The Stone Wife
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

A new Chief Superintendent Peter Diamond mystery is always a cause for celebration. This is the 13th, and I’ve read them all at least once. Whether you’re a true fan or a newcomer, you’ll love this latest entry.

During an art auction, the high bidder for a newly unearthed stone sculpture of Chaucer’s “Wife of Bath” is shot and killed while trying to prevent three masked gunmen from making off with the piece. Was the shooting an unplanned homicide by incompetent thieves, or was it a cleverly planned assassination disguised as a heist? With very little to go on to identify the gunmen, Diamond and his staff are forced to look at all aspects of the victim’s life, as well as the history of the Stone Wife.

What makes the Peter Diamond books so popular? The plots are complex, but not complicated. The characters are believable and not caricatures. The relationships between Diamond and his team are true to life—sometimes funny, sometimes contentious, but never forced. While most mysteries of this length (over 350 pages) include several murders and several investigations that somehow connect at the end, The Stone Wife makes do, most entertainingly, with one murder and several members of the team coming at the investigation from different angles.

Peter Lovesey has written 26 highly praised mysteries and is the recipient of the CWA Gold and Silver Daggers and the Diamond Dagger for Lifetime Achievement, in addition to many US honors.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 28 October 2014 10:10
Murder at Brightwell
Robin Agnew

Set in 1932, this frothy historical tale succeeds more completely as a relationship fable than as a mystery. The opening sentence “It is an impossibly great trial to be married to a man one loves and hates in equal proportions” sets the tone for the entire novel.

The setup for the story is quite traditional: lovely Amory Ames, married to the rakish Milo (referred to in the first sentence), has been pondering the wisdom of her five-year marriage when her old suitor Gil turns up, asking a favor. His sister Emmaline is on the verge of what he feels will be a disastrous marriage, and he wants Amory to accompany him to Brightwell, a seaside hotel, to try and talk her out of the match.

Amory, frustrated by her husband’s own unannounced comings and goings and his wide reputation as a ladies man, scandalously agrees to go with Gil. When they arrive at the Brightwell, there are many nudge-nudge-wink-wink responses to the unmarried travellers. Inevitably, Emmaline’s dastardly fiancé is murdered, and Gil becomes the main suspect. Gil’s devastated sister won’t leave her room and Amory feels she must do what she can to clear her old flame’s name. Complicating matters is the surprising arrival of Milo, who has suddenly become very attentive to Amory.

The Brightwell’s vacationing group presents the reader with a wide array of suspects for the crime, and the seaside hotel is a perfect, secluded location.

To me, that’s all backdrop to the really interesting dilemma that Amory finds herself in romantically: Is it the steady, virtuous (and perhaps murderous) Gil who is the right man? Or is it the gorgeous, peripatetic Milo whom Amory belongs with? She feels she can trust neither, and the author is expert in keeping you guessing.

When a second murder occurs, the plot thickens. By the time I got to the end, I was as invested in the outcome of the killer’s identity as in which man Amory would ultimately choose. This is a pleasant, light, and surprisingly thoughtful read.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 28 October 2014 10:10
Murder on the Ile Sordou
Sheila M. Merritt

In Murder on the Ile Sordou, M. L. Longworth employs the roman policier style of Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret books, while also tipping her hat to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None with an isolated island setting.

Examining Magistrate Antoine Verlaque goes to Sordou, near Marseille, for some rest and recreation with his significant other, law professor Marine Bonnet. They stay at the sumptuous Locanda Sordou, newly reopened after many decades. The resort boasts magnificent Mediterranean terrain and an up-and-coming chef in its kitchen. When a murder ensues, Verlaque’s vacation turns into a busman’s holiday.

In addition to Verlaque and Bonnet, the others staying at Locanda Sordou are Bonnet’s best friend Sylvie, an American husband and wife, a faded actor and his spouse and stepson, a moody teacher-poet, and a quarreling Parisian couple. The psyches of the vacationers are brilliantly delineated by Longworth, as is the superbly described hotel personnel. When it appears that the killer is likely a guest or a staff member, Verlaque is faced with a bit of soul searching—the sojourn has created camaraderie among the hotel inhabitants; the victim was the sole exception.

M. L. Longworth takes her time getting to the mystery in Murder on the Ile Sordou. This is a character-driven book, and the body isn’t discovered until almost halfway through the narrative. She lays the groundwork with a deft hand, slowly building up to the murder of the despicable victim.

The fourth novel in the Verlaque and Bonnet Provencal Mysteries is a splendid read, but requires a bit of patience. The pace saunters, but it’s a rewarding literary promenade.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 28 October 2014 11:10
The Golden Hour
Oline H. Cogdill

International politics thrive on the “golden hour” principle: political trauma caused by a coup can be reversed if action is taken swiftly and professionally. But the key is the first 100 hours.

Author Todd Moss, a former diplomat, uses this principle for an exciting, multilayered look at international politics and the people who rule nations in his debut The Golden Hour.

Diplomat Judd Ryker’s belief in the golden hour is put to the test when he is named director of the new State Department Crisis Reaction Unit a few hours after a coup erupts in the West African country of Mali. Ryker knows the area well—he was a member of a team that evaluated water management in Kidal in northern Mali—but the former Amherst professor isn’t as prepared for the local attitudes that stymie his efforts to improve the situation. Various groups, countries, and even US agencies have their own agendas for the country, and Ryker finds that his office is a convenient scapegoat for others’ plans. It’s a landscape where enemies become friends, friends morph into enemies, and violence erupts quickly.

In The Golden Hour, Moss juggles complex political issues in an energetic plot inspired by the very real August 2008 coup in Mauritania in northwestern Africa. As Deputy Assistant Secretary of State at the time, Moss was sent by then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to negotiate with the junta leader, and he uses his experiences to deliver a credible international thriller that never succumbs to cynicism, even when showing how peace and co-existence can seemingly be impossible concepts to some. The result is a story where amoral characters mix with those trying to make a difference, although in international politics the difference between the two isn’t always clear.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 28 October 2014 11:10
The Ploughmen
Eileen Brady

John Gload is an old man in his seventies, a former farmer who still bends down to sift the soil through his fingers. He is also a dispassionate killer. Author Kim Zupan, in his debut novel The Ploughmen, has created an intriguing plot based on the relationship between Gload, now a prisoner, and Valentine “Val” Millimaki, a young deputy in the Montana Copper County sheriff’s department. There are plenty of murders in this psychological crime story, but it’s no mystery who committed them even if the evidence is thin. Gload is understandably proud of his killing and disposal techniques, which over the years has left very little for coroners to identify.

The sheriff has reassigned Val to the night shift at the jail, in the hopes Val can get Gload to talk and possibly confess to some unsolved murders before his trial. What happens is a whole lot of something else. Not friendship, but a comfortable camaraderie grows between these two dissimilar, but complementary souls.

Val’s life is falling apart. His wife has moved out, Gload hasn’t confessed to anything, and all his search and rescue jobs for the last 13 months have ended badly. No live rescues, just bodies have been found. Only his three-year-old shepherd dog Tom provides the deputy a measure of comfort.

Periodically you have to wade through adjective-loaded prose, but if you stick with it, the writing evens out and rewards you with exquisite phrases like tracking “hieroglyphics of mice and squirrels” in the snow. Readers will feel the pull of the vast state of Montana and the area around the Missouri River Breaks as described through the eyes of Gload and Val.

If you’re looking for something unusual, The Ploughmen might be it. Val is a pleasant character to spend time with, and Gload, well, just be glad he’s fictional.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 28 October 2014 12:10
You
Vanessa Orr

You is an incredible achievement for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that author Zoran Drvenkar manages to make the reader identify and sympathize with no less than 13 different characters, including a notorious criminal and a serial killer. The novel, which is written almost entirely in the second person, puts the reader in the minds of each character as the story unfolds—including one character who is sharing his perspective from the hereafter.

I was mesmerized by this tale of five very close-knit teenage girls who became the targets of one of Berlin’s most hardened underworld crime bosses. Drvenkar’s insight into the minds of girls this age is spot-on, from their concerns about boys to their looks to their love/hate relationship with each other.

While on its face the story may seem like a struggle between good and evil, being able to actually become each character and see the world through his or her eyes makes it quite clear that no one here is one-dimensional. The girls aren’t angels; the killers aren’t simply evil. There is ugliness from all sides, as well as occasional moments of exquisite beauty. This dichotomy kept me furiously turning pages. You know that all of the characters are on a collision course and you know that it can’t end well.

I plan to get Drvenkar’s first book, Sorry, to see more of this very formidable talent at work. I also want to read You again to appreciate the nuances of each character, since I sped through it so quickly the first time following the action. I highly recommend that you give it a read as well.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 28 October 2014 12:10
Night of the Jaguar
Vanessa Orr

Night of the Jaguar, a debut novel by Joe Gannon, takes place in Nicaragua in the mid-1980s, a time and place with which Gannon is intimately familiar from his work as a freelance journalist during the Sandinista Revolution. Gannon paints a vivid picture of a country barely recovering from one conflict—the overthrow of General Somoza’s dictatorship—while descending into another as the Contras try to wrest power from the new Sandinista government. Chaos rules, and everyone, from the CIA-backed Contras to a US political delegation to Nicaragua’s own State Security, has their own agendas.

Ajax Montoya, a hero of the Sandinista revolution, is now a police captain after a fall from grace. Only six days sober, he is trying to solve a murder while suffering from delusions—neither he nor the reader knows whether his visions and paranoia are based in reality or are the result of too much alcohol and war-related stress. Gannon does a very good job of letting the reader feel the pressure-cooker atmosphere in which Montoya lives. In this shifting political climate, it’s almost impossible to tell where anyone’s loyalties lie, making Montoya question the motives of everyone around him. And the constant, unrelenting weight of feeling like one is always being watched at home and on the job is enough to make any person question his sanity.

The story starts off with a bloody confrontation, and bodies continue to pile up as Montoya does his best to try to solve a murder in a country where murder is routine. It’s a tough, violent place, and this bleakness overshadows the entire novel. While absolutely true to the time and place, this ugliness made it difficult for me to get through the book—the action pulls you along, but often to places you don’t want to go. A brief tryst with an American is really the only light in Montoya’s life—though I should add that, as far as sex scenes go, the couple’s pillow talk was more than a little awkward.

I would recommend this book for readers who like war stories and politically charged intrigue, though it left me depressed. War is hell—and so is life in a country where war never ends.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 28 October 2014 12:10
Never Mind Miss Fox
Betty Web

Although not a big book at a slim 249 pages, Olivia Glazebrook’s second novel (after The Trouble With Alice) packs a big literary wallop. Written in short scenes, in different points of view, and with a plethora of time jumps forward and backward, Never Mind Miss Fox begins like a coming-of-age novel, then suddenly dumps the reader into the present reality of a dangerous marital crisis. This gorgeously crafted novel also ignores the widely accepted belief that a protagonist must be “likable” by giving us an antihero in Clive, a successful London barrister.

Just before his marriage, Clive did something dastardly while on a family vacation in France, and now his cruel past is catching up with him. There’s a lot of angry self-righteousness in Clive’s curiously insensitive heart, and when the secret of his crime emerges, he blames just about everyone around him. His circle of blame includes his parents, his wife Martha, his young daughter Eliza, even longtime family friend Miss Fox, who although she knows what Clive did, kept mum about it. In fact, the only person Clive doesn’t blame for his long-ago crime is himself. This makes Clive a bit of a sociopath, possibly even a psychopath, but instead of turning readers off, his attempts at self-defense when confronted with his seedy past become ever more fascinating as the book progresses.

This is where Glazebrook’s brilliance as a writer truly shines. In the chapters written in Clive’s voice, we see him trying to downplay the impact his crime has had on his family’s life. In the chapters written in Martha’s voice, we discover that she, too, has been carrying around a guilty secret. But it is the chapters written in little Eliza’s voice that reveal the heart of this sorrowful domestic drama. Although Eliza’s exact age is never given, her voice ranges from the whiny I-want-my-mommy stage, to the rebellious preteen who’s convinced she’s smarter than everyone.

It is Martha who finally gives voice to the book’s hardest truth, though, when she attempts to clean out a memory-filled attic and reflects: “Nothing could ever be got rid of. Even if something were carted away for trash it would still exist somewhere, buried in a hole or shredded into bits.” Wisdom to remember in a book to savor.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 28 October 2014 12:10
Bitter Crossing
Oline H. Cogdill

Peyton Cote made a name for herself as a US border patrol agent in Texas. But following a divorce, she returns to her hometown of Garrett, Maine, where she believes the job will be less frenetic and the town will be a better place to raise her son. But not all is quiet back home in Bitter Crossing.

Peyton finds that her border town has developed an active marijuana trade, with the heavily forested border to New Brunswick, Canada, serving as the perfect cover for smugglers. While waiting for a drug drop late one night, Peyton instead finds an infant, cold, but alive and healthy. Her attempts to find out if there is a link between the baby and the thriving drug trade leads her to a high school history teacher, a University of Maine professor, and a Boston lawyer.

D.A. Keeley launches her new series with a strong plot and involving characters. The author paints a striking portrait of the northern Maine landscape where a fragile economy based on potatoes and a short growing season can turn desperate people into criminals. Peyton’s strong personality and her unfailing courage should make for some intriguing future adventures.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 28 October 2014 12:10
Clam Wake
Eileen Brady

Clam Wake is the 29th book in this Bed and Breakfast Mystery series written by Mary Daheim, so you know she’s doing something right. This time, Seattle innkeeper Judith McMonigle Flynn and her wisecracking cousin Renie are house-sitting for Auntie Vance and Uncle Vince on nearby Whoopee Island. Judith’s husband Joe and his friend Bill are safely out of the picture, fishing in New Zealand, conveniently clearing the way for the ladies to get into trouble.

Of course, the cousins quickly discover a body in the sand, and that’s where the fun begins. Before long they have more motives than they can handle as they meet resident after resident of the small beachfront community Obsession Shores. Since most of the inhabitants are retired, the cocktails flow, and so does the gossip. Daheim introduces a host of offbeat characters as our two heroines struggle to make sense of the murder: there’s the elderly tyrant, Quentin Quimby, who owns most of the island; wacky kleptomaniac Betsy; Jack Larrabee, a travel writer, who may not be what he seems; and a clam bucket load of others.

The plot zips along and everyone and everything is fair game for the cousins’ zingers. Although the clues are a little murky, it’s all in good fun. Daheim fans will thoroughly enjoy this lighthearted romp.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 28 October 2014 12:10
First Impressions
Robin Agnew

This is a completely captivating and charming book. Set partly in the past and partly in the present, the past section features a young Jane Austen working to convert her epistolary book Elinor and Marianne to a longer novel. The reactions of her family and her close friend the Reverend Mansfield to her story inspire and help her, and give the reader the thrill of imagining what it might have been like to hear the author read the “twist” ending of Sense and Sensibility aloud.

In the present, we meet Sophie Collingwood, lately a graduate of Oxford. She’s mourning her beloved Uncle Bertram, the uncle who introduced her to books, reading, and book collecting. Sophie moves into the London apartment he willed her, along with his book collection, but stubbornly refuses to believe that Bertram’s death was an accident. She takes a job in one of her uncle’s favorite antiquarian bookstores, where she meets hunky book collector Winston, who is looking for the novel’s MacGuffin: a second edition of an obscure book by Reverend Mansfield, A Little Book of Allegorical Stories. As Sophie careens around London attempting to find Mansfield’s book—important for reasons that only become completely clear at the end—we watch as she uses her scholarship and librarian skills, as well as a little larceny, to find what she’s looking for.

In his entertaining parallel narratives, Charlie Lovett mirrors Sophie’s relationship to her Uncle Bertram with the young Jane’s infatuation of the mind with Reverend Mansfield. Some of Lovett’s plot points have an obvious resolution; however, the author’s passion for Jane Austen and his knowledge of printing methods and practices of the 1700s truly make this book a standout. The reader gets a nice adventure story, a little bit of romance and mystery, and a real feel for book collecting and for the author’s love of Jane Austen. If it’s a love you share, you may well find this book irresistible.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 28 October 2014 12:10
A Little Night Murder
Sharon Magee

Nora Blackbird is seven months pregnant. Her evenings are spent covering ritzy social events for the Philadelphia Intelligencer, but her afternoons are spent sunning herself by the pool of her friend Lexie Paine, a Philadelphia society royal who has just been released from prison after serving a nine-and-a-half-month sentence for manslaughter.

The sounds of a rehearsal for the just-discovered musical by Lexie’s deceased next-door neighbor, the famous Broadway composer Toodles Tuttle, are nothing more than background noise to Nora and Lexie as they lounge, until one day they become screams. Toodles’ daughter Jenny, who had been in charge of the musical, is found dead in her bedroom. At first thought to be a suicide, it’s quickly discovered to be murder.

In this, Nancy Martin’s tenth entry in her Blackbird Sisters Mystery series, there is a plethora of suspects for Nora and her sisters Emma and Libby to investigate. Foremost on the list: Toodles’ widow Boom Boom, who had no affection for her introverted daughter Jenny, and Poppy Fontana, the understudy who wanted the lead in the musical, but whom Jenny rejected. And who is the boy in the picture found clutched in Jenny’s hand when she died?

In the midst of all this, Nora and her fiancé Michael, a member of organized crime, are planning to secretly marry in a week, although Nora has misgivings—every man who marries a Blackbird woman ends up dead.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 28 October 2014 12:10
The Last Breath
Sharon Magee

Gia Andrews does not want to return to her Appalachian hometown. Partly because she loves the humanitarian work she does around the world, but mostly because, when she left 16 years before, her father Ray had just been convicted of the brutal murder of her stepmother Ella Mae. But now her father is coming home to die, and Uncle Cal, head of the Andrews family, insists she help care for him during his final days. Uncle Cal swears he’s not guilty. Gia is unsure. Not so her brother Bo and sister Lexi, who both refuse to have anything to do with their father’s homecoming. The town is also against Ray’s return; protestors with signs and blow horns picket their house daily.

When evidence surfaces that Ella Mae was having an affair with their next-door neighbor, the sexually sadistic Dean, who was the only witness against her father, Gia determines to discover the truth. In her search, she acquires an unlikely ally, Jake Foster the handsome owner of the Roadkill Bar and Grill, who also becomes her lover.

Debut novelist Kimberly Belle has written a hybrid of suspense, women’s fiction, and romance, and has done it successfully. (Though it could be argued that sex every night is perhaps a bit too much of a good thing?) By interspersing flashbacks in Ella Mae’s point of view with Gia’s real-time point of view, the reader can see the progression toward the murder alongside Gia’s attempt to arrive at the truth.

Belle was raised in Appalachia and her main characters are spot-on. Even the minor appearances, such as Fannie, the plump hospice home care nurse with frowsy hair, and Jimmie, Gia’s childhood friend who looks like a grown-up Opie and is now a cop, come alive. The Last Breath is a satisfying read with its secrets kept well hidden until the very end.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 28 October 2014 01:10
The White Van
Kevin Burton Smith

At first glance as utilitarian as the white van of its title, Patrick Hoffman’s promising first novel is a deceptive shell game that draws readers into a series of brain-shifting, often-bloody revelations. It’s arguably the best heist-gone-wrong yarn since Reservoir Dogs.

All-night, drug-prowling shewolf Emily Rosario is out on the town slamming down whiskey in a San Francisco dive, trying to figure a way out of her zero-sum life. An apparently harmless middle-aged Russian businessman buys her a few drinks and then invites her to his hotel room. No harm, right? But who’s zooming who?

A week later, Emily’s stoned out of her gourd and holding up a downtown bank, not quite sure what’s she’s doing or how she got there. But then her survival instincts kick in and Emily’s out of there, slipping through the cracks between the cops and her “accomplices,” drugged, dazed, and confused (and packing $800,000 in stolen loot), on the run from both Russian gangsters and the cops. And it soon becomes clear to readers—if not Emily herself—that they’re all equally dangerous. That’s because Leo Elias, a bent and broken SFPD Gang Task Force member, whose marriage, sobriety, and sanity are all circling the drain, is running his own hunt for Emily, visions of all that cash dancing in his head.

There’s a little something for everyone in this multicultural matryoshka of nested scams and conspiracies: dirty cops, black marketeers, strippers, private eyes, junkies and assorted bottom-feeders—but you’d better read fast. Life expectancy in this satisfying whack-a-mole of a novel can be as short as a few paragraphs. The Fickle Finger of Fate comes well greased in this one, and nobody is safe—least of all streetwise-but-people-dumb Emily.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 28 October 2014 01:10
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
Matthew Fowler

In David Shafer’s novel Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, the author posits a darkly comedic scenario involving an international conspiracy to obtain and sell personal information of all the world’s population. The only three people who can stop this evil, albeit uncomfortably plausible-sounding plan are three adults still struggling to maneuver their way through life’s ups and downs: Leila Majnoun, a disillusioned nonprofit employee; Mark Deveraux, an insincere self-help guru; and Leo Crane, a well-meaning, substance-abusing, trust-fund baby. It sounds like the beginnings of a poorly edited joke, but, in Shafer’s novel, they are the characters entangled in an ideological confrontation with an ominous multinational group set on owning our private info.

Only as the momentum builds and the pages continue to turn does the reader ever truly consider whether or not the author will stick the landing. The answer? Mostly. Though the payoff for the globe-trotting trip around the world to save our data from evil feels slightly artificial, the triumph in characterization outweighs any misgivings the reader may have.

Too often in thrillers, the author is forced to overlook the minutia that makes a character interesting to an audience in favor of plot contrivances and ticking clocks. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot delivers great characters. Mark, the self-help guru who divvies out advice to others while his life splinters rapidly out of control, exemplifies this. Instead of using Mark’s occupation and hypocrisy as shorthand for who he is, Shafer neatly generates broad comedic situations that entertain as well as enlighten. In doing so, the author reveals a level of poignancy through his flawed characters. In doing so, the author has created a poignant novel with flawed characters that both entertain and intrigue.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 28 October 2014 06:10
Ghost Month
Eileen Brad

Black smoke and incense perfume the air during Ghost Month in Taipei, as the gates of the underworld spring open, allowing the spirits of the dead to walk among the living. Paper money burns in front of makeshift altars with offerings of oranges, instant noodles, Coca-Cola six-packs, boxes of cookies and crackers, and anything else a relative might need in the afterlife.

Jing-nan, or “Johnny” as he calls himself, is a young shop owner, who hoped to live the American Dream. He’d set his sights on studying at UCLA, but ended up selling meat skewers, like his father and grandfather before him, in Taipei City. Every night he works his food stall Unknown Pleasures (named after Joy Division’s first album) on Jianguo Road, luring customers by putting on a smile and a show for the tourists. This is now his reality—until he reads of the death of his high school sweetheart, the class valedictorian Julia Huang Zheng-lian.

He is shocked to learn Julia was shot in the head while working as a betel nut beauty, far from the city. These girls, usually from impoverished backgrounds, work in enclosed glass booths dressed in swimsuits and lingerie, and are considered one small step above prostitutes. What was his Julia doing there? Determined to discover why she was murdered, Johnny seeks out Julia’s parents, only to find they are frightened of something or someone connected to her death. Unbeknownst to him, he has stumbled into a hornets’ nest of lies involving Taiwan’s powerful criminal underworld, whose gangs have deceptive names such as Black Sea and Everlasting Peace.

I suggest reading Ghost Month by Ed Lin on a full stomach, since much of the action takes place at food stands in the busy Shilin Night Market in Taipei. With places like Big Shot Hot Pot selling noodles and steaming hot soup, vendors pushing warm blocks of peanut candy, and Johnny’s delicious stews and meat skewers, readers might experience an overwhelming desire for dumplings and chili sauce.

This was a fascinating mystery, involving a very different culture, and author Ed Lin provides the reader with just enough details to make the experience feel authentic without slowing down the action. Pair that with a solid, well-thought-out plot filled with unusual characters, and you have an entertaining and informative read on your hands.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 28 October 2014 06:10
The Means
Betty Webb

In political thrillers, politicians are frequently portrayed as the moral equivalents of Satan. They may start out pure and well-intentioned, but somewhere along the way they decide the ends justify the means, however vile those means might be. This popular literary device could have turned Douglas Brunt’s new novel (after Ghosts of Manhattan) into a stereotypical mishmash, because Tom Pauley, the Republican politician at the heart of it, appears to be a truly decent man who is trying to do the right thing for everyone concerned. But Brunt nimbly avoids stereotypes.

Running against Pauley is Democrat Mitchell Mason, the sitting US president who is certain he’ll be elected to a second term. But my, oh, my, talk about skeletons in closets! Mason has a mistress, and his wife is a reputed lesbian. Aided by a mysterious political operative, Samantha Davis, an ex-child actor turned attorney turned TV journalist, stumbles across an old crime involving the president that could change the nation’s political landscape, but first she must quadruple-check her facts. The skeletons hit the fan during a live television debate, and the resulting drama eventually plays out in the voting booth. Pauley doesn’t emerge from The Means unscathed, either.

Considering the fact that the fate of a nation depends on such disheartening political machinations, The Means might have been depressing—and in a way it is—but given the author’s talent for snarky asides, wit abounds. The scene in which conservative Pauley is “glittered” by a burly transvestite is flat-out hilarious. So is some of the psychobabble these politicians spout when caught fibbing. Again, I’ve never been much of a fan of political thrillers, but The Means is so well plotted (Bless those skeletons!), and so well written (Bless those snarky asides!), I’d elect this book in a heartbeat.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 28 October 2014 06:10
The Darling Dahlias and the Silver Dollar Bush
Jackie Houchin

The Dahlias are a group of ladies ranging from the young to the elderly, who are members of a very active garden club in the small town of Darling, Alabama. They vary in plant knowledge, preference in posies, and their station in life, but they do a lot of good in the community and they stick together like glue when one of them is in trouble.

The setting is the early 1930s after the stock market crash and the ensuing run on the banks. Their own Darling Savings and Trust is closed, for who knows how long, and folks are running out of money. The longtime bank president has stepped down and a lot of folk are so riled up, they’d like to see him tarred, feathered, and run out of town. Then a dapper fellow named Alvin Duffy from New Orleans arrives in Darling claiming to be the new bank president and trying to get the newspaper office to print up some “funny money” to keep the town afloat in the crisis. The leery citizens of Darling balk at his “hair brained counterfeiting scheme” and one of the Dahlias takes it upon herself to investigate him.

Meanwhile, back in the woods, another illegal business is trying to keep Darling “afloat” in moonshine, while a determined revenue agent has vowed to shut ’em down, no matter what.

Throw in a couple of heartbreaks, scandals, courtships, murder, revenge, and a troublemaker who thinks he’s just “doin’ the Lord’s work,” and you’ve got a town heading toward disaster. It takes all the sleuthing abilities of the Dahlias, along with their famous party line telephones, to discover just who the villain is, and how to save their town from ruin.

Fans of Susan Wittig Albert’s Darling Dahlia series will love this book. It’s almost as if readers are on the town’s party line, hearing the news—sometimes skewed or untrue, but scandalous and juicy-good. Albert’s sense of era and place in the 1930s South is spot on, and her characters are always enjoyable, be they rascal or hero.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 28 October 2014 07:10
Darkness, Darkness
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

When the remains of a woman who went missing during the British mining strike more than 30 years earlier turns up literally on her doorstep—or under it—to be precise, Charlie Resnick is called upon to aid in the murder investigation. Although he’s retired and working part-time as a dogsbody in the Central Police Station in Nottingham, Resnick’s familiarity with the case and the strike makes him a valuable asset to newly appointed Detective Inspector Catherine Njoroge, who is heading up the probe.

A black Kenyan by birth, Njoroge is saddled with a clueless boss who just wants the case to go away, and with a surly underling who is jealous of her position. Fortunately, Resnick is a stabilizing force who has her back. The investigation itself is extremely difficult, since some of the people who knew Jenny, the victim, have died or moved away over the years, or don’t remember many specifics from that time. It’s even more frustrating for Resnick, who knew the victim, her family, and her friends.

Alternating between the present and the past, the case proceeds in fits and starts as readers become acquainted with the present-day characters and those from 30 years ago—particularly the victim, a staunch and vocal supporter of the strike, and her scab husband—culminating in a surprising conclusion.

Although I enjoyed the mystery, the characters, and the quality storytelling, I do have a quibble: I was a bit turned off by the scenes set in the past with Jenny, which were written in the present tense, presumably for effect. Unfortunately, the effect was that I was bothered by reading about a person who I knew was already dead, but in these passages about to be killed in the “present.”

Darkness, Darkness is billed as Charlie Resnick’s last case. The character’s first mystery, Lonely Hearts, was written almost 35 years ago, and was named one of the 100 Best Crime Novels of the Century by the London Times. Author John Harvey won the CWA Silver Dagger in 2004 and received the prestigious Cartier Diamond Dagger in 2007.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 28 October 2014 07:10
Murder at Midnight
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

What could be better for Agatha Christie whodunit fans than an old-fashioned, Scottish country house murder on New Year’s Eve? Barrister and sometimes sleuth Rex Graves and his bride-to-be Helen d’Arcy are hosting a holiday party for their friends at his lodge in the Scottish Highlands. Due to severe winter weather conditions, only 13 guests are able to make it. Before the party ends, the lights flicker and die, and so do two of the guests...murdered by an unusual poison.

Before the bumbling Chief Inspector Dalgerry of the Scottish police is able to make it through the snow, and before the lights come back on, Rex conducts his own investigation to discover how the murders were committed and who had the best opportunity and motive. His questioning of each guest in the candlelit semi-darkness ends up providing the vital clues to the eventual discovery of the murderer; even though, after the electricity is restored, the police and Rex are still in the dark as to the identity of the culprit. It is not until tragedy strikes again that Rex is finally able to figure out the who and the how and the why, and pass that information on to Inspector Dalgerry.

This is the seventh book in the Rex Graves series that began with Christmas Is Murder (2008) and it’s well worth the time of discerning devotees of traditional British mysteries.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 28 October 2014 07:10
Really the Blues
Eileen Brady

It’s 1944 in Paris and the Germans are making the city their own. Eddie Piron, a trumpet player from New Orleans, has been in France for ten years. He’s as much at home in the Montmartre jazz café La Caverne Negre as he was playing the hot spots in the French Quarter. But Eddie is also hiding a secret he thought he left back in Louisiana, a secret he’s kept from everyone, including his aristocratic French girlfriend Carla de Villiers.

Author Joseph Koenig has taken his time to set the mood in Really the Blues, drawing us into Eddie’s day-to-day life as the ugly realities of Nazi occupation become clear. Will Eddie join those who strike out at the Germans or will he keep his head down and leave others to fight? Circumstances change for him when someone discovers the real reason he left the United States.

Koenig’s characters are well drawn, from the club owner, Roquentin, who’d rather burn his place down than hand it over to enemy to the Nazi officers, Major Weiler and Colonel Maier, who each have a different plan in mind for the City of Light.

In a strange twist, we learn many of the SS troops are fond of “negermusik” as they call American jazz. Music is the glue that binds all these characters together, until it’s ripped apart by resistance fighters trying to take back their city. From the dedication to Ferdinand Joseph Lamothe, better known as Jelly Roll Morton, to the mention of other jazz greats like Louis Armstrong and gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt, who fled for his life during the war, It’s obvious that the author has a love for music and the people who play it. Mystery and history buffs alike will enjoy Koenig’s attention to period detail and strong storytelling in this satisfying read.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 28 October 2014 07:10
Unraveled Visions
Sheila M. Merritt

Unraveled Visions is a mystical mystery in which author Nina Milton has conjured up a whodunit with supernatural undertones. Sabbie Dare is an English shamanic counselor who uses New Age broadening-of-consciousness techniques to help her clients. She resides in the Somerset town of Bridgewater, which is shaken when the drowned body of an unknown woman is discovered and the detective on the case is subsequently shot to death at the town’s local festival.

On the night of the shooting, a Romany woman read Sabbie’s palm, and foretold danger. When the palmist goes missing, her sister enlists Sabbie’s assistance in lieu of going to the authorities. The Romany are immigrants who fear and distrust the police. Sabbie employs rituals to find symbolic clues—but also turns to more down-to-earth sleuthing by taking an undercover job at the shady Bulgarian restaurant where the palm reader and her sister worked. Employee abuse is rampant at the eatery and the owners are engaged in illegal activities that present dangerous ramifications for Sabbie.

Running parallel to this plot is a thread concerning a former client of Sabbie’s who has fallen into the clutches of a shady minister. As with her involvement in the gypsy sisters’s troubles, injustice motivates Sabbie to take action.

It’s impossible to refrain from rooting for such a plucky protagonist. Sabbie is the product of a troubled interracial couple and she grew up in foster care. Courage runs through her veins and an impassioned nature rules her heart—something Detective Sergeant Rey Buckley knows from experience with the attractive young shaman whom he finds as intractable as she is curious.

Nina Milton skillfully integrates the shamanistic elements into her mystery making this sequel to last year’s In the Moors an absorbing tale. The return of Sabbie Dare is awaited with interest.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 28 October 2014 08:10
Confessions
Hank Wagner

The basis for the critically acclaimed 2010 Japanese film of the same name, Confessions recalls another film, the 1950 classic movie Rashomon, in that it recounts certain events from several different perspectives, including those of a teacher, a handful of her students, and the mother of one of those students.

As each narrative unfurls, readers learn more details about the central events of the novel: the tragic death of the teacher’s daughter, the horrible revenge she takes on the students she believes are responsible, and the unsettling collateral damage caused by both. The result is chilling and compelling, tense and intimate, as Kanae Minato thoroughly explores the psyches of each of her narrators, providing numerous moments of uncomfortable frisson as the book hurtles toward its dark, disturbing climax.

A book that demands to be read in a single sitting, Confessions is not for the faint of heart, but definitely for those who appreciate good writing and a surprise or two (or three, or four…).

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 28 October 2014 08:10
Dagger Award Winners

mina denise2
The Specsavers Crime Writers' Association Dagger Awards always sound like a lot of fun. I mean, who can argue with an award for the best read of the year?

So, the winners of the Specsavers Crime Writers' Association Dagger Awards this week in London are:

Goldsboro Gold Dagger: This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash

Ian Fleming Steel Dagger: An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris

John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger: The Axeman's Jazz by Ray Celestin

Peter May won the Crime Thriller Book Club Best Read of the Year for Entry Island, which was chosen by a group of independent publishing experts from the Awards Academy.

In addition, Robert Harris and Denise Mina, left, were inducted into the CWA Hall of Fame in recognition of their contributions to the genre.

 

In the movie and TV categories:

Keeley Hawes for Line of DutyDagger for Best Actress

Matthew McConaughey for True Detective  Dagger for Best Actor

James Norton for Happy ValleyDagger for Best Supporting Actor

Amanda Abbington for Sherlock  Dagger for Best Supporting Actress

Happy ValleyDagger for Best TV Series

True DetectiveDagger for Best International TV Series

Cold in JulyDagger for Best Film

For the first time, an entire Midsomer Murders was inducted into the Hall of Fame, and the cast and crew were there to collect the award.


This is a true red-carpet event—and I love that it celebrates all forms of the mystery genre. The event, held at London’s Grosvenor House Hotel, was attended by actors, writers, and producers from the world of crime TV and fiction.

Oline Cogdill
Wednesday, 29 October 2014 12:10
2014 Anthony, Shamus, Macavity Winners

The Anthony Awards, given during Bouchercon, the Shamus Awards from the Private Eye Writers of America, and the Macavity Awards from Mystery Readers International are among the mystery genre’s highest awards.

Here are the winners who were honored during Bouchercon 2014 in Long Beach, California. The Shamus winners were announced during the PWA banquet held the weekend of Bouchercon.

We congratulate the winners and the nominees. Here is a full list of the novels nominated for an Anthony Award.

ANTHONY AWARD WINNERS

krueger ordinarygrace
Best Novel

William Kent Krueger, Ordinary Grace

Best First Novel
Matt Coyle, Yesterday’s Echo

Best Paperback Original Novel
Catriona McPherson, As She Left It

Best Short Story
John Connolly, “The Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository”

Best Critical or Non-Fiction Work
Daniel Stashower, The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War

Best Children’s or Young Adult Novel
Joelle Charbonneau, The Testing

Best Television Episode Teleplay First Aired in 2013
Jon Bokenkamp, The Blacklist, Pilot

Best Audio Book
Robert Glenister, reading The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

 

 


SHAMUS AWARD WINNERS
(Here's a full list of the novels nominated for the Shamus Award)

Best Hardcover PI Novel
Brad Parks, The Good Cop 

Best First PI Novel

Lachlan Smith, Bear Is Broken 

Best Original Paperback PI Novel

P.J. Parrish, Heart of Ice

Best PI Short Story

Max Allan Collins and Mickey Spillane, “So Long, Chief”

Best Indie PI Novel

M. Ruth Myers, Don’t Dare a Dame 

 


MACAVITY AWARD WINNERS

Best Mystery Novel
William Kent Krueger, Ordinary Grace

Best First Mystery

Terry Shames, A Killing at Cotton Hill

Best Mystery Short Story

Art Taylor, "The Care and Feeding of Houseplants"

Best Nonfiction
Daniel Stashower, The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War

Sue Feder Historical Mystery Award
David Morrell, Murder as a Fine Art

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oline Cogdill
Saturday, 15 November 2014 05:11