Werewolf Cop
Sheila M. Merritt

In Andrew Klavan’s novel Werewolf Cop, Zach Adams and Martin Goulart are agents for Homeland Security’s Extraordinary Crimes Division based in New York City. Former Texan Zach, known as “The Cowboy,” is a family man with a devout Christian wife. Divorced and proudly politically incorrect, Goulart embodies his nickname of “Broadway Joe.” The duo complement one another despite their personality differences, and work in harmony solving cases that baffle others—until Goulart id suspected of leaking confidential information to their target, the international criminal mastermind Dominic Abend.

Zach is anguished by adulterous guilt stemming from a secret quickie, but is soon plagued by a bigger problem: While investigating a lead on Abend in Germany, he is attacked by a werewolf. From there, things get really hairy. The attack in Germany and Zach’s subsequent lupine transformations are graphic and chilling.

Klavan’s characters are finely etched, lending verisimilitude to the supernatural elements of the story. The narrative’s women are particularly intriguing: Zach’s wife Grace personifies strength of purpose, and his boss, Rebecca Abraham-Hartwell, is a properly tenacious director of Extraordinary Crimes. Even his fling, Margo Heatherton, wielding wild ultimatums while attempting to ensnare him, is a smart sociopath.

Incorporated throughout the yarn is philosophical rumination on the nature of sin, imparting a murky gravitas to the plot. That, and a denouement in which there is too much metaphysical conjecturing, detract from the book’s strengths.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-07 23:12:40
Shadow of the Raven
Eileen Brady

Historical accuracy is what we’ve come to expect from author Tessa Harris, and she delivers in this fifth installment of the Dr. Thomas Silkstone series. Set in late 18th-century England, Shadow of the Raven begins with the murder of Jeffrey Turgoose, a well-respected land surveyor. The American Dr. Silkstone, an anatomist, is asked by Turgoose’s good friend Sir Theodisius, to perform the autopsy. Have the people of the village of Brandwick taken revenge for the proposed fencing in of the surrounding woods which threatens their livelihoods, or is there a different motive?

As an outsider, Dr. Silkstone moves freely between the peasants and the gentry, ministering to both. He is familiar with the area, because his lost love, Lady Lydia Farrell, inherited the neighboring estate of Boughton, now run by Sir Montagu Malthus. His search for and subsequent meeting with her in the infamous Bedlam Hospital for the insane sheds light on a tragic fact of life of this era that I never knew: many sane women ended up institutionalized, committed by husbands or relatives.

For a small sum, doctors would declare a woman insane. Once locked up, she could be stripped of her wealth and property, and basically left to rot—a fact taken advantage of by Montagu. Cast-off mistresses, barren wives, and forgotten aristocrats mix with self-proclaimed witches and the mentally ill inmates. The heroine Lady Lydia is shackled, and regularly bled and purged until she is barely recognizable. By the time Thomas finds her, it is almost too late.

Of all the characters, Dr. Thomas Silkstone is particularly sympathetic, along with Lady Lydia and the warring peasants who are nicely drawn. As a villain, Sir Montagu has few redeeming qualities. Did he win this round? The cliffhanger ending will make you wonder.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-07 23:17:45
The Pocket Wife
Sharon Magee

Once in a while a book comes along that puts the reader so intimately in the protagonist’s head that they feel they are that character. Such is the case with Susan Crawford’s psychological thriller The Pocket Wife. Dana Catrell suffers from manic depression so severe she feels desperately close to the edge. The murder of her neighbor, Celia, just may have pushed her over. Dana, who was the last person to see her alive, only remembers a drunken screaming match. She can’t quite remember what happened, but believes she might have been so angry that she bashed her friend over the head with a vase.

Adding to Dana’s troubled state is her husband, who locks himself in the bathroom to hold whispered conversations on the phone. Dana is sure he’s having an affair, maybe even with Celia or a mystery woman Dana calls “The Tart.” Enter Jack Moss, the homicide detective assigned to Celia’s murder case. He’s suffering his own demons: a divorce and a recent separation, estrangement from one son, and the death of his other who was killed in Afghanistan. And he’s being badgered to close the case by an ambitious assistant district attorney, Lenora White, who has her sights on success and a promotion.

As pressures around Dana mount, she increasingly loses track of what is reality and what is not. She only knows she must figure out if she murdered Celia. And if not—then who did?

First-time novelist Crawford has the ability to put you inside the minds of her complex and fascinating characters, especially the manic Dana. Beautifully plotted with several didn’t-see-thatcoming twists, she keeps readers guessing until the breathtaking reveal.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-07 23:24:00
Things Half in Shadow
Sheila M. Merritt

Things Half in Shadow is set in the Philadelphia of 1869, where the specter of the Civil War remains a haunting presence. Many who have lost loved ones in the war seek solace in Spiritualism and the belief that loved ones can communicate from the afterlife. Crime reporter Edward Clark is a war veteran dispatched by his editor to expose the fraudulent mediums who prey on those in mourning.

When Clark attends a séance where a highly esteemed medium is murdered, he and his fellow guest, a stunning and conniving faux Spiritualist named Lucy Collins, become suspects in the locked-room mystery. The pair join forces to find the killer and clear their names. Clark is alternately entranced and exasperated by the cunning and manipulative Collins, who is a stark contrast to Violet Willoughby, his lovely and sweet fiancée.

Revelations about Clark’s own mysterious past connect to more than one murder in Things Half in Shadow. It’s revealed that Clark has adopted a new identity to mask a scandalous tragedy that occurred in his childhood, and author Finn adroitly ties those plot threads together.

Finn also does a superlative job in richly evoking the period, and peppering the narrative with historical figures such as the American photographer Matthew Brady and entertainment entrepreneur P.T. Barnum. Ultimately though, the characters who most enrich this highly entertaining novel are the complex and fascinating Edward Clark and Lucy Collins. Fortunately, Finn has them poised to return in the sequel.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-08 11:59:30
The Witch Hunter’s Tale
Robin Agnew

I’ve now read all three of Sam Thomas’ books about Bridget Hodgson, a midwife in York, England, in the 1640s at the height of the English Civil War. Wars make for good drama, with many things in flux, and such is the case with Thomas’ latest mystery, his best to date, in which his narrative skills keep pace with his knowledge as a historian.

This novel finds the city in an uproar over the hunting down, prosecution, and hanging of witches blamed for spreading a deathly illness. While today we would think of these persecuted women as harmless, dispossessed, probably friendless and old, in the 1640s witchcraft was no joke. One of the things Thomas absolutely excels at is giving his characters opinions that seem like views people of the time would have had. Here, Bridget’s belief in witches is absolute, while her midwifery assistant Martha (who appeared on Bridget’s doorstep in the first novel and has become an increasingly important character) is much more of a skeptic.

As any faithful reader of mysteries knows, it’s this yin and yang that makes for a strong pairing and dynamic storytelling, and Bridget and Martha are no exception to the rule. Their struggle to understand each other (outside the birthing chamber) often revolves around Martha’s willingness to bend rules or custom when it is expedient, and Bridget’s hewing to the letter of the law.

As the persecution of witches continues, Bridget’s family comes under attack and her nephew Will is placed in danger. Bridget has lost her naturally born children and her husband to death, but she’s found healing and family with Will, Martha, and the adoption of little Elizabeth. Bridget’s behind-the-scenes scheming to save Will finds her pairing up with old enemies and frenemies, and taking (sometimes illegal) measures to save the ones she loves.

Thomas is a bit of a ruthless author, however, and none of his characters are ever really safe. His ruthlessness is a quality possessed by only the very best writers—it makes for an exciting, unpredictable story. This one puts the upheaval and heartbreak of Bridget and Martha’s life in Puritan England at its center. Along the way you’ll learn a bit about 17th century midwifery and the persecution of witches, but you’ll come away from this book remembering the vivid characters and story. Sam Thomas is definitely a new historical author to keep an eye on.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-08 12:10:07
Cuba Straits
R. T. Davis

Following in the impressive wake of 21 previous Doc Ford novels, the latest thriller from Randy Wayne White features the irrepressible marine biologist leaving the safety of his South Florida home on Sanibel Island, traveling to nearby Cuba (ostensibly searching for endangered turtles but actually looking for something powerful and dangerous), and cooking up another not-to-bemissed adventure.

Here are some of the ingredients for Ford’s recipe for excitement and danger: begin with a Latin American revolutionary who seems to be involved in smuggling Cuban baseball players into the United States; add a somewhat insane and over-the-hill Cuban baseball player with a prison record; mix in a psychotic and very dangerous Russian intelligence agent; throw in a Santeria priest who happens also to be overly fond of small girls; and, of course, include Ford’s stoner buddy Tomlinson, who cannot resist the temptation to look for Cuban buried treasure (machine guns and Harley-Davidson motorcycles).

You may be thinking, what more could a reader want? But wait a moment, because there are a few more ingredients to consider: two Cuban children adrift in the waters south of Key West, a briefcase full of decades-old love letters from the Castro brothers to a mysterious woman, and (just to spice things up a bit further) evidence that Cuba had some involvement in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Finally, there is this: given recent news about the possible changes to American- Cuban relations—which is a marketer’s dream for the release of White’s latest novel—readers will have all the more reason to enjoy the intriguing settings, colorful characters, and eye-opening geopolitical dramas. When you mix everything together, you have a ready-to-serve and highly recommended first-class adventure. Enjoy!

Teri Duerr
2015-03-08 12:16:01
The Beige Man
Jordan Foster

Even with our worst winter storms, it’s rare that Americans in the lower 48 states experience the kind of bone-chilling cold that Swedes contend with every winter. It’s nearly Christmas in Göteborg and Detective Inspector Irene Huss and her colleagues in the Violent Crimes Unit are ready for a break. While no case involving the loss of life is easy, their latest investigation at least seems straightforward, albeit tragic: two young men steal a car off a crowded street, hit a pedestrian while attempting to evade police, and then torch the car before abandoning it in the woods.

Of course, nothing is ever simple in a crime novel. Not only is the hit-and-run victim a retired cop, Torleif Sandberg (known around the station as “Muesli” for his healthy eating habits), but when officers search the area around the abandoned car, they discover the body of a murdered girl. The investigation soon balloons into a multiple-task-force inquiry that stretches beyond car theft and vehicular homicide into the dark and dangerous world of human trafficking, where young girls, often from Eastern Europe, are bought and sold as sex slaves. Tursten underscores that the trafficking business is second only to narcotics—to which it is often closely linked—in yearly profits. Huss’ investigation takes her from frigid Sweden to the warmer climes of the Spanish island Tenerife—though the sunnier weather doesn’t make the sale of girls for sex (or worse, as she soon discovers) any more palatable.

In this excellent seventh entry in the series (originally published in Sweden in 2007), Tursten paints a compelling, flawed, and empathetic heroine who’s also very appealing. DI Huss is the kind of cop that we’d all want investigating our case.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-08 12:21:06
The Honest Folk of Guadeloupe
Betty Webb

In this intriguing novel set in 1990 on a collection of French islands in the Caribbean, the title phrase is used with considerable irony. Times are hard for the islanders (Indian, black, Creole, English, French), because to climb their way out of tin-roof-shack poverty they have to be either liars, thieves, or involved in the tourist trade.

When the body of a beautiful French tourist is found near a popular beach, everyone—especially government officials—goes into full cover-up mode. One of the only people interested in an honest solution to the crime is judge Anne Marie Laveaud. Under the French system of justice, the judge serves as an investigator, much like a US police detective, only with considerably more politics involved. Orders from on high cut short Laveaud’s previous investigation of politician Rudolphe Dugan’s presumed suicide, and now, facing obstacles from all quarters on both investigations, the judge must decide what is more important to her—her daughter, her career, or her pursuit of justice.

The Honest Folk of Guadeloupe is a fascinating book, partially because most of its characters are the opposite of honest. Even Laveaud, who was born in Algiers and raised in Paris, has secrets she must sometimes make compromises in order to keep.

The book serves as a nice respite from the US legal thriller genre by giving us a peek into the French legal system in the Caribbean. American readers unfamiliar with the Napoleonic Code will be intrigued by the serpentine pathways Laveaud must maneuver in order to achieve an honest verdict, a system that was set up by Napoleon himself to bring justice to the poor as well as the wealthy. That was the plan, anyway.

But, as rendered here, the Guadeloupe of 1990 is no egalitarian paradise. Although the islands that make up the French colonies may be lush and blessed with pristine beaches, they are a racial, cultural, and political quagmire only the brave and nimble-footed can successfully navigate. Fortunately for the hurting souls seeking her help, Anne Marie Laveaud is up to the task.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-08 12:38:15

williamshonestfolkofguadeloupeA fascinating look at the French legal system and the judge who navigates it in this novel set in the Caribbean

The Chessmen
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

When a small plane with the remains of a long-dead and apparently murdered pilot bobs to the surface of a loch in the Scottish Hebrides after a “bog burst,” ex-Detective Inspector Fin Macleod becomes an active participant in an investigation that’s full of twists, turns, and surprises. Although only recently returned to his native soil and hired as a security officer by a local landowner, Fin was a good friend of the pilot in their youth and knows many of the people on the island, most of whom remember the 20-year-old mystery of the missing plane.

Fin’s good friend, Whistler Macaskill, reacts very strangely when they inspect the wreckage together, and the mystery deepens. Before all is said and done, another murder occurs, and another whodunit needs to be investigated.

This intriguing story alternates between the present, the past, and the distant past, skillfully introducing all of the characters and motives that will play an integral part in the solution of the mysteries. It is powerfully written, both in the descriptions of the barren landscape and the complicated and constantly changing relationships of the primary people involved.

My only criticism of the book is that it wasn’t immediately clear from chapter to chapter whether we were in the past or the present, and I was a bit thrown when the story switched from third-person narrative to first person, and then back again. However, don’t let that deter you. The final chapters are both intriguing and moving.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-08 12:42:20
Little Black Lies
Vanessa Orr

If you liked the movie The Sixth Sense, you will like Little Black Lies, which has a worthy twist at the end. Zoe Goldman is a psychiatrist haunted by childhood memories of a fire that killed her birth mother—or at least that’s how she remembers it. But when she meets a new patient, a sociopath who killed her own mother, it triggers new memories of the fire which raise questions about what really happened.

The reader joins Zoe in her quest to unlock her past, sharing in her frustration when hypnotic regression fails to help or questions posed to the mother who raised her—who is now suffering from dementia—go unanswered. The fact that Zoe is on a number of medications also adds to the confusion, as the reader can’t always be sure that Zoe’s perceptions are accurate. Her brain is, as she says, “on spin cycle.”

This is a very fast-paced book, and Sandra Block does an excellent job of pulling the reader along with Zoe as she tries to get to the heart of what happened. Block is a master of description and uses Zoe’s perceptions to introduce the reader to her world, detailing Zoe’s psychiatrist’s office (it resembles the “inside of a yacht”) or her mother’s care home (a “huge Victorian tearoom…with happy mauve peasants playing flutes and toiling in the fields”). Zoe is also self-deprecating and funny, which adds a welcome note of levity to a story about madness and murder. The surrounding characters are also well-drawn, from her brother Scotty to the other medical residents to Sophia, Zoe’s enigmatic new patient.

I was surprised to learn that this was Block’s first novel, as it is quite an impressive debut. The story kept me hooked. I’m looking forward to seeing more from this new talent.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-08 12:49:08
2015-03-08-13-54-27
Teri Duerr
2015-03-08 13:54:27
The First Wife
Sharon Magee

Erica Spindler began her literary life as a romance writer and it’s evident in The First Wife. While classified as suspense, it could more correctly be called romantic suspense—heavy on the romance.

Bailey Browne has always dreamed of being swept away by a knight in shining armor. While vacationing in the Grand Cayman Islands, she meets Logan Abbott, the dark and brooding owner of a Louisiana horse farm, sleeps with him within hours of their meeting, and marries him within days.

When he whisks her away to what she anticipates will be an idyllic life, she finds it anything but. Logan’s first wife, True, disappeared a few years back, something he’d neglected to mention. When confronted, he claims she was having an affair and left him; others, including Sheriff Billy Ray Williams, believe he killed her. Williams, who was obsessed with True, is on a mission to prove Logan’s guilt and to pin the disappearance of several other young women on him as well. Locals whisper to Bailey that she may be in danger of becoming Logan’s next victim.

After Bailey is knocked unconscious in a riding accident, she is unable to remember anything about what happened. But the family’s retainer is dead and she is covered in his blood. Bailey knows she must regain her memory to learn the truth about her husband and how the retainer’s murder fits into the puzzle of the missing women.

Spindler, a New York Times bestselling author with 30 published novels, has a way of keeping the reader guessing right to the end. Readers who like their mysteries peppered with a healthy dose of romance will find this the perfect book.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-08 13:57:24
Before He Finds Her
Jordan Foster

Sometimes family secrets are best left buried. Eighteen-year-old Melanie Denison knows this better than most. For the past decade and a half, she’s lived a secluded life in a tiny West Virginia town with her aunt and uncle, unable to enjoy any of the luxuries most teenagers take for granted. She can’t travel, use the Internet, or even apply to college, all because, 15 years ago, her father, Ramsey Miller, murdered his wife and, as far as everyone else knows, his three-year-old daughter, Meg (now known as Melanie).

Tired of living on such a short leash under the constant threat of her father’s return, Melanie decides not only to come out of hiding, but to solve her mother’s murder. Michael Kardos ably shifts back and forth between Melanie’s present-day investigation and the days and weeks leading up to Ramsey Miller’s crime. Melanie is a particularly clumsy amateur detective, given her extremely sheltered upbringing (seemingly without the presence of any crime television staples like Law & Order).

The deteriorating relationship between Ramsey and his wife, Allie, as well as his series of dead-end jobs, is a surprisingly more compelling story line than Melanie’s quest to uncover her past—even though Kardos does introduce several satisfying plot twists in the latter story line that will throw readers for a loop.

Each of the characters, in their own way, spends the narrative clinging to an idea on which their entire life is built, only to discover—often in the most painful, heartrending ways imaginable—that this thing they’re holding on to so tightly is actually a lie. It takes only takes one tiny shift, one bit of new information, for Melanie’s whole world to come crashing down.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-08 14:03:21
Her
Vanessa Orr

When rich, beautiful, and sophisticated Nina decides to befriend Emma, an overworked, exhausted mother of two young children, Emma isn’t sure why Nina would want her friendship. Instead of questioning it too deeply, however, she lets Nina into her life—and it’s easy to understand why. Despite having a husband and two little ones, Emma’s lonely at home. She misses her career and her friends, and her larger sense of self has been superseded by her role as a mother, leaving her wondering if that’s all that there is. Nina plays Emma like a violin: helping when necessary, coming to the rescue often, and giving Emma a glimpse into a more glamorous, fulfilling life.

The story is told through the eyes of both women, with each narrating the same incidents in alternating chapters. While this is an interesting approach, in time, it becomes far too repetitious. Harriet Lane would have done better to condense the detail in each chapter so that the reader was not going over much of the same territory again and again. I often wasn’t sure which woman was narrating, because so many of the details were the same. On the plus side, it was interesting to get a look into Nina’s mind as she plotted ways in which to manipulate Emma, including luring her toddler away so that she could return him, heroically, to his mother.

While the plot isn’t overly original, I kept reading this book because I, too, wanted to know why Nina was obsessed with Emma. Unfortunately, Lane doesn’t let the reader know much of the backstory until the book is almost over and even then, I found the reveal to be a disappointment. Nina’s need for revenge against Emma seemed a stretch, and not worth the effort that she put into ruining the other woman’s life. Instead of answering the question “Why?” it left me wondering, “Why bother?

Teri Duerr
2015-03-08 14:53:02
Night Life
Eileen Brady

Night Life is an impressive debut mystery by author David C. Taylor, who gets the mood of ’50-era New York City just right. It’s 1954, J. Edgar Hoover is the head of the FBI, and everybody smokes in hospitals, including the doctors. America is obsessed with commies, thanks to the House Un-American Activities Committee and Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin. Because of a confrontation with Roy Cohn (McCarthy’s lawyer), cop Michael Cassidy is now on the committee’s radar.

Cassidy is a no-nonsense guy, who’s famous in the department for once throwing another cop out a window. Hailing from a privileged theater background, he’s been familiar with all the downtown late-night haunts since he was a kid. So when a Broadway dancer is found dead, Cassidy is assigned the case. Right from the beginning things go wrong and he’s viciously attacked by a knife-wielding thug while searching the victim’s apartment. Things go from bad to really bad as the FBI, CIA, and mob boss Frank Costello muscle in on the investigation. The only good thing to come of it is meeting Dylan McCue, his beautiful new neighbor. Dylan is a welder, who works for Carlos Ribera, a Cuban modernist artist whose metal sculptures are all the rage. But is the smart and savvy lady too good to be true?

Night Life is a love letter to a bygone New York, and Taylor does a great job of taking us back to 1954, from drinking at the White Horse Tavern to hoisting a few at the male-only McSorley’s, whose sawdust covered floors provided a hangout for so many famous writers and reporters over the years. Anyone familiar with Broadway will appreciate the backstage references and the character of theater producer Tom Cassidy. Throw in a mysterious lady in red and a juicy scandal, and you have an entertaining story with nonstop action.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-08 14:58:44
The Tapestry
Sharon Magee

This is Nancy Bilyeau’s third installment of the trials and tribulations of former novice of the Dominican order and aristocrat Joanna Stafford. After having her priory demolished by decree of King Henry VIII during the English Reformation, Joanna finds herself living contentedly in the small English town of Dartford, weaving elegant tapestries that provide her an income.

When the king, who is a distant cousin, orders her to the Palace of Whitehall in London to receive a commission for a tapestry, she has mixed emotions. She’s not a fan of King Henry, but she is anxious to see her cousin, Catherine Howard, who is one of the queen’s maids of honor. And she knows it’s not wise to ignore a kingly order.

While she travels, she feels watched, but sees no one. Upon arriving at Whitehall’s gatehouse, a page offers to take her to the Keeper of the Great Wardrobe, who is in charge of tapestries. Instead he leads her to an outbuilding where he attempts to kill her. She’s rescued by Thomas Culpepper. It’s clear someone wants her dead, but she doesn’t know why. The royal court is filled with rumors, treachery, and intrigue, and men—and women—with hidden agendas. Not knowing whom she can trust, Joanna sets to unravel the mystery with the help of Constable Geoffrey Scovill, a friend and former suitor from Dartford.

It’s obvious that the award-winning Bilyeau knows her English history. In this meticulously researched Tudor thriller, the names of the real-life characters who populated Henry VIII’s court come fast and furious. In addition to Catherine Howard and Thomas Culpepper, figures include Lord of the Privy Thomas Cromwell, Bishop Stephen Gardiner, Archbishop Thomas Kranmer, Sir Walter Hungerford, and Anne of Cleves, the king’s sad fourth wife caught in a six-month unconsummated marriage. With the many references and situations that refer back to the first two books in the series, it’s recommended that those books be read first.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-08 15:11:16
The Winter Foundlings
Jordan Foster

London-based psychologist Alice Quentin should wear a badge that says, “Caution: I attract serial killers.” And yet, even though readers are aware of her, for lack of a better phrase, magnetism for nutters, Alice herself seems blissfully, even stubbornly, oblivious. Perhaps that’s why, instead of deciding to recuperate from the unsettling events of A Killing of Angels (hint: a serial killer was involved) in the protective arms of academia, or even on some tropical isle, she decides to study the worst of the worst, at Northwood, a high-security psychiatric hospital outside of London. There are three high-security psychiatric hospitals in the UK after which Northwood was most likely modeled: Ashwood, which houses Moors Murderer Ian Brady; Broadmoor, which houses Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe; and Rampton.

Even though Alice swears off police work—particularly the gruff charm of DI Don Burns—it’s inevitable she’ll be sucked back in when little girls start disappearing off the streets in North London, the stomping ground of convicted child killer Louis Kinsella, who just happens to be locked up at Northwood.

The scenes between Alice and Kinsella—who, of course, deigns only to speak to Alice and communicates to the rest of the staff via haughty and condescending notes—owe a bit too much to Clarice Starling and Dr. Lecter’s quid pro quo chats in The Silence of the Lambs, and further drive home how little power Alice actually wields in her own story. Kinsella is very clearly the puppet master from the beginning, which in and of itself is not a revolutionary concept, but does allow room for exploration, should Rhodes decide to take the less expected route (disappointingly, she does not).

Alice races to find the person responsible for the new spate of abductions, and nail down the connection between the kidnapper at large and Kinsella. Rhodes includes interstitial chapters detailing the increasingly harrowing ordeal of ten-year-old Ella, one of the kidnapped girls. But while these ratchet up the suspense early on, they later serve to slow down an already meandering plot. After this case, someone may want to suggest that Alice change careers.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-08 15:16:25
Everybody Goes to Jimmy’s

It’s 1932 in New York City. The Depression has set in, and gangsters and speakeasies are in vogue. Jimmy Quinn, a young man who survived the 1920 bombing on Wall Street while acting as a runner for racketeer Arnold Rothstein, now owns and operates his own successful Manhattan speakeasy. One day, a mysterious package containing books with indecipherable numbers in them arrives addressed to him. Soon after, a bomb explodes outside his club, and the mystery begins.

Before long, a variety of bad guys from New York thugs to Nazis arrive with varying degrees of threats, offers, and general skullduggery. Jimmy is just trying to figure out what it’s all about without being killed in the process. Before all is said and done, another package arrives, and things go from bad to worse for Jimmy.

In many ways, this reminds me of the old Jimmy Cagney-Humphrey Bogart movies of the 1930s, where there was a thin line between crooks and cops and some women were dames who couldn’t be trusted. Mayo has an uncanny knack of nailing the dialogue and jargon of the era so that it all seems real, in a movie-style kind of way.

Although there’s no murder to be solved here, the mystery is nonetheless intriguing, and the writing is crisp and fast moving.

This is the second book in the series that began with Jimmy the Stick. Mayo has written about film for a number of newspapers and radio shows, and is the author of Murder: Criminals, Crime, and the Media.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-08 15:25:32
Down Don’t Bother Me
Vanessa Orr

Jason Miller is probably best known as one half of the Miller Brothers writing team that creates the graphic novel RedBall 6, but I think that’s about to change. In his first novel, set in the hardly welcoming world of southern Illinois coal country, he is funny, smart, and extremely self-assured in his writing, creating a book that is almost as addicting as the meth that has taken over the town of Little Egypt, Illinois.

Down Don’t Bother Me, a series debut, features Slim, a lifelong miner who is known for his talent in “bloodhounding,” or finding people who have gone missing. As a result, after a newspaper reporter is killed in the mine, Slim is approached by the mine’s owner to find the reporter’s missing photographer colleague, who also happens to be his son-in-law.

Along the way, Slim has to deal with angry miners, meth dealers, corrupt cops, gun nuts, and more—and more often than not, he finds himself on their bad side. He is supported in his quest by his girlfriend Peggy, his 12-year-old daughter Anci, and his best friend Jeep Mabry. These are characters who in lesser hands might become stereotypes, but instead reflect real strengths and weaknesses—as well as somewhat resigned views of being pulled along by Slim’s inability to “leave it lie.”

Readers will learn a lot about coal mining and its effects on the environment—serious topics that Miller manages to make interesting while enlightening the reader on the damages that can occur when mine owners and regulators turn a blind eye. While this book won’t make anyone want to live this type of life—even Slim “hates it like poison”—it does make the reader want to return to this grimy setting just to spend more time with this hard-luck, smart-mouthed miner.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-08 15:31:21
The Violent Century
Kevin Burton Smith

Don’t get me wrong. I love comics. Love ’em. But this clever retelling of our just-passed “violent” century, with its heavy emphasis on World War II, the Holocaust, and the Cold War, full of superhero derring-do baked right into the mix, didn’t quite do it for me. Still, I give it props for its ambitions, combining as it does history, comic books, B movies, detective novels, spy thrillers, and all sorts of other good stuff.

Following a never-quite-explained “change” in the 1930s, an unknown number of people develop assorted powers. Henry, an awkward, sensitive English schoolboy, becomes Fogg, able to control smoke and fog, while Oblivion has gained the ability to make things “no longer exist.” The two chums are recruited by the Professor Xavier-like “Old Man” into the government’s Bureau of Superannuated Affairs, where they develop their powers for the glory of “God and King,”—just in time for World War II. There is a balance of power of sorts, however, with most nations—including the Nazis—boasting their own “heroes,” so history proceeds along mostly familiar lines.

It’s all relayed in a series of brief, disjointed, present-tense snippets and sentence fragments that flick back and forth in time, as the Old Man interrogates the long-retired Henry about a botched operation that occurred in postwar Berlin over 60 years ago.

There’s much here to boggle the mind, with plenty of rock-’em, sock-’em action, and the author has great fun with countless pop culture shout-outs and potshots, while the fleeting meditations on heroism, friendship, loyalty, and that damned emotion (love, of course) give the book some unexpected, if fleeting, depth. And it’s great yuks when a bad trip (Hey! It’s the ’60s!) leaves Oblivion imagining the world as…a two-dimensional comic book.

But the choppy flashbacks fail to mask the often rudimentary characterization. After endless X-Men movies, The Watchmen, V Is for Vendetta, etc.—and especially Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel MausThe Violent Century isn’t quite the head-spinner it might have been. Stripped of splashy Hollywood special effects, or the BIFF! BAM! POW! of illustration, the novel comes off as, well, nothing particularly novel. My suggestion? Wait for the movie.

Or better yet, the comic book.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-08 15:40:05
A Murder of Magpies
Eileen Brady

Anyone interested in publishing will enjoy Judith Flanders’ newest tongue-in-cheek mystery, A Murder of Magpies. Set in a fictitious London publishing house, Timmins & Ross, where no one shows up for work until ten, editor Samantha “Sam” Clair discovers one of her favorite writers, Kit Lovell, is missing. After a messenger delivering Kit’s completed manuscript turns up murdered, the police pay her a visit, in the form of attractive Inspector Jacob Field, CID.

As Sam tries to find out what dangerous information Kit discovered, what follows is a romp through London nightlife, and a stop with front-row seats at a Paris fashion show. Along the way we meet marketing people who can’t spell, readers who don’t like to read, and editors who hate everyone’s acquisitions but their own. Sam gets some help on her search from her lawyer mom Helena, neo-goth assistant Miranda, and her reclusive upstairs neighbor Pavel Rudiger, who has a secret of his own. On top of it all, poor Sam has to deal with one of her best-known authors, who has turned in a manuscript that everyone at the publishing house hates.

Do they risk telling their star writer Breda McManus just how bad her novel is? Author Flanders must have enjoyed writing this and it shows. Needless to say, there’s more silliness and a little romance before the surprise ending in this fluffy, funny mystery.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-08 15:46:29

flandersmurderofmagpiesA wry and winning debut mystery set in a fictitious London publishing house

Death in the Pines
Kevin Burton Smith

With its New England setting and its genetically engineered whiff of the supernatural, this one suggests John Connolly on a green jag.

Former big-shot Atlanta private eye Oakley Tyler has taken early retirement (à la Travis McGee), moving to a small cabin deep in the Vermont woods, deliberately off the grid, burned out after too many deaths (parents, fiancée, business partner), and too many years in the shamus game. He just wants to reconnect with something. Anything. But, as he hastens to tell an uninvited visitor, “this ain’t no Walden Pond.”

No kidding.

That visitor is Jeremiah Smith, a persnickety old coot, determined to hire Oakley. Seems Jeremiah’s worried that “the kind of men who think they got the right to play God” may be out to kill Jerry, a local newspaper reporter and his only “livin’ relative.” But Oakley’s hesitant to take on any clients, never mind some “aging hippie” who seems more than a little paranoid—if not outright crazy.

Then Jeremiah’s truck, parked down the hill aways blows up, and someone takes a couple of potshots at the two men. Suddenly, Jeremiah doesn’t seem quite as crazy.

It’s a good start to what promises to be a solid, fast-paced bit of woodsy noir, as Oakley squares off against Caleb Benson, a notoriously ruthless local timber tycoon. There’s plenty of familiar private- eye action here: a complicated romantic relationship (with a local waitress) for the hero, several dirty secrets, more than a little greed, some murders (of course), and some damn great characters, just dripping with local color.

But the author is apparently after bigger—or at least different—game. As Tyler heads off into the woods to track down the shooter, he stumbles across a young woman with long black hair, clad in buckskins, sitting on a rock. A woman who can walk in the snow and leave no tracks. She’s enigmatic as hell, and pops in and out of the story, apparent only to Oakley, full of jargon about Spirit and suggestions that her People have—and will—always be here. And to be kind to Mother Earth— a sentiment which complements Oakley’s investigation, which leads to a sobering look at the threat genetic engineering may pose to the environment.

I don’t know. I liked the book, and I admire the message, but I’m not convinced having it delivered by Pocahontas Barbie in a series of unnatural-feeling intrusions was the best move.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-09 00:55:02
Long Way Down
R. T. Davis

Murder, greed, and corruption—the tried-and-true triple-threat themes in compelling crime-detective-mystery fiction. These are the centerpieces of the newest novel from Michael Sears, an author with a 20-year Wall Street career and two previous thrillers (Mortal Bonds and Black Fridays) to his credit. When Long Way Down opens, investment fraud investigator Jason Stafford is asked to apply his considerable, albeit tarnished expertise in an inquiry that will either exonerate or imprison a wealthy biofuel researcher accused of insider trading.

Stafford, as narrator, succinctly boasts of his qualifications: “I fix things. I find things.” But he also admits, “I’m a bit of a loose cannon.” Furthermore, this loose cannon—not appreciating the considerable ironies involved— also admits to being somewhat too tolerant, skeptical, thoughtful, optimistic, romantic, and forgiving.

At any rate, as the action unfolds, some people with a huge stake in the big-money worlds of alternative energy and high finance are not very happy about Stafford’s investigation, and murder soon rears its ugly head.

Long Way Down is remarkable for its crisp, natural dialogue, as well as some excellent action and suspense (albeit of the testosterone-fueled variety). The subplot involving the narrator’s autistic six-year-old son adds a compelling human interest angle, though some readers might feel as though the plot flags a bit in the first half of the book during the necessary diversions into the narrator’s backstory and personal issues. Readers who are patient will find themselves rewarded by a timely tale in which the good, bad, and ugly intersections of crime and capitalism are showcased.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-09 01:02:43
The Accidental Alchemist
Sheila M. Merritt

Born in 1679, Zoe Faust has survived centuries of ordeals to find herself settling into a newly purchased Portland, Oregon, fixer-upper. Courtesy of The Elixir of Life, the alchemist’s appearance is that of someone in her thirties.

While Zoe is unpacking her boxes from France, she uncovers Dorian Robert-Houdin, a stowaway. Dorian is a three-foot-tall, living, breathing gargoyle who is a trained gourmet cook. An even more disconcerting discovery is the murdered man Zoe finds on her doorstep—her remodeling contractor Charles Macraith.

Dorian is reverting to his old statuary state, but an antique book that he has brought with him from France has information that could halt the process and keep him mobile. He’s relying on Zoe to decipher the text, but the tome is stolen in tandem with the murder of Macraith. The crime throws the community into upheaval and introduces Zoe to the attractive Portland detective Max Liu. As a secret practitioner of magic, though, Zoe is circumspect, which puts a strain on a potential romance with Max.

The Accidental Alchemist is a whimsical and charming supernatural mystery. The rapport between Gallic gourmet Dorian and Zoe is delectable, and Zoe’s chemistry with Detective Liu is sizzling.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-09 01:07:12
The Autumn Dead / The Night Remembers
Kevin Burton Smith

If Ed Gorman were a different type of writer, I’d call this a two-fisted collection, but Gorman’s not that kinda guy. Oh, he’ll sock it to you, all right, but you’ll never see it coming. Let’s face it. Any lout in a bar can spit in your face, punch you in the gut, or kick you in the, uh, guts, but it takes a real master to look you straight in the eye and KO you before you even know you’re in a fight.

This collection rounds up two of Gorman’s better novels, both of which aptly demonstrate the author’s long-recognized ability to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.

The Autumn Dead (1987) was Gorman’s fourth novel to feature Jack Dwyer, a private eye in a thinly disguised version of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. A former cop who developed a taste for acting, he quit the force, figuring being a gumshoe would give him more time to pursue his passion.

But Marlowe he’s not, and he soon takes a job with a security firm to keep the wolf from the door. And then Karen Lane, a high school sweetheart, waltzes back into his life, asking him to recover a suitcase she’d left with a previous lover, figuring the now middle-aged Jack—despite being in a solid relationship—won’t be able to resist her still considerable charms. And he can’t. At least at first. But the suitcase isn’t where it’s supposed to be, and Karen hasn’t exactly been telling him the whole truth.

There’s a solid mystery here, full of murder, rape, blackmail and old secrets, but the real mysteries lie within the complicated relationships between men and women, between past and present, between what we want and what we have. Through it all, Jack displays considerable empathy and a gentle humor as he plies his trade, and brings things to a emotionally satisfying ending.

But as satisfying as that one is, it’s The Night Remembers that’s the real treasure here, a cold and bloody hallelujah tempered by Gorman’s warmth and compassion. Sixty-four years old, recently retired from the sheriff’s office, Jack Walsh is an apartment house manager who does a little private eyeing on the side, while pursuing a relationship with Faith, a much younger woman who claims her young son is his. Yet one more case of the past calling dibs on the present—a frequent theme of Gorman’s.

But the big call from the past comes in the form of a visit from the wife of George Pennyfeather, a man Jack helped send to prison on a murder rap years ago. Lisa Pennyfeather still believes her husband is innocent, and now that he’s been released, wants Walsh to clear his name. Not surprisingly, Walsh is hesitant, but when a woman is killed behind the Pennyfeather’s house and all fingers point to George as the culprit, Jack begins to have doubts and starts to poke around. It does not go well.

Gorman’s work has always had a deep and heartfelt sense of tenderness and abiding humanity in it, and if you ask me, this is his masterpiece, a quietly powerful gem of a novel, full of real people living real lives, trying desperately to hang on to the little they have, and living with real hurt. Like much of Gorman’s work, it’s drenched in nostalgia and tinged with noir, a brooding contemplation of this train wreck of existence. But the delicate fragility of life is beautifully woven into a brooding, almost Leonard Cohen-esque song of lust, violence, regret, and redemption, all minor chords and major lifts.

If this one doesn’t move you, I’m sorry, but you just ain’t human.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-09 01:18:20