The Ghost Riders of Ordebec
Robin Agnew

This is the first Fred Vargas title I’ve read, though as a bookseller I can say that her books sell consistently. Judging from the covers, I imagined her to be a gritty writer of somewhat gory police procedurals. This is very far from the case.

The word that comes to mind to describe this imaginative and delicate book is not “gritty” but “fey.” Set in Paris, the book features Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg, an officer whose own staff refers to his methodology as “you just shovel clouds.” But the cloud shoveler, with his Poirot-like leaps of deduction, gets results.

The novel has two central cases but Vargas cleverly ties them together by necessity, binding their outcomes and investigations. The first case concerns the “Ghost Riders” of the title, who are a sign of death to come for anyone who sees them in the French village of Ordebec. The police in Ordebec aren’t taking the sightings seriously, leading a frightened older woman, whose daughter has seen them, to Adamsberg’s Paris office to seek help. She’s afraid her daughter will be shunned in her village—or worse.

Curiosity gets the better of Adamsberg, who has no jurisdiction in Ordebec. He visits anyway, and is captivated by the people he meets there. He also finds a dead body, the first victim of the Ghost Riders. He’s asked to take over the case when another body turns up, and the chief of police in Ordebec has still taken little action. adamsberg is tied up in another case—the burning death of a prominent Parisian businessman. There’s an easy and seemingly obvious solution, but Adamsberg rejects it, and goes far out of his way to find the true perpetrator of the crime.

Like gems scattered on the cloth of the story, each character is a revelation. Each one is specific and eccentric, with quirks and traits that make them memorable. As Adamsberg meanders toward a solution, using instincts and deduction rather than mere evidence, he works with each member of his team in the way that brings out their best efforts.

While I wouldn’t call this writing style magical realism, it almost has that element to it, as it’s dreamlike in both story and resolution. Some of the happenings are fantastic, yet they don’t seem to be remarkable within the context of the novel. For example, it seems to faze Adamsberg not a bit to meet a man who eats bugs and another who speaks entirely backward. Giving yourself up to Vargas’ delicate prose and storytelling style is a surrender well worth making.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 27 September 2013 11:09

This is the first Fred Vargas title I’ve read, though as a bookseller I can say that her books sell consistently. Judging from the covers, I imagined her to be a gritty writer of somewhat gory police procedurals. This is very far from the case.

The word that comes to mind to describe this imaginative and delicate book is not “gritty” but “fey.” Set in Paris, the book features Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg, an officer whose own staff refers to his methodology as “you just shovel clouds.” But the cloud shoveler, with his Poirot-like leaps of deduction, gets results.

The novel has two central cases but Vargas cleverly ties them together by necessity, binding their outcomes and investigations. The first case concerns the “Ghost Riders” of the title, who are a sign of death to come for anyone who sees them in the French village of Ordebec. The police in Ordebec aren’t taking the sightings seriously, leading a frightened older woman, whose daughter has seen them, to Adamsberg’s Paris office to seek help. She’s afraid her daughter will be shunned in her village—or worse.

Curiosity gets the better of Adamsberg, who has no jurisdiction in Ordebec. He visits anyway, and is captivated by the people he meets there. He also finds a dead body, the first victim of the Ghost Riders. He’s asked to take over the case when another body turns up, and the chief of police in Ordebec has still taken little action. adamsberg is tied up in another case—the burning death of a prominent Parisian businessman. There’s an easy and seemingly obvious solution, but Adamsberg rejects it, and goes far out of his way to find the true perpetrator of the crime.

Like gems scattered on the cloth of the story, each character is a revelation. Each one is specific and eccentric, with quirks and traits that make them memorable. As Adamsberg meanders toward a solution, using instincts and deduction rather than mere evidence, he works with each member of his team in the way that brings out their best efforts.

While I wouldn’t call this writing style magical realism, it almost has that element to it, as it’s dreamlike in both story and resolution. Some of the happenings are fantastic, yet they don’t seem to be remarkable within the context of the novel. For example, it seems to faze Adamsberg not a bit to meet a man who eats bugs and another who speaks entirely backward. Giving yourself up to Vargas’ delicate prose and storytelling style is a surrender well worth making.

Matters of Doubt
Eileen Brady

If you haven’t been to Portland, Oregon, lately do yourself a favor and pick up Matters of Doubt by Warren C. Easley. The descriptions of the city and surrounding countryside, not to mention the fly fishing, local restaurants, plus fresh roasted coffee make this debut novel engagingly atmospheric and enjoyable.

Former Los Angeles chief prosecutor Cal Claxton has opted for early retirement and plans to kick back in the small town of Dundee, Oregon. To supplement his income, he picks up a few low-profile legal cases on the side. Nothing too stressful.

He doesn’t want or need to take a cold case from a tattooed kid from Portland nicknamed Picasso. Not just any cold case: it’s the eight-year-old murder of the boy’s mother, Nicole Baxter, an investigative reporter, whose remains have recently been discovered. Claxton brushes the kid off, then starts to feel guilty. On his next trip into Portland, he decides to look him up. To his surprise, he discovers Picasso is a talented artist who has been hired to paint a mural on the side of a free clinic in Old Town Portland run by dedicated Doctor Anna Ericksen. He’s also a street kid, one of the many homeless youths that hang out downtown.

Author and Oregon resident Warren Easley knows what he’s talking about. The kids that populate the book are all too real, funny, and so sad they’ll ultimately break your heart. When the ex-boyfriend of Picasso’s mom, Mitch Conyers, is murdered, police haul the young artist to jail. Before he knows it, Cal’s quiet life is no more. Accompanied by his Australian shepherd, Archie, Cal’s soon up to his eyeballs in murder, prostitution, drugs, and politics. Stirring up extra trouble is self-righteous talk show host Larry Vincent of KPOC radio, who baits his listeners with venomous accusations against Picasso, whom he calls Snake Boy.

It’s up to Claxton to prove that someone has framed the boy, someone who is desperately hiding from the past. Relying on info supplied by his Cuban food-loving private investigator, Nando Mendoza, Claxton concentrates on the last day of Nicole Baxter’s busy life so many years ago. The discovery of the murderer lies in the details of the victim’s public and private life, and doesn’t disappoint. All in all, this is a promising first book in the Cal Claxton Oregon mysteries, part private-eye novel, part thriller, and entirely entertaining.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 27 September 2013 11:09

If you haven’t been to Portland, Oregon, lately do yourself a favor and pick up Matters of Doubt by Warren C. Easley. The descriptions of the city and surrounding countryside, not to mention the fly fishing, local restaurants, plus fresh roasted coffee make this debut novel engagingly atmospheric and enjoyable.

Former Los Angeles chief prosecutor Cal Claxton has opted for early retirement and plans to kick back in the small town of Dundee, Oregon. To supplement his income, he picks up a few low-profile legal cases on the side. Nothing too stressful.

He doesn’t want or need to take a cold case from a tattooed kid from Portland nicknamed Picasso. Not just any cold case: it’s the eight-year-old murder of the boy’s mother, Nicole Baxter, an investigative reporter, whose remains have recently been discovered. Claxton brushes the kid off, then starts to feel guilty. On his next trip into Portland, he decides to look him up. To his surprise, he discovers Picasso is a talented artist who has been hired to paint a mural on the side of a free clinic in Old Town Portland run by dedicated Doctor Anna Ericksen. He’s also a street kid, one of the many homeless youths that hang out downtown.

Author and Oregon resident Warren Easley knows what he’s talking about. The kids that populate the book are all too real, funny, and so sad they’ll ultimately break your heart. When the ex-boyfriend of Picasso’s mom, Mitch Conyers, is murdered, police haul the young artist to jail. Before he knows it, Cal’s quiet life is no more. Accompanied by his Australian shepherd, Archie, Cal’s soon up to his eyeballs in murder, prostitution, drugs, and politics. Stirring up extra trouble is self-righteous talk show host Larry Vincent of KPOC radio, who baits his listeners with venomous accusations against Picasso, whom he calls Snake Boy.

It’s up to Claxton to prove that someone has framed the boy, someone who is desperately hiding from the past. Relying on info supplied by his Cuban food-loving private investigator, Nando Mendoza, Claxton concentrates on the last day of Nicole Baxter’s busy life so many years ago. The discovery of the murderer lies in the details of the victim’s public and private life, and doesn’t disappoint. All in all, this is a promising first book in the Cal Claxton Oregon mysteries, part private-eye novel, part thriller, and entirely entertaining.

Plum Deadly
Sue Emmons

Plum Deadly is a welcome addition to the ranks of culinary cozies and features the debut of Maggie Grady, a disgraced New York City banker forced to return to her hometown after being accused of stealing from a client. It’s reverse culture shock as the Manhattanite Maggie settles back into the routine of Durham, North Carolina, where her aunt operates Pie-in-the-Sky, a popular bakery in the shadow of the Duke University campus. Maggie’s overriding goal is to clear her name and head back to the high-powered career she left behind.

Seemingly, the fates are on her side when her former boss shows up, promising to offer proof that Maggie was, in fact, framed to take the fall for the theft. But, before he can turn over his evidence, he is killed and Maggie emerges as the prime suspect in his murder. In her struggles to clear her name—both locally and on the New York scene—Maggie achieves sometimes-reluctant rapport with the local police as she pitches in to catch the real culprit. Plenty of red herrings add spice to her quest.

Foodies will love the recipes for yummy pies that the husband-and-wife writing team Joyce and Jim Lavene, using the pseudonym of Ellie Grant, provide, as well as discovering a new sleuth with a penchant for pastry. This book is a “plum” indeed, plucked from a traditional format but with erudite overtones. More adventures of Maggie Grady would be a welcome addition to the sometimes banal cozy genre.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 27 September 2013 11:09

Plum Deadly is a welcome addition to the ranks of culinary cozies and features the debut of Maggie Grady, a disgraced New York City banker forced to return to her hometown after being accused of stealing from a client. It’s reverse culture shock as the Manhattanite Maggie settles back into the routine of Durham, North Carolina, where her aunt operates Pie-in-the-Sky, a popular bakery in the shadow of the Duke University campus. Maggie’s overriding goal is to clear her name and head back to the high-powered career she left behind.

Seemingly, the fates are on her side when her former boss shows up, promising to offer proof that Maggie was, in fact, framed to take the fall for the theft. But, before he can turn over his evidence, he is killed and Maggie emerges as the prime suspect in his murder. In her struggles to clear her name—both locally and on the New York scene—Maggie achieves sometimes-reluctant rapport with the local police as she pitches in to catch the real culprit. Plenty of red herrings add spice to her quest.

Foodies will love the recipes for yummy pies that the husband-and-wife writing team Joyce and Jim Lavene, using the pseudonym of Ellie Grant, provide, as well as discovering a new sleuth with a penchant for pastry. This book is a “plum” indeed, plucked from a traditional format but with erudite overtones. More adventures of Maggie Grady would be a welcome addition to the sometimes banal cozy genre.

Seven for a Secret
Robin Agnew

This gripping, beautifully written, chilling, heartbreaking, and exciting novel by Lyndsay Faye is a completely immersive experience. It’s the kind of book you might look up from and be surprised to find you aren’t actually in 1840s New York City, where this story takes place—so total is Ms. Faye’s grasp of her subject matter, her location, and her characters.

Seven for a Secret is set in a time when the NYPD had just been founded, and the men who wore the copper stars of the police force were more reviled and feared as thugs than welcomed as peacekeepers. And, if this book is to be believed, with good reason. It’s for these reasons Faye’s main character, Timothy Wilde, stands apart from many of his fellow officers, or “copper stars.” He’s not interested in politics or thuggery just for its own sake. Like any good hero in a detective novel, he’s more or less an outsider, interested in justice and doing the right thing.

The story is not just Timothy’s, however, but also Lucy’s, a black woman working in a flower shop, who goes home one terrible afternoon to discover her sister and son are missing. She flees in panic to the police. A storyteller who doesn’t release her secrets quickly or easily, Faye introduces Lucy and then relates an earlier successful investigation of Tim’s, where he’s found the culprit and settled the matter at hand against the odds. Lucy then encounters him when he’s at his most complacent and self-satisfied. The author then proceeds to blow his world, as well as poor Lucy’s, wide open.

This is a harsh and heartbreaking look not only at 1840s New York City as an entirety, but at the dreadful and shameful practice of slave catching. White men were allowed to clap hands on a “slave” (i.e., any black person), declare them an escaped slave, then sell and return them to a life of slavery in the South. Despite papers held by free blacks, this could still happen at any time.

Timothy is a fervent abolitionist, and fights the political organization Tammany Hall and a corrupt police force as he tries to help Lucy’s family, despite repeated tragedies and setbacks. He’s aware there’s something he’s not quite getting, and part of it is that no one in the story is publicly honest about their true feelings or reasons for their behavior, causing many problems, large and small.

While Lucy’s sister and son are found early on by Tim and his large, copper-star-wearing, Tammany Hall-loyal brother, Val, it’s only the first twist in Faye’s long look at the many particular and terrible compromises made daily by white men, even those who didn’t especially believe in slavery. Val share’s his liberal brother’s abolitionist leanings, for example, but must keep this under wraps, because it doesn’t suit the Democratic party. No one wants a war.

Seven for a Secret is filled with vivid characterization, beautiful language, period slang (a glossary is provided), a gorgeous plot, incredibly evocative settings, and heartbreaking twists of fate. In short, this is an amazingly rich story, worthy of the word “epic,” though the events related take place within a short space of time. All classes, all walks of life, all states of being are encompassed here. This is definitely one of the finest crime novels of the year.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 27 September 2013 11:09

This gripping, beautifully written, chilling, heartbreaking, and exciting novel by Lyndsay Faye is a completely immersive experience. It’s the kind of book you might look up from and be surprised to find you aren’t actually in 1840s New York City, where this story takes place—so total is Ms. Faye’s grasp of her subject matter, her location, and her characters.

Seven for a Secret is set in a time when the NYPD had just been founded, and the men who wore the copper stars of the police force were more reviled and feared as thugs than welcomed as peacekeepers. And, if this book is to be believed, with good reason. It’s for these reasons Faye’s main character, Timothy Wilde, stands apart from many of his fellow officers, or “copper stars.” He’s not interested in politics or thuggery just for its own sake. Like any good hero in a detective novel, he’s more or less an outsider, interested in justice and doing the right thing.

The story is not just Timothy’s, however, but also Lucy’s, a black woman working in a flower shop, who goes home one terrible afternoon to discover her sister and son are missing. She flees in panic to the police. A storyteller who doesn’t release her secrets quickly or easily, Faye introduces Lucy and then relates an earlier successful investigation of Tim’s, where he’s found the culprit and settled the matter at hand against the odds. Lucy then encounters him when he’s at his most complacent and self-satisfied. The author then proceeds to blow his world, as well as poor Lucy’s, wide open.

This is a harsh and heartbreaking look not only at 1840s New York City as an entirety, but at the dreadful and shameful practice of slave catching. White men were allowed to clap hands on a “slave” (i.e., any black person), declare them an escaped slave, then sell and return them to a life of slavery in the South. Despite papers held by free blacks, this could still happen at any time.

Timothy is a fervent abolitionist, and fights the political organization Tammany Hall and a corrupt police force as he tries to help Lucy’s family, despite repeated tragedies and setbacks. He’s aware there’s something he’s not quite getting, and part of it is that no one in the story is publicly honest about their true feelings or reasons for their behavior, causing many problems, large and small.

While Lucy’s sister and son are found early on by Tim and his large, copper-star-wearing, Tammany Hall-loyal brother, Val, it’s only the first twist in Faye’s long look at the many particular and terrible compromises made daily by white men, even those who didn’t especially believe in slavery. Val share’s his liberal brother’s abolitionist leanings, for example, but must keep this under wraps, because it doesn’t suit the Democratic party. No one wants a war.

Seven for a Secret is filled with vivid characterization, beautiful language, period slang (a glossary is provided), a gorgeous plot, incredibly evocative settings, and heartbreaking twists of fate. In short, this is an amazingly rich story, worthy of the word “epic,” though the events related take place within a short space of time. All classes, all walks of life, all states of being are encompassed here. This is definitely one of the finest crime novels of the year.

The Bones of Paris
Sue Emmons

Paris, 1929, provides the romantic setting for Laurie R. King’s sequel to Touchstone, an ambitious departure from her Edgar-winning Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes mysteries.

Newly minted private investigator Harris Stuyvesant, a former FBI agent who left the bureau after falling out with the eccentric J. Edgar Hoover, contacts his friend, Bennett Grey, to enlist his help in tracing a missing 22-year-old American, Phillippa “Pip” Crosby. The letter includes photographs so disturbing that the sometimes-suicidal Grey, immediately destroys them.

Stuyvesant has another reason for tracing Crosby. He had a brief fling with her and is feeling remorseful after dismissing her as just another rich, blonde, wayward American seeking decadent kicks in worldly Paris. His investigation soon leads him to the Théâtre du Grand Guignol in Montmarte, and a strange breed of artists who rely on human bones as the basis for their own peculiar art form. A satisfying villain spices the fast-moving plot as murders pile up.

King rarely disappoints and her version of jazz-age Paris and its denizens is a treat. She garnishes her story with a welcome dollop of the cynicism prevalent among The City of Light’s jaded inhabitants, many of whom fancy themselves misunderstood artists. Moreover, there is a bow to many of the citizens of the word who found fun and solace in the Bohemian atmosphere—among them Hemingway, Man Ray, and Cole Porter, although the author concedes these real people may not have actually been in Paris in 1929. This is vintage King and The Bones of Paris should delight her flock of fans.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 27 September 2013 11:09

kinglaurie_bonesofparisJazz and bohemia color the latest PI Harris Stuyvesant tale set in 1929 Paris.

A Tap on the Window
Kevin Burton Smith

In a tiny but pivotal flashback, Cal Weaver struggles to explain to his then eight-year-old son Scott that “Sometimes doing the right thing hurts.” That pretty much nails the essence of Barclay’s gripping new slice of domestic noir: the world is full of good intentions and bad results.

Once more Barclay; a deceptively mild-mannered author, seems determined to rescue the familial tragedy from the rarefied air of the privileged and comfortably well-off and give it back to the people who have to live through it in the real world. There are no brilliant surgeons here, no high-powered attorneys, or pampered rock stars in Barclay’s stories—his protagonists tend to be used-car salesmen, building contractors, school teachers, or middle-aged small-town private eyes like Cal. He’s no mythic two-fisted, rotgut-swilling gumshoe, but rather a shopworn, quietly efficient investigator; just another working-class grunt trying to do the best he can.

But it’s not going so well for Cal. He’s in a world of hurt, trying to pick up the pieces of a shattered life, following the suicide of a now-teenage Scott a few months earlier, and a marriage that is crumbling in its aftermath. Obsessed with trying to find out why their only child threw himself from the roof of a local furniture store, Cal has been doggedly running his own investigation, relentlessly questioning local teenagers. So when pretty young Claire, a classmate of Scott’s, taps on his car window one rainy night, asking for a ride, Cal reluctantly plays Samaritan.

But it’s just another good intention run amuck—Claire is the mayor’s daughter, and when she disappears shortly after, suspicion falls heavily on Cal, the last person to be seen with her. Once again, this Canadian author has chosen, rather disappointingly, an American setting. But the hurt and pain, not to mention the smug complacency and paranoia of suburbia, the unending questions of security versus freedom, and the bullying politics of fear, are universal; as are the throbbing engines of drug abuse, corruption, fear, greed, loneliness, grief, and madness that drive this story right to its bitter and scathing—if slightly too drawn-out—conclusion. There may be no pity in the naked city, but in Barclay’s world, there’s precious damn little in the ’burbs either.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 27 September 2013 11:09

In a tiny but pivotal flashback, Cal Weaver struggles to explain to his then eight-year-old son Scott that “Sometimes doing the right thing hurts.” That pretty much nails the essence of Barclay’s gripping new slice of domestic noir: the world is full of good intentions and bad results.

Once more Barclay; a deceptively mild-mannered author, seems determined to rescue the familial tragedy from the rarefied air of the privileged and comfortably well-off and give it back to the people who have to live through it in the real world. There are no brilliant surgeons here, no high-powered attorneys, or pampered rock stars in Barclay’s stories—his protagonists tend to be used-car salesmen, building contractors, school teachers, or middle-aged small-town private eyes like Cal. He’s no mythic two-fisted, rotgut-swilling gumshoe, but rather a shopworn, quietly efficient investigator; just another working-class grunt trying to do the best he can.

But it’s not going so well for Cal. He’s in a world of hurt, trying to pick up the pieces of a shattered life, following the suicide of a now-teenage Scott a few months earlier, and a marriage that is crumbling in its aftermath. Obsessed with trying to find out why their only child threw himself from the roof of a local furniture store, Cal has been doggedly running his own investigation, relentlessly questioning local teenagers. So when pretty young Claire, a classmate of Scott’s, taps on his car window one rainy night, asking for a ride, Cal reluctantly plays Samaritan.

But it’s just another good intention run amuck—Claire is the mayor’s daughter, and when she disappears shortly after, suspicion falls heavily on Cal, the last person to be seen with her. Once again, this Canadian author has chosen, rather disappointingly, an American setting. But the hurt and pain, not to mention the smug complacency and paranoia of suburbia, the unending questions of security versus freedom, and the bullying politics of fear, are universal; as are the throbbing engines of drug abuse, corruption, fear, greed, loneliness, grief, and madness that drive this story right to its bitter and scathing—if slightly too drawn-out—conclusion. There may be no pity in the naked city, but in Barclay’s world, there’s precious damn little in the ’burbs either.

Hearts of Sand
Sharon Magee

In writing a long-running series it’s often difficult to find fresh stories to occupy characters and hold readers’ interest. But Haddam does just that with her Gregor Demarkian novels. This is the 28th installment, after last year’s Blood in the Water, and it’s anything but tired.

When wild, little rich girl Chapin Waring disappeared 30 years before with $250,000 from five bank robberies that resulted in the deaths of two guards, everyone thought she must be dead. Not a single bill from her ill-gotten wealth ever returned to circulation. But now Alwych, Connecticut, is abuzz with rumored Chapin sightings. It appears she is alive and well and has come home to the affluent beach town of McMansions and exclusive private schools.

And indeed she has returned—but not alive or well. She’s found dead in her family’s unoccupied house, a knife in her back. The town is sure her murder is somehow connected to the long-ago robberies or possibly the car crash shortly before her disappearance that killed Marty Veer, her accomplice and one of her tight-knit circle of six friends.

The police are stumped and call in retired FBI profiler Gregor Demarkian. When he arrives in Alwych, he finds suspects galore. Chapin was not well-liked, and not just because she robbed banks. The “it” girl those many years ago of Alwych Country Day School manipulated everyone and had a wild, dangerous streak. Of her inner circle, only four remain alive, and Gregor takes a close look at each: Virginia, a US Congresswoman; Virginia’s twin brother Tim, a saintly idealist who runs a free clinic; Hope, a teacher who is penniless and weighs almost 500 pounds; and Kyle, an anomaly—an honest Wall Street attorney. Spreading his net even further, Gregor adds Evaline Veer to the list. She’s Alwych’s mayor and the sister of Marty, the boy killed in the car accident. And then there’s Chapin’s younger sister, Caroline, who’s the only relative still living in Alwych. She wants nothing to do with Chapin and refuses to accept her sister’s body or plan a funeral. When a second person is killed in the same manner, it eliminates one of Gregor’s suspects, but complicates his investigation even further.

Edgar- and Anthony-award finalist Haddam knows how to write a small town, particularly an old money town, with all its secrets and insular society. The ocean breeze and the smell of money fairly wafts from the page. Her characters are fully fleshed out. She knows them well, maybe too well, and sometimes neglects to reintroduce returning characters for readers new to the series. Her plotting skills shine through with intricate twists and turns. Readers can only hope Gregor Demarkian doesn’t decide to really retire permanently any time soon.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 27 September 2013 12:09

In writing a long-running series it’s often difficult to find fresh stories to occupy characters and hold readers’ interest. But Haddam does just that with her Gregor Demarkian novels. This is the 28th installment, after last year’s Blood in the Water, and it’s anything but tired.

When wild, little rich girl Chapin Waring disappeared 30 years before with $250,000 from five bank robberies that resulted in the deaths of two guards, everyone thought she must be dead. Not a single bill from her ill-gotten wealth ever returned to circulation. But now Alwych, Connecticut, is abuzz with rumored Chapin sightings. It appears she is alive and well and has come home to the affluent beach town of McMansions and exclusive private schools.

And indeed she has returned—but not alive or well. She’s found dead in her family’s unoccupied house, a knife in her back. The town is sure her murder is somehow connected to the long-ago robberies or possibly the car crash shortly before her disappearance that killed Marty Veer, her accomplice and one of her tight-knit circle of six friends.

The police are stumped and call in retired FBI profiler Gregor Demarkian. When he arrives in Alwych, he finds suspects galore. Chapin was not well-liked, and not just because she robbed banks. The “it” girl those many years ago of Alwych Country Day School manipulated everyone and had a wild, dangerous streak. Of her inner circle, only four remain alive, and Gregor takes a close look at each: Virginia, a US Congresswoman; Virginia’s twin brother Tim, a saintly idealist who runs a free clinic; Hope, a teacher who is penniless and weighs almost 500 pounds; and Kyle, an anomaly—an honest Wall Street attorney. Spreading his net even further, Gregor adds Evaline Veer to the list. She’s Alwych’s mayor and the sister of Marty, the boy killed in the car accident. And then there’s Chapin’s younger sister, Caroline, who’s the only relative still living in Alwych. She wants nothing to do with Chapin and refuses to accept her sister’s body or plan a funeral. When a second person is killed in the same manner, it eliminates one of Gregor’s suspects, but complicates his investigation even further.

Edgar- and Anthony-award finalist Haddam knows how to write a small town, particularly an old money town, with all its secrets and insular society. The ocean breeze and the smell of money fairly wafts from the page. Her characters are fully fleshed out. She knows them well, maybe too well, and sometimes neglects to reintroduce returning characters for readers new to the series. Her plotting skills shine through with intricate twists and turns. Readers can only hope Gregor Demarkian doesn’t decide to really retire permanently any time soon.

Grapes of Death
Robin Agnew

Joni Folger gets lots of things right in her debut outing. She’s got an interesting setting—a family vineyard near Austin, Texas—and she’s filled it with interesting characters. The Beckett family, who live on or near the property, includes manager and oldest son Ross, mother Laura, grandma Abby, and two daughters, Madison and Elise. Biologist Elise Beckett is the main character, and she’s in a quandary.

As the book opens Elise is driving back to the vineyard, River Bend, while on the phone with her beau, Stuart, who has just offered her a dream job. Unfortunately, that job is in Dallas where Stuart lives, and she’d have to leave the family business. For the moment, she and Stuart have a lopsided commuter relationship, with Elise doing the lion’s share of the travel.

As Elise comes home, characteristically a tad late, to family chaos, she’s subsumed in her family’s dynamic and puts thoughts of Stuart out of her mind. Her mother, a widow, can be heard arguing with her brother-in-law in the library while the rest of the family is uncomfortably forced to listen to snippets of their fraught conversation. Uncle Edmond storms off in a huff leaving the family to another of Granny Abby’s famous dinners, and the conversation turns to the vineyard. Elise keeps Stuart’s job offer to herself, feeling it’s not the right time to bring it up.

Folger has painted such an unpleasant picture of Edmond that it’s not exactly shocking when he’s murdered shortly into the narrative. At this point, for me, the book took on all the familiarity and comfort of a Murder, She Wrote episode. There was the setting, the family, the suspects—and when sexy cop Jackson, an old family friend who is between ladies, turns up, the scene is complete.

As Elise continues to get involved in the murder, to the extreme annoyance of Jackson, ultimately charging into a dangerous situation at the denouement, you may be simultaneously annoyed and charmed by her. For this reader, she needs a few specifics in her character to make her more interesting. She’s a bit plain vanilla with no real defining characteristics other than the fact that she’s pleasant and often late.

One of the interesting things about this novel, the first in a series—is the vineyard. There are lots of things about wine making the average reader doesn’t know and will be interested to learn about. For one thing, Elise is developing some hybrid vines (which become a plot point), and I’d have loved for even more details of her work to be included in the story.

Folger has written a deft and pleasant whodunit, and if she were to add more unique details to her characters and setting, she’d have a real winner. While I didn’t figure out everything that was going to happen, I was close, so my wish for Ms. Folger is for her to think a tiny bit more outside the box.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 27 September 2013 12:09

folger_grapesofdeathA debut outing with a smart biologist at its heart gets a lot of things right.

Aunty Lee’s Delights
Vanessa Orr

Rosie Lee, known as Aunty Lee to those who come to her restaurant in Singapore, is what is known in America as a busybody. In her homeland, she is kaypoh, or someone who minds the business of others with as much energy as she minds her own. She embodies kiasu, or fear of losing out, a typical Singaporean characteristic which she takes to the extreme when two young women are murdered and she inserts herself into the investigation.

While at first coming across as a bored, gossipy widow, Aunty Lee is far smarter than people suspect and usually finds a way to get the information she needs—often as the result of feeding suspects and police alike her homemade delicacies. She mixes people together in the same way that she combines her spicy ingredients, carefully observing how they interact until she discovers the secrets they hold. In the novel, the act of cooking is often used as a metaphor for life; Aunty Lee compares the idea of letting things settle in one’s mind to that of cleaning out a stockpot to remove questionable debris.

While the plot revolves around the murder investigation, the story itself is more of a character study, focusing on the suspects and what they have to hide. While Aunty Lee and her employee and companion, Nina, are well-drawn and likable, many of the other characters are almost caricatures of themselves from the gold-digging stepdaughter-in-law, Selina, to the racist Australian expat Harry Sullivan. On the other hand, the more nuanced descriptions of Singapore add much to the story, introducing the reader to a mysterious, tradition-bound world where many different cultures meet and sometimes clash.

While the concept of using a nosy older woman as an amateur sleuth isn’t original (Miss Marple, anyone?), the opportunity to learn more about Singaporean culture and cooking sets this novel apart and leaves the reader sated.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 27 September 2013 12:09

Rosie Lee, known as Aunty Lee to those who come to her restaurant in Singapore, is what is known in America as a busybody. In her homeland, she is kaypoh, or someone who minds the business of others with as much energy as she minds her own. She embodies kiasu, or fear of losing out, a typical Singaporean characteristic which she takes to the extreme when two young women are murdered and she inserts herself into the investigation.

While at first coming across as a bored, gossipy widow, Aunty Lee is far smarter than people suspect and usually finds a way to get the information she needs—often as the result of feeding suspects and police alike her homemade delicacies. She mixes people together in the same way that she combines her spicy ingredients, carefully observing how they interact until she discovers the secrets they hold. In the novel, the act of cooking is often used as a metaphor for life; Aunty Lee compares the idea of letting things settle in one’s mind to that of cleaning out a stockpot to remove questionable debris.

While the plot revolves around the murder investigation, the story itself is more of a character study, focusing on the suspects and what they have to hide. While Aunty Lee and her employee and companion, Nina, are well-drawn and likable, many of the other characters are almost caricatures of themselves from the gold-digging stepdaughter-in-law, Selina, to the racist Australian expat Harry Sullivan. On the other hand, the more nuanced descriptions of Singapore add much to the story, introducing the reader to a mysterious, tradition-bound world where many different cultures meet and sometimes clash.

While the concept of using a nosy older woman as an amateur sleuth isn’t original (Miss Marple, anyone?), the opportunity to learn more about Singaporean culture and cooking sets this novel apart and leaves the reader sated.

Winter at Death’s Hotel
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

Since I’ve recently reviewed books here featuring Mrs. Sherlock Holmes, it was only a matter of time, I suppose, before I’d be reviewing a book featuring Mrs. Arthur Conan Doyle. This is it...and it’s not half bad. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but this turned out to be a real page-turner about a fictional serial killer of women, the Bowery Butcher, an 1896 New York City version of Jack the Ripper.

When she badly sprains her leg just before departure with her husband on a book tour of the United States, Mrs. Doyle is left at the Manhattan hotel with her maid to recuperate. While there, she notices a beautiful young woman checking in with a young man. Shortly thereafter, a woman is found dead and mutilated in a Bowery alley. The artist’s rendering of the woman in a local paper looks very much like the same woman from the check-in desk, and when no one else appears to identify her and the police close the case—primarily because the woman was the wife of a very influential person—Mrs. Doyle tries to get them to reopen it.

After several more similar murders, and with the newspaper zeroing in on police corruption and incompetency, the police commissioner, one Theodore Roosevelt, finally assigns a detective who is serious about solving the crimes. Together with Mrs. Doyle, they begin to close in on the killer, but not before Mrs. Doyle comes much closer to the Bowery Butcher.

This is a quick-moving novel with an interesting, colorfully evoked setting. The conclusion was a surprise, at least to me. One word of warning, however: There is some rather grisly description of the killer’s butchery, particularly towards the end. With that proviso, I can strongly recommend this latest entry to Holmesian literature.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 27 September 2013 12:09

Since I’ve recently reviewed books here featuring Mrs. Sherlock Holmes, it was only a matter of time, I suppose, before I’d be reviewing a book featuring Mrs. Arthur Conan Doyle. This is it...and it’s not half bad. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but this turned out to be a real page-turner about a fictional serial killer of women, the Bowery Butcher, an 1896 New York City version of Jack the Ripper.

When she badly sprains her leg just before departure with her husband on a book tour of the United States, Mrs. Doyle is left at the Manhattan hotel with her maid to recuperate. While there, she notices a beautiful young woman checking in with a young man. Shortly thereafter, a woman is found dead and mutilated in a Bowery alley. The artist’s rendering of the woman in a local paper looks very much like the same woman from the check-in desk, and when no one else appears to identify her and the police close the case—primarily because the woman was the wife of a very influential person—Mrs. Doyle tries to get them to reopen it.

After several more similar murders, and with the newspaper zeroing in on police corruption and incompetency, the police commissioner, one Theodore Roosevelt, finally assigns a detective who is serious about solving the crimes. Together with Mrs. Doyle, they begin to close in on the killer, but not before Mrs. Doyle comes much closer to the Bowery Butcher.

This is a quick-moving novel with an interesting, colorfully evoked setting. The conclusion was a surprise, at least to me. One word of warning, however: There is some rather grisly description of the killer’s butchery, particularly towards the end. With that proviso, I can strongly recommend this latest entry to Holmesian literature.

Any Resemblance to Actual Persons
Vanessa Orr

Built around the Black Dahlia murder case that took place in Los Angeles in 1947, Any Resemblance to Actual Persons doesn’t actually have any resemblance to a murder mystery, which, because of the subject matter, is what I at first thought it was. It is instead a disturbing character study of a man who, while trying to repudiate his sister’s accusation of their father as the Black Dahlia killer, takes the reader on a slow, sometimes torturous journey through his own mind.

Reading this book is like reading someone’s diary—and finding out that the person you thought had it all together is completely unraveled. The story takes the form of a cease-and-desist letter that Paul McWeeney is writing to the publisher of his sister Edie’s book, The Black Dahlia Dossier, which she wrote after “recovering” memories of the event with the help of a new therapist. McWeeney, a child actor, community college instructor, and failed novelist, strives to defend his late father, Hollywood screenwriter George McWeeney, by exploring his own tangled family history. The result, a 200-page letter written over the course of three months, shows its writer slowly falling apart as he struggles to understand his dysfunctional family while ignoring his current relationships.

If it weren’t so disconcerting, the book might actually be enjoyable as McWeeney, who thinks himself smarter than everyone else, takes digs at his former literary agent, professes his lack of bigotry while making racist comments, shares impressions of his sexual prowess, and forces his class of community college students to help him in his quest to discredit his sister’s book. Often contradicting himself, he bases his theory on the fact that his sister’s memories are fallible, all the while expecting the reader (and the publisher) to trust in what he remembers. He even decides to find the murderer himself, with questionable results. While reading like an extremely longwinded college lecture, the book itself is fairly mesmerizing. McWeeney’s overwhelming insecurities and lack of self-awareness pull the reader in like a car crash—you don’t want to watch, but you can’t tear your eyes away. At times I had to take a break from reading just to rest my brain, which is something that the main character never seems to do. When I finished the book, I felt exhausted, sad, and so glad that I could finally escape from McWeeney’s head. While the mystery of who killed the Black Dahlia may never be solved, the mystery of who Paul McWeeney is was revealed all too clearly.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 27 September 2013 12:09

Built around the Black Dahlia murder case that took place in Los Angeles in 1947, Any Resemblance to Actual Persons doesn’t actually have any resemblance to a murder mystery, which, because of the subject matter, is what I at first thought it was. It is instead a disturbing character study of a man who, while trying to repudiate his sister’s accusation of their father as the Black Dahlia killer, takes the reader on a slow, sometimes torturous journey through his own mind.

Reading this book is like reading someone’s diary—and finding out that the person you thought had it all together is completely unraveled. The story takes the form of a cease-and-desist letter that Paul McWeeney is writing to the publisher of his sister Edie’s book, The Black Dahlia Dossier, which she wrote after “recovering” memories of the event with the help of a new therapist. McWeeney, a child actor, community college instructor, and failed novelist, strives to defend his late father, Hollywood screenwriter George McWeeney, by exploring his own tangled family history. The result, a 200-page letter written over the course of three months, shows its writer slowly falling apart as he struggles to understand his dysfunctional family while ignoring his current relationships.

If it weren’t so disconcerting, the book might actually be enjoyable as McWeeney, who thinks himself smarter than everyone else, takes digs at his former literary agent, professes his lack of bigotry while making racist comments, shares impressions of his sexual prowess, and forces his class of community college students to help him in his quest to discredit his sister’s book. Often contradicting himself, he bases his theory on the fact that his sister’s memories are fallible, all the while expecting the reader (and the publisher) to trust in what he remembers. He even decides to find the murderer himself, with questionable results. While reading like an extremely longwinded college lecture, the book itself is fairly mesmerizing. McWeeney’s overwhelming insecurities and lack of self-awareness pull the reader in like a car crash—you don’t want to watch, but you can’t tear your eyes away. At times I had to take a break from reading just to rest my brain, which is something that the main character never seems to do. When I finished the book, I felt exhausted, sad, and so glad that I could finally escape from McWeeney’s head. While the mystery of who killed the Black Dahlia may never be solved, the mystery of who Paul McWeeney is was revealed all too clearly.

Mortal Bonds
Oline H. Cogdill

Michael Sears’ impressive 2012 debut, Black Fridays, was a thoughtful cautionary tale about greed, mismanaged money, and cheating, and it earned Sears five major award nominations.

Sears’ intriguing second novel proves he has a lock on complex financial plots without overwhelming the story with the intricacies of the stock market. In Mortal Bonds, Sears finds new ways to explore those themes of greed, mismanaged money, and cheating with aplomb.

Once a Wall Street hotshot, Jason Stafford spent two years in prison for financial fraud. As a felon, he can’t legally handle accounts but he can work as a consultant. Jason is hired by the family of William Von Becker, a Bernie Madoff-like investor whose Ponzi scheme blew up spectacularly and who recently committed suicide in prison. His widow, Olivia, and her four grown children want Jason to find the missing billions. If the Von Beckers find the money first and turn it over to the federal courts, the action will help clear the family’s name. Also,

Jason’s lucrative finders’ fee will go a long way in providing care for his severely autistic son. Jason’s trail leads to the usual network of Wall Street colleagues, Von Becker’s former employees and his victims, including a wealthy Colombian drug lord.

Sears’ brisk plot packs in believable action while also delivering a heartfelt character study of a man trying to rebuild his life. The domestic scenes are grounded in realism, giving an inside view of the challenges of raising a child with autism.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 27 September 2013 12:09

Michael Sears’ impressive 2012 debut, Black Fridays, was a thoughtful cautionary tale about greed, mismanaged money, and cheating, and it earned Sears five major award nominations.

Sears’ intriguing second novel proves he has a lock on complex financial plots without overwhelming the story with the intricacies of the stock market. In Mortal Bonds, Sears finds new ways to explore those themes of greed, mismanaged money, and cheating with aplomb.

Once a Wall Street hotshot, Jason Stafford spent two years in prison for financial fraud. As a felon, he can’t legally handle accounts but he can work as a consultant. Jason is hired by the family of William Von Becker, a Bernie Madoff-like investor whose Ponzi scheme blew up spectacularly and who recently committed suicide in prison. His widow, Olivia, and her four grown children want Jason to find the missing billions. If the Von Beckers find the money first and turn it over to the federal courts, the action will help clear the family’s name. Also,

Jason’s lucrative finders’ fee will go a long way in providing care for his severely autistic son. Jason’s trail leads to the usual network of Wall Street colleagues, Von Becker’s former employees and his victims, including a wealthy Colombian drug lord.

Sears’ brisk plot packs in believable action while also delivering a heartfelt character study of a man trying to rebuild his life. The domestic scenes are grounded in realism, giving an inside view of the challenges of raising a child with autism.

The Impersonator
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

Any murder mystery that includes a young Jack Benny as an important character can’t be all bad.

But The Impersonator has a lot more going for it as well: a backstage look at the vaudeville of 1924, a feisty young heroine/ entertainer named Leah Randall, and, most of all, an intriguing serial killer plot that includes romance, adventure, and an exciting conclusion with some unexpected surprises.

Bearing an uncanny resemblance to a young girl who had vanished a half-dozen years earlier, Leah is approached by a conniving uncle of the missing girl, Oliver Beckett, to impersonate her in order to come into a very large legacy. After initially declining, Leah falls on some hard times when her troupe splits up, and she decides to take Oliver up on his offer. Over the course of several weeks, and with the help of the uncle and a raft of old photos, Leah becomes Jessie Carr, the heiress to a fortune, who (she says) ran away from an unhappy home and joined a vaudeville troupe.

Although Jessie’s grandmother and aunt are delighted at her return, her cousins, particularly her two male cousins who would have inherited, are not. How far would they go to prevent her from her inheritance? And what really happened to Jessie? After surviving several near accidents, and when several local young women turn up murdered, each with a lock of hair missing, Leah attempts to solve these mysteries before she becomes the next victim.

Mary Miley has worked at Colonial Williamsburg, taught American History at Virginia Commonwealth University and has published extensively in history and travel. This is her first novel and the winner of the Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Competition.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 27 September 2013 12:09

Any murder mystery that includes a young Jack Benny as an important character can’t be all bad.

But The Impersonator has a lot more going for it as well: a backstage look at the vaudeville of 1924, a feisty young heroine/ entertainer named Leah Randall, and, most of all, an intriguing serial killer plot that includes romance, adventure, and an exciting conclusion with some unexpected surprises.

Bearing an uncanny resemblance to a young girl who had vanished a half-dozen years earlier, Leah is approached by a conniving uncle of the missing girl, Oliver Beckett, to impersonate her in order to come into a very large legacy. After initially declining, Leah falls on some hard times when her troupe splits up, and she decides to take Oliver up on his offer. Over the course of several weeks, and with the help of the uncle and a raft of old photos, Leah becomes Jessie Carr, the heiress to a fortune, who (she says) ran away from an unhappy home and joined a vaudeville troupe.

Although Jessie’s grandmother and aunt are delighted at her return, her cousins, particularly her two male cousins who would have inherited, are not. How far would they go to prevent her from her inheritance? And what really happened to Jessie? After surviving several near accidents, and when several local young women turn up murdered, each with a lock of hair missing, Leah attempts to solve these mysteries before she becomes the next victim.

Mary Miley has worked at Colonial Williamsburg, taught American History at Virginia Commonwealth University and has published extensively in history and travel. This is her first novel and the winner of the Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Competition.

It Happens in the Dark
Oline H. Cogdill

The theater is the last place one expects to find Kathy Mallory, the cold, calculating and emotionless detective with the New York Special Crimes Unit. But entertainment isn’t on Mallory’s playbill in the enthralling It Happens in the Dark.

Playwright Peter Beck has been murdered in his front-row seat during a scene change of his new play The Brass Bed. Beck’s death isn’t the first. On opening night, an audience member died from natural causes at the same moment in the production as when Beck was killed. Suddenly, the play is definitely “the thing” as The Brass Bed, based on the true murder of a Nebraska family, becomes the hottest ticket on Broadway. Backstage, chaos reigns. The script is being redone nightly by an unseen ghostwriter, who has now added Mallory into the play’s cast of characters.

Mallory and her partner, Riker, find their investigation stymied by the myriad secrets and lies of the cast: a young actress given to hysterics, a missing director who may have been fired, a once-in-demand actor trying for a comeback, an errand boy with a mysterious past, and a pair of creepy twin actors.

Carol O’Connell infuses more humor and a bit of a lighter tone in the beginning of It Happens in the Dark as the author pulls from theatrical classics such as Gaslight, Phantom of the Opera, and even Stage Fright. But any trace of humor soon gives way to Mallory’s gritty, dark view of the world. A nearsociopath with little empathy for others, Mallory is a hard-as-nails cop. To say she has more than a few issues with life is an understatement.

In this 11th outing, Mallory continues to be an enigmatic and fascinating character. Despite an impeccable fashion sense and movie-star good looks, Mallory is as much a feral being as she was when she was first rescued from the streets as a child. Her closest counterpoint in mystery fiction is Lisbeth Salander. Few are immune to Mallory’s habit of manipulating and humiliating suspects and coworkers, including the police supervisor who wants to take over her high-profile case.

It Happens in the Dark moves at a brisk pace as Mallory sets the stage for her own way of meting out justice.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 27 September 2013 12:09

The theater is the last place one expects to find Kathy Mallory, the cold, calculating and emotionless detective with the New York Special Crimes Unit. But entertainment isn’t on Mallory’s playbill in the enthralling It Happens in the Dark.

Playwright Peter Beck has been murdered in his front-row seat during a scene change of his new play The Brass Bed. Beck’s death isn’t the first. On opening night, an audience member died from natural causes at the same moment in the production as when Beck was killed. Suddenly, the play is definitely “the thing” as The Brass Bed, based on the true murder of a Nebraska family, becomes the hottest ticket on Broadway. Backstage, chaos reigns. The script is being redone nightly by an unseen ghostwriter, who has now added Mallory into the play’s cast of characters.

Mallory and her partner, Riker, find their investigation stymied by the myriad secrets and lies of the cast: a young actress given to hysterics, a missing director who may have been fired, a once-in-demand actor trying for a comeback, an errand boy with a mysterious past, and a pair of creepy twin actors.

Carol O’Connell infuses more humor and a bit of a lighter tone in the beginning of It Happens in the Dark as the author pulls from theatrical classics such as Gaslight, Phantom of the Opera, and even Stage Fright. But any trace of humor soon gives way to Mallory’s gritty, dark view of the world. A nearsociopath with little empathy for others, Mallory is a hard-as-nails cop. To say she has more than a few issues with life is an understatement.

In this 11th outing, Mallory continues to be an enigmatic and fascinating character. Despite an impeccable fashion sense and movie-star good looks, Mallory is as much a feral being as she was when she was first rescued from the streets as a child. Her closest counterpoint in mystery fiction is Lisbeth Salander. Few are immune to Mallory’s habit of manipulating and humiliating suspects and coworkers, including the police supervisor who wants to take over her high-profile case.

It Happens in the Dark moves at a brisk pace as Mallory sets the stage for her own way of meting out justice.

How the Light Gets In
Jackie Houchin

How The Light Gets In, ninth in the popular and award-winning Chief Inspector Gamache novels by Louise Penny, returns readers to the familiar world of Three Pines, Québec, with its quaint atmosphere and eccentric residents. This time the village will shelter the Chief Inspector against a raging storm that has nothing to do with the weather.

As the book opens, several things weigh on Gamache’s mind. He’s vowed to identify and punish the person who maliciously leaked an inflammatory video showing the actual deaths of many of his agents in a raid he led on a factory. The video caused public outrage and damaged his department. It also shattered the mental health of his much-loved colleague Inspector Jean-Guy Beauvoir, who is spiraling out of control in a haze of depression and addiction. Gamache aches to rescue the young man.

But the case that draws the Chief Inspector to Three Pines is the puzzling murder of an elderly friend of one of the villagers. Constance Pineault came for a visit, promised to return for Christmas, and then was quietly murdered in her home. As Gamache digs into the woman’s past, a scandalous secret is unearthed. With meticulous care he follows leads to the only one who would kill to keep it silent.

Back in Montreal, two of Gamache’s old friends, Superintendent Therese Brunel and her computer expert husband, Dr. Jerome Brunel, work to identify the video hacker. But Dr. Brunel inadvertently discovers something far more dangerous. Deep within the securely guarded files of the Sûreté du Québec, he sees a monstrous, farreaching political bomb that is about to explode. Hurriedly he exits the files, terrified as a cyber watcher races after him.

Fearing discovery, but desperate to know more if the calamity is to be stopped, Gamache implements a reckless plan that puts them all in jeopardy, including the inhabitants of Three Pines. As the minutes tick down, his enemies close in and he finally faces his nemesis. Will he survive?

The long-awaited culmination of Penny’s multi-book plot arc is both satisfying and poignant. A celebratory shout and perhaps a few tears will certainly be in order.

Penny handles this complex book with consummate skill, never losing focus, always in control, taking her readers on a heart-stopping thrill ride but never at the expense of a descriptive phrase or telling detail. Her voice is pitch perfect, her writing smooth, never intrusive. Once you’ve begun reading, it takes effort to be drawn out of the setting and lives of her characters.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 27 September 2013 01:09

How The Light Gets In, ninth in the popular and award-winning Chief Inspector Gamache novels by Louise Penny, returns readers to the familiar world of Three Pines, Québec, with its quaint atmosphere and eccentric residents. This time the village will shelter the Chief Inspector against a raging storm that has nothing to do with the weather.

As the book opens, several things weigh on Gamache’s mind. He’s vowed to identify and punish the person who maliciously leaked an inflammatory video showing the actual deaths of many of his agents in a raid he led on a factory. The video caused public outrage and damaged his department. It also shattered the mental health of his much-loved colleague Inspector Jean-Guy Beauvoir, who is spiraling out of control in a haze of depression and addiction. Gamache aches to rescue the young man.

But the case that draws the Chief Inspector to Three Pines is the puzzling murder of an elderly friend of one of the villagers. Constance Pineault came for a visit, promised to return for Christmas, and then was quietly murdered in her home. As Gamache digs into the woman’s past, a scandalous secret is unearthed. With meticulous care he follows leads to the only one who would kill to keep it silent.

Back in Montreal, two of Gamache’s old friends, Superintendent Therese Brunel and her computer expert husband, Dr. Jerome Brunel, work to identify the video hacker. But Dr. Brunel inadvertently discovers something far more dangerous. Deep within the securely guarded files of the Sûreté du Québec, he sees a monstrous, farreaching political bomb that is about to explode. Hurriedly he exits the files, terrified as a cyber watcher races after him.

Fearing discovery, but desperate to know more if the calamity is to be stopped, Gamache implements a reckless plan that puts them all in jeopardy, including the inhabitants of Three Pines. As the minutes tick down, his enemies close in and he finally faces his nemesis. Will he survive?

The long-awaited culmination of Penny’s multi-book plot arc is both satisfying and poignant. A celebratory shout and perhaps a few tears will certainly be in order.

Penny handles this complex book with consummate skill, never losing focus, always in control, taking her readers on a heart-stopping thrill ride but never at the expense of a descriptive phrase or telling detail. Her voice is pitch perfect, her writing smooth, never intrusive. Once you’ve begun reading, it takes effort to be drawn out of the setting and lives of her characters.

Montana
Robin Agnew

Gwen Florio’s brisk first novel draws you in right away, and keeps you close during the speedy 256 pages it takes her to tell her story. Her main character, Lola Wicks, is a Baltimore reporter just called home from Afghanistan. She wants to go back but her editor says he doesn’t have the budget, and what’s more, she has so much vacation time coming she better take it.

While Lola makes her own plans—liquidating her funds and stashing them all around her person (something she’s learned through long stays in Kabul)—she decides to take a brief vacation first, visiting her old reporter buddy, Mary Alice, in tiny Magpie, Montana. All is not well when she arrives. Mary Alice isn’t at the airport and after Lola waits, rents a car, and eventually finds Mary Alice’s isolated cabin, she also finds a dead Mary Alice—something that sends her screeching back down the mountain road in a panic.

The first person she sees is a rancher repairing a fence. He’s operating on “mountain time” and while they eventually make their way back up the hill to Mary Alice’s body, it takes him much longer than the jittery Lola likes. Sure enough though, not only is Mary Alice dead, but her cabin’s been trashed, and Lola finds herself the unwilling guardian of a dog named Bub and told by the sheriff not to leave town. Thanks to her years working war zones, Lola is used to defusing and figuring out tricky, volatile situations, and once she settles down and is able to think clearly, she starts wondering who killed Mary Alice and how she can prove it. That’s a pretty typical amateur set-up, but Lola has some smarts and some skills that many amateurs don’t have. She is, after all, a reporter, used to observing, listening and paying attention—all the skills needed by a good detective.

As she gets more comfortable in town, and with Bub, she moves into Mary Alice’s cabin and finds she’s also the temporary caretaker of a horse. Lola has a long list of “don’ts”: she doesn’t carry a purse, eat breakfast, cry, eat pie, or ride a horse. In fact, she’s afraid of horses.

This novel is really a sly take on the coming-of-age novel. Though Lola’s not a young girl, she’s still beginning a new life chapter with all the adapting and change that requires. One of those things is learning to ride a horse, something Florio describes in a delightfully humorous sequence.

She gets interested in local politics in the form of the first native candidate for governor, Johnny Running Wolf; she sees firsthand the kind of damage the county’s meth problem is causing; and she gets to know one of the more successful ranchers, Verle, the very same one she met on her first headlong flight down the hill from Mary Alice’s cabin.

This is an enjoyable first novel. Nothing is quite as expected—there’s a sly twist to most of the plot developments, and some very nice, crisp writing. Lola’s reporter’s background makes her memorable, her quirks make her interesting, and through her investigation of Mary Alice’s murder, Florio rounds out her character completely. Lola lives and breathes on the page, and you’ll probably be glad you met her.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 27 September 2013 01:09

Gwen Florio’s brisk first novel draws you in right away, and keeps you close during the speedy 256 pages it takes her to tell her story. Her main character, Lola Wicks, is a Baltimore reporter just called home from Afghanistan. She wants to go back but her editor says he doesn’t have the budget, and what’s more, she has so much vacation time coming she better take it.

While Lola makes her own plans—liquidating her funds and stashing them all around her person (something she’s learned through long stays in Kabul)—she decides to take a brief vacation first, visiting her old reporter buddy, Mary Alice, in tiny Magpie, Montana. All is not well when she arrives. Mary Alice isn’t at the airport and after Lola waits, rents a car, and eventually finds Mary Alice’s isolated cabin, she also finds a dead Mary Alice—something that sends her screeching back down the mountain road in a panic.

The first person she sees is a rancher repairing a fence. He’s operating on “mountain time” and while they eventually make their way back up the hill to Mary Alice’s body, it takes him much longer than the jittery Lola likes. Sure enough though, not only is Mary Alice dead, but her cabin’s been trashed, and Lola finds herself the unwilling guardian of a dog named Bub and told by the sheriff not to leave town. Thanks to her years working war zones, Lola is used to defusing and figuring out tricky, volatile situations, and once she settles down and is able to think clearly, she starts wondering who killed Mary Alice and how she can prove it. That’s a pretty typical amateur set-up, but Lola has some smarts and some skills that many amateurs don’t have. She is, after all, a reporter, used to observing, listening and paying attention—all the skills needed by a good detective.

As she gets more comfortable in town, and with Bub, she moves into Mary Alice’s cabin and finds she’s also the temporary caretaker of a horse. Lola has a long list of “don’ts”: she doesn’t carry a purse, eat breakfast, cry, eat pie, or ride a horse. In fact, she’s afraid of horses.

This novel is really a sly take on the coming-of-age novel. Though Lola’s not a young girl, she’s still beginning a new life chapter with all the adapting and change that requires. One of those things is learning to ride a horse, something Florio describes in a delightfully humorous sequence.

She gets interested in local politics in the form of the first native candidate for governor, Johnny Running Wolf; she sees firsthand the kind of damage the county’s meth problem is causing; and she gets to know one of the more successful ranchers, Verle, the very same one she met on her first headlong flight down the hill from Mary Alice’s cabin.

This is an enjoyable first novel. Nothing is quite as expected—there’s a sly twist to most of the plot developments, and some very nice, crisp writing. Lola’s reporter’s background makes her memorable, her quirks make her interesting, and through her investigation of Mary Alice’s murder, Florio rounds out her character completely. Lola lives and breathes on the page, and you’ll probably be glad you met her.

Doing Hard Time
Derek Hill

Mysterious man of action Teddy Fay is hiding out from everyone in a small Southwestern town under a new identity, Billy Burnett, working as a mechanic. But when Russian mobsters show up tailing three young people—including the son of ex-cop and series protagonist Stone Barrington—Fay saves the three from imminent peril. After taking care of the mobster’s bodies, Fay is back on the road headed for Los Angeles where the Barringtons reside. Meanwhile, Stone, who has crossed paths with Fay in the past, suspects that Burnett is indeed Fay and seeks to find out the truth before more Russian mobsters come their way.

This 27th entry in the Stone Barrington series (and the eighth featuring Fay) offers up more of the high escapist suspense that fans of these long-running books want and expect. Stuart Woods unfortunately also serves up plenty of romantic action story clichés—men are always rugged and effortlessly bed classy women, women are always at the behest of the manly men—that give an air of wish-fulfillment fantasy to the whole endeavor. What keeps Doing Hard Time from descending into complete parody, however, is Woods’ commitment and expertise at delivering thrills.

Stone comes off as more of a side character in this novel, but Fay gets plenty of room to deal out some action, and fearlessly confront every swaggering Russian thug coming for him (or for his woman) with quick-thinking violence. This is ultimately a “beach read,” and Woods understands that allowing too much reality into his narrative will kill off the entertainment.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 27 September 2013 01:09

Mysterious man of action Teddy Fay is hiding out from everyone in a small Southwestern town under a new identity, Billy Burnett, working as a mechanic. But when Russian mobsters show up tailing three young people—including the son of ex-cop and series protagonist Stone Barrington—Fay saves the three from imminent peril. After taking care of the mobster’s bodies, Fay is back on the road headed for Los Angeles where the Barringtons reside. Meanwhile, Stone, who has crossed paths with Fay in the past, suspects that Burnett is indeed Fay and seeks to find out the truth before more Russian mobsters come their way.

This 27th entry in the Stone Barrington series (and the eighth featuring Fay) offers up more of the high escapist suspense that fans of these long-running books want and expect. Stuart Woods unfortunately also serves up plenty of romantic action story clichés—men are always rugged and effortlessly bed classy women, women are always at the behest of the manly men—that give an air of wish-fulfillment fantasy to the whole endeavor. What keeps Doing Hard Time from descending into complete parody, however, is Woods’ commitment and expertise at delivering thrills.

Stone comes off as more of a side character in this novel, but Fay gets plenty of room to deal out some action, and fearlessly confront every swaggering Russian thug coming for him (or for his woman) with quick-thinking violence. This is ultimately a “beach read,” and Woods understands that allowing too much reality into his narrative will kill off the entertainment.

W Is for Wasted
Kevin Burton Smith

William Goldman once tagged Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer books as “the finest series of detective novels ever written by an American.” It may be too early to tell (she has three books to go), but in her scope and ambition, Sue Grafton may have come within spitting distance of snatching away that title. Certainly, an argument could be made that Grafton’s books featuring Kinsey Millhone are the finest series of detective novels written by a living American.

I know. Couldn’t be, right? But Grafton’s been so good for so long now (A is for Alibi came out over 31 years ago!), we’ve come to take her for granted.

But, two dozen books in (if you count Kinsey and Me, the short-story collection/soul-baring memoir released earlier this year), it’s hard to find another crime writer since Macdonald who has so consistently and successfully mapped out the human heart in all its warped, broken, and flawed glory, or so deliberately and effectively wormed their way into the occasionally ugly wreckage of the American family.

In the surprisingly ruminative W is for Wasted, Kinsey is once more crawling through the wreckage, this time working on two seemingly unrelated deaths. Pete Wolinsky, a “morally shabby” local PI whom Kinsey knows, albeit mostly by reputation, is “gunned down on a dark stretch of pavement.” Wolinsky is the very antithesis of Kinsey, whose flawed but dogged professionalism and quirky conscientiousness have stood her well through the series. Not so Wolinsky, who—it’s revealed in a parallel subplot tracing the last weeks of his life—is going down slow and desperate for cash.

But his murder isn’t really Kinsey’s concern. And neither is the second death, six weeks later, of a homeless man known only as Terrence, found dead of an apparent heart attack in his sleeping bag on the beach, with no real ID—just a scrap of paper with Kinsey’s name and address on it.

Kinsey has no clue who the “bum in a bag” was, but she’s intrigued. She decides to help the local coroner in identifying the man, unaware of the chain of events she’s about to set in motion; a chain of betrayals, fraud, family secrets, and murder that will link the two deaths and could change Kinsey’s life, both personally and professionally, forever.

As always, Grafton, like Kinsey, remains “hard-working, tireless and inventive.” Those expecting the author to ease off in the home stretch will be disappointed. With three to go, Kinsey, now pushing 38, is at long last confronting the possibility that her own family past—and all its unresolved mysteries—may be her most important case of all.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 27 September 2013 01:09

William Goldman once tagged Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer books as “the finest series of detective novels ever written by an American.” It may be too early to tell (she has three books to go), but in her scope and ambition, Sue Grafton may have come within spitting distance of snatching away that title. Certainly, an argument could be made that Grafton’s books featuring Kinsey Millhone are the finest series of detective novels written by a living American.

I know. Couldn’t be, right? But Grafton’s been so good for so long now (A is for Alibi came out over 31 years ago!), we’ve come to take her for granted.

But, two dozen books in (if you count Kinsey and Me, the short-story collection/soul-baring memoir released earlier this year), it’s hard to find another crime writer since Macdonald who has so consistently and successfully mapped out the human heart in all its warped, broken, and flawed glory, or so deliberately and effectively wormed their way into the occasionally ugly wreckage of the American family.

In the surprisingly ruminative W is for Wasted, Kinsey is once more crawling through the wreckage, this time working on two seemingly unrelated deaths. Pete Wolinsky, a “morally shabby” local PI whom Kinsey knows, albeit mostly by reputation, is “gunned down on a dark stretch of pavement.” Wolinsky is the very antithesis of Kinsey, whose flawed but dogged professionalism and quirky conscientiousness have stood her well through the series. Not so Wolinsky, who—it’s revealed in a parallel subplot tracing the last weeks of his life—is going down slow and desperate for cash.

But his murder isn’t really Kinsey’s concern. And neither is the second death, six weeks later, of a homeless man known only as Terrence, found dead of an apparent heart attack in his sleeping bag on the beach, with no real ID—just a scrap of paper with Kinsey’s name and address on it.

Kinsey has no clue who the “bum in a bag” was, but she’s intrigued. She decides to help the local coroner in identifying the man, unaware of the chain of events she’s about to set in motion; a chain of betrayals, fraud, family secrets, and murder that will link the two deaths and could change Kinsey’s life, both personally and professionally, forever.

As always, Grafton, like Kinsey, remains “hard-working, tireless and inventive.” Those expecting the author to ease off in the home stretch will be disappointed. With three to go, Kinsey, now pushing 38, is at long last confronting the possibility that her own family past—and all its unresolved mysteries—may be her most important case of all.

The Return
Hank Wagner

After being told that he only has a short time to live, guilt-ridden (he blames himself for his wife’s suicide, some two years earlier) New York book editor Rick Marder decides to settle an old score in Mexico, one involving the deaths of his in-laws at the hands of a Mexican drug lord. After carefully arranging his affairs, the well-off Marder buys an estate on the coast in Playa Diamente, a cash purchase intended to catch the drug lord’s attention. Accompanied by lethal “security expert” Patrick Francis Skelly, who is more soldier of fortune than consultant, the odd couple, who have been friends since serving together in Vietnam, embark on a two-month adventure south of the border that is destined to end in either death or redemption.

Beautifully written, full of complex, well-rounded, original characters, The Return is a novel steeped in vengeance and mayhem, elevated and informed by its incidental, but intimate examination of loyalty, responsibility, vengeance, marriage, family, and, most importantly, martyrdom. It’s a tough, hard-hitting book that also manages to impart meaningful commentary and information about science, theology, narcoviolencia, US-Mexican relations, and the cultures and traditions of both countries, especially Mexico’s. As such, it provides startling proof that Michael Gruber, co-author of 15 Butch Karp thrillers as Robert Tannenbaum, and sole author of seven books under his own name (including 2010’s outstanding The Good Son), continues to grow and evolve as a writer at a time in his career when many would be content to rest on their laurels.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 27 September 2013 01:09

After being told that he only has a short time to live, guilt-ridden (he blames himself for his wife’s suicide, some two years earlier) New York book editor Rick Marder decides to settle an old score in Mexico, one involving the deaths of his in-laws at the hands of a Mexican drug lord. After carefully arranging his affairs, the well-off Marder buys an estate on the coast in Playa Diamente, a cash purchase intended to catch the drug lord’s attention. Accompanied by lethal “security expert” Patrick Francis Skelly, who is more soldier of fortune than consultant, the odd couple, who have been friends since serving together in Vietnam, embark on a two-month adventure south of the border that is destined to end in either death or redemption.

Beautifully written, full of complex, well-rounded, original characters, The Return is a novel steeped in vengeance and mayhem, elevated and informed by its incidental, but intimate examination of loyalty, responsibility, vengeance, marriage, family, and, most importantly, martyrdom. It’s a tough, hard-hitting book that also manages to impart meaningful commentary and information about science, theology, narcoviolencia, US-Mexican relations, and the cultures and traditions of both countries, especially Mexico’s. As such, it provides startling proof that Michael Gruber, co-author of 15 Butch Karp thrillers as Robert Tannenbaum, and sole author of seven books under his own name (including 2010’s outstanding The Good Son), continues to grow and evolve as a writer at a time in his career when many would be content to rest on their laurels.

The Edge of Normal
Eileen Brady

The Edge of Normal by Carla Norton couldn’t be more timely. Young girls are kidnapped then held for years in secrecy by their captors. It sounds like fiction, but of course recent headlines tell us differently. It’s a subject Norton knows well, having cowritten the bestselling nonfiction book Perfect Victim based on the famous 1977 kidnapping of Colleen Stan, who was held for seven years. The dedication of The Edge of Normal is “to Colleen Stan and to survivors everywhere.”

This is Norton’s first foray into fiction and she tells a terrifying tale with the ring of authenticity. We are introduced to San Francisco resident Reeve LeClaire, a former kidnap victim, currently under the care of psychiatrist Dr. Ezra Lerner, an expert on captivity syndromes. In his citrus-scented office, with dog Bitsy by her side, Reeve has been slowly recovering. That recovery is put in jeopardy when police rescue teenager Tilley Cavanaugh, who has been locked in a basement for the last 13 months. Her parents and friends are ecstatic, especially when janitor Randy Vanderholt confesses to the crime. But instead of rejoicing, Tilley is keeping a dark secret. Dr. Lerner and Reeve are brought in to talk to the girl, who afraid for her life, will only confide in Reeve.

We soon learn that two other teenage girls have vanished in the past two years. Are their disappearances related? Could they also be alive as captives? That’s what reporter Otis Poe suggests to the dismay of the joint task force of FBI and Jefferson County law enforcement. Finally, Tilley confesses to Reeve that there were two men who abused her. Fueled by her own anger, Reeve decides to do some investigating on her own. Helping is Deputy Nick Hudson, the sympathetic liaison working with the district attorney’s office and the county sheriff’s department. What she doesn’t realize is that she’s up against someone with a perfect cover who knows her every move. By the time you get to the end you’ll be gripping your chair and turning all the lights on.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 27 September 2013 01:09

The Edge of Normal by Carla Norton couldn’t be more timely. Young girls are kidnapped then held for years in secrecy by their captors. It sounds like fiction, but of course recent headlines tell us differently. It’s a subject Norton knows well, having cowritten the bestselling nonfiction book Perfect Victim based on the famous 1977 kidnapping of Colleen Stan, who was held for seven years. The dedication of The Edge of Normal is “to Colleen Stan and to survivors everywhere.”

This is Norton’s first foray into fiction and she tells a terrifying tale with the ring of authenticity. We are introduced to San Francisco resident Reeve LeClaire, a former kidnap victim, currently under the care of psychiatrist Dr. Ezra Lerner, an expert on captivity syndromes. In his citrus-scented office, with dog Bitsy by her side, Reeve has been slowly recovering. That recovery is put in jeopardy when police rescue teenager Tilley Cavanaugh, who has been locked in a basement for the last 13 months. Her parents and friends are ecstatic, especially when janitor Randy Vanderholt confesses to the crime. But instead of rejoicing, Tilley is keeping a dark secret. Dr. Lerner and Reeve are brought in to talk to the girl, who afraid for her life, will only confide in Reeve.

We soon learn that two other teenage girls have vanished in the past two years. Are their disappearances related? Could they also be alive as captives? That’s what reporter Otis Poe suggests to the dismay of the joint task force of FBI and Jefferson County law enforcement. Finally, Tilley confesses to Reeve that there were two men who abused her. Fueled by her own anger, Reeve decides to do some investigating on her own. Helping is Deputy Nick Hudson, the sympathetic liaison working with the district attorney’s office and the county sheriff’s department. What she doesn’t realize is that she’s up against someone with a perfect cover who knows her every move. By the time you get to the end you’ll be gripping your chair and turning all the lights on.

The Last Winter of Dani Lancing
Oline H. Cogdill

Grief takes on myriad forms as British author P.D. Viner shows in his exhilarating debut, The Last Winter of Dani Lancing. For those who knew Dani Lancing, grief is an escalating emotion that has not ebbed since the bright teenager’s body was found more than 20 years ago. Her murderer was never found.

The marriage of Dani’s parents, Patti and Jim Lancing, lasted eight years after her death. Today, Jim is a near recluse, spending his days “talking” with Dani, basking in memories of her through her childhood and teen years. He takes walks with her through the woods or meets her for lunch, avoiding reality. Patti has taken an angrier approach. A once-solid investigative reporter, she now uses those skills to find her daughter’s killer.

Patti knows that Dani had a secret relationship before she died and that this mystery man most likely killed her. Patti’s fantasies involve the slow torture and murder of the man who ruined her life.

Tom Bevans, Dani’s high school boyfriend, has channeled his pain into a career as a police detective, heading up a special squad investigating brutal murders. But Dani’s shadow clouds his every judgment, ruining his chances at a relationship with another woman. The other detectives call him the “Sad Man,” and he is. New evidence in Dani’s case propels each of the trio to try to find the killer.

Viner masterfully alternates The Last Winter of Dani Lancing between the characters’ current lives and a series of flashbacks that give insight into each of their personalities and illustrate how they have been stymied by grief. Each character sees Dani only in terms of his or her relationship with her, but a more complex and more believable Dani emerges through flashbacks and snippets from her diary, which Tom still carries.

The psychological studies are balanced by action that never goes over the top. The Last Winter of Dani Lancing is both a tender look at the survivors of a murder victim and a chilling exploration of the debilitating effects of grief and rage.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 27 September 2013 01:09

Grief takes on myriad forms as British author P.D. Viner shows in his exhilarating debut, The Last Winter of Dani Lancing. For those who knew Dani Lancing, grief is an escalating emotion that has not ebbed since the bright teenager’s body was found more than 20 years ago. Her murderer was never found.

The marriage of Dani’s parents, Patti and Jim Lancing, lasted eight years after her death. Today, Jim is a near recluse, spending his days “talking” with Dani, basking in memories of her through her childhood and teen years. He takes walks with her through the woods or meets her for lunch, avoiding reality. Patti has taken an angrier approach. A once-solid investigative reporter, she now uses those skills to find her daughter’s killer.

Patti knows that Dani had a secret relationship before she died and that this mystery man most likely killed her. Patti’s fantasies involve the slow torture and murder of the man who ruined her life.

Tom Bevans, Dani’s high school boyfriend, has channeled his pain into a career as a police detective, heading up a special squad investigating brutal murders. But Dani’s shadow clouds his every judgment, ruining his chances at a relationship with another woman. The other detectives call him the “Sad Man,” and he is. New evidence in Dani’s case propels each of the trio to try to find the killer.

Viner masterfully alternates The Last Winter of Dani Lancing between the characters’ current lives and a series of flashbacks that give insight into each of their personalities and illustrate how they have been stymied by grief. Each character sees Dani only in terms of his or her relationship with her, but a more complex and more believable Dani emerges through flashbacks and snippets from her diary, which Tom still carries.

The psychological studies are balanced by action that never goes over the top. The Last Winter of Dani Lancing is both a tender look at the survivors of a murder victim and a chilling exploration of the debilitating effects of grief and rage.

Cain’s Blood
Hank Wagner

The US Department of Defense is the “big bad” in Cain’s Blood, which details the aftermath of a breach in security at a private facility dedicated to discovering a genetic marker that researchers hope will help them develop a new breed of super soldier and bio based weapons. The breach involves the escape of six residents, clones of some of the most notorious serial killers in history: Albert Fish, Denis Rader, Ted Bundy, Henry Lee Lucas, David Berkowitz, and Jeffrey Dahmer. The clones have an agenda, and you can safely assume that it does not involve humanitarian acts.

Sort of the Destroy All Monsters of serial killer novels, the book also feels like a cross between a Michael Crichton novel and Ira Levin’s The Boys From Brazil, combining the classic thriller tropes of misguided science with a classic race against time, as the clones are pursued by former black ops soldier Shawn Castillo, accompanied by troubled teenager Jeff/82, yet another clone of Jeffrey Dahmer, who may or may not share certain traits with his evil progenitor.

Geoffrey Girard pulls out all the stops, providing readers with a frenetic, intelligent, scary, fun read. And, as if one book in this terrifying universe was not enough, the author has written a companion book, a young adult novel called Project Cain. Told from the perspective of Jeff/82, it is as harrowing a coming-of-age novel as you are ever likely to read.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 27 September 2013 01:09

The US Department of Defense is the “big bad” in Cain’s Blood, which details the aftermath of a breach in security at a private facility dedicated to discovering a genetic marker that researchers hope will help them develop a new breed of super soldier and bio based weapons. The breach involves the escape of six residents, clones of some of the most notorious serial killers in history: Albert Fish, Denis Rader, Ted Bundy, Henry Lee Lucas, David Berkowitz, and Jeffrey Dahmer. The clones have an agenda, and you can safely assume that it does not involve humanitarian acts.

Sort of the Destroy All Monsters of serial killer novels, the book also feels like a cross between a Michael Crichton novel and Ira Levin’s The Boys From Brazil, combining the classic thriller tropes of misguided science with a classic race against time, as the clones are pursued by former black ops soldier Shawn Castillo, accompanied by troubled teenager Jeff/82, yet another clone of Jeffrey Dahmer, who may or may not share certain traits with his evil progenitor.

Geoffrey Girard pulls out all the stops, providing readers with a frenetic, intelligent, scary, fun read. And, as if one book in this terrifying universe was not enough, the author has written a companion book, a young adult novel called Project Cain. Told from the perspective of Jeff/82, it is as harrowing a coming-of-age novel as you are ever likely to read.

The Preservationist
Sharon Magee

Justin Kramon’s 2010 debut novel was the well-received coming-of-age story Finny, and now in this deliciously twisted tale, he changes gears, sending readers on a psychological roller-coaster ride.

Julia Stilwell is a college freshman who was responsible for her brother’s death a year before in a car crash. Although her quirky sense of humor and wisecracks get her through the day, she’s a sad and lonely girl with no friends except her roommate. Her parents, who are suffering just as much, are of no help. Her father has become overprotective while her mother can’t bear to look at her.

Julia begins seeing Marcus Broley, a shy gangly music student who seems as much an oddball and outsider as she is. Although she finds him a bit desperate—he calls her three times in one week to confirm hiking plans—she likes him. Enter Sam Blount, an attractive older man nearing his 40th birthday, “a great beast of a birthday,” as he describes it. He works in a sandwich shop on campus and parties with the students. When Julia shows an interest in him, he steals a march on Marcus and he and Julia become a couple. The much-younger Julia will preserve his youth, he feels, along with the potions and lotions he slathers on his face and body. Immediately bad things begin to happen—a rock is thrown through Sam’s window, and Julia finds a dead cat in her dorm room. A little ditty sung in a high whispery voice seems to hang in the air. The terror ramps up as both men vie for her attention until Julia doesn’t know whom she can trust or which way to turn.

Kramon has given readers one of the truly suspenseful books of the year. Written in alternating points of view of the three main characters, the pacing is perfect. Each chapter peels back the layers of evil and becomes progressively more chilling as each secret is revealed, a drip here and a drop there. His characters are well defined, and some of his secondary characters, such as Dena and Rex, local business owners, and Lonnie, Sam’s potty-mouthed coworker, are memorable. Crime fans won’t want to miss this one.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 27 September 2013 01:09

Justin Kramon’s 2010 debut novel was the well-received coming-of-age story Finny, and now in this deliciously twisted tale, he changes gears, sending readers on a psychological roller-coaster ride.

Julia Stilwell is a college freshman who was responsible for her brother’s death a year before in a car crash. Although her quirky sense of humor and wisecracks get her through the day, she’s a sad and lonely girl with no friends except her roommate. Her parents, who are suffering just as much, are of no help. Her father has become overprotective while her mother can’t bear to look at her.

Julia begins seeing Marcus Broley, a shy gangly music student who seems as much an oddball and outsider as she is. Although she finds him a bit desperate—he calls her three times in one week to confirm hiking plans—she likes him. Enter Sam Blount, an attractive older man nearing his 40th birthday, “a great beast of a birthday,” as he describes it. He works in a sandwich shop on campus and parties with the students. When Julia shows an interest in him, he steals a march on Marcus and he and Julia become a couple. The much-younger Julia will preserve his youth, he feels, along with the potions and lotions he slathers on his face and body. Immediately bad things begin to happen—a rock is thrown through Sam’s window, and Julia finds a dead cat in her dorm room. A little ditty sung in a high whispery voice seems to hang in the air. The terror ramps up as both men vie for her attention until Julia doesn’t know whom she can trust or which way to turn.

Kramon has given readers one of the truly suspenseful books of the year. Written in alternating points of view of the three main characters, the pacing is perfect. Each chapter peels back the layers of evil and becomes progressively more chilling as each secret is revealed, a drip here and a drop there. His characters are well defined, and some of his secondary characters, such as Dena and Rex, local business owners, and Lonnie, Sam’s potty-mouthed coworker, are memorable. Crime fans won’t want to miss this one.

A Commonplace Killing
Sue Emmons

The late Siân Busby creates a memorable detective in DI Jim Cooper, whose hopes that post-WWII London will prove a better place are soon dashed. It is 1946 and the natives are coming to grips with the end of the war, but joy is lacking and crime proliferating.

Readers of detective fiction likely have had their fill of morose detectives, but give Cooper a chance. Busby plunges the reader smack-dab in the midst of the war’s aftermath where the joy of victory has been supplemented by a miasma of gloom, bombed-out buildings awaiting renovation or the wrecking ball, long lines to acquire the most plebeian of goods, inflation, rationing, and a thriving black market. It is the latter that preoccupies Cooper’s superiors, not the grisly death of Lillian Frobisher, whose body is found by two children in a churchyard on his patch. But Cooper is a righteous copper and he doggedly persists in his search. It is clear the woman was strangled, but not certain that she was sexually assaulted as those eager to pin the crime on peacetime deserters believe.

In a parallel story line, the reader can follow Lillian step-by-step to her death, plagued by her unhappy marriage and memories of happier days, even as they follow Cooper’s dogged pursuit of her killer. In a moving preface, Busby’s husband, Robert Peston, details her five-year struggle with lung cancer and her determination to complete this book. In that she succeeded although the final chapters—as sadly noted in the text—had to be translated from her notes. The wrap-up to this seemingly “commonplace” murder carries a subliminal nod to her personal, inexorable plight. Busby lost her own battle on September 4, 2012.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 27 September 2013 01:09

The late Siân Busby creates a memorable detective in DI Jim Cooper, whose hopes that post-WWII London will prove a better place are soon dashed. It is 1946 and the natives are coming to grips with the end of the war, but joy is lacking and crime proliferating.

Readers of detective fiction likely have had their fill of morose detectives, but give Cooper a chance. Busby plunges the reader smack-dab in the midst of the war’s aftermath where the joy of victory has been supplemented by a miasma of gloom, bombed-out buildings awaiting renovation or the wrecking ball, long lines to acquire the most plebeian of goods, inflation, rationing, and a thriving black market. It is the latter that preoccupies Cooper’s superiors, not the grisly death of Lillian Frobisher, whose body is found by two children in a churchyard on his patch. But Cooper is a righteous copper and he doggedly persists in his search. It is clear the woman was strangled, but not certain that she was sexually assaulted as those eager to pin the crime on peacetime deserters believe.

In a parallel story line, the reader can follow Lillian step-by-step to her death, plagued by her unhappy marriage and memories of happier days, even as they follow Cooper’s dogged pursuit of her killer. In a moving preface, Busby’s husband, Robert Peston, details her five-year struggle with lung cancer and her determination to complete this book. In that she succeeded although the final chapters—as sadly noted in the text—had to be translated from her notes. The wrap-up to this seemingly “commonplace” murder carries a subliminal nod to her personal, inexorable plight. Busby lost her own battle on September 4, 2012.

A Chat With Jane Haddam
Lynn Kaczmarek

haddam_heartsofsandMystery Scene was delighted to catch up with this interesting writer as her 28th Gregor Demarkian novel, Hearts of Sand, was published.


Jane Haddam has been writing about Gregor Demarkian for a very long time—since 1990, when Not a Creature Was Stirring was a finalist for the Edgar Award for Best Paperback. There have been 28 books in the series featuring the former FBI agent, but the books are not so much about him and his friends in that small Philadelphia community as they are about the people who do horrible things to each other. Jane Haddam is intrigued by them and their stories.

Born Orania Papazoglou, Jane Haddam is a quiet, almost reclusive author living in a small town in rural Connecticut where she writes and watches the wild turkeys wandering across her sunny yard. You surely would not imagine that from her books. She’s thoughtful and insightful and not easily fooled. She sees the evil beneath the surface. She has faced personal tragedy and gone on. And so have her characters. Michael Connelly once said that he puts everything on the page. If you want to know Jane Haddam, read her books—she’s there on every page.

Lynn Kaczmarek for Mystery Scene: First of all, congratulations on the great reviews of Hearts of Sand in Publishers Weekly and the Fall #131 issue of Mystery Scene! Did you ever imagine when you wrote the first book that the series would be so long? How do you keep it interesting for yourself and your readers?

Jane Haddam: I actually remember working on the proposal for the first book in this series. I was sitting in this very office and my in-laws were coming over to Meet the Baby—that's my older son, Matt—for the first time. I was sitting in this very chair, in the sunroom I use as my office, when I looked up and saw my sister-in-law JoAnn wandering around in my backyard. Apparently, knocking on the front door didn't occur to her. I don't think I thought much about how long the series was going to last. I didn't even know if anybody was going to publish it.

As for keeping it interesting—well, it's interesting for me. And the books always focus on the suspects, not on the detective, which means I deal with new people each time. I've always tried to keep Gregor in focus but not as the focus, if that makes sense. I hate those series where the detective ends up leading the life of a hyperactive soap opera—gets accused of murder! gets shot! gets three divorces! has a brain tumor!—because the writer is desperate to find something "interesting" to say about the life of a character she writes about all the time. Most of us don't live lives that interesting, and we're damned glad.

I’ve always loved your descriptions of Cavanaugh Street in the middle of the Armenian neighborhood in Philadelphia where your cast of characters lives. Does it really exist?

I always say that if Cavanaugh Street existed, I would live there. So no, Cavanaugh Street doesn't really exist. It's loosely based on Astoria, Queens, which used to be the Greek neighborhood of New York. It isn't really any more, and it was never quite that well-heeled, but that was the idea.

The reason for why there and why that is a little more complicated. Father Tibor was one of the first characters I came up with for that book, and I wanted to use him to talk about the Eastern Churches. I didn't want to use Greeks, because at the time I was getting complaints that Greek names were impossible to pronounce and that readers were being put off because they were afraid to say even my own name and look "stupid" by not getting it right. So I chose Armenians, because those names were not intimidating, and then I had the choice of two possible significant Armenian communities—one in Philadelphia, and one in Fresno. I've never been to Fresno, so…

Although your books are engaging character studies, they also touch on some very controversial issues. You’ve talked about abuse of all kinds, the public school system and mortgage fraud, among others. Does the issue drive the story or does the story raise the issue?

I think the issues are part of the atmosphere. For better or worse, we live in the kind of interesting times that Chinese curse is supposed to be about. And we seem to have gotten to a point where nobody is actually listening to anybody anymore. I'm neither a liberal nor a conservative, but I have friends and relatives who are both liberal and conservative. And I got bothered by myself, because at that point I was doing what I see so many people doing—reading one kind of magazine, listening to one kind of news broadcast, hearing only one side of the message and knowing nothing about the other side except what my side was saying about it. So I sat myself down and made a concerted effort to read everything by everybody. And I kept trying to get into the heads of people on various sides of various issues, to try to think the way they think so that I could understand what was going on.

My novels always start with characters, but those characters usually live in a world where issues are paramount—because I think we live in a world where issues are paramount. Of course, this causes me more than a little trouble. Since I'm not consistently either liberal or conservative, and since I really do try to present all the different sides, I often find myself with everybody mad at me. We've also gotten to a place where even to try to understand and make sense of the other side is considered a form of treason. If you present the other side as anything but irredeemably stupid and evil, you must be one of them. It can sometimes be a relief to find that the characters wandering through my head this time don't have any interest in any issue at all.

The early books in the series seemed to be character-driven books wrapped in holiday glitz and marketed as cozies. The book covers were particularly “cute.” Then somewhere along the line the books became darker, as did the book covers, and although it appeared that all was calm and peaceful on the surface, there was evil underneath. Is that the message you’d like your readers to get?

I hope my readers don’t have to get that message from me—if you haven’t figured that out by the time you’re 14, you’re in danger in a dangerous world. But closed communities are pressure cookers. And pressure cookers are places where bad things are going to happen sooner rather than later. They're good places to set mysteries.

As for the covers—I think part of the problem is that I was unclear, when I started, just where I wanted to go. I'd already written a more-or-less cozy series under my birth name, and I wanted Gregor Demarkian to be more like—all I could think of at the time was "like P.D. James." I didn't think I was talented enough to write like P.D. James, mind you, but that was the goal. And then life intervened. My husband [mystery author William DeAndrea] got cancer and died young and left me with two small children, and the rest of my life blew up, and suddenly the books had a very different tone to them than they'd had at the beginning. You could see glimmers in some of the earliest books—say, Precious Blood—but things definitely changed, and that was when St. Martin's took over.

They gave me one of the great good things in my life, because they published Somebody Else's Music—not just my favorite Gregor, but a book I'd been trying to write on and off since I was in high school—and put it in hardcover and did a wonderful job with it. And it was horrendously long, but they managed it anyway. But I have no idea what to call the subgenre I'm working in. The word "cozy" has changed almost beyond recognition in the past 15 years—we don't seem to call anything "cozy" any more unless it's "cute," and if there's one thing I'm fairly sure I'm not, it's cute.

Haddam_LivingWitnessWhy was Somebody Else’s Music so special for you?

Somebody Else's Music is the story of a set of high school girls and what has become of both them and of the girl they ruthlessly tormented. To the extent that it's autobiographical, it corresponds to my life in junior high (7th and 8th grades, specifically). I "went away" to high school and actually had a great time there. But when I was 12 and 13 and 14 and for many years afterwards, when I was dreaming about getting the hell out of Dodge and becoming a real honest-to-God writer, the novel I always imagined myself writing was that one. It didn't have Gregor Demarkian in it then, of course, because I hadn't thought up Gregor then, and all the different versions I tried weren't mysteries. But I kept trying and trying, and the books never turned out right, and I kept throwing them out. And then I wrote SEM. And it finally worked. I really love that edition.

But it's interesting. That book is not about an issue. The whole "bullying" thing hadn't made it onto the radar then. But even though it wasn't an issue book, I probably got more hysterical mail and over-the-top, frothing-at-the-mouth amateur reviews than I have on any other thing I've written. I hadn't realized just how sore a subject the whole junior high/high school thing is for so many people.

Your books often find themselves in small, closed communities. And lately highlight the more sordid nature of the rich. Tell me about Hearts of Sand (published in September)—what inspired the story and the old money Connecticut beach town setting?

As I said, I always start with character, and I started this time with the character of a woman who has been in hiding for 30 years after having (almost) been caught committing a very public and ultimately celebrated crime. That sort of thing happens—it happened a fair number of times in the '60s, and ended a number of different ways. Some people went to jail. Other people stayed in hiding until they couldn't stand it any longer, came out, and found themselves basically forgiven. And what always struck me most forcefully about those stories was the way in which the families handled it, the way friends handled it. The law expects the friends and families of these people to act like automatons, to pick up the phone and turn them in as soon as they've made any contact, but that's not what people do. I don't even think it's what they should do.

Any plans to write anything under your birth name again? And are you working on another in the Gregor Demarkian series?

I don't actually write under the name Orania Papazoglou any more—I haven't since I became Jane Haddam. It's been close to 30 years now, so I'll probably stay Jane Haddam. But although I hope to continue with Gregor—for a long time, too—I do have partials out for two possible new series. I'll probably have to pick one when the time comes, but I'm knocking wood that it does come.

Yes, the next book in the Gregor Series is called Fighting Chance, and it's about a case where it looks like Father Tibor Kasparian ought to be one of the prime suspects. Any more than that, and I give too much away.

Let’s talk process—when do you write, where? And what’s on your desk right now?

My desk is a huge worktable that I took from my parents' basement when I was in graduate school. Now it goes everywhere with me. It's moved continents. I write first thing in the morning. I get up at around 4 or 4:30, make a 60-ounce cup of Double Bergamot Earl Grey tea that I let steep for 20 minutes, and just go at it, even before the tea's ready to drink. My office is a sunroom at the back of my house, so I end up looking at the wildlife—wild turkeys, deer, turkey vultures once. I really hate wild turkeys.

What book(s) are you reading now and what does your To Be Read stack look like?

I'm reading Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell. I just finished rereading Dorothy L. Sayers' Have His Carcase. My TBR pile has taken over my living room coffee table and is about to fall over.

Tell me something about yourself that your readers don’t know.

I'm scared to death of appearing in public. I haven't been to a major conference for two decades. The thought of a ton of people makes me sweat. The unfortunate thing is that I know that if I can actually make myself get there, I'll have a great time, because once I start doing it I find it a lot of fun. But that doesn't get me out of the house.

A JANE HADDAM READING LIST

GREGOR DEMARKIAN SERIES
Not a Creature Was Stirring (1990)
Precious Blood (1991)
Act of Darkness (1991)
Quoth the Raven (1991)
A Great Day for the Deadly (1992)
Feast of Murder (1992)
A Stillness in Bethlehem (1993)
Murder Superior (1993)
Festival of Deaths (1993)
Bleeding Hearts (1994)
Dear Old Dead (1994)
Fountain of Death (1995)
And One to Die On (1996)
Baptism in Blood (1996)
Deadly Beloved (1997)
Skeleton Key (2000)
True Believers (2001)
Somebody Else's Music (2002)
Conspiracy Theory (2003)
The Headmaster’s Wife (2004)
Hardscrabble Road (2006)
Glass Houses (2007)
Cheating at Solitaire (2008)
Living Witness (2009)
Wanting Sheila Dead (2010)
Flowering Judas (2011)
Blood in the Water (2012)
Hearts of Sand (2013)

PATIENCE CAMPBELL McKENNA SERIES (writing as Orania Papazooglou)
Sweet, Savage Death (1984)
Wicked, Loving Murder (1985)
Death's Savage Passion (1986)
Rich, Radiant Slaughter (1988)
Once and Always Murder (1990)

STANDALONES (writing as Orania Papazooglou)
Sanctity (1986)
Charisma (1992)

Teri Duerr
Friday, 27 September 2013 03:09

haddam_heartsofsandMS caught up with the interesting writer as her 28th Gregor Demarkian novel hit the shelves.