Dick Francis’s Bloodline
Jackie Houchin

Although horse racing is the heart of every Dick Francis mystery, this prolific author has educated his readers in scores of other occupations. Jockeys are also bankers, wine makers, screen actors, glass blowers, and lawyers. With Bloodline, Felix Francis continues his father’s legacy, introducing readers to live satellite-TV broadcasting.

When he cried, “They’re off!” race commentator Mark Shillingford thought the mile sprint for maiden two-year-olds would be just another horse race. But something in the way his jockey sister rides makes him change his mind. When he confronts Clare with his suspicions, she admits she “stopped” the horse on purpose. She’s done it before and will again, because fixing the race is about power. A fierce argument follows and she storms off. The next day, Clare is dead, an apparent suicide. Shocked and guilt-ridden, Mark vows to discover why she took her life.

Scanning footage from past races, Mark finds more instances of Clare’s race fixing. Who was his sister working with? Did that person have anything to do with her suicide? Can Mark expose the race fixer without damaging Clare’s name? Blackmail, threats, and vicious attacks raise the stakes, but it’s not until the trap he sets backfires that Mark finds himself racing for his life.

Bloodline is slow to start, but fascinating in its behind-the-scenes look at live broadcasting. The pace quickens with Clare’s death, streaking to a heart-pounding finish that brings clarity to the book’s title. The narrative is down-to-earth, the plot twists engaging, the hero’s character is satisfying. Loyal Dick Francis fans will feel right at home.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 06:12

Although horse racing is the heart of every Dick Francis mystery, this prolific author has educated his readers in scores of other occupations. Jockeys are also bankers, wine makers, screen actors, glass blowers, and lawyers. With Bloodline, Felix Francis continues his father’s legacy, introducing readers to live satellite-TV broadcasting.

When he cried, “They’re off!” race commentator Mark Shillingford thought the mile sprint for maiden two-year-olds would be just another horse race. But something in the way his jockey sister rides makes him change his mind. When he confronts Clare with his suspicions, she admits she “stopped” the horse on purpose. She’s done it before and will again, because fixing the race is about power. A fierce argument follows and she storms off. The next day, Clare is dead, an apparent suicide. Shocked and guilt-ridden, Mark vows to discover why she took her life.

Scanning footage from past races, Mark finds more instances of Clare’s race fixing. Who was his sister working with? Did that person have anything to do with her suicide? Can Mark expose the race fixer without damaging Clare’s name? Blackmail, threats, and vicious attacks raise the stakes, but it’s not until the trap he sets backfires that Mark finds himself racing for his life.

Bloodline is slow to start, but fascinating in its behind-the-scenes look at live broadcasting. The pace quickens with Clare’s death, streaking to a heart-pounding finish that brings clarity to the book’s title. The narrative is down-to-earth, the plot twists engaging, the hero’s character is satisfying. Loyal Dick Francis fans will feel right at home.

The Art Forger
Hilary Daninhirsch

Deception is the motif in B.A. Shapiro’s engaging novel The Art Forger, where what you see is not necessarily what you think it is—and in this book, that applies to people as well as the art.

Claire Roth is well-known in Boston art circles. She is a talented artist in her own right, but after a public humiliation involving an ex-boyfriend who took credit for one of her paintings, she ends up working for a company that legitimately produces copies of famous pieces of art.

Enter Aiden Markel, owner of the famous Markel G gallery in Boston, who presents Claire with a challenge to copy “After the Bath,” a famous painting by Edgar Degas that was stolen (along with other famous pieces of artwork) from the Isabella Gardner Museum in 1990. Aiden assures Claire that the painting he delivers to her studio is not the original, and that she is painting a copy rather than engaging in forgery—but Claire has her doubts. Despite her budding feelings for Aiden and his offer of her own gallery show, which she views as an opportunity to restore her damaged reputation, Claire embarks on a quest to learn the truth about the fate of “After the Bath,” even if it means risking everything.

Skillfully merging factual history with an engaging fictional plot revolving around a real-life art heist, Shapiro treads the murky waters of the differences between copies and forgeries. While the technical details about how to copy artwork may seem to be a dry subject, the author presents them in an understandable and interesting manner. The plot moves forward with just the right amount of pacing, and the quandaries of the flawed and appealing heroine will likely lead readers to ask themselves, “What would I have done?” The answer, according to the author, might lie somewhere in gray-shaded areas.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 06:12

Deception is the motif in B.A. Shapiro’s engaging novel The Art Forger, where what you see is not necessarily what you think it is—and in this book, that applies to people as well as the art.

Claire Roth is well-known in Boston art circles. She is a talented artist in her own right, but after a public humiliation involving an ex-boyfriend who took credit for one of her paintings, she ends up working for a company that legitimately produces copies of famous pieces of art.

Enter Aiden Markel, owner of the famous Markel G gallery in Boston, who presents Claire with a challenge to copy “After the Bath,” a famous painting by Edgar Degas that was stolen (along with other famous pieces of artwork) from the Isabella Gardner Museum in 1990. Aiden assures Claire that the painting he delivers to her studio is not the original, and that she is painting a copy rather than engaging in forgery—but Claire has her doubts. Despite her budding feelings for Aiden and his offer of her own gallery show, which she views as an opportunity to restore her damaged reputation, Claire embarks on a quest to learn the truth about the fate of “After the Bath,” even if it means risking everything.

Skillfully merging factual history with an engaging fictional plot revolving around a real-life art heist, Shapiro treads the murky waters of the differences between copies and forgeries. While the technical details about how to copy artwork may seem to be a dry subject, the author presents them in an understandable and interesting manner. The plot moves forward with just the right amount of pacing, and the quandaries of the flawed and appealing heroine will likely lead readers to ask themselves, “What would I have done?” The answer, according to the author, might lie somewhere in gray-shaded areas.

The Black Box
M. Schlecht

You may remember the news articles from earlier this spring: 20 years had passed since the LAPD officers who beat and Tasered Rodney King were acquitted by a jury, sparking six days of riots that tore apart South LA. The Los Angeles Times interviewed an unemployed King, who said he had forgiven the officers, but had blown through a three million dollar settlement. Tragically, in June, he was found dead in his swimming pool. Talk about unsolved crimes.

Michael Connelly’s latest, The Black Box, finds detective Harry Bosch attempting to solve a 20-year-old case: the murder of a Danish photojournalist, Anneke Jespersen, who was shot in an alley off Crenshaw Boulevard during the height of the riots. It’s personal for Bosch, because he’s the one who found her that day in the midst of the chaos. And a shell casing from the gun that killed her is his only lead.

Connelly was covering the riots as a reporter in 1992, just after his first book, The Black Echo, which introduced Harry Bosch (and, incidentally, won an Edgar Award), had come out, so the subject material is a bit of a flashback for him, too. His feel for events on the ground is palpable, and that enlivens his Art Pepper–saxophone-loving protagonist’s zeal for the case. But the brass isn’t pleased that Bosch is pushing so hard to find justice for one white woman out of the many others killed during the riots. It would send the wrong message on the 20th anniversary. The last thing on Bosch’s mind is branding, though.

The Black Box is a finely constructed police procedural. Connelly’s utilitarian prose almost seems to want to get out of the way of the plot, which moves expeditiously as Bosch, with the help of his more computerliterate partner David Chu, ties the shell casing to the gun that killed Jespersen, and retraces her movements prior to her death. When he finds evidence that implicates figures in power, he’s not afraid to go after them, and the ending is a nice reminder of why they call these stories “thrillers.”

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 06:12

You may remember the news articles from earlier this spring: 20 years had passed since the LAPD officers who beat and Tasered Rodney King were acquitted by a jury, sparking six days of riots that tore apart South LA. The Los Angeles Times interviewed an unemployed King, who said he had forgiven the officers, but had blown through a three million dollar settlement. Tragically, in June, he was found dead in his swimming pool. Talk about unsolved crimes.

Michael Connelly’s latest, The Black Box, finds detective Harry Bosch attempting to solve a 20-year-old case: the murder of a Danish photojournalist, Anneke Jespersen, who was shot in an alley off Crenshaw Boulevard during the height of the riots. It’s personal for Bosch, because he’s the one who found her that day in the midst of the chaos. And a shell casing from the gun that killed her is his only lead.

Connelly was covering the riots as a reporter in 1992, just after his first book, The Black Echo, which introduced Harry Bosch (and, incidentally, won an Edgar Award), had come out, so the subject material is a bit of a flashback for him, too. His feel for events on the ground is palpable, and that enlivens his Art Pepper–saxophone-loving protagonist’s zeal for the case. But the brass isn’t pleased that Bosch is pushing so hard to find justice for one white woman out of the many others killed during the riots. It would send the wrong message on the 20th anniversary. The last thing on Bosch’s mind is branding, though.

The Black Box is a finely constructed police procedural. Connelly’s utilitarian prose almost seems to want to get out of the way of the plot, which moves expeditiously as Bosch, with the help of his more computerliterate partner David Chu, ties the shell casing to the gun that killed Jespersen, and retraces her movements prior to her death. When he finds evidence that implicates figures in power, he’s not afraid to go after them, and the ending is a nice reminder of why they call these stories “thrillers.”

Dark Matter
Derek Hill

Lindsay Bannerman, the daughter of a wealthy bank executive, has gone missing. Imprisoned in a dank basement with a number of other teens, she fights to stay alive until help can arrive or the lunatics keeping her captive can be overpowered. The latter doesn’t seem likely and the former possibility grows fainter with each passing day.

Meanwhile, disgraced ex-Toronto cop Steve Nastos is going out of his mind with boredom. He pays the bills working as an insurance investigator, but he and his wife are barely hanging on financially and emotionally. He needs a break. Nastos gets a career boost when his lawyer, Kevin Carscadden, gets him a private investigation job looking for Lindsay. However, the closer Nastos gets to capturing the kidnappers, the more he has to deal with the old darkness of the streets seeping back into his life.

Toronto isn’t ordinarily thought of as one of Canada’s most dangerous cities, but as seen through the eyes of writer R.D. Cain’s protagonist, the city comes alive with danger and criminality. Nastos is another troubled, hotheaded tough guy, but he also feels authentic in little ways: he worries about his marriage, making sure the bills are paid on time, and finds it difficult adjusting to civilian life without the protection of the badge. Cain also does a great job of briskly sketching out his characters beyond Nastos, in particular, shifty Carscadden and the monstrous duo who are holding the women hostage. It’s a tough, even horrific book at times, but Nastos makes for an engaging hero, one who displays a real sense of honor beneath his intimidating tough-guy façade. The plot is one leanly constructed machine, and the ending is a stunner.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 06:12

Lindsay Bannerman, the daughter of a wealthy bank executive, has gone missing. Imprisoned in a dank basement with a number of other teens, she fights to stay alive until help can arrive or the lunatics keeping her captive can be overpowered. The latter doesn’t seem likely and the former possibility grows fainter with each passing day.

Meanwhile, disgraced ex-Toronto cop Steve Nastos is going out of his mind with boredom. He pays the bills working as an insurance investigator, but he and his wife are barely hanging on financially and emotionally. He needs a break. Nastos gets a career boost when his lawyer, Kevin Carscadden, gets him a private investigation job looking for Lindsay. However, the closer Nastos gets to capturing the kidnappers, the more he has to deal with the old darkness of the streets seeping back into his life.

Toronto isn’t ordinarily thought of as one of Canada’s most dangerous cities, but as seen through the eyes of writer R.D. Cain’s protagonist, the city comes alive with danger and criminality. Nastos is another troubled, hotheaded tough guy, but he also feels authentic in little ways: he worries about his marriage, making sure the bills are paid on time, and finds it difficult adjusting to civilian life without the protection of the badge. Cain also does a great job of briskly sketching out his characters beyond Nastos, in particular, shifty Carscadden and the monstrous duo who are holding the women hostage. It’s a tough, even horrific book at times, but Nastos makes for an engaging hero, one who displays a real sense of honor beneath his intimidating tough-guy façade. The plot is one leanly constructed machine, and the ending is a stunner.

Never Coming Back
Lourdes Venard

In this latest Swedish crime thriller to make it to the United States, Ylva Zetterberg, a wife and mother, disappears from her suburban neighborhood one day. But she doesn’t go far: she’s being kept in the basement of a house just across the street from her own, punished for a shadowy crime that is only revealed to us toward the end.

As the days begin to stretch into weeks and months, the missing person’s investigation is dropped because of a lack of evidence, and Ylva’s husband, Mike, and their young daughter, Sanna, resume their normal routine of life. Mike comes across as hapless and weak; he’s not likely to find his wife, and, after a while, the heartache of losing her subsides. In her basement prison, Ylva watches. Her kidnappers have rigged up a television that monitors her house.

Meanwhile, Calle Collin, a journalist who went to school with Ylva, begins to connect the dots. Three other high school friends connected with Ylva are dead. But the more Collin digs, the more he may put Ylva herself in danger.

In addition to being a taut psychological thriller, Never Coming Back is also a character study. Ylva is not a likable person; she’s cheated on her husband and doesn’t seem remorseful. But as she struggles with her ordeal, she shows she has some substance and humanity. The very last chapter in this tale of vengeance and retribution shows us why Ylva has to pay such a high price, answering some questions but raising another: Is revenge ever justified?

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 06:12

In this latest Swedish crime thriller to make it to the United States, Ylva Zetterberg, a wife and mother, disappears from her suburban neighborhood one day. But she doesn’t go far: she’s being kept in the basement of a house just across the street from her own, punished for a shadowy crime that is only revealed to us toward the end.

As the days begin to stretch into weeks and months, the missing person’s investigation is dropped because of a lack of evidence, and Ylva’s husband, Mike, and their young daughter, Sanna, resume their normal routine of life. Mike comes across as hapless and weak; he’s not likely to find his wife, and, after a while, the heartache of losing her subsides. In her basement prison, Ylva watches. Her kidnappers have rigged up a television that monitors her house.

Meanwhile, Calle Collin, a journalist who went to school with Ylva, begins to connect the dots. Three other high school friends connected with Ylva are dead. But the more Collin digs, the more he may put Ylva herself in danger.

In addition to being a taut psychological thriller, Never Coming Back is also a character study. Ylva is not a likable person; she’s cheated on her husband and doesn’t seem remorseful. But as she struggles with her ordeal, she shows she has some substance and humanity. The very last chapter in this tale of vengeance and retribution shows us why Ylva has to pay such a high price, answering some questions but raising another: Is revenge ever justified?

To Love and to Perish
Sheila M. Merritt

Anyone familiar with Daphne du Maurier’s novel Rebecca knows that suspicions and insecurities can heighten tension in a mystery: author Lisa Bork is certainly aware of that. The characters in To Love and to Perish are riddled with doubts about relationships and their ability to deal with them. Be they spouses, partners, siblings, or surrogate parents, the personages in this book are multifaceted and vulnerable.

Protagonist Jolene Parker is diffident when trying to cope with domestic issues but daring when in sleuth mode. In her fourth outing as an amateur detective, the classic car dealer gets embroiled in a murder that shakes the rapport of a gay couple. One of the duo is Cory, Jolene’s friend and the mechanic for her dealership. His significant other, Brennan, is the prime suspect in the demise of an argumentative acquaintance. The deceased was allegedly pushed by Brennan into the path of a speeding racecar. A subsequent murder occurs, which also implicates Brennan. As Jolene reluctantly becomes part of an investigation to exonerate the accused, secrets from the past test the bond between Brennan and Cory. Simultaneously, Jolene addresses qualms concerning her marriage, her foster son, and the possible infidelity of a friend’s husband.

Author Bork deftly handles all the plot threads, emphasizing characterization. Most motivations are comprehensible, but one character loses control a bit too simplistically and conveniently. This misstep is more than compensated for by a revelation, occurring late in the tale, that is surprising and ironic.

To Love and to Perish nimbly accesses the complexities of commitment. It’s a heartfelt and entertaining novel.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 07:12

bork_toloveandtoperishClassic car dealer Jolene Parker tackles cars, commitment, and crime in her fourth outing.

A Lack of Temperance
Sue Emmons

Fans of historical mysteries should be delighted with this debut featuring Hattie Davish, a private secretary with very proper etiquette and equally spirited ideals. For her first adventure, Davish is dispatched to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, where the desperately ill visit to bathe in the healing waters of its natural springs. She plans on a little hiking and a test of her botany hobby in the Ozark hills. But first she must contact her mysterious new employer, Edwina Trevelyan—if she can find her.

It turns out her employer heads the local chapter of the American Women’s Temperance Coalition, which is determined to outlaw alcohol in what was one of the earliest feminist causes in the nation. These women are not loath to arm themselves with axes to trash saloons and bust windows in their ongoing battle with “demon rum.” The 1892 election is looming as the mystery begins and Davish soon finds herself between the politically warring factions whose activities lead to murder. What begins as a search for Edwina soon evolves into a murder investigation as the conflict escalates.

Loan-Wilsey is adept at detailing the best and worst of this era, which found determined women suddenly at the forefront in a political and social standoff. Davish is an intriguing character, clever but proper, and the eccentrics who give the mystery its fevered piquancy are well-fleshed-out and reflective of the period. Future adventures in the series dubbed “have typewriter; will travel” will take Davish to other late-19th-century hot spots. In fact, the end of the book finds her already en route to Galena, Illinois, to tackle her next job.

Loan-Wilsey is a librarian in Iowa who is well-versed in tracking historical data. She (or her editor) is equally adept at clever titles.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 07:12

Fans of historical mysteries should be delighted with this debut featuring Hattie Davish, a private secretary with very proper etiquette and equally spirited ideals. For her first adventure, Davish is dispatched to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, where the desperately ill visit to bathe in the healing waters of its natural springs. She plans on a little hiking and a test of her botany hobby in the Ozark hills. But first she must contact her mysterious new employer, Edwina Trevelyan—if she can find her.

It turns out her employer heads the local chapter of the American Women’s Temperance Coalition, which is determined to outlaw alcohol in what was one of the earliest feminist causes in the nation. These women are not loath to arm themselves with axes to trash saloons and bust windows in their ongoing battle with “demon rum.” The 1892 election is looming as the mystery begins and Davish soon finds herself between the politically warring factions whose activities lead to murder. What begins as a search for Edwina soon evolves into a murder investigation as the conflict escalates.

Loan-Wilsey is adept at detailing the best and worst of this era, which found determined women suddenly at the forefront in a political and social standoff. Davish is an intriguing character, clever but proper, and the eccentrics who give the mystery its fevered piquancy are well-fleshed-out and reflective of the period. Future adventures in the series dubbed “have typewriter; will travel” will take Davish to other late-19th-century hot spots. In fact, the end of the book finds her already en route to Galena, Illinois, to tackle her next job.

Loan-Wilsey is a librarian in Iowa who is well-versed in tracking historical data. She (or her editor) is equally adept at clever titles.

Mandarin Gate
M. Schlecht

Eliot Pattison’s seventh Shan novel, Mandarin Gate, opens with a Tibetan monk’s suicide. Shan Tao Yun—a former Beijing investigator who previously ran afoul of the Chinese government, spent time in prison, and has since been relegated to remote Tibetan countryside where he’s tasked with the unglamourous job of inspecting ditches—witnesses the act. Shan will spend the rest of the novel trying to make sense of the monk’s self-slaughter, while also attempting to determine whether it was related to the murders of three others, including a Tibetan nun, at a nearby abandoned convent.

Although Shan has steeped himself in Tibetan culture and counts lamas as close friends, being Chinese, he’s ever an outsider in Tibet. But while he retains only the most lowly of inspector jobs following his disgrace in Beijing, his official post affords him the freedom to access crime scenes and potential witnesses. His outsider identity in both worlds raises suspicion about his intentions among local herders, a criminal gang known as the Jade Crows, and Chinese security forces. However, a well-intentioned local Public Security officer, Meng Limei, helps Shan to navigate this fraught terrain.

Crafting a credible thriller while focusing on human rights and the struggles of contemporary Buddhist practice in Tibet is a similarly tricky maneuver, and for the most part Pattison continues to do it well and without being heavy-handed (he won an Edgar for his first Shan entry, The Skull Mantra). He fills the pages with detailed portraits of internment camps as well as beautiful landscapes, and lets the reader fill in the politics. It’s pleasurable enough to sit with Mandarin Gate, but sometimes, the plot stops a little too long while admiring the rich and descriptive views. For Pattison—an unabashed Tibet supporter whose website proclaims: “I write about Tibet because Tibet is a monk sitting in front of a steamroller, and if enough people around the world sit with him we can stop the steamroller”—that may not be such a bad thing.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 07:12

Eliot Pattison’s seventh Shan novel, Mandarin Gate, opens with a Tibetan monk’s suicide. Shan Tao Yun—a former Beijing investigator who previously ran afoul of the Chinese government, spent time in prison, and has since been relegated to remote Tibetan countryside where he’s tasked with the unglamourous job of inspecting ditches—witnesses the act. Shan will spend the rest of the novel trying to make sense of the monk’s self-slaughter, while also attempting to determine whether it was related to the murders of three others, including a Tibetan nun, at a nearby abandoned convent.

Although Shan has steeped himself in Tibetan culture and counts lamas as close friends, being Chinese, he’s ever an outsider in Tibet. But while he retains only the most lowly of inspector jobs following his disgrace in Beijing, his official post affords him the freedom to access crime scenes and potential witnesses. His outsider identity in both worlds raises suspicion about his intentions among local herders, a criminal gang known as the Jade Crows, and Chinese security forces. However, a well-intentioned local Public Security officer, Meng Limei, helps Shan to navigate this fraught terrain.

Crafting a credible thriller while focusing on human rights and the struggles of contemporary Buddhist practice in Tibet is a similarly tricky maneuver, and for the most part Pattison continues to do it well and without being heavy-handed (he won an Edgar for his first Shan entry, The Skull Mantra). He fills the pages with detailed portraits of internment camps as well as beautiful landscapes, and lets the reader fill in the politics. It’s pleasurable enough to sit with Mandarin Gate, but sometimes, the plot stops a little too long while admiring the rich and descriptive views. For Pattison—an unabashed Tibet supporter whose website proclaims: “I write about Tibet because Tibet is a monk sitting in front of a steamroller, and if enough people around the world sit with him we can stop the steamroller”—that may not be such a bad thing.

Hot Rocks
Sue Emmons

A little bit noir and a little bit cozy, Hot Rocks welcomes readers to the world of seasoned PI Beth Bowman. Hired to get the goods on a cheating husband, Bowman follows him to a South Florida motel, only to wind up unconscious on the floor with the man’s dead body beside her, his face blown away. Moreover, she quickly discovers that he is not the man she thought he was, and that he never had a “wife.” Needless to say, the police are skeptical of her story and flag her as the lead suspect in the killing.

Bowman immediately sets out to trace her phony client and discover the real motive behind her hiring, which was perhaps designed to set her up as a patsy for murder. There’s plenty more to come, including a romance with a quirky neurologist and liaisons with a gang of homeless street people, plus an investigative trail that leads to stolen diamonds and international thievery. There is also lots of gunfire for the reader who enjoys hardboiled crime, and plenty of chuckles for those who like their mysteries spiced with humor.

Randy Rawls, a retired Department of Defense employee and Army officer, is the author of a previous PI series set in Dallas featuring Ace Edwards, and of the thriller Thorns on Roses. His newest heroine is a keeper who will hopefully be investigating lots more criminal shenanigans on her Florida home turf.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 07:12

A little bit noir and a little bit cozy, Hot Rocks welcomes readers to the world of seasoned PI Beth Bowman. Hired to get the goods on a cheating husband, Bowman follows him to a South Florida motel, only to wind up unconscious on the floor with the man’s dead body beside her, his face blown away. Moreover, she quickly discovers that he is not the man she thought he was, and that he never had a “wife.” Needless to say, the police are skeptical of her story and flag her as the lead suspect in the killing.

Bowman immediately sets out to trace her phony client and discover the real motive behind her hiring, which was perhaps designed to set her up as a patsy for murder. There’s plenty more to come, including a romance with a quirky neurologist and liaisons with a gang of homeless street people, plus an investigative trail that leads to stolen diamonds and international thievery. There is also lots of gunfire for the reader who enjoys hardboiled crime, and plenty of chuckles for those who like their mysteries spiced with humor.

Randy Rawls, a retired Department of Defense employee and Army officer, is the author of a previous PI series set in Dallas featuring Ace Edwards, and of the thriller Thorns on Roses. His newest heroine is a keeper who will hopefully be investigating lots more criminal shenanigans on her Florida home turf.

Silver Cross
Kristin Centorcelli

When federal agent Meg Tolman gets the call that an old friend, Dana Cable, is close to death and has been asking for her, she doesn’t hesitate to rush to her side. Unfortunately, Meg arrives too late. While at her friend’s funeral, Meg is approached by a mysterious woman and asked to accept a very old letter that looks to be from Napoleon III of France to Confederate President Jefferson Davis. In it, the French President offers unlimited assistance to the Confederacy during the American Civil War in return for something called the Silver Cross. The possible historical implications of the letter are startling, but Meg has little time to process them, as soon after taking the letter, shots are fired at her by a hidden assailant, and the novel’s events instantly shift into overdrive.

Meg can think of only one person who may be able to help her understand the document in her possession, someone she’s worked with in the past: American Civil War historian and professor Nick Journey. As Nick chases the history, Meg chases the trail of bodies that begins turning up in connection with the rare document. It’s a search that involves both of Dana’s brothers and a terrorist group known as April 19, and that leads all the way up to the highest level of government.

The narrative mostly stays with Nick and Meg as they track the clues leading to the Silver Cross, but it also details an enigmatic assassin named Ann Gray, who has an agenda all her own—one of revenge and possibly redemption. Gray is constantly on Meg and Nick’s trail just behind the scenes.

The author rarely eases off on the fast pace, and twists and turns abound. Character development suffers a bit for this, but it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment. Though not the most nuanced character, Meg’s slightly crass, abrupt manner contrasts nicely with Nick’s warmth, and her interactions with Nick’s autistic son Andrew are rather charming.

Anyone with an interest in American history has probably asked themselves what things might be like if the Confederacy had won the Civil War, and the plot thread involving terrorism is quite relevant and timely considering our current global climate. Although Silver Cross is the second book in a series involving Meg Tolman and Nick Journey, it works nicely as a standalone and can certainly be enjoyed even if you haven’t read the first book, Cold Glory. A clever puzzle, fascinating historical elements, and plenty of action round out an absorbing contemporary thriller.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 07:12

When federal agent Meg Tolman gets the call that an old friend, Dana Cable, is close to death and has been asking for her, she doesn’t hesitate to rush to her side. Unfortunately, Meg arrives too late. While at her friend’s funeral, Meg is approached by a mysterious woman and asked to accept a very old letter that looks to be from Napoleon III of France to Confederate President Jefferson Davis. In it, the French President offers unlimited assistance to the Confederacy during the American Civil War in return for something called the Silver Cross. The possible historical implications of the letter are startling, but Meg has little time to process them, as soon after taking the letter, shots are fired at her by a hidden assailant, and the novel’s events instantly shift into overdrive.

Meg can think of only one person who may be able to help her understand the document in her possession, someone she’s worked with in the past: American Civil War historian and professor Nick Journey. As Nick chases the history, Meg chases the trail of bodies that begins turning up in connection with the rare document. It’s a search that involves both of Dana’s brothers and a terrorist group known as April 19, and that leads all the way up to the highest level of government.

The narrative mostly stays with Nick and Meg as they track the clues leading to the Silver Cross, but it also details an enigmatic assassin named Ann Gray, who has an agenda all her own—one of revenge and possibly redemption. Gray is constantly on Meg and Nick’s trail just behind the scenes.

The author rarely eases off on the fast pace, and twists and turns abound. Character development suffers a bit for this, but it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment. Though not the most nuanced character, Meg’s slightly crass, abrupt manner contrasts nicely with Nick’s warmth, and her interactions with Nick’s autistic son Andrew are rather charming.

Anyone with an interest in American history has probably asked themselves what things might be like if the Confederacy had won the Civil War, and the plot thread involving terrorism is quite relevant and timely considering our current global climate. Although Silver Cross is the second book in a series involving Meg Tolman and Nick Journey, it works nicely as a standalone and can certainly be enjoyed even if you haven’t read the first book, Cold Glory. A clever puzzle, fascinating historical elements, and plenty of action round out an absorbing contemporary thriller.

The Big Exit
Kevin Burton Smith

Sadly, The Big Exit don’t got that swing, which will be a keen disappointment to those who loved the author’s debut, Knife Edge.

The Big Exit starts out promisingly enough: a slow-building typical noir riff played against the high-tech age, full of iPhones and Google references, as well as plenty of good ol’ betrayal, greed, and murder. Affable former marketing geek Richie Forman’s just been sprung after serving seven years for vehicular manslaughter—a crime of which he has no recollection—and is intent on rebuilding his life. But when his ex-best friend Mark McGregor, the millionaire software developer who stole his fiancée while he was in the big house (and who may have framed Richie), is found hacked to pieces in the garage of his palatial Silicon Valley digs, Richie is—you guessed it—ground zero in the suspect department. So what’s an ex-con (and part-time professional Frank Sinatra impersonator) to do? Muddle around until the end of the book, apparently, trying to solve the crime, while the bouncing ball of a plot goes all over the place.

The tactic of telling the story by following various characters backfires. There’s Hank Madden, the world-weary homicide dick; Marty Lowenstein, the spotlight-chewing lawyer for the Exoneration Foundation who has taken on Richie’s case; Beth Hill, Richie’s conflicted former lover; Tom Bender, a full-of-himself tech blogger; and too many others. We never get to know or really care about most of them, and all the hopping around and “quirkiness” sandbags whatever forward momentum might have been generated. Like, sure, it’s funny when Richie slips into his Frankie persona while being grilled by the cops, but it’s not that funny. So why bother?

Given all the good intentions that sputter out and the Rat Pack coolness-by-association that never quite comes off, perhaps a Peter Lawford impersonation might have been a better bet.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 07:12

Sadly, The Big Exit don’t got that swing, which will be a keen disappointment to those who loved the author’s debut, Knife Edge.

The Big Exit starts out promisingly enough: a slow-building typical noir riff played against the high-tech age, full of iPhones and Google references, as well as plenty of good ol’ betrayal, greed, and murder. Affable former marketing geek Richie Forman’s just been sprung after serving seven years for vehicular manslaughter—a crime of which he has no recollection—and is intent on rebuilding his life. But when his ex-best friend Mark McGregor, the millionaire software developer who stole his fiancée while he was in the big house (and who may have framed Richie), is found hacked to pieces in the garage of his palatial Silicon Valley digs, Richie is—you guessed it—ground zero in the suspect department. So what’s an ex-con (and part-time professional Frank Sinatra impersonator) to do? Muddle around until the end of the book, apparently, trying to solve the crime, while the bouncing ball of a plot goes all over the place.

The tactic of telling the story by following various characters backfires. There’s Hank Madden, the world-weary homicide dick; Marty Lowenstein, the spotlight-chewing lawyer for the Exoneration Foundation who has taken on Richie’s case; Beth Hill, Richie’s conflicted former lover; Tom Bender, a full-of-himself tech blogger; and too many others. We never get to know or really care about most of them, and all the hopping around and “quirkiness” sandbags whatever forward momentum might have been generated. Like, sure, it’s funny when Richie slips into his Frankie persona while being grilled by the cops, but it’s not that funny. So why bother?

Given all the good intentions that sputter out and the Rat Pack coolness-by-association that never quite comes off, perhaps a Peter Lawford impersonation might have been a better bet.

The Doctor of Thessaly
Tea Dee

The Athenian investigator Hermes Diaktoros, usually referred to simply as “the fat man,” is nearly as enigmatic as the crime in Anne Zouroudi’s third Seven Deadly Sins Mystery. “I am not a policeman,” the fat man explains, “There is no police force in Greece which would hire me. My employers are higher authorities.” Who these authorities are exactly, we aren’t told, but the eccentric fat man is more concerned with meting out justice than upholding the letter of the law as he goes about investigating the case of a vicious assault in an otherwise quiet Greek village.

The titular Thessaly is a nearly forgotten down-and-out seaside town; the doctor, a local physician, Louis Chabrol, who has been viciously attacked and blinded by acid on the eve of his wedding to Chrissa Kaligi. There is no murder in this gentle tale and little in the way of violence, thrills, or lust (unless you include the fat man’s healthy appreciation of all things gastronomic, from apples to Gruyère to ouzo), but the Greek setting is evocative and the character studies of the townspeople the fat man encounters are colorful and nuanced: there’s the spinsterly Kaligi sisters; the hardworking family of Tassos and Litsa; the local simpleton, Adonis “Wrong-Way-Around”; a busybody kafe owner; and an old guard of local cranks (a postal worker, a retired doctor, and a pharmacist) who stand in contrast to the ambition and opinions of Thessaly’s energetic young mayor.

The fat man’s rounds through the community seem less about investigating and more about observing village life big and small. The fat man can usually ascertain the information he needs within moments of meeting his interviewee, leaving him plenty of time for snacking, small talk, and righting other wrongs, such as orchestrating a grand goodnatured joke to put the town’s more mean-spirited jokers in their place, advising the locals on how to revitalize the tourist economy, and reigniting the flame of two long-separated lovers. Zouroudi skilfully brings to the fore the ways in which antiquity and modernity, tradition and progress, coexist in an old world, Greek Orthodox setting.

Readers of Golden Age mysteries and contemporary series like The Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency will find much to like here—most of all Zouroudi’s hero Hermes, who has many of the endearing (and maddening) qualities of a brilliant and eccentric classic detective. He drives a pristine vintage Mercedes with a bag of apples in the backseat (from his family’s orchard, of course), touches up his gleaming white sneakers each evening with shoe-whitener, and seems ready and armed to picnic at moment’s notice. He’s also a know-it-all who, despite being a stickler for etiquette, reveals his own lapses when passing smug judgment on others—as shown in one scene with a librarian and in another with a postal queue jumper, where Hermes gives a “nice” Midwestern grandmother a run for her passive-aggressive money. So far, six of seven mysteries in the series, one for each deadly sin, have been published in the UK.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 07:12

The Athenian investigator Hermes Diaktoros, usually referred to simply as “the fat man,” is nearly as enigmatic as the crime in Anne Zouroudi’s third Seven Deadly Sins Mystery. “I am not a policeman,” the fat man explains, “There is no police force in Greece which would hire me. My employers are higher authorities.” Who these authorities are exactly, we aren’t told, but the eccentric fat man is more concerned with meting out justice than upholding the letter of the law as he goes about investigating the case of a vicious assault in an otherwise quiet Greek village.

The titular Thessaly is a nearly forgotten down-and-out seaside town; the doctor, a local physician, Louis Chabrol, who has been viciously attacked and blinded by acid on the eve of his wedding to Chrissa Kaligi. There is no murder in this gentle tale and little in the way of violence, thrills, or lust (unless you include the fat man’s healthy appreciation of all things gastronomic, from apples to Gruyère to ouzo), but the Greek setting is evocative and the character studies of the townspeople the fat man encounters are colorful and nuanced: there’s the spinsterly Kaligi sisters; the hardworking family of Tassos and Litsa; the local simpleton, Adonis “Wrong-Way-Around”; a busybody kafe owner; and an old guard of local cranks (a postal worker, a retired doctor, and a pharmacist) who stand in contrast to the ambition and opinions of Thessaly’s energetic young mayor.

The fat man’s rounds through the community seem less about investigating and more about observing village life big and small. The fat man can usually ascertain the information he needs within moments of meeting his interviewee, leaving him plenty of time for snacking, small talk, and righting other wrongs, such as orchestrating a grand goodnatured joke to put the town’s more mean-spirited jokers in their place, advising the locals on how to revitalize the tourist economy, and reigniting the flame of two long-separated lovers. Zouroudi skilfully brings to the fore the ways in which antiquity and modernity, tradition and progress, coexist in an old world, Greek Orthodox setting.

Readers of Golden Age mysteries and contemporary series like The Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency will find much to like here—most of all Zouroudi’s hero Hermes, who has many of the endearing (and maddening) qualities of a brilliant and eccentric classic detective. He drives a pristine vintage Mercedes with a bag of apples in the backseat (from his family’s orchard, of course), touches up his gleaming white sneakers each evening with shoe-whitener, and seems ready and armed to picnic at moment’s notice. He’s also a know-it-all who, despite being a stickler for etiquette, reveals his own lapses when passing smug judgment on others—as shown in one scene with a librarian and in another with a postal queue jumper, where Hermes gives a “nice” Midwestern grandmother a run for her passive-aggressive money. So far, six of seven mysteries in the series, one for each deadly sin, have been published in the UK.

Dying on the Vine
Lourdes Venard

Aaron Elkins’ charming Gideon Oliver series—the celebrated “Skeleton Detective”—moves to Italy in this solid entry. Oliver, a professor of anthropology at the University of Washington, is in Tuscany with his wife, Julie, his FBI friend John Lau, and Lau’s wife, Marti. After giving a seminar in Florence to law enforcement officials, the four plan a nice vacation at their friends’ family vineyard.

While presenting the seminar, the forensics professor notes that the bones of a woman found at the bottom of a cliff with the remains of her husband indicate she was not killed as the Italian police have figured. The police have closed the case as a murder-suicide; Oliver believes both were murdered. To his astonishment, the remains belong to the patriarch of the vineyard family they are visiting, Pietro Cubbiddu, and his second wife, Nola.

Under the direction of Lt. Rocco Gardella, the case focused on Pietro’s three sons and his stepson. Before his death, Pietro had intended to sell Villa Antica to the beer conglomerate Humboldt-Schlager, leaving his sons without jobs. But as soon as the investigation is reopened, another death adds yet another twist.

Although Elkins’ book is heavy on the forensics (Who knew a bone could reveal so much?), that part of the book is tempered by the descriptions of Tuscany and its sumptuous food: almond-orange biscotti, ravioli stuffed with porcini mushrooms and black truffles, zeppole fritters, and, of course, espresso. Elkins also infuses the story with details about winemaking, describing it so well we can almost taste the barrel-aged vino. For mystery lovers, Dying on the Vine is indeed a tasty treat.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 07:12

elkins_dyingonthevineAaron Elkins’ charming Gideon Oliver series—the celebrated “Skeleton Detective”—moves to Italy in this solid entry.

My First Murder
Debbi Mack

Detective Maria Kallio takes on her first murder case while working a six-month stint in the Helsinki Police Department’s Violent Crime Unit. The victim, Tommi Peltonen, was a big-spending lady’s man who sang with a choir, the seven members of which were spending a weekend at his family’s beach house. Although Kallio knew the deceased, as well as some of the other singers, she is assigned the case by default when her immediate supervisor is absent due to one of his alcoholic binges and the other overworked detectives are unable to take the case.

In having this investigation thrust upon her, the inexperienced Kallio finds herself questioning not only who might have done the deed, but whether she should be doing police work at all. With each new revelation, Kallio turns up more questions than answers in this complex case. Ferretting out the truth requires delving beneath the choir group’s façade of camaraderie, and staying impartial despite her previous relationships with its members. This not only makes her uncomfortable, for obvious reasons, but as the only female officer on the force, she’s aware that all eyes are upon her. She can’t afford to breakdown or do a less than satisfactory job.

With a well-drawn protagonist whom we get to know through her career and life choices, as well as a brief scene with her parents, Leena Lehtolainen has a winner with her debut thriller. Detective Maria Kallio deserves a place alongside literature’s best tough but vulnerable female detectives.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 07:12

Detective Maria Kallio takes on her first murder case while working a six-month stint in the Helsinki Police Department’s Violent Crime Unit. The victim, Tommi Peltonen, was a big-spending lady’s man who sang with a choir, the seven members of which were spending a weekend at his family’s beach house. Although Kallio knew the deceased, as well as some of the other singers, she is assigned the case by default when her immediate supervisor is absent due to one of his alcoholic binges and the other overworked detectives are unable to take the case.

In having this investigation thrust upon her, the inexperienced Kallio finds herself questioning not only who might have done the deed, but whether she should be doing police work at all. With each new revelation, Kallio turns up more questions than answers in this complex case. Ferretting out the truth requires delving beneath the choir group’s façade of camaraderie, and staying impartial despite her previous relationships with its members. This not only makes her uncomfortable, for obvious reasons, but as the only female officer on the force, she’s aware that all eyes are upon her. She can’t afford to breakdown or do a less than satisfactory job.

With a well-drawn protagonist whom we get to know through her career and life choices, as well as a brief scene with her parents, Leena Lehtolainen has a winner with her debut thriller. Detective Maria Kallio deserves a place alongside literature’s best tough but vulnerable female detectives.

El Dorado Blues
Betty Webb

There’s a heaping of the fantastical in Morey’s latest thriller (after Wahoo Rhapsody) featuring Atticus Fish, in which a multibillionaire is, for once, the good guy, instead of an evil schemer plotting to take over the world. When Duncan Rigby, an Arizona archeologist, discovers a long-lost Jesuit treasure hoard in Baja California, he is immediately kidnapped by twin brothers who, combined, possess the brain power of an earthworm. Unfortunately for these two dullards, they’re not the only thieves around. Also after the gold are a bizarre “androgynous businesswoman” named Barbie; yacht-owning billboard king Charlie Diamond, a slimeball who uses his boat to surreptitiously film his sexual exploits; and a creepy, Cadillac-driving serial killer. And that’s just for starters.

There’s a hint of Clive Cussler’s popular daredevil Dirk Pitt in El Dorado Blues, as well as a giant heaping of tongue in cheek. This rollicking, often amusing, tale shows retired attorney/billionaire Atticus Fish at his swashbuckling best as he sets off to rescue the archeologist and ensure that all evildoers get their comeuppance. Along with the other trappings of great wealth, Atticus owns his own island, a plane, a small submarine (which he uses to rescue endangered sea life), two Labrador retrievers named Sting and Ray, and an Appaloosa mule he likes to ride onto other rich people’s yachts. In fact, Atticus is both the strength of and the problem with this entertaining book. He is almost too brave, and some of his exploits—especially how he came by his enormous fortune—defy belief (to put it succinctly, he sued God and won). But there’s no doubt that he is great fun to watch as he chases the book’s outsized villains through the stark Baja desert.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 07:12

There’s a heaping of the fantastical in Morey’s latest thriller (after Wahoo Rhapsody) featuring Atticus Fish, in which a multibillionaire is, for once, the good guy, instead of an evil schemer plotting to take over the world. When Duncan Rigby, an Arizona archeologist, discovers a long-lost Jesuit treasure hoard in Baja California, he is immediately kidnapped by twin brothers who, combined, possess the brain power of an earthworm. Unfortunately for these two dullards, they’re not the only thieves around. Also after the gold are a bizarre “androgynous businesswoman” named Barbie; yacht-owning billboard king Charlie Diamond, a slimeball who uses his boat to surreptitiously film his sexual exploits; and a creepy, Cadillac-driving serial killer. And that’s just for starters.

There’s a hint of Clive Cussler’s popular daredevil Dirk Pitt in El Dorado Blues, as well as a giant heaping of tongue in cheek. This rollicking, often amusing, tale shows retired attorney/billionaire Atticus Fish at his swashbuckling best as he sets off to rescue the archeologist and ensure that all evildoers get their comeuppance. Along with the other trappings of great wealth, Atticus owns his own island, a plane, a small submarine (which he uses to rescue endangered sea life), two Labrador retrievers named Sting and Ray, and an Appaloosa mule he likes to ride onto other rich people’s yachts. In fact, Atticus is both the strength of and the problem with this entertaining book. He is almost too brave, and some of his exploits—especially how he came by his enormous fortune—defy belief (to put it succinctly, he sued God and won). But there’s no doubt that he is great fun to watch as he chases the book’s outsized villains through the stark Baja desert.

Stonemouth
Oline H. Cogdill

Stewart Gilmour learns the truth of the adage that you can’t go home again when he returns to his hometown of Stonemouth, Scotland, to attend the funeral of local patriarch and crime lord Joe Murston. Five years before, the Murston clan exiled Stewart from Stonemouth; he’s only been allowed to return without fear of harm because Joe specifically requested that Stewart be at his funeral. While Stewart is determined to keep the peace, the Murstons are a violent family and a temporary truce means little to them.

Stewart wasn’t always on the outs with the Murstons. Before his banishment, he was engaged to Ellie, the family’s oldest daughter. But an incident involving Ellie turned the family against him and Stewart escaped their middle-of-the-night rampage by jumping onto the top of a train. While Stewart still has feelings for Ellie, her brothers and father have forbidden him to even look at her while in town.

Scottish author Iain Banks’ 23rd novel is a poignant, intriguing look at a man trying to reconcile himself with his past and his guilt over a thoughtless act. Although Stewart has built a successful career for himself in London, he cannot deny the pull of his hometown. While in Stonemouth, he reverts to habits, friends, and attitudes he thought he had left behind.

Banks also illustrates the effect of this coastal area of Scotland, near Aberdeen, on his characters. Here, the beauty of the landscape and the beaches are countered by the bleakness of the oppressive fog and a bridge that attracts suicides. This combination of the pretty and the ugly also translates to the Murston family, benefactors of the town, who made their millions dealing drugs and intimidating others. As Stewart learns, the family has even darker secrets with threats to their power coming not from rivals, but from within.

Banks keeps the tension level high, although when it is revealed, Stewart’s transgression against Ellie seems too minor to have inspired such violence and hatred. Still, Banks makes it clear that despite their wealthy trappings the Murstons are grudge-holding thugs at heart who barely need a reason to strike out.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 08:12

Stewart Gilmour learns the truth of the adage that you can’t go home again when he returns to his hometown of Stonemouth, Scotland, to attend the funeral of local patriarch and crime lord Joe Murston. Five years before, the Murston clan exiled Stewart from Stonemouth; he’s only been allowed to return without fear of harm because Joe specifically requested that Stewart be at his funeral. While Stewart is determined to keep the peace, the Murstons are a violent family and a temporary truce means little to them.

Stewart wasn’t always on the outs with the Murstons. Before his banishment, he was engaged to Ellie, the family’s oldest daughter. But an incident involving Ellie turned the family against him and Stewart escaped their middle-of-the-night rampage by jumping onto the top of a train. While Stewart still has feelings for Ellie, her brothers and father have forbidden him to even look at her while in town.

Scottish author Iain Banks’ 23rd novel is a poignant, intriguing look at a man trying to reconcile himself with his past and his guilt over a thoughtless act. Although Stewart has built a successful career for himself in London, he cannot deny the pull of his hometown. While in Stonemouth, he reverts to habits, friends, and attitudes he thought he had left behind.

Banks also illustrates the effect of this coastal area of Scotland, near Aberdeen, on his characters. Here, the beauty of the landscape and the beaches are countered by the bleakness of the oppressive fog and a bridge that attracts suicides. This combination of the pretty and the ugly also translates to the Murston family, benefactors of the town, who made their millions dealing drugs and intimidating others. As Stewart learns, the family has even darker secrets with threats to their power coming not from rivals, but from within.

Banks keeps the tension level high, although when it is revealed, Stewart’s transgression against Ellie seems too minor to have inspired such violence and hatred. Still, Banks makes it clear that despite their wealthy trappings the Murstons are grudge-holding thugs at heart who barely need a reason to strike out.

Archie Meets Nero Wolfe
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

Although I’ve not been a big Nero Wolfe fan, I found this to be one of the most engaging books I’ve read this year. For those of you unaware of it, as I was, noted mystery author Robert Goldsborough has been given authorization by the Rex Stout family to continue the Nero Wolfe corpus. This is the eighth book in that series.

This is the story of how Archie Goodwin arrives in New York in 1930 at the age of 19, and ends up becoming personal assistant and jack-of-all-trades to the reclusive and amazing detective Nero Wolfe. Along the way, Archie is fired from his job as a night watchman for being “trigger-happy” after killing two thieves in a shootout on the docks, then joins the employ of a competent but not entirely successful private detective named Del Bascom. Eventually, the pair are asked by Nero Wolfe to join a group of special operatives to help locate and safely return an eight-year-old boy who has been kidnapped from his wealthy family’s estate and held for ransom.

Written from the viewpoint of Archie, this is a fast-moving and fun read as the detectives, under the direction of Wolfe, must not only retrieve the boy unharmed, but also capture the kidnappers and determine if someone who worked at the estate was in cahoots with the bad guys. Although the youngest of the operatives by far, Archie impresses everyone with his ability to improvise in unexpected situations, his fresh ideas, and his photographic memory. Meanwhile Captain Cramer of the New York police is constantly “at war” with Nero and his merry men for pushing the envelope with their private detecting—but mainly because they always seem to be one step ahead of him.

Interestingly, most of the team of private detectives hired by Wolfe, including Del Bascom, have appeared in some of the original Rex Stout mysteries. Also, the background of Archie Goodwin, although fleshed out more here, is alluded to briefly in some of the early Wolfe books. Mr. Goldsborough claims he always wanted to write a book about how Archie and Nero Wolfe met, and he’s done it to a fare-thee-well here.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 08:12

Although I’ve not been a big Nero Wolfe fan, I found this to be one of the most engaging books I’ve read this year. For those of you unaware of it, as I was, noted mystery author Robert Goldsborough has been given authorization by the Rex Stout family to continue the Nero Wolfe corpus. This is the eighth book in that series.

This is the story of how Archie Goodwin arrives in New York in 1930 at the age of 19, and ends up becoming personal assistant and jack-of-all-trades to the reclusive and amazing detective Nero Wolfe. Along the way, Archie is fired from his job as a night watchman for being “trigger-happy” after killing two thieves in a shootout on the docks, then joins the employ of a competent but not entirely successful private detective named Del Bascom. Eventually, the pair are asked by Nero Wolfe to join a group of special operatives to help locate and safely return an eight-year-old boy who has been kidnapped from his wealthy family’s estate and held for ransom.

Written from the viewpoint of Archie, this is a fast-moving and fun read as the detectives, under the direction of Wolfe, must not only retrieve the boy unharmed, but also capture the kidnappers and determine if someone who worked at the estate was in cahoots with the bad guys. Although the youngest of the operatives by far, Archie impresses everyone with his ability to improvise in unexpected situations, his fresh ideas, and his photographic memory. Meanwhile Captain Cramer of the New York police is constantly “at war” with Nero and his merry men for pushing the envelope with their private detecting—but mainly because they always seem to be one step ahead of him.

Interestingly, most of the team of private detectives hired by Wolfe, including Del Bascom, have appeared in some of the original Rex Stout mysteries. Also, the background of Archie Goodwin, although fleshed out more here, is alluded to briefly in some of the early Wolfe books. Mr. Goldsborough claims he always wanted to write a book about how Archie and Nero Wolfe met, and he’s done it to a fare-thee-well here.

Jimmy the Stick
Kevin Burton Smith

For all the shout-outs to the notorious Lindbergh baby kidnapping, this nifty and satisfying period piece, set in the waning days of Prohibition, never really goes anywhere near that infamous case. Nor does it need to. The story of Jimmy “The Stick” Quinn, former mob runner, bootlegger, and gunman and current Manhattan speakeasy owner, is good enough to stand on its own. That’s because Jimmy’s quite the storyteller, and his narrative voice, like the booze he serves, is “top-notch stuff.”

A former “known associate” of people like Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky, Jimmy still considers himself a “knucks and knives” kind of guy, but a bullet in the leg and the murder of longtime mentor A.R. (Arnold Rothstein) has convinced him to go legit (or at least as legit as any speakeasy operator during Prohibition can be). But when Walter “Spence” Spenser (an old pal who has also gone “straight,” marrying into a wealthy petroleum family) invites him to the New Jersey boondocks to watch over his household while he has to attend to oil company business in South America, the loyal-to-a-fault Jimmy reluctantly agrees. Apparently Flora, Spence’s sexy but flighty young wife, has a bad case of “the screaming meemies.” She is convinced that her and Spence’s own infant, Ethan, is next on the Lindbergh kidnapper’s list. So Jimmy throws some clothes, his leg brace, and a few weapons into his Gladstone, and makes his way over the bridge, figuring it’s a quiet babysitting job, a simple favor for his friend, only to be dropped into a morass of deception and corruption that exposes the rampant moral, social, and upstairs/downstairs class hypocrisies and desperation of the Depression era.

Imagine an Agatha Christie country-house murder mystery soaked in booze and violence, with the detective played as a cold, pragmatic street fighter instead of some effete Belgian fop. The expected traditional shenanigans unfold (there’s even a hidden room!), albeit in a rather hardboiled and occasionally bloody fashion, but the solution is clever and fair. What really sticks, however, is the film critic and first-time novelist’s muscular way with character and plot, and particularly Jimmy’s way with words. I wouldn’t mind hearing from him again.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 08:12

For all the shout-outs to the notorious Lindbergh baby kidnapping, this nifty and satisfying period piece, set in the waning days of Prohibition, never really goes anywhere near that infamous case. Nor does it need to. The story of Jimmy “The Stick” Quinn, former mob runner, bootlegger, and gunman and current Manhattan speakeasy owner, is good enough to stand on its own. That’s because Jimmy’s quite the storyteller, and his narrative voice, like the booze he serves, is “top-notch stuff.”

A former “known associate” of people like Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky, Jimmy still considers himself a “knucks and knives” kind of guy, but a bullet in the leg and the murder of longtime mentor A.R. (Arnold Rothstein) has convinced him to go legit (or at least as legit as any speakeasy operator during Prohibition can be). But when Walter “Spence” Spenser (an old pal who has also gone “straight,” marrying into a wealthy petroleum family) invites him to the New Jersey boondocks to watch over his household while he has to attend to oil company business in South America, the loyal-to-a-fault Jimmy reluctantly agrees. Apparently Flora, Spence’s sexy but flighty young wife, has a bad case of “the screaming meemies.” She is convinced that her and Spence’s own infant, Ethan, is next on the Lindbergh kidnapper’s list. So Jimmy throws some clothes, his leg brace, and a few weapons into his Gladstone, and makes his way over the bridge, figuring it’s a quiet babysitting job, a simple favor for his friend, only to be dropped into a morass of deception and corruption that exposes the rampant moral, social, and upstairs/downstairs class hypocrisies and desperation of the Depression era.

Imagine an Agatha Christie country-house murder mystery soaked in booze and violence, with the detective played as a cold, pragmatic street fighter instead of some effete Belgian fop. The expected traditional shenanigans unfold (there’s even a hidden room!), albeit in a rather hardboiled and occasionally bloody fashion, but the solution is clever and fair. What really sticks, however, is the film critic and first-time novelist’s muscular way with character and plot, and particularly Jimmy’s way with words. I wouldn’t mind hearing from him again.

Say You’re Sorry
Derek Hill

Two English teenage girls go missing from their Bingham homes and their plight transfixes people across England. Despite the best efforts by law enforcement, the investigation does not turn up anything. Three years later, however, there is a strange twist in the case: a series of horrific events in the same area—the murder of a family in their rural home and the discovery of an unidentified woman on a frozen pond—reignite the mystery of what happened to Piper Hadley and Tash McBain. Clinical Psychologist Joe O’Loughlin is lured to the old case, despite his reservations (and those of an arrogant DCI who initially resists Joe’s theory about the crimes’ connections). Joe’s instincts about the identity of the woman from the pond prove to be correct, though, and the investigation shifts into high gear just before another brutal murder happens.

Say You’re Sorry works on a lot of different levels, and is split between first- and third-person viewpoints, but its greatest strength resides in how Michael Robotham convincingly writes in the voice of a teenage girl. He gives us a complex and deeply flawed protagonist who guides us through the dark lands of kidnapping, sexual assault, and murder. The brilliance of Robotham’s accomplishment isn’t in that he successfully pulls this off (any great writer could do that), but in that he’s able to do it with insight and sensitivity. Not an easy thing to do when the requirements of narrative storytelling have to be honored (this is a police procedural thriller after all). Robotham isn’t hesitant to plunge into the darkness, but he grounds the story in humanity. O’Loughlin’s fractured relationship with his own teenage daughter and his struggles with Parkinson’s disease always feel plausible. This is a gripping, excellent novel, and a haunting one.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 08:12

Two English teenage girls go missing from their Bingham homes and their plight transfixes people across England. Despite the best efforts by law enforcement, the investigation does not turn up anything. Three years later, however, there is a strange twist in the case: a series of horrific events in the same area—the murder of a family in their rural home and the discovery of an unidentified woman on a frozen pond—reignite the mystery of what happened to Piper Hadley and Tash McBain. Clinical Psychologist Joe O’Loughlin is lured to the old case, despite his reservations (and those of an arrogant DCI who initially resists Joe’s theory about the crimes’ connections). Joe’s instincts about the identity of the woman from the pond prove to be correct, though, and the investigation shifts into high gear just before another brutal murder happens.

Say You’re Sorry works on a lot of different levels, and is split between first- and third-person viewpoints, but its greatest strength resides in how Michael Robotham convincingly writes in the voice of a teenage girl. He gives us a complex and deeply flawed protagonist who guides us through the dark lands of kidnapping, sexual assault, and murder. The brilliance of Robotham’s accomplishment isn’t in that he successfully pulls this off (any great writer could do that), but in that he’s able to do it with insight and sensitivity. Not an easy thing to do when the requirements of narrative storytelling have to be honored (this is a police procedural thriller after all). Robotham isn’t hesitant to plunge into the darkness, but he grounds the story in humanity. O’Loughlin’s fractured relationship with his own teenage daughter and his struggles with Parkinson’s disease always feel plausible. This is a gripping, excellent novel, and a haunting one.

Mad River
Oline H. Cogdill

The 22 Prey novels featuring Lucas Davenport are John Sandford’s main series, but the author’s occasional forays with other characters have given him a chance to showcase his versatile storytelling skills.

This is especially true with his series about Virgil Flowers, an agent who reports to Davenport in the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. While there is never a lack of action when Davenport is involved, the novels featuring Flowers are just a bit more energetic and briskly paced—there is barely time to take a breath before plunging head-on into the next jaw-dropping scene.

That’s especially true with Mad River, which marks Flowers’ sixth appearance. Flowers’ latest assignment from his boss finds him in a remote area of Minnesota tracking down a gang of armed and very dangerous teenagers. The teens—Jimmy Sharp, Tom McCall, and Becky Welsh—are on a cross-state murder and robbery spree and are not concerned about who gets in their way. The murder of a highway patrol officer also pulls in the local cops, who are less concerned with justice than vengeance.

Sandford skillfully makes the most of the rural Minnesota landscape of remote farms and back roads. Virgil Flowers is a thoughtful investigator whose instincts, honed under Davenport’s tutelage, shine in Mad River. He empathizes with the local cops who are out for blood, even while battling their tactics. Flowers also understands that the motives behind the gang’s and the cops’ actions are shrouded in a cloud of human frailty.

Virgil Flowers will never replace Lucas Davenport, but Mad River again shows what makes this character so intriguing and his cases so enjoyable.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 08:12

The 22 Prey novels featuring Lucas Davenport are John Sandford’s main series, but the author’s occasional forays with other characters have given him a chance to showcase his versatile storytelling skills.

This is especially true with his series about Virgil Flowers, an agent who reports to Davenport in the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. While there is never a lack of action when Davenport is involved, the novels featuring Flowers are just a bit more energetic and briskly paced—there is barely time to take a breath before plunging head-on into the next jaw-dropping scene.

That’s especially true with Mad River, which marks Flowers’ sixth appearance. Flowers’ latest assignment from his boss finds him in a remote area of Minnesota tracking down a gang of armed and very dangerous teenagers. The teens—Jimmy Sharp, Tom McCall, and Becky Welsh—are on a cross-state murder and robbery spree and are not concerned about who gets in their way. The murder of a highway patrol officer also pulls in the local cops, who are less concerned with justice than vengeance.

Sandford skillfully makes the most of the rural Minnesota landscape of remote farms and back roads. Virgil Flowers is a thoughtful investigator whose instincts, honed under Davenport’s tutelage, shine in Mad River. He empathizes with the local cops who are out for blood, even while battling their tactics. Flowers also understands that the motives behind the gang’s and the cops’ actions are shrouded in a cloud of human frailty.

Virgil Flowers will never replace Lucas Davenport, but Mad River again shows what makes this character so intriguing and his cases so enjoyable.

The Bone Bed
Kristin Centorcelli

An email sent directly to the Cambridge Forensic Center, addressed to Chief Medical Examiner Kay Scarpetta, contains the photo of a severed ear that may belong to Emma Shubert, a paleontologist who had been unearthing dinosaur bones in Canada’s Peace Region and who has recently gone missing. Kay has no idea why this would be sent to her office, since she would have no jurisdiction in the case if death or foul play was involved, and especially since no body has been found. Included with the image of the ear is footage of a jetboat skimming over a river, presumably in the area Emma Shubert was excavating. Meanwhile, Kay is due in court and reports have come in of a body in the water, attached to a leatherback turtle who has been tangled up in fishing net and must be rescued. Concerned about the indignity of a body being pulled out of the water with gawkers looking on, and stressed about having to appear in court for a comment she made in an email, the headache Kay has been nursing all day is about to get much, much worse.

In the 20th Kay Scarpetta novel, what starts as a missing person’s case with no body quickly turns sinister when Kay begins to examine the body of a woman that she personally pulls out of the water. It is desiccated, almost mummified, and the woman has obviously been dead for quite a while. A possible connection to Scarpetta’s head investigator, Pete Marino, has her worried that there’s much more to this case that she’s missing. Her niece Lucy also seems worried and on edge for some reason, and Kay’s FBI agent husband, Benton Wesley, also seems to be keeping something to himself. The demands of her job and Benton’s have them spending less and less time together, and Kay finds herself having thoughts that she never thought she’d entertain, especially about her attractive new employee. Meanwhile a brash, beautiful FBI agent working with Benton has Kay even more frazzled. This becomes a perfect storm of insecurity and paranoia for Kay.

Soon, Kay realizes she may be tracking a diabolical killer more treacherous than anyone could have imagined. Told in Kay’s voice, The Bone Bed is an involving murder mystery, but what sets this series apart is Scarpetta herself and her complex relationships with Benton, Lucy, Pete Marino, and her staff. A tangled web of clues all tie together eventually, but it probably won’t be what you expect. Patricia Cornwell is supremely good at what she does, and, after 20 books in this series, certainly hasn’t lost her touch.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 08:12

An email sent directly to the Cambridge Forensic Center, addressed to Chief Medical Examiner Kay Scarpetta, contains the photo of a severed ear that may belong to Emma Shubert, a paleontologist who had been unearthing dinosaur bones in Canada’s Peace Region and who has recently gone missing. Kay has no idea why this would be sent to her office, since she would have no jurisdiction in the case if death or foul play was involved, and especially since no body has been found. Included with the image of the ear is footage of a jetboat skimming over a river, presumably in the area Emma Shubert was excavating. Meanwhile, Kay is due in court and reports have come in of a body in the water, attached to a leatherback turtle who has been tangled up in fishing net and must be rescued. Concerned about the indignity of a body being pulled out of the water with gawkers looking on, and stressed about having to appear in court for a comment she made in an email, the headache Kay has been nursing all day is about to get much, much worse.

In the 20th Kay Scarpetta novel, what starts as a missing person’s case with no body quickly turns sinister when Kay begins to examine the body of a woman that she personally pulls out of the water. It is desiccated, almost mummified, and the woman has obviously been dead for quite a while. A possible connection to Scarpetta’s head investigator, Pete Marino, has her worried that there’s much more to this case that she’s missing. Her niece Lucy also seems worried and on edge for some reason, and Kay’s FBI agent husband, Benton Wesley, also seems to be keeping something to himself. The demands of her job and Benton’s have them spending less and less time together, and Kay finds herself having thoughts that she never thought she’d entertain, especially about her attractive new employee. Meanwhile a brash, beautiful FBI agent working with Benton has Kay even more frazzled. This becomes a perfect storm of insecurity and paranoia for Kay.

Soon, Kay realizes she may be tracking a diabolical killer more treacherous than anyone could have imagined. Told in Kay’s voice, The Bone Bed is an involving murder mystery, but what sets this series apart is Scarpetta herself and her complex relationships with Benton, Lucy, Pete Marino, and her staff. A tangled web of clues all tie together eventually, but it probably won’t be what you expect. Patricia Cornwell is supremely good at what she does, and, after 20 books in this series, certainly hasn’t lost her touch.

Eleven Pipers Piping
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

If you like your cozy mysteries with a seasonal twist, this book may be right up your alley. A fairly new arrival to the rustic English village of Thornford Regis, Tom Christmas is an Anglican priest—yes, that would make him Father Christmas—who has a tendency to be at the scene of suspicious deaths.

As the story opens, the village is celebrating its annual dinner honoring Robert Burns in the midst of a severe snowstorm, complete with haggis, Scotch, and bagpipes. Before the celebration is over, however, one of the attendees is found dead upstairs from the banquet hall. Was it a heart attack or was he poisoned? Why was the body found so far from the hall? And who was the woman who arrived shortly before the body was discovered?

As the plot thickens, Christmas finds himself enmeshed in a mystery the genesis of which dates back a generation or more. Having lost his own wife recently at the hands of a murderer, he is familiar with the investigative techniques of the local police, and he can readily empathize with the bereaved wife and children of the deceased. Also, because of his unique situation in the village, he is privy to much of the gossip making the rounds. But will he learn enough to prevent another death?

Though compared by some to an Agatha Christie Miss Marple story, I find the comparison lacking. Most of Dame Agatha’s mysteries ran about 300 pages or so. This book runs close to 500 pages. While Christie’s books might have a dozen or so characters, this book has nearly 40 (fortunately there is a list of characters in the front of the book à la Christie).

While I liked Tom Christmas and the mystery, especially the surprise ending, I think the book would have been better with fewer characters and fewer non-essential plot points, particularly through the middle of the story. The first book in this series was Twelve Drummers Drumming.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 08:12

If you like your cozy mysteries with a seasonal twist, this book may be right up your alley. A fairly new arrival to the rustic English village of Thornford Regis, Tom Christmas is an Anglican priest—yes, that would make him Father Christmas—who has a tendency to be at the scene of suspicious deaths.

As the story opens, the village is celebrating its annual dinner honoring Robert Burns in the midst of a severe snowstorm, complete with haggis, Scotch, and bagpipes. Before the celebration is over, however, one of the attendees is found dead upstairs from the banquet hall. Was it a heart attack or was he poisoned? Why was the body found so far from the hall? And who was the woman who arrived shortly before the body was discovered?

As the plot thickens, Christmas finds himself enmeshed in a mystery the genesis of which dates back a generation or more. Having lost his own wife recently at the hands of a murderer, he is familiar with the investigative techniques of the local police, and he can readily empathize with the bereaved wife and children of the deceased. Also, because of his unique situation in the village, he is privy to much of the gossip making the rounds. But will he learn enough to prevent another death?

Though compared by some to an Agatha Christie Miss Marple story, I find the comparison lacking. Most of Dame Agatha’s mysteries ran about 300 pages or so. This book runs close to 500 pages. While Christie’s books might have a dozen or so characters, this book has nearly 40 (fortunately there is a list of characters in the front of the book à la Christie).

While I liked Tom Christmas and the mystery, especially the surprise ending, I think the book would have been better with fewer characters and fewer non-essential plot points, particularly through the middle of the story. The first book in this series was Twelve Drummers Drumming.

The Anatomist’s Wife
Tea Dee

Anna Lee Huber’s debut starts off running like clockwork: the murder is announced on page one with a scream, the irresistible and caddish love interest appears by page three, and as quick as that, both the investigation and the romance are afoot amongst the lochs of Scotland in 1830.

The heroine of the series, and the title’s namesake, The Anatomist’s Wife, is Lady Kiera Darby, the type of headstrong and whip-smart young woman readers of the romantic mystery genre appreciate, complete with a heart that is in equal measures fiercely loyal to her family and reckless in love.

Unlike the young maidens who are often the star of these tales, Lady Darby is, or was, an anatomist’s wife, now a widow. When we meet her taking refuge at her sister’s isolated estate in Cromarty, her loveless marriage and dark past as an unwilling sketch artist for her husband’s macabre work dissecting the human body has left her heart cold, her mind troubled, and her reputation blackened as a woman with “monstrous” and “unnatural” proclivities. Her experience has also given her forensics knowledge that makes her uniquely qualified to assist the handsome inquiry agent Sebastian Gage, when a murdered noblewoman with ghastly wounds turns up at her sister Alana’s countryside society party.

Two days’ ride from the nearest authority, the assembled guests and Lady Darby’s family—with a murderer among them—are forced to remain on the estate, giving the self-proclaimed rakehell Gage and Lady Darby four days to unmask the murderer, clear the suspicions being levelled at the “monster” Lady Darby, and of course, ignite some unexpected and stormy feelings between the members of the investigative team.

At times, Huber’s manipulations of her leads’ hearts and minds are blatant in prolonging the romantic tension, with Lady Darby repeatedly laying out the thin logic for why her pride and propriety remain so at odds with her heart. (For a smart lady, she sure can be dense.) The “surprise” twist won’t catch astute readers off guard, but the mystery element throughout is well done. By the time the murderer is revealed, even if it is not a complete surprise, we’re in the midst of a daring denouement and still holding our breath for our heroes’ first kiss (come on already!).

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 08:12

Anna Lee Huber’s debut starts off running like clockwork: the murder is announced on page one with a scream, the irresistible and caddish love interest appears by page three, and as quick as that, both the investigation and the romance are afoot amongst the lochs of Scotland in 1830.

The heroine of the series, and the title’s namesake, The Anatomist’s Wife, is Lady Kiera Darby, the type of headstrong and whip-smart young woman readers of the romantic mystery genre appreciate, complete with a heart that is in equal measures fiercely loyal to her family and reckless in love.

Unlike the young maidens who are often the star of these tales, Lady Darby is, or was, an anatomist’s wife, now a widow. When we meet her taking refuge at her sister’s isolated estate in Cromarty, her loveless marriage and dark past as an unwilling sketch artist for her husband’s macabre work dissecting the human body has left her heart cold, her mind troubled, and her reputation blackened as a woman with “monstrous” and “unnatural” proclivities. Her experience has also given her forensics knowledge that makes her uniquely qualified to assist the handsome inquiry agent Sebastian Gage, when a murdered noblewoman with ghastly wounds turns up at her sister Alana’s countryside society party.

Two days’ ride from the nearest authority, the assembled guests and Lady Darby’s family—with a murderer among them—are forced to remain on the estate, giving the self-proclaimed rakehell Gage and Lady Darby four days to unmask the murderer, clear the suspicions being levelled at the “monster” Lady Darby, and of course, ignite some unexpected and stormy feelings between the members of the investigative team.

At times, Huber’s manipulations of her leads’ hearts and minds are blatant in prolonging the romantic tension, with Lady Darby repeatedly laying out the thin logic for why her pride and propriety remain so at odds with her heart. (For a smart lady, she sure can be dense.) The “surprise” twist won’t catch astute readers off guard, but the mystery element throughout is well done. By the time the murderer is revealed, even if it is not a complete surprise, we’re in the midst of a daring denouement and still holding our breath for our heroes’ first kiss (come on already!).

The Hiding Place
Hank Wagner

Few people know better than Janet Manning how a moment of inattention can change things forever. Twenty-five years before the events described in The Hiding Place, her mother asked the then seven-year-old to take her younger brother Justin to the park. All was well until she became distracted, letting the boy slip out of sight. Justin disappeared and was later found dead in a wooded area nearby.

A local man, Dante Rogers, was convicted of Justin’s murder (based largely on circumstantial evidence), and although permanently scarred by the experience, life went on for Janet, who remained in her hometown. But the 25th anniversary of Justin’s disappearance, coupled with Rogers’ parole, causes Janet and one of the original investigating officers on the case to question again exactly what happened that fateful day. It turns out Janet is right to question her memories, as new facts concerning Justin’s disappearance stand everything she thought she knew on its head.

David Bell’s second novel teems with genuine emotion, as he explores the profound effects these revelations have on Janet and her family. His pacing is superb, especially evident in the manner he doles out the book’s revelations, keeping readers guessing, and more importantly, in great suspense, as they wait for the key fact that will tie everything together. It’s to Bell’s great credit that just when the reader thinks the solution is imminent, it is, in fact, only part of a greater, more complex, more intricate tapestry.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 08:12

Few people know better than Janet Manning how a moment of inattention can change things forever. Twenty-five years before the events described in The Hiding Place, her mother asked the then seven-year-old to take her younger brother Justin to the park. All was well until she became distracted, letting the boy slip out of sight. Justin disappeared and was later found dead in a wooded area nearby.

A local man, Dante Rogers, was convicted of Justin’s murder (based largely on circumstantial evidence), and although permanently scarred by the experience, life went on for Janet, who remained in her hometown. But the 25th anniversary of Justin’s disappearance, coupled with Rogers’ parole, causes Janet and one of the original investigating officers on the case to question again exactly what happened that fateful day. It turns out Janet is right to question her memories, as new facts concerning Justin’s disappearance stand everything she thought she knew on its head.

David Bell’s second novel teems with genuine emotion, as he explores the profound effects these revelations have on Janet and her family. His pacing is superb, especially evident in the manner he doles out the book’s revelations, keeping readers guessing, and more importantly, in great suspense, as they wait for the key fact that will tie everything together. It’s to Bell’s great credit that just when the reader thinks the solution is imminent, it is, in fact, only part of a greater, more complex, more intricate tapestry.

Hand for a Hand
Derek Hill

Grizzled Scottish Detective Inspector Andy Gilchrist is doing well considering his life is falling apart. His ex-wife is dying of cancer, his relationships with his son and daughter are strained, and the grimness of his job has started burrowing inside him. But he’s good at what he does.

Gilchrist’s life is upended further when a severed hand is found at a golf course with a message for him tucked in its palm. This case seems to be personal, though why he’s being targeted is a mystery. Gilchrist is partnered with a man named Watt, a cocksure sleazebag with whom Gilchrist has had a complicated run-in with before. Soon, another body part is discovered with a cryptic message attached for the inspector. How much longer before the murderer comes for Gilchrist’s loved ones?

This new series snaps to life on the first page and refuses to let up until the end. T. Frank Muir is all about breakneck narrative thrills and he’s skilled at it. Unfortunately, he sacrifices originality and character depth in the process. Although the story is always involving (and grisly at times), it feels a little too comfortable reveling in many of the clichés of Tartan noir. If you love cynical cops, violent yobs, beaten-down protagonists, savage violence, and plenty of bruised Northern European skies, you’ll find much to enjoy here. It’s certainly well done in regards to plotting, suspense, and the revelation of the mystery, but it simultaneously feels cautious.

Nevertheless, this is a first book in a series and there are encouraging elements here. Gilchrist makes for a strong hero; it’s just that he’s indistinguishable from countless other world-weary detectives. It will be interesting to see where Muir takes his protagonist in subsequent books.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 08:12

Grizzled Scottish Detective Inspector Andy Gilchrist is doing well considering his life is falling apart. His ex-wife is dying of cancer, his relationships with his son and daughter are strained, and the grimness of his job has started burrowing inside him. But he’s good at what he does.

Gilchrist’s life is upended further when a severed hand is found at a golf course with a message for him tucked in its palm. This case seems to be personal, though why he’s being targeted is a mystery. Gilchrist is partnered with a man named Watt, a cocksure sleazebag with whom Gilchrist has had a complicated run-in with before. Soon, another body part is discovered with a cryptic message attached for the inspector. How much longer before the murderer comes for Gilchrist’s loved ones?

This new series snaps to life on the first page and refuses to let up until the end. T. Frank Muir is all about breakneck narrative thrills and he’s skilled at it. Unfortunately, he sacrifices originality and character depth in the process. Although the story is always involving (and grisly at times), it feels a little too comfortable reveling in many of the clichés of Tartan noir. If you love cynical cops, violent yobs, beaten-down protagonists, savage violence, and plenty of bruised Northern European skies, you’ll find much to enjoy here. It’s certainly well done in regards to plotting, suspense, and the revelation of the mystery, but it simultaneously feels cautious.

Nevertheless, this is a first book in a series and there are encouraging elements here. Gilchrist makes for a strong hero; it’s just that he’s indistinguishable from countless other world-weary detectives. It will be interesting to see where Muir takes his protagonist in subsequent books.