Crossbones Yard
Kristin Centorcelli

Alice Quentin is a London psychologist who only finds real joy when she’s running along the streets of her beloved city. A tough childhood has left her emotionally scarred, resulting in her keeping most people at arm’s length. In spite of this, she’s dating a handsome surgeon, Sean, who seems to be smitten, and her best friend Lola has recently come to stay with her while she auditions for a few stage shows. Her biggest worry is her brother Will, who, at 35, is no longer the successful trader that made all the girls swoon. He’s had a mental breakdown that’s left him unpredictable and homeless with his only belongings in a van that he sometimes keeps parked outside Alice’s flat. In spite of this, Alice is fairly comfortable with the status quo, even with her worries about Will, until, on one of her runs, she discovers the body of a woman next to a cemetery called Crossbones Yard. The markings on the body are shockingly similar to those made by a murderous couple who once ran a nearby hostel, but they’ve since been put away. Is there a copycat at work? The police seem to think the killings are connected to the couple, and they’ve asked for Alice’s help in catching him.

Crossbones Yard is the first in a new series by Kate Rhodes and is told in Alice’s voice, giving the narrative a rather insular feel. Still, Alice’s flaws and insecurities make her an endearing heroine. Alice is good at her job, but because of her childhood, begins pushing people away as soon as they get too close. When she starts helping the police with the new case, she’s instantly attracted to darkly handsome DS Alvarez and it’s pretty obvious he’s attracted to her as well. Unfortunately, the body count keeps rising and it soon becomes clear that her brother Will may be very close to the killer. Eventually the violence hits Alice very close to home and it’s a breathless race to a terrifying climax.

In Crossbones Yard, the author has given us a fresh new psychological thriller with a very likeable protagonist, strong characterizations, and taut pacing. It should appeal to fans of Nicci French and Erin Kelly.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 21 February 2013 02:02

rhodes_crossbonesyardThis first in a new psychological suspense series, introduces London psychologist Alice Quentin.

Three Graves Full
Derek Hill

An otherwise respectable man, Jason Getty is just getting used to the idea that he has a corpse in the backyard that he put there a year earlier. Then landscapers working on his property discover another body, one that has nothing to do with Jason. When the cops begin their investigation, the secrets of the house’s previous resident come to light and Jason does his best to cooperate with the murder investigation while keeping his own crime buried for good. A number of events make that difficult, however, including the arrival of Leah Tamblin, a woman whose fiancé went missing years earlier and is presumed dead. Then things really get bad.

Mason’s assured debut is tightly plotted, and brims with a poisonously dark cosmic irony. What makes it more than just a clever yet cold morality tale, though, is Mason’s ability to burrow into the minds of her characters with darkly rhythmic prose. Jason is no cold-blooded killer, and in the book’s major flashback, we see how he was pushed to the edge when he becomes friends with a seemingly good-natured roustabout named Gary Harris, a guy who puts the alpha into the phrase alpha male. Things change quickly, though, and Gary is revealed to be manipulative and highly dangerous.

Mason skillfully and insightfully shows how a nonviolent person could shed blood if pushed too far. Killing becomes an act of salvation and survival. Where the moral line becomes fuzzier, however, is in how far Jason will go to cover up his crime. Three Graves Full is an excruciatingly tense read, reminiscent of Scott Smith’s excellent thriller A Simple Plan.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 21 February 2013 02:02

An otherwise respectable man, Jason Getty is just getting used to the idea that he has a corpse in the backyard that he put there a year earlier. Then landscapers working on his property discover another body, one that has nothing to do with Jason. When the cops begin their investigation, the secrets of the house’s previous resident come to light and Jason does his best to cooperate with the murder investigation while keeping his own crime buried for good. A number of events make that difficult, however, including the arrival of Leah Tamblin, a woman whose fiancé went missing years earlier and is presumed dead. Then things really get bad.

Mason’s assured debut is tightly plotted, and brims with a poisonously dark cosmic irony. What makes it more than just a clever yet cold morality tale, though, is Mason’s ability to burrow into the minds of her characters with darkly rhythmic prose. Jason is no cold-blooded killer, and in the book’s major flashback, we see how he was pushed to the edge when he becomes friends with a seemingly good-natured roustabout named Gary Harris, a guy who puts the alpha into the phrase alpha male. Things change quickly, though, and Gary is revealed to be manipulative and highly dangerous.

Mason skillfully and insightfully shows how a nonviolent person could shed blood if pushed too far. Killing becomes an act of salvation and survival. Where the moral line becomes fuzzier, however, is in how far Jason will go to cover up his crime. Three Graves Full is an excruciatingly tense read, reminiscent of Scott Smith’s excellent thriller A Simple Plan.

Stakeout
Robin Agnew

This is the 18th installment in Parnell Hall’s long-lived and enjoyable Stanley Hastings series. Happily, it’s not an imperative to have read all the other 17 books before reading this one—it stands nicely on its own. It tells the travails of Stanley, an underemployed actor and the world’s worst private eye. There’s a lot of room for humor in that formula, and Hall doesn’t miss a bit of it.

This is really a standard private eye novel—starting, as the title would suggest, with a stakeout outside a seedy motel. Stanley is geeked to actually be on a stakeout rather than working his usual ambulance-chaser-type jobs (he’s on call for an ambulance-chasing lawyer). He’s so excited he’s actually brought along an empty Gatorade bottle should the call of nature need to be answered while he keeps his eye on the motel.

As Stanley sits there hour after hour—waiting to discover if this particular husband has been cheating on his particular wife—he gets bored and calls his own wife, Alice, who serves as the voice of deductive reasoning throughout the book. Alice also asks him to pick up a gallon of milk. Peeved at the way Alice is taking him for granted, Stanley decides to go up and boldly investigate (i.e., knock on the motel room door where his suspect is waiting for his lover).

When he knocks, the door falls open and he discovers, much to his horror, that the object of his scrutiny is dead on the floor, definitely a murder victim. Like any good citizen, he calls the police, who promptly arrest him. He proceeds to talk his brains out at the police station, which lands him in trouble with his lawyer, the ambulance-chasing boss Richard Rosenberg.

This whole novel is told through dialogue—not so easy a trick. The writers who are really excellent at this make it look simple—Robert B. Parker and Steve Hamilton spring to mind. Hall shares that gift. Most of the book is spent as Stanley follows dumb hunch after dumb hunch, getting into worse and worse scrapes. In this he differs from Spenser or Alex McKnight, who usually manage to get things more or less right. You are almost slapping your forehead—right along with Stanley’s lawyer—as he decides to go and question the wrong person, obtain evidence illegally, or impersonate a police officer. Of course, if he didn’t do these things, there would be no story. As Stanley lurches and jolts toward a final “aha” moment in a crowded courtroom, you’ll be rooting for him to come out, more or less, on top.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 21 February 2013 02:02

This is the 18th installment in Parnell Hall’s long-lived and enjoyable Stanley Hastings series. Happily, it’s not an imperative to have read all the other 17 books before reading this one—it stands nicely on its own. It tells the travails of Stanley, an underemployed actor and the world’s worst private eye. There’s a lot of room for humor in that formula, and Hall doesn’t miss a bit of it.

This is really a standard private eye novel—starting, as the title would suggest, with a stakeout outside a seedy motel. Stanley is geeked to actually be on a stakeout rather than working his usual ambulance-chaser-type jobs (he’s on call for an ambulance-chasing lawyer). He’s so excited he’s actually brought along an empty Gatorade bottle should the call of nature need to be answered while he keeps his eye on the motel.

As Stanley sits there hour after hour—waiting to discover if this particular husband has been cheating on his particular wife—he gets bored and calls his own wife, Alice, who serves as the voice of deductive reasoning throughout the book. Alice also asks him to pick up a gallon of milk. Peeved at the way Alice is taking him for granted, Stanley decides to go up and boldly investigate (i.e., knock on the motel room door where his suspect is waiting for his lover).

When he knocks, the door falls open and he discovers, much to his horror, that the object of his scrutiny is dead on the floor, definitely a murder victim. Like any good citizen, he calls the police, who promptly arrest him. He proceeds to talk his brains out at the police station, which lands him in trouble with his lawyer, the ambulance-chasing boss Richard Rosenberg.

This whole novel is told through dialogue—not so easy a trick. The writers who are really excellent at this make it look simple—Robert B. Parker and Steve Hamilton spring to mind. Hall shares that gift. Most of the book is spent as Stanley follows dumb hunch after dumb hunch, getting into worse and worse scrapes. In this he differs from Spenser or Alex McKnight, who usually manage to get things more or less right. You are almost slapping your forehead—right along with Stanley’s lawyer—as he decides to go and question the wrong person, obtain evidence illegally, or impersonate a police officer. Of course, if he didn’t do these things, there would be no story. As Stanley lurches and jolts toward a final “aha” moment in a crowded courtroom, you’ll be rooting for him to come out, more or less, on top.

Daddy Love
Hank Wagner

The man the authorities know as Chester Czechi has several identities. Some know him as Chester Cash, the charismatic “Preacher.” Sadly, some young boys come to know him as Daddy Love, the name he instructs them to use after he abducts and brutalizes them, bending them to his will. These relationships last only a short time, because Daddy quickly tires of his playthings, coldly dispatching them after he finds suitable, younger replacements.

Brutal and enervating, Joyce Carol Oates’ latest tells the story of one of these boys, a lad once called Robbie, now renamed Gideon. Literally wrenched from his mother’s grasp at a local mall, the five-year-old is made to endure shocking tortures of the mind, spirit, and body while in Czechi’s “care.” Over the years, he nurtures a memory of what once was, a memory that dwindles with each passing day as he and his new “father” hide in plain sight in a small New Jersey town. As he gets older, he instinctually realizes his days are numbered and waits for an opportunity to escape.

It’s always a pleasure to read Oates, who writes some of the most beautiful prose you’ll ever encounter. Like all her novels, Daddy Love is well-written and compelling, thoroughly and unflinchingly exploring the mental terrain of all its major characters, including the creepy Czechi, Robbie, and Robbie’s real mother, Dinah. It is not, however, for the faint of heart, as Oates leaves very little to the imagination. It’s well worth your time, but the disturbing events depicted within will haunt your thoughts, especially if you are a parent.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 21 February 2013 02:02

The man the authorities know as Chester Czechi has several identities. Some know him as Chester Cash, the charismatic “Preacher.” Sadly, some young boys come to know him as Daddy Love, the name he instructs them to use after he abducts and brutalizes them, bending them to his will. These relationships last only a short time, because Daddy quickly tires of his playthings, coldly dispatching them after he finds suitable, younger replacements.

Brutal and enervating, Joyce Carol Oates’ latest tells the story of one of these boys, a lad once called Robbie, now renamed Gideon. Literally wrenched from his mother’s grasp at a local mall, the five-year-old is made to endure shocking tortures of the mind, spirit, and body while in Czechi’s “care.” Over the years, he nurtures a memory of what once was, a memory that dwindles with each passing day as he and his new “father” hide in plain sight in a small New Jersey town. As he gets older, he instinctually realizes his days are numbered and waits for an opportunity to escape.

It’s always a pleasure to read Oates, who writes some of the most beautiful prose you’ll ever encounter. Like all her novels, Daddy Love is well-written and compelling, thoroughly and unflinchingly exploring the mental terrain of all its major characters, including the creepy Czechi, Robbie, and Robbie’s real mother, Dinah. It is not, however, for the faint of heart, as Oates leaves very little to the imagination. It’s well worth your time, but the disturbing events depicted within will haunt your thoughts, especially if you are a parent.

Standing in Another Man’s Grave
Lourdes Venard

Rebus is back. Need we say more?

This can only mean more wisecracks, attempts to foil bosses and bureaucracy, and—of course—a case that perhaps another cop wouldn’t have cracked.

Rebus, having retired, is back as a civilian employee for the Serious Crime Review Unit, chasing dead ends for cold cases, when a woman whose teenage daughter disappeared in 1999 approaches him. The old case has striking similarities to another recent missing person’s case, as well as several other disappearances of women throughout the years, all along the same highway A9. Working with his former underling, the newly promoted Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke, Rebus travels the A9 searching out clues.

Unsurprisingly, not everyone is on board with Rebus’ return to the force. And, with the retirement age now raised, Rebus plans to make it permanent, having reapplied for his job. It’s only been a few years since we’ve seen Rebus—Rankin handed him his retirement papers in 2007—and the former cop hasn’t changed much, still drinking and smoking as much as before, still employing unorthodox methods to catch criminals. But the police force around him has changed. Even Clarke comments to Rebus: “You’re vinyl, we’re digital.”

Rebus has always had his enemies within the police force. This time they include Malcolm Fox, an internal-affairs-type who was the protagonist of Rankin’s last two books. Likable in the last two books, he has become an implacable foe in this book. He warns Rebus: “Think you can break cases without bending a few rules along the way? We’ve no room for even one maverick these days.” Fox has an outsize dislike of Rebus, and has begun an investigation he hopes will permanently get Rebus off the force.

This 18th novel in the series is a reintroduction to Rebus, older, set in his ways, and battling a changing world. Rebus is also a little sadder: years of failed relationships have left him alone. His only regular drinking buddy is his old nemesis, former crime boss Ger Cafferty. Rebus hardly sees his adult daughter, Samantha, and when he unexpectedly stops at her house, during a road trip for the investigation, she’s not there. But as he admits to himself, he probably hadn’t wanted her to be there: “He had made the effort, without any of the possible repercussions.”

Retirement was no happy ending for Rebus; the only place he seems comfortable is the police station. And the wisecracking copper is also a very wise one. It’s a joy to see him connect the dots and go after the bad guy—and, yes, to see him break the rules as only Rebus would dare to do. Let’s hope Rebus is back for good.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 21 February 2013 02:02

Rebus is back. Need we say more?

This can only mean more wisecracks, attempts to foil bosses and bureaucracy, and—of course—a case that perhaps another cop wouldn’t have cracked.

Rebus, having retired, is back as a civilian employee for the Serious Crime Review Unit, chasing dead ends for cold cases, when a woman whose teenage daughter disappeared in 1999 approaches him. The old case has striking similarities to another recent missing person’s case, as well as several other disappearances of women throughout the years, all along the same highway A9. Working with his former underling, the newly promoted Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke, Rebus travels the A9 searching out clues.

Unsurprisingly, not everyone is on board with Rebus’ return to the force. And, with the retirement age now raised, Rebus plans to make it permanent, having reapplied for his job. It’s only been a few years since we’ve seen Rebus—Rankin handed him his retirement papers in 2007—and the former cop hasn’t changed much, still drinking and smoking as much as before, still employing unorthodox methods to catch criminals. But the police force around him has changed. Even Clarke comments to Rebus: “You’re vinyl, we’re digital.”

Rebus has always had his enemies within the police force. This time they include Malcolm Fox, an internal-affairs-type who was the protagonist of Rankin’s last two books. Likable in the last two books, he has become an implacable foe in this book. He warns Rebus: “Think you can break cases without bending a few rules along the way? We’ve no room for even one maverick these days.” Fox has an outsize dislike of Rebus, and has begun an investigation he hopes will permanently get Rebus off the force.

This 18th novel in the series is a reintroduction to Rebus, older, set in his ways, and battling a changing world. Rebus is also a little sadder: years of failed relationships have left him alone. His only regular drinking buddy is his old nemesis, former crime boss Ger Cafferty. Rebus hardly sees his adult daughter, Samantha, and when he unexpectedly stops at her house, during a road trip for the investigation, she’s not there. But as he admits to himself, he probably hadn’t wanted her to be there: “He had made the effort, without any of the possible repercussions.”

Retirement was no happy ending for Rebus; the only place he seems comfortable is the police station. And the wisecracking copper is also a very wise one. It’s a joy to see him connect the dots and go after the bad guy—and, yes, to see him break the rules as only Rebus would dare to do. Let’s hope Rebus is back for good.

The Dead Shall Not Rest
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

Consider this a reverse review: after I finished reading this book, I read the very informative and highly enjoyable postscript and glossary. In them, I discovered that most of the lead characters in this 1782 London murder mystery actually existed and, further, that one of them was apparently the inspiration for both Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and the Dr. Frankenstein of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Wow!

Back to the beginning: the mystery here involves the murder of a young Italian castrato who has an amazing voice and is taking Europe by storm when he is brutally murdered and his voice box surgically removed. Dr. Silkstone, an early anatomist (based on another real person), is called in to inspect the corpse and determine the cause of death. The chief suspect is an older castrato who had taken on the youth as his protégé, but Silkstone doesn’t believe it, and finds himself fighting the bureaucracy to prove the older man’s innocence. His only hope becomes finding the real murderer, a person obviously adept with a scalpel.

There are two running sub-stories of interest, one involving an eight-foot-tall Irish giant (another historically real person), and a less-than-three-foot-tall Polish count (also real), as well as a romantic mystery involving Silkstone’s love interest, a woman with a tragic secret that could end their relationship.

If this sounds complex, it is, but it’s worth working through. This is the second Dr. Silkstone novel by Tessa Harris, an Oxford graduate whose first book in the series is the critically acclaimed The Anatomist’s Apprentice.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 21 February 2013 02:02

harris_thedeadshallnotrestAn excellent historical mystery set around the the murder of a young Italian singer in 1782.

Gods and Beasts
Kristin Centorcelli

A few days before Christmas, a gunman walks into a Glasgow post office with an AK-47. With hardly a word, a grandfather, Brendon Lyons, hands his four-year-old grandson over to a stranger and helps the criminal stuff cash into bags, even carrying them to the door for the gunman.

Then the unthinkable happens: the gunman raises his weapon and shoots the grandfather, the bullets cutting him nearly in half. When DS Alex Morrow catches the case, she’s mystified. Evidently, the security system had been turned off the day of the robbery, and it seems obvious to some of the witnesses that the gunman and the old man knew each other.

Meanwhile, symbol-for-the-working-class-turned-politician Kenny Gallagher has been accused by a newspaper of having sex with a 17-year-old member of his campaign. He’s a so-called family man with much to lose, and his decision to sue the newspaper could be the beginning of his road to ruination.

Additionally, two officers under Morrow have confessed to taking a bag of cash at the prompting of a young thug during a traffic stop, leading Morrow to think that there’s something much bigger at work behind their story. At the center of this maelstrom is the enigmatic Brendon Lyons, the man who seemingly sacrificed himself during a simple robbery. Nothing is simple about this case, though, as Morrow will soon find out.

Alex Morrow is not only a cop, she’s a new mother to twins and doing her best to balance job and home. She’s deeply self-aware of how her coworkers view her as a police officer, and, especially, as a woman in her position. The author mainly goes back and forth between Morrow’s investigation and the story of beloved Glasgow son Kenny Gallagher’s inevitable media demise in the face of adultery allegations. We also get a glimpse into the life of Martin Pavel, the young bank customer that took charge of Brendon Lyons’s grandson during the robbery.

In the third novel featuring DS Alex Morrow (Still Midnight, The End of the Wasp Season), a seemingly simple, if gruesome, robbery and murder leads to a labyrinthine mystery involving political and moral corruption. The tendrils of this case run wide and deep, and for much of the novel I wondered how the individual plotlines would tie together. Mina’s writing has a very intimate, sometimes dreamlike quality that serves as a stark contrast to the more brutal aspects of the story, and I found myself pulled into the narrative, eager to find out how everything interconnects. All threads do indeed draw together, and the conclusion is far reaching, even shocking. Gods and Beasts is recommended for international suspense and Tartan Noir fans, as well as fans of Val McDermid.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 21 February 2013 02:02

A few days before Christmas, a gunman walks into a Glasgow post office with an AK-47. With hardly a word, a grandfather, Brendon Lyons, hands his four-year-old grandson over to a stranger and helps the criminal stuff cash into bags, even carrying them to the door for the gunman.

Then the unthinkable happens: the gunman raises his weapon and shoots the grandfather, the bullets cutting him nearly in half. When DS Alex Morrow catches the case, she’s mystified. Evidently, the security system had been turned off the day of the robbery, and it seems obvious to some of the witnesses that the gunman and the old man knew each other.

Meanwhile, symbol-for-the-working-class-turned-politician Kenny Gallagher has been accused by a newspaper of having sex with a 17-year-old member of his campaign. He’s a so-called family man with much to lose, and his decision to sue the newspaper could be the beginning of his road to ruination.

Additionally, two officers under Morrow have confessed to taking a bag of cash at the prompting of a young thug during a traffic stop, leading Morrow to think that there’s something much bigger at work behind their story. At the center of this maelstrom is the enigmatic Brendon Lyons, the man who seemingly sacrificed himself during a simple robbery. Nothing is simple about this case, though, as Morrow will soon find out.

Alex Morrow is not only a cop, she’s a new mother to twins and doing her best to balance job and home. She’s deeply self-aware of how her coworkers view her as a police officer, and, especially, as a woman in her position. The author mainly goes back and forth between Morrow’s investigation and the story of beloved Glasgow son Kenny Gallagher’s inevitable media demise in the face of adultery allegations. We also get a glimpse into the life of Martin Pavel, the young bank customer that took charge of Brendon Lyons’s grandson during the robbery.

In the third novel featuring DS Alex Morrow (Still Midnight, The End of the Wasp Season), a seemingly simple, if gruesome, robbery and murder leads to a labyrinthine mystery involving political and moral corruption. The tendrils of this case run wide and deep, and for much of the novel I wondered how the individual plotlines would tie together. Mina’s writing has a very intimate, sometimes dreamlike quality that serves as a stark contrast to the more brutal aspects of the story, and I found myself pulled into the narrative, eager to find out how everything interconnects. All threads do indeed draw together, and the conclusion is far reaching, even shocking. Gods and Beasts is recommended for international suspense and Tartan Noir fans, as well as fans of Val McDermid.

The Disciple of Las Vegas
Oline H. Cogdill

Forensic accountant Ava Lee’s assignments are always to follow the money, and those jobs take her around the world, often to ferret out unsavory criminals while working for even more distasteful employers.

Ava and her partner “Uncle” Chow Tung are hired by Tommy Ordonez, an arrogant brute who also is the richest man in the Philippines. A fraudulent real estate deal has siphoned more than $50 million from Tommy’s accounts and, adding insult to injury, the scheme is his brother Philip Chew’s, a gambler with serious debts. Ava’s search takes her from her native Toronto to Vancouver, Las Vegas, and London. Meanwhile, she tries to dodge a contract on her life put out by corrupt toy manufacturer Jackie Leung.

The Disciple of Las Vegas moves at a fast clip as Ian Hamilton keeps the plot full of twists and turns. Ava’s intuition and keen sense of the motives that drive people make her a superior detective. Hamilton deftly weaves in Ava’s Chinese background, her lesbianism, and her affinity for high-end goods and travel to give a complete portrait of an intriguing character. She is accustomed to her male employers and the criminals she pursues underestimating her because she is a petite woman. They are, of course, wrong.

The Disciple of Las Vegas is the second Ava Lee novel, but the first to be released in the US. The Wild Beasts of Wuhan, the third in the series, is scheduled to be released in September 2013.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 21 February 2013 02:02

Forensic accountant Ava Lee’s assignments are always to follow the money, and those jobs take her around the world, often to ferret out unsavory criminals while working for even more distasteful employers.

Ava and her partner “Uncle” Chow Tung are hired by Tommy Ordonez, an arrogant brute who also is the richest man in the Philippines. A fraudulent real estate deal has siphoned more than $50 million from Tommy’s accounts and, adding insult to injury, the scheme is his brother Philip Chew’s, a gambler with serious debts. Ava’s search takes her from her native Toronto to Vancouver, Las Vegas, and London. Meanwhile, she tries to dodge a contract on her life put out by corrupt toy manufacturer Jackie Leung.

The Disciple of Las Vegas moves at a fast clip as Ian Hamilton keeps the plot full of twists and turns. Ava’s intuition and keen sense of the motives that drive people make her a superior detective. Hamilton deftly weaves in Ava’s Chinese background, her lesbianism, and her affinity for high-end goods and travel to give a complete portrait of an intriguing character. She is accustomed to her male employers and the criminals she pursues underestimating her because she is a petite woman. They are, of course, wrong.

The Disciple of Las Vegas is the second Ava Lee novel, but the first to be released in the US. The Wild Beasts of Wuhan, the third in the series, is scheduled to be released in September 2013.

Ratlines
Tim Davis

When this intriguing tale begins in 1963, 36-year-old Albert Ryan—formerly of the British Army, currently with the Directorate of Intelligence in the Republic of Ireland, and a man of conflicted loyalties and a provocative past—has been summoned by the Minister of Justice. The government in Dublin, it seems, has a huge problem: three Western European immigrants with past connections to World War II-era Germany have all been murdered within a fortnight. Another prominent expatriate, also a person with a questionable past, seems to be next on the list. The simple note addressed to him makes that quite clear: “We are coming for you.”

With the country preparing for the visit of President John F. Kennedy to the land of his ancestors, unless Ryan can close in on and eliminate the killer (or killers), this promises to be a series of incidents that could have devastatingly embarrassing international consequences—especially when the past of everyone who is involved is exposed.

Ratlines is dynamic, compelling, and highly recommended. It’s a refreshing change of pace for readers tired of superficial, predictable historical thrillers. Readers unfamiliar with Neville’s previous work (The Ghosts of Belfast, Collusion, and Stolen Souls) will be quickly converted to fans.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 21 February 2013 02:02

When this intriguing tale begins in 1963, 36-year-old Albert Ryan—formerly of the British Army, currently with the Directorate of Intelligence in the Republic of Ireland, and a man of conflicted loyalties and a provocative past—has been summoned by the Minister of Justice. The government in Dublin, it seems, has a huge problem: three Western European immigrants with past connections to World War II-era Germany have all been murdered within a fortnight. Another prominent expatriate, also a person with a questionable past, seems to be next on the list. The simple note addressed to him makes that quite clear: “We are coming for you.”

With the country preparing for the visit of President John F. Kennedy to the land of his ancestors, unless Ryan can close in on and eliminate the killer (or killers), this promises to be a series of incidents that could have devastatingly embarrassing international consequences—especially when the past of everyone who is involved is exposed.

Ratlines is dynamic, compelling, and highly recommended. It’s a refreshing change of pace for readers tired of superficial, predictable historical thrillers. Readers unfamiliar with Neville’s previous work (The Ghosts of Belfast, Collusion, and Stolen Souls) will be quickly converted to fans.

Black Irish
Debbi Mack

Detective Absalom “Abbie” Kearney has returned from Miami to her hometown of Buffalo, New York, where she works for the police department. She and her partner Zangara, or “Z,” an old friend who grew up with her in South Buffalo (aka “the County”), are assigned to investigate the brutal murder of a man found mutilated in a church basement. The killing turns out to be only one of many to come, all linked by the appearance of a small, plastic toy monkey on each victim’s body.

Abbie, who returned to Buffalo not only for the job, but to look after her adoptive father, a retired cop who’s developing Alzheimer’s, knows she has work cut out for her, because in the County, secrets run deep and distrust of authority is the order of the day. A woman of black Irish ancestry, Abbie knows these people all too well, even if she doesn’t remember her own family. Her sharp tongue is matched only by her strength, intelligence, and courage. The County is largely made up of Irish immigrants, many of whom have ties to the old country. The murders turn out to be linked to an old secret society, who backed the Irish rebellion. The more Abbie digs, the dirtier the truth gets for all concerned. As Abbie gets to the bottom of things, she turns to Z for guidance, and finds the truth hits closer to home than expected.

Stephan Talty paints a bleak picture of South Buffalo and immigrant ways gone awry in her well-crafted debut novel. The final revelation not only solves the murders, but forces Abbie to face facts about her own blood relatives and their transgressions.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 21 February 2013 02:02

Detective Absalom “Abbie” Kearney has returned from Miami to her hometown of Buffalo, New York, where she works for the police department. She and her partner Zangara, or “Z,” an old friend who grew up with her in South Buffalo (aka “the County”), are assigned to investigate the brutal murder of a man found mutilated in a church basement. The killing turns out to be only one of many to come, all linked by the appearance of a small, plastic toy monkey on each victim’s body.

Abbie, who returned to Buffalo not only for the job, but to look after her adoptive father, a retired cop who’s developing Alzheimer’s, knows she has work cut out for her, because in the County, secrets run deep and distrust of authority is the order of the day. A woman of black Irish ancestry, Abbie knows these people all too well, even if she doesn’t remember her own family. Her sharp tongue is matched only by her strength, intelligence, and courage. The County is largely made up of Irish immigrants, many of whom have ties to the old country. The murders turn out to be linked to an old secret society, who backed the Irish rebellion. The more Abbie digs, the dirtier the truth gets for all concerned. As Abbie gets to the bottom of things, she turns to Z for guidance, and finds the truth hits closer to home than expected.

Stephan Talty paints a bleak picture of South Buffalo and immigrant ways gone awry in her well-crafted debut novel. The final revelation not only solves the murders, but forces Abbie to face facts about her own blood relatives and their transgressions.

Brooklyn Bones
Robin Agnew

There are all kinds of cozies on the planet: ones about soap, cats, clutter, scrapbooking, tea, etc.—those books have a built-in hook. Another type of cozy is cozy in spirit, but starts from the same point as any mystery novel does: character, plot, and setting, without the obvious hook. Triss Stein’s book is of the second type.

Stein’s main character, Erica Donato, is a youngish, widowed, single mom in Brooklyn who is rehabbing her old brownstone on the un-fancy edge of Park Slope. She’s an overbooked grad student, working at the local history museum by day. When her teenage daughter and her contractor find a skeleton in the wall behind the fireplace, all heck breaks loose. I say “heck” rather than “hell” because this is not a particularly scary crime—it’s an old skeleton. What’s more interesting is the effect it has on mother and daughter, and the research into Brooklyn history that it inspires that begins to lead Erica to the corpse’s identity.

While Erica is a classic amateur detective, she uses real skills as a researcher and historian to help solve the crime. Some of the things she uncovers and figures out literally could not have been handled by the police. So kudos on that plot point to Ms. Stein, as I always feel as a reader that a book is stronger when it’s more or less imperative for the amateur to be folded into the investigation.

I enjoyed the Brooklyn location, the look back into the late ’60s (which is the vintage of the skeleton), and the look at what the hippies and the response of their elders did to this particular neighborhood. I also liked the relationship between Erica and her daughter, who is a very believable teen. I was less surprised by the love interest, which is a fairly typical one for this kind of cozy.

I was also a little heartbroken by the eventual murder victim. The choice of the victim gave the rest of the novel real emotional resonance—and no, I’m not going to give away the identity of that person here. You’ll have to read the book.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 21 February 2013 05:02

There are all kinds of cozies on the planet: ones about soap, cats, clutter, scrapbooking, tea, etc.—those books have a built-in hook. Another type of cozy is cozy in spirit, but starts from the same point as any mystery novel does: character, plot, and setting, without the obvious hook. Triss Stein’s book is of the second type.

Stein’s main character, Erica Donato, is a youngish, widowed, single mom in Brooklyn who is rehabbing her old brownstone on the un-fancy edge of Park Slope. She’s an overbooked grad student, working at the local history museum by day. When her teenage daughter and her contractor find a skeleton in the wall behind the fireplace, all heck breaks loose. I say “heck” rather than “hell” because this is not a particularly scary crime—it’s an old skeleton. What’s more interesting is the effect it has on mother and daughter, and the research into Brooklyn history that it inspires that begins to lead Erica to the corpse’s identity.

While Erica is a classic amateur detective, she uses real skills as a researcher and historian to help solve the crime. Some of the things she uncovers and figures out literally could not have been handled by the police. So kudos on that plot point to Ms. Stein, as I always feel as a reader that a book is stronger when it’s more or less imperative for the amateur to be folded into the investigation.

I enjoyed the Brooklyn location, the look back into the late ’60s (which is the vintage of the skeleton), and the look at what the hippies and the response of their elders did to this particular neighborhood. I also liked the relationship between Erica and her daughter, who is a very believable teen. I was less surprised by the love interest, which is a fairly typical one for this kind of cozy.

I was also a little heartbroken by the eventual murder victim. The choice of the victim gave the rest of the novel real emotional resonance—and no, I’m not going to give away the identity of that person here. You’ll have to read the book.

Die Easy
Betty Webb

If Jack Reacher had been born a woman, he’d be Charlie Fox, a two-fisted ex-Special Forces soldier turned bodyguard who can out-fight and out-shoot the most malignant foes. This time out, however (after Fifth Victim), Charlie’s worst enemy might be her partner Sean, who after being nearly killed by a bullet to the head, can no longer remember their romantic relationship. For a bodyguard, trust in your partner is essential. But when the two are detailed to protect a powerful billionaire during a fundraiser for Katrina victims, Sean views Charlie with more suspicion than love. Adding to Sean’s mistrust are the lies told by another bodyguard, who once led a gang-rape of Charlie during her Special Forces career. This mistrust permeates an already terrifying hostage situation on a Mississippi riverboat, where the two are vastly outnumbered by their enemies.

Zoë Sharp’s extraordinary voice gives plausibility to action-heavy scenes which, in lesser writers’ hands, could be rendered cartoonish. But Sharp knows what she’s doing, and when an unarmed Charlie overwhelms thugs with her bare hands, we believe every bone-crunching movement. Rough, tough Charlie gives us a female hero to root for, the very antithesis of the old-fashioned “heroines” of yesteryear, where women wept and swooned while waiting for some broad-shouldered hero to come along and rescue them. Charlie definitely doesn’t need rescuing.

More fine elements in Die Easy are the reminders about the damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina: 1,836 died, 705 are still missing, and 215,000 homes were destroyed. The English author has perfectly captured the tragedy and spice of New Orleans, from wealthy Old South aristocrats to poverty-stricken Katrina victims. Sharp delivers this information without skipping a beat in one of the most exciting thrillers to come along since—well, since the last Zoë Sharp brawl-a-thon. Read this, then sing a rousing rendition of “I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar.”

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 21 February 2013 05:02

If Jack Reacher had been born a woman, he’d be Charlie Fox, a two-fisted ex-Special Forces soldier turned bodyguard who can out-fight and out-shoot the most malignant foes. This time out, however (after Fifth Victim), Charlie’s worst enemy might be her partner Sean, who after being nearly killed by a bullet to the head, can no longer remember their romantic relationship. For a bodyguard, trust in your partner is essential. But when the two are detailed to protect a powerful billionaire during a fundraiser for Katrina victims, Sean views Charlie with more suspicion than love. Adding to Sean’s mistrust are the lies told by another bodyguard, who once led a gang-rape of Charlie during her Special Forces career. This mistrust permeates an already terrifying hostage situation on a Mississippi riverboat, where the two are vastly outnumbered by their enemies.

Zoë Sharp’s extraordinary voice gives plausibility to action-heavy scenes which, in lesser writers’ hands, could be rendered cartoonish. But Sharp knows what she’s doing, and when an unarmed Charlie overwhelms thugs with her bare hands, we believe every bone-crunching movement. Rough, tough Charlie gives us a female hero to root for, the very antithesis of the old-fashioned “heroines” of yesteryear, where women wept and swooned while waiting for some broad-shouldered hero to come along and rescue them. Charlie definitely doesn’t need rescuing.

More fine elements in Die Easy are the reminders about the damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina: 1,836 died, 705 are still missing, and 215,000 homes were destroyed. The English author has perfectly captured the tragedy and spice of New Orleans, from wealthy Old South aristocrats to poverty-stricken Katrina victims. Sharp delivers this information without skipping a beat in one of the most exciting thrillers to come along since—well, since the last Zoë Sharp brawl-a-thon. Read this, then sing a rousing rendition of “I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar.”

Bear Is Broken
Jon L. Breen

In the first of a projected series from a welcome addition to the ranks of lawyer novelists, Leo Maxwell has recently passed the California bar exam without noticeable acclaim from his dominant older brother Teddy, one of San Francisco’s most successful and colorful (not to mention hated) criminal defense attorneys. Called by the childhood nickname of Monkey Boy, Leo is limited to uncomplicated tasks and has not been invited to join the firm started by Teddy and his ex-wife. Everything changes when Teddy, shot by an unknown assailant in a restaurant, falls into a coma and is deemed unlikely to recover. Leo’s initial encounter with an incredibly insensitive police detective illustrates the contempt in which criminal lawyers, especially those whose ethics are suspect, are often held by law enforcement. Unsure whether his brother will survive, and if so with what mental capacity, Leo decides to find the shooter while taking care of the legal practice, including delivering the closing argument in Teddy’s current trial. The Maxwell brothers’ father is in prison for the murder of their mother, a case that becomes one element in a very complicated plot.

Despite the dramatic opening, the novel takes a while to gather momentum, but the solid first-person writing, well-managed scenes, and sense of down-and-dirty legal reality draw the reader in. Leo reveals a cynical view of the justice system, telling one prospective client, “Let the [public defender] plead you out. They end up getting the best deals anyway. It’s called a volume discount.” When the court clerk calls a case, “It was all as ritualized as a church service where the officiants have long since forgotten the meaning of the prayers.”

The novel is somewhat overplotted, and the whodunit denouement seems almost anticlimactic. But the limited use of contrived action scenes, the admirable if unfashionable decision not to go back and forth between first and third person, the noirish notes in the situations and characters, and the dysfunctional family dynamics give promise for future entries. For all the courthouse background, readers are more likely to be reminded of The Maltese Falcon or The Big Sleep than anything from the legal mystery pantheon.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 21 February 2013 05:02

In the first of a projected series from a welcome addition to the ranks of lawyer novelists, Leo Maxwell has recently passed the California bar exam without noticeable acclaim from his dominant older brother Teddy, one of San Francisco’s most successful and colorful (not to mention hated) criminal defense attorneys. Called by the childhood nickname of Monkey Boy, Leo is limited to uncomplicated tasks and has not been invited to join the firm started by Teddy and his ex-wife. Everything changes when Teddy, shot by an unknown assailant in a restaurant, falls into a coma and is deemed unlikely to recover. Leo’s initial encounter with an incredibly insensitive police detective illustrates the contempt in which criminal lawyers, especially those whose ethics are suspect, are often held by law enforcement. Unsure whether his brother will survive, and if so with what mental capacity, Leo decides to find the shooter while taking care of the legal practice, including delivering the closing argument in Teddy’s current trial. The Maxwell brothers’ father is in prison for the murder of their mother, a case that becomes one element in a very complicated plot.

Despite the dramatic opening, the novel takes a while to gather momentum, but the solid first-person writing, well-managed scenes, and sense of down-and-dirty legal reality draw the reader in. Leo reveals a cynical view of the justice system, telling one prospective client, “Let the [public defender] plead you out. They end up getting the best deals anyway. It’s called a volume discount.” When the court clerk calls a case, “It was all as ritualized as a church service where the officiants have long since forgotten the meaning of the prayers.”

The novel is somewhat overplotted, and the whodunit denouement seems almost anticlimactic. But the limited use of contrived action scenes, the admirable if unfashionable decision not to go back and forth between first and third person, the noirish notes in the situations and characters, and the dysfunctional family dynamics give promise for future entries. For all the courthouse background, readers are more likely to be reminded of The Maltese Falcon or The Big Sleep than anything from the legal mystery pantheon.

Cover of Snow
Hank Wagner

Take a moment, and imagine how it would feel to fall asleep in the arms of your beloved spouse, safe, content, and secure in the knowledge that all is right with the world. Now, imagine emerging from slumber, groggy and disoriented, plagued by a feeling of dread. Then, imagine how it would feel to discover that your beloved has, without warning, committed suicide. If you can bring yourself to imagine all that, then you might have some idea how Nora Hamilton, the protagonist of Cover of Snow, feels when she finds her husband’s body as the story commences. Unfortunately, Nora’s problems are only just beginning, as she discovers how very little she knows about her husband, or about Wedeskeyull, the isolated New York village they settled in. Her pursuit of the unknown forms the backbone of Milchman’s mature debut. It may also result in Nora’s demise, as she stirs up trouble along with long-suppressed memories.

Nora is a very credible heroine, an everywoman who, refreshingly, has no special abilities or quirks, other than a burning desire to learn the truth. Wedeskeyull is the quintessential insular small town, one whose terrible secrets taint almost all of its citizens; it’s fascinating to watch as Nora wades deeper and deeper into troubled waters, oblivious to the danger all around her. Although some of the clues seem to fall in her lap out of convenience, this minor flaw is forgivable, as Milchman does a good job of creating credible supporting characters to assist (and hinder) her in her quest. Ultimately, Milchman provides readers with an equally credible solution to the mystery, one which should prove satisfying to most.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 21 February 2013 05:02

milchman_coverofsnowA woman awakes in a small New York town to find herself utterly alone and an outsider in the wake of her husband's mysterious suicide.
Aloha, Lady Blue
Sue Emmons

The fact that ex-reporter and onetime world-class swimmer Stryker McBride lives on a $300,000 houseboat named Travis McGee should give a hint as to the racy and ribald contents of this mystery set in Hawaii. Charley Memminger offers dashes of Hawaiian history as he unfolds a tale of long-running corruption and deceit among the rich and powerful of the colorful tropical island.

McBride can afford his luxury digs because of an insurance settlement: he was shot by a corrupt cop while investigating a story on police wrongdoing (which also involved the doomed Lady Blue of the title). His boat isn’t in the water, though. It sits on blocks awaiting a wet slip while he serves as a watchman for the small yacht club on the windward side of Oahu, aided by two ever helpful and rambunctious dogs, Lona and Kane, both named for Hawaiian gods.

Amber Kam, a former high school classmate who totally ignored him in those days, asks for his help in determining how her grandfather, developer Wai Lo Fat, died. The man’s body was discovered facedown in a taro field, supposedly drowned, but she doesn’t believe his death was accidental. McBride has barely scratched the surface of the case when he begins to wonder if Amber is as devious as she is beautiful.

The ensuing investigation includes encounters with thugs, more deaths, plus a close, colorful look at both the Chinese and Japanese islanders whose squabbles date to WWII when the former were considered allies and the latter potential spies. It also leads McBride to a secret society and to Kahala Road, which was built during WWII and is the site, he suspects, of a terrible past tragedy. McBride soon determines that the few survivors from that era hold the key to the string of killings unleashed on the island.

The suspense never stops in this hardboiled mystery about which John D. MacDonald, creator of Travis McGee, would doubtless be enthusiastic. Memminger, himself a resident of Oahu, is a former crime and investigative reporter who was twice named top humor columnist by the National Society for Newspaper Columns.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 21 February 2013 05:02

The fact that ex-reporter and onetime world-class swimmer Stryker McBride lives on a $300,000 houseboat named Travis McGee should give a hint as to the racy and ribald contents of this mystery set in Hawaii. Charley Memminger offers dashes of Hawaiian history as he unfolds a tale of long-running corruption and deceit among the rich and powerful of the colorful tropical island.

McBride can afford his luxury digs because of an insurance settlement: he was shot by a corrupt cop while investigating a story on police wrongdoing (which also involved the doomed Lady Blue of the title). His boat isn’t in the water, though. It sits on blocks awaiting a wet slip while he serves as a watchman for the small yacht club on the windward side of Oahu, aided by two ever helpful and rambunctious dogs, Lona and Kane, both named for Hawaiian gods.

Amber Kam, a former high school classmate who totally ignored him in those days, asks for his help in determining how her grandfather, developer Wai Lo Fat, died. The man’s body was discovered facedown in a taro field, supposedly drowned, but she doesn’t believe his death was accidental. McBride has barely scratched the surface of the case when he begins to wonder if Amber is as devious as she is beautiful.

The ensuing investigation includes encounters with thugs, more deaths, plus a close, colorful look at both the Chinese and Japanese islanders whose squabbles date to WWII when the former were considered allies and the latter potential spies. It also leads McBride to a secret society and to Kahala Road, which was built during WWII and is the site, he suspects, of a terrible past tragedy. McBride soon determines that the few survivors from that era hold the key to the string of killings unleashed on the island.

The suspense never stops in this hardboiled mystery about which John D. MacDonald, creator of Travis McGee, would doubtless be enthusiastic. Memminger, himself a resident of Oahu, is a former crime and investigative reporter who was twice named top humor columnist by the National Society for Newspaper Columns.

The Hard Bounce
Derek Hill

Boo Malone, a bouncer for a Boston music club, knows his way around trouble. He tries to avoid it most of the time, but violence has a way of sucking him in. When not kicking troublemakers, drunks, and junkies out of the club, Boo does small security jobs or tracks down lowlife bail jumpers around town with his longtime buddy Junior. They’re not living the good life, but it’s a helluva lot better than rotting away in the orphanage where Boo and Junior first met years ago.

A little fortune comes their way when a highly respectable (and rich) public figure hires the two to track down his runaway teenage daughter, Cassie. Boo and Junior take the job, and though the two roughnecks are no tourists when it comes to the sleazy underbelly of Boston, they descend to a whole new circle of hell festering with pornographers, murderers, and the sadists who trade in turning death into entertainment. Already burdened with an anger management problem, Boo Malone is about to see red in a much deeper color.

What immediately makes an impact in Todd Robinson’s debut novel is Boo’s brusque demeanor and voice (it’s written in first-person). Bad attitude oozes from Boo, but humor and a bruised compassion come through as well. It’s that complexity of character that keeps him interesting, even when he’s alienating us with his aggro style. He’s not the most likable guy around, though he’s exactly the kind of man you want to hunt down the worst people imaginable. Robinson paints a tragic backstory for Boo that resonates deeply through the novel, lending the character a gritty authenticity that always feels spot-on. That two-fisted realism translates to the city of Boston, too, a place of runaways, punk clubs, dingy bars, and working class neighborhoods.

This is a great debut and should appeal to fans of Andrew Vachss and similar writers of unflinching neo-hardboiled fiction.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 21 February 2013 06:02

Boo Malone, a bouncer for a Boston music club, knows his way around trouble. He tries to avoid it most of the time, but violence has a way of sucking him in. When not kicking troublemakers, drunks, and junkies out of the club, Boo does small security jobs or tracks down lowlife bail jumpers around town with his longtime buddy Junior. They’re not living the good life, but it’s a helluva lot better than rotting away in the orphanage where Boo and Junior first met years ago.

A little fortune comes their way when a highly respectable (and rich) public figure hires the two to track down his runaway teenage daughter, Cassie. Boo and Junior take the job, and though the two roughnecks are no tourists when it comes to the sleazy underbelly of Boston, they descend to a whole new circle of hell festering with pornographers, murderers, and the sadists who trade in turning death into entertainment. Already burdened with an anger management problem, Boo Malone is about to see red in a much deeper color.

What immediately makes an impact in Todd Robinson’s debut novel is Boo’s brusque demeanor and voice (it’s written in first-person). Bad attitude oozes from Boo, but humor and a bruised compassion come through as well. It’s that complexity of character that keeps him interesting, even when he’s alienating us with his aggro style. He’s not the most likable guy around, though he’s exactly the kind of man you want to hunt down the worst people imaginable. Robinson paints a tragic backstory for Boo that resonates deeply through the novel, lending the character a gritty authenticity that always feels spot-on. That two-fisted realism translates to the city of Boston, too, a place of runaways, punk clubs, dingy bars, and working class neighborhoods.

This is a great debut and should appeal to fans of Andrew Vachss and similar writers of unflinching neo-hardboiled fiction.

The Wrath of Angels
Kevin Burton Smith

Okay, okay. I was in denial. I used to take cold comfort, telling myself that the supernatural elements in the Charlie Parker books weren’t really “real.” They were more a matter of shading or tone than actual plot elements, a figment of the New England detective’s troubled imagination, part of the pervasive suspense and uneasiness with which Connolly has cleverly imbued these deliciously disturbing and violent books. Not real at all. Nope.

But the days of looking the other way are long gone. This ain’t no party anymore, this ain’t no foolin’ around—and it hasn’t been for a long time. Connolly means it, man.

As the series has progressed (this is the 11th novel), it’s become clear that there is some serious woo-woo going on, adding a whole other dimension to what had already been one of the most enthralling PI series around. The forces of the underworld—demons, fallen angels, and other assorted hellish entities (and those who hunt them)—are as real as the femme fatales, loutish thugs, and corrupted wealth and power that usually permeate the mean-streets genre.

Not that Connolly has much truck with mean streets in this one—the real heart of this story, despite forays into Boston, Manhattan, and small-town New England, lies in the dark, untamed forests of northern Maine. Part-time bartender and private eye Charlie is hired by middle-aged school teacher Marielle Vetters to find a plane wreck first discovered by her late father and his hunting buddy years ago. Seems the plane was never reported missing, but there are several others—not all of them quite human—looking for it. This isn’t Chip and Dale frolicking in some Disney woodland fantasy—this is the Great Wrong Place of Stephen King, The Blair Witch Project, Deliverance, the Grimm Brothers, and a million other nightmares buried deep within us. This is where the wild things are, where evil grows thick and unchecked and the light never quite dispels the ominous shadows. Things don’t just go bump here—they slither and crawl and creep into your mind. Much the way this book does.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 21 February 2013 06:02

Okay, okay. I was in denial. I used to take cold comfort, telling myself that the supernatural elements in the Charlie Parker books weren’t really “real.” They were more a matter of shading or tone than actual plot elements, a figment of the New England detective’s troubled imagination, part of the pervasive suspense and uneasiness with which Connolly has cleverly imbued these deliciously disturbing and violent books. Not real at all. Nope.

But the days of looking the other way are long gone. This ain’t no party anymore, this ain’t no foolin’ around—and it hasn’t been for a long time. Connolly means it, man.

As the series has progressed (this is the 11th novel), it’s become clear that there is some serious woo-woo going on, adding a whole other dimension to what had already been one of the most enthralling PI series around. The forces of the underworld—demons, fallen angels, and other assorted hellish entities (and those who hunt them)—are as real as the femme fatales, loutish thugs, and corrupted wealth and power that usually permeate the mean-streets genre.

Not that Connolly has much truck with mean streets in this one—the real heart of this story, despite forays into Boston, Manhattan, and small-town New England, lies in the dark, untamed forests of northern Maine. Part-time bartender and private eye Charlie is hired by middle-aged school teacher Marielle Vetters to find a plane wreck first discovered by her late father and his hunting buddy years ago. Seems the plane was never reported missing, but there are several others—not all of them quite human—looking for it. This isn’t Chip and Dale frolicking in some Disney woodland fantasy—this is the Great Wrong Place of Stephen King, The Blair Witch Project, Deliverance, the Grimm Brothers, and a million other nightmares buried deep within us. This is where the wild things are, where evil grows thick and unchecked and the light never quite dispels the ominous shadows. Things don’t just go bump here—they slither and crawl and creep into your mind. Much the way this book does.

Watching the Dark
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

A new Inspector Banks mystery by Peter Robinson is always a special treat for me. As I once told him at a Bouchercon convention more years ago than I care to remember, “You’re my favorite living author.” Then, not knowing what else to say, I added lamely, “so don’t die on me for awhile.” Fortunately, he hasn’t.

In this latest installment, Detective Chief Inspector Banks is called to the scene of a murdered fellow detective who was a patient at a police rehab facility. Because of office politics, he is forced to work on the case with a Professional Standards female officer whose primary function is to dig up dirt, if there is any, on the deceased officer. Meanwhile, his usual partner, DI Annie Cabbot, joins the team after recovering from a serious line-of-duty injury.

As the case progresses, there seems to be a link between the slain officer’s death and the disappearance of an 18-year-old British girl in Estonia a few years earlier. While Banks and his unwanted new partner begin to bond while investigating the missing-girl angle in Tallinn’s Old Town, Annie and the rest of Banks’ team follow up on the local leads from the officer’s killing.

Robinson is a master of working on two seemingly disparate mysteries and bringing them together in ways that surprise and delight discerning readers. If you like intelligent police procedurals with strong characterization and a confident and impeccable writing style, you can’t do much better than this latest entry in the award-winning Peter Robinson ouevre.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 21 February 2013 06:02

A new Inspector Banks mystery by Peter Robinson is always a special treat for me. As I once told him at a Bouchercon convention more years ago than I care to remember, “You’re my favorite living author.” Then, not knowing what else to say, I added lamely, “so don’t die on me for awhile.” Fortunately, he hasn’t.

In this latest installment, Detective Chief Inspector Banks is called to the scene of a murdered fellow detective who was a patient at a police rehab facility. Because of office politics, he is forced to work on the case with a Professional Standards female officer whose primary function is to dig up dirt, if there is any, on the deceased officer. Meanwhile, his usual partner, DI Annie Cabbot, joins the team after recovering from a serious line-of-duty injury.

As the case progresses, there seems to be a link between the slain officer’s death and the disappearance of an 18-year-old British girl in Estonia a few years earlier. While Banks and his unwanted new partner begin to bond while investigating the missing-girl angle in Tallinn’s Old Town, Annie and the rest of Banks’ team follow up on the local leads from the officer’s killing.

Robinson is a master of working on two seemingly disparate mysteries and bringing them together in ways that surprise and delight discerning readers. If you like intelligent police procedurals with strong characterization and a confident and impeccable writing style, you can’t do much better than this latest entry in the award-winning Peter Robinson ouevre.

Hit Me
Debbi Mack

The last book to feature Keller the hit man ended with him being forced out of the life by the need to relocate from his lifelong home in New York City and adopt a new identity. Under this guise, he found romance, took the straight and narrow path, and settled down in New Orleans. In Hit Me, Keller is enjoying life as a father, husband, and philatelist (i.e., stamp collector). Unfortunately, his construction business is tanking in the recession and no one’s hiring building renovators, even in New Orleans. However, his old employer Dot still has his number. How hard would it be to pull a job or two, as long as he’s in the neighborhood indulging in his new passion for stamps?

Hit Me is, essentially, five pieces of short fiction that, in combination, show the continuing ethical and personal problems Keller faces by living a double life. These problems are not just the ones posed to him personally, like being identified when he returns to New York in “Keller’s Homecoming,” but also the toll his life choices take on his wife and child when he has to make a hit while taking the family on a cruise in “Keller at Sea.” Each story raises the stakes in terms of the possible toll each dilemma places on Keller. The story “Keller’s Sideline” shows Keller having to choose whether to take advantage of an attractive widow, and it’s a story that could be named for his hobby or a sly double entendre. The final story, “Keller’s Obligation,” reveals the truth about Keller, which is that he’s always been a little too smart for his own good. When posed with what seems to be the ultimate dilemma, he basically punts. The reader knows he must choose his allegiances or die trying.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 21 February 2013 06:02

The last book to feature Keller the hit man ended with him being forced out of the life by the need to relocate from his lifelong home in New York City and adopt a new identity. Under this guise, he found romance, took the straight and narrow path, and settled down in New Orleans. In Hit Me, Keller is enjoying life as a father, husband, and philatelist (i.e., stamp collector). Unfortunately, his construction business is tanking in the recession and no one’s hiring building renovators, even in New Orleans. However, his old employer Dot still has his number. How hard would it be to pull a job or two, as long as he’s in the neighborhood indulging in his new passion for stamps?

Hit Me is, essentially, five pieces of short fiction that, in combination, show the continuing ethical and personal problems Keller faces by living a double life. These problems are not just the ones posed to him personally, like being identified when he returns to New York in “Keller’s Homecoming,” but also the toll his life choices take on his wife and child when he has to make a hit while taking the family on a cruise in “Keller at Sea.” Each story raises the stakes in terms of the possible toll each dilemma places on Keller. The story “Keller’s Sideline” shows Keller having to choose whether to take advantage of an attractive widow, and it’s a story that could be named for his hobby or a sly double entendre. The final story, “Keller’s Obligation,” reveals the truth about Keller, which is that he’s always been a little too smart for his own good. When posed with what seems to be the ultimate dilemma, he basically punts. The reader knows he must choose his allegiances or die trying.

The Midwife’s Tale
Betty Webb

It’s not often that a mystery writer uses England’s Parliament versus the Throne rebellion of 1644 for his plot, but author/historian Samuel Thomas has done it to fine effect with The Midwife’s Tale. In this rabble-rousing read, Parliament’s rebels have set siege to royalist York, while inside the city walls, business goes on as usual—including birthing and murdering. Midwife Bridget Hodgson, a wealthy widow, scurries back and forth across the city assisting women giving birth. When Esther, one of Bridget’s friends, is accused (and immediately found guilty) of killing her husband, Bridget uses a rare ploy to save her: Esther is pregnant, and therefore can’t be executed until the child is born. In the meantime, Bridget sets off to find the real killer, aided by Martha, her new maid. In a way, Martha is a more intriguing character than her comparatively bland employer, mainly because Martha knows how to kill people.

As the siege and its intermittent battles rage on, this odd couple—one wealthy and respected, the other dirt poor and on the run from a shady past—helps bring new life to a war-torn city. These disparate elements make for an exciting mystery, but there are a few bobbles. We don’t learn the reason why Bridget, a wealthy woman, has decided to work as a lowly midwife until quite late in the book, which means the author’s credibility is at question for far too long. And throughout the book, “Lady Bridget” and “Lady Hodgson” are used interchangeably as forms of address for her. There are two problems with that. One, the book suggests—but never comes right out and says it—that Bridget is mere landed gentry, not an aristocrat, which would mean Bridget doesn’t merit either title (and the Brits are oh-so-fussy about their titles). Also, the use of “Lady Bridget” would mean Bridget was born into the aristocracy, while the address “Lady Hodgson” would mean she married into the aristocracy but wasn’t born into it. The otherwise fascinating author’s note never clears up this confusion. Still, watching the wily Martha and her (mostly) kind boss weave their way through York’s dangerous alleys on the way to alleviate the suffering of laboring women is a fine treat for fans of historical mysteries.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 21 February 2013 06:02

It’s not often that a mystery writer uses England’s Parliament versus the Throne rebellion of 1644 for his plot, but author/historian Samuel Thomas has done it to fine effect with The Midwife’s Tale. In this rabble-rousing read, Parliament’s rebels have set siege to royalist York, while inside the city walls, business goes on as usual—including birthing and murdering. Midwife Bridget Hodgson, a wealthy widow, scurries back and forth across the city assisting women giving birth. When Esther, one of Bridget’s friends, is accused (and immediately found guilty) of killing her husband, Bridget uses a rare ploy to save her: Esther is pregnant, and therefore can’t be executed until the child is born. In the meantime, Bridget sets off to find the real killer, aided by Martha, her new maid. In a way, Martha is a more intriguing character than her comparatively bland employer, mainly because Martha knows how to kill people.

As the siege and its intermittent battles rage on, this odd couple—one wealthy and respected, the other dirt poor and on the run from a shady past—helps bring new life to a war-torn city. These disparate elements make for an exciting mystery, but there are a few bobbles. We don’t learn the reason why Bridget, a wealthy woman, has decided to work as a lowly midwife until quite late in the book, which means the author’s credibility is at question for far too long. And throughout the book, “Lady Bridget” and “Lady Hodgson” are used interchangeably as forms of address for her. There are two problems with that. One, the book suggests—but never comes right out and says it—that Bridget is mere landed gentry, not an aristocrat, which would mean Bridget doesn’t merit either title (and the Brits are oh-so-fussy about their titles). Also, the use of “Lady Bridget” would mean Bridget was born into the aristocracy, while the address “Lady Hodgson” would mean she married into the aristocracy but wasn’t born into it. The otherwise fascinating author’s note never clears up this confusion. Still, watching the wily Martha and her (mostly) kind boss weave their way through York’s dangerous alleys on the way to alleviate the suffering of laboring women is a fine treat for fans of historical mysteries.

The Andalucian Friend
M. Schlecht

The Andalucian Friend is a timely thriller set in Stockholm, complete with Spanish gangsters and car chases. The first of a trilogy from TV screenwriter Alexander Söderberg, the novel adds some gritty saturated color to the minimal black-and-white palette of Nordic noir.

There’s a phone book’s worth of major players in this complex narrative, but Stockholm nurse Sophie Brinkmann is at the center of it all. Brinkmann is slowly letting herself fall into a relationship with a former patient, Hector Guzman, who turns out to be a crime boss. She is kind and generous, but not exactly naive. If she’s honest with herself, she knows what she’s getting into. The Swedish police soon have Brinkmann under surveillance and ask her to cooperate in gathering evidence against Guzman. Well, at first it’s a polite request. Then the threats come fast and weird: a pair of cops try to frame her son for rape, and another repeatedly breaks into her house at night to take photos of her asleep in her bedroom.

Meanwhile, Guzman’s business is under threat from a German gang, who are in fact responsible for Hector’s stay in the hospital where he and Brinkmann meet. Jens Vall, an illegal arms dealer, unwittingly steps into the middle of the conflict when his cargo gets mixed up with Guzman’s cocaine. Turns out Vall is an old schoolmate of Brinkmann and a perfect candidate to advise her on how to deal with both the police and Guzman—that is, when Vall’s not preoccupied with staying alive himself.

With so many angles to attack, it’s no wonder The Andalucian Friend sometimes drifts where it should accelerate. Söderberg has assembled an intriguing cast of characters, especially Lars Vinge, the unhinged, obsessive cop spying on Brinkmann, but the narrative threads are a little frayed. As for the main character, Sophie is a good woman and a loving mom, but readers are given few other reasons to like her. Stick with it till the end, though, where the novel picks up the pace toward a satisfyingly unsettling climax.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 21 February 2013 06:02

The Andalucian Friend is a timely thriller set in Stockholm, complete with Spanish gangsters and car chases. The first of a trilogy from TV screenwriter Alexander Söderberg, the novel adds some gritty saturated color to the minimal black-and-white palette of Nordic noir.

There’s a phone book’s worth of major players in this complex narrative, but Stockholm nurse Sophie Brinkmann is at the center of it all. Brinkmann is slowly letting herself fall into a relationship with a former patient, Hector Guzman, who turns out to be a crime boss. She is kind and generous, but not exactly naive. If she’s honest with herself, she knows what she’s getting into. The Swedish police soon have Brinkmann under surveillance and ask her to cooperate in gathering evidence against Guzman. Well, at first it’s a polite request. Then the threats come fast and weird: a pair of cops try to frame her son for rape, and another repeatedly breaks into her house at night to take photos of her asleep in her bedroom.

Meanwhile, Guzman’s business is under threat from a German gang, who are in fact responsible for Hector’s stay in the hospital where he and Brinkmann meet. Jens Vall, an illegal arms dealer, unwittingly steps into the middle of the conflict when his cargo gets mixed up with Guzman’s cocaine. Turns out Vall is an old schoolmate of Brinkmann and a perfect candidate to advise her on how to deal with both the police and Guzman—that is, when Vall’s not preoccupied with staying alive himself.

With so many angles to attack, it’s no wonder The Andalucian Friend sometimes drifts where it should accelerate. Söderberg has assembled an intriguing cast of characters, especially Lars Vinge, the unhinged, obsessive cop spying on Brinkmann, but the narrative threads are a little frayed. As for the main character, Sophie is a good woman and a loving mom, but readers are given few other reasons to like her. Stick with it till the end, though, where the novel picks up the pace toward a satisfyingly unsettling climax.

December’s Thorn
Kristin Centorcelli

Fever Devilin is recovering from a coma and near-death experience in his childhood home of Blue Mountain, Georgia. He’d like nothing more than to rest and plan his upcoming wedding to his fiancée, Lucinda Foxe, but Fate has much more planned for him. His first inkling comes in the form of a mysterious woman in black, Issie, who appears at his door claiming to be his wife. At first he thinks she might be a mildly troubled girl needing to come in out of the cold, but she begins making increasingly alarming claims and then disappears into the snow almost as quickly as she appeared.

When Fever tells his fiancée, she’s understandably upset that there’s a woman claiming to be his wife. But when Lucinda sees no immediate evidence of the woman’s visit, it’s suspected that Fever might be seeing things that don’t exist. His best friend, Sheriff Skidmore Needle, also suspects this may be the case—that is, until a young boy starts shooting at Fever’s home. This time, psychiatrist Dr. Ceridwen Nelson, the doctor recruited by Lucinda to help Fever, is there and able to attest to the shots fired and to seeing the boy. As Fever and Ceri start to learn more about Issie and the boy, Fever starts to worry that maybe his near-death experience affected him more than he’d initially thought.

In the seventh Fever Devilin novel by Phillip DePoy, the unusual protagonist is thrown headfirst into the mystery of his strange visitors, a Tristan and Isolde tale come to life on the mountainside. Fever is an expert in folklore and is well acquainted with the tragic love story, but he certainly never expected to live it. Fever and Ceri spend quite a lot of time trying to get to the bottom of the mystery at hand while also peeling back the layers of Fever’s past and his memory. The interaction between Fever and the delightful Ceri, which makes up the bulk of the novel, is interspersed with action sequences involving Issie and her unusual companion.

The highlight of this book is easily the fascinating dialogue between Fever and Ceri. The two discuss whether Issie is the troubled soul that she seems to be or part of something more diabolical. And perhaps most importantly, is Fever a reliable narrator? Told in Fever’s quirky voice, December’s Thorn is chock-full of subtle clues, family secrets, and some genuinely creepy, chill-inducing sequences against a winter backdrop. Fever frequently put me in mind of Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas, and mystery readers will love deciphering the labyrinth of clues that lead to the satisfying conclusion.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 21 February 2013 06:02

Fever Devilin is recovering from a coma and near-death experience in his childhood home of Blue Mountain, Georgia. He’d like nothing more than to rest and plan his upcoming wedding to his fiancée, Lucinda Foxe, but Fate has much more planned for him. His first inkling comes in the form of a mysterious woman in black, Issie, who appears at his door claiming to be his wife. At first he thinks she might be a mildly troubled girl needing to come in out of the cold, but she begins making increasingly alarming claims and then disappears into the snow almost as quickly as she appeared.

When Fever tells his fiancée, she’s understandably upset that there’s a woman claiming to be his wife. But when Lucinda sees no immediate evidence of the woman’s visit, it’s suspected that Fever might be seeing things that don’t exist. His best friend, Sheriff Skidmore Needle, also suspects this may be the case—that is, until a young boy starts shooting at Fever’s home. This time, psychiatrist Dr. Ceridwen Nelson, the doctor recruited by Lucinda to help Fever, is there and able to attest to the shots fired and to seeing the boy. As Fever and Ceri start to learn more about Issie and the boy, Fever starts to worry that maybe his near-death experience affected him more than he’d initially thought.

In the seventh Fever Devilin novel by Phillip DePoy, the unusual protagonist is thrown headfirst into the mystery of his strange visitors, a Tristan and Isolde tale come to life on the mountainside. Fever is an expert in folklore and is well acquainted with the tragic love story, but he certainly never expected to live it. Fever and Ceri spend quite a lot of time trying to get to the bottom of the mystery at hand while also peeling back the layers of Fever’s past and his memory. The interaction between Fever and the delightful Ceri, which makes up the bulk of the novel, is interspersed with action sequences involving Issie and her unusual companion.

The highlight of this book is easily the fascinating dialogue between Fever and Ceri. The two discuss whether Issie is the troubled soul that she seems to be or part of something more diabolical. And perhaps most importantly, is Fever a reliable narrator? Told in Fever’s quirky voice, December’s Thorn is chock-full of subtle clues, family secrets, and some genuinely creepy, chill-inducing sequences against a winter backdrop. Fever frequently put me in mind of Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas, and mystery readers will love deciphering the labyrinth of clues that lead to the satisfying conclusion.

Nursing Home Ninjas
Sue Emmons

One doesn’t usually think of a nursing home as a hotbed of crime, but when Marvin Bradley becomes suspicious that unwary residents are being abused at Orchard Hills, he enlists the aid of his two closest companions, Mike Charles and Carrie Fenway, to investigate. All in their 80s, these intrepid oldsters don’t let the necessity for wheelchairs, canes, or walkers impede their efforts. In fact, they improvise them as weapons when the need arises.

Not only is abuse abundant at the nursing home, the service has faltered, the menu is deteriorating, and the staff is changing in the wake of a corporate turnover. As this trio of curmudgeonly crime fighters maneuvers their way through a morass of clues, pushing past their infirmities and brushing up their computer skills, they uncover a sinister plot that extends far past their own dwelling.

There is a murder and Bradley and his friends find themselves in danger of being the next targets in the killer’s sights. But these feisty codgers are more than ready for the challenge and gleefully rise to it—after all, it gives them something to occupy their time and engage their intellects.

Stevens, a retired author of computer books, offers readers an engaging cast in this offbeat mystery, which provides plenty of chuckles along the way to its solution. This is his first mystery and one would hope that its captivating characters soon return for a new adventure.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 21 February 2013 06:02

One doesn’t usually think of a nursing home as a hotbed of crime, but when Marvin Bradley becomes suspicious that unwary residents are being abused at Orchard Hills, he enlists the aid of his two closest companions, Mike Charles and Carrie Fenway, to investigate. All in their 80s, these intrepid oldsters don’t let the necessity for wheelchairs, canes, or walkers impede their efforts. In fact, they improvise them as weapons when the need arises.

Not only is abuse abundant at the nursing home, the service has faltered, the menu is deteriorating, and the staff is changing in the wake of a corporate turnover. As this trio of curmudgeonly crime fighters maneuvers their way through a morass of clues, pushing past their infirmities and brushing up their computer skills, they uncover a sinister plot that extends far past their own dwelling.

There is a murder and Bradley and his friends find themselves in danger of being the next targets in the killer’s sights. But these feisty codgers are more than ready for the challenge and gleefully rise to it—after all, it gives them something to occupy their time and engage their intellects.

Stevens, a retired author of computer books, offers readers an engaging cast in this offbeat mystery, which provides plenty of chuckles along the way to its solution. This is his first mystery and one would hope that its captivating characters soon return for a new adventure.

Merciless
Lourdes Venard

Mercy Gunderson, a former Army sniper, has just begun a new job with the FBI in South Dakota when a murdered teenage girl is found on the nearby Eagle River Reservation. The teenager, the tribal president’s niece, was brutally killed and there seems to be no good reason for her death.

As Mercy investigates her first case, she finds some patterns among previous deaths of women on the reservation. But are they related murders or coincidences? She and fellow FBI agent Shay Turnball have to navigate the politics of the tribal police, county sheriff’s office, and FBI brass, but Mercy has even more to juggle: her live-in boyfriend is Eagle River County Sheriff Mason Dawson, from whom she is forced to keep confidential information. In addition, Dawson’s 11-year-old son has come to live with them and Mercy, who is part-Indian, also has family ties to a second murder connected to her case, which is becoming increasingly personal.

This is a strongly plotted book, but its biggest strength is its characters, who are not always perfect, including—or especially—Mercy. Mercy wears her toughness like armor and it keeps her from making deeper connections. Aside from Dawson, Mercy has a sprawling family who do not always seem to get along with one another. These interactions not only add depth to Lori Armstrong’s characterizations, but make for a richer plot line.

If there’s one niggle, it is that Merciless, the third book in the series, makes references to past events and family relationships which are not fully explained. But the characters are so compelling that this problem will hopefully compel readers to pick up the first two books as well.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 21 February 2013 06:02

Mercy Gunderson, a former Army sniper, has just begun a new job with the FBI in South Dakota when a murdered teenage girl is found on the nearby Eagle River Reservation. The teenager, the tribal president’s niece, was brutally killed and there seems to be no good reason for her death.

As Mercy investigates her first case, she finds some patterns among previous deaths of women on the reservation. But are they related murders or coincidences? She and fellow FBI agent Shay Turnball have to navigate the politics of the tribal police, county sheriff’s office, and FBI brass, but Mercy has even more to juggle: her live-in boyfriend is Eagle River County Sheriff Mason Dawson, from whom she is forced to keep confidential information. In addition, Dawson’s 11-year-old son has come to live with them and Mercy, who is part-Indian, also has family ties to a second murder connected to her case, which is becoming increasingly personal.

This is a strongly plotted book, but its biggest strength is its characters, who are not always perfect, including—or especially—Mercy. Mercy wears her toughness like armor and it keeps her from making deeper connections. Aside from Dawson, Mercy has a sprawling family who do not always seem to get along with one another. These interactions not only add depth to Lori Armstrong’s characterizations, but make for a richer plot line.

If there’s one niggle, it is that Merciless, the third book in the series, makes references to past events and family relationships which are not fully explained. But the characters are so compelling that this problem will hopefully compel readers to pick up the first two books as well.

Ordinary Grace
Tim Davis

When this superb novel begins, the narrator, 53-year old Frank Drum, is looking back to a paradoxically wonderful and terrible summer when he was 13 years old in New Bremen, Minnesota. Frank, the son of a small-town pastor, remembers, “There had been two deaths already that summer, and although I didn’t have a clue, there were three more yet to come.”

First, a mysterious death claims a young boy—much like Frank—and then a drifter dies under curious circumstances. The next death, as Frank admits, “would be the most painful to bear.”

And so, much like a character in an Aeschylus tragedy, Frank discovers that he must learn through suffering, and with that learning would come life-changing “wisdom through the awful grace of God.” Part murder mystery, part coming-of-age novel, part spiritual journey, and 100 percent compelling as a literary novel, Krueger’s latest offering is a startling but wonderful departure from his Cork O’Connor mystery series. Written in clear, crisp, lyrical prose, Frank Drum’s story is a highly recommended example of storytelling at its very best. Don’t miss this one!

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 21 February 2013 06:02

When this superb novel begins, the narrator, 53-year old Frank Drum, is looking back to a paradoxically wonderful and terrible summer when he was 13 years old in New Bremen, Minnesota. Frank, the son of a small-town pastor, remembers, “There had been two deaths already that summer, and although I didn’t have a clue, there were three more yet to come.”

First, a mysterious death claims a young boy—much like Frank—and then a drifter dies under curious circumstances. The next death, as Frank admits, “would be the most painful to bear.”

And so, much like a character in an Aeschylus tragedy, Frank discovers that he must learn through suffering, and with that learning would come life-changing “wisdom through the awful grace of God.” Part murder mystery, part coming-of-age novel, part spiritual journey, and 100 percent compelling as a literary novel, Krueger’s latest offering is a startling but wonderful departure from his Cork O’Connor mystery series. Written in clear, crisp, lyrical prose, Frank Drum’s story is a highly recommended example of storytelling at its very best. Don’t miss this one!