Leave Tomorrow Behind
Sheila M. Merritt

A county fair, so bucolic and seemingly benign. In Leave Tomorrow Behind, the sixth book to star the engaging and formidable Stella Crown, author Judy Clemens uses the setting for a cozy mystery that pleasantly conforms to the tropes of the genre.

Protagonist Stella digs into backstage manure (both tangible and metaphorical) as a Pennsylvania dairy farmer while working the agricultural youth group’s 4H events at the county fair. She and her fellow farmers, part of a fading agrarian culture, experience a groundswell of pride for the 4H-ers they’ve mentored as the kids present their animals for judging.

Into the contained rural environment come urban interlopers determined to win all the big prizes at the fair at any cost. Country music CEO Gregg has come to rub elbows with the agricultural populace and hype his label’s recordings. Gregg has also purchased award-winning cows for his supercilious daughters to flaunt at competitions. The clan engages in pastoral posing, donning the appropriate duds for the occasion, but never sullying the attire as bona fide farmers would.

A rising-star country-western singer of Gregg’s is scheduled to judge the Lovely Miss Pennsylvania Pageant. However, the popular and talented young woman is unable to fulfill her pageant duties—she is murdered before the event. Soon after, someone poisons Gregg’s livestock.

Stella is bent on solving the crimes. She is snarky and amusing, and Clemens imbues her with spunk to spare. Whether dealing with an interfering future sister-in-law intent on taking control of Stella’s pending nuptials, or the odious Mr. Gregg, she exhibits moxie and a wise, self-deprecating humor.

The novel fits snugly into the cozy mystery category, with a bit of emotional tweaking regarding the de rigueur hot romance: Nick, Stella’s so-handsome-that-he-makeswomen-weak-in-the-knees intended, has been diagnosed with a debilitating disease. Fortunately, he’s fallen for a gal who has stellar coping skills. Following their relationship is added incentive to read the next book in the series.

Teri Duerr
2013-11-17 17:40:25

clemens_leavetomorrowbehindThe sixth book to star the engaging and formidable dairy farmer Stella Crown.

A Nasty Piece of Work
Kevin Burton Smith

There’s something furiously nostalgic—if not defiantly anachronistic—about this spy and thriller writer’s stab at hardboiled fiction. His hero, private eye Lemuel Gunn, practically reeks of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee, from the crotchety, freewheeling philosophical outbursts to his frank and cheeky appreciation of the pleasures of the flesh. He runs his one-man detective agency out of a trailer on the fringes of the New Mexico desert and is suitably quirky and quixotic. You almost expect to see a big Fawcett Gold Medal crest slapped on the spine and a Robert McGuinness babe on the cover. Holding a gun. Wearing a bikini and high heels.

It’s that sort of book.

Even the plot echoes the sort of job Travis would gleefully take on back in the day: track down an errant bail jumper to help Ornella Neppi, a healthy young damsel in distress who’s on the hook for $125,000 in bail money. A healthy young damsel in distress, I might add, who insists on accompanying Gunn as he tracks down the fugitive, and will—if Gunn has his way—eventually succumb to Gunn’s manly (but respectful) charms.

The runaway, Emilio Gava, at first seems to be your garden variety drug dealer, but turns out to be something else entirely, and soon enough various law enforcement agencies and a couple of warring mob families are also involved.

Gunn has his moments, and if the story unfolds at times in a perfunctory and predictable way, and lacks the crackle and pop and shrewd eye and nuance of JDM at his best, it nonetheless gets the job done—in an old-fashioned paperback way. Halfway in, I’d decided that there’s enough potential in Gunn that I wouldn’t mind a return visit.

So it’s all a bit disconcerting and more than a little jarring to discover this story purportedly takes place in the post-9/11 present; a present where Gunn (an ex-cop and former CIA agent) is willing to work for 95 bucks a day (plus expenses), and apparently has no idea how cell phones or computers work. Which sort of begs all sorts of rude questions, such as: “Ninety-five dollars a day? Are you kidding me? Rockford charged $200 back in 1974!” and “Does the CIA really employ people who are unfamiliar with such ‘newfangled’ things like computers and cell phones?” And “How long did this thing sit on the shelf, before being dusted off, revised and rushed to print?”

Teri Duerr
2013-11-17 17:45:37

There’s something furiously nostalgic—if not defiantly anachronistic—about this spy and thriller writer’s stab at hardboiled fiction. His hero, private eye Lemuel Gunn, practically reeks of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee, from the crotchety, freewheeling philosophical outbursts to his frank and cheeky appreciation of the pleasures of the flesh. He runs his one-man detective agency out of a trailer on the fringes of the New Mexico desert and is suitably quirky and quixotic. You almost expect to see a big Fawcett Gold Medal crest slapped on the spine and a Robert McGuinness babe on the cover. Holding a gun. Wearing a bikini and high heels.

It’s that sort of book.

Even the plot echoes the sort of job Travis would gleefully take on back in the day: track down an errant bail jumper to help Ornella Neppi, a healthy young damsel in distress who’s on the hook for $125,000 in bail money. A healthy young damsel in distress, I might add, who insists on accompanying Gunn as he tracks down the fugitive, and will—if Gunn has his way—eventually succumb to Gunn’s manly (but respectful) charms.

The runaway, Emilio Gava, at first seems to be your garden variety drug dealer, but turns out to be something else entirely, and soon enough various law enforcement agencies and a couple of warring mob families are also involved.

Gunn has his moments, and if the story unfolds at times in a perfunctory and predictable way, and lacks the crackle and pop and shrewd eye and nuance of JDM at his best, it nonetheless gets the job done—in an old-fashioned paperback way. Halfway in, I’d decided that there’s enough potential in Gunn that I wouldn’t mind a return visit.

So it’s all a bit disconcerting and more than a little jarring to discover this story purportedly takes place in the post-9/11 present; a present where Gunn (an ex-cop and former CIA agent) is willing to work for 95 bucks a day (plus expenses), and apparently has no idea how cell phones or computers work. Which sort of begs all sorts of rude questions, such as: “Ninety-five dollars a day? Are you kidding me? Rockford charged $200 back in 1974!” and “Does the CIA really employ people who are unfamiliar with such ‘newfangled’ things like computers and cell phones?” And “How long did this thing sit on the shelf, before being dusted off, revised and rushed to print?”

The Midas Murders
Robin Agnew

The second novel in a series set in historic Bruges, Belgium, featuring Inspector Pieter Van In, proves to be a complicated police procedural with many layers to the storytelling. Though Van In is compared on the back cover to Georges Simenon’s beloved Maigret, nothing could be further from the truth. Unlike Maigret, Van In smokes and drinks to excess and sleeps around. He alternately praises his coworkers and then ignores them, much as he does his more-than-patient girlfriend, Hannelore. He’s also behind on his house payments, with the bank threatening to repossess. Despite all he has on his plate personally, Van In’s extreme intelligence and skillful deductive reasoning make him a force to be reckoned with.

The story itself begins with both a suspicious accident and an explosion. Van In and his assistant, Versavel, are summoned to look into the explosion of a public monument. Van In at first refuses to take things seriously, but he still lays out a coherent plan to protect the rest of the city’s many well-known monuments and buildings while investigating the incident.

Meanwhile, the reader is privy to the plans of a man as he cases the famous Belfort Tower with a mind to blow it up. From that moment on, the clock is ticking on the denouement, and it’s around the same time that Van In brings chaos theory to bear on his investigation (as the skeptical Versavel hears him out). According to chaos theory, the only thing predictable is the unpredictable, and even a small action can have a huge and unexpected ripple effect. Van In backtracks in time, looking at some tiny incidents, and begins to tie together happenings in the present using this theory.

It’s the deductive reasoning that had me interested. The rest of the novel might well have been written with a bit of a mind to chaos theory—its many threads and complicated connections didn’t really strike a chord for me until Van In began to figure things out toward the end. The satisfaction I derived from this novel came from the culmination of the puzzle, not particularly in the journey it took to get there.

I did also enjoy the references to lovely, historic Bruges, a city the author describes with love and affection: “The layer of snow on the parks and rooftops was fortunately still intact, its decorative white making Bruges appear more romantic than it already was. This was weather for poets and painters...” In Bruges, it appears, even winter is dreamy and romantic. The city was a major player in the novel and one I truly enjoyed getting to know a little better.

Teri Duerr
2013-11-17 17:50:06

The second novel in a series set in historic Bruges, Belgium, featuring Inspector Pieter Van In, proves to be a complicated police procedural with many layers to the storytelling. Though Van In is compared on the back cover to Georges Simenon’s beloved Maigret, nothing could be further from the truth. Unlike Maigret, Van In smokes and drinks to excess and sleeps around. He alternately praises his coworkers and then ignores them, much as he does his more-than-patient girlfriend, Hannelore. He’s also behind on his house payments, with the bank threatening to repossess. Despite all he has on his plate personally, Van In’s extreme intelligence and skillful deductive reasoning make him a force to be reckoned with.

The story itself begins with both a suspicious accident and an explosion. Van In and his assistant, Versavel, are summoned to look into the explosion of a public monument. Van In at first refuses to take things seriously, but he still lays out a coherent plan to protect the rest of the city’s many well-known monuments and buildings while investigating the incident.

Meanwhile, the reader is privy to the plans of a man as he cases the famous Belfort Tower with a mind to blow it up. From that moment on, the clock is ticking on the denouement, and it’s around the same time that Van In brings chaos theory to bear on his investigation (as the skeptical Versavel hears him out). According to chaos theory, the only thing predictable is the unpredictable, and even a small action can have a huge and unexpected ripple effect. Van In backtracks in time, looking at some tiny incidents, and begins to tie together happenings in the present using this theory.

It’s the deductive reasoning that had me interested. The rest of the novel might well have been written with a bit of a mind to chaos theory—its many threads and complicated connections didn’t really strike a chord for me until Van In began to figure things out toward the end. The satisfaction I derived from this novel came from the culmination of the puzzle, not particularly in the journey it took to get there.

I did also enjoy the references to lovely, historic Bruges, a city the author describes with love and affection: “The layer of snow on the parks and rooftops was fortunately still intact, its decorative white making Bruges appear more romantic than it already was. This was weather for poets and painters...” In Bruges, it appears, even winter is dreamy and romantic. The city was a major player in the novel and one I truly enjoyed getting to know a little better.

The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon
Hilary Daninhirsch

There is nothing as thrilling to me as a reader than to get my hands on the latest book in the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series by the uber-talented and prolific Alexander McCall Smith, perhaps my all-time favorite. The series has the distinction of never growing tiresome; the situations are fresh and the characters are so well carved out that it is sometimes startling (and a little sad) to realize that they are fictional.

Precious Ramotswe, the owner of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency in Botswana, Africa, helps regular people with regular problems. Perhaps the books are best characterized as “mystery lite,” as rarely will the reader find the only female detective in Botswana investigating heinous crimes. Rather, Mma Ramotswe will investigate many situations involving one’s moral character: cheating husbands, people who are perhaps not who they claim to be, people trying to sabotage others, etc. Mma Ramotswe is warm, caring and “traditionally built,” and she holds herself up to the highest of ethical standards in both her personal and professional life.

In this installment, the 14th, Mma Ramotswe is hired by a lawyer to help uncover the true identity of a beneficiary in a client’s will. She’s also engaged to help the owner of the Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon find out who is spreading lies about her business and attempting to damage her reputation. While probing these matters, Mma Ramotswe finds that she is missing her trusty, though prickly, assistant, Grace Makutsi, while the latter is on maternity leave. In the meantime, Mma Ramotswe’s husband, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, the finest mechanic in Botswana, enrolls in a class to learn to be a more modern husband.

While the latest book can certainly stand alone, it would give the reader a much better sense of the characters—not to mention much pleasure—to start from the first book in the series. Part of this series’ charm is getting to know the personalities of the characters and becoming familiar with the many running jokes.

There is less of a focus on the investigation of the matters brought to Mma Ramotswe’s attention in this latest than in previous titles in the series and more focus on characters, but it’s still equally entertaining. The book is infused with a blend of humor and insight, and a running theme examining the dichotomy between the modern and traditional ways of life in Botswana. And, as ever, Botswana’s landscape and culture are as much of a character in the book as the humans, brought to life by McCall Smith, who was born in Zimbabwe and spent time living and teaching in Botswana.

Teri Duerr
2013-11-17 17:53:37

There is nothing as thrilling to me as a reader than to get my hands on the latest book in the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series by the uber-talented and prolific Alexander McCall Smith, perhaps my all-time favorite. The series has the distinction of never growing tiresome; the situations are fresh and the characters are so well carved out that it is sometimes startling (and a little sad) to realize that they are fictional.

Precious Ramotswe, the owner of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency in Botswana, Africa, helps regular people with regular problems. Perhaps the books are best characterized as “mystery lite,” as rarely will the reader find the only female detective in Botswana investigating heinous crimes. Rather, Mma Ramotswe will investigate many situations involving one’s moral character: cheating husbands, people who are perhaps not who they claim to be, people trying to sabotage others, etc. Mma Ramotswe is warm, caring and “traditionally built,” and she holds herself up to the highest of ethical standards in both her personal and professional life.

In this installment, the 14th, Mma Ramotswe is hired by a lawyer to help uncover the true identity of a beneficiary in a client’s will. She’s also engaged to help the owner of the Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon find out who is spreading lies about her business and attempting to damage her reputation. While probing these matters, Mma Ramotswe finds that she is missing her trusty, though prickly, assistant, Grace Makutsi, while the latter is on maternity leave. In the meantime, Mma Ramotswe’s husband, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, the finest mechanic in Botswana, enrolls in a class to learn to be a more modern husband.

While the latest book can certainly stand alone, it would give the reader a much better sense of the characters—not to mention much pleasure—to start from the first book in the series. Part of this series’ charm is getting to know the personalities of the characters and becoming familiar with the many running jokes.

There is less of a focus on the investigation of the matters brought to Mma Ramotswe’s attention in this latest than in previous titles in the series and more focus on characters, but it’s still equally entertaining. The book is infused with a blend of humor and insight, and a running theme examining the dichotomy between the modern and traditional ways of life in Botswana. And, as ever, Botswana’s landscape and culture are as much of a character in the book as the humans, brought to life by McCall Smith, who was born in Zimbabwe and spent time living and teaching in Botswana.

The Lost Girls of Rome
Hank Wagner

A widow working as a forensic analyst for the Rome police, whose husband, a reporter, died in the midst of cracking the biggest story of his career. A dead man who wakes up sans memory. A serial killer of young women. A serial killer who assumes the identity of his victims. And, finally, an ancient sect of the Catholic Church.

These are the raw elements of the fantastic concoction that Donato Carrissi calls The Lost Girls of Rome. Just how do they all fit together? This reviewer isn’t saying, since those answers would betray a primary joy of reading the book, that of discovery. Instead, he chooses to simply urge you very strongly to seek the book out and sample its myriad, labyrinthine pleasures for yourself.

One thing that can be said about the book without ruining any of its surprises is that it is very well written. Reminiscent of books like Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s classic The Shadow of the Wind, Carrisi’s work has a dreamy, other worldly feel about it; the prose is literate, lyrical, knowing, dense without being wordy, erudite without being pretentious. Besides his feeling for the language, Carrissi also demonstrates an excellent sense of the dramatic, effortlessly weaving a number of mini-crescendos into his work, holding your interest throughout. By the time you reach the book’s true conclusion, you may be enervated, but you will also be exhilarated, happy to have just participated in a dark, compelling exploration of the nature of human evil.

Teri Duerr
2013-11-17 17:58:17

A widow working as a forensic analyst for the Rome police, whose husband, a reporter, died in the midst of cracking the biggest story of his career. A dead man who wakes up sans memory. A serial killer of young women. A serial killer who assumes the identity of his victims. And, finally, an ancient sect of the Catholic Church.

These are the raw elements of the fantastic concoction that Donato Carrissi calls The Lost Girls of Rome. Just how do they all fit together? This reviewer isn’t saying, since those answers would betray a primary joy of reading the book, that of discovery. Instead, he chooses to simply urge you very strongly to seek the book out and sample its myriad, labyrinthine pleasures for yourself.

One thing that can be said about the book without ruining any of its surprises is that it is very well written. Reminiscent of books like Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s classic The Shadow of the Wind, Carrisi’s work has a dreamy, other worldly feel about it; the prose is literate, lyrical, knowing, dense without being wordy, erudite without being pretentious. Besides his feeling for the language, Carrissi also demonstrates an excellent sense of the dramatic, effortlessly weaving a number of mini-crescendos into his work, holding your interest throughout. By the time you reach the book’s true conclusion, you may be enervated, but you will also be exhilarated, happy to have just participated in a dark, compelling exploration of the nature of human evil.

An Old Betrayal
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

If you like well-written, truly puzzling Victorian mysteries with a likable and intelligent detective, this seventh book in the Charles Lenox series by Charles Finch may be for you. It’s 1875, and former detective and now Member of Parliament Charles Lenox is called upon to meet a new client of his ailing detective protégé John Dallington. Due to a mix-up, the meeting never takes place, but the appearance of someone who apparently scared the client away piques Lenox’s curiosity.

When he discovers that the person of interest is not who he claimed to be and is somehow tied to a later murder, Lenox and Dallington begin an investigation that includes the help of a newly-coined female detective and ultimately leads to a trail of revenge, murder, and even treason!

While maintaining the integrity of the mystery, the author deftly weaves in Lenox’s home life and friendships to further advance our understanding of his character and his motivations.

In addition to the intriguing mystery, there are realistic scenes from the Parliament of the era featuring the likes of Conservative leader Benjamin Disraeli and British Liberal politician, William Gladstone. While not entirely essential to the solution of the crimes, these scenes provide an interesting and sometimes humorous look at how politics over the ages never really change very much. Buckingham Palace and Queen Victoria herself play more than a fleeting role in the story.

Teri Duerr
2013-11-17 18:02:02

If you like well-written, truly puzzling Victorian mysteries with a likable and intelligent detective, this seventh book in the Charles Lenox series by Charles Finch may be for you. It’s 1875, and former detective and now Member of Parliament Charles Lenox is called upon to meet a new client of his ailing detective protégé John Dallington. Due to a mix-up, the meeting never takes place, but the appearance of someone who apparently scared the client away piques Lenox’s curiosity.

When he discovers that the person of interest is not who he claimed to be and is somehow tied to a later murder, Lenox and Dallington begin an investigation that includes the help of a newly-coined female detective and ultimately leads to a trail of revenge, murder, and even treason!

While maintaining the integrity of the mystery, the author deftly weaves in Lenox’s home life and friendships to further advance our understanding of his character and his motivations.

In addition to the intriguing mystery, there are realistic scenes from the Parliament of the era featuring the likes of Conservative leader Benjamin Disraeli and British Liberal politician, William Gladstone. While not entirely essential to the solution of the crimes, these scenes provide an interesting and sometimes humorous look at how politics over the ages never really change very much. Buckingham Palace and Queen Victoria herself play more than a fleeting role in the story.

Cross and Burn
Robin Agnew

Val McDermid’s compulsively readable Tony Hill and Carol Jordan series finds a fresh hell to discover in her latest installment. Paula McIntyre, formerly Carol Jordan’s “bagman” (or second in command) has a new boss, Alex Fielding. Paula is struggling to fit in as her new boss has none of Carol’s outside-the-box thinking or sensitivity. Paula hits the ground running her first day on the new job—the body of a brutally murdered woman has been discovered, and to complicate matters, she’s asked by the young son of an acquaintance what he should do about his missing mother. Missing persons is not in her job description, but she listens to the boy anyway, pushing forward the investigation into his mother’s disappearance.

Paula isn’t the only one who’s uncomfortable. Carol Jordan and Tony Hill, the usual mainstays of the series, are estranged, and Carol has left the police to rehab her brother’s house. He and his partner met a violent end in the last novel, and Carol is trying to exorcise her demons through hard physical labor. Tony, missing Carol, is adrift.

Meanwhile, the focus of this book is Paula, who not only is working to solve the case of the murdered woman, but is increasingly concerned about the young boy, Torin, whose mother has disappeared, and she and her partner end up taking him in. McDermid is very good at portraying adolescents, and Torin is extremely believable and well drawn.

As Paula’s case escalates with the twist that the murder victim looks to be a part of a series of murders, she’s a bit adrift without her usual support system of Carol and Tony. While McDermid is top of her class when it comes to writing intelligent, twisty, suspenseful thrillers, one of her strongest talents as a writer is her concern about relationships, whether it be between killer and victim, partner and partner, or workmates.

A major draw here is the interesting and fresh relationship between Carol Jordan and Tony Hill, which could best be called an intimate friendship. McDermid is adept at portraying the workplace, and Carol and Tony’s is a working relationship that’s gone no further, due to reluctance on both their parts. They draw on each other’s strengths professionally; personally, they have more trouble.

McDermid’s first several novels in this series were so graphically violent that I often skipped over those parts. (Luckily, she often put those sections in italics so it was easy to do). The violence is still there, but it’s far less specific; much more is left to the imagination. Whether that’s due to her confidence as a writer or the mellowing that comes with age, I can’t say, but I sure appreciate it, as I’ve always loved these thrillers for many other reasons.

As always, the police work involved and the chasing down and uncovering of clues is completely absorbing. The way the characters are drawn so three dimensionally enriches every part of McDermid’s novels. Cross and Burn is well worth the reading journey.

Teri Duerr
2013-11-17 18:05:13

Val McDermid’s compulsively readable Tony Hill and Carol Jordan series finds a fresh hell to discover in her latest installment. Paula McIntyre, formerly Carol Jordan’s “bagman” (or second in command) has a new boss, Alex Fielding. Paula is struggling to fit in as her new boss has none of Carol’s outside-the-box thinking or sensitivity. Paula hits the ground running her first day on the new job—the body of a brutally murdered woman has been discovered, and to complicate matters, she’s asked by the young son of an acquaintance what he should do about his missing mother. Missing persons is not in her job description, but she listens to the boy anyway, pushing forward the investigation into his mother’s disappearance.

Paula isn’t the only one who’s uncomfortable. Carol Jordan and Tony Hill, the usual mainstays of the series, are estranged, and Carol has left the police to rehab her brother’s house. He and his partner met a violent end in the last novel, and Carol is trying to exorcise her demons through hard physical labor. Tony, missing Carol, is adrift.

Meanwhile, the focus of this book is Paula, who not only is working to solve the case of the murdered woman, but is increasingly concerned about the young boy, Torin, whose mother has disappeared, and she and her partner end up taking him in. McDermid is very good at portraying adolescents, and Torin is extremely believable and well drawn.

As Paula’s case escalates with the twist that the murder victim looks to be a part of a series of murders, she’s a bit adrift without her usual support system of Carol and Tony. While McDermid is top of her class when it comes to writing intelligent, twisty, suspenseful thrillers, one of her strongest talents as a writer is her concern about relationships, whether it be between killer and victim, partner and partner, or workmates.

A major draw here is the interesting and fresh relationship between Carol Jordan and Tony Hill, which could best be called an intimate friendship. McDermid is adept at portraying the workplace, and Carol and Tony’s is a working relationship that’s gone no further, due to reluctance on both their parts. They draw on each other’s strengths professionally; personally, they have more trouble.

McDermid’s first several novels in this series were so graphically violent that I often skipped over those parts. (Luckily, she often put those sections in italics so it was easy to do). The violence is still there, but it’s far less specific; much more is left to the imagination. Whether that’s due to her confidence as a writer or the mellowing that comes with age, I can’t say, but I sure appreciate it, as I’ve always loved these thrillers for many other reasons.

As always, the police work involved and the chasing down and uncovering of clues is completely absorbing. The way the characters are drawn so three dimensionally enriches every part of McDermid’s novels. Cross and Burn is well worth the reading journey.

Critical Mass
Vanessa Orr

I always enjoy reading a new Sara Paretsky book. Not just because I’m a big fan of tough-talking, in-your-face private eye V.I. Warshawski, but because Paretsky always finds a way to use her heroine to champion the cause of social justice while skewering those she feels deserve it along the way. In the case of Critical Mass, the 16th novel featuring the Chicago detective, Paretsky goes after white-collar criminals acting in the name of “national defense,” and agents of Homeland Security as they try to prevent V.I. from investigating the case of a missing young man. V.I. is searching for the grandson of Kitty Saginor Binder, a childhood playmate of her friend, Viennese-born doctor Lotty Herschel. The trail leads back to World War II Germany and the race between America, Germany, Japan, and England to develop the first atomic bomb. History is brought to life as V.I’s investigation is intertwined with flashbacks from the life of Kitty’s mother, Martina Saginor, a top female physicist whose discoveries resonated generations after her presumed death in a concentration camp.

It is not lost on the reader that the jackboot tactics of law enforcement and Homeland Security, under the guise of protecting defense secrets for multibillion-dollar corporation Metargon, resemble the heavyhanded methods used by Nazi soldiers. Metargon’s CEO, Cordell Breen, brings to mind megalomaniac leader Adolph Hitler, “giving orders that no one can follow,” and threatening revenge on any shareholders who challenge him.

While V.I. is still as sharp-tongued as ever and there are moments of levity, the story itself is as dark as its subject matter, and the flashbacks make it even more so. The race for the bomb is dreadful enough; set against a background of families being torn apart as members are herded onto cattle cars to travel to concentration camps where they will be killed, it is all the more horrific.

While I would not call this a particularly enjoyable read, its point is well-taken: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Paretsky forces the reader to face what can happen when governments and their leaderships are allowed to run unchecked, and it makes for a memorable, discomfiting story that lingers long after the last page is turned.

Teri Duerr
2013-11-17 18:09:06

I always enjoy reading a new Sara Paretsky book. Not just because I’m a big fan of tough-talking, in-your-face private eye V.I. Warshawski, but because Paretsky always finds a way to use her heroine to champion the cause of social justice while skewering those she feels deserve it along the way. In the case of Critical Mass, the 16th novel featuring the Chicago detective, Paretsky goes after white-collar criminals acting in the name of “national defense,” and agents of Homeland Security as they try to prevent V.I. from investigating the case of a missing young man. V.I. is searching for the grandson of Kitty Saginor Binder, a childhood playmate of her friend, Viennese-born doctor Lotty Herschel. The trail leads back to World War II Germany and the race between America, Germany, Japan, and England to develop the first atomic bomb. History is brought to life as V.I’s investigation is intertwined with flashbacks from the life of Kitty’s mother, Martina Saginor, a top female physicist whose discoveries resonated generations after her presumed death in a concentration camp.

It is not lost on the reader that the jackboot tactics of law enforcement and Homeland Security, under the guise of protecting defense secrets for multibillion-dollar corporation Metargon, resemble the heavyhanded methods used by Nazi soldiers. Metargon’s CEO, Cordell Breen, brings to mind megalomaniac leader Adolph Hitler, “giving orders that no one can follow,” and threatening revenge on any shareholders who challenge him.

While V.I. is still as sharp-tongued as ever and there are moments of levity, the story itself is as dark as its subject matter, and the flashbacks make it even more so. The race for the bomb is dreadful enough; set against a background of families being torn apart as members are herded onto cattle cars to travel to concentration camps where they will be killed, it is all the more horrific.

While I would not call this a particularly enjoyable read, its point is well-taken: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Paretsky forces the reader to face what can happen when governments and their leaderships are allowed to run unchecked, and it makes for a memorable, discomfiting story that lingers long after the last page is turned.

Best Defense
Sharon Magee

Randy Rawls says he likes to write strong women and he’s done just that with his Beth Bowman, PI series. This South Floridian PI is as tough as they come, but she also has a soft side. In the second installment after last year’s Hot Rocks, bra-holster-wearing Bowman has been hired by Sabrina Hammonds, who wants proof her wealthy defense attorney husband, John, is being unfaithful. Easy case—Beth follows him to a restaurant where he meets a woman, then to a hotel. The next day, evidence in hand, she heads to the Hammond’s home to present the photos to Sabrina. But she finds the client dead.

Nemeses of hers from an old case, Dick Bannon and Major Sargent, ignore her contention that Sabrina’s husband, John Hammonds killed Sabrina. After all, it’s easier to off a wife you no longer want than pay a divorce settlement. Imagine Beth’s shock when John calls and wants to hire her. Turns out Sabrina was inordinately jealous and routinely hired PIs to follow him. And the woman with him? His sister, Maddy. But now John needs Beth for something much more important. His five-year-old daughter Ashley was kidnapped the same day his wife was killed.

Over the protests of the police, John insists Beth be the lead investigator because, as he says, “Rules and Beth Bowman are not synonymous.” Knowing every hour Ashley’s in the kidnappers’ hands is critical, Beth calls on “the invisible people,” her intrepid street friends—among them Dabba, Blister, Dot, Viaduct, and Ralph—who frequent her friend Bob Sandiford’s shelter and have the ability to move about unseen and unnoticed.

Rawls’ other series, the Ace Edwards series, is set in Texas where the author lived. Now that he’s moved to Florida, he says he’s set his new series in “the land where there is no fiction.... It either happened yesterday, is happening today, or will happen tomorrow.” Rawls manages to inject humor into the horrible business of murder, and give readers characters they care about, such as the homeless friends that play a big role in this series, as well as Beth’s delightful mother who can’t seem to stay away from the wrong guy. Other than a tendency to repeat himself on occasion, Rawls has written a solidly enjoyable mystery series with plenty of humor and twists.

Teri Duerr
2013-11-17 18:12:51

Randy Rawls says he likes to write strong women and he’s done just that with his Beth Bowman, PI series. This South Floridian PI is as tough as they come, but she also has a soft side. In the second installment after last year’s Hot Rocks, bra-holster-wearing Bowman has been hired by Sabrina Hammonds, who wants proof her wealthy defense attorney husband, John, is being unfaithful. Easy case—Beth follows him to a restaurant where he meets a woman, then to a hotel. The next day, evidence in hand, she heads to the Hammond’s home to present the photos to Sabrina. But she finds the client dead.

Nemeses of hers from an old case, Dick Bannon and Major Sargent, ignore her contention that Sabrina’s husband, John Hammonds killed Sabrina. After all, it’s easier to off a wife you no longer want than pay a divorce settlement. Imagine Beth’s shock when John calls and wants to hire her. Turns out Sabrina was inordinately jealous and routinely hired PIs to follow him. And the woman with him? His sister, Maddy. But now John needs Beth for something much more important. His five-year-old daughter Ashley was kidnapped the same day his wife was killed.

Over the protests of the police, John insists Beth be the lead investigator because, as he says, “Rules and Beth Bowman are not synonymous.” Knowing every hour Ashley’s in the kidnappers’ hands is critical, Beth calls on “the invisible people,” her intrepid street friends—among them Dabba, Blister, Dot, Viaduct, and Ralph—who frequent her friend Bob Sandiford’s shelter and have the ability to move about unseen and unnoticed.

Rawls’ other series, the Ace Edwards series, is set in Texas where the author lived. Now that he’s moved to Florida, he says he’s set his new series in “the land where there is no fiction.... It either happened yesterday, is happening today, or will happen tomorrow.” Rawls manages to inject humor into the horrible business of murder, and give readers characters they care about, such as the homeless friends that play a big role in this series, as well as Beth’s delightful mother who can’t seem to stay away from the wrong guy. Other than a tendency to repeat himself on occasion, Rawls has written a solidly enjoyable mystery series with plenty of humor and twists.

Murder and Moonshine
Oline H. Cogdill

In small towns, the local diner often serves as a meeting place, an ad hoc city hall, and a gossip hub. Along with eggs, grits, and chicken-fried steak, the diner dishes up a glimpse of an entire community as Carol Miller shows in her lively debut. Miller keeps the tone light in Murder and Moonshine while delivering an incisive look at Southwestern Virginia. Everyone knows each other here, but those hills can harbor devastating secrets. Murder and Moonshine also is about the pleasures of living in a rural area.

The H&P Diner is the place to be for the residents of Pittsylvania County. That’s where the appealing Daisy McGovern works as a waitress and makes the best peach cobbler “between Charleston, West Virginia, and Charleston, South Carolina.” The diner has become a refuge for the 27-year-old waitress and her sole source of income since her “snake charmer” of a husband, Matt, left her four years ago. And the H&P is where reclusive farmer Fred Dickerson stumbles in one morning and drops dead at Daisy’s feet.

Old Fred was such a hermit that many didn’t even know he was still alive or who would care enough to kill him when his death is ruled a homicide. Daisy is surprised when she learns that Fred had been living on a piece of the land that used to belong to her family and that the entire property was recently sold. Daisy reluctantly teams up with Ethan Kinney, a charming ATF agent, who begins to poke around into Fred’s murder. Moonshine, land deals, and family grudges are folded into the entertaining plot.

Miller elevates her debut with a likable heroine, whose involvement in finding out who killed Fred comes from her personal connection with the land and its people. Murder and Moonshine is long on Southern charm, but doesn’t succumb to stereotypes about country life. The characters are a bit eccentric, such as Daisy’s aunt who fires her rifle at anything that moves, but they are realistically and thoughtfully explored by Miller.

City slickers should take heed when one character laments, “as we all know, they don’t listen to anyone small-town.” Murder and Moonshine proves they should.

Teri Duerr
2013-11-17 18:16:24

miller_murderandmoonshineSmall-town living and small-town secrets are served up with the hospitality, eggs and grits at H&P Diner.

Broken
Sarah Prindle

Fifteen-year-old Scarlet Killian has always lived with the fact that she could die young. Diagnosed with Long QT Syndrome, a heart ailment, Scarlet has spent much of her life in hospitals. She has never attended school, been kissed by a boy, or gone to movies with friends. But when Scarlet finally convinces her stepmother and father to let her attend school for a week, her life changes in ways she could never have imagined.

Despite experiencing terrible bullying, Scarlet makes friends with kids in her peer support group, finds two love interests, and begins to enjoy a life outside hospitals. However, odd events begin to occur that hint at sinister intentions. When Scarlet looks into her medical history for a school project she finds discrepancies in her medical files. She uncovers facts about her family she never knew. Long-forgotten memories challenge her family’s version of events in her life. And as Scarlet investigates these oddities, she becomes sicker and sicker…and soon realizes her most trusted loved ones could be hiding something about her past.

Broken is a psychological thriller full of interesting characters such as Nessa, a spunky girl who is bipolar; Celina, whose hard outer shell masks the vulnerabilities within; and the thoughtful and amusing Tony. These kids make the story engaging and endearing through their vastly different personalities, their instant acceptance of Scarlet into their group, and their staunch defense of each other against the bullying at school.

Broken uses Scarlet’s voice to show the reader issues such as bullying, medical problems, and the knowledge that each day could be your last. Author CJ Lyons, a former ER doctor whose niece has Long QT, has written a mystery that fully explores the reality of family, illness, lies, and most of all—the difference between living a long life and living a good life.

Teri Duerr
2013-11-17 18:19:49

Fifteen-year-old Scarlet Killian has always lived with the fact that she could die young. Diagnosed with Long QT Syndrome, a heart ailment, Scarlet has spent much of her life in hospitals. She has never attended school, been kissed by a boy, or gone to movies with friends. But when Scarlet finally convinces her stepmother and father to let her attend school for a week, her life changes in ways she could never have imagined.

Despite experiencing terrible bullying, Scarlet makes friends with kids in her peer support group, finds two love interests, and begins to enjoy a life outside hospitals. However, odd events begin to occur that hint at sinister intentions. When Scarlet looks into her medical history for a school project she finds discrepancies in her medical files. She uncovers facts about her family she never knew. Long-forgotten memories challenge her family’s version of events in her life. And as Scarlet investigates these oddities, she becomes sicker and sicker…and soon realizes her most trusted loved ones could be hiding something about her past.

Broken is a psychological thriller full of interesting characters such as Nessa, a spunky girl who is bipolar; Celina, whose hard outer shell masks the vulnerabilities within; and the thoughtful and amusing Tony. These kids make the story engaging and endearing through their vastly different personalities, their instant acceptance of Scarlet into their group, and their staunch defense of each other against the bullying at school.

Broken uses Scarlet’s voice to show the reader issues such as bullying, medical problems, and the knowledge that each day could be your last. Author CJ Lyons, a former ER doctor whose niece has Long QT, has written a mystery that fully explores the reality of family, illness, lies, and most of all—the difference between living a long life and living a good life.

Bleeding Edge
M. Schlecht

Welcome to Thomas Pynchon’s paranoid love letter to New York City circa 2001. Bleeding Edge explores typical Pynchon-sized themes—post-dot-com-boom angst and fiber networks of intrigue that stretch to entangle the events of 9/11—while starring a typical Pynchon-sized eclectic cast, any one of whom can steer proceedings in a strange new direction.

At the center of the story is Maxine Turnow, recently divorced mother of two, “a paid-up member of the Yentas With Attitude local,” and a fraud investigator lately without a license (although being independent has not hurt her business, or her freedom to bend laws and pack heat). On a tip, Maxine investigates some funny numbers at hashslingrz, a computer security firm whose CEO, Gabriel Ice, lurks in the dark un-Googleable depths of the Web.

Pynchon’s previous novel, Inherent Vice, starred private eye Doc Sportello and featured ’70s California vibes and ARPAnet, a US military- created precursor to the modern-day Internet. In Bleeding Edge, the online world has become more layered and sophisticated as Maxine encounters “weapons, drugs, sex, Knicks tickets” in a cyber sub-space, a sort of hacker’s paradise that Pynchon calls the Deep Web. She’s also learning more about Ice’s operations via investors and coders, in between Israeli Krav Maga lessons for the kids, weekend visits to the grandparents, and an unhealthy number of pizza dinners. But Maxine’s investigations soon attract the kind of dangerous attention that has Russian mobsters as the least of her worries. It’s not Pynchon’s most essential effort, but behind the screwball wit his scenes from the dawn of the Internet age offer up chilling thoughts on our online future.

For all the Deep Web diving in Bleeding Edge, Pynchon’s New York never fails to be evocative and only slightly less unbelievable than the real thing. There’s Steely Dan karaoke in Korea Town, a private Nose for hire who can recreate crime scenes by scent, a strip club in Queens, and a “Yupper West Side” residence that’s the focal point for a hangar’s worth of conspiracy theories. Every page bursts with Pynchon’s run-and-pun strategy. Any coherent plot is largely sacrificed in favor of happenstance—Or is it?—but after the tangents have been explored there is an honest to goodness resolution for Maxine after all her hard work.

Teri Duerr
2013-11-17 18:23:29

Welcome to Thomas Pynchon’s paranoid love letter to New York City circa 2001. Bleeding Edge explores typical Pynchon-sized themes—post-dot-com-boom angst and fiber networks of intrigue that stretch to entangle the events of 9/11—while starring a typical Pynchon-sized eclectic cast, any one of whom can steer proceedings in a strange new direction.

At the center of the story is Maxine Turnow, recently divorced mother of two, “a paid-up member of the Yentas With Attitude local,” and a fraud investigator lately without a license (although being independent has not hurt her business, or her freedom to bend laws and pack heat). On a tip, Maxine investigates some funny numbers at hashslingrz, a computer security firm whose CEO, Gabriel Ice, lurks in the dark un-Googleable depths of the Web.

Pynchon’s previous novel, Inherent Vice, starred private eye Doc Sportello and featured ’70s California vibes and ARPAnet, a US military- created precursor to the modern-day Internet. In Bleeding Edge, the online world has become more layered and sophisticated as Maxine encounters “weapons, drugs, sex, Knicks tickets” in a cyber sub-space, a sort of hacker’s paradise that Pynchon calls the Deep Web. She’s also learning more about Ice’s operations via investors and coders, in between Israeli Krav Maga lessons for the kids, weekend visits to the grandparents, and an unhealthy number of pizza dinners. But Maxine’s investigations soon attract the kind of dangerous attention that has Russian mobsters as the least of her worries. It’s not Pynchon’s most essential effort, but behind the screwball wit his scenes from the dawn of the Internet age offer up chilling thoughts on our online future.

For all the Deep Web diving in Bleeding Edge, Pynchon’s New York never fails to be evocative and only slightly less unbelievable than the real thing. There’s Steely Dan karaoke in Korea Town, a private Nose for hire who can recreate crime scenes by scent, a strip club in Queens, and a “Yupper West Side” residence that’s the focal point for a hangar’s worth of conspiracy theories. Every page bursts with Pynchon’s run-and-pun strategy. Any coherent plot is largely sacrificed in favor of happenstance—Or is it?—but after the tangents have been explored there is an honest to goodness resolution for Maxine after all her hard work.

White Ginger
Sheila M. Merritt

There’s a lot of potential in Thatcher Robinson’s first novel, White Ginger. The ambitious narrative contains enough bloody action sequences to make Quentin Tarantino grin with glee. Predominantly set in San Francisco’s Chinese-American subculture, the story is saturated with local references that vividly evoke the terrain.

Bai Jiang is a conflicted woman at odds with her familial connections to an Asian crime syndicate. She works as a finder of lost people and is hired to locate a lost girl. As Bai follows a trail across the country, she is confronted by a cadre of assassins, as well as an unknown enemy who appears to have a personal vendetta against her. Assisting Bai is her close friend, Lee, a cosmopolitan gay man who serves as one of her protectors. Lee is skilled in martial arts as is Jason, a highly attractive assassin and the father of Bai’s daughter.

In regard to characters, the author often simplistically equates quirkiness with complexity. Bai may practice Zen, but is easily provoked into ruthless action. What’s worse, Bai suffers from an almost-juvenile gravitation to good-looking men. Her career requires wisdom in assessing behavior, yet she gets chronically sidetracked by a handsome face or an impressive derriere. While such tropes may echo the sentiments, with reversed gender, of Sam Spade, Bai appears more prone to “play the sap” in her encounters.

White Ginger is an ambitious book, and author Robinson succeeds on several levels. The Chinese proverbs heading each chapter nicely set the tone for the text which follows. The plot, while a trifle convoluted, moves along at a fine pace. And some of the fight scenes are positively cinematic. The focus on Bai Jiang, though, presents a problem. It’s hard to buy Bai, to balance the yin and yang of her. Part of her personality is hopelessly mired in romantic stereotypes. In contrast, when she’s in lethal mode, she’s as sharp as the knife or ax that she wields. The latter aspect of her character is far more appealing.

Teri Duerr
2013-11-17 18:26:58

There’s a lot of potential in Thatcher Robinson’s first novel, White Ginger. The ambitious narrative contains enough bloody action sequences to make Quentin Tarantino grin with glee. Predominantly set in San Francisco’s Chinese-American subculture, the story is saturated with local references that vividly evoke the terrain.

Bai Jiang is a conflicted woman at odds with her familial connections to an Asian crime syndicate. She works as a finder of lost people and is hired to locate a lost girl. As Bai follows a trail across the country, she is confronted by a cadre of assassins, as well as an unknown enemy who appears to have a personal vendetta against her. Assisting Bai is her close friend, Lee, a cosmopolitan gay man who serves as one of her protectors. Lee is skilled in martial arts as is Jason, a highly attractive assassin and the father of Bai’s daughter.

In regard to characters, the author often simplistically equates quirkiness with complexity. Bai may practice Zen, but is easily provoked into ruthless action. What’s worse, Bai suffers from an almost-juvenile gravitation to good-looking men. Her career requires wisdom in assessing behavior, yet she gets chronically sidetracked by a handsome face or an impressive derriere. While such tropes may echo the sentiments, with reversed gender, of Sam Spade, Bai appears more prone to “play the sap” in her encounters.

White Ginger is an ambitious book, and author Robinson succeeds on several levels. The Chinese proverbs heading each chapter nicely set the tone for the text which follows. The plot, while a trifle convoluted, moves along at a fine pace. And some of the fight scenes are positively cinematic. The focus on Bai Jiang, though, presents a problem. It’s hard to buy Bai, to balance the yin and yang of her. Part of her personality is hopelessly mired in romantic stereotypes. In contrast, when she’s in lethal mode, she’s as sharp as the knife or ax that she wields. The latter aspect of her character is far more appealing.

Ghost Medicine
Eileen Brady

A murdering skinwalker, or Navajo witch, is on the prowl on the big Rez in this 17th Ella Clah mystery by husband and wife team Aimée and David Thurlo. Death is a difficult subject for the Dine people to deal with, and the authors handle it with great sensitivity in this story where the police must tailor their questions to the beliefs of both traditionalist and modernist tribe members.

When she was a child, Navajo Police Special Investigator Ella Clah’s father was murdered by a skinwalker, and now her friend Harry Ute, a retired police officer turned private investigator has been killed, his fingertips removed.

Frightened by the witch, no one will help the police except social studies teacher Truman John, who has lost his teaching job due to budget cuts. He’s more than eager to accuse his neighbors of stirring up trouble. With the investigation at a standstill Ella and her partner, Justine Goodluck, visit Harry’s boss, seven-foot, 300-pound Bruce “Teeny” Little. All he will reveal is that Harry was looking into the theft of county property. Finally, Ella gets a break when she finds ancient Anasazi pottery and artifacts being sold illegally, probably originating from a dig somewhere on the Rez. But how does this tie in with murder?

Author David Thurlo, who grew up on a Navajo Reservation, adds a real sense of authenticity. Excellent descriptions abound, such as the perverted charcoal sand paintings drawn by the skinwalkers. Readers also learn what needs to be done to rid oneself of a bad chindi, or spirit. Several characters stand out, in particular, Ella’s brother Clifford, a hataalii or healer who strives to “walk in beauty” and follow the Navajo Way. Another is Medical Examiner Caroline Roanhorse, who fulfills her duties, although they cause her to be shunned by her own tribe because she works with the dead.

Adding to Ella’s troubles is the larger threat of widespread budget cuts to her department. Ella could be out of a job. The resolution of this compelling story leads to one of the most difficult decisions Ella has ever made.

Teri Duerr
2013-11-17 18:30:26

A murdering skinwalker, or Navajo witch, is on the prowl on the big Rez in this 17th Ella Clah mystery by husband and wife team Aimée and David Thurlo. Death is a difficult subject for the Dine people to deal with, and the authors handle it with great sensitivity in this story where the police must tailor their questions to the beliefs of both traditionalist and modernist tribe members.

When she was a child, Navajo Police Special Investigator Ella Clah’s father was murdered by a skinwalker, and now her friend Harry Ute, a retired police officer turned private investigator has been killed, his fingertips removed.

Frightened by the witch, no one will help the police except social studies teacher Truman John, who has lost his teaching job due to budget cuts. He’s more than eager to accuse his neighbors of stirring up trouble. With the investigation at a standstill Ella and her partner, Justine Goodluck, visit Harry’s boss, seven-foot, 300-pound Bruce “Teeny” Little. All he will reveal is that Harry was looking into the theft of county property. Finally, Ella gets a break when she finds ancient Anasazi pottery and artifacts being sold illegally, probably originating from a dig somewhere on the Rez. But how does this tie in with murder?

Author David Thurlo, who grew up on a Navajo Reservation, adds a real sense of authenticity. Excellent descriptions abound, such as the perverted charcoal sand paintings drawn by the skinwalkers. Readers also learn what needs to be done to rid oneself of a bad chindi, or spirit. Several characters stand out, in particular, Ella’s brother Clifford, a hataalii or healer who strives to “walk in beauty” and follow the Navajo Way. Another is Medical Examiner Caroline Roanhorse, who fulfills her duties, although they cause her to be shunned by her own tribe because she works with the dead.

Adding to Ella’s troubles is the larger threat of widespread budget cuts to her department. Ella could be out of a job. The resolution of this compelling story leads to one of the most difficult decisions Ella has ever made.

Billionaire Blend
Sheila M. Merritt

Author Cleo Coyle again allows witty protagonist Clare Cosi to strut her stuff in this 13th installment of the Coffeehouse Mystery series. The novel percolates nicely, a smooth yet stimulating brew. Clare, the manager of an upscale coffeehouse in New York City, is approached by billionaire tech whiz Eric Thorner to create the world’s most expensive coffee blend. When a bomb goes off outside the coffeehouse, almost killing Thorner, Clare is propelled into the mogul’s rarefied lifestyle of private jets, overseas jaunts, Michelin-starred restaurants, designer couture, and cutting-edge technology.

Thorner’s generosity does come with strings. In addition to complying with his employment offer, Clare must fend off his romantic overtures. What’s more, some people affiliated with Thorner meet suspicious ends. Is Thorner the culprit? Clare’s former spouse and current beau New York cop Mike Quinn don’t trust the successful nerd. There are times when Clare herself has doubts about his innocence as she works through a maze of duplicity and corporate intrigue.

Coyle’s narrative is chock-full of delightfully delineated characters, such as this depiction of Thorner’s hostile and inebriated sister: “Draped in a jewel-trimmed gown of aquamarine with a daring slit up one leg, and a décolletage nearly to her navel, she seemed wobbly as she walked, but I couldn’t tell the cause—the six-inch fetish heels on her pedicured feet? Or the oversized martini in her manicured hand?”

Cosi, whose name warms the heart of “cozy” mystery fanciers, is smart and savvy. Her sense of humor infuses Billionaire Blend with just the right amount of froth.

Food and coffees are also expertly described. Connoisseurs of coffee will appreciate the discerning palate involved in tasting and evaluating the distinctive blends. An added bonus for foodies are the recipes that follow the tale’s conclusion. Both the story and the culinary instructions make for delectable reading.

Teri Duerr
2013-11-17 18:34:51

coyle_billionaireblendA stimulating brew of romance, intrigue and danger for coffeehouse manager Clare Cosi.

Shoot the Woman First
Vanessa Orr

While I’m not normally one who roots for the bad guy—or in this case, the bad girl—I have to admit that I’ve fallen for professional thief Crissa Stone, the protagonist in Wallace Stroby’s new book, Shoot the Woman First. While it may seem strange to cast a thief as the heroine of a story, most of the other characters—from a drug kingpin’s lethal lieutenants to a murderous former Detroit cop on the take—make Crissa, if not always in the right, as least the lesser of many evils.

This novel is full of action from the minute that Crissa and her crew try to steal a half-million dollars in drug money and end up in a gun battle to the ensuing chase as crooked cop Burke pursues Crissa to claim the money as his own. The bad guys are bad, the “good” guy is even worse, and Crissa, the criminal at the heart of this story, shows a softer side that readers can identify with as she tries to track down her former partner’s daughter in order to give her some of the money he stole before dying in a double-cross.

The book is violent and often dark, and at times extremely touching, especially moments between Crissa and her partner’s daughter, Haley. Crissa sees her younger self in the shy, sad girl who has meth addicts for caretakers and next to nothing to call her own. The reader can’t help but hope that Crissa can pull Haley out of her circumstances, and in turn, improve her own future. The fact that everything in Crissa’s world has a price, though, including doing a good deed, means that the reader is sitting on pins and needles as the book hurtles toward its inevitable climax.

Stroby’s pacing is as relentless as Burke’s search to find Crissa, and while the reader may start this book with a set idea of what is right and wrong, in Crissa’s world, one can’t always tell the difference.

Teri Duerr
2013-11-17 18:38:33

stroby_shootthewomanfirstViolent and often dark, and at times extremely touching

Innocence
Sharon Magee

Dean Koontz is best known as a master thriller/horror writer, but in Innocence, one of three books released by him this year, he gives readers a love story.

Addison Goodheart is a man born with a facial defect so horrendous that the midwife who delivers him tries to smother him at birth, and anyone who lays eyes on him erupts in a rage and attempts to kill him. Turned out with only a backpack of food packed by a mother who is unable to care for him, eight-year-old Addison travels by night, his face covered by a hoodie and a scarf, until he arrives in an unnamed big city. When two men try to burn him to death, a man with the same affliction as Addison’s rescues him and takes him underground to the cozy home he’s established there. Addison lives with Father for 12 years—they refer to themselves as It and Son of It—until on a snowy night, Father is caught above ground and brutally murdered.

Jumping ahead six years, Addison, now 26, uses underground tunnels to enter his favorite haunts after hours. One night at the public library, he sees 18-year-old Gwyneth, a beautiful waif of a Goth girl, being chased by Ryan Telford, the curator of the library’s rare-book and arts collections. He’s guilty of not only stealing rare books from the library, but of murdering Gwyneth’s father with poisoned oleander honey. Telford tried to rape Gwyneth when she was 13 and intends to finish the job.

Still hiding behind hoodies and scarves, Addison strikes up a strange friendship with Gwyneth. She has a phobia to touching or being touched so Addison agrees never to touch her, and she agrees not to look at his horrific face. As Addison finds himself falling in love with this haunting girl, he knows he must do everything in his power to keep her out of Telford’s grasp.

A New York Times #1 author many times over, Koontz has given his legion of fans an enjoyable twist with this unique love story. A vein of spirituality and mysticism runs through the novel, something that often shows up in Koontz’s writings, and also a bit of fantasy—the marionettes that appear to follow Addison’s every move, and the Fogs and the Clears, creatures only Addison can see. Koontz blends the present and the past in alternating chapters so Addison’s early life is revealed alongside the present. An ebook prequel, Wilderness, was released in October.

Teri Duerr
2013-11-17 18:41:41

koontz_innocenceDean Koontz delivers a unique suspense tale with a sweet love story at its heart.

Our Picnics in the Sun
Oline H. Cogdill

A sense of desperation, of opportunities missed, and of pent-up resentment swirl in the compelling psychological thriller Our Picnics in the Sun, by British writer Morag Joss. While overt violence never rears its head, Joss delivers a sense of menace lurking at the edges, ready to spring without warning, in her elegant prose.

Howard and Deborah Morgan’s life and marriage have been a series of shattering mistakes. More than 30 years before, the couple sunk their meager life savings into renting a farmhouse with a plan to turn it into a bed and breakfast, yoga retreat and spa. They would work the land as their lease required and also sell her weavings and his pottery to the people who would converge on this house in the remote moors of Exmoor, England. Now the flock of old sheep languish in the fields, the shearing season long past. The loom and the kiln just gather more dust. A few people came during the early years, but no one has stopped by in a long time.

The couple has become isolated from each other and from the world. Their only ongoing contact is their cantankerous landlord, who wishes to evict them, and the sporadic emails from their son Adam, who works abroad and seldom visits. The couple is even more detached from the world after Howard suffers a stroke while trying, ineptly, to paint the house’s exterior. Already resentful of Howard and their fraying marriage, Deborah now must manage on her own, caring for the farm, the animals, and her husband. Deborah is convinced that Adam will visit on his birthday. Instead, two men show up demanding a room and a dinner, which they don’t eat. The next day, the older man drives off, leaving Theo, the younger man, stranded at the house with no money. Theo asks to be able to work off his debt. The reluctant Deborah soon grows to depend on him, treating him as a son, relying on him to make decisions and help care for the property and Howard. Theo seems caring, compassionate, and devoted to the couple, but he also is given to fits, to destroying property, and disappearing for long stretches. When Deborah is not looking, he is sometimes mean to Howard. As the year stretches out, the couple’s deepest secrets seep out, further shredding their marriage and affecting Theo’s actions.

Joss keeps the tension simmering under the surface of the Morgans’ daily lives, revealing a marriage that was unhappy almost from the start. Deborah’s and Howard’s personalities emerge through alternating chapters from each one’s point of view. Each is in his or her own way controlling, manipulative and bitter. They are, as Deborah says, “one deluded and frail, the other always weakminded and suggestible, and both possibly worse than foolish.”

The stark beauty of the moors with its unforgiving weather and jagged cliffs adds to the bleakness of the couple’s life together. Despite this, Joss leaves room for the couple to untangle themselves from the pervading sense of hopelessness and the clutches of Theo.

Teri Duerr
2013-11-17 18:46:37

A sense of desperation, of opportunities missed, and of pent-up resentment swirl in the compelling psychological thriller Our Picnics in the Sun, by British writer Morag Joss. While overt violence never rears its head, Joss delivers a sense of menace lurking at the edges, ready to spring without warning, in her elegant prose.

Howard and Deborah Morgan’s life and marriage have been a series of shattering mistakes. More than 30 years before, the couple sunk their meager life savings into renting a farmhouse with a plan to turn it into a bed and breakfast, yoga retreat and spa. They would work the land as their lease required and also sell her weavings and his pottery to the people who would converge on this house in the remote moors of Exmoor, England. Now the flock of old sheep languish in the fields, the shearing season long past. The loom and the kiln just gather more dust. A few people came during the early years, but no one has stopped by in a long time.

The couple has become isolated from each other and from the world. Their only ongoing contact is their cantankerous landlord, who wishes to evict them, and the sporadic emails from their son Adam, who works abroad and seldom visits. The couple is even more detached from the world after Howard suffers a stroke while trying, ineptly, to paint the house’s exterior. Already resentful of Howard and their fraying marriage, Deborah now must manage on her own, caring for the farm, the animals, and her husband. Deborah is convinced that Adam will visit on his birthday. Instead, two men show up demanding a room and a dinner, which they don’t eat. The next day, the older man drives off, leaving Theo, the younger man, stranded at the house with no money. Theo asks to be able to work off his debt. The reluctant Deborah soon grows to depend on him, treating him as a son, relying on him to make decisions and help care for the property and Howard. Theo seems caring, compassionate, and devoted to the couple, but he also is given to fits, to destroying property, and disappearing for long stretches. When Deborah is not looking, he is sometimes mean to Howard. As the year stretches out, the couple’s deepest secrets seep out, further shredding their marriage and affecting Theo’s actions.

Joss keeps the tension simmering under the surface of the Morgans’ daily lives, revealing a marriage that was unhappy almost from the start. Deborah’s and Howard’s personalities emerge through alternating chapters from each one’s point of view. Each is in his or her own way controlling, manipulative and bitter. They are, as Deborah says, “one deluded and frail, the other always weakminded and suggestible, and both possibly worse than foolish.”

The stark beauty of the moors with its unforgiving weather and jagged cliffs adds to the bleakness of the couple’s life together. Despite this, Joss leaves room for the couple to untangle themselves from the pervading sense of hopelessness and the clutches of Theo.

The First Casualty
Eileen Brady

Is there such a thing as a death ray? Author Gregg Loomis raids the past and comes up with an answer based on the true science of famous inventor Nikola Tesla, using just enough fact mixed with fiction to propel his thriller along. The third in the Jason Peters series, The First Casualty delivers intrigue and international settings mixed with murder. A former Delta Force operative, Peters has tried to put his violent past behind him by becoming an artist, but the past keeps popping up in the form of Momma, owner of covert op corporation NARCOM. Enticed by a paycheck of one million dollars, Peters agrees to her proposition: neutralize terrorist mastermind Mahomet Moustaph, who plans to target Air Force One with Tesla’s death ray. To help him eliminate the threat, Jason brings onboard some old friends: Russian explosives expert Viktor Karavich, the Frenchman known as “Le Couteau,” or the knife, and retired naval Lieutenant Commander, James Whitefoot Andrews, a full-blooded Cheyenne.

The search for the terrorists leads them from Marseille to the West African country of Mali. Having the team pose as a location scouting group from the National Geographic Society provides humor to the somewhat drawn-out plot. Fooling no one, they follow clues that lead to Timbuktu, its mosques and slender minarets rising toward the sky. Is the death ray hidden inside one of them? With the clock ticking, Jason Peters and crew search for the mysterious machine Tesla hypothesized about in a 1937 interview in the New York Times.

The snippets of information about Nikola Tesla, who was a contemporary of Thomas Edison, add significantly to the book. Also helping is Peters’ romantic interest, Italian volcanologist and passionate pacifist Maria Bergenghetti. Trying desperately to hide his covert operations assignment from her, he finds amusing explanations for the violence that follows him wherever he goes. (When he tells her the truth about one incident she doesn’t believe him.) That relationship may be doomed, but I have a feeling Vivaldi-loving Jason Peters won’t be alone for long.

Teri Duerr
2013-11-17 18:50:18

Is there such a thing as a death ray? Author Gregg Loomis raids the past and comes up with an answer based on the true science of famous inventor Nikola Tesla, using just enough fact mixed with fiction to propel his thriller along. The third in the Jason Peters series, The First Casualty delivers intrigue and international settings mixed with murder. A former Delta Force operative, Peters has tried to put his violent past behind him by becoming an artist, but the past keeps popping up in the form of Momma, owner of covert op corporation NARCOM. Enticed by a paycheck of one million dollars, Peters agrees to her proposition: neutralize terrorist mastermind Mahomet Moustaph, who plans to target Air Force One with Tesla’s death ray. To help him eliminate the threat, Jason brings onboard some old friends: Russian explosives expert Viktor Karavich, the Frenchman known as “Le Couteau,” or the knife, and retired naval Lieutenant Commander, James Whitefoot Andrews, a full-blooded Cheyenne.

The search for the terrorists leads them from Marseille to the West African country of Mali. Having the team pose as a location scouting group from the National Geographic Society provides humor to the somewhat drawn-out plot. Fooling no one, they follow clues that lead to Timbuktu, its mosques and slender minarets rising toward the sky. Is the death ray hidden inside one of them? With the clock ticking, Jason Peters and crew search for the mysterious machine Tesla hypothesized about in a 1937 interview in the New York Times.

The snippets of information about Nikola Tesla, who was a contemporary of Thomas Edison, add significantly to the book. Also helping is Peters’ romantic interest, Italian volcanologist and passionate pacifist Maria Bergenghetti. Trying desperately to hide his covert operations assignment from her, he finds amusing explanations for the violence that follows him wherever he goes. (When he tells her the truth about one incident she doesn’t believe him.) That relationship may be doomed, but I have a feeling Vivaldi-loving Jason Peters won’t be alone for long.

Paperback Confidential: Crime Writers of the Paperback Era
Jon L. Breen

One hundred and thirty-two writers are profiled, typically in two or three pages, many with photographs, all with checklists of selected reading and cross references to writers of similar appeal. Most wrote paperback originals in the 1950s or 1960s; others, a less comprehensive selection, were reprinted during that period. Many fans and collectors will forgive a few problems and cherish this book. The inevitable big names are here—Hammett, Chandler, Gardner, John D. MacDonald, Ross Macdonald, Thompson, Westlake—but they are joined by writers less extensively covered in other sources, e.g., Jada M. Davis, H. Vernor Dixon, A.S. Fleischman, Arnold Hano, James McKimmey, Milton K. Ozaki, Mike Roscoe, Charles Runyon, Douglas Sanderson, John Trinian, and Ennis Willie. Though extent and emphasis of coverage varies, the flavor and appeal of each writer is well captured. For examples of fresh information or innovative approaches, see the pieces on David Goodis, Evan Hunter, Peter Rabe, and Mickey Spillane (the latter amusingly written in the voice of Mike Hammer). The author is especially good at choosing exemplary quotations, as from the work of Chandler, Ozaki, Michael Avallone, and Rex Stout.

Be advised the book will not provide full bibliographic information, and though plenty of pseudonyms are identified, you’d need other sources to sort them all out. (For example, ghosts of Ellery Queen paperbacks are cited, but information on which books they ghosted is provided only occasionally, and the entry on the EQ team themselves ignores the matter entirely.) The writing is sometimes infelicitous: the quality of Jay Flynn’s novels is said to have become “progressively unwieldy,” and Ritt often uses throughout when through would be better. The inconsistent spelling of Edgar Allan Poe’s middle name and David J. Garrity’s last name should have been caught in editing. But as with so many mystery references, one should probably be too grateful it exists at all to dwell on minor annoyances.

Teri Duerr
2013-11-19 04:16:43

ritt_paperbackconfidentialProfiles of over 130 paperback authors of the '50s and '60s.

Pinkerton’s Great Detective: the Amazing Life and Times of James Mcparland
Jon L. Breen

James McParland (also spelled McParlan), the Pinkerton operative whose exposure of the “Molly Maguires” made his name as a celebrated 19th-century detective, was fictionalized as Birdy Edwards (alias James McMurdo) in Doyle’s The Valley Fear and as the Old Man, manager of the San Francisco office of the Continental Detective Agency in former Pinkerton man Dashiell Hammett’s stories. This excellent biography, highly readable and meticulously scholarly, is especially recommended to readers who enjoyed Daniel Stashower’s The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War (reviewed in Mystery Scene #130).

Was McParland the courageous hero his boss Allan Pinkerton and other contemporaries celebrated or a cowardly informer and tool of labor-crushing capitalists whose whole career was based on mendacity? Riffenburgh, apparently free of preconceptions and axes to grind, presents a balanced account, finding much to admire but much to question about his subject. Certainly, McParland was a superb witness. Quotes from his courtroom testimony, especially his duels with Clarence Darrow in a series of 1907 trials, are extremely entertaining.

The 86 pages of notes, as well as identifying sources, provide additional information and analysis, sometimes substantial bibliographic essays. The bibliography of more than 20 pages cites printed sources, court reports, and documents, among them an unpublished manuscript by mystery novelist Zelda Popkin, The Great McParland, that combined his two greatest cases but proved factually unreliable.

(Reviewed from an advance proof copy. The index was not seen.)

Teri Duerr
2013-11-19 04:26:33

James McParland (also spelled McParlan), the Pinkerton operative whose exposure of the “Molly Maguires” made his name as a celebrated 19th-century detective, was fictionalized as Birdy Edwards (alias James McMurdo) in Doyle’s The Valley Fear and as the Old Man, manager of the San Francisco office of the Continental Detective Agency in former Pinkerton man Dashiell Hammett’s stories. This excellent biography, highly readable and meticulously scholarly, is especially recommended to readers who enjoyed Daniel Stashower’s The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War (reviewed in Mystery Scene #130).

Was McParland the courageous hero his boss Allan Pinkerton and other contemporaries celebrated or a cowardly informer and tool of labor-crushing capitalists whose whole career was based on mendacity? Riffenburgh, apparently free of preconceptions and axes to grind, presents a balanced account, finding much to admire but much to question about his subject. Certainly, McParland was a superb witness. Quotes from his courtroom testimony, especially his duels with Clarence Darrow in a series of 1907 trials, are extremely entertaining.

The 86 pages of notes, as well as identifying sources, provide additional information and analysis, sometimes substantial bibliographic essays. The bibliography of more than 20 pages cites printed sources, court reports, and documents, among them an unpublished manuscript by mystery novelist Zelda Popkin, The Great McParland, that combined his two greatest cases but proved factually unreliable.

(Reviewed from an advance proof copy. The index was not seen.)

The Wrong Girl (Audiobook)
Dick Lochte

Ryan’s second novel to feature Boston investigative reporter Jane Ryland and Detective Jake Brogan (after the prize-winning The Other Woman) has Jane responding to a former coworker’s concern that an adoption agency has misidentified her birth mother. Jake, meanwhile, is involved with what seems like a domestic murder—the bludgeoned body of a woman found in an apartment with two very young children and an empty crib. As the two investigations wend and weave toward a single conclusion, complicated by the actions of a trio of shady crime scene cleaners, Ryan smoothly manages to establish and embellish Jane’s current situation. A former TV reporter, fired for refusing to name a source, she’s now working for a second-rate newspaper while trying to keep her romantic relationship with Jake a secret. Ilyana Kadushin, an actress with the unlikely combination of Sesame Street and Grand Theft Auto IV to her credit, narrates the fast-paced yarn with a whispery, breathy vocal that intrigues, adding a touch of mystery and secret-spilling gossip to the mix.

Teri Duerr
2013-11-19 04:49:37

ryan_thewronggirl_audioA fast-paced yarn delivered in a whispery, breathy vocal that intrigues

W Is for Wasted (Audibook)
Dick Lochte

As Grafton moves her 1980s-based novels gracefully and consistently toward Z is for Zero, she continues to expose new branches of her popular protagonist Kinsey Millhone’s family tree. Kinsey, as you probably know, was orphaned early when her parents perished in a car crash. She was raised by an aunt, Virginia Kinsey. Back in J is for Judgment and M is for Malice, readers were introduced to her mother’s side of the family, the socially prominent Kinseys of Lompoc, California. In W, the author’s most generous addition to the series thus far, we meet members of Kinsey’s father’s family, the semi-raffish Daces of Bakersfield. Knowledge of their existence is triggered by a note with Kinsey’s scribbled name found on the corpse of a nameless homeless man. Her dogged sleuthing quickly identifies the deceased as Terence Dace. This leads her to a bank safety deposit box housing several photos of his “favorite uncle,” Randy Millhone, Kinsey’s father. There’s also a will disinheriting Dace’s immediate family and making Kinsey the executrix and beneficiary of his fortune, a half-million dollars in hard cash. A considerable amount of the novel is taken up by the usually proactive Kinsey’s befuddled struggle with the legal aspects of estate management, as well as her wandering through the homeless community trying to pry information about her departed uncle from his inebriate cronies. There’s also a visit to Bakersfield and several unpleasant confrontations with her newfound cousins. Interrupting her first-person narrative are reports from a newly-deceased sleazy private eye named Pete Wolinsky, whose final assignment, observing a possibly errant wife, provides him with the goods to shake down a prominent doctor. Though Kinsey had dealings with Wolinsky in the past, his murder and Dace’s death seem to be unconnected. But this is a private eye novel after all. Though not as tightly constructed as Grafton’s previous alphabet novels, W still boasts the author’s expected treats, from fully dimensional characters, familiar and fresh, to unique, swiftly moving action sequences. As a sort of lagniappe, we also get several hints as to how Kinsey might survive once the series runs out of letters, not the least of which is a very nice (especially for 1988) addition to her retirement package. As usual, theater actress Judy Kaye provides a voice for Kinsey that is as perfect in tone and attitude now as it was in her rendition of A is for Alibi. And the vast array of colorful characters that populate this novel, pleasant and unpleasant relatives, sad widows, bored civil servants, boisterous businessmen, semi-intoxicated street-people, an arrogant and insane killer, and even patient cops—are all treated to the actress’ versatile vocal skills.

Teri Duerr
2013-11-19 04:57:26

As Grafton moves her 1980s-based novels gracefully and consistently toward Z is for Zero, she continues to expose new branches of her popular protagonist Kinsey Millhone’s family tree. Kinsey, as you probably know, was orphaned early when her parents perished in a car crash. She was raised by an aunt, Virginia Kinsey. Back in J is for Judgment and M is for Malice, readers were introduced to her mother’s side of the family, the socially prominent Kinseys of Lompoc, California. In W, the author’s most generous addition to the series thus far, we meet members of Kinsey’s father’s family, the semi-raffish Daces of Bakersfield. Knowledge of their existence is triggered by a note with Kinsey’s scribbled name found on the corpse of a nameless homeless man. Her dogged sleuthing quickly identifies the deceased as Terence Dace. This leads her to a bank safety deposit box housing several photos of his “favorite uncle,” Randy Millhone, Kinsey’s father. There’s also a will disinheriting Dace’s immediate family and making Kinsey the executrix and beneficiary of his fortune, a half-million dollars in hard cash. A considerable amount of the novel is taken up by the usually proactive Kinsey’s befuddled struggle with the legal aspects of estate management, as well as her wandering through the homeless community trying to pry information about her departed uncle from his inebriate cronies. There’s also a visit to Bakersfield and several unpleasant confrontations with her newfound cousins. Interrupting her first-person narrative are reports from a newly-deceased sleazy private eye named Pete Wolinsky, whose final assignment, observing a possibly errant wife, provides him with the goods to shake down a prominent doctor. Though Kinsey had dealings with Wolinsky in the past, his murder and Dace’s death seem to be unconnected. But this is a private eye novel after all. Though not as tightly constructed as Grafton’s previous alphabet novels, W still boasts the author’s expected treats, from fully dimensional characters, familiar and fresh, to unique, swiftly moving action sequences. As a sort of lagniappe, we also get several hints as to how Kinsey might survive once the series runs out of letters, not the least of which is a very nice (especially for 1988) addition to her retirement package. As usual, theater actress Judy Kaye provides a voice for Kinsey that is as perfect in tone and attitude now as it was in her rendition of A is for Alibi. And the vast array of colorful characters that populate this novel, pleasant and unpleasant relatives, sad widows, bored civil servants, boisterous businessmen, semi-intoxicated street-people, an arrogant and insane killer, and even patient cops—are all treated to the actress’ versatile vocal skills.

Holy Orders (Audiobook)
Dick Lochte

Either the passing years have increased my tolerance for literary pretension or John Banville’s crime novels, written under the pen name of Benjamin Black, are becoming less self-conscious and quite the better for it. This sixth entry in the series is the best of the bunch, marked by moments of social satire that suggest the author may not have been such an awful choice to continue the adventures of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. Set in postwar 1950s Dublin like the others, and once again featuring the depressed, alcoholic pathologist Garrett Quirke, it begins with the arrival of his latest bit of work. The body of diminutive newshawk Jimmy Minor was found floating in the River Liffey. Minor had appeared in previous novels, an aggressive, abrasive friend of Quirke’s daughter Phoebe. That association, added to his personal penchant for detection, prompts Quirke into an investigation that leads irrevocably to the Catholic Church and a situation involving clerical malfeasance and conspiracy among the hierarchy. There’s also a fascinating look at the tinkers, an Irish brand of gypsy that is as close-knit and insular as the Romany variety, and perhaps a bit more prone to violence. Narrator John Keating used a much more jaunty Irish brogue on one of my favorite audios, Eoin Colfer’s Plugged. But the softly lyrical, thoughtful one he employs here does a proper job of making Quirke’s moodiness and moments of self-reflection considerably more palatable. One wonders what Gabriel Byrne will do with the character in the forthcoming BBC adaptations.

Teri Duerr
2013-11-19 05:04:29

Either the passing years have increased my tolerance for literary pretension or John Banville’s crime novels, written under the pen name of Benjamin Black, are becoming less self-conscious and quite the better for it. This sixth entry in the series is the best of the bunch, marked by moments of social satire that suggest the author may not have been such an awful choice to continue the adventures of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. Set in postwar 1950s Dublin like the others, and once again featuring the depressed, alcoholic pathologist Garrett Quirke, it begins with the arrival of his latest bit of work. The body of diminutive newshawk Jimmy Minor was found floating in the River Liffey. Minor had appeared in previous novels, an aggressive, abrasive friend of Quirke’s daughter Phoebe. That association, added to his personal penchant for detection, prompts Quirke into an investigation that leads irrevocably to the Catholic Church and a situation involving clerical malfeasance and conspiracy among the hierarchy. There’s also a fascinating look at the tinkers, an Irish brand of gypsy that is as close-knit and insular as the Romany variety, and perhaps a bit more prone to violence. Narrator John Keating used a much more jaunty Irish brogue on one of my favorite audios, Eoin Colfer’s Plugged. But the softly lyrical, thoughtful one he employs here does a proper job of making Quirke’s moodiness and moments of self-reflection considerably more palatable. One wonders what Gabriel Byrne will do with the character in the forthcoming BBC adaptations.