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Brian Skupin
Tuesday, 13 May 2014 07:05
Spring Issue # 134
Brian Skupin
Tuesday, 13 May 2014 07:05
Destroyer Angel

Remember those tacky days when horror movies stationed uniformed nurses in theater lobbies to treat anyone who fainted when the monster showed up? That was all hype, of course, but several times during Destroyer Angel I felt my heart racing so fast that I feared I needed medical assistance.

Yes, Nevada Barr’s 18th Anna Pigeon novel is that scary, but its monsters are human. While camping with two female friends and their young daughters in northern Minnesota’s Iron Range, Anna‚ who has been out canoeing on a nearby river, arrives back on shore just in time to overhear the other women being taken hostage by a group of heavily armed hired killers. Although an ex- perienced park ranger, Anna has no weapons of any kind. She isn’t even wearing heavy enough clothing to weather the approach- ing night. Still, Anna, being the brave and resourceful soul she is, decides to track the men and their hostages through the deep woods, hoping to somehow free her friends.

Heath is a gritty paraplegic and mother of 15-year-old Elizabeth, an unusually ma- ture young woman. The other adult is Leah, a brilliant scientist who designed the paraplegic camping equipment the trip was supposed to be testing. Leah, whose withdrawn manner suggests Asperger’s, is also the mother of beautiful 13-year-old Kate, a spoiled, self-centered brat. Kate’s be- havior would normally be only an annoyance, but her very immaturity has attracted the atten- tion of one of the group’s captors—a convicted child rapist.

As Anna tracks the group of thugs and their hostages, she begins to suspect that once they arrive at their unknown destination, the women will be killed. Watching Anna admit to herself that she might die in the attempt to save her friends is heart-wrenching. Watching her make tools and weapons of items salvaged from campfires and the forest floor is a revelation. Although the annals of crime fiction are filled with brave and resourceful women, few of them have matched the challenges Anna faces in De- stroyer Angel. Yet she isn’t the only hero in this story. During that long, terrifying trek through the woods, the hostages also display uncommon bravery: the mothers, to protect their daughters; the daughters, to protect their mothers. The tension in De- stroyer Angel may be almost unbearable (cue that uniformed nurse), but this tale of survival of the morally fittest is nothing short of a revelation. Barr, a superb novel- ist, has never delivered anything other than a good book‚ and here she’s written a magnificent one.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 30 April 2014 12:04
Anthony Shaffer: Grand Artificer of Mystery
38
2014 Edgar Nominees Announced
54
Sleuthfest: Laura Lippman, Ace Atkins, Hank Phillippi Ryan
54
Louise Penny’s Honors
54
J.A. Jance on L. Frank Baum's "the Wonderful Wizard of Oz"
68
Eyewitness: Triple Threat
Kevin Burton Smith
How Things Work
54
Ink in Their Blood
20
2014 Dilys Winn Award
71
2014 Left Coast Crime Awards
54
Of John Updike and Mysteries
Teri Duerr
Sunday, 28 March 2010 02:03
Of John Updike And Mysteries
John Updike is going to be missed by readers the world over. I am certain, however, you would have to be a real fan to read The John Updike Encyclopedia by Jack De Bellis (Greenwood Press, 2000) from cover to cover. I doubt if it will be made into a movie like Il Divo. Still, the Updike Encyclopedia does contain a few minor items of interest to mystery readers. For example, there is a brief entry for the old radio show I Love a Mystery (it is mentioned in Updike's novel The Centaur). According to De Bellis: "Updike recalls it taking place in 'a cave of chirping monkeys.' During that time [the 1940s] Updike was reading, as he said, ‘hundreds of mysteries by Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner, Dashiell Hammett and many others.."

Of John Updike and Mysteries

John Updike is going to be missed by readers the world over. I am certain, however, you would have to be a real fan to read The John Updike Encyclopedia by Jack De Bellis (Greenwood Press, 2000) from cover to cover. I doubt if it will be made into a movie like Il Divo. Still, the Updike Encyclopedia does contain a few minor items of interest to mystery readers. For example, there is a brief entry for the old radio show I Love a Mystery (it is mentioned in Updike's novel The Centaur). According to De Bellis: "Updike recalls it taking place in 'a cave of chirping monkeys.' During that time [the 1940s] Updike was reading, as he said, 'hundreds of mysteries by Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner, Dashiell Hammett and many others...'"

Patrick Lee Talks About Runner
54
Nevada Barr on Addiction
Nevada Barr
Winter Issue #133 Contents
63
At the Scene, Winter Issue #133
33
The Ways of Evil Men
Hank Wagner

The Ways of Evil Men begins as Amati, father of eight-year-old Raoni, watches proudly as his son brings down a spider monkey in the rain forest outside their remote village in the Brazilian state of Pará. The boy’s moment of triumph is short-lived, however, as they return home to find that their entire tribe, known as the Awani, has been killed. Subsequent investigation points to a mass poisoning.

Things get worse when Amati is accused of killing a local white businessman in retaliation. Town officials, secretly pleased that they may be able to annex the tribe’s land, are eager to close the case quickly, blaming the genocide on the dead businessman and his murder on Amati. Fortunately for the tribesman, Chief Inspector Mario Silva and his team, who are drafted into investigating the crimes, realize that something else entirely is going on behind the scenes, if only they could prove it.

Leighton Gage’s last offering (he passed away in July 2013 from pancreatic cancer) is at once dark and light, depressing and uplifting, violent but also compassionate, a tale of dastardly, cowardly evil, but also of quiet, unrelenting heroism. A gifted storyteller, Gage can change gears from mass murder to human folly on a dime, and still maintain his iron grip on your attention. Bringing a diverse cast of widely different characters to intimate life, Gage delivers an effective thriller that also manages to convey subtle social and political messages in the bargain.

gage_waysofevilmenAnn effective thriller with subtle social and political messages.

The Deepest Secret
Robin Agnew

Carla Buckley is tilling the same suburban ground as Harlan Coben. Both writers turn their gaze on life in the suburbs where so many of us live, making their stories at once familiar and particularly disturbing.

Buckley’s relentless focus in The Deepest Secret is on one suburban cul-de-sac in Columbus, Ohio, home to the Lattimores, a typical husband, wife, two-child family. Except that the Lattimores’ son, Tyler, has a rare disease called XP (xeroderma pigmentosum), which renders UV rays fatal. Any exposure to sunlight or halogen bulbs can burn his skin and result in a fatal melanoma. Tyler’s condition has exacted a cost from every member of the family: Tyler lives a stunted life locked away from daylight, while his mother Eve spends all her attention on him to the detriment of her alienated husband David and lost daughter Melissa.

One night Eve leaves the house during a rainstorm, slightly distracted, to pick up David at the airport, and hits something with her car. The “something” turns out to be a small neighbor girl, Amy. Eve, realizing that Amy is dead, thinks ahead to going to prison and what will happen to Tyler if she is gone. So she leaves Amy and goes to the airport to pick up her husband, saying nothing.

This secret of the missing girl has many ripples through the community—not helped by relentless and ever-present media attention, which causes all kinds of things to come boiling to the surface. It tears up Amy’s mother, Charlotte, as she waits to learn what happened to her vanished daughter.

As the police investigation focuses closer and closer on the Lattimores as well as Amy’s own family, tensions increase to an almost unbearable level, with Eve’s obsessive and constant worry over protecting Tyler ratcheting everything up a notch.

I have always thought that contemporary mysteries portray modern life with all its social mores and day-to-day details better than any other form of fiction. Buckley does a wonderful job of shining her light on this suburban neighborhood, and following all its residents after the fallout of a tragedy. While the ending is slightly upbeat, this is an intense and unforgettable read.

buckley_deepestsecretA suburban suspense all the more devastating for its everyday reality.

The Best American Mystery Stories 2013
Jon L. Breen

Since the 2007 volume, I have done an annual review of this distinguished series, always praising the quality of its selections but sometimes questioning how well it lived up to its title. This year’s entry represents an interesting and encouraging change in focus, resulting in greater variety of mood and type and more recognition of the attributes (menace, detection, misdirection, surprise) that make crime fiction a distinctive category.

For years, literary journals have dominated the selections, with mystery magazines taking a back seat. This time, however, genre-specific periodicals account for seven of the 20 selections. Five from Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, repre- senting a quarter of the selections and over 40% of the total page count, are joined by one each from Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and The Strand. Another seven are from the mainstream journals, the remaining six from original anthologies. There isn’t a pointless or pretentious story to be found. From the 50 candidates identified by series editor Otto Penzler, guest editor Lisa Scottoline has selected one gem after another, arranged alphabetically from Tom Barlow’s deft “Smothered and Covered,” about the restaurant abduction of a 12-year- old, to Maurine Dallas Watkin’s “Bound,” a newly discovered tale by the late author of the original stage play Chicago.

Scottoline spends most of her introduction celebrating two highlights of the col- lection that illustrate the storyteller’s art: Randall Silvis’ novella-length “The Indian” (title refers to a motorcycle), in which three small-town brothers plot ugly revenge on a hated brother-in-law, and Eileen Dreyer’s “The Sailor in the Picture,” an end-of-World-War-II historical inspired by the famous photograph of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square. To put it mildly, both stories take unexpected turns.

In the 2008 volume, guest editor George Pelecanos wrote, “Though there are twists and surprises to be discovered, none of these stories are puzzles, locked-room mysteries, or private detective tales.” While that volume was of high literary quality, the implication that those familiar elements were unnecessary or unwelcome in a volume devoted to mystery stories struck a sour note. Nothing could be rarer in this series than the situation in Bill Pronzini’s “Gunpowder Alley” wherein 1880s San Francisco detectives Carpenter and Quincannon are confronted with a locked-room murder. While that story came from EQQM, always a puzzle-friendly market, another pure detective story about Randall Silvis Eileen Dreyer a historical private eye, Ben Stroud’s “The Don’s Cinnamon,” appeared in the prestigious Antioch Review. The mystery-solving credentials of Burke, a “free man of color” operating in late-19th-century Cuba, are established in a brief opening anecdote about a seemingly impossible poisoning murder. His current assignment, tracing a missing slave, causes him moral qualms. The bizarre solution, though not new, is shocking as ever and serves to drive home the story’s theme.

Other entries demonstrate the variety of crime and mystery fiction. Police procedurals are represented by Michael Connelly’s typically fine Harry Bosch story “A Fine Mist of Blood” and O’Neil De Noux’s “Misprision of Felony,” saluting the New Orleans police and their special problems post-Katrina. David Edgerley Gates’ “The Devil to Pay” is a post-9/11 spy story, a cross-cutting, large-cast thriller in miniature. Clark Howard’s “The Street Ends at the Cemetery,” about a prisoner, his visitor, and multiple plotters after hidden bank loot, would be made-to-order for a 1940s or ’50s film noir. Nick Mamata’s “The Shiny Car in the Night” represents the family gangster saga. Emily St. John Mandel’s “Drifter” could be read as a ghost story.

More highlights: Kevin Leahy’s “Remora, IL,” a powerful and ironic case history of a town devastated by an auto plant closure and seemingly saved by a prison; Nancy Pickard’s “Light Bulb,” in which a 66-year-old woman tries to trace her possible abuser of 58 years before; Micah Nathan’s “Quarry,” a pure suspense story especially excellent on the relationship of two young farm boys who find a wounded man; Joyce Carol Oates’ chilling stalker tale “So Near Any Time Always”; and poet Patricia Smith’s Robert L. Fish Award-winning first story, “When They Are Done with Us,” about a single mother and her abusive son on Staten Island, a powerful story with an interesting counterpoint of lower-level TV talk shows and their bizarre subjects. And I haven’t even mentioned Andre Kocsis’ “Crossing,” the grueling account of a Vietnam-era draft dodger turned mountain guide leading drug smugglers from British Columbia to the US; Dennis McFadden’s “The Ring of Kerry,” the comic tale of an Irish rogue named Lafferty; and Hannah Tinti’s “Bullet Number Two,” a desert noir concerning a Four Corners dust storm, a Navajo motel, and a mystery woman with a baby.

I don’t mean to disparage previous volumes in this series. All have been worthy of a reader’s time. But this one is my favorite.

scottoline_bestamericanmystery2013More mystery than ever in gem after gem in the 2013 anthology.

The Innocent Sleep
Oline H. Cogdill

It is a fear that haunts many parents: Your child is sound asleep but you have to run out for a quick errand. Your child is a heavy sleeper. You will only be gone a few minutes. Nothing can happen in that short time.

But something did happen five years ago during the few minutes that struggling Irish artist Harry Lonergan quietly sneaked out of his Tangier apartment to pick up a birth- day present for his wife, Robin. Three-year-old Dillon had finally fallen asleep and Harry was only a couple of blocks away, but Tangier was rocked by an earthquake; the building the Lonergans had been living in was destroyed. Although Dillon’s body was never found, he is presumed dead, lost amid the rubble.

It’s now half a decade later. The Lonergans, no longer young bohemian artists, have returned to Ireland, where they move into a crumbling Dublin house inherited from Robin’s late grandmother, a metaphor for their frail marriage.

Harry has never recovered from Dillon’s death, having suffered a couple of breakdowns, he is obsessed that somewhere his son is still alive. Harry’s consuming grief over his son stems from his own guilt about leaving his son that night, but also from his bad parenting decisions, which, at best, were neglectful when Dillon was alive. When Harry spots a child who looks as his son would five years later, he's convinced it is Dillon. Harry becomes consumed with trying to find the child, further straining his marriage to Robin, who has just discovered she is pregnant.

Karen Perry—the pseudonym for Irish writers Paul Perry and Karen Gillece—gives a unique spin to the missing child story as The Innocent Sleep gracefully explores themes of grief, doubt, and deception. The narrative veers sharply from the predictable course of parents dealing with the loss of a child to deliver a solid story where the logical twists lead to a surprising finale.

It is a fear that haunts many parents: Your child is sound asleep but you have to run out for a quick errand. Your child is a heavy sleeper. You will only be gone a few minutes. Nothing can happen in that short time.

But something did happen five years ago during the few minutes that struggling Irish artist Harry Lonergan quietly sneaked out of his Tangier apartment to pick up a birth- day present for his wife, Robin. Three-year-old Dillon had finally fallen asleep and Harry was only a couple of blocks away, but Tangier was rocked by an earthquake; the building the Lonergans had been living in was destroyed. Although Dillon’s body was never found, he is presumed dead, lost amid the rubble.

It’s now half a decade later. The Lonergans, no longer young bohemian artists, have returned to Ireland, where they move into a crumbling Dublin house inherited from Robin’s late grandmother, a metaphor for their frail marriage.

Harry has never recovered from Dillon’s death, having suffered a couple of breakdowns, he is obsessed that somewhere his son is still alive. Harry’s consuming grief over his son stems from his own guilt about leaving his son that night, but also from his bad parenting decisions, which, at best, were neglectful when Dillon was alive. When Harry spots a child who looks as his son would five years later, he's convinced it is Dillon. Harry becomes consumed with trying to find the child, further straining his marriage to Robin, who has just discovered she is pregnant.

Karen Perry—the pseudonym for Irish writers Paul Perry and Karen Gillece—gives a unique spin to the missing child story as The Innocent Sleep gracefully explores themes of grief, doubt, and deception. The narrative veers sharply from the predictable course of parents dealing with the loss of a child to deliver a solid story where the logical twists lead to a surprising finale.

A Chat With John Dixon
Hank Wagner
2014 Audie Finalists Announced
71