A conflicted and complicated protagonist appears in Susan Wolfe’s Escape Velocity, and the conflicts are laugh-out-loud funny. Legal aid Georgia Griffin has been a con-artist-in-training since early childhood, and now that her father has landed in prison for his shifty dealings, she is expected to take over the family business. Georgia hates to disappoint her beloved but crooked father, but she’s afraid of prison, and so she attempts to go straight. After finishing a mail-order paralegal course, she moves from Piney, Arkansas, to Silicon Valley, living in her bald-tired car until she scams her way into a job in the legal department of Lumina Software. Once ensconced, she uses her own shifty con skills, this time for the greater good. Or at least that’s how she interprets it. Following the scam-’em-all advice sent by her imprisoned father in his frequent letters, she quickly works her way up the corporate ladder until she is finally admitted into board meetings. Georgia’s own boss, Ken Madigan, is both kindly and honest—just the opposite of Lumina CEO Roy Zisko, whose nonsensical dictates seem poised to destroy his own company. Alarmed at the prospect of losing her job due to massive layoffs, Georgia reverts to type and again reaches into her duplicitous bag of tricks. But she does this so often that she eventually becomes dismayed by her own behavior. “Sounding like Ken and thinking like her father, what kind of hybrid did that produce? [A] cross between Mother Theresa and Bernie Madoff.” If there are any faults in this riotous caper of a novel, it’s that there are enough of Georgia’s boardroom scams to make up four books and still have some left over. But then Escape Velocity wouldn’t be as much fun without them. Or as educational. Escape Velocity offers a satirical take on not only high-corporate life, but the Securities and Exchange Commission itself. The insider information in this book is astounding, but no wonder. Edgar-winning author Wolfe has worked as an in-house attorney for a Silicon Valley company, and obviously knows where the bodies are buried—and who put them there.
Philip Donlay’s suspenseful Seconds to Midnight brings us another Donovan Nash adventure (after Deadly Echoes and Pegasus Down). This time around, a plane crash survivor in the Arctic holds the key to a terrorist plot designed to start World War Three. The pacing is fast in this one—sometimes too fast for adequate character development—but thrills abound when the Eco-Watch pilot and his team rush to stop an imminent nuclear exchange. Set in various countries—Canada, Austria, England, Poland, etc.—the reader is treated to a whirlwind of violent clashes and personal betrayals, while Nash attempts to make sense of the crash survivor’s scattered memories before the first bomb is detonated. All this is set against the backdrop of a solar storm, which hinders communications from not only one team to another, but from nation to nation. This is a book meant for hard-core adrenaline junkies, and as such, delivers high-octane action from the first page to the last. Don’t read Seconds to Midnight before tightening your seat belt.
Vicki Delany’s seasonal We Wish You a Murderous Christmas is the second entry in her Year Round Christmas Mystery series. Delany employs a winning formula as she chronicles the pre-Christmas frenzy unfolding in Rudolph, New York, a town renowned for its year-round devotion to Christmas. This delightful book features series heroine Merry Wilkinson, proud proprietress of Mrs. Claus’s Treasures, as she prepares for another hectic shopping season in “America’s Christmas Town.” This year, the season’s joys are mitigated when Jack Olsen, owner of popular upscale hotel and restaurant Yuletide Inn, suffers a severe heart attack, and his ne’er-do-well son, Gord, is summoned to oversee the business in Jack’s absence. Gord immediately attempts to cut operating costs at the expense of the quality that is the hallmark of the Inn. In the process, he incurs the wrath of many, including the restaurant’s new executive chef and Merry’s best friend, Vicki, baker par excellence, along with Grace, Jack’s second wife. When Merry discovers that Gord is conspiring with a hotel chain to sell the business and thereby subvert the very essence of the unique “Christmas Town,” she knows that trouble is afoot. True to form, Gord continues to make enemies, and no one seems to be saddened by his inevitable murder. More problematic, though, is the fact that Merry’s father, Noel, the town Santa Claus, becomes the primary person of interest. Fortunately, Merry is not about to allow this unjust accusation to go forward, and springs into action. Happily, like most Christmas tales, We Wish You a Murderous Christmas ends on a suitably positive note, and Merry’s Christmas—and Rudolph’s—is merry indeed.
Kate Carlisle craftily invokes the spirit of the holiday season in her new Fixer-Upper Mystery, Deck the Hallways. Aptly named master contractor Shannon Hammer faces challenges when a subcontractor backs out of an extremely time-sensitive project with a Christmas Eve deadline. This worthy project is a renovation of an old Victorian home in the form of cozy apartments allocated to deserving homeless families. Luckily, Shannon’s father, retired from the contracting business that Shannon took over, volunteers to assist and to enlist the aid of his retired associates. In addition, other volunteers from the town supplement the labor force. Concomitantly, though, Shannon must spend inordinate amounts of time mediating workplace disputes among the volunteers, a situation that is greatly exacerbated by the incessant interference of Peter Potter, an obnoxious, self-important and obstructionist local banker. Not only does Potter lack authority over the project, but he insists upon intruding at every turn, alienating everyone at the site. Of course, no one laments his loss when he is murdered, but Shannon, like Delany’s Merry Wilkinson, must defend her father when one of his tools is identified as the murder weapon. Deck the Hallways features other anomalies, chief among them the appearance of a newborn in the bed of Shannon’s truck. As the novel builds toward its suspenseful and satisfying conclusion, character and plot twists engage the reader to the very end. In the tradition of Christmas narratives, Carlisle provides a magical conclusion as, project completed in a timely fashion, the homeless families flock to their miraculous new living quarters. And, yes, the mystery and destiny of the infant, predictably named Angel, is resolved perfectly. Deck the Hallways is saccharine as only a Christmas story can be, but this is the precise source of its genius. Put this one on next year’s Christmas list if you don’t devour it immediately.
Cold-weather cozy Snowed In With Murder is Auralee Wallace’s third Otter Lake Mystery. If you haven’t met Erica Bloom, series protagonist, and Rhonda, her sort-of sidekick, you are in for a real treat. Erica, a Chicago-based court reporter, is ever-ambivalent about returning to her island home in Otter Lake, New Hampshire. Indeed, this visit is especially fraught, as Erica attempts to resurrect her floundering relationship with Sheriff Grady Forrester, who has professed his love and desire to live with Erica, who is characteristically ambivalent. Planning a romantic getaway with Grady at her mother’s private camp, Erica is instead trapped on the island with a crazed reality show family, as she confronts a mammoth winter storm. Grady, of course, is a no-show because he must work overtime to cope with the storm. When murder strikes, Erica’s rescue comes from an unexpected quarter. I strongly recommend this comically captivating series to readers who enjoy clever, bordering on absurdly hilarious, dialogue. Rhonda rules!