story of a morally ambiguous Chinese detective who travels to Scotland to find his missing daughter, was a finalist for the 2008 L.A. Times Book Prize. Border Run should bring Lewis an even wider readership.

Teri Duerr
2012-06-02 12:15:13

Being young often means being naive to the ways of the world, feeling almost indestructible with a certainty that offers cautionary tales to others.

British backpackers Will and Jake are young and a bit gullible, out to experience the world as they hike through China. Jake, the more spirited of the two, talks Will into following a tour guide he just met into a forest near the Burmese border. Sure, Howard the guide looks a bit weird, but he promises to take the pair to some "amazing secret places," including a picturesque waterfall and the chance to meet some tribal girls who are uninhibited about casual sex. And Will, a photographer, is guaranteed an array of unusual photos. Raging hormones and the idea of an adventure spurs them on, but the reality is different. Sure, it is a beautiful place; but the girls have been paid to be available. And, no surprise, Howard turns out to be a smuggler and possibly worse.

While it's obvious the trip will go bad, Simon Lewis builds the suspense to take a perceptive look at society's fragile rein on our worst impulses. Unfettered by rules, Will and Jake's behavior begins to slide into betrayal, violence, and, finally, homicide. Border Run cleverly descends into a heart of darkness, chipping away at the duo's conscience and morals until they are faced with losing their souls. Border Run becomes a survivor-of-thefittest tale as each young man turns on the other. The two realize they can be as wild as the jungle or try to find their way back to ciilization and their own humanity.

Lewis' novel Bad Traffic, the story of a morally ambiguous Chinese detective who travels to Scotland to find his missing daughter, was a finalist for the 2008 L.A. Times Book Prize. Border Run should bring Lewis an even wider readership.

A Pleasure to Do Death With You
Jem Bloomfield

A middle-aged male British detective with a troubled love life, a bad back, and an obsession with music. Paul Charles must be expecting the inevitable comparisons of his DI Christy Kennedy mysteries with Ian Rankin's DI Rebus novels. He might well retort that since he's been in the music business since the age of 17 he has the prior claim, but fiction readers rarely let real-world credentials trump memories of their genre favorites. Luckily for Paul Charles, he's an accomplished enough writer to deflect the Rankin comparisons.

In fact, A Pleasure to Do Death With You has more of the trappings of a private-eye story than a police procedural. Despite his post in the Ulster police, Christy Kennedy sits more comfortably in the conventions of the gumshoe, spending long hours brooding over music and women. The latter are a bit of an issue: Frankly, I could do with less situations in which every woman Christy meets finds him fascinating/enigmatic/ sympathetic/comforting. But these are the conventions and Paul Charles handles them well enough.

The story starts with the death of an investment mogul, apparently from an autoerotic game gone wrong. But, like all good detectives, Christy Kennedy has a fervent belief in the necessity of a rational universe and soon finds evidence that chance had no part in the man's death. His search for the killer takes him through the tycoon's bizarre emotional life, across the world of musical agents and royalty deals, into contact with high politics, and out to California where further female diversions await him. The characters are handled well, and Charles adds enough flavor to the dialogue to distinguish everyone from each other. It's undemanding stuff if you like the company of what my school English teacher once called "those men who judge each other by the contents of their record collections."

Teri Duerr
2012-06-02 12:21:30

Meet Christy Kennedy, a British detective with a troubled love life and an obsession with music.

Beastly Things
Debbi Mack

The unidentified corpse of a man with a rare disorder that causes bodily deformity is found floating in a Venetian canal. The cause of death is determined to be stabbing. Thus, Commissario Guido Brunetti, a veteran Venetian cop who talks tough, but often ponders life's unfairness, teams with his sidekick, Inspector Vianello, to identify the murder victim and find the killer.

The clues lead them to the dead man's estranged wife on the mainland and to the discovery that the victim was a much beloved veterinarian. He was also a troubled man who worked a second job at a slaughterhouse, checking livestock to make sure they were healthy before they were accepted for processing.

Getting to the bottom of the case requires Brunetti and Vianello to look the other way and rely upon a colleague Signorina Elettra's unauthorized computer digging to discover the dirty details, while carefully maneuvering through Italy's political minefields. Donna Leon skillfully creates the ambiance of Venice in rich detail, while telling a great mystery story. Leon shows a flair for dialogue, observational wit, and behavioral nuances in the conversations between the two investigators and their interviewees. She also explores themes related to political and corporate corruption, and the ways they conflict with moral values. The fact that Leon does all this while steadily building suspense, shows why she's a master of the genre. The story's intense portrayal of a slaughterhouse and its climactic scenes in an interrogation room will leave the reader hanging on every word. The ending is both satisfying and heartwrenching.

Teri Duerr
2012-06-02 12:29:38

The unidentified corpse of a man with a rare disorder that causes bodily deformity is found floating in a Venetian canal. The cause of death is determined to be stabbing. Thus, Commissario Guido Brunetti, a veteran Venetian cop who talks tough, but often ponders life's unfairness, teams with his sidekick, Inspector Vianello, to identify the murder victim and find the killer.

The clues lead them to the dead man's estranged wife on the mainland and to the discovery that the victim was a much beloved veterinarian. He was also a troubled man who worked a second job at a slaughterhouse, checking livestock to make sure they were healthy before they were accepted for processing.

Getting to the bottom of the case requires Brunetti and Vianello to look the other way and rely upon a colleague Signorina Elettra's unauthorized computer digging to discover the dirty details, while carefully maneuvering through Italy's political minefields. Donna Leon skillfully creates the ambiance of Venice in rich detail, while telling a great mystery story. Leon shows a flair for dialogue, observational wit, and behavioral nuances in the conversations between the two investigators and their interviewees. She also explores themes related to political and corporate corruption, and the ways they conflict with moral values. The fact that Leon does all this while steadily building suspense, shows why she's a master of the genre. The story's intense portrayal of a slaughterhouse and its climactic scenes in an interrogation room will leave the reader hanging on every word. The ending is both satisfying and heartwrenching.

Come Home
Hilary Daninhirsch

Fans of Lisa Scottoline will not be disappointed in her latest venture, Come Home. This absorbing novel centers on Jill Farrow, a divorced pediatrician in suburban Philadelphia who has a daughter and a new fiancé. Through her former stepdaughter, Abby, Jill learns that her ex-husband, William, has died from a prescription drug overdose. Even though the police don't agree, Abby feels that William's death is suspicious and enlists Jill's help in digging for the truth. Despite her fiancé's protests and the bitter warnings of Abby's sister, Victoria, to stay out of it, Jill embarks upon an investigation that uncovers surprising and alarming information about her former husband.

Scottoline is that rare mystery writer who consistently and skillfully weaves complex emotional issues into the action. Indeed, in this book, underlying all of Jill's decisions to get involved are the questions: Does maternal love ever end? What constitutes a family? The complicated family ties in Come Home reflect many modern-day families, with fractured relationships and stepchildren thrown into the mix.

Scottoline writes in a conversational style in which the reader can almost hear the dialogue being spoken. The characters are both likeable and redeemable, and the reader finds herself rooting for Jill as she treads uncertain waters in her attempts to uncover the truth and restructure her family. Taut, fastpaced, and absorbing, Scottoline delivers another winner.

Teri Duerr
2012-06-02 12:34:01

Fans of Lisa Scottoline will not be disappointed in her latest venture, Come Home. This absorbing novel centers on Jill Farrow, a divorced pediatrician in suburban Philadelphia who has a daughter and a new fiancé. Through her former stepdaughter, Abby, Jill learns that her ex-husband, William, has died from a prescription drug overdose. Even though the police don't agree, Abby feels that William's death is suspicious and enlists Jill's help in digging for the truth. Despite her fiancé's protests and the bitter warnings of Abby's sister, Victoria, to stay out of it, Jill embarks upon an investigation that uncovers surprising and alarming information about her former husband.

Scottoline is that rare mystery writer who consistently and skillfully weaves complex emotional issues into the action. Indeed, in this book, underlying all of Jill's decisions to get involved are the questions: Does maternal love ever end? What constitutes a family? The complicated family ties in Come Home reflect many modern-day families, with fractured relationships and stepchildren thrown into the mix.

Scottoline writes in a conversational style in which the reader can almost hear the dialogue being spoken. The characters are both likeable and redeemable, and the reader finds herself rooting for Jill as she treads uncertain waters in her attempts to uncover the truth and restructure her family. Taut, fastpaced, and absorbing, Scottoline delivers another winner.

Havana Requiem
M. Schlecht

It's been a few years since we last ran into Michael Seely, author Paul Goldstein's now ex-alcoholic patent lawyer in A Patent Lie in 2008. In the interim, Seely has managed to pull himself together and is back in New York City, working at his old Manhattan law firm. The partners are divided, however, when Seely agrees to take on a pro bono case helping a group of Cuban musicians (modeled on those featured in Buena Vista Social Club) regain the rights to their music. The firm's ties to the State Department and other interested (read: invested big label) parties may pose a conflict.

On this note, Goldstein's prose doesn't exactly do the rumba, but it manages to get us to the end of the dance in one piece, with a few syncopated jukes along the way. Patent law initially may not seem to be the most fruitful thriller material, but Havana Requiem impresses with its believable action scenes—as when Seely goes on a bender, sleeps on a Havana street, and ends up in an isolated secret prison—and dialogue that rings in the air like a guitar harmonic.

Most of Havana Requiem takes place in Cuba's capital, where Seely is tracking down the musicians he would sign on as clients. It's not an easy task: one of them is in prison, one has just been found hanging in his apartment, and the rest are scared of what might happen to them if they agree to be represented. Seely is also distracted by a lovely lady named Amaryll, his translator and a sympathetic music lover. As with most everyone the first-time gringo in Cuba encounters, their relationship is complicated. But as soon as Seely can find out who's pulling the strings, he can do what he does best: negotiate terms in his favor.

Teri Duerr
2012-06-02 12:39:56

goldstein_havanarequiemMusic and island life make for the backdrop in a legal mystery set in Cuba's capital.

Ice Fire
Debbi Mack

When newly appointed black federal judge Jock Boucher takes over an ailing colleague's docket, his first case involves Bob Palmetto, a scientist who claims his attorney was murdered, the judge on his case was bribed, and the company suing him is stealing his tradesecret methods for safely extracting methane hydrate, an alternative energy source that could reduce the world's dependence on oil. Thus, his intellectual property is worth a fortune.

Doubtful at first, Boucher begins checking out Palmetto's claims with Detective Fitch of the New Orleans Police Department. Boucher's poking around leads the chief judge to suggest he take a leave of absence from the bench. This signals to Boucher that he's onto something too hot to handle through normal channels.

Freed from the constraints of his judicial duties, Boucher follows the clues into dangerous waters, literally and figuratively. After his digging results in a near-death undersea experience, he is convinced Palmetto is in mortal danger. As an influential judge, Boucher is able to gain the opposition's trust and become a mole within their organization. As Boucher attempts to even the score between Palmetto and the company seeking to kill him for his ideas, he does so with the additional challenge of navigating the racial nuances of being a wealthy black man living in the South. It all takes a toll on his personal life, as the woman he loves grows more distant from him, geographically and emotionally.

Ice Fire is a thriller based upon the real life issues of renewable energy, natural resource protection, and ensuring our future as a species on this planet. It's also a stellar debut novel that paints a picture of the beauty and tragedy of New Orleans, even as it leaves the reader breathless.

Teri Duerr
2012-06-02 12:45:49

lyons_icefire A Southern judge walks the line between law and justice in a thriller based on real-life energy issues.

The Solitary House
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

Dickensian London in 1850 is the setting for this well-researched, densely written, and serpentine historical detective novel. The detective here is Charles Maddox, a former member of the Metropolitan Police who had been dismissed for insubordination for criticizing a senior officer whose incompetence led to an innocent man's hanging.

Now a private detective, Charles is commissioned by a powerful and unscrupulous lawyer to look into threatening letters sent to one of his clients. What seems like a fairly straightforward case turns into an extraordinarily complex labyrinth of crime. With the help of his uncle, a brilliant "thief taker" in his day but now in failing health and only occasionally his former self, Charles slowly uncovers plots within plots and nearly loses his life in the bargain.

The author, who earned a Doctorate in English from Oxford, was inspired to write this novel by Dickens' Bleak House, whose working title at one time was The Solitary House. Her fascination with the squalid, teeming London streets of that era are evident in her scrupulously detailed descriptions. Her previous book, Murder at Mansfield Park, which takes place a half-century earlier, was inspired by Jane Austen's work. One cautionary note: this novel is written for the most part in the third-person present tense and often speaks to the reader directly. It may take some readers a bit of time to adjust.

Teri Duerr
2012-06-02 12:52:50

shepherd_solitaryhouseDickensian London in 1850 is the setting for this well-researched, densely written, and serpentine historical detective novel.

The Memory of Blood
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

The Peculiar Crimes Unit is a fictitious police department in London charged with solving unusual crimes or those of a politically sensitive nature. When a baby is found murdered in a locked room upstairs during an after-performance party of actors and other theater people, senior detectives Arthur Bryant and John May are called in to investigate.

How was the murder committed, and why do all signs point to an inanimate Punch and Judy doll in the room?

This is just the beginning of a macabre series of murders involving Punch and Judy dolls, Madame Tussaud-type dummies, and other Grand Guignol touches. This is the ninth novel in the Bryant and May mystery series and one of the eeriest. Bryant, the unconventional "brains" of the unit, is a shambling, forgetful, and poorly dressed character who seems like a combination of Sherlock Holmes and Columbo. May is younger, neater, and more of a standard police professional. Together, they make a strong combination.

In addition to the intricate John Dickson Carr-type plot, what carries the story along is the entertaining verbal interplay between Bryant, May, and the other members of the team as they chase clues, interview suspects, and try to figure out the offbeat methods of their unusual leader, all of which leads finally to the grand finale where, in true, old-time detective tradition, Bryant gathers all of the suspects into a room and unmasks the killer.

Teri Duerr
2012-06-02 12:57:29

The Peculiar Crimes Unit is a fictitious police department in London charged with solving unusual crimes or those of a politically sensitive nature. When a baby is found murdered in a locked room upstairs during an after-performance party of actors and other theater people, senior detectives Arthur Bryant and John May are called in to investigate.

How was the murder committed, and why do all signs point to an inanimate Punch and Judy doll in the room?

This is just the beginning of a macabre series of murders involving Punch and Judy dolls, Madame Tussaud-type dummies, and other Grand Guignol touches. This is the ninth novel in the Bryant and May mystery series and one of the eeriest. Bryant, the unconventional "brains" of the unit, is a shambling, forgetful, and poorly dressed character who seems like a combination of Sherlock Holmes and Columbo. May is younger, neater, and more of a standard police professional. Together, they make a strong combination.

In addition to the intricate John Dickson Carr-type plot, what carries the story along is the entertaining verbal interplay between Bryant, May, and the other members of the team as they chase clues, interview suspects, and try to figure out the offbeat methods of their unusual leader, all of which leads finally to the grand finale where, in true, old-time detective tradition, Bryant gathers all of the suspects into a room and unmasks the killer.

That's How I Roll
Kevin Burton Smith

The hero/narrator of That's How I Roll is Esau Till, a wheelchair-bound death row inmate, and the title is perhaps the only glimmer of humor that shows in this grim tale of abuse, depravity, and murder. Esau is a suitably Biblical-sounding name for a character who's decided to tell "the truth," but it's a bleak, bitter truth; an angry recitation of rural life that's every bit as noxious and disturbing as the hellish cesspools of lust, greed, incest, and violence that Vachss, a lawyer specializing in youth cases, has painted our cities as in his bestselling Burke novels. But I think the author doth protest too much, because at times Vachss seems to absolutely revel in the pulpy, almost cartoonish levels of sordidness and perversity.

Still, the story of the two siblings (neither of whom "came out right") is a heartbreaker. Tory-boy is a simple-minded giant and older brother Esau is cursed with "this spine thing" and an above-average intelligence. They're raised by their vicious father (referred to only as the "Beast") and their alcoholic half-sister/ mother in the backwoods of some hardluck coal mining county in some mercifully unnamed state. Eventually orphaned and left to fend for themselves, Esau (something of a boy genius and courteous to a fault) becomes first a drug dealer and then a freelance bomb maker and assassin for the two outlaw gangs who rule the area.

It severely hurts Esau's cause that he's such a self-indulgent, pompous windbag. His patronizing tone and tendency to repeat himself and stretch metaphors far beyond their breaking point make him less sympathetic than, perhaps, the author intended. Eventually Esau's luck runs out, and this book, his death row recollection of a hard, brutal life, is the result; a classic case of too much telling and not enough showing. It's both his confession and his last will and testament; an insurance policy with which Esau intends to protect and provide for his beloved kid brother. Sadly, while the egotistical Esau constantly refers to his story as "a bomb," it's not quite "the bomb."

Teri Duerr
2012-06-02 13:02:42

The hero/narrator of That's How I Roll is Esau Till, a wheelchair-bound death row inmate, and the title is perhaps the only glimmer of humor that shows in this grim tale of abuse, depravity, and murder. Esau is a suitably Biblical-sounding name for a character who's decided to tell "the truth," but it's a bleak, bitter truth; an angry recitation of rural life that's every bit as noxious and disturbing as the hellish cesspools of lust, greed, incest, and violence that Vachss, a lawyer specializing in youth cases, has painted our cities as in his bestselling Burke novels. But I think the author doth protest too much, because at times Vachss seems to absolutely revel in the pulpy, almost cartoonish levels of sordidness and perversity.

Still, the story of the two siblings (neither of whom "came out right") is a heartbreaker. Tory-boy is a simple-minded giant and older brother Esau is cursed with "this spine thing" and an above-average intelligence. They're raised by their vicious father (referred to only as the "Beast") and their alcoholic half-sister/ mother in the backwoods of some hardluck coal mining county in some mercifully unnamed state. Eventually orphaned and left to fend for themselves, Esau (something of a boy genius and courteous to a fault) becomes first a drug dealer and then a freelance bomb maker and assassin for the two outlaw gangs who rule the area.

It severely hurts Esau's cause that he's such a self-indulgent, pompous windbag. His patronizing tone and tendency to repeat himself and stretch metaphors far beyond their breaking point make him less sympathetic than, perhaps, the author intended. Eventually Esau's luck runs out, and this book, his death row recollection of a hard, brutal life, is the result; a classic case of too much telling and not enough showing. It's both his confession and his last will and testament; an insurance policy with which Esau intends to protect and provide for his beloved kid brother. Sadly, while the egotistical Esau constantly refers to his story as "a bomb," it's not quite "the bomb."

Play Nice
Lourdes Venard

From frothy romantic mysteries like her High Heels series, Gemma Halliday has now turned her pen to a darker, more secretive protagonist: Anya Danielovich, once an agent (and killer) for a Yugoslavian intelligence agency. Anya left that life long ago, staging her death and fleeing to the United States, where she is now Anna Smith, a single woman in her thirties who lives with her dog in San Francisco.

But as much as Anna has tried to escape her former life, those who knew her as Anya won't let her go so easily. Nick Dade has been hired to kill her. But seconds before he can do that, the animal shelter where Anna works explodes in gunfire—it seems someone else is also trying to kill her. Nick rescues Anna, hoping for answers. Anna wants answers, too, and the two reluctantly team up to find out who wants her dead. In the process, they also uncover the planned assassination of a popular politician. But how much can Anna trust Nick? After all, he still's under contract for her murder.

Play Nice is a well-tuned thriller as twisty as San Francisco's streets. It's on the lighter side of crime fiction, with a sprinkling of romance (Nick is very good-looking). Fans of Janet Evanovich will be pleased with this first in a promising series.

Teri Duerr
2012-06-02 13:06:22

From frothy romantic mysteries like her High Heels series, Gemma Halliday has now turned her pen to a darker, more secretive protagonist: Anya Danielovich, once an agent (and killer) for a Yugoslavian intelligence agency. Anya left that life long ago, staging her death and fleeing to the United States, where she is now Anna Smith, a single woman in her thirties who lives with her dog in San Francisco.

But as much as Anna has tried to escape her former life, those who knew her as Anya won't let her go so easily. Nick Dade has been hired to kill her. But seconds before he can do that, the animal shelter where Anna works explodes in gunfire—it seems someone else is also trying to kill her. Nick rescues Anna, hoping for answers. Anna wants answers, too, and the two reluctantly team up to find out who wants her dead. In the process, they also uncover the planned assassination of a popular politician. But how much can Anna trust Nick? After all, he still's under contract for her murder.

Play Nice is a well-tuned thriller as twisty as San Francisco's streets. It's on the lighter side of crime fiction, with a sprinkling of romance (Nick is very good-looking). Fans of Janet Evanovich will be pleased with this first in a promising series.

A Woman of Consequence
Sue Emmons

As the book-jacket blurb suggests, Miss Dido Kent's sleuthing sensibilities will bring to mind a heady mix of a Miss Marple created by Jane Austen. Set in 1806 England, this third Regency adventure involves a visit to an abandoned abbey on an estate where the Grey Nun of Madderstone is alleged to be the resident ghost.

Dido puts no stock in the occult but when her friend, the beauteous Penelope, is badly injured in a fall at the abbey but manages to mutter, "I saw her..." before lapsing into unconsciousness, her beliefs are tested. The unearthing of a skeleton at the allegedly haunted abbey provides further complications.

Dean has created a most delightful sleuth of style and substance, outwardly staid but subtly opposing the prejudices of the period. This mystery of manners aptly captures the mores of early 19th-century English society at its most hypocritical, revealed to readers through personal correspondence and occurrences surrounding the mystery. Proper ladies are supposed to tend to their embroidery and not see ghosts or solve murders. Dean succeeds with Dido's latest adventure admirably, even adding an ongoing romance to the proceedings.

Teri Duerr
2012-06-02 13:13:05

As the book-jacket blurb suggests, Miss Dido Kent's sleuthing sensibilities will bring to mind a heady mix of a Miss Marple created by Jane Austen. Set in 1806 England, this third Regency adventure involves a visit to an abandoned abbey on an estate where the Grey Nun of Madderstone is alleged to be the resident ghost.

Dido puts no stock in the occult but when her friend, the beauteous Penelope, is badly injured in a fall at the abbey but manages to mutter, "I saw her..." before lapsing into unconsciousness, her beliefs are tested. The unearthing of a skeleton at the allegedly haunted abbey provides further complications.

Dean has created a most delightful sleuth of style and substance, outwardly staid but subtly opposing the prejudices of the period. This mystery of manners aptly captures the mores of early 19th-century English society at its most hypocritical, revealed to readers through personal correspondence and occurrences surrounding the mystery. Proper ladies are supposed to tend to their embroidery and not see ghosts or solve murders. Dean succeeds with Dido's latest adventure admirably, even adding an ongoing romance to the proceedings.

The Blind Spy
Jem Bloomfield

The novel starts in Aleppo, Syria, during the Cold War. There's a KGB agent who stands out from the tourists with his muscular body, his air of latent violence, and his sense of purpose like a missile about to go off. (I'm not the first critic to pause at a passage like this and wonder, "Wouldn't that rather disqualify him as a spy?") There's a reference to a one-night stand with a mysterious dancer, looming posters of the Syrian president, and it seems that we're in for a pretty dated chunk of Commie-baiting nostalgia, until Alex Dryden reveals this as a flashback setting up the main story.

Once we return to the present day, the novel gets much better. There's a fair amount of hokum—the blind spy of the title is the illegitimate son of a KGB officer who has an apparently supernatural ability to "see" without his eyes and read people's thoughts—but it's all located in a convincingly realistic setting. Dryden sketches a workmanlike picture of a Ukraine, which has foundered since the revolution, a Russia whose nationalist ambitions stretch back through the Soviet years to the medieval Rus, and a US in which security corporations and the CIA have jointly blurred the lines between public benefit and private profit.

A secretive clique of ultranationalist officials in the Russian hierarchy are determined to "reclaim" the Ukraine, whilst an American private intelligence firm has noticed the resulting covert activity and is using it as leverage in negotiations with government agencies. The style owes a debt to TV dramas like 24: Dryden is rather too fond of starting chapters by cutting to another character with some version of "A few hours earlier than...and around the same time that..." But the action keeps coming fast enough to push such quibbles into the background, and the result is a reasonably engrossing novel.

Teri Duerr
2012-06-02 13:18:19

The novel starts in Aleppo, Syria, during the Cold War. There's a KGB agent who stands out from the tourists with his muscular body, his air of latent violence, and his sense of purpose like a missile about to go off. (I'm not the first critic to pause at a passage like this and wonder, "Wouldn't that rather disqualify him as a spy?") There's a reference to a one-night stand with a mysterious dancer, looming posters of the Syrian president, and it seems that we're in for a pretty dated chunk of Commie-baiting nostalgia, until Alex Dryden reveals this as a flashback setting up the main story.

Once we return to the present day, the novel gets much better. There's a fair amount of hokum—the blind spy of the title is the illegitimate son of a KGB officer who has an apparently supernatural ability to "see" without his eyes and read people's thoughts—but it's all located in a convincingly realistic setting. Dryden sketches a workmanlike picture of a Ukraine, which has foundered since the revolution, a Russia whose nationalist ambitions stretch back through the Soviet years to the medieval Rus, and a US in which security corporations and the CIA have jointly blurred the lines between public benefit and private profit.

A secretive clique of ultranationalist officials in the Russian hierarchy are determined to "reclaim" the Ukraine, whilst an American private intelligence firm has noticed the resulting covert activity and is using it as leverage in negotiations with government agencies. The style owes a debt to TV dramas like 24: Dryden is rather too fond of starting chapters by cutting to another character with some version of "A few hours earlier than...and around the same time that..." But the action keeps coming fast enough to push such quibbles into the background, and the result is a reasonably engrossing novel.

The Inquisitor
Derek Hill

Geiger is in the business of torture, and he's honed it to a fine art. He's considered the best in the business and clients hire him for his efficiency, discretion, and expertise. Although Geiger has grown rich from dealing out pain, he sees a therapist to deal with what lays beneath the layers of calm professionalism and his emotional disengagement from the moral quandaries of his work. His humanity gets the better of him though, when he is faced with torturing the 12-year-old son of a man accused of stealing a Willem De Kooning painting from Geiger's client. Geiger decides to take off with the boy, Ezra, instead, flushing his career and possibly his life away. Desperate to retrieve the painting and Geiger, the client hires a rival torturer, Dalton, to get the job done, a man known for his sadism and willingness to perform acts too diabolical even for Geiger.

The idea of a professional torturer as a sympathetic main character is a stretch. First-time novelist Mark Allen Smith manages to make it work for the most part, introducing a flawed yet fascinating character to build the story around. What keeps Geiger interesting and sympathetic is his adherence to his own personal code, which is the only thing that prevents him from becoming a monster like Dalton, Geiger's double/shadow self.

Taut, muscular, and visceral, The Inquisitor reads like a mix of a macho men's adventure tale from the 1970s, a page-turning mystery, and the sort of unflinching, brutal crime novel that Andrew Vachss excels at. Geiger's switch from antihero to hero is not entirely convincing, but this is overall a fiendishly good thriller.

Teri Duerr
2012-06-02 13:25:23

Geiger is in the business of torture, and he's honed it to a fine art. He's considered the best in the business and clients hire him for his efficiency, discretion, and expertise. Although Geiger has grown rich from dealing out pain, he sees a therapist to deal with what lays beneath the layers of calm professionalism and his emotional disengagement from the moral quandaries of his work. His humanity gets the better of him though, when he is faced with torturing the 12-year-old son of a man accused of stealing a Willem De Kooning painting from Geiger's client. Geiger decides to take off with the boy, Ezra, instead, flushing his career and possibly his life away. Desperate to retrieve the painting and Geiger, the client hires a rival torturer, Dalton, to get the job done, a man known for his sadism and willingness to perform acts too diabolical even for Geiger.

The idea of a professional torturer as a sympathetic main character is a stretch. First-time novelist Mark Allen Smith manages to make it work for the most part, introducing a flawed yet fascinating character to build the story around. What keeps Geiger interesting and sympathetic is his adherence to his own personal code, which is the only thing that prevents him from becoming a monster like Dalton, Geiger's double/shadow self.

Taut, muscular, and visceral, The Inquisitor reads like a mix of a macho men's adventure tale from the 1970s, a page-turning mystery, and the sort of unflinching, brutal crime novel that Andrew Vachss excels at. Geiger's switch from antihero to hero is not entirely convincing, but this is overall a fiendishly good thriller.

The Last Good Man
M. Schlecht

"Two notes to the reader," at the opening are a tip-off to unsuspecting clear-eyed, coldhearted crime lovers that the action in The Last Good Man will involve Talmud-based myth and the phenomena of near-death experiences. You have been warned—the magical mystery tour is coming to take you away. Channeling Dan Brown, Kazinski, the nom de plume of Danish duo Anders Rønnow Klarlund and Jacob Weinreich, proceeds to breeze through pseudo-intellectual propositions so fast that all the hot air lifts their narrative off the ground. And for this hefty, 460-plus-page debut, that's an achievement.

So, the particulars: Italian policeman Tommaso di Barbara pieces together evidence of a worldwide killing spree. The victims, all noted humanitarians, are left with the same horrible burn marks on their backs. Di Barbara manages to alert Interpol before his unauthorized investigation gets him suspended. In Copenhagen, however, where apparently no conspiracy theory is left unchecked, detective Niels Bentzon is charged with asking a few questions and connecting a few dots. For starters, "Who are the good people?" and, "Why are they being targeted?"

Bentzon's seemingly futile search is given mathematical backbone when he teams up with astrophysicist Hannah Lund, who discovers a pattern to the murders and uses her numerical smarts to find all the do-gooders in Denmark in order to save them from certain death...by unknown forces at sundown on Christmas Day.

Hang in long enough and good-guy Bentzon's realization that he needs to do evil in order to survive himself may start to make sense. Okay, I actually still don't have a clue, but his breakdown is quite a wild ride. Rest assured that when Hollywood remakes the Danish film version of this novel, Nicolas Cage will be involved.

Teri Duerr
2012-06-02 13:34:43

"Two notes to the reader," at the opening are a tip-off to unsuspecting clear-eyed, coldhearted crime lovers that the action in The Last Good Man will involve Talmud-based myth and the phenomena of near-death experiences. You have been warned—the magical mystery tour is coming to take you away. Channeling Dan Brown, Kazinski, the nom de plume of Danish duo Anders Rønnow Klarlund and Jacob Weinreich, proceeds to breeze through pseudo-intellectual propositions so fast that all the hot air lifts their narrative off the ground. And for this hefty, 460-plus-page debut, that's an achievement.

So, the particulars: Italian policeman Tommaso di Barbara pieces together evidence of a worldwide killing spree. The victims, all noted humanitarians, are left with the same horrible burn marks on their backs. Di Barbara manages to alert Interpol before his unauthorized investigation gets him suspended. In Copenhagen, however, where apparently no conspiracy theory is left unchecked, detective Niels Bentzon is charged with asking a few questions and connecting a few dots. For starters, "Who are the good people?" and, "Why are they being targeted?"

Bentzon's seemingly futile search is given mathematical backbone when he teams up with astrophysicist Hannah Lund, who discovers a pattern to the murders and uses her numerical smarts to find all the do-gooders in Denmark in order to save them from certain death...by unknown forces at sundown on Christmas Day.

Hang in long enough and good-guy Bentzon's realization that he needs to do evil in order to survive himself may start to make sense. Okay, I actually still don't have a clue, but his breakdown is quite a wild ride. Rest assured that when Hollywood remakes the Danish film version of this novel, Nicolas Cage will be involved.

The Widow's Daughter
Sue Emmons

Secrets from the past are the center point of this intriguing mystery by Nicholas Edlin, who takes his readers from mysterious WWII military intrigues in New Zealand to the sobering sacrifices of Peter Sokol, a military doctor-turned-artist living a nearsolitary life near San Diego in 1969. Lyrical prose enhances Edlin's atmospheric tale about Sokol's psyche, damaged by wartime experience and haunted decades later by an early love for an unfathomable woman.

In 1943, Emily Walter's evasive family, a British mother and violent brother, doesn't stop Sokol or his former medical school classmate, with whom he often clashed, for competing for her attentions. But when the woman's brother is murdered just as tensions between the restless US troops awaiting departure for Japanese-held islands and Auckland natives rise, Sokol is a prime suspect. Soon, he finds himself enmeshed in a plot rich with wartime action and family intrigue.

Edlin is a first-time novelist who obviously did extensive research on his native New Zealand to capture its diverse culture and its role in WWII. He deftly ties past to present in this mesmerizing debut.

Teri Duerr
2012-06-02 13:42:39

Secrets from the past are the center point of this intriguing mystery by Nicholas Edlin, who takes his readers from mysterious WWII military intrigues in New Zealand to the sobering sacrifices of Peter Sokol, a military doctor-turned-artist living a nearsolitary life near San Diego in 1969. Lyrical prose enhances Edlin's atmospheric tale about Sokol's psyche, damaged by wartime experience and haunted decades later by an early love for an unfathomable woman.

In 1943, Emily Walter's evasive family, a British mother and violent brother, doesn't stop Sokol or his former medical school classmate, with whom he often clashed, for competing for her attentions. But when the woman's brother is murdered just as tensions between the restless US troops awaiting departure for Japanese-held islands and Auckland natives rise, Sokol is a prime suspect. Soon, he finds himself enmeshed in a plot rich with wartime action and family intrigue.

Edlin is a first-time novelist who obviously did extensive research on his native New Zealand to capture its diverse culture and its role in WWII. He deftly ties past to present in this mesmerizing debut.

Gold Mountain
Karen J. Lutz

Fiona MacGillivray and her 11-year-old son head to Vancouver in plenty of time to learn about the gold rush in the Klondike region of Alaska. During her travels to Dawson City in 1897, Fiona meets up with gangster Soapy Smith and his sidekick, Paul Sheridan. Sheridan obtains a map from a dying man that points the way to the legendary Gold Mountain. Paul sets his sights on gold and the beautiful Fiona, but when Fiona is not interested in these plans, she's abducted. Corporal Sterling of the North-West Mounted Police steps in and uses all his resources to help find the kidnapped woman.

Delany is a master at her craft, able to use language and historical events to build a story that rivets the reader until the last page. The story takes a twist from adventure to thrills when Fiona is captured, and tells the tale of her wild journey with her abductor over unmapped and untraveled territories in Alaska. Gold Mountain has elements of humor and hard reality woven into the text, which made me both laugh and cry. A must read for historical mystery buffs.

Teri Duerr
2012-06-02 13:49:07

Fiona MacGillivray and her 11-year-old son head to Vancouver in plenty of time to learn about the gold rush in the Klondike region of Alaska. During her travels to Dawson City in 1897, Fiona meets up with gangster Soapy Smith and his sidekick, Paul Sheridan. Sheridan obtains a map from a dying man that points the way to the legendary Gold Mountain. Paul sets his sights on gold and the beautiful Fiona, but when Fiona is not interested in these plans, she's abducted. Corporal Sterling of the North-West Mounted Police steps in and uses all his resources to help find the kidnapped woman.

Delany is a master at her craft, able to use language and historical events to build a story that rivets the reader until the last page. The story takes a twist from adventure to thrills when Fiona is captured, and tells the tale of her wild journey with her abductor over unmapped and untraveled territories in Alaska. Gold Mountain has elements of humor and hard reality woven into the text, which made me both laugh and cry. A must read for historical mystery buffs.

Every Last Secret
Tea Dee

When the tall, dark, and lovely Marquitta "Skeet" Bannion arrives in Brewster, Kansas, to take over as chief of Choteau University campus police, she's expecting the usual village gossip, the campus politics, and begrudging old-boy cops, like sheriff Dick Wold, who bristle against a woman's authority. What she hopes to avoid (along with a cop ex-husband and a churlish ex-cop father) is the violent crime and vice she saw all too much of as the highest-ranking female investigator on the Kansas City force she left behind.

But when grad student and newspaper editor Andrew McAfee gets his skull bashed in on campus for blackmailing the wrong person, human nature turns out to be the same in a sleepy town or a big bad city. There's the good, the bad, and the murderous. Skeet's got an inexperienced investigative team, a university boss more concerned with public relations than justice, a killer on the loose, and much to her workaholic heart's surprise, Brian Jamison, a teenager orphaned by Skeet's violent case, who seems to be teaching her a thing or two about trust, loyalty, and balancing new priorities.

Rodriguez boots up her first series with a diverse cast of players. Key among them are gruff and stubborn papa Charlie; Brian, who falls under Skeet's care in the wake of events set off by his stepfather Andrew's murder; and, of course, the romantic prospects—frustrating-but-good-guy ex, Sam Musco, and steady and sweet single-dad cop, Joe Louzon. Add to the mix a gaggle of eccentric maternal gal pals, a host of pompous academic faculty, a loyal police team, and a mix of college kids, and the promise of future chapters in Skeet's series' life begins to take shape.

Every Last Secret would appear to follow any one of several tried and true conventions—a village mystery, a police procedural, a cozy replete with Skeet's knitting and pets, or an ethnic mystery playing off its determined heroine's half-Cherokee ancestry—but with solid writing and honest insights into human complexity, Rodriguez manages to employ all these familiar tropes with considerable élan.

Teri Duerr
2012-06-02 13:52:35

When the tall, dark, and lovely Marquitta "Skeet" Bannion arrives in Brewster, Kansas, to take over as chief of Choteau University campus police, she's expecting the usual village gossip, the campus politics, and begrudging old-boy cops, like sheriff Dick Wold, who bristle against a woman's authority. What she hopes to avoid (along with a cop ex-husband and a churlish ex-cop father) is the violent crime and vice she saw all too much of as the highest-ranking female investigator on the Kansas City force she left behind.

But when grad student and newspaper editor Andrew McAfee gets his skull bashed in on campus for blackmailing the wrong person, human nature turns out to be the same in a sleepy town or a big bad city. There's the good, the bad, and the murderous. Skeet's got an inexperienced investigative team, a university boss more concerned with public relations than justice, a killer on the loose, and much to her workaholic heart's surprise, Brian Jamison, a teenager orphaned by Skeet's violent case, who seems to be teaching her a thing or two about trust, loyalty, and balancing new priorities.

Rodriguez boots up her first series with a diverse cast of players. Key among them are gruff and stubborn papa Charlie; Brian, who falls under Skeet's care in the wake of events set off by his stepfather Andrew's murder; and, of course, the romantic prospects—frustrating-but-good-guy ex, Sam Musco, and steady and sweet single-dad cop, Joe Louzon. Add to the mix a gaggle of eccentric maternal gal pals, a host of pompous academic faculty, a loyal police team, and a mix of college kids, and the promise of future chapters in Skeet's series' life begins to take shape.

Every Last Secret would appear to follow any one of several tried and true conventions—a village mystery, a police procedural, a cozy replete with Skeet's knitting and pets, or an ethnic mystery playing off its determined heroine's half-Cherokee ancestry—but with solid writing and honest insights into human complexity, Rodriguez manages to employ all these familiar tropes with considerable élan.

The Silence of Murder
Sarah Prindle

Sixteen-year-old Hope Long is living a nightmare. Her older brother Jeremy—developmentally disabled and mute since age nine—has been accused of murdering a beloved high school baseball coach in the Ohio town their alcoholic mother moved the family to three years ago. Despite seemingly irrefutable evidence against Jeremy, Hope decides to investigate and catch the real killer herself. As she hunts for clues, she is assisted by her friend TJ, and potential boyfriend Chase, the son of the sheriff. The case becomes even more complicated by threatening phone calls, a stalker in a white truck, and evidence that points to various suspects. Hope is in a race against time to prove her brother's innocence, a race which keeps the reader guessing and in suspense until the final, shocking revelation.

Wonderfully written, with a gripping plot, The Silence of Murder draws the reader into the story through its tense courtroom scenes and Hope's desperate search for answers. From Hope's distant mother to Jeremy's odd habit of jar collecting, the characters' personalities and relationships are rich and realistic. Readers will struggle along with Hope to identify the killer; they will root for Hope as she endures being the only witness for the defense; they will enjoy every minute they spend with Hope in this story that is not just about a mystery—but also about family and love.

Teri Duerr
2012-06-02 13:56:49

Sixteen-year-old Hope Long is living a nightmare. Her older brother Jeremy—developmentally disabled and mute since age nine—has been accused of murdering a beloved high school baseball coach in the Ohio town their alcoholic mother moved the family to three years ago. Despite seemingly irrefutable evidence against Jeremy, Hope decides to investigate and catch the real killer herself. As she hunts for clues, she is assisted by her friend TJ, and potential boyfriend Chase, the son of the sheriff. The case becomes even more complicated by threatening phone calls, a stalker in a white truck, and evidence that points to various suspects. Hope is in a race against time to prove her brother's innocence, a race which keeps the reader guessing and in suspense until the final, shocking revelation.

Wonderfully written, with a gripping plot, The Silence of Murder draws the reader into the story through its tense courtroom scenes and Hope's desperate search for answers. From Hope's distant mother to Jeremy's odd habit of jar collecting, the characters' personalities and relationships are rich and realistic. Readers will struggle along with Hope to identify the killer; they will root for Hope as she endures being the only witness for the defense; they will enjoy every minute they spend with Hope in this story that is not just about a mystery—but also about family and love.