Mining for Justice
Robin Agnew

Set in Wisconsin, the eighth novel in Kathleen Ernst’s series about historical site curator Chloe Ellefson finds her spending a week at the old mining town of Mineral Point for work at the historic Pendarvis house. Work gets off to a very rocky start when news breaks that Pendarvis is in danger of being closed by the state, and the blame seems to rest at the feet of the larger historical site where Chloe works, making her reception by the Pendarvis staff none too friendly. Chloe’s enthusiasm for the site and her friendship with the head curator, Claudia, help her get through the week as things go from bad to worse when a corpse turns up.

In addition to her work at Pendarvis, Chloe and her cop boyfriend, Roelke, take the visit as an opportunity to join his buddy Adam at the old stone mining cottage he’s rehabbing nearby. Unfortunately, a skeleton is uncovered in Adam’s basement and his grandmother Tamsin, to whom the house once belonged, asks Chloe to see if she can find out anything about it.

Ernst has two other story threads: one concerns Roelke’s struggle with his cousin’s ex, who is stalking her; and one goes back in time to follow a Cornish family making their way to Wisconsin to lay claim to their own mine. The family—a sister, Mary, and two brothers—live in a “badger hole,” a hole in the ground (hence Wisconsin’s moniker as the Badger State). Their story is so good and so interesting, full of historical detail and heartbreaking circumstances, I almost hated to be dragged back to the present-day story line.

As Chloe retraces Mary’s footsteps, slowly discovering things about her, readers can see how historical research is conducted and how small some of the things that spark a revelation are—a piece of china, say, or the signature on the bottom of a rocking chair. Chloe is interested in everyday lives and her love of the past illuminates them for the reader.

I was captivated by this novel. Ernst holds all the story threads in her hands very lightly, providing the right doses of suspense, danger, and mystery in the right amounts at the right times. She helpfully includes both references and photographs to help the reader visualize what she’s writing about. This was a lovely reading experience.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 12 September 2017 01:09
A Dark and Broken Heart
Matthew Fowler

R.J. Ellory’s latest, A Dark and Broken Heart, follows Detective Vincent Madigan, a morally starved protagonist, whose journey throws readers into a world of dubious decision-making and ethical relativity. Are you as the reader willing to tolerate, care, or even show compassion for a venal character that remains in it for himself to just about the bitter end? Forget the twists and turns that Ellory habitually weaves in and out of chapters; acknowledgment of Madigan’s failings and lenience of said shortcomings is what A Dark and Broken Heart is truly about.

Madigan has brought the entirety of this conflict on himself. In debt to a drug lord, the substance-abusing detective hatches a plan to double-cross the men he is pulling a job with to steal from the drug lord and then pay him back with his own money. As one might imagine, not everything plays out the way Madigan intends. A child is shot during the altercation, and the officer assigned to the case is a by-the-book cop who doggedly pursues the corrupt detective. Madigan finds himself fighting for his freedom and ultimately his life.

Ellory has a strong control of the genre, and despite the callous nature of Madigan, halfway through the book readers will find themselves rooting for the unlikable protagonist. Madigan is not an innovative character for the genre, but Ellory knows how to keep a reader engaged. With A Dark and Broken Heart, he succeeds in instigating the all-powerful turn of the page.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 12 September 2017 01:09
The Cuban Affair
Kevin Burton Smith

Tagging your antagonist as a vet is a time-honored shortcut in fiction, a quick way to paint your hero with manly, big idea attributes such as honor, loyalty, and courage without really having to do the literary heavy lifting. But does anyone ever come home undamaged?

Sure, Daniel “Mac” MacCormick, a decorated war hero, seems to be doing all right on the surface—he’s 35 and single, the skipper of a 42-foot fishing boat, and he’s living in Key West.

OK, the charter boat biz isn’t all he hoped it would be and the bank would like some payback on its loan, but is agreeing to make an illegal (and possibly homicidal) run to Cuba in order to smuggle back a small fortune—under the guise of competing in a fishing tournament—for a small group of anti-Castro zealots from Miami really his only choice?

The answer is no.

But, mind you, Sara Ortega is awfully easy on the eyes, and she’s offering Mac a life-changing amount of cash for his services. And maybe (wink, wink) a bit more.

And so, Mac being a brooding, morally adrift kind of red-blooded Hemingway hero stuck in a Nelson DeMille book that’s bound to sell zillions, says yes. And then the fun starts.

In a plot that borrows liberally from To Have or Have Not, John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee books, and a dozen other action-adventure yarns, DeMille serves up a tale of greed, sliding loyalties, modern-day piracy, and political shenanigans set against what for many will be an eye-opening view of modern-day Cuba amid the slowly changing tide of complicated Cuban-American diplomacy, circa 2015. The plot may not be breaking any new ground, but that backdrop goes a long way to putting this solid, well-crafted story over the line.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 12 September 2017 02:09
The Blood Card
Ariell Cacciola

The third installment of Elly Griffiths’ delightful Magic Men Mysteries series is whiz-bang right from the get-go. It’s May 1953, and with Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation only a scant two weeks away, English DI Edgar Stephens and his friend and informal colleague Max Mephisto, a well-known magician, are contacted to solve the enigmatic murder of their former wartime commander. The two are on the case, while Stephens’ sergeant Emma Holmes investigates the baffling murder of a Brighton fortune teller. With cambering twists, the team eventually realizes how alike the seemingly disassociated crimes are. Add to all of this that the murdered commander was onto a possible bomb plot set in motion for coronation day.

The Blood Card’s charm lies with Griffiths’ ability to keep the investigation moving without sacrificing character and lively details. The reader is enchanted by Max Mephisto’s world of stage magicians and DI Stephens’ transatlantic adventure to New York to chase after a washed-up mesmerist. Readers will come for the plot, but stay for the variety show of characters, who range from impersonators to fortune tellers in training to Max’s own vivacious daughter Ruby (who is an up-and-coming magician herself).

The novel also tickles the senses with its mid-century setting. It is postwar Britain and television sets are overtaking the country. Max Mephisto is hesitant to embrace the new and soon-to-be ubiquitous technology, but everyone is glued to them for the promise of Elizabeth II’s televised coronation.

The believability of the reasons for the crimes and their denouements are a bit tenuous, but it really doesn’t matter. This aspect of The Blood Card takes a page from Agatha Christie novels, which are stacked together in much the same fashion. The characters are dynamic, and liven up not one, but two, murder investigations, and The Blood Card will leave readers eager for what Elly Griffiths has next up her sleeve.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 12 September 2017 02:09
Path Into Darkness
Ben Boulden

Path Into Darkness is Lisa Alber’s third County Clare mystery set in Ireland and featuring Detective Sergeant Danny Ahern and “Californian-in-residence” Merrit Chase. Merrit discovers the eccentric Joseph Macy, known around the Irish village of Lisfenora as Elder Joe, stabbed to death in his home. Both protagonists on the case find themselves preoccupied with personal issues. DS Ahern, the lead investigator for Joe’s murder, is distracted by his wife, Ellen, who lies comatose in a hospital bed, and Merrit, an accomplished amateur sleuth and meddler, is dealing with her father’s lung cancer.

When another murder victim, Annie Belden, is found with a bouquet of dead flowers, the investigation turns to Nathan Tate, a potter with romantic inclinations toward Ms. Belden. Nathan, who is haunted by terrible dreams, begins to slowly unravel under the pressure of his nightmares and the investigation. His adult daughter, the beautiful Zoe, is home to help her father with his troubles, but as Ahern continues to dig, it becomes apparent that both Nathan and Zoe have secrets worth hiding.

Path Into Darkness is a complex and darkly atmospheric novel. Its rural Irish setting is nicely rendered and the dialogue has the ring of authenticity (though the author tends to over explain the Irish idiom, which dampens its effectiveness). The story develops at a crawl in the opening chapters as characters, and their personal demons, are introduced, but as the mystery deepens and the Tate family’s secrets unravel, so does the tension and pace. It should appeal to readers with an appreciation of well-developed characters, and a desire to read and experience a foreign place.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 12 September 2017 02:09
A Christmas Peril
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

If you like a traditional murder mystery interspersed with the backstage drama of a troubled production of A Christmas Carol (with a little romance thrown in along the way), you’ll definitely enjoy this well-plotted novel.

The primary crime solver here is Edwina (call her Sully) Sullivan, who, thanks to office politics, recently quit her job as a police detective and is now the general manager of a local theater company. When the very wealthy father of one of her friends is murdered in his mansion and her friend becomes the prime suspect, Sully decides to do some investigating on her own. Complicating the situation, her ex-husband and prominent attorney Gus is hired by the family to oversee the final financial arrangements of the deceased.

When a second murder occurs, and the victim turns out to be Sully’s top suspect, she is forced to rethink her crime-solving prowess. Fortunately, between Gus and a former police colleague assigned to the case, Sully is able to stay abreast of the investigation, all while trying to help a highly strung and beleaguered director cope with a has-been star who can’t remember his lines, a cast member who has to drop out at the last minute, and other unsettling backstage problems.

Meanwhile, Sully is torn between her suddenly reenergized feelings for her ex and her mixed feelings about a new cast member with whom she had once had a romantic relationship.

With videotapes of all of the entrances into the mansion, and along the corridors leading to the two murder scenes providing little evidence to convict anyone, the case begins to look quite unsolvable. I must admit I was stumped and didn’t see the solution coming until it was finally revealed.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 12 September 2017 02:09
Bosstown
Oline H. Cogdill

As a bike messenger, Zesty Meyers races through the Boston streets, dodging cars and pedestrians, and trying to navigate the chaos that the Big Dig (a massive reroute of Interstate 93 through the city) and urban renewal has wrought. After making a pickup off his normal route, Zesty is thrown off his bike by a hit-and-run driver. When he comes to, his bike is a mess and the package, which he quickly learns is stolen cash, is gone. Soon, Zesty is dodging the cops, FBI, and the gangsters who want the return of that package.

Zesty isn’t exactly unfamiliar with criminals. His father, Will, once ran backroom poker games where gangsters and politicians played. Will may have once known where the bodies are buried in Boston, but he now suffers from dementia. And Zesty’s mother, who disappeared decades ago, once pulled off a legendary Boston bank robbery.

Adam Abramowitz’s debut starts strong with Zesty’s lively voice elevating the story. Zesty cares deeply for his father and his brother, who often skirts the law. While he is not the best businessman, he tries to keep his bike messenger company afloat and help his friends. But the plot of Bosstown is overwhelmed by too many subplots. Still, Abramowitz’s view of Boston is spot-on and the dialogue sharp.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 12 September 2017 02:09
A Knit Before Dying
Eileen Brady

A Knit Before Dying is the second book in the Tangled Web Mystery series and takes place in the fictional town of Dorset Falls, Connecticut. After a few bumpy opening pages, author Sadie Hartwell’s style hits a solid groove and she delivers an amusing cozy aimed at people who love to knit. However, you don’t have to know your garter stitch from your seed stitch to enjoy this yarn. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun.) Josie Blair has inherited her great aunt’s shop, Miss Marple’s Knits, and is trying her best to make a go of it. She’s ditched her fashion career in New York City for a rural farmhouse and crotchety roommate, her great uncle Eb. Gone are the big-city power clothes, traded in for more casual duds and a pair of trusty mud boots. Attracting new clients to the store, though, is a struggle.

When the storefront next to hers is rented to antique dealer Lyndon Bailey, Josie hopes the foot traffic will spill over to the yarn store. Instead, the only spillover is the puddle of blood oozing from Lyndon’s body, murdered before Nutmeg Antiques and Curiosities can even open. Discovered standing near the corpse is his business partner, Harry Oglethorpe. Did Harry stumble onto the crime scene or did he make a calculated move to take over the entire business? Throw into the plot a downright mean restaurant owner, a decades-old mysterious disappearance, and some eccentric sewing ladies, and watch what happens. Knitters will be thrilled with the patterns and yarn suggestions on the last few pages provided by Jane Haertel, writing here under the pen name of Sadie Hartwell.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 12 September 2017 03:09

The second book in the Tangled Web Mystery series set in the fictional Dorset Falls, Connecticut, hits a solid groove and delivers an amusing cozy aimed at people who love to knit. 

Idyll Fears
Jay Roberts

Set in 1997 in small-town Connecticut, the second book in the Thomas Lynch series finds the big-city cop turned small-town police chief beset by trouble on all sides when a six-year-old boy with a medical condition that makes him unable to feel any kind of pain goes missing. Complicating matters is the fact that it is two weeks before Christmas and a massive snowstorm has just begun. Aided, then hamstrung, by the parents of the boy and the town government he is beholden to, Lynch also finds himself at odds with some of his own subordinates over suspects behind the kidnapping. When the boy is mysteriously returned, everyone seems happy to forget about finding his kidnapper—that is until he is kidnapped a second time.

Meanwhile, Lynch is still dealing with the fallout of his coming out as a gay man in the previous book, Idyll Threats. Townspeople talk behind his back, his men are afraid to so much as shower at the same time as him, and his own station administrator, the formidable Mrs. Dunsmore, seems appalled by his very existence. There’s also the “small” matter of threatening phone calls and the antigay vandalism of his police vehicle.

The character development in Idyll Fears is outstanding. Chief Lynch is far from a put-upon saint, but a fully realized person for whom being gay is a part of who he is rather than the sum total of his existence. As a big fish in a small pond, he is a little sanctimonious and he makes assumptions about people that can be totally off base. Perhaps even more important is how Gayle’s supporting characters are woven into the story. While they start out standoffish, progress is made on both sides and relationships show signs of improving, yet nothing is magically solved all at once. One character in particular is revealed to be far more than what Lynch assumed, and could become one of his more staunch allies as the series continues.

The split between the main case and the exploration of Lynch’s life as a newly out gay man is evenly handled, but the investigation’s solution can be seen coming a mile away, as it is only thinly disguised and Lynch and his detectives put things together in a rather quick and linear way. This robs the criminal case aspect of the story of some of its effectiveness. Despite this, I found the story rather enjoyable and I am looking forward to where this series takes readers next.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 12 September 2017 03:09
Lies She Told
Vanessa Orr

Liza and her husband, David, are having problems in their marriage. It doesn’t help that they’re unsuccessfully trying to have a baby, while David is preoccupied by the fact that his friend, Nick, is missing. An acclaimed author whose second book was not as successful as her first, Liza immerses herself in the writing of her third novel as a way to block out the difficulties in her life.

Liza’s character, Beth, is a new mother with a life that seems to parallel Liza’s, including the cracks in her marriage. Cate Holahan does a deft job of telling each woman’s story in alternating chapters, though it is often difficult to remember whose story you’re reading since their experiences are so similar. While Liza may not realize it, subconsciously she seems to be documenting her own life. As the search for Nick intensifies, the action heats up, both in Liza’s real life and in the story she’s writing. At times it seems like Beth is leading us all on a chase, with Liza powerless to stop her even as she’s the one writing the words. As the conclusion nears, Beth seems to be controlling Liza’s thoughts, even when she is not putting pen to paper. This story within a story is what makes this book so fascinating.

This was a different type of psychological thriller, and I found it riveting to watch Liza try to unravel her own history with each chapter she writes. The ending is particularly intriguing, leaving readers to wonder which woman gets what she really deserves.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 13 September 2017 11:09
Exposed
Eileen Brady

Lisa Scottoline hits a home run with Exposed, her newest Rosato and DiNunzio legal mystery. She delivers a deliciously twisted plot and ratchets up readers’ emotional investment in her two main characters. Fans of this series know Bennie Rosato as a take-charge lawyer who doesn’t let her personal life get in the way of her career. Law firm partner Mary DiNunzio, by contrast, wears her South Philly Italian heart on her sleeve. When a friend from the old neighborhood, Simon Pensiera, decides to sue OpenSpace, the company that unjustly fired him, Mary offers her help. Unfortunately there’s a huge conflict of interest on the horizon. Their firm already represents OpenSpace’s parent company, Dumbarton. Not only is it a large and lucrative account, but it’s owned by Nate Lence, Bennie’s former law school classmate.

The two partners go head to head on whether this constitutes an ethics violation, with neither one wanting to back down. Mary is driven by loyalty to her family and friends and knowing that Simon really needs his job and the company health insurance. She’s prepared to quit if necessary. And why is a health insurance policy so important? Because a child’s life is at stake. Simon’s four-year-old daughter, Rachael, has leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant. A donor has finally been found and the tense medical countdown has begun.

Scottoline’s sensitive handling of this story line poignantly reveals what it might feel like to have a severely ill child. It also provides a fierce current that pulls at Bennie and Mary in profoundly different ways. One of the pleasures of reading this series has always been the outspoken DiNunzio family, and we have them in spades here. Who can resist lovable octogenarians Matty DiNunzio, and the three Tonys: Tony “From-Down-The-Block,” “Pigeon” Tony, and Tony “Two Feet” who runs on “caffeine and Coumadin.” You’ll laugh and cry as you read this warmhearted, can’t-put-down, enjoyable read.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 13 September 2017 11:09
Weycombe
Robin Agnew

This standalone from the gifted G.M. Malliet is a gripping whodunit clothed in Miss Marple garb, but underneath the gentility is a sharp, satiric look at village life. The central character is laid-off BBC personality Jillian White, an American married to a titled Brit. She’s at loose ends at home, unused to being a housewife, and it seems she and her husband are drifting ever further apart.

One morning she stumbles over the body of her next-door neighbor, Anna, and in the village of Weycombe all hell breaks loose. Jillian makes her own investigative way through the village, and along the way Malliet deftly skewers each personality Jillian encounters: the granola-ish housewife next door, the shop owner selling (and wearing) floaty “menopausal” garb, Jillian’s mother-in-law, and her husband (who, it becomes clear, is a spoiled and entitled man). The only character spared is Jillian’s sweet neighbor Rashima, who is a spectacular baker, as well as being a kind and honest person.

Told in the first person, readers would be wise to take anything the narrator says or perceives with a grain of salt. Malliet’s clues are tip-offs to her characters’ psychologies, to which readers will want to pay very close attention. The twisted, tangled web of personalities and the description of village life with all tensions boiling away just below the charming surface, eventually provide an unexpected conclusion to the mystery.

Malliet is enough of a traditionalist to provide a Marple-style wrap-up and she makes use of many of Agatha Christie’s tropes in telling her story, but she’s truly interested in satire. When I relaxed into the idea that this novel was more of a satire than a murder mystery, I enjoyed it far more. I became immersed in the book club fracas over Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, the descriptions of Jillian’s horsey mother-in-law, and as the book deepened and darkened, an explication of Jillian’s own family history. I was absolutely compelled to keep reading. There is, after all, nothing better than a good story, well told.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 13 September 2017 12:09
The Ways of Wolfe
Matthew Fowler

In The Ways of Wolfe, James Carlos Blake finds Axel Prince Wolfe, a college student with a bright future in law and a job already secured in the family practice, joining up with a criminal and his friend for a robbery. Why? Axel has the itch. It is the itch that one gets when it looks like the next 30 years of one’s life have already been chosen for you. The job doesn’t go as planned and Axel finds himself in jail, his partners skirting the law, leaving Axel to take the blame.

Twenty years later the Wolfe family has washed their hands of Axel. His daughter won’t see him, his wife has left him, and Axel has resigned himself to the life of a prisoner. He keeps to himself and doesn’t have any friends on the inside. That is, until a young inmate, Cacho, floats the idea of escaping. Axel, who still has around a decade to serve, does not harbor any ideas of retribution. All he cares about is seeing the daughter he left behind. Axel accepts, and together with Cacho and the help of his powerful friends on the outside, they move to escape.

The Ways of Wolfe bides it time with strong, readable prose about Axel and Cacho’s adventures in getting over the boarder, which includes a long and exciting sequence traveling down river, until it finally returns to the reasons why Axel was in jail in the first place. Blake does a good job tying up loose ends and expanding the world of the story with his usage of minor characters. The book, however, succeeds or fails on the reader’s willingness to accept Axel’s reasons for his decisions. Blake does his best to explain Axel’s initial choice of a life of crime, but it’s questionable whether or not the “itch” is fully convincing.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 13 September 2017 12:09
The Last Day of Emily Lindsey
Sarah Prindle

Detective Steven Paul has had the same nightmare for years—being locked in a cell while the stench of a rotting corpse hovers around him, and he always sees an odd spiral symbol embedded on the cell door. He has woken up screaming about this nightmare since childhood, and goes out of his way to hide the resulting anxiety from his adoptive parents, his colleagues, and friends. But then his nightmares intersect with one of his cases.

A controversial tell-all blogger named Emily Lindsey is found sitting in her house, catatonic, and covered in someone else’s blood. She won’t tell anyone whose blood it is or what happened, but she does draw an odd spiral symbol—the same one in Steven’s nightmares. As Steven tries to figure out what happened and how Emily could be connected to him, his nightmares and anxiety issues get harder and harder to hide.

Suspense novelist Nic Joseph creates an intriguing mystery with realistic characters who will pull you in. Steven’s struggles with his nightmares and how it affects his relationships with loved ones make up a core part of the book, raising questions about trust and the need to protect others from uncomfortable truths. Steven’s ex-wife, his concerned partner Gayla, Emily Lindsey, and a group of five children (who narrate parts of the book, though their connection to the mystery isn’t revealed until later), have their own distinct personalities and roles to play in the plot. The mystery itself takes many twists and turns as the detective sifts through several suspects, false testimonies, and motives. Theories abound as to whether Emily is a victim or a suspect, whether one of the people she’d exposed in her blog could be behind her trauma, and just where the blood Emily was covered with came from. Readers will enjoy working out theories of their own as they read and finally discover the surprising truth behind The Last Day of Emily Lindsey.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 13 September 2017 12:09
Fast Falls the Night
Ben Boulden

Fast Falls the Night, by the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Julia Keller, is the sixth novel featuring rural West Virginia county prosecutor Bell Elkins. The fictional town of Ackers Gap, the county seat, has fallen on hard times and many of its residents have turned to drugs as a coping mechanism for rising unemployment and poverty.

These marginalized addicts are mostly ignored by the sheriff’s department and others in county government, but when Deputy Jake Oakes finds a heroin overdose victim—the daughter of a wealthy lawyer—in a gas station bathroom, it is the beginning of a long night. A night that will see dozens of overdoses and find Bell Elkins desperately searching for the culprits responsible for a tainted batch of heroin, and that will ultimately focus a harsh light on the city’s and county’s drug problem.

Fast Falls the Night, covering 24 hours, is a compassionate procedural—long on the impact of drugs on its users and their communities and short on investigative techniques—that feels as much like a true-crime magazine article as it does a novel. Its pace, despite the brief timeline, is unhurried and often interrupted with long passages of internal character dialogue.

Bell Elkins, likable and empathetic, is weary and jaded by her inability to help the struggling residents of her county and caught in a family dilemma. Her sister, Shirley, recently released from jail for killing their abusive father when Bell was a child, has a potentially catastrophic secret that may destroy Bell’s world. The tale ends much the same as it starts, with more questions than answers.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 13 September 2017 12:09
Murder at Chateau sur Mer
Sharon Magee

The fifth in Alyssa Maxwell’s Gilded Newport Mysteries (circa late 1800s) finds newspaper society reporter Emma Cross, a poor cousin to the Vanderbilt clan, plying her trade at a polo match. Ever the snoop, she wanders about during an intermission between chukkers, trying to pick up bits of gossip. She hears three men make disparaging comments about George Wetmore, the esteemed US senator from Rhode Island, and she witnesses a prostitute named Lilah trying to speak with the senator’s wife. Lilah is promptly escorted from the arena and Emma thinks nothing more of it until the next morning when her friend, Jesse, a Newport detective, takes her to Chateau sur Mer, the Wetmore’s mansion. Lilah is lying at the bottom of the stairs, dead and pregnant. Mrs. Wetmore asks Emma to investigate Lilah’s death.

Digging into the case takes Emma to a seedy scene at Newport’s wharfs, where she meets many intriguing characters such as Madame Heidi who runs the Blue Moon brothel (Lilah’s place of employment), and a mystery man who rescues Emma each time she stumbles into danger, which is often. Emma begins collecting information on why someone wanted Lilah dead, and who would benefit by planting her death at Senator Wetmore’s door.

Emma is a gutsy, independent gal, and readers will find themselves rooting for her. If they can get through the first few pages with their deluge of characters (27 in the first 15 pages, many of whom play no further part in the story), they are in for a lively romp in true Maxwell fashion—a good mystery with just the right amount of historical detail thrown in.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 13 September 2017 12:09
Old Scores
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

It is 1890 in London, and Cyrus Barker, a battle-tested private enquiry agent (don’t call him a detective!) invites popular Japanese ambassador Toda and his delegation to visit his oriental garden during their first diplomatic mission to England. That very night, the ambassador is shot and killed in his embassy, and Barker, who happens to be in the area at the time, is initially suspected as the murderer.

When a confession cannot be beaten out of him by longtime enemy Trelawney Campbell-Ffinch of the Foreign Office, Barker is released and is soon hired by the new Japanese ambassador to find the real killer. Along with his young, feisty assistant Thomas Llewelyn, Barker uses his crafty detection techniques and his knowledge of the Far East where he lived for some time, to try to uncover the real assassin and the unusual motive behind the crime. This complex tale is told from the point of view of Llewelyn, who is quick with his fists, but not as quick with his wits as his boss.

While I enjoyed the mystery and the investigation, the real bonus for me was learning about the history and background of Japan of the period: how the arrival of Commodore Perry in 1853, demanding a trade agreement, demoralized the country and soon led to an internal struggle between the samurai and the trade-based aristocracy, where samurai swords were no match for newly acquired firearms. Of nearly equal interest is the description of the Asian underworld in London of the period that increases the danger to the enquiry agents, but eventually helps solve the case.

This is the ninth mystery in the Barker and Llewelyn series, and it is well worth the read for historical mystery fans.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 13 September 2017 12:09
Shadow of the Lions
Ariell Cacciola

Blackburne is a highly competitive and no-nonsense Virginia institution, where students are held to strict codes of integrity and academic achievement. When author Matthias Glass returns as a teacher to the eminent all-boys boarding school he once attended as a student, he is sucked back into memories of his best friend Fritz Davenport’s baffling disappearance from ten years before. A decade later, Fritz’s whereabouts are still unknown, but, unlike others, Matthias refuses to believe Fritz is dead.

Christopher Swann’s debut novel flips back and forth between the present day and Matthias’s school days, allowing both times to enlighten each other. When a suspicious death comes to Blackburne, the adult Matthias quickly finds himself in the mold of a gumshoe detective as he seeks out the answers to both past and present mysteries.

The real strength of Shadow of the Lions is the boarding school world that Swann has devised. Atmospheric details down to the Spanish moss-covered tree limbs of the campus are vividly imagined, and the students, who could easily have been cardboard placeholders, vibrate with personality, attitude, and self-awareness.

Perhaps the one black mark on the novel is the ultimate solution to Fritz’s disappearance. While the narrative is intriguing and well-paced, its eventual resolution is a disappointment—answers are given, but are clunky and somewhat unbelievable. But this can be forgiven, as Shadow of the Lions is an effective addition to the campus crime genre. Blackburne is steeped in the whispers and misdeeds of long-held crimes and secrets, and the journey of meting out the truth is the novel’s true delight.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 13 September 2017 12:09
The Blinds
Jay Roberts

Welcome to Caesura, Texas. A flyspeck town in the middle of Texas’ Tornado Alley, it is one hundred miles from anywhere, a fact that makes it the perfect place to stash people in the witness protection program. The citizens of The Blinds, as the town is known by its occupants, are all either criminals or victims of crimes so heinous that they needed to enter the federal WitSec program.

In Adam Sternbergh’s thriller, the catch to this new life in the middle of nowhere is a revolutionary scientific procedure that wipes out the specific memory or memories that got one to Caesura in the first place. You know you did or saw something, but you can’t remember what it was. You pick a new name, and live out the rest of your life hiding out from whatever it was that put you on the run.

But when a murder follows closely on the heels of a suicide, the calm way of life for everyone is upset. Sheriff Calvin Cooper, one of only three people employed by the people running the town, is charged with investigating the death. But how do you investigate someone when you don’t know who anyone really is? Could they have been killed by another resident? Was the town’s security compromised by an outsider?

The killer is revealed rather early in the story, but the murder becomes less important as things quickly spiral out of control in much more interesting ways. Confronted with a threat to their lives and safety, how will townspeople react, especially given that none of them really know what they might be capable of?

From Intake Day, when new people move to the town, to the descriptions of everyday life in The Blinds, Sternbergh walks readers side by side with his characters down Caesura’s streets: the heat of the Texas sun, the relative boredom of the never-ending repetition of life in isolation. In testament to the author’s skill, the large cast does not overwhelm, and through adept characterization, we still feel as if we like many of them, even after their dark origin stories come to light.

A stunning finale brings the story to a shattering end as truths are revealed, and lives are lost or irrevocably changed for better or worse. No one is spared from the onslaught of change coming their way and The Blinds asks the question: Just how useful are scientific advances when neither the people in charge of the technology nor those subjected to it can be trusted?

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 13 September 2017 12:09
12 Days at Bleakly Manor
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

Based somewhat loosely on the Agatha Christie classic And Then There Were None, this Victorian-era romantic mystery involves seven people invited to an eerie manor for the 12 days of Christmas. If they are still there on the 12th day, they will receive £500—a great deal in 1850 England. But unexpected danger lurks! Who invited them, and why?

Two of the invitees are former lovers who were separated on their wedding day. He, Benjamin Lane, on his way to the wedding, was arrested and imprisoned for an unidentified crime. She, Clara Chapman, was impoverished and betrayed when someone ran off with the proceeds of her family’s business, that person—she has long believed—being Ben, her brother’s business partner.

Among the other invitees are an elderly woman who keeps a box of pet mice near her, an emaciated middle-aged man who takes an unappreciated interest in Clara, a blustery detective, a flighty and tiresome French woman, and a wheelchair-bound curmudgeon pushed by a quiet young girl. As the days proceed, strange accidents occur and, one by one, their numbers dwindle.

Although I love a mystery of this sort, I felt that the romance at times was overdone, particularly the on-and-off feelings of Clara towards Ben, even after he explains what really happened to him. The mystery itself isn’t bad and, at less than 200 pages, it moved along swiftly to a not-completely-unexpected ending. And apparently there will be more along these lines by the author. The subtitle of this novel is Once Upon a Dickens Christmas, Part One.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 13 September 2017 12:09
The Dark Lake
Vanessa Orr

Rosalind Ryan is dead, a fact that has left many in the small town of Smithson reeling. Gorgeous and enigmatic, she attracted a lot of attention in life—and even more so in death. One of the most affected is Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock, who is investigating the death of her former classmate and romantic rival.

Gemma already has a lot on her plate; the mother of a toddler, she’s struggling with the idea of settling down with her boyfriend, while at the same time, having an affair with a coworker. She doesn’t do well in relationships, a fact that becomes more evident as she relives a tragedy from her past—one that is connected to the murder victim.

Flashbacks to Gemma and Rosalind’s school days help to demonstrate Rosalind’s hold on other students, as well as over her family. A flawed and often combative character, Gemma is a nice contrast to the ethereal, mysterious Rosalind. As the investigation proceeds, however, it turns out that Rosalind was not as perfect as she seemed, and, in fact, has many detractors—creating a large pool of suspects for the detectives.

While the mystery itself is rather straightforward, the tangled feelings that Rosalind and her death leave behind in those who knew her are not, adding depth and pathos to this multilayered story. Less a story of murder than obsession, The Dark Lake demonstrates how holding on to the past can forever affect the future.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 13 September 2017 12:09
Lightning Men
Ariell Cacciola

Tense and heated suspense envelop Thomas Mullen’s second in his Darktown series. Lightning Men is a lit fuse about to go off at any time. In 1950 Georgia, just a few short years following the end of World War II, Atlanta is pulsing with post-Prohibition bootleggers, crime, and segregation, and the continued horrors of racism and Klansmen percolate through every element of life. Two “negro officers,” Lucius Boggs and Tommy Smith, navigate the bureaucracy of both policing exclusively black neighborhoods and being treated as second-class citizens within the police department they have sworn allegiance to. In another part of town is Officer Denny “Rake” Rakestraw, who is noted as generally “decent” by Boggs and Smith, but whose wife and brother-in-law are less than happy to see black families move into their neighborhood. When Rake’s brother-in-law gets muddled in a confused KKK plot, the officer must choose between helping his family and distancing himself from the racist Klansmen.

The pleasure of Lightning Men is in its fully realized characters. They are complicated and multidimensional, as they reckon with the realities and unrest that strangle their neighborhoods and mark their relationships. Boggs and Smith are of two minds about their employment with the police: Yes, they’re making breakthroughs, but at what expense? Not treated equally by their white peers, they are only allowed to police black neighborhoods and forbidden from arresting white people even if the latter are caught in criminal acts. The criminal world of moonshine, drugs, and violence coexist with families trying to live peaceably, and over all the tremendous hate of the Ku Klux Klan looms. Mullen is superbly deft at balancing his characters; each chapter alternates a point of view and builds on the pulsing city and its inhabitants. The crimes all have their twists and turns, and nothing is at it is first presented.

Lightning Men is a difficult yet addicting tale about the people who are tangled up in segregated Atlanta, and that is where the book’s strength lies. I’m curious to see what next strikes Darktown.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 13 September 2017 12:09
Unquiet Spirits
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

Wow! Just wow! Purported in the preface to be a hidden manuscript of Dr. Watson’s, this nearly 500-page story moved swiftly, held my interest throughout, and was so close to the actual Holmes canon that I almost believed the preface.

Set soon after his Baskerville success, Holmes is begged by a young woman visitor to investigate some strange occurrences at the Scottish castle where she lives and the large whiskey distillery nearby owned by the family. Surprisingly, at least to Watson, Holmes refuses to take the case. Almost immediately, an unsuccessful assassination attempt is made on Holmes’ life, and the would-be assassin turns out to be a former college classmate.

Before long, Holmes’ brother, Mycroft, asks him to discover and neutralize the suspected danger to a wine research scientist who may be on the verge of discovering a cure to a plant disease that is destroying French vineyards—a possible plot concocted by Scottish distillers. While there, a bomb explodes, nearly killing the detectives and the scientist—and reintroduces Holmes to Jean Vidocq, a French detective and longtime rival. Surprisingly, and rather deftly, the author brings all of these seemingly disparate story lines together at the aforementioned Scottish castle and distillery.

What I particularly enjoyed, other than the smooth, true-to-the-Conan Doyle writing style, was the introduction of Holmes’ school days and his interaction with other young men which made him into the adult he eventually became. Similarly, the author provides more background information about Watson’s military experience and the effect it had upon him.

All in all, a tour de force and highly recommended to readers, whether Holmes fans or not.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 13 September 2017 12:09
Fall Issue #151
Teri Duerr
Monday, 18 September 2017 01:09
Deuce's Wild
Charles L.P. Silet

John Shannon--ex-NYPD, ex-con, ex-husband, and current father--works as a contract operative of the Office of Municipal Security, New York City's branch of the Office of Homeland Security. He has just moved into his own apartment and is trying to re-connect with his fourteen-year-old son JJ. He gets a chance to do so when JJ's favorite rap artist, Yousef al-Salaam, and the subject of an OMS investigation, is shot to death in a feud with fellow rapper T-Mo. JJ believes otherwise, and he convinces his dad to investigate the case farther.

Shannon finds himself in the middle of sectarian strife within New York's Islamic communities, on T-Mo's hit list, and unsuccessfully trying to develop a taste for tofu at the Sigma Center in upstateNew York where he goes to protect a visiting guru from a would-be assassin. All in all, Shannon lives a busy life. Throw in Sam Adams, a beautiful Sufi, Nora Daniels, his lawyer friend, and Liz, his soon-to-be ex-wife, and it gets downright complicated.

With his second John Shannon novel (following The Long Mile), Clyde Ford has a very promising series going. Deuce's Wild delivers a strong plot, fast action, and engaging characters. Here's one author to watch.

Migration Assistant
Saturday, 24 April 2010 05:04

John Shannon--ex-NYPD, ex-con, ex-husband, and current father--works as a contract operative of the Office of Municipal Security, New York City's branch of the Office of Homeland Security. He has just moved into his own apartment and is trying to re-connect with his fourteen-year-old son JJ. He gets a chance to do so when JJ's favorite rap artist, Yousef al-Salaam, and the subject of an OMS investigation, is shot to death in a feud with fellow rapper T-Mo. JJ believes otherwise, and he convinces his dad to investigate the case farther.

Shannon finds himself in the middle of sectarian strife within New York's Islamic communities, on T-Mo's hit list, and unsuccessfully trying to develop a taste for tofu at the Sigma Center in upstateNew York where he goes to protect a visiting guru from a would-be assassin. All in all, Shannon lives a busy life. Throw in Sam Adams, a beautiful Sufi, Nora Daniels, his lawyer friend, and Liz, his soon-to-be ex-wife, and it gets downright complicated.

With his second John Shannon novel (following The Long Mile), Clyde Ford has a very promising series going. Deuce's Wild delivers a strong plot, fast action, and engaging characters. Here's one author to watch.