Killer Book Reviews, Volume 5 (2008)
Volume 5, Issue 12
Tom & Enid Schantz
The Rue Morgue
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.com: The 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.com: I 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
Tom & Enid Schantz
The Rue Morgue
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
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..
Edited by Robin Agnew,
by James R. Benn (Soho,
$24.00), recommended by Maggie Mason, Lookin’
for Books, San Diego, CA, firstname.lastname@example.org:
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
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;
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.
Aliens & Alibis Books,
by Marcus Sakey (Dutton Adult, $24.95), recommended by Sue Wilder,
Reviewed by Sue Wilder. Murder on the beach Bookstore,
Delray Beach, FL;
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.
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.
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
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.
(Thomas Dunne Books, $24.95) Recommended
by Karen Spengler, I Love a Mystery, Mission, KS. www.Iloveamystery.com;
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
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
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.
GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO by Stieg Larsson (Knopf;
$24.95) Recommended by Terry Farmer, Murder by the
Book, Houston, TX, www.murderbooks.com
: Financial 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
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!
BIG O by Declan Burke
(Harcourt, $24.00), recommended by David
Lampe-Wilson, Mystery on Main Street, Brattleboro, VT;
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,
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
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
I Love a Mystery, Mission, KS www.iloveamystery.com
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
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
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
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.
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
We also loved French's first novel, which is included here as bonus title
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.
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
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.
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
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.
CALLING by Inger Ash Wolfe (Harcourt $24).
by Barbara Peters, The Poisoned Pen, Scottsdale, AZ
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
Tom & Enid Schantz
The Rue Morgue
BIG BOTH WAYS by John Straley (
ROYAL PAIN by
Rhys Bowen. (
Owes Me Money
by Donald E. Westlake (Hardcase Crime $6.95). Recommended
by Bill Farley,
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
GOLD by Yxta Maya
Edited by Robin Agnew,
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, email@example.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.
by Tom Schreck (Midnight Ink, $14.95), recommended
by Jim Huang, The Mystery Company,
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
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.
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
Aliens & Alibis Books,
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, firstname.lastname@example.org: 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
I Love a Mystery, Mission, KS www.iloveamystery.com
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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
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.
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.
SHANGHAI TUNNEL by Sharan Newman (Forge, $24.95), recommended
by Robin Agnew, Aunt Agatha's, Ann Arbor, MI, www.auntagathas.com:
Volume 5, Issue 3
Tom & Enid Schantz
The Rue Morgue
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!
MALE by Geoffrey Household (
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
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
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
Issue 5.2 February 2008
San Diego, CA
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.
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.