Tin Men
Betty Webb

In the near future, the United States uses robots to keep a troubled peace in a tough world. These robots are powered by soldiers who lie in a dreamlike state in a bunker below Wiesbaden, Germany, but whose minds—through the advances of modern technology—are transferred into heavily shielded metal carapaces. Acting as the world’s police force, albeit without the world’s permission, these “bots” or “tin men,” as they are called, work to destroy terrorist insurgents such as ISIS, while keeping at bay a rising tide of similarly violent anarchists.

The peacekeeping plan changes when a group of anarchists set off a global electromagnetic pulse that destroys electrical connections, thus rendering all forms of communications and most motor vehicles useless. The world is immediately plunged into chaos, and even the wealthy and powerful begin living a Dark Ages existence. Riots abound.

When a detail of tin men policing Damascus, Syria, discover they can’t return to their bodies until the power grid goes back up, they realize they have to get back to their base to help solve the problem. But first, they have to rescue the president of the United States, who has been attending the G20 summit in Athens.

If this plot seems outlandish, author Christopher Golden keeps it grounded through the strong characters of his tin men. Among them is Kate Wade, a US Army corporal who lost her legs serving in Afghanistan. Being a tin man has freed her from her wheelchair and allowed her to return to active duty. Danny Kelso loves the tin man life, too, even though he has dark memories of once destroying the wrong target—a child. Also of particular interest is 17-year-old Alexa Day, daughter of the US ambassador to Syria. When the compound is overrun and her father killed, Alexa proves surprisingly courageous.

The bulk of the action takes place as the tin men battle their way from Syria toward Athens, and, as you would expect, they leave a trail saturated with blood and metal. The humanity inside each of those metal carapaces gives readers good guys to root for and even a traitor (or two) to hiss at. Tin Men is an excellent high-tech follow-up to Golden’s terrifying Snowblind.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 21 July 2015 03:07
The Captive Condition
Betty Webb

Literary novels, horror, and humor seldom mix—fantasist Christopher Moore being one of the rare exceptions—but now comes Kevin P. Keating to deliver a brilliant novel so dark, yet so laugh-out-loud funny, that he’s close to inventing a new genre. Not that getting into his opus is easy.

From the opening 69-word-long first sentence, only slightly relieved by its 54-word-long follower, we are trapped in a wowser of a novel that ignores genre lines and plows right ahead into a farcical heart of darkness. At first, the setup doesn’t sound all that uncommon. Edmund Campion, a naive young student at a Jesuit prep school, is warned by his headmaster not to attend the college in the faraway town of Normandy Falls because of the burg’s bad reputation. The headmaster’s warning sounds so wildly over-the-top that Campion dismisses the man’s garish descriptions of mad scientists, haunted mansions, orgies, rapes, murders, and other insults to virtue. But as the book progresses, we realize the headmaster is a master of understatement. Normandy Falls is vile, and its effect on poor Campion is profound.

Within a year, the former star student is a drug-addicted drunkard working for the college’s landscape service. His dreams of writing the Great American Novel and/or a groundbreaking thesis on Flaubert’s Madame Bovary lie in ruins. In a style both brash and elegant—classical references abound in this wacky book—author Keating has a grand old time dragging Campion through the town’s moral sewer in scenes both horrific and hilarious. In one of them, the drug-addled Campion becomes convinced he’s channeling the spirit of a murdered woman and decides to play detective. It doesn’t end well.

As twisty and eye-popping as some of these scenes are, it’s the characters in the book who keep us glued to the pages. Notable are The Gonk, Campion’s secretive, violent boss who heads up a team of debauched yard workers known as the Ticks; Xavier D’Avignon, a carrot-obsessed chef, bootlegger, and drug dealer; and Lorelei, a stripper with a past as dark as her tattoos. Keating first broke on the literary scene with the highly praised The Natural Order of Things, which was described as a combination of Jack Ketchum and Jonathan Franzen. This second book, every bit as masterful, illustrates what might have happened to Holden Caulfield if he had wound up in Normandy Falls instead of the relatively virtuous New York City.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 21 July 2015 04:07
The Ice Twins
Vanessa Orr

This is a creepy book—and I mean that in the best possible way. Imagine a cross between Gone Girl and a Stephen King novel, and you’ll have some idea of what I’m talking about.

Angus and Sarah Moorcroft move with their daughter Kirstie to a cottage on a remote Scottish island after the girl’s identical twin, Lydia, dies in a freak accident. But when Kirstie starts claiming to be Lydia, the couple doesn’t know if it’s just a form of grief—or if they’ve made a horrible mistake.

Both Angus and Sarah are keeping secrets from each other, and while they are trying to rebuild their lives, their lack of communication threatens to topple their efforts.

The eeriness of the Scottish island on which the family’s dilapidated home is located adds a wonderful backdrop to the story. Not only is the family isolated with a mentally unstable daughter, but during a calamitous storm, there’s no way to get help without getting into a boat and braving towering waves. The weather builds to a frenzy just as the book reaches its climax. As the ceiling caves in, so do any preconceptions that the reader has about who is to blame for Lydia/Kirstie’s death.

Is the father at fault? The mother? Or does Kirstie really see the ghost of her dead sister, who she believes now lives in the cottage? While the story took a little while to get going, once it did, it was impossible to put down. Love, hate, betrayal, loss—this book has everything readers could want, including a spine-chilling ending.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 21 July 2015 04:07
The Truth and Other Lies
Vanessa Orr

Suspenseful and full of unexpected twists, The Truth and Other Lies is also quite funny—surprising considering that its main character is a serial killer. Written by Sascha Arango, one of Germany’s most prominent screenplay writers, it’s easy to see it being made into a movie, a rather dark comedy of errors.

Henry Hayden, a bestselling author, is beloved by almost everyone. Fans come to visit him in the small coastal town in which he and his wife, Martha, live. Wherever he goes, he is greeted with applause. Yet only he and Martha know that the books that feature his name are, in fact, written by her, the proverbial golden goose. Unfortunately for him, a pregnant mistress threatens to undo the pampered life he’s carefully built.

Henry’s solution to his problem (that someone has to die) goes terribly wrong, forcing him to work even harder to hold on to his old life as a number of people, including the police, his editor, and an enemy from his past, are slowly tearing it away. Even though Henry doesn’t deserve what he has, he’s not going to let go of it without a fight. And that’s one of the reasons that he’s so likable, even when he’s doing horrible things. You’re not supposed to appreciate a sociopath who calls his own future child “the amphibian,” and yet, the fact that he knows that he’s awful and makes no excuses for it is refreshing.

I truly enjoyed watching Henry try to lie his way out of every situation, and at times, found myself commiserating with him. Arango is careful to show Henry’s good side as well—he’s a generous friend and devoted husband—but I liked him most when he was at his worst. While I’d like to say I hoped that at the end of the book he would get caught and punished for his crimes…that would be a lie.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 21 July 2015 04:07
A Winsome Murder
Betty Webb

Deborah Ellison, a police officer’s daughter, is found dead outside Winsome Bay, Wisconsin, her body covered with wounds and tattoos, and her hand amputated. She had moved to Chicago years earlier, cutting off all contact with her parents and friends, and the Winsome police are puzzled as to why she returned home only to be murdered. But when other young women are found murdered in a similar fashion, it becomes apparent that a serial killer has begun a bloody campaign.

At first, no connection is apparent between the victims—some lived as far away as Chicago—but when Chicago detective James Mangan joins the case, he recognizes that at least two of the women are connected to American Forum Magazine. Mangan’s entrance gives author James DeVita the chance to up the literary tenor of the novel. The detective, who reads a lot, ruminates on Shakespeare quotations every time he sees a new corpse. Those that most frequently come to Mangan’s mind are from Titus Andronicus, in which both the heroine’s hands are amputated.

For a while, these literary allusions work well and add depth to the book, but as the action ramps up, they begin to get in the way—especially since Mangan can’t stop quoting Shakespeare (or Herman Melville) even in the midst of a shootout. This constant intrusion isn’t necessary, because Mangan is so verbally adept that he doesn’t need to rely on the Bard to get his point across. In one of the book’s best scenes, he faces down a barroom full of small-town bullies with a threat delivered as a delicious soliloquy. Watching him tear into the chief Bubba with words alone is even more effective than the punch he later delivers.

Given his verbal tics and solid detecting skills, Mangan makes a fine protagonist, but in A Winsome Murder DeVita introduces another cop who could give him a run for his money: Officer Michele Schaefer, of the Winsome Police Department. Although only a small-town cop, Schaefer—who first identified Deborah’s body—has cojones to match her big-city counterpart.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 21 July 2015 05:07

devitaawinsomemurderA big-city detective and a small-town cop are drawn together by murder in Winsome Bay, Wisconsin.

Innocent Blood
Betty Webb

Fact merges with fiction in Michael Lister’s Innocent Blood, which takes a look at the real-life Atlanta Child Murders that terrorized the city in 1980. It asks the question: Was Wayne Williams really responsible for those murders? Told as a prequel to Lister’s popular John Jordan mysteries, we meet Jordan as a 12-year-old who runs into Wayne Williams at the height of Williams’ presumed killing spree. Then, when he’s older, Jordan launches into a self-propelled investigation into the case. When writing a fictional account of a true case, it’s easy to get caught up in the kinds of details that can bring a plot to a standstill, but Lister keeps the story moving while managing to fill us in on the relevant facts, among them the reminder that Williams was never convicted of the murder of any child, let alone the 20-plus children he is suspected of killing. (Williams was convicted and sentenced to life for the murder of two adults.) Further on in the book, when Jordan is in his late teens and is having to choose between becoming a cop or a minister, he puts off the decision by immersing himself in the case that has haunted him since that fateful meeting in a games arcade. After he separates the suppositions from the facts, he comes to the startling conclusion that Williams might not have killed anyone. This fictionalized version of the crimes is so unsettling that it will spur some readers to do their own research into the historic Atlanta Child Murders case, and the ultimate fate of a man who, to this day, maintains his innocence. Real life doesn’t always make for good fiction because in real life, there are so many unanswered questions. There are unanswered questions aplenty in Innocent Blood, but trust me on this: it’s one heck of a good read.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 31 July 2015 12:07
The Lady From Zagreb
Dick Lochte

In 1942 Germany, Philip Kerr’s sometime policeman Bernie Gunther is as insouciant and sarcastic as the best American private eyes of the period, but his survival rate, after ten novels, is more impressive than the Marlowes and Spades because, well, he’s vocal about his hatred of Nazis in general and Adolph Hitler in particular. In 1942 Germany! Here, he’s working for Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda and one of Adolph’s main men. Goebbels, whose ministry controls the country’s main film company, is also a world-class lecher with an eye on a beautiful Yugoslav actress named Dalia Dresner. He wants to cast her in a flick that will make her “the German Garbo,” the Swedish Garbo being Der Fuehrer’s favorite film star. But Dalia will only sign on the dotted line if her estranged father can be located in Croatia and convinced to meet with her in Germany. Bernie gets that assignment, and welcomes it, sort of, because he’s fallen in love with Dalia. Needless to say, the task is not quite as outlined. For starters, Dalia’s father is not a priest secluded in a monastery, as he’d been informed, but the brutally homicidal commandant of a concentration camp. Bernie has that to deal with, a murder to solve, and a marriage to a young woman other than Dalia forced upon him by Goebbels. But he has time for a rant that’s an amusing 180-degree twist to Orson Welles’ famous speech as Harry Lime in The Third Man, comparing the artistic benefits of tumultuous events in Italy’s history to peaceful Switzerland’s cultural contributions. Kerr’s imagination is as active as his style is vividly hardboiled, and while the book on paper is appealing and engrossing, reader John Lee’s crisp, mocking British accent gives Bernie’s narration of the twists and turns of plot an extra boost of sardonic wit. Beyond that are the accents—Austrian, German and even American, all handled effortlessly.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 31 July 2015 04:07
Linda Castillo on "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy

castillo linda

 

"There are only a handful of books that have haunted me...books that stayed with me in some profound way."

  

Books are powerful things. They’re thought provoking. They can be transformative. They enlighten the ignorant.

Books make us fall in love. Or elicit hatred. Sometimes they make us cry. They outrage us. Bring joy to our hearts. Sometimes they frighten us.

A day rarely passes when I’m not reading a book, even if—on those crazy busy days—it’s only for a few minutes before bedtime. I love reading and I love being swept away by a great story. There are only a handful of books that have haunted me after I finished. Books that stayed with me in some profound way for days or weeks or even years after I closed the cover.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy is one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read. It’s a post apocalyptic novel about a father and son trying to survive in a bleak and dangerous world. The Road is not an easy read. Quite the contrary. But the journey is worth any emotional toll. It’s a stunningly human story, filled with desperate characters in a savage, dark, and hopeless world. Just when all is lost—and it is—McCarthy brilliantly metes out snippets to remind us of the resilience of the human spirit and the power of the will to live. His prose is stark, but the words are as lyrical and beautiful as a ballad. The Road is a rare and profound book that touched me deeply. I couldn’t stop reading, happily foregoing sleep and, at times, my own writing to get back to the story. After I finished, the characters and the decayed world in which they were trying to survive haunted me for weeks.

The Road was a troubling, wrenching read, but I loved every word. I was honored to receive the gift of another writer’s undeniable talent and so pleased he shared it with us.

 

Linda Castillo is originally from Ohio where her Amish thrillers featuring Chief of Police Kate Burkholder are set. Castillo has published 30 books and won numerous awards, including a nomination by the International Thriller Writers for Best Hardcover, the Golden Heart, the Daphne du Maurier Award of Excellence, and a nomination for the prestigious Rita.

This “Writers on Reading” essay was originally published in At the Scene” eNews August 2015 as a first-look exclusive to our enewsletter subscribers. For more special content available first to our enewsletter subscribers, sign up here.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 01 August 2015 10:08

castillo linda"There are only a handful of books that have haunted me...books that stayed with me in some profound way."

Red Desert
Betty Webb

Successful actors make lousy detectives—they’re too busy acting—but that’s not a problem for Eddie Collins, the D-list actor in Clive Rosengren’s Red Desert. Collins’ film career has been so unsuccessful that he’s begun doing PI work for the film industry just to keep food on the table. This time out (after Murder Unscripted), he is investigating the death of a young woman killed during the theft of a movie director’s Oscar. Collins suspects the theft-turned-tragedy may be payback for a rape that occurred years earlier when the director, an old friend of Collins, was working on a film titled Red Desert. In typical Tinsel Town fashion, the rape got hushed up, and after the film wrapped, everyone went their merry way—except for the victim and the man she said raped her. At one point in the book, the murderer ups the ante by kidnapping the director’s six-year-old daughter. And by that time, we know that the killer is crazy enough to kill a child just to make a point. Because we are immediately told who the murderer/kidnapper is (several scenes are set in his point of view), Red Desert is more thriller than mystery, but it’s a twisty thriller in which motives don’t always turn out to be what they at first seemed to be. And that’s always fun. But wait, there’s more! Besides the standard pleasures of a well-plotted mystery-thriller, the Eddie Collins novels excel in delivering a giggle-fest of Hollywood history and gossip. Author Rosengren is an actor (his friend Tom Hanks actually furnished a blurb for the book), and delivers quips from Hollywood’s late and great, such as Victor Mature’s hilarious, “I’m not an actor, and I’ve got 64 pictures to prove it.”

Teri Duerr
Monday, 03 August 2015 12:08
Lowcountry Boneyard
Betty Webb

Susan M. Boyer’s Lowcountry Boneyard is the latest in her Agatha Award-winning Liz Talbot series. One of the great pleasures of these well-crafted mysteries has been watching the South Carolina sleuth grow from a bumbling beginner in Lowcountry Boil to the seasoned PI we meet here. Liz, whose fussy Southern Belle-ish mother lives only to make certain her daughter doesn’t wear white after Labor Day, has been hired by rich Colton Heyward to find his daughter, Kent. In the South, there’s rich and then there’s rich. Kent’s mother belongs to the mega-wealthy Bounetheau family, members of old-Southern aristocracy, and they often appear more interested in keeping their skeletons in their closets than they are in finding Kent. Besides, Kent has run afoul of family tradition by involving herself with a group of artists, and—oh, the horror!—is herself considering a career as an artist. So Liz doesn’t get much help from the family. Fortunately for her, though, she is aided in her investigation by Colleen, her investigation- loving best friend. That’s the good news. The bad news is that Colleen has been dead for 17 years, and there’s a limit to the physical action an astral entity can perform. Colleen can, though, interrupt conversations by interjecting witticisms into Liz’s ear when she’s talking to suspects, though, so when Liz replies to Colleen, she looks like a loonie. No matter. There are other loonies in this deftly paced mystery, among them, Kent’s twin uncles, Peter and Payton Bounetheau. But perhaps the Bounetheau’s twins’ bizarre peculiarities are only a clever way of covering up their mysterious business interests. Like the other Lowcountry mysteries, there’s tons of humor here, but in Lowcountry Boneyard there’s a dash of darkness, too. A fun and surprisingly thought-provoking read.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 03 August 2015 12:08
A Good Killing
Robin Agnew

This is the fourth novel in Allison Leotta’s series about US Prosecuting Attorney Anna Curtis, but it’s the first one set outside of Washington, DC, in Anna’s home state of Michigan. This one starts with a phone call from an old friend begging Anna to come home and help her sister Jody.

The story is interspersed with a first-person narrative from Jody, addressing Anna, but it’s unclear when Jody is sharing these revelations to her sister, as when Anna arrives home, Jody brushes aside her help. It quickly becomes apparent that Jody is a suspect in the death of the insanely popular “coach,” a local celebrity in their football-obsessed hometown.

Things quickly go from bad to worse when Jody and Anna arrive home to find a search warrant being executed, and everything down to Jody’s toilet and shower pipes being carted away for examination. Jody is charged with first degree murder, and, of course, Anna wrangles permission from the prosecutor’s office in DC to serve as her sister’s defense attorney.

Stepping in as “security” is old friend Cooper, an Iraq War vet and amputee, who is now part of the urban farming movement that’s one of bankrupt Detroit’s beacons of recovery. Anna and Jody leave their hometown, where Jody is now a pariah, for the relative safety of Cooper’s home in downtown Detroit.

Author Leotta is an attorney, and the legal parts of the plot are especially interesting and well done, more so than in many legal thrillers I’ve read. Many lawyers have made the leap to fiction, certainly, but Leotta is especially adept at sharing her legal knowledge without making it look like that’s what she’s doing. The courtroom scenes are fascinating.

The real heart of this story, though, is the relationship between Anna and Jody and their complicated childhood backstory, as well as the story behind “coach.” It becomes clear that the coach was a pedophile, and as his past deeds are uncovered, it’s not apparent which of his many victims might be responsible for his death. But in this light, the title, A Good Killing, begins to make perfect sense.

Leotta has an easy way of telling a story, and I was completely hooked by page one. I loved her characters, and being a Michigander, I loved her Detroit and mid-Michigan setting. After finishing this, I went out, found her first novel, and dove in. I can give no higher recommendation.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 03 August 2015 12:08
Devil’s Harbor
Oline H. Cogdill

Thrilling high seas chases and a unique spin on the underworld of smugglers buoy Australian author Alex Gilly’s debut, Devil’s Harbor.

Marine Interdiction Agent Nick Finn and his partner and brother-in-law, Diego Jimenez, are on a routine patrol off the California coast when they spot a boat with its running lights off. That usually means drug smugglers, trying to hide. When the agents approach, the boat takes off at high speed, and the chase ends when Nick returns gunfire and kills a man.

While Diego supports Nick’s story, the dead man’s gun is lost in the sea and no evidence of drugs is found on board. Nick finds no support from his bosses when the victim’s family sues the government, claiming the man was a lost, unarmed fisherman from Mexico. Nick believes he is being set up and that the shootout is related to a series of dead young men recently found in the normally “quiet patch of the sea.” Nick’s off-the-books investigation leads him to Linda Blake, a fishing craft owner who is in dire financial straits, struggling to pay the massive doctors’ bills for her sick daughter.

The sea chases, each one a bit different, are one of the strongest elements in Devil’s Harbor, but too often, Gilly indulges in talky villains who stall the action with their endless conversation. Nick, however, is someone readers will want to hear more from as his character develops, trying to mend his sometimes shaky marriage and deal with his alcoholism. With this flawed hero at the helm, Gilly has the beginning of a solid series.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 03 August 2015 12:08
Resorting to Murder
Bill Crider

Resorting to Murder is an anthology of holiday mysteries edited by Martin Edwards, who provides not only a general introduction to the book but insightful and informative introductions to the 14 individual stories, which are presented in roughly chronological order. Most of the writers’ names, maybe all of them, will be familiar to readers of classic mysteries, and they include Arthur Conan Doyle, G. K. Chesterton, R. Austin Freeman, Anthony Berkeley, and Michael Gilbert. All the stories collected here provide just what editor Edwards hopes they will, “the best kind of holiday—enjoyable and relaxing, with nice touches of the unexpected, and [offer] memories to look back on with a great deal of pleasure.”

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 05 August 2015 04:08
Bloody Royal Prints
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

Modern-day London is the setting for this frothy mystery that combines museums, magazines, and murder. When American art museum director Dinah Greene is offered a fellowship at the Art Museum of Great Britain, she jumps at the opportunity. Before long, however, she finds herself and her only London friend, Rachel, involved in a blackmailing scheme that includes stolen art, anti-monarchists, and murder—and Rachel is considered a potential suspect in the crimes.

Unable to cope with her unfamiliar surroundings as well as the added crime-related difficulties, Dinah is relieved when her cousin and close confidante, Coleman, arrives in London with plans to help broaden the scope of her new magazine. Unlike Dinah, Coleman is a no-nonsense problem solver who, with the help of her very wealthy and well-connected half-brother, Heyward, is instrumental in uncovering the layers of criminal activity and deceit that Dinah and Rachel have become buried in.

Although there are a number of grisly murders here, there is much more emphasis on relationships, particularly involving Dinah, Rachel, and Coleman, than there is on investigations. There’s even a romantic interlude towards the denouement between Coleman and a wealthy, good-looking suitor.

If you like romance interspersed with your murders, you’ll likely enjoy this novel, the fourth in the Coleman and Dinah Greene mysteries.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 05 August 2015 04:08
Death in Salem
Sharon Magee

Redheaded Will Rees, a traveling weaver and sometime detective in 1796, makes his fourth appearance in Death in Salem. Will is wandering the countryside, selling his tapestries, when he stops in Salem, Massachusetts, to buy a gift of fabric from the traders for his six-months-pregnant wife. While there, he witnesses the funeral of Anstiss, the wife of wealthy shipping merchant Jacob Boothe. Anstiss has been ill for many years, so her death is no surprise, but it is shocking when her husband also dies the following day, a victim of foul play.

The lady love of Will’s old war buddy Twig has been arrested for the crime. Twig begs Will to find the real murderer. After Jacob’s son and heir, William, agrees to pay Will the outlandish sum of $15, he agrees. Family secrets stymie his progress: Boothe’s daughter Peggy is upset that her father did not leave her the family business, her sister Betsy’s only concern is making a good marriage, and their wastrel brother Mattie overspends and hangs out with actors or at the Black Cat, the local bordello. And then there’s Anstiss’ family, who are certain Jacob killed her so he could wed another.

When a sailor is killed in the same manner as Jacob, Will realizes he will more than earn his $15 as he attempts to unravel all the knots holding this mystery together.

Eleanor Kuhns has an interesting protagonist in Will, and she effortlessly blends the 1796 history and lifestyle of Salem into the plot. The story begs a “hold it,” though, when Will sends Twig to fetch the pregnant Lydia in all haste from Maine. Granted, Lydia is a big part of Will’s adventures, but in her condition, it’s unlikely she would travel for many miles in a bumpy cart at fast speeds over rutted roads. Other than this glitch, Kuhns has written a book that holds the readers attention until its Sherlock Holmes-ish reveal.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 05 August 2015 10:08
A Batter of Life and Death
Lynne Maxwell

Desserts abound in Ellie Alexander (aka Kate Dyer-Seeley)'s A Batter of Life and Death, second in her Bakeshop Mysteries. Featuring Juliet (Jules) Montague Capshaw, lovelorn former cruise-line pastry chef, this delectable series transports readers to Ashland, Oregon, Jules’ Shakespeare-obsessed hometown. Ashland is the site of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, a summerlong event that draws hordes of tourists to town, and to Torte, the Capshaw family bakeshop. Jules brings her baking talent to the shop while she decides how to spend the remainder of her life since her marriage dissolved. Certainly, there is a place for her in the bakery, and her expertise adds to the menu. In the meantime, though, the Pastry Channel decides to bring Take the Cake, its reality road-show competition, to Ashland. While the $25,000 prize is enticing, ultimately, the price is too high. When Juliet discovers the body of one of the competition’s celebrity chefs, the battle becomes ugly, and the contestants struggle to bury their secrets. A vegan chef cheats by adding butter to her desserts in an effort to make them more flavorful. Another contestant is having an affair that she wants to conceal. And the French chef isn’t French at all. Fortunately, Jules is able to enlist Thomas, her old high-school boyfriend, who is now training to become a detective, to help solve the crime. I highly recommend this series to readers who enjoy clever plots, likable characters, and good food. Knowledge of Shakespeare’s plays is purely optional.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 05 August 2015 11:08
Quarry’s Choice
Hank Wagner

The 11th novel in Max Allan Collins’ series about a Vietnam vet turned hit man, Quarry’s Choice is set in the early days of his illicit career as Quarry travels to Biloxi, Mississippi, to investigate an attempted hit on his employer, the man known only as “The Broker.” To do so, Quarry needs to infiltrate the local crime syndicate, an organization where the chief way to get ahead is to ruthlessly eliminate your competition. Fortunately, Quarry’s quarry happens to be in someone else’s gun sights also, providing the killer with ample cover. Collins is in fine form here, exploring his protagonist’s early days with panache and aplomb, placing Quarry in one tight situation after another, with only his wits and his reflexes standing between him and sudden death. The humor is black, the tone is dark, and the outlook is bleak, but the novel is ultimately uplifting, as you quickly find yourself rooting for this very bad, very violent man. Although Quarry’s Choice demonstrates that there’s truly very little honor among thieves, Quarry does seem to have some, relying on his own code to guide him through the numerous professional and moral dilemmas he faces.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 06 August 2015 11:08
The New Neighbor
Vanessa Orr

When Jennifer Young and her son, four-year-old Milo, move into a house across the pond from 90-year-old Margaret Riley, the older woman decides to find out more about them, just like the detectives in the mysteries she reads. But Jennifer, who is running from her past, doesn’t want to share her secrets with anyone—even though she’s not the only one in the neighborhood hiding things.

There are many things to like about this book by award-winning author Leah Stewart. The writing is beautiful, and she does an impressive job of giving the reader a sense of place. The Tennessee mountaintop where both women live is isolated and dangerous, and it is the perfect backdrop for two women whose regrettable choices have driven them away from friends and family.

Stewart is also quite masterful at building suspense, unveiling each woman’s past bit by bit. In alternating perspectives, the reader learns about the tragic and mysterious death of Jennifer’s husband, as well as what happened to Margaret as a nurse serving overseas in WWII. Through these passages, we see that the women have much in common, though their inability to trust in each other prevents them from truly opening up.

Despite the fine writing, it was difficult to empathize with either woman. While I wanted to like these characters, I found that Jennifer’s guardedness, and Margaret’s cantankerousness, made it almost impossible for me to form a bond with them as a reader. Quite frankly, as I’m sure both women would understand, I was glad to be alone again when their story concluded.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 06 August 2015 11:08
Constant Fear
Oline H. Cogdill

Daniel Palmer taps into the fears that we all carry in some way—the fear that we will lose a loved one, a career, our health. In his sixth, highly entertaining thriller, Palmer delves into the psyche of a man who has just about lost everything. Jake Dent was nearly a major league pitcher with a bright future until he shattered his elbow in a car accident while driving drunk. His marriage broke up and now Jake is raising his son, Andy, who has diabetes. Jake has found unusual comfort being a “doomsday prepper,” honing his survivalist skills and preparing for the end of the world. He has taught those same skills to Andy, and, along with the stockpile of weapons supplies, Jake believes he and his son can survive just about anything.

Those skills are put to the test when terrorists target Andy and his fellow students at the prestigious Pepperell Academy in Winston, Massachusetts, where Jake now works as the head custodian. But this is no random hostage attack. Under the cover of their computer club, six students have been moving money from the wealthy to the needy. Their “redistribution of wealth” backfires when the students hack a violent drug cartel, who wants its money back, with vengeance. To save his son, and as many of Andy’s friends as possible, Jake hides in the school’s forgotten tunnels, and launches his own counterattack.

Constant Fear moves briskly, launching surprise after surprise with believable twists. Palmer uses precise action to drive the plot, while embracing well-sculpted characters. Jake emerges as an action hero, but Palmer is careful to keep him realistic. It’s a thriller with a new spin on the heist mystery, and it doesn’t get much better than this.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 06 August 2015 11:08
Crossword Issue 140 and Solution

MS 140SUM crossword

Dear Readers,

Due to an editing error, the crossword grid and solution to the "An Expert Witness" puzzle in our Summer Issue #140 were incorrect.

Our apologies to the many fans of Verna Suit's excellent puzzles. There are many more to come!

Please use the links below to see the original puzzle and the solution.


Kate Stine
Editor-in-chief

140cover250"An Expert Witness" Puzzle, Issue 140

"An Expert Witness" Grid, Issue 140

"An Expert Witness" Solution, Issue 140

 

 

 

 

Brian Skupin
Friday, 07 August 2015 08:08

140SUM cross gridDear Readers,

Due to an editing error, the crossword grid and solution to the "An Expert Witness" puzzle in our Summer Issue #140 were incorrect.

Our apologies to the many fans of Verna Suit's excellent puzzles. There are many more to come!


Kate Stine, Editor-in-chief

The Hummingbird
Betty Webb

If there’s one thing veteran mystery readers know, it’s that the Nordic countries excel in producing extremely dark thrillers. Kati Hiekkapelto’s The Hummingbird is no exception. Ably translated from the Finnish by David Hackston, racial and religious prejudices play an important part in this book. Author Hiekkapelto’s police detective is Anna Fekete, a Muslim from the Yugoslavian region, whose parents fled first to Turkey then to Finland to escape ethnic violence. Anna’s transition into Finnish life has been rough, and now it’s about to get rougher. After a young woman is found shotgunned to death on a jogging trail, Anna is partnered with Esko, a native Finn and flagrant bigot. These wildly mismatched detectives are forced to put aside their differences to stop a series of cult-like murders (the image of a mythical Aztec god is found at each crime scene). As the cult murders grow in number, Anna also starts investigating the disappearance of a young Muslim teen. This goes against the wishes of her superiors, who believe the teen’s disappearance is just another instance of immigrants behaving badly. I found Anna to be one of the most fascinating protagonists to come along in years. A stranger in a strange land, the detective is haunted by nightmares of her years in Serbia, she is prone to anxiety attacks, and suffers from a host of conflicted loyalties. What is she first—a Muslim, a Hungarian, a Serb, a Turk? A Finn? Even if there were no murders in The Hummingbird (but there are several, all messy), Anna’s interior struggles are so unique that she could easily provide the cornerstone for an excellent literary novel. But that genre’s loss is the mystery lover’s gain. Hiekkapelto is to be congratulated for producing a beautifully written and many-layered mystery novel that illuminates the dangers of prejudice, while still providing a major thrill ride for all us adrenaline junkies.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 10 August 2015 12:08
Dark City Lights: New York Stories
Bill Crider

Dark City Lights: New York Stories, an anthology edited by Lawrence Block, contains 23 stories set in New York, and all but two are original to this book. Not all of them are dark, as Block says in his introduction, but most are. The two reprints are by Robert Silverberg and Block himself. Block’s story is “Keller the Dogkiller,” and if you’ve read it before, it, like all of Block’s stories, is worth reading again. So is Silverberg’s story, “Hannibal’s Elephants.” Although, as it was published in a science-fiction magazine, readers of this column are less likely to have spotted it. Published in the ’80s, it’s about an alien invasion of New York in 2003. The future that Silverberg imagines here is a bit different from the 2003 we got. Jill Block is present with “The Lady Upstairs,” a haunting tale with mystery but no real crime. There’s even another dog story, “Wet Dog on a Rainy Day” by S.J. Rozan. This one is dark all right, and told with Rozan’s usual skill.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 10 August 2015 12:08
Chain of Witnesses: The Cases of Miss Phipps
Bill Crider

I’ve known Marv Lachman for close to 40 years, and I regard him as one of the foremost authorities on short crime fiction. So when he says that Phyllis Bentley’s stories about Miss Phipps are “some of the best detective stories published in the second half of the 20th century,” as he does in his introduction to Chain of Witnesses: The Cases of Miss Phipps, then I take notice. Lachman has chosen 16 stories for this volume, beginning with “Author in Search of a Character,” which was the first about Miss Phipps to be published in EQMM, where all the stories in the collection were either reprinted or first published. Each is elegantly told in the best fair-play tradition, and it’s a pleasure to watch Miss Phipps at work. This book will be of special interest to those who like authors as characters, as Miss Phipps is a novelist and appears to be based on Bentley herself.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 10 August 2015 12:08
Fiction River: Alchemy & Steam
Bill Crider

Fiction River: Alchemy & Steam is “an original anthology magazine” in the form of a trade paperback. Series editors are Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch, with this volume being edited by Kerrie L. Hughes, who provides introductions to each of the 13 stories. While these stories might not appeal to all mystery fans, readers who like mysterious carnivals, alternate worlds, chocolate, alchemy, and steampunk in general will find the stories a lot of fun. There are crimes, too, and mysteries of various kinds. Well worth a look if you’re in the mood for something different.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 10 August 2015 12:08
The Big Seven: A Faux Mystery
Dick Lochte

Jim Harrison’s protagonist, retired Upper Peninsula cop and occasional private detective Sunderson, made his debut in the author’s first “faux mystery,” The Great Leader (2011). In that one, the aging moralist-debaucher was involved with, among other things, the search for the missing leader of a cult. But the novel was really about Sunderson’s attempt to figure out how to live in a world that makes it too easy for him to overdo food, drink, and sex, and too hard to avoid violence and death. The new, equally faux mystery, is more of the same. More rumination, more food, drink, sex, and violence, as Sunderson keeps tabs on an ultra-dysfunctional neighboring UP family whose members are being bumped off. One of the main suspects is a 17-year-old beauty who is quick to seduce the sixtysomething sleuth and who joins him on a boozy, foodie trip to Vera Cruz, during which they check off several of the seven deadly sins referenced by the title. Reader Jim Meskimen, an excellent impressionist as well as actor (Big Bang Theory, Parks and Recreation), adds a general tone of bemusement to Sunderson’s speech that accurately reflects the character’s usual reaction to nearly everything, be it news of murder or incest or a killer who spends his days bird-watching. There are angry flare-ups, mainly when the detective confronts men who mistreat women, as well as moments of bliss, especially when he is fishing, dining and sharing the joys of sexual delight with, as the author would have it, every woman he meets.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 10 August 2015 12:08