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  Killer Book Reviews, Volume 5 (2008)

 

 

Volume 5, Issue 12

 

December 2008

 

Edited by 

Tom & Enid Schantz

The Rue Morgue

Boulder, Co.

www.ruemorguepress. com

 

  SECOND VIOLIN by John Lawton (Atlantic Monthly Press, $24.00). Recommended by Tom & Enid Schantz, The Rue Morgue, Lyons, CO www.ruemorguepress.com:  Frederick Troy, the son of an Anglo-Russian aristocrat, has unpredictably chosen a career with Scotland Yard, where he has just been promoted to the Murder Squad, and his older brother Rod is a foreign correspondent stationed in Austria—not a good place to be in 1938, when the book opens. After bearing witness to the violence against Jews known as Kristallnacht, Rod returns to London, where his brother has been assigned the unenviable task of rounding up enemy aliens of all stripes and sending them to a prison camp on the Isle of Man. Ironically, it turns out that Rod, who though raised in England was Austrian born and never saw it necessary to become a British subject, is one of the men scheduled to be interned there. Much of the story is told from his point of view, and his account of life in the prison camp, where Jews coexisted with the occasional Nazi and most of the prisoners were law-abiding tailors, chefs, and shopkeepers imprisoned for crimes they never committed, is compelling. The actual mystery, which is only a small part of this complex, multilayered story, involves a serial killer who targets rabbis, and Troy turns his attention to this when his other duties permit it. It provides a solid framework for the book, but what the reader will remember best is Lawton’s vivid portrayal of life in London during the Blitz. 

Although sixth in the series, the book is chronologically the first, and readers familiar with Troy’s subsequent adventures will enjoy seeing characters who become fixtures in later books make their first appearances here, particularly his Scotland Yard superior Walter Stilton and Stilton’s tempestuous daughter Kitty. There are also many real-life characters of the time: Freud, Churchill, Chamberlain, all lending further authenticity to the story. It’s a series we just can’t get enough of and we’re thankful that the author shows no signs of letting it go.

DANCING WITH DEMONS by Peter Tremayne. (St. Martin’s Press, $24.95). Recommended by Marie Ary, Seattle Mystery Bookstore, Seattle WA www.seattlemystery.comThe murder of seventh century High King of Ireland Sechnussach in his own bed may unravel the land into civil war before advocate of Brehon courts and religieuse Fidelma of Cashel completes an initially straightforward investigation of motive in Dancing with Demons, seventh in the Sister Fidelma mystery series. Summoned from home by Chief Brehon of Ireland, Barran, who vehemently insists only the motive of murderer and clan chieftain Dubh Duin remains to be solved, Fidelma’s precise and methodical examination of witnesses and physical evidence refutes that claim. Assisted by Brother Eadulf, her husband, during this time-constrained inquiry, Fidelma is newly plagued by insights into her own, at times, dismissive and presumptive treatment of him. Throughout the compelling and intricate narrative, author Tremayne reveals the complex and sophisticated laws and social structure of ancient Ireland, the conflict between the Church of Ireland and the Church of Rome, and the underlying stress created between the encounter of new and old ideologies.

THE DIVA RUNS OUT OF THYME by Krista Davis (Berkley, $6.99) Recommended by Marian Misters, Sleuth of Baker Street, Toronto Canada. www.sleuthofbakerstreet.comI have watched those TV programs on the HGTV channel where the houses are perfectly decorated, nothing is out of place, and the lady of the house can whip up dinner for twenty in no time flat. I can do the cooking part but I can’t do the house part. I have so much stuff that one of these days I am just going to pile all my kitchen things on a table outside the store with a “Free to a good home” sign and let passerbys help themselves. Some days, I hate this clutter so much, I could just spit. I’m sure de-cluttering will make me feel much better and everything will go to a good home. Reading The Diva Runs Out of Thyme is probably what did it to me. De-clutter, then make a batch of cookie dough! I couldn’t decide in which order to do these two things, so, of course, did neither. Just dithered. As for the story, I loved it, and loved the foodie bits. I did wonder how much pecan pies our heroine, Sophie Winston, could actually store in her fridge. Diva is set around the time of the American Thanksgiving and there are entertaining tips and stuffing recipes included.

LEAVES FROM THE NOTE-BOOK OF A NEW YORK DETECTIVE by John Babbinton Williams (Westholme, $14.95), recommended by David Lampe-Wilson, Mystery on Main Street, Brattleboro, VT www.mysteryonmain.com:  Originally published in 1865 by Dick & Fitzgerald, it's a collection of stories by a retired New York detective named James Brampton. We all know that Sherlock Holmes was the original analytical detective whose observations of small details proved him to be the master detective, but works like 1864's Experiences of a French Detective and The Autobiography of a London Detective helped fill the gap between Poe and Conan Doyle. Told in the first person and transcribed by John B. Williams from Brampton's MS, it lays out 29 cases in which Brampton's powers of observation proved indispensable. Some of his methods and observations are echoed in the Holmes canon. But unlike Holmes, Brampton's cases are mere fiction, but they are interesting to read in the strong historical light that shines from Sherlock Holmes. (Caveat: It would appear that copy editing was done by a spell checker only; typos are rampant and destroy the pace of the adventures. Still, it's a must-read for those interested in the archeology of American mystery.)

SIX GEESE A-SLAYING by Donna Andrews (St. Martin’s Minotaur, $22.95) Recommended by Tom & Enid Schantz, The Rue Morgue, Lyons, CO www.ruemorguepress.com : Normally this author’s amusing Meg Langslow books come out in the spring, but her publisher prevailed upon her to do a Christmas mystery, with this happy result. Meg, who’s a naturally take-charge sort of person, has agreed to be Mistress of the Revels at the Caerphilly annual holiday parade, learning too late that this means she is responsible for organizing and staging the elaborate event which involves all the animals and characters from “The Twelve Days of Christmas” plus the three wise men on real camels, a live nativity scene with a very pregnant Virgin Mary, and of course Santa Claus on his sleigh. The multicultural parade (we’ve only described a few of the floats) is to proceed from Meg’s house to the town, but things rapidly start to fall apart when Santa, who is being portrayed by one the town’s most disagreeable citizens, is found dead with a stake of holly driven through his heart. Since he turns out to be an incorrigible blackmailer who is universally hated and feared by his fellow citizens, there are suspects galore, but in addition to finding his murderer (which is left mostly to the town’s capable chief of police), Meg has to save Christmas for the children who still believe in Santa. Few writers are as adept as Andrews at affectionately managing a large and varied cast of eccentric characters and concealing the murderer among them until the very end of the book. Fans of the series will be pleased to know that Spike, the ill-tempered little family dog, has an uncharacteristically heroic part to play in this installment. He’s no Lassie, but he comes through in the end.

 

 

Volume 5, Issue 11

 

November 2008

 

Edited by 

Tom & Enid Schantz

The Rue Morgue

Boulder, Co.

www.ruemorguepress. com

 

  The Victoria Vanishes by Christopher Fowler (Bantam, $24.00), recommended by Tom & Enid Schantz,, The Rue Morgue, Lyons, CO., www.ruemorguepress.com : Arthur Bryant has just turned in his resignation from the Peculiar Crimes Unit and is making his way home from the funeral of a colleague when he chances to see a woman enter a pub—a commonplace enough occurrence, except that she is about to become the latest victim of a serial killer who is targeting middle-aged women at London’s oldest watering holes. And it’s made even more uncommon by the fact that the pub he sees the woman enter, the Victoria Cross, was torn down eighty years earlier. 

For readers unfamiliar with this ingenious and gloriously old-fashioned series, each installment has featured an impossible crime which is solved by two ancient but brilliant senior detectives, the cranky and crafty Arthur Bryant and the slightly younger and far more personable John May, whose close and long-lasting friendship is central to all the stories. Here May, who has just been diagnosed with a heart tumor, is hurt that his old friend has not informed him of his decision to retire, even though they both can see that Bryant is rapidly declining. But he’s still more than a match for whatever challenges come his way, and he and May (and a brilliant cast of supporting characters) eventually piece together another bizarre and complicated puzzle. 

As usual, their investigations shine a light on dark and dusty corners of London’s past, this time its pubs and the British Museum. At the story’s bittersweet end, the author makes it clear that this sixth case for the elderly detectives is also their last. To which we say: this mustn’t happen. Given their age and longevity, it’s inevitable that Bryant, May, and the Peculiar Crimes Unit, all of whom date back to World War II, can’t go on forever, but there have to be many untold stories from earlier in their illustrious career that could be written up. Fowler has done this once already with Seventy-Seven Clocks, set in 1973, so why not again? So few writers are capable of writing the kind of intricate, witty stories that Fowler excels at, or creating such memorable characters or writing so eloquently about London’s past and present, that we just can’t bear to see this series end.

Cold in Hand by John Harvey (Harcourt, $26.00), recommended by Karen Spengler, I Love a Mystery, Mission, KS., www.iloveamystery.net: Cause for celebration! Nottingham Detective Inspector Charlie Resnick is back, after an absence of ten years. And what an impressive comeback it is! Harvey wrote ten Resnick novels in ten years, ending the series in 1998 with Last Rites. Having moved to London, Harvey felt that he could no longer capture the essence of Nottingham that played such a large part in the books.A lot has changed since we last met up with Resnick: he’s a year from retirement, most of his colleagues have been promoted or moved on, and he’s had major changes in his personal life.Resnick has been pulled back to the front lines to investigate a murder involving rival gangs, but most of the action in the story falls to Charlie’s former partner, Lynn Kellog (now a Det. Inspector), and DCI Karen Taylor, on loan from the London force. Taylor was introduced in the Frank Elder series; Harvey populates his books with fascinating and well-defined characters who frequently cross over from one series to another. For years, I’ve been telling customers that this was my favorite British series. Unfortunately, it’s been out of print for so long that it’s been difficult to find the books. Now that the early Resnick books are being reprinted don’t miss out on these excellent mysteries.

The Bordeaux Betrayal by Ellen Crosby (Scribners, $28.99), recommended Marian Misters, Sleuth of Baker Street, Toronto, Canada, www.sleuthofbakerstreet.com : ELLEN CROSBY has done it again with The Bordeaux Betrayal. She has successfully combined her knowledge of wine with interesting historical notes about Thomas Jefferson and viniculture in the state of Virginia. In this third novel, (the first two are The Merlot Murders and The Chardonnay Charade, a bottle of wine that Thomas Jefferson is thought to have bought for George Washington, is being auctioned off for charity and it’s drawing lots of interest. Throw in a murder, an ex-lover and controversial fox hunting and you have a mix of ingredients that is sure to please, (well, maybe not the fox hunting part for some of us, but no fox gets hurt in the book so that’s okay).

POINT NO POINT by Mary Logue (Bleak House, Cloth, $24.95, Paper, $14.95), recommended by Robin Agnew, Aunt Agatha’s, Ann Arbor, Mich., www.auntagathas.com : I’m a big Mary Logue fan, and this novel is a perfect illustration of the reason why. As I was reading it, I kept checking the number of pages left to read - they kept getting smaller and smaller far too quickly! Try as I might have to make this reading experience last, I couldn’t help myself, I had to inhale the new story about Pepin County, Wisconsin’s favorite Deputy Sheriff, Claire Watkins. 

One of the reasons I enjoy Logue’s books so much is Claire - she’s a wonderfully complex character who seems to be able to grow and mature in a believable way in each book. Another reason is Logue’s ability to craft a story that seems simple but really isn’t. The one in this book is a perfect example. Often her stories are tied together by a thematic thread, and that’s the case in this well tuned novel. The book begins with the discovery of a body in the water on the day of Claire’s daughter, Meg’s, 16th birthday. Claire is late to the birthday party as she takes charge of a drowning that looks like it could be something more. Her family is used to her lateness but there’s a strain at the family table; it’s slight, but apparent, and the fissures become much larger cracks as the story progresses. 

Then the next thing happens: Rich, Claire’s partner, gets a call from his best friend who just tells him to come over. When Rich gets to his friend Chet’s house, he find’s Chet’s wife dead, and Chet lying on the bed next to her, crying inconsolably. He of course calls Claire immediately; but the cracks begin to appear as Claire goes into “cop” mode where Rich feels she should stay in “friend” mode instead. Chet’s case takes precedence over the drowning man, which Claire hands off to another officer, and Claire begins to untangle the unknown life of Chet. It drives a real wedge into her relationship with Rich. 

As each story thread becomes ultimately connected, there’s also the thread of Meg’s awakening desire for her boyfriend. The book is more or less a thoughtful treatise on the idea of love vs. sex, and which is the more important. Since Logue is also a poet, she chooses her words with a kind of care and conciseness that’s much appreciated. This is another bravura effort from a much underrated writer.

A Spoonful of Poison by M.C. Beaton (St. Martin’s Press, $24.95), recommended by Marie Ary, Seattle Mystery Bookstore, Seattle, WA., www.seattlemystery.com : Fans will be delighted to read once again the exasperated exclamation of friends and neighbors, “It’s Mrs. Raisin and she’s off again,” in the latest Agatha Raisin mystery. The cozy world of Cotswold villages in England are the setting where Agatha, former London-based uber-public relations mastermind, lends her expertise to a fund-raising church festival at which a spectacular death causes her to whipsaw between frenzied detective activity and glassy-eyed pursuit of handsome and eligible men. The intimate village life of the region helps and hinders Agatha’s operation of a successful detective agency, the direct outgrowth of her inability to remain in retirement, as she tenaciously tracks leads and supervises staff through surprising plot twists. Continued angst about her lower class origins, an uncharacteristic jealousy of her agency’s best operative, and the looming engagement party of former husband James reveal insightful dimensions of this very human, spiky, and endearing protagonist..

 

 

Issue 5.10

October  2008

 

Edited by Robin Agnew,

Aunt Agatha's,

Ann Arbor,MI

www.auntagathas.com

 

  BLOOD ALONE by James R. Benn (Soho, $24.00), recommended by Maggie Mason, Lookin’ for Books, San Diego, CA, maggiemary@yahoo.com: Billy Boyle is somewhere in Sicily, but that's about all he can remember.  He's been injured and can't remember any details, and is not even sure who he is.  He is able to figure out he's in danger, and common sense helps him stay alive. He gradually recovers his memory, and soon discovers he's involved in a scenario that could well save many lives.  The Allies realize the power the Mafia has over the Sicilian people, and have enlisted the assistance of a local Don.  The Don has the power to pull out the local Sicilian troops.  Hindering the efforts are a Gang of counterfeiters, led by another mobster.  With the help of many brave men, women, and a courageous doctor, Billy once again helps the Allied war efforts. 

I really can't say enough about this wonderful series.  Billy is almost the anti-hero, and we know he has gotten jobs due to family connections, but that doesn't stop him from acting bravely, and truly helping the war effort.  Luck might play a part in his success, but skill and natural ability are there as well.  I really like the insights into his relationship with Gen. Eisenhower, as one of my ancestors was taken in by Mamie Eisenhower's family when he came over from Ireland. 

SACRIFICE by S. J. Bolton (St. Martin’s $24.95). Recommended by Karen Spengler, I Love a Mystery, Mission, KS. www.Iloveamystery.com. Another fine mystery set in the Shetland Islands! This outstanding debut grabbed me from the first sentences: “The corpse I could cope with. It was the context that threw me.” Shetland newcomer Tora Hamilton unearths the corpse in question as she is trying to dig a grave in the peat to bury the remains of her beloved horse. At first she assumes that she has found a centuries-old preserved bog-body, but Tora, an obstetrician, soon realizes that the remains are those of a recently deceased woman, whose heart has been cut out, and who has recently given birth. Tora finds herself caught up in a mystery that leads her to some chilling local legends, and leaves her not knowing whether she can trust anyone—including her husband. Although I was a little put off by the plot’s reliance on local lore, I found this story, which Tora tells in a compelling first-person narrative, to be one of the most gripping and well-written debuts that I’ve read in a long time.

STREETS OF BAYLON by Carina Burman (Boyars, $16.95), recommended by Barbara Peters, Poisoned Pen, Scottsdale, AZ, www.poiosnedpen.com: Irresistible: a Swedish anti-heroine and author named Euthanasia Bondeson and a book cover illustrated by two pairs of Victorian bloomers. It gets better: Burman offers a hilarious version of all the wrong things to do in London during the 1851 Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace and down its dangerous streets where Euthanasia, one of ten sisters, can't keep tabs on her youthful companion, a beauty with little English, who keeps disappearing. Their relationship is somewhat ambiguous, adding to the mysteries. The tongue-in-cheek style, so carefully proper yet outrageous, unsentimental, and elegant, makes the pages skim by. Amelia Peabody readers will enjoy Burman as will any of the Vic(toria)-Lit persuasion. 

TRIGGER CITY by Sean Chercover (William Morrow, $23.95). Recommended by Robin Agnew, Aunt Agatha’s, Arbor, MI, www.auntagathas.com: Trigger City is the second outing for Sean Chercover’s Ray Dudgeon, and to my mind, a far stronger read than the first book. He’s done what some (not all) talented authors are able to do with their second novel: streamline and focus a bit and the book is both sleeker and richer for his efforts. Ray is a truly classic P.I. - a loner with good contacts and a bad shoulder, his idea of dinner is beefaroni from the can and a couple percoset washed down with Mount Gay Rum. He’s taken a job looking into the death of the only daughter of a retired military man; she’s been shot by a co-worker who had apparently gone crazy and then killed himself. Of course there’s more to the story.

Like any P.I. worth his salt, Ray soon feels a moral obligation not only to the dead girl’s father, but to the widow of the killer, and of course to the dead girl herself. The plot seems simple, but like an onion, there are many, many layers of deception which Ray manages to unravel. Ray is also trying to figure out how to let go of his ex-girlfriend Jill, who told him in the first book that she couldn’t take his lifestyle, as well as the chance that he might be killed at any moment. Unfortunately, the way he’s “letting go” is to have his trainee follow her new boyfriend around town. He’s also sleeping in the dead woman’s apartment most nights. Despite this outwardly freakish behavior, Chercover has created in Dudgeon a decent everyman character that as a reader I feel real affection for. If he’s clueless about his chances at romance, I like him so much that I can’t help but wince when he puts his heart on his sleeve.

Chercover has also crafted a smart, well put together, and fast moving narrative that will have you on the edge of your seat by the end of the book.

A MOST WANTED MAN by John Le Carre (Scribner, $28.00), recommended by David Lampe-Wilson, Mystery on Main Street, Brattleboro, VT; www.mysteryonmain.com:  John Le Carre is in top form in this tale of terrorism. Smuggled into Germany, a young Russian man with access to a large amount of cash and claiming to be a devout Muslim, forms an unlikely alliance with an idealistic young German civil rights lawyer and aging scion of a failing British bank. But life is never easy for Le Carre's people, so it isn't long before rival intelligence agencies are vying for the hearts and minds of these three innocents.

As always, Le Carre's people are fully delineated, their lives  three-dimensional, their character flawed and their actions realistic. Le Carre drills deep into the psyches and motives of his characters; none are evil, none are without sin. A Most Wanted Man is a novel of the new world of espionage and its extraordinary excesses; it is a rewarding, though heartbreaking, look at the way we live today.

 

 

Issue 5.09

September 2008 

Edited by

Deb Andolino

Aliens & Alibis Books,

Columbia, SC,

www.aliensandalibis.com

 

 

GOOD PEOPLE. by Marcus Sakey (Dutton Adult, $24.95), recommended by Sue Wilder, Reviewed by Sue Wilder. Murder on the beach Bookstore, Delray Beach, FL; www.murderonthebeach.com: Tom and Anna Reed struggle with their inability to have a child and the debt they have accumulated from several failed in-vitro attempts.  They lease the first floor of their brownstone for extra income and are shocked to find the tenant's dead body one morning.  Even more shocking is the $400,000 in cash that the tenant had hidden in the apartment.

     Knowing that the tenant has no close relatives to claim the money, Tom and Anna decide to keep this windfall as a solution to their problems.  They go on a spending spree that is abruptly interrupted by the bad guys.  It seems that their tenant was hiding out from a drug dealer and his partner in crime, who are now chasing Tom and Anna for the cash.  The story gets more complex when the police become suspicious of the young couple as well.

     As with his previous two books, Mr. Sakey has written a wonderful crime thriller set in Chicago.  The characters are vividly drawn and their behavior is realistic.  He expertly navigates the central theme of what happens to good people when they make one bad decision.  Is the crime worth the family and security sought by Tom and Anna?  At what price?

     The action is non-stop and the reader does not dare to put the book down until the surprising end.  Well-written and compelling, Good People  may be even better than Mr. Sakey's stunning debut, The Blade Itself.

WHITE NIGHTS by Ann Cleeves (Thomas Dunne Books, $24.95) Recommended by Karen Spengler, I Love a Mystery, Mission, KS. www.Iloveamystery.com; Taut.  Atmospheric.  Riveting.  Clever, satisfying and thoughtful. These were just some of the accolades heaped on Raven Black, the first book in this remarkable quartet set in Scotland’s remote Shetland Islands. Each book in the series is set in a different season, with Raven Black being set in the bleak winter, and White Nights in the summer, when the Shetland nights are so bright that you could read outside at midnight. The simmer dim’, the Shetlanders call it, and it tends to drive everyone a bit crazy. This is just one example of the many details that make the islands come alive in this unforgettable series.

     Besides the wonderfully strong sense of place, Cleeves is a master at creating memorable characters, like Shetland police detective Jimmy Perez. With his dark hair and olive skin, Perez clearly doesn’t have Viking blood, although his Shetland roots go back to the sixteenth century, when an ancestor was washed ashore from the wreck of a ship from the Spanish Armada. To locals, Perez and other islanders with his exotic coloring are known as ‘black Shetlanders’.

     When Perez investigates the murder of an outsider in tiny Bidista on the west coast of Shetland, he knows that even though the handful of residents has known each other all their lives, they still have their secrets. Two more murders follow, and although the detective’s gentle approach solving the murders is an irritation to his superior officer from the mainland, it is Perez’s local knowledge and insight that identifies the murderer.

     My only criticism of the Shetland quartet is that it is a quartet. I can already see that I’m going to want more than four books about Jimmy Perez and the Shetland Isles. (Cleeves has said that the small, closed communities on the islands would not support a large number of murders, which is why she decided to limit the number to four books, based on the seasons.) Raven Black, the first Jimmy Perez novel, was the first winner of the prestigious Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award for the best crime novel of the year.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO by Stieg Larsson (Knopf; $24.95) Recommended by Terry Farmer, Murder by the Book, Houston, TX, www.murderbooks.comFinancial reporter and publisher, Mikael Blomqvist, has just been fined 150,000 kroner and sentenced to 90 days in jail for libel against the head of the Wennerstrom group.  Because of his promise to his source he is unable to respond to the charges and leaves the courtroom knowing his enemies have won this round.  Bomqvist is invited to the home of Henrik Vanger whose niece, Harriet, vanished 40 years before.  Vanger is convinced she was murdered and wants Blomqvist to go over the information to see if there is something to help solve her murder.  Vanger’s story is compelling, as is the payoff in money and information about Wennerstrom.  Blomqvist resigns his position as publisher of Millenium magazine to begin the investigation. 

    Vanger’s family has a long history of Nazi affiliations and the more Blomqvist digs the more he feels something is very wrong.   Lisbeth Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo, works for a Stockholm security firm as a private investigator and has been hired to look into the background of Blomqvist.  Salander is a genius at computer work and is known as Wasp in the community of hackers.  She also has a long history of behavioral problems and has been designated a ward of the court.  Part of the story deals with her new guardian who takes brutal advantage of her.  Salander has never backed down and she takes steps to neutralize his authority over her finances and her person. 

     Blomqvist discovers Salander has investigated him and tracks her down.  Salander  has never been on the receiving end of an investigation and she finds herself fascinated by Blomqvist.  The two begin to work together to solve Harriet Vanger’s disappearance.  What they find exposes a horror in the Vanger family that no one expected.  This book is a dark and twisty story that delves into the relationships of the people involved as well as Sweden’s history and issues.   The translation feels absolutely authentic and I felt like I was back in Sweden.  I loved the book and couldn’t put it down!

THE BIG O by Declan Burke (Harcourt, $24.00), recommended by David Lampe-Wilson, Mystery on Main Street, Brattleboro, VT; www.mysteryonmain.comKaren leads a simple life as a receptionist, blackmailer and, when the rent comes due, armed robber. After ducking one of her bullets, Ray invites Karen out for a drink and a romance buds. But when Ray, no saint himself, is hired to kidnap a plastic surgeon's wife (and Karen's best friend), the road to romance becomes decidedly rocky...well, filled with pot holes, actually.
     With stiletto wit and a hit-the-ground-running pace, Burke's the latest -- and one of the best -- bad-boy Irish writers to hit our shores. Fashioned in short scenes peopled by run-of-the-mill criminals, the pieces of The Big O fall flawlessly into place. Burke's characters are as unpredictable as stray bullets and the dialogue is nothing short of electric. This caper is so stylish, so hilarious that it could have been written by the love child of Elmore Leonard and Oscar Wilde. 

LEGACY: AN ANNA STRONG VAMPIRE NOVEL by Jeanne Stein (Ace Books, $7.99.) Recommended by Maryelizabeth Hart, Mysterious Galaxy, San Diego, CA www.mystgalaxy.com; In her fourth cross-genre outing, San Diego bounty hunter and vampire Anna Strong struggles with a number of afterlife changing issues. Her horrible manipulative ex, Dr. Avery, left Anna an estate she didn't want and hasn't claimed but her claim is being challenged by the very sexy and very dangerous Sandra, a werewolf who claims to be Avery's widow. Her parents and niece are pressuring her to spend more time with them than she can manage without revealing her true nature.          

     And her business partner’s horrible girlfriend, Gloria, has been accused of murder, and has turned to Anna, of all people, for help. As with her vampires, Jeanne has created a unique mythology for her werewolves (different from earlier shape shifters in the series). Great sexy fun adventure!

 

 

Volume 5, Issue 8

 

August 2008

 

Edited by 

Karen Spengler,

I Love a Mystery, Mission, KS  www.iloveamystery.com

 

 

LOSING GROUND by Catherine Aird (St. Martin's Press, $23.95). Recommended by Tom & Enid Schantz, The Rue Morgue, Lyons, CO: www.ruemorguepress.com: Catherine Aird began her writing career in 1966 with the publication of her first mystery featuring C.D. Sloan, an amiable police inspector whose turf is the fictional county of Calleshire, England. Over the last 42 years village life there has remained remarkably unchanged and Sloan and his marginally competent young sidekick, Constable Crosby, have remained equally untouched by the years, mobile phones and modern computers notwithstanding.  Another constant is Aird’s deceptively simple writing style, which remains uncluttered and quietly witty, never getting in the way of the plot or the characters. It’s refreshing indeed to read a mystery that is exactly as long as it needs to be and no longer.  In his 22nd case, Sloan is called in when Tolmie Park, a historic manor house near the village of Berebury, is partially destroyed by arson, just shortly after an 18th century painting by a local artist of some note has been stolen from the estate. It can’t be a coincidence, and as Sloan, saddled as always with his assistant Crosby, delves into the matter, he discovers that the derelict property is being sought after by a development group and an iconic pop star, and that the local preservationists are very concerned about its future. Meanwhile, the family who owns it remains in absentia.  As usual, Sloan neatly untangles the mystery and life goes on in Calleshire as it always has—which is exactly what the reader can count on when reading a Catherine Aird book, regardless of the publication date.

DECEPTION'S DAUGHTER by Cordelia Frances Biddle (St. Martin's $24.95 ), recommended by Robin Agnew, Aunt Agatha's, Ann Arbor, Mich., www.auntagathas.com:  Biddle's second book in her Martha Beale series may be even stronger than the first.  Set in 1842 Philadelphia, Biddle's prose has a haunting and authentic quality that infuses both the narrative and the characters.  Martha is a very believable woman of 1842; in the last book, she lost her father, in this one, she must deal with the aftermath as well as the challenges of raising two adopted children.  She's made friends with the socially unsuitable Thomas Kelman, the investigative arm of the mayor's office, and together they look into the disappearance of a missing heiress.  Much like Anne Perry's Thomas and Charlotte Pitt characters, Martha brings Thomas a social entree he would have difficulty obtaining otherwise.  The young woman in question had recently been forcibly separated from her fiancé who has disappeared; the family fears the worst and the trail takes Martha into some of the more unsavory parts of Philadelphia as the search for the missing girl becomes more intense.  Biddle's books stand out because of the real feel of the past as well as a very indelible main character; her prose is beautiful, and her books are a joy to read and discover.

THE LIKENESS by Tana French (Viking $24.95). Recommended by Barbara Peters, The Poisoned Pen, Scottsdale , AZ www.poisonedpen.com:  Irish cop Cassie Maddox is still trying to deal with the events of 2008 Edgar winner, In the Woods (see”One that Almost Got Away, below). She has left the Murder Squad for Domestic Violence. She's seeing fellow detective Sam O'Neill—but she's
too rocky to move forward. Then Sam calls her to a crime scene, shaken, because the corpse is Cassie's likeness. Not just her double in looks, but the dead woman presents herself as Lexie Madison, an identity crafted years ago to let Cassie work undercover. Here is a weird wrinkle on identity theft. And Frank, the cop in charge, thinks it would be brilliant if Cassie becomes Lexie again—she can be wounded, but not dead—and thus bait to flush out the killer. Bad idea, no? But, itching for some action again, she agrees and moves into Lexie's life as a student at Whitethorn House, outside Dublin…. What an interesting wrinkle on identity theft this novel is.   

We also loved French's first novel, which is included here as bonus title

IN THE WOODS, by Tana French (Penguin, $14).  Recommended by Louise Lucas, I Love a Mystery, Mission, KS; www.iloveamystery.com:  On a summer evening in 1984, three 12-year olds went missing in the dark silent wood adjoining Knocknaree, a newly developing suburb on the outskirts of Dublin.  The police found only one of the children, gripping a tree near the center of the wood, his fingernails dug in so deeply that they had broken off in the bark.  His shoes were blood-filled and his T-shirt bore four parallel tears running diagonally across the back.  The boy, who had not responded to the searchers’ calling, was physically uninjured, but unable ever to recall what had happened.  The other children were never found.    

Twenty years later, the found boy, Rob Ryan, is a detective on the Dublin murder squad.  Only his partner and best friend, Cassie Maddox, knows about his past.  Life is professionally and personally good for Rob and Cassie until, on a summer day, a 12-year old girl is found murdered in the same wood, and due to Cassie’s quick, “We’ll have it,” the case becomes theirs.   

Aspects of the case are chillingly similar to the previous unsolved mystery, and the detectives soon discover that some of the people with ties to the case, including the victim’s father, have connections to the old case, as well.  The father is also only one member of the victim’s disturbingly odd family.  In addition, an archaeological dig at the site where the victim is found, with scholarly zealots at the dig’s helm, and a planned motorway through the area, with shadowy developers acquiring anticipated prime real estate, provide more suspects and motives for the murder.        

It is these plotlines that make In the Woods, recent winner of the Edgar for best first novel, a first class whodunit.  The novel’s triumph, however, is the taut, psychological suspense it creates and sustains throughout.  Discoveries in the current investigation and revelations about Cassie’s mysterious past, occurring as Rob recovers snippets of memory from that summer of 20 years ago, put him teetering on an emotional balance beam and give the reader a sense of dread that refuses to abate.  In the Woods is a glorious mystery and thriller.

HELL HOLE by Chris Grabenstein (St. Martin's Minotaur, July release), recommended by Robin Agnew, Aunt Agatha's, Ann Arbor, Mich., www.auntagathas.com:  For the uninitiated, Chris Grabenstein's enjoyable and humorous series features John Ceepak, a cop in the resort town of Sea Haven, New Jersey, where the music is always by Springsteen (even Ceepak's 25 year old partner likes Bruce) and there seem to be more nasty bad guys than you can shake a stick at.  In this entry, Ceepak's partner, Danny Boyle, catches a suicide without Ceepak.  Boyle knows enough to know there's something off about the shooting death and apparent suicide of an Iraqi war vet in a rest area bathroom, but he's not sure what it is.  Luckily he has the more that capable Ceepak to help him out.  Ceepak, who lives by a rigid code of honor, is always prepared & ready to go, bears a striking similarity to Lee Child's Jack Reacher, only he's funnier.  The stories are told from Danny's point of view, adding to the humor, which is of the same school as writers like Robert B. Parker and Harlan Coben, when he was still writing the Bolitar books.  Like both of those authors there's always a little bite to the story - this one is a neat dissection of the relationship of politics and the war in Iraq, but it's hardly heavy handed.  This is mostly a fast moving, cleverly assembled police procedural with memorable central characters.  Humor, a good police story--and Bruce.  To me, this is pretty much a perfect summer read.

THE CALLING by Inger Ash Wolfe (Harcourt $24). Recommended by Barbara Peters, The Poisoned Pen, Scottsdale, AZ www.poisonedpen.com:  Set in rural Ontario where a killer of some sort has kept a willing appointment with two terminally ill citizens, one the elderly widow Delia, the other a 30-ish male with MS, The Calling features a truly terrific character in Detective Inspector Hazel Micallef with the Ontario Police Services Port Dundas detachment. At 61, she has crippling lower back pain from a disentegrating disc, a forty-some year marriage broken on the anvil of her dedication to The Job, a maverick approach and a frequent wrestle with her drinking, and she's living with her 87-year-old mother, the former Port Dundas mayor who was hounded out of office by the media over her reaction to the affair between her husband and the now dead Delia. The mix of police procedures/ administrative rivalries, multiple family dynamics, herbs and naturopathic medicine, a killer on a wild quest, forensics, and the author's portrait not just of Canada's landscape but life in small towns is so authentic you sink into this world and resent being pulled back out. I did not want this novel to end. Hazel's mother is a real cracker, just the kind of person I'd like to be at 87, and other mothers form part of the ensemble cast: one, although dead, a real monster. The other mystery is – who is Inger Ash Wolfe? Described as "the pseudonym for a North American literary novelist" there are few clues other than that the novelist is almost surely Canadian given this wording.

 

Volume 5, Issue 6

 

June 2008

 

Edited by 

Tom & Enid Schantz

The Rue Morgue

Boulder, Co.

www.ruemorguepress. com

 

 

 

THE BIG BOTH WAYS by John Straley ( Alaska Northwest Books, $16.95). Recommended by Tom & Enid Schantz, The Rue Morgue, Lyons, CO www.ruemorguepress.com : For far too many years now we’ve been waiting for a new book by Straley, author of the Cecil Younger private eye mysteries set in Sitka, and we’re delighted to say that his new non-series historical set in 1935 doesn’t disappoint, although it takes off in quite a different direction from his earlier books.The Great Depression is at its height when Slip Wilson leaves his job as a lumberjack and heads for Seattle with his bindle, his toolbox, and two thousand in cash he’s saved to buy himself a future. But his plans go awry when he meets Ellie Hobbes, a bottle blonde (and an anarchist) who has a dead body in the trunk of her car and is on the run from some very bad men and a determined Seattle cop. The two join forces and together with Ellie’s young niece Annabelle hit the road to begin a long, difficult journey that eventually takes them up the Inland Passage to Alaska. Straley takes these two broken people and shows us how they are gradually made whole again, despite the harshness of their environment and the overwhelming odds they face. From any other writer this would be a standard noir crime novel, but Straley’s inherent optimism turns it into something quite different, a story that’s moving without being in the least bit sentimental and utterly absorbing in its realistic depiction of people made desperate by economic hardship. In fact, it would make an illuminating companion piece to Steinbeck’s classic The Grapes of Wrath for anyone wanting to learn about this chapter in our country’s past.

 

A ROYAL PAIN by Rhys Bowen.  ( Berkley , $23.95)Recommended by Maggie Mason, Looking for Books, San Diego , CA : Lady Georgiana Rannoch is making the best of her life in London .  Her business opening houses for wealthy families returning from vacation is perfect for her skills, such as they are.  Of course, this business is a secret from most of her family and acquaintances, especially the Queen. Having over 30 people ahead of you in the royal succession pretty much ensures you'll never be crowned Queen, but that doesn't mean you can relax your standards of conduct.  Georgie is assigned a duty by the Queen, one that will keep her very busy.  There is a princess from Germany , Hanni for short, who is visiting England .  The Queen hopes her son will become enamored with him, and lose interest in the American woman he is besotted with, much to the dismay of all who meet the woman. Georgie has her hands full with Hanni, who has lead a very sheltered life, and now wants to live it up.  At a "fast" party, there is a death, and Georgie and Hanni are quickly hurried away.  That is not the only death on the agenda, and its up to Georgie and her quick wits to save the day. Georgie is a real treasure.  I love the way she has found a way to live a life of her choosing, yet still keep on the good side of her family.  Her ingenuity is amazing.  Further adventures of the Lady Georgie will be highly anticipated by this reader. 

Somebody Owes Me Money by Donald E. Westlake (Hardcase Crime $6.95). Recommended by Bill Farley, Seattle Mystery Bookstore, Seattle WA . www.seattlemystery.com The arrival of the Hard Case Crime imprint is one of the happiest events in this not-very-happy era of publishing. HCC has produced an interesting mix of new and overlooked classic stories, by a mix of new and well-established authors. All in paperback, with attractive covers, for $6.99! As the name implies, most are aimed at readers who like hard-boiled fiction, but I’ve just found an exception. Somebody Owes Me Money, by Donald E. Westlake, was probably considered hard-boiled when it was published in 1969, but I’d recommend it to anyone who likes a laugh-out-loud funny caper with a surprisingly good whodunit buried inside. If, as some people say, a banana is the perfect food, this is a banana of a book. Chester (but please call him Chet) Conway is a New York cab driver who likes to play the horses. When a fare gives him a tip on a horse, instead of a monetary tip, he places a small bet on the long-shot and wins big. But when he goes to collect, he finds his bookie murdered. It looks like Chet did it, to the dead man’s sister and to two rival crime families, each one thinking he’s working for the other. Chaos and comedy ensue. After almost 40 years out-of-print, it’s great to have this unknown (to me, anyway) vintage Westlake back.

 

MADMAN ON A DRUM by David Housewright (St. Martin's Minotaur, $24.95), recommended by Robin Agnew, Aunt Agatha's, Ann Arbor, Mich., www.auntagathas.com:  David Housewright is one of the undiscovered treasures of mystery fiction.  While possessing similar skills to writers like Robert Parker, Robert Crais and even Harlan Coben, and despite winning an Edgar out of the gate for his first book, his fine Mac MacKenzie series is still an all too well kept secret.  Mac survives on reward money he scored long ago; he lives in the house he shared with his now deceased dad; and freed of financial constraints, he's truly able to live up to the "white knight" code shared by every P.I. from Marlowe on down.  The whole gimmick never seems to interfere with the story.  Housewright's plots are usually rocket propelled, but Madman on a Drum seems to have special oomph.  In it, Mac is desperately trying to find the kidnapped daughter of his best friends; half way through the book, the kidnapping plot is resolved, but the kidnapper brought his own Mac attached baggage which must be dealt with as someone is trying to kill Mac.  While Housewright is a suspense master, he's also great at making you care about his characters, including the secondary ones and even the bad guys.  His setting, Minneapolis / St. Paul , is a rich backdrop to the books and add vividness to the whole enterprise.  Do yourself a favor and don't miss another second of Mac's adventures.

 

KING'S GOLD by Yxta Maya Murray (Harper Collins $13.95). Recommended by Barbara Peters, The Poisoned Pen, Scottsdale , AZ www.poisonedpen.com:   Lola Sanchez, Long Beach , Calif. , bookshop owner and the daughter of legendary archeologist and old-fashioned pulp hero Tomas de la Rosa, gets a visit from a stranger. Oh joy, it's a letter, certainly centuries old, and it not only suggests that Montezuma's lost stash of gold was real, it's a kind of treasure map. Well, what with her dad dying while on search for it, how can Lola not pursue this mystery? Bringing in the whole family including mom and stepfather, Lola embarks on a suicidal quest that heads to – Italy ? – and other fabled sites (why not Mexico you ask, so read it and see). I have been mad for LA Law Professor Murray's books since publication of 2002's The Conquest which features Sara Gonzales, a rare-book restorer at the Getty. The Red Lion series began in Queen Jade ($14 out in June) with a death-defying treasure hunt that "transforms her sedentary, word-mad bibliophile heroine into a genuine biblio-adventurer." Publishers Weekly.

 

 

Issue 5.6 

 

June  2008

 

Edited by Robin Agnew,

Aunt Agatha's,

Ann Arbor,MI

www.auntagathas.com

 

 

STALKING DEATH by Kate Flora (The Mystery Company, $25), recommended by Robin Agnew, Aunt Agatha’s, Ann Arbor, Mich, www.auntagathas.com:  Like Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski, Thea Kozak takes a licking and keeps on ticking.  In this book she’s smashed into a car windshield, knocked from behind and given a concussion, and chased by a bad guy with an axe.  She’s a truly kick-ass, righteous, feminist  heroine, something that in a world that seems to be post-feminist is a very refreshing thing.  Unlike V.I., though, Thea isn’t a detective for hire, she’s a consultant for independent (i.e., private boarding) schools.  She’s called in when there’s a crisis of some kind, and the one in Stalking Death is a doozy.  The swanky St. Mathew’s School seems to have a problem with a female African American student, Shondra Jones, who claims she’s being stalked in a particularly vicious manner.  The administration says Shondra is simply crazy and they want to expel her – ostensibly, they want Thea to sign off on a letter they’re sending to parents explaining that their own students are safe and no allegations have been proved.  Even reading those last few sentences should have alarm bells going off, and Thea, a woman who suffers neither fools nor moral laxity gladly, hears them clanging loudly even before she discovers that the alleged stalked is the grandson of the school’s biggest donor.  Things get more complicated when Shondra’s brother is later discovered standing over the body of the dead stalker.  Flora’s books are always tight and suspenseful, and this one is no exception to that rule.  It’s very difficult to put down, and impossible not to be drawn into the story, to care about Thea and Shondra, and to hope that the talented Ms. Flora has another Thea Kozak novel up her sleeve.

 

DARKLING by Yasmine Galenorn (Berkley, $7.99), recommended by Fran Fuller, Seattle Mystery Bookstore, Seattle, WA, www.seattlemystery.com;  I knew the third installment of Yasmine Galenorn’s Otherworld series, Darkling, was going to be the darkest so far, and boy was I right!  This one, told from the point of view of Meolly, takes us through not only the challenges that are facing the sisters as the turbulence in the Otherworld spills into ours, but allows us to see what happened to Menolly, how she was turned into a vampire.  This series has made Yasmine a national bestselling author for a reason.  She has three distinct voices for each of her protagonists, and she has developed multiple threads and plotlines that run through not only each book but an ongoing storyline that is becoming more complex and rich with each book.  I love the excitement of waiting for the next one, but I do envy the people in years to come who find this series and who can sit down and read them all at once.  I’m extraordinarily pleased that she’s got more in this series in the works!  Darkling explores the need for revenge, even when it means you might lose everything.  There were moments when I wasn’t sure I was ready to keep reading, because the story was becoming so intense; not a situation you expect from what is being looked at as a cozy type “romantic suspense” novel.  You’ll be hearing more about Yasmine and the Sisters of the Moon after this one hits the stands, I promise!

 

STALKING SUSAN by Julie Kramer (Doubleday, $22.95), recommended by Maggie Mason, Lookin’ for Books, maggiemary@yahoo.com: Debut novel.  Riley Spartz is trying to recover from the horrific death of her police officer husband, as well as revive her career as an investigative reporter for a Minneapolis TV station.  Riley was deeply depressed, which is to be expected after losing a spouse.  What made it worse was that they had fought right before he left for work.  Riley needs to find new stories to get back on the air, and  luckily she gets a tip from a former cop.  Nick Garnett is now head of security for the Mall of America.  He has information on the deaths of two woment named Susan.   Riley wants to determine if there is a serial killer out there as the women were both murdered on November 19th, though different years.  One woman was a waitress, the other was a drug addict who prostituted herself to buy drugs.  As the investigation goes on, Riley finds another Susan who was murdered on the 19th as well; she was the wife of a respected doctor.  It may not be tied in, as her murderer was found and is in prison.  Riley still wants to look into the murder of Susan Redding, to make sure her murderer was indeed found.

 

While this is going on, Riley gets an assignment that she dismissed initially.  It seems that people who pay for the cremation of their beloved pets are being cheated by a crooked vet.  Riley uncovers the scam, which gets high ratings, and makes Dr. Redding open up to her a bit more.  Eventually, Susan ties everything together in a very satisfying manner, making it a very enjoyable debut novel.  The insight into the workings of a television news show was intriguing, and I also loved seeing the nasty vet get caught.  I’m hoping this will be a series.

 

TKO by Tom Schreck (Midnight Ink, $14.95), recommended by Jim Huang, The Mystery Company, Carmel , IN , www.themysterycompany.com:  Tom Schreck takes the private eye as social worker paradigm – PIs who don’t just solve the case, they make lives better – and turns it around.  Duffy Dombrowski is a social worker who tries but fails to resist the urge to act like a private eye when his clients get into trouble.  Howard Reinhardt has plenty of trouble.  After years of torment in high school, Rheinhardt snapped and murdered four of his classmates.  He’s released after serving 25 years in jail, with mandated visits to Duffy’s agency for psychiatric care.  He’s a model client, and Duffy’s developing some sympathy for him when he fails to show up for an appointment and a high school girl is murdered in a manner reminiscent of the first of Howard’s original killings.

 

Duffy has good reason not to investigate.  His colleagues at the agency believe Howard is beyond help.  His cop buddy thinks that a social worker has no business playing private eye.  Duffy moonlights as a boxer, and he has the opportunity to realize a dream and fight a bout in Madison Square Garden .  But as the body count rises, Howard keeps telephoning Duffy, first to profess his innocence then, in an odd reversal, to confess.  And Duffy knows there’s no one else in Howard’s corner.

 

TKO is a lot of things, all at once.  It’s crude but clever, foul mouthed but intelligent.  Duffy spends a big hunk of the novel doubting himself – for good reason – but finds a way to stand up for Howard and himself in the end.  The boxer/social worker/investigator might sound like a goofy combination, but Schreck doesn’t shy away from the goofiness, delivering a fresh take on a venerable paradigm, with attitude and heart.

 

 

THE DAWN PATROL by Don Winslow (Knopf, $23.95), recommended by Jeff Mariotte, Mysterious Galaxy, San Diego, CA, www.mystgalaxy.com:  Sometimes a book comes along that ought to be read by everyone living in a particular geographic area.  This one, conveniently, should be read by all San Diegans, and the sooner the better.  It offers historical and cultural insigts into San Diego , from the surf at Pacific Beach to the fields of North County and just about everyplace in between, all disguised as a rocket-paced, witty crime novel.  Don does dialogue better than just about anyone in the business, and it crackles in this tale of a surf-bum P.I. who gets more involved than he wanted in the case of a missing stripper on the eve of a record swell soming towards the shore.  As an added bonus, The Dawn Patrol features an appearance by Mysterious Galaxy co-owner Terry Gilman (albeit in a decidedly different profession).  You don’t have to know San Diego to love this book, but for those who do, every chapter carries that extra thrill of recognition that comes when a writer really gets an area and conveys his love for it on the page.

 

 

Issue 5.05

May 2008 

Edited by

Deb Andolino

Aliens & Alibis Books,

Columbia, SC,

www.aliensandalibis.com

 

 

 

 

CHILD 44, by Tom Rob Smith (Grand Central Publishing, $24.95) Recommended by Sue Wilder, Murder on the Beach Mystery Bookstore, Delray Beach, FL, ####:  Soviet war hero Leo Demidov is on the fast track in Russia’s State Security agency.  He is a model citizen intent on serving his country.  As an officer in the MGB, he investigates crimes against the state and is instrumental in arresting citizens who are guilty of crimes or thoughts of disloyalty against Stalinist Russia.  His unwavering loyalty is rewarded with better housing, food and clothes for Leo and his wife Raisa and his parents.

 

A friend’s child is found dead and Leo is dispatched to quell rumors of murder.  After all, according to the state, murderers do not exist in a society that describes itself as a workers’ paradise.  However, when another child is found dead under similar circumstances, Leo begins to suspect that a serial killer is murdering these children.

 

Leo’s perfect life begins to dissemble when he begins his search for this murderer against all instructions from his superiors.  He is immediately demoted and exiled to a small town far from the seat of power in Moscow.

 

Once a pursuer, Leo becomes the pursued, now a victim of the paranoia that is rampant in 1950’s Russia.  His goal to find the killer is subverted at every turn by a government that insists the criminal does not exist.

 

CHILD 44 is a well-written thriller that expertly captures the fear and paranoia in post-war Russian during the waning days of Stalin’s regime.  The characters are portrayed realistically, with survival at the top of everybody’s list.  All are victims of repression, trying to stay under the secret police’s radar.

 

It is difficult to imagine that CHILD 44 is Tom Rob Smith’s debut.  The basic premise is fascinating and the plot is driven by the characters’

actions.  The suspense builds from the very first chapter, causing this reader to be riveted to her seat.

 

CHILD 44 is one of this year’s best books.

 

WIT’S END, by Karen Joy Fowler (A Marian Wood Book, $24.95) Recommended by Maryelizabeth Hart, Mysterious Galaxy, San Diego, CA, www.mystgalaxy.com  Wit’s End is a celebration of a variety of literary conceits. It’s a mystery, as Rima Lanisell, an adult orphan with a knack for losing precious things (including people she cares about), visits her godmother to try to discover more about her father. It’s a novel about the writing process, as mystery author A.B. Early showcases the dollhouses she uses to construct the murder scenes from her immensely popular novels. It’s a dialogue, or maybe a soliloquy, on the relationship between readers and authors and how technology impacts that relationship. Most of all, it’s a reader’s delight of near meta-fiction, as one reads about the experience of reading. Highly recommended

 

FRIEND OF THE DEVIL by Peter Robinson (Willliam Morrow, $24.95) Recommended by  Tom & Enid Schanz, The Rue Morgue, Lyons, CO www.ruemorguepress.com  Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks of the Yorkshire police is assigned a case involving the murder and rape of a young college student in the Maze, a labyrinthine area adjoining the market square and pub district of Eastvale. Banks’ investigation of the incident takes many surprising turns as he tracks down first the killer and then a mysterious avenger who mistakes one of Banks’ colleagues for the murderer.

 

Meanwhile, Detective Inspector Annie Cabbot, on loan to a nearby precinct, investigates a revenge killing in the coastal village of Whitby after a woman is found in her wheelchair with her throat slit on a cliff overlooking the ocean. The two investigations eventually intersect, partly because of the troubled relationship between Alan and Annie, and partly because each is part of an intricate larger whole going back to past cases.

 

Robinson, a Canadian writer who was born in Yorkshire and whose police procedurals have become increasingly darker over the years, does a commendable job managing a complex plot—two complex plots, in fact, as he has hit upon an ingenious way of satisfying the market demand for longer mysteries by offering the reader two stories in one. He also adds to the heft of the novel by providing an abundance of detail about Banks’ daily routine; for example, there’s not a song he plays on his iPod or a pint he drinks (or thinks about drinking) that isn’t painstakingly described.

  

MURDER IN THE RUE DE PARADIS, by Cara Black (Soho Crime, $24) Recommended by Linda Dewberry, Whodunit? Books, Olympia, WA: Aimee Leduc, girl detective, faces all the highs and lows in "Murder in the Rue de Paradis." Totally unexpected an old boyfriend, investigative journalist Yves Robert, comes back into her life and quickly proposes marriage.  Before Aimee can even second guess her "yes" she's asked to identify his body and finds herself investigating the crime because she believes the police are going down the wrong track.  They seem to be more concerned by the Metro bomb threats than Yves' death.  Aimee's sure it has something to do with his undercover work and finds herself delving into his past in the middle of the little Istanbul section of Paris.  Carrying a heavy burden, you wonder if Aimee is blinded by her emotions and if she's strong enough to see the investigation through to it's stunning conclusion. 

 

This series has become one of my favorites over the time that I started the store.  Aimee has grown as a character and Black has grown as a writer.  A winning combination.  Because each book is written about a different section of Paris, there's something new to experience or learn every time. Between admiring Aimee's ingenuity and spunk and learning about this section of Paris and what makes it tick, there's plenty of suspense to keep you turning pages.  Last year's book (now out in paperback) made me laugh a lot.  This one made me cry.  Highly recommended.

 

HOLY MOLY, by Ben Rehder (St. Martin's Minotaur, $24.95) Recommended by Maggie Mason, Lookin' for Books, San Diego, CA, maggiemary@yahoo.com:  John Marlin is about to get married to his love, Nicole Brooks.  Could Blanco County, Texas be peaceful for a change?  Not on your life.  In a caper that mixes televangelism and fossils, life is pretty much going on as usual for most of the county. 

 

Billy Don, who frequently helps Red , has found love, which could put a damper on the schemes that Red comes up with to make a quick buck.  Though not really bad outlaws, bending or spraining the law comes easy to this redneck duo.  Billy Don has his eyes on Betty Jean Farley, though doesn't seem to know how to go about wooing her.  Her brother, Hollis Farley may have found a valuable dinosaur fossil, and might even make some money out of his find.

 

It seems that Hollis Farley may have been easy on the eyes, but "if he was any dumber, you'd have to water him."  So, when Betty Jean finds her brother with a large flat screen TV, she knows something is up.  Sadly, Hollis is found dead at work, apparently by a back hoe accident.  Later, when its found he was murdered by a bow and arrow, the search for motive is on. 

Hollis isn't the only one looking to make a quick fortune with the fossil.  His boss, and a man who works for the owner of the construction site all want an easy fortune.  It seems that the land where the bone is found is to be turned into a very large church by Peter Boothe and his avaricious wife, Vanessa. Aided by Alex Pringle, the Boothes have a giant "ministry" which supports a very extravagant lifestyle.  During the investigation, Peter Boothe undergoes a stunning conversion, and actually begins using some of the donations for significant charitable causes. 

There are also a few subplots which are very entertaining, utilizing many of the characters I've come to know and love.  There are more suspects around, which serves to make a wackier concoction.  As usual, John Marlin shows us that he's more than just a game warden, and is up for anything the crooks can throw at him.   I loved the time I spent in Texas Hill Country in real life, but it doesn't compare to my enjoyment at reading a new Rehder novel.

 

 

Volume 5, Issue 4

 

April 2008

 

Edited by 

Karen Spengler,

I Love a Mystery, Mission, KS  www.iloveamystery.com

 

A FETE WORSE THAN DEATH, by Dolores Gordon-Smith (Carroll & Graf, $14.95).  Recommended by Tom & Enid Schantz, The Rue Morgue, Boulder www.ruemorguepress.com:  Set in 1922 but with its roots in the Great War, this first novel introduces former Royal Flying Corps pilot turned mystery writer Jack Haldean, who teams up with Scotland Yard’s Superintendent Edward Ashley when one of Jack’s former fellow officers is found murdered in the fortune-teller’s tent at the local fete.

More murders follow, and Jack gradually traces them back to a tragic incident during the Battle of the Somme when a group of British soldiers is betrayed by one of their own in the chalk tunnels beneath Augier Ridge. And it’s in these very tunnels that the mystery plays out to a chilling denouement when Jack and Superintendent Ashley finally trap the killer.

The fun of the book lies in its almost reverent observance of the traditions of the classical English mysteries of the Golden Age—the seemingly peaceful country house setting, the ebullient gifted amateur who quickly gains the trust of a seasoned Scotland Yard detective, and the large cast of characters, any one of whom might have a motive for the murder. It’s not the actual 1920s that the author transports us to, but the fictional world portrayed in crime novels from that period.

THE NIGHT FOLLOWING, by Morag Joss (Delacorte Press, $22.00).  Recommended by Linda Dewberry, Whodunit? Books:  The Night Following is a case of one small thing drastically changing your life.  The woman of our story is involved in a hit and run.  Why did she hit?  Because she found a condom wrapper in her husband's car.  What can she do to make up for the death she caused?  She can visit the woman's husband and in so doing she finds herself unable to walk away. She makes atonement in her own way, and the widower tries to recover from his grief in his own way.  He can't accept his wife's death and keeps leaving her notes and then being upset when she doesn't answer.  Included with the notes are part of a writing project his wife was working on.

I found this story poignant and fascinating.  How any of us deal with that one small nanosecond where our life changes in a downward spiraling kind of way is interesting.  I'd look for this one to be another award winner like "Half Broken Things" was.  Terrific writing about characters you care about! 

CITY OF THE SUN by David Levien (Doubleday $24.95).  Recommended by Louise Pieper, I Love a Mystery, Mission, KS  www.iloveamystery.com:   Twelve year-old Jamie Gabriel rides his bike in the early morning hours to deliver newspapers.  One morning, he doesn’t return home.  After fourteen long agonizing months with no leads and little help from the police, the parents turn to Frank Behr for help. Behr, an ex-cop, is now a private investigator.  Behr is an intense man, a strong loner who seldom forms relationships with anyone. He’s reluctant to take the case—a case that’s gone cold with the chance of finding Jamie alive highly unlikely, yet he agrees to help, perhaps because he understands the parents’ anguish of “not knowing.”  Behr is undaunted in his relentless, yet methodical, search for the answers to Jamie’s fate.

The book’s jacket describes the story as riveting.  There is no better word.  This book grips you from the start and holds you to the very end without stopping.  You will not put this book down until you are finished. 

HOODOO by Susan Cummins Miller (Texas Tech, $25). Recommended by Barbara Peters, The Poisoned Pen, Scottsdale, AZ. www.poisonedpen.com:

Geologist Frankie MacFarlane is described by Miller’s fellow Tucson author J.M. Hayes as "hard and beautiful and fragile like obsidian. Fracture either and you'll find an edge sharper than steel. Miller's writing cuts the page like a scalpel." In this, her fourth detection, the traditional homeland of the Chiricahua Apaches once led by Geronimo is just like a tinderbox. Down Under Copper's mineral exploration plans pit landowners, worried about their water supply and land values, against those profit seekers. Then a DUC executive is shot. Frankie, her students, and her friend Joaquin Black, a local rancher, while on a field trip, find the victim lying in a clearing among the volcanic hoodoos of Chiricahua National Monument. And that night, near Paradise, on the eastern side of the mountain range, someone kills an ethnobotanist. Miller draws parallels between Arizona's Massai Point linked to the Apaches and Africa's Masaii tribe to form an unusual, imaginative spine for the story. While Miller’s publisher is a university press, her works are not at all dry, but are grounded soundly in her specialty and will appeal to fans of Sarah Andrew, Nevada Barr, and in Hoodoo, Tony Hillerman.

THE SHANGHAI TUNNEL by Sharan Newman (Forge, $24.95), recommended by Robin Agnew, Aunt Agatha's, Ann Arbor, MI, www.auntagathas.com: Oh, how I have missed Sharan Newman! I'm not alone - fans of her wonderful Catherine LeVendeur series are legion - and I'm also not alone in being not so sure about Newman switching her locale from 12th century France to 19th century Portland, Oregon. But I should have had a little more faith - Newman is one of the more gifted narrative storytellers writing at the moment, and her gift does not fail her in this latest, and very welcome, outing.  Lots of the themes in this book will be familiar to any Newman devotee. Emily Stratton, a recently widowed mother moving back to the States from a lifetime spent in China, is more relieved than saddened that her brutal, coarse husband Horace is dead. With her sixteen year old son, Robert, she sets up a household in Portland in the luxurious home Horace had bought and furnished before dying suddenly on the trip home. Emily is thus truly a stranger in a strange land - not only has she never lived in Portland, she's never lived in America, and she desperately misses the Chinese language, clothing and food she grew up with. The hoopskirts and corsets current in 1868 America are a puzzle to her and a decided disadvantage. As with Catherine LeVendeur, Emily is thus an insider and an outsider at the same time. Quickly introduced to both her husband's business partners and the sister and brother-in-law and nieces she has never met, Emily attempts to settle into Portland, while at the same time being disquieted at what she finds as she combs through her husband's books, to the complete dismay of his partners. When her Chinese cook is found shot to death, Emily's worries deepen, and they aren't helped by her ignorance of her son Robert's wild behavior. She thinks he's an angel - the servants know otherwise. I found myself becoming completely involved in Emily's life - her quest for the Chinese herbal medications she's been used to; her suggestion to Horace's partners that they import bean curd rather than opium and "coolies"; and her attempts to understand calling cards, her sister-in-law, and to make sense of the general friendliness of the Americans she meets every day. This is a complete world the reader is introduced to, populated by both prostitutes and ministers and everyone possible in between, with, as is characteristic of this talented author, completely memorable and believable backstories of their own. This isn't a book where you'll be flipping back pages trying to remember who all the characters are; they're indelible right from the start. The mystery itself is twisty and complex - I never figured out the ending and/or the ultimate villain of the piece - plus, I learned the true meaning of the term "being Shanghaied". As with the Catherine books, Newman's eye for the unjust - here the treatment of the Chinese as virtual slaves by Americans - as well as a feminist story arc for her main character, anchor the story. Emily, like Catherine, never seems an anachronism or a polemic, though, just a smart survivor. When you're finished, I would be surprised if you weren't both in floods of tears, as I was, as well as eager for the next installment.

 

 

Volume 5, Issue 3

 

March 2008

 

Edited by 

Tom & Enid Schantz

The Rue Morgue

Boulder, Co.

www.ruemorguepress. com

 

 
NOBLE LIES by Charles Benoit (Poisoned Pen Press, $24.95). Recommended by J.D. Singh, Sleuth of Baker Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada www.sleuthofbakerstreet.com: One of my all time favorite reads, a book I still try to put in everyone's hands is Relative Danger. This was a fun, fun read. The author's newest novel is Noble Lies. Our hero, Mark Rohr, who worked as a bouncer at a bar, is hired by an attractive young American to find her brother. In all likelihood the brother drowned in the tsunami disaster but, maybe not. Pictures of someone who looks like looks like him, post-disaster, have surfaced. Why he is not in contact with his family, if he did indeed survive, is not a question that Mark really wants answered. He figures he'll humor the young woman until she runs of out of money, then he'll be rid of her and her brother. All is not as it would appear, of course. Part of the charm of the book is the Thai culture of the noble lie--better to tell a small lie and save face then to admit that one does not the answer and lose face--which makes a P.I.'s job a tad difficult.. Thugs, high seas piracy, crime lords, bars and bar girls, a Thailand not seen on official tourist brochures...all make for an exciting read that just keeps you guessing. The author is an incurable traveler and that love of travel and adventure benefits the reader immeasurably.
 

PUSHING UP DAISIES by Rosemary Harris (St. Martin's Minotaur, $23.95), recommended by Robin Agnew, Aunt Agatha's, Ann Arbor, Mich., www.auntagathas.com: Like gardening? This is the book for you. Rich with detail that never overwhelms the plot, this is the rare treat that gives the reader some useful information while still supplying an entertaining story to go with it. Harris' first effort features landscaper Paula Holliday. Paula has taken a buyout from her former high powered job as a producer of TV documentaries, and moved out to the wilds of ritzy Springfield, Connecticut, where she is trying to eke out a new living as a landscape gardener. Competition is fierce out in the burbs, though, where despite recommendations from the town hangout & café owner, Babe, jobs are still few and far between.   By severely underbidding the competition, Paula lands a job re-landscaping the long neglected gardens of "Halcyon", the estate of the mysterious Peacock sisters.  While weeding she uncovers a corpse which sends her on an entirely different journey.  While this is a pretty standard cozy set up, it's set apart by some interesting sidebar characters - notably Babe and Paula's hard driving friend from the city, Jane.  The obvious love interest, present in so many cozy mysteries (he often sports a mustache) isn't present here - Paula's love life, like her working life, is left nicely up in the air at the end of the book while the threads of the mystery itself are neatly tied up.  This is also a welcome hope of spring after a long, snowy, cold winter.  Soon enough we can all hope to join Paula out in our own gardens!

 

ROGUE MALE by Geoffrey Household ( New York Review of Books $14.00). Recommended by Barbara Peters, The Poisoned Pen, Scottsdale , AZ , www.poisonedpen.com:  What with the creation of the International Thriller Writers Association, its annual award The Thriller, and the heavyweights in this genre on sales lists, you might think all this fuss is over something new. But no, the structure of a classic thriller, which I view as a duel between a protagonist and an antagonist filled with feints and parries and twists – and strikes, often moving rapidly across a broad landscape (and time), is an cherished literary form. And no better example can be found in this cat-and-mouse suspense by British author Household (1900-1988), first published in 1939 (filmed in 1941 as Man Hunt). I have always loved the British "amateur" approach, something honed no doubt by its leisure classes who could afford to, or were compelled by family placement, to become experts, explorers, scientists, adventurers, secret agents…. What we get here is a "professional" hunter passing through an Eastern European dictatorship in the 1930s who for the hell of it wonders if he can take out the vicious leader by penetrating his private lair. Just as he's about to pull the trigger, the dictator's security pounces. Imprisoned, tortured, the hunter escapes, bolts to England, and there, relentlessly pursued by the dictator's man, literally goes to ground, burrowing into the very earth like a fox. I have never forgotten, some 40 years after first reading Rogue Male, those scenes that depict the hunted and the hunter, for inevitably our man's antagonist stays on the scent, and what the hunter turned prey finally does about it. In her Introduction to this issue, Victoria Nelson ends: "Described by Household as a 'bastard offspring of Stevenson and Conrad,' the book is no less remarkable as an exploration of the lure of violence, the psychology of survivalism, and the call of the wild." Author David Morrell notes that Rogue Male influenced his writing of First Blood which led to the "Rambo" film franchise. A writer who lived and worked in both the United States and Canada, educated at Oxford 's Magdalen College and a security officer in the British military during WWII, Household wrote some 22 novels, many short stories, four books for children, an autobiography, and wrote for magazines. While some of these have sunk into obscurity, Rogue Male is timeless and appears on every "Best List" as a peerless example of the escape and pursuit story.

 

CALUMET CITY by Charlie Newton. (Touchstone, $14.00). Recommended by J.B. Dickey, Seattle Mystery Bookstore, Seattle. www.seattlemystery.com: Here’s a sharp little paragraph from the opening section of Calumet City:The devil has a man’s first and last name – you need to believe that – he’s got saliva, busy hands, and a Bible he quotes, and shoes that are always new. But he’s the devil just the same.” A terrific debut, and, while it is early to make such a judgment, quite likely the debut of the year. For the narrative drive and claustrophobic sense of evil, it is right up there with Lehane’s Gone, Baby, Gone. The bones of the story are that a Chicago cop’s past, a past that she’s hidden from everyone in her present, and has done her best to hide from herself – but her past is now alive and murderous. Damn, what a great book! I look forward to whatever he does next.

 

SILENT IN THE SANCTUARY by Deanna Raybourn (Mira, $13.95) Recommended by Tom & Enid Schantz, The Rue Morgue, Boulder www.ruemorguepress.com : In the winter of 1887 the recently widowed Lady Julia Grey is summoned from Italy to her father’s home in Sussex to celebrate the Christmas holidays in the company of her many wildly eccentric siblings and a few more distant relations. Also present, to Julia’s dismay, is the enigmatic Nicholas Brisbane, the private enquiry agent who helped her track down her husband’s murderer in the first book of the series. The home in question is a converted abbey complete with secret passages, a gloomy chapel, and even a resident ghost. When a socially ambitious young curate is found murdered in the chapel, a penniless young cousin confesses to the crime, but Julia is convinced that the woman is innocent and persuades her father to let her help Nicholas investigate. Tension mounts as the abbey is cut off from the outside world by a raging snowstorm and it becomes clear that the killer is still very much at large.  The very familiarity of its ingredients is part of the charm of this witty and entertaining story. Every character comes alive, especially Julia and her close-knit family, who embrace social conventions when it suits them and discard them when they don’t. Fans of English historical suspense with a touch of romance couldn’t do better than this.

 

 

Issue 5.2 

 

February  2008

 

Edited by

Maryelizabeth Hart

Mysterious Galaxy

San Diego, CA www.mystgalaxy.com

 

 

 

THE CRAZY SCHOOL by Cornelia Read (Grand Central Publishing, $23.99), recommended by Robin Agnew, Aunt Agatha's, Ann Arbor, Mich., www.auntagathas.com:  Cornelia Read's The Crazy School is a follow up to her very original and beautifully written first novel, A Field of Darkness, and it feels tighter and more focused than the first book.  In this novel, Madeleine Dare has moved to the Berkshires with her husband and she's working at a school for troubled teenagers..  She feels she's fighting an uphill battle, both with the kids, who she's not sure she's helping, and with the school administration, which is very odd.  The headmaster is strangely controlling with both students and staff and the strands that relate to history and past events that Madeleine teaches her students come back to tie neatly into the main story.  When two of the students are found dead in an apparent suicide pact, Madeleine can't let it go so easily, and she's sure she's been poisoned herself.  As the talented Read peels back the horrifying yet absolutely believable layers of the school, she also creates some indelible characters that will stay with you long after you've finished the book.  This is the work of an extremely gifted newcomer to the mystery genre.

A TOAST TO TOMORROW by Manning Coles (Rue Morgue $14.95). Recommended by Barbara Peters, The Poisoned Pen, Scottsdale AZ www.poisonedpen.com: Here is a reissue of one of my all time favorite novels, a kind of soft spy story no less chilling in its portraits of 1933 Berlin and top Nazis than the hard stuff. The author(s)—Manning Coles was actually a team, one of whom, Cyril Coles, left school, lied about his age, and eventually became the youngest British intelligence officer ever—were unequaled in the way they could wield language (here, mostly German, but also French and Spanish) and contrast a kind of dignified humor with horrible, deadly situations. In my opinion this is the first Coles to read; don't go looking for descriptions since anything will be a spoiler. When you're done you can read Coles' actual first novel, Drink to Yesterday (Rue Morgue $14.95), reissuing at the same time, which is my least favorite Coles. It's more like nonfiction. Taken together, the Rue Morgue Press reports, the novels have credited Coles, along with Eric Ambler, with the creation of the modern spy novel. So, if you read them in inverse order you can see if you agree with famed critic Anthony Boucher, for whom Bouchercon is named, that they form "a single long and magnificent novel of intrigue, drama and humor."

THE LOST LUGGAGE PORTER by Andrew Martin (Harcourt,  $14.00) Recommended by Tom & Enid Schantz, The Rue Morgue, Boulder, CO www.ruemorguepress.com:  Young Jim Stringer never wanted to be anything but a railroad man, and now, in the winter of 1906, he has become a railway detective in the dismal working-class city of York, where he and his pregnant wife have recently relocated. On his very first day on the job, his boss directs him to go undercover and infiltrate a gang of thieves, an assignment which becomes very dangerous indeed when he finds himself dragged along to Paris with them when they make their daring getaway. As entertaining as the central story is, we were even more drawn to the characters, especially stubborn, dogged Jim and his smart, determined young helpmate referred to only as “the wife,” who takes in freelance typewriting from their flat, is a dedicated suffragist, and has a healthy contempt for all the domestic arts. They have a loving, quirky relationship, which is jeopardized when one of Jim’s unsavory new associates begins making threats against her. And equally arresting is the background of cheerless pubs, dingy row houses, and constant chill damp rain—scarcely the picturesque England American readers like to imagine, and all the more powerful for that. 

THE ANATOMY OF DECEPTION, by Lawrence Goldstone (Random House, $24.00) recommended by Kathy Harig, Mystery Loves Company, Baltimore, MD; www.mysterylovescomany.com: A corpse of a young woman baffles the doctors and interns in a morgue of a Philadelphia hospital. One intern believes that he knows the woman’s identity and that many of the others knew her too, but realizes her death could ruin their reputations. So begins a wonderfully engaging, suspenseful medical mystery set at the beginnings of the modern age of medicine. Its main characters are well-known to students of medicine and art in Philadelphia and Baltimore including famed surgeon Dr.William Osler, co-founder of Johns Hopkins Hospital William Stewart Halsted, and artist Thomas Eakins. Goldstone has created a mystery as compelling as The Alienist. It will be interesting to see the reaction to this book in Baltimore. The book was painstakingly researched and Goldstone made use of Dr. Osler’s works and papers. Highly Recommended.

MISSING by Karin Abvtegen (Felony and Mayhem, $24.00).  Recommended by Kate Mattes, Kate's Mystery Books, Cambridge, MA. www.katesmysterybooks.com: Missing is a riveting, complex but very simple crime novel. Abvtegen has brilliantly combined the character development and tension of a Ruth Rendell novel with a whodunit worthy of Agatha Christie.

Early on, we meet Sibylla, a woman who is homeless by choice. Raised as an only child in an upper-class in a factory town, she found her life so unbearable that she left to be on her own. Gradually we learn more about her childhood and her reasons for leaving. Immediately we realize that her "job" every day is to survive. It takes all of her energy and creativity and her attitude is positive and confident.

Unfortunately one of her creative ventures goes horribly wrong and she winds up the major suspect in an horrific murder. Now she also has to figure out how to stay out of the way of the police. Her efforts bring her in contact with a teen-ager who is feeling quite alienated himself. They form an uneasy alliance as the two of them try to figure out who the murderer, (who has struck again) could be. Neither he nor the reader is sure that Sibylla is entirely innocent so we proceed with caution.

I don't think I have ever read a novel that combined such two different forms so seamlessly. That would be enough to recommend the novel in and of itself. But there are a couple of twists at the end that just leave you wondering when Abylegen's next novel will be out.

 

Issue 5.1 

 

January  2008

 

Edited by Robin Agnew,

Aunt Agatha's,

Ann Arbor,MI

www.auntagathas.com

 

 
PEOPLE OF THE BOOK by Geraldine Brooks (Viking, $26.95). Recommended by Robert Rosenwald, The Poisoned Pen, Scottsdale, AZ, www.poisonedpen.com:
Every book with Brooks is a gem.  Here she gives us Australian rare book expert Hanna Heath who gets the job of a lifetime: analysis and conservation of the famed Sarajexo Haggadah.  Thus treasure, one of the few Jewish volumes to be illuminated with images, has been rescued from Serb shelling during the Bosnian war.  In it’s binding are preserved various tiny artifacts (an insect’s wing, wine stain, salt crystal, etc) that helps Hanna, a caustic loner who lives for her work, unlock the books past, letting us travel from its 1996 salvation back to it’s creation (think The Girl in Hyacinth Blue here).  But Hanna’s work unexpectedly plunges her into the intrigues of fine art forgers and ultra nationalists, not to mention her own difficult past.  The scenes with her mother are astonishing: and yet, who would want a brain surgeon who isn’t utterly devoid of sentiment as mom?

 

GAS CITY by Loren D. Estleman (Forge, $24.95).  Recommended by Jamie Agnew, Aunt Agatha's, Ann Arbor, MI, www.auntagathas.com:
This is a work that the author has been thinking about a long time and it shows.  Gas City is about power and honesty and how hard it is for the two to co-exist in the modern world.  It reminds me of Dashiell Hammett's The Glass Key or the very best of John O'Hara in that it expertly dramatizes characters from many layers of society, all the way from streetwalker to mayor and every social level in between.  The plot begins with the death of Marty Russell, the wife of police chief Francis Russell, a loss that causes the Chief to stop caring about consequences and to start actually doing his job, upsetting a careful arrangement that gives the mob free rein over part of the city, containing vice in one lawless area and lining the pockets of many public officials.  Only the dialogue may at times be a little too snappy for total verisimilitude, but who can complain about snappy dialogue?  The denoument is suitably clever and shocking, but also subtle and understated, as if to emphasize the delicate mastery of the whole.  Gas City is a self evident masterpiece and among the many, many good books Estleman has written I believe it will stand among the very best.

 

THE CRAFTY TEDDY by John J. Lamb (Berkley, $6.99).  Recommended by Tom and Enid Schantz, The Rue Morge Press, Lyons, CO, www.ruemorguepress.com:
We’ve been wondering why mystery booksellers keep singling out this series of so-called cozy police procedurals from the plethora of craft-based mysteries being published today, and now we understand.  It’s hero, retired homicide cop Brad Lyon, who has settled in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley with his wife of many years, Ashleigh, has got to be one of the more likable sleuths in the literature, and the supporting cast of small-town characters, including the woman police chief to whom he acts as occasional consultant, is equally appealing.  Here they investigate the theft of a priceless antique teddy bear from Brad’s collection and the murder of the local museum director following the inexplicable arrival if three Japanese yakuza in the small town of Remmelkemp Mill.  The pace is brisk, the detective believable, and in the end we’re reminded of Aaron Elkins, with teddy bears instead of skeletons.

 

HEAD GAMES by Craig McDonald (Bleak House, $14.95).  Recommended by Karen Spengler, I Love a Mystery, Mission, KS, www.iloveamystery.com:
Head Games is the rip-roaring, riotous, uproarious account of larger-than-life crime writer Hector Lassiter's wild and raucous trek to deliver the head of Pancho Villa to the highest bidder.  Too many adjectives?  Try adding boisterous, brawling and rambunctious, then you'll have an idea of what an over-the-top ride Head Games delivers.  On the run from old Mexico to California and beyond with their gruesome cargo, main characters Lassiter and fellow young writer Bud Fiske encounter such characters as Marlene Deitrich, Jack Webb and Orson Welles, whom Lassiter describes as looking huge, "like a blue whale with a seven o'clock shadow".  Part road trip, part buddy story, Head Games is a fast paced, fun read.

 

AT THE CITY'S EDGE by Marcus Sakey (St. Martin’s Minotaur, $24.95).  Recommended by Robin Agnew, Aunt Agatha's, Ann Arbor, MI, www.auntagathas.com:
Marcus Sakey’s first book, The Blade Itself, was chock full of obvious talent, but to me it felt a little bit slick.  In this second outing, Sakey has thrown away any slickness and retained his gifts of prose, narrative, character development and a great way with a hook.  The hook in this book is Jason, a recently returned Iraq war vet, beset unawares by some thugs who want something from his brother.  When Jason goes to ask his brother, Michael, the owner of a crummy bar on the south side of Chicago, his brother blows him off; when his bar burns to the ground the next day with Michael inside it, Jason is left with his brother’s secret, his nine year old nephew, and a need to find a way to move past the war and figure out the problems in his unexpected new life.  Brilliantly tying together the gangbangers that plagued his brother’s life with the vivid memories of Iraq inside Jason’s head, Sakey sets Jason adrift in a world where nothing is untouched by corruption.  I guess that’s the real definition of noir, and in Sakey’s talented hands, it feels new.  Using the unsteady Jason as the reader’s conduit in to this scary ride through the dark underbelly of Chicago shows real depth on the part of this rapidly maturing writer. And because the characters are equally as compelling as the situations, this is a very strong and memorable novel, not to be missed.