Destroyer Angel
Betty Webb

Remember those tacky days when horror movies stationed uniformed nurses in theater lobbies to treat anyone who fainted when the monster showed up? That was all hype, of course, but several times during Destroyer Angel I felt my heart racing so fast that I feared I needed medical assistance.

Yes, Nevada Barr’s 18th Anna Pigeon novel is that scary, but its monsters are human. While camping with two female friends and their young daughters in northern Minnesota’s Iron Range, Anna‚ who has been out canoeing on a nearby river, arrives back on shore just in time to overhear the other women being taken hostage by a group of heavily armed hired killers. Although an experienced park ranger, Anna has no weapons of any kind. She isn’t even wearing heavy enough clothing to weather the approaching night. Still, Anna, being the brave and resourceful soul she is, decides to track the men and their hostages through the deep woods, hoping to somehow free her friends.

Heath is a gritty paraplegic and mother of 15-year-old Elizabeth, an unusually mature young woman. The other adult is Leah, a brilliant scientist who designed the paraplegic camping equipment the trip was supposed to be testing. Leah, whose withdrawn manner suggests Asperger’s, is also the mother of beautiful 13-year-old Kate, a spoiled, self-centered brat. Kate’s behavior would normally be only an annoyance, but her very immaturity has attracted the attention of one of the group’s captors—a convicted child rapist.

As Anna tracks the group of thugs and their hostages, she begins to suspect that once they arrive at their unknown destination, the women will be killed. Watching Anna admit to herself that she might die in the attempt to save her friends is heart-wrenching. Watching her make tools and weapons of items salvaged from campfires and the forest floor is a revelation. Although the annals of crime fiction are filled with brave and resourceful women, few of them have matched the challenges Anna faces in Destroyer Angel. Yet she isn’t the only hero in this story. During that long, terrifying trek through the woods, the hostages also display uncommon bravery: the mothers, to protect their daughters; the daughters, to protect their mothers. The tension in Destroyer Angel may be almost unbearable (cue that uniformed nurse), but this tale of survival of the morally fittest is nothing short of a revelation. Barr, a superb novelist, has never delivered anything other than a good book‚ and here she’s written a magnificent one.

Teri Duerr
2014-05-14 21:22:11

barr_destroyerangelThe18th Anna Pigeon novel is riveting tale of survival of the fittest in the wilds of nature.

Nearly Gone
Sarah Prindle

High school junior Nearly Boswell has never had an easy life. Her father walked out on her. Her mother works as an exotic dancer to pay for their home in a trailer park in Washington, DC. And her name—well, it’s more than unusual, though she prefers to be called Leigh. She longs for a better future, and maybe the math-science scholarship she’s competing for is her way out. Every day, she also checks the personal ads in the newspaper, hoping to find a message from her father.

Then students from Nearly’s high school start to die—and all the victims are students she has tutored. Nearly finds science-themed riddles in the daily ads, clues as to where the killer will strike next. Soon Nearly is the prime suspect and the new kid in school, Reece Whelan, a criminal-turned-police informant, is keeping an eye on her. As if things weren’t complicated enough, Nearly has an ability she hasn’t told anyone about: she can “taste” people’s emotions when she touches their skin. However, she will need more than that to prove her innocence and solve these crimes…she will need every bit of courage she can muster.

Nearly Gone is an engaging and fresh thriller for young adults and teens—full of twists, puzzles, and red herrings that gradually lead to a shocking confrontation. First-time author Elle Cosimano’s characters are made flesh-and-blood, from longtime friend Jeremy Fowler to Anh Bui, a competitor for the scholarship. But it’s the flawed-but-lovable math-whiz heroine, Nearly Boswell, who carries the reader from page to page. Cosimano’s novel will likely draw mystery fans who, like Nearly, hope for a better life and will persevere through difficult obstacles to get there.

Teri Duerr
2014-05-14 21:30:34

cosimano_nearlygoneA first-time YA thriller full of twists, red herrings, and a memorable heroine.

Wrecked
Vanessa Orr

Set in Artemis, Texas, Wrecked follows chief of police Josie Gray as she tries to unravel a case that hits close to home: the disappearance of her longtime boyfriend, Dillon Reese, after his secretary is found dead in his office. Worried that her boyfriend has been kidnapped, Josie must not only convince other law enforcement personnel that he is not a murderer on the run, but deal with her own guilt that had she checked on him when he didn’t meet her as planned, she might have been able to prevent the tragedy.

Tricia Fields does a good job of tying a number of different story lines together, including Josie’s search for Dillon, Dillon’s experience in captivity as a kidnap victim of the Medrano cartel, and a federal case that involves a junkyard operator, now missing, who sells cars across the nearby border in Mexico. Once Josie receives a ransom note from the kidnappers, all of these story lines begin to coalesce. Because the Medrano’s patriarch was killed in a gun battle in which Josie was previously involved, she believes that kidnapping Dillon is their form of revenge.

The characters in Wrecked are well-drawn, from stubborn and insecure Josie to a terrified and traumatized Dillon to the junkyard operator’s son, Hector, a fearful teen who is being threatened by cartel members hunting his missing father. Fields also provides a strong sense of place, capturing the beauty of the Chihuahuan Desert, as well as its aching loneliness—something mirrored in the lives of Josie, Dillon, and Hector as they struggle to deal with separation from the ones they love.

While the story has a satisfying conclusion, the reader is left with a sense of unease, as is Josie, who knows that no one along the border is ever truly safe as long as drug cartels continue to thrive. This time the kidnappers may not have won the battle, but it is left to see who will win the war.

Teri Duerr
2014-05-14 21:36:33

fields_wreckedTexas police officer Josie Gray tackles border crime on a case that gets personal.

Hotel Brasil: the Mystery of the Severed Heads
Betty Webb

One of the weirdest (and most wonderful) of the new crop of mysteries is Frei Betto’s extraordinary Hotel Brasil: The Mystery of the Severed Heads, translated from Portuguese by Jethro Soutar. Think you’ve stayed at some pretty rough hotels? Think again. At Hotel Brasil someone is decapitating its long-term residents. The villain could be one of the hotel’s busy prostitutes, a political functionary, a journalist, or maybe even a transgender entertainer. Told intriguingly in short, titled scenes—e.g., The Prices of a Person, Reveries, The Pale Light of the Afternoon, etc.—this beautifully written novel gives us a look at a Rio de Janeiro the Olympic Committee would rather we not know about. We learn about Rio’s horrific crime rate, the starving children scrounging through trash bins for food, and the appalling tactics used by Rio’s thuggish police force (days of torture until a “confession” is finally obtained). Through all this horror wanders Candido, the most respectable of Hotel Brasil’s residents. Candido is a former priest who now works as a freelance editor for a questionable publisher. He spends his life slogging his way through inept prose, ministering to Rio’s slum children, and occasionally saving a life. When Marcal, a down-on-his-luck gemstone dealer, is decapitated in one of the hotel rooms and his eyes torn out, Candido determines to find the killer before the police frame one of the children for the murder. But Candido is no Hercule Poirot. His investigations are as ungainly as is his life, and since everyone he interviews is a liar, he becomes increasingly frustrated. And that’s good, because the parts of the book describing Candido’s frustration are often hilarious. This helps offset the grim pages that describe the plight of Rio’s street children. Author Betto’s writing is always elegant, even when describing empty eye sockets or scars formed by prolonged torture. His characters are unique, in the way that Rio is unique. One of the most strongly drawn (besides the unforgettable Candido) is Madame Larencia, who, after becoming too old to turn tricks anymore, arranges short “romances” for lonely men in search of younger flesh. She’s a pimp. But so are all the other residents of Hotel Brasil. While you may not want to take up permanent residence there, you’ll want to visit Hotel Brasil again and again, because one reading simply isn’t enough. This is a book to be read at least twice, perhaps more.

Teri Duerr
2014-05-19 19:11:49

One of the weirdest (and most wonderful) of the new crop of mysteries is Frei Betto’s extraordinary Hotel Brasil: The Mystery of the Severed Heads, translated from Portuguese by Jethro Soutar. Think you’ve stayed at some pretty rough hotels? Think again. At Hotel Brasil someone is decapitating its long-term residents. The villain could be one of the hotel’s busy prostitutes, a political functionary, a journalist, or maybe even a transgender entertainer. Told intriguingly in short, titled scenes—e.g., The Prices of a Person, Reveries, The Pale Light of the Afternoon, etc.—this beautifully written novel gives us a look at a Rio de Janeiro the Olympic Committee would rather we not know about. We learn about Rio’s horrific crime rate, the starving children scrounging through trash bins for food, and the appalling tactics used by Rio’s thuggish police force (days of torture until a “confession” is finally obtained). Through all this horror wanders Candido, the most respectable of Hotel Brasil’s residents. Candido is a former priest who now works as a freelance editor for a questionable publisher. He spends his life slogging his way through inept prose, ministering to Rio’s slum children, and occasionally saving a life. When Marcal, a down-on-his-luck gemstone dealer, is decapitated in one of the hotel rooms and his eyes torn out, Candido determines to find the killer before the police frame one of the children for the murder. But Candido is no Hercule Poirot. His investigations are as ungainly as is his life, and since everyone he interviews is a liar, he becomes increasingly frustrated. And that’s good, because the parts of the book describing Candido’s frustration are often hilarious. This helps offset the grim pages that describe the plight of Rio’s street children. Author Betto’s writing is always elegant, even when describing empty eye sockets or scars formed by prolonged torture. His characters are unique, in the way that Rio is unique. One of the most strongly drawn (besides the unforgettable Candido) is Madame Larencia, who, after becoming too old to turn tricks anymore, arranges short “romances” for lonely men in search of younger flesh. She’s a pimp. But so are all the other residents of Hotel Brasil. While you may not want to take up permanent residence there, you’ll want to visit Hotel Brasil again and again, because one reading simply isn’t enough. This is a book to be read at least twice, perhaps more.

Closed for Winter
Betty Webb

Nordic noirs are big right now, and Jørn Lier Horst’s Closed for Winter, translated by Anne Bruce, is an especially good one. When a man’s body is discovered in a burgled summer cottage that belongs to a popular television personality, Chief Inspector William Wisting enters the case, only to discover that the victim may be a criminal himself. More than the usual complications arise when the dead man’s nationality is called into question. Not Norwegian, he could be Danish, Lithuanian, or even Bosnian, since crimes committed by poverty-stricken Eastern Europeans have been on the rise against the financially comfortable Norwegians. One of the most fascinating—and instructive—sections in the book comes when Wisting travels to Vilnius, Lithuania, in search of a burglary ring, and sees the squalor all but the immensely wealthy have been living in. Another scene in particular serves to highlight the detective’s compassion, a compassion that makes itself known in other areas of the book, too. Wisting’s daughter, Line, on the verge of breaking up with her longtime boyfriend, has moved into a cottage only a mile away from the murder, and Wisting is torn between his desire to protect her and his knowledge of her need for independence. The dichotomy of the central character is one of the reasons this series is so outstanding. Yes, a murder has been committed, but author Horst, an ex-policeman, doesn’t let himself be tempted by easy answers. Instead, he plumbs the gray areas of human behavior, which gives his book a depth and resonance that lifts it far above the usual noir. “It was easier to see criminals and victims in black and white, although deep inside, you knew fine well it wasn’t easy to decide where the moral blame lay,” Wisting muses, in one chapter. “The legal blame was, as a rule, easy to allocate, but everyone who worked with criminality knew that morality was considerably more complicated.” Although dark, Closed for Winter is not without humor. Page 85, for instance, delivers a subtly snarky critique of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, who, unlike Wisting, always knew right from wrong.

Teri Duerr
2014-05-19 19:22:11

Nordic noirs are big right now, and Jørn Lier Horst’s Closed for Winter, translated by Anne Bruce, is an especially good one. When a man’s body is discovered in a burgled summer cottage that belongs to a popular television personality, Chief Inspector William Wisting enters the case, only to discover that the victim may be a criminal himself. More than the usual complications arise when the dead man’s nationality is called into question. Not Norwegian, he could be Danish, Lithuanian, or even Bosnian, since crimes committed by poverty-stricken Eastern Europeans have been on the rise against the financially comfortable Norwegians. One of the most fascinating—and instructive—sections in the book comes when Wisting travels to Vilnius, Lithuania, in search of a burglary ring, and sees the squalor all but the immensely wealthy have been living in. Another scene in particular serves to highlight the detective’s compassion, a compassion that makes itself known in other areas of the book, too. Wisting’s daughter, Line, on the verge of breaking up with her longtime boyfriend, has moved into a cottage only a mile away from the murder, and Wisting is torn between his desire to protect her and his knowledge of her need for independence. The dichotomy of the central character is one of the reasons this series is so outstanding. Yes, a murder has been committed, but author Horst, an ex-policeman, doesn’t let himself be tempted by easy answers. Instead, he plumbs the gray areas of human behavior, which gives his book a depth and resonance that lifts it far above the usual noir. “It was easier to see criminals and victims in black and white, although deep inside, you knew fine well it wasn’t easy to decide where the moral blame lay,” Wisting muses, in one chapter. “The legal blame was, as a rule, easy to allocate, but everyone who worked with criminality knew that morality was considerably more complicated.” Although dark, Closed for Winter is not without humor. Page 85, for instance, delivers a subtly snarky critique of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, who, unlike Wisting, always knew right from wrong.

Fog of Dead Souls
Betty Webb

Jill Kelly’s thriller Fog of Dead Souls poses the question: Can a marriage that takes place immediately after you meet a man in a bar ever work out? The easy answer would be: No, of course not. But author Kelly doesn’t deal in easy answers. After unknowingly drinking a date rape drug, college professor Ellie McKay wakes up in Gettysburg, Virginia, tied to a hotel room bed, raped, and covered with cuts and burns. Across the room, she sees that her boyfriend, a physician, has been shot to death. When the police can’t find the perpetrator, she goes on the run, only to discover that her rapist is stalking her. Thus, her impromptu marriage to a New Mexico ranch owner, who she believes might save her from the stalker. Given its plot, Fog of Dead Souls could have turned into a sappy romance novel cliché about finding love in all the wrong places, but author Kelly never enters such superficial territory. Instead, both Ellie and Al, her new husband, are in their early 60s, and neither are particularly romantic. They both have checkered pasts and a history of unsatisfactory partners, so their attempts to get to know each other as the stalker closes in are almost as shocking as the crime from which Ellie fled. Eternal love, in fact, never raises its hopeful head in this hair-raising tale. As bits and pieces of the horrible night in the hotel room emerge, Ellie begins to question her own nature, and to wonder how some of her choices have led her to this point—married to a stranger, while a killer closes in for a final round of rape and torture. This isn’t an easy book to read, but at the same time, it is almost impossible to put down. Kelly is superb at ratcheting up the tension, while at the same time allowing us to get to know two complicated people. Make that three complicated people. Also trying to save Ellie is Detective Hansen, who tracks Ellie and the killer all the way from Virginia to New Mexico. Thus the story is told in three points of view by three people who have made terrible choices in their lives. These choices are revealed in snippets of flashbacks that never get in the way of the action; instead, they always foreshadow the “now” of the action in grimly appropriate ways. Who we were in the past can foretell our future—even when we don’t want to admit it. That’s because old ghosts are the hardest to kill.

Teri Duerr
2014-05-19 19:26:49

Jill Kelly’s thriller Fog of Dead Souls poses the question: Can a marriage that takes place immediately after you meet a man in a bar ever work out? The easy answer would be: No, of course not. But author Kelly doesn’t deal in easy answers. After unknowingly drinking a date rape drug, college professor Ellie McKay wakes up in Gettysburg, Virginia, tied to a hotel room bed, raped, and covered with cuts and burns. Across the room, she sees that her boyfriend, a physician, has been shot to death. When the police can’t find the perpetrator, she goes on the run, only to discover that her rapist is stalking her. Thus, her impromptu marriage to a New Mexico ranch owner, who she believes might save her from the stalker. Given its plot, Fog of Dead Souls could have turned into a sappy romance novel cliché about finding love in all the wrong places, but author Kelly never enters such superficial territory. Instead, both Ellie and Al, her new husband, are in their early 60s, and neither are particularly romantic. They both have checkered pasts and a history of unsatisfactory partners, so their attempts to get to know each other as the stalker closes in are almost as shocking as the crime from which Ellie fled. Eternal love, in fact, never raises its hopeful head in this hair-raising tale. As bits and pieces of the horrible night in the hotel room emerge, Ellie begins to question her own nature, and to wonder how some of her choices have led her to this point—married to a stranger, while a killer closes in for a final round of rape and torture. This isn’t an easy book to read, but at the same time, it is almost impossible to put down. Kelly is superb at ratcheting up the tension, while at the same time allowing us to get to know two complicated people. Make that three complicated people. Also trying to save Ellie is Detective Hansen, who tracks Ellie and the killer all the way from Virginia to New Mexico. Thus the story is told in three points of view by three people who have made terrible choices in their lives. These choices are revealed in snippets of flashbacks that never get in the way of the action; instead, they always foreshadow the “now” of the action in grimly appropriate ways. Who we were in the past can foretell our future—even when we don’t want to admit it. That’s because old ghosts are the hardest to kill.

The Color of Light
Betty Webb

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been a sucker for cold case mysteries, and Wendy Hornsby’s The Color of Light delivers the goods. It’s truly fascinating when protagonist Maggie MacGowen, a television documentarian, uses her detecting skills to find out who raped and murdered Tina, a beautiful Vietnamese immigrant, 30 years earlier. At the start of this book, Maggie’s father has died, and she’s in Berkeley, California, cleaning out his house, when she finds an old Super 8 movie taken of her the day of the neighbor’s rape and murder. The film reminds Maggie that technically, the case remains unsolved, so with her documentarian mind-set, she begins interviewing those who knew the woman to find out what they can remember. Most remember little, or claim to. Now, the avowed purpose of cold case mystery novels is to prove that old sins cast long shadows, and in The Color of Light, those shadows reach all the way back to the Vietnam War and the tumult that happened there when Saigon fell. There are more than enough old sins to go around in this book. A young boy, a racist bully, has now grown into a defeated, alcoholic man. Neighbors who should have come forward with information at the time of the killing, but didn’t, are haunted with guilt. The author has set the action during the Vietnamese “Hungry Ghost” holiday, so as Maggie begins her investigation, we learn that the origin of the holiday was to appease the restless dead—and murder victims are among the most restless. This background makes for fascinating reading, but my one disappointment with the book is that Maggie has to be rescued over and over again, and always by a male. In an era that abounds with strong female protagonists, this is a misstep.

Teri Duerr
2014-05-19 19:30:59

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been a sucker for cold case mysteries, and Wendy Hornsby’s The Color of Light delivers the goods. It’s truly fascinating when protagonist Maggie MacGowen, a television documentarian, uses her detecting skills to find out who raped and murdered Tina, a beautiful Vietnamese immigrant, 30 years earlier. At the start of this book, Maggie’s father has died, and she’s in Berkeley, California, cleaning out his house, when she finds an old Super 8 movie taken of her the day of the neighbor’s rape and murder. The film reminds Maggie that technically, the case remains unsolved, so with her documentarian mind-set, she begins interviewing those who knew the woman to find out what they can remember. Most remember little, or claim to. Now, the avowed purpose of cold case mystery novels is to prove that old sins cast long shadows, and in The Color of Light, those shadows reach all the way back to the Vietnam War and the tumult that happened there when Saigon fell. There are more than enough old sins to go around in this book. A young boy, a racist bully, has now grown into a defeated, alcoholic man. Neighbors who should have come forward with information at the time of the killing, but didn’t, are haunted with guilt. The author has set the action during the Vietnamese “Hungry Ghost” holiday, so as Maggie begins her investigation, we learn that the origin of the holiday was to appease the restless dead—and murder victims are among the most restless. This background makes for fascinating reading, but my one disappointment with the book is that Maggie has to be rescued over and over again, and always by a male. In an era that abounds with strong female protagonists, this is a misstep.

The Culling
Betty Webb

Robert Johnson’s The Culling is a cross between Michael Crichton and Robin Cook, with a soupçon of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child thrown in. World population is growing at an alarming rate, the environment is suffering, and the food chain is at risk, but no one wants to do anything about it. No one, that is, but a handful of scientists, two of them Nobel Prize-winners, who are working on the solution. Because of the book’s title, I’m not giving anything away when I say that their solution means killing two-thirds of Earth’s population via a lethal flu virus. Standing in their way is Carl Sims, a young and feisty virologist who, to be truthful, is almost as crazy as they are—just in a less lethal way. Carl, who never met an insult he didn’t like, can’t keep his opinions to himself, a trait that causes him no end of trouble among his brainiac associates. Carl also curses a lot, and so do some of the other scientists. Warning: the F-bomb and all its derivatives appear here in profusion, but considering the fast-approaching plague, there’s plenty to curse about. Another warning: science-averse folks may have a problem with this book, because author Johnson quotes statistics almost to the point of overkill, but there’s no way this alarming book could exist without them. Johnson hammers home in no uncertain terms the damage overpopulation is doing to Earth, and what the final end game is bound to be. The only question still out there is when that end game will arrive. Using his love for statistics, Johnson attempts to answer that question, and he finds that the due date for the environmental apocalypse is downright terrifying.

Teri Duerr
2014-05-19 19:36:31

Robert Johnson’s The Culling is a cross between Michael Crichton and Robin Cook, with a soupçon of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child thrown in. World population is growing at an alarming rate, the environment is suffering, and the food chain is at risk, but no one wants to do anything about it. No one, that is, but a handful of scientists, two of them Nobel Prize-winners, who are working on the solution. Because of the book’s title, I’m not giving anything away when I say that their solution means killing two-thirds of Earth’s population via a lethal flu virus. Standing in their way is Carl Sims, a young and feisty virologist who, to be truthful, is almost as crazy as they are—just in a less lethal way. Carl, who never met an insult he didn’t like, can’t keep his opinions to himself, a trait that causes him no end of trouble among his brainiac associates. Carl also curses a lot, and so do some of the other scientists. Warning: the F-bomb and all its derivatives appear here in profusion, but considering the fast-approaching plague, there’s plenty to curse about. Another warning: science-averse folks may have a problem with this book, because author Johnson quotes statistics almost to the point of overkill, but there’s no way this alarming book could exist without them. Johnson hammers home in no uncertain terms the damage overpopulation is doing to Earth, and what the final end game is bound to be. The only question still out there is when that end game will arrive. Using his love for statistics, Johnson attempts to answer that question, and he finds that the due date for the environmental apocalypse is downright terrifying.

Circle of Influence
Betty Webb

Annette Dashofy’s Circle of Influence is a tale of murder in Vance, a rural Pennsylvania town. Mere hours after a township board meeting in which Jerry McBirney, the board president, behaves like a tin-pot dictator, a body is found in his car. When Zoe Chambers, an EMT, checks the body expecting to find Jerry, she discovers it isn’t the highly disliked township president; it’s Ted Bassi, one of the more popular men in town. Anguished and bewildered, Zoe vows to find out what happened. The book sounds very much like a traditional mystery, doesn’t it? But it’s not. What’s different about Circle of Influence is the fact that the town is so small that everyone knows everyone else, and in most cases—even Zoe’s—has been either married to or spent time in bed with a large number of them. Talk about your small-town secrets. Zoe was once sexually assaulted by the detested Jerry, but for some reason, told no one. During the investigation, Pete Adams, the police chief learns more dirt he’d rather not have known about his faithless ex-wife, and even his own mother gets arrested for theft. And there’s much, much more. Circle of Influence is an easy, intriguing read, partially because the townsfolk's lives are so scandalously intertwined, but also because author Dashofy has taken pains to create a palette of unforgettable characters. The only flaw I found in the novel is that the vile Jerry McBirney is so all-around, blatantly evil, that he almost defies belief.

Teri Duerr
2014-05-19 19:40:27

Annette Dashofy’s Circle of Influence is a tale of murder in Vance, a rural Pennsylvania town. Mere hours after a township board meeting in which Jerry McBirney, the board president, behaves like a tin-pot dictator, a body is found in his car. When Zoe Chambers, an EMT, checks the body expecting to find Jerry, she discovers it isn’t the highly disliked township president; it’s Ted Bassi, one of the more popular men in town. Anguished and bewildered, Zoe vows to find out what happened. The book sounds very much like a traditional mystery, doesn’t it? But it’s not. What’s different about Circle of Influence is the fact that the town is so small that everyone knows everyone else, and in most cases—even Zoe’s—has been either married to or spent time in bed with a large number of them. Talk about your small-town secrets. Zoe was once sexually assaulted by the detested Jerry, but for some reason, told no one. During the investigation, Pete Adams, the police chief learns more dirt he’d rather not have known about his faithless ex-wife, and even his own mother gets arrested for theft. And there’s much, much more. Circle of Influence is an easy, intriguing read, partially because the townsfolk's lives are so scandalously intertwined, but also because author Dashofy has taken pains to create a palette of unforgettable characters. The only flaw I found in the novel is that the vile Jerry McBirney is so all-around, blatantly evil, that he almost defies belief.

The Kill Order
Hank Wagner

Appearing in her fifth adventure is Robin Burcell’s appealing series character Sydney Fitzpatrick. In The Kill Order the forensic artist deals with the fallout of her investigations into her father’s past. During those investigations, her old man’s ex-partner provides her with a document containing a list of seemingly random numbers. Although the list is confiscated by her superiors before it can be more widely disseminated, hints of its existence reach some interested parties, who embark on a desperate search for the document, rumored to contain the “Devil’s Key,” a code which unlocks access to sensitive information contained in computers all over the world.

It’s funny what strikes you in reading a book—one of my favorite things about The Kill Order is that all the subsequent mayhem is triggered by the sale of some obsolete office equipment. Also worth the price of admission is the introduction of new character Piper Lawrence, a young reprobate gifted (some might say cursed) with an eidetic memory, which proves detrimental to her well-being at several points in the story. Fans of the series are rewarded with another peek into the extraordinary lives of the continuing characters, while newbies can enjoy the book for what it is at its core, a winning, breathlessly paced, standalone thriller.

Teri Duerr
2014-05-19 20:54:13

Appearing in her fifth adventure is Robin Burcell’s appealing series character Sydney Fitzpatrick. In The Kill Order the forensic artist deals with the fallout of her investigations into her father’s past. During those investigations, her old man’s ex-partner provides her with a document containing a list of seemingly random numbers. Although the list is confiscated by her superiors before it can be more widely disseminated, hints of its existence reach some interested parties, who embark on a desperate search for the document, rumored to contain the “Devil’s Key,” a code which unlocks access to sensitive information contained in computers all over the world.

It’s funny what strikes you in reading a book—one of my favorite things about The Kill Order is that all the subsequent mayhem is triggered by the sale of some obsolete office equipment. Also worth the price of admission is the introduction of new character Piper Lawrence, a young reprobate gifted (some might say cursed) with an eidetic memory, which proves detrimental to her well-being at several points in the story. Fans of the series are rewarded with another peek into the extraordinary lives of the continuing characters, while newbies can enjoy the book for what it is at its core, a winning, breathlessly paced, standalone thriller.

Seven Grams of Lead
Hank Wagner

Although also known for a bestselling series (Once a Spy and Twice a Spy, featuring Clark Drummond, a retired CIA agent afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease), Keith Thomson goes the standalone route with Seven Grams of Lead. Here, a botched undercover mission, coupled with the attempted cover-up of that mission, sets blogger Russ Thornton’s journalistic antennae quivering. Psychic alarm bells truly start to jangle after an old flame, who calls after many years of silence to offer some insights into the story, is savagely snuffed right in front of him. But the central question is even more disturbing: Is it Thornton’s professional instincts, or the ultra-sophisticated listening/homing device he discovers implanted on his person that’s causing the buzz?

Chock-full of suspense, tense situations, and narrow escapes, Seven Grams of Lead is one of those books that virtually screams to be made into a movie. Thornton is a terrific character, an everyman who brings many tools and talents he didn’t realize he possessed to the espionage game. Matching him stride for stride is ex-senatorial candidate Beryl Mallery, who also has been victimized by the shady government organization that is out to silence Thornton. The duo’s ingenuity and bravery in facing their seemingly unbeatable foes, and their growing romantic interest in each other, would provide plenty of cinematic fodder. A literary sequel would also be appropriate, as Thomson has only scratched the surface of the story potential this power couple harbors.

Teri Duerr
2014-05-19 20:59:28

Although also known for a bestselling series (Once a Spy and Twice a Spy, featuring Clark Drummond, a retired CIA agent afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease), Keith Thomson goes the standalone route with Seven Grams of Lead. Here, a botched undercover mission, coupled with the attempted cover-up of that mission, sets blogger Russ Thornton’s journalistic antennae quivering. Psychic alarm bells truly start to jangle after an old flame, who calls after many years of silence to offer some insights into the story, is savagely snuffed right in front of him. But the central question is even more disturbing: Is it Thornton’s professional instincts, or the ultra-sophisticated listening/homing device he discovers implanted on his person that’s causing the buzz?

Chock-full of suspense, tense situations, and narrow escapes, Seven Grams of Lead is one of those books that virtually screams to be made into a movie. Thornton is a terrific character, an everyman who brings many tools and talents he didn’t realize he possessed to the espionage game. Matching him stride for stride is ex-senatorial candidate Beryl Mallery, who also has been victimized by the shady government organization that is out to silence Thornton. The duo’s ingenuity and bravery in facing their seemingly unbeatable foes, and their growing romantic interest in each other, would provide plenty of cinematic fodder. A literary sequel would also be appropriate, as Thomson has only scratched the surface of the story potential this power couple harbors.

Beewitched
Lynne Maxwell

The pseudonymous Queen Bee Mystery series arrives from seasoned author Deb Baker, writing as Hannah Reed. The well-crafted Beewitched features Wisconsin beekeeper/shop owner Story Fischer and her zany sidekick and neighbor, Patti (nicknamed P.P. Patti, or Pity Party Patti) Dwyre. Beewitched doesn’t focus much on the bees in Story’s hives, but it certainly revolves around witches, beginning with the arrival of Story’s new neighbor, a witch who brings her coven to town for what turns out to be an ill-fated ceremony. Initially, Story is delighted with her new neighbor because the annoying Patti is afraid of witches, affording Story some peace, which, of course, is short-lived. When the witches visit her shop, Story helpfully volunteers her woo-woo friend, Aurora, as the 13th member of the coven, since the ceremony requires 13 participants and one member has withdrawn. Aurora happily assents and joins the group, which holds the ceremony next door to Story. Never one to miss a good show, Story spies on the proceedings but becomes apprehensive when she views the knife that seems to be central to the ceremony. At that point, she intrudes, leading to a hilarious encounter with the bumbling police chief, Johnny Jay. (Don’t miss this priceless scene.) The hilarity doesn’t linger long, though, because shortly thereafter one of the witches is murdered, and Story begins her characteristic sleuthing, much to the chagrin of her live-in boyfriend, Hunter, who happens to be a member of the elite police investigative group that lands the case. And this is only the beginning in a mystery that manages to entertain, even as it raises weightier issues about the dangers of stereotyping and groupthink. I can’t do justice to the complexities of the book in a brief review, but see for yourself. I would be very surprised if you, too, were not bewitched by Beewitched.

Teri Duerr
2014-05-19 21:03:53

The pseudonymous Queen Bee Mystery series arrives from seasoned author Deb Baker, writing as Hannah Reed. The well-crafted Beewitched features Wisconsin beekeeper/shop owner Story Fischer and her zany sidekick and neighbor, Patti (nicknamed P.P. Patti, or Pity Party Patti) Dwyre. Beewitched doesn’t focus much on the bees in Story’s hives, but it certainly revolves around witches, beginning with the arrival of Story’s new neighbor, a witch who brings her coven to town for what turns out to be an ill-fated ceremony. Initially, Story is delighted with her new neighbor because the annoying Patti is afraid of witches, affording Story some peace, which, of course, is short-lived. When the witches visit her shop, Story helpfully volunteers her woo-woo friend, Aurora, as the 13th member of the coven, since the ceremony requires 13 participants and one member has withdrawn. Aurora happily assents and joins the group, which holds the ceremony next door to Story. Never one to miss a good show, Story spies on the proceedings but becomes apprehensive when she views the knife that seems to be central to the ceremony. At that point, she intrudes, leading to a hilarious encounter with the bumbling police chief, Johnny Jay. (Don’t miss this priceless scene.) The hilarity doesn’t linger long, though, because shortly thereafter one of the witches is murdered, and Story begins her characteristic sleuthing, much to the chagrin of her live-in boyfriend, Hunter, who happens to be a member of the elite police investigative group that lands the case. And this is only the beginning in a mystery that manages to entertain, even as it raises weightier issues about the dangers of stereotyping and groupthink. I can’t do justice to the complexities of the book in a brief review, but see for yourself. I would be very surprised if you, too, were not bewitched by Beewitched.

Murder With Ganache
Lynne Maxwell

No venue is more pleasing for a superb mystery novel, I submit, than Key West, Florida. A case in point is the newest in the Key West Food Critic Mystery series by Lucy Burdette (actually Roberta Isleib, another multi-series author). Murder With Ganache, fourth in the series, was a surprise to me. Having read the other novels, I expected the book to be more of the (delectable) same, but it veered in a new direction. While food is ever present, local food critic Hayley Snow is preoccupied with other, darker matters. When Hayley’s entire family descends upon Key West to attend the wedding of her BFF, Connie, tensions mount, especially when Hayley’s teenage nephew is violently assaulted and accused of murdering a teenaged runaway girl. Ultimately, Hayley succeeds in exculpating her nephew and restoring familial equilibrium. Chillingly, the book proceeds to explore the seamy underside of Key West, illuminating, in particular, the dangers facing runaways. Read this one to explore the other side of paradise.

Teri Duerr
2014-05-19 21:09:39

No venue is more pleasing for a superb mystery novel, I submit, than Key West, Florida. A case in point is the newest in the Key West Food Critic Mystery series by Lucy Burdette (actually Roberta Isleib, another multi-series author). Murder With Ganache, fourth in the series, was a surprise to me. Having read the other novels, I expected the book to be more of the (delectable) same, but it veered in a new direction. While food is ever present, local food critic Hayley Snow is preoccupied with other, darker matters. When Hayley’s entire family descends upon Key West to attend the wedding of her BFF, Connie, tensions mount, especially when Hayley’s teenage nephew is violently assaulted and accused of murdering a teenaged runaway girl. Ultimately, Hayley succeeds in exculpating her nephew and restoring familial equilibrium. Chillingly, the book proceeds to explore the seamy underside of Key West, illuminating, in particular, the dangers facing runaways. Read this one to explore the other side of paradise.

The Figure of the Detective: a Literary History and Analysis
Jon L. Breen

Crime-fiction history gets an original and contrarian treatment, centering on the changing role of the detective, from “Pre-Classical” (characters of Poe, Gaboriau, Green, Conrad) to “Sherlock Holmes” to “English Classic” (Christie, Sayers) to “Psycho-Intuitive and Noir” to “Hard-Boiled” to “Neoclassic Revival” to (speculatively) the “Metaphysical Modern.” Many of Charles Brownson’s definitions differ from the standard ones. Noir is usually defined specifically and narrowly (as by Dave Zeltserman in Writing Crime Fiction) or much more broadly in reference to a dark cinematic mood, and most date its ascendency to the end of World War II. To Brownson it is the dominant type of detective story beginning around 1939 but overtaken by the hardboiled in 1949 with the work of Ross Macdonald (The Moving Target is called “the first novel in the hardboiled mode”!) and Mickey Spillane. Can you name two writers as dissimilar as those two, apart from the fact they both wrote about private eyes? Police procedural is usually traced to the 1940s and writers like Hillary Waugh and Lawrence Treat. Here, it starts with R. Austin Freeman and Freeman Wills Crofts decades earlier. If this all sounds outrageous or ignorant, be advised that the author argues his positions carefully and writes very readably, much better than the average English professor, while explaining his complex theories. The book is certainly worth a look from interested enthusiasts.

Unfortunately carelessness about names, dates, and titles, along with some off-the-wall opinions, undermines the book’s authority. That Dashiell Hammett belongs to the classical school is certainly arguable, but is Ricardo Cortez’s Sam Spade in the first film version of The Maltese Falcon really “a dandy in the mold of Peter Wimsey and Philo Vance”? In an appendix listing films mentioned in the text, character names are misspelled for Chinatown and True Confessions, and in the latter Robert De Niro is listed as playing the cop brother rather than the priest; for Memento, Guy Pearce is listed as a character rather than an actor. Author names misspelled include William Le Queux (listed as LeQuex) and Erle Stanley Gardner (Earle). Dates for The Leavenworth Case and The Mysterious Affair at Styles are both a year off; the date of The Maltese Falcon is moved to 1923 from 1931; and the debut of Elizabeth George is dated 20 years early.

Teri Duerr
2014-05-19 21:14:18

Crime-fiction history gets an original and contrarian treatment, centering on the changing role of the detective, from “Pre-Classical” (characters of Poe, Gaboriau, Green, Conrad) to “Sherlock Holmes” to “English Classic” (Christie, Sayers) to “Psycho-Intuitive and Noir” to “Hard-Boiled” to “Neoclassic Revival” to (speculatively) the “Metaphysical Modern.” Many of Charles Brownson’s definitions differ from the standard ones. Noir is usually defined specifically and narrowly (as by Dave Zeltserman in Writing Crime Fiction) or much more broadly in reference to a dark cinematic mood, and most date its ascendency to the end of World War II. To Brownson it is the dominant type of detective story beginning around 1939 but overtaken by the hardboiled in 1949 with the work of Ross Macdonald (The Moving Target is called “the first novel in the hardboiled mode”!) and Mickey Spillane. Can you name two writers as dissimilar as those two, apart from the fact they both wrote about private eyes? Police procedural is usually traced to the 1940s and writers like Hillary Waugh and Lawrence Treat. Here, it starts with R. Austin Freeman and Freeman Wills Crofts decades earlier. If this all sounds outrageous or ignorant, be advised that the author argues his positions carefully and writes very readably, much better than the average English professor, while explaining his complex theories. The book is certainly worth a look from interested enthusiasts.

Unfortunately carelessness about names, dates, and titles, along with some off-the-wall opinions, undermines the book’s authority. That Dashiell Hammett belongs to the classical school is certainly arguable, but is Ricardo Cortez’s Sam Spade in the first film version of The Maltese Falcon really “a dandy in the mold of Peter Wimsey and Philo Vance”? In an appendix listing films mentioned in the text, character names are misspelled for Chinatown and True Confessions, and in the latter Robert De Niro is listed as playing the cop brother rather than the priest; for Memento, Guy Pearce is listed as a character rather than an actor. Author names misspelled include William Le Queux (listed as LeQuex) and Erle Stanley Gardner (Earle). Dates for The Leavenworth Case and The Mysterious Affair at Styles are both a year off; the date of The Maltese Falcon is moved to 1923 from 1931; and the debut of Elizabeth George is dated 20 years early.

James Ellroy: a Companion to the Mystery Fiction
Jon L. Breen

James Ellroy is among the most gifted, celebrated, reviled, and misunderstood writers of crime fiction of the past 30 years, cultivating a larger-than-life, egotistical public persona and sending mixed messages about his political and religious views with gleeful abandon. All this makes him an ideal subject for the consistently excellent McFarland Companions series. Following a biographical introduction and chronology of Ellroy’s life, the alphabetically arranged main text offers multipage double-column descriptions of all his books, plus briefer pieces on short stories and nonfiction articles. Other entries discuss the characters who appear in his fiction, both imagined (e.g., Lloyd Hopkins, Dudley Smith, Ed Exley, Buzz Meaks) and historical (e.g., Mickey Cohen, Dick Contino, Frank Sinatra, Howard Hughes, Jimmy Hoffa, Oscar Levant, J. Edgar Hoover, Bayard Rustin). Topical essays cover such matters as alcoholism, classical music, family, female characters, homosexuality, incest, love, masculinity, pornography, race, religion, and voyeurism. A piece on style is especially interesting on the “telegraphese” of the later novels. Included among literary influences are Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Joseph Wambaugh, and Dragnet star Jack Webb’s nonfiction The Badge. The name of John Dos Passos, whose USA Trilogy might seem a likely influence on the author of the LA Quartet and Underworld USA Trilogy, comes up again and again, though Ellroy has said he’s never read him. An annotated primary and secondary bibliography fills eight pages.

A quick check of Edgar nominations in the biographical/critical category shows that the six volumes to date in the McFarland Companion series, edited by Elizabeth Foxwell, have been shut out. Astonishing for some of the most valuable reference sources in the crime fiction genre.

Teri Duerr
2014-05-19 21:20:16

James Ellroy is among the most gifted, celebrated, reviled, and misunderstood writers of crime fiction of the past 30 years, cultivating a larger-than-life, egotistical public persona and sending mixed messages about his political and religious views with gleeful abandon. All this makes him an ideal subject for the consistently excellent McFarland Companions series. Following a biographical introduction and chronology of Ellroy’s life, the alphabetically arranged main text offers multipage double-column descriptions of all his books, plus briefer pieces on short stories and nonfiction articles. Other entries discuss the characters who appear in his fiction, both imagined (e.g., Lloyd Hopkins, Dudley Smith, Ed Exley, Buzz Meaks) and historical (e.g., Mickey Cohen, Dick Contino, Frank Sinatra, Howard Hughes, Jimmy Hoffa, Oscar Levant, J. Edgar Hoover, Bayard Rustin). Topical essays cover such matters as alcoholism, classical music, family, female characters, homosexuality, incest, love, masculinity, pornography, race, religion, and voyeurism. A piece on style is especially interesting on the “telegraphese” of the later novels. Included among literary influences are Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Joseph Wambaugh, and Dragnet star Jack Webb’s nonfiction The Badge. The name of John Dos Passos, whose USA Trilogy might seem a likely influence on the author of the LA Quartet and Underworld USA Trilogy, comes up again and again, though Ellroy has said he’s never read him. An annotated primary and secondary bibliography fills eight pages.

A quick check of Edgar nominations in the biographical/critical category shows that the six volumes to date in the McFarland Companion series, edited by Elizabeth Foxwell, have been shut out. Astonishing for some of the most valuable reference sources in the crime fiction genre.

Writing Crime Fiction
Jon L. Breen

A quick survey of available how-to-write-a-mystery ebooks suggests that most are less than book length and are written by people you or I have never heard of. This volume, entirely the work of successful professionals, is different. Though it’s a collection of topical essays rather than a unified plan of action, all its contributors are entertaining or instructive, and most are both. Much of the advice is equally applicable to other types of fiction and to professional writing generally. Joel Goldman describes the new world of self-publishing. Stephen Gallagher offers some excellent notes on various parts of the process, including screenwriting and adaptation. Other contributors include Ed Gorman on developing a first novel; Lee Goldberg on clues and misdirection and on breaking into television; Paul Levine, also on TV work and very funny; Libby Fischer Hellmann on suspense, with a definition of the Hitchcockian term MacGuffin that struck me as very odd; Max Allan Collins on historical fiction; Dave Zeltserman on noir; Vicki Hendricks on writing sex scenes (also very funny); Naomi Hirahara on amateur detectives; Harry Shannon on zombies (you read that right); and Bill Crider with ten writing secrets, both tongue-in-cheek and on the money.

Zeltserman gives a purist’s definition of noir: “Noir is about losers…. In noir, the hero is doomed, but his doom is of his own making. Noir isn’t about tragedy; it’s not the fates conspiring against some poor luckless soul. Instead it’s about our hero sealing his own fate by crossing a line that can’t be uncrossed.” This definition would apply to James M. Cain’s and Jim Thompson’s classics and to many of the best ’50s paperback originals, but only to some of what is today carelessly classified under the trendy noir umbrella.

Teri Duerr
2014-05-19 21:28:27

A quick survey of available how-to-write-a-mystery ebooks suggests that most are less than book length and are written by people you or I have never heard of. This volume, entirely the work of successful professionals, is different. Though it’s a collection of topical essays rather than a unified plan of action, all its contributors are entertaining or instructive, and most are both. Much of the advice is equally applicable to other types of fiction and to professional writing generally. Joel Goldman describes the new world of self-publishing. Stephen Gallagher offers some excellent notes on various parts of the process, including screenwriting and adaptation. Other contributors include Ed Gorman on developing a first novel; Lee Goldberg on clues and misdirection and on breaking into television; Paul Levine, also on TV work and very funny; Libby Fischer Hellmann on suspense, with a definition of the Hitchcockian term MacGuffin that struck me as very odd; Max Allan Collins on historical fiction; Dave Zeltserman on noir; Vicki Hendricks on writing sex scenes (also very funny); Naomi Hirahara on amateur detectives; Harry Shannon on zombies (you read that right); and Bill Crider with ten writing secrets, both tongue-in-cheek and on the money.

Zeltserman gives a purist’s definition of noir: “Noir is about losers…. In noir, the hero is doomed, but his doom is of his own making. Noir isn’t about tragedy; it’s not the fates conspiring against some poor luckless soul. Instead it’s about our hero sealing his own fate by crossing a line that can’t be uncrossed.” This definition would apply to James M. Cain’s and Jim Thompson’s classics and to many of the best ’50s paperback originals, but only to some of what is today carelessly classified under the trendy noir umbrella.

Shovel Ready
Dick Lochte

The setting of Adam Sternbergh’s debut novel is New York City after a dirty-bomb-prompted apocalypse. The hero, to use the word as loosely as possible, is a former garbage man turned hitman named, uh, Spademan. That’s a lot of man. And he has a lot of story to tell. It involves his employment to kill the daughter of a popular evangelist who’s creating a virtual heaven for his flock. Until now, Spademan’s approach has been uberdispassionate (“I don’t know these people. I’m a bullet.”). He has had only one professional rule: no children. Since the victim is 18, that’s not a problem. But before he can slice her throat with his weapon of choice, a box cutter, he discovers she is pregnant and the father may be her own not-so-heavenly father. In these circumstances, what’s a hired killer to do? Many critics and several respected novelists have nothing but nice things to say about this mixture of noir, cyberpunk and sci-fi, comparing Sternbergh to James Ellroy, William Gibson, Philip K. Dick, Cormac McCarthy, Chuck Palahniuk and, yes, Raymond Chandler. Much as I hate to be the crone bringing a poisoned apple to the christening, I have to say that the audiobook didn’t work for me. Much of this may be because Sternbergh’s highly stylized approach is more suited to print than spoken word. It’s so terse and lean, parts of it are incomprehensible. Even Ernest Hemingway might have been moved to ask, “Say what?” Reader Arthur Morey isn’t much help. He’s very good at enacting a scene and filling Spademan’s present tense narration with sour attitude to spare, but he seems to be trying so hard to sound tough that the effect is that of a man strangling on short, blunt sentences. Maybe I’m just being cranky, having spent so many hours on novels and movies set in a decaying, hellish America. Another trip to dystopia isn’t really necessary.

Teri Duerr
2014-05-19 21:45:06

The setting of Adam Sternbergh’s debut novel is New York City after a dirty-bomb-prompted apocalypse. The hero, to use the word as loosely as possible, is a former garbage man turned hitman named, uh, Spademan. That’s a lot of man. And he has a lot of story to tell. It involves his employment to kill the daughter of a popular evangelist who’s creating a virtual heaven for his flock. Until now, Spademan’s approach has been uberdispassionate (“I don’t know these people. I’m a bullet.”). He has had only one professional rule: no children. Since the victim is 18, that’s not a problem. But before he can slice her throat with his weapon of choice, a box cutter, he discovers she is pregnant and the father may be her own not-so-heavenly father. In these circumstances, what’s a hired killer to do? Many critics and several respected novelists have nothing but nice things to say about this mixture of noir, cyberpunk and sci-fi, comparing Sternbergh to James Ellroy, William Gibson, Philip K. Dick, Cormac McCarthy, Chuck Palahniuk and, yes, Raymond Chandler. Much as I hate to be the crone bringing a poisoned apple to the christening, I have to say that the audiobook didn’t work for me. Much of this may be because Sternbergh’s highly stylized approach is more suited to print than spoken word. It’s so terse and lean, parts of it are incomprehensible. Even Ernest Hemingway might have been moved to ask, “Say what?” Reader Arthur Morey isn’t much help. He’s very good at enacting a scene and filling Spademan’s present tense narration with sour attitude to spare, but he seems to be trying so hard to sound tough that the effect is that of a man strangling on short, blunt sentences. Maybe I’m just being cranky, having spent so many hours on novels and movies set in a decaying, hellish America. Another trip to dystopia isn’t really necessary.

The Black-Eyed Blonde
Dick Lochte

It’s been a while since Robert B. Parker put the finishing touches to Poodle Springs, the Philip Marlowe novel left unfinished by Raymond Chandler’s death, and followed that semi-success with Perchance to Dream, a sequel of sorts to The Big Sleep that, more accurately, might have been titled The Small Snooze. Since then, several Marlowe projects have been announced—a couple of television pilots here, a novel about “young Philip Marlowe” there—but none has reached the public. Until now. And, IMO, it’s been worth the wait. The new Marlowe novel by John Banville, using his Benjamin Black mystery pseudonym, is pretty darn Chandler-like, complete with smart similes and snappy patter. The plot, in which the blonde of the title hires Marlowe to find a man who appears to have risen from the dead, slowly transforms from just a new hardboiled yarn featuring the famous shamus to a cleverly crafted sequel to The Long Goodbye. It hasn’t the quality or impact of that novel, which many consider to be Chandler’s best, but I think most would consider it better than his final book, Playback. Banville/Black’s story line, while not as complex as Chandler’s, does have its sharp turns and twists as Marlowe works his way through SoCal aristos, cops, Mexican hitmen, hustlers, and ghosts from the sleuth’s past, either present or referenced. These include his pal from the DA’s office, Bernie Ohls, the tough but honest Sergeant Green of Homicide, Linda Loring and her now ex-husband Dr. Edward Loring, the wealthy and powerful Harlan Potter, Terry Lennox, and smarmy mobsters Mendy Menendez and Randy Starr of Vegas. All of this is good. If I have one nit to pick, this seems to be the Marlowe of The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely, still a little brash and not quite having succumbed to the depression that overtakes him in The Little Sister and deepens in The Long Goodbye. Much of this may be due to Dennis Boutsikaris’ narration which, while smartly encompassing the character’s unique blend of education, intelligence, and hardboiled attitude, is also, perhaps of necessity for audio, both vigorous and, to these ears at least, upbeat. But there are sections when the narrator is only following the author’s lead—primarily the ones displaying Marlowe’s almost naive infatuation with the black-eyed blonde. The detective seems to have forgotten or ignored his oft-quoted, dinged romantic’s rant on the subject of blondes in The Long Goodbye. Regardless, even if this pastiche didn’t fit so neatly between Goodbye and Playback, it would, unlike the Parker efforts, still be a keeper. It’s an ear treat that’s solidly constructed, highly entertaining, and unquestionably Chandleresque.

Teri Duerr
2014-05-19 22:02:29

It’s been a while since Robert B. Parker put the finishing touches to Poodle Springs, the Philip Marlowe novel left unfinished by Raymond Chandler’s death, and followed that semi-success with Perchance to Dream, a sequel of sorts to The Big Sleep that, more accurately, might have been titled The Small Snooze. Since then, several Marlowe projects have been announced—a couple of television pilots here, a novel about “young Philip Marlowe” there—but none has reached the public. Until now. And, IMO, it’s been worth the wait. The new Marlowe novel by John Banville, using his Benjamin Black mystery pseudonym, is pretty darn Chandler-like, complete with smart similes and snappy patter. The plot, in which the blonde of the title hires Marlowe to find a man who appears to have risen from the dead, slowly transforms from just a new hardboiled yarn featuring the famous shamus to a cleverly crafted sequel to The Long Goodbye. It hasn’t the quality or impact of that novel, which many consider to be Chandler’s best, but I think most would consider it better than his final book, Playback. Banville/Black’s story line, while not as complex as Chandler’s, does have its sharp turns and twists as Marlowe works his way through SoCal aristos, cops, Mexican hitmen, hustlers, and ghosts from the sleuth’s past, either present or referenced. These include his pal from the DA’s office, Bernie Ohls, the tough but honest Sergeant Green of Homicide, Linda Loring and her now ex-husband Dr. Edward Loring, the wealthy and powerful Harlan Potter, Terry Lennox, and smarmy mobsters Mendy Menendez and Randy Starr of Vegas. All of this is good. If I have one nit to pick, this seems to be the Marlowe of The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely, still a little brash and not quite having succumbed to the depression that overtakes him in The Little Sister and deepens in The Long Goodbye. Much of this may be due to Dennis Boutsikaris’ narration which, while smartly encompassing the character’s unique blend of education, intelligence, and hardboiled attitude, is also, perhaps of necessity for audio, both vigorous and, to these ears at least, upbeat. But there are sections when the narrator is only following the author’s lead—primarily the ones displaying Marlowe’s almost naive infatuation with the black-eyed blonde. The detective seems to have forgotten or ignored his oft-quoted, dinged romantic’s rant on the subject of blondes in The Long Goodbye. Regardless, even if this pastiche didn’t fit so neatly between Goodbye and Playback, it would, unlike the Parker efforts, still be a keeper. It’s an ear treat that’s solidly constructed, highly entertaining, and unquestionably Chandleresque.

Dangerous Women
Dick Lochte

Though the title of this anthology may suggest noir, noir, noir, and more noir, focusing on femmes fatales, the presence of editors George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois and many of the contributors are indicators that the 21 entries, all original, are heavily tilted toward fantasy and sci-fi adventure. There are, however, a few nicely written examples of dark, mainly earthbound, crime-tinged fiction. Chief among them is Megan Abbott’s “My Heart Is Either Broken,” a beautifully written, heart-wrenching story of a young husband and father whose daughter has gone missing and whose wife is being pilloried by the police and the press. (Members of the Edgar Short Story committee should be sure to take a look.) It’s given an impressively emotional reading by Jake Weber who, with apparent ease, shifts gears to toughen up for “I Know How to Pick ’Em,” an effectively brutal short that Lawrence Block must have penned in one of his darkest moods. You could call Joe Lansdale’s “Wrestling Jesus” a hardboiled coming-of-age fantasy in which its young protagonist, cut loose by an uncaring mother, finds a foster father in an aged pro wrestler who’s dealing with an otherworldly infatuation. It’s expertly read by Scott Brick who, later, uses a passable if not perfect New Orleans accent to narrate the collection’s most noirish entry, Diana Rowland’s “City Lazarus.” Set in NOLA at a time when the Mississippi River has turned to mud, it follows a police captain who has sold his services to a smooth but sadistic French Quarter club owner. The cop falls in love with a beautiful young stripper who, in turn, catches the eye of the entrepreneur and trouble ensues. As for the anthology’s more fantastical offerings, there’s Jim Butcher’s “Bombshells,” a wild yarn set in the Dresden Files world, featuring the now-deceased Harry Dresden’s protégé, apprentice wizard Molly. Emily Rankin provides her with a girlish but determined voice. And there’s the book’s strongest selling point, a novella by editor Martin, “The Princess and the Queen,” read with an appropriately clipped and very British accent by Iain Glen. The generous, 35,000-word tale covers the Dance of the Dragons, the civil war that divided the author’s mythical Westros and set the stage for his extraordinarily popular A Game of Thrones.

Teri Duerr
2014-05-19 22:10:03

Though the title of this anthology may suggest noir, noir, noir, and more noir, focusing on femmes fatales, the presence of editors George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois and many of the contributors are indicators that the 21 entries, all original, are heavily tilted toward fantasy and sci-fi adventure. There are, however, a few nicely written examples of dark, mainly earthbound, crime-tinged fiction. Chief among them is Megan Abbott’s “My Heart Is Either Broken,” a beautifully written, heart-wrenching story of a young husband and father whose daughter has gone missing and whose wife is being pilloried by the police and the press. (Members of the Edgar Short Story committee should be sure to take a look.) It’s given an impressively emotional reading by Jake Weber who, with apparent ease, shifts gears to toughen up for “I Know How to Pick ’Em,” an effectively brutal short that Lawrence Block must have penned in one of his darkest moods. You could call Joe Lansdale’s “Wrestling Jesus” a hardboiled coming-of-age fantasy in which its young protagonist, cut loose by an uncaring mother, finds a foster father in an aged pro wrestler who’s dealing with an otherworldly infatuation. It’s expertly read by Scott Brick who, later, uses a passable if not perfect New Orleans accent to narrate the collection’s most noirish entry, Diana Rowland’s “City Lazarus.” Set in NOLA at a time when the Mississippi River has turned to mud, it follows a police captain who has sold his services to a smooth but sadistic French Quarter club owner. The cop falls in love with a beautiful young stripper who, in turn, catches the eye of the entrepreneur and trouble ensues. As for the anthology’s more fantastical offerings, there’s Jim Butcher’s “Bombshells,” a wild yarn set in the Dresden Files world, featuring the now-deceased Harry Dresden’s protégé, apprentice wizard Molly. Emily Rankin provides her with a girlish but determined voice. And there’s the book’s strongest selling point, a novella by editor Martin, “The Princess and the Queen,” read with an appropriately clipped and very British accent by Iain Glen. The generous, 35,000-word tale covers the Dance of the Dragons, the civil war that divided the author’s mythical Westros and set the stage for his extraordinarily popular A Game of Thrones.

League of the Grateful Dead
Bill Crider

Ramble House, a small operation in Mississippi, has brought back into print a great many books that most readers have forgotten or never knew existed. One of this publisher’s recent ventures is a five-volume set of the pulp stories of Day Keene. Keene was best known for his paperback original novels in the 1950s and 1960s, but his short stories have all the virtues of the novels: fast-moving plots, quirky characters, and lean prose among them. The titles of the volumes in this series are League of the Grateful Dead, We Are the Dead, Death March of the Dancing Dolls, The Case of the Bearded Bride, and A Corpse Walks in Brooklyn. Each collection has a short introduction written especially for that volume. (I wrote the introduction for the third.)

Teri Duerr
2014-05-19 22:17:38

Ramble House, a small operation in Mississippi, has brought back into print a great many books that most readers have forgotten or never knew existed. One of this publisher’s recent ventures is a five-volume set of the pulp stories of Day Keene. Keene was best known for his paperback original novels in the 1950s and 1960s, but his short stories have all the virtues of the novels: fast-moving plots, quirky characters, and lean prose among them. The titles of the volumes in this series are League of the Grateful Dead, We Are the Dead, Death March of the Dancing Dolls, The Case of the Bearded Bride, and A Corpse Walks in Brooklyn. Each collection has a short introduction written especially for that volume. (I wrote the introduction for the third.)

Hercule Poirot and the Greenshore Folly
Bill Crider

A lost Agatha Christie story (really a novella) has turned up and been made available in electronic format. Christie wrote “Hercule Poirot and the Greenshore Folly” as a way to raise money for her church, but she donated another story instead and expanded this one into a novel, Dead Man’s Folly. It’s always a pleasure to see Poirot in action, and this story is a must for completists.

Teri Duerr
2014-05-19 22:24:24

A lost Agatha Christie story (really a novella) has turned up and been made available in electronic format. Christie wrote “Hercule Poirot and the Greenshore Folly” as a way to raise money for her church, but she donated another story instead and expanded this one into a novel, Dead Man’s Folly. It’s always a pleasure to see Poirot in action, and this story is a must for completists.

Trouble in Mind: the Collected Stories, Volume 3
Bill Crider

Jeffery Deaver fans will have already snapped up Trouble in Mind: The Collected Stories, Volume 3, but if you’re not acquainted with Deaver’s work, this would be a good place to begin. Five of the one dozen stories are new, and all of them are as twisted and surprising as the stories in the first two volumes of Deaver’s tales. Even though the reader knows that the stories are calculated to have endings that will shock and surprise, Deaver still manages to deliver as promised. He’s particularly fond of the twist at the end of “Paradice, A John Pellam Story.” I don’t blame him.

Teri Duerr
2014-05-19 22:29:09

Jeffery Deaver fans will have already snapped up Trouble in Mind: The Collected Stories, Volume 3, but if you’re not acquainted with Deaver’s work, this would be a good place to begin. Five of the one dozen stories are new, and all of them are as twisted and surprising as the stories in the first two volumes of Deaver’s tales. Even though the reader knows that the stories are calculated to have endings that will shock and surprise, Deaver still manages to deliver as promised. He’s particularly fond of the twist at the end of “Paradice, A John Pellam Story.” I don’t blame him.

Ice Cold: Tales of Intrigue From the Cold War
Bill Crider

Jeffery Deaver and Raymond Benson are the editors of the latest Mystery Writers of America anthology, Ice Cold: Tales of Intrigue From the Cold War. Deaver leads it off with a Kennedy assassination story, “Comrade 35,” which has, of course, a neat twist. Benson closes the volume with “Ghosts,” in which a 94-year-old retired spook remembers a case involving the same Ferris wheel that appeared in the film version of The Third Man. In between these two stories are 18 others by top-notch writers who’ll transport you to a time of paranoia, suspicion, and dread. Entertainment guaranteed.

Teri Duerr
2014-05-19 22:31:50

Jeffery Deaver and Raymond Benson are the editors of the latest Mystery Writers of America anthology, Ice Cold: Tales of Intrigue From the Cold War. Deaver leads it off with a Kennedy assassination story, “Comrade 35,” which has, of course, a neat twist. Benson closes the volume with “Ghosts,” in which a 94-year-old retired spook remembers a case involving the same Ferris wheel that appeared in the film version of The Third Man. In between these two stories are 18 others by top-notch writers who’ll transport you to a time of paranoia, suspicion, and dread. Entertainment guaranteed.

A Darker Shade of Sweden
Bill Crider

If you’re one of the many who’s fascinated by “Nordic noir,” then you’ll be glad to know it’s not found only in novels now. John-Henri Holmberg has edited and translated a fine anthology titled A Darker Shade of Sweden, with stories by such luminaries as Henning Mankell and the team of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. The real selling point of the book for many, however, will be the previously unpublished story by Stieg Larsson, written for a fanzine when the author was a teenager. It’s an interesting story for several reasons, not the least of which is the chance to see the very beginnings of the storyteller who later gave us the mega-selling Millennium Trilogy. Editor Holmberg gives an excellent overview of Swedish crime fiction in his introduction to the book, the first anthology of Swedish crime fiction published in this country, as well as introductions to each story.

Teri Duerr
2014-05-19 22:35:57

If you’re one of the many who’s fascinated by “Nordic noir,” then you’ll be glad to know it’s not found only in novels now. John-Henri Holmberg has edited and translated a fine anthology titled A Darker Shade of Sweden, with stories by such luminaries as Henning Mankell and the team of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. The real selling point of the book for many, however, will be the previously unpublished story by Stieg Larsson, written for a fanzine when the author was a teenager. It’s an interesting story for several reasons, not the least of which is the chance to see the very beginnings of the storyteller who later gave us the mega-selling Millennium Trilogy. Editor Holmberg gives an excellent overview of Swedish crime fiction in his introduction to the book, the first anthology of Swedish crime fiction published in this country, as well as introductions to each story.

Stone Cold
Bill Crider

Stone Cold is the latest anthology of “Best New England Crime Stories,” and it’s another good one. The editors are Mark Ammons, Katherine Fast, Barbara Ross, and Leslie Wheeler. They’ve put together a wide variety of stories, from the humorous, as in Jed Power’s “Pipe Dream” about two hapless copper thieves, to the quite dark, as in Katherine Fast’s “Black Rock.” A couple of stories even have a touch of the paranormal, so there’s something here for every taste.

Teri Duerr
2014-05-19 22:41:04

Stone Cold is the latest anthology of “Best New England Crime Stories,” and it’s another good one. The editors are Mark Ammons, Katherine Fast, Barbara Ross, and Leslie Wheeler. They’ve put together a wide variety of stories, from the humorous, as in Jed Power’s “Pipe Dream” about two hapless copper thieves, to the quite dark, as in Katherine Fast’s “Black Rock.” A couple of stories even have a touch of the paranormal, so there’s something here for every taste.