Bottom Line
Sharon Magee

In Bottom Line by Marc Davis, Nick Blake has almost reached the top. He’s senior managing partner at Martell and Company, a multinational business consulting firm, second only to the charismatic but megalomaniacal CEO and founder, Adrian Martell. Blake earns an obscene salary, receives high-value perks, and enjoys the company of a beautiful and successful girlfriend. But, it’s 2001 and the economy is tanking big time. As Martell and Company struggles to staunch the red ink on its blue-chip clients’ bottom line, it’s beginning to affect their own; they’re losing clients and are unable to replace them. When Adrian Martell is indicted for insider trading, he turns the reins over to Blake, who discovers the company has been employing creative (read fraudulent) accounting practices, not only on their own, but their clients’ financial statements as well. When Martell refuses to stop the fraud, Blake resigns then discovers that Martell has taken off along with $100 million from the partners’ special fund, $10 million of it Blake’s. He hires a PI, whom he then joins on the hunt for both Martell and the money.

Davis, a financial journalist and columnist, paints a vivid picture of white-collar crime and the machinations—good and bad—that take place behind boardroom doors, all the while educating the reader about the business world. The first half of this noirish financial thriller is compelling. It’s only when Blake turns PI and sets out to find Martell and the $100 million that this otherwise excellent novel loses some of its steam. Blake comes across as whiney and needy as he bullies the PI he has hired into letting him join the chase, which he eventually takes charge of. Davis, however, redeems himself with a fast-paced and exciting climax.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 04 July 2013 02:07

In Bottom Line by Marc Davis, Nick Blake has almost reached the top. He’s senior managing partner at Martell and Company, a multinational business consulting firm, second only to the charismatic but megalomaniacal CEO and founder, Adrian Martell. Blake earns an obscene salary, receives high-value perks, and enjoys the company of a beautiful and successful girlfriend. But, it’s 2001 and the economy is tanking big time. As Martell and Company struggles to staunch the red ink on its blue-chip clients’ bottom line, it’s beginning to affect their own; they’re losing clients and are unable to replace them. When Adrian Martell is indicted for insider trading, he turns the reins over to Blake, who discovers the company has been employing creative (read fraudulent) accounting practices, not only on their own, but their clients’ financial statements as well. When Martell refuses to stop the fraud, Blake resigns then discovers that Martell has taken off along with $100 million from the partners’ special fund, $10 million of it Blake’s. He hires a PI, whom he then joins on the hunt for both Martell and the money.

Davis, a financial journalist and columnist, paints a vivid picture of white-collar crime and the machinations—good and bad—that take place behind boardroom doors, all the while educating the reader about the business world. The first half of this noirish financial thriller is compelling. It’s only when Blake turns PI and sets out to find Martell and the $100 million that this otherwise excellent novel loses some of its steam. Blake comes across as whiney and needy as he bullies the PI he has hired into letting him join the chase, which he eventually takes charge of. Davis, however, redeems himself with a fast-paced and exciting climax.

Screwed
Sharon Magee

Daniel McEvoy is back in Screwed by Eoin Colfer, and all is as well as it can be in his strange world. Now a budding club owner in Cloister, New Jersey, he’s romancing the beautiful, deeply disturbed Sofia. His deadly feud with Irish gangster Mike Madden is on low simmer since Madden’s mother has ordered her son not to kill McEvoy. Then Mama dies and the gloves come off. Two bad cops kidnap him for a snuff vid that stars a red sequined thong, he’s dumped in the Hudson River encased in a cab, and his grandmother—well, suffice it to say they’re not baking chocolate chip cookies in her cozy little kitchen. It’s time for McEvoy to once again clean up his world before those he loves become victims.

Hang on, it’s going to be a wild ride. Author of the highly popular and successful Artemis Fowl series, Colfer’s words spew from the page at 110 miles per hour. He claims he wants to be a cartoonist, and that comes through clearly. Dialogue bubbles with “Bam,” “Pow,” and “Zonk” seem to hover over his characters’ heads. And what characters they are—quirky, weird, and, yes, cartoonish. If readers can find their way through Colfer’s sometimes rambling prose, this mostly gritty, sometimes comic crime novel will surely please.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 04 July 2013 02:07

Daniel McEvoy is back in Screwed by Eoin Colfer, and all is as well as it can be in his strange world. Now a budding club owner in Cloister, New Jersey, he’s romancing the beautiful, deeply disturbed Sofia. His deadly feud with Irish gangster Mike Madden is on low simmer since Madden’s mother has ordered her son not to kill McEvoy. Then Mama dies and the gloves come off. Two bad cops kidnap him for a snuff vid that stars a red sequined thong, he’s dumped in the Hudson River encased in a cab, and his grandmother—well, suffice it to say they’re not baking chocolate chip cookies in her cozy little kitchen. It’s time for McEvoy to once again clean up his world before those he loves become victims.

Hang on, it’s going to be a wild ride. Author of the highly popular and successful Artemis Fowl series, Colfer’s words spew from the page at 110 miles per hour. He claims he wants to be a cartoonist, and that comes through clearly. Dialogue bubbles with “Bam,” “Pow,” and “Zonk” seem to hover over his characters’ heads. And what characters they are—quirky, weird, and, yes, cartoonish. If readers can find their way through Colfer’s sometimes rambling prose, this mostly gritty, sometimes comic crime novel will surely please.

Assaulted Pretzel
Lynne Maxwell

Laura Bradford released her initial Amish Mystery just last year, and she is clearly on to something. Assaulted Pretzel, the second installment in this enjoyable romantic cozy series, again features Claire Weatherly, a gift-shop owner who has relocated from the city to bucolic Heavenly, Pennsylvania, nestled deep in Pennsylvania Dutch country. Originally lured to Heavenly by her Aunt Diane, proprietor of the town’s proud inn, Claire has fallen in love with it—and, problematically, with two of its inhabitants. The objects of her affection are Detective Jakob Fisher and gentle Benjamin Miller, a man who hews to Amish traditions. When an internationally famous toy manufacturer visits Heavenly, promising to create a new line of toys based on the Amish simplicity of design, the townsfolk rejoice at the prospect of new jobs for the area. Joy turns to betrayal, however, when the company reneges on its offer, instead attempting to appropriate the toy designs and mass produce the products elsewhere. Matters become even more dire when the manufacturer is murdered. Is it possible that someone from the Amish community could be culpable? Bradford weaves the plot around traditional Amish culture and folkways, presenting many unexpected complexities in this thoughtful book. Perhaps most complicated of all, though, is Claire’s romantic vacillation.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 04 July 2013 02:07

Laura Bradford released her initial Amish Mystery just last year, and she is clearly on to something. Assaulted Pretzel, the second installment in this enjoyable romantic cozy series, again features Claire Weatherly, a gift-shop owner who has relocated from the city to bucolic Heavenly, Pennsylvania, nestled deep in Pennsylvania Dutch country. Originally lured to Heavenly by her Aunt Diane, proprietor of the town’s proud inn, Claire has fallen in love with it—and, problematically, with two of its inhabitants. The objects of her affection are Detective Jakob Fisher and gentle Benjamin Miller, a man who hews to Amish traditions. When an internationally famous toy manufacturer visits Heavenly, promising to create a new line of toys based on the Amish simplicity of design, the townsfolk rejoice at the prospect of new jobs for the area. Joy turns to betrayal, however, when the company reneges on its offer, instead attempting to appropriate the toy designs and mass produce the products elsewhere. Matters become even more dire when the manufacturer is murdered. Is it possible that someone from the Amish community could be culpable? Bradford weaves the plot around traditional Amish culture and folkways, presenting many unexpected complexities in this thoughtful book. Perhaps most complicated of all, though, is Claire’s romantic vacillation.

That Old Flame of Mine
Lynne Maxwell

That Old Flame of Mine, written by J. J. Cook, otherwise known as Jim and Joyce LaVerne, is a hot book in store for the season. When Chicago firefighter Stella Griffin is injured on the job and, to add insult to injury, discovers that her boyfriend is cheating on her, she is decidedly ready for a change, which is how she ends up as temporary fire chief in Sweet Pepper, Tennessee, a town located in the Great Smokies (pun intended?). She is hired to train firefighters to staff the town’s long dormant volunteer fire company. Stella experiences extraordinary success in recruiting and training her team, but the company’s prowess is mightily tested as mysterious, deadly fires beset the community, as they had of yore. Stella recognizes arson when she sees it, and she certainly doesn’t believe in coincidence of this magnitude, so she proceeds to investigate. Fortunately, she has the perfect partner in crime-solving—the ghost of former fire chief Eric Gamblyn, who also died mysteriously and inexplicably in a fire. Sounds preposterous? But wait; there’s more. The other major plot strand in the novel involves secrets surrounding Stella’s family, in particular, those emanating from the actions of her grandfather, whom she has never met. Suffice it to say that Sweet Pepper provides the backdrop for an unusual family reunion. Remarkably, despite the unusual and improbable character and plot devices, That Old Flame of Mine actually works—in fact, the LaVernes have done a masterful job. But now for the verdict. Should temporary fire chief Stella Griffin stay, or should she go? The answer is by no means a mystery, as the LaVernes create the sparks of the next Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade mystery from the embers of this one.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 04 July 2013 02:07

That Old Flame of Mine, written by J. J. Cook, otherwise known as Jim and Joyce LaVerne, is a hot book in store for the season. When Chicago firefighter Stella Griffin is injured on the job and, to add insult to injury, discovers that her boyfriend is cheating on her, she is decidedly ready for a change, which is how she ends up as temporary fire chief in Sweet Pepper, Tennessee, a town located in the Great Smokies (pun intended?). She is hired to train firefighters to staff the town’s long dormant volunteer fire company. Stella experiences extraordinary success in recruiting and training her team, but the company’s prowess is mightily tested as mysterious, deadly fires beset the community, as they had of yore. Stella recognizes arson when she sees it, and she certainly doesn’t believe in coincidence of this magnitude, so she proceeds to investigate. Fortunately, she has the perfect partner in crime-solving—the ghost of former fire chief Eric Gamblyn, who also died mysteriously and inexplicably in a fire. Sounds preposterous? But wait; there’s more. The other major plot strand in the novel involves secrets surrounding Stella’s family, in particular, those emanating from the actions of her grandfather, whom she has never met. Suffice it to say that Sweet Pepper provides the backdrop for an unusual family reunion. Remarkably, despite the unusual and improbable character and plot devices, That Old Flame of Mine actually works—in fact, the LaVernes have done a masterful job. But now for the verdict. Should temporary fire chief Stella Griffin stay, or should she go? The answer is by no means a mystery, as the LaVernes create the sparks of the next Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade mystery from the embers of this one.

Kneading to Die
Lynne Maxwell

Kneading to Die is the first in Liz Mugavero’s Pawsitively Organic Mystery series. Newcomer Mugavero takes us back to more familiar terrain with this “pet mystery.” In this fine first novel, the characters ring true, and the plot and narration are seamless. The series protagonist is Stan (short for Kristan) Connor, a recently downsized corporate communications specialist from Chicago. After she is unexpectedly ejected from her hitherto fabulously successful career, Stan falls in love with a house in small-town, rural Frog Ledge, and with her generous severance package is able to purchase the property outright. When she moves to the country, Stan doesn’t know quite what to expect, but she certainly doesn’t expect to stumble upon the corpse of the town vet when she first brings her cat to the veterinary clinic. As has already become evident to her, though, wars over animal care are rife in the town. What is the best means of nurturing and treating animals? Traditional veterinary medicine? Homeopathic animal medicine? Stan enters the fray with convictions of her own: she espouses the use of organic products for pet treats, and she cooks wholesome meals for her cat, Nutty. In fact, now that Stan has been liberated from her high-pressure job, she has time to pursue an endeavor that she truly loves: a business baking organic pet treats. Encouraged to peddle her wares at a local farmers market, Stan’s treats are an instant hit. Animals devour them and come begging for more. Unfortunately, however, several animals become ill and Stan’s treats are blamed for poisoning the pets. Clearly, this can’t be true, since her own cat thrives on the treats and has eaten samples from the batches in question. What to do? Stan sets out to vindicate herself by doing a bit of detecting. In the course of exonerating herself, she solves the murder and other attendant crimes, thus contributing to the welfare of the town and its animals. Best of all, she embraces her new way of life. Animal lovers and cozy readers, rejoice!

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 04 July 2013 02:07

Kneading to Die is the first in Liz Mugavero’s Pawsitively Organic Mystery series. Newcomer Mugavero takes us back to more familiar terrain with this “pet mystery.” In this fine first novel, the characters ring true, and the plot and narration are seamless. The series protagonist is Stan (short for Kristan) Connor, a recently downsized corporate communications specialist from Chicago. After she is unexpectedly ejected from her hitherto fabulously successful career, Stan falls in love with a house in small-town, rural Frog Ledge, and with her generous severance package is able to purchase the property outright. When she moves to the country, Stan doesn’t know quite what to expect, but she certainly doesn’t expect to stumble upon the corpse of the town vet when she first brings her cat to the veterinary clinic. As has already become evident to her, though, wars over animal care are rife in the town. What is the best means of nurturing and treating animals? Traditional veterinary medicine? Homeopathic animal medicine? Stan enters the fray with convictions of her own: she espouses the use of organic products for pet treats, and she cooks wholesome meals for her cat, Nutty. In fact, now that Stan has been liberated from her high-pressure job, she has time to pursue an endeavor that she truly loves: a business baking organic pet treats. Encouraged to peddle her wares at a local farmers market, Stan’s treats are an instant hit. Animals devour them and come begging for more. Unfortunately, however, several animals become ill and Stan’s treats are blamed for poisoning the pets. Clearly, this can’t be true, since her own cat thrives on the treats and has eaten samples from the batches in question. What to do? Stan sets out to vindicate herself by doing a bit of detecting. In the course of exonerating herself, she solves the murder and other attendant crimes, thus contributing to the welfare of the town and its animals. Best of all, she embraces her new way of life. Animal lovers and cozy readers, rejoice!

The Outsider
Hank Wagner

In The Outsider, Chris Culver’s series character, Indianapolis police Detective Ash Rashid, receives an unsolicited tip about an apparent homicide involving a family friend, Cassandra. Ash launches what amounts to a personal investigation, as no police reports have been filed, and witnesses are scarce and uncommunicative. It even takes several hours to locate the corpse.

As his investigation proceeds, Ash comes to realize that an entire neighboring precinct seems to be aligned against him, anxious to hide the details behind Cassandra’s death, which seems to have some connection to a high-profile case his unit, the prosecutor’s office, is currently readying for trial. The secrets he uncovers come at a painful cost, threatening his standing in the community, his job, his family, his mental stability, and, perhaps, his life.

The book’s title resonates, as Ash is on the outside of, or on the outs with, almost every community or group he encounters during his investigation. A Muslim American, he’s familiar with being labeled as an “other,” but that familiarity doesn’t help him to cope with the stress of his job. Culver does a terrific job of depicting Ash’s personal struggles, from his borderline alcoholism to his guilt at neglecting his family and his spiritual life. He’s a character that readers can easily identify with, which makes it all the more harrowing when they realize their hero might not emerge from his struggles unscathed.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 04 July 2013 02:07

In The Outsider, Chris Culver’s series character, Indianapolis police Detective Ash Rashid, receives an unsolicited tip about an apparent homicide involving a family friend, Cassandra. Ash launches what amounts to a personal investigation, as no police reports have been filed, and witnesses are scarce and uncommunicative. It even takes several hours to locate the corpse.

As his investigation proceeds, Ash comes to realize that an entire neighboring precinct seems to be aligned against him, anxious to hide the details behind Cassandra’s death, which seems to have some connection to a high-profile case his unit, the prosecutor’s office, is currently readying for trial. The secrets he uncovers come at a painful cost, threatening his standing in the community, his job, his family, his mental stability, and, perhaps, his life.

The book’s title resonates, as Ash is on the outside of, or on the outs with, almost every community or group he encounters during his investigation. A Muslim American, he’s familiar with being labeled as an “other,” but that familiarity doesn’t help him to cope with the stress of his job. Culver does a terrific job of depicting Ash’s personal struggles, from his borderline alcoholism to his guilt at neglecting his family and his spiritual life. He’s a character that readers can easily identify with, which makes it all the more harrowing when they realize their hero might not emerge from his struggles unscathed.

State of Emergency
Hank Wagner

Marc Cameron’s Jericho Quinn is a durable protagonist. State of Emergency finds the veteran operative in pursuit of the legendary “Baba Yaga,” a portable nuclear weapon that the Soviets lost track of at the end of the Cold War. Hints of its reappearance cause great concern in Russia and the United States, the former due to the profound embarrassment its very existence causes, the latter because indications are that its new owners plan to use it against an American target.

The Air Force Office of Special Investigations tasks Quinn with finding the device and rendering it harmless. The OSI’s intelligence points to arms dealer Valentine Zamora, and Quinn and his team attempt to infiltrate the Venezuelan’s inner circle; doing so, Quinn ends up participating in the elite Dakar motorcycle run. Quinn cannot take time to enjoy the event, as he knows Zamora is on the verge of delivering the now fully functional bomb to anxious terrorist buyers.

This title will put readers in mind of books by such modern masters of suspense as Vince Flynn, Brad Thor, and David Baldacci. Exotic locales are prevalent, the heroes ultracompetent and resourceful, the villains ruthless and deadly, and action is paramount. It’s hard to believe that this is only Cameron’s third novel, as his prose compels you to keep turning the pages, a skill that often only comes with experience. And, when I say the action never lets up, I mean it, as the story climaxes with one of the more excruciating cliff-hangers you’ll ever read.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 04 July 2013 02:07

Marc Cameron’s Jericho Quinn is a durable protagonist. State of Emergency finds the veteran operative in pursuit of the legendary “Baba Yaga,” a portable nuclear weapon that the Soviets lost track of at the end of the Cold War. Hints of its reappearance cause great concern in Russia and the United States, the former due to the profound embarrassment its very existence causes, the latter because indications are that its new owners plan to use it against an American target.

The Air Force Office of Special Investigations tasks Quinn with finding the device and rendering it harmless. The OSI’s intelligence points to arms dealer Valentine Zamora, and Quinn and his team attempt to infiltrate the Venezuelan’s inner circle; doing so, Quinn ends up participating in the elite Dakar motorcycle run. Quinn cannot take time to enjoy the event, as he knows Zamora is on the verge of delivering the now fully functional bomb to anxious terrorist buyers.

This title will put readers in mind of books by such modern masters of suspense as Vince Flynn, Brad Thor, and David Baldacci. Exotic locales are prevalent, the heroes ultracompetent and resourceful, the villains ruthless and deadly, and action is paramount. It’s hard to believe that this is only Cameron’s third novel, as his prose compels you to keep turning the pages, a skill that often only comes with experience. And, when I say the action never lets up, I mean it, as the story climaxes with one of the more excruciating cliff-hangers you’ll ever read.

The Sound of One Hand Killing
Hank Wagner

Teresa Solana’s third Barcelona murder mystery, The Sound of One Hand Killing, featuring twin detectives Borja and Eduard, is at turns harrowing and hilarious, gruesome and glorious. Solana is an absolutely fearless writer, letting nothing interfere with her storytelling. Thus, this book, which features what amounts to a locked-room mystery, also displays attributes of a spy thriller as well as caper novel. It also flirts with metafiction (a writer named Teresa Solana hires the twins to investigate the health spa industry in Barcelona), while skillfully using such tried-and-true tropes of thriller and spy fiction as a disk containing top-secret information (the office one floor up from the twins is occupied by an unlucky CIA agent), and a MacGuffin (in the form of a statue which Borja is asked to smuggle into Spain). Borja and Eduard’s relationship is convincing and fascinating, and their domestic lives provide as much entertainment as the more lurid goings on. Mix all that in with a colorful cast of supporting characters and Solana’s wicked sense of humor and you get a winning novel, sure to satisfy a broad audience.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 04 July 2013 02:07

Teresa Solana’s third Barcelona murder mystery, The Sound of One Hand Killing, featuring twin detectives Borja and Eduard, is at turns harrowing and hilarious, gruesome and glorious. Solana is an absolutely fearless writer, letting nothing interfere with her storytelling. Thus, this book, which features what amounts to a locked-room mystery, also displays attributes of a spy thriller as well as caper novel. It also flirts with metafiction (a writer named Teresa Solana hires the twins to investigate the health spa industry in Barcelona), while skillfully using such tried-and-true tropes of thriller and spy fiction as a disk containing top-secret information (the office one floor up from the twins is occupied by an unlucky CIA agent), and a MacGuffin (in the form of a statue which Borja is asked to smuggle into Spain). Borja and Eduard’s relationship is convincing and fascinating, and their domestic lives provide as much entertainment as the more lurid goings on. Mix all that in with a colorful cast of supporting characters and Solana’s wicked sense of humor and you get a winning novel, sure to satisfy a broad audience.

Justice Provocateur: Jane Tennison and Policing in Prime Suspect
Jon L. Breen

The excellent British television series Prime Suspect, starring Helen Mirren, is certainly worth a book-length discussion, and this one is a sound-enough effort—and the authors know the history of the police procedural well enough to mention names like Lawrence Treat, Hilary Waugh, and Dorothy Uhnak. Still, it would be more entertaining and instructive to acquire the DVDs and view the programs again. The book emphasizes social issues, gender roles, and all those things academic writers on crime fiction and film obsess on, while giving no sense of the pleasure to be gained from the genre. The authors, a criminologist and a sociologist, list “four elements of a progressive” moral fiction, and their main thrust is a striving for political correctness (in the broadest sense), measuring how well the series lives up to contemporary progressive attitudes. While that’s fair enough, few will read this for pleasure. An appendix summarizes the seven episodes in the series.

References to Raymond Chandler’s Murder My Sweet, dated 1944, and Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon (1941) serve to confuse novels with their movie adaptations.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 04 July 2013 02:07

The excellent British television series Prime Suspect, starring Helen Mirren, is certainly worth a book-length discussion, and this one is a sound-enough effort—and the authors know the history of the police procedural well enough to mention names like Lawrence Treat, Hilary Waugh, and Dorothy Uhnak. Still, it would be more entertaining and instructive to acquire the DVDs and view the programs again. The book emphasizes social issues, gender roles, and all those things academic writers on crime fiction and film obsess on, while giving no sense of the pleasure to be gained from the genre. The authors, a criminologist and a sociologist, list “four elements of a progressive” moral fiction, and their main thrust is a striving for political correctness (in the broadest sense), measuring how well the series lives up to contemporary progressive attitudes. While that’s fair enough, few will read this for pleasure. An appendix summarizes the seven episodes in the series.

References to Raymond Chandler’s Murder My Sweet, dated 1944, and Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon (1941) serve to confuse novels with their movie adaptations.

Gunshots in Another Room: the Forgotten Life of Dan J. Marlowe
Jon L. Breen

Dan J. Marlowe (1917-1986), author of The Name of the Game Is Death (1962) and other paperback originals, was a gentleman and Rotarian, local Michigan politician, accountant, gambler, pseudonymous writer of spanking-fixated soft-core porn, and amnesia victim. Marlowe comes across as likable but mysterious, a mass of contradictions. The same could be said of bank robber Al Nussbaum, whom Marlowe helped become a published mystery writer and who, in turn, took care of Marlowe in the years after his 1977 amnesia crisis. Kelly’s extensive exploration of their relationship makes the book a virtual dual biography. Other prominent figures include William C. O’Dell, a longtime silent-partner Marlowe collaborator, and Nussbaum’s loose-cannon partner in crime Bobby Wilcoxson.

This ranks among the best mystery writer biographies I’ve read, certainly one of the most compellingly readable. It’s engagingly written, efficiently organized, careful to note information sources (though lacking a secondary bibliography) and to avoid fictionalization without clear labeling. An excellent section of photographs is included. (Reviewed from the ebook edition.)

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 04 July 2013 03:07

Dan J. Marlowe (1917-1986), author of The Name of the Game Is Death (1962) and other paperback originals, was a gentleman and Rotarian, local Michigan politician, accountant, gambler, pseudonymous writer of spanking-fixated soft-core porn, and amnesia victim. Marlowe comes across as likable but mysterious, a mass of contradictions. The same could be said of bank robber Al Nussbaum, whom Marlowe helped become a published mystery writer and who, in turn, took care of Marlowe in the years after his 1977 amnesia crisis. Kelly’s extensive exploration of their relationship makes the book a virtual dual biography. Other prominent figures include William C. O’Dell, a longtime silent-partner Marlowe collaborator, and Nussbaum’s loose-cannon partner in crime Bobby Wilcoxson.

This ranks among the best mystery writer biographies I’ve read, certainly one of the most compellingly readable. It’s engagingly written, efficiently organized, careful to note information sources (though lacking a secondary bibliography) and to avoid fictionalization without clear labeling. An excellent section of photographs is included. (Reviewed from the ebook edition.)

The Sister Fidelma Mysteries: Essays on the Historical Novels of Peter Tremayne
Jon L. Breen

Peter Tremayne’s Sister Fidelma novels and stories comprise one of the finest historical detective series, and this collection of essays provides an excellent guide. Though a majority of the contributors are professors, the entries are clearly and agreeably written, free of academic slog. The character of Fidelma is put firmly in historical context, of Ireland, Christian religion, changing roles of women, and the development of the mystery genre. The contributors know something about detective fiction aside from their chosen subject, and many other authors and titles are referred to. Richard Dalby’s chapter on (mostly) early women detectives in fiction is especially rich in information. John Scaggs celebrates the series’ use of Golden Age-style fair-play clueing, an aspect often downplayed in academic studies. A biographical chapter reveals that Peter Berresford Ellis, the prolific historian and scholar behind the Tremayne pseudonym, has produced enough nonfiction for two normal lifetimes. Also included are chapters on Sister Fidelma fandom and an interview of Ellis/Tremayne by editor Rielly.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 04 July 2013 03:07

Peter Tremayne’s Sister Fidelma novels and stories comprise one of the finest historical detective series, and this collection of essays provides an excellent guide. Though a majority of the contributors are professors, the entries are clearly and agreeably written, free of academic slog. The character of Fidelma is put firmly in historical context, of Ireland, Christian religion, changing roles of women, and the development of the mystery genre. The contributors know something about detective fiction aside from their chosen subject, and many other authors and titles are referred to. Richard Dalby’s chapter on (mostly) early women detectives in fiction is especially rich in information. John Scaggs celebrates the series’ use of Golden Age-style fair-play clueing, an aspect often downplayed in academic studies. A biographical chapter reveals that Peter Berresford Ellis, the prolific historian and scholar behind the Tremayne pseudonym, has produced enough nonfiction for two normal lifetimes. Also included are chapters on Sister Fidelma fandom and an interview of Ellis/Tremayne by editor Rielly.

Women Writing Crime Fiction, 1860-1880: Fourteen American, British and Australian Authors
Jon L. Breen

More women contributed to the development of mystery and detective fiction in the period between Poe and Doyle than most devotees would imagine. While some of Kate Watson’s 14 subjects have been written about extensively elsewhere (Anna Katharine Green, Louisa May Alcott, Mary Elizabeth Braddon), others will represent fresh ground to most readers (Catherine Crowe, Caroline Clive, and all five Australian writers). The essays are generally informative and well-written, with only an occasional touch of academic jargon. Exhaustive chapter notes and bibliography fill 54 pages.

Two unfortunate errors, one serious, the other minor: Green’s The Leavenworth Case was emphatically not a locked-room mystery, and David Frome, though using a British setting in the Mr. Pinkerton books, was not British but a pseudonym of Zenith Brown, the American writer also known as Leslie Ford.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 04 July 2013 03:07

watson_womenwritingcrimefictionContemporaries of Poe and Doyle, 14 women crime writers worth knowing.

Rage Against the Dying (Audiobook)
DIck Lochte

Becky Masterman’s debut novel features a unique protagonist, an extremely fit, well-trained, and tough woman nearing AARP age who, on this audio edition, is admirably provided with a perfectly matched voice by reader Judy Kaye. Brigid Quinn, retired from a career of attracting, catching, and, when threatened, dispatching sexual predators for the FBI, has been enjoying the good, crime-free life peacefully ensconced in Tucson, Arizona, with a loving husband and caring friends. Believing that no one feels comfortable around a woman with blood on her hands (even the lawful, righteous variety), she has kept the darker aspects of her former job a secret from those friends and, especially, from her gentle, doting husband. But the sleeping past has a habit of waking up and biting you on your good intentions. While collecting rocks near a deserted river bed, Brigid is attacked by a murderous rapist with a fondness for older “girlfriends,” forcing her to fall back on her still very active self-preservational skills. She struck a blow for middle-aged female empowerment, killing her attacker in the process, but then makes the mistake of trying to cover up the justifiable homicide. It’s a bit of a stretch to believe that a strong, smart, self-confident woman like Brigid would have such a lack of faith in her husband’s love, but that’s what makes novels. And here, the ensuing complications that also involve her worst FBI nightmare—the unsolved kidnapping and disappearance of her protégé—make for an involving story. Adding greatly to that involvement is Kaye’s narration, which is as flawless and effective here as it is on all of the Sue Grafton books.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 04 July 2013 04:07

Becky Masterman’s debut novel features a unique protagonist, an extremely fit, well-trained, and tough woman nearing AARP age who, on this audio edition, is admirably provided with a perfectly matched voice by reader Judy Kaye. Brigid Quinn, retired from a career of attracting, catching, and, when threatened, dispatching sexual predators for the FBI, has been enjoying the good, crime-free life peacefully ensconced in Tucson, Arizona, with a loving husband and caring friends. Believing that no one feels comfortable around a woman with blood on her hands (even the lawful, righteous variety), she has kept the darker aspects of her former job a secret from those friends and, especially, from her gentle, doting husband. But the sleeping past has a habit of waking up and biting you on your good intentions. While collecting rocks near a deserted river bed, Brigid is attacked by a murderous rapist with a fondness for older “girlfriends,” forcing her to fall back on her still very active self-preservational skills. She struck a blow for middle-aged female empowerment, killing her attacker in the process, but then makes the mistake of trying to cover up the justifiable homicide. It’s a bit of a stretch to believe that a strong, smart, self-confident woman like Brigid would have such a lack of faith in her husband’s love, but that’s what makes novels. And here, the ensuing complications that also involve her worst FBI nightmare—the unsolved kidnapping and disappearance of her protégé—make for an involving story. Adding greatly to that involvement is Kaye’s narration, which is as flawless and effective here as it is on all of the Sue Grafton books.

Kinsey and Me
Dick Lochte

Judy Kaye has been the voice of Sue Grafton’s ultra-popular Southern California private eye Kinsey Milhone since A Is for Alibi debuted in audio format. Here, the actress’ narration once again catches all of Kinsey’s flippancy, determination, and humanity as she sleuths through nine short investigations. These tightly constructed tales, written between 1986 and 1993, constitute nearly two-thirds of the book. Several feature unique—at times bizarre—crimes that, purposely or not, seem to reference earlier mystery fiction and fictioneers. For example, the lead story “Between the Sheets,” with its ditzy client, funny bursts of dialogue, and a corpse that keeps disappearing, is as fine an example of screwball whodunitry as anything written by Craig Rice or Norbert Davis. And in “Falling Off the Roof,” Kinsey unravels several murders in a manner that calls to mind one of Hercule Poirot’s most famous deductions. But it is the purely Grafton short that is arguably the best, “The Parker Shotgun,” a splendid demonstration of how to spin a yarn economically without sacrificing solid characterization or twists of plot. The collection’s “Kinsey” section is what we’d expect from the author: crime stories featuring a detective whom she has admitted is something of an alter ego. The “Me” portion is quite a surprise: 13 linked vignettes coming from protagonist Kit Blue’s memories of her life as the child of two alcoholics. These unabashedly autobiographical stories, beautifully if painfully rendered, have nothing to do with criminal pursuit, but everything to do with crimes of the heart. As Grafton suggests, they are her way of sorting out the events of her own confusing, guilt- and resentment-filled youth, of coming to grips with her childhood, her mother’s death, and her father’s betrayal. These dark, brutally honest memories seem a world apart from the Kinsey mysteries. They’re even presented differently—Kinsey tells her own stories conventionally, while Grafton uses a variety of narrative styles for the Kit stories. Some are told in third person, some by Kit, some even use the rare second-person (“You are sitting in a hospital...”) mode. Yet, as their presentation in the book makes clear, both characters are reflections of their creator. This is clarified even more by Kaye, whose approach to reading a book has more to do with mood and attitude than voice manipulation—though she doesn’t shy away from that when the subject demands it. Her Kinsey voice, therefore, sounds a lot like Kit’s, though the latter is more thoughtful and less larky. Just to tie the autobiographical bow, Kaye also uses her familiar voice in reading Grafton’s essays, one of which, a brief history of the fictional PI, should merit a special prize at the next Private Eye Writers of America Awards celebration.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 04 July 2013 04:07

Judy Kaye has been the voice of Sue Grafton’s ultra-popular Southern California private eye Kinsey Milhone since A Is for Alibi debuted in audio format. Here, the actress’ narration once again catches all of Kinsey’s flippancy, determination, and humanity as she sleuths through nine short investigations. These tightly constructed tales, written between 1986 and 1993, constitute nearly two-thirds of the book. Several feature unique—at times bizarre—crimes that, purposely or not, seem to reference earlier mystery fiction and fictioneers. For example, the lead story “Between the Sheets,” with its ditzy client, funny bursts of dialogue, and a corpse that keeps disappearing, is as fine an example of screwball whodunitry as anything written by Craig Rice or Norbert Davis. And in “Falling Off the Roof,” Kinsey unravels several murders in a manner that calls to mind one of Hercule Poirot’s most famous deductions. But it is the purely Grafton short that is arguably the best, “The Parker Shotgun,” a splendid demonstration of how to spin a yarn economically without sacrificing solid characterization or twists of plot. The collection’s “Kinsey” section is what we’d expect from the author: crime stories featuring a detective whom she has admitted is something of an alter ego. The “Me” portion is quite a surprise: 13 linked vignettes coming from protagonist Kit Blue’s memories of her life as the child of two alcoholics. These unabashedly autobiographical stories, beautifully if painfully rendered, have nothing to do with criminal pursuit, but everything to do with crimes of the heart. As Grafton suggests, they are her way of sorting out the events of her own confusing, guilt- and resentment-filled youth, of coming to grips with her childhood, her mother’s death, and her father’s betrayal. These dark, brutally honest memories seem a world apart from the Kinsey mysteries. They’re even presented differently—Kinsey tells her own stories conventionally, while Grafton uses a variety of narrative styles for the Kit stories. Some are told in third person, some by Kit, some even use the rare second-person (“You are sitting in a hospital...”) mode. Yet, as their presentation in the book makes clear, both characters are reflections of their creator. This is clarified even more by Kaye, whose approach to reading a book has more to do with mood and attitude than voice manipulation—though she doesn’t shy away from that when the subject demands it. Her Kinsey voice, therefore, sounds a lot like Kit’s, though the latter is more thoughtful and less larky. Just to tie the autobiographical bow, Kaye also uses her familiar voice in reading Grafton’s essays, one of which, a brief history of the fictional PI, should merit a special prize at the next Private Eye Writers of America Awards celebration.

Deep Pockets
Dick Lochte

Though Linda Barnes has just published a new standalone, The Perfect Ghost (St. Martins), her popular series character, the six-foot-one, red-haired Boston PI and part-time cabbie (or perhaps cabbie and part-time PI) Carlotta Carlyle has been retired since 2008’s Lie Down With the Devil. Happily, several audio reminders of this entertaining series have arrived recently from Brilliance Audio. These include Carlotta’s debut in the short story, “Lucky Penny,” in which Carlotta searches for a reason why an armed robber would steal her cabbie cash only to toss the money into the nearest garbage can. It won an Anthony short fiction award.

The short story “Miss Gibson” is a sequel to novel number four, Steel Guitar, linking Carlotta once again to Dee Willis, a blues singer who once stole our heroine’s musician husband. Now, that romance is a very old, mainly forgotten song, and Dee is being threatened by a stalker. Will Carlotta help? Only if the fee will include a beautiful Gibson guitar.

In “Stealing First,” Carlotta is enjoying a ball game at Fenway Park when a petty thief, on the run from homicidal thugs, gets her to take care of his four-year-old niece.

Deep Pockets, the red-haired PI’s 10th novel-length case and the only one of that length currently available in audio, has her roaming the hallowed halls of Harvard, trying to stop a blackmailer and possible murderer from pestering a professor who clearly hasn’t been totally honest with her. It’s a solid piece of detective fiction, smoothly written and satisfyingly concluded.

All of these Carlyle yarns are read by Tavia Gilbert, a Portland stage and voice performer. Her clean, direct delivery is effective and certainly makes for easy listening. But, unless I’m misinterpreting Barnes’ protagonist, it’s also a bit too refined for the character. And there’s not a trace of a Boston accent, though, in “Stealing First,” the voice Gilbert uses for the smarmy thief shows she’s capable of producing same. These are nitpicks, I suppose, since the short stories are fun, if a bit pricey. And the novel makes you hope Brilliance plans to release the remaining 11 before too long.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 04 July 2013 04:07

Though Linda Barnes has just published a new standalone, The Perfect Ghost (St. Martins), her popular series character, the six-foot-one, red-haired Boston PI and part-time cabbie (or perhaps cabbie and part-time PI) Carlotta Carlyle has been retired since 2008’s Lie Down With the Devil. Happily, several audio reminders of this entertaining series have arrived recently from Brilliance Audio. These include Carlotta’s debut in the short story, “Lucky Penny,” in which Carlotta searches for a reason why an armed robber would steal her cabbie cash only to toss the money into the nearest garbage can. It won an Anthony short fiction award.

The short story “Miss Gibson” is a sequel to novel number four, Steel Guitar, linking Carlotta once again to Dee Willis, a blues singer who once stole our heroine’s musician husband. Now, that romance is a very old, mainly forgotten song, and Dee is being threatened by a stalker. Will Carlotta help? Only if the fee will include a beautiful Gibson guitar.

In “Stealing First,” Carlotta is enjoying a ball game at Fenway Park when a petty thief, on the run from homicidal thugs, gets her to take care of his four-year-old niece.

Deep Pockets, the red-haired PI’s 10th novel-length case and the only one of that length currently available in audio, has her roaming the hallowed halls of Harvard, trying to stop a blackmailer and possible murderer from pestering a professor who clearly hasn’t been totally honest with her. It’s a solid piece of detective fiction, smoothly written and satisfyingly concluded.

All of these Carlyle yarns are read by Tavia Gilbert, a Portland stage and voice performer. Her clean, direct delivery is effective and certainly makes for easy listening. But, unless I’m misinterpreting Barnes’ protagonist, it’s also a bit too refined for the character. And there’s not a trace of a Boston accent, though, in “Stealing First,” the voice Gilbert uses for the smarmy thief shows she’s capable of producing same. These are nitpicks, I suppose, since the short stories are fun, if a bit pricey. And the novel makes you hope Brilliance plans to release the remaining 11 before too long.

Encounters of Sherlock Holmes
Bill Crider

Mycroft Holmes once said, “I hear of Sherlock everywhere...” I hear of Sherlock everywhere, too. He’s in the movies. He’s on TV. And of course he’s in a lot of short stories. This time I’m hearing of Sherlock in Encounters of Sherlock Holmes. The editor is George Mann, and the book contains 14 new stories. Mann’s own “The Case of the Night Crawler” features Watson, with Holmes playing a secondary role, and it has a definite steampunk vibe. There appears to be some sort of monster in the Thames, and Watson investigates with the help of a couple of Mann’s own series characters. Even Mrs. Hudson gets into the act in “Woman’s Work” by David Barnett, though Holmes gets the credit for solving the puzzle. Holmes takes the honors in Mark Hodder’s “The Loss of Chapter Twenty-One,” when Sir Richard Burton hires him to locate a stolen manuscript. “The Persian Slipper” by Steve Lockley tells where Holmes came by this favorite tobacco container, and it even features a locked room. While I have a feeling that Holmes purists might find objections to some of the stories in this volume, more casual fans will likely find them quite entertaining.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 04 July 2013 05:07

Mycroft Holmes once said, “I hear of Sherlock everywhere...” I hear of Sherlock everywhere, too. He’s in the movies. He’s on TV. And of course he’s in a lot of short stories. This time I’m hearing of Sherlock in Encounters of Sherlock Holmes. The editor is George Mann, and the book contains 14 new stories. Mann’s own “The Case of the Night Crawler” features Watson, with Holmes playing a secondary role, and it has a definite steampunk vibe. There appears to be some sort of monster in the Thames, and Watson investigates with the help of a couple of Mann’s own series characters. Even Mrs. Hudson gets into the act in “Woman’s Work” by David Barnett, though Holmes gets the credit for solving the puzzle. Holmes takes the honors in Mark Hodder’s “The Loss of Chapter Twenty-One,” when Sir Richard Burton hires him to locate a stolen manuscript. “The Persian Slipper” by Steve Lockley tells where Holmes came by this favorite tobacco container, and it even features a locked room. While I have a feeling that Holmes purists might find objections to some of the stories in this volume, more casual fans will likely find them quite entertaining.

The Mystery Box
Bill Crider

Brad Meltzer is the editor of the annual anthology from the Mystery Writers of America, The Mystery Box. In his introduction, Meltzer says that every story had to have a box, literal or metaphorical, in it. That was the sole requirement; everything else was up to the authors. The book has 21 stories by some of the top names in the mystery-writing field, and it’s a yearly must-buy for fans of the criminous short story. The title “Waco 1982” caught my eye right away. In 1997 at the Bouchercon in Monterey, I was in the greenroom, where I found myself in conversation with a young woman who’d just published her first novel. Her name was Laura Lippman, and we had something in common. I was brought up in a small town 30 miles from Waco, where she had worked for a time as a reporter. Naturally I was eager to read this story, set in a time and a place I knew well. I really enjoyed the local color, and it was almost like a visit back home as Marissa, a young reporter, is given the assignment of writing about things in lost-and-found boxes at local motels. It’s an assignment that leads to a surprising revelation. Libby Fischer Hellmann’s “War Secrets” is set in Germany in 1939. A young Persian scientist working with the Nazis has a secret that he thinks no one knows. A fine story of science and betrayal and maybe redemption. “The Amiable Miss Edith Montague” by Jan Burke is another historical mystery, with a suffragist detective who unravels some tangled family secrets. There are a lot of boxes in this one, and a closing reference to one of the most famous boxes of all. Good fun, and the rest of the stories gathered here are well worth your time. It’s an excellent addition to the MWA anthologies.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 04 July 2013 05:07

Brad Meltzer is the editor of the annual anthology from the Mystery Writers of America, The Mystery Box. In his introduction, Meltzer says that every story had to have a box, literal or metaphorical, in it. That was the sole requirement; everything else was up to the authors. The book has 21 stories by some of the top names in the mystery-writing field, and it’s a yearly must-buy for fans of the criminous short story. The title “Waco 1982” caught my eye right away. In 1997 at the Bouchercon in Monterey, I was in the greenroom, where I found myself in conversation with a young woman who’d just published her first novel. Her name was Laura Lippman, and we had something in common. I was brought up in a small town 30 miles from Waco, where she had worked for a time as a reporter. Naturally I was eager to read this story, set in a time and a place I knew well. I really enjoyed the local color, and it was almost like a visit back home as Marissa, a young reporter, is given the assignment of writing about things in lost-and-found boxes at local motels. It’s an assignment that leads to a surprising revelation. Libby Fischer Hellmann’s “War Secrets” is set in Germany in 1939. A young Persian scientist working with the Nazis has a secret that he thinks no one knows. A fine story of science and betrayal and maybe redemption. “The Amiable Miss Edith Montague” by Jan Burke is another historical mystery, with a suffragist detective who unravels some tangled family secrets. There are a lot of boxes in this one, and a closing reference to one of the most famous boxes of all. Good fun, and the rest of the stories gathered here are well worth your time. It’s an excellent addition to the MWA anthologies.

A Textbook Case
Bill Crider

A lot of writers these days are publishing books and stories exclusively in electronic format. I’m not talking about struggling writers. I’m talking about big names like Jeffery Deaver, whose Lincoln Rhyme story “A Textbook Case” has been released as a Kindle Single. Rhyme, a noted criminalist once paralyzed from the waist down, is now able to move around a bit, though that’s no particular advantage when he’s confronted with a case in which there’s not too little evidence but too much.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 04 July 2013 05:07

A lot of writers these days are publishing books and stories exclusively in electronic format. I’m not talking about struggling writers. I’m talking about big names like Jeffery Deaver, whose Lincoln Rhyme story “A Textbook Case” has been released as a Kindle Single. Rhyme, a noted criminalist once paralyzed from the waist down, is now able to move around a bit, though that’s no particular advantage when he’s confronted with a case in which there’s not too little evidence but too much.

The Doll
Kristin Centorcelli

To me, one of the most terrifying things happening in the world today is human trafficking, and this is the world that Vanessa Michael Monroe is plunged into in the third installment of Taylor Stevens’ series featuring the tough, almost preternaturally talented heroine. For nine months, Vanessa has enjoyed relative peace working for Capstone, a private security firm based in Dallas, Texas, and her tentative romance with her coworker Miles Bradford seems to be going well. This delicate peace is shattered, however, when she’s shot with a tranquilizer gun right outside of Capstone and whisked away in a stolen ambulance. Bradford witnesses the whole thing, but can’t reach her in time to prevent the attack. He and team member Samantha Walker discover a body double with Vanessa’s ID in a local hospital, Bradford immediately knows something is very, very wrong, and sets his team on getting her back.

By now, Vanessa is in Croatia and has learned that she’s a captive of a man who calls himself the Doll Maker. That name is enough to give anyone a case of the creeps, and he indeed lives up to his cringe-inducing moniker. He’s not only obsessed with toy dolls, he’s the mastermind of a vast criminal enterprise that provides human “dolls” (complete with frilly dresses, tights, Mary Janes, and Shirley Temple hair) to discerning, and rich clients—and he has a very special job in mind for Vanessa. She must transport Neeva Eckridge, a young actress that’s been missing for weeks, to a very particular client, and if she doesn’t, the Doll Maker will systematically kill everyone Vanessa holds dear. He’s already holding her dearest friend hostage in an unknown location, and the threat of his death is constantly over Vanessa’s head. He’s not just out for money, he’s out for revenge.

As Vanessa sets out on her journey with Neeva, she’s constantly on the lookout for chances to outmaneuver her foes, but they’re shadowing her every move. Her disgust with herself in regards to what she is doing is at war with her need to protect the ones she loves at any cost. Neeva is a spitfire, a blend of spirit and resilience, which is not lost on Vanessa. In fact, the relationship that develops between the two is a highlight of the book. Neeva has some secrets herself, and once she finds out why Vanessa is doing this horrible thing, a sense of understanding, and even camaraderie develops—however tense that camaraderie may be. Have you ever asked yourself how far you would go to save someone you love? It’s the exploration of that very question that makes The Doll such a harrowing and tense read.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 04 July 2013 05:07

To me, one of the most terrifying things happening in the world today is human trafficking, and this is the world that Vanessa Michael Monroe is plunged into in the third installment of Taylor Stevens’ series featuring the tough, almost preternaturally talented heroine. For nine months, Vanessa has enjoyed relative peace working for Capstone, a private security firm based in Dallas, Texas, and her tentative romance with her coworker Miles Bradford seems to be going well. This delicate peace is shattered, however, when she’s shot with a tranquilizer gun right outside of Capstone and whisked away in a stolen ambulance. Bradford witnesses the whole thing, but can’t reach her in time to prevent the attack. He and team member Samantha Walker discover a body double with Vanessa’s ID in a local hospital, Bradford immediately knows something is very, very wrong, and sets his team on getting her back.

By now, Vanessa is in Croatia and has learned that she’s a captive of a man who calls himself the Doll Maker. That name is enough to give anyone a case of the creeps, and he indeed lives up to his cringe-inducing moniker. He’s not only obsessed with toy dolls, he’s the mastermind of a vast criminal enterprise that provides human “dolls” (complete with frilly dresses, tights, Mary Janes, and Shirley Temple hair) to discerning, and rich clients—and he has a very special job in mind for Vanessa. She must transport Neeva Eckridge, a young actress that’s been missing for weeks, to a very particular client, and if she doesn’t, the Doll Maker will systematically kill everyone Vanessa holds dear. He’s already holding her dearest friend hostage in an unknown location, and the threat of his death is constantly over Vanessa’s head. He’s not just out for money, he’s out for revenge.

As Vanessa sets out on her journey with Neeva, she’s constantly on the lookout for chances to outmaneuver her foes, but they’re shadowing her every move. Her disgust with herself in regards to what she is doing is at war with her need to protect the ones she loves at any cost. Neeva is a spitfire, a blend of spirit and resilience, which is not lost on Vanessa. In fact, the relationship that develops between the two is a highlight of the book. Neeva has some secrets herself, and once she finds out why Vanessa is doing this horrible thing, a sense of understanding, and even camaraderie develops—however tense that camaraderie may be. Have you ever asked yourself how far you would go to save someone you love? It’s the exploration of that very question that makes The Doll such a harrowing and tense read.

Shotgun Lullaby
Sharon Magee

It comes as no surprise that Shotgun Lullaby is about murder. In this, the third installment (after the excellent The Whole Lie), in Edgar-nominee Steve Ulfelder’s Conway Sax mystery series, an even more intriguing aspect is the strong undercurrent of the father-son relationship. Ulfelder creates interesting, sometimes flawed characters and this is no more evident than with Sax. A mechanic, recovering alcoholic, ex–race car driver, and muscle when it’s needed, he’s estranged from his son. When he’s asked to mentor poor little rich kid Gus Biletnikov through his stint with the Barnburners, a unique AA group, he can’t help but notice the strong resemblance to his own son and takes the boy under his wing. When one of Gus’ friends is murdered by a shotgun blast in Gus’ room at his halfway house, Sax feels sure his mentee was the intended victim. When another murder by shotgun occurs, he sets out to find who’s responsible.

A parade of suspects fills the bill: Gus’ father, an emotional fugitive who has little to do with his son; his father’s trophy wife who seems to lack the maternal gene where her daughter Emma is concerned; a strange little con man from Texas who sports neon suits and handmade cowboy boots; and a mob boss and his drug dealer son Fat Teddy, along with their body guard Boxer. Ulfelder gives us several well-placed twists. Don’t bet the bank you know whodunit and what’s going to happen next in this book. Chances are you don’t.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 04 July 2013 05:07

It comes as no surprise that Shotgun Lullaby is about murder. In this, the third installment (after the excellent The Whole Lie), in Edgar-nominee Steve Ulfelder’s Conway Sax mystery series, an even more intriguing aspect is the strong undercurrent of the father-son relationship. Ulfelder creates interesting, sometimes flawed characters and this is no more evident than with Sax. A mechanic, recovering alcoholic, ex–race car driver, and muscle when it’s needed, he’s estranged from his son. When he’s asked to mentor poor little rich kid Gus Biletnikov through his stint with the Barnburners, a unique AA group, he can’t help but notice the strong resemblance to his own son and takes the boy under his wing. When one of Gus’ friends is murdered by a shotgun blast in Gus’ room at his halfway house, Sax feels sure his mentee was the intended victim. When another murder by shotgun occurs, he sets out to find who’s responsible.

A parade of suspects fills the bill: Gus’ father, an emotional fugitive who has little to do with his son; his father’s trophy wife who seems to lack the maternal gene where her daughter Emma is concerned; a strange little con man from Texas who sports neon suits and handmade cowboy boots; and a mob boss and his drug dealer son Fat Teddy, along with their body guard Boxer. Ulfelder gives us several well-placed twists. Don’t bet the bank you know whodunit and what’s going to happen next in this book. Chances are you don’t.

Cold Killing
Derek Hill

When DI Sean Corrigan visits the crime scene of his latest case—the murder of a gay man in a South London apartment—he’s horrified by the savagery of the killing despite his experience. What kind of person could commit such a crime? What’s even more disconcerting is that whoever did it didn’t leave any prints or DNA behind. Corrigan moves through the flat disturbed by what he witnesses, and Delaney writes with clear-eyed precision, starkly capturing the aftermath of such a horrible incident in the most mundane of places.

One of the main suspects is a wealthy financier and family man with a strong connection to the victim. Corrigan wants to believe that this is their man, but he’s filled with doubts—something rare for him. Corrigan trusts his instincts about people and has an uncanny ability to get into the heads of criminals, due to his own nightmarish past suffering abuse. The case grows more complicated when more bodies turn up with little-to-no links to each other.

Do we really need another serial killer book? There’s nothing really new in Luke Delaney’s debut, though Corrigan does make for an engaging detective, and fans of this genre will appreciate the book’s plunge into the dark recesses of its serial-killer antagonist. Chapters alternate between third-person and a creepy first-person point of view inside the head of the murderer. Author Delaney, an ex-cop, is at his best when focusing on the police procedural beat. Television and movie cop clichés are exposed and poked fun at by Delaney, and the crime scenes are written with an insight and sense of atmosphere and forensic detail that chills to the bone. But Delaney flounders a bit when writing from the serial killer’s viewpoint. It’s disturbing stuff, but also ghoulish in questionable ways, delighting in graphic details that undermine how violence is handled earlier in the book.

A final criticism concerns a late-act plot surprise that careers into high melodrama and may jolt some readers out of the book. But, fans of villains like Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter will savor Delaney’s attempt to create a larger-than-life villain from its pages. Delaney certainly shows promise with this first novel, but his penchant for explicit violence may turn off many.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 04 July 2013 05:07

When DI Sean Corrigan visits the crime scene of his latest case—the murder of a gay man in a South London apartment—he’s horrified by the savagery of the killing despite his experience. What kind of person could commit such a crime? What’s even more disconcerting is that whoever did it didn’t leave any prints or DNA behind. Corrigan moves through the flat disturbed by what he witnesses, and Delaney writes with clear-eyed precision, starkly capturing the aftermath of such a horrible incident in the most mundane of places.

One of the main suspects is a wealthy financier and family man with a strong connection to the victim. Corrigan wants to believe that this is their man, but he’s filled with doubts—something rare for him. Corrigan trusts his instincts about people and has an uncanny ability to get into the heads of criminals, due to his own nightmarish past suffering abuse. The case grows more complicated when more bodies turn up with little-to-no links to each other.

Do we really need another serial killer book? There’s nothing really new in Luke Delaney’s debut, though Corrigan does make for an engaging detective, and fans of this genre will appreciate the book’s plunge into the dark recesses of its serial-killer antagonist. Chapters alternate between third-person and a creepy first-person point of view inside the head of the murderer. Author Delaney, an ex-cop, is at his best when focusing on the police procedural beat. Television and movie cop clichés are exposed and poked fun at by Delaney, and the crime scenes are written with an insight and sense of atmosphere and forensic detail that chills to the bone. But Delaney flounders a bit when writing from the serial killer’s viewpoint. It’s disturbing stuff, but also ghoulish in questionable ways, delighting in graphic details that undermine how violence is handled earlier in the book.

A final criticism concerns a late-act plot surprise that careers into high melodrama and may jolt some readers out of the book. But, fans of villains like Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter will savor Delaney’s attempt to create a larger-than-life villain from its pages. Delaney certainly shows promise with this first novel, but his penchant for explicit violence may turn off many.

A Tine to Live, a Tine to Die
Sheila M. Merritt

Going organic is reputedly a healthy thing to do. For Cameron Flaherty, the protagonist of A Tine to Live, A Tine to Die, that does not prove to be the case. Cam is a novice natural produce farmer who is finding the bucolic life less than idyllic. There’s the matter of the farmhand she’s recently fired: he gets murdered, and Cam’s pitchfork is the instrument of his demise. And someone is sabotaging Cameron’s crop, killing vegetation and sowing mayhem. Some of the volunteers and shareholders on Flaherty’s farm are from other countries, and another cause for Cam’s distress is a paramilitary group known as Patriotic Militia, who don’t take kindly to foreign folk working in their community.

First-time novelist Edith Maxwell does a fine job orchestrating the complicated dynamics of the book’s rural Massachusetts environment. The mystery element of the narrative, though, is not as engaging. There is only one murder, which occurs early on in the tale, and the killer is easily discerned.

Despite the novel’s shortcomings as a mystery, the story is a worthwhile read, in large part because of Maxwell’s interesting and varied characters. When they interact, be it at a festive gathering, or harvesting together in the field, there are emotional undercurrents and complexities to their relationships. Cameron’s involvement with the area’s denizens increases when Lucinda, an immigrant, is arrested for the lethal crime. Firmly believing in Lucinda’s innocence, and relieved to no longer be the suspect herself, Cam goes into amateur detective mode. Several locals regard her prying with definite distaste. One who isn’t at all pleased about Cameron’s foray into detection is potential paramour Jake, the Swedish chef at a gourmet restaurant in town. Alternately playful and intense, Jake also has a secret side that complicates their budding romance—especially when his secrecy causes him to become a suspect in Cam’s investigation.

Burgeoning friendships and childhood camaraderie are also put to the test in the course of the sleuthing. Cam is socially awkward, and her methods of inquiry are not terribly subtle. She’s prone to blurting, and tipping her hand. While this geeky quality alienates certain people who populate the yarn, to readers it also renders her endearing and accessible.

Edith Maxwell’s writing style makes for smooth and entertaining reading despite the aforementioned plot frailties. A Tine to Live, A Tine to Die is the first novel in a new series. The sequel is awaited with interest.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 04 July 2013 05:07

Going organic is reputedly a healthy thing to do. For Cameron Flaherty, the protagonist of A Tine to Live, A Tine to Die, that does not prove to be the case. Cam is a novice natural produce farmer who is finding the bucolic life less than idyllic. There’s the matter of the farmhand she’s recently fired: he gets murdered, and Cam’s pitchfork is the instrument of his demise. And someone is sabotaging Cameron’s crop, killing vegetation and sowing mayhem. Some of the volunteers and shareholders on Flaherty’s farm are from other countries, and another cause for Cam’s distress is a paramilitary group known as Patriotic Militia, who don’t take kindly to foreign folk working in their community.

First-time novelist Edith Maxwell does a fine job orchestrating the complicated dynamics of the book’s rural Massachusetts environment. The mystery element of the narrative, though, is not as engaging. There is only one murder, which occurs early on in the tale, and the killer is easily discerned.

Despite the novel’s shortcomings as a mystery, the story is a worthwhile read, in large part because of Maxwell’s interesting and varied characters. When they interact, be it at a festive gathering, or harvesting together in the field, there are emotional undercurrents and complexities to their relationships. Cameron’s involvement with the area’s denizens increases when Lucinda, an immigrant, is arrested for the lethal crime. Firmly believing in Lucinda’s innocence, and relieved to no longer be the suspect herself, Cam goes into amateur detective mode. Several locals regard her prying with definite distaste. One who isn’t at all pleased about Cameron’s foray into detection is potential paramour Jake, the Swedish chef at a gourmet restaurant in town. Alternately playful and intense, Jake also has a secret side that complicates their budding romance—especially when his secrecy causes him to become a suspect in Cam’s investigation.

Burgeoning friendships and childhood camaraderie are also put to the test in the course of the sleuthing. Cam is socially awkward, and her methods of inquiry are not terribly subtle. She’s prone to blurting, and tipping her hand. While this geeky quality alienates certain people who populate the yarn, to readers it also renders her endearing and accessible.

Edith Maxwell’s writing style makes for smooth and entertaining reading despite the aforementioned plot frailties. A Tine to Live, A Tine to Die is the first novel in a new series. The sequel is awaited with interest.

Joyland
Hank Wagner

Joyland is Stephen King’s second book for the Hard Case Crime series, following 2005’s The Colorado Kid. Like that first book, best described as a mystery about mystery (in that it doesn’t offer solid answers to the puzzling conundrum within), Joyland doesn’t deliver the hardboiled type of mystery you would expect from Charles Ardai’s fine line of crime novels. But for the almost essential mystery at its core (an unsolved murder at a theme park), it’s more of a nostalgic coming-of-age novel with touches of the supernatural. King’s constant readers will appreciate its surface similarities to his superlative 1998 novel, Bag of Bones, while movie buffs of a certain vintage will no doubt recognize its similarities to a film like Summer of ’42.

That’s not to discourage anyone from reading the book, only to create realistic expectations for its huge potential audience. It’s not King the gore-meister, but rather, King, the seasoned, natural storyteller at the helm here, spinning a tale filled with genuine human emotion, a remembrance of times past tinged with regret, and featuring a young protagonist who is on the verge of learning some life lessons which will serve him the rest of his days. It’s a bonus for longtime King fans that he also bakes a restless spirit and a kid with psychic powers into this particular literary cake.

Set in 1973, Joyland takes place at a North Carolina seaside carnival of the same name. Having just lost his best girl, heartbroken 21-year-old Devin Jones lands a summer job at the seedy carny, learning the tricks of the trade as he begins to learn more about himself and his hidden talents. He makes new friends, among them a couple of contemporaries, and a whole range of colorful carny veterans. Finally, he makes the acquaintance of single mother Annie Ross, and her young, preternaturally gifted, but terminally ill son, Mike.

Devin is fascinated by the theme park’s lore, which includes a tale of an unsolved murder in its fun house. It seems that the ghost of the victim still haunts the ride, making her presence felt to only a select few, among them Mike Ross. Devin becomes obsessed with the tragedy, mulling over things he has heard and seen in random moments. His investigations bring him closer to the truth, but also expose him, and the people he has come to love, to mortal danger.

King is in total control throughout, doling out bits of pertinent information about the central mystery as needed, but never letting them get in the way of Devin’s hypnotic narrative. The man’s melancholy is palpable, his memories bittersweet. He burns with a desire to make sense of his past, having gained the perspective that comes from his six-plus decades. It’s the sense of his sorting his way through history, looking for the answers to the questions that plague all of us, that holds our interest. Cynical but also wistful, serious but also humorous, it’s both a celebration of and an elegy for a time long past.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 04 July 2013 05:07

Joyland is Stephen King’s second book for the Hard Case Crime series, following 2005’s The Colorado Kid. Like that first book, best described as a mystery about mystery (in that it doesn’t offer solid answers to the puzzling conundrum within), Joyland doesn’t deliver the hardboiled type of mystery you would expect from Charles Ardai’s fine line of crime novels. But for the almost essential mystery at its core (an unsolved murder at a theme park), it’s more of a nostalgic coming-of-age novel with touches of the supernatural. King’s constant readers will appreciate its surface similarities to his superlative 1998 novel, Bag of Bones, while movie buffs of a certain vintage will no doubt recognize its similarities to a film like Summer of ’42.

That’s not to discourage anyone from reading the book, only to create realistic expectations for its huge potential audience. It’s not King the gore-meister, but rather, King, the seasoned, natural storyteller at the helm here, spinning a tale filled with genuine human emotion, a remembrance of times past tinged with regret, and featuring a young protagonist who is on the verge of learning some life lessons which will serve him the rest of his days. It’s a bonus for longtime King fans that he also bakes a restless spirit and a kid with psychic powers into this particular literary cake.

Set in 1973, Joyland takes place at a North Carolina seaside carnival of the same name. Having just lost his best girl, heartbroken 21-year-old Devin Jones lands a summer job at the seedy carny, learning the tricks of the trade as he begins to learn more about himself and his hidden talents. He makes new friends, among them a couple of contemporaries, and a whole range of colorful carny veterans. Finally, he makes the acquaintance of single mother Annie Ross, and her young, preternaturally gifted, but terminally ill son, Mike.

Devin is fascinated by the theme park’s lore, which includes a tale of an unsolved murder in its fun house. It seems that the ghost of the victim still haunts the ride, making her presence felt to only a select few, among them Mike Ross. Devin becomes obsessed with the tragedy, mulling over things he has heard and seen in random moments. His investigations bring him closer to the truth, but also expose him, and the people he has come to love, to mortal danger.

King is in total control throughout, doling out bits of pertinent information about the central mystery as needed, but never letting them get in the way of Devin’s hypnotic narrative. The man’s melancholy is palpable, his memories bittersweet. He burns with a desire to make sense of his past, having gained the perspective that comes from his six-plus decades. It’s the sense of his sorting his way through history, looking for the answers to the questions that plague all of us, that holds our interest. Cynical but also wistful, serious but also humorous, it’s both a celebration of and an elegy for a time long past.

Skinner
Derek Hill

Over the last decade, Charlie Huston has been one of the shining talents of the neo-hardboiled school with his books Already Dead, Caught Stealing, and others. With his last novel, Sleepless, however, Huston upped his game to a new level by meshing the police procedural with the thriller and science fiction genres. He does the same in Skinner and it’s terrific. This time, the classic espionage thriller is reworked, thrust into the world of stateless terrorism, modern warfare, and manipulated economic global disasters.

Enter into this world Skinner, the number one operative of a covert espionage group called Kestral. He is psychologically hardened and scarred, but he’s also disciplined and formidable. He’s the best in the business and even his handlers know not to push him too far, for fear of what kind of punishment he’ll exact in revenge. Now, how long will it take the enemy to figure this lesson out?

America is under attack. International cyberterrorists out of the Ukraine have infiltrated the country’s power grid. Five people have died and disaster looms. Jae, the “disaster robot lady,” is a brilliant robotics expert who has been lured to return to work for Kestral after a long hiatus. It’s Skinner’s job to make sure Jae stays alive to do her job.

The spy genre has often served up morally complex “heroes” whose inner lives were a mess of paradoxes and guilt. Skinner—all muscle, pain, and ruthless intelligence—is the perfect protagonist to navigate through our technologically advanced, yet still savage age. Huston knows how to write a slam-bang action scene, but he is also adept at developing his main characters, too, particularly Jae, an extremely troubled yet fiercely gifted woman who is the emotional lynchpin for much of the novel. That Huston offers such depth without losing his finely honed observant dark humor should please his current fans and win him new ones. This is an excellent, convoluted, yet focused thriller, perfect for summer.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 05 July 2013 11:07

Over the last decade, Charlie Huston has been one of the shining talents of the neo-hardboiled school with his books Already Dead, Caught Stealing, and others. With his last novel, Sleepless, however, Huston upped his game to a new level by meshing the police procedural with the thriller and science fiction genres. He does the same in Skinner and it’s terrific. This time, the classic espionage thriller is reworked, thrust into the world of stateless terrorism, modern warfare, and manipulated economic global disasters.

Enter into this world Skinner, the number one operative of a covert espionage group called Kestral. He is psychologically hardened and scarred, but he’s also disciplined and formidable. He’s the best in the business and even his handlers know not to push him too far, for fear of what kind of punishment he’ll exact in revenge. Now, how long will it take the enemy to figure this lesson out?

America is under attack. International cyberterrorists out of the Ukraine have infiltrated the country’s power grid. Five people have died and disaster looms. Jae, the “disaster robot lady,” is a brilliant robotics expert who has been lured to return to work for Kestral after a long hiatus. It’s Skinner’s job to make sure Jae stays alive to do her job.

The spy genre has often served up morally complex “heroes” whose inner lives were a mess of paradoxes and guilt. Skinner—all muscle, pain, and ruthless intelligence—is the perfect protagonist to navigate through our technologically advanced, yet still savage age. Huston knows how to write a slam-bang action scene, but he is also adept at developing his main characters, too, particularly Jae, an extremely troubled yet fiercely gifted woman who is the emotional lynchpin for much of the novel. That Huston offers such depth without losing his finely honed observant dark humor should please his current fans and win him new ones. This is an excellent, convoluted, yet focused thriller, perfect for summer.

Close Knit Killer
Sue Emmons

CPA Kelly Flynn is as good at investigations as she is with figures in this 11th outing centering on knitting and allied skills. With the aid of her knitter friends at the store House of Lambspun, the Colorado sleuth finds herself embroiled in a very different type of investigation this time—one that’s right up her alley.

When Jared Rizzoli, a former resident of the Fort Connor community, arrives in town to give a series of free lectures on financial planning, he opens old wounds and sets someone on a quest for revenge. Rizzoli swindled many of the residents in a Ponzi scheme in the not-so-distant past. Despite serving a prison term for those misdeeds, the anger of many in the community has not been assuaged. So it really comes as a scant surprise when Rizzoli’s body is found on the outskirts of town with a stab wound in his throat, and it soon becomes clear that someone involved in the Lambspun knitting circle may well be the elusive culprit.

Sefton’s delightful knitting cozies have reached a wide and adoring audience, but for an unfamiliar reader who might think knitting is a dull subject, she or he may be surprised to learn that the craft extends well beyond those clicking needles to include spinning, weaving, felting, dyeing, and crocheting. Moreover, the skills have become so popular that Mimi Shafer, Lambspun’s owner, is planning to expand her shop to include a spinning room. It may also be unexpected that one of the expert spinners is Burt Parker, a retired police detective, whose expertise comes in handy as Flynn looks for a killer.

Sefton has been employed as both a CPA and a realtor, and deftly uses her knowledge of both, though digging into the skills of the knitters almost obscures the hunt for the smarmy Rizzoli’s killer. But, a surprising outcome awaits when the murderer is exposed in a dramatic climax.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 05 July 2013 11:07

CPA Kelly Flynn is as good at investigations as she is with figures in this 11th outing centering on knitting and allied skills. With the aid of her knitter friends at the store House of Lambspun, the Colorado sleuth finds herself embroiled in a very different type of investigation this time—one that’s right up her alley.

When Jared Rizzoli, a former resident of the Fort Connor community, arrives in town to give a series of free lectures on financial planning, he opens old wounds and sets someone on a quest for revenge. Rizzoli swindled many of the residents in a Ponzi scheme in the not-so-distant past. Despite serving a prison term for those misdeeds, the anger of many in the community has not been assuaged. So it really comes as a scant surprise when Rizzoli’s body is found on the outskirts of town with a stab wound in his throat, and it soon becomes clear that someone involved in the Lambspun knitting circle may well be the elusive culprit.

Sefton’s delightful knitting cozies have reached a wide and adoring audience, but for an unfamiliar reader who might think knitting is a dull subject, she or he may be surprised to learn that the craft extends well beyond those clicking needles to include spinning, weaving, felting, dyeing, and crocheting. Moreover, the skills have become so popular that Mimi Shafer, Lambspun’s owner, is planning to expand her shop to include a spinning room. It may also be unexpected that one of the expert spinners is Burt Parker, a retired police detective, whose expertise comes in handy as Flynn looks for a killer.

Sefton has been employed as both a CPA and a realtor, and deftly uses her knowledge of both, though digging into the skills of the knitters almost obscures the hunt for the smarmy Rizzoli’s killer. But, a surprising outcome awaits when the murderer is exposed in a dramatic climax.